Sports Beat “Be realistic about the Isles”

It has been 30 years since the New York Islanders won their last Stanley Cup and frankly they have been abysmal for most of the years between 1983 and now. During this labor-dispute shortened National Hockey League season, the Islanders played respectably enough to earn their first playoff beth in seven years as they clinched the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders drew the unenviable assignment of playing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins, long an NHL powerhouse, in the first round. To their credit, the Isles showed that they weren’t merely happy to be there as they battled hard to force the series to six games. Unfortunately for the Isles, they lost two overtime games at the Nassau Coliseum including Saturday night’s finale.

The immediate talk following Game 6 was how the Islanders have finally turned a corner thanks primarily to center John Tavares who is on the verge of being an NHL superstar as well as having good young players as Josh Bailey and Matt Martin.

Sorry, the euphoria has to be tempered. Goaltending is still an issue as Evgeni Nabakov is hot and cold and was far closer to the latter in the playoffs. The team’s scouting department has long lagged behind competitors. If the Islanders are to win a Stanley Cup within the next 30 years then team owner Charles Wang will have to put financial resources into this area. The odds are that Wang will sell the team before it gets to its new home, the Barclays Center, in two years so don’t bet on that happening.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season in 20 years. I asked Pirates manager Clint Hurdle about whether he’ll be relieved if and when his team wins its 82nd game this year guaranteeing a winning record. “That’s on our to-do list. Our fans have let us know how much that means to them,” he replied forthrightly.

NBC Sports and MLB Network air personality Bob Costas, who was born in Astoria, picked up his 25th career Sports Emmy Award last week. Someone in the press room asked him if he would “tweet” about it. “Twitter is an echo chamber for idiots!” he quickly replied. He deserves a 26th Emmy for that remark alone.

The Nets’ failure to get out of the first round of the NBA playoffs gave its TV voice, Forest Hills native Ian Eagle, an opportunity to be a presenter at the Sports Emmys. He and Costas exchanged jokes about their lack of height on the stage of the Frederick Rose Jazz Hall. Neither is diminutive in stature however.


Joe Namath had a huge presence at the Emmys both as a presenter and for being the subject of the Emmy-winning HBO Documentary, “Namath.”

Although he bleeds Jets green, Joe is not very happy with the way things are being run in Jetland these days. He does not have a high opinion of owner Woody Johnson and believes that trading Darrelle Revis was a huge mistake. He also told me that football teams should not make decisions based on accounting issues. “Geno Smith is not ready to be a starting quarterback right now but things can change in training camp and practice during the season. Players know who can play and who can’t.” He did acknowledge that Mark Sanchez had few weapons to work with in 2012 but added that did not excuse him for all of the turnovers that he committed.

“Namath” was insightful documentary about Broadway Joe and it clearly deserved its Emmy as best sports documentary. It was a bittersweet moment for HBO however because the premium cable network appears to be out of the documentary business since that was the baby of former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. The new HBO Sports chief, Ken Hershman, apparently does not share Greenburg’s enthusiasm for the genre and that’s unfortunate.

Dan Patrick, along with his then partner, Keith Olbermann, made ESPN Sportscenter, an iconic broadcasting institution, now hosts a morning show on the NBC Sports Network and is a columnist for Sports Illustrated. He has made a second career appearing in cameo roles in Adam Sandler films. Patrick admits that his buddy’s recent films have been dreadful but pledges that “Grown Ups 2″ should please fans, and yes, even critics.

Harold Reynolds arguably gets the most airtime on the MLB Network. He was a panelist during the afternoon show, “The Rundown,” when host Brian Kenney asked “If you were a general manager who would you rather have on your pitching staff, Mets phenom Matt Harvey or his Washington Nationals’ counterpart, Stephen Strasburg?” I believe that Reynolds chose Harvey.

I told Reynolds that the show was being watched in the Nationals’ clubhouse at Citi Field as the team was getting ready to face the Mets. Strasburg, was in the middle of a card game, and appeared to totally ignore all that was being said by Harold and the rest of the panelists. “Good for him! It shows the powers of his concentration when he can block everything out except how to win the card game!”

The Mets turned in a two-win and four-loss homestand last Sunday that was far drearier than the six-game record showed. The only saving grace were the two late-inning pinch hits delivered by Whitestone native Mike Baxter that helped win the games. Baxter also delivered a clutch game-tying hit on Sunday in the seventh inning but the Pirates went on to score a run an inning later and won the game, 3-2.

