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The State of College Football, Part XIV
[Posted Sun. p.m. ]
Old-time Baseball Quiz: Baseball-reference.com’s metric for deciding the career ERA leader is 1,000 innings. 1) The all-time leader with a career mark at 1.82 spent his entire career post-1900, but prior to 1920. Name him. 2) Name the all-time leader for a pitcher who threw at least part of his career post-1920. Answers below.
College Football…the debate continues…
--As of today, the ACC, SEC and Big 12 are plowing ahead with their seasons, ditto the AAC, Conference-USA and Sun Belt conferences of the Group of Five.
-- Nine Oklahoma football players tested positive for Covid-19 this week as the Sooners returned to campus after a six-day break in preseason camp. There had just been one positive test for OU football since the initial intake testing in July.
“Disappointed by the news,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’ve done such a tremendous job, and certainly you know when you give your players some time that there is risk in that.
“The two times that we’ve had any serious number of cases have been when we brought our players back originally, and here after having a few days where we have not had any organized team activities. …It’s an opportunity for us to continue to learn, continue to educate ourselves because the reality is this isn’t the NBA. This is college football.
“We can try to minimize these risks as much as we possibly want, but we’re never going to be able to eliminate them 100 percent. We don’t have a bubble.”
Most of the players stayed in Norman during the break. OU’s general student population will return to campus this week.
--Rutgers finally gave some details on its Covid outbreak, with coach Greg Schiano saying two of the 30 players infected were still in quarantine but the rest have recovered. Of the 30, Schiano said, probably half of them were asymptomatic.
“They never felt anything. They just tested positive. The other half had symptoms. …I’m confident that we’re doing well medically.”
Being in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights’ program is now shut down.
With growing concerns about heart issues in athletes impacted by Covid, specifically myocarditis, Schiano said all those testing positive receive “a full cardiac work-up.”
Adam Kilgore / Washington Post
“On Thursday night, in a question-and-answer show posted to the organization’s social media channels, NCAA President Mark Emmert broke his silence on the split decision to play in the fall among college football’s Power Five conferences. While announcing the NCAA had canceled all fall championships, he asserted that the NCAA has no authority over football in the Power Five, which consists of the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, ACC and Big 12.
“ ‘We don’t have authority to say to a school, ‘Yeah, okay, we know that your conference isn’t playing and you want to go ahead and play over here,’’ Emmert said. ‘I may think that’s a silly idea, but it’s not up to me; it’s not up to anybody.’
“Emmert’s comments underlined an odd truth about college football: No one is in charge. The commissioners of the Power Five conferences set the agenda for the sport’s highest level, with the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners often aligning. But when they don’t agree, even on the most crucial decisions, it can lead to the chaos and uncertainty of this past week. For all the NCAA’s leadership issues, it canceled the lucrative men’s basketball tournament after one meeting, with a single announcement.
“ ‘I don’t think we’re going to be able to tolerate this kind of fragmented decision-making,” (former State University of New York Chancellor Nancy) Zimpfer said. ‘It has been laid bare. That’s what a crisis does for you. It looks at the fault lines and exposes them.’
“College football arrived at its balkanized structure not through design but through years of dealmaking and evolution, almost all of which was driven by the negotiation of television rights. The pandemic is likely to force some kind of change, the direction of which remains to be seen. …Without reforms, schools and conferences may become even more incentivized to act strictly in their best interests.
“Even if the current structure remains, a single head of college football, which would prevent the leadership void of the past week, may be created. [Ed. I’ve argued for years that figure should have been former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, who was highly respected in his profession.]….
“(But) Emmert shot down the idea of creating a separate college football commissioner, comparing calls for a single, powerful college football leader to authoritarianism.
“ ‘History, if it’s taught us anything, people love the concept of a czar, but they hate czars,’ Emmert said. ‘Authoritarianism is a really fun concept; it just sucks when people actually have to live under it.’”
Emmert’s an overpaid idiot.
“As television contracts and rights fees led to massive increases in revenue over the past 20 years, athletic departments developed what Zimpfer called a ‘spend what we make’ mentality. Football teams engaged in arms races for coaches, staffs, facilities and recruiting budgets. Even when not directly turning a profit, athletic departments provided enormous tangible and intangible benefits to schools through marketing and publicity. They continued to spend money without any thought it could dry up.
“If the suspension of a season can lead to such grave financial ruin, schools must reckon with the sustainability of their spending. As schools cut sports to save money and leaders speak about financial disaster, some point to habits formed over years of financial boom times.
“ ‘The issue is that they have spent money recklessly for decades, as illustrated by the increase in revenues from $3 billion to $14 billion over a 15-year period during which time spending tracked the same trajectory almost exactly,’ (former NCAA investigator Tim) Nevius said. ‘It did not become that much more expensive to conduct college sports. The schools chose to spend their massive increases of revenues in irresponsible ways, mostly on exorbitant coach’s salaries, lavish facilities, expansive increases in athletics and team staff, recruiting budgets and other areas. The pandemic has brought to bear irresponsible spending.’
“While player movements and changes in leadership structure may be inevitable, whether or not athletic departments learn a lesson about spending is trickier. Once television money starts rolling back in, will leaders remember the financial hit, or will they follow suit when they see their rival build ornate facilities and pay millions for assistant coaches?
“It will be up to the schools themselves to exercise restraint. Lawmakers trying to cap what a school spends or enforcing a rainy-day fund would be an anti-trust violation, Nevius said. Asked how schools could be forced into fiscal responsibility, Zimpher replied, ‘We’re going to need help.’”
