Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How Long It's Been: The Baltimore Orioles Won a Division Title

Last night, the Baltimore Orioles clinched the American League Eastern Division Championship, but beating the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-2, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

They had previously won the AL East in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1983 and 1997, and just missed winning it in 1977, 1980, 1982, and one of the split-season halves in 1981.

So they won 5 of the 1st 6 AL East titles, and 7 of the first 15. But only 1 of the last 30 until last night.

The last time the Orioles clinched a Division title was on September 27, 1997, beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 at Milwaukee County Stadium, thus eliminating the Yankees. (This was the Brewers' last series as an American League team. Oddly, the Yankees won 92 games in 1996, enough to beat the O's out for the AL East title; but the 96 games they won in 1997 wasn't enough to do it, as the O's won 98. Never again has an AL East team won 96 games without winning the Division.)

September 27, 1997. That's 11 days short of 17 years. How long has it been?

*

Their starting lineup included Cal Ripken Jr., future Hall-of-Famer; Roberto Alomar, future Hall-of-Famer; Rafael Palmeiro, who would have made the Hall of Fame had he not been caught using steroids; Brady Anderson, an All-Star who was almost certainly using steroids; B.J. Surhoff, a future All-Star; Jeffrey Hammonds, a future All-Star; Chris Holies, an All-Star catcher; Mike Bordick, an All-Star shortstop;and Geronimo Berroa, the only one of the usual starting nine who would never be an All-Star, but was coming off a 36-home run season for the Oakland Athletics, and hit 26 between the A's early in the year and the O's later.

The pitching staff included Mike Mussina, the future Yankee who is now eligible for the Hall of Fame and should be in; Jimmy Key, a former Yankee who should be considered for the Hall; Scott Erickson, a former All-Star for the Minnesota Twins; longtime bullpen star Arthur Rhodes; former Mets closers Jesse Orosco and Randy Myers; and future Mets closer Armando Benitez.

This team should have won the AL Pennant. But after beating the Seattle Mariners in the Division Series, they lost the League Championship Series to the Cleveland Indians in 6 games, as Benitez, having already given up key homers to the Yankees in the previous season's ALCS (including the Derek Jeter/Jeffrey Maier home run), gave up an 11th-inning homer in Game 6. Not to a slugger like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar Jr., Matt Williams, or even Travis Fryman, but to Tony Fernandez -- good fielder, but not much of a hitter.

The Orioles have played 6 ALCS games at Camden Yards since it opened in 1992. They have won exactly 1 of them. And that it why they haven't won a Pennant, never mind a World Series, since 1983. (That's a "How Long It's Been" post for another day.) It's also a big reason why Davey Johnson was lucky to manage the Mets when they won the World Series in 1986. He should have won more with the Mets, and also had good teams in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Washington, but has only won 1 Pennant. He was a Bob Stanley wild pitch -- maybe a single Houston Astro run -- away from being Gene Mauch with a bigger budget: The worst big-game manager in baseball history.

On their left sleeves, the Oriles were wearing a commemorative patch with the number 200 on it, in honor of the anniversary of Baltimore's incorporation as a city in 1797.

In 1997, the Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series in 79 years. The Chicago White Sox, 80 years. The San Francisco Giants, 43 years (and they were still in New York at the time). The Florida (now Miami) Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks had never won a World Series. The Marlins, Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers had never won a Pennant. The D-backs and Rays had not even begun play yet. All have now done so.

As I said, the Brewers were still in the AL, and the Houston Astros were still in the National League. Of the 28 teams playing that season, 15 have since opened a new ballpark, including the Detroit Tigers, who were then still playing in a stadium built in 1912. Of the 9 teams playing major league sports in the New York Tri-State Area, all but the Knicks and Rangers have either moved to a new building (and their building has just been seriously renovated), or, in the case of the Islanders, are about to do so.

The Montreal Expos had not yet moved to Washington, D.C. The Houston Oilers were playing their one and only season in Memphis, as the Tennessee Titans, and would move to Nashville the next season, and wouldn't become the Tennessee Titans until they opened a new stadium the year after that. The Cleveland Browns were in the 2nd year of a 3-year hiatus because of the Baltimore Ravens move. The Seattle SuperSonics hadn't yet become the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Vancouver Grizzlies had not yet moved to Memphis. The Charlotte Hornets hadn't yet become the New Orleans Hornets or the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Charlotte Bobcats had neither been founded or changed their name to the new Charlotte Hornets. The Hartford Whalers were about to debut as the Carolina Hurricanes. The Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild had not yet begun play. Neither had the Atlanta Thrashers, who have since become the new Winnipeg Jets.

The defending World Champions in sports were the Yankees in baseball, the Green Bay Packers in football, the Chicago Bulls in basketball, and the Detroit Red Wings in hockey. The Heavyweight Championship of the World was split between Evander Holyfield (WBA), Lennox Lewis (WBC), Michael Moorer (IBF) and Henry Akinwade (WBO). Most people considered either Holyfield or Lewis to be "the real champ."

Baseball legends Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Bob Feller and Warren Spahn were still alive. Of the defining baseball players of my childhood, all were now retired, and except for the banned Pete Rose, pretty much all of them were in the Hall of Fame or would be in the next couple of years.

Derek Jeter was 23 years old, and in his 2nd full major league season. Jimmy Rollins was about to turn 19, Adrian Beltre was 18, Robinson Cano and David Wright were about to turn 15, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto were 14, Matt Kemp was 13, current Oriole star Adam Jones was 12, Yoenis Cespeds was about to turn 12, Felix Hernandez was 11, Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw were 9, Masahiro Tanaka was about to turn 9, Giancarlo Stanton was about to turn 8, Mike Trout was 6, and Bryce Harper was about to turn 5.

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

The President of the United States was Bill Clinton, nobody was publicly suggesting that his wife Hillary run for any office, and Monica Lewinsky could walk into just about any building in the country, introduce herself, and no one there would recognize her name. (Come to think of it, so could any Kardashian except Robert Sr., who was still alive.)

Gerald and Betty Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Lady Bird Johnson were still alive. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and George and Barbara Bush were, and still are. George W. Bush was preparing to run for re-election as Governor of Texas. Barack Obama was in his 1st year in public office, the Illinois State Senate. Joe Biden was in his 25th year as a U.S. Senator from Delaware.

The Governor of New York was George Pataki, gearing up for a 2nd run at the office he'd won from Mario Cuomo. Mario's son, Andrew Cuomo, was Clinton's Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, and he'd hired Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, as his regional director. The Mayor of New York then, about to be elected to a 2nd term, was Rudy Giuliani. The Governor of New Jersey was Christine Todd Whitman. Chris Christie had just been defeated in a primary for re-election as a Freeholder for Morris County; at age 35, his political career seemed to be over.

In the State and City where the Orioles were playing, the Governor of Maryland was Parris Glendening. Current Governor Martin O'Malley was a City Councillor in Baltimore, where Mayor Kurt Schmoke was about to announce that he wasn't running for re-election.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Jean Chretien. The Prime Minister of Britain, in his 1st 5 months on the job, was Tony Blair. The head of state of both nations was Queen Elizabeth II, still dealing with the public-relations fallout from the death of Princess Diana. England's Premier League had been won the preceding May by Manchester United, and its FA Cup by West London club Chelsea, only the 5th major trophy in their 92-year history. (They have since won 14 in 17 years.)

Major novels of 1997 including J.K. Rowling's 1st Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (released as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the U.S.), Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Don DeLillo's Underworld, Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version, and Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City, the basis for the TV series. Non-fiction books of the year included Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm.

Major films of the fall of 1997 included L.A. Confidential, Soul Food, Kiss the Girls (the first of James Patterson's Alex Cross novels to be made into a film), Seven Years In Tibet, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Gattaca. The new 1997-98 television season saw the debuts of Ally McBeal, Dharma & Greg, and Bear in the Big Blue House.

On the very night that the Orioles clinched the AL East, Bob Dylan played a concert in Bologna, Italy, as a Catholic youth rally, headlined not by Dylan but by Pope John Paul II. He had just released his album Time Out of Mind. Within weeks, Bill Berry would leave R.E.M., ending the group's original lineup. Janet Jackson released The Velvet Rope. The Bouncing Souls, who made their name in the Rutgers music scene in New Brunswick, New Jersey, released their self-titled debut album.

Mobile telephones were still roughly the size of the communicators on the original Star Trek series. There was America Online and Netscape, but, as yet, less than half of all Americans were Internet users. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Pinterest, no Vine.

In the early autumn of 1997, Wales voted for "devolution" in the United Kingdom, and both they and Scotland formed a their own parliaments, to give themselves some autonomy. (Shades of what's going on with Scotland now.) An Islamic-terror massacre in Algeria killed 53 people, and a plane crash in Indonesia killed 235.

Red Skelton, and Roy Lichtenstein, and baseball legend Johnny Vander Meer died. Actress Bella Thorne, and drummer Alex Wolff, and figure skater Leah Keiser were born.

September 27, 1997. The Baltimore Orioles clinched the American League Eastern Division title.

Now, nearly 17 years later, they have done it again. Will they have better luck in the postseason this time? Stay tuned.

Joe Maddon Is a Classless Thug

Joe Maddon, the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, is a thug.

He's probably hoping that John Farrell gets fired as Boston Red Sox manager, so he can get off the sinking ship that will probably be docked in another city in a few years, and can manage a team that actually gets supported, win or lose, and gets a real payroll, and where his hatred of the Yankees and his encouragement of his players to purposely inflict injuries on them, is already part of the club culture.

Not to be confused with the band Culture Club: If you ask Maddon, "Do you really want to hurt me?" he'll say, "Fuck yeah, I do!"

Last night, after a pregame ceremony honoring Derek Jeter in his last series in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, the Yankees led 1-0 in the bottom of the 5th, with Michael Pineda cruising, and Ichiro Suzuki backing him up with an RBI single.

Then the Rays tied it on Pineda's own error. In the 6th, Pineda allowed another run to make it 2-1 Tampa Bay.

That's when Joe Girardi panicked. He pulled Pineda for Josh Outman, who finished the 6th.

That's when Girardi fucked up the bullpen again. He should have kept Outman in there for the 7th. Instead, he brought in Esmil Rogers, who opened the gates for a 4-run inning.

At the rate the Yankees are going, they probably still would have lost had it remained 2-1. As it was, the Yankees got only 7 hits, and were an unacceptable 1-for-10 with runners in scoring positon. Rays 6, Yankees 1. WP: Jake Odorizzi (11-12). No save. LP: Pineda (3-5).

But as bad as blowing the lead and not hitting enough -- in each case, again -- are, the big story occurred in the top of the 8th inning. Steve Geltz -- not to be confused with Steve Jeltz, a good-field-no-hit shortstop for the Phillies in the early 1990s -- took the mound. The first batter he faced was Jeter, mired in the worst slump of his career, 0-for-26, his seasonal batting average down to .249, trudging toward retirement.

He hit Jeter. The count was 0-and-2, suggesting that he didn't mean to hit him. But with a 5-run lead over the 2014 Yankees, the game was in the bag for the Rays. This was a message, from Maddon to the Yankees: We hate you for beating us so often, and we hate your fans for coming into our ballpark and taking over and making us feel like the visiting team.

(Attendance was 21,387. Not bad for the early or mid-1990s, terrible for the mid-2010s, truly pathetic for a metro arena that spent the better part of 20 years whining that it deserved a Major League Baseball team, missing out on the 1977 and 1993 expansions, and having the San Francisco Giants one step away from moving there for the 1993 season, maybe two steps away from having the Seattle Mariners or the Houston Astros move there in the 1990s. They don't seem to want a team anymore.)

Then Joe West, baseball's seniormost current umpire and the crew chief for this series, warned both benches.

What was the point of warning the Yankee bench? They hadn't hit a Rays batter in this series, or in the last series at Yankee Stadium. This was the 5th plunking of a Yankee batter in the last 4 games between them.

Girardi came out to argue, and West tossed him.

In the bottom of the 8th, bench coach and backup manager Tony Pena sent David Phelps out to pitch, and he hit Rays right fielder Kevin Kiermayer. West threw out both Phelps and Pena.

Maddon, of course, was allowed to finish the game.

It's not just Yankee Fans who know that Maddon is a classless thug. His allowance of headhunting precipitated a brawl against the Red Sox 2 years ago. After the game, he tweeted, “Very proud of our effort 2nite. What occurred in the 9th reeked of intent. Was ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, cowardly behavior.”

That led one Red Sox fan blogger to write a piece calling Maddon "the Worst Person Ever." (Shades of Keith Olbermann.)

And late this afternoon, all 4 panelists on ESPN's Around the Horn said Maddon was wrong: Longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, longtime Denver Post columnist Woody Paige, University of Maryland journalism professor and former Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Blackistone, and former Sports Illustrated writer Pablo S. Torre. Still later, both panelists on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, former Washington Post columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, also said Maddon was wrong.

Neither Gary Shelton nor Tom Jones (not the singer), either of the regular columnists for the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times), wrote today. Nor has any columnist for the Tampa Tribune. I guess they didn't want to address Maddon being a classless thug.

So it's not just me. True, they won't call Maddon "classless" or a "thug," but they all agree with me that he is wrong to either order his pitchers to hit Yankee batters or to allow them to do so.

Maddon has a history of classless behavior. On March 9, 2008, Elliot Johnson -- a jack of all positions and master of bupkes, who is now a Cleveland Indian and a career .215 hitter -- crashed into Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli, breaking his wrist. In a spring training game.

Then, in May 2011, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants suffered a season-ending injury in a violent home-plate collision. And MLB put in a new rule regarding such collisions. Maddon, the hypocrite, said, "The new rules are only in place because a star catcher got injured and he was bowled over and he was in bad position. I hate to say it was his fault.''

Really. Yo, Joe: How would you feel if the catcher who gets the season-ending injury next year is Jose Molina? (Sorry, Yankee Fans, I know he was once one of ours, but he's theirs now.) Or Ryan Hanigan? But you'd change your hypocritical tune then.

Since becoming the Rays' manager, Maddon has continually allowed his pitchers to plunk Yankee hitters. It seems as if he thinks he's already the Red Sox manager.

He'd fit them perfectly. You know why?

Because Joe Maddon is a classless thug.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Can't Win If You Don't Score

(Yes, I know, the picture is from earlier in the season, at home, not from this past weekend at Camden Yards. It's still the Orioles beating the Yankees, and it seems to sum up this season. I'm leaving it up.)

Since last I posted, the Yankees have played the finale of a road series against the Baltimore Orioles, and begun a road series against the Tampa Bay Rays, and dropped both games.

It now looks as though the last 3 games of the season, away to the Boston Red Sox, will have no meaning beyond each side wanting to beat their archest rival, just for the sake of beating that one team.

Making it increasingly likely that Derek Jeter's last game will be the home finale, against the Orioles, on September 25, a week from this Thursday night.

*

On Sunday night in Baltimore, Hiroki Kuroda sure didn't pitch like a 39-year-old man. He went 7 innings, allowing 1 run on 6 hits and no walks. Dellin Betances pitched a perfect 8th.

And yet, despite Martin Prado's 12th home run of the season (his 7th as a Yankee since coming over from the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 31), the game was 1-1 going into the 9th.

Brian McCann, still batting only .238, hit his 20th homer of the season. It was 2-1, and it looked like Betances would get the win.

But David Robertson, who so often bends but doesn't break, broke. He allowed a leadoff double to Nelson Cruz, another double to Steve Pearce to tie the game, got J.J. Hardy to fly out, and then allowed a game-losing double.

A game-losing double to Kelly Johnson, whom the Yankees got rid of, because he was batting just .219, on-base percentage a mere .304, with 6 homers and 22 RBIs in 227 at-bats. We were actually willing to trade him to the hated Red Sox. He continued to be bad for them: In 25 plate appearances, he reached base only 4 times (all singles), for Ivan DeJesus. No, the BoSox were not willing to trade him for the 61-year-old former Cubs and Phillies shortstop from Puerto Rico, who played 7 games for the Yankees in 1986. This is his 27-year-old son, a middle infielder who had all of 72 big-league plate appearances before that trade (and only 8 since coming to Boston 2 weeks ago).

Kelly Johnson isn't the first, or even the least likely, former Yankee to come back and haunt us. But he is the latest, and thus, for the moment, the most annoying.

Orioles 3, Yankees 2. WP: Darren O'Day (5-1). No save. LP: Robertson (2-5).

In 37 innings in Camden Yards, one of the best hitter's parks in the game, the Yankees scored 6 runs. They won 1 game, and lost another in the 9th inning and another in the 11th.

*

Then, last night in St. Petersburg, against the Rays, the Yankees continued their pathetic hitting, getting nothing over 9 innings. The Yankees got only 6 hits (all singles, except for a double by Ichiro Suzuki) and 2 walks, and were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position (Yankee RISPfail).

This time, for 8 innings, it didn't matter, since Chris Capuano and Adam Warren, both seriously struggling lately, combined for 8 scoreless innings of their own, allowing the Rays only 2 hits (but also 4 walks).

This time, it was Shawn Kelley's turn to futz it up. He got Yunel Escobar to ground out, but allowed singles to Logan Forsythe (he of the oh-so-soap-opera-sounding name) and James Loney (also a bit of a soapish name). He struck out David DeJesus (no relation to the Ivans), but walked Matt Joyce to load the bases with only 1 out.

Could the Yankee infield get a double play and get out of the jam? Not if the next batter hit a line drive over them. Ben Zobrist, as usual a pain in the ass, did just that, singling to right to end it.

Rays 1, Yankees 0. WP: Joel Peralta (3-4). No save. LP: Kelley (3-6).

*

With that loss, just as the Yankees had done to the Rays 4 days earlier, the Rays had officially, mathematically, eliminated the Yankees from the chance at the American League Eastern Division title.

The Yankees are 6 games out of the AL Wild Card race with 13 to play. Their elimination number is 8. To put it another way: If the Kansas City Royals, currently holding the 2nd AL Wild Card slot, go 1 game over .500 the rest of the way, 7-6, in order to at least tie them for that berth, the Yankees would have to win all of their last 13. So it looks like the Royals and the Oakland Athletics will get the wild card berths. The Seattle Mariners are still close enough to have a chance.

The Orioles can clinch the AL East tonight, with either a win or a Toronto Blue Jays loss. The Washington Nationals can clinch the National League East tonight with a win and an Atlanta Braves loss. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have a magic number of 3 to clinch the AL West. The Royals and the Detroit Tigers are still in a dogfight for the AL Central, with the Tigers leading by only a game and a half. The San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates look like they'll take the NL Wild Cards. The St. Louis Cardinals lead the Pirates in the NL Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the Giants in the NL West, although neither is a sure thing yet.

What is as close to a sure thing as you can get in baseball, without already being mathematically clinched, is that the Yankees won't make the Playoffs.

Now, to make matters worse for the Yankees, Prado, whose acquisition is one of the few good transactions that general manager Brian Cashman has made since the final out of the 2009 World Series, is out for the last 13 games of the season (and, with a miracle qualification, the postseason) due to an emergency appendectomy.

The human appendix is like Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long: Completely useless, and we'll all be better off if he is removed from the body.

Because Long is not getting the job done, more so than Cashman, more so than manager Joe Girardi, more so than pitching coach Larry Rothschild. They all need to go, but if we can only get rid of one, it has to be Long.

You can't win if you can't score. Whoever said, "Defense wins games" or, "Defense wins championships" was a liar. Defense doesn't win you a damned thing. It gives your offense a chance to win. Offense wins.

Of course, as the Giants, the Jets, and Rutgers all proved this weekend on the gridiron, even if you do score, you won't win, even if you have a late lead, unless you can stop the other team.

My alma mater, East Brunswick High School, proved both points on Friday night, losing its football opener 48-0 to Piscataway. That's a team that finished 1-9 last year, and winning that 1 by beating another 1-9 team only 14-12, losing to the Number 1-ranked team in Middlesex County. Who made that schedule?

The Yanks-Rays series continues in St. Petersburg tonight. Michael Pineda starts against Jake Odorizzi. Hopefully, the Rays' starter will live up to his name, ODOR-izzi, and stink, and the Yankees can get some runs off of him.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

O, Say, the Yankees Do Yet Wave

After dropping both halves of a rain-forced doubleheader to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday -- a shocking extra-inning collapse in the opener, and then a miserable, feeble-hitting nightcap -- they Yankees needed a win yesterday afternoon. Not just to keep alive their hopes for the Playoffs, as thin as those were, but just to put the previous day's disaster behind them.

Shane Greene started for the Yankees. At this point, any pitcher who starts for the Yankees has to go in thinking, "We're not hitting, we're not scoring enough runs, and Joe Girardi is going to take me out too soon and use umpteen pitchers in relief, so does it really matter how well I pitch?"

Greene pitched as though it does matter: 5 1/3 innings, 2 runs, 7 hits, only 1 walk, and 9 strikeouts.

How many pitchers does it take to hold the Orioles to 2 runs at Camden Yards? If you're Girardi, the answer is apparently 5: Greene, Esmil Rogers, Josh Outman, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson. In 3 2/3 innings, the bullpen shut the O's out, allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk.

But the Yankees needed 3 runs to overcome the Orioles' 2. They all came in the top of the 2nd, which must have been a big (pardon the choice of words) relief to Greene. With 1 out, Brian McCann smacked a home run to right field, his 19th round-tripper of the season. Mark Teixeira, a native of nearby Severna Park, Maryland who still gets booed by Oriole fans for choosing the Yankees when he was a free agent (nearly 6 full seasons later), drew a walk. Chris Young struck again, doubling Teix over to 3rd. Rookie September callup Antoan Richardson singled Teix home. Zelous Wheeler struck out.

Jacoby Ellsbury was up. Girardi, in one of those moves that makes you wonder how a guy so smart on offense can be so dense with handling pitchers, called for a double steal. It worked: Richardson broke for 2nd base, and it drew a throw from Oriole catcher


WP: Greene (5-3). SV: Robertson (36). LP: Gonzalez (9-8).


The series concludes tonight, as the ESPN Sunday night game. Hiroki Kuroda starts for the Yankees, Chris Tillman.

Today is the 200th Anniversary of the most important moment in Baltimore's history: On September 14, 1814, in the key moment of the War of 1812, the British fleet retreated, recognizing their inability to pierce the defenses of Fort McHenry, and sailed off. With the capital of Washington, D.C. already abandoned by the government and burned by the British, had Baltimore also fallen, it would have meant defeat for America, and likely a curtailed, possibly even a totally revoked, independence. (It was certainly possible for a nation to lose its sovereignty: Poland had lost its own about 20 years before.)

Seeing the garrison flag over the fort from a prison ship, where, as a local lawyer, he was negotiating a prisoner exchange, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem. He titled it "Defence of Fort McHenry." The British spelling "defence," still used to describe hockey "defencemen" in Canada, was still in place. This was before the publication of Webster's Dictionary, and before "defense" became the more common American spelling of the word.

The publisher he sent it to decided it would make a great song, and, to the tune of (ironically) an old English drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," retitled it after a line Key used at the end of each of the 4 verses (only 1 of which is remembered by most Americans): "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Baseball, as much as anything else, is responsible for making "The Banner" America's National Anthem. As late as World War I, it was one of many well-known patriotic songs that were occasionally sung. During the 7th inning stretch of one of the games of the 1918 World Series, a band, seeing everyone standing, began to play it. In the patriotic fervor of the time, everyone sang along.

The war soon ended, but the song began to be played before special-occasion games. The U.S. Marine Band, directed by John Philip Sousa, played it at the opening of the original Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923. In 1931, Congress passed a resolution declaring the more-familiar-than-ever song to be the National Anthem. But it wasn't until World War II that it began to be played before every major sporting event. (There have been exceptions: Occasionally, the Yankees have played "America the Beautiful" instead, and the Philadelphia Flyers have used Kate Smith's recording of "God Bless America" as a good-luck charm, while the Yankees save that recording for the 7th inning stretch, before "Take Me Out to the Ballgame.")

On occasion, at least since their run to the 1979 American League Pennant, the Orioles have raised a copy of the Fort McHenry garrison flag, complete with 15 stars and 15 stripes, at their ballpark, first Memorial Stadium and, since 1992, Camden Yards. I suspect they will do so again today. (The original flag now resides at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, while the "Flag House" where it was sewn is a museum in Baltimore.)

The Orioles have already clinched at least a Playoff berth, and will probably win the AL Eastern Division for the 1st time since 1997, putting them in a great position to win their 1st Pennant and World Series since 1983.

But with 15 games to go, and 5 behind the 2nd AL Wild Card berth, the Yankees are still alive in the hope of reaching the Playoffs, where anything can happen. Their probability of making it is only 1.2 percent.

But you never know. Strange things happen in baseball, especially late in the season. O, say, the Yankees do yet wave, in this land of the free, in this home of the brave.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Frank Torre, 1931-2014

Frank Torre was supposed to die years ago. He was on his 2nd heart and his 3rd kidney. But his story was too good to end. Until now.

Frank Joseph Torre was born on December 30, 1931, in Brooklyn. He had 2 brothers and 2 sisters, but his father was a wife-beater. Standing up to his father, he told him to get out of the house, or he'd get beaten himself. The father packed his things and left. After that, Frank was the new father figure for younger brother Joe and sisters Marguerite and Rae. (Older brother Rocco had already moved out.)

How good a job did he do? Marguerite became a nun and a school principal. Rae became an executive at New York Telephone. And I don't have to tell you what Joe went on to do.

Frank graduated from St. Francis Preparatory School, then located in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. (It's now in the Fresh Meadows section of Queens.) Graduates, aside from the Torre siblings, include: Vince Lombardi, former Rutgers stars and NFL players Bill Pickel and Marco Battaglia, current Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, former college football coach Gerry DiNardo, former Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Henning, Big Brother host and The Talk panelist Julie Chen, actor Peter Facinelli, and legendary New York cop Frank Serpico, best known for being played by Al Pacino in the film about how he exposed NYPD corruption.

Frank Torre was signed by the Boston Braves in 1951. But the U.S. Army called, and he spent the 1952 and '53 seasons in the Korean War. He played the '54 and '55 seasons in the minors, and by the time he reached the major leagues, the Braves had moved to Milwaukee.

*

He made his major league debut on April 20, 1956, at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. Wearing Number 14, he entered the game in the 8th inning, as a defensive replacement for 1st baseman Joe Adcock. The Braves won, 5-4. He didn't get to bat until 2 days later, also in St. Louis, and grounded into a double play, although the Braves still won. He finally got his 1st hit on May 12, against the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field. Pinch-hitting for pitcher Chet Nichols in the 4th, he singled and drove home Billy Bruton. But the Reds still won, 10-6.

Adcock was too powerful a slugger for Frank to become the regular 1st baseman. If the designated hitter had been in effect back then, he probably would have been the 1st baseman and Adcock the DH. It wasn't until Adcock got hurt early in 1957 that Frank became the starter, and he led all NL 1st basemen in fielding percentage in 1957 and '58. The Braves won the Pennant both years. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Frank batted .300 in the 1957 World Series against the Yankees. He hit a home run off Tom Sturdivant in Game 4 and another off Bob Turley in Game 6. The Braves won in 7. He didn't do nearly so well in the 1958 Series, and that's probably one of the reasons why the Yankees got even.

But 1958 was his best season offensively. He batted .309 with 6 homers and 55 RBIs, all career highs. But that was it: He spent most of the 1960 season at Louisville, and 1961 at Vancouver. (The Braves switched Triple-A affiliations in 1961.) He returned to the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, but was only a part-timers in 1962 and '63.

He played his last major league game on September 29, 1963. So did Stan Musial. The difference was, Stan the Man was almost 43, while Frank with no nickname wasn't quite 32. Frank's finale was at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He singled off Don Drysdale in the 2nd, flew out to right in the 4th, and then, ironically given his debut, was pinch-hit for.

Frank was released by the Phillies, sparing him from having to play on their 1964 collapse. (Then again, maybe he could have made a difference.) He retired, worked as an executive with the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, and later served as vice president of the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), which provides financial assistance to old ballplayers down on their luck.

*

Joe, of course, became one of the top players of his era. Just missing a chance to play alongside his brother -- he was called up to the Braves in 1960, shortly after Frank was sent down -- he became an All-Star, moved with them to Atlanta, hit the first home run at what became Fulton County Stadium in 1966, and, as a St. Louis Cardinal, was the 1971 National League batting champion and Most Valuable Player. He then played for the Mets, managed them, managed the Braves to an NL Western Division title in 1982, and managed the Cardinals. After he was fired by the Cards, he thought his managing career was over: "I ran out of teams."

But it doesn't work that way. (After all, of all the managers who've led the Yankees to a Pennant, only Ralph Houk, Billy Martin and Joe Girardi actually played for them.) Joe was offered the Yankees' managing job for the 1996 season. Knowing how George Steinbrenner had treated managers (and others) in the past, Frank told his little brother, "You'd be crazy to take that job."

Joe wasn't crazy to take it, and George wasn't crazy to offer it. The Yankees got off to a good start in 1996. But all was not well. Frank's heart was giving out, and he needed a heart transplant. Then, while he was waiting for one, oldest brother Rocco died of a heart attack, while watching his brother's team on TV. Joe was prepared for the possibility of losing Frank, but Rocco's death was a complete shock.

The Yankees won the American League Pennant, and after 4,272 games as a major league player and manager without having reached a World Series -- then a record -- Joe's count reverted to 0. To make things even more interesting, it was against the defending World Champion Braves. The Yankees lost the first 2 games at Yankee Stadium, then took the next 3 in Atlanta -- Joe, having hit the 1st homer in Fulton County Stadium, managed and won the last 3 games ever played there.

All the while, Frank was at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center at 168th Street & Broadway in Manhattan's Washington Heights -- the site of Hilltop Park, the Yankees' first home. And on October 25, the travel day from Atlanta back to New York, a heart became available. Who would write such a script? The surgery was performed by the famous Dr. Mehmet Oz and Bronx-born Dr. Eric Rose. The Yankees won the Series in Game 6 the next night.

Joe would win the Series again in 1998, 1999 and 2000, and Pennants in 2001 and 2003. In 2005, they lost to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, also managed by a catcher for the other team in their market, former Dodger Mike Scioscia. George Steinbrenner went out of his way to say that Scioscia had outmanged Joe. This was a defensible position. But Frank came to his little brother's defense, telling reporters, “Sit down in a room with him. “If you’ve got complaints with him, and you’re unhappy with him and you don’t want him to manage, work that out. Be face-to-face and upfront with my brother.”

He added, “If you don’t think that that was a shot not only at Joe, but the whole Yankee organization…if I was some player who busted my ass, even if I lost it, would bother me too. It doesn’t make sense to do that. The backstabbing and all the behind-the-scenes junk that goes on only hurts the organization. It’s almost like people cheering that they don’t do well.”

The medication he needed for his heart wrecked his kidneys. In 2007, he got a kidney transplant from his daughter Elizabeth. But the new heart and the new kidney could only take him so far. Frank Torre died today, at the age of 82.

With Frank's death, the following 13 men are still alive from the 1957 Braves, still the only Milwaukee team to win a World Series: Hall of Fame right fielder Hank Aaron, catcher Del Crandall, 2nd baseman Red Schoendienst, shortstop Felix Mantilla, Newark native infielder Bobby Malkmus, infielder Mel Roach, infielder Dick Cole, outfielder John DeMerit, and pitchers Gene Conley, Juan Pizarro, Taylor Phillips, Ray Crone and Joey Jay (who only appeared in 1 game that year, but would go on to become the ace of the 1961 Reds, and won their only victory in that year’s World Series against the Yankees).

Yogi Called. He Said, "It's Over."


After last night's rain-forced doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, I wouldn't have been surprised if Yogi Berra had called and said, "It's over."

The 1st game was bad enough. Brandon McCarthy pitched the 1st 7 innings, allowing no runs, 4 hits, and no walks. Dellin Betances was a little shaky in the 8th, David Robertson in the 9th and 10th. But after 10 innings, the O's hadn't scored.

Neither had the Yankees. It was pathetic: The New York Yankees should be able to score at least 1 run in 10 innings, especially at the Baltimore Bandbox.

Then, in the top of the 11th, Chris Young, the previous night's walkoff home run hero, struck again, with his 10th home run of the season (3rd as a Yankee). One-nil to the Bronx Bombers.

Then Joe Girardi thought, "You know what would be fun? Giving Uncle Mike a stroke by putting Adam Warren in to close this out."

And this is what Warren allowed: Walk, sacrifice bunt, hit-by-pitch, strikeout, walk, double.

Orioles 2, Yankees 1. WP: Brad Brach (7-1). No save. LP: Warren (3-6).

*

Whether the 1st game was our most depressing loss of the season or not, the 2nd game was probably the nail in the coffin for our postseason hopes.

The Yankees sent Bryan Mitchell, with all of 2 major league innings under his belt, out to start this game. He didn't pitch badly: 5 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 2 walks.

At this point, the Yankees only trailed 2-0. The game was still very much in reach, even for a Yankee team that can't hit water if it falls out of a fucking boat. (Yes, that was a Bull Durham reference.)

Then Girardi thought, "You know what would be fun? Not letting the kid who's cruising try to prove himself with a 6th inning. Let's wear out the bullpen again."

Josh Outman pitched a perfect 6th. Did Girardi leave him in? Is the Pope Buddhist? He sent David Phelps out to pitch the 7th. Boy, has Phelps dropped off the map. He allowed 2 more runs, and the game, and the season, was essentially over.

Orioles 5, Yankees 0. WP: Bud Norris (13-8). No save. LP: Mitchell (0-1).

The Yankees only got 4 hits. In 19 innings yesterday, they scored exactly 1 run.

*

The Yankees are now 5 games out of the 2nd Wild Card berth, with 16 games to play. It's over. Done. Fugeddaboutit.

The series continues this afternoon. Shane Greene starts against Miguel Gonzalez.

For all the good it will do to play this game, and the 15 after it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How to Be a New York Football Fan In Green Bay -- 2014 Edition


This Sunday, while the Giants attempt to lick their wounds from their embarrassing season-opening loss to the Lions in Detroit at their home opener, against the Arizona Cardinals, the Jets will try to build on their season-opening home win over the Oakland Raiders by going out to Wisconsin to play the Green Bay Packers.

Before You Go. You've heard the legends of how cold it gets in Green Bay -- and, indeed, it is further north than Toronto, roughly as far north as Plattsburgh, New York and Burlington, Vermont, which are about 300 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. However, this is the middle of September, and the "Russian Winter" they sometimes get will not be a factor.

According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, on Saturday night the temperature may drop to the low 40s, so be advised if you're arriving around that time to wear warm clothes. But on Sunday, they're predicting it to be mostly sunny, in the mid-60s in daylight, and the low 50s at night.

Green Bay is in the Central Time Zone, 1 hour behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. Unless you've already got them, or want to pay through the nose to a scalper, forget it. Last season, the Packers averaged 77,947 fans per home game -- a sellout. This people loved their football even before Vince Lombardi came along. Once he did, well... The Ice Bowl? Attendance that day was 50,861. That was the capacity of Lambeau Field at the time. So, for the coldest game in football history (or so it's been said), there was not one empty seat in the house.

Having sold out every seat since Lambeau opened nearly 60 years ago, and having a waiting list that makes the traffic backup at the Meadowlands seem small by comparison, tickets are simply not available at the stadium window or on the team website. I do see tickets available from the NFL Ticket Exchange on Ticketmaster, but most seem to come in pairs (in other words, you'll have to buy both seats), and they're starting at around $100. Most of them are in the $150-250 range.

Getting There. Downtown Green Bay is an even 1,000 miles from Midtown Manhattan, and Lambeau Field is 990 miles from MetLife Stadium. If you don't want to take most of a day to get there, you'll want to fly.

Yeah, good luck with that. There is an airport in Green Bay, but it doesn't have nonstop flights from New York or Newark. In fact, getting a nonstop flight from home just to Milwaukee is something you're probably not going to be able to do. Your best bet may be to fly to Chicago and rent a car for the last... 194 miles. That's right: Instead of flying or driving, you'd have to do both.

Forget the train: Amtrak goes to Milwaukee, but not to Green Bay, and there's no secondary service such as New Jersey Transit, Metro-North or the Long Island Rail Road to connect Wisconsin's major city with its football city.

Bus? Greyhound does go there, but -- yeah, sorry, real life intervened, and I couldn't get this done earlier -- you'd have to leave Port Authority tonight, at 10:15 PM, change buses in Chicago (with a 1-hour layover) and again in Milwaukee (4 hours, although you could get a decent dinner in that fine city), and arrive just before midnight tomorrow, so you'd have to have your hotel reservation already. And since the game is a 3:25 PM Central Time kickoff, the next available bus out of Green Bay, back to Milwaukee (never mind Chicago and New York), is 6:40 AM Monday morning. So you'd need two nights in a hotel. Round-trip cost: $454. The Greyhound station is at 800 Cedar Street, at Main and Van Buren Streets.

So your best bet really is to drive. It’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is the key, until it merges with Interstate 94, which will merge with Interstate 43.

I-94 will split off from I-43 at downtown Milwaukee. Stay on I-43 North. Take Exit 180 to State Route 172 West. Exit onto State Route 32, and turn left on Pilgrim Way. You'll see a sign for Holmgren Way, named for the former Packer coach. On your right will be the Bay Park Square Mall. Turn right on Oneida Street. Before you reach Lombardi Avenue, you will see Lambeau Field on your left, and on your right, Green Bay's arenas: The old one, the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena; and the new one, the Resch Center (named for a local businessman, not Devils goalie-turned-broadcaster Chico Resch). The official address for the stadium is 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, and about 3 hours in Wisconsin. That's about 17 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 23 hours, which would save you time on Greyhound, if not on flying.

Once In the City. As you might guess, Green Bay -- incorporated as a French fur-trading village in 1754, making it older than most of the big Midwestern cities -- is by far the smallest city in any of the 4 major North American sports: 104,057 people at the time of the 2010 Census, making it the 3rd-largest city in Wisconsin after Milwaukee and the State capital of Madison. Its "metropolitan area" (if you don't count it as part of Milwaukee's) has about 300,000 people -- by comparison, Milwaukee has a little over 2 million in its area, making it the smallest in Major League Baseball. If you combine the 2 into one "market," in the NFL, they'd still be 26th out of 32, ahead of only Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Nashville, Jacksonville, Buffalo and New Orleans.

So why did Green Bay survive as an NFL city, when larger, but still not big, cities didn't get out of the NFL's founding era (1920-32)? Cities like Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York; Pottsville, Pennsylvania; Canton, Ohio; Muncie, Indiana; Rock Island, Illinois; and Duluth, Minnesota? At one point, after a rocky beginning to their relationship, starting a rivalry between the teams that continues to this day, Chicago Bears boss and NFL co-founder George Halas stepped in and had his fellow team owners chip in to bail the team out of a serious debt. Between this, and the fact that the Packers are publicly owned through stock sales (the only such team in the big 4 North American sports), and the expansion of Lambeau Field, means the Packers will never have to move -- not to "nearby" Milwaukee, not anywhere else.

Walnut Street divides Green Bay addresses into North and South, but the only major road divided into an East and West is Walnut, divided at the Fox River, which bisects the city. While the Fox flows into the body of water named Green Bay, a New Yorker might appreciate this: The city it also has an East River, which flows into the Fox, downtown. The sales tax in Wisconsin is 5 percent.

As you might guess, a city as small as Green Bay doesn't have a subway. Public buses are $1.50.

Going In. Green Bay Metro buses offer free rides from downtown to the stadium, which is 3 miles southwest of downtown. Lambeau is an island in a sea of parking, which costs $18. Not surprising, considering that this is the Midwest, Big Ten County, tailgating is encouraged.

All stadium gates open 2 hours prior to kickoff, and are accessible to fans with disabilities. Fans with seats in the South End (i.e. sections numbers ending with the letter “s”) must enter through the Shopko Gate on the south side of the stadium, which is for the exclusive use of South End ticket holders. Fans sitting elsewhere in the stadium are encouraged to use the gate suggested on their ticket for the most direct route to their seats.

For most of its history, Lambeau Field was not an architectural marvel. It looked like a typical American sports stadium of the post-World War II era: Functional, but nothing special. It was the Packers who provided the glory, but how the stadium looked was not a factor. But a recent renovation, which expanded capacity to 78,200, (officially, it's 80,735, however 78,200 is listed as the record attendance), also changed the exterior. Whereas it was built in 1957 as looking like an oversized high school football stadium -- with an appropriate name, City Stadium -- and by the 1980s had a green exterior on the sides that held up the luxury boxes, now it's surrounded by a red brick exterior, trying to copy the look of lots of 1920s World War I "Memorial Stadiums" throughout the country, especially in the Midwest.

This added exterior includes a new facility for the Packers Hall of Fame, and a bar called Curly's Pub, named for Earl "Curly" Lambeau, the Green Bay native and Notre Dame football star who founded the team, as a "company team" from co-workers at the Indian Packing Company, which was the team's initial sponsor.  (English soccer fans would call this a "works side." The arch-rival Chicago Bears were also originally a company team, based at the A.E. Staley Starch Company of Decatur, Illinois, and were known as the Decatur Staleys before moving upstate to Chicago.) Lambeau played for the team from its 1919 founding until 1929, and coached it from 1919 to 1949. When he died in 1965, the new stadium was renamed for him.

Stadium Tours are not available on game days. If you do stay overnight, you can take a tour on Saturday before the Sunday game. The Classic Tour includes the locker room, field level, and a luxury box, lasts about an hour, and costs $11. The Champion's Tour includes other amenities, lasts an hour and a half, and costs $19. The Legendary Tour offers more, takes 2 hours, and costs $28. Don't scoff: The Packers are one of the few teams that can do this, especially since they're the only remaining team that has a stadium that was in use, let alone hosting a championship team, prior to the start of the Super Bowl era in the 1966 season. (The next-oldest active NFL stadium, now that the San Franicsco 49ers have abandoned Candlestick Park, is the Oakland Coliseum, which opened that year.)

Like most football stadiums, Lambeau is aligned north-south. Despite the cold weather, the field is natural grass. Knowing that the field tended to freeze, in 1967 Vince Lombardi had a heating system underneath, with heating coils. It was nicknamed Lombardi's Electric Blanket. But on New Year's Eve 1967, the morning of the NFL Championship Game, it was so cold that the control system broke, and the field froze anyway, resulting in the Ice Bowl. A better system was installed, and now, no matter how cold the air gets, the field is fine. Something for Canada to think about: Green Bay is further north than Toronto and Hamilton, and not much further south than Montreal and Ottawa, yet all 9 Canadian Football League stadiums have artificial turf, for the sole purpose of combating the cold.

Oh, by the way: John Facenda, the longtime Voice of NFL Films, never said, on any highlight reel, "the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field." It is now believed that ESPN's Chris Berman, doing an impression of Facenda, made it up.

Food. Tailgating not enough for you? As I said, Curly's Pub is now open, on the 2nd floor of the Lambeau Field Atrium. On game days, it is accessible only via a game ticket, from the inside of the stadium. The Atrium also offers Goin' Deep Pizza and, in a nod to the team's beginnings, the Meat Packing Company, a restaurant concept developed exclusively for Lambeau Field, featuring overstuffed sandwiches, giant bratwursts and desserts.

There are other concession stands throughout the stadium, but they stop serving entirely -- not just beer -- at the end of the 3rd quarter.

Team History Displays. No team has won more NFL Championships than the Packers, with 13: 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1996 and 2010. (The Chicago Bears are next with 9, the Giants next with 8.) This includes 2 of the only 3 threepeats in NFL history: 1929-31 and 1965-67. (The other is the 1922-24 Canton Bulldogs.) It also includes Super Bowls I, II, XXXI and XLV (1, 2, 31 and 45). These titles, which gave rise to Green Bay's nickname of Titletown, are shown in yellow lettering on the green background of the skyboxes.

On the other sideline's skyboxes are the team's officially retired numbers: 3, Tony Canadeo, running back, 1941-52; 14, Don Hutson, receiver-defensive back, 1935-45; 15, Bart Starr, quarterback, 1956-71; 66, Ray Nitschke, linebacker, 1958-72; and 92, Reggie White, defensive end, 1993-98. It has been announced that next year, the team will retire the Number 4 of Brett Favre, quarterback, 1992-2007. The Number 5 of Paul Hornung, running back, 1957-66, has not been officially retired, but it is rarely given out.

Outside the stadium are statues of the coaches (also general managers) who brought the 1st 11 titles: Curly Lambeau (1929 through 1944) and Vince Lombardi (1961 through 1967).

In addition to the preceding, the Packers have had the following players elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Quarterback Arnie Herber; running backs Johnny "Blood" McNally, Clarke Hinkle and Jim Taylor; receiver James Lofton; center Jim Ringo, guard Mike Michalske, and offensive tackles Cal Hubbard and Forrest Gregg; defensive tackle Henry Jordan, defensive end Willie Davis, linebacker Dave Robinson, cornerback Herb Adderley, safety Willie Wood, and kicker Jan Stenerud. Other Hall-of-Famers have played for the Packers, but these are the players generally considered "Packer Hall-of-Famers."

The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame has more inductees than any other team hall of fame in North American sports, 150. However, the display is closed as part of the continuing renovation of Lambeau Field. It is currently scheduled to open next spring. Members include:

* From the 1929-36 titles: Lambeau; Backs McNally, Herber, Hinkle, Charlie Mathys, Verne Lewellen, Red Dunn, Swede Johnston, Hank Bruder and Bob Monnett; linemen Hubbard, Michalske, Cub Buck, Whitey Woodin, Jug Earp, Boob Darling, Lavvie Dilweg, Nate Barragar, Milt Gantenbein and Lon Evans. (They knew how to give athletes nicknames back then.)

* From the 1939 and 1944 titles: Lambeau; backs Canadeo, Joe Laws, Ed Jankowski, Cecil Isbell, Andy Uram, Charley Brock, Lou Brock (related to Charley but not to the baseball star), Larry Craig (no relation to the scandalous Senator), Ted Fritsch and Irv Comp; receiver Hutson; linemen Charles "Buckets" Goldenberg, Tiny Engebretsen, brothers George and Earl "Bud" Svendsen, Russ Letlow, Pete Tinsley, Carl Mulleneaux and Harry Jacunski. (Side note: The Jacunskis are from Connecticut, and Harry's son Dick moved to New Jersey. He, his wife, and their daughters lived next door to my parents and me when I was born, and what remains of each family is still close.)

* Between the Lambeau and Lombardi eras: Quarterback Tobin Rote, running backs Bob Forte, Fred Cone, Al Carmichael and Howie Ferguson; ends Bob Mann, John Martinkovic and Billy Howton; offensive tackle Dick Wildung; linebacker Deral Teteak, and defensive back Bobby Dillon.

* From the 1961-67 titles: Lombardi, assistant coaches Red Cochran and (Lombardi's much less successful successor) Phil Bengtson; quarterbacks Starr and Zeke Bratkowski; running backs Hornung, Taylor, Elijah Pitts, Donny Anderson and Travis Williams; receivers Gary Knafelc, Max McGee, Ron Kramer, Bowd Dowler, Marv Fleming and Carroll Dale; centers Ringo and Ken Bowman; guards Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and Gale Gillingham; offensive tackles Gregg and Bob Skoronski; defensive tackles Jordan, Dave Hanner and Ron Kostelnik; defensive ends Davis and Lionel Aldridge; linebackers Nitschke, Bill Forester, Dan Currie, Dave Robinson and Lee Roy Caffey; cornerbacks Adderley, Hank Gremminger and Bob Jeter; safeties Wood and Jesse Whittenton; and placekicker-punter Don Chandler. (Hornung and Anderson also did some kicking in this era.)

* Between the Lombardi and Holmgren eras: Quarterbacks Lynn Dickey and Don Majkowski; running backs John Brockington and Gerry Ellis; receivers Lofton and Sterling Sharpe; tight end Paul Coffman; center Larry McCarren; offensive tackle Greg Koch; defensive end Ezra Johnson; linebackers Fred Carr, Mike Douglass, John Anderson and Johnny Holland; cornerbacks Ken Ellis and Willie Buchanon; safeties Johnnie Gray and Mark Murphy; and kickers Stenerud and Chester Marcol.

* From the 1996 title: Coach Holmgren, general manager Ron Wolf, and team president Bob Harlan; running backs Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and William Henderson; receivers Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman; tight end Mark Chmura; center Frank Winters; guard Marco Rivera; offensive tackle Ken Ruettgers; defensive end White; defensive tackle Gilbert Brown; and safety Leroy Butler. Favre will be elected next year.

* Since the 1996 title: So far, only running back Ahman Green, who didn't make it to the 2010 title.

* Spanning the eras: Team executives George Calhoun, Frank Jonet, A.B. Turnbull, Fred Leicht, Lee Joannes, Lee Remmel (a sportswriter turned team executive who's been involved with the club since 1944), Jack Vainisi, F.N. Trowbridge, Jerry Atkinson, Dominic Olejniczak, Tom Miller and Robert Parins; team doctors Webber Kelly and E.S. Brusky, and trainer Carl Jorgensen; broadcasters Ray Scott and Jim Irwin; team attorney Gerald Clifford; team photographer Vernon Biever and video director Al Treml; journalist Art Daley; longtime band director Wilner Burke; team Hall of Fame founder William Brault; and one longtime fan, Al Schneider.

Stuff. Lambeau just opened a new Pro Shop, and, along with smaller souvenir stands, it includes the usual items you'll find at a football game. What you won't find anywhere else is one of those big yellow triangular foam "cheeseheads," "Cheesehead" has been a nickname for a Wisconsan for many years, and when the Packers got good again in the 1990s, someone decided to capitalize on the nickname, and it stuck. It's been copied by the archrival Bears (a triangular foam wedge made to look like a slice of deep-dish pizza) and the Philadelphia Eagles (a cheesesteak head, naturally), among others.

There are lots of books about the Packers, most of them focusing on the Lombardi era. For a general look at the team's history, Lew Freedman (author of a lot of sports history books, mainly baseball) published The Packers Experience: A Year-by-Year Chronicle of the Green Bay Packers last year. Leroy Butler, inventor of the Lambeau Leap (more about that in a moment), wrote Packers Pride: Green Bay Greats Share Their Favorite Moments.

The 2 biggest names in Packer history -- and, no, they're not Paul Hornung and Brett Favre -- have recent biographies about them: Lambeau: The Man Behind the Mystique, by David Zimmerman; and When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss (who has also written superb bios of President Bill Clinton and baseball legend Roberto Clemente).

On the lighter side -- and I doubt that the very Catholic "Saint Vincent" Lombardi would have allowed this -- Judy DuCharme recently published The Cheesehead Devotional: Daily Meditations for Green Bay Packers, Their Fans, and NFL Football Fanatics.

Available DVDs include The Complete History of the Green Bay Packers (not so complete anymore, it came out in 2003), the Packers' entry into the NFL's Greatest Games series (6 games, including Super Bowl XXXI, but none prior to 1992), and the official Super Bowl XLV highlight film.

I expect that, as the year 2019 approaches, the team will begin preparations for their 100th Anniversary (the first NFL team to reach that milestone -- sort of, the Arizona Cardinals began as a Chicago social club in 1898), and more and better items connected with the Centennial will be released.

During the Game. You do not have to worry about your safety at Lambeau Field. Maybe if you were a Bears fan, or possibly a Vikings fan. But the Packers and Jets have no relationship, hardly ever having played since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. While the Packers have been playing the Giants since 1925, and the Giants have laid 2 famous Playoff knockouts at Lambeau on the Packers (they almost never lose at home in the postseason), the Packer Backers don't consider the Giants to be an enemy, either. Feel free to wear whatever team gear you want.

When the Packers receive their pregame introductions, and after every Packer extra point, their traditional fight song is played: "Go! You Packers! Go!" It was written in 1931, but the current recording is from 1992. When the Packers score a touchdown, instead of the fight song, they play Todd Rundgren's 1983 classic "Bang the Drum All Day." The usual Packer Backer cheer is "Go Pack Go," rather than the old-timey "Go You Packers Go."

Speaking of drums: The Packers now have a Tundra Line, a percussion group (not an entire band) that plays throughout the game. But the Lumberjack Band, so named for their flannel jackets, which entertained at Packer games since 1921, was disbanded in 1997 -- at least they got to play for the Holmgren/Favre/White title.

The Packers are one of 5 NFL teams that does not currently have a mascot. The others are the Giants, the Jets, the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers.

In 1993, Leroy Butler returned a fumble for a touchdown, and, seeing a fan in the south stands who had his arms out and seemed to be saying, "Hug me," jumped into the stands. Thus was born the Lambeau Leap. I don't know what Curly or Lombardi would have thought of it, but Holmgren and his boys loved it. It became a Packer tradition, and, last month, outside the Pro Shop (outside the stadium), with Butler invited back to recreate the moment, the Packers dedicated the Leap Wall, a padded green wall with statues of 4 fans behind it (one waving a big foam "We're Number 1" finger).

After the Game. You should be safe going out. As I said, Lambeau Field is in the middle of a parking lot, not in a neighborhood, good or bad. You might have a traffic issue, but not a safety issue.

Shenanigans Pub, owned by 1960s Packer guard Fred "Fuzzy" Thurston, is probably the most famous eatery or bar in town. 1279 Main Street at Irwin Avenue, almost right across the river from the site of City Stadium. A bar named Hagemeister Park, festooned with Packer memorabilia, now stands at 325 N. Washington Street between Main and Pine.

Sidelights. Aside from Packer-connected stuff, there isn't a whole lot to see in Green Bay.

* Bellevue Park. The Packers played the 1923 and 1924 seasons at this minor-league baseball park. It seated just 5,000, and was east of downtown, across the East River. Although it probably saved the Packers in the short term -- any professional football team playing at a professional baseball park was considered to be of a higher class than one playing on a simple sandlot such as Hagemeister Park -- it was not a football stadium, and the Packers needed a real one. 1600 block of Main Street, by Franz Avenue.

* Hagemeister Park. and City Stadium. Owned by the long-gone Hagemeister brewery, this was the Packers' first home, from 1919 to 1922. There wasn't much in the way of seating, and fans would often sit in their cars to watch games. George Calhoun, who founded the team with Lambeau, would get out and pass a hat for contributions at halftime, and that's the main reason the team lasted long enough to get a proper home stadium.

The park was cleared for the construction of a new building for East High School -- oddly enough, Curly Lambeau's alma mater. When East High School opened in 1923, on a triangle bordered by Walnut Street, Baird Street and the East River, City Stadium was built behind it. Originally seating 6,000, it was expanded into a 25,000-seat horseshoe, open at the south end.

Although the Packers won 6 titles there, it was seen as too small for the bigger game that pro football was becoming after World War II. Just as George Halas of the Bears saved them with the velvet glove 25 years earlier, in the mid-1950s he saved them with the iron fist, talking the other NFL owners to build a new stadium, or they would order the moving of the team, to Milwaukee or somewhere else. In 1956, the City Council voted to build new City Stadium, which opened the next year.

City Stadium, renamed East Stadium until the new one was renamed for Lambeau, remained the home field of East High School, and in 2008 was renovated, leaving no part of the original structure remaining. 1415 E. Walnut Street. It's within walking distance of downtown, unlike Lambeau Field.

* Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena. Across the street from Lambeau Field, this 5,248-seat arena opened in 1958, and from 1968 to 2002 was the home court of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay basketball team. It's also hosted minor-league basketball and hockey, and pro wrestling. Elvis Presley gave one of his last concerts here, on April 28, 1977. (The Beatles played in Milwaukee, but not in Green Bay.)

What else is there to do in Green Bay? Well, there's Bay Beach Amusement Park: 1313 Bay Beach Road at Irwin Avenue. There's a Botanical Garden: 2600 Larsen Road, off Packerland Drive. There's a zoo: 4378 Reforestation Road of Sunrise Road. And a National Railroad Museum, 2285 S. Broadway at Bosar Avenue -- ironic, considering that Amtrak doesn't go there.

There have been plenty of TV shows and movies set in Wisconsin, but never in Green Bay. You would think that, by now, someone would have made a movie out of Lombardi's story, or, at least, the Ice Bowl. In 1973, 3 years after Lombardi's death from cancer (like Babe Ruth, his funeral was at St. Patrick's Cathedral), ABC aired a TV-movie titled Etched In Granite, with Ernest Borgnine playing Lombardi. Eric Simonson wrote Lombardi, a play based on Maraniss' book, that ran on Broadway from October 2010 to May 2011, and while it got some good reviews, it failed to capitalize on the Pack's Super Bowl XLV win in February. Dan Lauria, best known as the father on The Wonder Years, played the coach; Judith Light, best known as the mother on Who's the Boss?, played his wife Marie.

And if you'd like to pay your respects at Lombardi's grave, surprise: You can do that almost anytime, because he's buried in New Jersey. He is so identified with Green Bay that a lot of people forget his New York Tri-State Area roots. He was from Brooklyn, went to Fordham, coached at a now-defunct high school in Kearny, at West Point and with the Giants, before becoming Packers head coach. Marie was from Red Bank, and they are buried across the Navesink River, at Mount Olivet Cemetery, on Chapel Hill Road off State Route 35 in Middletown. Lambeau, however, is buried in Green Bay, at Allouez Catholic Cemetery, 2121 Riverside Drive at Allouez Avenue.

For Milwaukee sites, here's my 2014 guide for that city. The Packers played a game at Borchert Field (home of the old minor-league Milwaukee Brewers) in 1933, 2 games a year at State Fair Park in suburban West Allis from 1934 to 1951, 2 at Marquette Stadium in 1952, 2 at Milwaukee County Stadium from 1953 to 1977, and then 3 at County Stadium from 1978 to 1994. It was only in 1995 that they've played all their home games in Green Bay, save for 1 exhibition game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, home of the University of Wisconsin.

*

Essentially, the reason to go to Green Bay is for the Green Bay Packers. They are the most storied franchise in the National Football League. As opposed to the Jets, who have one great story (Super Bowl III) and a lot of bad ones.

But, seeing as how it won't be "Green Bay cold," you should be able to have fun watching the Jets play the Packers at Lambeau Field.