Friday, April 24, 2015

"Take Back New York"? The Yankees Just Did


Remember all that talk about how the Mets were going to "Take Back New York"?

Seems like only yesterday.

In fact, it was sooner than that: It was just a few hours ago.

Until tonight, the Mets did look like a better team on paper.

Well, you know what they say: Baseball games aren't played on paper, they're played on grass. (Except when they're played on plastic. Give the Mets credit for this: They've never accepted artificial turf.)

Tonight's opener of the Subway Derby at Yankee Stadium II? It turned the Flushing Heathen's battle cry of "Ya gotta believe!" into a cry over shattered belief.

In the bottom of the 1st inning, Mark Teixeira hit Jacob deGrom's 17th pitch of the night over the right field fence, driving in Brett Gardner ahead of him, and the Yankees led 2-0.

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the 3rd with a home run, his 1st of the season. Gardner singled to center, although our old friend Curtis Granderson threw him out trying to stretch it to a double. Then Alex Rodriguez drew a walk. Then Mark hit another Teix Message, his 2nd of the game and his 7th of the season. Brian McCann singled. Carlos Beltran walked. Chase Headley singled to load the bases. Stephen Drew flew out to center, but it was enough to get McCann home. (Which is saying something, because he runs slower than the average Met fan's thought processes.)

The Mets got a run back in the top of the 6th, but that was it. Michael Pineda pitched brilliantly: 7 2/3 innings, 1 run, 5 hits, no walks, 7 strikeouts. Let's face it, just about any of the Yankees' starters would be the Mets' ace -- even ahead of the overrated Matt Harvey.

Yankees 6, Mets 1. WP: Pineda (3-0). No save. LP: deGrom (2-2). And, as Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay would say: "The time of the game, a very manageable 2 hours and 33 minutes."

To paraphrase the film 300, Met fans did not enjoy this, but it was over quickly.

The series resumes tomorrow at 4:00, for the Fox Saturday Game of the Week. The fake ace, Matt Harvey, starts against the real ace, CC Sabathia.

The New Mets: The "Swagger" Is Back?


Today, the first Subway Derby of the 2015 Major League Baseball season begins at Yankee Stadium II.

No, it's not a Subway Series. That can only happen in October, in the World Series. And that will never happen again, because the Mets are never winning another Pennant.

Yes, I'm aware that the Mets are 13-3 and have won 11 straight. It means nothing. They are not about to "take back New York."

They said they were going to do that in 1999-2000. And we stopped them.

They said they were going to do that in 2006-07-08. We didn't get the chance to stop them: They stopped themselves.

How is 2015 different? It isn't.

*

Someone -- I won't embarrass this person with identification, but you know who you are -- went to a game at Pity Field a few days ago, and says it has "a 1985 feel to it," that the Mets "have their swagger back."

Swagger? Over what? You don't have swagger over an 11-game winning streak. You have swagger over actually having won something. At the least, over making the Playoffs, something the Mutts haven't done in 9 years.

A 1985 feel. Really.

Let's compare the 1985 Mets to the 2015 Mets, shall we?

1B Keith Hernandez vs. Lucas Duda.

2B Wally Backman vs. Daniel Murphy.

SS Rafael Santana vs. Wilmer Flores.

3B Howard Johnson vs. David Wright (if he's healthy).

LF George Foster vs. Michael Cuddyer.

CF Mookie Wilson vs. Juan Lagares.

RF A young Darryl Strawberry vs. an aging Curtis Granderson.

C Gary Carter vs. Anthony Recker.

Aside from 3rd base, and even there it's a lot closer than you might believe, is there a single position at which you'd take the 2015 player?

Maybe Murphy instead of Backman, because Backman, while capable of making things happen once he got on base, wasn't a very good hitter. Maybe Flores instead of Santana, although neither could hit. Maybe the Granderson of 2008 to 2011 was worthy of standing alongside Strawberry. Not the current version.

Also, the pitching? The bullpen stinks, and the rotation has a question-mark Matt Harvey, a sophomore-jinx-in-the-making Jacob deGrom, a question-mark Jon Niese, a question-mark Dillon Gee, and fat steroid freak Bartolo Colon, who could get caught and suspended again at any time. Does that sound like Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Ed Lynch and not-yet-reliever Rick Aguilera to you?

Does that sound like a winning combination to you?

(Okay, Lynch and Aguilera were terrible starters. Aguilera was moved to the bullpen in 1986, and the Mets traded Calvin Schiraldi for Bob Ojeda to be the 4th starter, and that made all the difference -- especially in the World Series.)

All it's going to take to burst the Flushing Heathen's balloon, to show them that their team is not in position to take anything back, is these 3 games.

Bring it on.

Watch Out, Flushing Heathen: Yankees Are Ready to Rumble


I have a lot of catching up to do.

So did the Yankees. But they're doing it. If they can do it, so can I.

When last we left the Bronx Bombers Bumblers, they were 3-5, on pace for 61-101. They seemed determined to prove right all the people predicting a disastrous, 1925-style, 1965-style, 1982-style or 1989-style fall from contention.

Meanwhile, fans of The Other Team, fans I have branded the Flushing Heathen, were feeling very optimistic.

I'll get to them later.

*

On Wednesday, April 15, against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, things got worse. Talk about a taxing day. Nathan Eovaldi looked like yet another former Miami Marlin pitcher who can't hack the American League East. In 5 innings, he struck out 9, but also allowed 8 hits and 3 walks, for 2 runs. Still, he had a 3-2 lead, partly thanks to Alex Rodriguez' 2nd home run of the season.

Of course, Joe Girardi trusts a pitch count more than his own eyes. Nevertheless, this time, he can be excused for removing Eovaldi: It wasn't the 101 pitches that was the problem, it's that he was getting hit.

