Saturday, July 4, 2009

Yankees Dandy on Independence Day; Alexis Argüello, 1952-2009

So how about today's game? A little weird: The anniversary of America's independence, yet the Yankees started a Chinese pitcher, got a home run from a Japanese slugger, got the usual scoreless 9th inning from their Panamanian closer, and Jorge Posada hit the game-winning single in the 12th -- he's born and raised in Puerto Rico, and is thus an American citizen, but his parents were Cuban emigres, so he counts as "international."

Four hours of baseball, and Michael Kay wasn't complaining about the length of the game -- this is progress.

Chien-Ming Wang? Five innings, four of them very strong -- this is progress. His ERA, once 34.50 for the season, down to 10.06 coming into the game and 9.14 afterward -- this, sad to say, is progress. Had to leave the game in the 6th with a "strained shoulder" -- not progress. Hearing the term "strained shoulder," Kay said, "That is not good to hear. David Cone, broadcasting the game with him, and knowing all too well the pain of the human shoulder, especially for a pitcher, said, "No, it's not," as if he was announcing the recession-forced layoff of 50,000 employees.

Taking a lead on Roy Halladay, one of the biggest Yankee Killers in recent memory -- good. Giving them back the lead -- bad.

Having to go to Mariano in the 9th of a tie game -- not good. Phil Coke pitching a scoreless 11th and Brett Tomko pitching a scoreless 12th to become the winning pitcher -- this is very good.

The Yankees blowing opportunities in the 9th, 10 and 11th -- not good. The Yankees winning in the 12th? Verrrry good.

Phil Hughes isn't just the second-best reliever on the Yankees, I think we can now say he's the second-best reliever in New York.

Attendance was over 46,000. Once again, every seat is sold -- except for the insanely expensive ones. Are you listening, Lonn Trost?

And the Red Sox bullpen collapsed again -- against Seattle? These are not the '01 Mariners or even the '95 M's. This is not good for the Sox, but cry me a Charles River, Papelbum!

A very nice 4th of July for the Yankees, on the 70th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day.

Quick, Met fans: When was Tom Seaver Day? Don't look it up on the Internet -- that's cheating. I want to see if you know it off the top of your head.

You don't remember, do you? I had to look it up. I remember him walking to the mound and bowing to each "side" of the stadim, but I didn't remember the date: It was July 24, 1988.

*

Alexis Argüello died 3 days ago. He was shot in the heart. There are those saying it was a suicide attempt. Others are saying he was killed by the government of his native Nicaragua.

He was born on April 19, 1952, in his nation's capital, Managua. Known as El Cabellero del Ring (The Gentleman of the Ring) and El Flaco Explosivo (The Explosive Thin One), he rose through the featherweight boxing ranks to challenge for the title in 1974. He lost, to retiring Champion Ernesto Marcel. But Marcel's retirement opened the door for another challenge, and, by the end of the year, Argüello had been crowned Champion.

He defended the Featherweight Championship of the World 16 times, including 3 times at Madison Square Garden. In 1978, he moved up in weight class, and won the Super Featherweight title. He defended this 15 times, including twice at The Garden. He moved up again in 1981, and took the Lightweight title, defending it 5 times.

He tried to move up again, challenging Aaron Pryor for the Light Welterweight title at the Orange Bowl in Miami on November 12, 1982. The Ring magazine would declare this the Fight of the Decade, featuring possibly the 2 best fighters in the world at the time, pound-for-pound -- Sugar Ray Leonard was then inactive, but Larry Holmes and Marvelous Marvin Hagler were very much in position to dispute it. Argüello walked into the ring with a career record of 83-5, but Pryor knocked him out in the 14th round. He fought Pryor again the next year, in Las Vegas, but lost again. They remained friends for the rest of Argüello's life.

Argüello returned to Nicaragua, and fought alongside the right-wing Contras against the Communist government of Daniel Ortega. After a brief comeback in the mid-1990s, he retired with a record of 88-8. He then went into politics, switching sides to Ortega's Sandinistas, who had returned to power after being defeated in earlier free elections.

He was elected Managua's Vice-Mayor in 2004 and its Mayor in 2008. He also became a breeder of cats, and wrote articles on the subject that were published in magazines. He seemed to have become a renaissance man, living up to his image as a "gentleman of the ring."

Those who believe he was assassinated suggested that he was becoming disenchanted with the Sandinistas, and was planning to announce he was leaving them. Maybe he was killed in order to silence him. We may never know for sure. But he certainly doesn't sound like someone who would have taken his own life.

Alexis Argüello, one of the very best boxers of my lifetime, was only 57 years old. I'm convinced he had a lot more to say -- on many subjects.

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