The 2001 Yankees is Sports’ Greatest Tragedy Story

On November 4th 2001, I was lying in bed listening to game 7 of the 2001 World Series on radio. My father wouldn’t let me watch past a certain time because I had school the next day. I forget when, but at some point he came into my room and invited me into his to watch. I’ll never forget that.

My team was coming off three consecutive World Series wins and on the verge of number four. As an 11 year old, I  had only seen success. Four World Series championships watered down by my spoiled subconscious telling me, “Of course the Yankees will win.” I had never seen anything different.

And then this happened.

In that moment, shock, confusion, and disbelief showed me sports are never scripted. It’s the ultimate reality television. My team is mortal.

But wasn’t it supposed to be the perfect storm?

The Capital of the World, ravaged by arguably the worst terrorist attack in recordable history, overcomes all odds to win the championship of America’s Pastime, odds that included:

– A month earlier: Derek Jeter’s game-saving flip to Jorge Posada against the Athletics helped the Yankees rally from two games down to win the ALDS
– Four days prior: A ninth-inning, two-run, game-tying home run preceded an extra-inning walk-off win at Yankee Stadium
– Three days prior: The same thing, off the same pitcher

(According to baseball reference, entering the ninth inning, the Yankees had a 10% chance to win those games. One in 100 to win both)

It’s tough to paint the Yankees as the victim in sports’ greatest tragedy, but that’s what gives this story the added dimension – everyone hates the Yankees. September 11th temporarily changed that, and never again will the Evil Empire have more likeability than they did that postseason.

My thesis statement here is the headline of this article. The pieces were in place for a perfect story.

Until the last chapter, it was.

The goat of that last chapter, Mariano Rivera will retire at the end of the 2013 season. The greatest closer of all time will no longer throw his golden pitch. The number 42 will never again make the red carpet jog from the Yankee Stadium bullpen to its mound. Enter Sandman will be retired.

Yes, players of all sports post tangible numbers, but different fans assign different weight to different stats, thus rarely is one player unanimously rendered “The Greatest”.

Can you make the argument why Mariano Rivera isn’t the greatest closer of all time?

*Arguing a “closer” needs to throw more than an inning, ala Goose Gossage or Dennis Eckersley, is the sole sound argument I’ve heard against Rivera, but I think that argument is lame when stacked up against Rivera’s consistent numbers.*

His career’s only beauty mark  came November 4th, 2001.

On baseball’s biggest stage, in the world’s biggest city, facing the world’s worst terroist attack in recent memory, a country came together as the tattered American flag from the North Tower waved bravely above Yankee Stadium, where 13 miles away the fire still burned. Instead, a small market team from Arizona celebrated.

What sports tragedy compares? For argument’s sake, I don’t count stories like the Marshall University tragedy or similar others that transcend sports. If you can think of others, I want to hear. I don’t want my bias as a Yankees fan to influence my opinion. I simply couldn’t think of another sports tragedy equal.

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NBA, Change the Jump Ball Rule

I’m not talking about the opening tip – just in-game jumps.

A few months ago I argued shots beyond half court should not count as field goals attempted as a way to straighten curbed statistics. My only other qualm with NBA rules is the situation asked of players in mid-game jump ball situations.

As current rules dictate, if Player A gets tied up with Player B (both have “possession”), the whistle is blown and both players tip off at the circle nearest where the whistle blew. The ref throws the ball up and both try to tip it to their team.

But if I’m 5’10 and induce a jump ball with 7’1″ Dikembe Mutombo, I get to try and out jump this guy:

Might as well not have even played defense. Mutombo wouldn’t have to even jump against most players under ~6’3″~.

Us vertically challenged people want fair rights! This is an outrage!

If you’re not going to use college basketball’s possession arrow, let teams choose their tallest player on the court for mid-game jump balls. If I get tied up with Shaquille O’Neal, let my buddy Yao Ming try to win the tip – this way most accurately rewards a good defensive play.

One more issue: When a jump ball is called with less than five seconds on the shot clock, the clock resets to five seconds. If I’m playing great defense and induce a jump ball with one second on the shot clock – when if I didn’t play defense it would most likely result in a bad shot or shot clock violation – the offensive team has now a 50:50 chance (on the jump ball) to get off a clean shot, as I feel five seconds is enough time to do so.

This rare, but possible situation puts defenders in the awkward position of “Should I play my best defense right now,” a thought that, morally, should never to enter a player’s head in any sport.

Instead of resetting the shot clock to five seconds, add two seconds to whatever the shot clock read at the whistle. Give the ball those seconds to find its possesser and go from there.

In summary:
Let teams choose which player jumps for possession
Abandon the five-second rule and replace it with a +2 second rule

A month ago I voiced my displeasure on how many players refuse to throw up prayers in the final seconds of quarters as a way to strengthen statistics. Commissioner Stern, don’t be so stern. Adjust for changes that positively affect the game. Tweak the jump ball rule and don’t count shots beyond half court as field goals attempted.

Why Granderson’s Injury May Be a Positive For the Yankees

It took less than an inning. Picking up right where the Yankees left off in last year’s ALDS, a broken forearm will sideline all-star outfielder Curtis Granderson until May. The knee-jerk reaction is “here we go again,” “that sucks,” and other one-liners emanating negativity and pessimism.

But nothing against Granderson, and I don’t wish injury upon anybody, but it wouldn’t bother me if he was out for the year.

Since the Yankees’ scrappy dynasty of the late 90’s, the Steinbrenner wallet has headed the forefront of the New York Yankees product – cashmere-quality athletes who, on paper, should give the Yankees a World Series every two or three years.

About 12 years have gone by since the subjective start of this philosophy and the trend has been anything but what the Evil Empire expected – while borderline unfair, one championship in 12 years isn’t acceptable in the Bronx.

Personally, I want to see young guns get a chance to showcase their skills for the team who’s scouts handpicked them. There’s something different about cheering for a Robinson Cano vs. Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner vs. Mark Teixeira.

I’m not hating on A-Rod nor Teixeira, but the majesty of, for instance,  the ’98 Yankees came partially due to the homegrown talent that together created the perfect jigsaw puzzle: Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, David Cone, Mariano Rivera.

As a die-hard Yankee fan it seems my team today is kind of…. artificial.

It’s why I don’t mind watching Cashman wiggle his way out of paying a cent in luxury tax. Give your homegrown talent a chance to shine. The big bully free agency strategy is nice in theory, but has not shown the results we’ve come to expect out of the Bronx Bombers.

Remember Tony Womack? In 2005 the Yankees signed the veteran second baseman to a deal, only to forfeit that position to a young Robinson Cano that May due to Womack’s inability to do anything.

I don’t expect a home run like this to come from Granderson’s strike of bad luck, but there are Jeremy Lins out there waiting for their time.

Take as much time as you need Curtis. We want you healthy… but hopefully more good will come out of this than bad, and I hope a 22-year old Joe Schmo will have the chance to cash in.

Why the Knicks are Serious Title Contenders This Season

After a tough loss Monday, the Knicks played what I thought was their best game all season Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets (box score). They made the extra pass, rotated with energy on defense, hustled, and conveyed to me they were not going to lose.

They committed seven turnovers, none in the third quarter.

Five superstars do not make winning basketball. You need a special concoction of pieces that flow together to make the tastiest mix drink. Assuming health, this 2012 Knicks team has all the ingredients:

The Star – Carmelo Anthony

With Carmelo, you always have a backup plan. If you’re out of sync, he can single-handedly bail you out. He leads the team offensively and will close out games in the fourth quarter.

The President – Jason Kidd

See my post that argues Jason Kidd is the most important player on the Knicks. Kidd’s veteran presence keeps the team in check and keeps Carmelo focused but grounded. He directs the offense and isn’t afraid to tell you when you’re doing something wrong.

The Enforcer – Tyson Chandler

A perennial leader in technical fouls, Chandler’s breadth, intimidation, and blue-collar play polish New York’s interior game. Chandler’s defense and size is the one clear-cut advantage over the Miami Heat, and unselfishness on the boards (slapping the ball out to the perimeter to reset the shot clock instead of trying to pad stats) keeps the Knicks in every game.

The Shooter – Steve Novak

Even when he’s off, he still spaces the floor for Carmelo & Co. Like my dog, you have to give last year’s three-point percentage leader perpetual attention. If you don’t, you’ll get a Wisconsinly cheesy Discount Double Check.

The Defenders/Dirty Workers – Ronnie Brewer, Iman Shumpert

Both have the potential to knock down shots, but their job is to defend, hustle, and rebound. Brewer doesn’t get the credit he should, and Shumpert’s great on-ball defense will both frustrate opponents and keep them out of rhythm.

The Sixth Man/Wild Card – J.R. Smith

He’s the Robin to Carmelo’s Batman. The first one off the bench, Smith keeps the fire burning with his unquestioned offensive ability. His biggest weakness has always been his intangibles (he did not attended practice when he played for China during the lockout last year), but this season evoked a new J.R., one that plays hard defense, hustles, and keeps his dribbling and shooting under control.

The Veteran Cast – Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace (and Jason Kidd)

While these guys can’t give you big minutes, their presence at practice and during the game is unquestioned. Their wisdom gives the Knicks a mental advantage over every other team in the league and will be the unsung heroes should the Knicks make a big playoff push.

Mike Woodson – Head Coach

The players respect Mike Woodson. I see the way they play defense for him compared to Mike D’Antoni. Woodson is relateable, smart, honest, experienced, and likeable, a succeeding mix in the eyes of New Yorkers.

Last year with D’Antoni as head coach, New York was second-to-last in turnovers with over 16 per game. With Woodson, this year they lead the league with their record-setting pace of 10.7 per.

The scary thing is the 19-6 Knicks are competing without two indelible pieces – Amar’e Stoudemire (to return within the week) and Iman Shumpert (January).

Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert

I’m more excited to get Shumpert back – a great defender who won’t complain if he isn’t shooting. Shumpert is a team player who adds charisma, character, and a beastly high fade to the Garden. His skills and role will cohesively complement New York’s abundance of shooting talent.

Stoudemire will play limited minutes and will undoubtedly make the Knicks a better team. This assumes he doesn’t retard the Knicks chemistry, potentially a serious problem. But with now Woodson as the Knicks head coach, I believe STAT will put his ego aside and concentrate on defense, rebounding, and his elbow jump shot.

The Knicks are playing team basketball. The players’ knows their role and it seems individual goals take a back seat to winning, refreshing for a franchise trying to end a decade of embarrassment.

With a bench stronger than nearly every team in the league (Clippers), this Knicks team feels like one with the “it” factor. If they can stay healthy and Amar’e understands his new role, that Heat-Knicks rivalry we saw in the 90s could make a comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.

NFL Players: Goodell, there’s only one way to get us on board with your rule changes

This week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed his interest in taking kickoffs out of football.

By doing so, he extracts the most dangerous play in the game, where full-speed collisions render concussions expected and commonplace.

While there are those for and against it, the players overwhelmingly dislike the idea, with the mindset, “Don’t change the game we love.”

This discussion comes both during a sensitive time when parents are questioning football’s safety and a year after Goodell moved the kickoff up five yards to induce more touchbacks.

But football is a violent sport played by violent people who don’t stress the long term risks the sport proposes. From a players’ perspective, Goodell is easy to gang up on because he never played the game.

“He doesn’t know how we feel.”

That’s where you hit your roadblock.

In order to get on board with a serious change to the game, the players need anecdotal evidence from former, prominent players of the tangible dangers of football.

Players like Jim McMahon, who’s 15 years in the league have left him with a fraction of the brain function he once possessed.

He talked about his short term memory in this interview with ESPN.

“That’s when the anger comes out. You dumbass, what are you doing, why (did you come) in this room?” he’ll ask himself. McMahon, along with “hundreds” of other players, are suing the NFL for concealing information about the long-term effect of concussions.

While I’m sure McMahon would have suggestions for his 22-year old self, the “McMahon’s” of today just want to play football, giving little attention to long-term risk.

But if in 20 years we see a 47-year old Adrian Peterson hunched back, limping, and talking about his day-to-day dependence, or Jerry Rice pleading with players to run out of bounds more often, you will see a change in mindset.

You need to relate to the players.

Unfortunately, the commissioner has very limited credibility because he lacked a playing career, but if the fathers of the NFL come out and declare the objective dangers of the game, you may see a drastic change to football.

I suggest a mad dash to the ball to start the game. We can learn a lot from the XFL…

Sporcle of the Week: Sports Nicknames

Nothing to do with the post, but I love this time of year…and my dog

The Big Unit, the Big Hurt, the Big Easy, Big Mac – all here. I got 45 of 84 right.

So yes, technically I failed, but I’m putting a curve on it. I think I did pretty well so I’m giving myself a B+. I couldn’t get most of the boxing ones. Anyway, do your best to best me. When you can’t, compare your answers to mine and post a screenshot in the comments.

SPORCLE OF THE WEEK: SPORTS NICKNAMES

Jason Kidd is the most important player on the Knicks

He’s going to play 20 minutes a game. He’s slow. He’s old.

Entering his 19th season, Jason Kidd has never averaged more than 20 points per game. The Knicks backup point guard has averaged 10 assists per game in only three seasons, and never more than 11.

His lifetime three-point percentage sits under 35%.

And he’s the most important player on the New York Knicks.

Lost in translation three paragraphs up is Kidd’s longevity – 19 seasons in any job conveys you’re doing something right. The NBA’s #3 all-time leader in triple doubles, Kidd’s wisdom, pass first mentality, leadership, and desire to teach will turn the mediocre Knicks into eastern conference champion contenders.

Before Jeremy Lin signed with the Rockets but after Kidd joined the Knicks, Kidd said this:

“To have a chance to mentor a very good player in Jeremy — be able to share my secrets or what I’ve learned in my 18 years — for him hopefully to take it to another level, it’s something I look forward to doing,” Kidd said. Here’s the article.

I can be the best professor east of the Mississippi, but if I don’t want to teach students, then I’m just as valuable as your sixth grade substitute English teacher.

Even though Lin is no longer in New York, Kidd showed his itch to teach. In his twilight years, Kidd wants to leave his mark on the game.

What better team to fix?

Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, while both seething with talent, don’t work well together. Based on conjecture and watching Knicks basketball, their games do not mesh, they lack chemistry, and both want to be “the guy.”

A veteran like Kidd won’t hesitate to tell Stoudemire or Anthony what they’re doing wrong, and they’ll listen due to Kidd’s résumé.

Last year, Baron Davis and Jared Jeffries were the only Knicks with more NBA experience than Melo. Jeffries is a careeer-long defensive specialist and Davis failed to convince me he played for more than the money.

On the court, who was there to tell Melo to shut up?

On paper, last year’s Knicks translated into a team better than a 36-30 record and first-round exit. I felt their #1 problem was a lack of fluidity and chemistry.

But this year, and even as you read this as the Knicks prepare for Philly tonight, Kidd is revamping mindsets and relationships. As point guard and player/coach, Anthony and Stoudemire will have no choice but to play Kidd’s game, one that is 19 years wise and emphasizes passing and locating the open man.

Starting with Allen Iverson around 1999, we fell in love with the score-first point guard. The theory is now in its 14th (or so) straight year of failure. Here are the point guards (including career ppg) that have won championships the last decade:

Dwyane Wade ……………………………………………………………………………….. 25.2 ppg Jason Kidd …………………………………………………………………………………….. 13.0 ppg
Derek Fisher …………………………………………………………………………………… 8.6 ppg
Rajon Rondo ………………………………………………………………………………….. 10.8 ppg
Tony Parker ………………………………………………………………………………….. 16.8 ppg Chauncey Billups ………………………………………………………………….,……….. 15.5 ppg

Here are ones that haven’t:
Carmelo Anthony (They experimented with him at PG last year) ……….. 24.7 ppg
Allen Iverson…………………………………………………………………………………. 26.7 ppg
Chris Paul …………………………………………………………………………………….. 18.8 ppg
Stephon Marbury ………………………………………………………………………….. 19.3 ppg
Tracy McGrady ……………………………………………………………………………… 19.6 ppg

With Kidd’s decision making not diluted with the hotts for 40-point games, he understands a winning team requires an unselfish, pass-first mentality.

That’s why the Knicks won with Jeremy Lin. Ironically, Lin was putting up 25-30 point games, but his passing glued the Knicks into a cohesive unit, not five stations at one carnival.

With veterans Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, and Rasheed Wallace here to side with “Jason Kidd basketball,” maybe Anthony and Stoudemire will get the hefty serving of humble pie they desperately needed last year.

Assuming half the team doesn’t retire to Florida before the end of the season, the Knicks’ leadership, talent, deep bench, and confidence will engineer the most wins of any Knicks team since their 57-25 season in 1996-97.