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Nothing But Easter Eggs...and The Masters...
[Posted Sunday, noon]
Happy Easter, Friends! Are we having fun yet?
Detroit Tigers Quiz: I had to wait a few days after I did my story on Al Kaline. Name the six players with statues at Comerica Park. Answer below.
So I’ve told you I’m not into watching old sporting events to fill the time these days, save for something like Dave Wottle in the 1972 Olympics or any tape of the great Michael Johnson, but I did enjoy the 2004 Masters rewind Saturday, with Jim Nantz and Phil Mickelson doing a terrific job adding color, and I’m going to watch Tiger’s 2019 performance today.
Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post had some thoughts on past Masters moments.
“As the years pass, the memories of shots fade, but the images, emotions and words of the players become more vivid. The power of the personal story is almost always the unseen driver of the action at Augusta National. The Masters measures the arc of a life, not just the plane of a swing.
“If you don’t have a personal demon to exorcise, as Phil Mickelson did when he brought his 0-for-46 streak in major championships to Augusta in 2004, or a career-long quest to compete as Adam Scott did in 2013, when he ended a half-century of frustration for Australian players, then you may not have the extra emotional gear to earn a green jacket….
“The two greatest Masters in my time, 1986 and 2019, reached their pinnacle not because of the golf, splendid as it was, but by a common theme. The two greatest careers ever, of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, were considered finished – not by a season or two but by perhaps five years.
“Yet, at 46, Nicklaus won his sixth Masters, shooting a final-round 65. The last hour, he cried between shots ‘four or five time’ from joy at the cheers and from his rare lust for fun in competition. Woods, at 43, won his fifth Masters with the shattered body of a 60-year-old, a swing rebuilt four times and a personality in at least its third configuration.”
Then there was Greg Norman.
“Before the Great White Shark blew his six-shot lead on the final day of the 1996 Masters, he already was the most star-crossed of golf’s top players. How much do 331 weeks as the world’s top-ranked player matter when you have seen three or four major championships swiped from you by ridiculously wonderful – but, let’s face it, fluky – shots?
“On the first hole that Sunday in 1996, as Norman stood over a six-foot par putt, a fire engine went past, then a bird started squawking and, finally, a jet went over.
“ ‘Is that a mockingbird?’ I asked Dan Jenkins as we stood by the ropes.
“Norman missed the putt.
“ ‘It is now,’ Dan said.
“By the time Nick Faldo won, beating Norman head-to-head by 11 shots for this third Masters championship, he spoke for millions when he told Norman: ‘I don’t know what to say. I just want to give you a hug.’….
“In 1978, my first Masters, Hubert Green, the reigning U.S. Open champion, missed a three-foot birdie putt on the last hole to blow a chance to meet Gary Player in a playoff. Much later, three scribes saw Green walking back alone in the dusk to the 18th green with one ball and his putter.
“ ‘Got to know,’ he explained. ‘Did I misread it or mis-hit it?’
“The former was forgivable; the latter would be haunting.
“Green then did his ritual and drained the putt.
“ ‘Mis-hit it,’ he murmured.
“Ever since, I have remembered that as the Masters Moment, repeated annually: ‘I’ve got to know.’
“Know the truth, that is, about yourself as the world watches.
“Eleven years later, on a rainy day, I watched the playoff between Faldo and quality journeyman Scott Hoch.
“Hoch, with a tap-in to win, backed away from his putt. ‘Jesus, hit it,’ begged Ben Crenshaw, standing next to me in the clubhouse. As Hoch continued to circle and pace, Crenshaw put both hands to his face in empathetic fear and said, ‘Oh, my God.’
“Hoch, little known until the world learned that his name rhymed with ‘choke,’ missed the shortest putt that, to this day, ever squandered a major.
“ ‘It’s a good thing I don’t carry a gun,’ Hoch said afterward. ‘It’s going to hurt, knowing all…the immortality and all that other stuff that comes with these majors. I’d have been sharing that. Between my brain and my hands, the message got crisscrossed.’”
--As for the PGA Tour’s plans to reopen mid-June, that just doesn’t seem likely. August and September? Yes, perhaps possible, though most likely still without spectators.
--Guy Yocum of Golfworld interviewed Jim Nantz at his home in Pebble Beach.
