Archive for the ‘MLB’ Category

Over the weekend Derek Jeter became just the 28th player in Major League Baseball history to reach 3,000 hits and the only New York Yankee to ever reach that plateau. Think of all the Yankee greats: from Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle, from Joe DiMaggio to Reggie Jackson, and now Derek Jeter stands alone at the top.

Not only is Jeter the undisputed leader of baseball’s most storied franchise but he just may be the man who saves Major League Baseball. And right now MLB needs Jeter more than ever.

The main baseball stories of the first half of the season have been the Los Angeles Dodgers being thrown into bankruptcy, the Washington Nationals coach, Jim Riggleman, quitting after the club did not give into his demands for a contract extension, the perjury trial for Roger Clemens and the tragic death of Shannon Stone, a fan who fell out of the stands while trying to catch a souvenir ball for his son.

Baseball needed a feel good storey and they couldn’t have found a better leading man. Jeter comes off as a genuinely nice guy. There is no runaway ego like many other pro athletes. There have been no accusations of steroid use.  And by all accounts he has a pretty squeaky clean personal life.

Even Red Sox fans would begrudgingly agree that Jeter is a nice guy.

He is also one of a dying breed. Jeter is one of the few professional athletes who have played their entire career for only one team, which is almost unheard of nowadays. We live in an era where superstar athletes routinely jump from team to team for a bigger paycheck or trying desperately chasing a championship to try to validate their legacy.

One word that always comes up when describing Jeter is “classy.” He has spent his entire career in the pressure cooker that is the New York media and has never had a meltdown, never demanded a trade and never lobbied to get a manager fired. He has quietly picked up five championship rings and a mantel full of awards. And he did it all with class.

Regardless of whether you dislike the Yankees or American League-style baseball, you have to like Derek Jeter. He is living proof that sometimes Nice Guys finish first.

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The world is just a little safer today because Barry Bonds has been convicted on one count of obstruction of justice. It is now safe to leave your homes.

Bonds can now add “Convicted Felon” to his resume alongside “Seven-Time MVP” and “All-Time Home Run Champion.”

The jury could not come to a verdict on the three counts of perjury that Bonds was also tried for. According to legal experts the guilty verdict for obstruction doesn’t make sense. Their argument: How can you obstruct justice without lying or deceiving? I will leave that argument to the lawyers and the writers for “Law and Order.”

The bigger question is this; Was it all worth it?

Even though he could face up to 10 years in prison, it is very unlikely that Bonds will spend any time in jail. For similar offenses, others have received six to 12 months of home confinement. And I’m sure Barry’s home is pretty nice. His lawyers are already talking about appealing the verdict so there may not be a sentencing hearing for months. He will most likely get fined but Bonds is a multi-millionaire. How much is that going to hurt?

The US government had to try Barry Bonds. They couldn’t let him thumb his nose at the legal system. They had to make an example out of him. They just came up a little bit short.

In the court of public opinion (outside the Bay Area) Bonds has already been found guilty. You don’t have to be Perry Mason to come to the conclusion that Bonds has used steroids. And that verdict may be the one that hurts Bonds the most.

With this conviction his chances of getting elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame are pretty much shot. Which, in a way, is a shame because Barry was a Hall of Fame caliber player when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates? (That’s right; he was with another team before the Giants. Go ahead, Google it.) Bonds was voted league MVP seven times in his career. Two of those came in a Pirates uniform. If a player with his stats were to be kept out of the Hall of Fame, that would send a stronger message to current players than any courtroom verdict ever could.

So if he had the natural skills to dominate in the league to begin with, why take steroids? As silly as it sounds, it was peer pressure.

All of the heavy hitters were juicing back then. From Jose Canseco to Mark McGwier and Jason Giambi. Hell, even the pitchers were taking steroids. Barry had to juice just to keep up. And I am not saying his to defend Barry Bonds in any way. I am a lifelong Los Angeles Dodger fan and any tragedy that befalls the Giants is okay with me.

I am bringing it up so we can all understand the context of why Barry did what he did. It’s a bit sad that a player with his talent felt the need to cheat in order to stay on top. No matter what uniform he is wearing.

When I was asked to write an article about great black athletes I was a little hesitant. I didn’t want it to be a list of the most popular athletes of all time. It would be too easy to include Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or LeBron James.

I wanted to honor those athletes who not only changed the face of their respective sports but also contributed to the community around them. I wanted to honor athletes that transcended sports and helped change the culture of this country. These are people who I feel who embodied what Dr. King was all about.

5. Jackie Robinson: He was the first black player in Major League baseball. In ten seasons he played in six World Series, was named to six consecutive All Star Games and was the first person to win the MLB Rookie of the Year Award. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired is number, 42, across all teams.

 We have all heard stories of what he was forced to endure during his career, fans threatened his life and called him every racial epithet in the book during games. Some players threatened to strike if he was allowed to play. Even some member of his own teammates didn’t want him there. Through it all he kept his poise and dignity and became a legend.

