2014: A Year of Black Athletes and Social Justice-Stand Up and Protest Defeats Shut Up and Play

“Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights: it’s all wrong! Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild! God damn it, first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom! …Nostalgia…that’s we want….” Gil-Scot Heron.
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, "I Can't Breathe" Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, “I Can’t Breathe” Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

PHILADELPHIA—When I look back on 2014, I’ll remember it as a year where sports and social justice issues intersected and African American athletes refused to “just shut up and play.”

From challenging outdated stereotypes of sexual orientation to throwing a spotlight on issues such as police brutality, Black athletes decided that their membership in the Black Community was more important than endorsement deals or anything else designed to induce their silence.

“I Can’t Breathe…”

(from left to right):  Stedman  Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  Photo by Huffington Post.

(from left to right): Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Photo by Huffington Post.

The failure of Grand Juries in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the deaths of Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Akai Gurley sparked protests against police brutality coast-to-coast.

Prominent African-American athletes like NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant joined Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi in sporting “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to express their solidarity with the demonstrators.

But the athletes protest definitely did not come without pushback. When members of the St. Louis Rams came out for a game with their hands up days after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson was announced, the police union in St. Louis demanded an apology (and suspensions from the NFL) from the players, a tactic also employed Cleveland’s police union for the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt worn by Bademosi and a shirt calling for justice for Tamir Rice  and John Crawford worn by Browns wide receiver Andrew Hankins. Rather than righteous indignation, the police union’s moves vilifying looked more like intimidation.

Of course, more than a few more sports talk pundits and conservative talk radio hosts came out in an unveiled assault of bigotry against the football players.

To their credit, the players and the League refused to bow to the demands of the police unions and loud-mouth conservative talking heads. Police officers, whose salaries are paid by our taxes, are not above the law.

Bryant reminded those who tried to shout the athletes down that they live in the United States of America:

“The beauty of our country lies in its democracy. I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for things that we believe in, I really think we really lose the value that our country stands for.”

Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Muhammad Ali and Vera Caslavska, the Czech gymnast who protested the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by turning away from the Soviet flag during the medal ceremony—can definitely understand what today’s athletes are experiencing.

Michael Sam Comes Out.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

It wasn’t so much that former University of Missouri star Michael Sam announced to the world that he was gay prior to the NFL Draft, it was the long kiss he gave to his lover Vito Commissano on hearing the news he was draft by the St. Louis Rams that threw the social media world into a frenzy.

Most of the vitriol centered on the perception that Sam was trying to impose his “gay lifestyle” upon us heterosexual folks. But while Sam ended up getting cut from the Rams and releases by the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, his presence reminded us that, in the words of gay rights activists, gay athletes are “here, they’re queer…”

And society needs to get used to it…because it’s difference that makes us stronger.

LA Clippers Protest Racist Remarks by Donald Sterling.

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by  thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

The NBA was a hotbed of social justice action in 2014.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling found himself in hot water when a recording of a conversation he had with his bi-lfriend V. Stiviano hit the TMZ airwaves.

In this conversation Sterling, who was hit with a record-breaking fine by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing discrimination based on race, chastised Stiviano for bringing Black people to Clippers games and taking an Instagram photo with NBA Hall-of-Famer and owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Magic Johnson.

Once the tape hit the street, Clippers players including All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin held a 45 minute meeting to discuss a response prior to the team’s playoff game against the Golden State Warriors that night.

Although there was talk of the Clippers boycotting the game to get back at Sterling, the players opted to protest by removing their warm-up shirts and leaving them at center court and wearing black arm or wrist bands and black socks instead, something that players from the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers also did to show solidarity.

It was the first real test of new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s leadership. When he banned Sterling from the league for life and forced him to sell the team, everyone agreed Silver had passed it.

But Sterling got $2 billion out of the deal, so you’ll have to forgive me for thinking that in this case racism, like crime, paid.

When “You Throw Like a Girl” Became a Compliment

Mo'ne Davis' 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Mo’ne Davis’ 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Thanks to pitcher Mo’Ne Davis of South Philly’s Taney Dragons, 2014 became the year we all wanted to “throw like a girl”.

The 13-year-old with the 70-mile per hour fastball led the Dragons to the Little League World Series, a first for a Philadelphia team. Mo’Ne also became the first girl to pitch a shutout in a LLWS game, and scored the cover of Sports Illustrated, threw wiffle balls at Jimmy Fallon with battery mate Scott Bandura and met one of her idols, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Although the Dragons finished 2-2 during their trip to Williamsport, they, and the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago that went on to become U.S. Champions, served notice that city-based baseball was back, that kids of color knew how to play…

And that unless you’re hurling a 70-mile-an-hour fastball, don’t tell us you “throw like a girl”…

 

Thanks for the Memories: Phils Trade Jimmy Rollins to the LA Dodgers

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Jimmy Rollins surpassed Mike Schmidt on the Phillies all-time hits list  last June.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Jimmy Rollins surpassed Mike Schmidt on the Phillies all-time hits list last June. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—We all knew that Jimmy Rollins inevitable departure from the Phillies was coming back in June when he became the club’s all-time hits leader and he suggested that he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause if the Phillies were truly committed to rebuilding during the press conference.

