Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yanks Pound Greinke, Colon & Jeter Updates

Yankees 12, Brewers 2. I would have loved to have seen that final score a few times in the late 1970s and all through the 1980s -- and saw a few like it, back when the Yankees and Brewers were perennially battling the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers for the American League Eastern Division title.

Alas, now the Brewers are in the National League Central, albeit in first place in that Division. As are the Yankees in theirs. And while Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder represent a rather different threat than manager Harvey Kuenn's 1982 Pennant-winning "Harvey's Wallbangers," led by Hall-of-Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor and the heavy hitting of Ted Simmons, Ben Oglivie and Stormin' Gorman Thomas, the Yankees are much more up to the task now than when they seemed to be Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, and 23 guys named Bobby Meacham.

In 2009, the Yankees won the World Series, but did their best starting pitcher -- either CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte -- get the AL's Cy Young Award? Nope, it went to Zack Greinke. Now, Greinke (7-3) is with the Brewers, and the Yanks made him pay dearly for that Cy theft last night. Normally a pitcher with control that's among the best in the game, he had nothing, allowing 7 runs in the 1st 2 innings, including Nick Swisher's 10th home run.

The Yanks cruised from there, capped by Mark Teixeira's 24th home run of the season, tying him again with Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays for the major league lead, and the 299th of his career. Teix and Swish each had 4 RBIs. Every Yankee starter had at least one hit, and Freddy Garcia (7-6) took that support and gave the Yanks 6 strong innings. Hector Noesi pitched the 7th and 8th, and Cory Wade the 9th, all scoreless. No need for Mariano Rivera last night.

The Red Sox played the Philadelphia Phillies, and Cliff Lee pitched a 2-hit shutout against The Scum. About time Lee did us a favor. The Yankees now lead The Scum by a game and a half, 2 in the loss column.

*

Tonight, A.J. Burnett goes against Milwaukee's Shaun Marcum. Then comes a Thursday matinee. Then, it's off to Pity Field for 3 against The Other Team, who finally got about .500 last night, beating the Tigers 14-3 in Detroit. Between them, the New York teams outscored the opposition 26-5 last night.

Bartolo Colon may pitch in the weekend series, although it's not yet decided when. Derek Jeter, who was eligible to come off the Disabled List today, will not, and won't play in the intra-city series (NOT a "Subway Series"), either. He may return in next week's series in Cleveland against the Indians, and could be available in the following weekend's home series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Expect his 3,000th career hit to come against them. Either way, the All-Star Break will be next, so he either gets a little rest or a little more time to come back.

*

Jeter hits 2994 6
Rivera saves 579 23
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2754 246
Magic Number 83 (to eliminate Scum, 80 for Rays, 76 for O's, 74 for Jays)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Seems Like Old Time(r)s

Greetings from Ocean City, New Jersey, 106 miles from home, and 140 miles from Yankee Stadium. It's just hot enough to be nice, and not hot enough to be too hot. And, while the town is full of Phillies fans, that's okay: We both hate the Mets.

The Yankees took 2 out of 3 from the Colorado Rockies this weekend. The Friday night game featured a home run by ex-Yankee Jason Giambi, the 423rd of his career; and another by Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockie shortstop who says he wears Number 2 in tribute to Derek Jeter. The Rockies won it, 4-2.

WP: Ubaldo Jimenez (3-7). Save: Huston Street (24), the former Oakland Athletics closer whose father, James Street, was the quarterback of the University of Texas' 1970 National Champion football team. (Squawker Lisa, take note!) LP: A.J. Burnett (7-6), who was, mostly, "Good A.J.," but just didn't get the support.

The Saturday game was another story. CC Sabathia (10-4) was on the mound and fantastic, becoming the first pitcher to reach 10 wins this season. (Roy Halladay became the second yesterday.) CC says, however, that what matters is not the individual achievement but the team title, and, of course, he's right. (See under "Yankee, True.")

Aaron Cook (0-3) was the losing pitcher in an 8-3 Yankee win, partly due to a home run by Mark Teixeira.

*

Then came yesterday. For the first time that I can remember (if I remember correctly), Old-Timers' Day was not on a Saturday. It was a Sunday, and the usual greats were there, including Hall-of-Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Reggie Jackson, plus their fellow Monument Parker Ron Guidry.

New to Old-Timers' Day -- at least, as "official" Old-Timers, were former manager Joe Torre, former outfielder and manager Lou Piniella (both of whom have been managing elsewhere), former center fielder Bernie Williams (who got the biggest ovation of the day except for the long, drawn-out huzzahs for Torre, and then doubled in the Old-Timers' Game), and former first baseman Tino Martinez, who took a pitch that David Cone set up for him, and hit a home run. There have been a few homers hit in Old-Timers' Games at Yankee Stadium, although I think this is the first one in the new Stadium.

Also noteworthy is that Joe Pepitone, the Yankee first baseman of the 1960s, still refuses to admit that he's bald, but he finally admits that he's gray: Unwilling to shave a now-white goatee (which Yankee management, even before George Steinbrenner, wouldn't have let him get away with), his toupee is now gray.

And in the real game, the current Yanks did the Old-Timers proud: Ivan Nova was fine for 5 innings, but got into trouble in the 6th. Hitting 2 homers for the Rockies was Ty Wiggington, who drove the Yankees nuts in Interleague games when he played for the Mets.

But the Yankees came from behind, and won, 6-4. This was due in large part to homers by Jorge Posada, the 269th of his career; Nick Swisher, the 171st of his career; and Teixeira, the 298th of his career. Wow, with all the attention on Derek Jeter for 3,000 hits and Mariano Rivera for the all-time saves record, we didn't notice that Teix was approaching a milestone, too -- although hardly at the same level.

WP: Boone... whoa, it was Boone Logan? (2-2) Maybe he's getting straightened out after all -- and if the Daily News article yesterday was right, it was due to advice by... Alex Rodriguez? You'd think the only thing he knows about pitching is how to hit it. SV: Rivera (20). LP: Matt Belisle (5-3).

The Yankees now have a day off, as their former opponents from the American League Eastern Division, now in the National League Central, the Milwaukee Brewers, come to town for a 3-gamer starting tomorrow night at The Stadium. Then it's off to aptly-named Flushing for 3 against the Mets.

Sadly, gas masks are not permitted as part of a regulation baseball uniform.

Oh yeah, the Yankees are back in first place, leading the Boston Red Sox by half a game, one game in the All-Important Loss Column.

The Yankees were in first place when Old-Timers' Day began, and still in first place when it ended. Now THAT seems like Old Times.

*

Jeter hits 2994 6
Rivera saves 579 23
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2752 248
Magic Number 85

Friday, June 24, 2011

Devils' 2012 Schedule Released, Anniversary of 1st Cup

Has it really been 16 years? At 11:09 PM on June 24, 1995, Mike Emrick said those magic words: "The championship to New Jersey! The Devils have won the Stanley Cup!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dpFdvCZ4OQ

Hard to believe it's been that long. Two more Cups have been added, but the first one is always the most special.

The NHL schedule was released yesterday, and, just as I (sort of) predicted, the Devils will have their first game against a nearby rival -- and, in fact, their first game period -- in the 2011-12 season on Saturday night, October 8. It'll be at home at the Prudential Center, against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Devils get their first 3 games at home: Following the opener, they face the Carolina Hurricanes on a Monday and the Los Angeles Kings on a Thursday, before their first road game, the following Saturday night, at the Nashville Predators.

The Devils will visit the Flyers at the -- what's the arena's name this season? oh yeah, the Wells Fargo Center, on Thursday night, November 3. The first game against the New York Islanders will be a day-after-Thanksgiving matinee, on Friday, November 25, a 1:00 start at the Nassau Coliseum. And the first game against The Scum won't happen until Tuesday night, December 20, at home.

The regular-season finale will be on Saturday afternoon, April 7, at 3:00, home to the Ottawa Senators.

Hopefully, this season will end with a Playoff berth, like every season but one from 1990 to 2010 did, until last season.

This Split Was Bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Due to technical difficulties, new posts on this blog will be difficult for the time being. Not impossible, but difficult.

The Yankees split the rain-forced doubleheader with the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, concluding their Interleague roadtrip by taking 2 out of 3 from both the Chicago Cubs and the Reds. It's hard enough to win 2 out of 3 on the road, but when it's in a ballpark you hardly ever see, that makes it even tougher, but they did it twice.

The opener featured another strong pitching performance by Freddy Garcia (6-6). He threw 7 innings and allowed 3 hits, just 1 walk, and exactly no earned runs. But 2 errors in the bottom of the 5th allowed the Reds to tie the game after back-to-back RBI singles by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano made it 2-0 Yanks in the top of the 3rd.

In the top of the 6th, Cano singled with 1 out off Reds starter Mike Leake (6-4), and Jorge Posada, still tearing the cover off the ball since Jorge Jr.'s surgery, hit a first-pitch curve screaming into the right-field bleachers at Great American Ball Park. David Robertson pitched a scoreless 8th and Mariano Rivera a scoreless 9th (18th save) to finish off the 4-2 win.

The nightcap wasn't so good. Manny Cueto (5-2) handcuffed the Yankees, and Brian Gordon (0-1) really didn't have it, following up his earlier fine start (resulting in a no-decision) with 4 runs, including 3 homers, in 5 innings. Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Luis Ayala were all right in relief, but Hector Noesi had the worst outing of his career, getting pounded for 6 runs on 8 hits in less than 2 innings. Chris Heisey, the Reds' left fielder and leadoff hitter, hit 3 home runs, 2 off Gordon and 1 off Noesi.

A very different pair of games. It was a split, but as Angels fan Gwen Stefani would say, this split was bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Still, I'll take 2 out of 3 on the road anytime, even if the loss is an ugly one, the series is still a good one.

The Yankees come home but stay in Interleague mode. The Colorado Rockies come in, with A.J. Burnett starting tonight against Ubaldo Jimenez. Saturday will have CC Sabathia going against Aaron Cook, and the Sunday game will have Ivan Nova against Juan Nicasio.

Sunday will also be Old-Timers' Day -- which is odd: It's been on a Saturday for as long as I can remember. Making their first appearances as Yankee Old-Timers will be Joe Torre, Bernie Williams and, since his previous OTD appearances were as a Yankees player or manager, Lou Piniella, who retired from managing last September and is spending his first summer not employed in professional baseball since 1963.

Also attending from the Torre Years will be, among others, current manager Joe Girardi, David Cone, Cecil Fielder, Charlie Hayes, both of the often-troubled but now doing okay ex-Mets Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry (remember, they won more World Series as Yanks than Mets, and Cone never won one as a Met), and, presumably not standing next to Torre on the foul line, his recurring nemesis David Wells.

From the 1977 and '78 World Champions, the guys who forever defined for me what a baseball champion should be, will be Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, Roy White and Brian Doyle.

From the 1961-64 Dynasty: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Moose Skowron, Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez, Al Downing, Joe Pepitone and Mel Stottlemyre.

From the 1950s: Berra, Ford, Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Don Larsen and Charlie Silvera.

And the following widows of Yankee legends: Arlene Howard, Kay Murcer, Diana Munson, Helen Hunter, and the last of Billy Martin's 4 wives, Jill -- who should not be confused with the NBC Today Show and MSG Network personality of the same name.

*

On the injury front, Bartolo Colon looks like he'll be ready to come off the Disabled List on schedule, and Phil Hughes follows up a good 1st rehab start at Short-A-Ball Staten Island with a start tonight for Double-A Trenton. But Derek Jeter appears to have had a setback. Eligible to come off the DL on June 29, It now looks like he might not get Number 3,000, or even play, in the upcoming Interleague series against The Other Team at Pity Field.

Now that's a pity, especially after the greatest of all Other Team legends, one George T. Seaver, went out of his way to ask their fans to show some class in case Jeter reaches the milestone in Flushing Meadow. Turnabout would be fair play: Those of us who were at the old Yankee Stadium on August 4, 1985, and braved the Flushing Heathen as they came to see Seaver pursue his 300th career win gave him a well-deserved standing ovation when he finished it off.

Especially considering that only one other pitcher has ever won his 300th at a Yankee Stadium, and unlike Tom, I'm not going to use any part of his name. Suffice it to say that, at age 40, he only went into the 7th inning and was laboring at the end; while Seaver, also 40, went the distance and allowed just 1 run, and showed no sign that he was tiring as he got Don Baylor to fly out to left fielder Reid Nichols for the final out. When Tom Seaver did it, it was a master at work; when the other one did it, it was a shaky outing, and I'm glad I never have to watch him pitch again. As good as he was at times, he remains one of the most disliked people ever associated with the game, and Seaver is one of the most admired. As John Houseman would say, both men came by their reputation the old-fashioned way: They EARNED it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rainout In Cincinnati Forces Doubleheader

How does that Beatles song go?

When the rain comes
they run and hide their heads.
The Cincinnati Reds.
When the rain comes.

Not buyin' that, are ya?

Anyway, the Yankees and Reds will play a day-night doubleheader today, 12:30 and 7:00. Not to be confused with a phenomenon that, while not exactly common, did happen a few times per team per year when I was a kid, the "twi-night doubleheader," the first starting at 5:00 and the second about 45 minutes after the first ended. A regular doubleheader would be noted on the team's schedule by 2 circles, a twi-nighter by 2 moons.

The starting pitchers for the first game will be Freddy Garcia for the Yankees, the unfortunately named Mike Leake for the Reds. (Not to be confused with Kelly Leak, the character played by Jackie Earle Haley in The Bad News Bears.) The second game will have recent signing Brian Gordon against Johnny Cueto.

The Reds won the NL Central last season, their first appearance in the postseason since 1999, their first real such appearance (1999 was a Wild Card play-in game against the Mets, which they lost) since 1995, and are looking for their first Pennant and World Championship since 1990. I haven't seen too many references to this, but this could be a World Series preview.

The Red Sox lost last night, to the San Diego Padres, so now the Yanks are just one game behind The Scum in the AL East -- and even in the AILC, the All-Important Loss Column.

Tonight, the U.S. plays Panama in the Semifinal of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, at Reliant Stadium in Houston. If they win, they will play the winner of the second game of this Semifinal doubleheader, Mexico (more likely) or El Salvador, in the Final at the Rose Bowl outside Los Angeles on Saturday night.

*

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 1, tomorrow night, away to the Seattle Sounders. They'll have to do it without Thierry Henry, who's suspended due to that whacked-out ending in the Portland game; and without U.S. National Team stars Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo, and Mexico's Captain, Rafa Marquez, all still away at the Gold Cup.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 11. Now that he's hurt, and comes off the Disabled List on June 29, I'm guessing he gets it on Sunday, July 3, at Pity Field against The Other Team. He needs 6 hits.

Days until the Red Bulls play another "derby": 17, against the team that is usually considered their biggest rivals, D.C. United, on Saturday, July 9, at Red Bull Arena. They play their REAL rivals, the New England Revolution, on Saturday, August 20, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. And they next play their CLOSEST rivals, the Philadelphia Union, in their regular season finale, on Thursday night, October 20, at Red Bull Arena.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 44, on Friday, August 5, at Fenway Park.

Days until Arsenal play again in a competitive match: 52, on Saturday, August 13, against Newcastle United at St. James Park. The schedule -- sorry, forgot to speak English there, the fixture list for the 2011-12 Premier League season has been released, and the Gunners and their Gooners will face the Magpies and their Geordies, returning to the scene of the crime, where Phil Dowd's biased refereeing turned a 4-0 Arsenal lead after 26 minutes, still held a 4-0 after 67 minutes (roughly the three-quarter mark of a soccer game/football match) into a 4-4 draw. Newcastle fans (a.k.a. Geordies) still think they earned that unbelievable draw. Anybody who believes that also believes that England would have beaten Germany had Frank Lampard's goal been allowed in last year's World Cup. (They wouldn't.)

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 71, on Thursday, September 1, home to North Carolina Central. 13 weeks.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 79, on Friday night, September 9, at Monroe.

Days until the next North London Derby: 101, on Saturday, October 1, at White Hart Lane. As yet unknown. The 2011-12 Premier League season begins on August 13, so it can't be any earlier than that. The schedule -- sorry, forgot to speak English there, the fixture list -- is usually released in the 2nd week in June.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: As yet unknown. The next season's schedule hasn't been released yet, save for the season-openers at the neutral but hockey-loving site of Helsinki, Finland, games that will include the Rangers. That will be on October 7. Figure the Devils' season opener will be the next day, which is 177 days from now. Figure they'll probably play a local rival, either the Rangers, the Islanders, or the Flyers soon thereafter, maybe a week after, so, tentatively, I'm going to say the number of days is: 108.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 143.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 155.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 305 (estimated, as the 3rd Sunday in April 2012 is the 22nd). Unless new owner Mikhail Prokhorov decides he'll stay in the Prudential Center, the great new arena he's already got.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 401 (July 27).

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 712 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 843 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 956 (tentatively scheduled for February 2, 2014, although it could end up being moved back a week or 2).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,454 (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: 1,568 (estimated).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flushing Away Beltran, Reyes, Wright... and Fans?

Recently, Jon Lewin, the Blue & Orange half of the blog Subway Squawkers (see the link to the right), had this to say about the way his favorite team is being run:

Ownership should know that, even if fans can still have fun at the ballpark watching a lousy lineup playing a lousy game, my tickets in the fifth row of the promenade behind home plate were only $6.50 each, plus StubHub fees.

And unless I missed it, they didn't bother to put the attendance on the scoreboard. It wasn't too long ago when the Mets would ask you to guess the attendance and put up four different figures, all much higher than whatever they are drawing now.


In the late 1970s, after team president M. Donald Grant (the M standing not for Mets but for Miser) broke up the team that won the 1969 World Series and the 1973 National League Pennant, Shea Stadium was so sparsely attended that it was nicknamed Grant's Tomb. They were down to 9,740 a game in 1979, which remains the lowest per-game attendance for any New York team since the Giants' last season in the City, 1957, 8,493.

Even in their 1965-73 mediocrity, the Yankees topped the Mets' 1979 figure, their lowest figure being 12,550 in 1972, the only time since World War II that they've been under 1 million for a season in home attendance. Not since 1935, the Depression year between Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, were the Yankees under that 9,740 figure in peacetime. And the Brooklyn Dodgers, aside from The War, hadn't been lower than the Mets' 1979 figure since 1938.

It's not nearly that bad now: 28,664 going into tonight's start of a 3-game Interleague series against the Oakland Athletics. That's 13th out of 30 in MLB, 8th out of 16 in the NL, and 2nd in the NL East behind the Phillies, who are leading all of baseball with 45,431. (The Yankees are 2nd, and first in the American League, with 43,765, though I suspect the San Francisco Giants, as defending World Champions and with a great relatively new ballpark, would jump from 3rd at 41,673 to 1st if their ballpark could hold more than that.) And that's before the upcoming Interleague series with the Yankees, which will get 41,000 each night. (Don't call it a "Subway Series," it's not a World Series.) But it is after an Interleague series with the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim that got 29, 31 and 36,000.

No, the Mets aren't doing THAT badly at the box office. But, as Barbara Walters (or, rather, her Saturday Night Live portrayer, the late great Gilda Radner) would say, "Wumahs are wunning wampant." Wumahs that the Mets will wefuse to we-sign Jose Weyes, David Wight and Cahwos Beltwan. I mean, rumors are running rampant that the Mets won't be able to come up with the money needed to re-sign their 3 biggest players: Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran.

The Mets' money problems aren't as bad as those of the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose owner, Frank McCourt, lost millions defending himself in a nasty divorce case, and whose team has been taken over by MLB, which is apparently close to a deal with a new buyer.

But Met owner Fred Wilpon needs a lot of cash. He's already sold a 20 percent interest in the team. And Beltran is almost certainly gone after this season, which would leave his Met career a failure. (Not surprising, since he got that huge contract on the basis of two weeks of play, albeit in the 2004 postseason.) And of Reyes and Wright, at least one will most likely be Flushing Meadow history by Opening Day 2012.

Squawker Jon continues:

If the Mets want to reduce the gloom and doom surrounding the club, how about putting an end to rumors that they might aim to keep Reyes, but then they would have to move Wright. What's next - Shake Shack will only have hamburgers OR shakes, but not both?

I actually read somewhere that this could be the best time to trade Wright, before his value goes down more. Yeah, when he's on the DL with a stress fracture in his back - that's the time to move him!

Wright, like Reyes, is a very good player who has done well in New York, unlike, say, Jason Bay. Nobody should be untouchable, but moves just to cut costs can help you end up with an infield like Wednesday night's - Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada and Willie Harris.


Now, there is talk that Reyes wants "Carl Crawford money."

Whether Crawford will turn out to be a good pickup for the Red Sox remains in doubt: The Sox, after a hideous start, have been rampaging, especially against the Yankees. But we've seen the Sox looking great in June and hearing that old song, "See You In September." Or October.

Still, Crawford led the Tampa Bay Rays to the 2008 AL Pennant. Reyes has not only never played on a Pennant winner, but in the stretch runs if 2007 and 2008, when the Mets blew September leads in the NL East and missed the Playoffs completely, he pretty much vanished.

If Reyes wants "Carl Crawford money," he needs a Carl Crawford achievement. Yes, he is on a hot streak. Yes, he is currently leading the NL in batting average. Yes, he can still run.

He has never delivered when the Mets have needed it most.

I'm not saying he needs to win SEVEN Pennants like, oh, I don't know... Derek Jeter, arguably the 2nd-best shortstop in the history of the game behind Honus Wagner. I'm talking about ONE.

Until he does something like that, he's LeBron James. Or a pre-2009 Alex Rodriguez.

Scratch that: He's not THAT talented-yet-underachieving.

And if all 3 of those guys are gone, how many people will come out to Citi Field? Or Pity Field, as I like to call it?

*

Since Squawker Jon mentioned Shake Shack, I believe it's time for some Met jokes.

THIS JUST IN: Shake Shack is now serving "Black OR White Shakes." Not both.

Citi Field has been renamed Boro Field.

The 7 train has been renamed the 6 1/2.

Pretty soon, the Mets will be like the Cleveland Indians in the movie Major League. Without, you know, winning 33 out of 42 to close the season.

Maybe they should have gotten Dennis Haysbert to step away from the Allstate ads to play Pedro Cerrano one more time:

"Bernie Madoff. You should have listened to Jobu. Is very bad to steal Fred's money. Is VERY bad."

Instead, the Mets have become that other guy from the Allstate commercials: Mr. Mayhem. And their chances are... wait for it... shaky, shaky!

Okay, in all seriousness, they're only 4 games in the loss column out of the Wild Card lead. Which goes to show what can happen if you have management that knows what the hell it's doing -- and WANTS to win.

But you gotta have both. Do the Mets have either?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Super, Nova, But Logan's Run Needs to Be Out of Town

Let's see, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes (when he gets off the Disabled List), Bartolo Colon (when he gets off the DL), Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova... So that would make Cliff Lee the 7th starter in the Yankee rotation.

Nova was super tonight against the Cincinnati Reds. He allowed a run in the bottom of the 1st, and cruised from there, getting through 8 innings allowing 1 run, 4 hits, and exactly zero walks. Chevy never made a Nova this good.

Of course, you still need to score. The Yankees did, 4 times before the Reds even came to bat. Nick Swisher led off, and singled. After a strikeout by Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira singled, and Alex Rodriguez singled home Swish. Robinson Cano doubled home Teix. Russell Martin grounded out, but this scored A-Rod. Then Andruw Jones singled home Cano.

That was basically all the drama, until the last inning. The Yanks scored another run in the top of the 8th, to make it 5-1. But in the bottom of the 9th, manager Joe Girardi trusted Luis Ayala to protect a 4-run lead. He allowed a leadoff single. That brought Joey Votto to the plate. A lefthanded hitter. The defending Most Valuable Player of the National League.

Not good, but, with a 4-run lead, no reason to panic, right? Certainly no reason to automatically pull him for a reliever.

Girardi panicked. He pulled Ayala for a reliever. Well, no big deal, right? Certainly no reason to make the reliever Boone Logan.

Girardi panicked again. He brought in Logan.

Immediately, I typed into Facebook, "Uh-oh, Boone Logan... Mariano, stand by, we may need you!"

Did I call it or what? Logan through the dangerous Votto exactly one pitch. And he hit him.

Logan did not hit Votto on purpose. His control isn't good enough. Frankly, I'm not sure Logan knows who Votto is. I'm not sure he knows who Boone Logan is.

Seriously, why is Logan in the major leagues, let alone on the 25-man roster of the New York Blessed Yankees? He's gotta have the kind of pictures of Girardi that Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth seemed to have of Joe Torre.

Now, it's time to panic. (Done.) Now, it's time to bring in Mariano Rivera. (Done). Now, it's time to remove Logan. (Done.) Now, it's time to send this scrub down to Scranton and to never disgrace the Pinstripes (or the road grays) again. (Hopefully WILL be done.)

Mo got a groundout, but allowed a single to score a run. Then got a forceout, which brought home another run. Finally, he struck out a pinch-hitter, the veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria. Ballgame over. Yankees 5, Reds 3.

WP: Nova (7-4). SV: Rivera (18) -- and no save situation should have been necessary, Logan you bum. LP: Travis Wood (5-5).

The Red Sox are winning big over the San Diego Padres, so the Yankees will remain a game and a half out, one in the loss column.

Jeter hits 2994 6
Rivera saves 577 24
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2746 254

*

The Florida Marlins, after losing 10 straight and 18 out of 19, have fired Fredi Gonzalez. Their new manager? It's their old manager, Jack McKeon, who managed them to the 2003 World Series over the Yankees. (Jeff Weaver, I still hate you more than I hate Boone Logan!) McKeon, a native of South Amboy, New Jersey and a graduate of that city's St. Mary's (now Cardinal McCarrick) High School, is 80 years old, never played in the major leagues, and first managed in the majors with the 1973 Kansas City Royals.

He is the 2nd-oldest manager in Major League Baseball history, behind Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia Athletics until he was 88 years old in 1950, and was finally removed when his sons ganged up on him and maneuvered him out of power due to his senility. Which they should have done years earlier, because "The Grand Old Man of Baseball" had long since lost it, but he was the owner, and refused to fire himself. But Connie Jr., Earle and Roy Mack found a way to use their stock in the team against him and his wife (Connie Jr.'s mother, Earle and Roy's stepmother).

Will McKeon right the ship in Miami? Unless it puts the Marlins in position to play the Yankees in the World Series again, I don't care. Then, I hope the Yankees turn McKeon's story from that of Ponce de Leon into that of King Lear. I'm still pissed off about that Series.

How to Be a New York Fan In Cincinnati

The Yankees have left Chicago, and moved on to the second half of their Interleague roadtrip, to play the Cincinnati Reds. The Mets will play there July 25 to 28.

Disclaimer: While I have been to Cleveland, and I have seen games at Jacobs/Progressive Field, I have never been to Cincinnati, so none of this information is firsthand. But some of it comes from the Reds' own website, so I would tend to believe it.

Before You Go. The Cincinnati Enquirer website is predicting high heat and thunderstorms all 3 days. This could be a problem. When not raining, it could be as high as 92 tomorrow.

Getting There. It’s 641 miles from Times Square in New York to Fountain Square in Cincinnati; 649 miles from Yankee Stadium to Great American Ballpark; and 650 miles from Citi Field to GABP.

Flying may seem like a good option, and don’t let the fact that Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport is in Florence, Kentucky fool you, it’s 13 miles southwest of downtown, a little closer (and in the same direction) than Newark Airport is to Midtown Manhattan. But, this late (you’ll already miss the first game; sorry, but my failure to get this done sooner couldn’t be helped), it’ll be about $1,400 round-trip. For Met fans going next month, if you order your flights now, it’ll be much cheaper, with flights available at under $500. And it’ll be about a 2-hour flight.

Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities is not good, a 16-hour ride that costs $200 round-trip and forces you to change buses in Columbus. The terminal is at 1005 Gilbert Avenue, less than a mile northeast of Fountain Square. Take the Number 11 bus. Amtrak’s run to Cincy is problematic as well, as it only offers service out of Penn Station to Cincinnati every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, and it’ll take over 18 hours, from 7 in the morning until after 1 in the morning outbound and from 3:30 AM to almost 10 AM back, and cost $236 round-trip. Union Terminal, now also a museum and shopping mall, is at 1301 Western Avenue, about a mile and a half northwest of downtown.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping.

You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s first superhighway, opening in 1940.

The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you’ll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern pandhandle of West Virginia, and into Ohio all the way to the State Capitol of Columbus. Then leave I-70 at Exit 99 and get on Interstate 71 south to Cincinnati.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, and about 3 hours in Ohio. That’s about 10 hours. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter Ohio and around Columbus, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Cincinnati, it should be no more than 14 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not flying.

Tickets. In spite of a return to postseason play last season and contending again this season, the Reds are averaging just 24,647 for home games, about 800 per game less than they averaged last season. Chances are, you’ll be able to get any tickets you can afford.

Infield Boxes will go for $60, Field Boxes (down the foul lines) for $49, Mezzanine and View Box seats for $39, and View Level (uppermost in the stadium) for $30. The right field bleachers go for $40. In honor of a similar section at the old Reds’ ballpark, Crosley Field, these bleachers are known as the Sun Deck for day games and the Moon Deck for night games. But the left field bleachers are just $23.

Going In. Great American Ball Park (“ball park” as 2 words, and named for the insurance company owned by former Reds owner Carl Lindner Jr.), opened in 2003, is separated from downtown by I-71/U.S. Route 50, and is right on the Ohio River. Although, like Waterfront Park in Trenton, the park is close enough to the river that a very strong player could hit a fair ball into it, unlike in Trenton as of yet this has not happened in an official game.

The Southbank Shuttle leaves from 5th & Vine Streets in Fountain Square, although the park is basically close enough to walk anywhere from downtown. The park’s official address is 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, named for the 1950s-60 Reds reliever and longtime broadcaster who died in 2007. Officially, the streets around it are Second Street (3rd base) to the north, Broadway Street (left field, and, no, that’s not “Broadway,” it’s “Broadway Street”) to the east, Mehring Way/U.S. Route 27 (right field) to the south and Main Street/Joe Nuxhall Way (1st base) to the west. Extending from the 1st base side is Pete Rose Way.

You’ll be most likely to enter by Second Street or Pete Rose Way. You’ll see a limestone carving of a kid in a baseball uniform looking up at grownup players. These statues are known as The Spirit of Baseball. They also have a mosaic paying tribute to the 2 most famous baseball teams from Cincinnati, which I’ll get to when I discuss Team History Displays.

The ballpark faces southeast, away from downtown and the city’s skyscrapers. But the park’s openness does provide a nice view of the river and the Kentucky shoreline beyond. The scoreboard has a steamboat motif known as the Power Stacks. The foul lines are rather close, 328 to left and 325 to center, however the alleys have respectable distances, 379 to left and 370 to right, and center field is 404. Seating capacity is officially 42,271, although standing room can push it to 44,599.

Food. Being in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Cincinnati ballpark to have lots of good options. But it doesn’t. Concession stands are plentiful, but it’s basically the standard stuff. There is no mention on the Reds’ website of any specialty stands, including, unlike so many ballparks, regional favorites. If you have a strong stomach, not only does Cincinnati, like Detroit, favor the “cheese coney, “a hot dog with chili and cheese on it, but they like chili over… spaghetti. Huh? But as far as I can determine, these items are not sold at the ballpark. Feel free to let me know if I’m wrong.

Team History Displays. Outside the park is The Mosaic, honoring Cincinnati’s 2 most famous baseball teams: The 1869 Red Stockings, baseball’s first openly professional team (though the current Reds have no official connection to this club, disbanded after the 1880 season) and the 1970s Reds, the Big Red Machine of Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and manager Sparky Anderson. A tribute to Rose is on the back of the left-field scoreboard, known as the 4192 Mural for his record-breaking 4,192nd career hit on September 11, 1985.

The Power Stacks have 7 bats on them, totaling 14, a way of acknowledging Rose’s Number 14, even though the Reds are not permitted to retire that number due to Rose’s banishment. (It’s only been issued once since, in the brief 1997 callup of Pete Rose Jr., who’s had his own problems but has never been banned from the game. The street named Pete Rose Way is outside the ballpark, and thus MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig have no say in what the street can be named.)

The team’s other retired numbers are shown in the outfield: Bench’s 5, Morgan’s 8, Anderson’s 10, Perez’s 24, the 1 of 1961 Pennant-winning manager Fred Hutchinson (who died of cancer in 1964 shortly after nearly leading them to another Pennant), the 13 of 1970s shortstop Dave Concepcion, the 18 of 1950s slugger Ted Kluszewski, and the 20 of 1950s-60s slugger Frank Robinson. Phillies legend Mike Schmidt grew up in nearby Dayton, Ohio, and wore 20 in tribute to Robinson, and as far as I know it’s the only number in baseball retired in honor of a player who wore it in tribute to another player’s number that ended up retired. Barry Larkin’s 11 has not yet been retired, but it has been removed from circulation, likely in anticipation of his deserved election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Outside the main entrance is Crosley Terrace, a reference to Crosley Field, with statues of Crosley-era stars Nuxhall, Kluszewski, Robinson and 1930s-40s catcher Ernie Lombardi, a Hall-of-Famer and one of the best-hitting catchers ever, but whose Number 4 has never been retired by the Reds.

Nuxhall became the youngest player in major league history, as a result of World War II depleting rosters, when he came up on June 10, 1944, at 15 years and 10 months old. He got shelled, and returned to the minors, but he did make it back in 1952, age 26 and much more ready. He remained in the majors as a lefty starter until the close of the 1966 season, age 37, and went into broadcasting. Unfortunately, the one full season he spent with a major league team other than the Reds was 1961, the only season between 1940 and 1970 that they won a Pennant. But he got to broadcast 5 Pennant-winning and 3 World Series-winning seasons with the Reds. And yet, his Number 39 has never been retired; and in 2008, after his death, the patches on the Reds’ uniforms didn’t have his 39, but his nickname NUXY. (His other nickname, the one he gave himself, ironic considering how old he was when he came up, was The Old Lefthander.)

The team has a Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the west side of the park on Main Street. Oddly, the Reds have more players in their team Hall of Fame than any other – in fact, more than any team in the 4 North American major league sports except the Green Bay Packers: 78.

Two of the 1869 Red Stockings are in, the brothers Harry and George Wright (not to be confused with the Wright Brothers from Southern Ohio who invented the airplane in 1903, these Wright Brothers invented professional baseball). They are in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, as are 2 of the 6 other players in the Reds Hall from the 19th Century, Bid McPhee and Sam Crawford. Not in the Cooperstown Hall is Billy “Dummy” Hoy, a deaf player who was supposedly the inspiration for umpires’ hand signals for balls and strikes, and who threw out the first ball at a 1961 World Series game between the Yanks and Reds, at age 99, then the oldest ex-player ever. (Sadly, he didn’t make it to 100.)

The Reds Hall has 9 members of their 1919 World Champions, including Cooperstowner Edd Roush, possessor of the most lauded outfield arm of his era, and who lived until 1988 insisting that the Reds would have beaten the Chicago White Sox in that World Series even if the “Black Sox” had played on the level. (He had a case: The Reds won 95 games that season, the White Sox only 88.) The Reds that won the 1939 Pennant and the 1940 World Series have 16 members in the team Hall, including Lombardi. Between the 1940 and 1961 Pennants, they honor Ewell Blackwell, who won 16 straight games including a no-hitter and nearly a 2nd straight in 1947, and later pitched for the Yankees; and Kluszewski and Nuxhall.

From the 1961 Pennant, they have 17 members, including Robinson, Hutchinson, and Gus Bell, who became an original Met the next season and whose son Buddy and grandson David became big-league stars as well. (Each of them had David as their real name.) Lee May, in this Hall but not the Cooperstown one, was on their 1970 and 1972 Pennant winners but not the 1975 & ’76 World Champions; that team has 17 members, including Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Anderson and future Yankees Don Gullett and Ken Griffey Sr. Between the 1976 and 1990 World Championships, they honor 2 pitchers: Yes, Met fans, Tom Seaver is in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, and Mario Soto. And from the 1990 champs there are 5 honorees: Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Tom Browning, Jose Rijo and Chris Sabo.

The museum is fundraising for a statue of Bench, calling him “Baseball’s Greatest Catcher.” To turn Sparky Anderson’s words about Thurman Munson on their head, Don’t embarrass anybody by comparing him to Yogi Berra.

Stuff. Clubhouse stores are located all over the park. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.

With the 1970s nostalgia wave in full flower now, books about the Reds teams of that decade, known as the Big Red Machine, have come out. Tom Adelman’s The Long Ball tells of the 1975 season, and how the Reds and Boston Red Sox went through them on their way to their meeting in an epic World Series. There’s The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-Stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, by Joe Posnanski; and The 1976 Cincinnati Reds: Last Hurrah for the Big Red Machine, a tribute to the only team ever to go undefeated in a baseball postseason of more than one round (7-0; the 1999 Yankees went 11-1).

There’s also Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Reds by Mark J. Schmetzer and Greg Rhodes, issued on the 50th Anniversary of that team. A contemporary book about that team, Pennant Race, was written by one of their pitchers, Jim Brosnan, who had previously written about a less successful season with the St. Louis Cardinals in The Long Season. Jim Bouton's Ball Four was clearly influenced by Brosnan.

Available DVDs include Cincinnati Reds Memories, the official World Series highlight films of 1975, ’76 and ’90 (1919 and ’40 preceded official films), and a box set of the 1975 Series, including every Series game (yes, Game 6) and a few bonuses from that era.

During the Game. You do not have to worry about wearing Yankee or Met gear in Great American Ball Park. Just because the sight of the Reds’ “Wishbone C” logo still makes Met fans remember the 1973 NLCS fight Rose picked with the far smaller Bud Harrelson doesn’t make Reds fans hate the Mets. Though they do tend to not like New York, for reasons beyond baseball. But unless you’re wearing Cleveland Browns gear to a Cincinnati Bengals game, or University of Michigan gear to an Ohio State University sporting event, people from Cincinnati aren’t going to go out of their way to be obnoxious to you, let alone violent.

The Reds don’t have any notable in-park fans, although Harry Thobe, a sharp-dressed man who wore a straw hat and carried a megaphone, was a longtime denizen of Crosley Field, sort of a Midwestern Hilda Chester, Freddy Sez or Cow-Bell Man. Nor do they have many celebrity fans, although George Clooney is one, coming from Lexington, Kentucky, 83 miles away. True, that's about as close as Northeast Philadelphia is to Midtown Manhattan, but the Reds are still the closest major-league team, unless Louisville gets back into the majors for the first time since 1899.

The Reds were one of the first teams to have a mascot, Mr. Red. He served as the team’s logo for a long time before becoming a man in a costume on the field. There is a retro version called Mr. Redlegs, which matches the team’s logo from the 1950s when, due to McCarthyism, being called “Reds” was considered un-American. This version had a 19th Century-style mustache, reminding people that Cincinnati was the birthplace of professional baseball (though, again, this Reds team, which began in 1882, is not the same team as the 1869 one). A female mascot, Rosie Red, and a furry red… thing called Gapper have joined Mr. Red.

The Reds don’t have a traditional song for either the 7th Inning Stretch or after a win. Cincinnati does have a good music tradition, as James Brown and some other big-time musicians were associated with Cincy-based record companies. And George’s aunt Rosemary Clooney got her start there as well. But Cincinnati is simply not a very hip town – and those rural natives of Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, Southeastern Indiana and Western West Virginia like it that way.

After the Game. Downtown should be safe, but stay downtown. Cincinnati does have a bit of a crime problem. In 2001, there was a race riot there, something rarely seen since the 1960s.

I can find no references to well-known postgame bars, or to places where New Yorkers gather in or around Cincinnati. The sites that usually list bars for football fans in exile don’t seem to have references to where Giants or Jets fans go when they live near Cincy.

Sidelights. Cincinnati may have only 2 major league teams now, and one of those (the Bengals) has been a joke for most of the last 20 years. But it’s a pretty good sports town, and here’s some of the highlights:

* Site of Riverfront Stadium. The home of the Reds from 1970 to 2002 (known as Cinergy Field in its final years) and the NFL’s Bengals from 1970 to 1999 was across Main Street from its baseball replacement, bounded also by Second Street, Mehring Way and Vine Street. Here, the Reds reached the postseason 9 times, winning 5 Pennants and 3 World Series. The Bengals made the Playoffs here 7 times, winning the AFC Championship in 1981 (beating the San Diego Chargers in what is regarded as the coldest game in NFL history) and 1988 (on both occasions, going on to lose the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers). Riverfront was a pioneer in artificial turf, the first outdoor stadium in either MLB or the NFL to have it, and the first to host either league’s postseason on it.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is now on the site. And just beyond it is the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, named for its designer, who used it as the basis for his greatest achievement, the Brooklyn Bridge.

* Paul Brown Stadium. A few steps to the west of the ballpark and the site of Riverfron is the current home of the Bengals, named for the man who founded them and the Cleveland Browns. Since moving in, the Bengals have made the Playoffs twice, and been mostly awful the rest of the time, going from 10-6 in 2009 to 4-12 last season.

* U.S. Bank Arena. Formerly known as the Riverfront Coliseum, this building went up across Broadway from Riverfront Stadium (and can be seen from Great American Ball Park) in 1975, and has hosted minor league hockey and the Xavier University basketball team ever since. Unfortunately, it’s best known for the tragic events of December 3, 1979, when 11 fans rushed in for “festival seating” for a concert by The Who. This event was immortalized shortly thereafter in an episode of the series WKRP in Cincinnati, ordinarily one of the funniest situation comedies of its time and easily the best TV show set in the city.

* Crosley Field. Three different ballparks were at a location bounded by Findlay Street, Western Avenue, Liberty Street and Dalton Avenue, a convenient location for teams coming into the city through the Union Terminal: League Park from 1884 to 1901, the elaborate Palace of the Fans from 1902 to 1911, and third from 1912 to 1970. First named Redland Field, appliance executive Powel Crosley renamed it for himself when he bought the Reds in 1934. Here, the Reds won the Pennant in 1919, 1939, 1940 and 1961, winning the World Series in 1919 and 1940. The Yankees clinched World Series wins here in 1939 and 1961. Bush Stadium, the former home of the Triple-A team in Indianapolis, stood in for it and Comiskey Park in Eight Men Out, the film about the Black Sox scandal.

Best known as the first big-league ballpark with lights, in 1935, it had an infamous incline, a.k.a. the “terrace,” that was trouble for left fielders; a building behind left field with an ad for the Superior Towel and Linen Service, nicknamed the Laundry Roof, which was torn down in 1960 to make way for Interstate 75 and a rerouted U.S. Route 52, the Mill Creek Expressway; and a right field bleacher section known as the Sun Deck for day games and the Moon Deck for night games. The Beatles played at Crosley on August 21, 1966, and the Cincinnati Pop Festival was held there on June 13, 1970, featuring Iggy & the Stooges, Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Traffic, Bob Seger and Mott the Hoople. The park was demolished in 1972. An industrial park now stands on the site, a 15-minute walk from Union Terminal. The Number 27 and 49 buses will get you Linn and Findlay, a 7-block walk (counting I-75) from the site.

As for the original 1869 Red Stockings, they played at the Union Cricket Club Grounds, a field with a stand for about 4,000 people. The Union Terminal was built on the site, so if you do come into Cincinnati by train, you’re already on the birthplace of professional baseball.

* Nippert Stadium. Home to the University of Cincinnati’s football team since 1924, and the original home (1968-69) of the Bengals, this ground has been extensively remodeled, so that it has few of the difficulties of being an old stadium, but also none of the look and atmosphere of one. 99 W. Corry Street, at Backstage Drive, on the UC campus. Number 17 or 19 bus. Fifth Third Arena, new home of the UC basketball team, is adjacent. The baseball stadium is also adjacent, and it’s named after former Reds owner, cheapskate and Nazi sympathizer Marge Schott. Hey, her money was as good as anyone else’s.

* Cincinnati Gardens. This is now one of the oldest surviving indoor sports arenas in North American, opening in 1949 and hosting the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals from 1957 to 1972. Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas went from here to Hall of Fame careers, although neither won a title. (The Big O did so with the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks, Lucas with the 1973 Knicks.) The Royals moved to Kansas City (and, due to the baseball team having the same name, became the Kansas City and eventually Sacramento Kings). A succession of minor league hockey teams has played here, and it has hosted arena football, too. The Gardens played host to the Beatles on August 27, 1964; and to Elvis Presley on November 11, 1971; June 27, 1973; March 21, 1976; and, just before his death, on June 25, 1977. 2250 Seymour Avenue at Langdon Farm Road, on the northeast side of town, near the Seymour Plaza, Swifton, and Hillcrest shopping centers. Number 43 bus.

Cincinnati isn’t a big museum city, but it is a Presidential birthplace and very nearly a Presidential burial place. The William Howard Taft National Historic Site, where the 27th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States was born and lived the first 25 years of his life, is at 2038 Auburn Avenue on the north side of town. The same Number 43 bus that would take you to Cincinnati Gardens would take you there. And the tomb of William Henry Harrison, the 9th President, who famously won the Battle of Tippecanoe against Indians (not the Cleveland variety) in 1811 and died only a month after becoming President in 1841, is 16 miles west of downtown in North Bend. A 10-minute walk from the Tomb is a house at Symmes & Washington Avenues, where “Old Tippecanoe” lived, and his grandson Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President (1889-93), was born. The Number 50 bus will get you within 2 miles of these sites.

*

Cincinnati calls itself the Queen City of the Midwest, and thinks of itself as a good, solid, family town. Read: They’d rather slit their economic throats and condemn their women to no say in if and when to have a child than vote for a liberal. After all, the last time they elected a liberal Mayor was… Jerry Springer. (No joke.) But it’s a good sports town, and a Reds game is well worth the trip.

The 2003 World Series That Should Have Been

The Yankees should have played the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 World Series. Alas, things happened, and it was the Yankees losing to the Florida Marlins in a Series that went off the rails in Game 4 thanks to Joe Torre's hunches picking a fine time to stop working, and the Series was spoiled by a home run hit by the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez (not to be confused with the Alex Gonzalez whose error at shortstop paved the way for the Cubs' collapse in Game 6 of the NLCS) given up by... I don't even want to type the guy's name.

On Friday afternoon, the Yanks began a series at Wrigley Field that had the Cubs' 3 highest regular-season attendances since 1938, a time when fire laws weren't as strict (even in Chicago, the American city most known for suffering a fire) and standing-room crowds could be a lot higher than listed seating capacity.

The Cubs are the only team in Major League Baseball that regularly plays Friday home games in daylight, a legacy of the days from 1948 to 1988 when Wrigley was the only MLB park that still didn't have lights. Freddy Garcia (5-6) was a little shaky early, and that was enough for Doug Davis to get his first win of the season (1-5) -- again, the Yankees struggling against a pitcher they'd never seen before -- and for Carlos Marmol to get his 14th save.

*

Three things, at least since the start of the Joe Torre years, have made the Yankees struggle: A young starting pitcher they've never seen before, the Fox Saturday Game of the Week, and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. And, in this series, they had to face all three. (Well, one other thing has made the Yankees struggle: Their unwillingness to punish the fat lying cheating bastard David Ortiz for his steroid-induced home runs.)

The Saturday Fox game was much better for the Pinstripes. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, the Yankee Haters, were in the house, but since they were also St. Louis Cardinals, naturally, they also hate the Cubs. But McCarver said he'd never seen such a great atmosphere at Wrigley. And there was a great atmosphere, as it sounded about half-and-half, Yankee Fans and Cub fans, and things appeared to remain civil.

The Yanks took a 2-0 lead in the top of the 3rd, but the Cubs tied it in the bottom of the 4th on a home run by Carlos Pena. After this blip, "Good A.J." took over, Burnett (7-5) outdueling possible Yankee trade target -- and one of those blasted, or should I say insufficiently blasted, 2003 Marlins -- Ryan Dempster(5-6, ERA 5.46 in the pitchers-hitting NL, maybe he shouldn't be a target).

The Yanks scored single runs in the 6th (sacrifice fly by Curtis Granderson) and the 9th (double by Eduardo Nunez), and a big play came in the bottom of the 6th, when a perfect Brett Gardner throw off a fly out by Geovany Soto cut Pena down at the plate. He crashed into Russell Martin, but Martin, already battling injury, channeled his inner Thurman Munson and not only held onto the ball, but then held the ball out to show the runner how he'd failed, rubbing it in, and well he should: It was not a dirty play, but it was intended to intimidate. Right, the Chicago Cubs intimidating the New York Yankees?

There was a scare in the bottom of the 9th when Reed Johnson homered off Mariano Rivera, and how big did that extra run, and the run that didn't score when Martin held onto the ball, look then? But Mo settled down, and got his 17th save. Yankees 4, Cubs 3.

*

Last night was the series in a nutshell. For the first time in his career, Brett Gardner led off a game with a home run, off Cub starter Randy Wells. But the Cubs tied it in the bottom of the 1st and took a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the 3rd, thanks to another reminder of the 2003 World Series, Alfonso Soriano, who did as much as Jeff Fucking Weaver to ruin it with his constant strikeouts. This time, he took CC Sabathia deep. The wind had been blowing in at Wrigley, but not this time.

CC (9-4) shook this off and was strong until he was relieved. The Yanks scored 2 in the 4th and another in the 6th to tie it. In the 8th, Nick Swisher fully exited his slump by getting his 3rd hit, a 3-run homer off Sean Marshall (3-2). A triple by Granderson and back-to-back doubles by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez made the final score 10-4 in favor of the Yankees.

*

So the Yankees take 2 out of 3 at Wrigley Field, and move on to Cincinnati to face the Reds. Although there have been Interleague series with the Reds, this is the first time both teams have been good this late in the season or later since the 1976 World Series, which the Reds swept and clinched at the old Yankee Stadium. Fair enough, I suppose: The Yanks swept the Reds in 1939 and won in 5 in 1961, both times clinching at their old ballpark, Crosley Field.

Managing the Reds in their revival (NL Central Champions last season) is yet another reminder of the 2003 postseason, the man who was then the Cubs' manager, Dusty Baker. Dusty is really good at getting not-so-good teams into contention, even the Playoffs. But he can't quite get them all the way.

The Yankees remain a game and a half, one in the loss column, behind the Boston Red Sox. The Tampa Bay Rays are 4 and a half (5) back, the Toronto Blue Jays 7 and a half (8), and the Baltimore Orioles 10 (9).

If the current MLB standings hold to the end of the regular season, the Playoffs would be as follows, with the team that would have home-field advantage listed first: Boston vs. Texas, Cleveland vs. Yankees, Philadelphia vs. either Atlanta or the NL Central loser between Milwaukee and St. Louis (currently all tied), and the Milwaukee or St. Louis, whoever wins that Division, vs. San Francisco.

*

Also encouraging: The injury-rehabbing Phil Hughes went 4 1/3 innings, giving up one run on three hits with seven strikeouts, in Sunday night's appearance for the Staten Island Yankees. He was consistently throwing fastballs at 93 miles an hour, up from his pain-induced high 80s from early this season.

In other words, the other numbers may not mean much -- after all, this was short-season A-ball -- but speed and control don't change depending on the quality of the opponent. He'll start over the weekend for the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

Hughes is on his way back. CC is one of the best horses in baseball. Good A.J. is in the house. Ivan Nova (who pitches tonight against the Reds) has gotten the job done. Garcia has been all right. Bartolo Colon will return from injury. Brian Gordon had a nice first start for us.

Cliff Who?

Friday, June 17, 2011

How to Be a New York Fan In Chicago -- Wrigley Edition

The Yankees are about to begin a roadtrip that includes 2 Interleague series, in Chicago and Cincinnati. While the Yankees have visited Chicago every season since their inception, only 3 times have they played the Chicago Cubs when the games counted: In the 1932 and 1938 World Series, and in June 2003.

The Mets, on the other hand, have played the Cubs every year since 1962, and have had some memorable matchups. So this guide can apply to both New York teams.

When the Yankees go back to Chicago to play the White Sox in August, I’ll revise this for their ballpark.

Before You Go. The Chicago Tribune website is predicting thunderstorms for the entire weekend: Friday, mainly south and west of the city; Saturday, arriving in clusters throughout the "Chicagoland" area; Sunday, "Scattered T-storms may flare up to 40 percent of area in afternoon." This could be a problem. When not raining, it could be hot on Sunday, as high as 90.

So ignore all the stories you've heard about Chicago being cold (you're going to Wrigley to see the Yankees play the Cubs, not to Soldier Field to see the Giants or Jets play the Bears), and dress accordingly, and bring an umbrella.

Getting There. Chicago is 789 land miles from New York, and Wrigley Field is exactly 800 miles from Yankee Stadium, and 809 miles from Citi Field. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

Unlike some other Midwestern cities, this is a good idea if you can afford it. If you buy tickets online, you can get them for $335 each way. Nearly every flight from the New York area’s airports to Chicago’s is nonstop, so it’ll be 3 hours, tarmac to tarmac, and about 2 hours going back. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line train can get you from O’Hare International Airport, at the northwestern edge of the city, to the downtown elevated (or “L”) tracks that run in “The Loop” (the borders of which are Randolph, Wells, Van Buren and Wabash Streets) in 45 minutes. From Midway Airport, the Orange Line train can get you to the Loop in 45 minutes.

Bus? Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities is relatively easy, but long, about 18 hours, and is $215 round-trip. The station is at 630 W. Harrison Street. (If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies, Midnight Run, this is a new station, not the one seen in that 1988 film.) The closest CTA stop is Clinton on the Blue Line, around the corner.

Train? Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:45 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station at 225 South Canal Street in Chicago at 9:45 every morning. It’s $186 each way. The closest CTA stop is Quincy/Wells, in the Loop, but that’s 6 blocks away – counting the Chicago River as a block; Union Station is, literally, not in the Loop. If you do decide to walk there, don’t look up at the big black thing you pass. That’s the Sears Tower. If there’s one thing being in New York should have taught you, it’s this: “Don’t look up at the tall buildings, or you’ll look like a tourist.” But since you’ve come all this way, it makes sense to get a hotel, so take a cab from Union Station or Greyhound to the hotel – unless you’re flying in, in which case you can take the CTA train to within a block of a good hotel.

Of course, with the way the schedules run (and with my having to concentrate on real-world duties rather than write this, sorry), you won’t be able to leave by anything other than plane and get there in time for the first game of the series. A drawback to the Cubs playing mostly day games.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. The directions are rather simple, down to (almost but not quite literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key.

If you were going directly to Wrigley Field (not a good idea, as it has that one awful trait that all the pre-1930s ballparks had, minimal parking), you’d take Exit 48B for State Route 64/North Avenue, turn right onto North, turn left on Sheffield Avenue, and then turn left on Clark Street. Wrigley is bounded by Clark Street (3rd base), Addison Street (1st base), Sheffield Avenue (right field) and Waveland Avenue (left field).

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, and half an hour in Illinois before you reach your hotel. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 18 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not flying.

Tickets. In spite of the White Sox normally being the better tema on the field, the Cubs have had the better attendance. This season, the Cubs are averaging 35,217 for home games, the White Sox just 22,745, even though the Sox are 4 games under .500 and 5½ games out of 1st place in the American League Central Division, while the Cubs are 12 games under and 10 games out in the National League Central. In fact, the Cubs have had a higher attendance than the White Sox every season starting in 1994, even though the Sox were then in a very good period and have actually won a Pennant and a World Series since: Even in their title season of 2005, the Sox trailed the Cubs in per-game attendance, 24,437 to 39,138. The Sox’ record is 36,511 in 2007, and the Cubs had 39,040.

So, as you might guess, getting tickets to Cubs games isn’t easy. Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, “Anybody buyin’? Anybody sellin’?” scalpers swarm the streets. Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, you should avoid them.

Also like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, even from legitimate sources, you’re probably going to pay a bundle. Lower-level seats go for $112 for Club Boxes, $100 for Field Box Infield, $79 for Field Box Outfield, $72 for Terrace Box Infield is $72, $47 for Terrace Reserved, $30 for the entire Upper Deck, and $72 for the legendary Bleachers, but those will be sold out anyway.

As for seats on the rooftops on Waveland and Sheffield, price and availability depends on the landlord, but why would you go all the way to Wrigley Field and NOT watch a game IN Wrigley Field?

Friday’s game is a 1:20 start – that’ll be Central Time. Saturday will be the Fox game at 3:10, and Sunday will be the ESPN game at 7:05. (Eastern Time, 2:20, 4:10 and 8:05.) So you’ll get the experience of daytime baseball in “The Friendly Confines at Wrigley Field,” a choice, as opposed to the no choice you would have gotten in the pre-lights era, up until 1988.

Going In. To get to Wrigley from downtown, take the Red Line train to Addison. It’s about a 20-minute ride, making it faster than from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.

The area around Wrigley, originally known as Lake View (even though Lake Michigan isn’t really in view) but known as Wrigleyville almost continuously since the Cubs’ 1969 “September Swoon” season, should look and feel familiar, as it is reminiscent of a lot of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and North Jersey. The first time I visited, I thought I was in Newark, Bloomfield, Belleville. Only nicer.

You’ll be most likely to enter by the right field gate at Addison & Sheffield, or the home plate gate at Clark & Addison, under the legendary marquee saying:

WRIGLEY FIELD
HOME OF
CHICAGO CUBS

The last time I visited, there was a Cubs Walk of Fame outside the home plate entrance. I’ve heard that it’s no longer there. I hope it is.

At the right field gate is a statue of Harry Caray, who broadcast for the St. Louis Cardinals (1945-69), the White Sox (1971-81) and the Cubs (1982-97). He’s posed as if he’s leaning out the press box window, microphone catching the fans as they sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with him in the 7th Inning Stretch. (On my first visit, in 1990, he was leaning so far out of the press box, I thought he was going to fall out. He didn’t, and kept broadcasting for the Cubs until he died just before the 1998 season began.) The base of his statue is a replica of Wrigley itself.

The place is surrounded by famous bars, including, going clockwise: The Cubby Bear (on the opposite corner of Clark & Addison), Slugger’s and Goose Island (across Clark from each other at the corner of Eddy Street), Casey Moran’s (at Clark & Patterson Avenue), Bernie’s Tavern (at Clark & Waveland), Gingerman’s (up Clark at Racine Avenue), and Murphy’s Bleachers (on the corner of Sheffield & Waveland). Fortunately, the streets surrounding the park have lots of souvenir shops and stands, another easy comparison with Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Unfortunately, this very commercial area also has a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell and a Starbucks.

The ballpark faces northeast, away from downtown and the city’s skyscrapers. If you’re expecting a nice view, forget it, it looks rather ordinary. Besides, at Wrigley, “the view” is the ballpark itself, the old poles, the brick walls, the ivy, the bleachers, the old scoreboard. The ivy and the scoreboard were both put up by Bill Veeck, future Browns, Indians & White Sox owner, when he worked for the Cubs in 1937. His father, also named Bill Veeck, had been a Chicago sportswriter and Cubs executive. Previously, ivy had been on the walls of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and the park of Indianapolis’ Triple-A team.

The distances are 355 to the left field pole and 353 to right, 368 to both power alleys (making it hard for a pull hitter but great for an alley hitter), and 400 to dead center, although the farthest point is a little to the right of that, as Wrigley is not symmetrical. And the first thing I noticed when I went exploring on my first visit is how much smaller the ballpark building is than the New York stadiums were: A walk from the left field corner to the right field corner was shockingly quick. (Although I should point out that there wasn’t a lot of obstruction on the concourse: There were only 15,495 fans in the park that day, September 13, 1990. The Cubs beat the Phillies, 6-5.) Note also that, like the old Yankee Stadium, you can’t get into the Bleachers from the rest of the park.

The park opened in 1914, as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, owned by Charles Weeghman, owner of a chain of lunch counters that were the precursor to today’s fast-food joints. When the FL folded, “Lucky Charlie” bought the Cubs, and moved them into Weeghman Park. But he fell on hard times, and sold the team. In 1921, it became Cubs Park, and the NFL’s Chicago team moved in, changing their name to match the Cubs: The Chicago Bears. William Wrigley Jr. bought the team in 1925, renamed it Wrigley Field, and added an upper deck in 1927. He died in 1932, and his son Philip K. Wrigley owned the team until his death in 1977, and his son William sold the team to the Chicago Tribune Company in 1981. The Trib finally sold the team in 2010, after presiding over the team’s most profitable, yet most frustrating, era.

As I said, the park’s two best-known features, the ivy and the bleachers, “only” go back to 1937; so while they were there when the Yankees played there in the 1938 World Series, they were not there in 1932 when Babe Ruth… well, you know what they SAY he did there in that Series..

Capacity is officially 41,160, although it was around 38,000 almost continuously from the addition of the bleachers in 1938 until 2005.

Food. As one of America’s greatest food cities, in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Chicago ballparks to have lots of good options. The White Sox do. The Cubs? Not really. In fact, I’d say Wrigley’s biggest flaw is its food. The food is okay, but nothing special like the Sox have always had; considering that the park’s builder, Charlie Weeghman, was a restaurateur, this is a bit surprising.

The have concession stands all over, including one in the upper deck, an open patio right over the famed marquee. The Sheffield Grill and the pricier Captain Morgan Club are in the right field corner. They have a hot dog stand called “The Works Loaded Dogs,” a pizza stand called the Italian Hot Spot, an ice cream stand called Chillville Custard Co., and CC’s Frozen Drinks – not connected to CC Sabathia.

Team History Displays. As I said, the Cubs had a Walk of Fame outside the marquee entrance, but I don’t know if it’s still there. They have flags on the foul poles honoring their retired numbers: 10, Ron Santo, 3rd base 1960-73, broadcaster 1990-2010; 14, Ernie Banks, shortstop and 1st base, 1953-71, a.k.a. Mr. Cub, possibly the most popular athlete in Chicago history, ahead of Walter Payton, Bobby Hull and even Michael Jordan; 23, Ryne Sandberg, 2nd base 1982-97; 26, Billy Williams, left field 1959-71; 31, dual retirement for pitchers Ferguson Jenkins, 1966-73 and 1982-83, and Greg Maddux, 1986-92 and 2004-06.

The Banks, Santo and Jenkins flags are on the left field pole; the Williams, Sandberg and Maddux flags are on the right field pole. Banks, Williams and Jenkins are in the Baseball Hall of Fame (Jenkins is the only Canadian in it), Maddux becomes eligible in 2014, and Santo is one of the players not in the Hall who is most often cited as deserving of election.

Santo, who called himself “the single biggest Cubs fan of all time,” died last December, and in his memory the Cubs are wearing patches with his Number 10 on them this season. As I said, a statue of Harry Caray is outside the park, and one of Santo will join it this August. Another legendary broadcaster, Jack Brickhouse, is honored with his signature call “Hey Hey” going down each foul pole.

Stuff. Clubhouse stores are located on the first level of the park, behind home plate and at each outfield corner. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.

As one of those supposedly “cursed” teams, and playing in a literary city (Chicago has produced a LOT of great writers), a lot of books have been written about the Cubs. Peter Golenbock, who wrote the oral histories Dynasty about the 1949-64 Yankees, Amazin’ about the Mets and Bums about the Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote Wrigleyville, which includes first-person accounts going back to the beginning of the franchise in 1876, thanks to writings left behind by early Cubs greats like Al Spalding, Cap Anson and Mike (King) Kelly, and interviews with the famed infield of Tinker-Evers-Chance and Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown.

Available DVDs include Chicago Cubs: The Heart and Soul of Chicago, Chicago Cubs: We Believe (a variation of a similarly-titled video about the Red Sox, including reminiscences of some of the many singers and actors who came from the Chicago area and are Cub fans), the Harry Caray tribute Hello Again Everybody, and the new tribute video Ron Santo: A Perfect Ten.

Only once since the official World Series highlight films started have the Cubs won a Pennant, so if you want to see them on an official WS film, you’ll have to get the Detroit Tigers’ package that includes the 1945 World Series. Instead of titling a package The Essential Games of Wrigley Field, they have Chicago Cubs Legends: Great Games Collector’s Edition. This box set includes the entire broadcasts of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998, Sammy Sosa hitting his 61st and 62nd homers of the 1998 season, Greg Maddux’s 300th win in 2004, and a 5-for-5 game by Derrek Lee in 2005, plus a few extras such as Banks’ 500th home run in 1971, and the final outs of their 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2004 Division clinchers and the 1998 Wild Card Playoff.

During the Game. You do not have to worry about wearing Yankee gear in Wrigley Field. Met gear, maybe. Milwaukee Brewers gear, possibly (although Brewers fans hate the Cubs much more than vice versa). St. Louis Cardinals gear, definitely. But Interleague play has set up Yanks vs. Cubs so rarely, and the 1930s World Series are so far back, that any hatred Cubs fans have for the Yankees isn’t going to be at the level of Mets, Red Sox, or even Orioles fans. Maybe if the Cubs had hung onto that lead in 2003 and then faced the Yanks in the World Series... I would have enjoyed watching such a Series. I could have tolerated losing to the Cubs. But the Marlins? Oy...

Wayne Messmer is the public address announcer, and usually the National Anthem singer, having also done the Anthem for Chicago Blackhawks hockey games. He also has a radio talk show on WIND, AM 560, on Saturday mornings.

The Bleacher Bums, first semi-organized in 1967, were the original Bleacher Creatures. They got called “bums” because the games were all in daytime, so why weren’t they at their jobs? In fact, many of the originals, in the late Sixties, were students at area colleges such as DePaul University, Loyola University, Northwestern University and the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. After getting beaten up by Cardinal fans (the Cards won Pennants in ’67 and ’68), one of them came to the next game wearing a bright yellow construction worker’s hard hat. Soon, lots of fans were wearing those, and they can still be seen in the Bleachers today.

These guys started the tradition, no longer allowed at any other ballpark, of throwing back home runs hit by opposing players. (This can be seen in the 1994 film Rookie of the Year.) On my first visit in 1990, Dale Murphy, then with the Phillies, hit one out off Rick Sutcliffe, and it went onto Waveland. Not a seat-seeking missile, a street-seeking missile. I figured that’ll prevent it from getting thrown back. Wrong! A guy on the street threw the ball into the Bleachers, hitting the cutoff man if you will, and then it was thrown back onto the field! These people are dedicated.

A fan you might see is Ronnie “Woo-Woo” Wickers. Harry Caray called him “Leather Lungs” for his ability to yell, “Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo!” for hours at a time. Although he’s black and not quite as old (he turns 70 this year) and doesn’t have a pan and a spoon, it’s fair to say he’s the Cubs’ answer to the late Freddy “Sez” Schuman.

Another fan you might see is Jerry Pritikin, who calls himself the Bleacher Preacher. He wears a propeller beanie, and to new Cub fans, the Preacher lays his hands on them, and baptizes them, “In the name of the father, Bill Veeck Sr.; the son, Bill Veeck Jr., and the Cubs’ holy spirit, Charlie Grimm.” (The father being the team president, the son being the scoreboard-builder and ivy-planter who went on to own other teams, and Grimm was a Cub player, manager, and all-around ambassador, managing them to the 1932 and ’35 Pennants.)

A fan you will almost certainly not see is Steve Bartman. You know the details; he’s the anti-Jeffrey Maier. He was sitting in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113. Along with the red seat in Fenway Park’s bleachers, where Ted Williams hit the (supposed) longest homer the park’s history, it’s probably the most famous single seat in baseball. To his credit, Bartman asked Marlin fans offering him gifts, including money, to send it instead to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Cubs’ official charity due to Santo’s involvement, having dealt with the illness. Bartman was once offered $25,000 to autograph a picture of himself after the incident, and turned it down. Where is he today, and what is he doing? Apparently, he’s still in the Chicago area, still working in the same field, and still coaching youth baseball.

Due to WGN cameras focusing on attractive women in the stands in that 1984 season, the Cubs may have the highest percentage of female fans of any time. But don't quote me on that: Both times I was there, Wrigley didn't exactly have an overly female atmosphere. It wasn't like a WNBA game or a figure-skating meet. But there have been times when the Friendly Confines seems like the world's largest singles bar. (As opposed to the old Comiskey Park, which Bill Veeck famously nicknmed "The World's Largest Saloon.")

For years, but no longer, Cub radio broadcasts began with the Harry Simeone Chorale (interestingly, based in Newark, New Jersey) singing “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game,” which can be heard at the beginning of some of the World Series highlight films of the 1960s. The Cubs have a semi-official theme song, sung by then-broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd during their ultimately failed 1969 Pennant run, invoking both men’s catchphrases: “Hey Hey! Holy Mackerel! (The Cubs Song).” It went, “Hey hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on the way... ” Yeah, I know, not much better than “Here Come the Yankees” or “Meet the Mets.”

Wrigley is supposedly a hitters’ park, due to the close power alleys and the wind. Don’t be fooled by this: Half the time, the wind is blowing in, and when that happens, it becomes a great pitchers’ park. The Cubs have never been worth a damn without good pitching; when they have had it, such as in 1945, 1969, 1984, 1998 and 2003, and have taken advantage of the true nature (literally) of Wrigley Field, they’ve been tough to beat.

The Cubs don’t have a mascot. For years, they didn’t need one; they had Harry Caray. He started his tradition of leaning out the window of the press box and leading fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch at the old Comiskey Park when he was doing White Sox games in the Seventies; Sox owner Bill Veeck heard this, and suggested Harry keep the radio mike on so that everyone could hear it. Harry took the tradition with him to Wrigley, and when they made their Pennant run in 1984, on WGN, one of the nation’s first cable “superstations,” suddenly everyone knew about it. That season, that station, that song, and that broadcaster saved, if not the Cubs, then certainly Wrigley Field: Had that season not happened, there’s a very good chance the Cubs and Bears could now be sharing some antiseptic dome out in the suburbs, maybe out by O’Hare. (The Allstate Arena, formerly the Rosemont Horizon, is out there; DePaul University plays its home basketball games there.)

With Harry gone, celebrities take turns singing the song. In the first season after Harry’s death, 1998, opposing broadcasters were the most frequent singers, including the Phillies’ Harry Kalas, the Cardinals’ Jack Buck (Harry’s former partner) and the Dodgers’ Vin Scully. (I don’t think any of the Mets’ broadcasters did; if they had, it would have been put on the local news.) Chicago and Chicago-area sports legends have taken their turns, including Banks, Sandberg, Mike Ditka, and, the last time I visited, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. I do not know who will be doing it this weekend; hopefully, it won’t be Ozzy Osbourne again.

Traditionally, when the Cubs win, a white flag with a W goes up on the flagpole behind the scoreboard, underneath the Stars & Stripes. When they lose, it’s a blue flag with a white L. Chip Caray, Harry’s grandson and now a Cub broadcaster, waits for the last out, and says, “White Flag time at Wrigley!” This caught on, and now fans bring their W flags to games.

However, much more often, the Cubs will lose. Steve Goodman, who wrote the classic song “The City of New Orleans,” and was himself dying of leukemia, wrote “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” This song will NOT be played at Wrigley, but it sums up what being a Cub fan feels like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xBxZGQ1dJk

In 1984, Goodman wrote and recorded "Go Cubs Go," and was invited to sing the National Anthem before one of their Playoff games. But his leukemia called him out, and he died late in the season. His recording of "Go Cubs Go" is now played after every win.

After the Game. The neighborhood should be safe after a day game, but after a night game – they still play only 18 night games a year there, to keep the tradition going – with all that extra time to drink, it can get a little rough. But you probably won’t get anything more than a little verbal. As I said, they don’t hate the Yankees as much as they hate the Mets.

Of the surrounding bars, I liked Murphy’s Bleachers the best, but I wouldn’t recommend going to any of them after the game. Better to try one of them before the game, when Cub fans are less likely to be agitated (positively or negatively) over the game.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I found listings of 3 Chicago bars where New York Giants fans gather: Red Ivy, just south of Wrigley at 3519 N. Clark Street; The Bad Dog Tavern, 4535 N. Lincoln Avenue (Brown Line to Western); and Trinity, at 2721 N. Halsted Street (Brown or Purple Line to Diversey). And I found these 2 which show Jets games: Rebel Bar & Grill, also just south of Wrigley at 3462 N. Clark; and Butch McGuire's, 20 W. Division Street (Red Line to Clark/Division).

*

Sidelights. Chicago is one of the best sports cities, not just in America, but on the planet. Check out the following – but do it in daylight, as the city’s reputation for crime, while significantly reduced from its 1980s peak, is still there:

* Comiskey Park – old and new. The longtime home of the Chicago White Sox, 1910 to 1990, was at 324 W. 35th Street at Shields Avenue (a.k.a. Bill Veeck Drive), and is now a parking lot, with its infield painted in. This was the home field of Big Ed Walsh (the pitcher supposedly helped design it to be a pitchers’ park), Eddie Collins, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the “Black Sox,” Luke Appling, the great double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox of the ’59 “Go-Go White Sox,” Dick Allen, the 1977 “South Side Hit Men” of Richie Zisk, and the 1983 Division Champions of Carlton Fisk, LaMarr Hoyt and Harold Baines.

The old Comiskey was also where future Yankee stars Russell “Bucky” Dent and Rich “Goose” Gossage began their careers, and where, in the last game the Yankees ever played there, Andy Hawkins pitched a no-hitter – and lost, thanks to his own walks and 3 errors in the 8th inning. The NFL’s Chicago Cardinals played there from 1922 to 1959, and the franchise, now the Arizona Cardinals, won what remains their only NFL Championship Game (they didn’t call ‘em Super Bowls back then) there in 1947. And in 1979, during what was supposed to be intermission between games of a White Sox vs. Tigers doubleheader, was Disco Demolition Night. Today, it’s called a fiasco, but the sentiment was right: Disco really did suck. But the biggest music event there was the Beatles' concert on August 20, 1965.

The new one, built in 1991, is across the street at 333 W. 35th Street. It was called Comiskey Park until 2003, when it became U.S. Cellular Field. Here, the White Sox won the 1993 AL West title, were in position to win the 1994 AL Central title when the strike hit, won the Central in 2000, went all the way in 2005, and won the Central again in 2008. A lot of people don’t like this park, but I do. Red Line to Sox-35th.

* Previous Chicago ballparks. The Cubs previously played at these parks:

State Street Grounds, also called 23rd Street Grounds, 1874-77, winning the NL’s first Pennant in 1876, 23rd, State, and Federal Streets & Cermak Road (formerly 22nd Street), Red Line to Cermak-Chinatown.

Lakefront Park, also called Union Base-Ball Grounds and White-Stocking Park (the Cubs used the name “Chicago White Stockings” until 1900, and the AL entry then took the name), 1878-84, winning the 1880, ’81 and ’82 Pennants, Michigan Avenue & Randolph Street in the northwest corner of what’s now Millennium Park, with (appropriately) Wrigley Square built on the precise site, Randolph/Wabash or Madison Wabash stops on the Loop.

West Side Park I, 1885-91, winning the 1885 and ’86 Pennants, at Congress, Loomis, Harrison & Throop Streets, now part of the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Blue Line to Racine.

South Side Park, 1891-93, just east of where the Comiskey Parks were built.

West Side Park II, 1893-1915, winning the 1906 and 1910 Pennants and the 1907 and 1908 World Series, the only World Series the Cubs have ever won, at Taylor, Wood and Polk Streets and Wolcott Avenue, now the site of a medical campus that includes the Cook County Hospital, the basis for the TV show ER, Pink Line to Polk.

Prior to the original Comiskey Park, the White Sox played at a different building called South Side Park, at 39th Street (now Pershing Road), 38th Street, & Wentworth and Princeton Avenues, a few blocks south of the Comiskey Parks.

* United Center and site of Chicago Stadium. From 1929 to 1994, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks played at Chicago Stadium, “the Madhouse on Madison,” at 1800 W. Madison Street at Wood Street. The NBA’s Bulls played there from 1967 to 1994. The United Center opened across the street at 1901 W. Madison at Honore Street. At the old Stadium, the Blackhawks won Stanley Cups in 1934, ’38 and ’61, and the Bulls won NBA Titles in 1991, ’92 and ’93. At the United Center, the Bulls won in 1996, ’97 and ’98 and the Blackhawks won the 2010 Cup. The Democrats had their Convention at Chicago Stadium in 1932, ’40 and ’44, nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt each time; the Republicans also had their Convention there in ’32 and ’44. The Democrats held court (or rink) at the United Center in 1996, their first Convention in Chicago since the disaster of 1968. And Elvis Presley gave concerts at the Stadium on June 16 and 17, 1972 -- giving the last of these as burglars were breaking into the Watergate complex in Washington. Blue Line to Illinois Medical District (which can also be used to access the site of West Side Park II and ER), or Green or Pink Line to Ashland-Lake.

* Soldier Field. Opened in 1924, and for years was best known as the site of the Chicago College All-Star Game (a team of graduating seniors playing the defending NFL Champions) from 1934 to 1976, and as the site of the 1927 heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, the famed “Long Count” fight, which may have had what remains the greatest attendance ever for a U.S. sporting event, with figures ranging from 104,000 to 130,000, depending on who you believe. It definitely was the site of the largest football crowd ever, 123,000 to see Notre Dame play USC a few weeks after the Long Count; in spite of various expansions, the universities of Michigan and Tennessee and Penn State still can’t top this. Games of the 1994 World Cup were also held at the old Soldier Field.

Amazingly, the Bears played at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970, with the occasional exception. The story I heard is that Bears founder-owner-coach George Halas was a good friend of both the Wrigley and Veeck families, and felt loyalty to them and that’s why he stayed at Wrigley despite having just 47,000 seats for football. But I heard another story that Halas was a Republican and didn’t like Chicago’s Democratic Mayor, Richard J. Daley (whose son Richard M. recently left office having broken his father’s record for longest-serving Mayor), and didn’t want to pay the city Parks Department a lot of rent. (Also, Halas was known to be cheap: Mike Ditka, who nonetheless loved his old boss, said, “Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.”) The real reason the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 was Monday Night Football: Halas wanted the revenue, and Wrigley didn’t have lights until 1988.

A 2002-03 renovation demolished all but the famed Greek-style columns that used to hang over the stadium, and are now visible only from the outside. It doesn’t look like “Soldier Field” anymore. Capacity is now roughly what it was in the last few years prior to the renovation, 61,500. And while the Bears won 8 NFL Championships from 1921 to 1963 while playing at Wrigley (8 more titles than the Cubs have won there), they’ve only won one more at Soldier Field, the 1985 title capped by Super Bowl XX. The Monsters of the Midway have been tremendous underachievers since leaving Wrigley. 1410 S. Museum Campus Drive, at McFetridge and Lake Shore Drives, a bit of a walk from Roosevelt station on the Green, Orange and Red Lines.

* Site of Chicago Coliseum. There were 2 buildings with this name that you should know about. One hosted the 1896 Democratic National Convention, where William Jennings Bryan began the process of turning the Democratic Party from the conservative party it had been since before the Civil War into the modern liberal party it became, a struggle that went through the Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt years before it finally lived up to its promise under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It was here that Bryan gave the speech for which he is most remembered, calling for the free coinage of silver rather than sticking solely to the gold standard: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Now a part of Jackson Park, at 63rd Street & Stony Island Avenue. 63rd Street Metra (commuter rail) station.

The other was home to every Republican Convention from Theodore Roosevelt’s in 1904 to Warren Harding’s in 1920, including the 1912 Convention where TR split from the party after being maneuvered out of the nomination to return to office, and his subsequent Progressive Party Convention was also held there. It was also the original home of the Blackhawks, from 1926 to 1929 and briefly again in 1932. In 1935, roller derby was invented there. In 1961, an NBA expansion team, the Chicago Packers, played there, becoming the Zephyrs in 1962 and moving to become the Baltimore Bullets in 1963. The Coliseum hosted a few rock concerts before the Fire Department shut it down in 1971, and it was demolished in 1982. The Soka Gakkai USA Culture Center, a Buddhist institute, now occupies the site. East side of Wabash Avenue at 15th Street, with today’s Coliseum Park across the street. Appropriately enough, the nearest CTA stop is at Roosevelt Avenue.

* Site of International Amphitheatre. Home to the Bulls in their first season, 1966-67, and to the World Hockey Association’s Chicago Cougars from 1972 to 1975, this arena, built by the stockyards in 1934, was home to a lot of big pro wrestling cards. Elvis Presley sang here on March 28, 1957. The Beatles played here on September 5, 1964 and August 12, 1966. But it is best known as a site for political conventions. Both parties met there in 1952, the Democrats in 1956, the Republicans in 1960, and, most infamously, the Democrats in 1968, with all the protests. The main protests for that convention were in Grant Park and a few blocks away on Michigan Avenue in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, one of the convention headquarters (now the Chicago Hilton & Towers. 720 S. Michigan), but the Amphitheatre itself, torn down in 1999, was at 4220 S. Halsted Street, where an Aramark plant now stands. Red Line to 47th Street. NOT to be visited after dark; indeed, unless you’re really interested in political history, I’d say, if you have to drop one item from this list, this is the one.

* Northwestern University. Chicago’s Big Ten school is just north of the city, in Evanston. Dyche Stadium/Ryan Field, and McGaw Hall/Welsh-Ryan Arena, are on Ashland Avenue between Central Street (Purple Line) and Isabella Street. And while Northwestern’s athletic teams have traditionally been terrible, the school has a very important place in sports history: The first NCAA basketball tournament championship game was held there in 1939, at Patten Gymnasium, at 2145 Sheridan Road. The original Patten Gym was torn down a year later, and the school’s Technological Institute was built on the site. Sheridan Road, Noyes Street and Campus Drive. Purple Line to Noyes.

* Museums. Chicago’s got a bunch of good ones, as you would expect in a city of 3 million people. Their version of New York’s Museum of Natural History is the Field Museum, just north of Soldier Field. Adjacent is the Shedd Aquarium. On the other side of the Aquarium is their answer to the Hayden Planetarium, the Adler Planetarium. And they have a fantastic museum for which there is no real analogue in New York, though the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is similar: The Museum of Science & Industry, at 57th Street & Cornell Drive, near the University of Chicago campus; 56th Street Metra station. The Art Institute of Chicago is their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 111 S. Michigan Avenue, just off the Loop.

* Ferris Bueller’s Day Off If you’re a fan of that movie, as I am (see my 25th Anniversary retrospective), not only will you have taken in Wrigley Field, but you’ll recognize the Art Institute as where Alan Ruck focused on Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Other sites visited by Ferris, Cameron and Sloane were the Sears Tower, then the tallest building in the world and still (under its new official name of the Willis Tower, at least until New York’s Freedom Tower is topped off) the tallest in America, 1,454 feet, 233 S. Wacker Drive (yes, the name is Wacker), Quincy/Wells station in the Loop; and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 335 S. La Salle Street, LaSalle/Van Buren station in the Loop (also where Steve Martin & John Candy finally reached Chicago in Planes, Trains and Automobiles). I’m not sure what street the von Steuben Day Parade went down.

While the Bueller house was in Long Beach, California, the Frye house is in Highland Park, north of the city. Remember, it’s a private residence, and not open to the public, so I won’t provide the address, even though I know it. And the restaurant, Chez Quis, did not and does not exist. Nor did, or does, Adam's Ribs, a barbecue joint made famous in a 1974 M*A*S*H episode of the same title,

Today, there are 18 restaurants in America named Adam's Ribs, including two on Long Island, on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park and on the Montauk Highway in Babylon; and another on Cookstown-Wrightstown Road outside South Jersey's Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. But only one is anywhere near Chicago, in Buffalo Grove in the northwestern suburbs.

Not far from that, in the western suburbs, is Wheaton, home town of football legend Red Grange and the comedic Belushi Brothers, John and Jim. John and Dan Aykroyd used Wrigley Field in The Blues Brothers, and Jim played an obsessive Cubs fan in Taking Care of Business. Their father, an Albanian immigrant, ran a restaurant called The Olympia Cafe, which became half the basis for John's Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, better known as the Cheeseburger Sketch: "No hamburger! Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger... No fries, chips!... No Coke, Pepsi!"

Don Novello, an SNL writer who played Father Guido Sarducci, said the other half of the inspiration was the Billy Goat Tavern, originally operated by Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis, originator of the supposed Billy Goat Curse on the Cubs, across Madison Street from Chicago Stadium, from 1937 until 1963. At that point, Sianis moved to the lower deck of the double-decked Michigan Avenue, since it was near the headquarters of the city's three daily newspapers, the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and the now-defunct Daily News. Mike Royko, who wrote columns for each of these papers, made it his haunt and frequently mentioned it in his columns. Novello and Bill Murray, Chicagoans, were regulars at the Billy Goat; Belushi later said he'd never set foot in the place. And, while Sam Sianis, nephew of the original Billy, still serves up a fantastic cheeseburger (he was there when I visited in 1999), he deviates from the sketch: No Pepsi, Coke. It's open for breakfast, and serves regular breakfast food. It looks foreboding, being underneath the elevated part of Michigan Avenue, and a sign out front (and on their website) says, "Enter at your own risk." But another sign says, "Butt in anytime." 430 N. Michigan Avenue, lower deck, across from the Tribune Tower. Red Line to Grand. The original location near Chicago Stadium has effectively been replaced, at 1535 W. Madison Street.

You may notice some other film landmarks. The Chicago Board of Trade Building was used as the Wayne Tower in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. And Chicago stood in for Metropolis in the Superman-themed TV series Lois & Clark, with the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower as standout landmarks.

*

Every American should visit Chicago. And every baseball fan should see a game at Wrigley Field. Along with Fenway, it's the last ballpark standing from before World War I -- and now, one of the last two still in major league use from before the JFK years. It's the last ballpark in which Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson played, and along with Fenway one of only two left in which Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Rogers Hornsby played. And Wrigley has an added advantage that Fenway doesn't have: No Red Sox fans!