Friday, October 29, 2010

Giant Shock to Rangers

We expected a great pitching duel in Game 1 of the World Series -- Tim Lincecum vs. Cliff Lee.

We got it in Game 2 -- Matt Cain vs. C.J. Wilson.

But Game 1 turned into a slugfest, as neither starter got out of the 6th inning. Giants 11, Rangers 7, with the Rangers threatening in the 9th.

Game 2 was only 1-0 Giants going into the bottom of the 7th, and 2-0 Giants going into the bottom of the 8th. Then came an Inning From Hell for the Rangers: A 2-run deficit can be manageable, but a 9-run deficit hardly ever is. The Giants scored 7 runs in the bottom of the 8th, and won, 9-0.

Seven runs in a World Series inning is not a record. Ten has been done twice:

* 1929 Game 4, the Chicago Cubs led the Philadelphia Athletics 8-0 in the bottom of the 7th, and then the A's exploded, and won the game, 10-8, and took the Series the next day. (So the next time somebody mentions "the Curse of the Billy Goat," remember that such things happened to the Cubs well before 1945.

* 1968 Game 6, the Detroit Tigers put 10 on the board in the top of the 3rd against the St. Louis Cardinals, and won, 13-1, and won the Series the next day.

So this is the bad news for the Rangers:

* They're down 2 games to 0.

* Cliff Lee has already been beaten once, meaning that he's no lock to win any other games he starts.

* No team has ever allowed at least 7 runs in an inning in a World Series game and still won the Series.

* No Texas team has ever won a World Series game. Between the '05 Astros and the '10 Rangers, the Bush State is now 0-6 in World Series games.

Here's the good news for the Rangers:

* They did manage to score 7 runs in Game 1, in spite of being the road team and Tim Lincecum being the opposing starter.

* They do have Games 3 and 4, and possibly 5, at home, and as the saying goes, no postseason series is really over until the home team loses at least once.

Still, the Rangers need to win 4 of the next 5 in order to become the first Texas-based team ever to win a World Series.

The Giants, on the other hand, only have to win 2 of the next 5 to win their first World Series since moving to San Francisco.

At this point, anybody thinking the Rangers are going to win is probably fooling themselves.

Then again, the Rangers weren't supposed to be here at all. And neither were the Giants. A lot of people, myself included, picked a Yankees-Phillies rematch, and while that was still possible in the LCSes, neither half happened.

Game 3 tomorrow night, 6:30 PM Eastern Time, at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Colby Lewis starts for the Rangers, Jonathan Sanchez for the Giants.

The Yankees extended Joe Girardi's contract through 2013. Probably a good idea, although he's going to have to manage a pitching staff in 2011 better than he did in September and October 2010.

The Mets signed former Oakland Athletics mini-dynasty builder Sandy Alderson as their new general manager. Probably also a good idea, although it depends largely on who he hires as a manager. At this point, I'm not even going to guess who that might be.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why I'm Rooting for the Giants in the World Series

From the film Nurse Betty:

Morgan Freeman: “I’m in hell!”

Chris Rock: “Worse: You’re in Texas!”

I hate the Rangers. I hate all teams called Rangers, no matter what the sport, no matter what the country. Especially when they wear blue shirts.

I give the Dallas Mavericks a pass because Mark Cuban upsets the NBA establishment, which could use it. I give the University of Texas Longhorns a pass because anybody in Texas who isn’t a Hook-em-Hornser hates them. Every other Texas team, I despise them. Especially the Dallas Cowboys.

Traditionally, on those occasions when the Yankees are eliminated, I tend to root for the team that plays the team that beat the Yankees. In Italian soccer, this is known as gufare: Essentially, it means "to support against."

And, unlike Met fans, the Flushing Heathen, I don't automatically root for the champion of a League just because my team is in that League. That's just plain dumb.

So I have no problem with rooting for the Giants to beat the Rangers and their inbred John Birch redneck cunts.

Who forget that the Alamo was manned by guys fighting for the “right” to own slaves (already illegal in Mexico). And whose State seceded from the Union, against the pleas of their founder Sam Houston. And who killed a President. And gave us 2 Presidents whose macho bullshit got us into a war that we never should've gotten into. (At least LBJ was good, even great, on domestic issues; GWB was a fucking idiot and a right-wing nut at everything.) And, oh yeah, the Rangers' former owner stole a President election and then repeatedly stabbed the American people in the back.

In fact, I'll bet I can come up with a...

Top 10 Reasons I'm Rooting For the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 World Series

10. The Yankees. The Rangers beat them. The Giants didn't. Not since 1922, anyway.

9. Mascots. Lou Seal, named for the Pacific Coast League's old San Francisco Seals, themselves named for the seals that seem to hang around San Francisco's coastline, offends nobody. Except maybe Dodger fans, and they deserve to be offended.

But the Rangers' mascot, a horse named "Rangers Captain" -- dumb name -- held up a sign saying after the Pennant clincher, saying, "Payroll + Tradition = Nothing."

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_yKSo5xPjLpM/TMNOQR8K0pI/AAAAAAAAPUI/he3jGEmA8M4/s1600/Picture+7.png

Maybe the Captain would realize tradition means a lot... if his team had any.

I just checked: 13 current teams won their first trip to the World Series, but 14 lost theirs. (I'm counting only in their current cities: The Boston Braves and the Milwaukee Braves won on their first tries, the Atlanta Braves did not.) That's more that have lost their first than have won it.

And no Texas team has ever won so much as a single World Series game.

So the Captain better watch what comes out of the horse's mouth, or else the Giants could send him to the glue factory.

8. Television. San Francisco has had The Streets of San Francisco, Ironside, McMillan & Wife, Too Close For Comfort, Full House and Party of Five.

Dallas has had, well, Dallas. What kind of TV show is it when the main character gets shot and, unlike Ironside, people cheer? And the next-biggest show set in Dallas was Walker, Texas Ranger, starring that fucking charlatan Chuck Norris.

7. Food. San Francisco is known for great seafood. And for sourdough bread. And for "Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat." Dallas? In its own State, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio kick its ass at its signature food, barbecue.

6. Public Transit. San Francisco has had streetcars seemingly forever, and started the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway service in 1972. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) didn't start a subway-style service, as yet only light rail, until 1996.

And AT&T Park is a short walk from BART and CalTrain stations. If you don't have a car, how are you supposed to get from downtown Dallas to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington? Google Maps seems unsure. And DART's map shows no stops anywhere near Rangers Ballpark -- the closest commuter-rail stop is 6 miles to the north.

5. The Dodgers. The Giants hate the Dodgers. The Rangers don't. Granted, the Giants would still have moved out of New York if the Dodgers had stayed put (the plan was to go where their top farm club was, Minneapolis, which got the Twins instead after 3 more years), but if Walter O'Malley hadn't tricked Horace Stoneham into going to San Francisco, chances are the Bay Area would've gotten a better team. And I don't mean the Oakland Athletics.

Sure, having Willie Mays and a lot of great stars was good, but they might've won more Pennants with an expansion team, despite the Giants having been one of the great teams in baseball history to that point.

Gee, maybe that's what that stupid horse meant.

4. Legends. Here's what an all-time San Francisco Giants team would look like:

1B Willie McCovey – with Orlando Cepeda as a backup, or DH in AL parks
2B Jeff Kent
SS Rich Aurilia – with Juan Uribe as a backup and potential successor
3B Matt Williams
LF Barry Bonds
CF Willie Mays
RF Bobby Bonds – with Felipe Alou as a backup
C Benito Santiago – with Buster Posey as a backup and potential successor
SP Juan Marichal, Jack Sanford, Gaylord Perry, Rick Reuschel, Tim Lincecum
RP Robb Nen

Now, here's what an all-time Texas Rangers team might look like:

1B Rafael Palmeiro
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Alex Rodriguez
3B Michael Young
LF Rusty Greer
CF Oddibe McDowell
RF Juan Gonzalez
DH Vladimir Guerrero
C Ivan Rodriguez
SP Fergie Jenkins, Charlie Hough, Kenny Rogers, Nolan Ryan, Kevin Brown
RP John Wetteland

Now, I ask you: Who from this lineup would crack the all-time Giants lineup?

Palmeiro over McCovey? You're joking. Kinsler over Kent? Not yet. A-Rod over Aurilia? Yes. Young over Williams? Not yet. Greer over Barry? No. McDowell over Mays? Not on this planet. Juan Gone over Bobby Bonds? Not even with steroids. Vlad over Cepeda? Tough call, but I can't say yes. Pudge over Santiago? Yes.

From the Ranger rotation, Jenkins would push out Sanford, and Ryan, even at age 44, would push out Reuschel, but only 2 out of 5. Nen vs. Wetteland is a wash -- even if Wetteland never washed his cap.

So... 4 out of 15. Not good.

What about Cliff Lee, you ask? He's pitched a grand total of 18 games for the Rangers. He doesn't qualify yet, any more than he qualifies for the all-time teams of Cleveland, Philadelphia and Seattle.

3. Ballparks. Forget the fact that both parks have had several names, including corporate names. AT&T Park is regarded as one of the best of the new parks. Rangers Ballpark isn't bad, but all that money in North Texas, and they couldn't put a roof on it, like Houston's done? Twice? It's hot enough, but its predecessor, Arlington Stadium, was a frying pan. After 8 innings in that thing, you'd be begging to be back in Candlestick Park freezing your ass off.

2. Cheaters. Yes, the Giants had Barry Bonds and Matt Williams -- and Gaylord Perry, a different kind of cheater. But the Rangers had Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers (okay, he was caught in Detroit, not Texas) and, yes, he confessed to using steroids only while he was a Ranger, Alex Rodriguez -- and, as it turned out, Gaylord Perry... twice.

1. The Cities/Metro Areas. San Francisco gave the world Dianne Feinstein, Harvey Milk and former Baltimorean Nancy Pelosi. North Texas gave the world H.L. Hunt, Dick Armey and George W. Bush. The San Francisco Bay Area gave us the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, the Free Speech Movement, and all sorts of liberation movements. North Texas killed a President. One their top newspaper had printed ad accusing of treason. San Francisco gave us Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. North Texas gave us the Dallas Cowboys, with their unearned arrogance and their cocaine.

Did I mention that I hate the fucking Rangers? Go on, celebrate with your ginger ale, while Bush, Ron Washington and Josh Hamilton have a snort in the manager's office.

*

I’m not ready to fire Joe Girardi. But he really fucked it up the last month and change. Turned out it was worth it to fight for the best record in the American League. Turned out it was worth it to fight for home-field advantage. Turned out it was worth it to get to Cliff Lee in the first postseason series, not the second, before his legend could be built up and hyped further. (Some legend: He’s 26-22 in the last 2 regular seasons.)

No, I'm not ready to fire Girardi. But I was thinking, “If the old George Steinbrenner was in charge, this could be Girardi’s last game.”

