Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top 10 Best Executives in New York Sports History


This list is less about the team owners and more about the men who made the personnel decisions -- the trades, the free-agent signings, the draft picks.

Honorable Mention to John T. Brush, the owner who restored the baseball New York Giants to glory from 1902 to his death in 1912, and built the last and most familiar version of the Polo Grounds. And to Charles "Chub" Feeney, the general manager who built the Giants' 1951 National League Pennant winners and 1954 World Champions -- but was also the main force behind their attempt to move the team to Minneapolis (where their top farm team was located) for the 1958 season, and then scuttled that move when Brooklyn Dodger owner Walter O'Malley suggested to Giant owner Horace Stoneham (Chub's uncle) that both teams move to California instead, the Dodgers to Los Angeles and the Giants to San Francisco.

Honorable Mention also to Lester Patrick. One of the best players of the 1900s and 1910s, he was the Rangers' first GM (1926-46) and first head coach (1926-39), leading them to the 1928 and 1933 Stanley Cups, before stepping aside and letting his former best player, Frank Boucher, coach them to the 1940 Cup.  A charter member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Eddie Donovan. Bad coach with the Knicks, but great general manager, who built the 1970 and 1973 NBA Champions, although that may have been more to do with the coaching of Red Holzman. Still, Eddie hired Red, which counts for a lot.

Honorable Mention to Gabe Paul. When George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973, they were far and away New York's 2nd team behind the Mets. He had Gabe Paul as part-owner and personnel man. The team was completely overhauled. For 1974, Paul traded for Lou Piniella, Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow. For 1975, Paul signed free agent Catfish Hunter. For 1976, Paul traded for Willie Randolph, Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa. For 1977, Paul traded for Bucky Dent. Granted, bringing in manager Billy Martin and slugger Reggie Jackson were both ideas of George Steinbrenner (and George should, at least, get Honorable Mention status for those 2 moves alone), but Paul built the team.

All those years, both before and after this, he ran the Cleveland Indians, but never won anything. He never had an owner with enough money to build a champion, and, as a result, Paul often had to sell off or trade away players in salary dumps just to keep the Indians afloat. With George, Gabe finally had a man willing to spend whatever it took. And they found out what it took. It was worth every penny. If Gabe hadn't had enough of George after the 1977 victory, and had stayed, I might rank him higher.

And Honorable Mention to Al Rosen, who succeeded Gabe, and brought in Goose Gossage, vital spare parts Gary Thomasson and Jay Johnstone, and, after Billy had to go, his old Indians teammate Bob Lemon as manager. To Bob Watson, the GM who finished Gene Michael's job in 1996. And to Brian Cashman, who took over from 1998 and has continued to build the Yankee Mystique. But I can't put any of the 3 of them on this list.

10. Jerry Reese, Giants, 2004-present.  Director of Player Personnel starting in '04 and general manager since '07, he has done in those few years what all the employees that the New York Jets have ever had, combined, have not been able to do: Build a team that won 2 Super Bowls.  And yet, lots of people don't even know his name.  He has quietly rebuilt the Giants into a class organization.

But while the job he's done has been impressive -- not since the 1997-98 Broncos has any other team won 2 Super Bowls without cheating -- it wasn't nearly as important to the franchise as that done by...

9. George Young, Giants, 1979-97. After the disastrous play known as "the Miracle of the Meadowlands" against the Philadelphia Eagles on November 19, 1978, Giants owner Wellington Mara had enough. The team his father Tim founded (and Honorable Mention to him, and to Wellington) was at the bottom of the barrel. They hadn't won an NFL Championship since 1956 (Super Bowl -X, if you prefer) or made the Playoffs since 1963 (the NFL Championship Game loss to the Chicago Bears, Super Bowl -III), and he wanted a new GM and a new head coach.

Young had built the Baltimore Colts into the team that won Super Bowl V and was now the GM of the perennial Playoff team the Miami Dolphins, so he was the right GM. He hired Ray Perkins, who got the Giants into the Playoffs in 1981. When Perkins left to succeed his mentor Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama, Young hired Perkins' assistant, Bill Parcells, and that was the right coach, winning Super Bowls XXI and XXV. The Giants made the Playoffs 8 times while Young was GM, and nobody laughs at them anymore.

Honorable Mention to Parcells, who as both head coach and GM brought the Jets back from the disgrace and ineptitude of the Rich Kotite years. He's not on the main list because he didn't stick around long enough to finish the job for Gang Green the way he and Young did with Big Blue.

Honorable Mention to David "Sonny" Werblin, GM of the Jets who built their Super Bowl III Champions. If he'd been allowed to stick around longer, he might be on this list. As it is, he went on to run the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority and helped Governor Brendan Byrne build the Meadowlands Sports Complex, then crossed back over the Hudson River to be President of the Madison Square Garden Corporation, helping the Rangers regain their respectability in the late Seventies and put the Knicks back on solid footing in the Eighties. If you think about it, he helped out the Giants, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, Nets and Devils -- six teams! However, unless you count the one the Jets won shortly after he was fired, none of the teams won a title while he was involved with them.

8. Jacob Ruppert, Yankees, 1915-39. More specifically, 1915-20, before hiring Ed Barrow away from the Boston Red Sox, where he'd been field manager, to be his general manager. Barrow ranks considerably higher on this list, and he did have the help of Ruppert's vast personal fortune. But it was "the Colonel" who insisted that the Yankees move from being New York's 3rd team to America's 1st team. The moves he made brought in manager Miller Huggins, pitchers Bob Shawkey and Carl Mays, and, of course, Babe Ruth.  And he built Yankee Stadium. While "This Imposing Edifice," as his Monument Park Plaque called the original, is now gone, Ruppert's legacy lives. So why did it take until last fall for the greatest empire builder in the history of North American sport to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Ruppert is buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. In that same cemetery are interred Billy Martin, Yankee National Anthem singer Robert Merrill, and Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner from whom Ruppert made the purchases that made the Yankees. It is virtually next-door to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla, final resting place of the Babe, Billy Martin, and a different kind of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," although also a Yankee Fan, James Cagney.

7. George Weiss, Yankees, 1947-60. He was the personnel man in the Yankees' most glorious period, the Casey Stengel years. It was Weiss who talked owners Dan Topping and Del Webb into hiring Stengel for the 1949 season, and the Yankees of the Fabulous Fifties were off and running. Weiss was every bit the cheap mean old bastard that his predecessor Ed Barrow was, but he was the guy who brought in Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, and a bunch of veterans who seemed good bets to help the Yankees win the Pennant in a particular year, some of whom stuck around to win more than one: Johnny Mize, Johnny Sain, Jim Konstanty, Bobby Schantz, Enos Slaughter. (Some of them may have been Stengel's idea, but Weiss saw the wisdom in the Ol' Perfesser's wishes.)

After the 1960 season, Topping and Webb fired both Stengel and Weiss. Weiss predicted that within 5 years, the Yankee Dynasty would be over. He was right, and he knew why: Topping and Webb had begun looking for a buyer. They figured, we're not going to own the team in 5 years, so what do we care how good the team is? So the beautiful farm system that Weiss had built as Barrow's assistant dried up. Still, Weiss is in the Hall of Fame -- but not, for some reason, in Monument Park.

6. Frank Cashen, Mets, 1980-91. He had been the GM that built the Baltimore Orioles into the 1966 and 1970 World Champions. In 1980, upon buying the Mets from Lorinda de Roulet, daughter of team founder Joan Payson, Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday hired Cashen as GM. His job was more dire than that of Yankee GMs Gabe Paul in 1973 and Gene Michael in 1990. In fact, it may have been the most dire rebuilding job in New York sports since Larry MacPhail saved the Dodgers in 1938.

Think about it: The Mets weren't just no longer New York's first baseball team, they were barely its second. Since the Mets' 1973 Pennant, the Yankees had won 3 Pennants and 2 World Series; the Rangers had been to the Stanley Cup Finals; the Islanders were on their way to the first of 4 straight Cups; the Nets had won 2 ABA titles; and, while they weren't very good at the moment, the Giants and Jets already had in place the rebuilding efforts that would make them Playoff contenders throughout the Eighties. Only the Knicks were in remotely as bad a shape. (The Devils hadn't arrived yet.) The Mets had been so decimated by the moves of team chairman M. Donald Grant (fired in 1978) that Shea Stadium was averaging 12,000 fans a night and got the nickname "Grant's Tomb."

Cashen's first draft pick was Darryl Strawberry. He drafted Dwight Gooden. He got perennial All-Stars (already) Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, in each case for next to nothing. He traded for Ron Darling and Howard Johnson. And he hired the right manager for them, Davey Johnson. (Although that may not be all that accurate: Davey may have looked too far the other way on Darryl's and Doc's substance abuse, and he has never won another Pennant with any of the 4 teams he has since managed, including botching the Washington Nationals' chances last fall.)

Cashen built a team that finished 1st or 2nd every season from 1984 to 1990, and won the 1986 World Series. The reason he isn't higher on this list is that the team won only the 1 Series, and that team did tarnish themselves in some ways. But for Cashen to have taken the Mets to where they were at the dawn of the 1980s -- Met fans, surrounded by Yankee Fans' gloating, probably felt as much like hostages as those in Iran at the moment -- to where they were in October 1986 was mind-boggling. The Mets weren't just on top of New York, they were on top of the world.

As late as 1991, Cashen's last season (he resigned after a 5th-place finish), they were still, beyond question, a better organization than the Yankees. That they have never been that again is not his fault, but neither did he do much to avoid it, and that's why he's not higher on this list.

5. Larry MacPhail, Dodgers 1938-41, Yankees 1945-47. He had already restored the Cincinnati Reds, putting up Major League Baseball's first stadium lights, negotiating a lucrative radio contract (although it helped that the Reds owner who hired him, Powel Crosley, was a radio manufacturer), and making the deals that built the team that won the 1939 Pennant and the 1940 World Series.

Desperate to keep from going out of business, the financially troubled Dodgers brought him in, and the Roaring Redhead did much the same thing: He put up lights at Ebbets Field (the Polo Grounds got lights in 1940), broke the "gentlemen's agreement" against the New York teams broadcasting on radio, brought his Cincinnati broadcaster Red Barber in, renovated Ebbets Field to make it clean and family-friendly, and made the transactions that built the 1941 Pennant winners.

But MacPhail had a serious drinking problem, and the other owners forced him out after the '41 Series. In 1945, he joined with metal-industry heir Dan Topping and real estate tycoon Del Webb to buy the Yankees from Colonel Ruppert's heirs, and they modernized the team, putting lights up at Yankee Stadium in 1946 and getting the team on local television.

After winning the 1947 World Series, MacPhail got drunk and nasty at the victory party, and shortly thereafter was bought out by Topping and Webb. He never worked in baseball again, and rarely gets credit for the rebuilding that turned the Yankees into a team that won 13 Pennants in 16 seasons from 1947 to 1964.

But his legacy lives on: Aside from the Frank McCourt divorce saga (which was a mess but not an existential crisis for the club), the Dodgers have never again been in financial difficulty, not in Brooklyn, not in Los Angeles. They remain one of the model franchises in the game. MacPhail's son Bill became President of CBS Sports, his other son Lee became GM of the Orioles and Yankees and President of the American League (and they are the only father-son combination in the Hall of Fame); Lee's son Andy became GM of the Twins and president of the Cubs and Orioles; and Lee's grandson Leland Stanford MacPhail IV works with his uncle Andy in the Oriole front office.

