And we mean this in a good way. We love Mark Grace, one of the nicest guys in local sports. The man never has been an asshole to the media, like a lot of professional athletes in this town (initials: Randy Johnson). He's always humble, grateful for his opportunity to play major-league baseball, first for the Chicago Cubs but especially for the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he was an integral part of the team's 2001 World Series championship, homering in game four. He led off with a base hit in the ninth inning of Game 7 that enabled a come-from-behind victory to shock the mighty Yankees. Grace now is a color commentator for D-Backs broadcasts, and we enjoy his insight. He's paid to love the home team, for sure, but he isn't afraid to call out Arizona players when they mess up. So when we heard that he'd been busted for driving under the influence of alcohol, we felt for him. Not that he didn't deserve it: He admitted to drinking Macallans that evening, one drink about five minutes before he was pulled over in his Jaguar. Not that anybody should drive while intoxicated (his blood-alcohol level allegedly was more than the legal limit of 0.08), but the cops report that Grace was nothing but all-smiles polite. When the arresting officer asked the former first-baseman how he thought he'd done on a field-sobriety test, Grace reportedly responded, "Not well enough." No cursing, yelling, threatening the cops — like one professional athlete (hockey player Brett Sutter) did here recently. Gracey's honest to a fault.
Marcin Gortat's known in the NBA as "The Polish Hammer." From the looks of him, he's a goon you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. At 6-feet-11 and 240 pounds, he's scary-ugly, a guy who has terrified opponents of the Phoenix Suns since his arrival last December from the Orlando Magic. When the trade for him and two lackluster veterans was announced last season, we wondered about the Suns' sanity. They gave up the most prolific scorer on the team, Jason Richardson, for Gortat, a backup center for the Magic. The other two guys the Suns acquired, Vince Carter and Michael Pietrus, were unlikely to improve the team's fortunes (and indeed they didn't). The Hammer, though, became just what the Suns needed: a tough defender and hardcore rebounder (almost 10 boards a game last season). Can Gortat return the Suns to contention? No, not averaging 13 points a game to go along with his defense and rebounding. Not with the present team that features ancients Grant Hill and Steve Nash, a franchise that gave up superstar Amar'e Stoudemire because owner Robert Sarver didn't want to pay him. But we really enjoy watching the friendly (only when he's off the court) Pole kick ass, and we pray for a miracle during the upcoming season — that is, some young studs to surround him and reduce Nash's playing time. Provided there's even a season at all. The players and owners are in contract talks.
We hate to give a Los Angeles Dodger props, but we have adjusted our rule for right fielder Andre Ethier, a hometown hero if there ever was one. Phoenix native Ethier first gained fame at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, where he batted .468 with 32 doubles and was named MVP. He then played at Arizona State University, where he batted .371 with 14 home runs. He was drafted by the Oakland Athletics before landing with the Dodgers in 2006. Three years later, Ethier had a breakout year. He hit 31 home runs and had 106 runs batted in. He had six walk-off hits, including four game-winning, ninth-inning homers, more than anybody in the big leagues and the most in 35 years. He was named an All-Star this summer for the second time, and he singled in a run in the game, which the National League won 5-1. He noted after the game that the hit, while a personal highlight, may come in second to when he was in Chase Field 10 years ago to witness the D-Backs' only World Series championship, against the New York Yankees. Ethier, who grew up down the street from the ballpark, made it to the mid-summer classic in Phoenix partly because he started the season with a 30-game hitting streak, which lasted until May 7. Ethier is batting .300 with nine home runs, 102 hits, 44 RBI, and 23 doubles. He has been sidelined by injuries this year and last, but we predict that the 29-year-old will be one of the greats before his career is over.
Why isn't St. Mary's High School and University of Arizona product Channing Frye a tougher professional basketball player? He seems to have all the tools, but . . . Oh, we know what you're thinking: He's a hell of a three-point shooter (.403 career). Well, to hell with that! Frye's a muscular 7-footer who plays like a point guard — on a college team. That is, his interior game is pretty much non-existent. Every year, he has a spurt or three of all-rightness, and then comes the disappointment. Problem is, the Phoenix Suns try to start him, or give him major minutes at power forward or center, and he's just not that good at these hardcore positions. If he were on a team with solid starters (like, say, the Lakers, the Heat, or the Mavericks), he would be fine to come in for 10 minutes a game. But playing big-time minutes exposes that he's not a big-time player. Let's face it (though he has an occasional okay night as a rebounder, despite his measly five-boards-a-game career average), he's a pussy under the basket — which is where big guys like him belong. Why, oh, why didn't suns owner Robert Sarver bounce this 10-points-a-game local dud and put the resources toward the salary of gone-last-season Amar'e Stoudemire? If he had, the Suns' future would still be bright.
Alvin Gentry hardly is pretty enough to be a Phoenix Suns dancer — the closest thing to a cheerleader for the professional basketball team. But the slow-talking Suns coach (he's from Shelby, North Carolina, and played basketball at Appalachian State University) is the best motivator in the huddle we've ever heard. No matter how bad it gets, Gentry is upbeat: "Look, we can score on them whenever we want, okaaaaaay. All we need to do is get back on defense, okaaaaaay. We can win this game, okaaaaaay." Oh, if Gentry could have held on to the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals a couple of seasons ago! That team, of course, included Amar'e Stoudemire, now departed for the New York Knicks. Because Gentry worked a miracle with that squad after he was tapped to take over from the awful Terry Porter. In the conference finals for the 2009-10 season, Gentry was masterful against a superior Lakers team, taking the series to six games before the Suns were eliminated, okaaaaaay. We've given Gentry Best Pro Coach in a previous Best Of edition, but not even his considerable skills as a molder of freakishly tall men can help the existing crop of Phoenix Suns players to even get to the playoffs, much less make it into a championship round. (If there's even an NBA season. At this writing, it looks as if labor negotiations could stall or stop the upcoming campaign.) Tightwad owner Robert Sarver is putting budget over talent when it comes to the current Suns.
Steve Nash and Grant Hill are the nicest guys in the NBA. Practically saints. The charity work both do boggles the imagination. And they continue to out-perform all but a few NBA stars. In Nash's case, he's a former superstar who's still an aging star. At the beginning of his career in Detroit, Hill was predicted to become the next Michael Jordan, but injuries hobbled him, plus he got older. Still, last year, as the oldest starter in the league at 38 (he'll be 39 in October), he was the toughest defender on the team, mitigating damage done by such superstars as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. His major contributions didn't show up on the stat sheet, but he still averaged 13 points and four rebounds a game. Nash is a future Hall of Famer who will go down as one of a handful of great point guards to ever play the game, a two-time league MVP. Among his most amazing records: He's a four-time member of the 50-40-90 club, meaning he has shot an unbelievable 50 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his three-point shots, and 90 percent of his free throws during that many seasons — which's more than any player in NBA history. He's one of five players to have ever shot such percentages, and one of only two players to have done it more than once. But he has never won an NBA title (despite leading Phoenix to two Western Conference finals, both of which they lost), and it would take major mojo for him to do it with the Suns anytime soon — and soon is all the time he has left. Sainthood won't cut it.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of