Jose Fernandez: Baseball lost a true stud 

Miami Marlins righthanded phenom Jose Fernandez threw his last pitch on Tuesday, September 20th against the Washington Nationals. He completed eight innings and struck out 12 batters from one of Major League Baseball’s best lineups. The kind of game baseball appreciators would have seen for years from the talented kid who was always smiling. 

On September 25th, he died tragically in a boating accident. He was 24 years old. Far too young to die. When you least expect it, death and life come together in an ungodly fashion and take a bright young person away. Nearly two years ago, the fine young St. Louis Cardinals talent Oscar Taveras died in a drunk driving car accident. The feeling this morning is eerily similar. A shot to the stomach. 

The baseball world lost a true stud. What is a stud? When someone is merely doing their job and it becomes an event to watch them do that job, that person is a stud. When Fernandez pitched, it was an event. Akin to a Saturday night PPV boxing match or playoff game in October. 
On July 28th, Fernandez faced the Cardinals for the last time and surrendered 5 runs and lost. A fellow Cuban star connected to Fernandez’s path, Aledmys Diaz, hit a home run off of him. It was a true event to watch the two childhood friends square off. You could take away the other players on the field and leave the pitcher, catcher, and the hitter standing between them at the plate and it would be electrifying entertainment. 

There should have been more Fernandez and Diaz showdowns. More back and forth talent contests. Fastballs clocking in close to 100 mph taking their chances with premium bat speed. Man, that’s just tough to swallow. 

That is the kicker. We will never know what Fernandez could have been and it’s painful. He had the makings of Felix Hernandez with a dash of Max Scherzer and Carlos Martinez thrown in for good measure. His MLB career will conclude with a 38-17 record, 2.58 ERA, and 589 strikeouts in just 471.1 innings. His ERA+ was 150, which is ridiculously unfair to hitters in any ballpark. He averaged 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings. 

He was the kind of pitcher who made the best hitters in baseball glare back at him after a strikeout as if they were mentally calling the baseball police for the pitcher  being especially mean to their bats. Fernandez was a special talent. 

More so, he was a budding family man. His young wife is expecting their child and Fernandez couldn’t have been more excited. In an Instagram post showing off his wife’s beautiful baby bump, he talked about the journey a kid would take them on and preached, “family is first.” He wasn’t just a talented athlete. Fernandez had his priorities straight and was a good guy. 

He was heavily involved in a charity foundation that fought cancer and raised awareness for its victims called Live Like Bella. He wanted to do good things. This is a guy who saved his mother from drowning when they were defecting from Cuba. It didn’t matter if there was a baseball diamond or not, Fernandez brought his A game every single day of his life. 

Now, he is gone. Way too soon. 24 years old isn’t long enough for anyone, but Fernandez made a dent in his short yet robust life. 

I’ll remember the fiery competitor that was easy to admire and respect. 

I’ll remember the smile that illuminated a packed stadium every time it stretched. 

I’ll remember the look on a hitter’s face when he was overmatched by a Fernandez offering. 

Most of all, I’ll remember the kid’s heart that seemed larger than life. 

Jose Fernandez was on top of the world, and now he is out of it for good. 

Take a few moments today. Watch some highlights. Watch him pitch. It will make you feel better about the game of baseball. 


Gordie Howe: Worth traveling back in time for

There will never be another hockey player like Gordie Howe. He passed away after 88 hard fought years.

When I finally catch up with Doc and the DeLorean, there are a few places I am going.

I am going to watch Bob Gibson act like a wizard on the pitching mound at Busch Stadium in 1968.

I am going to watch Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight like warriors in the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975.

I am also going back in time to watch Gordie Howe play hockey.

“Mr. Hockey” finally gave out Friday at the age of 88 years young. He went peacefully and surrounded by his loved ones. This world was no longer fit for his presence. Howe, a legend for the Detroit Red Wings and owner of four Stanley Cups and the gusto of a war ship, is someone every hockey fan should know about and understand. Continue reading “Gordie Howe: Worth traveling back in time for”

Peyton Manning: Take the ring and hang it up

With a second Super Bowl and 200 wins, it’s time for Peyton Manning to hang up the cleats.

That’ll do, Peyton Manning.

Aided by a vicious defense led by Von Miller and a running game anchored by C.J. Anderson, Manning has collected that elusive second Super Bowl, with Denver beating the Carolina Panthers 24-10. The one he needed to vindicate a Hall of Fame career that hopefully ended on Sunday night in San Francisco.

