Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Pursuit Of Baseball In Tampa

The State of Florida has been the home of Spring Training since the early part of the 1900s. Up until 1993 Florida never had a professional baseball team to call their own.  The Florida Marlins who were based in the Miami area were the first.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were soon to follow in 1998.  But Florida has a deep history of pursuing Major League Baseball before they received their teams in the 1990s.
It started in 1983 in the Tampa Bay area when local city officials considered building a baseball stadium to house a pro team.  Construction began in 1986 on what is now known as Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.  It was completed in 1990.  At the time there were no expansion franchises being granted for any city.  So they sought a team the best way they could, trying to lure a team from their current city.
Tropicana Filed,  The stadium that would bring baseball to the Tampa Bay area. (Getty Images)

Tropicana Filed, The stadium that would bring baseball to the Tampa Bay area. (Getty Images)

The Chicago White Sox were the first team that Tampa pursued.  In 1989 The White Sox were not happy in the old Comiskey Park and wanted a new stadium.  They flirted with Tampa for a while before ultimately getting their new stadium and staying in Chicago.
The next team that was rumored was the Seattle Mariners.  The talks did not go very far and the Mariners remained in Washington.
Tampa had their hearts broken in 1991 when they were denied an expansion franchise.  The Miami area won out instead of Tampa and the Florida Marlins came into existence.  The Marlins played the first ever regular season game in Florida in April of 1993.
The closest that Tampa ever came to stealing a team away from a city was in 1993.  The San Francisco Giants owners were looking to sell and a group of investors from Tampa were looking to buy them.   The deal was almost done.  The local baseball fans were already celebrating and then the bad news came.  The sale was vetoed by the National League Owners.  The Giants remained in San Francisco and Tampa was still without a team.
That was until in 1995 when they were granted an expansion franchise.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays played their first regular season game in 1998.
The past does make one wonder how different things would be if the White Sox, Mariners or Giants would have relocated to Tampa.  If the White Sox or Mariners would have moved would there have been a team in Miami in 1993?  Probably not, there more than likely would have been years later though.  The Giants move would have been interesting.  The city of San Francisco would probably have a different team right now.  There is no way that City would be without a team for too long, not with their tradition and history.

It’s really incredible how things turned out for Tampa.  They took a huge risk by building a stadium without having a team for it.  For many years they looked like failures.  Many in the city thought they would never have a team to call their own.  But Tampa proved to be very persistent and got what they wanted in the end.

How Mike Ditka Stole Super Bowl Glory From Walter Payton

Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs in the history of the National Football League.  He retired after the 1987 season with the Chicago Bears.  Payton finished his career with 110 rushing TD’s, 15 receiving TD’s and 16,726 rushing yards.  He was also on one of the best bears teams ever, the 1985 Chicago Bears.  The Bears won Super Bowl XX and cemented Payton’s place in the Hall Of Fame as a Super Bowl winner.  There however is one thing missing from his career.  Payton never scored during the only Super Bowl appearance and you might be suprised to find out it was no fault of his own.

Walter Payton in Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

Walter Payton in Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

When the season began Head Coach Mike Ditka was very high on his 1st draft pick William “the refrigerator” Perry.  Perry came into camp very unimpressive and was overweight at 380lbs.  The Defensive coach Buddy Ryan was not impressed by Perry and did not want to play him.  During the early part of the season Ditka got the idea to use Perry in offensive plays to block for Walter Payton.  Perry sometimes even rushed with the ball himself.  He was later put into the defense and played well.  During the season Perry became an offensive gimmick.  He was the funny fat guy that the fans cheered for.  Perry almost overshadowed the rest of the team in popularity.

William Perry (Getty Images)

William Perry (Getty Images)

The Bears made it through the season with a 15-1 record.  They plowed through the divisional and championship games to make it to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.  Their challengers were the Cinderella team of that season,  the New England Patriots.  Nobody expected the Pats to make it as far as they did.  They were the underdogs going into the title game.  The Bears dominated the Pats on the defensive side of the ball.  The Offense of the Bears was stifled a bit, although the score tells a different story.  The Patriots based their defense around stopping Walter Payton.  They did just that, Payton was held to 66 yards on 22 carries.  Even with the lack of success Payton was still the Bears leading rusher in the game.

Mike Ditka made two decisions during that game that haunt him to this day.  On the two opportunities where the Bears were close to the goal line and a rush for the touchdown seemed the best choice, Ditka chose William Perry and Quarterback Jim McMahon to make those TD’s.  The most disappointing TD for Walter Payton was the Perry rush for the TD.  Perry had been primarily a defensive player and a gimmicky running back.  For Payton not to be allowed to gain the glory of scoring a TD in the biggest game of his career is a complete disgrace.

Mike Ditka after Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

Mike Ditka after Superbowl XX. (Getty Images)

Walter Payton was always a stand up man and until the day he died he never openly questioned Mike Ditka for not letting him run in a TD in the Super Bowl.  Ditka has come out in recent years an said if he could do it all over again he would have opted for Payton to get the Super Bowl glory.  While Ditka can own up to his mistakes he will never be able to give those moments to the great Walter Payton.

On This Day In 1993: Michael Jordan Scored His 20,000th Point

Michael Jordan (Getty Images)

Michael Jordan (Getty Images)

Twenty years ago today Michael Jordan hit a scoring milestone in his career.  It was January the 8th, 1993.  The Chicago Bulls were taking on the Milwaukee Bucks at home.  The Bulls won by a score of 120-95.  The Bulls continued on a season that would bring them another NBA title.  During the game Jordan scored his 20,000th career point.  The moment came when Jordan drained a 3 point shot with 5:12 left to go in the game.  He was taken out just seconds later and ended the game with exactly 20,000 points.  He did so in just his 9th NBA season and in his 620th NBA game.

The only other player to reach that scoring mark in a shorter amount time was Wilt Chamberlain.  Chamberlain reached the mark of 20,000 career points in his 499th game.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the all time scoring leader with 38,387.  Karl Malone holds the 2nd spot with 36,928 points.  Jordan is in 3rd place with 32,292 career points.

Otto Graham: The Greatest Quarterback Ever

Many modern football fans have never even heard the name Otto Graham.  Decades before Bernie Kosar was taking the Browns through many playoff runs.  Otto Graham was the best quarterback not only in Cleveland but in the NFL.  Years before Jim Brown dominated teams, Otto Graham was dominating the league.  Graham will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.  He was the 1st and possibly the biggest Cleveland sports star ever.

Otto Graham goes for a pass in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. (Getty Images)

Otto Graham goes for a pass in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. (Getty Images)

Otto Graham started his professional career in Cleveland during the 1946 season.  At the time the Browns played in the All American Football Conference (AAFC).  In that season Graham lead the Browns to their 1st Championship and the team finished with a 12-2 record.  The winning did not stop there.  The Browns went on to win the 1947, 1948 and 1949 AAFC Championship prior to entering the NFL in 1950.  During his first 4 seasons he played in 54 games and had 86 TD’s and 10,085 yards passing in total.  Many people considered the AAFC to be the minor leagues so to speak.  The Browns were not expected to be as dominant in the NFL.

The critics were completely wrong with their assumption.  Graham had almost the same numbers in the NFL as he did in the AAFC.  Graham would play in 72 games in the NFL and have 88 TD’s and 13,499 yards passing.  Graham and the Browns made the Championship game from 1950 to 1955.  In total Graham led the Browns to 10 straight championship games with them winning 7 of them.  The only years during this period where they did not win a championship was 1951, 1952 and 1953.  Their playoff record was 9-3 during those 10 seasons.

Otto Graham retired after the 1955 season.  He retired with 174 TD’s and 23,584 yards passing.  In his career Graham was a 5 time Pro Bowler and was a 7 time First Team All Pro.  He was one of the first inductees into the Hall Of Fame in 1965.

Otto Graham's Plaque (Getty Images)

Otto Graham’s Plaque (Getty Images)

Otto Graham was able to accomplish something that will never happen again by leading his team to 10 straight championship games.  The only other player to come close was Jim Kelly with the Buffalo Bills.  The Bills made it to the Super Bowl from 1990-1994 but never won any of those games.

There are many names that are discussed when talking about who was the greatest quarterback ever.  Names like Dan Marino, John Elway, Johnny Unitas and Tom Brady but none of those players achieved the success that Graham was able to do.  The only argument that any one might have against Graham would be that the playoffs were shorter with less games when he played.  The fact of the matter is he still won those titles and in both leagues.  The only reason that most people do not consider him the best is because they don’t know anything about him or what he did during his career.

As long as the stats and film are around no one can deny his greatness.  For such a short career by today’s standards he really made an impact.  Otto Graham passed away in 2003.  He left a legacy that will never be forgotten, he will live forever in the Hall Of Fame.