Winning the Series last year got Girardi a pass for this year in my book, but my book has some nasty chapters in it. If the Yankees don’t do it next year, and it can be blamed on Girardi, then I’d start thinking maybe it’s time for him to go.

I’m not sure who would replace him; his bench coach, Tony Pena, although he’s already had managing experience, would probably go with him.

Willie Randolph, perhaps? It would be his first chance to manage in the major leagues.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see a 2012 World Series, with the Yankees managed by Derek Jeter, defeating the Dodgers managed by Don Mattingly? Hey, at least Donnie Regular Season Baseball would at last have won a Pennant.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Top 5 Reasons the Yankees Didn't Win the Pennant

Let's get one reason out of the way right now: The easy answer in a situation like this, whether trying to explain an ordinary loss or a shocking, calamitous, Bill Buckner-type defeat, is to say, "The other team was better."

The Texas Rangers are not better than the New York Yankees. The Yankees won 5 more games in the regular season while playing in a much tougher Division. If the Yankees had played Games 167 through 171 the way they played Games 1 through 166, there still might not have been a Game 172, but it would have been because the Yankees, rather than the Rangers, who wrapped the ALCS up before it got to a Game 7.

Here's why the Yankees didn't win the Pennant:

5. Phil Hughes. He was awful in Game 2, and while not as bad in Game 6, he didn't get through the 6th either time. His ERA for the ALCS was 11.42. Ow. He's young, had a great regular season, and he has done well in postseason play (he was great in his 1 ALDS start). So I can't hold him as responsible as, say...

4. A.J. Burnett. Somebody suggested he had the worst regular season of any Yankee starter ever to appear in a postseason. 10-15? 5.26 ERA? 81 ERA+? 1.511 WHIP? These are not the stats of a man who should be on the postseason roster.

If A.J. had simply been 1 game under .500 in the regular season, 12-13, the Yankees would've finished 1 game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, won the AL East, and faced the Rangers in the ALDS before they could get any momentum and any additional confidence going, and they could have won, and advanced to face the Rays-Minnesota Twins winner.

Instead, he was the biggest reason (among players, anyway) that the Yankees didn't win the East, and he wasn't on the ALDS roster. He never should've been on the ALCS roster, and he never should've been out there in Game 4 to get bombed. But those last 2 facts aren't his fault, which I'll get to in Reason Number 1.

3. The Yankee bats in general. It doesn't matter how good Cliff Lee is: The Yankee lineup should be good enough to beat anybody. Instead, they made Lee and C.J. Wilson look like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Or Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Or even, dare I say it, David Cone and Andy Pettitte.

Look at these OPS's: Derek Jeter, .709; Jorge Posada, .668; Nick Swisher, .473; Brett Gardner, .440; Marcus Thames, .301; Mark Teixeira, a mere .176. Between those 6 men, in 6 games, a pathetic 5 RBIs. Aside from Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, the Yankee bats were hopeless. In the immortal words of Didier Drogba, "It's a disgrace! It's a disgrace! It's a fucking disgrace!"

2. Alex Rodriguez. What, his 2009 postseason performance didn't buy him a pass from this list? No, it didn't, although he was not the biggest reason the Yankees didn't win this Pennant. But as the 2009 regular season (in which he was absent for the first quarter, then came back, and made everybody, especially the man hitting in front of him, Teixeira, hit better) and the subsequent postseason proved, as A-Rod's hitting goes, so goes the Yankees' hitting. In this ALCS, he was 4-for-21. Batting average, .190; on-base, .320; slugging, .286; OPS, .606; RBIs, 2.

I do give A-Rod a pass on his Carlos Beltran Moment, ending an ALCS by taking a called 3rd strike, because that pitch was well outside. He was right not to swing at it, because it was no strike. (In Ryan Howard's similar case, I also thought that wasn't a strike, but it was much closer, close enough to swing.) But if he had hit better, the rest of the team might also have. He didn't, they didn't, and A-Rod's ring count, while still infinitely better than zero, remains at 1.

But, as I said, the biggest fault lies not with A-Rod, but with...

1. Joe Girardi. The Yankee manager decided it was better to pace his team in the closing stages of the regular season, and settle for the AL Wild Card while taking a chance on NOT winning the AL East, than to go for the Division Title and the best record in the League, thus assuring home-field advantage throughout.

In so doing, he probably undermined a lot of players' confidence, and while it didn't seem to matter in the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, that victory sweep might have turned out differently if Justin Morneau hadn't been hurt.

And it did matter in the ALCS, where Girardi totally fucked up the rotation and the bullpen. In the rotation, he should've started Andy Pettitte in Game 2 and Phil Hughes in Game 3, instead of the other way around. We could've been up 2 games to 0 going into the Cliff Lee game, and then all the pressure would've been on Lee to save the Rangers, and then we'd see what kind of postseason pitcher he really is. Instead, Hughes didn't have it, and we went into Game 3 tied 1-1, and while Pettitte pitched well, nobody managed to hit Lee.

In the bullpen, Girardi's his reliance on Boone Logan as a lefty to face lefty slugger Josh Hamilton came too damn close to literally blowing up on him. Maybe there's a good lefty reliever who could have faced Hamilton and gotten him out -- maybe the injured Damaso Marte -- but Logan wasn't it, and once that was proven, why did Girardi try Logan again? And he also relied on David Robertson to face, well, anybody. Another multiple mistake.

Girardi said CC Sabathia might be available to pitch in relief in Game 6. Bump that, he should've started Game 4 on 3 days' rest, instead of letting Burnett go back out there to get shelled. Pitching CC on 3 worked last season, didn't it?

Trusting Logan and then Robertson in Game 3 turned a 2-0 deficit, manageable and possibly comebackable (after all, we came back from 5-0 down late in Game 1), into 8-0. (True, in a 2006 game the Yanks trailed Texas 9-0 in the 1st and went on to win 14-13, but that wasn't with Lee on the mound.) Not replacing A.J. Burnett sooner in Game 4 turned 3-2 us into 5-2 them -- bad, but still well comebackable. Then trusting Robertson and then Logan turned it into 7-2. Maybe pulling Hughes too late in Game 6 did turn 1-1 into 3-1 them, but that's comebackable. Replacing Hughes with Robertson III: This Time, It's Personal! turned 3-1 into 5-1.

If the old George Steinbrenner was still the owner, Girardi would have been fired on the spot in the wake of the Game 6 defeat. He wouldn't even have gotten back on the plane still holding his job. As it is, the 2009 win probably bought Girardi one year to fuck up. But 2011 better be a different story, or else the Yankees may have another manager in 2012.

After all, neither Hank nor Hal is George... but they are still Steinbrenners. Unless you're Joe Torre, and even then, following a few October defeats, you don't buy. You rent.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Top 10 Worst Days In Yankee History

Yesterday was a bad day.

Not just for sports-related reasons. A few rotten things happened to me yesterday that didn't involve sports. I won't get into those here; you're not interested, anyway.

It's bad enough to lose a game. It's worse to lose a big game. But to lose 2? At the same time? That happened to me last night.

I was at Dear Old Alma Mater, East Brunswick High School, whose football team really laid an egg. They sure didn't look like a 4-1, Playoff-bound team. They played like crap and were down 14-0 in the first 7 minutes. They lost, 41-6, as pathetic an effort as I've ever seen at Jay Doyle Field -- or anywhere else they've ever played.

It's hard to believe this is the same team that beat Sayreville, at Sayreville, in last year's Playoffs. This season? Qualification for the Playoffs is in serious jeopardy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7fjDS0jKiE&feature=related

Fortunately, I could listen to the Yankees-Rangers ALCS Game 6 on my Walkman. No, I couldn't! Apparently, the switch had been flipped, and the battery had run out. So I had to use my cellphone's Internet connection, and we were already losing 1-0.

I got on the bus to head back home, and we'd tied it 1-1. But by the time I got in the house, it had all fallen apart.

Rangers 6, Yankees 1. Ballgame over. American League Championship Series over. Yankee season over.

For the New York Yankees, Title 28 and Pennant 41 will have to wait. For the Texas Rangers -- and their inbred redneck right-wing cunt fans -- Pennant 1.

The only current franchises left that haven't won Pennants? The Seattle Mariners (in business since 1977, closest they came was 2 wins away in 1995 and 2000) and the Washington Nationals (in D.C. since 2005, closest they've ever come was 1 run away in 1981 as the Montreal Expos). In addition, the Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres and Houston Astros have never won a World Series. The San Francisco Giants, 1 win away from this year's NL Pennant against the Philadelphia Phillies, won 5 World Series in New York, but none since moving to San Francisco.

Then, to make matters worse for me, Rutgers lost this afternoon, 41-21 to the University of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

Lousy last 24 hours.

*

Of course, last night, as bad as it was, was not one of the worst days in Yankee history.

In fact, if you look carefully, you'll note that most of the truly bad days in Yankee history have little to do with actual game defeats.

This list is not ranked, counted down from 10 to 1. Instead, I'm going to go in chronological order, 1 to 10.

Top 10 Worst Days In Yankee History

1. September 23, 1910. One hundred years ago. Manager George Stallings tells team owners Frank Farrell and Bill Devery that Hal Chase, a good hitter and considered the best-fielding first baseman the game has ever seen, has been throwing games. It becomes a situation of, "Either he goes, or I go."

Naturally, desperate to bring in as many fans as possible, what with the Yankees (still officially called the Highlanders at this point) being the 3rd team in New York, behind the mighty Giants just a few blocks away and the (thus far) perennial contender Dodgers in Brooklyn, Farrell and Devery tell Stallings, "Here's your hat, George, what's your hurry?"

If that had been it, that would have been bad enough. But who did they hire as the new manager? Chase himself. Just 27 years old, no managerial or even coaching experience in any sport at any level, and already suspected by many as a game-fixer, and they make him the manager.

Now, I ask you, does losing a Pennant series, as defending World Champions, against a team that had never won a Pennant in 50 years of trying, while batting just .201 as a team, seem worse than that?

The Yankees were in 2nd place in September 1910, not a bad finish at all for a team that hadn't yet won their 1st Pennant, although well behind the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Athletics. But Stallings couldn't take it anymore.

How did Chase do in his 1st full season, in 1911? Not well: 76-76, 6th place. Chase was relieved of the managerial duties, and Harry Wolverton was appointed. He managed the team to its worst season ever, 50-102.

In 1913, Farrell and Devery hired Frank Chance as manager. "The Peerless Leader" who had led the Chicago Cubs to 4 Pennants and 2 World Series. But those successes were with Chance himself at 1st base, not with Chase. After 2 years of getting frustrated over Chase continuing to throw games and the team going nowhere in part because of that, Chance quit, went home to California, and managed the Los Angeles Angels to a Pacific Coast League Pennant. Chase was soon gone from New York as well, new owners Jacob Ruppert and Til Huston not wanting his maledictory influence around any longer.

2. August 16, 1920. The Yankees, now playing at the Polo Grounds and in their first season with Babe Ruth, are playing the Cleveland Indians in a 3-way race with the Chicago White Sox. Submarine-style hurler Carl Mays hits Indian shortstop Ray Chapman with a pitch.

The impact makes such a sound, and the ball comes back to Mays with such force, that Mays thinks Chapman actually hit the ball -- shades of the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza incident 80 years later -- and throws to first base. This backs up Mays' claim, which he held for the last 51 years of his life, that he did not intentionally hit Chapman, who was known at the time for hanging over the plate.

The audience gasped at the sound -- no batting helmets in those days -- and Chapman got up, and told Yankee catcher Wally Schang, "I'm all right. Tell Mays not to worry." He took some steps, then collapsed, with his left ear bleeding. He never regained consciousness, and died the next day. He was 29.

Aside from the possibility of Mike "Doc" Powers of the 1909 Philadelphia Athletics, whose death may not have been caused by an on-field injury but was surely worsened by it, Chapman is the only Major League Baseball player to die as the result of an on-field incident.

The Indians won the game, 4-3, and went on to win the World Series in spite of Chapman's death, with rookie Joe Sewell taking his place, and building a Hall of Fame career.

Understandably, despite his protests of non-intent, Mays was vilified by all and sundry, partly because he already had a reputation as a difficult man; people wanted to believe he did it on purpose. It's probably the biggest reason why, despite a career record of 207-126, he's not in the Hall of Fame.

So the only uniformed person ever to kill another person on a Major League Baseball field, intentionally or otherwise, was a Yankee. Amazingly, this is not often cited by Yankee Haters (Flushing Heathen, Chowdaheads and others) as a reason why they hate the Yankees. It's been 90 years, and pretty much everybody who cared about Chapman and the Indians at the time is gone. But it's still a dark day in Yankee history.

3. June 20, 1939. This was the day the Mayo Clinic published its report on the health of Lou Gehrig. Amoyotrophic lateral sclerosis, shortened to ALS, and usually called Lou Gehrig's Disease after its most famous patient.

In the 71 years since, many people, including physicist Stephen Hawking, have lived years, even decades, with ALS. Gehrig lived only 2 years after his diagnosis, leading some people to think the disease's namesake, ironically, may have had something else. Whatever it was that he actually had, it was the end of his career, and Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, July 4, 1939, was one of the most glorious, and yet saddest, days in baseball history.

Aside from Gehrig and Hawking, other victims of ALS include Chinese dictator Mao Zedong; Senator Jacob Javits of New York; musicians Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Charles Mingus and the still-living Jason Becker; actors David Niven, Dennis Day, Michael Zaslow, Lane Smith; and, from the world of sports, English football manager Don Revie.

Despite Gehrig's death, the Yankees won 106 games in 1939, sweeping the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. And there have been people who have said that, even on Lou Gehrig Day, they didn't know he was dying. But the day the world found out that he had to retire was still an awful day.

4. December 16, 1953. The Yankees trade Vic Power, Don Bollweg, Jim Finigan, Johnny Gray, Bill Renna and Jim Robertson to the Philadelphia Athletics for Loren Babe, Harry Byrd, Tom Hamilton, Carmen Mauro and Eddie Robinson.

Byrd was a decent pitcher, who simply didn't get run support with the A's. But he didn't do much for the Yankees. Other than him, the only name in this trade that you really need to know is Vic Power. Or, legally, Victor Pellot, which is what he always called himself.

Born in 1927 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico as Victor Felipe Pellot Pove (first name, middle name, father's family name, mother's family name, as is common in Spanish-speaking places), Power was a sensational fielder at 1st base, and in the 1952 season batted .331 with 40 doubles, 17 triples, 16 home runs and 109 RBIs for the Yankees' top farm team, the Kansas City Blues, playing in Blues Stadium, which eventually became Kansas City Municipal Stadium, and was always a pitcher's park. In 1953, Power batted .349, winning the American Association batting title, with 39 doubles, 10 triples, 16 homers and 93 RBIs. At the time of the trade, he was already 27 years old. And yet, the Yankees hadn't yet brought him up to the majors. This at a time when the Yanks' starting first baseman was Joe Collins: Good player, but Power was probably already better.

So why would they trade him for 5 guys who amounted to nothing in Pinstripes? The official reason was that he was "too flashy" or a "hot dog," for the way he fielded at first base. It wasn't "the Yankee way."

Turned out that the real reason was that general manager George Weiss was a bigot and didn't want black players on the Yankees. To make matters worse, Power was dating a white woman at the time. Final straw, off you go to the House of Mack.

Power broke into the A's starting lineup right away in 1954, and became a star after their move to Kansas City where he'd starred in Triple-A, and later with the Cleveland Indians. He won 7 straight Gold Gloves, batted over .300 3 times, led the AL in triples in 1958 with 10, and made 4 All-Star teams. In 12 big-league seasons, he batted .284, collected 1,716 hits, including 290 doubles, 49 triples, 126 homers, and never seemed to be all that controversial after leaving the Yankees. After his retirement, he went back to Puerto Rico and became a youth baseball coach, living until 2005, dying of cancer at age 78.

Late in life, as the number of Hispanic players in the majors grew and interest in their forebears did the same, he gave some interviews in English, and did not seem particularly bitter about his treatment by the Yankees. Was the decision to trade him justified? In any way?

Well, in 1954, the Yankees did get a new starting 1st baseman, Bill "Moose" Skowron, and he was terrific for them until 1962, playing the position superbly and hitting with more power than any righthanded Yankee would between Joe DiMaggio and Dave Winfield. And a year later, in 1955, tired of the mounting criticism from black and Hispanic advocacy groups, Yankee owners Dan Topping and Del Webb overruled Weiss, and promoted outfielder/catcher Elston Howard to become the first black Yankee. Unlike Power, he was quiet, unflashy, already married to a woman of his own race, and did his job well, and was thus "worthy of the Yankee uniform." He became the first black Most Valuable Player award winner in the American League -- in 1963, after the National League had already had black MVPs Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella (3 times), Willie Mays (the 1st of 2 he would win), Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks (twice), Frank Robinson and Maury Wills.

Based on the successes of Skowron and Howard, it can be argued from a competitive standpoint (if not from a moral one) that the Yankees lost nothing by trading away Power. Still, they should have gotten something more for him than 5 who's-he's.

And I wonder how much good it would have done in the community to have a terrific player who was not only black, but Hispanic. But Weiss thought it would upset the Yankee fan base, which he considered to be white working men from Westchester, Connecticut and North Jersey.

Know this: Power, despite playing less than 4 full seasons with the Indians, was named one of the team's 100th Anniversary 100 Greatest Players; Howard is honored with a Plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park; Weiss has no Monument Park Plaque, though he is, unlike the other two, in the Hall of Fame.

5. October 18, 1960. Fifty years ago. Actually, this date is just a stand-in for the real date, which may never be known. Topping and Webb decided they'd had enough, and started looking to sell the Yankees. First, they fired manager Casey Stengel on October 18, with Casey reading a resignation statement to the press, and then saying, "I guess this means they fired me," and, "I'll never make the mistake of being 70 again." A few days later, Weiss was forced out.

And Weiss made a prediction: Topping, Webb, and whoever succeeded him as GM would so badly mess up the Yankee farm system that the dynasty would collapse. "I give them five years," Weiss said at the time.

What did Topping and Webb care? They knew that, even if Weiss' prediction came true, they weren't going to be around to get the blame. The new guys would. But Weiss was right on the money: The Yankees won the next 2 World Series and the next 4 AL Pennants, but in Year 5, 1965, they crashed to 6th.

As hard as it was to be a Yankee Fan from 1979 to 1995, and again from 2002 to 2008, and at this moment in 2010, it was never worse for the franchise from 1965 to 1975. Especially as the Mets became the more popular team in town, with the newer ballpark, and Stengel and Weiss reunited there. And the worst moment of all was in 1969, when their successors, Gil Hodges and Johnny Murphy (another Yankee legend, as a relief pitcher, joining the ex-Dodger Boy of Summer) built a Met team that won the World Series, with the Yankees no longer even having Mickey Mantle to keep them happy with a few home runs.

The Yanks didn't get back to the postseason until 1976. By that point, Topping, Webb, Weiss and Stengel were all dead. And CBS, which bought the team from Topping and Webb in 1964, had sold them to the group headed by George Steinbrenner. The rest is history. And psychology. Often abnormal psychology. Still, the Bronx Zoo period of 1976 to 1979, and George's doings in the 1980s, were no crazier than what the Topping/Webb/Weiss regime did. Only more public about it.

And, while most baseball historians consider Topping and Webb to be the ones to blame for the crash -- albeit not letting CBS off the hook for their feckless reaction to it -- again, what do they care? As Casey would say, They're dead, and you can look it up.

6. August 2, 1979. Yankee catcher and Captain Thurman Munson dies in a plane crash at the airport near his home town of Canton, Ohio.

I don't think I have to explain why this was so devastating. Even if you're not old enough to remember, you can see the results on the field: No more World Series wins until 1996. You've no doubt seen the YES Network's Yankees Classics showing of the ABC Monday Night Baseball broadcast of the game played on August 6 after the Yankees got back from Munson's funeral -- a broadcast that made even Howard Cosell seem like a comforting figure. You've almost certainly seen YES' Yankeeography of Thurman, and you may even have read Marty Appel's excellent new biography Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain.

I am old enough to remember. I heard the news on TV, and I fell out of my seat. Literally. I still feel like slumping down in my seat as I type this.

7. September 12, 1985. Twenty-five years ago. This date may not be familiar to you, but I'm never going to forget it. This was "Baseball Thursday" in New York. It remains the only day in the joint 1962-present history of the Yankees and the Mets when both teams were at home on the same September day and were both playing the team they were fighting for a Division Title. In the day game, the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium, 7-6, to take 2 out of 3 in their series and go a full game up on the Cards in the NL East. In the night game, the Yankees began a 4-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays, who led them by 2 1/2 games. The Yankees had lost their last game, but had won their last 11 before that to get back into the race.

Before the game, attended by 52,141 at the original Yankee Stadium, public-address announcer Bob Sheppard introduced Robert Merrill, the Brooklynese baritone who long graced the stage at the Metropolitan Opera. Merrill, as he had done so many times and would do so many more, would sing the National Anthems. As the Blue Jays were based in Canada, he began with "O Canada."

And boos rang down from the stands at Yankee Stadium. Seriously. The same building that had hosted Joe Louis' knockout of Max Schmeling was now hosting the booing of the National Anthem of America's closest ally. I was watching this game on WPIX-Channel 11, and I was sickened. I was thrilled that the Yankees won the game, 7-5, behind the pitching of Ron Guidry (his 19th of 22 wins that season) and a home run by catcher Ron Hassey, and enjoyed all the "Baseball Thursday" hype (which only intensified as both teams won, the Mets moved into sole possession of 1st, and the Yanks closed to within a game and a half), but there was no excuse for booing "O Canada" just because the opposition was based outside the United States of America. I wonder what President Ronald Reagan thought of it; I wonder if the hyper-patriotism he inspired in many was a partial cause.

The next night, before the 2nd game of the series, Sheppard prepared to introduce Merrill again, and this time, the St. John's University speech professor took no chances. He reminded the fans that Canada was America's ally in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. If that was too far back for them to remember, he reminded the fans that Canadian diplomats had helped get the American hostages out of Iran just a few years before. And as such, their Anthem should be respected. Merrill began: "O, Canada... " "Boooooooo!"

Players, managers, executives and owners of the Yankees have disgraced themselves. This is one of the few times, and by far the biggest time, that Yankee Fans have disgraced themselves. Indeed, they disgraced the entire country they thought they were supporting. Buck Martinez, a Blue Jays catcher (and later manager and broadcaster for the team), looked at the Jays' roster, noting its September expansion, and told the press, "Some patriots. They're booing 25 Americans and 3 Dominicans."

8. July 30, 1990. Twenty years ago. Commissioner Francis T. "Fay" Vincent permanently banned Yankee owner George Steinbrenner from the day-to-day management (although not the actual ownership, and financial responsibilities and receipt of income thereof) of the team. This was because George had hired Howie Spira, a private investigator and compulsive gambler, to find damaging information about Yankee star Dave Winfield and his charitable foundation, in order to discredit Winfield.

If Spira ever found anything, it has never been publicly revealed. For that reason, Dave, in the exact opposite of what George intended, was the only one of the three who came out looking good. Spira turned to Vincent, and George was banned. George was, however, permitted to apply for reinstatement after 2 years, and in 1993 reinstatement was granted.

The Yankees were already in last place at the time -- 1908, 1912, 1966 and 1990 remain the only last-place finishes in the team's history -- and I actually went to the game that night, against the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees won, 6-2. Only 24,037 attended, and what a relief there was in the crowd. I'm not ashamed to admit it: I took part in the "Steinbrenner sucks!" chant.

If you had told us that night that, as a result of the banning order, Gene Michael (whose initials, appropriately, are GM) would rebuild the organization, top to bottom, and within 6 years we'd be World Champions again, I think we would have taken it. But if you had told us then that, 6 years later, we'd be chanting, "Thank you, George!" at the ticker-tape parade following said World Series win, we'd have wondered what you were smoking. And yet, both came true: Both the Yankees and their Boss were rehabilitated, restored and redeemed.

9. October 20, 2004. I don't think I need to explain what this date is. It was Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. And the only occurrence of these 10 to be an actual game, and postseason series, defeat. Boston Red Sox 10, New York Yankees 3. The Red Sox came from 3 games to 0 down, and won 4 straight, the only such occurrence in the history of Major League Baseball postseason play.

A humiliating defeat, one that lasted 4 hours and 31 minutes, and it was essentially over in the first 2 innings. No sudden shock, like there's been in a lot of Yankee wins and Red Sox losses (sometimes the same): This was equivalent to Chinese water torture -- or, since he lived in both The Bronx and Boston, perhaps the better analogy is to Edgar Allan Poe and his story "The Pit and the Pendulum."

The Red Sox, and their fans, celebrated the long-awaited slaying of the Pinstriped dragon, at Yankee Stadium. And on Mickey Mantle's birthday, no less. Actually, since the final out was at 12:01 AM, October 21, it was on Whitey Ford's birthday, too.

Has this defeat been avenged? Well, the Yankees did win the Division in 2005 and '06, clinching at Fenway Park in the former while the Sox finished 3rd in the latter. But the Sox won the whole thing in 2007, too. In 2009, something happened that I'll refer to in Worst Day Number 10 that put the Sox' victory in doubt, and the Yanks clinched the Division at home at the new Yankee Stadium against the Sox. But is that enough? In order to truly exorcise this demon, must we beat them in a postseason series?

Or maybe we should just accept that the Sox got even, and just treat them as a regular opponent, with no special meaning, in regular-season games. Nah, what fun would that be?

10. December 13, 2007. The date of the Mitchell Report. Because of the people that came forward to testify, and because of the information that was provided, more accusations of steroid use fell on the 2 New York teams than on anyone else. Essentially, the Yankees became the face of steroid use and human-growth hormone use in baseball. While the Red Sox, who had just won their 2nd World Series in 4 years after not winning any for 86 years, got off almost completely scot-free.

The head of the commission doing the investigating? George Mitchell, former U.S. Senator from Maine, former Senate Majority Leader, a longtime Red Sox fan and a member of the Red Sox board of directors. Having been a Washington insider for so long, Mitchell, a genuine hero for the way he protected the American people from conservative attacks on civil liberties and the social safety net, and for his efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland (successful) and the Middle East (he's still trying), should have understood the concept of "conflict of interest."

Yankee Fans wanted to think the Report was an attempt to railroad their team, to make their achievements of 1995 to 2007 look illegitimate, while at the same time absolving the Red Sox and making them look like the Good Guys against the Yankees' Evil Empire. Fans of every other team celebrated the report, because it made the Yankees look bad.

Except the Report proved nothing. Most of the accusers were of questionable credibility. Anything specific that landed on Yankee players took place while A) said players were not in the Yankee organization or B) in seasons when the Yankees did not win World Series, i.e. Jason Giambi (2002-08), Garry Sheffield (2004-06), and Andy Pettitte (one instance in 2002, and that to come back from an injury rather than to gain an unfair advantage). And if the Report was so right, where was the accusation against Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to using steroids prior to becoming a Yankee (but not after)?

On July 30, 2009, results of steroid tests were leaked revealing that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the biggest bats on the 2003-08 Red Sox mini-dynasty, had flunked. The Mitchell Report did not mention this. Indeed, considering all the revealed cheaters, all the as-yet-unproven suspects, and their failures from 2004 to 2008, the Yankees now appear to have been the team most hurt by steroid use. But, even with an apparently squeaky-clean title won in 2009, fans of 29 other teams still think the Yankees are dirty for this reason (and others).

Let them think that. They're idiots. Especially if they excuse what the 2004 Boston self-proclaimed "Idiots" did.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cautiously Optimistic (In Some Cases)

Tonight, the Yankees play Game 6 in Texas.

I am cautiously optimistic.

I will not be watching most of it on television. East Brunswick High School, ranked Number 5 in the Home News Tribune Top 10, is hosting Sayreville, ranked Number 1, in the HNT Game of the Week. We're 4-1, and their quarterback is listed as day-to-day, and it's at home at Jay Doyle Field, home of the 1966, 1972, 2004 and 2009 Central Jersey Group IV Champions, and not at War Memorial Stadium, that shit pit down Route 535. (Cranbury Road in our town, Washington Road in theirs, Main Street on South River in between, it's all County Route 535.) And while they beat us at their place in the regular season last year, we beat them at their place in the Playoff Semifinal rematch.

I am cautiously optimistic. Anyway, I'm bringing my Walkman -- it's at my old school, so why not go old-school? -- and I'll be listening to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman on WCBS while I watch Da Bears try to shoot down the Bombers. Maybe I should start calling Sayreville the Luftwaffe. I already call them Sewerville. Which is no joke: The Middlesex County Sewerage Authority headquarters is in that town, about a mile from the school.

The funny thing is, I work in Sayreville, and I have to pass Sayreville War Memorial High School every day on the bus.

I hate that fucking place. But not as much as I hate Old Bridge. Thanksgiving is a month and change away.

*

Rutgers plays at the University of Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon.

I am completely pessimistic. Chas Dodd, you're about to be welcomed into the real Big East Conference. (No, I don't mean the basketball one.)

Arsenal play at Manchester City on Sunday. Arsenal are in 3rd place in the Premier League, Man City in 2nd, but both squads have injury issues.

I am cautiously optimistic. I can live with a draw if we don't let the greedy disloyal cunt Emmanuel Adebayor score.

Tbe Devils won last night, beating the Canadiens in Montreal, 3-0. Perhaps inspired by playing in his hometown against his boyhood team, Martin Brodeur got his 112th career shutout.

The Red Bulls won last night, beating the New England Revolution at home in Harrison, 2-0, avenging an earlier defeat in Foxboro, and clinching the MLS Eastern Conference Championship. They look good for the Playoffs.

*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 2, this Sunday, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Under a month. 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 East Brunswick High School plays football again (after tonight): 7, a week from tonight, at home against Piscataway.

Days until Rutgers plays football again (after tomorrow): 11, on Wednesday night, November 3, at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Days until the next North London Derby: 29, Saturday, November 20, at New Highbury. Under a month.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 34. A little more than a month.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 168, Friday, April 8, 2011, at Fenway Park.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 235 (estimated: June 14, 2011, his “slump year” pushing it back by a month).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 386.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 548 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 604.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 952 (estimated).

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

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,199.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,694 (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: 1,808 (estimated).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yanks Keep It Alive, and Still Shouldn't Fear Lee

Yankees 7, Rangers 2. The Yankees keep it going, and Game 6 will be tomorrow night in Arlington, Texas.

CC Sabathia pitched out of trouble, and Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back homers.

Here's the key: In his first 5 1/3 innings, before getting the last 2 outs in the top of the 6th, CC allowed 11 hits -- but no walks. Add 2 innings of Kerry Wood (who has really rebounded nicely from injury oblivion with the Cubs, first as a Cleveland Indian and now as a Yankee) and 1 of Mariano Rivera, and the Yankees allowed a turbulent 13 hits, but no walks, and just 2 runs (in a hitter's park). In other words, CC bent but didn't break, and the bullpen was masterful. In contrast, the Ranger pitchers allowed 9 hits and 6 walks, and the Yankees made the most of it.

The Yankees still need to win 2 games on the road to win their 41st Pennant. The Rangers only need to win 1 out of 2 at home to win their 1st Pennant.

Game 6's starting pitchers will be Phil Hughes against Colby Lewis. If the Yanks keep it going, Game 7 will be Andy Pettitte against Sandy Koufax. Excuse me, Cliff Lee.

The media is already turning Lee into this generation's Koufax. Even though tonight, in Game 5 of the NLCS, there's a dandy matchup, a rematch of Game 1, as Tim Lincecum hopes to close it out for the San Francisco Giants, against Roy Halladay trying to keep it alive for the 2-time defending NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Both the Freak and Doc have had better careers than Lee. Check this out.

