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It's Kansas City vs. Tampa Bay...Mahomes vs. Brady
[Posted Sun. p.m.]
Baseball Quiz: Name the eight with 2,000 runs scored. Answer below.
NFL…Super Bowl is Set…
--First up today, Tampa Bay at Green Bay, the snow having blown through earlier, the weather seemingly not a factor, though you can’t convince me some key drops by both teams weren’t impacted by the cold.
Tom Brady and the Bucs played a perfect first half, taking a 21-10 lead, Brady throwing for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a sweet call late to go for it all rather than the field goal, Brady connecting with Scotty Miller on a 39-yard pass play with eight seconds left*; Aaron Rodgers doing OK, but throwing a pick and his teammates just didn’t step up.
*The pass coverage on this one was atrocious, and I read that Tony Dungy tweeted, “That may be the worst defensive design I’ve ever seen with eight seconds and no timeouts left. I’m not sure how you play inside technique man to man and [not] just play zone and protect the sideline and the end zone? Amazing.”
And then to start the second half, after Green Bay’s Aaron Jones fumbled a second time, this one off a reception, Brady converted an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay up 28-10…game over.
Until it wasn’t.
Rodgers and the Pack responded with two long touchdown drives, cutting it to 28-23, late in the third, but then the two-point conversion to move it to 28-25 was dropped.
The fourth quarter then became a chess match, Brady misfiring, throwing three interceptions in all on three consecutive possessions, missing receivers, but the Bucs got a clutch 46-yard Ryan Succup field goal to make it 31-23, with 4:42 left.
So Rodgers drove the Packers down to a first-and-goal situation from the eight, needing a touchdown and two-point conversion, and after two incompletions, basically two miscommunications, Rodgers faced third down and everyone watching thought the same thing…he had running room as he rolled out, but he threw an incompletion and instead of Green Bay going for the touchdown on fourth-and-eight, nearing the two-minute mark, the Packers opted for the field goal…and that’s where we finished, 31-26.
Oh, there was a pass interference on the Bucs’ final drive to clinch it, after two egregious non-calls on Packers receivers earlier that were critical, but I’ll remember Rodgers not tucking it in and running it….at worst he gets down to the 2- or 3-yard line, making the fourth-down play much easier.
Well, as Tony Soprano would have said, for those of us who aren’t Packers or Bucs’ fans, ‘Whaddya gonna do?’
Brady finished 20/36, 280, 3-3, 73.9 after a miserable second half. Rodgers was 33/48, 346, 3-1, 101.6, but who is going to a Super Bowl for an astounding tenth time? Tom “Freakin’” Brady. 43 years old.
And for the first time in Super Bowl history, a team gets to play in its home stadium…25 different venues, never happened before. The Bucs won all three playoff games on the road; Tampa Bay having now won seven straight after starting the season 7-5. Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft thinking, ‘What the hell did we just do?’
As for Aaron Rodgers, the MVP of the season, he falls to 1-4 in NFC Championship games. Not good.
In the nightcap, I have to admit I was watching the national news, knowing we had a 6:40 start time, and when I tuned in, I literally caught the Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman fumble on Buffalo’s punt, the Bills, already up 3-0, making it 9-0 one play later; Tyler Bass, having kicked an opening 51-yard field goal, missing the extra point.
But then the Chiefs roared back, Hardman atoning for his sin with a touchdown reception and a huge 50-yard run, Patrick Mahomes and Co. quickly up 14-9. Yes, so much for his concussion of last week.
K.C. then drove it 77 yards for another score, 21-9, and the Bills, faced with a fourth-and-3 at the end of the half, went for the field goal to make it 21-12 at the intermission, a call I agreed with.
After the two teams exchanged field goals, Chiefs up 24-15, Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill combined on a catch and run (i.e., Hill running like the wind) for 71 yards to the Buffalo 4, Mahomes and Travis Kelce connecting on the touchdown three plays later, a shovel pass, Kansas City up 31-15.
Kelce and Mahomes then hooked up on another short TD, 38-15, and that’s all she wrote.
Oh, there was some stuff in the final minutes, and Buffalo cut it to 38-24, but Kansas City is headed to Tampa Bay.
Mahomes finished 29/38, 325, 3-0, 127.6. Tyreek Hill caught nine for 172 yards, and Kelce had 118 yards on 13 receptions, plus the two scores.
It’s going to be a great Super Bowl.
--Steve Politi / Star-Ledger
“Let’s say you’re a veteran NFL player who watched two of the league’s newest head coaches address the media for the first time this week. Which of these two answers would have impressed you the most?
“1. ‘We’re gonna kick you in the teeth, all right, and when you punch us back we’re going to smile at you, and when you knock us down, we’re going to get up and on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off, all right, and we’re going to stand up and it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down, all right, and on the way up we’re going to bite your other kneecap off, and then it’s going to take three shots to get us down, and when we get up, we’re going to take another chunk out of you.’
“2. ‘Players really want two things from a coach, and I’ve always felt this way. One, they want to know that you care about their well-being. Everyone says that it’s a business, I get it, but it’s not. This is a personal investment in people, and the most important people are the ones who strapped up on game day and step between the lines. And then, obviously, can you help them make plays on Sundays so they can get paid as much as possible.’
“The first answer came from new Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell, and maybe if you’re a first-year junior varsity player – or, for that matter, a blood-thirsty cannibal – the whole bite-a-kneecap-off thing would have you fired up to play for him.
“Chances are, though, your first impression of the new Detroit coach was similar to nearly everyone who saw the clip on social media Thursday afternoon. It was good for a laugh, for sure, but it was hard not to wonder…
“Is this guy for real?
