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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A new year brings a new blog---Hall of Fame musings and grid observations

It’s a new year, which means the blog should be updated. I’ve had a few people to remind me that the blog was not refreshed in quite some time, so that means I better snap to it and give the loyal readers something new from me. I apologize for being lackadaisical and will make my first New Year’s Resolution right here to be more diligent when it comes to the blog. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Anyway, let’s start with the Baseball Hall of Fame inductees that were announced last week. Of course, Ken Griffey, Jr. is an absolute no-brainer and a Hall of Fame baseball player if there ever was one. 

“Junior” is one of the best all-around players to ever play the game, right there with people like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

To think that there are three members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who kept Griffey, Jr. off the Hall of Fame ballot for some reason _ other than they didn’t want him to be the first unanimous selection or they thought he shouldn’t go in on his first try is preposterous.

Of course, Mike Piazza got his just due and was elected to induction after four previous tries. Why it took five times on the ballot to get Piazza, the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, into Cooperstown is another befuddlement of this BBWAA mishmash election process.

It’s believed that a lot of the writers believed that Piazza was tied into the whole steroid controversy. They heard rumors that Piazza was on the juice because someone spotted Piazza with acne on his back (a symptom of steroidal abuse), so the former Met All-Star was kept away from his proper place in Cooperstown because of the rumors and innuendo.

That idea just totally eats at me. Let’s deny a man’s place in immortality because a bunch of old sportswriters heard scuttlebutt that Piazza was juicing or was believed to be juicing or someone saw his naked back in need of Clearasill and bingo _ instant steroid bad boy.

Keeping a guy out of the Hall of Fame because of rumors? Piazza was never once officially linked to steroids. From what I gather, he was not listed on the now-scandalous and oh-so-secret Mitchell Report. He was not called to Congress to testify. He never had huge jars of androstenedione supplements prominently shown in his locker. No syringes, no gauze. Nothing _ yet, the thoughts were that Piazza was a juicer.
Hey, he had to be one, because who could ever hit the ball that far and that hard to right field like Piazza did. He had to be on the stuff because he hit 423 homers and catchers didn’t hit that many homers. It was all based on rumor with no substantiated fact, yet Piazza was kept away from Cooperstown and a Punch-and-Judy second baseman like Craig Biggio got in ahead of him.

Well, it’s over now. Piazza got enough votes to get in finally. He will have his day with Griffey, Jr. in August. He will be the second Met player to be enshrined after Tom Seaver. Some people were worried that Piazza might choose to have his place in immortality wearing a Dodger hat, but as everyone knows, Piazza was identified with the Mets for seven-plus seasons and is still considered a Met. He’s the best positional player the Mets have ever had.

Hopefully, the knuckleheads that run the organization will recognize that fact and finally put Piazza’s No. 31 on the wall at CitiField, next to Seaver’s No. 41.

I was rooting (mostly for personal reasons) for Tim Raines to get the necessary votes to get in and “Rock” just fell a few votes short. I got to work with Raines for two years when he managed the Newark Bears and I was the official scorer.

We spent many a day talking baseball, especially through rain delays in his office. The baseball brain trust sessions I enjoyed with Rock, Mike Torrez, Ron Karkovice and Jim Leyritz were priceless.

I especially liked the days when Rock and his son, Tim, Jr., were together in Newark, forming a unique bond that not many outsiders could see.

As a baseball player, Rock was electric, the second best leadoff hitter in the game, next to another former Newark Bear Rickey Henderson, who I also had the fortune to work with when he was a teenager in Jersey City in 1978. Incredibly, Henderson is in the Hall of Fame. Raines should be _ and hopefully will be next year _ and I got the chance to know both pretty well.

Although it’s a fair assumption that Henderson would not remember me again _ even after a reunion in Newark 13 years ago. He remembered the car I drove him to his Duncan Avenue apartment in Jersey City, which was a 1976 AMC Pacer, but didn’t remember me.

“The bubble car?” Henderson said. “You had the bubble car?”

Yes, that was me, but he didn’t remember me at all. That’s OK, I’m not offended. When he was reunited with John Olerud with the Mets, Henderson told Olerud that he once played with a guy who wore his batting helmet in the field. Of course, that player was indeed Olerud. The two were teammates with the Toronto Blue Jays, but Henderson didn’t remember who it was.

But when I was a freshman and sophomore at Marquette in 1979 and 1980, Henderson left me a bunch of tickets in order to see the Oakland A’s play the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1979, most of my Marquette friends weren’t too impressed that I knew two major leaguers in Henderson and Mike Norris. A year later, Henderson broke Lou Brock’s stolen base record and Norris won 22 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting and everyone wanted to know me for the tickets.

Anyway, here’s to hoping that Raines gets his place in Cooperstown with Henderson and Piazza next year. It’s so deserved. Raines is not only a Hall of Fame player but as a guy, he’s definitely better than Cooperstown.

As for the controversy that surrounds others who are not in the Hall of Fame, I’ll stick to my guns and say that Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame, that Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame, that Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame and when the time comes, Alex Rodriguez belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Rose belongs because of what he achieved as a ballplayer should not overshadow his incredible disease of being a compulsive gambler. It’s a disease that still has not left Rose’s system, because he’s still betting today. But Rose is a Hall of Famer through and through.

As much as I hate both as human beings, Clemens and Bonds are also Hall of Famers. They were lock members of the Hall of Fame before they ever saw a syringe and put a needle into their bodies. They only enhanced their careers with steroids. The drugs did not make them become legendary ballplayers. They both belong.

As for A-Rod, it’s hard to say where the steroids started, but he was also a Hall of Fame player before the lies began and the steroid use became known. Reports have it (ah, yes, rumor and innuendo) that Rodriguez began his steroidal use rampantly when he was with the Texas Rangers in 2002. Before that year, A-Rod already had four seasons of 40-plus homers and 125-plus RBI and a .330 batting average _ as a shortstop. He should be in as well.

But Clemens, Bonds and A-Rod will more than likely never see the Hall. Nor will Rose after his last defiant stand.

The Hall of Fame should be for the greatest players of all-time. It’s not for players who a bunch of old sportswriters (yes, I’m an old sportswriter myself, just not a voting member of the BBWAA) who have picked people like Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Bill Mazeroski and _ hate to say it, but true _ Phil Rizzuto in the past.

That’s just my opinion. There are other great players like Albert Belle, Dale Murphy, Jeff Kent and Jack Morris that are Hall of Famers and will never get in. Jeff Bagwell will get in next year, but there’s another.

It took Jim Rice almost 15 full years before he got in _ and that’s because other sportswriters hated him. Rice should have been in right away. He was the best player in the American League for more than a decade. Rice batted .298 for his career. In comparison, Reggie Jackson hit .262. Yet, Jackson is considered an immortal and Rice an afterthought.

Ok, enough with the Hall of Fame. It’s old news, at least, for another year. On to other news now.

The Cincinnati Bengals-Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game Saturday night was a downright disgrace to pro football. It wasn’t a football game. It was like a bloodcurdling battle to the death, like in a Roman gladiator arena. I thought Russell Crowe should have made an appearance any minute.
First, had anyone in their lives ever see a coach actually pull the hair of an opposing player in a game? We all remember Woody Hayes throwing the punch at the Clemson player that ended the Ohio State legendary coach’s career.
Well, early in the Bengals-Steelers game, Steelers assistant Mike Munchak _ the former head coach of the Tennessee Titans _ actually grabbed the dreadlocks of Bengals defensive back Reggie Nelson on the sidelines after a play. Yes, the coach pulled the hair of an opposing player in the middle of a game. Unreal, right?
Munchak was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin should have taken Munchak off the field by his own scalp for doing something so totally ridiculous.
Munchak’s play set the tone for what became an absolutely chippy game on both sides with vicious hits galore.
There was the hit on Bengals’ RB Giovanni Bernard that knocked him out of the game, then there was Bengals’ LB Vontaze Burfict’s hit on Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger that knocked Big Ben out of the game with what was later diagnosed as a separated shoulder, only to see Big Ben return with one arm to lead his team.
Burfict was all set to be the hero. Not only did he make the hit on Ben (a hard hit, but a clean one), but he made a great diving interception of a Landry Jones pass with 1:36 left that seemed to be the game-winning play.

Burfict then stupidly runs with the football off the field and into the tunnel, but that’s another thing altogether. The interception was a great play, great read, great catch.

However, Jeremy Hill fumbled on the ensuing play, giving the Steelers one last ditch hope. Big Ben, with his right arm hanging off, went back onto the field to try to lead the Steelers. He obviously couldn’t throw the ball more than 20 yards, but he was out there.

With just 22 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger attempted a pass to Antonio Brown that sailed high. The pass was clearly incomplete, but Burfict went into Brown with his shoulder aimed at Brown’s head. The collision was violent, sending a limp Brown to the turf unable to move his arms, causing a concussion.

The bad blood continued with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter (who was never a saint as a player) somehow on the field taunting the Bengals, which incensed another bastion of good standing and wonderment Adam (don’t you dare call me PacMan anymore) Jones going after Porter and instead of pushing Porter, he pushed an official instead. That’s a no-no as well.

So Burfict got 15 yards for his hit of Brown and Jones got 15 yards for his push of the official and the Steelers got 30 yards in penalties on a play where the injured quarterback with the bad arm couldn’t have thrown the damn thing 30 yards. Out trots kicker Chris Boswell and he kicks the field goal that gives Pittsburgh the improbable 18-16 win.

