Monday, November 28, 2011

All Thumbs With Football; Gary Speed, 1969-2011

Thumbs down to East Brunswick. I knew my Dear Old Alma Mater was going to lose the Thanksgiving game to the Purple Scum, probably badly... but 40-7 after 3 quarters? No, the final score of 40-20 does us no favors. Come on, have some pride.

Thumbs down to Rutgers. All the Scarlet Knights had to do was beat Connecticut, hardly a great team, to claim at least a share of the Big East title and have a shot at a Bowl Championship Series berth. It was almost identical to the EB-Old Bridge game: 40-10 after 3 quarters, before closing to 40-22.

A few years ago, Greg Schiano told us, "It's time." But, as Keith Sargent said in the Home News Tribune, the future never comes. Schiano has had more time to build a champion than Rex Ryan has had, so when does he start to get questioned? The fact that RU had the chance this season, after a losing season last year, speaks well of Schiano. The fact that this seems to be the furthest he can take the program does not.

Thumbs up to the Jets. They beat the Buffalo Bills 28-24. This was a character-testing game, and they came through, especially Mark Sanchez. Whatever his problems are, they do not include a lack of guts. I can question his intelligence, his judgment, and his execution; but not his poise or his courage. (UPDATE: The Jets ended up losing their last 3 games to finish 8-8 and miss the Playoffs.)

Thumbs up to the Green Bay Packers. They beat the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, 27-15, to advance to 11-0. If Sports Illustrated doesn't name Aaron Rodgers their 2011 Sportsman of the Year, they're going to have a lot of explaining to do.

(UPDATE: They split it between the coaches of college basketball's National Champions, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Pat Summitt of Tennessee. Understandable. The defending champion Packers finished 15-1, but were knocked out of the Playoffs by the Giants.)

Thumbs up to the Detroit Lions. Yes, the Packers beat them pretty badly, but they're moving in the right direction. They even acted quickly to punish Ndamukong Suh, which is a good sign: They not only want to win, but also to win in the right way. Some teams (the Pats of the last few years, the Raiders of the 1970s and '80s) wanted to win in the worst way; the Lions want to win in the best way. (UPDATE: They finished 10-6 and made the Playoffs.)

Thumbs down to Ndamukong Suh. You're a great talent, and you're ruining it. You could become the new Mean Joe Greene. Instead, you're becoming the new Albert Haynesworth -- and as Dick Smothers would say, "That was not a compliment!"

Thumbs down to the people behind the BCS. Regardless of whether Louisiana State wins or loses the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, you're going to have Alabama in your BCS National Championship Game -- and they didn't even win their Division of the SEC!

Thumbs up to the University of Kentucky. The Wildcats beat Tennessee and claimed the Old Bourbon Barrel for the first time in 26 years.

Thumbs up to the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers beat Penn State 45-7, and advanced to the 1st-ever Big 10 Championship Game. Any time Paterno State loses, it's good. This time, they got their asses kicked. Of course, as they now know, there are worse things that can happen to a young male's rear end at Penn State.

Thumbs down to all this conference realignment. Although it's making rivalries that always could, and perhaps should, have been, like Nebraska vs. Iowa (the States do border each other), it's also breaking up good ones, like Nebraska vs. Oklahoma and the "Backyard Brawl" between Pittsburgh and West Virginia. But if Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, South Carolina vs. Clemson, and Oklahoma vs. Texas can survive realignments, maybe others can as well.

Finally, thumbs up to the British Columbia Lions, who won the Grey Cup, Canada's "Super Bowl," on their home field in Vancouver, BC Place, beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. This was their 6th Canadian Football League Championship.

And, unlike when the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this year, the locals did not riot. So that's 6 titles for the BC Lions, while Vancouver has not won a Stanley Cup since 1915.

*

Two days ago, soccer figure Gary Speed appeared on the BBC One TV show Football Focus, and joined his former Newcastle United teammate Alan Shearer to watch that team play Manchester United at Man U's Old Trafford. No one seemed to think anything was wrong.

Yesterday, his wife Louise found him dead in the garage at their home in Huntington, Cheshire, England. He had hanged himself.

Gary Andrew Speed was born on September 8, 1969 -- making him 3 months older than I am -- Mancot, Flintshire, Wales. He grew up on the street where Kevin Ratcliffe, then captain of Liverpool side Everton, lived. As Liverpool is near Wales, many people in the Principality support Everton, and many others support Liverpool FC. Also from Wales, and on the great Everton teams of the 1980s, were goalkeeper Neville Southall and left back Pat Van Den Hauwe. So was midfielder Barry Horne, a star (along with Southall) of their 1995 FA Cup winners.

A midfielder, with pace to match his name, Speed was signed by Yorkshire club Leeds United, and helped them win the Football League Division One title in 1992 -- the last title under the old banner, before the English top flight became known as the Premier League.
In 1996, he was sold to the club he loved growing up, Everton. A year later, Howard Wilkinson, his manager at Leeds, became his manager again, but their relationship soured. In 1998, he was sold to Newcastle, and helped them reach the FA Cup Final that year (although they lost to North London team Arsenal) and the next (losing to Man United). In 2002, he helped Newcastle qualify for the UEFA Champions League.

He was old to Lancashire team Bolton Wanderers in 2004, and stayed with them until 2008. They sold him to Yorkshire team Sheffield United, and he played the last 2 seasons of his career with them. He scored 104 goals in his career, and was known for shooting with headers.

He appeared 85 times for the Wales national team between 1990 and 2004, eventually serving as their Captain 44 times. Only his Everton teammate Southall has made more appearances for Wales.

He retired as a player when Sheffield United named him manager, but only 4 months later, on December 11, 2010, he was named manager of his national team. As usual, Wales struggled, and by August 2011, they were ranked 117th in the world (out of 211 "nations" recognized by FIFA, the world's governing body for soccer). But 2 wins in the Autumn got them up to 45th.
Speed as Wales manager,
with one of his successors as team Captain,
Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal.

He married Louise in 1996, and had sons Tommy and Eddie. In 2010, he was awarded an MBE: Member of the Order of the British Empire. He was still manager of Wales at the time of his death. He was 45 years old.

No one has been able to explain why a man who seemed to have so much to look forward to, and so much respect among his peers, and so many friends, would take his own life.

UPDATE: He didn't leave a suicide note, so no one really knows why he did it. It has been suggested that he was depressed. It is also possible that, with his reputation for heading the ball, he may have sustained brain damage, similar to American football players, and a few other British soccer stars.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Green Good Guys Lost to the Purple Scum

Well, the Good Guys lost the Thanksgiving game. Again.

The Big Green had beaten the Purple Bastards in 2 of the last 5 seasons, and the game was at home. But who was kidding who? East Brunswick lost our first 8 games before winning a consolation game, and Old Bridge came in at 4-5, with their 5 losses all at the hands of teams that made the Playoffs -- as if E.B. hadn't lost to 4 of those teams!

The Purple Bastards jumped out to a 40-7 lead, before we made the final score 40-20, with 2 incredibly meaningless touchdowns.

And Old Bridge's coach spoke of an 8-1 junior varsity and a good sophomore class.

My fellow EBHS grads, enjoy that 2009 State Championship, that 2010 Playoff berth, and those 2006 and 2010 wins over The Scum, because it may be some time before we get any more of those!

What a lousy way to end our 50th Anniversary season of football, 1961-2011.

Now the countdown to the next Battle of Route 18 starts.

I hate Old Bridge. I really, really hate 'em.

Come on, Rutgers, beat UConn tomorrow. Clinch that first-ever Big East Championship -- even if it does turn out to be only a Co-Championship, it's a title, the first.

The Devils are playing the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum, in a Day After Thanksgiving matinee right now -- no score in the 2nd. First half of a home-and-home series that concludes tomorrow afternoon at the Prudentail Center.

*

Hours until the Devils play another local rival: 21, tomorrow night, again against the Islanders, at the Prudential Center. The first game against The Scum isn't until Tuesday night, December 20, at the Prudential. The next game against the Philadelphia Flyers is a Saturday matinee on January 21, 2012, at the Prudential Center.

Hours until Rutgers plays football again: 21, tomorrow afternoon, at the University of Connecticut's home field, off-campus, at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

Hours until Arsenal play again in a competitive match: 21, tomorrow afternoon (morning my time), against another capital club, Fulham of West London, including American star Cliff Dempsey. Former Tottenham manager Martin Jol is now the Fulham manager, but, since he is no longer the Tottenham manager, officially, his mother is cleared of being a whore.

Days until the next North London Derby: 92, on Saturday, February 25, at New Highbury. Just 3 months. However, this game would be moved if Arsenal advance to the Carling Cup (League Cup) Final, to be held the next day at London's new Wembley Stadium. Arsenal play Manchester City in the Quarterfinals this coming Tuesday. The other teams still in it: Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace (South London), Chelsea (West London) vs. Liverpool, and Cardiff City (Wales) vs. Blackburn Rovers (Lancashire in England's North-West).

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 120, presumably on Saturday night, March 24, 2012, opponent and location to be determined. Just 4 months. I'm still pissed off that David Beckham and especially that Tottenham cunt Robbie Keane won the MLS Cup with the Los Angeles Galaxy this past Sunday.

Days until the Yankees' next Opening Day: 132, on Friday afternoon, April 6, 2012, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. A little over 4 months.

Days until the Yankees' home opener: 140, on Friday afternoon, April 13, 2012, against the Whatever They'll Be Calling Themselves Next Season Angels of Anaheim.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 145, on Wednesday night, April 18, 2012, against the Chicago Bulls, at the Prudential Center. Under 7 months before New Jersey no longer has an NBA team. This is, of course, contingent on the current NBA lockout not rearranging the schedule.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 147, on Friday night, April 20, 2012, at Fenway Park in Boston. Under 5 months.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 242 (July 27). About 10 months.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 294, on Friday, September 14, 2012, opponent and location to be determined.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 365. 2012 is a Leap Year, hence the extra day.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 826 (February 2, 2014). A little over 8 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 604 (estimated around July 20, 2013). About 20 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 877 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,711 (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: 1,742 (estimated -- estimating 28 home runs a year, he should get it late in the 2016 season, maybe around September 1, at age 41).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The MVP Votes: One Right, One Wrong

The Most Valuable Player in either League should, at the least, be a player from a Playoff team, preferably their Pennant-winner.

Ryan Braun, a.k.a. the Hebrew Hammer, helped the Milwaukee Brewers to their best season in almost 30 years, and he is a deserving National League winner.

I usually don't like to see a pitcher win it, as he's in only 1 out of 5 games -- or, if a reliever, 1 or 2 innings out of 9.

Justin Verlander definitely deserved the Cy Young Award for what he did for the Detroit Tigers, but not the MVP. As a Yankee Fan, I wanted Curtis Granderson to win it.

However, on the ESPN site, I saw the following comment, which does make considerable sense:

For all of the "he only played in 35 games" people....Verlander faced on average 35 batters a game. Therefore, in his 35 games, he affected 1,225 plays. A batter who plays ALL 162 games and averages 4 at bats and 4 plays in the field a game affects 1,296 plays..... I say that means they're on equal footing when doing comparisons.

If we're going for the Pennant winners, the highest finisher among Texas Rangers was Michael Young, who finished 8th. A .336 batting average and 106 RBIs are MVP numbers, but just 11 home runs? He did play very good defense, so he should have been higher in the voting -- certainly higher than 2nd-place finisher Jacoby Ellsbury of the choking Red Sox.

And the highest finisher among St. Louis Cardinals was, big surprise, Albert Pujols, who finished 5th. He had a .299 batting average and 99 RBIs -- the first time in his 11-year career he hasn't gotten to .300 and 100. But he did hit 37 home runs. Most importantly, he had a great year by MY standards: He won the World Series. Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers finished 2nd. Great year, but the Dodgers missed the Playoffs. (But what did you expect? Donnie Regular Season Baseball is their manager.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Has Rex Ryan Failed?



In their first 49 seasons of play, the New York Jets reached the American Football League or American Football Conference Championship game only 3 times: In 1968, 1982, and 1998.

In their next 2 seasons, 2009 and 2010, the first 2 seasons in which they had Rex Ryan as head coach, they made it to the AFC Championship Game both times.

However, it should be noted that, while the Jets, under head coach Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank, did beat the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL Championship Game, and went on to beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, they have never won an AFC Championship Game.

Under Walt Michaels, they lost the 1982 game to the Miami Dolphins, in the "Mud Bowl" at the old Orange Bowl, the very stadium where they won their only Super Bowl. No shame there, the Dolphins were a very good team and led for much of the ensuing Super Bowl XVII.

Under Bill Parcells, they led the 1998 game over the Denver Broncos at the half, at Denver's Mile High Stadium no less, but lost. No shame there, the Broncos were 14-2, and were defending Super Bowl Champions, and went on to make it back-to-back titles in Super Bowl XXXIII.

Under Rex Ryan, the Jets advanced to the last 2 AFC Championship Games. In 2009-10, they gave the Indianapolis Colts a tough game in Indy before losing.

And last season, following emotional Playoff wins over the Bengals in Cincinnati and the New England Patriots in Foxboro -- the team's greatest achievement in 42 years -- they showed up far too late against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. My sister sent me a text message during that game, saying, "Arggggh the Jets!" I responded, "It ain't over til it's aw screw it it's over."

Still, getting to back-to-back AFC Championship Games is good, right? Of the 16 current AFC teams, 5 have not done it: The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs -- and of those, the Begnals and Chiefs have been around for the entire life of the AFC. Make it 7 teams if you count the Tennessee Titans as being separate from the Houston Oilers.

On the other hand, how many teams have lost back-to-back AFC Championship Games? The Oakland Raiders (3 straight, 1973-75), the Oilers (1978-79), the San Diego Chargers (1980-81), the Cleveland Browns (1986-87)... and the Jets.

(In the NFC, there's been the 1970-71 San Francisco 49ers, the 1972-73 Dallas Cowboys, the 1974-76 Los Angeles Rams, the 1980-82 Cowboys, the 1992-93 49ers, and the 2001-03 Philadelphia Eagles.)

Well, so what? The Buffalo Bills won 4 straight AFC Championship Games... and lost 4 straight Super Bowls as a result! Does that mean that their coach, Marv Levy, failed? Actually, yes.

But while the Bills went into their first 2 Super Bowls rather cocky, it was nothing like what Rex has done with the Jets.

Like Joe Namath in January 1969, he has been predicting, even guaranteeing, that the Jets would win a Super Bowl.

They've gotten within 2 games of achieving that, twice... but haven't done it.

This season, he was predicting it before the season. Results? So far, the Jets are 5-5.

If the Jets run the table, they'll be 11-5, which is nearly always enough to at least win a Wild Card. If they go 5-1 the rest of the way, they'll be 10-6, which is often enough to reach the Wild Card, but not always. If they go 4-2, not a bad stretch by any means, they'll be 9-7, and the Playoffs would still be possible.

Their remaining games? Home to Buffalo this Sunday (tough one, even if they did beat the Bills in Orchard Park not that long ago), at Washington (should be a win, the Redskins are terrible this season and Landover is as bad a home-field advantage as RFK Stadium was a good one), home to Kansas City (the Chiefs got pounded by the Pats last night but were a Playoff team last year and I don't expect them to roll over), at Philadelphia (who knows which Eagles team is going to show up), officially a "home game" against the Giants on Christmas Eve afternoon (and the Giants have been hard to figure as well), and closing at Miami on New Year's Day afternoon.

None of those games will be easy, not even the last: We all know that the Jets, since January 12, 1969, anyway, have had trouble playing in Miami. On the other hand, all of these games are eminently winnable, if the Jets can avoid serious injuries and Mark Sanchez doesn't throw interceptions. The Jets are fortunate that the 3 hardest games of the season, the home-and-away with the Pats and the visit to Baltimore (all losses), are already out of the way.

But even if the Jets do win at least 5 of their last 6 and make the Playoffs, what then? After 2 AFC Championship Game losses, anything less than a Super Bowl win would mark this season as a failure.

The only question left is whether it marks Rex Ryan's tenure as a failure.

This may be the most talented Jets team ever. Indeed, I think they're every bit as good as Namath's 1968 team; the 1982 team that had Freeman McNeil, Wesley Walker, and the defensive line known as the New York Sack Exchange; Parcells' 1998 squad that came within 30 minutes of a Super Bowl trip; and Herman Edwards's never-say-die "play to win the game" AFC Eastern Division Champions of 2002.

*

But Rex has raised the bar too high. And it seems like every time he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it.

Oh, was that a double-entendre?

In his column in Sunday's New York Daily News, Gary Myers spells it out.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/jets/ny-jets-season-total-wrecks-rex-ryan-deliver-super-bowl-promise-article-1.980040

Rex Ryan made a promise he will not be able to keep. He guaranteed the Jets were going to win the Super Bowl this season, which is going to be hard to do without making the playoffs.

Broken promises. Two years ago, he said the Jets should be the favorites to win it all. He didn’t guarantee anything, but was certainly implying the Jets would finish with the trophy in their hands.

Last season he declared the Jets “soon to be champs.” Soon, as in right away. He left no room for interpretation this year...

“I believe this is the year that we’re going to win the Super Bowl,” Ryan said in February. “I thought we’d win it the first two years. I guarantee we’ll win it this year.”

Ryan became a cult hero to Jets fans craving a championship. But there’s only so many times you can make a promise, not deliver, and then expect anybody to still pay attention...

Realistically, the Jets just completed a five-day stretch that puts an end to their dreams for 2011. There is nothing they’ve shown the first 10 games that would make anybody believe they can sweep their final six against the Bills, Redskins, Chiefs, Eagles, Giants and Dolphins.

They are 5-5, the essence of mediocrity. Their five losses are more than the Patriots, Bills, Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Titans and Raiders have. The Broncos are tied with the Jets but own the tie-breaker. Right now, the Jets are in 10th place out of 16 teams in the composite AFC standings. Taking the four division winners out of the battle for the wild cards, the Jets would have to jump over four teams to get to the second wild-card spot. All five of their losses are in the AFC, which hurts, and they would lose the tie-breaker to the Ravens, Raiders and Broncos because they fell to each to them...

This was the defense Ryan has bragged about for three years? It couldn’t stop Tim Tebow? All he can do is run and he carved them for 57 yards on the ground on the final drive. I have never seen an NFL quarterback be as inept throwing the ball as Tebow...

Back in March, I was talking with Ryan on the street right outside the hotel in New Orleans where the NFL was holding its annual meetings. It was about one month after he had issued his Super Bowl guarantee. I mentioned he would lose credibility making statements like that if he didn’t deliver. Kind of like the boy who cried wolf.

Instead of showing concern about his words losing impact, Ryan compared himself to Babe Ruth, but only after first invoking the words of Teddy Roosevelt. It was an interesting way to express his confidence.

“They talk about walk softly and carry a big stick. I love that. I agree with that 100%,” Ryan said. “But I guess I feel more like Babe Ruth. I’m going to walk softly, I’m going to carry that big stick and then I’m going to point and then I’m going to hit it over the fence.” ...

There is no joy in Jetville. The Mighty Rex has struck out... How many times can Ryan guarantee the Super Bowl? Broken promises.


*

Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl win in 1969. He delivered, and the Jets were World Champions.

Mark Messier guaranteed a key Playoff win in 1994. He delivered, and the Rangers went on to become World Champions. To my everlasting dismay and disgust.

Jim Fassel guaranteed a Playoff berth in 2000. He delivered, and the Giants got all the way to the Super Bowl before losing.

They succeeded.

Patrick Ewing guaranteed an NBA Championship for the Knicks a few times. Not until 2009, when he was an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic, did one of his guarantees come true (beating the Boston Celtics in a Game 7). As a Knick, he failed.

Rex Ryan has to lead the Jets to a Super Bowl. If not this season, then the next. If he doesn't do it in either one, then he is no longer helping this team, as he once did.

If, as we go to bed on February 3, 2013, the New York Jets have won neither Super Bowl XLVI or Super Bowl XLVII, Rex Ryan needs to be fired. For cause. For failure.

Because, as things stand right now, he is a failure.

Sure, Tom Coughlin of the Giants is more likely to lose his job first... but he is not a failure. He won a Super Bowl for a New York team.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ivan Nova IS the Rookie of the Year

Jeremy Hellickson goes 13-10 for the Tampa Bay Rays, a 2nd-place team that needed an absolute miracle to make the Playoffs.

Ivan Nova goes 16-4 for the New York Yankees, a 1st-place team.

And Hellickson gets Rookie of the Year? And Nova only finishes 4th?

What the hell is the matter with these voters?

I posted that on Facebook last night. And a fellow Yankee Fan responded with this:

In this age of Saber-freaking-Metrics, Mike, the facts are that Hellickson's ERA was slightly lower than Nova's (by about half a run), struck out more batters and (no fault of his, the Yanks did this)sent him to AAA for about a month. To me, that doesn't mean much anyway!

I know he's only trying to explain their reason, and not necessarily agreeing with with it.

But...

Sabermetrics.

Oy.



Herman Edwards demands an explanation for this bullshit!

Because, and I don't care what sport it is, you DON'T play to get the fanciest statistics.

HELLO? YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!

And Ivan Nova was better at winning games than any rookie in all of baseball in 2011!

And anybody who says otherwise does not understand sports -- let alone baseball.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rutgers Rises to Yankee Stadium Challenge

The Giants and Jets really flopped yesterday. Ah, but East Brunswick finally won, beating West Windsor-Plainsboro North -- why didn't they just call it "Plainsboro High School"? -- 42-22 to prevent a winless season. And Rutgers...

In the old days, Rutgers would occasionally go to Yankee Stadium in its pre-renovation, fillagreed-roof, Monuments on the field format to play New York University (NYU) in football -- and usually get clobbered.

That was not the case on Saturday, as RU went to the new Yankee Stadium to play Army (the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York), in what was officially a home game for Army despite the neutral site (this after Notre Dame got a "home game" against Army at the new Stadium last year), and overcame a 6-0 deficit to win, 27-12.

It was only 13-12 Rutgers midway through the 4th quarter when RU blocked a punt, and Jordan Thomas returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

Attendance at the 50,000-seat Stadium was just 30,028, including the thousands of members of the Corps of Cadets placed in the outfield, as temporary gray-clad "Bleacher Creatures." The 30,028 wouldn't have filled the 39,000-seat Michie Stadium at West Point, let alone the 52,000-seat new Rutgers Stadium.

I refuse to use the new corporate name: RU is not at a high point, and they've provided precious few solutions.

Or... have they? Rutgers is currently 7-3, having picked up overtime wins at Syracuse and over South Florida, beaten usually-tough Pittsburgh, and beaten both Eastern service academies, Army and Navy (Annapolis, Maryland, although the game was played at Rutgers Stadium -- I don't believe Rutgers has ever played the Air Force Academy, which is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado). But they've also lost games they should have won at North Carolina (24-22), at Louisville (16-14), and home to West Virginia (41-31).

Still, other conference games mean that the Big East is currently led by Cincinnati with a 3-1 record. Rutgers, West Virginia, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Connecticut all have 2 league losses. Which means that, theoretically, any one of those teams could still win the league. Only South Florida and Syracuse, each 1-4 in the league, are out of the race.

Rutgers has 2 games left. This coming Saturday, they host Cincinnati. Then, a week later, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Rutgers goes to East Hartford to play Connecticut.

Suppose Rutgers wins both. They will finish Big East play at 5-2, and be no worse than tied for the Big East Championship -- the first league title in the longest history of any college football team; going back to 1869, Rutgers has never won its league. Okay, Rutgers was never IN a league until the Big East Football Conference was founded in 1991, but they've still never won it. Win it, even a share of it, and they'll go to a much bigger bowl than would have been expected -- including a possible return to Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl on December 30.

If Rutgers beats Cincy and UConn, it would have the tiebreakers over Cincy and Pittsburgh -- but not West Virginia, who beat Cincy on Saturday to make some of this possible, or Louisville.

West Virginia still has to go to South Florida, which is a lot tougher at home than on the road, but WVU should still win it. But WVU also still has to play Pitt in "the Backyard Brawl," one of the toughest rivalries in college football -- certainly the nastiest rivalry in the Big East. If Pitt wins, WVU is out of the picture.

Louisville has 3 games left: Home to Pitt, and at UConn and South Florida. USF is as unlikely, even at home, to beat Louisville as they are to beat WVU. But if Louisville loses to either Pitt or UConn, that knocks them out of the title picture.

And, since Rutgers already has the tiebreaker over Pitt, and, with a win over UConn, would have the tiebreaker over them...

Then Rutgers would finally have fulfilled the promise that Greg Schiano brought 10 years ago, to play in a Bowl Championship Series game on, or later than, January 1.

For Rutgers, the impossible has become improbable, but very, very possible.

*

It's been so long since I did one of these countdowns that I had to recalculate some of them.

Days until Arsenal play again in a competitive match: 5, this Saturday afternoon (morning my time), at Norwich City, of Norfolk, England.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 5, this Saturday afternoon, home to the University of Cincinnati.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 10. Come on you Greens, beat the Purple Bastards! Beat The Scum!

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 11, against the New York Islanders, in a day-after-Thanksgiving matinee, Friday, November 25, at the Nassau Coliseum. The first game against The Scum isn't until Tuesday night, December 20, at the Prudential. The next game against the Philadelphia Flyers is a Saturday matinee on January 21, 2012, at the Prudential Center.

Days until the next North London Derby: 103, on Saturday, February 25, at New Highbury. Under 15 weeks. However, this game would be moved if Arsenal or Tottenham advance to the Carling Cup (League Cup) Final, to be held the next day at London's new Wembley Stadium.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 131, presumably on Saturday night, March 24, 2012, opponent and location to be determined. Under 19 weeks. They were eliminated from the Playoffs by the Los Angeles Galaxy, who will host the Houston Dynamo for the MLS Cup this coming Sunday night.

Days until the Yankees' next Opening Day: 144, on Friday afternoon, April 6, 2012, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. Under 5 months.

Days until the Yankees' home opener: 151, on Friday afternoon, April 13, 2012, against the Whatever They'll Be Calling Themselves Next Season Angels of Anaheim.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 156, on Wednesday night, April 18, 2012, against the Chicago Bulls, at the Prudential Center. Under 7 months before New Jersey no longer has an NBA team. This is, of course, contingent on the current NBA lockout not rearranging the schedule.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 158, on Friday night, April 20, 2012, at Fenway Park in Boston.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 256 (July 27). Just over 10 months.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 837 (February 2, 2014). A little over 8 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 615 (estimated around July 20, 2013). About 20 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 888 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,722 (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: 1,753 (estimated -- estimating 28 home runs a year, he should get it late in the 2016 season, maybe around September 1, at age 41).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How Old Are You Now? Music Edition

In a few weeks, I'll be 42 years old. That seems ancient. But is it?

In 1955, Boyd Bennett & the Rockets had a hit with "Seventeen." This would make her 73 years old today.

In 1958, Chuck Berry had a hit with "Sweet Little Sixteen." That same year, Johnny Maestro & the Crests had "Sixteen Candles." This would make both girls now 71.

In 1959, Sam Cooke sang "Only Sixteen," in which he played a kid who said that he and his then-girlfriend were that age a year ago. This would make both characters 71 as well.

In 1960, Johnny Burnette had a hit with "You're Sixteen." ("You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine.") This would make her 67. In 1973, Ringo Starr covered the song -- his version's girl would now be 54.

In 1961, Neil Sedaka sang "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen." This would make her now 66.

In 1963, Chuck Berry wrote "Memphis," in which a man tells a long-distance phone operator to "get in touch with my Marie." At the end of the song, we find out that "Marie is only six years old" and is his daughter, taken away by his estranged wife -- or perhaps his sister, and the singer is a little boy now living with "my uncle"; either way, Marie is not his girlfriend. Johnny Rivers had a much bigger hit with the song the next year. If Marie was 6 in 1963, she's 54 now.

In 1963, in the Beatles' song "I Saw Her Standing There," Paul McCartney sang, "Well, she was just 17, you know what I mean!" Assuming that this had just happened, she would now be 65.

In 1970, Alice Cooper had a hit with "I'm Eighteen." Which means the character he played in the song is now 59. Alice, real name Vincent Furnier, is 63.

In 1971, in her song "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," Cher sang, "I was 16, he was 21." Assuming that the events in the song had just happened (probably hadn't), she's now 56, he's 61.

In 1975, Harry Chapin released a song titled "She Is Always Seventeen." The song begins with John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address in 1961. If she was 17 then, that means she's 67 now.

In 1976, in his song "Rock and Roll Never Forgets," Bob Seger sang, "Well, now Sweet Sixteen's turning 31." Which means she's now 66. This would match Seger's actual age.

In 1977, in his song "Running On Empty," Jackson Browne sang, "In '65, I was 17" and, "In '69, I was 21." This is true: He was born in 1948. Which means he's now 63.

In 1977, KISS had a hit song titled "Christine Sixteen." Which means she's now 50.

In 1983, the Stray Cats had a hit song titled "She's Sexy & 17." Which means she's now 45.

Probably the best-known song in which a character's age is mentioned in the lyrics, but not the title, is "It Was a Very Good Year," first recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1961, with the best-known version being the one in 1965 by Frank Sinatra.

In the song, the singer remembers the very good years he had when he was 17, 21 and 35. But the singer does not specifically say how old he is now, only that, "Now, the days are short. I'm in the autumn of the year." (Sinatra titled the album for which he recorded it September of My Years.)

Frank Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915. So if he's playing himself in the song...

* He was 17 for nearly all of 1933. I seriously doubt that Depression year was a good year for an Italian teenage boy in Hoboken, New Jersey.

* He was 21 for nearly all of 1937. It might have been better, but he didn't become famous as a singer until 1940 or so.

* He was 35 for nearly all of 1951. That was actually a horrible year for Sinatra: His second wife, the fabulous (in more ways than one) actress Ava Gardner, left him, and his own career was going badly. He began to lose his voice due to psychosomatic stress.

But the days did not turn out to be short for him, at least not at that point. September of My Years actually boosted his career, and at 50 he became bigger than ever before. He continued to perform before adoring crowds until 1994, when his health started to fail. He died on May 14, 1998, age 82.

If you were 13 and screaming over Sinatra outside the Paramount Theater in Times Square in 1944, you're now 80.

If you were 13 and screaming over Elvis Presley when he went national in 1956, you're now 68.

If you were 13 when the Beatles arrived in America in early 1964 (if so, surely, you were screaming over them), you're now 60 or 61.

And, if, like me, you were 13 in 1983 when Michael Jackson changed from Motown kid to an Elvis-sized phenomenon in his own right, you're now 42.

*

For me, 17, 1987, was a very good year -- until the end; 21, 1991, had its good moments, but also some dreadful ones; 35, 2005, was, in some ways, the best year of my life, but in some aspects (sports, for example) it was not a year I would care to repeat.

42? According to Douglas Adams, in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, 42 is "the answer to life, the universe and everything."

It's also the only uniform number retired for all of baseball, for Jackie Robinson.

In the original, British, soccer-themed version of Fever Pitch, the climactic scene revolves around the final game of the 1989 Football League season, in which London-based Arsenal Football Club had to defeat Liverpool Football Club by 2 goals in order for the tiebreakers to fall into place and give them the title. This at a time when they hadn't won at Anfield, Liverpool's home ground, by any score in 15 years.

When the game reaches halftime scoreless, Steve (played by Mark Strong) says, "We're doing okay, aren't we?"

Paul (Colin Firth): "Well, what's the use of 'okay'? We might as well be losing 8-0!"

Steve: "I don't think that's really true, Paul. I'd say, if you want to win a game 2-0, you've got a much better chance if it's 0-0 (pronounced "nil-nil") at halftime than if you're 8 goals down. You see where I'm coming from?"

Paul: "You're living in cloud-cuckoo-land! Join the real world!"

Steve: "In the real world, it's 0-0 at halftime!"

Paul: "Might as well be 8-0."

Steve: "Jesus, Paul! You need medical help! You've got some kind of disease that turns people into miserable bastards!"

42 times 2 = 84. These days, it's hardly surprising for a man to live to be 84 years old. Unless he's lived his life like a cross between Evel Knievel, Charlie Sheen and a Mob hitman.

No, life isn't great for me. But it's been considerably worse. I haven't had a lot of offense, but I haven't allowed too many goals, either.

Maybe my life really is "nil-nil at halftime."

And Arsenal did win that game, 2-0, and win the title. If they could do it...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh, You're a Riot, Joe Pa, a Regular Riot


I've seen sports fans riot after winning a championship. Detroit for the 1984 Tigers and the 1989 and '90 Pistons -- although not for the 2004 Pistons and the 4 Stanley Cups won by the Red Wings from 1997 to 2008. Chicago for the 1990s Bulls. Los Angeles for the 2000s Lakers. Montreal for the 1993 Canadiens. And, of course, Boston when the Red Sox (cough-steroids-rough) beat the Yankees for the 2004 Pennant -- although they were considerably more legal for actually winning the World Series.

I've seen sports fans riot after losing a championship. The Vancouver Canucks lost in 1994, and their fans rioted -- while the New York Rangers' fans, so often castigated by me for stupidity, bad taste and boorish behavior -- pretty much obeyed the law after winning that Cup.

I've seen college students riot after simply winning a football game. The Big Ten seems to specialize in this: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State.

And I saw students at Indiana University demonstrate peacefully in support of Bobby Knight when he was fired as their basketball coach -- far more peacefully that Knight sometimes conducted himself.

Penn State? In defense of the indefensible Joe Paterno, a mob flipped over a news van, tore down two lampposts, and threw rocks and cans.

Why? They're angry that a man who protected a pedophile from prosecution lost his job?

It doesn't matter of Joe Paterno stopped a war, cured cancer or invented a fat-free ice cream that tasted like heaven.

He knew Jerry Sandusky was a sexual predator who preyed on children.

And he protected Sandusky.

I'm not talking about telling Sandusky to turn himself in, and then finding him a good defense attorney, and then telling the public not to prejudge him. Even the most loathsome person on Earth is entitled to defend himself in the justice system, to attempt to get the charges dropped or gain an acquittal. Every jury, no matter how bad the defendant appears to be, must presume his innocence, and let the prosecution prove otherwise; the defense only has to show that the case hasn't been proven -- not can't be, but hasn't been.

If what Joe Paterno did was simply try to do the right thing, by both his good friend and his good friend's alleged victims, he couldn't be faulted.

But he knew what was going on.

And he didn't go to the police. Or to the district attorney. Or any law-enforcement agency.

Whether he meant to or not, he let it continue. He could have stopped it. He chose not to.

And these students are rioting to protest the firing?



They are rioting on behalf of this man?

In the immortal words of Jackie Gleason, "Oh, you're a riot, Joe Pa. You're a regular riot!"

Penn Staters like to talk about the library that Paterno's football program funded, with his and his wife's name on it.

I wonder if there will be a room in the back, separated from the rest of the books by a curtain, named The Jerry Sandusky Room.

Was that supposed to be funny? Of course not. Nothing about this is funny.

Penn State is a joke. A very sick joke.

Somewhere, Woody Hayes has got to be shaking his head and saying, "Damn it, Joe, even I didn't screw up as much as you did."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Smokin' Joe Frazier: 1944-2011


The first head coach of the Chicago Bears that I can remember was a man named Neill Armstrong. I knew he wasn't the same man, Neil Armstrong, who was the first human to walk on the Moon. This Neill Armstrong couldn't exactly get the Bears off the ground, and was replaced by the man who did, Mike Ditka.

The first manager of the New York Mets that I can remember was a man named Joe Frazier. He played briefly in the majors in the 1950s, and managed the Mets for a little over a year before being fired, in favor of Joe Torre. Not that Torre was able to do much more with the Mets, this being the era of owner Joan Payson dying, and letting her daughter Lorinda de Roulet run the team, and her letter board chairman M. Donald Grant run the team... into the ground, driving Shea Stadium's attendance down so much it was called Grant's Tomb.

Frazier never managed in the majors again, although he was successful as a minor league manager at Tidewater (the Mets' farm team at Norfolk, Virginia) before reaching Flushing Meadow, and at Louisville in the St. Louis Cardinals organization afterward.

Joe Frazier the manager died on February 15 of this year. He was 88.

*

Of course, unless you're a New York baseball fan (and even if you are), you might not remember that Joe Frazier. Most people, when they hear the name, think of the boxer.

Joseph William Frazier was born on January 12, 1944 in Beaufort, South Carolina, and grew up on a farm there. An uncle noticed his stocky build and said the boy would grow up to be another Joe Louis. Well, when he did become a fighter, he didn't have Louis' style, but he may have exceeded him in punching power.

Much like early 20th Century baseball pitcher Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, a freak injury actually helped Joe in sports. He badly cut his arm in a fall while being chased by a farm animal, and when it healed, medicine being what it was for a black child in the 1950s South, he could never fully straighten it. But this game him perhaps the most famous left hook in the history of boxing -- in real life, anyway. (Joe made a cameo appearance in the first Rocky, where he accused Apollo Creed of ducking him. Begging the question, in the universe where the Rocky films took place, did Muhammad Ali exist? And if so, why wasn't he champion in 1975? And if Creed didn't beat Ali or Frazier for the title, who did he beat -- George Foreman?)

At 15, he got out of the South, and trained as a boxer in Philadelphia, which already had a reputation as a fighter-producing town. He won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1964, and when Muhammad Ali was stripped of the title for refusing to be drafted, Joe was among the contenders for it. He ended up beating them all: Oscar Bonavena, Eddie Machen, George Chuvalo, Buster Mathis (March 4, 1968, the first heavyweight fight at what was then called "the new Madison Square Garden") to win one of the available heavyweight titles, Bonavena again, Jerry Quarry, and finally Jimmy Ellis, at the Garden on February 16, 1970, to make himself the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

Well, officially undisputed. Unofficially, there were a lot of people who said he wouldn't be the REAL champion until he beat Ali. And Ali was in his "Louisville Lip" glory, taunting Frazier, calling him an "Uncle Tom" because, though also black, he was "the white man's champion." Frazier couldn't figure it out: "I'm blacker than he is!" Ali also called Frazier "ugly," to contrast with himself being "pretty." I guess it never occurred to Ali that physical beauty has nothing to do with fighting skill.

Tuning up by beating light-heavyweight champion Bob Foster, on March 8, 1971, Frazier was ready for what was billed as "The Fight of the Century," "The Super Fight," or just "The Fight" was held at the Garden. Two undefeated heavyweight champions walked into the ring.

Supposedly, Ali told Frazier, in the ring, that he was God. Personally, I find this out of character for Ali, who was still in the Nation of Islam at that point. Maybe he just got carried away, as he often did.

Smokin' Joe was ready: "God, you in the wrong place tonight! I'm takin' names and kickin' ass!"

Ali held on as long as he could, but in the 15th and final round, the 45th and final minute, Frazier unleashed a left hook that brought down the man who had called himself "The Greatest of All Time." Frazier was, by a close but unanimous decision, declared the winner.

Frazier had proved his point. And he continued to do so, knocking out 2 more fighters, before January 22, 1973. On the same day that former President Lyndon Johnson died and the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion bans were unconstitutional, Frazier got into the ring with the man who had succeeded him as Olympic champion, undefeated 1968 Gold Medalist George Foreman, just as Frazier had succeeded 1960 champion Ali (then still named Cassius Clay).

Frazier was 29-0, with only 5 of his fights having gone the distance. But this one was no contest -- the other way. Howard Cosell broadcast it for a tape-delayed edition of ABCs Wide World of Sports, and, in the 1st round, observing the fight -- knowing that Ali would have to fight one of these guys, maybe both (and it would be both), Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, could be heard at ringside yelling, "Frazier's hurt!"

Cosell was telling the viewers what Dundee had said, but before he could get the words out, Big George knocked Smokin' Joe down, and Cosell, stunned, yelled, "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!" It is boxing's "The Giants win the Pennant!" Foreman knocked Frazier down 6 times in 2 rounds before referee Arthur Mercante stopped it.

Frazier bounced back. He went to London to fight local favorite Joe Bugner and beat him, and then a 2nd fight with Ali was held at the Garden on January 28, 1974. This one was scheduled for 12 rounds and went the distance, but Ali won a decision. Ali then went on to knock Foreman out in the shocking "Rumble In the Jungle" in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), to retake the title, in spite of the fact that Foreman had destroyed the only 2 men who had yet beaten Ali, Frazier and Ken Norton.

Foreman was sure he could beat Ali and take the title back. He tuned up by winning rematches against Quarry and Ellis, and then, on October 1, 1975, it was Ali-Frazier III, "The Thrilla in Manila."

It wasn't quite as hyped as the first one in 1971, but, like that one, it lived up to the hype. It may have been the greatest prizefight ever. "I hit him with punches that would have brought down buildings," Frazier said. Ali said the 10th round was as close to death as he'd ever been. But in the 13th -- this one, like the 1st but unlike the 2nd, was scheduled for 15 -- Ali unleashed a furious right that sent Frazier's mouthpiece flying out of the ring. The 13th and 14th rounds may have been the harshed punishment Ali had ever dished out -- because, unlike Foreman and Floyd Patterson, Frazier wouldn't go down.

And, unlike Sonny Liston, Frazier wouldn't quit. He was bleeding badly -- possibly internally. His eyes were nearly swollen shut. Trainer Eddie Futch was afraid for Frazier's life. "The fight's over, Joe," he said. Frazier refused to give in, having more courage than sense: "I want him, boss." Futch said no: "It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today." And Futch told referee Carlos Padilla to stop it, which he did.

Ali was completely exhausted. He was telling Dundee to cut the gloves off. "Frazier quit just before I did," he told the press afterward. "I didn't think I could fight any more." However cruel Ali had been in his taunts before the fight, afterward, he was completely magnanimous to the man he had beaten, literally beaten, but not quite defeated: "Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him."

It's become a cliche that a big part of both men never left the ring at the Areneta Coliseum in Quezon City, outside Manila. Frazier only fought twice more, and both times, it was a mistake: A rematch with Foreman at the Nassau Coliseum in 1976 led to a 5th-round knockout, and in 1981, at age 37, he fought Floyd "Jumbo" Cummings for 10 rounds. It was rather charitably called a draw, and this time, retiring with a record of 32-4-1, he went back to what he'd been doing since the 2nd Foreman fight, training boxers at a gym in North Philadelphia.

One of the boxers he trained was his son, Marvis Frazier. The two of them posed for a Sports Illustrated cover, which asked if Marvis was a "CHIP OFF THE OLD CHAMP?" He wasn't: In 1983, he got into the ring with champion Larry Holmes, and Holmes crushed him in the 1st round. Like his father, Marvis was not one to give up easily, but Holmes could be seen punching, and turning to the referee, saying, "I don't want to fight him anymore!" Marvis was not knocked down, but the referee stopped it. He was also knocked out in the 1st round by Mike Tyson in 1986. He fought 3 more times before retiring with a 19-2 record, and entered ministry.

Over Joe's objections, his daughter Jackie Frazier-Lyde started pro boxing at age 38, and seemed to be good at it. Inevitably, a fight had to be set up with Laila Ali, and on June 8, 2001, "Ali-Frazier IV" was held at Turning Stone Casino outside Syracuse, New York. Both women went in undefeated. Laila won by a close decision, and it remains Jackie's only loss.

Joe, like Ali and Foreman, turned out to be a natural at TV commercials. He did one where he and a female backing group sang about Miller Lite -- or, as it was then officially known, Lite Beer From Miller -- but later switched brands and did one for Anheuser-Busch Natural Light. He (reluctantly?) did a commercial for the paper industry which showed him in a ring covered with the material used to make paper bags, showing that "Joe Frazier can't fight his way out of a paper bag."

Frazier made millions of dollars through fighting and real estate, but lost all his money in other deals, finally having to sell Joe Frazier's Gym in 2009. His relationship with Ali remained contentious, with a number of reconciliations, but only Joe knew for sure whether that fight was truly over.

Having already been diagnosed with diabetes, Joe was diagnosed with liver cancer in September. Although this is the same disease that knocked out Mickey Mantle, as far as I know Joe never had a problem with alcohol. He died yesterday at age 67.

"The world has lost a great champion," Ali said in a written statement. "I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration."

There are now 9 living men who have been undisputed heavyweight champions of the world:

* Muhammad Ali, on and off between 1964 and 1978.
* George Foreman, 1973-74 and again 1994-95.
* Larry Holmes, 1978-85.
* Michael Spinks, 1985-86 (brother of Leon Spinks, whose brief hold of the belt in '78 for beating Ali after just 8 pro fights was disputed).
* Mike Tyson, 1986-90 and 1995-96.
* James "Buster" Douglas, 1990.
* Evander Holyfield, on and off between 1990 and 1999.
* Riddick Bowe, 1992-93.
* Lennox Lewis, 1997-2004.

Currently, Wladimir Klitschko holds every belt except that of the WBC, which is held by his brother Vitali, and the giant Ukrainians have sworn that they will never fight each other. Personally, I think the best thing that can happen to boxing is to have a unified, undisputed heavyweight champion. And if the Klitschkos will not fight each other, perhaps they should talk to Venus and Serena Williams.

As for Frazier... The fight's over, Joe. And now you have a title that no man can take away.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Joe Paterno: I Was Right About Ol' Ratface

On June 5, 2009, I did a piece titled "My Most Hated Opponents -- Non-Players Edition," a companion piece to an earlier list of players.

Without getting into the reasons, here are Numbers 10 through 2:

10. Bobby Valentine, New York Mets.
9. Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles.
8. Bobby Cox, Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves.
7. Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers.
6. Dual entry: Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, University of Connecticut basketball.
5. Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys.
4. Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys.
3. Pat Riley, New York Knicks and Miami Heat.
2. Davey Johnson, New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles.

Number 1 surprised some people: Joe Paterno. I chose him for several reasons:

* Running up the score.

* Poaching recruits from other teams' areas. (New Jersey players from Rutgers, New York players from Syracuse, New England players from Boston College, etc.)

* Covering up misdeeds of his players, all the while telling us, and having a JoePa-worshipping media tell us, that he ran a "clean program."

You'd think I'd shot Mickey Mouse. The reactions ranged from...

"Not running up the score is what many believe cost us a chance at the National Championship in 94. I can honestly say he doesn't do it."

To...

"Great. A 40 yo accountant who can't find a woman sounds off on a great American like Joepa!"

Putting aside the subject of my lovelife -- and, by the way, finding a woman is easy, finding a good one is hard, and keeping her is even harder...

A great American. Really.

"LOL Joe recruits ethically and gives kids a genuine chance to start life with a good head start." (same guy as the last one)

A good head start for those kids? Kids?

*

I don’t care what Penn State fans think of me. But don’t be blinded by the legend of Joe Paterno. He’s like Wyatt Earp: The hero’s story has been told for so long, it’s hard to accept that the truth reveals something less than a hero.

So, as you can see, I was willing to stand up and call Paterno out long ago.

And then...

Here's what George Vescey, one of the greatest sportswriters of all time, had to say in today's New York Times:

Football is the central fact of life in the State. When a large male newborn is on display in the hospital nursery, people make loving jokes about sending him out to JoePa to play linebacker. Not so funny at the moment, is it?

Apparently, young boys were brought to the massive football program by Jerry Sandusky, who was first a major assistant coach and later an emeritus member of the football “family.” Some family. The guy had keys to the facilities, with enough freedom to take showers with the boys, and, if we believe the warrant for Sandusky, jeopardize the balance of their lives.

People saw. People knew. A few people even talked. But ultimately it got swept under the rug for years because of the rush to Saturday, those autumn game days when people funnel into Happy Valley for the biggest thing in the State...

The legalities of all this are going to have to play out. We do know that Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of abusing boys over 15 years. The athletic director, Tim Curley, took an administrative leave Sunday night so he could defend himself; and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, resigned Sunday night. Both were charged with perjury for their testimony to a grand jury investigating Sandusky.

That leaves Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old coach, the icon, the benefactor, and most important, the winner of 409 football games, the most by any coach at this highest level. Apparently, Paterno knew about his former assistant in 2002 and went to Curley and then he went back to supervising practices and giving news conferences and recruiting large young men to play football for the program...

The attorney general said Monday that Paterno is not a suspect in this case, so I would think he deserves a polite retirement at the end of the season.


(Bold = emphasis mine, not Vescey's or the Times'.)

A polite retirement?

Joe Paterno, often called Saint Joe, has been, in effect, as culpable in this mess as the Catholic Church officials who covered up similar crimes by its priests.

Paterno is a conservative Republican, whose son once ran for Congress in the district that includes Happy Valley -- and lost. So perhaps we should ask the question that was asked of Paterno's pal Richard Nixon in 1973, one of those seasons that Penn State "should have won the National Championship":

What did the head coach know, and when did he know it?

Michael Bradley at Philadelphia magazine (phillymag.com) has a better take:

After the events of the past two days, there can be no other way. Paterno is finished at Penn State.

It must happen. And it has nothing to do with whether the soon-to-be 85-year-old is fit to prowl the sideline on game days. (Or sit in the press box.)

Even if he did “do his job,” in 2002 by reporting what he heard from then-graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary about the disgusting, monstrous alleged crimes committed by former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, Paterno deserves an escort to the exit.

He did what he was supposed to, all right, but he didn’t do anything else. He didn’t make sure Sandusky would not have access to Penn State’s facilities. He didn’t check to see if athletic director Tim Curley was pursuing the matter after Paterno told him. He didn’t call the police.

The most powerful man in Happy Valley, a man who was able to tell Curley and school president Graham Spanier a few years ago that he would leave his position when he was damn well ready, made a perfunctory gesture that smacked of self preservation and then removed himself from the situation. In other words, he acted just like any other college football coach would have.

And that’s not good enough, especially for a man who, for decades, has comported himself as an oasis of character in college football’s scorpion-filled desert.

Sandusky’s alleged odious assaults—including sex with a 10-year-old boy in the shower on campus!—stain the entire PSU community, and for Paterno to have knowledge and do nothing more than pass it along the chain of command, as if it were a meaningless misdemeanor, is unforgivable.

This is a football coach who has more power and influence at a university (and rightly so, given his service to Penn State) than any other person in his profession. Had he removed Sandusky from the Penn State picture in 2002 (Sandusky resigned from coaching in 1999 but maintained an office at Penn State and continued to have free run of the facilities), when he heard of the alleged crime, he would have saved other victims on whom Sandusky allegedly preyed–under the guise of his Second Mile charity, formed in 1977 to assist troubled boys from broken homes. Instead, Paterno did the minimum...

Obviously, Paterno has no direct culpability in this. And it appears he was forthright when he spoke with the grand jury. His failing is one of not using his tremendous influence and authority to make sure nothing more occurred and the previous allegations were handled swiftly and decisively. This wasn’t a case of some players trading memorabilia for cash and tats. It’s not an instance of a slimy agent’s slithering into a program. Players weren’t involved. Current coaches had nothing to do with it—other than McQueary and his report. Next to this, the outrage directed at Ohio State and Miami in recent months seems almost comical.

But Sandusky was on Paterno’s staff for five years while allegedly sexually assaulting boys, and it’s astounding that when this information was brought to Paterno in 2002 (three years after Sandusky’s retirement from PSU) he didn’t do more.

Further, it’s hard to believe no one at the school knew about the alleged misdeeds before McQueary told Paterno what he saw. Paterno’s statement Sunday spoke of being “fooled,” along with “scores of professionals trained in such things.” Again, Paterno sounds like someone interested in protecting himself and his program, not a person in power for whom a report of such behavior would have triggered outrage and action.


Suddenly, the misdeeds of Woody Hayes, Bobby Knight, and others don't look so bad. They did run clean programs, but never pretended to be angels. Bear Bryant? He admitted he'd made mistakes, that he was accountable.

Paterno? "Hey, news to me!"

Am I happy that Paterno's legacy is now stained beyond any cleansing? No, because the reason for it is despicable.

But I am interested to hear the reactions of those who thought he was "a great American" who provided a great environment for "kids."

*

Oh, by the way, that quarterback who ran up the score on Rutgers at the Meadowlands in 1995, causing then-RU coach Doug Graber to curse Paterno out?

In my original June 2009 post, I chose not to name him, calling him a henchman rather than a villain.

Turns out, it was... drumroll, please... Mike McQueary, the same man who told Paterno about Sandusky's crimes.

I wonder: Was he trying to get Paterno to do the right thing? Or... was he Paterno's Haldeman? I wonder if there are tapes.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Remember, Remember, the 4th of November (and Matty Alou)

November 4, 2001, 10 years ago today: It was supposed to be the triumph that New York City and the entire Tri-State Area needed so badly.

November 4, 2009, 2 years ago today: We finally got that triumph.

*

After the 9/11 attacks, the Yankees went on a postseason run heavy with mythical overtones.

* Dropping the first 2 games of the American League Division Series to the Oakland Athletics, at home, no less.

* A Mike Mussina shutout and Derek Jeter's "Flip Play" save them in Game 3 in Oakland, and they win the series at home in Game 5.

* Facing the Seattle Mariners, whose 116 wins had broken the AL regular-season record set by the 1998 Yankees and tied the major league record set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs, and exposing them for the competitive frauds that they were in the AL Championship Series, wrapping it up in 5 games at Yankee Stadium.

* Dropping the first 2 games of the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix.

* Winning Game 3, then being down to their last at-bat in Game 4, trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th, when Tino Martinez hit a home run to tie it and send it to extra innings, where the first-ever major league game on October 31 -- Halloween, and with a Full Moon, no less -- moved past midnight to become the first-ever major league game in November, and in the 10th, Derek Jeter homered to win it.

* Being in a similar situation in Game 5, trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th, and Scott Brosius, who had been an unlikely postseason hero so many times that he had become a likely postseason hero, tied it with a homer, and the Yankees won it in the 12th on an RBI single by Alfonso Soriano.

* Getting blown out 15-2 in Game 6, the worst postseason defeat in Yankee history, setting up a Game 7.

* Game 7 starting as a duel between 2 of the greatest and most controversial pitchers of the time, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, both of whom would become much more controversial as the years went on. Both lived up to the occasion and the matchup and pitched very well: Schilling held the Yankees to 1 run on 4 hits over the first 7 innings; Clemens held the Diamondbacks to 1 run on 7 hits before Yankee manager Joe Torre called on Mike Stanton to get the last 2 outs in the top of the 7th.

* Diamondback manager Bob Brenly stuck with Schilling for the top of the 8th, with the game tied 1-1, and Soriano hit a home run. 2-1 Yankees, and it looked like Soriano had become one of the biggest World Series heroes ever -- the man who had hit the 2nd-latest home run in World Series history, behind only Bill Mazeroski's bottom-of-the-9th homer to beat the Yankees for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960... and in the year that Mazeroski had finally been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, to boot. Brenly has Randy Johnson, who'd already beaten the Yankees in Games 2 and 6, to relieve.

* With the 1-run lead, Torre relieved Stanton by sending supercloser Mariano Rivera out for the 8th inning. He'd gotten away with that 5 times in this postseason. This was the 6th time he'd tried it.

* It was still 2-1 Yankees in the bottom of the 9th, and Mariano needed to get just 3 more outs to give the Yankees their 4th straight World Championship, their 5th in the last 6 years, their 27th overall.

It didn't happen. Mark Grace led off with a single to center. Brenly sent in David Dellucci to pinch-run for him.

Damian Miller grounded back to Mariano, who threw to 2nd to start a double play -- and threw it away. Tying run on 2nd. World Series-winning run on 1st.

Brenly sent Jay Bell up to pinch-hit for the Big Unit. He bunted, and Mariano threw to 3rd to get Dellucci on a force. Still tying run on 2nd. World Series-winning run on 1st, but now there's 1 out. Just need to get 2 more.

Mariano wouldn't get his next 2 outs until April 3, 2002 -- 5 months later, or 148 days.

Brenly sent Midre Cummings to pinch-run for Miller at 2nd. Tony Womack doubled down the right field line. Cummings scored. Bell reached 3rd with the run that could win the Series, and could score on a sacrifice fly.

Craig Counsell, who had been the man who drove in the tying run and scored the winning run for the Florida Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, came up with the chance to be the hero again. Mariano hit him with a pitch. Not known as a purpose pitcher, Mariano was, for one of the very few times in his career, rattled.

Up stepped Luis Gonzalez. A classmate and teammate of Tino Martinez at Thomas Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida. A man whose seasonal home run totals had been 13 at age 23, 10 at 24, 15 at 25 (okay, he was playing his home games in the Houston Astrodome), 8 at 26 (1994, strike-shortened season), 13 at 27, 15 at 28 (the last 2 as a Chicago Cub, and remember that the wind blows in at Wrigley Field half the time), 10 at 29 (back in Houston, still in the Astrodome), and then...

He hit 23 home runs at age 30. Yes, he was now playing for the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium, but this was also 1998. The year of Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy, and whatever it was that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were using to hit 70 and 66 home runs, respectively. Gonzalez hit 26 at 31, and 31 at 32. Very good, but no big deal -- until you realize that those last 2 years were with the Diamondbacks, playing their home games at Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field), which, like the Astrodome but unlike some other indoor stadiums, is a bad ballpark for hitters.

At age 34, Gonzalez hit 28 homers. At 35, 26. At 36, 17. At 37, 24. At 38 and 39, 15 both times. He closed his career with 8 homers at age 40 in 2006.

Respectable numbers, if they were achieved honestly.

In 2001, at age 33, the year of Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs, Luis Gonzalez hit 57 home runs. That's 26 more than he had ever hit before, and 29 more than he would ever hit again. People talk about Brady Anderson hitting 50 in 1996, when he'd only topped 16 once before, had never topped 21, and would never top 24 again nor 19 but once, and they suspected steroids.

What Luis Gonzalez did on the night of November 4, 2001 did not suggest steroids. Just as Bobby Thomson said that, 50 years earlier, he didn't need help to know that Ralph Branca was going to throw a meaty fastball. Doesn't mean Thomson didn't take advantage of the help that the Giants had been offering for the last few weeks. And it doesn't mean that Gonzalez hadn't been using steroids since 1998.

Gonzalez hit a looper into center field for a base hit. Bell scored the run that won the World Series for the Diamondbacks in only their 4th season.

*

At the time, I was terribly disappointed. But not crushed. There were a lot of really good players on that team who had played for a long time, some with awful teams, and had struggled to get to this point, and really deserved it.

Grace with the Cubs. Johnson with the Mariners. Schilling with the Philadelphia Phillies. Gonzalez with the Astros. Bell and Womack with the Pirates. Matt Williams with the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Indians -- in this Series, Williams became the first man, and remains the only one, to hit home runs in World Series play for 3 different teams.

For the Yankees, Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius retired, and Tino and Chuck Knoblauch were allowed to leave. So 4 starters needed to be replaced. This game began a period of 7 years that would prove very frustrating, despite making the Playoffs in all but the last.

So the game had a true "end of an era" feel, emphasized by Buster Olney when he titled his book about the 1996-2001 Yankees, and especially this game, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty.

But it was still a disappointment to me, nothing more. Some Yankee Fans were heartbroken. Not me. I was over it fairly quickly, and by Opening Day I was really optimistic again.

*

Over the next few years, things would change, and make this defeat something to get really angry about. Williams would be revealed as a caught steroid user. Gonzalez would call a press conference and angrily deny that he had used them, after a newspaper article danced around the question of whether he did. Although never publicly revealed to have been caught, people have often wondered about Johnson and Schilling, chosen the co-Most Valuable Players of this Series.

And, of course, accusations have also been leveled at some of the Yankees from this Series, including Clemens (the proof has still never been publicly revealed), Knoblauch (who admitted taking human-growth hormone, or HGH, but also said that it hurt more than it helped, which doesn't take him completely off the hook, but hardly makes him a cheater on the level of, say, David Ortiz), and Andy Pettitte (the one thing that can be proven was a brief moment the next season and it didn't help the Yankees win a Pennant).

Nevertheless, looking at losing the 1997 AL Eastern Division Title to Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro, and the Baltimore Orioles... looking at the 2001 World Series... looking at losing the 2003 World Series to Ivan Rodriguez and the Marlins... looking at losing the 2004 ALCS and the 2007 Division Title to the Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series both times...

It is obvious: Regardless of how much you might think that performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) such as steroids and HGH have helped the Yankees, only a damned liar would deny that no team has been hurt by steroid use more than the Yankees.

And I haven't even mentioned some of the other fallout from this Series. Schilling, whether he used PEDs or not, joined the Red Sox and became the most willing and vocal Yankee Hater in the history of that team (except maybe for Bill Lee), and emphasized what Lee Thomas, his former general manager with the Phillies, said about him: "One day out of five, he's a horse; the other four, he's a horse's ass." Johnson also deepened his reputation as an ass, all the while also deepening his reputation as one of the top 5 lefthanded pitchers of all time (along with Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton). And Johnson and Womack both later became Yankees, each playing a part in a postseason futzup (Womack in 2004, Johnson in both '05 and '06).

The 2001 loss is probably the only Yankee defeat that bothers me significantly more in retrospect than it did at the time. The '03, '04 and '07 losses bother me more now than they did then, now that we know what we know, and suspect what we suspect -- but not on the same level as 2001.

The Yankees, and the New York Tri-State Area, wanted to win in those other years. On November 4, 2001, just 55 days after 9/11, we had to have it. And the Diamondbacks took it from us -- by cheating.

*

On November 4, 2009, one year to the day after the election of President Barack Obama -- over John McCain, the Senator from Arizona who was sitting next to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani that night in Phoenix, and don't think I wasn't happy for, among other things, his defeat -- the Yankees won Game 6 of the World Series, beating the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-3 at the new Yankee Stadium, and clinched their 27th World Championship, 8 years to the day after they should have.

Hideki Matsui, in what turned out to be his last game with the Yankees, drove in 6 runs, including hitting a home run, a blast, off a "blast from the past," Pedro Martinez. I don't think any Yankee homer -- not by Chris Chambliss, Reggie Jackson, Bucky Dent, Don Mattingly, Jim Leyritz, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Derek Jeter, even Aaron Boone -- has ever made me feel better, because of what Pedro the Punk represents.

Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Jorge Posada, the holdovers from 2001, got their rings, Posada his 4th (his 5th title, though I don't think he got a ring for 1996), the others their 5th. For Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, their 1st.

The slates had been wiped clean. As Hank Steinbrenner requested, the universe had been restored to order.

Let's hope that no future baseball season will ever have to wait until November 4 to be resolved. We need scheduling reform.

*

Rest in peace, Mateo Rojas Alou. A native of Bajos de Haina, in the province of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, "Matty" played in the major leagues from 1960 to 1974, including most of the 1973 season with the Yankees, before he was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals.

He's best known for his tenure with the Giants, from 1960 to 1965, where he was a teammate of his brothers Felipe and Jesus, along with future Hall-of-Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry; and also Jack Sanford, who, though not a Hall-of-Famer, won 24 games and the Cy Young Award in 1962.

On September 10, 1963, Jesus was called up to the majors, and all 3 brothers batted in the 8th inning against Mets righthander Carlton Willey. It was the first time 3 siblings had played for the same team at the same time, and it remains the only time 3 siblings hit in the same half-inning. Willey retired the Alous in order, a rare moment of glory for the inept early Mets, who won 4-2. Oddly, the game took place at the Polo Grounds, longtime home of the Giants, now of the Mets, in its last 8 days of active baseball life.

Five days later, on September 15, 1963, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the Alou brothers made history by playing together in the San Francisco outfield for the final two innings of a 13-5 rout of the Pirates. Matty played left field, Felipe was in center, and Jesus was in right. The brothers would fill the outfield once more before Felipe was traded to the Braves in the off-season. Having Mays, and putting McCovey in left until Cepeda was traded to restore McCovey to his natural position of first base, the Giants didn't need reserve outfielders all that often.

But in spite of all that talent, the Giants didn't win a World Series. They came close, losing the 1962 Series to the Yankees (after Matty's bunt single began a rally that won a Pennant Playoff against the arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers) and missing the 1965 NL Pennant by 2 games and the '66 Pennant by a game and a half (both won by said rivals).

But Matty was no longer in San Francisco in 1966. He'd been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and led the National League in batting with a .342 average. In 1969 he led the NL in hits and doubles. But bad luck would follow him: Before the 1971 season, the Pirates would trade him, and then they won the World Series. He became Yankee, but was sold before the Bronx renaissance could happen, and went to the Cardinals in an era where they were a close-but-no-cigar team. He finished with the San Diego Padres in 1974, before they got good.

He played 3 seasons in Japan and then spent the rest of his baseball career managing in the Dominican Winter League in his homeland. Matty died yesterday, of complications of diabetes. He was 72.

Felipe, a 3-time All-Star, is 76, and has retired from an active role in baseball, after having managed the Montreal Expos and the Giants for a combined 17 seasons.

He is the father of Moises Alou, a 6-time All-Star who won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997, but is probably best remembered as the "victim" of the Steve Bartman play for the Cubs, against the Marlins, in 2003. He last played in 2008, for the Mets. He is currently out of baseball.

Jesus is 69, and is the director of scouting operations in the Dominican Republic for the Red Sox, having previously held that job with the Marlins. He was a member of 2 World Championship teams in Oakland, with the 1973 and '74 A's. He was a Met in 1975, and closed his playing career with the Astros in 1979.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Mets Recommendations -- Seriously

So October is over -- and, despite the Yankees crashing out in the Division Series, October 2011 broke my record for most posts in a month, 47, surpassing the 46 of October 2009 when the Yanks went all the way (albeit needed until November 4 to do it).

I know, I know: You think the Internet was juiced this season.

About the Mets. I joke about them a lot. I make no apologies for that. I hate them. I hate the Mets, and I hate Met fans, the Flushing Heathen.

But I also think it's a good thing for New York to have two good baseball teams, not just one.

So I'm going to get serious and make some recommendations for the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York -- more specifically, for the father-and-son owners, Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and for general manager Sandy Alderson.

1. Keep the current management team. Alderson and field manager Terry Collins have had only one year in charge. That's too soon to judge a man in either position. Unless there is a medical or ethical calamity, you don't replace a manager or a GM after just one year (or less). Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel, and GM Omar Minaya were all given fair chances to succeed or fail on merit -- in Minaya's case, a far more than fair chance.

2. Let Jose Reyes go. No, he's not "the face of the franchise" -- he's only half of it, along with David Wright. Furthermore, he's been so for 7 seasons now (starting in 2005), and what has he gotten you? One postseason appearance.

Yes, he won the National League batting title this season, the first Met ever to do so (in 50 seasons). He's led the NL in hits once, triples 4 times (including this season), and stolen bases 3 times (but also caught stealing twice), and is on pace to have over 2,600 hits in his career -- not a Hall of Fame-worthy number, but very good.

But he's also got a career OPS+ of 106 -- meaning he's been 6 percent better at getting on base and getting extra bases than the average major league hitter from 2003 onward. And that's counting his 143 this season, his previous high being 118. He'll be 29 years old next June 11 -- and a baseball player's prime is generally considered to be from age 26 to 29. And while he averaged 158 games per year from '05 to '08, he's missed substantial portions of the last 3 seasons due to injury. And he's had attitude problems. He may get more mature than he is right now, but he's not going to get any better, and in fact is likely to decline due to wear-and-tear and injuries.

Let someone else overpay for Reyes. He made $11 million this season, and will want substantially more over a long-term contract. In terms of quantity and quality, the Mets have made some mistakes over the years, some of them doozies. But having $11 million extra to spend every season on 2 to 4 players gives them a better chance of having at least 1 of them work out well than if they spend it all on Reyes. In this case, better the devil you don't know than the devil you do.

3. Keep the young talent. First baseman Ike Davis and starting pitcher Jonathan Niese are 24. Outfielder-first baseman Lucas Duda and starting pitcher Dillon Gee are 25. Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner are 26. And David Wright is still just 28, and, unlike Reyes, could get better.

True, Davis, Duda and Murphy can't all play first base, but Duda has already been tried in left and right field, and perhaps Murphy can be moved to an outfield position. The Mets' current outfield setup is an increasingly useless Jason Bay (32) in left, a servicable but hardly productive Angel Pagan (29) in center, and Duda in right.

Getting rid of Bay -- especially conning a team in need of veteran talent that Bay's got it, and get them to take his contract -- especially if it means getting another starting pitcher, or, even better, getting a decent reliever, would be a big help, both in terms of money and age.

The starting rotation, presuming everyone is healthy, is as follows, with the ages they will be next season:

1. Johan Santana, 33
2. R.A. Dickey, 37
3. Mike Pelfrey, 28
4. Dillon Gee, 26
5. Jonathan Niese, 24
Extra starter/long man. Chris Capuano, 33

Due to injury, Santana has pitched just 366 innings in the last 3 seasons -- 167 in 2009, 199 in '10, and none at all this season. He will probably be ready to start the 2012 season. If he comes back at anything like he was in his last full season (2008, 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 166 ERA+, 1.148 WHIP), that alone would probably be a 10-game improvement for the Mets.

It would free Pelfrey from the need to be the Mets' big pitching hope, and also prevent them from relying so much on a knuckleballer, Dickey. I have Dickey listed as the Mets Number 2 simply because he was their most effective pitcher this season; ideally, presuming no acquisitions, it would be Santana/Pelfrey/Gee/Niese/Dickey. Having 3 good starters under age 30 for at least the next 2 seasons (by which point Pelfrey will be 30) will stabilize the rotation.

Which brings me to my next point:

4. Don't splash the cash. It's not just that the Mets, due to Fred Wilpon's stupid investment with fraud king Bernie Madoff, can't afford it; it's that it wouldn't help that much even if they could.

The National League Eastern Division isn't going to change much in the next 2 or 3 years. The Philadelphia Phillies will still be the prohibitive favorites. The Atlanta Braves, despite winning the Wild Card last season and having it but blowing it this season, aren't going to scare anyone. The Florida Marlins are mildly interesting but don't look like Playoff contenders. And the Washington Nationals are exactly what they were when they arrived from Montreal in 2005: A team in rebuilding mode, although a team with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate and a healthy Stephen Strasburg on the mound every 5th day can't be totally written off -- then again, this sounds a lot like the Mets, with David Wright (third base, same position as Zimmerman) and Santana (albeit much older than Strasburg, but also with injury issues).

I can tolerate a team I root for making an effort to improve. If you tell me that you're sacrificing 2 or 3 bad years in order to build 5 to 10 good years, I'll take it -- and the Mets have already had 1 year of rebuilding, so they're much better off than they were a year ago.

Not going after big free agents now will probably mean a better shot at more cash being available later. Besides, look at the free agent crop. The biggest-name hitters are Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The Mets, as I said, are stocked at first base. This is the NL, where there's no designated hitter. Where are they gonna put Pujols? Okay, he used to play left field. But where are they going to put the corpulent, inaptly-named Fielder? As for the available pitchers, now that the Yankees have extended the contract of CC Sabathia, who's left? C.J. Wilson? Hardly an ace. Mark Buehrle? Still a really good pitcher, but he'll be 33 by Opening Day.

5. Find a closer. If big bucks need to be spent, before or after a trade, here's where you do it. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez is gone, mainly because he'd become a liability on the field as well as off it. Right now, the Mets' 2 best relievers are Jason Isringhausen, once the future of the franchise but now 38 (39 next season), and Bobby Parnell (26 but with an ERA and WHIP much too high for a reliever).

The Mets haven't had a reliable bullpen since... since... think, Mike, think... uh, 1986? Remember, they'd already gotten rid of Jesse Orosco after 1987. In their 1998-2001 runs, their closer was Armando Benitez, who was like nitroglycerin: He could make the heart beat again, but he could also explode. In between, they had John Franco, but they had to get to him first. In 2006-08, it was Billy Wagner, who, in spite of nearly breaking Franco's career record for most saves by a lefthander (424 to 422), was actually worse in late-season and postseason games than Benitez (both for the Mets and for other teams).

Just as you have to have good starters to set up a good reliever, so too do you need a good reliever to make sure a good starter's work doesn't go to waste. And, let's not forget, Sandy Alderson was the Oakland Athletics GM who got Dennis Eckersley and, with then-manager Tony LaRussa, converted the once-great but troubled starter into the best reliever the game had yet seen (until Mariano Rivera). As opposed to Billy Beane, who never did get that elite closer for the A's (the best he could do was... Isringhausen! Who wasn't bad, but was no Mo or Eck), and that's as big a reason as any why "Moneyball" failed.

6. Stop trying to pander. The early Mets, like the erstwhile Dodgers and Giants before them, reached out to black and Hispanic ballplayers well before the Yankees did, and as a result got black and Hispanic fans to come out to Shea Stadium when they wouldn't go to the old Yankee Stadium, even though said Stadium was in a neighborhood with mostly nonwhite residents.

But Minaya's attempts to build "Los Mets" turned out to be like Will Rogers' assessment of Prohibition: "Prohibition is like Communism. It's a great idea, but it won't work." Bringing in Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Santana and K-Rod, and promoting the heck out of Reyes, may have increased the Hispanic attendance at Shea and then Citi Field. But those 6 guys all dealt with injuries, and even when healthy, Beltran, Delgado, K-Rod and Reyes were inconsistent.

There's talent out there. Some of it is white. Some of it is African-American. Some of it is Hispanic. Some of it is East Asian. There may even be, somewhere out there, a few South Asians who've turned away from their culture's love of cricket and are about to make their mark on baseball. Surely, there are enough of each group in New York, and especially in the Mets' home Borough of Queens, America's ultimate ethnic stewpot (not a melting pot, as has often been said), to bring in such fans.

But that's why the Mets, and other teams, have Heritage Nights. Irish, Italian, Polish, German (Oktoberfest), Greek, Latino (both Merengue Night and Fiesta Latina), Caribbean (more ex-colonies of Britain like Barbados, and France like Haiti, than those of Spain like Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic), Japanese, Korean, Taiwan (in place of "Chinese," I guess the Wilpons are McCarthyists), Indian and Pakistani -- though, as far as I know, not yet Arab -- all have been represented at Met home games, with ethnic music and dances being performed on the field in pregame ceremonies.

These communities see this, and they can see that you care. But there weren't hordes of Japanese fans coming to Shea to see Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Masato Yoshii. Yes, they came to Yankee Stadium to see Hideki Matsui, but there was a difference: Matsui was great. The old-time Giants manager John McGraw was always looking for a great Jewish player to bring in the immigrant New York Jews of the early 20th Century, and especially their American-born, assimilated kids. He never found one that was good enough. (Just his luck, by the time The Bronx's Hank Greenberg came along, not only was McGraw getting old, but he had Hall-of-Famer Bill Terry at first, and the Yankees couldn't take Greenberg, either, because they had Lou Gehrig. So Greenberg went to the Detroit Tigers.)

Seek out the best players. If that means, whites, fine. If it means blacks, fine. If it means Hispanics (and, these days, it usually means them more than anyone else), fine. If there is an Asian who is good enough to play in the majors and fills a Met need, go get him.

But don't go after a player simply because you think you might get his ethnic group to come out to the ballpark to cheer him on. After all, Mike Piazza could hit no matter what the ethnic makeup of the ballpark on a given day, but all the Italians in the Tri-State Area combined couldn't make him properly play the position of catcher.

These moves would probably help the Mets immediately, even if it doesn't result in a bid for the postseason in 2012, or even in 2013. But it will make them look like they know what they're doing, both on the field and in the front office. It will make them, in their 50th Anniversary season, look a lot less like the 1962 Mets than the 2009-11 (and September '07 and September '08) Mets did.