Monday, April 30, 2012

Yanks Skin Cats But Pitching Concerns Grow

The Detroit Tigers, who eliminated the Yankees from the Playoffs in 2006 and 2011, are not the kind of team you want to face when your pitching staff is full of question marks.

On Friday night, the Yankees began a 3-game home series against the Tigers. Ivan Nova, winner of his last 15 decisions, battled Justin Verlander, last season's American League Most Valuable Player. Neither pitched especially well, and neither made it into the 7th inning. Alex Rodriguez hit his 4th home run of the season off Verlander, and Russell Martin his 2nd. But the Yankees trailed 6-4 in the bottom of the 6th. They got a run in the 6th and another in the 8th to tie it.

Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless 9th, and then Barayan Villareal, a Venezuelan righthander, came on to pitch the bottom of the 9th for Detroit. It was a weird inning. He got Martin, the leadoff man, to ground to 2nd. But he walked Derek Jeter. Then he walked Curtis Granderson. Neither was intentional, especially with Grandy and then A-Rod batting next. To make matters worse, the ball four to Grandy was a wild pitch, and now Derek was on 3rd as the winning run with only 1 out. All A-Rod had to do was get the ball out of the infield.

As it turned out, A-Rod didn't even have to do that: Villareal threw another bad pitch, and it was charitably called a passed ball on his catcher, Alex Avila. Jeter scored. Yankees 7, Tigers 6.

WP: Rivera (1-1). LP: Villareal (0-1).

*

The Saturday game was a Fox game, and a game in which the Yankees faced a pitcher they'd never faced before, a lefthander no less, Drew Smyly. And the struggling Freddy Garcia started. You could have taken all that information in, and guessed what happened.

Garcia didn't get out of the 2nd inning. Smyly did, the only run he gave up being a solo homer by Nick Swisher in the 1st. Swish later hit another, his 6th of the season, and Grandy hit his 7th, but it wasn't enough. Tigers 7, Yankees 5.

WP: Smyly (1-0). LP:Garcia (0-2).

*

So the Yankees really needed a good start in yesterday's game, to take the series and get momentum back. And they had the right guy on the mound, Carsten Charles Sabathia. The Tigers countered with the struggling Max Scherzer.

The Yankees made him struggle enough, knocking him out of the box in the 5th. Grandy, again hitting well against his former team, hit his 8th homer. Bad news: Swisher had to leave the game with a bad hamstring, and it hasn't yet been decided whether he'll have to go on the DL. Good news: Taking his place in the lineup, Andruw Jones homered, his 3rd of the season.

Yankees 6, Tigers 2. WP: Sabathia (3-0). LP: Scherzer (1-3).

*

So as the Baltimore Orioles come into Yankee Stadium for a 3-game series, they are tied for first place in the AL Eastern Division, with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees are a game and a half back, 1 in the loss column. The Toronto Blue Jays are 2 back, and the Boston Red Sox 3 and a half back, 3 in the loss column.

Garcia has been moved to the bullpen. David Phelps, who has impressed in relief, has been given Garcia's place in the rotation.

In addition, D.J. Mitchell has been called up from Scranton, and Cody Eppley was sent down in his place. Hopefully, Phelps can do the job that Garcia should have been doing, and, between them, Garcia and Mitchell can do the job that Eppley should have been doing.

A-Rod Tracker: Hits, 2,795, 205 away from 3,000; Home Runs, 633, 67 away from 700, 130 away from an all-time record 763.

A-Rod also got his 1,904th career RBI, to pass Willie Mays for 9th on the all-time list. The all-time leader is Hank Aaron with 2,297. Hank broke that record before he broke Babe Ruth's career home run record. Hank also still holds the records for most extra-base hits and most total bases, in each case surpassing Stan Musial, who in each case surpassed Ruth.

Friday, April 27, 2012

How to Be a New York Fan In Houston

When the Mets finish their series in Denver against the Colorado Rockies, they will head to Houston to play the Astros.

Since this is the only time the Mets will travel there this season, it means not only do I have to do this now, but I also have to make it "How to Be a New York Fan," not "How to Be a Met Fan," since the Mets, from May 2013 onward, will only play the Astros in Interleague play and spring training -- or, possibly, the World Series, although neither ballclub looks ready to make even a Playoff run over the next 2 or 3 years.

Disclaimer: I have never been to Texas, let alone to Houston, so all of this information is secondhand at best, although much of it comes from the Astros' own website.

Before You Go. The Houston Chronicle is predicting daytime temperatures in the mid-80s and nighttime temperatures in the low 70s, plus a chance of thunderstorms on Monday night. This won't matter during the game, since the retractable roof will likely be closed in order to keep out Houston's infamous heat and humidity anyway. But you won't be indoors for the entire visit, so dress accordingly and bring an umbrella.

Houston is in the Central Time Zone, so you’ll be an hour behind New York time.

Getting There. It’s 1,629 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown Houston, and 1,638 miles from Citi Field to Minute Maid Park. You’re probably thinking that you should be flying.

The good news: Flying to Houston can be done for as little as $319. Considering how far it is, that is relatively cheap. The bad news: If you're staying for the entire series, you'll have to shell out more than twice that to get back. Also, your flight won't be nonstop: You'll have to change planes in either Dallas or Miami to get to Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport. (That's named for the father, not the son.)

There are only 2 ways to get there by train. One is to change trains in Chicago, and then change to a bus in Longview, Texas. The other is to change trains twice, in Washington and New Orleans, and then stay overnight in New Orleans. No, I'm not making that up. You don't want that -- and don't be fooled by the fact that Houston's Union Station and the ballpark are next-door to each other, because Amtrak uses a different station a mile away. So let's just move on.

Greyhound allows you to leave Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8:00 PM Saturday, and arrive at Houston at 1:30 PM on Monday, a trip of 42 hours and 30 minutes. But that would require changing buses in Richmond (a 45-minute layover) and Atlanta (5 hours). It also includes layovers of half an hour in Raleigh, 40 minutes in Charlotte, and then there's Alabama, with half an hour in Montgomery and an hour and 10 minutes in Mobile. Then 45 minutes in New Orleans and half an hour in Baton Rouge. The Houston Greyhound station is at 2121 Main Street, a mile and a half from the ballpark.

If you actually think it’s worth it to drive, get someone to go with you so you’ll have someone to talk to and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You’ll be taking Interstate 78 across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, where you'll pick up Interstate 81 and take that through the narrow panhandles of Maryland and West Virginia, down the Appalachian spine of Virginia and into Tennessee, where you'll pick up Interstate 40, stay on that briefly until you reach Interstate 75, and take that until you reach Interstate 59, which will take you into Georgia briefly and then across Alabama and Mississippi, and into Louisiana, where you take Interstate 12 west outside New Orleans. Take that until you reach Interstate 10. Once in Texas, Exit 770 will get you to downtown Houston.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 3 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in Maryland, half an hour in West Virginia, 5 and a half hours in Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Tennessee, half an hour in Georgia, 4 hours in Alabama, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Mississippi, 4 hours and 30 minutes in Louisiana and 2 hours in Texas. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic, we’re talking about a 40-hour trip.

Even if you’re only going for one game, no matter how you got there, get a hotel and spend a night. You’ll be exhausted otherwise. Trust me, I know: Trains and buses are not good ways to get sleep.

Tickets. The Astros averaged 25,519 fans per game last season, mainly due to the team's decline rather than the economy's. But then, even at their all-time peak, in 2006 and 2007, in the wake of the preceding 2 seasons being the first one in which they ever won a postseason series and the first one in which they ever won a Pennant, they topped out at 37,000 seats, leaving them nearly 4,000 short of the park's listed capacity of 40,963 seats. Getting tickets should not be a problem.

Tickets are considerably cheaper than we're used to in New York. Dugout Boxes are $56, baseline "Field Box I" seats are $41, corner "Field Box II" seats are $29, Mezzanine seats are $21, upper "View Deck I" seats are $16, "View Deck II" are $13, and there is a special "Outfield Deck" section where seats for $5 for adults and $1 for children.

Going In. Coors Field is in Downtown Houston. There is a light rail system, called METRORail, but you probably won't need it to get from a downtown hotel to the ballpark.

The mailing address is 501 Crawford Street. Crawford bounds the left field side, Texas Avenue the 3rd base side, Hamilton Street the 1st base side and Congress Street the right field side. The ballpark points due north, but that won't matter, since its only "open" side, left field, has a window that doesn't face any neat-looking skyscrapers.

Food. Being a “Wild West” city, you might expect Houston to have Western-themed stands with “real American food” at its ballpark. Being a Southern State, you might also expect to have barbecue. And you would be right on both counts. They have Tex-Mex food at Goya Latin Cafe and La Cantina at Section 119, El Real Fajita at 131, Kickin' Nachos at 114 and 427, Maverick Smokehouse at 124 and 410, Taqueria and Grille at 216, and Rosa's Cantina at 411 (almost certainly named for the place in the Marty Robbins song "El Paso," even if that is on the other side of the State).

They work the train theme with All Aboard at 109, Union Station at 113, Dining Car Grill at 125, Whistle Stop Libations at 218 and Chew Chew Express at 416.

There’s also stands with baseball-themed names: Baseball Bar at 207 and Little Biggs Slider Cart at 111. Chinese food is at Larry's Big Bamboo at 118 and Little Bamboo at 422, and there are 5 Papa John's Pizza stands. And there are several Blue Bell Ice Cream stands.

Team History Displays. The Astros, like the Mets, celebrate their 50th Anniversary season in 2012, and are wearing commemorative patches on their sleeves. They have made the postseason 9 times, but only won 1 Pennant, in 2005. Stanchions representing that Pennant, their NL Western Division titles of 1980 and '86, and their NL Central Division titles of 1997, '98, '99 and 2001 are on the left-field wall.

Also on that wall are the club's retired numbers. Officially, there are 9 of them: 32, 1960s pitcher Jim Umbricht, who died of cancer while still a young player; 40, 1970s pitcher Don Wilson, who also died while still active; 24, 1970s outfielder Jimmy Wynn; 25, 1970s outfielder Jose Cruz; 49, 1970s pitcher, 1990s manager, and on-again-off-again broadcaster Larry Dierker; 34, 1980s pitcher Nolan Ryan, a Houston-area native; 33, 1980s pitcher Mike Scott; and the 2 men who got the Astros through their 1990s and 2000s postseason berths, 5, 1st baseman Jeff Bagwell, and 7, 2nd baseman Craig Biggio.

The universally-retired 42 for Jackie Robinson, who was already elected to the Hall of Fame before the Astros ever played a game, is also on that wall. Somewhat appropriate, seeing as how the Astros were the first MLB team to play in a former Confederate State, acknowledging that the arrival of Robinson and other nonwhite players was a good thing. A number not on that wall is 57, which has not been officially retired, but neither has it been reissued since pitcher Darryl Kile died while with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2002. The Astros do not have a team Hall of Fame.

Stuff. Minute Maid Park has a Team Store in the left field corner of the ballpark, selling standard team-store gear, including many items with the 50th Anniversary logo. A 50th Anniversary team video is available, and so is a CD of longtime Astro broadcaster Milo Hamilton (who is probably best known not for any of his Astros' calls but for calling Hank Aaron's 715th home run while with the Braves). But since the Astros have only been in 1 World Series (2005), and got swept in it, don't look for the official highlight video. The only way you'll see highlights of their 2005 Pennant run is on the anniversary DVD.