It was an implosion like never before seen. The Bengals lost control of themselves and lost the game because of it. Burfict is a super football player who has very few peers. But he’s a complete jackass for all the other things he does _ and there have been so many that he was slapped with a three-game suspension to start the 2016 NFL season. If the Bengals won the game, he would be on the sidelines this weekend. That’s how much of a bonehead he is.

There’s no justification for it. None. Not for Burfict’s hit and certainly not for Jones’ pushing of an official. But there’s also no justification for Munchak pulling Nelson’s hair and Porter going onto the field to taunt and belittle, so both teams were way wrong.

Frankly, it was all pretty sickening and spoiled what was a decent game and turned it into a memorable mess. Burfict deservedly got his suspension. He should have been suspended earlier this year for twisting the legs of players after making a tackle. He’s also been flagged for several vicious late hits, but nothing like this cruel act of violence Saturday. Sure, football is a violent game, but it doesn’t have to be like that. This was hideous.
If Tom Coughlin wants to pursue coaching jobs in the NFL, that’s his right. He has earned that right to do whatever he likes.

But if he’s looking at the Eagles or the 49ers, then he still wanted to coach. And if he wanted to still coach, then that position should have been with the Giants and not anywhere else.

I don’t buy that the time had come for a change and that sometimes change is necessary. That’s a load of crap. Coughlin earned the right to be the Giants coach for as long as he wanted to be the coach. He earned that right with Silver Big Thing No. 1 (three for the main team in East Rutherford) and cemented that right with Silver Big Thing No. 2 (four for the main team in East Rutherford).

If you win two Super Bowl titles, two Lombardi Trophies (the real name), then you’re a Hall of Fame coach and you can do whatever you like as a coach. 

You don’t fire legends. And apparently, by the way this has played out this week, with Coughlin looking for another job and him not shaking John Mara’s hand after Monday’s press conference, then call it whatever you like. Resigned, retired, moved on, change is good, stepped aside, what have you. It wasn’t that. Coughlin was fired and that’s just wrong.

It wasn’t Coughlin’s fault that the Giants were 6-10 this year. Sure, he didn’t do exactly a great job when they lost to Dallas to open the season or to Atlanta and the Jets. All three games were wins if the team was coached properly. I get it.

But the Giants had an inferior defense from training camp on. Their offensive line was also a work in progress. Those are two main components to a winning football team and the Giants had neither.

How do you fire Coughlin and keep Jerry Reese? The general manager is the one who picked the players.

I tell you what. It was Reese who gave that ridiculous contract to horrible offensive lineman Will Beatty. Reese gave Beatty a 5-year, $37 million contract. OUCH! Why? Beatty never proved himself worthy of that money. He simply cannot play. Brad Benson and his radio commercials for his car dealership could block better than Beatty right now.

The Giants are on the hook for $9.3 million on the salary cap for 2016 for Beatty’s contract. Oh, brother. Beatty was never worth that kind of deal and forced the Giants to nickel and dime their way with other players to fill out a competitive roster.

Beatty proved his worth by not playing a down last season, suffering an offseason injury lifting weights, then suffering another in-season injury working out. He has to be the most overpaid and useless player in the league. A contract like Beatty’s is what strangled the entire franchise and forced the spiral downward, not Coughlin’s coaching ability.

So if Coughlin wants to coach elsewhere, he is applauded. But let’s not kid anyone here. He didn’t step aside or retire gracefully. He was shown the door _ and that’s not only wrong, but a gigantic mistake.

And mark my words: Ben McAdoo will be named the Giants’ new head coach within the next two weeks. McAdoo wasn’t enticed here from Green Bay just so he could become an offensive coordinator. He was promised the head coaching job when Coughlin stepped aside. Or in this case, was pushed out the door.

I said it when they got rid of him and I’ll say it again now that the Brooklyn Nets are a complete laughingstock.
The biggest mistake that franchise made was to turn the coaching reins over to unproven and disloyal Jason Kidd and get rid of P.J. Carlesimo in the process.
Carlesimo was 35-19 as the head coach of the Nets after they canned the overmatched Avery Johnson as coach.
Carlesimo led the Nets to the playoffs, but they were defeated by the Chicago Bulls in 2013. Since then, the Nets were 44-38 in Kidd’s lone year as head coach, went 38-44 with the lethargic Lionel Hollins as head coach last year and owned a robust 10-27 mark this year before the clueless ownership group fired Hollins and GM Billy King, the architect of all the trades that cost the Nets a zillion draft choices and brought them wonderful people like Deron Williams.

Why the Nets decided to get rid of a successful coach like Carlesimo is beyond my wildest comprehension. One thing’s for sure: They’re not going to be 35-19 again anytime soon.

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