The Baseball Hall of Fame is great. If possible, every baseball fan should make the trip to Cooperstown at least once in their lives. But it isn't perfect. There's numerous players that shouldn't be in but are, and even more that should be in but aren't. Let's look at some borderline players to see if they should have made the cut.
Ozzie Smith (Padres and Cardinals SS, 1978-96)
Ozzie might just be the greatest defensive player of all time. But is that enough to earn him an induction? Looking at the five tools, we know Ozzie’s defense is off the charts, so we can skip that, since nothing else needs to be said. His arm is alright, he would've gotten more if he played third base or any outfield position, but as it stands, it's good enough. He doesn't have blazing speed, but it's still above average, stealing 580 bases in his career. That's really good, good for xth all time. I'll give him credit where credit is due here. Offensively though? That's a diffrerent story. How does he hit for contract? Only .262 for his career. That isn't good by any means. However, it can be excused with power. Harmon Killebrew’s batting average was lower than that at .256, but his 573 home runs are more than enough to get him inducted. Ozzie has the most famous home run in Cardinals history this side of David Freese, but he hit only 28 for his career. I can't ignore his offense when it's such a big part of the game. My verdict is: he doesn't deserve induction.
Kenny Lofton (Indians, Astros, Braves, White Sox, Giants, Pirates, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, and Rangers CF, 1991-2007)
In recent years, Lofton has been a sabermetrics darling. However, he got only 3.2% of the vote his first and only year on the ballot, leading to his dropping off the ballot. Did he deserve better? Just like with Ozzie, let's start with the positives. Lofton had blazing speed. His 622 stolen bases are 15th all time. His defense was also a plus, as he was one of the best defensive center fielders of his era. He wasn't too bad on contact either, hitting a respectable .299 for his career. That's even higher than Mickey Mantle’s. However, just like with Ozzie, it's Lofton's power numbers that bring him down. So, Lofton played 17 years in the major leagues. How many dingers did you think he hit in that time? You can probably tell he's not a huge power guy, but how many did he hit? Maybe 250? Maybe 300? More than that? No. He hit 130. There's no excuse for a player who played that long to have that few homers. Nolan Arenado already beat him in less than half the time. And besides, look at his ballot: Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and even more who made it to Cooperstown. My verdict is: the BBWAA made the right choice. Lofton shouldn't get in.
Barry Bonds (Pirates and Giants LF, 1986-2007)
Barry Bonds is one of the most controversial players in any sport of all time. Statistically, he is a Hall of Famer. 762 home runs (the most all-time), 162.8 WAR (the most all-time), 2558 walks (the most all-time), and countless other records. However, he has yet to be inducted due to the cloud of steroids hanging over his head. It's as clear as day. No player who is clean can hit much more than 60 homers in a season. Hitting 73 in a season? That's essentially impossible for a clean player. He must have been on something. And that's why I agree with the BBWAA. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a sacred place, and it shouldn't be tainted with cheaters. My verdict is: the BBWAA is making the right decision keeping him out.
There are more borderline cases than just these guys, but they're the most famous. And at the end of the day, none of them deserve to be inducted.
We are so close to baseball season. In fact, tomorrow is Opening Day for most teams, if we discount the Ichiro Retirement Tour that was the Tokyo Series. So, why not look at some bold predictions for the oldest professional league in sports, the National League?
Clayton Kershaw will win the Cy Young
It's incredible that only a few years ago this wasn't bold, but a foregone conclusion. Kershaw has accomplished everything in the game of baseball with the notable exception of winning the World Series (which he very well could still do). Kershaw had his “worst” full season since 2010 where he still posted a 2.73 ERA but missed the All-Star Game for the first time since that 2010 season. However, this year he'll be (mostly) healthy and back to being Clayton Kershaw, winning his fourth Cy Young over finalists Max Scherzer and….
Josh Hader is a Cy Young Finalist
Josh Hader is the best relief pitcher since Mariano Rivera retired. Who else can even compare? Hader's 2018 was just straight dominance, leading to his first ever All-Star appearance. He completely (almost singlehandedly) changed the ways relievers are looked at in Major League Baseball. No more will relief pitchers be judged on how will they finish the job like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, but rather how they can come in whenever and how they can shut down an offense in a jam. I call this the Josh Hader revolution, but that's a story for another time. Expect Hader to have the greatest season of any reliever since Zach Britton was in his prime.
Craig Kimbrel goes unsigned until May, then signs with the Brewers
If Josh Hader singlehandedly revolutionized all relief pitchers, then Craig Kimbrel is the last hope for outdated “traditionalists” who still think closers are necessary for a good team to do anything successful. For what it's worth, Kimbrel is a good relief pitcher. Sure, if this was fifteen or twenty years ago, Kimbrel would be rivaling The Great Mariano as the best reliever in the majors, but he's still solid. His fatal flaw is his lack of versatility. While Hader can come in whenever, Kimbrel is only useful in the ninth or extras, and only then in save situations. Still, he could help a team, but not for the first month. He will sign with the reigning NL Central Champions, the Milwaukee Brewers. Why? The Brewers have a pretty good bullpen including Hader and fellow 2018 NL All-Star Jeremy Jeffress. They're the only team (except the Braves) to show real interest in Kimbrel, and they don't have a real “closer” in case they think that's important, for some reason. Signing Kimbrel will give the Brewers a 1-2-3 punch out of the bullpen and would probably be the best bullpen in at least the National League.
The Rockies win the NL West
The Rockies are very much on the rise. German Marquez and Kyle Freeland look to be blossoming, which is great news for a team that claims its best pitcher in franchise history as Ubaldo Jimenez. Trevor Story is blossoming into an MVP candidate, guys like David Dahl and Raimel Tapia have untapped potential, Daniel Murphy replaces DJ LeMahieu at second, which is at worst a wash and at best an improvement, they have the National League's best manager in Bud Black, and that's not even mentioning their franchise faces of Charlie Blackmon and especially Nolan Arenado. Don't be surprised if the Dodgers start to slip after back to back World Series losses, despite having won the NL West for six consecutive seasons.
Lorenzo Cain wins MVP
In the AL, the best center fielder is obvious: Mike Trout. But what about the National League? That's not so clear. I know nobody cares about defense, but I believe it's Lorenzo Cain. In Milwaukee, Cain has been even better than he was in Kansas City. But didn't a Brewers outfielder win MVP a year ago? Yes, Christian Yelich did. But here's the thing: for a lot of the season, Cain was just as good as Yelich. After the All-Star break though, Yelich flipped the switch. His OPS was 1.219 over the second half of the season. To put that number into context, only six players have ever OPSed 1.219 in a full season: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, and Mark McGwire. Before the break, Yelich would OPS .823, still good, but nowhere close to his second half. Cain's first half OPS was .820, just below Yelich. In fact, in that first half, Cain posted a higher OBP than Yelich did. It's more likely for Lorenzo Cain to keep on keeping on than it is for Christian Yelich to post a historically great season. Don't be surprised if Yelich has another good season, but Cain will outperform him in 2019.
The Milwaukee Brewers win the World Series
That's what, four Brewers predictions? Well, they should be optimistic after what they've done over the past few seasons, going from 73-89 in 2016 to 86-76 and the brink of the playoffs in 2017 to 96-67 and one game from the National League Pennant in 2018. They've taken a massive step forward every season ever since Craig Counsell got the interim tag removed, and there's isn't really any reason to believe they won't do more of the same in 2019, especially since they retained most of their same players. So, amazingly, the Milwaukee Brewers are my pick to advance to their second World Series in franchise history (remember: they won the American League Pennant back in 1982 before losing to the Cardinals) and they will capture their first ever World Series championship. And just for good measure, your 2019 World Series MVP will be Travis Shaw, and they'll win the series in six games.
So those are my bold predictions for the National League. Remember to check out my American League bold predictions, as I'll revisit both after the season to see how I did.
(Via Mike Strobe/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, baseball is almost here. 2019’s Opening Day is on Thursday (well, except for that Japan Series which existed solely to pad Ichiro's stats and send him into retirement) so why not take a look at some bold predictions for the league of the reigning World Series champion, the American League?
The Red Sox don't produce an MVP Finalist
The Red Sox are very good, and barring something unforeseen, they will still be great in 2019. A huge part of that is Mookie Betts, who finished runner-up for the AL MVP in 2016 before winning it in 2018. JD Martinez also got some MVP talk last season although he wasn't named a finalist, finishing fourth in the voting. Now, they're both great players, but even for all-time greats (which, I should say, neither of them are yet) it's difficult to repeat an MVP-caliber season. So, if the Red Sox don't have someone make it to the finalists, who does? Well, Mike Trout is a given, considering he's never finished lower than second in a season where he was fully healthy. Another finalist is Alex Bregman, which sounds bold, but really isn't considering how good he actually is, and the last one….
Giancarlo Stanton is an MVP Finalist
Here's something that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, but is very much true: Giancarlo Stanton is good. Like, really good. “But he wasn't that good last season” you say. Well, you're not looking at the stats and instead choosing to follow a preconceived narrative created by a former Stanton fan and parroted by Red Sox fans who think Sweet Caroline is a good song, it's okay to wear pink hats to games, and that Dustin Pedroia should have his jersey retired. But I digress. Stanton still hit 38 homers and scored 100 runs in 2018, so if that's bad, then when he has a “good” season, watch out. A “good” season for Stanton is like his 2017 season, where he hit 59 home runs, OPSed 1.007, and won NL MVP. It's the only fully healthy season he's ever had. Even in 2018 he was injured down the stretch but still played due to injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. In 2019, he'll return to healthy form and begin punishing AL pitchers like nothing the league has seen since the days of prime A-Rod.
Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer gets traded
On the surface, this doesn't make that much sense. Why would a team fresh off three consecutive playoff appearances trade one or both of their All-Star pitchers? Well, it was a possibility this offseason. It was rumored one or both of them were on the block, but ultimately they held on to both. The Indians are well behind the rest of the league when it comes to this whole “spending money for good players” thing, saying it'll take a contract over $1 billion for them to even consider a $300 million contract, so it does make sense for them to clear more money for Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor to turn down.
Dallas Keuchel signs with the Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays won 90 games last season thanks to the revolution of the opener. Despite that, they had an ace going every fifth day in your reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell. They added 2018 All-Star Charlie Morton, but you really need two great starters to contend. Let's just quickly look at the last three World Series winners as proof of that: the 2018 Red Sox had Chris Sale and David Price, the 2017 Astros had Justin Verlander and Keuchel, and the 2016 Cubs had Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. The Rays have one great starter in Snell, and they very well could add another Cy Young winner in Keuchel.
Yusei Kikuchi pulls a Valenzuela
Firstly, what is a Valenzuela? This has only been done by Fernando Valenzuela with the 1981 Dodgers, hence the name. Now that we got that out of the way, who is Yusei Kikuchi? You can probably deduce he's a starting pitcher and a rookie, but what about beyond that? Well, he throws and bats lefty, he's 28 years old, and this past offseason, he signed with the Mariners after eight seasons pitching for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese league, Nippon Professional Baseball. That team is the same team that produced former major leaguers Kaz Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka. So, am I saying that just because his team also produced a couple former big leaguers who aren't really that great? Well, Yusei Kikuchi is actually good. He's posted an ERA of 2.80 in his Japanese career, and he's just entering his prime. I know it's more popular to pick Chris Sale or Justin Verlander for the Cy Young and Vlad Jr for the Rookie of the Year, but last time the Mariners signed a late-20's Japanese rookie it turned out alright.
Chris Sale does not start the All-Star Game
Chris Sale is great. Historically so. He's made seven consecutive All-Star games, and for the past three seasons, he's been the American League starting pitcher in the Midsummer Classic. But that streak will come to an end this year. Barring a major injury or something else completely unforeseen, he will make his eighth straight All-Star team, but for the first time since Dallas Keuchel started in 2015, another pitcher will start the All-Star Game for the American League. Who will it be? Well, Yusei Kikuchi would be in line with my Cy Young pick, but I doubt a rookie will actually be given the starting job, even in an exhibition game. More than likely, it'll be someone like Justin Verlander, maybe his Astros teammate Gerrit Cole, or even someone like the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.
So those are my bold predictions for the American League. Remember to check out my National League bold predictions, as I'll revisit both after the season to see how I did.
(Via Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Conor McGregor announced today his retirement from mixed martial arts. As such, the sport lost its greatest superstar it will ever see. Sure, the casual sports fan at least recognizes the names Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, but Conor was something else. He was the Lebron James of his sport, the kind of athlete any person would know. So, how did he end up retiring at only 30 years old?
Looking back about a decade ago, McGregor was largely unknown, mostly fighting in Cage Warriors, a United Kingdom-based promotion most known for producing Michael Bisping. He'd slowly build up a reputation in Ireland and England over the first four years of his career, before ultimately signing with the UFC in 2013. He wouldn't become a superstar right away, fighting a few undercards on UFC Fight Nights, but he'd just keep winning. He did it by both TKO and unanimous decision, but ultimately tore his ACL, sidelining him when he seemed ready to take over. In his first fight back, he was on the main card of UFC Fight Night, and he beat Diego Brandão by TKO in the first round in his first fight in Ireland in nearly two and a half years. This led to him getting his first big league call-up: pay-per-view at UFC 178. He, of course, won, defeating Dustin Poirier by TKO in less than two minutes. After one more appearance on UFC Fight Night (where he won again) he'd go pay-per-view for good. After knocking out José Aldo in thirteen seconds at UFC 194, Conor made his claim as the face of the sport: he was featherweight champion and at the height of his popularity. He'd have his own TV shows, would be featured in Call of Duty games, reaching heights unparalleled by any MMA fighter before or since. So, how did he blow it?
It started with Nate Diaz. Both men bulked up to welterweight for this fight, Conor because he wanted another championship and Diaz because Rafael dos Anjos dropped the fight due to a foot injury. Diaz took on Conor at UFC 196, the American forced him into a submission in the second round.
For the first time in over half a decade, Conor lost. Now to be fair to him, Diaz was slated to fight Conor less than two weeks before the fight started. He realistically couldn't prepare, especially in a new weight class. However, this fight did show the world he wasn't unbeatable. He was human after all.
About six months later, they would rematch at UFC 202, and with time to prepare for Diaz and more experience in welterweight, Conor would be back on top. He'd even accomplish his goal of winning a belt in another weight class, taking down Eddie Alvarez in the second round at UFC 202 for the lightweight championship. It would be the last time he would taste victory in any combat sport.
His downfall, unsurprisingly, was his ill-fated boxing career. Conor had been a boxer growing up in Ireland, but had exclusively dedicated himself to MMA since he was a teenager. He publicly flirted with a boxing career for years, but he wouldn't just fight any boxer, it had to be one of the greatest boxers of all time: Floyd Mayweather. At that point in his career, Mayweather hadn't lost a fight professionally ever, and hadn't lost a fight as an amateur since the 1996 Olympics, when he won in everyone's mind but the judges, since they instead ruled in favor of Bulgarian Serafim Todorov, possibly at the discretion of the head of officiating for Olympic boxing. If you want to go back to the last uncorrupted fight Mayweather lost, that would be against Augie Sanchez in Olympic qualifying. By the way, Sanchez would go on to lose twice to Mayweather and miss the Olympics. Dana White, for once, did the right thing and put a stop to Conor's attempts to fight Mayweather. He would cave after Mayweather announced he'd come out of retirement just to fight Conor. The fight was on. Conor stood a chance early, hanging with Mayweather the first few rounds. After that though, he began to get gassed. He wasn't used to fighting that long. Mayweather was, and the boxer would win a boxing match. In a little over eighteen months, Conor went from an unstoppable superhuman force to losing two of his last four fights. Yes, one of those losses was in a different sport, but at the same time, if you come at one of the greatest boxers to ever fight, one with a 50-0 record, you should at least put up more of a fight than Conor did.
He would return to the UFC for one more fight. At UFC 229, the most popular MMA event of all time, over 2.4 million on pay-per-view (not to mention the over 20,000 in the arena) got to watch Conor lose by submission to Khabib Nurmagomedov to retain the Lightweight Championship. After the fight ended, a skirmish between Khabib’s cornermen and Conor resulted in a six month suspension and a $50,000 fine for Conor, which, as we know now, he did not finish. He'd never set foot in an octagon again.
Conor was, and still is, MMA's biggest name and its biggest draw. His fatal flaw wasn't really his fault: he became bigger than his sport. MMA is a niche sport, it always has been, and although it's increasing in popularity, it likely will always be. Conor was the only fighter in at least the history of the UFC to become popular in the mainstream sports media. And it's not hard to see why. A badass Irish guy who was seemingly couldn't be beaten? That's easy for a lot of people to root for. It's why he stuck in the mind of sports fans. He introduced a lot of new fans to mixed martial arts, even if his career was cut short in a way. We as sports fans should appreciate all he did for MMA, because there will (probably) never be another fighter like him. I compared him to Lebron James as the face of his sport. Well, that isn't entirely true. Yes, Conor is the face of MMA like how Lebron is the face of basketball, but the difference is that Lebron has never been bigger than basketball, like how Tom Brady has never been bigger than football or how Mike Trout has never been bigger than baseball. In his prime, Conor was bigger than fighting, and he let it get to his head. So, he had to call it a career.
Don't remember him near the end. Remember him as the unstoppable force he used to be.
The bomb was dropped today. Rob Gronkowski’s NFL career is over. He announced his retirement on Instagram, and now the Patriots can actually move on with their offseason. So what does this mean for New England?
Firstly, let's look at Gronk's entire career. When he was healthy, he may have been the best to ever play tight end in the history of the NFL. But, as anyone who followed the Patriots since Gronk joined the team knows, that was tough for him to do. In his rookie season in 2010, he was solid, especially for a tight end, but it was 2011 where he posted (probably) the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. 90 receptions, 1,327 yards, and a league-leading 17 touchdowns. Just for good measure, he ran in a touchdown too. He was named a Pro Bowler and a First-Team All-Pro for the first time in his career. He was on pace to be even better in 2012, but he suffered a broken arm blocking on an extra point, leading to him missing five games. He was still named to the Pro Bowl, but these two seasons would be foreshadowing the rest of his career. After a 2013 where he missed more than half of the season with a torn ACL, he returned to form in 2014. Playing in all but one game, Gronk put up 82 receptions for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, while being named a Pro Bowler and a First-Team All-Pro once again. That season, the Patriots would win Super Bowl XLIX, giving him his first ring. 2015 was more of the same, 72 receptions, 1,176 yards, 11 touchdowns, Pro Bowl, First-Team All-Pro, all while playing in 15 games. 2016 would be a step back. Due to a back injury, he would be limited to eight games, but without him, the Patriots would still capture his second ring by winning Super Bowl LI. Gronk would return to being Gronk in 2017, with 69 receptions, 1,084 yards, and eight touchdowns en route to yet another Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro. However, following the Patriots loss in Super Bowl LII to the Eagles, this is where the retirement rumors began. He'd give it one more year, but 2018 would be the worst season of his career. Despite playing in a respectable 13 games, he'd be limited to only 47 receptions, 682 yards, and three touchdowns. He had flashes of the greatness he once exuded, but it just wasn't there. Now, the Patriots would win Gronk's third ring in Super Bowl LIII, and they certainly don't get there or win it without him, but ultimately, those performances just weren't enough to bring him back.
Now, did Gronk make a good decision by retiring? Honestly, while I could be selfish and say he could've given it another go, this is probably for the best. He's only 29, but remember, he entered the league at 20. The wear and tear after nine years was too much for him to deal with anymore. This was a man who had a third of his NFL career end on injured reserve, but also had a third of his NFL career end with him getting another Super Bowl ring. The negatives for him outweighed the positives. Football is the most violent non-combat sport. It's just too much for his body to handle anymore.
So, how do they replace him? Well, you could argue you can't really replace a guy that talented, but someone needs to fill his roster spot. Who would do that? The answer might be on roster: Jacob Hollister. Hollister doesn't have the stats in the NFL, posting only eight receptions for 94 yards in two seasons so far, but he has three things going for him: his age, being only 25, his size, at 6’4”, 245, and his speed, running a 4.64 40 yard dash at the combine, which just barely beats Gronk's 4.68 40. Outside of him, other candidates include Iowa's Noah Fant or TJ Hockenson, or Alabama's Irv Smith Jr in the draft.
So that's all well and good, but where does Gronk rank historically? I'll preface this by saying that Gronk is almost certainly a Hall of Famer, and if he doesn't get in, we need to re-examine what's going on in Canton, Ohio. It's also hard to imagine the Patriots not retiring his #87 at some point. With that out of the way, let me say this: Gronk is not the greatest tight end of all time. However, he is the best. There's a difference, which I'll explain. The greatest tight end in NFL history to me is Tony Gonzalez. Why? Gonzalez doesn't have the rings that Gronk does, but he does beat him in almost everything else. Gronk played nine seasons, Gonzalez played 17. Gronk made five Pro Bowls, Gonzalez made 14. Gronk was named First-Team All-Pro four times, Gonzalez did it six times. Tony Gonzalez is also sixth all time in receiving yards. Only two other tight ends, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates, rank in the top 30. When it comes to touchdowns, Gonzalez was #1 for tight ends all time until 2017, when he was passed by Antonio Gates, but still, his 111 soundly beat Gronk's 79. But Gronk, not Gonzalez, is the best. Why? Because, in his prime, Gronk brought a combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism unmatched by any other tight end before or since, including Tony Gonzalez.
What else can I, or any other Patriots fan really say, except this: Thank you, Gronk. Thank you for three rings. For 79 spikes. For a countless number of superhuman highlights. Most of all, thank you for suiting up in New England for nine seasons, allowing us to see the greatest quarterback of all time throw it to the best tight end any of us will ever see. You'll be in Canton one day. Best of luck in retirement and whatever you choose to do now that your football career is over.