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[Posted Sunday p.m., prior to the NBA All-Star Game]
Daytona 500 Quiz: Name the only five to win at least three 500s. Answer below.
--With ten laps to go, it was setting up to be a terrific finish, but then a big wreck, Paul Menard blowing up the field, hitting Matt DeBenedetto, who was threatening to win it, 18 cars involved in all, and there was another crash after in a restart (four crashes in the final 20 laps), but in the end Denny Hamlin took his second Daytona 500, second for Joe Gibbs Racing in honor of Coach Joe’s son, J.D., who died tragically last month.
It wasn’t the ending, aside from this last part, that the sport needed...it almost was...but as they say, ‘that’s racing.’
Yours truly, though, won with his DraftKings lineup. I have much more success with NASCAR than I do with golf or football....though before the big wreck, I was in line to win a bunch more.
--This weekend, though, marked the 40th anniversary of a huge event in the history of NASCAR. The 1979 Daytona 500, Feb. 18.
John Cherwa / Los Angeles Times
“With four simple words, a sport that was born out of bootlegging, good old boys and fast cars graduated from a regional sideshow to a national spectacle.
“ ‘And there’s a fight.’
“It’s what CBS announcer Ken Squier said with a perfect combination of surprise, shock and anticipation as the 1979 Daytona 500 came to a close.
“Squier said neither he nor the sport could have written a better script.
“Donnie Allison, first a driver then a fighter, said it was the best thing that ever happened to NASCAR.
“Richard Petty, who won the race, called it the sport’s first big deal. But maybe Cale Yarborough, who threw the first punch – with his helmet – said it best.
“ ‘It was great racing, great fighting and a great time,’ he said.
“Sunday is the 40th racing anniversary of when NASCAR crossed the Mason-Dixon line and found itself a national audience. It was the first time a race, and not just any race but the race, was televised live start to finish. And those at home were captive.
“Snow had socked in most of the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. People were trapped with only three television channels to occupy their time. While some memories might have grown a little fuzzy after four decades, the recollections of this race seem sharp and consistent. Well, mostly. The drivers still have different views.”
Racing had been relegated to tape delays and highlights, mostly on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” back in my youth. It was a big deal when ABC would do Le Mans, or one of the Grand Prix races. Stock car racing was hardly ever shown, except when there was a fiery crash, like Fireball Roberts’ demise.
So the 1979 Daytona 500 ended up being a terrific race, and the race audience was ticking up as it unfolded. It drew a 10.5 rating, a number that has been beaten in the sport only four times...an audience of more than 15 million.
“Donnie Allison and Yarborough had separated themselves from the rest of the cars by about half a lap as they headed down the backstretch on the final lap. Yarborough was drafting with the hope of a slingshot pass and tried to go low. ‘I looked in the mirror and I see Cale was coming down and I said, ‘Oh no you don’t. You can have all the room on the outside but you are not going inside,’’ Donnie Allison said. ‘He hit me in my back bumper and I went a little sideways.’
“Yarborough saw it differently.
“ ‘All you’ve got to do is look at the film and it shows you exactly that he ran me off the racetrack and I lost control,’ he said.
“The cars remained in a state of instability as the pair touched three more times before crashing into the wall and floating down into the infield grass.
“ ‘We both got out of our cars and had a few words,’ Donnie Allison said. ‘And they weren’t very pleasant.’
“Petty, (Darrell) Waltrip and A.J. Foyt all thought they had no chance of winning.
“ ‘The leaders were 20 seconds ahead of us and we couldn’t see them,’ Petty said. ‘We were racing for third place. So, we get off the second turn and the caution flag comes out. ...We didn’t know what happened.’
“Waltrip spotted the cars and saw something crazy.
“ ‘When we were headed into the third turn, I could see these two cars in the mud,’ Waltrip said. ‘It was hilarious we were going for the win.’
“Petty held position and won the race with Waltrip right on his bumper.
“Bobby Allison had finished the race and was circling around to see if his brother needed a ride to the garage.
“ ‘I stopped at the scene of the wreck,’ Bobby Allison said. “And Cale comes over and starts yelling at me that the wreck was my fault. How could that be? I was half a lap away.’
“Yarborough was in no mood to stop.
“ ‘I was mad enough to fight and I did,’ Yarborough said....
“Yarborough charged Bobby Allison’s car.
“ ‘He’s yelling things at me and he’s 10-12 feet from my car,’ Bobby Allison said. ‘I questioned his ancestry and he lunges at me and hits me in the face with his helmet. It cut my nose and lip and I look down and blood was dripping down. I thought I had to address this right now or run from Cale Yarborough the rest of my life.’
“Bobby got out of the car and, as he has put it for 40 years, ‘[Cale] started beating my fists with his nose.’
“Safety workers broke it up, but not easily, as a stunned national television audience watched.”
The Allisons and Yarborough have never talked about the fight. As Bobby Allison said, “We’re not friends but we’re also not enemies.”
Yarborough insists: “We were friends as soon as it was over.”
Donnie Allison said: “Every time (Cale) mentions (the wreck), he says it was my fault and I say it was his fault. But I know it was his fault and he knows it was his fault.”
Alpine World Championships
Since our last chat, and Lindsey Vonn’s final race in the women’s downhill at Are, Sweden, in which she dramatically picked up a bronze, Mikaela Shiffrin then ran in the giant slalom on Thursday and had to settle for bronze behind winner, and rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.
For Shiffrin, it was nonetheless her sixth medal at a world championship, two off Vonn’s American record of eight.
So that set up Saturday’s slalom championship, and I was watching ‘live’ on NBCSN as Shiffrin, with a lung infection that severely limited her breathing, finished the first of the two runs in third, 0.15 seconds behind leader Wendy Holdener.
Then Shiffrin had a fantastic second run, eventually finishing 0.58 ahead of Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson, who took silver, while Holdener went off course before skiing the remainder, hopelessly out of medal contention. Vlhova took the bronze.
Shiffrin’s run was the fastest by 0.62 seconds. Vlhova’s coach, Livio Magoni, said, “Technically, it’s worth watching over and over again to learn from.”
Shiffrin, by the end, barely had enough energy to celebrate as she accomplished what no male or female had...to win the same event at four straight worlds.
Meanwhile, for the men, Austrian great Marcel Hirscher won the slalom, his third at the worlds. He also joined another Austrian, Toni Sailer from the late 1950s, as the only male skiers to win seven career golds at the world championships. Winning three slaloms matches Ingemar Stenmark.
College Basketball Review
We’ll have a shakeup in the top ten, and beyond, tomorrow when the new AP Poll is released.
Saturday, No. 1 Tennessee traveled to Lexington to take on 5 Kentucky, which was coming off a home loss to LSU, and the Wildcats (21-5, 10-2) blew out the Vols (23-2, 11-1) 86-69, shooting 54.7% from the field (29 of 53).
So No. 2 Duke will be the new No. 1 after handily beating North Carolina State (18-8, 6-7) 94-78, RJ Barrett with a triple-double, 23-11-10, Zion Williamson with 32 on 12 of 16 from the floor. The Blue Devils improved to 23-2, 11-1.
3 Gonzaga (25-2, 12-0) took care of business on the road in defeating San Diego (16-11, 5-7) 79-67.
4 Virginia (22-2, 10-2) beat Notre Dame (13-12, 3-9) 60-54.
6 Michigan (23-3, 12-3) beat 24 Maryland (19-7, 10-5) 65-52, the Terrapins with 13 first-half turnovers as they fell behind 27-18 at the intermission.
Your Bar Chat “Pick to Click” No. 7 Nevada Wolfpack destroyed Wyoming (6-19, 2-10) on the road, 82-49, Nevada now 24-1, 11-1. They just need to wrap up a 2-seed at this point.
And 8 North Carolina traveled to Winston-Salem to take on my pathetic Demon Deacons, the Tar Heels needing to right the ship after losing to Virginia at home last Monday, and Carolina hit 20 of 27 from the floor in pulling away 49-21 at the half, on the way to annihilating Wake Forest (9-15, 2-10) 95-57, the Tar Heels (20-5, 10-2) hitting 62.3% of their field goals for the game, including a staggering 16 of 25 from three, Cam Johnson leading the way with 27 points (7 of 10 from downtown).
Wake shot 22 of 67, 32.8%, with Brandon Childress going 0-12 (0-8 from three). Recently, Childress went 0-11 (0-7) in a 64-37 loss to Clemson, and was 3-16 (0-9) in a loss to Boston College. All three in his last six games.
Childress’ field goal percentage for the year is down to .380 (though a respectable .364 from three) and this is our ‘leader.’
This was also Wake’s second-worst home loss ever, going back to a 42-point loss to Duke in 1967. And it was the biggest margin of victory in the 227 games between Wake and UNC.
Fellow Deacon alum, Dr. W., said he was solicited the other day for his Deacon Club contribution and told the woman on the other end, “Not until you fire (coach) Danny Manning.”
The woman responded this wasn’t the first time she heard that. But it seems the school is locked into Manning through his absurd contract.
Johnny Mac, send me my sword parcel post.
Then again, I’m looking forward to the coming Mets season, so just put the sword in storage.
One more from Saturday, Rutgers (12-13, 5-10) has played surprisingly well (for them) the second-half of the year and the Scarlet Knights were about to pull off an upset over 21 Iowa at home, when, at the buzzer, the Hawkeyes’ Joe Wieskamp banked in a three-pointer from the corner for a stunning 71-69 win, crushing the Rutgers’ faithful. Iowa is now 20-5, 9-5.
9 Houston is 25-1, 12-1, after an 85-50 wipeout of pathetic Tulane (4-20, 0-12.)
11 Michigan State improved to 21-5, 12-3, with a 62-44 win over Ohio State (16-10, 6-8).
And St. John’s kept its NCAA hopes more than alive with a 71-65 victory over 13 Villanova (20-6, 11-2), the Johnnies now 19-7, 7-6.
Lastly, yesterday, Chris Clemons of Campbell became the ninth in college basketball history to reach 3,000 career points, scoring 28 in a loss to Presbyterian. Campbell had 48 the game before.
--The New Orleans Pelicans fired GM Dell Demps, with former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry stepping in on an interim basis.
The move came less than 24 hours after star forward Anthony Davis, who had requested the trade that rocked the league, injured his shoulder during a 131-122 win over Oklahoma City on Thursday.
Demps has been under scrutiny for his failure to move Davis before the trade deadline, the team opting not to at the last minute, which created an awkward situation for all.
“To tell you the truth, this whole thing has been a dumpster fire,” coach Alvin Gentry told reporters Thursday night.
Demps mishandled Davis’ trade request on a number of fronts. The Pelicans should have found out before the season whether Davis planned to sign an extension with the team. Once it became apparent he wouldn’t, the Pelicans should have looked to trade him and return as many assets as possible.
But with no movement from either party, Davis made his request public and it overwhelmed Demps. He waited to deal with Magic and the Lakers (see last chat) until the last minute, and then upper management appears to have told him to back off. Yes, it’s possible the Pelicans will get a better opportunity this summer, Davis still under contract for another year, but Demps, GM since 2010, has done a lousy job overall, wasting Davis’ talents.
