All posts by michaelbrianwalker

Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, two-time IceHouse Adult League Champion, have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996

Odell Beckham Jr.: The Second-Most Terrific New York Athlete Ever to Be Traded

Before I address the title of this article, please allow me a bit of preamble.

You might have seen the OBJ trade coming, but I did not.  Yes, there were trade rumors about Beckham at various times over the past two years, but, during this offseason, there was no considerable buzz about such a trade being a legitimate possibility.  Therefore, my brain is still processing the trade.  Do I like this trade or not?  I honestly do not know.

When I first heard about the Beckham trade, I was upset.  Odell Beckham Jr. is the most exciting player I have watched during my days as a Giants fan.  (I watched the tail end of LT’s career, so I did not truly get to experience his excitement.) OBJ is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and one of the few players who can regularly turn his team’s down offensive day into a great offensive day with one or two plays.  Additionally, few players in the league make his teammates better than Beckham does.  The likes of Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard have been much more effective when defenses have to worry about covering the dynamic Beckham than when they do not.  For proof, watch footage from Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2017 seasons.  In Week 1, the Giants’ offense looked abysmal in Dallas, as Beckham sat on the sideline.  In Week 2, Beckham played a few plays, and the offense was much more electric on those plays than on the plays when Beckham did not play.  Simply put, one cannot easily replace Beckham’s on-field production.

However, we know that Beckham has caused chemistry issues with the Giants.  While T.O. and Antonio Brown waited several years in their NFL careers before causing off-field problems, Beckham started in Year 2.  We experienced his freak-out against Josh Norman in Year 2; the boat trip, kicking net, and comment that he does not care about his personal fouls in Year 3; his trip to France in Year 4; and his “Li’l Wayne” interview in Year 5.  I have lived on this planet long enough to know that trends are much more likely to continue than to stop.  Plus, if we know about all of the problems I have mentioned, what else is happening behind the scenes?  Nevertheless, we know that these issues are going to continue and will likely grow.  The Giants clearly felt that we had reached the point where the benefit of keeping him (all the good stuff I listed before) had fallen below the cost (all the chemistry stuff).

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Image via New York Post

Therefore, I commend the Giants for picking up a first-round pick this year, a third-rounder next year, and a solid safety in Jabrill Peppers.  The only question that remains for the Giants is “Where do they go from here?”  Did the Beckham trade happen because Eli told Dave Gettleman that the QB cannot win with Beckham’s huge ego and personality hovering over the team?  Possibly.  Did Gettleman pull the trigger because he had decided that it is time for a rebuild and that the Giants should either trade for Josh Rosen or draft Dwayne Haskins?  Hopefully.  Time will tell.  That said, you can read a million analyses about this trade on other sites.  I want to pivot now to the tangential topic referenced in this article’s title.

The New York Giants have traded a top-flight wide receiver in the prime of his career.  This is not a common occurrence in New York.  Teams in this metropolitan are usually big spenders and rarely trade megastars in their primes.  As a result, I have spent the past few hours thinking about how many players better than Beckham or of bigger star power than his have been traded away from New York teams in the primes of their careers, and my unofficial research places Beckham firmly in the #2 position on this list.  For now, I will keep you in suspense as to whom I have selected for #1 on the list.

When coming up with this list, remember that I am focusing solely on players who were traded from New York teams.  Thus, though Darryl Strawberry was an elite outfielder in 1990 (37 homers, 108 RBI: huge numbers back then), the fact that the Dodgers then signed him to a free-agent contract makes him ineligible for this list.  Similarly, John Tavares racked up 621 points in 9 years with the Islanders and also had a big hand in the team’s first playoff-series win (over Florida in 2016) since 1993….but the Maple Leafs signed Tavares as a free agent.  Thus, he too is ineligible for the list.

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Image via Los Angeles Times

In 2011, the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants (for Zack Wheeler), but Beltran was past his prime.  Plus, even in his prime, was he ever a candidate for “Best Outfielder in the Game”, as Beckham has been considered the best wide receiver in the NFL?  I would say not.  The Knicks once traded Patrick Ewing, and the Nets once traded Jason Kidd.  Both are those are all-time great players for their respective franchises, and both led their teams to two NBA Finals appearances.  However, both of them were also in the twilights of their careers when they were traded.  Neither player was involved with any “Best current player at his position” discussions when they were traded.  You could also make the analogous comments about Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch. Many people like to cite the Mets’ trade of Nolan Ryan as “the worst trade ever”, and that is a fair argument in hindsight.  The Mets did give up a guy who would go on to strike out 5000 batters, pitch 7 no-hitters, and pitch at a high level for more than 20 years.  However, when the Mets traded Ryan (and two other players) for Fregosi, Ryan was a decent-at-best pitcher whose control kept him from being anything great.  Thus, at the time of the 1971 trade, people did not think something monumental had happened.

The way I see it, there are only two players in Beckham’s territory.  One of those players is Darrelle Revis.  When the Jets traded Revis to Tampa Bay in 2013 for a 2013 first-round pick, he was considered the premier cornerback in football.  “Revis Island” was still a “thing” at that time.  However, there are two reasons why I put Beckham above Revis on my list.  First, Revis missed almost all of the 2012 season due to a torn knee ligament.  When an excellent NFL player suffers a major injury in his fifth season, it is natural for us to wonder if that player’s days as a star have come to an end.  (In hindsight, this was the case with Revis.  Revis was a solid player the next two years with Tampa and New England, but he was not the elite player he had been.)  Secondly, even if we ignore the injury factor, tie goes to the wide receiver over the shutdown cornerback. The receiver who makes big play after big play has much more star power than the corner who prevents the ball from ever coming his way.  Therefore, I consider Beckham to be a slightly better player and bigger star than Revis was at the times of their respective trades.

As a result, we are left with only one player dealt from a New York team when a bigger star and better player than Beckham is.  That player is “The Franchise” or “Tom Terrific”.  That player is Tom Seaver.  Unfortunately, we have recently learned the news that the greatest Met of all time now suffers from dementia.  However, many who watched Seaver pitch say that he is the best pitcher they have ever seen.  The guy dominated for the Mets from 1967 through 1977, as he was regularly among the league leaders in wins, strikeouts, ERA, complete games, and shutouts.  He had been the face of the 1969 “Miracle Mets”, and he remained their biggest star through 1977, when the Mets had fallen on tough times.  Sure, Beckham is a mega-star now, but many people in this world are mega-stars.  In 1977, when most people had no more than 7 TV channels, no computers, and minimal telephone capabilities; there were fewer mega-stars.  In this area, Tom Seaver was a mega-star.

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Image via NBC Sports

You might be thinking, “Well, he had already pitched 10 years when the Mets traded him to the Reds in 1977.  Wasn’t he on the decline?”  Not at all.  Seaver was pitching at a high level, and stayed at that level until roughly the time when the Mets brought him back from Cincy in 1983.  From what I have heard from my parents and other huge Mets fans of that day, nothing compares to the Seaver trade.  Most Giants fans agree that OBJ is one of the best receivers in the league, but plenty of Giants fans can see why the Giants made the trade.  Agree with the trade or not; the transaction is defensible.  That was not the case with Seaver.  Seaver was the only guy for Mets fans to hang their hats on, and the Mets traded him.  Fans were devastated and saw no silver lining in the move.

Granted, a part of me does wonder how the trade would have been received today.  After all, the 1977 Mets were a bad team who traded a top-flight player for four prospects.  No, none of those prospects materialized into anything great, but it is a regular occurrence today for bad teams to trade stars for prospects.  In 1977, there were fewer entertainment options, so I think that fans were more passionate about having their teams put together the best teams possible – the future be damned.  I have to admit that, while I am a big-time Devils fan, I have not watched them too much over the last month as I know that this year’s disappointing team is better off tanking.  Fans of all sports now realize that bad teams are usually better off tanking, but it is easier for us to “trust the process” in 2019 when we can binge-watch “Schitt’s Creek” and Harlan Coben’s “Safe” to pass the time during a bad Devils season.  Yes, I highly recommend both of those shows.  Ideally, the Devils will land the top pick in the draft, bring in Jack Hughes, and play at a level next year that makes me want to watch all 82 games again.

However, in 1977, what were you going to do to pass the time during a bad Mets summer?  There is only so much “American Bandstand” one can handle.  Therefore, Mets fans were going to be much more loyal to a bad 1977 team than they were to bad 2017 and 2018 teams. Thus, Tom Seaver remained a huge star, albeit on a bad team.  In fact, I would argue that Seaver was a bigger star relative to the 1977 sports world than Beckham is to the modern sports world.  If we could calculate WAR for star power, Seaver’s 1977 star-power WAR would be well above Beckham’s.  Plus, Beckham is one of the best current wide receivers, but Tom Seaver is one of the best pitchers of all time.  Big difference there.

Therefore, I consider the OBJ trade to be the second-most monumental trade of a New York athlete.  The trade of Tom Terrific ranks #1 on the list.  Let us hope that the Giants make more out of their two acquired draft picks and Jabrill Peppers than the Mets made out of the four prospects they obtained.

I Could Not Care Less About February Baseball Injuries

I could not care less about February baseball injuries.  (Side note: I cannot stand when people say “I could care less” when they mean “I could not care less”.)  Allow me to repeat myself.  I could not care less about February baseball injuries.

I make this point because it is apparently a huge story that Mets’ infielder Jed Lowrie is heading for an MRI for soreness in the back of his knee.  Notice that today’s date is February 24.  The Mets’ first regular-season game takes place on March 28.  Thus, we are five weeks from the start of the regular season.  Do I care that Jed Lowrie might miss a few weeks of Spring Training?  Of course not.  As I have discussed in the past, I could not care less about preseason games in any sport.  My main goal for any preseason is to have all of my team’s players be healthy when the regular season starts.

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Therefore, if we ultimately find out that Jed Lowrie needs surgery and is going to miss several months of the season, then we can then make a big deal out of his injury.  However, assuming that a severe injury is not the case, I view any time that Lowrie misses in the spring as time during which he will not suffer a season-ending injury.  Additionally, the guy has been in the league for more than 10 years.  He does not need five weeks of Spring Training games.  He will probably actually benefit by having a shorter Spring Training, in that he will likely feel better rested during the season.  Therefore, to summarize, I am in no way worried that Lowrie’s knee issue will have a negative effect on the Mets’ season.

Anyway, you might be wondering why some people (mainly on New York sports radio) are making a mountain out of the molehill that is Jed Lowrie’s injury.  I believe there are two main reasons for this:

  • Some people are incredibly eager for baseball season and thus are willing to make anything baseball-related a big story. I am not one of these people.  I would say that older people (so I guess this is the second time I am being ageist in a post) hold “pitchers and catchers” and “the start of Spring Training” in higher regard than younger people do.  This regard likely stems from the days when the World Series ended in mid-October instead of early November and when there was not 24-hour baseball coverage all offseason long.  Therefore, in a bygone era; to have any baseball coverage in mid-February, after four months of zero baseball, was a big deal.  Nowadays, baseball fans can find baseball coverage all the time from early November through the start of the next season.  Therefore, it is no longer as big a deal (at least to me) that teams are primed to start playing five weeks of meaningless games featuring primarily people who will spend the regular season in the minors.  No, for me (and for many others who are 37 years old or younger), the end of February means that March Madness is right around the corner.  I am also pumped that the stretch run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs takes place in March.  Yes, I will be excited for MLB Opening Day when it arrives, but you can spare me the Spring Training games and obsessive discussion about minor preseason injuries.

