Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Yanks Hit, Then Stop Hitting, In Tampa Bay


So after taking 3 of 4 at home against the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees headed down to St. Petersburg to take on the dessicated, Joe Maddon-less husk of the Tampa Bay Rays.

CC Sabathia hadn't won a game yet, his 0-5 record reflecting a little bit of poor pitching, and a little bit of good pitching not backed up by much hitting. The Big Fella did his job: 7 innings, 4 runs (3 earned), 6 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts.

This time, he got the run support. Alex Rodriguez hit his 8th home run of the season, the 662nd of his career. Chase Headley hit a home run, his 4th of the season. Carlos Beltran hit a home run, his 2nd of the season (and in as many games). Brett Gardner hit a home run, his 3rd of the season. And Mark Teixeira hit a home run, his 11th Teix Message of the season. So that's 5 homers, 3 by guys who were "old" and "washed-up" according to Met fans, Red Sox fans, the national media, and other Yankee Haters. Headley also had an RBI on a sacrifice fly.

Yankees 11, Rays 5. WP: Sabathia (1-5). No save. LP: Alex Colome (2-1). Attendance: 10,619. Pathetic. I've been to high school football games with bigger crowds than that -- and I don't live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or the South.

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For the Tuesday night game, the Yankees sent out Nathan Eovaldi, who had won his 1st 3 decisions. He looked good again, cruising through the 1st 6 innings, with a 2-0 lead thanks to back-to-back 1st inning singles by Brian McCann and Beltran.

But, this time, Joe Girardi's fealty to pitch counts worked the other way. He saw that Eovaldi hadn't thrown too many pitches, so he left him in. Big mistake: He allowed 2 runs in the 7th, and 2 more in the 8th to lose it.

It's worth noting that the Yankees had a man on 2nd with nobody out in the 1st, men on 1st and 3rd with 2 out in the 2nd, a man on 1st with 2 out in the 4th, a man on 1st with 1 out in the 8th, and a man on 1st with 1 out in the 9th. None of those men were brought around to score.

Rays 4, Yankees 2. WP: Kevin Jepsen (1-2). SV: Brad Boxberger (9). LP: Eovaldi (3-1). Attendance: 10,417. What, did they only open 11,000 seats, because they thought that was all they could sell? Can they no longer even get ex-New Yorkers to show up and watch the Yankees play the Rays?

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The Wednesday night game was even more frustrating. Another one of those games where you wish the Yankees hadn't wasted all those runs in a recent game.

Adam Warren pitched much better than his last outing, going 7 full, allowing 3 runs on 7 hits and just 1 walk, striking out 7. That should have been enough to win, if the lineup had done its job.

It didn't. Back-to-back 1st inning singles by Teixeira and McCann gave the Yanks a 2-0 lead before the Strays even got to bat. But that was it. Lots of missed opportunities.

None worse than the top of the 5th. With 2 out, Teix beat out an infield single. McCann singled into the hole. And Beltran singled to center. But Teix was thrown out at the plate. Girardi challenged the call, but it was upheld.

Rays 3, Yankees 2. WP: Nate Karns (3-1). SV: Boxberger (10). LP: Warren (2-2). Attendance: 11,924.

Think about that: The 3 games combined had an attendance of 32,950 -- not enough to fill Tropicana Field even in its multiple-sections-tarped-off configuration. Jeez, move to Montreal already!

The Yankees moved on to Kansas City. I'll discuss that series in my next post.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Yanks Take 3 of 4 vs. O's


I've set a new personal best: The Yankees have now played 11 games since I last blogged about the current team.

It's not that they've been terrible. It's that real life has intruded, and I've been working on other things.

For this reason, I'm going to break this up. This post will be about the May 7-10 home series against the Baltimore Orioles.

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On Thursday night, May 7, Joe Girardi sent Nathan Eovaldi out to face the Birds at The Stadium (Mark II). He was a bit shaky, allowing 3 runs in less than 6 innings. Fortunately, the bullpen, of Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just 1 baserunner (a walk by Miller in the 9th inning).

Eovaldi did leave with the lead. In the 1st, an Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly and a Mark Teixeira single each brought home a run. In the 3rd, A-Rod hit a home run, his 7th of the season, and the 661st of his career, passing Willie Mays for 4th on the all-time list. In the 5th, a Teix double made it 4-3 Yankees.

That was the final score. WP: Eovaldi (3-0). SV: Miller (12). LP: Chris Tillman (2-4).

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The Friday night game was a little shakier. Adam Warren started, and he didn't make it to 5 full innings. Wilson wasn't all that neat in relief of him, either. But after him, the bullpen was solid: Chris Martin, Betances and Miller pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

Again, A-Rod got the Yankees on the board with a sacrifice fly. Brian McCann hit one out, his 3rd of the season. Carlos Beltran, who's turned it on lately, doubled home another run, and that provided the difference.

Yankees 5, Orioles 4. WP: Betances (4-0). SV: Miller (13). LP: Miguel Gonzalez (3-2).

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The Saturday afternoon game didn't go so well. Chase Whitley didn't make it through the 6th inning. We now know he's going to need Tommy John surgery, and he'll be out until the middle of the 2016 season.

2016. Man, I can remember when 1990 sounded like "the future." You know, cities filled with skyscrapers taller than the World Trade Center, connected by monorails, flying cars, robots that would do anything, TV-phones... Okay, we have TV-phones, and there are a few skyscrapers on this planet that are taller than even the new World Trade Center....

This time, the offense and the bullpen couldn't bail the starter out. It was another "Yankee RISPfail," going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. John Ryan Murphy got a run home with a sacrifice fly, and Beltran singled home a run, but that was int.

Orioles 6, Yankees 2. WP: Wei-Yin Chen (1-1). SV: Zach Britton (6). LP: Whitley (1-1).

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So on Sunday, the Yankees really needed a good start. They got it from Big Mike. No, not me: Michael Pineda.

By the way, all you people who said trading Jesus Montero for Pineda was a bad idea, and felt vindicated by Pineda's injury struggles? Thought you might like to know: Montero has spent most of last season and all of this season in the minor leagues. He hasn't gotten a hit in a major league game since June 21, 2014. That's almost 11 months. He's gotten just 25 major league hits in 2013, '14 and '15 combined. He's also had problems with weight and discipline.

So Pineda took the mound, and set a Yankee record for most strikeouts in a game without a walk: 16.

Naturally, Girardi, being a slave to the pitch count, took Pineda out after 7 innings, because he'd thrown 111 pitches. Pineda did allow a single to start the 7th, but got a forceout and 2 strikeouts to get out of the jam. Clearly, he was not tiring. The Yankee record for strikeouts in a game is 18, set by Ron Guidry on June 17, 1978, and Pineda needed 2 of the last 6 to at least tie it. The major league record for strikeouts in a game is 20, and Pineda needed 4 of the last 6 to at least tie it. But Girardi thinks the number of pitches a pitcher has thrown is more important than actual performance.

The Yankees backed him up as follows: Beltran hit his 1st home run of the season, McCann hit his 4th, Didi Gregorious had an RBI single and an RBI double (about time), and Jacoby Ellsbury had an RBI double.

Yankees 6, Orioles 2. WP: Pineda (5-0). No save. LP: Bud Norris (1-4).

The Yankees flew down to Tampa Bay after this game. A discussion of that series will be in my next post.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New York Teams in the Semifinals


I realize that I am very much behind on Yankee games. My next post -- barring a very newsworthy event -- will be an update.

To my dismay and disgust, the New York Rangers are in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals -- the Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Due to the way the Playoffs have been structured in each sport, the Rangers have reached the Playoffs more than any other team in the New York Tri-State Area -- mainly because, from 1943 to 1967, a team only needed to finish 4th out of 6 teams in a single-division League to do it. And that made every Playoff berth a Semifinal berth.

But how have they done once they got to the Semifinals?

Note: For baseball teams, "the final four" means that, from 1883 to 1968, they finished no worse than 2nd in their League.

1. New York Yankees, 54: 1904, 1906, 1910, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2012.

-. New York Giants (baseball, defunct), 33: 1885, 1889, 1890, 1894, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1928, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1952, 1954.

2. New York Rangers, 30: 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1947, 1950, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1994, 1997, 2012, 2014.

3. New York Giants (football), 28: 1927, 1929, 1930, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1986, 1990, 2000, 2007, 2011.

-. Brooklyn Dodgers (defunct), 22: 1888, 1889, 1890, 1899, 1900, 1902, 1916, 1920, 1924, 1940,
1941, 1942, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956.

4. New York Knicks, 16: 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000.

5. New York Islanders, 10: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1993.

6. New York Jets, 9: 1960, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1982, 1998, 2010, 2011.

7. New Jersey Devils, 7: 1988, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2012.

8. New York Mets, 7: 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000, 2006.

9. Brooklyn Nets (includes seasons as New York Nets and New Jersey Nets), 4: 1974, 1976 (ABA Champions means they were 1 of the last 2 teams standing, never mind the last 4), 2002, 2003.

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And when they got to the Semifinals?

1. Nets: Won the ABA title or reached the NBA Finals 4 times. 4-0. 1.000. Don't start gloating yet, Brooklyn -- especially since 2 of those were done on The Island and the other 2 in Jersey.

2. Yankees: Reached the World Series 40 times, failing 14. 40-14. .741.

3. Giants (football): Won the single-division NFL (1925-32), reached the NFL Championship Game (1933-65) or the Super Bowl (1966-2014 seasons) 20 times. 20-8. .714.

-. Dodgers (defunct): Reached the World Series 13 times. 13-9. .591. That's right: A better record than the Yankees or the Giants -- a better percentage, if not a higher total.

4. Devils: Reached the Stanley Cup Finals 4 times. 4-3. .571. Better than the Rangers? Yes, even better than the Islanders.

-. Giants (baseball): Reached the World Series 17 times. 17-16. .515.

5. Knicks: Reached the NBA Finals 8 times. 8-8. .500. That's not bad at all. Indeed, it's the same as the Yankees.

6. Islanders: Reached the Stanley Cup Finals 5 times. 5-5. .500. 

7. Rangers: Reached the Stanley Cup Finals 11 times. 11-19. .367. Not good. Better than the Mets or the Jets, but what kind of a standard is that?

8. Mets: Reached the World Series 4 times. 4-3. Won Finals twice. So, 2-7. .286.

9. Jets: Reached the Super Bowl once. 1-8. .111.

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And upon reaching the Final?

1. Yankees: Won World Series 27 times. So, 27 out of 54 -- 27-27, half. .500.

2. Devils: Won Stanley Cup 3 times. 3-7. .429.

3. Islanders: Won Stanley Cup 4 times. 4-6. .400.

4. Giants (football): Won 8 NFL Championships. 8-28, .286. However, once they get to the final four stage, they have never lost, except for a 1950 Playoff for the NFL Eastern Division title. And they haven't lost an NFC Championship Game since the game was created for the 1970 season.

5. Mets: Won World Series twice. So, 2-7. .286.

-. Giants (baseball): Won World Series 7 times. So, 7-33. .212.

-. Dodgers: Won World Series 4 times. So, 4-22. .182.

6. Rangers: Won Stanley Cup 4 times. 4-26. .133. Pathetic.

7. Knicks: Won NBA Finals twice. So, 2-16. .125. That's awful.

8. Jets: Won Super Bowl once. So, 1-8. .111. But they've never lost a Final!

9. Nets: Have never won NBA Finals. 0-4. .000. The only team in the New York Tri-State Area that has never won a World Championship -- unless you count the Red Bulls, NYCFC, or the Liberty.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Top 10 Yogi Berra Moments


May 12, 1925, 90 years ago: Lawrence Peter Berra is born in St. Louis. He grew up in the Gateway City at the same time as 5 members of the U.S. team that shocked England at the 1950 World Cup: Goalkeeper Frank Borghi, right back Harry Keough, centre-half Charlie Colombo, inside right Gino Pariani, and outside right Frank Wallace (born Valicenti). Left half Walter Bahr of Philadelphia, father of Super Bowl-winning placekickers Matt and Chris, is now the last living man who played in that game, 65 years ago.

When Larry Berra was 11 years old, he played in a baseball game on a sandlot field that didn't have dugouts. So the players all sat on the ground. Larry sat there with his arms and legs folded. He and his friends had recently seen a movie about India, and one of the characters in it was a yogi, and one of them said, "You look like a yogi."

He's been Yogi ever since. A few years back, Bob Costas asked him what his wife Carmen calls him. He said, "She calls me Yogi. If she calls me Lawrence, I know I'm in trouble."

Top 10 Yogi Berra Moments

These are in chronological order.

1. The Best Brothers Ever. Yogi said his older brothers Mike and Tony were better ballplayers than he was. On this of things great ballplayers said that can't possibly be true, it's up there with Willie Mays, a quarterback who wouldn't get recruited by white colleges, saying he was better in football (or any sport) than he was in baseball.

Pietro Berra, the boys' father, was an Italian immigrant. So was Giuseppe DiMaggio of San Francisco. Giuseppe forbid his boys to play baseball, saying they were going to go to work. His oldest son Vince disobeyed him, played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, came back, and slammed a wad of cash on the kitchen table. Seeing more money at once than he'd ever had in his life, Giuseppe welcomed Vince back, and also let sons Joe and Dom play pro ball.

Pietro Berra was a bit more intransigent. When the St. Louis Cardinals were interested in Mike, he was underage, and he needed his father to sign his contract with him. The father told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work." So he did.

A little later, the Cards were interested in Tony. At this point, Tony was underage, and needed his father to sign his contract with him. But Pietro told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work." So he did.

A little later, the Yankees were interested in Lawrence -- or "Lawdie," as his parents called him in their accent. Again, the underage son needed the father to sign the contract with him. But Pietro told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work."

This time, Mike and Tony stepped in. At this point, both were not only working, but married, and living together -- and both were past their 21st birthday. They told their father that if he didn't co-sign Yogi's contract, they would. And that, if he threw Yogi out of the house for this, he could come and live with them. Pietro's bluff was called. He co-signed the contract. The rest is history -- or, as Yogi's future manager Casey Stengel would say, "And you could look it up."

2. D-Day. There were 156,000 men who were in the Allied landing force in Normandy on June 6, 1944, arguably the pivotal day in human history. As of last night's games, according to Baseball-Reference.com (a website which is your friend, whether you know it or not), there have been 18,484 men who have played Major League Baseball. Only 1 man is in both categories: Seaman Lawrence P. Berra, USN.

Yogi was a gunner's mate on the U.S.S. Bayfield, an attack transport ship. He was just past his 19th birthday, and until signing his Yankee contract to play minor-league ball -- a journey interrupted by his service in World War II -- he had never been outside St. Louis before. And there were all those Nazis, ready to kill him. You'd think he would have been terrified.

He might have been the most composed guy on either side of the English Channel. He recalled seeing the rockets being fired by both sides: "To me, it looked like the 4th of July." He got through it, and the entire War, without a scratch.

Not so lucky was Lieutenant James M. Doohan of the Canadian Royal Artillery. He killed a few Nazis on Juno Beach, and had his right middle finger shot off. That's right: He literally gave the Nazis the finger. That's why, whenever he was shown operating machinery as Scotty on Star Trek, he did so with his left hand.

3. Breaking Up the Biggest Trade. Yogi debuted in the major leagues on September 22, 1946, in the 1st game of a doubleheader with the Philadelphia Athletics at the original Yankee Stadium. Batting 8th, catching, and wearing Number 38, he went 2-for-4, including a 2-run home run off Jesse Flores, the 1st of 358 homers he would hit in the major leagues -- still a record for anyone 5-foot-8 or shorter. The Yankees won, 4-3, behind Yogi's homer and the pitching of Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler.

Legend has it that Yankee co-owner Larry MacPhail and Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey -- who had just won his 1st American League Pennant -- got together after the season and, as both men liked to do, got drunk.

They realized that Joe DiMaggio, a righthanded hitter, was losing lots of hits in Yankee Stadium's left field and center field, known as "Death Valley" -- long outs that might be home runs over the high but close left field wall at Fenway Park. (The wall's advertising signs were about to come down, resulting in it being clear, with the green-painted tin seen underneath, leading to the nickname the Green Monster.) This trade would also reunited Joe with his brother Dom, who was with the Red Sox.

Likewise, Ted Williams, a lefthanded hitter, was losing lots of hits in Fenway's expansive right and center fields, hits that might be home runs to the "short porch" in right field at Yankee Stadium.

So the 2 powerful drunks wrote up the trade of all time on a cocktail napkin: They would trade Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio. If that napkin had survived, how much would it be worth today?

What's that, you say? The trade never happened? That's right: In the morning, sobered up, Yawkey decided -- forgetting that the Yankee Clipper was a great fielder and a great baserunner, and that the Splendid Splinter was, by his own admission, neither -- that Ted was worth more than Joe. So he called MacPhail up, and demanded that he throw in a player he liked. He couldn't think of the player's name, but knew he was a decent hitter and a good left fielder, and could also catch a little. MacPhail realized that Yawkey was talking about Yogi, and put the kibosh on the deal.

The next season, when Yogi would likely have won the AL Rookie of the Year award had there been one at the time, the St. Louis Browns, desperate for attendance as always, hosted Yogi Berra Night at Sportsman's Park, welcoming the hometown hero as he came in with the Yankees. He told the crowd, "I'd like to thank everybody for making this day necessary." He meant "possible."

This quote, which Yogi repeated upon his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, was reported in the next day's newspapers, and is definitive proof that Yogi did not start saying weird things after listening to Stengel, as they hadn't met yet.

Perhaps Yogi should have included Tom Yawkey and his hubris among those who had made that day necessary.

4. All His Experiences. Yogi wasn't a natural behind the plate. Although, now wearing Number 35, he hit the 1st pinch-hit home run in World Series history, off Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in Game 3 of the 1947 World Series -- a game the Yankees lost anyway, though they won the Series in 7 games -- the Dodgers ran rampant on him, successfully challenging his arm and his positioning. He didn't get much better in 1948, either.

So when Stengel became Yankee manager in 1949, he hired Bill Dickey as a coach. Dickey was then regarded, along with Mickey Cochrane, as 1 of the 2 greatest catchers who ever lived. Stengel told Dickey to teach Yogi everything he knew about catching. To show Yogi that he trusted him, Casey even gave Yogi Dickey's old uniform number, 8. (Dickey was given 33.)

Yogi's improvement was quick, and when asked why, he said, "Bill Dickey is learning me all his experiences."

He should have said, "Bill Dickey is teaching me everything from his experience." I suspect that Yogi may have gotten the expression from Dizzy Dean, the Cardinals pitcher who had become a broadcaster for both St. Louis teams. Diz once read, on the air, a letter from a teacher who said he shouldn't use the word "ain't" on the air, because it was bad for children to hear that. He told the teacher, "A lot o' folks who ain't sayin' 'ain't' ain't eatin'. So, teach, you learn 'em English, and I'll learn 'em baseball."

I suspect that Yogi was one of the people that Dizzy "learned baseball." Who knows, Dizzy might also be the reason Yogi ended up saying things like, "Nobody ever goes there anymore, it's too crowded," and, "Pair up in threes," and, "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

5. Five in a Row. Dickey's experiences must have worked: Yogi, along with the pitching, was the biggest reason the Yankees won the 1949 Pennant, starting a string of 5 straight World Championships. When the Yankees won 3 straight in 1998, 1999 and 2000, Derek Jeter told Yogi he'd catch up with him. When the Yankees lost the Series in 2001, Yogi (who couldn't have been happy about that) told Jeter, "Now, ya gotta start over."

Jeter may have been cheated out of 3 AL Most Valuable Player awards: In 1999, 2006 and 2009. Yogi might also have been cheated out of 3: In 1949, 1952 and 1953. But he actually did win 3: In 1951, 1954 and 1955. It's been suggested that Yogi is the most valuable Yankee of all time. Certainly, he's the most underrated.

All tolled, Yogi played in 14 World Series, winning 10 of them. Both records that, well, if Jeter wasn't going to break them, it sure looks like nobody will.

6. If the World Were Perfect. Yogi once said, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be." Meaning that a perfect world would be boring. One man who was definitely not boring was Don Larsen, a pitcher so off-kilter in the head he was nicknamed Gooney Bird. (Or Gooney for short.)

In Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Larsen pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers. Yogi caught it. Years later, he said, "It never happened before, and it still hasn't." He's right, sort of: While no longer the only no-hitter in postseason history, it's still the only one in World Series history. And it wasn't just a no-hitter, it was a perfect game. Larsen threw exactly what Yogi called, on every one of his 97 pitches, and it worked.

Two days later -- a Subway Series, so there was no need for a travel day -- Yogi hit 2 home runs, powering the Yankees to a 9-0 win in Game 7. Yogi hit 3 homers and had 10 RBIs in the Series.

7. The Businessman. Yogi looked dumb, and his "Yogi-isms" made him sound dumb. This was far from the case. While still active players, he and teammate Phil Rizzuto opened a clothing store and a bowling alley, both in New Jersey.

By this point, the Scooter lived in Hillside, and Yogi lived in Upper Montclair, where his next-door neighbor was naval engineer and New Jersey Devils founding owner John McMullen. The store, the bowling alley, other business interests, and, yes, his salary -- the most he ever made in a season was $65,000, but that was a big sum for the early Sixties -- allowed him to buy a big house. Rizzuto called it a mansion. Yogi said, "It's just a big house with rooms." Giving directions to it, he once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." The house was between the prongs of the fork, so this wasn't just Yogi being Yogi.

Yogi's familiar face, lovable personality and way with words led him to being hired as a pitchman for all kinds of products. He seemed to specialize in drinks: As early as 1957, he did an ad for Florida orange juice. (Sorry, no "Yogi-isms" in this one.) He also did ads for Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink and Miller Lite beer -- or, as it was known at the time, "Lite beer from Miller." This 1987 commercial included a rather confused pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander.

Sadly, in 1960, he did an ad for Camel cigarettes. (Cigarette advertising was banned from American TV in 1971.) He must've quit smoking at some point, because he's still alive at 90. (Then again, DiMaggio smoked until dying of lung cancer at 84.) So maybe Yogi doesn't need Aflac insurance. But, what the heck, they gave him a check -- which is just as good as money.

My favorite Yogi commercial doesn't appear to be on YouTube: "What's your favorite Entenmann's?" Yogi's favorite also happens to be mine: In a line that, like the Aflac and Miller lines, was clearly written for him in his style, he said, "That's easy: Chocolate chip cookies. You can taste how good they are just by eating 'em!" (A takeoff on his line, "You can observe a lot by watching.")

8. The Harmonica Incident. In 1959, Yogi he and left fielder Elston Howard had switched positions. (Talking about how the sun combine with the old Stadium's roof, he said, "It gets late early out there.") He was still a key figure on Pennant-winning teams. But after the 1963 season, Yogi was 38 and clearly slowing down. And he was offered the job of managing the Yankees.

There were those who thought that Yogi was too much of a softie to manage, especially players he'd played with. On August 20, 1964, the Yankees were in a dogfight for the Pennant with the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, and had just been swept by the ChiSox in 4 straight. The tension on the bus from Comiskey Park back to O'Hare Airport was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife.

Reserve infielder Phil Linz pulled out a harmonica he'd begun learning how to play. Yogi, sitting at the head of the bus, yelled back, "Whoever's playing that thing, shove it up your ass!" Linz didn't hear what he said, and asked Mickey Mantle was Yogi said. Being a wisenheimer, Mickey said, "He said, 'Play it louder.'" So Linz did.

Yogi got up, walked down the aisle of the bus, saw Linz, and said, "I thought I told you to shove that thing up your ass." Linz said, "Why don't you shove it there?" He flipped the instrument to Yogi... who slapped it down.

There are 2 versions of what happened next. One is that everyone saw that Yogi could mean business, and that the respect for him as a manager developed. The other, which is more believable, is included in Peter Golenbock's book Dynasty, and is backed up by the surviving '64 Yanks all saying that respect for Yogi was never an issue, says that the slapped-down harmonica bounced off Joe Pepitone's leg. Pepi then fell into the aisle in mock agony, rolling around on the floor of the bus like a Spanish soccer player (with the bad hair to match). Everyone cracked up -- and loosened up.

With respect for Yogi restored, or the tension shattered, whichever is true, the Yankees went on a tear, and won the Pennant, winning 99 games, beating the White Sox by 1 game and the O's by 2. Yogi had won his 1st Pennant as a manager, and he wasn't even 40.

But they lost the Series -- ironically, to Yogi's boyhood team, the Cardinals. And Yankee management fired him, which they were determined to do even if he won the Series.

"That's baseball," he said. At least they told him to his face. That would not be the case the 2nd time he was fired as Yankee manager.

9. It Ain't Over. By this point, Casey was managing the expansion Mets. He hired Yogi as a coach. He even put Yogi in 4 games, where he went 2-for-9. Clearly, he was done. When Casey retired in that 1965 season, Met management kept Yogi on, as a drawing card as much as anything else.

He was still a Met coach during the 1969 "Miracle" season. Asked about the Mets' World Series upset over the Baltimore Orioles, he said, "We were overwhelming underdogs." It sounds funny, but it was absolutely true. When manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack on the even of the 1972 season, Yogi was named manager.

In late August 1973, there was a 5-way race for the National League Eastern Division title, between the Mets, the Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and even the 5th-year expansion Montreal Expos. No one seemed to want to win it. The Mets were in 5th place, but only 9 games out. A reporter asked Yogi if the Mets were out of it, and he said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Yogi's syntax may have been cold, but the Mets got hot, and won the Division with an 82-79 record --the worst record of any 1st-place team in baseball history (in a full season of at least 154 games, anyway). Then they upset the Cincinnati Reds for the Pennant.

In Game 3, after Pete Rose picked a fight with Bud Harrelson, the fans in Shea Stadium's left field threw garbage onto the field at Rose. Yogi and Willie Mays, then playing out the string with the Mets, went out there, and told the fans to stop, or else the game would be forfeited to the Reds. They listened, and the Mets won in 5 games.

They lost the Series in 7 to the Oakland Athletics, though. To this day, there are Met fans who blame Yogi for losing the Series, for starting ace Tom Seaver on 3 days' rest in Game 6, instead of saving him for Game 7 on full rest. This is nonsense: You have Tom Seaver, you send him out to close it out. Tom didn't get the job done that day, although a smart baseball fan would credit the A's for getting it done. (Don't forget, they had Reggie Jackson, who homered in Game 6 and Game 7, building his reputation as "Mr. October.")


If Met fans held a grudge against Yogi then, they seem to have stopped: On back-to-back Sundays in September 2008, he attended the farewells to both New York ballparks. He got a thunderous ovation at the old Yankee Stadium, and then a nice reception at Shea Stadium.

Eventually, Yogi began to tell people, "I try to say, 'It isn't over 'til it's over.'" I guess the influence that Dizzy Dean still had on him ain't goin' away.

10. The Exile and the Restoration. The Mets fired Yogi in 1975, but he didn't hold a grudge. His Yankee teammate Billy Martin had just been hired as Yankee manager for the 1st time, and brought Yogi to his coaching staff. Through 9 managerial changes by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, including Billy 3 times, Yogi stayed. After George fired Billy for the 3rd time, he promoted Yogi to manager for the 1984 season.

The Detroit Tigers ran away with the AL East in 1984, en route to a title. But the Yankees won 87 games, a respectable total, especially considering Yogi hadn't managed in 9 years. Everyone was optimistic for 1985, and George publicly promised that Yogi would be given the whole season. He wasn't: The Yankees lost 10 of their 1st 16, and George fired Yogi.

In retrospect, it was the right thing to do: George brought Billy back for the 4th time, and the team ended up winning 97 games, finishing 2 games out. That wasn't the problem. George his promise wasn't the problem, either.

The problem was that, unlike Yankee general manager Ralph Houk in 1964 and Met president M. Donald Grant in 1975, George didn't call Yogi up to his office and tell him face-to-face, man-to-man. Nor did George go down to Yogi's office to tell him himself. Instead, he sent team scout Clyde King -- a former major league pitcher who had briefly been Yankee manager himself in 1982 -- to tell Yogi.

This time, Yogi held a grudge. Not against King, but against George. He swore he would never set foot in Yankee Stadium again as long as George owned the team.

As the years went by, he kept this promise. In 1988, George thought he could lure Yogi back by dedicating a Plaque for him in Monument Park. He did this for Dickey as well -- Number 8 had been jointly retired for them in 1972. Dickey was 81, in a wheelchair, and had to come from Arkansas to be there -- and he went. Yogi was 63, in good health, and George could've sent limousines to pick up Yogi and his family, and they'd be at Yankee Stadium in an hour, if only he'd accept the invitation. He didn't.

In 1995 and 1996, the Yankees were back in the postseason. George invited Yogi to throw out a ceremonial first ball. He refused. In 1997, the 1st Yankees-Mets Interleague series was played at Yankee Stadium. Again, George invited Yogi. Again, Yogi refused. In 1998, the series was held at Shea for the 1st time. The Mets invited Yogi. No grudge here: Wearing a Mets cap, Yogi, 73, threw out a perfect strike of a first ball.

That same year, a group of Yogi's friends opened the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, on the campus of Montclair State University, not far from his home. This was a very big deal, as not many athletes have museums in their honor while they're still alive. (Interestingly, Dizzy Dean was one, in his adopted hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, although it's gone now, its exhibits now part of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, also in the State capital of Jackson.)

The next spring, DiMaggio was dying. George went to visit Joe at the hospital in Florida that now has a children's wing that bears his name, due to his donations. George asked Joe if there was anything he could do for him. Joe told him to make up with Yogi.

Not long after that, Yankee broadcaster Suzyn Waldman talked to Carmen Berra, and Carm said her great regret was that, unlike Yogi's children, his grandchildren had never seen him at Yankee Stadium in a Yankee uniform. So Suzyn went to talk to George, and said, "I'd like to talk to you about Yogi." And George, still rattled by his visit with DiMaggio, said, "Why, what's wrong?" Suzyn said she knew, at that point, that a reconciliation was possible.

A meeting was set up at the Yogi Museum. In front of the media, George said, "I'm sorry." Yogi said the perfect thing to say in the situation: "It's over."

George invited Yogi to throw out the first ball on Opening Day, an honor usually given to DiMaggio, who had died. Yogi also wore his old Number 8 uniform on Old-Timers' Day.

In June 1999, I visited the Museum for the 1st time. I wrote on the comment card, "I'm glad I came. If I hadn't come, I wouldn't have known what I wasn't missing." I got a nice postcard back, complimenting me on my choice of words, and advertising future events.

One such event was a bus trip from the Museum to The Stadium for Yogi Berra Day on July 18, 1999. I thought about it... and decided not to. On the one hand, it was brutally hot that day, almost 100 degrees. On the other and, I missed maybe the greatest day in Yankee history -- and as Yogi might say, I'm not just whittling Dixie.

Yogi got all kinds of gifts, and read a heartfelt speech that was totally on the level, no Yogi-isms. Then Yogi caught a ceremonial first ball from Don Larsen. Then, with Yogi and Don both watching, David Cone pitched a perfect game. Coney remarked that there was a Number 8 marked behind home plate, and he had thrown 88 pitches. It was a real "You can't make this stuff up" moment. After the game, the scoreboard put up one of Yogi's best-known lines: "It's deja vu all over again."

*

Today, there was a party for Yogi at the Museum. But all is not well. There was recently a break-in at the Museum, and several priceless artifacts were stolen. They were, however, recovered. Carmen got sick a few years ago, and they had to move from the Montclair house -- which was listed for $888,888, and sold quickly -- to a nursing home. Soon, it was clear that advancing age had left Yogi frail enough that he was no longer living there just for her. She has since died.

It's hard for Yogi to get around these days. When he's introduced on Old-Timers' Day, it's always last, together with Whitey Ford, who's in a bit better shape but is still 86, on a golf cart. He looks so old, and very weak.

But he's still very much with it. According to his granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, who writes for MLB.com, she asked him about Tom Brady's "Deflategate." She said that "Gramp" said, "If you're going to cheat, it's better if you don't get caught."

Last year's birthday party at the Yogi Museum
L to R: Jorge Posada, Yogi, Reggie "Indiana" Jackson, Joe Girardi.

He likes to say, "I really didn't say everything I said." Well, less important than what he's said is who he's been. He's an American treasure.

And thank God he's not yet a buried treasure. Happy Birthday, Yoag.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How Long It's Been: Tottenham Finished Ahead of Arsenal


This past Monday afternoon (Monday night, local time), Arsenal defeated Hull City 3-1, ensuring that they would finish the Premier League season with more points than the other major soccer team in North London, Tottenham Hotspur.

Because of their origin as a "works side" (in America, we would say "company team," as were the origins of the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers) at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, Arsenal have a cannon on their badge. Thus, the team is nicknamed the Gunners. As a result of this, their fans are called Gooners.

Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs for short, frequently has their fans called Spuds by Gooners. I don't see the connection, except that potatoes grow underground where there's no light, and Spurs fans don't seem to see the light. As in...

Q: How many Tottenham fans does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It doesn't mater: They'll still be in the dark.

When Arsenal are assured of finishing ahead of Tottenham in the League table (standings), Gooners celebrate it as "St. Totteringham's Day." Monday's win means that they have finished above Tottenham for 20 consecutive seasons.

It's a very nasty rivalry, but when you can't finish better than the team you hate the most for twenty years, that's not much of a rivalry, is it?

In that time, Tottenham have had some good seasons. In 2010 and 2012, they finished 4th; both times, Arsenal finished 3rd. In 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013, they finished 5th; each of those times, Arsenal finished 4th.

They've had some good cup runs. In 1999 and 2008, they won the League Cup (beating Arsenal in the Semifinal in 2008); in 2002, 2009 and this season, they reached its Final; in 2007, its Semifinal (losing to Arsenal). They reached the Semifinal of the FA Cup in 1999, 2001 (losing to Arsenal), 2010 and 2012; they reached the Quarterfinal in 2002, 2005 and 2007. Their 4th place finish in 2010 qualified them for the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League, only their 2nd time in the tournament originally known as the European Cup, and they advanced to the Quarterfinals; their 4th place finish in 2012 did not qualify them for such, because another London team, Chelsea, who'd finished 6th, won the tournament and took England's 4th spot. And in 2007 and 2013, they reached the Quarterfinal of the UEFA Cup/Europa League. (The name change happened in 2010.)

And they've had some big wins over Arsenal, in individual games. But they've never finished ahead of Arsenal.

To make matters worse, in 2004, they came from 2-0 to forge a 2-2 draw with Arsenal at their home ground, White Hart Lane -- but that was enough for Arsenal to clinch the League title. For the 2nd time, Arsenal won the League at White Hart Lane. The first time was in 1971. In other words, Tottenham have won the League exactly twice, in 1951 and 1961, and clinched at White Hart Lane both times, and yet Arsenal have won the League there exactly as many times as Tottenham have.

Twenty years since Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal. Twenty years since there was no St. Totteringham's Day in a season. How long has that been?

*

Tottenham finished 7th in 1994-95, while Arsenal finished 12th. Despite the high finish (by their standards), it was a rough time for Spurs. Indeed, they shouldn't have finished ahead of Arsenal: Due to financial irregularities by previous owners, they were fined £600,000, deducted 12 points, and banned from the 1994-95 FA Cup. New owner Alan Sugar -- computer mogul, and producer and star of the original British version of Donald Trump's The Apprentice -- challenged the sanctions in court. Although the fine was increased to £1.5 million, the deduction and cup ban were rescinded.

Tottenham replaced former star Ossie Ardiles as manager with Gerry Francis, a former star at another London club, Queens Park Rangers. He's now 63, and hasn't managed in 14 years. Tottenham's leading scorer was Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the heroes of West Germany's 1990 World Cup win. He's now the manager of the American national team. Naturally, Germany's biggest club, Bayern Munich swooped in, and bought him, leaving Spurs without their best player. They also ended up having to sell Romanian star Gheorghe Popescu.

It was a rough time for Arsenal as well. Their manager was Stewart Houston, who was serving as caretaker manager following the firing of George Graham, who'd been caught having accepted a large financial gift as a result of a player's transfer. They also had to deal with the injuries and drug rehab of Paul Merson, and the injury-forced retirement of striker Alan Smith. Paul Davis would also retire, and Kevin Campbell would be sold.

Somehow, the holders of the European Cup Winners' Cup reached the Final of that tournament again, losing to Spanish club Real Zaragoza, on a late extra time goal by Turkish player Nayim. Nayim had previously played for Tottenham, and, to this day, Spurs fans still sing his name, even though the goal and the game had absolutely nothing to do with Spurs. When a former Arsenal player does something to beat Tottenham, Arsenal fans get excited and laugh, but they quickly move on. This shows you how stupid Tottenham fans tend to be.

Bruce Rioch would manage Arsenal the next season, and then Arsene Wenger would come in, and he's still there, having finished above Tottenham every season he's managed in England, while Tottenham have gone through manager after manager after manager, and failed. Mauricio Pochettino is in charge now; in 1995, the Argentine was 23 and playing centreback for Espanyol, "the other club in Barcelona."

In the 1994-95 season, the League was won by Blackburn Rovers, by 1 point over Manchester United. Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish was their manager, their leading scorer was future Newcastle United and BBC Match of the Day star Alan Shearer, and their Captain was Tim Sherwood -- future Tottenham manager, and currently preparing to manage Birmingham side Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal. (There's a conundrum for Spurs fans: Rooting for Arsenal, or for a manager they believed wasn't good enough for their club.)

Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry City, Norwich City and Ipswich Town were all in the top flight. Now, none of them are -- and Wimbledon aren't even in Wimbledon anymore, having moved to become Milton Keynes Dons, while a new AFC Wimbledon have been formed.

This was the last season of 22 teams in the top flight; ever since, it's been 20. Of the 22 teams in the League that season, every one, in accordance with the Taylor Report in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, has either modernized its stadium or built an entirely new one. Tottenham, now, appears to finally be getting ready to start building the replacement for White Hart Lane. Of the 1994-95 Premiership teams, Arsenal, Wimbledon/MK Dons, Southampton, Coventry, Manchester City and Leicester City have all built new stadiums; while West Ham United are preparing to leave Upton Park and move to the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Including the teams that are in this season's Premier League, add Hull City, Stoke City and Swansea City.

At the end of that season, Ted Drake died. He had been an Arsenal star in the 1930s, and in 1955 he became, until 2005, the only man ever to manage Chelsea to a League Championship. Such legends of the game as Stanley Matthews, Silvio Piola, Harry Andersson and Leônidas da Silva were still alive.

Everton won that season's FA Cup, and Ajax Amsterdam won the Champions League. Defending World Champions in the sports that most Americans would recognize were the San Francisco 49ers in football, the Houston Rockets in basketball, the New York Rangers in hockey (ugh, but they were about to be dethroned by the New Jersey Devils), and, since the 1994 postseason had been canceled, the Toronto Blue Jays spent a 3rd straight offseason as reigning World Champions of baseball. Boxing was already hopelessly messed up, and the "Heavyweight Champion of the World" was George Foreman according to the IBF, Riddick Bowe according to the WBO, Bruce Seldon according to the WBA, and Oliver McCall according to the WBC.

As the 1994-95 soccer season came to a close, Andrea Pirlo was about to turn 16 and playing in Brescia's youth system, Steven Gerrard was about to turn 15 and playing in Liverpool's youth system, John Terry was 14 and playing in West Ham's youth system, Zlatan Ibrahimović was 13, Arjen Robben was 11, Cristiano Ronaldo was 10, Wayne Rooney and Manuel Neuer were 9, Olivier Giroud was 8, Lionel Messi was about to turn 8, Sergio Leonel "Kun" Agüero was about to turn 7, Mesut Özil was 6, Aaron Ramsey was 4, Neymar was 3, and Harry Kane was about to turn 2.

In the wake of the 1994 World Cup held in America, Major League Soccer was in the process of being founded. The current manager of the New York Red Bulls, Jesse Marsch, was a senior at New Jersey's Princeton University. New York City FC manager Jason Kreis was playing for the Raleigh Flyers, in the league that then stood as America's 3rd division. The team no longer exists.

Joe Girardi was the catcher for the Colorado Rockies. Terry Collins was manager of the Houston Astros. Tom Coughlin had just been hired as the 1st head coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. Todd Bowles was a senior defensive back at Temple University. Derek Fisher was a junior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Lionel Hollins was wrapping up his playing career, with the Houston Rockets, and was about to return to his alma mater, Arizona State, as an assistant coach. Scott Stevens was leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup as Captain. Adam Oates was a star center for the Boston Bruins. Alain Vigneault was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators. Jack Capuano was a minor-league assistant coach.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, Canada, Britain, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in France, Japan, Korea, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Bill Clinton. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, their wives, and the widow of Lyndon Johnson were still alive. George W. Bush had just begun "serving" as Governor of Texas. Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister was Tony Blair. David Cameron was working for Carlton Communications. The Mayor of London was Sir John Chalstrey. Boris Johnson was writing for a national newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, which, then as now, was so conservative that it was nicknamed the Torygraph. The Prime Minister of Canada was Jean Chretien. Stephen Harper was already in their Parliament.

The Governor of New York was George Pataki, and of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman. The Mayor of New York was Rudy Giuliani. Andrew Cuomo was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (he would be full Secretary of HUD in Clinton's 2nd term), Chris Christie was a Morris County Freeholder, and Bill de Blasio was working as an aide to Congressman Charles Rangel.

Nick Hornby, the Arsenal fan who made Arsenal fandom cool for the first time since the early 1970s with Fever Pitch, published High Fidelity. Frank McCourt publishes Angela's Ashes. Memoirs were published by Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom) and Leonard Nimoy (I Am Spock -- a sequel to his controversial 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock). 

Major movies released in the Spring of 1995 included Bad Boys, The Basketball Diaries, While You Were Sleeping, Friday, Crimson Tide, Die Hard with a Vengeance, the faux-historical Scottish films Rob Roy and Braveheart, and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain -- Gentlemen, start your Hugh Grant jokes. The TV shows NewsRadio and Sliders had recently debuted. Empty Nest, Matlock, Blossom and Full House wrapped up their runs.

Selena was shot and killed. Former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was nearly stabbed after a concert in the Detroit area, with security guards getting hurt in the process. Tupac Shakur got married in prison. (He was doing time for rape. The marriage didn't last, and not because he was shot and killed on the outside.) Hanson and Sugar Ray released their debut albums. The surviving Beatles were putting together The Beatles Anthology. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley began to split up.

Most people had never heard of Osama bin Laden or Vladimir Putin, Simon Cowell or Katie Price. Princess Diana was still alive, and Prince William was turning 13. Kim Kardashian was 14, future Lady Gaga Stefanie Germanotta was 9, Miley Cyrus was 2, and Justin Bieber was a "Baby." Derek Jeter was about to make his major league debut, Tom Brady was about to graduate high school, LeBron James was 10, and Sidney Crosby was 7.

Mobile telephones were around, but larger than we're used to now, and still mainly of the flip-open variety. Most of us had heard of the Internet, but most of us weren't on it yet. The Netscape IPO, often considered the dawn of the Internet Age, was a few weeks away. There was no Facebook, no YouTube, no Instagram, no Pinterest.  

The current holders of the Nobel Peace Prize were Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. How'd that work out?

In the Spring of 1995, the first Chechen War broke out. The federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up, and the Unabomber struck for what turned out to be the last time. Christopher Reeve had his paralyzing horse-riding accident.

Harold Wilson, and Ginger Rogers, and Howard Cosell died. Celeste Buckingham, and Adnan Januzaj, and Héctor Bellerín were born.

The Spring of 1995. Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League. It has never happened again.

Twenty years. If I were a Tottenham fan, I would find that monumentally embarrassing.

But then, being a Tottenham fan is, all by itself, monumentally embarrassing.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Same New England, Always Cheating


The great irony of New England sports of the last few years is that the Boston Celtics are the one team in the region that I can't prove cheated its way to a title.

In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the Celtics won 13 NBA Championships. They employed some of the dirtiest tactics in the NBA. Think of the 1989-90 Detroit Pistons' "Motor City Bad Boys," but, with the era's pathetic TV coverage of the league (and no social media), it was hardly ever seen, and so was the referees' letting them get away with it. So whenever anybody called them on it, it was insufficiently believed.

In the 1980s, they won 3 more titles. It could have been more, but the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers showed that they weren't going to get pushed around. The Sixers were tougher, and the Lakers, unlike in their 6 NBA Finals losses to the Celtics in the 1960s, frequently proved too fast for them. So the Celtics tried something else: Knowing that the Finals were being playing in late May and early June, they turned off the air conditioning in the visitors' locker room at the Boston Garden. This was most memorably shown by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar taking in oxygen late in Game 5 of the 1984 Finals (not Game 7, as everybody thinks they remember). But the Lakers beat the Celtics in 2 out of 3 Finals in the '80s, including clinching on the parquet floor in Game 6 in '85 and winning a key Game 4 there in '87.

The Celtics didn't win another title until 2008. While they did bring in 3 superstars in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Gary Payton, no one's been able to prove they tweaked the salary cap rules to do it, and no one's been able to prove that they broke any other rules, or did anything else that might be within the rules, but not quite fair (like the air conditioning trick).

But every other New England team? Cheating bastards:

* The Boston Red Sox have ridden steroids to 3 World Series wins. David Ortiz was caught, denied it, exposed as having been caught and lying about it, and still lies about it. Manny Ramirez, only there for the 1st 2, was also caught. And the national media goes on as if that never happened. Meanwhile, Red Sox fans still chant "STER-oiiiids!" at any opposing player even suspected (not just Alex Rodriguez).

* The Boston Bruins let the ice melt a bit before Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, slowing down the fast-break attack of the Vancouver Canucks, and allowing themselves to force a Game 7 in Vancouver, thus getting into the Canucks' heads, and winning the Cup.

* The University of Connecticut men's basketball team was revealed in 2010 to have committed recruiting violations, with the NCAA report confirming it conveniently coming out after their 2011 National Championship. Since Jim Calhoun previously coached them to National Championships in 1999 and 2004, this puts those titles into question as well. Calhoun had to "retire."

Kevin Ollie coached them the the National Championship in 2014, but, having both played for and assisted Calhoun, can we really be sure he's any cleaner than Calhoun was? Let's not forget that Calhoun is a major Red Sox fan, and seems to be okay with their cheating.

As far as I know, the women's program under Geno Auriemma has never been seriously accused of wrongdoing, but their level of success should at least be raising the question. Auriemma is also a big Sox fan. Connecticut straddles the border between the New York and Boston markets -- both the New York Tri-State Area and New England claim it -- but UConn's Gampel Pavilion is closer to Fenway Park, 82 miles, compared to 131 miles to Yankee Stadium.

* Even the New England Revolution are shameless. They are the dirtiest tacklers in Major League Soccer, and they dive like a Spanish team. Incredibly, the Revs have never won an MLS Cup: They are 0-for-5 in Cup Finals, including last year's, although they cheated their way past the Red Bulls in the Semifinal to get there.

* And, of course, the New England Patriots. Until this past February, it could be safely said that they hadn't won a Super Bowl since they got outed as cheaters in the "Spygate" scandal. Then came "Deflategate," but they won Super Bowl XLIX anyway.

I have to give Bill Belichick a little bit of credit: As arrogant as it was, he did admit that he cheated in Spygate. But he still acts as though all 3 of his titles to that point were legit.

The 4th title, on the other hand, has a serious cloud over it. Yes, the Pats beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 to get into the Super Bowl. It doesn't sound like a few deflated footballs made much of a difference.

But that just makes it worse. Whether you're Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds, Cristiano Ronaldo or Eden Hazard, Jim Calhoun or Tom Brady, if you're good enough to excel without cheating, you shouldn't cheat. It makes it far, far worse that is for someone who's not good enough to excel without cheating to do it (such as Sammy Sosa or Wayne Rooney).

There's no question that Brady is intelligent. He went to the University of Michigan. In spite of jokes about President Gerald Ford (who was a great lineman there in the 1930s and was considered smart enough to be offered a place in Yale Law School, which he took and set himself on a path to politics instead of accepting an offer to play in the fledgling NFL), they don't let dummies in, not even if they can play football. It's also the alma mater of such smart athletes as Mickey Cochrane, Red Berenson, Dan Dierdorf and, yes, Derek Jeter (although he never played sports there because he turned pro right after high school).

Speaking of school, it's worth noting that Brady is also a graduate of Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, which is also the alma mater of Barry Bonds. (Serra, 1713-1784, is essentially the founding father of California, and is expected to be canonized, declared a saint, by Pope Francis this fall. Somehow, I don't think a future Pope will ever canonize Brady or Bonds.)

Anyway, back to Brady's intelligence. There are 32 teams in the NFL. They carry 3 quarterbacks apiece on their active roster. That's 96. There's usually a change or two over the course of a season. So it is reasonable to assume that, right now, there are 100 men on this planet who are capable of playing quarterback in the National Football League.

If you told me that 5 out of those 100 were intelligent enough and instinctive enough to be capable of determining that a football was not properly inflated -- or could be deflated to a certain point that was to his liking -- I'd believe that Brady was 1 of those 5 out of 100.

Brady apparently tried to let the equipment men take the fall for him, and they refused. This is different from Bonds: He had someone who was willing to go to federal prison for him, rather than spill his guts. Bonds had someone who refused to toss him overboard. (That's what we used to say, before you kids came up with "throw him under the bus.") The guys Brady was counting on to protect his ass? (And I don't mean his offensive line.) They've given him up.

And Brady can't simply blame this on known cheater Belichick: The findings suggest that the coach didn't know about it beforehand. So much for Brady trying the defense made famous at the Nuremberg war crimes trials: "I vas only following orders!"

This isn't quite the NFL's answer to Pete Rose getting caught betting on games, in terms of a beloved figure having a massive fall. It is, however, the end of any idea that Brady, 4 Super Bowl wins or no, is the greatest quarterback of all time.

Now, how is Commissioner Roger Goodell going to handle this? Based on his history, I suspect he's going to call a press conference, demand that Brady appear alongside him, and wag his finger at Brady, and say, "Bad boy! Bad! What did you do? What did you do?" And then he'll suspend him for all the Pats' exhibition games -- at least 2 of which, Brady might not have played in anyway -- and for the 1st 2 regular-season games, with the possibility (translation: certainty) that he'd be reinstated for those 2 games if he kept his nose clean in the meantime.

Then, if and when the video footage comes out, showing Brady ordering the deflation, Goodell will face another Ray Rice situation, where he's now seen the issue in question. And, this time, it will actually be a football-game situation. He'd have to suspend Brady for the entire season.

But he won't vacate the Patriots' last title. Much less their previous 3.

So Brady will lose... what? A season? Money, a sum that would be a fortune to most of us but not much to him?

He might lose more than that. Hopefully, he'll lose his reputation, and his shot at ever being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Who knows, he might even lose Gisele Bundchen.

Cheating doth never prosper.
Unless there's no bleating.
For, for it to prosper
none dare call it "cheating."

As they would say in English soccer, to the tune of the Winchester Chimes (you know, Big Ben)...

Same New England, always cheating!

*

With my new job significantly cutting down on my free time, I made a conscious decision not to do the baseball trip guides for this season. But I do still want to do the countdowns.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 3, this Sunday night at 7:00, at Red Bull Arena, in the 1st-ever meeting between the Red Bulls and New York City FC -- a.k.a. Man City NYC.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": See the previous answer. The next game against the Philadelphia Union will be on Sunday afternoon, May 24, at PPL Park in Chester. The next game against the New England Revolution will be on Saturday night, July 11, at Red Bull Arena. The next game against D.C. United will be on Sunday night, August 30, at Red Bull Arena.

Days until Arsenal play again: 4, this Monday night (3:00 in the afternoon our time), home to Welsh club Swansea City. Although the despicable West London club Chelsea clinched the League title this past Sunday, Arsenal's win over Hull City the following day vastly increased their chances of finishing at least 2nd, and insured that they absolutely would finish ahead of North London rivals Tottenham, making it St. Totteringham's Day. Arsenal have also advanced to the FA Cup Final.

Days until the FA Cup Final: 23, between Arsenal and Birmingham club Aston Villa, at 12:30 PM New York time, at the new Wembley Stadium in London.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 29, on Friday afternoon, 2:30 our time (8:30 local), away to the Netherlands at the Amsterdam ArenA. (Yes, the last A is officially capitalized.) Just under a month, or just over 4 weeks. This European roadtrip, meant to be a warmup for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which we will host, won't get any easier, as, 5 days later, we have to play World Cup holders Germany in Cologne. 

Days until the 1st-ever meeting between the Red Bulls and New York City FC at Yankee Stadium: 52, on Sunday night, June 28. A little over 7 weeks.

Days until the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup begins on U.S. soil: 105, on Tuesday night, July 7. Just 2 months.
Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 108, on Friday, July 10, at 7:00 PM, at Fenway Park.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: Unknown. The next Premier League season starts on Saturday, August 15, but derbies are not usually scheduled for the opening week. So, at least 100 days.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 119, on Thursday night (why?), September 3, away to Woodbridge. Under 4 months.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 121, on Saturday afternoon, September 5, home to Norfolk State.

Days until the Devils play again: Unknown, as the 2015-16 NHL schedule won't be released until June 22. But an NHL regular season usually begins on the 1st Friday in October, which would be October 2, 2015. That's 148 days. That's a little under 5 months.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: Also unknown until June 22.

Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Also unknown until June 22, but it's at least 148 days. Or, to put it another way, "148 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, despite having definitively played their last competitive game in the Nassau Coliseum, even with their 4 straight long-ago Stanley Cups, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 203, 
on Thursday morning, November 26, at 10:00 AM, at EB. A little under 7 months.

Days until the Copa América Centenario begins on U.S. soil: 393, on June 3, 2016. A little over a year. The tournament will be between teams from the North American, Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) and South America (CONMEBOL, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary). Although it's a member of CONCACAF rather than CONMEBOL, the U.S. is the host nation, and thus qualifies automatically, as it does for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Days until Euro 2016 begins in France: 400, on Friday, June 10.


Days until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 456, on Friday, August 5, 2016. Just under 15 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez's Yankee contract runs out: Officially, at the end of the 2017 season. Game 7 of that year's World Series could turn out to be on Halloween, so, for the sake of this entry, let's say October 31, 2017, which would be 1,273 -- about 2 1/2 years. Of course, the Yankees could release him before then, but I don't think the House of Steinbrenner wants to take the financial hit from buying him out.

Days until the next World Cup begins in Russia: 1,493, on Friday June 8, 2018. A little over 3 years.

Reasons to Be Pleased -- But Also to Be Concerned


Between a weird work schedule and getting slammed with one hell of a cold, I have fallen behind again. Here goes:

The Yankees won a Sunday night ESPN game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. This means that anything can happen.

Mark Teixeira got things going with his 9th "Teix Message" of the season in the 1st inning. 2-0 Yankees. In the 3rd, singles by Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rodriguez, and doubles by Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran made it 5-0 Yankees. Gardner hit his 2nd home run of the year in the 6th inning, giving the Bronx Bombers a whopping 8-0 advantage.

Of course, this was the little green pinball machine in the Back Bay, where, yes, anything can happen, especially when the Sox are playing the Yankees.

Adam Warren pitched brilliantly over the 1st 5 innings, but the Sox struck back in the 6th, scoring 4 runs. Joe Girardi brought in Esmil Rogers, who allowed a 5th run by put out the fire. Rogers and Justin Wilson got through the 7th without further damage, and Wilson and David Carpenter did the same in the 8th.

Girardi brought in his new closer, Andrew Miller, for the bottom of the 9th, and he looked more like the belaboring but effective David Robertson than the coldly efficient Mariano Rivera. He walked Allen Craig to start the inning, then struck out Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart. But he walked Mookie Betts. (That must amaze anyone old enough to remember the 1986 World Series: The Red Sox counting on a player nicknamed Mookie.)

The dangerous Dustin Pedroia came up, and Chase Headley mishandled his grounder, and now the bases were loaded. This brought the winning run to the plate. The batter? Who else but the biggest (certainly, the fattest) Yankee Killer of all time, the big fat lying cheating bastard himself, David Ortiz.

Time for Miller to earn his Pinstripes -- even though he was wearing the road gray.

He got Ortiz to hit a line drive to center field. Easily playable for Ellsbury, and the formerly beloved Boston star caught it for the last out.

Yankees 8, Red Sox 5. WP: Warren (2-1). SV: Miller (10). LP: Joe Kelly (1-1).

A little more than a week earlier, both Met fans and Red Sox fans -- the Flushing Heathen and the Chowdaheads -- were talking smack, saying the Yankees were "old," and "washed-up," and "had no chance at the Playoffs."

Since then, the Yankees have taken 2 out of 3 from the Mutts, starting a decline they've now fallen into, bringing their idiot fans down to Earth; and swept The Scum in Boston. And remain in 1st place. They had now won 13 of their last 17, rendering their usual "slow start" a short one this time.

*

The Yankees then flew into Toronto to play those pesky Blue Jays. On Monday night, ex-Met Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey had his knuckleball working, and they couldn't do much with it. The game was scoreless until the top of the 7th, when the Yankees got a run home on a groundout.

Chase Whitley pitched 7 shutout innings, allowing just 6 hits and no walks, striking out 6. He threw 90 pitches. Unfortunately, Girardi once again made the stupid decision to let the pitch count, rather than using his eyes to judge the pitcher's effectiveness, dictate when to remove the starter.

Girardi brought Chris Martin in to begin the bottom of the 8th. Martin, like his English singer namesake, brought some cold play. He got the 1st out, then allowed a pair of singles. Girardi brought in Dellin Betances, who allowed a double and a single (bracketing a popup), to blow the game.

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 1. WP: Dickey (1-3). SV: Brett Cecil (2). LP: Martin (0-1 -- Betances got charged with a blown save, as it was still 1-0 Yankees when he came in, but that's not completely fair, as Martin allowed the go-ahead run on base).

*

On Tuesday night, Girardi handed the ball to Michael Pineda. In a move that stunned many, given both Girardi's foolishness in handling pitchers and Pineda's tendency toward injury, he went a full in 8 innings, allowing no runs, 8 hits, just 1 walk, fanning 6.

The Yankees got on the board quickly, leading off the game with an Ellsbury single and back-to-back doubles by Gardner and A-Rod. An Ellsbury single brought home another run in the 2nd. In the 5th came another Teix Message, Mark's 10th of the year. Didi Gregorius, who really hasn't gotten the job done as Derek Jeter's replacement at shortstop, either in the field or at the plate, singled home a run in the 8th.

The game began to look like a repeat of Sunday night in Boston. The Yankees took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th, and it began to fall apart. David Carpenter was brought in to reliever, and he allowed a home run to the Jays' Canadian-born catcher, former Yankee Russell Martin. He got 2 more outs, so it looked like the Martin homer would be no big deal. But he allowed a walk, a double and a single, and suddenly it was 6-3.

Girardi pulled Carpenter and brought in Miller. He walked Jose Bautista, and that brought Devon Travis to the plate as the tying run. Well, Travis is no David Ortiz. (Especially since, as far as we know, he's not a cheater, or a liar about it.) Miller got him to fly to right.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 3. WP: Pineda (4-0). SV: Miller (11). LP: Marco Estrada (1-1).

*

As optimistic as we can now be about Pineda, it is time to get concerned over CC Sabathia. Half of his games this season have been bad, while the other half have been hard-luck. It's beginning to look like the major leagues' winningest active pitcher (208) may never win another game -- not necessarily through any fault of his own.

Last night, the Yankees gave him a 1-0 to start with, on a Chris Young single, an A-Rod double and a Teix groundout. But he couldn't hold it, allowing 2 runs in the 2nd, another in the 4th, and another in the 6th, on another homer by Russell Martin. He didn't pitch badly, but the Yankees just didn't hit for him, never scoring again after the Teix grounder.

Blue Jays 5, Yankees 1. For the first time in 3 weeks, the Yankees lost a series. WP: Buehrle (4-2). No save. LP: Sabathia (0-5).

*

The Yankees come home, and tomorrow night they start a 4-game set against the Baltimore Orioles. Here are the projected pitching matchups:

Thursday, 7:05 PM: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Chris Tillman.

Friday, 7:05 PM: Warren vs. Miguel Gonzalez.

Saturday, 1:05 PM: Chase Whitley vs. Wei-Yin Chen.

Sunday, 1:05 PM: Pineda vs. Bud Norris.

Come on you Pinstripes!