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Prayers at NASCAR's Super Bowl
[Posted Wed. a.m.]
NCAA Basketball Quiz: This month, Loyola Marymount is unveiling a statue of Hank Gathers to honor the 30th anniversary of the school’s run to the Elite Eight after his fatal collapse on the court. So while this quiz is easy for many, 1) Who was Gathers’ running mate, averaging 35.3 points per game that magical, and tragic, 1989-90 season? 2) Who was the coach? Answers below.
Daytona and Ryan Newman
I was watching live the finish of the rain-delayed Daytona 500 early Monday evening when we all witnessed one of the most horrific crashes in auto racing history. For two hours, many of us were glued to the screen, and then feverishly checking various sources online to see if veteran driver Ryan Newman had survived. As Fox and announcers Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy signed off for the night, there was zero reason for optimism, Gordon’s eyes welling up with tears. You knew they had more information than the rest of us.
I exchanged notes with some fellow race fans, one of whom was my brother, and we had a few phone conversations.
Then, having tuned into NASCAR.com’s coverage and a live shot of the press room, around 10:00 p.m. a NASCAR spokesman appeared and gave the word that doctors had ascertained Newman was in serious condition but his injuries weren’t life-threatening. It was stunning.
Tuesday afternoon, Newman’s race team then issued a statement saying he was awake and “talking to family and doctors,” though no word on the extent of the injuries.
It had been 19 years since Dale Earnhardt tragically died on the last lap at Daytona, an event that changed the sport and how it treats safety forever. With the survival of Newman, Earnhardt’s death remains the last at the track.
I’ve long written how much I admire race drivers, and I for one will be tuned in to the coverage of the next race in Las Vegas. It’s going to be tough for a lot of the drivers to get back into a car, no matter how bravely they may talk about doing so.
But as my brother and I chatted Monday night, we had both been watching the pre-race coverage when track correspondent Michael Waltrip was in the pits, doing his humorous bit, and he encountered Ryan Newman with his two little girls. Waltrip asked how he was doing, Newman deadpanned he was “busy,” and Waltrip and his WWE companion moved on. As we then waited those two painful hours after the race ended, you couldn’t stop thinking about those kids, and Newman’s wife.
And so wish Ryan Newman the best going forward. Lord knows he’ll receive the best care possible.
As for the finish, all of NASCAR’s former and current drivers and experts refused to pin any blame on Ryan Blaney, whose push from behind started the crash. It was the final turn of the Daytona 500, that’s racing.
Denny Hamlin won it in the second closest finish in race history (Blaney second)…Hamlin’s third 500 in five years, second in a row. As he said in an interview in Victory Lane, Newman’s health “is way more important than any victory, no matter how big the race is.”
New AP Poll (records thru Sunday)
1. Baylor (48) 23-1
2. Gonzaga (14) 26-1
3. Kansas (1) 22-3
4. San Diego State 26-0
5. Dayton 23-2
6. Duke 22-3
7. Maryland 21-4
8. Florida State 21-4
9. Penn State 20-5...kind of shocking...ties for highest ranking ever
10. Kentucky 20-5
11. Louisville 21-5...down 6
12. Villanova 19-6...Jay Wright looking to work more magic
15. Creighton 20-6...up 8
16. Seton Hall 18-7...down 6
18. Colorado 20-6
19. Marquette 17-7
23. BYU 21-7
25. Ohio State 17-8...back in the rankings
By the way, on Saturday, eight ranked teams fell to unranked opponents, the most in a single day this season.
So Baylor and Kansas have their showdown in Waco on Saturday, Noon, ET, ESPN...kind of sucks it’s this early...should be 8:00 p.m. Baylor won the first meeting between the two, 67-55, in Lawrence.
[Kansas beat Iowa State 91-71 on Monday, while Baylor defeated Oklahoma 65-54.]
Meanwhile, San Diego State just keeps winning. I love what Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said this weekend. “I told our team, ‘Let’s get greedy. Let’s play for perfection.’ If we’re this close, we might as well play for a perfect regular season. ...Let’s do something special.”
His guys have obviously bought in.
--Monday, North Carolina blew another big lead, this one 15 points, as Notre Dame handed Roy Williams’ boys another heartbreaker, 77-76. Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski hit a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining to give the Irish the win.
UNC has lost three of its past four games on last-second shots to fall to 10-16, 3-12. The Tar Heels are now 1-6 in games decided by three points or fewer this season, and are 0-6 since Cole Anthony’s return.
--Tuesday, Illinois had an important road win at 9 Penn State, 62-56. I watched this one on Fox Sports and terrific coverage of the timeouts and the interaction between players and coaches.
