MASTERS MATTERS

Del Olaleye: It is sad that golf is begging for Tiger Woods to make the sport relevant again

The golf world is hoping Tiger is back. Masters.com

Golf has a problem and it isn’t a new one. The Masters is a couple of days away and the golf world is all abuzz about the possibility of their fallen hero winning again. That fallen hero being Tiger Woods. Tiger hasn’t won a damn thing since 2013 and it was a tournament named after tires. The last time Tiger won anything that any non golf nerd cared about was in 2008. We’re talking a decade-long drought in winning anything of significance and yet golf people can barely contain themselves this week. The possibility of Tiger winning the Masters has golf people almost willing to show some emotion that rates higher on the decibel meter than a golf clap. It would be like the NBA world praying the Spurs have one last run in them. The NBA doesn’t operate that way. The relevance of that league doesn’t depend on one team. Or as in golf’s case, one person.

Has golf not grown at all since Tiger fell off the map? Who are their new stars that don’t need Tiger Woods to prop them up? What happened to the Golf Boys? Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan haven’t captured the golf world’s attention? Golf actually did something creative and funny. They featured some of their young stars in something other a commercial promoting a golf ball. The sport itself looks down on individuality in a way that only baseball can match but depending on a 42-year old Tiger Woods to capture the nation for a weekend is a bad look. Golf you’ve had years to figure this out.

There was a time in the NBA when the absence of Michael Jordan from the big stage was felt. A decade later the NBA wasn’t still pining for Jordan to be a factor. Young stars like LeBron, Wade and Melo injected Hall of Fame type talent into the league in the 2000s and the NBA continues to thrive today. Jordan was a once in lifetime player. So was Kobe. So is LeBron. Is the game of basketball itself just likely to produce more all-time greats than golf? Probably. That could be the reason that since Tiger last won a major Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have changed the way their respective positions are played.  Curry has sparked a whole generation of kids who want to play like him. That used to be called the Tiger Effect. Durant and Dirk Nowitzki have changed the way big men approach the game. Name the last golfer not named Tiger Woods to do that for golf…..I won’t hold my breath.

I won’t even blame the people that run golf for this. By “this” I mean the desperate hope that a 42-year old man with back issues can infuse their sport with some juice. It isn’t their fault. They have less to work with. What does golf have to offer to those who weren’t indoctrinated by their parents or so-called friends? Golf’s only redeeming qualities are the fresh air and the soft bed of grass it provides to sleep on when the actual event you came to watch bores you into a coma.

Maybe golf fans will get their long unfulfilled wish this weekend and Tiger will win and people will start to care again. I almost hope it happens so the incessant “Is Tiger back” discussion will come to end.

I will credit golf for this. It is the only sport where you can use the actual gameplay as a replacement for a sleep machine. Sundays at the Masters, a nap unlike any other.


 

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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