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Early January sports thoughts: World Juniors, face-off man, Belichick animus, rime of ancient manager, most 1980s-looking ballplayers

Tuesday 1/2/24

Hockey thing I like in early January: World Juniors tournament. Great atmosphere and the players care a lot.

Hockey thing I don't like in early January: Winter Classic. I don't like NHL outdoor stadium games. Never did. Gimmick. I'm not a gimmick guy. I think they look bad on TV, too, and you're getting less of an authentic NHL game. I find them pretty pandering.

Wade Boggs is now commonly discussed by baseball historians as one of the four or five best third basemen of all-time. His game has aged really well, if you will, in terms of how such people evaluate players current and past. There was real doubt, though, when Boggs played if he'd be a Hall of Famer. That doubt lingered for a long time. It was assumed that he needed 3000 hits to reach Cooperstown, and that 3000 hits were rather unlikely, given that Boggs got a late start to his career.

Ted Johnson really doesn't like Bill Belichick. There is plenty to criticize about the latter over what is now forty percent of a decade, but with Johnson you can tell that there's also something personal that informs his commentary. I could certainly imagine Belichick having done something bad to him. Not saying he wouldn't have a legitimate reason to personally dislike Belichick.

Best tackler and best hitter can be two very different things.

Guy I always liked to watch take face-offs: Ken Linseman. Got down low, worked angles, fast, crafty, tough to beat. Always struck me as a very intelligent, creative hockey player.

Subject for a baseball history debate: Was Gene Mauch a good manager? Was Gene Mauch a bad manager? Middling? Mauch managed from 1960 to 1987, without any full seasons away from the job. Clearly teams wanted him. He finished with a 1902-2037 record--so obviously under .500--and won no championships nor even a pennant.

Old-timer Phillies fans--or Phillies fans who know and care about their history--are apt not to be keen on Mauch and blame him for the team's failure to win in 1964: The NL pennant that year was there for the taking. Mauch's 1982 California Angels squad was up 2-0 over the Brewers in that year's ALCS, which was a best of five, before dropping three straight. And then, of course, there was the 1986 ALCS, when his team blew a 3-1 lead to the Red Sox. At the time, Mauch seemed ancient--he was sixty.

That was a fun Angels team: Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn, Bobby Grich, Brian Downing, Don Sutton, Bob Boone, Don Baylor. Fun Milwaukee team as well, good old Harvey's Wallbangers, as they were known. Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Ted Simmons, Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas (the most 1980s-looking ballplayer ever), Pete Vuckovich (the second most 1980s-looking ballplayer ever).

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