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[Posted early Sunday p.m., prior to The Oscars, and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”...cough cough...]
Baseball Quiz: Since it’s time for pitchers and catchers, Sandy Koufax was the unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award, 1963, ‘65, and ‘66. Who won it in 1962, 1964, and 1967? [The award was for both leagues combined through 1966, then in ‘67, they started awarding one for each league, so name the two in ‘67.] Answer below.
Oscar Quiz: With the death of Kirk Douglas and with “Spartacus” on my mind, that 1960 flick won four Oscars, but wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, nor was Douglas a nominee for Best Actor. So who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1960, and what film was Best Picture that year? Answers below.
--CBS put out its fourth annual March Madness preview on Saturday, revealing the nation’s top 16 seeds and their respective spots in the bracket.
It’s pretty meaningless, but for the record we’ll see how the top four seeds do vs. the real bracket when it come out in five weeks.
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Now since this was released Saturday before that day’s action, at least the four all won their respective games yesterday, and there were no upsets in the top ten, but some terrific action.
--First off, your Bar Chat “Pick to Click,” from day one, Seton Hall, has gotten its act together after a two-game slump.
Wednesday, the No. 12 Pirates had a nice 78-71 win at Georgetown, Myles Powell breaking his own slump with 34.
And then yesterday, we had the game of the week, in terms of ranked teams...Seton Hall at 10 Villanova.
The Hall hadn’t won at Villanova in 26 years, but despite blowing an early 20-10 lead to fall behind 31-27 at the half, the Pirates prevailed in a terrific contest, 70-64, as Seton Hall hit all its free throws down the stretch. [I was getting pissed at the announcers, and the Pirates’ players, for acting like the game was in the bag when a missed free throw here, or one there, would have changed everything.]
What us fans saw is the re-emergence of Sandro Mamukelashvili, who can be a real monster; Mamu with 17 points and 8 rebounds, including 3 of 5 from three. You can see how the NBA scouts love the guy.
Seton Hall has tremendous depth which it will need in March. This team has as good a shot as any to take the title.
--4 San Diego State remained undefeated, 89-74 at Air Force (9-15, 3-9), the Aztecs 24-0, 13-0.
--We did have some upsets in the second ten, with Oklahoma defeating 13 West Virginia 69-59, and Oregon State defeating rival 14 Oregon 63-53, so we’ll have a little shakeup in the top 25.
--Michigan (14-9, 5-7) got a critical win at home against 16 Michigan State (16-8, 8-5), 77-68, if the Wolverines are going to be dancing come March.
I’ll get into the Big Ten and the potential for 11 bids next time, but from all I’ve seen, the conference would deserve it.
--On the other hand, the ACC sucks this season, but what a game in Chapel Hill last night, 7 Duke (20-3, 10-2) overcoming a 13-point deficit with under four minutes to play, thanks to the superb play of point guard Tre Jones, forcing overtime and then prevailing 98-96 over Roy Williams’ boys, who are shockingly now 10-13, 3-9.
North Carolina, who as I said the other day I still think can make a lot of noise in the ACC tournament, has no one to blame but themselves, namely 21 of 38 from the free throw line.
--The Duke-UNC contest was followed by (for some of us) Wake Forest at Syracuse and what a terrific little game that was, the Deacs falling short yet again, 75-73, an important win for the ‘Cuse (14-9, 7-5).
But I give my Deacs credit, even as they fell to 10-13, 3-10. They’ve played with character the last few weeks, their last six conference losses by ten points or less.
It’s just that they are so poorly coached at crunch time, Danny Manning falling to 27-76 in ACC play over his 5+ years at the helm.
Just the last three:
And the guy isn’t going anywhere. At a certain point, though, as a fan you just adopt the attitude, as Tony Soprano would say, “Whaddya gonna do...”
--Indiana had a disappointing loss at home Saturday to Purdue (14-10, 7-6), 74-62, the Hoosiers falling to 15-8, 5-7.
But the game was secondary to Indiana’s welcoming back Bob Knight after an almost 20-year absence following his dismissal.
John Feinstein / Washington Post
“Even when the school previously celebrated his three national championship teams, he wouldn’t come back to hear the cheers. The man who fired him, Myles Brand, died of cancer in 2009. Knight still refused to go back. Three years ago, when radio host Dan Patrick pointed out to Knight that most of the leadership that was at the school when he was fired was gone, Knight said, ‘I hope they’re all dead.”