The Phillies traded Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday night for minor league pitching prospects Zach Elfin and Tom Windle.

Rollins certainly left an indelible mark on the Phillies during his 15 years as a player and as a member of the community. He is among the team’s all-time leaders in hits, at-bats and doubles and as far as I’m concerned, Rollins is the best defensive shortstop in the team’s history and still one of the best in the National League.

But I think that Rollins’ greatest legacy to the Phillies is that he brought a swagger to the team that led eventually them to a World Series championship in 2008. That was something that I noticed about him even before 2007 when he said the Phillies were the team to beat.

When I first interviewed Rollins near the end of the 2004 season, he said it was his goal to see the Phillies become as a consistent a winner as the Atlanta Braves were during the 1990s.

Rollins was quite prophetic and he was one of the main reasons the Phillies owned the National League East from 2007-2011. During that time, the Phils won two National League pennants and a world championship.

At the start of the 2007 season, Rollins let it be known the Phillies and not the then defending division champion New York Mets. J-Roll got a lot of heat from the local and national media for making.

That season, Rollins put his money where his mouth was with an MVP season that helped lead the Phillies to the first of five straight division titles. Rollins batted .296, hit 30 home runs and drove in 94 runs. He set a major league record for plate appearances.

At just 5-foot-8, and 180 pounds, the switch-hitting Rollins had solid power from the leadoff position. He is one of six shortstops in baseball history to have 2,000 hits and four or more Gold Gloves. He is fourth on the major league career list in lead-off home runs with 46.

Last June, Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman, Mike Schmidt said the 36-year-old Rollins is a strong candidate to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“I think if Jimmy retired at the end of the (2014) season. I think he’d get serious consideration Hall-of-Fame consideration right now,” Schmidt said back in June.

Rollins will certainly have the opportunity to add to his numbers with the Dodgers, who also acquired Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

During his time in Philadelphia, Rollins was definitely a fan favorite, especially among young African-American fans, whose older relatives had bad memories of the Phillies treatment of Jackie Robinson when he broke the color-line and when Dick Allen was a member of the team.

“That’s definitely a great thing and I’ve said it a number of times, you look around you don’t see many Black faces in the ballpark from back in the Veterans Stadium days,” Rollins said back in 2011. “Now you’re starting to see quite a bit more and it’s a good thing to bring that relationship and it’s important to this ball club to bring people together.”

But in the business of baseball, the Phillies are in rebuilding mode and are looking to develop younger ball players. Rollins, like most players of his age and experience, wants another chance to play for a winner and add to his legacy and that’s why he waived his no-trade clause.

One thing is for certain filling in Rollins shoes at shortstop will be a monumental task.

Done With Cooperstown and Hall of Fame Shenanigans

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

 

Gil Hodges let the New York Mets to a World Series title in 1969.

Gil Hodges let the New York Mets to a World Series title in 1969.

The Baseball Hall of Fame lost a friend on Monday. Thanks to its arrogant, shortsighted vision, it won’t miss me or the many thousands who were stunned by another goose egg turned in by this year’s Golden Era Committee vote. But then the Hall never did get it right.

No one gets 100 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote? A joke. But no one on a strong ballot of nine players and one executive (Bob Howsam) gets even 75 percent? Far worse and thus my decision to never again justify the Baseball Hall of Fame’s existence by entering its doors.

In particular, there is no joy in Mudville, where Gil Hodges has been emphatically shut out (receiving three or fewer votes of the 12 required), quite possibly forever, by a committee that seems to be applying 21st Century standards to a 20th Century icon.

You remember Hodges, right? The manager of arguably the most remarkable turnaround in the history of the game, the 1969 New York Mets?

As a Brooklyn Dodger, Hodges was, at one point,  late in his career 10th all-time in homers (370), with seven years of 100 or more and eight All-Star appearances. He was one of the rocks of the Boys of Summer, part of seven pennant winners and three world championships (two as a player and one as manager).

But what makes Hodges’ omission particularly galling is that he represents everything in terms of character that baseball claims to be about, while far transcending the numbers you might find in a media guide or on a website.

Hodges was a World War II hero, who lost two of his formative years to the game. At the time of his service (1944 and 1945), he was 19 years old and had already played in one game for Brooklyn in 1943.

After not stepping on the field for some 30 months because he was in the Pacific serving his country, he had to start all over again in 1946 and by the next year was stuck in a situation where the Dodgers (who had gone on with life while he was away) had to figure out what to do with him. So by the time he became a regular in 1948, he lost arguably 1,000 plate appearances and the kind of counting statistics that Veterans Committee members appear determined to use to keep him out of Cooperstown.

‘Determined’ is the operative word here given the great injustice that befell Hodges in the early 1990s when committee chairman Ted Williams disallowed a 12th vote by Roy Campanella on the basis that Campy was sick and not present at the committee meeting.

With Campanella’s vote, Hodges was a Hall of Famer, earning the required 12 of 16 votes. Without it, Hodges was left with 11 of 15 votes or just shy of inclusion (a similar predicament to Tony Oliva and Dick Allen yesterday, only they didn’t have any votes nullified).

Add that to the highest number of votes ever received by a player not voted into the Hall of Fame (over 1,000) and one has to wonder what Hodges did to antagonize people over the years.

One vote shy. And it appears as if the man who drove in the only two runs in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series will never get that vote.

How could a figure who received 50 percent or more of the BBWAA vote 11 times (of a possible 15 tries), not have his day in the sun, while so many who finished behind him eventually get included?

And it only gets worse if you look at his defensive legacy, which is greatly understated.
Hodges won three Gold Gloves at first base with the Dodgers at a point when baseball only awarded one for all of baseball (1957-59).

This was the beginning of the award and the twilight of Hodges being an elite player, which raises the question: How many Gold Gloves might he have won had the current rules of the award applied?

If we are going to punish the man for being part of the pre-steroid era (he has dropped to 75th all-time in homers in the last half-century), what is the other side of the coin?

Hodges became an elite first baseman defensively in 1949, when he led the National League in putouts, fielding percentage and double plays and was second in assists. He was first in at least one major defensive category six more times before the creation of the Gold Glove meaning he could have won as many as 10 Gold Gloves with at least a half dozen extremely likely.

Undeniably,  any conversation of the 10 greatest defensive first basemen of all-time must include Hodges. But technicality, rather than accomplishment, rules the argument against him.

Then again Hodges never was a master of timing.

He died two days before his 48th birthday, a year before a Mets team he largely made relevant won its second pennant under Yogi Berra. With Hodges as manager would the 1973 Mets have won a second world title? More importantly in this discussion, with Hodges in the public eye, might he have gotten those few extra votes to have made this a moot point?

Sadly, we will never know the answers to any of these questions and as the likelihood that Hodges is ever inducted begins to become extremely remote, we are left to ponder this: What good is a Hall of Fame without celebrating its game?

Every year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducts a minimum number of candidates. The powers that be in that sport lock themselves in a room until they come out with at least four people (and usually more). They build on the legacy of the past, refresh our love for the game, all without cheapening the award. Included on that list are Veterans Committee choices
Baseball, long ago stunned by cronyism and possible over-induction of candidates, has swung far too wide in the other direction, not only applying new statistical analysis to keep older players out, but suspicion of wrongdoing (see steroids) to create a backlog of worthy candidates that cannot be rectified.

Dick Allen? Should have been in long ago. Tony Oliva, one of the great hitters of the 1960s and a three-time batting champion? Same thing. And don’t get me started on Luis Tiant (a four-time 20-game winner, who has the most career shutouts of any non-Hall of Famer) or Jim Kaat (winner of 283 games and a 16-time Gold Glover) or Ken Boyer.

Once the BBWAA fails (which it has often this decade by not resolving the steroid argument) and the Golden Era Committee fails (which it has done twice consecutively by applying more difficult standards than it ever has in the past) then we arrive at this sad epitaph for the Hall of Fame itself.

Any shrine too snobbish or indecisive to celebrate itself is not worthy of our recognition and even more sadly, not worthy of the game we call our National Pasttime.

Today, there is no joy in Mudville because Cooperstown itself has struck out.

Ryan Howard’s Lawsuit Settlement Another Example of How Athletes and their Money are Soon Parted

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—To say that 2014 hasn’t been a good year for Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard would be an understatement.

Not only did he have a bad year on the field, Howard’s off field life became a bit of a mess due to a series of dueling lawsuits he and his twin brother Corey filed against each other.

The recently settled lawsuit was sparked by Ryan’s decision to terminate the personal assistant contract he had with Corey in 2013. It was a decision spurred by the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Broke” and based in the desire to let his family be family, not employees.

It did not go over well.

Ryan was paying his twin $7,975 every two weeks for handling his business affairs through his RJH Foundation so that they he could concentrate on baseball. Their parents Ron and Cheryl Howard, his brother Chris and his sister Roni Cowley, were also members of the foundation’s team despite having no financial stake of their own in it.

Prior to Ryan taking control of the foundation in 2012, family members enriched themselves to the tune of over $2 million, some of which was poured into luxury cars and other items, according to the counter suit Ryan filed against his twin.

It’s sad to see that things got this bad for the Howard family because I remember how close they seemed during happier times.

I met Howard’s family in 2006 when he won the MVP Award and again in 2009 in Kansas City when I was receiving the Sam Lacy Award from the Negro League Baseball Museum. On the surface, they seemed like your typical middle-class family and you could understand why he would trust them with his finances.

The problem was that none of Howard’s family members had experience in the business of sports and the greed bug bit and bit hard.

