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Waiting for the Weekend: Old Fuddy Duddy Watching the NBA Draft 1

Posted on June 23, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Markelle Fultz was selected with the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft after playing only 25 games at the college level.

Markelle Fultz was selected with the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft after playing only 25 games at the college level.

I have decided in this column to serve as the old “fuddy duddy”, which is defined as being old fashioned and fussy.

Last night was the NBA Draft and I must admit, my 11-year-old son had a much better grasp of the players being selected than I did. Not only because he is significantly closer in age to them, but also because in today’s electronic world, he is much more familiar with their exploits than I am. Though most of the top players played roughly 30 games at the college level, if you are interested and tech savvy, you can find all their highlights on YouTube.

Sorry to sound dated and bitter, but I fondly remember a day when players being drafted into the NBA were familiar to fans not because of a YouTube video, but because we had watched them play through usually three or four years of college. Even in a time when cable television was not yet prominent and not every game was available to watch, we still had ample chances to enjoy the top players for quite a while before they moved to the NBA.

When Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984 he had played 101 games as a college player, not to mention being on the 1984 Olympic team. While I don’t recall there necessarily being discussion then that he was going to be the greatest player of all-time (such labels weren’t really all that important in a time before sports talk shows), there was no question that he was a great player and would be a successful pro.

You can say similar things about all the other top draft picks from the 1970s and 1980s. In most cases, they were familiar to fans across the country because they had been showcased in college for multiple years.

Now not every great college player in the past panned out in the NBA. As is the case today, there were many players in past generations who were great college players, but just didn’t translate to the NBA. But even in those cases, you had four years to watch them play at college and the number of top picks who didn’t have at least some semblance of an NBA career was pretty minimal. Read the rest of this entry →

Flash and Burn – Rookie of the Year Doesn’t Guarantee Long-term Greatness 0

Posted on June 18, 2017 by Dean Hybl

 

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was a baseball phenomenon in 1976.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was a baseball phenomenon in 1976.

The recent Major League Baseball Draft has brought a new crop of prospects vying to one day secure major league stardom. It is likely that a significant number of players selected in the draft will reach the majors, but even if they achieve short-term success, forging a long and successful career is much harder.

Many players who burst onto the scene as rookies have struggled to maintain that success over the long-term. Below is a look at some former Rookie of the Year winners whose careers soon flamed out.

Earl Williams – 1971 NL Rookie of the Year: At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Earl Williams was a powerfully built versatile player who was primarily a third baseman when he came up with the Atlanta Braves late in the 1970 season. After hitting .368 in 10 games in 1970, Williams earned a starting position for 1971. He began the season at third base, but despite having never played catcher in the minors was soon planted behind the plate and caught 71 games out of the 145 he played as a rookie, On a team with all-time slugger Hank Aaron, Williams proved to be another valuable weapon as he finished second on the squad with 33 home runs and 87 RBI while hitting .260. Playing primarily behind the plate the next season, Williams again had strong offensive numbers with 28 home runs and 87 RBI. However, after striking out only 80 times as a rookie, he whiffed 118 times in 1972. The Braves traded him to Baltimore in the offseason for second baseman Davey Johnson and several other players. He gave Baltimore much needed offensive pop in 1973 with 22 home runs and 83 RBI. His power numbers started to decline in 1974 as he hit only 14 home runs with 52 RBI. He was traded back to Atlanta after the season and spent a year and a half with the Braves before finishing the 1976 season in Montreal. After being released by the Expos, he hit 13 home runs with 38 RBI for the Oakland A’s in 1977. That proved to be the end of the line for Williams, who finished his career with 138 home runs, 457 RBI and a career batting average of .247. He passed away from Leukemia in 2013.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych – 1976 AL Rookie of the Year: Few players have enjoyed the meteoric rise or quick fall of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Earning a spot on the Detroit Tigers roster as a rookie in 1976, Fidrych made only two relief appearances during the first month of the season. However, in his first major league start on May 15th, he allowed the Indians only two hits and one run in a 2-1 complete game victory and the legend of “The Bird” had begun. With his curly hair and lanky body, Fidrych quickly was dubbed “The Bird” in reference to Sesame Street character Big Bird. He also entertained the crowd with his many mannerisms, including grooming the mound and talking to the baseball. Though he lost a 2-0 decision to Boston in his next start, Fidrych rebounded to win his next eight starts, with seven complete games, including back-to-back 11 inning performances. He took his act national on June 28th when more than 32 million people watched on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball as he defeated the New York Yankees 5-1. After losing a 1-0 decision to Kansas City on July 9th, Fidrych entered the All-Star game with a 9-2 record and 1.78 ERA and was named the American League starter for the All-Star Game. For the season, Fidrych completed 24 of 29 starts (five of which went extra innings) and had a 19-9 record and 2.34 ERA in 250 innings. He won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Fidrych suffered a knee injury while fooling around in the outfield in spring training before the 1977 season. However, he appeared fine after his return as he posted a 6-4 record with a 2.89 ERA, but suffered a shoulder injury (later diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff) that proved to be the beginning of the end of his career. He would make only 19 starts for the Tigers over the next three seasons with a 4-6 record. The Massachusetts native tried to make a comeback with the Boston Red Sox, but eventually retired after pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox. Fidrych died on April 13, 2009 after an accident on his farm.   Read the rest of this entry →

Waiting for the Weekend: Inconsistency of Justice 0

Posted on June 16, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Thee NCAA punishment for Rick Pitino and Louisville is the latest inconsistency in justice from the NCAA.

Thee NCAA punishment for Rick Pitino and Louisville is the latest inconsistency in justice from the NCAA.

The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt primarily to oversee and make safer intercollegiate football as well as to oversee eligibility in intercollegiate sports. The name of the organization was changed in 1910 to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Over the last 111 years, this organization has grown to become one of the most hypocritical behemoths within the United States. Though considered a non-profit, the NCAA generates billions of dollars in revenue annually while their primary labor force receives no direct compensation from the association. To make it even worse, those “student-athletes” are penalized by the organization if they dare to attempt to receive anything other than a college scholarship and minimal gifts and awards for participating in tournaments or championship competition.

I could spend thousands of words illustrating examples of the hypocrisy and exploitative nature of the organization, especially when it comes to student-athletes. But, I do not intend to make that the subject of this column.

Instead, I want to briefly explore the announcement this week of penalties against the Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball program and head coach Rick Pitino.

The NCAA is investigating what ineligible players may have appeared in games for the Cardinals from 2010-2014 as part of an alleged sex-for-pay scandal involving a Louisville assistant coach and basketball recruits. If any players were deemed to have performed while they should have been ineligible, then Louisville could be forced to vacate victories, including their 2013 NCAA Championship.

Though he has not been directly implicated, head coach Rick Pitino was suspended by the NCAA for five ACC games next season.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if a Louisville coach was involved in paying women to have sexual relations with basketball recruits, that is morally abysmal and just another example of how some in college athletics have crossed the line. However, much like the Penn State scandal of a few years ago where the university and football administration were without question guilty of failing to meet simple ethical standards, they weren’t necessarily guilty of anything that specifically provided the team with an on-the-field advantage by providing a special benefit or keeping a player eligible.

That lies in very deep contrast to the University of North Carolina, whose men’s basketball team won the NCAA Championship just two months ago. The University and many athletic teams, including the men’s basketball program, have been under the cloud of an academic scandal in which the credibility of an entire department at the college was fabricated for many years, in part to help ensure that student-athletes could remain eligible.

Yet, not only was UNC allowed to participate in the last two national championship games, their head coach, Roy Williams, is regularly lauded by the NCAA and coaches association for his “ethical” behavior.

There is an old saying that the NCAA is so upset with the actions at UNC that they put UNC-Wilmington on probation for ten years. In this case, it almost seems that the NCAA is working with the University to try and make the entire issue go away. It is a stark contrast to how the NCAA handles much less significant scandals at other institutions. Read the rest of this entry →

U.S. Open – Catching Lightning in a Bottle (Twice) 0

Posted on June 15, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Andy North won only three PGA Tour events, but two of them were U.S. Open Championships.

Andy North won only three PGA Tour events, but two of them were U.S. Open Championships.

If you need any other illustration of how crazy the world of sports can be, all you need to look at is the history of the U.S. Open golf tournament. It is a tournament where two of the greatest champions of all-time, Phil Mickelson and Sam Snead, have a combined total of 10 runner-up finishes without never hoisting the tournament trophy, while there are 5 players over the last 50 years who have won the U.S. Open multiple times without winning any of the other three major titles.

Here is a look at the careers of those five champions who “got lucky” multiple times:

Hale Irwin – 1974, 1979, 1990 – Of the players whose only grand slam championships are at the U.S. Open, Irwin was the most successful in the other tournaments. He had at least one top five finish in each of the other three major championships, including a tie for second place at the British Open in 1983, and a total of 10 top 5 finishes and 20 top 10 finishes in majors. After winning his first U.S. Open in 1974, Irwin finished in the top 10 in each of the four majors in 1975. However, it would not be until 1979 when he claimed his second U.S. Open at the Iverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Between 1980 and 1984, Irwin had four top 8 finishes at majors. However, he finished no higher than 14th in a major for the remainder of the decade. So, it was quite a surprise when at the age of 45, he defeated Mike Donald in a playoff to become the oldest U.S. Open Champion. His final run at a major title was in 1993 when he finished tied for 6th at the PGA Championship at the age of 48.

Andy North – 1978, 1985 – Anyone who watches golf analysis on ESPN is familiar with Andy North. He has been part of their golf coverage for more than two decades. North played college golf at the University of Florida before turning pro in 1972. In 1975 he registered his first top 5 finish at a major with a fourth place showing at the PGA Championship. In 1977 he won his first PGA Tour title capturing the American Express Westchester Classic. The following year he claimed the U.S. Open title by a single stroke over J.C. Snead and Dave Stockton. Though he finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Open in 1980 and 1983, he had very little success in other major tournaments prior to the 1985 U.S. Open. He overcame a four-shot deficit during the final round to win the tournament by a single stroke and claim his second U.S. Open title. He made only a handful of cuts at major championships over the remainder of his career. Read the rest of this entry →

June 11th – A Hall of Fame Birth Date 0

Posted on June 11, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Ernie Nevers

Ernie Nevers

There aren’t many days that mark the birth date for multiple members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but June 11th happens to be one of them. In fact, three all-time legends were all born on the date: Ernie Nevers (1903), Vince Lombardi (1913) and Joe Montana (1956).

Ernie Nevers (1903-1976) – A member of first class of Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrines, Ernie Nevers was a five-time All-Pro in five seasons for the Duluth Eskimos and Chicago Cardinals. A college star at Stanford University, Nevers was part of the NFL in the early, less structured era. In 1926 he played both ways and was on the field for 1,714 of a possible 1,740 minutes during a 29 game schedule. Playing for the Chicago Cardinals in 1929, Nevers scored all 40 points (six touchdowns and four extra points) in a 40-6 victory over the Chicago Bears. In 52 official NFL games during his five seasons, Nevers scored 38 touchdowns, while also kicking 51 extra points and seven field goals for 301 career points. During his career, Nevers served as player-coach of both the Eskimos and Cardinals.

Vince Lombardi (1913-1970) – Known as one of the greatest coaches of all-time, Vince Lombardi actually had an interesting and storied journey in football even before leading the Green Bay Packers to five NFL titles in the 1960s. As a college player at Fordham University, Lombardi was one of the famous “Seven Blocks of Granite” on the front line. After coaching at the high school level, Lombardi spent time as an assistant coach at Fordham and Army before getting his first job in the NFL. He was a 41-year-old first-time NFL assistant with the New York Giants in 1954. He served as the offensive coordinator with future Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry leading the defense. The Giants won the NFL title in 1956 and lost to the Colts in the famous 1958 championship game. After being rebuffed for several college and pro coaching gigs, Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers in 1959. In his first season, he led the Packers to their first winning record since 1947. The next year they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Championship Game. He went on to lead the Packers to five NFL Championships as well as victories in the first two Super Bowls. Lombardi retired as head coach of the Packers after the 1967 season, but returned to the sidelines in 1969 leading the Washington Redskins to their first winning season since 1955. He passed away from stomach cancer in 1970. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Super Bowl trophy is named in his honor. Read the rest of this entry →

Waiting for the Weekend: Back from the Abyss 1

Posted on June 09, 2017 by Dean Hybl
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant each have been in the conversation about the greatest player in NBA history.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant each have been in the conversation about the greatest player in NBA history.

When I started Sports Then and Now in 2009, one of the regular features of the site was a weekly Friday column in which I took a more in-depth look at a couple hot button topics in the world of sports. You may remember that in 2009 the country was struggling with unemployment at a level unseen for many years and I, like many others, was facing a time of being under-employed and had a bit more time to share my perspective about the world of sports.

Fortunately, my battle with under-employment was short lived and now as a country our unemployment levels are at all-time lows. While I have managed to find the time to continue Sports Then and Now as a web site, I have not had the same level of time to focus on the site as I did in 2009. Though I have been fortunate to have some quality articles written either by myself or in many cases other talented writers to keep the site going, things like my weekly Friday column became a victim of my busy life that not only includes a full-time job, but two kids and right now multiple youth sports coaching gigs.

However, I recently decided that I miss having a weekly platform to share some of my musings about sports. While I admit I may have a greater affinity for my work than deserved, I hope that my nearly 50 years as a sports fan as well as my training as a journalist makes my efforts at least somewhat entertaining.

Regardless, I have decided that beginning with this week, it is time to bring “Waiting for the Weekend” back after a seven year “sabbatical.” I promise to weekly give some thoughts and ideas about the current happenings in the world of sports, tie them to sports history when I can, and make them as entertaining as my talents allow.

So, without further delay, here we go:

Is LeBron the Greatest Ever? Does it Matter?: Even though it appears that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to fall short of a second consecutive NBA Title, the fact that LeBron is appearing in the NBA Finals for the seventh straight season has necessitated the obligatory discussions about whether he is the greatest player in NBA history.

While I have my own opinions regarding LeBron’s historical status as well as the current talent level of the NBA, the question I have for anyone who fuels the discussion is why does it matter? When I was a kid we heard stories about the greatest from the early generations of NBA history including George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson. In the 1970s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving ruled the day. In the 1980s it was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The 1990s were dominated by Michael Jordan with Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Karl Malone among those earning honorable mention. In the 2000s it was Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal ruling the land before LeBron took over.

The point is that regardless of what generation you connect with, there were NBA players who stood out above the crowd and were the best of that era.

Just given the physical evolution of the game and the methods of physical fitness, there is no question that LeBron James has a level of physical ability and skill that is unmatched in basketball history. However, that doesn’t necessarily make him the greatest player ever or conversely ensure that he isn’t the greatest of all-time.

Though by the time I was old enough to follow the NBA Wilt Chamberlain was better known for making car commercials with jockey Willie Shoemaker than he was for his basketball dominance, during his peak, Chamberlain was as dominant in terms of physical ability and skills as Jordan in the 1990s or LeBron today.

However, some would argue that because Bill Russell and a Boston Celtics roster filled with stars routinely kept Chamberlain from winning a title, Russell was better and Chamberlain was flawed. Read the rest of this entry →

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    • Paul Blair: Defensive Whiz
      May 30, 2017 | 9:21 pm

      Blair-OriolesMore than 40 years before current stalwart Adam Jones first patrolled centerfield for the Baltimore Orioles, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month roamed the field with grace while also providing the Orioles with timely hitting for more than a decade.

      On a team that built its strength through pitching and defense, Paul Blair fit perfectly. He is one of seven members of the Orioles from that era who won at least three Gold Gloves and is tied with Mark Belanger for the second most in team history.

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