Dan Marino: Did The Lack Of An Elite Running Back Really Cost Him Super Bowl Rings?

The day is January 20th, 1985 and the location is Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California.  It was Super Bowl XIX and the Maimi Dolphins took on the San Fransisco 49ers.  It was a battle between two Hall Of Fame quarterbacks,  Dan Marino and Joe Montana.  It was a very one sided game with the 49ers coming out victorious.  The final score was 38-16 as seen on the scoreboard while Dan Marino jogged back to the locker room.  Marino had an incredible second season and even though the Dolphins lost the big one it appeared he would be back again.  As history would have it Marino and the Dolphins never made it back to the Super Bowl.

Dan Marino (Getty Images)

Dan Marino (Getty Images)

Dan Marino retired in 1999 after 17 seasons.  Holding almost all of the records at his position, Marino was considered one of the best to ever play the game.  There are many who consider Marino not to be one of the best because he never won a Super Bowl ring.  Over the years the perception has been that Marino was talented enough to win a championship but never did because he never had an elite level running back.

I decided to crunch the stats and draft history to prove or disprove this theory.  Here are the results I found while I plunged deep into the various statistical categories that would help me solve this mystery.

There is evidence that the Dolphins never made a play for a high level free agent running back.  The Dolphins also never made a trade for a play maker at that position either.  They were and are still to this day a team that is not willing to make trades of future draft picks to acquire top talent.  The draft is a place where organizations can gain players that can affect their future.  The Dolphins drafted Marino in 1983 when he retired in 1999 they missed numerous opportunities to achieve greatness at the running back position.

In 1983 the very draft where they acquired Dan Marino they missed out on on two pro bowl running backs.  One of those running back was Roger Craig who turned out to be one of the best running backs of the 1980s.  Craig was also on the 49ers team that defeated the Dolphins at Super Bowl XIX.  Their draft picks only get worse from there.

The Dolphins only drafted 23 running backs of the 174 picks during the Marino era.  A total of 9 of those 23 backs never played a down in the NFL.  The dolphins did not draft one running back in 1994, 1995 and 1997.  With the exception of the 1997 draft the Dolphins had not so great performances at the back position the previous season, Mark Higgs was the leading rusher in 1993 with just 693 yards and in 1994 Bernie Parmalee was the leader with 878 yards.  The biggest blunder they made in one single draft would have to be the 1988 Draft.  In that draft the Dolphins could have selected the Hall Of Fame running back Thurman Thomas but instead selected three players that would never play in the NFL. Thomas wound up as a Buffalo Bill and won 4 AFC Championships with the team from 1990-1994.  In total the team missed out on 2 Hall Of Fame and 44 Pro Bowl running backs from 1983-1999.

During Marino’s time with the team they had only one season with a 1,000 yard rusher, Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1996.  If you look at all of the teams that won the Super Bowl from 1983-1999 only 3 of the 16 teams that won did not have a 1,000 yard rusher.

The Dolphins made the playoffs 10 times during Marino’s Career.  They were 8-10 in all of those post season games.  Some blame many of the playoff losses to playing the Bills in the winter in freezing Buffalo, NY, which they did lose there many times.  The fact of the mater is if the Dolphins had at least a couple of the many running backs they passed up in the Draft history might have gone a little differently.

After looking at the stats, draft and history it leaves only one conclusion.  Dan Marino was one of the best,  unfortunately the Dolphins front office was not as skilled at what they did.  The blame must shift to the general managers and Don Shula especially.  Don Shula relied to much on Marino’s skill and talent and did not do enough to protect and enhance that talent.  Marino would have had more opportunities to win he was if the opposing defenses did not know he was going to pass most of the time.  They also would have been weary of a running attack if the Dolphins had one.  If Marino had a top level running back he not only would have made it to more Super Bowl’s he would have won at least one Super Bowl ring.

Babe Ruth: Hall Of Fame Pitcher?

Babe Ruth is by far the greatest Icon in American sports history.  Some would even argue he is the greatest American Icon period.  Everyone from Grandma to your 5 year old niece or nephew knows who Babe Ruth was.  Most people associate Ruth with his legendary slugging days with the New York Yankees.  Ruth even held the Home Run record in Major League Baseball until Hank Aaron broke that record in the 1970’s.  What many people don’t know is that Ruth had a history before the all of those home runs and before the Yankees.

Babe Ruth while he was with the Boston Red. Getty Images

Babe Ruth while he was with the Boston Red. Getty Images

Babe Ruth made his Major League debut on July 11th, 1914 for the Boston Red Sox.  Ruth won that game; it was the beginning of Ruth’s pitching career.  His pitching career spanned from 1914-1919, all of those seasons with the Boston Red Sox.  Ruth did however pitch 5 games with the Yankees years later and won all 5.  He made the starting rotation for the Sox in 1915 and won 18 games in his first full season.   Ruth started batting in the lineup when not pitching halfway through his time with the Sox.  He had signs of being a great offensive player but was still used primarily as a pitcher.
He went on to have a very respectable pitching career.  He helped pitch the Red Sox to 3 World Series Championships in just 6 seasons.  When Ruth retired he had 94 career wins and a career ERA of 2.28 with 488 strikeouts.  Babe Ruth would be sold to the Yankees in a deal that changed the face of American Sports history.
The Yankees played Babe Ruth in the Outfield and all but ended his pitching career.  There are many people who feel that Ruth could have gone into the Hall Of Fame based on his pitching stats alone.  There is no arguing that Ruth was a great pitcher, but his time in that position pales in comparison to his slugging years.
It really makes you wonder how American Sports would be different if Babe Ruth had not gone to the Yankees and become a baseball hero.  The fact of the matter is as big of an icon Ruth became there would have been no way he would have become so without his years with the Yankees.  The Yankees gave him a grand stage and opportunity to become the Icon he became.  They also surrounded him with other legendary players.

It should not be forgotten just how great Babe Ruth was as an all around baseball player.  While not the most athletic player to grace a baseball field, he was by far the most dynamic.  Ruth was and forever will be America’s first sports legend.

1957 Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Season

In 1957, ten years after the Brooklyn Dodgers helped Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in the Major Leagues, they had their 67th and final season in New York.  The Dodgers,  just two years removed from their first World Series Championship, were seeking another title.   Meanwhile, their team President, Walter O’Malley, was seeking a new stadium in the same borough the team had occupied since the last part of the 19th Century.

Ebbets Filed in Brooklyn, NY (Getty Images)

Ebbets Filed in Brooklyn, NY (Getty Images)

The once great Ebbets Field, which the team had called home since 1913, was not a suitable ballpark anymore.  The stadium did not have enough seating to produce the amount of revenue a Major League team needed.  There was also little to no vehicle parking around the stadium.  This frustrated O’Malley, who was seeking a new privately funded stadium in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn.  This plan was shot down by New York City Building Commissioner Robert Moses.  Instead, Moses proposed a new stadium in Flushing Meadows, which is in the borough of Queens.  That site would later be home to Shea Stadium and currently, Citi Field.  O’Malley refused the offer from Moses and sought another location for his team.

Former Dodgers Owner Walter O'Malley. (Getty Images)

Former Dodgers President Walter O’Malley. (Getty Images)

While O’Malley was battling Moses over stadium plans, the season continued.  The Dodgers finished their final season with a record of 84 wins and 70 losses.  The team finished in third place in the National League.  Centerfielder Duke Snider was the bright spot for the Dodgers in the 1957 season.  Snider batted .274 with 40 home runs and 92 RBIs.  He also hit his 300th career home run on July 20th.

While the city of New York was not willing to accommodate the Dodgers, the city of Los Angeles was more than willing to be their new home.  Los Angeles was offering O’Malley everything he wanted,  a new Stadium with ample seating and more parking space than the Dodgers would ever need.  The most important part of the offer was a city with leaders who were willing to work with the franchise to make them happy.   Before the season was complete, it was official; the Dodgers were moving to California.

The Dodgers won their final game at Ebbets Field on September 24th.  The Dodgers had many seasons where they did not enter the postseason.  This season was different,  and the fans could no longer look forward to next season.  It was over and the city’s beloved team in blue was history.  The loss of the Dodgers crushed Brooklyn’s heart when they left for Los Angeles and the city has never been the same since.

Brooklyn baseball fans vilified O’Malley for moving the team.  Many of those fans did not know the politics of the move.  Many years later, it became more clear that the city of New York did not help O’Malley keep the team in Brooklyn.  O’Malley tried his hardest but it just was not enough, and he had to do what was best for the franchise.  It has been 65 years since the Dodgers called Brooklyn home, but all of the old fans that grew up with them still consider the Dodgers their home team.