July 16, 2019
This being of July, Major League Baseball has a trading deadline that expires on the last day of this month. Will we see any players moved from the current Pittsburgh Pirates roster?
The bigger question is, does a fire sale begin with the Bucs? Now having lost their last four games to teams in their division that are also ahead of them in the standings, despite being just 5 ½ games behind the Chicago Cubs still, is the front office considering a preparation for team improvements for 2020?
After a 7-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, there is a buzz on the internet about possible trades before the deadline. Several Buccos are named.
Top 20 MLB position player trade candidates
theScore Staff, theScore.com
With Major League Baseball's trade deadline approaching, theScore's MLB editors break down 20 position players who could be moved ahead of July 31.
4. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
Marte has put last year's 80-game PED suspension behind him and remains a solid outfielder with power and speed. It's no guarantee that the Pirates will want to part with the 30-year-old, but a pair of upcoming team options - $11.5 million in 2020, $12.5 million in 2021 - would make him the highest-paid player on a club that's not known for big spending. Those additional years of control make him an attractive trade candidate and could generate a nice return for Pittsburgh.
Probability of trade: 6/10
Potential suitors: Twins, White Sox, Indians, Athletics, Nationals, Phillies
11. Corey Dickerson, OF, Pirates
Dickerson has been one of the more underappreciated outfielders in the game over the last three years. He was an All-Star in 2017 and won a Gold Glove the following season. However, injuries have limited Dickerson to just 32 games this year, which could affect the return Pittsburgh receives. The Pirates shopped the 30-year-old this winter, and even despite being in the playoff hunt, expect them to try and get something for the impending free agent.
Probability of trade: 7/10
Potential suitors: Twins, Indians, Athletics, Nationals, Phillies, Rockies
18. Melky Cabrera, OF, Pirates
Cabrera continues to be productive even into his 15th season. The veteran corner outfielder isn't a game-changer, but he is a solid on-base threat with some pop and owns the best strikeout percentage (9.5 percent) of his career. Cabrera will hit free agency at the end of this campaign, making it likely that the Pirates opt to move him.
Probability of trade: 9/10
Potential suitors: Red Sox, Twins, Indians, Athletics, Nationals, Rockies, Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals
Top 20 MLB pitcher trade candidates
8. Felipe Vazquez, RP, Pirates
If available, there's no question that Vazquez would be the top reliever on the market. Over the past three seasons, the left-hander is the only closer with at least 10 saves and a sub-2.20 ERA, and he's converted 78 saves during that span. The Pittsburgh Pirates, currently hovering around .500, would reportedly want two of the Los Angeles Dodgers' top four prospects, so he won't come cheap. It's understandable since he's on an extremely team-friendly deal and is due a maximum of $33.5 million through 2023.
Probability of trade: 2/10
Potential suitors: Dodgers, Red Sox, Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Twins, Athletics, Rays
As the NFL’s teams prepare to open their respective training camps, wide receiver Golden Tate now playing with the Detroit Lions was formerly with the Seattle Seahawks the only two teams he has played for in his pro career. So today, he had this to say about this current starting quarterback:
“Matthew Stafford's been the best quarterback I've played with. The guy can flat-out play, he's tough, and his attitude is amazing and he just wants to play ball. For me, I have nothing but praises for him.”
Uhmm…he’s only played with Russell Wilson and Stafford. While they are both very good, there are a handful of other QBs out there better (Brady, Brees, Rivers, Roethlisberger to name a few). I wonder had he played on the Jaguars last year would he have said Blake Bortles is the best signal caller he ever played with?
Martavis Bryant is done with football just yet. The embattled ex-Steelers receiver who was suspended last December for breaking the rules of his previous reinstatement has applied again to be reinstated. Bryant has undergone treatment for mental health issues most recently and what was once believed to be an outstanding talent has turned into another Josh Gordon.
How good will the Pittsburgh Steelers be this forthcoming season? Former Black and Gold running back and ESPN personality Merrill Hoge weighs in:
“I think the key word here is team. Teams win championships. Quarterbacks don’t win championships, defenses don’t and offenses don’t. They have a lot of weapons there and they feel more like a team now. I like their odds better this year than I did last year.”
July 15, 2019
Erie 13s and 45s
Last Friday night the Los Angeles Angels were playing at home hosting the Seattle Mariners and the night was dedicated to the memory of the late Tyler Skaggs, a member of the Angels who tragically passed away on July 1.
Just 27 years of age, the cause of his death is yet to be revealed but he was discovered unresponsive in his hotel room in Texas. On Friday, his mother Debbie Hetman threw out the first pitch and then history took place. The final score on July 12 was 13-0. But more importantly it was a combined no-hitter by the Angels as Taylor Cole and Felix Pena became the pitchers of record to score the no-no.
Tyler Skaggs was born on July 13, just a day after Friday’s game. He would be been 28. His jersey number was 45 and everyone on the Angels wore the number with his name on Friday, the first home game for Los Angeles since his passing. Now the eerie part. Not only did the Angels score 13 runs, they also had EXACTLY 13 hits. This a day before the 13th just hours removed from the end of the game. Mike Trout of the Angels had a home run during the game that traveled exactly “450” feet. 45 again. The time of the game was 2 hours and 54 minutes and if the minutes were reversed, what do you get?
In the first inning when Los Angeles scored seven times, 13 batters stepped to the plate before the third out was made. For the losing Mariners, two of the pitchers that threw in the game, Matt Wisler and Cory Gearrin both posted an ERA in their two innings of work combined of 4.50. Crazy. Trout’s dinger also came in his very first at-bat. Trout also was a good friend of Skaggs.
Making this even more of a question whether this was fate or coincidence is that this was the 13th combined no-hitter in the history of Major League Baseball. One last head scratcher…the last time a combined no-no was tossed in the state of California came on July 13, 1991 when the Baltimore Orioles no-hit the Oakland A’s 2-0. The pitchers of record for Baltimore were Bob Milacki , Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson.
These kind of things just don’t happen often so you have to believe it happened for a reason. That reason was perhaps the spirit of Tyler Skaggs cheering on his teammates and making his presence felt. For curiosity sake, others who wore the #45 not just for the Angels but other teams in history is a bit interesting…
Coming off the All-Star break the Pittsburgh Pirates found themselves just 2 ½ games behind the division lead in the National League Central. Today, they are on a three game losing skid and now 5 ½ games back of the Chicago Cubs who spent the weekend sweeping the Bucs in their three game series and clobbering them along the way winning yesterday 8-3. On Saturday it was a 10-4 drubbing of the Buccos. The series opened with a close game, Pittsburgh getting edged 4-3.
Now Pittsburgh is in St. Louis for a series that begins tonight and the Cardinals are three back from Chicago trailing the Brewers by ½ game. It appears that the Pirates’ only chance to be in the playoffs would be to win their division despite being just 3 ½ back in the wild card race but they need to find their groove again that they had just before the All-Star break.
Just One Punch
If you missed any of UFC Fight Night 155: Sacramento on Saturday, the main event was a women’s bout between a former champion in Germaine de Randamie and the unbeaten Aspen Ladd. Ladd has some extreme difficulties making weight and the weigh-in on Friday she barely made it to the scale appearing sickly. Not a good start to keep her record clean.
When the main event finally went down, it took the Randamie just 16 seconds and one big punch to end the affair, scoring a TKO over Ladd and handing the younger and smaller fighter the first loss of her career. The initial reaction to Herb Dean stopping the fight on one punch was it was an early stoppage. But after further review, he probably did Ladd a favor because she was down and vulnerable to what would have been an onslaught of punches from Randamie who used to be an outstanding kick boxer.
The night was more highlighted by the return from retirement of Sacramento native Urijah Faber. At 40 years old, not many were expecting a solid performance from the former WEC champion including yours truly. His opponent was a fresher and younger Ricky Simon. But Faber landed a perfect solid punch in the first round and then swarmed Simon for the stoppage at 0:46. Faber then called out Henry Cejudo which would be a very intriguing fight and I would like nothing more than to see Faber shut his big mouth.
Finally there was Josh Emmett in the featherweight division who continues to pound out opponents as this tme Mirsad Bektic becamse the victim also in the first round.
How many of you remember the quarterback controversy of 1998’s NFL draft? Going numbers one and two were Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. The problem was that Indianapolis who had the first pick was trying to decide which the better option was. In learning that Leaf had a disfavor for the city of Indianapolis and its team, the Colts chose Manning. The Chargers were next and they scooped up Leaf who had a pretty solid college career at Washington State University.
The rest is history. Manning is a Hall of Famer to-be. Leaf was a bust and out of pro football within five years. Then he went to experience substance abuse problems and spent time in jail. But Leaf has resurfaced onto the national scene and this time it will be behind the mike. Leaf has joined ESPN as a college football analyst and will join Clay Matvick for games telecast on ESPN2 and ESPNU. Leaf has already been employed by the Pac-12 Network in 2018 and co-hosts a show on SiriusXM's Pac-12 channel.
