Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees-2009

The odds of being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame are not great. Less than one player out of one hundred who plays the game at the highest level will become a member of the Hall. Those who are inducted sometimes have to wait a number of years after retiring before their name is called.

One of this year’s inductees, Jim Rice, got the nod on the final ballot. He needed 75% of the voters to tick his name in this, his fifteenth year of eligibility. For many reasons, he is a worthy inductee.

Rice played Major League baseball for one team: the Boston Red Sox. He prowled the outfield for the Sox, following the tradition of two other Sox Hall of Famers: Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams. They learned how to position themselves at Fenway, how to play the caroms, how to manage the Green Monster. Each had more than his share of outfield assists during his career.

Rice played with determination and attitude. He was a slugger, and he could tattoo a baseball. He hit almost 400 home runs during his career. Once the designated hitter rule was established in the American League, he often assumed that role for the Red Sox. He had 530 plate appearances as a DH. Not one with a lot to say, he was an imposing figure to many young hurlers as he scowled out at them from the batter’s box.

On the 7th of August, 1982, Rice peered out of the dugout when a foul ball screamed into the stands. He noticed that it had struck a young boy on the head. Rice tore out of the dugout, rushed into the stands, and picked up the boy. He carried him onto the field, and into the Red Sox dressing room. Team doctor Arthur Pappas later stated that Rice’s actions may have saved the child’s life.

Rickey Henderson was chosen on the first ballot, and for good reason. He had a long and illustrious career, establishing many records with the nine teams for which he played. Many of Rickey’s records involve speed, and deception. Others came as a result of his power.

Rickey relished being a lead off hitter. He often would stretch the count, and earn a base on balls. For Henderson, it was almost an automatic free pass to second base, or to third. From there, he could be brought home in many different ways: wild pitches, sacrifice flies, hits, perhaps another steal. Henderson scored more runs than any other Major League player.

He stole 1 406 bases during his career. He also leads the Majors in that category. He still holds the single season record of 130 steals. He was always a distraction to the opposing pitcher while on base. Consider the state of mind of a rookie pitcher, looking over his shoulder to a smiling Henderson, pawing the dirt off first base.

Rickey is second on the all time list for walks, but first in walks to lead off an inning. Nothing drives managers more to distraction than a pitcher who walks the lead off man at the beginning of any inning. Henderson accomplished that feat 796 times!

With regard to his power, he began 81 games in his career with a home run as the lead off batter. No other player will ever approach that mark. If they do, give me a call. I will buy you a beer.

The veterans’ committee inducted Joe Gordon, an All Star nine times with the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians.

The Baseball Hall of Fame fits nicely into many different American East Coast itineraries.

Take I-90 east from Syracuse. When you are 70 miles west of Albany, take Exit 30 south at Herkimer. Cooperstown is about half an hour south of the Interstate. It is open seven days a week, from 9:00am to 9:00pm in the summer. There are all kinds of wonderful exhibits, and great memorabilia shops in town. It is the ultimate baseball experience, made a little better with the induction of three great players.

James Hurst

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Roy Halladay-Perennial All Star

I am quite certain that many of you readers have had the distinct pleasure of being at the Rogers Centre when Harry Leroy Halladay has taken the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays. “Doc” Halladay pitched his first game as a Blue Jay on September 20, 1998, and has been in a Blue Jays uniform ever since.

There has been a bit of idle chatter lately that he might not finish his career as a Jay. General Manager John Paul Ricciardi recently opened a can of worms by indicating that he might listen to trade offers with the name “Halladay” attached to them.

There was a flurry of activity around the All Star break, with almost every team in the running for a pennant interested in the lanky Blue Jay starter. Halladay had the nod as the opening pitcher for the American League, and I believe all of the trade hype may have affected his performance. He was a bit shaky.

His first start after the break was a typical Halladay performance. He scattered a few hits for the Boston Red Sox, had masterful control of his pitches, and completed nine innings to win his 142nd game as a major league pitcher.

Halladay is now 32 years old, and has a ways to go to reach the magic “300” number to automatically qualify as a Hall of Fame inductee; however, he has been an All Star six times, he has won the Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the American League, and he is generally recognized as the most dominant pitcher in the game.

For the record, he tips the scales at 225 pounds, and stands six feet, six inches tall. He does not have an overpowering style of pitching. To him, pitching is a craft. When he was fourteen years of age, he attracted the attention of major league scouts with his work on the mound. He was selected in the first round, seventeenth overall, of the 1995 June First Year Player Draft.

Halladay has battled his share of injuries throughout his career. Most of his woes came from shoulder problems. On July 8, 2005, he took a batted ball off the shin, and spent the rest of the season on the disabled list. At the time, he had 12 wins and four losses, and ended the season with more complete games than any other pitcher in the American League.

There is a box at the Rogers Centre named “Doc’s Box”. In conjunction with the Jays Care Foundation, Roy Halladay and his wife Brandy play host to kids from the hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. During a recent Jays’ telecast, Brandy explained that Halladay personally visits the box before every game, unless he is the starting pitcher.

His demeanour during starting performances is well defined. He concentrates on the job at hand. He prepares every pitch, and analyses the results. He communicates with his catcher, his manager, and his pitching coach. He ignores all else. He gets into the zone, and stays there until the assignment is complete.

He has received countless accolades throughout his career. In 2009, he was named as number seven on the list of the current greatest players in the game. With continued success, he will move up that ladder as well.

A couple of years ago, I spoke with Halladay after the last home game of the season. Most of the other media types had left the dressing room, and many of the players were packing up to head home. Halladay was most gracious, chatting comfortably, graciously accepting my praise for his efforts, looking forward to the following season.

There is little that “Doc” needs to accomplish in the game. This business about needing a “Championship Ring” to be considered a success is utter hogwash. There is a long list of Hall of Fame pitchers who never won a championship. There are many who have multiple rings who are not in the Hall now, and never will be.

He is a joy to watch, there on the mound in Toronto. If you have not taken the opportunity to see him pitch, do so soon. Who knows what these trade winds may bring?

James Hurst

Monday, July 13, 2009


Anger Management in the CFL

There is a good chance that the wonderful wacky world of the Canadian Football League may end the season in the same manner that it has ended for the past several years---with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and the Toronto Argonauts struggling to keep up with the Montreal Alouettes.

The Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo looks as strong as ever, guiding his team to victories in the first two regular season games.

There is no quarterback controversy in Toronto this year, as the coaching staff has anointed veteran Kerry Joseph as the number one starter, and rightly so. The Tiger Cats are going with Quinton Porter, and he rewarded them with a victory last weekend in British Columbia.

The result of all of this is that the Argos and the Ticats are deadlocked at one win apiece.

The crew from the Belleville Minor Football League caught the game last weekend at the Rogers Centre. For the young fans, there was a little bit of everything that the CFL has to offer.

The Argos jumped out to an early lead, and looked unstoppable; however, the Rough Riders from Saskatchewan clawed back into the game, and, at one point in the first half outscored the Argos 30 to 3. As a result, the game was never in doubt after the first half. Rough Rider quarterback Darian Durant was instrumental in picking apart the Argo defence, and found outstanding Canadian slotback Andy Fantuz on a couple of key situations.

The Argos did manage to put up some scores late in the game, to no avail. Way too little, way too late.

Rookie coach of the Argonauts, Bart Andrus, was none too happy with the team’s performance. Kerry Joseph was off target far too many times; players were overthrown, or watched the balls skip in their direction. A couple of key passes were right on target, only to have receivers trying to cradle the ball, rather than catch it in their hands. Result? More incomplete passes. Andrus also added later, “Our return game is non-existent. We had too many turnovers.”

The most crippling factor in the game, for the Argos, was the damage done by unnecessary penalties. Even in their first game in Hamilton, the Double Blue from Toronto played far more aggressively than need be, and several infractions were either missed or overlooked. It happens.

Many of these bizarre infractions reflected a lack of discipline, and some serious anger management difficulties. There is also some speculation that the behaviour may be derived from steroid use.

Steroids are banned by all major sports organizations: the International Olympic Committee, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, even the WWE, the professional wrestling organization. You will notice that the Canadian Football League is not listed with that group. The reason is because there are no regulations banning steroids in the CFL!

A quick check of the latest research revealed that the evidence linking steroid use and aberrant behaviour is not overwhelming, but somewhat conclusive. Common sense tells us that prolonged steroid use does result in bizarre behaviour, and poor health.

The number of incidents involving CFL players who are completely out of control would decrease with the ban.

Coach Andrus told his post game conference that he has no patience for selfish penalties that cost the team. “That’s going to end. I pulled guys out. I told their position coaches to keep them off the field.”

In the second half, there were far fewer penalties. Coach Andrus noted: “They had decided to listen.” He then challenged the team; “Do you want to be a street fighter, a WWE wrestler, or a professional football player? Guys that are hurting the team with penalties are not going to be here.”

I imagine the practices this week will be quite crisp. The Argos head west to Calgary for a Friday night tilt. The Stampeders have been corralled in their first two games, and have had 82 points scored on them, by far the worst in the CFL. Ripe for pickings? We shall see.

James Hurst

Monday, July 06, 2009


Canadian Football League 2009

The 2009 Canadian Football League season opened up last week on Canada Day. Truly a nice bit of marketing genius.

Canadians like to spend the day out and about. Many of us head to the local park for festivities: a little music, chip wagon grub, Canada Day birthday cake, some refreshment, and a handful of Rolaids.

This year, many of us settled back into the Lazy Boy for an evening of football, and a double-header at that. The Argos travelled down the Q. E. W. to face the Tiger Cats, and the Alouettes went West to meet the Stampeders in Calgary. The Argos started the season with a 30-17 win over the Tiger Cats, while the Alouettes won on the road in Calgary.

Both games had their moments, quite often dealing with football. There were plenty of flags thrown, missed assignments, dropped ball by receivers, quarterback sacks, and tributes to the late Michael Jackson.

Arland Bruce III romped into the Ticats end zone, ripped off his helmet , shoulder pads and sweater, and proceeded to lie in state in the end zone, as a tribute to “MJ”. It has been described as tacky, unprofessional, bush, and idiotic. The league fined him an “undisclosed” amount of money. He was chastised in the American sports media on two excellent talk shows: “Around The Horn”, and “Pardon The Interruption”.

That followed his “Spiderman” mask routine last year. Advice to Bruce: Cut the nonsense. Play the game hard. Drop the “III” after your name. It adds nothing to your persona. Bruce is an outstanding football player, and could be a perennial all star in the CFL for years to come.

Jamal Robertson had an outstanding season opener for the Argos. He excelled in the first half, and helped the Argos build up a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. He ended up with 134 yards on the ground, and 153 yards receiving. Bryan Crawford scampered for 20 yards to sustain an early drive. But from that point on, the Argos survived on their air game, and several breaks.

An attempted Ticat field goal hit the crossbar at a critical time in the third quarter. Hamilton tackled poorly throughout the game. They did end up on the short end of the stick on a few dubious calls. The Hamilton squad has started the last several seasons poorly, winning twice and losing twenty-one games in June and July. Yikes!

The “Game Stats” sheet from the CFL lists one quarterback at the helm for each team. That speaks volumes for both organizations. There was quarterback mayhem in both cities last year. Kerry Joseph caught the snaps for the Argos, and Quinton Porter did the same for the Tiger Cats. Both played reasonably well, as it was the first game of the season, following only two exhibition games.

The Saskatchewan Rough Riders outlasted the British Columbia Lions 28-24. There were fifteen turnovers in the game, a nightmare for both coaches. Rough Rider quarterback Darian Durant was 18 for 32. His favourite receiver, Weston Dressler, had seven catches for 154 yards.

The Green Riders will be at the Rogers Centre next Saturday to face the Boatmen. It is an afternoon game, the first home game for the Argos. The Belleville Minor Football League has just completed its season, and is running a bus up to the game, as are the Quinte Home Builders. There are tickets available for the trip. Give me a call at 613-399-2278 for tickets and details.

The Tiger Cats head out to Vancouver to face the Lions in their next game. Both teams will be looking for their first win.

In perspective, the season winds up in late November, for the Grey Cup game. There will be a lot of football between now and then. The CFL always has its work cut out for them trying to grab headlines in competition with so many other sports and entertainment options.

There is a car race this coming weekend. The Jays will be licking their wounds after a devastating weekend in New York. Soccer, NHL free agent signings, Wimbledon, NFL pre-season, NBA signings. The list is almost endless.

But the CFL is our game, and worth the attention.

James Hurst

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