Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Oakland

After leaving Seattle, the Yankees travel down the West Coast, moving on to face the Oakland Athletics, a.k.a. the A’s.

DISCLAIMER: I have never been to the Pacific Coast, so all of this information is secondhand at best, but much of it does come from the opposing teams' websites.

Before You Go. The San Francisco Bay Area has inconsistent weather. San Francisco is the one city I know of that has baseball weather in football season and football weather in baseball season. Or, as Mark Twain, who worked for a San Francisco newspaper during the Civil War, put it, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” And the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum – currently named the Overstock.com Coliseum, but I’ll use the original name throughout for simplicity’s sake – has been known to be chilly early in the season. But, this being May going into June, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The Oakland Tribune website is predicting partly cloudy with daytime highs in the low 60s and night lows around 50 for the entire series. The San Francisco Chronicle is agreeing with this.

Getting There. It’s 2,914 miles from Yankee Stadium to the Oakland Coliseum. This is the longest regular Yankee roadtrip there is, unless some future Commissioner decides to create a World League of Baseball and the Tokyo-based Yomiyuri Giants come in. In other words, if you’re going, you’re flying.

You think I’m kidding? Even if you get someone to go with you, and you take turns, one drives while the other one sleeps, and you pack 2 days’ worth of food, and you use the side of the Interstate as a toilet, and you don’t get pulled over for speeding, you’ll still need over 2 full days. Each way.

But, if you really, really want to, well, you’re too late for this series. But in the future... Get onto Interstate 80 West in New Jersey, and – though incredibly long, it’s also incredibly simple – you’ll stay on I-80 for almost its entire length, which is 2,900 miles from Ridgefield Park, just beyond the New Jersey end of the George Washington Bridge, to the San Francisco end of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Getting off I-80, you’ll need Exit 8A for I-880, the Nimitz Freeway – the 1997-rebuilt version of the double-decked expressway that collapsed, killing 42 people, during the Loma Prieta Earthquake that struck during the 1989 World Series between the 2 Bay Area teams. From I-880, you’ll take Exit 37, turning left onto Zhone way, onto 66th Avenue, and a right turn onto Coliseum Way.

The complex includes the stadium that has been home to the A’s since 1968 and to the NFL’s Oakland Raiders from 1966 to 1981 and again since 1995; and the Oracle Arena, a somewhat-renovated version of the Oakland Coliseum Arena, home to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors on and off since 1966, and continuously since 1971 except for a one-year hiatus in San Jose while it was being renovated, 1996-97. Various defunct soccer teams played at the Coliseum, and the Bay Area’s former NHL team, the Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals, played there from 1967 to 1976.

Not counting rest stops, you should be in New Jersey for an hour and a half, Pennsylvania for 5:15, Ohio for 4 hours, Indiana for 2:30, Illinois for 2:45, Iowa for 5 hours, Nebraska for 7:45, Wyoming for 6:45, Utah for 3:15, Nevada for 6:45, and California for 3:15. That’s almost 49 hours, and with rest stops, and city traffic at each end, we’re talking 3 full days.

That’s still faster than Greyhound (87 hours, 15 minutes, changing buses twice, $531 round-trip) and Amtrak (79 hours, 15 minutes, $395 each way). But flights, usually changing in Chicago, will be a lot more expensive.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway line has a Coliseum/Oakland Airport stop, which can be accessed from nearly every city in the Bay Area. It takes about 20 minutes to ride either the Green (Fremont) or Blue (Dublin/Pleasanton) Line from downtown San Francisco to the Coliseum stop, and it will cost $3.80 each way – a lot more expensive than New York’s Subway, but very efficient. From downtown Oakland, it will take about 10 minutes on the Fremont Line, and cost $1.75, cheaper than New York's (because, in this case, you would be staying not just on the Oakland side of the Bay but wholly within the City of Oakland).

Tickets. The A’s have the worst attendance in the American League, just 17,612 per home game, only 400 or so ahead of the Florida Marlins for worst in the majors. You can walk up to the gate right before the first pitch and buy any seat you can afford.

If what you can afford is $88, you can get MVP Boxes in the infield. Field Infield goes for $65, Lower Box for $53, Plaza Club (lower level, bases to foul poles) for $42, second deck seats range from $40 to $26, and outfield Bleacher seats for $15. The upper deck is mostly tarped-over (because they know they can’t sell those seats anymore), although three sections of upper deck seats right behind home plate are sold as Value Deck for $15.

Going In. The official address of the Coliseum is 7000 Coliseum Way. If you’re driving in (either having come all the way across the country by car, or in a rental), there are 4 major lots, and going clockwise from the north of the stadium they are A, B, C and D, each corresponding with an entry gate at the stadium.

If you’re coming from the BART station, there will be a walkway over San Leandro Street, which may remind you of the walkway from the Willets Point station into the parking lot of Shea Stadium and its successor Citi Field. That will drop you off at the due east side of the Coliseum, dead center field.

The Coliseum faces east, away from San Francisco, and is 6 miles northwest of downtown Oakland. Safeco Field is 1250 First Avenue South.

From the outside, the Coliseum won’t look like much, mainly because it was mostly built below ground. Above ground, you’ll be seeing only the upper deck. From 1966 to 1995, the Coliseum consisted of three decks wrapping from the left field pole around the infield to the right field pole, and bleachers in between. But the price of getting the Raiders to come back was an expansion, with new bleachers, named Mount Davis in “honor” of Raiders owner Al Davis. This ruined a lot of the atmosphere at A’s games, and Mount Davis stands as a bold green reminder of the man who stole one of the locals’ teams away, and then, in order to bring it back, screwed up a stadium that was already looking more and more inadequate with the building of every new retro-style stadium.

Food. San Francisco, due to being a waterfront city and a transportation and freight hub, has a reputation as one of America’s best food cities. Oakland benefits from this.

Aramark Sports & Entertainment, the successor corporation to the Harry M. Stevens Company that invented ballpark concessions, provides food and beverage services for the Westside Club, Eastside Club, Luxury Suites, and all of the Coliseum’s Premium Seating areas. Traditional ballpark fare is also offered throughout the stadium by Aramark. Specialty items such as BBQ, pizza, and garlic fries can also be found at specific concession stands. (The Giants have been known for their garlic fries, the A’s less so.)

Team History Displays. The tarped-over outfield upper deck displays the A’s history – or, rather, those parts of it they want you to see. In the left field corner, they show 4 World Series that the A’s won in Philadelphia: 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1929; and the universally-retired Number 42 of Jackie Robinson. In the right field corner, they show the last of the 5 World Series won in Philly, 1930, and the 4 they’ve won in Oakland: 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1989.

At the left field corner of the bleachers are three retired numbers: 9, Reggie Jackson, right field, 1967-75 with a return at the end of his career in 1987; 24, Ricky Henderson, left field, on and off 4 times 1979-98; and 27, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, pitcher, 1965-74. At the right field corner of the bleachers are two more numbers: 34, Rollie Fingers, pitcher, 1968-76; and 43, Dennis Eckersley, pitcher, 1987-95. Previously, the A’s also had an A logo for Walter Haas, the Levi Strauss heir who bought the team from Charlie Finley in 1981, saving the franchise from being moved (at least for one generation) before dying in 1995, at which point his heirs sold the team.

Reggie and Catfish began their careers with the A’s in Kansas City; but, while the A’s put up banners honoring their Philadelphia titles, they have not retired any numbers from their Philadelphia days. (The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society honors these figures with a museum at 6 North York Road in Hatboro, a few miles north of Philadelphia. It features plaques that used to be part of the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame display at Veterans Stadium. I’ve been there, and it’s well worth a visit.)

The Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame (BASHOF) is unusual in that its exhibits are spread over several locations, including the Coliseum. The ones honored there are: Reggie, Catfish, Fingers, A’s pitcher Dave Stewart, Billy Martin (the Yanks & A’s manager grew up in nearby Berkeley); Oakland-area natives Ernie Lombardi (Cincinnati Reds HOF catcher), Dick Bartell (New York Giants All-Star shortstop) Bill Rigney (Giants infielder, coach & manager), Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Willie Stargell and Joe Morgan; and Raiders stars Jim Otto, George Blanda, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Willie Brown and Ken Stabler (the only one of these Raiders not yet elected to the Pro Football HOF, although he should be).

Don’t bother looking around the Coliseum for a display of the Raiders’ retired numbers: They don’t have any. In spite of their rich history, Al Davis has never ordered the retirement of a player’s number – not even the never-again-used (not by the Raiders or any other NFL player) Number 00 of Jim Otto. (Get it, “aught-oh”?) Whether he doesn’t want to share the spotlight with anyone, or he thinks that it would detract from the team-is-everything ethos he preaches, I don’t know. Still, it was almost sickening to see Stabler’s Number 12 being worn by Todd Marinovich.

Other A’s stars have been honored in the BASHOF, but their plaques are elsewhere: Eckersley and 1970s shortstop Bert Campaneris at San Francisco International Airport, and 1970s pitcher Vida Blue, who also pitched for the Giants, at their new home, AT&T Park, along with Giants HOFers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda; and San Francisco Seals star-manager Lefty O’Doul.

For those of you who are Jets fans, the Oakland Coliseum was where the Jets lost the "Heidi Bowl" to the Raiders on November 17, 1968 -- but the Jets ended up beating the Raiders in that season's AFL Championship Game at Shea.

It's worth noting that Elvis Presley sang at the Coliseum Arena on November 10, 1970 and November 11, 1972.

Stuff. The A’s have Team Stores in a few locations in the Coliseum. Additional merchandise locations and novelty kiosks are open throughout the stadium during all home games.

Having a fascinating (if occasionally controversial) history even if you only count the Oakland years, the A’s have had several books written about them, although they don’t always put the team in a good light. The ones about the “Swingin’ A’s” of the 1970s invariably mention then-owner Charles O. Finley’s successes and excesses, including his cheapness and his pettiness. And players, including Reggie, often don’t come off well.

Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, which came out in 2003, showcases the way general manager Billy Beane brought the A’s back in the 2000s, but it glosses over a glaring fact: The A’s have won a grand total of zero American League Championship Series games since George Bush was President. The father, not the son. If he’s been GM for 14 years (since 1998) and has never won a Pennant, how much of a “genius” can Beane be? Especially since he hasn’t been able to hold onto his players? (Put it this way: 2006 is the only season since 1990 in which the A’s have won a postseason series, and they then got swept in the ALCS by the Detroit Tigers. That was 5 years ago, and how many players are left from that team? One, 2nd baseman Mark Ellis, and he’s batting .206 at the moment.) Nevertheless, the book is sold at the Coliseum, and is being made into a movie starring Brad Pitt as Beane. Unfortunately, Angelina Jolie won’t be in it.

There is a DVD collection of the official World Series highlight films of 1972, ’73, ’74 and ’89, all won by the A’s (the 5 they won in Philadelphia came before there were official highlight films), but, as yet, there is Essential Games of the Oakland Athletics or Essential Games of the Oakland Coliseum DVD collection.

The Yankees and A's have played each other in 3 postseason series: The 1981 AL Championship Series and the 2000 and 2001 AL Division Series -- the Yanks winning all 3. Still, if you count the Philly titles (and you really shouldn't, but if you do), the A's have won 9 World Series, more than any AL team except the Yankees, and the only NL team with more is the St. Louis Cardinals (with whom the Philly edition of the A's split back-to-back World Series, the A's winning in 1930 and the Cards in '31.)

During the Game. Although the Raiders fans who show up for home games like to wear costumes ranging from biker gangs to sci-fi film villains – a guy in a Darth Vader mask was a regular in the Jimmy Carter years – and have been known to be the closest thing North American sports has to English-style football hooligans, you’ll probably be safe. Wearing Yankee gear to the game will probably not endanger your safety. True, A’s fans hate the Yankees, but you’ll probably get nothing more than a little bit of verbal abuse.

The A’s slogan this season is “Green Collar Baseball.” If that’s supposed to be like “blue collar,” it’s a poor rewording of it. But the A’s have usually had a blue-collar image, from Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s of Reggie, Catfish and Rollie Fingers in the Silly Seventies to the McGwire-Canseco Bash Brothers of the late Eighties and early Nineties, to the Giambi Brothers, “Big Three” pitchers, Billy Beane “Moneyball” era of 2000-06.

The A’s don’t have a special “Get Loud” device, nor a special song played after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th Inning Stretch or after victories. And, aside from the late Edward McMichael, a.k.a. Tuba Man, there’s no really noticeable Mariner fans like New York cowbell men Freddy “Sez” Schuman and Milton Ousland (Yankees) and Eddie Boison (Mets).

Back in 1905, when the 2 Bay Area teams were the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics, they played each other in the World Series, and Giants manager John McGraw dismissed the A’s as a “white elephant.” A’s manager-owner Connie Mack went with this and had white elephants stitched on their gray jerseys. Finley dumped the elephant as a symbol when he bought the Kansas City edition of the team in 1960, replacing him with a “Missouri mule” that he named Charlie O after himself. But in 1990 the elephant logo was brought back. In 1997, the A’s created a new mascot, a man in an elephant suit named Stomper.

After the Game. Oakland has a bit of a rough reputation, but, since the Coliseum is an island in a sea of parking, you won’t be in any neighborhood, much less a bad one. But if you do want to go out for a postgame meal or drinks, be advised that some sections of town are crime-ridden. And, in this case, wearing Yankee gear might not be a good idea. It’s probably best to stay within the area from the 12th Street/Oakland City Center BART station and Jack London Square, center of the city’s nightlife.

There are three bars in the Lower Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco that are worth mentioning. Aces, at 998 Sutter Street & Hyde Street in San Francisco’s Lower Nob Hill neighborhood, is said to have a Yankee sign out front and a Yankee Fan as the main bartender. It’s also the home port of NFL Giants fans in the Bay Area. R Bar, at 1176 Sutter & Polk Street, is the local Jets fan hangout. And Greens Sports Bar, at 2239 Polk at Green Street, is also said to be a Yankee-friendly bar.

Sidelights. The San Francisco Bay Area, including the East Bay (which includes Oakland) has a very rich sports history. Here are some of the highlights, aside from the Oakland Coliseum complex:

* Emeryville Park. Also known as Oaks Park, this was the home of the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks from 1913 until 1955. The Oaks won Pennants there in 1927, ’48, ’50 and ’54. Most notable of these was the 1948 Pennant, won by a group of players who had nearly all played in the majors and were considered old, and were known as the Nine Old Men (a name often given to the U.S. Supreme Court). These old men included former Yankee 1st baseman Nick Etten, the previous year’s World Series hero Cookie Lavagetto of the Brooklyn Dodgers (an Oakland native), Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi (another Oakland native), and one very young player, a 20-year-old 2nd baseman from Berkeley named Billy Martin. Their manager? Casey Stengel. Impressed by Casey’s feat, and by his managing of the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers to a Pennant, Yankee owners Dan Topping and Del Webb hired Casey to manage in 1949. Casey told Billy that if he ever got the chance to bring him east, he would, and he was as good as his word. Pixar Studios has built property on the site. 45th Street, San Pablo Avenue, Park Avenue and Watts Street, Emeryville, near the Amtrak station.

* Seals Stadium. Home of the PCL’s San Francisco Seals from 1931 to 1957, the Mission Reds from 1931 to 1937, and the Giants in 1958 and ’59, it was the first home professional field of the DiMaggio brothers: First Vince, then Joe, and finally Dom all played for the Seals in the 1930s. The Seals won Pennants there in 1931, ’35, ’43, ’44, ’45, ’46 and ’57 (their last season). It seated just 18,500, expanded to 22,900 for the Giants, and was never going to be more than a stopgap facility until the Giants’ larger park could be built. It was demolished in 1959, and the site now has a Safeway grocery store. Bryant Street, 16th Street, Potrero Avenue and Alameda Street, in the Mission District. Hard to reach by public transport.

* Candlestick Park. Home of the Giants from 1960 to 1999, the NFL 49ers since 1970, and the Raiders in the 1961 season, this may be the most-maligned sports facility in North American history. Its seaside location (Candlestick Point) has led to wind (a.k.a. The Hawk), cold, and even fog. It was open to the Bay until 1971, including the 1962 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants, and was then enclosed to expand it from 42,000 to 69,000 seats for the Niners. It also got artificial turf for the 1970 season, one of the first stadiums to have it – though, to the city’s credit, it was also the 1st NFL stadium and 2nd MLB stadium (after Comiskey Park in Chicago) to switch back to real grass.

The Giants only won 2 Pennants there, and never a World Series. But the 49ers won 5 Super Bowls while playing there, with 3 NFC Championships won as the home team. The NFL Giants did beat the 49ers in the 1990 NFC Championship Game, scoring no touchdowns but winning 15-13 thanks to 5 Matt Bahr field goals. The Beatles played their last “real concert” ever at The Stick Park on August 29, 1966 – only 25,000 people came out, a total probably driven down by the stadium’s reputation and John Lennon’s comments about religion on that tour.

The Giants got out, and the 49ers are looking to do the same, with a proposal for a stadium in nearby Santa Clara, to open for the 2015 season. In the meantime, they’re still playing at Candlestick. Best way by public transport isn’t a good one: The KT light rail at 4th & King Streets, at the CalTrain terminal, to 3rd & Gilman Streets, and then it’s almost a mile’s walk down Jagerson Avenue. So unless you’re driving/renting a car, or you’re a sports history buff who HAS to see the place, I wouldn’t suggest making time for it.

* Kezar Stadium. The 49ers played here from their 1946 founding until 1970, the Raiders spent their inaugural 1960 season here, and previous pro teams in the city also played at this facility at the southeastern corner of Golden Gate Park, a mere 10-minute walk from the fabled corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets. High school football, including the annual City Championship played on Thanksgiving Day, used to be held here as well. Bob St. Clair, who played there in high school, college (University of San Francisco) and the NFL in a Hall of Fame career with the 49ers, has compared it to Chicago’s Wrigley Field as a “neighborhood stadium.” After the 49ers left, it became a major concert venue.

The original 60,000-seat structure was built in 1925, and was torn down in 1989 (before the earthquake, so there’s no way to know what the quake would have done to it), and was replaced in 1990 with a 9,000-seat stadium, much more suitable for high school sports. The original Kezar, named for one of the city’s pioneering families, had a cameo in the Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry. Frederick & Stanyan Streets. MUNI subway N train.

* Frank Youell Field. This was another stopgap facility, used by the Raiders from 1962 to 1965, a 22,000-seat stadium that was named after an Oakland undertaker – perhaps fitting, although the Raiders didn’t yet have that image. Interestingly from a New York perspective, the first game here was between the Raiders and the forerunners of the Jets, the New York Titans. It was demolished in 1969. A new field, for Laney College, was built on the site. Lake Merritt BART station.

* Cow Palace. The more familiar name of the Grand National Livestock Pavilion, this big barn just south of the City Line in Daly City has hosted just about everything, from livestock shows and rodeos to the 1956 and 1964 Republican National Conventions. (Yes, the Republicans came here, not the “hippie” Democrats, although they did hold their 1984 Convention downtown at the George Moscone Convention Center. The ’64 Convention is where New York’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller refused to be booed off the podium when he dared to speak out against the John Birch Society – the Tea Party idiots of their time – and when Senator Barry Goldwater was nominated, telling them, “I would remind you, my fellow Republicans, that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And I would remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Personally, I think extremism in the defense of liberty is no defense of liberty.)

Built in 1941, it is one of the oldest former NBA and NHL sites, having hosted the NBA’s Warriors (then calling themselves the San Francisco Warriors) from 1962 to ’71, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks from 1991 to ’93 until their current arena could open, and several minor-league hockey teams. The 1960 NCAA Final Four was held here, culminating in Ohio State, led by Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek (with future coaching legend Bobby Knight as the 6th man) beating local heroes and defending National Champions California, led by Darrell Imhoff.

The Beatles played here on August 19, 1964 and August 31, 1965, and Elvis sang here on November 13, 1970 and November 28 & 29, 1976. It was the site of Neil Young’s 1978 concert that produced the live album Live Rust and the concert film Rust Never Sleeps, and the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope benefit with Joan Baez, Lou Reed, Sting and U2. The acoustics of the place, and the loss of such legendary venues as the Fillmore West and the Winterland Ballroom, make it the Bay Area’s holiest active rock and roll site. 2600 Geneva Avenue, in Daly City. 8X bus.

In addition to the preceding, Elvis sang at the Auditorium Arena (now the Kaiser Convention Center, near the Laney College campus in Oakland) on June 3, 1956 and again on October 27, 1957; and the San Francisco Civic Auditorium (now the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium) on October 26, 1957.

* HP Pavilion San Jose. Formerly the San Jose Arena, this building has hosted the NHL’s San Jose Sharks since 1993. If you’re a fan of the TV show The West Wing, this was the convention center where the ticket of Matt Santos and Leo McGarry was nominated. 525 W. Santa Clara Street, across from the Amtrak & CalTrain station.

* Stanford Stadium. The home field of Stanford University in Palo Alto, down the Peninsula from San Francisco. Originally built in 1921, it was home to many great quarterbacks, from early 49ers signal-caller Frankie Albert to Heisman winner Jim Plunkett to John Elway. It hosted Super Bowl XIX in 1985, won by the 49ers over the Miami Dolphins – one of only two Super Bowls that ended up having had a home team. (Sort of. The other was XIV, the Los Angeles Rams losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rose Bowl.) It also hosted San Francisco’s games of the 1994 World Cup, and the soccer games of the 1984 Olympics, even though those Olympics were down the coast in Los Angeles. The original 85,000-seat structure was demolished and replaced with a new 50,000-seat stadium in 2006. Arboretum Road & Galvez Street.

* California Memorial Stadium. Home of Stanford’s arch-rivals, the University of California, at its main campus in Berkeley in the East Bay. (The school is generally known as “Cal” for sports, and “Berkeley” for most other purposes.) Its location in the Berkeley Hills makes it one of the nicest settings in college football, but it’s also, quite literally, on the Hayward Fault (a branch of the San Andreas Fault), so if “The Big One” had hit during a Cal home game, 72,000 people would have been screwed. With this in mind, the University is renovating the stadium, making it ready for 63,000 fans in 2012. In the meantime, Cal will share AT&T Park with the baseball Giants. The old stadium hosted one NFL game, and it was a very notable one: Due to a scheduling conflict with the A’s, the Raiders played a 1973 game there with the Miami Dolphins, and ended the Dolphins’ winning streak that included the entire 1972 season and Super Bowl VII. 76 Canyon Road, Berkeley. (Remember, it’s being renovated, so it could be messy.)

Oakland isn’t much of a museum city, especially compared with San Francisco across the Bay. But the Oakland Museum of California (10th & Oak, Lake Merritt BART) and the Chabot Space & Science Center (10000 Skyline Blvd., not accessible by BART) may be worth a look.

San Francisco, like New York, has a Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), at 151 3rd Street downtown. The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is probably the city’s most famous museum, in Lincoln Park at the northwestern corner of the city, near the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. (Any of you who are Trekkies, the Presidio is a now-closed military base that, in the Star Trek Universe, is the seat of Starfleet Command and Starfleet Academy.) And don’t forget to take a ride on one of them cable cars I’ve been hearing so dang much about.

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So, if you can afford it, go on out and join your fellow Yankee Fans in going coast-to-coast, and enjoy the Yanks-A’s rivalry, even if it’s not what it was back in the late 1920s and early ‘30s when it was Ruth & Gehrig vs. Cochrane, Foxx, Simmons & Grove.

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