Mandel’s Musings

Mandel’s Musings: Mets/Matz Enjoy Day of Redemption in Win Over Brewers

by Scott Mandel

Coming off of two losses to the Brewers at home in this three-game series, the Mets were reeling a bit as their two aces, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, each got ripped by the Milwaukee lineup in their starts on Friday and Saturday nights.

Having dropped to a .500 record (13-13), the Mets needed a win. Badly.

Today’s starting pitcher, Steven Matz, was coming off a start that was easily the worst of his career. Against Philadelphia on April 16th, Matz never retired one hitter, allowing eight runs (six earned) in the first inning before Mets manager, Mickey Callaway mercifully came out to get him.

Matz needed a win, ideally, or, at least to pitch a whale of a game. Badly.

Today was redemption day for the Mets. Mission accomplished on both objectives.

Going a season-high seven innings, Matz tamed the Brewers’ hot bats — they had scored 18 runs on 28 hits over the first two games of the series — and the Mets continued an early-season trend of scoring in the late innings, leading to a 5-2 victory at Citi Field Sunday afternoon.

“[Matz] was awesome today,” first baseman Pete Alonso said after the Mets snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 3-3 on their 10-game homestand. “He gave up a home run, but he was damn-near perfect.”

“If you look up there, it’s amazing he has an ERA that he does when he got no outs in a start and gave up that many runs,” manager Mickey Callaway said, referring to Matz’ last outing against the Phillies. “He’s pitched tremendously aside from that one start where he didn’t record an out.”

The Brewers started Gio Gonzalez today. Yes, that Gio Gonzalez of Washington Nationals fame who had been without a team this season until the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal with short-term limitations. The Yanks had to commit to bringing him up to the major leagues by April 20th or Gonzalez could choose to become a free agent again. His outings were spotty at Triple-A Scranton so the Yankees opted not to sign him for the big club.

Gonzalez was hoping to join the Mets, but instead re-joined a Brewers club he spent a couple of months with down the stretch last year.

Today, he started out extremely hittable as Mets hitters weren’t fooled by his soft tosses. Gonzalez, though, settled down enough to give the Brewers five pretty good innings, allowing only two runs while spacing six hits.

The Mets hope they don’t regret their decision not to sign the 33-year old lefty to a one-year deal to provide depth in their starting ranks, which has been shaky, so far. Gonzalez loves pitching in Citi Field, having entered today’s game with a career mark of 11-2, along with a gaudy 1.75 ERA against Mets lineups over his 12-year career.

“The Mets were huge, they were great,” Gonzalez said Saturday. “They were definitely in there. I think they had such a great rotation, a great group of guys, it was a tough decision. The Brewers came in and met my expectations, met my needs. Either way, it was a win-win for me.”

A Ben Gamel two-base error led to pinch-hitter J.D. Davis’ go-ahead single in the seventh, and backup catcher Tomas Nido, recalled earlier in the day from Triple-A Syracuse after Travis d’Arnaud was designated for assignment, stroked a two-run double in the eighth.

Working ahead and mixing his pitches well, Matz (3-1) was even better. The defensively challenged Mets, entering the day last in the National League with 22 errors, supported him in the field, turning a pair of double plays to end innings. But with two outs and a runner on in the seventh, Matz hung a 2-1 slider and Moustakas parked it, ruining the shutout. Matz snapped at the new ball he received, and proceeded to retire Hernan Perez to finish his afternoon.

“He did all those things we’ve been talking about: Getting ahead, controlling the count, executing his pitchers. He was tremendous,” Callaway said. “He just went out there and made pitch after pitch. He deserved to go seven, he deserved to get the win. He got both of those.”

Former Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa Making His Mark as Baseball Pundit on Television

One of the fun parts about covering a baseball game at the major league level is in the pregame preparation reporters and journalists involve themselves in.

Usually, we meet with each manager before the games to get some background on lineups and injuries, etc. Often times, we get to hobnob with players and other members of the media, in our own market as well as reporters from the opposing team’s city.

Tonight was one such night when we had the pleasure of sitting down in the Mets dugout with former Mets right handed pitcher, Nelson Figueroa. Figueroa pitched for the Mets from 2006 2012, with varying degrees of success. In nine years in the big leagues, Figueroa compiled a 20-35 record with mostly bad teams. But, he pitched in “The Show” for nine years. Not many can say that so in his case, the phrase, journeyman, is one he proudly carries.

Figueroa was born in Brooklyn and attended Abraham Lincoln High School, better known for its basketball teams and NBA stars than baseball, though it has produced a few major leaguers like Lee Mazzilli, Dallas Williams, a number one draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1977, and yes, Nelson Figueroa.

“I was 5’10’, 145 pounds in high school so nobody at the college or professional level looked at me,” said Figueroa, as we chatted in the Mets dugout before tonight’s game. “I was throwing between 80 and 85 miles per hour so they weren’t exactly knocking my door down to recruit me.”

Part of what led to Figueroa’s eventual success as a major league pitcher came from being in the right place at the right time, to be seen by scouts who had no particular interest in watching him pitch. He just happened to get into a game.

“After my senior year in high school, there was a baseball consortium that brought a bunch of high school players from New York City up to Waltham, Massachusetts for a week of games and practices. It was a chance for different colleges to get a look at kids who weren’t recruited but might have a little college-level talent.”

Figueroa was off to a side, warming up, when he was approached by a man who introduced himself as the coach of the college baseball team at the college located in that same town of Waltham, Massachusetts, Brandeis University. It was not exactly a hotbed of baseball but the coach liked what Figueroa was throwing and, as they say, the rest is history.

Figueroa accepted a baseball scholarship to Brandeis, a Division Two program. The rigorous academics of Brandeis was right up his alley, as he was planning to attend Stanford, on his high school grades and board scores, alone. This was not a kid without talent in many facets of his life.

“I chose Brandeis because, one, they offered me the opportunity to pitch. And, two, I thought I could be a big fish in a small pond up in Waltham, and possibly get noticed if I dominated competition at that level.”

The turning point for Figueroa came in the summer of 1994, when he was invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Summer Baseball League, which, to this very day, showcases and produces great major league baseball players. The competition is considered the best summer program in the country for college-age players.

Figueroa and Mandel before tonight’s Mets game

Mandel’s Musings: Americans, Especially Sports Fans, Are Too Busy to be So Politically Divided

We Should Stay off of Social Media and Stop Watching Partisan News Outlets

By Scott Mandel

I’ve been wondering just how “divided” the U.S. populace truly is and how much of that divisiveness is driven by media outlets and social media.

Admittedly, different outlets constantly pound away at us with different political messages, based on their leanings or agenda. But, for many of us, during our day to day activities, be it work or play with family and friends, I don’t believe most of us carry the weight of political meanderings on our shoulders.

It seems to me, it’s only when we get to our computers or television sets in the dark of night, after the dishes have been cleared and kitchens cleaned, that we fall into our nightly habit of exhibiting “which side” we’re on. Social media has become such a protective device to complain or yell about the “other side” without risking our life and limbs while allowing us to assimilate, socially, into like-thinking groups of people, most of whom are not really friends.

But then, we fall asleep (a little agitated, perhaps, from our self-inflicted political activism and side-taking).

When we wake in the morning, with a full schedule of activities or job to attend to, the couple of hours of political debate we invested in the previous night have mostly been forgotten. We live our lives, we laugh with our friends, we do our homework, we make our money, and we don’t really feel divisive from millions of Americans who are perceived to be on the “other side” during our day-to-days.

That is, until the dishes are put away and the kitchen is cleaned, once again.

And then, it begins. Again.

Mandel’s Musings: Durant to Knicks Will Change Sleepy MSG into Dynamic HHG (Hip Hop Garden)

by Scott Mandel

If Kevin Durant joins the Knicks, this sad, bad, moribund franchise will immediately metamorphosize into the NBA’s version of the (old) Oakland Raiders. Or, more appropriately, a modern iteration of the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys.

Durant loves playing the “bad MF/villain” role. On this soft, pliable Knicks roster of nice guys, he would become the alpha dog, the Lester Hayes, Jack Tatum, the “Mad Stork,” Ted Hendricks of New York and the NBA.

