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Friday, January 21, 2021

There’s certainly some inverse energy in the champion of ESPN.com’s nationwide fantasy football competition being homeless:

Obviously, Nathan Harrington, 33, of Salem, Mass., knows something I don’t. Harrington ended up homeless after needing back surgery, going on medical leave from his job, and being forced to leave his home because it was condemned.

And still, he was better than over 3 million people at fantasy football.

He used computers at his father’s nursing home, his mother’s house, and the library. He knocked on neighbors’ doors and asked if he could use their computers.

When real life is falling apart, you might as well focus on Sunday’s stats.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 01/21/2011 08:00am
Category: Football, Internet
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Thursday, January 20, 2021

doing the waive
St. Louis Blues president John Davidson sounds off on just why the NHL’s waiver process for in-season free-agent signings is ludicrous:

“It’s hard to understand how you can take a player who is finished somewhere else, becomes available, and you do all the work,” Davidson told NHL Home Ice. “You do a formula to finding a contract, you make late-night phone calls, you get lawyers involved. Then you try to get him here, when nobody else had thought of it and the other team says ‘Oh, I’m going to take that player.’”

That’s the heart of it: One team does all the legwork, then basically offers up a finished-up scouting/contract packaged player to the rest of the league for the taking. And the player ends up in a different city/team/situation than what he had agreed to. Incidentally, this is essentially the same dynamic behind the restricted free agent negotiating process, which explains why so few teams tender offers to those players in the offseason.

I don’t even know what purpose is served by exposing such a player to the other 29 teams. It’s not as though a team like the Blues, who have had two prospective signings claimed away from them in the past month, are stashing talent in Europe for future use. Why not just let teams sign whoever they want mid-season, with the existing salary cap restriction dictating what’s possible or not?

As it is, it seems the only way to sneak an emergency signing through is to overpay, or to agree to a multi-year contract — basically poison-pills to discourage other teams from making a waiver claim mostly as a strategic-defensive maneuver. Again, there doesn’t seem to be much sense to the rule.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/20/2011 09:09pm
Category: Hockey
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Monday, January 03, 2021

look out below
I’ve had a day to digest the absurdity of the Seattle Seahawks winning the NFC West with a 7-9 record, the first sub-.500 division champion in NFL history.

And all I can come up with is this: That the National Football League has, improbably, stumbled across its own franchise-level version of the Mendoza Line. The Seahawks’ 2010 winning percentage of .438 might seem gaudy next to the Mendoza threshold of .200, but when we’re talking about football standings, it’s equivalent.

To an extent, the losing record is merely symbolic. Would Seattle truly be any better of a team if it had squeezed out one more win, to finish a comparably respectable 8-8? No. It’s still a rotten team, that just happened to be grouped with three other rotten teams, and somebody had to wind up on top.

It sucks for the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Bucs, the other NFC teams that finished up 10-6 yet were shut out of postseason action. The league can look at revising the playoff qualification rules for the future. But if nothing else, they should really revisit the onetime proposal to strip division winners of homefield advantage if their records aren’t better than those of their wild-card opponents. It’s bad enough that Seattle gets into the playoffs, but to have it host a playoff game is doubly ridiculous.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/03/2021 11:28pm
Category: Baseball, Football
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Sunday, January 02, 2021

priming the time
It could have been a disaster, but it turned out to be something of a ratings boon: The rain-threat rescheduling of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic from its original 1pm start time to 8pm later that same New Year’s Day resulted in a success, to the point where the league and the network are considering a permanent shift to primetime.

While that’s great for the National Hockey League, I have to ask: What does this last-minute shuffling say about the state of network television?

What was lost when the time change was announced is how little disruption it caused to NBC’s schedule. Essentially, the network admitted that its entire Saturday was wide open, with nothing else on its air that couldn’t be pushed out of the way in favor of this hockey showcase. That’s on a broadcast channel that’s available in pretty much every U.S. household — the most massive of mass media.

