Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 9/27/14

Goodbye, Mr. Jeter .....................


Dear Derek:

We've always been told that good things must come to an end; for some strange reason, I thought your baseball career was immune to that rule as your name has become so synonymous with the game for SUCH a long time. Baseball WITHOUT Derek Jeter? Can it be? No Jeter playing shortstop for NY? It's already feeling very weird, Derek. It seemed like yesterday when we all became privy to the talents of the baby-faced kid who grew up in Kalamazoo--and debated whether he'd become the Yankees' shortstop of the future. Yeah, I bet you'd agree, Derek: 20 years can really fly by.

I can't add much, Mr. Jeter, to what's already been penned in order to heighten my readers' appreciation of your greatness. And I know you'll always disdain the media-driven debates about such topics as "greatest Yankee of all-time", "greatest shortstop of all-time", etc. First of all, your modesty would immediately cause you to veer from those conversations; singling yourself out just wasn't in your make-up. And playing for a franchise that had guys like Gehrig, Ruth, and DiMaggio as former players makes any argument about "greatness" seem silly. But your numbers were astounding, DJ: most hits ever by a shortstop (3,465), EIGHT 200+ hit seasons, a 14-time All-Star, 200 postseason hits, a .310 career batting average, and five world championship rings. I know--it never WAS about numbers/stats for you, DJ; you were the ultimate "team guy." The awards were endless, too (Rookie of the Year, World Series MVP, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, to name just a few), but you were ALWAYS concerned about one thing: WINNING. And you won A LOT, Derek--both on and off the field.

Yeah, yeah, yeah--I can talk about some other memorable moments, too: i.e. diving into stands, making remarkable heads-up plays, the "jump-throws" from shortstop, the game-winning hits. In fact, there are just too many to mention in this letter, Mr. Jeter; for now, I'll save some additional memories for a future day when I'm in dire need of a smile or two--and I thank you in advance for that.

I know the 2014 "love-fest" was tough for you, Derek--being honored in every ballpark in which you played. Yeah, you were appreciative, for sure--but it brought more attention than normal to you and was in direct conflict with your selfless demeanor. The same goes for the nicknames: "Mr. November", "The Captain", "Captain Clutch", etc. I know you were honored that people THOUGHT of you in such a positive manner when coining those nicknames, Derek, but ANYTHING hinting at a 'less-than-team-first' approach bugged you--a LOT. And that's something I'll never forget.

Level with me, Derek: Just HOW did you do it all? In the media capital of the world, you avoided scandal in a sports world FILLED with it--for TWO decades. You dated models, actresses, starlets of all-types--and never became distracted. You maintained privacy. You showed loyalty to ONE team, Derek--a la George Brett, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Tony Gwynn. O.K., granted--I know you made it EASY for the Yankees to pay you handsomely/maintain your services due to your enormous talent, Derek, but you NEVER hinted at leaving for the "what's best for me" explanation (i.e. GREED in modern sports jargon). You played hard, but not dirty. You questioned calls, but never argued. You won titles, but never bragged. You were a LEGIT role model to people of ALL ages. I know the term is overused, Mr. Jeter, but you were the EPITOME of class. I'll think of you from this day forward and a simple equation will always come to mind, Derek: JETER=CLASS. I know you give your parents ALL the credit for your clean, disciplined approach (as you should), but you STILL had to live it/DO IT, Derek--and you DID. Just WHY your approach/lifestyle didn't rub off on some fellow teammates--and many more athletes in general--is beyond me, Derek. Hey, perhaps a considerable amount of young kids learned a lot from you over the past 20 years, DJ. In fact, I KNOW they did.

The respect was universal, Mr. Jeter--as witnessed by the admiration shown to you by the "hated" Red Sox last weekend at Fenway; I guess there are still enough baseball fans out there who value/recognize class, leadership, and overall greatness--in ANY city. Yeah, you had an RBI single in your final big league at-bat and your team won that day, but the game was secondary. Perhaps Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy said it best when he remarked late in the game, "If you're gonna clone a baseball player from here on out, you CLONE Derek Jeter." And a game-winning hit just a few days before in your final at-bat at Yankee Stadium? Could it have ended ANY other way? Your manager Joe Girardi, when asked about you in 2013, remarked, "He's a MOVIE, is what he is." Yes, Joe--and one deserving of an Academy Award in ANY era.

Thanks, Derek, for being that ONE constant over the past 20 years--that ONE guy I could depend on to be "solid" daily--VERY solid. I valued your durability, your "lead by example" style, your quiet nature, and much more. I never had the pleasure of speaking with you personally, but it's surely on my 'bucket list'. Perhaps before you make the trip to Cooperstown, we can talk and I can expand on the "much more" part as mentioned above. And please, Derek--don't consider this piece of writing just another part of the 2014 "love fest" that I'm SURE grew very tiresome for you. Let's call it simply an "admiration moment"; I can assure you that few people have respected your outstanding efforts over the past 20 years more than this one aging, admiring scribe.

Oh--and back to your final game at Yankee Stadium last week, DJ. On a terribly rainy day, the weather suddenly took a turn for the better in the early evening--and a RAINBOW appeared above the stadium just 15 minutes before game time. That's, SPOOKY, Derek--in fact, plain SCARY. Wow--just WOW. And guess what? Due to your heroics, each Yankee fan was treated to a 'pot of gold' about three hours later.

Former Yankee SS Derek Jeter? Just doesn't sound right now, Derek; perhaps it will during the middle of next season. For now, let me just say THANK YOU for going about your business in unmatched fashion and showing the WORLD what the term "class" truly personifies. I know you'll continue to bring the same work ethic, classy approach, and immense integrity while overseeing your Turn 2 Foundation--where tons of youngsters will continue to benefit from your humanitarian efforts.

Thanks again, #2; you'll surely be missed, Mr. Jeter.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 9/13/14

As baseball season winds down and writer's block makes another appearance, I thought I'd play a baseball surname-association game using each letter of the alphabet. The subjects are the first baseball players who immediately came to my mind; yes--no rhyme, no reason, folks............


A- Aaron, as in Hall of Famer "Hammerin' Hank"--who clubbed a "then-record" 755 home runs LEGITIMATELY during a remarkable career. Yes, still the all-time RBI leader in MLB history--an impressive record that STILL gets under-publicized and is under-appreciated....
B- Bonds, as in Barry (or the person that WFAN's Steve Somers refers to as "Bar-roid")--a steroid bum who tainted THE most sacred record in baseball history ( HR's--see above). Then again, could it REALLY have been just flaxseed oil, Barry?....
C- Cloninger, (Tony), who was the only MLB pitcher in history to hit two grand slams in one game; won 24 games one year (1965), as well....
D- Davis; though there are many athletes with this surname, I immediately thought of Willie--who spent 14 years with the Dodgers and was a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. Kind of a "free spirit", too....
E- Etchebarren (Andy), the catcher who spent 12 years with the Orioles; his claim to fame was having one of the most unmistakable "mugs" on baseball cards back in the day (just Google a pic, folks, and you'll see what I mean)....
F- Fidrych (Mark), the pitcher nicknamed "The Bird" who set the baseball world on fire in 1976 with 19 wins; his grooming of the mound area and talking to the baseball will never be forgotten. He was supposed to appear on my TV show shortly before he died in 2009; that was MY loss, Mark....
G- Gehrig (Lou), aka "The Iron Horse"--probably the greatest Yankees player who spent his entire career in New York. His stats were simply OUTRAGEOUS--and the world lost him to ALS (now also called Lou Gehrig's Disease) at the tender age of 35....
H- Herndon (Larry), a steady outfielder who enjoyed a 14-year career with the Giants and Tigers in the 70's/80's; I always thought he was gonna be a better player than he actually was, but he still nets a nice pension....
I- Incaviglia (Pete), a former first-round pick who never duplicated the 30 HR's he hit during his rookie season for the Rangers in '86; "Inky" quickly became known as a "strikeout waiting to happen". In fact, my Dad had a former schoolmate nicknamed "Inky", too--Josephine Incandella of Ansonia (now THAT's Italian, folks)....
J- Javier (Julian), who played in the majors between 1960 and 1972; one of the first players I remember who wore eyeglasses and the father of former big leaguer Stan Javier....
K- Kaat (Jim), who pitched a mind-boggling 25 years in the "bigs" and won an amazing SIXTEEN consecutive Gold Glove awards. Oh, and he became one of the few ex-"jocks" who actually possessed INCREDIBLE broadcasting skills. Nicknamed "Kitty"....
L- Leyritz (Jim), the former Yankees catcher. To this day, I still wonder how this bum beat DUI manslaughter charges stemming from a 2007 crash down in Florida; sadly, a woman was killed....
M- Marichal (Juan), the Hall of Fame pitcher. He was probably the first pitcher my Dad mentioned to me as a kid--telling me how great he was on a continual basis. He was also one of the first pitchers I ever saw in person--pitching at Shea Stadium in the early 70's; what a leg-kick and what a PITCHER....
N- Nixon (Russ), the former catcher/manager; his name came to mind probably due to the fact that his family was somehow related to one of my Mom's closest friends....
O- O'Toole (Jim), who pitched (and WON) the first big league game I ever saw in person as a member of the White Sox (vs. the Yankees at Yankee Stadium); sadly, he was done with baseball at the age of 30....
P- Popovich (Paul), who played 11 seasons in the majors in the 60's and 70's; good fielder, but NOT a hitter--for sure....
Q- Queen (Mel), who I remember as a kid pitching for Cincinnati and California; won just 20 games in his career--with FOURTEEN of them coming in ONE season (1967). Oh, I immediately thought of Jimmy Qualls, too, right after remembering Mel; Mr. Queen still gets the nod...
R- Rivera ("Bombo", not Mariano), a former outfielder whose real name was Jesus. But REALLY--how can you EVER forget anyone nicknamed "Bombo"?....
S- Skowron ("Moose"), the former Yankees first baseman who was a member of numerous championship teams. Also, he happened to be one of the more entertaining/down-to-earth people I've ever had the honor of speaking to. We miss you, "Moose"....
T- Tidrow (Dick), the pitcher who won 100 games over a 13-year career. I mean, how can ANY baseball fan also forget ANYONE nicknamed "Dirt"?....
U- Unser (Del), a valuable utility player (especially while playing in Philly) who once hit three pinch-hit home runs in consecutive at-bats; simply a tough out....
V- Vizquel (Omar)--still the best-fielding shortstop I have EVER seen, PERIOD (sorry, Ozzie Smith)....
W- Wickersham (Dave); don't remember much about him other than the fact that I had his baseball card while growing up (a former pitcher for Detroit in the 60's)....
X- Xavier (Joe), who actually NEVER played in the "bigs" but made it to the Brewers' AAA farm team in 1990. Sheesh, couldn't the team have brought him up for ONE stinkin' game in September so he could have enjoyed the distinction of being the only MLB player EVER whose last name began with an "X"?....
Y- Young (Delmon), who's still playing baseball but may be best-remembered for yelling an anti-Semitic slur while intoxicated a couple of years ago on the streets of NYC. Geez--you'd think I would have thought of someone like "Yaz" instead, right?....
Z- Zdeb (Joe), who had a very brief career with the Royals in the late 70's (outfielder). Why did THIS guy come to my mind immediately? I think I was always impressed with the funky spelling of his last name--which is simply (or maybe NOT-so-simply) pronounced \ZEB\.

*Look for more A-to-Z columns to come, folks..........