Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Original Ace

A colorized photo of the original "ace," Asa Brainard.

I'm going to continue to do these entries through November 4, which is, for the moment, the latest any World Series has ever ended.

October 29, 1860: In the match for the 1860 whip-pennant‚ emblematic of the championship of the U.S.‚ the Atlantics top the Eckfords‚ 20-11. Both clubs are from Brooklyn, until 1898 a separate city from New York.

With the game tied at 5-5 after 5 innings‚ the Atlantics score 6 in the 6th‚ 5 in the 7th‚ and 4 in the 8th to win. Asa Brainard of the Excelsior club umpires the game. As agreed upon‚ all umpires are players from a third club. Brainard will later became the pitcher – yes, the only single pitcher – for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly professional team, and his name, Asa, will become the pitching term "Ace."

Also known as "Count," Brainard was born in 1841 -- the exact date is not known -- in Albany, New York. He played for Excelsior from 1860 to 1866. He spent the 1867 season with the Washington Nationals, the 1st team with that name, which embarrassed a Cincinnati club so much that the city fathers were determined to build the best baseball team ever, even if it meant paying the players and doing so openly.

And that was enough to lure Brainard: The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the 1st professional sports team, and the 1st to follow the idea of, "If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em." He played the 1868, 1869 and 1870 seasons with them.

He returned to D.C. with the Washington Olympics in 1871, went to Connecticut to play for the Middletown Mansfields in 1872, and spent 1873 and 1874 with the Baltimore Canaries. Not Orioles, Canaries.

But, like so many other people in those days, he was stricken with tuberculosis. Like so many of the victims, including Wild West dentist and gunslinger Dr. John Holliday, he went to Colorado in hopes that the mountain air would help his lungs. It didn't, and he died there on December 29, 1888, just 47 years old -- only a year after Doc Holliday did.

October 29, 1866: The final championship match of the season is between the Irvington club of New Jersey and the host Atlantics‚ with the 2 clubs playing a rubber match to determine the champion of the 1866 season.

The Atlantics break a 5-5 tie by scoring 7 in the 10th inning and winning‚ 12-6, to keep the Championship. This is the closest a team playing its home games in New Jersey will come to being a sport's "world champion" until the New York Giants win Super Bowl XXI, 120 years later.

October 29, 1889: The Giants win their 2nd consecutive World Championship by taking this year's best-of-11 matchup in 9 games. After spotting the Bridegrooms (the once-and-future Dodgers were so named because 3 of their players had gotten married in the 1887-88 off-season) 2 runs in the 1st‚ the Giants rally to win 3-2 behind Hank O'Day's pitching -- the same Hank O'Day who would be the umpire who ruled against them in the Fred Merkle Game 19 years later. Slattery scores the winning run in the 7th inning‚ coming in from second as catcher Doc Bushing misses a two-out 3rd strike.


October 29, 1920: The Yankees sign Red Sox manager Ed Barrow as business manager – what will, in a few years, begin to be called “general manager” – completing the front office team that will build the game's most successful record. Hugh Duffy, the Boston Braves star who batted a record .438 in 1894, replaces Barrow at Fenway Park.

Barrow had managed the Red Sox to the 1918 World Series, and, regarding the hitting and pitching talents of Babe Ruth, said, “I’d be a fool to turn the best lefthanded pitcher in the game into an outfielder.” The choice had already been made for him, but he would help the Yankees win 14 Pennants and 10 World Series in his 26 seasons as Yankee GM. Shortly before his death in 1953, he was elected to the Hall of Fame. At the Yankees’ next home opener, a plaque was dedicated in his memory and hung on the outfield wall near the Monuments, and would later be moved to Monument Park.

He is buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York, along with several other baseball-connected personalities: The Yankee owner who hired him, Jacob Ruppert; a Yankee slugger he signed, Lou Gehrig; the Boston owner and Broadway promoter who previously hired him, Harry Frazee; the Governor of New York who sometimes threw out the first ball at big Yankee games, Herbert Lehman; the opera singer who often sang the National Anthem at Yankee games, Robert Merill; and the Brooklyn-born comedian who was a member of the first ownership group of the Seattle Mariners, Danny Kaye.

October 29, 1921, 90 years ago: The Harvard University football team loses to Centre College of Danville, Kentucky, ending a 25-game winning streak. This is considered one of the biggest upsets in college football, as the "Praying Colonels" (no, I'm not making that mascot name up) were the 1st team from outside the East to beat one of the old "Big Three" of Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

Today, Harvard, like all the Ivy League teams, is Division I-AA (or whatever the NCAA calls the second level of play now), while Centre is in Division III.

October 29, 1950: King Gustav V of Sweden dies at age 92. As the host of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, he presented decathlon and pentathlon champion Jim Thorpe with a laurel wreath and, according to legend, said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” coining a phrase that has become an unofficial title for the Olympic decathlon champ. Thorpe’s response is said to have been, “Thanks, King.” Gustav V was the great-grandfather of the current monarch, King Carl XVI Gustaf.

October 29, 1953: Denis Potvin is born. One of the greatest defensemen in hockey history, he was the Captain of the New York Islanders’ 4 straight Stanley Cups of 1980 to 1983. Arguably the team’s greatest player ever, certainly its most important, his Number 5 has been retired, and he was the first Isles player elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. His brother Jean Potvin also played for the Isles for a time, and his cousin Marc Potvin also played in the NHL.

However, his name is best remembered for an incident in the Ranger-Islander rivalry. On February 25, 1979, the teams played at Madison Square Garden, and Potvin checked Ranger All-Star Ulf Nilsson into the boards, breaking Nilsson’s ankle. In spite of the fact that no penalty was called, and the fact that Nilsson has always maintained that it was a clean hit, and that fact that then-Ranger coach Fred Shero also said it was a clean hit, the moron Ranger fans have spent 30 years chanting, “Potvin sucks!” – against all opponents, not just the Islanders. This led to some confusion, years later, when Felix Potvin (no relation) would tend goal for various teams, including the Islanders for a time.

In retaliation, Islander fans have done a “Rangers suck!” chant for every home game, regardless of opponent, and New Jersey Devils fans do the same. Ranger fans also had a chant of “Beat your wife, Potvin, beat your wife!” Denis Potvin usually beat the Rangers instead.

Part of Ranger mythology is that Potvin’s hit knocked Nilsson out for the season, and that’s why they lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, Nilsson returned in time for those Finals, in which the Rangers won Game 1 at the Montreal Forum, but then dropped the next 4, including all 3 at the Garden.

October 29, 1959: Mike Gartner is born. The right wing starred for several hockey teams, including the Washington Capitals, who retired his Number 11. But he never appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals, being traded by the Rangers at the trading deadline in 1994, in a trade that helped them win the Cup, to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who made it to the Western Conference Finals before losing. Among players who have never won a Cup, he is second to Phil Housley in games played and second to Marcel Dionne in goals, with 708.

October 29, 1961, 50 years ago: Joel Otto is born. The center won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.

October 29, 1968: Johan Olav Koss is born. The Norwegian speed skater won a Gold Medal at the Winter Olympics in 1992 and 3 more at the 1994. He and American speed skater Bonnie Blair were named Sportspeople of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1994.

October 29, 1969: The 1st-ever computer-to-computer link is established on ARPANET, thus making this a possible birthdate for the Internet.

October 29, 1970: Edwin van der Sar is born. The goalkeeper starred in his native Netherlands for Ajax Amsterdam (winning 4 league titles, 3 Dutch Cups, the domestic “Double” in 1998 and the Champions League in 1995), in Italy for Juventus (where he was the first non-Italian to be their starting goalie) and in England for Fulham, before going to Manchester United (where he backstopped them to 4 Premiership titles and the 2008 Champions League). He has now retired.

October 29, 1971, 40 years ago: Winona Ryder is born. She recently played Amanda Grayson, Spock’s mother, in J.J. Abrams’ abominable re-imagining of Star Trek – very good movie, but it is no more Star Trek than an Escalade is a Cadillac – but nothing will ever top Veronica Sawyer in Heathers. You don’t like that? “Lick it up, baby, lick it up!”

October 29, 1972: Dwayne Wade is born. He led the Miami Heat to the 2006 NBA Championship, and remains one of the league’s top stars.

Also on this day, Gabrielle Union is born. She played Alice Kramden to Cedric the Entertainer’s Ralph in the 2005 film version of The Honeymooners. She was formerly married to Michigan and Jacksonville Jaguars running back Chris Howard, and was one of several actress who had been linked to Derek Jeter. She is now with, interestingly enough, the aforementioned Dwayne Wade.

Also on this day, Tracee Ellis Ross is born. The daughter of singer Diana Ross (and sister of actress Rhonda Ross Kendrick), she starred as Joan Clayton on Girlfriends. That show has often been compared to a sitcom of the previous decade, Living Single, with Joan compared to Queen Latifah’s character Khadijah James, not least because both characters’ fathers were played by basketball player turned actor Michael Warren (Officer Bobby Hill on Hill Street Blues).

October 29, 1973: Robert Pires is born. The midfielder was a member of France’s World Cup winners in 1998 and the Arsenal champions of 1998 (League and FA Cup “Double”), 2002 (another Double) and 2004 (undefeated League season). He is now a free agent.

October 29, 1981, 30 years ago: Bill Giles‚ the Phillies vice president for the past 11 years‚ heads a group of investors which purchases the club from the Carpenter family, Bob and his son Ruly, for just over $30 million‚ the highest price paid to date for a MLB club.

Giles is the son of longtime NL president Warren Giles, and is now NL president himself, although this is a powerless, purely ceremonial role, pretty much limited to awarding the trophy named for his father to the NL’s Pennant winner.

Also on this day, Amanda Beard is born. The swimmer won Gold Medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics.

October 29, 1983: Maurice Clarett is born. As a freshman, the football player helped Ohio State win the 2002 National Championship. Then he tried to make himself eligible early for the NFL Draft, and racked up over $1 million in legal fees. When he was finally drafted, in 2005 by the Denver Broncos, he was released before ever stepping onto the field, even in an exhibition game, and remained in debt. In 2006, he was arrested for armed robbery, and plea-bargained. Released from prison in 2010, he now plays for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.

October 29, 1984: Eric Staal is born. The All-Star centre is the Captain of the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he won the 2006 Stanley Cup. In May 2009, May, he scored the winning goal with 31 seconds left in regulation in Game 7 to give the Canes a first-round Playoff series win against the New Jersey Devils. For this, I hate his fucking guts. Okay, it would be better to say that I strenuously dislike his fucking guts.

He has 3 brothers who play pro hockey: Marc Staal of the New York Rangers (and therefore someone who sucks!), Jordan Staal of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and Jared Staal, who is in the Phoenix Coyotes’ system.

October 29, 2006: Silas Simmons passes away at St. Petersburg's Westminster Suncoast retirement community in Florida. The 111-year old was a southpaw hurler in the Negro Leagues for 17 years and played for the Homestead Grays, New York Lincoln Giants, and Cuban All-Stars. He is believed to be the oldest professional baseball player who ever lived. The longest-lived major leaguer was Chester "Red" Hoff, who pitched in the 1910s and lived to be 107.

October 29, 2008: After a 2-day delay for rain, Game 5 of the World Series is resumed at Citizens Bank Park. It begins in the bottom of the 6th, with the game tied 2-2. Geoff Jenkins doubles, is bunted to third by Jimmy Rollins, and driven in by a Jayson Werth single. Rocco Baldelli ties the game with a home run in the 7th. Later in the inning, Utley fakes a throw to first, then throws Jason Bartlett out at home for the third out in a play later described as having saved the Series for the Phillies.

In the bottom of the 7th, Pat Burrell leads off with a double. Eric Bruntlett, pinch-running for Burrell, scores on a single by Pedro Feliz to put the Phillies up by a run again, 4–3.

In the top of the 9th, Brad Lidge gives up a single and a stolen base, but faces Eric Hinske with the chance to give the city its first World Championship in any sport since the 1983 76ers. Harry Kalas, the Hall of Fame voice of the Phils who would die the following season, had the call:

One strike away, nothing-and-two to Hinske. Fans on their feet. Brad Lidge stretches. The 0–2 pitch! Swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball!

Brad Lidge does it again, and stays perfect for the 2008 season, 48-for-48 in save opportunities! And let the city celebrate! Don't let the 48-hour wait diminish the euphoria of this moment and celebration! Twenty-five years in this city that a team has enjoyed a world championship and the fans are ready to celebrate. What a night! Phils winning, 4–3, Brad Lidge gets the job done once again!

Harry would die early the next season. He deserved that title.

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