Mandel’s Musings: Kevin Durant Can Enter Elite Territory If He Leads Nets to Series Win Over Bucks

by Scott Mandel

The mountain of elites.

It’s exclusive real estate in the NBA. You cannot just buy land on it, you have to earn it.

Tomorrow night, when the Brooklyn Nets take the floor in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, this will either turn Kevin Durant into a landowner in the rarified air of the mountain or, his legacy will remain, just another case of a great player who couldn’t push his injured or undermanned team across the finish line, like LeBron or Jordan or Bill Russell did.

If Durant somehow wins this semi-final series by carrying the supporting players on the Nets on his back to the next round without the injured James Harden and Kyrie Irving, it will be nothing short of miraculous. But for elite performers in sports, miracles are supposed to happen.

A series win vs. the Bucks and Durant can begin to pour the foundation on his piece of real estate, next to LeBron and Jordan and Russell. An NBA championship and he can permanently move into his “place” on the mountain of elites.

Kevin Durant puts on historic performance to lead Nets past Bucks in Game  5, 114-108 - NetsDaily
Nets coach Steve Nash hugs Durant after KD’s historic night in Brooklyn

Jarred Kelenic May Become the Mets’ Next Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi Nightmare Trade

by Scott Mandel

The Seattle Mariners won a baseball game last night over the Cleveland Indians. Who cares, right? Well, if it turns out that this game was a precursor for what baseball fans may be looking at for the next decade or more, New York Mets fans may end up caring more than they would like.

When they see how the Mariners won, with several contributions from former Mets prospects, Mets fans can only hope it will not bring on a terrible case of a disease specific to longtime fans of the Mets called FPTSD (Fregosi Post Traumatic Stress Disease).

Seattle received excellent starting pitching from one Chris Flexen, a 26-year old former Mets pitcher who mostly was unable to pitch past the second innings of games he started as a Met because of underwhelming velocity and poor command of his pitches, a deadly equation for a major league pitcher. Last night, Flexen pitched into the 6th inning allowing only five hits and one run. He improved his record as a reliable Mariner starting pitcher to 4-1, lowering his earned run average to 3.46 in seven starts for the Mariners. His stat line as a Met included a record of 3-11 and an earned run average of 8.07 in 27 games. In 68 innings pitched for the Mets, he allowed 91 hits. The light appears to have turned on for Flexen since leaving the Mets. Or, maybe it’s the coaching/confidence building Seattle offers that the Mets could not?

The game was saved by Rafael Montero, the former Met fireballer who was going to be the next Pedro Martinez, except he never developed confidence in his ability at the major league level, as a Met. Coincidence he has discovered it, elsewhere?

Sam Haggerty, Another highly rated Mets minor leaguer, has turned himself into a useful utility player in the majors who can play several positions. Haggerty went 2 for 3 last night, doubled, scored two runs, while playing right field.

Last but not least, the most frustrating event of all for Mets fans was the performance of outfielder, Jarred Kelenic, the 21-year old former Mets #1 draft choice in 2019 who was traded along with lefthanded starting pitcher Justin Dunn in exchange for the steroid-suspended Robinson Cano and erratic closer, Eduardo Diaz.

Kelenic started the second game of his big league career, going 3 for 4, with two doubles and a home run, driving in three runs, while leading off and playing left field. The precocious 21-year old is ranked as the second best prospect in the entire sport by Baseball America, the respected rating/scouting service, so his performance and projection of future performances of similar results are not a surprise. The kid is a five-tool player who can hit, hit for power, run, field, and throw at the highest levels. No surprise of his ability. What may be the bigger surprise is when the Mets decided they could acquire Cano, who was being paid $30 million dollars per year and Diaz ($10 million) for two very young and talented players, who also happened to be making the major league mininum salaries of $600,000 each.

The Mets’ loss may turn into baseball’s gain as the sport may be looking at its next superstar in Kelenic but that is little consolation for poor Mets fans. The previous Mets mgmt. team, led by Fred Wilpon, his son, and Brodie Van Waggenen, were not known for being the savviest of wheeler dealers. But these recent transactions, trading young players with potential stardom in front of them for a decade or more is going to lead to nightmares among their fan base.

