70% of NFL players are black. 81% of NBA players are black. I am very happy these two leagues are using THEIR unique and powerful platforms, before and after the games they play.
When I hear certain print and broadcast commentators either use dog whistles or blatant racism to criticize these players, using rationale which speaks to the “ruining” of the sport and the dwindling “ratings” on television because fans are shutting them off, that’s when I, myself, decide to shut off the commentators.
Thom Brennaman, a long-time play by play broadcaster for Fox Sports and the Cincinnati Reds, was recently fired for comments he made into a “hot” microphone he didn’t realize was still on.
Tom Seaver could be arrogant as a 22-year old rookie righthanded pitcher with the New York Mets in 1967. He could be curmudgeonly as a 40-year old at the end of his career with the Boston Red Sox. Tom Seaver did not suffer fools from the inquiring media or even, his own teammates.
But, Tom Seaver could pitch.
He did it so well, he was elected into the baseball Hall of Fame with 98.7% of the vote, the highest vote tabulation of all time, up to that point in 1990.
But, the most important thing Tom Seaver accomplished in his baseball career was carrying an entire franchise, the forever moribund New York Mets on his shoulders towards more than respectability. Seaver carried them always the worst team in baseball since its inception in 1962, to the championship of the world in 1969, defeating the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Fifty-one years later, it might still be the greatest baseball story ever told. The Miracle Mets of 1969, never having finished above .500, going from ninth place in 1968 to the World Series title. The hapless, bumbling, laughingstock New York Mets, most famous for the time Marv Throneberry hit an apparent game-winning triple only to have missed first base, with the Mets instead losing the game. Those luckless, atrocious Mets, whom Casey Stengel explained had selected a certain catcher in the expansion draft because they needed somebody to prevent the ball from rolling to the backstop.
That’s how the Mets were born and, boy, were they bad. They lost 120 games that first season in 1962 and followed up with seasons of 111, 109 and 112 losses. In 1966, they climbed out of last place for the first time — all the way up from 10th place to ninth. The fans in Queens loved them nonetheless. Even though the Mets lost 95 games that year, they finished second in the major leagues in attendance.ADVERTISEMENT
The transformation from lovable losers to champions began in 1967. It began with Tom Seaver.
The story of how Seaver landed with the Mets is a little miracle in itself. The Atlanta Braves had drafted the Southern California right-hander in the secondary phase of the January draft in 1966, a part of the draft that no longer exists and was reserved for players previously drafted who didn’t sign. The Los Angeles Dodgers had drafted Seaver in the 10th round in 1965, but a Dodgers scout named Tommy Lasorda refused to meet Seaver’s $70,000 asking price. Seaver returned to school.
Seaver and the Braves reached a deal in late February for a $40,000 bonus. USC’s spring season had already started, however, and under baseball’s rules, a team couldn’t sign a player if his college season had begun. Commissioner Spike Eckert nullified the contract. Seaver then tried to return to school, but the NCAA declared him ineligible, even though he had yet to accept any money.
It was a classic Catch-22 situation. Seaver’s dad threatened a lawsuit. Eckert, in an unprecedented move, set up a special lottery. Any team willing to match Atlanta’s $40,000 bonus could participate, but the Braves were banned from signing Seaver for three years. Only three teams chose to get involved in the Seaver sweepstakes: the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and Mets. The Mets won the lottery.
Eckert explained his decision was “for the interest of the boy and the public. The youngster previously signed a contract with another club in good faith only to learn he had been improperly contracted,” Eckert said. “It was not his fault that the contract was invalidated.”
Did the Mets know what they were getting? It’s perhaps noteworthy that only three teams thought he was worth that $40,000 bonus, though that was a sizable bonus for the time, more than most of the first-round picks would receive that June. Seaver had been lightly scouted in high school in Fresno, California, but he was just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds as a senior in 1962. He spent the next year working in a packing plant and joined the Marine Corps Reserve. After a year at Fresno City College, he transferred to USC.
When Seaver initially agreed to the deal with the Braves, the Fresno Bee interviewed Braves scout Johnny Moore, the team’s West Coast supervisor.
“We’re very high on Tom’s potential,” Moore said. “We have watched him since he was a small lad in Fresno, and we especially kept our eye on him as he developed at Fresno City College and Southern Cal. As far as I’m concerned, there has been only one better deal since the free-agent draft setup [came] in effect last June. That was the signing of Rick Monday by Kansas City.”
