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Bernie Bits: The Blues Don’t Tank, Cardinals Whiff on Machado, Bad Day for Mizzou Football, Jackie Robinson’s Birthday

Bernie Bits … because they are good for you.

Here’s my offering for Jan. 31, 2019…

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“He gave the black community a sense of hope, a sense of pride.”

— John Lewis, civil rights leader and congressman, on the immortal Jackie Robinson.

BORN ON THIS DAY

1919: The great American hero, Jackie Robinson, who courageously ended MLB’s shameful, institutional segregation on April 15, 1947 when he started a game at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson would be 100 years old today.

1926: Tom Alston, the first African American to play for the Cardinals, was born in 1926. He spent parts of four seasons with the Cardinals starting in 1954. As a player, Alston didn’t make much of an impact, batting .244 with a .669 OPS and four homers in 299 plate appearances.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Retired Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson is 37 today. Between 2005 and 2009 Thompson appeared in 201 games for the Cardinals, making 32 starts. He pitched in two postseasons (2005 and 2006) and was a member of the 2006 World Series championship team. Overall “BT” was 21-17 with a 4.36 ERA as a Cardinal. Never a strikeout guy, Thompson was valued by Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa for his ability to get ground balls; BT had a ground-ball rate of 52.2% as a Cardinal. Great dude. Proud to have him as a teammate at 101ESPN.

Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan is 72. What an epic career: 27 seasons, 324 wins, an MLB-record 5,714 strikeouts, eight All-Star selections. Ryan also holds the MLB record with seven no-hitters. (And he had 12 one-hitters.) Amazing … St. Louisan Charles Vatterott is 55 today. The offensive lineman appeared in two games for the 1987 football Cardinals … former Cardinals’ pitcher Ted Power is 64; he went 7-7 with a 3.71 ERA for the Cards in 1989.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS HISTORY

1927: National League President John Heydler prohibited future Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby from holding stock in the St. Louis Cardinals while playing for the New York baseball Giants.

1990: The first ever all-sports daily, The National,  begins publishing. Despite having a formidable writing staff of star sports journalists and columnists, The National was plagued by production problems and a poor distribution system and lasted a little more than a year until folding.

1992: Sportscaster Howard Cosell retired.

2000: Hours after the Rams defeated the Titans in Super Bowl 34 in Atlanta, a brawl involving Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and his companions and another group of clubgoers ends in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Lewis was indicted on multiple counts of murder and aggravated assault. The charges were dropped in exchange for Lewis agreeing to testify against accused murderers Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting. Lewis pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor, as Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard acknowledged his case against Lewis was unraveling. Judge Alice D. Bonner sentenced Lewis to one year of probation and ordered him to pay one-third of court costs for his trial. An Atlanta-based jury eventually and inexplicably found Oakley and Sweeting not guilty.

TRENDING UP

St. Louisan James Gladstone, the senior assistant to Los Angeles Rams GM Les Snead, will earn a Super Bowl ring if the Rams can defeat the Patriots in Super Bowl 53. Gladstone was hired by the Rams when the team was still based in St. Louis. Gladstone is a 2013 graduate of Westminster College, where he earned All-American honors at wide receiver in 2012 after catching 96 passes for 1,246 yards and 14 touchdowns. Before entering the professional ranks Gladstone was a teacher and assistant football coach at Clayton High and Vianney High. On a side note, I don’t know Gladstone personally. But I know his parents — they’re neighbors — and it’s a wonderful family.

TRENDING DOWN

St. Louis U. basketball. What a terrible loss by the Billikens on Wednesday, slipping at home (84-81) against visiting Richmond — a team that came into the game ranked No. 224 in the nation by KenPom. It was SLU’s third consecutive loss, with the last two coming at Chaifetz Arena. The Billikens are 5-3 in the Atlantic 10 … SLU couldn’t get enough stops on defense, with the Spiders shooting 58 percent overall, 44 percent from 3-range. After getting outworked and outrebounded in the first half, SLU attacked the boards for 18 offensive rebounds in the second half. But somehow Saint Louis managed to make only 33 percent of its shots in the second half against a Richmond defense ranked No. 310 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.

READING TIME SEVEN MINUTES

The Blues aren’t going to “tank,” as some national media are speculating. It’s entirely possible for VP of hockey Doug Armstrong to offload walk-year contracts (defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, forward Matt Maroon) without harming his team’s postseason chances. And such moves would hardly signify the launch of a tanking process that would sentence the Blues to multiple seasons of hopelessness.

It is also possible for Armstrong to move center Brayden Schenn, who has a season left on his contract at an affordable rate. Schenn, who has been a productive player, would likely provide good value in a trade return. Schenn hasn’t played great this season. After scoring 28 goals with 42 assists as a plus 10 player last season, Schenn has nine goals and 18 assists and is a minus 10 through 45 games this season. But teams would have interest in Schenn, and the Blues could still make the playoffs without him — while adding assets for the future. Again, such a move would not qualify as “tanking.” Armstrong is used to straddling that line; he did so previously with Kevin Shattenkirk and Paul Stastny.

Related note: if they play well, the Blues would be in solid position to pick up a playoff spot, mostly because of the diluted quality we’ve seeing in the Western Conference this season. Teams can make it to the postseason with a lower points total this season. As of Thursday morning MoneyPuck gave the Blues a 57.5 percent chance of getting into the playoffs — and a 29% shot of advancing to the second round … and Corsica Hockey puts a postseason probability of 57.5 percent on the Blues.

Moving on …

Headline in a column on the Forbes website: “The St. Louis Cardinals Would Be Fools To Sit Out On Manny Machado.”

Columnist Ryan Davis explains:

“The infield in St. Louis isn’t exactly set in stone for the next five years. For the time being, Machado could slide in at his desired position of shortstop and Paul DeJong could move over to second base. DeJong is an above-average defender in the middle of the infield and his bat would make him one of the top-10 offensive second basemen in the game. Kolten Wong is an excellent defensive player, but has yet to put together any sort of offensive consistency in the big leagues.

“Machado is an established star, and also two years younger than Wong. Over the last four years, he has a 129 OPS+ with averages of 159 games played per season and 36 home runs per year. Machado also averages 5.8 WAR per year, which is more than double that of Wong. And he could be had for nothing more than the money it takes to sign him. … without many future offensive stars in the farm system that are nearing the big leagues, the Cards can’t afford to dismiss a chance at adding a generational talent in his prime. Signing Machado would not only make the Cardinals the favorite to win the NL Central in 2019, but he’d help them stay competitive for years to come.”

Moving on …

Here’s retired St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil on the comparisons between the ‘Greatest Show’ Rams and the 2018 LA Rams: “Well, I’m not sure this team playing in this upcoming Super Bowl has five Hall of Famers on the offensive side of the ball. We already have Kurt Warner in the Hall of Fame, Marshall Faulk is in in the Hall of Fame, our left tackle Orlando Pace is in and I believe Isaac Bruce will go in this turn, and a year or two down the road Torry Holt will be in it. I don’t know if the Rams have that combined talent that we had then, but they’re certainly well coached and are winning just as many games.”

Moving on …

“I didn’t put Mizzou basketball on the “trending down” list because the Tigers are stuck in the down position and it isn’t an aberration. The latest meltdown occurred during Wednesday’s 92-58 loss at Auburn as Mizzou swooned to 1-6 in SEC play. Auburn used turnovers and torrid 3-point shooting to outscore Missouri by 31 points in the second half. Turnovers continue to poison Mizzou’s season. Mizzou was a minus 11 in the turnover ratio at Auburn and got burned for 28 turnover-related points. This fit a horrendous and predictable pattern. In the six SEC losses Mizzou is minus 34 in the turnover differential and has been outscored 136-68 in points stemming from turnovers. According to KenPom the Tigers have turned the ball over on 21.9 percent of their possessions this season; that puts them at No. 320 nationally.

Moving on …

I don’t believe that the Blues will trade defenseman Alex Pietrangelo; y’all can debate the merits of making such a decision. But for whatever it’s worth, esteemed hockey journalist Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet (Canada) reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the prowl.

“They remain in search of right-handed defensive options, but are likely looking at a dollar-in, dollar-out scenario,” Friedman writes. The Blues and Leafs explored a Pietrangelo deal earlier this season. But according to Friedman, “It is believed St. Louis’s ask included (22-year-old center) William Nylander, which was rejected. GM Kyle Dubas wants to give this group a run.”

CLOSING TIME AT BERNIE’S PLACE

A few shots for my friends …

It’s strong … but drink up if you wish…

1. Despite being in the SEC, Missouri has struggles to sell tickets to home football games; an average attendance that reached 67,000-plus as recently as six seasons ago plummeted to 52,236 in 2016, then 51,490 in 2017, and 51,466 in 2018. And the removal of seats as part of the south end zone project has nothing to do with that; attendance was heading downward long before the construction cranes posted up. Mizzou’s biggest home crowd in 2018 was 58,284 vs. Georgia. The Tigers haven’t drawn a home audience over 60,000 since the 2015 season.

2. No wonder the Mizzou athletic department is operating at a deficit. The TV dollars from the SEC Network are massive, which makes all of red ink even more incomprehensible. But really it comes down to this… an unpleasant truth: Despite the state’s flagship university being a member of the most powerful, respected, high-profile, colorful and energetic conference in America, Missouri has little passion for college football.

3. And the lack of enthusiasm for Missouri football will become even more of a problem in wake of the NCAA sanctions that walloped MU on Thursday. After investigating charges of academic fraud the NCAA hit Missouri hard with several penalties.

The specific punishment for the football program consists of: Three years of probation that ends Jan. 30, 2022; the 2019 football team is banned from postseason competition; Mizzou football will vacate victories achieved during the period that covered the academic cheating (to be determined); a 5 percent reduction in football scholarships for the 2019-2020 cycle; recruiting limits that include a seven-week ban on unofficial visits, a seven-week ban on recruiting-related communications, a seven-week ban on off-campus recruiting evaluations; a 12.5% reduction in official recruiting visits.

4. Much of this is unfair — or at least harsh. Mizzou self-reported, did the right thing, and still got whacked. So much for turning yourself in. So much for telling the truth instead of trying to conceal the truth.

5. None of that really matters. Mizzou football is weaker today. The difficult mission of enticing ambivalent fans to Faurot Field to break the apathy is more daunting now.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie