by Dustin Pollack… Let me start by giving Toronto Maple Leaf fans a little flashback. Two years ago, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was a rookie and was given the reigns of the Canadiens after general manager Bob Gainey traded starter goalie Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals.
Few questioned the move of trading Huet because Price was seen as the next golden boy in goal for the Canadiens. In fact, an article posted on NHL.com on November 19, 2008 compared Price to Patrick Roy. Roy is arguably the greatest goaltender to ever play the game.
The same season that Huet left Montreal, Price nearly led the first-seeded Canadiens to a first-round exit in the playoffs when the Canadiens nearly lost to the eighth-seeded Boston Bruins in Game Seven.
Few called out the rookie goaltender because it was his first ever playoff series.
But in 2008-09, Price showed little signs of improvement, his 23 wins was 23rd among NHL starting goaltenders, and his save percentage of .905 was 26th among NHL goaltenders who played more then 40 games.
And it didn’t take the Montreal faithful long to turn against Price once the playoffs came around. In the second period of Game Four in the first round against the Boston Bruins, Montreal fans cheered sarcastically when Price made a stop on a dump in from Boston after already allowing three goals.
Price finished the series 0-4 with a 4.11 GAA and a .878 save percentage. Disastrous numbers, to say the least, from a goalie who was supposed to be a leading factor to the Canadiens’ success.
The moral of the story is that Price faltered under the immense pressure in Montreal and was made the starting goaltender in 2008 after only 26 NHL career games played.
Now how does this relate to the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Well, after a tough loss last night, ironically to Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens, Leaf fans are already calling into radio stations saying that they want starting goaltender Vesa Toskala out and young backup Jonas Gustavsson in.
I say that’s the wrong answer.
If the Leafs pull the plug this early on Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson plays great, Brian Burke is left to deal with a four-million dollar backup goaltender in Toskala, who he can’t move.
Leaf fans who like Gustavsson should be hoping that Toskala plays the first chunk of the season and plays well so he can give himself some value and make it easier for Brian Burke to move him later on in the year if they choose to go with Gustavsson as their number one goaltender.
And even if Burke is able to move Toskala, things can still go south. Leaf fans need to be aware of the possibility of Gustavsson folding under the pressure of playing in Toronto, much like what Carey Price has done in Montreal over the past two years.
Then you’re left with no goalie.
The only way to handle this situation it seems is to give both goaltenders a chunk of games. If after that, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson are convinced that Gustavsson is the starting goalie, that’s a situation you deal with when the time comes.
But to say Toskala needs to get out of the net after two poor performances is simply ridiculous and unfair.
And even more ridiculous is to say that Jonas Gustavsson deserves to come in as the starter, he has yet to play a full NHL game!
So, Leaf fans, before you start to hop on the Gustavsson bandwagon, maybe you want to watch him play a real game first.
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by Dustin Pollack… Ok Leaf fans don’t exit the screen just yet, here me out first.
Like most other Maple Leaf fans from about 2004-2008, I wanted to pull my hair out at almost every transaction former GM, John Ferguson Jr. made.
Andrew Raycroft, Jason Allison, Jeff O’Neill, Eric Lindros, Brian Leetch, as well as many others were players picked up by Ferguson, were basically disasters or were signs of plain bad managing.
Raycroft was as good as having Carlton the Bear in between the pipes, Jason Allison was as speedy as former Toronto Raptor, Oliver Miller (if you don’t remember Miller click here for a photo and you can picture how fast he was on the hardwood), and Brian Leetch’s tenure in Toronto was as almost as long as Alonzo Mourning’s.
Yes, I could go on for days about giving Tuukka Rask away for Justin, unloading 10 draft picks (including three first rounders), and giving Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle, Mats Sundin, and Darcy Tucker no trade clauses, but why bother?
Ferguson is gone and finally the Leafs are moving in the right direction. I don’t think I’m alone when I say the preseason has been a breath of fresh air watching the young kids dominate all over the ice.
But where did they all come from?
Yes, Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak were picked up by Brian Burke near the end of last year and Nazem Kadri was drafted 7th overall this past summer, but what about the others?