Or as Mase and Diddy put it “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

Multimillion dollar athletes often find themselves not knowing who to trust. For example, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, whose story was featured in “Broke” talked about how trusting family with his money nearly ruined him financially.

Sound familiar?

No one was really qualified to handle all that money. Seemingly nice people like your family members end up becoming greedy when millions of dollars are on the table. Family members can sometimes end up becoming as unscrupulous as one of those knuckleheads an athlete meets in the streets.

“Getting money sometimes is like turning the lights on in a dark house in the ghetto,” said former Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott during his segment in “Broke.” “It exposes all the roaches and the rats.”

While his family may not like him in the short term, Ryan Howard may have saved himself from further heartache and even worse relations with his relatives by taking control of his foundation.

Howard, who will make $50 million over the next two years, needs to find someone he can trust to manage his money. He’s 35, injuries are taking their toll, and another contract like the one he currently has with the Phillies probably isn’t in the offing.

The obvious lesson here is that even the people who love you, people who are seemingly grounded and have the noblest of intentions, can become people you don’t recognize when millions of dollars are involved. I hope that Howard and his mom, dad, sister and brothers can heal and go back to being “just family.”

After all, blood should be thicker than money, right?

October Surprise: KC’s Guthrie Joins List of Unlikely World Series Heroes

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

Righthanded pitcher Jeremy Guthrie led Kansas City to a win in Game 3 of the 2014 World Series. The series is now tied at 2-2.

Righthanded pitcher Jeremy Guthrie led Kansas City to a win in Game 3 of the 2014 World Series. The series is now tied at 2-2.

The Kansas City Royals moved to within two wins of baseball’s world championship Friday night largely on the efforts of Jeremy Guthrie.

Jeremy who? That’s not Woody or Arlo or even Janet. For those who don’t recognize the name of the 11-year journeyman who owns a career record of 83-100, there are the following dubious distinctions:
1.      Led American League in losses twice (2009, 2011).
2.      Led AL in homers allowed (2009).
3.      Led AL in hits allowed (2013).
4.      Led AL in hit batsmen (2014).
5.      Led AL in errors by a pitcher (2014).

In all, not exactly a glowing resume, but then one of the beauties of the World Series has often been this cardinal rule: hot trumps better. It usually doesn’t apply in the NFL and almost never applies in the NBA (see a pair of lower seeds reach the NBA Finals lately?), but the joy that is October has its own set of rules, where the wave of a magic wand can bring unforeseen gifts.

New York Mets second baseman Al Weis hit a three-run homer against Baltimore 's Dave McNally in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series. Photo by Newsday.com

New York Mets second baseman Al Weis hit a three-run homer against Baltimore ‘s Dave McNally in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series. Photo by Newsday.com

In this world, Al Weis trumps Davey Johnson. Brian Doyle beats Davey Lopes. And Billy Hatcher? If you’re not careful, in a given year he can trump just about anyone.

The cynics can call it random and unjust. When teams with 88 and 89 wins, respectively, match up, images of John Mahoney screaming at John Cusack while incarcerated in ‘’Say Anything’’ – and lecturing about championing mediocrity – comes to mind.

The horror! And if dynasties are your bag, the ugly possibilities are limitless.
Would Tom Brady succumb to Ryan Fitzpatrick in a conference championship? Can you imagine the Bill Russell Celtics losing a playoff game to the Cincinnati Royals with Oscar Robertson’s sub playing the starring role?

Not on your life, but then baseball has so often been the one pastime where you can proverbially have your cake and eat it too, where conservatism can find a middle ground with the dreamer. In this world, we can tout the Yankee dynasties, while still noting that Derek Jeter only won one world title in his final 14 seasons, a democratic statistical correction by the baseball gods that the other sports cannot match.
October and occasionally a few days before and after grants a starring role for Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Mariano Rivera, but also shines its light upon Moe Drabowsky, Al Gionfriddo and John Stuper. And that’s what we have loved about it for over a century.

Hot trumps logic, invites imagination.

How else do you explain Guthrie outpitching perennial stud and four-time All-Star Tim Hudson in San Francisco in the game history tells us was probably the most important in the series? It’s Gary Gentry outpitching Jim Palmer to a lesser degree all over again, just a few years after a still-developing Palmer outpitched Sandy Koufax at the peak of his powers.

The game invites us to look a little bit closer, noting that while Guthrie’s won-loss record wasn’t all that scintillating (13-11) in 2014, the club was 19-13 in games he started, strong if not imposing. And since a July hiccup in which he went 1-3 with a 10.07 ERA over four starts, Guthrie has been 8-2 over 12 starts, following up a good Game 3 in the ALCS against Baltimore with another rock-solid outing against the Giants.

Peaking at the right time? Good scouting? A manager understanding his pitcher’s limits?
Theories will abound with a little bit of truth in many. But as any magician will tell you, the tricks of the trade are best not revealed, if they can be at all.

Who knows why a Cookie Lavagetto or Don Larsen shine, albeit briefly? But every fall their spirits are resurrected at this time, providing the kind of hope that only can be found in love, the hottest player of all.

