Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book 'em, Joe! And R.I.P. Ingo


First, a little update on the girls. They're now a year and a half old. Ashley is fascinated by the Yankee logos on my cap and slippers. Rachel isn't, but, the other day, she pointed to the slippers, and said, "Shoe." And then she pointed to her head, and said, "Hat!" So she is at least aware of the connection. I was so proud of her -- partly for being smart, and partly for recognizing the interlocking NY.

I've tried to tell them, "Yankees, yay!" and to clap their hands, and to say, "Mets, no no no!" and wag their fingers like they do when the dog barks. So far, it needs work, but they're still toddlers. I have time.

*

Now, on to Joe Torre, and his book The Yankee Years, written with former Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, who also ghosted Joe's earlier book Chasing the Dream.

Now manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the former Yankee manager tells us that Alex Rodriguez is really insecure, gets called "A-Fraud" instead of "A-Rod," and doesn't like that he doesn't get the appreciation, from either teammates or fans, that Derek Jeter gets.

Next, Torre will tell us that dogs bite men, the sun rises in the east, and the Philadelphia Eagles are incapable of winning the Super Bowl. In other words, Joe, we already knew that!

Torre pulled few punches in that book. But the players he let loose on, with the exception of David Wells and Chuck Knoblauch, were post-2001 Yankees, who didn't produce World Championships for him. He didn't rip Derek Jeter, or Mariano Rivera, or Jorge Posada, or Andy Pettitte. Nor did he rip 1996-2001 Yankees like Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams or Tino Martinez, though he did suggest that Knoblauch was often distracted (which, let's face it, he was).

But some points need to be made to those who think he went too far.

* Has he revealed any facts that can be proven to be untrue? No. David Wells, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton were all players who have been terrific for some teams, but have worn out their welcome with those teams, and with teams for whom they did not produce.

* Has he revealed any opinions that were not already widely shared? No. Alex Rodriguez was already believed to have the issues Torre mentioned, and the players above were already known as malcontents.

* Look at the players he's called out: Most are from after 2001, who did not help the Yankees win those 4 World Series. Two exceptions are Wells and Knoblauch. The Knoblauch situation could have been handled better, but it's worth noting that Wells was dumped by the Yankees twice: Even the success he brought them didn't seem to be worth the headaches he brought.

* As for "violating the sanctity of the clubhouse," that myth went out the window in 1970. Torre's not the first ex-Yankee to write a book that got those complaints: Former pitcher Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four, and the hue and cry was much bigger -- because it was the first time anybody had written anything close to such a candid look inside a big-league sports team. (Even if the 1969 Seattle Pilots were a first-year expansion team, barely major league quality, and their ballpark was a hastily expanded Triple-A park from the 1930s.)

As a Yankee Fan, I can forgive Wells his trespasses. Then again, I've never been around him on a daily basis, so I'm not one who has to make that decision.

Torre has the right to say the things he says, so long as they're true. The same is so of Wells. And we, the public, have the right to agree, or not; and, if not, to call them out on it.

I still like Wells. But if I have to choose, I'm going with Torre.

*

On Subway Squawkers, a terrific baseball-themed blog where I sometimes post comments, somebody commented on a blog entry about the Torre book story by writing, "Once again Uncle Mike doesn't get it. Its not about what he revealed. Its the fact that he preached one thing and did another. Of course he has a RIGHT to do the book but so did Wells and Torre ripped him for it. So explain to me how Torre could rip Wells for writing a book and not be a hypocrite by writing his own? If 'violating the sanctity of the clubhouse' went out in the 70s Torre shouldn't have been preaching in the 90s and on."

Ignoring the poor punctuation skills of this poster, whose true name I don't know (and don't care to know)... I "get it" plenty.

There's no hypocrisy here for Torre: He wrote a book, and Wells wrote a book; but the biggest problem with Wells' book is that it was bad, and sloppy, and Wells himself contradicted it and, at times, said he was misquoted in his own "autobiography."

Bottom line, Wells is the hypocrite here: If you're going to be an ass to someone, don't whine to the media when said person later appears to be acting like an ass to you.

As for what Joe Torre "preached," clearly, it didn't get through to Alex Rodriguez. As much as it nauseates me to admit that any Met, and Steve Phillips in particular, got something right, the former Met general manager turned ESPN talking head got it right: A-Rod will always be Mr. 24-and-1. By disappearing in 4 straight postseasons, A-Rod ruined things for his teammates, and ruined things for his manager.

Torre owes A-Rod, and Yankee Fans, no apologies for telling us what we already suspected: A-Rod is this generation's Ted Williams, with the exception (Red Sox fans, take note) that, in the opposite of Ted, A-Rod got MVP awards that he didn't deserve. (It's "Most Valuable Player," not "Most Outstanding Player.")

Torre didn't "betray" anything. I'm pleased that the Daily News interviewed Bouton on the subject, just a day after I cited him in the aforementioned blog. (Things like this are why the News is my favorite newspaper.)

Bouton is right: If you don't want people to write a book that calls you a jerk, don't be one! Even though Bouton himself his hardly innocent in this regard, but that just makes his point all the more. And you know what? He was able to shrug it off. Can A-Rod?

Remember the scene in the final episode of The Bronx Is Burning, where Billy Martin (played by John Turturro) and Yogi Berra (Joe Grifasi) are driving around, talking about the World Series they're in (1977)? Yogi asks Billy if he thinks about leaving baseball altogether. Billy says, "No. Do you?" Yogi says, "Wouldn't be the end of my life." And Billy says, "Well, it would be the end of mine." And both proved themselves right.

A few months ago, when Subway Squawkers was still affiliated with the Daily News, I wondered about Manny Ramirez. What's going to happen to this million-dollar talent with the five-cent head once he can't play anymore?

Maybe A-Rod's head isn't 5 cents, or two bits (25 cents), or $1.98, or any other small amount you want to mention, but it's plenty messed up -- hardly all his own doing, but some of it is. And when the day comes that he can no longer hit the curveball in April through September, let alone October; or in innings 1 through 6, let alone 7, 8 and 9; or with the bases empty, let alone with men on (hopefully, you've noticed a pattern here)... what's he going to become?

Is he going to be like Reggie Jackson or Tom Seaver, having built a life outside his game, where he can be offered a position with an organization, and take it or leave it?

Or is he going to wind up like Joe Namath, drinking the time away, fooling around with bad-news women, doing some bad acting (figuratively and literally), and telling the 2030 version of Suzy Kolber, "I couldn't care less that the Yankees are strugg-a-ling, I just want to kiss you"? (Namath appears to have straightened out his life since then.)

Or maybe he'll write his own book. More likely, he'll get someone to write it for him. I'm not even sure A-Rod can read. One thing he's never been able to read is the writing on the wall.

One well-placed single, or even walk, at certain points in October of 2004, '05, '06 or '07, and Torre's book would be very different -- or maybe he wouldn't have written it at all, as he'd still be the Yankee manager, and wouldn't be out in L.A. proving that there really is a Curse of Donnie Baseball (which, in such a scenario, would've been gone, instead of having been proven in 2 separate cities, in 2 separate leagues, and with 2 separate franchises).

Joe Torre proved himself time and time again. The burden of proof is on Alex Rodriguez. Alex, you wanna make Torre look bad for saying what he said in the book? Then you have a chance that David Wells will never have again: Win a World Series.

Until then, just be glad that Torre has more class than Shaquille O'Neal did with Kobe Bryant, and won't say, "Alex, tell me how my ass taste!" (In other words, you just kissed it. Never mind that Shaq was right, as Joe appears to be.)

*

Ingemar Johansson died yesterday at the age of 76. In 1956, the native of Gothenburg, Sweden won the European heavyweight boxing championship. On June 26, 1959, with his powerful fists he'd nicknamed "Toonder" (in his Swedish-accented English, his right hand) and "Lightning" (his left), he knocked Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson down 7 times in the 3rd round, mostly with his right hand, before referee Ruby Goldstein finally stopped the fight. It should have been stopped after the 3rd, at most.

"Ingo" had made himself the new Heavyweight Champion of the World. It was the last heavyweight title fight at the pre-renovation original Yankee Stadium.

A year later, at the Polo Grounds, Floyd took the title back, knocking "Ingo" out in the 5th round, hitting him so hard that, after he hit the ground, his leg twitched for a few seconds. At first, Floyd thought he'd killed him.

They fought for a 3rd time a year later in Miami Beach, and this one was rough. Floyd knocked Ingo out in the 6th round. They fought 3 times, and they went a total of 14 rounds -- not reaching the traditional 15 rounds for a single fight, combined.


They became friends afterward, and remained so until Floyd died in 2006. Now, Ingo is dead as well. He remains the last white man, and the last native of the European continent, to be the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Monday, January 12, 2009

10 Things I Hate About the Meadowlands

I bought some milk this morning. On the carton was a picture of the Giants' offense, saying, "Have you seen me?"

Nope.

The NFC Championship Game will be between the Philadelphia Eagles (who looked dead just three weeks ago) and the Arizona Cardinals (who have looked dead, in Arizona, St. Louis and Chicago, for the better part of 60 years). The only two NFL Championship Games in Cardinal history were against the Eagles: 1947, a 28-21 Card win at Comiskey Park on the South Side of Chicago, and 1948, a 7-0 Eagle win in a blizzard at Shibe Park in North Philly. From 1949 to 2007, the Cards played in a grand total of 4 Playoff games. The Eagles at least won another Championship in 1960, but haven't won one since; and have reached the NFC Championship Game in 1980, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and now 2008, reaching the Super Bowl in the 1980 and 2004 seasons, but losing both times.

The AFC Championship Game will be between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. I knew the Ravens were going to beat the Tennessee Titans. You know how I knew? Because the Titans' quarterback is Kerry Collins, and Kerry Collins is what he has always been: A bum.

Could it be an All-Pennsylvania Super Bowl? If so, I hope they don't "compromise" and let Ratface Joe Paterno flip the coin to start the game.

*

Speaking of the Super Bowl, today is the 40th Anniversary of Super Bowl III. January 12, 1969, at the Orange Bowl in Miami. New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7.

The Jets have gone to two AFC Championship Games since (1982-83 and 1998-99), but haven't returned to the Super Bowl. Forty years in the wilderness.

Fast fact with which you can amaze your friends, and I'll bet more than half of all Jet fans don't know it... or maybe they know it, but they've never really thought about it: How many touchdown passes did Joe Namath throw in Super Bowl III? The answer is... zero.

And yet an entire generation of New York and New Jersey football fans grew up thinking Broadway Joe invented the position of quarterback. As much as anything else, these kids were the reason I didn't become a Jet fan.

I have never properly thanked them.

Frankly, I'm not sure the Jets even have a reason to exist anymore. That 40-years-ago Super Bowl is beginning to seem more and more like a movie, one that didn't really happen. Namath is still alive to tell us about it, but how often does he do so anymore?

*

The new Meadowlands Stadium is coming along quite nicely. But I never thought the Giants needed a new stadium. The Jets, sure, because they were sharing with the Giants -- and will still be sharing with the Giants, even if the lease will be more favorable to them than at Wellington Mara's tin can on Route 3.

I just hope the place doesn't have the same wind problems. In fact, I'd like to present to you...

10 Things I Hate About the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

10. Horse Racing in the Winter. Isn't that considered cruelty to animals?

9. The Corporatism. "I was immortal for 15 years," said former Governor Brendan Byrne, an original investor in the Devils who got the Arena built and had his name put on it by a Democratic legislature in 1981. In 1996, a vengeful Republican legislature took his name off it. Why? Because Continental Airlines was offering a truckload of money for naming rights? That was a bonus. The GOP took Byrne's name off it as soon as legalities allowed because Byrne established the State's first income tax. The man had to balance the budget, something New Jersey's Republicans never seem to understand.

And while the Devils won their 2nd Stanley Cup while playing at the Continental Airlines Arena, and actually clinched their 3rd at the Continental Airlines Arena, and the Nets continue to play at the IZOD Center (a.k.a. "the I," a terribly doofy name), the Devils' 1st Stanley Cup was won at the Brendan Byrne Arena. And no shameless politician can ever change that fact.

8. Giants Stadium. Football player turned broadcaster and mystery novelist Tim Green called it "football in a tin can. Curse the Giants for ever leaving Yankee Stadium."

The stadium is big, but it's hardly an architectural marvel. It's not Soldier Field. It's not the Los Angeles Coliseum. You don't sense greatness in there, even if you know it's been home to Bill Parcells, Lawrence Taylor, or the 2007-08 miracle. It's ordinary. In fact, just about the only truly distinctive thing about Giants Stadium is...

7. The Wind. Also known as "The Hawk." Inside Giants Stadium, it turns field-goal attempts into pinball shooting, and it takes napkins, plastic cups and hot dog wrappers and sends them swirling around in a total mess.

In the parking lot, the wind blasts off the Hackensack River and sweeps through the parking lot with no trees to block it. It's terrible. (Yes, the wind can blast off the Passaic River and make coming out of a Devils game at the Prudential Center pretty bad in the winter as well, but it's not as bad as the wind at the Meadowlands.)

6. The Bus Service. It stinks. To get there by bus, you first have to get to Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Now, this isn't too bad if you're a fan of the New York Giants or the New York Jets. But suppose you're a fan of the New Jersey Nets? Or, from 1982 to 2007, you were a fan of the New Jersey Devils? Why should you have to change in New York? Especially when you're so close to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden? Home of the Knicks! And... oy... the Rangers? (Did I ever mention that the RANGERS SUCK? Well, they do!) And most of the people in Port Authority -- upstairs from the basement where Greyhound passengers go -- are fans of either the Knicks, or the Rangers, or both. Do you really want to mix with these people if you're a Nets or Devils fan? No, you do not!

And they don't even let you off within a short walk of either the Stadium or the Arena. You've got a ways to walk! Through that windswept parking lot! Oh, well, at least New Jersey Transit also provides rail service to the Meadowlands, right? Right?

5. The Train Service. Actually, there isn't any! Not yet, anyway! NJT is planning a spur of the Pascack Valley Line to the Complex, to open in time for the new stadium to open in 2010. Why couldn't they do that in time for Giants Stadium and the Racetrack to open in 1976? Or for the Arena to open in 1981? Or at any time in the last 35 years, from construction to today (which involves more construction)?

At least we can now get from just about anywhere in New Jersey to Newark's Penn Station and walk the 3 blocks to the Prudential Center to see the Devils, or Seton Hall basketball. And if Nets management has any sense, they'll abandon that might-never-happen Brooklyn boondoggle and move in at 165 Mulberry Street with the Devils and Pirates. Newark is a basketball city, and they'd love to have the Nets there.

Brooklyn is a basketball place, too, sure. But don't take our team! Have you forgotten what it's like to have someone else steal your team? (See "Dodgers")

4. The Parking Lot. The Meadowlands Complex was built for drivers. But the parking situation stinks. Not to mention that, when there's a Giants or Jets game, it's always sold out, 78,741 fans, and it turns Route 3, Route 120, Paterson Plank Road, Route 17 and the Western Spur of the New Jersey Turnpike into parking lots. So it's not so good for drivers, after all.

3. The Arena's banners, post-Devils. It looks a lot emptier without the Devils' banners. And the Seton Hall basketball team took its banners to the Prudential Center as well. When all that's left is the Nets' banners -- and they have as many title banners (ABA, NBA Eastern Conference and NBA Atlantic Division) as retired number banners, 6, which is a little off-putting -- and a banner honoring Bon Jovi, it's, it's, it's, how can I put this... lame. Almost as lame as Bon Jovi's music.

2. The Arena's Design. The seating area is bad enough, with the sound not carrying down to the court/rink, and the fact that it gets kind of drafty near the top. (Open windows? Not that I can see.) But they apparently designed the place after the Nassau Coliseum, 38 miles to the east. Two levels of seating, one level of concourse. You can't do that!

Even when the seating area is only half-full, it's like the concourse is jammed. It's bad enough when there's 16,234 fans, which would be a sellout on The Island. But when a full house of 20,049 is on hand at the Byrne Arena (it was 19,040 for hockey), forget it!

When the Prudential Center was built, they copied the new arenas in Philadelphia and Montreal: Three levels of seating, three levels of concourse. It works so much better. And while the wait for the food can be a little frustrating at The Rock, the wait for the bathroom isn't so bad. Contrast that with at the Meadowlands (or the Nassau Coliseum). It's interminable. (It's not quite as bad at Madison Square Garden, though. How come nobody ever copied that design?)

And the Number 1 thing I hate about the Meadowlands Sports Complex:

1. The Pedestrian Bridge. That creepy overpass over Route 120, connecting the parking lots of the Stadium and the Arena. It's now part of the Xanadu project, which might make it less creepy. But I wonder how many people got mugged there. It could also have been a shooting location for a horror film.

Well, I don't ever have to worry about that bridge again. Let's go Devils! And... please stay Nets?