Congratulations to Novak Djokovic who defeated Roger Federer again yesterday to take the men’s Wimbledon final defending the championship he won in 2018. The final scores were 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, and 13-12 (3). In the women’s final Serena Williams was no match for Simona Halep losing in straight sets 6-2 and 6-2. It was the first Wimbledon title for the Romanian Halep and only her second Grand Slam title ever previously having won the French Open last year.
That Time Again
The Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is just a few short weeks away as the team convenes for the Summer ritual at St. Vincent’s College on July 26 and will close shop and be read for the season on August 15. If you are interested in attending, the public is welcome to watch practices daily from noon until 6:00 p.m.
July 10, 2019
Tonight is the annual ESPN ESPY Awards and it starts at 8:00 inside the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles with host Tracy Morgan.
Naturally, the late Jimmy Valvano’s inspiring ESPY Awards speech of 1993 is being talked about again, an emotional speech just months before his death due to cancer. If you missed the speech you must have been living in a cave or perhaps you were not born yet, but I have it for you in today’s videos. If you are not touched in some fashion by Valvano’s words, they you simply aren’t human. It’s truly emotional and very inspiring.
As for tonight’s awards, the major ones are listed below and I’ve bolded and italicized who I believe should and will possibly take home the honor in those respective categories.
BEST MALE ATHLETE
BEST FEMALE ATHLETE
BEST BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE
BEST COLLEGE ATHLETE
BEST RECORD-BREAKING PERFORMANCE
BEST NFL PLAYER
BEST NBA PLAYER
BEST WNBA PLAYER
BEST MLB PLAYER
BEST MALE GOLFER
BEST FEMALE GOLFER
BEST MALE TENNIS PLAYER
BEST FEMALE TENNIS PLAYER
BEST NHL PLAYER
BEST MMA FIGHTER
I’ve talked about the forthcoming National Football League season several times since the 2018 season ended but more so lately because of all the buzz about the Cleveland Browns. With their roster moves and draft, all the sudden the Brownies are media darlings and so many experts and others are predicting they are making a return to the playoffs in 2019 and some say they will be division winners.
I’m not buying in. Not until they actually prove they are as good as people think they are. Cleveland hired a new head coach this year and he is Freddie Kitchens. Who? He’s 44 and has NEVER been an NFL head coach. So in his first season he will turn this team into a playoff contender? Don’t get me wrong. It can be done. But take a look at the list of head coaches who had very successful debuts in their first season on the sidelines for their respective teams:
Some of those names have very impressive resumes while others date back to the beginnings of pro football. Regardless, Kitchens resume is not so impressive. His coaching career began in 1999 with Glenville State University where he was in charge of the running backs and tight ends. The following year he was a graduate assistant at LSU. On the move again in 2001, Kitchens became the running backs coach at North Texas University for three seasons.
Kitchens doesn’t stay in one place too long. For the 2004 and 2005 seasons he coached both the backs and tight ends for Mississippi State. The now Browns head coach would get to the NFL in 2006 when the Dallas Cowboys hired him as their tight ends coach. Again switching teams, Kitchens was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as the tight ends coach in 2007 and he finally stayed put somewhere putting in 11 seasons after coaching the tight ends, quarterbacks, and running backs. Joining the Browns in 2018 as first the Associate Head Coach and Running Backs Coach, he was promoted to Offensive Coordinator before being named to run the team with all the changes they made.
What major changes did Cleveland make? Aside from the draft selections, the following veterans joined the team:
So this and what they had already on the roster puts them ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers or even the Baltimore Ravens who won the AFC North in 2018? Come on… Some of the expert’s predictions for the Browns and the AFC North for the 2019 season follows.
Predicted record: 11-5
The NFL gave the Browns a December made for a playoff run. They close versus Cincinnati, at Arizona, versus Baltimore and at Cincinnati.
Predicted record: 9-7
The NFL gave the Steelers quite the midseason break with a Week 7 bye, followed by three consecutive home games, against the Dolphins, Colts and Rams. The Steelers will go 32 days between road games with that setup.
Read the analysis from Jeremy Fowler:
For the fifth consecutive year, the Steelers open up the season away from Heinz Field, including their third prime-time road opener in the past five years. Pittsburgh will enter that opener coming off two straight preseason road games. On the back end, the Steelers will end the regular season with back-to-back road games for the first time since 2015. The trip to New York will be especially sweet, with former Steelers tailback Le'Veon Bell waiting in Jets green. But the NFL gave the Steelers quite the midseason break with a Week 7 bye, followed by three straight home games against the Dolphins, Colts and Rams. The Steelers will go 32 days between road games with that setup. Though success doesn't carry over from year to year, it should be noted that six of the Steelers' opponents posted at least 10 wins last season. Four of the Steelers' last seven games will come against divisional opponents.
The Steelers and Patriots are tied for the most Super Bowls in NFL history with six apiece, which must make it painful for Pittsburgh to watch New England celebrate its Super Bowl 53 victory on opening night. The Patriots and Steelers open the season on "Sunday Night Football" in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where Pittsburgh hasn't won with Tom Brady in the lineup (0-5). Pittsburgh's last showing in New England was a lopsided 36-17 loss in the 2017 AFC title game. But the Steelers gained confidence with a 17-10 win over New England in Heinz Field last season, and they will be eager to start hot in Gillette Stadium -- especially with Steelers killer Rob Gronkowski out of the lineup.
The Steelers have become a fixture on the prime-time schedule, and 2018 is no different with five appearances, including two Monday Night Football matchups. The loss of Bell and Antonio Brown didn't sway the networks from selecting Pittsburgh, which gets two "Sunday Night Football" games in the first six weeks. The Steelers are usually an easy call because they win games, have a loyal fan base and heighten drama. And they could add prime-time games if networks flex them late in the year. But with the Cleveland Browns serving as the trendy pick in the AFC North, the Steelers must earn their billing. The Steelers and Ravens are set to break a 12-year streak of prime-time games against against each other.
Dan Parzych, NFLspinzone.com
Cleveland Browns: 11-5
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-7
Isn’t it crazy to think how much can change in a span of a year for the Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to their offense? For years, the Steelers were always viewed as a team with one of the most high-powered offenses since they had Ben Roethlisberger had Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown to work with. It was one thing for Pittsburgh to lose Bell in free agency to the New York Jets as expected, but watching the Steelers trade Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders came as a bit of a surprise. Realistically, one would think that a team like Pittsburgh losing two key weapons like these guys would result in the team taking a step back in 2019, but that may not be the case.
There’s a reason Big Ben has always earned heavy praise for being one of the toughest quarterbacks in the NFL when looking at some of the monster games he’s put together over the years. And while it was frustrating to lose both Bell and Brown in the same offseason, the Steelers should be just fine with other players stepping up to take advantage of the situation on offense. Of course, if this doesn’t happen, chances are Mike Tomlin will easily find his name on the hot seat, but there’s no reason to be thinking that way at this point in the offseason. With the Steelers anxious to make up for missing out on the playoffs last season, don’t be surprised if this team plays better than expected in 2019, even without Bell and Brown.
Jason La Canfora, CBSSports.com
2019 NFL predictions: A way-too-early look at who'll be division winners and playoff teams
Cleveland. I'm buying the Browns. Big time. All this talk about juggling personalities and keeping all the receivers fed and happy is a debate for another day. Right now Freddie Kitchens is in a honeymoon phase and I expect this team to be young and hungry and out to make some noise. Love some of the additions to the staff – head-coach-to-be Todd Monken in particular – and the Browns are finally ascending at the right time, with the rest of this division in turmoil or rebuilding or just hiring a baby-faced head coach themselves. Who knows if they will be able to sustain things there, and that ownership group will always give you pause, but I will ride this team in 2019.
AFC Wild Cards
Kansas City and Baltimore
Gary Davenport, Bleacher Report
After missing the postseason for the first time in five years in 2018, the Steelers endured a rocky offseason. Tailback Le'Veon Bell left in free agency to sign with the New York Jets. Pittsburgh traded star wide receiver Antonio Brown to Oakland. And inside linebacker and cornerback remain potential problem areas on defense. The schedule-makers didn't do the Steelers many favors, either. Beginning with a road game against the Patriots in Week 1, the Steelers have seven games against 2018 playoff teams. While Pittsburgh has a talented offense helmed by a future Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger, it won't be a playoff team.
Maurice Moton, Bleacher Report
Cleveland Browns Prediction: 10-6
Despite the buzz in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh Steelers could still win their division. The Browns have to put all their talent together before they can prove worthy of an AFC North title. Baltimore Ravens signal-caller Lamar Jackson will have to show more of his arm talent. It's unclear what to expect from the Bengals under a new coaching staff.
