All Ball Sports: Dodgers load the mound, Rams ready for Super Bowl, LeBron dunks against star game
Dodgers load the mound, Rams readies for Superbowl, LeBron torpedoes All Star game
by Paul Teetor
The news that broke Saturday night was as shocking as it was exhilarating: the Dodgers had just signed Trevor Bauer, last season’s National League Cy Young Award winner with the Cincinnati Reds, to a three-year, $102 million contract.
He will be the highest paid player in baseball next season, with a salary of $40 million. That also makes him the highest paid player for a single season in MLB history. Not bad for a SoCal kid who grew up listening to Vin Scully on soft summer nights while dreaming of wearing Dodger blue.
He is scheduled to earn $45 million in his second year, but only $17 million for year 3, which is a player’s option. That means it is very likely he will opt out of the third year and sign a new contract with the Dodgers or someone else, unless he is injured or has a bad first two years.
After the news spread, it took about two seconds to do the math: Wow, the Dodgers now have three Cy Young Award winners on their staff in Clayton Kershaw, David Price, and Bauer. Meanwhile, the actual ace of their staff, 26-year-old Walker Buehler, is a dead-on lock to win the Cy Young award sometime in the next few years. On paper at least, they now have the most potent pitching staff in Major League Baseball.
While Dodgers fans were celebrating the team’s decision to build on their first World Series title in 32 years instead of resting on their laurels, it was a joyous decision for Bauer too: he was coming home after nearly a decade of climbing the ranks and moving around pro baseball.
Bauer played his prep baseball at Hart High School in Santa Clarita before staring at UCLA, where he won all kinds of collegiate awards.
The huge signing of baseball’s most coveted free agent this off-season was a shock for several reasons, first and foremost because the Dodgers already had a championship-level pitching staff and didn’t have a glaring need for starting pitching. Indeed, their staff is so strong that Bauer figures to slide in as the third starter behind Kershaw – who will always get the ball first in a must-win situation – and Buehler, who still defers to the legendary Kershaw because of his resume, but is the better pitcher at this stage of their respective careers.
No, it was a shocking move more because the Dodgers had been so quiet in free agency since winning the World Series. They made waves by laying off more than 20 employees in November while citing “widespread economic devastation” because of the Covid-19 pandemic that shortened the season to 60 games and kept paying customers out of Dodger Stadium for the entire season. Dodgers President Stan Kasten recently said the franchise had lost “well north of $100 million” last season.
In the last two months fan favorites like utility player Kike Hernandez, pitcher Alex Wood, boom-or-bust slugger Joc Pederson and relief pitcher Pedro Baez (well, maybe not Baez!) had all signed with other teams without the Dodgers even trying to retain them. So it looked like the Dodgers were out to save money until post-pandemic life returned to something approaching normalcy.
But it was also shocking for a more subtle reason: Bauer is a notorious big-personality guy with all kinds of quirks and a track record of verbal spats with opponents and teammates, alike. The last Dodgers player who fit that profile, Yasiel Puig, was shipped out of town to Cincinnati when the Dodgers tired of his antics, despite his prodigious talent.
In 2019, Bauer was traded to the Reds after he threw a ball from the pitcher’s mound over the center field wall when Cleveland Manager Terry Francona came out of the dugout to replace him in a game against Kansas City.
He’s self-aware enough to admit to Sports Illustrated a few years ago: “I’m good at two things in this world: throwing baseballs and pissing people off.”
He has also run into social media trouble, with several women accusing Bauer of harassing them and urging others to harass them.
But he has defended his digital persona: “I don’t shy away from confrontation and am often quick to defend myself, but I am by no means a bully and I take great offense to my character being called into question,” he said.
As if to demonstrate his 21st century approach to communications, Bauer broke the news himself — before the Dodgers said anything — by releasing a really entertaining three-minute video that recounted his baseball history and ended with him wearing a Dodgers jersey and tossing a baseball. It’s worth checking out on YouTube.
“This season is about adding to our legacy,” he says at the end. “And I can’t wait, Dodger fans.”
Neither can they.
Oh, and one more unanticipated consequence of the Bauer signing: It may very well signal the end of the blue road for the single most popular Dodgers player.
Justin Turner, the team’s star third-baseman who had so many clutch hits on their way to the World Series title, is a free agent seeking at least a 3-year deal. But he is 36, and the Dodgers may be getting ready to claim that they simply can’t afford him any longer.
His situation is complicated by his crazy, reckless act of charging onto the field to join the championship celebration a half-hour after he had been sent into quarantine following the news of his positive Covid-19 test. It was weird enough that he was pulled in the 7th inning of a World Series-clinching game for medical reasons, but the sight of him hugging and kissing everybody he could find just a short while later was shocking to anyone concerned about the celebration turning into a super-spreader event.
In the three-plus months since that bizarre sequence of events, most Dodgers fans – even All Ball, which called for his permanent banishment at the time — appear to have forgiven Turner, who apologized and promised never to do it again.
The question is: has Dodgers management forgiven him, or will they use it as an excuse to cut him loose?
Stay tuned. We should have an answer soon with spring training right around the corner.
Rams: Super Bowl or Bust
Now that Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have become the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl played in their own stadium, the Rams are intensely focused on trying to match that feat with next year’s Super Bowl scheduled to be held in their $5.5 billion showcase, So-Fi Stadium in Inglewood.
So it’s worth asking: just how far are the Rams from at least making it to next year’s Super Bowl? Just playing in that final game of the season would be exciting enough. Actually winning it would be a great bonus, a fairy tale ending.
Turns out not that far at all, at least based on the result of Sunday’s game.
Consider the Rams’ post-season record: first, they beat a tough Seattle team in the NFC-West wild-card game, 30-20. Then they were beaten by a very good Green Bay Packers team 32-18 in the Divisional Round. With a couple of breaks and a marginally better performance by quarterback Jared Goff, they could have won that game.
Green Bay went on to lose a close game to Tampa Bay, a game the Packers could have won except for two crucial mistakes at the end. First, on a third-and-goal play Aaron Rodgers mis-fired on a potential short-range TD pass when there were no defenders between him and the goal line. Nine times out of 10 he runs that ball in for a game-winning TD. But this was the tenth time, and for some reason he pulled up short and threw a pass that just missed.
Second, Packers Coach Matt LaFleur lost his nerve when he ordered the field goal team onto the field on fourth down, thereby preventing Rodgers – one of the greatest clutch players of all time – from having another chance to tie the game with two minutes left.
Compounding his bone-headed decision: even after kicking a field goal, the Packers still trailed by five. In other words, they still needed a touchdown. The field goal was meaningless, but in the pressure of the moment LaFleur suffered a brain lock and Tampa Bay ran out the clock.
To sum up: the Rams almost beat Green Bay. Green Bay almost beat Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay crushed heavily favored Kansas City in the Super Bowl, 31-9.
Which means the Rams were not too far from playing in the Super Bowl.
Had a couple of bad plays and bad decisions gone the other way, the Rams could have been in the Super Bowl. And once you’re there, anything can happen — as the Buccaneers just proved.
While Tom Brady is getting most of the credit and glory for the Bucs’ big win, the big surprise was not that the Buccaneers were able to score 31 points – most so-called “experts” had predicted they would score between 24 and 34 points – but rather that Tampa Bay’s defense was able to hold QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to just 9 points and not a single touchdown. None of the experts predicted that.
Well, guess what: the Rams have the best defense in football. They have the single best defensive player in the entire league in lineman Aaron Donald, who just won his third Defensive Player of the Year award from the league. Only the great Lawrence Taylor and J. J. Watt have won it three times.
The Rams also have one of the top 10 defensive players in cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Both are under long-term contract, and both are good enough that they make everyone around them better.
So the Rams already have the key to winning a Super Bowl: a stifling, suffocating defense.
What they did not have until last week was the other key ingredient: a top-10 quarterback.
Now they arguably have one in Matt Stafford. It’s a close call, but with a good team around him on both sides of the ball, Stafford certainly has the arm strength, gunslinger’s guts and veteran’s experience to play like a top-10 QB next season and for a few more beyond that.
So whatever else last week’s blockbuster trade for Stafford accomplished – and off-loading Goff and his bloated, $134 million contract is a major accomplishment all by itself – it potentially put the Rams in position to win a Super Bowl in their own stadium.
There’s no place like home to win a Super Bowl.
The king speaks, so everybody else speaks
When LeBron James was asked this week about the NBA All-Star game tentatively scheduled for March 7 in Atlanta, he let loose with some real talk. “It’s a slap in the face,” LeBron said. ““I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star game this year. I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star game.”
He cited the short off-season – 71 days between the Lakers winning the title last fall and opening day in December – and the compressed schedule this year as part of the Covid-19 restrictions. Still, he pledged that if the league went ahead with it, he would reluctantly participate. “I’ll be there physically but not mentally,” he said.
His comments started a flood of complaints from the league’s biggest stars, many of whom are wary of gathering all the best players in one place. What if it becomes a super-spreader event?
Soon Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Jayson Tatum joined in the chorus.
Reinforced, LeBron let loose with another blast that may soon cancel the entire event.
“Coming into this season we were told that we were not having an All-Star game, so we’d have a nice little break,” he said. “Five days from the 5th through the 10th, an opportunity for me to kind of recalibrate for the second half of the season. My teammates as well. Some of the guys in the league. And then they throw an All-Star game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up. So, pretty much kind of a slap in the face. And we’re also still dealing with a pandemic. We’re still dealing with everything that’s been going on, and we’re going to bring the whole league into one city that’s open? Obviously, the pandemic has absolutely nothing to do with it at this point when it comes to that weekend.”
When the chorus is that loud, and the lead singer that good, the league should listen.
Follow: @paulteetor ER
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