The Illini, 17-9, 9-6, snapped a 4-game losing streak, while the Nittany Lions fell to 20-6, 10-5.
--I was looking at the rest of Saturday’s schedule, and Dayton is hosting Duquesne in an A-10 matchup. The Dukes are having a solid season, 18-6, 8-4, and they haven’t been ranked since 1971-72. But in 1968-69, they were AP final No. 9.
Duquesne was also a perennial national power in the early-, mid-1950s, coached by Dudey (sic) Moore.
--Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein has decided to hang it up in his first season, after stupidly leaving Michigan for NBA riches when he was obviously doing just fine in Ann Arbor.
Actually, last May 16, I wrote in this space: “He had life by the balls in Ann Arbor...paid extremely well ($3.37 million per), set for life, and he leaves it all for the NBA. Granted, he’s had discussions in the past about taking the next step, but he’s now 66! This just makes no sense whatsoever.”
Beilein had been a disaster, the Cavs 14-40 at the break, with the coach just not getting acclimated to the NBA world, getting in trouble in one instance for calling his team “a bunch of thugs.”
Beilein signed a five-year contract with Cleveland, but he’s also now 67 and maybe he’ll just retire. Or he’ll return to the college ranks in the spring. Texas is a possibility. Incredibly, Shaka Smart’s run in Austin has been mediocre at best.
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello says Boston College is also another potential landing spot, ditto DePaul.
Then there is this ongoing FBI investigation so at some point this spring schools are going to learn their punishments, so further openings for someone like Beilein should he choose to stay in the game.
--Yes, it’s going to be a long, ugly season. A day after Commissioner Rob Manfred’s interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech, wherein Manfred called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal,” the Dodgers’ Justin Turner said, “I don’t know if the commissioner has ever won anything in his life. Maybe he hasn’t. But the reason every guy’s in this room, the reason every guy is working out all offseason, and showing up to camp early and putting in all the time and effort is specifically for that trophy, which, by the way, is called the commissioner’s trophy.
“So for him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says ‘commissioner’ on it.”
Turner added he didn’t think Manfred did enough to uncover everything the Astros may have been doing in their scheme.
“I think it all comes down to everyone keeps saying, ‘The facts, the facts. You don’t know the facts. These are the facts,’” Turner said. “I don’t think anyone knows the facts. I think everyone just wants to hear all the facts. And I think that the commissioner didn’t do a good job of revealing all the facts to us. I still think there’s some stuff we don’t know.”
Dodger right-hander Ross Stripling said he would “lean toward yes” when asked whether he’d bean a Houston player if he were given the chance in a game.
Angels superstar Mike Trout, whose team plays the Astros nearly 20 times each season, says he “noticed the banging on the bat. It just feels like they weren’t missing pitches.”
“It’s sad for baseball,” Trout said. “It’s tough. They cheated. I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing. It sucks, too, because guys’ careers have been affected, a lot of people lost jobs. It was tough. Me going up to the plate knowing what was coming – it would be pretty fun up there.”
Trout said a few members of the Astros reached out personally to explain what happened, but it wasn’t good enough.
“I lost some respect for some guys,” he said. “...All the stuff coming out, it’s tough to see.”
Trout’s new teammate and former Washington Nationals All-Star Anthony Rendon said:
“Even when I watched their games over the previous years, it was suspicious. It looked weird. They were (sitting) on balls that were very tough pitches, and just the way that they were playing the game. They’re all talented players. I love those guys over there, especially what they’ve done in my city of Houston to help us out. But it definitely raises a lot of question marks, watching those games.”
Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis Tuesday joined the chorus blasting the Astros, telling reporters “every single guy over there needs a beating. It’s wrong. They’re messing with people’s careers.”
Markakis didn’t elaborate on what he meant by a “beating.”
Along with his viewpoint that the Astros players got off “scot-free,” he also pointed a finger at Rob Manfred.
“The way he handled the situation, he should be embarrassed of himself,” Markakis said.
The Astros face the Braves to close the 2020 regular season with a series in Atlanta, which is kind of bizarre, though necessitated by the odd-number of teams in each league.
In his Sunday interview with Karl Ravech, Manfred took exception with “the notion that anybody in the Houston organization escaped without punishment.”
“If you look at the faces of the Houston players as they’ve been out there publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this,” he said. “They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives. Frankly, it’s rare that for any offense you have a punishment that you will live with for the rest of your life.”