“The second answer came from new Jets head coach Robert Saleh, and it was just about the realest thing I’ve ever heard in an introductory press conference. Saleh was asked about how he connected with his players, and instead of filling time with football cliches or motivational nonsense, he cut to what matters the most.
“ ‘That is going to be the goal of this entire organization: To make sure we do everything we can to connect to their well-being and to help them make plays on Sundays so they can get paid as much as possible,’ Saleh said. ‘When you look at the connection part with those players, there’s an investment that you have to make and you’ve got to give them everything you can; when you do, the reciprocation happens and then it becomes personal.’”
Saleh said he was heavily influenced by Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to try to be Carroll. But it is all about building a culture, which Carroll is as good as anyone at.
In the end, though, Saleh said: “It’s easy to pick from different people and try to emulate how different people are, but in moments of adversity, your true character will always reveal yourself.”
Politi: “It was a good, honest answer from a rookie head coach who made a good, honest first impression. And no quotes about biting off kneecaps were required to do it.”
Saleh in his introductory press conference declined to discuss whether the team was considering using its No. 2 overall pick in the draft for a quarterback or possibly trying to trade for Deshaun Watson. Saleh was highly complementary of incumbent Sam Darnold, but didn’t guarantee the guy will be around.
Back to Dan Campbell, the Lions signed him to a six-year contract. He was the Saints’ assistant head coach/tight ends coach. The 44-year-old has never been a coordinator in the NFL, but he’s viewed as a motivator and someone who can bring a team together, rather than an X’s-and-O’s guru.
Campbell was an interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins, going 5-7 in 2015. He also played ten seasons in the NFL as a backup tight end for the Giants, Cowboys and Lions.
Separately, the Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford have agreed to move on, with Stafford suggesting a trade might be in the best interest of both parties.
Stafford, who turns 33 next month, has two years and $43 million remaining on his five-year, $135 million contract signed in 2017. He is due a $10 million bonus on the fifth day of the league year in March.
Among the potential landing spots is New England, Indianapolis, Washington and perhaps New Orleans.
Stafford has had a quality career, despite his 74-90-1 record as a starter. He’s thrown 282 touchdown passes vs. 144 interceptions, with a passer rating of 89.9.
The Lions have the No. 7 overall pick in April’s draft and one or two solid QB prospects will still be available when it gets to their selection.
--LZ Granderson / Los Angeles Times
“It’s become a January tradition: Eric Bieniemy smiling for the cameras. A lot of that has to do with his role as the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Since being promoted from running backs coach in 2018, Bieniemy has spent the last three seasons watching his team score at will, go deep in the playoffs, even scoop up a championship trophy. What’s not to smile about, right?
“Except the other reason he is seen smiling this time of year is because he’s been passed over for a head coaching position again and in order not to show his disappointment to reporters asking the right questions, he must smile for all the wrong reasons. All these years later and yet – to paraphrase the great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar – many of us still must wear the mask.
“ ‘It’s always good to be mentioned and having the opportunity to fulfill your dreams,’ he said Thursday during a virtual scrum. ‘Yes, I do want to be a head coach, but when it’s all said and done, my job is to make sure I’m not taking away from the goals we’re trying to accomplish.’….
“(But) this isn’t just about the plight of Bieniemy. This is about the NFL thinking we’re stupid. Thinking we don’t see the game within the game.
“The one where they pair country star Eric Church and R&B songbird Jazmine Sullivan to sing the national anthem together for some sort of ‘Ebony and Ivory’ moment at the Super Bowl in hopes that we forget what the league said about peaceful protesting or that it hasn’t properly apologized to blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick; forget the Houston Texans rejected the two candidates of color the search firm they paid for recommended for the general manager job in favor of a white man the firm didn’t present; forget that qualified Black coaches have basically been shut out from head coaching positions.
“And poor Bieniemy has to sit there and smile for the cameras – again – while practically begging for a head coaching position despite his credentials.
“He certainly has more chops than Dan ‘Bite Their Kneecap’ Campbell whom the Detroit Lions hired despite an NFL resume with the words ‘interim’ and ‘intern’ but not coordinator. He’s more qualified than the Chargers’ new hire, Brandon Staley, who was the Rams’ defensive coordinator for one season before getting the call.
“There were seven vacancies at the end of the regular season but only one remains. There are four Black coordinators in the conference finals this weekend and not one of them appears a lock to become a head coach this time around….
“The gall to print ‘it takes all of us’ in light of the summer uprisings for racial justice, only to hire few if any of us in leadership positions is so offensive even Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson demanded out of Texas despite the possibility of losing his tax breaks.”
--Philip Rivers is retiring after a super 17-year career as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history, but he never played in a Super Bowl.
Rivers ranks fifth in passing yards (63,440), behind only Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. He is also fifth in touchdown passes, 421, again behind these four.
Rivers passed for 4,169 yards and 24 TDs this past season, leading the Colts to an 11-5 record and a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs, where Indy lost to Buffalo.
He finishes his career with a 134-106-0 mark, the 134 wins No. 2 among quarterbacks without a Super Bowl Ring – and eighth all-time.
--Dwayne Haskins is getting a second chance, the Pittsburgh Steelers announcing they had signed him to a reserve/future contract. Haskins joins quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, who are both signed for one more season.
Roethlisberger’s future is unclear – he turns 39 in March and is obviously past his prime.
--The Washington Wizards had their game with the Milwaukee Bucks postponed Friday night, the sixth consecutive Wizards game to be called off. Before Friday’s postponement, the Wizards had six players out due to health and safety protocols, plus they have a few injuries, including Russell Westbrook.
Coach Scott Brooks said he wasn’t sure when the team would be cleared to play.
I mean how do you begin to make up these games?
Well, Washington did travel to San Antonio and took on the Spurs tonight.
--The Brooklyn Nets will be a fascinating story the rest of the way after the James Harden blockbuster. They won their first two games in spectacular fashion with Harden and Kevin Durant, but sans Kyrie Irving, and then when Kyrie returned, the three playing together for the first time, they lost two (Durant sitting one of them), the Nets playing pathetic defense, while Kyrie scored 37 and 38 points.
Saturday, all three on the court, they beat Miami (6-9) 128-124, as Harden focused on being a distributor, 11 assists, just 12 points. Kyrie with 28, Durant 31.
So Brooklyn is 10-8. Again, the season is a bust unless they win the title.
--Ben Cohen had a piece on the prevalence of the 3-point shot in the NBA these days.
“Twenty years ago, 17% of NBA shots were threes. Ten years ago, it was 22%. Five years ago, it climbed to 28%. And it didn’t stop there. The 3-point rate across the entire league kept rising until it soared near another milestone in the first month of this season; It’s settling at almost exactly 40%.”
This season is the 10th consecutive year that the NBA is experiencing 3-point growth.
Last season the Dallas Mavericks had the No. 1 offense ever and 46% of their shots were from behind the arc.
--Just like in the NBA, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the schedule, with key games canceled every day, and now Michigan’s athletic department is shutting down “until further notice” and for up to two weeks due to confirmed cases of the new Covid-19 variant.
The pause, a decision made by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, came about after the variant was discovered in testing and found in “several individuals linked to the U-M Athletic Department.”
The new variant, as you all know by now, transmits more easily and can lead to more positive cases, the health department said.
Late Friday night, the Michigan athletic department reported it had 22 Covid-positive cases during the week of Jan. 16 to Jan. 22.
--I watched the 2 Baylor-Oklahoma State game yesterday as I was working on stuff and one minute the Cowboys were up 49-48 with 13:35 to play, and I’m thinking, boy, Baylor doesn’t look like a No. 2. Then moments later, I look up and the Bears are leading 67-51 with 6:50 left, and I thought, gee, Baylor looks like a No. 2, the Bears then cruising 81-66.
Oklahoma (9-4, 5-3) handed No. 9 Kansas its third straight loss on Saturday, the Jayhawks first such skid since February 2013, KU now 10-5, 4-4, and in danger of falling out of the Top 25 for the first time in years.
3 Villanova is 10-1, 5-0, after a 71-56 win over Providence (8-7,4-5), while 19 Missouri (10-2, 4-2) will move up a few notches after a 73-64 road win over 6 Tennessee (10-3, 4-3).
And one of the surprises of the season, 18 Alabama, improved to 13-3, 8-0 in the SEC, with an 81-73 win over Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4).
--Duke lost its third straight Saturday, falling to Louisville 70-65, the Blue Devils now 5-5, 3-3, while the Cardinals are 10-3, 5-2.
Tuesday, Duke had lost to Pitt 79-73, the first time a former Duke player-turned-coach, Jeff Capel, beat coach Mike Krzyzewski.
So Pitt was on the verge of cracking the Top 25, but then kind of out of nowhere, Wake Forest had a stirring 76-75 win yesterday over the Panthers (8-3, 4-2) in Winston-Salem, giving new coach Steve Forbes his first ACC win after six defeats; Wake 4-6, 1-6, overall. Out of nowhere, Ismael Massoud shot 8-of-10 from three on his way to a career-high 31 points.
I’m very proud of the Deacs this year. Save for their first ACC loss of the season to Georgia Tech, Wake has played hard and been in every game, with basically zero talent. That’s all Forbes. Us fans know the wins will come in two years once he’s brought in a few of his own players.
Remembering Hank Aaron
One of the four or five best players in baseball history passed away Friday. Hank Aaron, who died in his sleep at the age of 86.
755 Home Runs (1st)…cough cough…
2,297 RBI (1st)
3,771 Hits (3rd)
1,477 Extra-base hits (1st)
6,856 Total Bases (1st)
2,174 Runs scored (4th)
3,298 Games played (3rd)
.305 batting average, .928 OPS
17 postseason games: .362 BA, 6 HR, 16 RBI in 69 at-bats
13 consecutive seasons with 100 runs scored (15 overall)
11 100-RBI seasons
15 straight seasons 145+ games played
1971, age 37 season, slammed 47 home runs, drove in 118, and batted .327, 1.079 league-leading OPS, for a lousy 82-80 Braves team.
Eight top-5 MVP seasons.
I did the following tribute to Aaron ages ago that sums up his life, and career, pretty well.
Henry Louis Aaron was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama. From a young age, once he realized he could play the sport of baseball he seemed to be a man on a mission.
At 18 he signed with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues for $200 a month. Aaron was a shortstop and batted cross-handed. With the integration of the big leagues, though, the Clowns were a barnstorming team like the Harlem Globetrotters and as Aaron said, “We never made it to Indiana the whole time I was with the team.”
