God Bless Michael Weiner

NEW YORK — The main thing I have to say about Michael Weiner is that he has a lot of guts. He is nearing the end stage of brain cancer and still is fighting the good flight. 

Now wheelchair bound, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Player Association was on the field on Monday evening at Citi Field surrounded by those who love him — his wife and support staff from the union.

A number of members of our baseball writing establishment who have developed wonderful relationships with him over the course of the years surrounded his chair and leaned over to hear him speak in a now hushed tone. I did everything I could not to openly weep in front of him. It’s been less than a year since he was diagnosed with the non-operable tumor. We have all watched him deteriorate in front of our eyes.

“Look, you’re never prepared to deal with this kind of change in life,” he told me during an interview near the end of Sprint Training conducted in the dugout at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. “My attitude is that I’m going to enjoy every day that I can. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the family I have. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the job that I have. I’m incredibly lucky to have the friends and the colleagues and the professional acquaintances I have. And I’m just going to enjoy them as much as I can for every day. Hopefully it’s going to be a lot of days.”

A year ago in Kansas City at the All-Star Game he was his usual vital self. I sat with him in the airport the day after the game trying to jump on an earlier flight to New York to see my father, who had just had foot surgery. We talked about our families. I didn’t get on the flight.

The next time I saw him later that summer was in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium before a Red Sox-Yankees game. He looked up and the first words out of his mouth were, “How’s your dad?” That’s the kind of person he is. A mensch.

The cancer diagnosis came out of left field, so to speak. He was feeling numbness in his hand and went to the doctor. An MRI revealed the tumor. It’s called a gliobastoma. It’s in an area of his brain that can’t be reached by surgical means and is 99 percent fatal. Somehow I hoped and prayed that through chemo and radiation they would at least keep it at bay. So did everyone else.

But he told me on Monday that last month the symptoms took a turn for the worse and suddenly sped up dramatically. He’s lost function on the right side of his body and is taking an experimental series of drugs as a last resort.

Still, he wanted to be here for this All-Star weekend because as an attorney and head of the union, he absolutely adores the game, which excites us in times of strength and gives us solace when we are weak.

I know, When I was battling colon cancer four years ago, I covered the 2009 World Series in between chemo treatments. I wasn’t going to allow a little thing like cancer to keep me from a Fall Classic between the Phillies and my beloved Yankees.

“Even just sitting here in the dugout and talking with you and looking out over this beautiful ball field is a great thing,” he told me a mere 3 1/2 months ago.

I imagine he felt even more so on Monday night.

“You’ve given it a great fight,” I told him.

“That’s the only way I know to go about it,” he responded in a whisper.

“Nothing else seems to matter right now except what’s happening to you,” I said.

“Thank you. I appreciate that,” he said.

No, thank you. Thank you for your courage and your friendship and God bless you for all eternity.

Confronting ghosts and slaying dragons

NEW YORK — It’s not very often when you get to meet a person that contributed to one of the worst moments of your life as a sports fan.

But that happened to me at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. The silver-haired gentleman sitting in the press box was Johnny Bucyk, the former Boston Bruins center, who has been with that organization in one capacity or another for 56 years.

It had been 41 years and 12 days since May 11, 1972, the night the Bruins defeated the New York Rangers, 3-0, to win that year’s Stanley Cup in six games.

Bucyk, as the captain, was the guy who accepted the Cup and began skating around the Garden ice with it, leading the band of marauders who had just defeated the Rangers. It was that same Garden ice on which the Rangers won 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night, staving off elimination to the Bruins in another playoff round.

In 1972, I was sitting up in the rafters in section 442 with my brother and some friends who regularly came to the games in those days. I was 21, a college kid and devote Rangers fan. I still am. I couldn’t watch Bucyk skate around the ice with the Cup, and so I fled down the stairwell into the lobby.

Bucyk, Boston’s all-time leading scorer with 545 goals, could only smile as I told him that story.

“We had a lot of power on that team in the 1970s,” Bucyk said. “I was just thrilled to be skating around the ice holding that Cup. It was a big thrill. That’s the last time that happened. The captain didn’t skate around the ice with the Cup alone anymore after that. He passed it on to the whole team. It was a great thrill that I got the honor to do that.”

They were the big bad Bruins. Bobby Orr, the best player I’ve ever seen. Phil Esposito, a player I came to admire after he was traded to the Rangers and I covered him as a professional sportswriter. Gerry Cheevers, the great goalie. The Bruins were terrors and Derek Sanderson was one of the game’s early goons who could actually play.

