Thursday, December 30, 2010

High Resolution

For this last post of the calendar year, let's check my New Year's Resolutions for 2010, and see how I did:

* Do a better job at my new job, which looks like it will be a whole lot better than my old job: Real estate brokers are very tough to work with.

I guess I did well, because not only do I still have a job, but I got a raise. Not a big one, but a raise nonetheless. On a scale of 0 to 10, this is a 7.

* To continue to enjoy being Ashley and Rachel's uncle.

Definitely doing okay there, although I need to work on not favoring one over the other. I'm not going to say which one appears to be getting the favoring, but the other one does seem to be trying a little harder to get my attention, so I have to make sure it works, so that it balances out. This is an 8.

* To get to a few more Yankee games at the new Stadium.

Only got to 2 in the 2010 season. Which is as many as I've been to in each of the last few seasons. That's not enough. I did "complete the circuit," going to all 3 local parks (Yankee Stadium II, Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park), and I did go to a road game this season (Yanks vs. Orioles in Baltimore). But that's the minimum requirement: All 3 locals plus one Yankee road game. And since Fenway is almost impossible to get into, especially for Yanks vs. Sox, and Baltimore is the only other AL city that's within a 9-hour Greyhound ride, Baltimore is usually the one. I've seen the Yankees in Cleveland and Toronto, the 2 next-closest. I'd like to make Detroit and/or Chicago next season, but with the stupid Interleague schedule, the Yanks almost always go there for midweek series, so that might not be doable even if I have the money. So this is a 4 at best.

* To come up with the money to make a trip to Europe. It's about time I visited. It's also about time I stopped talking about Arsenal, and watching them only on television from 3,500 miles away, and actually saw them in person.

Not by a long shot. I got no closer to London than Boston. Which is closer to Dublin, both literally and figuratively.

(Not that I dislike Boston. It's a great city. I hate its sports teams, though. The Red Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots, even the New England Revolution. Not so mad at the Bruins or Boston College, although the University of Connecticut basketball programs, with both men's coach Jim Calhoun and women's coach Geno Auriemma being Sox fans, are de facto Boston teams.)

I did get to see Arsenal play at some new bars, but not in any new cities/metro areas, let alone States. I did get to see several Red Bulls games, including one on the road in Boston/Foxboro, but that's not the same thing. But the New York Gooners now seem to have accepted me as one of them in this, my Season 3 with the club. Still, on a scale of 0 to 10, this was a 2, maybe.

* To treat people better. I don't regret many things I've done, but I do regret many of the things I've said. (Not on this blog, though.)

I don't think I made much headway here. But I don't think I've slipped, either. So, 5.

Total, 26. Divided by 5 resolutions, that's a 5.2. Not very good.

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New Year's Resolutions for 2011:

* Again, do a better job at my new job, unless I can find a better one.

* Treat Ashley and Rachel equally.

* Get to a few more Yankee games -- home and away.

* Come up with the money to make a trip to Europe, or at least to Britain.

* Call right-wingers out on their lies and ignorance. I think I already do a good job of this, but it must be done, perhaps more than ever. The 2012 election is less than 2 years away.

Happy New Year, and don't celebrate too hard.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Devils Going to Hell In a Handbasket; Enzo Bearzot, 1927-2010

Let me get my thoughts on the blizzard out of the way: We got 17 inches where I live, and other areas got more. Elizabeth, New Jersey was the "winner" in the New York Tri-State Area with 31 inches -- which tops the 30 inches that set a record for me on January 6-8, 1996 -- and Toms River topped the Philadelphia metro area (even though it, sort of, belongs to both areas) with 28 inches. Cape May got 26.

It was nice to see Mayor Mike shoveling a citizen's driveway on the news. But it was Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York doesn't even seem to be aware that there are FIVE Boroughs. Mayor Moneybags can't be bothered to attend to an actual emergency, while Mayor Nutter -- not aptly named -- literally too matters into his own hands!

As for my own town, a lot of side streets, including mine, remain inadequately plowed. I swear, what's the point in voting for Democrats if they're going to care as little as the Republicans do?

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Tonight, the New Jersey Devils host The Scum, a.k.a. the Manhattan Muggers, a.k.a. the Broadway Boozehounds, a.k.a. the New York Rangers, at the Prudential Center in Newark.

I don't know if you're aware of this, but I hate the fucking Rangers.

Right now, the Devils rank 30th out of the NHL's 30 teams with just 20 points. Dead last. The pathetic New York Islanders are 29th, so they're not quite as pathetic. The Rangers rank 10th.

The Devils have lost 9 of their last 10. They are just 5-12 at home. (I'm counting an overtime or shootout loss as a loss, even though you still get 1 team point for it.)

The Devils can be summed up in 2 letters: P.U.! This is the worst Devils team since 1987, when Alain Chevrier was the main goalie, and the top 3 scorers were Aaron Broten, "Captain Kirk" Muller and... John MacLean. To borrow a line from a movie about another sport, "What are these boys thinkin' about? 'Cause it sho' ain't hockey!"

Last Thursday, John MacLean was fired as Devils head coach. After waiting for years to get this chance, including winning a minor-league title and serving as a Devils assistant, he lasted just 33 games.

As The Who would say, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Jacques Lemaire, who coached the Devils from 1993 to 1997, including the 1995 Stanley Cup, and coached them last season as well before "retiring" (that may have been his intention at the time), has been installed for the rest of this season.

One of the greatest players of his era, scorer of 366 goals in the regular season and another 61 in the Playoffs (including an overtime winner that clinched the 1977 Stanley Cup, though it was a sweep), winner of 8 Stanley Cups from 1968 to 1979 with the Montreal Canadiens, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame before his 40th birthday, the man who turned the Devils from pretenders to contenders to champions, and the man who turned the Minnesota Wild from an expansion franchise to a Western Conference Finalist in just 3 seasons, Lemaire is now 65 years old, and he looks it.

Brought in as his assistant is Larry Robinson, his former Canadiens teammate, one of the best defensemen who ever lived. Robinson was his assistant on the 1995 Cup, coached the Devils to the 2000 Cup, and assisted him again last season. (Sadly, with the recent death of Pat Burns, a reunion of all 3 Devils Cup-winning coaches is no longer possible.)

To be totally fair, I'm sorry for Johnny Mac, who finally got his chance to be an NHL head coach and deserved better than to run into an absolute buzzsaw.

There's the injuries. Martin Brodeur had an elbow injury, although he's back. And Zach Parise, who has a chance to become the greatest offensive player in team's history -- assuming he doesn't get hurt again, and he doesn't get let go in yet another salary dump, he should surpass MacLean's team record of 374 career goals in 2017 or so -- has been hurt all year, and may not come back at all this season. MacLean has already dressed 33 different players, 9 of whom made their NHL debuts this season.

And speaking of salary dumps, there's also the matter of general manager Lou Lamoriello, who seems to be following the Charlie Finley model: Bald and cheap. You could make a pretty good starting lineup out of players the Devils let go just since the 2004-05 lockout: Center, Scott Gomez or John Madden; right wing, Brian Gionta; left wing, Sergei Brylin (still playing in the Russian league); defensemen, Brian Rafalski and Brad Lukowich; goaltender, Scott Clemmensen. Then there's the cheapies that Lou Lam has NOT gotten rid of, the Colin Whites, the Sheldon Brookbanks, the Dainius Zubruses.

Ilya Kovalchuk got a lot of money? Doesn't mean there's nothing left to spend on anybody else. You know, Jeff Vanderbeek is not crying poverty.

Of course, there is the matter of the salary cap, the result of which is that Kovalchuk's contract had to be seriously restructured so he could get all that money and not have all of it counted against the cap.

Still, Lamoriello has let too many good players go, and not gotten players good enough to replace them.

For a few years, the Devils were resembling the Atlanta Braves. Well, guess what: Division Titles are not enough.

The Devils are starting to more closely resemble Arsenal. Same red shirts, same weak passing, same fear to get off a good shot, same laziness. Same willingness to go just so far (Playoffs for the Devils, 4th place or higher and thus guaranteeing UEFA Champions League play for the following season for Arsenal), and not willing to take a risk to go for it all.

Except I can't say THAT anymore, either: On Monday, Arsenal beat Chelsea! They go into tonight's game against Wigan on a tremendous high. They will go into the New Year no worse than 3rd in the Premier League, and still alive in all 3 cup competitions (FA Cup, Carling Cup, Champions League).

Besides, Arsene Wenger still has all his hair. It's all white, but it's still all there. Lamoriello? I don't know what's going on in that geodesic dome of his.

UPDATE: Devils blew a 1-0 lead and lost to The Scum, 2-1.

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However, as long as we're being totally fair, John MacLean he took the hand he was dealt and played it very poorly. So, in spite of MacLean facing the old line, "Be careful what you wish for, you may get it," I say... Thank you, Santa!

Maybe we can make it up to him by trading Jamie Langenbrunner, assigning the Captaincy to someone more deserving, and retire Number 15 for MacLean.

Come on, Jacques Lemaire, get this team going again. Remember the pride you and your teammates felt in Montreal. Remember the pride you built in this team in the Meadowlands era. Bring it back in Newark.

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Enzo Bearzot died last week. A native of Aiello del Friuli near Udine, Italy, he became a star soccer defender, playing for several teams from 1946 to 1964, including Internazionale of Milan and Torino of Turin. He played 1 game for the Italian national team, in 1955.

He went into management, and in 1975 was named manager of the national team. He got them to 4th place in both the 1978 World Cup and Euro 1980. After poor performances in their 1st 3 matches of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, he ordered Silenzio Stampa -- media silence, not talking to the press.

It worked, as a team led by Juventus (the main team in Turin) stars Dino Zoff, Gateano Scirea, Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini, Marco Tardelli, and the hero of heroes, Paolo Rossi, knocked out defending Champion Argentina, a much-hyped Brazil squad, Poland in the Semifinal, and West Germany in the Final.
Italy didn't qualify for Euro 1984, and crashed out of the 1986 World Cup in the Round of 16. Bearzot faced criticism for relying on the older players (not the first time an Italy manager would be so criticized, nor the last), and he resigned in disgust. Still, his 104 matches are the most of any Italy manager. He died last week at age 83.

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Hours until the Devils play another local rival: 9, tonight, against the Rangers at the Prudential Center. Next game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Saturday, January 8 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. Next game against the Islanders, Monday, January 17, at the Nassau Coliseum.

Days until the next North London Derby: 59, Saturday, February 26, at White Hart Lane. Under 2 months.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 100, Friday, April 8, 2011, at Fenway Park.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 178. Under 6 months. (estimated: June 14, 2011)

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 246, on Saturday, September 3, although nothing else is known. Apparently the Big East Conference hasn’t set its conference schedule for 2011, meaning only 4 nonconference games are yet set: At North Carolina on September 10, home to Ohio University (thank God it’s not Ohio State) on September 24, home to Navy on October 15, and against Army at the new Yankee Stadium on November 12. In fact, aside from the Yankee Stadium date, every date is in flux, due to the whims of the TV networks: September 3, 10, 17 and 24; October 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29; November 5, 19 and 26; and December 3.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 252, on Friday night, September 9, 2011, and the opponent and location are TBD.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 319.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 330.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 481 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 537.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 885 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,007 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,132.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,627 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,741 (estimated).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Problematic Christmas Songs

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through The Bronx
not a creature was stirring where usually sit throngs.
The Pennants, they fly from the flagpoles with care
in the hope, in the New Year, a new one will be there.
The Yankees are nestled all snug in their beds
while visions of ticker-tape run through their heads.
And I at computer, wearing my Yankee cap
will now make you aware of a worrisome trap.

Problematic Christmas Songs.

Let’s start with the biggest Christmas song of all: "Jingle Bells." Guess what: This song has nothing to do with Christmas!

The lyrics make no mention of Christmas. Or Jesus, by any name: Christ, Lord, King, King of Kings, King of Israel, King of the World, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Holy Child, Teacher, Rabbi, Wonderful Counselor... none of them.

Nor do the lyrics make any mention of presents, or a gathering family, or even Santa Claus and his entourage (Mrs. Claus, reindeer, elves, whatever else he’s got). "Jingle Bells" is about winter. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas.

Then there are the songs that someone (I forget who) once described as "songs Dean Martin liked to sing to get a woman to snuggle up with him by the fireplace." "Winter Wonderland." "Let It Snow." "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." "Marshmallow World."

Now, I'm not gonna rip Dino or say these aren't nice songs. But they don't have anything to do with Christmas, either. They're about winter, not about Christmas. And since we associate Christmas with winter, regardless of Scripture suggesting that it didn't happen during winter (not to mention that there's no snow mentioned in any of the Gospels), we associate these songs with Christmas, however erroneously.

One of the Dean Martin fireplace songs (which doesn't have anything to do with Christmas) that most certainly is not nice is "Baby, It's Cold Outside." She says she has to go, her mother will worry, she's got a reputation to protect, and he keeps telling her it's cold outside, no cabs to be had, she should stay.

"Well, maybe just half a drink more," she finally relents. (Dean Martin with booze on hand? How out of character... ) And then, just 2 lines later, "Say, what's in this drink?" So on the 12th day of Christmas, your true love gave to you... 12 roofies roofing? That's why this is known as "The Date Rape Christmas Song," and is inappropriate on so many levels. At the very least, it's about a guy working way too hard to seduce a girl, and using Old Man Winter (if not the Christmas season itself) as an excuse.

"Sleigh Ride" is another song like that, although considerably more innocent. The most familiar version is by Johnny Mathis. Johnny has been vague about whether he's gay, but I never believed it until a few too many listens to him sing, "Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too..." Come to think of it, the song also mentions "a winter fairyland." Johnny's a great singer, even at age 75, but this song does him no favors.

"Frosty the Snowman" also has nothing to do with Christmas. It wasn't until the 1969 special, narrated by an animated Jimmy Durante (as if the great comedian wasn't already quite animated), that Frosty (voiced by another great comedian, Jackie Vernon) got a semi-official link with Christmas.

And, as the author of the blog Nutball Gazette pointed out, the song begins, "Frosty the Snowman was a happy jolly soul." Was? What happened? Is he dead now? As in melted? Or is he just unhappy? Maybe he's only mad that he didn't get any royalties from the song.

In fact, "Winter Wonderland," "Marshmallow World," "Sleigh Ride" and "Frosty the Snowman" appear on the 1963 classic A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records – better known as The Phil Spector Christmas Album. So does "The Bells of St. Mary's," which is also not about Christmas (the lyrics mention "red leaves," suggesting it takes place in autumn), although it was the theme song from a 1945 Christmas-themed movie starring Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O'Malley (he'd won an Oscar in the role in the previous year's Going My Way) and Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict, the most beautiful nun you'll ever see.

Putting aside what Phil did later, and some of it was monstrous, the album had 13 songs, 5 of which are not Christmas-related. The highlights, in my opinion, are Veronica Bennett (Phil's girlfriend and eventual ex-wife, now usually known as Ronnie Spector) singing "Frawsty the Snowman" in her N'Yawk accent; and Darlene Love belting out the album's one original song, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

Phil demanded an original song for the album, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote it, as they wrote (and would continue to write) so many songs he produced. Sonny Bono played percussion on the album, and if you listen closely, you can hear his eventual wife, Cher, singing backup on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

The rest of these, I'll do in alphabetical order.

Auld Lang Syne. I'm not sure why this song got associated with New Year's Eve, but it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

The Christmas Song – better known as "Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire." Mel Torme wrote it, Nat King Cole is its best-known performer. "And so, I'm offering this simple phrase, to kids from 1 to 92." So, for everyone age 93 and up, you're out of luck?

Deck the Halls. "Don we now our gay apparel." Once, this meant, "Let's all put on some festive clothing to commemorate this festive season." Now, it means, "Sweetheart, even Lady Gaga wouldn't be caught dead wearing that." And I'm guessing "Troll the ancient Yuletide carol" means "Sing an old Christmas song." Could be worse, I suppose: You could be calling a woman "“Carol the ancient Yuletide troll!"

Feliz Navidad. The only problem I have with this one is that it's incredibly repetitive. It was good of Jose Feliciano to write a Christmas song that kids whose first language was Spanish can sing, but couldn't he have written a second verse?

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. What a terrible idea to have to think about at Christmastime! As B.J. Hunnicutt taught us on M*A*S*H, "A family's Christmas wreaths ought to be green, not black." On top of that, lemme tell ya somethin': If any reindeer ever tried to run over my Grandma, she'd have popped him one, and then you'd know how he got the red nose!

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. "Make the Yuletide gay." Yeah, another one of those. Made even more problematic by the fact that the song was introduced by Judy Garland. (In the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis.)

Holly Jolly Christmas. The song written by Johnny Marks and introduced by Burl Ives in the 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (based on another song Marks wrote, as he also did "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree") certainly seems jolly and innocuous enough, until you get to the line, "Somebody waits for you. Kiss her once for me."

Bump that! If she's waiting for me, I'm kissing her for nobody but myself! Reminds me of George Carlin's rant about the line, "Give her my best." (Said rant is too risqué to discuss in a Christmas-themed post.)

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. I don't know what’s worse: That the kid in the song appears to be unaware that the guy he sees in the Santa suit is actually his father, or that he appears to be not particularly troubled that his mother is kissing a man who (he thinks) is not his father. Either way, this is not a very bright kid. (Please, save the "Santa only comes once a year" joke. That, too, is too risqué.)

To make matters worse, the other night, I heard it on the radio, sung by... the Jackson 5, back when they were first big. So, that explains Michael Jackson... I wonder if he ever asked a child to sit on his lap.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas. "You can count on me," the singer says. But he closes by saying, "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." So, can she count on you, or not?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. "Take a look in the five-and-ten." Sadly, there are now very few five-and-ten-cent (or "five-and-dime") stores. Woolworth's closed in 2001. So did J.J. Newberry's, bought out by McCrory's, and very few McCrory's are left. Now we have "dollar stores."

Another line: "There's a tree in the grand hotel, one in the park as well." Well, I should hope there's a lot more than one tree in the park! I know, I know, Perry Como means a Christmas tree in the park. Still...

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. Oh no you don't. Look at all the places that are closed on Christmas. If you need to buy something, you'll have to get it at 7-Eleven or Wawa or someplace like that.  And you will have to get things. You think it's easy to shop for everyone you love for one day a year? Multiply that by 365!

Last Christmas. First of all, it's by Wham! Second of all... Do I even need a "second of all"? The lyrics certainly suggest that it's the first gay Christmas song: "A face on a lover with a fire in his heart, a man under cover but you tore me apart." There are "blue Christmas" songs -- "blue" as in sad, not "blue" as in "blue language" -- but this one, even if the "man under cover" is the narrator, not his target, is lame as heck.  And did I mention it's by Wham?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. "There'll be scary ghost stories... " Uh, excuse me, Andy Williams, but I think you're getting your holidays mixed up!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. First, "All of the either reindeer used to laugh and call him names." "Then one foggy Christmas Eve... " Rudolph's prominent proboscis saves Christmas. "Then how the reindeer loved him.” Lousy bunch of fur-covered front-runners. I wonder if any of them ever said, "I'm sorry."

Lisa Swan of the blog Subway Squawkers points out that, in the 1964 TV special based on the song, it gets worse before it gets better: Even Santa himself gets on Rudolph's case – and on that of Donner, who in the story is the lead reindeer on the sleigh and Rudolph's father, for essentially passing on a genetic mutation (of which Donner himself appears to be only a carrier). Not one of Santa's better pop-culture representations, but, remember, this story isn't about Santa, it's about Rudolph, and Sam the Snowman (voice of Burl Ives) is giving you his perception of what happened.

Santa Baby. Ah, the joy of Christmas, where everybody wants something. Usually several somethings. A '54 convertible? Cars were huge in the Fifties. A yacht? A duplex? The ring could fit, the deed to the platinum mine could be folded up, but how exactly is Santa gonna get all that expensive loot into her stocking? He's magic, the stocking is not! Okay, she does ask Santa to "slip a sable under the tree for me." I just got carried away, thinking Santa is only responsible for the stuff in the stockings.

Then again, considering the 1953 original was by Eartha Kitt, maybe it’s a long, slinky nylon stocking. As Bill Maher (on whose show Politically Incorrect she guested a few times) would say, "Easy, Catwoman!" To make matters worse, she ended up dying on a Christmas Day, in 2008. (James Brown, who recorded an album called Funky Christmas, also died on December 25, 2 years earlier. And Dean Martin died on Christmas Day 1995.)

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. This is probably the most oft-cited problematic Christmas song, because of the line, "He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake." Uh-oh, this makes Santa sound like something out of a George Orwell novel: "Big Brother is watching you."

Silver Bells. Nothing wrong with this one, as far as I can tell. In fact, it's my favorite secular Christmas song. But there's one version of it that's not... quite... right. I'm sorry, but Wilson Pickett? The Wicked Pickett should not have been recording Christmas songs! It would have been like asking Karen Carpenter to sing "In the Midnight Hour"! (Then again, she did cover "Please Mr. Postman.")

And how neat -- and weird -- was it last Saturday, on Saturday Night Live, to hear Jeff Bridges, not known as a singer (though he and brother Beau did play pianists in The Fabulous Baker Boys), duet on this song with Cookie Monster of Sesame Street?

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime. How is it that John Lennon, who dared to "Imagine there's no heaven... and no religion, too" – not that he was saying there was no God or Heaven, just asking us to imagine a world where people had "nothing to kill or die for" – wrote such a fantastic Christmas song, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"? While Paul McCartney, one of the world's greatest songwriters and one of its greatest sentimentalists, facing that most sentimental of holidays, wrote such a weak one?

The Twelve Days of Christmas. First of all, where did your true love get all that stuff? Second of all, where are you going to put it all? I mentioned George Carlin before, but I wonder if he ever incorporated this song into his bit "A Place For My Stuff."

A partridge, 2 doves, 3 hens, 4 calling birds, 6 geese, 7 swans? That's a lot of birds. Think of the mess! Five golden rings? I can see getting one, but 5? One for each finger on the hand? That doesn't make any sense, unless the singer is Elvis, Liberace, or Elton John. Or maybe Pink, or Pauley Perrette in character as Dr. Abby Sciuto of NCIS.

Six geese a-laying? Who uses goose eggs? Maybe one of the geese is "the goose that lays the golden egg." Eight maids a-milking? Maybe she already has 8 cows, but this is not specified in the song. Without cows, the milkmaids will have nothing to do.

Nine ladies dancing, ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers piping, twelve drummers drumming? I hope they're all rented, because I can’t imagine having them around every day, especially if none of them does anything else. Maybe one of the dancing ladies is also one of the milkmaids, and one of the leaping lords is also a piper or a drummer.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Have you ever eaten figgy pudding? Have you ever even seen figgy pudding? Me neither. "We won't go until we get some." Where is a family that doesn't have any figgy pudding gonna go to get some on Christmas Eve (or Day)? If there's a Jewish deli open (which once saved my mother when she needed wild rice for Christmas dinner), something tells me they're not going to have figgy pudding, either. Is it even Kosher?

Even the songs that are about the original Christmas – the Christ Mass – don't always make sense. Again, I’ll do these in alphabetical order.

Do You Hear What I Hear? Ignore for a moment that "Do you hear what I hear?" is from the 2nd verse, thus the title should be "Do You See What I See?" Ignore also the likelihood (based on Scripture itself) that Jesus was not born in wintertime, on December 25 or otherwise.

In the 3rd verse, the shepherd boy says, "In your palace warm, mighty king, do you know what I know? A child, a child shivers in the cold. Let us bring him silver and gold." This is the Christmas song that gets my mother upset: She points out, if the child is shivering in the cold, forget the precious metals, bring him something more precious: Blankets. One would think that the shepherd boy, almost certainly poor, would figure that out.

And how did he get into the king's palace, anyway? Not that I want to take the king's side against a poor shepherd boy, but I would like to know. Maybe, like King David started out as, the boy was a crafty little shepherd who found a way around a seemingly impossible situation.

The Little Drummer Boy. "The ox and ass kept time." Sometimes it's sung as, "The ox and lamb," in case you don't want to use the word "ass" around kids, even to mean "donkey." You know, call me a relic, call me what you will, say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill... but the drummer is the one who's supposed to keep time! Why does the little drummer boy need the ox and ass (or lamb) to do it for him? I know, he’s just a kid, and he's certainly not responsible for the lyric, he’s just telling the story. But this is another dumb one.

O Little Town of Bethlehem. "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." Oh, really? Doesn't the Gospel have the angel saying to Joseph, "Fear not"? Maybe the fears of all the years are dispelled in Bethlehem, but the point (or part of it) was that, with the birth of this child, there was less to fear.

We Three Kings. "Star of wonder, star of night." Great phrase, but there are no "stars of day." Yes, there is such a thing as "the morning star," but that's usually the planet Venus. There are people who believe that the Star of Bethlehem could only have been a "conjunction" of at least 2 planets (probably Venus and either Mars or Jupiter) looking like one big, very bright star. And, at the time of the birth of Christ, it might not have been known that these planets which looked like stars weren't actually stars. Even a king might not have known that.

Ah, but the "three kings" are usually called "the three wise men." They have often been called scientists, astronomers or astrologers. If they were those things, they would have known what the Star of Bethlehem really was.

Oh well. Regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, gender, your partner's gender, politics or even what teams you root for... for discrimination is the biggest humbug of them all...

May your days be merry and bright. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. And God bless us, every one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

North vs. South in Sports


December 20, 1860, 150 years ago today: The State Legislature of South Carolina decides it is better to betray the United States of America, to commit treason, than to live in a country governed by a man who was, by the standards of the time, a moderate on the issue of slavery, President-elect Abraham Lincoln.

Over the next 5 years, we're going to hear a lot about the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War. Hopefully, current President Barack Obama -- the son of an African immigrant to America rather than a descendant of slaves -- will remind everyone that the Civil War was completely about slavery, which was completely evil.

The North was right. The South was wrong. The Confederates were traitors. They deserved to lose, and they did. It's time the South manned up about it.

*

To get this back on a lighter note: How many North vs. South contests have there been in sports?

I'm going to limit this to the major leagues, partly because that will make it shorter, and partly to eliminate the South's advantage in college football. (No Alabama, no Florida, no Texas, no Oklahoma, and, this season, no Auburn.)

I'm also going to limit it to the Finals in each sport. Furthermore, let's define "North" and "South":

"The North" is the Union, the States that were in the Union as late as the Appomattox Surrender, April 9, 1865: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas, West Virginia, Nevada.

This in spite of the fact that Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri were, technically slave States until the war ended. In fact, the Confederate battle flag had 13 stars, because they considered Kentucky and Missouri to be "with them," even though those States never seceded. Count also teams from Washington, D.C., as the District of Columbia remained in the Union.

"The South" is the States that seceded into the Confederacy: Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas.

Granted, few of these States have older teams. Of the current major league teams in these States, only the Houston Astros and Rockets, Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Falcons and Hawks, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers predate 1980.

Note also that Dixie vs. Canada Finals (such as the 1992 World Series and the 2004 and '06 Stanley Cup Finals) do not count. Nor do matchups between teams from Confederate States and those from teams whose States entered the Union after the Civil War (such as the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals).

So...

1970-71 Super Bowl: Baltimore Colts over Dallas Cowboys.
1972-73 Super Bowl: Miami Dolphins over Washington Redskins.
1973-74 Super Bowl: Miami Dolphins over Minnesota Vikings.
1975-76 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh Steelers over Dallas Cowboys.
1978-79 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh Steelers over Dallas Cowboys.
1981 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics over Houston Rockets.
1982-83 Super Bowl: Washington Redskins over Miami Dolphins.
1984-85 Super Bowl: San Francisco 49ers over Miami Dolphins.
1986 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics over Houston Rockets.
1991 World Series: Minnesota Twins over Atlanta Braves.
1992-93 Super Bowl: Dallas Cowboys over Buffalo Bills.
1993-94 Super Bowl: Dallas Cowboys over Buffalo Bills.
1994 NBA Finals: Houston Rockets over New York Knicks.
1995 World Series: Atlanta Braves over Cleveland Indians.
1995-96 Super Bowl: Dallas Cowboys over Pittsburgh Steelers.
1996 World Series: New York Yankees over Atlanta Braves.
1997 World Series: Florida Marlins over Cleveland Indians.
1999 Stanley Cup Finals: Dallas Stars over Buffalo Sabres.
1999 NBA Finals: San Antonio Spurs over New York Knicks.
1999 World Series: New York Yankees over Atlanta Braves.
1999-2000 Super Bowl: St. Louis Rams over Tennessee Titans.
2000 Stanley Cup Finals: New Jersey Devils over Dallas Stars.
2002 Stanley Cup Finals: Detroit Red Wings over Carolina Hurricanes.
2002-03 Super Bowl: Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Oakland Raiders.
2003 NBA Finals: San Antonio Spurs over New Jersey Nets.
2003 World Series: Florida Marlins over New York Yankees.
2003-04 Super Bowl: New England Patriots over Carolina Panthers.
2005 NBA Finals: San Antonio Spurs over Detroit Pistons.
2005 World Series: Chicago White Sox over Houston Astros.
2007 NBA Finals: San Antonio Spurs over Cleveland Cavaliers.
2008 World Series: Philadelphia Phillies over Tampa Bay Rays.
2009 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers over Orlando Magic.
2009-10 Super Bowl: New Orleans Saints over Indianapolis Colts.
2010 World Series: San Francisco Giants over Texas Rangers.

MLB: North leads, 6-3, 6-1 if you don't count the Indians.
NHL: North leads, 2-1.
NFL: Tied, 7-7.
NBA: South leads, 5-3, although 4-0 of that is the Spurs.

Overall: North leads, 18-16. Pretty close, but the North wins again.

Now, this doesn't mean that a team from a Confederate State will always deserve to lose to a team from a Free State. After all, you'd have had to be a pretty hardcore Colts fan to say the Saints didn't deserve it last season. And as long as the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, they will deserve to lose.

There have been 3 All-Dixie championships:

1971-72 Super Bowl: Dallas Cowboys over Miami Dolphins.
1995 NBA Finals: Houston Rockets over Orlando Magic.
2006 NBA Finals: Miami Heat over Dallas Mavericks.

If the current NFL standings -- bolstered by the Jets actually beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and the Giants' shocking choke to the Eagles at the New Meadowlands Stadium -- hold, there will be 10 Union teams qualifying for the Playoffs, and 2 Confederate teams, the defending champion Saints winning the NFC South and the Falcons as a Wild Card. (Despite the Division's name, and the formerly large presence the Ku Klux Klan had in Southern Indiana, the AFC South, as usual, is likely to be won by the Indianapolis Colts.) If the current top seeds go all the way to the Super Bowl, it will be the Falcons and the New England Patriots.

In such a situation, Atlanta vs. Boston, the Confederacy vs. New England, the Civil War must step aside, and my Yankee-tinged fandom takes over: The cheaters from New England must lose, and the South will rise -- though that would be the Falcons' first Super Bowl win, after losing 1 and hosting 3 others, so they would not be "rising again."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Phil Cavarretta, 1916-2010; Walt Dropo, 1923-2010

Not a good month for fans of the Chicago Cubs.

I know, obvious joke: When do Cub fans ever have a good month? (UPDATE: In October and November 2016.)

Earlier this month, they lost Ron Santo. Yesterday, they lost Phil Cavaretta.

A true hometown hero, Philip Joseph Cavarretta was born in Chicago on July 19, 1916, and graduated from the City's Lane Technical High School -- at 2501 West Addison Street, 28 blocks west of Wrigley Field.

Other noted graduates of Lane Tech include:

* From sports: Frederick "Fritz" Pollard, one of the earliest black football players and coaches, and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, Gold Medalist at Paris in 1924 and Amsterdam in 1928; 1930s Yankee outfielder Arndt Jorgens; his brother, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Orville Jorgens; 1970s Atlanta Braves pitcher Lee "Buzz" Capra; College Football Hall-of-Famer Bill Fischer; Milwaukee Braves and Green Bay Packers broadcaster Earl Gillespie;

* From entertainment: Weissmuller, who played Tarzan in 12 films from 1932 to 1948, and is generally considered the definitive portrayer of the King of the Jungle; Edgar Bergen, ventriloquist and father of actress Candice Bergen; jazz and Big Band singer Francis LoVecchio, who renamed himself Frankie Laine in honor of the school; and actor Bill Daily, a supporting player on The Bob Newhart Show, which was famously set in Chicago; and actor Adrian Zmed of Grease 2 and T.J. Hooker.

* From politics: John Podesta, White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton; and disgraced Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich.

Phil Cavarretta played in the major leagues only for Chicago, with the Cubs from 1934 (when he was 18 and just out of Lane Tech) to 1953, and for the White Sox in 1954 and 1955. (Wow, what an occurrence: Both Cavarretta and Santo were Cub legends who ended up with the White Sox, and they die within days of each other.)

On May 12, 1935, Cavarretta, a rookie approaching his 19th birthday, played for the Cubs against the Boston Braves. Playing for the Braves that day, running out the string, was Babe Ruth. Cavarretta was the last living player who had played against the Babe. 75 years.

He was a member of 3 Cub Pennant-winners. No, I'm not kidding: The Cubs won National League Pennants with Cavarretta as their starting 1st baseman in 1935, 1938 and 1945. They didn't win the World Series on any of those occasions, but then, they twice faced Hank Greenberg's Detroit Tigers and once faced the Yankees of Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. So, despite having players like Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Stan Hack, Dizzy Dean and Hank Borowy (of Bloomfield, New Jersey, yay), the odds were really against them.

He played in more seasons for the Cubs than anyone in franchise history except their legendary 19th Century 1st baseman, manager and bigot, Adrian "Cap" Anson. He played in more games than any player in team history except Anson, until that record was surpassed by Ernie Banks. A 3-time All-Star, he won the NL's Most Valuable Player award in 1945. The Cubs have not won a Pennant since that season, and have not won the World Series since 1908. (UPDATE: They now have, but let the record show that they went from 1932 to 2016 without winning a Pennant without Cavarretta on the roster.)

Lifetime batting average, .293. OPS+, a fine 118. 1,977 hits. Although he will never be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he is honored on the Cubs Walk of Fame outside the home-plate entrance at Wrigley Field.

Phil Cavarretta, rightly one of the most popular Cubs ever, was 94 years old.

*

On Friday, Walt Dropo died at the age of 87.

Oddly, he died mere days after I finished reading Allen Barra's book Rickwood Field: A Century In America's Oldest Ballpark, for which Dropo was interviewed in connection with his performance for the Birmingham Barons in 1948 as they won the Southern Association Pennant.

(Rickwood served as home to various teams in Alabama's biggest city from 1910 to 1987, and still stands for use by amateur clubs and, once a year, by the Barons. It also hosted Negro League ball, including area native Willie Mays, when the Black Barons won their own Pennant in 1948.)

Known as "Moose" not for his size (6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, at a time when that was considered huge -- now, it would just be "big"), but because he was from the town of Moosup, Connecticut, Dropo was drafted by teams in 3 different sports. Well, 2: In those days, baseball didn't have a draft. But he played football and basketball at the University of Connecticut, after starring at Plainfield High School. (Unlike Lane Tech, Plainield -- not to be confused with the school of the same name in New Jersey -- appears to have only Dropo as a celebrity graduate.)

Long before Jim Calhoun turned the UConn Huskies into the Northeast's foremost college basketball power, Dropo was, for many years, their all-time leading scorer. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears and by the Providence Steamrollers of the Basketball Association of America (one of the leagues that merged to become the NBA, and if he'd played for them the franchise might have survived). But, since baseball offered the highest salaries at the time, he signed with the Boston Red Sox.

In 1950, his 1st full season, Dropo was the American League Rookie of the Year, the 1st Red Sox player to win the award (the AL only started theirs the year before, with the NL starting in 1947), leading the League in RBIs and total bases while batting .322.
But that was pretty much it, his only season on an All-Star team. He tailed off tremendously in 1951, and the Red Sox began to think, "Oh, here we go again, another guy we got solely because he was a big right-handed hitter who could hit home runs over that nice, close left-field wall, and now that he's not hitting anymore, it's obvious we goofed again." (So why did they keep goofing like that from the 1930s to the 1990s?)

On June 3, 1952, the Red Sox traded Dropo, Johnny Pesky and 3 guys you don't need to know about to the Detroit Tigers, for 1 guy you've probably never heard of, Johnny Lipon, and 3 guys you may have: George Kell, Dizzy Trout and Hoot Evers. Pesky, Trout and Evers were pretty much washed up, and Kell gave the Red Sox a couple of good years, essentially filling in (with production if not in his exact place in the field) for Ted Williams while the Splendid Splinter was off in the Korean War.

Did Dropo do anything for the Tigers that made it a bad trade for the Red Sox? Sort of. He gave them 2 good seasons, and, a few weeks after the trade, he tied major-league records with hits in 12 straight at-bats and 12 straight plate appearances. He later went on to the White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, where he and Kell were briefly teammates, both running out the string.

He was mainly a feast-or-famine hitter: Either he was really good, or he was really disappointing. His career OPS+ was 100 -- meaning he was exactly as productive as the hypothetical average player in his time.

Still, he was a New England boy who starred, however briefly, for the Red Sox, and was thus fondly remembered there.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Birthday Party at Yankee Stadium (Sort Of)

Unlike the New Jersey Devils and the East Brunswick High School basketball team, there is one thing the New York Yankees, for all their achievements and distinctions, have never done, and never will do: Win on my birthday.

Of course, Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig has already mussed up the schedule so much that the World Series now extends past Halloween, and sometimes even Election Day. What's next? Thanksgiving is for football, not baseball. I've seen Santa Claus hats, and even full costumes, at NFL, NBA and NHL games, but in baseball? Only on cold, snowy Opening Days. On such an occasion, it's a joke.

But I'm old enough to remember when the World Series ending in mid-October was an annual occurrence. In fact, from 1912 to 1984, the Series never ended later than October 22 (except for the strike year of 1981). In 1932 and 1954, it ended on October 2! But even in the age of Divisional play and the League Championship Series (1969-present -- my entire lifetime, plus a few weeks), it wasn't until the LCS was extended to a best-4-out-of-7 that the World Series became a late-October event. From 1969 to 1984, the Series ended on the 14th once, the 15th once, the 16th 3 times, the 17th 3 times, the 18th once, the 20th once, the 21st 3 times and the 22nd twice (and, in that strike year, the 28th once).

But since 1985, it's been as follows: The 20th twice, the 21st once, the 23rd once, the 24th once, the 25th twice, the 26th 4 times, the 27th 7 times, the 28th 3 times, the 29th once, November 1st once, and November 4th twice. One of those, it was 2001, and the season was pushed back a week because of the 9/11 attacks. But in 2009, not to grouse too much because the Yankees did win it, but that was the date that Selig intended Game 6 of the World Series to be.

Or, to put it another way, taking out anomalies -- 1911, on October 26 due to rain; 1918, on September 11 due to World War I cutting the regular season short; and the aforementioned 1981 and 2001...

* From 1903 to 1971, the average ending date for the World Series was October 11.

* From 1972 to 1984, it was October 19.

* From 1985 to 2010, it was October 26. More than 2 weeks later than the average from the beginning of my lifetime.

"World Series meant you had to wear a sweater. We used to call it World Series Weather."
-- Billy Crystal, talking about the World Series in the 1950s (average ending date, October 7).

A sweater. Not a jacket. Not a winter coat. Certainly not a scarf.

On November 4, 2009, when the Yankees won the World Series, it was also a UEFA Champions League matchday. Arsenal won that day, beating the defending Dutch champions, AZ Alkmaar. There were about half a million people watching the Series game on the big screen in Times Square. Most of them were wearing Yankee caps. Most of us were wearing heavy fall jackets or even winter coats. Some of us were wearing scarves. I'm guessing I was the only one wearing both a Yankee cap and an Arsenal scarf.

*

No, the Yankees will never win on my birthday. So, today, I did the next best thing: I took the tour of the new Yankee Stadium.

I miss the old one so much, but the new one really is magnificent.

We got to see Monument Park, the Yankee Museum and the press box. They didn't let us in the clubhouse or the dugouts, though, as the place is set up for the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl on December 30, between Syracuse and Kansas State. The dugouts have to be covered up, so the players don't run into them by mistake. And the clubhouse is closed off because, since a football team (especially a college football team) has a lot more players on it than a baseball team, there's too many added lockers in the clubhouse. Still, the tour was fantastic. And there were even a couple of Arsenal fans from London there.

They were glad to be here, and not in the British Isles, which got pounded by a winter storm this morning. Pretty much the entire island on which England, Wales and Scotland rest, "from Land's End to John o' Groats," as they say, saw its "football matches" cancelled. Only 2 Premier League games were played, neither of which was Arsenal hosting the despicable thugs of Stoke City.

Arsenal have probably, at some point, won on my birthday, but I'm not aware of the details. I really, really wanted them to win today. Alas, Old Man Winter had other ideas.

What the hell. After all I've been through, getting to be, uh, "Tom Seaver years old" is a win. And while my legs hurt like the dickens today -- either I really am getting older, or those subway station steps are getting steeper -- I do still have my health. The annual horrible cough that arrives every November and sticks around all the way to New Year's was mostly gone by Thanksgiving.

No, unlike Lou Gehrig, I will not claim, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." But, like Roy Campanella (who, sadly, is no longer such), I can say, "It's good to be alive."

UPDATE: Syracuse won, 36-34.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cliff Lee, 4th Starter

Take a look at these statistics, from the 2010 season.

Keep in mind that ERA+ is earned-run average in comparison to the league average, and WHIP is walks plus hits, divided by innings pitched.

CC Sabathia: 21-7, 23-7 counting the postseason, 134 ERA+, 1.191 WHIP.

Andy Pettitte, 2010: 11-3, 12-4 counting the postseason, 130 ERA+, 1.271 WHIP.

Phil Hughes, 2010: 18-8, 19-10 counting the postseason, 102 ERA+, 1.248 WHIP.

Cliff Lee, 2010: 12-9, 15-11 counting the postseason, 130 ERA+, 1.003 WHIP.

In wins, both regular-season and postseason: 1. Sabathia, 2. Hughes, 3. Lee, 4. Pettitte.

In winning percentage, regular-season: 1. Pettitte, 2. Sabathia, 3. Hughes, 4. Lee -- a distant 4th.

In winning percentage, regular-season and postseason combined: 1. Sabathia, 2. Pettitte, 3. Hughes, 4. Lee -- a distant 4th.

You say wins and losses aren't an adequate measure of a pitcher's effectiveness? Fine, I'll put the Herman Edwards Card away, since a pitcher's wins and losses can be affected by the defense behind him, his relievers, and his run support. And Lee does have a big lead in innings pitched per start: 7.59 to CC's 6.99, Andy's 6.14 and Phil's 6.08.

In ERA+: 1. Sabathia, 2. tie between Pettitte and Lee, 4. Hughes.

In WHIP: 1. Lee, 2. Sabathia, 3. Hughes, 4. Pettitte. However, as Lee's now-former boss Nolan Ryan (who was also vastly overrated but was right when he said this) said when he broke the all-time record for most walks (in 1977, 6 years before he did so in strikeouts), "It's not how many you walk, it's how many you let score." Lee's amazing WHIP didn't translate to an appreciably better run prevention.

*

This is not "sour grapes" over not signing Lee. This is not "waving Yankee pom-poms," as someone told me I was doing.

This is cold hard numbers, and they show that Cliff Lee, had he done the exact same thing for the Yankees in 2010, might have been the Yankees' 3rd-best starter, if you take Hughes' comparatively low ERA+ into account. And would, if Pettitte retires (which is a toss-up at the moment), move up to 2nd-best, maybe.

Not to mention that Lee has never helped a team win a World Series. The other 3 have.

Cliff Lee would have been the Yankees' 4th starter in 2010.

Not getting him is no minus for the Yankees, because he didn't go to a potential Playoff rival (unless you count the Phillies as a potential World Series opponent, as they were in 2009).

Now they can use that money on scouting and development. Why spend all that money on one player that you don't already have, when you can spend it on ten players that you don't already have? And three you already do?

*

But don't just take my word for it. Try another self-styled Yankee expert and blogger, who puts it better than I have. The man who writes the Yankee-themed blog Baseball and the Boogie Down said it best, although the italics below are mine, to better make the point that he makes, opinions which I share:

<< Let's face it: Cliff Lee was never coming to the Yankees. I think Lee's camp themselves said there was nothing that the Yankees could have done differently. (Yankee general manager Brian) Cashman never stood a chance. At least he didn't trade (catching prospect Jesus) Montero plus others for him in July only to have him bolt for Philly in December.

Missing out Lee is like a push on a bet. It would have been more than awesome had they won and signed him, but they didn't lose by him signing with Philly. At least not yet.

If Andy Pettitte returns, which I think he will, the Yankees, for all intents and purposes, have the same rotation that won them 95 games last season. And that was with a crappy (A.J.) Burnett, and a 5th spot that was largely made up of (the now-gone Javier) Vazquez, (Sergio) Mitre, (the now-gone Dustin) Moseley, and (Ivan) Nova. There was no Cliff Lee in that rotation and they won 95 games.

Lee was not the key to a successful Yankee offseason. The key is Andy Pettitte. If he comes back, you're looking at pretty much the same team as last year, which, again, was a 95 game winner. Signing Lee would have been a pretty awesome insurance policy if Pettitte retires. If Andy comes back, they're still good and they'd be better than Boston.

So imagine the same team as last year, but now with what could be an improved Burnett, a mediocre 5th SP, and better production from (Derek) Jeter, A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), and (Mark) Teixeira, all of whom performed significantly below what's on the back of their baseball cards. You'd expect a similar outcome to last year, if not better.

Does missing out on Cliff Lee suck? Hell yeah. Is it the end of the world? Hell no. Right now, it all hinges on Andy. He's the key to a successful offseason. If he retires, Cashman will really need to prove his worth by making up for that loss. >>

J-Boogie moves to the right beat.

*

Then there's Paul Sullivan, Red Sox fan, author of the blog Sully Baseball, and commentator in the HBO documentary The Curse of the Bambino.

Remember him? In that film, he tells of watching Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with his brother, who kept dialing the phone to call their Met fan uncle in anticipation of the final out, which never came, thanks to the idiocy of Sox manager John McNamara, the losing of the plot (as they would say in English soccer) by reliever Calvin Schiraldi, the washedupness of reliever Bob Stanley, and the injuries of 1st baseman Bill Buckner.

In a discussion on the blog Subway Squawkers, he told me this: "Uncle Mike... you can not possibly be serious that you would put Cliff Lee and Phil Hughes in the same category."

This is true. You can't put Hughes and Lee in the same category: Hughes has been a World Champion, Lee has not. What's even more damning, Hughes has been deemed worthy of being kept by his current team -- in spite of being offered Johan Santana in exchange for Hughes and others. Whereas, 4 times in the last 17 months, Lee has been let go.

What is this telling us? It's telling us that, for some reason, suspected or completely unknown, Phil Hughes is more worth keeping than Cliff Lee. Yes, sure, Lee, I am serious.

Sully: "Hughes is a question mark at this point."

What's the question? How about, "Does anybody still think we should have included him in a trade for Santana?" If you do, I'd like to sell you the Zakim Bridge. (That's the tuning-fork-shaped bridge behind North Station and the new Boston Garden, which you may have seen on TV shows like The Practice, Boston Legal, Boston Public and Ally McBeal.)

Sully: "Hughes is a question mark at this point. So is Burnett... Nova... Mitre and even if Pettitte comes back, he's no spring chicken anymore."

Sort of like John Lackey. And Daisuke Matsuzaka. And even Josh Beckett. Face it, the Red Sox needed Lee a lot more than the Yankees did.

Sully: "The Yankees put ALL their eggs in the Cliff Lee basket and now have to fish for a replacement."

Uh, no, the Yankees put a few eggs in the Javier Vazquez basket, and now have to fish for a replacement. And they may already have caught such a fish in Mitre or Nova. And there's always the July 31 trading deadline.

Sully: "I'm sorry but an off season for the Yankees where they bring back Jeter, Rivera and Pettittte can't be considered a success. That's not addition. That's avoiding subtraction. They have a grand total of 2 pitchers they can rely on."

Physician, heal thyself: The Red Sox can count on Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. If that. They didn't even make the Playoffs this season.

*

Then there's Steve Cromer, who usually posts on Subway Squawkers under the name "urinalfresh23" -- apparently, a product he sells far better than he sells his baseball opinions -- and this Yankee Hater wrote:

"Losing out on Cliff Lee is a PR nightmare for the Yankers... Why do you think everyone in the front office is doing damage control?"

Everyone? I've heard from Cashman, but I haven't heard from Hal Steinbrenner, or Hank Steinbrenner, or Randy Levine, or Lonn Trost, or Gene Michael.

"A PR nightmare" is what happened with Joe Torre after the 2007 season. "A PR nightmare" is what happened with the Mitchell Report – which was effectively rendered meaningless when the revelations about David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez came out. "A PR nightmare" is what happened with Alex Rodriguez after the 2007 season, and again at the dawn of the 2009 season. "A PR nightmare" is what the Yankees avoided by keeping Jeter and Rivera.

The only remaining potential "PR nightmare," and it's not nearly the equal of the preceding, is if Andy Pettitte doesn't come back, as J-Boogie pointed out in his post on the subject, which made more sense than all the rest (mine included) combined.

And you know what? When those "PR nightmares" happened, the Yankees took the heat, moved on, and played Yankee baseball. You know, Steve, the kind your favorite team would play if their front office had brains and the players they got had brains, talent and health.

And what team is that? I'm not sure. The 2 teams whose fans hate the Yankees the most are the Mets and the Red Sox -- not necessarily in that order -- and fans of both are on very shaky ground when they complain about the Yankees' payroll: The Mets have been 1st or 2nd in the National League in payroll going back to their last glory period, 1984 to 1990 (which didn't have a whole lot of glory compared to those of the Yankees or even the Sox); while the Red Sox, in both 2004 and 2007, set new records for most money spent to buy a World Series champion. (The Yankees, of course, broke that record in 2009.)

*

Failing to sign Cliff Lee is no "nightmare" for the Yankees. A hypothetical Lee-as-Yankee, after getting a huge contract, failing in the 2011 World Series as he did in 2010? That would be a nightmare. As we found out when we got Randy Johnson, the guy people are acting like Lee is.

Which he isn't.

UPDATE: Pettitte did not play in 2011, but the Yankees won the Division anyway -- but not the Pennant. He came back in 2012 and 2013, then retired for good.

Lee went 17-8 for the Phils in 2011, but got bombed in the NLDS, and the Phils did not advance. He never appeared in another postseason game. He went 6-9 in 2012, 14-8 in 2013, and 4-5 in 2014, and retired, having thrown his last professional pitch at age 36. In other words, Lee would not have helped the Yankees in 2011 (they went exactly as far as the Phillies did), nor in 2012, nor in 2014.

In 2013, the Yankees missed the 2nd AL Wild Card by 6 games. The Yankees' worst starter that season was... Phil Hughes, 4-14. Would Lee have made a 6-game difference? Maybe. But he wouldn't have made a 12-game difference, which would have been needed to win the Division. And even if Joe Girardi had started him in the Wild Card Game, instead of CC, Andy or Hiroki Kuroda, against the Rays or Indians, would he have been a shoo-in for a good pitching performance? As a 35-year-old lefthander? I doubt it.

So, no, getting Cliff Lee for the 2011 season would not have been worth it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bob Feller, 1918-2010

I met Robert William Andrew Feller once. On June 6, 1994, he came to Mercer County Waterfront Park in Trenton, New Jersey. It was the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II, and a salute to veterans was being held. That ended up being all that was held that day, as the game ended up being rained out. The Trenton Thunder, in its 1st season in the Double-A Eastern League (and, as it turned out, the former London Tigers' last season as a farm team of the Detroit Tigers), did not play that night.

Bob Feller, 75 years old at the time, greeted fans and signed autographs in full Cleveland Indians uniform -- the current one, not a version of any of the designs he wore for that team from 1936 to 1956. He was no "grumpy old man" that night. He was completely gracious, a sterling example of what a retired athlete and an old military man should be.

Rapid Robert was born on November 3, 1918, in the small rural town of Van Meter, Iowa, and, after Indian scout Cy Slapnicka responded to the letters of Feller's father and was amazed that the father was telling the truth about the son's amazing pitching ability, debuted with the Indians in 1936.

It was the latter period of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his 2nd term as President. Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, sent troops into the Rhineland, a part of Germany neighboring France and declared off-limits to German troops as part of the Treaty of Versailles that set the terms of punishment for Germany's aggression in World War I.

Edward VIII was in the middle of his 11-month reign as King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Emperor of India; he had become King upon the death of his father, George V, and, since he could not marry "the woman I love" and remain on the throne, he would abdicate later that year in favor of his brother, who became King George VI. (The film The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth as George VI, premieres tomorrow, and will touch on this story.)

There were no nonwhite players in baseball. There was no artificial turf. No stadiums with domes, retractable or otherwise. Only Crosley Field in Cincinnati had artificial lighting and could host night games. The 3 New York teams didn't even broadcast their games over the radio, and television was just an experiment at this point. There were no major league teams south of Washington, Cincinnati or St. Louis; and, except for the 2 teams in St. Louis, whose Sportsman's Park was 2 miles in, no teams west of the Mississippi River.

In his 1st season, Bob Feller tied Dizzy Dean's major league record with 17 strikeouts in a game. It was a big deal. It was a bigger deal because 17 was also his age. In 1984 and '85, Met fans would be amazed at what Dwight Gooden could do at age 19 and 20. Feller was doing pretty much the same things... at 17.

What were you doing at age 17? I certainly wasn't striking out 17 big-leaguers at that age. When Frank Sinatra, nearly 30 years later, sang, "When I was 17, it was a very good year," he could have been singing Bob Feller's song.

In 1938, Feller broke that record -- his and Dean's strikeout standard, not Sinatra's 45-RPM single (Sinatra wouldn't debut as a recording artist until 1939) -- by striking out 18 in a game. In 1940, in the Indians' 1st game of the season, he pitched a no-hitter, still the only one ever pitched in a team's 1st game of the season.

Due to his high school commitments -- yes, high school -- 1938 was his 1st full season. Here's how he did in his 1st 4 full seasons, 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1941; ages 19, 20, 21 and 22: 17-11, 24-9, 27-11 and 25-13. His ERAs in those seasons? 4.08 (admittedly, the 1930s were a hitting-happy era, so check out the following numbers), 2.85, 2.61 and 3.15. ERA+, ERA in relation to the rest of the American League? 114, 156, 163 and 125. Strikeouts? He'd have been the first to admit it wasn't the best way to measure a pitcher's effectiveness, but: 240, 246, 261 and 260, each time leading the League. WHIP -- walks plus hits, divided by innings pitched? 1.559, 1.244 (suggesting his control got considerably better once he physically matured and got more work), 1.133 and 1.394.

He was named to the AL All-Star Team in each of those 4 seasons. In the last 3, he had finished 3rd, 2nd and 3rd in the voting for the AL's Most Valuable Player. Not the Cy Young Award -- that didn't exist yet, as Young himself was still alive -- but the MVP. Had the award existed (Young died in 1955, and the award was started in '56, Feller's last season), he probably would have won it 6 times: In 1939, '40, '41, '46, '47 and '51.

On November 3, 1941, Bob Feller turned 23. He had the best fastball in baseball (the most accurate measurements of the time said 98 miles per hour, but it was almost certainly hitting 100 regularly), and maybe also the best curveball. Changeup? Slider? Knuckleball? Split-fingered fastball? Cut fastball? He didn't need no stinkin' 3rd pitch.

With Dean and Lefty Grove having retired, Carl Hubbell nearing retirement, and Satchel Paige seen by only a fraction of those fans able to afford to go to baseball games, Bob Feller was recognized by nearly every white baseball fan as the best pitcher in baseball. And he was getting better.

*

On December 7, 1941, an enemy far more insidious than Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams, the 2 best hitters of that time, struck. The Japanese air force bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, Bob Feller enlisted in the United States Navy.

He served as a gun captain on board a battleship, the USS Alabama. Having never attended college, he never became an officer. When World War II ended, he had risen to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. We may never know how many enemy planes, German or Japanese, he shot down, or if he contributed to the sinking of any enemy ships. But at a time when the stakes were higher than in any sporting event, he put himself in a position to do so -- even if it meant dying in said position. And he left the Indians at a time when his salary was $30,000, one of the highest in baseball at that point -- about $425,000 in 2010 money.
He was discharged in time to return to the Indians for the end of the 1945 season. In 1946, he pitched his 2nd no-hitter, against the Yankees, went 26-15 (no Indians pitcher has matched that since), and struck out 348 batters. At the time, that was believed to be a major league record, at least since the adoption of the 60 feet, 6 inches pitching distance in 1893. Rube Waddell was credited with 343 Ks with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1904. Later research showed Waddell had 349, so Feller was one short, but it was still the most strikeouts any pitcher had in a major league season from 1904 to 1965, and the most an AL pitcher had from 1904 to 1973.

In 1948, after a close call in 1940, the Indians finally won a Pennant for the 1st time since 1920. Having signed Paige, despite his age being at least 42 (there was some dispute), helped. Feller finally got a chance to pitch in a World Series. Fortunately for him, the Indians won it, beating the Boston Braves in 6 games. Unfortunately for him, the 2 games the Indians lost were the 2 games he started, including Game 1, where a controversial call may have cost him the game: He appeared to have picked Phil Masi off 2nd base, but Masi was ruled safe, and then scored the only run of the game.

Feller pitched a 3rd no-hitter in 1951. It would be 1965 before anyone pitched a 4th. He went 22-8, his 6th and last 20-win season. He was 32, but had lost just a little off the amazing fastball. He became one of those "pitch with your head" pitchers. In 1954, now 35 and no longer an ace or even close to it -- the Indians had Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Mike Garcia, and between them they won 65 games -- he went 13-3 and helped the Indians win another Pennant. They got swept in the World Series by the New York Giants, and Feller did not appear in the Series. He did get a ring in 1948, but he never won a World Series game.

His last 2 seasons showed what pitching 3,800 innings, and facing 16,000 batters, can do to an arm. He retired after the 1956 season, just before turning 38. His career records: 266-162, 3.25 ERA, 122 ERA+, 1.316 WHIP, and 2,581 strikeouts -- and more walks than any pitcher in history, 1,764, a record later broken by Nolan Ryan.

There was one unfortunate moment in Feller's career: In 1946, having seen film of Jackie Robinson playing his one season of minor-league ball, he said that, due to his physique, closer to that of a football player (which Robinson was, at UCLA, and a very good running back by the standards of 1939 college football), Robinson might not be an effective major league baseball player. In fact, he said, if Robinson were white, he might not even be big-league material.

In 1962, both Feller and Robinson were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, each in his 1st year of eligibility. Correcting his earlier misjudgment, Feller spent the rest of his life saying he was proud to go into the Hall with Robinson.

In 1957, Feller's Number 19 became the 1st uniform number retired by any Cleveland sports team. In 1994, a statue of him was dedicated outside the left field entrance to the Indians' new ballpark, Jacobs Field. In 1995, the Bob Feller Museum opened in Van Meter, designed by his son, architect Stephen Feller.
In 1999, The Sporting News named him Number 36 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. This ranked him 3rd among players who spent their best years with the Cleveland Indians, behind Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie. It ranked him 12th among all pitchers; among those in the post-1920 Lively Ball Era, it ranked him 8th, behind Paige, Warren Spahn, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver -- so only Paige, Gibson and Seaver outranked him among modern-era righthanders. It ranked him 5th among all players of his generation, behind Williams, Stan Musial, DiMaggio and Spahn -- meaning only Spahn outranked him among pitchers in his generation, and no righthanded pitcher of his generation did.

All this despite missing 4 years in service to his country. He always insisted that he wouldn't trade his 4 years in the Navy for 4 successful years in baseball.

What if he had been exempt from the draft? Well, keep in mind, he enlisted before he could be drafted. But he was averaging 25 wins and 250 strikeouts a season in the 3 years before he went in, and won 26 and fanned 348 in his 1st full season back. Chances are, instead of 266 wins -- still the most in Indians' history -- he would have had somewhere around 363, which is Spahn's total, the most among 20th Century pitchers, and more than Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, the only pitchers since Spahn to top 350 -- or even 330. And he almost certainly would have broken what was then the all-time strikeout record, 3,508, by Walter Johnson.

In 2008, Bob Feller appeared at the All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium, as one of 49 players already in the Hall of Fame on hand, the largest group of HOFers ever gathered together outside of the Hall's location of Cooperstown, New York. It may have been his last appearance in a big-league ballpark. A full house of 57,000, most of whom knew him only from his name, some stats, old film clips and the occasional television interview -- gave him a standing ovation. Not just because he was Bob Feller, HOF, but also because he was Bob Feller, CPO, USN.
Bob Feller died yesterday. He was 92 years old. At ease, sir.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sure, Lee, You Can't Be Serious

Dr. Barry Rumack (Leslie Nielsen): "Can you fly this plane and land it?"

Ted Striker (Robert Hays): "Surely, you can't be serious!"

Rumack: "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
-- Airplane! Rest in peace, Leslie Nielsen.

*

So, Cliff Lee decided to take an offer from the Philadelphia Phillies that, when closely defined, really is more money than the Yankees were offering him.

It's 1,168 miles from Lee's home town of Benton, Arkansas to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I guess Lee decided it was better to be close to Pat's Steaks than to be "close to home."

Come to think of it, I'd rather be close to Pat's Steaks than be anywhere near Dallas! (67 miles is a lot when you've got that kind of a craving.)

I wonder what his wife Brenda -- I mean, Kristen -- has to say about this? Sorry, had her confused with someone else for a minute. Oh well, better Brenda Warner than Anna (still Mrs. Kris) Benson!

If I'm a general manager, and a player clearly doesn't want to come to my team, I don't lift a finger to try to change his mind. Let him go.

Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers pointed out that Greg Maddux didn't sign with the Yankees for 1993, nor John Smoltz for 1997.

How'd that work out for the Yankees? Pretty well, winning the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Series.

How'd that work out for the Braves, who both got Maddux in '93 and kept Smoltz in '97? Okay, I suppose. They did win the '95 World Series, and then won National League Pennant in '96 and '99... and then the Yankees beat both men in those 2 World Series.

Just as there's an old saying that, "The best trades are the ones you don't make," so, too, can be the best free-agent signings. Consider that the Yankees didn't try to lure away Braves pitcher Tom Glavine... and the Mets did.

Lee going to the Phillies is a good thing for the Yankees. First of all, they don't get a ridiculously overpriced pitcher who, in all honesty, based on regular-season and postseason performance, would not be their ace. CC Sabathia is. In fact, take into account Phil Hughes, Lee might not even be a Number 2. If Andy Pettitte comes back, Lee might not even be a Number 3. If A.J. Burnett bounces back, Lee might not even be a Number 4.

Second of all, Lee going to the Phillies, or any NL teams, means he doesn't go to (or stay with) any American League team. He leaves the Texas Rangers, who are thus downgraded from the team that won this year's AL Pennant. He doesn't go to the Tampa Bay Rays, who've now won 2 of the last 3 AL Eastern Division titles. (With them announcing they'll slash payroll, and having already let sparkplug Carl Crawford go, they won't be winning another anytime soon.) He doesn't go to the Baltimore Orioles, whom Buck Showalter seems to have gotten back at least to respectability, and might now be only one good pitcher away from Playoff contention.

He doesn't stay with the Rangers or go to the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins, the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians, or the Whatever They'll Be Calling Themselves Next Season Angels of Anaheim, all of whom the Yankees have played in the Playoffs at least once since 2005. Nor does he go to the Chicago White Sox, whom the Yankees have never played in the Playoffs but have at least made it in 2 of the last 6 seasons, including a World Championship.

In other words, if the Yankees have to deal with Lee at all in the next few years, it'll be either in a stray Interleague game (depending on how the Phils' rotation works out) or in the World Series. And that's if the Phils don't decide, as they and a few others have already, that it's not worth keeping him.

Yeah, let's make that point again: If Lee's so great, why do teams keep letting him go?

Again: He's had 7 full seasons, 2 have been great, 4 have been good but not great (including the last 2), and 1 was outright bad (ironically, 2007, when the Indians came within 1 win of a Pennant -- and Lee did not appear in the postseason and could have made the difference, if he was good enough).

In other words, he ain't no Randy Johnson.

And the Yankees did get Randy Johnson for the 2005 season. How'd that work out? Just because a guy hits or pitches well against your team doesn't mean he'll do equally well for it. With Chili Davis, that worked great. With the Big Unit, Kevin Brown and (if your memory goes back to the 1980s, as mine does and then some) Dave Collins and Steve Kemp, it didn't.

So he's the answer to the Yankees' starting pitching problems?

Sure, Lee? You can't be serious.

Could be worse, it could be Bob Shirley.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Long It's Been: Since Brett Favre Did Not Play

Last night, in a game played at Ford Field in Detroit because the Metrodome in Minneapolis was rendered unplayable by snow caving in the roof, the New York Giants defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 21-3.

The Vikings' quarterback, at the start and throughout the game, was Tarvaris Jackson. Not Brett Favre.

Favre started for the Green Bay Packers on September 20, 1992, and started every game for them, home and away, regular season and postseason, until January 20, 2008, the 2007 NFC Championship Game, which he lost to the Giants in spite of the game being at Green Bay's Lambeau Field in "Packer Weather": Very cold, and snow blowing all over the place. (Then again, the Giants are not unfamiliar with such weather.)

He then spent the 2008 season with the New York Jets, and moved to the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. After the '07, '08 and '09 seasons, Favre teased everyone with talk of retirement. "Will he or won't he?" So far, he won't. But last night, December 13, 2010, the streak came to an end at 297 games – 321 games, if you count the Playoffs.

The record-holder for most consecutive games played is Jeff Feagles, who played for several teams, reaching the Playoffs with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Seattle Seahawks and the Giants, including their Super Bowl XLII team, making him the oldest Super Bowl participant ever, almost 42 years old (a record since broken by Matt Stover of the Indianapolis Colts). He played in 283 straight games, and extended it to 352 before retiring after the 2009.

But Feagles was a punter. The record-holder among players who actually faced constant serious contact was another Viking, defensive end Jim Marshall. He began his NFL career in 1960 with the Cleveland Browns, joined the Vikings as an expansion team in 1961, and played every game in the franchise's history, including 4 Super Bowls (all lost) until he retired after the 1979 season. His total was 270 straight, 289 counting the Playoffs. He is in the Hall of Fame.

Favre's streak ran 18 years and almost 3 months. Here's an idea of how long it's been:

Favre succeeded Don Majkowski as the Packers' quarterback. Other quarterbacks then active included Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon – all now in the Hall of Fame. The Dallas Cowboys of Aikman, Emitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones hadnt yet won a Super Bowl – though they soon would.

Of the 30 teams then in the NFL, 10 were still sharing a stadium with a Major League Baseball team. This includes the Packers, who were still playing 3 home games a season at Milwaukee County Stadium. It does not, however, include the Denver Broncos, who were sharing Mile High Stadium with the Triple-A Denver Zephyrs and would, in a few months, be sharing it with the major league Colorado Rockies. Or the Miami Dolphins, who were about to start sharing Joe Robbie Stadium with the Florida Marlins. So it was really 12.

The Rams and Raiders were both still in Los Angeles. (Well, the Rams were in Anaheim.) There was no NFL team in Oakland, St. Louis, Carolina, Jacksonville, Baltimore or Tennessee. There was a team in Houston, but it wasn't the Texans. Most Clevelanders hadn't yet realized what a jackass Art Modell was.

Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman and Don Hutson, who, between them, had invented the professional passing game, were still alive. Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski and Mel Hein were still recently dead. Ray Lewis, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were in high school. Drew Brees was 13, Tony Romo 12, Eli Manning and Troy Polamalu 11, Ben Roethlisberger 10, current Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers 9, Mark Sanchez and Clay Matthews 6, Tim Tebow 5, and new Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton 3.

The San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Oilers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints had never reached a Super Bowl. Nor did the Indianapolis version of the Colts. Nor did the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers, who, in September 1992, did not yet exist. They have since. (The Chargers did win an AFL title. The Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, had won 2.) The Rams, Bucs, Broncos, Ravens, Saints, the Indy version of the Colts and the New England Patriots had never won one. They have since.

The Washington Redskins were the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Minnesota Twins were the defending World Series Champions. The universities of Miami and Washington split the polls in the last college football season, and Duke University had just won back-to-back National Championships in basketball. The Chicago Bulls and Pittsburgh Penguins were 2-time defending World Champions in their sports. Evander Holyfield was about to win the 2nd of his 3 fights with Riddick Bowe, and reclaim the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Tom Coughlin of the Giants was the head coach at Boston College, Rex Ryan of the Jets was an assistant at Morehead State University, Mike D'Antoni of the Knicks was coaching a team in Milan, Italy, Terry Collins of the Mets was a coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates, John Tortorella of the Rangers was an assistant with the New Haven Nighthawks, Jack Capuano of the Islanders was an assistant with the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, Joe Girardi of the Yankees was catching for the Chicago Cubs, Avery Johnson of the Nets was playing for the San Antonio Spurs, and John MacLean was playing for the Devils rather than coaching them.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Canada. The World Cup has since been held in America, France, Japan, Korea, Germany and South Africa.

Barack Obama was the president. Of the Harvard Law Review. Actually, he was already graduated from Harvard Law School, and was a few days away from marrying Michelle Robinson. The President of the Untied States was George Bush. The father, not the son. The son was working on the father’s campaign – well, as much as he’s ever "worked" on anything. Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas and 6 weeks away from beating Bush the father in the Presidential election. Dan Quayle was Vice President. Although we may now owe him an apology: He was never as dumb as Dubya, or Sarah Palin.

Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, were still alive. (So were Jimmy Carter, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan – who, at this writing, are still alive today.)

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo. The Mayor of New York City was David Dinkins. The Governor of New Jersey was Jim Florio. Former New York Governors Malcolm Wilson and Hugh Carey were still alive. So were former New Jersey Governors Richard J. Hughes (though only for a few more weeks), William T. Cahill, Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean, who at this point was president of Morris County's Drew University. So were former New York Mayors John Lindsay, Abe Beame and Ed Koch. (Carey, Byrne, Kean and Koch are still alive.)

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was Tom Foley of Washington. The House Minority Leader was Bob Michel of Illinois. Future Speakers Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Nancy Pelosi of California and John Boehner of Ohio – and perhaps others we don’t know about yet – were already serving in the House. The Senate Majority Leader was George Mitchell of Maine, and the Minority Leader was Bob Dole of Kansas, who had already run for President twice without getting the Republican nomination. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were already in the Senate. So were soon-to-be Vice President Al Gore, John Kerry and John McCain. Sarah Palin was about to win her first political office, City Council in Wasilla, Alaska. Only 3 of the current Justices of the Supreme Court were on it then: Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

The new winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was Rigoberta Menchú, the controversial Guatemalan activist for indigenous peoples of Central America. The Pope was John Paul II. The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney, and of Great Britain John Major, who led the Conservative Party to victory for the 1st, and, as it turned out, only time. Elizabeth II was Queen of England, but her 40th Anniversary on the throne was tainted by the breakup of the marriage of Charles and Diana and by a fire at Windsor Castle.

England moved from its old "Football League Division One" to its "English Premier League," with Leeds United winning the last title of the old League, and Liverpool winning the FA Cup thanks to Ian Rush (no surprise there) and Michael Thomas (big surprise, since his goal beat Liverpool for Arsenal to win the League 3 years earlier). And 1992 was also the year soccer’s European Cup was first won by Barcelona, and it became the UEFA Champions League that fall.

Rudy Giuliani was in private law practice, and between runs for Mayor. Chris Christie was also practicing law, although not yet a partner. George Pataki and David Paterson were serving in the State Senate in New York, while Donald DiFrancesco and Richard Codey were also serving as such in New Jersey. Jim McGreevey was in the State Assembly and was about to be elected Mayor of Woodbridge. Eliot Spitzer was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. Jon Corzine was a bond trader for Goldman Sachs. Michael Bloomberg was building a media empire. Andrew Cuomo was Chairman of the New York City Homeless Commission.

The price of a stamp was 29 cents. A subway ride in New York was $1.25. The average price of a gallon of gas was $1.05, a cup of coffee was $1.60, McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $4.00, movie ticket $4.15, a new car $16,950, and a new house $144,000. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 3327.05.

There were portable telephones, but they were still pretty big. There was an Internet, but few people had heard of it. There was no PlayStation, no Bluetooth, no Smart Phone, no Netscape, no Tablet Computer, no Wikipedia, no iPod, no Skype, no MySpace, no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter, no Tumblr, no iPhone, no Pinterest, no Instagram, no iPad.

Major books of 1992 included The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, Jazz by Toni Morrison, Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan (who, clearly, still had her groove going), The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! By Mordecai Richler (a great study of how the Province relates to the rest of the country), Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray, and the debut of the Goosebumps series of horror novels for young adults – as if young people in that era needed any more things to frighten them. Trust me, I know.

Speaking of which, 1992 was also the year Stephen King published Dolores Claiborne. And Douglas Adams published Mostly Harmless, which turned out to be his last book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. None of the books in the Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire series had yet been published.

Major movies of 1992 included A Few Good Men (baesd on the play written by Aaron Sorkin, including Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth!" diatribe), Scent of a Woman (finally getting Al Pacino his Oscar), The Bodyguard (and, despite the belief of the Kim Fields character on Living Single, it was not a comedy), In the Line of Fire (another bodyguard film, with Clint Eastwood saving a fictional President from John Malkovich), Unforgiven (which may turn out to be the last great Western movie, and may be Eastwood’s best film), and the original, quite campy version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Kristy Swanson.

Swanson also appeared in The Program, starring James Caan as a beleaguered college football coach, filmed at the University of South Carolina, including its Williams-Brice Stadium. The James Bond film series was in its interregnum between Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.

Michael Douglas, about to be 48 years old, was starring in Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone. And Catherine Zeta-Jones, about to turn 23, was starring in the British TV series The Darling Buds of May, and sang "For All Time," a minor hit on the British charts, which was recorded for a concept album titled Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of Spartacus – which was apparently never filmed, unlike the 1960 version of Spartacus, starring Catherine’s future father-in-law, Kirk Douglas.

Johnny Carson had just handed The Tonight Show off to Jay Leno. The Arsenio Hall Show was booming, partly thanks to having Bill and Hillary Clinton as guests on June 3, and partly due to Arsenio's handling of the Los Angeles race riot in late April, including an appearance by Mayor Tom Bradley. The Sci-Fi Channel debuted. NBC dropped Saturday morning cartoons in favor of Saved By the Bell. TV shows premiering include Barney & Friends, MTV's The Real World, Melrose Place, The Larry Sanders Show, and one of my all-time favorites, Mad About You. Shows that closed included The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Who's the Boss?, MacGyver and Night Court. Seinfeld aired "The Contest," effectively proclaiming Jerry Seinfeld to be master of the domain of televised comedy.

The big movement in music was grunge, led by Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. Paul Simon became the first major musical artist to tour South Africa after the end of apartheid. David Bowie married Somali fashion model Iman, who had once been married to basketball star Spencer Haywood. This marriage may have been the first one where a supermodel married a man who was thinner. Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown.

Two weeks after Favre's streak began, Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, yelling, "Fight the real enemy!" "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men broke the record for most consecutive weeks as the Number 1 single in America, set in 1956 by Elvis Presley with "Don't Be Cruel." Whitney would break that record with The Bodyguard's version of "I Will Always Love You" the following spring. Dr. Dre was about to release The Chronic, which would introduce the world to Snoop Dogg – or Snoop Doggy Dogg as he was then known. Elvis Presley was about to be featured on a stamp. Frank Sinatra was recording Duets, and Bob Dylan was about to release Good As I Been to You.

When Brett Favre's streak began, Alecia Moore was 13 years old and not yet Pink. Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys were 11. Britney Spears was 10. Stefani Germanotta (the future Lady Gaga) was 6. Taylor Swift was 2. Kevin Jones was 5, Joe Jonas was 3, and Nick Jonas was 4 days old. In addition to Nick, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were newborns. Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber hadn't yet been born – in fact, Miley's father Billy Ray was still riding the crest of his shaky flaky song "Achy Breaky Heart." Few people outside Southern California had heard of any of the Kardashians, Kris had just married Bruce Jenner, and Kendall and Kylie hadn't been born yet.

In that autumn of 1992, Hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida. A scientist, Dr. Mae Jemison, became the 1st African-American woman in space – and would soon become the 1st real-life former space traveler to appear on a Star Trek series. Pope John Paul II formally apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for its persecution of Galileo Galilei. (Gee, maybe Sinead should have said something about that.) Czechoslovakia's national legislature voted to split the country into 2: The Czech Republic and Slovakia, effective the following New Year’s Day.

In 1992, Jack Wilshere, Taylor Lautner and twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse were born. In the fall of that year, when Favre's streak began, actors Anthony Perkins and Cleavon Little, singers Roy Acuff, Eddie Kendricks and Roger Miller, Cold War heroes Alexander Dubcek and Willy Brandt, and legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber died.

September 20, 1992. Brett Favre would not miss a game for 18 years and nearly 3 months. And now he has.

And you know what? The world hasn't come to an end.

Peyton Manning now has the current longest streak, having started 205 straight games, 223 counting the Playoffs, since September 6, 1998. The old record belonged to Ron Jaworski, the Polish Rifle, of the Philadelphia Eagles, 116 straight (123 counting Playoffs) from 1977 to 1984. (Yes, that Ron Jaworski, the one now on ESPN and known as Jaws.) Tom Brady of the New England Patriots had a streak of 111/128 from 2001 to '08. Joe Ferguson of the Buffalo Bills had one of 107/110 from 1977 to 1984. And Peyton's brother Eli extended his own streak last night, becoming only the 6th NFL quarterback to make 100 straight regular-season starts, 107 counting the Playoffs.