One day in Washington, D.C., Aaron related, “We had breakfast while we were waiting for the rain to stop, and I (was) sitting with the Clowns in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we were finished eating. What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”
After he was turned down at a Dodgers tryout because he was too skinny, a Braves scout, Dewey Griggs, wrote to management, “This boy could be the answer.” [He also told Aaron to uncross his hands.] The Braves signed him for $7,500. It was still 1952 and he was sent to Eau Claire, Wisconsin where he hit .336 with 9 home runs and 61 RBI. The following season, Aaron, Felix Mantilla and Horace Garner were sent to Class A Jacksonville to integrate what was then known as the Sally League, now South Atlantic, though with many different franchises. [Those of you who collected baseball cards in the 60s can’t help but hear this name and remember, “Dick Stuart once hit 66 home runs in the Sally League!” It seemed to be on the back of almost every card in those days.]
Aaron, despite constant taunts and threats, was MVP, hitting .362 while driving in 125. The next year, 1954, the Braves toured with the Dodgers before the season started and all the black players from both squads had to stay in the same hotel, so Aaron hung out with the likes of Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella. They told him how to handle the big leagues as a black man, advice that Aaron would take to heart.
“There’s only one way to break the color line,” Aaron once said. “Play so good they can’t remember what color you were before the season started.” In other words, either you were good or you were gone. After listening to Jackie Robinson, Aaron knew he had to always prove himself. “If there’s a single reason why the black players of the 50s and 60s were so much better than the white players in the National League, I believe it’s because we had to be. And we knew we had to be.”
Aaron played 122 games in ‘54 for the Milwaukee Braves hitting .280, but then he blossomed in 1955, batting .314 with 27 home runs and 106 runs batted in. It was the start of a streak that saw him have 20 consecutive seasons with at least 20 home runs.
“The thing I had on my side was patience. It’s something you pick up pretty naturally when you grow up black in Alabama. When you wait all your life for respect and equality and a seat in the front of the bus, it’s nothing to wait a little while for the slider inside.”
Aaron didn’t back away from anyone. The Yankees’ Tony Kubek once recalled a time when he was outside a Tampa hotel with Aaron and a bunch of rednecks pulled up and began harassing Hank. One challenged him and Aaron dropped the guy with three good punches.
In 1956, Aaron won his first of two batting crowns and in ’57 was the N.L. MVP as he led the league in homers and RBI (44-132). It was a breakout season, to say the least, and in a late September game he hit an 11th-inning home run that clinched the pennant for Milwaukee. His teammates all greeted him at home and carried him off the field. Aaron would later say it was the most satisfying round-tripper of his entire career.
The Braves won the ’57 World Series against the Yankees and the team returned to the Series the following year, only this time New York got its revenge. In the two Fall Classics (his only ones) Aaron hit .364.
Milwaukee eventually fell out of favor as the team’s play slipped a bit and the franchise was moved to Atlanta for the 1966 season. This marked a big change for Hank Aaron.
“I was tired of being invisible. I was the equal of any ballplayer in the world, damn it, and if nobody was going to give me my due, it was time to grab for it.” Aaron hit 44 home runs his first year in Atlanta and 39 the next, but then in 1968, the year of the pitcher, Hank saw his production slip to 29 HR and 86 RBI. He was now at 510 home runs but he had also just turned 35 as he approached the ’69 campaign. Aaron began to think of retirement, but the noted historian, Lee Allen, convinced him that he could leave his mark on the game in many different ways.
Aaron proceeded to blast 44 dingers that year in leading the Braves to the N.L. West crown (only to then see the club get swept by the Mets in the league championship series), but after following up ’69 with 38 and 47 home runs (the latter a career best at 37) his next two seasons, he was suddenly at 639 lifetime and the talk of breaking Babe Ruth’s mark was picking up. Aaron signed a 2-year contract that made him the first player to earn $200,000 a year.
But approaching the Babe wasn’t a real popular thing. Atlanta police assigned a bodyguard to him and Hank began to talk of the hate mail he was receiving. In 1973 alone, Aaron received 930,000 letters as he finished the year at 713 home runs, one shy.
[One typical letter read, “You can hit all dem home runs over dem short fences, but you can’t take that black off yo’ face.” But to be fair, as Aaron got closer to the Babe the vast majority of the mail was overwhelmingly positive.]
As the ’74 season began, the Braves opened up in Cincinnati for a three-game series. Braves management wanted Aaron to break the record in Atlanta, naturally, but Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered Atlanta to play Aaron in 2 of the first 3 games in Cincinnati. [The reasoning was sound if flawed at the same time. How could you say you were putting your best product on the field if the soon to be home run king wasn’t in the lineup?]
In his first at bat of the season, Aaron hit #714 off Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham. He then sat out the second game and went 0-for-3 in the third.
So we go to Atlanta, April 8, 1974. The Dodgers are the opponent and they have Al Downing on the mound. Aaron walked in the first and then in the 4th inning, at 9:07 p.m., he deposited a 1-0 fastball into the left-center bullpen for #715.
Meanwhile, Braves announcer Milo Hamilton had been preparing for this moment all winter. At some point he knew he would be describing history. On #714 he decided on “Henry has tied the Babe!” For #715 he practiced, “Baseball has a new home run King! It’s Henry Aaron!” Hamilton thought anything more ornate would sound forced. [In the excitement of the actual moment, it came out “home run champion.”]
Braves reliever Tom House caught the ball and sprinted across the field to hand it to Aaron.
“In that great crowd around home plate I found him looking over his mother’s shoulder, hugging her to him, and suddenly I saw what many people have never been able to see in him – deep emotion,” House said. “I looked and he had tears hanging on his lids. I could hardly believe it. ‘Hammer, here it is,’ I said. I put the ball in his hand. He said, ‘Thanks, kid,’ and touched me on the shoulder. I kept staring at him. And it was then that it was brought home to me what this home run meant, not only to him, but to all of us.”
