Monday, October 31, 2011

Top 10 Scariest People in Baseball History

A Halloween Special: The Top 10 Scariest People in Baseball History.

10. David Freese. Especially if you live in Texas.

9. Marvin Miller. The one man who ever scared the baseball team owners.

8. Dual Entry: George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. How could I not put them together?

7. Bob Gibson. "I didn't throw at a lot of batters, but when I did, I made sure I ht them." Gibson was the man Pedro Martinez only thought he was.

6. Carl Pavano. A zombie for the Yankees, a monster when he played for anyone else.

5. Bud Selig. He sucked the blood out of the 1994 postseason and the 2002 All-Star Game.

4. Walter O'Malley. He haunts Brooklyn to this day.

3. Ty Cobb. If you've ever heard of him, you know why.

2. Kevin Mitchell. Not because of the cat incident that Dwight Gooden apparently made up, but because of his curse on the Mets, now 25 years old.

1. Babe Ruth. He's been dead for 63 years, and he still scares the hell out of people, especially Red Sox fans.

*

October 31, 1887: Edouard Charles Lalonde is born. “Newsy” (from working in a newspaper plant) was one of early hockey’s greatest stars, winning 7 scoring titles and Captaining the Montreal Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup in 1916. On December 29, 1917, in the first-ever NHL game, he scored a goal on route to the Canadiens’ 7-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators. In 1922, the Canadiens angered him and a lot of their fans by trading him to the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Saskatoon Sheiks, but the Habs got future Hall-of-Famer Aurel Joliat in the deal.

From his retirement in 1927 until Maurice Richard surpassed him in 1954, his 455 goals in all leagues in which he played combined stood as a pro record. He was also the best lacrosse player of his era, and in 1950, he was named athlete of the half century in lacrosse. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950, the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1965, and the Sports Hall of Fame of Canada. He had lit the torch when the Sports Hall of Fame opened in Toronto in August, 1955. In 1998 he was ranked number 32 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, making him the highest-ranking player on the list who had played in a professional league before the founding of the NHL. He was the first Canadiens player to wear Number 4, and Joliat got it after the trade, but it was retired for later star Jean Beliveau.

October 31, 1933: Phil Goyette is born. The center won Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in 1957, ’58, ’59 and ’60. He was the first coach of the New York Islanders in 1972-73, but was fired due to a poor record midway through the season.

October 31, 1942: Dave McNally is born. He pitched a complete game to clinch the 1966 World Series for the Baltimore Orioles, and won another game and hit a grand slam in it to help them win it in 1970. His career won-lost record was a sterling 184-119. But he’s best known as one of the two pitchers, along with Andy Messersmith, who played the 1975 season without a contract to test the legality of the reserve clause. McNally, by then with the Montreal Expos, had been injured, had a successful ranch in his native Montana, and was ready to retire anyway, so he was an ideal player to make the test, since he didn’t need the money. The clause was overturned.

Also on this day, David Ogden Stiers is born. Best known as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, the pompous but sometimes surprisingly human surgeon on M*A*S*H, he has spent much of the last few years doing voiceovers for PBS documentaries – in his real voice, not in Charles’ Boston Brahmin accent. I still can't believe "Chahles" wore a Brooklyn Dodger cap in one episode.

October 31, 1943: Brian Piccolo is born. The All-American running back from Wake Forest overcame his natural prejudice to help Chicago Bears teammate Gale Sayers come back from a devastating knee injury, then developed lung cancer at died at age 26.

Shortly before Piccolo’s death, Sayers was given the NFL’s most courageous man award for winning the 1969 rushing title on a knee with no cartilage in it. At the award ceremony, he said he didn’t deserve the award, because Piccolo was showing more courage. “I love Brian Piccolo,” he said, “and tonight, when you get down on your knees to pray, I want you to ask God to love him, too.” The Bears retired Piccolo’s Number 41. In the 1971 film Brian’s Song, Piccolo was played by James Caan, and Sayers by Billy Dee Williams, career-making roles for both men.

October 31, 1946: Stephen Rea is born. He starred in The Crying Game and was nominated for an Oscar for it. He’s best known in the U.S. as Inspector Eric Finch, a good guy who figures out that he’s really working for the bad guys, in V for Vendetta, it was because of that film that he was the only actor besides Colin Firth that I recognized from the original, British soccer, version of Fever Pitch.

October 31, 1947: Frank Shorter is born. He won the Olympic marathon in 1972, and finished second in 1976. Thanks to his ’72 win, the Boston Marathon was reborn as an event the whole country wanted to watch, and the New York City Marathon, which started the year before, took off. It will be run again tomorrow, and nearly 50,000 runners will participate. Along with Jim Fixx and his Book of Running, Shorter is probably more responsible than anyone for the rise of recreational running in America. I leave it to you to decide whether that’s a good thing.

October 31, 1950: John Candy is born. In the closing minutes of Super Bowl XXIII, when the Cincinnati Bengals had just scored to take the lead, the San Francisco 49ers were nervous, when quarterback Joe Montana, pointed out of the huddle to the stands and said, “Isn’t that John Candy?” The question relaxed the players, and Montana drove them for the winning touchdown.

Candy played the Cubs’ broadcaster in Rookie of the Year, and I give him a lot of credit for playing someone similar to, but not a total caricature of, Cubs broadcasting legend Harry Caray. On the other side of Chicago, he also shot a scene at the old Comiskey Park in its closing days for Only the Lonely. Considering his weight, I’m not surprised that he died young (53), but I’m still sorry about it. He gave us a lot, but he had a lot more to give.

Also on this day, Jane Pauley is born. The longtime co-host of The Today Show on NBC, she is married to Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

October 31, 1951, 60 years ago today: Nick Saban is born. The son of legendary coach Lou Saban, he hasn’t yet moved around to as many coaching jobs, but he has moved around with considerably less ethics than his father. He did, however, lead Louisiana State to the 2003 National Championship, and Alabama to the 2009 edition. He now has 'Bama ranked Number 1 again.

October 31, 1953: John Lucas is born. He played both basketball and tennis professionally, and was a member of the Houston Rockets’ 1986 NBA Western Conference Champions. His overcoming of drug addiction led him to become an NBA head coach and an addiction counselor. He is currently an assistant coach under Mike Dunleavy of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Like Dunleavy, he has a son who played in the NBA, John Lucas III, who, unlike his father whose 1974 Maryland team was prevented under the rules of the time from playing in the NCAA Tournament due to its loss in the ACC Final, went to the 2004 Final Four with Oklahoma State. John III played in the NBA with the Rockets, was recently waived by the Miami Heat and is currently a free agent. Another son, Jai Lucas, now plays at the University of Texas.

October 31, 1959: Mats Naslund is born. The left wing was known as Le Petit Viking (the Little Viking) when he played for the Montreal Canadiens, a tenure that included the 1986 Stanley Cup, in which he became the most recent Canadien to score 100 or more points in a season. He helped Sweden win the 1994 Olympic Gold Medal, and as general manager of the team he built their 2006 Gold Medal team.

October 31, 1960: Mike Gallego is born. He was the starting second baseman on the Oakland Athletics’ 3 straight Pennants of 1988-90. In 1993, he was voted the second baseman on their 25th Anniversary team (25 years since they’d moved to Oakland). He briefly played for the Yankees in the early 1990s, and is now back with the A’s as a coach.

Also on this day, Reza Pahlavi is born. He was 18 years old and the Crown Prince of Iran when his father, the Emperor, Mohammed Reza Shah, was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Luckily for him, he was already in the U.S., training as a fighter pilot (much as was his cousin and fellow heir to a throne, now King Abdullah II of Jordan).

He now lives in Potomac, Maryland, outside Washington. Unlike his father, who ran a brutally repressive, unofficially fascist regime, he has been an outspoken supporter of human rights, saying that in order to bring freedom to his homeland, “Idealism and realism, behavior change and regime change do not require different policies but the same: empowering the Iranian people.” His supporters have referred to him as “His Imperial Majesty Reza Shah II” since his father’s death on July 27, 1980, but he officially calls himself “the former Crown Prince,” and admits he has no realistic hope of the monarchy being restored, even when the Ayatollahs are finally and rightfully toppled.

October 31, 1961, 50 years ago today: A federal judge rules that Birmingham‚ Alabama laws against integrated playing fields are illegal‚ eliminating the last barrier against integration in the Class AA Southern Association.

October 31, 1963: Fred McGriff is born. In 1982, the Yankees traded first baseman McGriff, young pitcher Mike Morgan and outfielder Dave Collins to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Dale Murray and third baseman Tom Dodd. Dodd did play one year in the majors, but for Baltimore, and is not the man for whom the ballpark belonging to the Norwich Navigators, a former Yankee farm team, is named. (That was Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut, father of current Senator Chris Dodd.) Murray got hurt and never contributed to the Yankees, either. Collins was pretty much finished, but in 2001, 19 years later, Morgan pitched against the Yankees in the World Series for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and McGriff was also still active. By trading him, the Yankees essentially traded 493 home runs for nothing.

Or did they? McGriff was 20 at the time, and did not reach the majors for another 4 years. Had he done so with the Yankees, he would have smacked right into Don Mattingly at his peak. The Yankees may not have had anyplace for him. Still, the trade looks bad. McGriff was involved in some other big trades: The Jays traded him to the San Diego Padres in 1990, a trade which brought them Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar, key figures in their 1992 and ’93 World Champions; and the Padres sent him to the Atlanta Braves as part of their 1993 “fire sale,” a pure “salary dump.”

McGriff hit the first home run at the SkyDome in 1989. With the Jays that season and the Padres in 1982, McGriff became the first player in the post-1920 Lively Ball Era to lead both leagues in home runs. He helped the Braves win the World Series in 1995, and later played for his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He now works in the Rays’ front office and as co-host for a show on Bright House Sports Network, a Tampa Bay-based outfit, and will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in its next election, this coming January. Despite falling 7 homers short of the magic 500 Club, he will probably make it, if not in his first year of eligibility then within the first couple of years thereafter. He was always popular – ESPN’s Chris Berman took the public-service-announcement character of “McGruff the Crime Dog” and nicknamed McGriff “Crime Dog” – and despite his home-run heroics, he has never been seriously suspected of steroid use. His son Erick McGriff plays football at the University of Kansas.

Also on this day, Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri is born. The Brazilian soccer player was nicknamed “Dunga” by an uncle, Portuguese for “Dopey,” since he was short and expected to stay that way. But the midfielder starred for several Brazilian teams, with his longest tenure at Internacional (like the Milan club known as “Inter” for short) of Porto Alegre; for Fiorentina in Italy and Stuttgart in Germany. Dunga was a member of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winners, but bombed as manager of the national team at the 2010 World Cup.

October 31, 1964: Marco van Basten is born. The striker starred for Ajax Amsterdam in his native Netherlands, winning League Championships in 1982, ’83 and ’85 and the Dutch Cup in ’83, ’86 and ’87 – meaning they won “The Double” in 1983. He moved on to AC Milan in Italy, winning Serie A in 1988, ’92 and ’93, and back-to-back European Cups (now the Champions League) in 1989 and ’90. He led the Netherlands to the European Championship in 1988. Three times he was named European Player of the Year, and the magazine France Football placed him 8th in a poll of the Football Players of the Century. He has managed both Ajax and the Netherlands national team.

October 31, 1966: Mike O’Malley is born. The comedian and actor, formerly star of Yes, Dear, is a tremendous Boston Red Sox fan. But he’s funny, so I forgive him.

October 31, 1968: Antonio Davis is born. After going undrafted out of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), he played pro basketball in Athens and Milan before signing with the Indiana Pacers. He was an All-Star for the perennial Playoff contenders and Knick nemeses, although they didn’t reach the NBA Finals until after he left.

October 31, 1970: Steve Trachsel is born. In 1996, the Chicago Cubs pitcher was named to the All-Star Team. In 1998,gave up Mark McGwire’s steroid-aided 62nd home run, but he also won the Playoff for the NL Wild. Since the Cubs only made the Playoffs 4 times in the 62 seasons between 1945 and 2007, this makes him a Wrigleyville hero for all time. He also pitched for the Mets, winning the NL East with them in 2006. He last pitched for the Baltimore Orioles in 2008, but has not officially retired.

October 31, 1972: The Philadelphia Phillies trade third baseman Don Money and 2 others to the Milwaukee Brewers for 4 pitchers‚ including Jim Lonborg and Ken Brett. This was a rare good trade for both teams: Lonborg was a key cog in the Phillies developing a pitching staff that would reach the Playoffs 6 times in 8 years from 1976 to 1983 (though Lonborg retired after ’78), Money helped stabilize the Brewers and make them a contender by 1978 and a Pennant winner in 1982, and trading him allowed the Phillies to make room for the best player in the history of Philadelphia baseball, Mike Schmidt.

October 31, 1973: David Dellucci is born. The outfielder was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks team that beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, and of the Yankee team that won the 2003 American League Pennant. He was released by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 and retired.

October 31, 1976: José María Gutiérrez Hernández is born. “Guti Hernandez” is a midfielder who starred for Real Madrid as they won Spain’s La Liga in 1997, 2001, 03, ’07 and ’08; and the Champions League in 1998, 2000 and ’02. He now plays for Besiktas in Turkey.

October 31, 1983: George Halas dies at age 88. He was the founder of the Chicago Bears, for all intents and purposes the founder of the NFL, formerly the winningest coach in NFL history (324), and no coach in the history of professional football has won as many league championships, 8: 1921, 1932, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1963. One of his last acts as owner was to hire former Bears star Mike Ditka as head coach, and Ditka would lead them to a 9th World Championship in 1985. When asked by Bob Costas in the locker room afterwards if he thought of “Papa Bear,” he said, “I always think of Coach Halas.”

This, despite a reputation for being cheap, which led Ditka to say, “George Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.” It was also Halas’ cheapness that kept the Bears in Wrigley Field, with a football capacity of just 47,000, in spite of Soldier Field having over 65,000 seats and lights, because he didn’t want to pay the rent the City of Chicago was demanding; the Bears didn’t move there until 1971, when the money available to teams on Monday Night Football, which couldn’t be played at then-lightless Wrigley, more than offset the cost of the rent. In spite of this, when the aforementioned Brian Piccolo got sick, Halas paid all his medical expenses and for his funeral.

An NFL Films documentary from 1977 showed Halas walking through the Bears’ practice facility at Lake Forest, Illinois (the main building is now named Halas Hall), and announcer John Facenda said it was “like visiting Mount Vernon and seeing George Washington still surveying the grounds.” He had planned to hand the team over to his son George Jr., but “Mugs” predeceased him. His daughter Virginia handed control to her husband, Ed McCaskey. Unfortunately, Big Ed handed a lot of control over to his and Virginia’s son, George’s grandson, Mike McCaskey, who ran the franchise into the ground before Big Ed took it back and handed it over to someone else prior to his own death. Virginia is still alive and the nominal owner of Da Bears.

October 31, 1987: Nick Foligno is born. The center plays for the Ottawa Senators. His brother Marcus Foligno is in the minor-league system of the Buffalo Sabres, for whom their father, Mike Foligno, was an All-Star.

October 31, 1998: Elmer Vasko dies at age 62. “Moose” was an All-Star defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks, winning the Stanley Cup with them in 1961.

October 31, 2001, 10 years ago today: Game 4 of the World Series. The Yankees trail the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th, and are about to fall behind in the World Series by the same margin of games. This is due in large part to the fine pitching of Curt Schilling, who was asked about the “mystique” of Yankee Stadium. He said, “Mystique, aura, those are dancers in a nightclub.” (Three years later, pitching for Boston, he would prove he was still not intimidated by Yankee Stadium, saying, “There’s nothing like making 55,000 Yankee fans shut up.”)

Byung-Hyun Kim, a “submarine” style pitcher from Korea, tries to close the Yankees out in the bottom of the 9th. But he lets a man on, and Tino Martinez comes to the plate. Tino electrifies the crowd but slamming a drive toward the upper deck. On the video, a fan in the front row of the upper deck tries to catch the ball, but it bounces off your hand. Now, imagine you’re that fan: Are you excited that the Yankees have come back in this World Series game, or are you mad that you were unable to catch this historic homer (and probably hurt your hand in the process)?

As the clock strikes midnight, for the first time ever – due to the week’s delay from the 9/11 attacks – a Major League Baseball game is played in the month of November. It is the bottom of the 10th, and Derek Jeter steps to the plate against Kim. A fan holds up a sign saying, “Mr. November.” (It’s often been asked, “How did he know to hold up that sign for Jeter?” The answer is easy: He didn’t hold it up specifically for Jeter. Jeter was just the batter when the clock struck 12, making him the first batter for whom it could be held up.)

At 12:03 came a typical Jeter hit, an inside-out swing to right-center, and it just... barely... got over the fence for a game-winning home run. Yankees 4, Diamondbacks 3. The Series was tied. The old ballyard was shaking. The “Yankee Mystique” had struck again. It is hits like this that have gotten Jeter the nickname “Captain Clutch.”

The next night, the first game to officially be played in the month of November, a fan made up a sign that said, “BASEBALL HISTORY MADE HERE” on what looked like an ancient scroll. Another fan made up a sign that said, “MYSTIQUE AND AURA APPEARING NIGHTLY.” (Two years later, in the Aaron Boone game, that same fan made up one that said, “MYSTIQUE DON’T FAIL ME NOW.” It didn’t.)

October 31, 2002: The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association votes 9-6 to prohibit the use of metal bats in the state high school tournament in 2003. Twenty five of 40 leagues will switch to wood for the regular season. The State is the first to outlaw metal bats. In this particular case, Massachusetts is ahead of the curve in baseball.

October 31, 2009: Alex Rodriguez's Game 3 fly ball in the right-field corner Citzens Bank Park becomes the subject of the first instant replay call in World Series history. The Yankees' third baseman hit, originally ruled a double, is changed by the umpires to a home run after the replay clearly shows the ball going over the fence before striking a television camera and bouncing back to the field.

Figures that A-Rod's first World Series home run would be controversial. But it does help make the difference, as the Yankees win, 8-5.

Mischief Night In Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Up for Lost Time

Here's the October 29 sports anniversaries I forgot to do. Don't worry, I'll only do them through November 4, which is, for the moment, the latest any World Series has ever ended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 29, 1921, 90 years ago: The Harvard University football team loses to Centre College of Danville, Kentucky, ending a 25-game winning streak. This is considered one of the biggest upsets in college football, as the “Praying Colonels” (no, I’m not making that mascot name up) were the first team from outside the East to beat one of the old “Big Three” of Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Today, Harvard, like all the Ivy League teams, is Division I-AA (or whatever the NCAA calls the second level of play now), while Centre is in Division III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 29, 1981, 30 years ago: Bill Giles‚ the Phillies vice president for the past 11 years‚ heads a group of investors which purchases the club for just over $30 million‚ the highest price paid to date for a ML club. Giles is the son of longtime NL president Warren Giles, and is now NL president himself, although this is a powerless, purely ceremonial role, pretty much limited to awarding the trophy named for his father to the NL’s Pennant winner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Can Game 7 Top Game 6? Sure -- For Whichever Team Wins It

Game Sixes have been legendary before.

1947: Al Gionfriddo robs Joe DiMaggio.

1951: DiMaggio's last game.

1953: Yanks beat Dodgers in bottom of 9th on Billy Martin's single, to clinch a 5th straight World Championship.

1965: Jim "Mudcat" Grant pitches a shutout and hits 2 home runs.

1975: Carlton Fisk does the Fenway Twist, capping what was already one of the greatest games ever.

1977: Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!

1978: Catfish and the Goose finish off the Bums.

1980: Carlton and McGraw give the Phillies their first title.

1985: Don Denkinger makes a mistake.

1986: John McNamara makes many mistakes -- even if you don't count leaving Bill Buckner in.

1991: Kirby Puckett saves the game with his glove, and wins it with his home run -- same inning as last night, 20 years later, and with Jack Buck's call from that homer being copied by his son Joe Buck last night: "And we'll see you tomorrow night!"

1992: Dave Winfield finally gets his ring.

1993: Joe Carter touches 'em all.

1995: David Justice's homer is all Tom Glavine needs.

1996: Joe Girardi's triple ends a drought -- well, it's a drought by Yankee standards.

2002: Giants blow a 5-0 lead and lose Game 7, too.

2003: Josh Beckett takes advantage of cold Yankee bats to win the last World Series game at the old Yankee Stadium.

2009: Hideki Matsui drives in 6 runs, including a homer off Pedro Martinez.

2011: The Rangers needed 1 more out in the 9th, and blew it. Then they took a 2-run lead in the 10th and needed just 1 more out, and blew it -- just like the Red Sox in '86. The difference is that, unlike the Mets, the Cardinals couldn't finish it off in the 10th, but they sure did in the 11th.

Imagine being born and raised in a great baseball city, growing up rooting for a storied team, and hitting a game-winning extra-inning home run for them in the World Series. David Freese now knows. As long as he's within a decent bus ride of St. Louis, he'll never have to buy another drink.

Can Game 7 top Game 6? Sure -- for whichever team wins it.

One thing's for sure: Ron Washington, the Rangers' manager is on the spot.

* In 1978, Tommy Lasorda flipped out over Reggie Jackson's "Sacrifice Thigh" in Game 4, and instead of calming his team down, telling them, "Okay, we got screwed, but it's just one loss, we can still win this thing," he stewed in his own juices, and the Dodgers followed his lead. From the "interference" play onward, the Yankees outscored the Dodgers 21 to 4.

* In 1980, the Royals were about to tie up the Series, when Dickie Noles brushed back George Brett. Royal manager Jim Frey flipped out, and didn't calm himself or his team down, and although they hung on to win, the Phillies won the next 2.

* In 1985, Whitey Herzog moaned about the Denkinger goof, and the Cardinals lost Game 7 11-0.

* In 1986, McNamara didn't remind the Red Sox that they still had to win only 1 more -- and the Sox were winning that Game 7 in the 5th and were only 1 run down in the 7th. It was still possible.

* In 1991... Well, the Braves did take it to the limit, and beyond. I can't fault Bobby Cox on that one.

* In 1993, Jim Fregosi didn't calm the Phillies down after blowing a 14-9 8th inning lead at home. Although the Phils did win Game 5, they lost Game 6 on the Carter homer.

* In 1996, Cox could be faulted. The Braves blew a 6-0 lead in Game 4, and were outscored 10-2 the rest of the way. He should have reminded them that the Series was still only tied.

* In 2001, Bob Brenly did calm the Diamondbacks down after their shocking walkoff losses in Games 4 and 5, and they pounded the Yanks in Game 6, and came from behind to win Game 7. So it can be done.

* In 2002, Dusty Baker proved he was capable of getting a team close, but couldn't be trusted to get his team to finish the opposition off. (Cincinnati Reds, are you listening? You've got a good team, but do you have the right manager?)

That Game 6 last night had 1986 Game 6 written all over it -- although the Rangers' drought of 40 seasons isn't even close to the 68 years the Red Sox had at the time. And if Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing is reading this, he'll bristle at his beloved '86 Mets being compared to any Cardinal team.

But that game, coupled with the rainout the night before, means the Cards can start Chris Carpenter, their ace, for Game 7.

This may be beyond Ron Washington. I'm not sure any manager can bring a team back from being soclose to winning the whole thing and blowing it.

The Cards have the momentum, their ace on the hill, Albert Pujols, and the home crowd. I think they're going to win it.

*

There's a column in today's Daily News that says the Mets should do what the Yankees did last year with their shortstop, Derek Jeter: Play hardball with Jose Reyes, lowball him, and let him take his chances with the other 29 teams.

There's a problem with that theory.

Reyes didn't grow up as a Met fan. He's much more likely to say, "To hell with you" (or it's Spanish equivalent) than to say, "Okay, okay, I give in."

He's also much more likely to get a good deal from someone else. After all, he's not going to be as expensive as Jeter, for the simple reason that he's not as good as Jeter.

Never was. Isn't now, even as a batting champion. Never will be.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October 28, 1981: It Sticks In My Craw

October 28, 1981, 30 years ago today: A dark day in my life, as the L.A. Bums finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, after 2 failed attempts in 1977 and ’78. Pedro Guerrero drives in 5 runs, and Burt Hooton and the Dodgers beat the Yankees 9-2 to win the World Series in 6 games. In a remarkable postseason‚ the Dodgers came from behind to win 3 series (down 2-0 to Houston and 2-1 to Montreal in the best-of-5 series).

Guerrero‚ Ron Cey‚ and Steve Yeager (2 home runs) are named co-MVPs‚ while Dave Winfield and relief pitcher George Frazier are the goats for New York. Winfield was just 1-for-21‚ while Frazier tied a Series record by losing 3 games. The record was set by the White Sox Lefty Williams in 1919‚ but Williams‚ one of the 8 "Black Sox‚" was losing on purpose.

The long-term effects on the Yankees were as follows:

* This was the last game that Reggie Jackson ever played for the Yankees, and George Steinbrenner refused to exercise the option for a 6th year on his contract, and Reggie happily accepted an offer from Gene Autry to return to the West Coast and play for the Angels.

* Winfield’s performance contrasted so much with Reggie’s Mr. October persona that George eventually nicknamed him Mr. May, never gave him the respect he deserved, and ended up chasing Dave out of town – coincidentally, also to the Angels, although Reggie was retired by that point – and getting himself in trouble with how he did it.

* George went through various experiments in managers and styles of play (booming bats one year, speed the next, and so on) to get the Yankees back on top, but they wouldn’t reach the World Series again for 15 years, giving the new ownership of the Mets the chance to become from 1984 to 1992 what they have not been since ’92, New York’s first team.

Blowing that lead, to the evil O'Malley Bums and their fat hypocritical slob of a manager, losing the Series at home, and when I was just 11 going on 12...

More than any other Yankee defeat, including this year's, 2001, 1995, the regular-season close call of 1985, even the disaster of 2004, this one sticks in my craw.

And, unlike with the 2004 Red Sox, I can't even rationalize it away by saying the Dodgers cheated!

That I know of.

Also on this day, Nate McLouth is born. In 2008, the center fielder for the Atlanta Braves was named to the All-Star Team and won a Gold Glove.

*

October 28, 1882: The Philadelphia Athletics reveal that, in the first season of the American Association, they reaped a $22‚000 profit‚ more than any National League team earned. This helps convince the NL that the AA is a viable league. However, within 10 years, both the league and this version of the Philadelphia Athletics will be gone anyway. But within 12 years of that, the AA name and the A’s name will be revived (but not in the same league).

October 28, 1904: After a 4th-place finish‚ the Cleveland Blues release Bill Armour and name Nap Lajoie manager. Armour takes over the Tigers‚ where Ed Barrow and Bobby Lowe split the season‚ as Detroit falls to 7th. But with their star second baseman, one of the game’s best hitters, as manager, the Cleveland team – now nicknamed the Naps for him – becomes a contender. After he leaves in 1914, they will jump on a bandwagon, seeing the team called the Braves as World Champions, and rename themselves the Cleveland Indians.

October 13, 1913: In the only time the two greatest pitchers of their time face each other‚ Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson square off at South Main Park in Tulsa‚ Oklahoma. Johnson‚ backed by the Chicago White Sox‚ wins the battle‚ 6-0‚ pitching the distance‚ while Matty exits after 4 innings. Johnson strikes out 8. Tris Speaker and Buck Weaver do the hitting for the Sox‚ while Oklahoma native, Sac and Fox Indian and fan favorite Jim Thorpe has 2 hits off Johnson. The game is delayed for nearly 2 hours when the stands collapse‚ injuring 52 people and killing a soldier. Governor R.L. Williams of Oklahoma narrowly escapes injury in the tragedy.

October 28, 1922: Butch van Breda Kolff is born. The Montclair, New Jersey native was an original member of the New York Knicks, playing from 1946 to 1950. He coached Princeton University to the first Final Four appearance of any New Jersey school, in 1965 with future Knick star and Senator Bill Bradley. But he’s best remembered as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1969, who saw Wilt Chamberlain come out for an injury with 5 minutes left in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, then ask to go back in with 2 minutes left. VBK refused to let him back in, and the Lakers lost Game 7 and the World Championship to the Boston Celtics by 2 points.

He was fired soon thereafter by Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke (who later owned the Washington Redskins), and spent the rest of his career in the college ranks before dying in 2007. His son Jan van Breda Kolff was Southeastern Conference Player of the Year with Vanderbilt in 1974, played for the Nets in both New York and New Jersey, and was also a college coach, including at his alma mater.

October 28, 1926: Bowie Kuhn is born. He was Commissioner of Baseball from 1969 to 1984 – though he often seemed like a puppet to Dodger owners Walter and later Peter O’Malley. He frequently acted, in his own words, “to preserve the integrity of the game,” but all too often he seemed more like the lawyer he was than the fan he should have been. He was prudish, moralistic, unimaginative, and a tool of the owners. That he, and not the leader of the players’ union, Marvin Miller, is now in the Hall of Fame is deeply disturbing – but not all that surprising. Like Butch van Breda Kolff, he died in 2007.

October 28, 1937: Lenny Wilkens is born. One of New York’s greatest basketball legends, he starred for Brooklyn’s Boys High, where he was a basketball teammate of future baseball star Tommy Davis, before moving up to New England (Seriously, Lenny?) to play for Providence College. He played for the St. Louis Hawks in the now-Atlanta franchise’s last NBA Finals appearance in 1961, and starred for the early Seattle SuperSonics before coaching the franchise to its only NBA Title in 1979. He was a 9-time All-Star, and at his retirement had more assists than any player except Oscar Robertson.

He’s also coached the Hawks, his hometown Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors, first coaching while still a player with the Sonics in 1969 and last (for now?) with the Knicks in 2005. He was the first NBA coach to win 1,000 games – and the first to lose 1,000. His totals of 1,332 wins and 1,155 losses are both records. He coached the U.S. team to the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal.

One of the oddities of his career is that the Hawks traded him immediately before moving to Atlanta, and he resigned his executive’s position with the Sonics as they moved to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. Providence retired his Number 14, and the Sonics retired his Number 19, in each case the first on the team to be so honored. Along with John Wooden and Bill Sharman he is one of just 3 people elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as player and elected again a coach. But he tops them both, and everyone else, in a manner of speaking by having been named, as part of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, as one of its 50 Greatest Players and one of its 10 Greatest Coaches, the only man to receive both honors.

October 28, 1944: Dennis Franz is born. Best known as Detective Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, he previously starred in the original Chicago production of Bleacher Bums, a play about Cub fans, of which he is one. You wanna make somethin’ of it?

October 28, 1946: Wim Jansen is born. The midfielder played most of his soccer career with his hometown club, Feyenoord Rotterdam. In 1970, he helped them to become the first Dutch team to win the European Cup, immediately preceding the 3 straight wins by their arch-rivals, Ajax Amsterdam.

October 28, 1949: Bruce Jenner is born. He won the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, becoming an international hero and the man on the Wheaties cereal box. But these days, he’s best known as the weird, desperately trying to hang onto his youth husband of Kris Jenner and the stepfather of Kim, Kourteney and Khloe Kardashian.

October 28, 1953: Fed up with the meddling of Brooklyn Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, Red Barber leaves the Dodgers’ broadcast booth, and signs with the crosstown Yankees. During his time in Brooklyn, O’Malley chased off Branch Rickey in 1950, Red Barber in 1953, and Jackie Robinson in 1956. And he shortchanged his players in contract negotiations. In other words, he was already a dirty bastard, and would have remained one even if he had kept the Dodgers in Brooklyn as God intended it.

October 28, 1954: Despite a last-minute plea by 92-year-old Connie Mack‚ now owner of the Philadelphia Athletics in name only, the MLB owners vote down the sale of the Athletics to a Philadelphia syndicate. The A's‚ plagued by debt - even their 1954 team uniforms have not been paid for - have little choice as the Philadelphia group‚ in Mrs. Mack's words, "dilly-dallied." A week later‚ trucking executive Arnold Johnson buys a controlling interest in the Athletics from the Mack family for $3.5 million, and moves the team to Kansas City.

October 28, 1957: Singer Bing Crosby sells his shares of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even he couldn’t stand all the losing anymore. In the 1951 film Road to Bali, Dorothy Lamour asked him, “Do they still have pirates in America?” He said, “Yes, but they’re in the basement.” Strangely, the Pirates start to get a lot better after Der Bingle sells them. But the Cleveland Indians didn’t get any better after his pal Bob Hope sold his shares in them.

October 28, 1961, 50 years ago today: Ground is broken for Flushing Meadow Park, the stadium that will later bear the name of the attorney, activist and baseball fan who made it possible, William A. Shea.

October 28, 1963: James Miller is born. He was a parachutist and paraglider pilot from Henderson, Nevada, known for his outrageous appearances at various sporting events. His most famous appearance was the November 6, 1993 boxing match between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip near Las Vegas, Nevada. He used his powered paraglider to fly into the arena, eventually crashing into the ring. The fan on the device got him nicknamed Fan Man. "It was a heavyweight fight," Miller would joke later, "and I was the only guy who got knocked out." Heart disease and mounting medical bills led him to commit suicide in 2002, and the age of 29.

October 28, 1966: Steve Atwater is born. The safety bridged the eras of Denver Bronco glory, playing for them in Super Bowl XXIV before appearing on the winning side in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, retiring after the latter. His 1990 tackle of Christian Okoye, the Kansas City Chiefs’ huge fullback known as the Nigerian Nightmare, is regarded as one of the greatest hits in NFL history. He is a member of the Broncos’ Ring of Honor, but he has not yet received his rightful induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Also on this day, Andy Richter is born. He was the sidekick for Conan O’Brien when he took over as host of NBC’s Late Night, and is back with Conan as the announcer for TBS' Conan. In between, he starred in the Fox sitcoms Andy Richter Controls the Universe (in which he, well, didn’t) and Quintuplets (in which he was the father of the eponymous teenagers).

October 28, 1972: Terrell Davis is born. One in a long line of star running backs at the University of Georgia, in Super Bowl XXXII he fought a blinding headache to become the only player (through SB XLIII) to score 3 touchdowns in a Super Bowl, leading the Denver Broncos to victory. He also starred in the Broncos’ victory the next year in Super Bowl XXXIII. A knee injury cut his career short, and, like Atwater, he is in the Broncos’ Ring of Honor but not yet the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

One of my favorite sports oddities is that, in calendar year 1998, the football season ended with the Broncos winning the Super Bowl, and the baseball season ended with the Yankees winning the World Series, and since the Super Bowl is always held at a neutral site, and the Yankees beat the Padres, both contests ended at Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and each had a San Diego native who was key to the victory: The Broncos had Davis, and the Yankees had David Wells (although Wells’ lone appearance in the Series was in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium; the Yanks swept, and had it gone to a Game 5 Wells was scheduled to start in San Diego). “The Murph” is the only stadium ever to host a Super Bowl and the clinching game of a World Series in the same calendar year. The Los Angeles Coliseum, the Metrodome and the Dolphins’ current stadium have hosted both, but not in the same calendar year.

Also on this day, Brad Paisley is born. The country singer, married to actress Kimberly Williams, had one of those songs that you figure has to got to be a parody, but it was all real: “Alcohol.”

October 28, 1974: Braden Looper is born. Now retired, the reliever won World Series with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. In between those titles, he pitched for the Mets. He was considerably less successful with them.

Also on this day, Joaquin Phoenix is born. A member of the Phoenix acting family, he is best known for having played Emperor Commodus in Gladiator and Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. Or he was, before growing a beard and becoming a rapper, leading to him becoming an object of ridicule.

Also on this day, Dayanara Torres is born. The Puerto Rican was Miss Universe in 1993, but is best known for her marriage to singer Marc Anthony, who cheated on her interminably, and, while she was pregnant, left her for Jennifer Lopez. Look, I love J-Lo, too, but I wouldn’t leave a woman who looks like Dayanara for anyone. Not even if Catherine Zeta-Jones came up to me wearing an Obama campaign button on a Yankee cap, and nothing else.

October 28, 1975: I underwent surgery at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, then located at 123rd Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem, to correct a problem in my legs that made walking difficult. The surgery was successful, to an extent, although I still have pain in my legs that sometimes makes walking a chore.

My two weeks in that hospital are a blur, as I was almost 6, but what I do remember is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Those two weeks included the “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD” headline and the Rangers’ trade of Eddie Giacomin and his well-received return to The Garden, but I don’t remember those things happening at the time. Nor do I remember, the week before, the 1975 World Series including Carlton Fisk's "Fenway Twist."

Also on this day, Georges Carpentier dies. A hero who helped to save France from the invading Imperial Germans in World War I, he was light heavyweight champion of the world, and challenged Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight title, at a huge, 90,000-seat temporary stadium in Jersey City called “Boyle’s Thirty Acres.” Dempsey knocked him out.

October 28, 1979: George Steinbrenner officially fires Billy Martin for the second time, following his barroom brawl with a man described as a “marshmallow salesman.” (It always sounded ridiculous. Was this a guy walking around yelling, like a ballpark vendor? “Marshmallows! Get yer marshmallows here!” He was probably a businessman who simply negotiated contracts to sell something in bulk, and it just happened to be marshmallows.)

Also on this day, Martin Skoula is born. The Czech defenseman won a Stanley Cup with the 2001 Colorado Avalanche, and is now playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

October 28, 1980: Alan Smith is born. The midfielder is the Captain of Newcastle United, and is not to be confused with Alan “Smudger” Smith, the former striker for Arsenal and now TV soccer pundit, who was an Arsenal teammate of David O’Leary, who was this Alan Smith’s first manager, at Leeds United. In between Leeds and Newcastle, each of which was relegated while he played for them, this Alan Smith played for Manchester United in their Premier League Championship season of 2007.

October 28, 1982: Jeremy Bonderman is born. His first season in the majors, at age 20, was with the 2003 Detroit Tigers, a horrible team, and he was 6-19 before being benched for the final week of the season, in order to avoid becoming the first pitcher since Brian Kingman of the ’80 A’s – but this same courtesy was not extended to his Tiger teammate, Mike Maroth, who went 9-21. But while Maroth dealt with injury issues that kept him off the 2006 postseason roster, Bonderman bounced back, helping the Tigers win the American League Pennant. But he was injured for nearly all of the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and while he did pitch for the Tigers in 2010, he missed all of 2011, and it is unclear whether he will be an effective, pain-free pitcher again.

October 28, 1983: Jarrett Jack is born. The guard helped get Georgia Tech into the 2004 National Championship game, and now plays for the New Orleans Hornets.

October 28, 1984: Obafemi Martins is born. The striker played for Internazionale Milan in their 2006 “Double” season, and starred for Newcastle United, and now plays for Russian team Rubin Kazan.

October 28, 1989: The Oakland Athletics take an 8-0 lead, and beat the San Francisco Giants 9-6 at Candlestick Park, to complete a 4-game sweep of the Bay Bridge World Series‚ the first Series sweep since 1976. Oakland native Dave Stewart‚ who won Games 1 and 3‚ is named MVP. However, with the Loma Prieta Earthquake only 11 days prior, it may be the most subdued World Series celebration ever.

October 28, 1995: In a pitcher's duel‚ the Braves win Game 6 of the Series‚ 1-0‚ on a combined 1-hitter by Tom Glavine and Mark Wohlers. David Justice's 6th-inning homer accounts for the game's only run. In winning‚ the Braves become the 1st team to win World Championships representing three different cities: Boston in 1914‚ Milwaukee in 1957‚ and Atlanta in 1995. Catcher Tony Pena's leadoff single in the 6th is Cleveland's only hit. The Indians, who led the majors in homers and runs scored‚ bat just .179‚ the lowest average for a six-games series since 1911.

October 28, 2000: Andujar Cedeno dies in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic. He was 31, and the shortstop had been playing in the Dominican league. Previously, he had played in the majors, including for the Houston Astros, who previously had pitcher Joaquin Andujar and center fielder Cesar Cedeno – both with nasty tempers, unlike Andujar Cedeno, but also considerably more talented.

October 28, 2001, 10 years ago today: The Arizona Diamondbacks jump out to a 2-0 Series lead on the Yankees, as Randy Johnson hurls a 3-hit shutout. Matt Williams hits a 3-run homer for the Diamondbacks. Andy Pettitte takes the loss for New York.

Also on this day, Commissioner Bud Selig says it is possible that two major league teams could be eliminated by the start of next season. The Montreal Expos‚ Florida Marlins‚ Minnesota Twins‚ and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are the teams mentioned as most likely to be eliminated.

The ensuing furor results in a 2002 collective bargaining agreement that leaves all 30 current teams in place, although the Expos will be moved to Washington after the 2004 season. They've never been any good since, but... the Marlins won the 2003 World Series, the Rays won the 2008 AL Pennant, and the Twins have won 6 AL Central titles. Looks like Bud was looking at the wrong teams.

October 28, 2002: The Mets name former Houston Astros second baseman, and former Oakland Athletics manager, Art Howe as their new skipper. Howe had just led the A’s to their 3rd straight Playoff berth. His tenure in Flushing will be significantly less successful.

October 28, 2005: Bob Broeg dies at age 87. The longtime baseball writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was elected to the sportswriters’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and later sat on its board of directors and on its Veterans’ Committee. Hearing Brooklyn Dodger fans, with their 1940s rivalry with the Cardinals, say of Stan Musial, noted for hitting the Dodgers hard, “Uh-oh, dat man is back in town,” he started calling him “Stan the Man” in his columns, and the name stuck. I’d like to know who gave 1970s Baltimore Oriole pitcher Don Stanhouse the oh-so-appropriate nickname “Stan the Man Unusual.”

October 28, 2006: Arnold Jacob Auerbach dies at age 89, and finds out that, in heaven, you can eat all the Chinese food you want, and not have to worry about calories, cholesterol, or monosodium glutamate. As the leading figure in the history of professional basketball, he rarely had to worry about the other MSG, Madison Square Garden.

A native of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, “Red” Auerbach starred in basketball at Eastern District High School, before moving on to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., later coaching in that city at the high school, college and professional levels, taking the Washington Capitols to the NBA Finals in 1949. When they didn’t reach the Finals the next season, owner Mike Uline fired him. Within another year, the Caps folded, and the NBA would not return to the D.C. area until 1973.

Auerbach, of course, would go on to become the head coach, general manager, and eventually president of the Boston Celtics, leading them to 9 NBA Championships as coach and 16 while he was involved with them. While still running the team, in 1985, a statue of him, on a bench, with a basketball by his side and a trademark “victory cigar” in his hand, was dedicated at Boston’s Quincy Market. The accompanying plaque says he won 15 Championships. The 16th came a year later. Rubbing the statue’s bald head is said to be good luck. I have a picture of the statue wearing one of my Yankee caps. I’m a wiseass, but then, so was Red.

When Celtics founder Walter Brown died, leaving Red in charge of the franchise, Red ordered the Number 1 retired for Brown. At the time of the statue’s dedication, the Celtics held an old-timers’ game, with Red coaching a team in green Celtic road jerseys and his star pupil and successor as head coach Bill Russell coaching a team in white Celtic home jerseys – Red’s team won of course – and the Number 2 was retired for Red, even though, like Brown, he never played for the team.

Also on this day, Trevor Berbick is killed. The Jamaican boxer, the last man to fight Muhammad Ali, knocked out Pinklon Thomas to win the WBC version of the heavyweight title in 1986, but lost it later that year when Mike Tyson knocked him out. Brain damage from boxing left him impaired, and though he became a minister, he was murdered in his church in Kingston, Jamaica, by his own nephew and an accomplice. He was just 51.

October 28, 2007: The Boston Red Sox hold off a late comeback by the Colorado Rockies, and win Game 4, 4-3, to sweep the World Series. After 86 years of never winning a Series, the Sox now have 2 in the last 4 years, 7 total. When Boston Globe columnist, now WEEI radio show host, Michael Holley writes a book about this group of Red Sox, and titles it Red Sox Rule, many people fume over the the wording, but, for now, few can put up much of a complaint about its essential truth.

Also on this day, sports agent Scott Boras announces that his client, Alex Rodriguez, has exercised the opt-out clause in his contract with the Yankees, and will become a free agent. Both A-Rod and Bore-Ass are criticized as classless for making the announcement during a World Series game -- the deadline was not for another few days -- and for looking like a couple of greedy bastards who didn't give a damn about the player's team.

My, how perceptions can change in a couple of years: Now we know that A-Rod, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez all cheated with steroids, but it didn't do A-Rod any good; and now that they've all stopped (or so they say), A-Rod is a hero again, while the Red Sox have jettisoned Manny, and Big Papi is but a shadow of his former fat but winning self.

Also on this day, Porter Wagoner dies. The country singer known as “Mr. Grand Ole Opry,” who discovered and did many fine duets with Dolly Parton, was 80. He had the first hit version of “The Green, Green Grass of Home.” Clearly, the inventor of artificial turf wasn’t listening.

25 Years Later, The Curse of Kevin Mitchell Lives

Twenty-five years.

*

Twenty-five years, I'm alive here still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
for a destination.
I realized quickly when I knew I should
that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
for whatever that means.

And so I cry sometimes when I'm lying in bed
just to get it all out, what's in my head.
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar.
And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
and I take a deep breath and I get real high
and I scream from the top of my lungs...
What's going on?

And I try -- oh, my God, do I try
I try all the time, in this institution.
And I pray -- oh, my God, do I pray
I pray all sanctity for a revolution!

And I say,
Hey, yeah, yeah, yeah...
Hey, yeah, yeah, yeah..
I say hey...
What's going on?
-- Linda Perry

I wonder if Met fans think Marvin Gaye sang this.

Or if they think it was Willie Mays. "Say hey, hey, hey, hey... "

This is a reprint of a story I've tinkered with a few times over the years, most recently posted in this blog in October 2009.

*

We all know the story.

October 26, 1986: The Red Sox are one strike away. Winning 5-3 against the Mets. Blowing a 2-run lead with one out to go – with one strike to go! – in the bottom of the 10th when the next pitch could win you the World Series? Even the Boston Red Sox couldn’t choke like that.

But Gary Carter singles. Kevin Mitchell singles him over to second. Ray Knight singles Carter home and Mitchell over to 3rd. 5-4 Sox.

Red Sox manager John McNamara pulls Calvin Schiraldi and brings in Bob Stanley, once a really good reliever but now washed up – after all, there’s a reason Stanley wasn’t on the mound to start the inning.

Mookie Wilson up, and Stanley throws the last of 13 pitches that could, theoretically, have been the last out of this Series-clinching game, and... Wild pitch! Mitchell scores! Tie game! Stanley throws again, Mookie swings...

Vin Scully with the immortal call on NBC: “Little roller up along first, behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!”

Scully pauses so that NBC can get the video and audio of the wild cheering at Shea. Then, he resumes: “If one picture is worth a thousand words, then you have seen about a million words! But, more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series! The Mets are not only alive, they are well, and they will play the Red Sox in Game 7 tomorrow.”

McNamara had replaced the still-strong-hitting but injured Bill Buckner at first base with Dave Stapleton for defensive purposes in every postseason game. Not this time. It is the most famous error in baseball history.

Of course, if you look above, you’ll notice that the lead had already been blown before Buckner’s name is even mentioned.

Mets 6, Red Sox 5. For 11 years, since Carlton Fisk’s homer in the 1975 World Series, you could say the words “Game Six” to a Sox fan, and you would have gotten a big smile. For the 25 years since, say “Game Six” to a Sox fan, and he’ll grimace and say, “Which one?”

Then it rained. NBC showed the baseball-themed film The Natural instead. I still have the tape.

October 27, 1986, 25 years ago today: After a one-day delay, the Red Sox actually seem to be shaking off the historical, hysterical Game 6 loss. They lead the Mets, 3-0 in the bottom of the 6th. Bruce Hurst, with an extra day’s rest, is doing just fine. The Sox have chased Ron Darling. Sid Fernandez has relieved him. The Sox are just 12 outs away from their first World Championship in 68 years after all.

Can they hold it? These are the Boston Red Sox, what do you think? The Mets tie it up in the 6th. The idiot McNamara brings in Schiraldi to pitch the 7th, and Knight leads off with a home run.

Scully: “It is so noisy at Shea, you cannot even hear the airplanes!”

The Mets make it 6-3 by the inning’s end. The Sox make it 6-5 in the top of the 8th, so there’s still hope, but then Al Nipper serves one up to Darryl Strawberry, and NBC runs commercials for Ford, JCPenney, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Exxon, Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, and Senator Al D’Amato’s re-election campaign in the time it takes Darryl to take his leisurely stroll around the bases.

The Mets let reliever Jesse Orosco bat for himself, and he drives in another run, and he gets the last out by striking out Marty Barrett. Mets 8, Red Sox 5. Orosco hurls his glove high into the Flushing air.



Scully says simply, “Got him!” On WHN, the call letters then assigned to 1050 on your AM radio dial, the Voice of the Mets, Bob Murphy, says, “He struck him out! He struck him out! The Mets have won the World Series! And there're crowd—jamming and crowding all over Jesse Orosco! He's somewhere at the bottom of that pile. He struck out Marty Barrett. The dream has come true! The Mets have won the World Series, coming from behind to win the seventh ballgame.”

Ray Knight is named Series MVP. The Mets have won their 2nd World Championship and, while it was expected, even “inevitable,” unlike their 1st, in 1969, they did, as in 1969, require a few “miracles.” (Some miracle: The break the Mets caught is that they played the choking Red Sox.)

Within days, the Mets have a ticker-tape parade up Broadway to City Hall, and get Keys to the City from the Met-fan Mayor, Ed Koch. I distinctly remember one speech, that of Mookie Wilson, a rather bold declaration that, while ’84 and ’85 were just warm-ups, this was the beginning of a dynasty. Remember?

“1986, the Year of the Mets! 1987, the Year of the Mets! 1988, the Year of the Mets!”

Wild cheering. This was a signal that the Mets were going to be a team as good as any the Yankees ever put up, under the Fat Guy, the Paralyzed Guy, the Mobster’s Pal Who Smacked Marilyn Monroe Around, the Oklahoma Drunk and the Egomaniac. (Which is how Met fans view the Babe, the Iron Horse, the Yankee Clipper, the Mick, and Mr. October.) This was a signal that everything the Yankees had ever done was soon going to pale in comparison, and didn’t it seem soooo long ago anyway? Yankees? What Yankees? There are no more Yankees. There is only the Mets. Then again, the Giants might win the Super Bowl this season...

*

It’s been 25 years. It's been a quarter of a century. An entire generation of Met fans has been born and reached full adulthood -- if not quite "grown up."

The Mets are still looking for that 3rd World Championship. They’ve won just one more Pennant and just one more World Series game. To make matters worse, that one Pennant, they went on to lose to the Yankees in the World Series, one of 5 the Yankees have won since 1986.

What the hell happened?

*

When something goes wrong, people like to look for scapegoats. Someone frustrated with the Red Sox’ inability to win a World Series since 1918 thought he found a reason: They hadn’t won since they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, and the phrase “The Curse of the Bambino” was born. The phrase was popularized by Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, and became the title of his 1990 book about the history of that franchise.



Kevin Darnell Mitchell was born January 13, 1962 in San Diego, California. He debuted with the Mets as a September call-up in 1984, spent the ’85 season with the Tidewater Tides (now the Norfolk Tides), and was a key reserve for the ’86 Mets, playing every position except pitcher, catcher and second base. Gary Carter noticed his versatility, and nicknamed him “World.”

In 1986, despite only playing in 108 games, he had an OPS+ of 124 – that is to say, his OPS, his combined on-base and slugging percentage, was 24 percent better than the average player’s. He was just 24 years old, and a World Champion. He seemed to have a great career ahead of him, and in the greatest city in the world.

I thought up the phrase “the Curse of Kevin Mitchell,” but I did not come up with the concept. That source would be my grandmother, the old Dodger fan from South Jamaica, Queens (but she swore to the end of her life that her neighborhood was called “South Ozone Park,” even though she lived south of Jamaica and northeast of Ozone Park).

Grandma became a Met fan in middle age and loved the Eighties Mets every bit as much as she loved the Forties and Fifties Dodgers, before that team moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season and the Mets arrived for 1962.

She said that things started to go wrong when the Mets began breaking up the great ’86 team almost immediately. She cited the trades of Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman, the two “pests” at the top of the batting order. She liked guys like that. Backman and "Nails" Dykstra (who would be recast as "Dude" in Philadelphia, because that's what he called everybody) reminded her of old Dodgers like Pee Wee Reese, Pete Reiser, Eddie Stanky (who later became a Giant that she hated), Carl Furillo, and the greatest such player (though I may be the first person who's ever described him as a “pest”), Jackie Robinson.

She had a case:

* On December 7, 1988, the Mets sent Backman and a minor leaguer to the Minnesota Twins for three guys who never reached the majors. Backman would help the Twins win the 1991 World Series, along with Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris, and that season's American League Rookie of the Year, future Yankee Chuck Knoblauch. Dumb trade.

* On June 18, 1989, the Mets sent Dykstra and reliever Roger McDowell to the Philadelphia Phillies for Juan Samuel; each side threw in a player to be named later who never reached the majors. Dumb trade, especially after 1993, when the Phils won a Pennant with Lenny/Nails/Dude; and Samuel, who looked pretty good through 1988, played only 86 games with the Mets, had a pathetic OPS+ of 76, ended up getting traded to the Dodgers for Mike Marshall and Alejandro Pena, and became an All-Star starter again while Marshall was washed up and the Mets soon sent Pena to the Braves and he helped them win a Pennant! Samuel was voted by Phillies fans the second baseman on the all-time Veterans Stadium team (1971-2003); suffice it to say that nobody else involved with either of his Met trades was voted to the all-time Shea Stadium team (1964-2008).

* Would you let the guy who just won the World Series MVP go via free agency, and not lift a finger to re-sign him? The Mets did, on November 12, 1986, and Knight never played for New York again, signing with the Baltimore Orioles. To be fair, he only lasted 2 more years and was done at age 35, but his 65 RBIs in 1987 sure could have helped the Mets in their National League Eastern Division race, which they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals by 3 games.

* Would you trade away the pitcher who got the last out in the World Series, only one year later, even though he was not a problem as far as discipline or mindset goes? The Mets did: On December 11, 1987, they sent Orosco to the Dodgers in a convoluted 3-team deal. The Bums got Orosco, Alfredo Griffin and Jay Howell, all of whom would help them win the next World Series – beating the Mets in the NLCS and the other team involved in the trade, the Oakland Athletics, in the World Series! The A’s got two cornerstones of their 1988-92 quasi-dynasty, Bob Welch and Matt Young. What did the Mets get for Orosco, the only player they gave up? Kevin Tapani, Wally Whitehurst and Jack Savage.

Okay, to be fair, in ’87 Orosco went 3-9 with a 4.44 ERA, justifying what I, a Yankee Fan, was calling him: “Jesse Erratic.” But he sure bounced back, ended up pitching in 1,252 games, more than any pitcher in history (he was, after all, a lefty reliever), and was still in the major leagues in 2003, at age 46 – almost matching his uniform number 47 – and even pitched 15 games for the Yankees that season. He appeared in the postseason the year after the Mets got rid of him, with the very team that ended up beating them in the NLCS, and he won a second ring!

Savage did nothing for the Mets. Whitehurst was little better. At least Tapani helped his team win a World Series.

* Except that, that team wasn’t the Mets! On July 31, 1989, the Mets traded him, Rick Aguilera and David West to the Twins for Frank Viola! A Long Island native and St. John’s University graduate, Viola did win 20 for the Mets in 1990, but went 13-15 the next year, and they traded him away; Tapani, Aguilera and West (and, as I said, Backman -- and also former Met infielder and coach Ron Gardenhire, then the Twins' 3rd base coach and now their manager) helped the Twins win the ’91 World Series. So the Orosco trade was one dumb Met trade that led to another dumb Met trade.

*

But the trade that seemed to have the most impact came on December 11, 1986, a date which lives in Flushing infamy. The Mets sent Kevin Mitchell, Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, Kevin Armstrong and Kevin Brown (no, not that Kevin Brown, though he did later pitch for the Padres) to Mitchell’s hometown, San Diego, for Kevin McReynolds, Gene Walter and Adam Ging. Forget everyone else, if you hadn't already: The keys to this trade were Mitchell and McReynolds.

McReynolds was not a bad baseball player. He was a good hitter, and usually competent in left field. In fact, his career hitting totals are remarkably similar to Mitchell’s. But he was not a member of the glorious ’86 team that went all the way, and when the Mets didn’t go all the way again, he became a scapegoat, and got the hell booed out of him. Fair? Of course not.

But it wouldn’t have mattered so much if Mitchell hadn’t panned out. And, as far as his hometown Padres were concerned, he didn’t: On July 5, 1987, not even at the All-Star Break of his first season with them, he was batting just .245 in 62 games, so they sent him, and pitchers Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts, up the coast to the San Frnacisco Giants, getting back third baseman Chris Brown, reliever Mark Davis (both of whom became All-Stars but never helped the team into the Playoffs) and two guys you don’t need to remember. So Mitchell-for-McReynolds didn’t help the Mets or the Padres.

These two Mitchell trades, however, helped the Giants tremendously. Before the trade, they had been in San Francisco for 29 years and had reached the postseason exactly twice, the last time 16 years earlier. In 1987, the Giants won the NL West, as Mitchell responded to the change of scenery by hitting .306 with 15 homers and 44 RBIs in just 69 games for them.

In 1988, Mitchell tailed off a little, and the Giants tailed off a lot. But in 1989, he hit 47 home runs, had 125 RBIs, put up a sick OPS+ of 192, and made one of the great catches of all time, a running barehanded catch in St. Louis -- off the bat of defensive "Wizard" Ozzie Smith, no less -- that almost sent him barreling into the stands. Not since the salad days of Willie Mays had the Giants seen that kind of outfield defense. He won the NL’s MVP award, and helped the Giants win only their 2nd Pennant in 35 years, while the Mets finished 2nd in the NL East for the 5th of 6 times in a span of 8 years – the others being the ’86 crown and the ’88 Division title.

Problems with his weight and other disciplines led to Mitchell being traded several times. But he did help the Cincinnati Reds into first place when the Strike of ’94 hit, and still had an OPS+ of 138 as late as 1996. But he played his last big-league game in 1998 at age 36, and after bouncing around the independent minors, including stints in New Jersey with the Newark Bears and Atlantic City Surf, he called it a career. Sort of: At 49, he is back in his native San Diego, playing in an “adult baseball league” (no, no porn stars involved – that I know of), and his team won a title in 2009.

Mitchell had an adolescence connected to gangs in San Diego. He has been arrested for assault twice since his last major league game, although on neither occasion did the case go to trial. He was once listed as a tax delinquent to the tune of over $5 million. And then there's the shocking story that Dwight Gooden appears to have made up about an act of animal cruelty.

I don't know Kevin Mitchell. For all I know, these things were all blown out of proportion and he's really a good guy. For all I know, it could all be true, and he's one of those people who should be avoided at all costs.

But it seems silly to suggest that he was angry about being traded by the Mets so soon after winning the Series, certainly not so angry that he would place a “curse” on them. After all, he went to his home town, the team he grew up rooting for. They soon traded him, but that worked out really well for him. Perhaps not in terms of team success, but in terms of fame and fortune, getting away from the Mets was the best thing that could have happened to him.



(Mitchell, in a recent photo.)

Still, the fact remains that the Mets won a World Series, and were expected to win more; then, just 45 days after they won said Series, they traded Mitchell away, and they haven’t won one since.

*

In order for a team to be considered “cursed,” a long time since they won a championship, or even reached the finals of their sport, is not enough. Even having several near-misses is not enough. The Yankees won the Series in 1978. Then came the Canton plane crash. A Playoff loss in ’80. A lost Series in ’81. Near-misses for the Division in ’85, ’86, ’88 and ’93. The Strike of ’94. The wrenching Playoff with the Mariners in ’95. But nobody ever publicly suggested that the Yankees were under the Curse of Thurman Munson.

No, for a team to be considered “cursed,” there also have to be strange occurrences. Even bizarre ones. Shocking defeats. Big leads blown. Guys who should be coming through in big situations flopping. Trades and free-agent signings (or letting-gos) straight out of the What the Hell File.

The Mets have had a few of those.

1987: The Mets finish 2nd in the NL East, 3 games behind the Cardinals. That was certainly a disappointment for Met fans, but there was nothing gut-wrenching or bizarre about it. Unless you count the home opener at Shea, when a bird was hit by a batted ball.

1988: The Mets win the NL East, but get shocked by the Dodgers, a team they’d won 11 of 12 from in the regular season, in the NL Championship Series. They had been up a run in the 9th in Game 4, about to go up 3 games to 1, when Mike Scioscia, an excellent catcher but not a power hitter, hit a home run to send the game into extra innings, and the Dodgers won that game and took the series in 7. So this is a crushing loss, and the idea that the Mets can no longer win the big one begins to take hold.

1989: The Mets finish 2nd in the NL East, 6 games behind the Chicago Cubs. Disappointing, but aside from the fact that the Cubs, for crying out loud, actually finished 1st, nothing out of the ordinary here.

1990: The Mets fnish 2nd in the NL East, 4 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Disappointing, but, again, nothing bizarre brought this about.

1991: The Mets crash and burn, finishing in 5th place of 6, 20½ games behind the Pirates. In one year, they went from 91-71 to 77-84, a drop of 13½ games.

It’s worth noting that, of the Mets’ 2nd-place finishes from 1984 to 1990, every single team that finished ahead of them would move to the NL Central in 1994: The Cubs in ’84 and ’89, the Cards in ’85 and ’87, and the Pirates in ’90. Under the current setup, barring a better season by an established, non-expansion Florida Marlins, the Mets would have won 7 consecutive NL East titles.

1992: The Mets make some big trades and sign some big free agents, but fall to 72-90 anyway, again in 5th place. After this season, Bob Klapisch, then of the New York Daily News, wrote a book about them, its title paralleling The Best Team Money Could Buy, Newsdaylegend Steve Jacobson’s book about the 1977 World Champion Yankees: Klapisch called his book The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse of the New York Mets.

1993: The Mets put together the worst season in baseball history. Not record-wise, as they finished with 103 losses, and even that total was held because they won their last 5; nonetheless, for much of the season they were ahead of the pace they set in their debut season of 1962, losing 120, the most losses of any major league team since 1899.

No, this team was “the worst” in manner, style and behavior. Reacting badly to Klapisch’s book, Bobby Bonilla threatened him in the locker room – and it was caught on video. Bret Saberhagen threw bleach on Dave D’Alessandro of the Bergen Record (for which Klapisch writes now, as D’Alessandro has moved on to the Star-Ledger), giving a whole new meaning the to term “Bleacher Bum.” Vince Coleman set off a firecracker in a parking lot on the road at Dodger Stadium, and a 2-year-old girl was hit with debris and burned.

This on top of the merely poorly-performing, such as the underperformances of stars like the aforementioned, and future Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray, all of whom got better again after leaving Flushing Meadow; and Anthony Young, a pitcher who lost a record 27 straight decisions from May ’92 to July ’93. Manager Jeff Torborg, considered too much of a nice guy, was fired; Dallas Green, a disciplinarian, was brought in, but all he could do was stop the delinquency, not the losing. The Mets did get decidedly better in 1994, reaching 55-58 when the strike hit.

Are the Mets "cursed" yet? No? Read on:

1995: This was the year of Generation K, three young pitchers who would take the NL by storm and make the Mets a dominant team for years to come. It didn’t work out, because they all threw too many innings too soon, and they all got hurt.

* Paul Wilson was considered the most promising of the three, but after throwing 187 innings in the minors in ’95, he was on the Disabled List for most of ’96. While he had a modest comeback with the Cincinnati Reds in 2003-05, he retired after ’06.

* Bill Pulsipher, the only lefty of the three, was 22 and threw for 218 innings, but tore his elbow as a result, and missed nearly all of the next 2 years. He did lead a team to a Pennant... but it was the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League in 2004.

* Jason Isringhausen went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA for the Mets in the second half of ’95, but had all kinds of injuries in ’96, made only 6 starts in ’97 and missed all of ’98 after elbow surgery. Incredibly, he has since had a fine career. Perhaps not-so-incredibly, it all happened after the Mets traded him to Oakland in 1998: As with Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley, a formerly injured fine starter was converted into a very good reliever, first with the A’s and then with the Cardinals, reaching the Playoffs with both and earning a ring with the ’06 Cards. He has since returned to the Mets.

The Mets ended up with a cartonful of eggs on their faces, and finished 69-95, 21 games behind the Atlanta Braves – but still good enough to tie the Phillies for 2nd place. Perhaps the disaster of Generation K has stuck in the minds of the crosstown Yankees, and led them to come up with the asinine “Joba Rules” for Joba Chamberlain.

1997: After improving to 71-91 in 1996, the rebuilding appeared to be working. In the first-ever Yankees-Mets game that counted for anything, on June 16 (don’t bet me on the date, I was there to see this debacle), Dave Mlicki didn’t need to buy a vowel, as he pitched a shutout, and the Mets lit up Andy Pettitte to win, 6-0. But the Yanks won the next 2 games to take the series. Still, the Mets finished with 88 wins, their best total in 8 years, and finished 3rd, 13 games behind the Braves.

1998: The Mets began to resemble the team that made the Playoffs the following 2 seasons, the big deal getting Mike Piazza in a trade. But this is also the year that truly sets the pattern. The Braves won 106 games, and no one was going to catch them in the East. Still, with 5 games to go, the Mets had 88 wins, the same number as the season before, and needed to win only 1 of their last 5 to get the Wild Card in a vicious 3-way battle between their 1969, ’73, ’84 and ’89 rivals, the Cubs, and their “forebears,” the Giants. No team had ever blown a trip to the postseason by needing to win just 1 of their last 5 games and losing them all. None has since.

This one did. It was the biggest regular-season choke by a New York baseball team since the ’51 Dodgers, except those Dodgers still managed to make it all the way to a full schedule plus 3 games. The ’98 Mets didn’t. As with the year before, the Mets went 88-74, but it didn’t feel like an improvement. Still, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic for the turn of the 20th to the 21st Century.

*

This is where I come in. During the 1999 season, when I was still using America Online’s MLB message boards, using the name “Xsvfan” – “Excessive Fan,” get it? – I wrote a story set in the year 2049, 50 years in the future, telling of how the reason the Yankees are now, finally, playing in a new Yankee Stadium is that there was no more room in Monument Park, and they needed a new one to house the Plaques from the stars of the 1990s and the first half of the 21st Century. I had an 81-year-old Bernie Williams walking out with a cane to throw out the ceremonial first ball, and Number 2s on the Yanks’ sleeves in memory of the late Derek Jeter, who died the year before at age 74. (At the time, I was still thinking Bernie would be seen as “the One Great Yankee” of that generation, and wasn’t fond of the hype given to Jeter instead. I’m not proud of that part of the prediction.) In the game, the Yankees won, although I can’t remember the name of the team I used. I know it was a team in existence today, but since moved. It wasn’t the Charlotte A’s or the Utah Rangers, or anything like that. It might’ve been an Interleague game against a Washington team.

I was a bit rougher on the 1999-2049 Mets. I wrote that there were very sparse crowds at Tom Seaver Memorial Stadium, which opened 2 years earlier, on the site of Shea Stadium, to replace whatever I called the building that replaced Shea. (I didn’t use the name “Citi Field,” although that park was already planned in 1999.) I wrote that they still hadn’t won a World Series since 1986, and that the Red Sox, the Indians, the Angels, both Chicago teams, and even the Oregon Expos (or something like that, they weren’t in Montreal anymore) and the Washington team that had once been the Marlins had done so since then. And, I included one genuine “Subway Series” loss to the Yankees – in which the Yankees became the first team ever to come from a 3 games to 0 deficit in a postseason baseball series to win 4 games to 3.

That didn’t come true, and the Cubs, Indians and Expos/Nationals still haven’t won. But within 6 years, I was proven right about both shades of Sox and the Angels. Within 5 years, I was proven right about a team coming back from 3-0 to win 4-3 – not that I could have imagined it would be against the Yankees! And, at least through 2011, I was right about the Mets having won just one Pennant since 1986, and losing that World Series to the Yankees, though I placed it in the year 2024. For 2042, I imagined a late-season meltdown that bore a striking resemblance to what actually turned out to happen in 2007. So I’ve gotten about one-third of the predictions right, with the potential for more, and only about one-fifth have been rendered impossible (i.e., the Expos have moved, and Washington does have a team, but that team is the Expos).

I titled the essay “The Curse of Kevin Mitchell,” and imagined myself – maybe not myself, I’ll be 79 if I last until the summer of 2049 – as looking up Mitchell, who would be 87 if he lives that long. (Considering his weight problems and a history of drinking, not likely.) I had him say that he never put a curse on the Mets, and that he thinks that their problems are a result of bad management, and that he was (still-living) proof.

In the real-life 1999, the Mets finished 2nd to the Braves again, but this time, a late surge meant a Playoff for the Playoffs, in Cincinnati, and they won. Then they beat the 2nd-year expansion Arizona Diamondbacks for their first-ever Division Series win, their first postseason series win since... 1986.

They fell behind the Braves 3 games to 0 in the NLCS, but a win in Game 4 and Robin Ventura’s “Grand Slam Single” in the rain in the 15th inning (just like Jim Leyritz’s 2-run shot in ’95, also in a series a New York team ultimately lost) gave them hope. Game 6 went back-and-forth: 7-0 Braves, 8-7 Mets, 9-8 Braves, 10-9 Mets, until Bobby Valentine made the bonehead decision to bring Kenny Rogers in to face Andruw Jones with the bases loaded. The last time the Mets went all the way, they benefited from baseball’s most infamous error; this time, the final nail was driven into their coffin by baseball’s most infamous base on balls, and the Braves went on to get swept in the Series by the Yankees. To make matters worse, the Yankees did what the Mets couldn’t: Smack around, and shut up (if only temporarily), John Rocker.

By now, Met fans were sicker than ever of the Damn Yankees. And they could be forgiven, after ’87, ’88, ’93, Generation K, ’98 and now ’99, for thinking that their team was “cursed.” But no one said so publicly, like I was saying semi-publicly. Instead, the Flushing Heathen deluded themselves, as they always did, thinking that “The Magic Is Back.” No no, really, they mean it this time: 2000 is going to be The Year.

They had a point: The Mets won the Wild Card again, and beat the Giants in the NLDS, and the Cardinals beat the Braves, so the Mets wouldn’t have to face the team that had gotten into their heads. The NLCS win over the Cards was surprisingly easy, and the way things worked out, the Mets won their Pennant the night before the Yankees won theirs, so they did their part to set up the Subway Series before the Yankees did theirs. This was the chance they’d waited 39 years for.

Then came the bizarre element: The near-homers, bad baserunning, Armando Benitez's 9th-inning choke, and the unlikely heroism of ex-Met Jose Vizcaino in Game 1; the Roger Clemens bat-throw near – not at – Piazza, and the furious close-but-no-cigar comeback of Game 2; the Jeter homer to lead off Game 4, and the unlikely heroism of Luis Sojo in Game 5. The Yankees clinched at Shea. The dream wasn’t just dead, it was dissected with the precision of a surgeon, and now the head of the dead animal would be mounted on the wall in George Steinbrenner’s office. Kind of like a trophy.

The 2000s became a lost decade. Aside from Piazza’s genuinely heroic homer in the first game back after the 9/11 attacks, it was almost a total waste. Then came 2006, and the Mets’ first regular-season 1st-place finish in 18 years. Best of all, the Yankees got knocked out of the Division Series. For the first time since 1988, the Mets would still be playing, and the Yankees wouldn’t be. But late-season injuries to ex-Red Sox star Pedro Martinez and ex-Yankee Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez! No! But... it turned out to be okay, as John Maine and Oliver Perez (yes, he was once a hero) stepped up with talent and courage and filled those spots in the rotation. And when Endy Chavez robbed Scott Rolen to save a tie in Game 7 at Shea, you had to think, maybe they’re gonna win this Pennant after all.

Then came Aaron Heilman’s pitch to Yadier Molina in the 9th, and has Carlos Beltran taken the bat off his shoulder yet?

Yadier Molina. A good fielding catcher, as are his brothers Benjie and Jose. Hitting-wise, though, the third-best brother. I began using the phrase “the Curse of Kevin Mitchell” a lot more, spoken and typed.

Then came 2007. Leading the NL East by 7 with 17 to go. Injuries. Meltdowns. Tom Glavine not “devastated” enough. The awful Game 162 loss to the Marlins. Suddenly, my jokes about the Curse of Kevin Mitchell weren’t so freakin’ funny anymore. A choke like that, nothing was funny anymore. It made the Yankee choke of October 2004 look not so bad: At least the Yanks got into the Playoffs before doing that. (And now we know: The Red Sox cheated.)

Then came 2008, a season of Groundhog Days, right down to going into Game 162 needing only a win, or a Milwaukee Brewers loss, to at least have a Playoff for the Playoffs like in 1999. It didn’t happen. Again, a loss to the Marlins. And the last game at Shea Stadium was a disaster.

And about 10,000 fans walked out before the closing ceremony to honor past Met heroes – shame on those who left early, and, though I hate you people with that hate that only love understands (nod to Queens native Stephen Jay Gould for coming up with that line), I salute those of you who stayed. A curse, truly, upon those who punished the Mets of ’69-’73, ’86-‘88 and ’99-’00 by abandoning them, just because the Mets of ’06-’07-’08 had broken their hearts.

On to 2009 and a new ballpark, Citi Field. Except the Mets became as bad as they seemed to be in 1962, in 1979, in 1993, in 2002. Whether it was Luis Castillo dropping an easy pop-up that turned a win over the Yankees at the new Yankee Stadium into yet another ignominious defeat, or Ollie Perez making a mockery of his one brief shining moment in October 2006, the Mets' 2009, '10 and '11 seasons have been dreadful.

Jose Reyes. David Wright. The Great Johan Santana. Jason Bay. Formerly, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez. How could the Mets not reach their goals with all that talent?

Injuries? The Yankees have had injuries every damn year, to stars and role players alike, and they make the Playoffs. So do the Red Sox. (Well, not the last 2 years.) So do the Phillies.

It ain’t the manager: In the end, Davey Johnson stopped delivering, Jeff Torborg couldn’t deliver, neither could Dallas Green, nor Bobby Valentine, nor Art Howe, nor Willie Randolph, nor Jerry Manuel. As for Terry Collins, he's had just 1 season so far, so he deserves a pass.

It ain’t the general manager: The Mets had bad chokes and bizarre moments before Omar Minaya started building this franchise into his dream team, “Los Mets.” It ain’t even the owners: Fred Wilpon has built a World Champion once.

*

So what is it? It’s been 25 full seasons since they last won the World Series. Are the Mets cursed? Or have they just been hit with a quarter-century-long combination of good competition and their own incompetence -- on the field, in the dugout, and in the boardroom?

Other teams have waited a longer. Some, a lot longer. Examples (adding 1 year for those who've never won), including some now thought of as successful franchises:

NFL Chicago Bears: 26 years, 1985-current.
MLB Kansas City Royals: 26 years, 1985-current.
NBA Houston Rockets: 27 years, 1967-1994.
MLB Detroit Tigers: 27 years, 1984-current.
NFL Oakland Raiders: 28 years, 1983-current.
MLB Baltimore Orioles: 28 years, 1983-current.
NBA Philadelphia 76ers: 28 years, 1983-current.
NHL New York Islanders: 28 years, 1983-current.
NFL Green Bay Packers: 29 years, 1967-1996.
NBA Dallas Mavericks: 31 years, 1980-2011.
NFL New England Patriots: 32 years, 1960-2001.
NBA San Antonio Spurs: 32 years, 1967-1999.
NBA Detroit Pistons: 32 years, 1957-1989.
MLB Pittsburgh Pirates: 32 years, 1979-current.
NBA Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder: 32 years, 1979-current.
NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards: 33 years, 1978-current.
NBA Portland Trail Blazers: 34 years, 1977-current.
MLB Seattle Mariners: 35 years, 1977-current.
NFL San Francisco 49ers: 36 years, 1946-1981.
NFL Seattle Seahawks: 36 years, 1976-current.
NBA Golden State Warriors: 36 years, 1975-current.
NHL Philadelphia Flyers: 36 years, 1975-current.
NBA New Orleans/Utah Jazz: 37 years, 1974-current.
NHL Washington Capitals: 37 years, 1974-current.
NFL Denver Broncos: 38 years, 1960-1997.
NBA New York Knicks: 38 years, 1973-current.
NFL Miami Dolphins: 38 years, 1973-current.
NHL Boston Bruins: 39 years, 1972-2011.
MLB Texas Rangers: 40 years, 1972-current... though 1 win away as I type this.
NBA Milwaukee Bucks: 40 years, 1971-current.
NBA Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers: 41 years, 1970-current.
NBA Cleveland Cavaliers: 41 years, 1970-current.
NHL Vancouver Canucks: 41 years, 1970-current.
NHL Buffalo Sabres: 41 years, 1970-current.
MLB Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels: 42 years, 1962-2010.
NFL Pittsburgh Steelers: 42 years, 1933-1974.
NHL Detroit Red Wings: 42 years, 1955-1997.
NFL Kansas City Chiefs: 42 years, 1969-current.
MLB Milwaukee Brewers: 42 years, 1969-current.
MLB San Diego Padres: 43 years, 1969-current.
MLB Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals: 43 years, 1969-current.
NFL New Orleans Saints: 43 years, 1967-2009.
NFL New York Jets: 43 years, 1968-current.
NFL Cincinnati Bengals: 44 years, 1968-current.
NBA Phoenix Suns: 43 years, 1968-current.
NBA Indiana Pacers: 44 years, 1967-current.
NBA Denver Nuggets: 44 years, 1967-current.
NBA New York/New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets: 44 years, 1967-current.
NHL Los Angeles Kings: 44 years, 1967-current.
NHL St. Louis Blues: 44 years, 1967-current.
NHL Toronto Maple Leafs: 44 years, 1967-current.
NFL Atlanta Falcons: 46 years, 1966-current.
NFL Cleveland Browns: 47 years, 1964-current.
NFL Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams: 48 years, 1951-1999.
NHL Chicago Blackhawks: 49 years, 1961-2010.
MLB Houston Astros: 50 years, 1962-current -- came in with the Mets, 2 fewer titles.
NFL Minnesota Vikings: 51 years, 1961-current.
NFL Philadelphia Eagles: 51 years, 1960-current.
NFL Buffalo Bills: 52 years, 1960-current.
NFL San Diego Chargers: 52 years, 1960-current.
NFL Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans: 52 years, 1960-current.
NBA St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks: 53 years, 1958-current.
NHL New York Rangers: 54 years, 1940-1994.
NFL Detroit Lions: 54 years, 1957-current.
MLB New York/San Francisco Giants: 56 years, 1954-2010.
NBA Rochester/Cincinnati Royals-Kansas City/Sacramento Kings: 60 years, 1951-current.
MLB Cleveland Indians: 63 years, 1948-current.
NFL Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals: 64 years, 1947-present.
MLB Boston Red Sox: 86 years, 1918-2004. *
MLB Chicago White Sox: 88 years, 1917-2005.
MLB Philadelphia Phillies: 98 years, 1883-1980.
MLB Chicago Cubs: 111 years, 1908-current.

You'll notice that 5 of the other 8 New York Tri-State Area teams are on this list: The Islanders, the Knicks, the Jets, the Nets and the Rangers -- and 4 of them, all but the Rangers, are still in championship droughts longer than that of the Mets.

Some of these teams have had bizarre moments and crashes-and-burns that suggest being cursed. Some haven't, and have just... not... gotten it done.

The Mets?

Chokes in ’88, ’98, ’99, ’00, ’06, ’07 and ’08.

Near-misses, aside from those, in ’87, ’89, ’90 and ’01.

Injury-riddled seasons, aside from those, in ’95, ’96, ’97, ‘02, ’09, '10 and '11.

And losses to teams they considered rivals in ’87 and ’06 (Cardinals), ’89 (Cubs), ’98 and ’99 (Braves), ’00 (Yankees), and now ’07 and ’08 (Phillies). That’s... 18 out of 25 seasons with possible “Curse Material.”

The Curse of Kevin Mitchell? Do you believe?

Met fans like to use the old line of 1965-74 relief pitcher Tug McGraw: YA GOTTA BELIEVE!

I’d rather believe in the curse on the Mets than believe in the Mets themselves.