He added that, “I don’t think there’s a player in Major League Baseball who relishes the idea of being a 2017 Houston Astro out there answering questions about exactly what happened and why it happened.”
Manfred acknowledged that he seriously considered stripping the title – a penalty not uncommon in the Olympics and the NCAA, but otherwise unheard of in American professional sports. This last bit mattered to Manfred. He referred to himself as “a precedent guy” and said, “You have to have a really good reason to depart from that precedent.”
“Once you have a situation in which the 2017 World Series will always be looked at as something different, whether or not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back, I don’t think it makes that much difference,” Manfred said. “I think we did what we should do – that was, we found the facts and we were transparent about them.”
But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, Manfred did not reveal all the facts. The Journal reported the commissioner sent a letter to former GM Jeff Luhnow in January – before MLB released its report – that revealed the existence of an Excel-based program internally called “Codebreaker” that members of the Astros’ front office built for the purpose of stealing signs. Manfred didn’t disclose any of that information in the Jan. 13 nine-page report he put out.
So how can he claim transparency?
On the issue of the buzzers, Sunday, Manfred said the league looked into it but found no evidence of its validity. He said that in their interviews, players “were candid” about their actions in 2017 and part of 2018 and “were equally consistent in the denials” about the buzzer allegation.
But Manfred also conceded that if it wasn’t for Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers coming forward back in November in an article published by The Athletic that first detailed Houston’s cheating, “We probably wouldn’t have gotten where we got on this investigation.”
Buster Olney / ESPN.com
“”(There) is really no way for the Houston Astros to prepare for what looms this year when they leave their Minute Maid Park cocoon, and perhaps even in moments when they are in that safe zone of home.
“Set aside the question of on-field retaliation for the Astros’ sign stealing that has been raised by Mike Clevinger, Ross Stripling and others, prompting Dusty Baker to push back Saturday on the hints at violence. What the Astros seem destined to experience is a most extreme form of negative reinforcement.
“Thousands upon thousands of fans heaping anger, frustration, bitterness and whatever other emotions they care to temporarily eject from their lives at a small group of men in orange uniforms, tearing at whatever mental scar tissue each of the Astros players can construct day to day....
“When the career epitaphs of the 2017 Astros are written, there will inevitably be some mention in the first or second or third paragraph of cheating and illicit sign stealing. There might be more revelations from more investigations, and other teams and players might be implicated, but the legacy foundation of the ‘17 Astros was laid the moment commissioner Rob Manfred issued his report last month and has been cemented by their sometimes nonsensical and tone-deaf responses in the aftermath.
“A more productive use of time for the Astros now will be the attempted construction of emotional breastworks for what’s to come. ‘That is going to be tough for some of them,’ said a veteran of another team. ‘It’ll get even worse if they start badly or go into a slump.’....
“The Astros have a lot of excellent players, and it’s possible they could rally around each other and drive their way into the postseason, pushed by the collective belief that this is the best way they can reacquire some high ground of legitimacy.
“But it’s going to be a hard season – a really hard season – and nothing they say now will change that.”
LeBron James jumped into the controversy, tweeting:
“Listen I know I don’t play baseball but I am in Sports and I know if someone cheated me out of winning the title and I found out about it I would be F------ irate! I mean like uncontrollable about what I would/could do! Listen here baseball commissioner listen to your players speaking today about how disgusted, mad, hurt, broken, etc etc about this.”
“Literally the ball is in your court (or should I say field) and you need to fix this for the sake of Sports!”
And Tuesday, Manfred divulged in a news conference that, yes, the Astros cheated in the playoffs in 2017, which wasn’t explicitly revealed in the original report issued by the commissioner.
Asked whether he could explain how he reached that conclusion, Manfred replied, “Yes, statements from players.”
We’ve now reached the point in the story where everyone is saying the same thing over and over again and at some point you have to move on. What we all can agree on, however, is that as disgraceful as the Astros are, Rob Manfred is an embarrassment.
Meanwhile, sportsbook William Hill set the over/under on number of Astros batters to get plunked this season at 83.5. Only nine teams have been hit by pitches more than 83.5 in the past nine years.
Rob Manfred said Sunday, “[It’s] simply not appropriate to express frustration you have growing out of the Astros’ situation by putting someone physically at risk by throwing at them,” he told ESPN. “It’s simply not acceptable.”
Yes it is.
Like I said last time, the uproar resulting from endless suspensions will only make things worse.
New Houston manager Dusty Baker said, “I’m just hoping that the league puts a stop to this before somebody gets hurt.”
You’ll regret you took this job, Dusty.