By the way, supposedly Hank Aaron never saw one of his 755 home runs clear the fence – he always kept his head down until he reached first base to make sure he touched the bag, figuring that “looking at the ball going over the fence isn’t going to help,” he would say.
[Sources: “Crossing the Line: Black Major Leaguers, 1947-59” Larry Moffi & Jonathan Kronstadt; “Talkin’ Baseball” Phil Pepe; “Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia” from the editors of “Total Baseball”; “Baseball Anecdotes” Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf.]
And in honoring Hammerin’ Hank, I just have to note this story by Red Smith from March 27, 1960. Smith was down in spring training, where he talked to Dewey Griggs, the scout who discovered Aaron. Griggs told Smith of the day he signed him.
“It was in Buffalo,” said Griggs, “where Aaron was playing shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns against the Kansas City Monarchs. I had two days to make up my mind on him because Sid Pollock, who owned the Clowns, was going to sell him and there were a lot of other guys looking at him.
“Well, they were playing a double-header and here was Hank just kind of loafing over to pick up ground balls and giving it the big, easy toss to first base, throwing them out by a short step. When he ran he ran lazy-like on his heels, and in that first game I never saw him go over into the hole for a ground ball.
“At the plate, though – well, they threw one high right up here on him, and he powered it over the wall and out of sight. He reached out for another one low and outside and pulled it over the wall, across the street and on to the roof of a building.
“To make a long story short, he got seven for nine in that doubleheader, but between games I went to Pollock and told him I wanted to talk to Aaron before the second game.
“I told the kid, ‘Hank, you haven’t showed me anything. I don’t know if you can run. I haven’t seen you field, I don’t even know if you can throw. You’re not putting out.’
“He said to me, ‘I kin run and throw all right. My daddy told me never exert yourself if it ain’t necessary.’
“So in that second game he got up on his toes and he went over in the hole to field ground balls and he threw bullets to first base. He wanted to show me he could run so he dropped a bunt down and beat that out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him bunt once since he got to Milwaukee, but he can bunt as well as anybody if he wants to.
“As I say, he went seven for nine in that doubleheader, hitting a couple out of sight.
“After the game I grabbed Pollock on the field and I said, ‘I’ll give you five thousand right now.’ Pollock said to me, ‘Turn around, just turn around and look up there behind you.’
“ ‘Those are three guys from the Giants,’ he told me, ‘and they’re going to be coming down here talking.’ I said, ‘All right, ten thousand.’ ‘It’s a deal,’ he said, and we closed it right there on the field. Then I phoned Milwaukee.
“ ‘You like him?’ they asked me. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about baseball, but, if I had ten thousand dollars I’d pay it just for his hitting, even if he couldn’t do anything else.’ So we got him, and I don’t think anybody is going to get another Aaron right away.”
Red Smith writes, “There was a brief, respectful silence.”
“Funny thing, though,” Dewey continued, “there was a shortstop playing for the Kansas City Monarchs that day and I bet I could have got him for nothing. I think he made four errors. Probably you’ve heard of him since. A shortstop named Ernie Banks.”
[Source: “Red Smith on Baseball.”]
After Aaron’s passing, comments from others:
Mike Kupper / Los Angeles Times
“At what should have been the pinnacle of his long career in baseball, Henry Aaron was getting bags of hate mail – many containing death threats – and living in a storage room at the stadium, accompanied by bodyguards when he ventured out.
“It was 1973, the country remained divided along racial lines, and Aaron, a Black player for the Atlanta Braves, was closing in on Babe Ruth’s holy career record of 714 home runs. To some, it was sacrilegious that a Black man would threaten the record of the immortal Babe….
“ ‘This was supposed to be the greatest time of my life,’ he said. ‘They cut a piece of my heart out. Babe Ruth never had to contend with anything like that when he was establishing his record.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred: “His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person. Hank symbolized the very best of our game, and his all-around excellence provided Americans and fans across the world with an example to which to aspire.”
Former President Barack Obama: “Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”
Former President (and huge Braves fan) Jimmy Carter: “One of the greatest baseball players of all time, he has been a personal hero to us. A breaker of records and racial barriers, his remarkable legacy will continue to inspire countless athletes and admirers for generations to come.”
After his playing career ended, Aaron embarked on a successful second career as a businessman and philanthropist. And he was a clear and authoritative voice in the civil rights movement.
“We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank,” Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement. “He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature.
“Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts.
“We are heartbroken and thinking of his wife Billye and their children Gaile, Hank Jr., Lary, Dorinda and Ceci and his grandchildren.”
Ken Davidoff / New York Post
“You know the sports expression ‘Great player, better person’?
“No one turns down that description. It can, however, carry the unintended consequence of underplaying an elite performer’s excellence at his actual job.
“Which brings us to the legendary Hank Aaron…a bona fide American hero. As a humble man who endured this country’s worst yet never stopped being gracious or generous.
“Enough bandwidth exists, though, so that we can salute Aaron’s magnanimity without slighting his brilliance as a baseball player. Home run king or not, Hammerin’ Hank belongs among the best of the game’s best.
“ ‘He played for the galactic All-Stars. We’re just mere earthlings,’ Chipper Jones, Aaron’s fellow Hall of Famer, said Friday on a Zoom call arranged by the Braves. ‘He was on a different level. When you can take all of those home runs away and he’s still got 3,000 hits. He won Gold Gloves…. To this day, I have to look at the back of that baseball card and remind myself because some of the numbers just get lost. You’re talking about a transcendent baseball player right here.’
“Another Cooperstown honoree, Reggie Jackson, listed Aaron among a list of all-time greats spanning a spectrum of sports: Frank Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Bill Russell and LeBron James.
“ ‘When you see one of them,’ Mr. October said, ‘you see a bald eagle.’….
“ ‘I hope the youngsters who never saw him play take time to Google Hank Aaron highlights, go on YouTube and see that those numbers don’t lie,’ said YES Network broadcaster Ken Singleton, who opposed Aaron with the Mets, Expos and Orioles. ‘He was a great, great baseball player and should be somebody who is regarded as one of the greatest players to ever walk on a baseball field. He did it with class and grace and a style that was all his own.’
“All-time person. All-time player. The total package. A fitting description.”
Nancy Armour / USA TODAY
“Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier as the first Black player, and Frank Robinson was the game’s first Black manager. Aaron was no less influential. He was the first Black star of a professional team in the South when the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1966, and his dignity in the face of relentless abuse during his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record paved the way for greater racial tolerance.
“Not that any of it was easy, or a road Aaron wanted to take. He was forced to travel with bodyguards because of the threats against him, and spoke of sneaking in and out of ballparks and staying in a separate hotel from the rest of the Braves. His children, his oldest daughter in particular, had to be given police protection.
“The Atlanta Braves even hired off-duty officers to sit in the stands to guard against anyone trying to harm Aaron while he was in the outfield.
“Though Aaron was indignant at the abuse and contempt he was subjected to, he rarely let on when he was playing. Some of his teammates were aware, but to the public he seemed stoic and unbowed.
“But his quiet demeanor was not a sign of acceptance. When he eventually revealed the full scope of the abuse, he made clear how demeaning it all was and the deep scars it had left.
“ ‘All of those have put a bad taste in my mouth, and it won’t go away,’ Aaron told the New York Times ahead of the 20th anniversary of his landmark 715th home run. ‘They carved a piece of my heart away.’
“Aaron didn’t share his pain simply to clear the air. He wanted white America to recognize it and, more significantly atone for it. By that point, Aaron had become a beloved figure in American society. ‘Hammerin’ Hank,’ the home run king who now seemed larger than life – certainly larger in stature than he was in real life.
“You could not be a baseball fan and not be a fan of Aaron’s, and you couldn’t well do that while still tolerating racism and bigotry. For some that meant reckoning with, and eventually discarding, their own biases. For others it meant recognizing the base evil and ignorance of racism.
“Either way, he helped Americans look past the color of a man’s skin and see the man himself, bringing us a little closer to the equality this country has promised us. Indeed, without Henry Aaron, former President Bill Clinton said in 2009, there is no President Barack Obama.
“ ‘We’re a different country now,’ Clinton told Aaron at his 75th birthday party. ‘You’ve given us far more than we’ll ever give you.’”
Chipper Jones said this week: “Whenever Hank was in the building and down on the field, guys would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, would you introduce me to Hank?’ And I’d say: ‘Just walk up to him! You don’t need me to introduce you. He’s the nicest guy. He’s never going to blow you off.’ …We’re not only talking about a transcendent baseball player but a transcendent person in American history as well. He’s a beautiful human.”
Tyler Kepner / New York Times
“It was another day of mourning for Reggie Jackson and the rest of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. Another of their brethren had died, this one, perhaps, the greatest of all: Henry Louis Aaron.
“ ‘It’s kind of settled in with me over the last three hours,’ Jackson said on Friday from California, his voice catching over the phone. ‘It’s beating me down. When you see your guys, your idols, the people that taught you so much about how to act and how to do things in life – it’s really hard.’
“Jackson spoke of the sorrowful Sunday morning in October when Joe Morgan’s wife, Theresa, called him before dawn to say her husband was gone. It was not a surprise. Others had been asking Jackson for updates on Morgan – Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Ozzie Smith, Commissioner Rob Manfred – and he could only guess the worst.
“ ‘He knows I’m calling, and he’s not calling back,’ Jackson would say. ‘He’s in trouble. He’s in trouble physically. I think Joe’s dying.
“The Baseball Hall of Fame has lost 10 of its members in the past 10 months: Al Kaline in April; Tom Seaver in August; Lou Brock in September; Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford and Morgan in October; Phil Niekro in December; and Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton and Aaron this month.
“Their playing careers stretched from 1950 to 1988 – all were active in 1967 except Lasorda, who was inducted as a manager – and they would gather almost every summer in Cooperstown, N.Y., to welcome new members at the Hall’s induction ceremony.
“ ‘You get to know them, you get to know their families – they become teammates, in a sense, and that’s a great thing,’ Jim Palmer said on Friday. ‘It’s a fraternity, but it’s also a family. So every time somebody passes away, it’s like you lose a family member. And then you think about how important these people were to the fans who rooted for them and cheered for them.’….
“ ‘He’s in the last sentence of greatest player of all time,’ Jackson said. ‘Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Gehrig, Mantle – I don’t know that Ted Williams gets there because he couldn’t run like those guys – and Ty Cobb and Rickey Henderson. So they’re in a class by themselves, and I think for sheer talent, Griffey is in there, too. The game was easy for those guys.’
“ ‘Reggie used to say there’s Hall of Famers and then there’s really Hall of Famers,’ Palmer said with a laugh. ‘Maybe only Reggie can say it, but it’s true: This is Hank Aaron! When you think of the great players, you think of Ted Williams, you think of Stan Musial, you think of Willie Mays. I mean, I was a good pitcher, but I wasn’t Tom Seaver. And Hank Aaron – it’s like getting to the top of the mountain.’