But there will be change.
Dan Wolken / USA TODAY
“It is incredibly absurd, and yet perfectly appropriate for the way the Covid-19 pandemic has played out in America, that the fate of the entire college football season could really come down to believing one set of medical experts over another.
“University presidents in the Big Ten and the Pac-12 saw the trends, the data and the risks to young athletes of trying to play a season this fall and decided to fold up the tents Tuesday at least until the spring, following the earlier decisions by the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West. Meanwhile, university presidents in the SEC, ACC and perhaps the Big 12 have looked at their own set of material from the experts and determined it’s worth pressing forward until something changes their mind.
“If that doesn’t symbolize the American conundrum at this delicate and polarized moment in history, I don’t know what does. And like everything else that has happened since March, we all deserve better.
“Let’s be clear about one thing. As profoundly sad as Tuesday was for athletes, coaches and fans, it’s quite possible, even probable, that the Big Ten and Pac-12 made the right call. Sadly, America still hasn’t gotten its arms around Covid-19 in any meaningful way over the past five months, which puts a lot of people in peril as college campuses set to reopen in the coming days.
“And contrary to President Trump falsely claiming on a Fox Sports Radio show that football players are ‘very young strong people physically, so they’re not going to have a problem,’ there is indeed a major concern about the long-term health impact and a growing track record of athletes who develop myocarditis, which is heart inflammation, after recovering from Covid-19….
“For the good of the sport, the best path would have been convincing everybody to take a breath, stop preparations for the season and regroup at some point in September after we see what happens with Covid-19 when regular students come back to campus. That would have given college football enough runway to start in mid-October and, if the circumstances looked better than they do right now, play a legitimate season….
“Sadly, the existing fractures will only widen from here and the suspicions will deepen, and nobody has a great explanation for why it had to happen this way.
“But when nobody can agree on a basic set of facts or which experts are worthy of being believed, you have chaos.”
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post
“It is futile to hang morality in college football’s closet. Don’t bother trying. The integrity of the sport is so compromised that even a perceived noble gesture during this pandemic serves as little more than a well-stitched mask to preserve the con of amateurism.
“At the end of a week that featured a historic rupturing of the sport, the Big Ten and Pac-12 may appear as the foremost careful and concerned conferences, while the rest of the Power Five looks daring, reckless or worse. But if trying to salvage college football is akin to guiding a yacht through treacherous waters, all factions should unite around one depressing thought: The ship is sinking.
“That’s because honest maintenance has been neglected for a while. Some can jump on lifeboats and get out early. Some can play their music louder and enjoy themselves for as long as possible. But this thing is going to submerge, by the force of the relentless novel coronavirus or by the will of enlightened players and others who have turned crisis into clarity about a system of exploitation.
“Looking at the sport in this light, there is so much wrong that it’s impossible to find right. It’s easy to laugh at the loose medical interpretations and petty scheduling concerns of schools that have chosen to bait danger and continue playing. But for the Football Bowl Subdivision schools that have decided to sit out – those in the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mid-American and Mountain West and select independents – there is no absolutism in their caution. The decisions of the Big Ten and Pac-12 actually indicate they understand this wretched game quite well and will use shrewd authority in protecting it.
“The words of Ray Anderson, athletic director at Arizona State, come to mind. When asked why players signing liability waivers wasn’t a consideration, Anderson articulated the responsibility of a college administrator with sermon-like charm. If he weren’t representing the interests of some tone-deaf thing called the Pac-12 CEO Group, it would’ve felt like an inspiring speech to set to music. Instead, his comments portrayed hypocrisy in its highest form: a charismatic pinch of morality that doesn’t last long enough to apply to anything else
“ ‘It’s not an option because our responsibilities are not about liability,’ Anderson said. ‘Our responsibilities are about accountability to these student-athletes and their families, short and long term. So we can’t waive our duties and obligations to protect them driven by the science and the medicine. We’re not driven by lawyers who say, ‘Well, we’ll relieve you of liability.’ That’s now what floats the boat in this conference.
“ ‘We have responsibility to accountability, so the science and medicine says we cannot allow you to go forward right now, so we won’t. I hear there’s talk about: ‘We’ll sign a waiver. We want to play so badly.’ Coaches talking about, ‘We’ve to play.’ Well, we don’t have to play until it’s safe and we can literally guarantee the health and safety of our student-athletes; not just now but their lives going forward, because we don’t know the impacts going forward. And until we have more clarity, we’re not going to go forward. That’s where we are. So the liability thing: Other folks can talk about that. We’re about accountability and responsibility to our student-athletes.’
“It felt like a ‘Hallelujah!’ moment, but that feeling evaporated quickly. In the context of what college football really is – a multibillion-dollar enterprise profiting from free and silenced labor – any references to accountability, responsibility and authentic leadership ring hollow. They’re just fancy words to preserve the amateurism con.
“Players in the Big Ten and Pac-12, enlightened and emboldened by all that has happened, called out their conferences, started to organize resistance and made demands. They weaponized the truth: To play sports right now exposes the television money grab more clearly than ever. Major college athletics have resisted frank admission of what it really is. It hides behind education, always….
“And how did the Big Ten and Pac-12 respond? They sat down, preaching responsibilities, putting their paternalism on full display. It was forced leadership. And it was a cunning reaction. Athletes had boxed them in; the CEOs fronting as college presidents had to play dirty or not play at all. So they kept on the mask of amateurism….
“Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports offered an anecdote that explains so much about this strangely irresistible, morally inadequate sport. On Thursday, the SEC coaches got into a little verbal spat on a conference call. The trigger of this frustration? A lack of transparency over how the league selected its two additional league opponents for its revised 10-game, conference-only schedule.
“Two of the sport’s most prestigious conferences just opted out on the advice of their medical advisers, fearing Covid-19’s link to the heart condition myocarditis. And SEC coaches are flustered because they need to know – right now – how they got Arkansas and Mississippi State or Alabama and LSU as the additional teams on a schedule that still qualifies, despite their insistence on playing, as more of a suggestion than a stone-cold reality.
“This is why they make the big bucks – and most don’t offer to take pay cuts to help their struggling athletic departments….
“ ‘I feel like the Titanic. We have hit the iceberg, and we’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play,’ said Carlos del Rio, a doctor who studies infectious diseases, during a media briefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and some of the NCAA’s medical advisers.
“At some point, the divided leaders of college athletics will realize they need new logic and a united front to combat an unprecedented, complex situation. Sadly, they figure to wait until after the boat sinks.”
Steve Politi / Star-Ledger (NJ.com)
“Nebraska really wants to play college football in the fall, and I’m at a loss to come up with something comparable that New Jersey wants as much.
“Eight dates of Springsteen shows at the Meadowlands with a fistful of tickets? Two extra weeks of summer down the Shore in a house with an ocean view? A device that delivers an electric shock every time someone makes a ‘what exit’ joke?
“They’d all be nice, to be clear.
“But I’m relatively sure life will go on here without any of that, which is something I can’t say for certain when it comes to Nebraska and college football. Nebraska really wants to play football, pandemic be damned, and the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the fall season has made the otherwise very nice people of this state come unhinged.
“The first became national news when head coach Scott Frost declared on Monday, before the conference’s announcement that it would wisely protect its amateur athletes with a deadly virus still raging throughout the country, that Nebraska would explore options to play elsewhere.
“ ‘Our university is committed to playing no matter what that looks like and how that looks,’ Frost said. ‘We want to play no matter who it is or where it is. We’ll see how those chips fall. We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten. If it isn’t, I think we’re prepared to look for other options.’
“Don’t forget: Nebraska jumped at a chance to join the Big Ten and happily accepted the $55 million paycheck to play in the conference last year. But, fine, I get the frustration. The head coaches at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all barked loudly about canceling the season. The anger is somewhat understandable.
“But try digesting this remarkable bit of corn on the crazy, courtesy of USA TODAY columnist Dan Wolken on Tuesday afternoon:
“Despite Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren telling Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday night that Nebraska could not play and continue to be a member of the Big Ten, the person with knowledge said there is alignment between the athletic administration, chancellor Ronnie Green and Governor Pete Ricketts on a belief that the school could not only play a season safely but do so with fans in the stands.
“Nebraska isn’t giving up on playing in the fall, and those last few words – with fans in the stands – tells you all you need to know about this place.
“The nation is grappling with a crisis it hasn’t seen in a century, and not only is this university’s leadership prepared to send unpaid amateur athletes onto the field despite real concerns about serious heart issues, it wants to pack as many people into the stadium as possible to watch and create potential super-spreader events for the virus. The media in Nebraska haven’t just covered this nonsense as it has unfolded. They’ve cheered it on.
“And to think: Fans around the Big Ten like to make fun of Rutgers!
“I’ve been to Lincoln on a football Saturday [Ed. ditto moi] in the fall, and I am not diminishing the importance of the Cornhuskers to that community. This is a real loss to the businesses that depend on college football, and like every athletic department in the Big Ten, Nebraska faces a huge shortfall because of the lost revenues this fall.
“But, sorry, it is a loss that pales in comparison to what’s happening – the death, the suffering, the devastation – all around us with the coronavirus. We might not have much to hang our hat on here, college football wise, in New Jersey.
“We’ve seen more than enough in 2020, however, that we can offer this simple piece of advice: Get a freaking grip, Nebraska….
“New Jersey, more than anywhere in the Big Ten, understands the cruel power of Covid-19. Rutgers, with dozens of players testing positive for the virus, saw the folly of trying to play football now.
“If Nebraska isn’t willing to accept that, the choice is easy for the Big Ten. Let the Cornhuskers schedule every available North Dakota State they can find this fall. Let them plod forward and fill their stadium with as many fans as they can despite the undeniable risk, so long as none of them cross the state line when the game ends.
“Then, most of all, let them find another conference.
“Until then, Rutgers isn’t the Big Ten’s punchline anymore.”
Or as Ken P. writes:
“So this is the state of play. Many schools, like Stanford today, tell all undergrads to stay away. Most colleges have cancelled fall sports. College football makes $millions/$billions for a small number of people. Covid poses little to no risk to those people. College football makes $0 for the players. Covid poses a significant risk to the players.
“No way these remaining conferences can justify going ahead.”
Christine Brennan / USA TODAY
“For 48 hours now, the silence has been deafening from the schools you would least expect to remain quiet about the health and safety of their student athletes.
“After the Big Ten and Pac-12 made the difficult, heartbreaking and correct decision to shut down their fall sports in the midst of a global pandemic, you might have expected to hear right away from say, Duke, which is ranked four spots below the Pac-12’s Stanford [the aforementioned Ken P. went to both] and one below the Big Ten’s Northwestern in the top 10 of the U.S. News & World Report rankings of the best national universities in 2020.