“When Patrick said some of them were, Knight said, ‘I hope the rest of them go.’
“That was classic Knight: never wrong about anything, never moving past a fight and always – always – having the last word. Even with someone who had been dead for eight years....
“Knight’s firing led to Brand being burned in effigy by Indiana students and outcry from many Indiana fans and alumni. Knight went on to coach at Texas Tech, where he broke Dean Smith’s record of 879 wins as a Division I college coach, finishing with 902. That mark has since been surpassed by former Knight player and assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim....
“In Indiana, Knight loved the passion people had for Hoosiers basketball. During the 1985-86 season I spent with him to research what became the book ‘A Season on the Brink,’ Indiana held a preseason scrimmage in Fort Wayne. The building sold out.
“ ‘No one else can do this,’ Knight said as we walked onto the court that night and the crowd stood and screamed his name. ‘You think Purdue could do this? Maybe Kentucky, maybe North Carolina. Maybe. That’s the entire list. There’s nothing like the passion for Indiana basketball.’
“That’s what made Knight’s self-imposed banishment from IU so sad. He had to keep getting the last word. And so he appeared at Purdue. He did fan forums near the school but not at the school.
“Knight is 79 now and hasn’t been in good health in recent years. He and his wife, Karen, moved back to Bloomington this summer, apparently because of the medical care he could receive there and, according to friends, because Knight wanted to be back in the place where he is most revered and cherished.
“There’s little doubt that’s the reason he decided to finally return to Assembly Hall, against Indiana’s biggest rival, on a day when many players he pushed, cajoled and frightened into greatness were in the building.
“Knight has said and done some terrible things. He could be the worst kind of bully, often picking on people who weren’t in a position to fight back. But I believe he’s done a lot more good in his life than bad. In a college basketball world where it is often difficult to know whom to trust, I know Knight never broke NCAA rules. I know it because I’ve known a lot of his players through the years – some of whom curse his name – but they will always tell you the rules were strictly followed in their recruitment and when they were at IU. I saw it up close during my winter in Bloomington.
“That December, when Knight learned that Steve Alford had posed for a charity calendar – unpaid – he knew right away that Alford had broken one of the NCAA’s many petty rules. The Hoosiers were about to go on the road to Kentucky. Knight could have waited to self-report before Indiana played a lesser opponent or hoped no one would find out about such a minor violation.
“He had Chuck Crabb, the school’s compliance officer, call the NCAA that day. The ruling was quick: one-game suspension. Indiana almost certainly would have beaten Kentucky with Alford in the lineup. Instead, Alford spent the five-point loss back in Bloomington.
“Later in the season, Knight found out some of the players were being given free gas. Before practice that day, he drove to the gas station and loudly told the owner if he ever heard again that he had given a player so much as a pack of gum, he would run him out of town. Then he told the players if they ever set foot in the place again, they’d be off the team.
“On the final page of ‘A Season on the Brink,’ I wrote this about Knight: ‘He will only be 46 years old. A young man with a bright future. If he doesn’t destroy it.’
“He was the classic Shakespearean hero: tragically flawed, deserving of all the acclaim and adoration, but also deserving of the criticism and, later, the banishment....
“(But Saturday) would be a happy ending. Despite all his flaws, Knight deserves that.”
Back to Purdue, Wednesday, the Boilermakers defeated 17 Iowa 104-68, as Purdue shot 19 of 34 from three, and then on Saturday against Indiana, they were 8 of 16. If they shoot like that in March, they can go a long way.
--The Philadelphia 76ers entered the season as one of the favorites to contend for the title, with stars like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. But there are rumors the two aren’t getting along and of course that impacts the play on the court.
So before Thursday’s game, former Sixers great Charles Barkley, never one to mince words, called Philadelphia soft and the “Cleveland Browns of the NBA.”
“I think they are the softest, mentally weakest team that has a bunch of talent,” Barkley said before TNT’s broadcast of the Bucks-76ers game. “They are the Cleveland Browns of the NBA. They got a lot of talent, and they talk the talk, and that’s it.”
Philly teases its fans, like Mark R., as he tells me all the time. They started the season 20-7, but headed into tonight’s game, they’ve been 12-14 since.
