TRAGEDY STRIKES MLB AGAIN…AND AGAIN!!!

Major League Baseball suffered two gut-punches this past Sunday, not even four months after losing one of its top young pitchers in the game…Jose Fernandez.  This time, the double blows came from the Dominican Republic.  Former major leaguer Andy Marte was killed in an auto accident at the age of 33.  While the Dominican Republic authorities were trying to collect information on Marte’s crash, news trickled in that 25-year-old Yordano Ventura, starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, was also killed in an automobile accident.  Ventura would have been leaving for Spring Training in about three weeks.  Talk about a one-two punch!

MLB has been no stranger to tragedy over the past 27 months.  Fernandez, the 24-year-old flame thrower from Cuba, died in a boating accident on September 25, 2016.  He was having a banner year…a 16-8 record with a 2.86 ERA and 253 strikeouts.  Fernandez probably would have generated quite a few votes for the Cy Young Award.  The Miami Marlins pitcher had made 76 starts for the Marlins from 2013 through 2016.  He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2013 and had recorded 589 strikeouts in those four years.  His statistics would have been even better had Fernandez missed almost all of the 2014 season by undergoing Tommy John surgery.  His Marlins teammates honored Fernandez by donning his #16 jersey for a game at Marlins Park.

In 2104, the St. Louis Cardinals lost a top prospect, Oscar Taveras, who was 22 when he and his girlfriend died in a car wreck.  Taveras was also from the Dominican Republic.   He appeared in 80 major league games for the Cardinals in 2014…batting .239 with three home runs and 22 RBI.  He was chosen as a minor league All Star in 2012, playing for Springfield, an affiliate of the Cardinals.

Marte, born in Villa Tapia, had been considered a “can’t miss” prospect when he signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2000.  He played nine years with Atlanta, Cleveland and Arizona.  On December 18, 2005, Marte was traded from Atlanta to Boston for infielder Edgar Renteria.  Then, on January 27, 2016, he was flipped to the Cleveland Indians in a six-player trade.  Marte appeared in 80 major league games twice…in 2008 and 2010.  He had a career MLB average of .218 with 21 home runs and 99 RBI.  In the minors, Marte hit 20+ home runs four times and had a career-high 105 RBI in 2002.

Ventura exploded onto the MLB scene with his debut on September 17, 2013.  The following year, he was starting for the Royals in the 2014 World Series and then won a World Series ring with Kansas City in 2015.  In all, Ventura made 93 starts in the majors and recorded double-digit wins in his last three seasons.  He was 38-31 with 470 career strikeouts.

So, is there anything that connects any or all of these deaths?  Tragically, there may be…and it is: alcohol.  It was reported that Taveras had a blood alcohol content of 0.287 which is six times the legal limit for the Dominican Republic.  Ironically, Ventura—starting game six of the 2014 World Series—wrote on his hat “R.I.P. O.T. #18 as a tribute to his fellow countryman.

Fernandez was not only intoxicated, he had cocaine in his system that led to the boat crash that killed him and two friends.  He, most certainly, was on his way to becoming one of the top pitchers in the major leagues.

It will be at least three weeks before we find out whether Marte and Ventura had been drinking…one thing was confirmed:  Ventura was not wearing a seat belt when he crashed.

Hopefully, other major leaguers will learn something from these two tragedies.  First of all, don’t drive while intoxicated…take a taxi or have someone drive them home.

 

 

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PENN STATE IMPLODES; LOSES ROSE BOWL GAME THEY SHOULD HAVE WON

Penn State had all the makings of a story-book finish to their 2016 season and a return to prominence after several years of heart-break. Coach James Franklin had led the Nittany Lions to their best record since 2009 and were 15 minutes away from a “fantastic finish” to their season Then, suddenly, it all came crashing down as a result of one measly interception.

The Nittany Lions had finished their season on a nine-game winning streak.  There was quite a bit of grumbling among college football pundits when Ohio State, a team that Penn State defeated en route to a Big 10 championship, was selected for the College Football Playoff and the Nittany Lions were not.

They led the USC Trojans by 17 points going into the fourth quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl.  Penn State was the best college team in the nation in fourth quarter scoring…they rolled a big fat ZERO in this one!  What’s more, Penn State sophomore QB Trace McSorley, who had passed for 254 yards and four touchdowns, was trying to lead his offense into position to kick a game-winning field goal…then came: THE PASS.

McSorley floated a pass toward junior wide out Chris Godwin, who had already hauled in nine passes for 187 yards and two TDS, including a 72-yarder.  As McSorley would later be quoted as saying he “…forced the pass, trying to win the game.”  Unfortunately for McSorley and the Nittany Lions, he also “telegraphed” the pass and USC Trojan safety Leon McQuay III stepped in and intercepted the pass and returned it to the Penn State 30.  Seconds later, USC kicker Matt Boormeester, who had missed two field goal attempts, booted the game winner to cap an improbable comeback.

What was even more heart-breaking for Penn State is that the pass that McSorley threw before the interception was also “telegraphed” and McQuay had his hands on that one but dropped it.  So, why would McSorley try the same type of pass and have disastrous results?  It is a question that Penn State fans will be asking the entire off-season.  Again, refer back to what McSorley was quoted:  he forced the pass.

So, while the Nittany Lions will be lamenting what could have been, Trojan fans will be celebrating their nine consecutive wins and looking forward to a 2017 season that could net them 11 or 12 wins.

 

 

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USC-PENN STATE ROSE BOWL GAME AN INSTANT CLASSIC!

The wild affair that occurred in Pasadena yesterday at the Rose Bowl immediately goes into the record books as one of the top five all-time great college football bowl games.  Numerous records were set and, when all was said and done, the USC Trojans outlasted the Penn State Nittany Lions, 52-49, in a game that lasted nearly four-and-a-half hours.

Nobody will ask me, but I list this game as the third all-time greatest game in college football history.  The number one game was the 2007 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona when the upstart Boise State Broncos stunned the legendary famous Oklahoma Sooners, 43-42, in overtime.  It wasn’t so much that the Broncos won the game…that would have been enough of a shocker.  It was how they won it.  Trailing the Sooners, 42-35, Boise State pulled a trick play to score a touchdown and pull to within one point of sending the game into a second overtime.  Broncos coach, Chris Petersen, decided he wanted to end the game right then and there.  Using the old “Statue of Liberty” play, the Broncos caught the Sooners napping and won the game.

Second on my list of top five games is the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC.  That is when Longhorns QB Vince Young scored a touchdown on the final play of the game to give Texas a 41-38 win over the Trojans.

Last night’s game goes down as number three.  USC trailed Penn State, 49-35, going into the fourth quarter.  The Nittany Lions were the best team in college football scoring fourth quarter points.  The Trojans defense not only shut them down, they shut them out!  Matt Boormeester, the junior place-kicker for USC, had missed two field goals that would have made the game a lot less exciting.  He got redemption, however, as he drilled the game winner from 46 yards out to cap an unbelievable comeback.

Number four on my list was the 2003 BCS championship game where Ohio State defeated Miami of Florida, 31-24, in double overtime.  The game was tied, 17-17, at the end of regulation.  Each team scored a touchdown in the first overtime.  There was a controversial pass interference call that led to the second overtime when Buckeyes RB Maurice Clarett scored to give Ohio State the lead.  Miami had a first and goal but could not score the tying TD and the Buckeyes prevailed.

Finally, the game that is forever being called “The Chicken Soup” game:  the 1979 Cotton Bowl (certainly a classic!) between Notre Dame and Houston.  This was the signature game for Irish QB Joe Montana.  Because of unusually cold weather in Dallas, Texas (the city had its worst ice storm in 30 years), the Cotton Bowl game was adversely affected.  Montana had the flu and remained in the locker room at half time and, supposedly, had a bowl of chicken soup.  He rallied his health and came back out to lead the Irish to an improbable 35-34 win over the Cougars.

Well, those are my top five college football bowl games of all time.  I would love to hear what yours are!


 

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MEJIA’S BAN FROM MLB A BITTER BLOW TO A TALENTED ATHLETE

I always have to shake my head and cluck my teeth when I read about talented professional athletes waste their gifts and exit a sport before getting chance to reap the treasures of a productive career.  The latest to fall from grace is relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia of the New York Mets.  Mejia, a 26-year-old from the Dominican Republic, has been suspended from major league baseball permanently for his third strike of testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs.

Mejia said, in an interview, that he is going to appeal the suspension.  “It is not like they say, Mejia was quoted in a local paper.  “I am sure that I did not use anything.  I will appeal…win or lose, I have faith.  I have to clear my name.”  Mejia went on to say, “…I will take this case to the bitter end.”

That may be, Jenrry, but the fact of the matter remains that you tested positive…not once, not twice, but THREE times for Boldernone, an anabolic steroid used for Androgen deficiency disorders, and Stanozolol, used to decrease pain and increased joint discomfort.  This probably stems from the fact that Mejia was recovering from right elbow surgery he had performed in July, 2013.  He appeared in 63 games in 2014, but then began experiencing discomfort in the same elbow.  In April, 2015, Mejia was placed on the disabled list because of right elbow inflammation.

The first suspension handed to Mejia was on April 11, 2015.  He was given an 80-game ban for a first offense.  Then, on July 28, he tested positive again and was suspended for 162 games.  That means Mejia would not have been able to pitch in the big leagues until July 28 of this year.  Even in the middle of the second suspension, Mejia was expected to be tendered a contract for whenever he returned.  Finally, last week, Mejia tested positive for the third time.  Now, he is banned for life.

It is a shame that Mejia and his representatives could not let the injury heal itself.  Now, after five pretty good years in the MLB, he is gone for good.  Mejia would have been arbitration-eligible after the 2017 season.  He made over $500,000 in salary for the 2015 season…now, he will make $0.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, Mejia will be able to apply for reinstatement after two years.  That will give MLB plenty of time to decide what they can do…since Mejia is the first major league player to receive a lifetime suspension.  Alex Rodriguez got a one-year ban; so, this will be uncharted territory for MLB to explore.

For now, though, Mejia probably just needs to concentrate on letting his elbow rest and, perhaps, begin a throwing program later in the year.  Let’s hope that whoever is handling him does it the correct and proper way.

 

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The Blog Dog: Blatt Firing a Travesty for the NBA

When I was a boy growing up in Southeastern Michigan, I dreamed of being a professional athlete…what boy wouldn’t?  After a successful career, I dreamed, I would then become a successful coach/manager.  I would guide my team to the playoffs and then the championship.

No more.

I would not want to be a coach nowadays, because it is no  longer a steady, safe job.  You can get fired, even if you have a winning record, and have your team in first place!

Case in point:  David Blatt, the recently fired head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Last season, his first with the Cavs, he did the unspeakable:  Won his division with a 53-29 record, went all the way to the NBA Finals—only the second time in Cavaliers’ history—and fell just two wins short of winning the franchise’s first-ever NBA title.  All this, with two of his best players, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, on the sidelines with injuries.

Then, to begin this season, all the Cavaliers have done to date is win 30 of their first 41 games, ranked first in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the entire NBA.  So, what was Blatt’s reward for having his team playing so well?  HE GOT FIRED!!!

Why?  Why did such a successful coach get the axe?  Two words:  LeBron James.  He returned to Cleveland after winning a couple of NBA championship rings in Miami, hoping to bring a championship to his home state.  Unfortunately, that is turning out to be much harder LeBron had hoped.

The Cavs made the mistake of hiring Blatt before James announced that he was returning to Cleveland.  Rather than having to wear egg on their faces and replace Blatt before he even got started, the Cavs decided to roll with the punches and see if James, errrr! Blatt, could take the team to the championship.  He darned well almost did!

Seeing that their window of opportunity was slowly beginning to close, The Cavs finally decided to part company with Blatt (not even waiting until the All Star break!) and promote assistant coach Tyronn Lue to head coach.  I don’t know why the Cavs just didn’t appoint James as a player/coach.  It seems as if he is running the team anyway.

James then came out and claimed that he knew nothing about Blatt’s firing.   RIGHT!!!   If you believe that, I have some ocean-front property in Nevada I would like to sell you!

I think LeBron needs to come to grips that the NBA might be passing him by and that he may NEVER have the chance to win a championship for his home-town fans.  I know that he wants to be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time, but the proof is in the pudding…or, how many championship rings a player owns.  LeBron has two…I don’t think he is going to win any more.

 

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The Blog Dog: NFL: EPIC MELTDOWN EXTENDS PLAYOFF DROUGHT FOR BENGALS

I have to preface this blog by saying that I waited a couple of days before deciding to do it because, if I had done it right after the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game on Saturday, there would have been too many expletives that I would have had to delete.

Let me start by saying that I have been watching NFL football since 1957…the year my Detroit Lions pummeled the Cleveland Browns, 59-14, to win the NFL championship (unfortunately for me, that was the last title the Lions have won, but I digress). And I have to say, in all honesty, the game last Saturday between the Steelers and Bengals was the ugliest game I have ever witnessed.

Where to begin? How about when Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger was cheered by Bengals fans when he was injured…or how about the fans pelting him with debris when he was carted off the field? That behavior is totally unacceptable! Perhaps the NFL should penalize the fans a couple of home games in 2016…perhaps, have them played in London, Mexico, or Canada where fans know how to behave themselves!

Still, the Bengals had the chance to win the game and end a 25-year drought since the last time they won a playoff game. They would have done it with backup QB A.J. McCarron, who was trying to justify his play as he filled in for the injured Andy Dalton. McCarron was one minute and 50 seconds away from his place in the spotlight. He had drilled a 25-yard pass to WR A.J. Green to give Cincy a 16-15 lead.

Then, it looked as if the Steelers’ fate was sealed when Vontaze Burfict intercepted a Landry Jones pass with 1:43 left. All the Bengals had to do was run out the final 103 seconds and victory would be theirs. But, alas, that is when the meltdown began happening.

Jeremy Hill, RB for the Bengals, was stopped on a running play and did not protect the ball. It was stripped out and the Steelers recovered the fumble. That is when “Big Ben” came off the bench, injured shoulder and all, to try and lead the offense to a point where a game-winning field goal could be booted.

Cincinnati’s defense was stingy, though, and the Steelers were faced with a fourth down and three yard to go situation. That is when the wheels began to fall off the Bengals’ wagon. A pass to Antonio Brown was incomplete but Burfict, who has had a history of dirty play, came across and belted Brown in the head with his shoulder. Brown was spun around and dropped to the ground, obviously injured. Burfict was flagged for a late hit and the Steelers got 15 huge yards and a first down.

Wait…it gets worse! During the time that Brown was being attended to by staff, Adam “Pacman” Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and that gave the Steelers another 15 yards, this time to the Cincinnati 17-yard line. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not wait any further. He sent his field goal kicker, Chris Boswell, onto the field with 14 seconds left. Boswell promptly drilled the field goal and the Bengals were eliminated for yet another year.

A couple of comments: Burfict’s hit was just the latest in a series of dirty plays he has been involved in…three in 2013, one in 2014 and one in 2015. He actually had a late hit earlier this season and, finally, the last straw. Burfict has received a three-game suspension from the league for the start of 2016; but, I wonder if he will still be on the Bengals.

Secondly, Pacman says that Antonio Brown was “faking” being belted in the head and “winked” at Jones as he was leaving the field. Say WHAT??? Mr. Jones needs to look at the play on You Tube…Brown was definitely hit in the helmet by Burfict’s shoulder. Just because he winked at Jones does not mean he was faking it. Jones later said that he would apologize to Brown if he does not play this weekend. So, if Brown clears concussion protocol and does play, then he was faking?

Finally, I would be extremely surprised if Jones is on the Bengals’ roster next season. Even though he was being taunted on the field, he needed to keep his cool. His failure to do so cost the Bengals the game and, perhaps, his spot on the team.

 

 

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The Blog Dog: Alabama Returns to the Top of the CFB World

And then, there were…NONE!  No college football  FBS school was able to get through the 2015 season undefeated.  Clemson came the closest but, last night, fell five points short as they were defeated by Alabama, 45-40, in the National Championship game .

Say what you want about the Tide and head coach Nick Saban…they have won consistently and now boast four national championships in the past seven years.  During that time period, Alabama’s record is 86-10.  Saban now trails just the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant by one in number of total national championships.  He won one title when he was at LSU and the other four at Alabama.  Saban is now tied with Bernie Bierman (Minnesota) and Howard Jones (Yale and USC), each with five college football titles.

No one can say that the game, hosted by Glendale, Arizona, was not exciting.  The teams scored a total of 85 points. Clemson actually had more total yards, 550 to 473, but Alabama did not have one, single turnover.  Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, joins Tony Dorsett as the only Heisman winners to also win the national championship in the same year.

So, now, the question is:  will the Crimson Tide be able to repeat in 2016?  The Tide has a tough opener as they face Southern California on September 3.  They have road games against Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee; plus they open the month of November on the road at LSU and then hosting Mississippi State.  How much will Saban have to reload in order to contend again?  He will definitely have to replace his QB, Jacob Coker and RB Kenyan Drake, both of whom are seniors.  Henry is a junior but he will most definitely enter the NFL draft…he has nothing more to prove.

As for Dabo Swinney and Clemson, they look like they will be back in the playoff hunt again next season.  QB Deshaun Watson is only a sophomore, so he will be back, as will CB Mackensie Alexander and RB Wayne Gallman.  Hunter Renfrow, the great WR, is only a freshman.

The Tigers’ 2016 schedule looks pretty favorable.  Clemson starts the season in Auburn against those Tigers.  The only other road game that may give Swinney’s team trouble will be traveling to meet Florida State.

All in all, it looks like the 2016 season will be a repeat of 2015.

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