The Pallilog

Charlie Pallilo: Astros, Yankees and Red Sox are on historic pace

Jose Altuve and the Astros are on a roll. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It should be a tremendous summer-long race among the Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees to see who winds up with the best record in Major League Baseball. The Mariners are showing that while plucky, they are just not good enough to keep up with a pace looking more and more likely to produce an unprecedented three teams in the same league with 100 or more wins in the same season. Only six times have three teams between the American and National Leagues won 100+. The Dodgers, Indians, and Astros did it last year. The Astros should again cruise to the AL West title while the Yanks and Bosox slug it out trying to avoid facing one game elimination via the Wild Card game.

Before 1995 there were no Wild Cards. 1993 was the last postseason before the Wild Card (the 1994 strike forced cancellation of the playoffs). The Giants finished 103-59 and got nothing for it, finishing one game behind the Braves in the NL West. Before 1969 there were no Divisions meaning you either won the pennant and went to the World Series, or you went home. The 1942 Dodgers finished 104-50, two games behind the Cardinals.

Little big man

On May 14 Jose Altuve was one out away from seeing his batting average dip below .300. He singled in his last at bat that day to keep his average above his personal Mendoza Line (in the 70s there was a crappy hitter named Mario Mendoza whose batting averages over five straight seasons were .180, .185, .198, .218, and .198. So .200 became a reference line for awful hitting). In 33 games played since that hit Altuve is batting .403 with an OPS of 1.078. Last year Altuve won his third American League batting title and first AL MVP award with a batting average of .346. He starts the weekend at .347. Context alert: Altuve is astoundingly good, pretty much on top of his game (still down a little overall from last season), and on a clear Hall of Fame track. His OPS this season is closer to waaaaay over the hill Albert Pujols’s than it is to Mike Trout’s.

Draft stock falling?

The NBA Draft just isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. It’s still hugely important and will produce All-Stars and probably Hall of Famers. It’s just reality that with the top selections dominated by one and done college freshmen the players are much lesser known, are more boys than NBA men, and with few exceptions are ill-equipped to enter the league and be standouts early on.

Judging it from the greatest players in the class, the 1984 NBA Draft has to be considered the best ever. How about four-fifths of a starting lineup comprised of John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon. We need a small forward for that quintet so the nod goes to second round pick, the late Jerome Kersey. All of those guys played at least three years of college basketball.

Another mention-worthy draft class, especially since generously Rocket-tinted, the class of 1970. Your starting five : Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich, Rudy Tomjanovich, Dave Cowens, and Bob Lanier. For a sixth man how about Calvin Murphy? Rudy-T is the only one of those six not in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Rudy’s non-election remains an annual disgrace.

Top of the list

Picking first overall for the first time in their franchise history the Phoenix Suns hope they got a franchise center in DeAndre Ayton out of Arizona. His career production probably comes in somewhere between that of Olajuwon and Michael Olowokandi. Back in 1969 the Suns could have had the number 1 pick, but they lost a coin flip for it to the Milwaukee Bucks. At number two the Suns took center Neal Walk, who had a few solid seasons. But the grand prize the Suns lost out on was Lew Alcindor, soon to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Suns still have yet to win an NBA Championship. Kareem won six.

In 1983 the Rockets won the coin flip that got them Ralph Sampson. The second pick was Steve Stipanovich. The next year the Rockets won the flip again and took Olajuwon. Portland made Sam Bowie the second selection. Pick three, Michael Jordan. Trail Blazers fans who were alive back then, are sick about that to this day. Portland has blazed no championship trail since. Jordan won six.

The next year, the NBA ditched the coin flip system for the draft lottery.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Lame as Dwight Howard’s career arc has become, if Dikembe Mutombo was deemed Hall of Fame material, then isn’t Howard?  2. The World Cup means more globally than any other sporting event. But soccer simply has too many ties and 1-0 games to ever really breakout as a mainstream sport here.   3. Best “Summer” songs: Bronze-DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince “Summertime” Silver-Bananarama “Cruel Summer” Gold-Don Henley “Boys of Summer”

 

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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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