--But talk about a disappointing franchise, how about Minnesota? Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were supposed to lead the team to greatness, but instead it’s been incredible mediocrity as the T’Wolves have had a difficult time finding the right complementary players and Wiggins hasn’t developed like some of us thought he would as the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Anyway, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors for D’Angelo Russell, with draft picks involved. Maybe a good change of scenery for both, especially since Towns is supposed to be good friends with D’Angelo. But Knicks fans wanted Russell.
We never get what we want!
Wiggins actually seems like a good fit for the Warriors, when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are fully healthy again.
--The Miami Heat picked up Andre Iguodala in a trade with Memphis. He hadn’t played a game all season after being traded to the Grizzlies last summer. They reportedly were not willing to buy him out.
--Meanwhile, the Knicks, after firing team president Steve Mills, are hiring longtime NBA agent Leon Rose to run basketball operations.
Rose, a former attorney and rep for Creative Artists Agency, worked closely with the Knicks while representing Carmelo Anthony, and he is regarded as one of the league’s pre-eminent power brokers.
Rose is looking to bring in longtime associate William Wesley, aka “World Wide Wes,” who has been a consultant with CAA.
Rose’s stable of clients has included LeBron James, Joel Embiid and Chris Paul.
The Knicks’ pursuit of Toronto’s Masai Ujiri is thus over.
--Disgraced Astros manager A.J. Hinch gave his first interview since getting suspended and fired following MLB’s investigation into Houston’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal, and as he took questions from Tom Verducci, which aired on MLB Network Friday, Hinch didn’t deny “Buzzer-gate.”
“Well, the commissioner’s - we got investigated for three months. The commissioner’s office did as thorough of an investigation as anyone could imagine was possible. I know you mentioned about the emails and the texts and the messages and I believe it.”
Hinch had just been asked if the Astros used buzzers under their jersey to signal what pitches were coming, a conspiracy theory that has been growing, and instead of just saying ‘no,’ Hinch said what he did.
Hinch also said: “I’ve been so focused on making sure that I stand up as the manager, that it was on my watch, and truly let people know that I’m sorry.”
So Hinch was saying he should have done more to stop the cheating.
“I wish I would have. I really do. I think that’s a big question that I’m going to process over what’s now a season-long suspension....I wish I would have done more. Right is right and wrong is wrong and we were wrong.”
Ergo, Hinch never told his players to stop using the real-time video feed to decipher catcher signs and relay them to hitters.
Oh, and A.J. wants to manage again. Sure, let him. Let him manage a Quickie Mart.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the Astros front office laid the groundwork for the sign-stealing via a program dubbed “Codebreaker” that was introduced by an intern in the organization in September 2016.
According to the Journal, the Excel-based application was used throughout the 2017 season and for part of 2018 by Astros baseball operations employees and video room staffers both at home and on the road.
Staffers would log the catcher’s signs and subsequent pitches into a spreadsheet and “Codebreaker” would determine the signs related to different pitches. The signs would then be communicated to the hitter by a baserunner via an intermediary.
Astros players eventually evolved the system to include banging on the trash can.
Ex-GM Jeff Luhnow told MLB investigators that he remembers the intern’s PowerPoint slide about “Codebreaker,” but said he thought it would be used to decipher signs from previous games, while the former intern, Derek Vigoa, currently the Astros’ senior manager of team operations, told investigators that he assumed Luhnow knew the program would be used in live games.
Another team official alleges Luhnow knew about the system, which Luhnow denies, and it seems MLB could find no definitive proof he did, but he was suspended, and fired, nonetheless, as was appropriate.
Separately, asked on NBC’s “Today” show if “the punishment fit the crime,” Hank Aaron, who just turned 86, replied, “No, I don’t.”
“I think whoever did that should be out of baseball for the rest of their lives.”
In the wake of the Astro’s scandal, Pete Rose then submitted a petition to MLB requesting that he be removed from its permanently ineligible list.
When asked by NBC if Rose should be enshrined in Cooperstown, Aaron said simply, “No.”
President Trump tweeted Saturday:
“Pete Rose played Major League Baseball for 24 seasons, from 1963-1986, and had more hits, 4,256, than any other player (by a wide margin). He gambled, but only on his own team winning, and paid a decades long price. GET PETE ROSE INTO THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME. It’s time!”
