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Another Baffert Controversy
[I wanted to clear the plate of a few items…others like the death of Colt Brennan I’ll discuss on Sunday.]
--Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit has been allowed to run in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The colt drew the No. 3 post position in a field of 10, installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite.
Medina Spirit’s status as the Derby winner remains in peril after the horse tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone following his victory in the Run for the Roses.
Churchill Downs has announced the horse will be disqualified if a second test – called a “split sample” – comes back positive. Results of the second test are not expected back for several weeks.
Before Tuesday’s draw, Craig Robertson, trainer Bob Baffert’s lawyer, confirmed an agreement with the Maryland Jockey Club that would allow Medina Spirit and another Baffert horse, Concert Tour (the second betting favorite), to enter the Preakness. Robertson wrote Baffert consented to enhanced blood-testing, monitoring and medical record reviews.
Medina Spirit, who arrived in Baltimore on Monday, was drug-tested Monday and again Tuesday – as was Concert Tour. The results are expected to be available Friday.
While some state racing commissions permit small amounts of betamethasone to be in a horse’s system on race day, in Maryland, “there is no allowable level” of the drug – meaning even a trace amount could disqualify one or more of Baffert’s horses. [A third, Beautiful Girl, is expected to race in Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.]
Baffert, after initially denying giving the horse the substance, acknowledged Tuesday morning Medina Spirit was being treated for a skin condition with an antifungal ointment containing the banned substance. Baffert, who has a long and checkered history of doping violations and allegations, chose to stay away from Baltimore this week to avoid being a distraction, leaving assistant Jimmy Barnes to run the operation.
“My investigation is continuing,” Baffert said Tuesday in a statement provided by his attorney, “and we don’t know for sure if this ointment was the cause of the test results, or if the test results are even accurate, as they have yet to be confirmed by the split sample.”
In the wake of the controversy regarding Medina Spirit, others across the industry questioned Pimlico’s decision to allow the horse to race and wondered whether Baffert’s high visibility in the media gave him a benefit of the doubt not accorded to others.
The controversy could nonetheless end up hurting Baffert’s bottom line. Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Ky., began moving some of its 2- and 3-year-old horses out of Baffert’s care this week, with General Manager Ned Toffey telling the Daily Racing Form: “Given the circumstances, we thought it was best to hit the pause button. I think we need to step back, and let’s see how things play out.” [Dave Sheinin / Washington Post]
--The Yankees are dealing with a Covid outbreak on their coaching and support staff, with three confirmed cases. Third base coach Phil Nevin and first base coach Reggie Willits and an unspecified support staff member tested positive, the team announced Tuesday.
All three cases are considered “breakthrough positives,” since they had been fully vaccinated.
Since the Yankees had reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold set by Major League Baseball, they had been able to relax some protocols, something Boone added they would revisit given the situation.
Nevin and the rest of the Yankees received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
--Shohei Ohtani pitched seven innings of one-run ball and struck out 10 Houston Astros hitters while serving as the Angels’ No. 2 hitter on Tuesday night. In the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied and his spot due up in the next half-inning, Ohtani also checked in as the Angels’ right fielder.
He now has a 2.10 ERA in 25 2/3 innings, while he’s hitting .265 with 10 home runs and 26 RBIs.
There was a danger for Ohtani in putting him in the outfield after throwing 88 pitches. He’d potentially have to make a long throw but manager Joe Maddon told Shohei just to get the ball back into the infield as quickly as possible.
He also became the first pitcher in the modern era, dating back to 1900, to strike out 40 or more batters and allow fewer than a dozen hits over his first five starts of a season.
Oh, and he has six stolen bases.
--The Mets’ Jacob deGrom is on the 10-day IL with tightness in his right side, but thankfully an MRI Sunday night was “clean of any issues.”
DeGrom pulled himself from Sunday’s outing against Arizona, his first appearance after skipping a start due to discomfort in his right latissimus dorsi, a back muscle that connects the upper arm to the spine and the hip.
It’s not much of a surprise that our superstar is having issues. He’s the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in the game, with 79 pitches of 100 mph or higher since the start of the 2020 season, according to MLB Statcast data. Miami’s Sixto Sanchez is second with 13.
--I posted Sunday prior to the Braves-Phillies game and I settled in with the rest of the nation to watch Freddie Freeman’s wife in the stands. I mean goodness gracious. She got more airtime than any player.
Not that I was complaining, you understand.
--Russell Westbrook passed Oscar Robertson on Monday with his 182nd career triple-double. Westbrook had 28 points, 13 rebounds and 21 assists against the Hawks, though Atlanta won, 125-124. Westbrook missed a 3-pointer in the game’s final shot.
--The Knicks finished up their six-game road trip in Los Angeles Tuesday night and lost a heartbreaker to the Lakers, 101-99 in overtime. New York blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
They also blew a chance to clinch a playoff spot (and avoid the play-in round). So they’ll finish with three at home now.
