Local Sports – Martinez Tribune https://martineztribune.com The website of the Martinez Tribune. Tue, 04 Aug 2020 19:18:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 Gallo’s blast helps Texas salvage final game against Giants https://martineztribune.com/2020/08/02/gallos-blast-helps-texas-salvage-final-game-against-giants/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/08/02/gallos-blast-helps-texas-salvage-final-game-against-giants/#respond Mon, 03 Aug 2020 04:14:39 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14799 BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER Joey Gallo’s three-run home run in the seventh-inning off Tyler Anderson led the Texas Rangers to a 9–5 win over the Giants Sunday afternoon at Oracle Field. Gallo’s blast, his third of the year, capped a three hit day and allowed Texas to escape San Francisco with a bit of dignity after …

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BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER

Joey Gallo’s three-run home run in the seventh-inning off Tyler Anderson led the Texas Rangers to a 9–5 win over the Giants Sunday afternoon at Oracle Field.

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Joey Gallo gets congratulated at home plate following his three-run homer in the sixth inning Sunday afternoon at Oracle Field. Gallo’s blast put Texas ahead to stay on the way to a 9-5 win over the Giants.

Gallo’s blast, his third of the year, capped a three hit day and allowed Texas to escape San Francisco with a bit of dignity after being outscored by 16–5 in the first two games of the series.

San Francisco had rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth on a two run homer by rookie catcher Chadwick Tromp, but Texas wasted no time jumping on Andrew Triggs and Tyler Anderson for four runs in their next at bat to break the game open and salvage the finale of the three game weekend series.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Giants rookie catcher Chadwick Tromp follows the path of his two-run home run against the Rangers Sunday afternoon. The shot tied the game at five, but Texas would come back to score a 9-5 win in the finale of the three-game series.

Jeff Samardzija had his second straight rough outing on the young season, giving up five runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, actually lowering his ERA to 9.31.

Evan Longoria hit his first home run of the year for the Giants, and Donovan Solano had a perfect day at the plate with two singles and two walks to raise his average to .484.

The loss concluded San Francisco first home stand of the season with a split of the six game set. The Giants will now return to the road for a season long ten game trek through Colorado, Los Angeles and Houston. Johnny Cueto is scheduled to face the Rockies Chi Chi Gonzalez Monday night in the opener.

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Oakland bullpen shuts down Angels to offset Trout’s 4 RBI’s https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/26/oakland-bullpen-shuts-down-angels-to-offset-trouts-4-rbis/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/26/oakland-bullpen-shuts-down-angels-to-offset-trouts-4-rbis/#respond Mon, 27 Jul 2020 05:00:52 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14776 BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER Jumping out to a 5-0 first inning lead before Shohei Ohtani could record an out, the A’s rode five shut out innings from their bullpen to record a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum. In what had the potential to be a marquee early-season pitching matchup …

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BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER

Jumping out to a 5-0 first inning lead before Shohei Ohtani could record an out, the A’s rode five shut out innings from their bullpen to record a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.

In what had the potential to be a marquee early-season pitching matchup featuring Oakland ace Mike Fiers going up against Ohtani, the Angels right hander was wild from the start and didn’t record an out, giving up three hits along with three walks on just 30 pitches against the six batters he faced in his first pitching appearance since September 2018.

The A’s overcame a three-run home run by the Angels Mike Trout in the third, his first of the year. Trout finished the day with four RBI’s, driving in all of the Los Angeles runs.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Sean Murphy receives congratulations from Tony Kemp following his 448-foot sixth inning home run during the A’s 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.

 

Mark Canha, batting fifth, dropped a two RBI single to right center to put Oakland up 3-0, a lead they would never relinquish. Sean Murphy blasted a 448 foot missile to left-center in the sixth to produce the games final run. Liam Hendriks, the A’s sixth pitcher of the game, came on with two outs in the eighth and proceeded to retire the four batters he faced for his first save of the young season.

The two teams return to action Monday afternoon in the conclusion of the four game series with Oakland’s Chris Bassitt facing the Angels Griffin Canning. First pitch is at 12:40 PM

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MLB’s last minute shift adds another six teams to the playoffs https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/23/mlbs-last-minute-shift-adds-another-six-teams-to-the-postseason/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/23/mlbs-last-minute-shift-adds-another-six-teams-to-the-postseason/#respond Fri, 24 Jul 2020 04:00:12 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14761 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ Hours before the first pitch of the 2020 MLB season was to be thrown, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners announced an agreement that will expand the postseason from ten teams to 16 teams for the 2020 campaign. Each league will still feature three division champions, who will be …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

Hours before the first pitch of the 2020 MLB season was to be thrown, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners announced an agreement that will expand the postseason from ten teams to 16 teams for the 2020 campaign.

Each league will still feature three division champions, who will be the top three seeds among the eight teams that will qualify for the playoffs. The other five clubs to advance to the postseason will be the second place finishers in each division, followed by the two next best records among the remaining teams.

The first round of the tournament will feature the top four seeds in each league hosting each game of a best-of-three Wild Card series, minimizing the travel inherent in the extra round of play. The No. 1 seed will play No.8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No.6, and No. 4 vs. No. 5. The top three seeds in each league will go to each of the division winners based on their record in the 60-game sprint.

The winners of the four three-game series in each league will then face off against each other in a pair of best-of-five Division Series. The League Championship Series and the World Series will both continue to be seven game series in the traditional 2-3-2 home/road format.

The expanded playoff agreement is clearly a pure cash grab by the owners (and the players) who are trying to make up for revenue they will lose from not having fans in the stands due to the pandemic. Estimates place the additional revenue generated by the new playoff structure in the range of $200-300 million, of which the players are guaranteed $50 million. Playoff broadcasts are where the networks can charge the most for their advertising, and that money translates directly into the pockets of the owners, who aren’t paying additional player salaries for the extra playoff contests.

In a season of 60 games, it will be more difficult for the talent on the best teams to separate itself from the rest of the pack. Most of the divisions are projected as being very competitive, where 3-4 games separate the top slot from fourth place. It would not be at all surprising to see the pre-season favorites overtaken by a mediocre team that played scorching (or fortunate) baseball for a span of three weeks. Given that the shortened season was already going to produce more random outcomes than a full 162 slate, having an expanded playoff system will only further ratchet up the potential for truly unexpected results.

It’s almost a certainty that teams that end up losing more games than they win will qualify for the 2020 postseason. In a three game series, it would not be at all unusual for that team to defeat a division champion who finished with a far better record.  The Orioles (who finished 2019 at 54-108) took two of three from the Yankees (103-59) in the very first series of the year in 2019. In a short series, anything can happen.

Despite the obvious financial implications of the brazen change to the playoff composition this year, the fans may actually reap the benefits as well. If the season can be accepted as anomalous due to the shortened schedule, and the likely increase in the randomness of possible outcomes recognized, then the fact that more than half the teams in the league will end up playing at least a couple of postseason games should provide hope for fans in cities that might not have expected to have any this past spring.

With 35 games in the books when the trade deadline hits on August 31, it could be argued that 75% of the league should be scrambling to bolster their rosters for a playoff sprint, given that a similar percentage will be a game or two from a postseason position in the new structure. Trade rumors energize fan bases and drive interest in teams (and players), and should allow teams that would have been playing for next year by September in a normal season to experience the buzz of a pennant chase over the final 25 games of the season. Only a small segment of teams will truly be out of contention by that point, and the sheer volume of teams playing meaningful baseball in the final month will inject those contests with far more drama than the typical fall slate offers.

The 2020 season, being played without fans, in the shadow of a global pandemic, and with a vastly expanded playoff structure for the first time in the history of the sport, requires a motto:

Embrace the randomness !

Here are the updated (the previews are less than 24 hours old, and already they are outdated) predictions for the postseason madness:

AL East: Yankees, Rays

AL Central: Twins, Indians

AL West: Astros, A’s

Final two playoff entrants: Red Sox, Angels

AL Pennant: Twins

 

NL East: Mets, Braves

NL Central: Reds, Cubs

NL West: Dodgers, Padres

Final two playoff entrants: Nationals, Diamondbacks

2NL Pennant: Padres

 

World Series Champion: San Diego Padres

 

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National League gearing up for a truncated 60-game sprint https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/22/national-league-gearing-up-for-a-truncated-60-game-sprint/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/22/national-league-gearing-up-for-a-truncated-60-game-sprint/#respond Wed, 22 Jul 2020 07:00:01 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14683 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ As of this writing, the delayed MLB season is set to commence in a matter of days. It’s still entirely possible that circumstances driven by the COVID-19 pandemic may prevent games from actually being played, but until that becomes reality, a preview of what the season may hold is presented for your …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

As of this writing, the delayed MLB season is set to commence in a matter of days. It’s still entirely possible that circumstances driven by the COVID-19 pandemic may prevent games from actually being played, but until that becomes reality, a preview of what the season may hold is presented for your enjoyment.

First, there are some new adjustments to play that take the virus into account. There are strict protocols that govern the safety of the players and those employees that are peripheral to the games to insure that risk can be minimized while playing games, and rule amendments that are specific to only the shortened 2020 season.

Each team will play in their home stadiums, but without fans in attendance. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association could not come to a mutually agreed upon season length, so commissioner Rob Manfred decreed a season that will last 60 games, beginning July 23rd.  The playoffs will be structured as they have been in recent years, despite several proposals from both sides that included expanded playoff fields.

Instead of playing a “normal” schedule of games, all teams will play only those teams in their respective divisions, regardless of league. The Giants will thus face their natural rivals from the NL West (playing each ten times), but will also be playing series against each team in the AL West that will total 20 games. For the first time in history, the National League will feature a designated hitter.

Given the relative brevity of the season compared to a typical 162 game slate, the chances that a mediocre team can reach the postseason will increase, perhaps offering a ray of hope to those franchises whose talent levels are demonstrably inferior to their competitors. Over a long season, the differences in talent levels tend to emerge and will stratify the league into contenders and also-rans. The Giants had a 50 game span in 2019 where they went 30-20, which would almost certainly be good enough to put them into a playoff position in 2020.

It has been postulated that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. This year, it will be a 200-meter-dash, and might feature wild statistical pursuits among the gaggle of teams battling for playoff berths. It is certainly not impossible that a .400 hitter might emerge, or that a record low ERA is recorded. Those types of achievements would have to be placed in their proper perspective given the length of the season, but it might add intrigue to what figures to be a very abnormal campaign.

Several players have chosen to “opt-out” of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns, and those players have the support of their organizations. If players are identified as high risk in the context of a Covid infection, they can opt-out of the season and still gain service time and their full, prorated 2020 salaries. If players choose not to participate for fear of exposing a family member by their participation in the baseball season, their clubs are not obligated to pay them their salaries, but may choose to do so anyway. Without listing the reasons that each player has chosen to opt-out, the following National League players will not participate in the upcoming season, a list that may certainly expand prior to opening day:

Braves: OF Nick Markakis, RHP Felix Hernandez

Cardinals: RHP Jordan Hicks

Diamondbacks: RHP Mike Leake

Dodgers: LHP David Price

Giants: C Buster Posey

Nationals: RHP Joe Ross, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, C Wellington Castillo

Pirates: RHP Hector Noesi

Rockies: OF Ian Desmond

With those considerations established, here is a brief look at the likely contenders for the NL pennant.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Washington’s Juan Soto is a budding superstar as evidenced by his 34 home runs and 110 RBI’s as a 21-year old in 2019. Soto added three more homers in the World Series to help the Nats to their first championship in franchise history.

 

By any measure, the defending champion Washington Nationals should be considered among the favorites to emerge from the teams set to pursue the National League pennant. They return the core of their title winning squad, having re-signed Stephen Strasburg to a seven year, $245 million dollar deal to pair with co-ace Max Scherzer, giving them arguably the best one-two punch in the Majors atop their rotation. Despite having lost third baseman Anthony Rendon to the Angels, the Nationals figure to score enough with budding superstar Juan Soto in the heart of their order to support their strong pitching staff, but that still might not be enough to dethrone the Atlanta Braves, who won the NL East in 2019 for the second year in a row.

Built around young, talented superstar OF Ronald Acuña Jr., 1B Freddie Freeman and right hander Mike Soroka, the Braves enter the 2020 campaign as the bettors choice to win the division. The Braves also return 2B Ozzie Albies and sophomore slugger Austin Riley to a lineup that added free agent starter Cole Hamels and reliever Will Smith along with two time All-Star Marcell Ozuna in the outfield.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Ronald Acuña Jr. has a lot to smile about, helping to lead Atlanta to back-to-back division titles in his first two years in the Majors. Atlanta has already signed the 22-year old Venezuelan to an eight-year, $100 million contract extension, and he’s coming off a sophomore season where he belted 41 home runs while swiping 37 bases.

 

The New York Mets hope to continue to improve, and have two-time defending Cy Young Award winner Jacob DeGrom fronting their rotation, and 2019 Rookie of the Year 1B Pete Alonso to pace the offense. Alonso hit a major league rookie record 53 HR’s in 2019, and will strive to carry the Mets into the postseason against very stiff competition.

Outfielder Bryce Harper left the Nationals to join the Phillies prior to the 2019 season, and missed his chance to win a ring with the club that drafted him. Now, the 27-year-old slugger will aim to convince the notoriously demanding Philadelphia fans that he’s capable of carrying his new club to postseason glory. The Phillies added free agent RHP Zack Wheeler this offseason, signing him away from the Mets with a five year, $118 million dollar contract to pitch behind ace right hander Aaron Nola, and hope the duo can help pitch the club into the postseason with the help of a bounce back season from Rhys Hopkins.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Bryce Harper slammed 35 home runs to go along with a career high 114 RBI’s in his first season with Philadelphia after not signing until after spring training had begun. In 2020, a well-rested Harper’s ability to get off to a quick start in a short season will go a long way towards establishing the Phillies postseason potential.

 

The rebuilding Miami Marlins aren’t aiming to compete in 2020 as they amass young talent and prospects on a shoestring budget. It will be all the more difficult for the teams in the NL East to pad their records against the weaker National League clubs, since they’ll play their non-divisional games against the crucible of the American League East franchises, featuring the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox, each of whom harbor legitimate playoff hopes themselves. Finding 35 wins out of 60 might just pace this group, though the current odds don’t project any of the NL East teams to win even 34 (the Braves are listed with an over-under total of 33.5 to lead the division, followed closely by the Nats at 33, with the Mets at 32.5 and the Phillies at 31.) Every game will carry added significance when the teams are so evenly matched over such a short slate of contests.

The NL Central figures to be similarly bunched at the top, with the Cubs (32), Reds (32), Cardinals (31.5) and Brewers (30.5) all projected to finish within 2 games of each other in 2020. Only the rebuilding Pirates represent a clear drop from the contenders for the division title. The Cubs still revolve around their best hitters: 3B Kris Bryant, 1B Anthony Rizzo, SS Javier Baez and DH Kyle Schwarber, all aged 27-30 and squarely in their prime productive seasons. They’ll need their pitching staff to get bounce back seasons from lefty Jon Lester, 36 and RHP Yu Darvish, 33, both on the downside of their careers, to follow soft tossing ace Kyle Hendricks. Handing a lead to their bullpen, however, might be fraught with more drama than they’d like, given their dependence on closer Craig Kimbrel, who struggled to a 6.53 ERA in 2019 after battling injuries and a late start to the season.

While the Cubs might be undone by their pitching staff, the Reds should be carried by theirs. Led by righthanders Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and the outspoken Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati should stay in most games, allowing their lineup to score enough to win. They added free agent 2B Mike Moustakas and OF Nick Castellanos to an offense that also boasts 3B Eugenio Suarez, who clobbered 49 HR’s in 2019. With 1B Joey Votto and LF Jessie Winker getting on base ahead of the big guns, the Reds may well be the class of the NL Central.

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Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich won his second consecutive batting championship in 2019, and was also likely on the way to back-to back MVP Awards before an injury knocked him out of action for the final month of the season. Yelich still finished with 44 home runs and 30 steals on the way to a .329 average.

 

The Brewers have the best player in the division in OF Christian Yelich, who signed a seven-year, $188 million extension in March to stay in Milwaukee. The 2018 NL MVP finished second in the balloting for the 2019 award behind Dodgers OF Clay Bellinger, and he alone might be enough to help tip the scales in a closely contested division race should he once again catch fire in the short season. The Brewers pitching staff is anchored by their stellar bullpen, featuring LHP Josh Hader and the return of RHP Corey Knebel, who missed 2019 with an elbow injury, but will be counted on to complement the lefty Hader at the end of games.

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Dakota Hudson proved to be a godsend for Cardinals fans during his first full season in 2019. A first round draft pick out of Mississippi State in 2016, Hudson was 16-7 with a 3.25 ERA in his rookie year.

 

St. Louis will be led by young ace righty’s Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson, who hope to carry the Cardinals back to the playoffs after they won the NL Central last year before getting steamrolled by the Nationals in the NLCS. The Redbirds fortunes may hinge on getting more production out of their aging core, 3B/DH Matt Carpenter, 34, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 32, and franchise icon C Yadier Molina, 38. If that trio can’t beat back the ravages of time, the Cardinals may end up watching the playoffs this year instead of competing in them.

Aside from slugging 1B Josh Bell, there is little reason for Pittsburgh partisans to tune in to Pirates broadcasts after they traded yet another one of their homegrown stars when finances became an issue. OF Starling Marte, 31, was slated to make $11.5 million in 2019 (with a $12.5 million option for 2021), and that contract got him dealt to Arizona for a pair of prospects. No current Pirate will earn more than $5 million in gross (non-pro-rated) salary in 2020, and the franchise payroll would have been short of $50 million for a full season, the lowest for a Pirates club since 2011.

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In his first two seasons, the Dodgers Walker Buehler has gone 23-9 with a 3.12 ERA and 378 strikeouts in just 329 innings. Buehler’s ability to continue putting up similar numbers would go a long way towards establishing Los Angeles as a favorite to win the World Series for the first time in 32 years.

 

The NL West has been the dominion of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the past seven years, each of which ended with the team winning the division and winning at least 90 games and the division title. One of those streaks will surely end in 2020, but the Dodgers are projected (38.5 wins) as the best team in baseball this year, and should pace the division yet again. Despite a lineup littered with stars, the Dodgers acquired OF Mookie Betts from the Red Sox to create even more run scoring opportunities. Only two of their starting nine batters are over 30, and they have the defending NL MVP, Clay Bellinger, playing center, flanked by Betts, the 2018 AL MVP, right. Young stars include SS Corey Seager, 26, C Will Smith, 25 and 2B Gavin Lux, 22, each of whom were drafted and developed by the franchise. The offense alone should keep the Dodgers ahead on the scoreboard most nights, but their pitching is also formidable. LHP Clayton Kershaw is 32, but still has ace-caliber capabilities if not the blazing fastball of his youth. RHP Walker Buehler, 26, makes up for that loss of velocity by bringing his own 99 MPH heater, and he may well end up as the best starting pitcher on the club this year.

Arizona may represent the stiffest challenge to the Dodger dynasty, and the Diamondbacks made several offseason moves designed to unseat them in 2020. They signed LHP Madison Bumgarner away from the Giants with a 5-year, $85 million free agent contract to be their ace, fronting a rotation that will also include lefty Robbie Ray, 28, and righthander Luke Weaver, 26. The DBacks also benefited from the Pirates penurious penchant, swiping CF Starling Marte to fill that position, and to add punch to a lineup that already boasted a star Marte: Ketel, the breakout 2B who hit .329 with 32 HR for the club in 2019.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Leaving the Giants after signing a 5-year, $85 million free agent contract with the Diamondbacks, Madison Bumgarner gives Arizona an established southpaw ace in their quest to return to the post-season.

 

If Arizona can’t put heat on Los Angeles, perhaps the young Padres are up for the challenge in 2020. San Diego boasts arguably the best farm system in baseball, and may promote future aces LHP MacKenzie Gore and RHP Luis Patino, both regarded among the top 10 pitching prospects in baseball coming into the season, into their rotation to join ace righthander Chris Paddack, 24. If the Padres can find some starters to keep runs off the board, their collection of bullpen behemoths should hold the leads they are given. To support closer Kirby Yates, who had a 1.19 ERA and 41 saves in 2019, the Padres signed lefty Drew Pomeranz to a four-year, $34 million free agent contract, and traded for RHP Emilio Pagan and LHP Tim Hill to augment their elite relief corps. The Padres will need offense from their prior free agent indulgences, including 3B Manny Machado, 1B Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers, along with more signs of future superstardom from Fernando Tatís Jr. if they want to unseat the Dodgers atop the division.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Fernando Tatís Jr’s long awaited MLB debut in 2019 gave Padre fans visions of a young superstar anchoring their infield for many years to come. As a 20-year old, Tatis compiled a .317 average with 22 home runs and 53 RBI along with 16 stolen bases in just 106 games.

 

The Rockies will go as far as their young star hitters will take them. Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado will again drive the offense, supported by CF David Dahl and SS Trevor Story. Charlie Blackmon, 34, returning from a bout with COVID-19, will hope he’s got a few more strong seasons in him. Left handed starters  German Marquez and Kyle Freeland, as well as RHP Jon Gray, each of who is 28 or younger, lead the pitching. Shortstop Brendan Rogers, a former first round pick, figures to lend his bat to the lineup at some point in 2020, providing yet another powerful thumper for Colorado fans to enjoy.

The Giants will be taking the field without their two most popular players in 2020, and embarking upon a retooling effort. Ace Madison Bumgarner left via free agency to pitch for Arizona, and C Buster Posey opted to sit out the season to avoid potentially exposing his young family to COVID-19. 1B Brandon Belt, SS Brandon Crawford and 3B Evan Longoria will provide recognizable names for Giants fans to cheer for, but aside from 2B Mauricio Dubon, 26, most of the Giants projected lineup is on the wrong side of 30 and in performance decline. RHP’s Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samadrzjia, 34 and 35 respectively, don’t figure to reprise their prime seasons on the mound in 2020. The Giants hope rests in the future, with top prospects C Joey Bart, SS Marco Luciano and OF Heliot Ramos all figuring prominently on the next contending San Francisco roster.

Here are my predictions for the National League in 2020:

East: New York Mets

Central: Cincinnati Reds

West: Los Angeles Dodgers

Wild Cards: Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres

Pennant: San Diego Padres

MVP: Mookie Betts

Cy Young: Walker Buehler

Rookie of the Year: Gavin Lux

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Astros, Yankees and Twins favored to fight it out for AL flag https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/21/astros-yankees-and-twins-favored-to-fight-it-out-for-al-pennant/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/07/21/astros-yankees-and-twins-favored-to-fight-it-out-for-al-pennant/#respond Tue, 21 Jul 2020 07:00:58 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14125 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ As the COVID-19 pandemic looms over the competitive sports landscape in the US, Major League Baseball will become the first of the four major leagues to attempt to stage contests, though they will do so without fans to witness them. Starting Thursday, July 23, the latest Opening Day in the history of …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

As the COVID-19 pandemic looms over the competitive sports landscape in the US, Major League Baseball will become the first of the four major leagues to attempt to stage contests, though they will do so without fans to witness them.

Starting Thursday, July 23, the latest Opening Day in the history of the league will be broadcast to a nation hungry for the diversion of sports. While the owners and players squabbled over the length of the season and the safety considerations that would be required to minimize player risk, months slid off the calendar, and baseball will now be sharing the attention of the viewing public with the NBA and NHL, leagues that will be finishing their seasons beginning just a week after baseball starts theirs. The NFL will attempt to open training camps during the final week of July, resulting in the confluence of all four major sports associations for the first time ever.

