June 2016

Farewell to the Champ-the Greatest

Many years ago my wife and I used to travel to sports memorabilia shows all over the country. We would target shows that had the biggest, brightest names in sports and then make a vacation out of the event-the focal point of the few days away would be the chance to enhance our memorabilia collection.

At one show we were able to meet Sandy Koufax, Johnny Bench, Joe Namath, and Muhammad Ali. I can’t explain the feeling in the room when each of those mega stars entered individually to greet adoring fans and memorabilia collectors. Each held a special place in the world of sports.

The biggest thrill of the entire day came late in the morning. Suddenly, an announcer introduced The Greatest. Muhammad Ali walked slowly into the auditorium to thunderous applause. Frankly, I had never experienced such excitement. The place was rocking. Some people were actually in tears. Muhammad had a presence unlike any I had every seen in my life. There he was-standing right in front of us. Muhammad Ali.

My wife and I were very lucky that day. Ali took a place standing on the floor as opposed to the stage. We were right in front of him. So close we could shake hands with him. But we didn’t. He was way too busy for that. He looked at my wife Lynn and gave her a huge, huge smile and a wink. His smile could melt an iceberg. And then he did his magic tricks. He was so proud of his magic tricks. And they were pretty good. He didn’t speak. He just did his magic, smiled and then proceeded to the table to sign memorabilia.

He signed a beautiful picture for us of himself in the ring. In addition, he signed a boxing glove. Both are on display in a prominent location in my office. Every time we look at those two items it brings back such wonderful memories of that fabulous show. I shut my eyes and see that smile and wink. He was a special, special person.

Late in his life Ali lived in Phoenix. He was a central part of the community. He sponsored a charity event called “Fight Night.” There were no fights at “fight night.” Instead, celebrities gathered to put on a dinner for charity. Basically, it was to help with research for Parkinson’s Disease-the disease Ali carried with him for years. It is the disease that robbed him of his speech and his motor skills. But it never took his heart. He had such a huge heart. Helping people. Being there for people. Speaking out against hatred and bigotry. Ali was bigger than life.

In his lifetime and during his boxing years he sounded boastful. That was his “schtick”. Few people can live up to their claims of greatness. But Ali was just that…great. In so many ways.

I remember the relationship he had with the late Howard Cossell-the sportscaster foil for Ali’s “schtick”. Those two played word games with each other for years. But it was easy to see the respect they had for one another. Cossell helped make Ali. Ali helped make Cossell.

On several occasions Ali would show up at Diamondbacks games. When he was introduced the crowd went totally wild. Ovations lasted for several minutes. He was a living legend. The fans adored him and let him know it. He elicited the most resounding response I have ever seen and heard at a Dbacks games. More than Randy Johnson. More than Senator McCain. More than anyone I had seen there. The stands would almost shake from the response to The Greatest. On a couple of occasions I was fortunate to be in his presence at the ball park. I reflected on the New Jersey memorabilia show and he gave me that big, wonderful smile. No card tricks though. Just the smile.

Now Muhammad Ali is resting in peace after a long battle with health issues that impacted his quality of life. But he was gracious and kind. He was the Champion of the people-all people. He was courageous and caring. He was a boxer and a showman. But more than anything, he was giving and sharing and generous. In fact, one might say he was well— The Greatest. And, that he was. Rest in peace Muhammad.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my baseball scouting reports at TodaysKnuckleball.com.

That’s it. I’m done.


Time For The Indians To Make A Move

If you are a Cleveland Indians fan you have suffered and suffered. Maybe not as much as a chronologically challenged Cubs fan. But you have suffered. Count me among you.
The problem is, how many more years do we have left to suffer? We are aging. We may not be able to see and/or hear in a few years. NOW is the time. NOW!

The front office has done as well as can be expected using duct tape and tin foil to create a credible offense to supplement quality pitching. They have not had the financial resources (so we are told every off season) to fill in holes created by poor performance, an inability to retain players due to salary constraints and now in two cases….performance enhancement drug suspensions. The Indians have long tried to strike lightning in a bottle with low cost acquisitions that may or more likely may not pan out.