Personally, I’m kind of like, ‘what the hell’...my attitude also these days when it comes to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
But I also respect the heck out of Hank Aaron.
--Back in December, when stories began circulating that billionaire hedge-fund king Steve Cohen was preparing to buy the New York Mets, one thing never made sense to any of us fans; how Cohen would allow the Wilpons, Fred and son Jeff, to continue to control the team for up to five years, even though Cohen was going to own at least 80%. Who would do that, I mused?
So we all assumed that, OK, the Wilpons would have the corporate titles, but the decision-maker would, after a year or two, be Cohen, since, after all, he was the majority owner.
Then this week we learned it all fell apart. The latest, as reported by Josh Kosman and Thornton McEnery of the New York Post, was that Cohen broke the agreement, having signed what he called a non-binding term sheet months ago, in which Cohen would gain more than half of the team’s equity immediately but leave Fred Wilpon (high school teammate of Sandy Koufax) as the Mets’ control person for five years running the club, two sources told the Post.
Major League Baseball recognizes a single control person who is supposed to be making all the decisions.
“There is no such thing as a fake control person. You can’t run things that way,” a source said.
In fact it’s in MLB’s constitution that each club “shall have a Control Person who is accountable to Major League Baseball for the operation of the Club and for the Club’s compliance with the rules and regulations of Major League Baseball, and is the single individual with ultimate authority and responsibility for making all Club decisions.”
So we go back to December. Only now, it seems, did Cohen realize Wilpon really was going to be in control for five years, got uncomfortable and worked on changing the terms.
“Steve thought he would be controlling the shots. He would be the power behind the throne. Baseball balked at that,” a source said.
If this story is correct, now it makes sense that Commissioner Rob Manfred said the other day, “based on conversations with the buyer and the seller on an ongoing basis, the assertion that the transaction fell apart because of something the Wilpons did is completely and utterly unfair.”
A source close to Cohen told the Post, “Why would anyone put up $2.6 billion and not have any say in the operations of the business he was buying? That doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who tells you any different isn’t credible.
“The governance issues always had to be worked out and they just never got there.”
The Post first reported that when both parties sat down to hammer out the final details on the five-year transition period, “it became immediately apparent the Wilpons wanted Cohen to honor the broad terms of the agreement and pay more than a billion dollars for the right to wait and watch Jeff Wilpon (the son) run the franchise without any input from Cohen.
“Things turned toxic from there,” the Post reports.
Among other things it was reported that Jeff would be granted sizable pay raises every year for the five years and maintain the level of perks he became accustomed to as owner and COO.
But since MLB and Commish Manfred are going to be loyal to their owners, and not some incoming one, who hadn’t even started the formal approval process with the league and the other owners, it all fell apart. The deal was officially terminated Thursday. And because of all the bad blood, many wonder if Cohen would ever be allowed to buy another team in the future. Which sucks, because he’s a terrific sports fan, especially in support of the Mets, and he would have been great for baseball.
You know, at this point, I don’t care about the details and whether Cohen was trying to adjust his payment schedule once he learned he wasn’t taking control sooner.
What is important is that the freakin’ Wilpons, who Mets fans can’t stand, especially Jeffie, never wanted more than some rich guy to hand them a couple $billion for the pleasure of having a stadium box. Said $billionaire wouldn’t be the face of the franchise, a la David Tepper of the Carolina Panthers, Tepper and Cohen with similar lines of work, at all. Little Jeffie would be, and old Fred, sitting in his golf cart at spring training, wearing a windbreaker with a name tag in case he wandered off to the dog track.
Yet it’s not over. The Wilpons still want to sell the team, under the same terms, or better.
We’re still just left wondering, hey, Steve...you’re a very smart guy. What were you thinking in December?
Michael Powell / New York Times
“Various anonymous somebodies told reporters that a sticking point was that son Jeff Wilpon wanted to retain some control of the team after the sale, which Cohen had sort of agreed to on the assumption that Jeff’s role would be largely ceremonial.
“The Wilpons call to mind that family down the street that talks of selling the old house even as they insist any new owner must let their son retain the master bedroom.
“Baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, rallied to the Wilpons’ side Thursday with the alacrity of an old family retainer. ‘The assertion that the transaction fell apart because of something that the Wilpons did is completely and utterly unfair,’ he insisted to reporters.
“Manfred has a history here as he helped his predecessor, Bud Selig, engineer the Major League Baseball loans that kept the Wilpons afloat after it emerged that their longtime financial adviser, Bernie Madoff, had filched everything but the family silver. Manfred and Selig waved off any whiff of criticism as the Wilpons cut costs and baseball budgets as if the Mets were a small market team by Flushing Bay.
“The worst of those penurious days have perhaps passed. The Mets remain in the spending exurbs compared with the Yankees and the Dodgers but the team’s payroll ranks eighth overall. Poor management, however, remains a clear and present danger.”
Yes, all together now... “Sell the team!”
For his part, Cohen wrote in reply to a question, “I’m very disappointed we couldn’t work out a deal. But as an 8% holder* I’m looking forward to a higher bid for the team.”
Cohen also thanked Mets fans who have been begging him to move forward with the purchase.
*Cohen had an existing stake before the failed negotiations to become the majority owner.
--The Yankees appear to have dodged a major bullet with word that starting pitcher James Paxton, who on Wednesday underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy with the removal of a cyst during lower-back surgery, won’t be out as long as first feared.
Originally the story was late-June, early-July. Now it seems Paxton could be back by early May.
Paxton went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA his first season in the Bronx, pitching great down the stretch.
--As I go to post, the Mookie Betts trade to the Dodgers is still not official, due to a medical review on pitcher Brusdar Graterol, who was part of the three-team deal that had him going from the Twins to the Red Sox. Graterol, a hard-throwing 21-year-old, underwent Tommy John surgery and missed time in 2019 with a shoulder injury.
Graterol’s agent, Scott Boras, blasted the assertion that the pitcher is not healthy.
Players Association executive director Tony Clark said the teams need to conclude talks or move on, saying several players’ lives are in a state of limbo, blaming the unethical leaking of medical information.
Plus spring training is starting...like c’mon.
[There are stories tonight the blockbuster trade for Betts could be broken down into different parts…but Betts is still L.A. bound.]
--Finally, we note the passing of author Roger Kahn, 92.
Mike Kupper / Los Angeles Times
“Bill Veeck, who in his full-throttle lifetime owned the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox, and thus knew a little about baseball, once observed, ‘Roger Kahn is doomed to go through life having everything he writes compared with ‘The Boys of Summer.’’
“As it turns out, Veeck was dead center. In introductions, in print, whenever the name Roger Kahn appeared, it was invariably followed by, ‘the author of ‘The Boys of Summer.’’ Not that it bothered Kahn, who went right on writing. If fans, baseball people and Sports Illustrated wanted to hail his work, which sold more than 3 million copies as the finest baseball book ever written, well....”
Kahn’s work, all his work, was acclaimed by many as the best baseball writing in the country, but of his more than 20 books, two of them were novels, the others dealing with such topics as politics, Jews in America, racial injustice, student unrest and boxing, and countless magazine articles on whatever else he found interesting or disturbing.
Kahn was also sports editor of Newsweek at one time, as well as editor at large of the Saturday Evening Post, a columnist for Esquire, a professor of writing at three colleges, and a friend and admirer of Robert Frost.
As for his epic 1972 tome, in which Kahn recalled his childhood as a fan of the Dodgers, he lifted the title from a poem by Dylan Thomas, who described “the boys of summer in all their ruin.”
“In an era when all but the very best ballplayers made ordinary money, most returned to normal working lives after retiring from baseball. Here, for instance, is how Kahn found retired outfielder Carl Furillo, who had turned fielding crazy caroms off the right field wall in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field into a science:
“ ‘The carom of life is harder for Carl Furillo to play. ...He is a bitter hardhat putting elevators in Manhattan office buildings. He thinks baseball used him badly. ‘The bad leg had me walking funny and I had to have two operations for a ruptured disk. That comes on account of the injury but I figure, flip it, I gotta take care of myself. …' The question that dangles, or caroms, is the bitterness justified? Or is it ‘E-9’ for the right fielder in the larger playing field of life?’”
But not all was good for Roger Kahn either. His 1989 book on disgraced and banned ballplayer Pete Rose, “in which he professed belief in Rose’s claims that although he’d gambled on other sports he’d never bet on baseball games, was widely panned as ridiculously naïve, if not downright deceitful.” [Kupper]
Kahn got flayed again when years later, Rose finally admitted that he had, indeed, bet not only on baseball but on his own teams’ games. Roger Kahn would say, “I regret I ever got involved in the book,” adding, “[Rose] was always surrounded by a bodyguard of liars.”
--Phil Mickelson entered today’s final round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am just one stroke behind one-time tour winner Nick Taylor.
Just two weeks ago, I was among those criticizing Mickelson for traveling to Saudi Arabia for a European Tour event, and a controversial big appearance fee, especially as he had to then fly all the way back to defend his title at the AT&T. Kind of tough for a 49-year-old, some of us mused, plus he had been playing poorly to start the year with two missed cuts.
Well, Lefty finished third last week and, thanks to incredible short-game play on Saturday, other-worldly, that they then broke down was the best display of the short-game ever during this tournament, there Phil stood today on the first tee, in the final group. Could he close the deal for his 45th win?
Nope...his game left him, including the short-game, starting with a dreadful double-bogey on No. 8, while Nick Taylor came through in the clutch, a terrific wire-to-wire win in the wind, and the Canadian is headed to Augusta. Good on Nick! [Phil finished third, behind Kevin Streelman.]
A few other thoughts....Good on Jordan Spieth! He had a terrific 67 today, a T-9 for his best tournament in a long while. His confidence has to be sky high. We all want him to do well.
And I’m kind of pulling for Jason Day...one of the other real good guys who has had more than his share of issues, both family and health. Glad he is playing well.
And good on Larry Fitzgerald, for winning the pro-am a second time with partner Streelman. As I first said years ago, the Renaissance Man would make for a great president....yes, president. I wish he had retired two years ago. I hope he makes it through another (unnecessary) season. He is destined for far bigger things.
Lastly, remember, if you were watching...Clint Eastwood is 89! He was messing with Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo, a little Muhammad Ali / Ed Bradley stuff, like from their famous bit on “60 Minutes.”
--Joshua Robinson of the Wall Street Journal had a piece on the season Liverpool is having with its “soul-crushing” 22-point lead with three months to go. I’ve commented it hasn’t been good for the Premier League overall, though my opinion is shaded by the disappointing season my Tottenham Spurs are having.
Yet, as Robinson reports, “Against all odds, the league is heading for its highest-rated season on UK television since it was founded in 1992, chief executive Richard Masters said Tuesday. As in its also seen three of the league’s top five highest-rated games in history.
“The common ingredient in all of them was Liverpool, undefeated and hurtling toward the title.”
Manchester City has had superb seasons before, like two years ago, but its games were far from appointment television. Ditto Leicester City’s miracle run in 2015-16.
“But like the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys, Liverpool’s dynasty years in the 1970s and 1980s earned it legions of fans far beyond its city limits. So it was no surprise last month when Liverpool’s victory over Manchester United became the second most-watched broadcast in the Premier League’s 28-year history, topped only by an April 2012 Manchester derby when the two sides were duking it out for the title.”
It’s just that people seem to be fascinated with how this historical franchise hasn’t won in 30 years. I have to admit, I love coach (manager) Jurgen Klopp, but otherwise I don’t need to watch them anymore....especially as my brother, long-time fan, loves them...just kidding, Bro!
Liverpool has an unparalleled 24 wins and just one draw in 25 games. Only one English club, Arsenal in 2003-04, has gone a whole season unbeaten in the modern era, but the Gunners posted 12 draws that campaign.
Should Liverpool win its next six games, it would clinch the title with seven games to spare. The earliest a team clinched was Manchester United in 2000-01, with five matches to spare.
--Outside the PL, which is playing a sporadic schedule this week and next, as every club gets a week off, Major League Soccer here in the United States reached agreement with its players (in principle) on a five-year collective bargaining agreement that raises pay and improves working conditions.
As Kevin Draper wrote in the New York Times: “For years, M.L.S. has operated with a mission to become one of the world’s top leagues in the 2020s, even as the price of attracting the best soccer talent in the world continues to rise and as the sport’s top players earn annual salaries that dwarf what an M.L.S. club pays an entire roster.”