--After the New York Rangers fired general manager Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson, a lot of us were wondering about the status of coach David Quinn, and after three seasons, Quinn is also out, fired today. He had two years remaining on his contract.
Did all three get a raw deal, the great rebuild that has taken place since 2018 basically complete? Maybe, maybe not. Ask Rangers fans next year at this time.
--Manchester City won a third Premier League title in four years (five in 10 years) after the closest challenger, Manchester United, lost Tuesday to Leicester city.
So Pep Guardiola’s side are 10 points ahead with United having just three games remaining.
“This has been a season and a Premier League title like no other,” said Guardiola. “This was the hardest one. We will always remember this season for the way we won. I am so proud to be the manager here and of this group of players….
“To come through this season, with all the restrictions and difficulties we’ve faced – and show the consistency we have is remarkable. It is relentless….
“I have been in Spain, I have been in Germany and I can say this is the toughest league, I would say by far. So it means a lot to everyone.”
And now the focus is on the Champions League final, May 29, Chelsea vs. City.
--We’re down to the Final Four in Men’s NCAA Soccer Championship down in Cary, North Carolina.
Marshall continued its super run, defeating Georgetown 1-0 in one of the four quarterfinal games Monday. They’ll take on North Carolina, which outplayed Wake Forest in winning 2-1.
In the other semifinal, Friday, it’s 2-seed Pitt vs. 3 Indiana.
--Tim Tebow is returning to the NFL at age 33, not having played in an NFL game in nine years (2012 with the Jets).
So Tebow is coming back not as a quarterback, but as a tight end and he’s playing for his former mentor and college head coach Urban Meyer at Jacksonville. Tebow is a long shot to make the team, but these two combined for two national titles at Florida.
--Dr. W. and I are very pleased. Todd Rundgren has finally been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “Performers” category, along with Jay-Z, Tina Turner, Foo Fighters, the Go-Go’s, and Carole King.
Turner, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, and King are second-time inductees, having previously been admitted for their work with other artists.
Grohl was honored in 2014 for his tenure with Nirvana, while King was previously awarded for her efforts with former husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin.
Others such as LL Cool J, Billy Preston and Gil Scott Heron were given awards for musical excellence or Early Influencer.
***No midweek Bar Chat…lots of stuff going on around here…***
[Posted Sun. p.m.]
NBA Quiz: About three weeks ago, the Suns’ Chris Paul passed Magic Johnson for fifth on the all-time career assists list. Name the four ahead of him. Answer below.
--With a major-league batting average of .233, four points less than 1968, it’s really no surprise we’ve had four no-hitters already, the latest Cincinnati’s Wade Miley on Friday, who shut down Cleveland in a 3-0 win, striking out eight, walking one. It was the second time Cleveland has been no-hit this season.
The four no-nos represent the earliest in a calendar year there have been this many since 1917.
No Indians pitcher has thrown a no-no since Len Barker’s perfect game on May 15, 1981. It’s the longest current streak without a no-hitter in baseball.
Two days earlier, Wednesday, Baltimore’s John Means no-hit Seattle, a near-perfect game. Means (4-0, 1.37) struck out 12 and walked none. Seattle’s only baserunner was Sam Haggerty after he raced to first swinging on a curveball in the dirt for strike three with one out in the third inning. According to Elias, it was the first non-perfect no-hitter in which the opposing team did not reach on a walk, hit by pitch or error.
The other two no-hitters this season were by San Diego’s Joe Musgrove and the Chicago White Sox’ Carlos Rodon (the other to no-hit Cleveland).
And then you have Madison Bumgarner’s unofficial seven-inning no-hitter.
--It’s been a rollercoaster for the Mets. They are getting outstanding pitching but they haven’t been hitting. Thursday, the Mets left a franchise record 17 men on base but beat St. Louis 4-1.
Cardinals pitchers walked 11 (the Mets’ staff zero) and threw 198 pitches in the nine innings. Good gawd!
Friday, the Mets came back from an early 4-0 deficit as the slumping Francisco Lindor finally had a big hit, a 2-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to tie it, and the Mets would go on to win in ten, 5-4, to move to 14-13.
But prior to Lindor’s big hit, in the middle of the seventh, the SNY cameras caught some of the Mets players rushing into the tunnel that connects the dugout to their clubhouse, and they were clearly concerned about something going on there.
Earlier, second baseman Jeff McNeil and shortstop Lindor had failed to communicate on who would take a grounder, not the first time this has happened this season, and there was clearly tension between the two, including after both emerged from the clubhouse, neither smiling, and Lindor wasn’t smiling even after his homer moments later. Coming from “Mr. Smile,” this was uncomfortable even watching on television.
So after the dramatic win, Lindor appeared for his postgame interview and said all the commotion in the tunnel was because he and McNeil were debating whether an animal there was a rat or raccoon.
