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Yanks have no choice but to pay Judge; Orange football seeks to avoid swoon

New York Yankee fans are nervously awaiting Judgement Day. A verdict soon will be rendered — one that might see slugger Aaron Judge go from being a Bronx Bomber to a Bronx Bolter.

As incredibly overrated Yankees general manager Brian Cashman put it, “a pot of gold” awaits the gigantic outfielder who bet on himself by turning down a seven-year, $213-million contract extension before the 2022 season. Judge realizes he’s about to break the bank — and more records. After a season for the ages, which included an American League record 62 home runs and a near-miss of the triple crown, he figures to land a record contract, surpassing New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer’s $43-million-per-year figure. Inflation won’t be a concern for Judge, nor his offspring, nor several generations of their offspring for that matter.

We’ve heard all sorts of speculation that the California native will wind up playing for either the San Francisco Giants, who he grew up rooting for, or the Los Angeles Dodgers. We’ve also heard mention of the Texas Rangers, who seem to have an unlimited checking account, and the Mets and Boston Red Sox. Of course, if either the crosstown rival Mets or the hated Red Sox were to sign Judge, some Yankee fans may opt to jump off the George Washington Bridge.

Adding to the negotiation intrigue is the story circulating that Judge has soured on Yankees fans after a smattering of them booed him for his poor post-season performance, which featured a .139 batting average with 15 strikeouts and just two homers in 36 at bats. While those jeers may have irritated him, I have to believe that a guy with the mental moxie to block out the noise during his historic pursuit would not make a decision based on such pettiness. Heck, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter were booed, too — sometimes lustily — by the Bleacher Creatures. I can’t believe Judge is that fragile, or foolish enough to make a decision based on the lunacy of a few knuckleheads.

He’s a bright guy, and this will come down to dollars and cents, or, more accurately, dollars and sense.

I believe he wants to be a Forever Yankee. He’s the toast of the Big Apple. Yankee Stadium, the fourth most homer friendly park in baseball, is another incentive to stay. Ancillary income that comes with being a star in New York would add to Judge’s pie, though that will be chump change compared to his contract.

So, the ball is the hands of owner Hal Steinbrenner and his bungling GM. They have to realize they have no choice but to pay up. Sadly, this brain trust — and I use that term lightly — has already screwed up by bringing back manager Aaron Boone. And since the underachieving Aaron Hicks has three more years left on the overly generous contract Cashman gave him, he could be back, too.

It will be awfully hard to sell Yankee fans on a 2023 club without baseball’s most valuable Aaron since Hank.


Poet T.S. Eliot once lamented that April was the cruelest month, but Syracuse University football fans would beg to differ. See, November has been especially cruel for the Orange, with the Cuse going 6-17 after the calendar is flipped from October under current coach Dino Babers. This penchant for late-season collapses is a continuation of a trend from Babers’ predecessors: Scott Shafer (3-9) and Doug Marrone (5-11).

Part of the swoon has to do with SU’s lack of quality depth. Football is an attrition sport, and the Orange can’t stockpile talent the way many Power Five conference schools can, so when injuries begin to mount, as they have again this season, the lack of depth comes into play.

Syracuse heads into Saturday’s game against Pitt on a two-game losing streak after opening with six consecutive wins. On Monday, the Orange received the bad news that Garrett Williams, an NFL high-round draft prospect and the best cover corner in the Atlantic Coast Conference, suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his knee in Saturday’s decisive loss to Notre Dame. Williams is the fourth Orange starter to have his season cut short by injury.

The good news is that SU still has enough talent to overcome these losses, and each of its remaining games on the schedule (at Pitt; home vs. Florida State, and at Wake Forest and Boston College) is winnable.

The rash of injuries mean the Orange has less margin for error, so a greater onus will fall on Babers and his staff to make smarter decisions with personnel, strategy and clock management. He went too long with quarter Garrett Shrader Saturday, despite knowing the kid was battling an injury. Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, the transfer quarterback from Florida, showed promise that he can be electric while throwing for 190 yards and a touchdown in relief of Shrader. If Shrader remains questionable, Babers should start Del Rio-Wilson.

It would be incredibly disappointing if the Orange experience another November face-plant. Three more wins would give them a chance at a decent bowl game. Three more losses will leave fans wondering about what might have been.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. 

A season of great expectations has Bills legend Jim Kelly stoked

Jim Kelly formed a fist with the large right hand that once filled the air with spirals and excitement and gently tapped the top of a table just outside the main ball room at the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino.