Monday had been the first pick in the first draft in 1965.
So while Seaver was only the 20th pick in the January phase, it was apparent he was an excellent prospect. The Fresno paper called him a “fireballing right-hander.” It’s possible that Seaver’s bonus demands scared some teams away. His dad also thought Seaver’s military commitment might have been an issue. “The Braves were the only club to go after him,” Charley Seaver said, “possibly because of his military status.”
But it’s also possible some teams hadn’t seen Seaver and that even though he had gone 10-2 with a 2.47 ERA for USC, his fastball didn’t impress. Years later, Baseball America quoted a veteran scout from the area who said of Seaver: “Some clubs wouldn’t give him more than $4,000 because he had a below-average fastball. But he pitched against a team called the Crosby All-Stars just before the draft and was facing active major leaguers. He struck out 12 in five innings.”
The Fresno Bee didn’t mention that game, but it did mention one outing for USC early in 1966 when Seaver threw five perfect innings against the San Diego Marines. The paper also said the Dodgers had reportedly offered Seaver $50,000 to sign in 1965.
Seaver was an immediate star in New York. He spent 1966 in the minors and reached the Mets in 1967, when he went 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA and won National League Rookie of the Year honors. He went 16-12 with a 2.20 ERA in 1968 as the Mets climbed out of the cellar. Still, after going 73-89, they weren’t expected to do much in 1969, the first year the leagues were split into divisions.
Featuring a young rotation with the 24-year-old Seaver, 26-year-old Jerry Koosman, 22-year-old Gary Gentry, 25-year-old Jim McAndrew and 22-year-old part-time starter Nolan Ryan, the Mets allowed the second-fewest runs in the league. Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA, winning the first of his three Cy Young Awards.
The Mets were seven games behind the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 21 but went 32-10 the rest of the way to win the division by eight games. Seaver started eight games in that stretch — and went 8-0 with eight complete games and a 1.00 ERA. In Game 4 of the World Series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, Seaver tossed a 10-inning complete game to win 2-1. Koosman wrapped it up the next day.
Seaver became known as Tom Terrific and rightly so. Since World War II, the only pitcher with a higher career WAR is Roger Clemens. Seaver was ahead of his time in more than his bonus demands. A 1972 profile by Pat Jordan in Sports Illustrated dug into Seaver’s dedication to his craft and to lifting weights, an exercise that most players of his era avoided.
“He believes, unlike most pitchers and coaches, that a selective program of weight lifting will add speed to a pitcher’s fastball,” Jordan wrote. Indeed, in one of his autobiographies, Ryan mentioned seeing the “doughy” bodies of his fellow Mets pitchers and he too became an early proponent of lifting weights.
“Pitching is what makes me happy,” Seaver told Jordan. “I’ve devoted my life to it. I live my life around the four days between starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I’m awake. It determines how I spend my life when I’m not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can’t get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means when I get up in the morning I have to read the box scores to see who got two hits off Bill Singer last night instead of reading a novel, then I do it. If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies, but I won’t ever eat them.”
The suggestion was that Seaver wasn’t a natural-born talent. He made himself into an all-time great. “Although he is not conscious of it, Seaver shows his disdain for men who he feels have not fulfilled their potential,” Jordan wrote. “For Seaver, a man’s talent is not just a part of the man. It is the whole man, or at the very least a mirror of the whole man.”
Of course, Seaver wasn’t without talent. I remember once talking to former ESPN baseball analyst Dave Campbell, who was in the lineup for the San Diego Padres the day Seaver fanned a record 10 batters in a row.
“He was so dominant that day, he could have told us what pitch was coming and we still wouldn’t have hit it,” Campbell said.
Now we mourn Seaver’s death at age 75, with 1969 a distant, graying memory. I scroll through Facebook and see all the tributes from those who just lost their childhood hero.
“Thank you for being such a great role model,” wrote my brother-in-law, Jeff Russo.
Geoff Reiss, the man who hired me so many years ago to work for ESPN’s website, wrote: “This is so incredibly sad. He was my Mantle, Kobe, MJ.” He posted a photo of his autographed Seaver jersey.
The legendary baseball writer John Thorn simply wrote: “Tom Seaver … hail and farewell.”
Many Mets fans say the saddest day of their youth was the day New York traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. It’s time to shed another tear.
It was a weekend that was filled with major league debuts for the St. Louis Cardinals. One of the players making his debut was Rob Kaminsky.
After a few weeks off the field as the team battled their coronavirus outbreak, the St. Louis Cardinals returned to action against the Chicago White Sox. They had several players making their debuts during the weekend series. Most went well, but one stood out to me. After many trials and setbacks, Rob Kaminsky finally stepped foot on an MLB mound and made his debut with a scoreless inning on Sunday in the 7-2 loss.
Fans might remember the name going back all the way to 2013. Kaminsky was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of that draft at the 28th overall pick. As a crafty left-handed starting pitcher, he quickly climbed up the prospect rankings. Reaching as high as number three on the team’s prospect list, he was greeted with high expectations.
In 2014, Kaminsky went 8-2 with a 1.88 ERA in Low-A Peoria. Overall, his career minor league numbers are 29-21 with a sub 3.00 ERA, and he also had a 3-0 showing in the Arizona Fall League in 2018.https://9564ad6707f068e96f5c8bb50c62e97e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlWhich has more buzz in 2020?Tap to voteChicago CubsVSVSMiami Marlins
In July of 2015, Kaminsky was traded. He was sent to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Brandon Moss. The trade was met with some mixed reactions but Moss performed well for the Cardinals and showcased the game-changing power that he brought to the table.
Kaminsky, meanwhile, dealt with an elbow injury after the trade. While he was solid in 2016, his 2017 season was pretty much lost. He had to deal with some injuries, but he came back and was shifted to the bullpen for the Indians’ minor league system. Because of these injuries, his climb to the majors was stalled for the four-plus years he spent with the Indians.
On December 6, 2019, Kaminsky signed a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Back with the team in which it all began, it seemed as though his baseball journey had come full circle. Yet, his first major league appearance still eluded him.
The Cardinals selected his contract from their alternate training site on August 15. Officially a major league baseball player, his debut was made the next day. Kaminsky had achieved his first game in the big leagues, and he was able to do it with the team that drafted him.
Although his baseball journey was a winding one full of twists and turns, he was in the major leagues. Still only 25, he has plenty of time to continue to prove that he belongs in the majors. The transition to a bullpen role could help him carve out a valuable role with the Cardinals moving forward.
To be able to reach the highest level of professional baseball is surely an exciting thing. To be able to do that with the team that drafted him is probably the cherry on top. There’s no way of knowing how his career will play out from here, but for now, we can appreciate the story of how Rob Kaminsky reached the major leagues. Even if his path was an unlikely one, he can say that he is a big leaguer for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Marcus Stroman, a key member of the New York Mets starting rotation, has decided to end his season.
The right-hander becomes the second high-profile Mets player to opt out, joining Yoenis Cespedes, who opted out earlier this month.
Stroman, who was acquired by the Mets from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline last season, has not pitched this season because of a torn calf muscle.
Stroman has accrued enough service time to qualify for free agency after this season.
Stroman, who had been working his way back from the preseason calf injury, said he made his decision with his family and it is purely based on COVID-19, not because of his calf. Stroman, 29, is set to become a free agent at the end of the year without throwing a pitch in 2020. He said the decision was “weighing on” him daily.
“This is not something that I wanted,” Stroman said. “This was a collective decision for my family, for our best interests. Because I’m such a competitor, it was incredibly hard to finally come up with this decision.”
From the “where did this come from” file, I recently listened to a Ron Gardenhire post-game presser. Gardy, a former Met, is a baseball lifer who is transforming the Tigers into a professional baseball team, again.
It reminds me of why guys like him, his buddy, Wally Backman, Bob Brenley, Jim Leyland and the rest of the “old” managers should always have a place in baseball, running a team. Players don’t care how old a manager is. The special ones, no matter their ages, relate to all players and are great at running the games.
Today’s general managers, many in their 30s or 40s, think hiring a young guy who can “relate” better to today’s player, is an advantage. As I watch the new Mets manager, 16-year old Luis Rojas, I keep thinking about Wally Backman in that dugout, winning games instead of losing games, the way the Mets are doing, now. (Rojas is really 38).
It’s game on—or more accurately, training camp on, for the NFL after the league and the NFL Players Association finally resolved their remaining differences regarding operational and financial matters that had threatened to end the season before it had a chance to get off the ground.
The Giants rookies have already reported for camp. By Sunday, they will have completed the mandatory five-day testing period in which they were to have taken a COVID-19 test on reporting day (July 23) and again on July 26.
Both tests must be negative if they are to be allowed to begin training within the sterile environment the team has set up to be based out of MetLife Stadium.
The veterans are due to report for their five-day testing period on July 28. There will be an established schedule (as laid out by SI.com’s Albert Breer), who also reports that walk-through practices will be permitted during the strength and conditioning part of the schedule.
Schedules aside, the Giants will have no shortage of storylines this summer, ranging from what new head coach Joe Judge’s practices and command of the team will look like to how the new offensive and defensive schemes will take shape.
Yoenis Cespedes has decided to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. The news comes hours after the Mets released a statement they were unable to get in contact with him after he failed to show up for the Sunday afternoon game in Atlanta.
“It’s disappointing,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “This is a disappointing end at least to his four-year agreement with the Mets.”
Van Wagenen maintained the team had no knowledge of Cespedes’ plan to opt out before sending their statement out before game time on Sunday. The Mets G.M. also did not know whether the slugger was safe and healthy before releasing an initial statement. He explained his statement was made in an effort to be transparent and keep the public informed, “in real time,” the GM said later.
“As of game time, Yoenis Céspedes has not reported to the ballpark today,” Van Wagenen’s statement read. “He did not reach out to management with any explanation for his absence. Our attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.”
The announcement of the lineup was also delayed, but when Rojas was asked directly if the team was waiting on any players to arrive, the manager chalked it up to the quick turnaround of Saturday night’s game to Sunday afternoon’s early arrival.
”Nothing in particular,” Rojas said on the delay of the lineup announcement. “We’re just arriving from the night-day game.”
Cespedes is in the final year of his contract with the Mets, which was restructured in January following his 2019 accident with a wild boar. He rehabbed from multiple surgeries on his heels and ankle and returned to play Opening Day in his first-big league game since July 2018.
The slugger is batting .161 (5-for-31) with two home runs, four RBI, two walks, three runs scored and 15 strikeouts from the designated-hitter spot across the first nine games of the season.
One suspects there is more to this story than meets the immediate eye. Stay tuned.
The New York Knickerbockers, a discombobulated, mostly losing franchise since the Pat Riley/Jeff Van Gundy era 20 years ago, are finalizing a five-year deal to make Tom Thibodeau the franchise’s next head coach, according to ESPN.
Knicks president Leon Rose and agent Spencer Breecker of CAA Sports were working Saturday to complete contractual terms and a signed agreement is expected in the near future, sources said.
Rose and executive VP William Wesley are completing a two-month search process with the candidate, Thibodeau, long expected to emerge with the job. Together, they’ll be tasked with the daunting challenge of restoring a forlorn franchise to NBA relevance.
New York is counting on Thibodeau’s history in player development as a head coach and assistant to put into place a program that’ll restore a competitive infrastructure with the Knicks. For now, Rose and Thibodeau inherit a roster that needs dramatic upgrades before a return to the playoffs is even a realistic aspiration.
New York was 21-45 this season, missing the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Thibodeau is 11th all-time in winning percentage for coaches with 500 or more games. He has a 352-246 (.589) record in eight seasons with Chicago and Minnesota.
Thibodeau, 62, comes to the Knicks after a tumultuous two-plus seasons with the Timberwolves that included the franchise’s first playoff berth in 14 years — and an unraveling centered around All-Star Jimmy Butler‘s trade demand that led to Thibodeau’s dismissal as president and coach in 2019.
Thibodeau had five playoff seasons with the Bulls, including a trip to the Eastern Conference finals and an NBA coach of the year award in 2010. A series of injuries to MVP Derrick Rose played a role in derailing the Bulls’ championships aspirations.
Thibodeau was a Knicks assistant under Jeff Van Gundy from 1996 to 2004, and has long desired to return to New York as a head coach. He’s a native of nearby New Britain, Connecticut.
Typically, when a major league baseball season gets to game 102, leaving only 60 games remaining to the season, we have gotten through the All-Star break in the second week of July and we are bearing down on the dog days of August. For those teams still in the pennant race, the high-pressure games of down-the-stretch baseball are about to begin.
Here, in 2020, with the condensed schedule of only 60 games instead of 162, all 30 major league teams are officially in a pennant race, with every game remaining having the impact of almost three games. If a team goes on a short losing streak while division opponents are winning games, the distance they fall behind, with fewer games remaining, puts increased pressure on every game and every pitch.
Welcome to the pennant race, from beginning to end of this unique season.
Opening day started yesterday with a Yankee win as their $324 million free agent ace, Gerrit Cole, earned part of his $36 million annual salary (pro-rated to reflect the shortened season), throwing five innings and allowing one hit and one run against the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, in D.C. as the Bronx Bombers defeated Max Scherzer and the Nats, 4-1. In front of an empty stadium, but a huge television audience, the distinguished Dr. Anthony Fauci was unable to distinguish himself as the opening day pitcher of the First Pitch. The 79-year old Fauci, who was a high school basketball star in New York City, just missed throwing a strike by about 30 feet, with his pitch landing somewhere near the first base foul line.
Today, in front of a small crowd of smiling cardboard season ticket holders at Citi Field in New York, Jacob deGrom, the Mets ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner, threw another gem against the Atlanta Braves, allowing one hit in five innings while striking out eight Braves batters. He left the game but watched Cespedes hit a solo home run in the seventh inning as the Mets shut out the Braves, 1-0.
It sure didn’t take much time for Yoenis Cespedes to swing right into a DH role in his long-awaited return.
Cespedes came back with a bang, immediately capitalizing on the new designated hitter rule in the National League by launching a home run that sent deGrom and the Mets past the Braves in their season opener Friday.
After five dominant innings from deGrom, who was popping the catcher’s mitt with 99 mph fastballs at the start, Cespedes connected in the seventh off reliever Chris Martin (0-1) for his first long ball since his previous major league game on July 20, 2018.
“I’m very excited. It was very exciting just to be able to play again,” Cespedes said though a translator. “I don’t have words for a situation like that.”
“It proved to me that I can still be the same player that I used to be,” he added.
The 34-year-old slugger missed most of the past two seasons with a string of leg injuries, requiring surgery on both heels and then a broken ankle after a bad fall at his Florida ranch in a reported run-in with a wild boar.
“I don’t care if he took a five-year hiatus, when he gets in the batter’s box, you’re worried,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s such a presence.”
Rules changes for this shortened season delayed by the coronavirus provided a DH in NL games for the first time — giving the Mets a perfect slot for Cespedes even if left field presents a problem.
“The funny thing was I joked with him before the game, I said, `Why are you hitting for me?” deGrom said. “Really happy for him.”
With no fans at Citi Field due to the pandemic, it was easy to hear teammates exclaiming in the dugout when Cespedes sent his drive soaring into the empty left-field seats.
“They erupted. They went crazy,” rookie manager Luis Rojas said. “Obviously, it’s a big moment for Ces. He’s been waiting.”
Edwin Diaz, who lost his job as closer during a miserable 2019 season, struck out two in a hitless ninth for the save. He worked around a one-out walk, giving the 38-year-old Rojas a victory in his debut.
Afterward, he got a game ball from his players and a celebratory shower that Rojas said was beginning to make his uniform stink.
“I don’t know what they threw on me, but they threw a lot of stuff,” Rojas said.
Coming off consecutive Cy Young Awards, deGrom fanned eight and permitted only a broken-bat single and a walk. He was pulled after 72 pitches following a back-tightness scare early last week. The right-hander extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 28 innings dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.
The cardboard cutout photos occupying some seats included one of former Braves star and Mets nemesis Chipper Jones.
FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR
The Mets improved to 39-20 in openers (despite losing their first eight), the best opening day winning percentage in the majors. They’ve won 12 of their last 15 — and 23 of the past 26 at home.
SENDING A MESSAGE
Both teams wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts for batting practice and joined in holding a long, black ribbon on the field during a pregame message on the video board from many Black major leaguers about eradicating racial injustice.
The national anthem was performed virtually on the video board by essential workers, each singing their part, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “Let’s play ball!” It appeared all players on the field stood for the anthem.
Because he didn’t begin the season on the IL with a foot injury, Cespedes’ salary rose from $2,222,222 prorated ($6 million before the schedule was shortened) to $4,074,074 ($11 million before the change).