Monday’s Den: Clearing out a cluttered mind…….

13) Until this week, I had never heard of Al Benton, a guy who pitched 14 years in the majors, missing two years in the middle (1943-44) because of military service.

Benton is famous for two things:
— He is the only pitcher who pitched to both Babe Ruth/Mickey Mantle.
— He is the only player EVER with two sacrifice bunts in the same inning.

For his career, Benton was 98-88 for three AL teams, starting 167 games; he went 15-6 for the ’41 Tigers, his best season. He pitched for Detroit in the ’45 World Series, against the Cubs.

12) Been watching lot of old college basketball games the last few weeks; forgot how I liked it when Billy Packer was the analyst. Gruff, outspoken and very smart, Packer played at Wake Forest, was an assistant coach there; when he teamed with Dick Enberg/Al McGuire on NBC, it was TV gold, but those broadcasts have stayed in the archives. Too bad.

Listened to Packer work games on CBS with Jim Nantz, Brent Musberger; was watching the 1985 Villanova-Georgetown game, the last college games without the shot clock, and Musberger is on the game. 35 years later, he is the radio voice of the Las Vegas Raiders- an amazing career.

11) One thing for sure; if a guy doesn’t play in the NBA or become a coach, you forget about him pretty quickly. Saw some names that made me say “Hey, I remember him”. The national title game in 1988, the Kansas-Oklahoma game, had a few guys like that.

10) Hypothetical situation: Let’s say that there is no baseball this summer, they just decide to skip a year and start up again in 2021. Do AJ Hinch/Jeff Luhnow become eligible again? Is their year on suspension a year where nothing happened anyway?

And if they do become eligible again, would the Astros bring them back to their old jobs?

9) When musicians are on tour it has to be grueling; different city every night, Lot of tours are being rescheduling because of our current situation. Lady Antebellum just released a revised tour schedule, a 42-concert tour, done over 122 days.

Here is one stretch of that tour that will test both the musicians and the roadies:
September 3— Cleveland
September 4— Philadelphia
September 5— Saratoga, NY
September 6— Syracuse

Going to be some tired people after that show in Syracuse.

8) Tremendous reality show would be HBO showing the discussions going on about when sports are going to start up again. No one knows; games shouldn’t start until the virus has been overcome, but there is no roadmap for this. Everyone is losing a lot of money; going to be some very spirited discussions about how to handle the resumption of activities.

7) Younger people don’t remember Pete Maravich, the great LSU guard who was flashy, prolific and who played before ESPN and before 3-pointers were a thing. He was an amazing player.

Before I show you his college stats, remember he played at LSU before the SEC was integrated, which factors into the equation, but he also hung 69 on Clyde Frazier and the Knicks; he was a huge talent who played for his dad in college and scored a lot of points:

1966-67: 43.6 ppg, 10.4 reg
1967-68: 43.8 ppg, 7.5 reg
1968-69: 44.2 ppg, 6.5 reg
1969-70: 44.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg

Amazing numbers, done with no shot clock, no 3-point shots.

6) Funny story; Press Maravich was Pete’s dad; he was NC State’s coach from 1964-66, going 38-13 in two years, but when it was Pete’s time to choose a college, NC State told Press that Pete’s grades weren’t good enough to get into school, so Press quit and went to LSU, and his son followed him there.

Could you imagine something like that happening today? No bleepin’ way!!!!

5) Pete Maravich played 12 years in the NBA, mostly for the Hawks/Jazz- he played some for the Celtics his last year in the league.

Maravich scored 24.2 ppg in his NBA career, playing 37 minutes a game; the NBA didn’t adopt the 3-point shot until 1979-80, his last year in the league. Pete made 10-15 3-pointers that year; he had Steph Curry-type range. If he played today, he’d be a lot like Curry, but he was 6-5, two inches taller, and a very flashy passer, kind of like Ricky Rubio. He was a joy to watch play.

4) Green Bay Packers have had three great QB’s: Bart Starr, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers.

You look thru the rest of the Packers’ QB’s in their history and you find only one other QB who started 12+ games who had a winning record with Green Bay— Scott Hunter (15-11-3).

Lynn Dickey 43-56-2
Tobin Rote 26-46-1
Don Majkowski 22-26-1
Randy Wright 7-25
David Whitehurst 16-20-1

3) Four college basketball teams won all six of their NCAA Tournament games by 10+ points:
2000— Michigan State
2001— Duke
2009— North Carolina
2018— Villanova

2) One of many things I learned this week; there is something called the World Axe Throwing League. They throw axes at wood targets; hopefully, no one wagers on this.

1) My advice for myself and for you; instead of watching the news for more than five minutes a day, turn the TV off and listen to music. Much healthier for all of us. 

Sunday’s Den; Chris the Bartender’s 13 favorite movies…….

Today we yield the floor to my friend Chris the Bartender, who has a wider knowledge of movies than I do (which means, he hasn’t seen Moneyball 100+ times). 

13) The Princess Bride (1987)— This movie had it all; story, cast, music. RIP Andre the Giant.

12) Up in the Air (2009)— We all know the feeling of getting old and unwanted/unneeded.

11) Lethal Weapon 2 (1984)— I normally don’t like many sequels, but I have many reasons for liking this movie, the biggest one being it was the one/only movie I saw with my grandfather before he passed.

10) Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)— Steve Martin at the car rental desk steals the whole movie. John Candy lends a comic hand in this one.

9) City Slickers (1991)— Another movie with a fantastic cast (Billy Crystal, Jack Palance, Helen Slater, Jeffrey Tambor) and an excellent story- on the verge of turning 40, an unhappy Manhattan yuppie is roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest.

8) Beverly Hills Cop (1984)— Eddie Murphy at his best, teaming with Judge Reinhold- Murphy plays a  freewheeling Detroit cop pursuing a murder investigation, but finds himself dealing with the very different culture of Beverly Hills.
(Armadillo’s note: Detroit Lions are 0-7 in playoff games since Murphy wore a Lions jacket in Beverly Hills Cop 3)

7) Back to the Future (1985)— “Now, Biff……”
(Armadillo’s note: My name is Biff; this movie gave Biff’s a bad name)

6) Stealing Home (1988)— Underrated Mark Harmon/Jodie Foster movie; Harmon plays a washed-up baseball player who is called back home to handle the ashes of his childhood sweetheart/first love who had committed suicide. As he searches for what to do with them, he remembers the past and the relationship they had.

5) Midnight Run (1988)— Great cast; Robert DeNiro, Charles Grodin made a great team.

4) Die Hard (1988)— You could feel the intensity from the very beginning.

3) Caddyshack (1980)— Two words; Ted Knight.

(Armadillo’s note: Bill Murray’s son Luke is an assistant basketball coach at Louisville; he’s said that he has never seen Caddyshack)

2) Rocky (1976)— I can watch this movie every time it is on.

1) The Godfather (1972)— Possibly the greatest movie ever made, and possibly the greatest movie that was adapted from a book. 

Saturday’s Den: Some of my favorite NCAA Tournament games……

13) 1989: Georgetown 50, Princeton 49— Back then, Dick Vitale worked in the ESPN studio with Bob Ley during the tournament; this was a 1-16 game with Georgetown favored by 22 points. Vitale says on TV that if Princeton wins the game, he’ll stand on his head on camera, right on the table that they’re sitting at.

Alonzo Mourning scored 21 for Georgetown, blocked seven shots; no other Hoya scored more than 8 points- they were only 1-10 on arc. Other than Mourning, Hoyas were 11-31 from floor.

Three Princeton guys played whole 40:00; they were out-rebounded 32-13- they had the ball at the end with a chance to win game, but it wasn’t to be. Great drama, though.