Lest you forget about the issues and stories that were foremost in the minds of baseball fans back in February, this preview should help re-set the stage for the season to come:

For nearly 100 years, a majority of American League fans have been able to agree upon a common archenemy: the deep-pocketed and wildly successful New York Yankees. The Yankees have won the World Series 27 times, more than twice as many as their closest competitors in St. Louis, where the Cardinals hold 11 titles. That kind of dominance inspires both grudging respect and utter disdain among baseball partisans, regardless of their individual allegiances among the other American League franchises. In 2020, perhaps for the first time in nearly a century, the title of “Most Disliked Team in Baseball” might finally pass from the Bronx Bombers to a new villain: the Houston Astros.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have swept the Astros banging scandal from the front pages, but as the discerning baseball fan, you remain aware of the scandal that revolved around the Houston franchise and their 2017 World Series title. A MLB investigation found the team guilty of cheating during that 2017 season and postseason, using video replay monitors to decode opposing catchers signals in real time, and relaying that information to the batter at the plate by banging on a trash can behind the dugout. As a result, in January the team was fined $5 million (the maximum allowed by the MLB constitution), GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for a full season-and almost immediately fired by team owner Jim Crane-and the team was ordered to forfeit their first and second round draft picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The first pick in the 2011 MLB draft, Gerrit Cole’s free agent departure from Houston to the Yankees could tip the balance of power atop the American League. Cole has gone 35-10 the past two seasons with the Astros, and is coming off a career year in 2019 where he went 20-5 with 326 strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA.

 

Having had over a month to develop a strategy to address the issue before the team arrived in Florida for spring training, the Astros figured to express appropriate levels of contrition, regret and remorse about the scandal, and ask their fellow players for forgiveness. Suffice to say the “apologies” issued by Crane and players such as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Justin Verlander did little to quell the rising tide of acrimony and contempt expressed by opposing players and managers. If anything, the Astros managed to throw additional gas on a fire they could have helped douse by handling the situation more adroitly.

Crane’s televised press conference was enough to inspire vitriol directed towards the franchise as well as the individual Astros players, with stars such as Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer and the Angels Mike Trout making strongly worded public statements about their displeasure over Houston’s brazen scheme. Thinly veiled threats of retribution were bandied about, causing MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to issue proactive warnings about opponents attempting to mete out frontier justice on Houston hitters via beanballs. “I hope I made it extremely clear that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated-whether it’s at Houston or anybody else,” Manfred said. The bad blood that is (and has been, for the better part of two seasons) brewing will not be easily mitigated.

It’s obvious that the Yankees will have company atop the most disliked franchise list among AL fans, and a formal poll attempting to answer the question definitively would almost certainly see the Astros finish comfortably ahead of New York.  That being said, those franchises still figure to be the two best teams in the league in 2020, and it will require significant effort to unseat them from their positions as division favorites.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
22 year old flamethrower Jesús Luzardo was highly impressive during his brief debut in 2019 and is expecting to begin the season in the A’s starting rotation.

 

The Astros, now managed by Dusty Baker, have won the AL West for three straight seasons, and enter 2020 as the odds-on favorite to do so again. According to playoff odds for this season, the Astros are projected to win 35 games, just 2 more than the A’s, who sit second with 33. With those 88 wins, however, the A’s figure to be in the mix for a Wild Card berth, and if their young talent takes another step forward in 2020, and both lefthanded prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk live up to their billings, the A’s could well outperform their projections and catch Houston for the AL West title.

The Astros appear vulnerable on the mound, especially after Gerrit Cole signed a $234 million deal with the Yankees. Verlander, the defending Cy Young Award winner, appears to have plenty left in the tank, but Father Time eventually takes his toll on all athletes. At 37, it is reasonable to imagine Verlander losing some effectiveness, something that #2 starter Zack Greinke, 36, might also encounter. The depth behind those two veteran aces is questionable, and while the Astros figure to score plenty of runs again in 2020, a sub-par season from their starters might just open the door for other AL West challengers.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
If Shohei Ohtani can return to the mound following Tommy John surgery and help stabilize the Angels pitching rotation, it would go a long way towards helping them compete for a playoff spot in the highly competitive American League. Ohtani played in 106 games in 2019 batting .286 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs, but hasn’t thrown a pitch since early in his 2018 rookie season.

 

Oakland seems to be the most threatening challenger to Houston’s dynasty, but the Angels, with Joe Madden now at the helm and fresh off the seven-year, $245 million deal that secured third baseman Anthony Rendon to play alongside Trout, the best player in the game, might also rise. The Angels remain without a dominant starting pitcher, and while Trout, Rendon and OF/DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani comprise arguably the best 2-3-4 batting order in baseball, they will have to overcome their lack of pitching to succeed. Seattle and Texas, in various stages of rebuilding their rosters, don’t figure to impact the division race this season.

In the AL Central, Cleveland’s three year run atop the division was abruptly ended last season by the upstart Minnesota Twins, who won 101 games and bumped the 93-win Tribe out of the playoffs entirely.  Those two franchises figure to battle for division supremacy again in 2020, though the Indians arguably took a huge step backwards this offseason, trading staff ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to Texas in return for journeyman Delino DeShields and relief pitching prospect Emmanuel Clase in a cost cutting measure. Clase, who is armed with a 100 MPH cutter, will miss up to three months with a strained upper back muscle, making the trade appear even less sanguine to Tribe partisans.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Things are looking up for Nelson Cruz and the Twins. In his first season in Minnesota, he smashed 41 home runs in just 120 games to go along with 108 RBI’s and a .311 average.

 

In contrast, the Twins added former AL MVP (and A’s third baseman) Josh Donaldson on a four-year, $92 million deal, moving slugger Miguel Sano to first base full time. The Twins also tried to address needs in their rotation by re-signing Jake Odorizzi, adding free agent lefty Rich Hill, and trading for Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers. Fresh off a season where they set the MLB record for home runs in a season, the Twins offense is again formidable, and projections peg them for 34.5 wins in 2020, one game ahead of Cleveland’s projected 33.5.

The White Sox are finally emerging from their lengthy rebuilding effort, and figure to take a step towards contention this season after adding free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal and lefthanded starters Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to their young core of intriguing talent. Luis Robert is the best prospect in the American League, and after the White Sox signed him to a six-year $50 million deal before he ever played a single major league game, they see him as their centerfielder on Opening Day, and the likely odds-on favorite to claim the Rookie of the Year Award. Chicago might be a year away from menacing the Indians or Twins atop the division, but if their young talent develops quickly, they could be in the Wild Card mix. The Tigers and Royals are the bottom feeders in the Central, and neither figures to factor into the playoff picture this season.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
In his first season in the Bronx, DJ LeMahieu was the Yankees MVP and nearly won a batting title, setting career highs with 109 runs scored and 197 hits on the way to a .327 average.

 

The AL East arguably produce three playoff teams in 2020. Betting sites forecast the Yankees at 37.5 wins, the Rays at 34 and the Red Sox at 31.5, with each of those squads given at least a 50% chance of earning a playoff position. The Yankees addressed arguably their biggest need by luring Cole away from the Astros, strengthening their own team while damaging their chief competitors for the AL pennant. Their lineup is still formidable at nearly every position, anchored by home grown stars Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez, who will be supported by shortstop Gleyber Torres to form the heart of an offense that fell a single HR shy of the Twins record for most dingers in a season last year. Each of those players is 27 or younger, and don’t figure to suffer any age related decline.

The injury bug, however, does seem to have an affinity for New York. After losing several key players for huge chunks of the 2019 season (yet finding replacements in third baseman Gio Urshela and outfielder Mike Tauchman who helped ease the pain of those injuries), the Yankees had to be planning on better health for their players this year. Perhaps they had better revise that notion. Luis Severino, who made only three starts last year with a variety of ailments, underwent Tommy John surgery in late February, and will miss all of 2020 and most of 2021. He was being counted on to be the #2 starter behind new ace Cole, in front of #3 starter LHP James Paxton, who will return from back surgery as the season begins later this week.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Rays ace Charlie Morton continues to get better with age, posting career highs in wins each of the past three seasons. In 2019 he went 16-6 without missing a start while also setting personal bests with 240 strikeouts and a 3.05 ERA in 194 innings. He also won both of his starts in the postseason.

 

Given the quality of Tampa’s rotation, featuring 2018 Cy Young Award winning lefty Blake Snell, veteran Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA) and 6’8” fireballer Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA in an injury marred season), any slippage by the Yankees could open the door for the small payroll ($59 million vs. the Yankees $246 million) Rays to play David to the Yankees Goliath.

Boston made headlines this offseason primarily because they traded outfielder Mookie Betts, 27, to the Dodgers. Betts, who is a free agent after 2020, is perhaps the second best player in baseball behind Trout, but he was steadfast in his insistence that he’d test the market instead of signing a contract extension, and that led the Red Sox to ship him and David Price to the Dodgers for a package that included outfielder Alex Verdugo. That decision was perceived by Boston fans to be motivated by strictly financial concerns, and has led to great unrest among the New England faithful.

Despite losing Betts and Price, the Red Sox still feature a roster of star caliber talent, though ace LHP Chris Sale underwent Tommy John surgery in March and will miss the season and part of 2021 as he recovers. Boston will depend upon Eduardo Rodriguez to hold together a very middling starting pitching staff, and hope that middle-of-the-order mashers Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and DH J.D. Martinez, each of whom hit .300 or better with 30 HRs and on base percentages north of .360, can help score enough to win. Still, it would require significant steps forward by their rotation and supporting cast to propel Boston back to the playoffs, but considering that the core of the 2018 World Series winners remains largely intact, counting them out entirely would be foolhardy.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The son of a Baseball Hall of Famer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wasted little time serving notice of his arrival in the Majors after a May call-up, blasting 15 home runs with 69 RBI’s and a .272 average in his first taste of big league pitching.

 

The Blue Jays have an enviable collection of young position player talent, led by infielders Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, each of whom is the son of a former major league star. Lourdes Gurriel also looks like a future All-Star in waiting. They added Hyun-Jin Ryu from the Dodgers as a free-agent acquisition to front their staff, and could be joined in Toronto by flame throwing right-handed pitching prospect Nate Pearson, who has touched 104 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball, but figures to start the season at AAA. The Canadian government has decreed that the Blue Jays will not be allowed to host games at the Rogers Center in Toronto, and as of this writing, the team is still in limbo as it searches for an alternative site to play games when their home season begins July 29th (Buffalo, NY and PNC Park in Pittsburgh have been floated as potential solutions).

The Orioles don’t figure to have much to look forward to as they attempt to climb from the ashes of three straight last-place AL East finishes, losing at least 108 games the past two seasons. They will not be counted upon to gain much ground in the rugged division in 2020.

Here are my predictions for the American League in 2020:

West: Houston Astros

Central: Minnesota Twins

East: New York Yankees

Wild Cards: Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox

Pennant: Minnesota Twins

MVP: Mike Trout

Cy Young: Gerrit Cole

Rookie of the Year: Luis Robert

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NFL’s hypocrisy on full display with Juneteenth and Kaepernick https://martineztribune.com/2020/06/20/nfls-hypocrisy-on-full-display-with-juneteenth-and-kaepernick/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/06/20/nfls-hypocrisy-on-full-display-with-juneteenth-and-kaepernick/#respond Sat, 20 Jun 2020 22:41:48 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14356 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ On June 19th, 1865, a proclamation was read in the city of Galveston, Texas. Union Army General Gordon Granger declared that by federal order, all slaves in Texas were now free. The date would ultimately become known as “Juneteenth”, in recognition of its historic significance. On June 12th, 2020, NFL Commissioner Roger …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

On June 19th, 1865, a proclamation was read in the city of Galveston, Texas. Union Army General Gordon Granger declared that by federal order, all slaves in Texas were now free. The date would ultimately become known as “Juneteenth”, in recognition of its historic significance.

On June 12th, 2020, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement intended to help commemorate that remarkable day.

“The power of this historical feat in our country’s blemished history is felt each year, but there is no question that the magnitude of this event weighs even more heavily today in the current climate. Juneteenth not only marks the end of slavery in the United States, but it also symbolizes freedom — a freedom that was delayed, and brutally resisted; and though decades of progress followed, a freedom for which we must continue to fight.”

“This year, as we work together as a family and in our communities to combat the racial injustices that remain deeply rooted into the fabric of our society, the NFL will observe Juneteenth on Friday, June 19 as a recognized holiday and our league offices will be closed. It is a day to reflect on our past, but more importantly, consider how each one of us can continue to show up and band together to work toward a better future.”

In addition to this press release, Goodell also announced that the NFL would earmark $250 million over the next decade in order to “combat systemic racism and support the battle against the ongoing and historic injustices faced by African Americans.”

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s efforts to bring attention to social justice in 2016 were initially criticized on ill-advised political grounds, but recent polling following weeks of nationwide protests shows that his stance is finally gaining wide-ranging support across almost all demographics.

 

Roger Goodell has been commissioner of the NFL since August of 2006. His handling of the Colin Kaepernick social justice protests in 2016 spoke volumes about his position on racism and police brutality in the USA. Because the protests by Kaepernick (and those who joined him) were unpopular and considered unpatriotic and disrespectful, the league saw attendance and TV ratings decline.

The kneeling players were considered bad for business, and those concerns drove the owners and the commissioner to outlaw the practice in 2018-enacting a new policy that threatened to fine players who were protesting during the National Anthem. Kaepernick was also essentially frozen out of the league, and hasn’t played a down since the 2016 season ended, resulting in the leader of the movement to draw attention to the causes of racism and police brutality having his platform eliminated.

In 2020, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, worldwide unrest swelled to a tipping point, and the issue of police brutality against black people became the rallying cry of an entire nation. Legislatures in sixteen different states has now created 159 different bills that have either been introduced or passed, specifically to address issues of policing and police reform (according to the website fivethirtyeight.com, referencing statistics from a database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan association of state lawmakers).

After centuries of unrest, public opinion has finally forced action. The protests have been effective, and the views of Americans have evolved. According to a Washington Post-Scharr School poll taken in December of 2014, the killings of unarmed African American men in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri were characterized by the American public as being “isolated incidents” in 51% of respondents. 43% felt that they were representative of “broader problems in how African Americans are treated by police.” In a poll taken June 7, 2020 by the same organization, those numbers were dramatically different in response to the same question after the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis. 29% felt it was an isolated incident, and 69% felt it was a sign of a broader problem in how African American men are treated by police. The tides have turned.

The same Washington Post-Schar poll discovered that the nationwide protests were supported by both a majority of Republicans and Democrats.

The NFL, always cognizant of where their best interests lie, chose Juneteenth of 2020 to make a statement supporting the recognition of that holiday by the league for the first time, and used that platform to pledge an enormous sum of money to related charitable causes and activism avenues. It would seem to be a curious confluence of circumstances that have led the NFL, and its leader, to become suddenly sensitive to the issues of racism and police brutality. In the wake of the George Floyd killing, Goodell issued a statement:

“The NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country. The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.”

As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society.”

The league’s apparent hypocrisy was decried by African-American leaders in swift, harsh public rebukes.

Filmmaker and director Ava DuVernay: “This is a lie. Your actions show who you are. You’ve done nothing but the exact opposite of what you describe here. Keep Mr. Floyd’s name out of your mouth. Shame on you + the ‘consultants’ of this travesty of an organization.”

Michael Shawn-Dugar, former NFL player and sportswriter for the Athletic: Colin Kaepernick asked the NFL to care about the lives of black people and they banned him from their platform.”

If the NFL and the commissioner have genuinely revised their thinking and their moral positions about racism and police brutality, they should be openly commended. Everyone should have the right to admit that they have changed their minds, and for enlightenment about social justice issues to emerge, regardless of the circumstances. Progress in the right direction, for any reason, should be applauded and encouraged, especially when those changes are being broadcast by one of the most powerful sports engines in the entire world, the National Football League.

It is certainly a jaded perspective to attribute the sudden pivot by the NFL towards sensitivity about issues of systemic racism in this country to the changing winds of public opinion. It is facile to say that the league is merely “going with the flow” of its fans and supporters, and taking this position to capitalize on the positive public relations points it earns by its well crafted press releases, banking that their efforts will be good for the business of the league, and its owners’ bottom lines.

It’s also fair to ask where these bastions of integrity were six years ago when the Ferguson, Missouri racial riots blazed. It is also reasonable to inquire as to the general disposition of the league when Colin Kaepernick knelt for the very issues now being championed by the commissioner in bold type. There were many statements about patriotism and respect for the military, but scant few about racism and police brutality from the league offices in 2016.

Four years later, the league has seen the error of its ways, and wants the fans of the NFL and the citizens of the world to know where it now stands on these issues. It has pledged $250 million over ten years to address these issues, and that’s an excellent place to start making a real impact on the slow, painful process of meaningful change.

Now, take the next step to bring integrity and veracity to the rhetoric trumpeted by the NFL:

Hire Colin Kaepernick to be the NFL’s Ambassador for Social Justice, and give him carte blanche to use that $250 million as he, and his supporters, feel it would do the most good.

Of course, if Kaepernick would get an offer to play in the NFL again, he would obviously be free to take that job, and would resume his duties as the Ambassador for Social Justice after his playing career is over.

In the process of creating this position, Goodell would publicly acknowledge the league’s mistreatment of Kaepernick since 2016, and issue a sincere apology. What better way to put real teeth into such an effort than to recognize the issues he knelt for and to literally empower him to use the immense public platform of the NFL to help change them ?

Then, people might actually start to believe they mean what they say.

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Kaepernick’s stance might finally be resonating four years later https://martineztribune.com/2020/06/10/kaepernicks-stance-might-finally-be-resonating-four-years-later/ https://martineztribune.com/2020/06/10/kaepernicks-stance-might-finally-be-resonating-four-years-later/#respond Wed, 10 Jun 2020 22:50:05 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14329 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ After first being moved to protest police brutality during the 2016 preseason, Colin Kaepernick stated that his decision to sit during the national anthem of the 49ers third preseason game was motivated by his desire to bring attention to issues that resonated with him following the death of Mario Woods in December …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

After first being moved to protest police brutality during the 2016 preseason, Colin Kaepernick stated that his decision to sit during the national anthem of the 49ers third preseason game was motivated by his desire to bring attention to issues that resonated with him following the death of Mario Woods in December 2015. 

Woods, 26, was a suspect in the stabbing of a man in the Bayview district of San Francisco when police confronted him. After ordering Woods to drop the knife he held, five different officers fired a total of 26 bullets at Woods, killing him.  Kaepernick decided he needed to speak up, and use his platform as an athlete to help focus attention on racial injustice and police brutality. 

That decision cost him his career as an NFL quarterback.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick (Pictured L-R) take a knee during the National Anthem prior to a game against the Los Angeles Rams in 2016.

 

In light of the recent protests around the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, it is instructive to revisit Kaepernick’s efforts to highlight the institutional racism inherent in the law enforcement community, and in the nation as a whole. These are uncomfortable and emotionally charged concerns, but without trying to see today’s events through the lens of historical perspective, we miss an opportunity to learn about how the leaders of our country, and those in positions of significant influence, shifted the spotlight away from the racism the Kaepernick was decrying, and onto questions about patriotism, respect for the military, and business and financial interests. 

The message Kaepernick was so desperately and peacefully trying to get across was intentionally diluted, his pleas for urgent change drowned out by a cacophony of powerful narratives driven by those who sought to preserve the status quo.

In August 2016, before a preseason game against the Packers, Kaepernick chose to sit on the bench as his teammates rose during the national anthem. Kaepernick’s refusal to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people” drew responses locally and nationally. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he said when asked to explain his decision, referencing the Woods situation, where the five officers involved in the shooting were not formally charged with criminal activity.

Presented next are the reactions from various organizations, leaders and people in positions of power and influence:

49ers coach Chip Kelly: “It’s his right as a citizen, and it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.” 

The San Francisco 49ers: “We recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.” The focus of their press release was exclusively on their team policy regarding their player’s right to participate in anthem celebrations. Racism and police brutality are not mentioned by either the coach or the team.

The NFL: “Players are encouraged, but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.” The message being sent is one that places the focus on the legality of Kaepernick’s protest in the context of league rules. No mention is made about the issue Kaepernick is protesting.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he “doesn’t necessarily agree with what he (Kaepernick) is doing,” but supports players who seek changes in society.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump: “I think it is a terrible thing, and, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”

One of the responses Kaepernick received regarding his sit down during the anthem was from Nate Boyer, a former NFL player with the Seattle Seahawks, and a Green Beret. In an open letter to the quarterback, Boyer wrote, “Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it.” Kaepernick agreed to meet Boyer in person, and after discussing the situation, Boyer convinced Kaepernick that taking a knee during the anthem was a more respectful stance from a military perspective, and Kaepernick listened, and agreed. From that point forward, Kaepernick would take a knee during the playing of the anthem.

During the 2016 season, Kaepernick played 12 games, throwing 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions for a passer rating of 90.7, the 17th best rating among NFL quarterbacks. After the 2016 season, the 49ers released Kaepernick and he hasn’t played a down in the league since in spite of only being 29 at the time.

According to TV ratings, NFL viewership dropped by 8% in 2016. In a survey by JD Power, 30% of fans felt that the kneeling players were the #1 reason they weren’t watching the NFL.

Despite being in the prime of his career, and coming off a largely successful season in 2016, the Super Bowl quarterback could not convince a single NFL team to sign him in 2017. He believed he was being blackballed by NFL owners who were afraid to sign him for fear of the public backlash that his kneeling during the anthem might cause. None of the 32 NFL owners, only one of whom is a minority, would sign him.

49ers safety Eric Reid was the first NFL player to join Kaepernick in kneeling for the anthem. He supported his teammate, sharing his outrage about racism and police brutality and knelt alongside him before NFL contests. When Reid became a free agent after the 2017 season, he was met with deafening silence. No NFL team wanted to offer him a contract to play football, despite being in the prime of his career and still considered an above average safety.

©DANEIL GLUSKOTER
Eric Reid (25) of the Carolina Panthers takes a knee during the national anthem prior to a game against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium last season.

 

During the one free agent visit he did make with Cincinnati, Reid reported that Bengals team owner Mike Brown asked him if he intended to keep kneeling during the anthem. He declined to provide assurances as to his intentions in that regard, and he left the visit without a contract. He remained unsigned through the summer, and only signed a one-year deal with Carolina in late September after the 2018 season had started. With the Panthers, Reid continued to kneel during the anthem, and despite being thought of highly enough for the team to resign him to a three-year extension, he was cut in March despite playing all 16 games and setting career highs in both tackles and sacks in the 2019 season.

Kaepernick decided to file a lawsuit against the NFL, arguing that he had been denied a job because of his anthem position. Reid also filed a lawsuit against the NFL, alleging that owners colluded against offering him a contract after the 2017 season because of his activism.

In 2019, the NFL settled those lawsuits for what was reported to be roughly $6 million (according to a New York Times story).

President Donald Trump in 2017: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

The rhetoric that followed Kaepernick’s efforts to shine a harsh light on racism and police brutality was largely focused on issues other than those very topics. Patriotism, respect for the flag and the military all were raised as reasons to differ with Kaepernick’s protests.  Leaders, and those in positions of influence and power (presidents, coaches, team owners and league officials) helped to shape the national conversation about Kaepernick’s position, and ultimately obfuscated the central message he sought to bring forward. Within months of his initial protest in late August 2016, he was released by the franchise who drafted him-the same franchise he led to the Super Bowl in 2012, and could not get a single other NFL owner to sign him to a contract. 

Kaepernick had been effectively silenced by those in a position to provide him a platform to carry his message to the people of the country. The issues of racism and police brutality were tertiary considerations when it came to Kaepernick. He was considered anti-patriotic, disrespectful of the flag and the military, and the fans of the NFL noted that the very protests that he started were among the reasons they weren’t watching as much football on Sundays. 

It is not known what percentage of those fans turned off by his kneeling during the anthem actually were aware of the issues he was drawing attention to. The national narrative had been intentionally redirected by those in a position to help shape the conversation-away from racism and police treatment of minorities, and onto less controversial tropes (patriotism, the military, respect for the flag)-to diminish the impact as an agent of real change he had as a professional athlete. Ultimately, that platform was withdrawn from him as well, as he remains unemployed as an NFL player.

In 2018, the NFL enacted a policy that allowed the league to fine players who wouldn’t stand during the playing of the anthem. The policy did allow for players to remain in the locker rooms without fear of being fined. The message was clear: The league didn’t want the viewing public to see its players kneeling during the anthem and to be perceived as anti-patriotic, a characterization that was bad for the business of football. The racism and brutality that was being protested by those players taking a knee did not motivate the NFL to act in such a way.

Trump response to the policy was “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, and the NFL owners did the right thing.” 

The issue was respect for the flag and patriotism, and the president lauded the NFL owners for working to enact legislative change that enforced those principles. The league revoked the policy several months later.

In 2020, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The entire experience was captured on video by a local bystander with a cell phone, leaving no doubt as to the actual events that transpired. Within hours, enraged citizens of all ethnicities took to the streets to voice their anger and frustration as yet another African American had lost his life at the hands of a policeman. Fires were started, windows smashed and property destroyed as rioters stormed the streets of the city, and looters were caught on video pillaging stores of their merchandise. Protesters marched towards police precincts, demanding justice for their fallen brother. They screamed for the officer in question to be arrested and charged with murder, and for the three other officers at the scene, who stood by and watched as a man’s life was ended in front of them, to be similarly judged.

Trump: (via Twitter):” I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis, “A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak ‘radical left’ Mayor, Jacob Frey, gets his act together and brings the city under control, or I will send in the National Guard and get the job done right.”

Trump added, “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank You!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (via Twitter):”Americans have watched peaceful protests hijacked into violent riots that inflict the kind of injustice they supposedly oppose. Small businesses destroyed. Neighborhoods torn up. Police attacked on city streets. These riots need to stop. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.”

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (New York Times Op-Ed piece):”This week, rioters have plunged many American cities into anarchy, recalling the widespread violence of the 1960’s…But the rioting has nothing to do with George Floyd, whose bereaved relatives have condemned violence. On the contrary, nihilist criminals are simply out for loot and the thrill of destruction, with cadres of left-wing radicals like Antifa infiltrating protest marches to exploit Floyd’s death for their own anarchic purposes…One thing above all else will restore order to our streets, An overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers.”

With those comments, the narrative of the situation was manipulated. That is not to say that the violence seen in the streets of cities across the USA did not merit attention or mention by leadership, but the story being tweeted, discussed by the media and seen by the entire world became more about the looting and violent rioting and less about the systemic racism and police brutality that started it all. There were promises to send in the military, characterizations of local leadership as being unfit to restore order, and direct promises of the use of force to quell the unrest. The blatant nature of the public murder was there for all to see and mourn.

The response by those in power paid a modicum of lip service to the fact that another black life had been taken by police brutality, and more energy and focus was diverted to the lawless behavior of those rioting. There seemed to be an intentional effort to reframe the events that took place in Minneapolis, and demonize the violent rioters and terrorist inciters as the primary issue to be addressed. 

In 2020, that tactic seems to have been less effective than when Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and there are people willing to say they were wrong about not recognizing that fact back in 2016.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Saints quarterback Drew Brees is the NFL’s All-Time leader in both passing yardage and touchdown passes. Last week, the 13 time Pro Bowler inserted himself into the political debate about standing for the national anthem by changing his position the day after first coming out against kneeling as a sign of protest.

 

Asked to address the potential for renewed protests by NFL players during the national anthem in response to the George Floyd situation, New Orleans Saints star quarterback Drew Brees responded: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America, or our country.” Brees had shared comments of that tenor since Kaepernick first brought the issue to the national spotlight in 2016. In 2020, however, his comments were met with swift condemnation from athletes around the world, including two of his own Saints teammates, Michael Thomas and Malcolm Jenkins. Brees was chastened, but, to his credit, he recognized how his words were missing the point, and he said so publicly in an Instagram post and via video, and took the additional step of calling himself out in a virtual team meeting with the rest of his teammates:

“In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy.”

Trump responded to Brees’ reconsideration of the matter:

“I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high…

“We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING !”

On Instagram, Brees summed up the entire issue concisely and completely:

“We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform.”

Former NFL executive Joe Lockhart, who worked as a league spokesman from 2016-2018, published an op-ed piece on CNN last weekend. In the article, he notes, “I was wrong. I think the teams were wrong for not signing him. Watching what’s going on in Minnesota, I understand how badly wrong we were.”

“That symbol of racial injustice was reinforced every day that Colin sat on the outside of the football world. It may have seemed like a good business decision for the clubs to not sign him, and it certainly wasn’t illegal, but it was wrong.”

When people in positions of power and influence can not only recognize the true nature of the problem, but publicly admit their complicity in helping to squelch movements designed to achieve true and lasting change, the narrative is finally focused on the right things. Only with tireless, relentless and intentional open-mindedness can this country attempt to heal the racial injustice that has plagued it for more than 400 years. With the recognition of the institutionalized racism that infests some police organizations in the country, lasting change can become possible. 

George Floyd was murdered by the police. That act was at least enabled by those who sought to silence Colin Kaepernick back in 2016 when he knelt to bring attention to the racism he saw in the country he lived and worked in. Kaepernick wasn’t the first opponent of racism who saw their lives inexorably damaged based on their public proclamations, but perhaps it is not too late to recognize his courage, and to see him as a champion of a movement that still has miles to go to achieve its aims. If doing so emboldens the next Colin Kaepernick to take a stand on an issue that he/she sees as being unjust, then his sacrifice can live on in the spirit of change.

On June 7th, 2020, the Minneapolis City Council pledged to disband the Minneapolis Police Department. The members vowed to “dismantle and abolish” the department that was responsible for the death of George Floyd, and to build an alternative model of community led safety.

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49ers All-Pro tackle Joe Staley announces retirement https://martineztribune.com/2020/04/25/49ers-all-pro-tackle-joe-staley-announces-retirement/ Sun, 26 Apr 2020 00:35:19 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14286 The San Francisco 49ers announced today that Joe Staley, a three-time All-Pro tackle and six-time Pro Bowl selection, has retired from the National Football League.   “For the last 13 years, Joe Staley conducted himself in a manner that epitomizes the 49ers way and set a tremendous example for his teammates and our community,” said …

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The San Francisco 49ers announced today that Joe Staley, a three-time All-Pro tackle and six-time Pro Bowl selection, has retired from the National Football League.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER 49ers tackle Joe Staley announced his retirement on Saturday, ending a 13 year career that resulted in six Pro Bowl selections and a pair of Super Bowl appearances.

 

“For the last 13 years, Joe Staley conducted himself in a manner that epitomizes the 49ers way and set a tremendous example for his teammates and our community,” said 49ers CEO Jed York. “A consummate professional, one of the best players in the game and a great human being, Joe has left an indelible mark on this franchise and everyone he has come into contact with throughout his career. His passion, sense of humor and heart are just a few of the many traits that allowed him not only to be a team leader but also an ambassador for our game and the Bay Area.”

“One of the most respected and well-liked players in the NFL, Joe was integral to the success our organization has experienced over the last decade. I know Joe wrestled for some time with this decision because of his love for the 49ers and the game of football. As he walks away, my hope is that he does so knowing how greatly appreciated he is by the 49ers organization, my family, and our Faithful fans.”

“Forever a member of the 49ers family, Joe holds a special place in our hearts and will go down as one of the true greats in the storied history of our franchise. I look forward to supporting him, his wife, Carrie, and his daughters, Grace and Audrey, as they embark on the next chapter of life.”

Staley (6-5, 315) was originally selected in the first round (28th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft by San Francisco. Throughout his 13-year career, he started all 181 regular season games in which he appeared, as well as all 11 postseason contests, including two Super Bowls. Recently named to the 2011-2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame All Decade Team, Staley earned All-Pro honors in 2011, 2012 and 2013, in addition to being selected to six Pro Bowls (2012-2016 & 2018). Last season, he started seven regular season games and three postseason contests at left tackle.

Staley finished his career ranked fifth in franchise history for the most games played by an offensive lineman (181), trailing only T Len Rohde (208), T Keith Fahnhorst (193), G/C Randy Cross (185) and C/G Jesse Sapolu (182). A member of San Francisco’s 10-Year Club, which recognizes 49ers players whose tenures reached the 10-year mark, Staley was also a two-time recipient of the Bobb McKittrick Award (2014-15), given annually to the 49ers offensive lineman who best exemplifies the dedication, excellence and commitment of former offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick. In 2019, Staley was selected as one of eight finalists for the annual Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award for the fifth-consecutive season.

A 35-year-old native of Rockford, MI, Staley played at Central Michigan University, where he earned consecutive First-Team All-MAC honors in both his junior and senior seasons. He played in 46 games (39 starts) for the Chippewas and helped the team produce a 1,000-yard rusher in three of his four seasons (2003-05). He and his wife, Carrie, have two daughters, Grace and Audrey.

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NBA suspends season after Utah’s Gobert contacts virus https://martineztribune.com/2020/03/11/pgjhoh/ Thu, 12 Mar 2020 06:59:26 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14182 BY MASON BISSADA This developing story was updated at 12PM Pacific Time on March 12th. The National Basketball Association has suspended its season in response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi. After initially taking the precaution of not allowing fans into certain arenas for games, the league decided to …

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BY MASON BISSADA

This developing story was updated at 12PM Pacific Time on March 12th.

The National Basketball Association has suspended its season in response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi.

After initially taking the precaution of not allowing fans into certain arenas for games, the league decided to suspend the season entirely when Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Coronavirus.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The NBA announced an unprecedented immediate suspension of it’s season following the news that Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert had test positive for the Coronavirus.

 

The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is supposedly doing well according to fellow NBA player and French national teammate Evan Fournier, who tweeted “Was just on the phone with Rudy. He is doing good. Lets not panic everyone. Love you all.”

The entire Jazz roster was tested for the virus. Rumors that Gobert’s teammate Emmanuel Mudiay had also tested positive for the virus were inaccurate, but fellow All-Star Donovan “Spider” Mitchell confirmed on Instagram that he had tested positive.  The NBA advised all the teams that have played the Jazz in the last 10 days to self-quarantine until they have been tested.

The last day of the 2019-20 season was scheduled for April 15th, with the Finals set to start on June 4th. As of now, the league is suspended “indefinitely,” leaving many to believe games will not resume any time soon.

22-year veteran Vince Carter, who was planning on finally retiring at the end of the season, came to terms with the idea that he’d just played in his final NBA game during his postgame press conference Wednesday following an overtime loss to the Knicks. “Game’s been good,” Carter said after what might have been his last game. “Basketball’s been good to me. I’ve enjoyed each and every moment of it. Good and bad. So if this is it, it’s all good.”

On Thursday morning the NHL followed suit by pausing their season effective immediately, and Major League Baseball has also cancelled all remaining exhibition games in both Arizona and Florida and announced that the start of the regular season will be delayed by at least two weeks.

 

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Clippers Blow Out Warriors 131-107 as Fan Lockout Looms https://martineztribune.com/2020/03/10/clippers-blow-out-warriors-as-fan-lockout-looms/ Wed, 11 Mar 2020 06:19:05 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=14175 BY MASON BISSADA In what may turn out to be the final Warriors home game with fans in attendance at Chase Center for the foreseeable future, Golden State lost in demoralizing fashion to the Los Angeles Clippers, 131-107. After the Santa Clara Health Department ordered on Monday that all gatherings of one thousand people or …

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BY MASON BISSADA

In what may turn out to be the final Warriors home game with fans in attendance at Chase Center for the foreseeable future, Golden State lost in demoralizing fashion to the Los Angeles Clippers, 131-107.

After the Santa Clara Health Department ordered on Monday that all gatherings of one thousand people or more are effectively banned due to the Coronavirus outbreak, many are speculating that San Francisco county can’t be far behind with their own such ruling. Just as the San Jose Sharks will now play their games in an empty arena, so too may the Golden State Warriors in due time. The NBA is set to make a league-wide call on Wednesday addressing further measures, and games may be closed off to the public as soon as Thursday in certain cities.

“It’s absolutely a possibility,” Head Coach Steve Kerr said pregame when asked about potentially playing without fans in attendance. “I’ve played on a couple of teams where it felt like that was the case. We’re in uncharted waters here. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We’re all just taking the approach that we have to do our jobs and come in and work.”

The Warriors organization has already taken the step of not allowing the media into team locker rooms before and after games, and setting up makeshift podiums for players and coaches outside the away locker room where scrums would usually take place.

“I mean it’s not disruptive much,” Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers said from his podium when asked about the precautions the league is enforcing. “But it’s different, this is definitely different. This is very serious and our team is taking it very serious and the NBA is taking it very serious and so there are things that we are doing different.”

Some fans seem to have already taken it upon themselves to avoid large gatherings, as a noticeable amount of seats were empty on Tuesday at Chase Center for a game that would usually draw a huge crowd.

 If fans are indeed closed off to games in the future, the question remains of how this absence will affect the way teams play. “Obviously we want our fans to be there,” Eric Paschall said postgame. “We play for our fans, but I feel like as professional basketball players, we can adjust to it because we’ve played basketball our whole lives.”

In terms of the game itself, Golden State was clearly outmatched from the jump, giving up a 28-point deficit by halftime and allowing the Clippers to extend thieir lead to 34 at one point. The Clippers, who currently hold the #2 seed in the Western Conference, hit 20 of their 44 3-point attempts (good for 45.5%) and dominated Golden State in nearly every other statistical category as well. Seven Clips scored in double figures despite no player playing over 27 minutes (their starters sat for nearly all of the fourth quarter).

“We’re playing probably the deepest team in the NBA,” Kerr said postgame. “The Clippers are loaded. Big, strong, physical team and [they] took it to us right away. They were knocking down three’s left and right. If there was anything I was dissapointed in in the first half, it was our 3-point defense.”

All-Star Kawhi Leonard led the way for Los Angeles, dropping 23 points on 9-14 shooting in just 25 minutes of play. Leonard’s midrange jumpshooting was something to behold, knocking in shot after shot whether it was contested or not (more often not, as the Warriors perimeter defense was nearly nonexistent).

For Golden State, Dragan Bender led the way with 23 points on 8-12 shooting, tying his career-high as his second 10-day contract counts down. Though much of his scoring came after the game was essentially over, Bender’s ability to pass, shoot and set screens has proven useful for a depleted Warriors roster.

Andrew Wiggins contributed another 20+ point performance, scoring 21 points on 8-16 shooting and knocking down three of his eight 3-point attempts. Since joining the Warriors, Wiggins has hit 33% of his attempts from beyond the arc, a somewhat passable number given the difficulty of some of his attempts. The form of his jumpshot appears sound, and it isn’t too much to assume that he will get more wide-open looks next year playing next to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

The Warriors will welcome the Brooklyn Nets (and an injured Kevin Durant) to Chase Center on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. It is still undetermined if fans will be welcomed as well.

GAME NOTES:

Stephen Curry missed his second straight game after being diagnosed with the flu. Kerr is optimistic that he’ll be ready for Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Juan Toscano-Anderson left Tuesday’s game early in the first quarter after spraining his ankle. His timetable for a return is unclear.

Ky Bowman returned after missing five games with a sprained ankle, scoring 11 points on 5-6 shooting in 24 minutes of play.

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Golden State leads the league in points per game scored by rookies with 28.9 points per game. This is the highest Warriors rookie scoring average for any Warriors team in the last 23 seasons.

 

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