The new deal raises the salary cap – a foreign concept of every other top league – to $11.6 million from $8.5 million, an evolution of how the league operates.
But as M.L.S. enters its 25th season this month with 26 teams, and with four more being added by 2022, the financial restraints remain.
Under the CBA, that needs to be approved by the league’s board and the union membership, the minimum salary for senior players will rise to $109,200 by 2024, from $70,250 last season, and players will see increased 401(k) contributions and other increases in benefits.
The average M.L.S. player earned $411,926 in guaranteed compensation in 2018, according to the players’ union, but the median was $179,000. A full third earned less than $100,000.
But in terms of the league’s ranking in the world, M.L.S. isn’t higher than No. 20, and probably more like 30th, to many experts. The best team in the league, Los Angeles FC, is the 136th best team in the world, according to FiveThirtyEight’s rankings.
No M.L.S. team has won the annual continental club championship since 2000, with Mexican clubs winning the last 14.
But the changes in the salary structure at least mean M.L.S. has a shot at getting more and more top players, though of course the true elite will continue to gravitate to Europe.
--Mikaela Shiffrin, as you’d expect, did not return to the World Cup competition this week and no word when she will, following the death of her father.
But the circuit has had major issues with weather, as the Alps just haven’t had a lot of snow, so they keep adjusting locations.
It’s not that it’s been super warm (though that is an issue for next week), but there’s been literally no precipitation. I look at Zermatt, Switzerland’s weather every day (been there...bucket list item for those who haven’t), and it’s been staggering....just nothing, and like 30s.
--I missed last time that Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio announced his retirement, ending a 13-year run in which his teams won three Big Ten titles and he became the school’s winningest coach.
Dantonio went 114-57, winning Big Ten titles in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but his last two seasons the team went 7-6 in each and he just seemed tired, to this casual observer.
--Kirk Douglas passed away, all of 103, the last great star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, probably forever best known for one of the great roles, and films, of all time, “Spartacus.”
Offscreen, Douglas was one of Tinseltown’s greatest ladies men.
Son Michael said in a statement on Facebook: “To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”
Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch (the family later changed its name to Demsky, Kirk became Isadore Demsky) outside Albany, New York, the son of dirt-poor Russian-Jewish immigrants.
Douglas’ father was a peddler whose station was one rung below the bottom of the social ladder, and Douglas’ life was defined by his desire to break out of poverty and earn his father’s approval.
But as Douglas told Parade magazine in 1986, “I never heard my father say, ‘I’m proud of you.’”
Douglas’ romantic and professional lives were entangled early on when at 14, his high school English teacher, who he identified as Mrs. Livingston, seduced him as she introduced him to the world of romantic poetry.
“I had been a ragamuffin kid of 15 coping with a neighborhood filed with gangs...under her guidance I became a different person,” he wrote in his 2007 memoir “Let’s Face It.” “I am eternally grateful. By today’s standards she would have gone to jail.”
The relationship continued through Douglas’ college years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but eventually they went their separate ways.
Douglas attended St. Lawrence University (upstate New York) where he wrestled and buffed up. He got into the school after hitchhiking to the campus as a teen and convincing the dean to approve a student loan.
After graduation, his acting career took a backseat to service in World War II, where he was in the Navy, serving on a sub-hunting ship in the Pacific before he was medically discharged in 1944 for injuries after his own crew accidentally set off a depth charge too close to their ship.
Oh, there are some wild Douglas stories. He once bedded a woman he knew to be an anti-Semite, just so he could shout, at the climactic moment: “I’m a Jew! You are being f----d by a Jew!” according to his kiss-and-tell 1988 autobiography “The Ragman’s Son.”
Douglas first married actress Diana Dill, the couple producing two sons before their 1951 split: Actor Michael and producer Joel.
Following his discharge from the Navy in 1944, Douglas landed his first big-screen gig opposite Barbara Stanwyck in 1946’s “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.”
Then in 1949, he had his breakthrough performance as a pugilist in “Champion,” a role that earned him his first of three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor.
Eventually, Douglas teamed with a then little-known director named Stanley Kubrick for 1957’s “Paths of Glory” and 1960’s “Spartacus.”
Douglas had opened his own film company in 1955, named after his dear mother, “Bryna Productions,” and he used the company to combat jingoism when he insisted that Spartacus writer Dalton Trumbo received on-screen credit even though he had been blackballed during the “red scare” for refusing to testify at a U.S. House investigation into communism in Hollywood.