“I told him, I’ve never seen a New York rat and we went down sprinting about to go see a New York rat and he got mad at me like, ‘No, it’s not a rat, it’s a raccoon,’” Lindor said. “Like hell no man that’s a damn rat. That’s a New York rat. I was just crazy because we were going back and forth debating whether it was a rat or a raccoon. Crazy man, insane.”
Of course no one believed him, though for his part McNeil played along.
But Saturday, the Mets won their fourth in a row, as McNeil and Lindor provided all the offense in a 4-2 win.
And they won today by the same 4-2 score, but the story after was Jacob deGrom, who exited after five so-so innings (for him) with right side tightness, different from the lat injury that forced him to miss a start. Another MRI coming. Ugh.
At least deGrom got the win to improve to 3-2, 0.68, having yielded one run in the five.
--Thursday, the Astros, who had lost the first two of the grudge match against the Yankees in New York, gained a bit of their dignity back, 7-4, the Yanks wasting 7 strong innings from Gerrit Cole, 2 runs, as birthday boy Jose Altuve, who turned 31 Thursday, smashed a 3-run homer off reliever Chad Green.
Understand that Altuve was constantly greeted by the Yankee faithful with “(F---) your birthday, (F---) your birthday.” It was said that Friday night, with Washington then in town, the Yankee crowd was still having fun with Altuve.
But after Washington blasted New York 11-4 Friday, Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nationals Saturday and was brilliant, yielding just one hit, a solo home run by Kyle Higashioka, while striking out 14 in 7 1/3, but the Nats’ lost to the Yanks 4-3 in 11 innings.
And Giancarlo Stanton was the hero today with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks winning 3-2 to improve to 18-16, Domingo German with another solid start.
--The biggest story this first quarter of the season to me is the Dodgers. How does a consensus 108-116 win team, that starts out 13-2, suddenly finish play Friday 17-16, after the Angels broke a five-game losing streak, 9-2, handing the Dodgers their fourth straight loss.
Saturday, however, the Dodgers built a 13-0 lead after five, Clayton Kershaw (5-3, 2.62) removed after five scoreless.
But then the Angels came back and the game ended 14-11, as slumping Mookie Betts and Corey Seager had big games for L.A.
--Meanwhile, the Angels rather shockingly released future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, five weeks into the final season of their 10-year, $240 million commitment that at the time made little sense and today makes even less so.
Pujols was 32 in his first season with Los Angeles and you really just need two numbers to define the first 11 seasons of his career in St. Louis and then the next 10 in L.A.
St. Louis… .328 batting average, 1.037 OPS
Los Angeles… .256, .758
It’s just that it was surprising the Angels and owner Arte Moreno didn’t work something out for a final bow, though Pujols wants to keep playing.
The contract is similar to the huge deal Detroit gave Miguel Cabrera, who is due $102 million from this season through 2023 but has a .504 OPS thus far in 2021. And you have the infamous Chris Davis deal in Baltimore.
As Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY notes:
“The Pujols deal was among the last of its kind, a make-a-splash pact with a 30-plus talent.
“And then the 2010s happened.
“Have we seen a greater rate of change in a single decade of baseball? Fastballs sizzled, defensive shifts chilled even the greatest hitters, and those unable or unwilling to adapt soon became liabilities.
“Meanwhile, (Mike) Trout and (Bryce) Harper soon were followed by Carlos Correa and Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger and Ronald Acuna Jr. and Pete Alonso and Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. – young, readymade superstars who’d dominate this decade like Pujols dominated the 2000s.
“Pujols won three MVPs that decade and finished his St. Louis stint with a fifth-place finish in 2011. The average age of an MVP winner from 2001-2010? Aided by Barry Bonds, 29.3.
“From 2011-2020, that average age dropped to 26.5, with seven winners age 25 or younger, compared to two in Pujols’ heyday.
“Now, compensation is reflecting this reality.
“Thirtysomethings, in case you haven’t heard, are having trouble getting a job at all, let alone a decade-long commitment. Meanwhile, Trout (12 years, $426.5 million), Tatis (14 years, $340 million), Harper (13 years, $330 million) and Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million) achieved landmark deals before their 27th birthday.
“Achievement is coming quicker and so, too, are the paydays, with teams minimizing their risk on the back end of the deal. Sure, Harper may need the Phillie Phanatic’s ATV to get around the Citizens Bank Park bases at 38, but his deal and Tatis’ were structured to be luxury tax-friendly.
“In short, few regrets in sight.
“The Angels probably have a few, and perhaps, deep down, Pujols as well, given his dearth of defining moments and relative lack of connection with Angels fans relative to his glorious stint in St. Louis.
“But it’s hard to argue with the guaranteed money he received, with which he will do many good works. Now, Pujols is moving on, the last of his era in many ways.”
Bill Shaikin / Los Angeles Times
“In the end, the Angels cut a guy batting .198. No big deal.
“And that, unfortunately, is the legacy of Albert Pujols with the Angels: No big deal.