Bucyk said that Sanderson was one of their real characters and that reminded me of Game 3 of the quarterfinals in 1970 between these same two teams here at MSG. The Rangers had been bullied, bloodied and dominated in the first two games of the series in old Boston Garden.

As Game 3 began, one the first faceoffs came just to the left of the Rangers goal. Eddie Giacomin, the terrific Rangers goalie, skated over to Sanderson in the circle and pointed the glove hand in his face. The puck dropped and two Rangers took Sanderson into the boards, inciting a melee that led to some 200 penalty minutes.

The ice looked like the last scene of the movie “Slap Shot” with opposition players paired off and fighting all over the ice. The only thing missing was Oggie Oglethorpe.

As he turned it tuned out, Giacomin said this to Sanderson when he skated out of his goal to confront him: “The only reason we’re here tonight is to get you.” The Rangers got him and won the game.

“But it didn’t help,” Bucyk said. “We still ended up winning the series.”

A few weeks later, the Bruins one that 1970 Cup against the St. Louis Blues on the goal scored by a flying Orr, who is immortalized and frozen in time perpendicular to the ice in a statue just outside Boston’s TD Garden.

Great memories. For Bucyk.

“The one in 1972 is one of those things you remember,” he said. “But 1970 was a better one. We won the Cup right in Boston and I was able to skate around the Garden with it. That was probably one of the highlights of my career.”

For me, one of the highlights was covering the 1994 Stanley Cup finals for Sport Magazine and being in this Garden the night the Rangers won Game 7, 3-2, over Vancouver. It was their first Cup victory in 54 years. Captain Mark Messier carried the Rangers that year and talked about slaying that dragon of a drought.

The last line of my story read like this: “If the Rangers don’t win again for another 54 years, well, that will be somebody else’s dragon to slay.”

Now it has been another 20 years since then and I find that it’s become my problem all over again. After all, add a 1979 loss in five games to the Canadiens and the Rangers have only been to the finals three times in my 61 years. But at least the Rangers lived to die another day against the big bad Bruins on Thursday night and I had the privilege of meeting John Bucyk.

That’s one less dragon I have left to slay.



Paul over Durant as NBA ASG MVP

HOUSTON — If there was any question whether the transition from young to old in the NBA and the Lakers to the Clippers in Los Angeles was all but complete, the West defeated in the East, 143-138, Sunday night at the Toyota Center in the annual All-Star Game and Clippers guard Chris Paul was named Most Valuable Player.

Paul could have been a Laker prior to the 2012-13 season had outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern allowed his trade from the Hornets. Instead, the deal was negated and Paul was swapped to the Clippers, who for the first time in their checkered history not only own L.A., but are among the league’s elite teams.

Paul had 20 points, 15 assists and four steals on Saturday night, grabbing MVP honors away from Kevin Durant of the Thunder, who paced all scorers with 30 points. Many of them came on thunderous dunks that had the sellout crowd of 16,101 on its collective feet. Durant is the first player in All-Star Game history to have at least 30 points in three successive games — all won by the West. He was the MVP of last year’s game in Orlando, which the West won by three.

“This is pretty special, pretty special,” Paul said. “It’s something I’ve never done and it’s something coming into this game I never thought I’d achieve. I told [Durant] early in the first quarter, ‘If they score anything, you run. I’ll get you the ball. You score. I want to be the one to give it to you.'”

That he did. The 15 assists for Paul reminded long time observers of Magic Johnson and John Stockton and he was the first player to have as many as 15 assists in an All-Star Game since Gary Payton in 1995.

“He deserved it,” Durant said about Paul winning the MVP hardware. “He had great passes, made big steals and made big buckets. He played a hell of a game and congratulations to him. It was a pleasure playing with him.”

Lakers stellar guard Kobe Bryant was the MVP two years ago in the Staple Center, the building in downtown L.A. shared by the Lakers and Clippers, who have not won an NBA championship. The Clippers, in fact, haven’t even won a playoff series since moving from Buffalo to San Diego in 1978. They shifted to L.A. after the1983-84 season. The Lakers, of course, have won 11 titles since the team moved west from Minneapolis.

Bryant, a four-time All-Star Game MVP, had nine points and eight assists as Durant and Paul controlled the pace of the game. During last year’s feverish finish Miami’s Dwayne Wade smacked Bryant in the face, breaking his nose and giving him a concussion.

For the East on Sunday night, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks paced that squad with 26 points. Wade added 21 and had seven assists. His Heat teammate LeBron James added 19 points.

The East made it close until Bryant resoundingly blocked a James shot, sending Durant streaking down the court to hit a breakaway jam that gave the West a 10-point lead with 2:31 left to play.

“I’m shooting a lot of shots, 24 shots in 31 minutes,” said Durant, whose young Oklahoma City team lost to the Heat last year in the NBA Finals. “I’m just out there having fun. I played a lot of street basketball. I played a lot of celebrity games. This is my type of ballgame up and down. The point guards made it easy for me. It was fun.”

And with that the transition from young to old in the NBA seemed just about complete.

I survived cancer and the D-backs 5K run

PHOENIX — I ran the D-backs first annual cancer 5K through the streets of downtown Phoenix on Saturday morning in a surprising 49 minutes, 48 seconds.

Considering that I usually average 18-minute miles, that’s pretty good for me.

I then took part in the weenie 1K family fun walk with my friend, Joey Reaves, and his wife, Lynne, who helped coordinate the event with the D-backs for St. Joseph’s Hospital. Joey, a prostate cancer survivor, is a former foreign correspondent and sportswriter par excellence, who now works for the Dodgers. Proof positive that cancer knows no affiliations nor boundaries.

As a two-time colon cancer survivor, I ran on Saturday for myself and some of my friends who are currently battling different forms of cancer. Michael Weiner and Juan Rodriguez are struggling with very virulent forms of brain cancer. Jim Gintonio has lung cancer.

Derrick Hall and Ken Kendrick in the D- backs hierarchy are also prostrate cancer survivors.

Pray for them. Think good thoughts for them. Good health and god bless them all along with the multitudes suffering from this disease. I honored their names by scribbling them around the placard boasting my race No. 38.

More than 3 1/2 years ago, I had a second bout with colon cancer when it jumped into my lung. I had surgery to bisect the upper lobe of my left lung to remove a tumor about the size of my finger tip. Two days after the surgery doctors had me on a tread mill. They wanted me to start by walking eight minutes twice a day with a goal of steadily rebuilding breathing capacity. Two weeks later I surpassed 30 minutes twice a day.

It’s an old cliche, but a truism: When there’s a will, there’s a way.

I’ve always been over weight, but I’ve always worked out. I never smoked. Now I no longer drink alcohol. In the last year I lost 60 pounds and I’ve kept almost all of that off.

The net result: In the last week I’ve had three light jogs of three miles or more. All that with a bisected lung. I’m in better shape now than before I had cancer. I’m lucky. I’m fortunate. But it’s been a lot of hard work. As the old joke goes, I bought the lottery ticket. No one could do that for me.

Out on the streets this morning I was passed by most of the younger and faster runners who left me in the dust right away. Guys wheeling baby carriages with one hand were rolling right by me. Women running backwards. Children walking. About a mile or so in I hit a comfortable pace. I started passing the people out for a stroll who were even slower than me.

The day started unusually gray and cold for the desert. Suddenly, the sky broke and the sun came out, bringing warmth along with it. I sprinted to the finish line and ran into D-backs great Luis Gonzalez. He had finished just in front me. Hundreds of people finished behind me.

If we can do it, you can. Early detection. Positive state of mind. Put in the work. There’s your own No. 38 and a medal for finishing at the end of the rainbow.


Two tales of one city

Kudos to U-T San Diego on Sunday for the enterprise story that encompassed the entire front page of Sports, “Two Tales of One City.”

It told the story of New Orleans post Katrina with the Super Bowl playing out there next Sunday for the first time since the storm ravaged that community in 2005. That story is one of a city that has rebounded well in some areas, but is still suffering in many others.

The piece, though, left out several key sports elements. Aside from the Super Bowl, hundreds of millions have been spent on renovating the Super Dome and saving the NFL Saints and NBA Hornets (soon to be Pelicans) for New Orleans. This rather than rebuild infrastructure that affects a much wider swath of people in The Crescent City. The NBA also has already staged an All-Star Game (2008) and is scheduled to go there again.

This in a community where the local paper that did such a boffo job covering Katrina has since laid off most of its staff and is printing only three days a week with a daily online presence.

Just like San Diego’s baseball and continuing football stadium situation, there’s an argument about what kind of damage the loss of a professional sports team does to the collective psyche of a community and to business in that community as a whole. The public money spent on sports never seems to to be apportioned to police, fire, schools or social services instead. These are the decisions every community has to make. It is going on in Sacramento right now with the NBA Kings sold and about to move to Seattle. How much responsibility do the tax payers have to join with private business if fans want to keep their sports teams? This is what they’re trying to figure out in a last ditch effort to save the Kings right now.

The U-T story written and reported by Michael Gehlken was incomplete. But I give him and the paper an A for effort for at least trying.

My Hall of Fame Ballot for 2013

Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell.

