I’m writing this to you because no one has written the article I want to read. Or maybe they have, but I just can’t get enough of reading about “The King in The Fourth” (sorry Kobe, but IT already has a nickname). This article is not about the recent tragedy that shook the foundations of your family. It’s not about your contract. And it is definitely not about your height. This is all about how your performance in Game 2 temporarily made us forget about our city’s sordid, racist past and present. Continue reading
I think we can say we are officially back. For now. Time for one of our favorite past-times: Friday Fives. Here’s how this worked. I, Maneikis, posed 5 questions to our panel (Me, Will Weir aka “The Fedora’d One” and Taylor “I now prefer TJ” Simpson), and what you will read is our email exchange regarding each of these key questions heading into the critical Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Fun drinking game alert: every time we refer to Lebron by a name other than Lebron or anytime you feel we are being complete homers, you drink. Prepare to get dnruk.
- How do we stop Tristan Thompson?
Will: Tristan has been bashing us over the head with a mallet like a kid playing Whack-A-Mole in an arcade for about 2 or 3 years now. Feels like every game he gets about 20 rebounds vs. us and we are just powerless. Having said that, they need to try something. Rebounding has been a sore spot for C’s all year, not a secret. Amir Johnson? Child Please. Tyler Zeller? I’ll pass. Traditional big men are out. Unfortunately, we can’t have Al guard both him and Kevin Love, so I think the answer has to fall to primarily Marcus Smart and maybe even a dash of Jae Crowder. At this point, the best hope is that these 2 can be bulldogs and, at best, slow him down. Marcus seems like he’ll get 1st billing, Jae doesn’t have the speed to stay with LBJ (Step up on up Jaylen!), but maybe he has the strength to battle with Tristan like he did with Morris last round.
Maneikis: Will, I totally agree per our conversation last night. Marcus can bang with the big guys as long as it’s purely physical play. The moment you add skill to the mix, Marcus tends to struggle, but he relishes the wrestling matches. I’d also like to see us try to exploit him on the defensive end by going small and giving Marcus an opportunity to run PnR with Horford. That might force the Cavs into some unnatural defensive rotations (have Thompson and Love ever had to defend a PnR together?), and we might even get some of their bigs in foul trouble. I don’t see us stopping Thompson from getting rebounds, but I do expect us to make him work for those rebounds and to make him uncomfortable on the defensive end of the floor.
TJ: Tristan is a player who has the specific skill set that exploits the biggest weakness on the Celtics’ roster – offensive rebounding. It would be like if in The Illiad the Trojans hired a mercenary to a $60 million dollar contract whose lone skill was throwing arrows at soldiers’ heels. In the first round against the Bulls the Celtics made Robin Lopez look like Wilt Chamberlain, so an honest goal would just not to end up like any of Wilt’s famed 20,000 women – you know, completely fucked. However as many basketball coaches have repeated to me throughout the years, there is no secret to boxing out; it just takes placement, intention and a whole lot of effort. Dedicate a spot on the floor to one of the Lunks (Kelly, Zeller, Amir) who sole purpose is to stay between the basket and Tristan Thompson. Barring a sudden fix for what has been a glaring flaw all year, sign his step-sister Kendall to a 10-day. She fixed institutionalized racism with a mere soft drink, so I’m sure she can grab a few rebounds.
I’ve had 12 hours to process the unabashed beat-down the Cavs handed the Celtics last night, and the main question I’m sure most NBA fans have can be found in the title to my piece. And let me answer this for you – the answer is yes. And here’s why you should watch.
- The Celtics will win Game 2.
- Mark this down as the night Celtics fans irrationally believed in their underdogs against the PED-machine, Lebron James (hot-take alert. I’m kidding obviously, but it’s not human what he’s doing). In terms of pure atmosphere, the Garden-crowd will be worth tuning in for the lone Celtics victory in this series. There is nothing like a Boston crowd that believes in the little guy, and boy do we love our little guy.
- Marcus Smart will cover Tristan Thompson. And it could be epic.
- I was watching the first half with one of my basketball players last night and within the first minute I said, “You will not see Amir Johnson in this series again. Marcus Smart is the only guy tough enough to box Thompson out.” Fast forward to the 3rd quarter and Stevens made this adjustment, and I think this will continue at the start of Game 2. Thompson and Lebron’s physicality sucked the life out of the city last night. And if it’s not at the start, then it will be a strategy used throughout the rest of this series. Marcus cannot defend skilled bigs with brute force (as we saw when Kevin Love worked him), but he can defend brute force no matter the size. He’s the toughest dude on the Celtics and will love the challenge. Thompson will have his moments, but he will not have the same effect he did in Game 1.
- Jaylen Brown will be in Lebron’s head
- I texted die-hard Boston sports guy Matt Liptak last night the following: Watch Jaylen in this series versus Lebron. You wuill be surprised at how well he matches up with Lebron’s athleticism. Game 1 showed why Jaylen was the #3 pick last year. The kid is going to be really good. He has Kobe Bryant athleticism, and when he gets going, he can really change the game with it. Lebron will figure him out eventually, but Jaylen is the only guy who Lebron thinks twice about. You can see it in Lebron’s body language. His decisions aren’t as quick or decisive because he hasn’t found Jaylen’s defensive weakness yet, and to be honest Jaylen’s weakness is not Lebron’s strength. Jaylen gets lost in roations and chasing people off screens. Lebron is ball-dominant and Jaylen loves on-ball assignments. Lebron can still find the switches he wants, but Game 2 won’t be the joke that Game 1 was.
- We are witnessing Lebron’s transcendence to GOAT status.
- If Lebron beats this Warriors team again, I am ready to say that he is at least tied with Jordan. Save me your bullshit. What Lebron has been doing, regardless of his move to Miami, is unparalleled. If he beats the Super Warrior Brothers, then I’m saying it’s a tie. If he doesn’t, then I’m still saying he’s in the conversation. Appreciate his greatness people. I mean, when I am feeling extra existential-crisisy, I do two things to remind myself of how small and insignificant I am : look at the vast expanse of the night sky and watch this play. This is the greatest play I’ve ever seen and it’s time to give this man the respect that he is due.
Thank you. You see, I’ve been a Celtics fan since the days I thought Todd Day was a good basketball player. I rooted for Dino Radja. I cheered for Vitale Potapenko and Tony Battie. I was obsessed with Dana Barros. I dreamed on Kedrick Brown. I even talked myself into Mark Blount’s expanding midrange game. (Side note – as I was searching for Vitale Potapenko highlights on youtube, here is a list of suggestions I was provided before typing in the k in “Potapenko”:
Vitale P —> Vitale pranks, pro, pronunciation, pizza, pasta
Vitale Po —> Vitale pro hair relaxer, and bunch of other beauty products
Vitale Pot —> Laura Vitale potatoes, potato salad, potato soup
Then Laura Vitale dominates until we get…
Vitale Potape … Youtube has nothing
Vitale Potapen … still nothing…
Vitale Potapenk —> Oh we get it! Vitale Potapenko!!! Remember that time Potapenko dropped 8 points on the Bulls? This has me almost as excited as that time Kedrick Brown really made me think he was going to be providing highlights like this for an entire decade and not just one time.
