Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Bloom is Off this Rose

Growing up in Chicago, my favorite players were always local guys, Rick Monday, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and guys like that.  But as a youngster, who started playing little league baseball in 1976, Pete Rose was a guy I loved to watch play.

As a diminutive hitter, I adopted the Rose "crouch" from the left side of the plate, to make it harder for pitchers to throw to me.  When they couldn't, I'd run down to first base after a walk, just like Rose.

I'm probably not alone in this.  Surely kids of my generation would probably tell you the same thing. "Charlie Hustle" was the guy we all wanted to play like. Always on the move, flopping into 2nd base, and the best thing as a kid, always getting dirty.

Now I just feel kind of dirty for admiring him like I did.  Ok, not as a player, but for the person. A man who claimed to respect the game of baseball, did the one thing that you are not supposed to do: gamble on the great American game.  Then instead of copping to it, he denied, and denied and denied it, resulting in a lifetime ban from the game he loved.  The game that crowned him the All-Time hit leader.  The game that made him a household name.  The game that now, he'd give anything to be a part of again.

In September, Rose met with the new Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, in hopes of being reinstated.  Those hopes were dashed as Manfred denied the petition yesterday.

Today during a press conference in of all places, Las Vegas, Rose talked about the tone of his meeting with Manfred, saying, "I tried to be as honest as I could with the commissioner, and I think he appreciated that."  Now from all reports, Rose admitted in the meeting that he still gambles and on baseball.  Wow. So maybe honesty for Rose wasn't the best policy here.

Manfred released a statement yesterday on his decision to keep Rose out of baseball:
 "In short, Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established by the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989. Absent such credible evidence, allowing him to work in the game presents an unacceptable risk of a future violation by him of Rule 21, and thus to the integrity of our sport. I, therefore, must reject Mr. Rose's application for reinstatement."
I'm not saying that everyone that played the game is an honest, sincere and clean cut person.  All you have to do is look back as recently as the late 90's when PED's and steroids ruled the headlines of baseball.  But some of those 'accused' of usage, came clean, apologized, admitted mistakes and were embraced by the game again.  Some. Not all.  Now Rose falls into the latter category. I know in a book he admitted to gambling on baseball as the manager of the Reds.  But has he really admitted it to himself?  Doesn't sound like it.  I'm not trying to be high and mighty here, I'm not perfect, but if he really loves the game like he says couldn't he work on being more truthful with himself?

The statements he's made at his press conference don't lead you to believe he is, or ever will be.  Rose said today that he'll continue "the path of trying to reconfigure my life," and he feels that eventually Major League Baseball will want him back.

Baseball doesn't want him around.  Can you blame it?  If Rose were reinstated, there's a chance he'd be hired by a team as a coach, consultant or front office guy.  Baseball doesn't want Rose influencing players, kids who are still developing as people not to mention players.

Part of me feels badly for Rose.  He's 74 years old, and doesn't sound like he'll ever change. It's truly sad, when arguably the best hitter in the game, will not be a part of it, and will not be in the Hall of Fame.

I hope he'll eventually realize what is going on and make amends.  Not likely, this Rose has too many thorns.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Captain Serious Is Seriously Someone To Respect...

He's only 27 years old and already Jonathan Toews has collected 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Gold Medals, 1 Conn Smythe Trophy and 1 Frank J. Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in the league.  Not a bad resume for a full career, but he's far from finished.

The Blackhawks hit the jackpot in back to back drafts, building toward what we are seeing today.  In the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, then GM Dale Tallon selected Toews with the 3rd overall pick.  The kid out of North Dakota made an immediate impact on the Hawks.   Toews played 64 games, scoring 24 goals recording 34 assists.  The next season, with the first overall pick, the Blackhawks nabbed Patrick Kane, and as they say the rest is history.

The organization showed its' faith in the young player, by naming him the 34th captain in team history in July of 2008. The decision by then coach Denis Savard and then GM Dale Tallon, made Toews the third youngest captain in NHL history.  "There's an aura about him," Tallon said. "He has leadership ability naturally.  It's not something he needs to work hard at.  He just is that kind of kid. We felt we might as well move forward with it and let him grow at that position."  Savard added, "It's a natural fit.  Personally, when I sit down with the staff and my coaches, I know that I've got my mind made up.  I don't care how young you are. He's the type of person that is going to be a great captain for us."  Looking back, wow, what an understatement.

Toews himself that July day nearly 7 years ago, didn't seem overwhelmed by the promotion.  "When people consider you for so much responsibility at such an age, it's awesome," said Toews. "I enjoy the game. It's my life, and it's my passion.  I do take it very seriously, and maybe that's one of the things that rubs off on the other guys."  Thus the birth of Captain Serious.  But have any truer words been uttered by a 20 year old?

The last part of his quote is what amazes me as a fan and as someone who was around Toews for a brief period in 2014.  How does this guy, command so much respect, from not only younger players, but from established veterans and coaches?  To me it's a presence that he has.  Not a rah rah guy by any means, but as he said, Toews has a passion for this game.  He does live it. Why not, he's really good at it.

The other thing about Toews, he gets it. After winning the first of his 3 Stanley Cup's, he hoisted the trophy, then passed it to Marian Hossa who had missed out on winning the cup the two previous years.  In 2013 after hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup, veteran Michal Handzus was next to receive it.  Finally, after the third cup, Toews passed it to Kimmo Timonen the 16 year veteran, who was playing his last ever NHL game.  Aretha Franklin spelled it out, Toews has a genuine R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the game and those who play it.  Maybe that has something to do with the way he is looked at by those he leads.

There are many in the game that respect the 27 year old center.  Included among them, a guy that wore the #19 prominently for the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman, who happens to be the Tampa Bay Lightning GM.  Yzerman thinks Toews is a better player than he ever was.  "Just a better hockey player," said the Hall of Fame player. "The reality is Jonathan's bigger, stronger - better.  I'm not sure I could even take him in a race either, so he's probably faster [too]."  Toews responded in a fashion you'd expect, "Steve is a very complimentary person, and I don't think he'd say anything less than that," Toews said.  "I just take that with a grain of salt.  I think everyone here knows that's pretty much untrue, but it obviously means a lot to hear any sort of praise from a guy like that."

Chicago, feel fortunate that this guy and his running mate Kane are a part of your hockey team. With the surrounding cast in doubt now, because of another ridiculously low salary cap, these guys will make sure the Blackhawks stay competitive. He may not like the monicker of "Captain Serious", but Hawks fans are seriously glad he's here.

Spieth halfway to the season Grand Slam

Masters and US Open Champion Jordan Spieth is halfway to the season grand slam in golf.  He won the US Open after Dustin Johnson 3-putt the 18th hole.  The 21-year old Spieth is the youngest US Open champion since 1923, and the youngest ever to win both the Masters and Open in the same year.  He's in some pretty exclusive company, joining the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer having won both majors in the same season.

Now with the British Open up next, could he possibly win his third major of the season?  Don't bet against him.

By the way, was it just me in thinking the course at Chambers Bay looked like a British Open course? Dry grass in the fairways, huge rough and some almost unfair greens made it look that way to me. Several of the pros complained about the greens, but after all this is a US Open, and it's not supposed to be easy.

*Quotes in Jonathan Toews entry from Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2008, written by Chris Kuc 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Musings...

Just a few thoughts this Monday afternoon...

Bears Release McDonald
I'm not sure what the Bears were expecting from Ray McDonald, but today they got exactly what a lot of people thought would happen from the beginning.  McDonald was released this afternoon after a morning arrest in Northern California on charges of misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangerment.  McDonald has a checkered history to say the least, one so littered in legal issues, that the 49'ers cut him loose in December.

Here's the statement released by GM Ryan Pace today:
"We believe in second chances, but when we signed Ray we were very clear what our expectations were if he was to remain a Bear,"  the statement continued, "He was not able to meet the standard and the decision was made to release him."
There's two schools of thought here, kudos for the quick response, and what the heck were you thinking in signing him in the first place? This was a highly questionable signing from the beginning. This was not actually a second chance for McDonald, it was more like a third or fourth, so there are many wondering why take a chance on this guy, instead of say somebody else?

Again, not a real shock to me how this eventually turned out.  Hopefully the Bears can move on from this, I think they'll be able to for sure.

Big 10 and Bradley
Big 10 baseball is back and with a vengeance.  The conference put 5 teams into the NCAA's for the first time ever.  It boasts the #6 overall seed as well in Illinois.  From doing some games on BTN this spring, I was impressed with the quality of play by the schools, great pitching, and all the teams seemed very fundamentally sound.  What a tribute to the Administrators that took a serious look at baseball at their Universities and identified that facilities needed to be upgraded, and money needed to be spent to get and keep quality coaches. I applaud them and the proof of success is in the preverbal pudding.

My alma mater Bradley University is also in the field competing to get to the college world series for the first time since 1968!  Yes, that was even before I attended the fine school in Peoria.  Kind of tying in with my above statement, the Braves are the #2 seed in the Louisville bracket and will face #3 Michigan.  Let's go Braves!!

Memorial Day...
I hope you are all enjoying your holiday, but also keeping in mind what it actually means.  This holiday is to honor those who gave their lives in service of defending this great nation of ours.

My time in San Diego, really brought the message home, about what military service is all about. I came into contact with so many brave men and women, old, young and in between, who are making a sacrifice to keep us enjoying our freedoms here in the US. Before living there, I probably would have found it odd to walk up to a person in military uniform and just say "thank you for your service".  I'd never experienced it before, but now it's almost routine to me, whether it be at the bank, at a restaurant or in an airport.  I'm not preaching to you, trust me, everyone is free to enjoy/observe the holiday as they choose, but isn't that the beauty of living in this great country?

Social Media/Photography
For those new to my blog, welcome, and for those vets, please continue to support this blog, I do appreciate it.  For the regulars, please indulge me for a minute to again let the 'newbies' know where to follow me for social media and my photography.

Twitter: twitter.com/Andy_Masur1
Facebook: facebook.com/AndyMasurBroadcaster
Instagram: instagram.com/andy_masur

For my photography, 2 places to visit:
Flickr:  flickr.com/Andy_Masur
Photoshelter: andymasurphoto.photoshelter.com

Thanks!!  Have a great week!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kane and Rose Oh No!

As if it's not hard enough to be a Chicago sports fan, dealing with disappointment and heartache seem to be as much a part of our lives as that second city chip on all of our shoulders.   Tuesday night was a bad night.  I mean the kind of night that you walk around your house, apartment, condo, shaking your head as if a member of the family was hurt, or lost.  This is how seriously we are invested in our teams.  This city is so unique in that.  As that 90's song said, "We get knocked down, but we get up again..." true huh?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - United Center.  First Period.

Patrick Kane moves toward the boards, and is tripped up falling awkwardly into said barrier.  Gets up slowly, wincing in pain and is helped to the dressing room.  He does not return to the game. Can anyone imagine the Blackhawks winning a championship without the league's leading scorer?  Ugh.

Patrick Kane (USA Today)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - Advocate Center.  News breaks during Hawks game.

Derrick Rose reports pain in his right knee.  Further examination determines torn meniscus.  Surgery. Out for an extended period of time, maybe the season.  This after the news of Kane leaving the game is like a sucker punch to the "lower body".  The Bulls, were tied for first in the Central Division with Cleveland. Now the former #1 pick and Chicago native Rose is out again.  Double ugh.

Derrick Rose (CBS Sports)

Lets fast forward to present day, and what we know.

Kane had surgery to repair a broken left clavicle, and is out for up to 12 weeks.  To those mathematically challenged like myself, it's 3 months.  That means the playoffs could be in doubt for #88. Can the Hawks hoist the Stanley Cup without the dynamic scorer.  I think we need to delve into that.