But the O's scored 5 runs off 3 different Yankee pitchers in the bottom of the 6th. That was it: Despite a couple of runs in the 8th, it ended Orioles 7, Yankees 5. WP: Brad Brach (1-0). SV: Zach Britton (3). LP: David Carpenter (0-1).

The Yankees were 3-6 -- a pace for 54-108. That's expansion-team-level bad. That's post-fire-sale-level bad.

*

Is it possible for a baseball team to have a "must-win game" in April? The Yankees went down to Tampa Bay, facing a Rays team without the classless thug Joe Maddon in charge for the 1st time since 2007 -- the 1st time since we had a warmongering idiot in the White House.

Friday night, the Yankees went into Tropicana Field, a.k.a. The Really South Bronx, where an announced crowd of 15,752 came out. The 752 must've been the ones rooting for the Rays.

It looked like onebadinningitis again, as Adam Warren entered the bottom of the 4th with a 2-0 lead, thanks to homers by A-Rod and Stephen Drew (each man's 3rd of the season), and left it trailing 4-2. But the Yankees tied it in the 6th, as Brian McCann walked, and A-Rod hit another homer.

Carlos Beltran led off the 8th with a single, and was replaced by pinch-runner Brett Gardner. But it looked like the Yankees were going to waste this potential tying run, as both Mark Teixeira and McCann flew out to center. Gardner stole 2nd, hoping A-Rod could single him home. He did.

Yankees 5, Rays 4. WP: Dellin Betances (2-0). SV: Andrew Miller (3). LP: Kevin Jepsen (0-1).

Jepsen? Any relation to Carly Rae Jepsen? "Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but we're the Yankees, you're losing, no maybe!"

*

On Saturday, it was Tanaka Time. Masahiro Tanaka took the mound, and, despite remarks that he hasn't fully regained his velocity after his injury, every time he goes out, you get the feeling that 1 run will be all he needs.

He got more than that. as the Yankees scored 2 on a McCann triple in the 6th, and 7 in the 7th. Observe: A Chase Headley single, a Drew double, a Gregorio Petit sacrifice fly, a Jacoby Elllsbury single, a Gardner single, an A-Rod walk to load the bases, a Teix sac fly, McCann hit by a pitch, and a Chris Young grand slam, his 3rd homer of the season.

Tanaka allowed just 2 baserunners, a single and a double, over 7 innings. Giving him 9 runs seems almost unfair. But then, how often have the Yankees scored 9 runs over the last 3 years?

Yankees 9, Rays 0. WP: Tanaka (2-1). No save. LP: Jake Odorizzi (2-1). Attendance: 20,824.

*

On Sunday, Michael Pineda was a bit uneven. He got into the 6th, striking out 5, but also allowed 3 runs on 7 hits and a walk. Fortunately, the bullpen allowed just 3 baserunners the rest of the way.

No homers this time, but Jones went 3-for-4, while Ellsbury, Headley and Didi Gregorious each got 2 hits. Yankees 5, Rays 3. WP: Pineda (2-0). SV: Miller (4). LP: Matt Andriese (0-1). Attendance: 21,791.

Attendance for the entire 3-game series: 58,367. Or slightly more than would have fit into the post-renovation old Yankee Stadium for 1 game.

Or would fit into Montreal's Olympic Stadium for 1 game. #MoveTheRays

*

That got the Yankees back to .500. Off to Detroit for 4 against the Tigers.

On Monday night, CC Sabathia pitched like his old fat self. In other words, brilliantly. He allowed 2 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks, striking out 5.

Wouldn't it have been nice if the Yankees could have taken 2 of those 9 runs from Saturday in St. Petersburg, and moved them to Monday at Comerica Park? Alas, it doesn't work that way. Against Alfredo Simon, Joakim Soria and, yes, Joba Chamberlain (who got 2 outs in the 8th), the Yankees could manage just 1 run on 7 hits. The 1 run was a solo blast by Teixeira in the 4th (his 4th of the season).

Tigers 2, Yankees 1. WP: Simon (3-0). SV: Soria (5). LP: Sabathia (0-3).

Back under .500.

*

On Tuesday night, it appeared that the Yankees had reached a conscious decision to have had enough of this crap, and to start hitting the ball.

Eovaldi was pitching well, but clinging to a 1-0 lead. Clearly, he needed more runs. He got them in the top of the 7th, as Young and Drew each hit his 4th homer of the season. That was all that was needed.

Yankees 5, Tigers 2. WP: Eovaldi (1-0). SV: Miller (5). LP: Kyle Lobstein (1-1).

Back to .500.

*

Then came Wednesday night's game, my favorite game of the season so far. The Yankees scored 6 runs before Adam Warren even threw a pitch. Granted, that can sometimes cause a pitcher to get nervous, or cocky, and lose focus. Indeed, Warren did allow 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st.

But the Yankees took 2 of them back in the top of the 2nd, and the Tigers did not recover, getting only 1 hit and 1 walk the rest of the way. Incredibly, in this blowout, the Yankees only got 1 home run, Teixeira's 5th. Which is fine with me: I don't care how the Yankees score, as long as they win.

Yankees 13, Tigers 4. WP: Warren (1-1). No save. LP: Former Tampa Bay pain in the ass David Price (1-1).

*

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees proved what they couldn't prove on Monday night: That they could win without scoring many runs.

The teams only got 6 hits between them, as Comerica Park is a pitcher's park, unlike its homer-happy predecessor Tiger Stadium. Tanaka allowed a run in the 1st, and cruised the rest of the way. But he still trailed 1-0 going into the 6th inning.

The Tigers really beat themselves, and the Yankees took advantage. Tom Gorzellany walked Ellsbury to open the 6th, and Ellsbury stole 2nd. Gardner grounded him over to 3rd. Gozellany struck out Beltran, and it looked like another "Yankee RISPfail" in the making. But he balked Ellsbury home to tie the game. Tiger manager Brad Ausmus argued with the umpires, and got tossed.

Ellsbury doubled to lead off the 8th, and Gardner bunted him over to 3rd. Gorzellany intentionally walked Beltran to set up the doule play. It didn't work, as McCann grounded out to get Ellsbury home.

That was it: Yankees 2, Tigers 1. WP: Betances (3-0). SV: Miller (6). LP: Gorzellany (0-1).

*

So, despite all the doubters and doomsayers, the Yankees are 9-7 as they go into this earliest-ever series against The Other Team, who are currently riding high.

Time to lay them low. The Yankees are ready to rumble. Those overhyped schmucked better be ready to get exposed.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Notable Recent Farewells


This new job has provided me with the chance to get back on my feet. But I've been so tired upon coming home that I haven't been able to update this blog much.

So let me go over some tributes that shouldn't have waited so long.

*

Lon Simmons was born Lonnie Alexander Simmons on July 19, 1923, in Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. But he grew up outside Los Angeles in Burbank, California. Certainly not the kind of background you would expect a San Francisco Bay Area legend to have.

He served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. He could have been a big-league ballplayer, and briefly pitched in the Philadelphia Phillies' minor-league system. But his future was in radio. At the time, it was still very possible to have a future in radio.

He broadcast in Elko, Nevada, near the Nevada-California State Line, and was hired by a station in Fresno, when the San Francisco 49ers hired him in 1957. In 1958, the New York Giants baseball team moved to San Francisco, and hired him as well.

In 1964, the 49ers played the Minnesota Vikings, and the Vikings' Jim Marshall picked up a fumble by the 49ers' Billy Kilmer... and ran the wrong way with it. Simmons had the call:

Mira, straight back to pass. Looking, now stops, throws, completes it to Kilmer up at the 30-yard line. Kilmer driving for the first down, loses the football! It is picked up by Jim Marshall, who is running the wrong way! Marshall is running the wrong way! And he's running it into the end zone the wrong way, thinks he has scored a touchdown! He has scored a safety! His teammates were running along the far side of the field, Russ, trying to tell him go back!

(Why the Niners were using 2 quarterbacks, George Mira and Kilmer, in 1 formation, I don't know.)

This wasn't the 1st time such a thing had happened in a football game involving a team in the Bay Area. In 1929, Roy Riegels of the University of California did it in the Rose Bowl against Georgia Tech, before being stopped by his own teammate, then the subsequent punt was blocked for a safety, giving Tech the margin of victory -- one of the few times defense ever actually won a game.

In Marshall's case, he got away with it, as the Vikings still won. He eventually set an NFL record for consecutive games played, appeared in 4 Super Bowls, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Simmons had rotten luck: Although the 49ers reached the NFL Championship Game in his rookie season, and the NFC Championship Game in 1970 and '71, they never reached a Super Bowl while he was their announcer. He left after the 1980 season -- and it was in the next season that they started winning Super Bowls. But he was brought back in 1987, and got to announce a 49er title the next season, before leaving again, just before they won again.

In baseball, he remained with the Giants through 1973, then came back in 1976, and then went across the Bay to announce for the Oakland Athletics from 1981 to 1995. In that case, it was because his employer, KSFO, switched teams, not because the Giants had a problem with him. (As far as I can tell, they didn't.)

He had a sense of humor about his job: "I don't mind hate mail, but when a letter comes to the station addressed, 'Jerk, KSFO, San Francisco,' and I get it, that's when I start to worry."

During the 1989 World Series, the great A's announcer Bill King came down with laryngitis. Had the earthquake not happened, Games 3 and 4 would have happened earlier, and King would have been fine. Instead, Simmons stepped in for him, and was the lead radio announcer when the A's won the Series.

Simmons would occasionally rejoin the Giants in the 2000s, and in 2004 was honored with the Ford Frick Award, the Baseball Hall of Fame's award for broadcasters. He died on April 5, 2015, about 2 weeks ago (you can see how far behind I am), at the age of 91.

*

Lon Simmons was one of those guys about whom you could say, "When they made him, they broke the mold." In the case of Stan Hochman, I think the mold dissolved.


Doug Collins, former Philadelphia 76ers star and head coach, said:

I have the utmost respect for Stan. I've known him since 1973. He was passionate about his work, and he knew his subjects. Before he would interview you, he did his homework so you knew that anything that he was going to write was done with due diligence. I consider him a dear friend.

Stan is Philly, through and through. When I think of all the writers that have come and gone through Philadelphia, that's what I think of. Stan and that voice. He was a throwback. He knew how to separate when to be a reporter and when to turn off the tape recorder. I understand the job that reporters have to do and sometimes it's not easy to ask the tough questions, the ones that need to be asked. Stan had a way of not only asking them so that you wanted to answer, but also made you feel better talking about it. He was tough, but fair. I always respected that.

Stan wasn't born in Philly, though. He was born in 1928 in Brooklyn -- which has a little-brother complex with Manhattan, and that might be why he understood Philly so well.

He went to New York University, and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He joined the staff of the Philadelphia Daily News in 1959, and the only way he left was in a coffin, on April 9. He was 86.

He covered it all in the City of Brotherly Love (and Several Hatreds): The Eagles' 1960 NFL Championship and their 2 Super Bowl defeats, Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, the 1964 Phillies Phlop, the 76ers' titles under Wilt and Hal Greer in 1967 and Julius Erving and Moses Malone in 1983 (with Billy Cunningham as a rookie 6th man for the former and as head coach for the latter), Eagles fans booing Santa Claus, Philly's adopted son Joe Frazier rising to the Heavyweight Championship of the World, The Flyers' back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Phillies ending droughts with the 1980 and 2008 World Championships, Villanova's 1985 miracle, and the rise of sports-talk on radio and TV -- of which he became an integral part.

He covered games at Connie Mack Stadium, Franklin Field, Municipal/John F. Kennedy Stadium, the Philadelphia Civic Center, the Palestra, the Spectrum, Veterans Stadium, what's now known as the Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park.

In 2009, he was interviewed for his 50th Anniversary with "The People Paper," and said this:

Why do I keep doing what I do? The answer is, because I still enjoy it... I'm just a guy who truly enjoys what he's doing in a city that cares deeply about its teams, but wants to read stuff that's 'tough but fair.'"

*

All of you have heard of baseball's racial-integration pioneers, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby. Some of you have heard of the pioneers in other sports: Kenny Washinton and Marion Motley in the NFL; Willie O'Ree in hockey; and Chuck "Tarzan" Cooper, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton and Earl "the Big Cat" Lloyd in the NBA. (Apparently, to be a racial trailblazer in the NBA -- well before there were the Portland Trail Blazers -- you needed a badass nickname.)

You may not have heard of Art Powell. But you should.

Unfortunately, I had not heard of Lloyd's death at the time, so let me get to him first.

Earl Francis Lloyd was born on April 3, 1928, in Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. He played college basketball at West Virginia State, then an all-black school, and was drafted by the Washington Capitols in 1950. Their coach, Red Auerbach, a former star at George Washington University, liked that he was a D.C. guy. And Red didn't care about color, only talent and character.

The way it worked out, Cooper was the 1st black man drafted by an NBA team, the Boston Celtics; Clifton, a former Harlem Globetrotter, was the 1st one signed to a contract, by the Knicks; and Lloyd was the 1st one who actually got into a game, 1 day before Cooper and 4 before Clifton. It was Halloween Night, October 31, 1950, and the Nats lost to the Rochester Royals, 78-70.  This was not a big surprise, as the Royals, forerunners of the Sacramento Kings, went on to win the NBA Championship that season.

The Caps were badly mismanaged, and owner Mike Uline's firing of Auerbach didn't help -- especially when Auerbach went to the Celtics and dragged the NBA into the modern world. The Syracuse Nationals picked Lloyd up, after he'd served in the Army (like Hochman, in the Korean War), and he helped them reach the NBA Finals in 1954, losing to the Minneapolis Lakers. In 1955, they won the title, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Finals.

That tells you what the NBA was like in the Fifties: Cities the size of Rochester, Syracuse and Fort Wayne could reach the Finals, and no one thought that was shocking.


Lloyd ended his career with the Pistons, after they moved to Detroit, in 1960. He remained with the Pistons as an assistant coach. In 1965, general manager Don Wattrick wanted to make Lloyd the NBA's 1st black head coach. But he was overruled by ownership, and, instead, the head coaching job went to Dave DeBusschere -- later proven one of the sharpest minds in basketball, but, at the time, a 25-year-old player. What a massive insult to Lloyd.

He was, however, given the job in 1972, after Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens had been named NBA head coaches, but didn't last long. He became an NBA scout. In 2003, because of his pioneering role, and also because he was one of the best players of his time, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He died on February 26, at age 86.

*

Arthur Lewis Powell was born on February 25, 1937, in Dallas. and grew up in San Diego. He went to San Jose State, and played in the Canadian Football League, as did several other black players, knowing how many racist Southerners were playing in the NFL, and how few up there.

Powell was 1 of 2 notable rookies with the 1959 Eagles who didn't stick with the Eagles. The other was John Madden, who got hurt in preseason, was taught how to analyze football film by Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, and became a great coach and later broadcaster because of that.

Powell played for the Eagles in '59, but wasn't with them when they won the title in '60. They were scheduled to play an exhibition game with the Washington Redskins in Norfolk, Virginia, and found out that he and his black teammates weren't going to be staying at the same hotel as their white teammates. To make matters worse, his black teammates didn't want to do anything about it.

So he jumped the team, and signed with the New York Titans of the American Football League -- the team that became the Jets. In 1960, he led the AFL in receiving touchdowns. In 1962, he led it in receiving yards. In 1963, having been traded to the Oakland Raiders, he led it in both categories. (The Titans weren't unhappy with him, but they were desperate for cash, and the Raiders offered it.) In a league that put emphasis on the passing game, he was a big star. Indeed, it could be argued that he was the first star player in Jets' history, even if he was gone by the time the name was adopted for the 1963 season.


In 1963, a preseason game between the Raiders and the newly-renamed Jets was to be held in Mobile, Alabama. He found out the seating would be segregated. This time, he managed to get 3 black teammates to back him up, and they told Raiders GM Al Davis (not yet the owner) that they wouldn't play in a segregated stadium. Say what you want about the man that Al Davis became, but, on this occasion, he did the right thing: He backed his black players up, and the game was moved to Oakland.

In 1965, after the 1964 season, the AFL All-Star Game was scheduled for Tulane Stadium in New Orleans -- a city which then didn't have a team in either the NFL or the AFL. Powell and other black players were refused service by white taxi drivers and white nightclubs -- and this was a few months after the Civil Rights Act became law. Powell again organized, and 21 black players said they wouldn't play. The game was moved to Houston -- also a Southern city, but one which had already, through the AFL's Houston Oilers, accepted the black players as equals, so they knew it could be trusted.

Powell went to the Buffalo Bills in 1967, and, following the AFL-NFL merger, returned to the NFL in 1968, with the Vikings. Between both leagues, he caught 479 passes for 81 touchdowns -- an exceptional ratio. After the AFL was fully, uh, integrated into the NFL, and All-Time AFL Team was chosen, and Powell and Houston's Charlie Hennigan were selected to the Second Team. The First Team selections were Don Maynard of the Jets and Lance Alworth of the San Diego Chargers, both later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Powell returned to Southern California, and ran a small oil company. He died on April 6, at the age of 78.

*

Jim Mutscheller was not as significant a pro football receiver as Art Powell. But he was important. After all, he was the 1st NFL player from the Pittsburgh satellite town of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and thus served as an inspiration for another man from that town, Joe Namath.

James Mutscheller -- no middle name, but he was nicknamed Bucky -- was born on March 31, 1930 in Beaver Falls. He went to Notre Dame, and was a sophomore on their 1949 National Championship team under Frank Leahy.

Yet another Korean War veteran, his NFL debut was delayed until 1954, when he became a tight end for the Baltimore Colts. He played 8 seasons with them, including the NFL Championship season of 1958 and '59, a target for the great quarterback Johnny Unitas. One of his catches was key to the Colts' winning drive in the 1958 NFL Championship Game victory over the Giants at the original Yankee Stadium.


He caught 220 passes for 3,685 yards and 40 touchdowns -- numbers that don't leap off the page today, but noticeable then. He was named an All-Pro in 1957.

After his playing career, Mutscheller stayed in the Baltimore area, living in Towson, Maryland, where he died on April 10. He was 85.

*

Eddie LeBaron was a big star in the NFL in the 1950s. A big one -- but not a tall one.

Edward Wayne LeBaron -- often incorrectly listed as Eddie Lee LeBaron -- was born on January 7, 1930 in San Rafael, California, north of San Francisco. He went to the College (now the University) of the Pacific in nearby Stockton and, after becoming yet another Korean War veteran, was ready to enter the NFL.

NFL GMs blanched at drafting 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie because he was just 5 feet, 9 3/4 inches. LeBaron was just 5-foot-7, yet he was one of the best quarterbacks of his time. After the Marines discharged him with a Bronze Star in 1952, he became only the 2nd starting quarterback the Redskins ever had following their 1937 move to Washington, succeeding the legendary Slingin' Sammy Baugh. He was a 4-time Pro Bowler.


In 1960, he became the 1st starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys -- and thus the 1st player to cross the divide of what eventually became the NFL's nastiest rivalry. After 4 seasons, in which the Cowboys were terrible (ah, the good old days), in 1963 he gave way to Don Meredith.

On October 9, 1960, the shortest quarterback in the NFL's modern era threw the NFL's shortest touchdown pass. The ball was 2 inches from the goal line, yet LeBaron dropped back to pass, and threw to Dick Bielski. The opponent? Oddly enough, the Redskins.

He became a lawyer, a broadcaster for CBS, and an executive with the Atlanta Falcons. He retired to Stockton, and died there this past April 1. He was a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, and, showing no hard feelings for his having gone to the Cowboys, the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's About Time -- For Me, and the Yankees


Between my new job, and using my weekends to make up for lost time when I had no income, finally, I'm back to getting this blog going. It's about time.

When last I left you, the Yankees had rebounded from an awful home opener against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays with a win in the 2nd game. The rubber match of the series was played on Thursday night, and it didn't go so well for the Bronx "Bombers."

CC Sabathia made his 1st start of the season, and fell victim to onebadinningitis. He was fine in innings 1, 3, 4 and 5. But the 2nd? The Jays hung 4 runs on him. Despite Alex Rodriguez's 1st home run since September 20, 2013 -- the 655th of his career -- it ended Blue Jays 6, Yankees 3.

WP: Daniel Norris (1-0). SV: Miguel Castro (1). LP: Sabathia (0-1).

*

Out went the Peskies. In came The Scum. Hell of a time for the Boston Red Sox to cross the City Line.

And Friday night's game was the longest, by time, in the history of any Yankee Stadium. As it turned out, it was a 19-inning waste of time.

Nathan Eovaldi started for the Yankees, Dave Miley for the Red Sox. Neither one survived the 6th inning. They were the lucky ones. The Sox used 9 pitchers, the Yanks 8.

It was 3-2 Sox in the bottom of the 9th, and looking grim for the Yankees -- and unremarkable for the neutral fan. Then, with 2 outs, the 3rd baseman hit a last-gasp home run. Good old Chase Headley.

A-Rod doubled with 1 out in the 11th. Mark Teixeira was intentionally walked to set up the double play. Both got stranded. Didi Gregorius singled with 2 out in the 12th. Stranded. Brian McCann was hit with a pitch to lead off the 14th. Stranded. Brett Gardner drew a walk with 2 out in the 15th. Stranded.

In the top of the 16th, David Ortiz, the big fat lying cheating bastard who has not only never been punished for his cheating, and his getting caught, and his lying about it, by Major League Baseball, but has been rewarded for it, hit a home run. Why is he even still allowed to play?

Why is Teix, whose injuries have rendered him a shell of his former self, still allowed to play? This is why: He can still hit the ball out of the park. He did so, leading off the bottom of the 16th.

In the bottom of the 17th, with 1 out, Gardner walked. But the best baserunner the Yankees have had since the Rickey Henderson experiment got picked off. That was crucial: Garrett Jones singled, and that would have put Gardner on 3rd with less than 1 out. Jones was stranded.

The Sox took the lead in the top of the 18th. But doubles by McCann and Carlos Beltran tied it back up. Beltran was on 2nd with 1 out. But he got stranded.

The game moved into the 19th inning. Then, and only then, did Yankee broadcaster John Sterling, who used to broadcast for the Atlanta Braves, cite the 19-inning 4th of July Mets-Braves epic from 1985, which he called "the wackiest, wildest, most improbable game in history."

This game wasn't nearly so bizarre as that one, although there was a 16-minute delay because a bank of lights went out. $2.3 billion spend on the new Stadium, and they didn't pay the electric bill?

Esmil Rogers pitched nobly, effectively a "quality start" in relief, but he ran out of gas, and allowed the Sox to manufacture a run. Jacoby Ellsbury singled to start the bottom of the 19th, but Gardner flew out, and Jones grounded into a double play, to end it after 6 hours and 49 minutes.

Red Sox 6, Yankees 5. WP: Stephen Wright (1-0), who has the same name as the famous "existential comedian" from Boston who's a big Red Sox fan (although he spells it "Steven"). LP: Rogers, who deserved a better fate (0-1).

*

And then, after playing until after 2:00 in the morning, the Yankees had to play a 1:00 PM start. The ultimate "day game after a night game." I knew they wouldn't win this one.

We certainly can't blame Adam Warren: As poor as he was as a reliever most of last season, he gave us a decent start, getting into the 6th inning having allowed just 1 earned run. Unfortunately, there was another run, unearned. And, unlike the night before, when it was brilliant, the bullpen didn't help.

Chris Young hit a home run in the 8th inning, but the Yankees had nearly as many errors (3) as hits (5).

Red Sox 8, Yankees 4. WP: Joe Kelly (1-0). No save. LP: Warren (0-1).

*

The Yankees were now reeling. They were 1-4.

Funny: That was their record after 5 games in 1998. And we all know what happened that season...

Of course, that was when their lineup was Knoblauch, Jeter, O'Neill, Williams, Martinez, Strawberry or Davis as DH, one of those or Ledee as LF, Posada, Brosius; their rotation was Cone, Wells, Pettitte, Hernandez, 5; and their bullpen was Nelson, Stanton, Rivera. Clearly, the current team does not measure up. (Something that people who compare the 2015 Mets to the 1980s Mets also need to consider -- more about that in a later post.)

*

On Sunday, having finally got my first full-week paycheck in a year and a half, I went to my first live Major League Baseball game in nearly a year. Like I said: It's about time.

Cliche alert: It was a beautiful day for baseball, and I was at Citizens Bank Park to see the host Philadelphia Phillies take on the Washington Nationals. Ah, the Phillies, the team of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Chico Ruiz, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Jamie Moyer, Cliff Lee, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge...

Where'd everybody go? Age and injuries have seriously caught up with the Fightin' Phils. 2007 to 2011 was their 1961-64 Yankees, but 2012 became their 1965, and 2015 sure looks like their 1968. In their entire 9-man starting lineup for my game, I saw only 3 names I recognized. Only 2 of them as Phillies: Howard and Ben Revere. The 3rd was Jeff Francoeur, who I still think of as an Atlanta Brave. Rollins has been traded. Werth left via free agency. So have Burrell and Lidge, who retired. So has Moyer, who had to mainly because his age had matched his uniform number, 50. Halladay had to retire much too soon because of injury. And with injuries. Howard, Utley and Hamels are shadows of their former selves.

The Nats, meanwhile, had former American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer starting. And Bryce Harper. And Jordan Zimmerman. This could have gotten ugly.

It didn't. The Nats took a 2-0 lead. But the Phils managed to tie it. Did the Phils win? As Harper would say, "That's a clown question, bro." The Nats scored 2 in the top of the 10th, but the Phils tried to come back... and fell just short. Nats 4, Phils 3.

The atmosphere in Philly has gotten bad. September 1964, October 1977, late 1980s, late 1990s bad. The locals now expect the worst. And Ryan Howard, who looked like a sure Hall-of-Famer, now can't hit the ground if he fell off a ladder. Sad to say, he is done. Probably has been since that strikeout that ended the 2011 NLCS injured him.

But I saw a Major League Baseball game for just $20. Yay, me. Okay, the cost of a round-trip visit from my home base to Philly, including a bus, 2 trains and the Broad Street Line subway, is $46.60 -- and that's just transportation! But "The Bank" might be the best of the new ballparks, getting a ticket for $40 or less isn't hard, and they've got the best ballpark food east of Detroit.

Too bad the Phillies, unlike in the ballpark's 1st 8 seasons (2004-11), don't put up much of a fight.

Attendance: Officially, 30,094. I was there, and I'm telling you, in the immortal words of Jim Gosger (as quoted by Jim Bouton in Ball Four), "Yeah, surrrre!" A gorgeous spring Sunday, and if it was over 25,000, I'd be surprised. It might not even have been 20,000.

One more note: I saw a bee land right on the nose of the Harry Kalas statue, in front Harry the K's restaurant behind the left-field pole. A fan saw it, and got rid of it. (The bee, not the statue.) I couldn't resist doing Harry's voice: "And it is... outta here!"

*

Looking at the out-of-town scoreboard at CBP, I saw the Yankees and Red Sox were not yet playing. That next Yankee game was an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball contest. Against the Red Sox. For the Yankees, this is usually a recipe for frustration -- sometimes, a recipe of outright disaster. Usually with unacceptably pro-Red Sox, anti-Yankee broadcasting.

By the time I got back to New Brunswick, I came down the steps of the station, and saw inside Brother Jimmy's Barbecue, and saw a home run from Chase Headley. Good.

Then I saw the score: Yankees 7, Red Sox 0. In the 1st inning! With Masahiro Tanaka as our starter!

My 1st thought was, "Note to self: Have eyes checked." Then I remembered that I had my eyes checked this past November, and got new glasses -- as it turned out, I didn't need a new prescription, just new glasses, since my old ones had some scratches on the lenses.

The much-maligned Stephen Drew had already hit a grand slam in the inning. Brian McCann added a homer in the 8th. A-Rod had a double and 4 RBIs. Headley had 3 hits; McCann, Gardner and Beltran, 2 each. A-Rod and Ellsbury each had a hit and 2 walks, meaning they each reached base 3 times.

Worried about Tanaka's durability, Joe Girardi limited him to 5 innings, and he allowed 4 runs, 3 earned. But, between them, David Carpenter and Kyle Davies pitched 4 innings, allowing no runs, 4 hits, and no walks. The Sox led Clay Buchholz twist in the wind until the 4th inning.

Yankees 14, Red Sox 4. WP: Tanaka (1-1). No save. LP: Buchholz (1-1).

A blowout win over The Scum. On ESPN. It's about time!

*

And then, yesterday, the Yankees began a roadtrip, visiting the Baltimore Orioles. Michael Pineda was not sharp. Going into the top of the 7th, the Yankees trailed 4-2. Solo homers by Young (his 2nd of the season) and Teix (his 3rd). You can't just hit the ball out, you gotta get men on base before you do it.

The Yankees loaded the bases, and Girardi sent the much-maligned Drew up to pinch-hit. Remembering that Camden Yards is a bandbox, and that it's important to hit the ball hard with men on base, Drew hit it out. Grand Slam.

The Orioles pulled a run back in the bottom of the 7th, but the Yankee bullpen got the job done. Yankees 6, Orioles 5. WP: Pineda (1-0). SV: Andrew Miller (2). LP: Tommy Hunter (0-1).

Meanwhile, also yesterday, the Red Sox had their home opener. Throwing out the ceremonial first ball? Tom Brady. Fellow cheater, except he's cheated his way to 1 more title than the Sox have. I wonder if the ball was deflated.

*

And then, tonight, the momentum stopped. As they have many times since their former manager William Nathaniel Showalter III became the Orioles' manager, the Yankees let Adam "Don't Call Me Pacman" Jones beat them with a home run. Orioles 4, Yankees 3. WP:

SV: Zach Britton (2). LP: Sabathia (0-2).

The Yankees are now 3-5. 2-1 since a 1-4 start, but still not good.

154 games to go.

Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13, 1940: One Team, 75 Years, One More Cup


April 13, 1940, 75 years ago today: The New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup.

Stop laughing. You remember the "NINE-teen-FOR-ty!" chant that used to be used before June 14, 1994? Well, this is what it was about.

The Rangers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in 6 games, taking Game 6 and the Cup 3-2 in overtime at Maple Leaf Gardens, on an overtime goal by Bryan Hextall.

Hail the Champions:

General Manager Lester Patrick (Hall of Fame)
Head Coach Frank Boucher (HOF, Captain of the Rangers' 1928 & '33 Cup-winers)
1 Dave Kerr, goaltender
2 Art Coulter, defenseman and Captain (HOF)
3 Erhardt "Ott" Heller, defenseman
4 Alex Shibicky, left wing
5 Mac Colville, right wing
6 Neil Colville, center (HOF, also played as a defenseman, Mac's brother)
7 Phil Watson, center
8 Walter "Babe" Pratt, defenseman (HOF)
9 Lynn Patrick, left wing (HOF, Lester's son)
10 Clint Smith, center (The last survivor of this team, living until 2009)
12 Bryan Hextall, right wing (HOF)
14 Kilby MacDonald, left wing
15 Murray "Muzz" Patrick, defenseman (Lester's other son)
16 Alf Pike, center
17 Stan Smith, center

In the photo above, Kerr is flanked by Patrick and Boucher.

In those days, the Rangers were, with some justification, known as "the Classiest Team in Hockey." And their fans were hailed as classy, and knowledgeable. And no one said that the Rangers sucked. Or stunk.

That was a long, long time ago. Sometimes, it seems like a galaxy far, far away.

*

That was 75 years ago. In that time:

The United States of America has gone from 48 to 50 States. Canada went from 9 Provinces to 10, taking on what was then the British colony of Newfoundland. Germany, then 1 single "Reich," was broken up into what is now 5 countries. The Soviet Union went from 1 country to 18. Yugoslavia went from 1 country to 7. India went from being 1 British colony to 5 separate independent nations. Every single European colony in Africa gained its independence, and so did many in Asia. Korea and Vietnam went from 1 country to 2, and Vietnam went back to being 1. Siam became Thailand. The Belgian Congo became Zaire, and then the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Belgium and the Netherlands essentially ceased to be empires.

There have been 13 Presidents of the United States, 12 Prime Ministers of Canada, and 7 Popes -- but only 2 British monarchs.

Television went from a curiosity to a dominant feature of American life, to something that the Internet has, essentially, superseded.

Computers, desktop computers, laptop computers, the Internet and smartphones were invented.

Rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul music, surf rock, folk rock, psychedelia, heavy metal, glam rock, disco, punk rock, rap, grunge rock and autotune have all been invented. All 4 Beatles were born, grew up, met, became famous, broke up, had solo careers, got married, and had children; 2 of them have died. Tony Bennett went from recording the songs of Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams to doing duets with Lady Gaga.

My father was born, grew up, earned 2 science degrees from Newark College of Engineering, watched it be absorbed into the New Jersey Institute of Technology, served in a war, got married, had 2 children, had 2 grandchildren, worked 30 years for the State of New Jersey, grew old, and died.

Science fiction went from Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon to the previously not-yet-existing Captain Video, to Star Trek, to 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Star Wars, to much of what had previously been considered science fiction becoming science fact. Men have gone into space for the first time, and have gone to the Moon -- and decided that going back to the Moon was no longer worth it.