2014 Royals Taking Their Place in Baseball’s History of Improbable Post Season Runs

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas makes an incredible catch in the stands in Game 3 of the 2014 American League Championship Series.

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas makes an incredible catch in the stands in Game 3 of the 2014 American League Championship Series.

The most natural inclination when the Kansas City Royals stunned the Baltimore Orioles in four straight to sweep the 2014 American League Championship Series was to draw comparisons to the 1969 Mets.

Inferior team wins. Said team catches lightning in a bottle, fueled by a bevy of incredible defensive plays. And yet it’s important to remember several pieces of data in the comparison beginning with the realization that the Mets didn’t sweep that series. The Orioles won Game 1 and one of the great what-ifs in baseball history is what might have happened had Baltimore won just one of the four games the Mets juggernaut snagged that week.

New York Mets outfielder makes a diving catch against Baltimore in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The Kansas City Royals made similar plays against the Orioles in the 2014 American League Championship Series.

New York Mets outfielder Tommy Agee makes a diving catch against Baltimore in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The Kansas City Royals made similar plays against the Orioles in the 2014 American League Championship Series.

Would the Orioles, with Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar slated to go in games 6 and 7 at home, won the series in seven? Or would the Mets have won anyway with more magic from players like Tommie Agee, Donn Clendenon or Al Weis?

To that question we will never know the answer. But as remarkable as that week was, it wasn’t the standard for postseason sweeps, which ironically happened exactly 100 years ago. Since then we’ve had a bevy of great lightning-in-the-bottle stories this time of year and the 2014 Royals may not even rank near the top.

You decide.

1914 Boston Braves: Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s were a dynasty, fueled by great pitching and their $100,000 infield (yeah, that was a long time ago). They were heavy favorites against the Boston Braves, whose manager George ‘’Tweedy’’ Stallings is best remembered for wearing out the seat of his suit pants on the bench. The Braves were in last place on the Fourth of July and then proceeded to go 60-16 to not only win their first pennant, but do so in double digits.

That should have been a warning to pundits of a potential upset, but both the A’s and experts were stunned over four days as Hank Gowdy (an underrated catcher whose career lasted until 1930) hit .545.

1966 Orioles: Once upon a time the Orioles were on the other side of an incredible four-game sweep. This is often forgotten in history since Baltimore went on to win three pennants and another world title only a few years later with much of the same cast. But understand the rep of the 1966 Dodgers: led by 27-game winner Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers were defending champs and had won their third pennant in four years. The Orioles were making their first postseason appearance. But paced by Moe Drabowsky’s amazing relief performance in Game 1, the Dodgers’ offense was shut down, never to reawaken in the most stunning display of four-game pitching in World Series history.

1980  Kansas City Royals: The 1980 Yankees won more regular-season games (103) than either the 1977 or 1978 teams that won it all. Both teams defeated the Royals en route to the crown and the Bombers had a run going of three consecutive postseason series victories over KC. So this was the ultimate grudge match. With homefield advantage, the Yanks were leading at home in Game 3 until George Brett’s long homer off Goose Gossage cemented the three-game sweep.

The 1990 Cincinnati Reds: Lest we forget. The 1988-1990 A’s were very close to being recognized as one of the great dynasties of the last 30 years. But they ran into a hot Dodger team in 1988 and even hotter Cincinnati team two years later. Reds pitchers held the Bash Brothers to only eight runs in four games, but the MVP was Billy Hatcher, whose .750 mark represents one of the great short-series hot streaks in postseason history.

2014 Royals: KC trailed 7-3 late in the wild-card playoff before stunning Oakland. Since that point, they have hardly trailed in their first postseason appearance in 29 years. They wiped out a veteran Angels team, but the nature of their four-game sweep over the Orioles was invigorating and incredible: Baltimore hit well in two games (games 1 and 2), but not enough.

Then it pitched well in the next two, but again it wasn’t enough as the Royals won two games by two runs and two others by one each. Lorenzo Cain was the Royals series MVP, but collectively KC played perhaps the best series defense since the 1969 Mets, using several diving or unlikely catches to shut down every potential Baltimore rally. Can the Royals sustain this momentum into the World Series? A national bandwagon of underdog lovers await in what is becoming one of the great October sagas in recent years.

An Unlikely ALCS Matchup: Baltimore and Kansas City

The Orioles and Royals will have plenty of run-ins like this during the 2014 ALCS.

The Orioles and Royals will have plenty of run-ins like this during the 2014 ALCS.

By Barry Fedorovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

 

Exhaust all your metaphors about Freud, melatonin and the 13 movies that go by the same name. But make no bones about it.

The 2014 American League Championship Series is the Dreamers’ Series, an unlikely clash of two teams that have gone a combined 60 years since their last World Series appearances and yet have swept their way to within four victories of ending that drought.