The placement of Kane on long term injury (LTI) allows GM Stan Bowman a little more cap flexibility.  Without getting into the technical finances, Bowman can now acquire a player that maybe he couldn't have before the injury.  While I'd rather have Kane than some of the other names out there, at least the Hawks can try to better themselves in the meantime.   According to "The Fourth Period" the Hawks remain interested in Arizona winger Antoine Vermette and Calgary forward Curtis Glencross.   Vermette has scored 13 goals, and has 22 assists good for 35 points.  Glencross has 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points.  The two players combined have one less point, 63, than Kane has 64 (27 goals, 37 assists).   Both players are 32 years old.

Even if the Hawks don't acquire a little scoring help, they do have a talented roster.  Think of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and now with Kris Versteeg stepping up the scoring punch, it may not be as devastating as we thought.  It will come down to shoring up the defense to me.

The Hawks have fire power with the above mentioned names, but the blue line to me has been the problem and disappointment to this time in the season.  I wish I had a dollar for every Johnny Oduya turnover in the middle of the ice.  I'll take a quarter for each of the David Runblad miscues as well.  I might be able to have a nice night on the town with those two windfalls.  The other defensive key for the Hawks to sustain themselves in the absence of Kane is goaltending.  Corey Crawford will need to be somewhere between where he's playing now, and the guy that guided the Hawks to the Stanley Cup in 2013 (should have been the Conn Smythe winner).

Obviously this will be a tough road to the Cup without Kane, but I wouldn't ever bet against the grit and determination of Toews, and the coaching ability of Joel Quenneville.  The West is tough, so getting there will not be easy.  I'm still a glass half full guy.

Now as far as Rose is concerned, am I the only one who feels like the team will be ok without him?  Come on, the core of this team (Gibson, Butler, Noah) have probably played more games without Rose than with him over the last few years, and have been able to contend in the East.  These guys are more used to seeing Rose in a suit, than suited up to play with them.  This should not be a mental blow, this should be a "same old song" situation for the group.

This year the team has a little more inside presence with Pau Gasol and his constant double-doubles, and a more efficient Jimmy Butler, who is averaging over 20 points a game.  Tony Snell is starting to emerge, Aaron Brooks is adding 10 points a game and Nikola Mirotic is starting to find his stride in the NBA.  There is talk of adding Nate Robinson to the mix, the guy that starred for the Bulls in the 2012-2013 season, was bought out by the Celtics and is a free agent.

As I stated with the Hawks, the Bulls will have to find a way to compensate for Rose's scoring ability, but it's the defense that has been a disappointment for the team this season.  The Bulls are giving up 98.7 points per game, which is just 12th in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau has stressed defense since he took over the Bulls, and the highest opponent's points per game a team under Thib's has allowed is 92.9, in 2012.  Defense to me will be a bigger priority for this team if it wants to win the conference and get into the NBA championship picture.

Obviously you'd rather have a guy like Rose in your lineup to compete with the LeBron James' of the world, but he may not be there.  Rose has not had a track record of returning early from injury, so let's just say he's out for the season, something that could be a reality.  It's a reality that is far too real to Bulls fans.

Hang in there fans, and remember if it gets too tough for you to take, and the Hawks and Bulls go into a tailspin without their two superstars, baseball season starts in a little over a month!

Andy Masur is a freelance broadcaster with over 15 years of MLB and NCAA Hoops play-by-play to his credit.  Andy is an amateur photographer and occasional blogger.   You can follow Andy on twitter at @Andy_Masur1 and keep up to date with him on his personal website, www.andy-masur.com

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Let the Boys be Boys...

I was in a Wrigleyville Bar, when the JRW Little Leaguers won the US Championship, it was a crazy scene...

A bunch of 12 year olds, captured the hearts of this city, and in some respects this nation. Just footsteps from where Major Leaguers get paid big bucks to play the same game.  I couldn't believe the response from this fairly crowded bar.  Everyone was hooked.  It was cool.

Forget that this was the first all African American team to represent the US in the title game and forget that every politician was clinging to this group of youngsters.  This was pure.  This was the way the game of baseball was supposed to be.  A group of kids, coming together, playing hard, hustling, making plays, hitting homers and enjoying playing this game.  Our National Pastime. Kids being kids.  It brought back memories of playing little league myself.  It reminded me of gathering my friends on a warm summer day, scrounging together enough money to buy a rubber baseball for a game of "fast pitch" at the park.

