THE PALLILOG

Dream vs. Duncan and baseball in the balance

Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Jack Brame.

We're into month number three of a mostly sports-less world. Breaking news: it's not fun.

To fill some space this week ESPN.com released its ranking of the 74 greatest players in NBA history. The currently suspended season is the NBA's 74th. Unless you simply don't like the NBA, it's a fun list to discuss and debate. The ground rules for such rankings are never clear. Whose career would you rather have had: A. 10 times first team All-NBA, eight times first team All-Defensive team, two MVP Awards, or B. Five times first team All-NBA, five times first team All-Defense, one MVP Award? Easy call right? Hence, it's a Houston homer-ism issue to rail at Tim Duncan coming in ahead of Hakeem Olajuwon. Duncan placed eighth, Olajuwon twelfth. At his best Dream was greater than Duncan at his best, but for accomplishment and the longer span of greatness Duncan is the ranking guy. At their best Halle Berry or Salma Hayek? You can't go wrong. Ditto Timmy and Dream. Shaquille O'Neal split the difference between them in landing at number 10.

Couple of other notes and thoughts on the ESPN rankings. James Harden was slotted at number 32, Russell Westbrook at 42, Tracy McGrady at 52, Clyde Drexler at 57. All four of those guys are/were greater than Allen Iverson who is too high at 29. Iverson was tough as nails, played with ferocity, and it is spectacularly impressive that at six feet 165 pounds he led the NBA in minutes played per game seven times. Iverson averaged more than 25 points per game for 10 consecutive seasons. By my tally only six other guys in NBA history have done that. Shaq also 10 seasons in a row. Jerry West, Karl Malone, Kevin Durant, and Michael Jordan did 11 (asterisk on MJ, one of his 11 was his comeback season in which he played only 17 games). Counting the currently suspended season LeBron James is at 16 (16!). Awesome company for AI, but he was also a low percentage shooting inveterate gunner who was sometimes referred to as "Me, Myself, and Iverson" with some justification.


MLB

As the only non-salary cap league of our major professional sports, Major League Baseball needs its owners and players to negotiate stickier financial terms if there is to be roughly a half regular season plus postseason. On the macro level shame on the billionaires and millionaires if they can't arrive at a compromise. On the micro level there are legitimate bones of contention, though the 36 million Americans who have lost jobs over the past two months (and plenty still with jobs) have zero sympathy for the owners or players. Early on in the shutdown, the players agreed to take 170 million dollars which was theirs to keep if no season wound up being played at all. Beyond that the players agreed to basically a pro rata season salary tied to what percentage of the season was played. The players' position is that's the deal. The owners now say, hey, that was before we knew no fans at games would be real, and as a result all ballpark game day revenue would be lost. The owners say park-related revenue accounts for about 40 percent of the overall take.

The players' union leadership says the owners' offer of a 50-50 revenue split for 2020 and 2020 only is still a non-starter. When owner profits are through the roof the players don't get additional cuts. So why should the players give back additional money in time of losses? Answer: because in a "bad deal" the players would still divide a couple of billion dollars (give or take). With no season the players get nothing beyond the 170 million already received.

GET A DAMN DEAL DONE!


Respect for former Astros

Sad news with the passing of Bob Watson at 74 years old. On the field he's perhaps the most underrated player in Astros' history. Off the field, a class act and the first black General Manager of a World Series Champion (1996 Yankees). As one frame of reference for the "Bull" as a player, he had a seven-year stretch with the Astros that was clearly better than Michael Brantley was last season. Brantley was outstanding last season. Watson's power numbers were dragged down by home games in the Astrodome.

Meanwhile, send good thoughts the way of former Astros' player and manager Art Howe. He's 73 years old and hospitalized fighting coronavirus. Howe was the first Astros' manager I covered way back when. What an absolute gentleman. His 23 game hitting streak in 1981 stood for 19 years as the Astros' franchise record. Three Astros since have topped 23. Name them? Answer below.


NASCAR is back

NASCAR returns this weekend. Outstanding for NASCAR fans, but the idea that we're all so starved for live competition that millions will suddenly become auto racing enthusiasts and hence NASCAR audiences will skyrocket? Come on. Similarly, the PGA returning next month is great for golf fans, but isn't going to create scads of new golf fans. The day-to-day heartbeat of sports is local teams that generate common passion and breadth of interest.


Buzzer Beaters:1. Worst joke I heard this week (by far): what is Forrest Gump's login password? 1-Forrest-1. 2. My series catch up viewing this week has been HBO's Succession. Not family night viewing, but really good. 3. Astros' longest hitting streaks: Bronze-Tony Eusebio 24 Silver-Jeff Kent 25 Gold-Willy Taveras 30

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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