July 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Alfonso Soriano returns to Yankees: In desperate need of offense with so many injuries to key players, the New York Yankees turned to a familiar face, trading for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano began his career in New York as a second baseman before later playing for the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and most recently, the Chicago Cubs. The outfielder is past his prime, but a recent hot streak was proof that he can still provide a surge of power. After hitting only nine home runs in the first three months of the season, Soriano has hit nearly that many already in July with eight this month heading into this past weekend.

Jeremy Maclin out for year: NFL training camps are underway and that can only mean one thing – injuries won’t be far behind. The biggest casualty thus far may be the Eagles’ young wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in a practice. With perhaps their best wideout injured, Philadelphia’s season gets off to a rocky start. The team still has DeSean Jackson at receiver, but Maclin’s loss gives rookie head coach Chip Kelly less to work with on offense – his area of expertise.

Jaromir Jagr signs with New Jersey Devils: Even at 41, Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates. After playing for the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars last year, the winger has signed a one-year $2 million deal with the New Jersey Devils. Jagr isn’t the player he once was, but still has a little left in the tank after scoring 35 points (including 16 goals in 45 games this past season). Plus, with Ilya Kovalchuk leaving New Jersey to play in Russia, the team was in desperate need of scoring. Jagr ranks eighth all-time among NHL players in scoring and his 681 career goals are good for tenth overall.

Lebron > Kobe in ESPN poll: When it comes to the most popular player in the NBA, LeBron James passed up Kobe Bryant for the first time in a few years according to an ESPN poll. Bryant had beaten out James the past few seasons, but after his second consecutive title, James overtook him last week. Really, it’s just proof that time heals all wounds. Immediately after the much-scrutinized “Decision” broadcast where James announced his intention to leave Cleveland for Miami, he took a huge publicity hit and was even viewed as a villain by many. But after a few years with the Heat and winning a couple of rings, liking LeBron is once again okay.

101 Russian women set a skydiving record: Yeah, I’m not even going to try to add anything to this. Feel free to watch for yourself.

Matt Garza pickup costly for Rangers: Matt Garza may not quite be a household name, but the pitcher could be the best starter that gets dealt before baseball’s trade deadline this season. At 7-1 with a 2.87 ERA, Garza is having a career year and was heavily desired by contenders before he was traded to the Texas Rangers by the Cubs. Garza didn’t come cheap, however. He cost Texas two of their top prospects entering this season, pitcher Justin Grimm and first baseman Mike Olt. Both have struggled to a degree this season, but Grimm has seven wins with the major league team while Olt has 12 home runs in the minors. The trade also cost the Rangers C.J. Edwards, a flamethrower who has dominated Rookie League and Class A in the minors the past two seasons. Also, keep in mind that Garza could only be a rental player as he’s due to become a free agent after this year. All things considered, the Rangers need to not only make the playoffs, but maybe even reach a World Series for this trade to come out in their favor.

Tim Hudson injury hurts Braves: Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson suffered a devastating injury last week when his ankle was broken by the Mets’ Eric Young, Jr. in a collision at first base. The injury was a big one as the veteran will miss the rest of the season. That hurts Atlanta’s playoff chances at least a bit and the team is already looking around for a potential trade. The Braves hold a comfortable lead in the NL East, but should the team hold on for a playoff spot, Hudson’s veteran presence will be sorely missed in the postseason.

Matt Harvey likely to end season early: Similar to what the Washington Nationals did with prized young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the New York Mets are planning to keep Matt Harvey on a limit for the rest of the year. Mets manager Terry Collins has said Harvey has about ten more starts left instead of the 13 or so he may reach if he continued to pitch every fifth day. While similar to Strasburg’s situation, though, it’s a bit different considering the Mets aren’t likely to be in the playoffs as the Nats were. One thing that will be interesting, though, is to see if the loss in starts costs Harvey when it comes to the Cy Young voting.

February 4, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Baltimore Ravens hang on to win Super Bowl over San Francisco 49ers, 34-31: What looked to be a dud of a game early finally became interesting with the help of … a power outage. Down 28-6, the San Francisco 49ers rallied to score 17 consecutive points. The comeback came up short, though, after the two teams traded touchdowns.  Baltimore added a field goal with about four minutes left in the game and after driving nearly the length of the field, the Niners were stopped inside the 10-yard line. Baltimore got the ball back and wisely took a safety with only a few seconds remaining to provide the final score.

