Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gil McDougald, 1928-2010

Gilbert James McDougald died on Sunday, of prostate cancer. He was 82 years old.

Gil was a native of San Francisco, one of several Yankee stars from that city, including Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri and Lefty Gomez. He usually played 3rd base, but could also play shortstop (as he did making a key play in Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series) and 2nd base. He wore Number 12 for his entire career.

He arrived in 1951, and he, not Mickey Mantle, was that season's American League Rookie of the Year. In Game 4 of that year's World Series, he hit a grand slam against the New York Giants, only the 3rd slam in Series history, following Elmer Smith of the 1920 Cleveland Indians and Lazzeri in 1936.

He left in 1960, his last act as an active player scoring the tying run in the top of the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series... only to have that wiped from memory by Bill Mazeroski's home run.

Gil played 10 seasons, winning 8 Pennants (1951, '52, '53, '55, '56, '57, '58 and '60) and 5 World Championships (1951, '52, '53, '56 and '58). In 5 seasons, he was named to the All-Star Team.

Sadly, he's probably best known for one of the most unfortunate incidents in Yankee history. On May 7, 1957, the Yankees were playing the Indians, and Gil hit a line drive right back at the pitcher, Herb Score. Score had a pitching motion that left him rather exposed, and he never had a chance. The liner broke several bones in his face. He did pitch again, and insisted until his death that it was an arm injury the next season that cut his career short, not that reverse-beaning.

McDougald was apparently never the same player, either. He said he would quit baseball if Score lost the use of his eye. (Herb did wear glasses for the rest of his life, including a 37-year career as an Indian broadcaster. He was their Phil Rizzuto, their Richie Ashburn, their Ron Santo.) Nevertheless, he did get some key hits in the 1958 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves.

Gil knew how it felt: In 1955, he'd been hit in the head by a batting practice foul ball, and began to lose his hearing. When interviewed for the videotape New York Yankees: The Movie, released in 1987, his speech was slurred; not knowing about his deafness, I thought at the time that he might have had a stroke. A few years later, I saw him in Cooperstown, New York, signing autographs at a store near the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he was wearing a cochlear implant, which restored his hearing. When interviewed for several YES Network Yankeeography broadcasts, his speech and memory were both clear.

He retired after the 1960 season, rather than be left unprotected in the expansion draft, and became a coach at Fordham University in The Bronx. He lived near the Jersey Shore, in Wall Township.

A story he liked to tell was of the 1953 season, when the Yankees went on an 18-game winning streak, followed by a 9-game losing streak. Of manager Casey Stengel, he said, "When we were winning 18 in a row, Casey was just a miserable old man, as they say. But when we were losing 9 in a row, he was beautiful. And we all said, 'Hey, let's lose a few more!'"

But Gil McDougald was a winner.

*

In case you're wondering, McDougald's death leaves 5 players from that 1951 Yankee team, DiMaggio's last and Mantle's first, still alive: Yogi Berra, Bobby Brown, Bob Kuzava, Charlie Silvera and Jerry Coleman. This does not count Whitey Ford, who had been drafted into the U.S. Army for the Korean War and missed the 1951 and '52 seasons.

*

Also recently deceased:

* Dave Niehaus, the Hall of Fame voice of the Seattle Mariners since their 1977 inception.

* Tom Underwood, a pitcher for several teams, including the Yankees in 1980 and '81, who in 1979 was outdueled by his brother Pat in Pat's first major league game (Tom for the Toronto Blue Jays, Pat for the Detroit Tigers)

* Danny McDevitt, who briefly pitched for the Yankees in their "M&M Boys" season of 1961, but is best known for pitching a shutout for the Brooklyn Dodgers over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the last game at Ebbets Field, on September 24, 1957. (He and his catcher, Joe Pignatano, were honored in a ceremony at the Brooklyn Cyclones' ballpark in 2007, the 50th Anniversary of that game. Pignatano, also an original 1962 Met and a Met coach on their 1969 "Miracle" team, is still alive.)

* Rob Lytle, a football star for the University of Michigan and the Denver Broncos.

* Gaye Stewart, who starred with the Toronto Maple Leafs and was a member of their 1942 and '47 Stanley Cup winners, and also briefly played for the Rangers.

* And, of course, former Devils, Leafs and Montreal Canadiens coach Pat Burns, who lost his battle with cancer. I will forever be grateful to him for the 2003 Stanley Cup. He also led the Canadiens to the Finals in 1989, and the Leafs to the Conference Finals in 1993 and '94.

May they all rest in peace, except for those times when they take a seat in the ultimate skybox. On those occasions, I hope they have a lot of excitement.

Comparing Jeter to A-Rod: It STILL Doesn't Help A-Rod

For about a week now, I’ve been in an online argument with Lisa Swan, the tasteful half of the Subway Squawkers blog, over whether the Yankee brass or Derek Jeter is in the right.

I think Jeter deserves what he’s asking for – or, at least, what his agent Casey Close is asking for. Lisa disagrees, sure that Jeter isn’t worth the money.

The problem is, Lisa and I both have this nasty habit of comparing Jeter with Alex Rodriguez. This makes both of us a bit irrational at times. The difference is, I side with the guy who won 4 rings before the $252 (now $275) Million Dollar Man ever got to the Yankees; she sides with A-Rod and doesn’t buy all the hype about Jeter:

He was not the reason the Yankees won those 4 World Series from 1996 to 2000, or those 6 Pennants from 1996 to 2003 – and neither was Joe Torre. (She seems to have had it in for Joe ever since he batted A-Rod 8th in Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS. Hey, if he’s batting like a Number 8 hitter… )

He was never as good as A-Rod, and should have been the one to move to 3rd base.

His image of “class” and not being “in it for the money” is fake.

This went back and forth between us on Subway Squawkers until she launched a fusillade at me… and I haven’t responded.

And I won’t respond on Subway Squawkers, for 2 reasons. The first is practical: My response would just be too long.

The second reason? Not that I’d be wrong. Not even that I’d be forming the classic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result – in this case, trying to convince Lisa she’s wrong, when I know she’ll hold her position. I’d have more luck going on Faith and Fear In Flushing and trying to convince them that Whitey Ford was a better pitcher than Tom Seaver. (And even I don’t believe that.)

No, the second reason that I won’t issue my response on Subway Squawkers is simple.

It’s Rule Number 1 of running a blog:

Always remain in control of your blog.

Lisa’s simply keeping control, running both a defense and an offense. And I can’t fault her for that.

So it’s better if I respond on my own damn blog.

Here’s the discussion thus far, with errors of spelling (on my side as well as hers) corrected:

Lisa, posted this past Sunday, November 28, 12:51 PM: << I haven't been much of a believer in Jeter's intangibles -- he's got just as much of an ego as any other superstar diva, he just hides it better. And the way the captain held a grudge against A-Rod when it hurt the clubhouse for years was completely unacceptable.

Which is why I find it laughable that he thinks he deserves extra money for his leadership. What leadership? Telling the fans not to boo Chuck Knoblauch and Jason Giambi, but refusing to do the same for A-Rod? Puh-lease. >>

Before I get to my response to that, let me point something out: When Knoblauch had his throwing yips in 2000 and ’01, he was making $6M a season; when Giambi was going through his steroid controversy and illness (possibly connected) in 2004, he was making twice that, $12.4M; when A-Rod was hitting poorly in the postseason, 2004 to ’07, he was averaging $23M a year, and hadn’t accomplished nearly what Knobby and the Giambino had in Octobers. (Lest we forget, Knobby was a major figure in the 1998, ’99 and 2000 postseasons, and Giambi hit 2 homers in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, making that great comeback against Pedro the Punk and Aaron Boone’s walkoff homer possible.)

In other words, the great actor John Houseman’s words, A-Rod came by that booing the old-fashioned way: He earned it.

So here’s what I said, on Sunday, posted at 6:28 PM, admittedly a little pissy, especially in reference to the posters who agreed with Lisa that the Yankee brass was right and Jeter was wrong:

<< So what "hurt the clubhouse for years" was Jeter holding a grudge against A-Rod?

Riiiight, that's the reason the Yankees lost in the Playoffs in 2004, '05, '06 and '07, not because A-Rod turned into Sergio Ferrer when the money was on the table. (If you don't remember Ferrer, ask Squawker Jon.)

Lisa, that's a very impressive Greek chorus you've got around you. But you're starting to write about Jeter the way Mike Lupica writes about Isiah Thomas. With one big difference: Lupica is right. >>

Ferrer was a weak-hitting shortstop in the 1970s, first for the Minnesota Twins, then in 1978 and ’79 for the Mets, where he would have been watched by Jon Lewin, a.k.a. Squawker Jon, the half of the Subway Squawkers writing team without good taste.

I did kind of go too far.

Here’s what Lisa said the next morning, Monday, November 29, posted at 5:39 AM:

<< Mike, If Jeter is such a great captain, then why did the Yanks have a clubhouse that was so "broken," as Brian Cashman put it, that CC Sabathia was asked to help fix the clubhouse chemistry? Still waiting for a Jeter fan to explain that. >>
My explanation, posted at 1:20 PM that afternoon – the “13 reasons” referring to A-Rod’s uniform number:

<< Why was the Yankee clubhouse broken? I'll give you 13 reasons. Surely, it can't only be money behind neither the Mariners nor the Rangers lifting a finger to keep A-Rod.

It would be different, Lisa, if you attributed the 1996-2003 successes to Joe Torre but not to Jeter. At least then you'd have a point.

But to dismiss both the greatest manager of the last 50 years and the greatest Yankee player of the last 40 years, and side with A-Rod, who was a self-made loser until some new pitching and Teixeira were brought in, reducing his burden...

I've often mentioned a game I saw at the old Stadium in 2005 or '06, where these two young women were sitting in front of me, wearing RODRIGUEZ 13 T-shirts, and commenting on how A-Rod was "so hot." I called him a loser, one turned around and said, "So what, he's hot." I began to wonder what Thurman Munson would have thought. These women clearly had the wrong priorities.

And, lest we forget, in the 2010 postseason, A-Rod's on-base percentage was .289, with 3 RBIs as the cleanup hitter; Jeter's OBP was .286 with 2 RBIs as the leadoff hitter. Functionally equal, and Jeter is a year older. Tell me again, which one is in decline? Tell me again, which one doesn't deserve all that money? >>

I’ve told that story before, and to this day, it really pissed me off. I think the Yankees won that day, although I can’t remember the date, or the opponent. I do remember that we were in the upper deck. Maybe if I can find the ticket stub…

But “an MVP” shouldn’t be a cleanup hitter whose stats are, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as those of a leadoff hitter who’s “in decline.” Especially in October.

