Best Next Year's Hall of Famer
Even the most die-hard Reds fan didn’t expect Barry Larkinto be a first-ballot Hall of Famer — competition is kind of tough for such honors. But those of us who didn’t appreciate all the All-Star Games Larkin didn’t get to start because Ozzie Smith could do backflips were slightly irritated with the fact that Larkin only drew 62 percent of the vote in 2010, short of the 75 percent needed to gain entry. But there’s good news: Larkin is widely considered to be the most viable candidate to be elected to the Hall of Fame next year. He will offer voters 11 All-Star appearances, nine Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Gloves (Ozzie’s gymnastics were also behind several snubs), the 1995 National League Most Valuable Player award and the 1990 World Series Championship. Larkin recently joined ESPN as an analyst for Baseball Tonight. (Danny Cross)
Best Young Player Contract Extensions
For a small-market team, controlling payroll is a must. That’s why the Reds this offseason locked up several of their best young players with multi-year deals. By signing Jay Bruce (6 years, $51 million), Joey Votto (3 years, $38 million) and Johnny Cueto (4 years, $27 million), the team will avoid the often contentious arbitration process and assure its payroll for several years to come. www.cincinnatireds.com.
Best Guitar Player Contract Extension
The Reds’ shiny young players weren’t the only ones cashing fat checks this offseason, as Bronson Arroyo, everyone’s favorite unheralded starter who consistently throws 200 innings and wins 15 games, signed an extension through 2013 for $35 million, giving the Reds’ rotation a valuable veteran presence as it figures out which of its young arms is the awesomest. www.cincinnatireds.com.
Best Mustacioed Announcer
While many of us were disappointed to find Fox Sports Ohio color man Chris “The Creeper” Welsh without his trademark mustache at times last year, we always appreciate the craft left-hander’s candid commentary and pleasant humor. Long live the ‘stache! www.cincinnatireds.com.
Best Reason Xavier Basketball Continues to Shine
When Head Coach Chris Mack looked ahead to the 2010-11 season, he was probably thinking to himself, “I hope one of these guys starts scoring a lot.” After losing Jordan Crawford to the NBA after his sophomore season, the Musketeers needed someone to step up and lead a somewhat inexperienced team. That guy was junior guard Tu Holloway, who averaged more than 20 points and five assists while leading the team to its fifth straight Atlantic 10 title and yet another NCAA berth.
Best UC Basketball Freshmen
After redshirting last year, UC freshman Shawn Kilpatrick made a name for himself during the ‘Cats’ 2010-11 season, finishing third on the team in scoring (9.9 points per game) and earning a spot on the Big East All-Rookie Team. But the only thing more exciting for UC fans than the prospect of three more years of Kilpatrick is the thought of true freshman Justin Jackson growing into a force down low who consistently jams on people’s heads. Note to Jackson: Please do some reverses. www.gobearcats.com.
Best Pitcher Who Throws 105 MPH
When Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapmandefected in 2009, several major league teams put in bids for his services. One of the least expected teams to seal the deal was the Cincinnati Reds, who last January landed the 21-year-old for $30 million over six years. The results during his first year have been stellar. After playing most of the 2010 season for the Reds’ Louisville AAA team, Chapman was called up to the show in September and proceeded to freak out everyone he faced. During his 15 appearances with the club, Chapman demonstrated one of the nastiest two-pitch combinations in recent years, mixing his over 100 mile-per-hour fastball with a devastating slider. Chapman threw the fastest pitch ever recorded in Major League Baseball, at 105 mph. (Danny Cross)
Best UC Quarterback With Something to Prove
The 2010 season didn’t go as planned for the UC football team, which finished 4-8 and failed to make a bowl appearance after playing in BCS bowl games the past two seasons. The silver lining is that junior quarterback Zach Collaros will return for his senior season looking to build on a solid first year running the offense with a talented collection of returning skill players. www.gobearcats.com.
Best BearCat Football Players at the NFL Combine
OK, so this list includes all three UC football players invited to the 2011 NFL combine: wide receiver Armon Binns, center Jason Kelce and kicker Jake Rogers. The trio hopes to continue the recent influx of NFL players from UC, which is now at the helm of Head Coach Butch Jones.
Best Cincinnati Rollergirls Team
Hey, Cincinnati Rollergirls: We got the hundreds of votes for your individual players in our “Best Athlete” category. (And the 624 that secured you the win in our “Best Team (Amateur/Semi-Pro)” category — congrats.) But we still felt like pointing out that your teams are cool and the contests are fun to attend and have a couple beers and yell things. www.cincinnatirollergirls.com.
Best Rugby Team Named After a Domestic Dog Breeded for Hunting
You might not know much about the Cincinnati Wolfhounds (other that they have a really cool name). But for your information, the Wolfhounds are a non-professional rugby squad sanctioned by USA to compete in men’s Division 1, with all the scrumming, punting and slamming that goes along with it. The team’s “home pitch” (field) is Brimelow Fields in Fairfield, one of the top facilities in the Midwest. www.wolfhoundsrfc.com.
Best Reason to Watch Local Football Teams Fight Over a Bridge
The annual Bridge Bowl between Thomas More College (Crestview Hills, Ky.) and the College of Mount Saint Joseph (Delhi, Oh.) turned 15 last year, with the Saints of Thomas More winning 33-0 and advancing to the D-III playoffs. Both schools play an exciting brand of football, fueled by rosters that include several former local high school players. It’s almost like a Cincinnati-area high school All-Star game.
Best Back to Back Championships
It’s not easy for any sports team to win back-to-back championships. It’s even more difficult when the goal of the team is to produce players good enough to move up to the National Hockey League, leaving the minor league squad missing crucial pieces of the championship puzzle. Despite such difficulties the Cincinnati Cyclones last year captured their second-straight Kelly Cup behind head coach Chuck Weber, securing another giant shiny trophy with the players’ names on it. Weber left the team before the current season, leaving the streak to incoming coach Jarrod Skalde to continue. Trust in the Cyclones (and theirvarious awesome theme nights and beer specials).
Best D-II Basketball Squad
The NKU Norse men’s basketball team this year made their 12th NCAA Division-II tournament, falling to top-seeded Bellarmine in the regional semifinals. The Norse, which finished as National Runners Up in 1996 and 1997, finished the regular season 20-8.
Best Voice of the BearCats
Look, every UC basketball fan appreciates the many contributions of longtime color man Chuch Machock (including his ejection from the ‘Cats’ 2003 tournament game — we called B.S. on that too). But it’s one Dan Hoard who Bearcat fans enjoy nearly year-round, as he calls both basketball and football games with his trademark energy and charm. (We wouldn’t mind hearing Dan do some Reds games either. Hint, hint.)