After all, as of right now only one (forward Viktor Stalberg who scored six preseason goals) of the so called “kids” has gotten the nod from coach Ron Wilson to be a part of the lineup come the season opener on Thursday.
Another so called “kid” made a name for himself on the backend even with the strong forces they already have. Carl Gunnarsson, who had a goal, an assist, and was a +3 in eight preseason games.
But where did these two “kids” come from?
Stalberg, 23 and Gunnarsson, 22 are both too old to have been drafted this past summer or even the summer before that when Cliff Fletcher was in control.
For those of you who haven’t been able to figure it out here’s a hint, JFJ.
John Ferguson drafted both Stalberg and Gunnarsson while GM of the Leafs. Unfortunately Ferguson didn’t hang on to his job long enough for him to watch both of them develop.
So I guess no matter how many mistakes Ferguson made, as we look to the present, with Stalberg rumored to be playing on the top line with Stajan and Blake and Gunnarson most likely atop the Toronto Marlies defense core, I guess we kind of have to say…
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by Dustin Pollack… Reports out of Calgary yesterday afternoon are saying that the Flames have released Theoren Fleury after the 41-year-old tried to crack the team’s regular season lineup in training camp.
After his performance in camp, in which he scored in a shootout and added four points in four games, some felt that Fleury might have a shot at the Flames lineup.
However, clearly his performance in the preseason wasn’t enough to impress Calgary Flames general manager Daryl Sutter.
“I believe Theoren did a great job and should be proud, especially considering all the factors including age, time away from the game, and lifestyle change,” Sutter said in a statement. “This is not a hockey story; it’s a life story. Our agreement with Theoren was that he had to be one of our top six wingers and there were never any intentions of assigning him to the American Hockey League.”
At this point Fleury hasn’t made any statements except for saying that he wanted to spend the weekend with his wife to assess the situation and where to go from here.
While some were impressed by Fleury’s preseason performance, others simply felt Fleury wasn’t good enough. On Hockey Central at noon
(a Toronto radio show on the Fan 590) analyst Nick Kypreos said that Fleury simply wasn’t good enough to crack a top six forward spot in Calgary and at his age his legs wouldn’t be able to keep up.
And at 5′6″, 180 pounds, Fleury doesn’t quite have the body type to be a third- or fourth-line checker, either.
The idea of Fleury making a comeback first came to light earlier in the summer, and, being his former team, the Flames gave him a chance.
So the Fleury comeback story is put on hold for now, and only time will tell if another NHL team will give him a shot.
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By Dustin Pollack… With the NHL’s free agency only a few weeks away, teams around the league are looking to sign big names like the Sedin twins, Martin Havlat, and Jay Bouwmeester. But every season, certain blockbuster signings turn out to be busts and some low-key signings make general managers look like geniuses.
I thought why not look back at some of last summer’s signings, including which ones turned out to be booms and which turned out to be busts.
After his third straight 30-plus goal season, on July 1 the New Jersey Devils signed veteran forward Brian Rolston to a four-year deal that would pay him just over $5 million per season. Rolston failed to produce, only notching 15 goals and 32 points.
Although he averaged five less minutes on the ice per game (just 15:05 per game) than his last season with the Wild, Rolston still scored less than 20 goals, something he hasn’t done since the 2000-’01 season.
Therefore, Rolston is a bust thus far.
Wade Redden and Markus Naslund were two big offseason acquisitions by Glen Sather and the New York Rangers. Redden signed a six-year, $39 million contract in July and Naslund signed for two years, $8 million.
However, the two failed to live up to expectations.
After a couple of rough years in Ottawa, some felt that Redden would find himself again in New York. He was never a goal-scoring machine, but he used to be someone who could anchor a power play and play solid in his own end.
In ‘05-’06 Redden was a +35 rating. But this season, Redden only managed to notch three goals and was a -5 rating.
As for Naslund, he had his lowest point total (46) since 1997-’98 with Vancouver. Naslund was also a -10 rating and decided at the end of this season that it was time to hang up the skates for good.
Both Redden and Naslund have been, or were, busts.
David Backes was one of many young talents to break out in St. Louis this past season. In his third NHL campaign, Backes tallied 31 goals (more than his first two seasons combined) and 54 points.
Backes and many of the St. Louis players were refreshing booms.
Possibly the biggest signing of the 2008 offseason came from Detroit in signing Marian Hossa to a one-year, $7.4 million deal. Hossa scored 40 goals this past season, helping an already strong team up front.
Who would have thought that after basically rolling through the 2008 playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup, the Wings could get more talented? Hossa proved it.
A definite 2008 offseason boom.
After signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal, Miro Satan failed to show up this season. He was given the opportunity to play with Sidney Crosby, but only managed to tally 17 goals this season.
Satan was once a 25-35 goal-scorer, but the Pens didn’t really see that side of him this season. Satan was also a healthy scratch in the biggest game of the Penguins season (Game 6 of the finals), basically showing his overall value to the team.
Satan has been a bust for the Penguins this season.
Other Notable Booms from 2008 Free Agency
R.J Umberger: signed a four-year, $15 million deal on July 7 and scored a career high 26 goals, helping the Columbus Blue Jackets to a franchise-first playoff berth.
Mark Streit: a small bright spot this season in Long Island, leading the Islanders in points with 56 after signing a five-year, $20.5 million deal in July.
Owen Nolan: signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 million in July. Nolan scored 20-plus goals (25) for the first time since 2002-’03.
Scott Clemmensen: Taking over for an ailing Martin Brodeur, Clemmensen had 25 wins in 40 games, notching a 2.39 GAA and a .917 save percentage—all this after resigning with New Jersey on July 10, 2008 for one year and $500,000.
Other Notable Busts from 2008 Free Agency
Sean Avery: signed a four-year $15.5 million deal with Dallas on July 2. He was released from the team after making foul comments in an on-air interview, after only 15 games as a Star.
Avery was later picked up by the Rangers and finished the season in New York, totaling eight goals and 14 assists.
Cristobal Huet: After signing a four-year contract worth $22.8 million with the Chicago Blackhwaks, Huet lost his starting job to Nikolai Khabibulin. For a good chunk of the season and most of the playoffs, Huet was a $5 million backup goaltender.
Who will be the free agent booms and busts of 2009-’10. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
By Dustin Pollack… The Detroit Red Wings are one victory away from capturing their second straight Stanley Cup, and we all know it’s their immense depth and mix of young and old that makes them so successful as a team.
But does the end of yet another Stanley Cup run, win or lose, mark the end of Chris Chelios’ 25-season NHL career, over which he’s scored 185 goals and 948 points?
Maybe it should.
What else does the guy have to prove? He’s won three Stanley Cups, three Norris Trophies, he’s played in the Olympics and been the U.S team’s captain, played in 11 All-Star games and his most impressive feat, he is playing at the age of 46.
I know that Chelios once said his goal is to play until he’s 50, but is he still able to keep up? Between being a healthy scratch and being injured this past season Chelios basically fell out of the Wings line-up and only played in 28 games all season, tallying 0 points.
Chelios becomes an unrestricted free agent this July and any Detroit fan has to wonder if it’s in the organizations best interest to pay Chelios the $750,000 that he’s making now, next season. Even when Chelios has dressed there are certain games where he sees no more then four minutes of ice time.
In no way am I trying to bash Chelios. Any player who can stay in the physical condition he’s in and play for this long deserves to be applauded, but it has gotten to the point where his age and the speed of the game have caught up to him. This makes sense considering some of the teams he’s playing against have players who could be Chelios’ son.
He’s even got a year up on Red Wings’ head coach Mike Babcock.
One of my biggest pet peeves as a fan is to watch great players play to the point where they can no longer compete at a high level.
Chris Chelios is a future Hall of Famer and one of the best defensemen of our era. If the Wings can pull off a victory on Tuesday or Friday, what better way to end your career:
Hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Just don’t break it like you’ve done before.
By Dustin Pollack… The talk surrounding the NBA finals right now is whether or not Kobe Bryant can solidify his legacy by winning a fourth NBA title and win his first without Shaquille O’neal by his side.
To be honest I personally think that’s a load of junk. Whether the media likes it or not Kobe’s legacy is solidified at 3 championships, a gold medal, an MVP, two scoring titles and 11 all-star appearances.
But Kobe isn’t why I’m hoping for a Lakers victory in the finals. I’m hoping for the chance to watch ones legacy make history.
I’m talking about Phil Jackson and his opportunity to win what would be a record breaking 10th NBA title
Jackson has coached some of the best players in the game including Michael Jordan on his way to six titles as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and three as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yes some may feel that Jackson has only won many championships because he has coached some of the greats. But in reality many great coaches, coach great players.
Scotty Bowman coached Steve Yzerman in Detroit and Don Shula coached Bob Griese in Miami, Joe Gibbs coached Joe Theismann and the list goes on.
As it stands now Jacksons nine championships are tied for the most all time with the late Red Auerbach.
Auerbach coached the Celtics in the 50’s and 60’s on his way to those nine trophies. But Auerbach’s legacy doesn’t end there, on top of the nine coaching rings he also won seven more rings as the teams president and general manager totaling to 16 championship rings.
If Phil Jackson and the Lakers pull out two more victories against the Magic consider history made.
But if not, nine rings isn’t so bad.
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By Dustin Pollack…
Growing up hockey names like Sergei Gonchar, Niklas Lidstrom, Bill Guerin and Chris Osgood were hot commodities around the league.
Ten years ago Lidstrom was second among defensemen with 57 points, Gonchar was second among defensemen in goals with 21, Guerin was a 30-goal scorer and Chris Osgood’s numbers were in the upper echelon of goaltenders around the league.
It’s nice to see that 10 years later, in a league that is going through a perhaps “life cycle” and being over taken by young stars, these four veterans are helping their teams march through the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals.
Niklas Lidstrom: Most people’s jaws drop when they hear that Niklas Lidstrom is 39 years old because the guy play with an offensive prowess of a young kid and the shut down defensive game of a hefty veteran.
Arguably one of the best defenseman of all time has grown and matured in to the player he is now right in front of our eyes. Lidstrom’s game has stayed amazingly consistent over his 18 years in the NHL (all those with the Detroit Red Wings) only dropping below tallying less then 40 points twice in his career. (One of those years he only played 43 games.)
Lidstrom’s game is showing no signs of slowing down as he tallied 59 points and is up for his seventh Norris Trophy. He’s averaging close to 25 minutes of ice in the Stanley Cup finals as he looks to lead the Wings to another Stanley Cup.
Sergei Gonchar: Gonchar has always been known as an offensive defenseman who struggles in his own zone. However, his offensive talents have always had him near the top of the league over the past several years. The 35 year old missed much of this season due to injury, but his playoff numbers have been solid with 14 points and a +4 rating. Gonchar is proving himself to be both offensively and defensively sound, defending against some of the best players the game has to offer.
Gonchar bounced back from a knee injury in the second round of the playoffs and has been a huge factor in helping his team compete. Tuesday night Gonchar scored the game winner to cut the Red Wings series lead in half 2-1.
Chris Osgood: Osgood was called out by the media after arguably his worst season ever between the pipes and people thought that he was going to be the reason for Detroit’s downfall. Well the 36 year old did more then just bounce back in these playoffs, most members of the media have Osgood winning the Conne Smythe Trophy is Detroit goes onto win the Stanley Cup. His numbers speak for themselves, a 2.00 GAA and a .972 save percentage.
Osgood doesn’t become a UFA until 2011/2012 but one has to beg the question if he the Conne Smythe and another Cup with Chris call it quits.
Bill Guerin: Guerin was once a 50,60 and even 70-point player in his career. But over the last few seasons we haven’t seen that side of Bill Guerin. But the 39 year old has been re-surged this post season. After moving from Long Island to Pittsburgh Guerin has been kind of re-surged getting some time on a line with Sidney Crosby. Although he has performed very much thus far in the finals, in the past 13 games Guerin has racked in 12 points.
As some of these veterans time in the NHL ticks down it’s interesting to wonder where their respective teams would be without them.
Where would the Toronto Maple Leafs been without Phil Housley in 2002/2003?
By Dustin Pollack… Looking back at game four, it really was a do or die game for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A win turns the series into a best of three and loss puts Pittsburgh on the ropes, down 3-1 heading back to Joe Louis.
Not exactly the rink I would want to be playing in facing elimination. The Wings are 9-1 when playing at Joe Louis this postseason.
Well the Pens don’t have to worry about staving off a five game elimination come Saturday night because of a huge performance in last nights game.
I guess they got my role call.
After both teams peppered apposing goaltenders in the first period, each getting rewarded with a goal, Brad Stuart scored early in the second to put the Red Wings up 2-1. But that was all the Wings could muster and shortly after a few unlikely heroes took charge for the Penguins.
Those of you who read my post yesterday know that I thought Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy among other Wings needed to have big games in order for the Pens to tie up the series.
Jordan Staal went to back to doing what got him noticed early in his career. Those of you who remember Staal from his rookie season, remember him most as a penalty killing machine. Staal notched 29 goals that season, seven of them being shorthanded which was the most in the NHL.
Last night, Staal split two Detroit defensemen, drove his six foot four frame to the net and on what many believe to be the turning point of the game put the puck over Chris Osgood’s blocker to tie the game 2-2.
Only two minutes later, the Pens, Sidney Crosby finally got the monkey off his back and took a feed from co-star Evgeni Malkin and notched his first goal of the championship series.
Only four minutes after Crosbys goal, Pittsburgh potted another. Tyler Kennedy started the play with a great forecheck, knocking defensive specialist, Henrik Zetterberg off the puck and allowing teammate, Kris Kunitz to pick up the puck just inside Detroits blue line. Kunitz found Crosby with a pass, and Kennedy continued hard to the net to finish of what was a pretty play by the Pens trio.
Capping off a three-goal barrage by the Pens, all coming in under six minutes.
In the third period, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 11 stops to hold off the Red Wings and give his team another win at home.
Max Talbot and Kris Letang each had one assist as well in the victory as the series heads back to Detroit dead locked at two a piece.
This series may not come down to which superstars put up the most points but rather which team has the deeper depth chart.
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By Dustin Pollack… I don’t know another person who finds the Jim Balsillie vs. Gary Bettman more annoying then I do so all I’m going to say about the fight for the Phoenix franchise is this.
As a Canadian, a Torontonian and as a hockey fan, I would love to see another team in southern Ontario.
I’m a die-hard Maple Leafs fan, but like many others, I’m not a die-hard Leafs fan who can pay $200 for a good seat at a game.
So yes I would love to see a team in Hamilton and yes, I would drive from Toronto to Hamilton to watch a game.
But the annoying battle for the Coyotes has got me thinking a little bit, not so much as how much a slice of pizza and a drink would cost at the new arena in Hamilton compared to the Air Canada Center, but moreover, what does it take to put fans in a stadium?
I did some research. I took five teams (Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston and Carolina) and looked at their attendance in a season where they did poorly in the standings and a season where they did well in the standings or were coming off a strong season.
Chicago Blackhawks: In 2003/2004 the Blackhawks were atrocious, finishing 29th in the league with only 20 wins, their attendance fell victim only averaging 13,253 fans at home per game.
All the sudden with some rebuilding and good drafting the Blackhawks sit in the Western Conference finals and finished 6th in the league this season. Their attendance remarkably skyrocketed to an average of 22,243 per game. An average increase of close to 9,000 fans per game.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Back in 03/04 the Penguins were a disaster. Finishing in dead last in the league the Pens also averaged only 11,877 fans per game and were on the verge of going bankrupt.
But inking Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in back to back drafts and adding a pretty deep supporting cast the Pens are now on their way to the Stanley Cup finals for the second straight year. Their attendance has shot up as well; in 2008/2009 the Pens averaged 17,076 fans per game, a difference of over 5,000 fans per game.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes were a franchise that many felt would always struggle to fill their seats. In 2003/2004 they finished 11th in the Eastern Conference standings and only averaged 12,330 fans per game. All the sudden a season after winning the Stanley Cup the fans began to fill in.
In 2006/2007 the Hurricanes averaged 17,386 fans per game, an increase of over 5,000 fans per game. You can bet that as the team continues to improve on the ice, the fans will continue to pour in.
The same kind of idea exists now in Washington and Boston as well. As their team win games, teams that once struggled to fill their seats aren’t struggling anymore. Didn’t you see Washington’s version of “the sea of red?” Pretty incredible.
My point is that in cities where the hockey team isn’t the first priority, a lot of the time the arena seats can only be filled if the team is succeeding on the ice.
The funny part is I don’t think the Phoenix Coyotes are far away from success. I think they need to start by resigning the cheap young talent they picked up in Nigel Dawes, Scottie Upshall and Petr Prucha and then they need a couple of free agents.
With over 11 million dollars in cap space the opportunities to grab a big name center like Mike Cammalleri and a big man on the back end like Mike Komisarek are options not out of the question.
If they can then draft another solid defenseman like Spokane Chiefs, Jared Cowen or a forward like Brandon Wheat Kings, Brayden Schenn the Coyotes could be on their way to building a solid core of young talent.
The Coyotes have never been able to be consistently successful on the ice. Sure they’ve made the playoffs here and there but consistency is what I believe to be the main reason for the franchises major debt and problems. If teams in all parts of California can put people in seats then so can a team in Arizona.
As the famous line from the famous movie “Field of Dreams” goes, “Build it and they will come.”
Build a competitive team in Phoenix and the fans will come. But you need an owner who’s willing to spend money on players rather than lawyers.
By Dustin Pollack…
The sports media and fans alike have labeled this era in baseball as the “steroid era” and rightfully so. When many of your biggest stars over the last five or ten years admit or are caught with using performance enhancing drugs, what could be a better name for them.
This dark cloud that follows these steroid linked players will follow them beyond their days in the ballpark and will make for an appealing storyline come 2013.
You see come 2013, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa all who have been linked to steroids will become eligible for the Hall of Fame. Not to mention that players such as Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire will most likely still be on the ballot as writers such as John Rolfe of Sports Illustrated have assumed.
Palmeiro, Canseco and McGwire will all be eligible for the HOF prior to 2013 (McGwire and Canseco were both eligible in 07) but most say that they will be snubbed by Baseball Writers because of their steroid link, making for in interesting ’13 ballot.
Begging the question, should these cheaters be left out of Cooperstown or will 2013 be the year of forgiveness?
John Rolfe, a writer for Sports Illustrated wrote a piece earlier in the year that took the mainstream approach when he basically said that anyone who put up big numbers in baseball in the last 20 years cannot be trusted. A valid point considering six of the top twenty home run hitters of all time are linked to steroids.
Rolfe went on to say that the writers are going to have to look to guys like Mike Piazza when voting in 2013 and just hope that they don’t get caught for anything illegal in the near future.
Another writer for the Oakland Tribune argued the exact opposite. He basically stated that excluding the big three—Sosa, Bonds, and Clemens—in 2013 is not the answer and Cooperstown is a museum for baseball history, not baseball heaven.
A part of me agrees with Carl Steward, the writer for the Oakland Tribune. He raises a great point that in the end, yes these guys cheated, and yes they should be penalized but they can’t be forgotten completely and held out of the HOF forever considering they are some of the biggest names of our time.
However, the more and more I think about it I have to agree with Rolfe. These guys are cheaters and inducting them, even 20 years down the road sends a bad message to fans as well as players. What, you can cheat and if you were good at it and put up good numbers, a few years down the road we’ll forgive you and put you into the Hall of Fame?
I’m sorry but as much as these guys are some of the best players in baseball and I’ve watched them all put up some impressive numbers, I can’t agree with putting cheaters into the Hall of Fame no matter how far down the road it would be.
In particular as a Blue Jays fan, Roger Clemens was one of the best players I’ve ever been able to witness play on a daily basis.
I look back then to that moment when he was on the Yankees and tossed the broken bat at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series.
Roid Rage? Probably.
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