Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dropping the Ball, Dropping the Ball

Happy New Year to all.

Every year, in New York's Times Square, at one minute to midnight on New Year's Eve, a ball is dropped to signal the New Year.

Since the Mets are so good at dropping balls, which one will be chosen for the Times Square drop?

Here are the Top 10 Ball-Drops in Sports for 2008. By "ball-drop" I mean on-field blunders or management miscues.

10. Alex Rodriguez. Maybe it's time to get him a lifetime achievement award.

9. The University of Memphis basketball team. Remember what that preening schmo John Calipari was coaching at the University of Massachusetts? They beat Temple in a game, and Temple coach John Chaney was, shall we say, rather miffed. He busted into Cal's postgame press conference, and yelled at Cal, "I'll kill you! I'll kick your ass!"

Now, I don't advocate the former, although the latter would've been fun to see. But if, for whatever reason, the incredibly overrated Calipari were not coaching Memphis in the 2008 National Championship Game, would they have blown a big late lead against the University of Kansas? Maybe, because Kansas was a very good team that deserved to win. That's why I can't rank this one any higher than 9th.

Dishonorable mention to the University of Michigan football team, for the worst season in their history, but at least they beat Notre Dame, which gets another dishonorable mention.

8. The Chicago Bears. The National Hockey League Winter Classic, to be held tomorrow afternoon, between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings? No problem there. But at Wrigley Field? No, the shape of the field and the stadium is totally unsuited to hockey! It should have been at Soldier Field, whose shape is much better-suited.

The Bears objected, saying they were hoping to host a first-round Playoff game at Soldier Field. How'd that work out, Not-So-Monstrous-Ones-of-the-Midway?

7. The New Jersey Devils. I'm taking this one personally, and they have gotten better in the season that started in October. But, in April, they blew it in the 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You do not blow it in the first round of the Playoffs in your first season in a great new home arena, or even in a halfway decent one.

And to the damned Rangers? Don't you know the Rangers are supposed to suck? Gentlemen, we must do better in 2009.

6. The New York Jets. They dumped Chad Pennington as their quarterback in favor of Brett Favre. Result? Last game of the season, the Dolphins beat the Jets, at the Meadowlands, to win the AFC East and keep the J-E-T-S-Oy-yi-yi out of the Playoffs. And on his last play (ever?), Favre looks like not just an old player but a damn fool.

Frankly, I'm beginning to wonder if the Jets even have any reason to continue to exist.

5. The Dallas Cowboys. This season, they weren't just their usual bunch of preening schmoes, they were a bunch of whining crybabies. What a magnificent season-ender the Philadelphia Eagles put on the Cowbozos: 44-6! And Tony Romo's girlfriend Jessica "the Jinx" Simpson wasn't even in the house! But Terrell Owens and Adam "Dropman" Jones were.

Dishonorable mention to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Denver Broncos, each of whom only had to win 1 of their last 3 games to make the Playoffs, and combined to go 0-6 in those games.

4. Kobe Bryant. He wanted the Los Angeles Lakers to be his team. He wanted to win an NBA Championship without Shaquille O'Neal. He got half of what he wanted.

The Shaq-Kobe question is settled for all time. Even if Kobe does someday win a title without Shaq... even if he manages to top Shaq by winning 2 without him... it won't be as "the best basketball player in the world," and it won't be with the Lakers as "Kobe's team." It'll have to be an incredibly balanced team, like the one that beat him in the 2008 Finals, the Boston Celtics.

You think Kevin Garnett cares that nobody thinks of the '08 Celtics as "K.G.'s team"? He didn't care who got the credit, he just wanted the title. And he got it.

Shaq, you spoke not only for yourself, but for everyone who's sick of Kobe's act, when you rapped, "Kobe! Tell me how my ass taste!"

3. The New England Patriots. No, not for the season of theirs that ended in December, the one that ended in February. Eighteen and one. Not Number 1.

There have been many chokes by Boston/New England sports teams, but this one is already getting overlooked, because the team benefiting from it, the New York Giants, is getting more out of it than the team that perpetrated it, the Cheatriots.

With Tom Bundchen (a.k.a. Brady) going down in the 1st quarter of the next game the Pats played that mattered, and then missing the Playoffs (even though they went 11-5 and the San Diego Chargers made it as AFC West Champs though they went 8-8), the punishment for their 3 Super Bowl cheats is... aw, hell, it ain't even close to being enough!

2. The New York Mets. They should open Citi Field on February 2, because the last 2 Septembers have been "Groundhog Day." They should get Bill Murray to throw out the first ball. Except he can't. Partly because he's a Chicago Cubs fan. And partly because, at the end of the film Groundhog Day, he got it right. The Mets never do. The Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives.

True, the Yankees were eliminated a week sooner, and were out of the race sooner. But that means that, unlike the Mets, they didn't put their fans through an extra month's worth of misery, not to mention almost an identical misery of the preceding season. And they were able to close out Yankee Stadium, if not with another World Championship, then at least with a win and without embarrassing themselves.

The Mets, as usual, were unable to die with dignity.

And the Number 1 Biggest Ball-Drop in Sports for Calendar Year 2008:

1. The Met Fans. The Flushing Heathen fell for it. Again. When will they ever learn?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CC? Yes, We Can! And Flash In the Hall

CC Sabathia is apparently about to sign with the Yankees. So he gets the best of both worlds: He pitches for the baseball franchise, and he can afford the off-season house on the West Coast that he wants, leading many to think he would sign with the Dodgers.

Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, who set a new single-season record by recording 62 saves with the Angels, has signed with the Mets. Which means K-Rod walks home a Pennant-losing run with the bases loaded (think: Kenny Rogers in 1999), or gives up a cheap home run to some banjo hitter (think: Armando Benitez many times from 1996 to 2001 or Aaron Heilman in 2006).

The Cleveland Indians appear to be close to signing Kerry Wood, the former Cubs starter whose brilliant career was cut short by injury, until he became their closer this year, and was reborn. Then they got rid of him. Dumb decisions like this are why, in the words of Steve Goodman (the late, great songwriter who wrote the train song "The City of New Orleans"), "The law of averages says anything will happen that can, but the last time the Cubs won a National League Pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan." 1945.

*

Joe Gordon, the Yankee 2nd baseman from 1938 to 1946, was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee.
Good choice. But, again, two obvious choices got hosed: Ron Santo, the Cubs third baseman of the 1960s and 1970s, and Gil Hodges, the Dodgers first baseman of the 1940s and 1950s, who managed the Mets to the 1969 World Championship.

"Flash" Gordon, nicknamed for the comic strip character played in movies by Olympic swimming Gold Medalist Buster Crabbe, died in 1978, so he won't be accepting in person. Hodges died in 1972 while still Met manager, and has never been able to speak up for his own cause, which includes being one of the top power hitters of his era, the best-fielding first baseman of that time, and did I mention that he actually managed the Mets to a Series? Santo, the top National League third baseman of his time and a really good hitter, is still alive, and broadcasting for the Cubs, but has diabetes and has lost both legs to it, walking on prostheses and crutches. I don't know how much longer he has, but if anyone in baseball has reason to be bitter (through everything that's happened to both himself and the Cubs), he's the one.

*

Days until the Devils play another nearby rival: 2, Friday night, at home against the Rangers (who suck).

Days until Rutgers plays again: 19. (I'll have an entry about them soon.)

Days until the end of the Bush Administration and the Obama Inauguration: 41.

Days until the dismantling of the original Yankee Stadium begins: 95.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 119.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 127.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 275.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 351.

Friday, December 5, 2008

RU Football, Very Good; EB Football, Not So Much

When does a loss to your biggest rival stop hurting? When I get over East Brunswick High School's 1986 football loss to Madison Central, the school now known as Old Bridge High, I'll let you know. (And we didn't even play them on Thanksgiving back then.) Anyway, as to the latest, it's taken me eight days to "get over it" enough to post about it.

EB lost the Thanksgiving game, 24-21. We took a 21-17 lead in the 4th quarter, but poor pass coverage let Old Bridge get close enough to score a winning touchdown. The difference was two field goal attempts, one in the 2nd quarter and one on the final play, that went wide in the wind. We can't blame the kicker, especially for the last one: From the 13-yard line, in that wind, we should have gone for the winning touchdown instead of the tying tie.

The Bears' final record is 4-6, including 5 leads blown in the second half, 3 of them in the 4th quarter, 2 of them within the last 4 minutes. And this is the 16th time in the last 18 years we've lost to the team that puts the "OB" in "slob." It's 13 out of 15 since we started playing them on Thanksgiving in 1994; overall, going back to 1963, their first season of football (they were known as Madison Township until 1975, when the town's name was changed to Old Bridge, then they were Madison Central until merging with crosstown Cedar Ridge in 1994), and our third, the once-Blue, now Purple Bastards lead 27-19-2. (I'm not counting our record against Cedar Ridge, which was pathetic for nearly all of its football history from 1969 to 1993; if I counted all games against teams from Madison/Old Bridge Township, EB would lead 35-30-2.)

It's too bad, because I really, really, really wanted to do to them what English "football" fans sometimes do, which is take the Monkees' tune "Daydream Believer" and adapt it for their arch-rivals, in my case the school that plays its games at the intersection of U.S. Route 9 and County Route 516:

Cheer up, 516!
Oh, what can it mean
to a... Sad Purple Bastard
with a... shit football team!

Alas, despite their final record of 3-7, they were not shit on Thanksgiving, and they've got a lot of guys coming back. But then, so do we, and next year, it's at Jay Doyle Field, a.k.a. "Bear Mountain." The Big Green will be ready for the Purple Bastards.

We'd better be...

*

In 2004, Rutgers beat the University of Louisville at home. In 2005, Rutgers went out to Louisville, then highly-ranked, and ran out onto the field and jumped on their midfield logo. Big mistake: Louisville won, 56-5. In 2006, Louisville came into Rutgers Stadium with both teams undefeated on November 9, and pulled off a 28-25 nationally-televised win that still ranks as the program's signature win, and ruined Louisville's Big East and National Championship hopes, and in some ways their program hasn't recovered. (Rutgers fell apart shortly thereafter, but has stayed good.) In 2007, on the road, Rutgers lost on a last-minute Louisville field goal.

These two teams, conference opponents but separated by 750 miles, just don't like each other.

They played last night in the regular-season finale for both teams. Rutgers came out like a house afire, and torched Louisville for seven touchdowns, while the RU defense totally smothered the Cardinals. The Scarlet Knights led at halftime, 49-0, and cruised to a 63-14 victory. With ex-Louisville coach Bobby Petrino now making a mess of things at the University of Arkansas, I don't expect Louisville to get much in the way of revenge next season.

After a 1-5 start, Rutgers is now 7-5, and will definitely go to a bowl game, probably the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Oh, the prestigue.) Four straight years of bowl games after over 100 years of the bowls being in existence and only one visit to any by Rutgers -- and that one we made up ourselves just so we could go and we lost it and didn't revive it because only 25,000 people showed up at the frigid Meadowlands.

Coach Greg Schiano was a happy man last night. So was quarterback Mike Teel, who broke a Rutgers record and tied a Big East record with 7 touchdown passes.

Good way to end a rollercoaster of a regular season. RU finishes 5-2 in the Big East, which will be no worse than 2nd behind Cincinnati, their highest finish ever. If Pittsburgh or West Virginia wins on Saturday, that team (or both) will be 5-2 and be tied with Rutgers. If they both lose (not likely), RU will be 2nd all but itself.

You know who I feel sorry for? The cheerleaders who had to do all those push-ups every time RU scored last night.
*

The Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime in Philly last night. And they blew up their house, too. (Sorry, they didn't really blow up the Wachovia Center. I just drifted over into a Bruce Springsteen song.) Tomorrow night, they go up to Montreal to play the Canadiens, who beat the Rangers last night. Did I ever mention I hate the Rangers?

I still haven't heard anything new about the Yankees trying to sign CC Sabathia.

So the Mets are going to keep the name Citi Field for their new ballpark, despite CitiGroup's troubles. They're finally building what looks like a decent ballpark, and they screw that up, too. But then, what did you expect: They're the Mets! You know what M-E-T-S stands for, right?

My
Entire
Team
Sucks!

*

Days until the Devils play another nearby rival: 7, next Friday night, at home against the Rangers (who suck).

Days until Rutgers plays again: 22, on December 27, presuming they actually are headed for the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, against a team yet to be determined but definitely from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Days until the end of the Bush Administration and the Obama Inauguration: 46.

Days until the dismantling of the original Yankee Stadium begins: 100.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 124.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 132.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 280.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 356. You can tell a rivalry is nasty when the team that loses starts counting down the days until the next clash with 365. I must be getting mature in my middle age: I didn't start a new count in my head until 364.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Crumbs From the Hot Stove League; Pete Newell, 1915-2008

It's been a while since I posted anything. I apologize. Here's some crumbs from the Hot Stove League:

Assuming the Yankees can find David Wells' uniform from his last season with the team, 2003 -- probably the only one in team history that would fit CC Sabathia, and he does seem to have lost some weight since -- open the vault. The House of Steinbrenner will make its money back, and they'll have a more reliable pitcher than The Great Johan Santana.

Getting Nick Swisher was a good trade. He drives in runs. Who cares what his hair, facial or otherwise, looks like. He won't be Thurman Munson, but if he can hit anything like the old Captain did, then I don't care if he looks like a Geico Caveman. Or even like Johnny Damon when he was still with the enemy.

I still don't want Manny Ramirez in Pinstripes. We already have too much drama with Double Play-Rod. Let the L.A. Bums overpay to keep him.

Getting rid of Kerry Wood was a dumb move for the Chicago Cubs. Here was a guy who totally worked out for them in the last chance they gave him. He's not the reason they tanked in the Playoffs. And... they get rid of him? Decisions like this are why, in the words of the late songwriter and Cub fan Steve Goodman, "The last time the Cubs won a National League Pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan." (Not to be confused with the Yankees sending Darrell Rasner to a Japanese team.)

But if the Mets signed Kerry Wood, he'd be going from the Curse of the Billy Goat, or the Curse of Fred Merkle, both of which hit him enough to make him a question mark, to the Curse of Kevin Mitchell.

I'd advise the House of Wilpon to stay away from him, but since when have they ever listened to me? Or to anyone with any sense?

*

East Brunswick lost its "consolation game" to a garbage Howell team, 25-22. For the 4th time this season, we blew a 2nd-half lead. For the 2nd time this season, we blew a 4th-quarter lead, leading 14-6 going in.

We go into the finale with a 4-5 record, and have to beat the Purple B@$+@rds just to finish .500. They're 2-7. By all rights, we should be able to pound them. But the football team at Dear Old Alma Mater cannot be trusted this season. I predict the turkey will be one foul fowl this Thanksgiving.

Rutgers 49, South Florida 16. The Scarlet Knights are now 5-5 with two very winnable games left. Another bowl is still possible. Amazing.

Already, the talk around here is of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl. Oh, spare me.

*

Pete Newell died at age 93. He coached the University of San Francisco to the 1949 NIT Championship, at a time when that was still considered college basketball's "real national championship." He went across the Bay and led the University of California to the 1959 NCAA Championship, with Darrell Imhoff as his center, beating West Virginia with Jerry West in the Final.

He took them back to the Championship Game in 1960, losing to an Ohio State team that had Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, and a reserve named Bobby Knight, who went on to become one of the great coaches himself and always looked upon Newell as something of an inspiration.

Newell was as high-strung as Knight, but more even-tempered: There were no embarrassing incidents on his record. Which was good, because of the role he had in the 1960s. At age 44, when he took Cal back into that '60 Final Four (only they didn't call it the "Final Four" yet), he was advised by his doctor to give up coaching.

He stayed on as athletic director, meaning he was in charge of the athletic department when the school -- known as "Cal" for sports purposes but "Berkeley" for just about everything else -- went through an incredibly turbulent period that included the "Berkeley Free Speech Movement."

His last active coaching job was in the 1960 Olympics. The U.S. team that won the Gold Medal was considered the best basketball team ever assembled, until the 1984 and 1992 U.S. teams. It featured Imhoff, West, Lucas, Oscar Robertson, Walt Bellamy, Bob Boozer and Terry Dischinger -- 7 future NBA All-Stars, and the first 5 are in the Basketball Hall of Fame, as is Newell. This team was so good that Havlicek, who went on to become the all-time leading scorer in Boston Celtics history (and still is, ahead of Bill Russell and Larry Bird), made it only as an alternate.

Newell later established a basketball camp for centers, where his students included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Ralph Sampson and Shaquille O'Neal. His effect on the game lasted from the 1940s to the 2000s -- from the era of George Mikan and Bob Kurland to that of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and LeBron James.

*

Days until the Devils play another nearby rival: 3, Friday night, at home vs. the Islanders.

Days until Rutgers plays again: 4.

Days until the East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 9.

Days until the end of the Bush Administration and the Obama Inauguration: 63. Nine... more... weeks. Hallelujah.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 141.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 149. (At least, officially. Two exhibition games with the Cubs have been announced, but they won't count.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Be Silly: The World Championship to Philly

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies for winning the World Series, with a truly Philadelphian performance: It wasn't pretty, but they did what they had to do against the pretty boys from the Sun Belt, and they proved they were better -- not just tougher, which we all knew, but better.

A lot of old Phils are smiling down on them. In memoriam:

Harry Wright, 1835-1895
Sam Thompson, 1860-1922
Billy Hamilton, 1866-1940

Pat Moran 1876-1924
Gavvy Cravath, 1881-1963
Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1887-1950
Chuck Klein, 1904-1958Eddie Sawyer, 1910-1997
Byrum Saam, 1914-1990
Bob Carpenter, 1915-1990
Jim Konstanty, 1917-1976
Dick Sisler, 1920-1998
Paul Owens, 1924-2003
Gene Mauch, 1925-2005
Granny Hamner, 1927-1993
Richie Ashburn, 1927-1997Chris Short, 1937-1991
Johnny Callison, 1939-2006
Tug McGraw, 1944-2004

Figures in bold are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, technically if not officially including Saam, who received the Hall's award for lifetime achievement in broadcasting, the Ford Frick Award, as has Harry Kalas. Here's Harry the K's call of the final out:

One strike away. Nothing and two the count to Hinske. Fans on their feet. Rally towels are being waved. Brad Lidge stretches. The oh-two pitch: Swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball! ... And let the city celebrate!

As his old partner Whitey (Ashburn) was no doubt saying from that great press box in the sky, "Hard to believe, Harry."

This was not a bad World Series. Far from it. Four of the five games were close and entertaining, and the one that wasn't close was still entertaining with the Phils' booming bats. And as for the umpiring, it hurt both teams equally, so complaining does no one any good. As for the weather, that's the chance you take, unless you want every team to play under a dome, and what fool wants that? Football can be played anywhere. Baseball is supposed to be played outdoors.

The Phils also showed the way to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, which is to do what I didn't do all year, and what the Yankees didn't do all year, and what the Red Sox didn't do until the middle of Game 5 of the ALCS: Take them seriously, and don't presume the game is won until you actually get the last out and the lead.

They're not frauds, but if the Yanks, the BoSox, and the rest of the American League take them seriously in 2009, the 2008 Rays will prove to be every bit the fluke that the 2007 Colorado Rockies and the 2006 Detroit Tigers turned out to be.

