Monday, October 31, 2011

Mischief Night In Baseball

October 30, 1871, 140 years ago: The final championship match of the season takes place on the Union Grounds in Brooklyn between the Athletics and the Chicago White Stockings. The Championship Committee decrees that today's game will decide the winner of the pennant. Chicago‚ having played all of its games on the road since the October 8 fire‚ appears in an assorted array of uniforms. Theirs were all lost during the fire. The 4-1 victory by the Athletics gives them the championship for 1871. It will be 41 years before another Philadelphia team wins a major league Pennant.

Also on this day, Buck Freeman is born. The right fielder was the first man to lead both Leagues in home runs: The National in 1899 with 25 for the Washington Senators (which was about to be contracted out of the NL and are not to be confused with the AL team that started in 1901), and the American in 1903 with 13 for the Boston Pilgrims, forerunners of the Red Sox. That season, he and the Pilgrims won the first World Series.

October 30, 1875: The Boston Red Stockings beat the visiting Blue Stockings of Hartford‚ 7-4‚ to finish the season without a home defeat. Boston finishes the year at 48-7. Only 7 teams finish the season with a total of 185 games played between them. The success of the Red Stockings has led to several forfeits, and this domination and erratic scheduling is one of the reasons the National Association is abandoned and the National League established for 1876. The Red Stockings will join, eventually becoming the Beaneaters, the Rustlers, the Doves and finally the Braves, before moving to Milwaukee and later Atlanta.

October 30, 1896: Ruth Gordon is born. She starred on Broadway and in silent films before becoming a major star in the “talkies” of the 1930s. She also collaborated on screenplays with her husband, Garson Kanin. But she’s best known for her role in the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby. At age 72, she got an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and said, "I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is." She was still acting up to the end of her life in 1985.

In 1993, on an episode of Mad About You, Paul Reiser’s character, a documentary filmmaker named Paul Buchman, told his wife Jamie, played by Helen Hunt, that he was making a movie about Yankee Stadium, using the common nickname “The House That Ruth Built.” Jamie: “Ruth who?” Paul, sarcastically: “Gordon, honey. Ruth Gordon built Yankee Stadium.”

October 30, 1898: Bill Terry is born. The New York Giants first baseman helped them win Pennants in 1923 and ’24, and after succeeding John McGraw as manager, led them to win the 1933 World Series and the ’36 and ’37 Pennants. In 1930, he batted .401, making him the last National League to date to bat .400 or higher for a season. He is a member of the Hall of Fame, and the Giants retired his Number 3 (albeit well after they had moved to San Francisco).

October 30, 1916: Leon Day is born. He pitched for the Newark Eagles and the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro Leagues, and was also an excellent hitter. He landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Although just 30 years old when Jackie Robinson debuted, he only played two seasons, 1952 and 1953, in the formerly all-white minor leagues, and was never approached by a major league team to sign. He retired in 1955. In 1995, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame based on his Negro League service. Just six days later, he died, making him the only person ever to be a living Hall-of-Famer-elect, but not a living Hall-of-Famer.

October 30, 1917: Bobby Bragan is born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a backup catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but when team president Branch Rickey announced he would promote Jackie Robinson to the majors, Bragan was one of the Southern players who signed a petition opposing it, and even asked Rickey to trade him rather than make him play on a desegregated team. Rickey refused, and Bragan did not take to realize he was wrong.

In 1948, Rickey wanted to promote Roy Campanella to the Dodgers, putting Bragan out of a job. To make up for this, he offered Bragan, then just 30, the post of manager of a Dodger farm team, the Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League. In 1955, Rickey, now president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, gave Bragan his first big-league managing job, which also made him Roberto Clemente’s first big-league manager. When Rickey died in 1965, Bragan attended his funeral, he said, “I had to go, because Branch Rickey made me a better man.”

In 1958, he was fired as manager of the Cleveland Indians, and legend has it that he walked out to the field at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and declared that the Indians would never win another Pennant. He has denied this many times, but the Indians didn’t win a Pennant from 1954 to 1995. He was manager of the Braves when they moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966, but was fired in that first season in Atlanta, and despite being only 49 he was finished as a big-league manager.

But it was in the minors that Bragan truly made his mark, gaining a reputation for winning and for fairness to nonwhite players he could not have imagined prior to 1947. He led the Fort Worth Cats to Texas League Pennants in 1948 and 1949, and the Hollywood Stars to the Pacific Coast League Pennant in 1953. As manager of the PCL’s Spokane Indians, he taught Maury Wills to switch-hit, enabling him to become a big-leaguer and to revolutionize baserunning even more than Robinson had. He was named President of the Texas League in 1969 and of the National Association, the governing body for minor league baseball, in 1975. He is a member of the Sports Halls of Fame in both Alabama and Texas.

In August 16, 2005, Bragan came out of retirement to manage the current version of the Fort Worth Cats, of the independent Central League, for one game. (The original Cats, along with their arch-rivals, the Dallas Eagles, had been replaced in 1965 by the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, whose new Turnpike Stadium was expanded into Arlington Stadium for the arrival of the Texas Rangers in 1972.) At age 87 years, 9 months, and 16 days, Bragan broke by one week the record of Connie Mack to become the oldest manager in professional baseball annals. Always known as an innovator with a sense of humor, and an umpire-baiter, Bragan was ejected in the third inning of his "comeback", thus also becoming the oldest person in any capacity to be ejected from a professional baseball game. Bragan enjoyed the rest of the Cats' 11-10 victory from a more comfortable vantage point. He died in 2010, age 92.

October 30, 1927: Joe Adcock is born. The first baseman was an All-Star slugger for the Milwaukee Braves, hitting 4 home runs in a 1954 game, and was a member of their 1957 World Champions and 1958 Pennant winners. He also briefly managed the California Angels. He died in 1999.

October 30, 1935: Jim Perry is born. He was an All-Star pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, helping them win the 1965 Pennant. He won 215 games in the major leagues, and took the 1970 AL Cy Young Award. Older but lesser-known than his Hall of Fame brother Gaylord Perry, they still combined for more wins and more strikeouts than any brother combination before them, and have since been surpassed in each category only by Phil and Joe Niekro.

Also on this day, Robert Caro is born. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, in which he details both the benefits and the harm the legendary bureaucrat, builder and destroyer brought the City from the 1920s to the ‘60s, including standing in the way of Walter O’Malley getting a new stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers, leading to O’Malley moving the team to Los Angeles, and building the Flushing Meadow facility that became Shea Stadium. Caro has also written a multi-volume biography of President Lyndon Johnson.

October 30, 1945: Henry Winkler is born. He’s had many fine roles since Happy Days went off the air, but he will always be that show’s Arthur Fonzarelli. And that is so cool. Cooler than any typecasting could ever be. You don’t think so? As the Fonz would say, “Sit on it!”

October 30, 1956: Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley sells Ebbets Field to a real estate group. He agrees to stay until 1959‚ with an option to stay until 1961. Then again, as one of the most unscrupulous lawyers in New York, what the hell is a legally binding agreement to Lord Waltermort?

October 30, 1958: Joe Delaney is born. He was a sensational running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, but his career was cut short when he attempted to save two drowning boys in a lake near his Louisiana home, and ended up drowning as well. He was just 24. The Chiefs have removed his Number 37 from circulation, although they have not officially retired it.

October 30, 1960: Diego Maradona is born. He led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, thanks to a two-goal game against England. The second goal has been regarded as one of the greatest goals ever scored. But the first goal was an obvious handball, or, as Maradona called it, “The Hand of God.” This came just 4 years after Britain had clobbered Argentina in the Falkland Islands War, so it was a huge boost for Argentina, but it made the English really mad, and it infuriated everybody else who hates Argentina (including most of South America).

He won league titles in Argentina with his hometown club, Boca Juniors, of Buenos Aires in 1981; and in Italy with Napoli of Naples in 1987 and 1990, the only 2 Serie A titles they have ever won. However, the club narrowly missed winning in 1989, and for 20 years rumors have been floated that Maradona, already addicted to cocaine, was, shall we say, enticed to throw some matches.

After years of dealing with drug addiction, his weight and debt from unpaid taxes during the Italian phase of his playing career, Maradona is now the manager of the Argentina team, but he is somewhat less capable there than he was as a player, just barely qualifying them for the 2010 World Cup. He got them to the Quarterfinals before losing, and was fired. His daughter is married to Sergio Auguero, an Argentine playing for Manchester City.

October 30, 1961, 50 years ago: Scott Garrelts is born. The All-Star pitcher helped lead the San Francisco Giants to the National League Pennant in 1989. The following year, he took a no-hitter into the 9th inning against the Cincinnati Reds, but it was broken up with one out to go by future Yankee legend Paul O’Neill.

October 30, 1974: “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, in the former colony of Belgain Congo, at this point called Zaire, and now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. George Foreman was the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, and heavily favored to defeat former champion Muhammad Ali. Ali was talking his usual trash, but there were people who feared that Ali would not only lose, but get himself killed.

Ali fooled them all. People who say Ali just leaned against the ropes in his “rope-a-dope” strategy and let Foreman tire himself out with punches are fools. I’ve seen the tape of the fight: Ali got in a lot of punches, enough to win every round except for the 2nd and the 6th. Foreman would later say that, at the end of the 6th, Ali yelled at him, “Is that all you got, George?” Years later, Foreman told an interviewer he had to admit, “Yup, that’s all I got.”

Through a months-long psychological campaign, including practically the entire black population of the continent of Africa in his favor and against the equally black Foreman – he had done something similar to Joe Frazier, who was puzzled by it: “I’m darker than he is!” – Ali had gotten into Foreman’s head, just as he had done to Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, and just about everybody else he’d ever fought. In the 8th round, backed up against the ropes, Ali managed to turn an exhausted Foreman around, toss a few jobs, and knock him on his can. Foreman tried to get up, but he ran out of time, and Ali was the winner by a knockout.

When David Frost went to interview him for the BBC after the fight, he pointed at the camera and said, “Is this thing on? I told you all that I was the greatest of all time when I beat Sonny Liston! I am still the greatest of all time! Never again doubt me! Never again make me an underdog until I’m about 50 years old!”

He was off a bit, as he probably should have quit at 36. But by far more than his boxing prowess, by the force of his personality, and by the example he set as a man of minority race and minority religion, making him, somewhat contradictorily, the champion of the underdog, he proved that he really was the greatest of all time. At age 67, he still is.

October 30, 1975: The New York Daily News, responding to President Gerald Ford’s statement that he wouldn’t allow the federal government to bail out New York City’s desperate finances, prints the most famous newspaper headline ever: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.” Ford didn’t actually say that, but that was the message he sent, intentionally or otherwise. Both sides compromised, as the City did a few more things to try to get its financial house in order, and this satisfied Ford to the point where he changed his mind and signed a bailout bill.

But Ford was damned when he did, and damned when he didn’t. The bailout he actually did sign infuriated many conservatives, who already had a few problems with the mildly conservative Ford, and they voted for former Governor Ronald Reagan of California in the Republican primaries, and Reagan very nearly won the GOP nomination, and when Ford won the nomination anyway, many of them stayed home on Election Day, November 2, 1976. This may have made the difference in throwing some States to the Democratic nominee, former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia. But a lot of people in New York City remembered the headline and forgot that Ford changed his mind about the bailout, and held it against him, and a lot of people in the City who might not have been comfortable with Carter either voted for Carter or stayed home, enough to throw the State of New York to Carter. Had Ford simply won the State, he would have won a full term.

True, the Nixon pardon, lingering feelings over Watergate, the shaky economy, his debate gaffe about Eastern Europe, and conservatives issues with him over things like foreign policy and federal spending also hurt him. But the day after the ’76 election, Mayor Abe Beame posed in front of City Hall with the headline, as if to say, “City to Ford: Don’t tell someone to drop dead unless you can make him drop dead. We just made your campaign drop dead.” A year later, with the City’s finances still not fully straightened out, and crime seemingly out of control, the City’s voters told Beame to “drop dead” and elected Congressman Ed Koch as its Mayor.

October 30, 1979: Jason Bartlett is born. He is the shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays, and played with them in the 2008 World Series.

October 30, 1982: Andy Greene is born. He is a defenseman for the New Jersey Devils.

October 30, 1995: The Quebec sovereignty referendum fails by a razor-thin margin, with 50.58 percent voting “Non” and 49.42 percent voting “Oui.” The number of “spoiled ballots,” unusable for whatever reason, is said to be greater than the margin of victory. Despite the anger of the separatists, angry over their perception of victimization at the hands of the federal government in Ottawa and the English-speaking establishment – an absolutely ridiculous notion, since the Provincial government has been dominated the ethnic and linguistic French for most of the 20th Century – the Province will remain a part of Canada, but there is still bitterness on both sides. It’s just as well: Would you be the one who has to tell the Montreal Canadiens, the greatest cultural institution in Quebec, that they had to change their name?

October 30, 2001, 10 years ago: Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. The flag found at the World Trade Center on September 11, with some of the stripes having come apart, is flown at the flagpole in Monument Park. This is an honor.

George W. Bush throws out the ceremonial first pitch. This is not an honor, it is a desecration: By ignoring the August 6 national-security briefing that told of Osama bin Laden’s plan to hijack American airliners, Bush allowed New York City to be attacked. Stand on the mound to throw out the first pitch? He shouldn’t have even been allowed inside the hallowed House That Ruth Built, no matter how much he was willing to pay for a ticket. (Not that the son of a bitch would have been willing to pay. Has he ever done anything in his life, without somebody doing it for him?)

The somewhat more honest and somewhat less egotistical born-elsewhere-but-calls-himself-Texan, Roger Clemens, does some of his best postseason work, and the Yankees ride a Jorge Posada homer and a Scott Brosius single to take a 2-1 win, and close to within 2 games to 1.

October 30, 2005: Al Lopez, not only the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame but the oldest Hall-of-Famer ever, dies at age 97. He had been an All-Star catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he caught more games in the major leagues than anyone until Bob Boone surpassed him 1987, and more than anyone in the NL until Gary Carter surpassed him in 1990. (Boone’s achievement was spread over both leagues; Boone’s record was surpassed in 1993 by Carlton Fisk, and Fisk’s this past season by Ivan Rodriguez, if you cant count anything that steroid user does as legitimate.)

From 1949 to 1964 he was the only manager to take a team other than the Yankees to an American League Pennant, in 1954 with the Cleveland Indians and in 1959 with the Chicago White Sox. He dies just 4 days after the White Sox win their first Pennant since ’59. Like another catcher who became famous in another sphere of baseball, Tim McCarver, he had outlived a minor-league ballpark that had been built in his home town. Al Lopez Field opened in Tampa in 1954 and was demolished in 1989. It stood in what is now the south end zone at the Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium. Just north of the stadium, Horizon Park was renamed Al Lopez Park, and a statue of him stands there.

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