The suspensions are handed down for Sunday’s brawl against the Brewers. Travis Snider (two games), Russell Martin (one game), Carlos Gomez (three games) and Martin Maldonado (five games) will also each have to pay an undisclosed fine. 3 of the 4 will appeal, but Maldonado, who punched Snider, will not appeal his five-game suspension. Russell Martin told me on Tuesday that he doesn’t understand his suspension, “I didn’t throw any punches…I was just protecting my teammates.” Carlos Gomez is also surprised at his suspension. Gomez told a Milwaukee television station, “Everybody knows, you watch the replay, Snider comes out of the dugout for no reason and starts a fight so that’s why I’m appealing, because i think it’s not fair.” The players who are appealing the suspensions can play until their appeals are heard.
A daily ritual in the Pirates dugout. Pitching coach Ray Searage tapes up the hitting charts.
Iron Mike Tyson is in Pittsburgh this week. He’s making the rounds in his latest boxing promotion. He’s a man who needs no introduction, perhaps the last of the truly legendary boxers. Tyson stayed unbeaten through his first 19 professional bouts. Each of the 19 wins came by knockout, and incredibly, 12 of the knockouts came in the first round. When Mike Tyson fought, it wasn’t a matter of whether he’d win. It was only a question of how long it would take him to dispose of his challenger. There were great fighters to hold the championship belt after him, but Mike Tyson remains, in many ways, the last relevant heavyweight champ. He is both a sports and cultural icon. His has ridden the highs, and he has stayed strong during the lowest of lows, both in and out of the ring, when Tyson’s reputation and image took a beating similar to the ones he put on any number of opponents during his dominant run as champ. In 1992, Tyson was found guilty of rape and received a six-year prison term. Two years earlier in Tokyo, Tyson suffered humiliation in the ring. Iron Mike was a 42-1 favorite over James “Buster” Douglas, but was upset for the first loss of his career. In 1997, he was disqualified from a title bout for biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Tyson was then banned from boxing. But as he makes the rounds in Pittsburgh, including throwing a ceremonial first pitch at PNC Park, we’re witnessing a kinder and gentler champ, and we’re reminded of his remarkable social impact.
Art Ross resides in Pittsburgh! No doubt about it, the Art Ross Trophy has found a home here. That trophy is given annually to the NHL’s scoring champion, and Sidney Crosby is now officially the Art Ross winner for the 2nd time. Incredibly, it’s the 15th time in 26 seasons that a Penguins player has won it. Mario Lemieux won it 6 times, Jaromir Jagr 5, and Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin twice each. The Art Ross trophy was on display in Pittsburgh last week. Sid won’t take the big trophy home. When it’s not being exhibited on the road, the official Art Ross Trophy is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Crosby will get a miniature version of the award. Sid will also have to make room in his trophy case for a few other trophy, including another miniature Hart Memorial Trophy, given to the regular season MVP after a vote by the hockey writers. Crosby would be the first to tell you that while these awards are nice, there’s only one that he really wants, and the road to that one starts on Wednesday.
In the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals between the Penguins and Red Wings, Ryan Malone took a puck to the face, but returned to the game! That’s how many Pittsburgh fans remember him. Malone, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, was the toughest of players and a popular player. But this morning came the shocking news of Malone’s arrest in Tampa on charges of driving under the influence and possession of cocaine. Malone, who’s now 34, has a year left on his contract with the Lightning. He was released early Saturday morning after posting a $2500 bond. Here’s a statement from Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman: “We are aware of the situation concerning Ryan Malone this morning. Ryan will not travel with the team to Washington today, but beyond that we cannot comment further at this time.”
On this date 40 years ago (I remember it well), Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves became baseball’s all-time home run king. He hit #715 off Al Downing, and what happened next was one of the more memorable home run trots. It included two teenagers who raced to the field and congratulated Aaron on his way to 3rd base.
It’s April 1st, but this story is anything but an April Fools Day joke. 29 years ago today, the Villanova Wildcats stunned the world with what is considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of any sport. The fact is, although it was certainly an improbable win, it wasn’t nearly the upset that people thought. Villanova knew Georgetown almost as well as they knew themselves, and had played two close games with them in the regular season (both losses, one in overtime). Nonetheless, it was a remarkable accomplishment to knock off the mighty Hoyas on college basketball’s greatest stage. Now, the rest of the story. While at Villanova, I was the play-by-play announcer for the student radio station, WKVU, and was asked by head coach Rollie Massimino to produce a series of recruiting tapes. Each tape was a condensed version of a fake game, based on a “script” which I wrote with information on the recruit given to me by the Villanova coaches. I put the information to paper and recorded play-by-play in an audio booth. I also added crowd noise, music opens, sound effects, commercials, and even interviews (usually an assistant coach for the halftime interview and Coach Massimino for the postgame interview). We produced several tapes (Marc Marrotta, Patrick Ewing, Andre Hawkins, Dallas Comegys, Dwayne McClain, and Wyatt Maker). When we produced the tape for Ewing, the Philadelphia Daily News profiled our recruiting technique in a front-page sports column. We failed to get Ewing, Marrotta, Hawkins or Comegys, but we were successful in getting both McClain and Maker, which means that two members of Villanova’s 1985 national championship team were recruited using my tapes. The story behind the McClain tape is especially interesting. On that recording, I had McClain as the star of a fictitious game, which was a win over Georgetown at Rupp Arena for the 1985 NCAA title!!! The entire scenario ended up playing out in real life, even though the script that I wrote and the tape that I produced were completed five years before the real game! McClain had 17 points in the championship, making him the high scorer for that game. Somewhere in my pile of junk, I have a newspaper article from a Boston newspaper that was written soon after McClain signed his letter-of-intent with Villanova. In that article, McClain said that my tape was a significant factor in his decision. Massimino said the same thing in a letter that he wrote to me, and when the Villanova team was honored at the Pennsylvania Governor’s mansion after the championship, Coach Massimino had me stand up and tell the story in front of the television cameras. If Villanova’s national championship seemed like it was pulled off the pages of a script, that’s because it was! It was a fantasy that became real. 34 years ago, I wrote the script, and five years later, 29 years ago on this date, the Villanova Wildcats brought it to life. Happy April Fools Day!
Almost from the moment that it was announced that Barry Bonds would be returning to Pittsburgh for the first time in “Pirates” capacity, fans were buzzing about how he might be received. Many felt that Bonds would be booed and heckled like so many of Pittsburgh’s “estranged” professional athletes. Others felt he would be given the applause appropriate for a highly-decorated superstar. Bonds wasn’t born in Pittsburgh, but this is where his baseball legend began, and on Monday, he was back to the city he called home from 1986 to 1992. On his way to PNC Park, Bonds drove past his old apartment in Coraopolis, and then, at a pregame news conference, he sat next to his former boss, Jim Leyland, for whom Bonds had high praise. He also talked about the city that he left behind after the 1992 season, “It feels good to be back where it all started.” His appearance was the highlight of the pregame festivities, and before the Pirates opened their 2014 season, they got down to the business of welcoming back one of their greatest players, who, along with Leyland, Dick Groat and Jack Wilson, recognized last season’s award winners. Bonds walked slowly towards home plate with a group that also included Andrew McCutchen, last season’s MVP, and the team’s best player since Bonds. The introduction of Bonds was greeted with a few hollow boos, but the jeers were quickly overtaken by cheers. Overall, and maybe surprisingly, it was a very positive reaction from the PNC Park regular-season record crowd of 39,833. His reunion with Pittsburgh had come and gone, and moments later, after a short walk up the tunnel from the field, Bonds was noticeably more relaxed. He told me that he never doubted that many Pittsburgh fans loved and respected him, but he understood that others were still angry that he left town. He seemed relieved, and perhaps with the tension of the pregame moments behind him, Bonds opened up, and appeared to be genuinely happy to see so many familiar faces. When I showed him a picture saved in my phone of an interview that I had done with him in the early 90s, Bonds laughed and said, “that’s when I had attitude.” He joked, “I had to talk to you then. I don’t have to talk with you now.” He took a few pictures, including one with two members of the grounds crew. Then, his time at PNC Park was over. Bonds had arrived only moments before his on-field appearance, and shortly, he’d be on his way back to the airport and the trip back west. It was a quick visit, but a significant one as Bonds began the process of rehabilitating his image with the city, and the fans, who followed him on the rollercoaster of his first seven major league seasons, which included an infamous spring training tongue-lashing from Leyland, three consecutive division titles, and his first two MVP seasons. Bonds was reflective, “We had some great times here.” He savored the moment. Maybe now, he can start to enjoy the many moments of his Pittsburgh past.
Mount Lebanon’s Mark Cuban has a reputation for speaking his mind, and he’s making some bold predictions about the long-term future of the NFL. During a pregame conversation with reporters on Sunday, Cuban talked about the NFL’s planned expansion to network television on Thursday nights this fall. With that decision in mind, Cuban says he believes the NFL is on the road to ruin and 10 years away from financially imploding, “I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered, and they’re getting hoggy. Just watch.” Cuban believes the NFL is trying to take over every night of television. Is the NFL moving closer to giving their fans too much of a good thing? We’ll find out.
Jameson Taillon, the top pitching prospect for the Pirates, has been shut down with a sore elbow. He woke up with pain in that elbow on Thursday. An MRI showed no ligament damage, but Taillon will get a second opinion this week. It’s not good news as the Bucs try to fill a spot in their starting rotation left vacant when A.J. Burnett signed with Philadelphia. In addition to that, Francisco Liriano has been hampered by a groin injury, and Edinson Volquez has been ineffective this spring. Wandy Rodriguez is also coming off an injury.