“(It) feels like a ghost town because the centerpiece of it – the resort and golf course – are closed for the first time in its 101-year history. They’ve closed 17 Mile Drive except to residents and essential business people. We took a 45-minute walk the other day and in that time, one car drove by.”
Nantz said he has been flooded with calls from the media, everyone wanting to know the same thing, “What is Jim Nantz up to this week?”
--A poll from Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business revealed that 72% of Americans surveyed said they would not attend if sporting events resumed without a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Among 762 polling respondents who identified as sports fans, 61% said they would not go to a game without a vaccine.
Only 12% of all respondents said they would go to games if social distancing could be maintained.
Distressingly, if you are a sports franchise owner in particular, just 13% of Americans said they would feel comfortable attending games again the way they had in the past.
“This virus has the attention and respect of the nation,” said Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll. “Those who identify as sports fans, at all levels of interest, line up closely with the general population in regard to their own safety and that of the players.”
Let’s face it, there is a growing chance we won’t see sports until 2021.
Take the NBA. There’s some talk now of restarting in September. ESPN reported that the league is exploring returning to action through the use of rapid-response blood tests, but as the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke observes, “even if the efficacy of those tests is proven, why would NBA players be first in line over millions of other Americans eager to get back to work?
“Baseball is also probably done… The number of players and personnel involved in each game makes it more difficult to restart than basketball, and there’s no way they could actually start a season in the winter.
“There was talk this week of playing in virtual quarantine in Arizona, as if such widespread safety could be guaranteed, and as if players would actually agree to be away from their families for nearly five months. The notion was so vehemently shouted down by a disbelieving public that the league quickly put out a statement puncturing its trial balloon.”
--Colby Cave, a part-time center on the Edmonton Oilers, died Saturday morning after suffering a brain bleed earlier in the week. He was just 25.
Cave was airlifted Tuesday to a hospital in Toronto and had been in a medically induced coma after having emergency surgery to remove a colloid cyst that was causing pressure on his brain.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Saturday: “The National Hockey League family mourns the heartbreaking passing of Colby Cave, whose life and hockey career, though too short, were inspiringly emblematic of the best of our game. Undrafted but undaunted, Colby was relentless in the pursuit of his hockey dream with both the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins organizations. An earnest and hardworking player, he was admired by his teammates and coaches. More important, he was a warm and generous person who was well-liked by all those fortunate enough to know him.”
Cave, out of Battleford, Saskatchewan, had four goals and five assists over 67 NHL games with Boston and Edmonton.
He was an undrafted free agent who wanted to play with Boston and got his shot.
Bruins president Cam Neely said in a statement: “He was, and will always be a Bruin, and he will be dearly missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.”
--Tom Webster, a former coach of the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, who was a standout player in the WHA with the New England Whalers, died at the age of 71…brain cancer.
Webster scored 53 goals, with 50 assists, for the 1972-73 Whalers, and then scored 33 or more the following four seasons, after a brief career in the NHL, including a 30 goal, 37 assist season in 1970-71 for the Detroit Red Wings.
After his playing career, he started the 1986-87 season coaching the Rangers but after a 5-9-4 record, had to step down because of an inner-ear problem that precluded him from air travel. He then went on to coach the Kings for three seasons, leading them to their first division title in 1990-91, but his term was marked by outbursts of temper that contrasted with his otherwise quiet demeanor off the ice.
Once he was suspended four games for punching a player on the Calgary Flames, and then he drew a record 12-game suspension during a game against the Red Wings at the Forum when he thought referee Kerry Fraser had failed to make a proper call, Webster hurling a stick from the bench and hitting Fraser in the ankle.
--Pete Retzlaff died. He was 88. Retzlaff was a captain and key part of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship team, playing for Philly from 1956-66. When he retired he was the team’s leader in receptions (452) and receiving yards (7,412), and was named to Philly’s Hall of Fame in 1989. His No. 44 is one of only nine Eagles to have his number retired.
Retzlaff was born in Ellendale, North Dakota, and played his college ball at powerhouses North Dakota-Ellendale and South Dakota State. He was then selected in the 22nd round by the Lions in 1953.
So what happened in those years in between before he finally made the Eagles? He was in the Army for two years.
--We note the passing of former Eagles running back Timmy Brown, who passed away at the age of 82.
Brown joined the Eagles after his rookie year with the Packers in 1959, playing for Philly from 1960-67, and then a final season in Baltimore.
Brown was part of the 1960 NFL Championship team and was named to three Pro Bowls as an Eagles running back. He then won a second NFL Championship with the Colts in 1968 (who then lost the Super Bowl to the Jets).
Brown, a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame, had a very solid career, rushing 889 times for 3,862 yards, 4.3 avg., with 235 receptions for 3,399 yards and a 14.5 avg. He had 64 touchdowns overall, including six punt and kickoff returns for TDs.
After his retirement in 1968, he became an actor, appearing on TV shows like “The Wild Wild West” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” during the 1970s.
--The XFL suspended day-to-day operations and laid off all its employees Friday, three weeks after the pandemic ended its relaunch season. After five games, the remainder of the season was canceled March 20 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
--In a move that we can put in the category of “No one gives a damn” these days, Duke freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. announced he was entering the NBA draft.
Yeah, the kid is solid, rookie of the year in the ACC, and he was second-team AP All-American, but at a time like today, the last thing I need to read is a statement from him where he says, in part… “We created memories that I will cherish forever.”
[Sorry, Pandemic Fatigue has set in.]
--European soccer, it is well known now, will have its 2019-2020 season wiped out if play can’t restart by end of June. It will be interesting to see what the Premier League will do with Liverpool, which has virtually clinched the title.
But as the New York Times’ Rory Smith and Tariq Panja report, the debate in the PL over player compensation amid the rising death toll in the UK is front and center, with the players increasingly portrayed as feckless and greedy, while the owners want to cut their pay as club revenues have collapsed.
At first the players were willing to do that, but then some teams, such as Tottenham, furloughed non-playing staff, leaving it up to the British government and its scheme of paying 80% of their salaries for the next three months.
That move was greeted with derision and anger – not just from the fans, but from players, too. “It was the moment a commercial negotiation suddenly morphed into something far larger and far more damaging to all sides: a conversation, in essence, about soccer’s role and responsibilities in public life.”
The British people see their stressed to the max healthcare workers and have suddenly turned on the stars of the Premier League, who forever were idolized, and the players wonder if they are being made scapegoats as the owners try to save their own skin and franchise values.
It’s a freakin’ mess. Amazing how quickly attitudes turned. The players are now scrambling to come up with an initiative called Players Together where funds would be granted to the front line of the health service.
There are no winners here. The players’ reputations have been damaged and it will take a long time to repair it.
--This wasn’t a big announcement but saw the Indy 500 is rescheduled to Aug. 23. Indiana was up to 330 deaths and 7,400 Covid cases through Saturday so who the hell knows. But I can actually see this one coming off…without spectators.
The issue, like with all other sports, is that patrons would have to get their money back, these tickets normally bought well in advance, and does the sport have the financial wherewithal to do that?
--Wisconsin will not allow student-athletes in their senior years whose spring seasons were canceled due to the pandemic to regain that lost eligibility and return for the 2020-21 academic year, athletics director Barry Alvarez said.
Last month the NCAA approved adding a year of eligibility to spring student-athletes but left the decision of whether to sponsor that added season up to the schools.
“What we tried to do was encourage our seniors to go ahead and, if you’re going to graduate, graduate and move on with your life,” Alvarez said. “We appreciate everything that you’ve done. But move forward. The future is in question, and we can’t promise you anything.”
Canceling the upcoming college football season would place an immense financial strain on all NCAA athletics departments. Ticket sales and TV deals account for a major part of the athletics budget.
--The average minor league baseball team has annual revenue of about $5.4 million and 21 full-time employees, who on average are compensated about $62,000 a year, including benefits.
This data, as reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond, has never been made public before and it paints a bleak picture. They are small businesses, and like so many small businesses in America today are struggling to survive, “they’re in crisis.”
“Unlike their MLB parents, which receive a large portion of their earnings from increasingly gigantic media rights deals, minor-league teams derive virtually all of their money from ticket sales and the in-stadium experience. Their existence entirely depends on games being played and people attending them.”
“ ‘You drop to your knees and pray,’ said Derek Martin, the general manager of the Altoona Curve.”
As discussed before this crisis comes with MLB having already floated the idea of stripping 40 or more minor-league teams of their major-league affiliation and turning them into independent clubs.
--To make up for the lack of baseball, SNY, the television home of the New York Mets, is simulating the team’s regular season on the MLB The Show 20 video game.
On Tuesday night, with virtual Jacob deGrom toeing the rubber against the Houston Astros and Justin Verlander, SNY added a wrinkle by having its broadcast team of Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen on the call.
Around the middle innings, Cohen, the play-by-play man, with a wicked sense of humor, couldn’t help himself in alluding to the Astros’ scandal-ridden offseason.
“You can hear very little from the crowd tonight. It almost feels like you’re playing in a library,” Cohen said, setting up the punchline. “Which would mean that any sound that might be emanating from the dugout, say, the sound of a trash can being banged, would be quite formidable.”
The Mets won the simulation 2-1.
--Former A.L. MVP and five-time All-Star Josh Hamilton could be facing 2-to-10 years behind bars after being indicted Tuesday by a Tarrant County, Texas grand jury on one count of injury to a child, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Hamilton, 38, is accused of beating his 14-year-old daughter last Sept. 30.
He’s had a very troubled life. This isn’t good.
--Some big moves in the world of NFL broadcasting. Drew Brees eschewed ESPN for NBC Sports in a move that sets him up to be a fixture on telecasts after he finishes playing.
Brees, 41, is still set to play this season for New Orleans, assuming there is one, but his contract begins after he retires and he is going to be groomed to be Cris Collinsworth’s replacement on “Sunday Night Football.”
NBC already has a succession plan for Al Michaels, with Mike Tirico replacing him after the 2022 Super Bowl.
Brees signed a two-year, $50 million contract with the Saints in the offseason, but many feel this year would be his last.
When Brees retires he’ll start as a game analyst on Notre Dame football and as a studio analyst for “Football Night in America.”
As for ESPN, they continue to struggle to find a team to replace Joe Tessore and Booger McFarland on “Monday Night Football.”
Al Michaels, by the way, is 75 yet has no plans to retire.
--I was disappointed to see CBS, for whatever reason (maybe economic), decided to jettison color commentator Dan Fouts. Hey, what was the wrong with the guy? Nothing. He and play-by-play man Ian Eagle were the number two team behind Jim Nantz and Tony Romo and they did a solid job. [Anyone from the New York area knows Ian Eagle is terrific, doing any sport.]
Yes, Fouts is 69 (hard to believe…but then I’m old, too), though I just don’t get it.
CBS is targeting Charles Davis, currently the No. 2 analyst alongside Kevin Burkhardt.
Assuming Fouts wanted to keep working, I’m just surprised they didn’t move him down.
Oh well….there are bigger issues today.
--Among the many potential victims of Covid-19 are the great apes, which throughout Africa are being quarantined despite suspended gorilla tourism across the continent, as the BBC reported.
It is not clear if they can contract it, but the concern is warranted. It would be beyond godawful if they caught it.
Caution at all zoos around the world are certainly being taken as well.
-- “Idiot(s) of the Year” candidates…Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott threw a birthday for one of his friends at his house in Texas on Friday night, according to TMZ, and as many as 30 people, including Elliott, attended at a time when the state is under stay-at-home orders.
--Forbes released its 23rd annual list of Major League Baseball franchise valuations. For the 23rd year in a row, the New York Yankees lead the way.
According to Forbes, the Yankees are worth $5 billion, up 9% from last year. Forbes reports “the Yankees generated $683 million in revenue last year, $127 million more than the Los Angeles Dodgers, the second most valuable team on this year’s ranking. The Dodgers, who are valued at $3.4 billion, earned $556 million in revenue over the last 12 months.”
The Red Sox are third at $3.3 billion, followed by the Cubs at $3.2bn and the Giants, $3.1bn.
--A bat used by Yankees legend Lou Gehrig that dated back to 1925 was sold for $1,025,000 by Heritage Auctions in Dallas this past week. After the bat did not meet the original reserve of $950,000, a private buyer came in after the auction to purchase the item.
The bat had traded hands privately before this sale but had never been sold publicly or at auction.
The bat is significant because it is one Gehrig sent to Hillerich & Bradsby, which made Louisville Slugger bats, when he joined the Yankees in 1924. Gehrig sent it to be used as a model for any other bats the company produced for him.
“He sent this one back and said, ‘Like the specs, I like the length, I like this weight, and I like how this bat was created in the factory,” Heritage director Chris Ivy said. “So he sent it back, which is when they dated it on April 22, 1925, and said this is the bat I want you to use to create my future bats.”