12) 2008: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 OT— John Calipari’s Tigers led this national title game by 9 with about 2:10 to play, but they struggled on foul line (12-19) and couldn’t pull it off, despite having Derrick Rose on their side.

Calipari left Memphis after the next season; since then, the Tigers are 2-4 in NCAA Tournament games- they haven’t made the NCAA’s since 2014, kind of like the same way UMass disappeared after Calipari left there.

11) 2010, 2011: Butler played for the national championship in consecutive years, coming out of the Horizon League. Since then, Butler moved up to the A-14, and then the Big East, but making the national title game out of the Horizon League in consecutive years is an amazing feat, and is why Brad Stevens coaches the Celtics now.

Butler was a 5-seed and an 8-seed those years; their 2011 run in the NCAA’s was something, with a 60-58 first round win, 71-70 second round win, and an OT win over Billy Donovan and Florida in the regional final, a matchup of future NBA coaches.

10) 2019: Murray State 83, Marquette 64— I had the over in this game; Marquette is a hotshot Big East team that is always on national TV. Murray State plays in the OVC; they get on national TV during Champ Week, but despite that, Marquette was only a 3-point favorite.

Murray leads 39-35 at the half, then pulls away in the second half; I’m all set to hit the over, because Marquette has to press to try and get back in the game, but no, Wojciechowski takes the press off and sits in a zone, conceding the loss so that his squad doesn’t have an OVC team hang 100 on them. Wojo is a horrifically overrated head coach, and LMU just hired his top assistant as their new head coach. Good luck there.

9) 1986: Cleveland State 83, Indiana 79— This was first time a Bobby Knight team lost in the first round of the NCAA’s; Cleveland State was very athletic- they had a point guard named Mouse McFadden, a 6-5 wing named Clinton Ransey who scored 27 points in this game.

Cleveland State’s coach was Kevin Mackey, a former Boston high school coach and a Boston College assistant; when the Vikings beat Indiana, the school built a new gym, and Mackey was a fairly cocky celebrity.

But Mackey had off-court demons which got him fired a few years later; he bounced around the minor leagues of pro hoop for several years, and is now an NBA scout.

8) 2003: Syracuse 95, Texas 84— I was lucky enough to be an assistant coach at Schenectady HS for eight years; our best player during those years was James Thomas, who wound up playing for five NBA teams, and played 25:00 for Texas in this game. It is excellent to see someone you know playing in the Final Four. James wound up as the #2 rebounder in Texas history.

When we won the NY State title in 2001, we beat Columbia HS in the sectionals; their center was 7-1 Craig Forth, who played 21:00 for Syracuse in this game. More importantly, Syracuse had Carmelo Anthony, and they won the national title.

7) 1983: NC State 69, Pepperdine 67, 2OT— Back then, Pepperdine dominated the WCC like Gonzaga does now; we had an office pool for the NCAA’s, and I had Pepperdine winning two games, and getting to the Sweet 16. Jim Harrick was their coach; he was very good.

Pepperdine was only 19-32 on the foul line; their best player, Dane Suttle, missed the front end of two 1-and-1’s down the stretch, and NC State started their Cinderella run to their unlikely national championship, the one that made Jim Valvano a national figure.

6) 2017 national semi-finals:
North Carolina 77, Oregon 76
Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73

Both favorites won, but neither covered- since 1987, this is the only time that happened in the Final Four. Two good ballgames.

I was at the MGM Grand, watching the games with a friend who wagered a lot of money on both games— he won both. Damn good day for him.

5) 1999: Arkansas 94, Siena 80— This was one of those moments where two people are thinking exactly alike at the same moment. Arkansas-Siena was played in Denver, so high altitude with a couple of teams who both liked to play fast. Siena’s coach was Paul Hewitt, the best coach they ever had- this was a 4-13 game, with Arkansas favored by 8.

When the pairings came out, I’m jotting the matchups down on my notepad, sitting in a friend’s living room, but when they said “Arkansas-Siena, in Denver” we looked each other quickly and both blurted out, “Over!!!”