 

  • There are many “Woe is me” Mets fans who LOVE to wallow in their own sorrow. As a Mets fan myself, I cannot stand these people.  These are the fans who are saying, “Same old Mets.  It is only February, and guys are getting hurt.”  To quote the venerable Don LaGreca, these fans are “in love with their own sadness”.  These fans would rather be miserable than have good things happen to the Mets.  These are the fans who will cite the 1992 Bobby Bonilla signing and 1996 Carlos Baerga trade as reasons why the 2018 Cano trade (which I happen to love) is a bad move.  These are the fans who blame the Mets’ disappointing 2018 season on injuries, even though the Mets did not suffer considerably more games lost to injury (to quality players) than the average team did.  These are the fans who view the 2015 season as a negative because the team lost the World Series.  These are the fans who rue the Mets’ “bad luck” of the past five years while casually ignoring the fact that the Mets rode impeccable health (especially among their pitching staff) to the 2015 World Series in the team’s only “real” (aka “beyond the Wild-Card Game) playoff appearance over that stretch.   OK, I will stop there, because I would someday like to write a full article on “Woe is me” Mets fans.  I do not want to steal too much of future Mike’s thunder.

 

Oh, one more thing I should mention.  While I am a big fan of the Jed Lowrie signing; if he were to miss the entire 2019 season, how much would his absence hurt the team?  If the answer is “a lot”, then the team is not very good as it is.  Fortunately, I would argue that the Mets can withstand a Lowrie injury.  With Cano, Rosario, Frazier, Alonso, d’Arnaud, Nimmo, Conforto, Lagares, McNeil, and TJ Rivera; the Mets have depth for their non-pitcher/catcher positions.  Lowrie is a nice player, but the Mets can afford to be without him for a while….but why am I wasting any time talking about this February injury?

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I could not care less about February baseball injuries.  It is February 21; let us focus on Zion, “Bracketology”, and what the Devils are going to do at the Trade Deadline.

Coming to Grips with the Rams’ Win over the Saints

There is no worse feeling for the collective of sports fans than the feeling that the wrong team has advanced in the playoffs.  I don’t mean “wrong team” in the “Jaguars over Steelers last year” sense.  Sure, most of us were hoping for a Steelers/Pats AFC Championship game, featuring the two teams most of us thought to be the best in the AFC; but we were happy for the Jaguars for pulling off the upset fair and square.  No, when I say “wrong team”, I mean it in the sense that the wrong team has advanced as a result of something completely beyond the control of the teams in the game.

Unfortunately, this was the case with the Rams/Saints NFC Championship Game.  It is extremely rare for all sports fans to agree on an officiating call, but that is just what happened with Los Angeles and New Orleans.  Everyone knows that the officials should have called either pass interference or unnecessary roughness on Nickell Robey-Coleman, but the officiating crew somehow rendered no penalty.  Meanwhile, a penalty call would have given the Saints a 98% win probability.  In that case, the Saints would have been able to bleed the clock down to 23 seconds or so before giving Will Lutz the chance to kick a game-winning and tie-breaking 21-yard chip-shot field goal.

Of course, the officials missed the penalty call, so the aforementioned scenario did not occur.  The Rams are now heading to the Super Bowl.  As a result, I spent the first several days of last week trying not to think about the Super Bowl.  Just as I have tried to avoid football after devastating Giants playoff losses, I did the same for a few days here because of the Rams/Saints game.  Never in my life have I seen an official’s call so drastically affect a playoff result, and this happened to send essentially the wrong team to the Super Bowl.  Sitcoms and dramas are scripted.  Reality shows are REALLY scripted.  However, sports are not supposed to be scripted at all.  Sports serve as a meritocracy where each team must earn all of its success.  I did not feel that the Rams had earned its trip to the Super Bowl.

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Fortunately though, as last week wore on, I started coming to grips with having the Rams in the Super Bowl.  I know you might be thinking, “Jesus, it’s just a game, Focker.”  However, if I actually had that type of attitude toward sports; chances are I would not spend hundreds of hours per year watching people I have never met compete against each other on the field.  I certainly would not spend multiple hours per week writing blog entries.  Therefore, I did truly need to come to grips with the Rams being in the Super Bowl, and I was somewhat successful.  My consolation has come from this simple fact: After the missed call, the Rams STILL had to do a whole lot to win the game.

We are all correct when we cite the “98% win probability” number as reason why this missed call should not be treated equally with the multitude of other missed calls in NFL games.  However, many people act like the missed call handed the Rams the win.  That is not the case.  With the non-call, the Saints’ win probability fell to 78%.  After the non-call, my thought was “Let’s hope the Saints hold on to win anyway, so that this call does not matter”, not “Oh my God, the refs just took the Saints’ win and gave it to the Rams!”

After the missed call and Will Lutz’s subsequent go-ahead field goal, the Rams still needed all of the following to happen:

  • Jared Goff needed to lead a last-minute drive into field-goal range in one of the toughest road venues in sports
  • Greg Zeurlein needed to kick a game-tying 48-yard field goal
  • The Rams needed to win the overtime coin toss, since we all know that, if a team has a Hall of Fame quarterback (like Drew Brees), that team will score a TD on the opening possession of OT.
  • Oops, the Rams lost the toss but forced that Hall of Fame QB to throw an interception.
  • The Rams needed to drive to at least the Saints’ 33-yard line so to minimize the risk of a missed FG giving the Saints great field position.
  • Oops, the Rams stalled, and Sean McVay showed enormous spheres by letting Zeurlein kick a 57-yard FG (as I implored McVay to punt), which was good by several yards.

 

I should also note that, if the officials had made the correct call on the disputed play, the Rams would have likely ended up with the ball at their own 25-yard line with 20 seconds to play.  They would have needed to gain 35 yards to set Zeurlein up for a 57-yard game-tying field goal, which he clearly could have made.  Could the Rams have gained those necessary 35 yards on consecutive sideline passes before letting Zeurlein tie the game?  It is not likely, but it is also not impossible.

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Image via The SoBros Network

Anyway, whether that last scenario works for you or not, the fact remains that the refs did not hand the Rams a win.  The refs merely upgraded the Rams’ chances from “long shot” to “unlikely”.  Kudos to the Rams for taking advantage of a slight opportunity.

Lastly, I should note that one could consider the missed penalty call a lucky moment for the Rams.  Whether we like to admit it or not, many of these nail-biting games come down to luck.  No, luck does not always involve a missed penalty call, but luck could be a bounce of a fumble, a made or missed FG, or a lucky catch.  Just look at the Chiefs/Pats game.  Dee Ford being offsides had nothing to do with what should have been a game-sealing Chiefs interception, but the penalty gave the Pats a second life.  Because of a guy lining up a few inches offsides, a different team is now heading to the Super Bowl.  It happens.  Actually, speaking of the Pats, look at the first Giants/Pats Super Bowl, and look at the Patriots/Seahawks Super Bowl.  In both games, the Patriots were victimized in the last minute by incredible catches with elements of luck (David Tyree’s Helmet Catch: combination of skill and luck, Jermaine Kearse having the ball fall in his lap: mainly luck).  In the former case, Eli Manning used Tyree’s catch and several other clutch throws to give the Giants the win over the Pats; in the latter, Malcolm Butler’s interception kept Kearse’s catch from leading the Patriots to defeat.  Of course, for another modern example of luck, we know that the Eagles beat the Bears this postseason by a fraction of an inch on a “double-doink”.

Over the years, we have had many, many NFL teams win playoff games by the slimmest of margins, and those games are always the most bitter of pills for the losers to swallow. Unfortunately for the Saints, they have been eliminated in consecutive seasons by those slim margins in as devastating fashions as possible.  The Saints are not the first deserving-to-be-there team in history to watch the Super Bowl from home, and they will not be the last.  They are not even the only current team feeling that way, as the Chiefs are in the same boat.

The closer the game, the more likely it is that a bad bounce or bad call will greatly swing the result.  Sports can be cruel.  In this case though, the Saints still had a 78% chance of winning after the bad call.  How much does this assuage my initial negative reaction to the game?  I do not know.  If the refs had made the right call, we are probably watching the Saints on Sunday, February 3.  However, I keep telling myself that the Rams did what they had to do to win the game.  I think I have come to grips with the Rams’ victory, and I hope you have too.

Mariano Rivera and the Rest of My Fictional 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Loyal BTB readers, I know that you have a burning question.  “Have the BTB editors been given official Hall of Fame ballots for 2019?”  Somehow, the answer to this question is “No”.  I would like to think that my ballot was lost in the mail.  I did move in August, so maybe the Hall of Fame has not been able to track me down at my new address.  Nevertheless, you readers all deserve to see my 2019 fictional ballot.

Last year, I wrote a post explaining how I view the “steroid guys”.  As a result, you probably know that I am voting again this year for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Manny Ramirez.  Last year, I also wrote a post detailing the rest of my Hall of Fame vote .  Because I do not believe in dropping people off my ballot from one year to the next, you know that I am also voting this year for Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina – all of whom were on my fictional 2018 ballot and are eligible for election this year as well.  Thus, you already know eight of the ten people for whom I am voting this year.

Fortunately, the voters did much good last year in electing Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Larry Wayne Jones to the Hall.  You know that I did not agree with Trevor Hoffman receiving the nod, but, given that he had earned 74% of the vote (75% is needed for election) two years ago, I knew that it was a foregone conclusion that “Hell’s Bells” would ring in Cooperstown in 2018.

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Image via Sports Illustrated

Last year, I lamented the fact that, because all of the “steroid” guys have been clogging up the ballot for so long, there have been many years in which more than 10 deserving players have appeared on the general ballot.  Given that voters may vote for no more than 10 players per year, voters have been forced to leave off people for whom they would actually like to vote.  In that vein; last year, I wanted to put 12 people on my ballot, so I had to keep two of them off the list.  Thus, I decided to leave Curt Schilling’s and Jim Thome’s boxes unchecked.  My logic with Thome was that; while he is a definite Hall of Famer; 1) I did not feel that he needed to be a first-ballot HOFer, and 2) Since it was his first year on the ballot, I would have many more opportunities to vote for him.  (To the contrary, I did vote for first-year Larry Wayne, as I felt he was a true first-ballot guy.)  As for Schilling, I simply felt that he was the least qualified of the non-first-ballot guys.

As a result of the Jones, Guerrero, and Thome elections; we traveled through 2018 with 9 remaining guys on the ballot whom I have thought deserve to enter the Hall.  Therefore, if 2019 were to have brought no more than one deserving candidate, my logjam would have disappeared.  Unfortunately, I missed this mark by one.

The 2019 ballot has brought us two people – Mariano Rivera and the late Roy Halladay – whom I consider clear Hall of Famers.  In last year’s anti-Hoffman explanation, I did note that Rivera is the only modern closer for whom I would ever vote.  Had Rivera had a ho-hum postseason career; I would not have voted for him, but his postseason career is legendary.  The guy had 42 postseason saves, many of which were of more than one inning (141 innings pitched in 96 appearances), and an 0.70 postseason ERA.  I repeat, “an 0.70 postseason ERA”….over 141 innings…..in the postseason.  You know, against the best teams in baseball on the biggest stages.  141 innings equates to 2/3 of a regular-season load for a reliable starting pitcher.  Can you imagine a starting pitcher posting an 0.70 ERA up through the trade deadline?  Think of how excited we were about Jacob deGrom’s 1.6 – 1.8 ERA at various times last year.  Rivera’s numbers are incredible.

Additionally, do these three names ring a bell?  “Sandy Alomar”, “Luis Gonzalez”, and “Roberts Steal”?  They represent three of Rivera’s four blown postseason saves, and they are so well-known because it was such a rarity for Mo to blow postseason saves.  (Note: Mo’s fourth postseason blown save was in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, where he entered with 1st and 3rd and nobody out and allowed only the inherited runner on third to score.  As I mentioned in my “Jeurys Familia” article, why this blown save is given to Rivera and not the guy who put the runner on base is beyond me.)  Additionally, Luis Gonzalez handed Rivera his only postseason loss.  Therefore, among all the times Rivera entered tie games, he did not lose any for the Yankees.  (Note: the Yanks did ultimately lose the other three games in which Rivera blew saves, but the Yanks lost each of those games after the book was closed on Rivera.)

For the Yankees’ run of dominance from 1995 through 2012, there was no psychological edge in baseball greater than the Yankees knowing they had Mariano for the 9th and maybe 8th innings of postseason games (actually Mo was working the 8th innings in 1995 and 1996, but this is not the best time to be bringing up the guy who was working those 9th innings).  The Hall of Fame is about more than just numbers.  It is about dominance, especially on the big stage; and it is also a home of legends.  Mariano Rivera fits those criteria to a “T”.

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Image via CBS Sports

Anyway, with Mo earning the 9th spot on my ballot, I find myself in a tough position for the final vote.  Do I check Curt Schilling’s name or Roy Halladay’s?  For that answer, I will use the same logic I used last year.  While Roy Halladay is a Hall of Famer to me, he does not need to be a first-ballot guy.  Therefore, I am going to vote for Schilling, whose ballot days are closer to expiration.  I explained Schilling’s candidacy last year, and I will save my Halladay explanation for next year, when I can hopefully make room for him on my ballot.

Additionally, this year’s ballot has four other new guys whom I do not consider definite “No”s: Todd Helton (More than likely a future “yes” for me), Andy Pettitte (Likely a “no” as per my “Tier III” steroid rules), Lance Berkman (Leaning toward “no” but need to examine more closely), and Roy Oswalt (Almost certainly “no” but also need to examine more closely).  Similarly, there are two viable holdovers from previous ballots whom I have never truly considered due to lack of available spots.  Because I did not previously vote for these guys, I likely still will not, but I do not want to rule out these two individuals, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones.  I will go into deeper analyses on these players next year, when hopefully I am writing about my REAL ballot!

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Image via Talking Chop

Lastly, as a Yankees hater, it is fun for me to see Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, and Vernon Wells as first-timers on this year’s ballot.  First-timers on this year’s ballot are guys who last played in 2013, and would you look at who employed all three of those guys when they realized it was time to hang up their spikes?  The New York Yankees.  Too bad Lyle Overbay wasn’t even good enough to make it on the ballot.

That said, a much more prominent member of the 2013 Yankees did make it onto this year’s ballot, and he was the last player to wear #42 outside of April 15.  Mariano Rivera absolutely needs to be inducted into the Hall, and let’s hope that the voters elect several other guys on my list so that I can clear up this year’s logjam and avoid any in the future.

 

 

 

 

Do I Suffer from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome?

The date was February 1, 2004, and the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots were facing off in the Super Bowl.  I sat with 4 friends who were Patriots fans, and I was the sole person rooting for the Panthers.  The Pats had already won the Super Bowl two years prior, and the Panthers had never won one.  The game was exciting, but the Pats won on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal.

Fast forward a year…

The date was February 6, 2005, and the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots were facing off in the Super Bowl.  Although I strongly dislike the Eagles, I was pulling for them that day.  After all, they had never won a Super Bowl, while the Pats had won two of the past three Super Bowls.  After that day, the Pats had won three of four Super Bowls, and the Eagles had still never won one.

Anyway, most of you readers are probably thinking, “Big effing deal.  Anyone who isn’t a Patriots fan always roots against the Patriots.”

Well, allow me to explain the big deal.  After that Patriots/Eagles Super Bowl, things started to change for me.

The following year, Jake Plummer’s Denver Broncos took care of business against the Patriots in the Divisional Round, and it did not sit well with me.  By that point, I had begun to feel that the Patriots were “supposed” to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl every year.  All of a sudden, I actually found myself feeling bad for Patriots fans who had to experience losing a playoff game for the first time in 7 years.

The year after that; as the Patriots took on the #1-seed 14-2 Chargers in the Divisional Round, I began the game rooting for the Chargers.  However, as the game wore on, I found myself changing to root for the Pats.  When the Pats ultimately pulled off the upset, I was happy.  The next week, when the Pats traveled to Indy for the AFC Championship, I knew that I wanted Peyton Manning to advance to his first Super Bowl….yet, lo and behold, as the Patriots were coughing up a 21-3 lead, I found myself unhappy.  When the Colts won the game, and the Pats walked glumly off the field; I was very disappointed.