The wild-card Kansas City Royals travel to Camden Yards to take on the A.L. East champion Baltimore Orioles Friday night to begin a best-of-seven series that is incredibly the first time the two have met in a postseason matchup. Note the long list of near-misses between the teams in the 1970’s and 80’s:

1973: O’s win A.L. East; Royals are second in A.L. West.
1975: Both teams finish second.
1976: Royals win A.L. West; O’s are second in A.L. East.
1977: A repeat of 1976 with the O’s finishing even closer (only 2.5 games behind the first-place Yankees).
1979: O’s win A.L. East; Royals finish second in A.L. West.
1980: Royals reclaim A.L. West title, but this time the O’s fall back, finishing second in the A.L. East (behind the Yankees) despite winning 100 games.
1982: Both teams finish second by narrow margins (the O’s by one game and Royals by three games, respectively).
1983: O’s win the A.L. East; Royals finish second in A.L. West.

That’s eight times in 11 seasons where both teams were either in or on the cusp of the postseason and yet somehow didn’t meet. In all eight cases, both teams entered the season considered a good team (with the most unlikely finish probably being the Royals’ second place in 1973 when the White Sox and A’s were considered co-favorites), ironic in that few pundits would have predicted this year’s clash.

Fueled by their league-leading 153 stolen bases (the same number they pilfered in 2013), the Royals won 89 games, three more than in 2013. Even more surprisingly was the emergence of the Orioles, who actually hit one fewer homer in 2014 (211), but improved by 11 games to run away with the East.

On the surface, that means a clash of opposites: the Royals’ speed versus the Orioles’ power.

The similarities between the teams? Underrated pitching and air-tight defense, the latter which could be a deciding factor in what figures to be a very tight series.
Just look at the respective outfields and you can understand why these teams are playing for the right to play in the World Series.

In Nick Markakis, the Orioles have the only regular right fielder in the American League who didn’t make an error this season. Markakis also led the league in putouts at the position and is flanked by Adam Jones, a Gold Glove centerfielder.
And yet has any recent outfield looked any more impressive in the field than the Royals did in the ALDS against the stunned Angels? In Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon, Kansas City offered a defense that would have made Seattle’s Legion of Boom proud, stealing would-be bloop hits by the bushel and denying extra-base hits at every turn to the point of completely dominating the team with baseball’s best record.

During the regular season, the Royals won four of seven, but it’s almost as if they didn’t meet at all since it’s been so long; their last matchup was May 18. Four of those seven games were decided by one or two runs, which could hint at the tense nature of the series that lies ahead.

It’s not the marquee big-market series television may have wanted, but it could be exciting and at the very least will be the end of a long drought for one city that dares to dream of a championship.

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2014 ALCS: Who Will End Their World Series Drought? Orioles or Royals

By Barry Federovitch

For The Chris Murray Report

Baltimore;s Adam Jones and Alex Gordon for the Royals.

Baltimore;s Adam Jones and Alex Gordon for the Royals.

Somebody’s gonna hurt someone before the night is through. Somebody’s gonna come undone. There’s nothing we can do – The Eagles ‘’Heartache Tonight’’

Whose misery will end this week?

Do you prefer the Kansas City Royals, who haven’t won the World Series in 29 years, since George Brett was their regular third baseman and Bret Saberhagen was their ace? Or are you pulling for the Baltimore Orioles, who haven’t won since they took down the Phillies’ Wheeze Kids in 1983, but haven’t played in the Fall Classic in 31 years?

Underdog vs. Underdog in the 2014 American League Championship Series. But only one can win and given what we just saw in twin sweep upsets in the ALDS, it’s not readily apparent who that will be. The more you look at the best-of-seven series that begins at Camden Yards Friday, the more you can become confused.

But all emotion aside, these are very different teams with diametrically opposed reasons for optimism that they will represent the A.L. in the 2014 World Series.

WHY THE ORIOLES WILL WIN

1. They’re the better team- The most debatable point. They’re missing Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, all key components, but they won the ever-tough A.L. East going away, while the Royals had to scramble to claim a wild-card berth. The O’s won 96 games, tied with the Nationals for second-best record in baseball behind the Angels (compared to 89 for the Royals) and really have done the most to this point.

2. They have the best manager- Royals skipper Ned Yost has done a nice job, but is frequently under criticism for his moves (particularly in the wild-card playoff against Oakland). Buck Showalter? Considered the best bet for the Manager of the Year Award, masterfully manipulating a lineup all season that on paper doesn’t even look like a playoff team. When push comes to shove, who will make the moves that make the difference? This year, no one’s been better than Buck.

3. The Orioles have homefield advantage- Rarely a key point, but possibly significant in a series where the two teams will have strong sentiment on their side. The O’s were a healthy 50-31 at Camden Yards this year and should the series go seven games would have the deciding game at home. The Royals were a strong 47-34 on the road (so this could be a push), but at a mediocre 42-39 at the K could have a tough time sweeping the middle three games in Kansas City.

