Rivera, Halladay, Martinez seem set for Hall election
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
Tuesday, January 22
NEW YORK (AP) — Mariano Rivera figures to make quick work of his Hall of Fame ballot appearance, just as he did of opposing batters, and could even set another record when voting is announced Tuesday: for highest percentage of ballots.
No one has ever been a unanimous Hall of Fame selection. Ken Griffey Jr. holds the mark for the top percentage at 99.32 when he was on 437 of 440 ballots two years ago.
Rivera was picked by all 217 voters totaled through Monday afternoon by Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame vote tracker, about half the expected ballots.
Bill Ballou of The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Massachusetts, wrote in November that because he didn’t plan to vote for Rivera, he wouldn’t submit a ballot.
“He has had a long career, albeit in a role I do not value, a role I equate with a PAT kicker in football or a shootout guy in hockey,” Ballou wrote. “Rivera could be the first Hall of Famer elected unanimously. I think I’m right about closers, but not so much that I would deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.”
Roy Halladay also appeared headed to election in his first appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, while Edgar Martinez seemed likely to join them in his 10th and final appearance. Mike Mussina also could gain the honor, but Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling probably will fall short while getting closer.
Rivera set the career saves record with 652 in 19 seasons plus 42 more in the postseason. The New York Yankees didn’t even wait until his final game to retire his No. 42 — he was the last player in the major leagues to wear that number, grandfathered when No. 42 was retired in honor of Jackie Robinson in 1997.
Rivera’s efficiency was renowned on a Yankees’ dynasty that he helped win five World Series titles: He retired the side in order in 229 of his 491 three-out saves. according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He broke the previous mark of 601 saves, set by 2018 inductee Trevor Hoffman.
Rivera made a weepy exit in September 2013, when teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte went to the mound to remove him against Tampa Bay in what turned out to be his finale. After the final out, Rivera went back to the mound where he became famous and gathered a bit of his workplace to take home.
“I wanted to get some dirt, just stay there for the last time, knowing that I ain’t going to be there no more,” he said.
Halladay’s election will be tinged with melancholy. The two-time Cy Young Award winner died in November 2017 at age 40 when the airplane he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. He went 203-104 with a 3.38 ERA in 12 seasons with Toronto and four for Philadelphia.
In 2010, he pitched a perfect game against the Marlins in May, then threw a no-hitter against Cincinnati in the NL Division Series opener — only the second no-hitter in postseason history after Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against Brooklyn in the 1956 World Series.
Halladay retired at age 36 because of back injuries.
“I want to continue to do things I enjoy doing, spend time with my family,” he said when making the announcement. “The biggest thing is I’m trying to avoid surgery.”
Halladay was tracking at 92.6 percent, an overwhelming choice.
Martinez received 36.2 percent support in his first ballot appearance in 2010, well short of the 75 percent needed. He rose from 27 percent in 2015 to 43.4 percent the following year, to 58.6 percent in 2017 to 70.4 percent last year, when he fell 20 votes shy of the 317 needed.
“We are trending up, next year may be the year,” he tweeted after the 2018 vote.
Martinez hit .312 with 309 home runs in 18 seasons with Seattle, like Rivera spending his entire career with one organization. He was tracking at 90.8 percent support this year; players’ final totals usually drop by 5-7 percent from the vote-tracker.
Martinez would join 2014 inductee Frank Thomas as the only players in the Hall who played a majority of their games as a designated hitter. David Ortiz is likely to make it three when he becomes eligible in 2022.
Six players were inducted last year, included four voted in by writers — one shy of the record set in the first year of balloting in 1936.
Pitcher Lee Smith and designated hitter/outfielder Harold Baines were elected last month by the Today’s Game Era Committee and will be inducted on July 21. Rivera and Smith will increase relievers at Cooperstown by 25 percent to eight, joining Hoyt Wilhelm (1985), Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006), Rich Gossage (2008) and Hoffman.
Including Smith and Baines, 25 people have been voted in since 2014.
Mussina was 39 when he retired after going 20-8 in 2008 and becoming the oldest first-time 20-game winner. He was 270-153 with 2,813 strikeouts in 18 seasons for Baltimore and the Yankees, and had he remained active he had a chance to reach 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.