“He got a big deal: 10 years and $240 million, and 4,000 fans chanting and cheering at his introductory news conference.
“ ‘I’m a marketing guy,’ Angels owner Arte Moreno said that day. ‘I just thought, ‘What does it mean to our fans to bring a player of this caliber here?’’
“In the end, it meant almost nothing.
“Pujols arrived in Anaheim as the best player in baseball, yet he never was the best player on the Angels. Mark Trumbo was the Angels’ best player in Pujols’ first month with the team, and then Mike Trout showed up.
“Trout awes. Shohei Ohtani dazzles. Anthony Rendon stars. David Fletcher is a fan favorite.
“Pujols has been practically invisible, and not just this year. In Pujols’ decade in Anaheim, the Angels won zero postseason games.
“In 11 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols was ‘The machine,’ winner of three MVP awards and two World Series championships.
“In St. Louis, he never finished outside the Top 10 in MVP voting. In Anaheim, he never finished inside the top 10.”
--Not for nothing but George Springer, 31, was an over-30 player who signed a big free agent contract with Toronto, six years, $160 million, and this season, his first for the Blue Jays, he’s played a whopping four games and is on the IL for a second time, owing to an oblique strain and then a quadriceps issue (twice with this one).
--The Phillies signed former Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract after the 2019 season and this is one guy who’s earned his keep. After Thursday’s complete-game shutout against the Brewers, Wheeler is 7-4, 2.83, in his 18 starts with the Phils.
--The Giants celebrated Willie Mays’ birthday with a big bash at Oracle Park on Friday, Mays’ b’day Thursday. The field had a massive grass etching in center field of Mays in his backswing with the words “SAY HEY 90” next to it.
Given the pandemic and last year’s shortened MLB season, it was Mays’ first visit to the Giants’ yard since 2019.
When Mays retired in 1973, his 660 home runs ranked third only behind Aaron and Ruth. But now he trails godson Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.
Mays, who lost a year-and-a-half to military service early in his career, was simply one of the two or three best players in the game and, personally, I’ll never forget being in the stands at Shea Stadium when he homered in his first game as a Met after we traded for him…Mother’s Day, a family tradition for us for six or seven years…that’s how I was also in the stands for Mickey Mantle’s 500th.
--We note the passing of Del Crandall, 91, the last surviving member of the Boston Braves. He played from 1949-66, with Boston/Milwaukee and then a few other clubs at the end of his career, making 11 All-Star squads (really 8 years, I hate the calculation for the old-timers when they played two All-Star games), as well as winning four Gold Gloves at catcher.
Frankly, I’m embarrassed I forgot how good Del Crandall was. 179 home runs, a World Series title with Milwaukee in 1957. The kind of guy who’d be making $10 million a year today.
Crandall also managed Milwaukee and Seattle less successfully.
--Russell Westbrook did it…tied the great Oscar Robertson for most career triple-doubles, 181, on Saturday night as he also led the Wizards to an important 133-132 overtime win over the Pacers.
Westbrook had 33 points, 19 rebounds and 15 assists for his 35th triple-double this season, 25 in Washington’s 34 games since the All-Star break. Entering Saturday, the rest of the NBA had combined for 38 triple-doubles in that span.
Westbrook can claim the record all to himself on Monday when Washington visits Atlanta.
--So the Knicks had this critical six-game road trip, winning the first two at Houston and Memphis. But then they played the big boys and lost Wednesday to the Nuggets 113-97, and Friday to the Suns, 128-105.
This afternoon it was the Clippers and the Knicks had a huge win for their psyche, 106-100, as Derek Rose came up big off the bench, 25 points.
Tuesday, the trip ends against the Lakers before the Knicks head home for three in the friendlier confines of MSG.
--Boy, the suddenly swooning Nets desperately needed a win Saturday and after being down 21 points to the Nuggets (44-24) in Denver, Brooklyn (also 44-24) stormed back to a 125-119 victory, snapping a season-high four-game losing streak. Kevin Durant had 33 points, Kyrie Irving 31.
But it was Blake Griffin who was the big factor, scoring 16 of his 20 in the third quarter on 4 of 5 from downtown – while dealing with MVP favorite Nikola Jokic (29 points).
So the Nets, who had lost to Portland, Milwaukee (twice) and Dallas, bounced back and climbed to second in the East, half a game ahead of the Bucks.
James Harden has vowed he will be back before the playoffs for Brooklyn.
East standings thru Sunday’s early games….
1. Philadelphia 47-21
2. Nets 44-24
3. Milwaukee 43-24
4. Knicks 38-30
5. Atlanta 37-31
6. Miami 37-31 …beat Celtics 130-124 today
7. Boston 35-33
8. Charlotte 33-34
9. Washington 32-36
10. Indiana 31-36
West standings thru Sunday’s early games….