“Duke would seem to be the type of school that would care about science and knowledge. And if that isn’t enough, there’s always peer pressure from your academic equals, or perhaps just trying to maintain the appearance of being the smartest people in the room.
“But no. Duke, prestigious Duke of the ACC, is the one and only school in the U.S. News Top 10 to still be all in for blocking and tackling and having 22 young bodies breathing on and falling all over each other on every down for 3 ½ hours on Saturdays this fall as the coronavirus ravages the nation.
“Duke has now earned the dubious distinction of being the only national Top-10 academic school to defy science and medicine and try to make a buck – many bucks – playing football. Everyone else is out: in order, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Penn and my alma mater Northwestern, as is Johns Hopkins, which is tied for 10th with Duke.
“But let’s not pick on that renowned football power Duke alone. Moving down the U.S. News list, at No. 15, we see you, Notre Dame, tied with Vanderbilt. What in the world are you two schools doing, still playing along with the ACC and SEC in this intelligence-denying game of Russian Roulette that will be attached to your names for years to come?
“Then there’s Conference USA’s Rice, tied with the Ivy League’s Cornell at No. 17. Really, Rice? Football is that important to you? Who knew?
“A quartet of ACC schools should know better – Wake Forest at No. 27, Virginia at No. 28 and Georgia Tech and North Carolina tied at No. 29 – surprisingly haven’t spoken out yet. There’s a theory that an individual school in these hard-headed conferences might be afraid to publicly speak out in favor of the health and safety of their students. (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) If there’s any truth in that, these ACC schools have no excuse, because there are six of them in the U.S. News top 30, counting Notre Dame for football purposes….
“So what is it, Duke, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Rice and the rest of you ‘academically-oriented’ schools? Are you going to show some brains and courage and make the right decision to pull the plug on fall sports? Or is the decision going to be made for you?”
Ms. Brennan didn’t mention the comments that Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke infectious disease specialist who leads the ACC’s medical advisory team, made to Sports Business Daily.
Wolfe said the risks associated with the coronavirus can be overcome enough to play college football this fall.
“We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe,” Wolfe said. “Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing Covid onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.”
Someone check his financial statements….me thinks there could be some money under the table, know what I’m sayin’?
Lastly, you have the local business impact with college football not being played in many parts of the country this fall, let alone that even in areas that it is, perhaps, few, if any, fans may be allowed into the stadium and thus will have an incentive to travel to the towns and cities hosting the contests.
Rick Maese / Washington Post
“The players won’t play, the marching bands will remain silent, and the large stadiums across the Big Ten will sit empty this fall, leaving a hole for college football fans who build their year around a dozen or so Saturdays. But the impact stretches far beyond the locker rooms and stadium turnstiles.
“The cancellation of the fall season promises to wallop businesses that count on those fall weekends for survival, and the economic impact is likely to measure in the tens of millions in many of the towns across the sprawling conference.
“ ‘We’re like a lot of businesses: We rely on the back-to-school and football season to really be our big moneymaking months,’ said Michael Weber, vice president of Weber’s Boutique Hotel in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“For decades now, the downtown hotel has been packed on fall weekends. Fans from all over pour into town to fill the country’s largest stadium and also fill one of the area’s most storied hotels. For many, the pregame brunch and postgame dinners at Weber’s are staples.
“This week’s news that the Big Ten would not be playing football this fall wasn’t just a gut punch; it struck businesses and industries that already had been walloped mightily this year by the novel coronavirus pandemic, many that were hoping a busy football season could salvage the year financially. Hotels, bars and restaurants – many of the businesses that thrive during the college football season – are also many of the ones hit hardest by the pandemic….
“From Lincoln, Neb., to New Brunswick, N.J., businesses in Big Ten towns that count on those fall Saturdays are coming to terms with what it means to lose a full season, and some are bracing for the worst.
“ ‘It’s just devastating news’ said Fritz Smith, chief executive of the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, the tourism organization in State College, Pa., a town built around Penn State University that swells on game days, temporarily becoming Pennsylvania’s third-largest city. ‘I’ll be honest. There’s real fear in the community and a real trepidation about how some businesses reliant on the spending of visitors associated with the games are going to get through this. They’ve already had five months of a difficult operating environment, and this is kind of yet another leg of the table being kicked out.’
“He estimates Penn State football brings in more than $70 million in visitor spending each year. Penn State fans typically spend three nights in hotels, three days shopping at stores, three nights eating out. And this fall they’ll all stay home.”
It’s all very sad…and, again, it did NOT have to be this way. Probably half of you still don’t want to believe it, that you can point to a certain individual in Washington, D.C., but facts are stubborn things, as John Adams first said.
--Yankees star outfielder Aaron Judge is an amazing talent. In 2017 he set a rookie record (broken last year by the Mets’ Pete Alonso) with 52 home runs and a 1.049 OPS. He played in 155 games that season.
But then he was limited by injury to 112 and 102 games each of the last two seasons, and now after a super-hot start, 9 home runs and 20 RBI in his first 17 games in this shortened campaign, Judge is back on the shelf with a “mild right calf strain.” The Yanks are hoping to limit his time off to a week or so, but this is after another one of their oft-injured sluggers, Giancarlo Stanton, went down with the same injury, though of the more severe variety, Stanton playing in only 18 games last season for the Yanks and potentially out for the season after just 14 this year.
