Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Year Of The No-No? The MLB Could Set A New No-Hitter Record This Season

This MLB season seems to be on course to make light of the record for the most no-hitters in a single campaign, with six thrown so far. It has been a great season for pitchers, who have been salivating at the opportunity to jot their names down in the record books but, on the other end, we also see a few teams that are close to getting their names in the books for shameful reasons.

The Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, and Texans Rangers have all delivered two no-hit games this term. Given there are still four months to go, it’s very likely that one of them could end the season as the team with the unwanted record of most no-hitters thrown against them.

With a total of six such games have been seen this season, the no-hitter odds offered by some sportsbooks have become very attractive. Considered a bit of a sucker’s bet in the past, the trend has made it so that bettors could strike it big off a game in which zero strikes are hit. Of course, it has also cost them money but there are plenty of ways in which one can recoup lost funds as the season continues, so why not put that moneyline calculator to work?

The MLB’s record for no-hitters in a single season stands at seven, at least since 1900. It first happened in 1990 and was repeated in 1991, 2012, and 2015.

Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres threw his team’s first-ever no-hitter against the Rangers on April 9 and just five days later, the Chicago White Sox’s Carlos Rodón left Cleveland nursing their own. Baltimore’s John Means recorded a no-hitter against the Mariners on May 5, Wade Miley registered his against the Indians on May 7, and the Mariners got their second no-hitter courtesy of the Detroit Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull on May 18.

The Rangers suffered another no-hit contest via Corey Kluber of the New York Yankees.

Baseball fans have seen six-no-hitters in the space of just 42 days. Something similar happened way back in 1917 when five were thrown in just 23 days. A sixth no-hitter came around a month later to tie a record set in 1908.

What makes this season’s more impressive is the fact that Musgrove, Rodón and Kluber were one batter away from perfect outings. Musgrove and Rodón hit batters, while Kluber walked one.

As to why this season has thrown up as many no-hitters is left to debate, but it could be because pitchers are simply becoming more dangerous, although all of the no-hitters thrown so far have not come from pitchers considered to be among the league's elite.

There have been changes to the baseball itself. The league has admitted that certain alterations have affected the flight of the ball, which has, in turn, led to fewer home runs. Pitchers also agree.

Batting averages have been lower this season, making it all the more likely that no-hitters are thrown on a nightly basis.

"It's great for your team when a guy throws a no-no, it's great for that guy, it's a great accomplishment,” Yankees legend and current Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly was quoted as saying recently. "But, when there's so many, so early, strikeouts are at an all-time high, things like that. It tells you that there are some issues in the game that need to be addressed."

No MLB team has ever been no-hit three times in a season, but the Indians, Mariners and Rangers are all one no-hit away from having what would be a pretty poor record. The last two sides to collect double no-hits, the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, went on to win their divisions in 2015. The Mets also won the National League before bowing out to the Kansas City Royals ahead of the World Series that year.

This sort of puts things in a better light for the aforementioned trio of teams but they certainly do not have the look of contenders where the World Series is concerned.

Out of the seven no-hitters from 2012, three of them were perfect games. Chicago right-hander Philip Humber, San Francisco Giants right-hander Matt Cain and Mariners icon Felix Hernandez all threw perfect games that season. Musgrove, Rodón, and Kluber came very close to the feat, which would have seen to the 24th, 25th, and 26th perfectos in MLB history. The current nine-year wait is the longest since Catfish Hunter’s perfect game in 1968 and the one thrown by Len Barker in 1981.

We’re very likely to see the record surpassed this year and we imagine a good few wagers are already in play in that regard. As to whether a no-hit game should be cause for excitement has been a subject of debate for several years. This season might just be the one to provide the answer. We already know Mattingly is not impressed.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Phil Lombardi, Former Yankees and Mets Catcher, Dies At 58

Phil Lombardi (l.) a former MLB catcher with the New York Mets and Yankees died May 20, 2021 from brain cancer surgery complications.

Phil Lombardi
, a major league catcher who played parts of three MLB seasons with the New York Mets and New York Yankees from 1986-1989, died May 20, 2021 from complications due to brain cancer surgery. He was 58.