1. Utah 50-18
2. Phoenix 48-19
3. Clippers 45-23
4. Denver 44-24
5. Dallas 39-28
6. Portland 39-29
7. Lakers 37-30
8. Golden State 35-33
9. Memphis 34-33
10. San Antonio 32-35
11. New Orleans 30-37
Yup, the Lakers are currently in the play-in round and with LeBron still out after aggravating his high-ankle sprain, things don’t look good…an amazing turnaround after last year’s inspirational title in the bubble.
--New Orleans star Zion Williamson is out indefinitely with a fractured left ring finger, suffered while attempting to get a rebound in Tuesday’s 108-103 win over Golden State.
But the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin blamed the league, calling the injury “avoidable” if the NBA did a better job officiating his franchise’s superstar.
Doth protest too much. Williamson is second in total free throw attempts behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo.
--Last time I wrote about the disgraceful play of Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson in a game against the Rangers Monday, as he sucker punched Pavel Buchnevich and then body slammed Artemi Panarin to the ice moments later. He could have killed Panarin.
But the league only fined Wilson $5,000 for roughing Buchnevich and nothing for what he did to Panarin.
The Rangers were fuming. They said disciplinary czar George Parros wasn’t fit to remain in his job, and for that the league fined the Rangers $250,000 for personalizing their attack on Parros and the league.
Wednesday, the two teams played each other again and they didn’t waste much time trying to settle the score, with six fights occurring in the game’s first five minutes.
Wilson said on Friday he had reached out to Panarin and says he is ready to move on. Rangers fans will never be.
It was quite a week for the Rangers, who Saturday completed a 27-23-6, non-playoff campaign. GM Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson were fired Wednesday and associate GM Chris Drury was handed the reins in both capacities.
Drury, 44, a former Rangers player, is a highly sought after executive and this was probably the right move, as after a big rebuild it is time for New York to step up next season.
But Davidson (“JD”) is highly popular and it’s not as if he and Gorton didn’t do their job. The pieces are in place.
--Saturday night, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid put an exclamation point on a memorable season, hitting the 100-point mark in Game 53 of this coronavirus-shortened 56-game season.
McDavid is the first to score 100 points in fewer than 56 games since Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in 1995-96.
McDavid did it with a four-point game against Vancouver, the Oilers 4-3 victors.
The Hart Trophy front-runner has been playing against the same six Canadian teams all season, but that’s really just like the old days. I mean as recently as 1966-67, the NHL only consisted of six teams…Montreal, Toronto, New York, Boston, Detroit and Chicago…before expansion the following year.
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post…on the disgruntled quarterback…
“In this era of roving superstars, Aaron Rodgers doubles as an original malcontent and merely the latest flaky legend. The Green Bay quarterback is a different dude, but he’s following the same path that led several of his rare breed out of their towns.
“The drama, simmering for years, may appear to be a stand-alone soap opera pitting the mercurial Rodgers against the rigid Packers, who seldom stray from their sustainable team-building model. Rodgers may be determined to do his own thing for his own reasons. But in this period of fleeing franchise players, his discontent also increases concern that transience is not a fad but rather a generational shift that will permanently change the calculus of what it means to be a superstar and what it takes for a team to retain one.
“The math used to be simple. Money, winning and adoration added up to a happy superstar. What more could the face of a franchise want?
“Well, there is the one thing he can’t have: the franchise.
“It is lazy to consider this merely an era of enhanced ego and greed. This is an era that craves creative freedom, and it extends far beyond sports. The dream job isn’t a destination but a vision to build a franchise around your exceptionalism.
“Collaboration is coveted. In sports, that can lead to two paths: a desire for more voice in helping the team construct a possible championship roster or a desire to escape and join forces with other creative geniuses. The footprints of the nomadic LeBron James are all over both methods.
“Now the superstar NFL quarterback, the most irreplaceable asset in sports, has joined a party once exclusive to NBA greats. Tom Brady left New England after six Super Bowls and immediately won his seventh championship – his way – with Tampa Bay. For several months, Russell Wilson hogged the spotlight with his dissatisfaction in Seattle. Deshaun Watson is still upset with the Houston Texans, but he faces major legal problems that could derail his career….
“But Rodgers’ fight with Green Bay defies even the evolving logic of this time. Even if you know the history of his increasing mistrust of the Packers, it’s hard to figure why the success of the past few years hasn’t improved the relationship.
“Rodgers, the unquenchable quarterback, wants out of Green Bay three months after winning his third MVP award, after advancing to the NFC title game for a fifth time, after posting a 26-6 record over the past two seasons. He wants out despite playing for a young coach, Matt LaFleur, who has restored the franchise’s offensive ingenuity. He wants out one season into a $134 million contract extension.
“For him to consider coming back, Rodgers wants the team to fire General Manager Brian Gutekunst, according to a Yahoo Sports report. A year ago, Gutekunst used a first-round draft pick to select quarterback Jordan Love. It was a classic Green Bay move, the same kind of move the franchise made when it took Rodgers in 2005 even though Brett Favre was still the starter. Rodgers sat for three seasons and then took over after Favre’s messy exit, creating perhaps the most remarkable quarterback handoff in league history.
