Saturday, December 29, 2012

Year-End Awards 2012

The following is taken from the 4 major North American sports -- baseball, football, basketball and hockey -- plus boxing and the Olympic Games.

It does not count any other sports, including soccer (which is, nonetheless, an occasional topic on this blog). If you're looking for Lance Armstrong or any golfer, you're not going to find him here.

It goes from January 1 to December 31 (well, 29th, but what are the odds of anything huge happening in what's left of the 29th, or on the 30th or the 31st?), and is not limited to the seasons that began in 2012.

The envelope, please:

Best Clutch Athlete of the Year: Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants.  Keep in mind, that, while the Giants seem unlikely to get into the Playoffs for the season whose regular season is about to close, at the beginning of this calendar year, he led the Giants to defeat the Atlanta Falcons (an achievement which looks even better now that the Falcons have the best record in the NFL this season), hung 37 points on the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field in January (the Pack had never allowed more than 27 in a home postseason game before) including 17 in the 4th quarter, led an overtime drive that brought the Giants victory in overtime over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick; and then, for the 2nd time in 5 years, led a game-winning drive over a favored New England Patriots team to win the Super Bowl.

Worst Clutch Athlete of the Year: Robinson Cano, 2nd baseman, New York Yankees.  In the regular season, his OPS was .929 (good enough to get him 4th in the American League's Most Valuable Player voting).  In the postseason, he reached base in only 4 out of 41 plate appearances -- a single, 2 doubles and a walk.  That's an OPS of .244.  In fact, Robbie's career postseason OPS is .686, hardly enough.  In other words, Alex Rodriguez is not alone in postseason failures for the Yankees.

Best Coach (including baseball managers): Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers.  Last season, he got the Niners into the NFC Championship Game.  This year, he has them one win against a pathetic Arizona Cardinal squad away from another NFC West title.  And he has done this in spite of a quarterback controversy.  I wonder if Rex Ryan has noticed.

Worst Coach: Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox.  Sure, he got a pig in a poke.  But it's hard to imagine a manager taking a situation that bad and making it worse.  He did.  In 1961, singer Robert Velline, under the name Bobby Vee, hit Number 1 with the Gerry Goffin-Carole King "Take Good Care of My Baby." In 2012, Bobby V proved he couldn't take good care of crybabies.

Best Coaching Decision: Tom Coughlin, New York Giants.  His decision: Sticking to the plan that beat the Patriots 5 years earlier.

Worst Coaching Decision: Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals.  His decision: Letting the Nats' management's decision to put Stephen Strasburg on the shelf stick.  Washington hadn't had a team in MLB's postseason in 79 years -- since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was new, since Kong was King, since well before the foundation of the NBA and before most American sports fans cared about the NFL and the NHL.  The Nats lost the National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, 3 games to 2.  In the 3 games the Nats lost, they allowed 12, 8 and 9 runs.  Davey and the Nats' brass could have limited Strasburg to relief duty.  I wonder what they would, now, give to have Strasburg pitch just one inning.  Specifically, the top of the 9th of Game 5, in which Drew Storen allowed a double, 2 walks and 2 singles, to turn the game from 7-5 Nats to 9-7 Cards.  The Nats were 1 out away from winning the series.  But they chose not to risk Strasburg, not even for one inning, and thus did they throw away what would have been the first postseason series won by a Washington team since 1924.  Since Calvin Coolidge was elected President!

Best Executive (not owner): John Elway, executive vice president of football operations, Denver Broncos.  He brought in Peyton Manning and made the Broncos AFC West Champions, and dumped off Tim Tebow on the hapless Gang Green.  The Broncos now look as good as they have since Elway himself was last taking snaps for the Broncos.

Worst Executive: Mike Tannenbaum, general manager, New York Jets.  Now, I don't know if Mark Sanchez would have had a better season if Tim Tebow was hanging over him like the Sword of Damocles.  But Tebow should never have been brought to the Jets, and that decision destabilized the team terribly.

Best Transaction (includes trades, waiver pickups, free agent signings and "addition by subtraction"): The Detroit Tigers trading 2 guys you don't need to know about and a draft pick to the Miami Marlins for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.  That trade made the Tigers American League Pennant winners.