Instead of hitting receivers crossing over the middle in the chops, causing snot and sweat to come flying off their faces, as the original sports assassin, Tatum, did for the Raiders, Durant would easily take on the role of being another kind of assassin – one with the ball in his hand, taking unmakeable shots from 25 feet away from the basket with a hand in his face that would put games out of reach. Or, getting a defensive rebound, going 90 feet with the ball, finishing at the rim by throwing it down in someone’s face.

Bad dude, that Durant (if he’s on the opposing team).

Durant got thrown out of yesterday’s Game 1 of the playoff series between KD’s Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers. It came after an altercation with another pit bull, Patrick Beverley of the Los Angeles Clippers towards the end of the game. They had been jawing at each other throughout but Durant, realizing his Golden State Warriors had the game in the bag, took the opportunity to get up in Beverley’s face and push him to the ground. Right in front of the referee and a national television audience.

Illustration for article titled The Beef Between Kevin Durant And Patrick Beverley Will Make This Inevitable Warriors Sweep Fun As Hell
Two tough competitors in Game 1 of Warriors-Clippers playoff series

Bad dude, that Kevin Durant.

He speaks to the media without much of a filter. He doesn’t hide his dislike for his opponents, inside the black lines and often, outside of them, either. He’ll tell the gathered media to shut the hell up and do their jobs, which in his view is to just cover basketball games. Or, he’ll ignore his professional responsibility to speak to the press after games, often telling us to “get outta my way.”

Bad dude, that K.D.

Knicks fans will love it. He’ll bring a mentality not often found in basketball. The Patrick Ewing Hoya Destroyers of the 80s, with guys like Michael Graham not allowing anyone to come into the lane without a physical message being laid upon them.

The 1990s Knicks, with Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. A team that wasn’t a good fit for nice guy, and soft player, Charles Smith, a 6’10” power forward who played with finesse.

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Detroit’s Bad Boys of the 1990s won two NBA championships playing dirty, especially Bill Laimbeer

The Bad Boys of Detroit, with Rick Mahorn and that dirty, little Isiah Thomas, who would cut you up with his skills and toughness while smiling at you like Mona Lisa.

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Jack Tatum of the Silver and Black Raiders in the 1970s

I could envision the Knicks pushing the toughness mentality with black (and orange) uniforms. I can even imagine them bringing back that tough old bird, Oakley, Ewing’s protector in the ’90s, to watch games from celebrity row, with Knicks owner, Jim Dolan posing for pictures alongside big “Oak.”.

And, if by some small 14% miracle, the 6’8″ 285 pound Zion Williamson becomes a Knick, to go along with Durant and Kyrie Irving (another tough kid with ‘tude), this will be Fizdales’ #@$ Dream.

Get ready for MSG being converted into HHG – Hip Hop Garden.

Kevin Durant will change everything because, K.D. is a bad dude with a ‘tude.

Mandel’s Musings: Spring Fever – Tiger Woods and The Masters, NBA Playoffs, Baseball in Full Swing

by Scott Mandel

This is what spring is supposed to feel like. It’s not just the longer days, the warmer temperatures, and the rosier outlooks.

No, it can’t be spring without first checking out the azaleas in Augusta, Georgia, where there is also a little golf tournament being played called The Masters. Or, paying attention to the real NBA season, aka, the playoffs. And, as idyllic a season as spring can be, the most idyllic of sports, baseball, is now in full swing.

One of the rights of spring remains checking out the leader board among those azaleas in Georgia, where globally-branded golf names appear from April 11 – April 14. One of those brands is named, Tiger Woods.

No athlete in any sport has been as polarizing over the past 20 years than Woods, yet, his comeback into the upper echelon of the sport is being met with levels of appreciation, if not affection, for his evolving story of what his fans hope will be redemption. The fun part for observers is the experiencing of his trials and tribulations in real time. We don’t know if history will be made in Augusta this weekend or not, but, it’s an emotional roller-coaster to watch it play out in front of our very eyes.

What makes his play even more compelling is knowing there remain many Woods’ haters. People who will never forgive his past mistakes nor his treatment of his fans and the media. So, like the political landscape across the world, there are vastly different points of view about this athlete which draws the most casual of golf fans to his events.

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Tiger Woods seems to be enjoying his job, finally


From notorious cheating husband to the incurrence of several career-threatening surgeries on his back and knees, Woods’ playing career was all but left for dead. The sport places such tremendous torque on backs and knees with every swing that nobody believed Woods, at age 43, could ever approach his former talent, let alone his ability to win tournaments, especially major tournaments, on the PGA tour after what his body and mind have been through over the past 10 years.

However, Woods currently finds himself, today, with the onset of the third round, one stroke back of the Masters lead with most of the nation of golf fans and, now, those casual fans of the sport, rooting hard for him to pick up his fourth Masters green jacket and first win in a major in over a decade.

At the same time, post-season playoffs are beginning this week in two major North American sports. The NBA and the NHL. This is the part of each sports’ seasons that actually matters. After interminably long, 82-game regular season schedules which began in October of last year, we finally have competition in which the participants actually care about winning at all costs.

Not to be forgotten or outdone, baseball season is blissfully in full swing, too, allowing it, in spring of 2019, to once more become the national pastime of the U.S., while football, driven by gambling, huge television contracts, and concussions, tries to sort itself out during its off-season.

But, it is on this day, on this weekend when we focus on the drama of watching Tiger Woods. An often surly human being/athlete, never fan-friendly or media-friendly, we suddenly care about his appearance on the Masters leaderboard. We care about the tremendous theater his skills on a golf course can create on a pretty weekend in April. We care so much so that it even keeps us sitting in front of our televisions on a warm, bright Saturday and Sunday instead of leaving our homes this weekend to enjoy a sunny day in the spring.

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The Masters in Augusta is lined with beautiful azaleas





















Masters azaleas surround the beautiful golf course in Augusta, Georgia

St. John’s Would Make Huge Mistake By Choosing Cluess Over Rick Pitino as Head Coach

Reports are spreading that St. John’s is leaning towards choosing Tim Cluess, the 60-year old Iona coach, to be its next head basketball coach, replacing Chris Mullin. But, not Rick Pitino.


Nice.


Cluess, 60, could tell recruits he’ll be there at least until their sophomore season or until his first social security check arrives, whichever comes first.


Cluess is a nice guy. He’s been a good coach for mid-major basketball programs who probably deserved his shot at major league college basketball (defined as lots of tv games in a power conference, like the Big East USED TO BE) many years ago. One wonders why that opportunity didn’t present itself then, or, why he didn’t pursue it.


In any event, Cluess is a bad choice for any long term goals St. John’s may have for its basketball program.


If winning is your thing, and the coach’s age doesn’t matter, you pick the very best and most available college coach in America, Rick Pitino.

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Tim Cluess appears to be leading candidate for St. John’s coaching job

Pitino, with New York roots, is a youthful 66-year old from Long Island who never lost his New York accent. His name and his track record of National Championships at Louisville and Kentucky would bring 5-star players to do their one-and-dones or two-and-dones on the biggest stage, in New York City and Madison Square Garden.

There are growing numbers of college head coaching jobs opening up as we speak. Pitino will get one of those jobs because he owns a .740 win percentage (770-271), ranks fifth all-time in NCAA Tournament history with 54 wins, sixth among coaches with seven Final Four appearances and has won two National Championships. He is also the only coach in college basketball history to take three teams to the Final Four (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and win championships with two different Division I schools (Kentucky and Louisville) But, for St. John’s and any other school considering him, he will change the basketball culture of those schools, change the financial structure, and will raise the national profile of a struggling program, as well as immediately bring in 5-star athletes.


Under Pitino, it is easy to imagine St. John’s getting to the Sweet 16 by year two, after he has had a few months to recruit the best high schoolers in the country. And, appearing in the Elite 8 by year three, all the while putting fannies in the seats at a packed Madison Square Garden for every game, making money. They’d be getting the back pages of the tabloids in town (if that’s still a thing), and re-generating interest in the struggling brand known as The Big East Conference, a conference which used to be known for its legendary coaches.


What about the future, scream the Pitino nay-sayers, if they hire an old coach like Rick Pitino, 66, who isn’t that much older than Tim Cluess? Why not bring in Richard Pitino, Rick’s son, currently the very successful head coach of the Univ. of Minnesota. St. John’s always priding itself on its “family” within the athletic department, could put its money where its mouth is, by bringing in a great young coach who happens to be in Pitino’s family.


Pitino seems like a perfect fit. That’s if you want to win basketball games.

Tim Cluess, at 60, would have been a nice hire for St. John’s a decade ago, when he was 50. He’s been a successful mid-major coach with an excellent track record winning games with two-star players up in New Rochelle, New York.


Cluess can be a steady presence for a few years, too, if that’s what St. John’s truly believes it needs. A nice, solid, steady, sleepy presence in New York City, which ain’t New Rochelle.


Will five-star high school players come to St. John’s, located in Jamaica, Queens, just so they could play for Tim Cluess? Nope.


Would they come to play for Rick Pitino at St. John’s?


What do you think?

Mandel’s Musings: Mets’ Wheeler and Yankees’ Sanchez Are THE KEYS to 2019 Success

There are certain players on certain teams that are considered bellweather perfomers. On the Yankees, players like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Luis Severino are needed and expected to play up to the backs of their baseball cards for the Bombers to have any chance of winning a championship. On the Mets, the expectations of excellence falls on the shoulders of Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. Without those four achieving at high levels. the Mets have no chance to compete for a division title, let alone a World Series championship.

Which brings us to the other key players on the major league roster. The ones who are unpredictable, yet, so talented that if all of their bio-rhythms were in place, their mental and physical health were steady, and they played up to their talent, it would put both of these teams squarely in the race for the big trophy at the end of the season.

Sanchez banged out three homers for Yanks, yesterday

For the Mets, one of the keys, perhaps, THE key to their success in 2019 is Zack Wheeler, currently the number three guy in their pitching rotation.

For the Yankees, it is Gary Sanchez, the sometimes moody catcher with Hall of Fame skills but not always Hall of Fame focus and concentration.

Yesterday’s games showed us just how crucial these two players are to the fortunes of these teams.

The Mets know what they will be getting from deGrom and Syndergaard when they start games every fifth day. The question mark remains Wheeler, who was the second best pitcher in baseball from the All-Star break through October in 2018.

Wheeler, who was a number one draft choice, sixth overall pick, by the San Francisco Giants in 2009, has always been viewed as a potential ace, with a 98 mph fastball with movement, sharp breaking ball, and a flexible, live arm that could take the mound every scheduled outing and dominate opposing teams.

Sanchez, who broke into the majors and made himself an immediate Hall of Fame candidate after his first half season in 2015, has had more ups and downs in his still-young career than any future Hall of Famer should go through. Most of those downs have been of his own making, through not being able to understand or accept the tough love former manager, Joe Girardi, the old catcher, tried to impart to Sanchez the finer points of the game, especially, defensively.

Girardi was fired, some say, because of his relationship with Sanchez, in an era of players having more power than a manager.

But yesterday, we saw what Sanchez, still only 26, can do with a bat in his hand. In an era when any offense from a catcher is welcome but not necessarily expected by major league teams, the “San-chize” hit not one, not two, but three home runs in Baltimore. He drove in six runs. And, the Yankees had another cakewalk against the sad Orioles, 15-3.

He now has six homers in the season’s first 10 games, and looks to be a happy player.

Oddly, after the game, no one expressed shock at yesterday’s output from the young slugger. His teammates have seen him do this before, in bunches, as a rookie and in his second year. Last year, he hit .188. Nobody seems to know why yet, most baseball observers still consider his hitting talent to be the best in the Yankees lineup.

The dilemma with Sanchez is, we know he’s one of the scariest hitters in the game, when he has access to his full compliment of physical and mental capabilities. The question is, how do the Yankees keep him happy and thriving?

With Sanchez bashing, the Yankee lineup, is one in which nobody can be pitched around. It becomes a nightmare for opposing pitching staffs and it will lead to a season of fastballs for everybody, 1 thru 9.

Yesterday, Wheeler pitched against the Washington Nationals in a style reminiscent of the first eight years of his career. He lost his command on his fastball and curve, he lost his control, walking a career-high seven batters in five innings. He generally looked lost out there, a huge disappointment to a Mets organization that has been re-structured from top to bottom by new general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen. But still, at the major league level, this team is programmed to be dependent on its pitching arms.

Without Wheeler pitching with some semblance of his talent level, the Mets will turn into a version of the old Milwaukee Braves slogan, “Burdette and Sain, and pray for rain” from the 1950s:

“deGrom and No (Syndergaard) and pray for snow.”

Right now, the Mets are praying for the light to go on again for Wheeler. If it doesn’t, you are looking at Stephen Matz and Jason Vargas needing to pick up the pace to about 15 wins apiece. A tall order which almost guarantees a disappointing season for the Mets.

Archives: 2009: A 24-Year Old LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, One Year from Free Agency

Mandel’s Musings: Knicks Fall Again to James and Cavaliers

New York – Lebron James took his show on the road tonight to play in front of a jam-packed Madison Square Garden that included several players from baseball’s world champion New York Yankees, this town’s role models for what a winning franchise looks like. In stark contrast, James and his Cleveland Cavaliers were matched up on the court tonight with New York’s leading role model for a losing franchise, the New York Knickerbockers, who continued their dreary early-season play in what may turn out to be the dreariest of seasons as they were blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 100-91.

Blown out? A nine point differential? Yup, it was a blowout, not including a late Knicks run in the final five minutes of the game. The Cavs led 40-21 at the end of the first quarter, 63-40 at the half, 77-58 at the third quarter mark and led by as much as nineteen with six minutes in the game and seats emptying quickly until the Knicks went on one of their too little, too late frenetic paces of steals and three point shots being drained before they ran out of game clock. This game was never in doubt.

What is in doubt, however has been the status for next season and into the future for the Cavs’ still-young superstar, James. As usual when the Cavs come to town, the conversation veers from the game itself to the more important question-and-answer game of “Will He or Won’t He” starring LeBron James. While this magical player continues to dominate every game he plays in, the buzz going around this arena remains about whether the Cleveland superstar, playing with an expiring contract, will opt to leave his Ohio roots and decide to play out the rest of his career under the bright lights of Broadway.

At halftime, Yankees pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, here along with several of his championship teammates to bask in the warm embrace of Knicks fans dying to cheer for a winner, ventured the opinion that James would indeed, take his next act to New York.

“I’ve told him there’s no better place to be a winner than in New York,” said the former Cleveland Indian hurler who got to know James as a high profile athlete in that town. “If I’m a betting man, I would say he will be here in New York next year.”

James scored 19 of his 33 points in the first quarter as this game became a huge snoozefest through three and a half quarters. His performance could only make Knicks fans swoon and sigh in a wishful manner.

James came to play on the night the Garden crowd was feted not only with the presence of baseball champions who play to the north of the arena, somewhere up in the Bronx, but with celebrities from many walks of life. Ah, to be young and rich and an admired athlete in the city that never sleeps.

“I got an opportunity to say congratulations to C.C. (Sabathia), A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), Robinson Cano, and Joba Chamberlain,” said James after the game. “Obviously, it was an unbelievable season for those guys and they deserved it.”

James smiled at the thought of being a champion in a city like New York and an arena with the history of Madison Square Garden.

“There is a lot of tradition in this building,” he said. “A lot of great players have been through this building that have laid down a lot of statistical things as individuals and as teams. It is a great building. To be a part of that and be able to play the game of basketball at a high level is great.”

You could almost sense the sighing and wishful thinking may be a two-way street, with James imagining himself as a star in the Big Apple.

“It is a humbling experience for myself,” said James. “You grow up in a city like Akron, Ohio. It is a really, really small city. For me, as a kid, you always wish and dream to be on the NBA level. Now that I am here playing for my hometown team and then be able to go on the road to showcase my talent to people who appreciate the way I play the game of basketball at a high level is humbling. I thank the New York fans. It is great that they really respect the way I play the game of basketball.”

“It’s the atmosphere, here,” he continued. “A lot of stars in the building. It’s humbling to know that you have guys like the Yankees come out and J. Z. You see some of the Giants out here and John Legend and Chris Rock. You almost feel like you’re a performer sitting on the stage and they’re watching you perform.”

You can just tell this kid can imagine himself on the biggest stage of all, lighting up the old arena in a way it hasn’t been lit since Patrick Ewing’s heyday, maybe even further back to the Knicks championship teams of 1970 and 1973.

“When I was a kid, I visualized playing for all the NBA teams,” James said. “There’s a lot of great individual NBA players that I would love to play alongside of and try to contend for an NBA championship. At the end of the day, a max contract doesn’t really matter to me. It’s all about winning. When that day comes next summer, I want to put myself  in a position where I want to win. If I feel a team is capable of winning, I’ll make my decision like that.”

That has to make Knicks fans sink a little, hearing that winning is James’ sole objective in determining where he’s going to play next year. Winning hasn’t exactly been part of the Knicks tradition over the past 36 years or so. That 1973 championship was the franchise’s last.

The Cavaliers are in an interesting position as far as LeBron’s future is concerned. Many of their players, including James, Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, have expiring contracts this year so the feeling is this particular Cavs team won’t have the same look next year, either.

Cavs guard Daniel Gibson had an interesting take on the Cavaliers’ position, given the fact so many of the Cavs’ players have expiring contracts. I asked him if the team’s approach to this season has a little more urgency to it because of the potential of having this team ripped apart after this season.

“I never thought about it until you just asked me,” Gibson said. “We approach it as, right now, he’s still a Cav so we’re not thinking about next year. For us, we need to take care of business right now. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next year in this league. Every year you play basketball, you play for the ultimate goal. The fact that he’s potentially leaving next year, I don’t think any of us are thinking about it.”

Ilgauskas took an interesting position.

“I can see coming to New York to play if you’re leaving a team to play for the Yankees, already a winning organization,” said the seven-footer they call Z. “But, coming to New York to play for a struggling team like the Knicks? I’d rather stay in Cleveland where I know I have a chance to win.”

Somehow, I don’t think the Knicks will be trying to sign Ilgauskas anytime soon.

Knicks fans will have to hope when next July comes along, and LeBron is sitting on his porch in Akron, Ohio pondering his next career move, he’ll think about what he can accomplish in an offense devised by Knick coach, Mike D’Antoni, a man most NBA players would take a discount in pay to play for because of his wide-open offensive schemes.

At this point, as we watch the Knicks record fall to 1-5, it’s about the only thing they have left to dream about.

Follow Scott Mandel at www.sportsreporters.com

Mandel’s Musings: Yankees, Missing Table Setter, Still Haven’t Fixed Lineup Issues

It’s early, of course, in the 2019 season but the New York Yankees, one of baseball’s favorites to win the World Series this year are looking very much like last year’s team, which fell short in the playoffs for one major reason. Their lineup of home run hitting sluggers was unable to put bat to ball when they faced top of the line pitching rotations like the Astros or the Red Sox.

This season, so far, has that same feel, know what I mean?

The Yanks’ lineup remains the most fearful in the game. From one through nine, a healthy Yankees’ batting order will do damage to most American League pitchers over the course of a season. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, and Gleyber Torres will all hit more than 20 homers this year. Hell, they’ll all probably hit more than 30.

The question is, how many of these bashers will also hit .280 or better and strike out less than 100 times?

The Yankees dilemma this year is the same as it was last year. Hitting homers in batches, as the Bombers did in 2018 (266 – a major league record) puts fans in the seats, even bringing back the early-arrival fans who enjoy watching these very large men take their pre-game batting practice hacks but, it doesn’t win championships.

But, who are the table-setters?

Nothing wrong with power, in this age of weight-training, protein drinks, and any other enhancements used in professional sports. But, even in 2019, championship teams must possess lineups that include a smattering of hit-to-contact types so the bashers can get big, sweet fastballs to swing at with runners on base. Opposing pitchers prefer to pitch off the plate to big swingers, who tend to feast on fastball strikes but without ideal bat control, can be fooled by pitches that expand the strike zone to include breaking balls in the dirt. Base runners force pitchers to throw strikes, a good scenario for big swingers like Judge and Stanton and Sanchez.

But, who are the table-setters?

The Houston Astros’ second baseman, Jose Altuve, has, at 5’6″, 160 pounds made himself into a superstar by getting on base, not striking out, and making opposing pitchers jittery when he’s taking leads off first.

The Red Sox have Mookie Betts, who also knows how to make contact and does so to all fields with power, despite his diminutive body-type.

Guess which teams won the past two World Series? If you answered the Astros and the Red Sox, you’d be right.

I’m not saying the Yankees should have held onto a popular player of theirs from the past two seasons, Ronald Torreyes, but let’s just say, by getting rid of a “Torreyes-type,” they no longer have a diminutive contact hitter in their lineup who rarely strikes out. Brett Gardner is going to be 36 during this season, and never was a hit-to-contact type with a high on-base percentage. Tyler Wade has a lifetime batting average of .164. D.J. LeMahieu, a solid acquisition during the off-season, doesn’t fit the profile of an Altuve or a Betts, either.

Yesterday, the Yankees beat the lowly Orioles, 8-4. Their offense, third in the American League in strikeouts and at the bottom of the league in stolen bases, has been slumping for several games now.

Once again, the Yanks were in their collective offensive funk against Alex Cobb, the Orioles starting pitcher who will NOT be in the running for the Cy Young award, until the sixth inning. Cobb was treating this Yankee lineup as if he was pitching for the Astros or the Red Sox, in post-season games.

Baltimore, on paper the worst team in the sport, had a 4-1 edge going into the sixth inning, the Yankees lone run coming on, you guessed it, a home run by Gleyber Torres. Other than that, against Alex Cobb, zilch.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning when the pinstripes exploded against the putrid Orioles bullpen for four runs, on, yes, a solo home run by Sanchez and a three-run homer by Torres, his second of the game, coming after two singles by Bird and LeMahieu.

Image result for jose altuve
Altuve is the perfect table-setter for the Astros

Here’s the thing about home runs. They come in bunches and practitioners of the art of home run hitting tend to be streaky. They will hit 10-15 in a month, then, nothing but ground outs and strikeouts for a few weeks. Nobody seems to know why that is. It’s one of baseball’s mysteries that keeps this game interesting. But, it doesn’t help a team when most of its lineup is comprised of precisely those kind of bashers who have their hot and cold streaks during the season, but are especially cold during the playoffs, when the strikeouts and ground outs are almost a guarantee.

Note to Yankees’ General Manager, Brian Cashman: The Yankees will not win a World Series without scrappy, speedy guys with high on-base percentages to set the table for their sluggers.

Where have you gone, Ronald Torreyes?

SportsReporters’ NBA 2019 Mock Draft – Smile Knicks Fans

2019 NBA 1st-Round Mock Draft

1. New York Knicks: Zion Williamson, PF, Duke

2. Phoenix Suns: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke

4. Chicago Bulls: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech

5. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke

6. Atlanta Hawks (from Dallas): Rui Hachimura, SF/PF, Gonzaga

7. Memphis Grizzlies: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt

8. New Orleans Pelicans: Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

9. Washington Wizards: De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia

10. Minnesota Timberwolves: Coby White, PG/SG, North Carolina

11. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga

12. Charlotte Hornets: Keldon Johnson, SG/SF, Kentucky

13. Boston Celtics (from Sacramento): Sekou Doumbouya, SF/PF, France

14. Orlando Magic: Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana

15. Miami Heat: Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland

16. Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC

17. Detroit Pistons: P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky

18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Virginia Tech

19. San Antonio Spurs: Bol Bol, C, Oregon

20. Indiana Pacers: KZ Okpala, SF/PF, Stanford

21. Boston Celtics: Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky

22. Boston Celtics (from Los Angeles Clippers): Talen Horton-Tucker, SF, Iowa State

23. Utah Jazz: Tre Jones, PG, Duke

24. Portland Trailblazers: Daniel Gafford, PF/C, Arkansas

25. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Houston): Naz Reid, C, LSU 

26. Philadelphia 76ers: Ty Jerome, PG/SG, Virginia

27. Brooklyn Nets (from Denver): Jordan Nwora, SF, Louisville

28. Golden State Warriors: Matisse Thybulle, SF, Washington

29. San Antonio Spurs (from Toronto): Cameron Johnson, SF/PF, North Carolina

30. Milwaukee Bucks: Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont