What we’ve learned the last few weeks in sports…

Okay, I’m a pretty busy person, so I don’t really write down my thoughts (on sports) much anymore. I normally just verbalize them to anyone who’d listen, but I think it’s a good idea to jot these things down on this blog.

On today’s agenda: What we’ve learned the last few weeks in sports…

First off, I’m a total hypocrite. During the months when Antonio Brown was trying to get out of Pittsburgh – and even this past week when he was causing trouble with the Raiders after the Steelers granted his wish and dealt him away back in March – I wasn’t a fan of what he’s about.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always thought he’s a great player. The stats back that up. His performance on a yearly basis backs that up.

The first time I saw him live in action was when I visited Dayton in December 2014 and ventured out to Paul Brown Stadium to see the Bengals face the Steelers. And man, I was impressed by the Big Three – Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, and Le’Veon Bell. It seemed that on virtually every offensive play that afternoon, it was Brown or Bell making the catch or gaining the yards on the run. Those guys put on a display that day.

Of course, my feelings on Brown and Bell changed over time when they kept making headlines for the wrong reasons over the past couple of years.

Then, Brown had that Tweet (apparently about the Raiders), about how “the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” I thought, like, what the heck was wrong with this dude?

But when the news came that he’d agreed to terms with the New England Patriots, I did a complete 180 and thought, “WOW…” I mean, if you root for the Patriots as I do, then this signing makes New England the heavy favorites to win the Super Bowl. Think about it: with Brady, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, and now Antonio Brown? This team could go 19-0!!!

And so, when that YouTube video of Brown surfaced where he was running into the backyard and then calling his grandmother… I thought it was funny. REALLY funny.

There’s also the chatter among NFL executives – which we’ve all heard being talked about by insiders on various media platforms – that Brown and his agent had had discussions with the Patriots while he was a Raider and that Brown consulted with social media experts to figure out how to, essentially, force the Raiders to release him so New England could sign him.

Whatever. I just find it awesome that the Patriots were able to sign him. It just goes to show that I’m a hypocrite and change my mind about an athlete when he’s wearing the colors of a team I cheer for.

Of course, since the signing with New England, more AB drama has surfaced in the form of a civil suit against him by a former trainer. Since I have no knowledge about that situation, I will refrain from commenting. But I do find the timing of this rather odd. The trainer is getting married, apparently, and… well, we’ll just have to see how this plays out.


And then, AB wasn’t the only wide receiver making headlines for the wrong reasons.

In Cleveland, the Browns just got clobbered in Week 1 by the Titans, and there was Odell Beckham Jr. wanting to play by his own rules.

I would think that there are many football fans out there who want to see the Browns fail once again this season. Instead of focusing on winning, there is the star wide receiver focusing on his watch. Okay. Got it. Way to go bringing attention to yourself for the wrong reasons.


Athletes being disgruntled – and making the headlines… isn’t just a football thing. In New York, the Mets have been dysfunctional, to say the least. And one of their star pitchers, apparently, was “livid” this past week.

Well, I’ve never been on a big-league mound. But my thoughts are that if you’re a pro, you can adjust and work with a different catcher. After all, the team is trying to get its best lineup offensively to try and win games. But I digress.


Speaking of New York, what else did we learn on Sunday?

The Jets are back to being the Jets, blowing a 16-0 lead to lose to the Buffalo Bills 17-16. And way to go, Adam Gase, being way too critical of his wide receivers, offensive line, cornerbacks, and defense.

I wonder how long before the players get tired of Gase’s act in that locker room. It’s only one game, and the head coach is losing control. Only with the Jets.

And there was even a quote that he gave, which tells you all you need to know: “That’s the beauty part of being the head coach – I can basically do what I want” (via Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer on ESPN.com).

So, after Week One in the NFL, we know this: The Jets are the same old Jets. The Browns are the same old Browns.


One more thought: Good thing the Saints won on Monday night to start the season 1-0. There was some crazy stat that they had been a combined 1-9 in Weeks One and Two over the previous five seasons.

I want the Saints to do well. I’ve been hoping for a Saints-Patriots Super Bowl for many years because of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and we were denied that matchup last season. And, the window is closing in terms of having both teams being legit contenders at the same time.

I say good thing the Saints won, because on that team, it seems like there’s yet another receiver who’s a diva.

Why should Michael Thomas go out of his way to comment on the Antonio Brown/Raiders situation when he should have been preparing for the Monday Night tilt against Houston? Just because he didn’t respect Raiders GM Mike Mayock?

Well, I would think – and hope – that head coach Sean Payton and his coaching staff would rather Thomas not comment on matters that aren’t about the Saints. But that’s just me.

And, to finish this post off, here’s that aforementioned AB video that just cracked me up:

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So, who the heck is “Budd B.”?

There’s this retired journalist from a Buffalo newspaper by the name of Budd, who spends time reviewing sports books on his personal blog.

He proudly gave my book on John Cangelosi #twostars on Twitter, and his Tweet provides a link to his blog, where he criticized the book.

Two stars? Here’s an excerpt:

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Okay, let me get this straight. A professional athlete who’s been retired for more than 10 years shouldn’t be sharing his stories…. got it. That got me thinking: Did he ever rate the autobiographies on Grant Fuhr and Doug Gilmour, a pair of Sabres hockey stars? But more on that later.

(Regarding the all-time team comment, I’ll have to say that I recall reading parts of Felipe Alou’s book, in which he lists his all-time team in the middle of a chapter. I believe Mickey Lolich did the same in his book. So… what’s Budd’s point?)

First of all, shame on this fella Budd for suggesting that a guy who hit .250 doesn’t deserve a book. Excuse me, Budd, how many years did you play in the big leagues and what’s YOUR average? Your bio says you’ve written 11 books. How many of them were best sellers? So, should more than half of your books not have been written in the first place?

A search on Amazon revealed the following:

  1. Budd wrote books on non-superstars himself! One player he wrote about scored 41 goals and 91 points…. in his entire career! So, don’t pick on another writer and another athlete who didn’t measure up according to you.
  2. From a reviewer on Budd’s hockey book: “…there are multiple errors in text that should have been caught.” Well, I guess someone needs more editing himself, huh?
  3. Here’s another one: “sophomoric book….told like a 6 yr old..no great stories…..after bob probert and dave Schultz books this really stunk..very good admired player..awful storyteller” – So, it looks like Budd’s own books aren’t that great, either, then.

Okay, moving on to the aforementioned ex-Sabres. So, if a book shouldn’t be written about a former athlete who’s been retired more than 10 years, I assumed he didn’t have good things to say about the books of Gilmour and Fuhr… and I was right.

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I mean, I can’t speak for the intentions of Gilmour and Fuhr along with their co-authors, but my intentions with John Cangelosi are pure: Inspire young kids through John’s stories. Anyone who’s been told “You can’t do this” should read this book and be inspired.

I hate to think that this Budd has any kids. Think about the message he’s sending. Well, you know, Babe Ruth was last relevant in the 1930s, so kid shouldn’t read about him, right? Or, some pro athlete who made it despite challenges hits “only” .250 and that’s not good enough. Okay. Good to know.

Of course, when you read the following, you’ll know the kind of person we’re dealing with here.

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“no one cares”? Tell that to former Flames players, who all have very positive things to say about Harley Hotchkiss and the “family” culture he brought to the organization.

Budd B…? Gutless.

The Baseball Life of the Cangy Man

I’d always thought that Rickey Henderson held the AL rookie stolen-base record… until it was pointed out to me that John Cangelosi broke the AL mark in his rookie season in 1986.

IMG_3111I was thinking, “What? Didn’t Rickey Henderson steal 100 bases in his rookie year?” Well, the man they call the “Man of Steal” did swipe 100 bases in 1980, but that was his second big-league season (or first full season)… as he’d already exceeded his rookie limits the year before by playing in 89 games.

So, John Cangelosi, a man who finished his career with 154 stolen bases, at one point held the AL rookie stolen-base record? Yes, that’s right.

And I wrote a book about Cangelosi and his inspirational baseball career, and that book came out late last week.

Talk about an inspirational story. Listed as 5’8″, Cangelosi wasn’t even supposed to make it to pro baseball, but he got there and stayed long enough to break that aforementioned record (with 50 steals in 1986), frustrate the likes of Jack Morris and Roger Clemens and John Smoltz (and even legendary manager Sparky Anderson), and, near the end of his career, win a World Series in his hometown.

And the guy was 5’8″!

A centerfielder and switch-hitter, Cangelosi played for the White Sox, Pirates, Rangers, Mets, Astros, Marlins, and Rockies.

Now, his career statistics – 2004 at-bats, 501 hits, 12 HR, 134 RBI, .250 batting average – don’t look impressive (yes, yes, guys hit a lot more home runs in a single round during the Home Run Derby at the All-Star break), but, remember, Cangelosi was competing for playing time during an era where guy were a lot bigger and teams were looking for guys who could hit the ball out of the ballpark! At his size, Cangelosi wasn’t going to hit home runs, and his game was using his speed. In that era, the game was heading more toward… home runs, home runs, and more home runs.

And we’ve got to remember, Cangelosi competed against home-run hitters for roster spots at the height of 5’8″… Had he played in the era of social media, this guy could have achieved legendary status. But he played in the 1980s and 1990s, when not every game is available on TV. He had a good run, but didn’t get the attention that he deserved.

Well, the good news is that we can relive John Cangelosi’s career in my new book. 🙂

Can we say “laziness”?

This has got to be the worst take of the week.

It’s a different sport, but that’s why Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots have been so successful since 2001. Belichick has his team practice situational football — so that when that situation comes up, the players know how to respond.

You have athletes that don’t want to prepare like the pitcher who posted that tweet above, and it’s a sign of not being committed and not being a winner.

No, he didn’t come right out and say it wasn’t worth his time to practice bunt defense, but it’s implied based on the way the tweet was written.

#gutless

“A Life of Knuckleballs”: Just Missed the Cut, Part I

When I first wrote the manuscript for Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, I had over 600,000 words, which, of course, made it unpublishable.

So, my publisher, McFarland & Co., requested me to cut the manuscript down, and because of that, many stories did not make the cut.

Over the next little while, I will be posting some of the original content that didn’t make it to the book. I call this, “Missed the Cut.”

***

This one is from Tom Candiotti’s first month in the majors, with the stories about Pete Vuckovich and the Milwaukee veterans not making it into the book:

TCThe Brewers were still in contention even with the struggles of veteran Don Sutton—who despite pitching nine shutout innings against California on August 24th, was 0-5 with a 6.49 ERA in his last seven starts.

Even though the veteran wasn’t getting it done, the rookies certainly were, up to that point. Including Candiotti, the Brewers had four rookie pitchers who each played a big role in the team’s success. The quartet had 19 wins and 10 saves, led by reliever Tom Tellmann (nine wins, eight saves), Chuck Porter (six wins), Bob Gibson (two wins, two saves), and of course, Candiotti (two complete-game wins in two starts).

As it turned out, Milwaukee wouldn’t win another game in which Tellmann, Porter, and Gibson appeared until the final three days of the season. Tellmann would pitch well down the stretch (2.31 ERA) but the Brewers would go 0-9 in his final nine appearances of the season. They would be 0-4 in Gibson’s appearances—he was 0-2—until he defeated Detroit 6-2 in a meaningless start on the final weekend. As for Porter, he would be 0-4 with a 7.16 ERA—the Brewers would lose all six of his starts—before beating the Tigers 7-4 on the final day of the season.

As for Vuckovich, he wouldn’t make a difference when he made his long-awaited season debut on August 31st. The reigning Cy Young winner would last only 14.2 innings in three starts, going 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA. Meanwhile, in a complete reversal of Sutton’s September 1982 performance, the veteran right-hander would be 1-3 with a 3.80 ERA in his final six starts of 1983.

As Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell noted in late August, “The core of the Brewers’ suspect rotation—Sutton, Mike Caldwell and Bob McClure—has a combined 25-26 record and an ERA over 4.40. When you have to give 27 starts in the pennant race to Chuck Porter, Tom Candiotti, Bob Gibson, Jerry Augustine and Rick Waits, you’re in line for baseball sympathy” (Thomas Boswell, “Mighty Brewers Have Gone From Muscle to Hustle Team,” Washington Post, August 22, 1983).

Though Vuckovich would go winless in 1983, Candiotti, to this day, marvels at the clubhouse presence he exhibited that season. “Vuckovich, like the veteran players, made sure the rookies were paying attention to what was going on,” says Candy. “I’d be on the bench. He’d walk by in the ninth inning and say, ‘What did this batter do in his second at-bat?’ So I’d have to recall the pitch count and things like that. He kept me in the game, kept me watching all the time. That’s how baseball was back then. The veterans kept the young players in the game. All those guys made sure the rookies were paying attention and knew what was going on. And boy, I tell ya, if Pete was asking you a question, you’d better get it right!”

Candiotti also credits Vuckovich with teaching him a lot about pitching, especially pitching around hitters. “He taught me an awful lot, being able to pick the outs you wanna get. I was never taught to walk guys intentionally, like intentionally ‘unintentionally.’ But he sat down with me and went through things with me that I never knew.” For instance, many times a pitcher would walk a hitter apparently unintentionally, when actually it was almost intentional. If, say, there was a runner on second base and a tough hitter up, the pitcher wouldn’t actually give him an intentional pass, but would pitch carefully to him. If the pitcher got the batter out to chase pitches out of the strike zone, that was great. If he walked the hitter, that was fine too—his main goal was to basically not give the batter anything to hit. Candiotti, who never liked to walk hitters, learned to appreciate such a pitching strategy. He was grateful for having Vuckovich as a mentor in teaching him how to pitch in the majors.

“He wore me out, though,” Candiotti laughs. “I had to buy him this and that. This was kind of like my ‘welcome’ to the big leagues. Of course, that Brewers team was a veteran club. [Catcher] Bill Schroeder and I were two of the few rookies that year, until the September call-ups came up to Milwaukee. For a while there, Pete really wore us out. I know he wore me out. He wouldn’t let me in the trainer’s room initially. I was tested as a rookie. But once I passed the test, he was awesome. He was a great teammate to be around.” And how did Candiotti pass the test?

“Well, what happened was I was making my first major-league start. I went into the trainer’s room and Vuckovich was there. He goes, ‘What are you doing here, rookie?’

“I go, ‘I’m just gonna get some heat.’

“Pete says, ‘Get the hell outta here, rookie.’”

Candiotti didn’t let Vuckovich’s abuse bother him. He left the room, pitched Milwaukee into first place, and kept his distance from the veteran pitcher. Soon enough, Vuckovich approached the rookie to welcome him. “A few days later,” Candiotti says, “he comes up to me and goes, ‘You’re doing pretty well. You can come into the trainer’s room now.’ So after that, he was great. But if I’d fought him on it, he would’ve made my life miserable that rookie season.”

He still laughs at how Vuckovich walked 102 batters with 105 strikeouts during the 1982 season and still won the AL Cy Young Award*. While Vuckovich was second in the league in wins—finishing 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA—he was also second in bases on balls. “Now, I think back and I wonder—and I’d joke about it with him—‘How did you win the Cy Young with those numbers?’” Candiotti says with a grin. “He had over a hundred walks! I’d joke about it with Pete, like, ‘That’s one of the strangest things how you won that award!’”

Another veteran who helped Candiotti along that first season was catcher Ted Simmons, who’d assign him homework. “Ted once got me to do a report about the ball-strike counts on which most baserunners ran,” he says. “You know, which counts runners go the most. Or he’d quiz me on pitch selections during a game. It was great. And of course, he called a knuckleball for the first big-league pitch I ever threw. He knew how to help me out as a young player. It was a huge thing for me.”

*One could make the argument that Toronto’s Dave Stieb was robbed of the Cy Young in 1982. Vuckovich, who made 30 starts, pitched 223.2 innings with nine complete games, including one shutout. Stieb, meanwhile, started 38 games, completed 19 of them, tossed five shutouts, and threw 288.1 innings. He led the AL in innings, complete games, and shutouts, and was tied for third in games started. He was 17-14 with a 3.25 ERA, walking 75 and fanning 141.

 

Things we saw in October…

The NFL is a week-to-week thing… every week has a new narrative. Remember how after the first two weeks of the 2018 season, when Pittsburgh began 0-1-1? Many of those analysts were predicting gloom and doom for the Steelers. Well, going into their huge AFC North matchup today in Baltimore, the Steelers are sitting atop the division at 4-2-1, just ahead of Cincinnati (5-3).

The Browns, who at 2-5-1 are at the bottom of the division, are who we thought they were…

Speaking of slow starts, wow – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson makes George Steinbrenner look like a saint… With the Lakers beginning slowly at 2-5, Johnson has apparently lost patience with coach Luke Walton. I mean, c’mon, the Lakers aren’t expected to be legitimate contenders and it’s early in the season….  Yes, I saw Magic play during his NBA career, but as an executive or fan, he’s not that great. He was the one cheering for Mike D’Antoni to be fired from the Lakers years earlier, wasn’t he? That’s exactly my point. Magic was a great player, but as an observer/fan/executive, he strikes me as a guy who just isn’t patient.

Ahhh.. Steve Pearce. World Series MVP. I’m sure throughout the summer, the buzz in Toronto (and the rest of Canada where Blue Jays fans reside) was something like, “What can the Blue Jays get for Josh Donaldson?” and “Donaldson will make a contending team a winner,” etc.

I was on TSN1040 during the summer, suggesting that teams that win the World Series, traditionally, have had under-the-radar pickups more often than those big mid-season acquisitions. For 2018, I was looking at Tyler Clippard, John Axford, Seunghwan Oh, etc. as possible difference makers. Maybe even a guy like Curtis Granderson. Okay, I was wrong. It turned out the biggest difference maker was Steve Pearce!! He had a hot few games and wound up helping the Red Sox win the World Series.

Man, it must be painful for those Blue Jays fans… they must have been rooting for Cleveland, with Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion being the two former Jays in the Indians lineup. Instead, it was David Price (who failed to deliver in the playoffs for Toronto) and Steve Pearce with their AL East rivals!!

Again, don’t trade within the division (ie. Toronto trading Pearce to Boston). It might make your fans cry in October…

Anytime someone brings up the need for a team to pick up a big name at the trade deadline to put itself over the top, I will just bring up two words. Steve Pearce.

Back to the NFL – an intriguing matchup on Sunday night with Green Bay vs. New England. Hours before that, Rams vs. Saints in what could be a potential NFC Championship Game matchup. The dream matchup would be a Patriots-Saints Super Bowl. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Vindication…

On TSN1040 weeks earlier, I mentioned that a playoff team might fire its manager if that ballclub underachieves in the postseason… I mean, it would be possible that a manager was fired despite leading his team to the playoffs – it’s happened before (Grady Little, Joe Girardi, John Farrell, and if we want to go back further, Casey Stengel, etc.)…

When I made that comment, people were rolling their eyes. But hey, look at Game Four of the 2018 World Series, where it’s now 9-6 for the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth.

Tough questions have to be asked about Dave Roberts, manager of the Dodgers. They were up 4-0 after six innings with a dominant Rich Hill, who up to that point was throwing a one-hitter. He was pulled after 91 pitches.

With the score 4-3, Kenley Jansen, who had given up the game-tying homer in the eighth inning one night earlier, was brought back out for the eighth inning in Game Four to try and get a six-out save.

Home run. Tie game. Red Sox then scored five big runs to break the game open.

The Dodgers looked like they were going to tie the Series at 2-2 with Hill leading the way less than 24 hours after that epic 7 hour, 20 minute game…

And Roberts made at least two very questionable calls with the pitching.

So… just because you manage a team to the playoffs doesn’t mean you always make the right calls. If you make one too many, get ready to be scrutinized. Don’t forget, in the playoffs you’re facing tougher teams, not the Padres or Marlins or Mets anymore.

And I believe this is the end for the Dodgers as their window is definitely closing. It’s awfully hard to make it to the World Series three straight years….