Friday, November 29, 2013

Cano Never Asked for $300 Million?; Vern Mikkelsen, 1928-2013

Robinson Cano is reportedly looking for a deal that will make him the richest baseball player in history.
It seems as though most Yankee Fans are willing to let Robinson Cano, the greatest 2nd baseman in club history, go to another club rather than approve of the Yankees giving him a contract that would pay $300 million or more over its life -- or, at least, are willing to tell him, "See if you can get that somewhere else. Good luck."

Now, Robbie is denying he made such a contract demand: "I've never asked anybody for three hundred million dollars. Nobody has ever heard that come out of my mouth, and you're never going to hear it."

As Andy Martino points out in today's Daily News (see link above)...

That is most likely an accurate statement, in the most literal sense. Robinson Cano himself did not march into the Yankee offices before the All-Star break and tell Brian Cashman that a ten-year, $310 million deal was the price to buy him out of free agency. That is an agent's job, and according to major league sources, that was the request from camp Cano request at that time. Neither side denied it then, and people with direct knowledge of the talks later confirmed the number.

Well, who are you going to believe:

A sportswriter?

An agent?

Or the player himself?

We shall see.

*

Yesterday, Dear Old Alma Mater, East Brunswick High School, got its annual Thanksgiving roasting. Old Bridge beat us, 35-6.

I hate Old Bridge. Oh well, at least we don't have to play them again for another year.

*

Vern Mikkelsen died last week. He was a great basketball player that you've probably never heard of.

He was born Arild Verner Agerskov Mikkelsen on October 21, 1928 in Parlier, California, outside Fresno. His father was an immigrant from Denmark and a Lutheran minister, who was soon transferred to Askov, Minnesota. Minnesota -- and Iowa, and both Dakotas -- have heavy Scandinavian populations, which is why Minnesota's NFL team is called the Vikings.

Vern was a Division II All-American at Hamline University in the State capital of St. Paul, and later went to the University of Minnesota and got a master's degree in psychology. He was a territorial pick of the Minneapolis Lakers, and helped them win the NBA Championship in 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954, under coach John Kundla, alongside George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Slater Martin, and, later, Clyde Lovellette. He also reached the NBA Finals with them in his last season, 1959, losing to the Boston Celtics.
Pollard, Mikan and Mikkelsen

All of these men were elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in their own lifetimes, and are honored together on a banner hanging from the roof of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. While Mikkelsen wore Number 19, an unusual number in basketball, it has not been retired for him. One of the first men to be what we would now call a power forward, he was a 6-time All-Star, noted particularly for his defense.

He holds a dubious record: No player in NBA history has fouled out of more games, 127. Nevertheless, he was durable, missing only 5 of a possible 704 games during his career.

In the 1968-69 season, their only season under that name and in the Twin Cities, Vern coached the Minnesota Pipers of the American Basketball Association.

On the opening night of the 2002-03 season, when the Lakers were getting their championship rings, the organization invited Mikkelsen and the other surviving members of the Minneapolis title teams, and gave them the rings they never got in the early Fifties.
Vern Mikkelsen, 2002, in front of James Worthy,
Magic Johnson and Elgin Baylor

He was married to a woman named Jean for 47 years, until death did they part. They had 2 sons, Tom and John. He died on November 21, 2013, in the Minneapolis suburb of Wayzata, Minnesota. He was 85 years old.

*

Hours until the Devils play again: Under 2, tonight, at 7:00 PM, away to the Buffalo Sabres.

Hours until Arsenal play again: Under 17, tomorrow, 10:00 AM U.S. Eastern Time, away to Cardiff City, of Wales (who, nonetheless, play in England's "football system," as do their arch-rivals Swansea City, and those teams' fellow Welsh clubs Wrexham and Newport County).

Hours until Rutgers plays football again: Under 19, tomorrow at 12:00 noon, away to the University of Connecticut in East Hartford.
Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: Unknown, as there are no games currently scheduled. We know, at the very least, they will be playing in the 2014 World Cup.

Days until the Devils next play a local rival: 8, a week from tomorrow night, at 7:30 PM, against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  They next play the New York Islanders on Saturday, December 28, at 7:00 PM, at the Nassau Coliseum.  They next play the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, January 7, 2014, at 7:30 PM, at home.

Days until the Devils play the Rangers at Yankee Stadium: 59, on Sunday, January 26, 2014, at 12:30 PM.  Under 2 months.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 65, on Sunday, February 2, 2014, kickoff at around 6:25 PM.

Days until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: 70, on Friday, February 7, 2014.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 99, on Saturday, March 8, 2014, 7:30 PM, away to the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Just 14 weeks.  The 2014 MLS Schedule has been released.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 106, on Saturday, March 15, 2014, at White Hart Lane.  Just 4 months.

Days until the Yankees play again: 124, on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, time to be determined, away to the Houston Astros.  Just over 4 months.

Days until the Yankees' home opener: 130, on Monday, April 7, 2014, probably at 1:00 PM, vs. the Baltimore Orioles.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 133, on Thursday, April 10, 2014, time to be determined, at Yankee Stadium.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 135, on Saturday, April 12, 2014, 2:30 PM, vs. D.C. United, at Robert F. Kennedy in Washington.

Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 195, on Thursday, June 12, 2014.  Under 7 months.
Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Unknown, as the schedule has yet to be released.  Most likely, it will be on the 2nd Friday night in September.  If so, that will be September 12, 2014, therefore 287 days.  Under 10 months.
Days until Rutgers makes its Big Ten Conference debut: 288 days, on Saturday, September 13, 2014, time to be determined, against old enemy Penn State.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 363, on Thursday morning, November 27, 2014, 10:00 AM.

Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 1,011, on Friday, August 5, 2016.  Under 3 years.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving All-Star Team

There has never been a Major League Baseball player whose name, or even nickname, was "Pilgrim." Wherever he is, John Wayne must be disappointed. Early in their history, before they adopted "Red Sox" for the 1908 season, the Boston team of the American League was referred to in print as the Pilgrims and the Puritans, but it was never official: Officially, they were the Boston Americans.

Nor has there ever been a player whose name or nickname was "Pumpkin." Nor has there ever been a native of Plymouth, Massachusetts to reach the major leagues.

But I found enough key names to fill out a starting lineup -- including a few tur-key names.

1B John "Stuffy" McInnis. While there's never been a player with the name, or nickname, of "Stuffing," the 1st baseman of the 1911 and 1913 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics was the best of those nicknamed "Stuffy." He batted .307 lifetime, collecting 2,405 hits. (He was a rookie, and not yet the starter, when the A's won the World Series in 1910.)

Honorable Mention to Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, whose nickname is "Big Piece." Even though he's a good fielder, and the National League doesn't use the designated hitter, he can be my DH.

2B Octavio "Cookie" Rojas. I was looking for players named "Cook," or at least "Cooke," and found quite a few nicknamed "Cookie." Cookie Rojas was the best of them, twice a .300 hitter and 4 times an All-Star. However, he had lousy luck. As a young player, he was a member of the ill-fated 1964 Phillies. His last 2 years were with the Kansas City Royals in 1976 and '77.  In '76, when the Royals clinched the American League Western Division title, he and his protégé, shortstop Freddie Patek, jumped into the Royals Stadium fountains together. But they lost the ALCS to the Yankees both times, and in '77, Patek, who made the last out, could be seen crying in the dugout, upset that Rojas would never play in a World Series.

SS Ewell "Turkey" Gross. Easily the weakest entry here, but he was the only shortstop I could find. Played 9 games with the 1925 Red Sox, batting just .094. "Turkey," indeed. "Gross," too.

3B Harold "Pie" Traynor. Apparently, he ate a lot of pie as a kid. But as a grownup, he batted .320 lifetime, had 7 100-RBI seasons, collected 2,416 hits, was the starting National League 3rd baseman in the first 2 All-Star Games in 1933 and '34, and was probably cheated out of some Gold Gloves due to the fact that they weren't awarded until 1957. He was a key member of the Pittsburgh Pirates team that won the World Series in 1925 and the Pennant in 1927, and he nearly managed them to a Pennant in 1938. He was frequently called the best 3rd baseman of all time until Brooks Robinson came along. He's in the Hall of Fame, and the Pirates retired his Number 20.

LF Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.  Got the nickname because of the way he walked. A Negro League legend with the Detroit Stars, it's hard to say what he would have done against consistent major league caliber competition, but had he played, instead, for the Detroit Tigers, with Tiger Stadium being a good hitters' park, he doubtless would have had had some good power numbers.  He's in the Hall of Fame.

CF Felix Pie. Pronounced "Pee-YAY," the name means "Cat Foot." Now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was previously a decent reserve outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles.

RF "Turkey Mike" Donlin. He got his nickname because of the expression, well-known in his youth, of a "turkey gobbler strut," as he seemed to strut when he walked. He played all 3 outfield positions (not uncommon in his era). He was kind of the Joe Pepitone of his era, a very good player (a .333 lifetime hitter, who led the NL in runs scored for the 1905 World Champion New York Giants, and had 106 RBIs for the Giant team that nearly won the Pennant in 1908), but he was more interested in being a star. He'd done some stage acting, and even married a very popular actress of the early 20th Century, Mabel Hite. Her death in 1912 took a lot out of him, and by 1914 he was through with baseball, as much by his own choice as that of those in charge. (He'd missed most of 1906, all of 1907, all of 1909, all of 1910 and most of 1911 on tour with his theater company -- it wasn't like he could go on TV or make movies at the time.) He was actually an original member of the team that became known as the New York Yankees, as he played with the 1901 Baltimore Orioles.

C Clarence "Yam" Yaryan. A backup at best, but he did hit .304 in limited appearances for the 1921 Chicago White Sox.

P Camilo Pascual. Nicknamed "Little Potato," he was a tough righthander from Cuba with maybe the best curveball of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In 1959 he won 17 games for the best Washington baseball team between 1945 and 2012. When the Senators moved to become the Minnesota Twins in 1961, the team got better, and so did his record.  He won 20 in 1962 and 21 in 1963.  An injury shortened his 1965 season, but he did get to pitch in the Twins' first World Series. He even won 25 games in 2 years for the reborn Senators (the team that became the Texas Rangers in 1972).  Although his career record was only 174-170, 174 wins is nothing to sneeze at, and 3 times each he led the AL in strikeouts and complete games.

P Omar "Turk" Lown. A decent relief pitcher, he led the AL in saves in 1959, helping the White Sox win the Pennant.

P Richard "Turk" Farrell. Went 10-2 with 10 saves for a terrible Phillies team in 1957, and was converted into a good starter for the early Houston Astros (Colt .45's from 1962 to '65). In 1963, he won 14 games for a 2nd-year expansion team (losing 13). Won 106 games in his career (losing 111), despite playing only 1 season for a winning team, the 1961 Los Angeles Dodgers. Unfortunately, quite a few of the early Colt .45's died young, and Farrell died in a car crash in England in 1977. He was only 43.

P Steven "Turk" Wendell. Somehow, I think his nickname may have been short for "Jive Turkey." But he did have his moments with the Chicago Cubs, and the Mets would not have reached the postseason in 1999 and 2000 without him.

Honorable mention, collectively, to the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. When the Braves, then in Boston, won the World Series in 1914, the Cleveland team, having lost their guiding force and their naming source with the retirement of Napoleon Lajoie -- they had been the Cleveland Blues and then, officially, the Cleveland Naps, seriously -- decided to ride the Braves' coattails, and became the Cleveland Indians. Yes, Native Americans did live on the shores of Lake Erie. And, yes, the man believed to be the first Native American to play in the major leagues, Louis Sockalexis, did play for a Cleveland team, the Spiders of the National League from 1897 to 1899. But both of those stories, which you may have heard as a source for the "Indians" name, are untrue: They named themselves after the Braves -- who were, themselves, named for their owner, James Gaffney, an official in New York's Tammany Hall political organization, a "Brave."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lou Brissie, 1924-2013 (And Bert Shepard, 1920-2008)


You may never have heard of Lou Brissie, even if you're a big baseball fan. This is probably because he played in the major leagues at the dawn of the TV era.

He was lucky to have played at all -- or even lived into that era. Incredibly, he lived into this week.

Leland Victor Brissie -- I can't find any record of why he was called "Lou" and not "Lee," like Hall-of-Famer Leland Stanford MacPhail Jr. -- was born June 5, 1924 in Anderson, South Carolina, and grew up in nearby Ware Shoals. His time at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina was cut short when World War II led him to enlist in the U.S. Army.

My grandmother was born the day before he was, 750 miles to the northeast in Brooklyn. Her husband, my grandfather, served in the Army in the campaign to liberate Italy. So did Brissie. Unlike Grandpa, however, Brissie was in combat. On December 7, 1944, he and his platoon were in the Apennine Mountains in the north of the country, when the Germans attacked. A shell exploded next time him, shattering the shinbone of his left leg.

Brissie, 6-foot-4 and listed at 210 pounds in his playing days, was a lefthanded pitcher. This meant that, in his windup, while he kicked his right leg up, his left leg supported all of those 210 pounds. Now, that leg was ruined: Not only was the shin in more than 30 pieces, but an infection had set in. Brissie recalled, "My leg had been split open like a ripe watermelon." And the surgeon at the Army hospital in Naples, Dr. Wilbur Brubaker, told him that amputation would probably be necessary.

Brissie pleaded with Brubaker to try to save the leg, explaining that he was a baseball player. At this time, penicillin was still in its early days of treating infections -- the words "wonder drug" were still used. Over the next 2 years, Brissie was operated on 23 times.

While this was going on, he wrote to Connie Mack, owner and manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, the club that had been scouting him before the War. Mack told him a tryout would be waiting for him.

In the spring of 1947, as the Brooklyn Dodgers were preparing Jackie Robinson for the "great experiment" of reintegrating Major League Baseball, Brissie reported to the A's training camp. He was assigned to their farm team in Savannah, Georgia. He had been given a metal brace to protect his leg from line drive comebackers. He went 23-5.

That showed Mack, "the Grand Old Man of Baseball," what he needed to know. September 28, 1947 was an amazing day in baseball. It was the last day of an epic regular season, with an epic Yankee-Dodger World Series to come. The Dodgers, including Robinson, were celebrating the winning of the National League Pennant. The St. Louis Browns started Dizzy Dean, who'd been retired for 6 years due to an injury and was broadcasting for the Browns, and, frustrated with their pitching, said, on the air, "Doggone it, I can pitch better than 9 out of the 10 guys on this staff." The Brown pitchers' wives complained to management, and since Dean was still only 37, they chose the last day of the season (when the spectator-poor Browns would have even more trouble than usual filling Sportsman's Park) to have Dean pitch for the Browns. He went 4 innings, and got a hit -- but pulled a muscle rounding 1st base, and had to leave the game. The Browns' bullpen proved Ol Diz' point as much as he did, losing the game for him.

And at Yankee Stadium, the American League Champion Yankees hosted the A's, in front of 23,085 fans -- not a bad total for a meaningless game. Bill Wight -- not to be confused with later NL 1st baseman, Yankee broadcaster and NL President Bill White -- started for the Yankees, in what turned out to be the last of the 15 games he pitched for them. Starting for the A's was Lou Brissie, wearing Number 17. (He would switch to 19 the next season, and wear that for most of his career.) The man who could easily have been killed, and nearly lost his leg, was pitching in the major leagues -- at Yankee Stadium, no less.

Perhaps the appropriate analogy is to the dog seen walking on its hind legs: "It was not done well, but you were surprised to have seen it done at all." Brissie went 7 innings, and allowed 5 runs on 9 hits and 5 walks. He was tagged with the loss. Wight went the distance, and the Yankees won, 5-3. (Wight died in 2007, and despite pitching for a World Series winner that year, is not generally remembered today.)

Included in that Yankee win was a home run by Johnny Lindell, 2 hits each by Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Henrich and George McQuinn, and 1 each by Joe DiMaggio and rookie catcher Yogi Berra. So it's not like Brissie was facing a bad team, or even a good one letting a bunch of rookies get their end-of-season cup-of-coffee against the opposition's prospects. No, Brissie didn't pitch well -- but he pitched in the major leagues, which is more than nearly everyone reading this will ever do, and an astounding achievement considering where he was nearly 3 years earlier.

Yogi, A's 1st baseman Dick Adams, and Carl Scheib are now the only surviving players from this inspirational game. Scheib was a decent-hitting pitcher: The next season, 1948, he went 31-for-104, for a .298 average. Mack sent him up to pinch-hit for Brissie in the top of the 8th (he didn't reach base) -- but not, oddly, to the mound to pitch the bottom of the 8th. Instead, Mack sent Joe Coleman, whose son Joe and grandson Casey also appeared in the majors.

His next game was the next season's opener. In those days, rather than play a single game at 11:05 AM on Patriots' Day -- the 3rd Monday in April, commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 -- so that the Fenway Park crowds can get out before they interfere with the runners of the Boston Marathon, the Sox played a doubleheader. And on April 19, 1948, the Sox hosted the A's. The A's won the first game, 5-4 in 11 innings. Mack sent Brissie out to start the 2nd game.

This was the late-1940s Red Sox that Brissie was facing: Ted Williams, Vern Stephens, Joe's brother Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr. An all-time great, a great slugger for a shortstop (especially in that era), and 3 very good contact hitters. This would be no easy assignment, especially in the little pinball machine off Kenmore Square.

Williams comes up. A notorious pull hitter who inspired Cleveland Indians shortstop-manger Lou Boudreau -- who would almost singlehandedly beat the Sox in a one-game Playoff for the Pennant in October -- to invent the infield shift on lefthanders so often used today on players like David Ortiz, Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira, this time, the Splending Splinter hit a rocket right back at Brissie, caroming off the plate covering his scarred shin. The clang of horsehide on steel could be heard all over Fenway. Naturally, Brissie went down.

Ted, himself a World War II veteran (and later to be a Korean war veteran), told the story in his memoir My Turn at Bat:

I hit a ball back to the box, a real shot, whack, like a rifle clap. Down he goes, and everybody rushes out there, and I go over from first base with this awful feeling I’ve really hurt him. Here’s this war hero, pitching a great game. He sees me in the crowd, looking down at him, my face like a haunt. He says, "For chrissakes, Williams, pull the damn ball."

Brissie was all right. He got up, went the distance, allowed 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk, struck out 7, outpitched Denny Galehouse, and even singled home 2 runs off Galehouse. The A's won, 4-2.

No A's players survive from this game. From the Red Sox, surviving are 2nd baseman Doerr, now the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame; and right fielder Sam Mele, a Queens native, best remembered for managing the Minnesota Twins to their 1st Pennant in 1965.

Brissie went 14-10 that year, and improved to 16-11 in 1949, being named to the AL All-Star Team and pitching 3 innings in the All-Star Game, held that year in New York, at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

He was traded to the Indians in 1951, part of a 3-way deal that also involved the Chicago White Sox, including the Indians sending Minnie Minoso to become the first black player to play for either Chicago team. Brissie was used mostly in relief in Cleveland, and he retired following the 1953 season, finishing 44-48. He then went into business back in South Carolina, and directed the American Legion baseball program.

In the last few years, Brissie was the subject of a biography by New York Times sportswriter Ira Berkow, The Corporal Was a Pitcher. And he always visited Veterans Administration hospitals to talk to war veterans -- Korea in the 1950s, Vietnam in the 1960s and '70s, the Persian Gulf in the 1990s, and Iraq and Afghanistan these last few years.


“I knew I was a symbol to many veterans trying to overcome problems,” he once said. “I wasn’t going to let them down... People with disabilities have told me, ‘Because of you, I decided to try.’ That changes you.”

But long after his wound, his leg remained prone to infections, and while he was otherwise healthy in his last few years, he began to use crutches to get around. He was admitted to a VA hospital earlier this year, in Augusta, Georgia, not far from his home -- not to visit wounded veterans but to be treated as one. He died this past Monday, at the age of 89.

He was married twice, and is survived by his second wife, 2 daughters, 2 stepchildren, and their children and grandchildren.

Lou Brissie appeared in 234 major league games -- 234 more than I ever would. But as a baseball fan who's had problems with his own legs (not through war, and not nearly to the same extent), he was an inspiration to me.

So was Bert Shepard (1920-2008), also a lefthanded pitcher. He wasn't as lucky as Brissie: He was a pilot, shot down by the Nazis, and recovered alive by a German Army doctor. Since Bert was unconscious, and unable to plead for the saving of his leg, the German doctor amputated it below the knee.

But Bert, too, was determined to make it to the majors. He did, for one game, on August 4, 1945, wearing Number 34 and a prosthesis, pitching the last 5 1/3 innings of a game for the Washington Senators against the Red Sox at Griffith Stadium in Washington. The game was already out of hand when he was sent in: The Red Sox won, 15-4. Bert allowed 1 run on 3 hits and 1 walk, and never appeared in another game. He did, however, continue as an athlete, winning competitions for amputees in both running and golf, even in his 70s.


Bert wasn't bitter about the amputation: In 1993, This Week In Baseball did a piece on him, 50 years after the fact, and followed him back to Germany where he saw the doctor again, and thanked him for saving his life, and (if only for 1 game) his baseball career.


Surviving from Shepard's lone appearance in the majors are Senators center fielder Jose Zardon and opposing pitcher Dave "Boo" Ferris.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How Long It's Been: John F. Kennedy Was President

Fifty years. November 22, 1963:

Most members of Congress were, like him, veterans of World War II. But there were quite a few who were old enough to have served in World War I.  Obviously, there were no Vietnam War veterans in Congress yet -- because most of us didn't even realize we were at war in Vietnam.  The only 1963 member of the House of Representatives who's still there is John Dingell of Detroit, who's served since 1955, the longest-serving member in Congressional history.
 
Former Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower were still alive. Vice President Lyndon Johnson became President. Richard Nixon was still licking his wounds from losing the previous year's race for Governor of California. Gerald Ford was in the House Republican leadership. Jimmy Carter was a freshman State Senator. Ronald Reagan was still acting. George H.W. Bush was still in the oil business; his son, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham, Al Gore, Dan Quayle and Mitt Romney were all still in high school. Dick Cheney was in college. Barack Obama was 2 years old, and Michelle Robinson and Sarah Heath (Palin) hadn't been born yet.
 
The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, preparing to run for President -- and that would turn out to be a disaster. The Mayor of the City of New York was Robert F. Wagner Jr. The Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes. Elizabeth II was Queen of Great Britain -- that hasn't changed -- but she only had 3 children, as Prince Edward wasn't born yet. The Prime Minister of Britain was Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and of Canada, Lester Pearson.
 
There were 20 teams in Major League Baseball. There was an American League team in Washington, and a National League team in Texas -- the Houston Colt .45's, and they were the only team in a former Confederate State. There was a National League team in Milwaukee, but it was the Braves, not the Brewers. There was a team in Kansas City, but it was the Athletics, not the Royals. There was no designated hitter, no artificial turf, and no domes, retractable or otherwise. The Mets just moved out of the Polo Grounds, and were preparing to move into Shea Stadium. Including the Mets, 9 teams were playing in ballparks built before World War I; now, only 2 are, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.
 
There were black and Hispanic players in the major leagues, but no Asians. The highest-paid player in baseball was Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, making $100,000 a year.
 
Yogi Berra and Stan Musial had just retired. Duke Snider and Warren Spahn were still playing. Of the defining baseball players of my childhood, Carl Yastrzemski had just won the American League batting title for the first time, Pete Rose was just named National League Rookie of the Year, Tom Seaver was in college, and Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt were in high school. Mark McGwire and Paul O'Neill were born that year, while Barry Bonds, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz were yet to come.

There were 14 teams in the NFL, and 8 teams in the AFL. There was a team in Baltimore, but it was the Colts, not the Ravens. There was a team in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams. The Rams were still in Los Angeles.
 
There were 6 teams in the NHL, and 10 teams in the NBA. Until 1961, there were 9, and Marv Albert, newly installed as the radio voice of the NBA's Knicks and the NHL's Rangers, said he used to think the sole purpose of the NBA regular season was to eliminate the Knicks, as the top 8 teams moved on to the Playoffs. The Boston Bruins, all white, weren't doing well, but they sold out the Boston Garden. The Boston Celtics, with players of both races but led by the black Bill Russell, were in the middle of winning 8 straight titles, but they barely sold half the seats at the Gahden. Gee, you think Russell had a point when he said Boston was a racist city? I'll bet JFK didn't like it.
 
As I said, the defending NBA Champions were the Celtics. The holders of the Stanley Cup were the Toronto Maple Leafs. (This really was a long time ago.) Both would repeat in the spring of 1964. The Los Angeles Dodgers, led by the pitching of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, had just swept the Yankees in 4 straight to win the World Series. Liverpool-based Everton were defending Champions of England's Football League, and Manchester United were the holders of the FA Cup, their first trophy following the Munich Air Disaster of 1958.

The Green Bay Packers were defending NFL Champions, but had lost Paul Hornung to a yearlong suspension due to gambling. Their arch-rivals, the Chicago Bears, led by tight end Mike Ditka, would win the NFL title. (Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus wouldn't arrive until 1965.)

The AFL title would be won by the San Diego Chargers -- and this remains the only time in major league play that a San Diego sports team has gone as far as the rules of the time allowed it to go. Since then, the Chargers have gone to their last possible game 3 times (the 1964 and '65 AFL Championship Games and Super Bowl XXIX in 1995), but haven't won; baseball's Padres have been promoted from Triple-A to the majors and lost 2 World Series; the NBA's Clippers have arrived and left; and San Diego has only had major league hockey (if you can call the 1970s WHA "major league") for 3 seasons.
 
The heavyweight champion of the world was Charles "Sonny" Liston, but a young man named Cassius Clay was going to perform, as he put it, "a total eclipse of the Sonny." Soon, that young man would be named Muhammad Ali.

Since then, the Olympics have been held in America (4 times), Canada (3 times), Japan (3 times), Austria (twice), France (twice), Mexico, Germany, Russia (and are about to be again), Yugoslavia (now Bosnia), Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Britain.
 
The Fugitive, The Outer Limits, My Favorite Martian, an American version of the hit British show That Was The Week That Was, and the first TV show scripted and produced by Gene Roddenberry, a military drama titled The Lieutenant, had all recently debuted on television. Doctor Who made its debut the day after the assassination, with William Hartnell as The Doctor. On The Lieutenant, Gary Lockwood -- later to appear in the second Star Trek pilot -- starred as Lt. William Rice. Like Star Trek's James Kirk, the character had the middle name Tiberius.
 
The Beatles had just appeared at a charity show at the London Palladium, attended by Elizabeth the Queen Mother, widow of King George VI. Before playing their final song, their cover of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout," John Lennon asked the audience for their help: "Those of you in the cheaper seats, clap your hands. And the rest, if you'll just rattle your jewelry." He had threatened to ask them to "rattle yer fookin' jewelry," but was talked out of it. After all, it was live TV, broadcast all over the British Isles, and the Queen Mum was there. She did applaud the Beatles, despite being 63 years old.

Just today, for the first time, I was told that Walter Cronkite was planning to introduce a story on the Beatles on The CBS Evening News for November 22, 1963, as their second album had just been released the same day in Britain, and they were already the biggest thing in European entertainment, but they were still unknown to all but a handful of Americans. But the assassination prevented the story from being broadcast, and America didn't really find out about the Beatles until right after the New Year.
 
Also released on the day was A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, with performances by several acts that Spector, with his "Wall of Sound," had produced, including the Ronettes, featuring his girlfriend, Veronica Bennett, later his wife, Ronnie Spector, later his ex-wife. Turned out, Phil was a white Jewish version of Ike Turner. Maybe worse. Thankfully, like Tina, Ronnie escaped, and is still knocking crowds out in her 70s.
 
Just a month before, Bob Dylan recorded "The Times, They Are A-Changin'," "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," and perhaps my favorite song of his, "When the Ship Comes In." They would be released in January on his album The Times, They Are A-Changin'. Elvis Presley... was about to release his film Fun In Acapulco, best known for the song "Bossa Nova Baby." Once, Elvis was making trends; now, he was following them.
 
Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis both died the same day as JFK. In 1963, Pierre Boule published Planet of the Apes, John le Carre The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Ian Fleming On Her Majesty's Secret Service (as his James Bond novel From Russia With Love was in theaters), Alistair MacLean Ice Station Zebra, Thomas Pynchon V. (not to be confused with V for Vendetta), Kurt Vonnegut Cat's Cradle, Walter Tevis The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Morris West The Shoes of the Fisherman (about a former Communist prisoner who becomes Pope; Packer coach Vince Lombardi called it his favorite book). Sylvia Plath, despondent over her failing writing career, committed suicide; her novel The Bell Jar was published posthumously a few months later, and made her a legend.
 
Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and John Barton and Peter Hall adapted some of William Shakespeare's plays into The Wars of the Roses -- in other words, that hours-long play mentioned on the 3rd-season finale of The West Wing is a real play.
 
Earlier in the month of the JFK assassination, the all-star comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World premiered. The biggest picture of the year -- not the best, but definitely the biggest -- was Cleopatra, the film that brought Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton together, and nearly sank 20th Century Fox studios. Sidney Poitier starred in Lilies of the Field, and would, the next year, become the first black actor to win an Academy Award.
 
The first push-button telephone had been introduced the week of the JFK assassination. There were telephones that could be used in cars, but that was it as far as "mobile phones" were concerned. Most TV shows were still produced in black and white, and less than 1 out of 5 Americans had a color TV set. Computers still took up an entire wall of a building; Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were 8 years old.
 
In November 1963, in addition to the JFK assassination, there was a coup in South Vietnam, which made it more and more likely that Kennedy would not be able to pull out of there as soon as he would have liked. It was a big month for coal miners: 11 of them were rescued, 14 days after a mine collapsed in Germany; but an explosion killed 458 miners in Japan. A fire killed 63 people at a nursing home in Ohio. The second of "the Moors Murders" committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley took place in Manchester, England. Elsewhere in crime, the Boston Strangler was still at large. And in civil rights, in the wake of the awakening sparked over the summer by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X gave a speech titled "Message to the Grass Roots" in Detroit.
 
In addition to JFK, Huxley and Lewis, Amelita Galli-Curci, and Phil Baker, and "Birdman of Alcatraz" Robert Stroud died. Nicollette Sheridan, and Peter Schmeichel, and Vinny Testaverde were born.
 
November 22, 1963. Fifty years ago. The Presidency of John F. Kennedy will forever be known for how it began, with a legendary campaign and a stirring Inaugural Address; but it will also forever be known for how it ended, with three gunshots, and a thousand questions, few of which have satisfactory answers.
 
As the man himself said: "Let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal."
 

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Pete Rozelle for Not Postponing NFL Games After the JFK Assassination

This is a repeat of a post I did in 2010.

*

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. He was elected President of the United States on November 8, 1960, 50 years ago this month. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, 50 years ago today.

On May 16, 2010, it had been 46 years, 5 months and 24 days since his death. Meaning he had now been dead longer than he was alive.

I don't remember either Jack or Bobby Kennedy (who was dead longer than he was alive on December 23, 2010) as a living, breathing, acting, achieving, dreaming public figure. I only know them as martyred heroes. Nor do I remember Ted Kennedy as an untainted public figure: The Chappaquiddick accident (and, yes, it WAS an accident) happened 5 months before I was born.

I don't know what it was like in those 10 years and change from November 22, 1963 to August 9, 1974, when the nation had to suffer through Vietnam, race riots and Watergate. Whether JFK would have made it different, I don't know.

*

I do know that all 3 Kennedy brothers were big sports fans. JFK threw out the ceremonial first ball on Opening Day in Washington all 3 Aprils he was in office. This included 1962, when the Washington Senators opened (after the NFL's Washington Redskins had already played their first season there the fall before) District of Columbia Stadium. Just 7 years later, D.C. Stadium would be renamed for his brother, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. (Or "RFK Stadium.")

JFK liked attending the Army-Navy Game at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. As Presidents traditionally did, so as not to be seen as "taking sides," he sat on the side of the stadium where Army's bench was for one half and the Navy side for the other. But, just as his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was an Army General in World War II and people joked he couldn't truly be neutral in the game, JFK was a Navy hero in the same war and probably also wasn't exactly impartial.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. played football at Harvard University. Jack didn't make the varsity. Bobby did, scoring a touchdown against Western Maryland, but injuring his ankle. He hadn't yet won his varsity letter, and in those days, the only way you could was by playing in The Game. Harvard vs. Yale. So it entered into the Kennedy myth that "Bobby Kennedy played in the Harvard-Yale game with a broken leg." No, not a broken leg, but an injured ankle. He got his letter. That was in 1947. 

In 1954, Ted, easily the best player of the brothers, played two-way end. Today, we would call it "tight end" and "defensive end," although in the two-platoon system then taking over football he most likely would have been either a tight end or a linebacker. He caught a pass and took it in for a touchdown in the Yale game. What the Kennedy legendeers (myself sometimes included) don't like to say is that it was the only Harvard touchdown of the day, and Yale won -- as they did when Bobby played against them. (Tomorrow, they play again at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale still solidly leads the all-time series between them.)

When the Red Sox had their "Impossible Dream" season in 1967, the final series of the year was between the Sox and the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park. Ted had invited Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota's once and future Senator, to watch the games with him and the now-ailing former Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Bobby wasn't there that weekend, but the TV cameras caught Ted and Hubert sitting together talking about the game. Interviewed for Impossible To Forget, a 40th Anniversary DVD about that season, Ted said that it was the last summer that he and Bobby were together, and that it made them and their father very happy to see the Red Sox win that Pennant.

When Fenway Park opened on April 20, 1912, throwing out the first-ever first ball was the Mayor of Boston, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, father of Rose, mother of the four Kennedy brothers. In 2009, with Ted battling a brain tumor, the Red Sox invited him to throw out the first ball on Opening Day. Weakened by his battle and 77 years, Ted threw a soft toss to new Hall-of-Famer Jim Rice right in front of the mound. A little more than 4 months later, Ted joined his brothers, his parents, 3 of his nephews (JFK Jr. and Bobby's sons David and Michael) and all but one of his sisters -- Jean is the only one of the 9 still alive.

*

The 1963 Army-Navy Game had been scheduled for Saturday, November 23. It was postponed. Most college games were postponed. But the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry went on as scheduled.

When the announcement that JFK was dead reached us at 2:38 PM Eastern Time on November 22, it was a Friday afternoon, and decisions had to be made to play or postpone games. Here in the New York Tri-State Area, the Nets, Islanders and Devils did not yet exist. The Yankees and Mets were in the off-season. The Rangers were not scheduled. The Knicks were, and, for the first time in the franchise's 17-year history, one of their games was postponed.

East Brunswick High School, my alma mater, was supposed to play football on the Saturday, against neighboring Sayreville. The game was postponed, and, for the first time in the then-new school's 3-year football history, a game was played on Thanksgiving. E.B. won. We always beat Sayreville, losing to them only once from our football debut in 1961 until 1990. Since then, they've had our number, including this season, although we did beat them on the road in the Playoffs on the way to a State Championship in 2009. Anyway, E.B. did not play on Thanksgiving Day again until 1978, because our athletic director at the time, Jay Doyle, for whom our stadium would be named after his 1972 death, didn't like the idea. Maybe he was right: From 1984 onward, we've only won on T-Day twice.

The Giants and Jets (still the Titans at the time) were, from 1960 to 1969, in separate leagues. American Football League Commissioner Joe Foss was the leading Marine Corps flying ace of World War II (26 shootdowns), a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and a Governor of South Dakota. His political career ended in 1958 when, rather than run for a 3rd term as Governor, he ran for Congress, and was defeated by another WWII pilot, bombardier George McGovern. After his tenure as AFL Commissioner, he became the President of the National Rifle Association. He died in 2003, age 84.

In 1993, interviewed by CBS Sports on the 30th Anniversary of the assassination, Foss made it clear: "The vote of the owners was unanimous: The show must NOT go on." Although he was a Republican (being rich guys, sports owners tend to be, even nice guys like Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney and his sons who now run the team), Foss was an American first, and decided the right way to honor the fallen President was to postpone that week's slate of AFL games.

The owners of the 8 teams the League then had all agreed: Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Billy Sullivan of JFK's hometown Boston Patriots, Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills, Gerald Phipps of the Denver Broncos, Bud Adams of the Houston Oilers, Wayne Valley of the Oakland Raiders, Barron Hilton of the San Diego Chargers, and Leon Hess and Sonny Werblin of the New York Jets.

(Hunt was the son of H.L. Hunt, an oil baron, one of the most conservative men in the country, and a vicious opponent of JFK's. If Lamar shared his father's antipathy toward the President, he appears not to have said so publicly. With the death of Adams of the Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, a few weeks ago, Wilson of the Bills is the only member of "The Foolish Club" still running his team, although Hilton of the Chargers -- grandfather of Paris Hilton -- is still alive.)

The National Football League was a different story. Having less than 48 hours to decide, Pete Rozelle, in only his 4th season as Commissioner, made a phone call to Pierre Salinger, who had been his roommate at the University of San Francisco, and was now the White House Press Secretary and thus close to the Kennedy family. Salinger told Rozelle that JFK wouldn't have wanted the games canceled just because he was dead. So Rozelle said the games would go on.

Rozelle and Salinger were both still alive when CBS did that anniversary piece on the games that went on in 1993. Sam Huff, then one of the NFL's top defensive players with the New York Giants, soon to join the Washington Redskins and now a longtime broadcaster for them, thinks it was a mistake. As the most famous living athlete in the State of West Virginia (even more, at that point, than basketball star Jerry West), he had campaigned with JFK in the 1960 West Virginia Primary, which was so crucial to his winning the Presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. In that CBS retrospective, Huff said Rozelle and Salinger made a mistake: "I think it should have been Jackie's call."

Jacqueline Kennedy was truly remarkable in how she put her husband's funeral together under the most trying of circumstances. But, at that point, I don't think she would have given a damn whether football games were played that Sunday or not.

And in that retrospective, they included an interview done with Rozelle upon his retirement as Commissioner in 1989. In it, he admitted that letting the games be played was his biggest mistake on the job. Rozelle died in 1996, age 70.

*

Was it a mistake to play? I'm not so sure. Maybe you believe it was, or not; maybe what you're about to read will change your mind, or not.

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Pete Rozelle for Not Postponing NFL Games After the JFK Assassination

5. Timing. Rozelle had under 48 hours to make the choice. He said that some of the teams were already on, or getting on, the airplanes that would take them to the cities where their games had been scheduled. Had the shooting happened the day before, Thursday, it might have been a different story. Rozelle had to make a decision on the fly.

He also said that, had either the Washington Redskins (of the city where the funeral would be held) or the Dallas Cowboys (of the city where the assassination took place) been playing at home, he might have thought differently. Instead, the Redskins were in Philadelphia to play the Eagles, and the Cowboys were in Cleveland to play the Browns.

4. The Kennedy Mystique. Football had been the Kennedy family's game. From Bobby and Ted making the Harvard varsity to the touch football games at Hyannis and Palm Beach, they reveled in the sport. It was a tribute to them, the way it wouldn't have been if, say, basketball legend Bill Bradley had become President and faced a murderous end to his Administration.

3. Official Recognition. Sam Huff had a point: Jackie Kennedy giving Rozelle the go-ahead would have been better, having more moral authority, than Pierre Salinger giving it.

But word had been received from the White House. Indeed, the next season, Bobby visited the locker room at an Eagles game, and, quarterback King Hill, a Texas native remembered, “He came into our locker room, and went around shaking our hands. He said he appreciated us playing the games that weekend.” It is quite hard to imagine JFK saying, "Don't play the games."

For the record, the start of the 1968 baseball season was delayed after Martin Luther King was killed on April 4, but that was mainly due to the race riots that followed the assassination, more than the man's death. Still, it was a good idea.

When Robert Kennedy was killed on June 5, 1968, died on the 6th, and buried on the 8th, no games were postponed.

December 7, 1941 was a Sunday, and that day's NFL games were already underway when word was received that Pearl Harbor was attacked. (The attacks happened at around 8:00 in the morning Hawaii time, which was 2:00 in the afternoon East Coast time.)

Only 3 MLB games were scheduled for May 4, 1970, the day of the Kent State Massacre,  All were played as scheduled, and a full slate was played the next day.

Games were called off for 10 days after the earthquake that struck during the 1989 World Series.

Earlier that year, in England, a tragedy at an FA Cup Semifinal postponed Football League games for 2 weeks, but the season did resume.

Only after the terrorist attacks September 11, 2001 has the NFL ever postponed an entire week's slate of games, and baseball pushed back the remaining games for that week as well. Most people seemed to think that one week's delay was enough, and sport helped us to heal.

2. The Games Weren't Televised. CBS, then the NFL's sole carrier, went all-Kennedy-all-the-time, and didn't even send broadcast crews to the stadiums. When Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby, it was caught live on TV, when the pregame show would otherwise have been on the air.

The games were filmed by NFL Films, which caught a banner outside Yankee Stadium saying...

KENNEDY
DEAD
THE GAME
GOES ON
SHAME

But anybody who was watching TV that weekend was watching funeral coverage, not football.

1. People Wanted a Distraction. I talked to someone who was a senior at East Brunswick High when it happened, and he told me that playing those games was the best thing that could have been done. For 3 hours, people could think about something other than the saddest thing that had ever happened to their country in their lifetimes.

Under a million people actually went to the games, but a few million listened on the radio, including many around here who listened to the Giants on WNEW, 1130 AM. The actual funeral would be the next day, Monday, November 25, and the people could pay proper respect that day.

*

In case anyone still cares, here's the results of the NFL games for November 24, 1963:

* The Giants were upset by the St. Louis Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), 24-17, at Yankee Stadium.

* The Redskins upset the Eagles, 13-10, at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles had a nasty fight in the locker room the day before, with their emotions on edge. It was because one player (whose name I won't mention) refused to go along with the team's plan to have every player contribute $50 to the family of Patrolman J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer who was the other man killed by Lee Harvey Oswald that day. (Of course, I still have my doubts that Oswald killed JFK, or, if so, that he acted alone; but it seems pretty clear the guy was a cop killer and therefore scum.) Flanker Bobby Mitchell, the first black player for the Redskins, has since said the sound of the game was weird, very muted, and that the players on both sides seemed to just be going through the motions.

* The Browns beat the Cowboys, 27-17, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. In a gesture that may shock Northern Ohioans, used to seeing him as an inhuman monster, Browns owner Art Modell asked the public-address announcer to refer to the visitors as "the Cowboys," and not mention the name "Dallas," for fear of retribution against the representatives of the city where the President had been murdered.

* The Steelers and the Chicago Bears played to a 17-17 tie in Pittsburgh. The game was sold out, although that wasn't hard, as Forbes Field only had 35,000 seats. The Bears would go on to beat the Giants in the NFL Championship Game; in the AFL, the San Diego Chargers would beat the Boston Patriots.

* The Green Bay Packers beat the San Francisco 49ers, 28-10, at Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Packers played 2 home games a year from 1953 to 1977, and 3 a year from 1978 to 1994. Perhaps because the Packers were 120 miles from their Green Bay base, this was one of 3 games not sold out that day.

* The Los Angeles Rams beat the Baltimore Colts, 17-16 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Because the Coliseum then seated about 100,000 people, this one was not a sellout. Jack Pardee of the Rams, a Texan, would later say that his car, with Texas plates, had been vandalized. (The Rams now play in St. Louis, the Colts in Indianapolis.)

* And the Minnesota Vikings beat the Detroit Lions, 34-31, at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. This was the other non-sellout.

*

"I think it's time America started moving again," John F. Kennedy said on the campaign trail, 50 years ago.

He was right then. He is right now. If only our government would listen.  President Obama has been carrying the ball well, but the opposition has made a goal line stand

The Kennedy vision has outlived its visionary, but it cannot survive if we choose to forget. We must choose to remember.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A-Double Standard. A-Big One.


Do you hate steroids, and other performance-enhancing drugs? Do you want players who've used them on your team? Would you recommend that another team sign some?

This winter, (Mets general manager Sandy) Alderson needs to be a little more aggressive — as he’s vowed he will be — and go for more sure things when it comes to offensive weapons. In that respect, he needs to try to bring in two of the Biogenesis 12, who took their 50-game drug suspension penalties from MLB last summer without protest: Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta...

There is one other added advantage in signing Cruz or Peralta. Both of them have demonstrated they know how to beat a drug test...

In listening to the buzz around these meetings, competition for Cruz and Peralta looks to be a lot fiercer than it is for (outgoing (?) Yankee Curtis) Granderson — at least in these early days of the free-agent season.
-- Bill Madden, New York Daily News, November 12

Hmmmm. Guess Bill Madden only cares about steroid usage when A-Rod does it.
-- Lisa Swan, Subway Squawkers

*

Alex Rodriguez got caught once, before the current penalties were in place.  He had lied about it before. But when pushed to the wall, he confessed.  MLB has talked big since, but as far as the general public knows for sure, they've got nothing in this Biogenesis scandal that says A-Rod has used again, and the evidence they have revealed has been shown to be seriously compromised

Just as the evidence was seriously compromised in the Roger Clemens trial, leading to the verdict of not guilty, which, legally, was correct.  Being a dickhead is not a crime, and Clemens was not on trial for that.

A-Rod, Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds challenged MLB, and Sammy Sosa played baseball for a fool.  All have become pariahs, to the point that the first is facing an attempt from MLB to push him out of baseball forever, the last three already have been, and the last four have already been denied election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.  (Their second time around is approaching, but don't expect them to get in this time, either.) And don't expect the Baseball Writers Association of America, which votes on recently-retired players and hates A-Rod, to elect him the first time he's eligible, either.

In contrast, Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi cooperated, and are now looked upon as good guys.  Giambi doesn't have the stats to get into the Hall anyway.  Andy does, and, because of what is known about him and the reasons he gave, his chances of getting in are decent.

Mark McGwire refused to confess at the "St. Patrick's Day Massacre" Congressional hearing in 2005, but neither did he challenge them, and he later confessed.  He will never get into the Hall, but he has been allowed to work in baseball again -- and in uniform, no less, as hitting instructor for both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

You know who else challenged baseball at that hearing? Curt Schilling.  He, like Palmeiro, sat there and decisively denied ever having used steroids.

That bloody sock.  Why has that damn thing never been tested?

And then there is David Ortiz.  Big Papi got tested.  He got caught.  He lied about it.  He got exposed.  He lied about it again, effectively using the O.J. Simpson line of "looking for the real cause" of his positive test.  He still lies about it.

And yet, not only is Ortiz allowed to continue playing professional baseball, but he was named World Series MVP last month.

DAFUQ?

"Oh, but, Mike, you see, Big Papi is a nice guy!"

So was O.J.  So was Ted Bundy.

"But Big Papi's great with kids!"

So were Hitler and Stalin.  So, in a different way, was Jimmy Savile.

"But... but Big Papi gives to charity!"

So do al-Qaeda, Hamas and the PLO.  So does Don Imus.  So did Al Capone.

"But... but... but... But Big Papi is a role model for kids looking to get into baseball!"

So was Pete Rose.

"But... but... but... But Big Papi is an icon for Latinos!"

So is Fidel Castro.  So were Juan and Evita Peron.

"Come on, Mike, you know Big Papi isn't as bad as those people! It's not like he ever had anybody killed!"

True.  Nor has he ever killed anybody himself.  Or even tried.  As far as we know.  Whereas that cannot be said of his former Red Sox teammates Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez.

Ah, there it is.  Papi, Pedro and Schilling are still regarded as Red Sox heroes.  While Manny and Clemens are now considered persona non grata in New England.  (Someone will have to explain to Manny what that means.)

*

Remember the Mitchell Report? It mentioned Yankees A-Rod, Clemens, Pettitte, Giambi, his brother Jeremy Giambi, Chuck Knoblauch, Mike Stanton, David Justice, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, . 

It did not mention Papi or Manny.  Nor did it mention Bronson Arroyo, who later confessed.  In fact, it mentioned no players who played for the Red Sox in their 2004 World Championship season, and only 2 who played in their 2007 title season: Eric Gagne (whose steroid use had already caught up with him through injuries and cast his Dodger achievements into doubt) and Brendan Donnelly.  Neither was a key figure in the Sox winning the Series that season.

But maybe my Yankee fandom has caused me to miss the true conspiracy here: It's not that MLB wants to protect the Red Sox and "get" the Yankees.  It's that they don't like to be embarrassed.  They don't like to be made fools of.

1970: A pair of goofy pitchers, Denny McLain and Jim Bouton, embarrass baseball (through very different means).  McLain got suspended 3 times, and was out of baseball by Opening Day 1973 -- although that was due to injury as much as anything else.  Bouton denies to this day that MLB forced him out, that injuries and ineffectiveness caused him to retire in 1970.  He may have a point, as nobody stopped him from making his comeback in 1978, and the Commissioner then was the same man who tried in vain to get him to recant his memoir Ball Four: Bowie Kuhn.

Walter O'Malley screwed over Dodger fans and Giant fans in the New York Tri-State Area in 1957.  He's in the Hall of Fame, albeit long after his death.  Marvin Miller got the reserve clause overturned.  He died a year ago, and don't expect him to get into the Hall anytime soon.

The aforementioned Squawker Lisa made a point of the double standard toward A-Rod, and one of her commenters, a Steve J. Rogers (not to be confused with Captain America or the old Montreal Expo pitcher), said, "This is true. Be a Grade A POS to the media and a general trainwreck = GO AWAY. Be quiet about it to the national media, or contrite-ish (Giambi, Pettitte) and the media lays off, except when up for HOF votes!"

Maybe that's it: Maybe it's a case of, "Do what you have to, just don't embarrass us with it.  We don't care if you make yourself look bad.  We only care if you make us look bad."
 
*
 
I saw the ESPN SportsCentury piece on Bill Tilden, generally regarded as the greatest tennis player of the first half of the 20th Century. After he retired, he made big money giving tennis lessons to famous people and their children. All his Wall Street and Hollywood friends knew he was not only gay but liked teenage boys, and it didn't seem to matter to them.
Until he got caught. He was arrested for fooling around with a 14-year-old boy in 1946 and a 16-year-old in 1949.  At which point he became radioactive to his alleged friends.  "Tilden? Nah.  Heard of him, but never met him."
 
About the only one who didn't abandon him was Charlie Chaplin -- whose taste for young flesh was much wider-known, but "at least" it was female and slightly legal.

Tilden, born into a very wealthy Philadelphia family, was removed from the University of Pennsylvania's alumni list, despite his contributions to the school.  He was expelled from the city's Germantown Cricket Club, on whose tennis courts he had learned the game.  And yet, when the Associated Press did their 1950 polls on the greatest athletes of the first half of the century, Tilden was named the greatest tennis player, by a wider margin than any winner in any sport.  This within months of his getting out of prison the second time.

If this had been in the ESPN era, instead of at the dawn of television, who knows if he would have been similarly honored -- or interviewed.  I do know that, when they did the SportsCentury piece on O.J. Simpson, years after his acquittal on murder charges but also after he was found liable for the victims' deaths in a civil trial, he sat for an interview for it.

*

The Alex Rodriguez story is far from being written.  If this were a movie trilogy, we'd still be at least in the early minutes of the third film.  Maybe even wrapping up the second.

But in having gotten caught themselves, with questionable evidence, Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB management as a whole have done something I didn't think possible: They made A-Rod look like the more honest side of the debate, the most trustworthy, the more sympathetic.

Bill Veeck, who liked to make the baseball establishment look bad (and didn't get into the Hall until after he was dead), once said, "Baseball must be a great game, because the owners haven't found a way to kill it."

They haven't yet found a way to kill A-Rod's career, either.

Maybe they never will.  Maybe he'll get through this, and play until it's his own body, rather than Selig or Selig's successor as Commissioner, that makes the final judgment that he can't play anymore.

But that column on the Mets' offseason priorities, written by Madden, as much a part of the baseball establishment as any sportswriter can be, shows just how futzed up the baseball establishment is.

Who cares if they used PEDs, the Mets need to sign Player X and Player Y.

But Player A? On whom you've got nothing? And has been saying so, the latest of several instances in which he's embarrassed baseball in public?

To hell with him, right?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: You don't have to like Alex Rodriguez.  You don't have to want him to play even one more game for the Yankees.  You don't have to excuse his behavior since he arrived in February 2004.  You can even believe he's guilty as sin.

But you have to accept the truth.  Right now, the truth is as follows:

* Truth: Our country's legal standard is that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

* Truth: Said guilty must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

* Truth: Such proof, this time around, has not been presented in regard to A-Rod.

* Truth: The 200-plus game suspension that MLB has ordered goes above and beyond the rule that MLB itself prescribed for a first offense.

* Truth: Under the rule that MLB itself prescribed, whatever A-Rod may have been caught using is a first offense.

* Truth: Presuming the preceding, MLB is thus adding a suspension above and beyond the 50-game mandate not for the offense itself, but for his fighting of the charges.

* Truth: MLB has let some players get away with worse behavior, including behavior regarding PED use.  (Remember: Pedro was never suspended for hitting a batter, not even 1 game.)

* Truth: Sportswriters ranging from Bill Madden in New York to Ortiz's apologists in Boston, and talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sports, have extolled the talents and virtues of PED users other than A-Rod, including several Red Sox, the ones we already know about, and the ones we suspect.  (I'm not even going to get into Sox fans doing the steroids chant at certain players, including A-Rod, and cheering orgasmically for Ortiz.  That's a rant for another time.)

As the late Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, liked to say, You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

Your opinion is that A-Rod is a sleazeball who has embarrassed both team and sport? I share that opinion.

Your opinion is that he should no longer play for the Yankees, or for anybody else? On any given day, I might be willing to share that opinion.

But the fact is, as far as we know, Major League Baseball has got nothing on him in these latest charges, and thus he is an innocent man being unfairly persecuted and prosecuted.

Sooner or later, MLB is going to have to present its case in a formal setting, instead of just talking about it.  Or to decide that the pursuit is no longer worth it.  Step into the batter's box or go back to the dugout.  Fish or cut bait.  Shit or get off the pot.

Until they present their evidence, and can show that their evidence is actually proof, Bud Selig and company need to shut the hell up.

And they need to start treating everybody in a similar situation equally.

They can start by rescinding Ortiz's World Series MVP award.  I know they'll never rescind the Sox' 3 World Series wins with that big fat lying cheating bastard on their roster.  But they can send that particular signal.

As Bill Maher says of wearing an American flag pin, It's, literally, the least they can do.

But they won't.

Because that would be admitting that they were wrong.

And they would, then, be making themselves look foolish.

And Major League Baseball doesn't like it when anyone makes them look foolish.

What the hell, they can't stop my blog.

Maybe they can buy me off.  I could use the money.

Who knows, maybe I would take up A-Double Standard as well.

Would I? Most likely, we'll never know.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Bad Friday

Yesterday was a bad day for me.  You don't care about the personal part of it, so I won't mention it, other than to say that it wasn't dangerous or devastating, just one long series of annoyances after another.

Sports-wise, though, it was bad.

*

If you're a New Jersey Devils fan, as I am, do NOT blame Cory Schneider for last night's loss to the Los Angeles Knaves -- I refuse to call those dirty bastards "Kings." Cory worked his ass off, and his culpability for the only goal (there was an empty-netter with 3 seconds left) was minimal.  The Devils are simply not doing it for him.

Peter DeBoer, or whoever is coach from here on in (you never know with Lou Lamoriello in charge), needs to tell the players that Martin Brodeur will not be around forever, that this is our goaltender of the future, and that you need to work to support him.

The Devils probably bought DeBoer some time beating the Rangers 3-2 at the Garden on Tuesday night, with Dainius Zubrus scoring the winner with under 3 minutes left in regulation.  But knowing El Baldo's itchy trigger finger -- in baseball terms, he goes through field bosses like George Steinbrenner but spends like the Miami Marlins -- the clock has got to be ticking.

*

The U.S. soccer team played Scotland to a 0-0 draw at historic Hampden Park in Glasgow.  Credit to the defense for keeping a clean sheet away, and failing to get a win did nothing to actually hurt them, as this was an exhibition (a "friendly" in footiespeak), and we've already qualified for next year's World Cup.  Yet another shutout for North Brunswick, New Jersey native Tim Howard.

But last year, in Jacksonville, we beat Scotland 5-1.  This time, no goals.  Granted, we didn't have either Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey for this one, but we didn't have Dempsey for that one, either.  (A separate injury.  In last year's game, we did have Donovan and he notched a hat trick.  One of the other goals was a beauty from Michael Bradley, who did play last night but didn't do much.)

The U.S. is currently 13th in the FIFA rankings, Scotland 35th.  Alasdair Lamont, covering this game for the BBC, called the game "a largely uninspiring friendly draw." I think he was being kind.

This wasn't the Scotland side of the late 1960s and early 1970s, led by Celtic stars such as Jimmy "Jinky" Johnstone and William "King Billy" McNeill, Tottenham stalwart Dave Mackay, Manchester United titan Denis Law, Derby County and Nottingham Forest sniper Archie Gemmill, and Leeds superstars Billy Bremner, Joe Jordan, Peter Lorimer, Gordon McQueen and David Harvey.  A team so good that Arsenal stars Frank McLintock, George Graham and Bob Wilson couldn't get into it with any regularity.

Nor was it the 1980s Scotland team, led by the Liverpool of "King Kenny" Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen, and Ipswich's Alan Brazil, and Aberdeen and Manchester United star Gordon Strachan (who now manages Scotland).  Or even the last Scotland team to qualify for the World Cup, the 1998 squad, with Aberdeen legend David Leighton, Blackburn Rovers league-winning captain Colin Hendry, Celtic midfielder Paul Lambert (now the manager at Aston Villa) and Chelsea star Craig Burley.

Of the 15 players Scotland fielded (up to 6 substitutes are permitted in a friendly, as opposed to 3 in "competitive matches"), I had heard of only 5: Celtic defender Charlie Mulgrew and midfielder Scott Brown, defender Alan Hutton of Aston Villa (a former Tottenham player and a right bastard), midfielder Steven Naismith of Everton, and striker Steven Fletcher of Sunderland (a former star at Edinburgh's Hibernian, but I know him as a dirty player on Wolverhampton Wanderers).

Yet this team, from a country that, for all the talent it produced in the 20th Century, hasn't reached a major tournament in 15 years and has never reached the knockout rounds of the World Cup, held the U.S. to 0-for-8 on shots, and 41 percent possession.

In a game like this, an exhibition, the perception of the performance is more important than the actual result.  And if this is how we play without Donovan and Dempsey, against a team only as good as the current Scotland, what's going to happen if we have to go into Brazil next June with either Donovan or Dempsey hurt -- or, God forbid, both of them?

The U.S. team closes out their 2013 schedule on Tuesday, playing away to Austria.  Austria were a power in the game in the 1930s, and were again very good in the 1950s, but haven't done much since.  So there will be no excuse for another poor performance.

*

In a "consolation game," which the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association annually sets up for high school football teams that don't make their State Playoffs, my alma mater, East Brunswick, lost 44-20 to Montgomery.

Montgomery is in Somerset County, not an especially long trip for a team from neighboring Middlesex County like EB, although it was our first visit to the County since a 1998 trip to Bridgewater.  Until the 1990s, Montgomery didn't even have a football team, because they were a school with a very small enrollment.  But they've grown by leaps and bounds by then, with a building boom resulting in a school with an enrollment nearly as big as ours.

EB fell to 1-8 on the season, with only the annual Thanksgiving Day drubbing by Old Bridge yet to come.  This was only the 2nd time all season that we scored as many as 20 points, and we lost the other one, too, to J.P. Stevens of Edison.  It was the 7th time this year we've allowed at least 41 points.  Our average score is a 38-8 defeat; take out our 1 win, 14-12 against winless North Brunswick, and it's 45-7.

At least new coach Bob Molarz, who restored the program at his native Carteret and started the one at St. Joseph's of Metuchen, isn't throwing deep on 1st-and-10 and then running the ball on 3rd-and-18, like his predecessor, Marcus Borden, spent 20 years doing, with only occasional success.  (Borden had previously had an excellent passing attack that got us into the State Playoffs 5 times in 7 years from 1984 to 1990, but after that, we only made it 4 times, though that included 2 Central Jersey Group IV titles in 2004 and 2009.)

The team has a lot of heart, but not much strength.  That will have to be boosted next season.  Through legal and safe means, of course.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Recent Sports Farewells, Updated Event Countdown

Several prominent sports personalities died during my glitch. Let me pay tribute to:

Allan Stanley, Canadian hockey defenseman. Played for the Rangers from 1948 to 1955, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 1950. Reached them again with the Boston Bruins in 1957 and '58, and with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1959 and '60. Then became one of the veterans that Leafs coach George "Punch" Imlach relied on to lead the Leafs to 4 Cups, in 1962, '63, '64 and '67. A 3-time All-Star and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Died of unknown causes on October 18, 2013, age 87.

Gerardus "Gerrie" Mühren, Dutch soccer midfielder. With Ajax Amsterdam, won 3 League titles, 3 Dutch Cups, and 3 straight European Cups (the tournament now called the UEFA Champions League, although the name of the trophy was kept) in 1971, '72 and '73.

He also won Spain's Copa del Rey with Real Betis in 1977, and was a member of the Netherlands national team that reached, but lost, the Finals of the 1974 and '78 World Cups. Died of a rare blood condition on September 19, age 67.
Sergei Belov, Russian basketball guard. Played his club ball for CSKA Moscow, the Red Army team also known for their soccer and hockey squads. Scored 20 points for the Soviet Union in the controversial Gold Medal game against the U.S. at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.

Given the honor of lighting the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. The 1st European player elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Died of unknown causes, on October 3, 2013, age 69.
Kenneth Stanley Adams Jr., a.k.a. Bud Adams, founder of the Houston Oilers, now known as the Tennessee Titans. Although Barron Hilton of the San Diego Chargers is still alive, Bud Adams was the last of the original 8 American Football League owners still in charge of his team.

A native of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, he was a member of the Cherokee tribe who made millions in energy. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and graduated from the University of Kansas. He tried to buy the Chicago Cardinals and move them to Houston, and then to buy an NFL expansion team. They turned him down, but Lamar Hunt, whom he knew from business (he was the son of oil baron H.L. Hunt), took him into the fledgling AFL.

The Oilers won the 1st 2 AFL Championships, in 1960 and 1961, both times beating Hilton's Chargers. But in 1962, they lost the AFL Championship Game to Hunt's Dallas Texans (who soon became the Kansas City Chiefs), and haven't gone as far as the rules of the time have allowed them to go since. They lost the AFL Championship Game to the Oakland Raiders in 1967, and the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1978 and 1979. He also owned the Houston Mavericks of the American Basketball Association.
Bud posing with the 1st 2 AFL Championship trophies

After the 1992 season, which featured their epic Playoff collapse against the Buffalo Bills, Adams began complaining about the Oilers' lease at the Astrodome. A Texas energy man is used to getting what he wants, and he wanted a better lease. When he didn't get it, he threatened to move the Oilers to Jacksonville.

But the NFL beat him to it, by putting the expansion Jaguars there. So he threatened to move to Nashville -- inspired by the alleged threat of the New Jersey Devils to move there (which, thank God, didn't happen). The city wouldn't cave in, and in 1997 they moved. The Tennessee Titans won the AFC Championship in 1999, but lost Super Bowl XXXIV to the St. Louis Rams.

Adams died 3 days after his colorful 1970s head coach, Bum Phillips.

Walt Bellamy, Carolinian basketball center. Graduated from Indiana University as the all-time leading rebounder at that storied basketball school. A member of the U.S. team that won the Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

A 4-time NBA All-Star, was with the Knicks when they moved from the old Madison Square Garden to the new one in 1968. Later that season, he and Howie Komives were sent to the Detroit Pistons in the most important trade in Knick history: New York got Dave DeBusschere. Trading Bellamy for forward DeBusschere also allowed coach Leonard "Red" Holzman to move Willis Reed from forward to center, resulting in the 1970 and '73 titles.
"Bells" managed to continue building a Hall of Fame resume with the Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks. Closed his career as an original member of the New Orleans Jazz (now in Utah) in the 1974-75 season. Died of unknown causes on November 2, 2013, age 74.

*

It's been a while since I did a countdown, so here it is:

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: Less than 1, at 3:00 this afternoon U.S. Eastern Time, in an exhibition -- or, as they call it in soccer, a "friendly" -- against Scotland at Hampden Park in Glasgow.  The U.S. has already qualified for next year's World Cup.  We hammered Scotland 5-1 in Jacksonville last year, and the Scots (a.k.a. the Jocks and the Sweaties) haven't had much of a national side since the 1980s.

Days until the Devils play again: Less than 1, tonight, at 7:00 PM, home to the Los Angeles Kings.  They beat the arch-rival New York Rangers (a.k.a. The Scum) on Wednesday night, 3-2 at Madison Square Garden.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Less than 1, tonight at 7:00, a "consolation game," away to Montgomery High School in Somerset County.  We are 1-7, and if we're hoping to finish 2-8, we have to win this one.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 1, tomorrow at 12:00 noon, home to the University of Cincinnati.

Days until Arsenal play again: 8, a week from tomorrow, 10:00 AM U.S. Eastern Time, home to Southampton, from Hampshire on England's South Coast (English Channel).

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 13, Thursday morning, November 28, 10:00 AM.  The Big Green's chances of beating the Purple Bastards are slim and none, but you never know.

Days until the Devils next play a local rival: 23, on Saturday, December 7, at 7:30 PM, against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  They next play the New York Islanders on Saturday, December 28, at 7:00 PM, at the Nassau Coliseum.  They next play the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, January 7, 2014, at 7:30 PM, at home.

Days until the Devils play the Rangers at Yankee Stadium: 73, on Sunday, January 26, 2014, at 12:30 PM.  A little over 10 weeks.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 80, on Sunday, February 2, 2014, kickoff at around 6:25 PM.  A little over 11 weeks.

Days until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: 85, on Friday, February 7, 2014.  Just 12 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 119, on Saturday, March 15, 2014, at White Hart Lane.  Just 4 months.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: Unknown, as the 2014 schedule has yet to be released.  They tend to begin play on the 3rd Saturday in March, usually at 7:30 PM.  If that holds true, it will be on March 15, 2014, the same day as the North London Derby, therefore 119 days.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a local rival: See the previous answer.

Days until the Yankees play again: 138, on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, time to be determined, away to the Houston Astros.  Under 5 months.

Days until the Yankees' home opener: 144, on Monday, April 7, 2014, probably at 1:00 PM, vs. the Baltimore Orioles.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 147, on Thursday, April 10, 2014, time to be determined, at Yankee Stadium.

Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 209, on Thursday, June 12, 2014.  Under 7 months.

Days until Rutgers makes its Big Ten Conference debut: 302 days, on Saturday, September 13, 2014, time to be determined, against old enemy Penn State.  Under 10 months.

Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 1,025, on Friday, August 5, 2016.  Under 3 years.