LeBron James was the most talented player to enter the NBA since Michael Jordan or maybe even since Wilt Chamberlain. Yet he’s now gone eight seasons without winning it all. When his Cavs reached the Finals in 2006-07 and lost to the Spurs, he was absolved of the blame. He was just 22, and his teammates were outclassed.
King James, though, was fairly criticized after the Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Celtics in 2009-10 and he’s getting far worse this time around. His passive play was at times shocking to watch. James should be able to carry a team when he’s on. In the Finals, it looked like he was waiting and hoping someone else would do the heavy lifting.
Alex Rodriguez was the most talented player to enter MLB since Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? The Babe? No position player can make as much of a difference on the field as a basketball superstar can on the court, but A-Rod was put into a position that allowed him to win right away. His Mariners reached the postseason in his second full season.
Those talented Mariners, though, couldn’t get over the hump. A-Rod took the money and ran to Texas, yet failed to reach the postseason in his three seasons there. After first working to get himself traded to Boston, he ended up with the Yankees instead, making annual postseason visits an expectation.
And A-Rod flopped after an exceptional ALDS against the Twins in his postseason debut with the Yankees in 2004. He struggled in the latter games as the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Bombers in the ALCS. Then in the team’s next three postseason series, all losses, he drove in one run in 13 games. Manager Joe Torre went so far as to drop him to the eighth spot in the lineup.
A-Rod finally redeemed himself in 2009, hitting .365 with six homers and 18 RBI in 15 games as the Yankees won the World Series.
LeBron will likely follow a similar path to a championship. He will have his moment in the sun. Though it’s worth wondering if he’ll play second banana to Dwyane Wade when it happens.
In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.
Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.
Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”
Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.
Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.
Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.
Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.
Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.
Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.
The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.
The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.
Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.
Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.
Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.