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‘The Kings’ relives a magical era in boxing

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The Superdome in New Orleans was packed, and the buzz carried across the nation. The 1980s were dawning and Sugar Ray Leonard had some unfinished business to resolve with Roberto Duran, who had beaten him in a brutal fight months earlier.

As the fighters waited in the ring, Ray Charles belted out a stirring version of “America the Beautiful.” If Leonard needed any further motivation — and he didn’t — he now carried a country on his back.

“I glanced over at Duran and said, ‘Boy, you’re in trouble. This is America, baby,’” Leonard said.

Duran was indeed in trouble, in ways that were unimaginable before the fight. The Panamanian great would go on to quit in the eighth round in what became known as the infamous “No Mas” fight.

But there would indeed be more — much more — as Leonard, Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler embarked on a series of fights now regarded as the last golden age in boxing.

Under the stars in Las Vegas they fought each other for millions of dollars and the bragging rights to be one of the greats of all time. Fight after fight, they raised the bar until finally the decade closed — and with it one of the most remarkable stretches of championship fights.

Two of the fights — Hagler-Hearns and Hearns-Leonard — are considered by many in boxing to be two of the greatest fights ever. The other fights weren’t too shabby, either, including Leonard’s upset of Hagler for the middleweight title in 1987.

They’re all relived in most of their glory in a four-part documentary called “The Kings”’ that begins on Showtime on Sunday night. Like the fights, the film covers the decade of boxing when four of the greatest fighters in history met each other for belts ranging from 147 to 168 pounds.

Boxing fans are familiar with the story, but it is brought to life again with video clips from the time that showcase what a special time it was.

“Sugar Ray Leonard is a marvelous fighter,” Johnny Carson says to Hagler in a clip from the “Tonight Show.”

“No, I’m Marvelous,” the Marvelous one replied.

“Whatever you say,” Carson responds, laughing.

Duran and Hearns are the only current interviews on the documentary, and the filmmakers had to use subtitles so viewers could understand Hearns. He slurs his words badly, a reminder of the price that can be paid in the ring.

It mostly works, largely because researchers did their jobs and found video that help tell the story. Unfortunately, the filmmakers fall into the usual trap of using boxing as a metaphor for the times, with the obligatory clips of Jimmy Carter in a sweater, gas lines and people using food stamps to get groceries.

At one point, a building is seen being demolished in Hearns’ hometown of Detroit and we hear that “they were knocking down buildings. Tommy was knocking down opponents.”

And there are so many clips of Ronald Reagan making speeches that at times it seems as much a Reagan documentary as it is a fight film.

Still, the boxing is compelling, and so are the fighters. You can almost picture the hedonistic ’80s when Leonard talks in old clips of spending $4 million on cocaine, while Duran blames his knockout loss to Hearns in 1984 on booze and two women he hooked up with for a weeklong threesome while training in Miami.

And then there’s promoter Bob Arum talking about the difference in private jets as Hagler and Hearns crisscrossed the country to promote their epic 1985 fight. While Hagler’s plane was buttoned up, the party was always ongoing on the Hearns jet.

“That was the Detroit plane, the ghetto plane,: Arum said. ”That plane was a lot of fun.”

The personalities of the fighters shine throughout, making it easier for those who weren’t around at the time to understand the attraction they held to the public.

Leonard was the superstar with a dazzling smile who could be all smoothness in the ring but cold and vicious when needed.

Hagler was the workingman’s fighter from Brockton, Massachusetts, with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t flashy but he was both relentless and slick — and he could punch a bit, too. If the four Kings were the Beatles, the excellent writer and announcer Larry Merchant said, Hagler would be Ringo.

Duran was, well, Duran, a Panamanian hero who fought relentlessly, always moving forward — until the night Hearns caught him with his vaunted right hand outdoors at Caesars Palace.

Hearns was the foil for them all, the ghetto kid who overcame it all with fearsome punching power that could turn a fight round with one punch.

Hagler died this year, making the timing of the documentary bittersweet. Hearns is difficult to understand, and there’s nothing new offered about Leonard. Duran might be the most compelling, if only because he’s so honest about his bad habits and his thoughts in the ring.

As someone who was ringside for all but the Leonard-Duran bouts I can vouch for the fights and the era. It was a magical time that we all thought would go on forever, with the greats fighting the greats at the lower weights and Mike Tyson knocking everyone out at heavyweight.

It didn’t quite turn out that way, which makes the decade so special. Boxing was a mainstream sport before greed and incompetence turned it into a niche sideshow populated mostly by a base of hardcore fans.

Decades later, the kings still hold the crown.

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Kirkland Laing: Remembering the Gifted One who shocked the world and then went missing

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The Kirkland Laing boxing story is one of the craziest, most brilliant, frustrating, incredible and sad tales in a business of extremes, joy, blood and violence.
Apparently, Sweet Kirk is dead, just 66 and after a life in rings, gyms, dens, denial and other tribulations on both sides of the ropes. He lived a charmed and cursed boxing life, the unforgettable figure and fighter, the carefree soul on the very edge of greatness. And a man denied what he deserved and also a man with nobody else to blame but himself for his failings, his defeats, his chaotic life.
In 1972, when Laing was just 17, he won the ABA title, which was the old way to glory, and that meant he should have gone to the Munich Olympics. He was overlooked, ignored – it was the first of many decisions that went against him and on this occasion he was innocent. In Munich, who knows, perhaps a stunning young kid would have caught the eyes of the officials? He had a shot – I’m convinced of that, he was buzzing with belief and over three rounds of three minutes each, that is crucial. His genius was missed that year.
In 1982, when Laing was not a bright-eyed kid, he beat Roberto Duran in a great fight in Detroit. It was and remains a stunning win – one of the finest by a British boxer in the USA. Duran was fresh from making $5m in a fight with Sugar Ray Leonard and Laing was fresh from an eight-rounder in Solihull. Laing actually tries to finish Duran in the 10th; Duran was a legend then, make no mistake, but Kirk was fearless. And, he was stupid at times. He chased the giant in that 10th round, amazing. Duran was very good that night, make no mistake, but Kirk was exceptional. In 2013, Duran admitted as much to me; Laing beat a great fighter on a special night. It was not a fluke and Duran was not fat and old.
Inside a year, Duran was world champion again, winning the belt in front 19,000 at Madison Square Garden and signed for a $10m fight or two; Laing had vanished. Hey presto, gone, honest. Lunacy. He denied it whenever he was asked, but the people who loved him, made money from him and cared for him, all tell the same story: Kirk went missing after the Duran win. It was his window, he missed it. He went to New York and Jamaica, then Nottingham, where he was raised and finally back to his home in Hackney. His Duran money was gone, his golden opportunity was gone. He smoked and smiled and waved goodbye to the millions.
And there you have the two extremes of Laing; the rest of his amateur and professional career just fill in the gaps in the mayhem and wonder that seemed to follow Kirk wherever he walked and talked in his boxing life. He was hidden in a thick cloud of marijuana smoke, he was grinning, he was hitting sparring partners, he was running at dawn across Crackney Downs, as Hackney was dubbed. Kirk knew a lot about that crack pipe, make no mistake. It nearly killed him in 2003 when he was pushed off a block of flats. It was dealers, I was told. An accident, the police told me. He never fell, I was told again. He survived intensive care and went back to Nottingham to recover. He was 49 at the time, his last professional fight had been less than a decade earlier.
He was a shell of the old Kirk long before he fell. A few weeks before the incident, I had tracked him down to a park bench in east London, sat with him, cried with him, remembered his great nights, looked at what he lost. I left Kirk that day with a dozen empty cans and his cherished European title belt on his lap. He was gazing at something he knew he would never get, or perhaps it was just the dope and the remnants of about six Special Brews that gave his eyes that mystical, faraway look. He was an exceptional fighter, but he was even better company.
Laing won the British title, the European title and never had a world title fight. He was a professional from 1975 until 1994, winning 43 of his 56 fights. He fought at tiny, private sporting clubs, a sideshow attraction over six rounds to bored punters in their purple dinner suits, and thrilled on nights at the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena. They were old-fashioned nights when a powerful single beam of light lit up the dark and smokey arena and the boxers walked to the three-roped ring for fights. Kirk loved that spotlight. He won and lost and just kept getting back in the ring; he was a natural, the Gifted One, as he was known. His weight changed by just two pounds between his first fight and his last, he was a natural athlete. He had managers, trainers, new managers, new trainers, advisers and demons; he listened to all of them, every voice was important at the time. When I caught up with him 2003 – it was a long and comical ordeal to get him to meet and talk – he had nothing but the key to an empty council in Glendown House on the Downs Estate in Hackney. And the beautiful European belt and those bloody memories.
Kirkland Laing had a quiet last 15 or so years, close to his Nottingham family and a long, long way from the gyms and chaos of his east London life. Grown men have been in touch in tears during the last 12 hours. “Is he really dead?” He was adored, make no mistake. There had been a couple of false alarms. This final one seems real, but, who really knows with Kirk? It’s Kirkland Laing, the Gifted One, the man who shocked the world and “bashed up” Duran, the boy who never really grew old, just a bit greyer and a bit slower, his dreadlocks a bit wilder. We loved him: Kirk, thanks.

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‘Sorry you had to see that’ — How baserunning has become an embarrassing problem in Major League Baseball

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Editor’s note: From rising strikeout totals and unwritten rules debates to connecting with a new generation of fans and a looming labor battle, baseball is at a crossroads. As MLB faces these challenges, we are embarking on a season-long look at The State of Baseball, examining the storylines that will determine how the game looks in 2021 and far beyond.

Six years ago, in a spring training game, the Mariners had a runner at first base with one out in the eighth inning of a blowout. Andy Van Slyke, the first-base coach for the Mariners, told the runner, a young minor leaguer, that, given the score, there was no need to crush the shortstop or second baseman on a potential double play. Instead, just peel off toward right field. Then the batter struck out for the second out. The next batter hit a ground ball deep in the hole at shortstop. The runner on first base, not realizing that a double play was no longer possible, didn’t run all the way to second base. He peeled off toward right field. If he had kept running, he probably would have beaten the throw.

Van Slyke, astonished and confused, returned to the dugout.

“What the f— was that?!” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon asked him.

Van Slyke just shrugged.

“I have no idea what that was,” he said. “I didn’t think I had to tell him he had to run to second.”

That was another example, albeit extreme, of an on-field crisis that faces baseball today: bad baserunning, the worst I can remember in the 41 years that I have covered the game. The players today are spectacularly talented — bigger, stronger, faster and better than ever. They overpower the sport with their amazing physical gifts, yet too many of them have no instincts for the game. They have no feel for the game. They have less of an idea and an understanding of how to play the game than any time I can remember. And their most egregious mistakes are made on the bases, mistakes that happen in every ballpark, every night.

“Baserunning is terrible today,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “The two things we need the most work on is outfielders throwing and baserunning. Baserunning is just horrible.”

“Baserunning is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Van Slyke, who played in the major leagues from 1983 to 1995 and was one of the game’s premier baserunners. “It started a generation ago, and it has gotten progressively worse. It’s the worst part of Major League Baseball.”

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor might be the best baserunner of his era — one of the best of any era.

“The value of baserunning has been diminished somewhat,” he said. “I watch the game. It’s a little hard to watch these days. And I see [baserunning] mistakes constantly. There are just too many instances where you say to yourself, ‘What is this guy thinking about?’”

Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley, who played in the major leagues from 1984 to 1992, agreed.

“There are still some good baserunners, but nowhere near as many as there used to be,” he said.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was a great baserunner. His famous stolen base against the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series helped the Red Sox come back from a 3-0 series deficit. Then Boston went on to win its first World Series since 1918.

“Baserunning is not as valued today,” he said. “And it is not done as well as in past years.

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant is one of the game’s best baserunners. When asked about baserunning in the majors, he tried to suppress a laugh.

“It is not talked about enough,” he said. “It’s gotten a little lazy. Baserunning is only about effort. But we do have some highlight baserunning that picks up the slack for others who don’t take it seriously.”

Buck Showalter managed in the big leagues for 20 years. No one loves the game more than he does, and no one wants to see it played properly more than he does.

“Baserunning, oh my gosh, I wouldn’t know where to start,” he said. “I do a couple of Yankee games a month (as a broadcaster for YES Network). I see two or three baserunning mistakes [per game]. Baserunning is the ultimate team play. If you don’t run the bases well, you are selfish. We have lost the shame of the strikeout in the game. We are losing the shame of bad baserunning.”

It is not necessarily the fault of the players. The industry, infatuated with home runs being the primary way to score runs in today’s game, has de-emphasized baserunning. It hasn’t taught it very well. It doesn’t pay for great baserunning. It doesn’t penalize bad baserunning. The industry has decided that the risk of getting thrown out trying to advance 90 feet is far greater than the reward for hitting a three-run home run. That was one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver’s philosophies 50 years ago.

But the industry has gone too far. It has taken one of the most exciting and most critical parts of the game and devalued it. In doing so, it has turned baseball into a slower game, one base at a time. It has become a game that, at times, can be spectacularly boring.

“[Former Twins manager] Tom Kelly had a conversation with [then-Yankees manager] Joe Torre 20 years ago, and they agreed that other than starting pitching, they thought that baserunning was the important component for a team’s success,” Molitor said. “We have definitely gotten away from that. To take away an element of the game that has been such a huge part of the game’s history just doesn’t seem right. I hope we start moving backwards in that direction.”

To be fair, there are some excellent baserunners today. Bryant is one. So is Javy Baez. So is Mike Trout.

“[Shohei] Ohtani is good,” Baker said. “He checks everyone [on the field], every time.”

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The best might be Mookie Betts, who helped the world-champion Dodgers win two games in the 2020 World Series with brilliant baserunning.

The Padres, at least statistically, appear to be an exception to bad baserunning. Through June 6, they led the major leagues in stolen bases by a wide margin. They went first-to-third more often than any other major league team, and they had made fewer outs on the bases — eight — than any other team, 20 fewer times than the Yankees.

“We feel that baserunning is a huge component of baseball,” manager Jayce Tingler said.

Not coincidentally, the Padres are 12 games over .500.

“There are a handful of games every year that are won solely on baserunning,” Bryant said.

This year, the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres scored from first base on an infield single. The Astros were in a severe shift. Third base and home plate were left unattended. Torres recognized that just by watching the ball and alertly circled the bases.

“That was nothing but awareness,” Bradley said. “No one was telling him or waving him.”

This year, the Padres’ Manny Machado broke up a double play by up-ending Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman with a hard, clean, legal slide halfway to second base. But we have lost our way so badly on baserunning, some people thought it was a dirty play.

“Nothing dirty about that,” Showalter said. “That was an ultimate baserunning play because it was a team play.”

To be fair, bad baserunning plays have happened in all eras. In 1908, in a pennant-race game, the Giants’ Fred Merkle was on first base in the ninth inning when the winning run was driven in against the Cubs. But Merkle, at age 19, didn’t run to second because the fans were storming the field. Since it was a force at second and he never arrived there safely, the Cubs appealed the play. He was called out.

The Cubs eventually won the game, the pennant and the World Series. It has been forever known as the play that gave him the nickname “Bonehead.”

In 1926, the great Babe Ruth made the final out of the World Series when he was caught trying to steal second with Bob Meusel (a .315 hitter) at the plate in a 3-2 game.

In 1959, in Harvey Haddix’s 12-inning perfect game, Joe Adcock lost a home run in the 13th inning when he passed Hank Aaron on the bases because Aaron thought the walk-off home run by Adcock had just hit the wall, and he ran off the field.

But there are more baserunning mistakes today than perhaps ever.

“Today,” Showalter said, “baserunning is a necessary evil.”

So, how bad is it? What began the demise of baserunning? Can we put a stop sign up on all these mistakes?

Where was he going on that play?

The mistakes aren’t just happening in meaningless, blowout games in spring training. They are happening in the biggest games of the season.

In the fourth inning of Game 7 of the 2020 National League Championship Series, the Braves had a 3-2 lead over the Dodgers. The Braves had runners on second and third with no one out.

Nick Markakis hit a hard ground ball to third baseman Justin Turner. The Braves’ Dansby Swanson, who has an exceptionally high baseball IQ, got trapped off third base.

Where was he going on that play?

Turner got him in a rundown and, with a headlong dive, tagged him out. For some reason, the Braves’ Austin Riley, who started the play at second base, decided to try to advance to third. Turner, from his back, threw to shortstop Corey Seager, who tagged out Riley for a bizarre and crippling double play that kept the Braves from going to the World Series for the first time since 1999.

Are games too long? How can baseball maximize its new generation of stars? We dig into the topics that will shape the game far beyond this season. The State of Baseball »

It was the first time that a double play on a ground ball, with runners on second and third and no outs, had happened in a major league game since the Mets ran themselves into a double play in July 2019. But the winner of that game wasn’t advancing to the World Series. On this day, Dodgers came back to beat the Braves 4-3. They later went on to beat the Rays in the World Series.

“That play can’t happen,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

But it did.

Does Molitor slap his forehead in amazement after seeing such poor baserunning?

“All the time,” he said. “I used to think when I was more directly involved that you could watch the postseason and bookmark about 15 plays that you could use in a video that when these things happened, they cost teams games on the biggest stage of the season.”

Multiple other baserunning mistakes occurred in the 2020 postseason, plays that simply can’t happen in games of that magnitude.

In Game 3 of the 2020 Braves-Marlins NLDS, Atlanta’s Travis d’Arnaud was on third base with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning of a scoreless game. Markakis hit a line drive to left-center field. The Marlins’ Corey Dickerson made a diving, tumbling catch, then got to his feet. But d’Arnaud didn’t tag up on the play; he should have scored easily.

In Game 2 of the Twins-Astros series, an elimination game for the Twins, Byron Buxton was sent in to pinch run in the eighth inning with the Twins behind 2-1. He was picked off at first base for the third out of the inning. The Astros won 3-1 and advanced. The Twins went home.

The 2021 season began embarrassingly for the defending champion Dodgers. On Opening Day, Cody Bellinger hit a drive to deep left field. Justin Turner, the runner on first with no outs, took off, rounded second base and was a third of the way to third base — that’s too far, he should have stopped at second to see if the ball had been caught — when Rockies left fielder Raimel Tapia just missed making a leaping catch at the wall. The ball went over the fence for a home run. But Turner thought the ball had been caught, so he retouched second and headed back to first — all the while with his head down. On the way, he passed Bellinger on the bases. Bellinger lost a home run and was credited with a single.

 

“It was a confusing play,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Our players today, for all their talent and greatness, are confused far too often on the bases. In spring training 2019, Yankees manager Aaron Boone, during infield drills, instructed his players that when the Yankees are in the field, if there’s an infield fly rule, his fielders should consider intentionally letting the ball drop because it might totally confuse the runners on the other team. They might not know what to do, and they might run themselves into another out.

A couple of weeks later, on Opening Day against the Orioles, the Yankees had runners on first and second with one out when Gary Sanchez hit a towering popup — infield fly rule, batter is out automatically — that Orioles catcher Jesus Sucre dropped. Luke Voit, the runner on second, got confused and took off for third — even though he didn’t have to go anywhere. He was tagged out in a rundown for a double play.

The next day, Boone separately texted the three broadcasters who did the game on ESPN.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” he wrote.

In 2017, the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera was on third base when the hitter walked, loading the bases. Herrera, thinking the bases were already loaded, started to walk home. If not for third-base coach Juan Samuel, Herrera would have been tagged out going home on a walk.

“I watch two baseball games a day, sometimes three,” said Pete Rose, who played in the major leagues for 24 years. “One week this year, I saw three games in which the team was running off the field with only two outs. How can you run the bases well when you don’t know how many outs there are?”

Seemingly every night, someone gets doubled off a base on a line drive when that runner is taught to freeze, then start edging back to the bag until he sees the ball go through the infield.

On May 23, the Cardinals’ Harrison Bader led off the fourth inning with a double. Justin Williams hit a relatively soft line drive to Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner, who was playing in shallow right field because of a shift. He made a leaping grab, set himself and doubled Bader off second.

“I hear it all the time, a guy gets doubled off on a line drive, and they say, ‘There was nothing he could do about it.’ Bulls—!” Showalter said. “My coach in college and high school would have said, ‘Where in the hell are you going?!’ They [players today] don’t know how to freeze on a line drive and start the momentum back. The only double-off you should ever have is when you’re on first base and a line drive is hit and the first baseman is holding the runner. That’s it. I don’t want to hear any other excuses. None.”

Seemingly every night a runner makes a poor decision to advance to the next base — or not advance to the next base.

On May 10, the Astros lost 5-4 to the Angels. The final out of a one-run game was made when Houston’s Yuli Gurriel, who was on second base, ran to third on a ground ball to third baseman Phil Gosselin, who would have had to make a semi-difficult throw to get Carlos Correa at first. But Gosselin didn’t even have to throw because Gurriel ran into an out at third. All Gosselin had to do was reach down and tag him.

“I didn’t say anything to him, he knew he made a mistake,” Baker said. “And he’s one of our best baserunners. You make that mistake in Cuba, you might not eat for a week. But there are no repercussions [here] for making a mistake like that. No one is going to take your job.”

On May 2, the Braves’ Ozzie Albies reached base on a throwing error by Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette. But Albies lost track of the ball. He thought he was out, so he slowly turned into fair territory and started walking to second base. He was tagged out. Then he glared at his first-base coach, Eric Young, for not telling him where the ball was.

On May 30, the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez reached on an infield hit in the eighth inning. He took off for second when the ball skipped past Tigers first baseman Jonathan Schoop, but the ball bounced right back to Schoop. Sanchez inexplicably stopped running halfway to second, then started again, but it was too late. He made the last out of the inning, down four runs.

“Here’s the other part of the baserunning drills that they don’t do anymore: Every time you run to first base and run through the bag, you hit the bag, and you were taught to immediately look to your right to check for an overthrow,” Showalter said. “Every time.”

Even in an instance when a player like the Cubs’ Javy Baez makes a clever baserunning decision, it exposes the game’s lack of knowledge about running the bases.

On May 27, Baez hit a ground ball to the third baseman with two outs and a runner, Willson Contreras, on second. The throw pulled Pirates first baseman Will Craig off the bag. Baez stopped before he could be tagged, then got in a rundown between first base and home, which is entirely legal.

Craig could have just tagged the bag and the inning would have been over. It’s a force play! Instead, he chased after Baez, then flipped the ball to catcher Michael Perez to try to get the runner, Contreras, who was sliding across the plate. Craig apparently didn’t know the rule that no run can score in that situation if Baez doesn’t safely achieve first base.

And maybe Perez didn’t know, either. After motioning that Contreras was safe at the plate, only then did Baez run back to first, which he reached safely because second baseman Adam Frazier was late covering the bag. It was a comedy of errors, one of the stupidest plays in baseball history.

Sadly, though, it confused so many players.

“I learned something on that play,” Kris Bryant said. “I didn’t know the rule.”

 

On Friday, the Phillies were trailing the Nationals 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Rhys Hoskins hit a leadoff double. Travis Jankowski pinch ran for him. A 2-2 pitch to J.T. Realmuto was bobbled slightly by Nationals catcher Alex Avila, who never lost control of the ball. With no outs — where was he going on this play? — Jankowski got trapped off second base. Avila ran right at him, and eventually tagged him out for an exceptionally odd catcher-unassisted putout. Avila made a very smart play, but it was assisted by terrible baserunning by Jankowski. The Phillies lost the game 2-1.

 

And then, on Tuesday, in the first inning against the Dodgers, the Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a line drive down the right-field line for a home run. Hayes wasn’t sure if it was going out, so he ran as hard as he could to first. In his haste, he missed touching first base. The Dodgers appealed and Hayes was called out. So, instead of a home run, he was credited in the play-by-play with a flyout to the pitcher.

“Obviously, Ke’ got caught watching the ball,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton.

Obviously.

Baserunners have a lot to learn, about rules, about cutting a bag, about anticipating. They are so athletic and so fast, they should run the bases better than in any other era in history. Still, it’s fair to say that we don’t have nearly as many great baserunners as we used to. We have few who can compare to Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Molitor, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., Rickey Henderson, Don Baylor, Phil Bradley, Larry Walker, Don Mattingly and Scott Rolen.

“Baserunning is an art and it is a skill,” Van Slyke said. “It takes time and emphasis to make it important. But it’s not important today because no one cares about baserunning.”

Why run when you can jog?

Partial blame for bad baserunning goes where partial blame always goes, fairly or unfairly, these days — analytics.

“It’s the three outcomes: walks, strikeouts and home runs,” Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer said. “Guys don’t get on base as much. They’re not used to running the bases. And they don’t think it’s important. But it is. They figure they can make up for it with home runs.”

The numbers support it. In 1980, there were more stolen bases per game than home runs per game, 1.56 to 1.47. There were .51 triples per game. By 2000, things had changed dramatically. There were 2.34 home runs per game, 1.2 steals per game and .39 triples per game.

In 2020, they had changed drastically again: 2.57 homers per game, .99 steals per game and .27 triples per game, the lowest rate in any season in history. So, 40 years ago, there were more steals than homers per game. Now there are nearly three times as many homers as steals per game. And even though stolen bases are only a small part of baserunning, it shows how much the game has become about power and slugging rather than running.

“We walk back to the dugout [a strikeout] today and circle the bases [a home run] more than we ever have,” Van Slyke said. “The emphasis on exit velocity and launch angle has eliminated the nuances of the game. They have blown up the equation on baserunning.”

Molitor is quick to identify one of the issues.

“We have all these formulas to score runs,” he said. “But there’s an art to scoring runs. And part of that art is being able to know where you can get 90 feet whether it’s a passed ball, a ball in the dirt, a missed relay. If you leave 90 feet out there too often, it is going to hinder your chances to win games. We have rethought, probably to a fault, the value of an out, and where those outs should come from. If you are losing too many outs to calculated risks on the bases, it’s going to cost you. The amount of singles has dwindled. Do you have as good a chance of scoring today from first as you do from second? In some ways…”

In some ways, yes. And that’s a problem.

And what about getting the extra base?

“One of the most important things in baseball is going first to third on a base hit, knowing when to go,” Bradley said. “It goes back to the Branch Rickey theory: The best baserunners go two bases at a time. If you’re on first, you should be thinking about going first to third. Now, if you’re on first, you’re waiting to see if the guy is going to hit a homer. Then you can jog.”

It’s about perception, too.

“Baserunning is not cool [to today’s players],” Showalter said. “They think, ‘Who cares? No one steals bases anymore. You hit a homer, I trot home. You hit a single, I trot 90 feet.’”

There is too much jogging and too much trotting in today’s game.

“Good baserunning is only about effort. It’s a pet peeve of mine,” Bryant said. “When you don’t run hard to beat out a double-play grounder, that doesn’t look good. It is so easy to run as hard as you can for four seconds at a time. My dad always reminded me that baseball is hard, you get frustrated when you make an out, so you take out your aggression by running as hard as you can. I have embraced that. I ground out to shortstop, I am so mad, I run as hard as I can to first base. Now we have fans back watching us play. You don’t want to dog it to first base on a double play, someone bobbles a ball, and they still get the double play. You beat out the double play, and it might be a big run in the game.”

Bryant was taught well. But we have stopped teaching players the intricacies of baserunning.

“[Some players] look at you like you have two heads when you talk about baserunning,” said Showalter. “My last year [2018, as the manager] in Baltimore, we had a young player. We were talking about a delayed steal. He had no idea what I was talking about.”

Our coaches and instructors today are different. Many of them didn’t play in the big leagues. Some didn’t play professionally. Some didn’t play collegiately. Some didn’t play at all.

“It needs to be taught,” Baker said, “but the guys who can teach it aren’t in the game anymore … Vince Coleman, guys like that.”

Error! Filename not specified.Vince Coleman stole 752 bases in his career, three times going over 100 in a single season. In 2019, MLB’s last full season, Seattle’s Mallex Smith led the majors with 46. Getty Images

No one taught the game, especially baserunning, better than the late George Kissell. He was a player, manager, coach, scout, instructor and mentor for the Cardinals for 59 years.

“I never talk about my career — never — but I was a great baserunner because I cared,” Van Slyke said. “George Kissell taught me to care about baserunning. He would tell me over and over again: 90 feet really matters, 90 feet is imperative in his game — 90 feet, 90 feet, 90 feet.”

Showalter is a great teacher of baserunning.

“We were taught to hit the bag with your left foot, to cross over with your right,” he said. “Now, these guys hit the bag with the wrong foot. Hit it with your left foot, it’s worth half a step. Players today have no idea what you’re talking about. We used to have a guy who stood at first base, and if you hit the bag with the wrong foot, he would whack you with a fungo.”

Nobody today, Van Slyke said, thinks ahead.

“You have to think about the next base first,” he said. “But players today are not thinking about two and three bases ahead. They don’t anticipate. They don’t ask, ‘What do I do if it’s hit softly? What do I do if it’s hit hard? Does the outfielder have a good arm or a bad arm?’ These are the questions, the nuances, that have to be asked before the ball is pitched. But today’s player waits until the ball is hit, then he decides. Too many of our players are thinking after the ball is hit, ‘How am I going to celebrate when I get to third base?’”

Another huge change in the game is the leadership, the counsel provided from veteran players.

“When I was a young player with the Yankees, Don Baylor was on our team. He was a great baserunner,” Bradley said. “If there was a ball where maybe he thought you could go first-to-third, or made a double on, when you got back to the dugout, he would let you know. He’d say, ‘What were you looking at? Did you see where that guy was playing you?’”

Being a great baserunner is about instincts and feel and anticipation.

“Speed is important, but it is not a prerequisite,” Molitor said.

Rolen ran pretty well, but he was a great baserunner. Mattingly ran pretty well, but he was an exceptional baserunner. The worry in the game is if a player doesn’t have instincts on the bases at age 27, will he ever have them?

“I think you are past the chance of having a great influence,” Molitor said. “There is an innateness to it. I think with a guy who is 27, you can eliminate poor decisions. But you might not be able to create a good decision.”

The way home

There is a way out of this.

There is a way to fix this.

It’s going to take time.

“It has to start at the youth level,” Bradley said. “When I was a kid, we played a game called ‘Running Bases.’ ‘Pickle.’ Those are baserunning games. I don’t even know if they exist anymore. Kids are getting better these days with all the coaching they get. And that’s great. But it’s all about them improving their swing. It’s about their private pitching coaches.”

Molitor called it “Hot Box.”

“That used to kill a couple hours every day playing a little Hot Box,” he said. “I didn’t want to get in a rundown in the big leagues, but when I did, it gave me flashbacks to the playground. If you can get out of a big league hot box, that was a pretty good accomplishment.”

Kudos to all of our Little League coaches teaching kids to play the game, but. ..

“Our kids on the Little League level, even through high school, are literally told when to run, when to stop. They are never left on their own to trust their own instincts, to know when a ball might drop,” Bradley said. “It’s like, ‘I’m not going to run unless the first-base coach tells me to go.’ If you are waiting for the coach to tell you, it’s too late. I’ve talked to coaches. We need to trust our kids to make decisions on their own. Find ways in practice. Don’t have base coaches in practice. And tell the kids why you don’t have base coaches in practice. Play situations where the players can figure it out on their own.”

It starts with education. But the focus of the education is a big part of the problem.

“When I taught it, and when I coached and managed at the major league level, I encouraged players that making your own decisions is critical to being a good baserunner,” Molitor said. “I do have to rely on the coach when the ball is behind me, but what drives me crazy if when you’re on first base with one out, you should be thinking first-to-third anyway. Say there’s a ground ball up the middle to the center fielder. You should know where he’s playing, you should know how he throws, but as the runner approaches second base, even with the play right in front of him, he looks over at the third-base coach.”

Willie Mays didn’t need a coach. Neither did Jackie Robinson. Neither did Molitor.

“I had the freedom throughout college, the minor leagues and even when I got to the big leagues — I had the green light right out of chute as a 21-year-old player,” he said. “You earn that trust. Look at all the great baserunners, you won’t find one who wasn’t an independent thinker. It’s like a basketball player with great court vision, or Gretzky behind the net. There are some people who are just going to see the whole field. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens.”

Bryant earned that trust soon after arriving in the big leagues in 2016.

“I learned to run the bases in high school, but it was mostly watching, doing baserunning drills,” he said. “But when I got to college, we really got into the ins and outs. My coaches at the University of San Diego really helped us develop our IQ on baserunning.”

After we reteach our Little Leaguers how to run the bases, the next step is to work with high school players. Their goal is to play collegiately, or professionally, and the best way to do that is to attend showcase camps. But there, they emphasize individual skills, especially power for a hitter and velocity for a pitcher. They don’t specialize in teaching baserunning.

“If they aren’t testing it,” Showalter asked, “do they care?”

It is time to care about running.

MLB is so concerned about baserunning, or lack thereof, it is experimenting with several rule changes at different levels of minor league baseball. At Triple-A, the base size has been increased from 15-by-15 inches to 18-by-18 inches. The thinking is, the shorter distance between bases could mean a higher rate of success on stolen bases as well as lead to more infield hits and bunt attempts.

In high-A leagues, a rule that was used in the Atlantic League in 2019 will be adopted: Pitchers will be required to completely disengage from the rubber before throwing to any base. Using that rule, the Atlantic League saw a significant increase in stolen bases.

In low-A leagues, pitchers will be limited to two step-offs or pickoff attempts during any plate appearance — a third pickoff attempt will be ruled a balk unless it results in a successful pickoff. By reducing step-off and pickoff attempts, in theory, players might have a greater chance to steal a base.

“I think there are a lot of people who are starting to understand that there are ways to make the game more aesthetically enjoyable,” Molitor said. “A return to prioritizing baserunning is starting to be rekindled, it makes me very happy. I think a return to that will make our game more appealing.”

It is up to the industry to make it happen, to lessen the value of the home run and increase the value of baserunning. Pay for good baserunning. Penalize for bad baserunning.

“The stolen base has become so obsolete,” one National League coach said. “Teams aren’t trying to stop the running game like they used to. They don’t even care if you run.”

Molitor lamented that runners, especially when in a rundown, no longer practice trying to draw an obstruction call. Yet on May 30, the Diamondbacks’ Tim Locastro, stuck in a rundown, tried to draw an obstruction call. It didn’t work — he was called out — but at least he tried.

We are bunting more often. Slowly. It is happening with old-school managers such as Baker, the Indians’ Tito Francona and the Angels’ Joe Maddon. On May 29, Baker had his rookie catcher, Garrett Stubbs, bunt twice in one game. One was a squeeze play, perfectly executed. It was the 11th RBI bunt of this season. That’s not very many. But it provides hope for the future.

Van Slyke was the first-base coach that day when the young player, with two outs, peeled off into right field instead of running to second. Van Slyke has hope for the future of baserunning.

“Remember,” he said, “that was a major league game, not a high school game. But if MLB really cares about the product on the field, we need to get the players’ association in on this, we need to bring the instincts back to the game of baseball. The only way this will turn — if things are done incorrectly so many times, you finally correct it.”

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Daryl Morey says 25 or 26 teams would love to be in Philadelphia 76ers’ situation

darryl morey
Less than two days after his Philadelphia 76ers were bounced out of the playoffs by losing Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks on their home court, team president Daryl Morey was emphatic in his belief that the level of negativity that surrounds the franchise at the moment doesn’t match reality.
“A lot of what I’m reading I frankly don’t understand,” Morey said in a virtual end-of-season press conference Tuesday afternoon. “People [are] saying the Sixers are in a bad situation.
“I don’t choose to come here, [coach Doc Rivers] doesn’t choose to come here if this is a bad situation. I mean, really 25 or 26 teams in this league would love to be in our situation with an MVP caliber top player and All-Star, near All-Star, great young players who are signed for the long term, good veterans.
“So, we’ve got a good foundation. We just have to do better, I have to do better, everyone has to do better.”
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In the wake of Philadelphia’s season ending in such disastrous fashion, the person who has received the most blowback for their performance is star guard Ben Simmons, who was non-existent offensively in the fourth quarter throughout the series, and scored a combined 19 points in Games 5, 6 and 7 as Philadelphia’s season came to a surprising end.
Not surprisingly, that led to Morey being asked — on several occasions — to commit to Simmons being on the roster next season. And, not surprisingly, Morey went out of his way to avoid making any sort of definitive statement either way about the long-term future of Simmons or anyone else currently on Philadelphia’s roster.
“We have a very strong group we believe in,” Morey said. “None of us can predict the future of what’s going to happen in any, in any place. We love what Ben brings, we love what Joel [Embiid] brings we love what Tobias [Harris] brings in terms of what’s next we’re gonna do what’s best for the 76ers to give us the best chance to win the championship with every single player on the roster.”
He did, however, say at one point that, “I think it’s pretty straightforward what certain players need to improve,” which isn’t far off from Rivers saying Monday that Simmons simply has to improve as a foul shooter after dropping to a dismal 34.7 percent from the foul line in the postseason.
But Morey also went in depth about the team’s offensive issues overall, saying the Sixers have to get better at that end of the court before going back over some of what caused Philadelphia to drop that Game 7 on its home court — a result Morey himself admitted he still was processing.
“We need to be a better offensive team,” Morey said. “I mean we’re two days after … you can tell it’s a little raw, still. “I think if you replay that Game 7 a bunch of times and, you know, we execute better, then we win. But look, reality is reality. We didn’t do it and, and frankly if we’re squeaking by the second round that just tells me we’re not, we’re unfortunately not good enough, probably to win the title so we need to get better.
“But, you know, the game, that series, is still incredibly painful.”
Morey also gave a lot of credit to Embiid for the way he pushed through the second round with a small tear in his lateral meniscus. Embiid averaged 30.4 points and 12.7 rebounds against Atlanta despite the injury. Morey said Embiid was getting a full medical review by Philadelphia’s doctors, and that any decision made about his health, and whether he’d require surgery, would be made after that.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we’re all super impressed with what Joel was able to do,” Morey said. “I mean he’s the, you know, sort of the heart and soul of the team and what he did every night for us will forever be appreciated.
“In terms of like what’s next, I know they’re going through a full assessment of him right now the medical staff along with Joel and his and his very good team of advisors and the next step will be determined from that.”

Indy 500 Qualifying Live Stream: How to Watch Online

live stream picture

There will be 35 amazing cars competing for 33 spots in the Indianapolis Speedway, with the qualifying taking place on Saturday and Sunday, May 22-23.

Day 1 (Saturday) of qualifying will be televised on NBC (2 – 3 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Network (3 – 6 p.m. ET). Then on Day 2 (Sunday), Last Chance Qualifying (1 – 2:30 p.m. ET) will be on NBC Sports Network, and Fast Nine Qualifying (2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. ET) will be on NBC.

If you are out of home or don’t have cable, you can also watch qualifying on Peacock TV if you have that, or here are some other ways you can watch Indy 500 live stream of qualifying AND the race itself (May 30, NBC) next weekend.

FuboTV

You can watch a live stream of NBC (live in most markets), NBC Sports Network and 100-plus other TV channels on FuboTV, which comes with a free seven-day trial:

Once signed up for FuboTV, you can watch Indy 500 qualifying live on the FuboTV app, which is available on your Roku, Roku TV, Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, Samsung Smart TV, Android TV, iPhone, Android phone, iPad or Android tablet. Or you can watch on your computer via the FuboTV website.

If you can’t watch live, FuboTV also comes with 250 hours of cloud DVR space.

AT&T TV

AT&T TV has four different channel packages: “Entertainment”, “Choice”, “Ultimate” and “Premier.” NBC (live in most markets) and NBC Sports Network are included in every package, but you can pick any package and any add-on you want with your free 14-day trial.

Note that the free trial isn’t advertised as such, but your “due today” amount will be $0 when signing up. If you watch on your computer, phone or tablet, you won’t be charged for 14 days. If you watch on a streaming device on your TV (Roku, Fire Stick, Apple TV, etc.), you will be charged for the first month, but you can get still get a full refund if you cancel before 14 days.

Once signed up for AT&T TV, you can watch Indy 500 qualifying live on the AT&T TV app, which is available on your Roku, Roku TV, Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Samsung Smart TV, iPhone, Android phone, iPad or Android tablet. Or you can watch on your computer via the AT&T TV website.

If you can’t watch live, AT&T TV also comes with 20 hours of Cloud DVR storage (with the ability to upgrade to unlimited hours).

Sling TV

You can watch a live stream of NBC (live in select markets), NBC Sports Network and 40-plus other TV channels via Sling TV’s “Sling Blue” channel bundle. This option doesn’t include a free trial, but you can get your first month for just $10.

Once signed up for Sling TV, you can watch Indy 500 qualifying live on the Sling TV app, which is available on your Roku, Roku TV, Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, Samsung Smart TV, LG Smart TV, Android TV, airTV Mini, Oculus, Portal, iPhone, Android phone, iPad or Android tablet. Or you can watch on your computer via the Sling TV website.

If you can’t watch live, Sling TV comes included with 50 hours of cloud DVR.

Hulu With Live TV

You can watch a live stream of NBC (live in most markets), NBC Sports Network and 65+ other TV channels via Hulu With Live TV, which you can try out for free with a seven-day trial.

Once signed up for Hulu With Live TV, you can watch Indy 500 qualifying live on the Hulu app, which is available on your Roku, Roku TV, Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Samsung Smart TV, LG Smart TV, Android TV, iPhone, Android phone, iPad or Android tablet. Or you can watch on your computer via the Hulu website.

If you can’t watch live, Hulu with Live TV also comes with 50 hours of Cloud DVR storage (with the ability to upgrade to “Enhanced Cloud DVR,” which gives you 200 hours of DVR space and the ability to fast forward through commercials).

Indy 500 Qualifying 2021 Preview

After a full week of practice, cars qualified for this race square off Saturday, with the ultimate goal of finishing in the top 33. “We’re just really focused on traffic running right now,” driver Pato O’Ward said. “Trying to find the best that we can for the race. We all know that we need a good qualifying car, but we need an ever better race car to be able to win this race.”

“The car was really good to start with,” Felix Rosenqvist, O’Ward’s teammate at AMSP, added. “That’s the main thing here: When you come here, you just want to roll out with a good balance, and I think all three of us (on the team) had a good starting package. That’s what we’ve been working on. I was pretty happy yesterday. We made a few changes, and I think we found the right direction to where I wanted to go.”

Drivers in the race have gotten four days of practice in (Tuesday through Friday) before Saturday’s qualifier, which will be four laps around the 2.5-mile oval track. Drivers finishing 31st or worse will vie for the final three race positions, with the cars finishing in 34th and 35th place missing out on the Indianapolis 500 next weekend.

Here’s a look at the competing drivers slated to appear in the qualifying round:

  • JR Hildebrand, AJ Foyt Enterprises, Chevrolet
  • Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Chevrolet
  • Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, Chevrolet
  • Dalton Kellett, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Chevrolet
  • Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, Chevrolet
  • Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing, Honda
  • Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, Chevrolet
  • Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda
  • Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda
  • Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda
  • Charlie Kimball, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Chevrolet
  • Will Power, Team Penske, Chevrolet
  • Sebastien Bourdais, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Chevrolet
  • Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda
  • Simona De Silvestro, Paretta Autosport, Chevrolet
  • Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, Honda
  • Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevrolet
  • Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevrolet
  • Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, Chevrolet
  • Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Chevrolet
  • Stefan Wilson, Andretti Autosport, Honda
  • Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian, Honda
  • Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, Honda
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, Honda
  • James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, Honda
  • Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda
  • Santino Ferrucci, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda
  • Conor Daly, Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevrolet
  • Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda
  • Pietro Fittipaldi, Dale Coyne Racing/RWR, Honda
  • Max Chilton, Carlin, Chevrolet
  • Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing, Honda
  • RC Enerson, Top Gun Racing, Chevrolet
  • Juan Pablo Montoya, Arrow McLaren SP, Chevrolet
  • Marco Andretti, Andretti Herta-Haupert with Marco & Curb-Agajanian, Honda

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Copa America – Colombia want referee suspended for touching ball prior to Brazil goal

columbia football team

Brazil scored an equaliser after referee Nestor Pitana had touched the ball in the build up. 