Side bar over. Being a young Celtics fan was tough, but I wasn’t born until 1989, so I didn’t really understand how special our franchise is until my teenage years and therefore didn’t know how tough it was for those we knew what the other side looked like. To be honest, I didn’t really understand the Tim Duncan draft travesty until around the time the Walker Wiggle went out of style. But you, Danny, took over, back when you could grow your own hair, and brought us Banner 17, and then somehow turned our aging Big Three into future top 5 picks. These past 24 hours have been some of the most exciting moments I’ve had as a fan just thinking about all of the possibilities now that we know Markelle Fultz is ours. And knowing you Danny, I know you are exploring all possible trade options, and yes Jimmy Butler or Paul George could be nice, and there are some out there who think we could trade down with say Phili, and snag Saric and #3 for #1, but I ask you to consider one you may not think is likely: Go get Anthony Davis! Scoff at my suggestion? Let’s think this over.
- What is New Orleans current plan?
- Build around Davis and Boogie in a league in which the twin tower model seems unsustainable despite their seemingly complementary skillsets. This could work just because of the talent, but they have NOTHING around them. I mean, the rest of their roster (minus Holiday) might not even compete for the final roster spot on the Washington Wizards. So, even if Davis and Cousins mesh, they don’t have the surrounding talent to help them contend. And let’s face it, I don’t think many Free Agents are giving the Pellies a meeting. This doesn’t seem like a very promising future to me, and if I, an aspiring rapper and internet blogger can see this, why can’t the Pellies?
- What could we offer?
- A future the Pellies could sell to their fanbase.
- As we have seen in Philadelphia, promising your fanbase brighter days buys you time and eases tensions that come with underachieving despite high-level talent. So ask yourself: would you believe in a future that was led by say Markelle Fultz, Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Demarcus Cousins? That sounds pretty good to me.
- A future the Pellies could sell to their fanbase.
- Why it works for us
- Yes, we are giving up A LOT for Davis, but he’s a top 10, maybe top 5 player in the league and we have him locked up for 4 more years. So let’s take a look at what we’d be left with:
- Starting 5: IT, Marcus, Hayward, Horford, and Davis
- Next 5: Crowder, Olynyk, Yabusele, Zicic, Jackson
- Oh yeah, I’m assuming in this scenario Gordon Hayward is coming to Boston. Not guaranteed, but if we get Davis, then I’m choosing Boston and Stevens over Utah any day of the week.
- We still have Brooklyn 2018, and potentially 3 first round picks in 2019.
- Horford and IT are on win-now timelines and this trade (plus Hayward) puts us as favorites to knock off Lebron and gives us the talent to contend with Golden State.
- Yes, we are giving up A LOT for Davis, but he’s a top 10, maybe top 5 player in the league and we have him locked up for 4 more years. So let’s take a look at what we’d be left with:
- Why it’s risky
- Fultz could be special
- Isaiah might decline
- Davis is injury prone
- Just signing Hayward and bringing in Fultz, Gershon and Zicic might be enough to contend anyways
- Lebron is Lebron….(starting to talk myself out of it already so I need to stop this list)
- Why that doesn’t matter
- What is this franchise about? Banners. IT, Marcus, Hayward, Davis, and Horford can compete with anyone in the league and we tend to overvalue our own assets. Also, 2018’s Brooklyn pick is a great insurance policy in case we cannot resign Isaiah, so although it would suck to lose Fultz, we at least know we can get another Fultz-type next year while also legitimately contending in 2018.
But hey. Even if you stay the course, I love the direction we are heading. You’ve given me and my friends so much to talk about, to bond over, and to hope for since you took over as GM, and it looks like we are built to contend far into the future.
Thanks for KG. Thanks for Ray Ray. Thanks for IT. Thanks for Brad. And thanks for exploiting an incompetent Russian billionaire.
The kid who outcoached you in the Brookline summer league.
PS. I totally talked myself out of the trade. Just sign Hayward and I’ll be happy.
You won’t find many surprises on this list, but I decided to post this anyways. This season was the most interesting regular season in recent memory, so I wanted to give these players their props for bringing excitement to my otherwise boring life in my 27th revolution around the sun.
Wardell Stephen Curry was phenomenal from start to finish, capping off the greatest offensive season ever with a ridiculous 45 points in three quarters while leading his team to the best regular season ever. 400 Threes? Check. Stop-What-You’re-Doing-And-Turn On-League Pass Heat Checks? Check. Clutch Shots? Check. 50-40-90 club? Check. This dude was the best player in the league almost every night, and no one else should garner any first place votes. Steph, I salute you. You are everything a man should be. (Leonard, James, Westbrook, and Paul round out the top 5)
Most Improved Player
Kawhi Leonard has become a superstar. He is the best two-way player in the league and now consistently plays with the greatness that he flashed two years ago when he won the Finals MVP. He is by far the best wing defender in the league and shoots the ball with top 5 efficiency. He is the perfect player to carry the Spurs into the next era, and may be the reason the Spurs knock the Warriors out of the playoffs. If he wins another Finals MVP, Kawhi will be the front-runner for next year’s regular season MVP award. (Curry, Crowder, Kemba Walker, and CJ Mccollum round of the top 5)
Draymond Green can literally guard 5 positions on the floor. People have been purported to do so in the past, but Draymond can actually do it. I seen’t it! At 6 6, Draymond should not be capable of guarding centers, but in this era of small ball, very few bigs have the ability to take advantage of mismatches in the post. Draymond uses his leverage to get underneath bigger players and has the length and quick-jumping ability to bother the fade-away jumpers that he forces in the mid-post. His quickness on the perimeter allows the Dubs to switch most pick-and-rolls, and although some guards sneak by him, he can usually block their shots from behind with his Revisesque recovery speed. He is the heart and soul of the league’s best team, and although Kawhi does many things better than Draymond, Green’s ability to guard 1-5 gives him the slight nod over Leonard. (Leonard, Whiteside, Avery Bradley, and Deandre Jordan round out the top 5)
Rookie of the Year
Karl Anthony Towns won me $250 on a $5 while I was in Vegas recently, so he definitely gets the nod here. That jump hook on the baseline to beat the Blazers cemented Towns not only as the ROY, but also as an All-NBA performer in my ballot. He is doing things that few rookies have done, and seemingly got stronger throughout the season. He is already a two-way player, and he has the skill set to be the league’s premiere big man for the next 15 years. The T-Wolves have a very bright future and the rest of the league should expect to fear the bite of their top dog for years to come.
Coach of the Year
Brad Stevens may have some stiff competition for this award, but I left Isaiah Thomas off of my All-NBA teams, gave Leonard the nod over Crowder for MIP and Livingston the edge over Turner for 6th man, so I had to make at least one homer pick here. I mean it’s my blog and no one is really paying attention anyways, and even now as I type this sentence I’m resisting the urge to give all of these awards to my boys in green. Stevens has maximized the potential of the entire roster and has the Celtics feeling good entering the playoffs after that insane comeback victory over the Heat. His ATO plays are legendary and his unchanging demeanor is rivaled only by Jay Wright. Dear Danny Ainge: if you give Stevens a superstar, he will give you a championship.
Shaun Livingston has really impressed me all year with his steady play anchoring the Dubs all-time bench. He shoots his shots every game and allows Steph to play off the ball for extended minutes, which significantly reduces Curry’s energy spent and increases floor space with all of the attention Steph garners off of the ball. Livingston also wins the Stephen A. Smith award for NBA player with the biggest forehead.
All NBA Teams
1st Team: Curry, Westbrook, Leonard, James, Green
2nd Team: Paul, Lillard, Durant, George, Aldridge
3rd Team: Lowry, Thompson, Derozan, Millsap, Towns
Apologies to Isaiah Thomas and James Harden
We’re baaaaaaack! We’re back we’re back we’re back! We’re back, so back!!!!!!! It’s been almost two years since we last wrote something on this blog, but we’ve always been here, we just weren’t posting content to the site. Thanks for sticking with us.
Following last season’s improbable playoff push, the Boston Celtics’ future looked as bright as any franchise in the NBA. They had solid young talent, a “treasure trove” of draft picks from Danny Ainge’s shrewd sorcery, and the best young coach in the league. The narrative was, and largely still is, that these three in conjunction could land Boston its next big name. Fans were dreaming about Boogie Cousins, Carmelo Anthony, and other headline grabbers because that is who the media was telling us could take the franchise back to its lofty standards. However, it did not happen over the summer despite reports of Kevin Love possibly switching allegiances, and it did not happen at the trade deadline, despite reports ranging from the realistic to the utterly absurd (no Gary Tanguay, Anthony Davis was never coming to Boston). Meanwhile, the current iteration of the Celtics struggled to stay above .500 and seemingly could not close out games down the stretch. It was frustrating to watch, and I’m sure it was even more frustrating to be a part of. My friends and I kicked around trade ideas that could steal Paul George or Jimmy Butler away from their teams, and groaned as we saw well-executed plays resulting in missed shots in the fourth-quarters of winnable games. Still, as any fan that bleeds green would, I watched every game, and saw some signs that these Celtics were starting to become a problem for the rest of the league. They were starting to become contenders.
It’s easy to be a prisoner of the moment and say that I’m writing this article due to the Celtics’ upset win in Oakland last night, but the Celtics did not get lucky last night. They won because they deserved to win and this is becoming a delightful trend for Celtics fans. They play the brand of basketball that has come to define their identity and is giving opposing teams fits. For the C’s, it starts with their defensive pressure in the backcourt and their willingness to play much bigger than their size. When last season began, the Celtics’ three-headed monster of Rondo, Bradley, and Smart wreaked havoc upon the league for about five games, but then Smart turned his ankle, Rondo realized defense meant he had to try, and quickly the foundation of the team crumbled. But they shipped Rondo out for an unheralded rotation wing, Jae Crowder, a supreme athlete who looked like he belonged on a football field, not a basketball court, and we started to see improvement. Crowder struggled to fit in last season, but we could see his potential, especially on the defensive end. He’s strong, physical, and versatile enough to guard multiple positions (traits he shares with many other Celtics like Bradley, Smart, Turner, Olynick, and Jerebko). Not only that, but he has great defensive instincts to complement heady play and intelligent team schemes. Fast forward to today, and that ball-hawking, physical potential has been unlocked and it keeps the Celtics’ competitive in every contest. For fans who love defense, the Celtics’ ability to “turn it on” is every bit as exciting as a “Curry Flurry” of three-pointers in Golden Sate. Check out these highlights from the first game against Golden State earlier this season.
This is the type of intensity with which fans are falling in love, and this team plays this hard almost every night. They are a collective of talented, ultra-competitive players whom Coach Stevens understands better than almost any other coach understands his players. The Celtics will be down ten, Stevens will call one of his uncanny, momentum stopping timeouts, and Smart, Bradley, and Crowder will stalk onto the court with the body language of Fulton Reed and Dean Portman ready to turn elite ball-handlers into JV point guards playing Varsity for the first time. Whatever message Stevens delivers during those timeouts gets through to these guys and they quickly respond. It gets to the point where All-Stars like Damian Lillard do not even want to bring the ball up the court (seriously, he barely touched the ball in the second half the other night, but CJ McCollum stepped up big time), and teams are forced to have a secondary or tertiary ball-handler advance the ball past midcourt while wasting half of the shot clock. It throws teams out of their rhythm at worst, and completely alters the game at its best. To be able to play full-court defense at the NBA level is something we may have never seen before to the extent that these guys can do it. And Stevens knows it. Anytime his team is down, he will go to a lineup of Smart, Bradley, Crowder, Evan Turner, and one of his versatile big men, and before you know it the Celtics will have made up the deficit. And this is when they decide to unleash the league’s best-kept secret and this team’s MVP. Enter Isaiah Thomas.
In last year’s hard-fought playoff series with the Cavs, the Celtics could not get buckets down the stretch. The Celts turned the series into a wrestling match, which played to their own strengths, but in the end they could not score when it mattered (after last night’s game, I’m thinking maybe someone was just wearing the wrong shoes). The main reason: Boston’s best offensive player is Isaiah Thomas and he only stands 5 feet 9 inches. The Cavs’ defensive stalwart Iman Shumpert bothered him with length, a logical strategy with which most teams try to minimize Thomas’ elite scoring ability. We saw it often early in this season, but Stevens and Thomas have seemingly figured out how to combat his size disadvantage. Isaiah really struggles against length versus a set defense, so getting him out in transition via suffocating defense is the best chance at getting him going and winning games. The Celtics couldn’t get steals and stops against Portland the other night, and that is why Isaiah struggled so mightily because Alan Crabbe had set help behind him and high, active hands all game. However, Stevens has done a great job game-planning so that IT gets switches in the high Pick and Roll and gets the ball out and back quickly so that he catches with a live dribble attacking a secondary defender at a downhill angle. Portland’s secondary defenders were much better on Thomas than Golden State’s were last night, but when Isaiah gets hot, it really does not matter who is guarding him. The Celtics’ strategy is so simple, but it’s everything to their offense, and in that 3rd quarter last night Isaiah dominated the game more effectively than Curry’s long distance dance. Isaiah should be an All-NBA candidate this season, probably 3rd team, but he deserves it.