The Curse of Billy Penn, if it ever existed, is dead. Now, Philly has to work on:

* The Curse of Harold Katz: The 76ers haven't won the NBA since 1983, following Katz's boneheaded 1986 trade of Moses Malone and the top draft pick.

* The Curse of Leon Stickle: The Flyers haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1975, including Stickle's failure to call offside against the New York Islanders, influencing the 1980 Cup.

* The Curse of the Dutchman: Norm Van Brocklin quarterbacked the Eagles to the 1960 NFL Championship and retired, thinking that he'd be appointed head coach to succeed the also-retiring Buck Shaw, and he wasn't.

The Yankees, faced with the Rays and the Red Sox, and the Mets, faced with the Phillies, have to head toward 2009 with the same idea: Expect a battle, and build a team of battlers. That's what George Steinbrenner said after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series: "They're battlers, and New York is a city of battlers. You battle for everything in this town: For cabs, for tables in restaurants, for everything."

The Phillies are battlers. Philadelphia is a hard city. So are Trenton, Camden, Chester, Wilmington, and a few other smaller cities nearby.

Both New York ballclubs could use a few more Paul O'Neills, or Thurman Munsons, or Lou Piniellas, or Keith Hernandezes, or Lenny Dykstras. Send a Catfish Hunter, a Sparky Lyle, a Bob Ojeda, a David Cone or a Jeff Nelson to the mound. New York baseball fans don't demand stardom -- I'm talking to you, men of the House of Steinbrenner, but also to you, men of the House of Wilpon -- but we expect competence. If we get both, we can win.

Get both.

Again, congratulations to the Fightin' Phils, to the City of Philadelphia, and to all the Delaware Valley, from Scranton in the north to Rehoboth Beach in the south, from Atlantic City in the east to Lancaster in the west.

And, oh yeah: I told you so. I said Phils in 5, with the Rays only winning Game 2. It's so rare that I get things that right, and so I'm telling you so that I told you so.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2008 World Series: Phillies in 5

Here's my predictions for the 2008 World Series, between the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies and the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays:

Game 1, tonight at Tropicana "Field": Cole Hamels for the Phils vs. Scott Kazmir for the Rays. Hamels was the MVP of the NLCS. Home-field advantage has been the biggest key to the Rays' success.

I think if Hamels is on his game, and Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley take advantage of the hitters' "park" they'll be in, the Phillies will take Game 1, and this could be a short Series. The Phils might be able to shake off a loss by their ace on the road in Game 1, but the Rays would probably not be able to handle a loss by their ace at home in Game 1. Phils, 1-0. (That's the number of games; I'm not going to predict scores.)

Game 2, tomorrow night at the Trop: Brett Myers vs. James Shields. This may be the Rays' best chance at a win, as Shields is probably their best starter right now, and Myers is hardly at Hamels' level. Tie, 1-1.

Game 3, Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park: Jamie Moyer vs. Matt Garza. Garza was the MVP of the ALCS. But he's never pitched in anything like a World Series game, and not in anything like a postseason crowd in The Fighting City of Philadelphia. Moyer, a month shy of his 46th birthday, wasn't on the Phils' 1980 World Champions, but it sure seems like it. (A Philly-area native, he was at the Phils' victory parade. His big-league debut was with the Chicago Cubs in 1986.)

The Philly fans are going to be beyond nuts, sensing perhaps their best chance at a World Championship in any sport since the '83 76ers -- the '93 Phils were not going to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, the Flyers haven't had a Cup-worthy goalie since Bernie Parent, and deep down I think they knew the Eagles were not going to beat the New England Patriots in that Super Bowl. Phils, 2-1.

Game 4, Sunday night at CBP: Joe Blanton vs. Andy Sonnastine. This could be the Rays' last chance to make it a competitive Series, but Blanton has become a completely different pitcher since coming over in a midseason trade with Oakland. Phils, 3-1.

Game 5: Hamels vs. Kazmir, presumably. It won't make the Rays a total "fraud," but it will be cold water in the face, showing that they have work to do to earn the respect of baseball fans who, a year after the 2007 World Series, have already brushed last year's Colorado Rockies off as a fluke, albeit an entertaining one. Phils, 4-1 and a parade down Broad Street.

As Richie Ashburn would've said, "Hard to believe, Harry"? No, "Bet yer house on it, Harry!"

OK, considering the Bush Recession, don't bet your house on it. Especially since your mortgage company may have already done so. But the Phils will win.

UPDATE: While my pre-postseason predictions were really wrong -- I only got 1 out of 4 Division Series right -- my Series prediction turned out to be right on the money, including guessing which game the Rays would win.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Aaron Boone + 5 Years

October 16, 2003. Well, October 17, at 12:16 AM. Aaron Boone batting against Tim Wakefield. Charlie Steiner with the call:

There's a fly ball, deep to left! It's on its way! There it goes! And the Yankees are going to the World Series! Aaron Boone has hit a home run! The Yankees go to the World Series for the 39th time in their remarkable history!

Has it really been 5 years?

The Top 10 Strangest Things That Have Happened In Sports Since the Aaron Boone Game

10. Stanley Cups have been won by Tampa Bay, North Carolina and Anaheim. This will be revisited, in a way, in Number 7.

9. A major league sport's governing body cancelled an entire season -- the NHL in 2004-05 -- because the owners decided not playing at all, and the money they'd lose as a result, was worth breaking the players' union. Bastards.

(The team owners, not the players. Well, some of them, but that's because they're Rangers, Flyers or other thugs, not because they belong to a union.)

8. Scott Gomez is a New York Ranger. Scott Niedermayer playing for the Anaheim Ducks (Mighty or otherwise) is understandable, since he could join his brother Rob. Brian Rafalski playing for the Detroit Red Wings is understandable, as they're one of the NHL's powerhouses, and he's from Dearborn. Both Nieder and Raffy winning Stanley Cups elsewhere is not fun for Devils fans, but we don't mind that much.

But Gomez? In a Blueshirt? The damn traitor! RANGERS SUCK!

7. Tampa Bay, having already won a Super Bowl almost 2 years before the Boone homer, has both won a Stanley Cup and come within 1 win of an American League Pennant. The Rays can eliminate the Red Sox tonight and move on to face the Phillies. Speaking of whom...

6. The New York Mets, once known for comebacks (1969 regular season, 1973 regular season, 1986 World Series), have choked away a September lead in their Division and missed the Playoffs completely.

While the Philadelphia Phillies, once known for chokes (1964 regular season, 1977 NLCS, 1982 regular season, 1983 World Series, 1993 World Series), have gone on a September tear and won their Division, and in so doing, have benefited from another team's choke. Twice. And now, the Phils have a Pennant out of it.

5. The Chicago White Sox have won a World Series, in 2005, something neither Chicago baseball team had managed to do since 1917. And they're still less popular in the Chicagoland area than the Cubs! What does a ballclub have to do?

4. Brett Favre is not only no longer the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, he's the starting quarterback of the New York Jets. (Had to put this one at Number 4, even though, for some people, it could be Number 1.)

3. Rutgers University went to bowl games. In 3 consecutive seasons. And won the last 2. Unbelievable.

2. East Brunswick High School won a Central Jersey Group IV football championship. Deep in my heart, I had long stopped believing we would overcome one day. But we did.

1. The Boston Red Sox have won 2 World Series. One, I suppose, was acceptable, even the way they won the Pennant to get to that Series. But 2? No, not acceptable. And easily the strangest thing to have happened in the 5 years since.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Top 10 Moments at Shea Stadium


The dismantling of the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium has begun. A mercy killing.

Top 10 Greatest Moments at Shea Stadium
Keep in mind, this is my list. It's not the same as a Met fan's list.

Honorable Mention. June 14, 1987. Mets-Phillies. Met fans are enjoying a beautiful afternoon, when a crucial Keith Hernandez error leads to a 5-run Phillies 9th, costing the Mets the game. Their day was ruined.

There was a lot of people, you know, they were waiting by the player's parking lot. Now, Kramer and Newman were coming down the ramp. Newman was in front of Kramer. Keith was coming toward them. As he passes, Newman turns and says, "Nice game, pretty boy!" And then, Keith spit on them!

Actually, it was Roger McDowell, behind the bushes along that gravelly road.

Actually, that was just an episode of Seinfeld. In reality, the Mets played the Pittsburgh Pirates on that date, away, at Three Rivers Stadium. The Mets won 7-3, with Hernandez going 2-for-4 with 2 RBI & 2 runs scored. Neither Keith nor any other Met committed an error.

10. Pretty much any day from 1977 to 1983. After general manager M. Donald Grant traded Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman in the Midnight Massacre of June 15, 1977, Shea had so few fans coming in it was called “Grant’s Tomb.” Things didn’t get much better after Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday bought the team from Lorinda de Roulet, daughter of the late founder Joan Payson, in 1980. By ’83, they had Darryl Strawberry and had traded for Keith Hernandez. The pieces would fall into place over the next three years.

But that ’77 to ’83 era is a permanent scar on the franchise’s history. Sure, any Yankee Fan can name the ’78 Yankees, but can you name the ’78 Mets? I can. 1st base, Mike Jorgenson. 2nd base, Doug Flynn. Shortstop, Sergio Ferrer. 3rd base, Lenny Randle. Left field, Steve Henderson. Center field, Lee Mazzilli. Right field, Bruce Boisclair. Catcher, John Stearns. Top starter, Craig Swan. Top reliever, Skip Lockwood. Of these, how many were invited to the Shea Goodbye ceremony? Just Flynn, Mazzilli, Stearns and Swan.

9. Take your pick of days in 1993. The seemingly endless winless streak of Anthony Young. Bobby “Make Yo’ Move, ‘Cause I’ll Hurt You” Bonilla. Bret “Bleacher Bum” Saberhagen. Vince “Firecracker” Coleman.

The Mets of 1962-65 had been laughably bad. The Mets of 1966-68 were merely mediocre, but still had the excuse of being an expansion team. The Mets of 1977-83 were just awful. But the Mets of 1993 weren’t just ahead of the ’62 originals’ record pace of 120 losses (a record for the 20th Century, anyway, and they ended up with “only” 103), they were overpriced (Saberhagen, Bonilla, an apparently useless Eddie Murray, all of whom perked up after they were traded), and some of them were juvenile delinquents.

It was the most disgraceful team in the history of New York baseball, in ways that a team that merely loses big games could never be.

8. June 26, 1998. Interleague matchup. The Mets lead the Yankees 4-3 in the top of the 7th, but the Yankees get 2 men on. Manager Bobby Valentine brings in lefthanded pitcher Brian Bohanon to face lefthanded hitter Paul O'Neill.

Wait, no, to face the lefty O'Neill, Bobby V brings in the righthanded Mel Rojas! What is he thinking? Rojas is thinking, "Curveball, low and away." Paulie Pinstripes is thinking, "That's just the kind of pitch I can reach, and knock over the left-center-field fence into that dopey little picnic area out there. Thank you very much." Okay, he probably only thought, "I got this."

But the rest happened. Yanks 6, Mets 4. The game ends Yanks 8, Mets 4.

O'Neill is second only to Mr. Reginald Martinez Jackson on my list of all-time favorite players, and this is one of the Top 10 Paul O'Neill Moments -- maybe Number 3, behind his 2000 World Series Game 1 performance and his farewell in Game 5 of the 2001 Series.

7. October 9, 1988. Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Mets lead the Los Angeles Dodgers 2 games to 1, and 4-3 in the top of the 9th, and Dwight Gooden, the greatest pitcher in the world (or so Met fans tell us), is pitching to Mike Scioscia. Finishing off this inning will put the Mets up 3 games to 1 with Game 5 tomorrow at Shea, and it’ll never get back to L.A., and the Mets will face the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. (As they did in 1973, and lost.)

Today, we know Scioscia as the manager of the Whatever They’re Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim. But 20 years ago, he was the Dodgers’ catcher. A good catcher. Not much of a hitter, though: In 408 at-bats that season, he batted .257 with 3 homers and 35 RBI.

But he hits a 2-run homer off the supposedly invincible Doctor K. Tie game. The Dodgers win it in the 12th, 5-4, to tie the series. The Dodgers win the Pennant when Orel Hershiser pitches a 5-hit shutout in Game 7, 6-0 at Dodger Stadium. The 3 previous Dodger wins in the series were all by 3 runs or less.

The Mets had much more talent than the Dodgers. This would have built upon their 1986 World Championship. And it was the first chance New York – the National League “half” of it, anyway – had their chance to get their revenge on the evil O’Malley family for the Treason of ’57. But they blew it.

The Curse of Kevin Mitchell had leveled its first blow against the Mutts. The Flushing Heathen would have to wait until 2006 to finally beat the Dodgers in the postseason – and, by then, the O’Malley family had been 9 years beyond selling the franchise.

6. December 29, 1968. American Football League Championship Game. The New York Jets win, advancing to Super Bowl III. The icing on the cake is that it was the Oakland Raiders that they beat. Although, let's be honest here: They were already the Raiders, but they weren't yet Da Raiduhs, if ya know what I mean. Still good, though, especially since this was just a month after the Heidi Bowl in Oakland.

And, as long as we're being honest: In the Super Bowl, Joe Namath was rather ordinary aside from his bold guarantee; in the AFL Title Game, he was magnificent. And I'm not even a Jet fan.

5. October 19, 2006. Game 7 of the NLCS. The Mets are playing the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets won 97 games, the Cards 83. They're tied 1-1 in the top of the 9th, when Yadier Molina -- at that point, the 3rd-best Molina brother -- hits a Pennant-winning home run off Aaron Heilman.

In the bottom of the 9th, the Mets get the tying and Pennant-winning runs on base, but Carlos Beltran takes a called 3rd strike to lose the Pennant. This is the closest the Mets have gotten to a Pennant since 2000, and they blew it.

4. September 30, 2007. Regular season finale. The Mets finish a choke of a 7-game NL East lead with 17 to play, and lose to the Florida Marlins to miss the Playoffs completely. The biggest choke in baseball history. Or, at least, regular season history.

3. September 28, 2008. The End. The Groundhog Day Game. The Mets finish a choke of a 3 1/2-game NL East lead with 17 to play, and lose to the Marlins on the last day of the regular season to miss the Playoffs completely.

This one was worse than 2007, even though the blown lead was half as much, because it also forced the Mutts to close Shea out with an awful, crushing loss.

After that, a few thousand fans left, missing the closing ceremony. You slimeballs. Just because the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Mets clowned around and broke your hearts, don't take it out on the 1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000 Mets, who actually won Pennants!

And then, the final pitch, Tom Seaver to Mike Piazza... and "The Franchise" couldn't reach the plate. Okay, the final pitch at Yankee Stadium didn't make it to the plate, either, but that was by Julia Ruth Stevens. She's 92. Seaver's 63 (64 next month), and, unlike the Babe's daughter, actually was a pitcher, and a great one. But he couldn't do it. What a way to close out the Flushing Toilet.

2. August 15, 1965. The Beatles perform. Okay, it was only for 31 minutes, and nobody could hear them because of all the screaming, and no one had ever staged a concert in a baseball stadium before, so nobody knew what they were doing. Well, John, Paul, George and Ringo knew what they were doing. Paul McCartney has gone to games at Yankee Stadium, but this was THE BEATLES.

Funny: CBS owned the Yankees at the time, and they were liberal enough to let the Beatles play on The Ed Sullivan Show, but they were too conservative to let them onto the field at Yankee Stadium? Seriously, what did the Fab Four do to deserve getting detoured to Shea?

And the undeniable, unforgettable, untoppable Number 1 Greatest Moment in Shea Stadium History:

1. October 26, 2000. Game 5 of the World Series. Yankees 4, Mets 2. The greatest moment in Yankee history. We beat them in a World Series -- they've never beaten us in one. We won a World Series on their field -- they haven't even won a World Series game on our field. Twenty-five thousand Yankee Fans chanting, "Let's Go Yankees!" and "Thank you George!" (Steinbrenner, cheered at Shea? Believe it.)

The only real "Subway Series" since October 1956, and as nerve-wracking as it was -- those 5 games sure felt like 7 -- it made all the crap I dealt with from the Flushing Heathen up 'til then worth it. As a fellow Yankee Fan said at the time, "We have scoreboard over them for all time." Until, that is, the Mets win another Pennant (dream on) and beat us in a World Series. (No... way... in... HELL that ever happens!)

Goodbye, you dingy old dump.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Baseball Postseason Predictions

My choices, in descending order:

1. Chicago Cubs. I love Chicago, Lou Piniella is one of my all-time favorite people, and, after 100 years, Cub fans deserve a break.

2. Philadelphia Phillies. Being just 66 miles from Citizens Bank Park is part of it, but it's a great city and it hasn't won a World Championship in any sport in 25 years, longer than any other metro area with teams in all 4 sports -- in fact, of areas with as many as 3, only Cleveland has waited longer (though Seattle also had, but losing the SuperSonics dropped them from 3 sports to 2).

3. Milwaukee Brewers. They've waited 26 years to get back to the Playoffs, and there's something very likable about this team.

4. Chicago White Sox. They might have been higher, but it's been only 3 years. By the standards of Chicago sports (the Bulls to the contrary), that's one moment in time.

5. Tampa Bay Rays. The Ray-volution comes to a quick end.

6. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Did I ever mention I don't like Southern California? Besides, it's only been 6 years.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers. Only the presence of Joe Torre prevents the L.A. O'Malley/Murdoch Bums from being dead last. I know, neither the O'Malley family nor Rupert Murdoch has anything to do with them anymore, but what other teams' mere existences are an insult? And, of those, how many are an insult to New York? At least the San Francisco Giants have the excuse that their 1957 ownership was merely incompetent, not greedy.

8. Boston Red Sox. I don't think I have to explain why. Though if the Mets had somehow squeaked in, the Sox would be ahead of them.

As for who I think will win, well, keep in mind how well my preseason predictions turned out. Anyway...

ALDS: Chicago over Tampa in 5, experience, pitching and The Thomenator prevail; Anaheim over Boston in 5, only having Beckett and Dice-K to pitch once each could be their doom.

NLDS: Chicago over Los Angeles in 4, remember that no team with Don Mattingly in uniform has ever won a Pennant, and none ever will; Philadelphia over Milwaukee in 4, the Brew Crew's pitching is hurt and/or exhausted, possibly including CC (who is the only reason I give them a chance to even win 1).

ALCS: Anaheim over Chicago in 6. I'd prefer a Chicago team to beat a Southern California team, but I guess I'll have to settle for that happening in the NL. The Angels just have too much talent, and no obvious weaknesses. Besides, do you really think Mike Scioscia is going to get outmanaged by Ozzie Guillen? Earl Weaver was a great manager, but he lost his cool plenty of times. He was absolutely outmanaged by Gil Hodges in the '69 WS, Danny Murtaugh in the '71 WS, Dick Williams in the '73 ALCS, Alvin Dark in the '74 ALCS, and Chuck Tanner in the '79 WS. Ozzie's smart, but he's also a loose cannon. Scioscia is different: You know who's going to show up.

NLCS: Chicago over Philly in 6. I like both teams, so I really can't lose here. Due to the aforementioned proximity to the Phils' park (being also 43 miles from the Yankee Stadiums, 47 miles from Shea and Citi Field), I know more Phils fans than Cub fans, but the Cubs have something they haven't really had in NL play since, well, 1945: The edge in pitching. I still can't get over the fact that Kerry Wood is not only pitching, but pitching well, and as... the closer! And they don't miss him in the rotation! Besides, who's the better manager, Charlie Manuel... or Sweet Lou?

World Series: This is a rematch of the Series shown in the film Taking Care of Business. In that one, Mark Grace homered off Bert Blyleven at what was then called Anaheim Stadium (and Jim Belushi, a Cub fan in real life as well, caught it), and the Cubs won the Series in 6.

But I don't see that happening here. If they had the home-field advantage, maybe. Wrigley can be a bit intimidating when the Cubs are winning. But Angel fans aren't like their evil twins up the freeway in Chavez Ravine: They know baseball, without needing Vin Scully to explain it to them. Plus, the Angels have that great bullpen.

Angels in 6. Which, if I'm not mistaken, will make them the 1st team ever to beat 2 teams from the same metro area in postseason play -- in the history of North American major league sports. (Then again, if the Cubs beat the Angels after beating the Dodgers, they would get that distinction.)

Now, you know that if the Angels win, Cub fans will be griping about something that happens, making it part of the litany of the Curse of the Billy Goat.

But maybe, just maybe, the Cubs will lose because the other team is better. That's what happened to the Cubs in the postseason in 1989, and 1998, and just last season. There doesn't have to be a Goat, or a Black Cat, or a Steve Garvey, or a Leon Durham, or a Steve Bartman.

UPDATE: Boy, was I wrong. It ends up Rays over White Sox, Red Sox over Angels, Dodgers over Cubs, Phillies over Brewers (the only Division Series I got right), Rays over Red Sox, Phillies over Dodgers, and, in the World Series, Phillies over Rays in 5 (although the 2-day rain delay in the middle of Game 5 made it seem longer).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Planet Is This?

Suppose for a moment that you were kidnapped by aliens after the 1992 season.

So the last thing you know, it's the fall of 1992. Both New York teams stunk this year, and neither seems to have much hope for recovery. In the Daily News, Bob Klapisch just called the Mets "the Worst Team Money Could Buy." And the Yankees have Don Mattingly, Roberto Kelly, Danny Tartabull, a bunch of guys named Pat Kelly, and a bunch of pitchers named Scott Kamieniecki. Oh yeah, and a promising young outfielder, a skinny kid named Bernie Williams. And that's it.

And that's the last you know of New York baseball, until the aliens returned you to Earth today.

With the relativity effect, it's been only about a year for you, but 16 years for everybody else. At the moment, you know nothing about what's happened on Earth.

You've never heard of Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Jason Giambi, Jose Reyes or David Wright. You might have heard of Derek Jeter, since the Yankees made him the top pick in the last draft you saw. Mike Piazza is a rookie who played in 21 games for the Dodgers and hit .232. Pedro Martinez is also a Dodger rookie, with a grand total of 2 appearances to his name -- Ramon is the Martinez brother that people know, last you saw.

And the idea that the Yankees will one day get Red Sox stars Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens; or Met stars Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and David Cone -- or even Paul O'Neill and Jimmy Key -- is ridiculous to you.

But as the starship approaches Earth, you get a radio signal, and you tune in to WFAN. And Mike Francesa tells you what's been happening lately.

Remember, you don't know about 1996, 1998, 2000, or even 2004. You don't know that World Series have been won by the Red Sox, White Sox, Braves, Angels, even the expansion Marlins, and a team you've never heard of, the Diamondbacks. (And, yes, the Yankees.) You don't know that Pennants have been won by the Phillies, Indians, Padres, Giants, Astros, Tigers, even the expansion Rockies. (And, yes, the Mets.) A team you've never heard of, the Rays, made the Playoffs this season. So did the Brewers. And both Chicago teams reached the postseason in the same year, which hasn't happened since 1906. You don't know any of that.

Francesa tells you that, in the last 8 years, the Yankees have made the Playoffs 7 times, but won just 2 Pennants, and no World Series. This includes postseason losses to the expansion Diamondbacks and Marlins, who you've never seen. It includes postseason losses to the Angels, whom you've never seen win a postseason series. It includes a postseason loss to the Red Sox after being up 3 games to none with 3 outs to go for the Pennant, against the choke team of all time, and they blew it, and the Sox went on to win that World Series and another. It includes a postseason loss to the Tigers, who haven't won a postseason series since 1984. And it includes a postseason loss to the Indians, who, as far as you know, haven't won a postseason series since 1948. And then Francesa tells you the Yankees didn't make the Playoffs this year, and that old Yankee Stadium is closing, and will be torn down, replaced by a new Yankee Stadium.

Then he tells you that, in the last 8 years, the Mets have made the Playoffs just once. In the last 3 seasons, the Mets have blown a Pennant to an 83-win team because of a Game 7, top-9th homer by a weak-hitting catcher and a last-out bat-on-the-shoulder strikeout, with the tying and Pennant-winning runs on base, by a very expensive slugger who should have at least swung; blown a 7-game Division lead with 17 to go and missed the Playoffs completely; and now, in the last season of Shea ball, blown a 3 1/2-game Division lead with 17 to go and missed the Playoffs completely.

Then he tells you that the general managers of both teams have gotten contract extensions.

And you hear this, and you turn to the captain of the alien ship, and you ask him a question.

"Are you sure you took me to the right planet?"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mets End an Era, Define Another

The last game at the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium: Florida Marlins 4, New York Mets 2. The Mets choke again. My Entire Team Sucks.

An era-defining game. It defines the 2005-08 Mets as losers, chokers and flops:

2006: Blowing the National League Pennant in Game 7 of the League Championship Series against an 83-win team.

2007: Blowng a 7-game lead with 17 to play and missing the Playoffs completely -- in a year when 5 teams, not 4, made the NL Playoffs.

2008: Blowing a 3 1/2-game lead with 17 to play and missing the Playoffs completely -- in a year when, had the Mets won, it would have been 5 teams making it.

Maybe they should keep the stadium and demolish the roster.

Can't blame Carlos Beltran for yesterday's loss, but what has he done for them? Can't blame Oliver Perez either, since he had only 3 days rest and was hit on the hand and gave them 4 very good innings along with the 2 shaky ones. Can't blame Carlos Delgado for this season, since he practically carried the Mets in the second half, but where was he last year, when the same kind of season would probably (considering who did make the NL Playoffs) have put the Mets in the World Series.

David Wright? The Invisible Man. Jose Reyes? A vanishing act -- so that's what they mean by "Mets Magic." Billy Wagner? Can't fault him this time, injuries happen, but the previous 2 years, oh yeah. Pedro Martinez? No, can't fault him, either, again due to injuries, but the organization should've known this was an injury-prone pitcher, to say nothing of his other faults.

Of course, the kind of Met fans who gave me hell in the 1980s, the kind of fans I long ago branded "the Flushing Heathen," will find a way to exonerate the players and blame Willie Randolph. "Witless Willie the Yankee."

Yikes, these guys (a few of them, anyway) actually booed Yogi Berra and Al Leiter at the postgame ceremony due to their Yankee contributions (as if Al's amounted to much). Well, in that case, perhaps you should give back those 1973 and 2000 Pennants, cutting your total in half.

In all seriousness, the booing of Yogi and Leiter was minimal, but noticable. And inexcusable. As was seeing, on SNY, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fans leaving early. Hey, come on, just because you were betrayed by the 2006-08 Mets doesn't mean you should turn your back on the boys of 1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000! How dare you! Typical Heathen.

No, for this 3rd straight horrific ending to a season that had such promise, blame the players, who choked -- some of them for the 2nd straight season, some of them for the 3rd. And blame Omar Minaya, who put them together.

One person we should not blame is Jerry Manuel. He came into Flushing in mid-season, took what is really a .500 team, and managed them to an 89-win season. He deserves another chance.

As for the closing ceremony, it must've brought a few tears to see the great Dave Kingman again. But where was Frank Taveras? Okay, seriously, where was Steve Henderson? Skip Lockwood? Oh, you want winners? Where was Ken Boswell? Al Weis? Gary Gentry? Rick Aguilera?

Ray Knight was broadcasting for the Washington Nationals. He'd rather broadcast the last of 102 losses for baseball's worst team than "Shea Goodbye"? Wow, that speaks volumes.

Roger McDowell is the pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves, which not only explains why he wasn't at Shea, but maybe also why the Graves haven't made the Playoffs since 2005.

McDowell wasn't there? Oh, spit! Speaking of spit, where was Roberto Alomar?

And where was 1969 World Champion Nolan Ryan? And where was 1986 World Champion Kevin Mitchell? (Probably not a pair of names you want to remind Met fans of.)

And 92-year-old Julia Ruth Stevens had a better last pitch than 64-year-old Tom Seaver. And, unlike Tom Terrific, the Babe's daughter couldn't even blame it on having a hideous defensive catcher!

The closing -- literally a closing -- should have been Seaver flanked by Carter and Piazza. The defining players of the Mets' 3 great eras -- or should I say "great" eras.

If Citi Field lasts the same amount of time, 45 seasons, in 2053 Jose Reyes and David Wright will be 70, Carlos Beltran 78, Billy Wagner 82, and Johan Santana 74. Assuming any or all of them are still alive, I wonder how they'll be received?

Oh, well. At least the Mets finished with a better record than the Yankees, right?

Right? Anybody? Bueller?

*

Congratulations to the Milwaukee Brewers for reaching the Playoffs for the first time since the first Moonwalk. Michael Jackson's, that is, not Neil Armstrong's, but long enough. First time since 1982. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was in the 700s -- about 10,000 points less than it is now, even after today, when the stock market did a pretty good impression of the Mets!

Tomorrow, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins will have a Playoff for the AL Central title. Imagine that: The White Sox, Cubs and Brewers all making the Playoffs in the same year. In fact, no 2 of those 3 have ever done it in the same year. Almost as amazing as the Twins, who let Johan Santana go, making it, and the Mets, who signed him, not.

So it will be the Anaheim Angels vs. the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the ChiSox-Twins winner, the Chicago Cubs vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Philadelphia Phillies vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.

This looks like the LCS will be as follows: Angels vs. ChiSox, and Cubs vs. Phils. Four teams known for long title droughts, although the Angels and ChiSox recently busted theirs, and the Phils' "bust" is so long ago they've started another drought.

The World Series: I'd like to see the Phils, Cubs, or ChiSox do it. But I'm thinking Angels over Cubs in 7. A revenge for the World Series shown in the film "Taking Care of Business" with Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin.

*

The Yankees ended the season with the exact same record as the Mets, 89-73, yet the ending was so much better. Mainly because they didn't put their fans through hell in September. The purgatory of July and August was bad enough, though.

Mike Mussina got win Number 20 of the season and Number 270 of his career. But we may have seen the last in Pinstripes of Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Melky Cabrera, and possibly also Robinson Cano. And, of course, the last of the original Yankee Stadium.

(UPDATE: It was, indeed, the last game as a Yankee for Giambi, Abreu, and even Mussina. But Cabrera and Cano returned for 2009 -- and a good thing, too.)

The Yankees ended the season like a lame-duck President.

The Mets ended the season like the dictator of a banana republic, who saw the revolution coming, threw everything he had at it, saw that it wasn't enough, and finally saw the people turn on him.

As the Brooklyn Dodgers' fans used to say, "Wait 'til next year."

*

My father and I saw Rutgers play Morgan State on Saturday in a game-long misting rain. Fortunately, I was in the last row of the lower level, just barely under the upper-deck overhang. RU jumped out to a 38-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 38-0 victory. Yes, it was just like it sounds.

Morgan State, based in Baltimore, is a "historically black school" in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a Division I-AA school. So is Norfolk State, of Virginia, who we throttled last year (which Dad and I also saw live). So is Howard, of Washington, D.C., who we clobbered the year before (I didn't see that one live, but my father did). They don't have football teams capable of hanging with Division I-A schools, but their bands are incredible. Morgan State's is called The Magnificent Marching Machine, and I won't dispute the name.

Morgan State came up to this area a few times to play Louisiana's Grambling State University in the Whitney M. Young Jr. Urban League Classic. Young ran the Urban League and was a titan of the civil rights movement. The game was played at Yankee Stadium from 1971 to 1987, except for 1974 and '75 when it was held at Shea due to Yankee Stadium's renovation, and has been held at Giants Stadium ever since. Presumably, they'll keep it going at the new Meadowlands Stadium starting in 2010.

*

My Premiership picks were good, but the one that mattered the most to me was way off.

Arsenal 1-2 Hull City. Loss. Hull is for real, and Arsenal needs work, and has a Champions League match coming up.

Everton 0-2 Liverpool. Win, "on the road." Not surprised, as there's a reason Everton's color is blue. In the city of Liverpool, they're forever Number 2.

Aston Villa 2-1 Sunderland. Win. I figured this would be a good one, and it was.

Fulham 1-2 West Ham. Win, on the road. I don't know how Fulham beat Arsenal earlier in the year, because they've been dreadful ever since. Maybe they used up their miracles on that one.

Manchester United 2-0 Bolton. Win, though I would have preferred Bolton to emerge victorious. Like I suggested, Alex Ferguson wasn't going to put up with continued mediocrity from his bums. (That's "bums" in the U.S. sense, meaning "no good," not in the U.K. sense, meaning "rear ends," although considering Wayne Rooney, that may also apply.)

Middlesbrough 0-1 West Bromwich Albion. Loss, and a road win for West Brom. I goofed that one.

Stoke City 0-2 Chelsea. Win. No surprise there.

Wigan 2-1 Manchester City. Loss. Maybe Man City is not for real, as was previously suggested.

Newcastle 1-2 Blackburn. Win on the road. Newcastle is horrible. But at least they're not as bad as Spurs.

Portsmouth 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur. Win. Spurs now have 2 of a possible 18 points.

For the week: 7-3, my best so far.

The leaders: Liverpool and Chelsea with 14 points, Aston Villa with 13, Arsenal and West Ham with 12, Hull with 11, Blackburn with a surprising 10, Man City and Portsmouth each with 9, and Wigan and Man U with 8 (though Man U has a game in hand).

Champions League tomorrow: Arsenal vs. FC Porto of Portugal, Man U vs. AaB of Denmark, Celtic vs. Villareal (which is now surprisingly leading La Liga in Spain).

Wednesday: Liverpool vs. PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands, Chelsea vs. CFR Cluj of Romania (which shocked AS Roma on their home field).

*

Days until East Brunswick plays again: 4.

Days until Rutgers plays again: 5.

Days until the Devils drop the puck: 11.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 191.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 199.

Days until I figure out the game of baseball: Never gonna happen. And if the Uncle can't figure it out, what hope do you people have?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Absolving Fred Merkle: It's Been 100 Years


September 23, 1908, 100 years ago today: The New York Giants thought they'd beaten the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, in a big game in a dogfight of a 3-way Pennant race that also involved the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Only they hadn't. Al Bridwell had singled home the winning run, but the fans came running onto the field at the Polo Grounds in New York. And the runner on 1st base, a 19-year-old rookie named Fred Merkle, got scared, and ran for the clubhouse that stood behind the center field fence.

He didn't touch 2nd base.

This had happened many times before. The rule stating that a player had to get to the base was usually not enforced under such circumstances. You know: "Everybody does it."

But Cub 2nd baseman Johnny Evers saw this, and yelled for the ball, got it, stepped on 2nd, and got the attention of umpire Hank O'Day, who called the force play at 2nd. This time, the rule was enforced, Merkle was out, and the run didn't count.

Play could not be restored. By all rights, the Giants should have been declared losers by forfeit for an inability to control their home grounds, but instead it went into the books as a 1-1 tie.

I won't bore you with the details of the recriminations that went back and forth between the Giants and the Cubs, and between the Giants and the National League office, other than to say it was ugly, and it looked more like Republicans vs. Democrats than rival sports teams. I'll cut right to the chase: The NL race finished in a tie between those 2 teams, with the Pirates just 1 game back. And the league office ordered the September 23 game replayed on October 8.

Despite having Christy Mathewson, perhaps the greatest pitcher the game has ever known and the most popular athlete of the time, starting that game, the Giants lost, 4-2, with the Cubs bringing in for relief one Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, known as Three-Finger Brown because of a childhood accident that left him with only 3 usable fingers, and as a result with a nasty curveball.

Merkle was 19, and for the rest of his life, he was known as "Bonehead," and the play became known as "Merkle's Boner." He played on until 1922, and was hardly a bad player.

In 1950, the Giants held an old-timers' day at the Polo Grounds, and invited Merkle. He accepted. When introduced, the fans -- most of them not old enough to have been there 42 years earlier, but nearly all having heard his sad story -- gave him a standing ovation.

Merkle deserved a better fate even than that. Even his manager, John McGraw, said it wasn't his fault. McGraw, along with Connie Mack 1 of the 1st 2 managers elected to the Hall of Fame, said it was the team that let Merkle down, not vice versa. If one of the sorest losers in the game's history could forgive Merkle, and later Giants fans could...

Baseball still thinks of him as the Bonehead. And for a man who has been dead since 1956 and is unable to defend himself, that's just not fair.

In the spirit of ESPN, let me give you...

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Fred Merkle for the New York Giants Losing the 1908 National League Pennant.

5. Fred Tenney's Injury. Tenney was the Giants' regular 1st baseman, but was hurt, and Merkle was his replacement. If Tenney hadn't gotten hurt, he would've played, and his experience might've won a game that would have canceled out the September 23 game. Which brings us to...

4. Merkle's Teammates. The Giants played 16 games between the September 23 "Merkle Game" and the October 8 "Merkle Playoff." They went 11-5, including winning their last 3, which suggests they had the character to get over it.

But the last of those 5 losses was a 3-2 game against the Philadelphia Phillies on October 3. The Phillies, contrary to their history, weren't a lousy team that year (they were over .500), but they weren't in the same class as the Giants, Cubs and Pirates. The Giants still should have won it, and then there wouldn't have been a Playoff. They also had 7-0 and 7-1 losses that they could have avoided if they, rather than the Cincinnati Reds and the Phils, respectively, had scored early. The Giants tried to step up and bail Merkle out, but they couldn't.

3. John McGraw. Like too many later managers -- in recent times, Tommy Lasorda in 1978, Whitey Herzog in 1985, John McNamara in 1986, Dusty Baker in 2003 and Mike Scioscia in 2005 come to mind -- he lost his cool, and couldn't get his own head back on straight, let alone his players' heads. Some people thought McGraw was the greatest manager ever. Not in 1908, he wasn't.

2. Christy Mathewson. Even 100 years later, it seems sacrilegious to blame "The Christian Gentleman." But the Giants would have won that "playoff" on October 8 if he had just pitched like Christy Mathewson -- instead of like Christie Brinkley.

1. The Cubs Were Better. Okay, maybe Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers weren't really worthy of Hall of Fame induction, but they were among the best shortstops and 2nd basemen, respectively, of their time. Frank Chance was not only one of the best managers but one of the best 1st basemen. And their pitching was superb, led by Three-Finger Brown, who, like Chance (as a manager if not as a player), was a genuine, no-doubt-about-it Hall-of-Famer.

The Cubs had previously won the Pennant in 1906 and the World Series in 1907. They would beat Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers again in the 1908 Series, and would win another Pennant in 1910 before age caught up with them. The Giants were in the middle of a "drought" that would extend from 1905 to 1911 before they won another Pennant, and until 1921 before they won another Series. The Cubs were good, they were experienced, and they were tough. The better team won.

*

Though the Cubs won that 1908 World Series, for whatever reason, or collection of reasons, they have never won another. They have even not won a Pennant since 1945. Some speak of the Curse of the Billy Goat. But did the Cubs win that 1908 Pennant unfairly? Is there a Curse of Fred Merkle? After all, the Goat Curse came in 1945. How do you explain the Cubs' 0-6 record in World Series play from 1909 to 1944?

I don't think Merkle was a mean enough person to put a curse on the Giants, even if such a thing were possible. I think the Cubs' century-long drought has been attributable to bad management.

But the weird thing is that, on this 100th Anniversary of the Merkle Game, the Cubs are back in New York, to play the Mets, the team that replaced the Giants (and the Brooklyn Dodgers). And both teams are in postseason contention. The Cubs have already clinched the NL Central Division and home-field advantage through the NL Playoffs. The Mets could win the NL Wild Card, setting up a Division Series matchup with the Cubs.

And both of these teams have a history of bizarre things happening to them, including the Black Cat Game of 1969 that symbolized the Cubs' September Swoon and the Mets' Miracle.

Could one more bizarre moment happen? We already had the Cubs coming from behind last night against the Mets, including a grand slam by the Cub pitcher, Jason Marquis -- a native New Yorker (from Staten Island)!

Who knows.

But we who are baseball fans, instead of blaming Fred Merkle for his "boner," or even forgiving him, declare that there's nothing to forgive. Let him rest in peace.

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's Over, But It Ain't Over

Yankee Stadium. "Born" April 18, 1923. "Died" September 21, 2008.

The Yankee organization was wrong to leave The Stadium and build a new one. But they did everything right when it came to closing the Big Orchard down.

All the major ceremonies came before the game, not after.

Having the lookalikes in 1923-style uniforms was a little goofy, although the guys they got to play Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig really looked like them, both in face and in form. Not so for the guy they got to play Joe DiMaggio. I loved that the Casey Stengel lookalike had cockeyed socks. Casey never did that, as far as I know, but it was the kind of thing he would have done.

They brought out pretty much all the Yankee legends, other than those who are otherwise employed by a professional sports team: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Roy White, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Dave Winfield, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, David Wells, and, introduced last, with a prolonged ovation, Bernie Williams. The next-best cheer after Bernie's was for Randolph, a huge one, as on Old-Timers' Day, a perfect way to show up The Other Team and their fans, The Flushing Heathen.

And, of course, the active ones: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hideki Matsui.

And relatives: The widows of Phil Rizzuto and Catfish Hunter; the sons of Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Roger Maris and Thurman Munson; the daughter of Elston Howard; and the widow, son and daughter of Bobby Murcer, for whom Old-Timers' Day was probably too soon to come back, but this enabled Yankee Fans to give their husband/father a proper goodbye.

Not there, because they are otherwise employed: Dodger manager Joe Torre and coach Don Mattingly; Cub manager Lou Piniella; Sparky Lyle, managing the Somerset Patriots into the Atlantic League Playoffs; and Jerry Coleman, broadcasting for the San Diego Padres (though lately they've been letting him come for Old-Timers' Days).

Other notable absences among the living legends: Roger Clemens (we can guess why), Rickey Henderson (though I didn't miss him, either), Bucky Dent (not sure why, at last check he wasn't working in pro ball), Jim Leyritz (probably best he stay away, due to his legal troubles), Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry (thankfully, neither is in legal trouble at the moment, but Darryl is working for The Other Team and Doc is following nephew Gary Sheffield around as Sheff is three homers from 500), Aaron Boone (playing for the Nationals), Mel Stottlemyre (hope he's not sick again), Tommy Henrich (Ol' Reliable is 95 and has been too frail to come to The Stadium for the last 10 years or so).

I didn't like the "old-time" uniforms the players from the pre-renovation era wore. Yogi and Whitey both complained, Yogi saying, "It's too yellow."

I wasn't sure who would sing the National Anthem. Since the Montreal Canadiens, the Yankees of hockey, closed the Montreal Forum with a video recording of the great French-Canadian opera singer Roger Doucet, I figured the Yanks would put the late Robert Merrill up on the DiamondVision. No, they had the band from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point play it straight. Fitting, since the first Stadium National Anthem was by the U.S. Marine Band, conducted by John Philip Sousa himself.

But who to throw out the first ball? They got the right person: Julia Ruth Stevens, the 92-year-old daughter of You Know Who, connecting him to The House He Built one last time. And she threw it to Jorge Posada, to make sure he wasn't left out of the ceremonies even though he couldn't play.

*

Oh, yes, there was a game. The Yankees were trailing 1-0 in the top of the 3rd when Yogi and Whitey joined Jon Miller and Joe Morgan in the ESPN booth, and when an Oriole got a hit to make it 2-0, Whitey said, "Oh, shit!" His mike wasn't quite cut off in time.

But in the bottom of the 3rd, Jon asked Yogi about DiMaggio, and you know Yogi, he's the good-luck charm: While he was talking, boom, Johnny Damon hit a home run to make it 3-2 Yanks.

It would have been very fitting for Damon to hit the last home run in Yankee Stadium. Like Babe Ruth, he was a Red Sock who became a Yankee under controversial circumstances.

In the 5th, with the score tied at 3-3, perfect-game pitchers Cone and Wells were interviewed. Again, 2 Yankee legends interviewed, home run. This time -- Jose Molina, the guy who's caught most of the games since Posada got hurt. His brother Benjie hit one in the Angels' 2002 World Series win. His brother Yadier hit one to give the Cardinals the 2006 Pennant over the Mets (and we must never cease to remind the Heathen about that). Now, Jose goes into the history books: The last home run at Yankee Stadium, the last in a long line of Yankee "unlikely heroes."

Andy Pettitte didn't have his good stuff. He hasn't had it for 2 months. He's 14-14 this season. If I thought he could go, say, 16-10 for a Yankee lineup at full strength next year, when he'll be 37, I'd say come back, Andy, we need you. But at this point, he doesn't have much left to prove, and if this is the last game he pitches in New York, it's a great way to go out. He didn't get out of the 6th, but he goes down as the last winning pitcher at Yankee Stadium.

Derek Jeter went 0-for-5, but is the last Yankee to bat at The Stadium. When Joe Girardi took him out with 1 out to go, he got a great sendoff from the fans. Still, it was weird to see the last play at Yankee Stadium and not have Derek Jeter on the field. I was hoping the last out would be a pop-up to him, so he would, technically, be the last player at Yankee Stadium. (The first would be the Yankee starter in the first game, Bob Shawkey.)

The bullpen was great: Jose Veras was shaky, but Phil Coke bailed him out, and he and Joba Chamberlain were nearly perfect. When Mariano came out for the 9th, it was the last truly electric moment in The Stadium. He practically begged Girardi to be on the mound for the last inning. He got his wish.

He got the 1st 2 outs, and then, facing Brian Roberts, who's given the Yankees trouble the last few years, got him to hit a weak grounder to 1st base. Jason Giambi, who'd gotten a hit and an RBI in this last game, had been removed for defensive purposes. The replacement 1st baseman fielded it and ran to the bag for the final out. The last player at Yankee Stadium? I don't know what he's going to do in the future, but he'll forever be in the history books in this special role. Cody Ransom.

And, on WCBS -- I had the ESPN gasbags muted and the radio on -- John Sterling, for the last time in The Stadium, said, "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!" (At least he didn't say, "Yankee Stadium over!")

Then the sound-effects man cued up Frank Sinatra singing "Theme From New York, New York," and it was over.

Almost. Midway through the 3rd go-around of the song, the current Yankees went out to the mound, and Jeter had a microphone, and thanked "the greatest fans in the world." (Yeah, a lot of teams say that, but... come on.) And he asked the fans to take that spirit across the street to the new stadium. And then the Yankees took a last lap around The Stadium -- in English soccer, they call this a "lap of honour."

*

I thought last night was going to be a very hard night for me. But, except for concerns that the Yanks might lose the last game, and that the last home run would be hit by an opponent, both of which turned out to be unfounded, I was fine.

I guessed I'd gotten my emotions out of my system on July 20, when I attended my last game there. Or that it would really come when the day of demolition came. (I've already got my line ready, the one Charlton Heston used to close the original Planet of the Apes: "You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!")

But this morning, ESPN had a tribute on SportsCenter, and in it, Yogi Berra said, "I'm not gonna miss this place. It's part of me. It ain't over even when it's over."

That got to me.

*

Days until East Brunswick plays again: 4.

Days until Rutgers plays again: 5.

Days until the Yankees' season ends: 6.

Days until the Devils drop the puck: 18.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 198.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 206.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yankee Stadium All-Time Team

Last night, the football team of East Brunswick High School made only their second trip ever to Hudson County. It was a considerably better result than that 1989 disaster at Bayonne. The Bears beat North Bergen, 28-14.

It wasn't that close: North Bergen's 2nd touchdown was late in the 4th quarter, after we fumbled deep in their territory, and then scored on a long run, and we then took it deep into their end again, and we ran out the clock inside their 10-yard line. It was more like a 35-7 win, against a team with some talent, but not a team that could compete in the Red Division of the Greater Middlesex Conference.

There was one play on which I should elaborate: That long run? It was made by their Number 7, who finished it with a jumping high-five and a chest-bump. This when down by 28-7 with about 4 minutes left in regulation play.

Who does this dope think he is, Jose Reyes? Maybe it's the Number 7. Maybe we should change the lyrics of the old song to, "Where have you gone, Mickey Mantle?" instead of Joe DiMaggio.

*

Which brings me to today's bottom-of-the-9th walkoff 1-0 win for the Yankees over the Baltimore Orioles in the next-to-last-game, the last day game, at the real Yankee Stadium. The game-winning hit was by Robinson Cano, who, if no home runs are hit tomorrow night, will also be the man who hit the last home run in The Stadium.

It really hurts. Losing The Stadium hurts more than this season's mediocre performance ever could.

With that, let me post this: The Yankee Stadium All-Time Teams.

One for the Yankees, one for the opposition. The enemy first.

1B Jimmie Foxx. Now almost forgotten, this guy played for the 1927-33 Philadelphia Athletics powerhouse and the strong Boston Red Sox teams of the late '30s and early '40s. He hit 534 home runs, including a 1937 blast to the upper deck in left field, off Lefty Gomez. Someone asked Gomez how far it went. He said, "I don't know, but I do know it took somebody 45 minutes to go up there and get it back."

2B Roberto Alomar. First for getting in the Yankees' way with the early 1990s Toronto Blue Jays, then for being "Ol' Spithead" with the 1996-97 Baltimore Orioles, then for opposing the Yankees in the 1998 Playoffs with the Cleveland Indians.

SS Cal Ripken. Of all the players I've ever seen, Ripken probably played better against the Yankees with me in the park than anybody.

3B George Brett. You had to ask? From the 1976 Playoffs to the 1985 season that ended with Kansas City's only World Series win, including the fight he picked in the '77 ALCS and the Pine Tar homer in '83, the greatest player the Royals have ever had was the biggest Yankee-killer ever to step to the plate, until...

DH David Ortiz. If you hate the Yankees, The Red Sox' Big Papi is your Mack Daddy.

LF Ted Williams. No, he was not the greatest hitter who ever lived. Babe Ruth was. But Ted helped his claim considerably by his visits to The Stadium with the Red Sox, taking advantage of that short porch in right field.

CF Johnny Damon. The holiest position at Yankee Stadium, this was actually the hardest spot to fill on the opposing team. I couldn't go with Ty Cobb or Tris Speaker, because by the time The Stadium opened in 1923, they were already winding down. I couldn't go with Willie Mays or Duke Snider, because they spent their entire careers in the National League. Mays played a grand total of 7 games that counted at The Stadium -- 3 in the 1951 World Series, 3 in the '62 Series, and 1 of the 2 1960 All-Star Games. Snider played in a few more: 15, all in World Series play, between 1949 and 1956. I couldn't go with Ken Griffey Jr., who spent the 1st half of his career in the American League with the Seattle Mariners, but then went to the National League and only came in during Interleague play before being traded to the Chicago White Sox this year.

So, why Damon, who's not a future Hall-of-Famer and has done well for the Yanks? Because he did lots of damage to the Yanks, with the Royals, with the Oakland version of the A's, and finally with the Red Sox. He was a big factor in breaking the Curse of the Bambino. Putting him here is, if you think about it, a way to forgive him. Not that I forgive the others.

RF Manny Ramirez. For all the hitting he did with the Red Sox, it's easy to forget what a great hitter he was with the Indians in the late 1990s. Especially when you see that footage where he's... bald. Yes, Manny Being Bald. Shaving his head. Then, he went to Boston and discovered that long hair worked for him, too.

(UPDATE: On July 30, 2009, it was revealed that Papi and Manny flunked steroid tests in 2003. Meaning, among other things, that Manny might be the only player who ever took steroids and his hair got longer, instead of falling out.)

C Mickey Cochrane. Not Carlton Fisk? No, with the A's and the Detroit Tigers, this old-timer, a serious challenger for the title of greatest catcher, ever messed up 5 Pennant races for the Yankees in 7 years, between 1929 and 1935. Unfortunately, his career came to an end when he was beaned by Yankee pitcher Bump Hadley in 1937. No batting helmets then.

The pitching rotation is a little tougher, because there can be only 5. Walter Johnson doesn't make it due to timing: When The Stadium opened, he had 5 seasons left. Josh Beckett doesn't make it due to timing, either: Despite his pitching for the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series and for the Red Sox since 2006, he hasn't had as many chances to be a "Yankee Killer" as you might think. Frank Lary, who pitched for the Detroit Tigers in the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, got called "The Yankee Killer" for some strong performances against them in 1958 and '59, but in 1961, the one Pennant race between 1935 and 1987 in which the Yanks and Tigers were both really in it into September, he got rocked by the Yanks, so he's out.

The starting pitchers are: Lefty Grove of the 1930s A's and Red Sox, Bob Feller of the 1940s Indians, Luis Tiant of the 1970s Red Sox, Dave Stieb of the 1980s Blue Jays, and Curt Schilling -- a spectacular performance in a 1997 Interleague game with the Philadelphia Phillies, three more strong performances in the 2001 World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and, of course, the Bloody Sock Game in the 2004 ALCS. Not a lot of performances -- certainly not as many strong ones as Grove, Feller, Tiant and Stieb, who always seemed to be standing in the Yanks' way -- but indelible performances.

And the reliever? There's no one reliever who really drives the Yankees nuts, but Tom Henke of the 1980s-90s Jays stands out. Unless you'd like to bring in... Armando Benitez.

The manager is Al Lopez. From Lou Boudreau of the Indians in 1948 to Sam Mele of the Minnesota Twins in 1965, he was the only manager to lead a team other than the Yankees to an American League Pennant, the 1954 Indians and the 1959 White Sox.

The batting order can be: Damon, Brett, Williams, Foxx, Ortiz, Ramirez, Cochrane, Alomar, Ripken. I know that's 3 lefties to start, but that's where these guys best fit in the order.

*

And for the Yankees...

First, the manager, Number 37, Casey Stengel. Number 37.

Leading off, the shortstop, Number 2, Derek Jeter. Number 2.

Batting 2nd, the center fielder, Number 5, Joe DiMaggio. Number 5.

Batting 3rd, the right fielder, Number 3, Babe Ruth. Number 3.

Batting 4th, the 1st baseman, Number 4, Lou Gehrig. Number 4.

Batting 5th, the designated hitter, Number 7, Mickey Mantle. Number 7. (Yes, I know, he never played the "position." You don't like it, write your own damn list.)

Batting 6th, the left fielder, Number 31, Dave Winfield. Number 31.

Batting 7th, the catcher, Number 8, Yogi Berra. Number 8.

Batting 8th, the 2nd baseman, Number 6, Tony Lazzeri. Number 6.

Batting 9th, the 3rd baseman, Number 9, Graig Nettles. Number 9. (He won 4 Pennants and 2 World Championships. Also unlike Alex Rodriguez, can be trusted in the clutch.)

And pitching, Number 16, Whitey Ford. Number 16.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, would you please rise, and join Robert Merrill as he sings our National Anthem.

*

Since tomorrow's game is on ESPN, today was the YES Network's last broadcast from the original Yankee Stadium. They closed with a song Joe Raposo wrote about Ebbets Field, sung by Frank Sinatra. Not the song most associated with Sinatra and the Yankees, but totally appropriate.

"There Used to Be a Ballpark."

I'd better wrap this up. Tears are not good for a computer keyboard.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bad Opening for EB, and Other Mournful Musings

Last Friday night: Sayreville 28, East Brunswick 7, in rain that alternated between drizzle, steady and downpour. Lousy way to kick off the season.

Maybe I should chalk it up to playing the Number 2-ranked team in the County, on the road, in lousy weather. Yeah, that thought will comfort us on the long ride home from losing to North Bergen next Friday night, then losing to South Brunswick 2 weeks later, then losing the home opener against Piss-cataway after that. Coach Marcus Borden and the Big Green could start out 0-4, with no chance at the Playoffs.

The Yankees took 2 of 3 from Tampa Bay over the weekend, and it didn't matter at all.

Tampa and Boston? Do either one of them want to win that Division? Do either of them deserve to?

The Mets now lead the NL East by 1 game... Has any team ever blown leads of at least 3 1/2 games in September in back-to-back seasons? The Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football last night: Great game, lousy ending. Dallas still sucks, and Jessica Simpson is still a moron.

*

So here's how my Premiership picks for last weekend turned out:

Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United. Win. For all humanity.

Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea: Loss. Is this the beginning of the end for the great Man City experiment, or is Chelski just really good this season?

Newcastle 1-2 Hull: Win, but one I'm not happy about. The Toon Army is furious at management for what's going on up there.

Blackburn 0-4 Arsenal: Win. A hat trick by the Togolese striker, Emmanuel Adebayor.

Portsmouth 2-1 Middlesbrough: Win.

West Bromwich 3-2 West Ham: Win.

Fulham 2-1 Bolton: Win.

Wigan 1-1 Sunderland: Tie, so a Loss for me.

Stoke City 2-3 Everton: Loss. First real sign of life for the blue team in Liverpool this season.

Tottenham 1-2 Aston Villa: Win. 1 point for 20th place, and it's awfully quiet at The Lane.

For the week: 7-3. Getting the hang of it? For the season: 21-18.

Chelsea and Liverpool are tied for first with 10 points each. Arsenal right behind them with 9. Hull City surprising with 7. Manchester City, Fulham, West Ham, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and Everton all have 6. Of these, all but Fulham (the one team to beat Arsenal so far) have played 4 games, Fulham 3. Man U has 4 points, but has only played 3 games: The Newcastle tie and the Liverpool loss may both come back to haunt them.

Tottenham stands to get relegated (the Gooners rejoice, though they'll miss the annual two wins), while Newcastle and Sunderland, who hate each other's guts as much as any two teams in the British Isles, may have to beat each other to avoid relegation.

Today, the UEFA Champions League has two England vs. France matchups: Chelsea hosts Bordeaux, while Liverpool visits Marseille Olympique. So I'll be rooting for Liverpool and Bordeaux.

Tomorrow, Man U hosts Villareal of Spain, Glasgow Celtic hosts Aalborg BK of Denmark, and Arsenal visits Dynamo Kiev of Ukraine.

*

Days until East Brunswick plays again: 3.

Days until Rutgers plays again: 4.

Days until the last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium: 5.

Days until the Yankees' season ends: 12. (There will be no miracle.)

Days until the Devils drop the puck: 25.