Manning became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. He became the only quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He has collected 200 wins, between the regular season and the playoffs, and that is also a record. Add in a slew of regular season records and Manning has done it all. For the postseason, he completes 63 percent of his passes and threw 40 touchdowns against 25 interceptions.

Manning admitted in the week leading up to Super Bowl 50 that he wasn’t exactly Bruce Springsteen anymore. “I’m still a part of the band. I’m not the lead singer, but I can still play a few solos.” He isn’t what he used to be, but that was by design. The Broncos defense, the quickest in the lead, didn’t need Manning to be Joe Montana out there. Wade Phillips defensive schemes were more than enough to sink the ship of Tom Brady and scramble the brain of the young Cam Newton. All Manning had to do was take the field, limit the mistakes, make some precise passes and hand the ball off.

He went from  the guy who wasn’t supposed to play football five years ago after four neck surgeries to a guy tossing a two point conversion at the end of Super Bowl 50 to pound the nail into the coffin of another team. The Colts cast him off after he was deemed damaged goods. When he brought Denver back to the Super Bowl two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks embarrassed him. He was denied against New Orleans years earlier. Today, he can wake up and acknowledge that he was able to bring the Broncos back to the promised land at the rye old age of 39 years old. The only guy who can claim to do that this late in the game is the guy who brought Peyton to Denver. A man named John Elway.

Now, Manning should ride off into the sunset. Hop on a bronco, grab his hat, sit high and ride off. He should say no to that lame offer from Stan Kroenke and the LA Rams when it comes in. Flip Stan the bird as you ride past his house. He has no reason to go out there and be a part of that circus, unless he wants to be laid out at least 4-5 times per game behind that weak offensive line. The Rams are 5 years away from thinking about a Super Bowl, so forget it. There’s no need to be Johnny Unitas or Joe Namath on a football field, existing as more of a prop and marketing tool than an actual football player. Manning should walk away a champion while his back is straight and his brain is intact. Very few players leave when it’s right in their head and heart.

Let me give you some numbers before I leave.

In his career during the regular season, Manning completed 6,125 passes for 71,940 yards(40.8 miles worth). He threw 539 touchdowns and 251 interceptions while fumbling 47 times in 266 games with a 96.5 passer rating. He won a pair of Super Bowls to go with those stellar stats.

Peyton Manning will retire. Bet on it. He will rest, talk with his family, hug his son, kiss his wife and drink some Budweiser. He’ll film a dozen commercials and host Saturday Night Live. He will hang out, reap the rewards of a 17 year career. He will hang out a little and decide if he has thrown his last pass. Sometime this month or next, before the NFL draft unfolds and training camp uncoils, Manning will call it a day. He can’t go out on a higher note and will hopefully resist the Brett Favre body assault tour.

Peyton Manning loves football, so I can only hope he takes that passion to the sidelines and becomes a coach. He won’t be able to stay away and will stick around to keep an eye on his brother and the upcoming fleet. He has one of the smartest minds in the game and doesn’t need to be a color analyst next to Joe Buck or cram into a booth with Boomer and Steve Young. Be a coach. He will make a great head coach one day.

When Manning threw his last college football pass, I was a freshman in high school. When he won his first Super Bowl I had been married for two years. As he contemplates retirement, my son is four years old. Every football fan has their guy. The one they root for no matter what. Manning is my guy.

It’s time for my guy to hang it up. He’s at the top of the mountain. Everybody is looking up at him now. He is the star. One last time. There’s a reason several Broncos and Panthers players broke out their camera phones to snap photos of Manning and get a moment with him.

Everybody wants to share the stage with a legend.

The Tackle: 16 Years Later

16 years ago, Mike Jones made an unforgettable tackle to save the Super Bowl for the Rams.

January 30th, 2000. Super Bowl XXXIV. The night of “The Tackle”. The evening Mike Jones never paid for a drink again in any St. Louis bar.

My dad and I were nervous. Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans were like the boxer that wouldn’t go down. The St. Louis Rams had outlasted the Titans to this point without completely finishing them off. Jevon Kearse had done his best to rip Kurt Warner’s head off all night, but the Rams were a step in front. The Rams were up 23-16, and McNair was going to drive down the field like there was no defense, only doors that kept opening with short smart and timely passes. Whether it was a handoff to Eddie George or a slant that the Rams didn’t see because they were in prevent mode, the Titans were charging.

In addition to this stressful moment, my best friend Josh wouldn’t put the guitar down. He was in that “I want to be the next Stevie Ray Vaughn” stage where’d he pick up a guitar, strum about 3/4 of a song, struggle and then start over. All night, he wouldn’t put the instrument down. My dad must have thought about tossing him through the window(it was a short fall).

Finally, as McNair started the final march, my dad said, “Okay, Josh, that’s enough. Seriously” I’ve never seen my friend so shell shocked but my dad was right. This was important. My dad and I never saw a Super Bowl team before. I’d only been following this team for five years, freshly scrubbing off the bandwagon paint from my clothing. We couldn’t believe what was happening. St. Louis was in denial for the past four months, thinking they were politely stuck in some fever dream that wasn’t ready to end yet. Warner had been marking up cans of corn in a grocery store a short time ago, and Dick “Glass Case of Emotion” Vermeil hadn’t led a team here since the Eagles years and years before. The Titans, led by the young(and actually good) Jeff Fisher, were tenacious and wanted to shock the world, defeating the Greatest Show on Turf.

After scoring 49 points against the Minnesota Vikings and barely squeaking by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams had done just enough to stay ahead tonight. Or did they?

McNair, suddenly was more elusive than ever before. Kevin Carter and D’Marco Farr couldn’t find him, reach him or chase him down in time. He rolled out and found Kevin Dyson streaking across the field, towards the end zone on a slant that couldn’t be denied. Linebacker Mike Jones, in an interview with Fox Sports, said the defense was running a base 77, which was a cover defense. It was a man to man setup, but a bracket coverage where the safety dictated the play. Jones said he was lined up to stop the tight end, but had his eyes on Dyson the entire time. When he stopped him, tackling him in perfect form, wrapping his legs and having Dyson fall like a tree, it was before the one yard line. To Dyson, it was just another tackle. To the rest of the coaches, players and the city of St. Louis it was the football equivalent of a closer in baseball firing the final strike past the hitter to seal the championship.

When it happened, my dad and I sprung up in elation but had to temper it to make sure it was actually a stop and the game was over. When it was over and Jones had saved the game for the Rams, it was party time. Honestly, all I could focus on was not falling down the stairs which were a short leap away. For the first time in St. Louis, a Super Bowl was in our possession. No matter what has happened since, I will never forget that furiously entertaining fall and winter of football in St. Louis. Warner coming out of nowhere to lead the way with Marshall Faulk driving the car with wingmen Issac Bruce and Torry Holt. I’ll never Jones, a formerly respected yet widely unknown linebacker, being the last line of defense.

The banners can be taken down, but the tackle will never fall. Roger Goodell can slam St. Louis with every possible greedy lying manipulative move, but he can’t take this away. He can hand the extra 100 million to California dreaming teams like San Diego(which is the biggest slap in the face to St. Louis ever) but he can’t demolish memories.

16 years ago, Mike Jones made the tackle and the Rams won the Super Bowl. It may sting now and sit in a bitter corner inside your heart but it should never waver or go away.

No NFL team adoption for me

When the Rams left STL, my NFL team affiliation left with them.

When the Rams left St. Louis on January 12th, my team affiliation was gone. For good. While I hold a special place in my football heart for Peyton Manning(something that has been there since his debut), I won’t merely drop my Rams devotion and pick up another team like I would buy a new shirt at a clothing store. Where’s the special in that?

I’ve always been a traditionalist when it comes to sports. I root for St. Louis sports teams, because those are the teams I grew up on. I don’t root for a team because everyone else does or because it’s cool or would create millions of hot take articles. I was born into the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team but was too young to know about the Cardinals football team in St. Louis. When the Rams came calling in 1995, I saw it as a chance to truly love and follow an NFL team. I was 13 years old. Ready for get fully acquainted.

Now that Stan Kroenke has come, waved his money flag like a can of rogaine in the late 1990’s, I see no reason to cheer for the Rams or any other football team. I laugh and sneer at the people who grab another team within a week and change their Facebook and Twitter profile or cover images to that team. How is that even possible? How can that happen so fast? The NFL isn’t even that great of a sport to just switch to another team.

A bunch of guys smashing into each other repeatedly, lowering their brain strength and longevity in life one head smash at a time. The NFL sucking millions of dollars from fans while not caring about their own players. The writing has been on the wall for years. Maybe having an NFL team like the Rams, horrible or not, concealed the wound. That blockage is gone now. All I see is greed, a waste of time and a pure vault of energy to be relocated elsewhere.