The thing with Judge, as all Yankees fans know, is that he is a free agent in 2022, but there is zero reason for the team to grant him the long-term extension he is seeking, certainly not in 2020.
Meanwhile, New York defeated Boston Friday night, 10-3, as Gerrit Cole moved to 4-0, 2.76, with seven strong.
The amazing Cole has now won 20 straight regular season games, just four back of Carl Hubbell’s 24 straight set in 1936-37. Roy Face is next at 22, 1958-59.
Cole’s only defeat since May 2019 was in the World Series opener last year, when he pitched for Houston and lost to Washington.
Since his most recent loss in the regular season, Cole is 20-0 with a 1.94 ERA in 27 starts. Roger Clemens holds the record with a 30-game unbeaten streak in 1998-99.
Well, Saturday, the Yankees, now 14-6 and first in the AL East, suffered another potentially big injury, losing infielder DJ LeMahieu to a sprained thumb, DJ hitting .411 (30-for-73).
But for New York the theme is “next man up,” as it was all last season, and Clint Frazier, given yet another chance to prove he should stick, is 7-for-11, .636, including a 3-for-3, 5 RBI game in an 11-5 win over Boston Saturday.
--The Dodgers are 15-7 through Saturday, with Mookie Betts leading the way, 8 home runs, 18 RBIs, .309 batting average, 1.050 OPS. Clayton Kershaw has pitched well in his three starts since an early back issue.
But Betts hit three home runs the other day in an 11-2 win over the Padres and many baseball fans were surprised to learn that Mookie had hit three for a sixth time in his career, tying him with Sammy Sosa and Johnny Mize at that mark, Betts just 27.
--Bobby C., the fireballing lefty from Summit High School (circa 1974-76), now commercial airline pilot who lives in San Diego, is ticked I haven’t mentioned Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres yet. Well the 21-year-old budding superstar has 31 home runs and 74 RBIs in the first 106 games of his career, batting .316, .992 OPS; 9 homers, 21 RBI, 1.083 OPS heading into today’s game for 2020. I’d say that’s pretty, pretty good.
Capt. Bob is known to trail a “Fernando Tatis Jr. for President” banner on his flights, though Tatis isn’t eligible based on a number of different metrics.
--Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon became just the fifth player in the last 50 years with a .500 batting average through his team’s first 17 games (and after starting out 1-for-12!), but he has fallen back to earth, 1-for-12 the next three games and began today’s play at .438.
Donovan Solano of the Giants entered today batting .433; quite a story for the 32-year-old journeyman, though he did hit .330 in 215 at-bats for San Fran last season.
--I’m trying not to write about the Mets, now a beyond putrid 9-14 after being swept by the Phillies (8-9), 6-5, 6-2, 6-2*. I followed today’s game online only the entire way, not watching a single pitch live…befitting my interest in the team. It sucks. And in a 60-game season, even with 16 teams making the playoffs, it’s getting late early.
*Former Met Zack Wheeler, who the Phillies signed as a free agent when many Mets fans wished the team had made an offer, improved to 3-0, 2.81. He’s doing exactly what the Phils signed him for. Seven quality innings virtually each outing.
--But what of the sport of baseball, overall, and the product us fans are being presented, limited to watching it on television or online as opposed to in-person.
As Johnny Mac noted…in 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher,” no DH, the Major League batting average was .237. There were 25,710 hits…19,143 strikeouts.
2020…universal DH, the MLB batting average is .240, with 4,659 hits and 5,095 punch-outs.
At least in 1968, the ball was put in play! As in, yes, what we’re watching really kind of sucks.
Last night I was having dinner with Ken P. in Milford, Pennsylvania, and we agreed that compared to the product in the 60s, 70s and 80s, as we grew up with the sport, baseball is boring.
Chad Finn / Boston Globe
“Not even 20 games into it, the whole abbreviated baseball season – just like this whole endless calendar year – has dragged like the dog days of August, hasn’t it?
“If there’s one year to be lousy, it might as well be this. These hapless, hopeless Red Sox will be done soon enough, I suppose, heading into the offseason with roughly as many wins as Roger Clemens collected in 1986. That would be 24. I’m taking the under.”
Finn points out the 6-15 BoSox are heading to their worst winning percentage since 1932, when the “star-studded squad of Rabbit Warstler, Urbane Pickering, and Smead Jolley went 43-111 for a wretched .279 winning percentage.”
“But their real misdemeanor is not that they’re terrible, though that certainly is true. I trust that Chaim Bloom, a bright executive off to an impossibly complicated start, will remedy that in time.
“The misdemeanor is that they’re relentlessly boring. That’s an issue that plagues the sport as a whole.
“Baseball’s biggest problem is not that its commissioner, Rob Manfred, has no grasp on why anyone actually likes the sport. It’s that as the people that run it get smarter, the games themselves have become far less interesting. Intelligence and knowledge have damaged the aesthetics and appeal, and it might be irreparable.
“This struck me during what was actually their most satisfying victory of their six this season, Sunday’s 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays that ended with a Mitch Moreland walkoff homer. Despite the enjoyable ending – watching the team celebrate a walkoff victory with no fans in the ballpark was compelling and weird at once – the brunt of the game was a microcosm of what’s wrong with baseball right now.
“There were five home runs hit, including Moreland’s, and 27 strikeouts. That’s an absurdly one-dimensional game. At one point from the bottom of the seventh inning through the first two outs of the ninth, 11 straight batters struck out.
“Home runs and strikeouts used to draw oohs and aahs. Now, it seems like that’s all we get, and the redundancy has taken away their appeal. The American League batting average this season through Tuesday was .233 (Ed. now .237). Every hitter has become some version of Adam Dunn….
“Not to fall too deep into the grumpy-old-man, back-in-my-day rabbit hole here, but one of the things that made me love baseball as a kid in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was that teams had distinct identities.
“The late ‘70s Red Sox of Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, and even Butch Hobson were a marauding lineup of mashers, a slugging team that would fit rather well into today’s game. But then they would go into Kansas City and play those speedy Royals teams featuring Willie Wilson and George Brett that seemed to hit five triples a game against the plodding Sox, and it felt like the teams were playing different sports.
“They weren’t, of course. They were playing enjoyably different versions of the same sport, and it was a blast to see that there was more than one exciting way to win.”
[Ed. it was similar to the ‘80s Mets, who were more in the bashing mode, going up against the speedy Astros and Cardinals and the great series they had against each other.]
Chad Finn brings up another example. Rickey Henderson had a record 130 stolen bases for the 1982 A’s (149 games). Through Wednesday’s games, there were 127 stolen bases total in the American League through 272 games.
Sean Foreman, the whiz behind baseball-reference.com, tweeted the other day that there has never been more time between balls in play than today, an average of 3 minutes and 44 seconds, up nine seconds from 2019, which was up seven seconds from 2018.
Finn notes that in 1978, his first year as a fan, there was an average of 2:27 between balls in play.
“That doesn’t just mean that the game was played at a faster pace. It means that there were more opportunities for spectacular defensive plays, or more opportunities for thrilling offensive plays such as a triple into the gap.”
Joe Posnanski pointed out recently the rate of triples thus far this season would be the lowest in history over a full campaign.
So I just did some research of my own. The 1979 Royals hit 79 triples in 162 games (St. Louis next with 63); 1,066 triples in MLB that year overall in 4,198 games.
Thus far, through Saturday, there were 88 in 584 games this season.
--The league completed its eight final regular-season games for the 22 qualifying teams down in the Orlando bubble and in terms of proving the concept could work, with no positive Covid-19 tests among the players, it’s been a rousing success.
Yours truly, admittedly, couldn’t have cared less, though I took note of the outstanding performances of the likes of T.J. Warren of the Pacers and Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers. The Phoenix Suns, led by All-Star Devin Booker, went a perfect 8-0 (but missed the postseason by a ½ game), while Toronto, 7-1, has now proved definitively they are a club that can compete for another title even without Kawhi Leonard.
So the playoff matchups are set and while I have said I won’t give a damn until the semis, and then the hoped for title matchup between the Lakers and Bucks, there is an intriguing 1-8 battle between LeBron and Co., which went just 3-5 in the restart, and Damian Lillard’s Trail Blazers.
Lillard averaged 36.8 points in the eight games, including a 61-point outpouring in an Aug. 11 win over the Mavericks.
I will be rooting somewhat for the depleted Brooklyn Nets, kind of heroically 5-3 in the restart, against the Raptors in their first-round matchup.
--The Pelicans dismissed coach Alvin Gentry after the team went 2-6 in the NBA’s restart, thus finishing 4 games back of the eight-seed Trail Blazers. Gentry was 175-225 in five seasons, 2017-18 being his lone playoff team, 48-34, that advanced to the western conference semifinals.
A new coach, initially thought to be either Jason Kidd, Ty Lue or Kenny Atkinson, has the opportunity to build around Zion Williamson and All-Star Brandon Ingram, which isn’t all bad, plus you got the gumbo and po’ boy sandwich thing going for ya in N’Orlins.
--San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich vows he’ll be back, even though the Spurs’ streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances has ended. Despite the team’s 32-39 finish and his status, at 71, as the league’s oldest coach, Pop said, “Why wouldn’t I?”
--The Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., was the last event to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs and Si Woo Kim took a two-shot lead heading into the final round at Sedgefield Country Club over Rob Oppenheim and Doc Redman.
Kim, who won at the course four years ago for his first PGA Tour victory, and then shocked the golfing community a year later when at age 21, he won the Players Championship, was seeking his first victory since.
But then today, out of nowhere, 42-year-old journeyman Jim Herman, who owes Donald Trump a lot (which has to do with when Herman’s career had bottomed and Trump gave him a job at his Bedminster Club), went an astounding 61-63 over the weekend to capture his third PGA Tour title, one shot over Billy Horschel.
Good on Herman! Kim finished T3.
And in the last shot to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, good on Shane Lowery, who moved up from 131 to 122, just good enough for the top 125 cut line.
--In what comes as no surprise given Georgia’s, and the nation’s, ongoing Covid issues, Augusta National Golf Club announced Wednesday that no patrons will be allowed on site for the 2020 Masters when it’s held in November. Originally, when the tournament was postponed from its traditional April date to Nov. 12-15, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said he would welcome “all exiting ticket holders,” contingent on favorable counsel and direction from health officials.
Ridley then said this week, “Ultimately, we determined that the potential risks of welcoming patrons and guests to our grounds in November are simply too significant to overcome.”
All 2020 ticket holders will be guaranteed the same tickets for next year.
Chase Elliott won the first-ever road course race at Daytona over Denny Hamlin. Very cool setup.
But I flamed out in both my golf and NASCAR DraftKings lineups this weekend, sending me spiraling into a depression that has me urgently asking Johnny Mac to send me the sword, after applying proper Covid protocols, of course.
Then again, given that other column I do, I am kind of obligated to stick around through November 3rd. Never mind…..
--Dr. W. first informed me of a game I didn’t get a chance to watch Friday, a Champions League quarterfinal pairing between Bayern Munich and Barcelona that proved to be one of the more stunning results in football history…Bayern demolishing the Catalans 8-2!
And now Barca, which hasn’t won a Champions League since 2015, having lost the Spanish title to Real Madrid, has hit “rock bottom” and needs change, manager Quique Setien sure to be jettisoned.
Bayern coach Hansi Flick and his boys “made a statement,” in the words of midfielder Thomas Muller who scored twice.
The German side became the first in Champions League history to score eight goals in a knockout match, and the first in the European Cup since Real Madrid back in 1991.
Barcelona had not conceded eight goals since 1946.
Bayern have won their past 19 matches in all competitions, a record run for a German top-flight team.
Muller, 30, was also playing for Germany in the 7-1 thrashing of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, which many of us vividly remember; one of the most memorable international fixtures of all time.
Muller was asked to compare the two games: “In the win in Brazil we didn’t have the same amount of control. Yes, we were good, but tonight the way we dominated the game was brutal.”
The German champions would face off against the winner of Manchester City and Lyon in the last four, Bayern now the favorite to win the Champions League for the first time since 2013.
Earlier this week, RB Leipzig defeated Atletico Madrid 2-1 to reach the semis, where they will play PSG, 2-1victors over Atalanta.
And Bayern then learned they are facing Lyon, not Man City, after the French side shocked City 3-1 in their quarterfinal.
Pep Guardiola, for all his success at City, has not made it past the last-eight in the Champions League. But UEFA is very pleased with this result.
--Congrats, thus far, to the New York Islanders for taking a 3-0 lead in their playoff series against the Washington Capitals. Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who led Washington to the 2017-18 Stanley Cup, is getting his revenge.
--When I used to go to the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, I loved the distance races, especially the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Some find them kind of boring…around and around, no real action until the final lap or two, while I find them compelling, appreciating the tremendous amount of training required to get to such an elite level.
So on Friday in Monaco, Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda broke a 16-year-old world record to win the men’s 5,000 in 12 minutes, 35.36 seconds, besting the 12:37.35 set by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in 2004.
Cheptegei, who is the 2019 world champion in the 10,000, took 22 seconds off his lifetime best in the 5,000.
“Monaco is a special place and it’s one of these places where I could break the world record,” said Cheptegei, who has trained in Uganda instead of Europe this year.
The Diamond League meeting was the first full international gathering of the track and field season.
Dr. W., I know you share my amazement at this mark (the good doctor one of South Carolina’s better distance runners back in his youth, injuries holding him back in college. I, on the other hand, was one of New Jersey’s worst…befitting my horrid academic record that was to then unfold at Wake Forest…).
--The Seattle Seahawks waived rookie cornerback Kemah Siverand earlier this week after he was caught on video trying to sneak a woman into the team’s hotel; the NFL Network noting that the woman was wearing Seahawks gear in an attempt to disguise herself as a player.
Sounds like they were simply going to play chess to me…or am I being a bit naïve….
--From the BBC: “A man leapt from his surfboard on to a shark that was attacking his wife, repeatedly punching the animal until it let go, Australian media report.
“Chantelle Doyle, 35, was surfing off Shelly Beach at Port Macquarie, New South Wales, when the attack took place.
“Her husband punched the shark until it released its grip and then helped Ms. Doyle to the shore.
“She was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries to her right leg.”
Her condition at last word was stable.
Surf Life Saving NSW chief executive Steven Pearce praised the husband – named by media as Mark Rapley – for his quick action.
“This fella paddled over and jumped off his board on to the shark and hit it to get it to release her and then assisted her back into the beach,” he said. “Pretty full on, really heroic.”
Bystanders on the scene rendered first aid until medics arrived. Just an amazing job all around.
I saw some reports watching BBC World as I am wont to do and it seems it was a juvenile great white; the third serious shark attack on that stretch of coast in recent months.
Speaking of heroic action, and watching BBC World, ‘Go protesters in Belarus!’ We’re with you! [At least any American with half a brain is. But sadly, many Americans don’t have a brain, as I digress….]
--We note the passing of Trini Lopez, 83. A singer and guitarist who gained fame for his versions of “Lemon Tree” and “If I Had a Hammer” in the 1960s, Lopez later took his talents to Hollywood.
Mentored by Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, Lopez became an international star while performing in English and Spanish. Unlike Mexican American singers such as Ritchie Valens, Lopez rejected advice to change his name and openly embraced his Mexican American heritage despite warnings it would hurt his career.
“I insisted on keeping my name Lopez,” he told The Dallas Morning News in 2017. “I’m proud to be a Lopez. I’m proud to be a Mexicano.”
Sinatra signed Lopez to his Reprise Records label after seeing him perform at a West Hollywood nightclub. They became friends and were spotted together regularly in social circles in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, California.
Lopez also appeared in the classic film “The Dirty Dozen” and the comedy “The Phynx.”
Born Trinidad Lopez III to immigrants from Guanajuato, Mexico, Lopez grew up in Dallas’ poor Little Mexico neighborhood. The family’s dire economic situation forced Lopez to drop out of high school and work.
But his father bought him a Gibson guitar for $12 from a pawn shop, taught Trini how to play , and that led the young Lopez to perform at Dallas nightclubs that didn’t allow Mexican American patrons.
Buddy Holly then saw Lopez at a small club in Wichita Falls, Texas, and introduced him to his record producer. Holly died in a plane crash six months later, and Lopez briefly replaced him as lead singer of The Crickets.
Lopez then moved to Southern California, got a gig at P.J.’s Night Club in West Hollywood, was seen by Sinatra who then offered him the contract at Reprise, and Lopez got his first major hit with “If I Had A Hammer,” which went to #3 on the Billboard Pop chart.
I have to admit, I didn’t appreciate Trini Lopez’s story as I was growing up. I do now.
Top 3 songs for the week 8/19/67: #1 “All You Need Is Love” (The Beatles) #2 “Light My Fire” (The Doors) #3 “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (The Monkees)…and…#4 “I Was Made To Love Her” (Stevie Wonder) #5 “Baby I Love You” (Aretha Franklin) #6 “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (The Buckinghams) #7 “Ode To Billie Joe” (Bobbie Gentry) #8 “Cold Sweat – Part 1” (James Brown) #9 “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” (Procol Harum) #10 “A Girl Like You” (The Young Rascals…B+/A- …)
Old-time Baseball Quiz: 1) Ed Walsh is the all-time ERA leader at 1.82, the Hall of Famer pitching from 1904-17, compiling a 195-126 record, including 40-15 in 1908, 1.42 ERA, for the White Sox, throwing 464 innings that season. 2) Walter Johnson has the best ERA for a pitcher who threw at least part of his career post-1920, “The Big Train” pitching from 1907-27, 417-279, 2.17 ERA.
So I had this quiz because this weekend I was out in Shohola, Pennsylvania, with fellow baseball fanatic Ken P., in search of Smoky Joe Wood’s grave (Smoky Joe No. 5 on the career ERA list at 2.03). Understand that a few years ago, Ken and I went to pay our respects to Babe Ruth, but let’s just say Gate of Heaven Cemetery (a famous one) in Hawthorne, New York, is much easier than trying to find Smoky Joe (so named because of his fastball), as in we didn’t get a chance to toast the lad with the whisky I brought…as in we didn’t find him!
I was going to write a ton about him, but frankly I have lost interest, and most importantly, time. But Wood had one of the greatest years ever in 1912 for the Boston Red Sox, going 34-5, 1.91 ERA, and then 3-1 in the World Series (3 starts, 1 in relief) as Boston defeated the New York Giants 4-3-1.
Smoky Joe’s pitching career, 1908-15 for Boston, was cut short by a broken thumb (when he slipped on wet grass) and other issues, though he later resurrected his career as an outfielder with Cleveland, batting .283, including .366 in 194 at-bats in 1921 with 60 ribbies!
Smoky Joe was born in Kansas City, Oct. 25, 1889, but would live in Shohola (Twin Lakes, Pa.) during his career, and then became the baseball coach at Yale for a long spell.
In Pike County, Pa., Smoky Joe was a hero and he was friends with some of the game’s greats, including best friend Tris Speaker.
Anyway, Ken and I met in Barryville, New York…a beautiful spot along the Delaware River, right across from Shohola…where we planned to spend the night. But we immediately took off for the Pike County Museum in Milford, Pa., which was very interesting, housed in a beautiful home known as The Columns. We thank ‘Ken’, a volunteer at the place, for giving us a terrific tour, and then we went back towards Shohola to find Smoky Joe.
I had talked to another representative at the museum a week earlier and thought I had a bearing on the grave. Lori warned me it would be overgrown and that rattlesnakes would be an issue. So we headed down this gravely, little road, thinking we’d be able to pick the spot out, and we met with some “Private Property/No Trespassing” signs and with Ken and I in separate cars (Covid, you know), we stopped, trying to figure out if we should turn around. Ken said “drive on” and we hit the end of the road…no place to turn around, no Smoky Joe.
So now we had to drive backwards all the way out the freakin’ road! I mean it was a ditch on both sides and your editor had trouble in doing this, but no one, or vehicle, got hurt. Phew!
Well we’re now driving back to Barryville on Twin Lakes Road (very scenic…the whole area is) and suddenly I spy up ahead a mother bear (I’m assuming it was mom) and her cub crossing the road. Thankfully I was a decent distance away and a collision was not in the cards.
I then had the brilliant idea of trying to find Rohman’s Inn in Shohola, because I had read that this was where Smoky Joe and Tris Speaker tossed back a few adult beverages in the day and we found it. I knew it was still open, but let’s just say there were four bikers out of central casting, Hell’s Angels or Pagans, I’m guessing, and with no one else around, I told Ken, “Perhaps this isn’t the kind of place we should be” and we high-tailed it out of there.
Now we hadn’t checked into our motel and that’s when we discovered it wasn’t connected to the restaurant that was supposed to be central to the visit (think German food and lots of beer), and when we found the cabin (two rooms per cabin at this joint), let’s just say it wasn’t what we bargained for.
Thankfully, Molly (my new best friend since it was my credit card the reservations were under), gave us a refund (though I’ll find out in a few days if this was really accomplished). We then drove back to Milford for something to eat, it was delightful, and both of us being about 1 ½ hours from our homes, said, “See ya,” and off we went our respective ways. Live and learn…but it was still a fun and informative, if long, day.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday…probably sooner.