“Beyond that, Palmer said, Aaron personified class. Jackson said Aaron carried himself with a kind of regal dignity that few others have had: Joe DiMaggio and Sandy Koufax, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving….
“ ‘I can’t comprehend how he did what he did under those circumstances,’ Dale Murphy, a fellow member of the Braves’ Hall of Fame, said on Friday, recalling how Aaron had to navigate segregation early in his career, as well as the hostility that later surrounded his home run chase. ‘When you put it all together, when you look at his statistics and then add the degree of difficulty – having your teammates bring you food, staying with people on the outskirts of town as you’re trying to learn your craft, chasing Babe Ruth and suffering, in his words, the worst year of his career from the death threats and pressures and concerns for his family’s safety, spending the night at the ballpark instead of going back to the hotel – to me, that adds up to the greatest player ever.’”
--Dr. W. has a personal Hank Aaron story.
“When I was 10-years-old, my Dad took my brother, 7, my mom and myself to Atlanta to stay with a business ‘friend’ of his for the weekend. We ended up staying at the most spectacular house I had ever been in (at that time) with this gentleman, his wife and their kids. That man turned out to be Ted Turner.
“This was 1968 and before Ted bought the Braves and he was making money in advertising and radio stations. Well, on Sunday, July 14, 1968, we went to see the Braves vs. the Giants at the old Fulton County Stadium. About 30,000 fans were in attendance. We were sitting in a suite which was awesome to us! The staff brought us hot dogs and Cokes. We thought we had died and gone to heaven!
“I think in the third inning, Aaron cranked out his 500th home run (a 3-run shot). Got a standing ovation of course. Towards the end of the game (a 4-2 Braves victory), Mr. Turner asked my brother and I if we would like to meet Hammerin’ Hank. Of course we would! But we had no clue how this would work.
“Well about 20 minutes after the game, Aaron came up the elevator to do something with the radio guys and he stopped by our suite. 8 X 11 glossies had already been printed of his home run and Henry signed them for the kids in our suite. He also spent 3-4 minutes chatting with us which was so cool because he was so nice. Tragically, I lost the photo over the years, but the memory is as fresh as yesterday. May he rest in peace.”
--George Springer’s free agent decision was down to the Blue Jays and Mets and the All-Star centerfielder signed a six-year contract worth $150 million. It’s reported the Mets’ offer topped out at $120 million to $125 million for six years.
--The Yankees made another interesting move for their starting rotation, acquiring Pittsburgh righty Jameson Taillon for four minor league prospects.
Taillon won 14 for the Pirates in 2018, but appeared in only seven games in 2019 and missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
So Taillon, like the recently signed Corey Kluber, is another bounce-back candidate. If the two are healthy, it’s huge, because the Yanks have little behind Gerrit Cole. Masahiro Tanaka is still a free agent, J.A. Happ signed with the Twins, and New York is left with Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, former All-Star Luis Severino, who missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, and Domingo German, who missed the entire 2020 season while serving a domestic violence suspension.
--Red Sox great Dustin Pedroia is ready to call it quits, four years after a vicious slide left the former American League MVP with knee issues and ended any chance he may have had of making the Hall of Fame.
Pedroia is unlikely to officially retire, though, because that would mean forfeiting the $12 million he is owed this coming season. According to the Boston Globe, the two sides are working toward a “resolution.”
The Red Sox could release him and reach an insurance-based settlement that would allow Pedroia to receive close to $12 million over time – similar to what the Mets did in 2018 with David Wright, who had been suffering from neck, shoulder and back injuries for years.
Pedrioa has had only 31 at-bats since 2017.
--Lastly, we learn Tuesday whether Curt Schilling receives the 75% required for enshrinement in Cooperstown as the Hall of Fame results are released. Schilling had 70.0% last year and this is his ninth year of eligibility. He should get it.
But, of course all eyes will also be on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both on the ballot a ninth time (of ten); Clemens with 61.0% last year, Bonds 60.7%. I’ll say they move up to just 63-64%.
--At The American Express championship in La Quinta, Calif., 25-year-old Si Woo Kim won his third PGA Tour title, first since his 2017 triumph at The Players Championship, Kim with a final-round 8-under 64, holding off Patrick Cantlay by one shot.
Cantlay, playing six groups ahead of Kim, had a spectacular 11-under 61 to vault up the leaderboard and post a score.
Meanwhile, third-round co-leader Tony Finau finished fourth. It’s amazing. Every single casual golf fan in America knows the name Tony Finau. He’s super consistent. On our television screen seemingly every weekend of the golf season.
And yet he has just one win…and not a biggie. The 2016 Puerto Rico Open.
The other third-round co-leader, Max Homa, flamed out royally with a 76, T21.
Phil Mickelson, the tourney host, missed the cut, but he did something in the second round he has never done before. In his 2,201st career PGA Tour round, for the first time Phil the Thrill carded 18 consecutive pars.
Phil was in agreement with all of us. “For that to be the first time, it’s really shocking. Surprising, because I really try to hit fairways and centers of the greens and just make easy pars.
--Justin Thomas, appearing at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, spoke publicly for the first time snice losing his Ralph Lauren sponsorship as part of the fallout from his use of a homophobic slur, caught on camera at the Tournament of Champions.
“I’m clearly beyond (not) proud of what I said,” Thomas said Wednesday. “It’s humiliating. It’s embarrassing. It’s not me. It’s not a word that I use but for some reason it was in there and that’s what I’m trying to figure out as to why it was in there.”