Pittsburgh Steelers Prediction: 10-6
The Steelers traded their best player, Antonio Brown, to the Raiders, but the roster still has solid playmakers at the skill positions and a top-notch offensive line. JuJu Smith-Schuster seems like he's ready to lead the wide receiver corps. The USC product finished sixth in the league in receiving yards last season. Donte Moncrief and James Washington will fill the complementary pass-catcher roles behind him. Running back James Conner possesses dual-threat capabilities similar to Le'Veon Bell's; he logged 1,470 yards from scrimmage in 2018.
Over the last two seasons, Pittsburgh ranked first in sacks (tied with Kansas City in 2018), and that pattern should continue with multiple pocket-pushers across the front seven. Edge-rusher T.J. Watt and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward lead the charge. The front office added rookie linebacker Devin Bush and cornerback Steven Nelson to patch up blind spots in coverage. The Steelers play two of their toughest opponents at home (Rams and Colts). In their AFC East matchups, the Patriots and maybe the Jets—if they're in the playoff hunt Week 16—pose a major threat. Tiebreaker rules could decide the AFC North leader between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
ESPN NFL insider Dan Graziano
The Cleveland Browns will win the AFC North
Steven Ruiz, USA Today
Steelers miss playoffs
So are you drinking the Kool-Aid? I’m certainly not. I actually think the Steelers are an improved team and with mouthpieces Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell no longer wearing the Black and Gold, that’s an upgrade believe it or not mainly in the locker room and on the sidelines. Pittsburgh has the pieces still to build a Super Bowl contending team. What’s taking place with the Browns is the “hype” and that’s a dangerous game to play especially for Freddie Kitchens who now has tremendous pressure on his shoulders to create a winner and reach the post season in his very first season at the helm.
Oh…by the way…there was a Major League Baseball game played last night and it was the annual All-Star game. A snoozer that saw Josh Bell get one hit but his National League teammates lose to the A.L. 4-3. That’s seven straight for the American League and I watched just a few innings and got tremendously bored. This game is simply not the kind of All-Star game I used to watch in the 1970s.
The fact that Fox had both managers “mike-d” up and talking about raising money for cancer while the game was going on was tacky enough and for me it just didn’t feel like a true baseball game. They have cheesed up the sport as they have done in other sports as well and it is an utter disappointment. I find it ridiculous that the winner of the Home Run Derby the night before New York Mets rookie Pete Alonso defeats another rookie, Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the title and with it a prize of $1 million. All that money for essentially taking batting practice.
That derby should be enough proof of why today’s young athletes want so badly to become professionals. EASY MONEY. All you need is the talent to go pro and you become an instant millionaire…for playing a goddam game. RIDICULOUS.
July 9, 2019
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always prided themselves on having a great offensive line. There have been very few seasons since 1972 that they haven’t had one of the league’s best upfront men on offense.
2019 is no exception as the web site Pro Football Focus (PFF) has recognized Pittsburgh’s o-line as one of the best.
NFL offensive line rankings: All 32 teams' units entering 2019
By PFF Analysis Team, www.profootballfocus.com
At PFF, we’ve put out our NFL preseason offensive line rankings for a handful of years now and they are never controversial and everyone always nods in agreement while reading. Well, things aren’t changing anytime soon, as we’ve once again come to the time where we use a combination of grades, college evaluations and age projections to come to the following starting-five rankings. This time last year, the Philadelphia Eagles earned the top spot heading into the preseason, but can they retain the crown for what would be the third straight year? Or will an emerging unit swoop in to take first place? Without further ado, here are the definitive offensive line rankings for the 2019 season.
#3. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Projected starting lineup:
Left Tackle: Alejandro Villanueva
Left Guard: Ramon Foster
Center: Maurkice Pouncey
Right Guard: David DeCastro
Right Tackle: Matt Feiler
It will be tough for the Steelers to replicate the efficiency that their offensive line maintained in 2018, but then again, it will be challenging for any team in the league. Le’Veon Bell now finds himself with the Jets, and Antonio Brown with the Raiders, but their offensive line remains the one consistent in the Steelers’ ever-changing offense.
#2. DALLAS COWBOYS
Projected starting lineup:
Left Tackle: Tyron Smith
Left Guard: Connor Williams
Center: Travis Frederick
Right Guard: Zack Martin
Right Tackle: La’el Collins
#1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Projected starting lineup:
Left Tackle: Jason Peters
Left Guard: Isaac Seumalo
Center: Jason Kelce
Right Guard: Brandon Brooks
Right Tackle: Lane Johnson
In looking back at UFC 239, unfortunately for Thiago Santos, not only did he lose the light heavyweight title to Jon Jones, he suffered a major injury to his knee. As per ESPN’s Marc Raimondi, Santos has a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and the meniscus in his left knee. Obviously he is out for the rest of 2019 and his return date is in question.
As for Ben Askren, his worst injury might be a headache but even worst is his damaged ego. Appearing on the Ariel Helwani show, Askren has these post-fight comments:
“I remember being in the cage with Masvidal. I don't really remember the flying knee. And then when I can recall, I remember everything. I was like, Oh shit, I lost to Jorge Masvidal. This freakin' sucks. What am I gonna do about it? Cry? Ask for a rematch? I don't deserve a rematch. I got knocked out in five seconds. I had an inkling that he was gonna try something right away. And I've kinda always thought, who the hell gets flying kneed' can’t you see that coming? It's coming from so far away. But when I watched the film - I mean, I don't like Jorge at all, but that was a damn good flying knee. He hit it fast and explosively, he got some serious airtime on it, and obviously connected on the right spot.”
Again as I’ve said before … this guy is an idiot.
My last words are on last night's MLB Home Run Derby. Stupid. It's basically hitting batting practice and for anyone known for hitting home runs, there is no reason NOT to club one out of the park on EVERY pitch. With that said, the Pirates Josh Bell lost in the very first round. Oh well...
If you thought the Home Run Derby is something fairly new, look at today's videos.
All-Star Break Optimism
Not too long ago the Pittsburgh Pirates were like nine games behind first place and in last place. With the All-Star game tomorrow, Major League Baseball is at their halfway point and all the sudden the Bucs are right back in the playoff hunt. Having gone 6-4 in their last 10 but taking two out of three this past weekend from the second place Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh is right in the thick of the National League Central division race just 2 ½ games behind the Chicago Cubs.
When play resumes next weekend, the Pirates will be in Chicago with a fantastic opportunity to shake up the division by playing the Cubs. At this time last season, at the halfway point, the Buccos were 48-49 and in fourth place, nine games back from the division lead. Now they head into the Home Run derby tonight finding themselves at 44-45 and razor close to the Cubs. Milwaukee maintains second place ½ game out and the Cardinals stay head of the Pirates but just by ½ game as well. Cincinnati sits in the basement 4 ½ games back.
What’s special about this season so far is how well some of the Pirates starters are performing. The first name that comes to mind is that of Bryan Reynolds who came to Pittsburgh in the Andrew McCutchen trade with the San Francisco Giants back in 2018. This is Reynolds’ first year in the bigs and he is making it count. He’s one of four Pirates regulars hitting over .300 and for this rookie, he finishes the first half of the season with a .342 mark and has been tearing the cover off the ball as of late.
He only has seven home runs, but Bryan Reynolds has scored 38 times, has 76 hits in 222 at-bats, and has knocked in 33 RBIs. But it’s that average that is impressive and his timely hitting. Then there is the replacement for Jordy Mercer, Kevin Newman who made his debut last season with 31 game appearances and he hit just .209. But in 2019 Newman is hitting at a .327 clip at the break and his numbers are close to that of Reynolds.
Newman has had 73 hits in 223 at-bats, scored 25 runs and knocked in 33 as well. His home run number is one short of the rookie Reynolds. Then there is veteran Melky Cabrera. A former Cleveland Indian, the Tribe had sent him to the minors but he opted for free agency last October and the Pirates snatched him up this past February. Debuting with the Yankees in 2005 and having played for the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox and lastly with Cleveland, Cabrera is a lifetime .286 hitter but for Pittsburgh, he’s hitting .312. He replaced Cory Dickerson in the outfield as Dickerson has struggled this season after a solid campaign in 2018.
When the Pirates sent Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros in January 2018 and in return received Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, many thought sending the Bucs ace to another team would hurt the team. Quite the contrary. Moran is hitting .294 while playing the hot corner and has hit 10 home runs with 49 ribbies. Musgrove has been up and down with a 6-7 record and a 4.15 ERA but has struck out 83 while walking only 23.
On the mound we have Steven Brault. Thus far in 2019 he has won three of four decisions and struck out 53 batters in 60 2/3 innings. But at the plate his bat has done well. In 21 plate appearances, Brault has had eight hits which is good for a .381 average. But perhaps the two biggest offensive stars aside from Bryan Reynolds are Josh Bell and Adam Frazier.
Bell heads into tonight’s Home Run Derby and a chance to win $1 million. But at the plate this year he is absolutely tearing it up. Bell is hitting a cool .302 but leads the major leagues in RBIs with 84. That places him 13 ahead of the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and 17 ahead of the Angels’ Mike Trout. Think about this for the moment, the all-time record for runs batted in for a single season is 191 set by Hack Wilson in 1930. That leaves Bell 107 behind when the Pirates resume play this Friday. But if he can match his first half total then he would finish the season with 168 RBIs which would tie him with Hank Greenberg and Babe Ruth for 9th most in history for one season. With 168 runs batted in, if Bell reaches that total he would fall one short of tying the legendary Jimmie Foxx for 8th place and just two behind Chuck Klein’s 170 also in 1930.
As Josh Bell tries to put them out of the park tonight, in 2019 he has hit 27 regular season dingers. That is four short of the National League leaders Christian Yelich and three behind Bellinger and Pete Alonso. Mike Trout has just a single home run more than does Bell so far. Bell is also just one run behind in runs scored with 69 trailing again, Bellinger. Bell has the third best slugging percentage in the N.L. Adding to his hit total are 30 doubles which leads the team and three triples.
Adam Frazier is having a decent season with a .287 average and has 89 hits. Forgotten in this first half success is Starling Marte who is quietly hitting .270 and leads the team in stolen bases with 13. Marte is hitting .279 and has 12 round trippers as well as knocking in 45 runs and scoring 54 of his own.
What might lead to the Pirates falling short of a post-season appearance may be their pitching. Their team ERA of 4.91 is 23rd best in the MLB. They’ve given up 468 runs while scoring only 432. However, their team average of .271 is third best behind Boston and Minnesota. Musgrove leads the pitching staff with six wins but he has a losing record with seven losses. The star on the mound has to be Felipe Vazquez. Originally with the Washington Nationals where he got his start in 2015 before being traded to the Bucs in the Mark Melancon deal.
When that trade was made you may remember him as Felipe Rivero, but the young pitched changed his name to “Vazquez” simply because he wanted the same last name of his sister who is one of his biggest supporters. Again, thinking Melancon was a bad deal, it’s quite the opposite. Melancon spent the remainder of the season with the Nationals in 2016 when he was dealt there then moved to the San Francisco Giants where he remains.
Since leaving Pittsburgh, Melancon has had just 14 saves in the last three seasons including this year. So far in 2019, Vazquez already has 20 with a superb ERA of 2.11. He has struck out 60 in 38 1/3 innings and has a 2-1 record. So it remains to be seen if the Pirates can get better starting pitching in the second half and if the offense can maintain the hot bats at the plate. Are they good enough to be a playoff team? Most experts think not because of the starting rotation. I believe they can win this division but I don’t think they are good enough to overtake the Dodgers.
Stealing the Show
So if you are an MMA fan and watched UFC 239 Saturday night, you got your money’s worth. While the main event saw Jon Jones defend his light heavyweight title against Thiago Santos, the star of the card was without any doubt Jorge Masvidal. Scoring the fastest KO in UFC history of just five seconds over Ben Askren, it was more his commentary and actions following the fight that instantly made him a media and fan darling.
Mixed with humor, downright frankness in his conversation, and his strategy for beating a way overrated Askren, the other fights despite some fantastic finishes, take a backseat to what Masvidal accomplished. Ben Askren may easily be the most disliked fighter in UFC history and Masvidal knew it. Prior to the fight he admitted he had fans come up to him asking him to not just beat the former Olympic wrestling champion but to punish him.
The fight goes down as a five second fight but only because the referee had to rescue Askren after Masvidal’s crazy, insane, and ridiculous knee to the head of Askren that took a few more seconds to wave off the fight. So in reality, it was more like a two second fight. But what makes me laugh and makes it more obvious of how stupid and untalented an MMA fighter Ben Askren is, comes down to Masvidal claiming all week that all the former amateur wrestler does is “He's not a guy that fights, you know. He puts his face in another man's crotch and he hopes to God that the guy'll get tired, and that's how he wins. I can't relate with that. My crotch ain’t for dudes.”
So knowing that Askren’s strategy is to shoot Masvidal enters the Octagon with a smile and his hands behind his back all the way up until the ref said “fight.” I ask you, if you are Ben Askren and you look across and see a guy standing there with his hands behind his back, does that not tell you something is not right? That your opponent does not look ready to fight? I’ve never not once seen a fighter in MMA stand across just before the opening bell with his hands behind his back.
So as Masvidal rushes to Askren, this moron goes for the shoot just as Jorge had predicted and expected. Some are saying it was a lucky flying knee that knocked Ben Askren out cold (and I mean STIFF), but that’s utter bullshit. He planned the flying knee, had practiced it in training, and accoring to Dustin Poirier the night before the fight, Poirier was told by Masvidal he was going to open with it.
If you see a fighter bull rushing you like that, should you not take a step to either side to avoid anything coming? Not for Askren who put his head down and if you watch the replay, you will see Masvidal lining up his knee and watching it so it would land perfectly. Than as an insult to injury he would land two more punches to the the unconscious Askren’s head for good measure. Masvidal said later that “I was hoping the referee would trip or something because I wanted to get a couple more shots in.”
Fans are taking the extra shots as uneccessary but they were not. In MMA you fight until a referee steps in. Masvidal did nothing wrong but more did very right and granted anyone who does not like Ben Askren or believe in his abilities a favor because hopefully he will now realize he is not cut out for the UFC and if I was Dana White, I would not sign him to another UFC fight. He got lucky and received a gift against Robbie Lawlor and anyone in the top 10 of that division would easily beat Ben Askren.
Before the fight, Askren was asked how he would beat Jorge Masvidal and his reponse was “anyway I want.” Yea right. Five seconds later and you look like a complete loser and idiot. Masvidal took it a step further after rendering Askren unconscious by kneeling down next to the curly haired “Funky” one and like they do in pro wrestling, gave him a three count slap of the canvas counting him out. Then he went to a different part of the Octagon and curled up like he was going to sleep. PRICELESS.
What is more priceless are some of the things Masvidal said which were HILAROUS. Check out these absolute gems.
What I really like about Jorge Masvidal is that he’s a real person. Nothing phony about him, he has a fighter’s attitude, the type that makes a fighter great. If you don’t have any inch of a killer instinct in your attitude, you will not become a great fighter. Don’t get me wrong, you can be highly skilled and still achieve greatness without being an animal, and Jon Jones might be that kind of fighter. But for Masvidal, it’s kill or be killed which made this fight such a joke and an utterly huge mismatch.
For the record, I had Masvidal by KO in the first our second round. Never would have I guessed five seconds! Oh yes, there were other fights on the card! Two championship fights in fact. Before I get to the main and co-main events, three other fights worth mentioning.
Gilbert Melendez vs. Arnold Allen
It’s time for Melendez to hang it up. He was outclassed, outworked, and a loser by decision to Arnold Allen, a fighter hardly anyone knew prior to the fight. Melendez appeared to be a shadow of himself and I was surprised he didn’t announce his retirement. I had predicted this with the veteran fighter to win which he did not. Melendez is not far behind B.J. Penn for consecutive losses as this was his fifth in a row. For the record, Penn has lost seven in a row. Both men need to find new careers.
Diego Sanchez vs. Michael Chiesa
Sanchez gave the oddest interview ever the day before the fight then went out and was rendered useless by the grappling Michael Chiesa who fought a very intelligent fight never giving the raging lunatic in Sanchez a chance to get off with any offense. Sanchez spent three rounds trying to find a way to get off his back and it might be time for Diego to call it a day as well.
Solid grappling and riding time of an opponent may not be the most exciting way to win but it’s effective and it worked to perfection for Chiesa. I thought given Sanchez’s style he would score a stoppage but Chiesa surprised many with the result. While Diego Sanchez is one of the most popular and well like fighters in the UFC, in his last 10 fights he has been terribly inconsistent losing half of those bouts.
Luke Rockhold vs. Jan Błachowicz
Rockhold might be the second most disliked fighter next to Ben Askren. The now “model” and sometimes fighter has had several terrible losses by knockout and now comes another crushing one at the hands of Poland’s Blachowicz who hit Rockhold so hard he broke his jaw. Even Dana White concluded in the post-fight news conference that it might be time for Rockhold to model full time. I scored a perfect prediction on this one picking Blachowicz by KO in the second.
Rockhold has now lost three of his last four with only the victory over David Branch mixed in and all three losses were by KO. This one, to Yoel Romero and a devastating knock out at the hands of Michael Bisping. After 21 pro fights Luke Rockhold has now lost five and all five have been by KO.
Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm
When these two women entered the Octagon for this championship bout, watching with my wife I turned to her and said that Holm looked very tight, nervous, and not loose. Across from her stood the champion, Amanda Nunes who appeared loose and ready to go. Right there you knew the former champion Holm was in trouble. Nunes had said she wanted to defeat Holly Holm at her own game which is with kicks and sure enough, just the same way Holm ended Ronda Rousey’s reign Nunes scored a perfect head kick to Holm and she went down and out. A few more strikes to finish the show didn’t matter because Holm was in lala land.
Since beating Rousey, Holm lost the title in the next bout getting choked out and unconscious by Miesha Tate and has lost four of her last six since losing the title including three title bouts. Ahhh…time to quit Holly. My pick on this one was the champ but not until the second or third round and by KO or submission.
Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos
Now what was the headliner of the night turned out to be the least exciting fight on the main card. Unfortunately in the first round the challenger Thiago Santos injured his knee while trying to throw a kick. From that point on, he was not as effective a fighter as he normally would be. Bravely he fought on while it was obviously the champion Jon Jones was having an off night evident by the many missed elbow, strikes and wheel kicks. Neither fighter was ever seriously hurt by any strikes and the leg kicks by both had an effect that left both men leaving the Octagon with a limp.
The fight went the distance and as I had predicted it was Jones but decision, but unanimous it was not. A split decision surprised many and angered Dana White who said later there was not way Santos should have won on any card. That’s just another sign of what I’ve been saying for years that Dana White is the ABSOLUTE WORST president of any professional sport. No matter what the outcome of a fight he should stay NEUTRAL in his words. It’s ridiculous and by earning a split decision, Thiago Santos if 100% healthy and didn’t have a mobility problem because of the knee most likely wins this fight.
A man that is supposed to be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter and best light heavyweight ever, looked nothing of the sort. In fact, he looked beatable. This result should become a rematch for both men in their next fight. There can be no other matchmaking for either man. This is a fight that needs to be run back.
Often in the UFC when there is a “stacked” card, many times it just doesn’t deliver. This one did. The main card was outstanding even though the main event lacked power. It was more of a chess match but it still was worth watching. The other fights had fantastic endings and as my wife and I were calling the main card, it was a lineup of “scumbags.” Guys and girls you just wanted to see lose and lose in a bad way because of the trashing talking and arrogance as well as cockiness. So down went those scumbags in Luke Rockhold, Ben Askren, and Holly Holm. The only one that didn’t lose that we don’t care for is Jones but I think his time will come eventually.
If you are wondering why I put Holly Holm in that mix it’s because she is cocky, over confident, and in reality, she might be a great kick boxer, but almost to the degree of a Ben Askren, she is NOT a well rounded MMA fighter. Certainly not in the championship form. For the record, the only bonuses granted for the night were all “Performance of the Night” awards and the cash bonuses went to Amanda Nunes, Jorge Masvidal, Jan Błachowicz and Yadong Song.
Through the Nets
In that National Basketball Association over the weekend, the Brooklyn Nets instantly made them a serious threat to unseat the Toronto Raptors at least as Eastern Conference champions. That’s because they have signed the following players to a contract or obtained in a trade:
The 2019-2020 season is already shaping up to be a very intriguing one given this year’s draft class and the incredible player movement from team to team.
Congratulations to the U.S. women’s soccer team winners of the 2019 World Cup as they defeat Netherlands 2-0 on goals by Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle. The American women have now defended their World Cup title and have won four of eight attempts at being the world’s best team in the sport.
Shades of Pete Rose and Ray Fosse
Back in the 1970 All-Star game, Pete Rose ran over catcher Ray Fosse dislocating his shoulder and altering his career. We had a very close replay of that type of base running this weekend.
July 5, 2019
It was a very good 4th of July holiday for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Despite losing on the national holiday to the Chicago Cubs 11-3, the Bucs took three out of the four games played in the series that began on Monday. With those three out of four victories, the Pirates who have been hot lately winning six of their last 10 remain in fourth place in the National League Central division but find themselves just three games out of first place trailing the now tied Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers with the St. Louis Cardinals hot on their heals just 1 ½ games back.
The division is tight because the Reds are just ½ game behind Pittsburgh in last place. Now the Brewers bring their first place position to PNC Park tonight for a weekend series. The annual All-Star game is just days away so this will be the last series played before the all-stars take the field in Cleveland Tuesday night and on Monday, our own Josh Bell will be vying for a home run derby title and the top prize of $1 million.
It was a tragic last few days for the National Football League family of teams as Kendrick Norton who plays for the Miami Dolphins on their defensive line was in a automobile accident that cost him his left arm. This happened early yesterday morning and the injury was so severe that he had to have his arm amputated at the scene of the crash by paramedics. Norton has yet to play in an NFL game but he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the seventh round of last year’s draft then after being released by that team was signed by the Dolphins. Norton played his college ball at the University of Miami.
On Wednesday, former NFL quarterback Jared Lorenzen suddenly passed away and the cause of death has not yet been released but Lorenzen was only 38.
There are some very outstanding football players in the NFL and many are very young. The Pittsburgh Steelers have two great young players in T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster and because of their tender age, they have gotten recognition for it.
Top 25 NFL players under 25: Rankings 21-11
theScore Staff, theScore.com
#14. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
Age on Week 1: 22 years, 9 months
2018 stats: 111 receptions, 1,426 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
With the Antonio Brown saga finally over, Smith-Schuster is more than capable of taking over as Ben Roethlisberger's No. 1 target in Pittsburgh. The young wideout is equally lethal in the slot and out wide, as he combines shifty route running and deceptive speed to give opposing cornerbacks fits on a weekly basis. JuJu led the league with 660 yards after the catch in 2018, illustrating his ability to get open and his elusiveness in the open field. He also ranked fifth league-wide in both catches and receiving yards - an impressive feat for a second-year player. The former second-round pick was targeted a whopping 161 times as a sophomore. He possesses an advanced game for his age and could easily surpass that number as the focal point of Pittsburgh's offense. JuJu will certainly be mentioned among the NFL's elite wide receivers in short order.
#21. T.J. Watt, Steelers
Age on Week 1: 24 years, 11 months
2018 stats: 13 sacks, 68 total tackles, 6 forced fumbles
The Steelers have long sought to find a top-level pass-rusher, someone to fill the role in which James Harrison previously starred. Though it took three first-round selections of edge players dating back to 2013, Pittsburgh finally has its guy in Watt. No longer just the younger brother of the Houston Texans' future Hall of Famer, Watt has the most sacks (20) and the second-most tackles for a loss (22) of any Steelers player through their first two seasons. The outside linebacker is still growing as a run defender and needs significant refinement in coverage, too - a scary proposition considering how impactful he's already been. If Pittsburgh's defense returns to the elite standing it held at the start of the decade, Watt will be one of the major reasons why.
If you are curious who theScore ranked at the very top, it’s Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Some bizarre activity in sports from Independence Day. First down in Florida at the St. Lucie Mets facility, that minor league affiliate of the big league Mets had a fireworks display scheduled but it went awry when the show set off a fire behind the stadium. Not just a little blaze but a full blown FIRE. Yikes.
If you want to see the actual fire you can view it at:
To make matters worse, the St. Lucie Mets stadium officials did the same exact thing two years ago.
Finally for today, a HUGE UFC card tomorrow night as UFC 239 goes down in Las Vegas with two title fights and a card that is stacked with a handful of outstanding fighters. My MMA/Boxing page as the card lineup as well as my predictions for the major fights scheduled.
With that said, take a look at today’s videos to watch the most bizarre interview you will ever see in MMA. Diego Sanchez was being interviewed by Ariel Helwani, and immediately Sanchez began answering and providing commentary that in a word was STRANGE. His behavior was crazy even but it began to give the feeling he was acting or auditioning and my first thought was this was so WWE like. So whether Sanchez is planning a second career in Pro Wrestling once he is done in the Octagon, or he really is NUTS. But I also was thinking if I’m Sanchez’s opponent tomorrow night (Michael Chiesa), I’d be a bit nervous about the sanity of this guy.
The last thing anyone wants is to fight a person who is literally looney. The crazy fighters are the most dangerous. Just ask Evander Holyfield what is was like to have Mike Tyson bite his ear off. Saturday may result in the most entertaining card in UFC history. It has the kind of potential.
July 3, 2019
While Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in the dugout for the National League next Tuesday night when the annual Major League Baseball All-Star game is played, he wasn’t voted into the game, he was chosen.
So last night as the Bucs played the first place Chicago Cubs on national television, Bell and his teammates use the platform to showcase what they are capable of by destroying and blowing out the Cubbies with a final score of 18-5. Basically, in equating it to football, Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns and two safeties. 18 runs and 23 hits later, Bell came to the plate six times and banged out four hits including three home runs. He padded his league lead in RBIs by adding seven more.
The teams’ 18 runs scored is not a team record but ironically on September 16, 1975, the Cubs and Pirates were in a game that had a final of 22-0 in favor of Pittsburgh. I remember listening to that game on the radio as Bob Prince made the call and Rennie Stennett had seven hits in seven at bats. It was the largest margin of victory in Pirates’ history but Monday night’s game was nearly as bad for Chicago.
