Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oh, Yes, There Was a Rutgers Win

Thank you, Iowa, for beating Ratface Paterno and his Nittany Lions, and ending the National Championship dreams of his Kool-Aid drinkers for another season!

Oh, yes, Rutgers played football on Saturday, and I was there to see it.

It was my 1st-ever Rutgers road game. I always figured it would be against Army at West Point, or in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse, or in Pittsburgh against, well, Pitt. But it was at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Maryland, inside Washington's Capital Beltway, against the University of Maryland, a Big East-Atlantic Coast Conference crossover.

(UPDATE: Rutgers and Maryland later joined the Big Ten, so now, it's an intraconference game.)

Tom Savage did not start, due to a head injury in the Florida International game. So it was Dominic Natale. Help...

Byrd Stadium looks nice. Maybe someday, I'll see it when it's dry. We got drenched.

And they stuck the bulk of the Rutgers fans in the upper deck. This was high. Really high. Higher than the upper deck at Giants Stadium, I think. I'm talking old Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium height. That, plus the wet steps and slippery railings, made it a perilous climb, especially to get back down to get food and use the restroom.

Speaking of which, there was a roof leak in the restroom. Somebody suggested there was another restroom right above us. At least it wasn't as bad as the late, somewhat-lamented Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, where I once saw evidence of a guy who couldn't wait on line any longer, and used the trash can, and missed.

On the 1st play from scrimmage, Rutgers returned an interception for a touchdown. 7-0 RU. Great! But the rest of the 1st half was a washout, and we trailed at the half, 13-10. It should have been more like 24-13 us, because Maryland -- an ACC power in the Eighties, pretty good not that long ago, and conquerors of Rutgers in Piscataway just 2 years ago -- is not good right now.

Maryland coughed up the ball 5 times, and Rutgers won it, 34-13. I tell you this: With a healthy Savage at the controls, we could have hung at least 50 on them. And a great job by the Rutgers defense.

Still, 4 games into the season, a 3-1 record, and I don't think we really know anything about Rutgers yet. The Scarlet Knights remain a mystery, going into a bye week.

The next game is Saturday, October 10, Homecoming against Texas Southern. Not Texas, not Texas A&M, not Texas Tech, not Texas-El Paso... Texas Southern.

In other words, we really won't know much about this team until close to midnight on October 16, when their home game against Pittsburgh is over.

Harry "Curley" Byrd, for whom the stadium was named, was a football coach at Maryland, and later president of the University. The stadium's capacity is listed as 54,000, making it slightly more than the newly-expanded capacity of Rutgers Stadium. But it looks a lot bigger, because it's so much taller.

The attendance was announced as 43,800 or so. Oh really? If it was half of that, I'd be surprised. The rain, the ineptitude of Maryland, and the fact that Rutgers still doesn't travel all that well, kept the actual attendance down pretty low.

However, the people who did show up, Scarlet Knights fans and Terrapins fans alike, were really into it, and clean. Good job by both sets of fans who cared enough, or were crazy enough, to sit through this lousy game in lousier weather.

I should have expected that. Maryland fans, depeding on what part of the State they're from, either love their Redskins, or loved their Colts and now love their Ravens, and the Terps are one thing that unites them.

Speaking of the Ravens, there were a few Ravens jerseys with Ray Rice's name and Number 27 on them. I wonder how many RU fans stayed overnight and went up to Baltimore to "See Ray Run" against the Cleveland Browns? He did score his first NFL touchdown against the Browns, but then, the Browns are coached by Eric Mangini. Can you believe this guy was once called "Mangenius"? Final score of that one: Ravens 34, Browns 3. I'm guessing that did not go over well in Northern Ohio, where the Ravens will always be Art Modell's team.

As I was riding the train down from Washington to Williamsburg, I read the Washington Post, which has one of the best sports sections in existence, and Post columnist/ESPN Pardon the Interruption co-host Michael Wilbon called it: He said the Redskins would lose to the Detroit Lions, ending the Lions' 19-game losing streak, and they did, 19-14.

Wilbon, you want some DAP for that? Here is some DAP! For the last 10 years or so, it has taken quite a bit of guts to pick the Lions under any circumstances. You did, and it worked.

Class move by the Lions to come back out onto the gridiron at Ford Field and salute their fans, who've suffered so much -- with the Lions' half a century of ineptitude, and falling short even when they have been good, being the least of their problems.

*

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 2, Friday night, at home, against Piscataway. That's Piss... cataway, whom we haven't beaten since 1990, for several reasons: Bad weather, bad officiating, bad luck, and, of course, very often, bad football. It should again be the Home News Tribune Game of the Week, and it should be every bit as intense as the thriller last Friday against Monroe. And then another Game of the Week next week against Sayreville. This is the second of three straight weeks which should tell whether EB has what it takes, and can win the Conference Championship.

Days until the Major League Baseball Playoffs begin (for the Yankees, anyway): 7, next Wednesday night, at Yankee Stadium II, against the American League Central Division Champions, either the Detroit Tigers or the Minnesota Twins.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 3, this Saturday night, against the hated Philadelphia Flyers. Let's get ready to rumble!

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 5, next Monday night, against the hated Rangers, who SUCK!

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 10.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 57. 8 weeks.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin: 135.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season (yes, the schedules are out already): 187. The Yankees open on Monday, April 5, against the Red Scum at Fenway Park.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 195. It's on Tuesday, April 13, against the team known, for the moment, as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 255.

Days until the World Cup Final: 286.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (as yet unnamed) opens: 310 (presuming that the NFL season does, in fact, open that day, and that either the Giants or the Jets will be at home every week).

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 591 (projected).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 773.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thank You, Kyle Farnsworth!

Yankees 4, Kansas City Royals 3. The Yanks went into the bottom of the 9th down 3-2. But Kyle Farnsworth was brought out for the Royals. The same Kerosene Kyle, Not a Darn's Worth, who'd screwed the Yankees over so many times. And this time, he blew it in the Yankees' favor.

Yee freakin' haw!

This was the 102nd win of the season for the Yankees. Is the number of wins in the regular season meaningful?

1998: The Yankees won 114 games, which was an American League record until 2001. Won the World Series.

1927: 110 wins, which was an AL record until 1954. Won the World Series.

1961: 109 wins, the most wins by a New York team between 1927 and 1998 -- the Mets have never topped it, topping out at 108 wins in 1986. Won the World Series.

1932: 107 wins. Won the World Series.

1939: 106 wins. Won the World Series. This matches the Giants' top win total in New York, in 1904, but they chickened out and wouldn't play the World Series. The Dodgers' top win total in New York was 105, in 1953, but they lost the World Series with the Yankees.

1963: 104 wins. But lost the World Series to the Dodgers.

2002: 103 wins. But lost the Division Series to the Whatever They Were Calling Themselves That Year Angels of Anaheim.

1980: 103 wins. But lost the American League Championship Series to the Royals.

1954: 103 wins. But finished second to the Cleveland Indians, whose 111 wins stood as the AL record until 1998.

1942: 103 wins. But lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

1937: 102 wins. Won the World Series.

1936: 102 wins. Won the World Series.

2009: 102 wins, with 4 left to play. Postseason result to be determined.

I want this title. With all due respect to other teams with a chance, screw 'em. I want this one. Badly.

And, hey, if Kyle Farnsworth can screw up a game in our favor for once, anything is possible!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yankees Clinch with Me in Williamsburg!

Ballgame over. American League Eastern Division over. Yankees win. The Yankees win.

A little subdued, you ask? Three reasons.

A. It was the Division Title. True, we haven't won it in three years, and it was against The Scum, but it was only the Division Title. Let teams that hardly ever win (say, Tampa Bay last year) celebrate Division Titles. We are Yankee Fans, and we want it all. After all, we won the Division in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and it did not result in a Pennant, much less a World Series.

B. We know, in particular, that there's a very good chance that we could play the Red Sox again in the ALCS. So the biggest reckoning of all could very well still be to come. But after starting the season 0-8 against them, to finish 9-9 is quite the accomplishment.

And C., I was 355 miles from home, and 390 miles from Yankee Stadium II, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Not to be confused with Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just 11 miles from The House That George Built.

Williamsburg, Virginia. Which means I was not just 390 miles away, I was also about 230 years away. Fortunately, there's no baseball who's been waiting that long to win a World Series. Not even the Chicago Cubs have been waiting that long. Now that would be a hexed team: The Curse of Lord Dunmore!

Funny thing: One of the Colonial Williamsburg re-enactors was telling us about the great victory the Continental Army had at Saratoga. (That's 182 miles from Yankee Stadium, but Fenway Park is still further, 199 miles.) He mentioned the big hero of the battle was General Benedict Arnold.

Now, we know the end of the story, but since he's playing a Town Crier from the fall of 1777, he has to act as though he doesn't. And when he asked for three cheers -- "Hip, hip, huzzah!" -- for Arnold, he didn't get them. So he mentioned that Arnold is from Connecticut, making him "one of those crazy New Englanders!" Ha! But he mentioned that New England bore the brunt of the early fighting, and so they should be respected.

(I looked it up: Although cricket has been played in southern England since the late 16th Century, there wasn't a World Cup of it until 1975, so, no, Sir Reginald Jackson did not collect three "centuries" in cricket's World Cup in 1777.)

Later in the day, the city was taken by the British. And a re-enactor playing Arnold rode in front of the Capitol, and was thoroughly booed. He ordered that the Grand Union Flag (with the familiar 13 alternating red and white stripes but a British Union Jack in the canton) be hauled down from the pole, and the actual British flag raised.

The Yanks and Sox -- and the Giants game and the Jets game, which was going on at the same time because it was Yom Kippur and Jewish Jet fans needed to be home by sundown -- were all going on at this point, and I was anxiously awaiting word from the 21st Century. It was like the musical 1776 mixed with The Bronx Is Burning mixed with The Twilight Zone. Finally, with a break in the Revolutionary action, I could wait no longer, and I flipped open the phone, accessed the Internet, and got the score: Yankees 4, Red Sox 2. Final.

4-2! We beat The Scum, 4-2! We beat The Scum, 4-2! We beat The Scum, 4-2! Also, Two-nil, and they fucked it up!

And as a result of enjoying this magnificent victory in The Bronx, I missed the announcement of the far more important victory at Yorktown, with a George Washington portrayer telling us. Rats, I chose Mariano Rivera (who, while he is most welcome in America, was, last I checked, still a citizen of Panama, not just a native of that land), over The Father of Our Country.

Ben Franklin would have laughed at my twisted sense of priorities. Maybe Thomas Jefferson would have. George Washington would not. (Then again, living so close to the city that would bear his name, he's probably more concerned that the Redskins ended the Detroit Lions' 19-game losing streak!)

However, before I left the historic area, I looked back at the flagpole above the old colonial Capitol building, I saw a proper, if not current, American flag: It had the proper striping, and the canton was a blue field with alternating rows of 3 and 2 stars, adding up to 13. It was October 1781, and while the war was not officially concluded, there would be no more major battles, and even Yogi Berra would have had to admit that it was over.

Shortly before I left town, I stopped in the Visitors Center gift shop. They were selling baseballs with the signatures of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Now, I'm sure that, as the leading American scientists of their time, Franklin and Jefferson could explain the mechanics of baseball (why a ball curves, why some ballparks favor certain kinds of hitters and why some favor pitchers), but they probably never saw a game -- although there is a surviving journal of Washington stating that soldiers played a forerunner game called "base" at Valley Forge. But there ain't no baseballs signed by the Founding Fathers!

Still, the gentleman at the register informed me that Bill Barker, who portrays Jefferson at Williamsburg and similar places (and looks every bit as much like him as Ralph Archbold of Philadelphia looks like Franklin), has signed some of the balls with the familiar "Th Jefferson" signature.

*

I first visited Colonial Williamsburg in 1981. The night we arrived, May 15, it was just after 11 PM, and we watched the local evening news. It was weird to see a sports broadcast with no local Major League Baseball team, no major league sports team period. Washington (RFK Stadium, anyway) is 158 miles away from the historic district. Baltimore (the site of Memorial Stadium), 197 miles. Charlotte, doesn't matter, since that city didn't have any big-league teams until the Hornets arrived in 1988.

But there was a big story on the sports report that night: Len Barker of the Cleveland Indians pitched a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Indians winning 3-0. It was the first perfect game pitched in my lifetime. Not since Catfish Hunter pitched one for Oakland in 1968 had one been tossed at the big-league level. So Barker's perfecto was a big deal.

In this weekend's papers, the big deal was college football. William & Mary had a big conference showdown with the University of Delaware, winning 30-20. Virginia Tech, ranked 9th in the nation, hosted Number 11 Miami in Blacksburg, and smothered 'em, 31-7. The University of Virginia? They had the week off.

Still W&M is Division I-AA, or whatever they're calling it these days -- Bowl Championship Subdivision or whatever. The Cavs are 127 miles away in Charlottesville, the Hokies 270 miles away in Blacksburg. So even that is far from the college equivalent of the big leagues. Unless you want to count the basketball programs at Old Dominion in Norfolk, 44 miles away. Did I ever mention that I love Google Maps? Or maps in general? (Has nothing to do with my initials being MAP.)

No, if you're looking for big-league sports, the Hampton Roads area in Southeastern Virginia is not the place for you. But...

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are ever fortunate enough to have the chance to visit Williamsburg, by all means, go.

On second thought, by one means, go: Amtrak. The schedules aren't especially favorable, but it's better to spend the extra money for an additional night in a hotel than to ride back by Greyhound. Having to change buses in Richmond, get off the bus again in Washington, then ride straight up to Port Authority is hard enough when the bus isn't full. When it is... trust me, Amtrak is better, and it's actually less expensive to ride it through Washington to Williamsburg than to ride it just to Washington.

*

So, while I was in Colonial Williamsburg, the Yankees clinched the Division with a sweep of The Scum.

Speaking of teams that are known as The Scum, my ticket for Devils vs. Rangers on October 5 arrived. Let's get ready to rumble!

And Rutgers vs. Maryland will be discussed in a subsequent post.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

3-0! We Beat The Scum! We Clinch Tomorrow!

3-0! We beat The Scum, 3-0! We beat The Scum, 3-0! We beat The Scum, 3-0!

New Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Bronx native and Yankee Fan whose ruling from the federal bench ended the Strike of '94 just before the 1995 season began, threw out he ceremonial first ball.

A two-hit shutout by CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera. Robinson Cano's homer in the 6th was all we needed, though we got 2 more runs. Fine with me!

The Magic Number is... 1. Tomorrow is it, we clinch. Then... it all depends on who wins the Division Series. We may have to play these bozos 4 to 7 more times. Let's do whatever it takes within the rules -- as opposed to the Sox, who do whatever it takes and hope that Bud Selig continues to look the other way.

Andy Pettitte pitches against Paul Byrd. Game time is 1:05, and by 4:30 the Yankees should be American League Eastern Division Champions for the first time since 2006, for the 16th time overall, and it will be (whether it comes tomorrow or later) the 45th first-place finish in Yankee history.

I'd call that "amazing," but that would sound like a reference to The Other Team. How did they do today? In the words of Daniel Craig, when, in his debut performance as James Bond (Casino Royale), he was asked if he wanted his martini shaken or stirred, "Do I look like I give a damn?"

It wasn't easy keeping track of this one from 200 miles away, but, as Billy Martin would have said, "I managed."

Friday, September 25, 2009

9-5! We Beat The Scum, 9-5!

9-5! We beat The Scum, 9-5! We beat The Scum, 9-5! We beat The Scum, 9-5!

I'm glad Jon Lester wasn't hurt as bad as was feared. But I'm also glad we beat him. I don't care how great his story is, he's Red Scum and he has to lose.

Looks like the Yankees listened to me: They let Joba Chamberlain pitch like a man and he made monkeys out of the Sox. And we hit them.

And how about A-Rod, getting -- gasp! and in a good way -- clutch hits against the Sox! Good to see that in September. Keep it up for another five weeks, Alex, we only need it for another five weeks.

The Magic Number to clinch the AL East is down to 3. We can still clinch on Sunday afternoon. Let's do it!

*

What a game at Jay Doyle Field tonight. East Brunswick came into the Middlesex County Game of the Week ranked Number 4 in the Home News Tribune rankings, and Monroe came in at Number 3. They took a 14-0 lead on us. We came back to make it 20-14. But in the 4th quarter, they took a 21-20 lead. Tyler Yonchiuk kicked a 44-yard field goal with 1:30 to go, and Da Bears won, 23-21. Best regular-season game in East Brunswick in about 20 years.

My voice is shot, and I don't know how I'm going to cheer for Arsenal at Lucky Bar in D.C. and Rutgers in College Park tomorrow.

Happy Scooter Day: Beat the Sox!

Today is the birthday of a great man.

No, I don't mean Michael Douglas. The shriveled ham actor turns 65 today, and thus officially becomes what I've been saying he is for years now: A senior citizen.

It's also the birthday of his wife, the Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. She turns 40. Yeah, well, 40 is the new whatever she wants it to be. I'm taking a day off from work, because it's a religious holiday. CZJ is a goddess of love.

There's a 3-month difference in our ages. Between her and "It," as someone I correspond with online calls Kirk Douglas' son, there's 25 years. And yet, when they met, Kirk, who's still alive at 93, said to Michael, "If you don't marry her, I will!"

In all fairness, I hated Michael Douglas long before he took my precioussss away from me. And I don't hate him nearly as much as I used to.

The strange thing is, I hated Richard Gere because he took away Cindy Crawford, but I don't hate her second husband, whatever his name is. (Rande Gerber.) And, as one of the generation of boys who discovered women by seeing Christie Brinkley on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (or "SI-squared"), I already didn't like Billy Joel when he married her. Then I found out how great his music is and forgave him. Then I found out Christie cheated on him, and I hated her. But when her most recent husband cheated on her, it became easy to let bygones be bygones.

Uh, where was I?

*

Oh, yes, today is the birthday of a great man. The year is in dispute: It's been cited as 1916, 1917 and 1918, but the date September 25 is not in dispute. Sadly, the man has moved on to the great ballpark in the sky, but I still want to wish a Happy Birthday to Philip Francis Rizzuto.

Da Scootah. New York Yankees shortstop 1941-1956, with 1943-45 off for serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. New York Yankees broadcaster 1957-1996.

Think about that: He was a Yankee broadcaster during the drought of 1965-1975 and the one of 1982-1995, the 2 longest droughts in team history, and yet he still was a part of 19 World Championships. (It would have been 20 if he wasn't off saving the world.)

Throw in the fact that the Yankees signed him to his 1st pro contract in 1937, and it means that the Yankees never won a World Series without Phil Rizzuto on the payroll between 1936 and 1998! For all I know, maybe they still haven't won one without the Scooter on the payroll since 1936: He may have still been listed as a "special advisor" or an "ambassador" or something prior to his death in 2007.

I was at Yankee Stadium on Phil Rizzuto Day, August 4, 1985. It was a Sunday. The previous Tuesday, I ordered the tickets. The next day, Wednesday, the opponents, the Chicago White Sox, announced that Tom Seaver, with 299 career victories, would be the starting pitcher. A lot of Met fans came to watch Seaver win his 300th. And he did. But I came to honor the Scooter. I'll tell the story in full some other time, because it makes Met fans look like animals.

The Scooter got his Number 10 retired -- and as many numbers as the Yankees have retired, it was "only" the 9th number retired by the Pinstripes. And he got his Monument Park Plaque:
All-Time Yankee Shortstop? At the time, it was true. He lasted long enough in the booth to see Derek Jeter as a rookie, and, ooh, I tell ya, it was unbelievable how much Phil loved Derek.

Phil said, "Being honored by the Yankees means more to me than the Hall of Fame ever could."

Thankfully, the Hall's Veterans' Committee eventually showed Phil how wrong he was about that. And I don't care what Bill James says -- he works for the Red Sox now, anyway -- Anybody who says that Phil Rizzuto doesn't belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame is somebody who would tell kids that Santa Claus deals drugs. Only a true lowlife would say that. I tell ya, it gives me agita just thinking about it.

*

So what are the Yankees getting for Rizzuto for his birthday? I have a great idea for a present: Beat those huckleberries from Boston! Crunch 'em like cannoli!

(Yes, "cannoli." That's the correct plural form. The correct singular is "cannolo" -- or "cannolu," if you want to say it not in Italian, but in its native Sicilian. To show the proper... respect.)

So long. I gotta get over that bridge. Holy cow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mr. October -- and the other "Mr. Months"

Can October really be only one week away? Yes: September 24 + 7 days = October 1.

Mr. October, Reginald Martinez Jackson, my guy, is in the headlines again, this time co-authoring a book with fellow Baseball Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson, titled Sixty Feet, Six Inches: A Hall of Fame Hitter & a Hall of Fame Pitcher Talk About How the Game Is Played.

They were assisted by Lonnie Wheeler, who also guided Gibson's autobiography, Stranger to the Game, and Hank Aaron's, I Had a Hammer; and also wrote Bleachers: A Summer in Wrigley Field, and Hard Stuff, and edited the memoir of the late longtime Mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young. Most people who love baseball would consider themselves lucky to have written just one good book about the sport. Wheeler has written and/or "ghostwritten" several, especially when you consider that Mayor Young's cover showed him wearing a Tigers cap and throwing out the first ball before a game at Tiger Stadium, which he managed to save for one more generation (though not for longer).

I'm also in the process of reading The Truth About Ruth, a book by Peter Handrinos, who seeks to establish what really happened in several Yankee myths. He does a pretty good job of sucking up to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez and George Steinbrenner; but does a hatchet job on Roger Maris and fails, in my opinion, to properly "respect Derek Jeter's gangster." (Yes, that's a plug for another Yankee-themed blog.)

Handrinos shows that Reggie can very easily be called "Mister Late October." (Actually, considering when the World Series was played in his day, "Mister Mid-October" would be more appropriate.) And he shows that this was true in Oakland as well as in New York. But, and he's right about this, Reggie's ALCS appearances, for Oakland, New York and Anaheim (or whatever the Los Angeles Angels of Orange County, California were calling themselves at the time), weren't so good.

I guess he didn't see that home run off Al Hrabosky come down in Game 1 of the '78 ALCS. Come to think of it, did any of us ever see that ball come down? And the Mad Hungarian was not only a fresh relief pitcher, but a lefty, too.

Maybe it wasn't lefties that Reggie couldn't hit, or even Kansas City lefties. Maybe it was just Paul Splittorff and Larry Gura -- who, to be fair, were pretty good pitchers, or else the Royals wouldn't have won 4 AL West Titles in 5 years. But not great pitchers, or else the Royals would have won more than that one Pennant in 1980. Splittorff -- not the inventor of the split-fingered fastball -- had a 4.91 earned-run average in the '78 ALCS, and in the '80 WS his ERA ballooned to 5.40. Gura's ERA in the '80 WS was a sparkling 2.19, but aside from that his postseason ERA was, like Splittorff's in the '78 ALCS, 4.91. By the time the Royals finally won the World Series in 1985, Splittorff and Gura had both retired.

*

It got me thinking about George Steinbrenner's comment that if Reggie was Mr. October, then Dave Winfield, who infamously went 1-for-22 (6-for-27 if you count walks) in the 1981 World Series, was "Mr. May." But Dave did help the Toronto Blue Jays win the 1992 World Series, while George was, uh, put in a corner by Fay Vincent. (Dirty Dancing reference for you there, Tony Reali, if you're reading. Rest in peace, Patrick Swayze, and nobody cares whether you read Byron or not.)

I've often thought about putting down the other "Mr. Months." This is as good a time as any. I'll list my choices, and the reasons why, and nominate two runners-up for each month. Here goes:

Mr. January: Joe Montana. Since the 1965 season, the NFL has played postseason games in January, and until the 2001 season the Super Bowl was only played in that month. Montana led the San Francisco 49ers to 4 Super Bowls, won them all, was named Most Valuable Player in 3 of them, and in the one where he didn't receive the award (Jerry Rice did, no slouch he), Montana only led the first come-from-behind two-minute drill in Super Bowl history. "Joe Cool" indeed.
If Montana isn't the greatest quarterback ever -- some old-timers still say Johnny Unitas or Otto Graham, and some real fools say Dan Marino, John Elway or Brett Favre -- then he's clearly the greatest postseason quarterback ever.

Interesting tidbit: At Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, California, on the Ventura Freeway west of Los Angeles, Joe's son, Nick Montana, has been throwing touchdown passes to Trey Smith, son of Will Smith. Wonder if they call Trey "the Fresher Prince"? Nick's backup is Trevor Gretzky. You might have heard of his father, too: He's the owner, and now former head coach, of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. I understand he played a little hockey, too. (In fact, his name will come up later.)

Runners-up: Terry Bradshaw (4 rings, 2 MVPs), Bart Starr (the only starting QB with 5 rings, plus 2 MVPs, although some of that was in December, and do you really think he was better than Montana?).

Ms. February: Bonnie Blair. This was a tough one. Paul Gallico had been one of the greatest sportswriters of the 1920s, but gave up writing sports. When asked why, he said, "February." This was before the extension of the NFL season -- in fact, it was before the NFL had a wide audience at all -- and long, long before anyone thought to stage a postseason tournament to decide a National Champion for college basketball.

But there is the Winter Olympics, and speed skater Blair, with 5 Gold Medals and a Bronze over 3 Olympiads, is the most decorated woman in U.S. Olympic history. So at least one of my "Misters" is a "Ms."
Runners-up: Eric Heiden (another speed skater, for not just sweeping all 5 races at the 1980 Winter Olympics, but world records in all 5), Herb Brooks (who coached the other U.S. Gold Medal at those homeland Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, the hockey team that beat the Soviets -- and the Finns for the Gold.) I had considered Richard Petty, whose record of 200 NASCAR victories includes a record 7 wins in the February-based Daytona 500, but auto racing is not a sport.

Mr. March: John Wooden. For his first 13 seasons as head coach of the basketball team at the University of California at Los Angeles, he didn't reach what we now call the NCAA Final Four. Then, in 14 seasons, from 1962 to 1975, he got UCLA to 12 Final Fours, 10 National Championship games, and won all 10 of those.
True, he won 3 with Lew Alcindor and 2 with Bill Walton. But he won in '64 when his biggest star was Walt Hazzard, in '65 with Gail Goodrich, in '70 and '71 with Sidney Wicks, and in '75 with Dave Meyers. These were good players (Goodrich has even been elected to the Hall of Fame and had his Number 25 retired by the Lakers), but they weren't Lew/Kareem or Walton. In fact, Meyers wasn't even the best UCLA baller in his own family: His sister is Ann Meyers. (At least Reggie Miller's sister Cheryl gave him the courtesy of going across town to USC.)

It is true that Wooden "only" had to win 4 games to get through the Tournament, whereas current coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and today's UCLA boss Ben Howland (who has at least gotten to the title game) need to win 6, playing in a field of 64 instead of 24. On the other hand, in Wooden's time, you had to win your conference to be invited to the tournament (unless you were an exceptional independent). So some very talented teams at USC, Oregon and Washington didn't get to go to what's now called the Big Dance.

Also, he had winning streaks of 88 and 47 games, the longest and 3rd-longest winning streaks in college basketball history. Need more? He coached 10 National Championship teams in a span of 12 seasons; in their entire histories, the next closest schools, never mind coaches, are Kentucky with 7, and North Carolina and Indiana with 5 each (and KU needed 4 coaches to do it, IU and UNC 2 each). You're a Dukie, a Coach K guy? Your guy would have to win 2 more National Championships, and then he'd be halfway to the Wizard of Westwood.

He'll be 99 years old next month, and he still inspires, to the point where, aside from his father, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., Wooden is the only man since the name change that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has ever let call him "Lewis."

Runners-up: Bobby Knight (3 National Championships at Indiana, the first two when the entire tourney was still held in March, and the winningest men's coach ever), Pat Summitt (8 National Championships at Tennessee, and the winningest college basketball coach ever regardless of gender) -- and between the two of them, they just barely exceed Wooden's 10 titles!

Mr. April: Bill Russell. Not until his last season, 1969, did the NBA play a game in May, so this is an easy choice: 13 seasons, 12 trips to the NBA Finals, 11 World Championships. This is a total matched in North American sports only by Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, but Henri was never the best player on his own team -- in fact, for the 1st 5 years of his career, he wasn't even the best player on his team in his own family (see below). Still, Russell and the Pocket Rocket are the only people with more championship rings than fingers. (Unless you want to count rings added as head coaches or executives.)
No, the Nehru jacket does not disqualify him.

Don't forget that, for the last two seasons of his career, Russell won titles as a player-coach -- the 1st black head coach in major league sports, unless you count Fritz Pollard in the early, ragtag days of the NFL.

To give you an idea, the last player-coaches to win in the other sports are: Baseball, Lou Boudreau, 1948 Cleveland Indians; Hockey, Ebbie Goodfellow, 1943 Detroit Red Wings (although he played in 11 games that season, he didn't insert himself for the Playoffs); Football, Curly Lambeau, 1929 Green Bay Packers. I suppose you could count Kenny Dalglish, who played 1 game for Liverpool FC while he was managing them to the 1989-90 Football League title. But Russell was still an All-Star quality player while coaching the Celtics to the '68 and '69 NBA Titles. (To be fair, Boudreau was named American League MVP in '48, and deservedly so.)

Runners-up: Maurice Richard (Henri's brother, the Rocket was the biggest star in hockey as the Montreal Canadiens reached 13 Stanley Cup Finals, winning 10, in his 18 seasons), Gordie Howe (the greatest player in hockey history, winning 4 Stanley Cups and 2 WHA titles).

I had considered Jack Nicklaus, whose record of 18 "majors" includes a record 6 of the April-based Masters, but golf is not a sport. If Tiger Woods surpasses either record (the former, he probably will, but the latter, probably not, and even if he does, I can't see him winning it at 40 like Jack did for his 5th, let alone 46 like Jack did for his 6th), it still won't make him sports' Mr. April.

Mr. May: Wayne Gretzky. As much as it pains me to honor this man who betrayed the NHL players in 2004, siding with the owners as they cancelled a season, what he did in the lusty month of May elevated the NHL to new heights in the 1980s.
Runners-up: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6 NBA Championships in 10 trips to the Finals), Eddie Arcaro (shares with Bill Hartack the record of 5 Kentucky Derby victories, solely holds the record of 6 Preakness Stakes wins, and while the Belmont Stakes is held in June, he shares with Jim McLaughlin the record of 6 of those, giving him 17 "majors," and he's the only jockey to win the Triple Crown twice, with Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in '48).

I had considered A.J. Foyt, the first man to win the Indianapolis 500 4 times, but auto racing is not a sport.

Mr. June: Michael Jordan. By the time he arrived in 1984, the NBA Finals being held in June had become a fact of life. He led the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA Finals, and not only won them all, but was named MVP in all 6 -- whether you think he deserved them or not.
In fact, let's clear the air: Just as Gordie Howe is the greatest hockey player of all time, not the literally defense-less Wayne Gretzky, the greatest basketball player of all time is Wilt Chamberlain. I'll guarantee you (just call me Broadway Mike) that if Wilt's '67 76ers (68-13) played Jordan's '96 Bulls (72-10), it wouldn't go 7. Face it, Hal Greer could hold Jordan to under 30 points, but how exactly is Luc Longley going to hold Wilt to under 40? And do you really think Scottie Pippen can take being guarded by Chet (the Jet) Walker? How about Dennis Rodman going up against Cool Hand Luke Jackson? Still, Air Jordan owns June.

Runners-up: Magic Johnson (6 NBA Finals, won 5), Joe Louis (of his record 25 fights for the heavyweight title, 7 were in June, including his epic defenses against Max Schmeling and Billy Conn), Joe DiMaggio (June was the month where he tended to pick up steam, including his 1941 hitting streak and his 1949 comeback from injury).

Ms. July: Martina Navratilova. No human being has won Wimbledon more. How many times, Ed Rooney? "Nine times!" Including 6 in a row, another record, which Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer approached with 5. Actually, Willie Renshaw did 6 straight, but that was 1881-86. I know nothing else about him, but I think if you brought him 100 years forward in a time machine, Martina would... how do you say, "Kick ass" in Czech?
Runners-up: The aforementioned Borg (for all the trophies the "Wimbledon beard" Swede assimilated, John McEnroe eventually proved that resistance was not futile), the aforementioned Federer (who now has 6 but isn't going to match Martina's 9), Willie Mays (who made baseball's All-Star Game his personal showcase for the better part of 20 years).

Mr. August: Carl Lewis. This was a tough one until I remembered the Olympics. A native of Willingboro, New Jersey, he won 9 Gold Medals and a Silver Medal over 4 Olympiads, including the long jump in all 4, matching a record of most consecutive Olympiads winning an event.
What Michael Phelps has done -- 14 Golds, 6 in 2004 and a record 8 in 2008 -- is astounding, and he says he will compete in the 2012 Games, but can he win Golds in 4 Olympiads? Lewis was 35 in his 4th. Phelps would be 29 if he makes it to 2016.

Runners-up: Mr. Phelps (who proved that going 8-for-8 in Olympic swimming events was not "Mission: Impossible"), Mark Spitz (9 Golds, 7 in 1972), Larissa Latynina (the Ukrainian/Soviet gymnast is the only woman with 9 Golds, over 3 Olympiads, 1956-64, and her 18 total Medals is still a record, regardless of gender, nation, event or era).

Mr. September: Jimmy Connors. A very close one. Like Connors, Federer has won 5 U.S. Opens, and so has Pete Sampras. Three men have won 7, but the last of these was won by Bill Tilden in 1929, with equipment Big Bill would surely reject if he could return and try his hand against today's players. Among modern women, Chris Evert has won 6, with Margaret Smith Court and Steffi Graf each winning 5.

So I decided to look at the competition: Who they beat in their Finals, and who beat them in Finals. Or, as Woody Paige of the Denver Post and ESPN's Pardon the Interruption might say, "Look at the sked-ja-wull!" Or strength of schedule, actually.

Connors: Beat Borg and Ivan Lendl twice each, and Ken Rosewall once. Lost 2 Finals, to Manuel Orantes and Guillermo Vilas.

Sampras: Beat Andre Agassi 3 times, Cedric Pilone (Who?) and Michael Chang. Lost 3 Finals, to Stefan Edberg, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt.

Federer: Beat Hewitt, Agassi, Andy Roddick Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Did not lose a Final until this month, to Juan Martin del Potro.

Evert: Beat Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Hana Mandlikova twice each, Wendy Turnbull and Pam Shriver once each. Lost 3 Finals, to Navratilova twice and Tracy Austin once.

A very tough call. Jimbo beat Borg, but not McEnroe. Chrissie beat Evonne, but not Martina. In the end, the competition slightly favored the ex-fiance, not the ex-fiancee. So Evert and Sampras are the runners-up, as Federer has already been a runner-up.
Mr. October: Babe Ruth. Actually, this was closer than I expected. It was a very tough call between the 2 original "Mister Octobers," Ruth and Lou Gehrig. What decided it for me, in the end, is that the Babe not only did it in a longer span, but in two different ways: He debuted in the World Series as a 20-year-old rookie in 1915, started a streak of 29 2/3 scoreless innings pitched at 21 in 1916, and hit 3 home runs in World Series games at ages 31 and 33 in 1926 and 1928, and at 37 in 1932 -- the age at which Gehrig died, and at which DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle retired -- hit a tremendous home run that has gone down in history as The Called Shot.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Show me another player who spent 4 years as a lefty pitcher as good as Randy Johnson, and then spent 16 years as a lefty hitter better than Barry Bonds and did that without steroids, and I'll say that player might be the greatest baseball player who ever lived; until then, I don't want to hear about how Bonds, or Mays, or anyone else was the greatest ever.

Runners-up: Of course, Lou, Joltin' Joe, the Mick, Reggie, Derek, and let's not forget Yogi Berra and his records of 14 World Series appearances and 10 wins.

And Muhammad Ali. How can you put Ali in any single month? How about this: His 2 most famous fights, the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman in 1974, and the Thrilla in Manila against Joe Frazier in 1975, were both in October, on the 30th and the 1st, respectively.

If his taking the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston in 1964 had been in October, instead of on February 25, he might be a serious challenger for this title, but in this case, the Babe is the greatest of all time.

Mr. November: Bear Bryant. This is a hard one, as the only significant championships decided in the 11th month -- at least, until Bud Selig started screwing up the baseball schedule -- were college football's conference titles. So I went with Paul William Bryant, the greatest college football coach of all time, and I don't want to hear about no Ratface out in Crappy Valley. The Bear's hat beats Paterno's shades any day, or do I have to break out the clip of the '79 Sugar Bowl again?
You want me to put aside bias? Fair enough, and while Paterno was never in a conference until Penn State joined the Big 10 in 1993, he has now won 3 titles in that league. But the Bear won 14 Southeastern Conference Championships -- the 1st of those at Kentucky. Kentucky? In football? Yes. Add on the 1956 Southwest Conference title with Texas A&M, and that's 15 league crowns for the Bear.

Runners-up: Bud Wilkinson (14 Big 8 titles with Oklahoma, including a record 47-game winning streak), Woody Hayes (13 Big 10 titles with Ohio State), Bo Schembechler (13 with Michigan, 5 of those shared with Woody), Tom Osbourne (13 Big 8/Big 12 titles with Nebraska), Darrell Royal (11 SWC titles with Texas, and was Wilkinson's first quarterback at Oklahoma), Bobby Bowden (10 with Florida State, and it would be more if they hadn't waited until 1992 to join the Atlantic Coast Conference).

Mr. December: Vince Lombardi. George Halas may have coached more NFL Championship teams, 8 to Lombardi's 5, but does anyone outside of Illinois really think that Papa Bear was a better coach than Saint Vincent of Lambeau? There's a reason the NFC Championship trophy is named for Halas, but there's also a reason the Super Bowl trophy is named for Lombardi.
Runners-up: Halas, Paul Brown (4 AAFC and 3 NFL titles), and if we're talking about the most influential people in the history of a sport, they are the top two in the history of pro football. But that's not what we're discussing here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Angels' Wings Clipped, Bring On the Red Scum

The Yankees clinched a Playoff spot, reduced their Magic Number over the Red Sox to 5, and took 2 out of 3 against the Los Angeles Angels of 2000 Gene Autry Way, Anaheim, Orange County, California, United States of America, North America, Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Sol System, Milky Way Galaxy, Known Universe.

Am I getting snippy about the Angels? My team just beat them 2 out of 3 in Anaheim, so they can take my snippiness and shove it under their halos.

Ian Kennedy, so maligned and then hurt last season, and out most of this season with an aneurysm, pitched out of a jam in the 8th. Nice.

A.J. Burnett pitched against a quality team without going up in smoke. Even better.

Next up: The Boston Red Scum, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They play in Kansas City tonight and tomorrow night, so going into Friday night, the Yanks' Magic Number will be 5, 4 or 3. The Division can be clinched this weekend. Wouldn't it be sweet to clinch it against The Scum? Bring 'em on.

But the Sox will almost certainly win the Wild Card, so there may be an ALCS matchup against them for the Pennant, for full revenge.

*

Curt Schilling announced that he's not running for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

Good, it's a little soon for Ted to start turning over in his grave.

Crybaby Curt said his wife wasn't thrilled with the idea. Way to be conservative, Curt. Let the woman dominate you.

I got a better idea: Come out of retirement, and let the Yankees dominate you.

Pathetic punk.

*

The Miami Dolphins held the ball for 45 minutes against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night, and still lost. Bill Parcells would turn over in his grave... except he's still alive. In fact, he's the boss of the Dolphins, and I'm guessing the Tuna is pretty steamed right now.

*

The Los Angeles Sparks will be playing their home games in the WNBA Western Conference Finals at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. Nothing wrong with wanting to play at one of the greatest facilities in the history of basketball, even if it is college, not pro.

But the reason they got bumped from the Staples Center was... a Britney Spears concert.

Let's see: Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson and Candace Parker, or... Britney Spears.

And the WNBA let itself be bumped by her? Oops, they did it again.

The Eastern Conference Finals will be the defending champion Detroit Shock against the Indiana Fever.

*

I'm not looking forward to Rutgers at Maryland on Saturday. Having a home game against Florida International not yet decided until the last minute of the game? In the words of the immoral Didier Drogba, "It's a disgrace! It's a disgrace! It's a fucking disgrace!"

*

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 2. Having won their first two games, against supposedly good teams in Woodbridge and Freehold Township, both on the road, by a combined 72-6, Da Bears have their home opener, against Monroe, which had never made the Playoffs before starting a streak of three straight seasons doing so. They're going for four, and they're going to be really up for this one. Despite this almost certainly being the Home News Tribune’s Game of the Week, I’ll have to bring my headphones that night, because on the same night…

Days until the final Yankees-Red Sox series of the 2009 regular season: 2, this Friday, at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 3.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 10, against the hated Philadelphia Flyers. A week and a half. And the Devils cut their ticket prices! The $65 south-end seats I usually got last season are now only $56! Yay, home team!

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 12, against the truly deeply despised New York Rangers. Maybe I am ready for hockey: I’ve already ordered my tickets to this one. RANGERS SUCK!

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 65. I hate the Purple Bastards. I really, really, really hate 'em. More than I hate the Flyers. More than I hate Penn State. More than I hate the Mets, Red Sox or Rangers? Uh, let me get back to you on that...

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin: 142.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 262.

Days until the World Cup Final: 293.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 598 (projected).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 780.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Who Is Untouchable?; Fred Cusick, 1918-2009

Yesterday, I was watching the simulcast of Mike Francesa's now-Dogless WFAN radio show on YES, and he took a call about Brett Favre. The caller said that Favre is, and has been for a long time, incredibly overrated, and that the media has given him more passes than he's thrown.

Francesa agreed. How could he not? Even last year, as Favre signed with the J-E-T-S-Jets-Jets-Jets, the word "mancrush" was being used to describe the way certain sports pundits spoke of Favre, from Terry Bradshaw on Fox NFL Sunday (and, as a quarterback who led his team to not one but four Super Bowls, Terry should know better) to Tony Kornheiser on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption.

Of course, the term "mancrush" is, like, so 2008. The 2009 word is "bromance." In this case, the 2008 version is better.

People tend to slobber over Favre, no matter what he does wrong. You know why? Because he is untouchable.

Once a guy becomes untouchable -- and I don't mean in the Indian sense, or in the Robert Stack sense, either -- anybody who questions him, let alone criticizes him, gets ripped by his bromancers.

Take my post about my all-time most hated sports managers/head coaches/executives. Who did I put at Number 1? Joe Paterno. Ol' Ratface. If we're talking peak performance, he's earned a high place on the list. If we're talking cumulative "achievement," then he's an easy Number 1. And a bunch of Slap-Happy Valley boys came on here and ripped me for it. Naturally, because I have the truth on my side, I ripped back. The dopes.

Using the word "dope" makes me think of "rope-a-dope," which makes me think of Muhammad Ali. Has any performer in the history of sports ever gone from so intensely hated, as Ali was when he refused to be drafted in 1967, to being nearly universally respected and even loved, as Ali was when he knocked out George Foreman in 1974 -- by which point only fools and warmongers (often the same) still thought the U.S. role in Vietnam was right?

Actually, yes, there is. Or, rather, there was. Ted Williams. He, too, was seen in 1942 as someone who was refusing to serve. The Pentagon was willing to back him up on it, since he was the sole support of his mother. But the criticism got so nasty that he enlisted in 1943, anyway, and eventually served in both World War II and the Korean War, nearly dying in the latter.

The Boston media never seemed to give Ted a break, and it poisoned a lot of fans toward him. At no time during his playing career was Ted as loved in New England as was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and again (after a few disappointing years when those ungrateful Chowdaheads decided to forget and started booing him again) from 1975 onward. Case in point, their final games: Yaz's farewell was on October 2, 1983, a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and he was able to take a victory lap around a packed Fenway Park, shaking hands despite his desire for privacy that was reminiscent of Joe DiMaggio. Ted's farewell was in front of barely 10,000 fans.

There was a reason for it: September 28, 1960 a Wednesday afternoon game, and Ted described the weather as, "Lousy day, damp." Not good for a hitter, but he still managed to crank one to deep right-center for a home run in his final at-bat. The people who did show up cheered Ted wildly, but he wouldn't tip his cap. I understand. He waited until a ceremony in his honor in 1991 to tip his cap at Fenway.

And what of DiMaggio? He was criticized for not enlisting in 1942, but he had a wife and young son to support. But in 1943, his first wife, Dorothy Arnold -- a blonde actress, as was his second wife -- divorced him. So Joe enlisted. After his 1949 comeback, Joe became untouchable. Stories about him consorting with reputed Mob figures? Stories about him hurting his second wife? Stories about him speaking ill of the Kennedys? (You talk about "untouchable.") Stories about him speaking well of that bastard Henry Kissinger? And stories about him and his successor, Mickey Mantle, not getting along? All brushed aside, because he was the Yankee Clipper, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. He was "The Greatest Living Baseball Player." He was untouchable.

And yet, after his death in 1999, it was as if no one needed to be afraid him anymore. In the last 10 years, his reputation has taken a pounding. All the stories people were afraid to tell, true or not, came out. Including, as seen in Billy Crystal's film 61*, the conflict between Joe and Mickey: Joe was dismissive of Mickey's ability and carousing -- as if Joe didn't like the nightlife, and blonde actresses, himself -- and Mickey, as the one who came after, never dared say anything, because it was Joe DiMaggio.

And what about Mickey? His career began at the height of the Korean War. How could someone so strong, so fast, and so between the ages of 18 and 25 not be drafted to serve in that war? Williams' Marine Corps Reserve unit was called into service, and Ted was 33 when that happened. Willie Mays served in the Army in Korea. So did Mickey's teammates Whitey Ford, Billy Martin and Jerry Coleman -- and Coleman had also served in World War II, as a pilot, just like Williams.

So why didn't Mickey get drafted? Osteomyelitis. It made him 4-F. Somebody (probably some twat like Dick Young) said, "So, he won't have to kick anybody!" (How did the twat know? Only those who've been in combat know for sure -- I certainly don't.)

Mickey got booed because of it. Totally shredded. He hadn't done anything wrong. If his continued presence in the Yankee lineup was okay with Yankee management, with manager Casey Stengel, and with the Department of Defense, why couldn't it be okay with Yankee Fans? Maybe, just maybe, they still missed DiMaggio and wanted him back.

Crystal's film 61* may have spelled it out: At the expense of teammate Roger Maris, Mickey began to be cheered greater than he'd never been cheered before, and was never booed again. As the sportswriter played by Richard Masur said, "That's because he's never been the underdog before." Suddenly, Mickey's injuries, the first of which had kept him out of combat, made him less a malingerer, a goldbrick and a draft-dodger than a courageous fighter.

Dealing with the New York press, and sometimes with the New York fans, was his battle. He said it many times himself: "Playing ball was the easy part." (Sure it is... if you have Mickey Mantle's talent.) For him, the hard part was dealing with the reaction to it. As Mike Schmidt put it a generation later, "The thrill of victory, and the agony of reading about it in the paper the next day." DiMaggio certainly understood that, as did Williams.

When Mickey retired, he was treated as a great hero. And a year later, former teammate Jim Bouton came out with his book Ball Four, and talked about Mickey drinking too much, and that it might have affected his play, and also about Mickey sneaking peeks at women -- "beaver-shooting." To his credit, while Bouton quoted several players in that book joking about fooling around on the road, he never mentioned any wife-cheaters by name.

It didn't matter: Bouton was clobbered in the press, worse than he'd ever been by any opposing team's lineup. By 1989, in a 20th Anniversary update for the book, he was guessing that the reason he'd never been invited back to Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium was that he'd exposed Mantle. He wasn't sure if it was Mickey demanding not to have to share a foul line with Bouton, or Yankee management not wanting to put Mickey in that potentially awkward position, but he did provide that speculation.

After Mickey got out of the Betty Ford Center in 1994, he decided he had to make amends with several people. He knew about Bouton's speculation, and called him. Bouton wasn't home, but Mickey left a message on the answering machine, saying that he never asked anyone not to invite Bouton to Old-Timers' Day. It was too late for Mickey, as his drinking had already weakened his liver to the point where it was struck by cancer, and he died in 1995.

Still, it wasn't until 1998, after the death of Jim's daughter Laurie and a plea in an open letter to The New York Times from his son Michael, that Jim was finally invited back, and he even pitched in a couple of Old-Timers' Games. Still, a lot of the people he criticized in Ball Four (or who thought Jim had criticized them too harshly) weren't there anymore. Mickey, Roger Maris and Elston Howard were dead, and Ralph Houk had stopped coming due to advancing age. (Houk is still alive, and turns 90 this year.) Joe Pepitone didn't come off well in the book, but he didn't seem to mind sharing an Old-Timers' Day foul line with Jim.

Compared to some later tell-all books, Ball Four seems tame by comparison, especially when you consider some of the drunken escapades Mickey mentioned in his, and Whitey Ford's memoir Slick in which he spoke of ways of cheating that even Gaylord Perry (never mind Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds) ever thought of. It's as if, once Mickey started telling stories on himself, it became okay for us mere mortals do it.

Don Imus had a classic line: "If you go to Mickey Mantle's Restaurant after 2 in the morning, your meal is free if you can guess which table Mickey's under." Yeah, right, Imus. As if you haven't had your substance abuse problems yourself. At least no one's ever brought forward evidence of Mickey being a bigot.

Although Mickey sort of gave us the green light to talk about his failings, he's still untouchable. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Teri Hatcher (who, at age 44, is still real and still spectacular) played one of Jerry's girlfriends? Elaine tells Jerry, "They're fake." Jerry says, "You don't tell a guy something like that! It's like finding out Mickey Mantle corked his bat!" Remember, though, Elaine was from Towson, Maryland, just outside Baltimore, and was an Orioles fan.

Speaking of the Orioles, Cal Ripken remains untouchable. A week ago, I mentioned the Yanks-O's game I saw at Camden Yards on September 11, 2004. There were a lot of Yankee Fans there, but just about everybody in the section I sat in was an Oriole fan, and I said, "It's a very nice ballpark. I'm just glad you got that statue of Cal Ripken off the field."

The fan to my left got the joke: Cal was so slow by the end that he might as well have been a statue. He did not appreciate the joke. Fortunately, this was Camden Yards, not Fenway Park, and I got away with it, with my only punishment being that he said I shouldn't make jokes about Cal. I chose not to press my luck any further, since I'd already made my point (Cal should have retired earlier than he did) and he'd already made his (Cal is untouchable).

Even if the only significant truth about Ripken that no one would be willing to admit is that his streak hurt the team (and not, as the very quiet thus far rumor goes, that he used s------s), his acolytes can't handle the truth.

Of course, Pete Rose used to be one of those, didn't he? So did Mark McGwire. We still don't know the truth about McGwire, but he's been touched. The truth about Rose sure came out. And his reputation is almost totally different since. As has been remarked elsewhere, the things that people liked about him before (or liked about him when he played for heir team) have become the very things people hated about him afterward (or hated about him when he played against their team).

Crashing into Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star Game? Before 1989: It was a sign of a great player always willing to hustle, willing to do what it takes to win. Since 1989: It was a vicious act by a self-absorbed bully.

Getting his 5-foot-11, 200-pound self into a fight with 5-foot-11, 160-pound Bud Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS? Before 1989: Pete just got carried away, got a little excited in the heat of the moment. After 1989: Pete was a thug and a bully, and should have been suspended for the rest of the season. (He wasn't suspended at all: In fact, the fight happened in Game 3, and his 10th-inning homer won Game 4 before the Mets beat the Reds in Game 5 to win the Pennant.)

His quest to break the all-time hits record of Ty Cobb? Before 1989: It was a sign of dogged determination and consistent excellence. Since 1989: It hurt the Reds because he wasn't the hitter he once was, and since the Reds finished 2nd in 1985 maybe they would have won the National League West if manager Rose had realized that player Rose was washed up and had put a better player in there.

His running down to first base after drawing a walk? And his head-first slides? Before 1989: They were signs of enthusiasm and hustling. Since 1989: They made him a hot dog.

His feat of starting the All-Star Game at five different positions? Before 1989: It was a sign of versatility. Since 1989: It meant he couldn't field any of those positions well enough, and that, being unwilling to leave the NL, he was never going to play the "position" for which he was best suited, designated hitter.

For a generation, my generation, who didn't have a Mantle or a Mays, a DiMaggio or a Williams, a Ruth or a Cobb, who had to "settle" for a Jackson or a Schmidt as our generation's greatest player, Pete Rose was the symbol of baseball as much as anyone else was. Pete Rose? Disgrace the game? Surely you can't be serious! They were serious... and don't call me "Shirley," but call Pete a disgrace. He was as untouchable as they come, but he got touched. No one is above the law, and no one is bigger than the game.

No one except Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. They may be the only two true untouchables left in baseball.

There may be one other: Bob Feller. Perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era, and a Navy combat veteran of World War II. He has become the face and voice of "The Greatest Generation" among athletes. So when he says something controversial (and he's said a few such things), he gets away with it because he's "Lieutenant Bob Feller, USN," and that's something bigger than "Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller" -- and don't doubt that for an instant. I actually met him once, when he made a personal appearance at Trenton's Waterfront Park in 1994, and he was very gracious with these fans who'd never seen him play, so I won't speak ill of him.

The war that Muhammad Ali faced was not the noble struggle that Feller, Ted and Joe D. faced, or even the one Mickey faced. Still, there are people who see Ali in the news, as he still occasionally is, and write nasty letters to newspapers, calling him a "draft-dodger." These, naturally, are people who twice voted for Ronald Reagan, who served in World War II but said service meant that he never had to leave Southern California; and twice voted for George W. Bush, who avoided combat and then avoided served for an entire year (5/1/72-4/30/73), and also for Bush's Vice President, Deferment Dick "I had other priorities" Cheney.

People who hate the Yankees -- and even a few people who love them, such as "Subway Squawkers" co-writer Lisa Swan -- have lamented the "untouchable" status of Derek Jeter, especially compared to the "completely touchable" Alex Rodriguez, and also the untouchability of former Yankee manager Joe Torre.

I got mad at Torre plenty of times, particularly when he brought Scott Proctor in to pitch. And Kyle (Not a) Farnsworth. In fact, I'm getting steamed just thinking about those two! So let's move on.

The point is, some people only remember the Torre of 2002 to 2007 -- or even 2004 to 2007, if Aaron Boone cancels out Jeff Weaver for you and you still think more of the glory of 2003 than the way it ended. But what Joe did from 1996 to 2001 (or 1996 to 2003) cannot be ignored.

Still, lots of people not only want to forget 1996-2001, but when they bring up 2002-2007, they like to add on 1977-1995, when Torre was an underachiever as a manager. Not really, he just didn't have the horses. The guy managed the Atlanta Braves to a Division Title. That may not seem like a big deal now, but between 1969 and 1991, he was the only Braves manager to do it. In fact, he was the only Braves manager in that stretch to even get them into a Pennant race.

Is Derek Jeter untouchable? Not even in his own metro area. There are lots of Met fans who still want to give Jose Reyes -- in the event they can still find him -- the benefit of the doubt and say that Reyes is the better shortstop. These people were once delusional enough to think that Rey Ordonez was the better shortstop. And lots of people have demanded that Jeter drop his "selfishness" and let Alex Rodriguez, "the better shortstop," take the position. Let Jeter play third base, or first, or the outfield. This season in particular, these people look like morons, even if they don't wear blue and orange -- or seem to, like Mike Lupica of the Daily News often does.

I do understand. When Jeter was first a regular in 1996, he was a 21-year-old heartthrob, and the media and the fans couldn't get enough of him. But I wasn't one of the Jeter groupies. I thought Bernie Williams was The Next Great Yankee, the one to follow in the progression of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson, Winfield, Mattingly, (fill in the blank). It bothered me that the general public hadn't selected the game Great Yankee that I had. I loved Bernie like a brother. I still do. Until the day he was, not by his own choice, forced out in 2006, he was my favorite active Yankee. And I was so pleased when he turned out to be the last former Yankee to take the field at the closing ceremony for the old Stadium last year. (My God, it's already been almost exactly one year. Bernie is an Old-Timer. Where does the time go?)

As it turned out, Bernie may have been the best all-around player on the Yankees from 1996 through 1999, and he will get his Number 51 retired and a Plaque in the new Stadium's Monument Park someday, but it is Jeter who is the central figure of the 1996-present era of Yankees. Bernie, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, even Mariano Rivera, and of course Joe Torre, all will die eventually. But only Jeter will go from Plaque to Monument upon his passing, as DiMaggio and Mantle did. (Ruth and Gehrig, of course, never got Plaques during their lifetimes, and got the Monuments shortly after their deaths.)

But Derek Jeter is not "untouchable." And you know what? I'm fine with that. As the old Roman saying goes, "Let them hate, as long as they fear."

After all, look at some of the untouchables. Roger Staubach? A Dallas Cowboy, and therefore a hypocrite, or at least an enabler. Bill Parcells? Moves around almost as much as Larry Brown (who was never quite untouchable), and never won anything without Bill Belichick, therefore we have to wonder if even the Tuna's achievements are suspect. Michael Jordan? He was never the greatest ever, and his poor management of basketball teams, as well as his marital failings, show he wasn't what they said he was. Wayne Gretzky? Sided with the NHL owners, of which he'd become one, in 2004 and betrayed his former fellow players, becoming a traitor to the game that had made him fabulously wealthy and world-famous. Mark Messier? We Devils fans know the truth about this classless thug.

Greg Schiano? What if he turns out to be the man who got Rutgers this far, but couldn't get them any farther? What if we need to find someone else to take the last couple of steps? It's an unappetizing prospect, but it must be considered.

I don't like the idea of making athletes "untouchable." And I certainly don't want to be untouchable myself. Not that I have to worry about that. You don't have to revere me.

But it wouldn't hurt you to agree with me 99 percent of the time.

*

Fred Cusick has died at age 90. A native of Boston, he played hockey at the city's Northeastern University, commanded a U.S. Navy subchaser (chasing submarines) in World War II, and went into radio. From 1952 to 1963, he broadcast for his hometown Bruins on WEEI radio. In 1957, working for CBS, he broadcast the 1st NHL game on U.S. television. Unlike Foster Hewitt of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the CBC, who coined the legendary, "He shoots, he scores!" Cusick would simply say, "Score!" and then give the scorer's name.
On September 9, 1960, he broadcast the 1st American Football League game from Boston University's Nickerson Field: Denver Broncos 13, Boston Patriots 10. He continued to broadcast for the Patriots until 1964, including their 1963 AFL Championship Game loss to the San Diego Chargers.

From 1969 to 1997, he broadcast for the Bruins again, first on WSBK-Channel 38, and then on New England Sports Network (NESN). When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970, for the 1st time in 29 years, Cusick had the call of Bobby Orr's goal, perhaps the most famous ever scored in an NHL game: "Bobby Orr, behind the net, to Sanderson, to -- Score! Bobby Orr scores for the Boston Bruins, and won the Stanley Cup!"

In 1984, when the Hockey Hall of Fame instituted its award for broadcasters, named for Hewitt, the 1st inductees were Hewitt himself, Montreal Canadiens' English broadcaster Danny Gallivan, Canadiens' French broadcaster Rene Lecavalier, and Cusick. All well deserved.

Cusick retired to Cape Cod, and until 2007 broadcast games in the Cape Cod League, a summer amateur league for college-age baseball players. He died at his home in Barnstable, on the Cape.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Were the 1969 Mets a Miracle -- or a Hoax?

Jon Lewin of the magnificent blog Subway Squawkers began to wonder if, as has been suggested of another great 1969 milestone, the Moon landing, the New York Mets' World Series win was a hoax.

In his article for The Faster Times (not sure where Faster is, it might be in Westchester County on a Metro-North line), he cites, among other things, the fact that Shea Stadium has now been torn down (I know, I know: "How can you tell?"), thus providing a cover-up for various potentially inconvenient facts, much as some people investigating the JFK assassination wanted to talk to certain people who ended up dying of "cancer" or "heart attacks" before the opportunity to talk could be realized.

No, Jon, the Mets' 1969 World Series victory was not a hoax.

It was a fraud.

Come on, look at the film of the winning run in the infamous "Black Cat Game" of September 9, 1969, against the Chicago Cubs: Tommie Agee was out at the plate.

Had that call been correctly made, the Cubs would have stayed on top of the National League East, and it would have been either the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS or the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series to whom they choked.

(Yes, the Cubbies still would have choked against somebody. Face it, there ain't a conspiracy on Earth -- or on the Moon -- that could help the Cubs win a World Series. It's like the joke goes: After years of letting J.K. Rowling make millions off his story, Harry Potter decides to write his own book, and he goes on the book tour, and he's signing at a Barnes & Noble in Chicago, and someone says, "Hey, Harry, can you cast a spell to make the Cubs win the World Series?" And Harry says, "What do you think I am, a magician?")

The Mets' 1973 Pennant was also a fraud. Seriously, an 82-79 team winning the Pennant? Ya gotta believe something ain't right there.

The Mets' 1986 World Championship? Oh please. The entire rest of the division takes a massive dive, then the Houston Astros can't defend their dome field, and then the Boston Red Sox put together the biggest single-game choke job in the history of North American sports. Somewhere, there is either a cancelled check, or a bag containing the residue of massive amounts of cash, because that could not possibly have been on the up-and-up.

After all, if the New York Knicks can end up with Patrick Ewing in the 1985 NBA Draft, surely baseball can also arrange to have the Mets' path greased. Come to think of it, the Giants also won the Super Bowl around that time... (Not that all this jury-rigging could help the Ewing-era Knicks go all the way, except maybe at Scores.)

The Mets' 2000 Pennant? Now, that was real. Of course, it had to be, so that the Yankees -- or, at least, those of us who grew up as Yankee Fans in the 1980s when Met fans were a bunch of insufferable (fill in your expletive of choice)s, could have the greatest victory of our lives, in the 2000 World Series.

Actually, the fairest thing to say is that, after the 2000 World Series, the Mets no longer existed. It would certainly have spared Met fans the agonies of October 2006, September 2007, September 2008, the entire 2009 season, having to deal with "Witless Willie the Yankee" (Randolph) as their manager, and even the Art Howe Era. It would also save them from having to admit that Jose Reyes was never, ever, EVER a better shortstop than Derek Jeter, since he never really existed. You know, like they've managed to erase Lastings Milledge from existence, the Generation K pitchers and the 1993 "Bleacher Bum" season from existence.

But then, I'm a Yankee Fan. Since when am I obligated to be fair to the Mets? As Flushing, Queens native Fran Fine (Fran Drescher on The Nanny) put it, "It starts with an N and ends with an A: Nev-a!"

Now, if the Yankees could only prove that Roy Halladay is a hoax... I guess the Blue Jays had to check their thick skins at Customs at the airport. But then, what has Halladay ever won? They don't give ticker-tape parades for winning the Cy Young Award.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Uncle of Swat

Yesterday, Mom/Nana decided that it was time to tell the two-year-old twins, Ashley and Rachel, about baseball. Not to show them a tape of a game, or (God forbid at that age) to take them to a live game. Just to show them how it was played in the backyard.

We gave the girls little gloves. Ashley's was pink, Rachel's her favorite color, purple. (Oh boy. It's going to be quite some time before I tell her Uncle Mike doesn't like purple because of the East Brunswick-Old Bridge rivalry.) We gave them a little rubber bat with a small pink ball with a Yankee interlocking N-Y on it.

Nana and I tossed a ball back and forth, not a real ball but one with a cushioned cork center surrounded by a soft cover, a toy. After a while, then we showed them pitching and hitting. Mom/Nana batted first, using my old bat, with the plain wood handle and the black barrel with the Don Mattingly signature on the sweet spot.

(I got this bat while Mattingly was still, arguably, the best player in the game, long before I figured out there was a Curse of Donnie Baseball. We gave my first real wood bat, a Johnny Bench model, to the kid next door. He turned out to be a Met fan like his father, and he broke it the first time he used it. Served him right. Wonder if he knows who Johnny Bench was.)

I am not a pitcher. I tried to get the ball over the plate, but I was wild. Nana did manage to make contact, but it seemed like every time she did, I managed to make a great stop. Granted, we're talking about a woman in her early 60s, not a 25-year-old major leaguer or a 22-year-old minor leaguer, or even a 17-year-old high schooler. But I've never fielded better... and I'm knocking on the door of 40!

(Who knows, maybe those dimwits who still think Jose Reyes -- or even Rey Ordonez! -- was ever a better fielding shortstop than Derek Jeter can shut the hell up about him needing to move to another position, as he's fielding better at age 35.)

Then it was my turn to bat. Problem is, Nana didn't pitch any better. Most of her tosses, even the underhanded ones, ended up hitting me or nearly doing so. It wasn't especially hard, so it didn't exactly hurt. But the point was to show the girls what baseball looked like.

Finally, Nana got some balls over the plate, and I hit a few sharp grounders. Then she got me to swing and miss at a couple.

And then, well, I don't know what got into me. I said, "Girls, look!" And I pointed, like Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series. Now, that game was played at Wrigley Field in Chicago, against the Cubs, and, at the time, Wrigley didn't have ivy -- that didn't come until 1937. But there is quite a bit of ivy around our house.

Of course, the girls didn't get the joke. Why would they, they're... how old, Rachel? "Two!" I don't think I knew who Babe Ruth was until I was about 6 or so.

There was a Peanuts cartoon where the gang is playing ball, and Lucy finds a glove, thinking it belonged to a kid named Willie Mays, because that's the name that was written in the glove. "I don't know any kids around here named Willie Mays, do you, Charlie Brown?" Ol' Chuck tells Lucy to look in her glove, because he's sure there's a name on it. And the fussbudget says, "Babe Ruth? We'll, I'll be. How do you suppose I got her glove?"

Poor Charlie Brown can't do anything but stand on the mound and roll his eyes, and I'll bet his stomach hurt. That poor kid, his stomach always hurt. How do you get an ulcer at age 8?

So the girls watched, and I pointed to a spot beyond the fence like Ruth supposedly did, and Nana threw one right in my wheelhouse. Yeah, right, like I have a wheelhouse. Well, I must've developed one, because I cranked this sucker. Literally over the fence. And into the ivy in the front yard.

How far? In retrospect, now that I've had over 24 hours to think about it, and am not presently in a position to impress two-year-old twin girls, who are easily impressed with what their crazy uncle does... probably less than the 325-foot "minimum" that MLB sets for foul-pole distances at new ballparks (and doesn't exactly enforce). Maybe significantly less. But...

Damn, that felt good. I even did the John Sterling call: "There it goes! That ball is high! It is far! It is gone! A home run!" I tried to think of a way to work the Babe Ruth theme into it, but I couldn't think of one, so I reworked the Posada call, "Jorgie juiced one" into "Mike mashed one!" Did the home run trot, and told the girls to come to the "plate" and jump up and down when I got there like real ballplayers.

For a few minutes, Ashley, Rachel and I were Yankees. For a few minutes, I was the Uncle of Swat.

I love baseball. And now the girls, who I also love, love it, too. A major item on my to-do list is crossed off.

Well, of course, I meant getting the girls to love baseball. What did you think I meant, hitting a home run? I've done that before.

In the 4th grade.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Curse of Martell's

The Rutgers season opener was on Labor Day, which meant that I had to modify a comparatively recent tradition for myself, heading down the Shore on Labor Day. So I had to do it the day before.

My grandmother lived in Brick, New Jersey for 32 years, six miles from the Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach. So that was our Shore town, and so I got on the bus in East Brunswick, rode it to South Amboy, and got on New Jersey Transit's North Jersey Coast Line, changing trains at Long Branch, down to Point Beach. The station is just one mile from the Boardwalk.

The town and the Boardwalk ain't what they used to be. There was a nasty fire in 1975. I don't remember that, although I do remember a few new things the next summer, 1976. But another fire in 1990 took out much of the Boardwalk's northern end, including some of Martell's Sea Breeze, a legendary Shore fun-spot. It also took out the waterslide, which has since been replaced by Jenkinson's Aquarium. It's one of the nieces' favorite places. They love fish.

Martell's, in its various forms, including now with its rebuilt Tiki Bar and Shrimp Bar, has been home to good food and live music for decades. It's where Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons were performing in the Summer of 1962 when they found out "Sherry" had hit Number 1.

But there's a problem: The Yankees have never won when I've been at Martell's. And I mean never. Not hardly ever, but never ever. I'm not talking about 0-1, or even 0-5. I'm talking about 0-25 or so over a course of 35 years, and that's just what I can be fairly sure of.

This includes an awful Jose Contreras performance against the Red Sox, and two interleague games against the Mets. Come to think of it, the family may have been at Martell's on June 18, 1977, that crazy Saturday afternoon when Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin chewed each other out in the Fenway Park dugout.

I figured, with the team the Yankees have now, this was as good a chance as any to break the spell.

When I got there, it was already 3-0 Blue Jays. Oh no, here we go again. Except that, while I was sitting at the bar, they tied it up, 3-3. I thought we had something going.

But the bartenders didn't even look at me. Clearly, they were busy, but they couldn't even ask me if I wanted anything? Such service is inexcusable, so I left.

From that point on, it was 11-5 Jays for a 14-8 final. Rats. The Curse still lives.

And then the next day, I sat through that horrible Rutgers game. At least the Yanks swept 2 from the Rays and the Red Sox lost. Drop that Magic Number down.

A few things of significance have happened since then. Next post.

If You Knew Rutgers Like I Know Rutgers

A week ago, Labor Day -- and I apologize for not having gotten to it sooner -- I was at Rutgers Stadium, newly expanded to 52,454 seats with a new student section in the south end zone, in a desperate attempt to sound like an English soccer team's "end," for their season opener.

Have you ever rooted for a football team that appeared to have a legitimate hope for a league championship, and then saw that hope disintegrate in the first half of the first game?

At 4:00 PM on September 7, 2009, Rutgers took the field against the University of Cincinnati , defending Big East Conference Champions. The former horseshoe, now a full bowl, on the banks of the old Raritan was full, and we were thinking this 1st game of the season might decide the Big East title.

The only thing that this game decided was that Rutgers' football team stinks.

By 5:15, it was 38-7 Cincy, and the Scarlet Knights walked off the field for halftime, and got booed off the field by 52,000 people. They got booed off the field at the half. And they deserved it.

The final was 47-15, and, having seen the whole debacle, I can tell you it wasn't that close.

Yes, Cincinnati has a very good team. (They have since beaten Southeast Missouri State 70-3.) But at this point in Rutgers' development, the opposing team being good should no longer be an excuse for a huge loss.

I've seen them lose to Donovan McNabb's Syracuse 52-3, Michael Vick's Virginia Tech 70-14, and West Virginia 80-7 (with no eventual Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacking them). But that was when we expected to get slaughtered.

In the Schiano Era, we expect to be able to play with anybody, and have beaten teams ranked Number 2 and Number 3 in the nation: South Florida was Number 2 when we shocked them at home in 2007, Louisville Number 3 when we beat them at home in 2006.

Rutgers should no longer be intimidated by anyone. Considering how much talent we were supposed to have this season, the opener against Cincinnati stands as the worst loss in Rutgers history. It would have had to be kicked up a notch just to be considered a disgrace.

Schiano wouldn't reveal his starting quarterback until just before game time. It turned out to be Dominic Natale. "Natale" is an Italian referring to "birth," but it usually stands in for "Christmas." Maybe we should start calling him the Grinch. He was horrible. He looked lost. How many times did he turn to the sideline to ask Schiano, "Duh, Coach, I forgot da play already, what was it?"

Backup Jabu Lovelace was even worse. No, not Linda Lovelace, that was "Deep Throat." Jabu was no deep threat -- or even a Jobu, if you remember the baseball movie Major League.

With no pressure on him at all, true freshman Tom Savage was put in for the 2nd half, and he was fine. So Schiano started him in the season's 2nd game, this past Saturday, against Howard University of Washington, D.C. They are known as "the Black Harvard," and their band is sensational. Their football team? Not so much: They were 1-10 last season.

In the Home News Tribune, the daily newspaper of Middlesex County, New Jersey, where Rutgers is located, Stephen Edelson wrote:

Tom Savage. Fred Savage. "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Or Dom Natale for that matter. Any of the aforementioned could have started at quarterback Saturday and achieved similar results against Howard University, available on a day when New Brunswick High School had a previous commitment.

In the same paper, Jerry Carino slapped the Bison as well:

If Howard sticks around an extra day it might get a more fair matchup against Piscataway High School.

This is a joke, right? The defending North Jersey Section 2 Group IV Champions -- for the umpteenth time in the last 20 years? Take it from someone whose alma mater hasn't beaten the Chiefs of Piss-cataway since October 1990, when Operation Desert Shield was underway, and the Cincinnati Reds were shocking the Oakland Athletics with that skinny Mark McGwire: Those streaky Chief runners and receivers would have run Howard ragged, and those big-ass linemen would have pounded them into submission. Or did Carino not notice there were 3 Piscataway kids on the RU roster?

Carino also said:

Nothing like an expanded stadium that's half-empty in week two. Hope none of Rutgers' "fans" hurt themselves piling off the bandwagon after Labor Day.

There were 43,722 tickets sold, including mine and my father's. Carino estimated that there were 25,000 people in The House That Coke Built. (With Coke's contract having run out, and Pepsi products thankfully now being sold there, I can no longer call the 1994 edition of Rutgers Stadium "Coca-Cola Memorial Stadium.")

So RU moves on to this coming Saturday's game against Florida International.

Not Florida. Not Florida State. Not Florida A&M. Not even Florida Atlantic. Florida International. Also known as "Who?" Their mascot looks suspiciously like Roger Daltrey. (Just a joke. I don't even know what their mascot looks like, or what their teams are called, nor do I care.) (UPDATE: The Panthers.) Or, as Carino said, "It's back to the cream-puff buffet for Rutgers."

Shows what Carino knows. "Creampuff" is one unhyphenated word!

The following Saturday, Rutgers plays a real opponent again. Having dispatched a weak team in the D.C. area, they go down there to play its best team, the University of Maryland, Ralph Friedgen's tough Terrapins at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

The Terps beat RU in Piscataway last year, and they're a real tough bunch of bastards in their own yard, so unless Tom Savage can turn into Tom Brady (cheating or otherwise) real fast, it could be a long day inside the Capital Beltway for the Scarlet Knights.

But does it matter? A 5th straight season of going to a bowl game would be nice -- and those of us who've suffered with RU for decades would have given a tooth or two to have it happen much earlier -- but Home News Tribune writer Keith Sargeant had it right when he said that nothing less than the Big East Championship and a BCS bowl bid would suffice this season.

What Schiano said in 2006 has never been more true: "It's Time." We've seen good, now we want to see great.

And they blew it. My reaction against Cincinnati was positively colinfirthian, with a different version of "football," and a different time of the season, but a reaction very much like Colin Firth's after he sees Arsenal blow a late-season game against Derby County at home, not costing them the League Title as it turned out, in Fever Pitch.

My reaction was, "It doesn't matter what they do the rest of the way. They've blown it. On the first weekend of the season. Useless bastards!"

Unbelievable: The Mets were eliminated from contention for the National League Playoffs yesterday, September 13, but, for all intents and purposes, Rutgers was eliminated from title contention 6 days earlier. How the hell did the Mets -- the injury-plagued, incompetence-riddled, still shellshocked from back-to-back years of September collapses and last-day chokes 2009 Mets -- still manage to play games that counted, for however little, after Rutgers did?

I know, I know, RU could still win the rest of their Big East games, and Cincinnati could falter, and RU would then be Big East Champions.

Well, if you knew Rutgers like I know Rutgers, you'd know how likely that sounds. It reminds me of an old Peanuts cartoon. Charles Schulz had Charlie Brown say something like (I forget his exact words), "I think I'll go over there, and sit next to that little red-haired girl. I think I'll tell her how much I like her. I think I'll tell her that I'd like her to be my girlfriend." I absolutely remember the exact wording of the 4th and final panel of that strip: "I think I'll flap my arms and fly to the Moon."

Being a Rutgers fan is... You ever hear the expression "More fun than a barrel full of monkeys"? Tell me something, have you ever smelled a barrel full of monkeys?

Come to think of it, considering the performances of the players Schiano put on the field against Cincinnati, a barrel full of monkeys might have made the score closer!

Anything going on with the Yankees? (Yes, and I'll discuss it in my next post. Hopefully, later today.)