“As a result, the Packers have had a Hall of Fame quarterback on the roster for 30 years. This is their way. They are in constant pursuit of continuity at the position….
“Their way works. But it is not Rodgers’ way. And it hasn’t delivered a second Super Bowl during his Hall of Fame career.
“The tension had been building for years, but the news of his hard line stance still has been jarring….
“What does Rodgers want? Do you ever know with him? He operates at his own frequency….
“He wants what he wants when he wants it, and then he might change his mind….
“Rodgers has long been a freelancing maestro. He is the king of breaking plays, of drawing up game-winners in the huddle, of making Hail Marys seem like certainties and using his imagination to make up for any of his team’s shortcomings. His way works, too.
“But Rodgers turns 40 in about 2 ½ years. ‘Jeopardy!’ is more likely to offer him the power of influence before Green Bay does….
“Assuming Green Bay doesn’t acquiesce to his demands and Rodgers doesn’t follow through on a threat to walk away while still at the top of his game, the Packers and their legend will be forced to live out the misery of competing for a championship together. The Super Bowl is within arm’s reach, if this silly wrestling match ever ends.
“The Lombardi Trophy doesn’t guarantee healing now, however. Try reconciling that thought as this superstar independence movement expands.
“Rodgers has a dream job. It’s not dreamy enough, apparently.”
Premier League …and more…
--It’s going to be Manchester City against Chelsea in the Champions League Final, May 29 in Istanbul, after Chelsea accomplished an aggregate 3-1 victory against Real Madrid, Wednesday. Or as the announcer said after, “English is the language at the Champions League!”
The Blues dominated both legs against the Spanish champions and now they could end their season with two trophies; the other being the FA Cup, where they take on Leicester in next week’s final.
Chelsea had defeated Man City in a FA Cup semi last month, and then yesterday, in a Premier League matchup, they prevailed over City again, 2-1, preventing City from clinching the league title.
So it’s going to be a fascinating Champions League final. And Chelsea sure looks brilliant for replacing legendary Frank Lampard at head coach with Thomas Tuchel back in January. They are also getting terrific play from American Christian Pulisic.
Back to the PL…in other games this weekend, Tottenham is officially buried, 3-1 losers to Leeds, Liverpool defeated Southampton 2-0, Everton dealt West Ham’s Champions League hopes a potentially deadly blow in winning 1-0, and Man U, with its 3-1 win over Aston Villa, kept City from clinching, while clinching a CL spot for itself.
Standings…Points / Played (34/35 of 38)
1. Man City…35 – 80
2. Man U…34 – 70
3. Chelsea…35 – 64
4. Leicester…35 – 63 …Champions League line
5. West Ham…35 – 58
6. Liverpool…34 – 57
7. Tottenham…35 – 56
8. Everton…34 – 55
Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield are going to be relegated.
We know that Norwich and Watford are moving up from the Championship League, with a third team to be determined through a playoff.
--In a statement welcoming back nine of the Super League’s dozen founding clubs, released on Friday, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, said the teams “acknowledge and accept that the Super League project was a mistake and apologize to fans, national associations, national leagues, fellow European clubs and UEFA” for taking part in it. It also said the nine teams had pledged never to try a similar breakaway again.
The humbling recommitment by the teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City; Inter and A.C. Milan; and Atletico Madrid – came with a cost. The nine clubs agreed to donate a total of 15 million euros (about $2 million per team) for a UEFA youth charity; surrender five percent of the revenue they would have received from Continental competitions this season; and pay a fine of 100 million euros (about $121 million) if they ever again join an unauthorized competition.
Meanwhile, the holdouts – Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona – say they are refusing to let the Super League die, and that they would pursue legal action and financial penalties against their former partners, and press a broader argument over UEFA’s influence over club soccer in the European court system. [Tariq Panja / New York Times]
NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship
We are down to the Elite Eight in the Cary, North Carolina bubble for the NCAA championship and I watched the last 30 minutes or so of 5-seed Wake Forest’s win Thursday over Kentucky, 2-1, to advance. Phenomenal defense on the back line, controlling literally every single header, something I have never seen, pro or college. No seniors on the team either.
So Wake takes on North Carolina, who took out 4 Stanford, in one of the four quarterfinals Monday.
Marshall, after upsetting top-seed Clemson on penalty kicks, is playing 8 Georgetown.
3 Indiana takes on 6 Seton Hall.
And 2 Pitt goes up against 7 Washington.
The semifinals and finals are next Friday and Sunday.
--Heading into the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, one of the 3 or 4 best non-majors of the year, we had this….
Keith Mitchell -9
Rory McIlroy -7
Gary Woodland -7
Luke List -6
Rory’s last win was a WGC event in October 2019, while Keith Mitchell has just one lone win. Woodland has been in the wilderness since his 2019 U.S. Open triumph.
And Rory closed the deal, a one-shot win over Abraham Ancer. Great for the sport, especially as we head to Kiawah for the PGA Championship, where Rory romped last time the PGA was held there in 2012.
--Phil Mickelson, 50, had gone nine months since he finished among the top 20, and it looked like the streak was going to end as he took the first-round lead with a surprising 64 but, alas, Lefty went 75-76-76 the rest of the way, alone in 69th position.
--Bryson DeChambeau had an interesting Friday. After a 74 in the second round, he believed he had missed the 36-hole cut so he flew from Charlotte to Dallas, where he lives, to begin preparation for the Byron Nelson next week.
But after DeChambeau finished up, early, the winds kicked in and a number of players started backing up. Bison, who had finished 2-over, made the cut.
So DeChambeau and his team had to do a lot of scrambling and left on a 2:45 a.m. flight from Dallas back to Charlotte to make his early Saturday morning tee time.
The mistake was an expensive one. Bryson has a timeshare agreement with Netjets, which requires six hours’ notice to schedule and the three-hour trip back to Charlotte was “way too expensive,” he said. “But we were very fortunate.”
“But the thing is, I have a chance to go make a good check this week, and I think that would offset it,” DeChambeau said. Actually, had he just withdrawn, aside from receiving the scorn of the PGA Tour, he would have lost valuable world ranking points.
Well, good for DeChambeau. He went 68-68 on the weekend and finished T9, earning more than enough money to pay for that flight.
--Did you know the FCS playoffs in college football are taking place? I had forgotten until a few weeks ago, but try finding the scores.
So the FCS (Div. I-AA) didn’t have a fall season, resumed this winter in some leagues, and now we are down to two after Saturday’s action.
South Dakota State (8-1) dismantled Delaware (7-1) 33-3, and the Jackrabbits (love that nickname) will be taking on the Bearkats’ (another good one) of Sam Houston State (9-0) in next Sunday’s FCS title game.
Sam Houston State came from down 24-3 at halftime to James Madison (7-1) to prevail 38-35. Jequez Ezzard had a catch-and-run for a touchdown and a punt return for a score among his three touchdowns for the Bearkats.
--…The following was written early Sunday morning…
Bob Baffert will have both Medina Spirit and Concert Tour in the Preakness next Saturday. Owner Gary West had opted out of the Derby with Concert Tour after a disappointing third in the Arkansas Derby, and Baffert expects the horse to be ready for the Preakness.
So the two ponies are the two favorites, as runner-up Mandaloun and Derby favorite Essential Quality, who finished fourth, are being held out for latter races in the season by owner Brad Cox.
That actually speaks well of the future of the sport. Cox is pegging August’s Travers Stakes, among others races, that would then lead up to the Breeders’ Cup.
Well, around 11:00 a.m. today it all changed, bigly. And it’s ‘here we go again.’
The first report was that Derby winner Medina Spirit had tested positive for an excessive presence of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug permitted only in certain amounts. Baffert said his training team had not treated Medina Spirit with that drug.
Quickly Baffert was speaking to reporters at his barn at Churchill Downs, officials had not disqualified Medina Spirit, with follow-up testing to come. Such results are rare in the long history of the race. In 1968, Dancer’s Image won the Derby but then officially gave way the following Tuesday, when the presence of phenylbutazone in a urinalysis tilted the win to runner-up Forward Pass.
Baffert promised an investigation and said, “They’re not gonna see betamethasone,” during remarks to reporters. A filly he trained, Gamine, wound up disqualified from the 2020 Kentucky Oaks because she had 27 picograms of the same substance, above the allotted 10 in Kentucky. Medina Spirit showed 21 picograms, Baffert said today.
“Well, I’m worried about our sport,” Baffert said. “Our sport, you know, we’ve taken a lot of hits to the sport, and you know, this is pretty serious accusations here, but we’re gonna get to the bottom of it, find out. We know we didn’t do it, and that’s the thing. We didn’t have anything to do with this. I don’t know how it got in his system, if it was in his system, or a mistake. But we’re gonna get to the bottom of it.”
Just last month, Baffert successfully appealed a suspension and loss of prize money during a 13-hour hearing with racing officials in Arkansas, who reversed his 15-day suspension and restored the earnings of Charlatan and Gamine, who each won on Arkansas Derby day on May 2, 2020, then had those wins stripped because of the race-time presence of lidocaine.
Churchill Downs then suspended Baffert from entering horses at the track and suggested that it would invalidate Medina Spirit’s Derby victory if the results of the test are upheld.
“Churchill Downs will not tolerate it,” the track said in a statement. “Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.
“To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.”
Baffert said, “I got the biggest gut punch in racing, for something I didn’t do. This shouldn’t have happened. There’s a problem somewhere. It didn’t come from us.”
I’m the ‘wait 24 hours’ guy. Everyone will jump to conclusions. Why would he possibly cheat after all the scrutiny he’s been under? It makes zero sense.