In the process of the royal beat down, Adam Frazier had five hits four of those doubles which ties a major league record for most two-baggers in one game. With Bell smashing three round trippers, he becomes just the 20th Pittsburgh Pirates player to have three home runs in a single game in the team’s history. Interestingly enough, the last left handed batter to have three was “Pops”, Willie Stargell who did it way back in 1971. Frazier’s four doubles has been done over 40 times before him but he joins that long list with most ever in a game.
For Josh Bell, not only will he get a chance to step to the plate next week against the American’s League’s pitching staff, he’ll also be participating in the Home Run Derby which for the first time this year will pay the winner $1 million. To win that, for the time being, Bell will have to slug more homers than Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero, Cleveland’s Carlos Santana (no not the musician), the Mets Pete Alonso, Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich, and Atlanta’s Ronal Acuna.
As for last night’s blowout, as a memento, look below for the box score and scoring summary.
Be prepared to have many more Pittsburgh Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s because the hall is considering allowing up to 20 enshrinees in once class beginning next year. The president of the Hall of Fame David Baker made this statement:
“It is extremely elite company, and it's not the Hall of very, very good. It's the Hall of Fame, and so it should be difficult to make it. But there's a lot of guys through the years, we've had several guys who are on All-Decade teams who aren't in the Hall of Fame. And so this is an opportunity with the centennial coming up, and what we've looked at potentially and has been approved, at least in concept, by our operating board - but we're going to have to go through the full board - is that potentially we would have 20 Hall of Famers enshrined for the year 2020. It would be the five normal modern-era players elected from 15 finalists, and then it'll be 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches. But again, I want to stress that that's got to be something that is passed by our board at its meeting on Friday, Aug. 2.”
This Saturday is UFC 239 and the card is amazing. Check out the official poster and fight card on the MMA/Boxing page. My predictions on the major fights of the card comes later this week.
June 14, 2019
While listening to a the Open Mike Show with Mike Bianchi the other day, the story of the recent unfortunate shooting of David Ortiz was a topic and the discussion was on how beloved Ortiz is in the city of Boston.
That got me to thinking, who are the most beloved athletes in every city that has at least two professional teams? Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Roberto Clemente immediately comes to mind for the Steel City. But then again there is Willie Stargell to consider.
Taking just Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League as the only considerations, I’ll give you my opinion on who might be the most beloved athletes of all time that played in cities making up those leagues but only for a city that has at least two franchises in either, any, or all of those leagues.
I’ll do this in alphabetical order and then leave it to you the readers to decide if I’m accurate or someone else deserves the honor.
This one might be easy because from baseball comes Hank Aaron, one of the greatest home run hitters of any era. Not too many football playing Falcons have made such a mark in history nor in the NBA. While Dominique Wilkins made his mark in pro basketball and was quite the player, any Atlanta fan will probably say it’s “Hammerin Hank” that would be this city’s biggest sports hero.
With the NFL’s Colts now in Indianapolis, they began in Baltimore. The Washington Wizards were once the “Bullets” of the NBA and formerly called Baltimore home. That leaves the Ravens, formerly the Cleveland Browns, and the Baltimore Orioles for beloved player consideration. The choice could easily be Ray Lewis, one of the greatest linebackers ever, but given some of his legal issues he experienced, the favorite meter might very swing in the direction of say Johnny Unitas or in baseball, Brooks Robinson.
Over the years, the city of Boston, Massachusetts and surrounding towns have seen their teams from each of the major professional leagues experience huge success. The Patriots have been dominating the NFL for several years now and the Celtics have seen their titles come to them and always have been rather competitive. The Boston Bruins reached the Stanley Cup finals this year and the Red Sox have one of the best teams in baseball.
There have been so many great athletes from Boston and it’s neighborhood cities it would be a tough choice to decide who the fans enjoy the most. As said at the start of this article, David Ortiz is well loved in Boston. Fans are pulling for him to make a full recovery from his shooting incident but on a popularity scale, how does “Big Papi” stand up to Tom Brady who has six Super Bowl rings? We also can’t forget about Larry Bird who worked magic on the hardwoods of the NBA. In listening to Bianchi and his crew, they mentioned Carl Yastrzemski as a fan favorite in the Boston area. Back in basketball there is always Bill Russell to consider or how about John Havlicek? Carlton Fisk was a very popular Red Sox. Grinding it down to one player however would be very difficult for any Boston area sports fan especially when considering all the pro teams and having to eliminate a Bobby Orr.
The city of Buffalo is known for its snow and for losing four straight Super Bowl games back in the 1990s. In hockey there are the Sabres but the city still loves the man who got the team to those NFL title games, Jim Kelly. Recently the former Pittsburgh-born quarterback was battling cancer and has been in and out of remission. But it is probably a good guess that of all the athletes that played in the snowy city, Kelly would be the fan favorite.
Heading to the southern states on the east coast we reach Carolina. In the Charlotte area you have hockey’s Hurricane, football’s Panthers, and the Hornets of the NBA. While Cam Newton is the Panthers’ most successful quarterback in history, I would point my finger at Alonzo Mourning or Muggsy Bogues as being the most popular athletes to play for a Charlotte team. In hockey, Ron Francis is the career leader for most of the team’s all-time records but Bogues because of his small stature and Mourning establishing himself as one of the league’s best players during his era probably would take the honor of being the city’s most popular and beloved athletes.
This city has a rich history in sports for all the different leagues the city is represented in. You have in Chicago the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, and the Black Hawks all teams that have had absolute super stars playing for them. With several extremely popular athletes how can you possibly boil them down to one? Dick Butkus or Brian Urlacher? Stan Mikita or Bobby Hull? Ernie Banks or the amazing Michael Jordan? Old timers might mention Sid Luckman who led the Bears to several NFL titles. If I was a Chicagoan I would say Dick Butkus and not Jordan because M.J. did rub some people the wrong way where Butkus developed a reputation on the field of being a monster and good guy off it.
A town that once had a pro basketball team called the “Royals.” They eventually would become the Sacramento Kings but when the b-ball team was in Cincy, they had a star player named Oscar Robertson. In trying to determine the city’s most popular athlete, it would probably boil down to Robertson or a member of the former “Big Red Machine” baseball playing Reds. Pete Rose perhaps? Or maybe Joe Morgan or Johnny Bench? As for the Bengals who have made it to two Super Bowls only to lose, the football team has a far more negative reputation than do it’s sister basketball and baseball teams. I watched those powerhouse baseball teams from Cincinnati back in the 1970s when they were going head-to-head with my Pittsburgh Pirates and they always had a phenomenal team on the field. The men in the lineup were household names (Rose, Morgan, Bench, Cesar Geronimo, Dave Concepcion, and Tony Perez to name a few). Pete Rose was a hard nosed player who his peers did not particularly care for but the fans loved his style. I think the choice here would be Joe Morgan or Oscar Robertson.
Everything’s big in Texas they say right? So down in Dallas, does Roger Staubach take the “beloved” crown here or perhaps someone from the Texas Rangers, the Mavericks, or the Stars of hockey? Perhaps it’s another Cowboy although the recently retired Dirk Nowitzki is highly popular among Dallas fans. If you consider someone from the baseball Rangers, Nolan Ryan would be the first name that pops up. On the football field, Tony Dorsett was very popular as was Don Meredith but given his reputation off the field and how well he performed on it, Roger Staubach is probably the most beloved athlete in Dallas sports history.
Now we head west to the “Mile High” city of Denver. He wasn’t an athlete but a huge fan and icon for the Denver Broncos, that being Tim “The Barrelman” McKernan. I was friends with Barrelman before his tragic and untimely death in 2009. But he was and remains immensely popular among the Broncos faithful. The star of his beloved team for years and one of the best quarterbacks in history was John Elway. Elway remains with the team to this day as an executive and among the Nuggets, Rockies, and Avalanche, Elway probably gets named for this honor going away.
Back in the “Motor City,” is the most beloved athlete Barry Sanders who is one of the NFL’s greatest running backs ever? Or would it be an easier choice to say it’s Gordie Howe? While not an athlete of any of the four major sports, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns was a hall of fame boxer from Detroit who is a favored son. The bad boys of the great Detroit Pistons teams had some popular players and colorful ones at that (Dennis Rodman) but the choice here should be Howe.
Back to Texas we go and to the city of Houston. Houston, we have a problem. Who is your most beloved athlete ever? Earl Campbell? Dan Pastorini? Hakeem Olajuwon? Or perhaps Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. Then there is one of the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball history, Nolan Ryan who spent eight years with the Astros. It’s a toss-up but my guess would be Drexler or Earl Campbell since Ryan bounced around several teams during his career.