Among his other pictures that I personally liked were “Lust for Life” and “Seven Days in May.”
Douglas never did earn an Oscar, but he received a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1996.
--Actor Robert Conrad died. He was 84. Conrad starred in the hugely popular 1960s television series “Hawaiian Eye” and “The Wild, Wild West.”
With his good looks and strong physique, Conrad was a rising young actor in the late 1950s when he was chosen for the lead in “Hawaiian Eye,” becoming an overnight star after the show debuted in 1959.
But after five seasons, Conrad went on to embrace the television craze of the time, period Westerns, but with a decidedly different twist.
In “The Wild, Wild West,” which debuted in 1965, Conrad played James T. West, a James Bond-like agent who used innovative tactics and futuristic gadgets (for the 1800s) to battle bizarre villains. He was ably assisted by Ross Martin’s Artemus Gordon, a master of disguise. That show aired until 1970.
Conrad went on to appear in various other series, such as “Black Sheep Squadron,” and he did some movies.
But throughout his Hollywood career, Conrad also had a reputation as a tough customer and was sued a half-dozen times as a result of fist fights. He was featured in 1970s commercials for Eveready Batteries, with a battery on his shoulder, a menacing stare and a popular catchphrase, “I dare you to knock this off.” For you younger folk, this was truly an iconic commercial then.
Conrad was born Konrad Robert Falkowski in Chicago on March 1, 1935. His great-grandfather emigrated from Germany, and his grandfather founded several meat shops in Chicago called Hartman’s.
Conrad left home at 15 and at 18 was hired to drive milk wagons. He tried boxing and nightclub singing for a time before drifting into acting and eventually moving to Hollywood, where he started out as a stuntman.
--And Orson Bean died, 91. Growing up, this guy was everywhere. As the New York Times’ Robert D. McFadden observed:
“Early in his career, in the 1950s and ‘60s, Mr. Bean, a subtle comic who looked like a naïve farm boy, was ubiquitous on TV. He popped up on all the networks as an ad-libbing game-show panelist (a mainstay on ‘To Tell the Truth’), a frequent guest of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson on ‘The Tonight Show,’ a regular on drama anthology shows and, in 1954, the host of his own CBS variety show, ‘The Blue Angel.’
“He also starred on and off Broadway, made Hollywood films, founded a society of Laurel and Hardy aficionados, amassed a fortune and was blacklisted briefly as a suspected Communist.
“In 1964, captivated by a progressive-education theory, he created a small school in Manhattan, the 15th Street School, that made classes and most rules optional, letting children pretty much do as they pleased. For the remainder of the decade Mr. Bean devoted himself to the school, paying its bills, covering its deficits and working harder and harder.”
There’s a lot more to his story, he was indeed a character.
He took recurring roles in “Murder, She Wrote” and “Desperate Housewives,” among others. He also appeared in a number of movies, notably “Being John Malkovich.”
Bean even once wrote a book, “25 Ways to Cook a Mouse for a Gourmet Cat.”
Top 3 songs for the week 2/8/69: #1 “Crimson And Clover” (Tommy James and The Shondells) #2 “Everyday People” (Sly & The Family Stone) #3 “Worst That Could Happen” (Brooklyn Bridge...great tune...)...and...#4 “Touch Me” (The Doors) #5 “Build Me Up Buttercup” (The Foundations) #6 “I Started A Joke” (The Bee Gees....the good version of the group...) #7 “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye) #8 “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (Diana Ross and The Supremes & The Temptations) #9 “Hang ‘Em High” (Booker T. & The MGs) #10 “Can I Change My Mind” (Tyrone Davis... ‘B+’ week...I was placed back on probation for my ‘grade inflation’ by the International Web Site Association’s Board of Musical Ethics...IWSABME...after my grade of ‘A-’ for last chat’s list...)
Baseball Quiz Answer: Cy Young Award winners....
1967...Mike McCormick, N.L., Jim Lonborg, A.L.
Oscar Quiz Answer: 1960 – Burt Lancaster won Best Actor for “Elmer Gantry,” while Best Picture went to “The Apartment.”
Next Bar Chat, Thursday...the Big Ten...