Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 4/23/16

The Final Column--An Emotional Farewell

The phone rang in the early spring of 2001. On the other end was Bill Pucci, sports editor of the Valley Times; he was inquiring to see if I'd like to write a weekly sports column for the publication. "Pooch" had seen some sports-related editorials I had written in the previous weeks and surmised that my 'style' would be an excellent fit as a weekly feature in the newspaper's sports section. I agreed, was flattered, and started writing weekly; fast-forward 15 years/hundreds of columns later while I currently sit here and type away--fully ready to put the "Roundup" to rest. It's been one helluva ride, folks; yeah, it's time to bid farewell.

I started writing about sports a bit too late in my life--perhaps one of the greatest mistakes I've ever made. While other Fordham grads/classmates (i.e. Michael Kay) of the 1980's fully utilized their journalism training DIRECTLY out of college (and went on to media 'stardom'), yours truly was still too active as a sports PARTICIPANT to sit behind a PC or typewriter at the time. Yeah, I worked in various administrative positions--nothing lucrative--but I also ran competitively, played softball at a high level, worked out constantly, and continued to be a part of every "pick-up" basketball game I'd come across. You see--mentally, I was still a KID. The thought of writing about sports back in those days? Sure, I had the training and knowledge to do it, but it was a 'sedentary' activity--you know, something that older guys did. And wow--in the blink of an eye, you find yourself turning 40 and thinking how things could have been SO much different. Anyway, I'm still glad that "Pooch" called that day.

I will always be indebted to Mr. Pucci for giving me "free reign" while writing; not ONCE did he order me to write on a given subject and/or suggest different ways to reach/gain a particular audience. I never had a word-count, either; I think Pooch simply trusted me to know WHEN to stop and/or end a column. I wrote on specific sports figures who may have been forgotten over time as well as "remembrance pieces" about those who had recently passed away. There were various columns about childhood memories involving sports; ahhh--how much fun it was to reminisce about those days of one's youth that would ultimately carve out an immense love of sports in general. Some columns that immediately come to mind are a pair of tributes to my late Mom and Dad and how they fostered my love for sports. There was a "thank you letter" written to Pat Tillman, a column about the tragic life of Steve Howe, and boxing pieces about Floyd Patterson, Tony Galento, and Max Schmeling. I often mentioned/marveled at (and still do) the amazing accomplishments of my good friend/'streak runner' Robert "Raven" Kraft of Miami Beach. My ultimate goal was to make my column a weekly read that would attract/develop a diverse audience; I included writings on track and field greats, hockey/football superstars, big names in the history of golf, and a basketball "wunderkind" named Pete Maravich (my idol). I also recall writing about a special racehorse named Barbaro. I could mention many more subjects, but then I'd feel obligated to list them ALL. I guess that's why we tend to archive things, folks.

Ultimately, though, the "Roundup" earned its name due to frequently-written columns (the majority) that featured yours truly simply "thinking out loud" and commenting (in short tidbit fashion) about the sports news of the week. Some of those in the 'biz' refer to this style as the "dot dot dot" type of column--moving from one subject to another in rapid fashion with an ellipsis separating the various thoughts. Perhaps my greatest compliment came from Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims--who flat-out told me how incredibly tough it is to write "dot dot dot" columns regularly and how much he admired/enjoyed my work. I appreciate those kind words, Mr. Sims--and thanks for noticing.

I attempted to infuse sadness/tragedy with laughter and ALWAYS made it a point to keep things on the "lighter" side in a sometimes-senseless world devoid of positivity and a collective sense of humor. Most readers GOT that. I've always believed that it was a columnist's job to entertain, inform, make people think (perhaps inspire), and evoke some laughter along the way. From the overall feedback I received over the years, it truly worked. And the eclectic nature seemed to appeal to even the most casual of sports fans. To this day, that may remain my greatest accomplishment as a writer.

While he was alive, I'd have my Dad read my most recent column each week. A HUGE sports fan, he'd often give an approving nod if he liked what he read. Hell, if I made my Dad happy, THAT was a good writing week for me. And it's funny how life shakes out; as I currently gaze at HIS torn up, weathered high school yearbook, I notice that Robert A. Lazzari--Ansonia High Class of 1945--had "sportswriter" listed as his future ambition. That never materialized for Bob Sr. but, looking back, I truly believe he lived out that wish THROUGH his son over a ten-year stretch before he passed away. I can only hope that was the true scenario; my only goal was to make you proud, "Pop."

Since I announced that I'd end the column after a 15-year run, I've heard from many people--simply asking, "WHY--WHY NOW?" There's no easy answer there, my friends; I guess you'd have to ask other columnists (who stopped writing on their own terms) for personal explanations in order to gain some further understanding. But trust me: You just KNOW. Personally, I've tried to simplify my life/scale back a bit over the past few years--i.e. having also given up coaching after a 14-year run. And I have to admit: Age DOES gets in the way a bit; I have no problem admitting that I'm not 30 anymore. Time constraints were closely examined along with a bit more focus on my overall health. And over time, I've developed the UTMOST respect for an all-too-familiar slogan: KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS. Yeah, I'll admit there was a time in my life when I didn't know what the 'L-word' meant, but I've become better at saying "No"--a tough lesson for many of us 'Type A's' out there. However, my plate remains full (watch the cliches, Robert--Journalism 101): radio appearances, hosting/producing a TV show, co-hosting a couple other radio shows, etc. In terms of the columns, they were always time-consuming--taking up a good portion of entire weekends for more than a quarter of my life. Being a perfectionist doesn't help, either; I always did my own editing, fact-checking, etc. and probably made more revisions than any columnist I've come across (and perhaps more than necessary). The writing process can be taxing--BIG TIME--but the payoff is when you view a completed column as a valued piece of artwork. I can assure you that my work was crafted carefully, nurtured constantly, and filled with pride. I ALWAYS attempted to put forth the same effort while composing each piece--nothing less than 100%. Yeah, it's that 'Type A' thing once again, folks--and I hope it was somewhat apparent to my readers.

A favorite column I've written? Nah, I can't go there as it becomes the proverbial "favorite child" argument. Let's just say that I treated every one of them the same way; they're ALL valuable to me--no faves. And I think I may be most proud of the fact that I never missed a deadline/scheduled publication date over the life of the column--despite personal sickness, surgeries, deaths of loved ones, etc. I can only guess that the virtues of responsibility, consistency, and reliability were instilled in me at a very young age; again--thanks, Mom and Dad.

Ask any columnist out there why they do what they do. Somewhere hidden in the responses will be the fact that one has been given the honor/opportunity to put words out there regularly and actually be privileged to have a loyal, interactive audience that actually READS your stuff. Some people even VALUE it. There's simply a "rush" involved when you write regularly, folks--yes, EVERY TIME--with a burst of adrenaline unleashed that allows an individual to continue one's craft. To see your own words/final product in print and to understand the motivation/effort that went into it, well, it's pretty cool. And it always WILL be.

Sadly, the Valley Times ceased operations a few years ago; I decided to continue writing the column on a bi-weekly basis as it would still be delivered electronically to my blog subscribers; it also appeared on various web sites such as NY Sports Day,,, and others. For the past 12 years or so, the columns have been archived on the blog (; perhaps a near-future undertaking will be an attempt to get the first three years of my writings posted on the Internet/linked to the blog in some way--in order for all of them to be accessible to both loyal readers and yours truly alike.

O.K., Bob--it's time to start thinking about ending this column (remember, you're a COLUMNIST--NOT a short story writer). There are TOO MANY individuals to thank for their undying support over the years; I'll mention a few right now and be sure to collectively and/or individually express gratitude to those many others as time progresses. In addition to the aforementioned Mr. Pucci, I'll thank those individuals at the Valley Times such as Angie Burke and Sandy Mendyk who played a huge part in the administrative handling of the column--assuring that it would be available to the masses each week (I miss our get-togethers, ladies). Thanks to my TV co-host/great friend Tony DeAngelo--who was the first to receive the column each week; his feedback, devotion, and welcomed commentary on certain subjects will always be viewed as invaluable contributions. Ah, and how 'bout those old Jesuits/media professors from Fordham? Whenever I was stuck for a particular word/phrase, I'd just THINK of them and it would come to me; yeah--they were THAT good. Many thanks go out to author/rules consultant Rich Marazzi; our work on ESPN Radio/discussions at weekly baseball meetings always ran parallel to the column material--and also resulted in a wonderful friendship.