I spoke of the city of Baltimore above but the once Baltimore called Colts moved their franchise to Indianapolis where Peyton Manning would become a legend. His competition for popularity there is from the basketball playing pacers where the likes of Isaiah Thomas who was very popular. But it should be a hands down here for Manning.
The Chiefs thought they were Super Bowl bound last season in the NFL but they lost to the eventual champion Patriots. The current crops of players has a very popular and increasingly likable Patrick Mahomes. But has he become more beloved than any other athlete to have his career in this city? Len Dawson who played quarterback like Mahomes does was a very popular athlete for the city and got his team to the Super Bowl twice winning once. Dawson’s teammate Otis Taylor was also very popular. Even more loved in this city when it comes to football however was Tony Gonzalez but even more so probably Derrick Thomas who tragically died young. For the Kansas City Royals, George Brett was a very popular player. So was Amos Otis, but it is probably Thomas or Gonzalez that will be the first names that pop up when you ask a Kansas City sports fan who is their favorite K.C. athlete.
L.A. is a huge city and the state of California easily has the most professional teams. In L.A. alone you have the Angels, Clippers, Dodgers, the Chargers (moving in from San Diego), the Lakers, Rams, and the hockey playing Kings. So those teams have some pretty deep histories with tons of names that can be considered as most memorable or well liked. Where do you even begin?
Ervin “Magic” Johnson would be a good start and you can’t go wrong with Magic but given the circumstances of most recent position in the Lakers’ front office and how that abruptly ended, fans’ opinion of Johnson may have changed somewhat. The football teams have not had a lot of players that stood out in the fashion that would put them into this conversation, at least in my opinion. Like the Reds of the 70s, the Dodgers fielded teams with many popular players that were on the field on a consistent basis season-after season. There was Steve Garvey at first base and Ron Cey on the hot corner. Davey Lopes at second and Bill Russell at shortstop. Steve Yeager was the catcher and you had the immensely popular Fernando Valenzuela on the mound and before him Don Sutton. All those players were fan favorites. Most of the NBA’s Clippers have a history of losing so no one on that teams stands out as an all-time favorite. I think the man here that would be named more often would be that of either Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the Magic man.
Being born and raised in the Steel City, I now call home Jacksonville, Florida where only the Jaguars exist and no other team in one of the four major leagues. But further south you have the city of Miami a town that is the only one that can claim a team that has gone through an entire football season undefeated and then win every playoff game and the Super Bowl. The coach for that team was Don Shula who is a household name not just in south Florida but around the world. Dan Marino may be the most popular player ever but it was Bob Griese who quarterbacked that undefeated team. The Miami Marlins are a newer baseball franchise and have changed their roster as often was we change clothes every day. The Heat represent the NBA and Duane Wade was their star for years until he finally retired this year. Wade holds most of the team historical records and while Shaquille O’Neal has set a few marks as well, his career was spent mostly with the Orlando Magic and the Lakers. Larry Csonka was a popular football player as was Mercury Morris but the man named here by Miami fans would probably be Dan Marino despite his lack of a title on his resume.
Milwaukee’s baseball team used to be the Braves then they moved to Atlanta. The Brewers became the next baseball team and Robin Yount one of their more popular players. Paul Molitor was another fan favorite. On the hardwoods, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got his pro start in Milwaukee but then bolted for the Lakers. Still, his first six years as Lew Alcindor before changing his name were spent as a Buck. Before moving to Atlanta, Hank Aaron was playing in Milwaukee but so was Phil Niekro a very popular player. Warren Spahn also played his baseball for this team but like in Atlanta, Hank Aaron would probably be the most memorable and liked player for this city.
Just as the Buffalo Bills did after them, the Minnesota Vikings went to the Super Bowl four times and lost them all. The only difference is that it was two different quarterbacks that took the “L” unlike Jim Kelly in Buffalo. Those losing QBs were Fran Tarkenton and Jack Kemp. The Tark took three of the four. Is Tarkenton still the most favored athlete in Minnesota? Or would it be someone from the icemen named the Wild? Kevin Garnett is the basketball representative career leader in most stats but Adrian Peterson was rather popular when running the ball for the Vikes. I’d say it is Fran Tarkenton for his playing style and likeability that gets him the nod for most beloved player.
An unlikely place for a pro franchise might be thought of in Tennessee, home of country music and several pro teams. Two to be exact, the NFL Titans and Predators of hockey. The Predators in the NHL are too young a franchise to get someone that means something special to the city yet and over in football, the Titans were the Oilers before moving to Tennessee. So a favorite player of the Oilers belongs to the city of Houston. As the Titans, the team moved to the city in 1997 and Steve McNair quickly became beloved by the fans. Although he had a tragic ending to his life being murdered, he still was beloved by fans. Eddie George his teammate was also very liked by the fan base. So the end result is having to name a player and ask a Titans fan and they would probably say despite the swirling negativity, Steve McNair and what he brought to the football field would be their choice.
We are inching closer to the end of this list and next up is The “Big Easy.” Two teams make this city home, in the NBA, the Pelicans and in the NFL the Saints. New Orleans did have the Hornets and Jazz of the NBA calling this city home at one time, but it would be the Saints most talked about. Without question, while Archie Manning was popular early on despite his teams being very awful, Drew Brees has taken the city by storm since arriving from San Diego and has gotten very involved with the community, thus he would certainly be the most beloved athlete.
The “Big Apple.” Another large city with a handful of professional teams. Eight to be exact (Nets, Giants, Jets, Knicks, Islanders, Mets, Rangers, Yankees). The town that gave us Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Joe Namath, Mike Bossy, Patrick Ewing, Yogi Berra, and hundreds more that probably deserve mentioning. With the difficulty of naming one person this city is probably the most tricky in saying who would be the most beloved. It’s nearly impossible to put your finger on just one man. But given his popularity around the world and considered by many to be the greatest baseball player that ever lived, how can you pass on Babe Ruth? Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl win and delivered but aside from that, he didn’t adhere himself to fans the way the “Great Bambino” did. Lou Gehrig would run a close second and in more modern times, Derrick Jeter would give those two a run for their money. If not for his off-the-field troubles, perhaps Lawrence Taylor would get some love and on the basketball court, Bernard King was a star for the Knicks as was Earl Monroe, Walt Frazier, and Willis Reed. But I think baseball would rule the day here and the choice would either be Ruth or Jeter.
The city of Oakland will be losing their football team to the bright lights of Las Vegas but behind will be a legacy of winning and doing it at any cost. The old-time football players are probably cringing at the thought of their old team moving to a place like Vegas. The baseball playing Athletics nearly mirror the Raiders for reputation and style at least from the days of the 1970s. Wild and free would be good words to describe these two franchises and how they saw their style of game and play. The Raiders may have played a little dirtier but they were a scrappy group of guys that had color and style, much how the A’s came off in the 70s when they took the field. Ken Stabler would probably take the handle of most beloved and for baseball perhaps it would be Reggie Jackson. Jim “Catfish” Hunter was also a wildly popular baseball player. But those Raiders teams had guys on the roster that would break your neck on the field if they could. Jack Tatum and George Atkinson were a lethal pair of secondary men that would hit you like you had been hit with a sledge hammer. Still, in sticking to the topic at hand, I believe it would be Kenny Stabler who would get the label of most beloved.
Getting closer to my original home is talking about the city of Philadelphia. Hard nosed tough city right? It gave us Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” and in real life “Smoking Joe” Frazier in the boxing ring. Philadelphia fans also have the reputation of being the worst fans in all of sports and there is proof to back that up given their antics towards not just each other but fans from other teams. Do their athletes take on the same persona? They didn’t’ call the 1970s Flyers “Broadway Bullies” for nothing. So from the 76ers, Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers, who is the most revered? Bobby Clarke on the ice? Greg Luzinski or Mike Schmidt on the baseball diamond? Julius “Dr. J” Erving on the hardwoods of basketball? Or maybe Reggie White on the football field.
Now home of the NFL’s Cardinals is the area of Phoenix. Also hosts for the Diamondbacks in baseball, the Suns in basketball, and the Coyotes of the National Hockey League. Since the Cardinals were originally not from Phoenix, the Suns are. But despite having the football team only since 1988, I would put my money on Larry Fitzgerald as being that most popular and held closest to the hearts of sports fans in this town.
Now we get to my home city, one of which I cherished growing up in because of the neighborhoods and the reputation the sports teams established. I was lucky enough to be a youngster and teenager during the time of the great 1970s Pirates and Steelers teams. Later we had the Stanley Cup winning Penguins. As mentioned early on, Roberto Clemente immediately comes to mind and we now have Sidney Crosby. Myron Cope despite not being an athlete but a television and radio star could not be more loved by the city he represented. Bob Prince nearly attained that likeability level in broadcasting Pirates games. Bill Mazeroski is a forever hero in this town after his World Series winning home run of 1960. Honus Wagner is a folk hero and Pie Traynor a favorite. For me, it can only be Willie Stargell. “Pops” as he became known died earlier than he should have but among baseball fans in Pittsburgh, watching him play and following his career, many like myself will admit that you felt like you knew him personally even though you may have never met him. That is the impression Stargell gave because of his gentle nature, his kindness, his willing to give back to the community, and just his “fatherly” figure that endeared him to many. For me he is easily the choice as most beloved and no Pirates fan can ever forget “chicken on the hill with Will, his promotion that if you were in his chicken restaurant at the same time he was slugging one of his monstrous home runs, it was free chicken for you.