Image result for patriots colts 2007

Then, the next year, the you-know-what hit the fan for non-Patriots fans.  Week 1 brought Spygate, and the Pats – armed with new acquisitions Randy Moss and Wes Welker – went on a rampage through their schedule.  Most fans treated the Pats as Public Enemy #1 as the team stormed to an undefeated regular season and set the single-season scoring record.  I, on the other hand, loved everything the Pats did.  I rooted for them all season long, with a few very notable exceptions.  I obviously pulled for the Giants in their thrilling Week 17 loss to the Pats and in their legendary win in Super Bowl XLII, one of the greatest moments of my life.  For most people, the thought of shattering Brady’s and Belichick’s hearts was a dream come true.  For me, I was thrilled to win an incredible Super Bowl, and I loved and still love that the Giants are the team that knocked off the only 18-0 team in league history.  However, I did not get satisfaction from Brady’s and Belichick’s pain.  My joy came completely from the Giants’ amazing accomplishments.

Back to the Pats now…Since that glorious day 11 years ago when David Tyree pressed a football against his helmet, there have been only three games – all against the Giants (including the Giants’ wondrous second Super Bowl win over the Pats) – when I have rooted against the Pats.  While Spygate and then Deflategate have led many to believe that the Pats are the ultimate cheaters, I always find myself saying, “What they are doing worse is no worse than what other teams are doing.”  I have had multiple people bring up the fact that BenJarvus Green-Ellis never ever fumbled with the Pats but fumbled a bunch when he went to Cincinnati.  Obviously the Pats are up to no good, these other people think.  However, I never think the Pats do anything wrong.  Heck, I wrote a really long post last January as I became waaaay too excited about the Patriots’ greatness over the years.  I never think the Pats do anything wrong.

Am I thinking logically?  I have no idea.  It is as if the Patriots kidnapped me during their 2001 Championship season (the one time when most of America was actually rooting for the Pats), and, by 2005, the team had convinced me that everything with the Patriots is a good thing.  By 2007 with Spygate, the Pats had convinced me to defend them at any cost.  As I look back, I wonder, “Do I suffer from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome?”  I rooted against the Pats in consecutive Super Bowls 14 and 15 years ago, but I have defended them and sympathized with them every step of the way – through wins, losses, and scandal after scandal – since then.  I think that is textbook Stockholm Syndrome.

Let us now evaluate whether or not I have fallen prey to this syndrome.  There are three main reasons why I think I have developed such an affinity for the Pats – Routine, Nostalgia, and Respect.  Perhaps I have followed these reasons rationally, or perhaps the Pats have brainwashed me into it.  Here we go…

  • Routine: I do not like change. I am not OCD about scheduling, but I do like to have some consistency in my days and weeks.  I like to run at 5PM; I like to eat Moe’s on Tuesday nights (and sometimes Thursday nights….and sometimes Friday nights too); I like to start listening to Christmas music on November 18; and I like to eat Thin Mints and listen to The Road to El Dorado soundtrack (Elton John) during the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.   Normal stuff.  Therefore, I like to have the Patriots involved with the Divisional Round, AFC Championship, and Super Bowl.  After all, this weekend will be the Pats’ 13th AFC Championship game in 18 seasons, and the team has played in 8 of the past 17 Super Bowls. Seeing Kraft, Belichick, and Brady on those January and February weekends feels just as right as Moe’s and Thin Mints do at their respective times.

 

  • Nostalgia: Maybe it is because I have a good memory, but I am a very nostalgic person. I can get nostalgic about a week ago, so you can imagine how much nostalgia I have for the entirety of the Pats’ run since 2001.  I have discussed the “Routine” issue, and the Pats have been part of my routine for that long.  I watched them win their first Super Bowl while I was a sophomore in college; I watched them go 18-1 and lose to the Giants in my first year as a teacher; I watched a Pats team with Kenbrell Tompkins as its main receiving threat come within one win of the Super Bowl in the year when I first met the venerable BTB editors; and I listened to Bill Belichick’s “Mona Lisa Vito” press conference before going to see American Sniper (and being enamored by both Sienna Miller’s attractiveness and the fact that Todd and Sack from Wedding Crashers were reunited) in the theater.  Therefore, when I watch a Patriots game, I am flooded with nostalgia from my last three years of college, three years working for AvisBudget, and 12 years teaching at Ramsey High School.

 

  • Respect: I cut my teeth as a sports fan while watching the dominant Devils teams from 1993 forward. The cornerstone of those Devils teams’ successes was that nobody was bigger than the team.  GM Lou Lamoriello had no qualms with letting talented players go if those players were to act selfishly or do anything against team protocol.  Those teams had three Hall of Famers (Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer) and possibly a fourth (Patrik Elias), and all of those players put the team above individual goals.

 

It was a delight to watch the Devils ride this disciplined approach to 20 years of dominance, and the 2001-2018 Patriots are the football equivalent of the Devils.  Actually, to be fair, the Pats have outdone the Devils, considering that the Devils 1993-2012 Devils won 3 championships, appeared in 5 Stanley Cup Finals, and appeared in 6 Conference Finals; all numbers that the Patriots have comfortably beaten (using the hockey equivalents).  That said, Brady and Belichick have made an art form out of bringing me-first players to New England and turning them into team players.

Image result for randy moss patriots

Also, just as the Devils received large championship contributions from unheralded players like Jay Pandolfo and Randy McKay, the Pats always make the most of players who are slightly less talented than their peers around the league.  Look back over the past 18 years, and you will see huge contributions from James White, Jabar Gaffney, David Patten, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Legarrette Blount, and (of course) Julian Edelman.  I have always surmised that Belichick’s theory is to use guys who are 5% less talented than most of their peers around the league, because these less-talented players will work 10 times harder on and off the field than the more talented guys without rendering any of the headaches.  (See “Brown Antonio” and “Beckham Jr. Odell”.)

