The 2005 MLB season is halfway home, and there are, as usual, many team positives and negatives compared to last season. Without reporting every team, the following represent the most glaring changes from last year to this year-to-date through Independence Day:
2004 Season: Thru 7-4-05:
National League. *Arizona 60 below .500 2 below .500
**Washington 28 below .500 18 above .500
Milwaukee 27 below .500 4 below .500
New York 20 below .500 At .500
San Francisco 20 above .500 13 below .500
Los Angeles 24 above .500 4 below .500
Houston 22 above .500 3 below .500
Chicago 16 above .500 1 below .500
American League. Toronto 27 below .500 2 above .500
Chicago 4 above .500 29 above .500
Seattle 36 below .500 11 below .500
*New York 40 above .500 3 above .500
Boston 34 above .500 11 above .500
Oakland 20 above .500 1 below .500
**The Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005.
*Arizona is this year’s #1 plus. The Yankees are this year’s #1 bust.
But remember that the bottle right now is only half-empty; lots left yet.
You’re never too old if you have talent and the right frame of mind. Julio Franco is an infielder with the Atlanta Braves. Born in the Dominican Republic, he’s been in MLB for 21 years. He has a career batting average of .300, a career slug % of .420, and has stolen 273 bases during his long career of 2,323 games. What makes him so unusual is that Julio is still at it in MLB at 46 years young; he’ll be 47 in August. And even at this age in 2005, through July 4th. he’s hitting .281 with six homers, 25 rbi’s, and is 4-for-4 in the base-stealing department. Franco is an absolute marvel. (If you want to read about another ageless marvel, see my feature story on Orestes “Minnie” Minoso on September 1st. next.)
The MLB All Star Game will be played on July 12th. Once again, a gross travesty of justice exists in the balloting for players on both rosters. Why? Because the voting for the starting teams is left to the fans who jam the ballot boxes with names of players who don’t belong there. Bud Selig invariably shows his inability to govern the sport, and the All Star Game is no exception. The responsibility for choosing the game’s starting participants should be in the hands of the managers or the players or me; in either case, greater objectivity would prevail. And to make the All Star Game winner the criteria for league home field advantage in the World Series is as ludicrous as it gets. Bud Selig, any correlation between you and a competent commissioner is purely coincidental, and I once again challenge you to a public debate on this and several other issues regarding MLB.
Story of the Week
Sid Luckman was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1939 NFL draft out of Columbia University. He was a punter and a defensive back, but first and foremost, George Halas wanted him to be his quarterback. Halas later said of Luckman, “He became a great player simply because he devoted about 400% more effort to it than most athletes are willing to do.”
The usual Luckman smile disappeared when the former Brooklyn street kid pulled on his Chicago Bears helmet, and went to work as the executioner of a George Halas winning machine that produced four NFL championships in the 1940’s. Luckman, a former single-wing (for you youngsters who never saw it, it was a backfield power left or power right formation with the QB lining up ostensibly in the shotgun) star at Columbia, brought the perfect blend of physical and leadership abilities to his 12-season role as pro football’s first successful T-formation quarterback. He was a gifted ball-handler who could misdirect the defense and set up Bears running backs for big gains or receivers for his deadly passing attack.
Sid Luckman will forever be linked with contemporary Sammy Baugh as the passing quarterbacks who changed the offensive course of pro football. Luckman had all the skills; he was also a capable punter, defensive back and kick-returner. All of that reached a point that concerned George Halas greatly. Halas would restrict Luckman’s non-quarterback time, and even put a mild harness on his quarterback’s scrambling, a word not used back then, but that’s what is was.
Luckman could be explosive. He ran for one touchdown and passed for another while directing the Bears to an amazing and overwhelming 73-0 win over Baugh’s Washington Redskins in the 1940 NFL title game. He fired a record seven touchdown passes in a 1943 game, and five more in the 1943 championship game win against the Redskins again.
An examination of Luckman’s QB stats will impress no one in the modern day and age of pro football, but way back when, they meant a lot. His 12-year career, all with the Chicago Bears, produced 14,686 passing yards and 137 touchdowns. He also intercepted 17 passes, two for touchdowns. His punting average was 38.4 yards. But his main contribution to Papa Bear Halas were those four NFL championships.
Sid Luckman retired from pro football in 1950. He subsequently was named to the 1940’s All-Decade team, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
Last Week’s Trivia
The Tampa Bay Bucs hold the NFL record for most consecutive losses. The number, 26, ominous as it is, was “accomplished” in 1976 and 1977.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who is the only Brave to play for Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.