Here’s Lisa’s response to that, posted just half an hour later. Here’s where I have to address it, point by point:

<< Oh, please, Mike. Is that you best you got, some anecdote about girls thinking A-Rod is hot? As is every single girl wearing No. 2 shirts is a baseball expert. >>

No, it doesn’t make every single (or married) girl wearing JETER 2 shirts a baseball expert. It does make them supporters of a player who’s done more for the Yankees – or any other team, for that matter – than A-Rod.

“As for the clubhouse chemistry, it has been reported by a variety of sources, including none less than Joe Torre's book, that the Jeter-A-Rod feud divided the clubhouse. It was up to the captain to welcome A-Rod to the team, and not hold a jealous grudge. If Donovan McNabb could welcome a dog killer who ended up taking to his job to the Eagles, then Jeter could have gotten over his pettiness and treated A-Rod as a valued teammate.”

Sorry, Lisa, but you can’t trash Torre and his book for 2 years and then use it as a source. That’s intellectual dishonesty. It would be like me saying, “If Roger Clemens really wanted to hit Mike Piazza with an object, Piazza would have gotten hit with it” – when I know full well that, 3 months earlier, that very thing happened: It does my cause more harm than good. (And I have used that argument, and it’s backfired.)

Jeter put the jersey on A-Rod at the signing’s press conference. That’s more of a “welcome to the team” than Thurman Munson, or any other Yankee, did for Reggie Jackson – whom both of us cite as our favorite player while growing up. Munson and Roy White were at Reggie’s introductory presser, but Jeter went one better. What was he supposed to do, kiss A-Rod’s ring? Oh, that’s right, he didn’t have one.

Who held a jealous grudge? It wasn’t Jeter who begged to come to A-Rod’s team because he was desperate for attention, money and winning, it was the other way around.

As for McNabb, Michael Vick didn’t take his job. The Eagle brass took it and gave it to Vick, who, at the time, had done nothing to earn it. (He has since, but then, Vick’s Eagles and McNabb’s Redskins have split 2 meetings this season, and it remains to be seen whether the move was right for either side.)

Then she takes issue with me calling A-Rod a loser:

<< A self-made loser with three MVPs, two as a Yankee. >>

And he deserved none of those MVPs. “MVP” stands for “Most Valuable Player.” If you didn’t help your team win your league’s Pennant, you are not that league’s most valuable player. Simple. Barry Bonds won 7 MVPs, but only once did he ever lead his team to a Pennant – and that was in 2002, when just about everybody believes he was steroided-up to an insane degree. True, he did win 2 MVPs with the Pittsburgh Pirates in seasons when they at least won their Division (1990 and ’92), at a time when everybody agrees he probably wasn’t juicing yet.

One of these days, I’ve got to do a piece on who really deserved MVPs, but this is not that time, especially with this Jeter circus going on (and not caused by him) and with my Yankee All-Time Regional Team still yet to be posted. (I have it selected, I just need to write the explanatory text.)

But here’s a preview: In 2003, Alex Rodriguez won the AL MVP; his Texas Rangers finished last; the true most valuable player (note the lack of caps) was a member of the Pennant-winning New York Yankees, and the Yankee who had the best season was… Jason Giambi. But then, also a steroid suspect, but then, the team the Yankees beat for the Pennant, the Red Sox, was also loaded with them; so the next-most-deserving Yankee, statistically speaking, was Jorge Posada.

In 2005, A-Rod won the AL MVP; his Yankees won the AL East, but the Pennant was won by the Chicago White Sox, whose most valuable player was… Paul Konerko. As far as I know, he was clean.

In 2007, A-Rod won the AL MVP; his Yankees won the AL Wild Card, but the Pennant was won by the Boston Red Sox, whose most valuable player was… David Ortiz. The most valuable player in Red Sox history. Which is why their 2 World Championships in this era are both frauds. So we can say their next-most-deserving player was… either Mike Lowell, Josh “Super Punk” Beckett, or Jonathan “Papelbum” Papelbon. Uh, let’s go with Lowell. Unless you want to punish the entire team for the steroids of a few, in which case we go to the team that lost the ALCS, the Cleveland Indians, and now the MVP is… tough choice, Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner were all good choices, so we could go with their most effective pitcher, but that’s also a tough choice between CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona – Cliff Lee was their 5th-best starter! So here’s a case where the best untainted team doesn’t have an obvious candidate. So maybe we should try the other Division Champions, who did, after all, finish first: The Anaheim Angels (using that name for simplicity’s sake), whose statistically best player was… Vladimir Guerrero. I think he’s been clean… I think…

A-Rod has played on one Pennant winner, the 2009 Yankees. And, that season, he was 2nd on the team in homers, RBIs and OPS+, behind Mark Teixeira. It can be argued that Teix hardly hit at all until A-Rod came back, thus maybe A-Rod should have gotten the MVP. Who got it? Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, who did at least win their Division, so it wasn’t a horrible choice – just not the best one.

But to use A-Rod’s MVP awards as a reason why he wasn’t a “loser” prior to 2009, well, the Grammy Award for Record of the Year for 1964 went to “Downtown” by Petula Clark, when there was the little matter of the Beatles. Richard Nixon won 49 out of 50 States in 1972. Voters make mistakes sometimes.

Lisa continues: << A self-made loser whose worst season rivals Jeter's best season. >>

A-Rod’s worst season? Take your pick of the 3 last-place seasons he had in Texas. Jeter’s best season? Take your pick of 5 World Championship seasons. One of which, by definition, was also A-Rod’s best season. It’s not about the stats. Is it, Coach Lombardi? Is it, Coach Edwards?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQAyMgVoARQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W42iiCcFbxE&feature=related

Then she mentions my admission last November, after the 2009 World Series, that A-Rod was “a winner” after all: << So much for you and other Yankee fans promise to stop denigrating A-Rod when he got a ring. Oy. >>

Well, I never actually promised… But he did choke this postseason. Jeter did, too – but he’s the one who’s supposed to be “in decline.” He’s also not the cleanup hitter.

He’s also the one who’s done it plenty of times before. I’m not going to hold A-Rod to the standard of The Flip Play (2001 ALDS), but is it too much to ask for A-Rod to hit a postseason walkoff (2001 WS)? Or win a World Series MVP (2000)? Or even NOT hit a late-inning popup with men on base (2005 and 2007 ALDS)?

<< And your reading competition is getting spotty. I haven't dismissed Torre and Jeter; I just think that the Yankees have already paid several times over for the contributions, and don't need to keep on paying for rings won in the Clinton administration. >>

How soon we forget how we didn’t win rings in the Reagan and Bush I Administrations. The value of those 4 Torre Era rings is incalculable… and yet you want to put a specific dollar figure on it? Granted, it’s not World War II, or even the Space Race. But if you ever meet a Met fan who has a billion dollars, ask him if he would give half of that money to reverse the results of the 2000 World Series, the 2006 NLCS, or the last couple of games of the 2007 and ’08 regular seasons.

<< And by the way, Jeter had zero rings as captain until CC, Swisher and even AJ helped change the clubhouse chemistry. Ken Davidoff wrote today in Newsday that the whole "Choose a Side: Jeter or A-Rod" dynamic that infected the clubhouse finally ended when those guys got on the team. But the Yanks are supposed to pay extra for Jeter's leadership? Spare me. >>

That takes into account that there was no Captain from 1996 to 2002, after What’s His Name (you talk about a failed Captain) went home to his horse farm in Indiana. So who was the de facto Captain then? Bernie Williams? Paul O’Neill?

But you said it yourself, Lisa: “Changed the clubhouse chemistry.” Or, rather, changed it back. Who changed it in the first place? The guy who was already there and had won? Or the guy who came in with nothing to his name but stats?

<< Love the postseason comparison. You don't seem to get that the leadoff hitter having a .286 OBP isn't exactly anything to be proud of, do you? >>

It’s not as bad as the cleanup hitter having a .289. I think I have to post Coach Lombardi again:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocV5bGHdYag&feature=related

<< Not to mention the leadoff hitter having the worst OBP on the team for the 2010 season, while the cleanup hitter was one RBI away from leading the league, even though he missed 25 games. >>

Oh, I see: Now we are the Atlanta Braves, measuring by the regular season’s performance. Imagine how Roger Maris would have been ripped after the 1961 World Series if the Yankees had lost: The 61 homers would have been a waste.

Does anybody give a damn which single player leads the league in RBIs? Or even which team scores the most runs? You know what year the Yankees scored the most runs in any season in their history? 1931. And they finished 2nd, behind the Philadelphia Athletics. I don’t see any notations at Yankee Stadium II or on the team’s website advertising that. Or any player’s MVP season, for that matter.

Comparing A-Rod to Jeter has never done the A-Rod fanboys and fangirls any good. Saying that, right now, A-Rod is worth the money he’s getting and Jeter isn’t, isn’t helping.

If A-Rod were gone tomorrow, and played the 2011 season elsewhere, how many Yankee Fans would be upset?

If that happened to Jeter…

Pay the man. It's fire insurance. If you don't pay him what he wants, he goes elsewhere, and there's a firestorm among the fans.

Seriously, we're talking about the best player the franchise has had in the last 40 years against the owners of a baseball team. As Ken Singleton put it, "The owners screwed us for 100 years. We've got 75 more years to go."

Am I ignoring Jeter's 2010 stats? Yes. Of course I am. Do you want the Yankees to look like the idiots the Red Sox looked like when Roger Clemens pitched lights-out from 1997 to 2005? No, you don't. Do you want the Yankees to look like the idiots the Mets looked like when the Yankees were winning World Series with Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, David Cone and... Joe Torre? No, you don't.

Hold tight to your offer to Jeter for a month, and you look principled.

Let him drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 2011 ALCS for the Angels – or, worse, for the Red Sox (as Dan Shaughnessy suggested in today’s Boston Globe) – and you look like idiots.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New York Mets' All-Time Regional Baseball Team

Here we go, Number 29 out of 30... which, for the Mets, might be an improvement!

Remember, this team is for players who:

1. Were from either the State of New York, North or Central New Jersey, or the southwestern one-third of Connecticut, and...

2. Had an organizational connection to the Mets, New York Giants or Brooklyn Dodgers -- or, if also to the Yankees, a greater one to any of New York's National League teams. Failing that...

3. Publicly expressed a fandom for one of those teams while growing up. Failing that...

4. Was a nonwhite player born at any time up until December 31, 1959, meaning they grew up prior to Reggie Jackson's arrival with the Yankees, making the Mets no longer the all-but-automatic choice for nonwhite kids in New York City's "Tri-State Metropolitan Area." Failing that...

5. Came from Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, or New York State's Southern Tier (in other words, the Binghamton area) or Western region (including Buffalo and Rochester, but not Syracuse).

1B Rod Carew of Manhattan. Born in the Panama Canal Zone, but grew up in Washington Heights and went to George Washington High School. Hall of Fame. 3,000 Hit Club. Number 29 retired by the Minnesota Twins and, as they were known while he played for them, the California Angels. The best contact hitter of the 1970s.

Honorable Mention to:

* Roger Connor of Waterbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, a Hall-of-Famer for the 1880s New York Giants and one of baseball's earliest true sluggers. Somebody had to have the record for most career home runs before Babe Ruth broke it, and it was Connor, with 137. Yes, 137. He is also credited with the first grand slam, the first home run hit with the bases loaded in major league play, in 1881.

* Dan Brouthers of Troy, Renssalaer County, New York, the city across the Hudson River from Albany where the Giants started, a Hall-of-Famer who hit .342 lifetime and helped the Detroit Wolverines win the 1887 NL Pennant. Brouthers had the career home run record before Connor surpassed it, with 106.

* Frank McCormick of Manhattan, NL Most Valuable Player and a World Champion with the 1940 Cincinnati Reds.

* Mo Vaughn of Pawling, Dutchess County, New York -- but for what he did for the Boston Red Sox, definitely not for what he did with the Mets.

2B Frankie Frisch of The Bronx. The Fordham Flash. Hall of Fame. Once baseball's all-time hit leader among switch-hitters, since surpassed by Pete Rose and Eddie Murray. Won 1921 and '22 World Series with the Giants, and player-manager of the 1934 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Number 3 not retired by either team. Fordham Prep's Frisch Field named for him.

After his managing days were over, Frisch became a broadcaster for the Giants, known for his mournful expression, "Oh, those bases on balls!" A heart attack in 1956 led to him missing the rest of the season, enabling a recently released Yankee to get his first broadcasting experience. That's right, Frankie Frisch is the "huckleberry" responsible for the transformation of Phil Rizzuto from slick-fielding, slap-hitting shortstop to "Holy Cow"-ing, storytelling broadcaster.

If you don't consider that a downside to Frisch's legacy, you may be aware of this one: As a member of the Hall of Fame's Committee on Veterans, he pushed for the election several former Giant and Cardinal teammates of dubious worthiness. These included Giants Rube Marquard, George "High Pockets" Kelly, Dave Bancroft and Ross Youngs, and Cardinals Jesse Haines and Chick Hafey. Personally, I don't have a big problem with any of them being in the Hall, although Marquard and Kelly are marginal, Youngs' stats aren't especially amazing due to his early death, and Hafey's due to an illness that cut short his career though not his life. Often, 5 of these 6 men (though not everyone agrees on which should not be included) are derided by baseball history experts as "the Frisch Five." But there is no doubt that they were at least worthy of consideration, and that Frisch himself belonged.

Honorable Mention to:

* Charlie Sweasy of Newark, of the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings.

* John Alexander “Bid” McPhee of Massena, St. Lawrence County, New York, a Hall-of-Famer with the 1880s and '90s Reds.

* Tim Teufel of Greenwich, Fairfield County, Connecticut and the 1986 World Champion Mets.

* Craig Biggio of Kings Park, Suffolk County, a member of the 3,000 Hit Club and a certain future Hall-of-Famer with the Houston Astros.

SS George Davis of Cohoes, Albany County, New York. A Hall-of-Famer with the 1890s Giants and 1900s Chicago White Sox, member of their 1906 World Champions. Batted .295 lifetime, 121 OPS+, 2,665 hits, and 10 seasons of at least 80 RBIs, 3 of 100, an astounding number for a shortstop in the pre-1920 Dead Ball Era.

Not a whole lot of honorable mentions worth, well, mentioning. Probably the best one would be Bobby Valentine of Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut. No, he won't be the manager of this team, and he actually played several positions, but shortstop more than anything else. It was as a Dodger outfielder that a broken leg curtailed his career, but he's probably still the greatest player produced by Fairfield County in the last 100 years.

In spring training 1979, he was cut by Met manager Joe Torre; 21 years later, he would have a shot at revenge in the 2000 World Series. He wouldn't get it, but get this: The man Torre put on the roster in place of Bobby V was Mike Jorgensen -- who ended up replacing Torre as Cardinal manager in 1995!

3B Jimmy Collins of Buffalo. Won NL Pennants with the Boston Beaneaters (Braves) in 1897 and '98, then jumped leagues and was both 3rd baseman and manager for the Pilgrims (Red Sox) when they won the first-ever World Series in 1903 and the AL Pennant in 1904. Until Brooks Robinson started thrilling fans in the 1960s, was considered the greatest 3rd baseman in American League history.

Honorable Mentions to:

* John McGraw, his rival for best 3rd baseman in the NL in the late 1890s. More on McGraw later.

* Fred Waterman of Manhattan, of the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Who bore a striking resemblance to author Edgar Allan Poe, dead in 1849, before baseball could take off -- but did live for a time in The Bronx.

LF Carl Yastrzemski of Bridgehampton, Suffolk County. Not just the best player ever to come from The Hamptons, but the best player ever to come from Long Island, maybe even including Brooklyn and Queens. Hall of Fame. Number 8 retired by the Red Sox. 3,000 Hit Club -- in fact, the first player to collect at least 3,000 hits and hit at least 400 home runs in AL play. His 3,419 hits are the most of any player whose career began after 1954 except for Pete Rose. 1967 AL MVP and Pennant, still the last man to win the Triple Crown in either League.

Strangely, the last NLer to win the Triple Crown is also a left fielder for this squad, but since I can move Manny to right field, I'll make the NLer the DH, in spite of the fact that the NL still doesn't use the DH, and in spite of a fine catch he made in the 1941 World Series.

In fact, as thin as this team is at shortstop, it is absolutely loaded at left field. Which is ironic, considering that the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was joked, had great players everywhere but left field. Check out these other Honorable Mentions:

* Andy Leonard of Newark, and the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings.

* Jim "Orator" O'Rourke of Bridgeport, Fairfield County, Connecticut, who won Pennants with the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association in 1873, '74 and '75; the same team in the NL in 1877 and '78; the Providence Grays in 1879; and the Giants in 1888 and '89. Batted .360 at age 39, and .304 at 41. Came back to play one game, the Pennant-clinching game, for the Giants in 1904. He was 53, and was still playing regularly for the Bridgeport team in the Connecticut League, an independent league he founded and ran. Still played in that league until he was 60. Hall of Fame.

* Monte Irvin of East Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, although born in Alabama. A lot of people thought he should have been the first black player in modern baseball. Led the Newark Eagles to the 1946 Negro World Series title. He and Hank Thompson, called up on the same day in 1949, were the first black players on the Giants. Helped them win the NL Pennant in 1951 and the World Series in 1954. Like Jackie Robinson, stole home on the Yankees in the World Series, in '51; unlike Jackie, the film conclusively shows that he was safe. In 1951, he was in left, Willie Mays in center, and Thompson in right, becoming the first all-black outfield in the majors. The only player elected to the Hall of Fame based at least in part on Negro League activity who is still alive. He is 91. Though he never played a major league game in San Francisco, the Giants retired his Number 20 this year, and invited him to throw out the first ball before Game 1 of the World Series.

* Tommy Davis of Brooklyn. Starred at Boys High School, and later said he'd signed with the Dodgers so he could stay in Brooklyn -- and then they moved. In 1962, led the NL in batting, hits and RBIs as the Dodgers lost a Pennant Playoff with the Giants; he, not record-setting base-stealing teammate Maury Wills, should have been the NL MVP that year. In 1963, won the batting title and the World Series with the Dodgers. A broken ankle in '65 ruined his career; although the Dodgers won the Series that year anyway, he became a player who kept getting picked up by teams, but also kept getting traded away by them. He also played in the postseason for the Oakland Athletics in 1971 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1973 and '74. Still batted .294 lifetime with 2,121 hits.

* Willie Wilson of Summit, Union County, New Jersey. The Kansas City Royals have never reached the postseason without him; with him, they made it 7 times. Led the AL in triples 5 times, in stolen bases with an amazing 83 in 1979, in hits and runs in 1980 (setting a then-MLB record with 705 at-bats), and batting in .332. Helped the Royals win their first Pennant in 1980, but struck out 12 times in the World Series against the Phillies. Both his regular-season at-bats record and his WS strikeout record would be broken by current Phillies: The former by Jimmy Rollins in 2007, the latter by Ryan Howard in 2009. Hit 13 inside-the-park home runs, the most of any Major League player playing after 1950. Unfortunately, he and then-Royal teammates Vida Blue, Jerry Martin and Willie Aikens became the first active ballplayers to serve time, pleading guilty to cocaine charges in exchange for lighter sentences. Wilson and Aikens returned in time to help the Royals win the 1985 World Series. A member of the Royals' Hall of Fame, he has since become a minor league manager.

CF Larry Doby of Paterson, Passaic County, New Jersey -- although born in South Carolina. A sensational all-around athlete at Paterson's Eastside H.S. A teammate of Irvin's on those powerful 1946 Newark Eagles. The first black player in the American League. With the 1948 Cleveland Indians, became the first black man to homer in, and win, a World Series. A 7-time All-Star, including in 1949, when, along with Dodgers Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe (more about him momentarily), he became one of the first 4 black All-Stars in the major leagues -- in the game played, appropriately enough, at Ebbets Field. Hall of Fame. Number 14 retired by the Indians.

Honorable Mentions to:

* Lipman Emanuel Pike of Manhattan. "Lip" was the first Jewish player of any renown, and is "the first professional baseball player" -- at least, the first man known to have been paid to play baseball, in 1866 for the first team to bear the name of the Philadelphia Athletics. Bounced around in those freewheeling days before the institution of the reserve clause, but played locally for the Brooklyn Atlantics, the Irvington Baseball Club (Essex, NJ; not Westchester, NY), the New York Mutuals and, toward the end of his career, the original New York Metropolitans of the American Association (and, yes, they were sometimes called the "Mets" for short). Probably the best player of the 1860s and '70s, but has never been elected to the Hall of Fame. Dying of heart disease in 1893, aged just 48, probably didn't help his legacy, as by the time the Hall opened in 1939, not only could he not speak up for his own cause, but hardly anybody who saw him play was alive to tell about him.

* Billy Hamilton of Newark. "Sliding Billy" was the Rickey Henderson of his day -- without the overweening ego. Lifetime batting average .344, OPS+ 141, led his league in runs scored 4 times, walks 5, steals 5 and hits once. His 914 stolen bases, from 1888 to 1901 (I've seen him credited with 937, but Baseball-Reference.com says 914 so I'll go with that) were an all-time record until surpassed by Lou Brock in 1977, and only Henderson has also surpassed it. Starred with the Phillies, batting .403 as part of an all-.400-hitting outfield with Ed Delahanty and Sam Thompson in 1894 (but they finished 4th, 18 games out), and is in their Hall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. Won NL Pennants with the Beaneaters/Braves in 1897 and '98. Died in 1940, age 74, and in 1945 became the first New Jerseyan elected to the Hall of Fame.

* Tommy Holmes of Brooklyn, and that Borough's Brooklyn Technical H.S. (a.k.a. "Brooklyn Tech"). Starred for the Boston Braves in the 1940s, his 37-game hitting streak in 1945 was the longest in NL play between 1897 and 1978. That season, led the NL in hits, doubles, home runs, total bases and slugging percentage. Helped the Braves win the Pennant in 1948, their last in Boston. Was a player-manager for the Braves before closing his career with his hometown Dodgers in the 1952 World Series. Batted .302 lifetime, OPS+ 122. Later served over 30 years as a Met scout. Not to be confused with the man of the same name who wrote sports for the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Herald Tribune. Red Smith, his colleague at the Trib, called him "the best baseball writer of his time, possibly of all time."

RF Manny Ramirez of Manhattan. Normally a left fielder (make that "usually," as Manny isn't "normally" anything), he has played some right field, so I'm moving him here to get Bobby Bo out of the starting lineup. How to explain Manny? His coach at George Washington H.S. put it this way: "Tell him practice is at 1:00, and he'll be there at 1:00; tell him the team picture is at 1:00, and it'll be 3:00 and you'll wonder where he is."

Currently has a .313 lifetime batting average, an OPS+ of a whopping 155, 2,573 hits, 555 home runs and 1,830 RBIs. Has reached the postseason with the Cleveland Indians (1995, '96, '97, '98 and '99), the Red Sox (2003, '04, '05 and '07) and the Dodgers (2008 and '09). Has 2 World Series rings, with the 2004 and '07 Red Sox. But how much of that is tainted because he was caught using steroids? We'll have an idea once he's eligible for the Hall of Fame, but he's still active, so assuming he plays in 2011, he won't be eligible until at least January 2017.

Dishonorable Mention to Bobby Bonilla of The Bronx. It may be hard to ignore his "Make yo' move" rant of 1993, and he is certainly a steroid suspect, having that "roid rage"-like incident and having played for the much-juiced 1996 Baltimore Orioles. Helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the NL East in 1990, '91 and '92, the only postseason appearances for the team since the Carter Administration. Helped the Florida Marlins win the 1997 World Series. Don't count on him reaching the Hall, though, and not because of any steroids he may have used: .279 batting average, 287 homers, 2,010 hits... these are not Cooperstown numbers.

Honorable Mentions:

* Al Reach of Brooklyn. Helped the original Philadelphia Athletics win the first professional Pennant, in the National Association in 1871. Along with Albert G. Spalding, became one of the first great suppliers of sporting goods (eventually selling A.J. Reach & Company to Spalding). One of the founders of the Phillies franchise in 1883, although that was over 120 years before they really became a Met rival, so forgive him for that.

* Jeffrey Hammonds of Scotch Plains, Union County, New Jersey. Reached the postseason with the Orioles in 1996 and '97, the Reds (sort of) in '99, and the Giants in 2003.

DH Joe Medwick of Carteret, Middlesex County, New Jersey. In 1937, with the Cardinals, became the last player to win the Triple Crown in the NL, and was also NL MVP that season. Somebody once said that he was called "Ducky" because of the way he walked, and he was also called "Muscles" because no one dared to call him "Ducky" to his face. (Of course, like another former Cardinal and Dodger, Harrison-born Joe Stripp, and the Camden-born boxer born Arnold Raymond Cream but known professionally as Joe Walcott, he was known as Jersey Joe.)

Traded to the Dodgers in 1940, and was on a pace for over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but got beaned and was never the same again. This inspired Dodger president Branch Rickey to give all his players batting helmets, leading to all of baseball adopting them. He still hit 205 home runs and got 2,471 hits. Helped the Dodgers win the 1941 Pennant that established them, pretty much until October 2010, as a better team than the Giants. Hall of Fame. Number 7 not retired by the Cardinals, for whose 1934 World Champions he played (and infamously got thrown out of Game 7 -- for his own protection!), but it should be.

Although Irvin and Doby grew up in the Garden State, the only men in the Hall of Fame who were born in New Jersey are Hamilton, Medwick and Salem's Leon "Goose" Goslin -- one from North Jersey, one from Central Jersey, one from South Jersey.

Met fans won't like me including a designated hitter on their team, what with their fixation on the National League as somehow being holy, or at least more "pure" than the American League, in part because of no DH. But it's my list; if you don't like it, make your own.

I considered Edgar Martinez for the DH slot, as he was born in Manhattan and was as much a "Yankee Killer" as any hitter in the modern era. However, his parents split up when he was a toddler, and he grew up in Puerto Rico, making him geographically ineligible for this team.

C Mike "King" Kelly of Troy, Renssalaer County. Geographically, he would go on the Yankees' team, but closed his checkered career with the Giants in 1893, so he goes on the Mets team. Might have been the best player of the 1880s, and probably the most colorful player of the 19th Century. Won Pennants with the Chicago White Stockings (forerunners of the Cubs) in 1880, '81, '82, '85 and '86. At which point, coming off a .388 season, was purchased by the Beaneaters (Braves) for $10,000, a record price for the time. At least for a while, he was worth it, but his drinking, his weight and his health (in those pre-antibiotics days) caught up with him.

Supposedly the source for baseball's substitution rule: Saw a foul pop from the dugout, and yelled, "Kelly now catching for Chicago!" and caught it. With no rule against it at the time, the umpire called the batter out, and the rule was then changed so that a player couldn't enter the game in mid-play. Played every position at least once, including 11 games as a pitcher. Lifetime batting average .308, OPS+ 138. Stolen bases not an official stat until 1886, but in 7 full seasons thereafter stole 368, so he probably had twice as many.

Just 35 when he played his last game, he was dead a year later. Still, he's in the Hall of Fame, and his former Chicago teammate and manager Cap Anson lamented that he threw away a chance to be remembered as the greatest player of all time.

If you want a 20th or 21st Century catcher, I'm afraid you're out of luck, unless you want to go with Brad Ausmus of Cheshire, Connecticut, who is, at the least, the greatest catcher the Houston Astros have ever had.

Starting Rotation

Michael Francis Welch of Brooklyn. "Smiling Mickey" won 307 games for the Troy Haymakers/New York Gothams/New York Giants in the 1880s and '90s. He was also an outfielder, and is credited as the first pinch-hitter, in an 1889 game.

Died in 1941, and elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973. At the induction ceremony, his widow and Roberto Clemente's sat next to each other, holding their husbands' copies of their plaques. I'm not sure how old Mrs. Welch was, but she looked about 90 years old (which would have made her young enough to be Mickey's daughter, so she was probably not his first wife); Vera Clemente, if she was the same age as her husband, would have been almost 40, but sitting next to Mrs. Welch she looked about half that.

Warren Spahn of Buffalo. The winningest lefthanded pitcher of all time with 363, and the winningest pitcher of either hand in the post-1920 Lively Ball Era. 1948 NL Pennant with the Boston Braves (with Johnny Sain formed the not-quite-fairly-named rotation of "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain"), 1957 World Championship and 1958 Pennant with the Milwaukee Braves.

All-time strikeout leader among lefthanders until surpassed by Mickey Lolich in 1975. Hall of Fame. Number 21 retired by the Braves. Lived long enough to be elected to the All-Century Team in 1999. "He should be," said fellow electee, fellow southpaw and fellow Empire Stater Sandy Koufax, "because he pitched for most of the century."

Don Newcombe of Jefferson, Morris County, New Jersey. A teammate of Irvin's and Doby's on the 1946 Newark Eagles, he was the first black pitcher to be a regular starter in the majors and the first to start a World Series game. World Champion with the Dodgers in 1955, going 20-5 and hitting 7 home runs. First-ever Cy Young Award winner and NL MVP in 1956, going 27-7 -- only 2 pitchers since have matched those 27 wins (Denny McLain's 31 in 1968, Steve Carlton's 27 in 1972).

Missing nearly 3 years due to the Korean War, and heavy drinking, cost him his chance at the Hall of Fame -- he had his last good season at age 33 and was out of the majors a year later -- but he did win 149 games against just 90 losses for a fine .623 winning percentage. Career ERA 3.56, but an ERA+ of 114. Career WHIP a nice 1.203. He later quit drinking and became a substance-abuse counselor. Now 83 years old and living in the Colonia section of Woodbridge, Middlesex County, he, along with Duke Snider and Carl Erskine, is still one of the men to turn to for doing interviews about the Brooklyn "Boys of Summer." His son Donald Jr. briefly played in the Dodger organization in 1984.

Johnny Podres of Witherbee, Essex County, New York -- that's way Upstate, not far from the Canadian border, not the Newark-based Essex County in New Jersey. Did what no other Brooklyn Dodger ever did: Pitch and win the clinching game of a World Series, on October 4, 1955, 2-0 over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Was named Series MVP (the first time the award was officially given) and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Missed the 1956 season due to military service, and actually did better for the Dodgers in Los Angeles than in Brooklyn. Led the NL in ERA and WHIP in 1957 and in winning percentage in 1961. Pitched for World Series winners in 1955, '59, '63 and '65.

Arm trouble meant that he'd never win more than 7 games in a season after age 30. Finished his playing career in 1969 with the expansion San Diego... Padres. (Yes, pronounced the same way.) Went 148-116 for his career, and became one of baseball's best pitching coaches, helping the 1987 and 1991 Minnesota Twins and the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies win Pennants. Died in 2008, just a month after the man he outdueled in the '55 clincher, Yankee lefty Tommy Byrne.

Sandy Koufax of Brooklyn. Didn't learn how to control his fastball and curve until 1961, when he was 25. But when he did, he gave baseball 6 of the best years any pitcher ever had. Four no-hitters including a perfect game in 1965. World Series wins with the Dodgers in 1955, '59, '63 and '65. Struck out 15 Yankees in Game 1 in '63, then a Series record for any pitcher, and still one for lefties. Pitched shutouts in Games 5 and 7 in '65, after losing Game 2 and missing Game 1 because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. NL MVP in 1963, Cy Young Award in '63, '65, '66 -- remember, both leagues at the time.

Retired after the 1966 season, shortly before his 31st birthday, due to a circulatory problem in his arm. 165-87 for his career, ERA 2.76 (0.95 in World Series play, only Mariano Rivera has beaten that), ERA+ 131, WHIP 1.106, 2,396 strikeouts in only about half a career. Youngest-ever inductee into the Hall of Fame (36), Number 32 retired, All-Century Team. Because of his fabulous numbers, his ethnicity, his early departure, and his DiMaggio-esque pursuit of privacy, is one of the few living baseball greats to truly have a mystique. About to turn 75 and apparently well, there will be quite the outpouring of sorrow when he dies.

