Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yankees Mess With Texas; Emile Griffith, 1938-2013

Rick Perry, the latest bigoted moron right-wing extremist to be Governor of Texas, has launched a campaign, through TV commercials and print ads, to convince business executives, who can afford the high taxes and stringent regulations of sensible States like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois and California, to close up shop there and re-set-up in Texas, where taxes and regulation are a greater sin than murder.

Lewis Black, a New York-based comedian, countered this, with a video based on the old slogan, "Don't Mess With Texas." He made it for Jon Stewart's Daily Show, and while Stewart is a Met fan, he's cooler than anybody from Texas.  Yes, even Willie Nelson.

And by the way, the guys at the Alamo? They were slaveholders, on Mexican soil. Slavery was already illegal in Mexico in 1836 when that battle happened. They weren't just slaveholders, you dumb Texas schmucks, they were... wait for it... wait for it... illegal immigrants! They lost that battle, and they deserved to lose! At the Alamo, the good guys won!

Okay, Santa Anna wasn't a good guy. But he was defending his country, which is more than most of the bastards inside the Alamo could truthfully say they'd ever done! (Yeah, yeah, Davey Crockett... )

*

Last night, the Yankees tried to rebound from the previous night's pathetic offensive performance against the Texas Rangers. They started off pretty well: Four straight hits to lead off the top of the 3rd gave the Yanks a 2-0 lead. Melky Mesa and Austin Romine doubled, and Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki singled.

In the 4th, emergency pickup Brent Lillibridge (sounds like an old-time corporate executive, the kind of guy Charles Foster Kane would have dealt with, or at the most recent, Don Draper) drove in another run with a fielder's choice after a Vernon Wells double and an Eduardo Nunez sacrifice fly. In the meantime, Phil Hughes allowed just 2 hits and 3 walks over the 1st 5 innings, taking a shutout into the 6th.

But with 1 out, Lillibridge made an error that put Nelson Cruz on 1st base. And then Adrian Beltre doubled him home with an unearned run. Hughes got A.J. Pierzynski (who the Yankees really should have gotten to solve their problem of not getting any hitting from their catchers) to fly out, but Elvis Andrus singled home Beltre to make it 3-2.

No problem, Hughes only has to get 1 more out, and Andrus is stranded on 1st, and the Yankees still leda.

Unfortunately, Mitch Moreland was the next batter. Moreland is a 27-year-old 1st baseman from Mississippi. He has some power, and was a key reserve in the Rangers' 2010 & '11 Pennant seasons. He also bats lefthanded.

And so, Girardi, unable to think for himself in such a situation, consulted his Binder. And the Binder said, "Forget the fact that Hughes is pitching all right, that the runs thus far scored aren't really his fault. The batter is lefthanded. Bring in Boone Logan."

Now, you may not have seen last night's game. But if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that Boone Logan's sole purpose in the major leagues, if not in life itself, is to get lefthanded hitters out, and that he can't do it.

You have figured this out. I have figured this out. He has figured this out. You know who has not figured this out? Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and the Steinbrenner brothers. As a result, Logan is still a Yankee.
Moreland hit a line-drive home run to Vandergriff Plaza in center field.

This morning, Logan has not been removed from the Yankee roster, through trade, release, or sending down to the minor leagues.
Goose Gossage demands an explanation for this bullshit.

So if you were watching the game, at this point, you're probably thinking, "Great. Another entry in Logan's Litany of Losing." If the score had held, it would have been the 32nd game that Logan has either blown, or put in position to be blown and later was, for the Yankees, and he's been here only 3 1/2 years.

Ah, but the score didn't hold.  Because this time, the Yankees had enough of Boone's Bullshit, and had enough of RISPfail, and decided to mess with Texas.

In the top of the 9th inning, Ranger manager Ron Washington brought in Joe Nathan, once the closer for the Minnesota Twins. He struck out Lyle Overbay, but then he walked Wells. Then he threw a wild pitch, which got Wells to 2nd.

And then Nunez, whose attempts to play shortstop in the major leagues make Luis Aparicio weep, hit a sharp line drive to left field. Left fielder David Murphy couldn't get to it. Center fielder Craig Gentry did, but bobbled it. Had Nunez not gotten a little leisurely on the bases, a la Timo Perez in the 2000 World Series (ah, sweet memories), he would have had an inside-the-park home run and given the Yankees the lead. Instead, he had to hurry up just to get to 3rd. But Wells scored, and we had ourselves a tie ballgame.

And then Lillibridge made up for his error by singling Nunez home and giving the Yankees the 5-4 lead. With 1 out, and 1st & 2nd base open, there was no reason for a suicide squeeze. Brent may have been a Lillibridge over troubled water, but there was no reason for him to lay one down.

(Come on, it was an obvious joke. Besides, Paul Simon is a Yankee Fan.)

Mariano Rivera came on in the bottom of the 9th and got 2 strikeouts and a grounder to short, which NunE5 managed to not throw away.

WP: Joba Chamberlain (2-0), who pitched a perfect 8th, and was still officially the Yankee pitcher when they took the lead. SV: Rivera (32).  LP: Nathan (1-1).

Like Lewis Black says: "'Don't mess with Texas'? No: Don't fuck with New York!"

The series continues tonight, with Andy Pettitte pitching against Matt Garza. Remember, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is in the Central Time Zone, so that's an 8:05 start our time. Then it concludes tomorrow afternoon, at 2:05, with Hiroki Kuroda going against Derek Holland.

*

Elsewhere in baseball, the Mets beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-1 at Pity Field.  It was Star Wars Night.
Now, if I were a Met fan, old enough to remember 1977, the year the team fell apart and traded away Tom Seaver, and the Yankees won the World Series, I'd want as few reminders of that year as possible.

Also, you ever see a guy in a Darth Vader costume throw out a ceremonial first ball? Let's just say the armor is not conducive to getting the ball over the plate. The Force is not with him, and I find his lack of control disturbing.

You think "Three-nil and you fucked it up" is bad? It's not as bad in baseball as it is in hockey or soccer, but it's bad. But it could be worse. Much, much worse.

Last night, the Toronto Blue Jays, preseason favorites to win the AL East, blew an 8-0 lead in an Interleague game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and lost 10-9. Eight-nil and they fucked it up!

And Bruce Bochy won his 1,500th game as a manager -- though his career record is only 1,500-1,498. The San Francisco Giants took the 2nd game of a doubleheader with the Cincinnati Reds, 5-3 at AT&T Park, having lost the opner, 9-3.

Bochy has won 2 World Series as Giants manager, but previously struggled running them and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The nightcap was a weird situation: Due to Commissioner Bud Selig's approval of a fucked-up schedule, it was the only way to make up a rainout in Cincinnati, and so the Reds acted as the home team in the nightcap, wearing bright red alternate jerseys as the Giants wore their road grays on their home field in front of their home fans.

This is where Yankee broadcaster John Sterling would say, "You just can't predict baseball."

*

Emile Griffith died yesterday. His was a story of triumph, and tragedy.

Emile Alphonse Griffith was born on February 3, 1938 in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. After World War II, many Caribbeans came to New York City, particularly to Brooklyn. Griffith's family was among them.

As a teenager, he got a job in a hat factory, a very hot place. He asked his boss if he could take his shirt off. The boss agreed, and noticed his physique. Being a former boxer, the boss took him to the gym run by famous boxing trainer Gil Clancy. By 1958, Griffith was a Golden Gloves winner, and was regularly fighting at the St. Nicholas Arena on the Upper West Side, the Academy of Music in the East Village, and eventually at the old Madison Square Garden in Midtown.
On April 1, 1961, with a career record of 22-2, Griffith stepped into the ring at the Miami Beach Convention Center, to fight the Welterweight Champion of the World, a Cuban, a fellow black Caribbean, named Bernardo Peret, known as Benny "the Kid" Paret. Griffith knocked the Kid out in the 13th round, and became the new Champion. He defended the title twice, before facing Paret again on September 30 -- a day before Roger Maris hit "61 in '61" -- and Paret won a very controversial split decision.

A 3rd fight was demanded. Griffith had 3 tuneup fights, all wins. Paret had 1, fighting Middleweight Champion Gene Fullmer. This was a big mistake, as Fullmer pounded him, and was leading on all 3 cards in the 10th round, when he knocked the Kid out. That was on December 9, 1961. There was no way Paret should have been let back in the ring so soon.

But he was. It was booked for The Garden on March 24, 1962, less than 4 months after his beating by Fullmer. It was televised live nationally by ABC. The leadup to the fight was bad, as the New York State Athletic Commission, which oversaw boxing in the State (and still does), was criticized for allowing Paret to fight again so soon.

At the weigh-in, Paret touched Griffith on the rear end, and called him "maricón." A native English speaker, Griffith knew enough Spanish to know that this was an accusation of homosexuality. In the Caribbean, especially at that time, regardless of which language you spoke (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Dutch are all spoken, depending on the former colonizer of the land), that was going too far. Griffith had to be held back from attacking Paret on the spot.

The fight went on as scheduled. Late in the 6th, round, Paret looked like he was about to finish Griffith off, but the bell rang to save him. Griffith took control of the fight, and, in he 12th, he trapped the Kid in a corner, raining blows on his head, the head that he and Fullmer had both pounded within the last few months. Paret stopped fighting, and nearly fell through the ropes and out of the ring. Griffith kept punching. Author Norman Mailer, a big boxing fan, was there, and he said it was the hardest he had ever seen one man hit another. (And these were welterweights, the 140-to-147-pound weight class, not heavyweights.)

Finally, referee Reuven "Ruby" Goldstein -- himself a former welterweight contender, known as "The Jewel of the Ghetto" due to his nickname of "Ruby" and his Lower East Side origin, and a man who worked 39 title fights in 21 years -- stopped the fight, and Griffith had a win by technical knockout (TKO).

Paret then slid to the floor, unconscious. He was taken to nearby Roosevelt Hospital (which is also where John Lennon was taken when he was shot), and diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage. He died on April 3, never having regained consciousness. He was only 25 years old, and probably remains the most famous boxer to have died as a result of a fight.

Goldstein had a reputation for mercy, but was criticized for not stepping in sooner. He knew Paret had a reputation for feigning injury, and didn't know whether he was really hurt or not. It was the last fight at which he officiated, and not by his own choice. He lived on until 1984.

Paret's manager was also criticized, for not trying to stop the fight, by yelling for Goldstein to do so, or for doing the stereotypical thing: Throwing a towel or a sponge into the ring. (This is where the expression "throw in the towel" for "surrender" comes from.)

Griffith was again the Welterweight Champion of the World, but never in the history of boxing was a victory more pyrrhic. He would receive hate mail, and be insulted on the street by Cubans who had rooted for Paret, and knew of the homophobic slur, and believed that Griffith had gone beyond the normal form of punching a boxer would deliver, and purposely tried to kill Paret. He suffered nightmares for years thereafter.

But he didn't stop fighting. He successfully defended the title once, then lost it to another Cuban fighter, Luis Manuel Rodriguez, at Dodger Stadium in 1963. He regained it from Rodriguez at The Garden 3 months later. He moved up in class to fight middleweights, beating Holly Mims but losing to Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, later the subject of a long legal drama. (Griffith's welterweight title was not at stake in these bouts.)

He lost the title to Italian fighter Nino Benvenuti at The Garden in 1967, regained it from him later that year in the 1st title fight at Shea Stadium, and then, on March 4, 1968, in one of the 1st title fights at the new Garden, was defeated by Benvenuti again, and so lost the title for the last time.

He continued to fight. In 1971, with Carlos Monzon having taken the title from Benvenuti, Griffith made the mistake of fighting Monzon in his native Buenos Aires, and was knocked out in the 14th round. He fought Monzon again in 1973, in Monaco, and lost a unanimous decision. He kept fighting until 1977, when future Middleweight Champion Alan Minter beat him. 52-7 before his 1st fight with Benvenuti, Griffith's final record was 85-24-2.

He became a trainer. He trained Wilfred Benitez, who became Welterweight Champion in 1979, and was undefeated, but was only Champion for 10 months before being knocked out by Sugar Ray Leonard. He trained Juan Laporte, who was Featherweight Champion for a year and a half from 1982 to 1984. He later worked as a corrections officer at a juvenile detention facility in Secaucus, near the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey.

He married in 1971, and adopted a son, Luis Rodrigo Griffith. But, as Paret had suggested, continued to have relationships with both men and women. In 1992, 54 years old and no longer in fighting trim, he was leaving a gay bar near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and was viciously beaten, spending 4 months in, by a macabre coincidence, Roosevelt Hospital.

(History had repeated itself: In 1925, a quarter of a century before Port Authority was built, a Senegalese fighter named Louis Fall, who fought under the name Battling Siki and was briefly Light Heavyweight Champion, was shot and killed near the future site of the terminal. In his case, the murder was never solved, and no motive was established, but the known evidence suggests that Siki was completely straight.)

By the time ESPN Classic arrived in 1995, and a new generation began to watch Griffith's fights, he seemed to have been forgiven for what happened to Paret. The knowledge that Paret had been poorly handled leading up to the fight and during it, not just by Griffith, seemed to have been taken into account. In 2004, Griffith was interviewed for a documentary, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. Thinking of his 1992 beating, Griffith told an interviewing, "I kill a man, and most forgive me. I love a man, and many say this makes me an evil person."
He had already begun to suffer from dementia pugilistica, and died yesterday at Luis' home in Hempstead, Long Island. He was 75.

Emile Griffith did not deserve the abuse he sustained. Neither he nor Benny Paret deserved to have their lives ended the way they did, their brains destroyed -- Paret's in fights with Gene Fullmer and Griffith, Griffith's over a period of half a century.

Griffith appears not to have found peace in life. I hope he has found it in death.

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