To Hall of Famers, baseball has transformed at dizzying pace
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
Thursday, January 24
NEW YORK (AP) — Baseball has transformed at dizzying speed since Edgar Martinez took his final swing and Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay threw their final pitches.
“We don’t have enough time to talk about that,” the ever erudite Mussina said Wednesday when a trio of newly minted living Hall of Famers appeared at a news conference. “The game always evolves — it always has. I’m not sure I love the way it’s changed lately, but that’s just the nature of it.”
When Mussina retired Boston’s Dustin Pedroia on a double-play grounder to end his final outing in 2008, a start that made him a first-time 20-game winner at age 39, strikeouts in the major leagues totaled 32,884. That broke a mark that had stood since 2004.
There were 41,207 whiffs last year, setting a record for the 11th straight season.
When Martinez took his final swing in 2004, grounding into a double play against Texas reliever Brian Shouse, infield shifts weren’t even totaled, employed only for a few lefty pull hitters like Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
Baseball’s Analytics Age, the successor to the Steroids Era, had just begun by 2013, when Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte walked to the Yankee Stadium mound to remove Rivera. The closer left in mid-inning against Tampa Bay to tears and cheers in what turned out to be his finale, after Yunel Escobar had flied out. That month also marked the final appearance of Roy Halladay, who died in a plane crash 14 months ago and was elected posthumously on Tuesday.
There were 34,673 infield shifts on balls in play last year, up from 8,180 in 2013 and 2,357 two years later. Partly as a result, the major league batting average dropped to .248, its lowest since 1972.
“In the past when I played, with two strikes we tried to put the ball in play,” Martinez said in the corner of the ballroom atop The St. Regis New York. “I don’t see many players doing that anymore. Two strikes it’s like, swing hard still. I wish that could change with the players today.”
The Hall of Fame is baseball’s annual celebration of itself. Hall President Jeff Idelson saluted its exclusivity: Among 19,429 major league players, just 232 have been chosen for the Hall, including 132 from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America annual ballot, which requires a supermajority vote.
“It is important to note that the magic number remains 75 percent, a figure never attained by anyone who lived in the White House,” BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell said.
Having achieved the greatest at the highest level, perhaps these players’ thoughts should count the most when it comes to the sport’s evolution.
“As a starter, if you can’t get deep in games, you lose opportunities to win games and you won’t pitch as many innings. There’s a whole list of things that happen,” Mussina said. “So as a starter, I’m not a huge fan of the way it’s going, but I’m not the one making the decisions. I’m an old guy now who just played a few years ago.”
Rivera, the first player elected unanimously by the BBWAA, was as succinct with his words as he was with his pitches.
“I agree with Moose,” he said. “He’s the man.”
Rivera averaged 92-94 mph with his devastating cutter from 2007 through the end of his career, when velocity got as much attention as wins, losses, homers and RBIs. Martinez said the rise of hard-throwing relievers had just dawned in his final years, pitchers who came out of the bullpen throwing 96 and 97 mph.
“Now it’s like every team has two or three, so it is difficult,” he said. “I think players adapt to that type of velocity. The more consistently they see it, they will adapt.”
Glowing a day after their elections, Rivera, Martinez and Mussina smiled and joked. Rivera recalled getting fined by the Yankees’ kangaroo court for showing Halladay the grip he used for his cutter.
They reminisced over youth and obstacles overcome. Rivera was born in the Panamanian fishing village of Puerto Caimito.
“I had no shoes, so we had to be playing barefoot,” he said.
Martinez struggled through his first five big league seasons with Seattle and didn’t become a consistent top hitter until shifted to designated hitter at age 32, a move he initially fought, fearful a bad year at the plate could end his career.
Mussina remembered his first professional season after leaving Stanford, at Double-A Hagerstown in 1990.
“First bus trip I got my luggage run over by the bus,” he said. “First game I actually pitched, it rained so hard they couldn’t get the tarp on the field. So I pitched two innings, and so it didn’t really count, and so I got two debuts in the minors, which doesn’t happen all the time.”
Rivera and Mussina were former New York Yankees teammates, and Rivera and Martinez are tied by the batter’s unusual success against him. Martinez hit .579 (11 for 19) off Rivera with three doubles, two home runs, six RBIs and three walks.