Such a situation would have been unimaginable even ten years ago. Primetime on network TV used to be rarefied territory, every day of the week. Some sort of original programming used to occupy those Saturday slots between 8pm and 11pm, and ad rates would reflect that. With that kind of investment in place, there’d be no way that any sporting event would easily be re-slotted that same day.

But the Winter Classic’s easy transition from afternoon to nighttime illustrates just how much things have changed. What did the hockey game supplant? Back-to-back-to-back reruns of “Law and Order”. In other words, no original programming at all. And NBC is far from alone in this Saturday dead zone: ABC and CBS also air junk fillers. Acknowledging that audiences don’t tune in on weekends — or, at best, just catch up on the week’s DVRed queue — the networks have abandoned any attempts at “must-see TV” on Fridays and Saturdays.

Like I said, this is great for hockey, which continues to gain ground in televised exposure. But it also calls into question the actual value of that televised coverage. If the airtime is so empty on a regular basis, is it really worth occupying? Maybe live events like sports or other entertainment options are ideal for network schedules during these times, but overall, it’s not a healthy indicator for the boob-tube business.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/02/2021 03:22pm
Category: Hockey, TV
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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

leggo my logo
Just to be clear: It’s okay to toss hats, and even 23,000 teddy bears, onto the ice in hockey arenas. But waffles are a no-no, at least in Toronto:

A 31-year-old man charged with mischief after throwing waffles on the ice at a Toronto Maple Leafs game says he did it out of frustration at the underperforming team.

“I’m just a normal Leafs fan and love them to death,” Joseph Robb of Oakville, Ont., said Wednesday in an interview…

His love affair will be from a distance, however, after being barred from the Air Canada Centre, as well as other Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment events at BMO Field and Ricoh Coliseum. Further punishment could follow from a January court appearance.

I’m wondering if the raw, frozen waffles are really an optimal rink-projectile. After all, studies have shown that Detroit’s famed NHL octopus-tossing works better when the cephalopod is first boiled, for a better bounce. Follow that learned Red Wings expertise and toast those Eggos before you fling them, Leafs Nation!

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/22/2010 10:50pm
Category: Food, Hockey, True Crime
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I’m no hoops fan, but I appreciate a good in-game catchphrase as much as anyone.

To wit: Declaring a 3-point shot attempt as “shooting from international waters”.

I like it. Gives the trey-line, and everything beyond it, a proper remoteness. Along with a loose anything-goes undercurrent

A good switch-up from the old Marv Albert standard “from way-down-town!” declaration of this longshot. The maritime analogy probably has been in use for both NBA and college coverage for a long while. But again, since I don’t follow the hardcourt, it’s new to me. And a happy discovery.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/22/2010 05:17pm
Category: Basketball, Wordsmithing
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Sunday, December 12, 2021

The International Boxing Hall of Fame created a bit of a stir last week with the announcement of its 2011 class — and it wasn’t because Mike Tyson was on the list:

The day’s shocker, though, was that the name Sylvester Stallone appeared alongside the boxing legends.

That’s right, Stallone is going into the BHOF for his contributions to the sport through film. Stallone gained worldwide fame between 1976-2006, playing the fictional character “Rocky Balboa” in six movies.

You can certainly make a solid argument for inducting non-participants in the actual sport. Still, this smacks of yet another wacky action from perhaps the wackiest of organized sports, and brings to my mind this quip from boxing journalist/historian Bert Sugar, on the scandal-plague Ring magazine:

“If Ring is the Bible of boxing,” Sugar cracked, “the sport needs a New Testament.”

But, hey. Maybe the professional pugilists are on to something. Why not honor the fictional ambassadors of any sport with enshrinement? With that in mind, here’s my slate of candidates for other hallowed halls:

Baseball: Kevin Costner, for Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and, um… Waterworld?

Basketball: The coach on “The White Shadow”. Sorry, the only one that stands out for me…

Football: Terry Tate, Office Linebacker. C’mon, he’s due! Better than the obvious choice, that overachieving twerp Rudy.

Hockey: No-brainer on The Hanson Brothers, for Slap Shot. And why not — Paul Newman, posthumously.

Horseracing: Mister Ed. And that talking spokes-horse from Yonkers Raceway commercials, while we’re at it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/12/2021 12:10pm
Category: Comedy, Movies, Pop Culture, Sports
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Saturday, December 11, 2021

This week’s purchase of the New Orleans Hornets by the National Basketball Association is the third such franchise-buyback in recent memory:

- The Phoenix Coyotes were bought out of bankruptcy by the National Hockey League last year; they’re still owned by the league, although a sale to Matthew Hulsizer seems imminent.

- Back in 2002, Major League Baseball bought the Montreal Expos, a prelude to eventually selling the team to investors who re-launched the franchise as the Washington Nationals.

Are we seeing a trend? Each of these buybacks were defensive, last-resort moves. Contraction was mentioned in each instance, and is being bandied about by the NBA even now (although more as sabre-rattling versus its upcoming collective bargaining fight with its players union). While brand value and product integrity are important enough for the NHL, NBA, and MLB to persuade member owners to contribute money to pool together such troubled-team buybacks, you have to wonder when owners will get tired of footing such bills.

Oh, and the missing major-pro league here? The National Football League, of course. The NFL has yet to experience a situation where a franchise couldn’t attract eager buyers. That doesn’t translate into stability — teams have switched cities a lot, the Los Angeles vacancy is an ongoing issue, and the looming player lockout could dent a few franchises. But to this point, it’s telling that the NFL hasn’t had to engage in such bailouts.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/11/2021 05:45pm
Category: Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, SportsBiz
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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

hit onehit two
I’m not one to defend fighting in the National Hockey League, or at any level of hockey for that matter. That said, I take umbrage with this flippant assessment of the sport’s culture of fisticuffs:

“He got my helmet off and I got his. To me, that is the end of the play,” [Tennessee Titans CB Cortland] Finnegan told 104.5-FM in Nashville on Monday. “This is the NFL, not the NHL, and it is a higher standard. That’s the NHL, they fight and they get penalties for that. In the NFL that is unheard of. You do that and you are suspended, hands down.

Finnegan is referring to this week’s unusual on-field punching match between him and Houston Texan WR Andre Johnson. Neither player wound up getting suspended, although the National Football League took a chunk of their paychecks in fines. (I’m guessing the presence of the Predators in Nashville is the main reason why the comparison with the NHL even came up.)

“Higher standard”, of course, is a veiled insult. The implication is that the NHL operates under lower standards than the NFL, by virtue of the integration of fighting within gameplay rules. Nonsense, of course. None of the professional sports leagues can claim to occupy a superior moral ground in this sense, and especially not the oft-capricious NFL. That neither Finnegan nor Johnson were suspended, as is standard practice in these cases, points to that; obviously both teams’ activist owners interceded to prevent that punishment.

Not that it’s anything new to dog on hockey for its peculiar institution. Like I said, I’m not the biggest fan of five-for-fighting, and it wouldn’t upset me if they banned on-ice pugilism tomorrow. But there’s no merit in criticizing the league over a misperception that it operates with any less integrity than any other sport.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/30/2010 11:52pm
Category: Football, Hockey
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Friday, November 19, 2021

I’ve been known to quote from Peter Gent’s “North Dallas Forty” on this blog. So here’s another snippet I’m posting — a succinct meditation on getting uncontrollably older, with the attendant psychological shifts:

I am a man who has learned that survival is the reason of life and that fear and hatred are the emotions. What you cannot overcome by hatred you must fear. And every day it is getting harder to hate and easier to fear.

It takes a lot of energy to hate, and eventually you run out of the mental fuel — from redundancy, if nothing else. The resultant vacuum is filled by lower-impact fear.

