Friday, July 30, 2010

The "Situation" Around the Yankees

Since last I mentioned how the Yankees were actually doing -- instead of talking about The Other Team and doing my all-time regional-native team projects for all 30 MLB teams -- they beat the Cleveland Indians 8-0 and 11-4, to complete a 3-out-of-4 series at Jacobs, I mean Progressive Field.

A.J. Burnett is back on track, and last night Dustin Moseley, filling in for the injured Andy Pettitte, was superb for 6 innings. As the author of the blog Respect Jeter's Gangster (check link off to the side of this one) points out, it's not the quality of Moseley's opponent (the Indians, not that long ago just 1 win from a Pennant), but the quality of Moseley's control. If he can reach the strike zone like that against a bad team, then chances are he can do it against a good team, unless that good team gets into his head. He has earned the right to try to show that this as-yet-hypothetical good team will not do so.

*

Joe Girardi brought Chan Ho Park in to pitch the 8th and 9th innings. As John Sterling has pointed out too many times (not his fault, it's Park's), Park is usually fine in his first inning of work, but in his second, forgive me for using a technical term here, but "Hoo boy."

Last night was no exception: Park actually got a 1-2-3 8th, and got the first 2 in the 9th, and the Yanks led 11-1. Final score, 11-4, due to Park allowing walks, then hits, then runs. Apparently, we can't trust him with anything more than an 8-run lead.

Again: Chan Ho has got to go.

It could be worse. Fans of the English soccer corporation Manchester United sing about their Korean star Park Ji-Sung...

Park, Park, wherever you may be
you eat dogs in your home country!
It could be worse, you could be Scouse
eating rats in your council house!

Note that ManUre fans hate Liverpool, and people from the Liverpool area are called Scouse or Scousers, and a council house is the U.K. equivalent of a public-housing project, although it isn't necessarily an urban high-rise, it can be a little house.

Note also that ManUre fans are bastards. And the Liverpool fans have their own song, about one of their own and Manchester natives, or Mancunians, or Mancs:

Dirt Kuyt, wherever you may be
you smoke pot in your home country!
It could be worse, you could be a Manc
waking up your sister for a wank!

They're mean in England.

*

It was mentioned in today's Newark Star-Ledger that A-Rod is 9-for-30 since his last homer. That's a batting average of an even .300. As I said, I'd love to be in that kind of slump. The man is helping us win games, so who cares how?

Joe Maddon, manager of the 2nd-place Tampa Bay Rays, says the reason there's not as much interest in A-Rod's coming 600th career homer because of the steroid question.

Hey, Joe, I got a question. Well, two. First: Are you sure nobody on your 2008 Pennant winners was using? And second: How come your team, which has been in 1st or 2nd place the whole season, and just 2 years ago won a Pennant, is averaging just 21,878 fans in home attendance this season? That's 24th out of 30 in the majors, 10th out of 14 in the American League, and 4th out of 5 in the AL East?

At least they're 1st out of 2 in the State of Florida: The Marlins, playing out the string at whatever the Dolphins' stadium is being called this year, with a new ballpark looking like it will be ready for the 2012 season, are averaging just 17,605, 29th out of 30.

Dead last? The Indians, who got pretty good crowds this week with the Yankees in town, but that's partly due to the fact that Clevelanders have hated the Yankees since the 1920s (the Indians finished 2nd to the Yanks for 3 Pennants in that decade), and partly due to the fact that a lot of Yankee Fans made the 500-mile roadtrip. Still, the Indians, who famously sold the Jake out 455 straight times (and even retired that number for their fans, even though no baseball personality has ever worn a uniform with a 3-digit number), are averaging 17,499. I know we're still in the hangover from the George W. Bush Recession, and Ohio was hit really hard by the idiot's economic policies, but, still...

Leading the majors in average home attendance? The Yankees, with 46,067. I suspect that number would be a bit higher if they were still playing in the 57,545-seat original Yankee Stadium, instead of the 50,086-seat new Stadium. Leading the National League? The Phillies, selling out Citizens Bank Park with 45,019 every night. The Mets? Averaging 33,705 at 41,800-seat Citi Field, 12th overall, 8th in the NL -- behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who aren't doing so hot this season and weren't drawing so well even when they nearly made the Playoffs in 2007 and did so in '08.

Tony Paige said on WFAN that whoever the Yanks play in the postseason should just shelve their starters and start all brand-new rookies. That would violate roster-eligibility rules. I wonder, would Allan H. Selig Jr. look the other way?

*

On Subway Squawkers (also check the link to the right), Lisa Swan was upset that last night's Yanks-Indians game ran long, and she couldn't watch the season premier of Jersey Shore. And she hasn't run the tape back yet (or the DVR), so she doesn't want anyone to give her spoilers!

Here's a spoiler for Jersey Shore: It stinks as much as Chan Ho Park's pitching. But at least they've got better hair than the Seattle-era Randy Johnson.

What's the difference between Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino? 599 homers, and A-Rod doesn't wear his World Series ring on his pinky.

I don't need to watch Jersey Shore. I've seen it live, many times over the last 30-odd years. Unlike the castmembers, I'm actually from New Jersey, and I don't need to go to the Shore to see Snookis (or is that "Snookies"?) and Situations.

Do you remember what Times Square was like before Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Walt Disney Corporation cleaned it up, and made it a place for a suburban family, instead of for the Bonanno family or the Manson family? Well, imagine that on a beach-town boardwalk, with souvenir stands replacing the X-rated movie houses, and you've got Seaside Heights -- it even has a big video board in the middle. If you can get through the winos, that is.

*

I think A-Rod is going to hit his 600th homer tonight in St. Petersburg. It's just a feeling. So I'm taking it off the countdown.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 7, starting a week from tonight, at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the new English Premier League season starts: 15. 2 weeks. Arsenal's lid-lifter is the next day, Sunday, August 15, against Liverpool at Anfield.

Days until the first football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed): 16, the Giants against the Jets in a preseason exhibition (with the Jets as the "home team"), Monday, August 16, 8:00 PM on ESPN.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 34. 5 weeks.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 43. 6 weeks.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 44.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 45.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 70, on Friday, October 8, at home at the Prudential Center in Newark, against the Dallas Stars. 10 weeks.

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 78. 11 weeks.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 86, on Sunday, October 24, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. 12 weeks. Then the Rags come to the Prudential on Friday, November 5. The first game of the season against the Islanders is on Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, at the Nassau Coliseum, followed the next day by the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, at The Rock.

Days until the next North London Derby: 114, Sunday, November 21, at New Highbury.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 118. Under 4 months.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 294 (estimated). Under 10 months.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 470. 15 1/2 months.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 625 (estimated). 20 1/2 months.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 728. Now under 2 years.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 811 (estimated). 26 1/2 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,074 (estimated). Now under 3 years.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,283. 3 1/2 years.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,737 (estimated). 57 months.

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: 1,761 (estimated). 58 months, so, less than 5 years.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

St. Louis' All-Time Baseball Team

The Mets broke out of their awful 2-9 Western roadtrip by coming home to beat the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field last night, but tonight The Great Johan Santana got rocked with 6 runs in the top of the 1st inning -- all with 2 outs.

Wow, Santana really has made a big difference for the Mets, hasn't he?

The Cardinals' "territory" is spread over several States, although not as many as there used to be. In the pre-expansion era, powerful radio station KMOX broadcast the Cards' games over about 75 percent of the country. As both the Westernmost team in the majors until 1955, and the Southernmost until 1962, Cardinal fans are still all over the South despite the Atlanta Braves and the Florida and Texas teams, and all over the Midwest despite the arrival of teams in Kansas City, Minnesota and even Colorado.

Today, however, their region is pretty much "limited" to Eastern Missouri, Southeastern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Southwestern Indiana, the Western edges of Kentucky and Tennessee (Memphis' Elvis Presley was a big Cards fan), Northern Mississippi and Northeastern Arkansas.

"I grew up in Central Illinois, about halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, and I made a historic blunder: All my friends became Cardinal fans and grew up happy and liberal, and I became a Cub fan and grew up embittered and conservative."
-- George Will, nationally-syndicated columnist for the Washington Post and author of two books about baseball. He grew up in Champaign, as his father was a professor at the University of Illinois. The campus is 144 miles from Wrigley Field, 134 miles from U.S. Cellular Field, 173 miles from Busch Stadium, and 236 miles from Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark. So he had other choices he could have made.

However, traditionally, Cub fans have been rather liberal, while Cardinal fans have usually been conservative. This is not written in stone, though: Bill Clinton, a liberal who grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, 415 miles from St. Louis, and Rush Limbaugh, a right-wing fanatic who grew up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 119 miles away, are both big Cardinal fans. (No wonder Bill and Hillary "had problems in their marriage": Hillary grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois, just 12 miles from Wrigley, and was a Cub fan -- before she became a Yankee Fan!)

Anyway, here's...

St. Louis' All-Time Baseball Team

1B Gil Hodges of Princeton, Indiana. Putting aside for a moment the fact that he managed the New York Mets, for crying out loud, to a World Series win, he is one of the players not in the Hall of Fame who most deserves it. A career OPS+ of 120, the first 3 Gold Gloves given to National League first basemen (the first of which when he was already 33 years old), 7 straight 100-RBI seasons, and 370 home runs despite missing 3 seasons due to World War II. At the time he played his last game, he was 11th on the all-time home run list, trailing only Jimmie Foxx and, just recently surpassed at that point, Willie Mays among righthanders (and Mickey Mantle if you count switch-hitters). He helped the Dodgers win 7 Pennants (6 in Brooklyn, 1 in Los Angeles) and 2 World Series (1 in each city). His Number 14 was retired by the Mets, but not by the Dodgers. There is no good reason to not have Hodges in the Hall.

St. Louis is loaded at first base for its history, having Honorable Mentioned dishable out to St. Louis natives Roy Sievers and Ryan Howard (who may replace Hodges as the starter someday); 1890s hitting star and Hall-of-Famer Jake Beckley of Hannibal, Missouri; and Hodges' fellow Hoosier Don Mattingly of Evansville.

2B Red Schoendienst of Germantown, Illinois. A 10-time All-Star, helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 1946 and the Milwaukee Braves to do it in 1957, and another Pennant in '58. Suffered from tuberculosis and missed most of '59 and half of '60, or else the Braves might have won 4 straight Pennants. Led the NL in stolen bases as a rookie in 1945, doubles and sacrifice hits in 1950, and hits in 1957. Lifetime batting average .289, and never a home run hitter, but collected 2,449 hits including 427 doubles in an illness-shortened playing career. Returned to the Cardinals as their manager, winning the 1967 World Series and the 1968 Pennant. Has occasionally returned as Cards' interim manager, such as during Ken Boyer's fatal illness. The Cards have retired his Number 2, and he is in the Hall of Fame.

SS Don Kessinger of Forrest City, Arkansas. A 6-time All-Star and a 3-time Gold Glove, the Chicago Cub shortstop was part of a few close-but-no-cigar finishes, and never appeared in the postseason. He was also, across town with the White Sox in 1979, the last player-manager in the American League.

Honorable Mention to the John Richard Schofield and Richard Craig Schofield, both of Springfield, Illinois. Both major league players and both known as "Dick" and "Ducky," officially they are not "Senior" and "Junior." And neither can push Kessinger out of the starting lineup. However, with John Richard's grandson and Richard Craig's nephew, Jayson Werth, also reaching the majors, this is now a three-generation MLB family.

3B George Kell of Swifton, Arkansas. Best known for just barely beating out Ted Williams for the AL batting title in 1949, thus denying him a record 3rd Triple Crown, in each of the next 2 seasons Kell led the AL in both hits and doubles. He was a 10-time All-Star, with a .306 lifetime batting average, and after his retirement returned to the Detroit Tigers to become one of many fine broadcasters for that franchise. In the Hall of Fame, although none of the numbers he wore has been retired (mainly wore 21 and 7).

The St. Louis region is also loaded at this position: Bill Madlock of Memphis, Tennessee; Gary Gaetti of Centralia, Illinois; Kevin Seitzer of Springfield, Illinois; and Scott Rolen of Evansville, Indiana, who might one day succeed Kell here.

LF Walter "Hoot" Evers of Collinsville, Illinois. A Detroit teammate of Kell's and a 2-time All-Star, when Kell led the AL in hits and doubles in 1950, Evers led it in triples. It is a bit ironic that while the St. Louis region had Stan Musial, one of baseball's 20 greatest players ever, in left field (although he also played a lot of first base), Hoot is the best the region can do for a native left fielder. It's also unfortunate that both Kell and Evers arrived in Detroit after the 1934-45 period that saw the Tigers win 4 Pennants and 2 World Series: The closest they got was a 2nd-place finish in 1950.

CF Max Carey of Terre Haute, Indiana. A .285 lifetime batting average came from getting 2,665 hits, including 419 doubles and 159 triples. And once he got on base, that's when the fun started: He stole 738 bases, a total topped by only 4 guys before (Billy Hamilton, Arlie Latham, and his contemporaries Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins) and only 4 guys since (Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines and Vince Coleman). He led the NL in steals 10 times, topping 60 twice and 50 6 times, peaking with 63 in 1916. He was a little unlucky, reaching the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1910, right after they won their first World Series, but was still there in 1925 when they won their second, and he batted .458 with 2 RBIs in his only trip to the postseason. He retired before uniform numbers were worn, but he's in the Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Edd Roush of Oakland City, Indiana. "I didn't know if I'd make it to the major leagues," he said in an interview late in life, "but I didn't care. I just had to get away from those damn cows." Lifetime batting average .323, OPS+ of 127, 2,376 hits, and was said to have had the best outfield arm of his era. Insisted until his death that the Cincinnati Reds would have won the 1919 World Series even if the White Sox had played it on the level. In the Hall of Fame, and although he played before numbers were worn, he was probably the greatest player the Reds ever had until Johnny Bench came along.

Honorable Mention to Pete Reiser of St. Louis, Missouri. Branch Rickey, then running the Cardinals, started scouting Harold Patrick Reiser in 1931. The man nicknamed after a movie cowboy named Pistol Pete was no man yet: He was just 12 years old. Rickey finally signed him for the Cards in 1937, but in 1940 traded him to the Dodgers -- perhaps Rickey anticipated his own move to Brooklyn. Leo Durocher was the Dodger manager, and while Leo often said Willie Mays (also a center fielder, of course) was the greatest player he ever saw, he also once said Mays "might have been better than Reiser." How good was this guy? In 1941, his first full season in the majors, he led the NL in batting with .343, slugging, on-base percentage, total bases, runs, doubles and triples -- and the Dodgers won the Pennant. In 1942, he led it in stolen bases.

Then World War II intervened. In his next year of play, 1946, again he led the NL in steals. But his tendency to crash into hard concrete outfield walls to make catches -- say a prayer of thanks, Lenny Dykstra, for the padded walls of your era -- led to serious injuries, including a fractured skull and a separated shoulder. In 1947, another Dodger Pennant year, he batted .309 but broke his ankle late in the season. He was 28, having already lost the seasons of ages 24, 25 and 26 due to the war, and he never topped 258 plate appearances again. He last played at age 33, and died at 62. One of the great what-if stories in baseball history. On the other hand, if Reiser hadn't continually gotten hurt, Duke Snider might never have become the Dodgers' center fielder.

Honorable Mention to Steve Finley of Paducah, Kentucky. Playing for several teams, he won 5 Gold Gloves, and while not a great hitter (only once topping 100 RBI in a hitting-happy era), he did collect 2,548 hits, including 449 doubles, 124 triples and 304 homers. He appeared in 2 World Series, both against the Yankees, losing with the San Diego Padres in 1998, and winning with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. He'll be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013, but I think he's a step short. Still, it might be nice for the D-backs to retire his Number 12.

RF Arnold "Bake" McBride of Fulton, Missouri. Kind of got lost in the shuffle with the 1976-83 Phillies near-dynasty having Greg "the Bull" Luzinski in left field and Garry "the Secretary of Defense" Maddox in center, but was a very good outfielder, won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1974 (with St. Louis, and the Cards were fools to get rid of him), batted .299 lifetime, and had his best year at just the right time, 1980, as the Phils won their first World Series.

C Lawrence “Yogi” Berra of St. Louis, Missouri -- the south side, the mostly-Italian “The Hill.” Actually, that’s a shortened name, as it was known as “the Dago Hill” before “Dago” became an unacceptable slur. Yogi grew up across the street from Joe Garagiola, who was also a big-league catcher, although he’s in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. World Champions with the Yankees in 1947, ’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’56, ’58, ’61 and ’62, plus Pennants in ’55, ’57, ’60 and ’63. His 14 appearances, 10 championships, games, at-bats and hits are the most in World Series history. Hall of Fame, All-Century Team, Number 8 retired by the Yankees, Monument Park. His 358 home runs are the most ever by a player 5-foot-8 or shorter, although he’s no longer the all-time leader in home runs by a catcher. And he’s the only man ever to win Pennants as manager of both the Yankees and the Mets, in 1964 and ’73, although both times his team lost Game 7.

By a weird coincidence, Yogi’s backups on this team are his predecessor and successor as Yankee catcher.

Bill Dickey of Searcy, Arkansas. Prior to Yogi and Johnny Bench, was considered, along with Mickey Cochrane, as perhaps the greatest catcher ever. 8 Pennants and 7 World Championships with the Yankees from 1932 to 1943. Hall of Fame, Number 8 co-retired with Yogi, Monument Park.

Elston Howard of St. Louis, Missouri. The first black Yankee, 9 Pennants, plus 1 more with the Boston Red Sox in 1967, and 4 World Championships. Number 32 retired, Monument Park.

Honorable Mention to Quincy Trouppe of St. Louis. A star in the Negro Leagues, especially for the Homestead Grays and Kansas City Monarchs, he was player-manager for the Cleveland Buckeyes, taking them to Negro American League Pennants in 1945 and 1947. Spent 2 weeks with the Cleveland Indians, despite being 39 years old, and on May 3, 1952, joined with Sam Jones (who, with the 1959 Cubs, became the first black pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the major leagues) to form the first all-black battery in the majors. Along with his Monarch teammate Buck O'Neil, is one of the black stars still deserving of the Baseball Hall of Fame who is not in.

SP Elwyn “Preacher” Roe of Viola, Arkansas. Didn't have a full season until he was 28 because of World War II, and then struggled with the Pirates, but coming to the Dodgers he became the top lefty for the Boys of Summer. In 1951, he went 22-3. Finished 127-84, not counting a shutout of the Yankees in Game 2 of the 1949 World Series, but was gone by the time the Dodgers won it all in 1955.

SP Robin Roberts of Springfield, Illinois. Won 20 games. Six seasons. In a row. This included 20 in the Phillies' 1950 "Whiz Kids" Pennant season, and 28 in 1952, a total surpassed only once since (Denny McLain's 31 in 1968) and not otherwise matched since (Steve Carlton in 1972 and Bob Welch in 1990 reaching 27). Won 286 games despite pitching most of his career for a mediocre Phils team. Named to 7 All-Star Games. Career ERA+ of 113, and WHIP of 1.170. Hall of Fame, and his Number 36 was the first ever retired by a Philadelphia sports team. A statue of him was dedicated outside the first base gate of Citizens Bank Park when it opened. He died a few weeks ago, but lived to receive all of these accolades. Except, of course, for being named to this team.

SP Bob Turley of Troy, Illinois. In 1958 (and remember, until 1967 it was for the best pitcher in both Leagues), Bullet Bob, not Whitey Ford, became the first Yankee pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, going 21-7, plus winning Games 5 and 7 of the World Series, one of 4 titles he won. Came to the Yankees in the post-1954 deal that also brought in Don Larsen from the Baltimore Orioles. At the beginning of that season, he started and won the first home game in Oriole history, and in 1991, at Memorial Stadium's last Opening Day, he was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

SP Tommy John of Terre Haute, Indiana. He used a blazing fastball to win 124 games for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers -- which would be a fine career for most pitchers. Then, at age 31, he wrecked his elbow. Then he had surgery, a pioneering procedure that now bears his name. After sitting out a season, became a sinkerballer, and won 164 games for the Dodgers, Yankees, California Angels and Oakland Athletics -- winning more games after the surgery that could have ended his career (had it gone wrong) than he did before it. Total wins: 288, the closest any pitcher comes to 300 major league wins -- long considered a benchmark for Cooperstown -- without making it. His .555 career winning percentage should also open some eyes. He never pitched on a Series winner, although he did pitch for 6 teams that reached the postseason ('74, '77 & '78 Dodgers; '80 and '81 Yanks, '82 Angels). He belongs in the Hall.

SP Steve Rogers of Jefferson City, Missouri. If only the Montreal Expos had been better at the start of his career, and if only injury hadn't made him just 33 when he pitched his last good season. He still managed to win 158 games, still a record for the Expos/Nationals franchise. His career ERA+ was 116 and his WHIP 1.232. Sadly, he'll probably be best remembered for giving up a Pennant-losing home run to a guy who almost made this team, Rick Monday of the Dodgers (born in Batesville, Arkansas but grew up in Santa Monica, California and thus ineligible for this team), on "Blue Monday," October 19, 1981. The Expos/Nationals franchise has never played another postseason game (although they were sabotaged by Bud Selig in 1994 and by their own ownership after that). It's also a little odd that the greatest pitcher in the history of this Canadian team shared the real name of the comic book character Captain America.

