by Julian Spivey
NASCAR, its drivers and Fox Sports tried admirably on Sunday, March 22 to give racing fans something worthwhile to help spend their Sunday without real auto racing, but ultimately it was no substitute for the real deal.
Drivers, Fox Sports and iRacing, racing’s number one race simulation, came together relatively quickly to broadcast the Pro Invitational Series in which 35 drivers from NASCAR’s three national series came together to race virtually from Homestead-Miami Speedway, the race track in which NASCAR would’ve been running this weekend had Covid-19 not turned our entire world upside down.
The racing simulation was a success for Fox Sports, with the race at one point during the roughly 90-minute broadcast, becoming the number one trending topic on Twitter. It’ll be interesting to see Nielsen ratings on this event, which was seemingly the only live competitive “sports” event on television at the time.
The caution-filled event saw drivers from those who compete frequently in iRacing to more novice drivers in the same field. Ultimately the race came down to a side-by-side battle between Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin and retired Cup Series superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win with Hamlin coming out the victor on fresher tires (yes, iRacing includes somewhat realistic tire wear). The event was Hamlin’s 31st career iRacing victory. Among the unrealistic aspects of the simulation was the fact that cars involved in crashes could reset multiple times to essentially have new cars.
Many within the sport – drivers, officials, press and fans – seemed to really enjoy the moment, but I was left feeling that it was not really worth my time. I’ve never been one to have interest in esports. I realize esports take real-world talent to be successful at, but it just doesn’t have the feel of real-world athletics to me. There’s no word as of now if NASCAR drivers, Fox Sports and iRacing plan to continue this Pro Invitational Series, but it’s just not a good substitute for the real thing for me personally. I have a feeling many who watched the event would have differing opinions. I’m sure they won’t prefer it to actual cars racing around a track but might find it a worthwhile way of spending Sunday afternoons during the season’s hiatus.
There’s no doubt a ton of good came from this event today with Denny Hamlin pledging $100 for each lap he led in the sim to benefit families affected by Covid-19 in the Homestead-Miami area and $5000 if he won the event, which he ultimately did. I didn’t get an exact number on the amount of laps Hamlin led, but it would result in at least a few more hundred dollars donated.
The aspect of the event that bugs me the most is something former NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1 driver Max Papis tweeted. He said: “If u r watching @NASCARONFOX now u r watching the FUTURE this will be racing in less than 10 years in my opinion.”
God, I sure hope not. As I said earlier, this is definitely something that takes a lot of talent and I don’t want to shortchange that at all, but us racing fans need real drivers in real cars racing around real tracks. That’s what the sport of auto racing is and I hope it’s not too much longer before we can see it once again.
by Julian Spivey
When it was announced that Tom Brady would be leaving the New England Patriots, a team he’s had the most illustrious career of any NFL player/franchise coupling in league history, to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers it was a shock. Even if this is a league that rarely sees star players remain with their team – this is the league that saw Emmitt Smith in an Arizona Cardinals jersey and Johnny Unitas in a San Diego Chargers jersey – it was still a surprise.
Had he finished his career out with the Patriots, Brady may have gone down in sports history as the greatest athlete of all-time to spend his career with one team.
Since that’s no longer going to be the case it got me to thinking – who are the greatest athletes of all-time who played for one team their entire career.
I felt like I needed to make a caveat for this list to rule out some athletes. Jim Brown is no doubt one of the greatest athletes of all-time and only played for the Cleveland Browns, but he also only played nine seasons in the NFL. I considered a minimum career of 12 years, but that led to a ton of potential candidates. I ultimately settled on a minimum of 15 years in a sport – this eliminated some biggies in Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Jerry West and more – but it also helped narrow down the list of candidates and well, the longer an athlete stays with a single team the more impressive it is.
Here are the top 10 single team athletes of all-time …
10. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. He was selected ninth overall in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks before immediately being dealt to Dallas where he would spend 21 seasons, the longest tenure of any NBA player ever with a single team. Nowitzki would lead the Mavericks to 15 playoff appearances and the only title in franchise history. He’s the highest scoring foreign born NBA player of all-time and the sixth leading scorer overall in NBA history.
9. Mike Schmidt
Arguably the greatest third baseman in baseball history, Mike Schmidt played his entire 18-season career with the Philadelphia Phillies. Schmidt was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player who led the Phillies to a World Series title in 1980. Schmidt wasn’t just a power hitter, but also a terrific defender who won a whopping 10 Gold Glove awards. Schmidt’s 548 homers are the most ever for a third baseman.
