Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

When “Shut-Up and Play” Hits Home

23 Feb
dexter-fowlers-wife-aliya-fowler-instagram

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, picture here with his wife Darya, who is from Iran,, received some hate-filled messages on social media for expressing concern that President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from coming to the U.S. would affect his wife’s family. Iran is one of seven countries listed on Trump’s executive order. Photo courtesy of Youtube.

When Black professional athletes are often told to stick to sports, sometimes it’s asking too much.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

I used to think of sports as a way to bring people of different backgrounds together with the possibility of getting to know each other and learning somehow to negotiate the things that divide us.

During my years as a sports writer, I’ve found that more often than not, that notion is still a long, long, way off, especially when it’s an African-American athlete who dares to speak out on race in a way that’s critical of American society.

Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals newly signed outfielder, recently found that out the hard way. During an interview with ESPN, Fowler was asked about the Executive Order President Donald J. Trump recently signed banning immigration and travel from seven Muslim nations.

This ban hit home for Fowler because his wife, Darya Baghbani is from Iran, one of the seven countries listed in the order. Fowler, like any husband and father would, expressed how the travel ban would affect his family.

“It’s huge,” Fowler told ESPN. “Especially anytime you’re not able to see your family. It’s unfortunate.”

Never mind that Fowler neither mentioned Trump by name nor said anything disparaging about him, the speedy Cardinals outfielder was hit on social media with “shut-up and play!”, a time-honored bon mot that’s been thrown at a who’s-who of Black athletes that includes Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, the Black players who boycotted the American Football League All-Star game in 1965 and more recently Colin Kaepernick and Martellus Bennett.

That plantation mentality has been ingrained in the minds of some White sports fans and even sportswriters when it comes to African-American athletes. You can hit homeruns, slam-dunk from the free-throw line, and score touchdowns all you want, but once Black athletes veer off of that very straight line and talk about the ills they see in society, they’re told to remember their place and to be grateful that they live in a country that allows them to earn millions of dollars from playing a sport.

What’s really sad to me is that the White sports fans who spew this kind of vitriol seem to believe that Black athletes give up their First Amendment rights the moment they sign their first pro contract or even when they sign that collegiate letter of intent. You also have to wonder what their attitude toward the 13th Amendment is. I mean, it was former St. Louis Cardinals great Curt Flood who once said is a slave is still a slave even if he’s a well-paid one.

But even worse than telling a Black athlete to just shut up and play is the hypocrisy that sometimes comes with that statement. For example, when white athletes like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady refused to visit the White House when President Barack Obama was president, none of the fans criticizing Black Patriots players like Martellus Bennett for skipping the visit or giving Fowler grief would ever tell Brady to just shut up and play.  He’s an American hero to them.

That’s the folly of conflating nationalism, patriotism and racism in these situations. If an athlete like Fowler can’t even express concern for his family without being raked over the coals for making a “political statement”, we have a problem.

The larger issue in my mind is that Blacks, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, and Muslims are supposed to just lay down and take it on the chin in the face of bigotry. It reminds me of the mentality of calling out the Native Americans as “savages” for daring to fight back against the theft of their land.

In the end, all Fowler did was express concern for how a misguided policy decision on the part of a President who built is entire campaign and large chunks of his administration on fear and bigotry. To his credit, Fowler has managed to stand is ground despite the backlash.

But to the people telling Fowler to shut up and play I say this:

When you’re telling a fellow American to “just shut up and play”, you’re not only being a bigot, you’re also being downright un-American because the Constitution of the United States gives every American the right to speak his mind—

And that’s whether you like it or not.

 

Finding Success When One Door Closes and Another One Opens

22 May

Can Dennis Dixon Join a List of Players Who Found the Right Situation to Display Their Talents?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

PHILADELPHIA—I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that successful athletes not only have the raw ability and the determination to work at bettering themselves in their sport, being in the right place at the right time or having the right people around you—i.e. teammates or coaches-is also a determining factor.

Covering the Eagles organized team activities for the last couple of weeks, the one player that I see that could be an interesting case of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph is Dennis Dixon, who is competing for the Eagles starting quarterback spot.

So far, he is the one quarterback in Eagles camp that seems to have a firm grasp of head coach Chip Kelly’s. After playing in both Pittsburgh and Baltimore as a backup, Dixon is hoping that he can take that experience in addition to what he learned playing for Kelly at Oregon and be the Eagles starting quarterback in 2013.