Honorable Mention to Mark Buehrle of St. Charles, Missouri. He's only 31, but he has already won 144 games, all for the White Sox, with an ERA+ of 121, plus 2 no-hitters, 1 of them a perfect game, and went 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in the Pale Hose's 2005 postseason, resulting in their first Pennant since the Ike Age and their first World Championship since World War I.

RP Jason Isringhausen of Brighton, Illinois. He was supposed to be one of the "Generation K" pitchers that would lift the Mets out of their early 1990s stink. By the time they got back to the postseason, though, all of those pitchers were injured and none looked like they'd be able to contribute to anyone. But Izzy fooled them, accepting conversion to the bullpen -- a move Met manager Bobby Valentine had, with his usual acumen, said would be "using an Indy car as a taxi" -- and pitching in the postseason for the A's and Cardinals, including the 2006 World Championship. At 37, he is coming off, oddly enough, Tommy John surgery, and is pitching for the Reds' top farm team. If his big-league career is over, it's still lasted a lot longer than anyone thought it would when the Mets discarded him, and he has 293 career saves. And who did the Mets get from the A's in exchange for Isringhausen and Greg McMichael in 1999? Billy Taylor, who pitched 18 games for them, none of them noteworthy. Yet another bonehead Met trade.

MGR Earl Weaver of East St. Louis, Illinois. Managed the Baltimore Orioles to 6 postseason berths, 4 Pennants and, strangely, only 1 World Championship, in 1970. (Hank Bauer managed them in 1966, and Joe Altobelli succeeded Earl in 1983 and won that year's Series.) But he's in the Hall of Fame, Number 4 retired, and, well, as political columnist, baseball nut, and Orioles stockholder George Will said, "Earl Weaver looked like a baseball manager should look." Short, chubby, gray hair, always angry, arguing with umpires. I didn't always like him -- I'm still peeved that he had the field at Memorial Stadium watered down to get a rainout during a 1978 Yanks-O's series, even though the Yanks won the World Series that year anyway -- but he was a great one.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cleveland's All-Time Baseball Team

The Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians last night, 3-2 at Jacobs Field -- okay, okay, Progressive Field -- but lost to them 4-1 tonight.

Cleveland’s All-Time Baseball Team

This team consists of players from the northern half of Ohio -- including the northwest corner, the Toledo metropolitan area, which is closer to Detroit than it is to Cleveland, and in fact the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens have been a Tiger farm team for as long as I can remember. Still, if you ask a Toledo-area athlete if he would rather accept a scholarship to The... Ohio State University or to the University of Michigan, he would be less likely to say “M Go Blue” and more likely to say, “Go Bucks, Michigan Sucks.”

The dividing line is pretty much the northern edge of Interstate 270, the “beltway” around the State capital of Columbus. The State House is 107 miles from Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, and 142 miles from Jacobs Field, or whatever the Indians are calling it now.

When Jim Tressel, now the head coach at Ohio State, was the head coach at Youngstown State University, about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, he called the stretch of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania between them “The State of Youngstown.” It helped with recruiting. It also seems to have inspired Greg Schiano to call the region that includes the entire States of New Jersey and Delaware, plus the rest of the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, “The State of Rutgers.”

This might be a better team than an all-time Indians' squad, and does have a few Indians on it. It certainly has one hell of a pitching staff.

1B Joe Kuhel of Cleveland Heights. Playing in the American League in the 1930s and ‘40s, he was not going to break through onto the All-Star team with Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg in the way. But the Washington Senator was 3 times a .300 hitter, twice a 100-RBI man, and collected 2,212 hits.

Honorable Mention to Bill White of Warren, who won Gold Gloves and hit well for the St. Louis Cardinals, helping them win the 1964 World Series, before becoming a Yankee broadcaster from 1971 to 1988 and President of the National League from 1989 to 1993. He could have been the first black Commissioner... but that would have required the baseball team owners to think forward, and they usually don't do that. He should be in the Hall of Fame for all his contributions.

Honorable Mention also to Fred Merkle, whose baserunning blunder (a.k.a. Merkle's Boner) seemed to cost the New York Giants the 1908 Pennant. Actually, his blown popup in the 12th inning of the deciding Game 8 (yes, Game 8) of the 1912 World Series was much more his own fault, and perhaps more damaging. He had a career OPS+ of 109, and won Pennants with the Giants (1911, '12 and '13), Brooklyn Dodges (1916), and, ironically considering they benefited from his Boner 10 years earlier, the Chicago Cubs (1918). He was a very good player.

2B Bill Mazeroski of Tiltonville. Born in Wheeling, West Virginia, closer to the team he ended up playing for, the Pittsburgh Pirates, although Ohio is Ohio, so he’s in the Indians’ sphere of influence. Hit the only home run ever to win a Game 7 of a World Series, in 1960. Also won a Series with the Pirates in 1971. Member of 7 All-Star teams, 8 Gold Gloves, often considered the greatest-fielding second baseman ever. Hall of Fame, Number 9 retired. This October 13 will be the 50th Anniversary of the day Maz gave Pittsburgh its greatest sports moment, greater than any Steeler Super Bowl, greater than any Penguin Stanley Cup, greater even than the Immaculate Reception. Hopefully, Maz, who seems to be in good health at age 73, will be alive to enjoy it.

Honorable Mention to Bill Wambsganss of Cleveland. A hometown hero for the Indians, he was a member of their 1920 World Champions, and, of course, pulled off the only triple play in the history of postseason baseball thus far -- an unassisted triple play. He wasn’t much of a batter, but in 1920 he stroked 11 triples, and in 1921 and ’22, he led the AL in sacrifice hits.

Honorable Mention to Solomon "Sol" White of Bellaire. He played on all-black teams in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and in 1907 wrote what is believed to be the first published history of black baseball, Sol White's History of Colored Baseball. He later became an organizer of black leagues and teams. He was elected to the Hall of Fame.

SS Roger Peckinpaugh of Cleveland. Debuted in the majors in 1910 with the Indians, at age 19. In 1914, he was traded to the Yankees, and at the end of the 1915 season, he was named the interim manager for the last 15 games -- at age 23, even younger than Lou Boudreau was when he took over the Indians a generation later. He went on to help the Senators win their first 2 Pennants, winning the World Series in 1924, but he’s probably best known now for the 8 errors he made in the ’25 Series, including 2 in Game 7, bracketing an RBI, going from goat to hero to goat real fast. He was named Most Valuable Player in the AL in 1925, although this is a predecessor award to the official one recognized by MLB that began in 1931. He would manage the Indians in 2 later terms, but never won another Pennant.

3B Sal Bando of Cleveland. The Captain of the Oakland Athletics dynasty of the early 1970s, he was a 4-time All-Star, hit 242 homers despite playing most of his home games at the Oakland Coliseum and Milwaukee County Stadium, and twice drove in 100 or more runs. In 1973 he led the AL in doubles and total bases. He later served as general manager of the Indians, while his brother Chris was their catcher.

LF Ed Delahanty of Cleveland. The best of 5 brothers to reach the majors, a record, the others being Frank, Jim, Joe and Tom. Lifetime batting average .346, 3 times batted .400, 7 times had 100 RBIs in the Dead Ball Era, 522 doubles, OPS+ of 152, 2,597 hits. But he was an alcoholic, and died under mysterious circumstances in 1903. He was only 35. He’s in the Hall of Fame, and the Phillies inducted him into the Philadelphia Baseball Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Gene Woodling of Akron. He batted .300 4 times, led the AL in on-base percentage in 1953, and won 5 straight World Series with the Yankees, 1949 to 1953. The Yankees traded him to the Baltimore Orioles after the 1954 season, the trade that brought pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen. Unfortunately, he was one of several ex-New York baseball stars brought in to the early Mets, but he was 39 and done. Still, he was a Yankee star and should be remembered.

CF William Ellsworth Hoy of Houcktown. Some called him Billy, because they didn’t want to use the usual nickname that deaf people got at the time, which was then used to describe those unable to speak but was becoming a slur meaning stupid. But after learning to speak, he told people, “Call me Dummy.” He first reached the majors in 1886 with the NL version of the Washington Senators, and led the league in stolen bases. He had his best seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, and had a lifetime batting average of .288 and 2,048 hits in just 14 seasons. At the time of his retirement, he held the career record for games played and putouts by a center fielder. In 1961, at the age of 99, he was invited to throw out the first ball at a World Series game between the Yankees and Reds at Crosley Field, which was built on the site of a previous Reds ballpark in which he played. He got a standing ovation that he could see, if not hear. He died shortly thereafter, then believed to be the oldest living former player ever. He is in the Reds’ Hall of Fame, and count me in with the people who believe he should be in Cooperstown, even if the story that he was the originator of baseball umpires’ left hand for balls, right hand for strikes calls is probably untrue.

RF Elmer Flick of Bedford. He started with the Philadelphia Phillies, and led the National League in RBIs in 1900 before becoming one of the NL players raided by the AL. He led the AL in batting, slugging, on-base percentage and triples in 1905; and in runs, triples and stolen bases in 1906. He also led it in stolen bases in 1904 and triples in 1907. There were no MVP awards or all-star teams in his era, but his lifetime batting average was .313, and his OPS+ a mighty 149. He never appeared in postseason play, so he can’t be remembered that way, and there were no uniform numbers to retire in his time, so there’s no number of his on the wall at Jacobs Field. But he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he is honored in the Indians’ Hall of Fame in the Jake’s Heritage Park, so he won’t be completely forgotten.

Honorable Mention to Tommy Henrich of Massillon. He was such a great clutch hitter that Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen nicknamed him Old Reliable. He’s probably best known for a strikeout: In Game 4 of the 1941 World Series, he swung and missed for what seemed to be the last out, but Brooklyn Dodger catcher Mickey Owen couldn’t hang on to the third strike, and Henrich reached first, starting a Yankee rally that ended with a Series win in the next day’s Game 5. He led the AL in triples in 1947 and ’48. In Game 1 of the 1949 Series, also against the Dodgers, Henrich hit a home run to break up a scoreless duel between Allie Reynolds and Don Newcombe, the first-ever walkoff homer (as we would now call it) in postseason history. He reached 5 All-Star teams, played on 8 Pennant winners and 7 World Champions from 1937 to 1950. His career OPS+ was 132. He hit 183 home runs despite only playing 11 major-league seasons -- he didn’t reach the majors until he was 24 and missed 3 years in the Coast Guard in World War II. When he died a few months ago at age 96, he was the oldest living ex-Yankee. It’s a shame that the Yankees have never given him a Monument Park Plaque.

C Thurman Munson of Canton. AL Rookie of the Year in 1970, MVP in 1976, still the only Yankee ever to win both awards. The first Yankee to be awarded the team captaincy since Lou Gehrig. 3 Pennants, 2 World Championships, 7 All-Star Games. Let me tell you why I love Thurman: In Game 3 of the 1978 ALCS, when the Yankees most needed a home run from him, he hit the longest home run of his career, appropriately enough into Monument Park. Sadly, he would be the next Yankee to be honored there. Number 15 retired.

Utility: Roger Bresnahan of Toledo. Played every position, including pitcher, but best known as a catcher for the New York Giants. A member of their 1905 World Championship teams, would have made at least 9 All-Star Games had they been played in his time. Lifetime OPS+ of 126. Hall of Fame.

Special Mentions to Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker and his brother Welday Walker of Steubenville, briefly the first black players in Major League Baseball before the blacklist came down in 1884; and to Elmer Gedeon of Cleveland, who played 5 games in the outfield for the 1939 Senators, before being killed in World War II.

SP Denton True Young of Newcomerstown. In his first professional tryout, he threw a ball so hard it smashed through a fence. His manager said it looked like it had been wrecked by a cyclone. So Dent Young became Cyclone Young, later shortened to Cy Young. We’ve all heard the words “Cy Young Award” so many times that the man for whom the most valuable pitcher award is named gets lost in the shuffle. So here’s the facts: Most career wins, 511; losses, 313; games started, 815; complete games, 749; innings pitched, 7,355; and batters faced, 29,565. Think about that: Nearly 30,000 times, he faced a big-league batter. Career winning percentage, .618; ERA, 2.63; ERA+, 138; WHIP, 1.130; no-hitters, 3, including the first perfect game under the 60-feet-6-inches pitching distance in 1904; and strikeouts, 2,803, most ever until Walter Johnson surpassed him. Pitched for the NL Cleveland Spiders, the Boston Red Sox (winning the first World Series in 1903), and the AL Indians. Elected to the Hall of Fame in its second class in 1937, MLB All-Century Team in 1999, even though nearly half his career was in the 19th Century. In Boston, on the campus of Northeastern University, roughly on the site of the pitcher’s mound of the Huntington Avenue Grounds, the Red Sox’ home before Fenway Park, there is a statue of Young. And his former home in Newcomerstown is a museum in his honor. He pitched before uniform numbers, but I’ve seen film of him in an old-timers’ game wearing Number 29.

SP Richard “Rube” Marquard of Cleveland. When the New York Giants signed him, his bonus was $11,000, a record at the time. The lefty’s first few games were poor, and he was called The $11,000 Lemon. Then he found his control, and he became The $11,000 Beauty. He was nicknamed Rube after another superstar lefty pitcher, Rube Waddell. Won 201 games, and is one of the few pitchers to pitch in the World Series for both the Giants (1911, ’12 and ’13) and the Dodgers (1916 and ’20). Hall of Fame, although he played before uniform numbers.

SP Hubert “Dutch” Leonard of Birmingham. That’s Ohio, not Alabama, or Michigan. A master of the knuckleball, well before the Ohio-born Niekro brothers, in 1914 he set a major-league record for lowest ERA in a season, 0.96. His ERA+ that season? A touched-by-God 279. Helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series in 1915, ’16 and ’18. Finished with a 139-118 record and an ERA+ of 115. Not to be confused with a later pitcher, Emil “Dutch” Leonard of Illinois, also a knuckleballer.

SP Urban Shocker of Cleveland. The Yankees traded him to the St. Louis Browns in 1918, and that proved to be a bit of a mistake: They won the Pennant in 1921, ’22 and ’23, but not in ’20 and ’24, and Shocker’s pitching nearly got the Browns past the Yanks in ’22. Won 27 games in ’21, and the Yanks undid one of their worst trades with one of their best, getting him back in ’25, helping them to win the ’26 Pennant and the ’27 World Series. Compiled a record of 187-117 win an ERA+ of 124. Was 18-6 in his last full season, 1927, before a heart defect killed him at age 37. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, but he should be. And what a great name.

SP Phil Niekro of Blaine. The master of the knuckleball, the last remaining active player for the Milwaukee Braves, and the first great pitcher for the Atlanta edition. Member of the 300 Win and 3,000 Strikeout Clubs. With his brother Joe (who doesn’t quite make this team), formed the winningest brother combination ever. Hall of Fame, Number 35 retired, statue outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium moved to Turner Field.

The rotation for this Cleveland area team is so strong it has no room for George Uhle (won 200 games, mostly for his home-State Indians), Jim Bagby Jr. (born in Cleveland while Jim Sr. pitched for them, and pitched pretty well for them himself), Denny Galehouse and Ned Garver (both pitching for the only St. Louis Browns Pennant ever in 1944), two great pitchers named Sam Jones (Sad Sam of the 1920s Yankee dynasty and the Sam who in 1959 became the first black pitcher who threw a no-hitter in the majors), Dean Chance, Steve Stone, Bob Knepper and Dave Dravecky.

Honorable Mention to Ray Brown of Alger, who pitched for the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, and was elected to the Hall of Fame for his contributions. We may not be able to trust the stats we have available, but in 1938, the Pittsburgh Courier, a black paper, suggested 5 Negro League players to the Pirates in a telegram: Brown, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige. That was pretty good company that Brown was in. The telegram was never answered. Brown was already 39 when Jackie Robinson debuted, and never made it to the majors.

RP Rollie Fingers of Steubenville. He was the fireman -- not the “closer” -- of the 1970s Oakland Athletics dynasty, before becoming the first big-money reliever with the San Diego Padres and then the Milwaukee Brewers, winning the AL MVP in 1981 (28 saves and an ERA of 1.04!). Was on the mound to close out the World Series for the A’s in 1972, ’73 and ’74, and also pitched for the Brewers in the ’82 Series. When he retired, his 341 saves were the most all-time. Both the A’s and the Brewers retired his Number 34. He is the only pitcher with a losing record in the Hall of Fame, but who cares about that? Oh yeah, the mustache. The bullpen could also include Dick Drago of Toledo and Brett Tomko of Cleveland.

MGR Walter Alston of Darrtown. One at-bat as a major league player, a strikeout with the 1936 St. Louis Cardinals. But with the Dodgers, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, 4 World Series (1955, ‘59, ’63 and ’65) and 3 other Pennants (add ’56, ’66 and ’74, plus a lost Playoff in ‘62).

A-Roger, Billy Loes, Tatum & T.O.

So Alex Rodriguez is in a slump. Last night, he was 0-for-4.

Prior to that, he was 8-for-15 with 3 doubles. I'd love to have a "slump" like that. I'd even eat "Roger Maris eggs" to get into a slump like that!

Remember, from the movie 61*?

Mickey Mantle (played by Thomas Jane): What the hell's that?

Bob Cerv (Chris Bauer): That's Roger's special eggs.

Mickey: It looks disgusting.

Roger (Barry Pepper): Well, you don't have to have any, Bob.

Bob: Oh, thank you!

Mickey (looking at the dish): I'm sorry Roger, but I'm going to have to pass.

Roger: Mick, I'm telling ya, don't listen to Bob. Last few times I ate these, I hit home runs.

(Mickey shovels in a forkful.)

Roger: Sorry Bob, looks like somebody likes 'em.

Bob: You like 'em?

Mickey: No, they're shit! But I'm in a bit of a slump. I'll try anything.

Then, to the tune of the Ventures' 1960 smash-hit instrumental "Walk Don't Run" -- appropriate for a home run trot, I suppose -- we see Mickey hitting one out, and he says to Bob, coming up to bat next, "Love them eggs!" And the next scene is Bob eating them.

Actually, the comparison of A-Rod with Maris is apt. Not since Maris has a Yankee been pursued by the media and psycholanalyzed by the media and the fans like A-Rod, not even Reggie Jackson.

And when Roger hit Number 61, there were 23,000 fans in The Stadium, seemingly all of them in right field, hoping to catch the ball that a Sacramento restaurateur had a $5,000 bounty on. Last night, John Sterling kept commenting on the attendance at Jacobs/Progrssive Field -- 27,000, up from their average of 16,000, and remember when it was 43,000 every night for years? -- and how a certain area in left-center, by the corner of the bleachers, filled up whenever A-Rod came to the plate, and then scattered when his at-bat was over.

I don't care who steps up to the plate for the Yankees and gets the winning runs home, or who takes the mound for them and gets the big outs, as long as said runs and said outs come. And if A-Rod is getting it done with singles, doubles, walks and good defense, that's fine with me.

*

Billy Loes, a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, has died. The native of Long Island City, Queens was 80.

To use a modern term, he was a flake, or a head case. But often a good pitcher. He once won 13 games in a season, but was told that with his talent he should win 20. "If you win 20, they'll expect you to do it every year," he said. What he meant was that, in those days, before the players' union had the strength to prevent such a thing, if you won 20, you'd get a raise, but if you didn't win 20 the next season, even if you won 19 -- at which point, the owner or GM might tell your manager to not start you again so that you couldn't get the 20th -- you'd get a pay cut, and there'd be nothing you could do about it except try to win 20 again.

Loes pitched for the Dodgers in the 1952, '53 and '55 World Series. Of the '55 World Champs, 8 players are still alive, 55 years later: Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, George "Shotgun" Shuba, Roger Craig, Ed Roebuck and Don Zimmer. And Sandy Koufax: It's easy to forget that Koufax, a rookie at the time but far from finding the form that would make him one of the best pitchers ever, pitched for the Dodgers before they left Brooklyn, even though he was from Brooklyn.

*

Jack Tatum, "the Assassin" of the 1970s Oakland Raiders, has died, of a heart attack related to diabetes. He was 63.

He was a graduate of New Jersey's Passaic High School, as was Craig "Ironhead" Hayward, a star running back of the 1990s. He, too, died young, from (ironically, considering his nickname) a brain tumor.

But pretty much everyone liked Ironhead. Tatum, who played on Ohio State's 1968 National Champions and the 1976 Raiders that won Super Bowl XI, was hated because of the excessive force he used. He'll forever be best remembered for hitting Darryl Stingley of the New England Patriots. In a preseason exhibition. Paralyzing Stingley from the neck down for life.

Tatum said that he tried to meet with Stingley to apologize a few times, but it was Stingley's family, rather than Stingley himself, who wouldn't allow it -- and that it was Stingley's family who then said that Tatum wouldn't apologize.

But Tatum didn't help himself by writing books like They Call Me Assassin, in which he seemed absolutely unapologetic for the way he played.

In another great irony, diabetes, and the circulation problems it can cause, cost Tatum first some toes -- after hearing about it, Stingley sent him a get-well card, proving that he didn't have the kind of bitterness many people suggested he did -- and then part of his leg. Making it difficult for him to walk, although not, as in Stingley's case, impossible. And he only outlived Stingley by a few years.

Hopefully, now, both Stingley and Tatum can run on a football field again.

*

Terrell Owens, having worn out his welcome with the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and now the Buffalo Bills, has signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

T.O. going to the Bungles will pretty much guarantee -- unless the Reds can keep this NL Central race going -- that every pro team in the State of Ohio is going to be a huge mess for the foreseeable future.

The Jets were rumored to be interested in him. T.O. going to the Jets would have been like inviting a radioactive clown to a birthday party: No matter what kind of tricks he could perform, it's not going to end well.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mets Need To Blow It All Up

The Yankees took 3 out of 4 from the Kansas City Royals at The Stadium Mark II: 10-4 on Thursday, 7-1 on Friday, losing 7-4 on Saturday and winning again 12-6 yesterday with a rain delay nearly as long as the game.

CC Sabathia wasn't great, but he won; A.J. Burnett was very good, and he won; I guess Sergio Mitre is not the answer for the rotation slot of the injured Andy Pettitte; and Phil Hughes was fine until the rain delay, after which they were not going to send him back out.

Curtis Granderson hit 2 homers yesterday, and while he did have an RBI double yesterday, Alex Rodriguez remains at 599 career home runs, and says he's okay after getting plunked on the hand in the 8th inning.

Alex is okay, right? After all, he wouldn't lie to us...

*

Is there another Major League Baseball team in New York? Since October 26, 2000, the only correct answer to that question has been, "No, that's just a vicious rumor."

And getting more vicious. The Mess just finished a roadtrip that was (Choose One: A, Atrocious; B, Maddening; C, Typical Flushing).

As of this typing, Jerry Manuel is still their manager, and Omar Minaya is still their general manager.

The Mets need to blow it all up. Admit that the experiment, as conducted by Minaya, has spectacularly failed. Failed as badly as conservatism, although, unlike conservatism, it isn't costing nearly enough jobs.

The Mets of the last few years have been built around the following guys: David Wright, Jose Reyes, Tom Glavine, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana, Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez, and, most recently, Jason Bay.

Glavine, Delgado, Pedro the Punk and Billy Wags are gone, having given the Mets precious little.

It is time to dump the rest, except for Santana. He is the one guy in that bunch who can legitimately be said to not be at fault for the disaster that the Mutts have become.

Wright, on a few brief occasions, looked like the best third baseman in New York, better than Alex Rodriguez. I do not expect any more such occasions. He can't take the pressure.

Reyes is a joke. He was never better at Derek Jeter. At anything. Except maybe in growing hair. And in making himself look like a damn fool.

Beltran has spent almost his entire Met career underachieving -- much of that due to being injured, although he sure was healthy when he didn't take the bat off his shoulder at the end of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, which is likely to remain the last postseason game the Mets ever play for several more years unless they give it up and start a new plan, which may get them back to the 2nd week of October in 4 years instead of 12 -- if that. (Unless, of course, Bud Selig tampers with the schedule again.)

Beltran's return from injury has not yet been particularly effective, and has been a disruptive influence on the clubhouse. "Addition by subtraction" is required here. Somebody might suggest that Beltran is already headed for "What if he hadn't gotten hurt?" speculations, but, face it, he was doomed the moment he decided that Flushing Meadow was the way to go. The Curse of Kevin Mitchell is powerful.

Maine and Perez stepped up with unexpected, yet superb performances in the 2006 postseason. Unfortunately, performing very well in the postseason only helps if you get into it. Since then, Maine has struggled, and Perez has been a nightmare for Met fans. He's actually back on the roster. Why? Apparently, one of the Wilpons (not sure whether it's father or son) is insistent upon him justifying his contract.

K-Rod has blown too many saves, and come close to blowing too many others. And when he does well -- especially after he blows a save, the game stays tied, the Mets score in the top half, and he gets out of it in the bottom half, and he perversely ends up as the winning pitcher -- he still celebrates as if he's just won the World Series. (Which he does know about, with the 2002 Angels. Along with Rod Barajas of the '01 Diamondbacks, Luis Castillo or the '03 Marlins and Alex Cora of the '07 Red Sox, although all of those except K-Rod's are steroid-tainted). You don't celebrate a win after you've blown a save, or else you look like both a fool and a jackass. Right now, K-Rod seems to be good for only one thing: Driving WFAN hosts crazy. In the case of some, it's a short drive.

And Jason Bay can't hit at Citi Field. Or maybe he can't hit in New York. I don't think it's that he can't hit outside Fenway Park, as he wasn't a bad road hitter with Boston, and he hit fairly well everywhere when he played for Pittsburgh. But he's done next to nothing for the Mets.

I would keep Santana, Barajas, Castillo (yes, don't judge him by that one blown pop-up against the Yankees last season), Ike Davis, Jeff Francoeur, Angel Pagan, Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, and one of their two Japanese pitchers (I'm not sure which one, I can never keep them straight, but one has been a fair starter thus far). These players are not totally hopeless, and in fact might be the basis of a good team if Met management does the right thing and gets rid of the failures.

But they won't. They won't do the right thing. Why? Because if they did the right thing, they would not be the Mets.

Would they?

Probably not: Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is suggesting that the Mets will make a trade with the Royals to bring in, among others, Kyle Farnsworth.

That's right, Kerosene Kyle. Not a Darn's Worth. True, he's having his best season in 5 years, but he can't pitch in New York, and he's 34.

If the Wilpons bring Farnsworth and his attitude in, I'm goin to start thinking that they don't love Met fans anymore.

*

New York Football Challenge yesterday: Sporting Clube de Portugal (a.k.a. Sporting Lisbon) managed a tie with Tottenham, and the Red Bulls beat Manchester City. Of the four, only the Red Bulls played anything like their starting lineup, although, with substitution rules relaxed as these were exhibitions/friendlies, they played half their starters in the first half and the other half of them in the second. But there were plenty of starters from the other three clubs.

As an Arsenal fan, I loved seeing Thierry Henry out there for the Red Bulls, and Kolo Toure for Man City. I was disappointed that Man City did not play Patrick Vieira.

And I gave Emmanuel Adebayor all he deserved, although I didn't make bus jokes. The Togo team bus massacre goes alongside the Munich Air Disaster, and the deaths at Ibrox, Heysel and Hillsborough as things you don't joke about, no matter how much you hate the other team.

Memo to Spurs fans: Your game was over, and Sporting had already wrapped up the "tournament" championship, so what were you still doing there during the second game? Were you there just to boo Thierry Henry, a greater player than your franchise has ever had or ever will? Or was it just to sing your stupid songs, half of which were ripped off of better clubs?

They are such idiots. First, they sang "When the Spurs Go Marching In" so slow it sounded like they were smoking pot. After three choruses, then they went into it so fast it was like they were on amphetamines.

Being a Spurs fan messes up your brain worse than any drug. Friends don't let friends choose Spurs. Dopes.

Forza Red Bull, and Up The Arsenal!

*

This countdown has been corrected for changes in estimates and for my own errors.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 600th career home run: 3 (an estimate I've moved around more than Joe Torre moved him around in the batting order).

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 11, starting a week from this Friday night, at Yankee Stadium II. Under 2 weeks.

Days until the new English Premier League season starts: 19. Under 3 weeks. Arsenal's lid-lifter is the next day, Sunday, August 15, against Liverpool at Anfield.

Days until the first football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed): 20, the Giants against the Jets in a preseason exhibition (with the Jets as the "home team"), Monday, August 16, 8:00 PM on ESPN.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 38.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 47. Under 7 weeks.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 48.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 49.

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 74, on Friday, October 8, at home at the Prudential Center in Newark, against the Dallas Stars. Under 11 weeks.

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 82.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 90, on Sunday, October 24, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. 3 months. Then the Rags come to the Prudential on Friday, November 5. The first game of the season against the Islanders is on Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, at the Nassau Coliseum, followed the next day by the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, at The Rock.

Days until the next North London Derby: 118, with the British TV schedule having bumped it up a day to Sunday, November 21, at New Highbury. A little under 4 months.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 122.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 298 (estimated). 10 months.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 474.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 629 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 732.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 815 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,078 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,287.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,741 (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: 1,765 (estimated).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Henry Spectacular, Red Bulls Not So Much

Last night was the start of the New York Football Challenge at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

As Tony Reali of ESPN's Around the Horn would say, "And by football, I mean futbol!"

The host New York Red Bulls, with newly-signed superstar Thierry Henry, the Arsenal legend, took on Henry's former arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

I don't know what's the bigger insult: Calling Spurs "the Mets of London," or calling the Mets "the Spurs of New York." Both clubs suffer from a severe case of Second Team In Town Syndrome, and their delusional fans, so sure that theirs is "the only team in town," or "the only real team in town," or "the only team that plays the right way," are pathetic.

If you've read this blog regularly, you know how pathetic the Mets are. More so than usual now: They've now lost 7 of the 8 games they've played since the All-Star Break, and it should be all 8 because of a blown umpire's call denying the San Francisco Giants a win over the Mets. The Mets lost again last night, 2-0 to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, getting the pitching but not the hits.

How pathetic are Spurs? (Calling them either "Spurs" or "The Spurs" is correct. Calling them "The Scum" is even more so.) The last time Spurs finished first in England's top league... the Mets hadn't even begun play yet. Spurs clinched the Football League championship on April 17, 1961.

If that date sounds familiar, it's because it's the date of the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba. It was also one day after the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. It's been 49 years, and the Hawks haven't gone all the way since, either... Wait a minute, yes they have! They just did!

In fact, in 1961, Spurs won the League and the FA Cup tournament, becoming the first English team in the 20th Century to "win The Double" or "do The Double." They also won the FA Cup in 1962, 1967, 1981 and 1991 -- but that's it for major trophies. Almost half a century since they won the League, and they haven't finished ahead of their North London rivals Arsenal since 1995.

To give you an idea: Spurs finished 4th in 2010, and their fans were ecstatic; Arsenal finished 3rd, and their fans were furious. The former is the mentality of a small club that thinks it's a big club; the latter is the mentality of a big club that thinks it should be the biggest club.

Spurs fans also like to talk about their hooliganism. But there was no way they were going to be able to pull any of their usual stuff at Red Bull Arena: They got a great security system there, searching for weapons and tossing out anyone outside the designated supporters-club sections (in other words, anyone inside the "family sections") that gets out of line. Besides, do they really think London is tougher (or "harder" as they would say) than New York and New Jersey? Idiots.

Anyway, both teams went through the first half with most of their starters, including the newly-signed Henry, who scored his first goal for his new team. It wasn't a vintage "Henry... What a goal! What a goal!" shot, but it counts just the same. A lot of Tri-State Area converts to the Arsenal cause (a.k.a. Gooners, from the team's nickname the Gunners, from the cannon on their crest) going mental, watching the greatest player in team history (some would still say that's Dennis Bergkamp) score for their real home team.

Henry has already been embraced by the Metro fans, and he has embraced in return. He told reporters that he even took the PATH train from Manhattan to Harrison. I wonder how many people recognized him? He did do a Gillette razor commercial with Roger Federer and Tomcat Woods, although for most U.S. broadcasts, that ad was Federer, Woods and Derek Jeter.

Anyway, Metro's Number 14 hasn't yet gotten the treatment Pele got when he came to play for the New York Cosmos from 1975 to '77, but Henry does have the advantage of the increased TV coverage from the NASL's time, being that, aside from the '70 World Cup where he led Brazil to victory, most Americans hadn't really seen Pele up until '75; whereas, with Premier League action from England and La Liga action from Spain now available via satellite, and Henry's appearances in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups for France (winning the former as a substitute and reaching the Final of the latter as an already huge star), most Americans who care about sports know who he is, having seen him play on TV, first for Arsenal and then for Barcelona.

In the second half, Red Bulls manager Hans Backe took out Henry, and some other starters, including the goalkeeper, the Senegalese wizard Bouna Condoul, replacing him with Greg Sutton.

Two big mistakes. Not only did those substitutions take out our best offensive player, but switching goalies was a bonehead move. Sutton may be Canada's Number 1 -- that is, the starting goalkeeper on their national soccer team -- but he was no match for Spurs, whose manager Harry Redknapp (he's got a twitch) left in his starters, including Robbie Keane and Gareth Bale, who both scored in the 2nd half to give the cunts a 2-1 win.

Needless to say, the Spurs fans were their usual selves, thinking they were "taking the piss on our manor." Dimwits, they were losing against the starting lineup of an MLS team! An MLS team! This, after they managed only a scoreless draw against the San Jose Earthquakes in their last game, and the Quakes are only 5th in the MLS West! At least the Red Bulls are 2nd in the MLS East!

Most Europeans who observe the MLS say that it's about as good as England's second division, "The Championship." (No, I don't know who named it that, or what drugs he was on at the time. Nor do I know who named their third and fourth divisions "League One" and "League Two.") So, last night, Spurs were losing against MLS starters, and only beat MLS scrubs. In an exhibition, or, as soccer fans would say, a "friendly."

And they took the piss? They're lucky there wasn't a fight: We would have mussed 'em up but good, the dirty chumps. Wait, sorry, forgot to "speak English" there: We would have given them a right hiding, the bloody cunts!

The New York Football Challenge continues tonight, as another English club, Manchester City, takes on Sporting Clube de Portugal, a.k.a. "Sporting Lisbon." With Red Bull Arena being right across the Passaic River from the Portuguese-heavy (and Brazilian-laden as well, due to the language) Ironbound section of Newark (it's a 15-minute walk from Market Street and Ferry Street bars across the Jackson Street Bridge to the Arena), Sporting were a natural for this weekend, led by Portugal national-team stars, striker Liédson and goalie Tiago.

Man City, also stuck with Second Team Syndrome behind Manchester United (which barely beat expansion Philadelphia Union 1-0 last Saturday), was recently bought by Arab investors, making it the richest sports team on the planet. So far, it hasn't gotten them into the European Champions League, but it has gotten them to 5th place in England's Premier League. They feature two former Arsenal stars, the much-admired Senegalese/French midfielder Patrick Vieira, and the formerly-cheered, now lustily-booed-with-good-reason, Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor. I'm sure a lot of New York area Gooners will be going to that game and cheering on Vieira, but booing the living hell out of "Greedybayor."

And on Sunday, a doubleheader, Sporting vs. Spurs (Força Sporting) followed by Red Bulls vs. Man City (Forza Red Bull -- sorry, Paddy, but you've got Greedybayor on your team, and we've got Henry).

*

The Yankees lost on Tuesday night, getting pounded by the Anaheim Angels (it's better to just call them that), 10-2. But on Wednesday, they pounded back, winning 10-6.

The Wednesday afternoon game included a bizarre moment, when Brett Gardner was thrown out after a called strike 2 that he didn't agree with. They say, "You can't argue balls and strikes." I say, "Ever hear of the First Amendment? Of course you can argue balls and strikes!" Someday, somebody is going to take a sport's commissioner to court and assert his freedom of speech and say, yes, you CAN, and sometimes you MUST say that the officials were, on occasion, incompetent. How dare a commissioner fine a player, a coach, an executive for telling the truth? Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, are you listening? I know you got both the money and the desire to be the test case!

Anyway, Colin Curtis, a rookie, was sent up to complete Gardner's at-bat and take his place in the field. And he held off until the count was full, going from 0-and-2 to 3-and-2. And then he hit his first major league home run. Take that, ump!

With my niece Ashley in the latter stages of her nap, my niece Rachel (the twins are now 3) listened to the last 2 innings of the Wednesday afternoon game on the radio. I asked her if she knew what A-Rod did. She guessed correctly: "Home run!" I told her to wait for John Sterling's call, and when he said, "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!" she jumped up and down and said, "Yayyyy!"

Good girl. Ashley likes the Yankees, too, but she was still asleep upstairs.

I got them Yankee-themed Silly Bandz. They love them. This Silly Bandz trend is unbelievable: It's now the Number 1 item sold on Jersey Shore boardwalks, and when you type "si" into Google, it's the Number 2 most popular search item, Number 1 being the Six Flags theme parks. (Great Adventure is 30 miles from the house, 78 miles from Yankee Stadium, 83 miles from Citi Field and 58 miles from Citizens Bank Park in Philly.)

Last night, the Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals, 10-4, including home runs from Derek Jeter (an inside-the-park job) and Alex Rodriguez (Number 599). Good night for the fangirls of either.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kansas City's All-Time Baseball Team

I'll get to the Yanks' game with the Royals tonight, tomorrow. And wrap up the Angels series as well.

Kansas City's "market" includes the western half of Missouri, the eastern 2/3 of Kansas, the eastern 2/3 of Nebraska, the southwest quadrant of Iowa, the northeast quadrant of Oklahoma, and the northwest quadrant of Arkansas. With 6 States to sift through, this made KC the hardest market thus far to check. However, having all of these States in my database now, it makes it easier to go through the other big-league markets that overlap into those States (St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, and the Cub half of Chicago -- Minnesota already having been done).

Kansas City's All-Time Baseball Team

1B Albert Pujols of Independence, Missouri. Born in the Dominican Republic, but grew up in President Harry Truman's home town before crossing the State to star for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 10 seasons, he's made 10 All-Star teams. He has also driven in at least 100 runs every season. Lifetime batting average .331 -- same as Stan Musial, which is why he gets compared to Stan the Man, even getting the same nickname, "El Hombre." Career OPS+ is 1.049, a sicko stat. Already has over 400 doubles, closing in on 400 home runs. Has already won 3 National League Most Valuable Player awards and come in 2nd twice. And he's only 30! By the time he's through, he could be the greatest offensive force the game has seen since Babe Ruth himself. Already, he's built up the kind of stats that have led to 4 of his 10 most similar batters according to Baseball-Reference.com -- Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner and Chuck Klein -- being in the Hall of Fame. And, by all accounts, he's a good guy, too. By the year 2027, expect to see him in the Hall and to see his Number 5 retired at Busch Stadium.

Honorable Mention to Dale Long of Springfield, Missouri. In 1956, the Pittsburgh Pirate homered in 8 straight games, a record that has since been matched, but not beaten. In 1958, with the Chicago Cubs, he played 2 games behind the plate, making him a rare left-handed catcher. (The only one since has been Mike Squires with the 1980 and ’81 White Sox.) He went to the Yankees and played on their 1962 World Championship team. Had a career OPS+ of 115.

Before I realized that Pujols qualified, I thought 1st base was a weak spot for K.C. Actually, the name John Mayberry came up, but it’s John Jr., born in Kansas City when John Sr. was playing for the Royals, and John Sr. doesn’t make the team because he’s from Detroit.

2B Ivan “Ivy” Olson of Kansas City, Missouri. (Gotta say it that way, although there were no viable candidates from Kansas City, Kansas.) He played more shortstop, but this was the best I could do, as he did start on the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1916 and ’20 National League Champions.

SS Dave Bancroft of Sioux City, Iowa. If the Hall of Fame ever had to drop 10 members, “Beauty” Bancroft might be one of them. But he was the best shortstop in the National League in the late 1910s and the 1920s, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants and Boston Braves. He appeared in the World Series with the ’15 Phils and the ’21, ’22 and ’23 Giants.

Or maybe the Hall would have to drop Joe Tinker of Herington, Kansas. True, he was the shortstop of the Chicago Cubs’ 1906, ’07, ’08 and ’10 Pennant winners, winning the 1907 and 1908 World Series. And had there been an All-Star Game at the time, he would have been in it a few times. But, let’s be honest, the only reason he’s in the Hall is because of Franklin P. Adams’ poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” (a.k.a. “Tinker to Evers to Chance”).

3B Ken Boyer of Alba, Missouri. One of 14 children, and his brother Clete was himself an All-Star third baseman with the Yankees, and brother Cloyd was a big-league pitcher. He succeeded Stan Musial as the superstar and captain of the St. Louis Cardinals, and led them to an amazing run to the Pennant. In the 1964 World Series, Ken and Clete became the first brothers to oppose each other, and to homer, in a World Series. Ken’s homer, a grand slam in Game 4, turned the Series around, and the Cards won. His career OPS+ was 116, and his 282 home runs are a very good total for a third baseman in that era. He wasn’t quite at Hall of Fame levels, but the Cardinals retired his Number 14.

LF Zack Wheat of Hamilton, Missouri. For all the jokes about how the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s couldn’t find a left fielder, Wheat was a great one for them in the 1910s and 1920s, including playing for the Dodgers in the 1916 and ’20 World Series (though they lost both). He won the NL batting title in 1918, had a lifetime batting average of .317, an OPS+ of 129, and 2,884 hits -- awfully close to the magic 3,000, which would probably have gotten him better remembered today.

Honorable Mention to Fred Clarke of Winterset, Iowa. He starred for the Louisville Colonels in the 1890s and, like his teammate Honus Wagner, went to the Pittsburgh Pirates when the Colonels were folded into the Pirate organization. Lifetime batting average of .312, OPS+ of 132, 2,678 career hits. Also managed the Pirates to Pennants in 1901, ’02 and ’03 and the 1909 World Series, all while still playing.

CF Mickey Mantle of Commerce, Oklahoma. Though his short stay with the minor-league Kansas City Blues was a hard part of his life, geographically he belongs in the Royals’ area. All-Century Team, Hall of Fame, Monument Park, Number 7 retired, 500 Home Run Club. “Baseball has been really good to me,” he told the fans on Mickey Mantle Day in 1969, “and playing 18 years in Yankee Stadium for you folks was the greatest thing that could ever happen to a ballplayer.”

Very Honorable Mention to Richie Ashburn of Tilden, Nebraska. That Ashburn is second to anyone is “Hard to believe, Harry,” but it’s Mickey Mantle. Still, Rich (or “Whitey,” nicknamed like Mickey’s pal Edward Charles Ford for his very light hair) was, rightfully, the most beloved sports figure in Philadelphia history for his long career as a player and a broadcaster, elected to the Hall of Fame and his Number 1 retired by the Phils. And a Happy Birthday to the Celebre’s Twins, Plain and Pepperoni.

RF Sam Crawford of Wahoo, Nebraska. “Wahoo Sam” is baseball’s all-time leader with 309 triples, batted .309, OPS+ of 144, 2,961 hits (another one just short of 3,000), and with Ty Cobb and Davy Jones (not the sailor or the Monkee) formed one of the greatest outfields of the Dead Ball Era, winning 3 straight AL Pennants, 1907, ’08 and ’09 -- but losing all 3 World Series. Hall of Fame, but played long before uniform numbers were worn.

C Walker Cooper of Independence, Missouri. He and his brother Mort were a major part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 1942, ’43, ’44 and ’46 Pennant winners, winning the World Series in all of those except ’43. An 8-time All-Star, he had a career OPS+ of 116 and 173 homers, an extraordinary total for a catcher in that era (although somewhat inflated by a few years with the New York Giants with the cozy confines of the Polo Grounds).

Honorable Mention to Darren Daulton of Arkansas City, Kansas. Okay, let’s put aside his occult beliefs, and note that he was the heart and soul of the 1993 NL Champion Phillies, and while injuries cut his career short, he did get a ring as Charles Johnson’s backup on the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins.

And now for what has to be the most extraordinary pitching staff for any of these teams.

SP Walter Johnson of Humboldt, Kansas. I’m cheating slightly: His family moved to Fullerton, California, and he went to Fullerton High, which should place him on the Anaheim team. But they moved when he was 14, so he “became a ballplayer” in the Kansas City “market.” His 110 shutouts are the most all-time. His 3,508 strikeouts were the most all-time -- he held the career record from 1921 (surpassing Cy Young) until 1983 (surpassed by Nolan Ryan). His 417 wins are the most in AL history. And “the Big Train” did this for the Washington Senators, which hardly ever got into a Pennant race. They finally won Pennants in 1924 and ’25, and after losing 2 games in the ’24 Series, he came in in relief in Game 7, and ended up the winning pitcher. Neat piece of trivia: His final career appearance was not as a pitcher, but as a pinch-hitter -- he had a career OPS of .616, pretty good for a pitcher -- on September 30, 1927, the same game in which Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run of that season. He then became manager of the Newark Bears, living in nearby Millburn, New Jersey. He went on to manage the Senators and the Cleveland Indians, without much success. One of the most decent men ever involved with the game, he sadly died of a brain tumor in 1946, only 59 years old.

Outside his former home park, Griffith Stadium, there was a monument to his memory, which was moved to Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, where Johnson lived. Today, a statue of him is outside Nationals Park. He was one of the first inductees into the Hall of Fame in 1936, and in 1999 was named Number 4 on The Sporting News’ 100 Greatest Players (the highest of any pitcher) and elected to the MLB All-Century Team. He retired before uniform numbers were worn, but he wore 28 and 25 as Senators manager and 10 as Indians manager.

SP Grover Cleveland Alexander of St. Paul, Nebraska. This is how great Johnson was: Alexander won 373 games, tied with Christy Mathewson for most in NL history, and yet he’s only 2nd on this team. (Cy Young’s 511 were split over both Leagues.) Check out these numbers: 28, 19, 22, 27, 31, 33, 30. Those were Alexander’s win totals for the first 7 seasons of his career. He also led the NL in strikeouts 7 times, and in ERA 4 times. His career ERA+ was 135; his WHIP, 1.121. He helped the Phillies to their first Pennant in 1915, and in 1916 -- as a right-handed pitcher at Baker Bowl where lefty hitters had a 280-foot right-field fence, he threw 16 shutouts, a record. His 90 shutouts were second only to Johnson.

Sadly, serving in World War I shellshocked him, triggered epilepsy, and exacerbated his alcoholism. He went on to the Chicago Cubs, and the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up in 1926 and won the World Series. After winning Game 6, the 39-year-old “Pete” (not sure why that was his nickname) celebrated hard, and was hungover when he was called into to pitch the 7th inning of Game 7 with the bases loaded. He struck out the Yankees’ Tony Lazzeri, perhaps the most famous strikeout in baseball history (unless you count the Mighty Casey of Mudville). Sadly, both men were epileptics who died young. Alexander’s drinking damaged his health, and he died in 1950, drinking doing him in at just 63 -- just like Mantle.

In 1952, Ronald Reagan played him in the film The Winning Team. Alexander did live long enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and while he played before uniform numbers were worn, the Phils put a “P” notation on the outfield wall, first at Veterans Stadium and now at Citizens Bank Park.

SP Carl Hubbell of Meeker, Oklahoma. The first NL Player to have his number retired, the Giants retired his Number 11. He was known as King Carl and the Meal Ticket, and in the 1930s, along with Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige, he was one of the 3 best pitchers on the planet. He won 253 games, and had a lifetime ERA+ of 130 and a WHIP of 1.166. He started the first 2 All-Star Games, and in the 1934 Game, at his home park of the Polo Grounds, he struck out 6 batters in 2 innings -- including, in succession, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, fellow Hall-of-Famers all. In 1933, he won 23 games and led the Giants to the World Championship. The Giants won Pennants again in 1936 and ’37, and over those 2 seasons Hubbell won 24 straight games. More than anyone, even Whitey Ford, this is the greatest lefthanded pitcher in New York baseball history.

SP Bob Feller of Van Meter, Iowa. “Anybody who says sports is war has never been in a war,” Lieutenant Robert William Andrew Feller, U.S. Navy, World War II, has taught us. But his 266 wins, 2,581 strikeouts and 3 no-hitters were amazing when you consider he lost 4 seasons -- at ages 23, 24, 25 and 26 -- to the fight against Nazi fascism and Japanese imperialism. In 1936, he struck out a then-record-tying 17 batters in a game... and he was 17 years old. In 1938, at 19, he fanned a new record of 18. (It would be 31 more years before a pitcher got 19 in a 9-inning game.)

The greatest pitcher of his generation, but, like Johnson, his team wasn’t up to his level. The Indians nearly won a Pennant in 1940, won the Series in 1948, and a Pennant in 1954, but while Feller did get a ring in ’48, he never won a Series game, unlike Johnson. Hall of Fame, Number 19 retired, museum in his honor in Van Meter.

SP Bob Gibson of Omaha, Nebraska. The ace of the St. Louis Cardinals was the MVP of the 1964 and ’67 World Series, winning Game 7 both times. Game 1 in ’68, struck out 17 Detroit Tigers, although he ended up losing Game 7. That season, 1968, he went 22-9, with a record low ERA for the post-1920 Lively Ball Era, 1.12. (So how did he lose 9? The Cards didn’t hit much for a Pennant-winner.) His ERA+ that year? 258. It doesn’t seem possible. So he wasn’t just taking advantage of “the Year of the Pitcher”: Even by the standards of 1968, he was beyond great. Considered the most intimidating pitcher of his generation. Won 251 games, 128 ERA+, 1.188 WHIP, and first NL pitcher, second overall, to strike out over 3,000 batters. (With Johnson dead, this meant that, from 1972 to 1978, Gibson had struck out more batters than any living person.) Even presaged Charles Barkley by a generation, by telling a reporter, “Why do I have to be a role model for your kid? You be a role model for your kid.”

Hall of Fame, All-Century Team, Number 45 retired, statue in his honor outside the new Busch Stadium. Recently co-wrote Sixty Feet, Six Inches: A Hall of Fame Pitcher and a Hall of Fame Hitter Talk About How the Game Is Played, with Reggie Jackson.

That’s 5 Hall of Fame starters, who were ranked 4th (Johnson), 12th (Alexander), 31st (Gibson), 36th (Feller) and 45th (Hubbell) on The Sporting News' 1999 list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- respectively, ranked 1st, 3rd, 10th, 12th and 15th among pitchers on that list. If "Good pitching beats good hitting," this team may be damn near unbeatable.

Honorable Mention to a 6th HOFer, Charles “Dazzy” Vance of Hardy, Nebraska. He struggled, not becoming a big-league regular until 1922 when he was 31. But he really made up for lost time, winning 86 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers over his first 4 seasons. He might have been the fastest pitcher of the 1920s, dazzling NL hitters (and thus the nickname). He won 197 games, and struck out 2,045 batters -- imagine if he’d found his control at age 22. His ERA+ was 125. Although the Dodgers did not retire his number (or any numbers until well after they moved to Los Angeles), he is in the Hall of Fame. Here’s how good this rotation is: Al Orth, Smokey Joe Wood, George Pipgras, Mel Harder (the Indians retired his Number 18), Walker’s brother Mort Cooper, Rudy May, Rick Sutcliffe and Cliff Lee... all geographically qualified for this team, and none of them make it.

RP Tom Henke of Kansas City, Missouri. Hard to imagine a rotation of the Big Train, Alex, King Carl, Rapid Robert and Hoot, with Dazzy ready to step in if necessary, needing relief. But “the Exterminator” saved 311 games, and the Toronto Blue Jays have never reached the postseason without him. With him, they did so 5 times, including their 1992 and ’93 World Championships. Career ERA+ of 157, WHIP of 1.092.

MGR Casey Stengel of Kansas City, Missouri. Charles Dillon Stengel got his nickname from his hometown, “Kay Cee,” which became “Casey.” His runner-up could be his Yankee successor, the late Ralph Houk. The aforementioned Fred Clarke, Billy Southworth and Bobby Cox could also qualify. That’s 3 Hall of Fame managers, a 4th who will be (Cox), and a 5th who should be (Houk).

Ralph Houk, 1919-2010

The Yankees split a 2-game series with the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim, and yesterday's game was... rather interesting. But I need to talk about something else.

Ralph Houk died yesterday, just short of his 91st birthday. Born on August 9, 1919 in Lawrence, the seat of the University of Kansas, he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, winning the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star, rising to the rank of Major in the U.S. Army. Then he reached the major leagues, as a backup catcher to Yogi Berra. Sad to say, the Yankees' integration, adding Elston Howard, meant the end of his playing career.

But it was the start of an amazing managerial career. He became a Yankee coach, and in 1957 managed the Denver Bears to the championship of Triple-A baseball. By 1960, he was back with the Yankees as a coach, and filled in for Casey Stengel while the Ol' Perfesser was sick for 2 weeks.

After the 1960 season, with expansion coming to the major leagues and with other managerial positions opening, Yankee management, led by co-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb, knew the chance of losing Houk to another team was pretty good. And they were determined to fire the 70-year-old Casey anyway, regardless of having just won his 10th Pennant in 12 years.

This was one of many examples of Yankee management really messing up how they ended a relationship with personnel... and George Steinbrenner was still 12 years away from buying the team. Eventually, with a change in management, Casey was able to reconcile with the team.

Houk became manager in 1961, and made the kind of changes that were a relief to some players. In the absence of an official captain (the elimination of the post following the retirement of Lou Gehrig was still in effect), he told Mickey Mantle he would be the team's leader -- ahead of Houk's former career-blocker, Yogi Berra. Yogi didn't seem to mind, and Mickey took to the role.

Houk also started batting Mickey 4th a lot more, as opposed to his bouncing up and down in the order from 3rd to 4th to 5th -- something that would drive Reggie Jackson crazy under Billy Martin, although I don't think Casey ever dropped Mickey to 6th like Billy did to Reggie.

And finally, Houk told Whitey Ford no more of this being moved up or held back a day to face a tougher opponent: You're pitching every 4th day, no matter who we play. Whitey loved it, and responded with the best season of his career. In fact, the only 2 times Whitey ever won 20 games in a season, it was 25 in 1961 and 24 in '63 -- both under Houk.
The Chairman and the Major

The Yankees won 109 games in 1961, and Roger Maris hit 61 home runs to set a new record that, truthfully, still stands. The New York media drove Roger crazy, and Houk did his best to protect him. Succeeding Casey and protecting Roger both took a different kind of courage than liberating Western Europe from the Nazis. At least some of the Maris-haters admitted they were wrong, though it too some of them 25 years. (New York Post writer Maury Allen was one of the first to admit that they went too far, and later wrote an admiring biography titled Roger Maris: A Man For All Seasons; but some, like earlier Post legend Jimmy Cannon, went to their graves considering Maris unworthy of the record.)

The Yankees won the World Series over the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, beat the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 Series, and won a 3rd straight Pennant in 1963, but were swept in the Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After the 1963 season, Houk was kicked upstairs and made general manager, and Yogi was made field manager. But Houk was forced to change: Where he had been a "players' manager," he was now management's man, whose job in those days of the reserve clause was to hold salaries down, no matter how good a year a player might have had. This caused a rift between him and some of the players.

Yogi was fired after the 1964 World Series, and replacement Johnny Keane turned out to be a disaster. Age and injury caught up with the Yankees, and there were hardly any prospects left in the Yankee farm system -- essentially, it was Bobby Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre, Roy White, and 25 guys named Steve Whitaker. Houk was handed back the managerial reins in 1966, but no jockey can win a race without a good horse, and he had hardly any success.

He did get the Yankees to 2nd place in 1970, but 93 wins -- more than the Yankees had in their Pennant-winning seasons of 1926, 1958, 1996 and 2000 (and also the strike-shortened Pennant season of 1981) -- were not nearly enough in a season when the Baltimore Orioles won 108. He got the Yankees into Pennant races in 1972 and 1973, the last year of the feckless CBS regime and the 1st year of the Steinbrenner ownership, but both times the Yankees fell apart late in the summer and finished nowhere near first place. After just one season of dealing with Steinbrenner, Houk resigned.

He became manager of the Detroit Tigers, and as his former stand-in-the-way, Yogi, would have said, it must have been deja vu all over again. The Tigers had won the World Series under Mayo Smith in 1968 and the American League East under Billy Martin in 1972, but were now old. Al Kaline was in his final season, Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich were getting old too, and in 1975 the Tigers had the worst season in their history until the 1990s.
Houk did get to manage the Tigers to the beginning of their renaissance, with Mark Fidrych's amazing season of 1976 and the beginnings of the careers of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris, but was fired after the 1978 season, just in time for Sparky Anderson, recently fired by Cincinnati, to be brought in and restore the roar at Michigan & Trumbull. Houk had one more managing job, with the Red Sox, with little success.

Because I came up in the late Seventies, I only knew Houk as an opposing manager, in Detroit and Boston. But I knew what he'd done for the team, and what he'd tried to do. And I did once see him in a Yankee uniform arguing with an umpire... in an Old-Timers' Day game!
Ralph, Yogi and Whitey

It was all for laughs, as this was not exactly in line with his personality. He was tough, but usually calm, and this kept his "troops" calm. He was an ideal military officer, and a very good manager when management got him the right players.

At ease, Major. And thank you, for what you did, in both khaki and Pinstripes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Far Out Space Nuts

Tim McCarver said that the Yankees have "erased" Joe Torre from their history, the way the Nazis and Soviets used to do with theirs.

I would have no problem with him comparing Yankee management to those totalitarian regimes... if what he said was true.

It's not. There are banners with Joe's picture on them in the new Stadium. True, Joe's Number 6 has not yet been retired, and his Plaque does not yet grace the new Monument Park... but neither has his Number 6 been given back out, either. Nor has Bernie Williams' Number 51. But Roger Clemens' Number 22, Tino Martinez's Number 24, and David Cone's Number 36 remain in circulation. Goose Gossage's Number 54 and Dave Winfield's Number 31 have been continually given out; Reggie Jackson's Number 44 was worn by a number of coaches after he left, mainly Jeff Torborg and Mike Ferraro; and both Ron Guidry's Number 49 and Paul O'Neill's Number 21 were briefly given to pitchers who couldn't cut it, before the outrage was recognized and the numbers were taken away, and Gator's number has been retired, although Paulie's has not, yet.

Someone brought up the point that McCarver's best friend in baseball is his former St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies batterymate, Steve Carlton. Carlton was famous (or infamous, if you prefer) for not talking to reporters, leading to a joke in 1981: The two best pitchers in baseball don't speak English, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Carlton.

But when Carlton did start speaking to the press, after his retirement, he said some far-out things. In 1994, prior to his induction to the Hall of Fame, he made comments about how the world is run by Jewish bankers in Switzerland, although he also suggested other groups such as the U.S. government, the Soviet government (guess he hadn't heard that the Soviets folded in 1991), British intelligence, and a committee of 300 in Rome (presumably Catholic rather than Jewish).

McCarver has suggested that Carlton's problem is that he reads a lot of things and believes them too easily. I find that doubtful: Carlton was one of the smartest players of my lifetime, and I can't believe he's that gullible.

I was at the 1994 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, because of Phil Rizzuto. A lot of people there were wondering if Carlton was going to, uh, go off on a tangent in his acceptance speech. Or if he would choose not to talk at all. Instead, he spoke for a few minutes, solely about baseball and what it meant to him. He was fine, and gave no hint as to any eccentricity or controversy. He handled it with class.

Did listening to Carlton too much cause McCarver to make the statement he made last Saturday during the Fox broadcast? I don't know. I do know that, since the 1964 World Series (when he hit a big home run for the Cards against the Yanks), through his years broadcasting with the Mets, to a brief run on WNYW-Channel 5 where he did Yankee games but was highly critical of them, to his Fox national-network-broadcast tenure, he has been very anti-Yankee.

Well, that's his right... but he needs to get his facts straight. I don't know what would be worse for a man in his position: Lying, or being ridiculously, and easily proven, wrong. Probably the latter: Possibly the greatest insult you could give to McCarver is that he is insufficiently prepared.

On a somewhat related, and much lighter, note: One time, at the start of a Met game on WWOR-Channel 9, Ralph Kiner introduced him as "Tim MacArthur." Not so strange, Kiner had goofed many names over the years -- strangely, it's happened less often as he's gotten older -- and even called himself "Ralph Korner" on at least 2 verified occasions. At the end of the game, which the Mets lost, McCarver cited something said by the legendary general with whom Kiner had confused him:

McCarver: "You know, Ralph, Douglas MacArthur said, 'Chance favors the prepared mind,' and the Mets obviously weren't prepared today."

Kiner: "He also said, 'I shall return,' and so shall we, after these messages."

At least, on that occasion, Ralph didn't repeat a past mistake, by manglin the name of one of the Mets' sponsors, Manufacturer's Hanover, a bank since absorbed by Chemical Bank, itself now absorbed by Chase: "We'll be right back, after this message from Manufacturer's Hangover."

*

I should have done this last year, on the 40th Anniversary of the Moon landing.

Early in his career -- versions of the story disagree as to exaclty when -- Gaylord Perry, a pretty good pitcher who made it to the Hall of Fame (some would say by cheating with illegal pitches), was taking batting practice, and someone said that man would land on the Moon before Perry hit a home run. Well, Perry did indeed hit his first major league home run -- his first of 6, as it turned out -- on July 20, 1969, apparently just a few minutes after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, but a few hours before Neil Armstrong stepped onto its surface. So did anyone actually make this dubious, but oh-so-slightly true, prediction? It's uncertain.

On July 20, 1969, the Yankees were playing the Washington Senators, managed by Ted Williams, at the old Yankee Stadium. In the bottom of the 11th inning Roy White doubled, and Gene Michael (not exactly a clutch hitter, or any kind of hitter for that matter) singled him home to win, 3-2.

Other games on Moonday:

* The Mets split a doubleheader with the expansion Montreal Expos at Jarry Park in Montreal. The Expos won the first game, 3-2, with a Mack Jones homer off Gary Gentry making a winner of Gary Waslewski. The Mets did recover pretty well from this one, starting with winning the second game, 4-3, with a 10th-inning sequence very similar to the one the Yankees had in their game: A double by a starting outfielder with a lot of promise, in this case Ron Swoboda, followed by a game-winning single by a light-hitting infielder, in this case Bobby Pfeil. Don Cardwell started the nightcap for the Mets, but Ron Taylor blew a save before Jack DiLauro turned out to be the winning pitcher.

* The Phillies lost a doubleheader to the Chicago Cubs, 1-0 and 6-1 at Connie Mack Stadium, with Ferguson Jenkins outdueling Grant Jackson in the first game and Dick Selma beating Bill Champion in the second.

* The Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles, 6-5 at Fenway Park.

* The California Angels split a doubleheader with the Oakland Athletics at Anaheim Stadium. The Angels took the first game, 7-3; the A's won the second game, 9-6.

* Another doubleheader was played at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Detroit Tigers beat the Cleveland Indians in the opener, 3-2; the Tribe took the nightcap, 5-4 in 10 innings.

* It must have rained all over the country the day before, because a 5th doubleheader was played, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The expansion Kansas City Royals swept the White Sox, winning the first game 8-6, then taking the second 3-2 in 11. (It was a Monday, but not a holiday Monday, so there's no civic reason for 3 doubleheaders in one day.)

* The Minnesota Twins beat the expansion Seattle Pilots (soon to become the Milwaukee Brewers), 4-0 at Sick's Stadium in Seattle.

* The Atlanta Braves pounded the expansion San Diego Padres, 10-0 at what was then known as Atlanta Stadium (later Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium). Hank Aaron got 2 hits, but neither was a home run. The Braves did get a homer from a future Hall-of-Famer, Orlando Cepeda.

* And in the game where Perry hit his 1st big-league homer, the Giants were playing their arch-rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The Giants won, 7-3.

Far out, man. That's one long article for a man, one giant waste of time for you, the reader.