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Pedro’s Mustard Stain

Trips to Yankee Stadium were typically not much fun for me in the late 90′s. The Sox continued to trot out a roster that had only two players worth watching – Nomar and Pedro. Nomar was still in the phase of his career in which he was a hitting savant. He could seemingly hit any pitch on a line somewhere. Basically any game could be a 4 hit night for him. He definitely was one of the guys you did not leave the room for when his at bats were on tv.

But Pedro…, well, Pedro was on an other level.

Pedro was dominating hitters in the midst of the steroid era. His ERA+ from 1997-2003 was 215! That is, he had an ERA less than half the league average and was doing it when home runs were flying out of ballparks at crazy rates. So needless to say when Pedro was pitching in the Bronx on a warm September night I told Trish this was an event that could not be missed. That was 15 years ago today.

There was a section of the old Yankee Stadium in the first few rows of the upper deck that was great. You could see the entire field clearly, noting the movements of the defense as they anticipated a particular pitch. It was the best place to watch baseball outside of Fenway. When Trish and I arrived we climbed to the upper deck through the left field section. Arriving at the top level, we were directly over the Sox bullpen with Pedro warming up. I watched as the bullpen coach placed a 2 inch strip over sections of the plate or off the plate. He never missed a spot. It was truly amazing. Here was a guy throwing 96, hitting spots only 2 inches wide while the ball was also moving side to side and up and down. Never thought a bullpen session could be captivating.

Pedro’s second pitch hit Chuck Knoblauch. 2 pitches later Varitek threw him out stealing. Pedey knew what he had that night and was just toying with people. From there out it was a thing of beauty. 2 Strikeouts in the 2nd and 3rd, striking out the side in the 5th. From 7th inning on the Yankees did not hit a fair ball, 8 K’s and a week foul pop to first. At the end of the 8th inning, Ricky Ledee struck out swinging for the 3rd time.

Now I’d been going to Sox games in the Bronx since my freshman year at Fordham. I knew how to avoid the unsavory aspects of the crowd. But I finally let go, standing up and cheering for the Pedro’s 14th K. As I turned back to take a seat, an object was coming toward my head. I ducked but it was too late. Thud. I had been hit in the head with a hot dog. I looked back and saw other fans congratulating the hurler who threw his pitch as accurate as any Pedro threw that night. Hitting a man with a hot dog from 45 feet is hard to do. What’s more, as I looked down I could see that this was a nearly complete dog with relish and mustard. The guy had invested a good $5 on this chuck. I had to give him credit.

The mustard left a stain on my hat. It was a stain I wore with pride until it finally faded 10 years later. I wore that same mustard-stained hat on October 20th 2004 when the Sox completed their comeback in the Bronx and again on October 27th that year.

The hat still sits in my closet; too torn and weathered for me to wear regularly. But I took it out in October 2007 and again last year. I will wear it again in 5 years in Cooperstown I suppose.

Hey Lebron, Get Off My Lawn!

Since the end of the NBA finals the refrain has been heard, “it is a travesty that NBA players are building super teams.” Several All-Time Greats will certainly come out and say they never would have left their team to join up with others to win championships.

This is a garbage argument.

Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Bird, Kobe, Duncan, Magic, Jerry West and Lebron are the Top 10 Players of All Time according to Bill Simmons with a bit of editorializing from me to move Lebron into the group. These all time greats did not have to build super teams the way Lebron has because they were made for them. Together they have won 46 rings (including 5 that Kareem and Magic won together) representing 70% of modern NBA Championships.

I will gladly accept that a transcendent NBA player makes others on his team better. He can turn a nice starter and make him an All-Star. But any player that ends up in Springfield was going to be an impact player regardless of who his teammates were. So to prove this point I’m going to use a higher bar.

So, how many of these rugged individualists bravely won multiple NBA Championships as the lone super star that carried their team. Umm, that would be zero.

That’s right, none (0, Zilch, Nada) of them have been won without at least one other Hall of Fame player on the roster. To find an NBA HOF’er who won multiple NBA Championships as the only HOF player on the team, you have to look to Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons. I’ve had to make some assumptions on who will be elected to the Hall among active players but these are generally not close calls (Pao Gasol, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker).

Here is the breakdown of the NBA’s Top 10 with the number of championships and the number of other Hall of Fame players on each championship team.

Player Rings 0 1 2 3 4
Jordan1 6 0 ‘91, ‘92, ‘93, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98 0 0 0
Russell2 11 0 0 ‘66, ‘68, ‘69 ‘62, ‘64, ‘65 ‘57, ‘59, ‘60, ‘61, ‘63
Kareem 6 0 ‘71, ‘80 ‘82, ‘87, ‘88 ‘85 0
Bird 3 0 0 ‘81 ‘84 ‘86
Kobe3 5 0 ‘00, ‘01, ‘02,  ‘08, ‘09 0 0 0
Duncan4 5 0 ‘99 ‘05 ,‘07, ‘14 ‘03, 0
Magic 5 0 ‘80 ‘82, ‘87, ‘88 ‘85 0
Lebron5 2 0 0 ‘12,’13 0 0
Wilt 2 0 ‘67 ‘72
Jerry West 1 0 ‘72

Given these numbers, any team’s chance of being truly dominant and creating a dynasty is clearly dependent on having multiple Hall of Fame players.The complexities of the salary cap are one driving force. The other is that the league has gone from 8 teams in 1957 (Bill Russell’s rookie year) to 22 in 1980 (Bird/ Magic) to 23 in ’84 (Jordan) and now 30.

Players, pundits, analysts and fans who claim this is not how it should be done are simply old cranks who don’t like that Lebron, Carmelo and others are intelligently adapting to an NBA with an ever increasing number of teams. It is now a league in which you cannot build a team with 4 or 5 Hall of Fame players through the draft, free agency and trades unless the players acquiesce to it.

Winners find a way to win, I agree. But why doesn’t this way count?

Notes

1) ‘96-’98 teams also included Dennis Rodman who was no slouch

2) Assumes KC Jones elected as a coach. These numbers increase if we assume as a player.

3) Assumes Pao Gasol is a HOF’er

4) Assumes Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are HOF’ers. ‘99 Championship team also included Sean Elliot pre-Injury

5) Assumes Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen are HOF’ers

Instagram and the 12 Yr Old Birthday

My daughters turn 12 today.

Here’s the Instagram-iquette for a tween birthday just in case you were wondering.

1) The night before, prepare video or photo montage accompanied by appropriate music celebrating your friend. The more pictures and more confusing the sequence is the better since it means you’ve known them longer

2) Tag as many people as possible even if don’t really know them well

3) Sit and wait for likes

4) For the recipient, wake early and begin writing comments back to each poster. Be sure not repeat comments or forget someone. This could prove costly

5) Attempt (in-vain) to get your parents to not post embarrassing pictures of you but instruct them on the proper way to post so as many people see it as possible.

6) Skip breakfast if needed in order to accomplish these tasks.

7) Like nearly all of the other birthday wishes to your friend. Reading them is optional.

8) Remain adorable despite the faux-maturity you are craving.

The Irony of Baseball History

My favorite college professor, Rev. Mark Massa, introduced me to Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic The Irony of American History more than 20 years ago. Niebuhr posited that irony was the best lens through which to view American history. And not Alanis Morissette irony, real irony. For example, it is truly ironic that a land settled by religious pilgrims became the first nation to explicitly separate government and religion. Nearly every year that passes something happens in the US that proves just how right he was.

The most recent is the buffoonery being displayed by self ordained priests of baseball at the Baseball Writers Association of America. You see, election to the Baseball Hall of Fame is akin to sainthood to some of the writers who bear the responsibility of voting on the Hall. Drunkards, philanderers, cheaters or racists are all expressly forbidden. So writers have decided to punish known and rumored users of performance enhancing drugs by keeping them out of the Hall.

The result is, ironically, a less-important Hall of Fame.  Every time the honor is withheld for these reasons, the honor itself becomes less valuable as do the votes these writers cherish. The very act of using the HOF votes as a weapon weakens them. Mr. Niebuhr’s thesis is proven once again.

Shooting Ducks

Two recent media events point to be a selective misunderstanding of the First Amendment in America today and it’s relationship to free market capitalism.

When A&E chose to suspend Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty they were not following government orders to silence someone whose comments were rightfully deemed ignorant and hateful by many citizens. Was the network taking a moral stand based on principles? Maybe. More likely they were making a business decision that they would lose more viewers, advertisers, employees and dollars through silence than thru the suspension. It was a business decision that is not regulated by the government.

Today’s New York Times highlights an issue that is strikingly similar to the Duck Dynasty affair. The Times details the blacklisting of Dick Metcalf, a gun journalist who dared to question the hard line NRA stance on gun rights. When readers and advertisers became outraged at the writer’s stance, his employer made the same financial decision AMC did and parted ways with the writer.

Depending on your level of cynicism, the NYT and the “I Support Phil” group are either ignorant of the Constitution or choosing to apply different arguments on similar issues to fit their position on the issue. The typically free-market loving right should be supporting A&E’s freedom to make the best financial decision for their shareholders but instead they decry the infringement of Phil Robertson’s first amendment rights. The Times implies that Guns & Ammo magazine caved to financial interest instead of supporting Metcalf. Again, maybe the magazine was taking a moral stand supporting the 2nd Amendment, but they were likely just making a business decision.

The First Amendment prevents the government from restricting speech, not corporations. When media companies like A&E or Guns & Ammo dismiss employees for their speech the companies are exercising their 1st Amendment rights while making free market capitalist decisions.