Friday, November 27, 2009

The Ups and Downs of the E.B. Bears

EB's win over Monroe, earlier in the season.
It was the only game Monroe lost all season.

Dear Old Alma Mater, East Brunswick High School, Da Bears, won a tremendous victory in the State Playoffs last Friday night, defeating Sayreville on the road, 13-8, and advancing to the Central Jersey Group IV Championship. It will be played on Saturday, December 5, at Trenton State College -- excuse me, at the College of New Jersey -- in Ewing, Mercer County.

Then, yesterday, just as we did during our run to the CJ IV Championship in 2004, we lost the Thanksgiving game to Old Bridge. This time, 23-17. We didn't play well at all, but the game turned when a touchdown pass that would have made all the difference (i.e. with the extra point we would have won 24-23) was nullified by a totally bogus penalty by the moronic, blind, Old Bridge-favoring referee.

My father went to the game with me, and he said he got his money's worth. "So did the ref," I said.

Now, this is very tricky. If I absolve the ref, accept that sometimes officials make mistakes, and that maybe this call was not a mistake, and admit that my team simply didn't play well enough -- which is true -- then I'm blaming a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old boys, calling them incompetent, which isn't fair, because they've played so well this year, fully earning their trip to the Finals.

On the other hand, if I accept that my team truly was robbed by a stupid/blind/incompetent official, then it sounds like sour grapes. Well, considering that some grapes are green (like my Bears) and some are purple (like the evil Knights), that may be an appropriate analogy.

Still, that's 17 losses to the Purple Bastards in the last 19 years. And get this: The last 3 times we've beaten them -- 17-0 in 1990 (when they were still known as Madison Central, their colors were navy blue and sky blue, and their teams were called the Spartans), 33-18 in 1994 (the first year Madison and Cedar Ridge had been reconsolidated under the OBHS name after being separated in 1968), and 35-12 in 2007 -- it was a blowout. When The Scum keep it close -- 7-6 in 1996, 24-21 last year, and 23-17 this time to cite 3 examples -- we lose. (They've also won some blowouts: In the 2004 title season, they beat us 21-0; and, of course, the 55-3 blowout Madison laid on us in 1988... I wonder if they still call that the Game of the Century in Scum Town?)

Moral of the story: When you play The Scum, shred 'em.

Days until we play them again: 363. In football, anyway. There will be other sports, but the only winter or spring sports in which both teams are usually good are wrestling and track. In high school sports, football and basketball are the two sports that matter, far beyond any other, and even with the former 2 schools combined into 1, they've rarely been a factor in basketball, either boys or girls.

*

The title game will be very different this time. Not just because it will be played at a 15,000-seat stadium at a Division III college, instead of the then 42,000-seat (now 53,000-seat) Rutgers Stadium. And not just because we were underdogs in 2004, against Jackson Memorial, whereas this time we're playing Brick Memorial (ironically, the school closest to where my late Grandma lived), and while they beat us in the regular season, 37-34 (making this the first of EB's 49 seasons in which we've played 2 schools twice, after the Semi against Sewerville), we had the higher seed in the Playoffs (4th as opposed to 6th), so we might be favored, and we'll probably get to wear our home green uniforms as opposed to our road whites.

But the big reason this one will be different is that we have now won a State Championship. In 2004, we hadn't won since 1972 (and had previously won in 1966), which was before the State Playoff system began in 1974. We had to win that one.

This time, with a title comparatively recent, if we win, it'll be wonderful; but it we lose, it won't be terribly sad. We'll have the 2004 title to fall back on.

And, of course, we'll have the knowledge that, both times, we won a "State Championship" (really only a regional championship for the largest classification by enrollment), but lost to our most hated rivals. There will always be that shadow over the 2004 title, as there would be over the 2009 title should we win a week from tomorrow.

Still, it's been a really good season. We beat teams that, going into the Semifinal round, had been ranked Number 1 and Number 2 in the County (and, in fact, we're still the only team to beat that Number 2 team this season), and, for 5 days (Sunday morning through Thursday morning), we were ranked Number 1, something that hadn't happened in 19 years. (Even in 2004, there was another team in the County, on the north side of the Raritan River and thus in another "section" of the State Playoffs, that beat us and went on to win that section and take the County's Number 1 ranking in the local paper.)

But I still hate Old Bridge. You can't spell "slob" without "OB." And never, ever run over a bicyclist with your car in Old Bridge. It might be your bike.

How did the Old Bridge guy find his sister in the woods? Very nice.

I know, these are variations on criminal/inbred/stupid/classless jokes you've seen elsewhere. Well, if the shoe fits, they should wear it, no matter how smelly their feet are.

I fucking hate Old Bridge. And if we had won... I'd still fucking hate them.

On the bright side, Thanksgiving dinner went really well. Which is amazing, because I provided most of the food this time, and even shared the cooking duties with my mother. She and my father were both impressed.

My sister and her daughters weren't there, for reasons that should remain private. But she's hosting a brunch for us and some friends this morning. Would she have been impressed with my performance? She'd probably be impressed that, between me and Mom, we didn't blow the damn house up!

It was a very good dinner. But I would have traded a mediocre dinner for a win a few hours earlier.

I hate Old Bridge. Days until we in East Brunswick try to redeem ourselves with a State Championship: 8. Let's go, E.B., E.B., let's go!

Oh yeah: Rutgers plays at Louisville today. A win... doesn't help them much, since they'll still go to one of those bowls that didn't exist 10 years ago, probably in Charlotte, or a return trip to Toronto where they won in the 2007 season.

This is how far Greg Schiano has taken the RU program: Just 5 years ago, a Rutgers fan would have undergone a root canal without novocaine just to go to any bowl game. Now, when we go to a bowl that's not one of the former (and occasionally still) New Year's Day biggies, we're disappointed.

But there's still a championship (Big East and possibly National) level to which Schiano hasn't taken them. This year wasn't it, either. We'll see.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Top 10 New Jersey Devils Wins (Of 1,000)


There was a historic moment in the history of New Jersey sports on Saturday, November 14, 2009. And I didn't realize it until I read the Sunday Star-Ledger.

Here's the headline: "Gunter runs for 119 years to help power Princeton by Yale."

Runs for 119 years? Now, I realize that Princeton University has been playing football since 1869, and Yale University for nearly that long. As of November 6, the anniversary of "the first college football game" (even though it was more like a soccer game between two teams of 25) between Rutgers and Princeton in New Brunswick, the Tigers have been going at it for 140 years.

But I don't think they have any 119-year-old alumni, let alone any 119-year-old players. If they do have any 119-year-olds on their roster, then someone needs to contact the NCAA, because I think said player's eligibility ran out. Probably around the time that former Princeton professor and University President Woodrow Wilson was elected to a considerably higher Presidency.

Here's the opening paragraph of the S-L article: "Kenny Gunter gained 119 yards on 23 carries, including a 3-yard run for the game's first score, as Princeton defeated Yale, 24-7, yesterday in Princeton."

Princeton advanced to 3-6 in a tough year, and still trails Yale in one of college-football's oldest surviving rivalries, 72-50-10.

*

All joking aside, I did miss a bit of a milestone: While I noted the Devils' win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night, I was unaware that it was the 1,000th win in franchise history.

Counting only from their time in New Jersey, and not their pathetic early days as the Kansas City Scouts from 1974 to 1976 and the Colorado Rockies from 1976 to 1982, the Meadowlands Marauders -- sorry, old habits are hard to break -- the Mulberry Street Marauders now have an all-time record of 1,000 wins, 852 losss and 248 ties.

That means they've won 47.6 percent of their games, although with the advent of the shootout in the event of overtime not settling things, it's easier to win games that are tied after regulation. So they've gotten at least a point in 59.4 pecent of their games. Quite impressive, considering that up until the 1987-88 season they were, to use Number 99's words, "a Mickey Mouse operation on the ice." (I still won't use the name of that traitor to the game if I can avoid it -- and not because of that remark, either.)

Those 1,000 wins, of course, are only counting the regular season. If I were to do a list of the Top 10 Devils Wins, there would be a lot of postseason play in there.

So... with the hope that this list will have to be revised in the spring...

Top 10 New Jersey Devils Wins, 1982 to 2009

Of course, the two biggest "wins" in Devils history came on June 30, 1982, when, following Dr. John McMullen buying the team on May 27, officially approved the Rockies' move to New Jersey; and on October 6, 2004, when the Newark City Council approved the building of what became known as the Prudential Center, so the team could finally get out of their uncomfortable crib at Exit 16W. (It was a "childhood home": We loved it, but it not a suitable place for us as adults, and we had to get out. Besides, in this case, "father," meaning the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, did not know best.) With that in mind, here's the top ten, in my opinion (which isn't the only one that matters, only the one that matters the most in this space):

Honorable Mention. December 23, 1992, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York: Devils 5, New York Rangers 4. Despite being already 23 years old, this was my first live hockey game. Although I loved the Devils, it had only been a year or so, since the publicity blitz the NHL put on for its 75th Anniversary season (1991-92), that I got into the game at the kind of level where I just had to go to games. Don’t ask me how I got a ticket for this one, because I don’t remember.

The Garden was loud. I couldn't even hear John Amirante sing the National Anthem. I never realized that 18,200 people in an enclosed building could sound louder than 55,000 fans in an outdoor stadium -- the noise couldn't get out. The Rangers led 4-1 in the 3rd period, and their 18,000 maniacs were giving me a hard time. (I'm assuming my fellow Devils fans numbered about 200 that night.) But Stephane Richer scored, and suddenly it was on. The Devils tied it up in the last 2 minutes. In English soccer parlance, "Four-one, and you fucked it up!"

In overtime, Richer struck again, firing a laser beam that John Vanbiesbrouck still hasn't seen. I got out of the Garden real fast. But happy. This game may have been forgotten by just about everybody except me – and Richer, and the Beezer – but I'll cherish it forever. After all, unlike the Yankees and Rutgers football (but like East Brunswick football and, strangely, the usually woeful Nets), the Devils won the first live game in which I saw them.

10. October 8, 1982, Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey: Devils 3, Rangers 2. Three days after debuting at home with a 3-3 tie against the then-equally woeful Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils played a nearby team for the 1st time. Then, it was hard for anyone but Islander fans to say, "RANGERS SUCK!" Still, at the time, this was a franchise that was technically 3 days old, and officially 3 months old, against one that was 56 years old. For crying out loud, they were founded in the Coolidge Administration.

Beat the Rangers in a game that really matters? At the time, we were glad simply to beat anybody. To get our first win against the guys 8 miles down Route 3 (which flows into the Lincoln Tunnel Approachway)? It was sweet. But there would be sweeter ones to come.

9. February 3, 2006, Byrne (by now Continental Airlines) Arena: Devils 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0. A February game? Sure, it's yet another shutout for Marty, but what's the big deal? Especially since the Canes ended up beating us in the Playoffs a few weeks later and won the Cup?

The big deal is that it was Scott Stevens Night, and his Number 4 was retired. By raising our 1st retired number banner, along with the 3 Stanley Cup banners, 4 Conference Title banners and 7 (now 10) Division Title banners, it was a confirmation that our little franchise had finally grown up. Just as were our 1st Playoff berth in '88, our 1st Playoff Series win the same year, our 1st Conference Finals berth the same year, our driving of The Scum to the limit in '94, our 1st Cup Finals and win in '95, our first former player elected to the Hall of Fame (Peter Stastny) in '98, our 2nd Cup win in 2000, and our 3rd Cup win in '03.

But this was the 1st time we were able to mark a great Devils career as complete. (After all, who remembers Stastny as a Devil instead of as a Quebec Nordique? And Viacheslav Fetisov is remembered mainly as a Soviet, then a Detroit Red Wing.) It was our chance not only to announce that, yes, we have some history now, but also to say, "Thank you" to the most important player in the history of the franchise.

Marty is the greatest player in team history, but Scottso, because of how he lifted us up and turned us from pretenders into champions from 1991 to '95, is the most important, and will never be toppled from that perch.

8. April 14, 1988, Byrne Arena: Devils 6, New York Islanders 5. This was Game 6 of the Patrick Division Semifinals, and it was the 1st time the Devils ever won a Playoff Series. And against the team that had cast a very long shadow over New York hockey since their own such victory in 1975, a shocker over the Rangers (who, as Isles fans taught us, suck).

It was really all over for them: This was Captain Denis Potvin's last game, Mike Bossy had already retired due to a nasty back injury, Billy Smith was fast becoming a backup and would retire in another year, Bryan Trottier was mainly a reserve (though would play long enough to help Pittsburgh win 2 Cups), Clark Gillies had been traded 2 years earlier and had just retired, Butch Goring had been retired for a year and Bobby Nystrom for 2. The era of Big Island Hockey was over. (And except for a nice Cup run in '93, it has never returned.) And the Devils had delivered the eulogy. The Rangers couldn't do it. You know why? Because the RANGERS SUCK!

7. April 3, 1988, Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois: Devils 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3. Last game of the regular season, and the Devils could clinch a Playoff berth for the first time ever (unless you count the 1978 Colorado Rockies), but a tie wouldn't do the trick: They had to win.

And they were losing late, but John MacLean scored to send it to overtime. Since this was the regular season, OT was only 5 minutes, another goal had to come fast. Johnny Mac did it again, scoring the most important of his (still a team record) 347 goals in a Devils uniform, past Hawk goalie Darren Pang (now a broadcaster), getting tripped up and copying the famed 1970 Bobby Orr pose.

Except, as thrilling as that must have been for Boston fans, they were up 3 games to 0 in the Finals. They were going to win that series sooner or later. MacLean's goal was far more important to his team. It may be the most important goal in the history of any franchise, except maybe for the one that sent the Isles on their way in 1975, by Jean-Paul Parise. (Of course, father of Zach.)

6. May 26, 2000, First Union (currently Wachovia) Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Devils 2, Philadelphia Flyers 1. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Fly Guys took a 3 games to 1 lead, and had Game 5 and possibly Game 7 at home. But these were not the fearsome 1970s Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Dave Schultz Flyers. These were the Eric Lindros Flyers. Even Kate Smith and her mighty pipes couldn't have saved them.

This was a Philly choke on the level of the '64 and '77 Phillies, the '77 and '81 76ers, the '02 Eagles, the '04 St. Joseph's basketball team, and Smarty Jones. And the Flyers' tough-guy, "Broad Street Bullies" image was shattered forever when Scott Stevens introduced Lindros to his associate, Mr. Shoulder.

It wasn't quite, to use Bruce Springsteen's line, "Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night, and they blew up his house, too," mainly because 1980-81 Philly Mob boss Philip Testa got his nickname because of his "cover," a poultry business, while Lindros could have been called "the Chicken Man" for other reasons, if ya know what I mean.

But it was as effective a hit as either the Jersey or Philly Mob has ever pulled off, and Lindros was never the same. Already feuding with the former Captain turned general manager (as a "grownup," he now preferred to be called "Bob" Clarke), he never played for the Flyers again. And, except for the 76ers' run into the 2001 NBA Finals, no Philly indoor team has gotten this close to a World Championship since.

I do want to say this in Flyer fans' favor, though: Just about everybody who roots for the Black & Orange admits that this was a clean hit. (The refs thought so, too: Stevens was not penalized.) Contrast that with the moronic troglodytes who befoul Madison Square Garden, who still insist, 30 years later, that Potvin's hit on Ulf Nilsson was dirty. (That one wasn't penalized, either, and Nilsson himself has said many times that it was a clean hit.) Flyer fans may be sadistic brutes, but they understand the game. Ranger fans are just alcoholic, illiterate, barely linguistic Neanderthals.

5. June 9, 2003, Byrne (Continental Airlines) Arena: Devils 3, Anaheim (then "Mighty") Ducks 0. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and after a rough first 6 games (including Paul Kariya's Game 6 goal after coming back from yet another Mr. Shoulder from Scottso – now that’s tough), this one was never really a contest. Coach Pat Burns put Ken Daneyko in after not putting him in for any of the preceding Playoff games, and Dano's veteran presence fired up the crowd, since it was pretty much sure to be his last game, and the crowd fired up the team.

The writers gave the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP to Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Schmucks. Now, really, Martin Brodeur has 3 shutouts in the Finals, including Game 7, a feat last accomplished in 1945 – before V-E Day! – and they give it to the goalie of the losing team? Giguere posed for a photo with Commissioner Gary Bettman and then skated off real fast. He knew he didn't deserve it.

But the Devils deserved that third Cup. Now they had won more Cups than the Flyers, and only 1 less than the Rangers (in a lot less time) and the Islanders (in a bit less time). The fools could still make jokes about our attendance (and they still do), but they know we have the better recent history.

Hold on a second, you must be thinking. If the Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups, why is one of them only the 5th biggest win in team history? What could be bigger than a Stanley Cup? How about a win without which none of those Cups would have happened:

4. June 11, 1995, the Spectrum, Philadelphia: Devils 3, Flyers 2. This was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Why not Game 6, when we clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time? Because of the emotional effect of this Game 5.

With 44 seconds left in regulation in a tie game, Claude Lemieux, already putting together one of the greatest postseason performances in any sport, fired a wobbly 65-foot shot at Flyer goalie Ron Hextall. The red light went on.

I saw this on TV at Ruby Tuesday at the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick, and I think I hit the roof. I know I yelled, "Yessss!" And nobody looked at me like we Devils fans weren't worthy of being around Ranger or Flyer fans. This was a special moment. That it was against the Broad Street Bozos made it all the better.

3. June 10, 2000, Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas: Devils 2, Dallas Stars 1. It was actually 12:30 AM on June 11, Eastern Time, when those of us in New Jersey saw it. Some of us, barely, because Game 5 went to 3 overtimes and this Game 6 was in a 2nd OT. For the first time in years, I was tired of hockey. It was the 26th period of hockey in the Finals. Keep in mind, a Finals going to Game 7 with no overtimes would be 21 periods. I kept thinking, "Please, somebody, put an end to this."

Finally, the Devils did, as Patrick Elias sent one of the best passes in hockey history to Jason Arnott, who shoveled the winner past Ed Belfour.

Gary Thorne had the call on ABC: "Back to the point, Stevens stepped up to hold it in, Hull stole it, Stevens holds it in again, shot it right through the top of the crease. Elias centered, shot, score! The New Jersey Devils have won the Stanley Cup! Jason Arnott with the game-winning overtime goal!" And Bill Clement, the 1974-75 Flyer, followed Thorne and expressed the feelings of all of us: "Ho ho ho ho ho! Ohhhh... Finally! The ending of the movie!"

Okay, that's 2 Cups – 1 Cup to go, and there's still 2 wins left to cover. So what's the win that could possibly be bigger than 2 Cup wins?

2. April 29, 2006, Madison Square Garden: Devils 4, Rangers 2. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Three times, the Devils had faced The Scum in the Playoffs. Three times, The Scum beat us. This 4th time, we beat The Scum. Swept them. Clinched in their house. Humiliated them.

True, they have since beaten us in another Playoff series, the 1st ever played at the Prudential Center. But they've never swept us. And they can never again say we've never beaten them when it counts. Four straight! We beat The Scum four straight!

And they've still only got 1 Cup since Pearl Harbor, while we've got 3 Cups since Oklahoma City. I’d say "Do the math," but if they could do the math, they wouldn't be Ranger fans. (I know, I know, a lot of them are also Yankee Fans. They're smart from May to October.)

But, as they said on Highlander, "In the end, there can be only one." And this one is obvious:

1. June 24, 1995, Byrne Arena: Devils 5, Detroit Red Wings 2. Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the 1st World Championship for a true New Jersey team. (Remember, those 3 Super Bowls were won by a team proudly calling themselves the "New York Giants," the last of them with the "ny" on their helmets.)

Even if the Devils end up becoming to the Stanley Cup's 2nd 100 years what the Montreal Canadiens were to the Cup's first 100 years, there will never be a more special moment for the team than 11:09 PM on June 24, 1995, when Mike Emrick said these words on Fox: "The championship to New Jersey! The Devils have won the Stanley Cup!"

A year earlier, a Ranger fan had hung a banner at the Garden that said, "NOW I CAN DIE IN PEACE." On this night, a Devils fans held up a sign that said, "NOW I CAN LIVE IN PEACE." Well, maybe not in peace, but as long as the Rangers remain stuck on 1994, we can say to their stupid fans, "What have they done for you lately?"

EB and RU Roll Along; Robert Enke, 1977-2009

Joe Martinek

I was sick as a dog on Thursday night, so I didn't go to the Rutgers game. My father went, though, and he was very pleased by the Scarlet Knights' performance.

By the way, why do people say "sick as a dog" but also "healthy as a horse"? A horse's health is considerably more precarious. And one is alliterative, the other isn't, so that can't be it.

Anyway, Rutgers upset Number 24 South Florida. Crushed them, 31-0. This was their best performance of the season, by a long shot. They are now 7-2, guaranteed to get some kind of bowl invite -- unless the NCAA puts them on probation sometime in the next month. This is highly unlikely, since if RU were under investigation for any wrongdoing, chances are it would have been leaked to the press by now.

*

I felt a lot better on Friday. The hyperdensity in my sinuses vanished, my dizziness faded, and the worst of it was my usual November-to-January cough, the one that arrives before Thanksgiving and sticks around through Christmas all the way until New Year's. But I was functional again.

So what did I do? Naturally, I went to a football game and sat in the rain, wind, and by the second half cold for two and a half hours. A mass o' chism, I know. But how often does East Brunswick High School get a home game in the State Playoffs? This was only the second time in the last 19 years that we did -- and only the second season in 24 in which we won one.

I had to go see my EB Bears. They're not the team I've loved the longest, but they are the team I've been closest to, having been a student manager (not to be confused with any form of coach) for the baseball and wrestling teams back in the Eighties. It's the only sports institution (and sometimes it has seeed like a mental institution) where I've been involved from the inside of the organization, not just watching from inside the stadium or arena walls. More than any other team on the planet, this is my team. And of all teams I root for, it's also the one I share with the fewest people, making it seem even more like mine. I share this team with a few thousand, not with a few million.

This is the 1st time in nearly half a century of coexistence that both EB and RU are in postseason play in the same season. Ever. And despite the nasty weather, and the opponent being a creditable West Windsor team, we won 27-0, and advanced to the Central Jersey Group IV (largest-size school) Semifinals. A fantastic performance by the Bears, and a few of the few who braved the weather to show up said it was similar to RU's performance the night before.

It was our biggest point spread ever in Playoff competition, and it evened our all-time Playoff record at 6-6. Still, since New Jersey went to Playoffs to determine its high school football State Champions (or at least Sectional Champions) in 1974, there's only that one title, in 2004, which is the last time we made the Playoffs. We reached the Finals but lost in 1984 and '85, lost in the Semifinals in 1980, '87, '88, '90 and '94; and lost in the Quarterfinals in '98, the year it went from the top 4 teams making it to the top 8 -- under the current system, we would also have made the Playoff in '77, '78, '81, '86, '92 and '95. Still, 10 times in 36 years isn't bad. Several nearby schools have done better, but a few would love to have done even half as well as we have.

Next Friday night, the Semifinal presents us with a rematch against Sayreville. At their dump. I hate that place. The Sayreville students and parents are a bunch of arrogant schmucks. To make matters worse, due to the renovation of our field 2 years go, this will be the 4th time in a row that we play them away.

We shouldn't even be playing them. They're the top seed. Hunterdon Central of Flemington, the 3 seed, got beat by 6 seed Brick Memorial. This afternoon, 2 seed Howell hosts 7 seed Montgomery. The lowest remaining seed should be playing the highest-remaining. In other words, if Howell wins, then the Central Jersey Group IV Semifinals should be Brick Memorial at Sayreville and East Brunswick at Howell (6 at 1 and 4 at 2); while if Montgomery pulls off the upset, it should be Montgomery at Sayreville and Brick Memorial comes back to EB for a rematch of that shootout where they beat us last week (7 at 1 and 6 at 4). But the way the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association set it up, it's not about seeding, it's about brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament.

This isn't the 1st time the NJSIAA has screwed EB football over, nor even the most egregious such example. There are still some people angry over what they did to us in 1980. If I feel like it, I'll mention it this week, although I don't remember it happening but I do know most of the details.

Anyway, after Sewerville, the next game will be the regular-season finale, on Thanksgiving Day against Old Bridge, a.k.a. The Scum, a.k.a. the Purple Bastards. Thank God and the schedule-maker that we have it at home. I don't want to go to Sayreville and Old Bridge within the span of 5 days. It's bad enough my job is on the Sayreville-Old Bridge border, and that each of the 2 ways I can get to work by bus has to pass one or the other of their fields. But having to visit both in the span of 5 days? I still haven't gotten my radiation suit back from the cleaners!

Regardless of what happens against The Scum, if we beat Sayreville, then we advance to the Central Jersey Group IV Final against the Howell-Montgomery-Brick Memorial survivor, sometime during the weekend of December 5, most likely at Rutgers Stadium. So, as in 2004, we may end up playing a bigger game at that place this season than Rutgers does.

*

The Devils won last night, 5-2 at home over injury-plagued Washington. That's their 8th straight win. A bad as they were at the start of the season, losing their 1st 2 games at home to their two most hated rivals, the Flyers and the Rangers (who suck), they are now in 1st place in the Atlantic Division.

The night before, they won their 9th straight road game, one off the '06-'07 Buffalo Sabres' NHL record.

But the Nets fell to 0-9, losing 81-80 to the Miami Heat. Last-second shot by Dwayne Wade. So close.

Why do I even bother to pay attention? They're going to be playing their home games in Brooklyn in 3 years. Or maybe 4.

Or maybe not at all. There's a report on the Star-Ledger's website in which Mikhail Prokorov, the prospective new Russian owner, may move them from the Meadowlands to the Prudential Center if Bruce Ratner, trying to sell the team even as he tries to build the Atlantic Yards project (which appears to have been all he cared about all along, the dirty cunt), can't get that deal done.

Newark is a great basketball city. The Nets had two exhibition games at The Rock that had attendance comparable to the Devils' regular-season games against non-rivals. It's so easy to figure out, a Caveman could do it! Why can't Ratner?

Couldn't he make just as much money with the Nets in Newark -- and with all the questionable construction contracts floating around in New Jersey -- as he could with his Frankenstein baby in Brooklyn? Does he have to take the team I loved from 1977 to 2006 when he announced he was taking them away? Did I mention he was dirty cunt?

*

Last week, Robert Enke stepped in front of a train in Neustadt am Rübenberge in northern Germany, and allowed himself to be hit. He was only 32 years old, and left a wife and an infant daughter.
He was a goalkeeper for soccer team Hannover 96. (The name means that they were founded in Hannover, Germany in 1896.) Previously, he had played for his hometown team, Carl Zeiss Jena; for Borussia Mönchengladbach; for Lisbon, Portugal giants Benfica; and for Barcelona. He made 8 appearances for the German national team.

He had a history of clinical depression and panic attacks, and his depression got worse after another daughter died of heart trouble soon after her birth.

His death has shocked European soccer, and many of his teammates and friends have taken to social media, begging people feeling the same symptoms that he felt to get help rather than follow his path.

*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 1, tomorrow night, against the Flyers in Philadelphia. Going for the record-tying 10th straight road win, but it sure won't be easy against the Broad Street Bullies and their crypto-human fans.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 5, this Friday night.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 6, this Saturday afternoon, up at Syracuse, a.k.a. Sorry-excuse.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 11. I want this one. Real. Bad. As much as I hate Sayreville, if we lose the Playoff game to them but still beat the Purple Bastards, I will glady take it.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin: 89. Less than 3 months.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 141.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 146, on April 10, 2010 at White Hart Lane.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 149.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 209.

Days until the World Cup Final: 240.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 264.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 545 (projected).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 727.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Top 10 Sports Odd Couples

On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife.

Deep down, he knew she was right. But he also knew that, one day, he would return to her.

With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his friend, Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return.

Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

That was the opening narration in the 1st couple of seasons of the TV version of The Odd Couple, a situation comedy based on Neil Simon's play. The play debuted on Broadway in 1965, with Art Carney as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar. (Simon said he wrote the Oscar part with Matthau in mind, but Matthau supposedly wanted to play Felix. It wouldn'’t have worked.)

In 1968, a film version was made, with Jack Lemmon playing Felix and Matthau again as Oscar. From 1970 to 1975, ABC aired the sitcom, and it has become next to impossible to imagine anyone but Tony Randall as Felix and anyone but Jack Klugman as Oscar – and while Randall went on to Love, Sidney and Klugman to Quincy, M.E., it has become equally difficult to imagine them in any other roles.

I have, however, seen 2 other productions of the stage version of The Odd Couple, one a high school play and one a professional from the "Plays In the Park" series at Roosevelt Park in Edison, New Jersey, and both were really good, especially considering that the high schoolers were playing middle-aged men. I really believed these 16, 17-year-old guys were Felix, Oscar, Murray, Speed and the others. (I also saw the "Plays In the Park" guys do a pretty good version of Grease, with a tricked-out golf-cart standing in for "Greased Lightning" the car.)

Now, the year that Gloria Unger asked Felix to hit the bricks has never been specified. But since the sitcom began in 1970, it could have been 1969. Which means it could have been 40 years ago today that Felix moved in with Oscar and the hilarity began to ensue.

Top 10 Odd Couples In Sports

These are all people in sports who, at least for a time, plied their trade together, but seemed opposites, and often feuded. In some cases they eventually made up, in some they did not.

The "Felix" character is listed first, the "Oscar" equivalent second.

10. Al Kaline and Denny McLain, Detroit Tigers, 1965 to 1970. Kaline has been Detroit's most popular living sports figure for over 50 years – more even than Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman. For 5 years, McLain was a talented pitcher who tried to get away with a lot – but not everything they said he tried to get away with in Year 6.

Without McLain's remarkable 31-6 season in 1968, Kaline would have retired without appearing in a World Series. But McLain alienated so many of his teammates by his annus horribilis of 1970 that few had anything good to say about him when he was gone.

And even in 2007, when the twice-imprisoned McLain published his memoir I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect, he still took shots at Tiger teammates like Kaline, Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich. Tug McGraw may have thrown the pitch and used it as the title of his first autobiography, but if there was ever a pitcher in baseball who was a true screwball, it was Denny McLain.
Mickey Stanley has to sit between McLain and Kaline.

9. Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles, 2004-05. McNabb is no slob, but in being willing to do whatever it takes, including risking injury, he is the Oscar here. T.O. is the Felix because he's so whiny and needy and has to have everything done his way.
They were only together for 2 seasons, and with injuries to both it added up to maybe 1 season's worth of games. But if you're an Eagles fan, it probably felt like longer. A lot longer. T.O. is the Buffalo Bills' problem as of this writing.

8. Julius Erving and Moses Malone, Philadelphia 76ers, 1982-86. Doctor J was the most stylish player in NBA history – on the court, anyway. (Off the court, even the Doctor couldn't touch Walt Frazier.) By comparison, Big Mo was, to use a hockey term, a grinder. He didn't play dirty, but he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. The Philadelphia 76ers reached the NBA Finals with Julius in 1977, 1980 and 1982, and the Conference Finals in 1981, but they couldn't get over the hump.

Philadelphia fans have often mocked the pretty boys of sports, and Dr. J was a rare exception. But the Sixers needed that blood-sweat-and-tears type to get them to the title. Andrew Toney was one, Bobby Jones was another, but Moses Malone was a special player. Few players have ever had the kind of season he had in 1982-83. Dr. J got his ring, but I hope he at least took Moses out for a nice dinner at Le Bec Fin afterwards.
Big Mo (left) was just what the Doctor (right) ordered.

7. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls, 1987-98. I'm not sure I have to explain this one. I suppose I could list Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant – but they would both be "Felixes."
6. Punch Imlach and Frank Mahovlich, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1958-68. Punch (real name George) was the coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs team that won 4 Stanley Cups in 7 years from 1962 to 1967. Mahovlich, a.k.a. the Big M, was his best player.
In the NHL's official 75th Anniversary book, hockey historian Charles Wilkins wrote, "It has been postulated (by, among others, Frank himself) that Punch drove Frank nuts. It has also been postulated that Punch was one of the few people who understood Frank. It stands to reason that one extraterrestrial – one, albeit, from the opposite end of the galaxy – should understand another." For the record, Imlach was Toronto born and raised, while Mahovlich is from Timmins, Ontario.

Today, Mahovlich is with the Senators in Ottawa – but not the hockey team. He was appointed a member of the Canadian Senate. (Their government is a bit different from ours.)

5. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-94. True, Jimmy is quite fussy about his hair, but that's about it. And Felix would probably have found Jerry to be an incredibly crass, classless individual.
Well, let me put it this way: "New York class" and "Dallas class" are 2 very different things. Jerry is definitely the "Felix" here.

4. George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, New York Yankees, off and on from 1975 to 1988. This might have been Number 1 if it could ever have lasted. Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News has compared it to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: When they were together, they couldn't stand one another; when they were apart, they missed each other terribly. Liz and Dick married and divorced twice, while the Boss and the Brat split up 5 times.

But they will be forever linked. Without George, Billy would never have managed the Yankees; without Billy, George might never have won a World Series. Actually, you could throw in Reggie Jackson and make this an Odd Trio, although there wasn't a comparable character in The Odd Couple to Mister October, despite several sports-connected figures having appeared.
Billy, George, Thurman Munson, Reggie.
Thurman is the only one not willing to smile.

3. Vince Lombardi and Paul Hornung, Green Bay Packers, 1959-67. Hornung was one of the greatest all-around football players who ever lived. Just ask him. Lombardi never bragged about his achievements, though they were legion. His greatest achievement may have been getting along with Hornung and getting him to make the most of his talent for the sake of his team.
Hornung, Bart Starr, Lombardi

2. Christy Mathewson and John McGraw, New York Giants, 1902-16. It doesn't seem right to list the player first and the manager second, but, in this case, the player was the Felix and the manager was the Oscar.

This was a total reverse of the Lombardi-Hornung relationship: McGraw was the short, nasty, profane, hot-tempered bastard, which makes him sound a lot like Lombardi, but Lombardi would never have cheated to win. McGraw, as a player, was proud of the corners he cut. (Literally: If he was on 1st base, and he thought the umpire wasn't looking, he'd run right across the infield to 3rd base without going for 2nd. He got away with it a few times in those days of just 1 umpire.)

By contrast, Mathewson was tall, handsome, and a superb all-around athlete like Hornung (his alma mater, Bucknell University, named its football stadium after him), but would have been totally out of place in a red-light district, never needed a curfew, and the only time he ever gambled was on checkers. (But he was a hustler at that game, and very good at it.)
The Little Napoleon and Big Six

McGraw used to say, "The main thing is to win," while Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything, but it's the only thing." Still, I think Lombardi would have appreciated Mathewson more than McGraw. Hornung? Definitely would have liked McGraw better.

1. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, 2004-present. Okay, maybe A-Rod isn't a slob, but his personal life, his contract issues and his on-field performance have often been quite messy. And Derek doesn't whine when a relationship ends. Or honk when things don't go his way. Then again, we don't know what he does when the cameras aren't on, do we?
But, as with the TV show – which ended in 1975 with Gloria taking Felix back and Oscar getting the 1049 Park Avenue apartment all to himself again – things have worked out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day: Forgetting Is Not an Option

Elmer Gedeon

This is long. It needs to be. I hope you'll bear with me.

Today is November 11. It was on November 11, 1918, that the Armistice was signed to end World War I in victory for the Allies. In America, the date became known as Armistice Day, and later received its present name of Veterans Day. In the British Commonwealth, it is called Remembrance Day.

On April 22, 2004, former Arizona Cardinals safety and U.S. Army Corporal Pat Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan in the War On Terror. It was a shock, because America is not used to its athletes dying in wars.

The risk was far greater in the draft era, 1940 to 1973. Some of the true greats served in combat.

D-Day, June 6, 1944: The U.S. Navy had a young sailor named Lawrence Peter Berra, already "Yogi" but not yet a big-leaguer. The Army had Leon Day, already a legend in the Negro Leagues.

Hank Bauer and Ralph Houk both fought at the Battle of Guadalcanal. Red Ruffing lost toes in a hunting accident, and was already 36 at the time of Pearl Harbor, but volunteered anyway. Jerry Coleman flew a fighter plane for the Marines.

Phil Rizzuto went into the Navy, and, according to a story he liked to tell, was told he’d be sent to New Guinea. He thought that was great: He heard "Guinea," and figured the place would be full of his fellow Italians. Wow, did he turn out to be wrong! "I was the worst sailor the Navy ever had," he said. "I was always seasick."

In 1943, the Yankees were missing already-established big-leaguers Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, George Selkirk, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Marius Russo. But Bill Dickey, Billy Johnson, Johnny Lindell, and that season's American League Most Valuable Player, pitcher Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler, were still available, and they led the Yankees to win the World Series that year.

As yet unknown to the Yankees, future stars Berra, Joe Collins, Bob Kuzava, Cliff Mapes, Vic Raschi, and a pair of players who would achieve Hall of Fame credentials for other teams before finishing their careers with Yankee glory, Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter, were also serving.

By Opening Day 1944, nearly everyone who played for the Yanks' 1941 World Championship team was in Army green, Navy blue, or Marine whatever color they damn well please. A cartoon that appeared in a baseball magazine of the time did a feature on Dickey, serving in the Navy despite being 37, and it said, "Dickey's presence means that the two greatest catchers ever are with the Blues (Mickey Cochrane's the other). But if you want to see to it that the Axis does the catching in this war, buy more War Bonds!"

Little did anyone know, the Navy actually had the three greatest catchers of all time: Cochrane, Dickey and Berra. I think Johnny Bench, the only catcher since who approaches those three, was in the National Guard doing part-time service in the late Sixties.

Gordon, Bob Lemon and Al Rosen all served, and were members of the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians. Gordon had already been a star 2nd baseman for the Yankees; Lemon as manager and Rosen as general manager who make the Yankees into World Champions in 1978.

In addition to those listed above, Yankees who served in World War II include:

* Army: Johnny Broaca, Allie Clark, Clint Courtney, Charlie Devens, Irv Noren, Fred Sanford (again, not the Redd Foxx character), Steve Sundra, Butch Wensloff.

* Navy: Joe Beggs, Jumbo Brown, Sammy Byrd, Tommy Byrne, Ben Chapman, Tom Ferrick, Tom Gorman, Rollie Hemsley, Andy High, Bobby Hogue, Gus Niarhos, Jack Phillips, Ray Scarborough, Ken Sears, Frank Shea, Gene Woodling.

* Army Air Force, forerunner of the U.S. Air Force: Johnny Gerlach, Myril Hoag, Joe Ostrowski, Gerry Priddy, Charlie Silvera, Johnny Sturm, Vito Tamulis.

* Coast Guard: "Ol' Reliable" Tommy Henrich, Randy Gumpert, Aaron Robinson.

Although they're usually remembered as playing for teams other than the Yankees, the Pinstripes can also count among their WWII veterans All-Stars like Ewell Blackwell, Jim Hegan, Jim Konstanty, Johnny Sain, Bobby Schantz, Virgil Trucks, Mickey Vernon, and longtime Angels coach Jimmie Reese, who, briefly in 1930, roomed with Babe Ruth – or, as at least one of the Babe's roommates said, didn't room with him, but rather roomed with his suitcase.

The oddest name on the list of Yankees who served in World War II is 1 of only 2 Major League Baseball players, that I can find, who served in both World Wars. (I'll mention the other one when I get to the subject of World War I.) This one was the Yankees' regular right fielder toward the end of the 1919 season, but only for that brief time, and is sometimes put into the trivia question, "Who was the Yankees' right fielder before Babe Ruth?" It's only slightly true. But he was there. Still, he's better known for something else. Founding the National Football League and what is, for a lot of people, still its signature team, the Chicago Bears. His name was George Halas.

And by the time he went back into the Navy in World War II with the rank of Captain, he had already led the Bears to 5 NFL Championships as head coach. While he served, they would give him his 6th as an owner, in 1943. Right after he got out, in 1946, he led them to a 7th. In 1963, he coached them to an 8th, and after his death, one of the star players on that ’63 team, Mike Ditka, would coach them to a 9th.

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New York Giants (baseball) who served in WWII were: Army: Andy Cohen, Monte Kennedy, Dave Koslo, Dusty Rhodes, Wes Westrum and Hoyt Wilhelm. Navy: Walker Cooper, Herman Franks, Don Liddle, Hank Thompson. Army Air Force: Harry Danning, Clint Hartung, Sheldon "Available" Jones, Sal Yvars and… Bobby Thomson. Coast Guard: Sid Gordon, Bill Rigney and Hank Sauer. Marines: Alvin Dark. Merchant Marine: Whitey Lockman.

The list of Brooklyn Dodgers who served in the War is quite long, and includes several of the "Boys of Summer": Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Billy Cox, Joe Black, Clem Labine. And, of course, U.S. Army Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

Presaging Rosa Parks 11 years later, Jackie Robinson got on a bus at an Army base in 1944 and was ordered by the driver, an enlisted man, to go to the back of the bus. He refused, and reminded the driver that he outranked him. The driver got on the bus' radio, and called the Military Police. The MPs arrested Lt. Robinson. He was court-martialed. He was acquitted, because there was no Army regulation forcing a black soldier to the back of an Army bus.

But the Army decided Jackie was a "troublemaker," and mustered him out with an honorable, but suspicious discharge. Good thing they did, because it enabled him to join the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues for the 1945 season, which enabled him to be found by Dodger scout Clyde Sukeforth, and the rest is history. Still, even if Jackie hadn't been the one to reintegrate the game, this story would still have to be told.

Also: Army: Cal Abrams, Jack Banta, Rex Barney, Zeke Bonura, Bobby Bragan, Bruce Edwards, Dee Fondy, Lonny Frey, Al Gionfriddo, Kirby Higbe, Dixie Howell, Russ Meyer, Dale Mitchell, Bobby Morgan, Van Lingle Mungo, Pete Reiser. Navy: Frankie Baumholtz, Al Campanis (yes, that Al Campanis), Larry French, Marv Grissom, Buddy Hassett, Joe Hatten, Billy Herman, Cookie Lavagetto, Vic Lombardi, Eddie Miksis, Mickey Owen, Clarence “Ace” Parker. Air Force: Jimmy Brown, Johnny "Spider" Jorgenson, and future big-league manager Gene Mauch. Marines: Dan Bankhead. Coast Guard: Gene Hermanski.

And, though the War was over for 17 years before the Mets began play, there are a few WWII veterans with Met connections: Berra and Spahn, who each briefly played for Casey Stengel on the 1965 Mets; Bob Scheffing, the general manager who built the 1969 World Champions and 1973 National League Pennant winners, and 3 Met managers: Francis "Salty" Parker, Joe Frazier (not the boxer) and George Bamberger.

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A total of 36 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame were also World War II veterans. In addition to Yankees Berra, Dickey, DiMaggio, Gordon, Lemon, Mize, Rizzuto, Ruffing, and Slaughter; Dodgers Herman, Robinson, Reese and Snider (but, as yet, not Hodges), and Giant Wilhelm, they are:

* Army: Luke Appling, Leon Day, Bobby Doerr, Red Schoendienst, Warren Spahn, executive Larry MacPhail, and umpires Billy Evans (already retired from umpiring at the War’s outbreak) and Nestor Chylak (not yet in the majors).

* Navy: Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins (both already retired as players before they went in as officers), Larry Doby, Bob Feller (who has become the voice of veteran ballplayers in his old age), Charlie Gehringer, Ralph Kiner, Stan Musial, and executive Lee MacPhail (Larry's son).

* Air Force: Hank Greenberg.

* Marines: Ted Williams, Ted Lyons (though he was already 41 when the war began) and executive Bill Veeck.

* Coast Guard: Umpire Al Barlick. Spahn and Chylak were both at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, the largest battle in terms of manpower in the history of man's inhumanity to man.

Also, Hall of Fame broadcasters Coleman, Joe Garagiola, Bob Murphy, Jack Brickhouse and Ernie Harwell. That Coleman and Brickhouse were Marines, I can easily believe: Both were, and the still-living Coleman still is, the tough-as-nails type. Harwell is a little harder to believe. He seems so kind and gentlemanly. He is an ordained minister, so maybe he was a Marine chaplain.

My favorite wartime baseball story involves Ted Lyons. Here was a pitcher who won 259 games, all for the Chicago White Sox, from 1923 to 1942. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy said, "If he had pitched for the Yankees, he would have won 400 games." Certainly, he would have won over 300. The White Sox retired his Number 16, and he is in the Hall of Fame.

But he enlisted at age 42. When he got out, he pitched just five more games in 1946 and hung 'em up, winning a 260th game. But while in the Army, he pitched for a team of ex-players in his Division, and they faced an Army Air Force team whose leader was the Yankee Clipper himself, Joltin' Joe. "I got into the Army to get away from DiMaggio," Lyons supposedly said, "and here he is!"

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A total of 19 major leaguers served in the U.S. Coast Guard, the often-forgotten "fifth branch" of the U.S. Armed Forces. Probably the best known of these, aside from Henrich, was Wally Westlake, who survived the War and went on to win the 1948 World Series and the 1954 American League Pennant as an outfielder with the Cleveland Indians.

Keller was one of 8 major leaguers who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine, as were Giant outfielder Whitey Lockman and Indian pitcher Jim Bagby Jr..

Moe Berg, of Belleville, New Jersey, served in the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. He spoke several languages, including German and Japanese – rather handy when your wartime opponents are Germany and Japan.

He went on the Winter 1935 baseball tour of Japan, officially more as a translator than as a catcher, but, upon request from what was then the Department of War (which became the Department of Defense in 1947), took a few "home movies" in anticipation of a potential war with Japan. Yes, it was being talked about even in 1935, 4 years after they started fighting China, 2 years before they started bombing in full 4 years before the War started in Europe, and 6 years before Pearl Harbor.

I should also mention 1st baseman Hank Biasatti and pitcher Dick Fowler, who served in the Canadian Army. Pitchers Joe Krakauska and Phil Marchildon, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. And pitcher Adrian Zabala, who served in the Cuban Army.

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Ray Flaherty was a baseball umpire who reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a two-way end for the New York Giants (1927 and 1934 NFL Champions), and a coach for the Washington Redskins (1937 and 1942 NFL Champions). The aforementioned Ace Parker is better known for having played for the football team named the Brooklyn Dodgers, and is the oldest living member of the Pro Football Hall. And 1920s football legend Ernie Nevers, a charter inductee into Canton, also played Major League Baseball.

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As far as can be determined, 405,399 Americans died in the military service in World War II – this includes combat wounds, disease and accidents – and 2 were Major League Baseball players, for however brief a time:

Elmer John Gedeon: Born April 15, 1917, just days after the U.S. entry into World War I. He was born and raised in Cleveland, in a neighborhood that had been home to immigrants from the Sudetenland, the region of Czechoslovakia that Hitler demanded in the Fall of 1938 because it had so many ethnic Germans living there.

Gedeon starred in baseball, football and track at the University of Michigan. He played 5 games as an outfielder for the Washington Senators in 1939, but spent all of the 1940 season in the minors, and was drafted into the Army in 1941.

He trained as a bomber pilot, and was decorated for bravery after his plane crashed in 1942. Captain Elmer Gedeon was ultimately shot down and killed while piloting a B-26 bomber on a mission over Saint-Pol France on April 20, 1944. He was just past his 27th birthday. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Harry Mink O'Neill: Born May 8, 1917, also in the early days of America's participation in World War I. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, and was signed by his hometown Athletics. He played even less than Gedeon did, just one game, also in the 1939 season. He went into the Marine Corps, and 1st Lieutenant Harry O'Neill was one of those who fell in the assault on Iwo Jima, on March 6, 1945.
Harry O'Neill

Two other players who served are particularly worth mentioning, because of how they returned to the majors against long odds:

Bert Shepard was a pitcher and a pilot, and he was shot down over Germany. A German Army doctor was able to save his life, but not his right leg, and had to amputate. After the war, he wanted to get back into the game, and Senators owner Clark Griffith, himself a former star pitcher, was impressed enough to sign him as a pitching coach.

On August 4, 1945, in what turned out to be the last few days of the War, the Senators were getting clobbered by the Red Sox, and, as a game in the second of four straight doubleheaders forced by wartime travel restrictions, the Senators needed pitchers. Shepard pitched 5 1/3rd innings of relief, allowing just 3 hits and 1 run.

He never appeared in another game, but remained an active athlete, winning golf and running competitions for amputees with prosthetics into his 70s. In 1993, This Week In Baseball did a feature on him, where he was reunited with the German doctor who saved his life at the POW camp hospital. Shepard died in 2008, just short of his 88th birthday.

Lou Brissie was also a lefthanded pitcher, who had been scouted by Connie Mack of the A's before the war. He was also shot down, but was brought back to a U.S. base, and heard doctors saying, "This leg has to come off." Unlike Shepard, he was conscious and able to protest, saying he was a baseball player and begging them not to remove the leg. It took 23 surgeries, but he was able to keep his leg and walk on it again.

He reached the majors in 1947, and pitched for the A's against the Red Sox. But Ted Williams hit a line shot off his leg, hitting a steel plate that was helping hold his bone together. As it was late in the season and both teams were out of the race, attendance was low, and the CLANG! of horsehide on metal rang throughout the ballpark.

Brissie went down, and Ted rushed over to him, and, well aware of what his fellow veteran had gone through, was among those who helped him back up. Brissie was all right, and laughed, "Damn it, Ted, pull the ball!"

Brissie would later pitch for the Indians, remaining in the majors until 1953. He later served as the national director for American Legion Baseball (appropriate, considering his combined athletic and military background), and is now 85 years old. The great sportswriter Ira Berkow has a new book out about him: The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie.

(UPDATE: Lou Brissie died on November 25, 2013, at the age of 89.)

Shepard wore Number 34 in his brief time with the Senators, as did Gedeon, who also appears to have worn 35. O'Neill wore 30 in his single appearance. Brissie wore 17 in his single 1947 appearance, then wore 19 for the A's and 12 for the Indians. But, with the Senators and A's both having moved, there is no team to retire their numbers or erect "Monument Park"-style plaques for them at their ballparks. However, there is a Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society which houses a museum in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, and it has tributes to O’Neill and Brissie.

While he's still alive, Brissie should be inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame and given a plaque at Heritage Park, behind center field at Jacobs Field (Progressive Field). And now that the Washington Nationals have moved the Washington Wall of Stars from Robert F. Kennedy Stadium to Nationals Park, and erected statues of Frank Howard, Josh Gibson and Walter Johnson (replacing the monument that stood outside Griffith Stadium and is now outside Walter Johnson High School in nearby Bethesda, Maryland), perhaps they can memorialize Gedeon and Shepard.

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There were 23 NFL players killed in World War II. Two were New York Giants, and they were later honored with plaques on the wall of the center-field (east end-zone) blockhouse at the Polo Grounds: Lieutenant Al Blozis, a tackle who played 3 seasons, killed in France in 1945 (and his Number 32 was retired by the Giants); and Lieutenant Jack Lummus, an end who played one season, killed at Iwo Jima.
Al Blozis

Pro Football Hall-of-Famers who served in World War II: The aforementioned George Halas, Ernie Nevers, Ray Flaherty and Ace Parker; Cliff Battles, Chuck Bednarik, Tony Canadeo, Charley Conerly, Lou Creekmur, Art Donovan, "Bullet" Bill Dudley, Weeb Ewbank, Tom Fears, Len Ford, Danny Fortmann, Frank Gatski, Otto Graham, Bud Grant, Lou Groza, Clark Hinkle, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, Tom Landry, Marv Levy, Sid Luckman, Wellington Mara, Gino Marchetti, George McAfee, Johnny "Blood" McNally, Marion Motley, Leo Nomellini, Joe "the Jet" Perry, Pete Pihos, Dan Reeves (the Rams' owner, not the later Broncos coach), Andy Robustelli, Tex Schramm, Joe Stydahar, Charlie Trippi, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield and Arnie Weinmeister.

Heisman Trophy winners Davey O'Brien, Nile Kinnick, Tommy Harmon, Bruce Smith (not the later Outland Trophy winner and all-time NFL sacks leader), Frankie Sinkwich, Angelo Bertelli, Les Horvath, Doc Blanchard, Glenn Davis and Leon Hart would also serve, and Kinnick would be lost in a flight accident at sea.

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The War also took a lot of hockey players, including Boston Bruins linemates Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. All 3 were of German descent, and were called the Kraut Line. When the War began, it was renamed after their common hometown in Ontario: The Kitchener Line.

Ironically, this was also a rename, as the city had been known, due to its German immigrant population, as Berlin. It was renamed for Lord Kitchener, Britain's top Admiral in World War I, who had been killed in combat, and whose image was then used as the British Empire’s recruiting poster – the poster that formed the basis for America’s "Uncle Sam" "I WANT YOU for U.S. Army" poster. Eventually, all 3 Kraut/Kitchener Liners had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and all 3 resumed their Hall of Fame careers afterward.

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The Korean War, June 24, 1950 to July 27, 1953, also took a lot of players, including several WWII vets. Williams was one, serving in a Marine air unit with a hotshot who gunned down a number of North Korean and Chinese planes. His name was John Glenn, and I think he went on to something else, something really far-out. Oh yeah: The U.S. Senate. Ted wasn't so lucky: At one point, he was shot down, but managed to land his plane back in friendly territory. Still, his hearing was damaged from all the noise he endured.

Jerry Coleman was flying for the Marines again, too. He was lucky. A man in his air unit was not, blown up right in front of Jerry. He seems like one of the "happy warriors" of baseball, but much of his life has been dark, and this was a truly awful moment for him.

The Yankees lost Whitey Ford and Billy Martin to service in Korea. The Dodgers lost Don Newcombe – in fact, in 1952, the Yanks and Dodgers played each other in the Series, but neither had the services of arguably their best pitcher, as Whitey and Newk were both unavailable. Whitey missed 1951 and '52, Newk missed '52 and '53.

The Yanks were lucky in two respects: They were never missing both Coleman and Martin at the same time, so they always had a reliable 2nd baseman; and due to a high school football injury, and then to the injury that shredded his knee in the '51 Series, Mickey Mantle was classified 4-F, so he never had to serve.

Willie Mays of the Giants wasn't as lucky: He was called up early in '52, and missed the rest of that year and all of '53. He was discharged in time to get to spring training in '54, to lead the Giants to what is still their last World Championship. Two other Hall-of-Famers served in Korea: Ernie Banks in the Army and Eddie Mathews in the Navy.

Curt Simmons, the Phillies' Number 2 starter in their 1950 "Whiz Kids" Pennant season, was drafted just short of the end of the regular season, and as a result the Phillies nearly blew the Pennant to the Dodgers, and were really strapped when they did get into the World Series against the Yankees, who swept them.

Simmons did get a measure of revenge, getting out of Korea alive, and lasting in the majors long enough to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals team that beat the Yankees in the 1964 World Series. Ironically, the Cards had to beat the collapsing Phillies to do it.

There were 4 Pro Football Hall-of-Famers who served in Korea: Al Davis, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Ollie Matson and Mike McCormack.

Other familiar football names who served in Korea: Bill Austin, Cloyce Box, Marion Campbell, Bud Carson, Erick Casares, Bob Gain, Arnie Galiffa, George "Cookie" Gilchrist, Don Heinrich, Vic Janowicz (Heisman winner), Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice, Eddie LeBaron, Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, Ken McAfee (George's son), Clay Matthews (father of Clay Jr. and Bruce), "Big Ed" Modzelewski, Les Richter, Gordy Soltau, Art Spinney, Jack Stroud, Ray Wietecha.

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Korea took a lot of players. Vietnam was another matter. There were 3.4 million American men who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam era – depending on whose figures you believe, starting in either 1954, 1959, 1961 or 1964, and ending in 1973 or 1975. This included several athletes, including Yankees Tony Kubek and Bobby Murcer, who missed time due to military service, but never went into combat. Jim Lonborg served in the Army Reserve, and all through the Red Sox 1967 "Impossible Dream" season, could have been called up. He wasn't.

The only big-league baseball player who served in combat was Roy Gleason. The native of Temecula, California appeared in 8 games in 1963 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, his "hometown team,"” mostly as a pinch-runner. But it was enough for the team, which won the World Series that year, to give him a World Series ring. He had one at-bat, and doubled. He wore Number 36, the same number that Korean War vet Newcombe wore for the Brooklyn edition of the Dodgers.

He never got back to the majors, and was drafted in 1967. Sergeant Gleason was wounded in 1968, and, sometime between the shot that hit him and the hospital that saved him, he lost his World Series ring. In 2003, as part of a veterans' celebration at Dodger Stadium, then-manager Jim Tracy gave him a replacement ring.

Pro football wasn't so lucky: The game lost 2 players in Vietnam. For a long time, it was believed to be 1. On July 21, 1970, Lieutenant Bob Kalsu, an All-American guard at the University of Oklahoma who played for the Buffalo Bills in 1968 before being drafted, was killed at Base Ripcord.
Bob Kalsu

After NFL Films did a piece on him, someone wrote to them and informed them that there was another: Major Don Steinbrunner, who was briefly a tackle with the Cleveland Browns in 1953. (Not "Steinbrenner," though he did play for The Boss' hometown team.) He was shot down over Kontum on July 20, 1967. It's likely that his NFL tenure, which was during the Korean War rather than Vietnam, confused the researchers.

Kalsu wore Number 51, but although the Bills have elected Kalsu to their Wall of Fame, they tend not to retire uniform numbers, and his 51 remains in circulation. So does the 84 worn with the Browns by Steinbrunner.

Other NFLers who served in Vietnam include Hall-of-Famers Ray Nitschke, Roger Staubach and Charlie Joiner. The Navy produced Heisman winners Staubach and Joe Bellino; the Army produced Pete Dawkins, and while he chose to stay in the service, he was a genuine combat hero and rose to the rank of General. Rocky Bleier nearly lost his leg in Vietnam, but came back to help the Pittsburgh Steelers win 4 Super Bowls.

*

Let me take a step back. According to the U.S. Veterans' Administration, the following figures are accurate (or are accurate estimates) for all our wars:

* War of the American Revolution, April 19, 1775 to September 3, 1783: There are believed to have been 217,000 total servicemembers, 4,435 battle deaths. More likely, far more died from disease, hunger and the elements (for example, cold at Valley Forge and Morristown, heat at Monmouth) and on British prison ships than as a result of battle wounds and injuries.

* War of 1812, June 1, 1812 to January 8, 1815: 286,000 served, 2,260 killed.

* Indian Wars, semi-officially listed as being from 1817 to 1898: 106,000 served, 2,000 killed.

* Mexican-American War, April 25, 1846 to February 2, 1848: 78,000 served, 1,733 killed.

* American Civil War, April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865: 2.2 million served, 364,511 killed. Of course, that's just the Americans. Throw in the traitors in gray, and the totals become: 3.3 million served, and a believed 625,000 killed

* Spanish-American War, February 15 to August 12, 1898: 307,000 served, 2,446 killed.

* World War I, April 6, 1917 to November 11, 1918: 4.7 million served, 116,516 killed. There is one surviving U.S. veteran of World War I. His name is Frank Buckles, he is 108 years old, and he lives in West Virginia. (UPDATE: He died on February 27, 2011, just after his 110th birthday.)

Canada also has one left, named John Babcock, 109. He did not serve in combat, and has lived in Spokane, Washington since 1920. And Great Britain has one survivor, Claude Choles, who later moved to Australia and served with their Navy in World War II. Pierre Picault was the last survivor from France, dying on November 20, 2008; from Imperial Germany, Wilhelmine Germany, "the enemy," the last was Erich Kastner, who served as a Major in the Luftwaffe in World War II, was not charged with war crimes, and became a judge. He died on January 1, 2008.

(UPDATE: John Babcock died on February 18, 2010, age 109. Claude Choles, the last surviving combat veteran, died on May 5, 2011, age 110. I later learned that the last British survivor, and the last surviving veteran of any country, in World War I, was Florence Green, of the Women's Air Force, who lived until February 4, 2012, just short of her 111th birthday.)

* World War II, December 7, 1941 to August 14, 1945: 16.1 million served, 405,399 killed, 2.3 million are said to still be alive, as we are now 70 years past the beginning of the War, coming up on 68 years since Pearl Harbor, and 64 years past V-E Day and V-J Day. A 25-year-old who enlisted after Pearl Harbor and a 17-year-old kid who lied about his age to get into the War toward the end, as the "extremes," means that surviving WWII vets are between the ages of 80 and 93.

If WWII veterans die at the same rate as WWI veterans did, the last survivor should live to about 110 years old; if a 17-year-old kid lied about his age to get in just before victory in the Spring and Summer of 1945, then he would have been born in 1928, which means the last of these "old soldiers" would "just fade away" around the year 2038.

* Korean War, June 24, 1950 to July 27, 1953: 5.7 million served, 54,246 killed, 2.3 million still alive. A 25 at the beginning and a 17 at the end, they're between 73 and 83. The last one should still be alive in 2046.

* Vietnam War, and I'll use the dates for the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, August 4, 1964, and the Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975: 8.7 million served, 58,209 killed, 7.1 million living veterans. A 25 at the beginning and a 17 at the end, they’re between 51 and 70. We should still have living Vietnam veterans in 2088.

* Persian Gulf War, August 2, 1990 to March 3, 1991: 2.3 million served, 382 killed.

* War On Terror, since September 11, 2001: The latest counts I can find for U.S. dead is 858.

* Iraq War, since March 19, 2003: The latest count I can find for U.S. dead is 4,328; as with Afghanistan, I can't find an estimate for total U.S. servicemembers who served there.

Total U.S. war deaths, 1775 to 2009, over 1.3 million. Total living veterans, wartime and peacetime, 23.4 million.

*

Two Major League Baseball players served in both World Wars: George Halas, as I previously mentioned; and Hank Gowdy, catcher for the Boston Braves' 1914 "Miracle" World Series win, who became the first player to enlist in World War I, and re-enlisted in World War II.

Larry MacPhail served in both World Wars, later claiming to have parachuted behind enemy lines in Germany in an attempt to kidnap Kaiser Wilhelm II. He said he failed because the Emperor wasn't home. His proof? A Prussian-style spiked helmet that he claimed he'd swiped from the Kaiser's rural castle, which he used as an ashtray. Do I believe the story? Even Larry didn't believe it until he started drinking. He could have gotten that helmet from any number of sources.

Baseball Hall-of-Famers who served in WWI: Army: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Ty Cobb, Waite Hoyt, George "Highpockets" Kelly, Larry MacPhail, Christy Mathewson, Sam Rice, Branch Rickey, Eppa Rixey, Joe Sewell, George Sisler, Negro Leaguers Oscar Charleston and "Bullet" Joe Rogan, future National League President Warren Giles, and future Commissioner, U.S. Senator and Governor of Kentucky Albert B. "Happy" Chandler. Navy: Red Faber, Burleigh Grimes, Harry Heilmann, Rabbit Maranville, Rube Marquard, Herb Pennock, Tris Speaker, Casey Stengel, and umpire Jocko Conlan. Marines: Eddie Collins.

As far as I can tell, no professional baseball players died in any U.S.-involved war prior to World War I. But 5 major leaguers did die in "The War to End All Wars."

Edward Leslie Grant, born May 21, 1883, played 3rd base in the majors from 1905 to 1915, finishing with the New York Giants. There was no All-Star Game at the time, but if there had been, "Harvard Eddie" might have been selected for one. On October 5, 1918, Captain Eddie Grant was killed in the Argonne Forest of France. He was 35.
Eddie Grant

On Memorial Day, May 29, 1921, a monument was placed in center field of the Polo Grounds, in front of the blockhouse. This was the beginning of a series of plaques that would eventually include baseball Giants John McGraw, Christy Mathewson and Ross Youngs; football Giants and WWII victims Al Blozis and Jack Lummus; and, oddly, former New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, a crook but a big Giants fan. This presaged the Yankee Stadium Monument Park by a few years.

After the Giants left New York, the plaque was removed from the stone monument, and lost. The Giants have finally erected a replica at AT&T Park in San Francisco, but some fans have attributed their inability to win a World Series in their second city to "The Curse of Captain Eddie." There's also an Edward L. Grant Memorial Highway, but in The Bronx, near Yankee Stadium, not in Manhattan near the site of the Polo Grounds.

Ralph Edward Sharman, born April 11, 1895, played just 13 games as an outfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1917. He went right into the Army after the season, and drowned in the Alabama River while on a training maneuver, on May 24, 1918. He was 23.

Robert Gustave Troy, born August 27, 1888, played just 1 game, pitching for the Detroit Tigers in 1912. On October 7, 1918, "Bun" Troy was killed at Petit Majouym, France. Ironically, fighting to protect France from Germany, he was himself born in Germany, in Wurzach. He was 30.

Alexander Thomson Burr, born November 1, 1893 in Chicago, was a real-life "Moonlight Graham." He played in 1 game, in 1914, in center field for the Yankees, and did not come to bat. On October 12, 1918, he crashed a plane into a lake in France. He was just short of 25. Despite being the only Yankee ever killed in a war fought by his country, no mention of him has ever been shown in the concourses, the Monument Park, or any other part of either the old or the new Yankee Stadium. He has been totally forgotten by the team.

La Verne Ashford Chappell, born February 19, 1890, played five season in the outfield, 1913 to 1917, for the White Sox, Indians and Braves. In 1916, Larry Chappell was sent to the Indians as the "player to be named later" in the trade that got the White Sox "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. On November 8, 1918, 3 days before the Armistice, he died of the Spanish Flu epidemic that was raging through the world, and ended up killing twice as many people – military and civilian alike – as the war. He was 28.

Grover Cleveland Alexander, already a heavy drinker, was traumatized by his service in World War I. The shelling damaged his hearing, and he developed epilepsy (probably originally misdiagnosed as "shell shock"), and his drinking became heavier than ever.

But even he was better off than the man with whom he shares the National League record for most career victories, 373. Captain Christopher Mathewson was in a chemical-weapons unit with Captain Tyrus Cobb. Cobb got out of the war without any harm, but Matty didn't: A training accident socked him with poison gas. He also fell victim to the Spanish Flu, and while he survived both, his lungs were severely weakened. This led to him becoming especially susceptible to tuberculosis, and he died in 1925, only 45 years old.

*

As of November 11, 2009, the most recent Major League Baseball player killed in battle – or believed to have been – is U.S. Air Force Major Bob Neighbors.

Robert Otis Neighbors was born November 9, 1917, during World War I. He appeared in 7 games as a shortstop for the St. Louis Browns, all in 1939. He served in World War II and got out alive (although a brother was killed), but also served in the Korean War.

On August 8, 1952, his B-26 was shot down. He was 34. His body was never recovered, and he was officially classified as KIA, killed in action, after the Truce of Panmunjom ended the war in 1953.
Bob Neighbors

Bob Neighbors had only a brief stay in the majors, in 1939, before going back to the minors. Just like Elmer Gedeon and Harry O'Neill. And, also like them, he played for a team that no longer exists. There is no team to retire his uniform number. In fact, there's no team to even ask about his number: In his book Now Batting, Number... , Jack Looney lists several members of the '39 Browns whose numbers appear not to have been recorded, and Neighbors is one of them. Baseball-Reference.com doesn't have a number for him, either.

He could easily have stayed forgotten. Things like this are why veterans' groups use the phrase, "Lest We Forget."

*

In memory of Staff Sergeant George Goldberg (1906-1984); his brothers, Abraham and Aaron Goldberg, and their sister, Rose, who all served in the Army in World War II, although I don't have a record of their ranks, or their dates of birth and death, for any other than my grandfather; Sergeant Michael F. Pacholek (1914-1971), also U.S. Army World War II; and in honor of Specialist 4th Class John M. Pacholek, U.S. Army, serving in the Vietnam era though they placed him in Korea, the site of what was then "the last war." Had they sent him to Vietnam, I might not be here today. Since I am here, I choose to be one of those who speaks up for these veterans.
S/Sgt. George Goldberg, USA

Forgetting is not an option.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Transit: Another NY Victory Over Philly

The Philadelphia transit strike is over. That's another area where New York has it better: Philly has a lot more transit strikes.

And it's worse for them, because their commuter trains and buses are under the same agency (SEPTA, SouthEastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), whereas in New York, while Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road are both under the umbrella of the State-run MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), they have a separate labor union from the City subway trains and buses.

So if two guys are living in Trenton, and one works in Manhattan and the other in Center City Philly, normally, they would both go to what's now called the Trenton Transit Center, and the former would board New Jersey Transit's Northeast Corridor line into Penn Station at 32nd Street & 7th Avenue, while the latter would board SEPTA's R7 Line, and take that to one of three stations in Center City: Either 30th Street Station at 30th & Market Streets (former headquarters of the Pennsylvania Railroad if you're a Monopoly player), Suburban Station at 16th Street & JFK Blvd. (still known as Filbert Street east of City Hall), or Market East Station at 11th and Filbert.

But if there's a transit strike in New York, the one who works in New York can take New Jersey Transit's train into Penn Station, and then hoof it or pay the expense of a cab. But the one who works in Philly is all but stuck if SEPTA workers walk out. He'd have to get on the NJ Transit RiverLine, a light-rail system, and take that from Trenton down to Camden, and then get on the PATCO Speedline, a subway system that goes from Center City to Camden and on out to Lindenwold, and he'd end up at Market East Station or a couple of blocks south of City Hall and the nearby Suburban Station. He'd probably save a few bucks that way (the RiverLine is only $1.35 each way), but he'd also lose anywhere from 15 minutes to who knows how much time.

So that's another area where New York is better than Philly: Although Philly has a very good public transportation system, if there's a strike, it's a very bad siutation, much worse than if New York has one.

If I had the choice of living in Philly or suburban New Jersey, I'd take Philly. I love cities, and Philly is one of the cities I love. But if I had the choice of living in Philly or New York, come on. New York rules all.

All this talk about Philadelphia is giving me a craving for a cheesesteak. Fortunately, there's a Wawa store less than 2 miles from my pad. Sadly, it's the cloest one to Midtown Manhattan, and as far as I know, there's no New York equivalent to the great Philly (and Philly suburbs, and Jersey Shore) tradition that is Wawa.

A-Rod Gets His Ring? A Musical Tribute

To the tune of "My Favorite Things" by Julie Andrews:

Raindrops in Cairo and snow in Miami.
J-Lo don't laugh when we meet in my jammies.
Talking about really unlikely things.
Now you tell me that A-Rod gets a ring?

Bloomberg lets somebody else be the Mayor.
Puff Diddy admits he's not much the player.
I don't hold my ears when Timberlake sings.
Now you tell me that A-Rod gets a ring?

Exxon starts charging one dollar per gallon.
And the Oscar goes out to Jimmy Fallon.
France decides to reestablish a king.
Now you tell me that A-Rod gets a ring?

Jeter gets one.
Mariano.
Pettitte, sure, not bad.
Now you tell me that A-Rod gets a ring?
It could be that you've... gone mad!

Hugh Hefner dresses in suit by Armani.
Conan becomes even funnier than Johnny.
Flash Gordon buries the hatchet with Ming.
Now you tell me that A-Rod gets a ring?

Bush reads a book that don't have any pictures.
Mafia bosses say they'll allow snitchers.
Chickens grow fingers, and buffaloes, wings.
Now you tell me that A-Rod gets a ring?

Bill Clinton says that he gave up on women.
Michael Phelps kept his joint lit while he's swimmin'.
To their guns, rednecks, no more will they cling.
Now you tell me that A-Rod gets a ring?

When the dogs stop
chasing cats, it
may seem kind of mad.
But now the Yanks won and A-Rod gets a ring?
To me that don't seem... so bad!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

List of Yankees World Series Winners

Oh, dear, I have to update this list.

10: Yogi Berra. Plus 3 as a coach: 1 with the Mets, 2 with the Yankees. None as a manager, but he remains the only man to manage both the Yankees (1964) and Mets (1973) to Pennants.

9: Joe DiMaggio.

8: Bill Dickey. Plus 7 as a coach.

7: Frank Crosetti (plus 9 more as a coach, giving him a record 16), Hank Bauer (plus 1 as manager of the '66 Orioles), Tommy Henrich (plus 1 more as a coach), Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto (plus he called 6 more as a broadcaster). As far as I can tell, Crosetti, Bauer and Henrich are the only men to win as many as 7 World Series without being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. They are also the only Yankees to do it without receiving Plaques in Monument Park, or the retirements of their uniform numbers (though Bauer wore 9, retired for Roger Maris; Henrich wore 7, retired for Mantle, then 15, retired for Thurman Munson; and Crosetti wore 1 as a player, retired for Billy Martin, and 2 as a coach, which will certainly be retired for Derek Jeter). Henrich is now 96, making him the 5th-oldest living former Major League Baseball player, the 3rd-oldest to have played for a New York team (there are 2 older ex-Brooklyn Dodgers), the oldest living Yankee, and the earliest surviving World Series champion -- no one is still living who played on the winning side in a World Series earlier than 1938, although Henrich did also play for the Yankees during the regular season in their title season of 1937. He was still coming for Old-Timers' Day as recently as 1994.

6: Johnny Murphy, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Red Rolfe, Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler, Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford, Charlie Silvera (a backup catcher, he barely played but he still got credit). Berra, Henrich, Coleman, Ford and Silvera are the only living Yankees to have won as many as 6 World Series. At least, at the moment. At 80, Ford is the youngest, so they're all old now. And, of course, there are 4 men listed below who've won 5 in Pinstripes and could win a 6th.

5: Tony Lazzeri, Art Jorgens (barely played in some seasons but got the credit), George Selkirk, Charlie Keller, Billy Johnson, Bobby Brown, Eddie Lopat, Johnny Mize, Gene Woodling, Joe Collins, Billy Martin (plus 1 more as manager), Gil McDougald, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte. Aside from the 4 active ones, Brown and McDougald are still alive.

4: Babe Ruth (plus 3 more with Boston), Herb Pennock (plus 1 more with the Philadelphia Athletics and 2 more with Boston), George Pipgras (who also umpired in World Series play), Bump Hadley, Monte Pearson, Jake Powell, Tommy Byrne, Bob Cerv, Elston Howard, Bill "Moose" Skowron (plus 1 more with Los Angeles), Bob Turley, David Cone (plus 1 more with Toronto), Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill (plus 1 more with Cincinnati), Bernie Williams, Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson, Luis Sojo. Aside from the 1996-2000 guys, Cerv, Skowron and Turley are still alive.

3 starting before World War II ended: Joe Dugan, Waite Hoyt, Bob Meusel, Earle Combs, Jack Saltzgaver (barely played becuase he was a first baseman stuck behind Gehrig), Joe Glenn, Myril Hoag, Pat Malone, Joe Gordon, Atley Donald, Marius Russo, Johnny Lindell, George "Snuffy" Stirnweiss. They're all dead now.

3 from the end of WWII to the close of the pre-renovation Stadium: Joe Page, Fred Sanford (not the Redd Foxx character), Frank "Spec" Shea, Joe Ostrowski, Johnny Sain, Irv Noren, Andy Carey, Jim Coates, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Ralph Terry.

3 in the renovated Stadium: Joe Girardi (plus 1 as manager), Darryl Strawberry (plus 1 with the Mets), Chuck Knoblauch (plus 1 with Minnesota), Scott Brosius, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (plus 1 with the White Sox), Clay Bellinger, Ricky Ledee, Alfonso Soriano, Shane Spencer.

2 in the 1920s: Benny Bengough, Cedric Durst, Johnny Grabowski, Mark Koenig, Wilcy Moore, Urban Shocker.

2 in the 1930s: Jumbo Brown, Ben Chapman, Roy Johnson, Ivy Andrews, Steve Sundra, Buddy Rosar.

2 in the 1940s: Ernie "Tiny" Bonham, Butch Wensloff, Cliff Mapes.

2 in the 1950s: Tom Ferrick, Johnny Hopp (plus 2 with St. Louis), Jackie Jensen, Bob Kuzava, Tom Morgan, Tom Gorman, Jim McDonald, Bill Miller, Bob Grim, Johnny Kucks, Don Larsen, Jerry Lumpe, Norm Siebern, Enos Slaughter (plus 3 with St. Louis), Tom Sturdivant.

2 in the 1960s: Art Ditmar, Luis Arroyo, Johnny Blanchard, Clete Boyer, Bud Daley, Billy Gardner (not Brett's father, as I previously thought), Hector Lopez, Roger Maris, Hal Reniff, Rollie Sheldon, Bill Stafford.

2 in the 1970s: Paul Blair (plus 2 more in Baltimore), Chris Chambliss (plus 4 more as a coach), Ken Clay, Bucky Dent, Ed Figueroa, Ron Guidry, Don Gullett (plus 2 more in Cincinati), Catfish Hunter (plus 3 more in Oakland), Reggie Jackson (plus 3 more in Oakland), Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella (plus 1 more as manager of the '90 Reds), Willie Randolph (plus 4 more as a coach), Mickey Rivers, Fred Stanley, Dick Tidrow, Roy White.

2 in the 1996-2000 Dynasty: Graeme Lloyd, Tim Raines, Homer Bush, Chad Curtis, Chili Davis (plus 1 in Minnesota), Hideki Irabu, Jim Leyritz, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden (plus 1 with the Mets), Allen Watson.

1, 1923: "Bullet" Joe Bush (plus 1 each with the Philadelphia A's and Boston), Solly Hofmann, "Sad" Sam Jones (plus 2 with Boston, not to be confused with the likewise-nicknamed but black 1950s Cubs-1960s Giants pitcher, though both pitched big-league no-hitters), Carl Mays (plus 3 wiht Boston), Wally Pipp, Wally Schang (plus 1 each with the Philadelphia A's and Boston), Everett Scott (plus 3 with Boston), Bob Shawkey (plus 1 with the Philadelphia A's), Elmer Smith (plus 1 with Cleveland), Aaron Ward, Whitey Witt.

1, 1927: Pat Collins, Mike Gazella, Ray Morehart, Dutch Reuther.

1, 1928: Stan Coveleski (plus 1 with Cleveland), Leo Durocher (plus 1 with St. Louis and 1 as Giants manager), Fred Heimach, Hank Johnson, Gene Robertson, Al Shealy, Tom Zachary (plus 1 in Washington).

1, 1932: Johnny Allen, Sammy Byrd, Lyn Lary, Danny MacFayden, Gordon Rhodes, Joe Sewell (plus 1 in Cleveland), Ed Wells.

1, 1936: Johnny Broaca.

1, 1937: Don Heffner, Frank Makosky, Kemp Wicker.

1, 1938: Joe Beggs, Bill Knickerbocker.

1, 1939: Babe Dahlgren.

1, 1941: Frenchy Bordagaray, Norm Branch, Marv Breuer, Steve Peek, Gerry Priddy, Charlie Stanceu, Johnny Sturm.

1, 1943: Hank Borowy, Nick Etten, Rollie Hemsley, Bud Metheny, Ken Sears, Tuck Stainback, Jim Turner (plus 9 more as Yankee pitching coach), Roy Weatherly, Bill Zuber.

1, 1947: Floyd Bevens, Allie Clark, Karl Drews, Randy Gumpert (better known for giving up Mantle's 1st career home run with the '51 White Sox), Don Johnson (not the Miami Vice actor), George McQuinn, Bobo Newsom, Aaron Robinson.

1, 1949: Dick Kryhoski, Cuddles Marshall, Jack Phillips.

1, 1950: Bob Porterfield.

1, 1951: Jack Kramer, Stubby Overmire (plus 1 in Detroit).

1, 1952: Bobby Hogue.

1, 1953: Don Bollweg, Willie Miranda, Bill Renna, Ray Scarborough.

1, 1956: Rip Coleman, Billy Hunter (plus 3 as coach for Baltimore), Jim Konstanty, Mickey McDermott, Eddie Robinson (not the Grambling football coach).

1, 1958: Ryne Duren, Duke Maas, Zach Monroe, Bobby Shantz, Harry "Suitcase" Simpson, Marv Throneberry (Yeah, that one, he was a highly-rated prospect with the Yankees but never panned out so they got rid of him and he ended up as the symbol of the ineptitude of the '62 Mets), Virgil Trucks (plus 1 with Detroit, for whom he threw 2 no-hitters in '52, one against the Yanks; his nephew Butch Trucks was a founding member of the classic lineup of the Allman Brothers Band, and Butch's son Derek has joined his father in the Allmans).

1, 1961: Tex Clevenger, Joe DeMaestri, Earl Torgeson.

1, 1962: Jim Bouton, Marshall Bridges, Phil Linz, Dale Long, Joe Pepitone, Jack Reed, Tom Tresh.

1, 1977: Dell Alston, Fran Healy, Ken Holtzman (plus 3 in Oakland), Cliff Johnson, Mickey Klutts, Carlos May, Gil Patterson, Mike Torrez, George Zeber.

1, 1978: Jim Beattie, Ron Davis, Brian Doyle, Damaso Garcia, Rich "Goose" Gossage, Mike Heath, Jay Johnstone, Jim Spencer, Gary Thomasson.

1, 1996: Mike Aldrete, Brian Boehringer, Wade Boggs, Mariano Duncan (plus 1 in Cincinnati), Cecil Fielder, Andy Fox, Charlie Hayes, Pat Kelly, Jimmy Key (plus 1 in Toronto), Jim Mecir, Dave Pavlas, Dale Polley, Kenny Rogers, David Weathers, John Wetteland.

1, 1998: Mike Buddie, Darren Holmes, David Wells (plus 1 in Toronto).

1, 1999: Dan Naulty.

1, 2000: Jose Canseco (plus 1 in Oakland), Randy Choate (a pitcher who drove me so crazy I called him "Randy Choke"), Todd Erdos, Glenallen Hill, David Justice (plus 1 in Atlanta), Denny Neagle (plus 1 in Minnesota), Luis Polonia (plus 1 in Atlanta), Chris Turner, Jose Vizcaino.

1, 2009: Alfredo Aceves, Brian Bruney, A.J. Burnett (plus 1 in Florida), Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Francisco Cervelli, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Johnny Damon (plus 1 rather dubious title in Boston), Brett Gardner, Chad Gaudin, Freddy Guzman, Jerry Hairston Jr., Eric Hinske (plus 1 rather dubious title in Boston), Phil Hughes, Damaso Marte (plus 1 with the White Sox), Hideki Matsui, Sergio Mitre, Jose Molina (plus 1 with Anaheim), Xavier Nady, Ramiro Pena, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Chien-Ming Wang. And, oh yeah, Alex Rodriguez.

*

Ruth, Bush, Jones, Mays, Pennock, Schang, Scott, Dugan, Damon and Hinske won World Series with both the Yankees and the Red Sox, but only Damon and Hinske have done it since 1932, and only they have achieved the feat -- that is, having won his first with each club -- since 1923. (Hoyt also pitched for the Red Sox, but in 1919, after their 1918 win.) No player from the Boston Braves' only World Series winner, 1914, also won one with the Yankees.

Strawberry and Gooden are the only players to have won World Series with both the Yankees and the Mets. Cone just missed, arriving at the big-league level with the Mets in 1987. Berra and Stottlemyre both won rings as coaches for both the Yankees and the Mets.

No player ever won World Series with both the Yankees and the old New York Giants, although Casey Stengel won 2 as a Giants player and 7 as Yankee manager, while Durocher won 1 as a Yankee player and 1 as Giants manager. No player ever won World Series with both the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, although Don Zimmer won 2 as a Dodger player (1 in Brooklyn, 1 in Los Angeles) and 4 as a Yankee coach.

El Duque, who pitched in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series in relief for the White Sox, and Marte, who won that Game 3, are the only players to have won a World Series as a member of a Chicago team and as a member of a New York team. Jose Contreras, who was on the Yankees' Pennant winners of 2003 but lost that Series, also got a ring with the '05 Pale Hose.

Bush, Pennock, Schang and Shawkey, all members of the 1913 Athletics, are the only players to win World Series for both the Yankees and a Philadelphia team. None has ever done it with the Yanks and the Phillies. As far as I can tell, none ever did it with either the A's or Phils on one hand, and the New York Giants or Brooklyn Dodgers on the other. If that's correct, then the only player since 1923 to have achieved the feat of winning a World Series for both a New York team and a Philadelphia team is Tug McGraw, with the '69 Mets and the '80 Phillies.

Although several players have won World Series with the Yankees as both players and coaches, the only ones to do so as both a Yankee player and a Yankee manager are Houk, Martin, Berra and Girardi. Bucky Harris is the only manager to win a World Series with both the Yankees and another team (the 1924 Washington Senators).