After his death, his wife, Rachel, founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which provides scholarships for minority youths for higher education. So far, over 1,400 individuals have received scholarships.

4. Jesse Owens: During the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Jesse Owens won four gold medals. But that was just part of the story. Adolph Hitler wanted to use the games promote the Nazi party and his theory of Aryan supremacy. With every gold medal he won, Jesse Owens stuck it Hitler and every white supremist in Germany.

When he returned to the United States he was celebrated with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Unfortunately, he was forced to ride a freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to attend a reception in his honor. He was never invited to the White House or given any honors by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Owens was quoted as saying, “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

3. Hank Aaron: Aaron played 23 years in the Major league and was an All Star 21 times. He is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s all time home run record.  At the end of the 1973 season Aaron was one homerun short of tying the record. During the off season he was besieged by hate mail and death threats from people who did not want to see a black man break Ruth’s record.  Even writers who were supportive of Aaron were receiving death threats.

During that time Hank Aaron stated that his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season. His home run record stood for 31 years until Barry Bonds (with a little help from BALCO) broke it in 2007.

2. Muhammad Ali: Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest boxer of all time. He is an Olympic gold medalist and a three-time World Champion.

Brash and outspoken, he is the godfather of every larger than life sports personality out today. Without Ali there would be no Floyd Mayweather or Terrell Owens. But his legacy is far greater than titles or sound bites.

He spoke out against an unjust war in Vietnam. He endured having is championship stripped from him and being banned from boxing for refusing to fight in Vietnam. A large part of America started to view him as a villain. He faced 5 years in prison for his protest. His case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where a lower court conviction was overturned.

1. Jim Brown: Jim Brown played in the NFL for nine years. When he retired he held records for single season and career rushing, the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and all purpose yards. He has a career average of 104.3 rushing yards per game. For my money, he is the greatest football player ever. He is a member of the Pro Football Hal of Fame, the College Football Hall of fame and the Lacrosse hall of Fame (he was All American at Syracuse University).

But he is more than just a football player. He was a civil rights activist. During his early years in the NFL he helped found the Black Economic Union, which helped in the establishment of black-run businesses. He also helped establish urban athletic clubs and youth motivation programs. In 1988 he founded the Amer-I-Can program which works with kids involved in gangs.

My nephew, Evan, is three years old and I fear that he will grow up never playing baseball. This is actually a fear that I have. I want him to have the same awesome childhood that I had and that means laying baseball.

Football, both Pro and college, dominates America now and will only grow stronger as he grows up. The NBA puts out a great product that is visually appealing and more and more kids are playing soccer every day.

I figured the only way I can get him interested in baseball is to show him some great baseball movies.

Since we are headed into the MLB postseason I thought it would be a good time to list my Top 5 Baseball Movies of All Time. That way, in case anything happens to me, there will be a document for him to follow and learn about the Great American Pastime. (Actually, I figured List Articles are pretty easy to put together and I feel lazy today. Plus, I’m pretty drunk.)

So, here we go.

5. The Sandlot. Kids playing the game for the fun of it. A new kid, Smalls, moves into the neighborhood and bond with the local kids through baseball. It’s a great story. Me and my boys still use the quote; “You’re killing me, Smalls,” to this day. This movie also gets on the list because Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez grows up to be a Dodger. Can there be a happier ending than that?

4. Major League.  The first love the city of Cleveland ever got on film as far as I know. It was made before the Indians made their run at the World Series, only to be denied. It was a foreshadowing of LeBron’s treason, if you ask me. Still, it is a great underdog story. They were a team of misfits put together to lose, but won just to spite their evil owner. And check out the cast; Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen, Rene Russo, Tom Berenger and Corbin Bernsen. How can you possibly go wrong with Snipes and Sheen?

3. Eight Men Out. This is a great telling of the 1919 Black Socks scandal. It’s hard to believe that a team that good would throw the World Series until you realize what a total douchebag Charlie Comiskey was. And now he has a stadium named after him. It kind of makes you wonder why you should be a good person. But throwing a game is possibly the worst thing you could ever do, in my opinion. The integrity of any game must be upheld. And it has a great cast; John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Christopher Lloyd and D.B. Sweeney.

2. Bull Durham. This is possibly Kevin Costner’s finest role ever. He is a veteran minor-leaguer, Crash Davis, who is brought in to handle pitching phenom Tim Robbins, aka Nuke LaLoosh. Susan Sarandon sexes up the picture with a classic role as Annie Savoy. Even though it was about minor league baseball it is still a classic. As a bonus, Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh are the greatest names in cinematic history.

1. Field of Dreams. “If you build it, he will come.” That line will never, ever be forgotten. Kevin Costner does it again. Another great role for him. Not as good as Bull Durham, but a great performance. This dude builds a baseball diamond in his corn field and channels the ghosts of the 1919 Black Socks and his dad. It doesn’t get any better than that for a baseball fan. If you don’t cry at least once during this movie you are dead inside and I don’t want to know you.

So there you have it. That is my list. Some of you may disagree with it but you should be secure in the knowledge that you are wrong.