Picked-up pieces while desperately seeking a better new year . . .
▪ The rush to give Tom Brady all the credit for the last two decades of Patriots success is unfair and inaccurate. At this hour Brady is leading bigly in the “Tom vs. Bill” debate, but none of those six Super Bowls happen without the Hoodie. Week in and week out, year in and year out, the Patriots won because of preparation, coaching, and abject intimidation of the opposition — in addition to talent. In these dark hours along Route 1, it’s a mistake to assign New England’s two-decade dynasty solely to Brady. History will treat Bill Belichick much better than what he’s been hearing from all of us these last couple of weeks. Does anyone ever challenge Red Auerbach’s credentials as a head coach? No. And Auerbach the coach never won a championship without Bill Russell. In 20 seasons on the bench, Red won nine championships, all with Russell on the court. We still built a statue for Red.
▪ The Red Sox have not been this irrelevant since 1966.
▪ Zdeno Chara’s departure reminded me of a conversation I had with Bobby Orr before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Orr indulged my tedious questions about Bruins vs. Blues, The Goal in 1970, etc., and then, when I thought we were done, went out of his way to issue a passionate defense of Chara, who was getting knocked around on local sports talk radio. “I’ve heard a lot of crap recently about Z,” Orr said. “Ask the other team. To criticize Z is totally outrageous . . . This guy has been all-world. He’s a big body and you don’t want to lose him and I think it’s outrageous when I hear these people criticize him. There’s no messing around when the big guy is on the ice and I get very upset — check his plus-minus. Come on! Stop it right now.”
▪ Has the rush to anoint Jayson Tatum an NBA superstar slowed his progress? Tatum’s a good talent and bigger than ever (too big up top?), but he looks like he’s settling for too many threes instead of attacking the basket. He got lucky with the heave at the end of the Bucks game, but his shot at the end of the loss in Indianapolis was ridiculous. Too much iso-ball.
▪ Ninety-two-year-old Bob Cousy, MVP of the NBA as a point guard in 1957, had this to say after watching the Celtics and Pacers: “I was pleased to see [Payton] Pritchard do so well. [Brad] Stevens used him during critical moments. They’re going to have problems all year. They are a good team but not a great one. Until they find a point guard, it’s going to be difficult.’'
▪ MLB Network’s excellent “Icons Lost” aired for the first time last Saturday night. The hourlong documentary beautifully told the stories of Al Kaline, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, and Joe Morgan — all Hall of Famers who died in 2020. Phil Niekro then died in his sleep Saturday night. Tyler Kepner, estimable baseball scribe for the New York Times, was first to point out that Cooperstown’s lost icons of 2020 overlapped for one season only; the magical summer of 1967.
▪ Quiz question from Kepner’s annual Christmas quiz: Name seven Hall of Famers who played in the Orioles-Phillies World Series in 1983 (answer below).
▪ The brain drain from the Red Sox accelerated when Zack Scott left to become assistant GM of the Mets. A math major from the University of Vermont, Scott was part of the Diamond Mind baseball simulation game before he introduced himself to Theo Epstein at a Hot Stove, Cool Music fund-raiser and was hired as a Sox baseball ops intern in 2004. Scott became part of Boston’s Carmine Revolution and by 2006 he was making lineup suggestions to manager Terry Francona. Before a big August game with the Yankees, Scott suggested that Francona start Eric Hinske at third base instead of Mike Lowell because Hinske had better numbers against Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang. “I told Zack, ‘Why don’t you go up to Mikey Lowell and tell him he’s not playing in this game against the Yankees?’ ’’ Francona recalled. The Sox manager compromised, putting Lowell at third and Hinske in right field. Lowell went 0 for 3 against Wang. Hinske went 3 for 3 against Wang, all doubles.
▪ Does anybody remember that K.C. Jones came back to work for the Celtics as an assistant coach under M.L. Carr in 1996-97? After winning championships as Celtics head coach in 1984 and ’86, Jones stepped aside in 1988, then coached in Seattle and Detroit before returning to Boston under Carr, his former player. Dennis Johnson was another assistant under M.L. If you want a treat, Google “K.C. Jones sings, ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You’ ” on YouTube.
▪ College basketball feels totally unnecessary at this hour.
▪ Jack Murphy Stadium, once home of the Padres and Chargers, is being torn down. Two favorite moments at The Murph: (a.k.a. Qualcomm Stadium): John Elway’s helicopter run en route to his first Super Bowl victory (over the Packers) in 1998; Troy Brown stripping Marlon McCree of the football after McCree intercepted a Brady pass near the end of a Patriots win over the Chargers in the 2006 playoffs.
▪ It’ll be interesting to see if the Baseball Hall of Fame does anything regarding the plaque of longtime Red Sox owner Thomas A. Yawkey now that the Negro Leagues are finally being recognized as Major League Baseball. Red Sox and Globe owner John Henry erased “Yawkey Way” in favor of “Jersey Street” in 2017 because he said he was “haunted” by Yawkey’s racist legacy. The accomplishments of Yawkey and pioneer commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis could be up for review in Cooperstown. Plaques have been re-worded in the past.
▪ Country music legend Charley Pride, who died in December at the age of 86, pitched for the Negro League Memphis Red Sox when he was 16 years old.
▪ Stephen Curry made 105 consecutive 3-pointers after practice the other day. It’s true. There’s video.
▪ Pass Go! and collect $200 if you knew that Lee Mazzilli was a speedskater with Olympic aspirations before opting for a career in baseball. The New York Daily News tracked down Olympians Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair and both remembered Mazzilli’s skating days.
▪ Good to see bully Geno Auriemma having mercy on UConn women’s hoop opponents this season. Coach got off to a great start with a 79-23 win over UMass Lowell, then kept his starters on the floor shooting threes in the second half of the Huskies’ 106-59 win over Xavier. UConn is 6-0.
▪ A couple of weeks ago this space cited athletes who went on to become dentists and neglected to include Brockton’s Ken McAfee, who starred at Notre Dame and with the 49ers, and Al Sims, a 1970s Bruin who became a dentist in Columbus, Ohio.
▪ J.C. Jackson isn’t good enough to be trash-talking Stefon Diggs. Jackson got in Diggs’s face after breaking up a play early Monday night, then got burned badly on a pair of touchdown passes to Diggs.
▪ Late holiday gift: the photo book “American Backcourts” by Rob Hammer.
▪ Belated congrats to the family of the late George Kimball, a longtime scribe at the Herald, who’ll be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2021.
▪ Oh, to have been at Harvard Stadium to have seen Pop Warner’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School upset Harvard, 18-15, on Nov. 11, 1911 (11/11/11). The best player on the field was Carlisle’s Jim Thorpe.
▪ Quiz answer: Orioles Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr., and Phillies Joe Morgan, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, and Tony Perez.