Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Induction Weekend taking on new meaning

If you know me well, or just happened to read my blog around this time last year, you know that I have been going to National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in Cooperstown, New York every year since 2009.  Baseball was the first sport I started watching.  Induction weekend gives me three days to escape from the humidity of Cherry Hill, New Jersey during the summer and walk up and down breezy Main Street in Cooperstown and pass by legends of the game signing autographs.

This was my view outside the hall
upon arriving last year.
I’ll always have a profound respect for the hall of famers that played before my time.  I’m a stats guy and like to think I can reel off a lot of their numbers.  If I catch an MLB Network tribute at the right time I enjoy taking in highlights of these players.  Every year I make a baseball quiz for induction weekend.  Many of the same greats appear on it year after year but as the answers to different questions, which serves as a testament to the kind of careers these guys had. 

Rickey Henderson is one that I especially enjoy watching old clips of.  He was a member of the first class I saw inducted in 2009 and I love watching a speedster wreak havoc on the base paths, like Dee Gordon in today’s game, and so as I discovered the greatness of Rickey Henderson it didn’t take me long to start thinking about how much I would have loved to have seen him play in his prime. So while I can tell you he stole 1406 bases in his career, had a few seasons where he stole over 100 bags, and always had a high on-base percentage, I’ll never have those memories of his career where I can say “I remember where I was when he did that.”

As I enter my 7th induction weekend, the trip begins to carry a new meaning for me.  The group I go up with remains the same and the annual traditions never change, but the inductees do.  Last year was when I first really got to experience an induction weekend where I began to have good recollections of the players’ careers.  Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were two of members of the class of 2014.  Growing up a Phillies fan, I have memories of the two of these pitchers leading a Braves staff that was dominant for most of my childhood.  The Braves were the top dogs in the NL East for years and I would always pencil them in as division champs every April before the season started.  With vague memories of how well Greg Maddux fielded the position as a pitcher or the workmanlike performances Glavine turned in on his way to winning over 300 games, the induction weekend experience was enhanced.

This year it’s Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez.  After mentioning Glavine and Maddux I might as well pick up with Smoltz.  To me, while Smoltz was terrific as a starter for Atlanta, he’ll always be that dominant closer who slammed the door for the Braves night in and night out.  If the Phillies were ever lucky enough to rally in the 9th against him, I was sure to enjoy it.  Biggio takes on an ironman status of sorts for me.  I can remember him as a very durable player who played a few different positions throughout his career on his way to becoming a member of the 3,000-hit club.  Johnson was that big tall lefty who no hitter had a chance against.  But despite being a starter his entire career, his heroic performance recording a win in relief in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series is something that stands out for me.  Lastly is Martinez who at the height of his career was right in the middle of arguably the best rivalry in sports.  When the Red Sox and Yankees were on television, I was watching.  There’s the iconic image of him pushing Yankees pitching coach Don Zimmer to the ground in the 2003 ALCS in a benches clearing brawl I can recall.

So with another induction weekend right around the corner, it’s nice to be able to have a new perspective to three of my favorite days of the year.  Now it’s more than spitting out statistics of the inductees.  I have moments of their careers that stand out to me.  After I had been going up year after year and players I saw play were becoming eligible for induction by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, I was eagerly anticipating the time when I could say “I remember when he did that.”  Well, here we are.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sixers were right in picking Joel Embiid

The Sixers rebuild continues to produce more questions than answers.  There was no doubt that the franchise needed a change of direction in May 2013 when Sam Hinkie took over as general manager following the Andrew Bynum fiasco.  But after just 37 wins in two seasons, the question that no one seems to be able to answer is when the team will move forward and become a winner.  This weekend seemed to only push things back more.

                                                         USA Today Sports Images
Sixers beat writer Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer was the first to report that center Joel Embiid will have a second surgery on his right foot to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone and will miss the 2015-16 season.  Embiid sat all of 2014-15 rehabilitating from his first surgery on the foot which he injured a week prior to the 2014 NBA Draft. 

The Sixers selected Embiid with the third pick in last year’s draft.  The seven-footer was expected to go first to the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to the foot injury.  However, with the injury happening a week before the draft, Cleveland opted for Embiid’s college teammate at Kansas, Andrew Wiggins.  Entering the draft, Embiid drew comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon with his ability to drastically impact the game on both ends of the floor.  His skillset screamed superstar in the making.  That’s exactly what the Sixers had lacked since the Allen Iverson era had ended. 

The Sixers weren’t looking to return to mediocrity.  Hinkie thinks big.  Selecting Embiid was the kind of high-risk high reward type of decision that is becoming definitive of the Sixers efforts to resurrect the franchise.  Unfortunately for Hinkie and company, the high-risk end of the pick is getting the better of the high reward.

But that does not mean this was the wrong decision.  Those who criticize the pick will merely say “Anyone who can play!” instead of taking the gamble.  But there was no one else at 3 that could have the kind of potential to be a superstar.  That’s what the first step of the rebuild is all about.  Identifying a franchise player that the organization can move forward with for once after years of having just an average roster.  Had Hinkie opted for Aaron Gordon or Dante Exum the same skeptics would have smashed him for not knowing how to identify franchise-changing talent.  Julius Randle got hurt in the first game of the year and missed the rest of the season.

So what was the alternative? The Sixers weren’t looking for someone that would have rerouted them back towards mediocrity.  Credit Hinkie for stockpiling draft picks and giving himself the insurance of having multiple lottery tickets to cash in on.  He selected another center, Jahlil Okafor this year at number three.  Maybe Okafor becomes the franchise now.  But last year with Wiggins and Duke wing Jabari Parker off the board, Hinkie needed someone that could be his franchise face.  Embiid was his only option.