That provided food for thought. Or rather, thought for food.
“Edgar has to take me to dinner, maybe tomorrow?” Rivera said. “One of these days. Because of me, his average was better, so therefore, you owe me dinner.”
Not so fast, Mussina insisted. Mussina’s 270 victories included 49 that were saved by Rivera — the reliever’s second-most for a pitcher behind 72 for Andy Pettitte.
“How many times did I set you up so you could sit up here?” Mussina asked Rivera. “I think you take me some place, that’s what I think.”
Rivera was quick with a cutting reply: “Olive Garden.”
More laughs and smiles.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
SUPER BOWL AND POLITICS — TWO VIEWPOINTS
Opinion: Football Has Always Been Political
By Peter Certo
Super Bowl season is like the holidays — a celebration shared by people more accustomed to arguing than sitting down together. As one of the few transpartisan, mass media events left to our tribal culture, the biggest TV night of the year can’thelp but channel the political tensions most of us endure all year long.
This year, pop superstar Rihanna turned town the Super Bowl halftime show, citing the NFL’s crackdown on protests of racial discrimination. For the same reason, comedian Amy Schumer publicly swore off doing any commercials.
Meanwhile, advertisers fret that running any ads at all could be read as a statement one way or the other. (Last year, Budweiser faced boycott calls for an ad merely mentioning that one of its founders was an immigrant.)
It’s a normal thing to want a break from arguing. But it wasn’t the “social justice warriors” who politicized football.
In fact, professional football has been deeply politicized for years. Maybe you didn’t notice before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, but the fact that one guy on one knee sparked a national firestorm highlights the politics of the stage he actedon.
It wasn’t until 2009, for example, that NFL players were even required to leave the locker room for the national anthem, much less stand for it.
That year, the Pentagon was gearing up for a major troop surge in the Afghan war, which even 10 years ago was already old, unpopular and largely forgotten. It needed recruits, and it needed a compliant public.
So where did it look? To sports fans. A Senate investigation revealed that the military dumped tens of millions of dollars into the NFL and other leagues for PR help. This accelerated a post-9/11 trend of increasingly patriotic — and martial — displays at football games.
“Consider the display put on at Super Bowl 50,” recalls writer Stephen Beale for The American Conservative: “A flyover by the Blue Angels fighter jets, and 50 representatives of all military branches singing ‘America the Beautiful’ against a backdrop of a giant flag.”
Some even speculate that the NFL’s national anthem rules were bought by that Pentagon money. Either way, warfighters are now honored at virtually every sporting event. A visitor from elsewhere might wonder what all this has to do with moving a ball around.
Make no mistake — even “non-political” celebrations of veterans are deliberately political. William Astore, a 20-year Air Force vet, has written that the “post-9/11 drive to get an America public to ‘thank’ the troops endlessly for their service in distant conflicts” amounts to “stifling criticism of those wars by linking it to ingratitude.”
Astore quotes the late Norman Mailer, who warned during the Iraq War that “the complete investiture of the flag with mass spectator sports has set up a pre-fascistic atmosphere.” (How prescient that seems now that the president himself sets out to punish political speech on the field.)
It was only in this atmosphere that a simple, silent protest of police brutality and racism could be construed as an attack on “our troops” — as opposed to, say, police brutality or racism. Despite this thoroughly political staging, it was onlyKaepernick and his supporters who were attacked for “bringing politics” into football.
The conditioning was so deep that even real-life veterans coming out in support of the quarterback were unable to prevent him from being demonized and blackballed. (In fact, it was veteran Nate Boyer who advised Kaepernick to take a knee in the first place.) Small wonder that rich celebrities and advertisers now have to grapple with it, too.
That’s no comfort to the beleaguered football fan (or their friend who just watches for the commercials). But even if nobody deigns to kneel during the anthem, and even if advertisers and halftime performers play it safe and boring, you aren’tbeing spared politics. You’re swimming in it.
Somewhere outside that billionaire-owned, taxpayer-funded stadium (hey, that’s political too), your neighbors are living with poverty, racism and violence. Farther afield, thousands of troops remain mired in countless forgotten battlefields, while innocentpeople abroad endure another year of war.
Everything we do that affects each other is political — and few acts are more deceptively political than telling the affected people to pipe down.
Enjoy the game!
ABOUT THE WRITER
Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Has the Super Bowl Become Too Political?
By Chris Talgo
In the eloquent words of Hank Williams Jr., “Are you ready for some football?” On February 3, Super Bowl LIII will kick off in Atlanta.
Last year, 103.4 million people watched the big game, the smallest audience since 2009. In fact, NFL viewership experienced a steep decline in 2016 and 2017 as well (ratings are up slightly for the 2018 season).
Although the drop in NFL ratings is a complicated matter, one cannot discount the fact that many fans are tuning out because the game has simply become too political.
In fairness, many American professional sports leagues are also struggling with declining viewership, but the NFL’s recent ratings dive is more pronounced because the game has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Sorry sports fans, major league baseball might be the nation’s pastime, but Americans are (or at least were) NFL-obsessed.
So what gives? Why is the once-mighty NFL being sacked with low ratings all of a sudden?
Well, let’s take a timeout and consider that the NFL got blitzed at the beginning of the 2016 season. It all began when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand during the playing of the national anthem before thestart of the final preseason game.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at a news conference after the game.
Almost overnight, the controversy gained more speed than a wide receiver sprinting downfield. Several other players joined Kaepernick in refusing to stand for the anthem.
Meanwhile, the “take a knee” issue shot to the forefront of the nation’s (already heated) societal discourse. Polls revealed that a majority of Americans opposed the reason behind the players’ decision to kneel, although a vast majority saidthey have the right to do so.
Throughout 2016 and 2017, the issue grew bigger than an offensive lineman’s appetite. Eventually, President Donald Trump weighed in, which further fanned the flames of the kneeling firestorm.
In the ensuing years, the tenor and tone of the so-called kneeling debate has vacillated more than a rookie quarterback’s performance on any given Sunday. Players have referred to the NFL as a modern-day plantation and to NFL team owners as slaveowners. Last time I checked, slaves have not typically been paid millions of dollars to play a child’s game, as NFL players are.
No doubt, NFL bigwigs such as Commissioner Roger Goodell fumbled this issue from the very beginning. However, the reality is that most Americans, including yours truly, watch sports as an escape from politics.
Long ago, Hollywood and practically all other elements of American pop culture were infiltrated by politics and infected with political correctness gone wild — no wonder nobody wants to host the Oscars — but sports, especially football, was supposed to be immune from the political virus.
In other words, if the NFL wants to regain its throne atop the sports universe — sorry soccer fans, but this is America — maybe it is time for the players, owners and talking heads on sports radio to get back to basics. For the sake of the league — and the sanity of sports fans — put aside the politics.
Of course athletes and entertainers have the right to voice their opinions. However, in today’s hyper politicized environment, sometimes it is best to leave your opinion to yourself and focus on your job.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Chris Talgo is an editor at The Heartland Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Harden scores career-best 61, Rockets edge Knicks 114-110
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
Thursday, January 24
NEW YORK (AP) — James Harden inched past Wilt Chamberlain and didn’t stop his latest one-man show until he’d tied Kobe Bryant.
On another spectacular night for the NBA’s most sensational scorer, Harden not only notched his career high with 61 points, but tied Bryant’s record for a visiting player at the current Madison Square Garden.
“In the Garden, I’ll take it,” Harden said.
The Rockets sure needed it.
Harden made the clinching layup with 3.8 seconds remaining after the Knicks turned it over, and the Rockets edged the New York Knicks 114-110 on Wednesday night.
With his final basket, Harden capped his fifth 50-point game this season and a wild stretch of back-and-forth basketball across the final minutes.
“The way we played in the last six minutes, maybe four minutes, we set basketball back at least 10 years,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It was mind-boggling the things we just did. We got the win.”
Eric Gordon made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left when Houston couldn’t get the ball to Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer who earlier had passed Chamberlain into fourth place in NBA history with his 21st consecutive 30-point game.
A day after saying he hadn’t yet experienced his Madison Square Garden moment, Harden finished 17 of 38 from the floor. He was only 5 of 20 on 3-pointers but was 22 of 25 from the line and grabbed 15 rebounds in front of a crowd that cheered some of his long jumpers but then booed after he drew foul after foul.
“They couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do,” Harden said. “But I appreciate them though, honestly. Tonight they kept me going and made the game exciting for me.”
