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Knicks HC Tom Thibodeau and PG Derrick Rose Courtesy CllickPoints.com

I’ve been pretty tied up as a stagehand on some show for a while now, but behind the scenes I’ve been keeping track of much of the major sports moves across MLB, NBA and even (gulp) NFL as the pandemic has stimulated some dramatic changes on rosters and front offices alike.  I’ve had long email threads involving a few folks here about these events, which eventually turned into a request to open the discussion to the rest of us Banterites, which I’ve decided to do as time permits.  I’m sure most have been kept abreast by your favorite credentialed or otherwise consistent sources, but I offer a familiar perspective you can interact with in our comfortable break room, nothing more and nothing less. Shall we begin?

The latest treacle of info is that the New York Kings of Leon Knicks, who have undergone a much needed and dramatic change of culture from front and back (but sadly not the tippy-top) have reacquired guard Derrick Rose from Detroit.  If you’ve paid attention, you know that Rose was last seen (around here anyway) during the 2016-17 season failing with the Phil Jackson-error squad as he struggled with the surprisingly exposed and obsolete Triangle offense and ended up having injury-marred turns with both Cleveland and Minnesota the next season.  He regained his footing with Detroit in 2019, but because of health issues has started this season off the bench for them, so it’s not as much of a significant move on the surface as his name implies.

Given his travails with the Knicks and his outspoken criticism and desire to get away, I’m surprised he would acquiesce to returning, but then there has been significant change here and with him as well.  For one thing, Tom Thibodeau is the coach now, and Rose had his best years with Thibs, so he’s someone who knows the system and can help integrate the younger Knicks on the roster with said system (and commiserate when they get worn out) that worked well for a while with the Chicago Bulls.  Can’t argue with the results so far; Thibs is known as a defensive guru of a coach and has helped lift the current team to 5th in defense across the league well before reaching the halfway point of the season. Not to mention, the Knicks are in real need of a veteran point guard to stimulate the offense, which tends to be a liability with his teams unless he has decent players in place to make them work. He can develop those types (as he did with Rose, or he and the new front office can acquire those types (as they did with Rose).  Of course, the downside of this is Rose’s injury history; he had a significant ACL tear of his left knee during the 2011-12 season playoffs that kept him out for the rest of the series and all of the following season.  He returned for 2013-14. but tore the meniscus of his right knee in November and missed the rest of that season.  The following season he again required surgery on his right knee in March and missed 20 games before returning in April for the playoffs.  In his lone season with the Knicks he was shut down in the latter part of the season for another meniscus tear.  With Cleveland, Minnesota and Detroit the injury trends continued throughout.  Despite this, Rose has shown flashes of his former All-Star form throughout even after returning from various injuries, so his game seems intriguing enough to have him in anyone’s rotation, but even though he’s 32, his injuries have culminated to the point that Detroit restricted his minutes and had him coming off the bench this season, which is likely to continue in his return.  If nothing else, this is an experience pickup that could provide some productivity while allowing the younger point guards to develop (or buy time and space to find/develop a good starter for that role).  There’s promise in guard Immanuel Quickley, inconsistent as he has been, that shines above current roster guards Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntlikina and Austin Rivers (who seemed to be groomed this season solely as trade bait for contending teams).

Meanwhile back in 2019, this happened:
Dennis Smith was acquired by the New York Knicks, along with DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, a 2021 1st round pick (DAL own) and a conditional 2023 1st round pick (DAL own), from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Kristaps Porzingis.

The flip-side of getting Derrick Rose back is sending Dennis Smith Jr. and a 2021 second-round pick via the Charlotte Hornets. Again if you’ve been paying attention, that probably says more about Rose’s impact on Detroit than Smith Jr has had on New York. To say the least, Smith has been a disappointment. Coming over in what amounted to a salary dump with a couple of okay picks and expiring contracts for guys that probably wudda-cudda-shudda stayed were it not for the massive incompetence of the then-front office… man, this was a strange move, and one that went pretty much as expected as Smith was really deep on the downside of a somewhat promising career and has not deviated from that path to obscurity yet.  In fact, it had gotten to the point that he asked to be placed in the G-League just so he could get quality playing minutes as he was locked out of the rotation and averaged less than ten minuets a game in the 3 games he played in.  Being traded to Detroit could actually be a breath of fresh air for him; a place where he can rehab his game without expectations.

As for the picks; well it’s capital, which will probably be used to acquire more development pieces. Let’s not forget that the Knicks are a rebuilding organization (let alone the team in the locker room) and any success they experience should be viewed from that lens alone. Knicks president Leon Rose and his Funky Associates were brought in specifically to change a losing culture that has hung over and rotted the organization for over twenty years (with one playoff win during this period and oh-look, the head coach from that season is an assistant on the staff this season), and though the coach has them playing surprisingly well, it’s still a work-in-progress, as evident by the trade for a player they once had who can, in a limited capacity, provide a good amount of progression for the younger core players they’ve acquired or drafted.  It won’t change them overnight and it won’t make them surprise contenders, but it does show a commitment to the coach’s system.  I’d start expecting something in year three if I were you.

Oh yeah, Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 9, Tom Brady greatest of blah-blah whatever…

In Memory of Henry Aaron

From the time I was old enough to hold a bat, my heroes were always baseball players, and Hank Aaron was the first. I was only four years old in April of 1974 when he hit his historic home run to pass Babe Ruth, so if that moment was spoken of in my home, I don’t remember it, but it wasn’t long before my mother put a slim paperback book in my hands, The Home Run Kings: Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. It was the first of many books I’d read about Aaron, and it would deepen my love of the game while kindling a love of reading, two passions that have never left me.

When I saw the news of Aaron’s passing this morning at the age of eighty-six, I thought about that first book and what Aaron has meant to me. 

It begins, obviously, with his name. When I was a boy, there were only two people I knew who shared my first name. My father, who stood in a frame alongside my mother in a picture from their wedding day, and Hank Aaron. That was it.

One biography led to another, and soon the stories and statistics began to fill my head as if they were my own memories. I learned that he had been born in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, and had taught himself how to play, the same as I had. (I even took more than a few swings cross-handed, with my left hand above my right the way he had before someone set him straight.) I worried for him when I read about his leaving home at the age of 18 with nothing but two dollars and two sandwiches for the train ride to Indianapolis where he’d play in the Negro Leagues for a time with the Indianapolis Clowns.

Before long he was in the major leagues with the Milwaukee Braves, and he quickly developed into one of the best players in baseball. Aaron’s game matched his personality. He was quiet off the field, and quietly great between the lines. We know him now solely as a home run hitter, but he was brilliant in all phases of the game. If steadiness can be dazzling, that was Aaron. He built his mountain of home runs with workman-like consistency, never once hitting as many as fifty home runs in a single season but only twice falling short of thirty from 1957 to 1973. He kept his head down, both figuratively and literally, as he hit all those long balls. Aaron once said that he had never seen a single one of his 755 home runs land, choosing instead to put his head down and circle the bases. That story may or may not be true, but it fits the man and player he was.

Aaron’s greatest accomplishment, his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1973 and ‘74, was one of the darkest times of his life. Ruth was more than just a baseball player, he was a myth, and there were those in the American South (the Braves had relocated to Atlanta in 1966) who couldn’t stomach the idea of a Black man eclipsing a white icon. The hate mail was horrific, and the death threats were frequent. Just six years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, those death threats were taken seriously. When you watch the clip of Aaron’s historic 715th home run and you see the crowd of fans spilling out of the stands and onto the field, it’s easy to see it as just a celebration; Aaron later admitted that he feared for his life in what should have been the crowning moment of his career.

His stature in the game is secure. He is one of the five greatest hitters ever to play in the major leagues (Ruth, Williams, Mays, and Bonds are the others, end of discussion), but his legacy was ironically solidified when Barry Bonds pushed past him with his 756th home run in 2007. Everyone knew what was going on, and everyone knew that Bonds’s record was tainted, but after Bonds circled the bases that night, there was Aaron on the video scoreboard, praising the new home run king for his “skill, longevity, and determination.” And there was more: “My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase down their dreams.” 

I hit only one home run in a baseball career that ended at age fourteen, but Aaron still inspired me to chase down my dreams. I never saw him play a single game, but he was still my hero.

My dad and I met him at a baseball card show when I was fifteen. He was probably the same age then as I am today, and he sat at a table before a long line of memorabilia hounds. Sometimes the signers at these events would chat a bit with their fans, but Aaron was keeping his head down as usual, signing one item after another, baseballs, bats, and photos. No conversation.

But when my turn came and I set down a glossy 8×10 for him to sign, my dad couldn’t help himself.

“His name is Hank,” he said. “Just like you.”

My hero paused, then looked up at me with a smile and said, “Nice to meet you.”

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

As the pandemic continues to grip the country and insurrection is the mood of the moment, baseball still seems completely irrelevant to me, though I admit to keeping one eye out for trade news. It’s funny to think back on the Hot Stove League with nostalgia as it is a thing of the past, Francisco Lindor-to-the-Mets-notwithstanding.

But it looks as if the Yanks have finally gotten off the schneid: Corey Kluber for one year; DJ LeMahieu for six.

Picture by Bags.

Drat

Welp, the strange 2020 season ended on a sour note for the Yanks. Tough noogies for Mr. Chapman once again.

Yanks had fight in them but the loss still smarts. But I can’t pretend this one impacted me that much. I mean, I didn’t watch an entire game all year long until the playoffs, the first time that’s happened since I started following the game in the late ’70s, so I was less emotionally-involved that normal. Still feels weird to me that professional sports are carrying on this year.

Anyhow, I’ll be pulling for the Dodgers and Rays (for all their celebrating, well-deserved as it was, the Rays better not spit the bit now).

Never mind the Blues:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Game Five: What Do Ya Got?

The Yanks beat the Rays in Game 4 on the strength of good pithing—and a sterling showing from the bullpen—and a couple of big hits, including a towering home run by Gleyber Torres.

That gives a Game 5 win-or-go-home scenario tonight.

We pause for a moment, however, to tip our cap to Whitey Ford, who died last night at the age of 91. Ford was the biggest of big game pitchers for the Yanks during their dynasty years. We salute the Chairman of the Board.

And tonight, we’ll be watching and rooting for our guys.

Never mind the nerves:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

 

Get Your Back Up Off the Wall

Yanks on the brink.

Never mind the preamble:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

 

Yanks and Rays on Vacation in San Diego—The Deuce

Yanks won Game 1. Their stud pitcher wasn’t great but he showed toughness; Giancarlo Stanton put the cherry on top in the 9th with a grand slam.

Game 2 tonight gives a rookie on the hill for the Yanks. Exciting.

Never mind the sunset:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Yanks vs. Rays: Game One

The Rays handled the Yanks this season. They had the best record in the league and will be a handful for our Bombers. Irregardless—as some citizens in the Bronx still like to say—we’ll be here root-root-rooting for our boys.

Never mind the nonsense:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Game Two

First one went well. What about tonight?

Never mind the cardboard cut-outs:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Game One

Yanks vs. the Tribe.

Two great pitchers on the mound.

Never mind the empty seats:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Wait—It’s Baseball Season, Right?

Goddamn, talk about remiss. They’re still playing baseball and I can’t even bother to put up a new post. Sorry about that for those of you who still come by. That’s my bad. But the lack of posts here is an indication of just how little I’ve been paying attention.

But I understand games are happening. I even check the box scores to prove it. And I saw the Yanks were playing poorly for a few weeks and seem to have regained their footing.

What am I missing? Anything you guys enjoying in particular?

Baseball, Sometimes

Winds light to variable.

Picture by Bags.

Is This Thing On?

I’ve been a bad host. Remiss. Haven’t hardly left the light on.

Well, here’s a new thread because they are still playing baseball. I have to admit, I have not been watching much. Haven’t seen anything in at least a week. But in my heart, I’m always root-root-rootin’ for the Bombers.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

You Don’t Say?

The Yankees might have a shameful history of racism but turns out I was presumptuous in calling them horseshit for inviting President Trump to throw out the first pitch at a game in August. Turns out, according to this New York Times report, that Trump made it up. The Yanks weren’t in on it at all. A sliver of inconsequential good news in this otherwise cockamamie time.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Hello, I Must Be Going

So, you say there’s gonna be professional sports during a pandemic, eh?

Picture by Bags

Game Two

More baseball.

Have at it.

Picture by Bags

 

Lump Lump

On a day when former Yankee Mariano Rivera visited the White House and it was reported that President Trump has been invited to throw out the first pitch at a Yankee game in August—both horseshit moves that are unsurprising yet repellent—the Yankees beat the Nationals in a ran-shortened season opener in Washington. The Final was 4-1. Giancarlo Stanton hit a very long home run.

Both teams took a knee before the game to honor Black Lives Matter proving that even in the ultra conservative world of baseball—and specifically the Yankee organization—all is not lost.

Ready … Set … Sprint!

Baseball in the time of COVID. Go figure.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

 

Mind the Gap

Texted with a friend last night who has been watching some of the televised pre-season action and reports that he likes the game without fans. I have not watched a lick of anything yet. Still seems crazy that they are going to go through with this but there you have it. MLB baseball is upon us.

Picture by Bags

Play … Ball?

They actually gonna go through with this cockamamie season?

Picture by Bags

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver