Monday, February 24, 2014

Top 20 Signs You're From New Jersey


Top 20 Signs You're From New Jersey

1. You've had to explain to outsiders that the State consists of more than the Turnpike, Newark Airport and the Linden oil refinery.

2. You give outsiders a dirty look when they say, "You're from Jersey? What exit?" when you know full well that you use it yourself.

3. You've had to explain, "Nobody calls it 'Joisey' here. Only people from N'Yawk call it that."

4. You know a "pork roll" isn't one of those four-foot salamis.

5. You don't go "to the beach." You go "down the shore." Unless you already live in a Shore town, then you go "to the beach."

6. You've gone down the shore, and gotten stuck at a drawbridge, and when the bridge is fully open, you see what it's been opened for: A dinky little boat with a 100-foot-high mast. That little thing has held everybody up? Where's a torpedo when you need one?

7. You know that pizza tastes better at the shore. So do french fries.

8. You wince at the mention of "the New York Giants" and "the New York Jets" -- even if you want them to win.

9. You've ever told a Ranger fan, "The Hudson River is that way. And when you get there, keep walking!"

10. You've emphasized the first syllable in "NUT-ley" or "PIS-cataway."

11. You've had to explain what "a Rutgers" is.

12. You've ever said, upon traveling to another State, "Whattaya mean, I gotta pump my own gas? What kinda crazy place is this? You pump my gas, or else what am I payin' ya for?"

13. You refer to the Statewide newspaper as just "The Ledger," not "The Star-Ledger."

14. You still call MVS "the DMV." Sometimes with a profane adjective thrown in.

15. You've had to explain that the Governor isn't that bad -- knowing that he (or, in the former case of Christine Todd Whitman, she) is.

16. You've never known about any real mobsters that were like Tony Soprano, because you know full well that a guy like that would get whacked before he turned 40.

17. You still lament that Bamberger's was taken over by Macy's.

18. You've called a cab because the bus is half an hour late, and you know the cab will still get there before the next bus is due -- and that's if the next bus is on time, which it won't be.

19. You never refer to a mall by its name. It's not Woodbridge Center, it's just "Woodbridge"; it's not Menlo Park Mall, it's just "Menlo"; it's not "Garden State Plaza," it's "Paramus," etc.

And finally...

20. No matter how much further you still have to go, you always feel better when you get back into the State, whether it's coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel, coming over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, or any of the Pennsylvania crossings.

Jason Collins, the Nets, and the Heat


Jason Collins played for the Brooklyn Nets last night, against the Los Angeles Lakers, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He previously played for the New Jersey edition of the Nets from 2001 to 2008.

It was hard enough for me to care about the Nets when they were representing my home State. But now that they've completely embraced their new identity in Brooklyn, to me, they are just another basketball team. And not a very good one.

How good was Collins last night? Well, he played 11 minutes, and he didn't score any points. He did, however, have an offensive rebound, a defensive rebound, and a steal. He had a plus-8 rating. That means that, while he was on the court, the Nets scored 8 points more than the Lakers did. And the Nets beat the Lakers, on the road, 108-102. That's 6 points, meaning the Nets were 2 points better with Collins than they were without him. (Deron Williams had the most impact, scoring 30 points.)

So, at least for 1 game, he helped.

This appearance made Collins, who came out in the off-season, while not currently signed to any team, the first openly gay athlete in major league sports in North America.

Presuming, of course, that you do not include MLS, Major League Soccer, as "major league." If you don't, well, that's a choice, and it is a repulsive lifestyle. But in the traditional "Big Four" North American sports, Collins is the first.

Robbie Rogers has played for the Los Angeles Galaxy since coming out. So far, the reaction to him has been positive. And it appears that, last night, the L.A. fans -- presumably, many of whom have cheered Rogers -- treated Collins no worse than they'd treat any other opposing player.

A few other athletes have come out after retirement. Collins, knowing that he could still have a shot at signing with a new team, but also that teams might shy away from signing him if they knew, chose to be honest, and let them know. The Nets decided that didn't matter, that it wasn't an indication of bad character, and that he might still be able to help them win, and they signed him.