Additionally, while a team can win a Super Bowl in a season in which its players do many choreographed touchdown dances (see “Eagles, Philadelphia”), it remains noteworthy that the Patriots do not take part in such elaborate numbers.  Think of James White and Julian Edelman dominating in the comeback win over Atlanta two years ago, and you do not recall eccentric touchdown celebrations.  I am not anti-celebration, but it is nevertheless refreshing to watch a team whose players direct all of their on-field effort toward winning.

I also have great respect that, in so many years, we wonder if the Pats are done.  We wonder if Brady is too old or if is supporting cast is too weak….but the Pats always find their way to 11 wins.  It is incredibly impressive.  Perhaps I also have a soft spot for Belichick, because his defense was so dominant in the Giants’ Super Bowl XXV win over Buffalo, my first thrilling moment as a sports fan.

Anyway, I have now officially finished detailing the three reasons – routine, nostalgia, and respect – why I pull for the Pats.  I had hoped that this self-evaluation would give me insight into whether I am still rational or am suffering from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome.  Unfortunately, I still do not have an answer, so you will have to judge for yourselves.

All I do know is this: I love Patrick Mahomes.  I loved watching his father pitch for the 1999-2000 Mets; I put $20 on the KC QB to win MVP (at 80:1 odds in August); and watching Mahomes play quarterback is a beautiful, Heavenly experience.  I want the Chiefs to win their first Super Bowl in 49 years, and I want Andy Reid finally to earn his first ring.  This all sounds rational to me now, but why do I sense that I will probably still end up rooting for the Patriots on Sunday?

Do I suffer from “Patriots Stockholm Syndrome”?

Five Thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend – Don’t Worry; Only Three are About Kickers

Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, and I am not here to provide full recaps of the four games.  I would, however, like to cover five thoughts from the weekend.  Yes, most of them deal with kickers.  Let us dive right in.

  • Maybe teams should activate second kickers for playoff games.

 Yes, Seattle did overcome the loss of Sebastian Janikowski by converting the team’s fourth downs and two-point conversions.  However, the Seahawks had no chance at an onside kick and gave the Cowboys good field position on the regular kickoffs.  Furthermore, had Seattle recovered the onside kick in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks would have unlikely been able to attempt a field goal at all, though the team was down by only 2.  This got me to thinking….What is more important, carrying a last depth linebacker or special-teams guy or making sure that an injury does not end your entire kicking game?  While I never like to overreact to the worst-case scenario (which occurred to Seattle), the debate has merit.

Image result for janikowski hurt
Photo via The Seattle Times
  • Coaches should not be able to call timeouts.

It has now been more than ten years since the league changed the rule to allow coaches to call timeouts.  Before that, only players could call timeouts.  I believe that it was an unintended consequence of this rule change that coaches now call timeouts as kickers are kicking game-winning field goals, but all coaches use this tactic.  Sometimes the kicker makes the nullified kick and misses the second (as Cody Parkey did).  Sometimes the opposite happens.  Sometimes, the kicker misses both.  Sometimes, he makes both.  It does not matter – I cannot stand this rule.  If you are a sports fan at all, it does not feel right when the timeout is called as the kicker is striking the football.  You cannot call a timeout mid-free throw or mid-penalty shot.  You should not be able to do it as a kicker approaches a field goal either.  Thus, leave timeouts to the people on the field.  Yes, teams could still ice kickers under my rule change, but at least teams would have to ice the kickers before they boot field-goal attempts that end up not counting.

  • Do not ask kickers what happened when they missed a field goal.

As if it was not tough enough for Cody Parkey to miss a do-or-die playoff field goal, he then had to answer questions from a million media members about how he missed the field goal.  The simple answer is that, when people try to kick an oblong object 43 yards through the air and between two goalposts, even the best people are not perfect.  We all watched Parkey miss the field goal, and we all saw him strike the ball like any field-goal kicker does.  We have all seen kickers miss field goals, and this was another such case.  It happens.  There is no magical explanation.

Image result for cody parkey
Photo via NJ.com
  • It is funny how athletes’ narratives change based on things completely out of their control.

The classic case of this is how Mike Mussina is not considered a “winner” as a Yankee, yet, had Mariano Rivera closed the door on the DBacks in the Bottom of the 9th Inning, Mussina would be considered a “winner”.  The same thing is true right now with Nick Foles.  Look, I love Nick Foles.  I would love Nick Foles to be the Giants’ starting QB next year.  However, he did lead the Eagles to only 16 points on Sunday.  If Cody Parkey’s kick were an inch to the right, we are all talking today about how Carson Wentz would have been able to lead the Eagles to more than 16 points.  Instead, we are discussing Foles’s magic in leading the Eagles on another game-winning drive.  At least Foles did lead a dramatic game-winning drive and lead Philly to more than 10 points.  The most egregious example of my “narrative” point came three years ago with the Blair Walsh Seattle/Minnesota miss.  Seattle won that game because Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal to give the Seahawks a 10-9 win.  People are unfairly treating Parkey’s 43-yard attempt as a chip shot.  It was not.  Blair Walsh’s, however, was a chip shot….and he missed it.  What happened immediately after the game?  The FOX NFL crew (Terry Bradshaw and pals) praised Russell Wilson for doing enough to win.  Yes, I am sure that is exactly what they would have been saying had Walsh made a kick that kickers make 98% of the time to give the Seahawks a 12-10 loss.

Image result for nick foles magic
Photo via The Ringer
  • Who foresaw the “Allen Robinson catch/no catch” issue coming? This guy.

Last year, I responded to the Jesse James play by saying that the issue was not that it is wrong to have to complete the catch to the ground.  After all, if a guy is tumbling to the ground, he might take three steps and have the ball pop out.  If that receiver has never actually gained his footing, it seems wrong to call a fumble.  That was the case with Anthony Miller.  We have all seen many plays like this, and we know these passes are incomplete.  With James, however, he clearly planted two feet before diving for the end zone and then having the ball pop out.  We all knew that should have been a touchdown. Therefore, it is a bit arbitrary to decide when receivers must complete the catch to the ground and when they need not.  That is why I proposed last year to leave the catch rule alone but to limit reviews to one minute.  This way, the obvious bad calls are reversed, but we do not end up with ridiculous overturns like with Jesse James.  Furthermore, the Anthony Miller play would have ended up “incomplete” as it should have been.

 

That sums up my key thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend.

Meet the One Person in America Who Likes the MNF Announcing Crew

This year, ESPN completely overhauled its Monday Night Football announcing team, as the network handed duties over to play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore and analysts Jason Witten and Anthony “Booger” McFarland.  We did not have to wade too deep into the 2018 season for NFL fans across the United States to begin ripping this announcing trio.  It seems that football fans have decided that this announcing team is not ready for prime time.  Well, I have come across one person who actually likes this crew of announcers, and that person is yours truly.  Yes, I admit it – I enjoy Tessitore, Witten, and Booger.  Before you have me committed to a mental institution, please allow me to explain myself.

When I analyze an announcing team, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Does the play-by-play announcer do a good job describing the play?
  • Does the play-by-play announcer have a good voice for TV?
  • Do the analysts have serviceable voices for TV?
  • Are the analysts are able to dissect a play that has just happened in a way that educates me but does not feel “over my head”?
  • Do the announcers discuss the most important storylines of the game at the appropriate times?
  • Do the announcers converse comfortably with each other?
  • Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?

 

Very simply, the more “Yes” responses I can give to the questions above, the better the announcing team.  In terms of the MNF team, I am actually able to answer “Yes” to all seven questions above.  Allow me to explain, question by question.

 

  • I believe that Tessitore notes everything that is happening in a comfortable way. He does not embellish anything to try to put himself above the moment.  His voice rises and falls appropriately, based upon the moments he experiences.

 

  • Tess has a great, deep announcing voice.
Image result for joe tessitore monday night football
Image via USA Today
  • This is where most people will start to disagree with me. I think that Witten and McFarland have serviceable TV voices.  Their voices are not James Earl Jones-level great, but, for analysts, all I need is “serviceable”.  In other words, their voices need to avoid being Jerry Glanville-level annoying.  (Yes, I realize that most of you college students will have to Google “Jerry Glanville”, and some of you will even have to Google “James Earl Jones”.)  Anyway, it has become very easy to mock Jason Witten for the long pauses he tends to take mid-sentence.  I do not deny that these pauses exist, but I do not find that they hurt Witten’s ability to make points.  His pauses are his thing.  The guy played an entire NFL career and never missed games due to injury.  If the sole repercussion of Witten’s 15 years of NFL collisions is that he pauses mid-sentence, I can live with it.

 

  • The “Booger”-mobile is something that I initially thought would not work, but I have actually enjoyed it. I feel that the combination of Witten in the press box and Booger at field level do a great job of analyzing plays immediately after they happen.  I am not going to compare these guys to Cris Collinsworth nor Tony Romo, as those are the best two analysts in the business.  However, just because there are people better does not make the MNF trio bad.  In fact, it is weird to me that people’s bar for judging these announcers seems to be at the elite level.  Have you ever watched any announcing team below the networks’ top teams?  I covered some of this a few weeks ago, but there is plenty not to like about those announcing teams.  Furthermore, even if you use a higher bar for national announcing teams than for other teams; I ask you to remember Troy Aikman, Jon Gruden, and Tony Kornheiser.  It is fun to mock Aikman, but I would say he is on a par with the Witten/Booger duo (which is a compliment only when it comes from me).  As of the other two guys, I put Witten and Booger well above them.  I will return to this discussion in a bit.
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Image via The Big Lead
  • As I also discussed a few weeks ago, it is very annoying when all of the viewers at home are discussing a different aspect of a game or play than the announcers are. For example, an announcer might be analyzing whether or not a receiver has kept his two feet inbounds, while everyone at home can see that the ball came loose to render the “feet” discussion irrelevant.  The MNF team successfully avoids this awkward scenario.

 

  • My favorite thing about the MNF team is that Witten and Booger often disagree with each other but do so in a respectful manner. The classic example came during Week 3’s Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay contest; as Witten argued that Le’Veon Bell was wrong for holding out while Booger argued that Bell was correct.  Both analysts provided compelling cases for their sides, and the two announcers were civil the whole time.  We are used to seeing forced laughter between broadcast partners (which does sometimes happen with the MNF team too) and especially between studio hosts on FOX and CBS.  We are used to announcers mindlessly agreeing with each other about everything.  (Aikman says “You’re exactly right, Joe.” in his sleep.)  Therefore, it is refreshing to hear differing opinions within the same broadcast.

 

  • For those who forget this question read, “Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?” In other words, do the announcers avoid doing the main thing that ESPN always does???  Ironically this announcing team does.  For years, we were saddled with Jon Gruden singing the praises of guys like Preston Parker and Blake Bortles.  We heard him say that Jarvis Landry is as good as OBJ.  We heard Gruden say, “I like this guy” about at least 75 players per team per game.    Prior to that, we had Tony Kornheiser try to do three hours of PTI during every MNF game.  That meant that Kornheiser would awkwardly try to weave 3 or 4 storylines like “Are the Cowboys the most popular team in America?” into every minute of every game.  That stuff worked on PTI.  It did not work during games.   You are announcing a football game; you do not need to fabricate storylines.  The game presents its own storylines.  Kornheiser did not get it.

 

Who does get it though?  Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland.  Therefore, I would like to congratulate ESPN.  Even a blind squirrel catches a nut once in a while, and that is the case with ESPN and this announcing team.