Rafael Montero Wins Job In Mets Bullpen | Metsmerized Online
Montero was once viewed as the best pitching prospect in Mets organization that included deGrom, Matz, Syndergaard

Trading young Nolan Ryan for the over-the-hill Jim Fregosi in 1971, 50 years ago, left deep scars in the collective psyche of the Mets fan base. Those scars have been passed down generations. Mets fans certainly may not wish anything bad on young Jarred Kelenic but they also hope he doesn’t turn into the kind of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan turned into. Deep down, though, Mets fans expect this kid to be baseball’s next big thing and have their noses rubbed in it with every great season the kid has. It’s just the way things are, around the Mets. They’re used to this.

Mandel’s Musings: What’s This Got to Do With Sports But…..Bill Maher’s Real Time on HBO Needs Help

by Scott Mandel

Bill Maher had interesting and intelligent guests last night on his once popular show, Real Time with Bill Maher. Joining him on his panel were Rick Wilson, the co-founder of the Lincoln Project and, Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, the democrat from Michigan. Before the panel segment of the show, his one-on-one interview was with the engaging and brilliant John McWhorter, the Columbia University professor.

A solid show that reached 25% of the audience Real Time used to deliver for HBO, the cable network which carries the program. Six years ago, Maher’s show was consistently viewed on Friday nights by more than four million people. It now delivers a tad over one million viewers. By any measurement or explanation, it’s not trending the way HBO would prefer.

What Maher needs to figure out is how to have a guest like democratic congresswoman Slotkin on the same panel as a republican member of Congress, like Liz Cheney, or Mitt Romney, or perhaps, the new Republican liar from New York, Elise Stefanik, who is angling for Cheney’s job in the Republican party leadership. Then, Bill’s show would be able to make some news, as hard as the guests may try not to.

Either way, it becomes must-watch tv, and ratings (yeah, those pesky measurements companies like television networks care about) will increase and Maher can stay on the air. We are not suggesting HBO is considering taking Maher off the air but, you can bet your bottom dollar the powers that be are trying to figure out how to boost his audience because they have to account for the rationale of paying Maher the many millions of dollars he earns from his show, reported to be in the $15 million dollar range, about as much as the network television late night hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Kimmel, who work five days per week, not one.

It wouldn’t hurt if HBO promoted his show during the week leading up to it. I’ve never seen an advertising spot in the run-up days for Maher’s Friday night show. Maybe print ads on the op-ed pages of every major newspaper would be a good placement to reach “woke” political types, but that’s just my old media planning background coming out, as a former media strategist for consumer packaged goods companies. (HBO – call me)

Mets Can Only Dream of What Could Have Been As Matt Harvey Wins Third in a Row Today – for Baltimore while Stephen Matz is 4-0 – for Toronto. Wheeler and Montero Ripping It for Braves and Mariners

by Scott Mandel

Matt Harvey, the once and future ace of the New York Mets pitching staff in 2013, won his third game in a row today, for the lowly Baltimore Orioles, beating Oakland on the road.

Stephen Matz, the once and future fireballing lefthanded local boy from Long Island, New York is currently 4-0 and pitching lights out – for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Zack Wheeler, the tall righthander with the 99 mph fastball, pitched today for the Atlanta Braves. Against the Mets.

Rafael Montero, who was going to become the next Pedro Martinez as a 21-year old reed-thin righthander with a 97 mph fastball and perfect control, is now the closer for Seattle. That’s in the state of Washington, out that way somewhere. Montero is throwing BBs and getting saves.

They, along with Noah Syndergaard, who hasn’t pitched in more than a year since Tommy John surgery, and a guy named Jacob deGrom were going to win 10 world championships in a row (at least) for the Mets. A starting pitching staff consisting of xix top of the rotation aces, in their mid-20s. All throwing 95-99 mph, on the black, dominating National League hitters.

Amazing how “stuff” happens.

Knicks, On Six-Game Winning Streak, Are Making Spring in NYC and Madison Square Garden Hotbeds of Basketball, Again

by Scott Mandel

It’s springtime in New York City. The weather is turning warmer, vaccines are going into arms, and New Yorkers are walking around again with a hop in their step (still masked and socially distanced). The Mets seem to be on their way, led by an effusive new shortstop. The Yankees are in forlorn, stale despair after just 15 games but few believe they won’t be in the post-season when all is said and done. But, April in New York City of any given year, is the month when this town rocks like no other when its New York Knicks are relevant. Unfortunately, the Knicks have not been relevant in over 20 years so April springs in this town haven’t rocked, all that much. Until now.

Because the Knicks, on a six-game winning streak and playing defense like Oakley and Mason and Ewing and Frazier, Reed, and DeBusschere played it, are relevant, again. They’re in the fight for the playoffs, an event they haven’t participated in since 2013, currently sitting in the sixth spot of the Eastern Conference, knocking on the door of fourth place.

The excitement is palpable, on the streets and in the drinking establishments. And, it grows with every win or well-played game. As rabid as New York sports fans have always been towards their teams, there has never been a greater love affair between any fan base and its team than Knicks fans for their hoops team. NYC has forever been where the sport of basketball was, if not born, certainly developed its personality, its creativity, and raised its skill-levels, across the five boroughs on its concrete playgrounds. New Yorkers feel like basketball is the city’s game, more so than any other sport. That’s what makes the decades-long failure of the Knicks franchise to win a championship so incredulous.

And, here is another example of what happens when the Knicks are playing well. The stars of the NBA take note.

As Zion Williamson, the young NBA star and the next LeBron James (in skill and branding) said last night after playing his first professional game at Madison Square Garden, getting soundly defeated by the Julius Randle-led Knicks, “New York is the Mecca of basketball. I love playing here. I played here in college and this is my first time playing here in the pros. And this atmosphere, whether they’re cheering or booing for you, it’s amazing.”

Then he smartly threw a bone to his New Orleans Pelicans fans, who no doubt will begin to fear Zion has his eye on playing for the Knicks, someday, “Outside of New Orleans, obviously, this might be my favorite place to play.” You could tell he didn’t mean one word of that. For this 21-year old kid, MSG is the place and NYC is the town, if you are a basketball player. The Mecca is The Mecca, again.

It’s funny how a little winning basketball from the Knicks changes perceptions, almost overnight. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, free-agent superstars, chose to take their talents across the East River to Brooklyn rather than play for a losing franchise in Manhattan with a bad owner. Today, one could imagine those two players, if they were making the same decision, might have teamed up to play at The Mecca instead of the arena named for the Barclays Bank.

If anyone thinks the Canyon of Heroes parades in the past were incredible for the championship-winning Yankees and the football Giants and even the ’69 Mets, those will be nothing compared to what a Knicks championship would look like in this town.

Major League Baseball Should Shift Away from the Infield Shift

By Scott Mandel

Ban the infield shift in Major League baseball, it says here.

And stop the reliance on analytics and statistics.

Numbers can be cool but if they are changing the way the game is played, completely, on both sides of the field, because of how those digits are crunched, they become very uncool. And, disconcerting to a thinking man’s view of the sport.

The good news is, baseball has decided to implement this upcoming season in Double A minor league games a bevy of experimental new rules designed to take the emphasis off of analytics and the push-button style of baseball the dependence on statistical analysis has created. Teams will now be required to “have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.” MLB also noted that, based on first-half of this season’s data, it may require teams to position two infielders on either side of second base over the course of the second half of the season.

A lot of the motivation for these experiments are based on the changes in offensive production in the game, at the major league level. League-wide batting averages in 2000 were .260, today, it is .245 with gigantic increases in strike outs. The main reason for the trend towards less hits and baserunners has been analytics. Line drives that used to fall for hits are being caught by defensive players who usually play third base but for certain batters with tendencies to pull pitches to the right of second base, find themselves in right center field or short right field. These shifts have changed the approach of hitters, who are now trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark rather than lay down a bunt down the third base line or hit and easy ground ball to the un-defended shortstop area. They are swinging harder and faster so there may be more home runs but there are many more strikeouts, too.

“Shading” a left-handed pull hitter towards the right side of the field is a much better alternative than moving the entire infield to the right of second base because some analytics-oriented managers discovered certain batters pull curve balls 72% of the time. That kind of push-button managing of the game is making everything more predictable and boring.

We don’t want baseball, a slow game to begin with (but a wonderfully thoughtful game) to be completely predictable. We prefer managers like Billy Martin, who ran each game on instinct and on what his eyes told him on given days. We want players like Willie Mays, who played the game on instinct and on split-second decision-making. Willie liked to shade certain hitters towards left center field or right centerfield, based on who was pitching, how he was throwing on that particular day, how the hitter happened to be swinging the bat, what the weather conditions were, and which umpire was calling balls and strikes that day. If you’re a baseball fan, those are all things to pay attention to, and not to an index card in player’s back pockets. Smart players have been taught how to play the game and don’t need to take out that index card to tell them where to play each hitter or what a certain pitcher will throw on a 3-2 count with a runner on second, from the sixth inning on. Smart fans understand the same things, and that’s precisely what makes the game so interesting, pitch after pitch after pitch.

Take it from this decidedly mediocre math student. Analytics and statistical reliance sucks, but not as badly as geometry and trigonometry sucked, back in the day. Some of us do not want the game of baseball to remind us of our past mediocrity with numbers and shapes. Let’s hope the Lords of Baseball keep the baseball diamond shape intact and don’t turn it into some crazy isosceles triangle.

Baseball fans like their national pastime complicated. Tear up those index cards and keep it a thinking person’s game.

Phil Mushnick, New York Post’s Sports Media Critic, Still A Force After 47 Years

by Scott Mandel

With all due respect for the great sportswriters of the often-silly New York Post, my personal hero of that sports department is the non-politically correct, opinionated, tough-talking (but fair), worldly Staten Island-based buddy of mine, Phil Mushnick.

Phil used to be the “media guy” for the Post’s sports section, the television and radio columnist commenting and critiquing on how sports is covered by the talking heads as well as the print media. But, he’s spreading his wings a bit lately and has been producing a column with broader strokes. You may not always agree with what Phil says, but he says it with great aplomb, and doesn’t really care if you don’t agree with him. He’s authentic. The real deal.

A few years ago, Phil wrote a scathing piece about the hip-hop superstar, Jay Z, who had become a part owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. Mushnick had a problem with Mr. Z’s misogynistic, racist lyrics in his songs, those lyrics providing Mr. Z with the funds to become an NBA owner. The firestorm of negative reaction from the public was enormous. How dare a writer reproduce the actual lyrics of “99 Problems,” the big song off of Mr. Z’s 2004 album entitled, The Black Album, as Mushnick chose to do, an action backed by his editors at the Post.

I wrote a piece defending Mr. Mushnick’s right to express his opinion, and how correct his opinion about Mr. Z’s lyrics was. Phil’s point of view, among many, was that Jay Z making millions of dollars on the back of misogyny and racist messaging ran counter to the mission of the National Basketball Association. Or, it should have run counter. Phil questioned which way the NBA was going to attract fans if someone like Jay Z could become a high-profile team owner.

Mushnick got my number from a mutual colleague and called me at home, thanking me for the support at a time his career might have been hanging by a thread. Ten years later, Mushnick is still at it, and that’s a good thing.

Here’s a recent piece of Mushnick’s. We’d love to hear what you think.

Jets Fans Are Blabbering Cry Babies as the J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS Win First Game of Season

By Scott Mandel

New York Jets fans are pathetic. They are crying in their split pea soup today because their team won a game yesterday, beating the Los Angeles Rams on the road. It was the Jets first win of what has been a pathetic season to bring their record to 1-13. In doing so, the Jets probably lost any chance at the first pick in the NFL draft to the equally pathetic Jacksonville Jaguars, who will turn around and choose Trevor Lawrence, purportedly the next generational quarterback from Clemson.

Listen, Jets fans. Shut up, for just a second, and pay attention.

Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round and he has six championships. Drew Brees was a second round pick. Aaron Rodgers was a second round pick. Patrick Mahomes was the 10th pick in the draft, not the first or even, the ninth. He’s the best player in the sport today.

The very best quarterbacks of the past 25 years did not even get a sniff from NFL teams in the first 35 picks of their draft, other than Mahomes.

Sam Bradford was the first pick in 2010. Hello? Mitchell Trubisky was the second pick in 2017. Nice knowing him? Marcus Mariota was the second pick in 2015. Really? Jameis Winston was the first pick in 2015. ‘N’uff said. Carson Wentz was the second pick in 2016. He was benched two weeks ago because he can’t play. Baker Mayfield, who beat the Giants last night was the first pick in 2018. Mayfield could not play until they surrounded him with this little thing called talent. All of a sudden he’s the quarterback of a 10 and 4 team.

Matthew Stafford was the first pick in 2009 of the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford has not won any Super Bowls, the last I looked. Jared Goff was the first pick of the 2016 draft for the Los Angeles Rams. Jared Goff couldn’t beat the Jets yesterday.

These quarterbacks are more than just under-achievers. Most of them stink. With or without talent around them. Quarterback scouting is not an exact science, as Josh Rosen fans would tell you.

Sam Darnold, it says here, if surrounded by NFL talent, is a much more than competent quarterback. He might even be a star, with an offensive line that could give him time in the pocket the way they did yesterday.

Sam Darnold embraces Marcus Maye after win
Darnold hugs Jets safety, Marcus Maye after first win of the 2020 season

The Jets will be firing their current incompetent head coach, Adam “Gaze” Gase. When they replace him with a tough, no-nonsense coach with NFL gravitas, they should draft a bookend offensive tackle from Oregon to anchor the other side, across from mammoth rookie Mekhi Becton, the best left tackle in the game. Or, perhaps a stud wide receiver from LSU. Throw in a bunch of SEC defensive backs and an edge rusher. And, Jets general manager, Joe Douglas should use all of that cap space the Jets now have to fill important holes with free agents.

And then Jets fans, you pathetic jerks, sit down, open your can of Ballantine beer or whatever the hell you drink in your sububan den or basement, and watch your team play on Sundays. And shut up.

Mandel’s Musings/Politics: A List of Media Figures in the Sports World Who Contributed Their Hard-Earned Money Towards Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. Very Interesting.

By Scott Mandel

Three of the four sports Commissioners align themselves with the Democratic party, at least when it comes to political donations, according to NewsMeat. David Stern, Gary Bettman and Bud Selig give more than 90 percent of their political donations to the Democratic party. Roger Goodell of the NFL donates 23 percent to Democrats and 77 percent to the GOP.

Other sports media notables:

From the left

  • Chris Berman, ESPN: 100 percent of his donations go to Democrats.
  • Lee Corso, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats (which surprised me for some reason).
  • Dick Ebersol, NBC: 75 percent to Democrats.
  • Bob Griese, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
  • Tom Hammond, NBC: 100 percent to Democrats.
  • Michael Jordan: 72 percent to Democrats.
  • Armen Keteyian, CBS: 100 percent to Democrats (remember that when you see him on CBS News).
  • Jim Lampley, HBO: 71 percent to Democrats (he also writes for the liberal-friendly Huffington Post).
  • John McEnroe, NBC, CBS: 80 percent to Democrats.
  • Jon Miller, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
  • Dikembe Mutombo: despite sitting next to Laura Bush at the State of the Union, he only gives 33 percent to the GOP.
  • Digger Phelps, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
  • Joe Theissman, ESPN: 100 percent to Democrats.
  • Isiah Thomas: 100 percent to Democrats.
  • Brian Urlacher: toughest Democrat ever? 100 percent to Democrats.

In the middle

  • George Bodenheimer, ESPN: 61 percent goes to special interests; 20 and 19 percent go to Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
  • Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner: 72 percent to special interests; 14 percent to Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
  • George Steinbrenner, N.Y. Yankees: 51 percent to Democrats, 27 percent to the GOP.
  • Paul Tagliabue: 41 percent to the GOP, 34 percent to Democrats.

From the right

  • Jack Buck (D): donated 100 percent of his donations to the GOP.
  • Cris Collinsworth, NBC: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Don Criqui, CBS: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Dan Dierdorf, CBS: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Mike Ditka, ESPN: 98 percent to the GOP.
  • Brian France, NASCAR: 83 percent to the GOP.
  • Mike Francesca, YES: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Curt Gowdy (D): 78 percent to the GOP.
  • Keith Hernandez: 92 percent to the GOP.
  • Hootie Johnson: amazingly, 33 percent to the Democrats (60 percent to the GOP).
  • Mario Lemieux: 100 percent to the GOP?
  • Peyton Manning: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Tim McCarver, FOX: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Al Michaels, NBC: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Jim Nantz, CBS: apparent golfing buddy of Bush 41; donates 60 percent to the GOP.
  • Vin Scully, L.A. Dodgers: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Pat Summerall, FOX: 100 percent to the GOP.
  • Lynn Swann: despite running for Governor of Pennsylvania as a Republican last year, he donates 19 percent to the Democrats.
  • Steve Young, ESPN: 100 percent to the GOP.

* (D) stands for deceased.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12:  Peyton Manning attends the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Ceremony 2016 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on December 12, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)
Peyton Manning is a big Republican supporter. Surprised?

The Clock May be Ticking for Online Sports Publication, The Athletic

by Scott Mandel

The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website, was introduced in 2016 with an interesting business model – an ad-free environment providing national and local coverage in 47 North American cities as well as the United Kingdom.

It’s ambitious plan included the recruiting of some of the best-known, highest-paid sports journalists in the country, those who already had large followings on either a national or local level. The Athletic reportedly paid exorbitantly high salaries to these reporters, many of whom had already been laid off by their local newspapers as part of an industry-wide crash that has been evolving over the past two decades, as the internet became the main source of information for consumers of news and sports.

The Athletic’s roll-out, beginning in 2016, has been impressive. Starting with one market, Chicago, in which all of that city’s sports teams were thoroughly covered, it has rolled into every major market in the United States. With nationally-known reporters such as Ken Rosenthal, Jason Stark, and Peter Gammons on the baseball beat; David Aldridge, Shams Charania, and Zach Harper on the NBA, Michael Lombardi on the NFL, and Steward Mandel on NCAA sports, along with top local writers, The Athletic has certainly gone for quality journalism. And, it has raised over $139 million dollars from a variety of investors over the past four years. All very impressive.

But, there are possible chinks in the armor beginning to appear for the four-year old publication. The Athletic is now offering deeply discounted subscriptions at the ridiculously low price of $1 per month. When The Athletic began publishing, the subscription rate was $9.99 per month, more commensurate with other online publications with well-known brand names like Sports Illustrated, Fortune, New York Times, and others.

As their advertisement on social media like Facebook, below, indicates, they are changing their subscription pricing, drastically.

Get every sports story that matters. Breaking news. In-depth analysis. Ad-free.Limited Time Offer USD 🇺🇸 CAD 🇨🇦 $1/month, $7.99/year. Billed Monthly. PROCEED TO CHECKOUT. View all plans

“The Athletic has become a force in sports journalism”

Either The Athletic is trying to beef up its overall readership numbers or possibly, gain more casual sports fans who don’t want to invest deeply to satisfy their sports mojo. Or, The Athletic is in deep trouble with its main source of revenue, its subscription base, through faltering renewals of existing subscriptions or an inability to attract new subscribers.

Of course, one cannot underestimate the role of a the global pandemic on the sports business, which includes publications which cover those games and teams. But, as we have seen over the past couple of decades, publications such as The Sporting News, Sport Magazine, and a painfully thinning Sports Illustrated are disappearing from the newsstands and mailboxes of sports fans.

The owners of The Athletic, now essentially a consortium of investors, are probably hoping for a million or more fresh one dollar subscriptions, as well, for the revenue jolt a million bucks would provide them. The clock is ticking on The National, which was a very good idea in 2016.