The best and worst in South Florida sports in 2018:
▪ Best personnel acquisitions: 1) Heat acquiring Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline. A necessary step to complete the journey of one of the two most impactful players in South Florida sports history (with Dan Marino). And he can still play, too. 2) Dolphins signing explosive receiver Albert Wilson and maximizing his talents. Was on pace for 894 receiving yards and nine touchdowns before his season-ending injury. 3) Dolphins drafting defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. Plays three positions and led all NFL cornerbacks in passer rating against until early December.
4) Dolphins signing Frank Gore. Among the best in the league in yards after contact this season and averaged 4.6 per carry, his highest since 2012. 5) Panthers acquiring winger Michael Hoffman from San Jose for draft picks. Had 17 goals and 16 assists in first 35 games this season. 6) UM football luring a banner 2018 recruiting class, led by Brevin Jordan, Brian Hightower, D.J. Scaife, Cam Davis and Lorenzo Lingard. 7) Heat smartly signing improved Derrick Jones Jr. to a two-year contract.
8) Dolphins drafting Jerome Baker, who has given the linebacker group a badly-needed infusion of speed, and kicker Jason Sanders, who was 18 for 20 on field goals. 9) Marlins signing outfielders Victor Victor Mesa and his brother Victor Jr., a sign they’re serious about being players in the international market.
▪ Worst personnel moves: 1) The Christian Yelich trade with Milwaukee. Yes, he wanted out, but he had an affordable contract and Miami was under no obligation to trade him. While Yelich won MVP, the top player acquired – Lewis Brinson – hit .199 for the Marlins. The jury is out on the three other prospects acquired. 2) Dolphins cutting Ndamukong Suh without an effective plan to replace him. No, Akeem Spence wasn’t the answer, and Jordan Phillips was cut. 3) Dolphins not doing more at quarterback this past offseason. Counting on Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler and David Fales obviously wasn’t enough.
4) Mark Richt flip-flopping quarterbacks, with little success. He should have entrusted N’Kosi Perry with the job permanently after the FSU win or given Jarren Williams a look. 5) Dolphins moving on from Mike Pouncey, who was healthy and effective all year for the Chargers, when they had the cap space to keep him.
▪ Most unexpected: Richt’s resignation and Manny Diaz returning to UM as head coach after leaving for Temple.
▪ Biggest winners: 1) Diaz. Landed his dream job far before anyone expected. 2) Chris Grier. Emerged as unquestioned top Dolphins football executive after demotion of Mike Tannenbaum and dismissal of Adam Gase. 3) Giancarlo Stanton and Yelich. Relocated to playoff teams. 4) Justise Winslow. Got three-year, $39 million extension, then watched his game blossom.
▪ Most uplifting: 1) The Miami Miracle touchdown to beat New England. 2) Wade returning to South Florida via trade and treating South Florida to a final season. 3) Watching the Miami Hurricanes play defense. Second in the country in yards allowed, first in tackles for loss. 4) Watching Wilson and Jakeem Grant inject badly-needed explosiveness to Miami’s offense.
5) The Heat’s recent surge to move into sixth in East, marked by growth from several young players and Hassan Whiteside’s comeback from a disappointing 2017-18. 6) The Panthers’ exceptional play over the final three months last season, which unfortunately hasn’t carried over. 7) Marlins’ young pitchers showing considerable potential – Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards and several in the minors.
▪ Saddest news: Career-ending neck injuries for UM players Malek Young and Ahmmon Richards.
▪ Biggest disappointments: 1) UM football. Went from 10-0 start to last season to losing 8 of next 13. From top 10 in preseason to one of the nation’s biggest flops. 2)Dolphins’ offense failing to reach 200 yards in five games, ranking among the worst in most categories, and Ryan Tannehill’s inability to go from decent to great. 3) Gase and Richt not working out as coaches here. Both regimes started with such promise.
4) Lost years for first-round picks DeVante Parker (on the way out) and Charles Harris (just one sack). 4) Dolphins losing their best run-stuffer (William Hayes), their best offensive lineman (Josh Sitton) and two explosive weapons (Wilson, Grant) to season-ending injuries.
6) Brinson, the key player in the Yelich trade, hitting .199 with 42 RBI. 7) Dion Waiters unable to build on strong close to 2016-17 and missing nearly a calendar year after ankle surgery. 8) UM hoops losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, losing Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the NBA and losing top player Dewan Hernandez to an eligibility question 20 minutes before the season opener.
9) Heat’s inability to make a trade for a star. 10) Panthers’ late-season push falling short of a playoff spot. 1`) Dolphin ranking 29th with 31 sacks despite investing a ton of money in their defensive line. 12) Jeff Thomas, UM’s most explosive offensive weapon, being jettisoned from the program. He’s now at Illinois. 13) Magneuris Sierra, a key piece of the Marcell Ozuna trade with Alcantara, hitting just 190 with six walks in 156 plate appearances. 14) Panthers’ inability to build on last season’s strong finish.
▪ Most regrettable player decisions: 1) Dolphins’ Reshad Jones refusing to go back in the Jets game after being told he wouldn’t play every snap. 2) Whiteside with an expletive-filled March rant about playing time. 3) UM’s Kendrick Norton turning pro after his junior year and being drafted in the seventh round. 4) J.T. Realmuto’s agent publicly saying his client would be traded instead of handling it privately with the Marlins. 5) N’Kosi Perry violating a team rule to get suspended, then making multiple missteps on social media.
▪ Most improved: 1) Heat’s Josh Richardson. 2) UM’s Gerald Willis. 3) Heat’s Winslow. 4) Heat’s Derrick Jones Jr. 5) Panthers’ Vincent Trochek (31 goals, 75 points last season -21 points above previous career high but now out indefinitely after ankle surgery). 6) Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant. 7) Dolphins’ Laremy Tunsil. 8) Marlins’ Brian Anderson. 9) Heat’s Bam Adebayo. 10) Marlins’ Pablo Lopez. 11) Dolphins’ Vincent Taylor before his foot injury. 12) UM’s Romeo Finley (football) and Ebuka Izundu (basketball).
▪ Best individual feats: 1) Kenyan Drake completing the Miami Miracle by breaking tackles and eluding defenders. 2) Heat’s Wayne Ellington setting record for most three-pointers by NBA reserve.
3) Dolphins’ Wilson leading league in yards after catch before injury and being a part of several electrifying touchdowns. 4) Marlins’ Kyle Barraclough allowing only three hits over 24 consecutive innings in May and June before unraveling the rest of the season and being traded to Washington. 5) Willis producing 18 tackles for loss in dominating senior season.
▪ Most perplexing: Marlins pitcher Wei Yin Chen breaking record for disparity between home ERA (1.62) and road ERA (9.27).
▪ Best players: 1) (tie) Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. 3) Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. 4) UM’s Willis.
LOCAL MEDIA AWARDS
▪ Best TV sportscasters (anchor positions): Steve Shapiro and Will Manso. Inject humor and personality without sacrificing substance. Capably drive the market’s most lively Sunday night shows. (And see next category.)
▪ Most versatile: Jim Berry, who has done good work juggling news and sports anchoring, and flawlessly hosts the Dolphins’ postgame show.
▪ Best personnel decision: 1) Fox Sports Florida re-hiring Tommy Hutton for Marlins broadcasts, though he should be in the booth, not the studio. 2) Once Fox decided to move on from Tony Fiorentino, John Crotty has proved to be a capable replacement.
▪ Worst personnel decisions: 1) NBC 6 promoting newscaster Keith Jones to its No. 1 sports anchor job ahead of more deserving Chris Fischer. 2) Fox Sports Sun and the Heat bypassing Fiorentino for its studio analyst job, though Ruth Riley Hunter has seemed more comfortable on air in recent days.
▪ Best radio play by play: Joe Zagacki on Canes sports. Nobody is sharper, more alert, more prepared or more detailed in his call. Honorable mention: Marlins’ Glenn Geffner.
▪ Best TV play-by-play: Eric Reid (Heat) and Steve Goldstein (Panthers).
▪ Best game analysts: Joe Rose (Dolphins), Don Bailey Jr. (UM).
▪ Best hosts: Jason Jackson (Heat) and Craig Minervini (Marlins/Panthers).
▪ Best studio analysis: Ron Rothstein (Sun Sports Heat).
▪ Best sideline reporter: Josh Darrow (UM football).
▪ Best local broadcast story-breaking: Craig Mish and Andy Slater
There are no talk show awards because I do talk shows on 790 The Ticket…. A happy New Year to all.