Quick side bar. Here are my choices for All-NBA (hopefully breaking this down later this season).
First team: Curry, Westbrook, Leonard, Durant, James
Second Team: Lillard Paul, Thompson, Green, Jordan
Third Team: Thomas, Lowry, Harden, George , Aldridge
Apologies to Demar Derozan, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, and Dirk Nowtizki
Local media will tell you that Isaiah is not a “Go-to guy,” but I’m not sure this is entirely true. This is Thomas’ first year as a starter in his age 27 season, often considered the first year of a player’s prime. Yes, he does have his weaknesses, but what player doesn’t? Maybe it is time we start appreciating Isaiah for what he can do instead of focusing on the obvious fact that he is short. Maybe it’s time to start kicking around the possibility that he can win games with the current pieces surrounding him and the best coach in the league. This is the same thing that happened to Russell Westbrook as he was trying to figure out how to close games. Critics complained that Russ had tunnel vision and needed to pass the ball to Durant. Well, he is starting to figure it out and has learned how to highlight his strengths and minimize his liabilities. He is now a triple-double machine and a perennial MVP candidate. Back to IT. Okay he’s diminutive, but he’s stronger than half the guys in the league. He gets into the body of bigger defenders and forces contact through which he can finish, or he can draw fouls. Unlike the Celtics’ previous PG, Isaiah shoots 90% from the line, so he loves driving the ball to the basket, and with the pressure this puts on defenses, the rest of the roster becomes that much more of a threat.
Most recently, we’ve seen Evan Turner benefit from sharing the floor with IT down the stretch. Defenses are so focused on IT and weak-side action Stevens’ offense creates, Turner is often left to go one-on-one with the other team’s second-best defender. And this allows him to thrive in crunch time because Turner can get to his sweet spots on the elbow and right baseline shooting his patented mid-range jimmy. Turner will never be a number one option on a championship team, but with the other team’s best defender often on IT, Turner can exploit smaller defenders with his size and bigger defenders with his crafty ball-handling in a PnR situation that those defenders are not used to defending. Turner is also a great passer, so when he is entrusted with crunch time play-making, he can use his size to see over the defense to find spot-up shooters on the perimeter or sneaky back-cuts along the baseline as the defense gets caught ball-watching. It’s titillating to watch. (I haven’t written an article in almost two years, excuse the adjectives)
Coming into last season it did not appear as if the Celtics had any shooters on their roster. However, we’ve seen that this team (except Marcus Smart…please Marcus, please find your shot!) can shoot the ball and shoot it very well. Crowder, Bradley, Jerebko, and Olynick are all reliable 3-point threats spotting up around the arc, while players like Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller can knock down the open 18-footer. This affords Thomas and Turner the space they need to operate in the paint, and has made for some effective fourth-quarter offense. Mix all of this in with Brad Stevens’ ATO plays, and you can see why the Celtics are 12 games over .500. More importantly, what it’s done has given the critics less ammunition. The Celtics are winning close games and doing it without “a superstar.” They are looking like they could make some serious noise in these playoffs, and are setting themselves up to be an attractive spot for Free Agents over the summer. This would mean they could keep our current roster, draft picks, and merely add a superstar rather than trade for one (Ask the Knicks how that worked out for them). They could draft the most NBA-ready prospect (Buddy Hield), or they could take a chance on a high-ceiling prospect like Brandon Ingram, depending upon where they draft. But free agency and the draft are in the summer. What we should be focusing on are their chances looking like in this year’s playoffs? These players deserve our attention in the current moment. They play too hard and with too much pride for us not to root for them with as much fire as we rooted for the KG era Celtics.
Well, it is going to be tough no matter who they play because the East, while lacking in upper-echelon teams, is stacked with parity. Cleveland is far and away the best team, but they are mired in internal conflict. Toronto has not proven they can win in the playoffs but boasts the East’s best backcourt. Atlanta’s defense is tops in the league. Miami has the talent to beat anyone. Charlotte is winning. Detroit is unique. And Indiana has the second best player in the conference. They will avoid Cleveland until the semis or conference finals, so maybe the Cs can catch a break and see someone else shock them so they won’t have to. But if they do face them again, Brad Stevens and his menacing group of defenders will be ready to show them what they learned from last year’s sweep. They will be ready to prove that what happened in Oakland was no fluke. They will be ready to show the world that Isaiah Thomas is for real and that defense and chemistry can take you a long way. They will be ready. Will you?
The All-Star Game has come and gone, and we’re at the point of the season where games start to matter. Yes, it’s nice to have momentum and a lead on your divisional opponents starting the second half, but as countless teams have shown us in recent years (Red Sox, Pirates, Mets), anything can happen after the break. Here’s what we’re most looking forward to in the dog days of August and beyond.
|5. The next breakout rookie sensation: In 2007, Jacoby Ellsbury made his major league debut on the last day of June and hit .353 with a .902 OPS over 33 games for the eventual World Series champs, turning into a sometimes MVP-level player. In 2010, Stephen Strasburg debuted in June and hurled 92 K’s with a 2.91 ERA over 12 starts, helping ignite what looked like a Nationals dynasty-in-the-making until he turned into the next Mark Prior. Last year, Manny Machado got the call in August and swatted 50 hits and 7 homers over 51 games, helping keep the Orioles alive down the all-important stretch run and make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. He now has the second most hits in the majors and is on pace to break the single-season record for doubles. So who’s gonna be the next big late-season-callup-turned-star? It looked like Baltimore could strike gold for the second year in a row with Dylan Bundy (his two late September appearances last year notwithstanding), but then he had to go and get Tommy John surgery. Wil Myers is a solid candidate, though he debuted a month ago and has yet to display the power expected from him. Yasiel Puig has, of course, already taken the league by storm. Could the Red Sox pull a power move and call up uberprospect Xander Bogaerts when the rosters expand? Could the hopeless Twins throw caution to the wind and see how Byron Buxton fares in the bigs, only a year after drafting him #2 overall? Whoever it is, some young guy is gonna make a splash and turn some heads for a playoff-bound team, and I can’t wait to see who it is.||5. The Oakland A’s: How the hell does this team keep doing this? Two of the team’s top players are Bartolo Colon and Coco Crisp! When you look through this team’s lineup, with the exception of third baseman Josh Donaldson, it has to be the most mundane lineup I’ve ever seen. There is no way an opposing pitcher would ever walk onto the mound preparing to face this team and be intimidated, and yet for the second consecutive year they are the front runners in the AL West and have the best regular season record over the past year and a half. Notice how the term “regular season record” had to be used. Despite the mystifying success of the A’s, their regular season success has yet to translate into any type of postseason success. As amazed as I am by this ragtag group of misfit toys and Dominican Santa Claus’, I still can’t believe this team can win in the postseason. But then again, I have no idea how they’re winning now, so who knows?||5. Clay Buchholz: I have to start with my Red Sox because I have barely paid attention to this season, I’m not going to lie. I’m just super busy and baseball has a ton of teams, players, stats, and superfluous shit that I haven’t been able to follow, so the Sox are the only team I’ve really followed. Since Clay tossed a no-hitter back in ‘07 he has struggled to maintain consistency and health, but he started this year on another planet. He was arguably the best pitcher in baseball and the Sox are going to need his services if they want to maintain their hold on their playoff spot. Lester has been terrible since May, Doubront is still inconsistent but is turning into the reliable poor man’s Pettitte I thought he could be, but Lackey has kept the staff afloat while Young Buck continues the cunnilingus. Guy can’t stop. Take a break bro, she’ll be okay. If the Sox want to contend, Clay needs to play. I’m so good at rhyming words.|
|4. The Pittsburgh mothaf—-n Pirates: Yeah, yeah, I know we should be suspicious. After all, the Bucs have carried a winning record into the All-Star break in each of the last two seasons, including last year when Andrew McCutchen’s breakout year and AJ Burnett’s resurrection put them 11 games over .500 at the break. Both times they imploded miserably in the August heat, solidifying two entire decades since their last winning season. Can they finally break that godawful curse this year? Well, they do own the second best record in the majors (which is absolutely mind-blowing considering they have one of the worst offenses in baseball by every measure imaginable). And they do have, statistically, perhaps the best pitching staff in the league, including a lights-out bullpen led by NL saves leader Jason Grilli and hold artist Mark Melancon. (Yes Sox fans, the same Mark Melancon who couldn’t even make the ATROCIOUS Sox bullpen last year was an All-Star this year. Go figure.) And they’re a great story, and have really likable players, and all that good stuff. But they also have waaaay too many games left against St. Louis and Cincinnati, the other two best teams in the National League who also happen to be in their division. And that offense is way too top-heavy, with 80% of its meager production coming from McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Starling Marte. So unfortunately, while they’ll finally break their ridiculous losing streak, I don’t see them making the playoffs. Which brings us to…||4. PED suspensions: How sick of this story is everyone at this point? I’m not just referring to this latest Biogenesis case either. Rather, the entire issue of steroids in baseball is beyond played out and I’m just sick of it. At this point, we know so many players have done it and apparently will continue to try and do it. If players want to have massive bulbous heads and shriveled ball sacks, f— it, let them. The best and most memorable baseball season of my lifetime that wasn’t Sox-related was without question the Summer of ’98. Singlehandedly saved baseball which was still crawling out of the shadows of the ’94 strike and struggling to regain popularity. This new scandal represented by the faces of Braun and A-Roid needs to go away. If MLB is stupid enough to prosecute the players connected to Biogenesis it will cause the biggest in-season headache of Bud Selig’s career and completely distract from the fantastic baseball that is being played this season. Let Ba-Rollo Colon (stretch?) and the rest of the gang finish out the season uninterrupted so that the attention remains on the field where it belongs.||4. Will Manny play?: By all accounts from my sources with the Round Rock Express, Mr. America is back. Manny is hitting .300 with three dingers and appears to be poised to make an impact for the middling Texas Rangers. The Rangers need a bat and Manny is the guy. And if Manny Ramirez is motivated, healthy, and pumped full of PEDs, no pitcher in the bigs will want to face him. I loveme some Mantics so I’m pretty excited to be heading back to Texas for the stretch run. Let’s just hope Manny isn’t tested any time soon.|
|3. The NL Central: One division in the MLB is home to the two best records in the majors, as well as two of the top three teams in its league. Nope, it’s not the AL East. The NL Central boasts an impressive array of playoff-quality teams, and similar to the AL East, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that the top three will find themselves in the postseason. The Cardinals have one of the best all-around teams in recent memory: a top three offense, a top three starting rotation, a solid bullpen, and impeccable defense. They’re led by Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright and MVP candidate Yadier Molina, and just seem to be unstoppable. The Reds’ rotation is just as good, and their Joey Votto-driven offense isn’t far behind. The Pirates, who as I explained above will eventually fall short, are clearly blessed by a higher power and will take some valuable divisional games from St. Louis and Cincy, like a shitty presidential candidate stealing precious votes from a tight race. It seems all but certain that the National League World Series representative will come out of the Central, and at least two of those teams are highly capable of taking home the hardware. May the best city win, fellas.||3. Puigmania: Snubbed or not snubbed? No matter your opinion, this dude can play. His play has not only been exciting to watch, but has rejuvenated the Dodgers as a team. They currently stand only 2.5 games behind the D’Backs for first in the NL West – and the D’Backs aren’t running away with this thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more debate or attention for a player who barely played over a months’ worth of games. But that’s how exciting this guy is. His average has begun to drop slowly, now batting only .394, but keeping up with his torrid pace of hitting close to .500 was simply unsustainable. But where does he level off? Is .375 in the second half reasonable? .350? Or does he fall off and dip below .300? By season’s end we will have a full sample size of Puig and just what he can do. Does that include keeping the Dodgers in the playoff hunt? For my preseason predictions, I hope so.||3. Justin Verlander: Verlander has long been known as a workhorse who gets better as the game goes on. He often starts games in the low 90s and ends them near 100. But this year has been different. Verlander’s average velocity is down roughly 3-4 MPH and it has shown in his performance. His strikeout totals are down and his ERA and WHIP are up. Not a good sign. But although he’s not what he was even a year ago, Verlander is still one of the game’s best. However, the Tigers need a dominant JV, not a JV Verlander. They have the team (still no closer) to get back to the World Series, but Verlander must return to his Cy Young form.|