This ballot, as controversial as it is, wasn’t very tough for me. I’ve always voted for the best players from their particular era and this year is no different. Using all 10 slots, I voted for the all-time home run leader, a pitcher with 354 wins, the Astro with 3,060 hits, the catcher with the most homers ever at that position, the outfielder who produced three 60-homer, plus seasons, the first baseman with 583 homers, the man who hit 569 homers and amassed 3,020 hits, the pitcher with the most wins in the American League during the 1980s, the reliever with 478 saves and one of the best AL shortstops for 20 years.

It contained some tough choices because I didn’t have the room this year to vote for several guys I have in the past: Tim Raines, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez, who were also terrific players in their own right. I haven’t voted for Jeff Bagwell, but there’s little question he deserves a hard look.

Many good players, I fear, will now be neglected as more and more greats of the just past era will have exhausted their five-year waiting period to join the holdovers on the ballot.

Next year it will be even tougher with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas eligible for very serious if not obvious consideration. In my mind, they are all Hall of Famers. After that, John Smoltz, Trevor Hoffman, Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson are among others to join the group. They all should be elected on the first ballot.

A player only has to garner five percent of the vote each year to remain on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years. This is going to create a logjam on the ballot in the coming years as my colleagues in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America individually determine who meets the Hall of Fame criteria and who doesn’t.

In my mind there is no question. My 10 choices this year meet the criteria and should be in the Hall of Fame.

Thoughts on the Green family

PHOENIX — I never met Christina-Taylor Green, but I feel like I have through her parents, John and Roxanna.

She’s the little girl, who was gunned down nearly two years ago in nearby Tucson by a madman with an assault weapon who was after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and shot 19 people, killing six of them. The attack in front of a Safeway market took 20 seconds and he was stopped only because the 30-bullet magazine he used expired and he was tackled while trying to change that clip. The guy bought those bullets that morning at a local Walmart.

He disabled Giffords with a shot to the head, depriving Arizona of a young Congresswoman and possible Senator and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, of an active wife and a hopeful mother. She’s lucky to be alive and has used all her effort and courage to recover. She had to resign from the House of Representatives and will never be the same.

He left the Greens without their beautiful 9-year-old daughter and as Roxanna said this week: “I have a hole in my heart and will forever.”

But the Greens have moved on, using their faith as a source of strength and a motivating force to bring change to an American landscape that last week led to 20 more families suffering through the pain of losing their little children because of gun violence.

I met the Greens a month after Christina’s death when they were still in the throes of their own suffering and have written a lot about their journey since. The community, the baseball world and their friends and family circled around them.

In the days after the events last Friday in Newtown, Conn., I thought a lot about them and how they were reacting to another round of carnage. It had to have hit too close to home. Then I saw Roxanna being interviewed on CNN by Anderson Cooper from Newtown. The next day I reached out to John on the phone and wrote a column based on that conversation.

By remaining active, they are keeping Christina’s memory alive. I can’t say enough about the quality of these people and their unbelievable courage.

John is a member of s great baseball family. He’s a national crosschecker for the Dodgers, His dad, Dallas, is synonymous with the Phillies, who he managed to their first World Series title in 1980. I’ve known him for more than 30 years. Their son, 13-year-old Dallas, plays baseball. Even Christina played baseball. She was the only girl in her Little League and dreamed of being the first female to play in the Major Leagues. She was also active politically in her elementary school and was excited to meet Gabby that morning. That’s the reason she went to that community event.

John said that the younger Dallas is adjusting to life without his sister. They were very close and Christina was very protective. She sounds a lot older than her age when she died. And now it’s almost two years later.

“I would say we’re doing pretty darn good considering the circumstances,” John told me.

I’m not sure I could do the same.

More on Cabrera

A colleague wrote to me about my last blog, claiming that Miguel Cabrera’s feat this season was an “incredibly weak” Triple Crown. Huh?

A Triple Crown is a Triple Crown. That analysis just defies the vagaries of everything coming together correctly in a given year and is a reason why the statistical analysis only goes so far.

Here’s what I consider to be the best season of all time: In 1921, Babe Ruth hit .378 with 59 homers and 171 RBIs, but he didn’t win the Triple Crown. He led in homers and RBIs and the 59 homers was by far the single season record at the time. But the .378 average was not good enough. Harry Heilmann hit .394.

Was Ruth better than Cabrera comparing 1921 to 2012? You bet, statistically, although you have to take into account the differences of playing in the eras. Just like you have to do that when comparing different decades. No blacks, changes in bullpens, no DH, higher mounds prior to 1969, dead baseballs, the division system, no night baseball, no airplane travel, wool uniforms, smaller leagues. You name it.

Cabrera had the best numbers he needed to win the Triple Crown this season. There’s no such thing as a “weak” Triple Crown. In 1967, Carl Yastrzemski hit .326 and tied Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers. He had 121 RBIs. All those marks were either matched or bettered by Cabrera this year. I don’t remember anyone calling the Yaz Triple Crown weak back then. Why would anyone call Cabrera’s weak now? Similarly to the Tigers, the Red Sox won the pennant late in ’67 and lost in the World Series. Yaz was the MVP.

Finally, Nate Silver misses one on Trout over Cabrera


Love, Nate. Great analysis about the AL MVP race in his Nov. 14 FiveThirtyEight blog.

Unfortunately the “traditionalists” overruled him by a huge margin as Miguel Cabrera won 27 of the 30 AL first place votes and defeated Mike Trout. Can’t take what Cabrera did out of context. His numbers were good enough THIS YEAR to win the Triple Crown and the Tigers won THEIR division and went to the World Series. Trout did none of this and neither did the Angels.

It was just the luck of bad timing that the rookie was sick during Spring Training and had to play his way into shape in the Minors in April. With Trout playing all season the Angels MIGHT not have opened 7-15. He might have had better numbers than Cabrera and the Angels might have gone to the Series. Then he could have been the MVP. Didn’t happen.

Easier to aggregate polls and pick the presidential winner than trying to determine what a diverse group of baseball writers are thinking. And many of them are stat geeks who evidently this time ignored many of the analytic numbers and voted for Cabrera. In the past, these same guys have given the Cy Young to Tim Lincecum with 16 wins and Felix Hernandez with 13.

Right or wrong, the fact that Cabrera was the first pure Triple Crown winner since Frank Robinson in 1966 proved to be overwhelming.

Towers: D-backs not hoisting white flag

PHOENIX — Despite what it may look like on the surface, the D-backs are not “waiving the white flag” in their race for a playoff spot with the trade on Sunday of veteran left-handed starter Joe Saunders to the Orioles for right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said.

They dropped a three-game series to the Padres at Chase Field and ended action on Sunday, trailing the first-place Giants by seven games in the National League West and the Cardinals by 6 1/2 for the newly-minted second NL Wild Card berth. The two non-division winning teams with the best records in the NL will meet in a “win and in” playoff game on Oct. 5. for the right to play the top seed in this year’s best-of-five NL Division Series.

“We wanted to sustain what we did last year,” Towers said, referring to his club’s surprising 2011 run into the first round of the playoffs. “We’re not waiving the white flag. We have a lot of games in the division. Hopefully we can get hot. Until we’re eliminated we’ll just keep playing.”

In recent weeks the D-backs have shed themselves of two veterans — Saunders and shortstop Stephen Drew — which is usually not the message one wants to send either to the fans or the rest of the players on the team as the season heads into its crucial final weeks. The teams above them have added like crazy. The Giants brought in Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. The Dodgers, by virtue of Saturday’s mega trade with the Red Sox, have now added Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton to the current active roster.

The D-backs countered with Lindstrom and third baseman Chris Johnson.

In Zona, this all smacks of getting ready for 2013, despite Towers’ claims to the contrary. Towers said he wanted to get a good read on rookies Jake Elmore at shortstop and Tyler Skaggs in the starting rotation. In fact, Towers insisted that the D-backs are better right now with Elmore over Drew at short and Skaggs over Saunders. Only the last month of the season will tell.

But here’s the reality of it all: The D-backs had no intention of exercising a $10 million option to bring back Drew next season or paying him a $1.35 million buyout. They saved about $3 million shedding him when they did. They have to make a decision whether to pick up a $6.5 million option on closer J.J. Putz for next season or buy him out for $1.5 million. Don’t expect them to exercise that option, either.

Next season, the D-backs can slide setup man David Hernandez into the closer slot and replace him in the eighth inning with Lindstrom.

The D-backs have $15 million in deferred money coming off the books at the end of this season, but even that currently makes them bit players in a division where the Dodgers and Giants will just keep spending and even the Padres are at a different level with new ownership and a $1.2 billion television deal that will give them an average of $60 million to spend each year over the next 20 years.

And what happens when the Dodgers sign a new TV deal that could net them $5 billion over next 20 years? Already, with the $61 million additions of A-Gon, Beckett and Carl Crawford, the Dodgers payroll is pegged at $189 million for 2013. And we haven’t gone into the offseason.

The D-backs are simply up against it, which is why the more than adept Towers has to juggle the fortunes of the present with the projections of the future. No white-flag waiver is he.

“[Going into the current season] I felt we were better on paper,” he said. “I don’t think the division is that much stronger. We probably overachieved last year and this is who we are.”