Lombardi was a third round draft pick of the Yankees in 1981. He played mostly as a September call-up during the 1986 and 1987 seasons with the Yankees. They traded him during the 1987 off-season to the New York Mets for shortstop Rafael Santana. 

Injuries plagued Lombardi throughout his career. Years of catching took a toll on his knees, with Lombardi enduring two knee surgeries by the time he was traded to the Mets. He had a third surgery in 1988 and recovered enough to play 18 games with the Mets in 1989. 

“When I was with the Mets, (catcher) Todd Hundley watched me behind the plate one day,” Lombardi said to the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “He could tell I was hurting and noticed that I had all my weight shifted onto my right leg to alleviate the pain. Then he told me his father (longtime major league catcher Randy Hundley) had the same type injury to his left knee when he had been catcher, and shifted his weight onto his right side too. 

“The result was that his father’s hips were thrown out of alignment and at the age of 50 he had to have a hip-replacement operation. Right after he told me that story, my hips started to hurt. I swear.”

The Braves invited Lombardi to spring training in 1990 with the promise of being their third catcher, but the thought of getting behind the plate for another season was too painful to bear. Instead of signing on with Atlanta, Lombardi retired. He was only one of five players to spend their entire MLB careers with the Mets and Yankees.

“I had idols like Johnny Bench and Pete Rose because I thought I could have a career like they did,” Lombardi said. “Instead, I became a so-so player, in all honesty. My career was one step forward and one step backward. A lot of things happened, but in the end, my injuries wiped me out.”

Lombardi turned to real estate, launching a successful career with Pinnacle Estate Properties in Valencia, California. As a parent of three daughters, he also turned to coaching softball. He lent his MLB expertise to hundreds of girls throughout the years, including his children.

His two eldest daughters played college softball at Long Beach State, while his youngest, Gianna, is currently playing for Cal State University-San Marcos

Looking back at his injury shortened baseball career, Lombardi acknowledge the pain of knowing he never reached his full potential. 

“All I’ve got left is my baseball card,” he said. “Really, I was just a common player. My card isn’t worth a nickel. And it hurts, because I know I could have been so much more.”


Def Jef Tells The Story Of Shaq's Early Rap Career

By the time Shaquille O'Neal wrapped up his first NBA season in 1993, it was clear O'Neal was a global entity whose marketability extended well beyond the confines of the basketball court. Whether it was his best-selling Shaq Attack sneakers, his domination of the sports card market, or serving as a pitchman for Pepsi products, everything Shaq touched in 1993 turned to gold.

His Midas touch gilded the hip-hop realm when the nubile O'Neal kicked a verse on the Fu-Schnickens single, What's Up Doc?, helping to propel sales of the song to RIAA Gold certification. O'Neal 's microphone exploits turned many heads in the industry, including that of Def Jef (Jeffrey Fortson), a Grammy nominated MC and producer who released two critically acclaimed albums on the Delicious Vinyl imprint. As Fortson watched O'Neal perform on television one morning, the idea of collaboration was spawned by a phone call from one of his close friends.

“My friend Ron Mack saw Shaq rapping on one of those morning shows on TV at seven in the morning,” Fortson said during a recent telephone interview. “I've never been a huge sports fan, but I just happened to be watching this show at 7:30 in the morning and Shaq is rapping with the Fu-Schnickens. I was like, 'Wow, check out Shaq, he can rap.' My friend Ron calls me and says, 'Hey you should get up some tracks.' I said, 'That's probably not going to happen, he has the opportunity to work with anybody in the industry he wants to.'”

At the time, Fortson had a publishing deal with Chrysalis for his production crew The Arsenal, which was comprised of Fortson and Meech Wells. As fate would have it, one of the executives at Fortson's label had a close connection with O'Neal's agent. It opened the door for the two to forge a relationship.

“The person that signed me was named Tom Sturgess … he was friends with Shaq's agent at the time, Leonard [Armato],” Fortson said. “He called me one day and said, 'Hey would you be interested in working with Shaquille O'Neal, he needs an intro for his album.' Tom knew that I was a DJ as well. The idea was to meet him at the studio and bring a bunch of records where rappers mentioned his name so we can kind of scratch in an intro of all the rappers that said his name.”

While creating the intro for Shaq Diesel, Fortson used the opportunity to showcase his production talents to the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year. By the time Fortson arrived, all of the tracks slated for the album were completed; however, one beat Fortson played for O'Neal was so undeniable that the roster was expanded to fit an additional song. That track, which also featured Fortson rapping, became the lead single, (I Know I Got) Skillz.

“He [O'Neal] actually told me before we started working, 'The album is done, I just need an intro,'” Fortson said. “After we worked on an intro, I played a track for him and said, 'Hey, what do you think of this track?'… He said, 'I like that; I want to work on it.' We kind of worked on that song, 'Skillz,' and that set off us working on the first single from his album. I think because his album was done and that song was a new energy, that's why it became the first single.”

Skillz was a hit, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Top Rap singles chart, and No. 35 on the Billboard Top 100, ascertaining O'Neal another Gold plaque. His immediate success affirmed O'Neal could deliver the goods, quieting those outside of the music community who fancied the NBA player as a novelty act.


Core artists of the era openly welcomed O'Neal on the mic because of his budding skill and genuine appreciation of the culture. He aligned himself with such heavyweights as A Tribe Called Quest, Erick Sermon, and the aforementioned Fu-Schnickens.

“He reached into the music community,” Fortson explained. “It was an opportunity to work with Shaq because I thought he was good. I didn't just jump at the chance because he was Shaq. When I first saw him rapping with the Fu-Schnickens, I was like, 'Shaq can rap,' because it could have gone the other way. At the time I was a producer, and I had success as a producer, so I didn't look at this as an opportunity like Shaq would help me get a plaque. It was more like let's work on this and it's awesome. Plaques and all of that [expletive], that is a by-product of trying to make something good; doing your best to make something great. We all worked on something great and we were rewarded for it.

“Let's take a step back," he said. "A Tribe Called Quest was huge; they weren't some fledgling rap group. They were A Tribe Called Quest, the standard in hip-hop, [at least] one of them. They were a very credible, respected rap group. … Everyone he worked with was successful. Erick Sermon, EPMD, people [that] had status in the music business. … He aligned himself rightfully so and smartly about it with his hip hop heroes.”

O'Neal took the same work ethic he had from the sports world and applied that to his approach in the studio. Fortson said O'Neal showed tremendous respect to a world where he was no longer the main attraction, not only by how he carried himself in the studio, but also his pride for writing his own songs.

“Every line that Shaq said on the several songs we worked on was his lyrics,” Fortson said. “He might have mentioned a lyric to me and said, 'Is this pretty good?' He was 100 percent professional in the studio. He was never late. The guy worked like he respected the craft. At that point, he was probably a millionaire. He was doing really well and brought none of that energy into the studio. He was 100 percent dedicated to making something good. He would spit lyrics for me and say, 'Hey what do you think of this?' He would give me his ideas, but I didn't write one lyric for him. Everything we worked on, he wrote.”

While discussing Fortson's studio experience with O'Neal, the conversation turned to the few live performances they shared together. Immediately, Fortson recalled how a show they did in Minneapolis at Prince's club, First Avenue, later led to an impromptu meeting at Prince's studio with the recently deceased superstar.

“I do remember that date in particular because I got to go to Prince's studio,” Fortson recalled. “I remember going because I remember playing the club and then going to Prince's studio. I met him [Prince] briefly. One of the guys in his band recognized me. He said, 'Hey, you're Def Jef, you're the rapper. You're the real deal.' We exchanged a few niceties and pleasantries. He said, 'Do you want to meet him? I was like, 'Sure.'

“This figure scurried by that I didn't know and he was like, 'That's him right there; he went to the bathroom.' Prince came back out and he was very short. I don't mean that in a mean way. He was surprisingly much shorter than I anticipated. The guy said, 'Hey this is Def Jef, he's a real rapper, he's the real deal. Prince said, 'If he says you're good, I'm sure you're good. Do you want to go up and do something later?” We were in his rehearsal stage. He had a sound stage in his studio. It was the most amazing place ever; it was like a fun house.”

