March 2012

What Makes a Great Sports Writer?

On May 20, 1927, a fight was held at Yankee Stadium. Jack Sharkey vs. Jack Dempsey. Joe Humphreys, the ring announcer, came to the center of the ring and asked for silence.

He had no megaphone, and no microphone, but he screamed at the audience to quiet down.

“May I have your attention? Silence please! Silence please!”

After a few more times, the audience finally quieted down.

“Ladies and gentlemen, young Charles Lindbergh is in the air. May God save him for a safe flight. Bow your head in prayer.”

After a moment of silence, the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium said, in unison, “Amen.”

I first heard this rather unique story told by Bert Randolph Sugar, a renowned sports historian, writer, author, journalist, and analyst. Sunday evening ESPN reported Sugar, 75, passed away from cardiac arrest and heart complications.

The news of Sugar’s passing in a lot of ways shook me up. He was a colorful reporter, and a well-spoken individual. Sugar’s forte, or his passion if you will, was boxing. Typically seen with his trademark cigar, he was probably the best writer ever when it came to reporting on action inside the squared circle, as evidenced by his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.

But writing and reporting about boxing wasn’t all he could do from a sports journalism standpoint. Sugar had such range, being able to talk about and analyze sports other than boxing.

As a matter of fact, Sugar wrote a baseball book and even co-authored a book about pro wrestling. A wealth of sports knowledge and a well-respected historian, Sugar will be sorely missed.

There were just so many things that made him an elite, top-notch sports writer.

As a young journalist, cutting my teeth into the business, Sugar has left me a wonderful example of what a sports writer should be. The ability to story-tell, range, and knowledge are three essential skills that are basically must-haves for all sports writers, and there’s no question Sugar possessed each of them. 

The media studies department at my alma mater, Mercy College, holds an award ceremony called the Quill Awards at the end of every academic year. Typically at the Quills, a Mercy alumnus is given an award, a journalist in the field receives a special recognition, and students in the department are rewarded for their hard work throughout the school year.

I served two years as sports editor of The Impact, Mercy’s student newspaper. Because of that service, I received the Quill for sports reporting in 2009 and the year I graduated, 2010.

The second time I was given the award (which also happened to be about a month before I graduated) for my work as far as sports reporting, it felt good to hear my journalism professor acknowledge my dedication. He announced to everyone in attendance at the ceremony that I would be “a sports writer you will be hearing about.”

And in a sense, I have gotten my name out there. At least a little bit.

ESPN has featured my insight on their “Baseball Tonight” show multiple times, the YES Network has put some of my thoughts on their “Extra Innings” postgame show, and even MLB has showcased Yankee Yapping on its main page.

As far as work I’ve had the opportunity to interview and hear stories from interesting players, like former Yankee John Flaherty and Seattle Mariners’ relief pitcher Brian Sweeney.

I had the chance to interview former baseball coach Rick Wolff, who is the son of former Yankee announcer Bob Wolff – the famed announcer who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In fact, it was Mr. Wolff that encouraged me to start my own blog, putting the idea of Yankee Yapping in my head.

Recently, I had the chance to cover a high school basketball game sitting next to Yankee legend Bernie Williams – and got to chit-chat with him watching his daughter play ball.

If I had to sum it all up in one word, to this point: blessed. I personally know sports writers who have graduated from college that are struggling greatly to kick-start their careers, so taking into consideration everything I have accomplished thus far, I truly believe “blessed” is the correct word to use.

Either “blessed” or maybe just “lucky.”

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren once said, “The front page chronicles man’s defeats. The sports page chronicles man’s triumphs.”

Sugar made his whole life chronicling man’s triumphs – which is why I think I love the sports writing business so much. I take so much pride in attending games and writing about the swagger of individual players and teams.    

I’ve had quite a few people use certain adjectives to describe my writing. An old friend once called it “amazing” and “incredible.”

As nice as that is to hear, I look at Sugar’s work and a lot of the other writers out there, and the same logic repeats in my mind:

“I may be good, but it’s going to be awhile before I get up to that level.”

And it is my hope that one day I am at the level of a Bert Sugar, because when it was all said and done for him, he was one of the most respected, renowned, and well-loved sports pundits in the world. For his intelligence and wide array of sports knowledge, he will never be forgotten – at least not in this writer’s mind.

 Rest in Peace Bert Randolph Sugar (1937-2012)

 

Clarity Spelt P-E-T-T-I-T-T-E

The year was 1995. The place: Jackson, Mississippi. Having spent 10 hours on a bus, during which Sheldon Cooper had to twice violate his personal rule against relieving himself onboard a moving vehicle, Cooper finally arrived at the fourth annual Dixie Trek Convention – only to find that his idol, Wil Wheaton, decided he had better things to do than show up and sign his action figure.

Heartbreaking. But this of course is fiction; a yarn made for television’s hit show The Big Bang Theory.

Want to hear a true story?

The year was 2001. The place: Bronx, New York. Having spent an hour and 45 minutes on a bus with my eighth grade class (no need to relieve myself, if memory serves me correctly) I arrived at Yankee Stadium, excited to receive an Andy Pettitte bobblehead – a stadium giveaway.

The novelty bobblehead was to be given out to fans 14 and younger and I was at 13 years old at the time. As each of my classmates filed into the “House that Ruth Built” through the turnstiles, they were handed a Pettitte bobblehead. It came to be my turn and the distributor squadoosh’d my dreams.

“Sorry, this is for fans 14 and younger,” he told me, with an angered look on his face.

“But I’m 13! The rest of my class got one!” I pleaded.

He just shot me a look of disbelief, as if to say, “Yeah, right.”

Although I was in fact 13, the man refused to believe it. No bobblehead for me.

Looking back, Pettitte may have been behind this conspiracy. I can just picture him in the clubhouse before the game that day, joking around with his great buddy Roger Clemens.

“Yeah. Yeah this little punk A.J. Martelli is coming to the game today with his puny little friends. He thinks he’s getting my bobblehead. Well, HA! That’s not happening.”

Alright, I doubt Pettitte said that, but the rest of it is true. I was indeed denied a Pettitte bobblehead, and no, I have never fully recovered from it. In fact, around the holidays I got together with a number of my old classmates and one of them took a sort of poll.

“By a show of hands, who still has their Andy Pettitte bobblehead?”

I could only hang my head in eternal, burning shame as I reminded them of what transpired that fateful day.

Maybe this is just another reason I should be angry with Pettitte?

Nah. I’m not angry with him. Just disappointed.

This past weekend I wrote about my bemusement of Pettitte coming out of retirement, much to the chagrin and displeasure of my fellow Yankee fans. Many people criticized my viewpoint and strongly disagreed with my opinion on the subject.

And I respect that; everyone has the right to disagree with me.

But I ask that everyone consider and respect my opinion, no matter how strongly one can disagree with it.

Too many athletes are doing this; flip-flopping and weaving in and out of retirement. I am not a proponent of athletes flipping their careers on and off like light switches. When Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre retired, he made himself the center of the sports world; everyone was talking about him, and rightfully so, he was ending a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Or was he?

No, he wasn’t. After making a huge fuss about the conclusion of his playing career, he played two more seasons – and I hated that. I lost some respect for a longtime number one QB because of his actions.

Clemens was the same story, and even before the HGH/steroids information leaked, I lost respect for “The Rocket.” Either play the game, Clemens, or don’t.

Now, Pettitte has traveled down the same road of coming out of retirement after declaring he was, no matter what, done. Essentially he did the same thing Favre and Clemens did – which I didn’t like. I bashed Favre and Clemens for going back-and-forth.

Just because his name is Andy Pettitte, I’m supposed to be perfectly fine with it?

No. I think I would be a hypocrite if I was perfectly fine with it, seeing as how I reacted to Favre and Clemens.

A few days following the announcement of Pettitte’s comeback I was on Twitter. I received a tweet from my good friend Steve over at STATandSTUFF. Finally, someone saw eye-to-eye with me; understood where I’m coming from.

Come to think of it, I hadn’t even really considered his notion; he’s correct. Now younger arms like Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes – who have all pitched very well this spring – may have to duke it out even harder for a rotation spot, because the possibility of Pettitte occupying a slot in the starting five is high. (Although in my last post I did note that the competition for a rotation spot became stiffer).

At least someone agreed with me.

To make things clear though, I am not attempting to wish any ill will on Pettitte. If he makes the team and goes on to have a standout 2012, good for him; more power to him. I can only hope that he does pitch well and dominates in the postseason, for the sake of the Yankees.

Yet, when I look at him from now on, there will be somewhat of a smudge next to his name – right next to his HGH admission. To me, he is in the same category of Favre and Clemens, and I know it makes me unpopular to think that way.

But I refuse to change my stance on the issue. That is, unless something were to happen…

I suppose I could erase any anger/resentment over Pettitte’s flip-flopping ways if:

For one, he personally delivered one of his bobbleheads to me, and apologized to me on behalf of himself and the Yankee organization.

That mishap back in ’01 was just plain wrong.

And secondly, I’d forgive him if he apologized for going back on his retirement. Pettitte made himself look bad, and if he recognizes that, I could easily forgive him and all would be forgotten.

I’m Not OK with It

On Feb. 4, 2011 veteran starting pitcher Andy Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball. The crafty southpaw sat in front of an audience of his peers and teammates, emotionally declaring he was done with baseball at the age of 38. Pettitte last pitched in 2010, making 21 starts for the Yanks and finishing the year with a record of 11-3 attached to a respectable 3.28 ERA.

As a player, Pettitte has accomplished nearly everything one can accomplish. He owns five World Series rings, and has been on pennant-winning teams eight times – seven trips to the fall classic with New York, and one with Houston. He is a three-time All-Star, and even earned the honor of the 2001 ALCS MVP.

Pettitte has also shown that he can get it done on the big stage with 19 wins in the postseason under his belt. His 19 victories make him the winningest pitcher in playoff history.

Really the only accolade Pettitte never captured was the Cy Young Award, and he could have easily won it several times. In fact, in 1996 he was the runner-up to Pat Hentgen. In 2003 Pettitte won 21 games which put him in the running for the Cy, but ultimately he lost out to 22-game winner Roy Halladay.

It was nice to see Pettitte bow out of the game gracefully last winter. Although I was disappointed to see him hang up his spikes, I was happy to see him give it up on his own terms. His teammates, the Yankee organization, and the fans all seemed fine with his decision.

Throughout 2011 Pettitte was asked several times if he would come out of retirement, and whenever he was asked, he remained adamant that he was staying retired. And for that, I respected him. I truly admire when players retire – and stay retired.

And yesterday, all of that changed. My respect, my admiration…all gone.

Jack Curry of the YES Network (That’s right Jack Curry, and no one else) broke the news that Pettitte, who had been in Yankee camp serving as a special instructor, is planning on coming out of retirement. He was offered a one-year minor league deal by the Yankees worth $2.5 million.

According to sources Pettitte threw a discreet bullpen session in front of the Yankee brass on Tuesday morning, and they liked what they saw. Both sides were interested and just like that number 46 is coming back. Yankee fans everywhere are ecstatic to see Pettitte return to the team, granted he has to fight for a spot in the rotation.

But unlike most Yankee fans, I’m not too happy about it.

If it’s one thing that I absolutely cannot stand in sports, it is players who make a big fuss about retiring, hold pressers, become overwrought with emotion, and declare that, no matter what, they are done with the game – only for them to come back and play, for whatever reason.

Following the 2003 season Roger Clemens announced his retirement from baseball. The Yankees sent him off with a Hummer and congratulated him on a wonderful, Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Clemens then hopped in his new Hummer and drove it all the way to Houston, where he pitched for three seasons. Come to think of it, Clemens announced his retirement for the second time following the first annual World Baseball Classic in 2006. Of course that was before he re-joined the Astros midway through ’06 and the Yankees in the middle of 2007.

I hated that. It irked me to see Clemens flip-flop so many times. And considering how close Clemens and Pettitte were during their respective tenures on the Yankees and Astros, I couldn’t help but make the comparison in the case of Pettitte coming out of retirement yesterday.

To Pettitte’s credit, he is taking far less money than Clemens did back in ’07. The Rocket was getting paid somewhere around a $million a game, whereas Pettitte will only make $2.5 mil overall – so in that regard, it’s a little different.

But it doesn’t change the fact that he retired and should have stayed retired. Whenever players play the “I’m retired, I’m not retired” card, I lose respect for them. If Pettitte wanted to remain involved within the Yankee community, he could have just as easily grabbed a blazer and a microphone and gone to the YES booth with his former teammates David Cone, Paul O’Neill, and John Flaherty.

Or better yet, he could have sought a job as a pitching coach. Obviously Larry Rothschild is occupying the job at the big league level, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have gone out for a job coaching one of the minor league teams and worked his way up.

What also doesn’t make sense to me is that the Yankees are already at a surplus as far as starting pitching goes. The Bombers have six arms fighting for five rotation spots. Manager Joe Girardi has already said only two hurlers have guaranteed jobs: CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and Michael Pineda are currently battling for the final three rotation spots and now the competition just got stiffer. All because Pettitte just couldn’t stay retired.

Something else that confuses me is his problems staying healthy, dating back to the last season he pitched. On July 18, 2010 Pettitte made a start against the Tampa Bay Rays, and came out after just 2.1 innings of work. He hobbled off the mound, sustaining a groin injury. Pettitte didn’t make another start until Sept. 19, exactly two months and a day later.

In an interview yesterday, Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman admitted he is “concerned about Pettitte’s lower half,” and even Pettitte himself said he has to “get the lower half in shape.”

With that in mind, why even bother trying to make a comeback?  He’s only a year older, what makes him think his problems concerning his lower extremities are going to be solved? The last time he pitched his season was basically injury-ravaged. So why would he test himself, risking those types of injuries again?

Now to be fair, Pettitte hasn’t made the team yet. In all likelihood he’ll throw in extended spring training and won’t join the team until the end of April or May, or maybe even later. It all depends on how well he is pitching and how long it takes him to get ready for the regular season.

However in that respect, it’s almost another way he’s comparable to Clemens; coming out of retirement and not joining the team until after the season starts.

The bottom line is: I dislike the signing and I have lost an amount of respect for Pettitte. A lot of Yankee fans are probably going to disagree with me, and that’s fine; they don’t have to agree with me. I fully understand I am in the tiny majority of fans who think his decision to come out of retirement is not the right move.

I have a feeling the next baseball conversation I have with anyone, I’m going to take a lot of heat for my stance on this issue. But I’m not going to budge. Even if Pettitte goes on to have a remarkable season – and I hope he does, for the Yankees’ sake – the fact that he went back on his retirement will never sit well with me.

Breathing Down Our Necks

The 2012 MLB season is just about three weeks away. Players are currently in camp fighting for roster spots, getting in shape, and preparing for what will be a summer-long grind.

29 teams have the mentality of, “let’s put a good team together and have a fun season.”

The Yankees on the other hand have the mentality of, “when camp breaks we need to win the division, win the pennant, and then win the World Series.”

Good logic.

And as usual, it won’t be easy. A number of teams have bettered themselves during the off-season, and will pose huge threats to the Yankees bringing title number 28 home to the Bronx in October. A few teams will be breathing down the Yankees’ neck and they need to keep a sharp eye on them.

The top five are…

The Rays

When the Tampa Bay Rays first entered the league, they were almost a laughingstock; a joke that always finished at the bottom of the AL East. But in 2008 they came out of nowhere, capturing the division over the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, and then going on to win the AL pennant.

Since then, the Rays have been pests; a team that won’t go away, no matter how many times a knockout blow is delivered to them. Last year they swiped the AL Wild Card from underneath Boston’s nose, and have been to the playoffs three of the last four years.