So when 2016 begins, I won’t be following a team. Manning will be retired and there are other players worth watching, but the blood pressure drive and addiction to follow the sport will be gone. That deteriorated when the Rams left town and the true ugly of Roger Goodell and the NFL showed their colors.

The NFL stabbed St. Louis in the back. How? Before you toss dome guidelines at me, let me tell you the NFL didn’t have to drag this out. They could have simply saw the money potential in LA and agreed to move the team to LA. Forget rules. The NFL makes up rules as they go along. Who cares about the thousands of fans in St. Louis who saw a good stadium plan come to fruition and some hope restored. Dave Peacock got it all in place, and even got the funding from the city and state. Forget how late Francis Slay or Jay Nixon was to the party. It got approved. Instead of giving St. Louis an extra 100 million, Goodell offered 100 million EACH to Oakland and San Diego to stay put. That’s a knife into the back. The NFL didn’t just tell us no. They showed us a secret pathway to the promised land, led us there for months and in the end all we saw was a brick wall of denial.

The NFL will never get my money again. It barely got much of it. I’ve slowly moved away from the league, covering it and watching it over the past 2-3 years. It goes deeper than the Rams moving. I moved to Arkansas in December of 2014 and didn’t even seek out the NFL Network package. I didn’t do it in 2015 either. While I followed the Rams from afar and wrote about them a little, I started to detach. That could have been from being distanced, knowing Stan would get his way or maybe a slow disinterest in a league that ONLY cares about money and promotes greed. It all just started to stink. Why should I lend passion to a league that doesn’t give back? If I do that, my son may think it’s a good idea. No way. I am done.

Super Bowl 50 may be the last one I really watch with intent. Thank Manning for that. That’s loyalty that may be flawed but it’s real. It’s my last ride too. Next year, I may watch. I may not. One thing is for certain. Passion will be less if not remote. I won’t watch with that burning desire to get a certain outcome. That’s gone.

For all of you who jump to the Kansas City Chiefs or Arizona Cardinals or another team this summer, I won’t judge or mock you. I may laugh a bit. Question your reasoning and newfound loyalty. Some people need the NFL for financial(fantasy football) or personal reasons. Some of you just need it.

I don’t need it. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. I can’t just pick up another team and act like the Rams never existed to me. Where’s the special in that?

Tommy Hanson: Gone too damn soon

Former Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson passed away at 29 Monday. A sudden brutal loss.

Tommy Hanson was 29 years old. Six years ago, he was one of the game’s brightest young pitching talents. He made his pitching debut with the Atlanta Braves on June 7th, 2009. He won 13 games that season, compiling a 2.89 and finishing 3rd in NL Rookie of The Year. He won 45 games during his first four seasons before shoulder injuries struck him down. He hadn’t appeared in a Major League game since 2013. He was pitching for the San Francisco Giants in the minors this past season. Late Monday night, NBC Sports confirmed  via an MLB source that Hanson had passed away after catastrophic organ failure.

On Sunday, Hanson went into the hospital after experiencing trouble breathing. Earlier Monday evening, Hanson fell into a coma. A variety of tests were run but to no avail. There were no prior events that could have prepared his family or his friends for this kind of situation. According to all sources available, Hanson didn’t have any previous serious issues other than getting his shoulder 100 percent and getting back to the Majors. This is worse than tragic. This is unfair.

Any time an innocent 29 year old dies, it’s a sad story. Everybody should reach 30. Everyone should get that chance. Hanson didn’t do drugs. He didn’t drive drunk or hurt anyone. He was a baseball player. He was a guy who didn’t give up when the league told him he couldn’t make a comeback. The Braves traded him to LA for current Cardinals pitcher Jordan Walden. Hanson spent an injury plague 2013 season with the Los Angeles Angels before pitching minor league ball for the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, and the Giants the past two seasons.

In 2014, debuting with the Charlotte Knights, Hanson talked about having two weeks in between jobs after the Rangers released him where he was throwing baseballs against a fence and with his wife rolling the ball back to him. All he could think about was getting back to the big show.

That’s life. It can be so simple minded and goal driven at one moment and then it can be gone. For Tommy Hanson, it all started at Redlands East Valley High School in California. After moving there from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hanson started his career. He was drafted in the 22nd round in 2005. He would be the #2 prospect in the Baseball Prospectus. After it all fell apart, Hanson never stopped pitching.

