Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How Long It's Been: A Washington Pitcher Threw a No-Hitter

On Sunday, in the Washington Nationals' last game of the 2014 regular season, Jordan Zimmerman pitched a no-hitter. The Nats beat the Miami Marlins, 1-0.

It was the 5th no-hitter of the season, following gems by Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants, and a collective effort by 4 Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels for the 1st 6 innings, Jake Diekman for the 7th, Ken Giles for the 8th, and Jonathan Papelbon for the 9th.

The last time a pitcher for a Washington team threw a no-hitter, it was Bobby Burke of the Senators, 5-0 over the Boston Red Sox at Griffith Stadium, on August 8, 1931. (It's also the first no-hitter for the franchise formerly known as the Montreal Expos since the perfect game pitched by Dennis Martinez in 1991.)

Burke was a 24-year-old lefthander from Joliet, Illinois, outside Chicago. He debuted with the Senators in 1927, would be with them as they won the 1933 American League Pennant (still the last one won by a Washington baseball team, unless you count the Negro Leagues' Homestead Grays), and last pitched in the majors with the 1937 Philadelphia Athletics. His career record was a rather ordinary 38-46, and he died in 1971, age 64.

He pitched the last Washington no-hitter, until this week, on August 8, 1931. That's 83 years, 1 month and 20 days. How long has that been?

*

In what we would now call Major League Baseball, there were no black players, no Asian players, and any Hispanic players were white. A few Cubans and Puerto Ricans had made it, but they were said to be "pure bars of Castilian soap," meaning their ancestry (or so we were led to believe) was all Spanish, not at all of native Caribbean (Indian) or black (former slave).

No ballparks had artificial turf, or domes (retractable or otherwise), or electric scoreboards (let alone electronic ones), or lights. Most didn't even have electric public-address systems: Announcers would come onto the field, and, through a megaphone, shout out the lineups to the 3rd base side, then walk across the field, and do the same for the 1st base stands.

There were no major league teams west of St. Louis, nor south of St. Louis, Cincinnati and Washington. There were American League teams in Philadelphia and St. Louis, and a National League team in Boston.

The National Hockey League consisted of the New York Rangers and Americans, the Montreal Canadiens and Maroons, the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. The National Football League was an afterthought. There was an American Basketball League, but, by today's standards, it can hardly be called a "major league." The defending World Champions were the Philadelphia Athletics in baseball, the Green Bay Packers in football, the Canadiens in hockey, and in the ABL, the Brooklyn Visitations.

The A's would win 107 games, a record for a Philadelphia baseball team, and take their 3rd straight American League Pennant. But, having beaten the St. Louis Cardinals in the previous year's World Series, they would lose to the Cardinals this time. The Cards already had some of the players who would form their 1934 World Champions, to be known as the Gashouse Gang, including Pepper Martin -- but, aside from a one-game callup the previous season, Dizzy Dean had not yet arrived.

Original 1869 Cincinnati Red Stocking George Wright was still alive. None of the defining players of my childhood had yet been born. Nor had most of the stars of the 1960s. Willie Mays was almost 5 months old. Joe DiMaggio was in high school, while Ted Williams and Bob Feller were in junior high. Stan Musial was in elementary school.

The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Max Schmeling -- and, at the time, few people had an issue with him holding the title, including Jews and African-Americans. No one, rightly or wrongly, associated him with fascism. Indeed, at this point, few Americans had heard of the Nazi Party or Adolf Hitler. They had, however, heard of fascism and Benito Mussolini, but many favored him, because he had put down labor unions and performed an "economic miracle." These supporters would soon say the same things about Hitler.

The Olympic Games would soon be held in the U.S.: The Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York; and the Summer Games in Los Angeles. Soccer's World Cup had been held for the 1st time only a little over a year earlier, in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. The host nation had defeated neighbor and arch-rival Argentina in the Final. The American team reached the Semifinals, and has not matched this achievement since. (Best since then: The Quarterfinals in 2002.)

The President of the United States was Herbert Hoover, and while he didn't do much to cause the Great Depression, other than to keep in place the policies of his 2 immediate predecessors, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, his efforts to stop it were feeble. However, when Franklin Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, was elected in 1932, he built on Hoover's minimal efforts to form the New Deal, showing that Hoover was, in fact, on to something. But Hoover saw few results, and abandoned his efforts. It's unfair to say he did nothing to stop the Depression. But he did far too little, including too little of what seemed to be working. And his constant suggestions that prosperity would soon return didn't help, although he appears never to have uttered the infamous words, "Prosperity is just around the corner."

Coolidge, his wife, and the widows of Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt were still alive. FDR, as I said, was Governor of New York. Harry Truman was a County Commissioner in Missouri. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Major in the U.S. Army, and executive officer to an Assistant Secretary of War. John F. Kennedy had just entered the 9th grade at the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. Lyndon Johnson had just become legislative secretary (today, we would say "chief of staff") to Texas Congressman Richard Kleberg. Richard Nixon had just entered Whittier College in southern California. Gerald Ford had just entered the University of Michigan. Ronald Reagan was at Eureka College in Illinois. George H.W. Bush was 7, and Jimmy Carter was about to be. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama weren't born yet.

The Mayor of New York was Jimmy Walker, but he was soon to be in legal trouble that would force him to resign. The city in question, Washington, D.C., did not have a Mayor at that time. Instead, it had a Board of Commissioners, appointed by Congress; its President at that time was Luther Halsey Reichelderfer. Something tells me the most interesting thing about him was his name.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Richard "R.B." Bennett, and he wasn't having any more luck fixing the economy in his country than Hoover was in ours. A car hitched up to one or more horses, because the owner couldn't afford gasoline, was called a Hoover Wagon in America, and a Bennett Buggy in Canada. The monarch of Great Britain, and thus the head of state of Canada, was King George V. The Prime Minister of Britain was James Ramsay MacDonald, the first member of the Labour Party to reach the office. Previously, the Liberal Party had been Britain's leading left-of-center party. Ramsay MacDonald was 2 months away from being turned out of office in a Conservative landslide, returning Stanley Baldwin to the post of Prime Minister.

North London club Arsenal was the defending titlist of England's Football League. There was no European competition at the time, so there was no way Herbert Chapman's Arsenal could measure themselves against the other reigning champions of European leagues, including Glasgow-based Rangers in Scotland, Athletic Bilbao in Spain, Hertha Berlin in Germany and Turin-based Juventus in Italy. West Midlands-based West Bromwich Albion were holders of the FA Cup.

Major novels of 1931 included The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett and Roman Holiday by Upton Sinclair. Eugene O'Neill's play Mourning Becomes Electra was about to premiere on Broadway. Frederick Lewis Allen published Only Yesterday, his chronicle of the 1920s that is still, nearly, a definitive work on American life in that "Roaring" decade.

Talking pictures were now the norm, although Charlie Chaplin's City Lights was a hit despite being silent. The classic gangster movie reached its apogee in 1931: James Cagney in The Public Enemy, Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, and, though its release was delayed until the next year, Paul Muni in Scarface. (The 1983 Al Pacino film of the same title is very loosely based on it.)

It was also the year horror movies burst into the mainstream, with Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff as the monster; Dracula, with Bela Lugosi as the Transylvanian vampire; and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with Frederic March in both roles. Westerns were not yet huge, but that year's Cimarron, about the 1889 Oklahoma land rush, was a landmark in the genre. The first sound version of Alice in Wonderland appeared. There was a film titled Iron Man, starring Gary Cooper and Jean Harlow, but it was not a superhero film. Nor was it about Lou Gehrig, although Cooper would later play him in The Pride of the Yankees.

The Hays Code, supposedly enforcing morals in movies, was established the year before, but who was kidding who? This was the year of Anna Christie and Mata Hari with Greta Garbo, An American Tragedy with Sylvia Sydney, Bachelor Apartment with Irene Dunne, Bad Girl with Sally Eilers, The Bad Sister with a young Bette Davis, Dishonored with Marlene Dietrich, Expensive Women with Dolores Costello, A Free Soul with Norma Shearer, Girls About Town and Guilty Hands with Kay Francis, Honor Among Lovers and Secrets of a Secretary with Claudette Colbert, Indiscreet with Gloria Swanson, Platinum Blonde with Loretta Young, Possessed with a young Joan Crawford, and The Sin of Madelon Claudet with Helen Hayes. Not until 1934 would the Hays Office get serious, and American movies would not get as chancy as these "Pre-Code" classics again until the late 1960s.

Television was still in the experimental stage, and most people's entertainment came from the radio. There weren't yet comic books as we understand them. There were comic strips, and The Shadow debuted earlier in 1931. Dick Tracy debuted a few days after the Bobby Burke no-hitter. Buck Rogers debuted 2 years earlier. But Flash Gordon, the Lone Ranger and some other pulp heroes were still a few years off. Superman, Batman, and most other superheroes, a few years after that.

The music industry was not yet what we would know. RCA Victor would produce the first 33 1/3 RPM long-playing (LP) record in 1931. Roy Rogers began his musical career. Louis Armstrong was already a star, Benny Goodman was already a successful session musician, and Glenn Miller was working as a trombonist and arranger with the Dorsey Brothers Band. Just a few days before the Burke no-hitter, Bing Crosby made his solo radio debut. Frank Sinatra was expelled from A.J. Demarest High School in Hoboken for rowdiness and absenteeism -- in other words, they didn't like him when he didn't show up, and didn't like him when he did. (The school was later replaced by the current Hoboken High, and is now a vo-tech high school.) Elvis Presley wasn't born yet.

Hit songs of the year included "All of Me," "As Time Goes By" (yes, the song that would be featured in Casablanca 11 years later), "Dancing In the Dark" (a very different tune from the Bruce Springsteen song of the same title), "Dream a Little Dream of Me," "Goodnight, Sweetheart" (not to be confused with the 1954 doo-wop hit "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight"), "Heartaches" (which would become the Marcels' follow-up to their 1930s-revival classic "Blue Moon"), "I Apologize" and "Prisoner of Love" (both later brought back by Billy Eckstine, the latter also by James Brown), "I Don't Know Why" (later brought back by Clarence "Frogman" Henry), "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," "Love Letters In the Sand" (later brought back by Pat Boone), "That's My Desire" (later brought back by both Dean Martin and Dion), and the song that became the unofficial theme song of the Great Depression, Bing's recording of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

There were no antibiotics, and organ transplants and a cure for polio was still a long way off. Computers? They were just an idea. Cacluators? Don't make me laugh: They were still adding machines, basically desktop cash registers.

In the late summer and early fall of 1931, Japan invaded the Manchuria region of China, beginning a war that would evolve into the Pacific Theatre of World War II. This was on top of China having suffered floods that may have been the worst disaster in human history, which may have killed up to 4 million people. A hurricane killed about 1,500 people in British Honduras (now the Central American nation of Belize). Strikes were called by about 1,000 sailors in Britain's Royal Navy due to Depression-inspired decreased pay, and became known as the Invergordon Mutiny; it was resolved peacefully. Clyde Edward Pangborn and Hugh Herndon, Jr., complete the first non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean, from Misawa, Japan, to East Wenatchee, Washington, in 41½ hours. The George Washington Bridge opened, connecting upper Manhattan with Fort Lee, New Jersey. And Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion, and sentenced to 11 years in prison, ending the career of the biggest gangster America has ever known.

Thomas Edison, and jazzman Bix Beiderbecke, and Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Chesbro died. Regis Philbin, and Barbara Eden, and Angie Dickinson were born. So were legendary jockey Willie Shoemaker, and hockey superstar Jean Beliveau. A few weeks later, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews would be born.

August 8, 1931. Bobby Burke of the Washington Nationals pitched a no-hitter. It would be over 83 years before another D.C.-based pitcher would toss one.

Now, Jordan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals has done it. And the Nats had the best record in the National League. They won the NL Eastern Division 2 years ago, but bombed out in the Playoffs. Can they win Washington's 1st Pennant since 1933 (81 years)? Or its first World Series since 1924 (90 years)? They've ended some droughts already, so it is possible. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Baseball's Postseason Appearances, 1876-2014


For this list, I am counting, even if Major League Baseball does not do so officially:

* Pennants in the single-division Leagues prior to 1969.

* The split-season Divisional Champions of 1981.

* The teams that had the best overall record in each Division in 1981, even if they didn't make the Playoffs under the format in place that year.

* The teams that were in first place when the Strike of 1994 hit.

* The teams that lost Playoffs for the Pennant in the single-division era (1901-1968).

* The teams that lost Playoffs for Division titles (1969-2014).

All ties in this ranking are broken by most recent finish. This season's postseason berths in bold.

1. New York Yankees, 52: 1921, '22, '23, '26, '27, '28, '32, '36, '37, '38, '39, '41, '42, '43, '47, '49, '50, '51, '52, '53, '55, '56, '57, '58, '60, '61, '62, '63, '64 '76, '77, '78, '80, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '94 (led when strike hit), '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05, '06, '07, '09, '10, '11, '12.

2. St. Louis Cardinals, 31: 1885, '86, '87, '88, 1926, '28, '30, '31, '34, '42, '43, '44, '46, '64, '67, '68, '81 (aggregate winners but didn't lead in either half), '82, '85, '87, '96, 2000, '01, '02, '04, '05, '06, '09, '11, '12, '13, '14.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers, 22: 1959, '62, '63, '65, '66, '74, '77, '78, '80, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '83, '85, '88, '94 (led when strike hit), '95, '96, 2004, '06, '08, '09, '13, '14. Previously reached as Brooklyn Dodgers in 1889, '90, '99, 1900, '16, '20, '41, '46, '47, '49, '51, '52, '53, '55 and '56.

4. Boston Red Sox, 22: 1903, '04, '12, '15, '16, '18, '46, '48, '67, '75, '78, '86, '88, '90, '95, 2003, '04, '05,  '07, '08, '09, '13.

5. Chicago Cubs, 22: 1876, '80, '81, '82, '85, '86, 1906, '07, '08, '10, '18, '29, '32, '35, '38, '45, '84, '89, '98, 2003, '07, '08.

6. Atlanta Braves, 19: 1969, '82, '91, '92, '93, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05, '10, '12, '13. Previously reached as Boston Braves in 1877, '78, '83, '91, '92, '93, '97, '98, 1914 and '48; and as Milwaukee Braves in 1957, '58 and '59.

7. Pittsburgh Pirates, 18: 1901, '02, '03, '09, '25, '27, '60, '70, '71, '72, '74, '75, '79, '90, '91, '92, 2013, '14.

8. Cincinnati Reds, 18: 1882, 1919, '39, '40, '61, 1970, '72, '73, '75, '76, '79, '81 (aggregate winners but didn't lead in either half), '90, '94 (led when strike hit), '95, 2010, '12, '13.

9. Oakland Athletics, 17: 1971, '72, '73, '74, '75, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '88, '89, '90, '92, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '06, '12, '13. Previously reached as Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, '05, '10, '11, '13, '14, '29, '30 and '31.

10. Detroit Tigers, 17: 1907, '08, '09, '34, '35, '40, '45, '68, '72, '84, '87, 2006, '09, '11, '12, '13, '14.

11. Philadelphia Phillies, 14: 1915, '50, '76, '77, '78, '80, '81 (1st-half), '83, '93, 2007, '08, '09, '10, '11.

12. Baltimore Orioles, 12: 1966, '69, '70, '71, '73, '74, '79, '83, '96, '97, 2012, '14. Previously reached as St. Louis Browns in 1944.

13. San Francisco Giants, 11: 1962, '71, '87, '89, '97, 2000, '02, '03, '10, '12, '14. Previously reached New York Giants in 1888, '89, 1904, '05, '08, '11, '12, '13, '17, '21, '22, '23, '24, '33, '36, '37, '51 and '54.

14. Minnesota Twins, 11: 1965, '69, '70, '87, '91, 2002, '03, '04, '06, '09, '10.

15. Chicago White Sox, 11: 1901, '06, '17, '19, '59, '83, '93, '94 (led when strike hit), 2000, '05, '08.

16. Cleveland Indians, 11: 1920, '48, '54, '94 (led AL Wild Card race when Strike hit), '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2001, '07.

17. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 10: 1979, '82, '86, '95, 2002, '04, '05, '07, '08, '09, '14.

18. Houston Astros, 10: 1980, '81 (2nd-half winners), '86, '94 (led NL Wild Card race when Strike hit), '97, '98, '99, 2001, '04, '05.

19. Kansas City Royals, 8: 1976, '77, '78, '80, '81 (2nd-half winners), '84, '85, 2014.

20. New York Mets, 7: 1969, '73, '86, '88, '99, 2000, '06.

21. Texas Rangers, 6: 1994 (led when strike hit), '96, '98, '99, 2010, '11.

22. San Diego Padres, 6: 1984, '96, '98, 2005, '06, '07.

23. Arizona Diamondbacks, 5: 1999, 2001, '02, '07, '11.

24. Toronto Blue Jays, 5: 1985, '89, '91, '92, '93.

25. Tampa Bay Rays, 4: 2008, '10, '11, '13.

26. Milwaukee Brewers, 4: 1981 (2nd-half winners), '82, 2008, '11.

27. Seattle Mariners, 4: 1995, '97, 2000, '01.

28. Colorado Rockies, 3: 1995, 2007, '09.

29. Washington Nationals, 2: 2012, '14. Also won NL East as Montreal Expos in 1981 (2nd-half and overall winners) and '94 (led when strike hit).

30. Miami Marlins, 2: 1997, 2003 (both times, won Pennant as Wild Card).

Leading their respective Divisions are: In the American League, the Yankees, Detroit and Oakland; in the National League, Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Mays' Catch at 60; Top 10 Defensive Plays In Sports

September 29, 1954, 60 years ago today: Willie Mays makes The Catch.

It was Game 1 of the World Series. The New York Giants had won the National League Pennant, beating out their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Cleveland Indians had won the American League Pennant, winning League record 111 games to beat out the Yankees, who had won the last 5 World Series. Indeed, the last 8 AL Pennants had been won by the Indians (1948 & '54) and the Yankees (1947, '49, '50, '51, '52 & '53).

Game 1 was played at the Polo Grounds in New York. The game was tied 2-2 in the top of the 8th, but the Indians got Larry Doby on 2nd base and Al Rosen on 1st with nobody out.

Giant manager Leo Durocher pulled starting pitcher Sal Maglie, and brought in Don Liddle, a lefthander, to face the lefty slugger Vic Wertz, and only Wertz. Somehow, this got into Joe Torre's head (despite being a native of Brooklyn, Torre says he grew up as a Giants fan) and into Joe Girardi's binder (Girardi wasn't even born for another 10 years).

Liddle pitched, and Wertz swung, and drove the ball out to center field. The Polo Grounds was shaped more like a football stadium, so its foul poles were incredibly close: 279 feet to left field and 257 to right. In addition, the upper deck overhung the field a little, so the distances were actually even closer. But if you didn't pull the ball, it was going to stay in play. Most of the center field fence was 425 feet from home plate. A recess in center field, leading to a blockhouse that served as both teams' clubhouses -- why they were in center field, instead of under the stands, connected to the dugouts, is a mystery a long-dead architect will have to answer -- was 483 feet away.

Mays, at this point in his career, was already a big star. Just 23 years old, he had won that season's NL batting title. He had been NL Rookie of the Year in 1951, but had missed most of the 1952 season and all of 1953 serving in the U.S. Army, having been drafted into service in the Korean War. He had become known for playing stickball in the streets of Harlem with local boys in the morning, and then going off to the Polo Grounds to play real baseball in the afternoon. This raised his profile, and made him an accessible figure to City kids. His cap flying off as he ran around the bases, his defensive wizardry, and his yelling of, "Say hey!" endeared him to Giant fans. (Note that, while he made the "basket catch" nationally popular, he didn't invent it. In fact, he wasn't even the first Giant to use it, as Bill Rigney, who would succeed Durocher as manager in 1956, was using it in the 1940s.)

Even so, the days when the Giants were the team in New York sports were long gone, this week's events notwithstanding. At this moment, Mays was, in the public consciousness, where Babe Ruth was in May 1920, where Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were in May 1941, where Mickey Mantle was in May 1956, where Reggie Jackson was in September 1977, where Roger Clemens was in April 1986, where Derek Jeter was in September 1996, where David Ortiz was in September 2004: A star, well-known and popular, but not yet a legend.

Mays ran back to try to catch the ball. In mid-stride, he thumped his fist into his mitt. His teammates, who had seen this gesture before, knew that this meant that he thought he would catch it. But most fans didn't know this. Watching on television (NBC, Channel 4 in New York), they figured the ball would go over his head, scoring Doby and Rosen, and that Wertz, not exactly fleet of foot, had a chance at a triple, or even an inside-the-park home run.

Willie has said many times that he was already thinking of the throw back to the infield, hoping to hold Doby to only 3rd base.

With his back to the ball all the way, he caught the ball over his head, stopped, pivoted, and threw the ball back to the infield. Doby did get only to 3rd.

The announcers were Jack Brickhouse, who normally did the home games for both of Chicago's teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, but was the lead announcer for NBC in this Series; and Russ Hodges, the usual Giants announcer, made nationally famous 3 years earlier when Bobby Thomson's home run made him yell, "The Giants win the Pennant!" over and over again.

Brickhouse: "There's a long drive, way back in center field, way back, back, it is... Oh, what a catch by Mays! The runner on second, Doby, is able to tag and go to third. Willie Mays just brought this crowd to its feet with a catch which must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people. Boy! See where that 483 foot mark is in center field? The ball itself... Russ, you know this ballpark better than anyone else I know. Had to go about 460, didn't it?"

Hodges: "It certainly did, and I don't know how Willie did it, but he's been doing it all year."


It has been argued by many, including Bob Feller, the pitching legend sitting on the Indians' bench, that the reason so much is made of this catch, to the point where it is known as The Catch, capital T, Capital C, is that it was in New York, it was in the World Series, and it was on television. "It was far from the best catch I've ever seen," Feller said. Mays himself would say he'd made better catches. But none more consequential.

Durocher yanked Liddle, and brought in Marv Grissom. Upon reaching the Giant dugout, Liddle told his teammates, "Well, I got my man."

Yeah, Don. You got him.

Grissom walked Dale Mitchell to load the bases with only 1 out. But he struck out Dave Pope, and got Jim Hegan to fly out, to end the threat.

When the Giants got back to the dugout, they told Willie what a hard catch it was. He said, "You kiddin'? I had that one all the way."

The game went to extra innings. Future Hall-of-Famer Bob Lemon went the distance for the Tribe, but in the bottom of the 10th, he walked Mays, who stole 2nd. Then he intentionally walked Hank Thompson to set up an inning-ending double play. It didn't happen: Durocher sent Dusty Rhodes up to pinch-hit for left fielder Monte Irvin, and Rhodes hit the ball down the right-field line. It just sort of squeaked into the stands.

On the film, it looks a little like a fan reached out, and it bounced off his hand. A proto-Jeffrey Maier? To this day, no one has seriously argued that the call should be overturned.

The game was over: Giants 5, Indians 2. The Indians, heavily favored to win the Series, never recovered, and the Giants swept. The Series ended on October 2, tied with 1932 for the 2nd-earliest end to a World Series. (In 1918, the season was shortened due to World War I, and ended on September 11.)

Still alive from this game, 60 years later, are: From the Giants: Mays, Irvin, and shortstop Alvin Dark; from the Indians, Rosen, and his usual backup, a pinch-runner in this game, Rudy Regalado.

Victor Woodrow Wertz, a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, was a right fielder and 1st baseman. He made his name with the Detroit Tigers, hit 266 home runs in his career, had 5 100-plus RBI seasons, and made 4 All-Star Teams. He went 4-for-5 with 2 RBIs in this game. He should be remembered as more than a man who hit a 460-foot (or so) drive that was caught, while another guy in the same game hit a 260-foot drive that won the game as a home run. He died in 1983, aged only 58.

Willie Howard Mays Jr., a native of Fairfield, Alabama, outside Birmingham, became one of baseball's greatest legends. He hit 660 home runs, collected 3,283 hits, made 24 All-Star Games (there were 2 every season from 1959 to 1962), won a Gold Glove the 1st 12 seasons it was given out (1957 to 1968), won the 1954 and 1965 NL Most Valuable Player awards, and played on 4 Pennant winners -- but 1954 would be his only title.

The Giants, with whom he moved to San Francisco in 1958, retired his Number 24, dedicated a statue to him outside AT&T Park, and made its official address 24 Willie Mays Plaza. He played with the Giants until 1972, when he was traded to the Mets, going back to New York at age 41. He retired in 1973, and the Mets have rarely given out Number 24 since.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 1st year of eligibility, 1979. In 1999, he was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, and The Sporting News put him at Number 2 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- 2nd only to the long-dead Babe Ruth, so Willie was tops among living players. No player has since come along to suggest otherwise -- not later Giant Barry Bonds, not Derek Jeter. Willie is 83 years old. Last week, the Giants held a pregame ceremony honoring the 60th Anniversary of The Catch, even though it happened all the way across the country from where they play now.

*

Top 10 Defensive Plays In Sports

Note that I am not including defensive miscues, however (in)famous. So, no Bill Buckner. And while I could include strikeouts as "defensive plays," I have chosen not to. So, no Grover Cleveland Alexander.

Also, I'm going for consequence here. The teams that benefited from the plays in question had to win. So, if you're a Met fan, looking for Endy Chavez in Game 7 of the 2006 World Series, forget it.

However, Met fans will want to see this:

Honorable Mention: October 14 and 15, 1969: Tommie Agee's 2 catches in Game 3 of the World Series, and Ron Swoboda's catch in Game 4. I couldn't say any of these catches was more consequential than the other 2, so I'm putting them in here collectively, as an Honorable Mention. While I'm at it...

Honorable Mention: October 10 to 15, 1970: Collectively, several plays made by Brooks Robinson at 3rd base for the Baltimore Orioles against the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. What Willie did for the outfield, Brooksie did for the infield: Reminded us of how important, and how fantastic, defense can be. Of course, as with Mays, Robinson's home fans saw what he could do all the time; it was the rest of the country, watching the World Series, who may not have seen him regularly and not known how great he was.

Honorable Mention: October 13, 1978: Collectively, several plays made by Graig Nettles at 3rd base for the Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the World Series. The Yankees were down 2 games to none, and ace Ron Guidry didn't have his good stuff. Nettles bailed him out with 5 amazing plays, and the Yankees won, 5-1.

Honorable Mention: June 7, 1970: Gordon Banks, the goalkeeper who helped England win the World Cup on home soil 4 years earlier, stops Brazil superstar Pele with a seemingly impossible dive to his right. Both men said they thought it would go in, but Banks stopped it.

Because Brazil won the game anyway, I can't put this in the Top 10, even if it is the most talked-about save in soccer history. The other iconic moment of this game came at the end, when Pele and England Captain Bobby Moore swapped shirts: A bare-chested white man who might have been the greatest defender the game had ever known, and a bare-chested black man who might have been the greatest attacker the game had ever known, showing their mutual respect for one another.

10. May 18, 1971: Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at Chicago Stadium. Before the '71 Playoffs began, Ken Dryden, a law student from the Toronto suburbs who'd starred on the hockey team at Cornell University, had played a grand total of 6 NHL games, all for the Montreal Canadiens. But Rogie Vachon got hurt, and, rather than use Phil Myre, who'd started 30 gaes, head coach Al MacNeil saw enough in those 6 games to make Dryden his starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Canadiens upset the highly-favored defending Champion Boston Bruins on the way into the Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, a team loaded with talent including Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito -- who, like Rogie Vachon was about to become, was a goalie who won the Stanley Cup as a Montreal backup before having to go because he couldn't break through at the Forum, and became a Hall-of-Famer elsewhere, but never won the Cup again.

The Habs trails the Hawks 3 games to 2. The Habs won Game 6, but had to beat the Hawks in Game 7 in Chicago. In mid-game, Jim Pappin had a seemingly easy shot that would have put the Cup in Chicago's hands. But Dryden made a fantastic kick-save to prevent it. It wasn't the greatest save in hockey history, but it may have been the most consequential, especially considering the English-French linguistic strife in Montreal over the past year: The city had already won so many Cups, but it needed this one. With Henri Richard scoring the equalizer and the winner, the Canadiens won it. They would win 5 more Cups with Dryden in the net, while Chicago would have to wait until 2010 to win it again.

Dryden was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. The next year, he was awarded the Calder Trophy. He remains the only player in the history of major league sports in North America to be named Most Valuable Player of the postseason and then Rookie of the Year the next season. (Todd Worrell of the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals came close, though.)

9. January 1, 1979: The Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans. Usually, the old system did not produce a definitive National Championship Game. This time, it did: Penn State came in ranked Number 1, and Alabama was Number 2.

In the 4th quarter, Alabama led 14-7. Penn State reached 1st & goal on Alabama's 8-yard line. A run made it 2nd & 6. A pass play got to the 1-yard line. Don McNeal, later to star for the Miami Dolphins, seemed to come out of nowhere to stop Scott Fitzkee, who had scored Penn State's touchdown earlier. As great a play as it was, that's not the play that makes this list.

On 3rd down, future Chicago Bears running back Matt Suhey tried to get over the goal line, but couldn't. Penn State's quarterback was Chuck Fusina, who would later lead the Philadelphia (then Baltimore) Stars to 2 USFL titles, but was a bust in the NFL. Fusina was looking for the ball, and asked out loud where it was, hoping a teammate would answer. Instead, the answer came from Marty Lyons, an Alabama linebacker, who would star at defensive end for the Jets: "About a foot. You better pass." Lyons was so confident in the Crimson Tide's ability to hold the Nittany Lions on that 12 or so inches if they ran the football that he actually gave them a tip. There was about 6 minutes left on the clock, so if Penn State didn't get it done here, chances are, they would get the ball only 1 more time -- as would Alabama, who could have tacked on a score as well.

Fusina and head coach Joe Paterno didn't listen: On 4th & about a foot, Fusina handed off to Mike Guman. Barry Krauss and Murray Legg hit him, and he didn't make it over. Penn State held Alabama to three-and-out on the next series, but covered the punt with 12 men, and got caught, which gave Alabama a new life, and they nearly ran out the clock. The Lions' last-ditch drive fell short, and the Tide were National Champions, thanks largely to the most famous goal-line stand in football history.

8. June 7, 1994: Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. The New York Rangers led the Vancouver Canucks 2 games to 1. A penalty shot, very rare in the Playoffs, was given to Vancouver after Pavel Bure was improperly stopped on a breakaway. The Russian Rocket fired on Ranger goalie Mike Richter, but was stopped.

This sparked a Ranger comeback from 2-0 down, and the Rangers won 4-2, to take a 3-games-to-1 lead. The Canucks won Games 5 and 6, though, to make Ranger fans squirm just a little longer, before the Rangers won Game 7 at Madison Square Garden to finally end their drought after 54 years.

This Richter save wasn't as late as Dryden's in 1971, but it is better remembered (probably because he played for a New York team), and is shown in highlights a lot more often.

7. January 30, 2000: Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The St. Louis Rams were hanging on to a 23-16 lead over the Tennessee Titans, as the clock showed just 6 seconds -- time for just 1 more play. The Rams, previously in St. Louis, hadn't won an NFL Championship since December 1951 -- 48 years. The Titans, previously the Houston Oilers, had not gone as far as the rules of the time had allowed them to go since winning the 1961 AFL Championship -- 38 years. Something had to give.

Titans quarterback Steve McNair passed to his right, to Kevin Dyson, the beneficiary of the Music City Miracle play that beat the Buffalo Bills 4 weeks earlier. Rams linebacker Mike Jones saw it, and wrapped his arms around Dyson's legs. But as he was going down, Dyson realized he could still reach out, and have the ball cross the plane of the goal line. He tried, but he came less than a foot short. The game was over, and the Rams were champions. The play becomes known as The Tackle and The Longest Yard.

6. May 5, 1973: FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium. Leeds United, the Yorkshire giants, had won the Cup the year before. From the 1967-68 season to 1973-74, they would win 6 major trophies in 7 seasons. They were overwhelming favorites to defeat Sunderland, the North-East club then in England's Football League Division Two. If they were to win, they would become the 1st team ever to win the Cup (a tournament that celebrated its Centenary the season before) with no senior internationals. (Meaning none of their players had ever played an international match for his country beyond youth level. Some of them would later.) Think of the University of Miami -- and that's a reflection of the swagger and the dirty style of play of the Hurricanes and Leeds, as well as their ability to win -- facing a Mid-American Conference team for the National Championship.

Someone forgot to tell Sunderland, though. The Mackems went ahead on Ian Porterfield's goal off a corner in the 31st minute, and their defense held the rest of the way. Midway through the 2nd half, Sunderland goalkeeper Jim Montgomery dived (in English soccer, "dived" is correct, not "dove") to knock away a header from Trevor Cherry. But it rebounded right to the deadly Peter Lorimer, 10 yards away, and he shot. Both David Coleman on BBC Radio and Brian Moore on ITV were sure it had gone in. But Montgomery completed the sensational double save by deflecting the ball so that it hit the crossbar and came down outside the goal.

Sunderland held on to win, and manager Bob Stokoe ran around the field in celebration -- shades of Jim Valvano of North Carolina State 10 years later, with the teams even wearing the same colors, red and white. It remains the last major trophy Sunderland have won, and, aside from West Ham United in 1980, no team outside Division One/The Premier League has won the Cup since.

5. May 26, 1987: Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals at the Boston Garden. The defending World Champion Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons are tied at 2 games apiece, and the Pistons led 107-106 late in Game 5, and had the ball with just a few seconds left. It looked like the rising team, not yet known as the Motor City Bad Boys, were going to go back to the Silverdome to clinch in Game 6 and pull one of the biggest upsets in NBA Playoff history.

But as Isiah Thomas tried to inbound the ball to Bill Laimbeer, Larry Bird stole it, and passed to Dennis Johnson for a game-winning layup. Celtics 108, Pistons 107. Announcer Johnny Most, known for his gravelly voice and his Celtic homerism that made John Sterling and Phil Rizzuto sound objective by comparison, had the call:

"And... now, there's a steal by Bird! Underneath to DJ, who lays it in! Right at one second left! What a play by Bird! Bird stole the inbounding pass, laid it up to DJ, and DJ laid it up and in, and Boston has a one-point lead with one second left! Oh my, this place is going crazy!"

It is the signature play of Bird's storied career, and while the Pistons did win Game 6, the Celtics won Game 7 to reach the NBA Finals for the 4th straight season and the 5th in 7 years. But the Los Angeles Lakers won the title, and the Celtics wouldn't reach the Finals again for 21 years.

4. October 13, 2001: Game 3 of the American League Division Series at the Oakland Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics had beaten the Yankees in Games 1 and 2, and Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 4 would be in Oakland. The Yankees looked finished.

But Mike Mussina held the A's scoreless until the bottom of the 7th inning, and the Yankees gave hi a precarious 1-0 lead. Terrence Long hit a drive down the right-field line. Shane Spencer, filling in for the injured Paul O'Neill, threw the ball in, but his throw was well off the line. Jeremy Giambi, even slower than his brother Jason, was going to score with ease, and he didn't try to slide. What was the point? No one was going to make the play. It's not like someone was going to dash across the infield to grab the ball and throw it to catcher Jorge Posada.

Derek Jeter disagreed. He rushed in from shortstop, grabbed the ball with his bare hand, and, in a single motion, flipped it to Posada, who made a tag every bit as good as the flip, just in time to tag Giambi before his foot hit home plate. If Giambi had slid...

But he didn't. The Flip preserved the Yankees 1-0 win, and they went on to come back and win the series, and then beat the Seattle Mariners (who had broken the '54 Indians' AL record with 116 wins) for the Pennant, before losing the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As they would say in English soccer, "One Derek Jeter, there's only one Derek Jeter."

3. November 20, 1960: There have been some hard hits in NFL history, but this one is the most legendary. From 1956 to 1963, the New York Giants won the NFL Eastern Conference title 6 times in 8 years. They were hosting their geographic rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, in a key late-season game at the original Yankee Stadium. The winner was likely to win the East, and face the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship Game (which, under the rotating system of the time, would be at the East champion's home field).

Don Heinrich, filling in at quarterback for Charlie passed to Frank Gifford, the biggest star the Giants would ever have until Lawrence Taylor, and one of the NFL's biggest glamour boys. Chuck Bednarik, who played both center and linebacker for the Eagles, the last of the 60-minute men, clobbered him. This being November, the field at Yankee Stadium was cold and hard. Football helmets being what they were, the protection wasn't very good. Gifford's head slammed on the ground, and he was knocked out. He fumbled, and the Eagles recovered.

On the film, the hit doesn't look as bad as its legend would suggest. Bednarik can be seen clapping to celebrate the fumble, which sealed the Eagles' win. He then pumped his fist, and said, loud enough for players on both teams to hear, "This fuckin' game is over!" The photo from the game, showing the fist-pump, made it look like he had just celebrated killing Gifford. Indeed, there was a report that Gifford had died -- but it was confusion, because a security guard had suffered a heart attack during the game, and was wheeled out on a stretcher covered in a white sheet.

Gifford did, however, miss the rest of the season, and retired. The Eagles went on to beat the Packers for the title -- and haven't won an NFL Championship since. Gifford came back in 1962, and played 3 more seasons. Despite the incident, Gifford is still alive today, age 84. So is Bednarik, 89.

2. April 15, 1965: Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals at the Boston Garden. The Celtics led the Philadelphia 76ers 110-109, but a rare mistake by Bill Russell gave the Sixers the ball with just a few seconds left on the clock. If the Sixers could score, they would end the Celtic dynasty, and head to the NBA Finals against the Lakers. Hal Greer was getting ready to inbound the ball, and if the Sixers could get it to Wilt Chamberlain, that would probably be it.

John Havlicek had other ideas. Johnny Most, 23 years before Larry Bird's steal, and 19 years before Gerald Henderson's steal against the Lakers in the 1984 Finals, had the call:

"Greer is putting the ball in play. He gets it out deep, and Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over! It's all over! Johnny Havlicek is being mobbed by the fans! It's all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball! Oh my, what a play by Havlicek at the end of this ball game!"

The Celtics went on to beat the Lakers in the Finals. All 3 legendary Celtic Playoff steals -- Havlicek in 1965, Gerald Henderson in 1984 and Bird in 1987 -- happened at the Boston Garden. "The Luck of the Leprechaun"?

1. September 29, 1954: Willie Mays, The Catch. Maybe it isn't the greatest defensive play ever, or even Mays' greatest catch. But it is the most talked-about defensive play in the history of sports, and, for reminding us that defense is important, just as Brooks Robinson did in the 1970 World Series, we owe The Say Hey Kid our thanks.

Yankees Beat Red Sox, Jeter Gets RBI Hit In Last At-Bat


 
Yesterday was the last day of Major League Baseball's regular season, and it included a game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
 
And, competitively speaking, it was meaningless. Think of the odds you could've gotten on that on March 31 of this year.
 
Before the game, the last of Derek Jeter's career, the Red Sox had a ceremony featuring several Boston sports legends. Carl Yastrzemski, the greatest living Red Sock, and (like Jeter) 1 of only 4 living men with at least 3,400 hits, was there. So was Rico Petrocelli, Yaz's teammate from the 1967 "Impossible Dream" American League Pennant and the 1975 Pennant. So were Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Luis Tiant, also from the 1975 team. All but Petro were on the 1978 team that played the Yanks in that year's AL East Playoff, the Bucky Dent game. So were Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield from the 2004-07 * Sox. And, of course, the still-active David Ortiz -- who, for better or for worse, essentially becomes "The Face of Baseball" now.
 
Bobby Orr of the Bruins, on the short list for the title of "Greatest Hockey Player Who Ever Lived," was there. (I recently read his memoir, Orr: My Story. What it lacks in originality of title, it more than makes up for in respect for the game, great stories, and sometimes painful honesty. I highly recommend it.) Representing the Celtics was Paul Pierce, from their 2008 NBA Championship, now with the Washington Wizards. And representing the Patriots was Troy Brown, a receiver who played in 5 Super Bowls, winning 3. (Tom Brady, still active, was unavailable. I'm surprised the Celtics didn't send Larry Bird, who is a good friend of Orr's.) 
 
"Even though I played baseball, I have an appreciation for athletes in all different sports," Jeter said. To have them come out here, take time out of their schedule to come out here for this ceremony today for me, it meant a lot.

"I hadn't met most of them. I got a brief moment to thank them for taking the time to come out, but hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to each and every one of them a little bit more throughout the years. I know I'll have some time."

Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield, who had been one of Jeter's minor-league managers and helped him straighten out his fielding, presented him with a very New England-style gift: A pair of L.L. Bean "duck boots," with the Number 2 on them. Dustin Pedroia gave Jeter a base with the No. 2 on it, to commemorate the 153 games he played at Fenway. He was given a large metal sign with "RE2PECT" written in Fenway's font, signed by the '14 club. The Red Sox also made a $22,222 donation to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.
 

The Red Sox played Jeter's "Ice Bucket Challenge" video that was taken earlier this year in the Yankees' clubhouse, then introduced former Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates, one of the driving forces behind the successful fundraising effort.

As Frates' wheelchair moved onto the diamond, Jeter greeted him on the grass. Frates then took his place alongside Orr, Brown and Pierce as Massachusetts native Michelle Brooks Thompson performed a rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Respect," and then the national anthem.

During the 7th Inning Stretch, the Red Sox brought Bernie Williams on the field to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on his guitar, creating the strange scenario where Yankee Legends Jeter and Williams both heard their names chanted at Fenway Park.

Whatever I can say about certain Red Sox players, their organization, and their fans, handled this with class and dignity. Let's hope some of the players learn from this -- on both sides.

*

Oh yes, there was a game. As has usually been the case in his career, Jeter batted 2nd; unlike most of his career, he was the designated hitter. So, while this past Thursday night wasn't his last game, it was his last home game, and it was his last game at shortstop.

In the 1st inning, he hit a line shot that should have gone for a hit. Ironically, it was the Sox shortstop, Jemile Weeks, who made a great play to rob him.

In the 3rd, Ichiro Suzuki hit a 2-run triple, to put the Yankees up, 2-0. (Was this also Ichiro's last game? Or his last game as a Yankee? Hopefully, it was neither. Stay tuned.) Jeter came up, and hit a looper to 3rd that was misplayed. Tough a play as it was, it was rather generous to give him a hit on it. Ichiro scored, giving Jeter 1 more RBI. 3-0.

It was then that Yankee manager Joe Girardi asked, "Do you want to come out?" He did. He was replaced by Brian McCann -- a very slow runner, but probably the right guy to take his place as DH. Besides, aside from Jeter, the game was meaningless. He came off the field for the last time, to a standing ovation from a crowd with a good mix of Red Sox and Yankee Fans.

September 28, 1960: Ted Williams hits a home run in his last at-bat, at Fenway Park.

September 28, 2014: Derek Jeter hits an RBI single in his last at-bat, at Fenway Park.

Brett Gardner doubled McCann over to 3rd. Mark Teixeira, probably the new leader of the Yankee attack (presuming he can stay relatively injury-free in 2015), hit a sacrifice fly to plate McCann. 4-0 Yankees.

Each team scored 5 runs in the 7th inning, although neither hit a home run. Clay Buchholz, the Sox starter, had already been removed before the Yanks made their tallies. Esmil Rogers allowed most of the damage for the Yankees, in relief of Michael Pineda, who pitched very well again.

Final score -- of the season, and of Jeter's career -- Yankees 9, Red Sox 5. Not really a big deal, but always good to beat The Scum. WP: Pineda (5-5). No save. LP: Buchholz (8-11).

*

The final totals on Jeter's career:

Seasons: 20 (a Yankee record).
Regular season games: 2,747 (a Yankee record).
Batting average: .310.
On-base percentage: .377.
Slugging percentage: .440.
OPS+: 115.
Hits: 3,465 (6th all-time and a Yankee record).
Doubles: 544.
Triples: 26.
Home runs: 260.
Runs batted in: 1,311.
Stolen bases: 358 (a Yankee record).
Gold Gloves: 5.
All-Star Game appearances: 14.
Postseason games: 158 (a major league record).
Postseason appearances: 16 (a major league record).
Pennants: 7.
World Championships: 5.

Pete Rose was fond of saying he played in more winning games than any other player. I don't know if Jeter broke that record, but Rose appeared in the postseason only 8 times. (Still more than most players today will.) 6 Pennants, 3 World Championships.

Now, the active player with the most World Championships is David Ortiz, with 3. Albert Pujols, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals and now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has 2, and has a decent shot at a 3rd.

He was named AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, but never won a Most Valuable Player award. He was, essentially, robbed of it in 1998, 1999, 2006, 2009, and arguably 2012.

As Red Smith once wrote of Bobby Thomson's Pennant-winning home run, so now we can say of the baseball career of Derek Sanderson Jeter: "Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."

*

Days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training: Not yet announced, but if, as usual, it's February 20, then it's 144 days. A little under 5 months.

Days until the Yankees play another regular-season game: 189, on Monday, April 6, 2015, at Yankee Stadium II, against the Toronto Blue Jays. A little over 6 months.

But it will be without Derek Jeter. And Mariano Rivera. And any of the other legends of the 1996-2003 Yankee Dynasty. And with only a few holdovers from the 2009 World Champions: Teixeira, Gardner, CC Sabathia, David Robertson and Francisco Cervelli. And, maybe, Alex Rodriguez, but who still wants to see him? Not me.

It will be a new era.

Some of us, myself included, remember previous eras. The Dark Age of Donnie Regular Season Baseball. The Reggie-Thurman-Catfish Era before that. Some of us, not including myself, are old enough to remember the Dark Age of CBS, or the Mantle-Maris-Ford Era, or the Mantle-Berra-Ford Era, or the DiMaggio-Rizzuto Era. Some of you may even be old enough to remember Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth (although people that age tend not to be computer-savvy, frequently by choice).

But for a Yankee Fan born in 1989 or later, the Jeter-Rivera Era is the only one you know.

It could be painful. But it is time to move on. The game always moves on. The true greats leave, and get replaced by new greats.

As Nick Hornby said of another sport, "The truth is, it comes again and again. There's always another season. It's actually pretty comforting, if you think about it."

Baseball's Division Champions, 1876-2014

For this list, I am counting, even if Major League Baseball does not do so officially:

* Pennants in the single-division Leagues prior to 1969.

* The split-season Divisional Champions of 1981.

* The teams that had the best overall record in each Division in 1981, even if they didn't make the Playoffs under the format in place that year.

* The teams that were in first place when the Strike of 1994 hit.

* The teams that won Pennants as Wild Cards. They may not have finished 1st in the regular season, but they were the last team standing in their League when it was all over.

All ties in this ranking are broken by most recent finish. This season's Division Champions in bold.

1. New York Yankees, 48: 1921, '22, '23, '26, '27, '28, '32, '36, '37, '38, '39, '41, '42, '43, '47, '49, '50, '51, '52, '53, '55, '56, '57, '58, '60, '61, '62, '63, '64 '76, '77, '78, '80, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '94 (led when strike hit), '96, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05, '06, '09, '11, '12. AL 1903-68, AL East since 1969.

2. St. Louis Cardinals, 29: 1885, '86, '87, '88, 1926, '28, '30, '31, '34, '42, '43, '44, '46, '64, '67, '68, '81 (aggregate winners but didn't lead in either half), '82, '85, '87, '96, 2000, '02, '04, '05, '06, '09, '11 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '13, '14. American Association 1882-91, NL 1892-1968, NL East 1969-93, NL Central since 1994.

3. Chicago Cubs, 21: 1876, '80, '81, '82, '85, '86, 1906, '07, '08, '10, '18, '29, '32, '35, '38, '45, '84, '89, 2003, '07, '08. NL 1876-1968, NL East 1969-93, NL Central since 1994. Before Divisional play, not a bad record at all. In Divisional play, not good.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers, 18: 1959, '63, '65, '66, '74, '77, '78, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '83, '85, '88, '94 (led when strike hit), '95, 2004, '08, '09, '13, '14. NL 1958-68, NL West since 1969. Previously won as Brooklyn Dodgers in 1889, '90, '99, 1900, '16, '20, '41, '47, '49, '52, '53, '55 and '56.

5. Atlanta Braves, 17: 1969, '82, '91, '92, '93, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05, '13. NL 1966-68, NL West 1969-93, NL East since 1994. Previously won as Boston Braves in 1877, '78, '83, '91, '92, '93, '97, '98, 1914 and '48; and as Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and '58.

6. Cincinnati Reds, 17: 1882, 1919, '39, '40, '61, 1970, '72, '73, '75, '76, '79, '81 (aggregate winners but didn't lead in either half), '90, '94 (led when strike hit), '95, 2010, '12. AA 1882-91, NL 1892-1968, NL West 1969-93, NL Central since 1994.

7. Boston Red Sox, 16: 1903, '04, '12, '15, '16, '18, '46, '67, '75, '86, '88, '90, '95, 2004 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '07, '13. AL 1901-68, AL East since 1969.

8. Detroit Tigers, 16: 1907, '08, '09, '34, '35, '40, '45, '68, '72, '84, '87, 2006 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '11, '12, '13, '14. AL 1901-68, AL East 1969-97, AL Central since 1998.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates, 16: 1901, '02, '03, '09, '25, '27, '60, 70, '71, '72, '74, '75, '79, '90, '91, '92. NL 1882-1968, NL East 1969-93, NL Central since 1994, but have not won since moving to NL Central.

10. Oakland Athletics, 16: 1971, '72, '73, '74, '75, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '88, '89, '90, '92, 2000, '02, '03, '06, '12, '13. AL 1968, AL West since 1969. Previously won as Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, '05, '10, '11, '13, '14, '29, '30 and '31.

11. Philadelphia Phillies, 14: 1915, '50, '76, '77, '78, '80, '81 (1st-half), '83, '93, 2007, '08, '09, '10, '11. NL 1883-1968, NL East since 1969.

12. Minnesota Twins, 11: 1965, '69, '70, '87, '91, 2002, '03, '04, '06, '09, '10. AL 1961-68, AL West 1969-93, AL Central since 1994. Previously won as Washington Senators in 1924, '25 and '33.

13. Chicago White Sox, 11: 1901, '06, '17, '19, '59, '83, '93, '94 (led when strike hit), 2000, '05, '08. AL 1901-68, AL West 1969-93, AL Central since 1994.

14. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 10: 1979, '82, '86, 2002 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '04, '05, '07, '08, '09, '14. AL 1961-68, AL West since 1969.

15. Baltimore Orioles, 10: 1966, '69, '70, '71, '73, '74, '79, '83, '97, 2014. AL 1954-68, AL East since 1969. Previously won as St. Louis Browns in 1944.

16. San Francisco Giants, 10: 1962, '71, '87, '89, '97, 2000, '02 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '03, '10, '12. NL 1958-68, NL West. since 1969. Previously won as New York Giants in 1888, '89, 1904, '05, '11, '12, '13, '17, '21, '22, '23, '24, '33, '36, '37, '51 and '54.

17. Cleveland Indians, 10: 1920, '48, '54, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2001, '07. AL 1901-68, AL East 1969-93 (never won it), AL Central since 1994.

18. Houston Astros, 8: 1980, '81 (2nd-half winners), '86, '97, '98, '99, 2001, '05 (won Pennant as Wild Card). NL 1962-68, NL West 1969-93, NL Central 1994-2012, AL West since 2013. That's right, they've been in 4 different Divisions in the last 47 seasons.

18. Kansas City Royals, 7: 1976, '77, '78, '80, '81 (2nd-half winners), '84, '85. AL West 1969-93, AL Central since 1994, but have not won since the move.

20. Texas Rangers, 6: 1994 (led when strike hit), '96, '98, '99, 2010, '11. AL West since 1972.

21. New York Mets, 6: 1969, '73, '86, '88, 2000 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '06. NL 1962-68, NL East since 1969.

22. Arizona Diamondbacks, 5: 1999, 2001, '02, '07, '11. NL West since 1998.

23. San Diego Padres, 5: 1984, '96, '98, 2005, '06. NL West since 1969.

24. Toronto Blue Jays, 5: 1985, '89, '91, '92, '93. AL East since 1977.

25. Milwaukee Brewers, 3: 1981 (2nd-half winners), '82, 2011. AL West 1969-71 (1969 as Seattle Pilots), AL East 1972-93, AL Central 1994-97, NL Central since 1998. That's 4 different Divisions in the last 44 seasons.

26. Seattle Mariners, 3: 1995, '97, 2001. AL West since 1977.

27. Washington Nationals, 2: 2012, '14. NL East since 1969, in Washington since 2005. Also won NL East as Montreal Expos in 1981 (2nd-half and overall winners) and '94 (led when strike hit).

28. Tampa Bay Rays, 2: 2008, '10. AL East since 1998.

29. Colorado Rockies, 2: 2007, '09. NL West since 1993.

30. Miami Marlins, 2: 1997, 2003 (both times, won Pennant as Wild Card). NL East since 1993.

Leading their respective Divisions are: In the American League, the Yankees, Detroit and Oakland; in the National League, Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Baseball's Division Champions, 1969-2014

For this list, I am counting, even if Major League Baseball does not do so officially:

* The split-season Divisional Champions of 1981.

* The teams that had the best overall record in each Division in 1981, even if they didn't make the Playoffs under the format in place that year.

* The teams that were in first place when the Strike of 1994 hit.

* The teams that won Pennants as Wild Cards. They may not have finished 1st in the regular season, but they were the last team standing in their League when it was all over.

All ties in this ranking are broken by most recent finish. This season's Division Champions in bold.

1. New York Yankees, 19: 1976, '77, '78, '80, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '94 (led when strike hit), '96, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05, '06, '09, '11, '12.  All in AL East.

2. Atlanta Braves, 17: 1969, '82, '91, '92, '93 (in NL West, afterward in NL East), '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05, '13.

3. Oakland Athletics, 16: 1971, '72, '73, '74, '75, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '88, '89, '90, '92, 2000, '02, '03, '06, '12, '13. All in AL West.

4. St. Louis Cardinals, 14: 1981 (aggregate winners but didn't lead in either half), '82, '85, '87 (in NL East, afterward in NL Central), '96, 2000, '02, '04, '05, '06, '09, '11 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '13, 14.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers, 14: 1974, '77, '78, '81 (1st-half and overall winners), '83, '85, '88, '94 (led when strike hit), '95, 2004, '08, '09, '13, '14. All in NL West.

6. Cincinnati Reds, 12: 1970, '72, '73, '75, '76, '79, '81 (aggregate winners but didn't lead in either half), '90 (in NL West, afterward in NL Central), '94 (led when strike hit), '95, 2010, '12.

7. Philadelphia Phillies, 12: 1976, '77, '78, '80, '81 (1st-half), '83, '93, 2007, '08, '09, '10, '11. All in NL East.

8. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 10: 1979, '82, '86, 2002 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '04, '05, '07, '08, '09, '14. All in AL West.

9. Minnesota Twins, 10: 1969, '70, '87, '91 (in AL West, afterward in AL Central), 2002, '03, '04, '06, '09, '10.

10. Baltimore Orioles, 9: 1969, '70, '71, '73, '74, '79, '83, '97, 2014. All in AL East.

11. San Francisco Giants, 9: 1971, '87, '89, '97, 2000, '02 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '03, '10, '12. All in NL West.

12. Pittsburgh Pirates, 9: 1970, '71, '72, '74, '75, '79, '90, '91, '92. All in NL East, have not won since moving to NL Central.

13. Detroit Tigers, 8: 1972, '84, '87 (in AL East, afterward in AL Central), 2006 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '11, '12, '13, '14.

14. Boston Red Sox, 8: 1975, '86, '88, '90, '95, 2004 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '07, '13. All in AL East.

15. Houston Astros, 8: 1980, '81 (2nd-half winners), '86 (in NL West, afterward in NL Central), '97, '98, '99, 2001, '05 (won Pennant as Wild Card). Have now moved to AL West.

16. Cleveland Indians, 7: 1995, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2001, '07.  All in AL Central, as they never won while in AL East.

17. Kansas City Royals, 7: 1976, '77, '78, '80, '81 (2nd-half winners), '84, '85. All in AL West, have not won since moving to AL Central.

18. Texas Rangers, 6: 1994 (led when strike hit), '96, '98, '99, 2010, '11. All in AL West.

19. Chicago White Sox, 6: 1983, '93 (in AL West, afterward in AL Central), '94 (led when strike hit), 2000, '05, '08.

20. New York Mets, 6: 1969, '73, '86, '88, 2000 (won Pennant as Wild Card), '06. All in NL East.

21. Arizona Diamondbacks, 5: 1999, 2001, '02, '07, '11. All in NL West.

22. Chicago Cubs, 5: 1984, '89 (in NL East, afterward in NL Central), 2003, '07, '08.

23. San Diego Padres, 5: 1984, '96, '98, 2005, '06. All in NL West.

24. Toronto Blue Jays, 5: 1985, '89, '91, '92, '93. All in AL East.

25. Milwaukee Brewers, 3: 1981 (2nd-half winners), '82 (in AL East, thereafter in  NL Central), 2011.

26. Seattle Mariners, 3: 1995, '97, 2001. All in AL West.

27. Washington Nationals, 2: 2012, '14. Both in NL East. Also won NL East as Montreal Expos in 1981 (2nd-half and overall winners) and '94 (led when strike hit).

28. Tampa Bay Rays, 2: 2008, '10. Both in AL East.

29. Colorado Rockies, 2: 2007, '09. Both in NL West.

30. Miami Marlins, 2: 1997, 2003 (both times, won Pennant as Wild Card). Both in NL East.

Leading their respective Divisions are: In the American League, the Yankees, Minnesota and Oakland; in the National League, Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

However, if we count only titles won within those Divisions -- both before and after realignment -- then we get a different picture:

The AL leaders remain the same, but Philadelphia surpasses Atlanta for the NL East lead (the Braves were in the NL West until 1993), St. Louis now leads the NL Central (Cincinnati was in the NL West until 1993), and Cincinnati and the Dodgers share the NL West lead.

In any case, the Yankees are Number 1 on this list, as they are on so many others.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

And Now, the End Is Near, and So He'll Face the Final Curtain

In a few minutes, for the last time, Derek Jeter will play for the New York Yankees.

Then, the 2014 regular season will end, and the postseason will begin, without the Yankees.

I hate when that happens.

*

On Friday night, the Yankees began the last series of Jeter's career, against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway. Jeter did not play. Chris Capuano, the former Red Sock, started for the Yankees. Sounds like a setup for a Boston victory, don't you think?

You could think, but you'd be wrong: Capuano pitched his best game in a Yankee uniform, going 6 2/3 innings, allowing 1 run, unearned, on 4 hits and no walks, striking out 5.

The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning, but an RBI single by Francisco Cervelli and a throwing error on a John Ryan Murphy grounder gave the Yanks the lead in the top of the 3rd. Zelous Wheeler hit a sacrifice fly in the 6th to get another run home.

Shawn Kelley relieved Capuano in the 7th, and allowed a home run to rookie Rusnie Castillo, making the game rather precarious, especially in Fenway. But Adam Warren and David Robertson shut the Sox down the rest of the way.

Yankees 3, Red Sox 2. WP: Capuano (3-4). SV: Robertson (39). LP: Steven Wright (0-1) -- not to be confused with the comedian Steven Wright, who's from Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, and a big Red Sox fan: "I bought some batteries, but they weren't included. So I had to buy them again."

*

Yesterday, Jeter did play, as the designated hitter. He said he wouldn't play shortstop in this final series. He went 1-for-2, before leaving for a pinch-hitter.

The game was lost early. Masahiro Tanaka, making his 2nd start since coming off the Disabled List, allowed a run in the 1st, and then fell apart in the 2nd, allowing 4 hits and 2 walks before Joe Girardi took him out. Preston Claiborne was no better. When the bleeding finally stopped, 8 runs had been scored in the inning.

After that, it was just a matter of playing the game out, and seeing what happened. Red Sox 10, Yankees 4. WP: Joe Kelly (4-2). LP: Tanaka (13-5).

*

Today is the regular season finale. Presuming he plays, it will be Derek Jeter's last game. Yesterday, most Red Sox fans cheered him. Some booed. It remains to be seen if there's a ceremony before the game. Most teams have had one, offered gifts and contributions to his Turn 2 Foundation.

Michael Pineda is set to start for the Yankees, Clay Buchholz for the Red Sox.

*

Yesterday's North London Derby was not fun. Arsenal should have beaten Tottenham about 4-0. Instead, it was a 1-1 draw, and I don't want to talk about it.

This will show you the difference between the clubs: The Tottenham fans celebrated it like they'd won the League -- like they'd know -- while the Arsenal fans were furious at not getting a win.

Rutgers got a win yesterday, beating Tulane 31-6 at home. That's nice, how about beating a Big Ten team? They had the chance against Penn State, but blew it. Now, the real schedule begins. They're going to be yelling for their mothers.

Europe won the Ryder Cup. I'm not distressed, since I don't like golf.

Mike Lupica wrote a column in today's Daily News, stating that, because he's quarterbacked 2 World Championship teams, Eli Manning of the Giants is now the face of New York sports. He's right. Who else could it be? No other Yankee. No Met, not even David Wright. No Jet. No Knick. No Net. Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers? Don't make me laugh. After Eli, the closest any Tri-State Area athlete comes is Patrik Elias of the Devils -- especially since Martin Brodeur is, officially, no longer signed with the Devils (or any other team).

It is odd, though: When was the last time you saw a quarterback take a handoff?


*

Minutes until Derek Jeter's last regular-season game: Just a few. Then again, considering it's against the Sox, especially at Fenway, the game could last for hours.

Hours until the Red Bulls play again: 7, tonight at 8:30 PM, away to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": Unknown, as the last one for this season has been played. The Red Bulls are now likely to make the Playoffs, as are D.C. United and the New England Revolution, while the Philadelphia Union also have a shot, so another derby this season is possible.

Days until Arsenal play again: 3, this Wednesday, 2:45 in the afternoon our time, home to Istanbul, Turkey club Galatasaray, in the Champions League.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 4, this Thursday night, home to Edison. It is being played on a Thursday night because Friday night is the beginning of Yom Kippur. Yesterday, EB lost to 40-13 to North Brunswick, the one team we beat last year (and that, barely, only 14-12 at home). In 2 games, we've given up 88 points and scored only 13. It's going to be a long season.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 6, this Saturday at 7:00 PM, home to Big Ten titans Michigan. At least Michigan is also struggling at this point, but it's Michigan, so who's kidding who?

Days until the Devils play again: 11. They open on Thursday, October 9, away to the Philadelphia Flyers. Under 2 weeks. They once again get screwed by Commissioner Gary Bettman and his schedulemakers, this time having to play 4 road games before their home opener, on Saturday, October 18, at 7:00 PM, vs. the San Jose Sharks.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: See the previous answer. The first game against The Scum is Tuesday night, October 21, at the Prudential Center. The first game against the Islanders is Saturday night, November 29, at the Nassau Coliseum. The Devils' last trip to Uniondale, before the Isles move to Brooklyn, is Monday night, December 15.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 12, on Friday, October 10, at 7:00 PM, a friendly, home to Ecuador, at Rentschler Field in Hartford, Connecticut. Under a month. The following Tuesday, they will play another Latin American team, Honduras, in a friendly at Florida Atlantic University's stadium in Boca Raton, Florida. There will be one more match in the calendar year, another friendly, against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin (built on the site of their former home, Lansdowne Road), on Tuesday afternoon (evening, local time), November 18.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 60, on Thursday morning, November 27, at 10:00 AM. Only 2 months.

Days until New York City FC make their Major League Soccer debut: Unknown, but a new MLS season usually begins on the 2nd Saturday in March, which would be March 14, 2015. That's 167 days. A little under 6 months. Whether it will be a home game, and thus at the new Yankee Stadium, is yet to be determined.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 132, on Saturday, February 7, 2015, at White Hart Lane -- unless the teams are paired in the FA Cup before then, as they were in the 3rd Round last season. A little over 4 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez is eligible to play for the Yankees again: 185 -- presuming, that is, that 2015's Opening Day is on April 1, and wouldn't it just work out that way, that A-Rod is again allowed to play a regular-season game for the Yankees on April Fool's Day? Anyway, that's a little over 6 months.

Days until the New York Islanders' last game at the Nassau Coliseum: 195, on April 11, 2015, at 7:00 PM, against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 209, on Friday, April 10, 2015, at 7:00 PM, at the new Yankee Stadium.

Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Unknown, but an NHL regular season usually begins on the 1st Friday in October, which would be October 2, 2015. That's 370 days. That's just over 1 year. Or, to put it another way, "370 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, even with their 4 straight long-ago Stanley Cups, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.

Days until Euro 2016 begins in France: 622, on Friday, June 10. Under 21 months.

Days until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 679, on Friday, August 5, 2016. A little over 22 months.

Days until the next World Cup begins in Russia: 1,352, on Friday June 8, 2018. Under 4 years.