Suddenly though, those memories were interrupted by the unbelievable news, that the JRW Little League was stripped of it's US Championship, because the league used players from outside the actual boundaries of it's district.  What?!?

Winning was that important to a group of adults, that they would jeopardize the hard work, and dedication of kids, playing a game meant for them.  What drives this?  Is it a case of not succeeding enough as a kid themselves that adults have to win at all costs?  Living vicariously through some 12 year olds?   Grow up.  This was supposed to be about the team.  There is no excuse that can ever be uttered by the "adults" in this case.  You are supposed to be the example.  You are supposed to be, well, the ADULT.

I'm not naive enough to think that cheating doesn't go on.  Trust me.  With all the baseball, football, and college basketball scandals, it's hard not to know this exists.  In those money making sports, you understand that it's about money, and usually winning translates to money for a team, a player, or a school.  What was to gain here in this case?  What was to gain by the Bronx, NY team several years ago, when Danny Almonte toed the mound at the age of "12" in 2001, when in actuality he was 14? Don't waste my time trying to explain a motive.  You cheated, you got caught and you cheated your players.  End of story.

I'm just glad that the players on the JRW team, got to enjoy the tournament and their moment in the sun.  It was cool to see a city the size of Chicago with all it's pro teams, embrace a group of kids. Even the pro teams got behind them.  Both the Cubs and White Sox had the JRW team to the ballparks to honor them.  Nobody can take that away from them.  They played those games, they won those games and showed a lot of character in doing so.  Too bad the coach and league director didn't show the same.   Just because the title has to be vacated, the little leaguers are still champions to me.  They showed a lot of class in rallying a community and city.  They were fun to watch and see interact with their heroes of baseball.  These kids don't need a trophy to prove they are winners.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

How Do Rumors Get Started...

Ok, if you believe the 80's 'hit' by the band, Timex Social Club, this is how rumors get started...
They're started by the jealous people
And they get mad seeing something
They had and somebody else is holding...
Well it's not quite like that in the way 'rumors' are reported in this "Social Club", aka, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.  Reporting in the industry has really changed over the last few years with the popularity of blogs, and social media.  What do you believe?  Who do you believe? Is the information coming from a credible source?  Is the information accurate?  All reasonable questions.   Here was just today's talk about James Shields, and what team he'll choose today or tomorrow or whenever....

It's fun isn't it?  Everyone has a source.  Everyone has an 'inside' view.  Now to be honest, the tweets I featured here, are from what I would consider extremely credible sources.  These are veteran reporters, former GM's, and those with the knowledge to know WHO to believe, and what information they received from "team officials", "sources close to the situation" and player agents is real and what is propaganda.

This is fun for fans, feeling as though they are in the know through all this social media frenzy.  For some of us in the industry, it's seen as a battle that has to be won.  Be the person with the right information.  Be the person with the excellent source.  Be the person, not just to have it first, but to have it correct.  Shouldn't that be the goal after all?

Who knows, by the time this blog post is published, James Shields will pick his team, and the salary will be somewhere in the range of 1 trillion dollars for 30 years!

Again to quote the 80's song:
When you look at all these rumors surrounding
Me every day I just need some time, some time
To get away from from all these rumors
I can't take it no more, my best friend said
There's one out now about me and the girl next door
So in the meantime, enjoy the Tweets, enjoy the mass of information and pendulum swings to your team and away.  This is an exciting time to be living, information is right there at our fingertips, constantly updating, constantly changing and evolving.  Enjoy the ride!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Good bye Mr. Cub...

It's been a rough year for me and fans of baseball in Chicago and San Diego.  My two favorite cities on planet earth have suffered tremendous losses to iconic men. Dating back to last January, with the loss of Colonel Jerry Coleman, to this past summer and the passing of Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn, and now the death of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks.

It hits hard, because are heroes are supposed to die.  They are placed on this giant pedestal in our minds, that makes them untouchable, and as we remember them on their baseball cards.  Strong, young, vibrant and indestructible.  That's how we view them, that's how we remember them.  Unfortunately we all know more now than we did as kids, and realize that this is part of life.  Not a part any of us enjoy or like to think about.  But it is, sadly, reality.

Ernie Banks was more than perhaps the greatest Chicago Cub player of all time.  He was a pioneer. Banks became the first African-American player to ever wear the blue pinstripes, when he debuted in 1953.  Brought on from the Negro Leagues, Banks would make his Cubs debut, September 17, 1953, at shortstop.  Two days later, he launched the first of his 512 career home runs.  He was a fixture at shortstop until he made a full-time switch to first base in 1963.  The lanky Banks, would win back to back NL MVP awards in 1958 and 1959.  He had five seasons of 40 plus home runs. He was the ORIGINAL power hitting middle infielder.

When Banks stepped to the plate in the 2nd inning of the May 12, 1970 game against the Atlanta Braves, he was at 499 career homers, and was bidding to become just the 9th man in baseball history to hit #500.  If you're a Cubs fan, old or young, you've undoubtedly heard Jack Brickhouse's call, but if you haven't, here it is...

Banks retired from the Cubs in 1971, and entered Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1977.  Soon after he become the first Cubs player in history, to have his number retired by the team.  His #14 was taken out of service in 1982.

Enough about the numbers, they only tell part of the Banks story.  Mr. Cub, was Mr. Friendly, and always had a smile on his face.  You could always tell when Banks was at the ballpark,  there was an extra buzz when he was there.  The fans, young, old and in between would be shouting in the concourses "Ernie", "hey Mr. Cub", and always he would wave, and say hello back.  He was a people person and always, and I mean always had time for the fans.

I didn't know Ernie as well as I knew Ron Santo, or know Billy Williams, but the few interactions I had with him were memorable.  Early in my career with WGN Radio, Ernie was at a game, and he was in the dugout as the Cubs were taking batting practice.  I wanted to interview him for our pre-game show.  I have to admit, I was very nervous to approach him.  After all, he was one of, if not my dad's favorite player ever and he was ERNIE freaking BANKS!  I finally approached, but my inability to put it together cost me the interview, I had waited too long.  He was being escorted from the field up to the team's offices.  I was able to tag along, and finally introduced myself, telling him I worked with his former teammate, Santo in the booth.  He put his arm around me, as we walked, and started asking me how I was doing, how I was enjoying my time with radio station, etc.  Banks then asked me how my wife was, as he was known to do.  I looked at him and said, "you must know something that I don't", he smiled and said, "a good looking kid like you, come on let's find you one!" I said, it's ok, but I appreciated the offer, and with that he disappeared behind the big white door and on his way to the offices.

Boy did he love his teammates.  It was never more evident when Ernie would make his way up to the press box to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".  He'd stop by the radio booth to visit with Santo and it was like they were both immediately transported back to the early 60's when they met.  Giggling like little school boys telling secrets.  Belly laughs, of the genuine kind, revealing a true love and respect for one another.  I had a front row seat to two of the greats, just being themselves. Pinch me.

I feel so fortunate in my life, to have been able to rub elbows with some of the greats of the game. That's why it hurts so much, and why I found myself in tears once again last week when I heard of Banks' passing.  I think it would still have hurt, even if I hadn't had some chance encounters with the man.  I'm a fan, and these players, become part of us.  They are part of the framework of our lives, spending more time with them, watching them on TV or listening on the radio, than we did with some members of our extended families.  That's why we cry, why we feel so sad when they pass.

It's hard to believe still, that we'll never hear that charismatic melody of "Hey Hey Holy Mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on their way, HEY HEY" sung from his lips.  The refrain of "Let's Play Two" or how the Cubs will shine in 2009.   So sad.

Ernie Banks called Wrigley Field, "The Friendly Confines" a phrase that still adorns the top of the visiting dugout.  The confines lost a friendly voice, face and spirit this week, one that will never be duplicated or replaced.

Good bye Mr. Cub, let's hope for you, "The Cubs will burst back on the scene, in 2015".