--On a different topic, the trading of Mookie Betts, John Henry (Red Sox owner) and Sam Kennedy (president and CEO) addressed the press.
With Betts a free agent after the 2020 season, and with Mookie having long expressed a desire to test the free agency waters, talks on an extension of his contract were going nowhere. So the team felt it had to trade him before the season’s start as long as they could receive sufficient value in return.
Teams had expressed interest last season but there was never any real progress in the talks, and then since at mid-season the Red Sox were still competitive, dealing Betts away was a losing proposition.
But then eventually Betts and pitcher David Price were dealt to the Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo, catcher Connor Wong, and infielder Jeter Downs.
Henry stressed that getting under MLB’s competitive balance (luxury) tax threshold was not a leading factor in trading Betts, saying the team had other options for getting under the CBT.
Henry also said the reality of the economic system that rules MLB today forced a team like Boston to consider trading a player like Betts with a year of team control remaining.
“We have to be honest about why we made the decision to do what we did, and that’s clear,” Kennedy said. “We think it’s in the best interests of baseball operations. John mentioned the MLB system in which we operate and that requires really, really difficult decision-making, so we made our decision and we have to stand by it and now we have to move forward.
“We are not giving up on the 2020 season. We think we are built to be able to compete. We all of a sudden now have some flexibility and resources that can be deployed as we go forward here in the coming days, weeks, and months added. And we just added significant value for the long term. ...There were baseball reasons for this deal, there were franchise reasons for this deal, which is we have an obligation to do everything in our power to win World Series championships as often as possible. That’s how we see our mission and our responsibility.”
Meanwhile, Red Sox fans began to tune out by the end of last season, as Boston was way short of a wild-card slot, more and more empty seats, NESN’s ratings dropping a whopping 23 percent for 2019. The fans were already betting the team wasn’t going to retain Betts. And the fans are none too happy with the above excuses from management.
--The College Baseball season is underway...and the first Baseball America Top 25 has the following (thru Sunday’s play).
4. Texas Tech
8. Arizona State
9. Mississippi State
18. North Carolina State
19. North Carolina
20. Wake Forest
Oldtimers will recognize Nos. 17-20 as the old Big Four...games between each other this season will be as intense as ever.
Anyway, if you’re surprised to see Michigan at the top of the poll, you aren’t the only one. Baseball America has been doing their Top 25 rankings for 40 years and this is the first time the Wolverines have been No. 1! Michigan started the season beating then-No. 1 Vanderbilt, Cal Poly and Arizona State in the span of a little more than 24 hours.
The ACC and SEC have eight teams apiece in the Top 25.
Premier League / Champions League
--So the PL has been on its first-ever mid-winter break, with each club playing just one league game in two weeks, and last weekend, Tottenham beat Aston Villa 3-2, Son Heung-Min with two goals for the Spurs, including the game-winner with seconds left in extra time.
But what a lot of us didn’t know until Monday was that Son fractured his arm during the game. WTF! So the South Korean star is out for the rest of the season, according to boss Jose Mourinho, Son requiring surgery.
Talk about a massive blow. The Spurs are already without superstar striker Harry Kane, out since January with a torn hamstring, and Tottenham begins Round of 16 Champions League play later Wednesday, hosting RB Leipzig in the first leg.
Mourinho literally has no big scoring options available to him, with Ireland international Troy Parrott, potentially a budding star, just “not ready” to play at the senior level, as Mourinho put it. Others need to step up.
What sucks more for us Spurs fans is that Chelsea lost 2-0 on Monday to Manchester United, which had given Tottenham even more life in its quest to return to the Champions League next season.
Standings after 26 of 38 (save for Man City, which faces West Ham Wed.)
1. Liverpool 26 (games) - 76 (points) 25-1-0 (W-D-L)
2. Man City 25 – 51
3. Leicester City 26 – 50
4. Chelsea 26 – 41 ...CL line
5. Tottenham 26 – 40
6. Sheffield 26 – 39
7. Man U 26 – 38
And Saturday morning, 7:30 a.m. ET, Tottenham squares off against Chelsea.
So, regarding everything I wrote last time about Man City’s two-year ban from Champions League play, which they are appealing, should this appeal fall short, that means Tottenham, Sheffield and Man U are really in the race for two spots, along with Chelsea. It is totally unclear when the arbitration court would rule on the appeal, but probably before mid-May. In the meantime, the aforementioned clubs will be assuming City loses the appeal. This should make for terrific late-season action in an otherwise unexciting season due to Liverpool’s excellence.