“I thought that one thing I’ve learned is leadership and you got to make sure that the other 10 guys are all ready to go,” Dixon said after practice on Monday. “At the end of the day, you got to be able to know your plays.”

Dixon is one of those interesting studies in what if his circumstances were different? During his senior year in 2007 with the Ducks, there was a strong possibility that Dixon would win the Heisman Trophy and be high draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

In the last 10 games of his collegiate career, Dixon had thrown 20 touchdown passes and threw for 2,136 yards before the injury to his anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee ended his season.  His Heisman hopes died and his draft stock plummeted dramatically.

Pittsburgh drafted Dixon in the fifth round to be a backup to Ben Rothlisberger. Oddly enough, Dixon actually started three games during his tenure with the Steelers and had a 2-1 record.

He left Pittsburgh after the 2011 season and served as a scout team quarterback as a member of the Baltimore Ravens taxi squad.

I think Dixon’s chances are his good of being the Eagles are as good as anybody else’s considering that he knows the offense better than any of the quarterbacks competing for the job. That certainly bodes well for him.

Maybe this is the point where Dixon’s takes off. To be honest, I don’t know if he’s going to win that job or not. But if he does and he performs well, it will be another story of a guy finding the right situation to elevate his career.

That is always the beauty of sports is when players can find the right venue to display their talents.  Of course, there are plenty of instances in sports where talented guys have found themselves in the right situation after being cast aside in another circumstance.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

Perhaps the most famous story in sports of an athlete finding the right place to achieve success in his career was that of one John Constantine Unitas.  He is one of the all-time great quarterbacks in NFL history.

But when Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955, he was the fourth quarterback on a team that wanted to keep three quarterbacks. Even though he had one of the strongest arms in the Steelers camp that year, Pittsburgh head coach Walt Kiesling thought Unitas was not smart enough to be an NFL quarterback and didn’t allow him to take a snap in a game.

When the Baltimore Colts called Unitas in for tryout in 1956, he was living in Pittsburgh and working as a construction worker while playing semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams at six bucks per game.

Of course, you know the rest of the story, Unitas, who called his own plays, became the quarterback who elevated the two-minute drill into an art-form, re-wrote the NFL passing records and led the Colts to two NFL Championships and one Super Bowl title.

Eagles fans know the story of Randall Cunningham, who actually had a human highlights film of a career with the Birds. Unfortunately, he didn’t win enough playoff games-one to be exact-and was maligned for being just a running quarterback.

During Cunningham’s time in Philadelphia, he never had a good offensive line, a running game, or a good offensive coordinator. Cunningham was ultimately let go a year into then Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes regime.

After a one-year retirement, Cunningham was back up quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997 and came off the bench to lead the Vikings to a comeback win over the New York Giants in the NFC Wildcard game.

In 1998, Cunningham became the starter of the Vikings after Brad Johnson went down with an injury. Working with offensive coordinator Brian Billick and armed with receivers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss, he threw 34 touchdowns and passed for 3,704 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes.

It was the best statistical year of his career. You have to wonder what would have happened if Cunningham had good offensive assistant coaches like Billick who could have really tutored him in perfecting his passing skills earlier in his career.

Equally as important, if Cunningham in his Eagles days would have had a running back like Robert Smith, a more mature Carter (who played with Cunningham in Philadelphia earlier in his career) and a superstar like Moss playing wide receiver, I think could have been an even better quarterback for the Birds.

For the first three years of O.J Simpson’s career in Buffalo, he was considered a bust with a propensity to fumble and could not catch a pass out of the backfield. It looked as if he was going to become another Heisman Trophy winner who couldn’t make it in the pros.

In 1972, the Bills brought in Lou Saban to coach the team. Thanks to a couple of offensive linemen, Saban built Buffalo’s offense around Simpson. He was arguably the best running back in the NFL from 1972 to 1976.

Simpson became the first running back in NFL history to gain over 2,000 yards in one season. Saban recognized Simpson’s talent as a ball carrier and transformed him from a guy who was going nowhere fast to a player who ran his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

In the middle of the 1964 season, the Chicago Cubs were unhappy with rightfielder Lou Brock, who had trouble fielding his position (especially in Wrigley Field) and wasn’t the home run hitter the team had projected him to be.

So the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio, who had 18 wins the previous season. At the time, people covering baseball felt that the Cubs got the best of the deal.

When Brock arrived in St. Louis, Cards manager Johnny Keane moved Brock to left field and told him to focus on using his speed instead of trying to knock the ball out of the park. Brock took Keane’s advice and was the catalyst to the Cardinals run to the 1964 World Series.

Needless to say, Brock finished his career as the all-time leader in stolen bases. He has also had over 3,000 hits with a career batting average of .293. Meanwhile, Broglio won just seven more games for the Cubs before retiring in 1966.

Brock has a statue and plaque highlighting his accomplishments in Cooperstown. One team’s bust becomes another team’s success story.

 

Meet Me in St. Louis: Cardinals Overcome Four-Run Deficit and Phillies to Even NLDS

3 Oct

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

The Philadelphia Phillies got a little taste of what their neighbors across the street-the Eagles-have been experiencing over the last three weeks: Blowing a big lead late in the game.

In Game 2 of the 2011 National League Division Series, the Philadelphia Phillies jumped out to a four-run lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the first three innings and probably thought they were in a good position to go up 2-0 in the series.

After all, lefthander Cliff Lee was on the mound and when he is on top of his game, the Phillies are virtually unbeatable. Unfortunately, Lee was not sharp as he allowed five runs on 12 hits and the hard-hitting Cardinals not only caught up with the Phillies, but surpassed them.

“When you’ve got Cliff out there, you definitely have a great feeling, but at the same they battled back and make some things happen and we weren’t back and score,” said left fielder Raul Ibanez. “Cliff’s been unbelievable for us all year.”

More importantly, the Cards evened the best-of-five NLDS with a 5-4 win over the Phillies in front of a disappointed record crowd of 46, 575 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park. A night that started with the shouting and waving of towels would ultimately end in a din of silence.

The series will now shift to St. Louis for Game 3 (TBS, 5:07 p.m.).

Things started off well for the Phillies they jumped on Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter early by scoring three runs in the first inning. The first two runs came courtesy of a single by first baseman Ryan Howard with the bases loaded that scored Jimmy Rollins, who reached on a double and Chase Utley who walked. Raul Ibanez added a run scoring single that plated Hunter Pence.

The Phillies  added another run in the second inning on a two-out RBI single by Pence that brought home Rollins, who hit his second double of the game.

That turned out to be the last run of the game for the Phillies whose bats went into chill mode for the rest of the night.

“Well, we felt real good about ourselves,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “You know we got Carpenter out of the game early and we were trying to get into their bullpen. What came—the big problem was that their bullpen held us. We got two hits, two hits after that.”

Meanwhile, the Cardinals began gradually chipping away at Lee. In the fourth, St. Louis got singles from leftfielder Lance Berkman and catcher Yadier Molina. Ryan Theriot doubled home Berkman and moved Molina to third. Jon Jay singled home Molina and then moved to second while Theriot ended up on third.

After Lee struckout pinch-hitter Nick Punto, Rafael Furcal singled home Theriot, but Jay was thrown out at the plate on a brilliant throw to catcher Carlos Ruiz from Ibanez in left field.

The Cardinals evened the game at 4-4 in the sixth inning on a RBI single by Jon Jay that scored Theriot, who reached on a two-out double.

Lee’s night ended in the seventh when the Cardinals took the lead on an RBI single by Albert Pujols that scored rightfielder Allen Craig who tripled to center off the glove of Shane Victorino. After a single by Berkman, Lee’s night was done.

“I take full responsibility,” Lee said afterward. “Anytime you give a starting pitcher a four-run lead in the first two innings, he’s in a pretty good spot and that was the situation I was in and I somehow squandered it away. You’ve got to give their hitters credit, they got a ton of hits and they drove a lot of pitches, they battled and never gave up.”

Perhaps the big question for that situation was whether or not Manuel left Lee in the game too long. When asked if he should have pulled Lee after the sixth when St. Louis tied it, Manuel said had no thought of taking Lee out of the game.

“No I didn’t,” Manuel said. “More than likely if we had two guys on base, I might have hit for him. But at the same time once we didn’t get there, I was sending him back out there.”

Considering that  Phillies relievers allowed just one hit in the final three innings, taking Lee out of the game after the sixth inning might have been the wise thing to do.