|2. Matt Harvey: In a season in which the Yankees are freefalling out of the public eye, the rookie pitcher from that other New York team is taking the league by storm. He’s not really a threat to win the pitching Triple Crown because of his low win total for the offensively-retarded Mets, but the rest of his numbers are otherworldly. Of course it’s much too early to know for sure, and if he was smart he’d get out of Citi Field as fast as possible, but with Jeter nearing retirement, why couldn’t he be the new face of New York baseball? He’s a young stud banging a supermodel, he’s dominating the league as a rookie, and he’s a likable and recognizable dude. All he has to do is clinch the second straight Cy Young for the Mets (neither of whom would be named Johan, surprisingly enough) and the Big Apple will be bending over backwards for him.||2. AL East race: Call me a homer if you want, but this may be the best division in baseball we’ve ever seen. At one point every team had a record over .500, and the Blue Jays are one good week of baseball away from making it happen again. Within the new playoff format it’s a very real possibility that a division will for the first time ever feature three playoff teams. Heading into the season the first-place Sox and last-place Jays were predicted by most to be flipped at this point (see Barry, Teddy). As a Sox fan I’m eagerly awaiting the start of this second half as their first 10 games out the gate go as follows: three vs. New York, four vs. Tampa Bay, and three vs. Baltimore. Tons of time left in the season and plenty of opportunities for teams to flip the script 1-5 in this division. It’s possible that in September at least four of these teams will be scoreboard watching each other, each trying to jockey their way to the front like Seabiscuit, trying to win that division crown and avoid having to roll the dice in a one-game elimination playoff to earn the true Wild Card berth. Prediction: Sox win the division (okay, that’s a homer pick) and Tampa Bay will edge out Baltimore for the Wild Card spot.||2. LA investments: The teams out in LA have not been shy about spending money over the last two years, but it hasn’t quite worked out. Both teams have struggled and both have seen guys named Josh with large contracts spending that money while never really earning it. Well, I haven’t seen their budgets but I can imagine they aren’t being too frugal. Beckett is done for the year, but Hamilton has been showing signs of breaking out of his over-caffeinated slump for the hopeful Angels. But it’s funny seeing these teams overspending on “superstar” talent when both franchises had it all along in their farm systems. Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you need to spend it. But I don’t think the Dodgers could make a run in the second half and I’m sorry Angels fans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn’t walking into that clubhouse anytime soon.|
|1. The AL East: The only division with four 50-game winners. Three teams within six games of first place, with Toronto not really that far behind. The worst-to-first Sox, the surging and always dangerous Rays, the upstart Orioles who are turning a miracle 2012 squad into an actual contender, the decimated Yankees hanging tough, and the big-money cellar-dwelling Jays, who less than a month ago reeled off an 11-game winning streak. Throw in the established rivalries, the larger than life personalities, some of the best managers in the game, the imminent returns of A-Rod, Jeter, and Buchholz, the Biogenesis scandal swirling around A-Rod, Francisco Cervelli, and Melky Cabrera (and Cano?), and you have the most entertaining pennant race in years, even for an outsider. We’ll be glued to our TVs for the next two months, just in time for the August heat wave.||1. Miggy/Crush: This isn’t even close. In a very statistic-driven sport, these two are at the head of the class and fondling the sexiest of these stats. Miggy is aiming for back-to-back Triple Crowns after being the first since Yaz in ’67 to pull off the feat. However, there is a mammoth Reese’s-colored uniformed man named “Crush” Davis standing in his way. Crush has blasted the second most home runs before the break and is on pace to crack 60 homers and maybe even challenge the record. Which record you believe is the true record is up for debate. Ask Crush and he doesn’t hesitate: it’s Maris. So not only is this a race for MVP but perhaps a race for immortality. Cabrera can potentially win back-to-back Triple Crowns, an unheard of accomplishment in modern times, but in his way may be a guy that baseball fans can finally get behind as the true single-season home run king after the mess left behind by McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. As we all know, if Crush does set the record, let the questioning begin. It’s not fair but it’s the world we live in. Either way, if these guys put up as exciting a second half as their first, we’re in for some special moments for the rest of the summer.||1. Playoff positioning: The great thing about the MLB is that it has made the regular season more meaningful for average teams by adding an additional playoff spot so teams are more likely to be buyers than sellers come the trade deadline. This makes for great drama down the stretch as multiple squads will be pulling out all the stops to be playing after Game 162, and I like that excitement. It’s the same for me with hockey. I can’t really watch the regular season when it doesn’t matter too much, but once the playoffs begin I tune in. Once the calendar turns from July to August, baseball becomes watchable again. I’m just excited to have a few relaxing post-work adult beverages with my buddies and talk sports while we semi-pay attention to the game on TV. This is why I love sports and why I love life. Stay cool friends.|
Here at Bucking Aikman it’s hard to contain our hometown bias for the Boston squads. As an ostensibly general sports blog, we do our best to stay objective and to cover a wide range of topics outside the scope of New England, mainly because, frankly, not everyone cares as much about Boston as we do (including some of our readers…right guys?). But the past month has been a whirlwind across the Big Four sports like nothing seen since…well, maybe ever, and as such deserves a little more attention. Yup, we’ve just experienced what might have been the wildest 30 days in Boston sports history – at least in terms of impactful transactions.
Two weeks ago enough madness had occurred for us to run an article on all the happenings to date: Doc Rivers’ ignominious escape to the Clippers, the Bruins’ narrow failure to capture another Cup, the first rumblings of the Aaron Hernandez murder plot, the head-scratching signing of Tim Tebow. But if you can believe it, the events of the 18 days since have been, if possible, even more shocking – some good, some bad, most baffling, all intriguing. To avoid repeating ourselves, we’ll move down the list giving a quick recap of what happened in Part I, what’s gone on since, and what we can expect from the future.
All-Star Games are a difficult bunch to predict. As a usually midseason exhibition contest that has no impact on standings, players obviously treat them in a much more cavalier fashion, preferring to goof off and have fun, especially in this age of huge money where one wrong move at any time can end a lucrative career. This results in some weird moments, with some being undeniably awesome (see yesterday’s TBT) and some being undeniably awful (see every single Pro Bowl). Here are our favorite moments in All-Star history.
|5. Sean Taylor destroys a punter: The Pro Bowl is not only the worst all-star game in pro sports, it may be the worst sporting event in the world (men’s sports, of course). For one thing, nobody wants to play in it: the players from the best teams don’t compete (i.e. those playing in the following week’s Super Bowl), anybody with even a hint of an injury opts out, and plenty of guys just bail because they don’t want to go. Those who do play don’t try at all, because who wants to pull a hammy in a game that happens after the season? So you have a bunch of second and third choices jogging around at half-speed busting out trick plays, which are entertaining for like the first five minutes, then get old really fast. Not to mention those hideous uniform/helmet combos are enough to drive away even diehards. Enter Sean Taylor. The late, great Redskins safety – one of the hardest hitters of the 21st century – was playing in the 2006 Pro Bowl when Buffalo punter Brian Moorman decided to try to run for a first down instead. Gee whiz, have you ever heard of such a thing? Ha ha! That wacky punter! Yeah, Taylor wasn’t having any of that shit either, and absolutely annihilated Moorman as he snuck up the sideline. Seriously, there are few hits that hard in playoff games, never mind in a game that’s basically two-hand touch. To his credit, Moorman hopped right up to congratulate Taylor and never cried about it being against the unwritten rules, unlike someone further down this list. Taylor was taken from us far too early, but we’ll always have the memory of when he made the Pro Bowl enjoyable for 30 seconds.||5. The 1992 NBA All-Star Game: This game was monumental for a multitude of reasons. Magic Johnson had retired prior to the season because of his HIV diagnosis. Via a special exception from the NBA, the game was supposed to serve as his last. The game itself was filled with amazing moments, including Magic going one-on-one with the likes of MJ and Isiah Thomas. Magic would eventually seal the deal with a late three-pointer and won MVP honors to boot. Magic had swag throughout his career and never was it more present than on this night.||5. Jason Williams’ off-the-elbow: This put White Chocolate on the map. In the 2000 Rookie Game, Williams came down the middle of the floor on a fast break with teammates on both sides and only Lamar Odom in his way. He faked an around-the-back pass to Dirk Nowitzki and as the ball was behind his back he hit it with his opposite elbow, landing the ball in the hands of one Raef Lafrentz in stride. Now looking back on it, the ball should have gone to Dirk because Dirk > Raef is as obvious as e=MC2. Nevertheless this play is amazing and is still one I would like to execute just once in my life. But it’s been 13 years and I still can’t do it so I think it’s time to move on.|
|4. Reggie Jackson blows out the lights: The 1971 All-Star Game was far inferior to the previous year’s, with one towering exception. With his American League down by three in the third inning, a young Reggie Jackson stepped up to the plate, brimming with raw power. He promptly jacked a pitch over the right field roof of Tiger Stadium for a two-run bomb. The home run kickstarted an AL rally, but it was the moonshot itself that got attention: it crushed a transformer that was 100 feet above the playing field for an estimated distance of 530 feet. Jackson was well-known for his monster shots but this may have been one of his longest. If the game hadn’t taken place during the day, who knows what would have happened to the field’s lights.||4. Shaq & the Jabbawockeez: First time I tried to spell Jabbawockeez I was way off, not even close. But to the point of the #4 slot, Shaq is just the anti-Dwight. Everything Dwight wishes he could be is what Shaq was/is. One of the best entertainers of all time, Shaq probably sacrificed a few rings for the sake of making raps, producing indie flicks, and of course the occasional group dance. As a basketball history nerd who always wants to know where a player ranks historically, it’s a bit frustrating that he didn’t achieve at his highest level – which may have been astronomical, considering he won four championships with minimum effort towards the sport. But the kid inside me who grew up wanting monster dunk after monster dunk loves the fact that Shaq traded a little bit of winning for the entertainment of millions. By the way, this clip from the intros at the game may have been the last good highlight he ever had. Enjoy.||4. Kobe’s first game: When you look back at this clip it’s pretty easy to see why Kobe turned out to be one of the best players of all time. As a 19-year-old pro he proved he belonged on one of the game’s biggest stages. Playing at MSG against an unconscious Jordan, Kobe took the challenge of guarding the GOAT, and although MJ completely dominated him, especially in the mid-post, this clip shows why a young Kobe would eventually transform into the Black Mamba. He loved the fact that he was guarding Jordan despite the very clear “No Defense Allowed” signs hanging up in every ASG venue. And while he was playing D you know Kobe was learning the subtleties of MJ’s post game from the defender’s perspective because he was always an astute student. For anyone who has seen Kobe play over the years, you know that his mid-post game and flawless footwork are the keys to his deadly arsenal. And there’s a reason he is so good at it: he copied Jordan. And that is not a knock on Kobe. He is the closest thing to MJ we may ever see. Get well soon.|
|3. The entire 1988 NBA All-Star Weekend: This game alone could have easily made the list, but it’s the entire weekend that pushes it over the top. First, you had the third 3-Point Contest, the first two of which Larry Bird had won handily. Prior to this year’s, Bird walked into the locker room and asked, “Who’s finishing second?” The notoriously cocky Bird made good on his boast in classic fashion: needing to sink his last shot for the win, he heaved up the money ball and as soon as it left his hands, turned to the crowd with his finger raised. The ball hit home behind him. Game, blouses. Then MJ and Dominique Wilkins staged the greatest Dunk Contest in history, throwing down windmills, off-the-glass jams, under-the-rim reverses, and Mike’s legendary free throw dunk. Jordan took it home (amid some controversy), but the competition between the two didn’t stop there. In the All-Star Game itself, overflowing with Hall of Famers, ‘Nique poured in an astounding 29 points…and was completely dominated by MJ. Check out this stat line: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 steals. I know it’s crazy, the best players in the Game also competed in the Dunk Contest! Who woulda thunk it!||3. The Big Unit vs. Kruk: This is what baseball and the All-Star Game are all about. Baseball is such a relaxed sport and when you can visibly notice the players having fun, it makes the watching experience that much more entertaining. Clearly Kruky and his insane rattail were a little shook going up against 100 mph stinky cheese from the Big Unit. Maybe the easiest K the Unit ever had in his career. One pitch over the fat man’s head, three pitches in the righty batter’s box, and it sounds like we have ourselves a John Kruk All-Star Game blooper for the ages. Baseball needs to get back to its roots and needs to find new energy and charisma from its players. Let’s hope this next generation has that.||3. MJ’s last game: This is without watching the clip: Jordan was a 40-year-old superstar playing well past his prime, but he could still be the best player on the floor at any given moment. There really was no chance that that Wizards team was going anywhere so his motivation was never too high, but when he did find himself with MJ-blood flowing through his veins it was still something special to behold. So when Jordan laced up his legendary shoes for his final All-Star Game, you knew you were about to get a show. The best part about this game was that Jordan was chosen as a reserve, but Vince Carter gave up his starting spot for the GOAT because that’s just what you do. (BTW, I doubt anyone would give Kobe that honor). Jordan started slow, missing his first seven shots, but finished with 20 points (his average for the season at age 43), and hit a classic baseline fadeaway that won the game. Oh wait, Jermaine O’Neal committed the silliest foul ever, dampening what should have been the perfect bookend to the most illustrious career in NBA history.|
|2. Pete Rose yokes up a catcher for the walkoff win: The 1970 All-Star Game was an all-time classic. It featured twenty future Hall of Famers, including five of the top 20 home run hitters in history, and not even including the career hits leader himself (who absolutely should be in Cooperstown, but that’s another column). After the likes of Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver helped their teams spin five shutout innings, the American League struck first, and took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth with the immortal Catfish Hunter coming on to save the game. The NL scratched back to send the game into extras, and in the bottom of the twelfth Pete Rose stood on second base. A bloop single into center field might not have scored most other players, especially in a meaningless contest (this was before Bud Selig stepped in and made everybody hate him), but this is Charlie Hustle we’re talking about. As the throw reached home, Rose steamrolled catcher Ray Fosse, who was obstructing the plate, and the National League walked off with the win. Fosse was still bitching about the play as late as last year. Okay, I get that you got a separated shoulder that derailed your career after your first full season. But again, this is Pete Rose we’re talking about! Don’t block the plate without the ball! It’s part of the game! Another unfortunate accident, but another gem in the storied career of Rose.||2. The Tie: The 2002 MLB All-Star Game is more memorable for the mark it left rather than anything significant that happened that evening. Sure, the game ended in a tie when both teams ran out of pitchers after the 11th inning. It was an anomaly that without a doubt would draw headlines the next day. But that’s all it had to be. Baseball history is chock full of oddities that only nerds like Olney and Kurkjian could ever remember. Make this another footnote and move on. That’s all Bud had to do. Instead, he did one of the stupidest things imaginable: je made it count. Winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. So technically a team from the AL could finish with a record 15 games better than their NL opponent in the World Series and have to lose home field advantage because some scrub from the Astros bullpen couldn’t hold a lead in an exhibition game that he was only playing in because rules mandate a player from each team must be chosen. Wait, what am I saying? That seems totally fair. Smooth move Bud. Change it back ya goober.||2. Torii Hunter robs Barry Bonds: There was a time before the Mitchell Report when fans didn’t care about steroids. We were just happy to see baseball players with oversized heads and undersized testicles smashing homers at a Crush Davis-like rate. And no one had a bigger head or smaller testicles than Barry Bonds. He took on the aura of a superhero where absolutely no one wanted to pitch to him and even fewer people wanted to talk to him. He was absolutely terrifying. So when he fisted this dinger out to centerfield in the 2002 All-Star Game, everyone expected the ball to land outside the playing boundaries. BUT NOOO! Torii Hunter came out of absolutely nowhere to do what Torii Hunter did better than anyone except maybe Jim Edmonds. He robbed Bonds of the home run, ultimately risking his life in the process. When Bonds ran onto the field and scooped up Hunter like most adults pick up a finicky midget, you know Torii was just hoping Barry was lucid and not on one of his infamous ‘roid rages. Luckily for everyone involved Barry remembered where he was as Torii was on his shoulder and playfully placed him back on the ground. Here’s a clip of Torii Hunter doing this a lot.|
|1. Gordie Howe’s homecoming: The NHL All-Star Game is kind of goofy and has gone through a ton of facelifts, from the defending Stanley Cup champs vs. a team of all-stars (which actually sounds pretty awesome) to North America vs. The World (again, AWESOME) to its current form of a “fantasy draft” (kind of cool in theory, but actually pretty lame). But in 1980 none of this mattered. Nine years after his retirement from the NHL, Gordie Howe was returning home. Howe had spent several successful years in the upstart World Hockey Association following his retirement, but when the WHA folded in 1979, his team joined the NHL. At the age of 51 years old, Howe stayed for one final season and helped bring the Whalers to the playoffs, making his last All-Star team in the process. The site of this game? Detroit, where Howe had spent 25 seasons setting every record imaginable. The ovation he got, as you can imagine, was the loudest thing heard in Detroit until the crushing implosion of its economy (…too soon?). And guess who he shared the ice with that night? A 19-year-old rookie named Wayne Gretzky, who would eventually go on to break just about all of Howe’s records. There might not be a better example of passing the torch in all of sports: possibly the two best players in the history of their game playing at the same time, 32 years of age separating them, one playing his first of 18 All-Star Games, the other playing his last of 23. This truly was the Game to end them all.||1. Cal Ripken’s farewell: I’m a sucker for the drama of sports. A hopeless romantic if you will. It’s rare that a career gets the chance to end properly and in a fitting manner. For some, freak injuries (Bo Jackson) ruin that chance and for others, drugs and the want to hold on for a bit longer than they should (Sosa, Bonds). For Cal, he got the chance to end things his way. His final All-Star Game went about as perfectly as one could’ve scripted. First, you have the best player in the game giving up his position to you so that you can play your final ASG at the position it began. At the time, who knew how much foreshadowing A-Rod’s gesture to play third would ring true? As if that moment wasn’t enough, in Cal’s last at-bat, on the first pitch he saw, he sent a ball flying over the left field fence for a home run – the oldest to ever accomplish that feat. Of course he won the MVP trophy and after the season rode off into retirement. Like I said, I’m a helpless romantic.||1. Kane’s first Bad Blood appearance: Okay so I am 100% cheating and just want to put this clip here because I was talking about it the other day and it remains my favorite moment in WWF history. I was going to put my favorite Royal Rumble, but I kind of love them all (though I haven’t watched one in a few years), so I figured I’d go with this. First of all, the match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest matches of all time. Both wrestlers beat the living doo out of each other (see Shawn Michaels’ face) in this “Hell in a Cell” match (the best gimmick match in wrestling) and it would have been fine with everyone in the world if Undertaker tombstoned Michaels, pressed two hands over his opponents barely beating heart, flicked his eyes back into his head, and pinned The Sexy Boy for the victory. Then it happened. Here is the transcript from the moment the lights go out and Kane’s music begins: “What’s that? Oh my god! Wait a minute…it’s Paul Bearer! It’s Paul Bearer! And that’s, that’s gotta be – that’s gotta be Kane! That’s gotta be Kane!” Enthralling. I remember watching this as a little kid and I went nuts jumping up and down wondering what in the world I was witnessing. Then it got crazier. Dude ripped the door from its hinges, nearly killed the referee, entered the ring over the top rope, set the turnbuckles aflame with unforeseen magical prowess, tombstoned his older brother, and strutted out of the arena as Shawn Michaels crawled over to pin the Undertaker. Talk about an All-Star performance.|
Sticking with the theme of picking All-Star teams and the game itself on the horizon for this upcoming Tuesday, here what is without a doubt my personal all-time favorite moment. Granted this is a giant homer pick with a huge pregame ceremony culminating in Teddy Ballgame’s dramatic entrance from the bullpen and the game itself being played at Fenway. More than that, it features, in my opinion, the most dominant starting pitcher of our generation. There are without a doubt others in the debate, but my money’s on Pedro Martinez and will be every time. It’s no secret that I have a huge man crush on Pedro, but just like that shitty TV show on ESPN, numbers never lie. From 1997-2003 (a span of seven seasons) there was only one year in which he did not post an ERA below 2.40. You’ll have to forgive him for his dreadful ’98 season when he had the astronomical ERA of 2.89. In these seven seasons, Pedro compiled over 300 K’s twice, won three Cy Young awards, and got absolutely robbed of what should have been an MVP award in ’99. Speaking of ’99, that brings us right back to the clip above. The game’s MVP that year became the first and only pitcher to strike out the side to start an All-Star Game. He then proceeded to strike out two more the next inning. To add to the legend of this man, this was right after the classic home run race of ’98 featuring Slammin’ Sammy and Big Mac. Steroids be damned, both were a part of the Boston Massacre that Pedro laid down in those first two innings that evening. This game and this moment was electric. Will another pitcher ever be able to duplicate a performance like this? Pedro ain’t walking through that door.