Column as I see ‘em:
• Two years ago, after Patrick Kane won a second Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks and captured the Conn Smythe trophy in the process, I said he had entered the conversation for the best athlete ever to come out of the Buffalo area.
Now that Kane has won a third Cup in six years, the pride of South Buffalo is leading the conversation. He’s building a strong case for himself as the finest sportsman we’ve produced. Kane won’t turn 27 until November, so he’s still in his early prime and likely to add more personal achievements before he’s done.
Warren Spahn, another South Buffalo native whose 363 wins are the most ever by a left-handed pitcher, would be at the top of a lot of lists. Bob Lanier, a city native, is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Amherst native Rob Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends ever to play in the NFL.
Fredonia’s Jenn Suhr won a gold medal at the London Olympics and is the greatest women’s pole vaulter in U.S. history. Is Fredonia close enough to count? Suhr considers herself a Buffalo girl.
How about Jimmy Slattery, the legendary First Warder who won two lightweight titles in the 1920s and was considered by some the best boxer in the world until his career was derailed by alcoholism? (Slattery, by the way, is the subject of “Slats,” a recently published biography by Rich Blake).
It’s a worthy debate, one we could take up in earnest at a future time. But it’s becoming harder to argue against Kane, a three-time champion who has been a consistent, clutch performer at the top of his sport almost from the moment the Blackhawks made him the No. 1 pick of the NHL draft in 2007.
Hockey is a team sport, but Kane has a rare ability to rise to the occasion. He scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime in Game Seven of the Final in 2010 at age 21, bringing the Cup to the Windy City for the first time in 49 years. He won the Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs in 2013.
This year, Kane tied for the league playoff scoring lead with 23 points. He had three points in a tight, defensive championship series. Typically, he saved his best for the big moment, assisting on the first goal and scoring the second in Chicago’s Cup-clinching, 2-0 win over the Lightning.
Kane brought the Cup home after his previous titles. Assuming Kane brings the Cup home again this summer, it would be nice if he brought it to Canalside, where Buffalo is enjoying a civic renaissance and emerging as a prime hockey destination.
• Just a month ago, people in Blue Jays management were privately referring to the season as a “disaster.” There was speculation that manager John Gibbons and GM Alex Anthopoulos wouldn’t survive the season.
Things sure have turned around in Toronto. The Jays caught fire in June, winning 11 straight before a loss to the Mets on Monday and pulling within two games of the surprising Rays in the tight AL East race.
They’ve done it with an offense that’s inspiring memories of the 1992-93 World Series champs, who led the majors in slugging both years. During the 11-game streak, they scored 88 runs. As of Tuesday, they had 66 more runs than the next-best AL team and led MLB in slugging at .447, 50 points above the league average.
Everyone is crushing the baseball, just as in the glory days of Joe Carter and Paul Molitor. Jose Bautista, Justin Smoak and Russell Martin were all slugging .640 or better in June. Chris Colabello, who hasn’t stopped hitting since coming up from the Bisons in early May, had hit in 22 of his last 23 games.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson had five straight multi-hit games in the streak. As of Tuesday, Donaldson was second in the AL with 17 homers and third with 45 RBIs. Ex-Bison Kevin Pillar was hitting .340 in June with seven multi-hit games.
Of course, they’re 14th in the AL in ERA, ahead of only the Red Sox. And keep in mind, the Jays had a similar run last May. They won 12 of 13 and eventually built a six-game lead in the AL East. Then they faded and finished 83-79, 13 behind the Orioles.
It won’t take 96 victories to win the AL East this season. Something around 88 should do it. So if the Jays keep hitting, they have a shot.
• Tom Brady’s chances of getting his four-game suspension reduced got a boost this week when a study by the independent American Enterprise Institute criticized the Wells Report and characterized the report’s conclusions as “likely incorrect” and the result of a “simple misunderstanding.”
It’s hard to say how much sway, if any, the AEI study will have when Brady gets his hearing with Roger Goodell on June 23. But it won’t hurt Brady when his lawyers trot out the findings of a neutral party – not hired by the NFL – that says Brady’s role in Deflategate wasn’t as clear as the NFL believes.
The AEI study says the difference in inflation in the footballs at the AFC title game could have been due to the simple fact that the Pats’ balls were measured at the start of halftime and the Colts’ at the end of the break.
It’s a stretch. But AEI also performed a study after Bountygate, which resulted in some of the Saints having their suspensions overturned. Don’t be shocked if Brady gets his suspension reduced. Bills fans, of course, will pray that he gets at least two games and misses the home opener.
• So as far as scandals go, how does underinflating footballs compare with a Major League team hacking into the computer files of a big-league rival?
According to the New York Times, the FBI is investigating St. Louis for allegedly tapping into the Houston Astros database and stealing proprietary information. The Cardinals have long been held up as some paragon of baseball virtue. Now they’re being compared with the scurrilous Patriots.
At the risk of minimizing the threat that soft footballs pose to society, I’d say hacking into computer records is a tad more serious.
• The latest tally of baseball All-Star votes came out Monday, and eight of nine position leaders were Royals. KC fans are unashamedly stuffing the ballot boxes, or in this case, the computers. The league did away with stadium paper ballots this year. On-line voting picks the starters. The rules limit each computer to 35 entries, but obviously there are ways to inflate the numbers.
Even KC second baseman Omar Infante, who has the worst OPS in the big leagues, is leading the voting. Too bad for Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is third in the AL with a .335 batting average, or Twins second sacker Brian Dozier, who leads the league with 37 extra-base hits.
This is ludicrous. How can you make the All-Star Game determine home field in the World Series, and allow the voting process to be a joke?
• Inbee Park winning the LPGA at 19-under par ranks alongside Jordan Spieth taking the Masters at 18-under in April. Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ record for lowest score relative to par at Augusta. Park became the fifth woman to finish 19-under in a major.
Christie Kerr did it five years ago at the LPGA Championship, when it was still being held at the Locust Hill Country Club outside Rochester.
• You don’t hear much about him, but Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is having an MVP season. As of Tuesday, Goldschmidt was first in the NL in batting (.366), tied for third in homers (18) and second in RBIs (53). In a recent five-game stretch, he went 13-for-18 and reached base in 17 of 22 at-bats.
• ESPN.com did a story on the 10 most underpaid veterans in the NFL. No. 9 was Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. At a $3.2 million cap hit, the author said Fitz was a bargain.
• The early Stanley Cup odds came out after the final. The Sabres were 100-1. Keep in mind, it’s not going to happen overnight. But the first preseason home game is Sept. 23.