Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Is the Cruelest Month


"April is the cruelest month." -- T.S. Eliot

He was wrong. November is:

* November is the first month without baseball that counts since last last March, and you're going to be without baseball that counts until next April.

* November is the month when any optimism held by an American football team -- be it professional, collegiate or scholastic -- falls by the wayside unless they are very, very good.

* November is the month that basketball season starts, and basketball simply isn't what it used to be.

* November is the month when the hockey season begins to take shape, the contenders cement their usual places, and the pretenders of October get their hopes dashed, as if they were the crew of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald facing "The Witch of November" on Lake Superior in 1975.

* The leaves that changed and looked so beautiful in October are now brown, and, if not already so, will soon be down, and are just a nuisance -- or, if wet, a driving hazard. Even snowstorms aren't unheard of in November. Or, as George Carlin put it in his famous bit about the 2 sports, "Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying!"

* Even DC Comics gets it: Dennis O'Neil, longtime writer and editor for their Batman stories, has, for the record, invoked the 11th month by saying, "Batman's Gotham City is Manhattan below 14th Street at 11 minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November, and Metropolis is Manhattan between 14th and 100th Streets on the brightest, sunniest July day of the year."

* Why do you think Thanksgiving comes on the last Thursday in November? It's because we're thankful we got through the month!

*

November 1, 1870: In Chicago‚ the Mutuals of New York play the White Stockings at Dexter Park before 6‚000 people. With Chicago leading 7-5 after 8 innings‚ the Mutuals score 8 runs in the top of the 9th, to make it 13-7.

In the bottom of the 9th‚ Chicago adopts a waiting game, and Wolters‚ the Mutuals pitcher‚ loads the bases on walks‚ and complains that the umpire is not calling strikes. A few hits and passed balls make the score 13-12 in favor of the Mutes when McAfee‚ the next batter for the Whites‚ lets a dozen balls go by without swinging. Wolters throws up his hands and walks off. The ump reverts the score to the 8th inning and the Whites win‚ 7-5.

Chicago has now defeated the Mutes twice since they took the Championship away from the Atlantics. The controversial ending of the game makes the Mutual club unwilling to give up the Championship.

The New York Clipper, the closest thing America had to a sports-only newspaper in those days, says‚ "In 1867 the Union club happened to defeat the Atlantics two games out of three of the regular series them played between them-only one series being played between clubs at that time. By this victory a precedent was established giving the championship title only to the club that defeated the existing champions two games while they were the champions. Of course this is an. absurd rule but it has prevailed ever since."

November 1, 1874, 140 years ago: The season ends today, with the Boston Red Stockings being declared the Champions with a record of 43-17. Boston actually had a record of 52-18, but the Committee throws out the games against the Baltimore Canaries (not "Orioles"), because the team did not complete their schedule. The Mutuals finish 2nd.

November 1, 1893: Alexander Thomson Burr is born Chicago. Usually listed as "Alex Burr" in baseball reference books, but known as "Tom" to his friends, he went east to attend the Choate School and Williams College, and became a star pitcher.

Well, he was a star in high school. He signed a pro contract before ever appearing in a college game. But he didn't last long. He appeared in exactly 1 major league game, on April 21, 1914, at the Polo Grounds, and not as a pitcher. He played center field for the New York Yankees -- not yet an exalted position. He only played in the field, had no fielding chances, and never came to bat -- a true "Moonlight Graham." He was soon released, and never reached the majors again. The Yankees beat the Washington Senators 3-2.

On October 12, 1918, just 1 month before the Armistice ended World War I, Tom Burr was killed in action in a plane crash, in Cazaux, France. It was an accident: Rather than being shot down, another U.S. pilot crashed into him -- what became known as "friendly fire."

He wasn't quite 25 years old. He was 1 of 8 major league players killed in "The War to End All Wars." For all their history, and for all of George Steinbrenner's pandering to our armed forces, down to the Monument to the 9/11 victims and rescuers in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, the Yankees make no mention of the one and only player from their ranks to have died in military service.

November 1, 1894, 120 years ago: Former Providence Grays pitcher Charles Sweeney is convicted of manslaughter in San Francisco. Just 10 years earlier, he had been the toast of the baseball world, becoming the 1st pitcher to strike out 19 batters in a major league game.

But the fame went to his head: He began drinking, staying out late, and feuding with the Grays' other starting pitcher (only 2 were necessary in those days), Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn. was finally released after choosing to spend the morning with his girlfriend in Woonsocket rather than report to the Providence ballpark for a scheduled start.

No other National League team would take him, and although he got picked up by the St. Louis Maroons, who dominated the Union Association so much that the league folded after a year. Sweeney overworked himself, and was never as good on the mound again. In an 1886 game, he gave up 7 home runs, still a major league single-game record. He threw his last major league pitch in 1887, only 24 years old.

In 1894, he killed a man in a bar fight, and served 8 years before being released, when it was obvious that he was dying, from tuberculosis. He returned to his hometown of San Francisco, and died there in 1902, just 38. 

*

November 1, 1914, 100 years ago: Connie Mack begins cleaning house, putting together what would, today, be called a fire sale. The Philadelphia Athletics' manager and part-owner -- effectively, the general manager, although that term wasn't used in baseball in those days -- asks waivers on pitchers Jack Coombs‚ Eddie Plank‚ and Chief Bender.

Colby Jack goes to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Plank and Bender escape Mack's maneuvering by jumping to the Federal League. Although all have some life left in their soupbones‚ they are near their careers' end‚ and their departure is more sentimental than serious.

Mack's excuse: Retrenchment. Despite the Pennant‚ Philadelphia fans did not come out to Shibe Park in sufficient numbers, and the club lost $50‚000. It doesn't sound like much -- even with a century's worth of inflation factored in, it's $1.2 million -- but by 1914 baseball standards, it was a fortune.

This is the 1st time a great A’s team is broken up to save money. Mack would do it again starting in 1932, because he had lost all of his non-baseball investments in the stock market Crash of 1929, and needed cash badly. In Oakland, Charlie Finley would do it in 1974-76, and Billy Beane in 2007 and 2011. Only on the last occasion did the A’s “get away with it,” competitively speaking.

November 1, 1916: Harry H. Frazee‚ New York theater owner and producer‚ and Hugh Ward buy the Red Sox for $675‚000 ($14.75 million in today's money, although one report puts the figure at $750‚000, or $16.4 million) from Joseph Lannin. Bill Carrigan announces that he will retire as Red Sox manager to pursue his interests in Lewiston‚ Maine.

*

November 1, 1942: Brooklyn Dodger president Larry MacPhail, already a hero of World War I (how much of one depends on who's telling the story), reenters the Army, and gives up his ownership stake. The Dodgers look to St. Louis for leadership. After 2 decades at Sportsman's Park, Branch Rickey splits with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon. He will sign to become the president of the Dodgers.

As Cardinal GM, he had already changed the game, by inventing the farm system. As Dodger president, he will change the world, by signing, and sticking by, Jackie Robinson. MacPhail, upon his return, will join with Del Webb and Dan Topping, and remake the New York Yankees.

November 1, 1946: The right foot of Cleveland owner Bill Veeck is amputated‚ a result of a war injury in the South Pacific 2 years before. Veeck has already had a tremendous impact on promotion in a half season of ownership. A minor but typical change is the regular posting of NL scores on the Cleveland scoreboard‚ a departure from the long-standing practice of both leagues.

Veeck doesn't let the amputation slow him down. He walks around on a prosthesis, and frequently stubs out his cigarette on it. He even says, "I'm not disabled. I'm crippled." In other words, his ability was reduced, but not eliminated. And, as long as his brain worked (however strangely at times), he had plenty of ability.

Also on this day, the first NBA game is played at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. (Until 1949, the National Basketball Association was known as the Basketball Association of America, or the BAA.) A crowd of 7,090 -- about half of capacity -- attends, and the New York Knickerbockers beat the Toronto Huskies, 68-66.

The Huskies go out of business after just 1 season. The Knicks are 1 of only 2 charter NBA teams still playing in their current city. The other is the Boston Celtics. They've just started their 69th season.

They are not, however, pro basketball's oldest franchise. The Philadelphia SPHAs were founded in 1917, as the team of the South Philadelphia Herbrew Association. They, too, were a charter BAA/NBA team, as the Philadelphia Warriors. They are still playing today, as the Golden State Warriors, in Oakland, although they are building a new arena to open near the Giants' ballpark in downtown San Francisco, with the start of the 2017-18 season as the target date.

Ossie Schectman, a former Long Island University star who scored the 1st NBA basket, died on July 30, 2013, at the age of 94. He was the last surviving player from this game.

*

November 1, 1979: Edward Bennett Williams buys the Orioles from Jerold Hoffberger for a reported $12.3 million (about $40.3 million in today's money). NFL rules prohibit a majority owner from being the majority owner of a team in another sport, so he sells some stock in the Washington Redskins to former Los Angeles Lakers and Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke.

In 1983, Williams becomes the 1st, and still only, owner to win championships in both football and baseball in the same calendar year. Not long thereafter, he will sell the rest of his Redskins stock to Cooke. He remains Orioles owner until his death in 1988. Orioles fans were afraid that the Washington "superlawyer" would move the team to D.C., especially after the Colts were moved out of town in 1984. But, not long before his death, he cut a deal with the State of Maryland to build the ballpark that became Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Also on this day, in separate deals‚ the Yankees acquire outfielder Ruppert Jones from the Seattle Mariners, and catcher Rick Cerone and pitcher Tom Underwood from the Blue Jays. They give up 7 players‚ including popular 1st baseman Chris Chambliss‚ shortstop Damaso Garcia‚ aging outfielder Juan Beniquez‚ and young pitchers Jim Beattie and Paul Mirabella.

This could have been a great trade for the Yankees, as Cerone filled in admirably in the wake of the death of Thurman Munson, and he and Underwood were key in winning the American League Eastern Division in 1980 and the Pennant in 1981. But Jones, named the Mariners' 1st-ever All-Star in their expansion season of 1977, crashed into an outfield fence making a great catch that season, injured his shoulder, and was never the same player.

The M's and Jays didn't even do that well. None of the players they got from the Yankees did much. Chambliss did absolutely nothing for the Jays, through no fault of his own: They traded him to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Barry Bonnell. Once an All-Star, Bonnell was terrible in Toronto, while Chambliss helped the Braves win the NL West in 1982 and nearly did so again in 1983. Ironically, it was his tenure with the Braves, not the Yankees, that did the most to make him a major league coach: The Braves' manager at that time was Joe Torre.

November 1, 1984, 30 years ago: The Los Angeles Clippers play their 1st home game after moving up the California coast from San Diego, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. They had played 2 away games first. Oddly enough, their 1st game under the Los Angeles name was away to the Utah Jazz, the team they beat in their last game in San Diego. The Clips beat the New York Knicks, 107-105.

For several years, this opener stood as the highlight of Los Angeles Clipper basketball, as, much like the Nets behind the Knicks in the New York Tri-State Area, they have been stuck behind the Lakers, partly due to the older team being so well-established, successful and popular, and partly due to their own perennial losing, due to team owner Donald Sterling caring only about schmoozing his pals at the games rather than winning.

To make matters worse, since 1999 they have had to share the Staples Center with the Lakers, whereas they only had to share the Sports Arena with USC basketball; now, not only are they the worst pro basketball team in their city, they’re not even the best basketball team in their own building.  Indeed, despite a recent Playoff revival, with the NHL’s Kings having won 2 Stanley Cups, the Clips are arguably still only the 3rd-best sports team in their own building. At least now, they're rid of the cheap racist Sterling.

November 1, 1997: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum opens in its new home in Kansas City‚ Missouri. It had been occupying a temporary site there for 4 years.

November 1, 2001: Game 5 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Steve Finley and Rod Barajas hit solo home runs for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 5th inning, and those remain the only runs of the game going into the bottom of the 9th.

In an amazing case of history repeating itself‚ the Yankees again come from 2 runs down with 2 outs in the 9th inning, to win 3-2 in 12 innings. Byung-Hyun Kim is again victimized‚ this time by Scott Brosius' 2-run HR in the 9th. Alfonso Soriano's single wins it in the 12th. Steve Finley and Rod Barajas homer in the 5th for Arizona's runs. 

In 97 previous years of World Series play, only twice had teams come from 2 or more runs down in the bottom of the 9th to win a game. The Yankees had now done it on back-to-back nights -- albeit in different months (October 31 & November 1).

November 1, 2005: A bronze sculpture featuring the friendship of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson is unveiled at Brooklyn's KeySpan Park, home of the Mets' Single-A team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. (The stadium is now named MCU Park.)

The William Behrends sculpture captures the moment when the Dodger captain showed support by putting his arm around his black teammate's shoulder, hushing an unruly crowd hurling racial slurs at his teammate at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1947.

November 1, 2010: The Giants win their first World Series since moving to San Francisco. Edgar Renteria, who drove in the winning run for the Florida Marlins against the Cleveland Indians in the 11th inning during Game 7 of the 1997 Fall Classic, joins Yankees legends Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra as only the 4th player in baseball history to collect two World Series-winning hits. (He had also made the last out for the St. Louis Cardinals as the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series *.)

The Series MVP's 3-run homer off Cliff Lee in the 7th inning leads to San Francisco's 3-1 victory over the Rangers, and brings an end to 56 seasons of what some Giants fans had been, in recent days, describing as "torture." (Clearly, they'd never been truly tortured.)

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