LONGSHOTS: C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
by Dave Long
Here are some stories making news this week around the country and here at home.
News Item: Ming Dynasty in Making?
A record will be set at the Verizon Wireless Arena when seven-foot-eight-inch Yao Ming steps on the floor as the Celtics and Houston Rockets meet on Saturday night — he’ll be the tallest person to ever play basketball in New Hampshire. Who’s the previous record-holder, you ask? A couple come to mind. Fred Petty, a seven-footer from England with a sweeping hook shot who played under Senator Lou D’Allesandro at New Hampshire College in the mid-’70s. And there’s all-name teamer Pembroke Burrows the third. He later was half of the twin towers with Artis Gilmore when Jacksonville lost to Sidney Wicks and UCLA in the 1970 NCAA championship game. Give or take, he was around 7’1” and played at defunct Belknap College somewhere in the Lakes Region after being stashed there to keep him away from competing recruiters. There have been a number of seven-footers passing through Dartmouth over the years, with maybe the best being Brendan Haywood, who I saw doing the game on WMUR when mighty North Carolina came north to play in Hanover. But that’s only the second-tallest player in a game I’ve done on local TV. The first is record-holder 7’6” Manute Bol, who came to NHC in a bizarre night with an SRO that so packed the gym players literally couldn’t go out of bounds as the crowd ringed the court.
Ming comes here Saturday on a team that has a chance to see the Celtics in June after adding mercurial Ron Artest to him and Tracy McGrady. A team that won 22 straight (without an injured Ming) before the Celtics ended it during a three-game sweep of the Texas triangle last February. That makes Saturday a hot ticket because it’s the Cs’ first visit in two years against a prime-time opponent with interesting players and there’s the chance to be there when history is made.
News Item: Teixeira and Niedermeyer Link Suspected
A major clue to what ever happened to the actor who played Douglas Niedermeyer in the classic fraternity spoof Animal House came to light this week. While the detestable Doug did show up some years ago in an episode of Seinfeld as the “maestro,” he’s gone underground since Animal House hit theaters in 1978. Thanks to numerous close-ups in the batter’s box against the Red Sox this week, an eerie, separated at birth, similarity between Angel slugger Mark Teixeira and Niedermeyer was discovered. Could it be Teixeira is his offspring, a product of a banned secret cloning operation, or maybe he found the Holy Grail to eternal youth? As Sarah Palin and Tina Fey like to say, I’ll have to get back to ya on that one, but it’s something and we picked up a big clue this week.
News Item: 18 Boston Alumni in Post-Season Play
Here’s a great post-season stat. There are 17 former Red Sox players dotting rosters of 2008 playoff teams. Throw in Dale Sveum managing the Brewers and the alumni list is 18. The Angels were the only team with none. They only seem familiar because the Sox have played them the last three times they’ve been to the World Series. The Philly-Milwaukee series had eight alums alone. In J. C. Romero and Rudy Seanez, a couple were so bad in Boston you wondered how the heck they ever got another job in the majors. But with ERAs of 2.75 and 3.53 I guess there’s life after Boston. Tom Gordon’s been gone so long you probably forgot he was still playing. There’s a few cup-of-coffee types in David Riske, Eric (yikes) Gagne and Cliff Floyd. Two who could still help are 92-year-old Philly lefty Jamie Moyer and Tampa’s Carlos Peña — who’s hit 77 homers and drove in 222 runs in the two seasons since Theo let him walk for nada. Orlando Cabrera and Gabe Kapler, who hit .301 for the Brewers, represents the 2004 world champs, while Eric Hinske represents the 2007 edition. And there’s L.A. with Nomar, D-Lowe and Manny. While Nomar is a sad shell of the great player he once was, at a young enough age to make you say hmmmmm, Derek Lowe is on a hot streak and Manny is being Manny in having maybe the greatest closing two months since Yaz carried Boston home in 1967. And since in addition to the Big Three they bring along old friend Joe Torre as manager, we can only hope it’s an L.A.-Boston series.
News Item: And Then There Were Three in 2008
That alumni figure leads to the most astonishing thing about the 2008 Red Sox. Just three players on the playoff roster were also on the playoff roster in 2004. That’s a little skewed, as Kevin Youkilis played 70 games in 2004 but wasn’t on the post-season roster and Mike Timlin was with the team all year but isn’t on the 2008 ALDS roster — which leaves only David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. That’s a shocking turnover in such a short period for a team that has stayed in the top tier during the same time. By contrast the Yankees had 10 guys who played for both the first World Series winner in the Torre era in 1996 and the last in 2000. And even the 2008 Patriots, in a sport where serious and career-threatening injuries are a weekly occupational hazard, still have twice that number of guys on today’s roster from their first world championship team, which came three years earlier in 2001.
The turnover hastened by free agency and the ultimate Manny Being Manny drama has seen key players like Lowe, Pedro, Johnny Damon and finally Manny brought here by former GM Dan Duquette migrate elsewhere as they’ve kept winning. That means Theo Epstein has had to put his full stamp on the current Red Sox in a short time. And while not offering the star power of the 2004 edition (at least not yet), it’s still winning, though in a different way, with better fielding, more speed (three guys with over 20 steals) and a little less thump. It’s happened thanks in part to a farm system that blossomed quickly under his leadership. It made the team younger while giving it emerging payroll flexibility and the bargaining chips to put them in position to sustain it over the long haul. They’ve now got guys to step in when others leave and more ammo to get the big piece via a trade or free agency when needed — like a new bopper this off season. So it’s been a pretty masterful job by an inexperienced guy who took over the team five years ago at just 29.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.