--Paul McCartney’s handwritten lyrics for The Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” sold at auction for $910,000, six times the original estimate. The buyer is anonymous.
Sir Paul wrote the 1968 hit to console the young Julian Lennon after the divorce of the boy’s parents John and Cynthia.
McCartney previously said: “I was quite mates with Julian. I was going out in my car just vaguely singing this song, ‘Hey Jules, don’t make it bad…’. Then I thought a better name was Jude – a bit more country and western for me.”
--Finally, we note the passing of Grammy-winning folk and country singer-songwriter John Prine, who died after I posted last time of complications related to coronavirus. He was 73 and had been hospitalized since March 26 and placed on a ventilator two days later, dying Tuesday.
Monday, his wife, Fiona, said she had recovered from the virus but John was still in critical condition.
Although the rootsy musician never scored a major hit of his own, he made several for others – the most well-known being “Angel From Montgomery,” recorded by Bonnie Raitt.
Many top artists also covered several songs from Prine’s premiere album, including “Sam Stone” (recorded by Johnny Cash, John Fogerty and more), “Hello in There” (Joan Baez, Bette Midler, David Allan Coe) and “Paradise” (John Denver, among others).
Prine garnered praise from Bob Dylan, and countless other songs from across his 24 albums have been recorded by dozens of artists including Kris Kristofferson, George Strait (who had a #1 country hit with Prine’s “I Just Want to Dance With You”), Paul Westerberg, Norah Jones and Dwight Yoakam. The first self-titled record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.
The son of a tool and die maker and a homemaker from Kentucky, Prine was born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, Ill., where his older brought taught him to play guitar at age 14. He worked as a mailman and served in the Army in Germany during the Vietnam War before beginning his music career.
He had been singing his original songs at open mic nights when Roger Ebert, then the Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, heard him and in his first review described a “singing mailman who delivers a powerful message in a few words.” “He sings rather quietly, and his guitar work is good, but he doesn’t show off. He starts slow,” wrote Ebert in 1970. “But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has you.” [Anne Steele / Wall Street Journal]
Even after two bouts of cancer in 1998 and 2013 that left Prine’s voice sounding lower and more gravely, he continued to record.
He released “The Tree of Forgiveness” in 2018, his first album of new material in 13 years, which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 – a career-high for him.
Before falling ill, Prine had planned a North American and European tour that was scheduled to begin in May.
Prine was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019 and won Grammys for his 1991 album, “The Missing Years” and 2005’s “Fair & Square.”
Prine was recognized with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
From the song “Paradise,” from his debut album, which lamented the devastation of the natural beauty of Kentucky by the coal mining companies.
Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.
Top 3 songs for the week 4/12/69: #1 “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” (The 5th Dimension) #2 “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” (Blood, Sweat & Tears) #3 “Dizzy” (Tommy Roe)… and…#4 “Galveston” (Glen Campbell) #5 “Time Of The Season” (The Zombies) #6 “Only The Strong Survive” (Jerry Butler…underrated artist…) #7 “It’s Your Thing” (The Isley Brothers) #8 “Hair” (The Cowsils…great opening drum riff…) #9 “Run Away Child, Running Wild” (The Temptations) #10 “Twenty-Five Miles” (Edwin Starr… ‘B+’ week…)
Detroit Tigers Quiz Answer: Six with statues at Comerica Park….
Al Kaline, Ty Cobb, Willie Horton, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg and Hal Newhouser.
Hall of Famer Newhouser had as good a three-year run as any pitcher in the history of the game. Yes, the first two were War years, but he backed it up when everyone had returned in 1946.
1944…29-9, 2.22 ERA…MVP-1
Yet he was largely finished after his age 29 season in 1950, ending his career 207-150, 3.06.
Charlie Gehringer is easily one of the most underrated Hall of Famers of all time. Playing his entire career with the Tigers, 1924-42, the second baseman had 2,839 hits, batted .320 lifetime, 1,427 RBI.
Seven 200-hit seasons. Seven 100-RBI seasons. Twelve 100-run seasons.
No. 22 on the all-time list for runs scored.
As Ronald Reagan no doubt said at some point while reading the box scores, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
As for Willie Horton, I loved the guy, but his best years were his first two in the big leagues, and then a resurgence as a DH with Seattle late. I was surprised I didn’t remember his career arc that way.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday…or sooner.