May 7, 2013

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Fred Couples Officially An All-Time Great

By: Joe Williams

Before Tiger Woods took the golf world by storm with his monstrous drives, it was John Daly and his extra-long backswing that was pounding the ball past everyone else. And before Daly hit the scene, Fred ‘Boom Boom’ Couples was the long-hitter on tour.

Fred Couples was the long-ball hitter before John Daly.

Now he’s a new member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

On the course, he was (and still is) such a cool customer that he looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. He never wore a glove and had a slow, but perfectly rhythmic swing that made him appear to be out there just having a good time. But that wasn’t the case.

He was a fierce competitor who was the PGA Tour Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy winner in back-to-back years. (1991-92)

Couples was also the first American to hit No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings and led team USA in several Ryder and Presidents Cups. He’s also got 15 PGA Tour wins (including the Players Championship twice) and eight on the Champions Tour. He’s won more than $27 million in his career.

But he’ll be forever remembered for his 1992 Masters win. And especially for his tee shot on the par 3 12th hole during the final round. His shot came up short of the green and was rolling down the slope towards Rae’s Creek. (A result that likely would have cost him the green jacket) But miraculously the ball hung up on the bank and Couples was able to get up-and-down on his way to a two-shot win over Raymond Floyd.

We’ll always wonder how many more wins he would have if he didn’t struggle with back problems over the years. But to this day, he still pops up from time to time and makes a run at another title. Especially at Augusta. Just last month he was near the lead for most of the Masters and had a shot at winning heading into the final round. He finished in a tie for 13th.

The 1992 Masters champion and 15-time winner on the PGA tour was inducted along with Colin Montgomerie, Ken Venturi, former European Tour Commissioner Ken Schofield and old timer Willie Park Jr.

January 23, 2013

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Ray Lewis Passing the Torch to Patrick Willis the Premier Headline of Super Bowl XLVII

By: Matt Bowen

The dust has finally settled on the 2012 NFL season and the table is now set for Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans.

Ray Lewis will play his final game in Super Bowl XLVII.

Never mind the over-analyzed matchup between brothers and opposing head coaches  John and Jim Harbaugh known as the “HarBowl”, we’ll be sick of that story by the end of the week. The real headline is the fact that Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis will be passing the torch to counterpart Patrick Willis on the Niners as the premier NFL linebacker.

It is now well known that this is Lewis’ “last ride”, as the 37-year-old, 17-year veteran will hang’em up at the conclusion of the season. He has long been the most feared and respected middle linebacker in football. When one thinks classic, smash-mouth, and tough-as-nails NFL players, Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker and leader Dick Butkus comes to mind; then there’s Lewis.

He’s simply the most captivating man in football.

Over the course of his career Lewis has transformed his body into a machine. His freakish diet says it all—mainly protein shakes, egg whites, apples, water and vitamins. He is as dedicated to his body as he is his team and his craft.

His counterpart and soon to be predecessor Willis is no different.  The 27-year-old looks nothing short of a Greek God. It’s no coincidence the two men are virtually the exact same size, both 6’1” and only a few lbs. apart from each other in the 240-245 range. There’s a reason both men share No. 52—Willis aspires to be as great as Lewis.

Often compared to Lewis in looks and leadership skills, Willis will soon hold the crown of the league’s undisputed top linebacker.

Willis has already been named an All-Pro five times in his first six seasons. Lewis has been named All-Pro a stout seven times in his career, but that seems something Willis will topple in just a matter of a few more seasons.

Now, these two Goliaths and future Hall of Famers lead their respective teams onto the field for a Super Bowl showdown for the ages.

Lewis will prepare his men by donning his eye-black turned war paint and by belting out his famed “Any Dogs in the House?” pregame war cry for the final time.

Willis will have his men focused on spoiling Lewis’ ultimate retirement party and permanently writing their names in the record books.

Who will budge?

Will Lewis have enough left in the tank to propel his team to victory?

Can Willis strike gold and steal the show?

Regardless of who lifts the Vince Lombardi Trophy when the clock strikes zero, Lewis will pass the torch to Willis as the best.

The player Willis will pass the torch to likely plays in high school right now. That thought alone is why we love sports.  Who’s next?

March 26, 2012

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Chipper Jones – A Sure Hall Of Famer

By: Anson Whaley

With the announcement that Chipper Jones will retire from Major League Baseball after the season, the Braves’ third baseman will wrap up an excellent career after this summer. Jones has not only been a pillar for the franchise, but one of baseball’s best players over the past 20 years. The question is sure to be there during the season: Is he a Hall of Famer?

Absolutely.

Is Chipper Jones is a Hall of Famer? It will be a hot topic this baseball season.

One big thing that will help Jones is that he’s thus far avoided the rampant speculation of steroids that other stars in this generation haven’t. Jones has put up numbers that are widely believed to be honest and therefore, will stand out even more than many of his peers. About those numbers – heading into this season, Jones has amassed 454 home runs, 1,561 RBI, and 2,615 hits. He’s a career .304 hitter, won an MVP award in 1999, and also took home a batting title at the age of 36 in 2008.

Another thing to like about Jones’ credentials is that he finished in the top ten in Most Valuable Player voting six times over his career. Jones wasn’t only voted the league’s best player through that 1999 Award, but he’s been among the top players for a good portion of his career. That’s also evidenced by his seven All-Star selections.

Jones was somewhat of a quiet superstar. He never put up mind-boggling numbers compared to some of his contemporaries such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa, or Alex Rodriguez, but his consistency was his allure. He had eight seasons with at least 25 home runs and 100 RBI. That consistency also included staying healthy. In eight of his first nine full seasons, he played in at least 150 games. In addition, other than the strike-shortened 1994 (when he missed the full season due to injury) and 2010 when he played 95 games, Jones has reached the 100-game mark in every other season of his 18-year career.

And for everything that Jones has done in his career, there’s also what he didn’t do that was significant. In an era when 100 strikeouts is commonplace for power hitters, Jones never reached that mark.

Then there was the winning. Few, even Jones himself, would likely argue that the Braves underachieved when it came to winning World Series titles. From 1995 – 2005, the Braves reached the playoffs 11 consecutive times, but won the championship only once (1995). While that’s a bit disappointing, to even reach the postseason that many times is ridiculous. Atlanta did that largely behind strong pitching from future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine, but Jones’ performances had a lot to do with it and in many of those seasons, he was the team’s biggest offensive threat.

I’ll be the first to admit that Jones doesn’t have monster Hall of Fame numbers. Barring an unbelievable 2012 season or a postponement of his retirement, he’s not going to get to 500 home runs – the long-time standard for induction before the steroid era. He also doesn’t have 3,000 hits or 2,000 RBI – both big milestones. But Jones’ numbers are surely good enough in my opinion and his track record in helping Atlanta to so many postseason appearances should put him over the top.

December 16, 2011

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Who Will Be The Next MLB Hall Of Fame Inductees?

By: Jeff Herbst

In December of each year, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame announces their inductees. In recent years, Hall of Fame voting has been somewhat skewed due to several players who were known to have used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) who have been effectively blackballed by voters.

For example, the long ball king, Mark McGwire, only received 19.8 percent in his fifth year of eligibility. Rafael Palmeiro, who is only one of four players who have collected 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in their MLB careers, only received 11 percent of votes in his first year of eligibility.

Since both Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have both been linked to PEDs, it’s unlikely that voters will give them any opportunity at the Hall of Fame when they become eligible.

With that in mind, I wanted to predict who I thought would be the next 5 players to be voted into major league baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Greg Maddux

With 355 total victories, four consecutive Cy Young awards and 18 Gold Glove awards under his belt, pitcher Greg Maddux will be an absolute lock for induction into the Hall of Fame when he is eligible in 2014.

While Maddux didn’t blow anyone away with an amazing fastball, his superior command made him close to unhittable throughout the majority of his career.

Frank Thomas

Also eligible for the first time in 2014, long-time Chicago White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Frank Thomas was an offensive force to be reckoned with. With 521 home runs and a .301 lifetime average, Thomas was deadly with a wooden baseball bat. He was one of the most feared right-handed hitters in the American League throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

Thomas won back-to-back AL Most Valuable Player awards in 1993 and 1994, and finished in the top three in MVP voting on three other occasions.

Frank Thomas gave White Sox fans plenty to cheer about during his days in Chicago.

Tom Glavine

When Tom Glavine started his career with the Atlanta Braves in 1988, he got off to an inauspicious start, losing 17 games to lead the National League.

However, Glavine quickly turned things around, and by the time his career ended in 2008, he had won 305 games, was a five-time 20-game winner, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, and finished in the top three in Cy Young voting on four other occasions.

Glavine would appear to be a first-year lock for Hall of Fame induction in 2014.

Randy Johnson

Southpaw pitcher Randy Johnson will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in the year 2015, and when his name is called, he will without a doubt be a lock in his first year of eligibility.

Johnson won a total of 303 in his 22-year career, winning the Cy Young Award four consecutive times between 1999-2002, helping the Arizona Diamondbacks win the World Series in 2001.

Johnson is also second all-time in strikeouts with 4,875, trailing only Nolan Ryan.

Pedro Martinez

There was no pitcher who was more dominant than Pedro Martinez between 1997-2003. Martinez became only the second pitcher in history to win Cy Young awards in both leagues (1997 with Montreal Expos, 1999-2000 with Boston Red Sox), recorded 300-strikeout seasons twice, and was the only pitcher in the 20th century to record 300 strikeouts under six feet tall.

Martinez routinely threw in the high-90s at the height of his career, and when shoulder injures began to slow him down, Martinez turned into a pitcher rather than a thrower, even coming back in the 2009 season to record five victories for the Philadelphia Phillies in their drive for the National League pennant.

Who do you think will be the next MLB Hall of Fame inductees?

August 17, 2011

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Jim Thome’s 600 Home Runs – and Hall of Fame?

By: Rick Jarrell

On Monday, Jim Thome entered one of the most exclusive clubs in sports. Thome has joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa as the only professional baseball players to hit 600 home runs (and surprisingly, the only full-time 1B/DH). Logically, the next question on the minds of MLB fans, is whether or not Thome is worthy of a MLB Hall of Fame induction.

The so-called “steroid era” has placed a dark shadow on baseball over the past 20 years, especially power hitters like Thome. Hall of Fame voters are especially critical when it comes to looking past the indecencies of the recent era. Unlike others members of the 600 home run club, he has never been directly accused or exposed as a user of performance enhancing drugs. Will Hall voters make an exception? Here’s why they should.

Could Thome become a Hall of Famer after this milestone?

High At Bats/Home Run Ratio

Thome has one of the lowest AB/Home Run Ratios in Major League Baseball history. The only players ahead of him are Mark McGwire, Babe Ruth, Ryan Howard, and Barry Bonds. The MLB players directly behind him include Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and fellow former Philadelphia Phillies Mike Schmidt. Excluding McGwire and Howard, all are current Hall of Famers. Very esteemed company if you ask me.

High OPS

As most power hitters achieve, Thome has a high career slugging percentage of .588. Not only does Thome hit a lot of dingers, but he also gets on base a lot, with a .400 career on base percentage. That’s a 147 OPS+, i.e. slugging percentage + on base percentage adjusted for league and park factors, ranked 41st in history.

Thome also gets a lot of free passes. He’s gained more than 1,700 walks in his career, good enough for 8th all time, and makes up for his tendency to strike out (Believe me, I know. When he was still in Cleveland, it always felt like he was either hitting a home run, walking, or striking out).

Modest Attitude

Personally I don’t think this should be factored in. The Hall of Fame is about your on field performance, not your actions and/or attitude off the field. Having said that, I get a sense the voters – a bunch of old school writers – place more importance on this than they should, based on their reaction to the “steroid era.”

If that’s the case, it will only help Thome. He’s the youngest of four brothers, grew up competing heavily with them, drinking a lot of milk, still lives in his hometown, and generally regarded as one of the nicest players in baseball – he makes a point to learn as many MLB stadium workers’ names as he can. All of this may not matter, and doesn’t have much to do with this article, but these are many of the reasons I’ve always liked him as a player and a person, even after he ditched my beloved Indians for Philadelphia. Thome is as classy as they get. He deserves the Hall nod.

If Thome doesn’t make it in, it’s likely due to one thing. During the latter part of his career, he’s been relegated to mostly DH duties due to various injuries – he was actually an above average first basemen during his early days in Cleveland. It’s unclear how voters perceive designated hitters, but if Edgar Martinez is an indication, it serves as a negative for the player.