Author Archives: Steve Riach

About Steve Riach

Steve is a writer, producer and director of films, documentaries and television shows, and has authored 15 books on sports. A former college baseball player, his sports hero growing up was Nolan Ryan.

Faster, Higher, STRONGER

The games of the 31st Olympiad came to an end Sunday in Rio. There was celebration that the games turned out to provide us with thrilling competition. There was celebration that there were fewer illnesses than anticipated in the water, that there were fewer crime incidents outside the games than expected, and that there was no massive outbreak of the Zika virus. And there was celebration that Ryan Lochte had gone home.

Lochte actually came out with a “revised” version of his story on the same day that the White House announced their $400 million payment to Iran was “leverage” and not ransom, and the same day the Clinton Foundation announced they would not accept contributions from foreign governments or interests should Mrs. Clinton become president as that would be a conflict of interest (go ahead and snicker). Perhaps Lochte felt the timing of his statement might help his story get lost behind those of the White House and Clinton Foundation. No such luck. This story couldn’t go away fast enough for Lochte – kind of like his final kick in the 200m Individual Medley. Through a post on social media, Lochte said he should have been more “careful and candid.” I wonder if Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton were thinking the same thing.

Lochte’s antics took attention away from some truly great moments in Rio: Michael Phelps owning the pool; a tale of two Simones – Biles owning the floor, Manuel shattering a barrier in the pool; a sweep in the women’s 110m hurdles; the dominant women’s rowing team, and so many more memorable moments.

Yet, undoubtedly, the finest moment of the games had nothing to do with medals, but everything to do with mettle.

By now, most everyone has seen the dramatic images of U.S. 5,000 meter runner Abbey D’Agostino tipping and falling over New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who had fallen in front of her, during their qualifying heat. As you probably know, Abbey got up, and helped a distraught Hamblin up, then encouraged her to finish the race. “Get up,” she said. “We have to finish this.”

If you don’t know the rest of the story, there was a slight problem. As she started to run, D’Agostino realized her right knee wasn’t cooperating. Unknowingly, she had torn her ACL and meniscus, and strained her MCL. She collapsed in pain. But it wasn’t over.

Athletics - Olympics: Day 11

D’Agostino got up and hobbled around the track and 17 minutes and 10 seconds later, she FINISHED THE RACE. At the finish line, she was met with a wheelchair, and an awestruck Hamblin.

Olympic athletes prepare for a lifetime for one brief moment to reach for the ultimate crown. It seems that Abbey D’Agostino had prepared for a lifetime for her moment, just the way it unfolded.

“Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way,” she said in the aftermath. “This whole time here He’s made it clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”

Pure gold.

Said Hamblin afterward, “I’m never going to forget that moment.”

Neither will I.

 

 

Money Ball

moneyNBA owners played with house money last week and the results were astonishing.

Awash in new TV money, the league upped it’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.1 million for the coming year, and the money was burning a hole in the pockets of the owners.

In the first 96 hours of the free agency period, NBA teams committed close to $3 billion (yep, Billion, with a “B”) toward contracts with free agents. That’s nearly $9,000 a second spent. Every second. For four straight days.

It’s one thing for the Golden State Warriors to give big bucks to come to the bay area, but what about some of the other deals that were made. Timofey Mozgov got $64 mil over for years from the Lakers. Yes, that’s the same Timofey Mozgov who played a total of 25 minutes in the Cavaliers 7 game championship run. But Mozgov’s is not the only contract that raised eyebrows, and tax brackets.

Hassan Whiteside made a mere $980,000 this season. His new deal to stay in Miami: $98 million over 4 years. Undrafted guard, Tyler Johnson, went from the D League to signing a deal with the Heat for $50 million over 4 years. Nicholas Batum got 5 years, $120 million to go to Charlotte. Kent Bazemore  pocketed 4 years, $70 million to stay with Atlanta. And on it went.

SB Nation has a full rundown of the lunacy here: http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2016/6/30/12052290/nba-free-agent-signings-tracker-2016-rumors

Money was flying around like a monopoly game. The spending was like Imelda Marcos buying shoes. At some point you’d think someone would take away the credit card, wouldn’t you?

So when you follow your favorite NBA team in the coming season, you might feel for a guy like Festus Ezeli, who left the Warriors for Portland for the paltry sum of $15 million. Poor guy will only reel in $7.5 mil this season. That’s just $91K per game, or about $5K per minute… which is a little less than what the owners spent in their 4 days shopping spree.

Hope he knows how to stretch a dollar.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Independence Day Bobby Bonilla!

You may have missed it amidst all of the Fourth of July weekend activities, but did you know that the New York Mets sent a check for more than $1 million last Friday to a 53-year-old, who last played in the majors 15 years ago.

Yep, former slugger Bobby Bonilla was jettisoned by the Mets back in 2001. Yet, for Bobby Bo, every July 1 is his own personal independence day…. at least for the next 19 years.

All of this is the work of Bonilla’s agent, Dennis Gilbert, who negotiated a deal similar to an annuity payout in 2000. The Mets owed Bonilla $5.9 million for the 2000 season and no longer wanted him on the roster. So Gilbert negotiated an 8% annual interest rate to that money. With the clock starting in 2000, the total adds up to $29.8 million. The first installment came in 2011. Every July 1, through 2035, when he will be 72, Bonilla will go to his mailbox and find a check from the New York Mets for $1,193,248.20. Not a bad stroll.

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In fact, Bonilla is paid more annually than most of the Mets’ young stud pitchers. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz all make half of the check Bonilla deposited last week. Such is the economics of baseball.

And now we know why Bobby Bo is smiling.

 

A Simple Game of Pitch and Catch… or Catch and Pitch

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Erik Kratz.

The journeyman major leaguer is now the answer to a baseball trivia question.

Ten days ago, Kratz became the first player since 1879 to pitch AND catch for two different major league teams in a single season.

On June 21, the Pirates catcher tossed a scoreless inning after being forced into relief in Pittsburgh’s 15-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants. He allowed two hits, but finished the inning unscathed, and even struck out Brandon Belt. Two months earlier, Kratz took the mound for the Houston Astros to finish out an 11-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.  In that one,  he allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits. The Astros. The Astros released him in late May, and after a brief stop with the Angels, Kratz was on to Pittsburgh where he made baseball history. Anyone who is the first to do something in 137 years is, well, pretty cool, don’t you think?

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Baseball is chock full of Erik Kratzes. Nondescript players by most accounts who end up as historical footnotes. And, perhaps, like cerebral catchers who end up as big league managers (See Mike Scioscia, Mike Matheny, Bruce Bochy, Kevin Cash, John Gibbons, etal).

The moral of the story? If your son wants to be a big leaguer, tell him to be a catcher.

 

 

Beating the Odds

“I don’t believe what I’ve just seen.” – Jack Buck, calling Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series
“…The impossible has happened…” – Vin Scully, making the same call.

One of the things we love about sports is that it gives us a chance to witness the improbable, the seemingly impossible. The underdog overcoming all odds to take down the giant. The comeback from a seeming insurmountable deficit to win. The seemingly defeated opponent getting up one more time to fight back. The competitor wrought wtih exhaustion, finding the strength to cross the finish line. It’s why we watch.

The College World Series begins today. Along with traditional powers like Miami, Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma State, the 8 team field includes UC Santa Barbara, making their first ever appearance in the series. But, it’s how the Gauchos got to Omaha that makes sports great.

Last Sunday, UCSB trailed the nation’s #2 ranked Louisville Cardinals, 3-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning. On the mound to close it out for Louisville was their star closer, Zack Burdi, who earlier in the week had been the 1st round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox. Not great odds, right? Right. In fact, Louisville was 47-0 during the season when leading after 8 innings.

Burdi struggled with his control, and UCSB loaded the bases with one out. Up to the plate stepped  freshman catcher, Sam Cohen. Yeah, that Sam Cohen. The guy with all of 26 at bats during the entire season. So, what happens? The freshman blasts a two-strike, walk-off grand slam. Just like that, UCSB is making travel plans for Omaha.

https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=sam+cohen+grand+slam&ei=UTF-8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-002

David and Goliath stuff at it’s best.

Only in sports. And the reason we watch.

UCSB

Heir Jordan

We have learned over the past 2 months that Jordan Spieth is human.

What a relief.

spieth

His 18th place finish at the Byron Nelson, followed by his final round defeat at the Masters have the media asking what is wrong with him. Speculation centers around what the media calls his “collapse” at Augusta, creating emotional fragility that has led to his less than stellar play of late. Can we just give the kid a break?

Why is it that we demand our up-and-coming athletes be “the next _______” (Tiger, Michael, Emmitt Smith, you fill in the blank). Perhaps our desire to elevate people to hero status, or proclaim them as “the greatest” is due in part to the dichotomy that exists in our post-modern culture that minimizes the thought of God, yet desperately seeks someone to worship.

Why can’t we just enjoy the performances and appreciate the athletic gifting? I mean, do we really want or need another Tiger Woods?

From all appearances, Spieth is a good human being, who respects people, is kind and generous, gracious to the media, and loves his family. A model to be admired? Yes. A talent to be appreciated? Absolutely. A player to root for? Of course. An idol to be worshiped? Even Spieth would say he is uncomfortable with that.

He’s 22 for crying out loud. Maybe we can be satisfied with watching him play for the next 15 years and just enjoy the ride.

 

K is for Kershaw

Is Clayton Kershaw the best pitcher of this generation? He’s certainly making a pretty good case.

On Thursday night the Dodgers left-hander tossed his second consecutive shutout and struck out 13 in becoming the first pitcher in the modern era to string together 5 consecutive starts with 10 or more strikeouts and 1 or fewer walks. Let that settle in. No one since 1900 has done that. And no pitcher has exhibited such a combination of power and control. For the season, Kershaw now has 77 strikeouts and FOUR walks – a 19 to 1 ratio. The best ever ratio for a full season is 11 to 1. Extrapolated over a full season, Kershaw would end up with a mind-numbing 308 strikeouts versus 16 walks.

With 3 Cy Young Awards, an MVP award, and 4 ERA titles already under his belt, he is already in rare territory. His career ERA is 2.40, the best among active players by over half a run (Madison Bumgarner is 2nd at 3.02). He is now 119 and 57 over his seven and a half seasons. His winning percentage is first among all active pitchers and is 8th all time. For six straight seasons now, he has dominated the National League. His run is reminiscent of that of Sandy Koufax’s 4-year stretch from 1963-66, which is still the greatest in modern baseball history. But it’s time for Kershaw’s name to be included in the conversation about pitchers who may end up among the best the game has seen.

It was a great week for pitchers other than Kershaw, as well. Max Scherzer tied the MLB record for K’s in a 9 inning game with 20. And Noah Syndergaard of the Mets blasted two homers in his win over the Dodgers the night before Kershaw took the mound.

Every era has their greats. In the ’60’s it was Koufax, Gibson, Drysdale, and Marichal. The ’70’s had Seaver, Carlton, Palmer and Ryan. We seem to be in another era of dominant pitchers with Arrieta, Hernandez, and the like, but to me Kershaw is clearly at the top.

What do you think?

It doesn’t hurt that he’s also a great guy, committed to making the lives of others better. Check it out: http://www.kershawschallenge.com/

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