By Hal McCoy
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, staring at the Christmas tree, wishing it would take itself down and wishing the trinkets would put themselves away.
—JUST PLAIN JOE: From couch potato to sweet potato, Joe Flacco could run for mayor in Cleveland and win in a landslide.
Until a few weeks ago, Flacco and I were two peas in a pod. . .two guys passing the hours on a couch. I’m still there, but Flacco is the brightest star in the NFL right now.
All throughout Thursday night’s 37-20 win over the New York Jets, “Flacco, Flacco, Flacco,” reverberated throughout Cleveland Browns Stadium and probably could be heard in Shaker Heights, Parma and Euclid.
For the fourth straight week, Flacco threw for more than 300 yards, something former Browns quarterbacks like Otto Graham, George Ratterman, Milt Plum, Frank Ryan, Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar never did.
And once again injuries put Flacco to the test. During a win last week over the Chicago Bears, the Browns lost their placekicker, punter and wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught 11 passes for 256 yards.
As always, no problem, no big deal. They signed Riley Patterson and he was three-for-four on extra points and kicked a 33-yard field gola. They signed Matt Haack and he averaged 51.7 yards on three punts.
With Cooper gone, Flacco put tight end David Njoku in his sites and he caught five passes for 129 yards. . .in the first half, 115 in the first quarter.
Flacco spent three years with the Jets, but was released after the Jets signed Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers went down four plays into this season and Flacco thought the Jets might give him a call.
The Jets didn’t, but the Browns did. Flacco is 4-1 with the Browns, four straight wins. The Jets are 6-10 and using their third different back-up quarterback.
After the game, Flacco and Rodgers were seen conversing and that conversation had to be classic.
—BAD YEAR? GREAT YEAR: Middletown native Kyle Schwarber batted .197 and led the National League with 215 strikeouts. And as a leadoff hitter for the Philadelphia, he had only 48 singles.
He is the first player in major league history to have 500 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter and hit below the Mendoza Line (.200).
So, a terrible year, right? As Lee Corso says on GameDay, “Not so fast.” And Hall of Fame sports writer Jayson Stark steps right up to point out:
Schwarber led off 108 games and started a game with a hit only 21 times. He hit a single only six times. But he had 21 walks and 11 home runs for a OPS of 1.056, the highest OPS for a leadoff hitter in franchise history.
What else? Yeah, a .197 batting average with 47 homers, 104 RBI, 108 runs scored and 126 walks.
As Abraham Lincoln once said when asked about Gen. U.S Grant’s drinking, “Find out what he drinks and give it to the rest of my generals.” Or in the case of the slightly pudgy Schwarber, find out what he eats and feed it to the rest of the Phillies.
—YA GOTTA HAVE BALLS: Is MLB ready for a female umpire? It should have been ready years ago, but baseball always seems to advance in a slow march.
There are female officials in the NBA, NFL and NCAA basketball and football. But MLB. Nah, not yet.
But close. Jen Pawol, 46, is the first female umpire to reach Triple-A in 34 years, just one step away from The Show in her eighth year as a professional umpire.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright was on rehab in Triple-A last season and pitched a game that Pawol umpired. At one point in the game, Wainwright said to Pawol, “Jen, I have four daughters and I think what you’re doing is awesome.”
If Pawol is good, and her grades are exemplary, MLB should put her to work quickly and not keep her in Triple-A for six years they way they did Pam Postema four decades ago.
They released Postema, even though she was at the top of the evaluation sheet. She filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court and she wrote a book, ‘You’ve Got To Have Balls To Make It In This League.’
—YES OR NOT?: One of baseball’s all-time great debates is whether Babe Ruth called his shot in the 1932 World Series. As the story goes, Ruth pointed his bat toward the center field bleachers in Wrigley Field then deposited the ball there.
Truth? Myth? Legend? False?
In his new book, ‘Whispers of the Gods,’ author Peter Golenbock interviewed Ed Froelich, athletic trainer of the New York Yankees at the time. Froelich asked The Bambino if he called his shot.
“Doc, can you hear me?” said Ruth.
“Yes,” said Froelich.
A little louder, Ruth said, “Can you hear me?”
Then Ruth said, “You tell those people for the Babe that Babe says they’re full of crap right up to their eyes. I may be dumb, but I’m not that dumb. I’m going to point to the center field bleachers with a barracuda like Charlie Root on the mound? The next pitch they’d be picking out of my ear with a pair of tweezers. No.”
—ANOTHER YOGI-ISM: When Yogi Berra attended an old-timer’s game at Yankee Stadium, he saw a list of deceased former New York Yankees and said, “I hope I never see my name up there.”
It will be up there, Yogi, but you won’t see it.
When Henry Aaron died in 2021, he was among a long list of former players who died that year: Joe Altobelli, Ed Armbrister, Mike Bell, Bobby Brown, Tom Carroll, Del Crandall, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Mudcat Grant, LaMarr Hoyt, Grant Jackson, Tommy Lasorda, Mike Marshall, Juan Pizarro, J.R. Richard, Rennie Stennett, Don Sutton, Bill Virdon, Stan Williams and many, many more.
Ten Hall of Famers passed away in 2021 and ESPN’s Keith Olbermann put it perfectly when he said, “All of my baseball cards are dying.”
—HE NAILED IT: When Branch Rickey integrated MLB in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, it wasn’t just some players on other teams that didn’t want to be on the same field as a black player.
Robinson had problems in his own Brooklyn Dodgers clubhouse. The clubhouse manager, a devout racist, wouldn’t give Robinson a locker. He pounded a nail into wall in a far corner and that’s where Robinson undressed and hung his clothes.
That went on for a couple of months and one wonders why Mr. Rickey didn’t stop it.
Perhaps he was too busy quickly trading the players who didn’t want to play with Robinson: Dixie Walker, Bobby Bragan, Kirby Higbe, Gene Mauch, Cal McLish and a few others.
—STAN THE PITCHING MAN: Stan Musial, one of baseball’s all-time best hitters, signed as a pitcher. What? Yes, he did.
And he pitched three years in the minors at Class D, the lowest rung. The third year he went 18-5 at Daytona Beach but injured his shoulder the last week of the season.
He thought it would heal over the winter, but it didn’t. His manager, Dickie Kerr (yes, the pitcher for the 1919 Chicago Black Sox), stuck him in the outfield.
Two decades later Musial had 3,630 major league hits, most ever in the National League until Pete Rose entered the picture, and a .331 career batting average.
Musial never forgot that Kerr kept him around after he hurt his arm. He bought Kerr and his wife a house (And it didn’t have wheels on it).
—AN H2O QUESTION: If you call yourself a complete sports fan, you know who Maggie Steffans is? Know who she is? She isn’t a soccer player, tennis player, basketball player or volleyball player.
She is the best female in the world. . .as a water polo player. She is the best player on Team USA, which has won three straight Olympic gold medals.
When the team goes after its fourth straight, a rookie named Ryann Neushuh is expected to be on the team. She is only 5-foo-t-6, short (I’m told) for a water polo player.
And what does she think about that? “Size doesn’t matter in the water.” (Insert your wise crack here.)
—PLAYLIST NO. 3 — Anybody under 60 probably won’t recognize these blasts from the past, songs from the 1950s and 1960s that still resonate:
The Great Pretender (The Platters), The Book of Love (The Monotones), Why Do Fools Fall In Love? (Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers), Searchin’ (The Coasters), Diana (Paul Anka), Little Darlin’ (The Diamonds), I Walk The Line (Johnny Cash), In The Still Of The Night (The Sillhouettes),
At The Hop (Danny & The Juniors), Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran), Come Go With Me (The Del Vikings), It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty), Little Star (The Elegants), Donna (Ritchie Valens).