Honorable Mentions to:

* Jim Creighton of Brooklyn. Arguably the first famous baseball player, a snap of his wrist in an 1859 game produced the invention of the fastball. He also invented a pitch he called the "dew-drop" -- the first changeup. In 1862, playing for the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn, he was the game's best hitter and its best pitcher. He was on his way to being the Babe Ruth of the Civil War era. He was 21 years old. He should have still been playing into the 1880s. But he died on October 18, 1862, just days after beginning to feel severe abdominal pain shortly after playing a game. It's not clear what the cause of death was; reports have ranged from a ruptured bladder or spleen to an infected hernia to appendicitis. He was buried under a stupendous monument in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Buried nearby would be his former Excelsior teammate...

* Asahel "Asa" Brainard of Albany. The pitcher for the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, his success led to teams calling their best pitcher "our Asa." And so a great pitcher became known as an "ace." He also played 2nd base and the outfield. He pitched on until 1874, and died of tuberculosis in 1888, age 47. (Did I mention that medicine in those days left a lot to be desired?)

* William Arthur "Candy" Cummings of Brooklyn. Another Excelsior, he claimed to have invented the curveball in 1867. He may not have been the first to throw it in an organized game, but that claim alone got him into the Hall of Fame. Despite this dubious distinction and equally dubious election, he was a pretty good pitcher in the National Association of the 1870s, but didn't last long in the NL. Unlike Creighton, Brainard, and Charles Ebbets of Dodger ownership and ballpark-building fame, he is not buried in Green-Wood. But he did live on until 1924, long outliving Creighton and Brainard, and nearly Ebbets.

* Charles Gardner "Old Hoss" Radbourn of Rochester. The man who sponsors his Baseball-Reference.com page does so under Radbourn's own name, claiming, "Gaze below at the statistical flibberdigab that supposedly represent the greatness that was my career. But these numbers are useless: there are no columns for pints consumed, harlots bedded, or blades brandished." Edward Achorn recently published a book about Hoss' most amazing season, titled Fifty-Nine in '84. There is some dispute as to who should have been credited as the winning pitcher in one of Hoss' games in the Providence Grays' 1884 Pennant-winning season, so some sources credit Hoss with 59 wins, some 60.

His career record was 309-194, for a .614 percentage, a 120 ERA+ and a 1.149 WHIP. Drinking finished his career at age 36 and his life at age 42 in 1897, but his exploits were remembered enough that, when the time came in 1939 for the Hall of Fame voters to first consider 19th Century players, he was elected. It's not clear whether he would have been just as great after 1893, with the pitching distance extended from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches, or in throwing all overhand. So I can't make him one of the starters on this team. What he would think of that, I don't care. What's he gonna do, plunk me from beyond the grave? (Said grave is in Bloomington, Illinois, a few steps from 1950s Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.)

* Sal Maglie of Niagara Falls. Called "Sal the Barber" because his headhunting resulted in some "close shaves," ironically he preceded Roger Clemens in another regard, being one of those pitchers who tended not to shave on the day he started, thus looking more menacing. Known for having a nasty curveball, his Hall of Fame chances were ruined by his 1946 defection (over money) to the Mexican League. When his suspension was lifted in 1950, he was already 33, but he led the NL in ERA, and over the next 3 seasons, including the Giants' 1951 Pennant season (23-6), he went 59-18. Helped the Giants win the World Series in 1954, but tailed off the next year and was traded to their Series opponents, the Cleveland Indians.

Had enough left in 1956, at age 39, to go 13-5 for the Indians and then, after a trade, to the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose fans probably hated him (for his headhunting) more than any Giant except their manager, Dodger turncoat Leo Durocher. In another irony, this symbol of Dodger fans' hatred for the Jints pitched the last Brooklyn Dodger no-hitter that season -- and had a perfect game going himself in Game 5 of the World Series, until Mickey Mantle homered in the 4th. Maglie went the distance and lost to Don Larsen, who kept his perfect game. The next year, he completed his tour, pitching for the Yankees in '57 and '58 before going to St. Louis and retiring with a record of 119-62 -- which probably should have been more like 180-90 had he not gone to Mexico. Later became one of baseball's top pitching coaches, though immortalized in Ball Four by author Jim Bouton, who grew up a Giant fan and idolizing Maglie, as a very nasty man who didn't consider the knuckleball a real pitch. The minor-league stadium in his native Niagara Falls is now named for him.

* Al Leiter of Berkeley Township, Ocean County, New Jersey. Along with his brother Mark, who also pitched in the majors, grew up as a hardcore Met fan, yet made his big-league debut with the Yankees. In 1989, the Yankees traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays for Jesse Barfield. Jesse was a good guy who had some power left, but this trade was a big mistake: Al won 7 games before the trade, 155 after it. Injuries kept him off the Jays' 1992 World Series roster, but he was a big reason why they won it in 1993. For the Florida Marlins, he pitched a no-hitter and helped them win the 1997 World Series. He was the ace of the Met staff when they won their last Pennant in 2000, but was famously left in too long in Game 5 of the Series, losing the game on his 142nd pitch, to Luis Sojo.

His 95 wins in a Met uniform are 6th all-time. He returned to the Yankees to close his career, and while it didn't make a difference in the series, his last game was a fine relief effort in the 2005 ALDS. He now works for both the YES Network and the MLB Network. He's about to become eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but with a career record of 162-132, and an ERA+ of 113, I don't think he's going to make it.

Bullpen

Joe Black of Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey. Actually, his greatest distinction is that he was the first black man to be the winning pitcher in a World Series game, starting and winning Game 1 of the 1952 Series for the Yankees, before starting and losing both Game 4 and Game 7. After the season, he was named NL Rookie of the Year. Prior to arriving in Brooklyn, helped the Baltimore Elite Giants (with future Dodger teammate Roy Campanella) win 2 Negro League Pennants.

After his retirement, spurred on by Jackie Robinson, successfully worked to ensure that retired Negro League players were included in baseball's pension system; then helped another teammate, Ralph Branca, ensure that said players would be helped by Branca's charity, the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT).

John Franco of Brooklyn. Like Koufax, Met owner Fred Wilpon, and talk-show host Larry King, graduated from Lafayette High School. Sadly, while no high school has produced more big-leaguers (21), the City's Board of Education has targeted it for closing. Franco's luck hasn't always been good: He was traded from the Cincinnati Reds to his boyhood team, the Mets, after the 1989 season, for, among others, another lefty reliever, Randy Myers. In 1990, after seasons in 1985 through '88 that would have won the NL Central title (but put them 2nd in the NL West of the time), the Reds won the World Series; the Mets finished 2nd in the NL East, the 7th straight year they'd finished at least that high, but began to collapse the next season.

Still, when they returned to contention in 1998, Franco was a big reason why. The Mets won the Wild Card in 1999 and the Pennant in 2000, and in Game 3 of the Subway Series against the Yankees, Franco was the winning pitcher -- the only Met to win a World Series game since Roger McDowell won Game 7 in 1986. Started out wearing Number 31, but when Mike Piazza arrived in 1998, let him have the number and switched to 45, the number of his hero, another famed Met lefty reliever, Tug McGraw. Almost pitched until his age matched his number (as did another Met lefty reliever, Number 47, Jesse Orosco), and in his last season, 2005, helped the Houston Astros win their first Pennant (although he was not on the postseason roster). Career record 90-87, ERA 2.89, and his 424 saves are an all-time record for lefthanders (though another ex-Met lefty, Billy Wagner, is just 2 behind him now), and held the record for all NL pitchers until surpassed by Trevor Hoffman.

Honorable Mention to Buffalo natives who appeared in The Natural when it was filmed in their hometown: Sibby Sisti, an infielder for the Boston Braves in the 1940s who played on their 1948 Pennant winners and played the Pittsburgh manager in the film's final-scene Playoff game; and Phil Mankowski, an infielder for the Detroit Tigers and the Mets, who played a New York Knights player in the film, as did 1980 AL Rookie of the Year "Super Joe" Charboneau of the Cleveland Indians, a native of Belvidere, Illinois.

MGR John McGraw of Truxton, Cortland County. As a 3rd baseman for the old NL version of the Baltimore Orioles, won Pennants in 1894, '95 and '96, batted .334 lifetime, led the NL in walks and runs scored twice each, and was basically a manager on the field who invented the "inside baseball" that would dominate the next 30 years of play. Collected 1,309 hits in what amounted to just 10 full seasons in the majors, cut short by injury. As manager, led the New York Giants to 10 NL Pennants, in 1904, '05, '11, '12, '13, '17, '21, '22, '23 and '24, and World Series wins in 1905, '21 and '22. Just 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, didn't care for the nickname "The Little Napoleon," and really hated the nickname "Muggsy."

In 1933, McGraw and Connie Mack were named the opposing managers in the first All-Star Game; in 1937, they were the first men elected to the Hall of Fame as managers. His players and teammates who, themselves, became Pennant-winning managers include Hugh Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry and Casey Stengel; their proteges include Leo Durocher, Yogi Berra, Dick Williams, Walter Alston and Billy Martin; theirs can be extended to recent managers Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph and Joe Torre. McGraw's influence has been diluted with the passing of the decades, but his imprint is still on the game. A plaque in his memory was placed on the center field wall at the Polo Grounds after his death in 1934, and the San Francisco edition of the Giants places an "NY" notation for him (and for his favorite player, Christy Mathewson) with their retired numbers.

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The Yankees' All-Time Regional Team should follow in the next couple of days.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Imagine There's No Jeter, It's Easy If You Try

It's the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2011 American League Championship Series. The home crowd is going wild. Their team is down 4-3 with 2 outs. But the tying run is on 2nd, and the winning run is on 1st.

The batter is Derek Jeter.

The opposing team's closer looks in. He fires. Jeter swings.

He drives the ball into the left-center gap. The tying run scores easily. Here comes the winning run. Here's the throw from left field, the shortstop takes it as the cutoff man, he throws to the plate...

A good throw would have gotten the runner. Instead, the shortstop screws it up. Ballgame over. Derek Jeter has led his team to the American League Pennant.

Final score, Angels 5, Yankees 4.

Mariano Rivera sits in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, head down, seriously considering retirement. Yankee Fans are already inundating message boards with suggestions that the Yankees shouldn't have given Mo a big new contract a year earlier, and that he can't be trusted to close out the big games anymore.

There's also some mention on said boards of how Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-28 with just 1 RBI, a 450-foot homer in Game 5 after the Yankees were already down 8-2 following another spit-the-bit performance by A.J. Burnett.

In the Angels' clubhouse, team owner Arte Moreno is so glad he decided to show Jeter the money... money he was willing to spend, and the Steinbrenner brothers and Brian Cashman were not.

In the World Series, Jeter spends the first 5 games flailing away at the plate. In the New York Daily News, Mike Lupica writes in his column that the Steinbrenners were right after all.

Then in Game 6, Jeter hits a single and a double for 3 RBIs, and the Angels finish off the Reds.

Over the next 3 days, first Yankee manager Joe Girardi and then Reds manager Dusty Baker are fired.

The Yankees pry Don Mattingly away from the Dodgers to be their 2012 manager. He lasts until 2015, and is fired after 3 seasons with no Playoff berths. Yankee Fans finally realize there is one true curse in baseball: The Curse of Donnie Regular Season Baseball. No team with Don Mattingly in uniform, as player, coach or manager ever wins a Pennant.

Derek Jeter retires after the 2016 season, at age 42, with 3,786 hits, 3rd all-time, and 8 World Championships to his credit: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

The Mets celebrate the 50th Anniversary of their 1969 Miracle by winning the 2019 National League Pennant. But they lose the World Series to the Utah Buzz, in only their 5th season since moving to Salt Lake City following their inability to get a new ballpark to replace the inadequate dome they'd played in as the Tampa Bay Rays. Don't ask Met fans about the play that caused them to lose Game 7 in 2019: It's still too painful. Terry Collins last 2 more years as manager before he is fired.

Jeter is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. His plaque shows him wearing a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim cap.

The Yankees still haven't won a World Series since 2009, or made the Playoffs since 2011.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes a book titled The Curse of Derek Jeter: How the Yankees Threw It All Away.

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"What if the Yankees had re-signed Derek Jeter in 2010?"

Wouldn't that be a great question to NOT have to ask?

East Brunswick Stuffs the Purple Turkeys!

NOTE: Thanksgiving and other commitments prevented me from doing the Yankees' and Mets' all-time regional teams for the moment. I'll get to them next. For now, I have to gloat.

I love Thanksgiving. Especially on those rare occasions when East Brunswick High School beats Old Bridge.

Bears 34, Knights 6! We beat The Scum!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFyWwP3GqF0&feature=related

Cousin Larry, now, we are so happy, we do the Dance of Joy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfPg5LjGYz8

We didn't even need a "Hand of Clod" to help us: Jared Lynch rushed for 3 touchdowns, 2 of them long ones.

First time we beat The Scum at their Shithole since 1994. Counting their earlier incarnations as Madison Township and Madison Central, East Brunswick now trails Old Bridge in the all-time series 28-20-2.

From 1963 (their 1st season of varsity football and our 3rd) to 1974, we dominated, going 9-1-2. In 1969, Cedar Ridge High School opened, giving Madison Township 2 high schools and a Thanksgiving Day rivalry. In 1975, in order to avoid confusion with Madison Borough in Morris County, Madison Township in Middlesex County became Old Bridge Township, and the school's name was changed to Madison Central. The T-Day game didn't work out too well for Cedar Ridge: Madison won 23, Cedar Ridge just 2 (1973, their undefeated State Championship season, and 1975, the only season in which both Old Bridge schools beat East Brunswick, which owned a 16-3 edge over Cedar Ridge).

In 1994, due to declining enrollment, the town reconsolidated the 2 schools. Gone were the name Madison Central, its mascot the Spartans, and their colors navy blue and sky blue. Gone also were the name Cedar Ridge, its mascot the Cougars, and their colors green and gold. In came the single Old Bridge High School, a new mascot and colors chosen by a student poll: The Knights, black and purple.

And a "new tradition" was started: East Brunswick vs. the former Madison, which had usually been an early-season game, in the Sixties and Seventies often the first game of the season, became the last. So, only counting the games under the current name, and only those on Thanksgiving, The Scum lead The Good Guys 14-3, and, if you count games against a school that no longer exists (and had no home-field advantage, as Cedar Ridge never built its own stadium and groundshared with Madison), on Thanksgiving they are 37-5.

East Brunswick, the Bears, the Green and White, have played other teams on Thanksgiving. In 1963, our then-annual season finale with Sayreville was postponed due to the Kennedy assassination, and we played on Thanksgiving and won. After that, we didn't play on T-Day again until 1978. Most other schools in Middlesex County had established rivalries. So they took us, a town with one school, and Colonia, a school in Woodbridge whose other 2 public schools, Woodbridge and John F. Kennedy, were already established T-Day rivals, and put us together for a few years, including the 1984 thriller that saw E.B. come from 27-13 down at the half with 3 key players injured and win 33-27 to clinch the Conference Championship. And for a while we again played Sayreville on Thanksgiving weekend, although not on the day. Our overall record on the day is an awful 9-19, now 3-14 against Old Bridge.

But yesterday, we went down Routes 18 and 516, and we beat The Scum!

EB finishes the season 6-4, and, more importantly, we beat The Scum!

(to the tune of "Daydream Believer" -- thank you to several English soccer clubs and their supporters for the idea)

Oh, you could hide beneath the seats
under smelly Old Bridge feet.
The Thanksgiving kickoff you'd never meet.

But the ball kicks off and flies
and you can't believe your eyes.
Another game where Old Bridge has been beat.

Cheer up, 516!
Oh, what can it mean
to a
sad purple bastard
and a
shit football team!

You once thought of we
as the losers from E.B.
Now you know we've got the
victory!

Whoa, and a good time starts again
at Route 18's other end.
The turkey tastes best in the town that's green!

Cheer up, 516!
Oh, what can it mean
to a
sad purple bastard
and a
shit football team!

We once thought of you
as a bastard through and through!


Cheer up, 516!
Oh, what can it mean
to a
sad purple bastard
and a
shit football team!

Or, also in the tradition of English soccer...

Fuck off, OBHS!
You know EB is the best!
Another year
you won fuck-all
and stay the fuck
out of our mall!

Q: What do you think of Old Bridge?
A: Shit!
Q: What do you think of shit?
A: Old Bridge!
Q: Thank you!
A: You're welcome!

And... We hate Old Bridge and we hate Old Bridge! We hate Old Bridge and we hate Old Bridge! We hate Old Bridge and we hate Old Bridge! We are the Old Bridge (clap-clap) haters! Ginker, ginker, ginker, ginker, ginker!

(To the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In")

Oh, East Brunswick
is wonderful!
Oh, East Brunswick is wonderful!
It's full of tits, fanny and the Bears!
Oh, East Brunswick is wonderful!
Oh, and Old Bridge
is full of shit!
Oh, and Old Bridge is full of shit!
It's full of shit, shit and more shit!
Oh, and Old Bridge is full of shit!

Oh yeah, the Jets won last night, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 26-10.

*

Hours until Rutgers plays football again: 1, today, against the University of Louisville, at Rutgers Stadium. I am not optimistic.

Hours until the Devils play another local rival: 9, tonight, against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum, followed the next day by the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, at home at the Prudential Center. The next game against The Scum is Wednesday, December 29, at home.

Days until the next North London Derby: 92, Saturday, November 26, at White Hart Lane. 3 months.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 133, Friday, April 8, 2011, at Fenway Park.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 211. (estimated: June 14, 2011, and it better be in a Yankee uniform! Hank, Hal, Brian, pay the man!)

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 285, on Friday night, September 9, 2011, and the opponent and location are TBD.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 352.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 363. Oh yeah, I'm lookin' forward to it, especially since it'll be at our place instead of The Route 9 Shit Pit.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 514 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 570.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 918 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,040 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,165.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,660 (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: 1,774 (estimated).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How I Picked the New York All-Time Regional Baseball Teams

Did you think I forgot about completing my “All-Time Regional Teams” project without doing it for the New York teams?

No, I didn’t forget. I just had more important things to take care of.

Here’s how I decided whether a player belonged on the Yankees’ or Mets’ regional team:

Rule 1. Did the player have a connection – either playing, coaching, managing or front office – to the Yankees? If so, he’s theirs. Did he have a connection to the Mets, the old New York Giants, or the old Brooklyn Dodgers? If so, he goes on the Mets’ team. This qualification supersedes all the others.

Rule 2. Did the player ever publicly state that he rooted for a particular team while growing up in the New York sphere of influence? If so, and it was the Yankees, he’s theirs; if it was any of the NL teams, then he goes to the Mets’ team. Only Rule 1 can supersede this rule.

Rule 3. Is the player nonwhite? If so, then we get into a tricky area. Spike Lee wrote in his book Best Seat In the House – admittedly, more of a basketball memoir – that he was a Met fan until 1977, when Reggie Jackson became New York’s first black baseball superstar since Willie Mays. Then he, and (he says) a lot of black guys, who previously considered the Yankees a racist organization, switched sides. (That the Mets had been in the process of getting their 1969-73 Pennant winners broken up by greedy general manager M. Donald Grant, had just dumped Tom Seaver, and had crashed to last place may have had something to do with it.)

So, figure up until 1977, any black or Hispanic kid in the Tri-State Area who liked baseball would have been much more likely to root for the Mets (and, before that, either the Dodgers or the Giants) than the Yankees.

Since 1977 – 18 = 1959, any nonwhite player not already qualifying under Rule 1 or Rule 2, that's the demarcation line. If he was born in 1959 or earlier, he goes to the Mets’ team. If he was born in 1960 or later, he remains up for grabs.

Now we get into geography. Remember, it’s not where a player was born, it’s where he was trained to play ball – i.e., if he played in City youth leagues or for a City high school, he qualifies for the Yanks’ or Mets’ team even if he was born in, say, the Panama Canal Zone, like Rod Carew. And, of course, for any of these parts of the area, the preceding rules, if available, overrule geography. Let’s start with the City:

Bronx: Yankees. Home Borough.

Queens: Mets. Home Borough.

Brooklyn: Dodgers’ home Borough, and now home to a Met farm team, so, Mets.

Staten Island: Home to a Yankee farm team, so Yankees.

Manhattan: Giants’ home Borough, but in this case it doesn’t make much of a difference. That’s a neutral zone, so, up for grabs.

Long Island, both Nassau and Suffolk Counties: Since that’s where a lot of the Dodger fans went in the Fifties and Sixties, and their kids were likely to grow up as Met fans, and the newspaper Newsday treats the Mets as Long Island’s home team, Mets.

Parts of New York State along Interstate 87, from Westchester County all the way up to the Canadian border: Yankees. Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties all have Metro-North access to Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees once had a farm team in Albany.

Central New York: Syracuse used to be a Yankee farm team, so, Yankees.

Southern Tier: Binghamton has a Met farm team, so, Mets.

Western New York, including Buffalo: The Buffalo Bisons, as they were in the Mets’ first era, are the Mets’ Triple-A farm team. So despite Buffalo being closer to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and even Toronto, this region, including Rochester, goes to the Mets.

Connecticut: Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven Counties have Metro-North access to Yankee Stadium, so, Yankees. Since Bobby Valentine of Stamford is covered under Rule 1, there no need to make an exception for him here. Of course, some parts of New Haven County are given over to the Red Sox’ regional team.

New Jersey: Here’s where it gets tricky. It’s not exactly definitive. In the old days, the stereotypical Yankee Fan was either a rich guy from Westchester or a boorish, drunken Italian guy from New Jersey’s Bergen County who came over the George Washington Bridge. The old Newark Bears were a Yankee farm club, and the new Bears were once owned by former Yankee Rick Cerone. But there are a lot of Met fans in the State as well. The Trenton Thunder are a Yankee farm club now, but Trenton is closer to Philadelphia than to New York, making the Princeton-Trenton corridor a sort of neutral zone. So is much of the Shore region, particularly from the Manasquan River (dividing Monmouth and Ocean Counties) on south. So, let’s leave New Jersey up for grabs, unless a player qualifies under Rule 1, 2 or 3.

The teams will be posted in the next couple of days. This time, the Mets will come first. But that's because, using the Yankees, I'm saving the best for last.

*

Let me also, now, do a best players by Borough or County:

Manhattan: Lou Gehrig of the High School of Commerce. George Wright of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings also grew up in Manhattan (his brother Harry Wright was a bit older and grew up in England). Whitey Ford, Hank Greenberg and Jim Palmer were also born in Manhattan, but none of them are generally associated with the Borough. Aside from Gehrig, the only Hall-of-Famer who played high school ball in Manhattan was Rod Carew of George Washington H.S. in Washington Heights. Manny Ramirez will also join him as a G.W. grad in the Hall -- if he doesn't get penalized for being a steroid cheat, that is.

Bronx: Hank Greenberg of James Monroe H.S. Frankie Frisch of Fordham Prep and Fordham University -- hence "the Fordham Flash" -- is also a Hall-of-Famer.

Brooklyn: Sandy Koufax of Lafayette H.S. Mickey Welch, and Waite Hoyt of Erasmus Hall H.S. were also Brooklyn ballplayers in the Hall of Fame. Phil Rizzuto was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Queens. Joe Torre of St. Francis Prep is not yet in the Hall, but will be.

Queens: No Hall-of-Famer has ever been born there, but Phil Rizzuto grew up there and went to Richmond Hill H.S. Whitey Ford grew up in Long Island City and Astoria, although, like Gehrig, he attended a vo-tech high school in Manhattan, in his case Manhattan School of Aviation. Whitey is a better choice for "Best Baseball Player From Queens" than Rizzuto.

Staten Island: No Hall-of-Famers. Born in Scotland, but living in Richmond County since the age of 3, the best ballplayer to grow up there has been Bobby Thomson of Curtis H.S.

Long Island, Nassau County: No HOFers, so their best is Frank Viola of East Meadow.

Long Island, Suffolk County: Carl Yastrzemski of Bridgehampton is their only HOFer.

Westchester County: No HOFers, so their best is... Ralph Branca of Mount Vernon. So the 1951 Pennant was decided by Westchester's best ever against Staten Island's best ever. Thomson swings for Curtis... The Warriors win the Pennant! The Warriors... Yeah, right. But I don't think Branca's Mount Vernon Knights, which also produced Denzel Washington and a slew of great basketball players like Gus Williams and Ben Gordon, would have taunted them with: "Warriors! Come out and play-ay!"

New Jersey, Bergen County: Johnny Vander Meer of Midland Park, although he was born in Prospect Park in Passaic County. Eric Karros was born in Hackensack, but before he could reach high school the family moved to San Diego.

Essex County: Monte Irvin of East Orange, a Hall-of-Famer.

Hudson County: Johnny Kucks of Dickinson H.S. in Jersey City.

Hunterdon County: Jack Cust of Flemington, although he attended Immaculata H.S. in Somerset County's Somerville.

Mercer County: Al Downing of Trenton Central. This would ordinarily have put him in the Phillies' region, but he did pitch 9 years for the Yankees, and was their first black pitcher. Of course, years later, he gave up Hank Aaron's 715th career home run. It doesn't bother him: He wanted Hank to break the record, and it had to happen against somebody, and it did insure that Al would be remembered.

Middlesex County: Joe Medwick of Carteret. A County Park stretching across Carteret and the neighboring Avenel section of Woodbridge is named for the Hall-of-Famer.

Monmouth County: John Montefusco of Long Branch.

Morris County: Don Newcombe of Madison Borough, and Jefferson H.S. in Jefferson Township. Although the school is in Morris County, it competes in the Sussex County Interscholastic League, so that it plays schools better matched to its enrollment.

Ocean County: Al Leiter of Berkeley Township (postal address: Bayville) and the town's Central Regional H.S.

Passaic County: Larry Doby of Paterson and Eastside H.S. Their arch-rivals are John F. Kennedy H.S., and in case you've ever wondered, up until 1963, they were known as Central H.S.

Somerset County: Joe Lis of Somerville and Somerville H.S. Easily the best player the County has ever produced, he wasn't a star in the majors, but he was a success as a youth and American Legion coach. He died last month at age 66.

Sussex County: Russ Van Atta of Augusta. Although his alma mater, Augusta H.S., has since been closed, the town is home to the Sussex Skyhawks of the Can-Am League, and the Sussex County Fair.

Union County: Jeffrey Hammonds of Scotch Plains and Scotch Plains-Fanwood H.S.

Warren County: Charlie Berry of Phillipsburg. Hardly as accomplished in his sport as P-burg native and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Jim Ringo was in his, Berry had the misfortune to arrive at first the Boston Red Sox in 1925, and then the Philadelphia Athletics in 1934, shortly after both teams stopped winning Pennants. But he went on to become an esteemed umpire.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Pete Rozelle for Not Postponing NFL Games After the JFK Assassination

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. He was elected President of the United States on November 8, 1960, 50 years ago this month. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, 47 years ago today.

On May 16 of this year, it had been 46 years, 5 months and 24 days since his death. Meaning he had now been dead longer than he was alive.

I don't remember either Jack or Bobby Kennedy (who will be dead longer than he was alive this December 23) as a living, breathing, acting, achieving, dreaming public figure. I only know them as martyred heroes. Nor do I remember Ted Kennedy as an untainting public figure: The Chappaquiddick accident (and, yes, it WAS an accident) happened 5 months before I was born.

I don't know what it was like in those 10 years and change from November 22, 1963 to August 9, 1974, when the nation had to suffer through Vietnam, race riots and Watergate. Whether JFK would have made it different, I don't know.

I do know that all 3 Kennedy brothers were big sports fans. JFK threw out the ceremonial first ball on Opening Day in Washington all 3 Aprils he was in office. This included 1962, when the Washington Senators opened (after the NFL's Washington Redskins had already played their first season there the fall before) District of Columbia Stadium. Just 7 years later, D.C. Stadium would be renamed for his brother, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. (Or "RFK Stadium.")

JFK liked attending the Army-Navy Game at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. As Presidents tradtionally did, so as not to be seen as "taking sides," he sat on the side of the stadium where Army's bench was for one half and the Navy side for the other. But, just as his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was an Army General in World War II and people joked he couldn't truly be neutral in the game, JFK was a Navy hero in the same war and probably also wasn't exactly impartial.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. played football at Harvard University. Jack didn't make the varsity. Bobby did, scoring a touchdown against Western Maryland, but injuring his ankle. He hadn't yet won his varsity letter, and in those days, the only way you could was by playing in The Game. Harvard vs. Yale. So it entered into the Kennedy myth that "Bobby Kennedy played in the Harvard-Yale game with a broken leg." No, not a broken leg, but an injured ankle. He got his letter.

That was in 1947. In 1954, Ted, easily the best player of the brothers, played two-way end (today, we would call it "tight end" and "defensive end," although in the two-platoon system then taking over football he most likely would have been either a tight end or a linebacker), and caught a pass and took it in for a touchdown in the Yale game. What the Kennedy legendeers (myself sometimes included) don't like to say is that it was the only Harvard touchdown of the day, and Yale won -- as they did when Bobby played against them. (This past Saturday, at Harvard Stadium, Harvard beat Yale 28-21, but Yale still solidly leads the all-time series between them.)

When the Red Sox had their "Impossible Dream" season in 1967, the final series of the year was between the Sox and the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park. Ted had invited Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota's once and future Senator, to watch the games with him and the now-ailing former Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Bobby wasn't there that weekend, but the TV cameras caught Ted and Hubert sitting together talking about the game. Interviewed for Impossible To Forget, a 40th Anniversary DVD about that season, Ted said that it was the last summer that he and Bobby were together, and that it made them and their father very happy to see the Red Sox win that Pennant.

When Fenway Park opened on April 20, 1912, throwing out the first-ever first ball was the Mayor of Boston, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, father of Rose, mother of the four Kennedy brothers. In 2009, with Ted battling a brain tumor, the Red Sox invited him to throw out the first ball on Opening Day. Weakened by his battle and 77 years, Ted threw a soft toss to new Hall-of-Famer Jim Rice right in front of the mound. A little more than 4 months later, Ted joined his brothers, his parents, 3 of his nephews (JFK Jr. and Bobby's sons David and Michael) and all but one of his sisters -- Jean is the only one of the 9 still alive.

*

The 1963 Army-Navy Game had been scheduled for Saturday, November 23. It was postponed. Most college games were postponed. But the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry went on as scheduled.

When the announcement that JFK was dead reached us at 2:38 PM Eastern Time on November 22, it was a Friday afternoon, and decisions had to be made to play or postpone games. Here in the New York Tri-State Area, the Nets, Islanders and Devils did not yet exist. The Yankees and Mets were in the off-season. The Rangers were not scheduled. The Knicks were, and, for the first time in the franchise's 17-year history, one of their games was postponed.

East Brunswick High School was supposed to play football on the Saturday, against neighboring Sayreville. The game was postponed, and, for the first time in the then-new school's 3-year football history, a game was played on Thanksgiving. E.B. won. We always beat Sayreville, losing to them only once from our football debut in 1961 until 1990. Since then, they've had our number, including this season, although we did beat them on the road in the Playoffs last season. Anyway, E.B. did not play on Thanksgiving Day again until 1978, because our athletic director at the time, Jay Doyle, for whom our stadium would be named after his 1972 death, didn't like the idea. Maybe he was right: From 1984 onward, we've only won on T-Day twice.

The Giants and Jets (still the Titans at the time) were, from 1960 to 1969, in separate leagues. American Football League Commissioner Joe Foss was the leading Marine Corps flying ace of World War II (26 shootdowns), a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and a Governor of South Dakota. His political career ended in 1958 when, rather than run for a 3rd term as Governor, he ran for Congress, and was defeated by another WWII pilot, bombardier George McGovern. After his tenure as AFL Commissioner, he became the President of the National Rifle Association. He died in 2003, age 84.

In 1993, interviewed by CBS Sports on the 30th Anniversary of the assassination, Foss made it clear: "The vote of the owners was unanimous: The show must NOT go on." Although he was a Republican (being rich guys, sports owners tend to be, even nice guys like Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney and his sons who now run the team), Foss was an American first, and decided the right way to honor the fallen President was to postpone that week's slate of AFL games.

The owners of the 8 teams the League then had all agreed: Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs (a Dallas native and the AFL's founder), Billy Sullivan of JFK's hometown Boston Patriots, Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills, Gerald Phipps of the Denver Broncos, Bud Adams of the Houston Oilers, Wayne Valley of the Oakland Raiders, Barron Hilton of the San Diego Chargers, and Leon Hess and Sonny Werblin of the New York Jets.

The National Football League was a different story. Having less than 48 hours to decide, Pete Rozelle, in only his 4th season as Commissioner, made a phone call to Pierre Salinger, who had been his roommate at the University of San Francisco and was now the White House Press Secretary and close to the Kennedy family. Salinger said that JFK wouldn't have wanted the games canceled just because he was dead. So Rozelle said the games would go on.

Rozelle and Salinger were both still alive when CBS did that anniversary piece on the games that went on in 1993. Sam Huff, then one of the NFL's top defensive players with the New York Giants, soon to join the Washington Redskins and now a longtime broadcaster for them, thinks it was a mistake. As the most famous living athlete in the State of West Virginia (even more, at that point, than basketball star Jerry West), he had campaigned with JFK in the 1960 West Virginia Primary, which was so crucial to his winning the nomination. In that CBS retrospective, Huff said Rozelle and Salinger made a mistake: "I think it should have been Jackie's call."

Jacqueline Kennedy was truly remarkable in how she put her husband's funeral together under the most trying of circumstances. But, at that point, I don't think she would have given a damn whether football games were played that Sunday or not.

And in that retrospective, they included an interview done with Rozelle upon his retirement as Commissioner in 1989. In it, he admitted that letting the games be played was his biggest mistake on the job. Rozelle died in 1996, age 70.

*

Was it a mistake to play? I'm not so sure. Maybe you believe it was, or not; maybe what you're about to read will change your mind, or not.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Pete Rozelle for Not Postponing NFL Games After the JFK Assassination

5. Timing. Rozelle had under 48 hours to make the choice. He said that some of the teams were already on, or getting on, the airplanes that would take them to the cities where their games had been scheduled. Had the shooting happened the day before, Thursday, it might have been a different story. Rozelle had to make a decision on the fly.

4. The Kennedy Mystique. Football, had been the Kennedy family's game. From Bobby and Ted making the Harvard varsity to the touch football games at Hyannis and Palm Beach, they reveled in the sport. It was a tribute to them, the way it wouldn't have been if, say, basketball legend Bill Bradley had become President and faced a murderous end to his Administration.

3. Official Recognition. Sam Huff had a point: Jackie Kennedy giving the go-ahead to Commissioner Rozelle would have been better, having more moral authority, than Pierre Salinger giving it.

But word had been received from the White House. Indeed, the next season, Bobby visited the locker room at an Eagles game, and, quarterback King Hill remembers, “He came into our locker room, and went around shaking our hands. He said he appreciated us playing the games that weekend.” It is quite hard to imagine JFK saying, "Don't play the games."

For the record, the start of the 1968 baseball season was delayed after Martin Luther King was killed on April 4, but that was mainly due to the race riots more than the man's death. Still, it was a good idea. When Bobby was killed on June 5, 1968, died on the 6th, and buried on the 8th, no games were postponed. On December 7, 1941, it was a Sunday, and that day's NFL games were already underway when word was received that Pearl Harbor was attacked. (The attacks happened at around 8:00 in the morning Hawaii time, which was 2:00 in the afternoon East Coast time.) Only 3 MLB games were scheduled for May 4, 1970, the day of the Kent State Massacre, and a full slate was played the next day.

Games were called off for 10 days after the earthquake that struck during the 1989 World Series. Earlier that year, in England, a tragedy at an FA Cup Semifinal postponed Football League games for 2 weeks, but the season did resume. Only after the terrorist attacks September 11, 2001 has the NFL ever postponed a week's slate of games, and baseball pushed back the remaining games for that week as well. Most people seemed to think that one week's delay was enough, and sport helped us to heal.

2. The Games Weren't Televised. CBS, then the NFL's sole carrier, went all-Kennedy-all-the-time, and didn't even send broadcast crews to the stadiums. The games were filmed by NFL Films, which caught a banner outside Yankee Stadium saying, "Kennedy Dead, the Game Goes On, Shame." But anybody who was watching TV that weekend was watching funeral coverage, not football.

1. People Wanted a Distraction. I talked to someone who was a senior at East Brunswick when it happened, and he told me that playing those games was the best thing that could have been done. For 3 hours, people could think about something other than the saddest thing that had ever happened to their country in their lifetimes. Under a million people actually went to the games, but a few million listened on the radio, including many around here who listened to the Giants. The actual funeral would be the next day, Monday, November 25, and the people could pay proper respect that day.

*

In case anyone still cares, here's the results of the NFL games for November 24, 1963:

* The St. Louis Cardinals upset the New York Giants, 24-17, at Yankee Stadium in New York.

* The Washington Redskins upset the Philadelphia Eagles, 13-10, at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles had a nasty fight in the locker room the day before, with their emotions on edge. It was because one player (whose name I won't mention) refused to go along with the team's plan to have every player contribute $50 to the family of Patrolman J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer who was the other man killed by Lee Harvey Oswald that day. (Of course, I still have my doubts that Oswald killed JFK, or, if so, that he acted alone; but it seems pretty clear the guy was a cop killer and therefore scum.)

* The Cleveland Browns beat the Dallas Cowboys 27-17, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. In a gesture that may shock Browns fans, used to seeing him as an inhuman monster, Browns owner Art Modell asked the public-address announcer to refer to the visitors as "the Cowboys," and not mention the name "Dallas," for fear of retribution against the representatives of the city where the President had been murdered.

* The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears played to a 17-17 tie at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The game was sold out, although that wasn't hard, as Forbes Field only had 35,000 seats. The Bears would go on to beat the Giants in the NFL Championship Game; in the AFL, the San Diego Chargers would beat the Boston Patriots.

* The Green Bay Packers beat the San Francisco 49ers, 28-10, at Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Packers played 2 home games a year from 1953 to 1977, and 3 a year from 1978 to 1994. Perhaps because the Packers were 120 miles from their Green Bay base, this was one of 3 games not sold out that day.

* The Los Angeles Rams beat the Baltimore Colts, 17-16 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Because the Coliseum then seated about 100,000 people, this one was not a sellout. Jack Pardee of the Rams, a Texan, would later say that his car, with Texas plates, had been vandalized.

* And the Minnesota Vikings beat the Detroit Lions, 34-31, at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. This was the other non-sellout.

*

"I think it's time America started moving again," John F. Kennedy said on the campaign trail, 50 years ago.

He was right then. He is right now. If only our government would listen. The ball has been handed off to you, President Obama. The way you've been carrying the ball hasn't been working. Try something else, because we know what happens when the other side has the ball. The Kennedy vision has outlived its visionary, but it cannot survive if we choose to forget. We must choose to remember.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame ONLY Omar Minaya for the Mets' Failures Since 2006

What's this, a sick, twisted, demented Yankee Fan like me is talking about the Mets and letting one of them off the hook?

No. Just pointing out that said failures aren't all the work of one man. True, Omar Minaya, recently fired as Met general manager, is the man most to blame for the Mets currently being an even more pathetic mess than usual.

But there are extenuating circumstances.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame ONLY Omar Minaya for the Mets' Failures Since 2006

5. The New York Yankees. The Yanks' success since 1996 has raised expectations, particularly for all the other New York sports teams, to a ridiculous level.

Is it any wonder that, of the other 8 teams in the New York Tri-State Area, only the Devils (in 2000 and 2003) and the Giants (in 2007-08) have won a World Championship? The Mets won a Pennant in 2000 but lost the World Series to the Yankees. The Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1999 but lost. The Nets reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, but lost both and looked totally overmatched in the process. The Jets reached the AFC Championship Game in 1998-99 and 2009-10, but lost both. The Rangers reached the NHL Eastern Conference Finals in 1997, but lost, and haven't been back since. The Islanders have barely made the Playoffs at all since 1993.

The Yankees have bred this mentality that "New York teams SHOULD win." Their massive payroll also suggests that New York teams should have massive payrolls, and most do. And it hasn't worked.

What everyone forgets is that the Yankees also had smart management. This worked against Minaya. But, let's face it: If the Yankees had not been so successful since 1996, the Mets' failures since then (including their 1998 end-of-regular-season collapse, their 1999 NLCS disaster, the 2000 World Series loss to the Yankees, and the dreariness of the Art Howe years, all of which preceding Minaya's hiring) wouldn't seem so glaring.

4. Yadier Molina. Every now and then, a team looking to make it big gives up a home run that ruins their progress. Just in my lifetime, through the 2006 NLCS, we have had Chris Chambliss against the Royals in 1976, Reggie Jackson against the Dodgers in 1977, Bucky Dent against the Red Sox in 1978, Rick Monday against the Expos in 1981, Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark against the Dodgers in 1985, Dave Henderson against the Angels in 1986, Mike Scoscia against the Mets in 1988 (lest we forget), Kirk Gibson against the A's that same year, Kirby Puckett against the Braves in 1991, Joe Carter against the Phillies in 1993, David Justice against the Indians in 1995, Derek Jeter against the Orioles in 1996, Tony Fernandez against the Orioles in 1997, Tino Martinez against the Padres in 1998, Scott Spiezio against the Giants in 2002, David Ortiz against the Yankees in 2004 and Albert Pujols against the Astros in 2005.

When Yadier Molina stepped up to bat against Aaron Heilman in the top of the 9th of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, Met fans were confident. Their team had won a lot more regular-season games than the St. Louis Cardinals. They were still on a high from the Endy Chavez catch a few innings before. They had home field advantage, and the meat of their order was coming up in the bottom of the 9th. For perhaps the last time, Shea Stadium was rocking. And then it got rocked by the 3rd-best Molina brother.

If Yadier doesn't hit that home run, maybe the Mets win the Pennant. Regardless of whether they go on to beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, maybe that glorious feeling of winning a Pennant carries over (it didn't in 1973 and 2000, but you never know), and maybe they DON'T flop down the stretch in 2007 and 2008, maybe they win a World Series, maybe they can look Yankee and Phillie fans in the eye and say, "What have you done lately?" Who knows, maybe Willie Randolph is still Met manager.

3. The Philadelphia Phillies. Since opening Citizens Bank Park in 2004, they have been the National League's model organization.

2. Injuries. Minaya signed Pedro Martinez, who already had an injury history, so blame him for that. But you know who did not have a reputation for being injury-prone? Carlos Beltran. Carlos Delgado. David Wright. Jose Reyes. Oliver Perez. Johan Santana. No one could have foreseen all of that.

1. The House of Wilpon. Jeff hired Minaya. And Fred didn't do anything to correct that mistake well past the point where it was too late. Like Harry Truman said, the buck stops with the commander-in-chief. That's Fred Wilpon, who, like Charles Dolan with the Knicks, Ed McCaskey with the Chicago Bears and Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals, handed too much power to his son, who handed too much power to his favorite guy. With disastrous results.