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.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Scarlet With Embarrassment

Losing to North Carolina by 32 points at home is embarrassing, but not all that unexpected. In basketball.

In football, it's a disgrace. Carolina has a good team, but 44-12 at home is unacceptable.

This has been a really bad year for me, in sports. All my teams have stunk up the joint. Rutgers is 0-2 and may not make another bowl game. The Yankees are having a year that many would love to have, but is unacceptable by Pinstripe standards. The Devils got embarrassed by their arch-rivals -- or, more accurately, they embarrassed themselves and let their rivals take advantage. The Nets... why do I even bother with them anymore? And just as I became an Arsenal supporter, they went and lost to... Fulham?

And tonight, Dear Old Alma Mater kicks off their season. East Brunswick celebrates the school's 50th Anniversary with the start of their 48th season of varsity football. We're now an old school, with the kind of history I used to envy in others.

They play at Sayreville. They're playing a neighboring school, just a mile and a half from my office. It'll be easier for me to get there straight from work than it would be if it was from home to our own field.

Our team is like the Democrats: We don't have a lot of experience, but we've got an interesting quarterback. Our opponents are like the Republicans: They've got plenty of experience, but their stadium is old and crumbling, and their cheerleaders ain't nearly as hot as they think they are, and their band sucks. And they've beaten us the last 3 seasons. (The difference, though, is that, unlike the Democrats against the Republicans, we beat these guys in 2004.)

We have to prove that more of the same isn't good enough.

*

Days until East Brunswick plays again: 7.

Days until Rutgers plays again: 8.

Days until the last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium: 9. (10 home games left, The Last Homestand.)

Days until the Yankees' season ends: 17. (Barring a miracle.)

Days until the Devils drop the puck: 28.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fraud vs. Fraud

I've been saying all along that the Tampa Bay Rays, formerly the Devil Rays, would be proven to be "frauds." I used as evidence the 2-game series against the Yankees in July, where they played 19 innings and scored a whopping 1 run.

Yankees 7, Rays 2. So now, in their last 28 innings against the Yankees, the Deviled Eggs have scored 3 runs. That's a shade over 1 per game against the Yankee pitching staff, which, "as everybody knows," "isn't good enough."

Of course, it's probably too late. The Rays' remaining schedule is a killer that will likely allow the Boston Red Sox to repeat as American League Eastern Division Champions, and the Chicago White Sox-Minnesota Twins loser in the AL Central Division to be the AL Wild Card.

But it doesn't help the Yankees, even with Mike Mussina winning his 17th game (Number 267 for his career, surpassing Bob Feller, and notching career strikeout Number 2,786), and Joba Chamberlain and Dan Giese coming off the Disabled List to pitch solidly in relief of the Moose.

So now that the Yankees appear to be out of it, now is when they start playing like champions again. Swell. It's Fraud vs. Fraud.

Speaking of frauds, Alex Rodriguez hit home run Number 548 last night. That ties him with Mike Schmidt for 12th on the all-time list -- 8th if you take out steroid users. Then again, if you take out steroid users, then A-Rod gets taken off as well.

Schmidt was often booed by his home fans. But he also won a World Series. In fact, he won a World Series MVP award, a.k.a. the Babe Ruth Award. And he did that at age 30.

Ahead of A-Fraud on the home run list are Hank Aaron, who won a title at 23; Willie Mays, also 23; Frank Robinson, 31; and Reggie Jackson, 26. A-Fraud is title-less, and 33 and not getting any younger.

True, also ahead of him are Ken Griffey Jr, who's never won one (but has another decent shot now with the White Sox), and Harmon Killebrew, who never won one (although he got to Game 7 of a World Series). But if it's a late inning and there's 1 out and 2 men on and you're down by a run, who would you choose? If the pitcher is a righthander, I'm going with Junior. If it's a lefty, I'll take the Killer. A-Fraud? A-in't gonna happen.

*

Another fraud was the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, losing their season opener at Rutgers Stadium to Fresno State University of California, 24-7.

Apparently, our order from the NCAA Bakery of a season-launching cupcake didn't arrive.

I'm not surprised Fresno State scored 24 points on the road. But RU should've done better than a measly 7 in Piscataway. I mean, now that Ray Rice is a Baltimore Raven, who's the top running back, Alex Rodriguez?

Next game, Thursday night, September 11, at home against North Carolina, a team not to be overlooked. September 11. Let's hope Rutgers doesn't go down in flames like the World Trade Center did that day in 2001. Of course, if it does, the difference will likely be that it's self-inflicted. Maybe Greg Schiano should've gotten out while he could. (No, that's just the frustration talking. Stay, Greg, stay.)

*

My Premier League picks didn't turn out any better. I got these right: Arsenal 3-0 over Newcastle, Portsmouth 3-0 over Everton (I guess the real Everton was the one that choked against Sunderland), Middlesbrough 2-1 over Stoke City, and West Ham 4-1 over Blackburn.

I got these wrong: Wigan 5-0 over Hull City and Manchester 3-0 over Sunderland. And while these were ties, I have to count them as losses. I haven't yet earned the right to say that a team that I picked to win on the road, and then managed a draw on the road, counts as a "win." So I have to count as losses the scoreless ties West Bromwich Albion managed against Bolton and Liverpool got against Aston Villa. Still, after losing David Gerrard to injury for at least this game, the Reds have to feel good about coming out of Birmingham with a point.

Then there was the real shocker: Chelsea 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur. Even though they're in the same city, it's got to be embarrassing for Chelski to not get a win at home against Spurs. Though an Arsenal fan would prefer to see Tottenham lose every game, such Gooners have to be realistic and accept that any game Chelski walks away with less than 3 points is good for the Gunners.

Manchester United and Fulham were not scheduled for the weekend.

Total for the week: 4-5. Total for the season: 14-15. For someone like me, who's never paid attention before, it's no disgrace. But it needs to get better.

And in Glasgow, at Celtic Park, Celtic 2-4 Rangers. Loss, though it doesn't count in the records above. I don't care: All teams called "Rangers" suck!

*

Days until Rutgers plays again: 8.

Days until East Brunswick kicks off: 9.

Days until the last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium: 18. (10 home games left.)

Days until the Yankees' season ends: 26. (Barring a miracle.)

Days until the Devils drop the puck: 37.