Harry Leroy Halladay. Hometown, Arvada, Colorado, outside Denver. Current age, 33 years old. Career won-lost record, 169-86. Winning percentage, .663. ERA+, 136. WHIP, 1.181. Strikeouts, 1,714. 7 All-Star berths. 1 Cy Young Award, just missed another, could get another this season. Baseball-Reference.com Hall of Fame Monitor, where a "Likely HOFer" is at 100, he's already at 101. B-R's Hall of Fame Standards, which is more geared toward career totals, and the "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at 39. Already sounds likely to make the Hall, barring an ethical calamity. Nor should we hope for a medical calamity.

Timothy LeRoy Lincecum. (Same middle name, just about.) Renton, Washington, outside Seattle. Age, 26. Record only 56-27, but a .675 percentage. ERA+, 142. WHIP, 1.182. Strikeouts, 907. 3 All-Star berths. 2 Cy Young Awards. HOF Monitor, 44. HOF Standards, 28. Far from making it, but at the rate he's going, I wouldn't bet against him.

Clifton Phifer Lee. Benton, Arkansas, outside Little Rock. Age, 32. 102-61, 46 wins behind Halladay at the same age. Percentage, .626 -- really good, but nowhere near Halladay or Lincecum. ERA+, 112, good but well below the other 2. WHIP, 1.256, ibid. Strikeouts, 1,085, ibid. 2 All-Star berths, 1 Cy Young but no other top-3 finishes yet. HOF Monitor, 42. HOF Standards, 19. Both lower than Lincecum despite being 6 years older.

And let's not forget: This season, Halladay was 21-10, 2.44 -- despite pitching in a hitter's park. Lincecum was 16-10, 3.43, though that's a bit high in a pitcher's park, but it was in the NL. Lee? Between Seattle (pitcher's park) and Texas (hitter's park), was 12-9, 3.18 -- and since he joined Texas, 4-6, 3.98.

Suddenly, Lee doesn't look so superhuman, does he?

In all fairness, career stats don't tell a full story. (Ironically.) From age 25 to 33 (currently), Halladay has been one of the best pitchers in the game. Lincecum became a star at 24 and at 26 is fabulous. Lee had his first full season at 25 and was good, was sensational at 26, was awful at 27 (ironically, his first trip to the postseason, and did not appear in the ALDS against the Yankees or the ALCS against the Red Sox), then was great at 29, but at 30 and 31 (turned 32 this August), was good -- not great, not even very good, just good.

Over his last 2 regular seasons, he's been 26-22. His ERA, 3.20. So he's probably been a better pitcher than his record suggests (especially since the Indians and Mariners currently stink), but he's also pitched for the Phils and Rangers, and is only a combined 11-10 and 2.72 with them. Pretty good, but not great.

So what gives? Lee's postseason numbers. He's 7-0, 1.26. Compare that to Whitey Ford, 10-8, 2.71. Sandy Koufax, 4-3 (nothing special there), 0.95 (well beyond special -- only Mariano's is better). Bob Gibson, 7-2, 1.89. Catfish Hunter, 9-6, 3.26. Ron Guidry, 5-2. 3.02. Randy Johnson, 7-9, 3.50. (Yikes.) And Curt Schilling, arguably the greatest Yankee Killer ever to take a mound, 11-2, 2.23.

Then there is Lee's prospective Game 7 opponent. Andrew Eugene Pettitte. Deer Park, Texas, outside Houston. Age, 38. 240-138, .635, higher than Lee's. ERA+, 117, higher than Lee's. WHIP, 1.357, significantly higher than Lee's. Strikeouts, 2,251, though that's not especially relevant, since he hasn't specialized in them. No Cy Young Awards (1 2nd-place), but 3 All-Star berths, which is 1 more than Lee, and look at the ages when he got those berths: 24, 29 and 38. Pretty impressive. HOF Monitor, 122, almost 3 times Lee's. HOF Standards, 42, equal to Lee's HOF Monitor score. Chances are pretty good he'll go to the Hall of Fame, regardless of whether he ever throws another pitch -- and, if the Yanks lose Game 6, he might not, as many people think he'll retire after this season.

Which brings me to the key point that the Yankees still have to get to Game 7 first, by winning Game 6. If Lee wins Game 7, then he becomes one of the all-time big names in baseball, regardless of his career record. But if Pettitte wins Game 7, they'd better get his Monument Park Plaque ready, because he could very well retire a Pennant winner (and maybe also a World Champion).

Anyway, this series has already been very interesting. And it could turn into an epic.

Halladay vs. Lincecum wasn't all that good a match in Game 1. It could be a great one tonight in Game 5, and if the Phils win it, then the next 2 are in Philly and I think they'll take it, and add another chapter to Giant fans' misery. But if the Phils can't touch Lincecum, then the Giants win only their 4th Pennant since moving to San Francisco, and they just might get that Team of Destiny aura around them and believe they can go all the way for the first time since Willie made The Catch early in the Ike Age.

Wow, that last Giant crown was so long ago, the Phillies weren't the only MLB team in Philadelphia. Not to mention the fact that the Series, and the season, ended on October 2. Today is October 21, and, for the moment, neither Pennant has been won.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CC Wins, Or See You Next Year

So it comes down to this. The Yankees are one game away from being eliminated in the American League Championship Series.

By the Texas Rangers. The Dallas/Arlington Rangers. The George W. "I'm not the dumbest President ever, I just play him on TV" Bush Rangers. The 95 Degrees In the Shade Rangers. The team that turned Billy Martin from a paranoid alcoholic into a paranoid alcoholic who thought he was a cowboy.

Joe Girardi made all the right moves last year. The Yankee bats, especially Alex Rodriguez, came through in the postseason last year. This year is not last year. The bats, except for Robinson Cano's 3 homers (the only homers the Yanks have hit in this series), have been sotto voce. And Girardi has fubared the pitching situation. (FUBAR: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.)

He has forgotten two of baseball's unwritten rules:

1. If a guy is pitching well, you leave him in. To hell with lefty vs. lefty or righty vs. righty: Leave him in. Go with the hot hand.

2. If a guy is killing you with his bat, don't bring in a pitcher just to face him. Keep the guy who's pitching well in there. Josh Hamilton has been doing his best David Ortiz impression (with steroids?), and in both Game 3 and Game 4, Girardi brought in young lefty Boone Logan to face him, with disastrous results.

Now, I'm not saying that, if this series stays on its current course and the Yankees lose, Girardi should be fired as manager.

I am saying that, if the George Steinbrenner we all once knew were still in charge, Girardi might be fired. True, he can't control how well the Yankee bats hit the Ranger pitchers, or how well the Ranger pitchers pitch. But he can control who goes out to pitch for the Yankees. And while he almost got away with starting the strugg-a-ling A.J. Burnett last night (not to mention he almost got away with letting Francisco Cervelli catch him, especially since Jorge Posada hasn't been hitting much better), he left A.J. in too long.

Girardi has been managing the Yankees in the postseason no better than Jerry Manuel managed the Mets in the regular season. Which, ask any Mets fan tell you, felt a bit irregular. And the Mets, 2 years too late, finally used milk of magnesia and got rid of the Manuel/Omar Minaya irregularity.

CC Sabathia starts Game 5 this afternoon. I have a feeling he'll come through, so that the Rangers won't clinch at Yankee Stadium.

But it will most likely be a small reprieve. After all, the Rangers have 3 chances to win 1. And, as Mike Francesa said on WFAN this afternoon, they can pretty much clown their way through Games 5 and 6, and rely on Cliff Lee in Game 7.

Thus would it seem that the Yankees have no chance.

We've heard that before. Nevertheless, as they say in medical dramas...

I gotta be honest with you, it doesn't look good. By the time you next hear from me, the Yankees could be eliminated.

If so, I have no problem with cheering on either the Philadelphia Phillies or the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. The Phillies, due to proximity, how good they were in my formative years as a baseball fan (1976 to 1983), how great their new ballpark is, and how much they get Met fans steamed, are an easy team to root for. And, for all their history, they still have only the 2 titles. I have no problem with them winning a 3rd, if the don't have to beat the Yankees to do so.

The Giants, currently leading the NLCS 2 games to 1, haven't won a World Series since they moved to San Francisco in 1958 (the last was in New York in 1954), and have become one of those star-crossed franchises. And only 3 Pennants in all that time. With some close calls, including a few moments of what could be called "curse material." There are a number of explanations for why they might be cursed: http://www.sanfranmag.com/story/pick-curse-any-curse

So either of them would be a deserving World Champion.

Not the team of George W. Bush. To hell with the fact that he long ago sold them: I'll forgive them when he admits he stole the election.

Besides, Dallas Sucks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cincinnati's All-Time Baseball Team

I realize this has nothing to do with tonight's Game 4 of the ALCS. I realize that I said I would do a piece on the firing of Casey Stengel, and its effects on the Yankees, on the 50th Anniversary of the event, which was yesterday. And I realize that the Reds have already been eliminated from the Playoffs, as I was hoping to be able to post this while they were still in it.

But I do want to get this out of the way. After this, there will be only 2 teams' regional all-time teams left to do. The New York teams.

Cincinnati's All-Time Baseball Team

This team consists of players from the southern half of Ohio. 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.

This team also includes players from southern Indiana, except for that little southwestern tail, and from Kentucky, except for its westernmost part – those belong to the St. Louis Cardinals’ region. It also includes southern West Virginia, with the northern part belonging to Pittsburgh and the eastern Panhandle region going to Washington, D.C. – although the only player from the Panhandle good enough for me to even consider for the D.C. regional team was John Kruk.

What does this Cincinnati All-Time Team have? Good contact hitting. Good power hitting. Good starting pitching, although most of it is old-time -- or even "old-tyme." A little weak in the bullpen, though, and I'm not sure about the catcher, mainly because he hasn't played a game in 113 years (and has been dead for 104). Still, this should be a team that would do well by the Queen City of the Midwest. (Not to be confused with Seattle, which is known as the Queen City of the Northwest. As far as I know, there's no "King City" anywhere in the U.S., although New York is known as the Empire State.)

1B Al Oliver of Portsmouth, Ohio. Actually played a little bit more center field, but try cracking the starting lineup at that position on this team. Finished 2nd to Ted Sizemore for National League Rookie of the Year in 1969, but had a far better career than any of the others in the top 5 in the vote, making 7 All-Star Teams. Won the World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971. Also helped the Pirates reach postseason play in 1970, ’72, ’74 and ’75, nearly helped the Pirates to do so in ’73 and the Texas Rangers in ’78, and got there in his final season with the 1985 Toronto Blue Jays. Led the NL in batting, hits, doubles, total bases and RBI in 1982 as a member of the Montreal Expos. He was also, starting with the ’78 Rangers (after wearing 16 for the Pirates), the first player to regularly wear the Number 0 – not as a zero, but to represent an O for Oliver.

Batted .303 lifetime, OPS+ 121, and had 2,743 hits. Of all players eligible for the Hall of Fame but not yet in, only Harold Baines and Vada Pinson have more hits. On Baseball-Reference.com’s Hall of Fame Monitor, where a “Likely HOFer” is at 100, he’s at 116; on their “Hall of Fame Standards,” where an “Average HOFer” is at 50, he’s at 40. On their “Most Similar Batters,” his top 10 included HOFers Zack Wheat, Roberto Clemente (his Pirate teammate), Joe Medwick and Enos Slaughter. (And another Pirate teammate who’s not in, Dave Parker.) He belongs.

Honorable Mention to Charlie Gould, the only member of baseball's first openly professional team, the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, who was actually from Cincinnati, or even anywhere near it. He was one of the Red Stockings who moved east to form the Boston Red Stockings -- forerunners of today's Atlanta Braves -- and led the National Association in triples in 1872, as the Red Stockings won the first of 4 straight Pennants. That was the only Pennant Gould won as a member of a pro league, as he was gone the next season. In 1876 and '77, he played with the new Cincinnati Red Stockings of the National League, but they went out of business after the 1880 season, before a new team with the name formed in the American Association in 1882 and joined the NL in 1892. That team is the one that became today's Cincinnati Reds. So if you hear a Reds fan tell you his team is "the oldest team in professional baseball" -- he's wrong. In a manner of speaking, the Braves are, even though they've only been in their current city since 1966, which was roughly 100 years after the original, amateur, version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings was formed.

2B Billy Herman of New Albany, Indiana. A 10-time All-Star, he batted .304 lifetime with a 112 OPS+. He helped the Chicago Cubs win Pennants in 1932, ’35 and ’38, and the Brooklyn Dodgers in ’41, although he never won a World Series. (His injury late in ’41 was a big reason why the Dodgers didn’t win that one.) Led the NL in doubles in ’35 and in triples in ’39. Had 2,345 career hits, including 486 doubles and 82 triples. Hall of Fame, and a member of the Cubs’ Walk of Fame outside Wrigley Field, although they’ve never retired a number for him. (He wore several, wore 4 the most.)

SS Barry Larkin of Archbishop Moeller H.S. in Cincinnati. A true hometown hero, he turned down free-agent offers from other teams to stay with the Reds. He was a 12-time All-Star, the first time at age 24 and the last in his final season at 40 – and it wasn’t an honorary thing, either, as he batted .289 that season. He helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series, and got them into the postseason again in 1995 and ’99 (and had them in first place in the NL Central when the Strike of ’94 hit). He also won 3 Gold Gloves, and the 1995 NL Most Valuable Player award. Lifetime batting average .295, OPS+ 116, 2,340 hits including 441 doubles and 76 triples.

He is now eligible for the Hall of Fame. What does Baseball-Reference.com say? HOF Monitor 118 (that would be a yes), HOF Standards 47 (that would almost be a yes). Similar Batters including HOFers Ryne Sandberg, Joe Cronin and Pee Wee Reese (who I’ll get to in a moment) – also Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, both of whom I think should be in, and Roberto Alomar, some people’s choice to go in (but not mine). Put him in. The Reds appear to be waiting until his election to retire his Number 11, but it has not been given out since he retired as a player.

Very Honorable Mention to Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of Lousville, Kentucky. Played for the Triple-A Louisville Colonels, then a Boston Red Sox farm team, and legend has it that the Sox sold him to the Brooklyn Dodgers because Sox manager Joe Cronin was insecure about losing his own place as the Sox shortstop. Big mistake? Not really, because the Sox did have Johnny Pesky coming up.

Getting his nickname not from being short (he was 5-foot-10) but from his childhood prowess at marbles, which were often called “peewees,” Reese was the best shortstop in the National League in the 1940s and the first half of the 1950s – no mean feat in an era with Marty Marion and later Alvin Dark around. A 10-time All-Star, he helped the Dodgers win 7 Pennants and nearly made it 11. Not a great hitter, but he did manage 2,170 hits during his career, 330 of them doubles and 80 of them triples. He stole 232 bases, leading the NL in steals in 30. Not an easy thing to do when your teammate is Jackie Robinson.

Which brings us to Pee Wee’s most important legacy: As Dodger captain, and also as a white Southerner, he let it be known that Robinson would be accepted and that anyone who wouldn’t accept him was gone – and, after that 1947 Pennant-winning season, that included Southerners Dixie Walker and Eddie Stanky, despite both having been quite popular on the team and with Dodger fans. It was the right, move, not just morally but competitively. In May 1947, when the Dodgers were in Cincinnati – across the river from the Southern State of Kentucky and in many ways more Southern than Midwestern – Pee Wee heard so many nasty words from the stands at Crosley Field, from fans of the Reds, the team he had grown up rooting for, that he called time out, walked from his shortstop position to Jackie’s at first base, and put his arm around Jackie for a brief chat. No film or photograph of the event survives, but plenty of witnesses have revealed that it actually happened. What he said to Jackie isn’t recorded, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is what this gesture said to the crowd: “I’m a white Southerner, and this black man is my teammate, and I’m too much of a gentleman to call you a bunch of dumb fucking rednecks in any other way.”

The moment is recreated in a statue of the two men outside MCU Park, home of the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones. Pee Wee is in the Hall of Fame, and the Dodgers retired his Number 1.

3B Mike Schmidt of Dayton, Ohio. Grew up at a time when the Reds’ top player was Frank Robinson, so wore Robinson’s Number 20 with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have retired this number, elected him to the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame, and erected a statue of him outside Citizens Bank Park. In 1983, when the team celebrated its 100th Anniversary, they held fan balloting for their all-time team and their all-time greatest player. Schmidt was chosen their all-time greatest player. And he still had 159 homers and an MVP award to go!

Schmidt was an All-Star 12 times – including being voted the starting 3rd baseman on the NL team in 1989 after he’d already announced his retirement. He stayed true to his principles by not playing, but also stayed true to the fans who chose him by flying out to Anaheim and appearing in uniform for the event. His career OPS+ was an astounding 147. He had 2,234 hits, including 408 doubles, 59 triples, and 548 home runs – more than any 3rd baseman in history, more than any righthanded hitter and more than any National Leaguer of his generation. (Only Reggie Jackson, in that generation, topped him among lefties and American Leaguers.) He led the NL in homers 8 times, in RBIs 4 times, had 9 100-RBI seasons, and in 1980 hit 48 homers for a new team record that stood until Ryan Howard hit 58 in 2006. NL MVP in 1980, ’81 and ’86. And he wasn’t just a great hitter: He won 10 Gold Gloves. He is most people’s pick for the greatest 3rd baseman ever.

Helped the Phillies reach postseason play 6 times in an 8-year span from 1976 to 1983, winning the 1980 World Series (both regular-season and Series MVP) and the 1983 Pennant. In addition to the awards from his team, he was elected to the Hall of Fame and the All-Century Team. He’s a Hall of Fame person, too.

LF Frank Howard of Columbus, Ohio. At 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, it’s easy to see why they called him the Monster. He looked more like a football player, or at least a basketball player. In fact, he played them and baseball at The... Ohio State University. Called up too late to help the Los Angeles Dodgers win the 1959 World Series, he was NL Rookie of the Year in 1960, and helped the Dodgers win the 1963 Series before being traded to the Washington Senators, where he became known as the Capital Punisher.

He led the AL in homers in 1968 and ’70, and nearly did so in ’69 except that his predecessor as D.C.’s biggest bopper, Harmon Killebrew, hit 49 for the ex-Senators, now the Minnesota Twins, to Howard’s 48. Howard also led the AL in total bases and slugging in ’68, total bases in ’69 and RBIs in ’70. When the Senators moved to become the Texas Rangers after the ’71 season, he hit the last home run in team history. Traded to the Detroit Tigers late in ’72, he helped them win the AL East. A 4-time All-Star, career OPS+ 142, 382 home runs. He did slow down at age 34 and retired at 36, making him look like he fit the steroid profile, but at his size he wouldn’t have needed ‘em if offered.

Baseball-Reference.com has him at “only” 61 on their HOF Monitor and 26 on their HOF Standards. And none of his 10 Most similar Batters are in. So it doesn’t look like he’ll get in. Still, at the time he retired, only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Killebrew, Jimmie Foxx and Ernie Banks were righthanded hitters with more career homers. He is honored with a statue outside Nationals Park, and is listed on the Washington Hall of Stars display at the park.

CF Ken Griffey Jr. of Archbishop Moeller H.S. in Cincinnati. At this position, the Cincinnati team is loaded. They can also call on Earle Combs of Pebworth, Kentucky, a Hall-of-Famer who preceded Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle at the position for the Yankees, winning 4 Pennants and 3 World Series before a skull fracture against the unpadded outfield walls of the time prematurely ended his career. Then there’s David “Gus” Bell of Louisville, Kentucky, who helped the Reds win the 1961 Pennant and whose son David “Buddy” Bell and grandson David Bell (apparently no nickname) also played in the majors. Then there’s Jimmy Wynn of Taft H.S. in Cincinnati. The Toy Cannon was stuck in the Astrodome, but still hit a lot of home runs, including a memorable blast in his hometown in 1967, onto the Mill Creek Expressway (Interstate 75) just beyond the left-field wall at Crosley Field.

But they all have to take a back seat to Junior, who, like his father Ken, was born in Donora, Pennsylvania (also the home town of Stan Musial), but grew up in Cincy while his father played there. He just retired this season, and barring steroid revelations (I seriously doubt he used them) or any other kind of ethical calamity (such as befell another Moeller grad, Pete Rose), will be elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try in 2016.

A 13-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glover, the 1997 AL MVP, a 135 career OPS+, 2,781 hits including 524 doubles and 630 home runs – 4th-best all-time among honest men – plus 1,836 RBIs. 8 100-RBI seasons. 7 40-homer seasons, 4 in which he led the AL, twice hitting 56, the most in an AL season since Roger Maris’ 61 in ‘61. He led the Seattle Mariners to their first 2 postseason berths, as 1995 and ’97 AL West Champions, and in particular his ’95 run saved Major League Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, as a ballot initiative passed that got Safeco Field built. He had 398 homers before his 30th birthday. He was being hailed as the new Willie Mays.

Unfortunately, injuries were never far away, and he became the new Mickey Mantle instead. Only once did he top 30 homers after age 30, and never again had 100 RBIs. Either he or Barry Bonds, also the son of a good-but-not-quite-great major leaguer, was the best player of his generation. Griffey’s reputation took a bit of a hit, but as the revelations about his contemporaries, including Bonds, began to pile up, Griffey began to look a lot better. Aside from his comeback with the M’s the last 2 seasons, his Number 24 has not been given back out, and will surely be retired by the team. He deserves a statue outside Safeco. It, and the team, wouldn’t be there now if it wasn’t for him.

Honorable Mention to Oscar Charleston of Indianapolis, Indiana. Since we don’t have reliable statistics from the Negro Leagues, and since those leagues were probably, at best, made up of mostly Triple-A players, it’s hard to say how good he was. But what we do have tells us that, in 53 exhibition games against all-white teams of major leaguers, he batted .318 with 11 homers. 53 x 3 = 159, a full season today, so that’s .318 and on a pace for 33 homers. So had he played in the majors, he would probably have been as good as they came. He also managed the Pittsburgh Crawfords to a few Pennants… while still playing for them, at close to 40 years old, which attests to both his durability and his quick mind. Baseball historian Bill James calls him the 4th-best player ever. If only we could know for sure what he could do.

RF Sam Thompson of Danville, Indiana. This guy goes back to Cleveland. The Presidency of Grover Cleveland. In 1887, he led the Detroit Wolverines to the NL Pennant, leading the league in batting, hits, triples, RBIs (166, a record for the time), slugging and total bases. But the Wolverines couldn’t maintain it, and had to sell him to the Philadelphia Phillies. He led the NL in homers in 1889 and ’95, hits and doubles in ’90 and ’93, and RBIs in ’94 and ’95. He retired after the 1898 season, but came back for 8 games with the new Detroit team, the AL’s Tigers, in 1906 at age 46. Lifetime batting average .331, and an OPS+ of 146, so he was great by the standards of his own time, not just benefiting from the era’s pitching conditions, especially since he was great both before and after the 1893 move-back from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame.

Honorable Mentions to Chuck Klein of Indianapolis, Indiana, another Phillies slugger in the Hall of Fame; Paul O’Neill of Columbus, Ohio, who helped his home-State Reds win the 1990 World Series before bringing his “Warrior” mentality to the Yankees for 4 more titles; and David Justice of Covington, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati, who was a big part of the Atlanta Braves’ revival in the 1990s, winning 4 Pennants and the 1995 World Series, and then helping the Indians win the 1997 Pennant and the Yankees win the Series in 2000 and the Pennant in 2001.

C William “Buck” Ewing of Hoagland, Ohio. Think Thompson went back a long way? Ewing debuted in 1880, during the Administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. He played his best years with the New York Giants, winning NL Pennants in 1888 and ’89, and then helped the Cleveland Spiders win the Temple Cup in 1895, before closing his career with his hometown Reds in 1897.

(That was a trophy given to the winner of a postseason series between the NL’s 1st- and 2nd-place teams from 1894 to ’97. Because the 2nd-place team won in ’94, ’95 and ’97, people lost interest and the Cup was withdrawn, although it’s now on display at the Hall of Fame. Imagine if baseball had kept it, and treated it the way the NHL treats the Stanley Cup. Would we now be hearing Yankee Fans ask, “How many Temple Cups has YOUR team won?” Ironically, no current team has ever won one, unless you count the 1894 Cup won by the Giants who are now in San Francisco.)

Ewing may have been the best player of the 1880s, and pretty good in the 1890s, too. Lifetime batting average .303, OPS+ 129. He’s also the first player ever to hit 10 home runs in a season, in 1883. He could play any position. Seriously: 636 games at catcher, 253 at first base, 235 in the outfield, 127 at third base, 51 at second base, 34 at shortstop and 9 pitching. And he was regarded as a good fielder at all of them.

He died in 1906, age 47, and in 1939, when the Hall of Fame held an election to determine which 19th Century players were worthy, they chose Ewing, Cap Anson, Old Hoss Radbourn, Al Spalding, Charles Comiskey and Candy Cummings – although Spalding and Comiskey had credentials as executives that exceeded their impressive records as players, and Cummings got in mainly because he invented the curveball, which he probably hadn’t actually done. And Anson was also a pretty good manager. So Ewing was the only one elected mainly as a player.

Honorable Mention to an even earlier player: Cal McVey of Indianapolis, Indiana. Like Charlie Gould, he was a member of the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, and was one of the ones who formed the Boston Red Stockings. Unlike Gould, he stuck with them through the entire length of the National Association, winning Pennants in 1872, '73, '74 and '75, leading that league in hits and RBIs twice each. Like some of those Red Stockings, including Al Spalding, he went back west to form the Chicago White Stockings, forerunners of today's Cubs, and won the first NL Pennant in 1876, before returning to the NL's Cincinnati Red Stockings in their final 2 seasons, 1878 and '79.

SP Amos Rusie of Mooresville, Indiana. “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” was probably the fastest pitcher of the 1890s. We was just 29-34 for the New York Giant sin 1890, but then, he was only 19 years old. And he did strike out 341 batters. Over the next 4 seasons his win totals were 33, 32, 33 and 36. So the 1893 increase of the pitching distance from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches appears not to have affected him at all. (Unlike Gus Weyhing of Louisville, Kentucky, who I considered for this team, since “Cannonball” won 264 games in the majors, but was 177-124 before the move-back and just 87-108 after it, making him a great pitcher from age 21 to 25 but a mediocre one fro 26 to 32 and basically then being done.) Rusie led the NL in wins once, ERA twice, and strikeouts 6 times.

He held out for the entire 1896 season in a dispute with Giants owner Andrew Freedman, who was a real piece of work. He returned in 1897 and won 28 games. Having been hit in the head by a line drive in 1898, he did not appear in a game in 1899 or 1900, and was traded by the Giants to the Cincinnati Reds. Before the trade, made on December 15, 1900, he was 29 years old and had won 246 games. After the trade, he appeared in just 3 games and won none. The man he was traded for? He was 20, and had appeared in 6 games and won none; he went on to win 373. His name was Christy Mathewson. This may have been the most lopsided trade in baseball history. Nevertheless, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977, having died in 1942.

SP Mordecai Brown of Nyesville, Indiana. For the record, Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown was named “Centennial” because he’d been born in 1876, was nicknamed “Brownie” because of his last name, “Miner” because he’d been one, and was nicknamed “Three Finger” (or “Three-Fingered”) because of a farm accident which cost him his index finger and damaged the others. So unless you are dumb enough to not count the thumb, he actually had 4 fingers on his right hand, not 3. But the damage, particularly with the way it twisted his middle finger, left him with a grip that gave him a curveball and a change-up matched by few others in baseball history.

It took until age 26 for a big-league team to give him a chance, in 1903, and moving to the Chicago Cubs in 1904, it was between him and Christy Mathewson as to who was the best pitcher in the NL for the next few years. In fact, they opposed each other 24 times, and Brown won 13, Matty 11. Brown won 20 or more games 6 times, 25 or more 4 times, peaking at 29-9 in 1908. Six times he had an ERA under 2.00, and five times he had a WHIP under 1.000. In 1906 he had a 0.934 WHIP, and a 1.04 ERA, still the lowest in the NL since the 1893 mound-distance moveback. Thanks in part to his pitching the makeup game, forced by New York Giant Fred Merkle’s “Boner,” that gave the Cubs the 1908 Pennant, he won Pennants in 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, and, with the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, in 1915. He made 3 starts for the Cubs in the 1907 and 1908 World Series, all shutouts. Those 2 remain the only World Series the Cub franchise has ever won.

His career record was 239-130 for an outstanding .648 winning percentage, a miniscule 2.06 ERA (and an ERA+ of 139, so he wasn’t just taking advantage of the Dead Ball Era), a 1.066 career WHIP, and 55 shutouts. He also pitched in relief a lot for his era, including in the 1908 title-decider, collecting 49 saves, although that statistic was unknown at the time. Too bad, because his 13 saves in 1911 were a major league record at the time. He died in 1948, and was elected to the Hall of Fame a year later.

SP Carl Mays of Liberty, Kentucky. He would probably be in the Hall of Fame if he were not the only pitcher in major league history to have thrown a pitch that led to a player’s death. On August 16, 1920, pitching for the Yankees against the Cleveland Indians, the submarine-style hurler struck Indian shortstop Ray Chapman in the head, at a time when batting helmets did not exist. Chapman got up, told Yankee catcher Wally Schang, “I’m all right. Tell Mays not to worry,” started toward first base, and then collapsed. He never regained consciousness, and died the next day. Mays lived another 51 years, and insisted to the end that he hadn’t tried to hit Chapman, who was, before the beaning, known for ducking into pitches. The ball rebounded back to Mays, and from the sound, he thought Chapman had hit the ball, and he’d thrown it to first, which suggests he was telling the truth when he called it an accident.

But people wanted to say Mays did it on purpose, because he already had a reputation for nastiness, treating teammates and team management badly. It’s what got him traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees during the 1919 season. This was the first of the Yanks-Sox transactions that Sox owner Harry Frazee made to dismantle the 1912-18 Sox champions and, for all intents and purposes, make the 1921-28 Yank champions, highlighted, of course, by Babe Ruth. Mays was a member of 6 Pennant-winning team,s 3 in Boston, 3 in New York, and pitched for the 1915, ’16, ’18 and ’23 World Champions. He peaked in 1921, going 27-9. His career record was 208-126, for a .623 winning percentage. His ERA was 2.92, his ERA+ 120, and his WHIP 1.207.

Is that good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? According to Baseball-Reference.com, their HOF Monitor has him at 114 of 100, and their HOF Standards has him at 41 of 50. Their 10 Most Similar Pitchers including 3 HOFers: Stan Coveleski, Chief Bender and Jack Chesbro. Maybe, already not being a nice guy, Mays still wouldn’t be in if Chapman were still alive at his death. Of course, being white, he was no relation to Willie Mays, but a cousin a couple of times removed, Joe Mays, pitched for the Minnesota Twins a few years ago.

SP Jesse Haines of Clayton, Ohio. One of the players who turned the Cardinals from St. Louis’ second team into one of baseball’s first teams. He was 210-158, won 20 on 3 occasions, and helped the Cards win Pennants in 1926, ’28, ’30, ’31 and ’34, winning the World Series in ’26 (he started Game 7 but developed a blister, leading to Grover Cleveland Alexander’s famed strikeout of Tony Lazzeri, but Haines was still the winning pitcher), ’31 and ’34. By the time of that last win, Haines was 40 and was not an integral member of the “Gashouse Gang.” He is in the Hall of Fame, although often considered one of the lesser-deserving members.

SP Jim Bunning of Southgate, Kentucky. Forget his lunacy (or was it senility?) as a Republican Senator from his home State: This guy could pitch. One of the few pitchers to throw no-hitters in both Leagues, the graduate of Cincy’s Xavier University did it in the American for the Detroit Tigers in 1958, and in the National League with a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964.

He only had one 20-win season, going 20-8 with the ’57 Tigers, but won 19 on 4 occasions, including 1964 when it was almost enough to get the Phils the Pennant. Unfortunately, manager Gene Mauch overused him down the stretch, and that’s one of the reasons for the ’64 Phillie Phlop. Bunning was traded away in 1968, but came back in 1970, and was the winning pitcher in both the last game at Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium (October 1, 1970) and the first game at Veterans Stadium (April 10, 1971) – both over the Montreal Expos. He won 224 games, had an ERA+ of 114 and a WHIP of 1.179. It took a while for him to get into the Hall of Fame, by which point he’d already been in the U.S. House of Representatives for 10 years. He was elected to the Senate in 1998, but chose not to run for re-election this year. It’s just as well, next week he turns 79.

Honorable Mention to Ferdie Schupp of Louisville, Kentucky, whose 0.90 ERA in 1916 is the lowest in big-league history with at least 100 innings pitched (albeit just 140), and who went 21-7 for the 1917 Giants, helping them win the Pennant; Paul Derringer of Springfield, Kentucky, who helped his “hometown” Reds win the 1939 Pennant and 1940 World Series, winning 223 games and being inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame; Carl Erskine of Anderson, Indiana, the curveball master who became one of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ “Boys of Summer,” helping them win 6 Pennants and the 1955 World Series (still alive at age 83, “Oisk” won 122 games, 4 in Los Angeles and the rest in Brooklyn); and Lew Burdette of Nitro, West Virginia, who starred for the Milwaukee Braves, winning 203 games, including 3 against the Yankees in the 1957 World Series (this after the Yanks traded him away, albeit getting the valuable Johnny Sain in the deal).

RP Joe Nuxhall of Hamilton, Ohio. Okay, he was mostly a starter, but I couldn’t find a reliever I liked anywhere in the vast Cincy geographical range. In 1944, 2 months before his 16th birthday, World War II had left the Reds’ organization so bereft of healthy arms that he was called up, and became the youngest player in major league history. He pitched one game, 2/3 of an inning, and got rocked, allowing 2 hits and 5 runs for a 67.50 ERA. He was so distraught that he didn’t appear in another big-league game for 8 years.

But once he did, he was ready. From 1952 to 1966, ages 23 to 37, mostly for the Reds (he was traded away in 1961 but got back a year later), he won 135 games, losing 117, and had 19 saves. He actually led the NL in shutouts in 1955, albeit with 5. After retiring, he became a Reds broadcaster, teaming up with Marty Brennaman to form one of the most beloved broadcasting teams ever. The youngest man ever to appear in a big-league game began to refer to himself as “The Old Lefthander,” and was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. He died in 2007, age 79.

MGR Miller Huggins of Cincinnati, Ohio. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati and its law school, he was a pretty good player despite his size (5-foot-6, 140 pounds), playing 2nd base for the Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals, batting .304 in 1912 and leading the NL in walks 4 times. He managed the Cardinals from 1913 to 1917, and was then hired to run the Yankees, leading them to their first 6 Pennants, a pair of three-peats: 1921, ’22, ’23, ’26, ’27 and ’28, winning the World Series in ’23, ’27 and ’28. On September 25, 1929, aged only 50 but always looking much older, he died of a blood disorder that probably could have been cured with today’s medicine.

On May 30, 1932, between games of a Memorial Day doubleheader, the Yankees dedicated a Monument to him, on the field in front of the flagpole at Yankee Stadium. This was the beginning of what became first “the Monuments” and then, after the 1974-75 renovation, “Monument Park.” From 1925 to 1961, the Yankees’ spring training home was at Crescent Lake Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 1931, they renamed it Miller Huggins Field, using it as a practice facility while “real games” were played at Al Lang Field. When the Yanks moved across the State to Fort Lauderdale in 1962, the expansion Mets took it over, and renamed it Huggins-Stengel Field, using it until opening their Port St. Lucie complex in 1989. In 1964, Miller Huggins was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

GM Wesley Branch Rickey of Flat, Ohio. He invented the farm system, allowing the St. Louis Cardinals to become the dominant team in the National League between 1926 and 1946. Moving on to the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made them into the dominant team in the NL between 1947 and 1956. This was due in large part to an even greater innovation than the farm system, which saved teams a lot of money on scouting: He reintegrated the game, bringing in Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and others. He moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and helped them build into the 1960 World Champions. In all, the teams he built won 16 Pennants (and nearly 7 others) and 8 World Series, ranging from 1926 to 1960.

He was first involved in professional baseball in 1903, when Theodore Roosevelt was President, movies were new and didn’t talk, there was no radio broadcasting, certainly no television, hardly anyone had an automobile, the airplane was a few months from being invented, the World Series was first played, and baseball was played in stadiums with wooden grandstands and no lights, with no major league teams south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and none more than 2 miles west of the Mississippi River. He was last involved in professional baseball at his death at age 84 in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was President, color TV was in vogue, the Space Age was underway, baseball was integrated, the majors stretched from coast to coast, and there was a team in the South, playing day games and night games under a dome.

And along the way, he changed baseball more than any more before (except for the game’s original builders) or since. And he changed it for the better, even if he was often cheap: It was said he had money and he had players, and he didn’t like to see the two mix. But he was one of baseball’s great men.

And finally... Dishonorable Mention to Pete Rose of Western Hills H.S. in Cincinnati. You blew it, Pete. You thought you were bigger than the game. No, you weren’t. Babe Ruth was bigger than baseball. Jackie Robinson was bigger than baseball. That’s it, just those 2 guys. Pete Rose was never bigger than baseball. Now, he is far smaller than it.

Defiant To the End

This is my 500th post on this blog. And my 499th, in which I said the Yankees should not be afraid of Cliff Lee, set me up to look like a fool.

In fact, I remain defiant to the end.

Yes, Cliff Lee pitched one of the best games in postseason history last night, enabling the Texas Rangers to go up 2 games to 1 over the Yankees, and take home-field advantage back.

But the truth is, after 8 innings, the score was only 2-0. Had that remained the score, Lee would have had to pitch the 9th, having thrown 82 pitches. That's not a lot, but 9 innings is still 9 innings. And 2 runs, as Yankee broadcaster John Sterling would stay, "That's just a bloop and a blast." Or a walk and a wallop.

What killed the Yankees last night wasn't Lee's stinginess -- 2 hits and a walk against 13 strikeouts, just 2 off the postseason record for Yankee opponents set by Sandy Koufax in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series -- but the bullpen implosion in the top of the 9th.

After allowing a 1st-inning homer to Josh Hamilton -- test him for drugs, steroids or otherwise -- Pettitte was fine the rest of the way, through the 7th. Kerry Wood pitched a scoreless 8th. Had Joe Girardi left Wood in for the 9th, it doesn't seem likely that he would have been worse than the double-barreled backfire of Boone Logan and David Robertson, before Sergio Mitre finally locked the barn door -- after the horse had not only escaped but knocked over a lantern that burned the barn down -- and it was 8-0. That may have been the worst Yankee inning I've ever seen.

Frankly, I don't know why Joe didn't leave Pettitte in to pitch the 8th. He'd only thrown 67 pitches. That's an average of 9.57 pitches for inning, less than Lee's 10.25. He hadn't pitched as well as Lee, but had pitched very well and was fresher. Had Andy pitched the 8th, Wood could have pitched the 9th; had they done as well as they actually did, it would still have been 2-0 Texas in the bottom of the 9th, and people would be writing different stuff today.

The back page of today's Daily News reads, "PANIC IN THE BRONX."

But, you see, that's the thing: The Yankees never panic. Never. Who wrote that headline, noted Met fan and Yankee Hater Mike Lupica?

Ranger catcher Benjie Molina, a member of the Anaheim Angels team that beat the Yankees in the 2002 ALDS on the way to winning the World Series, said, "I don't think anybody thinks this series is over. No way can you think this series is over. When you think it's over, that's when everything goes sour."

This is the 21st time that a team has held a 2-1 lead in a best-4-out-of-7 ALCS. In the previous 20, the team holding the 2-1 lead has ended up winning the series 15 times.

One of the 5 times the team down 2-1 came back was in 1998, when the Cleveland Indians had such a lead over the Yankees, and had the next 2 games at Jacobs Field, where they were really tough. The Indians didn't win another game until April, as the Yanks took the next 3.

The Yankees have had a number of postseason comebacks:

* 1923 World Series: Down 2-1 to the New York Giants, won 4-2.

* 1952 World Series: Down 3-2 to the Brooklyn Dodgers, won 4-3.

* 1958 World Series: Down 3-1 to the Milwaukee Braves, won 4-3.

* 1977 ALCS: Down 1-0 and 2-1 to the Kansas City Royals, won 3-2. (The LCS format was best-3-out-of-5 from 1969 to 1984, and has been best 4-out-of-7 since 1985.)

* 1978 World Series: Down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, won 4-2.

* 1996 ALDS: Down 1-0 to the Texas Rangers, won 3-1. The Rangers never won another postseason game until this year's ALDS.

* 1996 World Series: Down 2-0 to the Atlanta Braves, won 4-2.

* 1998 ALCS: As stated, down 2-1 to the Cleveland Indians, won 4-2.

* 2000 ALDS: Down 1-0 to the Oakland Athletics, won 3-2.

* 2001 ALDS: Down 2-0 to the A's, both at Yankee Stadium, won 3-2.

* 2003 ALCS: Down 1-0 to the Boston Red Sox, at Yankee Stadium, won 4-3.

* 2009 World Series: Down 1-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies, at Yankee Stadium II, won 4-2.

So while the Yankees were not intimidated by Cliff Lee -- frustrated, maybe, but not intimidated -- neither are they intimidated by being down 2-1 with the Rangers having regained home-field advantage.

A.J. Burnett starts tonight in Game 4. He's been awful this season, and his last postseason start, Game 5 of last year's World Series -- also started by Lee, for the Phillies -- was awful.

But the Rangers' starter is Tommy Hunter. Who? 13-4 this season, his .765 winning percentage leading the AL. ERA 3.73, pretty good in a hitters' park in the AL. (And, like George Thomas Seaver, Raymond Thomas Hunter uses his middle name and becomes "Tom." Just like his boss, Lynn N. Ryan, uses his middle name. Not that that's all that relevant.) But he was already beaten by Tampa Bay in this year's ALDS, and that's his only postseason experience. Contrast that with Allan James Burnett, whose postseason ERA is 5.27, but has won both a postseason game and a ring. (Two, in fact: He was with the Marlins in 2003 but was hurt and did not appear in the postseason.)

Panic in The Bronx? Perish the thought. The Yankees can come back from this. And unless Ron Washington wants to be the one to panic, and pitch him on 3 days' rest in Game 6... Cliff Lee may not pitch again this season. If so, he may never pitch for the Rangers again. Who knows if Ryan is going to shell out the cash necessary to keep Lee?

Tonight's game tells the story: If A.J. has his good stuff, the Yankees win the Pennant. If he doesn't, it's the Rangers vs. the Phillies-Giants winner in the World Series.

The Rangers have proven nothing yet. The Yankees have. And the Rangers are the Division winner facing the Wild Card winner. And they've got the home-field advantage. By all measures, they should win.

The pressure's all on them. Let's see how these postseason neophytes handle it.

The bastards.