It would be crazily premature to declare that we’re safe and free from the deadly virus that plagued the world this year. We’re not there yet; the availability of the vaccines is extremely limited by the predictable but incomprehensible lack of preparedness in the distribution system.
At some point in 2021, there will be deliverance and liberation. And only then will it be over: the scourge and dread of 2020. I don’t feel like writing a full-scale “Year in Review” piece. Why? Because 2020 won’t be history until the Covid-19 is history. I don’t care what the calendar tells me. When the Covid is gone, 2020 will be gone. But not until then.
I don’t want to think about the deaths of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Jim Hanifan, Larry Wilson, Lou Henson, Rich Hacker, Rich Herrin, Kevin Greene, Robert Archibald, Justin Love and so many other local athletes and coaches. I’ve already thought plenty and — in some cases — cried plenty.
The same feelings are true — heartache or shock or both — in simply trying to process the loss of Wes Unseld (a personal hero.) And Kobe Bryant, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Jerry Sloan, Joe Morgan, Phyliss George, Gale Sayers, John Thompson, Don Shula, Phil Niekro, and Whitey Ford. That’s just a partial list, and I apologize if I offended anyone for excluding other names. It’s not my intention to put some awful numerical-ranking value on those who died in 2020. I’m just mentioning the souls that resonated with me for any number of reasons.
Now, if I may attempt an awkward pivot …
Some losses had nothing to do with the Covid or old age. Some of the losses were just a matter of the turn and churn of the sports cycle. Trades, injuries, ailments, retirements, free-agent departures.
Alex Pietrangelo is no longer a Blue (his choice.) Kolten Wong is no longer a Cardinal (not his choice.) Blues forward Alex Steen had to retire because of a bad back. Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had to retire after collapsing on the bench with a heart that briefly stopped beating.
The seasons turn. The faces change.
In this endless frustration and pain of 2020, I’ve tried to find happiness where I could see it, detect it, embrace it.
What I’m about to say is not an official list or ranking or intended to be all-encompassing. But as I sat at home unemployed for nearly seven months, I personally found joy in the local sports scene. Or just in being proud of St. Louisans who represent us so well on the sports stage. All of this draws a smile.
Thank you for new faces: Dylan Carlson and Eli Drinkwitz.
And thanks for Mizzou football.
Thankful for seeing Alex Reyes pitch without fear, angst, or injury..
Thanks for anything and everything to do with Carolyn Kindle Betz and St. Louis City SC.
Thanks for the commitment to winning that we see — always — from Blues chairman Tom Stillman and GM Doug Armstrong.
Thanks to the NHL for putting the 2020 All-Star game in Enterprise Center. What a blast.
Thankful for Isaac Bruce, always. The Pro Football Hall of Fame finally made room for him.
Thank you Battlehawks, wherever you are. My goodness, what a brief but beautiful existence.
Mizzou’s endearing freshman placekicker, Harrison Mevis, cracked me up all season. Thanks to him. And thanks to Larry Rountree III for all of that tough running for the Tigers.
Thankful for Bouwmeester. That he’s and living a healthy life with his wonderful family.
Thanks for the upturn in college basketball — with Illinois, St. Louis U and Mizzou closing out the calendar year with strong teams and big dreams.
Thanks to Ryan O’Reilly. Just because he’s Ryan O’Reilly.
Thankful for Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal, Our Town’s connection to the NBA. Two of the top 25 players in The Association.
Another round of thanks for Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. What else is there to say? In his age 38 season, Molina reached 2,000 hits in his Cooperstown-bound career. And Wainwright was the Cardinals’ best starting pitcher at age 39.
READING TIME, 10 MINUTES:
I can understand why Vladimir Tarasenko would express disappointment over getting bypassed as the choice for Blues’ team captain. In my opinion, that’s exactly what I want to hear from a veteran and highly important Blue who’s been a substantial presence and performer for this franchise since 2012. Don’t you want a core player to express the desire to lead in an official capacity? Don’t you want one of your most talented and established players to covet the responsibility that comes with the captaincy? I do. However: Ryan O’Reilly was the ideal choice, the obvious choice, and the easy choice to take over as captain. Second, Tarasenko’s personality isn’t consistent. A captain can’t be moody or keep himself isolated too often. And that imbalanced disposition would only make Tarasenko a more inviting target for a STL media that collectively has the habit of being quick to pick on him … all because #91 can be aloof. Too many people in my profession think athletes exist to serve them as requested. And outside of the media bubble, no one cares.
Overall Tarasenko pretty much said all of the right things in an interview with Russian hockey journalist Dmitriy Erykalov. Most of all Tarasenko reported that the problems with his repaired shoulder have been solved through the follow-up surgery. He’s feeling great. And is anxious to return. (That won’t be right away; he’ll be reevaluated in February.)
Writing at CBS Sports online, college football columnist Barrett Sallee graded the performance of head coaches in their first season at a new job. At the Power 5 conference level, only two coaches received an “A” grade from Sallee: Missouri coach Drinkwitz and Colorado coach Karl Dorrell. Among SEC head coaches in their first seasons, Drinkwitz received the highest grade, ahead of Arkansas coach Sam Pittman (B+), Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin (B+) and Mississippi State’s Mike Leach (D+.) “Missouri was competitive in the SEC East and made a brief appearance in the Top 25,’ Sallee wrote. “Not bad for a coach who only had one year of experience prior to taking over the Tigers.”
HERE’S YOUR DAILY REMINDER: THE NL CENTRAL IS PATHETIC
New York Post baseball columnist Joel Sherman on the sad state of the NL Central:
“This is setting up as the NFC East of MLB divisions. It is not just that the teams are not adding (players.) It appears all five teams are cutting payroll, perhaps rather significantly, for next year — after four made the expanded 2020 playoffs. None feels compelled to break from the pack since the division might be winnable at 85 games. All seem to be hoping there are desperate players and team-friendly deals in, what, February?
This is not a good look for the majors — having an entire division act indifferent to improvement.”
In discussing the Cubs’ salary-dumping frenzy, Chicago Tribune columnist Paul Sullivan was kind enough to comfort Cardinals fans by pointing out the still-heavy cost Jason Heyward’s contract. The Cardinals were fortunate that Heyward rejected their offer and took the Cubs’ money instead. Heyward and the Cubs agreed to a six-year, $184 million deal after Heyward bolted from the Cardinals after the 2015 season. “Jason Heyward has $63 million remaining on the final three years of his deal,” Sullivan wrote. “Anyone interested? Hello? Am I on mute?”
Follow-up note from me:
Heyward has a .721 OPS as a Cub.
Harrison Bader has a .721 OPS as a Cardinal.
THREE THINGS THAT ARE GETTING ON MY DAMN NERVES:
1-That irritating GMC commercial, with the husband and wife in the driveway. The considerate Hubby of the Year purchases two trucks as a Christmas present. One for him, one for her. The wife runs to the truck that he obviously wanted for himself, claims it as her own, and he immediately turns into a mushy wimp and backs off. It was all kinda cute at first, but this spot has been running on TV — like, EVERYWHERE — for several years now, and if you watch sports, you’ve probably seen it 6,000 times. I see this fake couple (actors) in my nightmares. Enough already. GMC, you build great vehicles but please come up with a new spot. This TV couple is more irksome than the divorced (real-life) couple Christina and Tarek on “Flip or Flop.” (And yeah, I’m an HGTV guy. Love the network. And what are you all going to do about it? Nothing.)
2. NFL tight ends. When did these dudes replace wide receivers as the league’s resident divos? (I was going to use “divas” but of course that would be politically incorrect.) These fellas catch a pass for a first down and feel compelled to give us a Ric Flair routine. They score a touchdown… geezus. They go full Pavarotti, all but belting out “Nessun dorma.” Stop it.
3. This constant “BREAKING NEWS” alert on every cable news network. Look, if a president vetoes a bill at 9 a.m., it ain’t BREAKING NEWS at 2 p.m. If airline pilots or go on strike at 7 a.m., it ain’t BREAKING NEWS at 4 p.m. If a vaguely familiar C-list celebrity passes away (RIP) or gets arrested (good luck!) at noon, it ain’t BREAKING NEWS at all.
HOOPS, HOOPS, HOOPS
Mizzou opens SEC play tonight in Columbia, squaring up to a tough Tennessee team that’s rated No. 8 at KenPom, the best in the league. So this will be a good challenge, an immediate test, for coach Cuonzo Martin and his players. Mizzou has improved offensively, but Tennessee is ranked third nationally in the KenPom defensive metrics. Here’s the thing I keep coming back to with Mizzou: experience and continuity. Among the teams competing in the top six basketball conferences the Tigers are No. 2 in both experience and continuity of minutes. (Only Georgia Tech has more experience; only UCLA has more continuity on the court.) And no other SEC team comes close to matching that combination. Using the national rankins — keep in mind there are 335 Division I teams — Mizzou is 8th overall in experience, and 5th in continuity. The second-most experienced SEC team is Georgia (No. 89) and South Carolina is No. 15 in continuity of minutes.
St. Louis U. was set to open A-10 play Wednesday night at home vs. Duquesne. But the Covid has put SLU on hold. No game with Duquesne, no game against UMass on Saturday. When the Billikens resume coach Travis Ford’s team has a chance to give us a season to treasure and remember. I think we sensed that last spring, when SLU won its last five games to climb to 23-8 before the pandemic shut down the season. Ford had established veterans Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French and Javonte Perkins coming back for their senior years, and freshmen Yuri Collins and Gibson Jimerson would only get better as they moved forward.
I remember reading a summer piece by Garry Parrish at CBS Sports. He’d been asked to identify a team that could surprise just about everyone by making it to the Final Four.
This is what he wrote: “The Billikens are returning the top eight scorers from a team that closed on a five-game winning streak – most notably Jordan Goodwin, Javonte Perkins, Hasahn French and Gibson Jimerson, all of whom averaged double-figures in points. And, keep in mind, Jimerson only played 10 games last season because of a broken foot suffered in December. In other words, that five-game winning streak happened despite his absence that forced SLU to play shorthanded, which, on some level, makes it even more impressive … Travis Ford’s Billikens are now the obvious favorite in the Atlantic 10 and, yes, talented and experienced enough to maybe, just maybe, march all the way to the Final Four.”
ON THIS DAY IN ST. LOUIS PRO SPORTS HISTORY:
In 1974, the Blues reacquired center Red Berenson from Detroit for Phil Roberto and a third-round draft choice. Red had been traded to Detroit in Feb. 1971. After the deal that brought him back to St. Louis, Berenson played an additional three-plus seasons for the Blues before his retirement at age 38 in 1978. In all, Berenson played 519 games for the Blues over eight seasons and and had 172 goals and 240 assists … on this day in 1993, retired Cardinals first baseman Tom Alston died at age 67. Making his debut in 1954, Alston became the first Black player in Cardinals franchise history. But in parts of four seasons with St. Louis, Alston played in only 91 games and batted .244 with a .669 OPS … and on this day a year ago, Blues Pietrangelo, O’Reilly and Jordan Binnington were selected to play in the upcoming 2020 NHL All Star game in the STL.
AS OTHERS SEE US:
Writing for The Athletic, former MLB general manager Jim Bowden opined on the uncertain status of Cardinals free agents Wainwright and Molina.
“Wainwright proved last year that he’s not done, and a lot of contending clubs would like his arm in the middle of their rotation and his leadership in the clubhouse. His preference is to return to the Cardinals. Now we just have to see if St. Louis is willing to make him a fair offer … I really wanted to put Molina with the Yankees, but after they tendered Gary Sánchez I just can’t see them being able to trade him, which probably takes them out of the Molina sweepstakes. I also think the future Hall of Fame catcher should finish his career in a Redbirds uniform. The Cardinals have to face the reality that they’re going to have to overpay Molina because of his age and decline, but it’s worth it considering the whole package he brings to the ballpark. There has not been a better game caller in this generation of catchers.”
Thanks for reading The Bits, my labor of love for you…