Thanks also to the many New England/NY-based media people/sports notables who showed a great interest in the column and publicized it in various ways--including the late Dick Galiette, Bill Gonillo, and Dave Solomon; their helpful communication/conversations are still valued years after their deaths. I'd also like to thank Rich Coppola, Ken Davis, Phil Mushnick, Lee Elci, Bill Dowling, Wayne Norman, Bob Heussler, Bill O'Brien, George DeMaio, John Holt, and Patricia Hannigan. Additional thanks are relayed to Kevin Nathan, Joe DeCrosta, Bob Barth, Steve Fainer, and so many others. In addition to Tony DeAngelo, I greatly appreciate the support of my additional, current show co-hosts, who I hope to continue working with for years to come--pros like Chris Mascaro and Dave Rattigan. Thank you to the CT Sports Writers' Alliance; as a longtime member, I continue to be amazed by the overall professionalism of that esteemed organization and I still marvel at its ability to pull off the prestigious Gold Key Dinner each April. To the many loyal friends who chimed in weekly and were so supportive: you're all incredible people. Finally, a HUGE shout out to LeeAnn Boucher--a longtime, dear friend whose technical efforts in transforming each column into archived format will not be forgotten.

Now the time has arrived to tearfully bid adieu to an incredibly loyal and knowledgeable audience--one that made the past 15 years a very special time in my life. I KNOW I'll miss the writing process at times; when any major sports story breaks from this day forward, my first reaction will be a desire to reach out to my readers in column format (trust me, folks--tweeting is MUCH easier). But I'll choose to refrain--knowing that my best work is probably behind me and "writer's block" will no longer be an issue (along with worrying about good seating posture while composing columns). Maybe someday I'll have the time/opportunity to flip through the many volumes of laminated columns that I've accumulated/saved since the very beginning. I'll pick one at random-- perhaps stifling an admiring smile ("Be humble," my Dad always told me)--and hopefully say to myself, "Bobby--you did O.K."

Seriously, my friends, thanks SO much for being the best audience that a blue-collar scribe could ever ask for; yeah, nothing quite compares to a loyal following. And without a great audience, a columnist's work becomes nothing more than a distant voice in the wind. Farewell, readers; the pleasure has been ALL mine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 4/9/16

Ahhh, yes, spring is in the air and it's time for that annual crapshoot better known as baseball predictions. And if you ever come across a sportswriter/columnist who is EXTREMELY comfortable with his/her picks, then that scribe HASN'T been following the game long enough. Here's how they MAY finish in 2016, my friends.........

Toronto Blue Jays
N.Y. Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Rays

K.C. Royals
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

Houston Astros
Texas Rangers
L.A. Angels
Seattle Mariners
Oakland Athletics

AL EAST-- Jays will outscore everyone no matter how their pitching pans out; I think it will be good enough with Stroman blossoming. Yankees--being old but experienced--stay just healthy enough to edge out Red Sox; over/under date for Ellsbury to go on DL is June 15th. Besides Price (possible Cy Young winner), Boston's starting pitching is just NOT good enough (more question marks than a 'Riddler' convention); bullpen gets burnt out early (as usual) and Farrell's job will be in jeopardy before October rolls around. O's will rely on the long ball too much (where have you gone, Earl Weaver?) and starting pitching--besides Gallardo--will be below average. Too many .250 hitters in Rays' lineup; starting pitching is good (Archer, Odorizzi, etc.), but bullpen will blow too many save opportunities.