49ers fans will focus on the non-call of what appeared to be pass interference in the end zone on that final drive, but the Ravens’ defense should be lauded for coming up big twice in the fourth quarter. In addition to the aforementioned stand, the D stopped a two-point conversion attempt by the 49ers that could have tied the game (and would have meant they would have only needed a field goal on that final drive). The Ravens allowed 31 points, but stopped San Francisco when it mattered.

Seven elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lost a bit in all of the Super Bowl hoopla were the Pro Football Hall of Fame elections. Coach Bill Parcells and players Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, and Larry Allen will all be inducted later this year. In addition, senior selections Curley Culp and Dave Robinson were elected as well. All were deserving, but if you’re looking for a snub, that would be former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Bettis ranks sixth on the all-time NFL rushing list, but still couldn’t find a way into the Hall despite eight 1,000-yard seasons, six Pro Bowls, and a Super Bowl victory. He should eventually get in, but it has to be a bit disappointing that it didn’t happen this year.

Dwyane Wade tries to convince Lebron James to participate in All-Star weekend activities: The NBA has been fighting a losing battle in trying to add more excitement to their All-Star weekend. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, the league’s biggest stars generally no longer take part in the slam dunk championship or three-point shootout. Gone are the days when players such as Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Larry Bird were participating, but one guy wants to change that: Dwyane Wade. Wade has been pushing for teammate Lebron James to suit up for the slam dunk and three-point contests this year. While LBJ has reportedly said he’s not interested in dunking, we could see him in the three-point shootout. I’d be all for it, to be honest. If there’s one thing that will draw more eyeballs, it’s the participation by the game’s best players. I don’t think the league should try to force its stars to join in, but the players should want to do it. The weekend is all about the fans and if there’s any way to reward them, it’s by doing more than sitting on the sidelines.

Adrian Peterson wins NFL’s MVP award: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, beating out Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning. You can make a strong case for Manning, who came back strongly after an injury kept him out last year. But Peterson is the right choice in my opinion. Not only did he carry the Vikings on his back to the playoffs this year, but he nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record for most rushing yards in a season. Others have challenged the mark, but Peterson came the closest falling only nine yards short. Manning had one of his best seasons ever and for one of the best quarterbacks ever, that’s really saying something. But Peterson had less to work with if you look at it objectively. The Vikings passing attack was one of the worst in the NFL and the team won only three games last year when he suffered an injury. Meanwhile, Manning had a solid rushing attack and also took over a team that won a game in the playoffs last year. In other seasons, Manning could be an easy pick. But this year, the award belongs to Peterson.

Yankees may try to void Alex Rodriguez contract: As his career winds down, Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez has found himself in a number of controversies. The latest came last week when he was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. That’s nothing new as Rodriguez previously admitted to such use earlier in his career, but he has maintained that he has not done so recently. But because of the new allegations, the Yankees may be looking to void A-Rod’s expensive contract in the hopes of saving some money. That likely wouldn’t be the case if Rodriguez was in the prime of his career, but with his numbers in a steady decline, it makes sense that New York would want out of his hefty deal. Stay tuned.

Caltech ends historic streak: Chances are you’ve probably never heard of the California Institute of Technology if you live outside of the state. But their baseball team snapped a historic 228-game losing streak last week, winning their first game in nearly a decade, 9-7 over Pacifica. Even more shocking is that the school has had several other unbelievable recent streaks of futility. The men’s basketball team lost 310 straight games until winning in 2011 and the women’s volleyball team also lost 56 in a row at one point before a victory in 2012. Congratulations, I guess?

November 7, 2011

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Who Deserves Veterans Committee Votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame?

By: Anson Whaley

Major League Baseball’s Veterans Committee will again be under the spotlight and decide if any players passed over several times for Hall of Fame induction should be enshrined. Eight former players will get another shot, but the question (as always) is: Who really deserves to be inducted?

Ken Boyer: Boyer spent 15 seasons in the majors, mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals. From 1956 – 1964, he was one of the top third basemen in baseball. He won the Most Valuable Player award in 1964, but other than that, didn’t do quite as much as another candidate, Ron Santo (who I’ll get to in a bit). The reason Boyer hasn’t had more consideration is what he did with the rest of his career. From 1965 – 1969, his offensive production dropped considerably and he retired at 38. In my opinion, Boyer didn’t do quite enough to warrant consideration.

Gil Hodges: Hodges was undoubtedly one of the best power hitters of his era as he slugged 370 home runs, hitting at least 25 on nine separate occasions (including two 40-homer seasons). He was an eight-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves. Hodges has always had strong consideration for the Hall and in his final year of eligibility in 1983, received 63.4% of the vote. Hodges also won two World Series championships as a member of the Brooklyn / Los Angeles Dodgers. The thing that sets Hodges apart, in my opinion, is the World Series title he won as a manager for the 1969 Amazin’ Mets. That gets him over the top and he deserves to be voted in.

Jim Kaat: When Kaat’s Hall of Fame credentials are brought up, most detractors will point to the fact that his 283 career wins came over a very long career that spanned 25 seasons. What isn’t usually mentioned is that in seven of those seasons (1959 – 1960 and 1979 – 1983), he started less than 15 games. In the 18 years he started more than 15, he averaged nearly 15 wins per season. He topped 20 wins three times and maxed out at 25 in 1966. As if that weren’t enough, Kaat is also considered possibly the greatest fielding pitcher of all-time, winning an amazing 16 Gold Gloves. Sure, that might be the equivalent of being the career leader in blocked shots for a point guard in the NBA, but it’s still impressive. His career ERA of 3.45 was also respectable, so he gets my vote.

Minnie Minoso: A career .298 hitter, Minoso was also one of the best batters of his generation. As a third baseman and outfielder, he never put up big power numbers, though, finishing with less than 200 home runs. Minoso was a nine-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves, but to me, he falls just short. He epitomizes a very good, but not great, player – so I’d vote against him.

Ron Santo: Santo was a nine-time All-Star and played 15 seasons – mostly with the Chicago Cubs. He finished in the top ten in home runs in seven different seasons and finished with a total of 342. Santo also earned five Gold Glove awards for his defensive play over his career. Despite all of that, he never got all that close to being inducted, receiving only 43.1% of the necessary 75% in votes. Santo may be the toughest player to decide upon, but I’d lean on putting him in.

Fans at Wrigley Field were treated to years of outstanding play from Ron Santo.

Tony Oliva: Oliva played 15 years all with the Minnesota Twins and is another interesting player. Like Boyer, he had a stretch of about eight seasons when he was one of the best players at his position. Oliva, surprisingly, may have had his best season as a rookie in 1964 when he hit 32 home runs, drove in 94 runs, and batted .323. That earned him Rookie of the Year honors and he went on to win three batting titles. Oliva also played well in the postseason, compiling a .314 average over three series. The only problem is that he didn’t do it long enough. He was a career .300 hitter, but never reached even 2,000 hits – far below the 3,000 that is generally seen as the number needed for a guaranteed induction. I’d lean towards voting against Oliva.

Allie Reynolds: You may never have heard of Reynolds, who played for 13 seasons with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. But he was a big-time pitcher in the 1940s and early 1950s and one of the hardest throwers of his era. Reynolds is perhaps best known for being a staple of six New York Yankees World Series championship teams. He wasn’t just along for the ride, though. Reynolds went 7-2 and had an ERA of 2.79 of those series. Amazingly, he batted over .300 in the postseason, compiling eight hits in 26 at bats. Reynolds also tossed a couple of no-hitters and was a six-time All-Star. This is a tough call for me, but ultimately I’d leave him out. Reynolds does have 182 wins in the short span of only 13 seasons, but he played on some excellent Yankee teams that helped his stats a bit.

Luis Tiant: Tiant won 229 games over 19 seasons and was a three-time All-Star. He garnered little consideration over the years and it’s difficult to make a compelling case for him. Tiant had several excellent seasons (most notably, his 21-9 / 1.60 ERA 1968 season), but a few good years does not a Hall of Famer make. I’ve got to say no to Tiant.

October 24, 2011

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Can a Tour Not Sanctioned by the NBA Work?

By: Anson Whaley

With news that the NBA lockout could last a while, word broke recently that several of the league’s stars are working to go on an international barnstorming tour. This makes sense since the players could not only draw an income, but stay in shape and in front of fans missing out on the NBA’s regular season. Ordinarily, this might sound like a pipe dream scenario, but reports are starting to surface that contracts have already been signed and such a tour could be a very real possibility.

So the question is, ‘can it work?’

No one could really say for sure, but if the goal is to pack a few arenas and make a little bit of money along the way, then I think it could work over the short term. Here’s what needs to happen, in my opinion, for it to be a success:

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1.  Keep it overseas: The way I see it, the greatest interest for a barnstorming tour would be overseas. There are plenty of fans in the U.S. that would pay to see LeBron vs. Kobe in an NBA game any day of the week, but how many would want to pay big money for an exhibition? Could it work once? Probably. But fans overseas would likely have a far greater interest in seeing players they may never otherwise be able to see play in person. The tour would have a bigger chance of constant sellouts if played internationally than if the teams made the rounds in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Would people pay to see LeBron James playing overseas? Absolutely!

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2.  Limit the games: These games may seem like fun at first, but how many would you actually want to see? The novelty could wear off extremely quickly and the players involved would be better off by not playing an abundance of these contests. In addition to attendance, the other thing that’s reportedly been discussed is the possibility of televised games. Networks may be interested in airing a few, but it’s hard to envision a major entity being willing to broadcast a dozen or so games. No one knows how long this lockout will last and if the players need to organize another tour, interest should still be high if the number of contests is limited the first time around.

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3.  Make the competition real: Much like the NHL’s and NFL’s athletes, NBA players catch a lot of heat for their All-Star games because they’re perceived to feature little defense. That’s true to a degree, but it’s hard to fault the players for that because they don’t want to get injured – especially since their break is in the middle of the season. Fans may simply be pleased with seeing exhibition-level basketball, but the tour would be an infinitely bigger success if the players went all out. In addition, the last thing the players need to do is further alienate fans. That could happen if fans in attendance or watching on TV feel they aren’t giving their all … even if the games are played in another country. There doesn’t need to a trophy or an actual league set up, but if the games are competitive, that would go a long way to restoring their credibility among fans. That said…

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4.  Be careful: The worst thing that could happen would be a significant injury to any of the players. It would not only be devastating to NBA teams employing any such players (especially if the lockout ends and the season eventually gets underway), but put serious doubts in the mind of the rest of the players about if they should be participating. It’s simply not worth it for these players who are at the top of their sport to suffer a major injury. That’s the type of thing that could cause an abrupt end to the tour and make it a disaster.

August 31, 2011

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Most Inspiring Sports Comeback Stories in Recent Years

By: Rick Jarrell

This week, Michael Vick signed a six year, $100 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. The electrifying quarterback definitely deserved a pay raise from the two year, $16 million he signed in 2010, despite his injury risk. This is the second $100 million contract signed by Vick, the previous with the Atlanta Falcons. But the real story here is Vick’s rise to extremely public rise and fall, only to rise again. The improbable nature of his comeback brings a few other sports icons that have climbed from rock bottom to stardom in recent years.

Michael Vick

If you watch Vick on the football field, it’s no wonder there is so much fuss over his talent. The speed of a receiver combined with the arm of a quarterback creates a dynamic one two punch never seen in the NFL. In retrospect, there should be no reason he would not rise to Pro Bowl status again after being sent to prison for conducting a dog fighting ring. His public image was severely damaged by his actions, but we’ve seen sports fans overlook person misconduct in exchange for performance on the field – why not Vick?

The more surprising aspect of Vick’s comeback was the roadblocks on the team he signed with. At the time he joined the Eagles, Vick was behind Donovan McNabb, the franchise quarterback for the past decade who lead the team to four straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, and Kevin Kolb, a proven back up who was able to step up in McNabb’s absence, so well that he created a QB controversy in the city. But McNabb was shipped to the Washington Redskins before the 2010 season, and Kevin Kolb manage to get hurt. Vick stepped in, put up huge numbers, and Kolb as sent to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. The wall he had to climb, even after he got out of prison, was immense.

Josh Hamilton

Hamilton was a top tier prospect drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. The hot commodity signed a deal with a $4 million signing bonus, but ran into trouble in 2003. He began showing up late to practice and games in 2003, and was suspended at the beginning of 2004 for violating the league’s drug policy. Suffering from various drug addictions, Hamilton entered rehab and did not play professionally again until 2006. After being bought by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft, and sent to the Cincinnati Reds, Hamilton blew up – in a good way.

Hamilton had a great rookie year, losing out to only Ryan Braun for the Rookie of the Year award. The Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season, and has been an All-Star caliber player ever since. Not to mention an inspiration for those who have battled drug addictions.

Chris Andersen

Although Andersen’s plot has been less chronicled than the above athletes, it is nonetheless remarkable. After going undrafted in 1999, Andersen began his career in the Chinese Basketball Association. He climbed his way to the NBA, joining the Denver Nuggets and appearing in the NBA Dunk Contest in 2004 and 2005. The high flying forward was then suspended by the league in 2006 for violating the substance abuse rules, citing “drugs of abuse” as the reason.

After nearly two years away, Andersen came back in 2008 to rejoin the Nuggets, helping the team reach the playoffs each year since then. The defensive stalwart, with his electrifying blocks and reliable rebounding, has become a fan favorite in Denver, getting loud cheers when he enters the game and commonly being referred to his nickname, the Birdman. Another encouraging comeback story.