Superman and Batman went from new characters to worldwide phenomena; while Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, the Flash, the Green Lantern, the Green Arrow and the Atom were created; Marvel Comics and the entire Marvel Universe were created; the entire Watchmen saga took place; and comic books went from 10-cent kids' stuff to 5-buck graphic novels. James Bond, Dirty Harry, Jack Ryan, Alex Cross and Harry Potter were all created.

The National Hockey League went from 7 teams to 30, East Coast to West Coast, Canada to the Sun Belt. Major League Baseball went from 16 teams in 10 cities, all in the Northeast and the Midwest, to 30 teams in 26 metropolitan areas, East Coast to West Coast, Canada to Florida. The National Football League went from, essentially, a minor league with 10 teams to a behemoth with 32 teams, East Coast to West Coast, North to South. The Canadian Football League was outright founded. The National Basketball Association was founded.

The Olympics, both Summer and Winter, have been held in American 5 times, Italy 3 times, Canada 3 times, Britain twice, Norway twice, Australia twice, Japan twice, Austria twice, France twice, Russia twice, Switzerland, Finland, Mexico, Germany, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Greece and China. The World Cup has been held in Brazil twice, Mexico twice, Germany twice, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile, England, Argentina, Spain, Italy, America, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa; and has been won by Brazil 5 times, Germany 4 times, Argentina twice, Italy twice, Uruguay, England, France and Spain.

Shea Stadium in New York, and Giants Stadium just outside it; Foxboro Stadium outside Boston; the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium; Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum in Philadelphia; the Coliseum outside Cleveland; Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati; the Charlotte Coliseum; Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the Omni; the Reunion Arena in Dallas, and Arlington Stadium and Texas Stadium outside it; Robertson Stadium in Houston; the Hoosier Dome and Market Square Arena in Indianapolis; Milwaukee County Stadium; the Metrodome in Minneapolis; Metropolitan Stadium and the Metropolitan Sports Center outside it; Mile High Stadium and the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver; and Candlestick Park in San Francisco were all built, used, and demolished. And "the new Madison Square Garden" surpassed the demolished old Garden, home of the 1940 Rangers, in age. And Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles did the same for Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

North American major league sports have been racially integrated, and gone international. Free agency has come to all 4 sports. Artificial turf, electric scoreboards, electronic scoreboards, fireworks-shooting "exploding scoreboards," DiamondVision TV screens, domed stadiums, retractable-roof stadiums, sports-talk radio, network TV, cable TV, all-sports cable TV stations, and arenas capable of going from basketball court to hockey rink, or vice versa, in mere hours, making the playing of both sports on the same day, have all been invented.

Lester Patrick grew old, retired, died, and became the namesake of both one of the NHL's divisions (a distinction that lasted from 1974 to 1992) and a trophy that stands as a lifetime achievement award for service to American hockey (though he, himself, was Canadian, from Drummondville, Quebec).

Bryan Hextall, hero of the clinching game, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, became the father of Bryan Hextall Jr. and Dennis Hextall, became the grandfather of Ron Hextall, and lived long enough to see all 3 of them become NHL All-Stars.

The entire careers of Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Gordie Howe, Mark Howe, Marty Howe, Jean Beliveau, Terry Sawchuck, Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Dennis Hull, Brett Hull, Frank Mahovlich, Peter Mahovlich, Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito, Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden, Dave Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Denis Potvin, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Patrick Roy, Mario Lemieux, Scott Stevens, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Rob Niedermayer, and all 6 Sutter brothers have been played in full.

The Stanley Cup itself went from a cigar shape to the barrel shape we know today. (That redesign took place in 1948.)

And in all those 75 years, here are the Stanley Cups won, with the "Original Six" teams in bold:

Montreal Canadiens 20
Toronto Maple Leafs 10
Detroit Red Wings 9
Edmonton Oilers 5
Boston Bruins 4
New Jersey Devils 3
Chicago Blackhawks 3
Pittsburgh Penguins 3
Colorado Avalanche 2
Los Angeles Kings 2
Philadelphia Flyers 2
Calgary Flames 1
Dallas Stars 1
Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Carolina Hurricanes 1
Anaheim Ducks 1
New York Rangers 1

That's right: In three-quarters of a century, the New York Rangers have won just 1 Stanley Cup. The Islanders have only been around since 1972, and the Devils since 1982, and have won 7 Cups between them; the Rangers, in that time, just 1.

Compared to the other "Original Six" teams, all of whom had significant Cup droughts, the Rangers' record of even reaching the Stanley Cup Finals is pathetic. In 75 years:

Montreal 26
Detroit 21
Boston 15
Toronto 12
Chicago 9
New York 5

Just 5 trips to the Finals in 75 years? An average of 1 trip to the Finals every 15 years?

And in 75 years, 1 Stanley Cup.

And their fans think Devils fans are jealous of their history?

1-for-75. You know what that means?

It means that Sam Rosen was right about that 1994 Stanley Cup: This one already has lasted a lifetime!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I Hate Extra Innings

You know what I hate? Besides the Red Sox. And the Mets. And the Rangers. And Old Bridge. And Penn State. And Notre Dame. And Duke. And the University of Miami. And Tottenham. And Chelsea. And Manchester United. And Stoke City. And Real Madrid. And Barcelona. And Juventus. And Bayern Munich. And Galatasaray.

I hate extra innings. Screw "free baseball," I only care about winning. If you're going to lose, do it in 9, and don't waste my time.


Loki: "I have an army!"
John Henry: "We have a Big Papi. And steroids."

This was the longest game, by time, in the history of either Yankee Stadium. And tied for the longest in innings.

And the Yankees had plenty of chances to win it, but lost it.

I'll elaborate after tonight's game. When I will have 3 games to catch up on.