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The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

April 10, 2008 under Cheap Seats

In 1979, just ten years after they had captivated the Big Apple as the Amazin’ Mets, New York’s National League franchise had sunk to the lowest point in its history.  Not only did they steadfastly refuse to participate in baseball’s new free agent market, they stood by as the crosstown rival Yankees embraced the new system on their way to two World Series titles.  The denizens of Shea became so miserly that they traded the face of the franchise, Tom Seaver, and had co-owner, Bebe DeRoulet inquire in a board meeting as to whether the organization could save money by using old baseballs.
Finally, to the relief of the Met faithful, the team was sold and the new owners coaxed Frank Cashen out of the Commissioner’s office; assigning him the task of reviving the Amazins.  He soon drafted Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, traded for Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter and turned the reins over to manager Davey Johnson.  Six years later, they were, once again, World Champions.

Around the same time, the Giants had plummeted to depths so low that one of their fans hired a plane to fly over the stadium during a home game trailing a banner that read,” 15 years of lousy football…We’ve had enough!”
The entire losing era was symbolized by a single play that came to be known as “The Fumble.”  Quarterback, Joe Pisarcik, botched a handoff to Larry Csonka when a simple kneel- down was all that was necessary to end the game.  The Eagles scooped up the ball and scored the game winning touchdown, sealing the fate of head coach, John McVay.  That off-season, on the recommendation of NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, the Jints persuaded longtime Colts’ GM, George Young, out of semi retirement and charged him with saving the franchise.  Young started the reclamation project by hiring Coach Ray Perkins, who led the team to the playoffs in 1981.  He selected quarterback Phil Simms in his first draft and then turned his attention to the defense, using his first pick in 1981 to grab Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.  When Perkins left for the University of Alabama, Young turned the club over to Bill Parcells, who guided the Giants to Super Bowl titles in 1986 and 1990.

Now, all of these years later, we find the Knicks in the same predicament as the Mets and Giants.  Mismanaged for years and disgraced by scandal, they have become the laughingstock of the league; suffering through a period of ineptitude that can be traced all the way back to the decision to trade Patrick Ewing rather than let his contract expire.  They have been struggling unsuccessfully to establish some kind of salary cap relief ever since.

For the past four seasons, owner Jim Dolan, for reasons known only to him, has staunchly supported Isiah Thomas through a litany of horrendous trades, ridiculous contracts and a sexual harassment lawsuit that cost Dolan $11 million.  Last week, Dolan finally gave long suffering fans a glimmer of hope by installing former Pacer GM, Donnie Walsh, as President of the organization.  One of the most respected men in the game and cut from the same cloth as Cashen and Young, it will be up to Walsh to resurrect the NBA’s most visible franchise.  With no choice but to spend the next few seasons allowing bad contracts to expire, his first move should be jettisoning Thomas.  It is that decision, however, about which Knick fans should keep their collective fingers crossed.  While it is seemingly unthinkable that Thomas would be allowed to continue as coach after such a dreadful performance, it is equally difficult to imagine that Dolan, after standing by Thomas in the face of enormous public outcry for his firing, has suddenly become disloyal to Isiah.  Add in the fact that Walsh did hire Thomas as his Head Coach in Indiana and one can see where the possibility exists that Dolan hired Walsh simply because he was the only potential executive who would agree to take the job and keep Thomas on the sideline.  Stay tuned.

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One aspect of the NCAA basketball tournament that has become an annual fascination is the amount of responsibility handed to freshmen and how routine it has become for them to lead their teams through the post season.  It is hard to imagine that UCLA could have won its region without Kevin Love, while Derrick Rose was simply the best player in the country during March Madness ’08.  Either could be tabbed by Donnie Walsh in the June draft to lead the Knicks back to respectability.

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Joba Chamberlain’s performance over the first ten days of the baseball season should terminate any discussion of making him a starter.  Not only is his 98 MPH fastball almost impossible to hit late in the game, he also protects the aging Mariano Rivera from having to make two inning save appearances.  Why mess with success?
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The theme in Mets camp this spring seemed to be a focus on the fundamentals that were forgotten during last September’s collapse.  So, it was surprising to see Luis Castillo cost the Mets a run in the first inning of the opener by not running hard on a two out popup that dropped for a hit.  Four days later, Ryan Church cost them another run by failing to tag up from third on a liner to left.  Veterans or not, Willie Randolph needs to drop the hammer on these guys before it’s too late.

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Can someone explain why, time after time after time, basketball coaches whose teams are up by three points at the end of a game allow the opposing team the chance to tie with a three point shot rather than instructing their players to foul and give them the enemy just two foul shots instead?  Many coaches will explain that by fouling, you bring the possibility of a loss into the equation.  If the opponent should hit the first shot, miss the second, get the rebound and hit a three pointer, it’s over.  Sane people counter with the simple mathematical observation that it is more prudent to force a team to accomplish those four things rather than the one thing needed in knocking down a trey.  In the latest occurrence of this silliness, Memphis coach, John Calipari, gift wrapped a National Championship for Kansas.  Maybe such a high profile blunder will change the way these guys think in the future.

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The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

March 27, 2008 under Cheap Seats

It has become the greatest event on our yearly sports schedule.  The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament sends even the most casual fans into a three week frenzy of bracket watching.  Last Wednesday, not many of us were aware that Western Kentucky had even won its conference tourney.  As they lace up their sneakers tonight, however, most of us now know that the Hilltoppers’ leading scorer is senior guard, Courtney Lee.  Every year, even with all of the whining on Selection Sunday from the teams that were left out, a Goliath like Tennessee finds itself hanging on for dear life against Davids like American and Butler.  Any of the so called experts that think the tournament accommodates too many of the smaller conferences should test his theory this week in an open forum on the campus of Davidson College.
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As the curtain rises on another baseball season, it’s hard not to notice some conspicuous holes in the rosters of our two local teams despite all of the money each has spent.  In Flushing, general manager Omar Minaya may very well have assembled the National league’s best pitching staff but, it remains to be seen how often the Mets will be able to put a healthy lineup on the field behind those hurlers.  Over the bridge, on River Avenue, the Steinbrenners put their $200 million dollar Yankees into the hands of three young pitchers and a manager with only one year of experience.  It will be interesting to see how either team reacts to a slow start.
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It was ironic to listen to Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach, Seth Greenberg, moan about his team’s exclusion from the tournament.  Do you think the Hokies’ fortunes may have been changed had they bothered to recruit Davidson guard, Stephen Curry?  After all, Curry’s father, longtime NBA sharpshooter, Dell, is one of only four Virginia Tech players to have his number retired.
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After three months, six tournaments, five days and a rain delay, Tiger Woods finally lost in 2008.  Only 32, Woods already has 64 Tour victories; just 18 shy of the all-time record.  You have to go all the way back to Babe Ruth to find an athlete dominating his sport the way Tiger is right now.  Even more amazing is that he is just entering the prime of his career.  Jack Nicklaus raised some eyebrows a few years back when he predicted that Tiger would win 10 Masters’ titles. At this point, 10 looks like an understatement.  Good luck to the rest of the field next month in Augusta.

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I guess Bobby Knight is finding out that this media gig is a little tougher than he always thought.  On ESPN’s Selection Special, Knight, when asked his opinion of those bubble teams who may have been unjustly left out of the tourney, instead went on a two minute rant about how the field should be expanded to 128 teams, leaving the others on the panel dumbfounded.  It is interesting, however, to see the contrast of the sweater-clad General seated next to Digger Phelps, a man so dapper that he switches his highlighter pen to match the color of his tie.  Memo to Knight:  Wearing the sweater instead of a suit does not in any way diminish your hypocrisy.  You have spent your career railing at the media but now, when a network is willing to throw some cash in your direction, it’s all of a sudden not such a bad deal?

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The term, “March Madness”, has taken on a completely different meaning for St. John’s hoop fans as their beloved Johnnies have failed to make the Big Dance since 2002 and have managed to log just one appearance in the Big East tourney
during the four years that coach Norm Roberts has been at the helm.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that so many rosters in both the conference and national fields are populated with kids from New York City.  There was a time when prep stars from the Big Apple put other schools on hold as they waited for St. John’s to call.  Longtime coach, Lou Carnesecca, used to joke that his recruiting budget consisted of a roll of subway tokens.  Not anymore.  This year alone, two Mc Donald’s All-Americans, Sylvan Landesberg of Holy Cross and Rice’s Kemba Walker, have declined invitations to play their college ball in Queens.  If Coach Roberts continues to swing and miss in his own backyard, his fifth season with the Red Storm could be his last.

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How could we open a Baseball season without making bold predictions for the coming year that seem well thought out in April and become laughable in October?  Well, here goes.  In the Senior Circuit, Joe Torre will create enough stability in the clubhouse to forge a productive union between veterans and young players and propel the Dodgers to the West division crown.  Francisco Cordero becomes the final piece of the puzzle in Cincinnati as Aaron Harang, Adam Dunn and Brandon Phillips help Ken Griffey return to the postseason.  A season long nail biter will develop in the East with the Mets riding their superior pitching to a narrow victory over the Braves, who grab the Wild Card. In the AL, the Mariners take advantage of injuries to the Angels’ pitching staff and steal the West title.  The Tigers and their new third basemen, Miguel Cabrera, will hardly be tested as they coast to the Central title.  In the East, the Red Sox ride a healthy David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to their second straight East title while the Yankees barely hold off the Blue Jays for the Wild Card.  In the Fall Classic, look for the Tigers over the Braves.  As for awards,   start engraving the MVP plaques with the names of Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur in the NL and the aforementioned Cabrera in the AL.  Cabrera may actually win the Triple Crown.  As for the Cy Young, Johan Santana celebrates his first year in New York with his third while Jonathan Papelbon is recognized for carrying an injury riddled Red Sox staff to the crown.

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With all of the focus on college basketball, I’ve been a little distracted.  Are the Knicks still in the NBA?

The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

March 13, 2008 under Cheap Seats

Now that Spring Training has finally started, it’s a pleasure to, once again, be discussing the actual on-field events of baseball.  I had almost “misremembered” how much fun it is.  Fun, however, is probably not the word Mets GM Omar Minaya is using as he spends each day visiting his starting outfield in the hospital or trainer’s room.  Moises Alou (hernia), Carlos Beltran (knee) and Ryan Church (concussion) all must have Minaya wondering how prudent it was to ship Lastings Milledge to the Nationals.  Maybe Johan Santana can play the outfield on his off days.  Seriously, the Amazins need to place a call to the Angels and inquire about Juan Rivera.  A rising star who sat out last year with a broken leg, he currently resides on L.A.’s bench due to an overcrowded outfield. ….  Across town, while it’s true that the Yankees did well to resign their core of Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, they have essentially done nothing to improve a team that trailed the Red Sox from wire to wire in ’07.  In fact, the case could be made that they are weaker at some positions, especially defensively.  AL baserunners are licking their chops at the thought of taking extra bases on Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui as at least one will have to man left field. ARod, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano can’t be too happy about throwing across the diamond to Jason Giambi who, like Michael Jackson, wears a glove on his left hand for no apparent reason.  With the Blue Jays improving, it will be interesting to see just how much of daddy’s DNA was inherited by Hank Steinbrenner, especially if they finish third.  Those rookie pitchers had better produce. …  The Jets went on a free agent spending spree last week, committing more than 70 million dollars to four free agent linemen.  Seven time Pro Bowler, Alan Faneca, garnered the biggest contract in league history for an offensive lineman, inking a deal for $40 million to fill a hole created when the club refused to give Pete Kendall a $1 million dollar raise last year.  With that kind of sound, economic policy, is it any wonder that season ticket holders face increases every year?  None of this will matter, however, if Gang Green can’t find a quarterback.  Am I the only Chad Pennington fan left standing?  Memo to Eric Mangini:  Chad’s your man. …  The Big East Men’s Basketball Championship opened at the Garden yesterday, with St. John’s on the outside looking in for the third time in the four years that Norm Roberts has been at the helm. Further frustrating fans of the Red Storm is the fact that many of the participating teams are led by New York City players that St. John’s failed to sign or decided not to recruit.  There was a time when all of the Big Apple’s players put other schools on hold as they waited for a call from Lou Carnesecca.  Hasn’t anyone noticed that the Johnnies’ fall from the top of the conference started at the same time that they stopped getting city players?  Now, most of the blame for that lies with Mike Jarvis, who guided the program into its most embarrassing era ever and completely disregarded the hoops hotbed that was merely a subway ride away.  But, Roberts, who should be credited for bringing  high character people into the fold, has made little progress in mending fences with CHSAA and PSAL coaches and players.  With St. John’s watching McDonald’s All Americans Sylvan Landesberg (Virginia) and Kemba Walker (UConn) leave the city this year, season five of the Roberts era might be the last…   Nate Robinson scored 46 points for the Knicks last weekend in an overtime loss to the Blazers.  Amazingly, many Knick fans were heading for the exits while the hometown team was down three in the last minute and still more left as the overtime began.  A sad statement for what was once the signature franchise in the league.  The Blazers, by the way, are one of four teams who have improved themselves after unloading disgruntled “stars” on the Knicks.  The Bulls, Nuggets and Suns have all benefited from the same generosity.  Looks like there might be more to putting a team together than just assembling talent…  Finally, there’s this question for all of the deliriously happy Giants fans as they continue to revel in the glow of their Super Bowl title.  Does Eli Manning still stink?


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