Worst Transaction: A collective award to the Miami Marlins, owner Jeffrey Loria and his stepson/lackey David Samson.  They had a new ballpark, a big new acquisition in Jose Reyes, and with the New York Mets in disarray and the Philadelphia Phillies going through an injury crisis, there was a fantastic chance for the Marlins to finish first in the National League Eastern Division for the first time.  (They have won 2 World Series, but got in as a Wild Card team both times.) Instead, the Marlins took all the money and ran their best players out of town -- including, last month, to the Toronto Blue Jays, Reyes.  Loria & Samson are not the sole reason, or even the biggest reason, that the Montreal Expos no longer exist, but they have now broken up the Marlins twice.  At least, the first time, they waited until they'd won the World Series.

Best Rookie: Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Washington Redskins.  No rookie quarterback has led a team to an NFL Championship, ever, with one exception 75 years ago: Slingin' Sammy Baugh of the 1937... Washington Redskins.  Griffin is playing like a seasoned veteran, with poise and sense.  Maybe he won't lead the 'Skins to this season's title, but if he doesn't finish his career with a ring, I will be shocked.

Worst Rookie: Austin Rivers, guard, New Orleans Hornets.  He forewent his last 3 years of eligibility at Duke University to enter the NBA Draft, thus forfeiting at least part of a pretty good education he could have gotten from Mike Krzyzewski, and also forfeiting as many as 3 decent shots at the Final Four and the National Championship.  Just because a man has the right to do something doesn't mean he should do it.  Drafted by the New Orleans Hornets, he's shooting 35 percent.  Per game, he's got 7.8 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds (that's offensive and defensive combined).  I don't want to pile on a kid who's only 20, and who could still turn out okay -- he's certainly got the genes for it, being the son of Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics coach and previously a pretty good player -- but I've seen 2 websites that have called him the worst rookie in NBA history.  NBA history goes back 66 years, nearly two-thirds of a century.

Best Comeback: Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver Broncos.  From not playing at all in 2011 to playing in 2012 as if he'd never missed a game from a Hall of Fame career.  I was thinking that, due to his injury being to his neck, it would be better for him to retire rather than risk worsening the injury.  Looks like I was wrong -- and I hope I stay wrong.

Worst Comeback: Bobby Valentine.  His comeback made that of Davey Johnson, the only other man to manage the Mets to a Pennant in the last 39 years, look like genius.

Biggest Collapse: As bad as the Yankees going from 10 games up to tied was, they still won the Division; as bad as their postseason debacle was, it was still in the postseason.  The biggest collapse was that of the Texas Rangers.  After back-to-back Pennants, they led the AL Western Division by 5 games with 9 to play.  And they had a "Borg losing streak": They lost 7 of 9, including losing the last 3 to the team that was chasing them, the Oakland Athletics, failed to win the Division, and then lost the Wild-Card play-in game to the Baltimore Orioles.

Turncoat of the Year: Barry Zito, pitcher, San Francisco Giants.  He pitched very well for the Oakland Athletics, but they didn't win a Pennant while he was there.  He went to the cross-bay Giants for big money.  He was awful, and although he got a ring when they won the 2010 World Series, he was really just along for the ride.  That was not the case in 2012: The Giants would have won the NL Western Division without him, but not the World Series.  Dishonorable Mention: Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, who seem to have betrayed their father George's commitment to winning, because the cost is always worth it and comes back.  (Since I've excluded soccer, I can't give this to Robin van Persie.)

Most Original Thinker: Josh Gorges, defenseman, Montreal Canadiens.  You may not have heard of him, but you should.  An alternate captain for Les Habitantes, he went on Twitter to ask hockey fans to join him at an ice rink in the Montreal suburb of Verdun this past Wednesday afternoon -- being a part of the British Commonwealth, Canada celebrates the day after Christmas as a holiday, Boxing Day.  Dozens of people came out, and that greatest of all hockey cities, starved for their sport, got a taste of what they were looking for.  For them, Josh Gorges was Santa Claus.  Or, since it was a Commonwealth country, I should say "Father Christmas." Or, since it's a majority-Francophone city, "Père Noël."

Most Stagnant Thinker: Gary Bettman, Commissioner, National Hockey League.  You would think that the only Commissioner ever to cancel an entire season, thus bringing universal scorn upon him, would have learned to never, ever do that again.  Alas...

Best Sports Theater: Daniel Craig, in character as James Bond, and Queen Elizabeth II making their way from Buckingham Palace to the London Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremonies.  No, that wasn't actually one of the world's most famous actors and an 86-year-old head of state paratrooping out of a helicopter... but Craig just might be the toughest 007 ever.  And the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, was in the British Army in World War II, serving in a motor pool.  I'll bet she's still handy with a toolbox.  She could, quite literally, fix your wagon and clean your clock.  I have to hand it to her: At an age that "Ol' Perfesser" Casey Stengel didn't live to be, and at which "The Grand Old Man of Baseball" Connie Mack was hopelessly senile, and at which Queen Victoria (whose record of 64 years on the English throne she could surpass in 4 years) was dead for 5 years, Elizabeth not only still does her job, she seems to still love her job.

Worst Sports Theater: The New York Yankees' postseason.  It is still difficult to believe that the Yanks actually won a postseason series.  The Yankees, as a team, were their usual Bronx Bomber selves in the regular season, with an OPS of .790.  That dropped to .611 in the AL Division Series and .488 in the AL Championship Series.  If the old song is wrong, and in Heaven there is beer, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle have got to be downing some brews and discussing what the hell happened.

Most Bang for the Buck: The Oakland Athletics.  At $55,372,500 dollars, they were only $128,000 ahead of the San Diego Padres for lowest payroll in MLB.  This was after a salary dump.  Lots of people, myself included, thought they were headed for a historically bad season, which I would define as the kind of season an expansion team might have, 107 or more losses, without actually being an expansion team.  This, I thought, might be the nail in the coffin for the A's staying in the Bay Area long-term.  Instead, the A's won 94 games and the AL West, and pushed the Tigers to the 5-game limit in their AL Division Series.  Had they won that series, I have no doubt that they, too, would have beaten the Yankees in the ALCS.  Alas, they still haven't won a Pennant since 1990, meaning general manager Billy Beane is still looking for his first flag.  "Moneyball" worked again, but it still hasn't done what every baseball team should be trying to do: Get into the World Series, and maybe win it.

Least Bang for the Buck: The Philadelphia Eagles.  True, the Red Sox got 93 losses for their $173 million.  But after what happened the preceding fall, they were expected to be dysfunctional.  The Eagles? Hell, they're always dysfunctional, but I don't think anyone expected the kind of talent they supposedly had to put up a 4-12 season.  (They're 4-11 going into the final game, away to the Giants, and I'm guessing that, even though the Giants need a lot of help in addition to winning this game to make the Playoffs, it will be ugly for the Broad Street Birds.)

Best Sports Writing: Bill Madden, for his New York Daily News column last week showing why the Yankees should still be the favorites for the AL East title in 2013.  He's right: The Red Sox are still a mess, the Orioles have already downgraded, the Blue Jays are unlikely to go from 89 losses to 89 or more wins even with their new acquisitions, and the Tampa Bay Rays are still letting key players go to cut costs.  Meanwhile, the Yankees still have the Division's best attack, its best defense, its best starting rotation, and, if Mariano Rivera is anything like he was at the start of the 2012 season before he got hurt, its best bullpen.

Worst Sports Writing: Joe Posnanski, currently of Sports On Earth.  He's probably still distraught that his hagiography of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had its ending rewritten without his consent.  He still managed to write a book that made Ratface look like a hero.  Which he most certainly was not.

Most Overreported Story: The fuss over the Jets' quarterback situation.  I know, it's the biggest position in the biggest sport, and in the biggest city/metro area, but, come the heck on.  If the Jets were imploding, going from a Playoff contender to a team on the verge of not making it, it would be different.  But this is way too much hype for a 6-9 team.

Most Underreported Story: The San Francisco Giants.  They're not even the most-reported team named Giants that won a World Championship in the calendar year.  With all the talk about the 49ers' quarterback situation, and the Golden State Warriors getting a deal for a new arena a short walk from the Giants' AT&T Park, the Giants were, for most of the year, not even the most-talked-about team in the Bay Area.  Or even, with the situation with the A's, their payroll slash, their bad ballpark situation, their possible need to move, and their amazing comeback, the most-talked-about baseball team in the Bay Area.  And what about all the talk about basketball legend Magic Johnson buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, and all the money he's spent on them, and all the talking he's done about them? That may pay off next year, or the year after, but this year, the Dodgers were the most-talked-about team in the NL West, maybe the whole NL, in the regular season.  And you know what? The Dodgers didn't make the Playoffs.  The Giants did, and won the whole thing.  For the 2nd time in 3 years.  That's not a dynasty, but it's something the Yankees last achieved in 2000, and it's something not achieved by any other team, including the Red Sox in their recently-ended period of glory, since the Blue Jays won back-to-back titles in 1992-93.  And not in the NL since the back-to-back titles of the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.  The Giants deserve our praise.  At the least, to borrow the words of their greatest-ever player, Willie Mays, they deserve a "Say Hey!"

Bummest Rap: That Alex Rodriguez is the reason the Yankees have (except for 2009) failed in the postseason since 2004.  True, he's blown it in many at-bats, but he's had lots of help, from guys whose regular seasons suggested that they should have done far better.  And in the games that he didn't play in this October, nobody else picked up much slack.

Fairest Rap: That Davey Johnson and Dusty Baker are great regular-season managers but lousy postseason managers.  Between them, in 35 seasons as managers, they have reached the Playoffs 12 times, but won only 2 Pennants.  Their won-lost records in postseason games? Davey, 25-26; Dusty, 19-26.  (In both cases, that doesn't count the canceled 1994 Playoffs that both were on course to reach, Davey with the Reds and Dusty with the Giants; but it does count the Giants' loss to the Chicago Cubs in the 1998 play-in game required when those teams tied for the NL Wild Card.) If the Mets hadn't pulled out that 1986 NLCS Game 6 in Houston, or if John McNamara hadn't screwed the pooch in the bottom of the 10th in Game 6 of the World Series, they'd be 35 combined seasons as managers with no rings.  As I've said before, the 1986 Mets won it all in spite of Davey, not because of him, and the Nats aren't going to win it all with him.  Dusty? The Reds are a good team, but they're not going to win it with him.

Most Shocking Moment, On-Field: Juan Manuel Marquez, and his knockout of Manny Pacquiao.  It's been said that all great boxing champions must one day hit the canvas, and the Pacman is 34, hardly young in boxing.  But I don't think anybody, even Marquez, expected the demolition that Marquez laid on him.

Most Shocking Moment: Off-Field: Jovan Belcher, linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs, killing his girlfriend, the mother of his baby daughter; then driving to the Chiefs' practice facility adjoining Arrowhead Stadium, thanking head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli for what they'd done for them, and then killing himself in front of them.  As the Chiefs and their fans have found out, there are worse things than finishing a season 2-14.

My Favorite Moment: Adam Henrique's overtime goal to beat the New York Rangers and send the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals for the 5th time -- all in the 18 years since the Rangers last got that far.  That the Devils were so weak in the Finals against the Los Angeles Kings (and somehow still stretched it to a Game 6) does nothing to diminish the fact that we beat The Scum!

My Least Favorite Moment: The only reference to college sports in these awards, aside from the Posnanski book about Paterno.  It's the Rutgers football team's huge choke against the University of Louisville, at home, with sole possession of the Big East Conference title in their grasp.  And, just last night, they blew a 10-point 4th quarter lead against former Big East opponent Virginia Tech in the Whatever The Hell Sponsor's Name Is On This Game Bowl in Orlando.  Oy vey.

Most Defining Moment in Sports in 2012: The Mets letting R.A. Dickey go.  All he did was give them their first 20-win season for a pitcher in 22 years, their first Cy Young Award in 27 years, and belief from their fans every 5th game all season long.  And when he wanted a contract that would, essentially, be the last of his career and have properly rewarded his services, what did they do? They collaborated with the media to publicly question his character, and they traded him to a team in Canada.  (Toronto may be the 2nd-largest city in North America -- 3rd-largest if you count Mexico City -- but in baseball publicity terms, they might as well have been sending him down to Triple-A.) "Thanks for everything you did, sucker, now here's your hat, what's your hurry?"

Sports Personality of the Year: LeBron James, forward, Miami Heat.  He got the ring, he got the Gold Medal, he got the historical validation, he got the monkey off his back, and he got the publicity that comes with all of it.  Like him or not, he was the year's biggest story.

Sports Person of the Year: Bruce Bochy, manager, San Francisco Giants.  As I said a few days ago, he has been both a World Series-winning manager and a charitable person, figuratively and literally, and hardly anybody notices.

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