As I noted before, Ralph Lauren left open the door to bringing J.T. back into the fold if he “does the hard and necessary work” to grow from the incident.
The winner of the tournament was Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, his sixth European Tour title and a victory that no doubt locked up a spot on the Ryder Cup squad.
Australia’s Jason Scrivener was second, followed by Rory McIlroy, the overnight leader who faded badly today.
Justin Thomas missed the cut.
--Darren Clarke won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalei, his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory. That’s good for the tour.
--Three people in hotel quarantine associated with the Australian Open have tested positive for the highly transmissible coronavirus variant linked to the United Kingdom, officials said yesterday.
The three quarantined in Melbourne are not players, said the state agency responsible for quarantining overseas travelers.
Victoria, Australia’s second most-populous state, recorded its 17th day without any new local infections on Saturday as officials focus on keeping the community separated from staff and players here for the Grand Slam tournament.
One player has tested positive thus far among those quarantining, Spain’s Paula Badosa.
--Dr. W. and I, as Premier League fans, couldn’t believe the news we got over the weekend that NBCUniversal is shutting down its sports cable channel NBCSN at the end of the year and migrating much of the programming to its sister general entertainment network USA, the company said.
The NHL and NASCAR will start to transition to USA Network this year. Well that’s fine.
“We’re absolutely committed more than ever to live sports as a company, and having such a huge platform like USA Network airing some of our key sports content is great for our partners, distributors, viewers and advertisers alike,” said NBC Sports Group Chairman Pete Bevacqua.
NBCSN has struggled to compete against bigger rivals such as Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and Fox Corp.’s Fox Sports cable network. NBCSN has national reach but the ratings pale in comparison to its competition. NBC Universal is hoping by putting more sports on USA Network, it will make it a more viable competitor to WarnerMedia’s TBS and TNT channels, which also carry a mix of entertainment and sports.
But here’s the thing. What happens to the Premier League? It’s been terrific over the years to follow the sport on the channel. It’s the only reason why I’m interested. But last year NBCUniversal started putting some of the games on its new streaming service, Peacock, and folks like Dr. W and myself, as well as my brother, a big PL follower, don’t feel we should have to buy into a streaming service for which we otherwise have zero use for.
NBCUniversal should be putting the PL on CNBC. They have nothing of use on weekends.
You also have the issue of what happens with NHL broadcasting rights after this season. NHL games have been shown on NBCSN (or Versus as it was previously known) for the past 15 years.
NASCAR’s deal with NBC runs through 2024, but it already has a deal with Fox Sports for the first half of each season.
At least NBC’s Golf Channel won’t be affected.
But, again, if the Premier League is only going to be broadcast on Peacock, along with a few afternoon (Eastern time) games on NBC, this is a disaster.
*No PL action this weekend as we had FA Cup play, Manchester United defeating Liverpool today, 3-2.
--In FIS World Cup ski action at Crans Montana, Switzerland, Italy’s Soffia Goggia won both downhills. America’s Breezy Johnson had a third and fifth; the third her fourth of the season.
I mean is Breezy Johnson a name for a downhiller or what?
Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t race this weekend.
I watched some of yesterday’s second downhill and what a beautiful spot Crans Montana is.
--A federal district judge signed an order Thursday directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to come up with a plan to release more endangered red wolves from breeding programs to bolster the dwindling wild population. The release would be into the wolves’ designated habitat in North Carolina. It’s the only place in the world where the wolf roams wild outside of zoos or wildlife refuges.
Only seven or so red wolves remain.
This is great. We need some naïve hikers to stumble on them…if you know what I’m sayin’. Especially during Web Sweeps Week…juice Bar Chat’s traffic.
--Johnny Mac alerted me to the story of the hero dogs that died helping save a 10-year-old boy.
The Virginia boy managed to escape from his burning home thanks to his two dogs, who woke him up before they perished in the blaze, according to reports.
“Those two dogs are heroes,” Dinwiddie Dire Chief Dennis Hale told WTVR about the brindle pit bulls after they died Monday.
“The whole time you’re responding, you know the comments are, ‘There’s a child in the residence,’” he said.
“He was asleep and his two dogs came into his room and started jumping up and down and pawing at him at his chest and that woke him up,” Hale said. “They both died heroes, basically,” he added.
Facing smoke and flames, the boy jumped out his window.
“He kept his cool and obviously he knew the fire would have been between him and his normal front door, he knew to go out another way. He did exactly what he should have done,” Hale said.
The boy, who was alone in his home at the time, ran across the street to alert his neighbor. He was taken to VCU Medical Center, where he was treated for smoke inhalation.
Top 3 songs for the week 1/31/70: #1 “I Want You Back” (The Jackson 5) #2 “Venus” (The Shocking Blue) #3 “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (B.J. Thomas)…and…#4 “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin) #5 “Without Love (There Is Nothing)” (Tom Jones) #6 “Don’t Cry Daddy” (Elvis Presley) #7 “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” (Dionne Warwick) #8 “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (Sly & The Family Stone) #9 “Someday We’ll Be Together” (Diana Ross & The Supremes) #10 “Leaving On A Jet Plane” (Peter, Paul and Mary…A- week…)
Baseball Quiz Answer: Eight with 2,000 runs scored….
Rickey Henderson 2,298
Ty Cobb 2,245
Barry Bonds 2,227
Hank Aaron 2,174
Babe Ruth 2,174
Pete Rose 2,165
Willie Mays 2,062
Alex Rodriguez 2,021
Cap Anson 1,999
Stan Musial 1,949
Derek Jeter 1,923
Next Bar Chat, Tuesday p.m.