AL CENTRAL-- Royals still have great chemistry and do the "little things" in a BIG way; starting pitching is a slight concern (can Ian Kennedy thrive in K.C.?). Indians have some very good pitching (Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar), but I can see them being too "streaky" on offense. Tigers have the potential to surprise a lot of people; they can score runs in abundance but need Verlander and Zimmermann to win a combined 30+ games. Sale may win Cy Young for White Sox, but they have too many newcomers on offense who aren't major weapons (i.e. Avila, Rollins). Twins' Molitor an underrated manager, but they don't have any offensive player who will sniff a .300 batting average (where have you gone, Joe Mauer?); second half of their rotation will be shaky, too.

AL WEST-- Young SS Correa can take Astros very far this year as Keuchel continues dominating hitters; they may win more games than any team in baseball. Rangers bullpen just too shaky, but they'll score runs in bunches due to the continued excellence of Beltre and Fielder. Trout will be Trout in L.A. (probably wins another MVP), but the rest of the offense will disappoint--especially the bottom of the lineup; pitching staff is one injury away from disaster, as well. "King Felix" remains a top-shelf ace in Seattle, but Mariners' 6-9 hitters will give manager Scott Servais ulcers before the All-Star break--that is, if the bullpen doesn't do it FIRST. A's slogan--regarding starting pitching-- should be "Sonny Gray, then wait for a rainy day"; not enough power in Oakland's lineup to scare anyone, but their bullpen should be improved.

Washington Nationals
N.Y. Mets
Miami Marlins
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies

Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds

S.F. Giants
L.A. Dodgers
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies

NL EAST-- Harper wins MVP again and Scherzer may take Cy Young; as long as Zimmerman and Werth stay healthy, the Nats will edge out New York. The Mets have superior starting pitching, but Collins will get dizzy trying to manage their innings/pitch counts; offense will be "streaky"/inconsistent at times, too. Stanton shines offensively for Marlins, but no one else will; pitching--both starting and relieving--will be problematic, as well (try to name their 3, 4, and 5 starters). Braves have no power and will lose 95 games (is Bud Norris actually their #2 starter?); only question will be if manager Gonzalez keeps his job before the All-Star break arrives. Phillies WILL lose 100 while team management counts the days to Ryan Howard's departure (he'll earn $25 mill this season); no offense and no pitching may even cause the Phillie Phanatic to be subdued at times (which has NEVER happened).

NL CENTRAL-- The loss of Schwarber REALLY hurts Cubs' offense, but good pitching still gets them to the postseason (Arrieta, Lester, and Lackey may combine for 50 wins). Cardinals will still be a 90+ win team; if hurlers remain healthy--especially Wainwright--it's a toss-up between them and Cubbies for divisional title. Pirates are simply in a very tough division; I also think their lack of power (McCutchen, Marte, then what?) will put too much pressure on a decent starting rotation. Don't know who will close games for Milwaukee, but it WILL be a problem; they have a new look offensively (i.e. Nieuwenhuis, Carter), but it surely doesn't resemble Charlize Theron. Reds will lose 95+ games; they possess a "no-name" pitching staff (can ANYONE win 10 games?) and a slew of .240 hitters (Bruce, Cozart, etc.).

NL WEST-- Giants and Dodgers are the class of the division. I believe that keeping Denard Span healthy will be a major concern for San Francisco; if he plays 145 games, they'll edge out L.A. due to some "gutsy players" and good pitching. Rookie SS Seager (perhap the ROY) lives up to the hype for Dodgers; I just question their starting pitching depth after Kershaw and Kazmir. D'backs' loss of Pollock due to injury hurts them BADLY as he is a true catalyst; Goldschmidt shines once again, but I'm suspect of their rotation's depth (Ray, De La Rosa?). Padres simply lack power and if Fernando Rodney is your closer, you better keep an ample supply of TUMS in the dugout. Colorado will score runs--as usual--but lose too many 10-8 games at Coors Field (can an aging Jorge De La Rose be considered an "ace" at this juncture?); if the Rockies surprise and win 80 games, then yours truly is dating J. Lo and/or the aforementioned Ms. Theron by the end of 2016.

*Postseason: Yankees and Indians capture AL wild cards; I'll say the Mets and Cardinals do the same in the NL. World Series? I'm thinking that Houston and San Francisco emerge from their respective leagues with the Giants winning their fourth world championship in the past seven years.

Enjoy the season, baseball fans..............