January 23, 2013

Direct Kick: Baseball loses two greats

By Denis House
Sports Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — What a wild week it has been in sports, with a little bit of everything. Two legends of baseball died. Lance Armstrong finally admits to cheating. And with no doubt the strangest being Manti Te’o and his fake dead girlfriend. Oh, and the National Hockey League finally got its season started Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, it was a sad day for Major League Baseball, as we lost two Hall of Famers with the deaths of former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and one of the greatest players ever in Stan “The Man’ Musial.

I never had the opportunity to see Musial play, as he retired in 1963 when I was just two years old. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t know about him. I had read all about his fantastic career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Seven National League batting titles. Three times MVP and he led the Cardinals to three World Series titles in the 1940s. He was on par with other great hitters of the era, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, only he did it far away from the bright lights of New York and Boston. He was so revered in St. Louis that he has not one but two statues outside of Busch Stadium. During his 22-year career in St. Louis he was named to 24 All-Star teams. Baseball for a time staged two games each summer.

Musial was truly one of the nicest guys in baseball, not to mention one of the best. He was 92.

While I didn’t get to see Musial play, I was able to watch Earl Weaver manage the Baltimore Orioles for his entire career, from 1968 through 1982 and again in 1985-1986. While he might be remembered more for his temper (he was ejected over 90 times during the regular season, including twice on the same day during a doubleheader. He would spin his cap around backwards and get right up in the face of an umpire) let’s not overlook his accomplishments. He had a record of 1,480-1060 for a .583 winning percentage. He led the Orioles to three straight appearances in the World Series (1969-1971, winning the 1970 series). He also guided Baltimore to the 1979 fall classic, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He coached five teams that won over 100 games. His only losing season as a coach came in 1986.

A true Oriole until the end, he died on an Oriole fantasy cruise. He actually got his start in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, (he was born in St. Louis) but never made it to the big leagues. So St. Louis lost two icons Saturday. Weaver was 82.

• I really don’t know what to say about the Manti Te’o case. Seems it turns out that the story of his girlfriend dying on the same day as his grandmother, something that inspired his play for Notre Dame this season, was a lie. At least the part about his girlfriend, who turns out to be made up, either by a cruel prankster (s) or Te’o himself. Te’o said he was duped into believing she existed, as he never met her in person, only on-line and on the phone. But he still considered her his girlfriend.

So was he duped or did he play a part in it for the publicity? Only time will tell.

• Lance Armstrong, on the other hand, duped his fans and the public when he finally admitted to using Performance Enhancing Drugs during his cycling career.

While this doesn’t come as a complete shock, it’s sad. And once again goes to show you that you should come clean right away.

But now we see who the real Lance Armstrong is. A liar and a cheat.

Stan Musial and Earl Weaver did things the right way and one became one of the greatest baseball players in history, while the other one of the greatest managers.

Lance Armstrong cheated to become one of the greatest cyclists in history. The sad thing is that story and the Te’o story, received more air time than the deaths of Musial and Weaver.

Makes you wonder where today’s priorities are.

• Get ready for the Harbowl. That’s right, the Harbough brothers, Jim and John, will face each other in the Super Bowl when the Baltimore Ravens battle the San Francisco 49ers.