Friday, July 31, 2009

John Sterling's Mind Is High, It Is Far, It Is Gone

Before I go back to rubbing it in to those hypocritical Chowdaheads...

Tonight, top of the 7th at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Yanks trailng the White Sox 6-5, Hideki Matsui batting against ex-Yankee and ex-Met Octavio Dotel, and John Sterling says the following:

"Theeee pitch, it's swung on, AND THERE IT GOES! DEEP TO RIGHT! THAT BALL IS HIGH! IT IS FAR! It is foul... "

No, Sterling, YOU are foul!

He tried to justify it by saying, "That ball was gone."

No, Sterling, if it was fair, and over the fence, then, and only then, would it have been gone. If not, it doesn't matter how far the ball was hit, it's not gone!

John Sterling's mind! There it goes! It is high! It is far! It is...

GONE!

There are times when I'd like to strangle him... if he had a neck!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: No fans in North American sports has ever hated their team's broadcasters as much as Yankee Fans hate John Sterling and Michael Kay. For plenty of reasons.

At least they didn't cheat their way to two World Series titles, like the damned Red Sox. Or, rather, the Roid Sox!

Update: It's now 10-5 ChiSox, top of the 8th. The Yanks are about to be 0-2 since it was revealed that they got screwed in 2004.

I don't care: The Red Sox cheated, and The Curse lives.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Curse of the Bambino Lives: Big Papi Cheated!

On the HBO special The Curse of the Bambino, Boston Red Sox fan Shaun Kelly speaks of how he walked out of his house in Newton, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, after The Buckner Game, unable to do anything except walk around. He saw 2 old ladies, and they looked at his cap, and said, "We only wanted to win it just once in our lifetime… "

Then he saw an old man walking his dog. Kelly was expecting a similar response: "Just once… " Instead, what the old man said, in a "Bahstin" accent, was, "Son, this is the dahkest day in this town since Jack Kennedy was shot."

*

No more. July 30, 2009 is the darkest day in New England since President Kennedy was assassinated.

David Ortiz was caught using steroids.

"Big Papi," the biggest reason why the Red Sox won the 2004 and 2007 World Series, cheated!

Nice of them to reveal it 6 years after the fact, after the Red Sox not only finally ended the Curse of the Bambino, but won a 2nd World Series as well!

Still, those World Series wins are hereby invalidated.

*

Let's be blunt, shall we? Let's be brutally honest.

The linchpin to saying that the Yankees "cheated" their way to the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Series is Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

For Pettitte, we have an admission of PED use to come back from an injury in 2002, a season in which the Yankees did not win a Pennant, much less a World Series.

For Clemens, we have the word of Brian McNamee. Translation: Even if Clemens is a louse (and we have many reasons to say that he is), McNamee isn't exactly trustworthy, either. He submitted evidence that has not been revealed to the public. The 2000 WS, and the '01 and '03 Pennants, can be attributed in part to Clemens' use, if in fact McNamee is being completely honest. But 1999? Clemens wasn't all that hot that year. Either he wasn't using, or it wasn't working.

Alex Rodriguez? Has never played on a Pennant winner, and, besides, all we have on him is an admission of an accusation that he used before becoming a Yankee.

Gary Sheffield? He never helped the Yankees win a Pennant, either, and all we have on him is an admission of something that happened before becoming a Yankee.

Jason Giambi? He helped the Yankees win the '03 Pennant – against those same cheating Red Sox – but in '04, it was obvious that steroids weren't helping him.

Compare also the Yankees' postseason opponents:

The 1995, 2000 and '01 Seattle Mariners: Jay Buhner (probably), Edgar Martinez (possibly), and, for the latter two, Alex Rodriguez (using then? who knows). They almost certainly used steroids, but we still beat them 2 times out of 3.

The '96, '98 and '99 Texas Rangers: Rafael Palmeiro (caught), Juan Gonzalez and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (almost certain). Still, we beat them 3 times, going 9-1 in games in the process (though those first two, in '96, were awfully dicey).

The '96 and '97 Baltimore Orioles: Palmeiro (caught) and Brady Anderson (come on). We beat them in the '96 ALCS, but lost the '97 Division Title to them. Still, in those two years combined, they won a grand total of 1 home game in ALCS play, so I don't want to hear about how the Yankees "cheated" -- either with steroids or a kid in right field.

The '96 and '99 Atlanta Braves: On the second occasion, John Rocker, even though he did nothing against us. And, on both occasions, I think it's now safe to be a little suspicious of Andruw Jones. Besides, we beat them.

The '97 and '98 Cleveland Indians: Manny Ramirez (caught), Matt Williams (mentioned in the Mitchell Report) and Jim Thome (suspected). Split 2 series.

The '98 San Diego Padres: Ken Caminiti (admitted). Swept in the World Series, so it didn't matter.

The '99 Red Sox: Hard to tell. Manny wasn't there yet, nor Papi, nor Curt Schilling, nor Mark Bellhorn, nor Kevin Millar. But Pedro Martinez? So skinny, but now you have to wonder. Jason Varitek was there. So was Trot Nixon. And Nomar Garciaparra: He's fallen apart since, so was Nomahhhh using? In this case, it didn't matter, because we beat them in the ALCS.

The 2000 and '01 Oakland Athletics: The aforementioned Jason, and also Jeremy, Giambi, and that's just the ones I know of. It didn't matter, because we beat them both times.

The '01 Arizona Diamondbacks: Matt Williams, and the heavily suspected Schilling and Luis Gonzalez.

The '02 and '05 Anaheim Angels (or whatever they were calling themselves at the time): As far as I know, they were clean.

The '03 and '04 Minnesota Twins. As far as I know, they were clean, and it didn't matter because we beat them both times anyway. In fact, after those two ALDS, the Yankees now have a better postseason record in the Metrodome than the Twins do. (This included getting wins over The Great Johan Santana.)

The '03 Florida Marlins: Pudge Rodriguez again.

The '03 and '04 Red Sox: Papi and Manny, and rumors abound about Schilling, Millahhhh, Bellhorn, Trot and Tek.

The '06 Detroit Tigers: Pudge again.

The ’07 Indians: As far as I know, they were clean.

And, of course, the 2000 New York Mets: Mike Piazza. It didn't matter, because we beat them anyway.

Put it all together, and not only have the Yankees been helped LESS by steroid use than any of those teams, but the Yankees have been HURT by steroid use more than any other team!

*

But as big a story, and as underreported a story, as that is, the biggest story right now is that the Red Sox cheated. They couldn't win honestly, so they cheated.

The Yankees didn't cheat: We had no control over how to use the Curse, and then again, as one of the River Avenue T-shirts says, maybe there never was a Curse, the Sox just, uh, underachieved for 86 years! (As long as we're being honest, I checked once, and they were within range of the postseason in September in 43 of those 86 years, exactly half. They didn't "suck for 86 years.")

But the Red Sox cheated. Sox fans can throw away those "Got rings lately?" T-shirts -- if not in the trash, then I can suggest other places to stick them -- and we can bring back the "1918" T-shirts, just add an asterisk. (Not sure if Roger Maris would approve, but I'll bet the Babe would laugh at it!)

All their smack talk these last five years, and it was all a big fat lie. Red Sox fans on July 30, 2009 are roughly in the same position as Richard Nixon fans were on July 30, 1974: They know now, their guy is a crook!

*

The amazing thing, to me (and to probably no one else) is the date of this magnificent (if incredibly tardy) revelation.

It was 10 years ago today, July 30, 1999, that I saw my first (and, so far, only) Fenway Yanks-Sox game. (I saw two at the old Yankee Stadium, so far none at the new one, which I suppose is a good thing.)

I paid a scalper $42 for a $24 obstructed view seat, and then put on my Yankee cap to show him what he'd sold it to. And in the first two at-bats of the game, boom, boom, Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter homered. Sox pitcher Mark Portugal literally fell off the mound. Truly shocking: Joe Torre let his starter -- Hideki Irabu, of all people -- pitch a complete game. Yankees 13, Red Sox 3.

I ran into an ex-football player from my high school in the right field stands (by then a student at Boston University), and Yankee broadcasters Bobby Murcer and Tim McCarver trying to find my way out of Fenway after the game. I got on the subway, and walked into the Bull & Finch Pub (they’ve finally gone all the way and renamed themselves “Cheers”), still wearing the cap, drank a Sam Adams, walked out, still wearing the cap, and got back to my hotel. Next day, I got out of New England in one piece. Two, if you count the cap.

And now, this has happened, 10 years later to the day. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket every July 30. But in New York... or Massachusetts?

In 1967, during the Sox' "Impossible Dream" season, the young Bee Gees, not yet the hideous avatars of disco, sang a lovely song called "Massachusetts." They sang "The lights all went out in Massachusetts." I'm sure a few Yankee Fans have sung that one over the years.

Today, the lies all came out in Massachusetts.

NINE-teen-EIGHT-teen! (Clap, clap, as-ter-isk!)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Old-Timers: Yogi, Whitey, Reggie... Mussina and Beckham?

I went to the new Yankee Stadium today. It was Old-Timers' Day, the 1st in the new Stadium. Hall-of-Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson (my guy) and Goose Gossage were on hand.

So was Mike Mussina. Last year, at age 39 he won 20 games. This year, he pitched in the Old-Timers' Game, and he had nothing. Men in their 60s were getting hits off him. Okay, it wasn't entirely his fault, as some of his fielders were also old. But it didn't look good. David Cone, 46, had to come in and put out the fire. And he did: Coney looked better than he had in 10 years.

No home runs were hit in this game -- every once in a while, an old guy will get the ball over the fence -- but Mickey Rivers, a.k.a. Mick the Quick, had enough left in his 60-year-old legs to stretch a single into a double, and Joe Pepitone, who I once saw hit a triple in one of these games in his 50s, hit a screaming liner down the right-field line, and might have had another triple if he weren't 69. (If you're a Seinfeld fan, this made him 52 when Kramer plunked him at the fantasy camp, before punching out Mickey Mantle.)

The defense was really hit-and-miss, with some of these old guys letting bloopers in and bobbling grounders, but three neat double plays were turned.

*

As for the current Yankees, they did the Old-Timers proud. They completed a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers today, winning 2-1. Alex Rodriguez hit his 572nd career home run (*) in the 4th, and Mark Teixeira hit his 226th (no asterisk, as far as we know) in the 6th, and Joba Chamberlain, who has thrown too many pitches lately, got into the 7th against the Tigers, currently in first place in the American League Central. The Red Sox lost to Toronto, so now the Yanks are just one game behind in the AL East and leading the Wild Card by 4 games.

The Mets won yesterday, and are playing the Sunday night ESPN Game of the Week as I type this -- tied 1-1 in the 4th. They're 9 games in the loss column behind the Phils for their Division and 6 behind the San Francisco Giants for the Wild Card. They're hardly hopeless, but as they say on TV medical dramas, "I gotta be honest with you, it doesn't look good."

*

On Thursday night, a neighbor originally from Ireland, who owns a soccer-themed bar in Hoboken, just across the river from Manhattan, offered me a free ticket to the Red Bull New York match with the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Meadowlands. This means that, within a span of 64 hours, I got to see first David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and then Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Reggie Jackson.

This was Becks' first game back with the Galaxy since his (ahem) loan to A.C. Milan ran out. He is, to use an American phrase, washed-up -- or, as they would say in his native England, past it. He can still pass a little, and his corner kicks still have a little something on them, but he didn't get off a shot, and there was one moment where, standing just 50 or so feet from me, he whiffed on a pass to him. That's right, he put his foot right over the ball without touching it.
Goldenballs, do you expect me to say you didn't? "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" (Actually, on some of his teams, Beckham has worn Number 7, or 007. But if he plays Chelsea, it won't be titled Goldenballs. It'll be titled You Only Dive Twice -- Any More Than That and You Get a Yellow Card.)

No, I didn't die. Well, nearly so, of embarrassment. Or, more accurately, the Red Bulls should have been embarrassed. Only 2 of the 11 starters were worth anything. Their defense was a sieve. They were down 3-0 until the 85th minute, when they finally scored on a penalty. They got another penalty in the 90th, giving us hope against hope, but missed, and the final was a pathetic 3-1.

This is the last season of football, of either variety, at Giants Stadium. Next season, the Giants and Jets move into a new (as-yet-unnamed) stadium that looks like it will be ready to host big-time soccer friendlies in the spring and will definitely be ready for NFL action in the fall.

The Red Bulls, currently last in the MLS in both team points and goals scored, will move into a nice-looking new stadium, Red Bull Arena, in Harrison, across the river from downtown Newark and the NHL Devils' Prudential Center.

This was a great chance to finally see a game at the former home field of the greatest soccer team in U.S. history, the New York Cosmos (1971-1984). Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, Hubert Birkenmeier and Shep Messing -- and, for 2 exhibition games, Johan Cruyff. If any of them had seen this game, they would have been appalled, because even the victorious team was rubbish. The Red Bulls were absolutely atrocious. Great experience, lousy game.

*

The 2009-10 NHL schedule has been released. The Devils open up at home against the Philadelphia Flyers -- the evil Broad Street Bullies, although the Prudential Center also stands on a Broad Street -- on Saturday, October 3.

So I can now properly update this schedule:

Days until the Emirates Cup kicks off the next Arsenal season: 13.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 18, August 6 at The Stadium.

Days until the next Premier League season begins: 27.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 50.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 54.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 76. (No more "or thereabouts.")

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 131.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Top 10 Baseball All-Star Game Moments

The All-Star Break is upon us, and the Yankees walk into it shaking their heads. By any name, the Angels have had their number for as long as I can remember.

The All-Star Game is being played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. This is the 3rd ballpark to have the name, which isn't all that surprising, since the 1st with the name was also the last over several parks to have the name Sportsman's Park (1909-66, named Busch 1953-66).

When August Anheuser Busch Jr. (a.k.a. "Gussie") bought the Cards in 1953, he wanted to rename the park "Budweiser Stadium," since he really bought the Cards to use them to sell beer. Commissioner Ford Frick said no, you can't put a corporate name on the place.  (Can you believe that? The commissioner of a major sports league saying no to a corporate renaming?)

Gussie blew his stack; he wasn't used to hearing people tell him, "No, you can't have that." He said, "What about Phil Wrigley? He bought a ballpark and named it Wrigley Field! That's a corporate name!" Frick: "He named it Wrigley, which is his own name. He didn't name it Doublemint Stadium."

So what did Gussie Busch do? What any good capitalist would do: He adapted. He renamed the ballpark Busch Stadium, and started a brand of beer called Busch.

When the new stadium opened in 1966, he technically named it for the entire family: Busch Memorial Stadium. In its rookie season, it hosted the All-Star Game. But St. Louis gets really hot in the summer, and at gametime it was 105 degrees on the field. And this was before it had artificial turf (which it had 1971-92), which then made it even hotter.

Casey Stengel had been elected to the Hall of Fame that year, and was invited to throw out the first pitch. When asked what he thought of the place, Casey, in his much-impersonated but inimitable style, said, "It sure holds the heat well."

Bob Uecker, who had been the backup catcher on the Cards' 1964 World Championship team but was on the Atlanta Braves by '66, would later tell people, "The Cards brought me back for that game. They had me sell hot chocolate."

Sportsman's Park/Busch Stadium I hosted World Series in 1926 (Cards beat Yankees), 1928 (Yanks got revenge on Cards), 1930 (Cards lost to Philadelphia Athletics), 1931 (Cards got revenge on A's), 1934 (Cards beat Detroit Tigers), 1942 (Cards beat Yanks), 1943 (Yanks beat Cards), 1944 (the only World Series for the St. Louis Browns, who led the Cards 2 games to 1 but dropped 3 straight), 1946 (Cards beat Boston Red Sox) and 1964 (Cards beat Yanks).

Busch Stadium II hosted World Series in 1967 (Cards beat Red Sox), 1968 (Cards lost to Tigers), 1982 (Cards beat Milwaukee Brewers), 1985 (Cards lost to Kansas City Royals), 1987 (Cards won every home game but lost every game in Minnesota to Twins) and 2004 (Cards got swept by Red Sox). Busch Stadium III hosted a World Series in its rookie year, 2006 (Cards beat Tigers).

Top 10 Baseball All-Star Game Moments

Honorable (?) Mention. July 11, 1961, Candlestick Park, San Francisco: The National League won this one, 5-4 in 10 innings, and Stu Miller of the host San Francisco Giants was the winning pitcher. But that's not what people remember about this game. They remember a gust of wind off San Francisco Bay nudging Miller enough to get a balk called on him.

To this day, a decade after the Giants finally got out and built a new park, Candlestick is thought of as one of the worst ballparks ever, and Miller is remembered as "the pitcher who got blown off the mound in the All-Star Game."

Dishonorable Mention. July 14, 1970, Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati: The NL won, 5-4, in 10 innings, as Pete Rose of the host Cincinnati Reds scored on a single by Jim Hickman of the Chicago Cubs, crashing into the American League's catcher, Ray Fosse of the Cleveland Indians. The crash not only scored the winning run, it separated Fosse's shoulder. In a meaningless exhibition.

To this day, Rose remains unrepentant. Actually, contrary to legend, this injury didn't curtail Fosse's career: He had a few more good years, playing on the Oakland Athletics' 1972 and 1973 World Champions, before another injury reduced his ability. So it didn't ruin Fosse.

It did, however, mark Rose as a hustler, a man who would do anything to win. That was when a majority of baseball fans liked him. Within 20 years, his reputation would be in tatters, and it would be seen as an aspect of a very mean son of a bitch who cared more about fame than about the game.

Dishonorable Mention. July 9, 2002, Miller Park, Milwaukee: In a stadium he built as Milwaukee Brewers owner, purely out of greed, Commissioner Allan H. Selig Jr. called the All-Star Game off after 11 innings. Not 15, as happened in 1967 (and would again in 2008); not 13, as had happened in 1987; not even 12, as had happened in 1955. Just 11.

Why? Both teams had run out of available players, including pitchers. Rather than come up with a simple compromise, such as allowing each team to return one position player and one pitcher to the game, Bud called the game off.

And did those Milwaukee fans ever boo him! They even recreated the scene from The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training: They chanted, "Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!" The twat didn't listen. He had cancelled a postseason in 1994, and now in 2002 he had let an All-Star Game get called off without a result. Walter O'Malley is saving a place at his poker table in hell for Bud Selig.

Honorable Mention. July 15, 2008, Yankee Stadium, New York: The AL won, 4-3 in a record-tying 15 innings, on a sacrifice fly by Michael Young of the Texas Rangers that scored Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins. And nobody ran out of players or even pitchers this time.

But the story of the game was before the game, when 49 living Hall-of-Famers took the field at their respective positions, including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs and newly-elected Rich "Goose" Gossage of the host Yankees.

Honorable (?) Mention. July 7, 1937, Griffith Stadium, Washington: The AL won, 8-3, in a game without any particular heroics. But something happened in this game that changed the course of baseball history. Dizzy Dean of the Cardinals started for the National League, and along with Carl Hubbell (you'll see his name again later) and maybe Satchel Paige, was 1 of the 3 best pitchers on the planet for about 4 years. Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians came to bat for the AL, and hit a line drive right back at Diz, hitting him on the foot.

He had to leave the game. Allegedly, the doctor told him, "Diz, your big toe is fractured," and Diz allegedly said, "Fractured, hell, the damn thing's broken!"

When he came back, Dean altered his pitching motion so as to favor the toe, and ended up hurting his arm with his new motion. He was never the same again. From ages 23 to 27, he was one of the best pitchers alive. At 28 and 29, he was merely a good pitcher. At 31, he was done, with a one-game comeback at 37. He was only 43 when he was elected to the Hall of Fame, an age at which some Hall of Fame pitchers are still going at it.

Considering where the Cards were in the standings (including their 1942, '43, '44 and '46 Pennants), and how old Dean was, that injury may have cost them the World Series in 1943, and at least the Pennant in '39 and '45, and maybe (considering he would've been getting older) also in '47, '48 and '49. The Cards won 106 games in '42, and 105 in '43 and again in '44. That's without a starting pitcher anywhere near as good as Dean was from '33 to '37.

Imagine what kind of team they would have had with him. And wouldn't it have been something to see Dizzy Dean pitch against Ted Williams in the 1946 World Series? Diz would've been only 36. I would've loved merely to listen to the two of them talk!

10. July 6, 1933, Comiskey Park, Chicago: The first official All-Star Game was held in Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, as part of the 1933-34 World's Fair, the Century of Progress Fair. The AL won, 4-2, with Babe Ruth hitting the first home run. Naturally. (You mean the first All-Star Game homer was hit by Naturally?) Not now, Lou Costello.

9. July 12, 1949, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn: This game was less important for the what (the AL won, 11-7) than for the who. (Again, Mr. Costello, now is not the time.) This was the first time black players appeared in the Midsummer Classic. The host Brooklyn Dodgers sent the first black player in modern baseball, Jackie Robinson, and his teammates Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. The Indians sent Larry Doby, who had been the first black player in the AL. Unfortunately for Newcombe, he turned out to be the losing pitcher, but the NL defense did him and their other pitchers no favors, making 5 errors.

8. July 17, 1979, Kingdome, Seattle: The NL won, 7-6, with Lee Mazzilli of the New York Mets homering to tie the game and drawing a bases-loaded walk to give the NL the lead. But the story of the game was a defensive play: In the bottom of the 8th, Graig Nettles of the Yankees singled to right, but Dave Parker of the Pirates threw a perfect strike to the plate from 300 feet away. Gary Carter of the Montreal Expos was the NL catcher, and he caught the throw, and pushed Brian Downing of the California Angels, who had been on third base, out of the way of the plate.

7. July 6, 1983, Comiskey Park, Chicago: It was the 50th Anniversary of the All-Star Game, to the day, and in the same ballpark. The AL hadn't won in 12 years and only once in 21. This time, there would be no escape for the NL, as the AL won, 13-3.

Fred Lynn of the Angels, a native of the Chicago area, hit what remains the only grand slam home run in ASG history. It was off Atlee Hammaker, who became known as "the second Giants pitcher to be blown off the mound in the All-Star Game."

6. July 7, 1964, William A. Shea Municipal Stadium, New York: Shea was brand-new, and it had already hosted not just a no-hitter but a perfect game -- against the Mets, by Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies. In this All-Star Game, his Phils teammate Johnny Callison hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th, turning a 4-4 tie into a 7-4 NL win.

There was no "Home Run Apple" in those days, and it turned out to be the only All-Star Game that Shea ever hosted. The new Citi Field is rumored to be MLB's choice to host the 2013 ASG, but that hasn't yet been made official. (UPDATE: It was.)

5. July 13, 1971, Tiger Stadium, Detroit: The AL won, 6-4, for the only win they would get in the game from 1962 to 1983. Six future Hall-of-Famers went deep in this game: Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd inning, Hank Aaron of the Braves in the 3rd, Reggie Jackson of the A's in the 3rd, Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles later in the 3rd, Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins in the 6th, and Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 8th.

Reggie's homer was a titanic blast off Dock Ellis of the Pirates, soaring up to the right-field roof, prevented from leaving the premises by the transformer on a light tower. In 1984, in an NBC Game of the Week, the Angels visited the Tigers, and, at age 38, 13 years after he almost did it, Reggie finally cleared the Tiger Stadium roof with a home run.

4. July 12, 1955, Milwaukee County Stadium: This game went to the 12th inning, and Gene Conley of the host Milwaukee Braves (who also played for the NBA's Boston Celtics and is the only man to win a World Series and an NBA Title) came in to set the AL down in order, setting himself up to be the winning pitcher if the NL could score.

They did. Stan Musial of the Cardinals led off, and, as he so often was, he lived up to his nickname of "Stan the Man": He hit one into the right-field bleachers for a 6-5 NL win.

3. July 10, 1934, Polo Grounds, New York: The AL won, 9-7, but the highlight of the game came in the very 1st inning. Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants started for the NL, and to start the game he allowed Charlie Gehringer of the Tigers and Henry "Heinie" Manush of the Washington Senators on base. And here came the Babe. Near the end of his career, and a lefty-on-lefty situation, but it was still The Great Bambino.

Hubbell, one of the first pitchers to regularly use a screwball, struck the Babe out. Then came Lou Gehrig, already 2nd on the all-time home run list and on his way to winning the Triple Crown. Hubbell struck him out. Then came Jimmie Foxx, on his way to eventually becoming 2nd on the all-time home run list and having won the Triple Crown the year before. Hubbell struck him out, end of inning.

Bottom of the 2nd, Al Simmons, the former A's star now with the Chicago White Sox, who had once hit .392, also struck out. Then came Joe Cronin, the shortstop and manager of the Senators. Hubbell struck him out, too. Five in a row, a record that would later be matched by Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela in a combined effort (1984) and Pedro Martinez alone (1999).

Bill Dickey of the Yankees singled to end the string, but next up was the pitcher, Lefty Gomez of the Yankees, on his way to a 26-5 record that year -- the only New York pitcher to top it since is Newcombe with 27-7 with the '56 Dodgers -- but a notoriously bad hitter even by pitchers' standards. Hubbell had no trouble making him strikeout victim Number 6.

2. July 8, 1941, Briggs Stadium, Detroit: This was the first of, so far, only 3 All-Star Games to end on what we would now call a walkoff home run. This was the year that Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees had his 56-game hitting streak, which was still underway, at 48. He did get a hit in this game, but, of course, it didn't count toward his total.

It was also the year that Ted Williams of the Red Sox went on to bat .406, the last .400 season to this date. And he batted in the bottom of the 9th against Claude Passeau of the Chicago Cubs, and cranked one into the upper deck in right field of what would later be renamed Tiger Stadium, turning a 6-5 NL lead into a 7-6 AL victory.

1. July 13, 1999, Fenway Park, Boston: The AL won, 4-1, including Pedro Martinez of the host Red Sox matching Hubbell by fanning 5 straight batters. But, as with 2008, the highlight was before the game.

Major League Baseball was sponsoring fan balloting for the All-Century Team. There were 100 nominees for 30 final spots, and 46 of them were on hand, including 8 then still active and 6 named to the current All-Star Teams. Afterward, Red Sox legend Ted Williams was driven onto the field in a golf cart, and tipped his cap to the fans, as he legendarily did not do as an active player. All the players, current and retired, crowded around him, to bask in the presence of "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived." (I guess the Babe couldn't be reached for comment.)

Ted had been rendered rather frail by a stroke, and his fellow San Diego native Tony Gwynn helped him up to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to fellow Red Sox legend Carlton Fisk. He was helped back to the cart, but everyone still wanted to see him and talk to him. The public-address announcer asked the players to leave the field so the game could start. He was the only one who wanted it: Even the fans cheered as though this, alone, was worth the price of admission. This moment was more about the All-Stars, past and present, than it was about the game.

Joe DiMaggio had died earlier in the year (he was 84), Mickey Mantle was still recently dead (he would have been 68), and Jackie Robinson (80) and Roberto Clemente (64) were long dead; if they had been available, it might have been the single greatest moment in the history of baseball, a wonderful way to close out the 20th Century. But then, there was still a second half and a postseason to play, and, of course, with Game 2 of the Series having Ted and the other living All-Century Team honorees on hand, the Yankees won the Series, as it should be.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

After 30 Years, Disco Still Sucks

There were a few good things that happened in 1979, including some to me. But for the most part, the year was awful.

The Yankees fell apart. So did the economy. The Iran hostage crisis and gasoline shortages began. Thurman Munson crashed. So did Skylab: I was really interested in space at the time.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, and it was so long and dull, people called it Star Trek: The Motionless Picture, A Spockalypse Now (after another long, strange movie released that year), and, reflecting a similarity to an episode of the series, Where Nomad Has Gone Before.

And disco was still the dominant form of popular music.

On July 12, 1979, 30 years ago, somebody did something about it.

Bill Veeck was the owner of the Chicago White Sox, and baseball's master promoter. At the time, the ChiSox were losing, and Veeck was a big believer in the idea that, "You can fill more seats with losing baseball and a circus than you can with losing baseball and a long silence."

He had scheduled Teen Night at Comiskey Park, once "the Baseball Palace of the World" but now a crumbling relic that, unlike the crosstown Cubs with Wrigley Field, the owners of the Sox (including in two different regimes, Veeck himself) could never afford to keep in good condition. Unlike teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Dodgers and Phillies, he couldn't "sell the team" to the local fans. Unlike the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers, he couldn't "sell the ballpark." So he did the best he could: He sold fun.

Veeck's son, Mike Veeck, assisted him in his promotions, and had heard disc jockey Steve Dahl on WLUP, 97.9 FM (not to be confused with the former WLUP, AM 1000, now the ESPN station in Chicago), "blowing up" disco records on the air, because disco sucked. Actually, this was one of the first occasions where people could, instead of "stinks," say "sucks" openly, in public, without fear of being told, "How dare you say such a filthy word like that!"

Because, let's face it: Disco did suck. Imagine four brothers: The eldest was Doo-Wop, and he was cool. The second was Soul, and he was real smooth. The third was Funk, and he was the most fun of all. The fourth, the runt of the litter, but the one that eventually got more popular than the other three, was Disco.

Most of the songs I don't like are the monotonous ones, the really repetitive ones. I was just turning 8 when the film Saturday Night Fever and its replusive, Bee Gees-led soundtrack were released in late 1977. Whatever else you might think about him, we must praise the late Michael Jackson for this: Thriller replaced the SNF soundtrack as the biggest-selling album of all time.

"Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man... " Are you sure, Barry Gibb? Because in the way you walk, the way you dress, the way you style your hair, and the way you sing, you seem more like a man's woman. Except for the beard: If Barry and his brothers, the twins Robin and Maurice Gibb, didn't have beards, they would have been the most effeminate act in rock history to this point -- and this was after David Bowie did Ziggy Stardust, and in his case the gender-confusion was intentional!

"Stayin' Alive," as bad as it was, wasn't the worst song on the album. That was the incredibly limp "How Deep Is Your Love." I have hated that song for almost 32 years now. There's only one song I have hated longer, and that's because of my name: It's "Michael Row the Boat Ashore." I don't know how much you'd have to pay me to get me to sing that song, but you are welcome to place a bid.

The Bee Gees were actually really good from 1967 to about 1972, then disappeared, then came back in 1975 as a disco act. There was nothing holy about this second coming. To make matters worse, little brother Andy Gibb also got big at this point.

(And, contrary to what Jortega says in the comments below, the Bee Gees sounded NOTHING like rhythm & blues. But then, The Who used to call what they did "Maximum R&B," and, while they were great at times, they didn't sound anything like R&B, either.)

Anyway, by the Summer of '79, disco was absolutely dominant, and it was disgusting. Something had to be done. So Mike Veeck and Steve Dahl got together and did something.

The White Sox have played, since their 1901 inception -- first at South Side Park (1901-10), then at the old Comiskey Park (1910-90), and now at the new Comiskey Park, renamed U.S. Cellular Field (since 1991). The South Side is the home of the electric blues (Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor), the home of Chicago soul (Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, their former group the Impressions, the Chi-Lites, Earth Wind & Fire), the home of some progressive rockers (Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the band Chicago, Styx) -- and, while Jim Croce was from the Philadelphia area, he taught us, "Now, the South Side of Chicago is the baddest part of town." Comiskey, which had hosted the Beatles in 1965, seemed like the right place to make a stand for good music.

July 12, 1979 was scheduled for a doubleheader between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Anyone who brought in a disco album would be let in for 98 cents. That's right, 98 cents, because of WLUP's FM frequency, 97.9. Between games of the twinbill, the records would be taken out onto the field and blown up by Dahl and his assistants.

Comiskey Park seated about 44,000 people. Apparently, disco sucked so much that 75,000 people showed up on the troubled South Side to get in and voice their displeasure at disco. Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall, then broadcasting for the ChiSox, mentioned "strange people." Mike Veeck would say the air was heavy with marijuana smoke. (Right, as if disco fans didn't smoke pot. Or use worse drugs: The disco era was the beginning of mass cocaine use in America.)

The Tigers won the first game, 4-1. Then the "demolition" was set up. The crate Dahl would use to blow up the records could hold 20,000. That left quite a few others, and people started flinging them like frisbees. When the records were blown up, everyone cheered. Dahl and his people got off the field in a Jeep, and then fans rushed the field, chanting, "Disco sucks! Disco sucks! Disco sucks!" They tore up the field, as if the White Sox had just won the Pennant. Caray got on the public-address system and told everyone to get off the field. No one listened. The umpires decided the field was unplayable, and declared the second game a forfeit to the Tigers -- after all, as the home team, the White Sox were responsible for making sure the field was playable.

An interesting note is that Tiger outfielder Rusty Torres was a Yankee when fans rushed the field at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in 1971, causing the Washington Senators' last home game to be forfeited to the Yanks; and was a Cleveland Indian when Ten-Cent Beer Night turned out to be an even bigger disaster than this, resulting in an Indian forfeit to the Texas Rangers in 1974. This would be Torres' third experience in a riot resulting in a forfeit. I seriously doubt anyone will break that record, even on steroids.

Arrests: 39. Injuries reported: 6. Deaths: None. In other words, despite everything, Comiskey Park may have been one of the safest spots in Chicago that night. Don't forget, the South Side was Al Capone's stomping grounds half a century earlier. And, as Jim Croce taught us in song, it was "the baddest part of town."

No American League games have been forfeited since, and only one National League game has, at Dodger Stadium, when Dodger fans received free balls upon entry, and threw them onto the field to protest a bad call by an umpire. That's right, Walter O'Malley, your beloved Temple of Treason hosted baseball's last forfeit. Hot enough for ya down there, you slimy bastard?

Disco did turn out to be on the decline. "Disco Demolition Night" -- or "Disco Sucks Night," as some called it -- was a symptom of its demise, rather than the cause. After all, for those of us who loved baseball then (as well as for those of us who didn't), one of the big songs of the year was "We Are Family," by Sister Sledge. Although the group came out of Philadelphia, across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and sang about "all my sisters and me" with no mention of "brothers," Willie Stargell, the portly slugger and captain of the Pittsburgh Pirates, took the song to heart, played it in the clubhouse, and even convinced the scoreboard operator at Three Rivers Stadium to play it as the Pirates took the field.

By the time the Pirates reached the Playoffs, the top of the dugout, instead of reading "PITTSBURGH PIRATES," read "THE FAMILY." Wonder what the local mobsters thought about that? Probably liked it once the Buccos won the World Series in October.

But aside from a few more skyrockets like "Funkytown," the disco era was pretty much over in a year. The Bee Gees would have a few more hits after 1979, Donna Summer would have a couple of post-disco smashes, but that was it: The Village People became the joke they always should have been treated as; Harry Wayne Casey, leader of KC & the Sunshine Band, was in an awful auto accident, hurting him badly enough that the group's momentum was gone, though he recovered enough to make them a big fixture on the oldies circuit; and punk had evolved into new wave, which would lead to the synthesizer-driven 1980s.

"We Are Family" was a fun record. In fact, there were quite a few fun disco records, including a comeback by my fellow Essex County natives, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons: "Who Loves You," "Swearin' to God," and "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)." Not to mention that when the musical Grease was turned into a film in 1978, Frankie sang a theme song written just for the film -- by Barry Gibb! It's disco, obviously not reflective of the late 1950s when Grease takes place, and Gibb clearly sings backup on it, by Frankie showed that a man can sing falsetto and still be masculine.

Was it really so bad? After all, it wasn't a form of music filled with violence, like heavy metal, or gangsta rap, or even (sometimes) the collected works of the Rolling Stones and The Who. Let me present some records that form...

The Top 10 Reasons Why Disco Might Not Have Sucked

10. "Play That Funky Music," Wild Cherry. The first disco parody, beating legendary deejay Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" by a few weeks, had to be on here.

9. "The Hustle," Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony. Another New Jerseyan, from Morristown, McCoy found a way to make a disco record I like: No stupid lyrics. In fact, aside from "Do it!" and "Do the Hustle!" this song has no lyrics at all. And, as an actual composer, rather than a songwriter, McCoy found a way to make it not particularly monotonous.

8. "You're the First, the Last, My Everything," Barry White & the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Another genuine composer, Barry was truly the Maestro of Love. I was in New York on July 4, 2003, and I saw the news of his death come over the Times Square "Zipper," and it was a sad thing. But he lived long enough to see his music come back, including this song used a few times on Ally McBeal. As the man himself would say, "Right On."

7. "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy," Rod Stewart. I won't give Rod a hard time on this one, because he's laughing along with us.

6. "Native New Yorker," Odyssey.

5. "Last Dance," Donna Summer. The jewel in the crown of the Queen of Disco.

4. "Le Freak," Chic. A better song than their other major hit, "Good Times" -- which had nothing to do with the TV show of the same name and time-period.

3. "Shame," Evelyn "Champagne" King.

2. "We Are Family," Sister Sledge.

1. "Who Loves You," Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. Yeah, that's right, I put Frankie and the Boys at Number 1. And I think it's a better song than its follow-up "Oh What a Night." You gotta problem widdat, punk?

Well, here's ten songs I really, really, really had a problem with. To be totally fair, I'm not ganging up on anyone: One notation per act. Though, as you'll note, Andy Gibb maybe have been a "Brother Gibb," but he was never officially one of the "Bee Gees":

The Top 10 Reasons Why Disco Sucked

Oh yes it did, oh yes it did.

10. "Ooh La La, Sasson," New York Rangers. Perhaps not the dumbest commercial ever made, and maybe not even the gayest, but almost certainly the campiest commercial ever to air on mainstream TV; since it wasn't a "disco record," I'm putting it at Number 10. Also because I hate the Rangers, who suck as much as disco ever did.

9. "I Will Survive," Gloria Gaynor. Like Valli and my parents, she's from Newark. Just to show you I'm not playing favorites. A song of female empowerment, it would be a far better song if it were straight rock, or earlier-'70s soul, or just about anything except disco. Another Essex County native, Queen Latifah, sang this on an early episode of Living Single and knocked 'em dead with it.

8. "Disco Inferno," The Trampps. Had it really been so many years since saying, "Burn, baby, burn" was a bad thing? Guess what: It still was.

7. "I Was Made For Lovin' You," Kiss. They not only sold out with this one, they "jumped the shark." And that's what people who LOVE the group -- me NOT among them -- say.

6. "Dancing Queen," ABBA. Not their worst record the Swedish bland-poppers ever put out, but pretty damn close.

5. "I Just Want to Be Your Everything," Andy Gibb. How'd that work out?

4. "I Love the Nightlife," Alicia Bridges. 'Scuse me while I barf.

3. "Don't Leave Me This Way," Thelma Houston. Sing that again, and I'll leave you any way I damn well please.

2. "Stayin' Alive," The Bee Gees. "I'm goin' nowhere... " True that.

1. "YMCA," the Village People. Attention, all you people who sing "YMCA" at sporting events: It is not, I repeat NOT a song about a man helping out a runaway teenager in time of need, it is a song about a gay man trying to pick up impressionable kids and introduce him to a world that most people, gay or straight, would have been ashamed to have associated with them. "Young man, there's no need to feel down... " Yes, there is: You're singing this fucking song! And, yes, it IS a "fucking song."

I close with a Dishonorable Mention: "Goodnight Tonight," Wings. Sir Cute One should have known better. Why, Paul, why? Did you need the money? Or maybe he was toking on some truly wicked herb when he thought that one up.

Disco: A truly wicked herb. Its bastard child, the computerized glop that has ruled the airwaves since the late 1980s, lives on, like a monster that keeps returning with new film sequels, and can never truly be killed. Or like malaria, it always comes back.

Long live rock and roll. If it can survive disco, it can survive anything.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Goodbye Metrodome, Hello First Place!

The Yankees are on an absolute tear. Yesterday's win over the Minnesota Twins was their 8th straight road win, and 11 out of 13 overall. Even when they're getting bad starts from their pitchers, they're getting away with it because the bullpen puts out the fire and the bats come alive.

The Yanks swept the Twins, and since the Twins are building a new ballpark that opens next season, and there are no more trips to the Twin Cities scheduled for this season, this was the Yankees' last game ever in the hated Metrodome.

Unless, of course, the 2 teams meet in the Playoffs -- which could very well happen. The Yankees are now tied for 1st place in the AL East, while the Twins, although only at .500, are only 4 games out of 1st in the AL Central.

The Twins have reached the Playoffs 5 times in the last 7 seasons, and on 2 of those occasions they faced the Yankees -- although the Yanks won both of those series, and the Twins haven't won a Pennant since their 1991 World Championship season. The Metrodome's legendary ability to hold in sound hasn't helped them in October since the first Bush Administration.

The Yanks now head out to the Coast to play the -- uh, what are they calling themselves this year? Oh yeah: "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim." Hey, it's not "The New York Giants of East Rutherford," is it? Or "The San Francisco Sharks of San Jose"? Or "The Detroit Pistons of Auburn Hills"? Or "The Dirty Filty Rotten Cheating Boston Patriots of Foxboro"?

The Angels have had the Yankees' number pretty much since they got good in the early 1970s, but are dealing with injuries right now, so maybe the Yanks can take 2 of 3 in this last series before the All-Star Break.

The Mets? Oy, better you shouldn't ask. Now 4 games under .500, in 4th place (out of 5)... but only 5 1/2 games out of first in the NL East, 6 1/2 out of the Wild Card. Their season's not over yet... but their injuries have left them seriously diminished, and that's not just a Yankee Fan talking: That's reality.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Back and Forth Between Parties

Yesterday was the big party. The twins' 2nd birthday was Thursday, and Nana hosted their party. As I was arguably the least important person at the party, I was able to go back and forth between the party and the Yankee game.

Joba Chamberlain threw too many pitches again, but the Yanks had a 4-0 lead after 2. So far, so good. But then Cody Ransom, subbing for A-Roid, made an error in the 4th, and Joba totally lost his composure. Huge cheer when Joe Girardi came out to remove him, and Joba got booed off the mound -- who would've thought that would ever happen? Jays 8, Yanks 4.

So much for paying attention to 2 parties at once. I couldn't be too upset; when your team has won 10 of 11, you can't really gripe about losing the 12th. Besides, the girls and their friends were having a ball.

Then someone asked me to check the score. Oh, okay. When I turned the TV back on, Hideki Matsui, who has been smoking lately, had just hit one out to make it 8-7. And Derek Jeter homered to make it 9-8 Yanks. A couple of people at the party were quite happy about that, including a friend of my sister's, whose husband was at the game.

The rest were focused on the kids, the food, and the petting-zoo animals that Mom/Nana and Sister/Mommy had hired -- or, as the girls called them, "anmals!" They love anmals. There was a donkey, a sheep, two goats, a rooster, two ducks and a rabbit. One of the goats put his front legs up on the fence used to pen them in, and tried to eat the leaves off one of our trees. They all seemed glad to be there except the donkey, who looked bored.

You should have seen the dog sniffing around the backyard after everyone left: The poor guy was going nuts, wondering who had done what to his yard! He was like a Met fan after the 2000 World Series!

The final was 10-8, and Girardi, who had told the press that he wouldn't use Phil Hughes, Phil Coke or Brian Bruney, and didn't want to use Mariano Rivera, either, got away with it because the guys he did use shut the Jays out the rest of the way: Jonathan Albaledejo stopped the Toronto threat in the 4th, and pitched fine in the 5th, and Alfredo Aceves came up with something I've never seen except in high school baseball, a 4-inning save.

The Yanks and Jays started at 1:05, the Mets and Phils at 1:35. By 4:00, the Mets' game was already over, while the Yanks were still in the 5th. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley homered off The Great and Powerful Johan Santana, and the Mets fell victim to some sensational Philly defense. Phils 2, Mets 0, for the sweep.

Looks like the Mets won't choke in September this time. Looks like they're done before the All-Star Break. (Speaking of donkeys... and I don't mean the Democratic kind... ) The Yanks are still 1 game behind Boston, and very much in the hunt for the Playoffs.

Jeter and Mark Teixeira were named All-Star starters. Rivera joins them. The Mets? David Wright has been named a starter, and Santana and Francisco Rodriguez have been named reserves.

*

Speaking of things that go back and forth... Before the party, I caught the end of that epic Wimbledon final. I don't normally watch tennis, but for the 2nd year in a row, Roger Federer was in an epic match in the "Gentlemen's Singles" Final. Last year, Rafael Nadal beat him in a spectacular match. This time, Federer was in the longest-ever 5th set in any major tournament, against... Andy Roddick? Seriously, Andy Roddick? Andy's Mojo is back?

As the color commentator on NBC's broadcast, John McEnroe said it was like a heavyweight title fight that's now in the 20th round. With that seemingly unresolvable tiebreaker, they played the equivalent of 6 full sets rather than the standard 5, and moved into a 7th. Federer had a whopping 47 aces, and still Roddick didn't give an inch, with 29 of his own. This wasn't tennis, this was a freaking tug-of-war.

Federer was playing for his 15th major, breaking the record he jointly held with Pete Sampras. Roddick was playing for vindication and, pretty much, for validation of his career. And they were both playing as though they understood and felt the weight of history.

My Grandma was a huge tennis fan, a native of Queens, where the U.S. Open was held first at Forest Hills and since 1978 in Flushing Meadow across from the Shea/Citi Field site. I have her picture over my desk, and I kept looking back at it, saying, "Are you watching this? Can you believe this?" From the Ultimate Skybox, she was probably loving it.

It just went on and on and on, because Roddick refused to let Federer break his serve, and Federer was equally resolute. Finally, Federer broke Roddick to end it.

Roddick 7 6 6 6 14
Federer 5 7 7 3 16

Rick Reilly said on ESPN, "How can you call Roddick a loser?" He's right: He did more good for himself by reaching the Wimbledon final and taking the best player of this era -- maybe of any era -- beyond any reasonable limit than most players will ever do with a single victory.

Which takes us back to McEnroe's analogy: Not only did Roddick do as much good for himself as McEnroe did in defeat in his duel of death with Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Final, but he did as much good for himself as Joe Frazier did in the Thrilla in Manila with Muhammad Ali in 1975.

Serena Williams beat her sister Venus for the "Ladies' Singles" title, then they teamed up to take the Doubles title.

It's a little weird that Wimbledon, British sport's greatest spectacle (greater even than the FA Cup, and I don't want to hear about the British Open golf tournament), comes to its conclusion around the 4th of July, the anniversary of the day America declared its independence from Britain. But a lot of American eyes were on this tournament, including those of Sampras, who was there to congratulate Federer on surpassing him. Federer also took a phone call from some guy named Eldrick Woods. (I wonder if the Queen was watching.)

Well, now I can forget about tennis until the U.S. Open reaches its bigger rounds.

*

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 32, August 6 at The Stadium.

Days until the Emirates Cup kicks off the next Arsenal season: 54.

Days until the next Premier League season begins: 41.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 60.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 65.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 89 or thereabouts.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 144.

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.

Come 4th, Yankee Fans

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1776? Or a Giant fan switching to the Yankees upon seeing Babe Ruth in 1920? Or Walter O’Malley stealing the Dodgers from Brooklyn in 1957? Or fair-weather fans switching to the Mets in 1969 or 1984? Or back to the Yankees in 1977 or 1996? Or a team owner firing a manager?

In 1903, already a Broadway legend, George M. Cohan wrote and starred in a musical, Little Johnny Jones. It featured a song titled “Yankee Doodle Dandy”:

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.
A Yankee Doodle do-or-die.
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam.
Born on the 4th of July.
I’ve got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart.
She’s my Yankee Doodle Joy.
Yankee Doodle came to London
Just to ride a pony.
I am that Yankee Doodle boy.

George M. Cohan was born on July 3, 1878 – he may have been “a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam,” but he wasn’t quite “born on the 4th of July.

When that musical hit the Broadway stage, there was a new baseball team in town. It was called the New York Highlanders. Their park, Hilltop Park, was at the highest elevation in Manhattan. They also had a team executive named Joseph Gordon – not to be confused with the later second baseman, Joe “Flash” Gordon – and at the time, the “Gordon Highlanders” was a famous Scottish unit of the British Army.

But “Highlanders” was a long name for the newspapers to fit into their headlines, so the papers generally called the Highlanders “the Americans,” since that was already a standard name for teams in the American League, especially when their city already had a team in the National League (and such teams were called “the Nationals”).

But “Yankee Doodle Dandy” quickly became the 1903 equivalent of a Number 1 hit. And, with the word “Yankee” having been already tied into the idea of “American,” the papers started calling the Highlanders the “Yankees,” which could fit into a headline. Better yet, it could be shortened further, to “Yanks.” The team made the name official in 1913.

Cohan was born in Providence, Rhode Island. But the man who played him in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy, James Cagney, was a New Yorker. Cohan, as was just about every other celebrity in New York at that time, was courted by Giants manager John McGraw, and so Cohan was a Giants fan. But Cagney was a Yankee Fan, and was even invited to throw out the first ball before a game at Yankee Stadium in the 1981 World Series.

I couldn’t find a clip of Cohan himself singing it, but here’s Cagney in what might be the film’s original 1942 trailer.

*

July 4, 1939. 70 years ago today: Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. For the first time, a baseball team retires a uniform number, Gehrig’s Number 4. It’s been debated as to whether people knew Gehrig was dying or just unable to play anymore.

The recorded text is, apparently, not quite word-for-word, if what survives of the film is to be believed. Here’s what he apparently said, extrapolating from both sources:

For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to play with such fine-looking men? Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

Sure‚ I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also‚ the builder of baseball's greatest empire‚ Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow‚ Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader‚ that smart student of psychology‚ the best manager in baseball today‚ Joe McCarthy?

Sure‚ I'm lucky. When the New York Giants‚ a team you would give your right arm to beat‚ and vice versa‚ sends you a gift‚ that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies‚ that's something.

When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body‚ it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed‚ that's the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break‚ but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

In case it matters to you, the Yankees lost the 1st game of that doubleheader to the Washington Senators, 3-2, and won the 2nd game, 11-1.

Like Cohan, Gehrig was immortalized in a 1942 film, Pride of the Yankees. Gary Cooper had never played baseball before – no joke – but he looked a lot like Gehrig and was one of America’s finest actors.

Note that in the film version, the speech is very similar, but not exact, the biggest difference being that the key line comes at the end, not near the beginning. Note also that, standing behind Cooper, are Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, playing themselves. So did 1927 Yankees Bob Meusel and Mark Koenig (who turned out to be the last survivor from the ’27 “Murderer’s Row”), and sportscasting pioneer Bill Stern.

Two years later, with Gehrig dead, a Monument was scheduled to be dedicated in his memory. But it rained, and the ceremony was postponed to a Sunday doubleheader, which is why the plaque reads "JULY THE FOURTH" even though the dedication came on July 6, 1941.

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Of course, I don’t remember those 4th of Julys. I do remember July 4, 1978, when the Yankees were reeling, and the Red Sox were running away with the American League East, and the Yankees needed to win that day. They needed it very badly.

Dr. Frank Field, on WNBC-Channel 4, on what was then called NewsCenter4, had predicted beautiful weather for the 4th of July. But it rained, all up and down the Eastern seaboard.

The Yanks-Sox game was cancelled, and so were the fireworks on the beach in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, and I was very upset at both things.

People were furious at Field, and when he showed up at the NewsCenter4 studio, he had a noose around his neck. It was a joke. I think.

That Yanks-Sox game was rescheduled for September 7. And that turned out to be a momentous day, and not just because of the death of Keith Moon, the drummer for The Who: It was the beginning of a now-four-game series that was quickly labeled the Boston Massacre. Talk about fireworks: 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4. And if you’re a Yankee Fan, you know how the 1978 season ended.

I also remember the Yanks-Sox game five years later, on July 4, 1983. It was brutally hot, and the All-Star Game was two days later, and Yankee starter Dave Righetti had been chosen for the team. But Billy Martin, in his third tour of duty as Yankee manager, started Righetti, so he wouldn’t be able to pitch in the Midsummer Classic at Comiskey Park. To make matters more stressful for Rags, the game was interrupted a few times by Phil Rizzuto and Frank Messer doing on-field giveaways. But the Yankees won, 4-0, and Righetti no-hit the hard-hitting Sox, ending with a strikeout of one of the hardest batters to strike out ever, Wade Boggs.

A year later, on July 4, 1984, Phil Niekro, during his brief two-year sojourn with the Yankees, threw a knuckleball past Larry Parrish of the Texas Rangers for his 3,000th career strikeout.

Of course, while George M. Cohan wasn’t born on America’s Independence Day, George M. Steinbrenner was. The Boss turns 79 today.

Happy Independence Day, everyone – remember how we got and kept that independence, and don’t celebrate too hard. I want you to live to see next year’s 4th.