4. The Orioles have the power edge: The Royals may preach speed, but would not have gotten past the Angels without timely homers by Eric Hosmer and Matt Moustakas in the ALDS. Continuing hot streak or brief aberration? The Royals only hit 95 homers this year, fewer than half of Baltimore’s 210, which is usually fully exploited by Camden Yards.

5. Chris Tillman gives the O’s an edge- Both bullpens are great and intuitively the better bullpen wins most series. But in Game 1 starter Chris Tillman, the O’s may have a pitcher who can stymie the Royals. In his lone start against KC this year, he spun a five-hit shutout. Tillman also beat the Royals in one outing in 2013 and hasn’t lost to them in over two years, possibly a key factor since he should start twice in the series.

WHY THE ROYALS WILL WIN

1. They are the hottest team- Among the four remaining playoff teams, no one is clicking all-around like the Royals right now. They can steal seven bases in a game, hit big extra-inning homers, get dominant starting pitching and/or strong relief. They beat the Angels by winning in many ways, which is the easiest path to a championship.

2. Speed doesn’t slump- A key unpredictable factor in any postseason series is weather. Will the wind blow in during key games and neutralize the power of both clubs? Or will wet conditions slow the track and take away the stolen base? More likely the Royals, who led the A.L. in stolen bases, are less prone to slumps. They have speed up and down their lineup (compared to the O’s, who virtually never utilize the stolen base) and are great at making something out of nothing (they were second in baseball in infield hits with 158). Neither team walks a lot, but if you keep the ball in the park, the Royals have a clear edge.

3. The Royals know they can beat the O’s- It was a small sample size, but the Royals won the season series (4-3). Most significant in this was that the Royals won two of three in Baltimore (where the series begins and may end). KC has already shown that it isn’t intimidated by loud postseason road crowds, but it helps to have a positive history in Baltimore.

4. Big Game James- Neither side is long on postseason experience, but it may help the Royals to have James Shields, a veteran of many big September and October clashes during his time with the Rays. Shields could be matched up twice with Chris Tillman this series and just a split in the first two games in Baltimore will go a long way toward giving the Royals the edge in the series.

5. Greg Holland- Most postseason series come down to who blows a game or two in the later innings. In Greg Holland, the Royals possess what may be the best closer in the game. Holland was 1-3 with a 1.44 ERA and 46 saves this year and hasn’t given up a hit in four postseason innings. Going back to last year, Holland has been as good as any reliever in the Junior Circuit and could be the difference if games are decided in the ninth inning.

Conclusion: One hidden factor is homers allowed, an area KC had a clear edge this season (Royals pitchers allowed 128 homers compared to 151 surrendered by the O’s). Add the league’s best eighth-inning man (Wade Davis, 9-1, 1.00) and it might just be enough for the Royals to take the series in seven games.

Phillies Need to Face the Reality of Rebuilding

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—During the early part of the 2014 season, the Phillies left you with the impression that they could just have timely hitting, good defense and good pitching on a consistent basis, they were close to being a contender in the National League East.

It was something General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believed and it was something manager Ryne Sandberg talked about even after nights when the Phillies offense came up short or the starting pitching put them in a deep hole from which they could not recover.

That was not only wishful thinking on part of Amaro and Sandberg, it was downright delusional.

Instead, the Phillies did what bad teams usually do, play well in one aspect of their game and suck in some other part. That was the most consistent aspect of the Phillies in 2014 and it resulted in the team’s last place finish (73-89) in the NL East.

To be honest, this season was doomed from the start, going back to the off-season when the most significant free agents signings were aging, over 30-something veterans like pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Marlon Byrd.

While the latter actually had a decent season, the former pitched like the 37-year-old man he was during the season.

Burnett won just two games after the All-Star break and finished the season 8-18 with a 4.59 earned run average. The team also didn’t have left-handed starter Cliff Lee, who finished his season on the disabled list, for most of the season.

Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (now a free agent) was hot and cold, often struggling to get out of the first inning.

The only bright spots for the Phillies in 2014 were Cole Hamels, who got little help from his offense, and the young bullpen. Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but finished 9-9 and often lacked run support. He also had a no-hitter he shared with two other pitchers.

The Phils offense was a constant problem all year outside of Byrd, who led the team in home runs and lead-off hitter Ben Revere, who batted .307 and tied for the National League lead in hits.

Unfortunately, Amaro’s resurgence of the “Wheez Kids” was a monumental failure and it’s painfully obvious that change has to come, especially on offense.

That means that it’s time for the Phillies to come to the realization that Amaro has been avoiding for a long time—it’s time to say a fond farewell to the now 30-something guys who won the 2008 World Series whose best days are collectively behind them.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Of course, the hardest player for the Phillies to move will be first baseman Ryan Howard, who will be 35 in 2015, because the team still owes him $60 million. No one around baseball wants to take on that salary.

Howard is coming off a season where he batted just .223 with 23 homeruns and 95 runs batted in with a league-leading 190 strikeouts. It was the first time since 2011 that Howard has played more than 150 games in a season.

After struggling through a myriad of leg injuries over the last couple of years, it was an accomplishment for Howard to finish the season. While those injuries are fully healed, I don’t think Howard was ever 100 percent back to himself from a baseball perspective.

That said, I think a change of scenery to an American League team where he can be a designated hitter might do him some good and even bring about resurgence in his career.

Meanwhile, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley have no-trade clauses in their contract. Rollins, the Phillies all-time leader in hits, told reporters back in June that he would be open to a trade if the team goes into complete rebuilding mode.

Guess what? That time is here.

Utley, who struggled in the second half of the season, should consider waiving his no-trade clause as well because it’s going to be a long time before this team is a contender again. I don’t know if Utley will like playing for a young, rebuilding team.

Out of the Phillies younger players that have come out of their system in the last year or so, third baseman Cody Asche was the only one who solidified a starting spot next year in the Phils starting lineup. There’s also talk that prospect Maikel Franco could be on the roster next year.

The Phillies will likely part ways with Domonic Brown, who had an awful season and regressed as a hitter. He batted .235 with just 10 home runs, 63 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .285. In 2013, Brown had a .272 average with 27 homers, 83 RBI, and a .324 on-base percentage.

The Phillies will have a solid bullpen next year with a solid corps of young arms led by hard-throwing righthander Ken Giles, who will be the team’s next closer if they can’t find a suitor for Jonathan Papelbon, who served a seven-game suspension near the end of the season for an obscene gesture. He saved 39 of 43 games in 2014.

Giles, whose fast ball was clocked at 100 miles per hour, had a 1.18 earned run average in 44 games and had a 3-1 record with one save.

Amaro himself is on the clock in 2015—the final year of his contract. He has to figure out a way to get this ship going in the right direction for next year and beyond.

If he doesn’t, Amaro will be given his walking papers the same way former assistant general manager for amateur scouting Marti Worlever got his near the end of the 2014 season.

One Last Hurrah for Jeter: The Captain Walks Away Unscathed

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report 

When it was over Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, it felt scripted.

Derek Jeter's next stop is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Derek Jeter’s next stop is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Derek Sanderson Jeter, the elegant shortstop with the rough-house hockey player’s name, lined the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth of his final home game in the Bronx to put an exclamation point on the most extraordinary Yankee career since Mickey Mantle called it quits over 45 years ago.

That Jeter’s euphoric swan song came on the 41st anniversary of Willie Mays saying goodbye to America was somehow apropos in degree of love. There are some sports figures, regardless of statistics, that are bigger than life, so easily identifiable that they become ingrained in the culture, breeding reactions one way or the other.

Jeter has always been such a figure.

While pundits and lover-haters argues where the Captain belongs in the pantheon of New York sports legends, there was no debating two points.

* The last 20 years should be known as the Jeter Era in New York sports and….
* No Yankee everyday player ever went off into the sunset so gloriously and yet unscathed as the Pequannock, N.J. product.

Some were better. A handful won more often. But in the ultimate irony, for two decades one of the ultimate Yankees was the quintessential Artful Dodger, staying out of trouble, maintaining his poise and earning enough respect to be appreciated by a large portion of non Yankee fans.

Think about some other great Yankee everyday players.

There was no tragic ending like Munson or Gehrig. No aloofness or injury like Joe D. No prima donna theatrics like A-Rod or Reggie. And no unhealthy lifestyle underlined by a degree of sadness like Mantle or Ruth.

It wasn’t perfect, but like DiMaggio’s swing and stride it was the epitome of grace.

Oh, there could have been an even better ending with his team missing the postseason for a second straight year. After so much early glory, the Yankees won only one world title in Jeter’s final 14 seasons and missed the postseason in three of his final seven.

Some have picked on his defensive deficiencies (including a negative career defensive WAR) and noted that he might not have been the best or most important Yankee when they won four world titles from 1996-2000. With this ammunition, any analysis would leave him off the list of top five players in franchise history and any top 20 list of all players.

But other numbers tell another story and in Jeter’s case, the whole always seemed to exceed the sum of its parts; he was the guy you didn’t want to face with the game on the line in the late innings. Unlike his talented es-teammate Robinson Cano, October was his time with some 200 career postseason hits, many of them memorable and important.

Many have criticized the over-the-top nature of his farewell tour (remember that Mays retired only five days before his night, while Mantle called it quits in Match). But is there ever any good way to say goodbye to our heroes?

The light of their glory, while bright, always shines too briefly. With this sentiment for a moment Thursday night it felt like the 2001 World Series again with Jeter’s game-winning homer earning the unique moniker of Mr, November.

And yes, since it was his first walk off hit in seven years, one couldn’t help but wonder if he was served up a meatball like Denny McLain delivered to Mantle in the closing days of 1968.

But such is so often the legacy of great ones; so many things go right that we often wonder if their path is scripted. They see things we can never see and hold the keys to kingdoms of which most of us can only imagine.

So it has been for the Yankees’ unscathed captain, who Thursday night added one last special chapter before stepping away into our collective memories.