MLB Baseball Column: Scott's Shots
Three Things for Spring
Okay, Toronto media, I get it. Your Blue Jays have a pretty good club this year.
With a pitching rotation that will likely line up like this: R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero; plus a lineup that will include Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus, this is a very good club. No argument there.
But on Saturday, the Toronto media went nuts after the Jays beat the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers 10-3 in a Grapefruit League game. CBC’s The National even made a big deal out of it. Huh?
It was a February Grapefruit League game. It wasn’t the first game of a three-game series at Comerica in September. It was Spring Freakin’ Training. After Prince Fielder took Morrow about 700 feet to right with a two-run bomb (and it was a bomb in every sense of the word), the Tigers had a 2-0 lead and then, for the most part, the Single A guys came in to play.
The Jays scored all their runs off Hill, Robowski and Mercedes, three guys who might not get a sniff of Triple A this season. Only Melvin Mercedes is on the 40-man roster. Hill and Robowski are closer to independent minor league baseball than the big leagues. But let’s be fair here. It was Lance Zawadzki’s (a career .200 hitter in the minors) grand slam off Robowski that broke a 3-3 tie. Puh-leeze.
Look, I love the Jays this year. That’s a very good ball club and both the owner, Rogers, and GM Alex Anthopoulous should be congratulated for finally going out, spending some money and bringing in decent players to a city that could be – if it had a good reason – be a great baseball town.
However, get excited when the Jays go 10-2 to start the season. Don’t wet yourself when your Double A guys kick the crap out of Detroit’s Single A guys.
* * *
Here in Canada there is a TV hockey commentator who has reached Universal Superstar status on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.
Former Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry wears wild sports jackets and talks nonsense and yet has become one of the most important voices in hockey over the past 25 years. He is beloved in my country of Canada and while I don’t often agree with him (there are a lot of European hockey players I like a whole lot, not just as players but as people), I do agree with him on one thing.
Fighting in hockey is a necessity.
The problem with the game is simple and it is a problem that was proven to exist in 2005. That’s when Gary Bettman’s second lockout ended and he promised that the NHL would change it’s game.
The officials would call hooking, holding and interference more closely. The officials would be told to open up the game; allow smaller, faster, more skilled players to have the necessary room to score and play the game at a very exciting pace; and while it would fill up the penalty box, players would adapt, Bettman said.
Well, that theory lasted about a year. By 2007, the players had not adapted, the penalty boxes were full and the media critics were out in full force, unhappy with all the power plays. The media had declared the NHL to be “the special teams league.” The NHL was the same old bump-and-grind and the little guys were being forced out by big lumbering grinders with defense-first sensibilities and stone hands.
Some scorers remained, no question about that, but they were being butchered by the stick-carrying grinders who once again had made the NHL the hooking, holding and interference league.
About that time, the fighters, who had been forced to the sideline by the league’s open-ice experiment, started making a comeback. Today, it’s hard to find a team that doesn’t have at least one player who can go toe-to-toe, fist-to-the-face whenever the coach deems it necessary. The fans still love a good, old fashioned donnybrook and when the goons go out and do their thing, the game seems to settle down for a while.
The problem, of course, is that when the goal scorers are stick-checked out of the game, the enforcers have to step in to protect their teammates. If the officials are not going to enforce the rules, the game becomes little more than the Wild West and the Wild West needs Wild West justice.
Don Cherry isn’t right very often, but when he supports fighting and protects fighters, he knows of what he speaks. Until the league decides permanently that penalties are penalties and, as the rulebook clearly suggests, the game should be opened up for the exciting, skilled players, it’s the fighters who will have to step in and protect the scorers.
It might not be ideal, but until the officials stop managing games and start calling the rules properly, it’s the way it has to be.
* * * *
Not long ago, LeBron James had listened to a big-time American media parasite and had his brand almost permanently destroyed.
It was Jim Gray who talked James into a news conference on national TV to announce that he was “taking my talents to South Beach.” It was a stupid thing to do. With those six words, James became the most hated man in basketball, maybe in all sports. He embarrassed his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, embarrassed the NBA and embarrassed himself.
Since then, no player in professional sports has worked harder at becoming the nicest superstar in professional sports than James.
When he failed to win a championship in his first year with the Miami Heat, people were thrilled, but then he did something that few athletes have the ability to do. He rebuilt himself into one of the most beloved players in the game.
Today, the LeBron James brand is one of the biggest in the world and it has been rebuilt because James seems to be a legitimately good person. Last week, during all-star weekend in Houston, he volunteered to build homes during the NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service. He lovingly tackles fans that win half-time contests. He plays catch with fans in the stands. He just acts like the kind of star we all want to know.
Never mind that he has made it very clear that he’s the best all-around player in the game today. He’s not Michael Jordan yet but he has plenty of time to win five more rings.
People began to forgive James when he led the Heat to the NBA championship last year. Now, he’s a guy you root for. You want him to put up big numbers and while you might not want the Heat to ever win again (they have won 10 straight, by the way), you have to give him his due.
He’s made the Heat one of the NBA’s great teams and he’s done it without anger, bitterness or hubris. He’s apologized to the people he offended and he’s become the kind of superstar athlete who is self-aware and yet without a crippling ego.
There is now talk that he might consider returning to Cleveland in 2014 to play with one of the game’s burgeoning stars, Kyrie Irving. It’s still a rumor, but at the same time, it’s a point of discussion that James has not worked very hard to stop.
He’s the best player in basketball today. We’re finding out every day that he also might be one of its nicest guys.
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