4. Gene Michael, Yankees, 1990-95. The stereotypical "Good field, no hit" player in the late Sixties and early Seventies, "Stick" went on to serve the Yankees as minor league manager, major league coach, major league manager (twice), chief scout and general manager.

When Steinbrenner was suspended in 1990, Michael was given the keys to the kingdom, and had a hell of a mess to clean up: A number of George's trades, in the manner of the Fifties Yankees where 3 prospects would be traded for one guy who could help them win in a given year, hadn't panned out. And the Mets were, far and away, the Tri-State Area's most popular team.

Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams had just come into the system. Michael's guidance led to the drafting of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. He engineered the trades for Paul O'Neill and David Cone, and the signings of Wade Boggs and Jimmy Key. Back from suspension, George removed him from the GM post, although he was still a key man in the operations, and as "superscout" his suggestions remained part of the backbone of the building of the 1996-2003 dynasty.

I hope George's sons give him his Monument Park Plaque while he's still alive, because if it wasn't for Stick, George's Monument would be a joke.

3. Bill Torrey, Islanders, 1972-92. John Brush of the baseball Giants. Jacob Ruppert, Gabe Paul and Gene Michael of the Yankees. George Young of the football Giants. Bill Parcells of both the Giants and the Jets. Sonny Werblin of the Jets, Knicks and Rangers. Lou Lamoriello of the Devils. These men took awful, even disgraceful, franchises, and brought (or restored) them to glory. And Larry MacPhail may have saved the Dodgers completely. But building a team from scratch, making them a Playoff contender within 3 years, and a World Champion within 8 years? Without Steinbrenner-type money? Impossible.

No, it's not. Torrey and Isles coach Al Arbour did it. By 1978, the team of Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith was almost ready to go all the way. By 1980, they'd added Butch Goring and Clark Gillies, and 4 straight Stanley Cups followed. Torrey is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and is honored with a banner with his signature bowtie on it in the rafters of the Nassau Coliseum.

Why can't I give any more than an Honorable Mention to Lamoriello, the Devils' GM since 1987? After all, he's built a team that's made the Playoffs every season but one since 1991, has reached the Conference Finals 6 times, the Cup Finals 4 times and won the Cup 3 times. But he's also short-circuited the Meadowlands Marauders' (now the Mulberry Street Marauders') chances to win more by some truly baffling trades -- Claude Lemieux for Steve Thomas? John MacLean for Doug Bodger? -- and letting star players go to save money. Letting Scott Gomez get away was, I suppose, understandable... but to the Rangers? To The Scum?!? And it is neither secret nor coincidence that, after he let defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski go after the 2006 season, the next 2 Cups were won by Niedermayer's Anaheim Ducks and Rafalski's Detroit Red Wings. Sure, I understand, the Ducks were a good team and Nieder wanted to play with his brother Rob; and the Wings were great and Raffy's from the Detroit area.

But how exactly have the Devils done since they left? Okay, they got to the Finals last year.  But Lou Lam, El Baldo, is not getting on this list even if the Devils win a 4th Cup. Maybe they would never have won 4 straight as the Isles did under Torrey, but they might've won a 4th, a 5th, even a 6th by now (which would place them 2nd behind the Wings among U.S.-based teams) if he'd just opened his wallet a little more.

2. Branch Rickey, Dodgers, 1942-50. MacPhail's successor as Dodger President & GM was already a baseball legend. As GM of the St. Louis Cardinals, he established the concept of the minor-league farm system. (He didn't totally invent it, but most teams had relationships with maybe one minor-league club: The Boston Red Sox with the Providence Grays, and the Philadelphia Athletics with the pre-1954 Baltimore Orioles.) That way of doing business helped the Cards win 9 Pennants and 6 World Series from 1926 to 1946.

This made Rickey a hot property when the Dodgers fired MacPhail, and Rickey built the team that won 8 Pennants (and just missed 2 others) and a World Series from 1947 to 1959. (By the Maury Wills season of 1962, nobody from the "Boys of Summer" was still contributing, and the L.A. Dodgers were Buzzie Bavasi's team all the way.) And if that had been the extent of Rickey's building, that would be enough to get him on this list, and maybe into the Hall of Fame (which he is in).

But Rickey realized, from standpoints both moral and competitive, that it was time to bring nonwhite players into what was then nicknamed "Organized Baseball." He signed Jackie Robinson. He followed that with Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Joe Black. (Jim Gilliam and Sandy Amoros came after Rickey left.) Along with the already-present Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges, and Rickey acquisitions Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Preacher Roe, Billy Cox, Carl Erskine and Clem Labine, these were what Roger Kahn, Dodger beat writer for the New York Herald Tribune in 1952 and '53, called "The Boys of Summer" in his 1972 book of the same title that romanticized the Dodgers for generations of fans that would never see them play. (Like me.)

After the 1950 season, part-owner Walter O'Malley, who hated Rickey's guts (and Rickey was no fan of the unscrupluous O'Malley, either), bought out his share and the shares of the other stockholders. Rickey moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and although he was gone by the time his plans bore fruit, the team he built did win the 1960 World Series. He is in the Hall of Fame, and, despite the claims of historian Robert W. Creamer that Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel (both of whom were the subject of Creamer biographies) were the two most interesting men ever involved with the game, I think a better case can be made for Wesley Branch Rickey and the man with whom he changed the game, and America, forever, Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

Honorable Mention to Emil "Buzzie" Bavasi, who took over as O'Malley's GM after Rickey was bought out, and continued to build the Dodgers up into a team that won 8 Pennants and 4 World Series from 1952 to 1966.

1. Ed Barrow, Yankees, 1921-46. Arrived in time to build the Yankees' first American League Pennant winner. By the time he quit, not happy with Dan Topping, Del Webb and Larry MacPhail, who had bought the team from Ruppert's heirs, he had built a team that won 14 Pennants and 10 World Series. He had brought Hall of Famer pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock to the team, and also Hall of Fame center fielder Earle Combs, and his greatest signing, Hall of Fame 1st baseman Lou Gehrig. And that was just from 1921 to 1925.

In 1930, he brought in 2 more Hall of Fame pitchers, Charles "Red" Ruffing (who went from a lousy pitcher with the Red Sox to brilliance with the Yankees) and Vernon "Lefty" Gomez. He ran the scouting department that found the Hall of Fame Yankees at the position of shortstop, Phil Rizzuto, and catcher, Yogi Berra. And, in 1934, when a bad ankle caused many big-league clubs to shy away from the Pacific Coast League superstar, Barrow took a chance on Joe DiMaggio. It paid off. Top that. Barrow is in the Hall of Fame, and in Monument Park.

Top 10 Worst Executives in New York Sports History


As with my Top 10 Worst Coaches, I'm going to limit "History" to 1920 onward, with "The Golden Age of Sports" effectively beginning the modern age of sports. So this exempts, if not absolves, Andrew Freedman, the nutcase who owned the Giants at the turn of the 20th Century; and Frank Farrell and Big Bill Devery, the ex-police commissioner and current bootlegger (or was it the other way around? Didn't matter, whichever had been Commish was pretty damn corrupt) who owned the New York Highlanders/Yankees from their 1903 founding until 1915.

Actually, all of these disasters are pretty much in my lifetime, 1969 onward. I didn't even think to include Horace Stoneham, who owned the baseball Giants from 1936 to 1976, and moved them to San Francisco in 1957, talked into it by Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers who needed another California team, after Stoneham was already deciding to move to Minneapolis, where the Giants' top farm team was.

It would have been so simple to save the Giants: Robert Moses, practically the dictator of New York City already, had the plan for the building in Flushing Meadow that would become known as Shea Stadium. If Stoneham had just asked for it, the Giants might be playing at Citi Field today, and, as there would have been in 1962, and could have been a few other times (they would've been in the NL East, not having to face the Dodgers and Reds in the NL West), there could, in the fall of 2010, be a Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants. Willie Mays was beloved in New York. Think of what New York fans could have done with Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Jack Sanford, the Alou Brothers, Gaylord Perry, Bobby and Barry Bonds -- Barry might've gotten the love he needed to not try steroids.

But all Stoneham could see was his crumbling Polo Grounds in a disintegrating upper Harlem and Washington Heights, with the Yankees and Dodgers both making money hand over glove, and he thought he couldn't compete. If he had just held on for another year...

But he didn't, so I'm putting him at Number 11 on this list. But the rest are all guys who did foolish or rotten things that I'm old enough to remember, and seriously mucked up some great teams.

10. George Steinbrenner, Yankees, 1980-90. Okay, officially, George wasn't the GM. But, let's face it, he was the man making the personnel decisions, no matter how much he blamed "my baseball people" for trades.

When he had Gabe Paul from 1973 to '77, Al Rosen in '78 and '79, Gene Michael stepping in after his suspension in 1990, Bob Watson in '96 and '97 and Brian Cashman from 1998 to 2010, George was a great owner, which is why he's only Number 10 on this list. But he was a horrible "GM," and that's why he makes this list at all.

9. "The Secaucus Seven," Nets, 1978-98. Led by Joe Taub and Alan Cohen, these guys got little to work with, and they made less out of it. Having to pay $8 million -- and, as the late sportswriting legend Bert Randolph Sugar would have said, these were Jerry Ford dollars, not Barack Obama dollars -- just to get into the NBA following the collapse of the ABA and to pay off the Knicks for "territorial indemnification" -- the Nets had to sell off their best player, Long Island native Julius "Dr. J" Erving, and a year later trade their next-best player, Bronx native Nate "Tiny" Archibald. In other words, just to remain in the Tri-State Area, the Nets had to dump 2 of the men who would be named in 1996 to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. (Even 14 seasons later, Doc is probably still one of the game's top 20.)

So how many times did the Nets make the Playoffs in those 20 seasons that the S7 owned them? 10.  Which isn't actually all that bad.  But how many Playoff series did they win? One. (1984, against the defending World Champion Philadelphia 76ers -- with Erving -- before falling in 6 in the next round against the Milwaukee Bucks.) How many Playoff games did they win? 9 (with 5 of those coming, as I said, in '84).

It's not so much how often they made the Playoffs, it's how bad they were when they didn't.  And the bad draft picks... Dennis Hopson, Ed O'Bannon, Yinka Dare... Maybe the Nets weren't as big a joke as the other "little brother" team in the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers... but even when they were a good team, 1982-86 and 1992-94, they didn't exactly sell out the Meadowlands. (Partly because the established, glamorous Knicks were also good at the same time.)

The S7 sold the Nets in 1998, and in 2001 new ownership made the trade for Jason Kidd and the team made 2 NBA Finals, reaching the Playoffs 6 straight seasons, before Bruce Ratner bought the team and put their breakup and move to Brooklyn into motion.

Despite a 20-year record of ineptitude, I can't rank the S7 any higher, for 2 reasons: There were 7 of them, not any 1 that was more responsible than any other; and the Nets have always been the 2nd basketball team in a 2-team town. Sometimes 3rd, when you consider St. John's. In fact, counting all the area's major league teams, they're the 9th team in a 9-team town. And, frankly, counting the Liberty and the Red Bulls may not be doing the Nets any favors, either.  We'll see if Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z and the new management team can turn them around in Brooklyn, but don't hold your breath.

8. Mike Milbury, Islanders, 1995-2006. He was one of the players who typified the Boston Bruins' late 1970s-early 1980s "Lunch Pail Athletic Club": Not especially talented, but hard-working, the kind of guy you needed to win. As head coach of the Bruins, he got them to the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals, but got swept by the Edmonton Oilers, whose GM and former head coach was Glen Sather. (See #5 below.)

In 1995, the Islanders named him head coach and GM. He was asked by a reporter how he expected to compete with the Devils, who had just won the Cup, and the Rangers, who had won it the year before. He had the right attitude: "You know, fuck the Rangers and fuck the Devils! I'm running the New York Islanders!" From Flushing to Montauk, you could hear Isles fans saying, "Hell yeah!"

But even when they were winning 4 straight Stanley Cups, the Islanders have never been a team with deep pockets. The moves Milbury made were terrible, pretty much demolishing a team that had come within 3 games of the Finals just 2 years earlier. He removed himself as head coach, reinstalled himself, and removed himself again. He never hired a good head coach, and in the 18 seasons since Milbury was hired, the team has made the Playoffs 4 times, winning 6 games and exactly zero series.

So the way he messed things up on the Jericho Turnpike has already well outlasted his tenure. When he was hired, they were a viable franchise that may have had an interesting future. When he was finally canned after 11 years, they were a team in trouble, and remain so.

The planned move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after the Nassau Coliseum's lease runs out in 2015 will help, as the team will still be on Long Island -- geologically, if not culturally.  The team is no longer in danger of moving off the physical island or out of the Tri-State Area.  Milbury's heart was in the right place, and no one could question his courage, but if he only had a brain.  He is not solely to blame for the club's post-1993 decline, but, competitively, it still doesn't look good for the team's long-term future.  Ironically, the move of the Nets to Brooklyn may end up doing more to help the Islanders.

7. Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank, Jets, 1968-73. Bear with me: In order to make you truly understand what Weeb did to the Jets, I have to make this one long. A truly great football coach, he was the only man to be head coach of both an NFL Champion (1958 and '59 Baltimore Colts, both times over the New York Giants) and an AFL Champion (1968-69 New York Jets, over his former team, the Colts). But look at what he did with the team as GM after owner Leon Hess fired Sonny Werblin.

Imagine that it is August 1969, and you are the General Manager of the New york Jets. Your team has not only won the World Championship of American football in its last game that counted, but done so in a fashion that stunned and excited the nation. You've just won an exhibition game (strangely played at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut) in which you decisively defeated the Giants, the City's NFL aggregation. So now you are definitively the best team, both in New York and in the world.

The Knicks have glamorous stars like Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley and the courageous Willis Reed, but they haven't yet won their first title, and even after 2 titles they won't be as big as a popular football team. The Mets are in their first Pennant race, but haven't yet gotten their "Miracle" fully onto the City's radar. And even when they do, their marquee player, Tom Seaver, as great as he is and will be, is a private man who can handle the spotlight, but does not relish it. You have Joe Namath, a glamor guy at the glamor position (quarterback), in the glamor city, in what's becoming the glamor sport, and he loves the spotlight, eats it up. You've just proven that the Giants stink. So do the Yankees, whose big star Mickey Mantle just retired. The Nets are in the ABA, out on Long Island, they're an afterthought. The Rangers are a bunch of Canadians, not exactly popular in an America that elected Richard Nixon. The Islanders and Devils don't exist yet. No college team in the area is doing big things.

Maybe you don't own the New York Tri-State Area, but you're co-owning with the Mets and Knicks, and that's pretty good. You've got it made.

And your franchise loses in the first round of the next season's Playoffs... and then doesn't reach the Playoffs again for 12 years! And doesn't win another Playoff game until a year after that!

Weeb couldn't keep the Super Bowl team together. He resigned as coach prior to the 1973 season, by which point an oft-injured Namath was the only one from 1/12/69 still contributing. He hired his son-in-law, Charlie Wimmer. Charlie didn't do too well. Weeb hired Lou Holtz, who had done a great job reviving North Carolina State. And would go on to revive the programs at Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina. Of course, the reason he was able to do so well in college is that, like a lot of college coaches (hello, Steve Spurrier), he couldn't handle the pro game. (The veer offense? With Namath's knees? Hello, anybody home? Think, McFly!) He was fired before finishing his first season in Flushing Meadow and Hempstead. The Jets didn't have a decent GM after Werblin until Hess handed Bill Parcells the keys to the kingdom in 1997.

The Jets could have become THE team in New York football, instead of becoming a joke franchise, which, despite the work of Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan, they still are, at least for the moment. Considering the kind of opportunity Ewbank had in 1969, it is almost a crime that, by 1986, Sports Illustrated could put Lawrence Taylor and Mark Gastineau on their cover, with the words, "In the Big Apple, the Jets are always the second banana."

Weeb never should've been named GM. Jerry Izenberg, the legendary columnist of the Newark Star-Ledger, calls the Jets' inability to win a Super Bowl, or even to reach one, these last 41 seasons "The Curse of Sonny Werblin." Doesn't make much sense, since they did win the next Super Bowl after firing him. Maybe "The Curse of Weeb Ewbank" is better.

6. Mike Burke, Yankees, 1965-73. A genuine hero of America's effort in World War II. A great businessman. A man who loved sports. And, along with Mayor John Lindsay, the man who saved the original Yankee Stadium for an additional 2 generations.  We should thank him for those things.

But while he loved baseball, he didn't know how to run a sports team. Granted, the Topping-Webb regime left CBS, and their handpicked team president Burke, a pig in a poke, basically a brand name and nothing else. But he didn't do much with it: When the team finally won the whole thing in 1977, only 4 players were left from before George Steinbrenner owned the team: Roy White, Thurman Munson, Sparky Lyle and Graig Nettles. I think when George came in, and then bought Burke out, it was a great relief to Burke.

5. Glen Sather, Rangers, 2000-present. One of the great coaches and GMs in hockey history when he coached the Edmonton Oilers to 4 Stanley Cups and was GM for 5, what has he done in 13 years in New York?

It took the Rangers 12 years under his leadership to reach the Conference Finals, and his head coaches have been abysmal: John Muckler (who succeeded him in Edmonton and won the 1990 Cup, but awful at the Garden), Ron Low (aptly-named), Bryan Trottier (real smart, hiring one of the greatest Islanders with no head coaching experience to run the Rangers), himself (not so easy when you don't have Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Coffey, Lowe and Fuhr all in their primes), Tom Renney and now John Tortorella (won the Cup with the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning but doesn't have Andreychuk and Lecavalier here).  And when the Rangers finally did reach the Conference Finals last year, they ended up losing to the Devils, a humiliation that well and truly puts the 1994 Cup win deep into the past, every bit as much as the Isles' 1980-83 Cups irrevocably are.

Of course, Sather hasn't done as much damage to the Rangers as Milbury did to the Islanders in roughly the same span of time. The Rangers were never in danger of getting moved out of the Tri-State Area. Besides, somebody had to make the mistake of hiring Sather, and then keeping him for this long.

4. Omar Minaya, Mets, 2005-10. He was going to lead the Latin Revolution. He brought in Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez. And David Wright. (How'd that Gringo get in there?)

2005: No Playoffs, but that's okay, because they're still working their way up.  No shame in that.

2006: One run from a Pennant, but a 9th-inning homer by the opposition, and Beltran leaves the bat on his shoulder.  Okay, that's not good, but there's still plenty of reason for optimism.

2007: Up by 7 with 17 to go, and they don't even make the Playoffs.  Now that is a disgrace.

2008: Up by 3 1/2 with 17 to go, and they don't even make the Playoffs.  In this case, half a disgrace does not lessen the disgrace, it compounds it.  They couldn't even win the last game at Shea.  They couldn't let their beloved home "die with dignity."

2009: The first season at Citi Field is, competitively, an unmitigated disaster.

2010: Another sub-.500 season.

All the while, the Yankees remain the Number 1 team in town, winning a 27th World Championship. The Mets are still looking for a 3rd. The Yankees have won 40 Pennants; the Mets are still stuck on 4.

Can't blame it on the manager, because the Mets failed under Willie Randolph and failed harder under Jerry Manuel. Nope, don't blame the waiter, blame the chef. People said the Mets should spend more money, like the Yankees, but the guys Minaya did spend money on didn't pan out.  And then, of course, came the reckoning of Fred and Jeff Wilpon's dealings with Bernie Madoff, and so, under new GM Sandy Alderson, the Mets haven't been able to spend big.

Frankly, the Wilpons should have dumped Minaya after 2008. After all, '05 was a rebuilding year, '06 was pretty successful by Met standards, and '07 could be written off as a fluke -- a mind-numbing, nasty fluke, but a fluke nonetheless. But 2008 should have been the alarm bell. The Mets should've broken up with Minaya then. Finally, in 2010, the Wilpons told him, "This relationship isn't working, and I think we should start seeing other executives." No, Omar, it's not them, it's you.

3. Isiah Thomas, Knicks, 2003-08. It was bad enough that Isiah made some bad moves as GM. It was worse that he trusted some guys who couldn't coach, including himself.  It led to the infamous T-shirts: "Don't hate the players, hate the coach." And if that had been the extent of it, that would have been bad enough, although perhaps not bad enough to make this list.

But through his private life becoming public, he dragged the Knicks through the tabloid muck. Once the team of Clyde Frazier, cool and stylish, a team the ladies could love as much as the guys, the Knicks had become a festering sewer, both competitively and morally.

Of course, Thomas didn't do as much damage to the Rangers as the Secaucus Seven did to the Nets. And the damage he did, while severe in terms of public relations and competitiveness, both on the court and in the boardroom, didn't put the Knicks in danger of moving or going out of business. Besides, somebody had to make the mistake of hiring Thomas, and then keeping him for that long.

2. M. Donald Grant, Mets, 1962-78. He was a friend of Mets founder Joan Payson, and she hired him to be the team's first chairman of the board. After the 1969 season, the Mets owned New York every bit as much as the Jets did. After the 1973 season, when they'd won another Pennant, they were so far ahead of the Yankees it wasn't funny -- though you can be sure Met fans were cackling with glee. Surely, with their (relatively) new ballpark and exciting young players in a nice neighborhood, they had the advantage over the Yankees, with their old ballpark and failing players in a disastrous neighborhood, not to mention their crazy new owner.

The Mets, or rather Grant, frittered away so much of that goodwill, to the point where a few Met fans -- not many, but a few, including college student and aspiring filmmaker Spike Lee -- switched to the Yankees after they returned to the top, a rise coinciding with the Mets' collapse.

A blog called "Mike's Mets" -- not connected to me in any way -- pretty much sums Grant's mindset up:

Grant, a stockbroker, was Mrs. Payson's close personal advisor when she became the original owner of the Mets. He probably had very little influence in player movement for the first several years, and in the days before free agency, no one could say that the Mets were particularly cheap. But... Grant did not believe that a ballplayer deserved to be making as much money as a stockbroker or real estate magnate, and probably didn't think they belonged at the same parties or meetings, either.

Grant's meddling, no doubt, played a part in driving Mets' GM Bing Devine, who was doing a nice job of trying to build a winner, back to St. Louis. It was probably after Mets' GM Johnny Murphy passed away in 1970 that Grant's influence began to increase. Whitey Herzog was Mets' player development director and heir to the GM job, but Grant passed him by because he knew he wouldn't stand for any interference from someone who in Whitey's words "knew nothing about baseball".

The next two Mets' GM's, Bob Scheffing and Joe McDonald, probably had their hands tied by Grant, his frugality, and his belief that ballplayers should be quiet, sign their contracts, and just play ball. When a player became outspoken about salary issues, such as Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman did, it was only a matter of time before they would be sent away. When Gil Hodges died just before the 1972 season began, Grant again chose to bypass the outspoken Herzog, driving him out of the organization, in favor of Yogi Berra.

Probably the best example of how out of touch M. Donald Grant was with the average fan was when he tried to explain the Tom Seaver negotiations and subsequent trade in terms of bluffing and playing tricks in a hand of bridge. How many Mets fans have any idea how to even play bridge?

Things got worse when Mrs. Payson got sick, and died late in 1975. Her daughter, Lorinda de Roulet, inherited the team, and she knew that she knew nothing about baseball, so she trusted Grant even more.

Observe the breakup of the "Miracle" team: The autocratic Grant traded away Tommie Agee after the 1972 season, Tug McGraw after 1974, Rusty Staub (who would later return) and Cleon Jones after 1975, Jerry Grote after 1976, and Seaver and Kingman on June 15, 1977, a date which lives in Met infamy. Aside from the Dodgers and Giants getting moved out of town, this is the most hated transaction in the history of New York sports -- even if Steve Henderson had a few hits in him and Doug Flynn was a very good fielder.

Lorinda finally fired the old buzzard in 1978. By that point, attendance at Shea Stadium was so sparse it was being called Grant's Tomb: It had gone from a City record 2.7 million in 1970 to under 800,000 by 1979 -- or, per game, 33,000 to 9,740. Contrast that with the Yankees: 1972, 966,000 (12,000); 1980, 2.6 million (32,000).  Not until 1980, when Lorinda sold the team to Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, did things begin to turn around at Shea.

Grant died on November 29, 1998, 16 days after the death of Weeb Ewbank, and 12 days after the death of the Knicks' title-winning head coach, Red Holzman. Weeb and Red got a lot of praise in the New York media. Grant's death was barely even noticed. Serves him right.

1. James Dolan, Knicks and Rangers, 1999 to the present. His father Charles Dolan hired him to run Cablevision. Which owns ITT. Which owns Viacom. Which owns Paramount Communications. Which owns Gulf + Western. Which owns the Madison Square Garden Corporation. Which owns the Garden complex, the Knicks, the Rangers, the WNBA's New York Liberty, the MSG Network, and the Garden's boxing, concert and other special-events promotion companies.

"Guitar Jimmy" has done great things. He has promoted the Concert For New York City after 9/11, the Big Apple to Big Easy Concert after Hurricane Katrina, and, just this past fall, the 12-12-12 Concert to raise money for relief of Hurricane Sandy. He is one of the most charity-sustaining people in America. He is, by most accounts, a decent person.  I have no reason to dislike him.  Especially since I am neither a Knicks nor a Rangers fan.

But this is the guy who hired Glen Sather to run the Broadway Blueshirts, and also the guy who hired Isiah Thomas to run the Knickerbockers. Through those 2 guys, whom he showed unbelievable loyalty, to the point where both New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica and I, independent of each other, have wondered what kind of pictures Isiah has of Dolan, he has managed to futz up one of the NBA's charter franchises and one of the NHL's so-called "Original Six" teams, the 3rd- and 4th-greatest franchises in the Tri-State Area (behind the Yankees and football Giants), for over a decade.

Think about it: Starting with 2000-01, the first full season in which Dolan has, effectively, been the big boss of both teams, the Knicks have won no Playoff series, and only 3 Playoff games, despite spending more money (even with the league's salary cap) than any team in basketball history; while the Rangers have won 2 Playoff series but only once have progressed beyond the NHL's final 8 (last year, and then getting beat by the Devils), despite spending more money (both without and then with the league's salary cap) than any team in hockey history.

Think about that: 2 teams, same building, 13 years, 27 Playoff games won.  That roughly translates to 1 Playoff win per year for each team, in what's promoted as "The World's Most Famous Arena." (And when you consider 10 of those 27 were last season's Rangers, it looks a lot worse.) Last year was the first time they both made the Playoffs since 1997. That's right: There was a 15-year stretch without both the Knicks and the Rangers still playing at the end of April, to say nothing of May, or even June, as in 1994, when a few John Starks bricks prevented a double title at the Garden.

Messing up one franchise for a decade is bad enough. Jimmy Dolan has messed up 2. He's not a dirty bastard, like Walter O'Malley or Donald Grant.  He's not a sleazeball, like Isiah Thomas, or an "ogre" as George Steinbrenner was often called.  And he isn't a legend whose sport has passed him by, like Glen Sather.

On the other hand, he isn't a good man thrown into an awful situation, like Mike Burke.  He's a good man who made an awful situation -- indeed, 2 of them.  Like Weeb Ewbank (as GM, anyway) and Mike Milbury, he is a guy in over his head. But it's Knick and Ranger fans who feel like they're drowning.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sports Oscars

Best Actor: Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United.  He's got the English media convinced that his club does not cheat.  That officials don't give him favorable calls.  That TV broadcasters don't give his club a favorable fixture list (schedule).  That his players don't dive.  That his players don't purposely injure opponents.  That his players don't intimidate referees.  That his players are true sportsman.

He's even got the notoriously xenophobic convinced that he (Scottish), Darren Fletcher (also Scottish), Ryan Giggs (Welsh), Jonny Evans (Northern Irish), Patrice Evra (French), Nemanja Vidic (Serbian) and Wayne Rooney (Martian) are good, decent Englishmen, and should always be given the benefit of the doubt.

Best Actress: Danica Patrick.  She's got people convinced she's a good auto racer, all because she's attractive and media-friendly.  Yesterday, she led the Daytona 500 for 2 of its 200 laps (lap 90 and lap 127), making her the first woman to lead one of that race's laps under a green flag -- that is, during "normal play," without an accident or bad weather forcing a yellow flag (meaning, "Slow down and hold your position") or a red flag (meaning, "Stop completely").

I hope she does win the damn thing someday, just so all those misogynistic rednecks can kiss her ass and admit that a girl beat their boys at their own fucking game.  A girl from the State of Wisconsin, no less.  Not just a girl, but a damn Yankee.

Best Supporting Actor: Me.  I supported the Yankees in 1982 when they were in 6th place and changing managers left and right and the quasi-dynasty I thought I was going to grow up with was being, pardon the pun, dismantled.  I supported them in 1986 when The Other Team went all the way.  I supported them in 1990 when they finished dead last and the owner was banned.  I supported them in 2004 when The Scum beat them and went all the way.  I supported them in 2006, the only time since 1988 that The Other Team has gone farther (for all the good it did them).  I supported them in 2007, when The Scum went all the way again AND the Mitchell Report came out.  And I've supported them through the last 5 months, which, by Yankee standards, have been pretty rough.

I also supported the Devils in their early days in the 1980s when they were, to use Wayne Gretzky's words, "a Mickey Mouse organization," and in 1994 when The Scum (NHL edition) beat them and went all the way.  I supported Rutgers and the Nets when they were making New Jersey sports a joke -- something the Nets will never, ever do again, even if Rutgers sure did this past November.  And I've supported Arsenal through their current trophyless period: Go ahead, cite the 8-year drought, but don't you fucking dare call me a "gloryhunter." If I was, I would have given up on them by now.

Best Supporting Actress: Lisa Swan, co-author of Subway Squawkers.  She's done a remarkable job of supporting not just the Yankees in general, but Alex Rodriguez in particular.  This year, she beat out Laura Posada, which she should appreciate.

Best Director: Joe Torre.  Yes, I know, he's retired.  So what.

Best Picture: This one.


And finally, Best Oscar in Sports to the late, great Oscar Madison, played by Jack Klugman on The Odd Couple.

It's just as well that Oscar Pistorius didn't win the award.  I don't think he would have been available to accept it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Top 10 Mets Movie Titles - And My Countdowns Resume

This was one of those Twitter "contests," running a few days ago, and I forgot about it until now.  Take a movie title, and alter it to give it a Mets theme: #MetsMovies

Original Title -> #MetsMovies Title
I came up with a few that I'm going to list as Honorable Mentions:
The House at Pooh Corner -> The House at Kiner’s Korner
The Dead Pool -> The Krane Pool
Walk the Line -> Walk the Bases Loaded
A Knight's Tale -> Ray Knight’s Tale
The Devil's Advocate -> The Teufel’s Advocate ("Teufel" is German for "Devil")
Fever Pitch -> Headache Pitch
Psycho -> Psycho: The Bobby Bonilla Story
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves -> Robin Ventura: Prince of Grand Slams
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -> same title, starring Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez, and Bobby Bonilla
Super 8 -> Not So Super ‘08
Honorable Mentions by others:
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom -> Cleon Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie -> The Discreet Charm of the Don Aase
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -> Butch Huskey and the Sundance Kid
You Don't Mess With the Zohan -> You Don't Mess With the Johan
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three -> The Taking of Pelfrey One Two Three
Dude, Where's My Car? -> Duda, Where's My Car?
Trouble With the Curve -> No name change necessary
Angels In the Outfield -> Idiots In The Outfield
10. Thoroughly Modern Millie -> Thoroughly Modern Mazzilli
9. Dial M for Murder -> Dial M for Mookie
8. The Falcon and the Snowman -> Pete Falcone and the Snowman
7. Lethal Weapon -> Lethal Wilpon
6. Weekend At Bernie's -> Weekend At Bernie Madoff's
5. The A-Team -> The Triple-A Team
4. Broken City -> Broken Citi
3. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days -> How to Lose A Game in 10 Ways & How to Lose a Division in 10 Days
2. Les Miserables -> No name change necessary
1. The Crying Game -> No name change necessary

*

At last, I resume my countdowns -- but with the future of Alex Rodriguez as a Yankee very much in question now, I have removed all references to his possible milestones.

Days until the Devils play again: 5, this coming Thursday night, at 8:00 Eastern Time, away to the new Winnipeg Jets.  Today, they got shredded 5-1 by the Washington Capitals in D.C.

Days until Arsenal play another competitive match: See the next answer.  Today, Arsenal defeated Birmingham club Aston Villa at home, 2-1, both goals scored by Santi Cazorla.

Days until the next North London Derby: 8, a week from tomorrow, at White Hart Lane.  

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 8, a week from tomorrow, away to the Portland Timbers in Oregon.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 20, against the Philadelphia Flyers, on Wednesday night, March 15, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly.  They will also play The Philth on Thursday, April 18 (away).  The next game against the New York Rangers (a.k.a. The Scum) will be on Tuesday, March 19 (home); Sunday, April 21 (away); and Saturday, April 27 (away, the regular season finale).  They will play the Islanders on Monday, April 1 (home).

Days until the Red Bulls' home opener: 21, on Saturday, March 16, against D.C. United (or, as Metro fans call them, "The D.C. Scum").  Just 3 weeks.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby," against either the New England Revolution, the Philadelphia Union or D.C. United: See the previous answer.

Days until the U.S. National Soccer Team plays again: 27, on Friday, March 22, against Costa Rica in the last, "Hexagonal" round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, for the region that encompasses North America, Central America, and the Caribbean nations.  The game will be played at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, home ground of MLS' Colorado Rapids.  A must-win if America is to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.


Days until the Yankees play again: 37, on Monday, April 1, at 1:05 PM, at home at Yankee Stadium II, against the Boston Red Sox.  A little over 5 weeks.  Beat The Scum!

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: See the previous answer.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 187, on Thursday night, August 29, away to Fresno State University in California.  A little over 6 months.  The first home game of the 2013 season will be on Saturday, September 7, vs. Norfolk State.  The schedule is far from complete, with only the first 4 games set, all nonconference games.  The question marks surrounding the Big East, including Rutgers' own bolting for the Big Ten, have forced this.


Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Uncertain, since the 2013 schedule has not been released.  But if the usual pattern holds, it will be on the 2nd Friday in September... which, next year, just so happens to be a Friday the 13th.  Oy vey.  Anyway, if that's the way it works out, then it's 202 days.  A little under 7 months.  And when it does happen, it will be the first game they play without Marcus Borden as head coach since Thanksgiving Day 1982 (a loss to Colonia High of Woodbridge), as he has left the program.  (Did he jump, or was he pushed? I don't know.)


Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 278.  About 9 months.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 344 (February 2, 2014).  Under 1 year.  Of course, we have no idea who the opposing teams will be.  The possibility exists that either the Giants or the Jets could be in it -- or both.  To this day, no team has ever played a Super Bowl in its own stadium -- in spite of multiple hostings by Miami, New Orleans and various California teams.  Only 2 have done so in their home metro area: The 1979-80 Los Angeles Rams, whose home field was then the L.A. Coliseum, and they lost to Pittsburgh at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; and the 1984-85 San Francisco 49ers, whose home field, then as now, was Candlestick Park, and they beat Miami at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, which had a much larger capacity than Candlestick.

Days until the next Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia: 349 (February 7, 2014).


Days until the next World Cup, in Brazil: 474 (June 12, 2014).  Under 16 months.

Days until the next Summer Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 1,259 (August 5, 2016).  Under 4 years.

Is Your City a Baseball Town Or a Football Town?

Josh Hamilton, the slugger known for having overcome booze and drugs -- more than once -- has left the Texas Rangers, and signed a big contract with the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Year Angels of Anaheim.

And he fired a parting shot at the team that gave him his chance to come back... more than one chance:

It’s one of those things where Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town.  So the good with the bad is they’re supportive, but they also got a little spoiled, at the same time, pretty quickly. You can understand like a really true, true baseball town — and there are true baseball fans in Texas – but it’s not a true baseball town.

Is he right? Yes.  Observe:

2012: Following back-to-back American League Pennants, the first 2 in franchise history, the Rangers had an average home crowd of 42,719.

2008: Hamilton's first big season with the Rangers.  They finished 79-83.  Per game home attendance: 24,320.

1999: Ending a string of 3 seasons in 4 having won the AL Western Division, their first full-season postseason appearances.  Per game home attendance: 34,253.

1993: Last season at Arlington Stadium, capacity 43,598, having never finished 1st in franchise history, per game home attendance: 27,711.

1978: Won 87 games, finishing 2nd in the AL West, the 2nd year in a row they'd done that, 3rd time in a span of 5 years.  Per game home attendance: 17,876.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, a.k.a. "The Metroplex," is not a baseball town.

*

For this list, I'm taking only those cities in the U.S. that have teams in at least 3 of the 4 major sports, with 1 of them being Major League Baseball; or 2 of the 4, provided that they are Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

I'm not saying that making a city a "baseball town" means it's not good for football, or vice versa.  Only that, in said town, that's the most popular team sport.

Baseball Towns
Boston.  In the last 11 years, since February 2002, the Patriots have won 3 World Championships, the Red Sox 2 -- and the Celtics and Bruins 1 each.  But you would think, having become for a while the best team in the NFL, and for long-term excellence (for now) the defining NFL team of the last few years, the Pats would have exceeded the Red Sox in the minds and hearts of New England fans.  Riiiiiiight.

New York.  As much hype as the local NFL teams have gotten the last few years, ask yourself this: Which comparison would you rather argue, Yankees vs. Mets or Giants vs. Jets?

True, the hockey teams have had their moments, the Nets have a new arena and have awakened a sleeping giant in Brooklyn, and the Knicks, in spite of not having won a title in 40 years, are a cultural icon.  But New York is the greatest baseball town of them all.

St. Louis.  Despite 2 Super Bowls, winning one and nearly winning the other, the Rams are kind of an afterthought.  And the Blues, while usually doing well both on the ice and at the box office, are 2nd at best in St. Lou.  While the Cardinals are the centerpiece of the entire region.  St. Louis likes to call itself the best baseball city in America.  Per capita, that may be true.

Football Towns
Atlanta.  It's Georgia.  In spite of a great deal of success for both the Braves and Georgia Tech, but Tech, the University of Georgia and the Falcons together, and it's no contest.

Baltimore.  In 1987, when the O's were in a down period that would get much worse (1988) before it would briefly get better (1989), Frank Deford, the great Sports Illustrated writer from Charm City, compared Oriole fandom unfavorably with that for the departed Colts:

Baltimore could love the Colts easily enough, because football is only played on weekends, and is more like a holiday or a night out. But baseball is everyday, like grocery shopping and traffic jams, marriage, school and that sort of stuff. It was very intimidating to Baltimoreans that the Orioles won most every day and were hopelessly accomplished.

After 1997, the O's crashed, and the Ravens had newly arrived.  Now, the O's are back, but the worst thing that could have happened to this rising ballclub is that the local football side won the whole thing.  Throw in the love of the University of Maryland (albeit a school closer to D.C. than to the Inner Harbor), and football is well ahead of baseball in Baltimore.

Chicago.  Put the Cubs and the White Sox together, and they wouldn't be above the Bears.  The Bears remain the most popular team in town, even though they haven't won a title in 27 years.  Since then, the White Sox have ended an 88-year drought, the Blackhawks have ended a 49-year drought, and the Bulls, who had previously not won a title in 24 years, won 6 in 8.  The Cubs have had Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa, and Ernie Banks is still alive.  The White Sox have had Frank Thomas and the scrappy Sox of 2005.  The Bulls have had Michael Jordan and now have Derrick Rose.  The Blackhawks have had Denis Savard and now have Patrick Kane, and Bobby Hull is still alive.

Does anybody think a party for the first Bears Super Bowl win since Ditka, Sweetness & the Fridge wouldn't be celebrated far more than the '05 ChiSox, the '10 Hawks, and any of the Bulls' 6? Forever, the most popular sports team in Chicago will be a certain team which is known as... Da Bears!

Cincinnati.  The Bengals are a joke franchise, while the Reds are a team laden with tradition.  And still, the Bengals have great attendance.  Throw in the University of Cincinnati, high school football, and the relatively close Ohio State University, and this one is no contest.

Cleveland.  The Indians almost moved about 3 times between 1960 and 1990.  Do you think the people of Northern Ohio would have raised nearly the stink that they did when the Browns were stolen from them in 1995? They raised so much of a stink that they got their team back! It hasn't done well, but they got it back. Throw in Ohio State (keeping in mind that Columbus is closer to Cincinnati), and Cleveland is easily a football town.

Dallas.  It's Texas.  Next.

Denver.  The University of Colorado and Colorado State add to Colorado being a football State, but it was the Broncos who made Denver, from 1977 onward, a football city.

Houston.  It's Texas.  Next.

Kansas City.  When you go to a Chiefs game, you smell the parking lot before you see Arrowhead Stadium. And that's a good thing.  K.C. has the best tailgating in the NFL.  The Royals? This is not 1976 to 1985.  They are barely even there.

Miami.  The Dolphins haven't won a Super Bowl in almost 40 years -- and you forgot they'd even been around for more than 40 years, didn't you? Meanwhile, the University of Miami football program is once again mired in controversy.  The Heat are defending NBA Champions, have another relatively recent title, could win another this year, and are easily the glamour team of South Florida.  Meanwhile, the Marlins have a new ballpark.

No matter: Florida is a football State, and Miami is a football city.  The Marlins probably would have moved if that new ballpark wasn't approved.  Ask South Floridians if they would trade no longer having Major League Baseball, ever again, for another Dolphin Super Bowl win.  Most would.

Milwaukee.  Brewtown has re-embraced the Brewers, and the Packers are 120 miles away in Green Bay, while the University of Wisconsin is 75 miles away in Madison.  No matter: It's Big Ten Country.  It's football land.

Minneapolis.  The Twins have a nice new ballpark and 2 World Series wins.  The Vikings are 0-for-4 in Super Bowls and haven't even been in one since Gerald Ford was President.  Plus, the State of Minnesota is hockey-mad.  No matter: It's Big Ten Country.  It's football land.

Pittsburgh.  Between the Steelers, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and high school ball, this should even have been in question.

San Diego.  A tough call, since the Chargers are in danger of moving if they can't get a new stadium built, while the Padres have a nice new downtown ballpark and have usually been competitive since 1996.  But the Chargers are still more popular than the Padres.

San Francisco.  This was a tough call, especially with the Giants having won 2 of the last 3 World Series and having sold nearly every seat since what's now named AT&T Park opened in 2000.  But the A's hurt the perception that the Bay Area is a "baseball town." Both the 49ers and the Raiders are more popular than their baseball counterparts.  And while the Warriors and Sharks have lots of fans, they're not even in this discussion.

Seattle.  Even when the Mariners were romping their way to 116 wins and a "sure thing" World Series win in 2001 (How'd that work out, by the way?), the Seahawks were the more popular team.

Tampa.  I realize that Florida is a football State, and that the Tampa Bay region has a good baseball history. But the Rays don't draw flies, and, aside from the A's, are the MLB team most likely to move in the next few years.

Washington.  The Nationals have caught the local imagination.  Between the Wizards, Georgetown, George Washington, George Mason, the University of Maryland and high school ball, basketball is wildly popular in the Capital region.  But President Richard Nixon, in a rare moment of honesty, said something 40 years ago that is still true: All anybody in Washington gives a damn about is the Redskins.

Basketball Towns
Detroit.  Red Wings fans call the Motor City "Hockeytown," but I don't think any city outside Canada is a hockey town.  Not Boston, not Chicago, and not Detroit.  If you throw Michigan and Michigan State in with the Lions, there's no question that Michigan is a football State.  But neither of those universities is actually in Detroit, and the Lions haven't won a title since the Ike Age and haven't even been decent since the Clinton years (or, from their perspective, the Barry Sanders years).  The Tigers have had a renaissance.  And the Pistons are way out in the suburb of Auburn Hills.  But with Detroit having a huge black influence, and being one of the nation's great high school basketball areas, the Pistons put bee-ball on top here.

Los Angeles.  Between the tradition of the Lakers, the recent rise of the Clippers, and the tradition of UCLA, it doesn't matter that the Kings are the holders of the Stanley Cup, or that the Ducks have also won it, or if the NFL ever returns, or if there's ever a Dodgers-Angels World Series, or if USC or UCLA gets back to the National Championship of college football.  L.A. is about show business, and no franchise in all of North American sports is showier than the Lakers.  Although, at the moment, they're once again kind of a soap opera.