This was the first time I watched the NCAA Tournament in Las Vegas; I’m a nickel/dime bettor, but I bet more on the over of this game than any basketball bet I ever made, and it cashed. 🙂

4) 1990: Loyola Marymount 111, New Mexico State 92— Hank Gathers was LMU’s star, but he passed away on the court during the WCC tournament, which the Lions won- they pushed back their first round tournament game to midnight Friday night, the last of the first round games.

Back then, I wrote a small blurb every day for the Albany Times Union, a much smaller version of what we do here. On this day, I was emphatic that LMU was going to win, that this matchup (in Long Beach) against a team that would run with them (NM State) was perfectly suitable to LMU advancing. Wish I was in Las Vegas for this game.

Game was tied at the half; Bo Kimble, LMU’s other star, had four fouls, so I was a little queasy since LMU was obviously already missing their best player, but Kimble scored 45 points and LMU won going away, dedicating the game to their fallen friend.

3) 2006: NW Louisiana 64, Iowa 63— I’ve written about this before; Hawkeyes were a 7-point favorite, kind of low for a 3-14 game; I went on John Graney’s radio show here in Albany and predicted the Demons would win straight up, which they did, rallying back from a double digit deficit to pull the upset. 

That summer, four months later, I’m sitting in a gym in Orlando watching AAU games, when Demons’ coach Mike McConathy sits next to me; good guy. I thanked him profusely for making me look good with the Iowa win, and he tells me a story.

Turns out that one of McConathy’s former players was going to grad school at Iowa that year, and went to every Hawkeye home game. He gave the Demons a very thorough scouting report, so maybe they had a little edge going in.

2) 1990: UNLV 103, Duke 73— I had fun during this game, watching the Runnin’ Rebels win the national title; won’t say much more about this game than I did a few days ago, but was sitting in room full of people rooting for Duke- they weren’t happy. I was.

1) 1974: NC State 80, UCLA 77, 2OT:
— UCLA’s string of seven straight national title ends.

— Bruins led by 7 in the second OT, with no shot clock, but stumbled down the stretch.
— Only 7 guys played for each side; four guys played all 50:00.
— UCLA’s two subs played 5:00, 9:00

— Bill Walton scored 29 points, had 18 rebounds. 
— David Thompson scored 28 points, had 10 rebounds.
— 7-foot-3 Tom Burleson scored 20 points, had 12 rebounds. 

Friday’s List of 13: Random stuff with weekend here…….

13) Happy 81st birthday to knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro:
— He got 287 of his 318 career wins after he turned 30.
— He got a record 121 wins after turning 40.
— In 1979, Niekro went 21-20, with 41 HR’s allowed, the only time a pitcher has ever won 20+, lost 20+ and allowed 40+ homers in a season.

12) NFL owners voted to expand the playoffs to seven teams in each conference, meaning that only the #1 seed in each conference gets a first round bye.

11) Since 2002, 10 NFL teams won 10+ games but missed the playoffs; under the new, 14-team format, nine of those 10 teams would’ve made the playoffs.

Only exception? The 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 10-6, and still weren’t one of the top seven seeds in the NFC.

10) Toronto Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette came up to the majors LY, and became the only player ever to hit a double in nine consecutive games. And he did it in his first 13 major league games.

9) Spectrum Sports LA said Wednesday that it has reached a carriage agreement that will see Dodgers games finally being shown on local TV, ending a six-year impasse between the sides.

Dodger games were even blacked out in Las Vegas, which is 271 miles away. Now games can be shown in sportsbooks, which will help business on those few nights a year when the Dodger game is the last one going on a given night.

8) When Jimmy Johnson gets inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, Troy Aikman will be his presenter; this is one of the best parts of the football Hall of Fame, that the inductee gets to pick who introduces him. Quite an honor for both people.

7) Was watching Game 7 of the 1997 World Series the other night, Indians-Marlins- the TV guys were Bob Costas, the great Bob Uecker and Joe Morgan. Quite a combination.

6) In 1867, our country bought Alaska from Russia, for $7.2M. Seeing how Sarah Palin wound up as part of this deal, shouldn’t we get a rebate?

5) In the history of baseball, 112 home runs have been hit by catchers who were 40+ years old; Carlton Fisk hit 69 of them, everyone else combined to hit 43.

4) Only two father/son combos both hit for the cycle:
— Gary/Daryle Ward, 1980/2004
— Craig Cavan Biggio, 2002/2019

3) Last time Tom Brady didn’t start a game for New England was 2000; that year, Chan Gailey was the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator.

20 years later, Brady plays for Tampa Bay now, and Gailey was just brought out of retirement to be the Dolphins’ “kind of new” offensive coordinator.

2) In the NFL LY, there were nine TD’s scored last year by “non-skill position” ballplayers:
— Five were scored by offensive linemen.
— Two were scored by defensive linemen.
— One was scored by a linebacker playing offense
— One was scored by a kicker on a fake FG.

1) Four quarterbacks caught a TD pass last year:
— Josh Allen
— David Blough
— Taysom Hill had seven TD catches, but he’s as much of a WR as a QB.
— Deshaun Watson

Thursday’s List of 13: Some memorable events from the past……

Memorable events from the past (in chronological order)
13) November 19, 1978— Eagles 19, Giants 17— Giants had game won, but QB’s didn’t take a knee back then; Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik tries to hand off to Larry Csonka, but they fumble, and Herman Edwards picks up the ball, scores the winning TD in a game that propelled Philly into the playoffs for the first time since they won the NFL title in 1960.

— Dick Vermeil coached the Eagles then; they made the Super Bowl two years later- 19 years after that, he won the Super Bowl with the Rams.
— Herman Edwards became an NFL coach, a TV analyst, and now coaches Arizona State
— Coach of the Giants that day? John McVay, who is Sean McVay’s grandfather.

12) Not sure what year this was, but there used to be a semi-pro football team in Albany called the Metro Mallers; they played pretty good football, and played their home games at Bleecker Stadium in Albany. I did stats for them one season when I was in college.

But this was a year or two after I got out of college, so 1983 or 1984; we go to the game, my friend has a pass to get in but I don’t. I see the father of a friend of mine and ask him to get me in for free— he makes me a member of the chain gang for the game that night.

Don’t remember who the other team was, but they were from Massachusetts and had the same uniforms as the Dallas Cowboys and I’m on their sideline, with one end of the chains. There is a measurement, I jog out on the field and one of the Mallers’ linebackers, a guy I went to college with, says “What the hell are you doing here?” We both laughed.

In the third quarter of a close game, I’m standing next to the head coach; the guy has his play chart in his left hand, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in his right. Semi-pro football at its best; the head coach is freakin’ drinking while he calls plays. Classic.

11) August 1984, Saratoga Racecourse— My cousin was dating this guy who knew a lot about the horses (they’ve been married for 33 years now), but back then I was stunned by how much he knew about horse racing. He was/is also a little…….excitable.

This one day, a horse named Seal Harbor wins and KL Wheat banks $3,800 in winnings; I was about ten feet behind him during the race— he was jumping up and down like a guy in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. It was better than watching the race.

Four years later, we’re at Belmont Park on Columbus Day and his friend Jim won $12,000 on one race. He was a lot calmer when he won. Couple of smart guys who saved me a ton of cash by showing me how much I didn’t know about the racing game.

10) January 1986, a very cold Sunday— Rams are playing the Bears in the NFC title game; it is 10-0 Chicago just before halftime, when Eric Dickerson runs the ball down to the Bears’ 3-yard line, but the Rams neglect to call timeout, and the half ends. I am not happy.

I’m watching this game in our big kitchen, with my dad and two friends, wearing a polo short and shorts, but I storm outside, where it is below zero, and sit on the hood of my car during halftime. I was so mad, it took me a few minutes to realize how damn cold it was.

Seems funny now, wasn’t so funny back then; Rams kick a FG there, and who knows what would’ve happened in the second half.

9) April/May 1987, Glens Falls, NY— Calder Cup playoff game; the AHL and the game goes multiple overtimes. Hershey Bears at Adirondack Red Wings; the game took so long, they ran out of food at the concession stands. In between overtime periods, Flyers’ GM Bobby Clarke goes to the Burger King up the road to get food for the press box.

When the Red Wings won the game at about 1am, losing goalie Ron Hextall , who wound up being really good for the Philadelphia Flyers, smashed his stick over the crossbar. Quite a night.

8) March 1990, Loyola Marymount 111, New Mexico State 92— 12 nights earlier, LMU star Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court during the WCC tournament; on his first trip to the foul line in this game, LMU’s Bo Kimble shot his first foul shot left-handed in honor of his friend.

Game was tied at the half; Kimble had four fouls, but the Lions went nuts in the second half, then beat defending champ Michigan and Ball State, before losing to UNLV in the regional final.

7) September 2001— Mike Piazza’s home run at Shea Stadium, in the Mets’ first game back after 9/11; I’m not a Mets fan, but I live in New York and that home run made the TV camera shake, it was that emotional in the stadium. An unforgettable moment.

6) September 1, 2002— A’s 7, Twins 5— Miguel Tejada hits a walk-off homer for the A’s, their 18th straight win, and it is possible that I went out on the front lawn, laid on my back and did some bizarre dance that should’ve had me committed to an asylum. Every time I see Tejada’s homer in Moneyball, I have to laugh. My father just shook his head at me.

5) July 2003, Kissimmee, FL— I’m at the AAU Nationals at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, first time I had been there, and the first game we watched was 29-29 at halftime, a game with a team from Louisiana against a team from Detroit,

Kid named Glen Davis had 27 of Louisiana’s 29 points at the half, but he got tired in the second half and Detroit won. This was before Davis developed into a great player at LSU, and then played seven years in the NBA, for three teams.

There were six games going on at all times for 12 hours a day in The Milk House; went to that event for 3-4 years, a pretty good way to spend my vacation.

4) August 2008— I’m at Graney’s Bar in Albany, and the Olympics are on TV, along with baseball and live karaoke; Michael Phelps won a gold medal that night.

Back then, New Jersey Giants had training camp in Albany; after one of the waitresses sang karaoke, one of their front office people hands her his card and invites her to sing the national anthem at a Giants’ home game, she was that good a singer. Don’t think she ever did.

Graney’s is still there, on New Scotland Ave., an excellent place to eat and watch games.

3) January 2015— Klay Thompson scored 37 points against Sacramento… one quarter!!!!

The most amazing exhibition of shooting I’ve ever seen; he hardly dribbled, everything was catch-and-shoot. Simply incredible.

2) July 2015, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas— I’m in bleachers, sitting behind this couple that was watching their son’s team play. Midway in the first half, the coach’s phone buzzes loudly, and because it is AAU, he looks at the text, instead of ignoring it.

He looks back at the couple in front of me and says angrily: “If you text me again, I’ll NEVER put him in.” Such is the life of some AAU coaches.

1) April 2016, Westgate Superbook, Las Vegas— National title game with Villanova-North Carolina, I’m sitting next to a younger guy I don’t know who has  Villanova and the under, and it felt like it was for a lot of money. He seemed very nervous.

Villanova is up 10 with about 5:00 to go but they blow the lead; Marcus Paige sticks a 3 to put Carolina ahead and the game over the total. My neighbor is distraught, but Kris Jenkins hits the game-winning 3-pointer to give Villanova the title and my neighbor a split of his bets.

I’ve never seen a guy so happy to break even.