--Wednesday, the T’Wolves defeated the Rockets 121-111, James Harden, however, with 42 points to tie Wilt’s 31, second-longest streak of 30-point games.
--Thursday, the Knicks snapped a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak in beating the Hawks 106-91.
Also Thursday, as we headed into the All-Star break, as noted above, New Orleans beat Oklahoma City 131-122, though Russell Westbrook had 44 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, increasing his consecutive triple-double record to 11.
--I may or may not watch the All-Star game tonight...actually, I’ll just catch the beginning, which will be a lot for me.
But I loved what Steph Curry did Friday night. With the All-Star Game being in Charlotte, Curry caught his alma mater, Davidson’s, 80-72 home victory over Saint Joseph’s; jumping into the student section “as a sellout crowd screamed its approval.
Curry sat courtside as the Wildcats erased a seven-point halftime deficit to maintain their undefeated record at home and 10-2, tied for first, record in the A-10. Curry wore a black No. 30 jersey, his number in college, over his hoodie.
“It’s surreal, even to this day,” Curry said before the game, in discussing what it’s like to see his former team wear his logo, the SC30 line of uniforms and shoes he fronts. “I know I accomplished a lot, but it still doesn’t quite sink in. The opportunities that I get to experience now, a program that meant so much to me...basketball and base and foundation and how much I’ve learned from Coach (Bob) McKillop and my teammates and stuff like that when I was on campus. I always look forward to going back and watching them play and being a part of the program any way I can.”
Years ago Phil W. and I took a little pilgrimage to Davidson, N.C., to catch Curry his junior (final) season. I love the town, the school, and the atmosphere. And it’s great that McKillop (who we saw in a bar after the game) stuck around rather than take the riches to hit the big time. That speaks volumes about his own character.
--LeBron James was at courtside of last Saturday’s Duke win over Virginia in Charlottesville, and then the other day he told ESPN.com that when it comes to the Blue Devils’ Zion Williamson, “(The) best thing I’ve noticed is he seems like a good kid. He seems like he’s got his head on straight. And when they asked him about, you know, guys in our league and people who cover our league talking about, ‘If I was Zion Williamson, I would sit out for the rest of the year,’ he was like, ‘That’s [silly]. Why? I’m here to play basketball. I love to play basketball. I’m here at Duke, I’m having fun. These are my friends. I’m having a great time. Why would I sit out?’
“That’s the type of s--- that strikes me,” said James. “Everybody gets so caught up in the game itself. I look at the intangibles. And he seems like he has great intangibles and seems like a great kid.”
--Commissioner Adam Silver said he hasn’t “given any thought” to inquiries by NFL owners about his willingness to switch leagues. But Silver didn’t deny the story from ESPN that several NFL owners have approached him over the years. He has been approached as well by a number of Fortune 500 companies, according to sources.
But Commissioner Roger Goodell signed a five-year extension worth up to $200 million in December 2017, while Silver signed a five-year extension with the NBA in June that runs through the 2023-24 season. No word on what Silver’s contract is for, but it’s obviously less than Goodell’s $40m per.
--Someone tell Mr. Silver the National Anthem sucked tonight.
--This is the first full week of spring training, a time of hope. But it’s time for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (and their agents) to find a home, which by doing so would no doubt open things up for the likes of Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Moustakas, and Carlos Gonzalez, among others.
But do you think Bryce Harper regrets not signing the reported 10-year, $300 million deal the Nationals offered at one point last year to keep him in D.C.? Do you think agent Scott Boras is sweating bullets, his reputation potentially in tatters?
It’s also a time of major labor unrest. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright told InsideSTL.com that he’s worried the growing strife between the players and management will lead to something more dramatic than a strike.
“Unless something changes, there’s going to be a strike, 100 percent. I’m just worried people are going to walk out midseason,” Wainwright told the website, meaning the All-Star Game, which would be a rather symbolic time to gain maximum attention, one would think.
“Thirty owners need to be answering that because you have one of the best players in the game that needs a job and no one is signing him (referring to Machado and Harper),” Wainwright said. “You’ve got 30 owners who have a sabermetric box that will sign players when they were in that box. They don’t take any intangibles or anything else into play and that’s a sad thing.
“Part of it is smart from their side of it, but you have to realize it’s about winning. So, if Bryce Harper wants 10 years and he’s 26 years old...He’s going to be a dynamic player. The same can be said about Manny Machado. These guys are superstar players.”
As for Wainwright himself, he made $19 million in 2018, $118.5m the last seven seasons. This year, due to the fact he threw just 40 innings, he’ll earn $2 million, with incentive bonuses, his big contract having expired.
Mike Vaccaro / New York Post
“We are back there again.
“It was a blissful stretch, really, a good 20 years when the economics of baseball could only annoy you if you wanted them to, when you could close off your mind to the billionaire owners and the millionaire players and simply enjoy the sport again, if you were so inclined. It was a nice run. It really was.
“And it’s as dead as disco now.
“Because every day there is some new warning flare shot high into baseball’s sky, and they aren’t the kind of arguments we’ve been filling our days with these past couple of decades: replay, steroids, pace-of-play, the DH, pitchers who don’t finish games, hitters who don’t care about striking out, the war over WAR...all of these, and more.
“Now, of course, we have daily updates and non-updates on both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, both seeking contracts north of $300 million, neither presently earning 50 cents.
“Now, on one day we have Justin Verlander (who will earn $28 million this year) railing against the stagnant free-agent market, and on another we have Jacob deGrom (who will earn $17 million this year) admitting he’ll have to consult with his agent about the possibility of limiting his innings if he doesn’t have an extension in hand, and we have Adam Wainwright (who will earn but $2 million this year after taking home $19 million last year for 40 1/3 innings of work) hinting that baseball players might stage a walk-out this summer to protest all the rank-and-file free agents.
“Here’s the thing: In a vacuum, it shouldn’t matter what those guys are being paid, or what they’re not being paid. In a vacuum, we all answer to bosses, and we are all underpaid in our minds, and we would consider it an unquestioned violation of our rights as workers if all the bosses in our chosen fields got together and put artificial limits on what we could earn.
“In a vacuum, it’s even possible most would agree with them.
“But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where, even after 42 years of free agency, we are still stunned by what baseball players do get paid, and are utterly unmoved what they don’t get paid. And so slowly – ever so slowly – baseball’s public image is recalibrating to where it was in 1972, in 1981, in 1985, in 1994, whenever the owners and the players have started spoiling for a fight....
“This day was inevitable, it always was, it always will be. We had a nice run fretting about Rob ‘The Fixer’ Manfred planting a man on second base in extra innings. Soon enough, odds are we’ll wonder where any of the players are. Unless we’re looking at a picket line.”
--Meanwhile, the Players Association can’t be happy at the contract Yankees ace Luis Severino signed the other day, four years, $40 million, a team option for a fifth at $15 million.
Severino, 14-6, 2.98 ERA, and 19-8, 3.39, the past two seasons is just 24 and wasn’t due to become a free agent for another few seasons. Many will say he should have waited and then signed a big free-agent deal down the road. This is clearly a ‘team-friendly’ deal for New York.
But how can you blame the guy? It’s a life-changing contract! He has real security, and assuming he has pitched well enough, and stayed healthy, after making $15 million in 2023, he’s still just 29!
[The Phillies’ Aaron Nola, 25 and coming off a breakout 2018 campaign, 17-6, 2.37, also signed a similar four-year deal with Philadelphia the other day, $16 million team option in 2023.]
However, as the New York Post’s Joel Sherman notes:
“Among the biggest issues raised (by Severino and Nola’s contracts) is whether players are now open in a greater way to team-favorable accords because free agency has become a less dependable cash cow.
“And here exists a union disadvantage, because what best serves players overall can be quite different than what most benefits one specific player. The group could use Nola and Severino going year to year in hopes they stay high-end aces and push arbitration boundaries and cash in on free agency at the first moment possible.
“Severino, however, must independently weigh risk and reward.
“He comes from humble means. As recently as 2016, he was banished first to the minors, then to the bullpen. A few months ago he stumbled down the stretch and playoffs amid a buzz of concern about tipping pitches, the quality of his third pitch and physical endurance. No qualified starter last year threw his fastball with greater average velocity and few threw their sliders as hard or frequently as did the righty.
“Severino could have played the upside risk against considerations from his background and potential for health issues. By just being good and healthy (not even great) the next four years, Severino could have outperformed the $40 million guarantee and reached free agency a year earlier. The downside was losing arbitration ($4.4 million) and getting injured to the point where he got no raise in 2020 – so about $8.8 over the next two years with mystery beyond that.
“Severino elected a guarantee of generational wealth rather than gambling year to year on himself to exceed that threshold while perhaps helping set new financial benchmarks for players. His contract guarantees $5 million less than Nola’s four-year, $45 million, yet Severino’s is more favorable.”
[Nola was a service class ahead of Severino, so he faced three years of arbitration, Severino had four. Severino is now a free agent at 29, Nola after his age-30 season.]
--The Yankees’ CC Sabathia formally announced Saturday that this season would be his last.
“It’s time,” Sabathia said at a news conference. “My knee, the shape that it’s in.” He gets it, after 3,470 innings of his hefty, 6-foot 6-inch frame landing on his right knee with every pitch.
I was talking to a sports memorabilia expert who was in my home on Saturday (he happens to be my neighbor and we were just going over some things I have...nothing of real value) and at one point we both remarked on meeting Sabathia. Unless you have stood next to the man, you just have no idea how immense he is. And so, yes, after 3,470 innings, the knee, CC already having dealt with countless surgeries and injections, can only take so much.
I hope the guy can stay healthy enough to throw 140 innings for New York this season, which most likely means he’s done an outstanding job as the No. 4 or 5 starter for them.
And having just reviewed his record, 246-153 (.617) lifetime, 3.70 ERA, what stands out to me are his five, top-5 seasons in the Cy Young Award vote. I’m big on top fives for Cy Young or MVP when it comes to figuring out who is a true Hall of Famer. Sabathia (also 10-7 in the postseason) qualifies for me, though not a first ballot HOFer.
--One more on the Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury is not in spring training, and won’t be until mid-March it seems, as he is out with plantar fasciitis, according to the team and manager Aaron Boone.
Ellsbury, 35, is still owed $42 million over 2019-2020, with a $5 million buyout...yes, part of one of the worst contracts in the history of sports.
He sat out all of last season due to hip and foot injuries and wound up undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in the hip last fall.
So Ellsbury is rehabbing in Arizona before heading to Tampa for ‘baseball activities.’
Hell, I do more baseball activities here in my office, tossing a baseball while watching the news, than he’s done in years.
After the 2013 season, Ellsbury left the Red Sox, signing a 7-year, $148 million contract with the Yankees in free agency, with the $5 million buyout in 2021.
The first four years of his New York deal he played 520 games, averaging .264 (.716 OPS), missing extensive time in 2015 and 2017, before sitting out 2018, the fifth year.
As they say, Unf’n real. And don’t you know 30 MLB owners point to contracts like this today when sitting down with players’ agents. This one, and Albert Pujols’ 10-year, $240 million deal. Pujols in the first seven years with the Angels has batted .260, with a .768 OPS, versus .328, 1.037 for his eleven years with the Cardinals. [whisper, whisper]
--The Mets are determined to start Tim Tebow in AAA this spring, Tebow in major league camp currently. He’s already 31, a corner outfielder, can’t play defense, but as Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Saturday, “I definitely see a baseball player out of Tim Tebow, not because he’s in a uniform. Just because he wants it so bad.”
As the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff puts it in a glowing article on Tebow today, it’s all good. If Tebow just plays reasonably well in AAA (they say he looked great in batting practice Saturday), there’s no reason why the Mets wouldn’t call him up in September.
Of course it’s for PR reasons, ostensibly, but I’m one of those who has said from day one, Tim Tebow is great for baseball and he’s frankly good for the country.
Or as Davidoff puts it, “Tebow is not the hero baseball needs right now, but he’s the one it has. And it probably should be thankful for that.”
--What a wild, screwed up Genesis Open at Riviera this weekend, what with the rain and a number of delays. In the end, Justin Thomas, seeking his tenth career PGA Tour win, had a poor final round and lost out by one to J.B. Holmes, his fifth win.
Yeah, I know J.B. has had health issues in his career, but I’m not a fan. His slow play is outrageous.
It was good to see Rory McIlroy play solid throughout and finish T-4.
But let’s face it, this week was all about the following, unfortunately....
--So last time I brought up the story of Matt Kuchar and his incredibly idiotic move in not paying a local caddie in November properly, to say the least, when he won a PGA Tour stop in Mexico, and how the story had exploded, and after I posted, it went viral even more with Kuchar’s comments in Los Angeles, prior to his participation at the Genesis.
Kuchar had a chance to correct things when asked about it Wednesday, but instead he doubled down, saying, “Making $5,000 is a good week.”
Kuchar said to Golf.com that he told Ortiz he would pay him $1,000 if he missed the cut, $2,000 if he made the cut, $3,000 if he had a top-20 and $4,000 if he had a top-10. “The extra $1,000 was, ‘Thank you – it was a great week.’ Those were the terms. He was in agreement with those terms. That’s where I struggle. I don’t know what happened. Someone must have said, ‘You need much more.’”
Kuchar has won more than $46 million on Tour and is 10th on the all-time money list.
By now you all know his regular caddie, John Wood, who had a scheduling conflict, would have earned $129,000 out of the $1.296 million winner’s purse. As I noted last time, Ortiz thought $50,000 was fair.
According to a report, Kuchar later offered to pay the caddie another $15,000, but Ortiz turned it down, telling Kuchar he could keep his money. If this part is true, I can see how a disgusted, proud, Ortiz would utter this.
Kuchar also told GolfChannel.com’s Will Gray on Wednesday: “It’s kind of too bad that it’s turned into a story. I really didn’t think it was a story because we had an arrangement when I started. I’ve done enough tournaments and had enough weekly caddies, and I’m very clear about what the payment will be. And we had an arrangement Tuesday that David was OK with, and I thought Sunday he was very much OK with it.”
Kuchar confirmed to GolfChannel.com both the $5,000 he paid Ortiz and that Ortiz turned down an additional $15,000.
“I kind of feel like unfortunately some other people have got it in his head that he’s deserving something different than what we agree upon,” Kuchar told Gray. “And it’s just too bad that it’s turned into a story, because it doesn’t need to be. We had a great week.”
Then Kuchar said, “It’s done. Listen, I feel like I was fair and good. So I certainly don’t lose sleep over this. This is something that I’m quite happy with, and I was really happy for him to have a great week and make a good sum of money. Making $5,000 is a great week.”
You freakin’ jerk! I was watching the coverage of the Genesis on Saturday, when Nick Faldo and Jim Nantz had their first chance to weigh in, and I am glad Faldo came down hard on Kuchar, noting that it was Matt’s first win in four years, and how Kuchar had to know what a life-changing deal it would be for Ortiz to receive $50,000, and Faldo was incredulous that in all this time since November Kooch didn’t get it. If you read between the lines of what Faldo was saying, he really meant, ‘Why the hell didn’t you give the guy the 10% you would have given John Wood?!’ It was a huge win for Kuchar.
Mark Cannizzaro / New York Post
“This just in from the better-late-than-never department: Matt Kuchar came to his senses and has vowed to pay the caddie he stiffed three months ago in Mexico the fair wage he deserved in the first place.
“The question now for Kuchar is whether the damage done to his squeaky-clean image as one of the good guys on the PGA Tour is repairable or if it will forever stain him.
“Kuchar should come to his senses and fire his agent, Mark Steinberg, for professional malpractice because while Kuchar surely must be held accountable for his actions, it was Steinberg’s job to save Kuchar from himself.
“On Friday, an embarrassed and shamed Kuchar, while he was playing at the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club after days of being publicly excoriated for paying caddie David Giral Ortiz a mere $5,000 of his winning check of nearly $1.3 million at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November, issued a heartfelt and contrite statement that was released during his round.
“ ‘That is not who I am and now what I want to represent,’ Kuchar said. ‘My entire tour career, I have tried to show respect and positivity. In this situation, I have not lived up to those values or to the expectations I have set for myself.’
“Kuchar, in an interview earlier in the week, told Golf.com, ‘I certainly don’t lose sleep over this,’ adding that Ortiz ‘making $5,000 is a great week’ for him.
“ ‘This week, I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive, making a bad situation worse,’ Kuchar said in his statement. ‘They made it seem like I was marginalizing David Ortiz and his financial situation, which was not my intention. I read them again and cringed.’
“In private, Kuchar surely must be cringing at the poor job Steinberg did for him.
“Kuchar said he planned to call Ortiz on Friday night and has ‘made sure he has received the full total that he has requested.’ [$50,000]....
“Kuchar also said he planned to make a donation to the Mayakoba tournament to be distributed to various philanthropic causes in the local communities.
“ ‘For my fans, as well as fans of the game, I want to apologize to you for not representing the values instilled in this incredible sport,’ he wrote. ‘Golf is a game where we call penalties on ourselves. I should have done that long ago and not let this situation escalate.’”
Kuchar shot 68 in his first round at the rain-plagued Genesis and Friday, he was heckled by a number of spectators. The man who usually is serenaded by fans respectfully yelling “Kooch” at him, heard some “Mooch” catcalls.
One fan yelled, “Go low, Kooch, go low! Just not on the gratuity!”
Martin Rogers / USA TODAY
“Call Matt Kuchar what you like. Catcall him from the gallery next time you see him at a tournament, like a handful of fans did at the Genesis Open on Friday. Blast him on social media and throw in the hashtag ‘#cheapskate’ for good measure.
“If you’re European, start preparing your colorful taunts and money-related jibes in advance of next year’s Ryder Cup. If you’re not, bemoan and shake your head at the way a $1.3 million payday turned into a cataclysmic public relations hailstorm.
“Do pretty much whatever you want, just don’t say Kuchar’s actions are bad for golf.
“Because they’re not. The lingering fallout from the Mayakoba Golf Classic champion’s penny-pinching fiscal offering ($5,000) to stand-in Mexican caddied David Girl Ortiz made Kuchar himself look like a guy with a bewildering mish-mash of unsavory traits. How about greed, belligerence, insensitivity, ignorance, snootiness and an astonishing lack of awareness for starters?
“But it is him that looked bad, and still looks somewhat bad even after backing down and agreeing to pay Ortiz $50,000....
“Golf didn’t look bad. Golf made out great. Golf, heading towards the tail end of NBA All-Star week, was getting itself talked about on Pardon The Interruption and chirped about up and down Twitter’s testy channels of pontification. Golf, at the rather sleepy beginning of the calendar year, was a hot topic of conversation. The best bit of all, the chatter was by no means restricted to golf fans, or even supporters of other sports. This was an all-inclusive argument, with two clearly defined ideologies batting the topic back and forth in bars and on couches and in Ubers and parent-teacher conferences and all the weird kinds of places you’d never typically hear talk of birdies and lofted wedges....
“As this is an opinion piece, here’s mine. The caddie, Ortiz, did get screwed but possibly made things a bit more dramatic than they needed to be. Kuchar, the multi-millionaire, acted like an idiot and made it worse by talking about it pompously. It’s pretty sanctimonious to say that ‘for a guy who usually makes $200, $5,000 is a great week,’ when you’ve just landed a check worth 260-times that amount....
“But again, golf isn’t hurting because of it. Golf has enough polite guys in nice and expensive country club threads, saying and doing and nodding at the right things. Now it has a villain, quite an unlikely one given how popular Kuchar previously was, but a villain nonetheless. There’s another villain knocking around the place in Sergio Garcia, too, after his marvelously petulant meltdown in Saudi Arabia last week. [Ed. When Sergio very blatantly damaged some greens and a bunker.]
“Kuchargate, Caddiegate, Bonusgate, JustPayTheGuy-gate is one of those topics that virtually everyone has some kind of relatively strong take on. The main reason is that there really isn’t any middle ground to be had, except for total indifference.
“Given that the etiquette of tipping culture is as ingrained in American life as overeating and Netflix-binging, and the bonus payments to caddies are a form of tipping, people get fairly heated about it. And contentious verbal banter is something golf can use more of.
“The best thing in golf is the Ryder Cup, where passions are ignited like nothing else in the sport and where courtesy and propriety give way to swagger, nationalism and emotion.
“The next best thing is the final day of major championships, where the crowds are involved at the heart of the action, their vocal chords adding to the drama and jangling at the nerves of the players....
“Not all publicity is good publicity, but all this hasn’t caused one bit of damage, except to Kuchar’s ego and the Saudi greens. Now that Ortiz will get his due recompense, it is no harm, no foul....
“The funny thing about villain tags, they last for a while. So while the skeptics would say that such behavior is deplorable and we wouldn’t want to see it repeated regularly, it doesn’t need to be. Kuchar will still be the lousy tip guy a couple of years from now, Garcia still cast as the tantrum-throwing bunker bandit....
“With Kuchar tipping like a hack and Garcia hacking like one, golf found itself at the heart of America’s sporting news cycle, and that’s no bad place to be.”
Eamon Lynch / Golfweek
“When does significant cash savings – let’s say $124,000 – turn into a loss of something much more valuable? Call it the Kuchar Konundrum.
“That $124,000 is the maximum amount that Matt Kuchar shortchanged David Ortiz... A PGA Tour bagman would have expected to receive 10 percent of Kuchar’s $1.296 million prize, or $129,000. Ortiz, who is not a Tour regular, says he should have been paid $50,000. He got $5,000.
“That $124,000 Kuchar kept affected more than his wallet.
“Any talk about Kuchar, who is not one of the Tour’s more compelling stars, should be because he’s having a career resurgence. The victory in Mexico broke a four-year winless drought. He added his ninth career title at the Sony Open last month, a win that was overshadowed by social media revelations about stiffing Ortiz....
“And Kuchar’s public response immolated rather than inoculated him.