Meanwhile, in Round of 16 Champions League play that started Tuesday and goes for the next four weeks, defending champ Liverpool lost its first leg to Atletico Madrid, 1-0, but this was on the road. Ditto PSG’s loss to Borussia Dortmund 2-1. Fans of both losers shouldn’t be despondent, but their boys will need big efforts in the next leg.
--We note the passing of LPGA great Mickey Wright, who died at the age of 85.
Wright finished with 82 LPGA titles, second only to Kathy Whitworth’s 88, and Wright stopped playing full time at the age of 34.
13 major championships, second only to Patty Berg’s 15.
Wright had 13 wins in 1963, which remains the tour record. She had 11 wins in 1964, which equals Annika Sorenstam for second most victories in a season.
Wright also had four major championship titles in a row, a mark no other woman has ever achieved.
And Mickey Wright singlehandedly kept the LPGA Tour alive in the 1960s, dealing with sponsors, and playing a lot because they needed her in their events.
But she had to quit playing full time in 1969 as she developed a number of different ailments, including an adverse reaction to sunlight, an aversion to flying, foot problems and all manner of other issues. She did not like being in the public eye either.
--You gotta love stories like the following, from the Associated Press:
“Thanks to modern technology and some expert detective work, a nearly 400-year-old painting that had long been attributed to an unknown artist in Rembrandt’s workshop has now been judged to have been a work of the Dutch master.
“For decades, the Allentown (Penn.) Art Museum displayed an oil-on-oak panel painting called ‘Portrait of a Young Woman’ and credited it to ‘Studio of Rembrandt.’ Two years ago, the painting was sent to New York University for conservation and cleaning.
“There, conservators began removing layers of overpainting and dark, thick varnish that had been added over centuries – and they began to suspect Rembrandt was responsible for the original, delicate brushwork underneath.
“ ‘Our painting had numerous layers of varnish and that really obscured what you could see of the original brushwork, as well as the original color,’ said Elaine Mehalakes, vice president of curatorial affairs at the Allentown Art Museum.
“Conservators used a variety of tools, including X-ray, infrared and electron microscopy, to bolster the case that it was the work of one of the most important and revered artists in history....
“Outside experts who examined the 1632 painting after the completion of its two-year restoration concurred with the NYU assessment that it’s an authentic Rembrandt.”
--Finally, a 6-year-old girl escaped a mountain lion attack Sunday at a California state park south of San Francisco after adults who were with her fought back and scared the animal away.
As reported by USA TODAY: “The girl was grabbed by the big cat but suffered only minor injuries, thanks to the fast action of adults, authorities say.”
As the lion grabbed hold of the girl, an adult pushed the animal away into the bushes and it ran off. The girl was left with a few puncture wounds on her calf and some future nightmares.
Top 3 songs for the week 2/26/72: #1 “Without You” (Nilsson) #2 “Hurting Each Other” (Carpenters) #3 “Precious And Few” (Climax)...and...#4 “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) #5 “Down By The Lazy River” (The Osmonds) #6 “Joy” (Apollo 100 featuring Tom Parker...beyond hideous...) #7 “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (Robert John) #8 “Everything I Own” (Bread) #9 “American Pie” (Don McLean...timeless...) #10 “Sweet Seasons” (Carole King...very uneven week... ‘C’...as the International Web Site Association’s Music Standards Board (IWSAMSB) has gotten to me...)
NCAA Quiz Answers: 1) Hank Gathers averaged 29.0 points per game in 1989-90, but Bo Kimble averaged 35.3 per game. 2) LMU’s coach was Paul Westhead, who back in 1979-80 led the Lakers to the NBA title. In 1987-88, Westhead’s Lions were 28-4, finishing an AP final No. 15. But the 1989-90 edition suffered the loss of Gathers on March 4, as he was the victim of a heart attack. LMU then went on a magical run, Bo Kimble leading the way and shooting his first free throw of each tournament game left-handed in honor of Gathers, making all three. [He didn’t shoot a free throw in the regional semi-final, the Lions then losing the regional final to eventual champion UNLV.]
Meanwhile, Westhead’s LMU team, famous for his “run and gun” offense, averaged an astounding 122.4 points per game that year. Westhead went from his LMU success back to the NBA, where he had two miserable seasons as head coach of Denver, before finding his way to George Mason, where it was another four poor seasons back in the college game.
Bot boy, 30 years ago, Loyola Marymount, Hank Gathers (RIP) and Bo Kimble rocked the sports world.
[Kimble was the eighth pick overall of the Clippers in the 1990 NBA draft and had a highly disappointing three-year career in the league.]
Next Bar Chat, Monday.