Legendary Dodgers Broadcaster Vin Scully Pays Tribute To Todd Helton

What a season it has been for Major League Baseball.  An antiques roadshow of sorts, featuring some of the game’s most-respected veterans, has served as a reminder of just how great these men were for the game, before they ride off into the retirement sunset.  

Mariano Rivera.  Andy Pettitte.  Todd Helton.  

Like Rivera, Helton managed to play for just one team over the duration of his big league career, which in this day and age, is a nearly impossible feat.  In 17 seasons playing first base with the Colorado Rockies, Helton won the NL batting title once, earned five All-Star selections, four Silver Slugger awards and three Golden Glove awards.  Not too shabby.   

The accolades are not lost on Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who, having worked in the Dodgers booth since 1950, has seen his fair share of baseball.  Yep, that’s 63 years.  Point being, when Scully takes the time to create a video tribute such as the one which aired during Saturday’s game between the Rockies and Dodgers (the final game of Helton’s career), that should tell you something about Helton’s place in baseball history.  

Making the gesture even sweeter?  The fact that nobody can tell a story like Vin Scully.  In his tribute to Helton, Scully reminisces about Helton’s short-lived college football career, playing backup quarterback at the University of Tennessee.  In Helton’s junior year, the Vols starting QB went down, thus Helton’s name was called.  Helton only lasted three weeks before injuring his knee and being replaced by a then-true freshman named Peyton Manning.  

Yes, by way of injury, Todd Helton gave us Peyton Manning.  Thanks Todd!  And perhaps had it not been for that knee injury and Manning’s dominance, professional baseball would never have known Helton.  Thanks Peyton! 

Anecdotes aside, Scully appeared truly touched and emotional in his tribute video to Helton, saving perhaps his best compliment for last, weaving words in only the way only Scully can.

"On behalf of all those Dodgers pitchers you mistreated for so many years, have a wonderful life after baseball." 

A few days before the brightest stars in baseball head to Kansas City, the All-Star Game has already seen several curve balls come its way.

From the surprising dominance of knuckle ball pitcher R.A. Dickey to the emergence of rookie Mike Trout and controversy surrounding fellow young buck Bryce Harper’s spot on the roster, baseball’s most famous heavy hitters seem to be an All-Star afterthought. 

Rookie vs. Rookie

Well hot diggity dog, look who snuck his way onto the NL All-Star roster?  Yes Harper-haters, the Nationals stand-out 19-year-old weaseled his way into a trip to Kansas City, thanks to Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton who will miss the game and undergo knee surgery.  Bryce Harper has felt the heat on a national level since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, and I’d say he’s met the challenge in his first season in the Majors. 

In 63 games, the right fielder is batting .282 with 8 home runs, 25 RBI and .472 slugging.  

Over in the AL, fellow rook Mike Trout blows Harper out of the water, statistically speaking.  The 20-year-old is hitting .342 with 12 HR, 40 RBI and .564 SLG in 64 games, not to mention his excellent fielding skills.  Oh ya, he also leads the AL with 26 stolen bases. 

While Trout had long been considered a stud by baseball insiders, he was relatively unknown to those outside “the know.”  Trout didn’t face nationwide pressure the way Harper has, or the expectations of carrying an entire big league ball club. 

Anyone in their right mind agrees that Trout is an All-Star (despite not making it as a starter) but the debate rages on in regard to Harper. 

Being selected to an All-Star team isn’t only about statistics.  It’s about representing each team in the league.  Sometimes it is strictly numbers based, other times it’s a popularity contest (decided by the fans), and once in a while the game is used to show respect for a player’s overall career rather than his accomplishments in that season.

What’s wrong with selecting Harper, whose numbers are absolutely respectable?  More importantly, he has reenergized a first-place team and its fans while drawing millions of eyeballs from all over the country to the sport.  With all of the BS tarnishing baseball over the last several years, the sport could use a guy like Harper, who thus far, has brought nothing but good PR, not to mention blessing the world with the great new catch phrase, “that’s a clown question bro.”

Hopefully the 2012 All-Star game will turn out to be an anecdote told in conversation several years from now:   “I watched those two share a field at an All-Star game in their rookie season, before they became two of the best to ever play the game.” 

You can’t go wrong having these two on the All-Star roster. 

The Unexpected Rise of R.A. Dickey

Nobody saw this coming.  Not even R.A. Dickey himself.  The Mets knuckleballer has had one hell of a ride.  The man has battled many demons in his life, from suffering sexual abuse to an injury expected to be career-ending to deep emotional depression.  At age 37, Dickey finally hit his stride with a 12-1 record and 2.40 ERA earning him his first-ever All-Star spot.

Dickey’s career seems to have played in reverse, starting out as a highlight touted first-round draft pick before doctors discovered he had an elbow injury, condemning him as damaged goods.  The more Dickey aged, the stronger he grew, learning, and now seemingly perfecting the art of the knuckleball pitch.  In June, Dickey made history throwing back-to-back one-hitters. 

Despite unquestionably earning a spot as an All-Star starter, the unique and rarely used pitch that got Dickey to this level may keep him out of the starting lineup in Kansas City.

Tony LaRussa, managing the NL team is concerned that his starting catcher, the young Buster Posey of the Giants might struggle to receive knucklers behind the plate.  Since the fans voted Posey a starter, LaRussa might feel forced to relegate Dickey to a backup spot.   Plus, the outcome of the MLB All Star game now actually means something to teams in World Series contention.

It would be an ironic shame if the talent that makes Dickey so spectacular forces him out of the starting lineup, but he is still an enigmatic figure with a story that fans love.  Being a first-time All-Star at age 37 is a great enough accomplishment to keep Dickey happy and the fans in his corner. 

Andrew Who?  Fans, Meet Andrew McCutchen

News of the injured Giancarlo Stanton proves to be the gift that keeps on giving.  First, Bryce Harper learned that he would replace Stanton on the NL All-Star roster.  Then, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen got the call that he would take Stanton’s place in the Home Run Derby.

The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t get a lot of love from the media, understandably so considering the franchise has been one of the worst in baseball for many years.  It’s mean, I know, but it’s the truth.  On the bright side, the Pirates have a potential superstar on their hands as McCutchen, in his third year in the Majors, is having an outstanding season thus far. 

In 81 games, McCutchen is hitting .362 with 18 HR (including two in Sunday’s win over the Giants) and 60 RBI.   His .362 average leads all of baseball.  Not too shabby for a 25-year-old playing in Pittsburgh. 

In fact, McCutchen has the highest batting average by a Pirate at the All-Star break since World War II. 

Win or lose, McCutchen’s Derby appearance should create some buzz for the emerging star by giving the country an opportunity to get to know the Pirates’ young standout. 

 
I’m looking at the National League leaders from last season where names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols pop up in the top five nearly every offensive statistic.  Fielder and Pujols are about to find themselves in a different column all together after a wild off-season sent the heavy hitters to the American League, changing the MLB landscape.

Aside from the money (both Fielder and Pujols signed multi-year contracts worth over $200 million… yes, 200 MILLION DOLLARS), it shouldn’t come as a shock that guys hitting 37 and 38 home runs (Pujols and Fielder, respectively) are leaving the NL for the AL, home of the designated hitter.  Between Fielder’s weight (275 lbs. on a 5’11 frame) and Pujols’ age (32), it would make sense for both guys to make the switch to full-time batter within the next few years. 

I don’t understand why baseball has allowed each league to have different rules, especially considering it was not always that way.  I love to see pitchers at the plate.  Even though most pitchers stink at hitting, I think there is something to be said for every single man on the roster being responsible for throwing and hitting the ball at some point in every game.  I find it fascinating watching a pitcher pitch to his fellow hurler, and when a pitcher does get a hit (or a home run, which I watched my hometown Dodgers fall victim to four times last season), the reaction of his teammates and fans is usually priceless. 