Mets outfielder Jordany Valdespin’s reputation as a self-absorbed hot-dogger is not making him a popular guy even with his own teammates let alone the opposition. Last Friday night with the Mets trailing the Pirates 7-1, Valdespin hit a meaningless home run to make the score 7-2. Rather than just keep his head down and run the bases, Jordany stood in the batter’s box to admire his clout, then arrogantly flipped the bat, and finally took his time trotting around the diamond.

The following day Pirates pitcher Bryan Morris drilled him with a fastball when he came up to pinch hit in the seventh inning. It wouldn’t shock me if Mets manager Terry Collins and his Pirates counterpart, Clint Hurdle, worked together to impart a lesson. SNY broadcasters Gary Cohen and Ron Darling duly noted that no Mets player rallied to his defense in the dugout.

It’s a shame that the Mets do not have a veteran player such as Julio Franco who could act as a mentor to the talented and temperamental Valdespin.

Dallas Green is the quintessential baseball lifer. He managed both the Mets and the Yankees (he even served as their general manager in the 1980s) although most of his career was spent in one capacity or another with the Philadelphia Phillies. Dallas has just written his autobiography that is humorously and appropriately titled, “The Mouth That Roared” (Triumph Books).

Green makes sure that his book lives up to billing when he reminisces about his days managing the Mets in the mid-1990s. He shows nothing but contempt for Mets CEO Fred Wilpon, one-time general manager Joe McIlvaine (he strongly insinuates that he was gambling in Atlantic City when everyone thought that he was out of town evaluating talent), and his successor as Mets manager, Bobby Valentine, who he believes was campaigning for his job.

In an example of the more things change the more they stay the same, Green grouses about the awful teams that he had to manage while Mets ownership preferred to sell the fans on the future by overhyping minor league players who were not ready for “The Show.” He is still incensed about how the “Generation K” triumvirate of Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen, and Paul Wilson were rushed to the big leagues and never got a chance to properly learn their craft.

To be fair to the current Mets management, the team kept the highly touted pitcher Zach Wheeler and young catcher Travis d’Arnaud in the minors to start this season but that decision was probably made for economic reasons than for concern if they were ready for the spotlight. On a happier note, Matt Harvey so far does not show any signs of the problems that faced past young Mets hurlers. Keep in mind however that big league hitters have not had a chance to figure him out yet and will eventually make adjustments.

Congratulations to Elmont native and former Jets QB Vinny Testaverde for being named to the College Football Hall of Fame for his career at the University of Miami in the mid 1980s.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the futility of Columbia University’s basketball and football programs over the last 45 years. It is only fair that I then offer my congratulations to the Lions baseball team that just won the Ivy League title. Columbia’s MVP was outfielder Joey Falcone who served as an army medic in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Joey’s father is former Mets pitcher Pete Falcone.

The Yankees have been playing fairly well in spite of the absence of familiar names in their lineup. The only negative noise coming from the Bronx Bombers camp came last Saturday in Kansas City when Mariano Rivera had trouble conducting a conversation because his fellow reliever, Joba Chamberlain, was speaking very loudly. Mo politely asked him to lower his voice. “Don’t shush me!” Joba responded. Apologies were exchanged shortly afterwards.

By itself this is not much of a story but since Chamberlain is in the final year of his contract with the Yankees this won’t help his cause in getting a new deal from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

I was saddened to learning of the passing of former Jets wide receiver George Sauer who was one of the heroes of Super Bowl III in 1969. Sauer was a fine player for the Jets but he was overshadowed by his teammate and future Hall of Famer Don Maynard.

Golf legends are still in demand by Madison Avenue. Arnold Palmer may be better known now for the iced teas and lemonades that bear his name than for all of the majors that he won in his career. “The Golden Bear,” Jack Nicklaus, a well-known animal lover befitting of his nickname, is endorsing Vet Guard Plus, a anti flea and tick product for cats and dogs, in a series of prints ads and television commercials.

I have often wondered why there seemed to be no middle ground between sugary soft drinks and diet drinks that often have terrible aftertastes. The beverage industry may finally be getting the message. Coca-Cola announced that it is reducing the sugar in its Seagram’s Ginger Ale. Two well respected tea brands, Honest Tea and Harney, are producing lightly sweetened organic bottled iced teas. A new company, Neuro, has created lines of carbonated and non-carbonated drinks that contain no more than 40 calories and purport to have health benefits as vitamins, anti-oxidants, and electrolytes.

The new growth franchise business appears to be self-serve frozen yogurt parlors. Red Mango was started in 2007 and has grown to over 200 stores nationwide including eight in Queens. A competitor out of Dallas, Orange Leaf, has just opened two stores in Manhattan and is eyeing Queens, well aware of the success that Red Mango has had here.

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