Amazing how much I can pick out of this novel, even after reading it for the dozenth-plus time. I guess that’s the treasure-hunting point of re-reading any book periodically.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/19/2010 12:12pm
Category: Football, Publishing
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Thursday, November 18, 2021

kicking, screaming
The above photo, culled from Flickr, came to my attention as a visual accompaniment for this brief essay on self-actualization in the face of bullying.

It’s a curious picture. I get that the bully is getting his kicks — pun intended — by caging his victims inside a metal soccer goal net. But then, to kick a soccer ball at that reversed target? It’s definitely scary and jarring to be subjected to that. And yet it makes for absurd, even comical, imagery. The backward-facing target implies a demented game taking place. Which, I guess, is the point here.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/18/2010 11:45pm
Category: Other Sports, Photography, Society
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Today’s New York Times takes a predictably dim view of Dominican Republic youth baseball academies, known as buscones:

At academies run by investors from the United States, the players are typically 13 to 19 years old and forgo formal schooling to train. Several of the players said they would return to school if they were not signed to a professional contract…

These practices are worrisome for critics like David P. Fidler, a professor of international law at Indiana University. “Buscones in the Dominican Republic are in the business of selling children,” he said. “And it’s very disturbing that American investors would come in to profit from a system that exploits and discriminates against young children.”

It struck me that the part about forgoing formal schooling in favor of athletic development is reminiscent of another sports-development system, in another country: The Canadian Hockey League.

The CHL is the chief talent feed for the National Hockey League, and the three junior leagues that comprise it operate pretty much the same way as buscones do. The main difference is the age of entry — the Ontario, Quebec, and Western leagues typically wait until their kids are in their late teens. But indeed, not only do those players leave home, they also give up regular school in favor of full-time hockey.

So why criticize what goes on in the Caribbean, and not what goes on north of the border? The basic concept is the same. The difference is in the socioeconomic setting.

Canada is a developed country, and the kids who are drafted into the junior ranks tend to come from middle-class and higher households — therefore, there’s no characterization of those kids “being sold”. Whereas the Dominican Republic is a third world country, the kids there are impoverished, and so these actions are viewed as exploitative. It’s a double standard.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/18/2010 11:04pm
Category: Baseball, Business, Hockey, Society
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Monday, November 15, 2021

twittering classicing
Call it a case of social media collateral damage. Thanks to some controversial comments he made about escrows on his million-dollar income, goalie Dan Ellis earned some online backlash, including a “Fake Dan Ellis” Twitter account. From which came forth an especially biting zinger:

@FakeDanEllis: Does anybody have change for a diamond? #DanEllisProblems

So now, I can’t come across any reference to the Tampa Bay Lightning backup and not think of that mocking tweet. Not that I think Ellis deserved all the flack he got — would someone earning $40,000 a year and complaining about a proportionate tax bite get the same negative reaction? But the joke definitely sticks. The hashtag punctuates the poor-rich-boy tenor.

The real Ellis has since quit Twitter, citing the now-poisoned context. Luckily for him, NHL players typically don’t gain nicknames from online chatter. Although he could do worse than “Diamond” Dan…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/15/2010 11:19pm
Category: Comedy, Hockey, Social Media Online
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Following a franchise-record 10-game losing streak, the New York Islanders today fired head coach Scott Gordon.

An unintentional underlining to this painful move came via the team’s telecommunications system:

Perhaps it was appropriate that Lady GaGa’s “Bad Romance” played before the conference call announcing his firing began.

I’m sorry that Gordon had to lose his job (although he will remain employed by the Isles as an advisor). But I’m glad that a certain hockey blogger is on the NHL‘s media list, and so was in a position to pick up on this pop-cultural coincidence.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/15/2010 10:20pm
Category: Hockey, Pop Culture
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Saturday, November 13, 2021

super stadia shuffle
It’s nothing new for the National Football League to shake down a city for stadium construction in exchange for hosting a Super Bowl (or, alternately, to get or retain a team). But the latest application of this technique, on behalf of the Atlanta Falcons and owner Arthur Blank, has an especially mercenary feel to it:

While in Atlanta, [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell made clear the connection between Atlanta hosting a third Super Bowl and Atlanta getting a new stadium.