Philadelphia.  Pennsylvania is a football State, and the Eagles usually sell out, even when (like now) they're awful.  The Phillies have sold nearly every seat since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004.  The Flyers are icons.

But look at Philly's basketball legacy.  From the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team that evolved into the Warriors, to the 76ers, to the Big 5 college teams, to lots of great high school programs, basketball is still the Quaker City's top sport.

Phoenix.  Despite financial difficulties, the Diamondbacks have done very well since their founding in 1998.  But between the Cardinals, the UA Wildcats and the ASU Sun Devils, Arizona remains a football State.  That doesn't necessarily mean that Phoenix is a football city.  The Suns are the oldest team in town, and while the D-backs' title means the Suns are no longer the most successful team in town, they are still the most consistently successful.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Top 10 Best Coaches In New York Sports History (through 2012)

Yesterday, I posted an updated version of the 10 worst.  Here's the 10 best.

Eligibility: Has to be with a major league team. If I go to colleges, that means I have to go out to the suburbs and consider Rutgers, Princeton and Army... and they really don't feel like "New York teams." So, sorry to Clair Bee of Long Island University, Nat Holman of City College, Howard Cann of NYU, and St. John's bee-ball bosses Joe Lapchick, Frank McGuire and Lou Carnesecca. And I won't even consider a manager/head coach unless he won at least one World Championship in his sport.

Honorable Mention to those New York Tri-State Area head coaches who didn't make this list despite winning World Championships: Miller Huggins, Yankees, 1923, '27 and '28; Bucky Harris, Yankees, 1947; Ralph Houk, Yankees, 1961 and '62; Davey Johnson, Mets, 1986; Earl Potteiger, football Giants, 1927; Steve Owen, football Giants, 1934 and '38; Jim Lee Howell, football Giants, 1956; Frank Boucher, Rangers, 1940; Mike Keenan, Rangers, 1994; Jacques Lemaire, Devils, 1995; Larry Robinson, Devils, 2000; Pat Burns, Devils, 2003; and, so far, Joe Girardi, Yankees, 2009.

Dishonorable Mention to Leo Durocher, Dodgers 1938-48 and Giants 1948-56. True, he led 2 New York baseball teams to Pennants -- something only Yogi Berra has also done -- and helped the restore the Dodgers from a joke franchise into a powerhouse. But that was much more due to the maneuverings of executives Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey. And we know that Durocher cheated to get the Giants the '51 Pennant. To say nothing of how he turned coat from Dodgers to Giants. That was simply not done. Besides, there was only room for one libertine New York baseball manager on this list.

Tom Coughlin?

Mention both Honorable and Dishonorable to Billy Martin, Yankees 1975-88 (on and off). He was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a free-spender, an umpire-baiter, a lunatic and a paranoiac -- everything Leo the Lip was. But Billy the Brat had less to work with. True, he had Reggie Jackson -- against his will -- but he never had a Willie Mays.

And he still led the Yankees to the 1976 Pennant and the 1977 World Championship. With one more good starter, who knows, he might've gotten the Yankees at least the Division Title in 1985. The relationship between Billy and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner has been likened to that between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: They couldn't live with each other, but neither could they live without each other. Who knows what Billy could have done if George had simply let him manage... aside from George stepping in in August 1977 and telling him, "Billy, bat Reggie 4th, or you're fired." That, as Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers pointed out in a comment the first time I posted this list (when I had Billy ranked 10th), was one time George knew better than Billy.

10. Gil Hodges, Mets 1968-71.  The great 1st baseman of the 1950s Dodgers only managed 4 seasons in New York, and only once in his career (including his earlier managing job with the Washington Senators) did he ever win more than 83 games in a season. But that was in 1969. A "miracle"? Not with Gil Hodges around. It shouldn't shock anyone that the even-tempered Hodges outmanaged the hotheaded Earl Weaver of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series.

Gil died of a heart attack, on the eve of his 48th birthday and the 1972 season. I wonder how Met history might have been changed had he simply still been alive on June 15, 1977 (he would've been just 53), and had been able to protect Tom Seaver from M. Donald Grant. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, because, once Mrs. Payson was no longer around to protect anyone, Grant probably would've fired Gil anyway. Face it, if he could trade Seaver, he could pretty much do whatever he wanted.  It was only the sale of the team by Mrs. Payson's dimwitted daughter that stopped him.

That Hodges is not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame can be explained by the fact that Hall voters do not combine achievements as a player and as a manager: You can be elected as one or the other, but not both.  But the Mets retired his Number 14, and elected him to their team Hall of Fame.

9. Joe McCarthy, Yankees 1931-46. They called him "a push-button manager," and the fact that he inherited Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez prevents him from rising higher on this list. Then again, Marse Joe always knew which buttons to push.

The Yankees won the Pennant under his leadership in 1932, '36, '37, '38, '39, '41, '42 and '43, winning the World Series in all by '42. Seven World Series: No manager has ever won more. In postseason play, his teams were a whopping 29-10, including sweeps in '32, '38 and '39.  Oddly, even though he was managing in the major leagues as late as 1950, he never wore a number on his uniform.  But he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Yankees have honored him with a Plaque in Monument Park.

8. Tom Coughlin, Giants 2004-present.  His regular season record currently stands at 83-61, a solid .576.  He's 8-3 in postseason play.  And, in the 2007 and 2011 seasons, just when it looked like the players were about to revolt and lead to his firing, he settled everybody down, righted the ship, and led Big Blue to win the Super Bowl.  That alone would get him into the Top 10.  The fact that both of those wins are against the cheating bastards from Foxboro makes it all the sweeter.  Face it, when a team comes into the Super Bowl undefeated, and is going for a perfect season, it takes a damn good coach to prevent it.  George Allen couldn't do it in 1973, but Tom Coughlin did it in 2008.

7. Joe Torre, Yankees 1996-2007. Another "push-button manager"? Unlike pre-1969 managers, Joe had to through not just one round of postseason play, but two; and unlike 1969-93 managers, he had to go through not just two rounds, but three. He won 17 postseason series, a total matched only by Tony LaRussa.  (Bobby Cox? 12.) He was 17-8 in postseason series and 76-47 in postseason games. He won 6 Pennants and 4 World Championships. And he raised the Yankee legacy higher than anyone had before.

Sure, some of his moves (particularly with pitchers) seemed baffling, especially later on in his career. But "Clueless Joe," the name the Daily News gave to him on its back page after he was hired? As Joe McCarthy would have said, "My God, man, you were never that!"

He is not yet eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the Yankees have kept his Number 6 out of circulation, and when he is elected, it seems likely that the number will be retired, and a Monument Park Plaque dedicated.

6. Lester Patrick, Rangers 1926-39. The Rangers' head coach for their first 2 Stanley Cups (1928 and '33) and general manager for their first 3 (add 1940), he built the team that boxing promoter and Madison Square Garden big kahuna George "Tex" Rickard founded. (They were named for Rickard: "Tex's Rangers.") The Silver Fox had already been a great player, as had his brother Frank Patrick, and both would be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as players rather than "builders" (the HHOF's name for coaches and executives).  But both men -- sometimes together, sometimes not -- made their biggest marks in suits rather than sweaters.

Lester's greatest achievement came in Game 2 of the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals against the Montreal Maroons, when, at age 44, he had to substitute for his injured goalie Lorne Chabot. He volunteered, having played the position only once in his life, and not having played at all in 12 years (he had been a defenseman).  Lots of players have since played to that age and beyond, including some goalies, but at the time it was unusual.  Putting on a Number 16 jersey (the NHL mandated uniform numbers starting with the 1926-27 season), he told his players, "Boys, don't let an old man down." With their help, he allowed just 1 goal as the Rangers beat the Maroons in overtime and went on to win their first Cup.  It made him the oldest player ever to play in the Finals, a record that still stands.  (In 2008, Chris Chelios was with the Detroit Red Wings at age 46, but did not appear in the Finals.)

He stepped aside for his former best player, Frank Boucher, and watched as Boucher led them to the '40 Cup. Put it this way: The Rangers didn't win a Cup without either Patrick or Boucher being involved until the franchise was 68 years old.

But as glorious as Patrick's career was, he wasn't the best hockey coach in Tri-State Area history. That would be...

5. Al Arbour, Islanders 1973-94. Arbour, who had been a pretty good defenseman in Chicago, Toronto and St. Louis, took a 2nd-year expansion team, got it to the Stanley Cup Semifinals in only their 3rd season (beating the Rangers in the process), and built a force that dominated the division then named for Lester Patrick from 1978 to 1984, eventually reaching 5 straight Cup Finals and winning 4 straight Cups -- in each case, still a unique achievement for an American hockey team. From April 1980 to May 1984, he won 19 straight postseason series -- a record for any coach, and for any team, in any sport, anywhere in North America.  It's hard to believe that the Islanders, who have been so mediocre for so long, could have been that dominant, but they were: The Nassau Coliseum was nicknamed "Fort Neverlose."

Arbour stepped aside after the 1986 season, but came back 2 years later, and in 1993 got them back to the Conference Finals. Put it this way: Under Arbour as head coach, the Isles have won 31 postseason series; with all others, they've won 1.

Having coached 1,499 NHL games, on November 3, 2007, at the request of Islanders coach Ted Nolan, Arbour was signed to a one-day contract to coach his 1,500th. At age 75, he became the oldest man ever to coach an NHL game. The Islanders beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3–2, giving Arbour his 740th win. The banner honoring him with the number 739 on it, standing in for a retired number, was brought down from the Coliseum rafters, and was replaced with one with the number 1500. More even than Denis Potvin, Al Arbour, now 80, is the New York Islanders.  He is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

4. Bill Parcells, Giants 1983-90, Jets 1997-99. He didn't just win games, he saved the reputations of franchises. Both the Giants and the Jets were jokes when he stepped in. He got the Giants to win Super Bowls XXI and XXV, stepped aside for health reasons, took the New England Patriots job (which, at the time, was not a job for a man with a heart condition -- but he hasn't had heart trouble since), got them into Super Bowl XXXI (but didn't win), and then saved the Jets from the 4-28 Rich Kotite disaster, getting them to the 1998 AFC Championship Game -- and they were leading John Elway and the Denver Broncos at the half at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos' talent won out, but the Big Tuna had brought Gang Green back from the abyss, as he had with Big Blue.

Parcells has the image of being what the average New York Tri-State Area football fan likes to think he is: Smart as a whip, but still in touch with his blue-collar roots (regardless of whether the jersey he wears over that blue collar is Giant blue or Jet green -- or even Rutgers scarlet), knowing just how much crap to take, and knowing what to do when you reach your limit; finding the balance between having good humor and being a tough bastard.

Of course, with the way Parcells has left teams, and where he's gone afterward, and how he's teased teams he's ended up not joining, he seems to be missing one quality that New Yorkers and New Jerseyans tend to hold in very high esteem: Loyalty.  And, whenever The One Great Scorer calls him to that great stadium in the sky, Parcells will have to answer for foisting Bill Belichick on America.  But he is finally, rightfully, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

3. Leonard "Red" Holzman, Knicks, 1967-82. Boston Celtics fans will say that their own Red Auerbach was the coach who invented modern pro basketball; but then, Auerbach was also the general manager who got the players, not just the coach who led them. Not having that amount of control, Red became the model for all NBA coaches who followed him.

Before him, the Knicks had been 0-for-3 in NBA Finals. With him, they won 2 out of 3, beating Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 and '73, losing to the Lakers in '72. Keep in mind, the Knicks were the last of the "old" New York teams to win a World Championship; even the Mets and Jets, less than 10 years old at the time, had beaten them to it. That's what made 1970 so special. In '73, on the way to the Finals, they became the first team ever to beat the Celtics in a Playoff series Game 7 at the Boston Garden.

A very good player in the 1940s and '50s, who understood teamwork like few coaches ever has, he taught it to his players, leading with respect rather than fear like a Vince Lombardi would. He made a work ethic something to embrace, rather than something to consider drudgery. And still, his teams added sizzle to their steak. The 1970 Knicks, along with the 1955 Dodgers and 1969 Mets, are probably one of the 3 most beloved single-year sports teams in the City's history.

Red is the only man in the Basketball Hall of Fame based on having coached a professional team in the New York Tri-State Area, and a banner with the number 613 on it, signifying his regular-season wins as Knick head coach, hangs in Madison Square Garden, standing in for a retired uniform number.

2. John McGraw, Giants 1902-32. More even than Connie Mack, the Little Napoleon was the defining baseball manager of the first one-third of the 20th Century. A star 3rd baseman in the 1890s, he took his win-at-any-costs attitude to the Polo Grounds and turned the baseball Giants from the worst team in the majors at that point to the best in just 2 years. He won Pennants in 1904, '05, '11, '12, '13, '17, '21, '22, '23 and '24 -- the only National League manager to win 4 straight, and one of only 2 to win 3 straight and he did that twice. He won the World Series in 1905, 1921 and 1922.

In 1937, he and Mack were the first 2 managers elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Anyone who remembers him as an active manager would be over 85 years old, but he deserves to have his achievements remembered.  Although they haven't been in New York in over 55 years, the San Francisco Giants honor McGraw, and his favorite player, star pitcher Christy Mathewson, with "NY" signs with their retired numbers, as both served the club in the era before numbers were worn.

1. Casey Stengel, Dodgers 1934-36, Yankees 1949-60, Mets 1962-65. A former player of McGraw's, the Ol' Perfesser didn't do too well managing in Brooklyn. Nor in his next job, with the Boston Braves. He missed a few games after he was hit by a cab, and a Boston sportswriter named the driver as the man who did the most for Boston sports in 1943. Casey had a young Warren Spahn at the time, and had Spahn at the end of each man's career with the 1965 Mets. Spahn said, "I'm the only man who played for Casey both before and after he was a genius." And no matter what kind of genius he was, he could do nothing with the early Metropolitans, except promote them and make them lovable losers: "Come and see my Amazin' Mets! I been in this game 100 years, but they've shown me ways to lose I never knew existed before!"

But while he brought fans to the Mets, he brought championships to the fans the Yankees already had. They were in a transition when he arrived in 1949, with the stars that McCarthy managed starting to age -- and some of them, such as Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich and Phil Rizzuto, didn't exactly like him or his managing style.

But he got his own guys in: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, the aforementioned Billy Martin, and, of course, Mickey Mantle. Remembering McGraw's platoon style, lefty hitters against righty pitchers and vice versa, he had guys who were starting half the time and pissed off at him the other half, so they were always trying to prove him wrong by playing great when they did play -- thus proving both sides right.

He managed 12 seasons, won 10 Pennants to tie McGraw's record (and break Mack's American League record), and won 7 World Series to tie McCarthy's record. He won the World Series in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953, the only MLB team to win 5 straight. He won the Pennant in 1955, the Series in 1956, the Pennant in 1957, the Series in 1958, and the Pennant in 1960 before being fired, allegedly due to his age (70, although others have managed that long, and well, including Torre.)

As Newark Star-Ledger columnist Jim Ogle said, "Well, the clown did pretty well. He won 10 Pennants in 12 years, and he made the Yankee legend and mystique grow volumes." More than at any other time in their history, under Huggins, under McCarthy, under Houk, under Martin, even under Torre, these were "the lordly Yankees."

Both the Yankees and the Mets have retired his Number 37.  The Yankees gave him a Plaque in Monument Park, and the Mets gave him the equivalent honor by electing him to their team Hall of Fame.  The road around Shea Stadium, and now the one around Citi Field, were named Casey Stengel Plaza.  And the MTA rail yard between the ballpark and Flushing Meadow-Corona Park is named for him.

Was Casey Stengel the greatest baseball manager ever? The greatest game boss in New York sports history? It is my opinion that he is both of those things. The facts to support this opinion? As the man himself would say, "You can look it up."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Top 10 Worst Coaches in New York Sports History (through 2012)

As an Arsenal fan, I've been hearing and reading some portion of the "Gooner" fanbase treating Arsene Wenger as if he is completely responsible for the club's decline.

First of all, the club is not in decline.  Most clubs would consider the last 8 years, trophyless though they are, the most glorious period in their recent history.  Second of all, while he is not above criticism, he is hardly wholly, or even primarily, to blame.

But "The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Arsene Wenger for Arsenal Not Winning a Trophy Since 2005" is a post for another time.

The way his own club's fans -- still a minority, but a very vocal and nasty minority -- have been treating him reminds me of the way some fans around here, in the New York Tri-State Area, have treated some of theirs:

* Allie Sherman of the 1960s Giants: "Goodbye, Allie!"
* Joe Walton of the 1980s Jets: "Joe Must Go!"
* Ray Handley of the early 1990s Giants: "Ray Must Go!"
* Rich Kotite of the mid-1990s Jets: "Fi-re Ko-tite! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)"
* Isiah Thomas of the mid-2000s Knicks: "Don't hate the team, hate the coach!"
* Joe Torre of the Yankees in 2006 and '07, easily the closest local parallel to Wenger: "Time to retire, Joe!"
* Willie Randolph of the Mets in 2007 and '08: "Witless Willie, the Yankee!"
* Joe Girardi of the current Yankees: "Burn the binder! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)"

Then, of course, there was Leo Durocher, who was loved by Brooklyn Dodger fans and hated by baseball Giant fans when he managed the Dodgers from 1938 to 1948, and then switched to the Giants, and from 1948 to 1955 was loved by Jints fans and hated worse by Bums fans than he ever was by Jints fans.  He was a traitor, a turncoat, a Judas.

But unlike those others, Leo the Lip never had to face his own fans telling him, in the words of the immortal Ralph Kramden, as played on The Honeymooners by real-life Giant fan (though born and raised a Brooklynite) Jackie Gleason, "Get out. Get out! GET OUUUUUUUUT!!


As Ralphie Boy's pal Ed Norton, played by Art Carney, would say, "Shee-eesh! What a grouch!"

Well, you'd be a grouch, too, if you'd had to put up with some of those fans.

I decided to update this list, first made a little over two years ago.

I'm going to limit "history" to 1920 on forward, since we have a much more detailed record of what they've done, and it's also the beginning of baseball's Lively Ball Era, the founding year of the NFL (with the Giants having been founded in 1925), and the first full decade of the NHL (with the Rangers having been founded in 1926).

This exempts the worst manager in Yankee history, statistically speaking, Harry Wolverton, who managed them for just 1 season, 1912, and went 50-102.  Say this for George Steinbrenner: Of all the guys he hired and fired as manager, he didn't allow any of them to stay long enough to do serious damage.

It also exempts, though hardly absolves, Hal Chase, whose fixing of games as Yankee 1st baseman in 1910 led manager George Stallings to tell the owners, "Either he goes, or I go." Since Chase was easily the team's best and most popular player, Stallings was treated like an NBA coach who'd run afoul of the local prima donna player, and sent packing.  And Prince Hal was named manager, for the end of 1910 and all of 1911.  Some great players, such as Rogers Hornsby and Lou Boudreau, were a lot better as managers when they had themselves as players.  Chase the manager didn't do very well with Chase the player, and was fired, for Wolverton.  It would be 1917 before new ownership hired Miller Huggins as the first successful Yankee manager.

Note that these are not necessarily managers (in baseball) or head coaches (in the other sports) who put up losing seasons, but the list also includes those who had presumably good teams that blew it late in the regular season or in the postseason.

Note also that, since they won with the Yankees, Torre and Casey Stengel are excused for their awful performances managing National League teams in New York (both with the Mets, Casey also with the Dodgers).

I'm also limiting this to the 4 major league sports, which means college coaches, the leaders of the WNBA's Liberty and pro soccer's Cosmos, Arrows and MetroStars/Red Bulls are off the hook. (Terry Shea, Craig Littlepage, Mike Jarvis, Pat Coyle, and Juan Carlos Osorio, you can all thank me later.) And expansion-team coaches (such as Casey with the Mets, and those of the early Titans/Jets, Nets, Islanders and Devils) get a free pass, because of the odds being stacked against them.

I could find no Devils coach who lasted long enough to have more than one significant postseason failure without also winning a Stanley Cup, unless you want to count Lou Lamoriello himself, who was a really good coach at Providence College but not at the NHL level.

Not quite making this list is Jerry Manuel, Mets, 2008-10. At 204-213, .489, he wasn't good, but he only had 2 1/2 seasons, and, let's face it, the Torre of 1996-2003 was not going to win a Pennant with what Met general manager Omar Minaya gave Manuel. This also absolves Randolph.

Although I have said on a number of occasions that Rex Ryan has failed as Jet coach, he does, at this point, still have a winning record, 34-30, and he got them to 2 AFC Championship Games.  And, theoretically, he could turn it around.  So let's exempt the 9 current coaches:

* Ryan: Though another losing season in 2013, and he's likely canned, and might make the next edition of the list.
* Girardi: A World Series win means he'll never be on this list.
* Tom Coughlin of the Giants: 2 Super Bowl wins means he'll never be on it.
* Peter DeBoer of the Devils: Getting them from a Playoff miss to 2 wins away from the Stanley Cup in just 1 year should keep him off the list.
* Terry Collins of the Mets: The current team mess is hardly his fault.
* Jack Capuano of the Islanders: Ditto.
* Mike Woodson of the Knicks: The jury is still way out on him.
* P.J. Carlesimo of the Nets: He's done pretty well since taking over from Avery Johnson, who also doesn't make this list.  And...
* John Tortorella of the Rangers: Though, with the talent he's had, he is approaching the list.

10. Allie Sherman, Giants, 1961-68. 57-51-4, .528. Doesn't look like such a bad record, does it? Well, in 1961, he inherited a team that had already been to 3 of the last 5 NFL Championship Games, and had won the title in 1956. He got them back to the title game in each of his first 3 seasons. He lost the 1961 title game to the Green Bay Packers, 37-0 in the snow at Lambeau Field. He lost the 1962 title game to the Packers, 16-7 on a frozen field at Yankee Stadium. The Packers were 13-1 that season. He lost the 1963 title game to the Chicago Bears, 14-10 on a frozen surface at Wrigley Field, with quarterback Y.A. Tittle injured during the game. Can't fault him for any of those losses.

Then everybody seemed to get old at once in 1964, including Tittle and Frank Gifford playing their final seasons. From 1964 onward, he was 24-43-3 for a .364 percentage, and in 1968, the fans at Yankee Stadium sang, "Goodbye, Allie" to the tune of "Good Night, Ladies," a precursor to "Joe Must Go," "Ray Must Go," and "Fi-re Ko-tite! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)" Still, Allie did get them to those title games, and he faced a better team each time.

Allie just turned 90.  He was a rare lefthanded quarterback, getting the Philadelphia Eagles to a 2nd place finish in 1944, but he was relegated to backup duty in 1947, and it was Tommy Thompson who, starting that year, got them to 3 straight title games, winning in '48 and '49, neither of which Allie was involved in, because he'd been cut after '47.

9. Mike Milbury, Islanders, 2 terms between 1995 and 1999. 57-112-24, .358. Perhaps his biggest problem was that, at the time, the Atlantic Division had very strong teams in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, and, sometimes, Madison Square Garden. Or, perhaps, his biggest problem was Islander ownership not having money to spend on good players. Or, perhaps, his biggest problem was that his general manager was an idiot. Who was his general manager? Mike Milbury.  He was, however, a decent player with the Boston Bruins, reaching the 1977 and '78 Stanley Cup Finals.

8. Phil Watson, Rangers, 1955-59. 119-124-52, .492.  Through the 2013 season, he remains the only man to coach the Rangers at least 4 full seasons with an overall losing record. He did, however, win 2 Stanley Cups as a player, with the 1940 Rangers and the 1944 Montreal Canadiens.

7. Alex Webster, Giants, 1969-73. 29-40-1, .420. Allie's replacement had been a very good player, once the G-Men's all-time leading rusher. Maybe putting him on this list is a little harsh, because he didn't have a whole lot to work with.

But no Giant coach who lasted that long had a record that bad. And by the way, Handley went 8-8 his first season, and 6-10 the next, but he was only there for 2 seasons, not long enough to truly do some damage, so he doesn't get on this list. Nor does the other "Must Go" guy, Walton of the 1983-89 Jets: He got them to the Playoffs twice, despite being in the same division at the same time as the Don Shula & Dan Marino Miami Dolphins and a pretty good New England Patriots team coached by Raymond Berry. It was the rise of Marv Levy's Buffalo Bills that really doomed Walton.

6. Isiah Thomas, Knicks, 2006-08. 56-108, .341. Only 2 seasons, so I can't rank him higher. (Or would that be "lower"?) And, let's face it, like Milbury, he had an idiot for a general manager. Of course, like Milbury, his general manager was himself.  But, although he was a true all-time great as a player with the Detroit Pistons, as Knick boss, he was an embarrassment, on the basketball court, in civil court, and in the court of public opinion.

It got so bad that Isaiah Thomas, no relation and with a different spelling, got booed at The Garden when he played there for the Sacramento Kings.  Like former Islander and Toronto Maple Leaf goalie Felix Potvin, who always heard the "Potvin sucks!" chant from Ranger fans, he must have wondered, "What did I do? I've never done anything to these people!"

The true problem was that, as long as Charles Dolan had a job, James Dolan had a job; as long as James had a job, Isiah the GM had a job; and as long as Isiah the GM had a job, Isiah the coach had a job.  Finally, James -- with prodding from Charles, perhaps? -- fired Isiah from both roles.

5. Eddie Donovan, Knicks, 1961-65. 84-194, .302. He was just 43 years old when he left the head coach's post, and never coached another game in the NBA. However, let the record show that, at the time, the NBA's Eastern Division was dominated by Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors.

Let it also show that Donovan became the team's general manager and, with head coach Red Holzman, built the 1970 and 1973 NBA Champions. So while he's on the list of the Top 10 Worst Coaches, he is also one of the Top 10 Best Executives.

4. Bill Fitch, Nets, 1989-92. 83-163, .337. He won 944 games in NBA regular-season play, which is 8th all-time.  He got the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever Eastern Conference Finals in 1976, won a World Championship with the Boston Celtics in 1981, and got the Houston Rockets to the Finals in 1986, and if the Celtics didn't have one of the best teams ever that season he might've won another title.

But he also lost 1,106 regular-season games, more than any coach before him, and the last 2 NBA teams who thought he could be trusted were the Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers, the 2 "little brother teams." Only in his last season with the Nets did he get close to .500, 40-42. (Lenny Wilkens now has more losses, but Lenny also once had the most wins, and, like Don Nelson who has surpassed him in that regard, is well over .500.)

3. Willis Reed, Knicks 1977-79 and Nets 1987-89. 82-124, .398. A truly great player for the Knicks, but great players often don't make good coaches. Aside from Stephon Marbury, he may be the only man ever to so badly cock up both area NBA franchises.

2. Chuck Dressen, Dodgers, 1951-53. 298-166, .642. A baseball season was 154 games back then, and in each of his 3 seasons, Dressen got the Dodgers to at least a 157th game. And he won 64 percent of his regular-season games. So how could he be so high on this list? Observe:

1951: The Dodgers led the National League by 13 games on August 11. They blew it, and faced their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, in a best 2-out-of-3 playoff. We all know how that ended: Bobby Thomson hits one out off Ralph Branca, and "The Giants win the Pennant!" Dressen had Branca and Carl Erskine in his bullpen. Erskine had a great curve, but Dressen brought in Branca, who had only a fastball, to face Thomson, who couldn't hit anything BUT a fastball, and who had already homered off Branca in the first game of the playoff. Branca didn't lose that Pennant, Dressen did.

1952: The Dodgers won the Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Yankees in 7 games. True, the Dodgers were without their best pitcher, Don Newcombe, who was serving in the Korean War -- but so was the Yankees' best pitcher, Whitey Ford. And Dressen trusted Billy Loes twice, with disastrous results.

1953: The Dodgers won 104 games, tying a franchise record that still stands, and ran away with the Pennant.  Again, they lost to the World Series to the Yankees. Dressen still didn't have Newcombe, and the Yankees had Ford back (but then, Ford was serving in '51 and Newcombe hadn't yet been drafted), and Dressen trusted Johnny Podres 2 years too soon in Game 5, where he got rocked, and trusted Erskine too little in Game 6, and pulled him too early and the Yanks clinched.

After the '53 season, Dressen's wife told him to demand a three-year contract from Dodger owner Walter O'Malley. O'Malley's policy was to give his managers only one-year contracts, figuring it would motivate them more. Mr. and Mrs. Dressen wanted the security. O'Malley wanted the control and the fear factor. He fired Dressen, not for his mismanaging, but for his impudence. O'Malley hired Walter Alston, and 2 years later, the Dodgers finally won it all. (In fact, it was on October 4, 1955, 55 years ago today.)

Still, as my Grandma, an old Dodger fan from Queens would say, "Oh, that Dressen! He was so stupid!" I tried to tell her Bobby Valentine was dumber. She wouldn't buy it. She was right: Bobby V made his share of mistakes, but never got the chance to make as many big ones as Dressen.  (However, if I were making this list for Boston, Bobby V would be on the list, even if he did manage there for only 1 season.)

1. Rich Kotite, Jets, 1995-96. Here we go, the one we cannot top. Or "bottom," as the case may be. Born in Brooklyn, grew up on Staten Island, went to that Borough's Wagner College, played tight end for the Giants from 1967 to 1972, not at all a bad player.  But he did play for 2 guys on this list, Sherman and Webster. And he was an assistant coach under Joe "Must Go" Walton. Were these bad omens?

In 1991 and '92, he got the Philadelphia Eagles into the Playoffs. In 1993, 8-8 wasn't enough. In 1994, he got the Eagles off to a 7-2 start. Then, trailing the Dallas Cowboys by 17 points in the 4th quarter on a soggy afternoon, James Joseph scored a touchdown to pull the Eagles within 24-13. Kotite decided to go for the two-point conversion. Huh? Going for 1 would've gotten them within 10, just a touchdown and a field goal from a tie; going for 2 would've gotten them within 9, but the touchdown they still needed could've been the time to go for 2. The Eagles didn't get it, and lost.  During the post-game press conference, Kotite went the Milli Vanilli route: He blamed it on the rain: "I must have read my chart wrong. It must have gotten wet." You mean you knew it was raining, and didn't have a protective sheet over the chart to keep it dry? How about this: Don't rely on the chart, dumbass! Down by 15, maybe you go for 2; down by 11, no way!

The Eagles lost all their remaining games, finished 7-9, missed the Playoffs, and Kotite was fired. Crap like this is what makes people in Philly go up to cops and say, "Officer, I want to report a crime: The Eagles are killing me!"

On January 4, 1995, a date which lives in infamy -- and not just because it marked the first day as Speaker of the House for Newt Gingrich -- Jets owner Leon Hess announced that he had hired Kotite to be the team's head coach and, effectively, also its GM. Why Kotite? Well, he was a local guy, and a blue-collar guy who could appeal to local fans. But Hess knew that Kotite had led the Eagles to a couple of Playoff berths. Words that Hess should have guessed would outlive him: "I'm 80 years old. I want results now!"

He got results, all right. In 1995, the Jets went 3-13. One of those losses was the first win in franchise history for the expansion Carolina Panthers. (While the Panthers did reach the NFC Championship Game the next season, that first year they were only 4-12.) In 1996, the Jets had they worst season in the history of Tri-State Area football, 1-15. Two days before the team's '96 finale, GM Kotite fired coach Kotite. Owner Hess hired Bill Parcells, and got much better results, although Hess died before Parcells could get the ultimate result for the Jets, like he did twice for the Giants.

Kotite was just 54 years old when he left Weeb Ewbank Hall, but has never again even been hired as an assistant coach. Anywhere. Not the pros, not college, not even in high school.  However, having recently turned 70, he has been a contributor to various NFL Network broadcasts.

In 2004, in a book titled The Great Philadelphia Sports Debate, co-authors Glen Macnow and Angelo Cataldi, both hosts on Philly's sports-talk radio station WIP, took the question of who was the worst coach in Philadelphia sports history. Macnow said it was Doug Moe, who'd been a good coach with the Denver Nuggets, but was a disaster in his half-season with the 76ers. After Macnow's 2 pages detailing this choice, Cataldi said, "No, the worst coach in Philadelphia sports history was Rich Kotite," and then provided an explanation that any prosecutor would love to have thought of for his closing argument.

Think about this: The worst team in the history of Philadelphia sports was the Quakers, who played one season in the NHL, 1930-31, and finished 4-36-4, for a "winning" percentage of .136 that makes the decades of ineptitude of the Phillies (pre-Charlie Manuel), A's and Eagles look brilliant by comparison. The worst single-season team in that city was the 1972-73 76ers, 9-73, .110.

In his last 39 games as an NFL head coach, with 2 different sets of players, Rich Kotite was 4-35. That's a percentage of .103. In neither case, of the '94 Eagles or the '95 and '96 Jets, could he use the excuse of leading an expansion team, or not having a lot of money to spend. (Eagles owner Jeff Lurie was a Hollywood studio head, Hess was an oilman, both were billionaires, and, besides, the NFL has a salary cap which means you can't spend like the Yankees or Manchester City.) Nor were his Eagles and his Jets beset by long-term injuries to multiple key players.  Nor was there trouble in the locker rooms: The Jets may have had Keyshawn Johnson in '96, but he wasn't causing trouble at the time.  And blaming the media or the fans doesn't change the fact that Kotite put himself in position to get ripped by the media and booed by the fans.

There is no viable excuse to explain it: Rich Kotite is the worst head coach in the sports histories of both Philadelphia and New York.