During a break from one of the more maddening (and entertaining) Marches I’ve ever witnessed on the basketball court, I sampled the World Baseball Classic and became engrossed. The fans’ passion reminded me of World Cup soccer matches where spectators are singing, chanting, and waving flags from start to finish. There was such electricity in the stands. And the play on the field was just as energized, often spectacular.
Fans of the Houston Astros and New York Mets probably don’t share my sentiments, and I get it. Losing players like Astros MVP second baseman Jose Altuve (broken thumb) and Mets ace reliever Edwin Diaz (torn knee ligaments) to injuries could impact both teams’ World Series aspirations. But the truth of the matter is those injuries could have happened in spring training games, too.
WBC ballpark attendance and television and streaming viewership was robust, and I think Major League Baseball needs to find a way to take this quadrennial showcase to another level. I know this will sound sacrilegious to traditionalists who squawk over even the slightest tweaks to the sport, but I would love to see MLB consider pausing its season 10 days every four years and stage the WBC in mid-July. It would be a true Midsummer’s Classic.
I realize the owners and players association will never allow that to happen, and that’s too bad because this tournament is something truly special, a shot in the arm for baseball. There’s a real opportunity to build on this and make it a full-fledged world tournament.
One thing that struck me about the WBC was how much it meant to the players, especially superstars like Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Mookie Betts. They went full bore, treated it like the World Series. It was an absolute blast to watch, baseball at its finest.
Here’s another reason to love the NCAA basketball tournament: Despite fielding the shortest team among the 363 Division I men’s teams this season, sixteenth-seed Fairleigh Dickinson was able to beat top-seed Purdue, which started a 7-foot-4 center and a 6-10 forward. Classic case of David slaying Goliath.
Interestingly, the National Football League’s all-time money earner never completed a pass, never scored a touchdown, never made a tackle, and never drew up a play.
According to several sources, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been paid more than a half-billion dollars since replacing Paul Tagliabue back in 2006. Goodell currently makes $63 million a year, and there are reports he is about to get a three-year extension from his bosses, the owners. To date, the all-time money-earner among players is quarterback Tom Brady, who pocketed $333 million from the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Bucs in 23 seasons.
Goodell’s salary surpasses that of the league’s current highest player – quarterback Aaron Rodgers ($59 mil last season) – and dwarfs counterparts Rob Manfred ($17 mil annually for running MLB), Adam Silver ($10 mil as NBA commish) and Gary Bettman ($9 mil as the NHL boss).
Goodell’s reign has featured numerous controversies – from player safety issues to a dearth of minority coaches and executives to inconsistent officiating to high-profile domestic violence cases. But the bottom line is what matters most to the men who sign his checks, and Goodell’s multi-billion-dollar television and streaming contracts have contributed handsomely to their coffers and a dramatic increase in the value of their franchises. Hence, the big pay hike.
Shortly after becoming only the fifth wrestler in major college history to win four NCAA titles Saturday, Yianni Diakomihalis’s thoughts turned to Paris. The Cornell University senior hopes to visit the City of Light two years from now, not as a tourist, but as an Olympian. “What I did (last weekend at the championships in Tulsa) is far from being the best version of myself,’’ Diakomphalis said after winning the 149-pound division with a 4-2 decision against Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso. “And it’s far, far, far from what I need to be an Olympic champion, world champion.”
Before resuming his journey, Diakomihalis might want to take at least a little time to savor one of the most dominating careers in Rochester sports history. He began making a name for himself at Hilton High School, where he made the varsity wrestling team as an eighth grader. In five seasons, he won 243 of 246 matches and became just the eighth person to win four New York State championships. And he likely would have won a fifth had he not suffered a season-ending injury. At Cornell, Diakomihalis’s mat success continued. In addition to those four NCAA titles, he won 110 of 112 matches.
New Syracuse basketball coach Adrian Autry wasted little time tapping into the transfer portal, poaching guard JJ Starling from Notre Dame. Autry has known Starling for several years, having recruited the McDonald’s All-America during his high school days in Baldwinsville, about 10 miles north of the JMA Wireless Dome.
Starling averaged 11.2 points per game for the Irish during his freshman season and provides the Orange with insurance in the event guard Judah Mintz bolts for the NBA. Mintz, who made the ACC All-Freshman team last season after averaging 16.3 points and 4.6 assists per game, has declared for the draft and projects as an early second-round pick. There is a remote chance he will return to Syracuse, and if he did, he and Starling would make for a dynamite backcourt.
In Rick Pitino, St. John’s University is getting a Hall-of-Fame coach who is a proven winner. They’re also getting a coach with enough baggage to fill a jumbo jet.
Speaking of coaches, my favorite continues to be Ted Lasso, the fictional soccer manager in the popular Apple TV series that bears his name. Lasso’s kill-em-with-kindness, empathetic approach continues to resonate with me and millions of others who are grateful he’s back for a third season.
Aaron Rodgers long ago established himself as a first-ballot Pro Football Hall-of-Famer, but in recent years the MVP quarterback has become such a prima donna. He clearly will make the New York Jets an instant contender, but I don’t believe he’ll be duplicating Broadway Joe Namath’s ancient feat of bringing a Lombardi Trophy to the Big Apple.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.-