If we can learn anything from Hanson’s passing, it is make every moment count. There’s a clock on your life and we never know when it’s going out. You can be healthy as ever at one moment and then gone. It’s a privilege and not a right. It’s also not fair. It doesn’t matter if you know him or not. It doesn’t matter what his views were. It doesn’t matter. He’s gone and it’s sad.

Rest in peace, Tommy Hanson. Gone too soon.

What Goes Up Must Come Down, Daniel Murphy

With one misplay in the field, the curtain on Murphy’s World Series struggles was revealed.

Game 4. The Mets lead The Kansas City Royals by a thread,3-2. Top of the 8th inning. 1st and second, one out. Eric Hosmer turns over an inside pitch and sends a weak grounder towards second baseman Daniel Murphy. He charges, and the ball slips under his glove. Ben Zobrist scores from second. Lorenzo Cain to third. Only one out. Game wasn’t over but it felt that way in Citi Field. Blue and orange clad Mets fans looked on in disgust. Happy Halloween, Mr. Murphy. What goes up must come down, Murph.

May I call you Murph? Is that okay? Can we get on a platonic Robocop friendship going on here? After all, we are both Daniel’s and right now the internet is turning you into Bill Buckner’s younger brother. The other first baseman who ironically enough was playing the Mets in the 1986 World Series and let an easy grounder slip under his glove. History has a way of kicking someone right where they least expect it.

Murphy has enjoyed a rather historic 2015 postseason. This isn’t an average player coming to superhero life in October. Murphy is a career .291 hitter with a .424 slug who just put together a fine regular season. In only 130 games, Murphy drove in 73 runs and hit 14 home runs to go with a .449 slug and 113+(OPS sliced up into the particular park Murphy plays in). This isn’t a southpaw finding his way. Murphy has become otherworldly in the postseason. The Dodgers had no answers for him. The Cubs couldn’t figure him out, pitching him inside and outside or all around the plate. He cranked home runs in six consecutive games and they all had a signature impact. He was Roy Hobbs for 2 weeks but as sports teaches the lot of us, the good will be followed by some bad if you play long enough. Murphy’s law? Almost.

In a vacuum, Murphy’s overall postseason is still strong. His 7 home runs and 11 RBI to go with a .764 slug still shine bright, and he made a snazzy play on a double play grounder to end the 8th inning and hold the Royals to a 5-3 lead. He stopped the bleeding but that came after he popped a few stitches.

Murphy has played in over 920 games in his Major League career, which started back on August 2nd, 2008. There’s a good chance he will remember this one the most unfortunately. Athletes remember the duds over the greats. The goats over the heroes. That is wired into their DNA as young players. The good burns only half as bright as the bad, especially in the playoffs. Before Game 5 opens tomorrow in New York with the Mets backs up against the wall, fans will rip him in coffee shops and bars. “Looks like the Murphy magic ran out!” “Too bad his bat was left in Chicago!” All of it will be said and some of it will be written by NYC scribes wanting clicks while the Yankees are down.

Murphy has nowhere to hide here. He hasn’t had a good series. He is 3-17. Five strikeouts and two walks. Here’s the thing. He has zero extra base hits. All singles. No home runs. No doubles or triples. It doesn’t matter anymore what he did on October 21st(4 hits, HR). It doesn’t matter that in Games 2-4 against the Cubs he had a combined eight hits and three home runs. It’s in the past. Gone. Floating like a bird down the subway.

It wasn’t all Murphy’s fault. The Mets bats have fallen silent far too often. Jeurys Familia has come into two games with a lead and watched it all collapse, even though the second time wasn’t entirely his fault. Jacob deGrom was human. Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard didn’t have great games. Yoenis Cespedes is kicking balls all over the outfield. Things have gone bad. However, the white knight in Murphy looms large right now.

All that matters is today. What does Murphy do to redeem himself? Comebacks in sports are a great thing to watch. Watching an athlete rise from the ground and get it all back. I guarantee Murphy didn’t sleep last night. Clocks fell back but his mind sprung forward. All he can think about is Game 5. The bright lights. The win or go home mentality that won’t leave his or the rest of the team’s mind.

As Sean Connery’s wise old cop asked Kevin Costner’s Elliott Ness in The Untouchables, “what are you prepared to do” Daniel Murphy?