--In a supermiddleweight reunification fight Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) defeated Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs), Saunders unable to answer the bell for the ninth round.
What was historic about this fight was the announced crowd, 73,126 – a new record for an indoor boxing event in the United States and the largest crowd for a sporting event since the pandemic began. [A Muhammad Ali fight in the Astrodome in 1978 held the previous record.]
Virtually the entire crowd was behind Mexican-American Alvarez, who has the charisma and star-power few in the sport have today.
--Matthew Stanmyre of NJ.com had a sad story on the state of high school sports, not just in my state but all over due to the coronavirus.
“(High schools) of all shapes and sizes are enduring the Covid-19 pandemic’s sneaky yet devastating assault on sports. Some athletic officials estimate a 15% to 20% reduction in the number of players competing in athletics across the board this school year. Scores of others have reported being unable to field sub-varsity and, in some cases, even varsity teams due to dwindling turnout.
“Officials fear a staggering participation decline accelerated by Covid could ripple for years to come, leading to a lost generation of athletes.”
“ ‘There’s going to be short-term impact and long-term impact,’ said Colleen Maguire, executive director of the state’s governing body for high school sports. ‘To think that all sports at all levels will just return to what it was prior to the pandemic is really unreasonable.’
“Even before Covid, sports participation was trending in the wrong direction. In 2018-19 – the last full school year before the pandemic – high school sports participation declined nationally for the first time in 30 years, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Overall, 43,395 fewer athletes played sports compared to the previous 2017-18 school year, including 742 fewer in New Jersey.
“The same trend goes for youth sports. In 2018, only 38% of kids ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45% in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. In addition, the average child spends less than three years playing a sport and quits by age 11, the Aspen Institute found.”
And these disturbing trends were in place before the pandemic.
The stories out of the inner city are really depressing. Newark West Side High principal and boys basketball coach Akbar Cook said already “so many programs have folded in the city.” His basketball teams typically played in spring, summer and fall leagues in addition to the winter high school season. This year, it managed 14 games – total – due to Covid restrictions, he said.
“In the inner cities you basically took the only way out for some of these kids, and you pushed them in the hands of people that they shouldn’t be in the hands of,” Cook said.
Boy, I have firsthand experience with that in Newark and my late friend Mubby Swain, and all the games of his I went to with his mother, Mary.
--The great sports writer Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post is retiring after 52 years. How often have I quoted his work in these pages? Oh, only over 150 times, according to my search engine.
Boswell said “leaving will be bittersweet. I don’t think ‘He retired after 52 years’ requires explanation! But, briefly, here goes anyway: For many of us, age eats energy, both physical and mental. When that energy is what you always had in the largest quantity, and your standards refuse to change with the calendar, the result is that the job – to be done right – gets more and more, and everything else gets less and less. Nobody’s fault.
“For me, that won’t do. Branch Rickey said, ‘It’s better to trade ‘em a year too soon rather than a year too late.’
“I’m trading me into retirement.”
Boswell, who said he’s happiest that he stuck around long enough to experience the Washington Capitals winning the Stanley Cup, the Nationals the World Series, and Tiger Woods the Masters, concluded:
“To avoid the column-decompression bends, I’ll be writing and chatting several more times until June 30. By then, the cicadas will leave. And so will I. They’ll go underground for 17 years. I hope to go everywhere else.”
--Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed into law a measure that could lead to killing 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves in a move that was backed by hunters and the state’s powerful ranching sector but heavily criticized by environmental advocates.
Lawmakers who sponsored the measure said they want the state’s wolf population reduced to the allowed minimum of 150 to reduce attacks on livestock and to boost deer and elk herds.
So the deer and elk lobbies are pleased. Wolves not so much, as in among the new rules is the fact they can be chased down on snowmobiles and ATVs and they can be shot from helicopters. Hunters are also allowed to use night-vision equipment.
It’s the methods used to kill the wolves that is pissing off activists. Idaho’s wolf conservation and management plan calls for at least 150 wolves in the state and 15 packs.
Top 3 songs for week of 5/10/80: #1 “Call Me” (Blondie) #2 “Ride Like The Wind” (Christopher Cross) #3 “Lost In Love” (Air Supply)…and…#4 “With You I’m Born Again” (Billy Preston & Syreeta) #5 “Another Brick In the Wall” (Pink Floyd) #6 “Fire Lake” (Bob Seger) #7 “You May Be Right” (Billy Joel) #8 “Sexy Eyes” (Dr. Hook) #9 “Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer” (Kenny Rogers with Kim Carnes) #10 “Hold On To My Love” (Jimmy Ruffin…C- week…back to the 60s…)
NBA Quiz Answer: Four ahead of Chris Paul on the all-time assists list….
John Stockton 15,806
Jason Kidd 12,091
Steve Nash 10,335
Mark Jackson 10,334
Russell Westbrook 7,983
Again, no midweek Bar Chat. I’ll see you next Sunday night.