“My numbers match up well with guys who are in the Hall of the Fame,” he said when he retired.
Mussina got 20.3 percent of the vote in his first appearance, rose to 43 percent in 2016, 51.8 percent the following year and 63.5 percent in 2018. This is his sixth appearance, and he was tracking at 81.6 percent.
Bonds and Clemens, both on for the seventh time, also are gaining as younger voters appear less inclined to withhold support because of allegations of steroids use. Bonds rose to 56.4 percent last year from 36.2 in his first appearance, and he was tracking at 70.5. Clemens increased from 37.6 percent in 2013 to 57.3 last year and was tracking at 71.
Schilling, also in his seventh appearance, rose from 51.2 last year to 70.5 in this year’s tracker. Their best chance could come in 2021, when no first-time candidates are odds-on favorites. Jeter heads the newcomers on the 2020 ballot.
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Shiffrin shows she’s ready to take over from Vonn
By ANDREW DAMPF
AP Sports Writer
Monday, January 21
CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — A passing of the torch moment. A generational transformation marked by a veteran’s tears and the unbridled joy of youth.
Call it what you want, it seemed like destiny played a role when Mikaela Shiffrin won what could very well turn out to be Lindsey Vonn’s last race.
In the space of about a half hour on Sunday, Vonn broke down emotionally after she failed to finish a World Cup super-G on knees so worn down that she describes them as “bone on bone,” then Shiffrin came down nine racers later and won her first speed race at the premier stop on the women’s circuit.
Shortly after the normally reserved Shiffrin unleashed an unusual hands-over-her-head celebration, Vonn announced that she was considering moving up her retirement.
“As a fan of ski racing and as an American, if Lindsey’s not there it’s awesome to see another American girl on top,” said retired U.S. racer Daron Rahlves, who was in attendance. “But I know it’s burning inside for Lindsey.”
After collecting herself, the 34-year-old Vonn went over and embraced the 23-year-old Shiffrin, who was standing in the leader’s box.
“I just told her, ‘Congratulations and awesome skiing. It was a well-earned victory today,’” Vonn said.
Not too long ago, it was a moment that Shiffrin could only have dreamed of.
“When I was younger she was someone I looked up to like crazy,” Shiffrin said. “I was doing book reports on her. I was one of those fans.”
Lately, Shiffrin has had a front-row seat to observe Vonn’s perseverance.
At Shiffrin’s first world championships in Schladming, Austria, she watched as Vonn tumbled head first into one of the ugliest and most damaging crashes of her career — the one that eventually kept Vonn out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Shiffrin, by then an Olympic champion like her idol, was also there when Vonn, 33 at the time, won a bronze in the downhill at last year’s Pyeongchang Games, becoming the oldest female medalist in Olympic history for Alpine skiing.
“The speed that she has is just in her — more speed than everyone else — it lives in her bones,” Shiffrin said. “Managing that with the injuries that she’s had and the mentality she always has to push 1,000 percent … I’ve always been watching that.”
While Vonn returned this weekend from a left knee injury — she hyperextended it and sprained a ligament in November — her right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes. She has also suffered fractures near her left knee, broken her ankle, sliced her right thumb, had a concussion and more.
Vonn was planning on retiring in December but her results this past weekend — her best finish in three races was ninth — prompted her to consider leaving the sport earlier.
“There’s only so much I can handle and I might have reached my maximum,” Vonn said Sunday.
U.S. team spokeswoman Megan Harrod said Monday that Vonn “is going to take the next couple/few days to think about how she will proceed and process everything, and then decide about how she will move forward based on that.”
Vonn has 82 World Cup victories — best all-time among women — and four fewer than record-holder Ingemar Stenmark, who raced in the 1970s and 80s.
“She took Alpine racing to the next level,” said Tina Weirather, the Liechtenstein racer who is the daughter of two skiing champions and who finished second Sunday. “Her mentality was something we had never seen before. She was never afraid to say that she’s the best and she wants to be best.”
Shiffrin also had a desire to be the best from a young age, and it was a relief for her to notice when she first came on tour that Vonn has the same determination.
“I used to apologize for that because it was almost like I had more intensity than all the other girls. When I saw Lindsey like this it was confirmation that this philosophy I had was working and it would work and I have to stay on this track,” Shiffrin said. “That was a really cool feeling and something that made a difference for me.”
With Shiffrin well on her way toward a third straight overall World Cup title — Vonn won four overalls — she’s well prepared to take over the spotlight from Vonn.
“She’s been a little bit sidelined for most of my career, which kind of makes me feel like the spotlight doesn’t change for me,” Shiffrin said. “When she’s around, for sure the attention is on her but when she’s not around then I feel kind of normal with it anyway. So I don’t think that really changes. Anyway I’m always the one that’s a little bit shyer.”
Shiffrin’s victory Sunday was the 54th of her career, tying her with Hermann Maier for sixth on the all-time list.
“I would love to see Lindsey catch fire again and finish off strong and set a new record of World Cup wins,” Rahlves said. “It’s been standing for so long it would be fun to see her get that record. But then it probably won’t be too long for Mikaela to come around and challenge it as well.”
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Rams’ McVay knows PI call missed, but also saw Goff facemask
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, January 22
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — When the Los Angeles Rams’ team bus rolled into their suburban training complex after a boisterous flight from New Orleans, the players and coaches were greeted by rowdy fans welcoming home the new NFC champions in the middle of the night.
The Rams and their fans lost some sleep Sunday night — but not about that missed pass interference on Nickell Robey-Coleman that could have altered the outcome of Los Angeles’ 26-23 overtime victory in the NFC championship game.
“I’m not going to sit here and say there clearly wasn’t a little bit of contact before that ball actually arrived,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Monday. “But whether he catches it or not, there’s a lot of things that go into that. … I feel bad for when it occurred in the framework of the game, but I thought (Saints coach) Sean (Payton) said it best: There’s a lot of other opportunities, and there’s a lot of things that do dictate and determine the outcome of the game.”
And after watching the tape of their remarkable win, the Rams had a few questions of their own for the officiating crew.
Specifically, the Rams couldn’t understand how the refs didn’t call Saints linebacker A.J. Klein’s apparent grab of Jared Goff’s facemask on the Rams’ previous drive. A penalty would have given a first down to the Rams at the New Orleans 1, putting them in prime position to take a 24-20 lead with a touchdown with 5:03 to play.
“When you slow it down, clearly you can see some of the things that took place. If you want to do that on every single play, though, there’s a lot of instances. You want to slow some things down with a facemask on Goff, some different things,” McVay said. “What we try to do a good job of understanding is that it is an imperfect game.”
The Rams’ latest victory wasn’t perfect, but it was historic. This franchise is still deep in the years-long process of rebuilding its once-huge fan base in Southern California after 21 years away in St. Louis.
A trip to the Super Bowl in just their third season back home is an awfully good way to send that process into warp speed.
The Rams are headed to their first Super Bowl in 17 years. The Rams had only two winning seasons in between those Super Bowl runs, but McVay’s team has swiftly reversed years of failure and put the Rams on the brink of Los Angeles’ first NFL championship since the 1983 season, when the Raiders won it all.
“We’ve been through a lot, and for us to go out there and grind through all this adversity just shows you how close we are in this room,” said guard Rodger Saffold, the longest-tenured Rams player in his ninth season. “The fans were excited for us to come back, and now, three years later, we’re on the biggest stage in sports. The city is electric for us.”
Aside from the late-game theatrics and twists, the Rams’ victory was even more surprising because of the relatively small role played by their biggest offensive star.
Todd Gurley touched the ball only five times, while backup C.J. Anderson led the Rams’ meager rushing game with 44 yards. Gurley was on the field for 32 snaps to Anderson’s 37, but last season’s Offensive Player of the Year didn’t look like himself.
McVay on Monday reiterated his claim that Gurley is fully healthy even though the running back missed the Rams’ final two regular-season games with an injured knee.
“He’s feeling good, and he sure looked pretty healthy on that touchdown run where he ran through guys and demonstrated some explosion,” McVay said. “More than anything, I’ve got to get him more opportunities.”
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Hurdles cleared, Patriots head to 3rd straight Super Bowl
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, January 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady smiled his way through the week leading up to Sunday’s AFC championship game, mostly brushing aside questions about being an underdog for one of the few times during the Patriots’ unprecedented run of titles.