MC Supernatural corroborated Fortson's story.. Known for his tremendous freestyle abilities, Supernatural remains one of the most highly regarded MCs in the game. When reached via telephone, just the mention of Shaq's name triggered lucid memories of an unbelievable evening.

“It's definitely a true story,” Supernatural said. “I'll never forget the night; it was amazing. I remember Shaq coming out doing the running man on stage looking like a giant, like he was getting ready to fall off the stage.”

Supernatural observed that O'Neal was well received within the hip hop community for similar reasons that Fortson earlier expressed; he was real.

“We loved it,” he said. “At that time, Shaq was like that dude. He was fresh in the league, blowing up crazy, doing all types of stuff across the board media wise. When he did that record [Shaq Diesel], it was amazing to be there to see it. He was probably one of the first basketball players ever to do a rap record. That was a big deal to MCs, especially to guys like myself. I always thought it was dope that he was so involved with hip hop.”

O'Neal released three more studio albums, but none had the commercial success as his Platinum debut, despite later enlisting the likes of Jay-Z and the late Notorious B.I.G. Artists and producers sought to capitalize off of Shaq's fame and budget by charging exorbitant amounts, when just a few years earlier, they were all posturing for a spot on his album.

“The first time around everyone wanted to record something with me,” O'Neal said in his 2011 autobiography, Shaq Uncut. “Now all of a sudden they're calling up and saying they'll do it, but they want $200,000.”

Fortson remained proud that he was able to work with O'Neal at the nascent stage of his rap career, well before finances complicated the situation. The experience had a purity that couldn't be replicated in future efforts.

“I was glad I was in on the ground floor because it was genuine,” he said. “After a couple of albums, people saw a check.

“I think he did his best to honor whomever he listened to because he took time to write his rhymes. People might say he wasn't saying anything particularly deep, but he was having fun making cool and clever rhymes, and really at the end of the day that's what hip hop is about.” 

* - Originally published for The Sports Post on September 9, 2016.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Greg Larson 'Clubbie" Author Interview

Greg Larson wanted to live the big league dream, but after batting .091 during his senior season, he knew his only way he was getting into a pro clubhouse was if he worked there. Fresh out of college, Larson searched for any opportunity to get his foot in the door. When a spot opened up at baseball's lowest rung with the Baltimore Orioles short season Class-A Aberdeen Ironbirds, Larson jumped at the opportunity. 

The ensuing two years completely flipped his perception of a professional baseball player's life. Minor league life was filled with squalor and despair, with salaries that hugged the poverty line. He decided to chronicle his wild two year ride with Aberdeen in his new book, Clubbie: A Minor League Baseball Memoir.

Larson joined the Baseball Happenings Podcast for a candid talk about the ups and downs he experienced while working in the clubhouse and how it forced him to grow up quickly.

Click here to listen to the Greg Larson interview or stream below.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Willie Mays Turns 90: A Legend Throughout The Years

Willie Mays celebrates his 90th birthday at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

Hall of Fame legend Willie Mays turned 90 on May 6, 2021, and the entire baseball community celebrated the milestone with a variety of tributes including a grand celebration at Oracle Park.

As part of the festivities, the Giants announced the creation of the Willie Mays Scholars program, which will offer college prep and support to Black high schoolers in San Francisco. The initial class this fall will include five students who will receive $70,000 in support, including up to $20,000 in scholarships.

“I have always made kids my priority by helping them in any way I could throughout my playing career and life,” Mays said in a statement. “To have the Giants Community Fund and the Giants ownership group create this program in my name and to provide a path to college for Black children in our community means the world to me. I can’t wait to meet the first class of Willie Mays Scholars to offer my encouragement and support.”

Mays was a World Series hero for the New York Giants in 1954, his infamous catch of Vic Wertz's smash during Game 1 paved the way for the Giants to sweep the Indians. While the World Series odds seemed a longshot at +6000 for the Giants to start the 2021 season, the club's first place standing during Mays' celebration could be the inspiration needed to drive towards another championship appearance.

While honors have poured in across the landscape offering Mays his flowers, we take a look back at our coverage of Mays throughout his career, often through the words of his teammates.