“Doing good, knock on wood,’’ the Buffalo Bills legend said Sunday night when asked how he was feeling. “My ankle is finally coming around after my ankle replacement surgery led to some complications. And, so far, so good with the cancer. No recurrence, and hopefully it stays that way when I have my annual MRI in two weeks.”

A year ago, his ankle was such a mess he couldn’t participate in his celebrity golf tournament to raise funds for his Kelly for Kids Foundation. And, a few years before that, he was dealing with a virulent form of jaw cancer that nearly took his life. But just as he did so many times after being knocked to the turf at the stadium formerly known as Rich, he’s demonstrated what it means to be Kelly Tough. He’s picked himself back up.

As he bounded about the other night greeting old Bills teammates, corporate donors and longtime Bills fans at his foundation’s 35th fundraising party in Niagara Falls, he seemed like his old self again. He was a ball of energy.

“When we started this all those years ago, I never envisioned it would still be going strong in 2022, but it is, thanks to the hard work and support of some really dedicated co-workers and some really generous donors,’’ said Kelly, whose foundation has donated more than $7 million to charities in the Buffalo and Rochester areas through the decades.

“When we hand a check to representatives from these organizations, they have this look on their faces like they just won the lottery. Each year, we invite five or six of them to tell us how they are putting the money to use, and when you hear those heart-felt stories about the kids who benefit from this, it just pumps you up even more, and makes you want to keep it going.”

This year’s gala featured scores of live and silent auction items, including high-end signed jerseys, helmets and photos from Hall of Famers in football and other sports. One of the most coveted pieces in this year’s auction was a limited-edition football signed by Kelly and current Bills quarterback Josh Allen, with the inscription: “Passing the Torch.” After going through 17 err apparent quarterbacks since Kelly’s retirement following the 1996 season, the Bills finally found a legitimate heir apparent when they drafted Allen four years ago.

As he had done with all the previous QBs who came to One Bills Drive, Kelly reached out to offer Josh encouragement, and the two hit it off immediately, forming a special bond that has grown stronger over time. On day one, Kelly told Josh to embrace Buffalo, and he has in a big way. “It didn’t take long for this kid from California to become one of us,’’ Kelly said. “That’s what Buffalo does to you. Spend a little time here, and you get hooked because the people are so supportive, especially of their football team.”

No one is happier with Josh’s rapid transformation from “questionable first-round draft pick” to leading NFL MVP candidate than Kelly. “Josh is only 26, so the sky’s the limit,’’ he said. “Heck, I was 26 when I played my rookie season in the NFL [after spending two seasons in the United States Football League]. Think about that.”

Kelly is rooting for Josh to do what he and his teammates couldn’t during their unprecedented run of four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s: Win it all. “All of us alumni would love that, but the people I want it for even more badly than I want it for us are the fans,’’ Kelly said. “We came close, but we couldn’t close the deal. I’d love to see this team do it for the city of Buffalo. This place has supported the Bills through the good times and bad times like no other city ever has. These fans deserve that.”

The wizards of odds in Las Vegas believe this is the Bills year. They’ve established Buffalo as Super Bowl favorites. And while it appears the Bills have everything needed to bring that elusive Lombardi Trophy to Western New York, Kelly isn’t taking anything for granted. “I know it’s a cliché, but you really have to take it one game at a time,’’ he said. “You can’t overlook anyone, which they may have done against Jacksonville and a few others last season. But what it really comes down to is staying healthy. They have to keep No. 17 healthy because he’s the guy who makes it all go.”

For the first time in his young career, Josh will be working with a new offensive coordinator. Ken Dorsey, who, like Kelly, attended the University of Miami, is replacing Brian Daboll, who left to become head coach of the New York Giants. Kelly expects the offense to keep humming despite the change. “I’m sure Ken will be doing some tweaking and some things with Josh that Daboll might not have,’’ he said. “But I can’t see him reinventing the wheel, not after the kind of offensive production they’ve had the past two years.”

One thing Kelly would like to see Dorsey do is call fewer runs involving Josh. “I’ve already talked to both of them about that,’’ he said, chuckling. “Josh is a dangerous runner — a weapon. But I’d like to see him run only when necessary. I know he’s a big guy and he’s strong and fast, but we need to keep him in one piece.”

Kelly formed a fist again and tapped the table top once more for good luck.

Best-selling author and nationally honored sports journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.