Minus the error, Bill Buckner is Harold Baines

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The moment it happened, the first line of his obituary was forever defined:

“Bill Buckner, made fateful error in 1986 World Series…. “

You know the story. One play, a hopper that got past Buckner and helped the Mets overcome the Red Sox, overshadowed a very good baseball career.

A play that never should have happened. Throughout the season, Red Sox manager John McNamara frequently sent in Dave Stapleton to sub for Buckner late in ballgames for defensive purposes. Buckner was a good first baseman in his prime, but was hobbled by ankle injuries later in his career.

That night, Game 6, Buckner allowed Mookie Wilson’s grounder to slip through his legs and the Mets won 6-5 in 11 innings. Two nights later, the Mets won the World Series and extended the Red Sox drought to 68 years.

Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69 of Lewy body dementia. Although I’m not here to advocate the Hall of Fame candidacy of Buckner, his career and numbers are eerily similar to those of Harold Baines, who was elected to he HOF by the Veteran’s Committee earlier this year. In my book, Baines is not a Hall of Famer.

Buckner and Baines each played 22 seasons and had lifetime batting averages of .289. Billy Bucks is one of the few players in MLB history to play in four different decades.

Baines had 2,866 hits, Buckner 2,715. Baines had a big edge in the power categories (384 HRs to 174) and better slugging and OPS numbers.

But Buckner stole 183 bases as opposed to 34 for Baines. Buckner won a batting title (.324) with the Cubs in 1980.

Oh and get this. Buckner struck out just 445 times in in 9,397 at bats, and Baines 1441 in 9,908 ABs. The year Baines won the NL batting title, he fanned 18 times in 578 ABs.

Neither player ever won World Series. Buckner was on pennant winners with the Dodgers in 1974 and the Red Sox in 1986; Baines with the A’s in 1990.

One other big differential; Buckner played first base and outfield throughout his career,  Baines was primarily a designated hitter.

Take away that one error, and is the Veteran’s Committee looking at Buckner?


It took 49 years, but Blues are back in finals

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Bobby Orr made the Blues disappear from the 1970 Stanley Cup finals with this overtime goal. St. Louis hasn’t been back since.

For the first time in 49 years, the St. Louis Blues are back in the finals, where they will face off against the Boston Bruins.

The last time the Blues played in the finals, they were victimized by Bobby Orr’s overtime winner, the great defenseman soaring through the air to celebrate the most iconic goal in Bruins history.

For the Blues, it has been a long, agonizing ride back to the Stanley Cup finals. Amazingly, this year the team got off to a horrible start before roaring back to become the first team in more than 20 years to earn a playoff spot after sitting last in the NHL on New Year’s Day.

The Blues were one of six teams that joined the NHL in 1967, doubling the size of the league and marking the largest expansion in the history of pro sports in North America.

Along with St. Louis, the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Oakland Seals (later the California Golden Seals) represented the NHL West in the inaugural year. The Flyers, Penguins, Kings and North Stars (as the Dallas Stars) have all won Stanley Cups. The Blues and the Seals (who became defunct after the 1977-78 season as the Cleveland Barons) haven’t.

The Blues made the Stanley Cup finals in each of their first three years, and were swept all three times.

1967-68 – Beat Flyers and North Stars, both in 7 games. Lost to Montreal 3-2 (OT), 1-0, 4-3 (OT) and 3-2, a series in which two games went into overtime and all four were decided by a single goal.

1968-69 – Swept both Flyers and Kings, then were swept by Montreal, 3-1, 3-1, 4-0 and 2-1.

1969-70 – Beat both Stars and Penguins in six games only to bow to the Bruins in 4 straight. Boston won the first three games 6-1, 6-2 and 4-1. The fourth game went into overtime after the Bruins rallied in the third period to tie the game on a late goal by Johnny Bucyk.

The Bruins then won 4-3 at 40 seconds of overtime on Bobby Orr’s scintillating goal. Orr scored off a feed from Derek Sanderson, beating goalie Glenn Hall and giving the Bruins their first championship since 1941.

The following season the league began juggling conferences. The Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres, both expansion teams, were added to the Eastern Conference and the Chicago Black Hawks moved to the West.

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Knicks never had a shot at Zion in NBA lottery

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Did the Knicks ever have a chance to get the #1 pick in the NBA draft lottery? The answer, or course, is always the wrong one for the league’s most snake-bitten franchise. The answer is no chance.

At least the Knicks won a pair of championships in the 1970s.Since then it’s been mostly misery. That misery has kept the Knicks out of the playoffs – but in the lottery most years, at least when they don’t foolishly trade #1 picks. .

The Knicks won the first draft lottery in 1985 and took Georgetown center Patrick Ewing, who became an iconic Knick, all-time franchise leader in scoring and rebounds. Yet Ewing never won a title.

Since 1985 the Knicks have participated in 10 NBA lotteries….and have never once moved up from their position in the pecking order. That’s right, 0-for-10.

Despite finishing this season with the worst record in the NBA (17-65), the Knicks were third in the lottery, losing a shot at Duke’s Zion Williamson, who is seen by many as a transcendent player. Think Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets who won both MVP and Rookie of the Year in his rookie season. Only other player to do that is a guy named Wilt Chamberlain, with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1960. That could be Zion.

The Knicks will most likely wind up with either Ja Morant of Murray State or RJ Barrett of Duke. Both are highly rated, but playing in New York can be difficult.

The Knicks have had some horrible picks in the lottery era, players like Kenny Walker, Michael Sweetney, Channing Frye and Jordan Hill, who was taken one pick after Golden State picked Steph Curry.

Kristaps Porzingis at No. 4 was a solid selection in 2015. But the Knick culture and losing ways drove him the ask out, and KP is now with the Dallas Mavericks.

The jury is still out on the most recent selections. Point guard Frank Ntilikina took a step back this year, playing just 43 games. Kentucky’s one-and-done Kevin Knox, the #9 pick in 2018, showed flashes but shot just 37 percent from the field.

Which leads to the next question: Why is Kevin Durant so interested in coming to the Knicks? That’s a subject for another column.


Injury-plagued Yankees weathering the storm

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Been following baseball for 60 years, but can’t ever recall an injury list longer than the Yankees this year. Lots of hobbled talent right now. Heck it takes three innings just to give the injury report.

At one point the Bombers had 13 men on the injured list, including 3 outfielders, two shortstops, a catcher, a first baseman, the staff ace and a top reliever. And others.

Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Miguel Andujar. It’s an All-Star list. Aaron Judge, shown above, the most indispensable Yankee of them all, is sidelined with an oblique injury and there’s no timetable for his return. With Judge is Yankee trainer Steve Donohoe, who is getting way too much air time these days.

Despite this staggering outbreak of injuries – at one point the Yankees had 176 home runs on the IL —  the team has maintained a competitive pace, 4 games above .500 and well ahead of the slow-starting Red Sox in the AL East.

Granted much of that has come against weak competition and a favorable schedule. But just last year the Yankees were criticized for not being able to beat the bottom feeders consistently. Beating lousy teams is a good thing.

Guys like starter Domingo German, outfielder Clint Frazier, utility man JD Lemahieu and Scranton callups like Tyler Wade, Gia Urshela and Mike Tauchman have helped keep the ship afloat during tough times.

The reinforcements are starting to arrive. Gary Sanchez came back last week and hit a monstrous grand slam in San Francisco which is still traveling. Frazier, third on the team with 17 RBI and hitting .324, and third baseman Andujar, out all season with a partially torn labrum, are supposedly ready to return to the lineup.

The schedule heats up immediately with AL best Minnesota, Seattle and AL East leader Tampa Bay up next. Good time for some of the cavalry to return.