On the other hand, I get that a guy hitting 30-something home runs in a season is much more exciting.  Despite his struggles in the first few months of the last few seasons, the roar of the Fenway Park crowd each time David Ortiz takes the plate is something special.  Sure, Big Papi was instrumental in Boston’s World Series titles, but there’s just something about a big guy like that at bat.  No need to worry about him trying to catch a runner in the outfield, or make a big play at third, just enjoy him doing what he does best.

The designated hitter position has required the AL to stack the deck with the best pitchers in the game, although the top five guys in each league were all spectacular last season. 

If Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia , Jered Weaver and James Shields thought they had their work cut out for them last season staring down the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson and a slew of others, now they get to add Fielder and Pujols to that list.  YIKES.

The AL West alone looks ridiculous!  The two-time World Series runner-up Texas Rangers added Yu Darvish to the lineup and the the new-look Pujols-infused Anaheim Angeles should improve mightily on top of already owning a fantastic pitching staff. 

In the AL Central, the division-winning Detroit Tigers will only get better, now with Fielder, Cabrera and Peralta in the same lineup. 

As further evidence of a power swing, I just typed an entire blog about the AL  without mentioning the Yankees or Red Sox.  Saying nothing about New York or Boston says a lot about the direction in which the American League is heading.

Video Touchdown: When David Bowie Met Tim Tebow

With the horror of musician John Parr’s reworked version of the 1980’s movie theme song, “St. Elmo’s Fire” into a Tim Tebow-inspired anthem aptly titled, “Tim Tebow’s Fire,” I was delighted when I saw the video above by Jimmy Fallon.

The comedian-turned-late night talk show host is fantastic at impersonations as he proved during his career on Saturday Night Live, so what better way to make fun of the terrible “St. Elmo’s Fire” reboot with a throwback Tebow jam of his own.

Well, technically speaking, it’s Jimmy Fallon doing David Bowie doing Ziggy Stardust.  Fallon created perhaps the greatest character of all time as “Tebowie” is the love child of Bowie’s iconic 70’s persona Stardust and the angel on earth that is Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. 

Fallon put new lyrics to the Bowie classic “Space Oddity” and performed it with the hair, make-up and platform go-go boots of Stardust while wearing Tebow’s uniform.  His Bowie impersonation is spot on as the lyrics take the audience through a hilarious conversation between Jesus and Tebow.

Why I am writing this blog in a formal news style?  That makes no sense.  Sorry!

Okay, I digress.  My favorite line from Fallon as Ziggy as Jesus goes like this:

"I hear that you play New England next week.  Dude, you’re on your own."

How great is that?  A few minutes after the Broncos beat the Steelers in their wildcard game, I tweeted something to the effect of should he Broncos beat the Patriots in New England, I will have to reassess my life.

I was half joking, but also half serious.  The Broncos are not supposed to beat the Patriots.  They just aren’t.  Vegas has the Pats favored by 13.5 points over the Broncos, presumably because New England has one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Tom Brady along with the top wide receiver over the last few seasons (Wes Welker) and two of the five most productive tight ends in the league (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez). 

Then again, the Patriots have been bounced from the playoffs in their first-round playoff games in the last two seasons in which both games were played at home in Gillette Stadium.  The Broncos weren’t supposed to win with Tebow, a quarterback who opponents like Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher referred to as a running back. 

Tim Tebow, one of the most successful college quarterbacks in history wasn’t supposed to succeed at the next level because he didn’t have the arm, or the throwing motion, or the ability of the prototypical NFL player.  But the impossible has already happened with the success of Tebow and the Broncos (plenty of credit goes to their defense, I know) and I must admit, it’s freaking me out a bit, but in a fun and exciting way.

Just as Ziggy Stardust had inexplicably glamorous and super-human qualities, Tebow seems to be following that same path, but using eye black instead of eye liner.  Saturday will be a battle of the golden boys and tonight before bed, I’ll pray to my lucky stars that game is indeed divine.