One off-season the Indians brass payed dearly for over the hill players Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Their arrivals and departures became the Indians new third rail of electricity. WARNING: Don’t Touch An Expensive Free Agent. Marlon Byrd, Juan Uribe and Mike Napoli were safer due to their lower price tags. So far, Napoli has delivered some returns. Uribe may at some point. Byrd will find it difficult to hit while he’s sitting at home suspended for 162-games. It’s likely his career is finished. But the Indians still aren’t scoring runs and their season is…once again…bordering on free fall.

I never did like buying free agents. Why didn’t their old club keep them? Money you say? Well, some are less expensive than others. But I just think it makes much more senses for a team to GROW THEIR OWN players and trade to bridge the gap until the home grown players are ready.

And NOW the Indians have to make a trade. For outfield depth. To bridge the gap. Their outfield consists of Jose Ramirez in left (a converted infielder). Rajai Davis in center (um maybe not the worst of options, but aging himself at 35) and Lonnie Chisenhall, a converted third baseman who still scuffles against left-handed pitching in right. Not good. Tyler Naquin should be playing center field. He’ll get some starts.

I hope Michael Brantley doesn’t return until his surgically repaired shoulder is healthy. Who knows when that will be? I don’t.

The Indians decided not to part with a starting pitcher to get a hitter during the off-season. Probably a smart move. But that was then. This is now. THE WINDOW OF SUCCESS WITH THE CURRENT PITCHING STAFF WILL COME CRASHING CLOSED SOONER THAN LATER. I’m yelling. Corey Kluber is no longer close to being the Cy Young stud of two years ago. He is prone to leaving breaking balls over the plate—providing an invitation to be hit hard. His situation is inconsistent at best, deteriorating at worst.

So what would I do if I’m Cleveland? I’d try to find a veteran outfielder who can hit with a little power. Or a rookie outfielder that can hit with power and not field well.

I would try to trade for the Diamondbacks Peter O’Brien. I would put him in left field, leave him alone and hope he can drive the ball out of the park. I would move Jose Ramirez to third base and bring Juan Uribe off the bench as a spare part infielder. I would offer the Dbacks starter Cody Anderson or Mike Clevinger and/or relievers Shawn Armstrong or T J House or Kyle Crockett. One starter, one reliever. If they want an outfielder I’d offer LeVon Washington. Or Mike Papi. Make all the names available and have them pick a starter, a reliever or an outfielder. Or maybe more if the Diamondbacks offer more than O’Brien.

If the Dbacks say no, I go to the Reds. I’d offer the same players and I ask for Jay Bruce. Yes, I know, the Indians are not on his approved trade list. I would work hard to circumvent that. It has been done many, many times before. Bruce fits my bridge needs.

Or I take the list of players to the Yankees for Carlos Beltran or Brett Gardner and ask for some salary relief from New York.

My point? A bridge is needed to get to Naquin, Bradley Zimmer and/or Clint Frazier.
But-and the Indians aren’t going to like this—$$$ will have to be spent. Money.

Maybe my list of players to trade from the Indians isn’t good enough. But the teams I mentioned all need pitching. The names I mentioned should help fetch an outfielder.

My list is not all inclusive. Can Juan Gutierrez play four days a week? He has some pop in his bat and is sitting on the Mariners bench. Nick Markakis hits in the five hole for Atlanta. Can he help the Tribe? Maybe. And the Braves will take prospects in return. Or how about eating some crow and bringing back Ryan Raburn? He can still hit.

The Indians have to find a bridge to their new outfield. They can’t continue to compete with an outfield of Ramirez, Davis and Chisenhall and expect to win games. They have no…….DEPTH.

Peter O’Brien. Make a huge deal and take O’Brien AND the slumping Socrates Brito off the Dbacks hands in a fair deal for a pitcher and an outfielder. In a deal like that I would offer names like Anderson, Armstrong and Justus Sheffield-a major left-handed prospect.

Next week might be too late. The Indians have to strike now.

I know how much time, effort and research goes in to making trades. It isn’t easy. But the Indians have little choice. They have to act now or face another off season of displeasure in Cleveland.

Thanks for following me on twitter@BerniePleskoff and for reading my scouting reports at FanRagSports.com.

That’s It. I’m Done. For now.