The NFL has staged Super Bowl XXVIII and XXXIV at the Georgia Dome, which was opened in 1992.

“I think this is a great community,” Goodell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But as I mentioned to the people earlier today, the competition for the Super Bowl is really at an all-time high, in a large part because of the new stadiums. The provisions that they have for a new stadium in this great community, I think that’s a pretty powerful force. We have a history of going back to communities when they have those new stadiums.”

Lemme get this straight — the Georgia Dome, at just under two decades old, is now considered antiquated? This isn’t a facility that was built without the modern-day amenities for a big-league box — it’s got skyboxes out the yin-yang, along with plenty of retail space, advertising signage, etc. It was constructed at the start of the revenue-maximizing era for sports arenas, and not an awful lot has changed since the ’90s in those economic terms.

It’s fairly idiotic to think that a world-class venue like the Georgia Dome has a shelf life of only twenty years. This is a pure greed move by the NFL. Having already extracted new stadiums from most franchise cities, the league is now trying to re-start the process by prematurely declaring barely-used buildings as outmoded. Essentially, they’re trying to make supposedly long-term landmarks into disposable commodities, to be recycled every few years for a cash infusion to team and league.

Obviously, it’s a questionable tactic, given the economic climate. Not to mention that newer facilities like the Georgia Dome were paid for in large part with public funds, and continue to be paid off by local/state governments even after being replaced. The NFL’s past success keyed this stadium game for years, but I can’t see how it’ll work now, especially at this artificially-accelerated pace.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/13/2010 05:56pm
Category: Business, Football
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The online record is silent on just when Don King uttered this boxing-promotional quip:

But I do remember hearing it on sportstalk radio, sometime in the mid-1990s. King really touted that “double-shot power!” call to action for then-client Mike Tyson. It stuck with me. I’m surprised King, or someone else, didn’t retain it for other bouts.

For that matter, I’d like to have a copy of it myself. Maybe without the “Mike Tyson!” opener; just the “double-shot powah!” portion. It would make a nice soundbite for computer, cellphone, etc. I can’t figure out how to extract it from this Flash-based player, so I’ll have to keep looking in the scant online archives…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/13/2010 12:06pm
Category: Celebrity, Other Sports
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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Finally, instead of rigid geographical/conference constraints, the National Hockey League is injecting an element of fun into this year’s All-Star Game roster selections:

Under the new format, two captains per team will select the remaining All-Stars in any order they choose. Those teams will compete in the All-Star Game and SuperSkills competition…

Every NHL team will still be represented by at least one player during the weekend’s festivities. The players will then elect two captains, who will choose sides in a fantasy draft on Jan. 28. Each team must have three goalies, six defensemen and 13 forwards, but the captains can fill their teams in any order they choose.

So a schoolyard-style determining of squads. What’s not to like? I think they should televise it. Have all the All-Stars assembled on the ice, with the two captains standing out front, and have them call out each pick, until all the players are paired off. The facial reactions will make for great viewing — especially when it gets down to the last player picked. Plus, any behind-the-scenes maneuvering will make for entertaining scuttlebutt.

What’s that? The sanctity of the All-Star Game is at risk? Please. It’s a showcase exhibition, purely for fun. I never could relate to anyone who takes this contest seriously (in hockey or any other sport). It’s ultimately a fan feel-good event, so they might as well make it more playful.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/11/2021 10:36pm
Category: Hockey
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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

oakie dokie
Somehow, the Oakland Raiders have won a couple of games in a row. That success is being ascribed to a certain silver-and-black slogan — and it ain’t “just win, baby”:

The four-word phrase began when head coach Tom Cable saw his team worrying too much about mistakes. Quarterback Jason Campbell, in particular, wouldn’t let interceptions or sacks or poor throws go by without overanalyzing them. So Cable told him to “just cut it loose”.

He told the New York Times that the phrase works for the whole team.

The irony being that, in ditching owner Al Davis’ famed catchphrase, the team actually is winning. What’s next, the Black Hole getting whitewashed?

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/10/2021 11:47pm
Category: Football, Wordsmithing
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Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Both William Faulkner (allegedly) and my old creative writing professor (even more allegedly) made it a point to re-read “Madame Bovary” every year.

Me? I’ve made it a point to re-read Peter Gent’s “North Dallas Forty” annually.

Which is what I’m doing right now, about a chapter-and-a-half in. I’m actually late, because in previous years, the start of the National Football League season served as my cue to crack open the book. I guess the histrionics of this 2010 NFL season distracted me from my reading ritual. That, and life in general…

Anyway. I’ve remedied this lapse by picking up my worn copy today, and diving into it once again. Good thing, too, because “North Dallas” is essential reading for getting into a proper gridiron state of mind. At least I think so; no question that I hold an obscurely minority opinion there. Sure, it’s repetitive and outdated to revisit the excesses of a (mostly) fictitious 1970s NFL squad… But then again, the game seems to be acquiring an unbearable sameness as the years pile up, too. Why not reinforce the sense of sporting ennui?

And to draw on a quote from the book (actually, the movie, but let’s not split hairs): Ultimately, we’re all just whores anyway; might as well be the best. Cheerful thought to carry us through to Super Bowl season. And, perhaps, enough to mollify the aforementioned literary figures at the top of this post — at least, Faulkner…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/09/2021 11:24pm
Category: Football, Publishing
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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Not accounting for injuries, healthy scratches, or minor-league demotions, on any given gamenight the Atlanta Thrashers could have as many as five black players suited up. In a traditionally white-man’s sport, that’s raised some eyebrows:

The trend is made more unusual because of geography: The City of Atlanta is more than 50 percent black and [has an African-American population total that is] the second largest in the U.S. behind New York; and it’s a population that, traditionally, isn’t watching the Stanley Cup Finals every season.

So the speculation began that this roster was being put together by design, in order for a team struggling to fill seats to reach an untapped audience for hockey. Pass It To Bulis (Mainstream Media: “The blogosphere”) published a well-received post about the trend, noting that by having six players hovering near the NHL level, the Thrashers had roughly 20 percent of the active black players in the NHL.

The Thrashers plead talent-first colorblindness, even though they are maximizing the situation by targeting Atlanta’s black media market.

I’ll point out another National Hockey League city that’s predominately black: Detroit. To date, the Red Wings haven’t gone out of their way to either insert a African-American (or, more probably, African-Canadian) player into their roster, or court the inner-city sports fan. Of course, it’s a different situation: Detroit’s hockey club is a nearly a century old, and — the key thing — has been a consistent winner for a long while now. Still, if any NHL team were to aggressively market itself in this direction, the Wings would be in the prime position to do so.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 10/28/2010 11:13pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Hockey, Society
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Monday, October 25, 2021

there's a catch
Thanks to the trick of a mid-season trade, Texas Rangers catcher Bengie Molina is guaranteed a World Series ring in this year’s Fall Classic — no matter which team prevails:

He is about to become the first catcher in baseball history to appear in the Fall Classic against a team he played for earlier in the season… Molina also was the Giants’ catcher from 2007 until July 1 of this year, when he was traded to Texas for reliever Chris Ray and minor leaguer Michael Main… Molina played 61 games for San Francisco and 57 games for Texas during the regular season.

Molina is only the second Major League Baseball player to play on the rosters of both World Series clubs in the same season; he’s preceded by leftfielder Lonnie Smith, who got swapped from St. Louis to Kansas City in 1985 — and got his revenge by helping the Royals power past the Cardinals for the championship that year. Hopefully, Molina will earn his WS ring the same way, versus backing into it on the losing squad.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/25/2010 10:52pm
Category: Baseball
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