The Colombian Football Federation (FCF) has asked Copa America organisers to suspend the referee from their 2-1 defeat by Brazil, saying he prejudiced the result by not halting play when the ball hit him in the lead up to a goal.

Nestor Pitana, the Argentine who refereed the 2018 World Cup final, waved play on when the ball bounced off him outside Colombia’s box and Brazil continued passing for Roberto Firmino to head in an equalizer.

– Brazil scores late in epic Copa America win over Colombia
– Copa America bracket and fixtures schedule

Rubbing salt into the wound, long protests by Colombian players led to an added 10 minutes of stoppage time, with the home side netting a winner in the 100th minute.

Colombia took the lead after 10 minutes through Luis Diaz.

“Even the VAR [Video Assistant Referee] indicated to the referee that the pass from the Brazilian player that rebounded off the referee was going to a Colombian player,” the Colombian federation complained. It urged South American Football Confederation CONMEBOL to suspend the match officials.

CONMEBOL took the unusual step of publicising the conversations between Pitana and the VAR officials on Thursday.

The organisation said that the incident “did not lead to a promising attack” and so play should not have been stopped.

Even though they lost, Colombia still qualified for the last eight of the tournament, along with Brazil.

The Copa America features 10 South American teams and ends on July 10 with the final in Rio de Janeiro.

Filed in: Articles

Foden, Pedri, Gosens starring at rescheduled tournament

phil foden manchester city
spain pedri in barcelona on the pitch
gosens on the pitch

Timing is everything in sports. Success requires both quality and well-timed opportunity.

One might not figure that a year would make that much of a difference, but a few of the teams on display at Euro 2020 look quite a bit different than they would have had the tournament gone on as planned last summer. Certain players’ stock fell during that period of time — hello, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dayot Upamecano — but the delay created quite a bit of opportunity, both for some of the sport’s rising young stars and a few veterans who made particular use of the past 12 months.

Let’s take a look at 15 players who have especially benefited from the tournament’s odd timing.

Locatelli enjoyed a breakout year for Sassuolo in 2019-20 but didn’t make his Italian debut until September 2020. After a brilliant 2020-21 Serie A campaign — four goals, 38 chances created, 239 ball recoveries (fifth in the league) — he has quickly become a prime option for Italy manager Roberto Mancini.

The 23-year old has played 160 minutes in the Euros and made a lasting mark in Italy’s 3-0 win over Switzerland. He showed up in the box on a counterattack and poked in a cross from Domenico Berardi to make it 1-0 in the 26th minute, then boomed in a 23-yarder to put the match away in the 52nd minute. His game isn’t just about scoring, but he’s making the most of his chances.

– Euro 2020 on ESPN: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
– European Soccer Pick ‘Em: Compete to win $10,000
– Euro 2020 bracket and fixture schedule

Half Dutch and half German, Gosens was not on his national team’s radar early in his career. He ground away at second-division Dutch club FC Dordrecht for one season, then moved to Heracles for two before attracting the attention of Serie A’s Atalanta in 2017, already aged 23.

Fast forward four seasons, and he was playing the match of his life in a must-win game against Portugal. The most natural wing-back in the German pool, he produced a goal and an assist against Portugal’s disheveled defense in a 4-2 win, and he created a dangerous chance for Toni Kroos during Germany’s comeback against Hungary. Less than a year after his initial call-up, he’s become one of Joachim Low’s most important players.

Benzema took the “timing is everything” theme to a new level in France’s draw against Portugal, scoring twice … at the same time. He scored one minute and 44 seconds into first-half stoppage time, then again at 46:44 of the second half. The goals were the 33-year old’s first for France in a non-friendly since the 2014 World Cup.

Ostracised from the national team for nearly six years due to his alleged role in a blackmail scandal, he was brought back to the team by manager Didier Deschamp, and he didn’t need much time to do what he always does: score goals. He has scored 360 of them in all club competitions, and after a long wait, he’s up to 29 for his country.

After a sluggish start in a must-win match against Russia, Denmark found the spark it was looking for when the 20-year old Damsgaard scythed an arcing, 25-yard goal past keeper Matvey Safonov. It was his third goal for his country since making his debut last November. And this came after he created two dangerous chances in an unfortunate loss to Belgium.

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Used mostly as a left midfielder for Sampdoria, Damsgaard scored twice and created 25 chances in his first full Serie A season this year. Danish manager Kasper Hjulmand has used him in a more central attacking role at the Euros, and it has paid off. Safe to say, Denmark wouldn’t be in the round of 16 without him.

What a story. Phillips was born in Leeds and spent most of his youth career at Leeds United. He has played only for his hometown club in seven senior seasons, and after helping to lead Leeds back to the Premier League for the first time in 15 years last summer, he made his England debut at age 24 in September.

Thanks to England manager Gareth Southgate’s defensive predilection, Phillips played every minute of the group stage alongside a second defensive midfielder, Declan Rice. Considering Phillips led the team with 17 ball recoveries and England didn’t allow a single goal, it’s safe to say he did his job remarkably. He usually does.

After steadily improving over three and a half seasons with Belgium’s Genk, Maehle has seen his career take a rapid rise in the past year. He debuted for Denmark last September, then moved to Atalanta in January, where he quickly became a stalwart for the annual Champions League club.

At the Euros, the 24-year old has done a little bit of everything. He’s made 24 ball recoveries (second on the team), attempted seven shots (second) and created five chances (second), and he put away Denmark’s 4-1 win over Russia with a poised and precise 16-yard strike on a counter.

Luke Shaw | 25 | Defender | England

The 25-year-old made his England debut in 2014, when he was just months away from a Southampton-to-Manchester United transfer, but he had played just 60 total minutes for his country in the four years between summer 2016 and summer 2020. But his stock rose considerably during his brilliant 2020-21 campaign for United, and in two group-stage matches he created four scoring chances — including a gorgeous pass that resulted in an early shot off the bar for Raheem Sterling against the Czech Republic — with 13 ball recoveries.

Luke Shaw and Kalvin Philliips have been two surprise performers for England at Euro 2020. Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The best version of Shaw both fulfills every defensive role required of a full-back and sends a delectable pass or two into dangerous areas each half. That’s the version of Shaw we saw in England’s last two matches.

Pedri | 18 | Midfielder | Spain

A year ago, Pedri was an exciting 17-year-old prospect, a mainstay at 2019’s U17 World Cup and a recent Barcelona addition. His future was obviously bright.

Almost instantaneously, his future became his present. Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman played him in 37 La Liga matches — he scored three times and created 39 chances — and he not only made his national team debut in March, he also played every minute of Spain’s bumpy group-stage journey. He averaged more than a touch per minute and completed 90% of his nearly 79 pass attempts per game. Almost overnight he has become one of this country’s most reliable and trusted ball progressors.

After a brilliant run to the Euro semifinals in 2016, Wales have positioned themselves well again, finishing second in Group A and drawing Denmark in the round of 16.

While the core rotation includes plenty of veterans who were part of the 2016 go-round, they have also benefited from a burgeoning group of younger players forcing their way into the lineup. Chief among them is the 23-year-old Rodon. You can’t say the 6-foot-4 central defender wouldn’t have played a role had the Euros been played a summer ago — he had already made his national team debut in 2019 — but Wales have a lot of defensive options, and his October move to Tottenham Hotspur probably didn’t hurt his stock. He has played every minute of the tournament thus far.

Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest highlights and debate the biggest storylines. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).

Phil Foden | 21 | Midfielder | England

Southgate asked big things of the 21-year-old midfielder in their first two group-stage matches, commanding him with a creative role for a defence-first squad. If we’re being honest, Foden didn’t respond all that well, creating just one scoring chance with two shot attempts (neither on goal) in 134 minutes. But the fact that he was thrust into that role at all spoke volumes.

Foden hadn’t made his England debut until last November in a UEFA Nations League win over Iceland. But after his brilliant 2020-21 season with Manchester City — 12 goals and eight assists in the Premier League and Champions League — it’s safe to say he’ll be a Three Lions mainstay for quite a while.

Chelsea’s academy player of the year in 2020, Gilmour made 11 appearances in all competitions for the Blues this season. After making his Scotland debut in early June, he earned man-of-the-match honors in his very first start, a brilliant Euros performance against England. In 76 minutes, he completed 40 passes (six in the attacking third) and made eight ball recoveries. He was everywhere … and then he got sidelined by a positive COVID test and had to watch as Scotland got eliminated by Croatia.

Scotland took a pretty experienced team to its first European Championship in 24 years, but Gilmour’s rapid rise has provided a solid boost of hope for the future.

Dani Olmo | 23 | Midfielder | Spain

Like Rodon, Olmo had made his national team debut before last summer’s stoppage, scoring in his first appearance in November 2019. But the 23-year-old became a mainstay with German challengers RB Leipzig in the past year — he scored five goals with nine assists in the 2020-21 Bundesliga season and scored in a vital 4-3 Champions League win over Basaksehir last December.

Olmo hasn’t made a massive contribution for Spain in the Euros yet, but he could be due. In 135 group-stage minutes he attempted six shots and placed three on goal. Early in Spain’s draw with Sweden, he placed a dangerous header on goal but was stonewalled by a brilliant save by Robin Olsen.

Steve Nicol is adamant that Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal shouldn’t be discounted because of their moderate performances.

Everyone’s career path unfolds differently. The 28-year-old AS Roma full-back had to wait quite a while for a full-fledged opportunity. He made a handful of national team appearances while serving as part of Juventus’ loan army — he played for six different teams in seven different loans (including two to Atalanta) across seven seasons before making a permanent move to Rome in 2019 and igniting.

Spinazzola has had a lovely tournament thus far, playing in every minute of Italy’s 3-0 wins over Turkey and Switzerland, progressing the ball well and attempting three shots with two chances created. His name has been linked to Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in the transfer rumour mill. Better late than never.

Long regarded as one of the best Ajax academy products, the 6-foot-3 midfielder made his senior club debut in 2018 at the age of 16, then debuted for his national team this March in the middle of a three-goal, 37-chance Eredivisie campaign.

The Netherlands cruised through a pretty easy Euro group, with Gravenberch playing 106 minutes in two matches. He completed 84% of his 95 pass attempts and won seven of his 11 duel attempts. He’s not a key contributor yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

Reece James | 21 | Defender | England

Things have moved very quickly for the 21-year-old Chelsea defender. An academy product, he made his club debut early in the 2019-20 season, then earned his first English call-up barely a year later.

James started in Chelsea’s Champions League final win over Manchester City, and he created two of England’s more dangerous chances (while completing 80 of 81 passes) in the draw with Scotland. That was his only Euro appearance thus far, but even that’s more than would have been expected of him last summer.

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Seton Hall promotes Grant Billmeier to associate head coach, adds Donald Copeland to staff

grant billmeier the head coach

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — Grant Billmeier was promoted Thursday to associate head coach and Donald Copeland has been named an assistant men’s basketball coach at Seton Hall.

Billmeier, a former Pirates player, has been on coach Kevin Willard’s staff for 10 of 11 seasons, including the last six as an assistant coach. The Pirates won Big East Conference championships in 2016 and 2020 and earned four straight NCAA Tournament berth from 2016-19. A fifth straight bid in 2020 was upended by the pandemic.

Copeland, a Jersey City native who helped the Pirates reach two NCAA Tournaments, is returning to his alma mater. He spent the last four seasons as an assistant at Wagner College.

Billmeier and Copeland were teammates from 2003-06.

“Grant has been an integral member of our staff and the success we have been able to achieve here at Seton Hall,” Willard said. “The passion and energy he brings to work every single day is infectious, and he works very hard to ensure that our players get better on the court, in the classroom and in life.”

Billmeier has been instrumental in developing the Pirates’ big men, notably Angel Delgado, Romaro Gill and Sandro Mamukelashvili, who was one of three co-winner of the conference’s player of the year award this past season.

Copeland spent six seasons at Wagner, the first two as graduate manager. Copeland played professionally both overseas and in Puerto Rico before becoming a coach.

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daniel copeland as head coach

New York Yankees great Yogi Berra gets U.S. stamp in his honor

yogi berra

LITTLE FALLS, N.J. — Yogi Berra once said, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

Well, neither are postage stamps. They cost 55 cents for a forever stamp, and that’s the price for the Yogi Berra stamp issued Thursday by the U.S. Postal Service.

The stamp honoring the New York Yankees Hall of Famer and the man of endless philosophical musings was dedicated during a ceremony at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, New Jersey. The stamp is now being sold at post offices nationwide.

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“We hope this stamp will serve as a reminder of Yogi’s larger-than-life personality, both on and off the field,” said Ron Bloom, chairman of the U.S. Postal Service board of governors.

Bloom was joined at the ceremony by Berra’s sons Larry, Tim and Dale and sportscaster Bob Costas.

A family statement lauded the Postal Service for honoring a “baseball icon who demonstrated the right way to earn the respect of family, friends, competitors and people everywhere.”

Berra won three American League MVP awards, was an 18-time All-Star and played in the World Series in 14 of his 18 seasons in Yankees pinstripes.

After retiring in 1963, Berra took two teams to the World Series as a manager. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972 and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died in 2015 at 90.

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Tyler Herro, two Miami Heat coaches offer help after 12-story condo building collapses

tyler herro dribbling in nba court
tyler herro getting serious
MIAMI — Heat guard Tyler Herro was working out Thursday morning with assistant coaches Chris Quinn and Eric Glass, when they were told there was a more pressing need.

Before long, Herro, Quinn and Glass had left the team’s arena for the short drive north to Surfside, Florida, where a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed around 1:30 a.m. At least one person was killed, dozens were unaccounted for and teams of rescuers were searching rubble with hope of finding anyone alive.

The Heat trio helped load a truck with water, food and other essentials.

We were devastated to hear of the catastrophic Champlain Towers building collapse in Surfside. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We are thankful for the first responders who are working around the clock in rescue efforts.

— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) June 24, 2021

“This is 12 miles from our arena,” Heat vice president and charitable fund executive director Steve Stowe said. “We heard about this, and our immediate reaction was that we had to find a way to help.”

Herro also addressed the frontline workers, thanking them for their heroism and efforts.

The Heat, through some of their corporate partners like World Central Kitchen and Direct Relief, were arranging for more help to arrive. Food trucks were secured to keep rescuers and other personnel at the scene fed through hot meals and grab-and-go boxes, and the team was working to help find accommodations for the displaced by the collapse.

“These are the moments when a community has to come together, rise up and help,” Stowe said.

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