As for books about the team, Sara Gilbert (not the Roseanne actress) has published a 50th Anniversary retrospective, with the not-very-imaginative title of The Story of the Houston Astros. Jose De Jesus Ortiz and former Astro catcher Brad Ausmus commemorated the 2005 season with Houston Astros: Armed and Dangerous.

During the Game. Above the left field wall is a CITGO sign, reminiscent of the one visible beyond the left field wall at Fenway Park in Boston. Below the sign, on top of the wall with the Pennants, tying into the train station theme, is a "track" on which a mockup of an old-time steam engine rolls after every Astro home run. And there are a lot of home runs there: Originally named Enron Field when it opened in 2000, the park was nicknamed Ten Run Field -- before Enron became the largest bankruptcy ever to that point, and Coca-Cola bought the naming rights and stuck the Minute Maid brand name, which it owned, on the stadium.

This change in the stadium name, but not in the propensity for offense, led Yankee broadcaster John Sterling, during an Interleague game there, to tell partner Charlie Steiner, "You know, Charlie, I understand that, at Minute Maid Park, the balls are juiced." To which Steiner said, "Ah, that's just pulp fiction."

In center field is "Tal's Hill," an incline named after former general manager Tal Smith, with an on-field, in-play flagpole. So it's got the incline like the old Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and the in-play flagpole like the pre-renovation old Yankee Stadium, and Tiger Stadium and its successor Comerica Park in Detroit (which opened the same season as MMP).

Another tie-in with the train them is the name of the mascot, Junction Jack, a jackrabbit dressed in an old-time railroad engineer's uniform. He replaced Orbit, a "little green man" alien, tying in with the Astrodome's space-age theme.

In the 7th inning stretch, after playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the Astros play that classic Texan song "Deep in the Heart of Texas." They do not appear to have a postgame victory song.

After the Game. Houston is a comparatively low-crime city, and despite the Mets' 1986 Pennant victory at the Astrodome, there doesn't seem to be a local grudge against New York. They don't much like Dallas in Houston, though. But as long as you behave yourself, they'll probably behave themselves. Across Texas Avenue at Hamilton Street, opposite the home plate entrance, is -- yet another ordinary name -- Home Plate Bar and Grill. As far as I can tell, it's the only bar around the park with a baseball-themed name. A block down Hamilton, at Franklin Street, is a place with a much better name: Joystix. Sadly (if you're looking to have drinks and fun after the game), this is a place that sells old pinball machines and video games, not a 1980s nostalgia place (which would tie in with the Astros' most successful period until 1997), not a combination 1980s-style mall (or beach boardwalk) arcade and modern bar. It's probably just as well: Can you imagine the combination of Pac-Man and beer (or worse, Missile Command and whiskey)?

I can find no mention of a place in Houston for expatriate New Yorkers, not even a place where Giants or Jets fans living there go to watch their boys on autumn Sundays.

Sidelights. In 1965, the Astrodome opened, and was nicknamed "The Eighth Wonder of the World." It sure didn't seem like an exaggeration: The first roofed sports stadium in the world. (Supposedly, the Romans built stadia with canvas roofs, but that's hardly the same thing.) The Astros played there until 1999, and then moved into Enron Field for the 2000 season. The The AFL/NFL's Oilers played at the Astrodome from 1968 to 1996, when they moved to Tennessee to become the Titans.

In 2002, the new NFL team, the Houston Texans, began play next-door, at Reliant Stadium, which, like Minute Maid Park, has a retractable roof. Suddenly, the mostly-vacant Astrodome seemed, as one writer put it, like a relic of a future that never came to be. (This same writer said the same thing of Shea Stadium and, across Roosevelt Avenue, the surviving structures of the 1964 World's Fair.)

Once, the Astrodome was flashy enough to be the site of movies like The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Murder at the World Series. (Both in 1977. In the latter, the Astros, who had never yet gotten close to a Pennant, played the Series against the Oakland Athletics, who had just gotten fire-sold by owner Charlie Finley.)

The Astrodome also hosted the legendary 1968 college basketball game between Number 1 UCLA (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then still Lew Alcindor) and Number 2 University of Houston (whose Elvin Hayes led them to victory, before falling to UCLA in that year's Final Four), and the cheese-tastic 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the "Battle of the Sexes." Elvis Presley sang there on February 27, 1970 and on March 3, 1974. It hosted Selena's last big concert before her murder in 1995, and when Jennifer Lopez starred in the film version, it was used for the re-creation. In 2004, the same year Reliant Stadium hosted the Super Bowl (which was won by... Janet Jackson, I think), the Astrodome was used to film a high school football playoff for the film version of Friday Night Lights; the old Astros division title banners can be clearly seen. Today, though, the Astrodome seems, like the Republican Party that held a ridiculously bigoted Convention there in 1992, stuck in the past. The former Eighth Wonder of the World is now nicknamed the Lonely Landmark, and while it served as a shelter for people displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, since 2008, when it was hit with numerous code violations, only maintenance workers and security guards have been allowed to enter. The stadium's future is not clear: Some officials are worried that demolishing it would damage the new stadium and other nearby structures.

Reliant Stadium was built roughly on the site of Colt Stadium, which was the baseball team's home in their first 3 seasons, 1962, '63 and '64, when they were known as the Houston Colt .45's (spelled like that), before moving into the dome and changing the name of the team. The climate-controlled stadium was necessary because of not just the heat and the humidity, but because of the mosquitoes. Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers said, "Some of those mosquitoes are twin-engine jobs."

Later, seeing the artificial turf that was laid in the Astrodome for 1966 after the grass died in the first season, due to the skylights in the dome having to be painted due to the players losing the ball in the sun, Koufax said, "I was one of those guys who pitched without a cup. I wouldn't do it on this stuff. And Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies, looking at the first artificial field in baseball history, said, "If a horse can't eat it, I don't want to play on it." The Astrodome/Reliant complex is at 8400 Kirby Drive at Reliant Parkway. Number 700 bus.

The NBA's Houston Rockets played at the Summit, later known as the Compaq Center, from 1975 to 2003. It's been converted into the Lakewood Church Central Campus. 3700 Southwest Freeway at Timmons Lane.

The Houston Aeros, with Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty, won the World Hockey Association championships of 1974 and 1975, while playing at the Sam Houston Coliseum, before moving into the Summit in 1975 and folding in 1998. The Beatles played there on August 19, 1965. It was built in 1937 and demolished in 1998. The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is now on the site. 801 Bagby Street, at Rusk Street, downtown.

The Houston Oilers played at Jeppesen Stadium from 1960 to 1964. They won the 1960 AFL Championship Game there, won the 1961 title game on the road, and lost the 1962 title game there -- and, as the Oilers and the Tennessee Titans, haven't gone as far as the rules allowed them to since 1961. Built in 1942, it is now known as Robertson Stadium, and is the current home of the University of Houston football team and the former home of MLS' Houston Dynamo. At the end of this year, it will be demolished and replaced with a new facility, while UH plays at Reliant Stadium, as they once played at the Astrodome. Scott Street & Alabama Avenue. Number 80 bus.

The Oilers played the 1965, '66 and '67 seasons at Rice Stadium, home of Rice University. Although built in 1950 and probably already obsolete, it seated a lot more people than did the Astrodome, and so Super Bowl VIII was played there instead of the Astrodome in January 1974, and the Miami Dolphins won it -- and haven't won a Super Bowl since. It has been significantly renovated, and Rice still uses it. University Blvd. at Greenbriar Street, although the mailing address is 6100 S. Main Street. Number 700 bus.

Before there were the Astros, or even the Colt .45's, there were the Houston Buffaloes. The Buffs played at Buffalo Stadium, a.k.a. Buff Stadium, for most of their history, from 1928 to 1961, when the Colt .45's made them obsolete. They were a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals, and as a result in its last years Buff Stadium was renamed Busch Stadium. The Cardinal teams of the 1930s that would be known as the "Gashouse Gang" came together in Houston, with Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin and Enos Slaughter. Later Buff stars included Cleveland Indians 3rd baseman Al Rosen, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, Negro League legend Willard Brown, Cardinal MVP Ken Boyer, and Phillies shortstop Ruben Amaro Sr.

Wanting to lure in more customers but also to beat the infamous Houston heat, lights were installed in 1930, 5 years before any major league park had them. The Buffs won 8 Texas League Pennants: 1928, 1931, 1940, 1947, 1951, 1954, 1956 and 1957. The stadium was at the southwest corner of Leeland Street & Cullen Boulevard, about 2 1/2 miles southeast of downtown. A furniture store is on the site now. Number 20 bus.

Although Houston is the post-Presidential home for George H.W. and Barbara Bush, his Presidential Library is at Texas A&M University, 100 miles away in College Station.

Houston's version of New York's American Museum of Natural History is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, in Hermann Park, at Main Street and Hermann Park Drive. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts is at 1001 Bissonnet Street, just 5 blocks away. Both can be reached by the Number 700 bus.

Of course, the name "Houston" is most connected with two things: Its namesake, the legendary Senator, Governor and war hero Sam Houston, and the Johnson Space Center, the NASA control center named after President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, as Senate Majority Leader, wrote the bill creating NASA and the Space Center, because he thought it would bring a lot of jobs and money to Houston (and he was right). Most historic sites relating to Sam, however, are not in the city that bears his name. As for reaching the Johnson Space Center, it's at 1601 NASA Parkway and Saturn Lane. The Number 249 bus goes there, so if you don't have a car, Houston, you won't have a problem.

Although Houston is the post-Presidential home for George H.W. and Barbara Bush, his Presidential Library is at Texas A&M University, 100 miles away in College Station.

*

Houston can be hot, but it's a good sports town, and, best of all, it's not Dallas. So there can be a good old time in the hot town tonight.

Moose Skowron, 1930-2012

We lost a Yankee Legend today. The Moose. And I don't mean Mike Mussina.

(Moose blocking out Joe Girardi and another Yankee I can't identify. Also in the photo, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and Ron Guidry.)

William Joseph Skowron Jr. was born in Chicago on December 18, 1930, and at the age of 7 got a haircut that someone said made him look like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. He was "Moose" from then on, although his baseball cards usually listed him as "Bill Skowron."

He played baseball and football at Purdue University in Indiana, and reached the major league with the Yankees in 1954. He was the first baseman on American League Pennant-winning teams in Pinstripes in 1955, '56, '57, '58, '60, '61 and '62, winning the World Series in 1956, 1958, 1961 and 1962.

In Game 7 of the 1956 World Series -- the last postseason game played at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field -- he hit a grand slam home run off Dodger pitcher Roger Craig. In 1957, he made the last out of the Series, but in 1958 he got the winning hit in Game 6 and homered in Game 7. Both Series were against the Milwaukee Braves.

Moose appeared in 5 All-Star Games, and hit 165 of his 211 career home runs for the Yankees. Had he played in almost any ballpark other than the pre-renovation original Yankee Stadium, with its left and center field "Death Valley," or been a lefthanded hitter in the same stadium, he might have had twice as many home runs. He never won a Gold Glove -- they were first given out in 1957 -- but he was as good a fielder as any first baseman in baseball in that time, with the exception of Gil Hodges of the Dodgers. He was the first long-term first baseman the Yankees could rely on since the illness-forced retirement of Lou Gehrig in 1939.

After the 1962 season, with Joe Pepitone coming up, the Yankees traded Moose to the Dodgers, who had moved to Los Angeles. Big mistake: Moose helped the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the 1963 World Series, giving him a 5th ring and resulting in him being one of the few players to hit World Series home runs for teams in both leagues, and also one of the few players to play on back-to-back World Champions with 2 different teams. (Another, 1947 Yankee and 1948 Cleveland Indian Allie Clark, died a few days ago.) To make the trade worse, Williams, whose relief work had cost the Dodgers the 1962 National League Pennant, was no prize in Pinstripes.

Moose was an All-Star one more time, in 1965 for his hometown White Sox, and finished his career with the team then known as the California Angels in 1967. His lifetime batting average was .282, and his OPS+ was a strong 119.

After retiring, he worked in community relations for the White Sox until cancer overtook him, but usually made it back to Yankee Stadium (old and new) for Old-Timers' Day. He was one of the old-time players on the field when the old Stadium closed in 2008. Although he was not one of Mickey Mantle's drinking buddies, he was one of Mickey's pallbearers in 1995.

"Moose could flat-out hit... for average, and he had real power," Mantle said. "People used to look at our lineup and concentrate on the guys in the middle of the order. Moose might have been batting sixth or seventh, but he made our lineup deep and more dangerous. You didn't want to give him too much around the plate. He was like Yogi, he could hit bad pitches out and beat you."

I met Moose, and also 1950s Yankee right fielder Hank Bauer, in Cooperstown, in 1994, when they were signing autographs outside a store near the Baseball Hall of Fame. Moose was terrific with everyone. Bauer, well, the guy was a Marine who still looked like he could crush anybody's spleen, so I can give him a little latitude for not being wonderful.

Moose Skowron died this morning, at home in Chicago. He was 81. He is survived by his wife Lorraine (a.k.a. "Cookie"), daughter Lynnette, sons Greg and Steve, brother Edward and four grandchildren.

* Moose did play in the 1956 World Series, but it was Joe Collins who played 1st base in Game 5, Don Larsen's perfect game. Larsen is still alive, over 55 years later. So are 2 other Yankees who played in the game, Yogi Berra and Andy Carey. Sadly, none of the Dodgers who played in the game are still alive. Still living from the '56 Yanks but not playing in the game are: Whitey Ford, Jerry Coleman, Johnny Kucks, Bob Cerv, Norm Siebern and Bob Turley. Still alive from the '56 Dodgers: Don Zimmer, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Roger Craig, Randy Jackson (not the Jackson 5 singer or the American Idol panelist) and Ed Roebuck.

Still alive from the 1958 World Champion Yankees: Yogi, Whitey, Larsen, Turley, Siebern, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Jerry Lumpe, Zach Monroe and Art Ditmar.

Still alive from the 1961 World Champion Yankees: Yogi, Whitey, Turley, Kubek, Richardson, Hector Lopez, Jack Reed, Bill Stafford, Ralph Terry and Jim Coates. These are also the only men still alive from the 1962 World Champion Yankees.

Still alive from the 1963 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers: Sandy Koufax, Frank Howard, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Ron Fairly, Dick Tracewski and Ron Perranoski.

Game 7 in New York Tri-State Area Sports

Last night, both the Devils (in double overtime) and The Scum (in regulation) won a Game 7 to advance to the NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals.

A Game 7 is a glorious thing. Unless you're in one. Then it becomes a gut-wrenching, mind-twisting thing. Unless, and until, you win it.

Here's a list of all the Game 7s ever played by a team in the New York Tri-State Area.

Note that, being football teams, the Giants and Jets only play one-off Playoffs. And that, prior to 1939, the Stanley Cup Finals was a best-of-five. The NBA Finals have always been a best-of-seven, although not every earlier round has been. The World Series has been best-of-seven, with the only exceptions being best-of-nine affairs in 1903, 1912 (and that was due to a tie forcing a Game 8), 1919, 1920 and 1921. But in those years, it never got to a Game 9. The League Championship Series was best-of-five until 1984, then became best-of-seven in 1985.

Note also that MLB went from 1 postseason round to 2 in 1969, and to 3 in 1995; the NBA from 3 to 4 in 1970; and the NHL from 3 back down to 2 in 1939, to 3 in 1967, and 4 in 1974. And that the NHL didn't bring in American teams until 1924, and that the NBA wasn't founded until 1946. That's why there's so many fewer prior to the 1970s, and especially prior to the 1950s.

1924 New York Giants: Lost World Series to Washington Senators, in 12 innings.

1926 New York Yankees: Lost World Series to St. Louis Cardinals, at home.

1939 New York Rangers: Lost Stanley Cup Semifinals to Boston Bruins.

1947 New York Yankees: Won World Series over...

1947 Brooklyn Dodgers.

1950 New York Rangers: Lost Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit Red Wings, in overtime.

1951 New York Knicks: Lost NBA Finals to Rochester Royals.

1952 New York Knicks: Lost NBA Finals to Minneapolis Lakers.

1952 Brooklyn Dodgers: Lost World Series, at home, to...

1952 New York Yankees.

1955 New York Yankees: Lost World Series, at home, to...

1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers: Lost World Series, at home, to...

1956 New York Yankees.

1957 New York Yankees: Lost World Series to Milwaukee Braves, at home.

1958 New York Yankees: Won World Series over Braves, on the road.

1960 New York Yankees: Lost World Series to Pittsburgh Pirates.

1962 New York Yankees: Won World Series over San Francisco Giants, on the road.

1964 New York Yankees: Lost World Series to St. Louis Cardinals.

1970 New York Nets: Lost ABA Eastern Division Semifinals to Kentucky Colonels.

1970 New York Knicks: Won NBA Eastern Division Semifinals over Baltimore Bullets. Then won probably the most famous Game 7 in the history of New York sports over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.

1971 New York Rangers: Lost Stanley Cup Semifinals to Chicago Blackhawks, after winning Game 6 in triple overtime on Pete Stemkowski's goal.

1972 New York Nets: Won ABA East Finals over Virginia Squires.

1973 New York Knicks: Won NBA East Finals over Boston Celtics. The first time the Celtics ever lost a Game 7 at the Boston Garden.

1973 New York Mets: Lost World Series to Oakland Athletics.

1974 New York Knicks: Won NBA East Quarterfinals over Washington Bullets.

1974 New York Rangers: Lost Stanley Cup Semifinals to Philadelphia Flyers.

1975 New York Islanders: Won Stanley Cup Quarterfinals over Pittsburgh Penguins, on the road, then lost Semifinals to Philadelphia Flyers.

1976 New York Nets: Won ABA Semifinals over San Antonio Spurs.

1978 New York Islanders: Lost Stanley Cup Quarterfinals to Toronto Maple Leafs, at home.

1984 New York Knicks: Lost NBA East Semifinals to Boston Celtics.

1986 New York Mets: Won World Series over Boston Red Sox.

1987 New York Islanders: Won NHL Patrick Division Semifinals over Washington Capitals in overtime in the "Easter Epic." Then lost to Philadelphia Flyers in Division Finals.

1988 New Jersey Devils: Won NHL Patrick Division Finals over Washington Capitals, on the road, then lost NHL Wales Conference Finals to Boston Bruins.

1988 New York Mets: Lost NLCS to Los Angeles Dodgers.

1991 New Jersey Devils: Lost NHL Patrick Division Semifinals to Pittsburgh Penguins.

1992 New York Knicks: Lost NBA East Semifinals to Chicago Bulls

1992 New York Rangers: Won NHL Patrick Division Semifinals over...

1992 New Jersey Devils.

1993 New York Islanders: Won NHL Patrick Division Finals over Pittsburgh Penguins, on the road.

1994 New York Rangers: Won Stanley Cup Finals over Vancouver Canucks. The Curse of 1940 is dead. This came after winning a double-overtime Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals on a goal by Stephane Matteau against...

1994 New Jersey Devils: Who had previously won NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals over Buffalo Sabres.

1994 New York Knicks: Three Game 7s. Won NBA East Semifinals over Chicago Bulls, then won East Finals over Indiana Pacers, before falling in NBA Finals to Houston Rockets.

1995 New York Knicks: Lost NBA East Semifinals to Indiana Pacers.

1997 New York Knicks: Lost NBA East Semifinals to Miami Heat.

1999 New Jersey Devils: Lost NHL East Quarterfinals to Pittsburgh Penguins.

2000 New York Knicks: Won NBA East Semifinals over Miami Heat.

2000 New Jersey Devils: Won NHL East Finals over Philadelphia Flyers, on the road, to complete a 3-games-to-1 comeback. This was when Scott Stevens introduced Eric Lindros to Mr. Shoulder.

2001 New Jersey Devils: Won NHL East Semifinals over Toronto Maple Leafs, but lost Stanley Cup Finals to Colorado Avalanche.

2001 New York Yankees: Lost World Series to Arizona Diamondbacks.

2002 New York Islanders: Lost NHL East Quarterfinals to Toronto Maple Leafs.

2003 New Jersey Devils: Won NHL East Finals over Ottawa Senators on the road, then won Stanley Cup Finals over Anaheim Ducks.

2003 New York Yankees: Won ALCS over Boston Red Sox, in 11 innings.

2004 New Jersey Nets: Lost NBA East Semifinals to Detroit Pistons.

2004 New York Yankees: Lost ALCS to Boston Red Sox, at home. The Curse of the Bambino is dead.

2006 New York Mets: Lost NLCS to St. Louis Cardinals, at home.

2009 New Jersey Devils: Lost NHL East Quarterfinals to Carolina Hurricanes, at home. Aside from the Matteau Game, this was the most shocking defeat in Devils history: Blew a 3-2 lead with a minute and a half left and lost 4-3.

2009 New York Rangers: Lost NHL East Quarterfinals to Washington Capitals.

2012 New York Rangers: Won NHL East Quarterfinals over Ottawa Senators.

2012 New Jersey Devils: Won NHL East Quarterfinals over Florida Panthers.

*

Rangers: 5-4, including 0-1 in Finals.
Devils: 7-7, including 1-0 in Finals.
Knicks: 7-7, including 1-3 in Finals.
Nets: 2-2, but only 0-1 since moving to the NBA.
Yankees: 6-7, including 5-6 in "Finals."
Islanders: 3-4, never played a Game 7 in Finals.
Mets: 1-3, including 0-1 in "Finals."
Giants (baseball): 0-1, and that was in a "Final."
Dodgers: 1-3, all in "Finals."

Who would've thought that the Rangers, legendary losers and choke artists, would have the best record in Game 7s? In fact, they're the only NYTSA team over .500 in this regard!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

You Can Never Have Too Much Pitching

"Pitching is 75 percent of baseball." -- Connie Mack

"Connie Mack lied." -- Billy Martin

No. He didn't. He may have exaggerated -- it's not three-quarters, but it's more than half -- but he was right.

*

In the first game of their series against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, CC Sabathia (2-0) pitched 8 innings, allowing 7 hits and just 1 walk, allowing 4 runs (which didn't matter because the Yankee bats worked), and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect 9th (4th save). In other words, a good 1978-style pitching job by the Yankees (even if Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage frequently went more than 1 full inning of relief).

The Yankee bats did work: Derek Jeter went 4-for-5 with an RBI, Robinson Cano went 2-for-5, Curtis Granderson drove in 2 runs with a hit, and Alex Rodriguez hit his 3rd home run of the season, a 3-run job, off Derek Holland (2-1). Yankees 7, Rangers 4.

The second game, things were different. Hiroki Kuroda (1-3) had good stuff, getting into the 7th having allowed just 2 runs. But the Yankees got none off the Rangers' own Japanese pitcher, the much-heralded Yu Darvish (3-0). Jeter and Cano each got 2 hits, but the rest of the Yankees combined got just 3 (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Eric Chavez). Rangers 2, Yankees 0.

And then yesterday, it was a bad day for the Yankees all around.

1st reason: It was revealed that Michael Pineda, who was the key to sending the much-hailed Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners (where, so far, he's batting .281 but with a 94 OPS+, 2 homers and 11 RBIs), has a torn labrum and will be out for a year. In other words, not only will he not pitch this season, but he won't even be ready for Opening Day next season. The start of May 2013 is more likely.

2nd reason: The guy we might have been counting on to replace him, Andy Pettitte, did not pitch well for the Trenton Thunder last night, going only 5 innings, allowing 7 hits (but only 1 walk) and 4 runs (3 of them earned), in a game the Thunder went on to lose 10-4 to the Erie Seawolves. (Consolations: Left fielder Ronnier Mustelier and DH Cody Johnson are hitting the tar out of the ball down there.)

3rd reason: Phil Hughes started for the Yankees, and looked even more like he should be relegated to the bullpen. He didn't get out of the 3rd inning, and this time we can't blame the hideous fielding of Eduardo Nunez, who didn't even play.

Aside from a home run (his 3rd) and a double from Raul Ibanez, last night's game was a total waste. David Phelps, the young righthander that a lot of fans want to replace Hughes (or Pineda) in the rotation, also got hit hard, and didn't look like the answer to any question.

There was one more item of interest: Jeter got 2 more hits. He's now batting .420. This is what happens with Batman if his parents live long enough to help him grow up.

But hardly enough to help. Rangers 7, Yankees 3. WP: Robbie Ross (4-0). LP: Hughes (1-3).

A saying becomes a cliche by containing some truth. So do not roll your eyes when I say, "You can never have too much pitching."

*

So the Yankees have a travel day today, and begin a weekend series at The Stadium Mark II against the Detroit Tigers, the team that knocked us out of the Playoffs last season.

Friday night, 7:00: A big pitching matchup, Ivan Nova (our most consistent starting pitcher since last year's All-Star Break) vs. Justin Verlander (last season's American League Most Valuable Player).

Saturday afternoon, 4:00 (on Fox): Freddy Garcia vs. Drew Smyly. Oh, wonderful: A Fox game, a pitcher the Yankees have never seen (the 22-year-old lefty from Arkansas has pitched 3 major league games, with an ERA of 1.13), and Garcia hasn't pitched well so far. This looks like an L.

Sunday afternoon, 1:00: CC vs. Max Scherzer. Probably our best chance for a win in the series.

*

As of the conclusion of last night's games, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays are tied for first place in the AL Eastern Division. The Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays are each 1 game back. The Boston Red Sox are 3 1/2 back, 3 in the loss column.

A-Rod Tracker: 2,790 hits, 210 for 3,000; 632 home runs, 68 for 700 and 131 for the record 763.

* Last night, the Mets beat the Miami Marlins 5-1 at Citi Field, having taken 2 out of the first 3 in a series that concludes this afternoon. Jose Reyes, who left, went 1-for-8 in the series. David Wright, who stayed, hit a home run to give him 753, making him the all-time franchise leader, surpassing Darryl Strawberry.

Where would those 753 RBIs place the Mets' all-time leader on the Yankees' list?

1. Lou Gehrig 1,995
2. Babe Ruth 1,971
3. Joe DiMaggio 1,537
4. Mickey Mantle 1,509
5. Yogi Berra 1,430
6. Bernie Williams 1,257
7. Derek Jeter 1,209 and counting
8. Bill Dickey 1,209
9. Tony Lazzeri 1,154
10. Don Mattingly 1,099
11. Jorge Posada 1,065
12. Bob Meusel 1,005
13. Alex Rodriguez 910 and counting
14. Paul O'Neill 858
15. Graig Nettles 834
16. Wally Pipp 826 (he really was a great player)
17. Dave Winfield 818
18. Tommy Henrich 795
19. Roy White 758

Think about that: David Wright is the greatest player the Mets have had at his position (3rd base), and the best player the Mets have had over the last 10 years (at the start of which, Mike Piazza was already in decline)... and he hasn't even had more RBIs than Roy White.

Even if you only count those players whose career stats have been solely from the birth of the Mets in 1962 onward, it doesn't help a lot:

1. Bernie Williams 1,257
2. Derek Jeter 1,209 and counting
3. Don Mattingly 1,099
4. Jorge Posada 1,065
5. Alex Rodriguez 910 and counting
6. Paul O'Neill 858
7. Graig Nettles 834
8. Dave Winfield 818
9. Roy White 758

So, even then, Wright would only make the top 10.

The Mets.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How to Be a New York Fan in Colorado

I'll do a retrospective of the Yanks' series in Texas tomorrow morning, after it's over. I'll also say something about the Devils tomorrow.

*

The Mets are on their way to Denver to play the Colorado Rockies. I realize I’m a little late unless you’re going anything other than last-minute, but this is the only roadtrip there this season. Yet another thing that Interleague play has screwed up.

Disclaimer: I have only been to Denver twice, and that was to change planes going to and from Las Vegas many years ago. I have never set foot outside the old Stapleton Airport, much less visited Coors Field. But it does look like one of the best ballparks, so I would like to visit and recommend it.

Before You Go. The Denver Post is predicting a 20 percent chance of rain for all 3 days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures should be in the low 60s during the day and the low 40s at night. This will be Mets vs. Rockies, not Jets vs. Broncos, but, still, bring a warm jacket and an umbrella.

The Post is a good paper, but don't bother looking for the Rocky Mountain News: It went out of business in 2009.

Denver is in the Mountain Time Zone, so you’ll be 2 hours behind New York time. And there’s a reason it’s called the Mile High City: The elevation means the air will be thinner. Although the Rocky Mountain region is renowned for outdoor recreation, if you’re not used to it, try not to exert yourself too much. Cheering at a sporting event shouldn’t bother you too much, but don’t go rock-climbing or any other such activity unless you’ve done it before and know what you’re doing.

Getting There. It’s 1,779 miles from Times Square in New York to the Denver plaza that contains the State House and the City-County complex, and 1,790 miles from Citi Field to Coors Field. You’re probably thinking that you should be flying.

The good news: Flying to Denver, considering how far it is, is relatively cheap. You can get a round-trip flight on Friday morning, and buy it today, for $850. The bad news: It won’t be nonstop. While the old Stapleton International Airport was a major change-planes-here spot for going to the West Coast and Las Vegas, the new Denver International Airport isn’t. You want to fly there, you’ll have to change planes, most likely in either Chicago or Dallas.

Going by train or bus would have been possible – but you’d have to have left today, Wednesday, in order to get there by Friday and the start of the series. Sorry, but posting this earlier couldn't be done, due to real-life commitments.

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited leaves Penn Station at 3:45 PM Wednesday, arrives at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Thursday (that’s Central Time). The California Zephyr leaves Chicago at 2:00 PM Thursday and arrives at Denver’s Union Station at 7:15 PM Friday. The return trip would leave Denver at 7:10 PM Sunday (enough time to get out of Coors Field), arrives in Chicago at 2:50 PM Monday, leaves Chicago at 9:30 PM Monday, and gets back to New York at 6:35 PM Tuesday. The round-trip fare is $477. Conveniently, Union Station is at 20th Street & Delgany Street, right across from Coors Field.

Greyhound allows you to leave Port Authority Bus Terminal at 4:00 PM Wednesday, and arrive at Denver at 11:15 AM on Friday, a trip of 45 hours and 15 minutes, without having to change buses. That 45:15 does, however, include layovers of 40 minutes in Philadelphia, an hour and a half in Pittsburgh, an hour in Columbus, an hour in Indianapolis, and 2 hours and 40 minutes in St. Louis, plus half-hour meal stops in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kansas. Round-trip fare is $337. You can get a bus back at 7:15 PM Sunday and be back in New York at 3:00 PM Tuesday. The Denver Bus Center is at 1055 19th Street, 5 blocks from Coors Field.

If you actually think it’s worth it to drive, get someone to go with you so you’ll have someone to talk to and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You’ll be taking Interstate 80 most of the way, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, before taking Interstate 76 from Nebraska to Colorado, and then Interstate 25 into Denver. (An alternate route: Take the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes to I-70 and then I-70 through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado into downtown Denver. It won’t save you an appreciable amount of time, though.)

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Iowa, 6 hours in Nebraska, and 3 hours and 15 minutes in Colorado. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic (you’ll be bypassing Cleveland and Chicago, unless that’s where you want to make rest stops), we’re talking about a 40-hour trip.

Even if you’re only going for one game, no matter how you got there, get a hotel and spend a night. You’ll be exhausted otherwise. Trust me, I know: Trains and buses are not good ways to get sleep.

Tickets. When the Rockies began play in 1993, there had never been a major league team in the entire Mountain Time Zone, and the Denver Bears and their successors the Denver Zephyrs had been among the best-attended teams in the minor leagues. That, plus the huge capacity of Mile High Stadium, allowed Colorado fans to set several major league attendance records, including most fans for an Opening Day game (80,227), most fans in a single season (4,483,350 in that first season of 1993) and most fans per home game (56,094 in the strike-shortened 1994 season).

When Coors Field opened in 1995, with a capacity around 47,000 (now officially 50,490), every game was still sold out, until 1999. The Rockies still do very well: Their 35,923 average for 2011 was 12th in the major leagues, 7th in the National League, and only 300 or so behind the Dodgers for 2nd in the Western Division. So tickets may not be easy to come by.

For tickets that are available: Infield Boxes are $85, Outfield Boxes are $50, Upper Reserved Infield seats are $31, Upper Reserved Outfield seats are $26, Pavilion (left field bleacher) seats are $37, Upper Rightfield Reserved are $18, and the center field "Rockpile" seats -- a holdover from the bleachers of that nickname at Mile High Stadium -- are just $4.

Going In. Coors Field is in the Lower Downtown, or LoDo, section of Denver, a mile and a half northwest of the government center. The Number 60 bus will get you to within 3 blocks. Denver has a light rail system, but chances are your hotel will be downtown, and you’d have to change trains at least once, so the 60 bus is the way to go.

The mailing address is 2001 Blake Street. Blake bounds the 1st base side, 20th Street the 3rd base side, 22nd Street the right field stands, and Wewatta Street and the light rail tracks the left field side.

Most likely, you’ll enter through the home plate gate, at 20th & Blake. I like that: All visits to the ballpark should make your first view of the field from behind home plate. This was rarely possible with the old New York ballparks: The stadiums pointed east, and both subway exits put you at the right field corner (if you entered Yankee Stadium from the 157th Street plaza, or the left field corner if you came down 161st Street). In the case of Coors, it’s just more convenient.

Food. Being a “Wild West” city, you might expect Denver to have Western-themed stands with “real American food” at its ballpark. Being in a State with a Spanish name, in a land that used to belong to Mexico, you might also expect to have Mexican food. And you would be right on both counts. A stand called Buckaroos is at Section 148, Burritos is at 134, the Helton Burger Shack (named for Rockies star Todd Helton) at 153, a full-service bar called the Camarena Loft behind 201, another called Margaritas at 330, 3 Monster Nacho stands, and, for club-seaters, the Mountain Ranch Club Bar.

There’s also stands with baseball-themed names, including several Fan Fare stands, Fair Territory in 106, and Yard Ball Yogurt at 330. There’s a Starbucks-type place called Madeline’s at 151, a pair of sandwich bars called the Club Carvery behind 219 and 238, a coffee bar call Java City at 223, a Chinese-themed Wok in the Park at 150, and a Blue Moon Brewing Co. outlet at 111.

Buckaroos has “Dinger Nuggets,” which I’m hoping is standard chicken nuggets, not dinosaur meat. (I’ll get to that in “During the Game.”)

Team History Displays. The Rockies’ history is short. They have made the Playoffs 3 times, won just one Pennant, and have won a grand total of zero World Series games. As yet, they have no members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, or even the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. And while Larry Walker’s Number 33 has not been reissued, officially, their only retired number is the universally-retired 42 for Jackie Robinson, who died 20 years before the Rockies ever played a game.

That number and the 2007 Pennant are displayed on the outfield wall. The 1995 NL Wild Card banner used to be on the wall, but once a Pennant was won, it seemed a bit silly. There is no mention, anywhere in the stadium, of the Pennants won by the Rockies' minor-league predecessors, the Denver Bears (also briefly known as the Denver Zephyrs).

Stuff. Coors Field has the standard team stores to sell Rockies gear. But don’t look for old Rockies videos on DVD – there aren’t any. Unless you want to find the official highlight film of the 2007 World Series, in which the Rockies got swept by the Boston Red Sox. You’d think that, having won 14 of their last 15 regular-season games, making it 21 out of 22 counting the Playoffs, winning their first-ever Pennant, and setting a major league record for highest team fielding percentage (.989), there would be a commemorative DVD. But there isn’t.

There are, however, a few books about the team, including A Magical Season: Colorado’s Incredible 2007 Championship Season, by the staff of the Denver Post. You can also pick up Colorado Rockies: The Inaugural Season, by Rich Clarkson, which came out right after that 1993 season ended. The first-year Rockies probably got more respect than any 67-95 team ever.

To compare, the 1969 Seattle Pilots went 64-98, also played in a stadium that was inappropriate for the major leagues – albeit because it was an expanded 1930s Triple-A park, not a 1940s Triple-A park converted into a 1970s football stadium like Mile High – got fewer fans in a homestand than the ’93 Rox got in their home opener, got moved to Milwaukee right before their second season started, and today are remembered only for being in Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four; even Seattle fans would rather believe their major league history started with the Mariners.

During the Game. Coloradans love their sports, but they’re not known as antagonistic. Although the Jets came within a half of derailing a Bronco Super Bowl in 1999 (1998 season), and the Devils came within a game of short-circuiting their Stanley Cup run in 2001, the people of the Centennial State don’t have an ingrained hatred of New Yorkers. As long as you don’t wear Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders gear, you’ll probably be completely safe. (But, as always, watch out for obnoxious drunks, who know no State Lines.)

When construction workers were excavating to build Coors Field, they found dinosaur bones. So the Rockies’ mascot was made a dinosaur. In honor of the thin air’s propensity for allowing home runs, the mascot was named Dinger the Dinosaur. Great idea, right? Well, a Tyrannosaurus Rex (or even a “Tyrannosaurus Rox”) would probably scare kids, so Dinger is a purple triceratops. Think of him as Barney’s cousin from the weird side of the family.

A line of purple seats across the stadium shows the exact point at which the elevation of the park is 5,280 feet above sea level, making it “a mile high.” After years of opposing teams complaining that the highest elevation in MLB history resulting in too many home runs, prior to the 2002 season the team ordered a study to determine if the elevation was the cause.

As it turned out, the study suggested it was not thin air, but dry air that was doing it. So a giant humidor – a room-sized version of the kind of box where a smoker would store his cigars – was put into the ballpark, and the baseballs were stored there. As a result, the ball is no longer going as far as it once did, although the thin air does make it go farther. The thin air also makes curveballs curve less, which means it’s still not a good park for pitchers. Nevertheless, the team’s pitching staff can no longer be called, as it once was, “the Rocky Horror Pitching Show.”

The Rockies play Bruce Channel’s song “Hey! Baby” after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. Why? I have no idea. Channel isn’t from Colorado, or any other Rocky Mountain State (he’s from Texas). Why not a Colorado singer’s song? You got me. I guess “Rocky Mountain High” – whose singer used the stage name John Denver, for crying out loud – isn’t particularly rousing. Nor is “How to Save a Life” by The Fray, who are from Denver. The Rockies do not have a postgame victory song.

After the Game. Denver has had crime issues, and just 3 blocks from Coors Field is Larimer Street, immortalized as a dingy, bohemian-tinged, hobo-strewn street in Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. But that scene was written in 1947, and LoDo has become, with the building of Coors Field and the revitalization of Union Station, a sort of mountain Wrigleyville. So you’ll probably be safe.

LoDo is loaded with bars that will be open after the game, including Scruffy Murphy’s at Larimer & 20th, and an outlet of the Fado Irish Pub chain at Wynkoop & 19th. But the only baseball-named place I can find anywhere near Coors is Sandlot Brewery, at 22nd & Blake, outside the park’s right-field corner.

Perhaps the most famous sports-themed restaurant near Denver is Elway’s Cherry Creek, a steakhouse at 2500 E. 1st Avenue in the southern suburb of Cherry Creek. Bus 83L. It’s owned by the same guy who owns John Elway Chevrolet in another southern suburb, Englewood.

About a mile southeast of Coors Field, at 538 E. 17th Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood (not sure why a southern, rather than northern, neighborhood is called “Uptown”), is The Tavern, home of the local New York Giants fan club. I can find no corresponding place for Jets fans, but if you’re a Met fan, you can probably find some New Yorkers at The Tavern.

Sidelights. Sports Authority Field at Mile High, formerly Invesco Field at Mile High, has been the home of the Denver Broncos since 2001. Everyone just gives in the same name as the old facility: Mile High Stadium. It includes the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, and the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.

It was built on the site of the McNichols Sports Arena, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets from 1975 to 1999, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche from 1995 to 1999, and the first major league team called the Colorado Rockies, the NHL team that became the Devils, from 1976 to 1982. It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1990, and when the time came to play the final concert there, the act that played the first was brought back: ZZ Top. This fact was mentioned on a Monday Night Football broadcast, leading Dan Dierdorf to note the alphabetic distinction of the long red-bearded men, and say, “The first one should have been ABBA.” (Which would have been possible, as they were nearly big in the U.S. at the time.)

The old stadium was just to the north of the new stadium/old arena. The current address is Mile High Stadium Circle, but the old intersection was W. 20th Avenue & Bryant St. (2755 W. 17th Avenue was the mailing address.) It was built in 1948 as Bears Stadium, an 18,000-seat ballpark. When the American Football League was founded in 1960, it was expanded to 34,000 seats with the addition of outfield seating. The name was changed to Mile High Stadium in 1966, and by 1968 much of the stadium was triple-decked and seated 51,706. In 1977 – just in time for the Broncos to make their first Super Bowl run and start “Broncomania” – the former baseball park was transformed into a 76,273-seat horseshoe, whose east stands could be moved in to conform to the shape of a football field, or out to allow enough room for a regulation baseball field. The old-time ballpark had become, by the standards of the time, a modern football stadium.

The biggest complaint when the Rockies arrived in 1993 wasn’t the thin air, or the condition of the stadium (it was not falling apart), but the positioning of the lights: Great for football fans, but terrible for outfielders tracking fly balls. But it was only meant to be a temporary ballpark for the Rockies, as a condition for Denver getting a team was a baseball-only stadium. What really led to the replacement of Mile High Stadium, and its demolition in 2002, was greed: The desire for luxury-box revenue.

At Bears/Mile High Stadium, the Broncos won AFC Championships in 1977, 1986, 1987 and 1989, and the Denver Bears won Pennants in 1957 (as a Yankee farm team), 1971, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1991 (as the Denver Zephyrs). The Red Lion Hotel Denver and the Skybox Grill & Sports Bar are now on the site of the old stadium. At McNichols, the Nuggets reached the ABA Finals in 1976, and the Avalanche won the 1996 Stanley Cup (albeit clinching in Miami). Mile High Station on the light rail C-Line and E-Line.

The Pepsi Center, new home of the Nugs and Avs, is 6 blocks up Auraria Parkway and one stop away on the C-Line and E-Line. The intersection is 11th Street & Auraria Parkway, but the mailing address is 1000 Chopper Circle, named for Robert “Chopper” Travaglini, the longtime trainer (and amateur sports psychologist) of the Nuggets. He was actually a Jersey, albeit from Woodbury on the Philly side. He died in 1999, age 77, right before the new arena opened. The Nuggets have usually made the Playoffs since moving in, but have never reached the NBA Finals. The Avs won the 2001 Stanley Cup on home ice (beating the Devils, rats). The Democratic Convention was held at the Pepsi Center in 2008, although Senator Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech outdoors in front of 80,000 people at New Mile High Stadium.

The Nuggets, known as the Denver Rockets until 1974, played at the Denver Auditorium Arena, at 13th & Champa Streets, from their 1967 inception until McNichols opened in 1975. It was also the home of the original Nuggets, who played in the NBA from 1948 to 1950. It opened in 1908, and its seating capacity of 12,500 made it the 2nd-largest in the country at the time, behind the version of Madison Square Garden then standing. It almost immediately hosted the Democratic National Convention that nominated William Jennings Bryan for President for the third time – although it’s probably just a coincidence that the Democrats waited exactly 100 years (give or take a few weeks) to go back (it’s not like Obama didn’t want to get right the first time, as opposed 0-for-3 Bryan). It hosted Led Zeppelin’s first American concert on December 26, 1968. It was demolished in 1990 to make way for the Denver Performing Arts Complex, a.k.a. the Denver Center. Theatre District/Convention Center Station on the light rail’s D-Line, F-Line and H-Line.

Denver has some renowned museums, including the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (their version of the Museum of Natural History) at 2001 Colorado Boulevard at Montview Boulevard (in City Park, Number 20 bus), and the Denver Art Museum (their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History), at 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway at Colfax Avenue (across I-25 from Mile High Stadium, Auraria West station on the C-Line and E-Line).

Denver’s history only goes back to a gold rush in 1859 – not to be confused with the 1849 one that turned San Francisco from a Spanish Catholic mission into the first modern city in the American West. The city isn’t exactly loaded with history. There’s no Presidential Library – although Mamie Doud, the eventual Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, grew up there, and her house is now a historic site. Mamie and “Ike” were married there, their son John (a future General, Ambassador, military historian and now the oldest surviving Presidential child) was born there, and the Eisenhowers were staying there when Ike had his heart attack in 1955. The house is still in private ownership, and is not open to the public. However, if you’re a history buff, or if you just like Ike, and just want to see it, it’s at 750 Lafayette Street, at 8th Avenue. The Number 6 bus will get you to 6th & Lafayette.

Ike was treated at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in nearby Aurora, 12 years after Senator John Kerry, nearly elected President in 2004, was born there. It’s not a Presidential Birthplace, because Kerry narrowly lost. It is now the University of Colorado Hospital. The Fitzsimmons Golf Course is across Montview Boulevard – figures that Ike would be hospitalized next to a golf course! 16th Avenue & Quentin Street. Number 20 bus from downtown.

*

Denver had been considered a potential destination for Major League Baseball many times: The Continental League planned a team there for 1961, it was a finalist for expansion teams in 1969 and 1977, and the Oakland Athletics came within inches of moving there for the 1978 season. When they finally got a team in 1993, they were embraced as perhaps no expansion team has ever been embraced -- perhaps, not even, the Mets themselves in 1962. And, the way it's worked out, the Rockies' first-ever game was against the Mets (a Met win at Shea), and their first game at Coors was against the Mets (a Rockies win in 11 innings).

The Rockies have seen the bloom come off the rose, but they've also seen some real success. The experience of Coors Field should be a good one. Have fun!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rating the Local Stadium and Arena Finales

This is an update of a piece I did after the Giants and Jets (and the Red Bulls, who won't be mentioned further here) left Giants Stadium in January 2010.

Stadium and arena farewells listed here begin with the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the baseball version of the New York Giants in 1957. While I could have mentioned the football Giants’ last game at the Polo Grounds in 1955, nobody really cared. Except maybe baseball Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who sure missed Tim Mara’s rent checks.

Dodgers’ last game at Ebbets Field: September 24, 1957, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0. Did not seriously contend for the National League Pennant. Team owner Walter O’Malley may have been the least sentimental person ever involved with New York Tri-State Area sports, and so no closing ceremonies were held. The game was on a Tuesday night, and only 6,702 fans turned out. No Dodger legends were invited, although several of the “Boys of Summer” were still on the squad.

Organist Gladys Gooding, “the only person to ‘play’ for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Knicks and New York Rangers,” must have ignored any memos she got from Lord Waltermort, because she played several farewell-type songs, such as “Am I Blue.” At the game’s conclusion, somebody cued up the record of the team’s theme song, “Follow the Dodgers,” which Gooding wrote. This was in terrible taste, and she knew it, and took it off, and played “Auld Lang Syne.” But at least they won, with Danny McDevitt pitching a shutout. Performance: 9. Ceremony: 1 (and even that 1 is credited to Gooding). Total: 10.

Baseball Giants’ last game at the Polo Grounds: September 29, 1957, lost to the Pirates 9-1. Did not seriously contend for the National League Pennant. The same Pirate team that couldn’t hit McDevitt pounded the Jints. But at least Stoneham – who infamously said, “I feel sorry for the kids, but I haven’t seen too many of their fathers lately” – understood the weight of the moment, and invited back several Giant legends, including Carl Hubbell, Bill Terry and Larry Doyle. Also invited was Blanche McGraw, who said of her husband, “If John were here, this would break his heart.” Although he wasn’t a retired Giants great, Bobby Thomson had recently been reacquired, and posed for photographers, pointing to the spot where his 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” landed.

Still, only 11,606 came out, many of them singing, to “Good Night Ladies,” “We want Stoneham, we want Stoneham, we want Stoneham, with a rope around his neck!” Performance: 2. Ceremony: 6. Total: 8.

Mets’ last game at Polo Grounds: September 18, 1963, lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1. Lost 111 games. Only 1,752 came out to see the last baseball game at 155th Street and 8th Avenue, on the site where professional baseball had been played since 1890, and in that particular stadium since 1911. One Met fan was quoted as saying, “Not many really cared, did they?” Even the Met organization, including former Giant board members Joan Payson and M. Donald Grant, didn’t make an effort to include any New York baseball legends, although Casey Stengel was the manager, and Gil Hodges and Duke Snider were now on the Met roster. Performance: 2. Ceremony: 0. Total: 2.

Jets’ last game at Polo Grounds: December 14, 1963, lost to the Buffalo Bills 19-10. Missed AFL Playoffs. In their first year as the Jets, after 3 seasons as the New York Titans, it was the city’s AFL outfit that played the last event at the old Harlem Horseshoe. But they were awful, and the game was nothing to write home about, and there was no ceremony. Why would there be? This was a team in its 4th season, so who were they supposed to bring back, Al Dorow? Performance: 4. Ceremony: 0. Total: 4.

Knicks’ last game at the old Madison Square Garden: February 10, 1968, beat the Philadelphia 76ers 115-97. Lost in East Semis, also to 76ers. This was mere months after Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer & Co. won the NBA Title with a then-record 68 wins, so even in the Knicks’ own building, beating the Sixers by 18 points was no mean feat. But as far as my research can reveal, there was no ceremony. Performance: 10. Ceremony: 0. Total: 10.

Rangers’ last game at the Old Garden: February 11, 1968, tied the Detroit Red Wings 3-3. Lost in Stanley Cup Quarterfinals to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wings weren’t an especially good team at the time, but they did still have Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio. And, this time, there was a ceremony. Following the game, there was a “final skate,” featuring NHL legends, and not just from the Rangers: There was the still-active Howe, Montreal god Maurice Richard, even Boston old-timer Eddie Shore.

I can’t find any word as to whether any New York Americans were invited. Some should have been, as the Old Garden was their house – and it was theirs first, in 1925-26, and it was their success that season (at the box office, anyway) that led to the creation of Garden owner/promoter George “Tex” Rickard’s team, “Tex’s Rangers.” Performance: 5. Ceremony: 9. Total: 14. In this instance, the Rangers most certainly did not suck.

Giants’ last game at Yankee Stadium: September 23, 1973, tied the Philadelphia Eagles 23-23. Missed NFC Playoffs. With all the recriminations between Giants owner Wellington Mara and New York Mayor John Lindsay – leading to Lindsay not allowing the Giants to use City-owned Shea Stadium until the Meadowlands could be ready, forcing them to spend the remainder of ’73 and all of ’74 at the Yale Bowl in New Haven – it was probably for the best that there was no ceremony.

There was, however, a ceremony with Giant greats at the Giants Stadium opener in 1976. Lindsay’s successor, Mayor Abe Beame, let the Giants play at Shea in ’75, along with the Mets, Jets and temporarily exiled Yankees, but I’m not including the Yanks’ and Giants’ Shea farewells, especially since both later played regular-season games at Shea. As for the Giants’ Yankee Stadium farewell: Performance: 5. Ceremony: 0. Total: 5.

Yankees’ last game at pre-renovation Yankee Stadium: September 30, 1973, lost to the Detroit Tigers 7-5. Were in Playoff contention until August. Not much of a game, and not much of a ceremony. About all the Yankees did was pull up home plate, to give to Claire Ruth, and first base, to give to Eleanor Gehrig. They did, however, invite a lot of big names to that season’s Opening Day, as it was The Stadium’s 50th Anniversary; and to the Stadium’s reopening in 1976. Both times, the first ball was thrown out by Bob Shawkey, who started and won the first game at The Stadium in 1923.

At the ’76 opener, guests included Mrs. Gehrig (Mrs. Ruth was dying and unable to attend), Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, football Giants star Frank Gifford, and Joe Louis, who defended the heavyweight title at The Stadium several times, most notably against Max Schmeling. But if The Stadium in 1923 opened with a bang (from the bat of the Babe), in ’73 it closed with a whimper. Performance: 3. Ceremony: 0. Total: 3.

Nets’ last game at the Nassau Coliseum: April 1, 1977, lost to the Indiana Pacers 89-88. Missed Playoffs, and at 22-60 went from being the final ABA Champions to having the worst record in the NBA in just one season – which is what happens when you have to sell the ABA’s best player, Julius Erving, to pay the Knicks a $4.8 million territorial indemnity fee, on top of the $3.2 million they had to pay to get into the NBA in the first place. That’s $8 million, or over $30 million in 2009 dollars.)

There was little point in saying goodbye to the squat little building on the Hempstead Turnpike, although they almost won the game, and it was appropriate that their last game as the New York Nets was against the other team that could have been called the pride of the ABA: Between the two of them, the Nets and Pacers played in 6 of the 9 ABA Finals, including the 1972 Finals against each other (the Pacers won). Performance: 4. Ceremony: 0. Total: 4.

Nets’ last game at the Rutgers Athletic Center: March 28, 1981, lost to the New York Knicks 90-88. Missed the NBA Playoffs, with a horrible 24-58. They did come close to winning the game and beating the team that should have been their arch-rivals, and they did get better the next season, starting their Meadowlands tenure with 5 straight Playoff seasons. But they didn’t really show it here, and there was no ceremony to mark their leaving of the building now known as the Louis Brown Athletic Center (but still usually called “The RAC,” pronounced “rack”), on RU’s Livingston Campus in Piscataway. Performance: 4. Ceremony: 0. Total: 4.

Jets’ last game at Shea Stadium: December 10, 1983, lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-7. Missed AFC Playoffs. The Jets did hold a ceremony with former greats, including Joe Namath, but this frigid finale was more notable as the last NFL game for Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Performance: 1. Ceremony: 6. Total: 7.

Devils’ last game at Meadowlands/Brendan Byrne/Continental Airlines Arena: Regular Season, April 8, 2007, lost to the New York Islanders 3-2; Playoffs, May 5, 2007, Game 5 of NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals, lost to the Ottawa Senators 3-2. The Devils are the only Tri-State Area team ever to have an official farewell knowing they were going to play at least one home Playoff game in the building. After 25 years in the arena soon to be renamed the Izod Center, the Devils didn’t have a whole lot of “greats,” but the 3 Stanley Cup teams did give them plenty of names to bring back, including Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and John MacLean. A few other big Devils names couldn’t make it, as they were still playing, such as Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, and, ugh, Scott Gomez. (Did I mention that the Rangers suck? Well, they do.)

The Devils opened their history with a home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it was somewhat appropriate that the regular-season finale was against the NHL’s superteam of the early 1980s, the Isles, who stunk in the late 2000s, but, for whatever reason, usually managed to beat the Devils. It didn’t matter that much, since there were still Playoffs to be held, and while the Devils did beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Playoffs, those pesky Senators filibustered their season to death. Performance (actual finale): 3. Ceremony (official finale): 6. Total: 9.

Yankees’ last game at the old Yankee Stadium: September 21, 2008, beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-3. Stayed in contention for the Playoffs until just before then, and officially eliminated in their next game.

The ceremony brought back Yankees dating back to 1947 with Yogi Berra. Although the actors portraying Babe Ruth and the rest of the 1923 Stadium-openers was a tacky touch, the guy playing Casey Stengel, complete with mismatched socks, was a hoot. It was the first time I’d ever seen all three Stadium perfect game pitchers (Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone) together. Whitey, Reggie, Guidry, O’Neill, and the huge ovation for the last announced former star, Bernie. It was very nice to bring back the widows of Phil Rizzuto, Thurman Munson and Catfish Hunter, the daughter of Elston Howard, the sons of Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Roger Maris, and the family of Bobby Murcer. Especially the Murcers: Bobby had died shortly before that season’s Old-Timers’ Day, and it was too soon for them to come back, the wound still too fresh, so this was the right way for the fans to say goodbye and thank you. Anybody who wasn’t touched by David Mantle hugging Kay Murcer in center field, and by Mariano Rivera escorting Cora Rizzuto out to shortstop, has no heart. The Babe’s 91-year-old daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, throwing out the first pitch to the injured Jorge Posada (had to work him into the ceremony somehow) was a nice touch. The Yankees won the game, although it was touch-and-go for a while. Derek Jeter’s short speech after the final game was a proper sendoff.

I was actually glad that the Yanks hadn’t made the Playoffs, to take the suspense away – see the next entry. Performance: 9. Ceremony: 10. Total: 19.

Mets’ last game at Shea Stadium: September 28, 2008, lost to the Florida Marlins 4-2. As a result, for the second straight season, they missed Playoffs due to losing a season finale. Had the Mets won that day, or the Milwaukee Brewers lost, there would have been a 163rd game, and it would have been at Shea the next day. Instead, well, what did you expect: They’re the Mets!

The postgame ceremony was nice, with most of the living ’69 Mets, and most of the ’86 Mets, on hand, though it’s still hard to think of Yogi and Willie Mays as Mets. And what about who wasn’t there? Rest in peace Mrs. Payson, Casey, Gil, Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, Tommie Agee and Tug McGraw; but Davey Johnson, the only living human to lead the Mets to a World Series win; and Mookie Wilson, one of the most popular Mets ever and the man who make the Game 6 win happen. Compared to that, Dave Kingman was a poor substitute. Tom Seaver couldn’t reach the plate to get the last pitch to Mike Piazza. I realize he was 64, but Julia Stevens wasn’t that much further off the plate a week earlier, and she was 91! (Seaver did throw a perfect strike to Piazza for the Citi Field opener, though.)

And what was with that walk out to the center field fence? I understand that Seaver represents the 1969 and 1973 memories, and Piazza 1999 and 2000. But there was no representative of 1986. The right way to do it would have been to have Seaver, the team’s first Hall-of-Famer, flanked by Gary Carter, the team’s second HOFer, and Piazza, who will likely be the team’s third HOFer (unless it ends up being proven that he was yet another steroid freak). You would have had the ’69 and ’73 postseasons, with the ’86 and ’88 postseasons on one side and the ’99 and ’00 postseasons on the other. What about 2006? I guess the wound from Yadier Molina, and the fact that the ’06 Mets were roughly the same teams that shredded their fans’ hearts in ’07 and ’08, were still too fresh to have anyone represent them at the end. Performance: 2. Ceremony: 6. Total: 8.

Giants’ last game at Giants Stadium: December 27, 2009, lost to the Carolina Panthers 41-9. As a result, missed the NFC Playoffs. (They still would’ve needed to win the next week, which they didn’t.) Despite having brought back several greats from the 1976 to 2009 era, the current G-Men dropped a major league stink bomb – as if the Meadowlands area needed any more bad smells. Performance: 0. Ceremony: 5. Total: 5.

Jets’ last game at Giants Stadium: January 3, 2010, beat the Cincinnati Bengals 37-0. As a result, made the AFC Playoffs, and advanced to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Indianapolis Colts. Granted, the Bengals didn’t exactly put up much of a fight, but, still, thirty-seven to nothing. This was the kind of game the Giants should have put up.

Now, the Jets’ years at Giants Stadium, 1984 to 2009, contained some great memories (Jets 51, Dolphins 46 in ‘86; Parcells’ ’98 masterwork; the Monday Night Miracle in 2000; Herman Edwards bringing them back from the brink with “You play to win the game!” for the ’02 Division Title; the beginning of the Mark Sanchez era). But they also contained some disasters (Dan Marino’s fake spike comes to mind), and, let’s face it, Giants Stadium was never the Jets’ home – not even when they were the official home team in games against the Big Blue Wrecking Crew. The new stadium that opens next door will officially be just as much Gang Green’s home, if for no other reason than it won’t have another team’s name on it. (Although that’s not why the Giants left Yankee Stadium).

The Jets brought back a few members of the New York Sack Exchange, plus Wesley Walker, Freeman McNeil, Al Toon, Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin. They even brought back some Shea guys like Namath. But the best thing the Jets ever did at Giants Stadium was get the hell out – and they went out in a blaze of glory. (They needed a blaze of something, because it was an icebox that night!) Performance: 10. Ceremony: 7. Total: 17.

Nets' last game at the Meadowlands: April 12, 2010, lost to the Charlotte Bobcats 105-95. Missed the Playoffs with the franchise's worst record ever, 12-70. No ceremony at all, in spite of the fact that the Nets played at the Meadowlands arena longer than anywhere else -- which will hold true unless and until the Nets open the 2041-42 season at the building currently named the Barclays Center. Performance: 2. Ceremony: 0. Total: 2.

Nets' last game in New Jersey, at the Prudential Center: April 23, 2012, lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 105-87. Missed the Playoffs. In spite of outscoring the Sixers in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and being within 8 points halfway through the 4th, the Nets couldn't even "die with dignity." Most of the Nets' best players were either from their Long Island days or were still active and playing elsewhere. The most notable returnees were Derrick Coleman, Michael Ray Richardson, Darryl Dawkins, Albert King (not Bernard) -- not even Buck Williams. Performance: 5. Ceremony: 6. Total: 11.

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1. 2008 Yankees 19
2. 2009 Jets 17
3. 1968 Rangers 14
4. 2012 Nets 11
5. 1968 Knicks 10
6. 1957 Dodgers 10
7. 2007 Devils 9
8. 2008 Mets 8
9. 1957 Giants (B) 8
10. 1983 Jets 7
11. 2009 Giants 5
12. 1973 Giants 5
13. 1977 Nets 4
14. 1981 Nets 4
15. 1963 Jets 4
16. 1973 Yankees 3
17. 1963 Mets 2
18. 2010 Nets 2
The Islanders are the only one of the Tri-State Area’s 9 major league teams still playing in their original building, but their least at the Nassau Coliseum runs out at the end of the 2014-15 season, and Nassau County voters -- mainly the Tea Party morons, since they were the only ones who seemed to care enough to show up at the polls -- voted down a bond issue to fund a new arena. The “Lighthouse Project” is dead. In just 3 years, barring a significant change, the Islanders could be as well.

"Could be," not necessarily "will be," since there is a chance they’ll move into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and once again share a building with the Nets. But, for the moment, it's looking like the Islanders could have a death worse than that of the New Jersey edition of the Nets: Even if they move into the Barclays Center, they could still, geographically and geologically if not politically, call themselves "the New York Islanders" and market themselves as a "Long Island team." After all, the Battle of Long Island, in the War of the American Revolution, was fought in present-day Brooklyn Heights; and Long Island University (LIU) has its main campus in Downtown Brooklyn (where their basketball team's home court is the converted stage of the old Brooklyn Paramount Theater).

The New Jersey Nets couldn't die with dignity. Then again, neither did Shea Stadium. At least Gladys Gooding tried to host a proper funeral for Ebbets Field.

The Final Buzzer for the New Jersey Nets

Last night, the Nets said goodbye to New Jersey with a 105-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers -- the team to whom they were forced to sell Julius Erving before they were allowed into the league, let alone before they ever played a regular-season game in the Garden State.

The Nets actually outscored the Sixers in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, but faded in the 4th. MarShon Brooks scored 18 to lead the team in their last Jersey game.

With the victory, the Sixers clinched a Playoff berth. That's nice... (rolleyes)

A halftime ceremony honored former Nets, including Derrick Coleman, Michael Ray Richardson, Kenny Anderson, Darryl Dawkins, Albert King, Todd MacCulloch and Kerry Kittles.

Video messages from former Nets players and coaches -- including Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Kenyon Martin -- were played throughout the contest, while the stands were filled with fans wearing Nets jerseys both new and old.

There were 18,711 fans at the Prudential Center -- a sellout. The crowd chanted "Let's Go Nets" and "Dee-fense" for the tilt's entire 48 minutes, and it gave an appreciative round of applause as the game ended and the Nets' final seconds in New Jersey wound down.

On Thursday night, the Nets play their final game as the New Jersey Nets, away to the Toronto Raptors.

But last night's final score was a very final final.

The first Nets home game was a 111-103 loss to the New Orleans Jazz (who became the Utah Jazz in 1979) at the Rutgers Athletic Center (which became the Louis Brown Athletic Center in 1986) in Piscataway.

New Jersey Nets, born October 21, 1977, died April 23, 2012. Age 34.

Time of death, 9:55 PM. Cause of death: Murder, stabbed in the back by Bruce Ratner. Wound mortal, but death took 8 years.

NBA Eastern Conference Champions 2002 and 2003. NBA Atlantic Division Champions 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.

But they could have been so much more.

Requiescat in pace.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Met Pitchers Who Have Thrown No-Hitters (But Not While They Were Mets)

1. Don Cardwell, Chicago Cubs, May 15, 1960. Mets 1967-70.

2. Warren Spahn, Milwaukee Braves, September 16, 1960. This made him the oldest pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter. He was a Met in 1965, at the end of his career.

3. Spahn again, April 28, 1961. This broke his own record set the year before.

4. Dock Ellis, Pittsburgh Pirates, June 12, 1970. Claimed to have thrown this no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. Alas, no drug testing in baseball in those days. (I wonder what would have happened to him if he'd been caught after the fact.) A Met in 1979.

5. Nolan Ryan, California Angels, May 5, 1973. Mets 1966-71.

6. Ryan again, July 15, 1973.

7. Ryan a 3rd time, September 28, 1974. By this point, it must have dawned on Met fans, if not on Met management, that trading Ryan and 3 others for Jim Fregosi was a bit of a mistake.

8. Ryan a 4th time, June 1, 1975.

9. John Candelaria, Pittsburgh Pirates, August 9, 1976. A Met in 1987. Grew up in Brooklyn as a Met fan.

10. Tom Seaver, Cincinnati Reds, June 16, 1978. "The Franchise" for the Mets, 1967-77, with a return in 1983. This one hurt the most.

11. Ryan a 5th time, now with the Houston Astros, September 26, 1981.

12. Mike Scott, Houston Astros, September 25, 1986. This game clinched the National League Western Division title for the Astros. Scott was a Met from 1979 to 1982, and getting rid of him nearly came back to bite the Mets in that year's NL Championship Series.

13. Ryan a 6th time, now with the Texas Rangers, July 11, 1990. This broke Spahn's record as the oldest pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter.

14. Ryan a 7th time, May 1, 1991. He was 44, still the oldest (and 2nd-oldest) human being ever to pitch a no-hitter in Major League Baseball.

15. Bret Saberhagen, Kansas City Royals, August 26, 1991. Mets 1992-95, including 1993 when he gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "bleacher bum."

16. Kenny Rogers, Texas Rangers, July 28, 1994. A perfect game. A Met in 1999, when he delivered the most famous base on balls in baseball history, to let in the Pennant-winning run for the Atlanta Braves. Rogers was the Tony Fernandez of pitchers: He was very good for teams outside New York, but for both the Yankees and the Mets, he was pretty much useless.

17. Al Leiter, Florida Marlins, May 11, 1996. Mets 1998-2004. Grew up in Berkeley, on the Jersey Shore, as a met fan.

18. Dwight Gooden, New York Yankees, May 14, 1996. The Met who was going to make everyone forget Ron Guidry, if not Seaver, 1984-94. This one hurt Met fans a lot, and not because it came 3 days after Leiter's. (After all, Met fans didn't yet know Leiter was coming to the Mets.)

19. David Cone, New York Yankees, July 18, 1999. A perfect game. Mets 1987-91, with a brief return in 2003. Another one that hurt. Don't forget that Cone, Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and, oh yeah, Joe Torre all won more World Series with the Yankees than win the Mets.

20. Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox, April 21, 2012 (this past Saturday). A perfect game. A Met in 2006 and '07. As soon as I heard the name, I thought, "That name sounds familiar... " and I knew I would have to do this post.

Top 10 Reasons the New Jersey Nets Are Dying Tonight

The Boston Red Sox found a foolproof way to cool off the Yankee bats, prevent the Yankee arms from getting their hitters out, and avoid a sweep at the hands of the greatest sports franchise in the history of man's inhumanity to man.

The weather. Last night's game was rained out. As of yet, a makeup date has not been announced.

The New York Rangers, the top seed in the NHL's Eastern Conference, need to win Game 6 in Ottawa tonight, to keep the Senators from clinching the first-round Playoff series, and keep the Rangers' hopes alive.

The New Jersey Devils must do the same tomorrow night, against the Florida Panthers, but at least they'll be at home. If the Panthers win Game 6 in Newark or Game 7 at home in Sunrise, Florida, it'll be their first Playoff series win in 16 years.

The Vancouver Canucks, who came within 1 win of the Stanley Cup last season, and this time had the best overall record in the NHL's regular season, have been eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings, the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The Kings hadn't won a Playoff series in 11 years.

The perennially contending Detroit Red Wings have been eliminated by the Nashville Predators, who thus won a Playoff series for the first time in the franchise's 14-year history.

*

The New Jersey Nets should have been so lucky. Tonight, at the Prudential Center, they will play their last home game as a New Jersey team, against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Perhaps the choice of opponent was appropriate, since it was selling Julius "Doctor J" Erving to the Sixers that gave the Nets the money they needed to enter the NBA (and the Knicks' territory) from the ABA in 1976, going, in their last season in the Nassau Coliseum, from ABA Champions to the NBA's worst record.

True, in their 35 seasons in New Jersey -- the first 4, 1977-81, at the Rutgers Athletic Center (now the Louis Brown Athletic Center) in Piscataway; the next 29, 1981-2010, at the Brendan Byrne Arena (later Continental Airlines Arena, now the Izod Center) in East Rutherford; and the last 2 sharing the Prudential Center with the Devils -- they've made the Playoffs 16 times. But in only 6 of those seasons did they win a Playoff series. Twice, in 2002 and 2003, they won the Eastern Conference Championship, but lost in the Finals both times.

But all those other teams I mentioned will still exist next fall. The New Jersey Nets will not.

Yes, they will be the Brooklyn Nets. Yes, same metropolitan area. And, historically, it will be better, since it seems to make more sense for the Brooklyn Nets -- on the physical/geological, if not political, structure of "Long Island" -- than for the New Jersey Nets to claim the honors of the 1968-77 New York Nets as their own:

* 1970 American Basketball Association Playoffs
* 1971 ABA Playoffs
* 1972 ABA Finals
* 1973 ABA Playoffs
* 1974 ABA Champions
* 1975 ABA Eastern Division Co-Champions
* 1976 ABA Champions
Plus, retired numbers Julius Erving (32), Wendell Ladner (4) and Bill Melchionni (25) never played for the New Jersey Nets, and John Williamson (23) was already past his prime by that point. The only retired numbers the New Jersey edition of the franchise should be claiming are Buck Williams (52) and Drazen Petrovic (3, and that's due more to his tragic early death than to his talent, which was immense). When Jason Kidd retires from playing, the Brooklyn Nets can retire his number (5), but will anybody in New Jersey still care?

*

Top 10 Reasons the New Jersey Nets Are Dying Tonight

10. Television. The Nets have never been well-served by TV. First Channel 9 (WOR, now WWOR) would only show their games on tape-delay at 11:30 PM. Granted, they also did this for the Knicks, Rangers and Islanders, and they still got promoted well. But SportsChannel, which established the cable broadcast rights for the Nets, Mets and Islanders in 1976, was no better. The Nets (and Mets and Islanders) stayed on SportsChannel from its establishment until 1998. Whereas the Yankees, Knicks and Rangers were all on the Madison Square Garden Network, and had that power -- and, more importantly, that desire -- behind them. The Nets might as well not have existed.

9. Roy Boe. The owner of both the Nets and the New York Islanders could have kept the Nets at the Nassau Coliseum, at least until the Meadowlands arena was ready. Putting them in the 9,000-seat Rutgers Athletic Center -- and still not being able to fill it -- was a bush-league move. Then he punked out by selling the team to the Secaucus Seven.

8. Larry Brown. Newly hired as the head coach at Dallas' Southern Methodist University (SMU), Love-Em-and-Leave-Em Larry has won more games than any basketball coach. Ever. Pro, college or high school. Male or female. Living or dead. He's also the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA Championships. (1988 Kansas, 2004 Detroit Pistons.)

Born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, he was a camp counselor, and one of the campers there was future sportswriter Tony Kornheiser. How does "Mister Tony" describe Brown's genius? "He took the Clippers to the Playoffs! Nobody takes the Clippers to the Playoffs!" (That was before the NBA gave the Clippers Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.) In fact, Brown took both "little brother" franchises, the Nets and the Clippers, to the Playoffs twice. Sounds like genius to me.

Well, he didn't exactly take the Nets to the Playoffs twice. He got them into the Playoffs in 1982, but shortly before the 1983 regular season ended, he resigned to take the head job at the University of Kansas. If Brown had stayed with the Nets, he could have made them winners, even with the budget that would have been forced on him by...

7. The Secaucus Seven. Led by ADP founder Henry Taub, this group bought the Nets from Boe (who remained the owner of the Islanders for a while) in 1978, and were among the most incompetent ownership groups in sports history. They essentially kept the Nets in a minor-league atmosphere for 20 years.

6. The Death of Drazen Petrovic. After his car crash on June 7, 1993, the team went into a tailspin. The Nets had a good 1993-94 season, but after that, Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson couldn't keep themselves, let alone the team, together. By the winter of 1994-95, the Nets were a joke again. We'll never know what could have happened if Petro had lived.

5. The New York Knicks. The Knicks could have waived their territorial indemnification fee, $4.8 million, and the Nets would only have had to pay $3.2 million for entry into the NBA. That meant the Nets would have had to sell Erving, by far their best player, and the most exciting talent in basketball at the time, or risk not being one of the 4 ABA teams let in, despite being the last ABA Champions and 2 of the last 3.

The Nets offered Erving directly to the Knicks in exchange for waiving the fee. In effect, the Nets were trading their biggest reason to exist for their right to exist. The Knicks could sure have used Doc: Earl Monroe was pretty much the only reason to see them at this point. Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley were in decline, and Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Jerry Lucas had all retired. The Knicks said no. So the Nets offered Doc to the 76ers, at that point the Knicks' nearest (if not greatest) rival, and got $3 million for him.

Result: Both the Knicks and the Nets were pretty much irrelevant for 5 years, before they both got their act together in the early 1980s, but neither was able to keep it together for long.

This one transaction turned the Nets from a potentially great franchise into a joke, and it didn't matter what owner Roy Boe, or the group that he sold them to, known as the Secaucus Seven, did: For the most part, their hands were tied due to money. Had the Knicks' ownership decided that having the Nets nearby would be good for business, it could have made the Nets contenders much sooner, and by 2004 the franchise might have been worth more than Bruce Ratner was willing to pay. And there might be a couple of NBA title banners hanging with the ABA title banners in the Prudential Center -- instead of those ABA banners going over to Brooklyn.

4. The House of Steinbrenner. In 1999, Raymond Chambers and Lewis Katz, who had bought the Nets from the Secaucus Seven a year earlier, sold the team to a holding company owned by George Steinbrenner, which became YankeeNets, and in 2003 bought the Devils from John McMullen -- oddly enough, a former minority owner of the Yankees who sold out to George and bought the Houston Astros. (It was McMullen who said, "Nothing is so limiting as being one of George Steinbrenner's 'limited partners.'")

But the organization, first called "YankeeNets" and then "Yankee Global Enterprises," fell apart because the Tampa Mafia -- the Steinbrenner family and hangers-on like Randy Levine and Lonn Trost -- didn't want to pay for a new arena for the Nets and Devils. You'll notice that the YES Network has never given the Nets serious promotion. At times, Ivy League football has gotten more of a push on that network than the Nets.

(George, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner all graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts, a Division III school, though a very Ivy-ish one. They've all had a strong interest in college football, especially since George's wife Joan is an Ohio State graduate and George was an assistant coach at Northwestern and Purdue.)

But none of that would have mattered if not for the top 3 reasons.

3. The NBA Owners. On April 13, just 10 days ago, they officially approved the move. If they hadn't, the most likely course of action would have been for the Nets to play another season in the Prudential and, pleading poverty (never mind how rich Ratner and Prokhorov are), get the move approved for 2013-14 instead of 2012-13.

2. Bruce Ratner. The real estate tycoon is the force behind the creation, approval, and construction of the Barclays Center. When he bought the Nets from Yankee Global Enterprises in 2004, he did it with the intention of moving them to the arena he wanted to build at the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn, across from the Long Island Rail Road's terminal, right where Walter O'Malley had once wanted to build a new stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers. O'Malley's deal fell through, and he moved the Dodgers 2,784 miles away to Los Angeles; Ratner's deal was approved, and he's moving the Nets 12 miles, but still to another State, let alone city.

The announcement totally killed off the Nets' momentum. In the preceding 2 seasons, they had made the NBA Finals. Finally, being a Nets fan was cool -- especially with the Knicks being in the middle of the Isiah Thomas era. The Nets could have become THE basketball team in the Tri-State Area. Instead, they became a "lame-duck" team, and have been one for 8 years. Even the Montreal Expos were only lame-duck for half that long.

But even Bruce's rat-ness wouldn't have mattered if not for Reason Number 1.

1. Mikhail Prokhorov. Yes, the new owner. The man Ratner sold out to, because he was desperate for cash to keep the Atlantic Yards project afloat. Prokhorov could have decided, at any time, that he could make a go of it in New Jersey, especially with a nice new arena, the Prudential Center, which is convenient for both automobile and public transit passengers. He could have decided that he had a good thing. He could have decided to screw Ratner over -- after all, Ratner had screwed over not just New Jersey basketball fans, but the people who owned the businesses at the Atlantic Yards site.

Prokhorov chose to stick with Ratner's plan. Seeing that the patient's wound would be mortal if not treated, this "doctor" (definitely not to be confused with Doctor J) chose not to treat it.

*

So what will I do for an NBA team after tonight? Well, my team is abandoning me, so, officially, as of tonight's final whistle -- the Nets didn't even come close to making the Playoffs, couldn't even "die with dignity" -- I am a free agent.

Should I "re-sign" with the Nets, in their Brooklyn incarnation?

Should I switch to the Knicks -- knowing full well that they're a big reason why I had a team in the first place, but also knowing damn well that they're a big reason why I no longer have a team?

Should I be angry at both of them, and go down the Turnpike (or the New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor and the SEPTA R7 lines), and switch to the next-closest team, the Philadelphia 76ers?

Should I root for someone else?

Should I just give up on the NBA entirely?

What do you think? Forgive and forget (and stick with the Nets or switch to the Knicks)? Or walk (and take the Sixers, or someone else, or no one else)?

It's good to have options, but this is one option I never wanted.

Requiescat in pace, 1977-2012.