Carmelo Anthony holds the overall record at the current MSG with 62 points.
Rookie Allonzo Trier scored a season-high 31 points for the Knicks, who lost their seventh straight game. They lost coach David Fizdale when he picked up his second technical foul and was ejected with 1:08 remaining.
Fizdale said he didn’t know why he was tossed, though referee Pat Fraher said it was for continuous complaining after he’d been warned, leading to a second tech for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Rockets led by 10 after three, but the Knicks quickly cut into it when Harden was on the bench. New York eventually took a couple late leads — helped at one point when P.J. Tucker inexplicably refused to pick up Gordon’s inbounds pass to allow a layup — but couldn’t hold on, losing for the 15th time in 16 games.
Harden had already surpassed his average of 35.7 points by halftime, putting back the miss of his own shot to beat the buzzer and give himself 36 points and nine rebounds.
Chamberlain still has all three 30-point streaks that were longer. His record is 65 straight, and he also had streaks of 31 and 25 games.
Harden was outscoring the Knicks by himself for most of the first quarter before taking his first rest late in the period with 19 points. The Knicks moved into the lead by the end of the quarter and stayed there the remainder of the half, stretching the lead to 13 before the Rockets trimmed it to 63-58 at the break.
Rockets: Chris Paul appears close to returning from a left hamstring strain. D’Antoni said it could be by the end of this week, with the Rockets next playing Friday at home against Toronto. If not, D’Antoni said it could be early next week. … Kenneth Faried started in just his second game since joining the Rockets on Monday, scoring 11 points.
Knicks: Fizdale said Luke Kornet’s sprained left ankle could have been much worse, but that the center would still miss at least a couple weeks. … Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 21 points.
MAKING THEMSELVES AT HOME
The Rockets beat the Knicks for the ninth straight time at MSG. New York’s last home victory in the series was on Jan. 26, 2009, when D’Antoni was the Knicks’ coach. Exactly a week later, Bryant scored his 61 points in a Lakers victory on Feb. 2.
DNP FOR KANTER
Even with Kornet out, former starting center Enes Kanter couldn’t regain a spot in the rotation and was again frustrated as Fizdale remains committed to evaluating young players on his team, which fell to 10-36.
“They just told me this morning I am starting. The coach said himself today I am starting and now I come to the game and didn’t play,” Kanter said. “I am trying to be a good teammate here, man. The whole league knows I am always with my teammates.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Predators’ Subban says Golden Knights’ Bellemare bit finger
Thursday, January 24
LAS VEGAS (AP) — This goal-mouth scramble might have had some real bite to it.
Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban accused Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of chomping on one of his fingers during a scuffle late in the second period of the Predators’ 2-1 victory Wednesday night.
Subban said he reached around Bellemare’s head to try to pull him away from Juuse Saros after the Nashville goalie covered the puck, but did not put his finger anywhere near Bellemare’s mouth.
“All I tried to do was grab him,” Subban said. “I grabbed him by the head to pull him up and he bit me, so that’s it. I don’t know what to say.”
Bellemare insisted Subban put his hand near his mouth and removed his mouth guard.
“He tried to pull me up, so obviously he’s feeling teeth and he’s acting on it,” Bellemare said. “I don’t know what to tell you, really.”
When asked about Subban’s claims that he bit a finger, Bellemare said: “I mean, if you put your hand all the way in the mouth … and you pull up, you’re going to feel the teeth.”
Subban immediately grabbed his right hand, shook it and then showed it to referee Jake Brenk. Subban appeared to have droplets of blood on his jersey.
Bellemare also appeared to have cuts on his lip.
“What do you want me to say?” Bellemare asked. “Like, I have a half glove in my throat and playing with the back of it and pulling me up. There was no mouth guard when he pulls up. Those are my teeth.”
Bellemare wasn’t penalized — but Subban was after the defenseman got into it with Vegas forward Ryan Reaves a few moments after the initial skirmish. Subban was called for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct, while Reaves was also penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I don’t know how I walk out of there with four minutes in penalties,” Subban said. “They tried to apologize after the fact, but they already gave me four minutes in penalties. My finger is bleeding.
“It just is what it is. It’s the last game before the break for us and I’m just focused on playing the game. The last thing you want to do is change the focus of our team there. We won the game, so I forgot about it after that.”
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports