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One out...about seven still in it...re the CFP
[Posted Sunday p.m., before Packers-Patriots]
Baseball Quiz: With the passing of Willie McCovey (see below), Bob S. in San Fran reminded me of this cool stat. McCovey is one of only four players to homer in four decades. Name the others. Answer below.
College Football Review
[Comments written prior to both AP and CFP Rankings...the next CFP released Tues.]
This was survival Saturday for those holding an outside shot at sneaking into the CFP, like Oklahoma and Washington State. Otherwise we’re down to five for four spots.
To wit. In the top ten....
No. 1 Alabama showed why it’s likely to be a heavy favorite against anyone in the CFP final (even Clemson) after a 29-0 buttwhuppin’ of No. 3 LSU in Baton Rouge. ‘Bama outgained the Tigers 576-196, though the quarterback, and your 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, Tua Tagovailoa, proved he’s human...throwing his first interception of the season, against 27 touchdown passes. For the game, Tua was 25/42, 295, 2-1, against a very solid LSU defense, despite all the yards it gave up, while adding a 44-yard TD run. Damien Harris also rushed for 107 yards and a score for the Tide.
It didn’t help LSU’s ‘D’ that its offense was totally stifled (12 yards rushing on 25 carries) and thus it was on the field all the time. Tigers coach Ed Orgeron (and his staff) were dreadful in clock management at a key point at the end of the first half that essentially handed ‘Bama a touchdown that made the score 16-0 at the intermission when it should have been 9-0...and that was your ballgame.
No. 2 Clemson annihilated Louisville (2-7) 77-16, the second most points scored in ACC history, next to an 82-24 Clemson win over Wake Forest in 1981.
The Tigers’ dismantling of Louisville was so complete, 14 players rushed the ball for 492 yards, five touchdowns, and a 13.3 yards per carry average! That’s 13.3 yards...per carry! Six different players had runs of 25 yards or more. That’s insane. And three different Tigers QBs threw for only 169 yards, but five touchdowns!
My friend Dr. W. was in attendance and when the score was 28-3 early in the second quarter, he texted that it was clear Louisville wasn’t even trying.
With 3 LSU having lost, 4 Notre Dame will now inherit that position in the CFP rankings after a solid 31-21 win at Northwestern (5-4), which has been playing better than its record and could still find itself in the Big Ten conference title game. Plus the Fighting Irish beat the spread of 9.5 points...and at the end of the day....
Quarterback Ian Book had another great game, throwing for 343 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 56 yards and a score.
5 Michigan suddenly finds itself in the CFP top four after demolishing a really lousy, 14-rated Penn State team, 42-7, the Wolverines ‘D’ holding the Nittany Lions’ quarterbacks to 8/17, 118, 0-2. Michigan outgained PSU 403-186, with zero turnovers to Penn State’s three.
And we had another biggie that revealed a ‘pretender,’ 9 Kentucky (7-2), which was hosting its biggest game of the century, and then some, against 6 Georgia (8-1), the Bulldogs running away with a 34-17 win that was far easier than the final score indicated, Georgia up 28-3 in the third quarter. Running back D’Andre Swift had a career-best 156 yards and two touchdowns, including an 83-yarder, while Evander Holyfield’s boy, Elijah, chipped in with 115 yards and a score.
Georgia wrapped up a slot in the SEC title game Dec. 1 in Atlanta, against Alabama. Georgia is likely to need to win this one to get into the final four.
7 Oklahoma (8-1) had to withstand a tough challenge from Texas Tech (5-4) in Lubbock, 51-46, as Sooner QB, and your Heisman runner-up, Kyler Murray, threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns (though with two picks), while rushing for another 100 and a TD. OU running back Trey Sermon had 206 yards and three touchdowns. So Oklahoma still has an outside shot at sneaking into the CFP.
Ditto No. 8 Washington State (8-1) after a 19-13 win against a decent California (5-4) team. Gardner Minshew threw for 334 yards, but it took him 51 passing attempts to do so.
Lastly, in the top ten, No. 10 Ohio State did Michigan no favors with a scarily close 36-31 win over 2-7 Nebraska in Columbus. This is not a great Buckeye team, by any stretch, as Dwayne Haskins (who will still get a Heisman invite to New York, but should stay home), was held to just 252 yards through the air; Ohio State saved by running back J.K. Dobbins’ 163 yards and three touchdowns.
--In other contests...
It’s clear No. 12 UCF just isn’t that good, despite now being 8-0 following a 52-40 win over Temple (5-4). For the second time in three weeks, the Knights allowed an opponent to jump out to a halftime lead on an offensive explosion, the Owls leading 34-28, but just as UCF did against Memphis, when they fell behind 30-17 to them at the intermission, the defense slammed the door in the second half and the Knights prevailed. McKenzie Milton had three touchdown passes and a fourth on the ground for UCF, while Greg McCrae had 188 yards rushing plus a score.
It’s just that UCF can’t be called elite, CFP worthy, struggling so against Temple and Memphis. But the Knights are going to receive the Group of Five, New Year’s Six bowl bid for a second straight year...or so it looks today.
In a terrific contest, 13 West Virginia is still in the Big 12 race following a 42-41 win at 17 Texas (6-3) in Austin. Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger (25/36, 354, 3-0) had thrown a touchdown pass with 2:34 to play to put Texas in the lead, 41-34, but Mountaineers QB Will Grier (28/42, 346, 3-0) marched WVU down the field and then threw a perfect 33-yard scoring strike to Gary Jennings Jr. at the back of the end zone to make it 41-40 with 16 seconds left.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen then opted to go for the two and the win on the road rather than the tie, and Grier ran it in for the 42-41 victory, setting up a huge potential tussle with Oklahoma on Nov. 23, though both have to take of business beforehand.
Boston College is 7-2 and headed to its big showdown, at home, against No. 2 Clemson after a nice 31-21 road win at Virginia Tech, the Hokies falling to 4-4. The Eagles were behind 14-7 at the half before getting their act together in the second.
19 Syracuse defeated Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, 41-24, Deacon freshman quarterback Sam Hartman with three costly turnovers. The Orange move to 7-2, Wake falls to 4-5. [Just learned Hartman is out for the year with a 'leg' injury.]
Friday, 25 Virginia hosted Pitt and the Cavaliers fell to the Panthers 23-13, Pitt 5-4, UVA 6-3.
But as I told you last chat, this was all about the lead in the ACC Coastal division and a date in the conference title game against Clemson.
So now we have....
Virginia Tech 3-2
Pitt hosts VaTech next week, and then closes with road games at Wake and Miami.
Continuing...Mr. Chairman, I’d like to revise and extend my remarks regarding the Houston Cougars. Last chat, upon the revealing of the first CFP Rankings, I said it was “absurd” that Houston, ranked 17 in the AP, was unranked in the CFP.
Well I guess the CFP folks know more than I give them credit for because a highly mediocre SMU team (4-5) whipped Houston 45-31, outgaining the high-powered Cougars offense 514-365 in the process. This does UCF no good down the road, re its CFP rank.
Rutgers was a 29-point underdog at Wisconsin and lo and behold, the Scarlet Knights beat the spread! They beat the spread! Rutgers fell 31-17, as freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski played OK (for him), 20/39, 261, 1-0. But Rutgers’ run game was non-existent, 26 rushes for 72 yards, the longest 7 yards. Eek. The Badgers’ Jonathan Taylor rumbled for 208 yards and three touchdowns, Wisconsin now 6-3 in this disappointing season for them.
Rutgers is 1-8, with Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State awaiting them.
Troubled Maryland is 5-4 after a 24-3 loss to Michigan State (6-3), the Spartans getting 157 yards and two TDs on the ground from Connor Heyward.
But Army is 7-2, headed for their third straight bowl contest, after a 17-14 win at Michie Stadium over Air Force (3-6). The Knights thus also clinched a second consecutive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time. Jimbo wrote to make sure I noted Army’s proficiency on fourth down this season; 3-for-3 Saturday, 29 of 32 on the year. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
[I just saw there was an incident involving Air Force’s mascot, a 22-year-old falcon, Aurora, perpetrated by West Point cadets that left the falcon seriously injured. Not good.]
In Division I-AA/FCS play....
In the biggie down in Princeton, the battle of undefeateds, Dartmouth vs. Princeton, the Tigers prevailed 14-9, quarterback John Lovett rushing for two TDs, including the decider in the fourth quarter.
Pete M.’s Colgate, and its amazing defense, stayed undefeated at 8-0, blasting 1-8 Fordham 41-0. The Red Raiders (oops, sorry...Raiders) have now allowed just six points in their last seven games!
Like I said, Wake Forest. Fly up to Hamilton, NY (before it gets snowed in), and throw gobs of cash at Colgate’s defensive coordinator, whoever it is. I don’t care if it’s illegal...us fans deserve it. [At least while the Deacs were on probation, we’d enjoy the games more.]
One other, Shu’s Elon beat Rhode Island 24-21, as it gears up for the FCS playoffs.
And now your new AP Poll! Zero surprises, save perhaps for West Virginia.
1. Alabama 9-0 (60)
2. Clemson 9-0
3. Notre Dame 9-0
4. Michigan 8-1
5. Georgia 8-1
6. Oklahoma 8-1...this will be your CFP top six come Tuesday...
7. West Virginia 7-1
8. Ohio State 8-1...bleh
9. LSU 7-2
10. Washington State 8-1...no respect...probably deservedly so...
11. UCF 8-0...where they should be...but can move up to about 7 or 8 down the road...
13. Syracuse 7-2...great for the program...college football is better if they’re a perennial top 20 because of New York media market...and they face Notre Dame shortly....
17. Boston College 7-2
21. Penn State 6-3...fans have gotta be super disappointed...
25. Cincinnati 8-1
--Back to Maryland and the debacle there.
The chairman of the Board of Regents announced his resignation Thursday, part of a stunning turnabout at the school.
The board came under heavy pressure and widespread criticism after the chairman, James T. Brady, and the university president, Wallace D. Loh, announced on Tuesday that Maryland’s head football coach D.J. Durkin would be retained, despite the investigation into the death of one of his players during a practice last spring, Jordan McNair, 19, who died from complications of heatstroke. The university president then overturned the decision a day later.
The initial decision to retain Durkin was heavily criticized across the country as an example of prioritizing big-time athletics over students’ safety.
Tim Tebow then harshly criticized the school’s administration for flip-flopping.
“You need to make a decision and you need to stand with it,” Tebow said on ESPN. “Because right now (the decision to fire Durkin) shows people are so afraid to have conviction to believe in something when they make a decision that they’re like, ‘Oh my goodness social media’s against us. Well we’re gonna fire him now.’ You just made a decision to keep him. If that’s your decision, if you believe that’s what’s right for the program, then it shouldn’t matter what I say, what social media says.
“So many people want to be liked instead of being respected. And I think more universities need to stand by what they believe is right.”
But, prior to the decision to release Durkin after all....
Sally Jenkins / Washington Post
[A piece that no doubt influenced the school to reverse course.]
“Parents, don’t send your kids to Maryland to play football. Just don’t do it. It’s not a university, it’s a canker sore with a couple of dormitories strapped to its supporting side. Don’t let your son so much as look at an application. At best he will get all the wrong lessons in manhood, take courses in deceit, and spinelessness. At worst he may wind up twitching on the ground, or even in a hospital issuing a death hiss. It’s not a safe place for athletes, or students. It’s a place for belly snakes. To quote Betty Davis, ‘What a dump.’
“At Maryland, your son will not be in the care of responsible administrators, but rather sneaking infighters and influence peddlers who debase and dirty a university education. Whose combination of arrogance and lethal stupidity has made them a national laughingstock, yet who don’t even realize it. They have nothing to teach a young man except how to disgrace himself in public, and then look in the mirror and see handsome.
“Does this description of the College Park salvage yard – I won’t dignify it with the term campus – sound harsh? To the ears of Jordan McNair’s parents, it doesn’t even begin....
“(Instead) of relieving Durkin from a post for which he is so clearly unfit, Maryland’s fork-tongued regents spent months prevaricating and producing self-contradictory reports, and then buckled under to the money. Instead of firing the donor-pet Durkin, they effectively ousted university president Wallace D. Loh, who was nowhere near the scene of the crime....
“ ‘There will no third chance for any of those involved to get this right,’ said board chair James T. Brady at a news conference Tuesday.
“Third chance? Third chance??? You mean you get a repeat when you kill a player? Someone, please, shake this man by the hair until the cotton falls out of his ears.
“Jordan McNair never got his first chance. The regents would like to obfuscate blame for that, would like to behave as if running a large, overweight young man to the point of death in the heat was a tragic accident – as opposed to the entirely predictable outcome of brutality and negligence that it was.”
--Just a few comments...stuff cropped up late today.
I watched the entire Jets game, as they lost 13-6 down in Miami, New York’s season officially over as they fall to 3-6.
The thing is, all week the story was Miami is beatable, and we play pathetic Buffalo next at home, so we should be 5-5 going into the bye week, with at least a glimmer of hope.
But rookie Sam Darnold picked the wrong time to have a career-worst 4 interceptions, at least three of them totally his fault.
What a wasted effort by the Jets ‘D’. They gave up a total of 168 yards! Just 34 in the second half, but we had major problems with the center snap, your editor not realizing until after the game that Spencer Long, the culprit, was playing with a dislocated finger, but that’s not my, or our, problem! Geezuz. Why was he on the field then?!
And veteran wide receiver Jerome Kearse could not have sucked more.
Now the following shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s illustrative. Darnold has 7 TDs and 3 INTS in the team’s three wins, and is 4-11 in the six losses, including 2-7 in the last three games, all ‘Ls’.
That said we still love you, Sam! You’re the future!
Anyway, Miami is 5-4. At least there was one girl in the stands who.....oops.....
But wait, there’s more! I just saw that Miami d-back Reshad Jones may have walked off the team in the second quarter...developing....
--I totally forgot to note last time the firing of Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson after a 3-36-1 mark. [Gregg Williams is the interim coach.]
2018...2-5-1...but they could have been 4-1, even 5-0, after their first five were it not for some questionable coaching decisions...and bad luck.
This week, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said “internal discord” led to the firing of Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday.
Jackson then said he didn’t think it was internal discord, but, “I think you have disagreements with coaches. With Todd, with [defensive coordinator] Gregg Williams, with Amos Jones, who’s also the special-teams coordinator. I don’t think that’s internal discord.”
Well I do, Coach. Or a totally dysfunctional staff, which in light of your first two seasons was cause for your dismissal for blowing a golden opportunity this season.
Jackson also didn’t agree with the style of offense set up for Baker Mayfield. He wanted Mayfield to play in an offense similar to what the QB ran at Oklahoma as he was winning his Heisman Trophy – quick throws, slants, fewer big seven-stop drops. I haven’t followed Browns games closely at all but I can’t disagree with this. The problem was Jackson didn’t agree with Haley, but then didn’t do the right things to address it.
So Sunday...the Browns hosted the 7-1 Chiefs and you can guess the result, K.C. 37, Cleveland 21. Patrick Mahomes threw for 375 yards and another three touchdowns, giving him 29 on the season. [Reminder, the record for a season is 55 by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady with 50 the only other one at that level ....shoot, just blew a future quiz!]
Back to the game, Baker Mayfield was solid, 29/42, 297, 2-1, 95.0.
--Andrew Beaton had a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the futility of Buffalo and its quarterbacks.
“The NFL is going through a passing boom. But there’s one team, led by one man, fearlessly defying that trend.
“The Buffalo Bills plan to start Nathan Peterman at quarterback this weekend. Again.
“Peterman enters Sunday’s game against the Bears with a track record that’s remarkable for all of the wrong reasons. Among quarterbacks with limited experience, he has been one of the worst ever.
“In seven career games, Peterman has completed 37 of his 81 passes with three touchdowns and nine interceptions. Only one quarterback, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Randy Hedberg, has thrown more interceptions in fewer than 100 passes during the Super Bowl-era.”
I’d add Peterman’s passer rating is a sickly 31.4.
This contrasts with a league-wide passer rating entering Week 9 of 93.9, an all-time high, as Andrew Beaton points out, though the Bills had a team-wide passer rating of 52.8, nearly 15 points worse than the next worse team this year, Arizona.
Well...Sunday, the Bears blitzed the Bills, 41-9, as Mr. Peterman was a deceptive 31-of-49. Like try 49 attempts for a whopping 189 yards, zero TDs, another three interceptions, a 45.4 rating. But he did rush for the lone Buffalo TD.
Meanwhile, Bills running back LeSean McCoy had 10 yards on 10 carries, and now has 24 on 24 in his last three games. Why that’s worse than Eddie George. [Or some of Dave Osborn’s seasons...I’m forcing old-timers to go to footballreference to remind yourselves of the Vikings’ back’s seasons...though I admit this is not fair to Mr. Osborn or his family...I just have a brain cell that thought of this.]
--The Steelers continued to roll and are now 5-2-1, playoff bound, after an important win in Baltimore, 23-16, beating the hated Ravens. James Conner had another solid game, 107 yards on 24 carries, as well as seven receptions for 56 and a score. Again, all together now... “Le’Veon who?”
--Minnesota is 5-3-1 after a 24-9 win over Detroit, 3-5.
--And I caught chunks of Rams-Saints down in N’Orlins. It was 35-17 at the half, Saints, Drew Brees having thrown for 211 yards and three touchdowns.
But then suddenly, as “60 Minutes” was about to come on, the Rams tied it at 35. I loved the play-call on the successful two-point conversion.
I did see Malcolm Brown’s spectacular tightrope down the sideline in the third to make it 35-24.
And then I caught snippets of the end, including Michael Thomas’ 72-yard TD scamper off a Brees pass with 3:52 to play, and Thomas’ incredibly stupid, and despicable, hidden cellphone trick that cost New Orleans 15 yards on the ensuing kick. Cue Jeff Spicoli.
Sorry, sports fans...I remain old school.
Well, luckily for Thomas, it ended 45-35 Saints, the receiver finishing with 12 receptions for 211 and that score; Brees throwing for four TDs.
New Orleans is 7-1. The Rams suffer their first loss, now 8-1.
--Atlanta picked up a big win on the road, 38-14 over Washington, which falls to 5-3. The Falcons, picked by many to return to the Super Bowl, started 1-4 but appear to have righted the ship with three in a row.
--Carolina will be in the playoffs (yes, I’m jumping the gun on some teams, but if you can’t jump the gun on your own site, when can you?), 42-28 winners over Tampa Bay to improve to 6-2, the Bucs 3-5.
--Thursday night, the now 2-7 49ers whipped the 1-7 Raiders 34-3, in a game I hope most of you forgot was even on. As in some commented after, this was a contest where “The Jon Gruden: Part II” era of the Raiders hit rock bottom.
Gruden said after: “I know it’s not looking pretty right now. I’ve heard a lot of negativity over the last six, seven months and rightfully so. But we’re going to build a championship football team here.”
Right, coach. Whatever you say.
Raiders QB Derek Carr, who during the prior bye week had supposedly lost the team, was a mere 16/21, 171, no touchdowns, sacked seven times and under pressure all night.
And as every single football fan in America was thinking after seeing Thursday’s result, how the hell did Gruden receive $100 million over ten years?! I commented to a friend the other day, gee, if Gruden really wanted to return to coaching, don’t you think he’d have accepted five for $50 million? Or even three for $30 million, with a hefty buyout in year 4?
Oh well, glad I’m not Raiders management, having to answer for this s---show.
Then again, they’re escaping to Vegas (2020 season), where they can hole up, Howard Hughes-like, and just avoid everyone.
Meanwhile, for San Francisco, it was the NFL debut of 2017 undrafted free agent, third-string Nick Mullens at quarterback, and all the kid from Southern Miss did was put together one of the greatest statistical performances by a quarterback making his debut in NFL history.
Mullens was replacing an injured C.J. Beathard and proceeded to go 16-of-22 for 262 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions...a passer rating of 151.9. That rating was the best by a quarterback making his debut with at least 20 attempts since 1970. And he joined Marc Bulger, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Marcus Mariota as the only players over the past 25 seasons to throw for three or more touchdowns in their first game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
MLB...Hot Stove League Action
It’s going to be a fascinating offseason for two reasons...the disposition of free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. It’s expected the process for these two will take some time, but eventually two teams are going to bite on them...maybe the Phillies for the former, the Yankees for the latter (yeah, I know the Yankees outfield is already crowded with Stanton and Judge occupying the corners).
But in the meantime, the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw had to work things out, or Kershaw was gone, and the two did what any good baseball fan (including yours truly) expected them to...reach a deal on a new three-year contract, in this case for $93 million.
So Kershaw technically takes a cut over his existing two-year deal paying him $65m, as in he’ll be paid $31 million a year instead of $32.5 million, but there are incentives on workload and performance that could add $4 million+ over time.
This is exceedingly fair. The guy should retire a Dodger and seeing as he’ll turn 31 next March, if he ever straightened out his back issues, who knows what he can do. This deal is good for baseball.
Kershaw said after: “Honestly, I wanted to stay here. Financial, everything aside, it was more valuable to me to stay here. I’m glad we got that done. I talked a lot with Ellen (his wife). My kiddos love it here, Ellen loves it here, I love it here. I love the team here. There’s not many opportunities that meet all the criteria that Ellen and I would be looking for.
“Myself, personally, a chance to win every single year, it doesn’t come around like this in L.A. very often. We just decided that it was a much better option to try to work it out here than to do anything else.”
The Dodgers already have a starting rotation with Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and possibly Julio Urias, plus starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was given a $17.9 million qualifying offer Friday. Heck, we could be looking at a six-man rotation (not that anyone is talking that way in L.A., but I’ve warmed up to the idea over the past season).
Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals made Bryce Harper a qualifying offer as a formality before Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline, which Harper will reject (if he hasn’t already...he has 10 days), seeing as it is for the max $17.9 million. But in doing so, Washington ensures that if / when he leaves, the team will receive something in return, like a fourth-round draft pick.
But what the offer does is tell you the two sides did not come to an agreement with Harper staying in D.C., not that they still won’t.
The Nationals, who have been already shoring up their bullpen with some early offseason acquisitions, may still target free-agent starters Patrick Corbin of Arizona, or Astros starter Dallas Keuchel; those two receiving qualifying offers from their teams for protection, ditto Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrell.
Also this weekend, the Cubs picked up the option on left-hander Cole Hamels’ contract for 2019, while trading lefty Drew Smyly and a player to be named to Texas for a player to be named. Had the Cubs declined Hamels’ option, the Rangers would have had to pay him a $6 million buyout as part of the July trade that sent him to Chicago.
Smart move for the Cubs. Hamels was 4-3, 2.36 ERA in 12 starts once coming over from the Rangers, though the 34-year-old is angling for a longer-term deal. [Wait ‘til mid-season, or later, Cubbies.]
Smyly did not pitch last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery in June 2017. He’s just 29 and has a career ERA of 3.74, with a 31-27 record in five seasons, and could still fashion a nice career.
--Finally, we note the passing of Willie McCovey, the Hall of Fame first baseman with 521 home runs in 22 big league seasons, most with the San Francisco Giants. He was 80. It was remarkable here in the New York area that when news of McCovey’s death hit, on Mike Francesa’s sports talk show, which I happened to catch some of, McCovey was all anyone wanted to talk about, not the Jets or Giants, or Knicks...which gives you a sense of the man’s impact on the game.
Simply, as I’ve noted countless times, he was the most feared hitter of his era. And loved, quite a feat for an opponent.
McCovey joined the Giants in 1959, their second season on the West Coast, and in his first game went 4-for-4 with two triples, against Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, a rather auspicious debut. “Stretch,” so named for his 6-foot-4 inch, 200-pound frame and his long arms, would go on to become N.L. Rookie of the Year that season despite only 192 at-bats, as he hit .354 with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs, plus a 1.085 OPS.
But then he had a problem...Orlando Cepeda was also on the team and the righty Cepeda and the lefty McCovey often platooned, or Willie played in the outfield, with Cepeda getting far more playing time from 1960-62.
It wasn’t until 1963 that McCovey got a chance to play every day and he responded with a league-leading 44 homers, and 102 RBIs.
McCovey, though, had knee issues his entire career, his last season playing 150 games being 1970, age 32.
But it was the stretch from 1968-70 that he truly shined, the era most memorable for this young baseball fan.
1968...36 HR, 105 RBI...the year of the pitcher...leading the league in both categories.
1969...45, 126...also leading the league in both.
He would finish his career in 1980, back with San Francisco after some seasons in San Diego and Oakland, with 1,555 RBIs to go with his 521 home runs and a .374 OBP (terrific for that era).
So those are the main stats. But there’s far more to Willie’s story.
As the New York Times’ Richard Goldstein wrote:
“Amid all his achievements, he was also remembered for a crushing moment when he came excruciatingly close to bringing the 1962 Giants a World Series championship over the Yankees.
“Although he played in only 91 games, appearing mostly in the outfield or pinch-hitting, McCovey hit 20 homers in that season, when the Giants defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-game playoff to win the pennant.
“The World Series came down to Game 7. McCovey, who had tripled earlier in the game, came to bat at Candlestick Park against the Yankees’ starter, Ralph Terry, in the ninth inning with runners on second and third, two outs and the Yankees leading, 1-0. He ripped the ball, but second baseman Bobby Richardson was standing in exactly the right spot and snared it chest high.
“ ‘One foot higher, or either way, and I guess I would have been a hero,’ McCovey said afterward, envisioning what almost certainly would have been a dramatic 2-1 Giants victory.
“That December, Charles M. Schulz voiced his sympathy for McCovey in a ‘Peanuts’ comic strip. Charlie Brown sits, hands on chin, through three panels, then lifts his head and asks, ‘Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?’
“A month later, in a similar image, he lamented, ‘Or why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball even two feet higher?’
“McCovey would never appear in a World Series again.”
[McCovey once joked to the Associated Press: “People ask me how I’d like to be remembered. I tell them I’d like to be remembered as the guy who hit the line drive over Bobby Richardson’s head.”]
Of course when it comes to feared hitters of that era, many felt the same way about Willie Stargell. When Don Sutton was asked to comment on McCovey’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1986, his first year of eligibility, Sutton said: ‘I would put Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell in the same category. Both were so darn big and swung the bat like they were swinging a fountain pen. You couldn’t throw the ball past them, and there was no way to trick them. They scared you.”
But in these pages, I venture I mentioned, oh, only about 20 times, that McCovey hit the hardest ball I ever saw...a rising shot that hit the center-field flag at Shea Stadium, over the 410’ mark, and I swear it was still rising.
Following his retirement, McCovey remained a beloved presence in the Bay Area. The inlet of San Francisco Bay behind the right-field fence at AT&T Park was christened McCovey Cove, which as the years go by no doubt will have more and more meaning.
McCovey had a situation in his later years where he was sentenced to two years’ probation and fined $5,000, along with Duke Snider, for failing to report proceeds from baseball memorabilia shows. But during his final days in office, President Obama issued a pardon...perhaps one of the more appropriate pardons in the history of our country, frankly.
But even in 2010, poor Willie (and I imagine Charlie Brown) were still reflecting on 1962. He told the New York Times, as the Giants met the Phillies in the NLCS:
“I loved coming up with players in scoring position and I had to drive them in. I don’t think anybody could have felt as bad as I did. Not only did I have a whole team on my shoulders in that at-bat, I had a whole city. At that time, I just knew I’d be up in that situation again in the future, and then I was going to come through.”
Yes, the season starts this week and I’m kind of psyched...something more to watch, with lots of early action...including a huge doubleheader on Tuesday from Indianapolis...Duke-Kentucky and Kansas-Michigan State. [Drat, I have to watch the midterm election coverage, too.]
Two preseason Top Tens of note....
1. Kansas (37)
2,. Kentucky (19)
3. Gonzaga (1)
4. Duke (4)
5. Virginia (2)
6. Tennessee (1)
8. North Carolina
9. Villanova (1)
10. Michigan State
8. North Carolina
10. Michigan State
Yup, quite a bit of consistency.
The Nevada Wolf Pack of the Mountain West Conference are everyone’s darling this season. They are loaded with talent, led by the Martin twins (Caleb and Cody) and coach Eric Musselman has done a helluva job since inheriting a team that went 9-22 in 2014-15. Musselman’s first three seasons have been 24-14, 28-7, and 29-8, earning a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament last spring and finishing AP No. 24.
--Phil W. first apprised me of some pleasantly good news for Wake Forest and their hoops program, which could desperately use some with three of the last four seasons being hideous.
Ernie Nestor, a long-time fixture in the Deacon program, is returning to serve as a special assistant to head coach Danny Manning. Nestor retired after finishing the 2016-17 season as an assistant at Navy.
The thing is, Nestor has a 41-year career coaching college hoops, including stints at Wake assisting Carl Tacy from 1979-85, and then Dave Odom, 1993-2001, generally solid eras for the Deacs.
Plus he was a head coach for 11 seasons at George Mason and Elon.
A position for Nestor opened up with the issues surrounding assistant coach Jamill Jones, who is on administrative leave following the tragic incident that resulted in a man’s death in New York City in early August. Nestor can provide invaluable advice to Manning.
Otherwise, this is going to be another rough year for the Deacs, but they have some perhaps promising freshmen, with more help on the way next year.
--My New York Knicks may only win 25 games this season, but us fans have the right attitude. Finally, you can see the team has real direction, and a game plan. Develop their first-rounders (Frank Ntilikina, 2017; Kevin Knox, 2018), hope that when Kristaps Porzingis returns from his injury he’s in elite form and continues to develop, get another lottery pick in 2019, and attract a free agent next offseason.
In the meantime, the team is loaded with intriguing, young studs, some of whom were top draft picks of other teams....Mario Hezonja, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, Noah Vonleh, Trey Burke....
New Coach David Fizdale gets it...and while the team is just 3-6*, fans are kind of psyched because you can see that some of these kids do indeed have the potential to be long-term rotation guys, or better. Robinson is a raw talent at center who you kind of wonder if he’s starring in just two seasons. Vonleh is the perfect power forward. Trier can fill it up. 2017’s second-round pick, Damyean Dotson, is now starting and showing signs of developing into a solid performer.
--Meanwhile, if you’re a Washington Wizards fan, you had high hopes for the season. You made the playoffs four of the last five season, finishing .500 or better, and while you fell short in the postseason, there was hope for 2018-19.
But you start out the season 1-7! The home fans booed unmercifully during Friday’s embarrassing 134-111 loss to Oklahoma City.
*Make that Knicks 3-7, Wizards 2-7, after Washington beat New York 108-95 tonight as I go to post.
--On the flip side you have the Toronto Raptors. They acquired superstar Kawhi Leonard, who is healthy again, and behind his 26 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2 steals, the Raptors are 8-1, heading into a game against the Lakers in L.A. tonight.
--Congratulations to Derrick Rose for his first-ever 50-point effort the other night, after I last posted, in a 125-122 T’Wolves win over Utah.
Rose didn’t score 50 points in all of January, or February, or March, or April, last season. The guy has had four knee surgeries, and ankle issues last year, that have forced him to miss the equivalent of two+ full seasons when he should have been in his prime.
--We had another Fall, 2018-19 wraparound event in Las Vegas this week, The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and freakin’ Bryson DeChambeau won his fifth in just 16 months. I better learn to like this guy because it sure looks like he’s going to be a force for a long time to come, he being just 25. [Drat!]
Meanwhile, Justin Rose, in winning the Turkish Airlines Open, returned to No. 1 in the world, supplanting Brooks Koepka.
--I forgot that among the new rules for 2019 in golf is one that allows golfers to putt from the green while leaving the flagstick in and unattended.
DeChambeau, the one known for his scientific approach to the game, said he will probably leave the flagstick in – unless he’s at the U.S. Open, where the sticks are made of a different material.
“It depends on the COR – the coefficient of restitution of the flagstick,” DeChambeau said during a photo shoot with Golf.com. “In U.S. Opens, I’ll take it out. And every other tour event, when it’s fiberglass, I’ll leave it in and bounce against the flagstick if I need to.”
We’ll see how much casual golfers adopt the same...let alone how many other tour players do.
Let’s face it...a long putt traveling at great speed would almost always benefit from hitting the flag versus racing 12 feet past. And downhill putts may present an opportunity.
The thing is, the USGA instituted the rule mainly for pace of play issues with recreational players.
--Very depressing news this week. Holly Sonders, while signing a contract extension with Fox Sports, will not be part of the network’s golf coverage in 2019! This is a travesty!
Actually, I don’t know what her new assignment(s) will be. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing her replace Tucker Carlson on Fox News.
--Leicester City played its first game since the death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in the tragic helicopter crash at the stadium last Sat. night. The Foxes responded, 1-0 winners at Cardiff City. I was especially happy for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who some of you might remember for his spectacular performance, in a losing effort, in the Round of 16 at the recent World Cup; Schmeichel the keeper for Denmark, which lost to Croatia in a memorable shootout. Schmeichel heard the crash Saturday and ran out to the scene in tears, he being particularly close to Vichai.
--In other games, we had a biggie at Arsenal, Arsenal-Liverpool, and the Gunners’ Lacazette had a super solo effort to tie it at the 82-minute mark, the final, 1-1. Arsenal is definitely back.
Tottenham held on for a nice 3-2 win at Wolverhampton, almost blowing a 3-0 lead late. But the win allowed them to climb over Arsenal into the fourth Champions League spot.
Manchester United had a big 2-1 win on the road at Bournemouth, Marcus Rashford with the winner late in extra time.
Lowly Newcastle had a clutch 1-0 win over Watford to take itself above the relegation line, at least for one week.
Today, Manchester City blasted Southampton 6-1 to take sole possession of first after the Liverpool draw, while Chelsea defeated Chrystal Palace 3-1.
Standings after 11 of 38....W-D-L...pts
[ties broken by goal differential]
1. Man City 9-2-0...29
2. Chelsea 8-3-0...27
3. Liverpool 8-3-0...27
4. Tottenham 8-0-3...24 ...Champions League line
5. Arsenal 7-2-2...23
6. Bournemouth 6-2-3...20
7. Man U 6-2-3...20
Big game Monday on the relegation front, Fulham and Huddersfield.
--In the Breeders’ Cup over the weekend at Churchill Downs, Accelerate won the Classic, which lacked drama due to Justify’s absence.
But the Juvenile, the race to see who might be shining on the same surface come next May at the Kentucky Derby was won by the favorite, Bob Baffert’s Game Winner, who held off a bunch of challengers down the stretch. Baffert was as psyched afterwards as I’ve ever seen him. ‘We just want to keep the horse healthy until the spring,’ he said. He’s got another potential special horse.
And as Johnny Mac and I agree, there’s really no reason for Baffert not to be happy. He’s on a roll. Life is pretty, pretty good.
--Kevin Harvick won this week’s NASCAR race at Texas Speedway. Just two races to go for the Cup.
--I always watch at least the final few miles of the New York City Marathon, and boy, the runners had a spectacular day...temps at race time in the mid-40s and zero wind.
For the men, Lelisa DeSisa of Ethiopia held off countryman Kitata, while on the women’s side, Mary Keitany of Kenya won her fourth NYC title, placing her just behind Greta Waitz’s phenomenal nine.
DeSisa ran a sparkling 2:05:39...Keitany 2:22:48.
But I was psyched to see my all-time favorite female distance runner, America’s Shalane Flanagan, surge to third in the final two miles. She too was deservedly pumped, in what may have been her final marathon in Gotham.
--Ho hum...Simone Biles did it again. She won the all-around title at the world gymnastics championships Thursday. Number four...more than any other woman ever.
Yes, with everything going on in the program...extraordinary.
--A tragic development in India. A tigress said to have killed 13 people (as detailed in these pages previously) has been shot dead after a major hunt, officials said.
The six-year-old big cat evaded capture in the jungles of the western state of Maharashtra for two years.
Last month wildlife officials deployed perfume in a bid to lure the animal.
A team armed with a tranquilizer gun and a firearm was stationed in a vehicle on a road where the tigress, known as T-1, had been spotted by villagers, a Forestry Department statement said.
A tranquilizer dart was then fired at the animal, but once hit, the tigress (allegedly) charged the patrol’s vehicle and she was killed by a single shot from a distance of between eight and 10 meters (26-33 feet), the statement said.
In August the tigress and her two nine-month-old cubs killed three people in the area around the town of Pandharkawada and left more than 5,000 resident fearing for their lives. Farmers and grazers were told to only venture out in groups, “and not defecate in the open field, a common practice in the villages.”
T-1 was believed to have killed 10 people in 20 months since 2016 before the three in August. DNA tests on the victims were used to determine that at least seven of the 13 had been killed by a female tiger.
As the BBC noted, “Many of the bodies were decapitated as she dragged her prey away. She appears to have tasted human flesh as at least one victim was found with his leg torn off.”
My, that was one strong cat.
India, with an estimated 2,200, is home to 60% of the world’s tigers. I didn’t see what has happened to the cubs, who some of us hope carry on to honor the legacy of their mom. Preferably during “Web Sweeps Week.”
--We note the passing of “Dr. Z,” Paul Zimmerman, the great pro football writer at Sports Illustrated. He was 86.
Zimmerman’s tenure ended in 2008, when he had three strokes that left him unable to write and read and almost unable to speak.
Over nearly 30 years at SI, Zimmerman dissected the complexities of football, giving him a national voice. Peter King, a former Sports Illustrated pro football writer, told the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir, “He made people understand how difficult the game was to understand and taught us not to try to oversimplify it. He never wanted to take the easy way out.”
“Reconstructing the San Francisco 49ers’ winning drive in the 1981 National Football Conference championship game against the Dallas Cowboys, Zimmerman wrote about the spectacular touchdown pass from the 49er quarterback, Joe Montana, to Dwight Clark.
“ ‘It was the play that had given the 49ers their first touchdown, Solomon slotted inside Clark on the right side and breaking to the corner after Clark had cleared out underneath in a semi-pick,’ he wrote in Sports Illustrated. But if Solomon was covered, he added, Clark would cut across the end zone, ‘right to left, doing an about-face and breaking back right.’
“ ‘Montana, rolling to his right, had to find him.’
“Montana found a leaping Clark (‘who climbed the sky wire’) in the back of the end zone for the game-tying score with 51 seconds left. The 49ers won, 28-27, on an extra point, then defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.”
Zimmerman was born in Philadelphia and earned a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University before starting out in the newspaper business with The Sacramento Bee, later working for a series of newspapers, including the New York Post, where he chronicled the Jets and their rise to the Super Bowl championship in 1969.
Top 3 songs for the week 11/4/67: #1 “To Sir With Love” (Lulu) #2 “Soul Man” (Sam & Dave) #3 “It Must Be Him” (Vikki Carr)...and...#4 “Expressway” (Soul Survivors) #5 “Your Precious Love” (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell) #6 “Never My Love” (The Association) #7 “Incense And Peppermints” (Strawberry Alarm Clock) #8 “A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel)” (Aretha Franklin) #9 “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” (The Cowsills) #10 “Please Love Me Forever” (Bobby Vinton...great week...)
Baseball Quiz Answer: Other three aside from Willie McCovey to homer in four decades...Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson and Omar Vizquel.
McCovey had one homer in 1980; Henderson one in 1979; Vizquel one in 1989.
But befitting Williams’ greatness, he had 31 in 1939, and 29 in his final season of 1960.
Ken Griffey Jr. almost joined the club, but in his final season, 2010, he had 98 at-bats for Seattle but didn’t homer.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.