8. Kobe Bryant
The late (it’s still hard to believe) Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, only Dirk Nowitzki has a longer tenure with one team, and essentially became the face of one of sports’ most legendary franchises and one that also had Magic Johnson, Jerry West and other Hall of Fame legends. Much like Nowitzki, Bryant wasn’t initially drafted by the Lakers, but rather acquired shortly after from the Charlotte Hornets. He would go on to lead the Lakers to five championships.
7. John Elway
John Elway was the first overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, the class famously known as “the quarterback class of 1983.” Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, but Elway not wanting to play for the Colts threatened to play professional baseball if they didn’t trade him. The Colts relented and Elway would play his Hall of Fame 16-season career all with the Denver Broncos, where he would incredibly lead the franchise to its first two Super Bowl titles in the final two seasons of his career. Talk about going out on top.
6. Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle was one of the best pure hitters to ever play the game of baseball and is considered by many the greatest switch hitter the game has ever seen. His 536 career homers are the most ever by a switch hitter. Mantle played his entire 18-year career with the New York Yankees, leading baseball’s most storied franchise to seven World Series title while winning the American League MVP three times.
5. Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson is arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball and spent his entire 21-year career with the Washington Senators. Johnson was the most dominant pitcher of his era winning 417 games (110 of those shutouts), while striking out 3,508 batters and compiling at 2.17 Earned Run Average. Johnson led the Senators to a World Series title in 1924 and was league MVP twice. I almost feel a bit bad placing Johnson on this list as his career began in 1907 and back in those days baseball players were basically property kept by a team as long as the team wanted them around. But he fits the criteria and is no doubt an all-time great.
4. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest forward to ever play in the NBA and he’s the highest ranked non-baseball player on this list – he’s also the highest ranked player on the list who has competed in the last half century. Duncan was the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 1997 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs and he never left the franchise spending his entire 19-year career with them. Duncan led the Spurs to the greatest run in franchise history winning five championships, when the franchise had previously never won a single one before he joined the team. Duncan was also the NBA’s MVP in back-to-back years in 2002 and 2003. He made 10 All-NBA First Teams and eight All-NBA Defensive First Teams during his dominant career.
3. Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig is arguably the greatest first baseman in baseball history and spent his entire 17-year career with the New York Yankees in the franchise’s first period of baseball dominance. Gehrig teamed up with Babe Ruth to form the most fearsome duo in baseball history and helped lead the Yankees to six World Series titles. Gehrig was named American League MVP in 1927 and 1936 and won a Triple Crown in 1934. His career would end at the age of 35 after the 1938 season. He would die at the age of 37 in 1941 from a debilitating muscle disease that would go on to be named after him.
2. Stan Musial
Stan Musial may be the greatest pure hitter that the National League has ever seen in Major League Baseball. Musial played his entire 22-season career with the St. Louis Cardinals where he would lead the franchise to three World Series titles in the 1940s. Musial would win three N.L. MVP awards and was an incredible seven-time batting champion. When Musial retired in 1963, he held the National League records for most hits, RBI, runs scored, doubles and was second in home runs. Only Brooks Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski had longer careers in MLB history with the same franchise (23).
1. Ted Williams
If Stan Musial was the purest hitter the National League had ever seen than Ted Williams is certainly the greatest the American League has ever seen. Williams may have in fact been the greatest player in MLB history had it not been for many years selflessly given to serving his country in both WWII and the Korean War and also the fact that he was never on a World Series winning team. Williams played his entire 19-year career with the Boston Red Sox, losing out on three full seasons of his prime to WWII service and then almost two more in his 30s to the Korean War. Even with all of this missed time due to his duty to country he finished his career with a whopping 521 homers. Had he not missed any time he would’ve likely neared 700 homers for his career. To this date Williams is the last ballplayer to hit for a .400 average in a season hitting .406 in 1941. Williams won the American League MVP twice and the Triple Crown twice. Interestingly he didn’t win MVP either year he won the Triple Crown and many suspect a strained relationship with baseball writers cost him multiple MVP awards.
by Julian Spivey
Dana White is no hero. The President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is merely a stubborn ass, who’s putting his own self ahead of the health of a country and a world that’s almost completely shutting down over Covid-19 in hopes of trying to stop the spread of the virus that’s already causes hundreds of deaths worldwide and experts fear will get worse before it gets better.
While the rest of the sports world did the right thing – nay the competent thing – by postponing or cancelling seasons and events over the past weekend White decided to continue with the sports event in Brazil, albeit without spectators.
Taking a step further he’s announced future fights will go on, despite venues cancelling for these fights he’s searching for other places for them to be held. This upcoming weekend’s event was supposed to take place in London but is now attempting to move to an undisclosed venue in America. White had announced fights that couldn’t take place in the scheduled venues would happen at the UFC owned Apex facility in Las Vegas, but those plans were shut down by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Saturday, March 14 when they suspended all combat sports within the state. White is still on the lookout for other venues. White is especially trying to find a venue for the company’s next major pay-per-view event UFC 249, a lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, which was originally supposed to be held in Brooklyn, N.Y. on April 18.
White told ESPN: “The fight will happen. It will go on. The fans are all freaking out about that, do not worry. Khabib versus Tony will happen.”
The UFC continuing to hold events, even ones without spectators, is a major issue for a nation trying to social distance itself in an attempt to flatten the curve of Covid-19. In fact, of all of the sports to remain active during this time, UFC might just be the absolute worst.
If sports like the NBA, MLB, NASCAR, etc. wanted to continue events without spectators they wouldn’t have the impact of UFC doing so. Most other sports have television contracts that allow events to be seen on either broadcast television networks or basic cable channels that the majority of people in the country have access to. Holding these events would still be unadvisable in the eyes of medical experts, as they’d still be putting the athletes and essential personal in danger and anybody who might come in contact with them later, but it wouldn’t have the danger of UFC.
UFC is a sport in which its major events are held either via pay-per-view or subscriber outlets like ESPN+. It’s a sport in which many of its fans are known to go out to bars or restaurants to view these events. Doing so would obviously be going against a nation attempting to social distance for the betterment of a its overall health. White has to understand that many of his viewers do just that, but he doesn’t seem to care.
Some states like Ohio and Illinois are going as far as shutting down bars and dine-in restaurants in an attempt to eliminate social gatherings. Other states will likely follow in the days to come.
White has said that his sport will continue to compete unless the entire country shuts down. That’s likely to happen and it’s likely to happen because people like White don’t seem to know any better.
by Eric Fulton and Julian Spivey
First Base: Houston Astros Cheating Scandal
The Houston Astros cheating scandal is really a sad thing that happened to a team that you would not have expected to cheat based on the talent they had (and still do today) with the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correra and Alex Bregman. I did not expect a team to cheat the game and use their video enhanced stolen signs strategy to win games, especially in the postseason. The Astros ended up receiving a $5 million fine plus a loss of picks in the MLB draft. Plus, it cost jobs to general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. Also, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran lost their managerial jobs with the Red Sox and Mets respectively, as they were on the Astros coaching staff in 2017. I don’t know what else MLB could do as far as punishment is concerned. It would be strange to see a major world championship vacated, but if it were to happen, I would be in support of the decision. EF
I’m so tired of the Astros controversy already. I hope it’s dying down, but I’m not sure it really will even when the regular season gets going because I think you’re going to see other teams plunking Astros batters all year despite MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s warning not to do so. Maybe the Astros sign stealing using technology was more advanced than other teams doing so, but there are folks within the game who say as many as eight teams may have been running a similar scheme and MLB is still investigating the Boston Red Sox. The Astros will be the pariah of the league, but much like steroids, it’s doubtful they were the only ones cheating. I guess we’ll just say the Astros are Jose Canseco in this situation. Did MLB punish the team correctly? I’d have to say the league did the best it could do, even though I realize the majority wanted more punishment. The $5 million fine does seem like a slap on the wrist, but supposedly it’s the biggest fine the league is allowed to levy against a franchise. I can’t stand it in college sports when the NCAA vacates championships and I definitely don’t want to see MLB go that route. Many wanted players on the Astros suspended, but how would you go about suspending these players? Do you only suspend some? The whole team? And would the league have gotten any info at all on the scene stealing scheme without offering immunity to teams? I don’t know what else honestly could have been done. The thing that bothers me the most in this entire situation is fans seem to believe electronic sign stealing is worse for the game than the steroids era was. I’m not sure if it’s just recency bias or if folks are just that dumb. The steroids era turned baseball into a farce for a decade or more and left the sacred records of the game in tatters. The electronic stealing is something we’re still not even sure of the grand scale on. JS
Second Base: Expanding MLB Playoffs
Recently plans for Major League Baseball to expanding its Playoffs to seven teams per league leaked. In the proposed playoff format, the team with the best record in each league would receive a bye for the Wild Card round. The two other division winners in each league and the top wild card from each league would host all games of a three-game series in the Wild Card round with those two other division winners selecting their wild card round opponents from the three other wild card teams with the top wild card team playing the unpicked wild card team. The three series winners and the team with the bye would go on to the divisional round.
I understand the interest sports leagues have for adding additional postseason teams (the NFL is currently trying to add playoff teams too). More teams builds added interest in the postseason and added revenue. But, what the addition of more teams into the postseason also does is dilute the postseason. I wasn’t even a proponent of MLB adding a fifth playoff team per league a little less than a decade ago, but that isn’t as much of a screw-up as adding two more teams per league would be. Adding two more Wild Cards would lessen the fun of the wild card battle at the end of the regular season and it wouldn’t be long before a team with a losing record made the MLB postseason. In the history of baseball there has only been one team with a losing record in the playoffs (1981 Kansas City Royals) and that only happened because a strike wiped out a third of that season. Adding teams to the playoffs doesn’t make the playoffs better – it just makes them longer and gives lesser deserving teams the chance to win it all. JS
I like the Wild Card format the way it is now. Expanding the Wild Card again would show that the MLB regular season does not mean anything. If Major League Baseball is really thinking about this idea of adding more teams to the Wild Card, they would need to cut the regular season by eight to 12 games. Instead of playing 162 games, you would need to go 150 to 154 max. Then the Wild Card teams would have a best of three series, where the winners play the teams with the two best records in the best of five. Expanding the Wild Card would have to mean cut the regular season short, but with MLB not doing that, I just don’t see how that would work. EF
Third Base: MLB Institutes Three Hitter Minimum for Pitchers
This is a rule to speed up the game of baseball, which I think is necessary. The average baseball game is three hours long and I realize many of us fans don’t really mind it, but to build the game in a fast-pace society the game has to find ways to speed up the game and do so without ruining the game. Generally, I’m not a fan of a league dictating strategy, which is essentially what’s going on here in an attempt to stop the constant strategizing of relief pitcher/hitter matchups, but ultimately this should be an improvement for the game. If a team employs a reliever who can’t get more than one guy out that player probably shouldn’t be in the league anyway. JS
Now this is a rule that I agree had to change. I know managers want to strategize a lefty vs. lefty matchup for example, but if managers can trust getting one batter out, let’s see what he can do to try to get at least three batters out. I think it will make managers think about who they would want in the game if the starter can’t go to the distance or if the long relief guy can’t pitch for a while. I really think it will make managers change things during the 2020 season on what to do with relief pitching. EF
Home Plate: Baseball’s Top 10 Players
I do agree with MLB Network’s top six of their top ten players. Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, and Anthony Rendon would be the six guys right now that any baseball team could start their franchises with if they were building a team. Seven through ten are interesting. To me, I would have Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer in the top ten. I would also put a guy like Ronald Acuna, Jr. Some say he can be a 50 home run, 50 stolen bases guy in the very near future. Jacob DeGrom I would also keep in the top 10, but I am not sure if guys like Francisco Lindor or Gerrit Cole should have been on the top 10 list. EF
One of my favorite things about the offseason going into Spring Training is MLB Network’s unveiling of the best players in the game. It’s hard to argue with the top 10 this year as it’s a fairly solid list. The top four are locks in my opinion, as you have the last four MVPs of the game. I agree with Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, Jacob deGrom and Nolan Arenado all being in the top 10. I don’t truly have an issue with Gerrit Cole or Francisco Lindor being in the top 10, but if this were my list, I would replace them. Cole is on the list because he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season, though he did lose the A.L. Cy Young to his own Houston Astros teammate Justin Verlander that season. I’d go with someone who’s been more consistent over the last few years and replace him with Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals. I hate to be boring and select the same two guys as Eric, but I believe he was right on the money with Ronald Acuna Jr. Acuna was just three stolen bases away from a 40-40 season last season and is a five-tool player who had overall better numbers than Lindor last season. JS