Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Don Newcombe, 1926-2019

My grandmother grew up in Queens, and she was a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Sometime in the 1960s after the Dodgers and the New York Giants had moved to California, and had been replaced by the New York Mets, she was working on Broad Street in downtown Newark, and was waiting for an elevator. When the doors opened, there inside the elevator stood the biggest man she'd ever seen in her life. When she got over the shock of how big he was, she recognized him. It was Don Newcombe, one of her Dodger heroes. And for the rest of her life, Grandma told the story of how she shared an elevator with Don Newcombe.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, a website which is your friend whether you know it or not, Newcombe was 6-foot-4, and 220 pounds. Big by baseball standards of the time, but not nearly as tall as Randy Johnson, or as heavy as CC Sabathia. Nevertheless, not many pitchers who entered this year still alive had a bigger legacy in baseball than Don.

Donald Newcombe (no middle name), was born on June 14, 1926, in Madison, Morris County, New Jersey. He grew up in nearby Elizabeth, Union County. In 1944 and 1945, he pitched for a "hometown team," the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League.

Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had begun to racially integrate the team, having signed Jackie Robinson. Among the other players he signed were Newcombe and catcher Roy Campanella, then starring with the Baltimore Elite Giants. (And that's pronounced EE-lite, not Eh-LEET.)

For the 1946 season, Rickey assigned Robinson to the Class AAA International League's Montreal Royals; and Newk and Campy to the Nashua Dodgers of the Class B New England League. (This would be equivalent to Class A ball today.) This New Hampshire team thus became the 1st racially integrated professional baseball team in the United States, and won the Pennant in 1946, 1947 and 1948. Montreal also won the Pennant in 1946.

The Nashua Dodgers' home, the 4,000-seat Holman Stadium, was built in 1937, and renovated in 2002. It still stands today, although it hasn't hosted a professional team since 2009.

Campy played at Nashua with Newk in 1946, then was promoted to Montreal in 1947, as Jackie was brought to the major league Dodgers. In 1948, Campy would be promoted to Brooklyn, while Newk was promoted to Montreal, helping them win another Pennant.

Newark started the 1949 season at Montreal, which would win another Pennant, but he could be kept down no longer.  On May 20, 1949, he made his major league debut, at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. It didn't go so well: He entered the game in the 7th inning, got only 1 out, allowed 3 runs on 4 hits, and the Dodgers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 6-2.

He shrugged it off, though, "Old Number 36," as Dodger broadcaster Red Barber surely called him on a few occasions, went 17-8 despite missing the 1st month of the season, led the National League with 5 shutouts, and had a streak of 32 consecutive scoreless innings.

That year, for the only time in its history, the Dodgers' home field, Ebbets Field, hosted the All-Star Game, and the 1st 4 black All-Stars were named: Jackie, Campy, Newk, and the man who had become the 1st black player in the American League, Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians.

The Dodgers won the Pennant. Newk was named NL Rookie of the Year, and was started in Game 1 of the World Series. But his luck ran out: He battled Allie Reynolds of the Yankees for 8 1/2 innings of scoreless ball, and then, in the bottom of the 9th inning, Tommy Henrich hit a game-winning home run. It was the 1st time any player had ever hit what we would now call a "walkoff home run" in a postseason game. The Yankees won the Series in 5 games.

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That began an unfair reputation for Newk, that he was "not a big game pitcher." In 1950, he went 19-11, and the Dodgers took the Pennant race down to the last day of the season, facing the Philadelphia Phillies. If the Dodgers won, it would force a Playoff for the Pennant. If they lost, the Phils would be Champions. The game went to extra innings, and in the 10th, Newk's 267th inning of the season, he gave up a home run to Dick Sisler, and the Phils won the Pennant.

In 1951, he went 20-9, and the Dodgers were in 1st place most of the way. But their arch-rivals, the Giants, came from 13 1/2 games behind on August 11 to force a Playoff. Newk started the 3rd and deciding game, and was leading 1-0 going into the 7th inning. It was his 270th inning of the season, and when manager Charlie Dressen came out to the mound, Newk told him he was tired.

The entire infield was on the mound with them, and, in his high-pitched but firm voice, Jackie -- possibly concerned that someone might say a black pitcher couldn't take the pressure -- told Newk, "You keep pitching until your arm falls off." (That's the way I heard it. Something tells me Jackie may have added a profane adjective to the word "arm.")

The Dodgers made it 4-1 in the top of the 8th, but in the bottom of the 9th, the Giants made it 4-2, and put runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. Newk was gassed. Dressen removed him, and brought in Ralph Branca, and the next batter was Bobby Thomson. And if you don't know what happened next, then you're new to baseball history, and you have a lot to learn.

Newk spent the 1952 and 1953 seasons in the U.S. Army, in the Korean War. In those seasons, Roger Kahn was the Dodgers' "beat writer" for the New York Herald Tribune. He included his recollections of those seasons in his 1971 book The Boys of Summer. But Newk wasn't there in those seasons, and that's why he wasn't one of the players Kahn sought out for their recollections as he was writing the book. Newk was a Boy of Summer, and yet he wasn't one.

Those were the seasons in which he turned 26 and 27. He should have been at his peak. But he was in Korea, not Flatbush. The Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees in both seasons. The '52 Series went 7 games, and the Yankees didn't have Whitey Ford, as he was also in the Army. Newk certainly could have made a difference that time. Ford was back in '53, and the Yankees won in 6 games, but Newk could still have made a difference.

Walter O'Malley, a part-owner of the Dodgers when Newk arrived, and having since bought Rickey out to become majority owner, was a powerful man, but not powerful enough to get any of his players a draft deferment.

Newk returned in 1954, but was only 9-8. But in 1955, he had an extraordinary season. He went 20-5, and also hit 7 home runs -- a feat matched in baseball history only by Wes Ferrell, who did it twice, with the 1931 Indians and the 1935 Boston Red Sox; and by Don Drysdale, with the Los Angeles version of the Dodgers in 1965. No, Babe Ruth never did both in the same season.
The Dodgers finally won the World Series in 1955, beating the Yankees. Newk lost Game 1, and did not appear in the Series again, but still got his ring.

Cy Young died that year, and the next year, 1956, the Cy Young Award for most valuable pitcher was established, since many people didn't think it was right that a pitcher, who appeared once every 4 days, should get the MVP. Newk won both awards anyway, going 27-7. He thus became the 1st player ever to win a Rookie of the Year, a Cy Young Award, and an MVP. Only 1 player has achieved that since: Justin Verlander.

Newk's 27 wins in 1956 have not been matched by a New York-based pitcher since. Not by Whitey Ford, not by Tom Seaver, not by Ron Guidry, not by Dwight Gooden, not by anyone. But he ended up getting knocked out early by the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series, the last postseason game played by a National League team from New York until 1969.

That would be his last All-Star season, at age 30 -- and he'd already missed his age 26 and 27 seasons in the Army. Injuries and heavy drinking began to take their toll. He went 11-12 in 1957, the last Brooklyn season.

In 1958, the 1st Los Angeles season, he lost his 1st 6 decisions, and the Dodgers traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. He went 13-8 in 1959, but was shaky in 1960. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians, was sent down to Triple-A for 1961, pitched and played outfield and 1st base in Japan in 1962, and called it a career at 36.

His major league totals: 149-90, in only 10 seasons; an ERA of 3.56, an ERA+ of 114, and a WHIP of 1.203. Occasionally used as a pinch-hitter, he batted .271, and hit 15 home runs. Today, baseball Twitterers would call him one of the #PitchersWhoRake.

But it's not enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball-Reference.com puts him at 78 on their Hall of Fame Monitor, for which 100 represents a "Likely HOFer." They have him at 28 on their Hall of Fame Standards, which is weighted more toward career stats, and for which 50 represents the "Average HOFer." On their Similarity Scale, only 1 of his 10 most similar pitchers is in the Hall, and that's Dizzy Dean, who won 150 games before his own career was shortened by injury, and is in the Hall as much for being a cultural icon as for being a great pitcher.

And while there are players in the Hall of Fame who appeared in the majors but did more in the Negro Leagues (the late Monte Irvin is a good example, having done great things in both), Newk wasn't in the Negro Leagues for very long (11 games in 1944 and 1945, before the Dodgers signed him at age 19), so he can't get a boost that way: Like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, he was in them, but pretty much all of his great moments came in the majors. So he's not going to get in that way.

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Don Newcombe was married 3 times: To Freddie Cross from 1945 to 1960, to Billie Roberts from then until 1994, and to Karen Kroner, which lasted for the record of his life. He had 3 children, including Don Newcombe Jr., briefly played in the Dodgers' minor-league system.

Newk described himself as "a stupefied, wife-abusing, child-frightening, falling-down drunk." In 1965, he pawned his 1955 World Series ring to fund his habit. In 1966, Billie threatened to leave him, and he was finally able to quit.

He became a substance abuse counselor, assisting athletes and, through the USO, military personnel. A Dodger legend from the early L.A. years, Maury Wills, credits Newk with getting him clean after years of boozing and cocaine use.

"What I have done after my baseball career and being able to help people with their lives and getting their lives back on track and they become human beings again, means more to me than all the things I did in baseball," he has said.

Newk joined the Dodgers' front office, as Director of Community Affairs. In the 1977 and 1978 World Series, he wheeled out Roy Campanella, who'd been paralyzed in a 1958 car crash, and assisted him in throwing out the ceremonial first ball. In 2009, he went into semi-retirement, and was named a special adviser to the team's chairman -- Basketball Hall-of-Famer Earvin "Magic" Johnson. And yet, he maintained his residence in the Colonia section of Woodbridge, Middlesex County, New Jersey.
In 2010, he attended a fundraiser for Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senator from California. So did President Barack Obama, who kidded nobody when he called Newk "someone who helped America become what it is," and added, "I would not be here if it were not for Jackie, and it were not for Don Newcombe."
He became one of the go-to guys for interviews about the Brooklyn Dodgers, including in Ken Burns' recent documentary Jackie Robinson. On April 15, 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut, Jackie was honored with a ceremony during a Mets-Dodgers game at Shea Stadium. Among the ex-Dodgers on hand was Newcombe. I won tickets to that game, and took Grandma. About 30 or so years after she saw him in that elevator, we saw him together.

Don Newcombe died today, February 19, 2019, at age 92, after a long illness. He has not yet been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Perhaps the Golden Era Committee, one of the successors to the Veterans Committee, will have a sympathy vote for him the next time they meet.

With his death, there are now 17 living former Brooklyn Dodgers: Chris Haughey, Eddie Basinski, Tommy Brown, Wayne Terwilliger, Glenn Mickens, Bobby Morgan, Tim Thompson, Tommy Lasorda, Jim Gentile, Randy Jackson, Joe Pignatano, Don Demeter, Carl Erskine, Fred Kipp, Bob Aspromonte, Roger Craig and Sandy Koufax.

Erskine, Lasorda and Koufax are the last 3 surviving members of the 1955 World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers.

And Willie Mays is now the last living player who appeared in the Bobby Thomson Game in 1951.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Athletes Who Have Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Can all of America "Say Hey"? Yes we can, yes we can.

Today is the 3rd Monday in February, Presidents Day. When Martin Luther King's birthday was approved as a national holiday, the 3rd Monday in January (his actual birthday was January 15), 2 holidays, Lincoln's Birthday (February 12, regardless of the day of the week) and Washington Birthday's (February 22, but celebrated on the 3rd Monday in February) were combined into Presidents Day.

America does not have knighthoods. Our equivalent, our highest civilian decoration, is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was first awarded by John F. Kennedy in 1963, to, among others, recently retired Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, former Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett, Senator Herbert Lehman of New York (also a former Governor), Governor Luis Muñoz Marín of Puerto Rico, diplomats Ralh Bunche and Ellsworth Bunker, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, painter Andrew Wyeth, labor leader George Meany; music figures Marian Anderson, Pablo Casals and Rudolf Serkin; and writers E.B. White, Edmund Wilson and Thornton Wilder.

Unfortunately, while JFK selected these people, he was assassinated before the ceremony to award the medals could be held. The new President, Lyndon Johnson, rescheduled the ceremony, and held it on December 6, 1963 -- and made Kennedy himself the 1st posthumous recipient of the Medal.

LBJ would receive it posthumously from Jimmy Carter; Carter and Gerald Ford from Bill Clinton; Ronald Reagan from George H.W. Bush; and the elder Bush and Clinton from Barack Obama. So every President from the founding of the award in 1963 through 2001 has received it, except Richard Nixon.

There have been 32 sports figures to receive it:

* Baseball: Joe DiMaggio, from Gerald Ford in one of his last acts as President, 1977; Jackie Robinson, posthumously from Ronald Reagan, 1984; Ted Williams, from George H.W. Bush, 1991; Hank Aaron, from George W. Bush in 2002; Roberto Clemente, posthumously from Dubya, 2003; Frank Robinson, from Dubya, 2005; Buck O'Neil, from Dubya, 2006; Stan Musial, from Barack Obama, 2011; Ernie Banks, from Obama, 2013; Yogi Berra and Willie Mays, both from Obama in 2015, although in Yogi's case it was posthumous; broadcaster Vin Scully, from Obama in 2016; and, in what can only have been a tremendous oversight, maybe people thought he'd already gotten it until discovering that he hadn't, Babe Ruth, from Donald Trump, 2018.

* Football: Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, posthumously from Reagan, 1983; coach Earl "Red" Blaik, from Reagan, 1986; and Roger Staubach and Alan Page, from Trump, 2018. Page has also been a Justice of the State Supreme Court in Minnesota, where he played most of his career and attended law school.

* Basketball: Coach John Wooden, from Dubya, 2003; Bill Russell, from Obama, 2011; coach Pat Summitt, from Obama, 2012; coach Dean Smith, from Obama, 2013; and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan, both from Obama in 2016.

* Hockey: So far, none.

* Soccer: So far, none.

* Boxing: Muhmmad Ali, from Dubya, 2005. While Joe Louis was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Reagan's order, he was never given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Nor have Ali's fellow Olympic Gold Medalists turned Heavyweight Champions Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

* Track & Field: Jesse Owens, from Ford, 1976.

* Tennis: Arthur Ashe, posthumously from Clinton, 1993; and Billie Jean King, from Obama, 2009.

* Swimming: Robert Kiphuth, from JFK, 1963, the 1st sports-connected person so honored. Why him? Not so much for coaching the swim team at Yale University from 1918 to 1959, although he won 528 meets and lost only 12, making him the winningest coach in the history of U.S. collegiate swimming; more for his coaching the U.S. Olympic teams during that time.

* Golf, if you consider that a sport: Arnold Palmer in 2004, and Jack Nicklaus in 2005, both by Dubya; and Charlres Sifford, the 1st black player on the PGA Tour, in 2014, by Obama. (Sifford was ill, and died a few weeks after the award.)

* And auto racing, if you consider that a sport: Richard Petty, by the elder Bush in 1992.

Note that, of the 32, only 2 qualify as "team owners," and that's not why they were honored. They are Michael Jordan, who now owns the NBA's Charlotte Hornets; and Richard Petty, whose NASCAR unit is called the Petty Enterprises Team.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

How to Be a Devils Fan at Madison Square Garden -- 2019 Edition

The New Jersey Devils made the Playoffs last season. But, like the 2012 NHL Eastern Conference Championship, beating the arch-rival New York Rangers in the Conference Finals, and the berth in the Stanley Cup Finals, it seems to have been a false dawn.

Currently, the Devils are in last place in the Metropolitan Division, with 52 points. Only the Ottawa Senators have a worse record (47 points), and only the Los Angeles Kings (oddly, the Devils' 2012 Finals opponents) are as bad (also 52).

But the Rangers aren't much better, with 58 points. Amazingly, the New York Islanders lead the Division with 74 points, despite having lost their best player and Captain, John Tavares.

Next Saturday afternoon, the Devils will play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It will not be one of the more consequential meetings in what was once called "the Lincoln Tunnel Tangle."

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There are certain requirements to being a New Jersey Devils fan:

1. You have to love hockey.

2. You have to love New Jersey, and be ready to defend your home State against all who would insult it.

3. You have to hate the New York Rangers, a.k.a. The Scum.

4. You have to hate the Philadelphia Flyers, a.k.a. The Philth, although giving them a grudging respect is definitely permitted, because, unlike most Ranger fans, Flyer fans do tend to know the game.

With regard to The Scum:

5. You have to remind them that they don't get to talk about "history" when they've won the Stanley Cup just once since Pearl Harbor, while we've won it 3 times since Oklahoma City. They don't get to brag about being an "Original Six" team when 4 of the 6 teams weren't original, and that 8 Cups have been won by "Original Six" teams since they last won it (4 by Detroit, 3 by Chicago, 1 by Boston).

6. You have to explain why Henrik Lundqvist is no "king," and will never be as good a goaltender as Martin Brodeur was.

7. You have to explain why Mark Messier was never as good a Captain, and Brian Leetch was never as good a defenseman, as Scott Stevens was.

8. You have to explain why Claude Lemieux was a real player, while Sean Avery was never anything more than a classless thug.

9. And, eventually, at least once, you have to go into the belly of the beast, Madison Square Garden, and see the Devils play the Rangers.

The experience could get ugly -- for reasons that have nothing to do with the physical appearance of either The Scum (the Rangers) or the Scummers (Rangers fans).

And, in case you're wondering: I've adopted the terms "The Scum" -- always Capital T, Capital S -- for your team's arch-rivals, and "Scummers" for their fans, from English soccer. If you don't like to see a sports-themed blog with that kind of language in it, too goddamned bad.

Follow these directions, and, most likely, you will get in, see the game, and get out in one piece.

Before You Go. This game is in the same metropolitan area, so the weather will not be noticeably different upon your arrival than when you left your residence. Nor will the time zone be any different, although Ranger fans often act like it's still 1994 and they're still a successful club. (It isn't, and they're not.) So "Set your watch back 23 years" is merely a joke. Much like the Rangers themselves.

Tickets. Pretty much since the Rangers' late 1970s revival, they averaged 18,200 fans per game, a sellout every night. Since "The Garden Transformed," which is at least the 2nd major renovation of the 1968 Garden (this 2011-13 revamp followed one in 1991-92), capacity has been reduced slightly, to 18,020. But they are no longer selling out every game, averaging 17,327 this season, only about 96 percent of capacity.

Contrast that with the Devils, who are averaging 15,035 this season, or 95 percent of capacity. This is a sore spot in the rivalry: Ranger fans love to point out that they sell out every night, while the Devils don't even come close. Well, what would you rather have in your building: 15,000 people with taste, or 17,000 drunken, boorish animals?

At any rate, if you don't already have a ticket for Saturday's game, you're probably out of luck, unless you want to take your chances with StubHub or a scalper.

Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $365 between the goals and $229 behind them. In the 200 sections, $225 and $205. The former 300 sections are now the 400 sections, going for $214. And the former 400s, the old "Blue Seats," full of the nastiest Ranger fans, are now the 300 sections, going for $155. If you take your chances with a scalper, figure that, whatever price is listed on the ticket, you'll be charged at least double. Law of supply and demand, and all that.

At least you can know that there really isn't a bad seat in the house. Let me rephrase that: There isn't a bad view in the house, and the seats themselves are comfortable -- but those around you might make it a "bad seat." I'd especially advise you, as a visiting fan, to stay out of the uppermost seats: This is hardcore Blueshirt fan territory. If your choice is a seat in the 300s and a seat in the 400s for $50 more, spend the extra half-C-note and be safer.

Getting There. Madison Square Garden is in Midtown Manhattan, between 31st and 33rd Streets, between 7th and 8th Avenues, on top of Pennsylvania Station. The official address for the arena is 4 Pennsylvania Plaza -- if they used a traditional address, it would be either 400 7th Avenue (the main entrance for The Garden is on 7th), or 200 West 32nd Street. 8th Avenue on the west side of The Garden, between 31st and 33rd Streets, is named Joe Louis Plaza, although Louis only fought at the previous Garden.

It's 14 road miles from the Prudential Center, and if you were going to drive from pretty much anywhere in New Jersey, you would take the Turnpike to Exit 16E, and take the Lincoln Tunnel in, taking the right, downtown fork as you came out. But there are only 2 types of people who drive in Manhattan: Professionals (taxi drivers, chauffeurs and deliverymen) and people who end up asking themselves, "Why did I do this?" The fact that The Garden is on top of Penn Station makes it all the more sensible to avoid driving, and take public transportation.

If you go in by New Jersey Transit train, it's simple enough: Just ride to New York's Penn Station. If you go in by bus, from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Penn Station and The Garden, it's just 1 one stop on the Subway: Take the A, C or E train from 42nd Street to 34th.
Times Square

Once In the City. You are, most likely, a native of the New York Tri-State Area, with its 23.7 million people, about 8.5 million of whom live within the 5 Boroughs. Certainly, if you are a Devils fan, you live in the Tri-State Area. You already know this stuff. If you don't, check the link for my piece on how to go to a Knicks game, and scroll down to "Once In the City."

I do want to note that ZIP Codes for Manhattan begin with the digits 100 (including the Knicks' team offices, in 10001), with a few examples of 101 (including the Madison Square Garden Corporation, at 10119, and the Rangers' team offices, in 10121) and 102.

New York's Area Code started as 212, but 718 was split off in 1984, for Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. The Bronx was also split off and moved to 718 in 1992. Now, only Manhattan has 212, with 917 overlaid in 1992, 646 in 1999, and 332 will be added this coming June 10. The Tri-State Area has 2 "beltways": Interstate 278, the Belt Parkway, within The City; and Interstate 287, in both New Jersey and Westchester County.
Going In. The 4th and current version of Madison Square Garden has only one real entrance, and that's on the 7th Avenue side. You'll see giant posters referencing the current Knick and Ranger squads, and historic moments that occurred at The Garden.

Besides those involving the home team, these include: The 1st fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971 (the 2nd was also held there, on January 28, 1974, but was far less significant because neither man then held the title), Nadia Comaneci performing the 1st perfect 10 in an international gymnastics meet (before doing it again later in the year at the Olympics at the Montreal Forum), and various concerts and political conventions (the Democrats in 1976, 1980 and 1992, the Republicans in 2004).
The Rangers and Knicks moved in when this Garden opened in February 1968. The WNBA's New York Liberty played here from 1997 to 2011, and again from 2014 to 2017. In the 2012 and 2013 seasons, when the renovations were done in the other teams' off-seasons, the Libs played at the Prudential Center in Newark. Since 2018, they've played at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

Once your ticket is scanned, you will be directed to a "tower" at one of the "corners" of this completely round arena: Tower A (33rd & 8th), Tower B (33rd & 7th), Tower C (31st & 7th) or Tower D (31st & 8th). These are escalator towers, and will make it easier for you to find your seating section.

Although I am a Devils fan and I hate the Rangers (I'd say I hate their guts, but they are completely gutless), the only things I didn't like about The Garden as a structure are these escalator towers (they take too long, going either up or down) and the narrowness of the concourses (about half the width of those at the Prudential Center, and no wider than those at the inadequate Meadowlands Arena, or at the Nassau Coliseum before its recent renovation). Improving these was among the recent "The Garden Transformed" renovation.

The 100 and 200 Levels are now accessed by the Madison Concourse on the building's 6th Floor. The 300 and 400 Levels are accessed by the Garden Concourse on the 10th Floor. The old color system of red seats down below, white in the middle and blue up top is long gone. So is the system that replaced it, of purple seats in the 100 and 200 Levels and aquamarine in the 300 and 400s. They're all purple now. Fortunately, as I said, there really isn't a bad view from any seat in the house, not even in the 400 Level, and the sound carries spectacularly well.
The rink is laid out east-to-west. The Rangers attack twice toward the west side, the 8th Avenue end. The Garden is 1 of 11 current arenas to house both an NBA team and an NHL team.

Food. Although New York is one of the world's great food cities, The Garden isn't exactly known for great food. Perhaps having so many well-known restaurants and bars around the place is a reason: The Madison Square Garden Corporation might have good relationships with these establishments, and not want to outshine them. Some of these places would go out of business without Knick and Ranger postgame traffic.

There are specialty stands of interest, though. The 10th Floor has Garden Market between Towers B & C (on the 7th Avenue side), and the 6th Floor has one behind Sections 108 and 115.
Also on the 6th Floor, there is Carlos and Gabby's Kosher & Mexican Grill (I don't know whether to say, "Oy vey!" or "¡Ay, caramba!") at 111, and Senzai Sushi at 118. Ice cream is available at 110, and 16 Handles Frozen Yogurt at 115. "Coffee and Deserts" are at 114.

Team History Displays. There used to be a "Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame," with the names listed on the marquee at the main doors on the 7th Avenue side. That was removed a few years ago.

But the Knicks and Rangers still hang banners for their titles and their retired numbers. The Rangers hang banners for their 1928, 1933, 1940 and 1994 Stanley Cups; their 2014 Eastern Conference Championship; their 1992 President's Trophy for finishing 1st overall in the regular season (as Queens native Archie Bunker would say, "Well, whoop dee do!"); and their regular-season Division Championships of 1927, 1932, 1942, 1990, 2012 and 2014.
(Although the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1929, 1937, 1950, 1972 and 1979, these were not "championships" of any kind, and there is no notation for any of them.)

The Rangers have 10 banners honoring retired numbers, although (as with the Yankees) they are willing to retire a number for 2 different players. Despite being around since 1926, they didn't retire a number until 1979 (Rod Gilbert), and as late as 2004, 78 years into their history, they only had 2 (Eddie Giacomin's was retired in 1989). Over the next 4 years, they had 5 ceremonies for 6 players, including 2 guys who'd debuted for them in the 1950s (and, thankfully, were still alive to enjoy it).

The numbers are: 1, Eddie Giacomin, goaltender 1965-75; 2, Brian Leetch, defenseman 1987-2004; 3, Harry Howell, defenseman 1952-69; 7, Rod Gilbert, right wing 1961-77; 9, Andy Bathgate, center 1954-64, and Adam Graves, left wing 1991-2001; 11, Vic Hadfield, left wing 1959-74, and Mark Messier, center 1991-97 and 2000-04; 19, Jean Ratelle, center, 1960-76; and 35, Mike Richter, goaltender 1990-2003.

And, of course, while he only played 3 seasons with the Rangers, and only got as far as the Conference Finals in 1997 (making it a bit silly to claim him as a "Ranger Hall-of-Famer"), the Number 99 of Wayne Gretzky is retired throughout the League, but his number is separate from the others.

Calendar year 2018 saw the retirements of 11 for Hadfield and 19 for Ratelle. Together, with Gilbert, who is still the Rangers' all-time leader in goals with 406 and points with 1,021, they formed "the GAG Line," which stood for "Goal-a-Game." They were together from Gilbert's arrival in 1961 until Hadfield was traded in 1974, but the name wasn't used until the 1971-72 season, when the Rangers reached the Finals and lost to the Boston Bruins.

Bathgate is an interesting case: The Winnipeg native won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1959, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated that year, the 1st Ranger so honored. The article suggested he was, already, the greatest Ranger ever. Yet he didn't get his number retired by the team until 2009, when he was 78 years old. He also won the Stanley Cup -- in 1964, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, mere weeks after the Rangers traded him away. His grandson Andy is currently in the Pittsburgh Penguins' minor-league system.

There are 25 players who played at least 5 seasons with the Rangers who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, yet only Giacomin, Leetch, Howell, Gilbert, Bathgate, Messier and Richter are honored with retired numbers. (Graves isn't in the Hall yet.)

Frank Boucher was the Captain of the Rangers' 1928 and 1933 Cup wins, and the head coach of their 1940 win. They didn't win the Cup without him being directly involved until 1994. Have they retired his number? Yes -- but for Gilbert; it was 7. Nor have the numbers of his linemates on the "A-Line" (named for the 8th Avenue Subway) been retired Hall-of-Famers and brothers Bill and Frederick "Bun" Cook (5 and 6, respectively) been retired.

Ivan "Ching" Johnson was a Hall-of-Fame defenseman in that era, but Number 3 isn't retired for him. Bryan Hextall (father of 2 NHL players and grandfather of infamous goalie Ron) is in the Hall, and scored the winning goal for the 1940 Cup, but his Number 12 isn't in the rafters. From their 1970s teams, the Rangers could have retired 2 for Brad Park long before Leetch arrived.

And, of course, the greatest Ranger of them all, Lester Patrick, their 1st head coach and general manager, could have been honored with the retirement of the Number 16 he wore just once, as an emergency goalie in the 1928 Finals. (Today, that wouldn't be allowed, but with today's 2-goalie rosters and better protection, it wouldn't be necessary).

As I said, there used to be a display on the marquee at the 7th Avenue entrance showing a "Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame." It's gone now. And the Rangers certainly have enough club legends to have a Monument Park-like display someone in The Garden. But they don't.

If it wasn't for MSG Network's program MSG Vault showing clips from the 1970s and '80s, a stupid man (of which Ranger fandom has many) could easily believe that the club's history began with Messier's arrival in 1991 -- especially now that chanting "NINE-teen-FOR-ty!" no longer works.

All that history, yet the club honors only one man who (barely) played for them before the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. While Ranger fans like to brag about their history (its length, if not its fleeting glory), the club has done a poor job of recognizing it.
L to R, in the order that their numbers were retired:
Rod Gilbert, Eddie Giacomin, Mike Richter, Mark Messier,
Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell.
February 22, 2009, when Bathgate and Howell had their numbers retired.
Bathgate died in 2016. The rest are still alive.

Messier, Leetch and Bathgate were named to The Hockey News' 100 Greatest Players in 1998. So were 1928 and 1933 Cup-winners Frank Boucher, Bill Cook and Earl Seibert; 1940 Cup-winner Babe Pratt; 1950s star Bill Gadsby; 1970s stars Brad Park and Phil Esposito; Mike Gartner, who just missed the 1994 Cup; and Wayne Gretzky, who played his last 3 seasons with the Rangers.

The Lester Patrick Trophy, named for the Rangers' 1st boss, is awarded for contributions to hockey in America. As you might guess, many members of the Rangers' organization have received it. It was established after Lester's death, but his son Lynn received it, partly for playing for the Rangers, and partly as the original GM of the St. Louis Blues. Other Ranger players who've received it are: Frank Boucher, Murray Murdoch, Rod Gilbert, John Davidson, Phil Esposito, Brian Mullen, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Wayne Gretzky -- although Gretzky, and arguably Esposito, got it more for contributions elsewhere.

Also receiving the award were Rangers GMs John Kilpatrick, Bill Jennings and Emile Francis; head coaches Boucher, Francis and Fred Shero; boradcasters Davidson and Bill Chadwick (honored mainly for his contributions as the finest referee in NHL history), scout Bob Crocker, and publicists Jim Hendy and John Halligan.

Bill Cook, Ching Johnson, and Red Dutton and Normie Himes of the New York Americans were named to the NHL All-Star Team that opposed the host Toronto Maple Leafs in the Ace Bailey Benefit Game in 1934. Frank Boucher, Cecil Dillon, and Americans Sweeney Schriner, Art Chapman and Hap Day (better known as a Maple Leaf) were named to the All-Star team that opposed a combined Canadiens and Maroons team at the Montreal Forum in the Howie Morenz Memorial Game in 1937. Art Coulter, Neil Colville, and Tom Anderson and Harvey "Busher" Jackson of the Americans (like Day, better known as a Leaf) were named to the All-Star team that opposed the Canadiens in the Babe Siebert Memorial Game in 1939.

Grant Warwick, Edgar Laprade and Tony Leswick (better known for scoring the winning goal for Detroit in overtime of Game 7 of the 1954 Finals) were named to the team that opposed the defending Champion Leafs in the 1st official NHL All-Star Game in 1947. Brad Park, Rod Seiling, and the entire "Goal-A-Game Line" (or "GAG Line") of Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert were named to Team Canada for the 1972 "Summit Series" with the Soviet Union. And 4 members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team played for the Rangers: Rob McClanahan, Dave Silk, Bill Baker and Mark Pavelich.

Due to their inclusion on Team Canada '72, Park, Seiling, Hadfield, Ratelle, Gilbert and the non-yet-Ranger Esposito were elected to Canada's Walk of Fame. For his overall contributions to the sport, so was Gretzky. Gretzky and Anders Hedberg, a Swedish right wing who starred in the '79 Finals team, have been elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame.

Ranger players in the Hockey Hall of Fame include:

* From the 1928 Cup winners: Boucher, the Cook brothers, Johnson.

* From the 1933 Cup winners: Boucher, the Cook brothers, Johnson, Babe Siebert, Earl Seibert (No relation: Note the different spellings).

* From the 1940 Cup winners: Coulter, Hextall, Lynn Patrick (but not, as yet, his brother and teammate Murray "Muzz" Patrick), Neil Colville (but not, as yet, his brother and teammate Mac Colville), Babe Pratt, Clint Smith.

* From the 1950 Cup Finalists: Laprade, Buddy O'Connor, Chuck Rayner, Allan Stanley.

* From the 1950s and 1960s: Bathgate, Howell, Gadsby, Gump Worsley.

* From the 1972 Cup Finalists: Giacomin, Gilbert, Park, Ratelle.

* From the 1979 Cup Finalists: Esposito, Davidson (elected mainly as a broadcaster).

* From the 1994 Cup winners: Messier and Leetch. Richter and Graves are not yet in. Gretzky arrived in 1996.

Bathgate, Ratelle, Esposito, Messier, Leetch and Gretzky were named to the NHL's 100th Anniversary 100 Greatest Players in 2017.

In addition to the Knicks' and Rangers' banners, 2 music legends are honored with banners at "The World's Most Famous Arena." Bronx-born, Long Island-raised Billy Joel was given a Number 12 banner, for the Garden record of straight sellout concerts he had played recently (breaking his 2006 record of 12, necessitating a new banner). That banner has been replaced by one with the number 100 on it, for having the most concerts by a single performer. Previously, Elton John held the record of 64, including for the 60th time on his 60th birthday.
The previous banners for the Piano Men.

There aren't, however, banners honoring some other landmark concerts at The Garden, though some of these are mentioned at the entrance: The 1968 opener with Frank Sinatra; the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh headlined by ex-Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr, with appearances by Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton; ex-Beatle John Lennon's One to One Concert of 1972 and his surprise guest appearance with Elton John on Thanksgiving night 1974, his last live concert appearances; Elvis Presley on June 9, 10 and 11, 1972; Led Zeppelin's 1973 shows that formed the concert film The Song Remains the Same; and the all-star shows that paid tribute to Dylan in 1992 and Michael Jackson in 2001, and raised funds for charities following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The 1st Ali-Frazier fight was 1 of 7 fights for the Heavyweight Championship of the World to be held at the current Garden. The others: Frazier defeating Jimmy Ellis, February 16, 1970; Ali hanging on to beat Earnie Shavers, September 29, 1977; Larry Holmes beating Mike Weaver, June 22, 1979; Riddick Bowe beating Michael Dokes, February 6, 1993; the draw that robbed Lennox Lewis of a win in his 1st fight with Evander Holyfield, March 13, 1999; and Lewis' win over Michael Grant, April 29, 2000.

The Devils-Rangers rivalry is closer than you might think: The Rangers have won 112 games, the Devils 108, with 27 ties. (These totals include Playoff games.) There have been 6 Playoff matchups, with the Rangers leading 4-2.

The Rangers won the 1992 Patrick Division Semifinals, the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals (with Game 7 going to double overtime before Stephane Matteau's goal won it), the 1997 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (the 1st postseason series played at the Prudential Center. The Devils won the 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (the only sweep), and the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals (with Adam Henrique's goal winning the clinching Game 6 in overtime).

But the bigger rivalry is Rangers vs. Islanders. There's a street connecting 31st and 33rd Streets, separating The Garden from Penn Station, and it's now used only for deliveries. It was a taxi stand prior to "The Garden Transformed," and I liked to say that it was the most dangerous place in New York City. Not just because New York taxi drivers are maniacs, but, when the Rangers played the Islanders at The Garden, Islander fans would have to cross it to get to Penn Station and the Long Island Rail Road, and, well, Rangers-Isles is one of the few times when North American sports fans act like English soccer hooligans.

This rivalry could not be much closer: The Rangers have won 165 games, the Islanders 164, and there have been 19 ties. There have been 8 Playoff series between them, but none since 1994. The Isles lead, 5-3. The Rangers won the 1979 Stanley Cup Semifinals, the 1990 Patrick Division Semifinals, and the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The Islanders have won in the 1975 Preliminary Round (a watershed moment that seemed to have changed Ranger fans' reputation from classy to boorish), the 1981 Stanley Cup Semifinals, the 1982 Patrick Division Finals, the 1983 Patrick Division Finals, and the 1984 Patrick Division Semifinals. The 1975 and 1984 Isle wins, and the 1979 Ranger win, have been regarded as epic contests.

Historically, the Rangers' biggest rival has been the Boston Bruins. Since the Rangers' founding in 1926, they've been trying to beat each other's brains out -- frequently, not a time-consuming task. The Bruins have won 292 games, the Rangers 259, and there have been 97 ties.

There's been 10 Playoff series between them, but only 1 in the last 46 years, and the Bruins lead 7-3. The Rangers' 1st Playoff series was against the Bruins, in 1927, and they lost. They also lost to the Bruins in the 1929 Stanley Cup Finals, the 1939 Stanley Cup Semifinals, the 1958 Stanley Cup Semifinals, the 1970 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals, the 1972 Stanley Cup Finals, and the 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Rangers have won in the 1928 Stanley Cup Semifinals, the 1940 Stanley Cup Semifinals, and the 1973 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals.

Stuff. There are souvenir stands all over The Garden, including at the front entrance. The Garden's teams also now have the MSG Team Store open a block away at the Manhattan Mall at Herald Square.

I could make a joke about Ranger fans being illiterate. Actually, there are probably more books written about the Rangers than any other hockey team -- given the relative size of Canada, they may have more written about them than the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With "the Hockey Maven" himself, Stan Fischler, cranking out books at a Stephen King pace (despite closing in on his 87th birthday), it's as if there's always a new Ranger book available. A recent Maven effort, published in 2015, was in partnership with Rod Gilbert: We Are the Rangers: The Oral History of the New York Rangers. In 2000, slightly jumping the gun, John Halligan published a coffee-table book, New York Rangers: Seventy-Five Years.

There's not much available on specific eras in Ranger history. Colleen Aycock and Mark Scott (not the sportscaster who hosted Home Run Derby in 1960) wrote Tex Rickard: Boxing's Greatest Promoter. George Rickard was from Texas, made his money promoting big prizefights, almost singlehanded got the State of New York to drop its legal ban on boxing, built what became known as "the Old Garden" in 1925 for boxing, allowed the fledgling New York Americans to play hockey there, and, seeing the profits, founded a team that he, through the Garden corporation, would own, a team that was immediately nickname "Tex's Rangers." (And now you know why a hockey team in New York has a Wild West name.)

Eric Whitehead's book The Patricks: Hockey's Royal Family, published back in 1980 but available on Amazon.com, will tell you about Lester, and his sons Lynn and Murray (a.k.a. Muzz), who played or him on the Rangers' teams of the 1930s and '40s, including the 1940 Cup. It will also tell you how, even before the Rangers' founding in 1926, Lester and his brother Frank practically invented professional hockey as we know it (as a business, not just a game).

And for the 20th Anniversary of the one that will have to last a lifetime (technically, it already has: 1940 to 2014 is 74 years), John Kreiser of NHL.com and then-GM Neil Smith wrote The Wait Is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup. An update will be published this coming April 2, to mark the 25th Anniversary.

For Ranger videos, a DVD package of the 1994 Finals shouldn't be too hard to find. But that's about it. There was no 75th Anniversary team history DVD in 2001 (though that was the dawn of the DVD era), nor for the 80th in 2006. Maybe there will be one for the 90th in the 2015-16 season. Nor is there an official Greatest Games package from the NHL. That may be just as well, since about 6 of the 10 would probably be from 1994.
 

During the Game. A November 19, 2014 article on The Hockey News' website ranked the NHL teams' fan bases, and listed the Rangers' fans 11th, 5th among U.S.-based teams behind Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Minnesota: "Expensive to watch games at MSG, which doesn't fill up above capacity." (Most arenas don't.)

As for what kind of fans they are? Don't say I didn't warn you: A New York Rangers home game is one of the few occasions in North American sports where even a fan of a non-rival team, should he be willing to wear visiting team gear, can legitimately wonder if his safety is in question. Indeed, the worst example of fan violence I have ever seen (if not the worst actual fighting) took place during a Rangers-Devils game at The Garden -- and it happened just 1 row in front of me.

There were 4 men from the Czech Republic, each wearing the jersey of a different Czech player then on the Ranger roster: Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Michal Rozsival and Petr Prucha. They were visibly drunk even when they arrived. For nearly 2 full periods, they were drinking further, and yelling in Czech. At least one of them did have a grasp of English, the one on the aisle, clearly the leader. In situations like that, there's always a leader, one who's clearly first among equal jackasses.

They didn't give me an especially hard time, mainly because I was ignoring them. Being a Polish-American of my size, with some sense of Eastern Europeans (and some sense), I wasn't going to take on 4 big Czechs who were already 17 sheets to the wind.

But a couple across the aisle from them, also wearing Ranger shirts, stood up and objected to their drunken, obnoxious behavior. The wife was on the aisle, and the leader got up and pushed her down. That's right: He pushed a woman. Wearing the jersey of the same team that he was wearing. Ladies and gentlemen, a New York Ranger fan. The husband was no dope: Instead of taking on this Bohemian brute (or, perhaps, a Moravian miscreant) himself, he signaled to security, and the Czechs were ejected. (The wife was okay.)

The date was January 22, 2006, and the Rangers won, 3-1, as the Devils really didn't even show up. And I paid $130 for a $70 seat. You know what? Being able to tell this story about the depravity of Ranger fans "eating their own" is worth more to me than the win would have been.

"But, Mike," you might say, "those guys weren't New Yorkers. You said it yourself: They were there to cheer on the Czech players, not the Rangers. Real Ranger fans aren't like that." Oh no? I've seen most of the NHL's teams, and their fans, at the Prudential Center. The only teams whose fans I've seen stir up trouble are the Rangers and the Flyers -- and the Flyers, only once, and it was settled quickly.

Ranger fans are animals. Absolute animals. How can these people, the majority of them also Yankee Fans, be such great people from April through October, and be such bastards from October through April? I'd hate to see what happens if one of these Yankee/Ranger fans ever made it to Fenway Park. Considering that all bullies are truly cowards, I suspect that none would dare go alone.
Do these halfwits think they look like the band KISS?
No, they look more like rejects from the Joker's gang.

John Amirante sang the National Anthem at Ranger games from 1980 until his retirement in 2015. He died last year. But the Ranger fans usually shout through the entire thing, showing great disrespect for country and or singer. And yet, if one of these people sees an athlete "take a knee" during the Anthem, they'll get upset. Did I mention that Ranger fans are animals?

Just as the Knicks, in their early 1970s glory days, once had Dancing Harry at The Garden, the Rangers, for the last few years, have had Dancin' Larry. When the sound system plays "Strike It Up" by Black Box (with the uncredited Martha Wash singing lead), Larry Goodman, a middle-aged bald man, gets out of his seat in Section 407 (the former Blue Seats) and starts dancing like a madman. In a 2010 interview, he claimed to have been a season-ticketholder since 1988 and only missed 5 home games in that span. He claimed to have been doing this at games since 1996 and that, "The fans depend on me." (Gee, they haven't won the Cup since he started dancing. The Curse of Dancin' Larry?)

The Rangers' goal song was written especially for them: It is "Slap Shot" by Bad Apple. The most familiar Ranger fan chant is, of course, "Let's go, Rangers!" They may also chant, "Hen-REEK!" for goalie Henrik Lundqvist, although they have yet to figure out that one does not become a "king" until he wears a crown. One good thing about Martin Brodeur no longer being on the Devils is that their derisive "Mar...tee!" chant is gone, even though it's obvious to any objective observer that "MAR-ty's-BET-ter!" And their suggestion that Brodeur was "fat" as always stupid: What does it say about your team that a "fat" goalie is better than your thin one?

At the end of the game, if the Rangers win, the players will gather at center ice and raise their sticks to salute the crowd. If they lose, well, good.

After the Game. New York's reputation as a high-crime city hasn't been true in years. But that may not matter much at a Ranger game. As you are directed to one of the escalator towers at the corners, a process that will take a while, your wisest move is to observe the advice of the legendary football coach Paul Brown: "When you win, say little; and when you lose, say less." Or, as Kenny Rogers put it, "You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done."

In other words, if the Devils win, accept your victory, get out, and don't taunt the animals; if the Rangers win, take your verbal (if slurred and incoherent) abuse, don't respond, and get out; and if they get physical, find security and report it. Never, under any circumstances, fight back, because you are hopelessly outnumbered. Let security handle it.

If this were a Knick game, there are dozens of bars around The Garden that are popular among postgamers that you could check out. But it's a Ranger game: If you live in New Jersey, get downstairs into Penn Station and get on the next available train to your area. If you came into The City by bus, get back to Port Authority. Do not fool around with this: You did what you came to do (see the Devils play the Rangers at The Garden), now get the hell out of Dodge.

If you're a fan of an NHL team not in the New York Tri-State Area, these bars have been known to cater to fans from the cities/metro areas in question:


* Anaheim Ducks: Unknown. Since they're a Los Angeles-area team, you might want to go where fans of most L.A. sports teams go, which is Taqueria St. Mark's Place, 79 St. Mark's Place. 6 Train to Astor Place. Be advised, though, that there could be Kings fans there.
* Arizona Coyotes: Foley's, 18 W. 33rd Street. B, D, F, N or R Train to Herald Square.
* Boston Bruins: Professor Thom's, 219 2nd Avenue. L Train to 3rd Avenue.
* Buffalo Sabres: Kelly's, 12 Avenue A. F Train to 2nd Avenue.
* Carolina Hurricanes: Brother Jimmy's, 416 8th Avenue, just across from The Garden. A, C or E Train to 34th Street.
* Chicago Blackhawks: Triona's, 237 Sullivan Street. A, C or E Train to W. 4th Street.
* Colorado Avalanche: Butterfield 8, 5 E. 38th Street. 7 Train to 5th Avenue.
* Columbus Blue Jackets: Iron Bar, 713 8th Avenue, off 45th Street. A, C or E Train to 42nd Street.
* Dallas Stars: Stone Creek, 140 E. 27th Street. 6 Train to 28th Street.
* Detroit Red Wings: Amity Hall, 80 W. 3rd Street. A, C or E Train to W. 4th Street.
* Florida Panthers: Slattery's, 8 E. 36th Street. B, D, F, N or R Train to Herald Square.
* Los Angeles Kings: Taqueria St. Mark's Place, 79 St. Mark's Place. 6 Train to Astor Place.
* Minnesota Wild: Bar None, 98 3rd Avenue. L Train to 3rd Avenue.
* Montreal Canadiens: Printer's Alley, 215 W. 40th Street.
* Nashville Predators: SideBar, 120 E. 15th Street. 4, 5, 6, L, N or R Train to Union Square.
* Philadelphia Flyers: Wogie's, 39 Greenwich Avenue. A, C or E Train to W. 4th Street.
* Pittsburgh Penguins: Reservoir Bar, 70 University Place. 4, 5, 6, L, N or R Train to Union Square.
* St. Louis Blues: Foley's, 18 W. 33rd Street. B, D, F, N or R Train to Herald Square.
* San Jose Sharks: Finnerty's, 221 2nd Avenue. L Train to 3rd Avenue. (Next-door to Professor Thom's.)
* Tampa Bay Lightning: Stillwater, 78 E. 4th Street. F Train to 2nd Avenue.
* Vegas Golden Knights: Unknown. They may not have decided on a place yet. Due to the Pac-12, Pacific Time in common, some of their fans go to Finnerty's. This may become a problem if a Sharks-Knights rivalry develops.
* Washington Capitals: Dorrian's Red Hand, 1616 2nd Avenue. Q Train to 86th Street.
* All Canadian teams: Your best bet is probably Manitoba's, 99 Avenue B. 6 Train to Astor Place.

If you're visiting New York during the European soccer season, as we are now in, there are many places where you can watch your favorite team. The best "football pub" in The City, and, indeed, in the country, is The Football Factory, downstairs at Legends NYC, at 6 West 33rd Street, across from the Empire State Building, and 2 blocks east from The Garden. B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square.

Sidelights. This is where I discuss other sports-related sites in the metropolitan area in question, and then move on to tourist attractions that have no (or little) connection to sports. Since most people reading this will be from the Tri-State Area, I'll limit it to just The Garden.

There is a Madison Square, where 23rd Street, 5th Avenue & Broadway all come together. The 1st 2 buildings to be named Madison Square Garden went up across from it, in 1879 and 1891, respectively, at 26th & Madison.
The 1879 Garden

These Gardens hosted concerts, circuses, Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, the Westminster Kennel Club, and similar exhibitions.

The 2nd Garden hosts a few prizefights, including 2 for the Heavyweight Championship of the World: Jess Willard's only successful defense of it, over Frank Moran on March 25, 1916; and Jack Dempsey's knockout of Bill Brennan on December 14, 1920. It also hosted the 1924 Democratic Convention, which, under the old 2/3rds rule, went to 103 ballots before compromising and nominating John W. Davis for President, and he lost badly to incumbent Calvin Coolidge.
The 1891 Garden

The New York Life Insurance Company held the mortgage on the 2nd Garden, and in 1925 decided it wanted the land for its headquarters, which still stands on the site. The official address is 51 Madison Avenue.

But Tex Rickard, who ran the boxing promotions at The Garden, had made so much money (mainly off promoting fights of Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey, that he could afford to build a new Garden all by himself. He did so, at 49th Street & 8th Avenue. This building, now usually referred to as "the old Garden," became "the Mecca of Basketball" and "the Mecca of Boxing."
The 1925 Garden

And the fights it hosted included some legendary ones. Joe Louis successfully defended the Heavyweight Championship of the World there against Nathan Mann on February 23, 1938; John Henry Lewis, in the 1st Heavyweight Title fight between 2 black boxers, on January 25, 1939 Arturo Godoy on February 9, 1940; Johnny Paychek (not the later country singer) on March 29, 1940; Red Burman on January 31, 1941; Buddy Baer (Max's brother) on January 9, 1942; Abe Simon on March 27, 1942; and, in a decision that many observers thought should have gone the other way, Jersey Joe Walcott on December 5, 1947.

Louis seemed to have settled things by beating Walcott at Yankee Stadium 6 months later, then retiring. Ezzard Charles won what amounted to an elimination tournament for the title, then rendered the title undisputed by beating Louis, who came out of retirement because he needed money for a big tax bill, on September 27, 1950. Charles then defended the title against Lee Oma on January 12, 1951.

On October 26, 1951, an increasingly desperate Louis got back into the Garden ring to face the rising Rocky Marciano, who idolized Louis, but knocked out the hopelessly out of shape ex-champ. He visited Louis in his dressing room afterward, and both men cried.

Marciano never fought in the Garden again, and the old Garden hosted just 1 more Heavyweight Title fight. Muhammad Ali had refused to fight there because they insisted on introducing him under his birth name, Cassius Clay, because that was the name on his boxing license. Ali got it changed, and on March 22, 1967, he was introduced as Muhammad Ali, and knocked out Zora Folley. It was his last fight before being stripped of the title for refusing to accept being drafted.

From 1935 until its closing in 1968, it became famous for its basketball doubleheaders, both collegiate and professional. It hosted what we would now call the NCAA Final Four in 1943 (Wyoming over Georgetown), 1944 (Utah over Dartmouth), 1945 (Oklahoma A&M, which became Oklahoma State in 1958, over New York University), 1946 (Oklahoma State over North Carolina), 1947 (Holy Cross over Oklahoma), 1948 (Kentucky over Baylor) and 1950 (City College over Bradley).

But in 1951, the college basketball point-shaving scandal hit, and all the schools that used the old Garden as a secondary home court -- NYU, CCNY, St. John's, Long Island University and Fordham -- were hit. (Only St. John's would survive as a legitimate program, and still use the new Garden as a home court for games where ticket demand exceeded an on-campus facility.) The NIT suffered, and, while it's still held at the new Garden today, it was so degraded in the eyes of the public that the NCAA Champion became viewed as the National Champion. The Final Four has only been held in the Tri-State Area once since, in 1996 at the Meadowlands (Kentucky over Syracuse), and unless MetLife Stadium or Citi Field gets a dome, it will never happen here again.

The old Garden was torn down shortly after the new Garden opened, and a skyscraper called Worldwide Plaza is on the site now. Underneath, the 50th Street station on the Subway's C & E lines has a mural depicting events at the old Garden.

Unwilling to put Summer prizefights inside The Garden (due to the heat in those pre-air-conditioning days, as much as to the limited seating capacity), and also unwilling to pay the big rents charged by the Yankees for their Stadium or the baseball Giants for the Polo Grounds, in 1932, the Garden Corporation built the Madison Square Garden Bowl, a 72,000-seat open-air facility in Long Island City, Queens. It wasn't much: just a lot of aluminum benches in an octagon around a boxing ring. Nothing else could be held there.
It hosted 4 fights for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. On June 21, 1932, Max Schmeling was defeated by Jack Sharkey. On June 29, 1933, barely over a year later, Sharkey was stunned by Primo Carnera, the 6-foot-7 Italian known as the Ambling Alp. On June 14, 1934, Carnera was in turn knocked out by Max Baer. Soon, somebody (who it was depends on who's telling the story) yelled, "The joint is jinxed!"

The Bowl's reputation as "The Jinx Bowl" was certified exactly one year later, on June 13, 1935, when Baer was defeated by Jim Braddock, the Cinderella Man. After that, no one wanted to fight in the Jinx Bowl. Braddock waited 2 years before defending his crown, and went to Chicago where Joe Louis knocked him out at Comiskey Park.

The Garden Corporation gave up, and started paying rent on Yankee Stadium for big fights. The Bowl was demolished during World War II, to make way for a U.S. Army mail depot. Today, there's retail on the site, including the well-known auto dealership Major World. 34-60 48th Street, or 43-40 Northern Blvd. if you prefer. E Train to Steinway Street, then 8 blocks east on 34th Avenue.

Rangers founder Tex Rickard is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. So are 1947-64 Yankee co-owner Dan Topping, Bronx native and New York Giants Hall-of-Famer Frankie Frisch, 1970 Knick Dean Meminger, swimmer Gertude Edele, and sportswriters Grantland Rice and Damon Runyon.

Music legends buried there include Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Celia Cruz, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and W.C. Handy. It's also where you can find Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, early 20th Century Republican political figure Charles Evans Hughes, New York's master builder (but also a big reason why the Dodgers moved) Robert Moses, diplomat Ralph Bunche, Civil War naval hero David Farragut, department store founders Rowland H. Macy and James Cash Penney, novelist Herman Melville, cartoonist Thomas Nast, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, journalism pioneer Nellie Bly, and Wild West figure Bat Masterson. 517 East 233rd Street. 4 Train to the end of the line, Woodlawn station.

*

Every Devils fan should see his team play The Enemy on enemy soil at least once. But it is not for the faint of heart. Go to the game, see the game, behave yourself, and get out.

And remember: Never, ever mix it up with the Ranger fans. As I've said in my post about being a Yankee Fan going to Fenway Park, it's better to be an uninjured coward than a hospitalized tough guy.

What If the Yankees Hadn't Traded for A-Rod?

February 16, 2004, 15 years ago: The biggest trade in baseball history -- in terms of money and hype, if not in terms of number of players -- is announced.

The Texas Rangers got Alfonso Soriano, age 28, one of the most exciting talents in baseball, who had mainly been a 2nd baseman, but could also play shortstop and 3rd base; and a player to be named later, who, on April 23, turned out to be Joaquin Arias, 19, a minor-league infielder who ended up playing 474 games in the major leagues, including winning 2 World Series rings as a backup with the 2012 and 2014 San Francisco Giants.

The Yankees got Alex Rodriguez, a shortstop, soon to be 29, accepted by some as the best player in baseball, and the last 7 years of the biggest contract ever signed in professional sports to that point: $252 million.

I had to explain about Arias. But we know what happened to the 2 big names. Soriano bounced around, including back to the Yankees at the end, finishing with 412 home runs and 289 stolen bases, including (as far as we know, he was clean) the only honest season in MLB history with at least 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases, with the 2006 Washington Nationals. And yet, he got traded again, although it was more because the Chicago Cubs were going for broke, and he did help them reach the postseason in 2007 and 2008.

As for A-Rod: He moved to 3rd base, because Derek Jeter had earned the right to keep playing at shortstop for the Yankees, and ended up helping the Yankees reach the postseason 7 times, but only 1 Pennant, 2009, winning the World Series. His regular seasons were solid, sometimes spectacular. His postseasons, 2009 excepted, were horrendous.

He seemed personally responsible for the Yankees' failures to show up in the 2005 American League Division Series, the 2006 ALDS, the 2007 ALDS, the 2010 AL Championship Series, the 2011 ALDS, the 2012 ALCS, and the 2015 AL Wild Card Game. And it all seemed to start with his stupid "Slap Play" in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS.

He finished his career with 14 All-Star berths, 3,115 hits, 696 home runs, 2,086 RBIs, 329 stolen bases, a batting title (before he was a Yankee), 2 Gold Gloves (both before he was a Yankee), 3 AL Most Valuable Player awards (2 as a Yankee)... and 1 World Championship, the category that Yankee Fans should care about.

And he frequently embarrassed the Yankees. If it was just little things, like the various manifestations of his huge ego, I could have lived with it. After all, my favorite player of all time is Reggie Jackson, and I lived with his similar issues.

But Reggie never cheated, as far as we know. A-Rod got caught cheating. Twice. And that was on top of his many postseason failures, and his single postseason success.

No player in the history of baseball has ever polarized fans more. If that's incorrect, then, certainly, none has ever done so within the fandom of his own team.

Since he retired in August 2016, the Yankees have not given uniform Number 13 back out. But they probably won't officially retire it. He may never get a Plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. And, while he will be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022, don't count on him being elected.

*

What if the Yankees hadn't traded for A-Rod?

2004: Aaron Boone -- who, it's worth pointing out, was an All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds in 2003, before getting traded to the Yankees and hitting a certain home run -- doesn't play pickup basketball that day. He doesn't get hurt. He's ready to go for the 2004 season.

He plays. He's the Yankees' main 3rd baseman. He hits decently, if not spectacularly. Soriano bats in A-Rod's slot in the order. He's out at 1st, but doesn't make the Slap Play. Jeter gets to 2nd, and is allowed to remain there. The Yankees complete the comeback, and win the Pennant in 6 games. They beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2004 World Series. Title 27.

Having failed to win the Pennant again, the Red Sox get broken up and retooled. After all, in the history that we know, there were a few notable differences between their 2004 and 2007 title teams. Knowing that he had handcuffed the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, they still sign Josh Beckett.

2005: Well, the Chicago White Sox were a team of destiny. I am not so churlish as to deny a team which appears to have been steroid-free its only World Championship in the last 102 years. Let's move on.

2006: Soriano's 40-40 year. Having Soriano and Boone instead of A-Rod, when practically no one else hit, either, might have made a difference in the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers. Then, just as the Tigers did, the Yankees sweep the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS, making all those "Moneyball" fans look like idiots. Only now, since it was done by New York, not by Detroit, people notice, and the movie never gets made. The Yankees again defeat the Cardinals, who, as you'll recall, won only 83 games that year. Title 28.

2007: Boone tails off, and is no longer a factor, but Soriano still is. The Yankees win the AL Eastern Division, so the Playoff matchups are different. There is no Bug Game in Cleveland. But maybe the Yankees lose to the Indians in the ALCS anyway. The Indians beat the Colorado Rockies, and end their World Series drought at 69 years.

A-Rod opts out of his contract with the Rangers, just as he did with the Yankees in real life. But no one wants him. George Steinbrenner, no longer in full control of the team, doesn't tell his sons Hal and Hank to get him, and instead tells them to focus on the managerial situation. Since Joe Torre now has 2 more titles, he gets offered a new contract that he finds acceptable. Joe Girardi becomes one of his coaches.

2008: The Yankees miss the Playoffs.

2009: The Yankees acquire CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and A.J. Burnett. Soriano has a down year, but the pitching is enough to get the Yankees Title 29.
Alfonso Soriano after hitting a home run
in the 2009 World Series

2010: George Steinbrenner dies. Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers, goes into financial freefall, and has to sell the team. Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, makes a deal to take A-Rod. The Rangers still have enough to make the Playoffs, but the Yankees win the Pennant. This time, though, they lose to the San Francisco Giants.

2011: A-Rod finally gets his ring, as the Angels beat the Yankees in the ALCS and the Cardinals in the World Series.

2012: With Mike Trout as Rookie of the Year, and Albert Pujols having been signed by the Angels as well, having joined Alex Rodriguez, the Angels win the Pennant again, but lose the World Series to the Giants. Joe Torre retires as Yankee manager. Joe Girardi is appointed.
Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez

2013: The Angels beat the Red Sox in the ALCS, and the Cardinals in the World Series. St. Louis is now 0-6 in World Series play since 1982, and "the Curse of Keith Hernandez" lives. Meanwhile, the Red Sox haven't won the World Series in 95 years.

2014: Soriano retires in midseason, and his Number 12 is retired. Jeter retires at the end of the season, and his Number 2 is retired. The Yankees don't make the Playoffs. Meanwhile, A-Rod keeps playing, since, not being a Yankee, nobody seems to give a damn that he used performance-enhancing drugs. He hits his 700th career home run, and his 715th, to surpass Babe Ruth for 3rd place on the all-time list.

2015: The Yankees do not make the Playoffs. The Mets win the Pennant.

2016: A-Rod hits his 756th home run to surpass Hank Aaron for 2nd place. On August 12, 2016 (in real life, the day of his last game), he hits Number 762, to tie the all-time record set by Barry Bonds. It's off Carlos Carrasco of the Cleveland Indians, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, but the Indians still win 13-4. (That day, Carrasco helped them win 13-3.)

A-Rod is then held out until the next home game, at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, August 16, 2016 -- the anniversary of Babe Ruth's death, and a game against his original team, the Seattle Mariners. Off Arquimedes Caminero, he hits Number 763, The Angels win, 7-6. (Which actually happened that night.) He finishes the season with 770, and retires. The Angels retire his Number 3.

Very few people bring up the fact that he had ever cheated. It's like they want to believe that he, unlike Bonds, was clean.

The 2017 and 2018 seasons play out like we remember. Except, now, the Red Sox haven't won the World Series in 100 years, and the Cardinals in 36 years.

So, in a few ways, the Yankees are better off never having had A-Rod.

Or, I could be very wrong.

We'll never know, because, 15 years ago today, the Yankees traded for A-Rod, in a move that change baseball history in ways at which we -- including, as seen above, myself -- can only guess.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Gordon Banks, 1937-2019

Gordon Banks is one of a kind. He became the 1st England goalkeeper to win the World Cup. He held that distinction for the rest of his life, and, at least until July 2022, he will still hold it in death.

Gordon Banks (he had no middle name) was born on December 30, 1937 in the Abbeydale section of Sheffield, England's "Steel City" in South Yorkshire. As a teenager, he hauled coal, and kept goal for a pair of minor teams, Millspaugh and Rawmarsh Welfare. He also served in the British Army at this time, and it was during his "national service" that he married a woman named Ursula. They had daughters Julia and Wendy, and son Robert.

But both local major clubs, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, passed on him. It would be Chesterfield, a team in Derbyshire in the East Midlands, that would sign him to his first professional contract. He helped them reached the 1956 FA Youth Cup Final, losing to Manchester United.

In 1959, he was sold to another East Midlands side, Leicester City, and he helped them reach the 1961 FA Cup Final, losing to North London team Tottenham Hotspur. They reached the Final again in 1963, losing to Manchester United.
Making a save for Leicester

Reaching 2 FA Cup Finals caught attention of both the Football Association and the manager of the England national team, Alf Ramsey. Banks was selected to start for England in a match against "The Rest of the World" at the old Wembley Stadium on October 23, 1963, to celebrate the FA's 100th Anniversary.

It wasn't just that the opposing goalie was Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union and Dynamo Moscow, who was weeks away from becoming the 1st keeper (and remains the only one) to receive the Ballon d'Or as World Player of the Year.

It was that the opposing lineup included such attackers as Raymond Kopa of France and Stade de Reims, Denis Law of Scotland and Manchester United, Alfredo di Stéfano of Argentina and Real Madrid, and Eusébio of Portugal and Lisbon team Benfica. This team was so good, Uwe Seeler of West Germany and Hamburger SV and the already-legendary Ferenc Puskás were on the bench.

Through 81 minutes, he held them off, "keeping a clean sheet." In the 82nd, Law, who had scored on him in the calendar year's FA Cup Final, did so again. But Jimmy Greaves of Tottenham won it "at the death" for England, 2-1.

This win gave Ramsey and his players the realization that they could actually win the 1966 World Cup, which would be played on home soil. It also made Banks the "favourite" to be the starting goalie, "England's Number 1." Ironically, both goalies from England's 1962 World Cup team had played for teams in his hometown of Sheffield: Ron Springett for Wednesday, Alan Hodgkinson for United. (Springett would be one of Banks' backups in '66.)

In 1964, Leicester won The League Cup, winning the Final over Stoke City. (Their ageless wonder, Stanley Matthews, did not play.) Although the "Foxes" had won the 2nd division of England's Football League 4 times prior to this, this was their first major trophy.

England played all its 1966 World Cup matches at home, at Wembley. They opened the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay, and then beat Mexico and France, each by 2-0. England beat Argentina 1-0 in the Quarterfinal. In the Semifinal, it was 2-0 England before Portugal were awarded a penalty in the 82nd minute.

Banks had played every minute of every game, and had kept a clean sheet for 441 minutes. But Eusébio, who had scored 4 goals against North Korea in Portugal's Quarterfinal, stepped up, and scored. England's defense held, and it ended 2-1. England was in the Final against West Germany.

Helmut Haller, then with Italian team Bologna, scored in the 12th minute, ending 462 minutes of no one scoring on Banks from open play in the tournament. But Geoff Hurst of East London team West Ham United scored in the 18th, and fellow Hammer Martin Peters scored in the 78th. The World Cup was theirs, or so it seemed. In the 89th minute, Wolfgang Weber of FC Köln made it 2-2.

At some point in his career, Banks was quoted as saying, "At that level, every goal is like a knife in the ribs."

It was off to extra time. Hurst scored in the 101st minute, a goal which is still debated today. In the 120th and last minute -- there would be a minute of stoppage time -- Hurst drove toward the German goal again, and as he became the 1st person to score 3 goals in a World Cup Final, fans ran onto the field. This prompted the BBC's Kenneth Wolstenholme to deliver what's become the most famous line in the history of British sportscasting: "Some people are on the pitch! They think it's all over... It is now!"

(Hurst remains the only man to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final. In 2015, Carli Lloyd of the U.S. became the 1st woman to do it.)

England had won, 4-2. Gordon Banks had allowed 2 goals in 90 minutes, but it wasn't enough for Germany. Banks had given his teammates every chance to win the 1st 5 games, and they picked him up in the 6th. He was a World Champion, and a hero.
Handed the Jules Rimet Trophy
by England Captain Bobby Moore

*

But toward the end of the next season, 1966-67, Leicester City's board of directors pressured manager Matt Gillies into dropping Banks in favor of Peter Shilton. Gillies said, "We think your best days are behind you, and you should move on." But defender Richie Norman told Banks it was the board's fault, not the manager's: Shilton had told them he would leave the team unless he became the starter.

On the one hand, Shilton would become England's top goalie in the 1970s and '80s. On the other hand, this was not the 1st contractual cock-up by Leicester: They had already sold the Captain of their League Cup winners, midfielder Frank McLintock, to North London team Arsenal (where he was converted to a centreback and captained their 1971 League and FA Cup "Double" winners), and were already seriously underpaying him and Banks.

And now, Banks was being pushed out, too. Sic transit gloria trophaeum mundi. (Thus goes the glory of the World Cup.)

For a price of £50,000 -- and this was before "decimalisation," the restructuring of British currency -- it was off to Stoke City, in Staffordshire, where he joined one of his '66 England teammates, George Eastham, who had starred for Newcastle United and Arsenal, and had challenged the maximum wage (making him English soccer's Curt Flood) and won (making him their Andy Messersmith). With some irony, Banks' 1st home game for Stoke was against Leicester, and the "Potters" beat the Foxes 3-1.

In 1968, Banks was again England's Number 1, as they finished 3rd in the European Championships. In England's off-season, some of their teams contributed players to America's new North American Soccer League, and so Banks played 7 games for the Cleveland Stokers.

The following season, on September 14, he played for Stoke against McLintock and Arsenal at Highbury. Novelist Nick Hornby later wrote that this was the 1st Arsenal match he attended, at age 11. Banks deflected a penalty taken by Terry Neill, later to manage Arsenal to the 1979 FA Cup, but the ball came back to Neill, and he scored. The game ended 1-0 to The Arsenal.

England went into the 1970 World Cup in Mexico as defending champions, but the heat and altitude got to them. They opened the Group Stage with a 1-0 win over Romania, and ended it with a win over Czechoslovakia. But it would be the middle game that would be remembered, in Guadalajara, against Brazil, winners in 1958 and 1962.

Alan Mullery, a Tottenham player who was not on the 1966 team, saw what has been called the greatest save ever:

Jairzinho was flying down the wing, and he clips the ball to the far post, and Pelé, who climbed to such a height better than anybody else, headed the ball and Gordon went from one post to another and he flicks the ball with his fingertips and it just goes over the crossbar.

Bobby Charlton, who was one of the stars of the 1966 team, would say, many years later, "Even though I was on the pitch and have seen it many times since, I still don't know how he saved that header from Pelé."

Pelé himself said, "When you are a footballer, you know straight away how well you have hit the ball. I hit that header exactly as I had hoped. Exactly where I wanted it to go. And I was ready to celebrate.


"But then, this man, Banks, appeared in my sight, like a kind of blue phantom, is how I described him. He came from nowhere and he did something I didn't feel was possible. He pushed my header, somehow, up and over. And I couldn't believe what I saw. Even now when I watch it, I can't believe it. I can't believe how he moved so far, so fast.
"I scored so many goals in my life, but many people, when they meet me, always ask me about that save. While it was indeed phenomenal, my memory of Gordon is not defined by that. It is defined by his friendship. He was a kind and warm man who gave so much to people.

"So I am glad he saved my header, because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure."

Indeed, Pelé and Banks are forever linked, and often appeared at events together, like Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca, like Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. 

Perhaps England deserved to win the game because of that. But, like the Mets after the Endy Chavez catch in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series, it was not to be. Jairzinho scored in the 59th minute, and Brazil won 1-0. The end of the game featured another iconic moment: Pelé and Bobby Moore, England's Captain, exchanging shirts, a white man and a black man in a moment of great sportsmanship that the world will never forget.
England advanced to the Quarterfinal, in León, but Banks became violently ill the night before -- shades of Tottenham's "Lasagne-gate" incident in 2006. Ramsey decided he couldn't risk Banks in the heat and altitude, and started Peter Bonetti of West London team Chelsea instead. West Germany got its revenge for '66: Mullery and Peters scored to give England a 2-0 lead in the 2nd half, but Bonetti allowed 2 goals in a 14-minute stretch, and Germany won 3-2 in extra time.

*

In 1972, Stoke City defeated Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley Stadium, and won the League Cup Final. Banks allowed a goal to Peter Osgood, one of the heroes of Chelsea's 1970 FA Cup win, but got goals from Eastham and Terry Conroy, past Bonetti.

In the 156 seasons of Stoke City Football Club, this is their only major trophy -- if, that is, you consider the League Cup a major trophy. With Banks in goal and Eastham up from, they reached the Semifinal of the FA Cup in 1971 and 1972, but lost to Arsenal both times. (They've won the 2nd division in 1933 and 1963, and the Football League Trophy for 3rd and 4th division teams in 1992 and 2000, and got to the FA Cup Final in 2011.)
Lifting the League Cup with John Marsh

But on October 22, he lost control of his Ford Consul (the British version of the Ford Granada), crashed into an Austin A60 van, and ended up in a ditch. He got 200 stitches on his face, and lost the sight in his right eye. He retired following the end of the 1972-73 season.

In 1977, at age 39 and only able to see out of 1 eye, Banks was able to come out of retirement, and lead the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to their division's title. They lost in the Quarterfinals -- to Pelé and the New York Cosmos. In 26 games, he conceded only 29 goals, and was named NASL Goalkeeper of the Year. That should show you the difference between England's Football League and the NASL in the 1970s.

Banks helped the Strikers reach the Playoffs again in 1978, getting to the Semifinals, where they were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He played 11 games that season, and retired for good.

He went on to coach at Port Vale, the other team in Stoke-on-Trent, and managed Telford United in 1980. He continued to live in Stoke, but ran a hospitality company based in Leicester. When it went under, he basically spent the rest of his life as a professional sports hero, invited to hundreds of events, including award shows and anniversary dinners.

When Stanley Matthews died in 2000, Banks was named to Sir Stan's post as president of Stoke City Football Club. A statue of him was dedicated outside what's now named the bet365 Stadium, unveiled by Pelé. He was also named to the English Football Hall of Fame and the City of Stoke-on-Trent Hall of Fame, and was the 1st inductee into the Sheffield Walk of Fame. A 2002 poll named him the 2nd-greatest goalkeeper of all time, behind Lev Yashin.
With his statue at Stoke's bet365 Stadium

In 2015, he began receiving treatment for kidney cancer. In 2017, he joined Geoff Hurst to launch the Alzheirm's Society's "United Against Dementia" campaign, in honor of his brother David, and his England teammates Martin Peters (also a West Ham teammate of Hurst's), Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson.

Jack Charlton, also of the 1966 team, has been diagnosed with memory loss, although from a different cause. Jeff Astle, star of the West Bromwich Albion side that beat Everton for the 1968 FA Cup and a member of the 1970 England World Cup team, had previously been affected by brain injury and died too soon. It is suspected that the constant headings of the heavier ball of the time contributed to these men's afflictions.

Gordon Banks died today, February 12, 2018, in Stoke-on-Trent. He was 81 years old. The tributes have come in from all over the world.

Bobby Charlton: "Gordon was a fantastic goalkeeper, without doubt, one of the best England has ever had. I was proud to call him a teammate. Obviously, we shared that great day in 1966, but it was more than that."

Geoff Hurst: "Very sad to hear the news that Gordon has died. One of the very greatest. Thinking especially of Ursula, Julia, Wendy and Robert. Sad for football, Stoke City and for England fans. Will be very sadly missed."

Pelé: "I have great sadness in my heart today, and I send condolences to the family he was so proud of. Rest in peace, my friend. Yes, you were a goalkeeper with magic. But you were also so much more. You were a fine human being."

Bob Wilson, who opposed him in goal many times for Arsenal: "Thanks for the memories, friendship and inspiration."

Gianluigi Buffon, legend of Italy and Juventus: "I am one of the many who built their dreams on your perfect save! Once more, with all my heart: thank you, dear Gordon Banks."

Kasper Schmeichel, current Leicester goalie, backbone of their 2016 Premier League title, and son of Denmark and Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel: "No photos or videos of that save versus Pelé will ever do it justice. A legend for all goalkeepers and a Leicester City great."

Thibaut Coutrois, goalkeeper for Belgium and Real Madrid, who won 2 League titles and an FA Cup with Chelsea: "Iconic saves, legendary goalkeeper. Today, football has lost a great example. My thoughts are with his family!"

Whoever writes the English branch of the Twitter feed for the German national team wrote, "A fierce opponent and a good man. Rest in peace, Gordon Banks."

The Football League has announced that a minute's applause will be held in his memory, before all fixtures from today until Sunday. This should also be done before the domestic cup finals (the League Cup Final on February 24, and the FA Cup Final on May 18), both at the new Wembley Stadium.

*

Banks' death leaves the following players still alive from the 1963 FA Centennial Game, over 55 years later:

For England, 9 players: Gordon Milne of Liverpool, Maurice Norman and Jimmy Breaves of Tottenham, Terry Paine of Southampton, George Eastham of Arsenal, Bobby Charlton of Manchester United, Tony Waiters of Blackpool, Ron Flowers of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Tony Kay of Everton.

For The Rest of the World, 5 players: Karl-Heinz Schnellinger of Germany and FC Köln, Denis Law of Scotland and Manchester United, Francisco Gento of Spain and Real Madrid, Milutin Šoškić of Yugoslavia (now Serbia) and Partizan Belgrade, and Luis Eyzaguirre of Chile and Universidad de Chile.

And from England's 1966 World Cup winners: Into death, Banks follows Bobby Moore in 1993. Manager Alf Ramsey in 1999, Alan Ball in 2007, John Connelly in 2012, Ron Springett and Gerry Byrne in 2015, and Jimmy Armfield and Ray Wilson in 2018.


Still alive, 14 out of 22: George Cohen, Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Charlton (Jack's brother), Geoff Hurst, Peter Bonetti, Martin Peters, Ron Flowers, Norman Hunter, Terry Paine, Ian Callaghan, Roger Hunt and George Eastham. But, as I said, Stiles, Peters and Jack Charlton are dealing with dementia; while Greaves is wheelchair-bound following a stroke.

As I wrote upon Wilson's death last year, now updated: Eight of the 22 have had the One Great Referee blow for full-time. The rest are in stoppage time. May what remains of their lives be as comfortable as possible.