On offense this season, Tampa Bay might be under the microscope, at least a little bit. The Rays didn’t re-sign Johnny Damon in the off-season, but signed Luke Scott – who hit just .220 last year – to supplant him. After a year with the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays – and he only averaged .225 at the dish in 2011.

One of the only true powerhouses the Rays have at the plate is Evan Longoria, who only batted .244 last year, yet clubbed 31 homers.

With their seemingly thin offense, one might get to thinking, why are the Rays such a threat?

The answer is their starting pitching.

Number one man James Shields went the distance last year, tossing 11 complete games to lead the league in that category. He also threw four shutouts to lead the league, winning 16 games along the way.

Behind him is the pride of Vanderbilt, southpaw David Price. Last year Price compiled a 12-13 record; not the best numerically, but he was an All-Star and was coming off a season in which he won 19 games. He did prove to be a workhorse despite his uneven record, logging 224.1 innings and making 34 starts, which led the league.

Behind the 1-2 punch of Shields and Price is a supporting cast of excellent arms. 24-year-old Jeremy Hellickson is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. He threw 189 innings in ’11, won 13 games, and notched an ERA of 2.95.

Jeff Niemann won 11 games last year, as did Wade Davis, giving the Rays five pitchers with double digit wins.

If a team has that kind of efficiency out of their starting five, they are going to be very tough to beat.

The Red Sox

Boston seems to be in a little bit of a state of flux. This off-season was busy in Beantown, as they let go of revered manager Terry Francona and signed on the ever-colorful Bobby Valentine to be their skipper. They allowed closer Jonathan Papelbon to walk, as he took his flame-throwing arm to Philadelphia to be the Phillies’ closer.

Two of their big-ticket starters, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, have undergone Tommy John surgery. Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season and Dice-K will be out until at least June or July, leaving the Red Sox with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as their top starters.

Other than Beckett and Lester, the Red Sox have a ton of questions marks as far as their rotation in concerned. How will Daniel Bard make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation? Is Clay Buchholz going to perform at a high level?

Will Felix Doubront be a factor? What about Alfredo Aceves, who has had back problems in the past?

The starting pitching is not the only part of the team under scrutiny. Boston signed Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon in the closer role, and will insert former Yankee Mark Melancon into the setup spot, supplanting Bard.

How will Bailey handle closing in Boston as opposed to Oakland? Will Melancon rise to challenge of setting him up in close-game situations?

All of these questions won’t be answered until the season commences, but if the Red Sox score runs – and they are capable of scoring runs – it won’t be a problem. Although Boston got off to a horrendous start and a fatal finish, they still scored 875 runs, which was good enough to lead the majors in ‘11.

And they always seem to give the Yankees a hard time.

Last June Boston swept the Bombers in three games at Yankee Stadium, being led by Yankee killer David Ortiz. Big Papi smacked two homers in the series, and stirred up controversy when he flipped his bat in what many felt was a move to show up the Yanks.

Bottom line: Ortiz proved he still has it when it comes to making the Yankees’ lives miserable.

Along with Ortiz, 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia will undoubtedly be swinging a hot bat this year, as will All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .338 last season with 27 homers and 117 RBIs.

Like the pitching, speedy left fielder Carl Crawford and butch third baseman Kevin Youkilis are question marks. Crawford is dealing with a wrist injury that many analysts say caused a decline in his numbers last year. Youkilis had season-ending thumb surgery last August.  

If Crawford and Youkilis come back – and return to form – the Yankees, and all American League pitchers for that matter, need to look out. These two sluggers have the potential to cause major problems for the Yankees when they are at 100%.

All things considered, the Red Sox will have a potent lineup. And no matter what anyone says, the Red Sox are always in the back of the Yankees’ minds. Always.

The Tigers

Last October the Detroit Tigers dashed the Yankees’ hopes and dreams of winning the World Series, eliminating the Bronx Bombers in five games in the ALDS. New York was forced to watch the Tigers celebrate on their soil, as the team from the Motor City proved to be too much for the Yankees to handle.

And it may have just gotten more difficult to beat them.

This off-season the Tigers signed power-hitting lefty Prince Fielder, who clobbered 38 home runs and drove in 120 runs last year. The hefty first baseman has twice averaged .299 at the plate (2009, 2011) and in 2007 Fielder led the National League in homers with 50.

It’s what you can expect from a big guy, but don’t let the size fool you.

Despite his heavy, 275-pound frame, Fielder is durable. He has played in all but one game since 2009, appearing in all 162 games in 2011 and 2009. He played in 161 games in 2010.

Fielder will join the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, two powerhouses who have already proven their worth in Detroit. Last season Cabrera led the league in doubles (48) and batting average (.344). Like Fielder he is also durable, as he appeared in 161 games in ’11.

Young dazzled in last year’s ALDS vs. the Yankees, punishing them with a .316 BA while clubbing three homers and posting a .789 slugging percentage. He collected six hits in the five game series and drew two walks, showing his worth when the stakes were high.

Detroit is obviously the front-runner to once again win the AL Central, and behind ace Justin Verlander – the reigning AL Cy Young winner and AL MVP – their chances of taking the central are high. The other teams in that division pose virtually no threat, and potentially the Yankees could face the Tigers in the ALDS again this year.

If a rematch is in the cards, the Yankees have to adjust accordingly. It didn’t work out for them in last year’s postseason.

The Rangers

It’s no secret that Texas is one of the prime teams to beat, as they have represented the American League in the World Series the past two years. The Rangers lost their number one starter C.J. Wilson to a division rival, the LA Angels, but something tells me it’s not going to matter. The Rangers’ pitching will still be top notch.

Colby Lewis won 14 games last year, as did Matt Harrison. If you were to ask manager Ron Washington, he would probably say both Harrison and Lewis possess the stuff to be number one aces.  Alexi Ogando went 13-8 last year with a 3.51 ERA and he’ll be another weapon in the Rangers’ rotation.

Throw Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish into the mix, and you have quite a set of pitchers, although there are some questions surrounding Feliz and Darvish.

Feliz is making a transition from the bullpen to the rotation, so much like Bard in Boston, his performance depends on how well his stuff translates; how well he works being stretched out. If it goes well for him, and he throws as hard as he did working in the closer role, he’ll be a feared pitcher in the American League.

Like Feliz, Darvish is making a transition – but not from the bullpen. He’ll be making the switch from Japan to MLB. In his native country, Darvish was one of the finest and most revered pitchers. Last year alone Darvish struck out 276 batters over 232 innings of work, and won 18 games with a 1.44 ERA.

Those numbers can be deceitful, however.

Ask Matsuzaka, or Hideki Irabu, or Kei Igawa, or any pitcher who sparkled in Japan and fell apart here. Pitching in the states is much different than pitching in the Far East, so Darvish is basically going to be an enigma until we really see what he can do – and we won’t know what he can do until he logs some innings here in the good ol’ U.S.A.

As far as the Rangers’ offense goes, they won’t have many problems if Josh Hamilton stays healthy. Even if he spends time on the disabled list, they have plenty of power to make up for it. Mike Napoli, the Rangers’ catcher, smacked 30 homers and drove in 75 runs last year.

You know you’re going to be alright when you’re getting that kind of production out of the catcher spot.

Along with Hamilton and Napoli, there’s Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Young – a perfect combination of veteran and youthful offense.

A message to the Yankees: when you’re in Texas, look behind you. ‘Cause that’s where the Rangers are going to be! (I couldn’t resist the cheesy/obscure Walker, Texas Ranger reference).

The Angels

In recent times the Angels have almost had the Yankees’ number, being the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bronx Bombers. LA’s pesky hitting coupled with their stellar pitching are going to make the Halos one of the best teams in the league this season, if not the best.

And it starts with one of their gigantic off-season acquisitions.

The biggest, obviously, is first baseman Albert Pujols. The slugging 3-time NL MVP signed with the Angels on Dec. 8 – and, as if LA wasn’t hard enough to beat already, they just got that much more difficult; that much deeper.