“After first dismissing it as a non-story, Kuchar shrugged off criticism by saying he had met the terms of his agreement with Ortiz, a claim the caddie didn’t co-sign.
“ ‘You can’t make everyone happy,’ Kuchar said earlier this week, before making a lot of people unhappy. ‘For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week,’ he told Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger.
“Rarely has the tone-deafness of the 1 percent been laid so bare.
“Kuchar dismissed the row as a social media distraction and insisted he wasn’t losing sleep over it. But this week proved that it was not confined to social media, and that he was losing considerably more than sleep....
“Distractions are an expensive business on the PGA Tour. A jab from beyond the ropes – whether at an inopportune time or as recurring banter – can affect a player’s performance and earnings. Especially if Kuchar gets in contention on a Sunday, when the stakes are higher and the fans are over-served, it takes just one bad actor, and Kuchar gave them a script.
“Other costs are more intangible: Reputational damage, marketability, the respect of his peers. Everyone with a grudge and a Twitter handle has been given license to stick the boot in. A tsunami of negative Kuchar tales have metastasized online, each unchecked claim gleefully amplified, even one accusing him of not getting ice cream for a kid caddying in his group. I mean, who could like a guy who won’t give a kid ice cream?
“Cheapskate-gate has been a master class in public relations mismanagement.
“ ‘The tip can be righted. It’s the words that won’t go away,’ said LeslieAnne Wade, the former head of PR for CBS Sports who now runs her own management company. ‘I would be more concerned about the perception of the words and what that says about a person than about the tip.’”
I know I now couldn’t give a damn about Matt Kuchar. Part of me might feel sorry for his kids, who will no doubt hear things in school, but then they might be entitled jerks too.
--PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan recently described the six-month stretch that kicks off with the Players in March as “the season of championships.”
March – The Players
April – The Masters
May – The PGA Championship
June – The U.S. Open
July – The Open Championship
Aug. – The FedEx Cup Playoffs
But this is going to create some major scheduling issues for the players and Phil Mickelson, for one, said the other day he might skip the The Players at TPC Sawgrass next month.
“It’s not one I feel like I have to play. It’s not a must-play for me because I’m 48 and I’ve played it 25 times and I’ve already won it. If I were young and early in my career, I would say yes because I think it’s as close to a major as it can get. But it’s not the best course for me.”
We shouldn’t be surprised if a few other veterans opt out, as it seems Lefty will do.
For any young star, though, remember, The Players carries with it not just the prestige of winning a biggie, but a 10-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
--We note the passing of Gene Littler, 88. Littler, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, had 29 PGA Tour victories, including a U.S. Open.
Littler was renowned for the quality of his golf swing, an effortless, fluid motion. One day, Tommy Aaron was watching him on the practice tee. “Doesn’t take long for a Rolls Royce to warm up, does it?” Aaron said. Gene Sarazen said Littler had “a perfect swing like Sam Snead’s – only better.”
Littler, a San Diego native, was called Gene the Machine, having learned from watching and observing Snead, who was in the Navy and stationed there during World War II. Wherever Snead played in the area, Little was nearby.
“I would stand close by and watch him,” Littler told Vartan Kupelian, writing for PGATour.com in 2012. “I think I picked up a few things.”
Littler won the U.S. Amateur in 1953, and a year later, still an amateur, he won the San Diego Open by four shots and turned professional in ‘55.
His crowning achievement was winning the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in 1961, overcoming a three-stroke deficit by shooting 68 in the final round.
Littler was a quiet, unassuming family man, whose only blemish, perhaps, was a 3-8 record in playoffs, including losses at The Masters and PGA Championship to Billy Casper and Lanny Wadkins, respectively.
--The NFL and Colin Kaepernick announced Friday that they’ve reached a settlement in the case in which the quarterback accused the league and its 32 teams of colluding to prevent him from playing because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem.
But terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed, so we’re all just guessing what it cost the league and team owners to avoid a hearing in the case. A related collusion grievance by Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, formerly Kaepernick’s teammate with the 49ers who protested alongside him, also was resolved.
Kaepernick’s protests, which began in 2016 to call attention to racial inequality and police mistreatment of African Americans, ignited a polarizing movement of NFL players protesting during the anthem, while Kaepernick was unable to get back on a roster in the past two seasons; the whole controversy intensified by President Trump.
A joint statement by the league and the players’ lawyers read in part: “The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.”
The new Alliance of American Football, by the way, reached out to Kaepernick, but according to the Associated Press, Kaepernick wanted $20 million or more, while the league norm is $225,000 over three years! The players are free beginning in May to pursue NFL careers, but should they not land a job there, they are obligated to return to the AAF.
But this shows you the kind of guy Kaepernick is, in my mind. He’s got oodles of money, before what no doubt was an incredibly lucrative settlement with the NFL, and all he had to do was play one season in the AAF, dominate, and then no doubt the NFL would have been under unreal pressure to bring him back into the fold, though I obviously don’t know of any hidden provisions in his deal with Roger Goodell and Co.
--The Ravens have apparently reached an agreement in principle to trade quarterback Joe Flacco to the Broncos, though the details can’t be announced until the new league year begins March 13. From a pure football standpoint, assuming the terms aren’t outrageous for what Denver is sending Baltimore, I seem to be in a minority thinking this is a great move for the Broncos.
Flacco, 34, can still play at a high level, it’s just that the Ravens have committed, rightfully so, to Lamar Jackson, while the Broncos are moving on from Case Keenum.
--No Premier League action this weekend, as it was another with FA Cup play.
But after I posted last Wednesday, my Tottenham Spurs had a terrific ‘last 16,’ first leg 3-0 win at Wembley in the Champions League against Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, a huge victory with the two squaring off again March 5 in Dortmund.
So the Spurs, who have won four straight PL matches without injured stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli, are now on the verge of gaining the quarterfinals in the CL, which would be phenomenal for the lads and manager Mauricio Pochettino.
By the way, Dortmund has 20-year-old American Christian Pulisic, who is headed to Chelsea this summer, but he was a non-factor in the match and as the analysts said after, “very much a work in progress.”
--The Colorado man who survived the mountain lion attack came forward, as you no doubt saw the other day. Travis Kauffman, 31, told a local radio station that he first noticed the beast during his run down a trail on Feb. 4 when he heard pine needles ruffle behind him.
“I stopped and turned,” Kauffman told KUNC radio. “In the back of my mind I always wonder if it’s something dangerous like a bear or a bobcat or a mountain lion, and in this case it was in fact a mountain lion.”
He said he tried to scare off the animal by putting up his arms and screaming at it, but the mountain lion charged at him and pounced.
The big cat, which weighed about 80 pounds, sunk a tooth into his wrist and another into his thumb. It then scratched his back with its front claws and gouged his thighs with his hind legs.
“As he struggled with the animal, they both tumbled off the trail.
“ ‘But during that fall, the cat ended up on its back and it still had my wrist this whole time in its mouth,’ Kauffman told the radio station.
He was able to pin the animal’s hind legs down with his body, then he picked up a rock and started hitting the cat in the head.
Eventually, Kauffman decided his best plan of attack was to strangle the cat.
“I got my right foot onto its neck,” he said. “And then I was able to get some weight onto its windpipe and that’s what eventually suffocated it.”
The fight lasted only about 10 minutes, long enough for Kauffman to fear for his life.
“One of the thoughts that I was having was like, ‘Well this would be a pretty crappy way to die,’” he said.
Kauffman was particularly afraid there was another cat in the area.
But after all this, he required ‘only’ more than two dozen stitches and a brace for his wrist.
It’s just a good thing it wasn’t a full-grown cat.
And as I said when this story first broke, there are certain parts of the country where you just never hike or jog alone, and Kauffman has said while he will jog on the same trail again, he’ll have a partner.
I hope he doesn’t ask me. Yet another reason why I don’t sign this column.
--HBO is airing the highly controversial documentary on Michael Jackson next month, so to a far bigger audience than what you had recently at Sundance. And there will be a lot more commentary such as the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, who in her op-ed today said in part:
“When Dan Reed ordered up a score for his documentary, he asked the composer to evoke the image of a shimmering sprite leading two boys deeper and deeper into an enchanted forest. The boys don’t notice that the trees grow menacing. And suddenly, the sprite turns into a monster.
“As ‘Leaving Neverland’ shows, Michael Jackson spent his life shape-shifting from best pal, father figure and beneficent idol into cruel, manipulative rapist.
“It was apparent for decades that Jackson’s cotton-candy lair was sulfurous. But as with other monsters – Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Woody Allen, Jeffrey Epstein and Bryan Singer – many turned a blind eye.
“Celebrity supersedes criminality. How can you see clearly when you’re looking into the sun? How can an icon be a con?
“It was easier to ignore a landscape designed as a spider web for child sexual abuse than to give up the soundtrack of our lives, the catchy songs that coursed through memories of weddings, bar mitzvahs and other good times.
“ ‘With Michael Jackson, you can see how grotesquely his fame, and our worship of fame, distorts and excuses and enables evil – to the point mothers fail to protect their children and literally throw them in harm’s way,’ says Maureen Orth, who did groundbreaking stories in the ‘90s for Vanity Fair about both Jackson and Allen.
“Indeed, the most harrowing part of the new documentary about the shredded lives of two of Jackson’s victims is the complicity of their mothers. Jackson spent as much time grooming the mothers as the sons, to the point where the women saw nothing wrong in letting their children share a bed with a grown man....
“Even with this shocking documentary, the Michael Jackson estate is still demonizing the victims and planning to bring a musical about Jackson’s life to Broadway in 2020.
“Reed says he is ‘agnostic’ about it: ‘Am I going to campaign to have Michael’s name removed from classrooms and his statues removed from shopping malls? No. Is this the right time to celebrate Michael as a legitimate good person you might want to emulate? Possibly not.’
“And that is what’s known as British understatement.”
--And this on the entertainment scene (I’m ignoring the Jussie Smollett case, invoking the ’24 hour’ rule, plus it’s a “Week in Review” story once we get the definitive explanation as to what really went down), “Extra” host A.J. Calloway, who I didn’t realize lived in nearby South Orange, N.J., was suspended from his job due to allegations of sexual misconduct, only this story involves a number of women who are coming forward to make serious accusations against the dude, very graphic allegations. Yes, innocent until proven guilty, but the details emerging thus far seem pretty hard to just make up.
Top 3 songs for the week 2/18/78: #1 “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees) #2 “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” (Andy Gibb) #3 “Just The Way You Are” (Billy Joel)...and...#4 “We Are The Champions” (Queen) #5 “Sometimes When We Touch” (Dan Hill) #6 “Emotion” (Samantha Sang) #7 “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” (Chic) #8 “Short People” (Randy Newman) #9 “Baby Come Back” (Player) #10 “How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees..music on the verge of total blowdom at this point...though this week had enough ‘OK’ tunes to scratch out a C- ...)
Daytona 500 Quiz Answer: Five with three wins....
Richard Petty 7
Cale Yarborough 4...two of them following 1979
Bobby Allison 3
Dale Jarrett 3
Jeff Gordon 3
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.