But when Rex Burkhead crossed the goal line for a 2-yard touchdown to give New England a 37-31 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady let joy alter his usual coy demeanor.
He ripped off his helmet and leapt wildly in the air as his teammates rushed the field around him. The Patriots were heading back to another Super Bowl.
It will mark their third straight appearance for the Patriots and ninth overall for Brady, who again will be chasing a record sixth ring.
A victory over the NFC champion Los Angeles Rams would also put an emphatic stamp on what may have been the Patriots’ toughest road to a Super Bowl since Brady and Bill Belichick earned their first ring together in 2001.
“The odds were stacked against us. It hasn’t been that way in a while and it certainly was this year,” Brady said.
The obstacles that Brady referred to occurred both on and off the field for this latest incarnation of the Patriots.
The offseason saw the departure of several key players from last year’s team that came up short in a Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. Receiver Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams and cornerback Malcolm Butler, running back Dion Lewis, receiver Danny Amendola, and offensive linemen Nate Solder and Cam Fleming all left in free agency.
Then came news that stalwart receiver Julian Edelman would be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancers.
It helped contribute to a surprise 1-2 start and the first — albeit small — signs of age for the 41-year-old Brady.
New England took a chance and traded for receiver Josh Gordon after Cleveland decided it was time to part ways with him. His arrival helped calm things and contributed to six consecutive victories.
But questions returned after a lopsided Week 10 loss at Tennessee that exposed vulnerabilities on both sides of the ball. The Patriots won their next two, but then suffered a fluky last-second loss at Miami.
That was followed by a loss at Pittsburgh and the abrupt loss of Gordon when he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating an agreement that allowed him to play after multiple drug suspensions.
Still, despite facing the prospect of not having their usual home-field advantage in the postseason, the Patriots rediscovered their run game and offensive efficiency during wins over the Bills and Jets to close the regular season.
Brady threw for four touchdowns and had his highest quarterback rating of the season in the 38-3 victory over the Jets. It set the stage for a vintage performance by Brady in their divisional-round playoff win over the Chargers. And on Sunday against Kansas City, he had 348 yards passing despite throwing two interceptions.
He also got support from a resurgent defense and revamped rushing attack on offense. The latter has gotten back-to-back 100-yard rushing games from rookie Sony Michel, who set a rookie NFL playoff record with five touchdowns in his first two postseason games.
Also making huge contributions in the fourth quarter and OT against the Chiefs were both Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk’s regular season was mostly underwhelming as he dealt with nagging injuries, but he was surehanded at the perfect time against Kansas City, catching six passes for 79 yards. Edelman had seven catches for 96 yards as both came through with huge third-down catches late in the game.
Gronk said he took his cues from Brady.
“You’re always comfortable with Tom going down on drives,” said Gronkowski, who is the first tight end with 1,000 postseason receiving yards. “He’s always ready for these moments. And that’s why he’s the best quarterback — hands down.
“It was one of the sweeter victories definitely of my career.”
The Patriots will have a chance to top it in two weeks in Atlanta.
Safety Devin McCourty said it’s a position they always thought they’d be in.
“We’re not worried about stats. We’re not worried about Pro Bowls, All-Pros,” he said. “When we come back in April each year, it’s about getting to this game no matter what it takes.
“This year was a tough one. We battled some things. We’ve been questioned and doubted by a lot of people. But I think the great thing is we trust in what we believe. Our faith never wavered inside the locker room.”
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Football Is My Guilty Pleasure
By Matthew Johnson
As a man who prides himself on eschewing violent, hyper-masculine pastimes, I still find it very difficult to give up watching professional football, especially once the playoffs begin. I promise myself and those around me that each and every game I witness will be my last—but this is never to be. The very best I can do is wean myself off the sport, skipping a Sunday here and there. I can’t seem to go cold turkey.
I have tried to kick the habit for at least the past six seasons because it has become almost a form of sadism to watch NFL games. The grotesque number and nature of injuries have forced the league to respond by changing certain ruleswith the goal of protecting players, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
Even though I think the full-contact nature of football is what makes it more exciting than any other team sport, I still cringe when I see a player drop like a sack of potatoes after a jarring helmet-to-helmet blow to the head. Hits like these and countless smaller ones seem to inevitably lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy(CTE), the effects of which are not only debilitating but destructive.
The discovery of CTE and the NFL’s attempts to downplay its effects were the subject of the 2015 film Concussion, which caused me no small amount of trauma when I learned for the first time that retired players were committing suicideby shooting themselves in the chest so that their CTE-infected brains could be studied. Not long after came the deeply tragic (and violent) saga of Aaron Hernandez.
And this is only tangential to the NFL’s domestic violence problem. I wrote previouslyabout the bizarre fact that three players wearing the same number (27) had their careers cut short due to high-profile acts of violence against women in only a 10-year span. One of those players would be the starting halfback of the Kansas City Chiefs if he had not decided to push and kick a 19-year-old in the hallway of a hotel.
I would be remiss, of course, if I did not mention Colin Kaepernick, who went from hated rival to my currently favorite athlete for his willingness to stand up by kneeling down. Although the NFL eventually backed down on its counterproductive, Trump-demanded attempt to ban kneelingduring the national anthem, its track record of supporting progressive causes and the players who promote them—from gay rights to Black Lives Matter—is uninspiring to say the least. What’s more is that the NFL continues to retaliate against Kaepernick personally by effectively blackballinghim from the league.
What’s most puzzling (and appalling) is the extent to which I’m able to (narrow-mindedly) identify with losses suffered by my home team—given this context. Even the euphoria that results from a miraculous win doesn’t seem to balance out the losses. My feelings of anger and disgust only lead to stronger feelings of shame at being so juvenile as to become so affected by the failures of an organization whose players, coaches, and front-office personnel have no personal connection to me whatsoever. I don’t bet or brag, so why should I care who wins and who loses?
I used to equate the practice of fanatically supporting a particular sports franchise with nationalism, but now I don’t think it’s the best analogy because nationalism has brought people far more good and far more evil than even the New England Patriots, with five Super Bowl wins and an undefeated regular season since 2002, have given the people of Massachusetts—or any losing team has hurt their town. If the Patriots won every single game they played, they still wouldn’t give their fans much more than the privilege to cheer and boast ad infinitum. I think it’s clear that nationalism, while capable of causing a lot more harm than an occasional beer-soaked riot in its low moments, has provided far more tangible benefits for the masses—except the masses of those targeted by a sick nationalism from a Hitler or a Trump.
My old friend and radical sportswriter Dave Zirinhas gone to great lengths to make sports relevant in the context of our daily reality from a progressive political standpoint. He has offered up compelling arguments for applauding the athletes for their heroics while rejecting the sporting world’s tendency to objectify women, promote militarism, encourage greed and frivolity, institutionalize racism, and keep us distracted from pretty much every important social, political, or economic cause of the day. Of course, on that last point he would be quick to assert that the sports arena is but a microcosm of the larger political arena, where the same struggles are fought with different rules and boundaries. He would cite the “Los Suns” 2010 show of solidaritywith immigrants after the passage of Arizona’s notorious anti-being-in-the-state-while-brown bill and probably throw in an historic zinger like the 1968 Black Power saluteon the Olympic pedestals. Indeed, he is correct in his assessment about the occasional political nature of sports.
However, the question remains: how can someone who is socially and politically conscious care so much about the result of some stupid game?
I can only guess that the football field is somehow analogous to my reality. My inability to accept devastating losses—not to mention societal ills—is indicative of a strong preference for a life of ease and an affinity for surrogate accomplishment driven by talent and discipline, where great plays and great luck come when they are most needed, and everything is always under control. I project on my favored athletes and performers my own fears of failure, injustice, and inadequacy, and the more I observe junk news programs and grocery-line tabloids monitoring some airhead celebrity’s every move proves I’m not alone. We have in this country an epidemic of vicarious living. But for me, it ends now—or, at least, after the Super Bowl.
I have come to realize that it is not about watching the players too closely but identifying too closely with the players. Moving forward, I will take ownership of my own successes and failures and let the players and coaches take ownership of theirs. Although if everyone did likewise, I doubt football—or most spectator sports by extension—would exist as we know them.
Matt Johnson, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is co-author of Trumpism.