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Bernie Bits: Tarasenko Trending Up, Haters Down, Happy B’Day to Hank Aaron and Clyde Duncan

Bernie Bits …

For Feb. 5, 2019 …

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 

Wowsa. So many prominent — and perhaps not so prominent, but at least interesting — sports figures were born on Feb. 5.

Here goes:

* Baseball Hall of Famer Henry Aaron, who famously broke Babe Ruth’s all-time career home-run record, finishing with 755. Hammerin’ Hank is 85. He’s MLB’s career leader in RBIs (2,297) and total bases (6,856) and ranks third all-time with 3,771 hits. One of the greatest of the greats.

* Also 85 today is Don Cherry, the cantankerous hockey commentator on “Hockey Night in Canada.”

* Pro Football Hall of Famer Roger Staubach is 77. Staubach won the Heisman Trophy as Navy’s quarterback in 1963. As the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Staubach was a six-time Pro Bowl selection who led “America’s Team” to 13 postseason wins, four trips to the Super Bowl, and two Super Bowl championships.

* Baseball Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar is 51.

* International soccer superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are 34 and 27, respectively. That’s crazy.

* St. Louisan Lee Thomas is 83 today. A graduate of Beaumont High School, Thomas played eight seasons in the majors — including a 26-homer, 104-RBI season for the Angels in 1962. He had a successful front-office career as the Cardinals’ farm-system director and last as GM of the Phillies team that won the NL pennant in 1993

* Retired NFL running back Laurence Maroney is 34. After a stellar high school career at Normandy, the starring collegiately at Minnesota, the native St. Louisan was drafted 21st overall by New England in 2006. Maroney played five seasons in the NFL — the first four with the Patriots — and rushed for a touchdown in his team’s 17-14 upset loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Maroney — aka “Kool Aid” — competed in 45 regular-season games and seven postseason games for the Pats.

* Former NFL quarterback Will Furrer is 51. I mention him for one reason: in a 1998 training-camp battle for the No. 3 quarterback position, Furrer barely lost out when the Louis Rams decided to keep a little-known QB named Kurt Warner. And it was a close call, with some assistant coaches favoring Furrer. But head coach Dick Vermeil went with Warner. Good call.

* The superb Michigan basketball coach, John Beilein, is 66. He’s an avid fan of the St. Louis Cardinals.

* Clyde Duncan — surprisingly chosen 17th overall in the 1984 NFL draft by the St. Louis football Cardinals — is 54 today. Duncan, a nice man, was drafted because of his size. But he lacked speed and skill and caught only only four passes for 39 yards and one touchdown in two seasons with the Big Red.

* Former Cardinals catcher Mike Heath is 64. The Cardinals acquired Heath from Oakland after ownership (Anheuser-Busch) ordered Whitey Herzog to trade Joaquin Andujar following the volatile pitcher’s volcanic eruptions during the 1985 World Series loss to Kansas City. Heath wasn’t real happy to be traded here, and it showed. Heath’s temperamental stay in St. Louis ended after 65 games in 1986, with the Cardinals trading him to Detroit.

BORN ON THIS DAY

Chuck Diering in 1923. The Beaumont High grad played parts of five seasons (1947-1951) as an outfielder for the Cardinals. Later Diering played a season for the Giants and three with the Orioles. Diering was a career .249 hitter but posted a fine .340 OBP in 844 plate appearances as a Cardinal. Diering died in 2012 at age 89; he’s buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS HISTORY

* 1969: Vince Lombardi becomes part owner, GM and head coach of the Washington Redskins.
* 1989: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes the first NBA player to score 38,000 points.
* 1990: Notre Dame becomes first team to sell its game to a major network (NBC).
* 2017: In a dramatic Super Bowl LI played in Houston, Tom Brady leads New England back from a 28-3 deficit to stun Atlanta with a 34-28 overtime win.

TRENDING UP

Your St. Louis Blues, who rank 8th in the NHL and 4th in the Western Conference in their 21 games played since Dec. 11 in points-won percentage (.614.) The Blues are 13-8-1 over this stretch. In their 28 games before Dec. 11, the Blues went 10-14-4 and were 29th overall with a points-won percentage of .429.

TRENDING DOWN

Vladimir Tarasenko haters. In his last 11 games the Blues’ absurdly maligned winger has 7 goals, 5 assists and is a plus 7. Since Jan. 7 (11 games) the Blues have controlled 61 percent of the shots and scored 80 percent of the goals with Tarasenko on the ice in 5 on 5 situations.

READING TIME, FIVE MINUTES 

The MLB Network and MLB.com chose the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt as the “Best Right Now” in the majors at first base … MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince chose his “All Underrated” team for 2019 and included one Cardinal: Jose Martinez. Castrovince picked Martinez as his most underrated first baseman — but acknowledged J-Mart doesn’t have a set position. Well, other than hitter. “But he can play first base for us,” Castrovince wrote. “He posted a .309/.372/.478 slash over 915 plate appearances in his scattered playing time the last few seasons. Though Martinez has major defensive limitations and is basically a bench option for the Cards at the moment he’s been a surprisingly productive player for the Cards when given the opportunity. Actually, last year, he produced an identical weighted runs created plus mark to Anthony Rizzo,” … another member of Castrovince’s All-Underrated Team for 2019 is former Cardinal outfielder Tommy Pham.

Excellent note from Evan Sporer, a hockey analyst at The Athletic, who illuminated the quality of the Vince Dunn and Colton Parayko defensive pairing:  “Dating back to last season, whenever Dunn was paired with Parayko, the Blues have been downright dominant. Over the past two seasons, 126 NHL defense partners have spent at least 400 minutes together at 5-on-5 (Dunn-Parayko come in well above that at 488). And of those pairings, Dunn and Parayko rank fifth with a Corsi rating of 56.79. They rank eighth in expected goals-for percentage (57.31), and they’re in the top 15 in both creating shot attempts (12th) and suppressing them (8th).”

In his rankings of the 30 MLB teams’ minor-league player development systems, ESPN’s Keith Law placed the Cardinals at No. 17 — down from No. 12 a year ago. But the five-place drop in the ranking is understandable given that (1) the Cardinals graduated rookies to the big leagues during the 2018 season, and (2) the team sent three prospects plus young starting pitcher Luke Weaver to  Arizona in exchange for Goldschmidt. “The Cardinals’ system took a hit with the trade for Goldschmidt and some brutal years for top prospects,” Law wrote. “Pitcher Alex Reyes got hurt yet again, first-rounder Delvin Perez looks like a non-prospect, and there were a few graduations. But they also restocked a little with the trades of Tommy Pham and Oscar Mercado, so there’s still some depth here in outfielders and back-end pitching.”

Cards fans may enjoy what Law wrote about the Cubs’ system after tagging them with the No. 29 ranking out of 30 organizations: “The Cubs’ fall from farm system grace has been abrupt, sped by graduations and the trades of two elite prospects (Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez) for pitching help, as well as worse results in the drafts since they began picking toward the end of the first round. There may not be a starting pitching prospect in the system who projects as more than a No. 5 starter, and without last year’s draft class there’s only one position player prospect who projects as a regular.”

This question was posed to the hockey staff at ESPN.com: Who would you like to see win the two Western Conference wild-card spots? Emily Kaplan went with Vancouver and St. Louis and wrote this about the Blues: “There’s nothing sweeter than a worst-to-first storyline, even in a condensed six-month timeline. If St. Louis makes the show, it will be because they went on a tear down the stretch. Nobody would want to face the Blues.”

Also at ESPN.com … when asked which Western teams would get in as wild cards, Greg Wyshinski went with St. Louis and Colorado. “The Blues have something in goalie Jordan Binnington,” he wrote.. “And their underlying numbers have been trending up for some time. Plus, there’s already been so much investment in this group last summer through trades and free agency, I don’t expect another raise-the-white-flag sell-off from GM Doug Armstrong around the trade deadline. I thought this was a playoff team before the season, and now that they’ve found some competent goaltending, I expect they’ll still be one.”

A few dumb, sucking-up members of the national media recently traded reputation for access in writing pieces that tried to convince gullible readers that Stan Kroenke deserves credit for … well, something. The Rams owner, however, was not accorded such false respect by Grant Wahl, who does a first-rate job of covering soccer for Sports Illustrated. Wahl pointed out Kroenke’s ghostlike ownership of the MLS Colorado franchise.

Here’s Wahl: “In SI.com’s 2018 MLS Ambition Rankings, Kroenke’s Colorado Rapids were No. 21, two spots from the bottom. Sample line: ‘It still isn’t 100 percent clear that Stan Kroenke remembers that he’s got an MLS team in his vast sporting portfolio.’ … one MLS owner told me he has never met Kroenke in the 14 years that the Rapids have been owned by Silent Stan, who never bothers to attend MLS owners meetings.”

Stat Boy: During the Blues’ 13-8-1 stretch that leads them into Tuesday’s game at Florida, their goaltenders have posted an outstanding even-strength save percentage of .927, which ranks 9th in the NHL. In their first 28 games of the season — record 10-14-4 — the Blues were tied with Las Vegas for the worst even-strength save percentage in the league at .898. But it isn’t just the goaltending. In going 13-8-1 the Blues rank first in the NHL in the percentage of even-strength scoring chances — compared to the teams they’ve played — at 54.9 percent. Before the turnaround the Blues controlled 47.5 percent of the even-strength scoring chances in their first 24 games.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie