Tales of Unsigned First Round HS Pitchers, Part 1

UTSanDiego.com
UTSanDiego.com

When the Astros and Brady Aiken, their first overall pick in the 2014 draft, failed to reach agreement at the signing deadline, the entire baseball world was utterly flabbergasted. A couple days after the draft, the 6’4”, 210 lbs, southpaw reportedly accepted the Astros‘  original signing bonus offer which came out at $6.5 million.

However, an MRI discovered something physically unusual in Aiken‘s pitching arm – an abnormally undersized UCL. Concerning about the potential risk of Tommy John surgery, the Astros reduced their offer to $3.16 million. Aiken and Casey Close, his adviser, didn’t like the move, and the sides moved apart. The Astros increased their offer to $5 million at the very end, but Aiken never took it.

As a result, Aiken joined the club of “unsigned overall 1st picks in the history of the baseball draft” as the 3rd member, which consists Danny Goodwin from June 1973 and Tim Belcher from January 1983.

Now we know how it turned out. Aiken joined IMG Academy‘s post-graduate program to reboot his stock for the upcoming 2015 draft. Unfortunately, in his first outing with the squad, he exited the game after just 12 pitches due to an elbow injury that eventually required him to undergo Tommy John surgery – just like the Astros foresaw.

Even though he’s unable to throw for another few months, Aiken is seen as a first round pick in the 2015 draft, although it’s hard to see someone offering him $5 million again. So, in hindsight, Aiken should have taken the Astros‘ final offer, even if it was an insult to him.

This led me to wonder how these stories ended up in previous cases. Using Baseball America‘s Draft Database, there have been 12 pitchers, other than Aiken, who went unsigned when they were drafted out of high school since 1987 when they ditched the January draft.

In this 2-part series, I inspected how life treated each case. Some gained benefit from the decision, while some others went on to disastrous careers.


Alex Fernandez, 24th overall, 1988 

Spokeo
Spokeo

Fernandez forewent the Brewers‘ $110,000 signing bonus offer to attend a Miami area JuCo. After transferring to University of Miami after his Freshmen year and spending a spectacular campaign as a Hurricane, he went as the 4th overall pick in the 1990 draft and signed a $350,000 bonus with the White Sox. He spent 10 years in the big leagues before shoulder injury cut his career short at the age of 30.  The Cuban descendant put up a career 115 ERA+, and struck out 1252 while walking 552, in 1760.1 innings.


Scott Burrell, 26th overall, 1989

Burrell, a 6’5″ right-hander out of Hamden High School in Connecticut, was also known as a basketball star. He turned down the Mariners‘ offer, which was reportedly more than $110,000, to play basketball at University of Connecticut.  After being selected in the 5th round in the next year’s draft by the Blue Jays, and signed for “first round money,” Burrell played briefly in their farm system over the parts of two following seasons.

Inside Hoops
Inside Hoops

His professional baseball career wasn’t as successful as his basketball one, which lasted more than seven years in the NBA.

 


Chad Hutchinson: 26th overall , 1995

Much like Burrell, the San Diego native stood at 6’5″ and was known as a two-sport athlete in high school, though he was a baseball-football guy.  He was selected 26th overall in the 1995 draft by the Braves, who offered a $1.5 million signing bonus.  Rather than playing in the minor leagues for the next few years, Hutchinson accepted a two-sport scholarship from Stanford University, where he pitched for the baseball team in the spring, and played quarterback for football team in the fall over the next 3 years.  With

AP Photo
AP Photo

an MVP award in the Sun Bowl and a trip to the College World Series under his belt, Hutchinson re-entered the draft in 1998. He went with the 48th overall pick this time, and signed a $3.4 million major league contract with the Cardinals. He could have gone higher than that, in fact, there were buzzes from some evaluators that considered him as the best pitching prospect in the class, but many teams thought it would be tough to sign a deal with him; hence, he slipped this low.  Despite breaking camp with the Cardinals in 2001, he got sent back to triple-A after an obscene 24.75 ERA and 17.05 FIP in 4.0 innings, and he never made another

AP Photo
AP Photo

appearance as a big league pitcher. After his baseball career came to an end after the 2001 season, Hutchinson went on to play QB for the Cowboys and the Bears, but his career in NFL lasted no longer than 3 years.


Matt Harrington, 7th overall, 2000

If William Shakespeare wrote a story about baseball,  it would be about Matt Harrington. This is arguably the saddest and most tragic story in baseball draft history.

Entering the 2000 draft out of Palmdale HS near Los Angeles, the right-hander attracted scouts everywhere from the States with his 98 MPH fastball. Baseball America, Gatorade, and USA Today named him the best high school player in the nation that year. Due to signability concern, he slipped to the Rockies’ pick, 7th overall. Their $2.2 million initial offer was far apart from Harrington’s asking price, $4.95 million. Negotiations after negotiations, the Rockies finally offered that $4.9 million, but it was as a salary over 8 years, and forced him to give up 3 arbitration years. Tony Tanzer, Harrington’s adviser, insisted that he reject the offer. And the sides never came close thereafter.

ESPN OTL
ESPN OTL

After a brief 19-inning stint with the St. Paul Saints,  one of the most well-known independent league clubs, Harrington re-entered the draft in 2001. Losing the fastball velocity he once possessed, as well as his stock as a player, he slipped to the 58th overall pick with the Padres. Their offer was somewhere around $1.2 million. Scott Boras, who had taken over the role as Harrington‘s  new adviser, told him not to take it.  Once again, he did not sign.

His fall from grace continued.

Harrington spent another year in independent ball, splitting time between the Long Beach Breakers and the Fort Worth Cats.  The Rays took him in the 13th round of the 2002 draft, but he didn’t take the offer.

5 more seasons in independent ball, 2 more draft selections and rejections, and one not-so-impressive spring training with the Cubs later, Harrington found himself working at Costco as a tire-repairer, for 11 and a half bucks an hour.

This is an extreme case of a player falling off a cliff after turning down big money. You can read more about the sad saga of Matt Harrington in this ESPN story,  written by Amy K. Nelson back in 2009.

This is part 1 of 2-piece series. Part 2 will be out later date.


Kazuto Yamazaki is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @Kazuto_Yamazaki.

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Alabama Football: Is The Crimson Tide’s Dynasty Over?

Nick Saban has spent the last eight years building the Alabama football program into the most dominant program in the nation. The Crimson Tide‘s time in the sun is now over as spread offenses and simple complacency have signaled the end to Alabama‘s run.

USA Today
USA Today

Saban took over the Alabama program in 2007, and has produced a 91-17 record during his tenure as the head coach in Tuscaloosa. He has averaged over 11 wins per season by transforming the Crimson Tide into a college version of an NFL team.

Alabama wins by shutting the opposition down with an elite defense, and pounding the ball and controlling the clock on offense. Saban‘s coaching philosophy mirrors the philosophy of old NFC East teams where a strong running game and a stout defense equaled victories.

College football has changed during Saban‘s tenure, and he still has not adjusted to the times. Alabama has lost games in January for consecutive seasons for the first time under Saban.


The Spread Dilemma

The majority of college football teams in America are now running the spread offense. This flies in the face of traditionalists like Saban who prefer to line up and physically beat teams. The issue for Saban is that spread teams have historically given his defense fits.

The spread allows offenses to spread defenses out, and minimizes the advantages of opposing teams that have superior talent on the defensive line. This means that smaller programs who lack the recruiting prowess and tradition of Alabama can play with them on the field.

In the past, the team with the most talent and ability on the offensive and defensive lines won the game. The spread allows teams with average talent on the offensive line to score points in bunches against teams with superior defensive talent.

AP
AP

Alabama has lost four games during the past two seasons. All four of those opponents ran spread offenses. In those four losses, the Crimson Tide defense allowed an average of 36 points per game.

In the past two seasons, that Alabama defense has allowed 16.3 points per game. Obviously Saban‘s defenses have issues dealing with spread offenses.


Passers and Pass Rushers

The best way to stop the spread offense is to put consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. If a defense can disrupt the rhythm of the quarterback, then the spread offense will stall.

This has been an issue for Alabama because they have not had an elite pass-rusher on their defense for years. In 2014, Xzavier Dixon led the Tide in sacks with nine in 14 games. In 2013, A’Shawn Robinson led Alabama with 5.5 sacks in 13 games.

Saban‘s defenses do not excel at putting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Only twice during his eight years in Tuscaloosa have the Tide produced a defender who averaged more than half a sack per game: Dixon in 2014 who averaged 0.64 sacks per game, and 2011 when Courtney Upshaw averaged 0.73 sacks per game.

USA Today
USA Today

If you cannot consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, you will not be able to consistently beat spread teams. Alabama lost to Ohio State in the 2014 college football playoffs because they could not get pressure on Buckeye quarterback Cardale Jones, and he completed multiple long passes on third downs to extend drives.

If you cannot shut down spread offenses, you need to be able to outscore them to win games. Saban has recruited a number of elite receivers to Alabama, including Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. Unfortunately he has not been able to develop an elite quarterback.

Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide have not had a quarterback who averaged 250 yards passing per game. The closest they got was in 2014 when new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin installed elements of the hurry-up spread offense, and Blake Sims averaged 249.1 yards per game.

The quarterbacks under Saban have always been expected to manage the game rather than be true playmakers. This changed a little bit under Kiffin in 2014, but the Tide enter 2015 with major questions at the position.

Senior Jacob Coker is expected to start at quarterback in 2015. David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman are competing with Coker at the position. Coker was expected to beat Sims out in 2014 but was not up to the task.

Alabama has recruited exceptionally well under Saban. According to 247Sports.com, Alabama has signed the best recruiting class in the nation five years in a row. They are accustomed to reloading every offseason, not rebuilding. Alabama‘s roster may be tested by the number of losses on the offensive side of the ball from the 2014 team.

The Tide graduated three members of their offensive line, their starter at running back and all three of their starting wide receivers. Alabama returns two starters on an offense that has not won a bowl game in two years.

They return one starter from a secondary that struggled mightily to get off the field on third down late in the 2014 season. The bottom line for Alabama is that unless Derrick Henry has a huge junior season at running back, the Tide will struggle to remain among the elite teams in college football.

Saban was able to dominate college football early during his tenure in Tuscaloosa by running a superior program to everyone else in the college game. The opposition has caught up to Alabama, and the Tide‘s dynasty is over.


Mike Taglienti is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeTag98.

 

Deflategate: Where Do We Go From Here?

ABC News
ABC News

If you are an avid sports fan or just a casual fan, by now you have surely heard of “Deflategate.” The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are in the spotlight for (GASP!) cheating, once again.

While this is not earth-shattering news in and of itself, it may show a pattern of rule-bending. I’m not accusing the Patriots of anything, but the facts do speak for themselves. Let’s take a look at where this saga is headed.


Fool Me Once…

spygate1The 2007 New England Patriots videotaping controversy, widely dubbed “Spygate,” refers to an incident during the National Football League’s 2007 season in which the New England Patriots were disciplined by the league for videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals during a September 9, 2007 game. The Patriots were videotaping the Jets’ coaches from their own sideline, which is not allowed.

Videotaping opposing coaches is not illegal in the NFL, but there are designated areas allowed by the league to do such taping. The act was deemed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to be in violation of league rules. After an investigation, the NFL fined Patriots head coach Bill Belichick $500,000 (the maximum allowed by the league, and the largest fine ever imposed on a coach in the league’s 80+year history) for his role in the incident, fined the Patriots $250,000, and docked the team their original first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, which would have been the 31st pick. The fine garnered significant media attention for being the “maximum amount” an individual could be fined.

When it came time to penalize the Patriots for their latest transgression, the 2007 incident gave the League the precedent they needed to establish a pattern of calculated and deliberate attempts to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.


Glass Houses

Photo by Maddie Meyer
Photo by Maddie Meyer

Now we arrive at the current day. The New England Patriots were charged with deflating footballs used in a playoff game. “Deflategate” is a major controversy in the NFL, stemming from allegations that the New England Patriots used underinflated footballs in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts on January 18th, 2015.

Depending on who you believe, many claim that the Patriots have been cheating for years and are just now getting caught.

Before you get all hot and bothered, you might be surprised as to who ELSE has been rumored to have doctored footballs before and during games. In a report published by NESN, the Indianapolis Colts may have done the EXACT same thing. The report stated:

The NFL was alerted to the Deflategate situation by the Indianapolis Colts, who lost to the New England Patriots 45-7 in last season’s AFC Championship Game. Turns out the Colts might not be choirboys themselves.

In the Patriots’ Thursday rebuttal to the Wells Report, the team said it supplied evidence about the Colts’ potential wrongdoings. The first came from a Colts-Jaguars game that took place sometime before the 2014 season. “Evidence was also provided that Indianapolis ball boys, in a prior season, had been seen by Jacksonville personnel with ball needles hidden under their long sleeves,” the Patriots wrote in “The Wells Report in Context.” Separately, the Patriots pointed out the Colts took a PSI reading of a football during the AFC title game, which is an NFL rules violation. “Once the game starts, neither team is allowed to gauge the footballs, pump them, or the like. That is solely the province of the referee, who is to be the ‘sole judge’ of whether footballs comply,” the Patriots wrote. “The Colts, with advance concerns about PSI, did not take the issue to the referee. They took the matter into their own hands and had an intern gauge the football. (pg. 63) This conduct was in violation of Rule 2. Nowhere does the Report identify this conduct as a violation of the Rule.”

What are we in, third grade? I got caught cheating, so I’m going to turn you in? What do you think? Is this sour grapes, or do the Colts have some “’splainin” to do?


Brady’s Day in Court

ABC News
ABC News

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided this past Thursday that he’ll be the one to preside over the appeal filed by Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady.

The NFL said in a released statement, “Commissioner Goodell will hear the appeal of Tom Brady’s suspension in accordance with the process agreed upon with the NFL Players Association in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.”

The NFLPA did NOT want any part of Goodell, and had specifically requested that a neutral third party hear Brady’s appeal. The Commish decided otherwise.

“Given the NFL’s history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal,” the NFLPA said in a statement when Brady’s appeal was filed on Thursday. “If Ted Wells and the NFL believe, as their public comments stated, that the evidence in their report is ‘direct’ and ‘inculpatory,’ then they should be confident enough to present their case before someone who is truly independent.”

Under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Goodell has the option of hearing Brady’s appeal himself, or designating an officer to hear the appeal. The NFL commissioner also could have sent the case to a neutral arbitrator. Obviously, Goodell went with option A.

With Goodell presiding over the appeal, it’s likely going be tough for Brady to get his four-game suspension reduced, mainly because Goodell himself signed off on the punishment.

This can only mean one thing. Lawsuit.

USATSI
USATSI

You can bet that once Goodell upholds the 4-game suspension, the NFLPA/Brady/New England Patriots will file suit in Federal Court.  One has to wonder what Goodell is thinking. By taking over in hearing Brady’s appeal, Goodell has all but finalized the 4-game suspension, thus opening the door to a major lawsuit. One that he will have a hard time winning.

As numerous outlets have reported, there is no DIRECT EVIDENCE that Brady told anyone to deflate footballs. The Wells Report got as close as possible to pinning the rule-breaking on Brady.

“For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.”

Is that the smoking gun?

This will most certainly land in civil litigation, and the League is going to be hard-pressed to win this one. Perhaps Commissioner Goodell should have sat this one out; that’s the only way he can save face over what is quickly becoming his Waterloo.


Ronnie Garcia is the Voice of Reason at The Scoop. He is also an avid guitarist, educator, and all around smarmy guy. You can follow him on twitter @TheRonMann.

NHL Western Conference Finals Preview

NHL_Western_Conference.svg

Anaheim Ducks vs Chicago Blackhawks

Game 1: @ Anaheim May 17 (Ducks 4-Blackhawks 1)
Game 2: @Anaheim May 19
Game 3: @Chicago May 21
Game 4: @Chicago May 23
Game 5: @Anaheim May 25*
Game 6: @Chicago May 27*
Game 7: @Anaheim May 30*
*if necessary

Season series: Chicago won two of the three games this season, outscoring Anaheim by a total of 8-3.


Chicago Forwards

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune

One word comes to mind when I think of the Chicago Blackhawks forwards: Deep. They can roll four lines and use their forecheck to wear down the opposing defense. It all starts with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are easily a top five offensive duo in the league today. Marian Hossa seems to have the puck find him in the playoffs, and Patrick Sharp is one of those players who can turn it up a notch when May rolls around. Add in rookie Teuvo Teravainen with his high skill set, and these forwards will give the Anaheim defense all they can handle.

Anaheim Forwards

NHL.com
NHL.com

They are large and very talented. Corey Perry, highly skilled and who some may call the best agitator in the game, will be a focal point for the Chicago defense. Ryan Getzlaf is a pure playmaker; his vision and ability to hold the puck and draw defenders to him are amazing. By garnering the attention of defenders, it opens up his line mates. Bringing Ryan Kesler into their forward group was a wonderful addition. Kesler gives Anaheim depth at center and makes the opposing defense have to worry about a second scoring line.

Advantage: Chicago


Chicago Defense

NHL.com
NHL.com

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are perhaps the most dependable blue line pair in the league. The loss of injured Michal Rozsival will be an obstacle to overcome, but they have eager players who are ready to step up to fill the void. David Rundblad and Niklas Hjalmarsson will be relied upon heavily to move the puck out of the defensive zone and start the rush on transition.

Anaheim Defense

NHL.com
NHL.com

To say the Ducks defense is stingy would be underselling them. They aren’t fancy by any means, but they get the job done. They aren’t considered a shot-blocking squad, but they find a way to keep teams from even thinking about taking shots. They exit the defensive zone quickly due to their mobile defenders: Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. The way they carry the puck and can be thought of as extra forwards reminds me of how Paul Coffey and Sergei Zubov would command attention.

Advantage: Anaheim


Chicago Goalie

USATSI
USATSI

Corey Crawford finally regained the starting spot, and he was superb against Minnesota with a .947 save percentage. Crawford won the Stanley Cup in 2013, and it appears that he is back in that form. Good for Chicago, not so much for Anaheim.

Anaheim Goalie

USATSI
USATSI

This is Frederik Andersen’s playoffs. After going back and forth last postseason, he has made a statement this year, going 8-1 with a goals against average of 1.96. He rarely falls victim of the soft goal, and directs rebounds away from the middle of the ice.

Advantage: Chicago


Chicago_Blackhawks_LogoThe experience of Crawford and the core of Chicago‘s roster should give them an edge in what shapes up as a fantastic Western Conference Finals. Andersen will end up with a Cup or two, but not this season. He will use this series to build on what should be a stellar career. The Blackhawks win a thriller in seven games…and Game 7 might just creep into double overtime.


Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.

 

My Life with Josh

“I’m not a hero. I’m not the savior.  Forget what you know.  I’m just a man whose circumstances went beyond his control, beyond my control.  We all need control.  I need control.  We all need control.”  — Dennis DeYoung

I am not an addict, although sweet tea comes really close for me.  I will not pretend to be an expert on addiction.  I know enough to know that addiction is hell.

However, I do live with an addict in my sports life.  His name is Josh Hamilton.  He left me for a couple of years, thinking there was more out there for him than me.  Now, suddenly Josh is walking back into my life.

And as a Texas Rangers fan…I am conflicted.


In the fall of 2007, the Texas Rangers had A-Rod money to spend after Alex opted out of his Rangers deal and inked a new deal with New York.  With a full wallet, they searched for a big-time centerfielder through free agency or trade.  Rumors swirled around Torii Hunter, Jim Edmonds, Rocco Baldelli, Aaron Rowand, Coco Crisp, and Juan Pierre.   (Yes, THAT Aaron Rowand.)

AP Photo
AP Photo

Just before Christmas, they found their new centerfielder when they traded prized pitching prospect Edinson Volquez to Cincinnati for Josh Hamilton.  Hamilton finally made it to the big leagues in 2007 with the Reds, after years where great promise succumbed to near-fatal addictions.  While sabermetricians predicted good things for Hamilton hitting in The Ballpark in Arlington, Ranger fans boned up on his backstory and hoped for the best.

And wow, did we ever get the best.

Dallas Morning News
Dallas Morning News

I had a late business meeting in downtown Dallas the night of the 2008 Home Run Derby.  I’ll never know how I drove home safely that night, because tears rolled down my face the whole way as I listened to Hamilton’s performance on the radio.  As ball after ball landed in the farthest reaches of Ruth’s House, and Yankees fans cheered, I could not help feeling joy for Josh realizing his God-given potential on a national stage.  Swear to God, we could have gotten anything the Yankees had if we had offered them Josh Hamilton the next morning.

The Rangers still were not very good yet, but Josh had a great year.  He settled into the area, shared his Christian witness with church youth groups, and quickly became a fan favorite.   He hit baseballs a helluva long way and he threw his body all over center field with abandon.  He provided electric moments and incredible memories for five seasons at Rangers Ballpark.

Occasionally, I listen to Eric Nadel’s call of the walkoff home run Josh hit on July 9, 2011.  That was two nights after fan Shannon Stone tragically fell to his death while reaching for a ball Josh tossed to him and his son.  That homer, that healing moment in time, still gives me chills listening to it today. The video below is from the television broadcast. What a moment it was.

From 2008 – 2012, Josh Hamilton was a baseball beast.

Of course, when we got Baseball Beast Josh, we also got the other Josh.  Snarky Josh with the media.  Silly Josh at Maloney’s Tavern.  Crazy Josh at Sherlock’s.  Whining Josh who blamed his hitting slumps variously on energy drinks, quitting tobacco, personal sin, day games, and his own blue eyes.

THAT Josh.  Recovering Addict Josh.

For five seasons, Josh Hamilton was the greatest player in Texas Rangers history.  He also was our most fascinating character, a volatile mix of testosterone, ego, moodiness, self-doubt, and relapse potential.  He played with a youthful abandon on the field, yet sometimes displayed juvenile behavior off the field.

ESPN
ESPN

Josh’s party in Texas ended in September 2012.  A hitting slump became protracted.  In the last game of the season, with the AL West division on the line, he dropped a crucial fly ball in Oakland.  When he failed to produce at the plate in the Wild Card game, Rangers fans turned on him and booed lustily after each at-bat.  The Rangers lost to Baltimore that night, and the free agent outfielder took his high-wire act to SoCal.

There, he sealed his fate with Texas fans when he famously declared that Dallas-Fort Worth is “not a baseball town.”  He was right, of course, but it still was a cheap shot at Ranger Nation.  Fans dissed him loudly whenever the Angels came to town.

USA Today
USA Today

Soon, Hamilton also lost Angels fans, as his hitting troubles continued and his body began to give out on him.  Off the field, his marriage unraveled.  When he admitted to MLB a still-mysterious relapse of his addictions last February, his Anaheim situation completely tanked.  Owner Arte Moreno could not wait to dump his highly-paid player, believing the relapse was disloyal to his benevolent ownership and toward Hamilton’s teammates.  Texas answered Moreno’s call.

That is how Josh Hamilton ended up on my doorstep, knocking sheepishly and wanting to come home.


Addiction knows no seasons.  When you are on top of the world, feeling secure and invulnerable, the addiction feeds on that.  When you are down in the dumps, feeling unloved and incapable, the addiction feeds on that, too.  It’s why addiction is so insidious.  It attacks you, no matter your mood, no matter your circumstance.

Living with a recovering addict is difficult.  It is not a matter of IF they will break your heart again, but WHEN.   All of your love and support and counsel cannot make the addiction just go away.  You never take the good times for granted.  You pray the bad times are not too bad.


Sometime in 2012, Josh Hamilton lost his mojo.  Baseball came so easy for Josh from childhood on, but now he scuffles around, looking for that magic moment when it all clicks into place and he becomes a beast again.  Hamilton lives for the cheers and chants—needs them, really—but those are far fewer and much farther apart now.

AP Photo
AP Photo

After the latest relapse, Arte Moreno wanted Hamilton to grow up, man up, and stop his self-destructive behavior.  Moreno may not understand addiction.  Josh is not stupid, immature, disloyal, or intentionally self-destructive.  He is an addict.  Every skill, every decision, every emotion, every relationship is at risk every minute of every day from the addiction.  Addiction is not an excuse.  It is a driving force.

Josh Hamilton will never be a Baseball Beast again.  He did not find the formula in Anaheim.  It appears he may have started remembering the formula during rehab stints in Round Rock and Frisco.  Can he help this 2015 Rangers offense?  Sure, but only because this offense is So. Freaking. Awful.

Baseball Beast Josh is gone forever.  Recovering Addict Josh lives on.  All of this begs the question, then, “Why will I let Josh Hamilton back into my sports life now?”

Simply put, Josh Hamilton touches my heart.

After all, this is not Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds, two cruddy personalities who screwed royally with the integrity of the game I love.  He is not Josh Brent who killed a man, or Ray Rice who cold-cocked a woman.  He is not Floyd Mayweather, thank God, a pathetic excuse for a man.  Hamilton is not a stain on civil society or on the game of baseball.

Austin American Statesman
Austin American Statesman

Josh Hamilton is merely a fallen human, a kid in an adult’s aging body who just wants to play baseball like he thinks he still can.  I root for him because I’m fallen, too.  We all are.  He wants to be better at life, and so do I.  I want him to succeed, not just as a Texas Ranger, but much more importantly as a man.  I want him to succeed for his kids and for the kids who wore his last name on their backs for years.

Mine are not the ramblings of a sentimental sap pining for days past.  I know what I’m getting myself into as Josh returns to the Rangers.  Hamilton will piss me off sometimes.  He may get on a hot streak and thrill me for a week or two.  I’m ready for both, if it means that the guy underneath the uniform gets a little more sober and a little more healed.

I listened to his April 27 press conference when both Joshes took questions from reporters.  Baseball Beast Josh got testy over the pointed queries about his aborted time in Anaheim and what he can possibly give Texas on the field.  Recovering Addict Josh talked openly and unashamed about his need for control, having people around him who love him and try to protect him from himself.

Cockiness mixed with concession.   Good grief, it all felt so familiar.


When I met my wife, she knew nothing about baseball.  I took her to her first major league game in 1994.  Over the last 20 years of following the Rangers with me, she has loved only two players:  Ivan Rodriguez and Josh Hamilton.  She still has her Josh memorabilia, even though that dumb “baseball town” statement ticked her off. She roots for him, too, so much so that she got emotional as I read her this article.

Dallas Morning News
Dallas Morning News

I’ve seen Josh play a few times at the Ballpark since he joined the Angels.  I never once booed him as thousands of others did.  Josh Hamilton played a huge role in a magical era for Rangers fans, and for that he always will have this fan’s gratitude and ongoing support.

So if returning to Arlington helps you on your journey, Josh, then welcome home, brother.  Have some iced Gold Peak with me.  My door is open.

Even so, you will break my heart again.   I know it.   It’s just a matter of time.


Bobby Quinten is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @BobbyQuinten.

 

Ballpark Memories of Palmer & Murphy, and One Giant Hot Dog

MLB
MLB

What started out as a seemingly normal family outing to the ballpark to take in some Major League Baseball this past weekend turned out to be a great moment of reflection for me. Not only was it one year to the day since I sat in that very same stadium and, sadly, saw my team lose, but I was also reminded of a couple of former players who made an impact on me. This particular game between the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians would turn out to be quite memorable, and no, not just for the rather large hot dog bun, filled to the edges with chili and cheese and corn chips. (I believe the dog itself was buried underneath, somewhere.)

WKYC.com
WKYC.com

As the Cleveland Indians lined up to bat in the top half of the 1st inning, I soon directed my attention to a familiar face, outfielder David Murphy. While I would say he was a significant fan favorite to the Rangers faithful, there was nothing about his stats in the seven seasons he played here which really stood out. He was a consistently inconsistent hitter and fielder, with moderately unimpressive numbers overall, but stats alone are not what makes every professional athlete popular with the fans.

ESPN
ESPN

Think for an moment about your personal relationships. What are the aspects that make one stand out? We tend to forget the good times when one bad moment occurs, and visa-versa. Either way, the relationship made an impact on your life, and the reason(s) why do not always matter. For me, Murphy was oddly similar to a former Rangers favorite from a generation ago: Dean Palmer. Now, I realize that one is a lefty while the other was a righty. They do not play the same position on the field, either, but when I think about what made me like Palmer versus what makes me like Murphy, that’s where I draw the comparison, and what ultimately makes Murphy memorable, regardless of his overall production.

CBS Sports
CBS Sports

I can point to specific moments, for both of these men, when the game was on the line and everyone in the world watching was thinking, “Oh, no. I’m not sure he can get it done.” Neither Murphy nor Palmer is the type of player who gives you total confidence that you can depend on, but that quality is actually what made those moments of pressure so much greater. You see, when a great hitter steps up, you expect greatness, no matter what. When a poor hitter steps up to the plate, you don’t expect anything. However, when a spotty hitter, such as Palmer or Murphy walks up, you really don’t know what to expect, even when their history has shown you exactly what you should expect. These guys are relatable because we as human beings are known to be unpredictable. We often say we don’t like drama, yet that is most often what we are drawn to.

As I continued digesting my chili cheese monstrosity, I soon discovered another reason why Murphy reminded not just me, but at least one other fan, of why he is reminiscent of Palmer. It came late in the game, the top half of the 7th, to be precise. The score was close, and Murphy was the batter for Cleveland. A fan to my right shouted something to the effect of, “I miss you, Murphy!” Someone behind him asked if he was serious, and the former rescinded his statement, explaining it away as a joke, proceeding to say that Murphy couldn’t hit. Whether I was just caught up in the moment and felt the urge to go on the defense, I posited with the quip, “He’s clutch.”

Much like Palmer, who, also, was not a consistently good hitter, he often delivers the goods when it really counts. Could it be that this is the crux of why fans miss a guy like Murphy? I don’t know, but we all enjoy feeling we are in the right when someone nods along  and echoes your sentiment just seconds after you have made a claim and are proven correct.

Dallas Morning News
Dallas Morning News

As for the rest of the game, the big inning for the visiting Tribe came in the top half of the 9th. The bottom of the order was on deck, and it seemed that the Rangers should have the game in the bag, but closer Neftali Feliz gave up a crucial walk to an unimpressive batter, and a throwing error on a near game-ending double play kept the Indians alive long enough to send red-hot second baseman Jason Kipnis to the plate, who launched a two-run blast beyond right field, granting Cleveland a 10-8 lead. Texas had come from behind several times throughout the game, but came up short when they needed it the most.

By the end of the night, I had enjoyed a competitive game of Major League Baseball, and taken myself on an unexpected trip down memory lane with David Murphy and Dean Palmer. My parents were quick to retreat back home, and I merrily made my way with a flashback to where I was exactly one year ago to the day: At a double-digit Rangers drubbing at the hands of the Chicago White Sox. This May’s game was much more exciting, but in the end, a loss is still a loss. At least I have my memories… And the chili stains on my shirt.


Alex Moore is a Contributor at The Scoop.

NHL Eastern Conference Finals Preview

NHL Eastern Conf LogoNew York Rangers vs Tampa Bay Lighting

Game 1: @New York      May 16
Game 2: @New York      May 18
Game 3: @Tampa Bay   May 20
Game 4: @Tampa Bay   May 22
Game 5: @New York      May 24*
Game 6: @Tampa Bay   May 26*
Game 7: @New York      May 29*
*if necessary
Season series: Tampa Bay won all three games by a total score of 15-7


Lightning Forwards

sportsnet.ca
sportsnet.ca

Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and koNikita Kucherov are a ridiculously good line, and will be tough for the opposing defense to handle. They are highly skilled and very fast. They have to be great in order to push Steven Stamkos to the back burner. Stamkos has struggled to score goals in these playoffs (3 goals in 13 games), but he can still be a force if he gets hot. As for Ryan Callahan, it will be interesting to see how he plays coming off of appendectomy surgery. I’m sure he will be full of adrenaline facing his former team.

Rangers Forwards
Paul J. Bereswill
Paul J. Bereswill

I’m not a big fan of the New York forwards. There isn’t any one player to dial in on for a big goal, but they somehow seem to get the goal when it’s needed. Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard lead New York with five goals apiece. Rick Nash is once again missing in the playoffs; he has two goals during this playoff run. After a 42 goal regular season, it seemed he was poised for a breakout postseason.

Advantage: Tampa Bay


Tampa Bay Defense

USA Today
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Hedman is the puck-moving defenseman that every coach wants. He is fast and has wonderful skill with the puck, the proverbial quarterback on the blueline. Anton Stralman is a defenseman’s defenseman. He may only be 5’11”, but he plays bigger than that.

New York Defense
NHL.com
NHL.com

I’m sure the Rangers wish this series could be played in three weeks. They are in a physical disarray with Dan Boyle getting demolished by Brooks Orpik in game 7 and the beating Ryan McDonagh was issued. They will have to rely on the 6 defenders to play as a unit, and use the home games to match up against the Lightning forwards. New York was third in the league with giving up only 2.34 goals per game during the regular season while having the best goal differential at +60.

Advantage: Tampa Bay


Tampa Bay Goalie

Dirk Shadd - Tampa Bay Times
Dirk Shadd – Tampa Bay Times

Ben Bishop has done well in his first playoff run. He hasn’t been stellar, but good enough to win. He is 6’7″, so he takes up a large amount of the net. When he is focused, his angles are covered and doesn’t let in the team-deflating soft goal. If he can be solid in the pipes and give Tampa Bay a chance to win, then he will have done his job.

New York Goalie
USA Today
USA Today

Henrik Lundqvist. Enough said. He has been superb in these playoffs. He boasts a 1.60 goals against average and a save percentage of .944. He allowed only five goals on 110 shots in the last three games, all wins in elimination games, against Washington. With the game 7 win against the Capitals, he tied Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur with six career game 7 wins. Given the fact that New York has played in 14 straight one-goal playoff games, there isn’t anyone better that New York could chose to be minding their net.

Advantage: New York


Prediction

Tampa_Bay_Lightning_Logo_2011.svgI feel that Tampa Bay wins the series in six games. The Lightning offense should be able to overpower a beleaguered Rangers defensive group.

Matt Molina is a Sports Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.