There are just six cities left (San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, Toronto, and Washington D.C.) and half are on the west coast, one in Florida, our nation’s capital and one across the border North. Out in San Diego, the Chargers left town for Los Angeles leaving just the Padres as the town’s only pro team. So San Diego gets an honorable mention here and while the Chargers were making San Diego home, Junior Seau was a huge fan favorite and tragically his life came to a screeching halt when he committed suicide. Ironically, another Charger who was immensely popular was Kellen Winslow who now is seeing a tragedy of another sort in his son who was recently convicted of rape. As for the Padres, Dave Winfield is the first name to come to mind but it’s probably Tony Gwynn who’s life also ended too soon that would most likely be the city’s favorite son.
With the San Francisco 49ers winning multiple Super Bowls and the town’s baseball team, the Giants winning several World Series, we also have the Golden State Warriors to consider when looking at San Francisco’s pro teams. Joe Montana? Now Stephen Curry even though his team failed to “three-peat” in losing to the Toronto Raptors in this year’s NBA finals? Willie McCovey was a huge baseball draw and I doubt very highly that Barry Bonds would get any consideration. Dwight Clark was also very popular, yet another athlete who didn’t get to live a full life. When it comes down to it, the positive and sportsmanlike character of Joe Montana would probably draw the most votes if a poll for most San Franciscan beloved athlete was conducted.
Out in Washington are the “12th man” throngs of fans they themselves the most beloved? Or, is a player in the Seahawks history say a Jim Zorn held in high regard? There used to be a pretty good NBA team that is now in Oklahoma City as the “Thunder.” When in Seattle, they were the Supersonics. Gary Payton was a pretty well liked player on that basketball team. In baseball, perhaps Ichiro Suzuki might get the overall nod for the city’s biggest hero. Or perhaps Randy Johnson who is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. “The Big Unit” might best be remembered for throwing one of his patented fastballs that killed a dove in flight. These days Russell Wilson is very popular but if I had to make the choice, it would be Jim Zorn.
The city with the famous arch used to have a football team called the Cardinals. But they are now in Arizona. When the Cards did call St. Louis home, Jim Hart was a well known quarterback. However, on the baseball diamonds, one of the great baseball players ever wore the baseball Cardinals jersey and that was “Stan the Man” Musial so probably in a landslide is this town’s most beloved athlete.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a start to their franchise history they would probably want to take back. But the Bucs have had some success since and along the way, Lee Roy Selmon became one of the team’s best players ever and one of the finest defensive players of his era. Due to complications from a stroke, Selmon died prematurely in 2011 at the young age of 56. The baseball playing Rays have a short history in Major League Baseball so any of their players probably would not be considered when having this discussion about most beloved although Evan Longoria has been one of the most successful players and most popular. As Lee Roy Selmon owned a restaurant in town he would probably be the pick here although John Lynch might give him a run for his money as would Ronde Barber. Forget about Warren Sapp.
Now that the Raptors are National Basketball champions, does that make Kawhi Leonard the town’s newest and biggest hero? Or would it be World Series hero Joe Carter? The National Hockey League Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup in their history and have been playing for a very long time. There have been a lot of great players on the ice so perhaps Mats Sundin the all-time leader in goals for the team would be revered the most. But unless fans are historians, they may only remember what might be the greatest moment in Toronto sports history and that was Joe Carter’s World Series winning home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993. That round tripper was not only just the second walk-off series winning home run (Bill Mazeroski had the other) but it was the only home run in the history of the World Series that came with a team on the losing end of a potential series ending game (the Phillies had a 3-2 series advantage going into the game). So Joe Carter it is.
This leaves us with our final city, our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Here we have the Redskins of the NFL, one of the league’s oldest franchises, the Wizards of the NBA, that Nationals in baseball, and the Capitals of hockey. It would be rather simple to just say Alexander Ovechkin is this town’s biggest hero but on the gridiron there was a man that once played named Sammy Baugh. The baseball team used to be the Senators but now there are the Nationals who used to be a Canadian team in Montreal called the Expos. The old Senators became what is now the Minnesota Twins but the great Walter Johnson would get consideration here. You also have Joe Theismann to think about. But given last year’s Stanley Cup triumph by the Capitals that saw Ovechkin finally get his due, he would be this story’s last beloved hometown hero.
So there you have it. Agree to disagree or visa versa. Your thoughts on this story are more than welcome especially if you hail from one of the cities aforementioned. There are heroes in every sports town and it is an extremely difficult task to name just one for any one city.
July 1, 2019
The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a starter in Major League Baseball’s annual All-Star game in four years. Josh Bell came close this year but got edged out in the voting by Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman.
Not since 2014 when Andrew McCutchen was voted in as a starter for the National League has a member of the Bucs earned enough votes to get on the field for the opening of the annual classic. The margin of difference for Ball and Freeman was a slim 1.1%. I call that ridiculous. The All-Star game has always been a popularity contest anyway with fans determining who shows up for the mid-season annual.
To break this down a little further, let’s look at these two first baseman’s stats to date. Their numbers are actually VERY close.
Freeman has been to the plate 321 times in 2019 and Bell 302. Their batting averages much like the fan voting is apart by just a point with Freeman hitting .312 and Bell .311. Home runs? It’s a tie at 22. Ribbies? 70 for Bell and 63 to the Brave. Runs are even at 61. Advantage hits to Freeman (100-94). There is only one stolen base here between the two and it belongs to their guy. Bell however leads by a larger margin in slugging percentage (.646 to .598).
So I ask you...who belongs as the starter? Freeman or Bell? Pirates fans will certainly tell you it Josh Bell.
In Steelers football today, Ryan Shazier has gone public with more comments about his desire to play again. Many like me think that’s an insane motivation given his injury. Why risk permanent damage. I’m sure he misses the game and really wants to get back on the field but at what cost? He’s taking a huge risk and if you watch him now, he’s obviously not fully recovered. That can’t be a good sign. Still, here’s his latest optimism:
“I still want to make the Hall of Fame, still want to be the best linebacker in the NFL. I'm not giving up on my goals, and the doctors said don't give up on my goals, so there's no problem with me doing that. I'm just going to keep working, and hopefully I'm going to be back as soon as I can.”
This afternoon beginning at 3:00 there is a HUGE showdown in France. The USA women’s soccer team plays host team France in what should be a tremendous game that will eliminate one of the two teams. It’s a quarterfinal matchup that will send the winner forward to play previous quarterfinal winner England on Tuesday. On Wednesday the other semi-final will pit the winner between Germany and Sweden against the winner of Italy.
Tomorrow in the UFC prepare yourselves for what should be a heavyweight fight with two men who pack a punch. It’s Junior dos Santos facing off against the mammoth Francis N’Gannou. N’Gannou has been fighting since just 2013 and has won 13 of 16 fights losing two in a row to Derrick Lewis and Stipe Miocic and the other in only his second pro fight a decision to Zoumana Cisse. Before the loss to Miocic which was a title fight, N’Gannou had won 10 straight fights including a historic one punch blast out of Alistair Overeem in what have been the hardest punch in the history of the UFC.
As for dos Santos, he has won 21 of his 26 fights dating back to his very first fight which interestingly enough came against another Santos, this one named Jailson Silva Santos. Junior has won three fights in a row aver losing three of the previous five. He lost by submission early in his career to Joaquim Ferreira surrendering to an armbar but the other losses were to big name fighters (Cain Velasquez twice, Overeem, and Miocic).
In his last outing dos Santos looked fantastic in beating Derrick Lewis by TKO and having fought since 2006, he certainly has the experience factor in his favor. Either way, this should be a doozy. The fight poster and official card appears on the MMA/Boxing page.
The last thing I’d like to mention today is the NBA’s first overall pick in this year’s draft, Duke’s Zion Williamson. This kid is only 18, played just one year of college basketball, and now he is a professional. But what I get from looking at this young man is that he is a BEAST. He’s huge! All 6’7” and 284 pounds of him. That’s scary.
In his only season of college hoops, as a freshman Williamson started in all 33 games averaging 30 minutes a game. He had a field goal percentage of 68% averaging nine two-pointers a game. He also averaged 3 ½ offensive rebounds per game and 5.4 defensively. With a scoring average of 22.6 points per game, Williamson became the hottest commodity in the draft and now he is a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Next season will be very intriguing to see how this kid performs.