Beating the streak meaningful to McCann, NL

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The American League’s dominance in the All-Star game had become such a joke that David Ortiz was free and easy with some pre-game trash talk, albeit of the good-natured variety, and Ichiro was pressured yet again into giving his annual pre-game inspirational speech – against his will.

The AL players clearly had a swagger about them, and relished their run of success. But the 13-year streak was put to rest on Tuesday night when Brian McCann turned on a Matt Thornton fastball for a three-run double in the seventh inning, sparking the NL to a 3-1 victory.

It was the first win for the NL since 1996. And while seven of those losses were by two runs or less, including a 4-3 defeat last season in St. Louis, the streak was on the players’ minds.

“We’ve had to answer that question the last five times for me,” said McCann, who was named the game’s MVP. “To be able to come through in a big spot was something I’ll never forget.”

NL manager Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies have been in each of the last two World Series, says he stressed the importance of the game to his players, and that home-field advantage in the Fall Classic was indeed a carrot worth reaching for.

“The last two years the Phillies have been in the World Series and it was big,” Manuel said. “Two years ago we won it when we played the Devil Rays in Philly and won three straight, we definitely did not want to go back down to Tampa and play. I think home-field advantage, definitely, it’s a big deal.”

Manuel managed the game in an unconventional manner – at least for an All-Star game. Bringing in left-handed middle reliever Hong-Chi Kuo in the fifth inning to face a string of AL left-handers, leaving established stars like Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright and Tim Lincecum (who did not pitch) on the bench.

Then in the sixth inning, Manuel removed his own ace Roy Halladay after just 17 pitches — granted Halladay was struggling — in favor of Washington Nationals reliever Matt Capps.

Both moves were unusual considering the All-Star setting, but even though Kuo allowed an unearned run as the AL took a 1-0 lead, the moves worked out in the end.

Manuel said he thought that the streak didn’t weigh too heavily on his players’ minds, that it was of more interest to the fans and the media. But McCann’s comments on the matter were a little more revealing.

“Everybody knows that it counts,” he said. “We want to win it. We don’t come out here just to play like it’s OK to lose. Everybody in there is competitive and that’s why we’re here. We’ve been like this our whole lives. We want to win.”

And with his Atlanta Braves sitting atop the NL East, he admitted that home-field advantage was on his mind.

“It means a little more to me this year than in the past because we’re in first place,” he said. “You think about it more when you’re in that position, instead of coming here 10 games out, 12 games out.”

And for AL manager Joe Girardi, whose Yankees are among the favorites – if not THE favorites – to reach the World Series in October, he knows this was an opportunity lost.

“It’s extremely important, and whoever is in the World Series is going to have to work hard,” he said. “And ending the streak is disappointing as well, but we have an opportunity to start a new one next year.”

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CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.