Pujols adds a surefire power bat to the lineup that already includes scrappy, young hitters like Howard Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo. Former Yankee Bobby Abreu gives the Angels a veteran presence, as do outfielders Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Last year LA scored 667 runs. Expect that number to go up in 2012.

Along with their strong offense, the Angels have stacked the deck as far as their pitching is concerned. As noted, the Halos snatched the Rangers’ ace C.J. Wilson over the winter, and he will join Dan Haren and Jered Weaver – who were both in double figures in the wins category last year. Haren notched 16 Ws while Weaver put up 18.

Ervin Santana sealed 11 wins last year with an ERA under four. If he does the same working in the back end of the Angels’ rotation this year, they are going to win a lot of games.

The Angels are pretty much the team that has it all; the complete package. If you were to ask me for my World Series pick, on paper, it would be the LA Angels.

But as Yankee Captain Derek Jeter always says, “on paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”

True. But the Angels look awfully dangerous, and have eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs twice, in 2002 and 2005. The last time the Yankees and Angels met in October (2009) the Yankees came out on top, beating the Halos in six games.   

They may need to do it again if they want to win number 28.

The Greatest Feat in Baseball History

In 2001 Barry Bonds crushed 73 home runs, becoming the single season home run king. That same year the Seattle Mariners set a major league record, winning 116 games during the regular season. Cy Young is the winningest pitcher in baseball history, owning 511 victories over his 22-year career.

All of these are incredible achievements and accomplishments made by teams and certain individual players. And with all these achievements, one gets to thinking:

Who has accomplished the greatest feat in the history of the game of baseball?

Believe it or not, I have the answer. It’s not Babe Ruth. It’s not Jackie Robinson. It’s not Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or even Ted Williams.

The answer…is Bugs Bunny.

No, I’m serious.

On Feb. 2, 1946, Bugs Bunny won a game of baseball, 96-95. If that isn’t impressive enough, he beat the entire team by himself.

At the Polo Grounds (although the frieze that surrounds the top of the ballpark looks a lot like Yankee Stadium) the Gas-House Gorillas are pummeling the Tea Totallers mercilessly; the Gorillas are made up of a group of gigantic muscle-heads whereas the Totallers are a team of old men, it seems. One claims to be 93 and a half years old.

Upon witnessing the unfair advantage the Gorillas have over the Totallers, in a not-so-subtle way, Bugs issues an open challenge.

“The Gas-House Gorillas are a bunch of dirty players! Why, I could lick them in a ballgame with one hand tied behind my back! All by myself! Yeah!  Get up there, WHAM! A homer! WHAM! Another homer!” he confidently exclaims.

In the first four innings the Gorillas put up over 90 runs, while the Totallers did not score, leaving Bugs plenty of work to do. He is announced at all nine positions and goes to the mound to pitch.

Bugs throws two pitches to the first batter – both looked like four seam fastballs – and after tossing each pitch races from the mound to behind the plate, catching both of his own pitches.

He then decides to “perplex” the Gorillas with his slow ball, a pitch that traveled with such reduced speed it strikes out three batters at the same time.

Bugs then gets his set of at-bats (receiving his bat from a boy with bat wings) and commences chipping away at the enormous deficit. He hammers the first pitch he sees, celebrating all around the bases until he is met at home plate by the Gorillas’ catcher who has the ball.

Just when it looks like Bugs was going to be stuck with the ball and called out, he whips out a poster of a woman in a bra and panties. It snatches the attention of the Gorilla player, and as he ogles it, Bugs happily crosses the plate for the Totallers’ first run of the game in the top of the fifth.

On his very next at-bat, Bugs gets another hit. Realizing Bugs is capable of getting back in the game and maybe even coming from behind, the Gorillas try to cheat by abducting the umpire. One of the Gorilla players puts on the umpire’s gear, and even though Bugs crosses the plate uncontested, he calls him out.

Immediately Bugs begins to protest.

“Where do ya get that malarkey? I’m safe!”

The umpire upholds his call, igniting an argument.

Safe! –Bugs

Out! –Ump

Safe! – Bugs

Out! – Ump

Out! –Bugs

Safe! – Ump

“I say you’re safe! If you don’t like it, you can go to the showers!” the umpire claims.

“OK then Doc, have it your way, I’m safe,” Bugs replies, scoring his second run, successful in his cunning attempt to trick the umpire.

Bugs steps back up to the plate, and pops up the next pitch. The ball hits one of the outfielders, who is calling off everyone else.

“I got it! I got it! I got it!”

The ball comes back down and nails the fielder in the head, killing him and even burying him on the field. His tombstone read, “He got it.”

With that, Bugs scored his third run.

In his next at-bat, Bugs hits yet another ball to the outfield. The fielder runs towards the ball, smoking a cigar. The ball strikes him in the face, putting out his cigar, and knocking him unconscious. He gets hit so hard his body pressed up against the outfield fence on an ad that read, “Does your tobacco taste differently lately?”

Just like that, four runs for the bunny.

Bugs goes to the plate for his next at-bat, cracking the ball around the deep infield and shallow outfield. The baseball game basically morphs into a pinball game, as the cowhide bounces off each fielder, making a distinguished “ping” noise after every hit.

A bunch of runs appear on the scoreboard for Bugs, as well as the word “tilted.” A tilt in pinball means a pinball machine will tilt, ending the current ball and discarding the end-of-ball bonus if the player moves the cabinet too violently or tries to lift it.

Although Bugs was never shown making an out, the next batter is one of the Gorillas, and he smacks the ball to the outfield. He runs the bases and is on his way home, only to be greeted by Bugs at the dish, who plugs him with the ball for an out, knocking him silly.

Adding insult to injury, Bugs holds up a sign that reads, “Was this trip really necessary?”

Finally the game nears an end: bottom of the ninth, Bugs up 96-95. With two outs and a runner on base, one of the Gorillas gets in the batter’s box, needing a home run to win the game. But before he takes his hacks, the slugger leaves the park, chops down a tree with an ax, and fashions a bat out of the tree trunk.

He takes Bugs’s offering deep – way deep. As a matter of fact, he clobbered the ball so hard it flew over the roof of the Polo Grounds, out of the Stadium. Bugs may be a bunny, but he was on his horse, speeding as fast as he could out of the park.

Bugs gets in a waiting taxi, and instructs the driver to follow the ball, which is still airborne.

As it turned out, the driver was one of the Gorillas, purposely driving in the wrong direction. Bugs promptly exits the cab at the bus stop, and conveniently enough, a bus shows up right in time. Bugs hops on the bus, and even has a few seconds to read the newspaper.

He gets off at the “Umpire State Building” and takes the elevator to the roof. Bugs then climbs up the flagpole, tosses his mitt up in the air…

 For the ball to land safely in the webbing. The glove comes back down, Bugs catches it, and it’s an out.

Game over. Bugs wins, 96-95. The Gorilla player vehemently argues the call, but the umpire somehow miraculously shows up at the Umpire State Building – confirming the ruling.

“You’re out!”

The Statue of Liberty – which, for some reason is located next to the “Umpire State Building,” comes alive and tells off the Gorilla player.

“That’s what the man said, you’re out!”

It ends with Bugs mocking the player. “That’s what the man said, that’s what the man said…”

So let’s do a little inventory here.

Bugs…

  • Challenges a team of players who are obviously bigger than he is
  • Strikes out three batters on the same pitch – that’s nine strikes, if you’re counting
  • Distracts a player with a picture of a woman and gets a home run out of it
  • Outsmarts the other team, even when they cheated
  • Kills and buries an opposing player with a pop up
  • Knocks out a smoking outfielder with a fly ball and scores
  • Turns a game of baseball into a game of pinball
  • Down by 90 runs, comes back to take the lead
  • Surrenders what looks like a walk-off home run, but goes from the Polo Grounds to the top of the “Umpire State Building” – even after being taken out of his way by a wayward taxi cab
  • Catches the ball for an out
  • Wins the game
  • Mocks the other team

I don’t care who you are in baseball, or what you’ve done, nothing is ever going to top that.

Nothing.

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