In today's New York Daily News, Mike Lupica quotes NBA legend, now ESPN analyst, Charles Barkley making an interesting point:

“Everybody knows the Miami Heat need a big man to help them go up against the Indiana Pacers, who’ve got guys like Roy Hibbert and David West. If Jason can still play, how come the Miami Heat didn’t make a call? How come he didn’t end up with a contender instead of with the Nets?”

Interesting question. After all, there are cities in this country that are known for having a prominent gay community, and Miami is one of them.

Granted, for the moment, the Heat are good enough to not have to pander to any community within their metropolitan area by signing anyone like them. Not that there's too many 70-year-old Jews originally from New York, or Cuban exiles even older than that, who can still play basketball.

But if talent is the only thing that should matter, then why didn't the Heat go after Collins? Did they think he wasn't good enough?

It seems to me that, if Collins is as good as he was last night -- and no better, which would be understandable, given that he was never really a star, and that he's now 35, not exactly a young guy anymore -- he could still be "the last piece of the puzzle," the guy who can put a contending team over the top. And before you tell me the Heat have won the last 2 titles and the last 3 conference titles, every new season is a new story, and the Heat reaching the NBA Finals for a 4th straight season is by no means a given.

Right now, the Pacers lead the Heat by 1 game in the loss column for the top Playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. If the current standings hold, the Nets will have the 6th seed -- but they're only 3 games in the loss column behind the Toronto Raptors for the 3rd (and 1st place in the Atlantic Division), and 2 behind the Chicago Bulls for the 4th -- and getting either of those would mean home-court advantage in the 1st Round.

If the Heat end up losing a series because they won 3 home games but lost 4 on the road -- or, through any combination, getting to a Game 7 on the road and losing it -- while we'll never be able to prove it, it could be because they had a chance to sign Jason Collins and chose not to.

Which, unlike being gay, is a choice.

One day, people who are gay will not have to face the choice of announcing it, or keeping themselves in the closet because they're afraid of repercussions. One day, we will hear that someone is gay, and we'll say, "So what? It doesn't make a difference. It's his (or her) business, not ours."

Until then, anyone facing the choice that Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers have made -- not being gay, but revealing it -- will need more Collinses and Rogerses, to move people's hearts and minds forward. Such people will advance our society in the same way that Jackie Robinson did on race, to the point where the only thing that matters is, "Can he play?"

If a player is a good player and a good teammate, then I don't care if he's a purple Buddhist from Mars in a ménage-a-trois with a college kid and a teddy bear: His personal life doesn't matter and he can play on my team.

If a player is my exact duplicate... well, if we're talking exact, then he wouldn't have the talent to play anyway. Especially at my (our) age.

I have no stake in whether Jason Collins succeeds in the NBA from this day forward.

But I love a good story. And a team failing because it refused to sign the NBA's first openly gay player is as good a story as a team succeeding because they signed a player without caring that he was openly gay.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Stadiums Hosting Both Baseball and Football


Using the same stadium for baseball and football never works.

In the early days of pro football, most of the big stadiums in the big cities were the baseball parks. Most of the major State universities, with college football programs, were either in or around State capitals, which may or may not have also been the biggest cities in the State. So stadiums big enough to house NFL teams were not, generally, in big cities.

So early NFL teams were usually forced to play in 30,000-to-50,000-seat stadiums that were designed for baseball, and the sight lines didn't exactly work. Stadiums like Griffith in Washington, Shibe Park in Philadelphia, and Wrigley Field in Chicago often had to add 10,000-seat bleacher sections from left-field fence to 1st-base foul line (to keep a north-south alignment for sun purposes) to provide closer seating.

And in the 1960s and '70s, when the multipurpose stadiums went up, the sight lines became not so good for football, and atrocious for baseball, even with the movable field seating, as seen at places like Shea and the Vet.

Thankfully, people with the power to do something about it began to figure this out, and such situations are now, almost, all gone, emphasized this week with demolition beginning on the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Here's the entire list, with my thanks to Pro-Football-Reference.com. In each case, the baseball team playing there is listed first. In some cases, the stadiums were known by multiple names:

Anaheim, Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium): Angels and Rams, 1980-94.

Atlanta, Atlanta Stadium/Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium: Braves and Falcons, 1966-91.

Baltimore, Municipal Stadium: Orioles (minor-league edition) and Colts, 1947-50 and 1953. In 1953, it was converted into...

Baltimore, Memorial Stadium: Orioles and Colts 1954-83.

Boston, Braves Field: Braves and Bulldogs, 1929; Braves and Braves, 1932. In 1933, the NFL Braves became the Redskins.

Boston, Fenway Park: Red Sox and Redskins, 1933-36 (the Redskins then moved to Washington); Red Sox and Yanks (yes, "Boston Yanks"), 1944-48; Red Sox and Patriots, 1963-68.

Buffalo, Bison/Offermann Stadium: Bisons (minor-league) and Bisons (NFL), 1924-29.

Buffalo, War Memorial Stadium: Bisons (minor-league) and Bills (AAFC), 1946-40; Bisons (still minor-league) and Bills (AFL/NFL), 1960-72.

Chicago, Comiskey Park: White Sox and Cardinals, 1920-59.

Chicago, Wrigley Field: Cubs and Tigers, 1920; Cubs and Bears, 1921-70.

Cincinnati, Redland/Crosley Field: Reds and Reds, 1933-34.

Cincinnati, Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field: Reds and Bengals, 1970-99.

Cleveland, League Park: Indians and Indians, 1921.

Cleveland, Municipal Stadium: Indians and Rams, 1936-45; Indians and Browns, 1946-93.

Denver, Bears Stadium/Mile High Stadium: Bears (minor-league, later Zephyrs) and Broncos, 1948-92; Rockies and Broncos, 1993-94.

Detroit, Navin Field/Briggs Stadium/Tiger Stadium: Tigers and Heralds, 1920; Tigers and Tigers, 1921; Tigers and Panthers, 1925-26; Tigers and Lions, 1938-74.

Houston, Astrodome: Astros and Oilers, 1968-96.

Kansas City, Municipal Stadium: Athletics and Chiefs, 1963-67; Royals and Chiefs, 1969-71.

Los Angeles, Memorial Coliseum: Dodgers and Rams, 1958-61.

Miami, Joe Robbie Stadium/some other names in between/Sun Life Stadium: Marlins and Dolphins, 1993-2011.

Milwaukee, Athletic Park/Borchert Field: Brewers (minor-league) and Badgers, 1922-26.

Milwaukee, County Stadium: Braves and (occasionally) Packers, 1953-65; Brewers and (occasionally) Packers, 1970-94.

Minneapolis, Nicollet Park: Millers (minor-league) and Red Jackets, 1929-30. They also played some games at Lexington Park, home of the minor-league St. Paul Saints.

Minneapolis, Metropolitan Stadium (Bloomington): Twins and Vikings, 1961-81.

Minneapolis, Metrodome: Twins and Vikings, 1982-2009.

Montreal, Montreal Stadium/Delorimier Downs/Hector Racine Stadium: Royals (minor-league) and Alouettes, 1946-53.

Montreal, Olympic Stadium: Expos and Alouettes, 1976-86, and again 1996-97.

New York, Polo Grounds: Giants and Giants, 1921; Giants and Yanks, 1949; Giants and Giants (the version that lasted), 1925-55.

New York, Ebbets Field: Dodgers and Horsemen, 1926 (2 of Notre Dame's "Four Horsemen" played on it); Dodgers and Dodgers/Tigers, 1930-49.

New York, Yankee Stadium: Yankees and Yankees (an early AFL team that moved into the NFL), 1926-28; Yankees and Yankees (the 2nd AFL), 1936-37; Yankees and Yankees (the 3rd AFL), 1940-41; Yankees and Yankees (AAFC), 1946-49; Yankees and Yanks (Dan Topping was an owner of both teams), 1950-51; Yankees and Giants, 1956-73.

New York, Shea Stadium: Mets and Jets, 1964-83. The Yankees also used it in 1974 and '75, and the Giants also used it in '75, making that the only year in which 4 major league sports teams used the same facility.

Oakland, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum: Athletics and Raiders, 1968-81, and again since 1996.

Philadelphia, Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium: Athletics and Eagles, 1944-54; Phillies and Eagles, 1944-57. The Eagles then played at Franklin Field, before moving back in with the Phils at...

Philadelphia, Veterans Stadium: Phillies and Eagles, 1971-2003.

Pittsburgh, Forbes Field: Pirates and Steelers, 1933-63. The Steelers then played at Pitt Stadium, before rejoining the Buccos at...

Pittsburgh, Three Rivers Stadium: Pirates and Steelers, 1970-2000.

St. Louis, Sportsman's Park/the first Busch Stadium: Cardinals (and Browns) and All-Stars, 1923; Cardinals (and Browns) and Gunners, 1934; Cardinals and Cardinals, 1960-65.

St. Louis, the second Busch Stadium: Cardinals and Cardinals, 1966-87; Cardinals and Rams, 1995 (because what's now the Edward Jones Dome wasn't quite ready).

San Diego, San Diego Stadium/Jack Murphy Stadium/Qualcomm Stadium: Padres and Chargers, 1969-2003.

San Francisco, Candlestick Park/3Com Park: Giants and 49ers, 1971-99.

Seattle, Kingdome: Mariners and Seahawks, 1977-99.

Toronto, Exhibition Stadium: Blue Jays and Argonauts, 1977-89; SkyDome/Rogers Centre, since 1989.

Washington, American League Park/Griffith Stadium: Senators and Senators, 1921; Senators and Redskins, 1937-60.

Today, the last one left in America is the Oakland Coliseum, and A's management is trying hard to get out, but a move out of the Bay Area entirely now looks more likely than a new stadium there. The only other one in North America is the Rogers Centre in Toronto, and neither the Jays nor the Argos have any plans to seek a new home field.


Friday, February 21, 2014

How Long It's Been: America Won the Olympic Gold Medal in Hockey


The 2014 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Sponsored by Metamucil. Because they just didn't give a shit.

Yes, Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick probably prevented the Semifinal from being a 5-0 Canada victory. But now he knows how Cory Schneider of the Devils feels, not getting enough support from his offense.

In a previous post, I suggested that the Gold Medal we won in Lake Placid -- more specifically, the win over the Soviet Union to make the final-game win over Finland, and thus the Gold Medal, possible -- was not a "miracle," no matter how many times it gets called "the Miracle On Ice."

Regardless of whether you agree, look at what the U.S. team has done in subsequent Winter Olympics:

* 1984, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (Bosnia): Won 1, Lost 2, Tied 2. 7th out of 12.

* 1988, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Won 2, Lost 3. 8th out of 12.

* 1992, Albertville, France: Won 4, Tied 1, Lost 0, beating France in the Quarterfinals, losing in the Semifinals to "The Unified Team" (a last gasp for the Soviet Union, which broke up a few weeks earlier, but the team was kept together for logistical reasons, and it beat Canada for the Gold Medal). Lost the Bronze Medal to Czechoslovakia, this finishing 4th.

* 1994, Lillehammer, Norway: Won 1, Tied 3, Lost 1. Lost in the Quarterfinals to Finland. Ranked 8th out of 12.

* 1998, Nagano, Japan: Won 1, Lost 2. Lost in the Quarterfinals to the Czech Republic (after Slovakia split from them in 1993). These Games, the first in which current NHL players were allowed, were disastrous for the Canadian team, who flopped, but an uglier one for us, as our players were seriously misbehaving off the ice.

* 2002, Salt Lake City, Utah: Lost in the Gold Medal Game to Canada. We hung with them for 2 periods, but ran out of gas in the 3rd.

* 2006, Turin, Italy: Won 1, Lost 3, Tied 1. Lost to Finland in the Quarterfinals. 8th out of 12.

* 2010, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Again, lost to Canada in the Gold Medal Game, this time in overtime. Zach Parise -- then of the Devils -- tied it in the last minute of regulation, and it was very possible that we would do to Canada what they did to us 8 years earlier: Beat them on home soil, and what was a disappointment to us would have been a disgrace to them. But Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal.

* 2014, Sochi, Russia: Lost in the Semifinals to Canada, 1-0, and it never looked like we were going to score.

So the last Gold Medal for the U.S. hockey team remains the 4-2 win over Finland, in Lake Placid, on February 24, 1980.

As of this coming Monday, it will have been 34 years. How long has it been?

*

Coach Herb Brooks has died, but all 20 players are still alive. One, Bob Suter, is the father of current U.S. player Ryan Suter, who plays his club hockey with the Nashville Predators.

The Predators did not exist in 1980. Nor did the San Jose Sharks, the revived Ottawa Senators, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers, the Anaheim Ducks, the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Minnesota Wild. The Dallas Stars were still the Minnesota North Stars. The Atlanta Flames were about to sign U.S. goalie Jim Craig, and then, in the next off-season, they moved to Calgary. And the New Jersey Devils were still the Colorado Rockies -- a name that now belongs to a Major League Baseball team.

The NHL was still in its first season with the 4 surviving teams from the World Hockey Association. Of those, only 1 is still in the same metro area, the Edmonton Oilers. The Hartford Whalers have become the Carolina Hurricanes. The Quebec Nordiques have become the Colorado Avalanche. And the old Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes, and will change their name to the Arizona Coyotes in the coming off-season. (The Atlanta Thrashers have since begun play, and have also since become the new Winnipeg Jets.)

At that point, the Oilers, the Flames, the Rockies/Devils, the Nords/Avs (unless you count the 1977 WHA title), the Lightning, the Whalers/Canes (unless you count the 1973 WHA title), the Ducks, the New York Islanders, the Los Angeles Kings, the Houston Rockets, the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints, the Seattle Seahawks, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Kansas City Royals, the Minnesota Twins, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Braves since they moved to Atlanta, the Florida/Miami Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Giants since they moved to San Francisco, had never won a World Championship.
The Isles, the Oilers, the Flames, the Pens, the Devils, the Lightning, the Canes, the Ducks, the Kings, the Rockets, the Pistons, the Bulls, the Spurs, the Heat, the Mavs, the Seahawks, the Niners, the Pats, the Bucs, the Saints, the Orlando Magic, the Utah Jazz, the Indiana Pacers (unless you count their 3 ABA titles), the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets (unless you count the 1974 and '76 ABA titles), the Buffalo Bills (unless you count the 1964 and '65 AFL titles), the San Diego Chargers (unless you count the 1963 AFL title), the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise (unless you count the 1960 and '61 AFL titles), the Carolina Panthers, the Royals, the Braves since they moved to Atlanta, the Jays, the Marlins, the D-backs, the Angels, the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Diego Padres, the Houston Astros, the Colorado Rockies, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers, the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise, the Vancouver Canucks, the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals and the new Ottawa Senators had never reached their sports' finals.
And (aside from the previously-mentioned NHL teams), the Magic, the Mavs, the Heat, the Marlins, the Rockies, the D-backs, the Rays, the old Charlotte Hornets (now the New Orleans Pelicans), the new Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats), the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Toronto Raptors, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Carolina Panthers, the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans didn't even exist yet.

As of Super Bowl XLVIII, those facts are no longer true.
The NHL of 1980 was in transition between the Montreal Canadiens dynasty that had won the last 4 Stanley Cups, and 10 of the last 15, and the Islander dynasty that would win the next 4, led by Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and their Oiler teammates were just stepping onto the stage, but by no means were they ready yet. Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Dave Keon were wrapping up legendary careers. Bobby Orr should still have been in his prime, but his knees had forced him to retire a year earlier. His Bruins teammate Phil Esposito was then the biggest star on the New York Rangers. Canadiens Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey, Bobby Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers' 1974 and '75 Cup winners, Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gilbert Perrault of the Buffalo Sabres and Marcel Dionne of the Los Angeles Kings were the biggest players in the League.

In the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers were still playing down the coast in San Diego, the Kings in Kansas City, and the New Jersey Nets were playing on the Rutgers campus, as the Meadowlands arena was just beginning construction.  In the NFL, the Colts were still in Baltimore, the Cardinals were still in St. Louis, the Rams were still in Los Angeles, the Titans were still the Houston Oilers. In MLB, the Brewers were still in the AL, the Astros still in the National League, and the Washington Nationals were still the Montreal Expos.

The ideas of the NBA using international players, MLB using Asian natives, and the best players from Eastern Europe being allowed to leave for the NHL (unless they successfully defected, like the Stastny brothers of Slovakia and the Nordiques) were far-fetched.
Not one player on the current U.S. team, including current Ranger Captain Ryan Callahan, had yet been born.

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was born 5 months later; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, 7 months later. For the current Canada team, which will play Sweden on Sunday for the Gold Medal, Martin St. Louis, Roberto Luongo, Patrick Marleau and Chris Kunitz had been born, but current Islander Captain John Tavares had not. Devils legends Scott Stevens, John MacLean, Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver and Claude Lemieux were in high school. Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer were in elementary school. Patrik Elias was about to turn 4.

In addition to the Canadiens, the defending World Champions were the Yankees, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle SuperSonics -- who are now the Oklahoma City Thunder. Muhammad Ali had retired as Heavyweight Champion of the World, the WBC and the WBA were recognizing Larry Holmes as Champion, while the IBF didn't exist yet.

Since Lake Placid, the Olympic Games have been held twice each in America, Canada and Russia, and once each in the former Yugoslavia, Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Britain.

The President of the United States was Jimmy Carter, but he was being besieged by inflation and high gas prices at home, and the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and OPEC abroad. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and, to a lesser extent, Governor Jerry Brown of California were challenging him in the Democratic Primaries. Brown's predecessor, Ronald Reagan, would swamp Carter in the election that November, and Carter's achievements, which were interesting, soon became forgotten. George H.W. Bush was one of Reagan's competitors for the Republican nomination, and would be elected Vice President with him, and would succeed him 8 years later.

Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, their wives, and the widows of Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were still alive. Bill Clinton was about to be dumped out of the Governorship of Arkansas, although he would regain it 2 years later. George W. Bush had recently lost his 1st run for public office, for Congressman from Texas. Barack Obama was a freshman at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Michelle Robinson was about to graduate high school. Joe Biden was in his 2nd term in the U.S. Senate from Delaware, and John Boehner was working for Nucite Sales, apparently believing the line in the movie The Graduate about the future being "plastics."

The Governor of New York was Hugh Carey, and of New Jersey Brendan Byrne. The Mayor of New York City was Ed Koch, about to face a transit strike, and not only beat but embarrass the union.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Joe Clark, but his Progressive Conservative Party government was about to fall apart, leading to the return to power through election of the Liberal Party and former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

England's FA Cup would soon be won by West Ham United, of East London, on a goal by Trevor Brooking, defeating North Londoners Arsenal, who had won it the year before. The Hammers have not won a major trophy since. Liverpool would repeat as Football League Champions, and the previous season's Champions, Nottingham Forest, would repeat as winners of the European Cup, defeating German club Hamburger SV in the Final.

Major books of 1980 included Warren Adler's The War of the Roses, Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear, Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Ken Follett's The Key to Rebecca, L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth, P.D. James' Innocent Blood, Stephen King's Firestarter, Judith Krantz' Princess Daisy, Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, and Sidney Sheldon's Rage of Angels. All were made into major motion pictures or TV-movies.

Published that year, long after its author's suicide, was A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Numerous attempts have been made to film it. At various times, it has been set to star John Belushi, Harris "Divine" Milstead, John Candy and Chris Farley as lead character Ignatius J. Reilly. All died before the project could begin, and all before reaching their 44th birthday. (Say what you want about drugs, but these men were also quite fat, which is probably why they were considered, as much as for their acting ability.) Also considered, but still alive at this writing, have been John Goodman, Stephen Fry, Zach Galifianakis and (the closest thing to a thin guy thus far) Will Ferrell. Hurricane Katrina set the New Orleans-based project back as well. Steven Soderbergh, at one point scheduled to direct, remarked "I think it’s cursed. I’m not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it."

In the weeks surrounding the "Miracle On Ice," Paul McCartney was arrested in Japan for bringing marijuana into the country, and held for 11 days before being deported. Ron Wood of the Rooling Stones and his fiancée Joe Wood were similarly busted in the Caribbean for cocaine possession. Pink Floyd opened their tour to support The Wall. David and Angela Bowie got divorced. Bon Scott of AC/DC drank himself to death. The Pretenders, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, the Psychedelic Furs, Bryan Adams and Christopher Cross released their self-titled debut albums, Bob Seger released Against the Wind, and The Cure released Boys Don't Cry. The Clash had recently released London Calling.

New in theaters when the Miracle On Ice happened were American Gigolo, the original version of The Fog, Roman Polanski's X-rated version of Caligula, and Hero At Large, starring John Ritter as a struggling actor hired to play a superhero, standing in for the actor playing the hero in a recent film (within the film), who, through having his costume on underneath his street clothes, is able to use the shock of "Captain Avenger" appearing before would-be store robbers to foil the robbery, and becomes a real-life hero, and then lets his fame go to his head.

Wrapping up their first seasons -- U.S. television seasons ended in late March in those days -- were Hart to Hart, Benson, Trapper John, M.D., Knots Landing and The Facts of Life. J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) was about to get shot on Dallas, inventing the TV end-of-season cliffhanger.

There were desktop computers, but, as yet, no taptops. Mobile telephones existed, but they were as big as Army walkie-talkies. AIDS was around, but not yet discovered. "Chronic fatigue syndrome" was hardly known, and even more rarely were doctors, who hate to admit that they don't know something or can't cure something, willing to diagnose it. NASA was still trying and failing to get the first space shuttle off the ground.

In the late winter of 1980, Voyager 2 reached Saturn, providing the best pictures yet of the ringed planet, and discovering a few of its moons. Andrei Sakharov, the scientist who essentially built the first Soviet hydrogen bomb, and then turned anti-nuclear and human rights activist, was arrested by his own government. Israel and Egypt, following their Camp David Accords, established full diplomatic relations. Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated for speaking out against El Salvador's fascist government. A plane crash wiped out the U.S. boxing team -- not that they would have gone to the Olympics in Moscow that summer anyway, because Carter announced, in response to the invasion of Afghanistan, that the U.S. was boycotting the games.

In America, the ABSCAM investigation snared several members of the U.S. Congress, including the man who was then my Congressman, Frank Thompson, and one of my Senators, Harrison Williams; both would go to prison. Herman Tarnower, author of The Scarsdale Diet, would be shot and killed by his girlfriend, Jean Harris. Angelo Bruno, leader of the Philadelphia Mob, was rubbed out. His successor was Phil Testa, known as the Chicken Man because the front for his activities was a poultry business. A year later, he, too, would be rubbed out, as told in Bruce Springsteen's song "Atlantic City."

George Meany, and William O. Douglas, and Jimmy Durante died. So did David Janssen, star of The Fugitive, and the actor best known for playing The Lone Ranger's companion Tonto, Jay Silverheels. So did track legend Jesse Owens, and English soccer icon Dixie Dean. (Not to be confused with American baseball icon Dizzy Dean, who died in 1974.) Christina Ricci, and Chelsea Clinton, and John Ritter's actor son Jason Ritter were born. So were hockey star Simon Gagne, and football star Todd Heap, and figure skater Alexei Yagudin.

February 24, 1980. The American hockey team won the Olympic Gold Medal. They've come close since, but haven't done it again.

They will get another chance in February 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sports "Mount Rushmores"


Yesterday was the 3rd Monday in February, Presidents' Day.

Or, as it used to be known, "Washington's Birthday Observed."

When I was a kid, we got Abraham Lincoln's birthday, February 12 (1809), off from school, no matter what day of the week it was. If it fell on a Saturday or Sunday, we got the following Monday, the 13th or 14th, off. Then, we got the 3rd Monday off, even if it wasn't actually George Washington's birthday (February 22, 1732).

Jarrett Payton, a radio talk-show host and former NFL player, and son of the legendary Walter Payton, asked a question on the Facebook page dedicated to his father: "Who are your top 4 NFL players of all-time? Who would be on your Mt. Rushmore?"

This is a very good question, and, considering that the NFL is closing in on its Centennial (September 17, 2020), and considering the variance of the different positions that a football player can play, it requires a lot of serious thought.

Here's how I handle it: Not by determining who are the 4 greatest players in NFL history, but by looking at the roles of the 4 Presidents whose faces are on the original Mount Rushmore, near Rapid City, South Dakota, and determining which NFL figures match their, pardon the unintentional pun, profiles.

George Washington: First President. Father of Our Country. General who, as much as anyone else, liberated us. Statesman who, more than anyone else, united us. Set the precedents for all who follow.

There's only 1 person in NFL history who matches, and his name was also George, and he also had a "father" nickname: Papa Bear, George Halas. Co-founder of the NFL. Founder of the team that became the Chicago Bears. Quality player by the standards of his time. Coach who led them to 8 NFL Championships between 1921 and 1963. Owner of the team from 1920 to his death in 1983.

Even in 1977, when NFL Films released a documentary titled Their Deeds and Dogged Faith, footage was included of Halas at Bears' training camp in Lake Forest, Illinois. The announcer, John Facenda, said that seeing George Halas running Bears' training camp is like going to Mount Vernon, and seeing George Washington still in residence.

But if we're only including players, then we need to decide which one was enough of a pioneer. So that disqualifies Halas. But it doesn't leave him out of the discussion.

You see, in 1925, the NFL was in trouble. Professional football was popular in mid-size cities like Rochester, New York; Canton, Ohio; Muncie, Indiana; Rock Island, Illinois (part of the "Quad Cities" area with Moline and the Iowa cities of Davenport and Bettendorf); and Duluth, Minnesota. The only one of these that survived the Great Depression was Green Bay, Wisconsin.

But teams in the bigger cities had failed: Boston, Washington, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis. The only big cities whose teams were doing well as Calvin Coolidge started his one full term as President were Philadelphia and Chicago. (And even the Philadelphia team of the time, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, didn't survive the Depression. And one of the two Chicago teams, the Cardinals, would eventually have to move.)

Certainly, New York wasn't doing well: Already, a New York Giants and a New York Yankees had failed in the NFL. The 1925 season was the first one for the New York Giants team founded by Tim Mara, and attendance at the Polo Grounds was pathetic.

Enter Halas, who signed the greatest player in college football, and put him in a Bears uniform just 5 days after his last college game (that was legal at the time), on Thanksgiving Day against the Bears' arch-rivals, the Chicago Cardinals: Red Grange.

The Bears went east to face the Giants, and the Harlem Horseshoe was packed to the gills: It seated about 56,000, but it's said that 75,000 squeezed in to see the University of Illinois star known as "the Galloping Ghost." The gate receipts saved the NFL's New York franchise, and maybe the league as a whole. Twenty years later, when the days of early financial struggle, the Depression and World War II were over, the Giants were still standing, and still are today, winners of 8 NFL Championships including 4 Super Bowls.

And it's thanks to Papa Bear and the Galloping Ghost: They saved the game, and they united the game, just like Washington did for the country.

If there were an NFL Mount Rushmore, and you confined it to players, not coaches or executives, Red Grange would be on it.

Thomas Jefferson: Author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd President, the man behind the Louisiana Purchase which began westward expansion (the last being the real reason that sculptor Gutzon Borghlum put him on the mountain).

In 1937, by leading the Washington Redskins to the Championship with the passing game -- and he is still the only rookie to quarterback a team to the NFL title -- Sammy Baugh, for all intents and purposes, invented the glamor position of the NFL, the quarterback. This gave pro football its true independence from the college game, thus making him the league's equivalent to Jefferson.

Abraham Lincoln: The 16th President, the man who fought a Civil War to save the Union, the man who freed the slaves.

Admittedly, finding a man who had the equivalent impact in the NFL is a ludicrous maneuver. Lincoln is right up there with Washington when you're looking for the greatest man America has ever produced.

Sam Huff, linebacker for the Giants in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was the first man to make defense glamorous, thus giving all men who played the game an equal chance to get famous. This doesn't really make him equivalent to Abe Lincoln. On the other hand, if it wasn't for Sam, no one would have cared about Gino Marchetti, Big Daddy Lipscomb, Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene, Ronnie Lott, Lawrence Taylor, Ray Lewis or Richard Sherman. And Howie Long would not be sitting next to Terry Bradshaw on Fox NFL Sunday -- nor Deion Sanders next to Dan Marino on The NFL Today.

Theodore Roosevelt: The 26th President, who, in a lot of ways, moved both the office and the country into not just the 20th Century, but the modern world. Borghlum put him on the mountain because, although the only President (so far) born in New York City, TR (who didn't mind the initials but hated being called "Teddy") had spent a good deal of time in the West, and no President has done more to promote the image of the American West, due to his environmentalism and his championing, and expansion, of the National Park System.

Picking an NFL player analogue to him is a bit tougher. NFL stadiums aren't exactly National Parks, the NFL's foreign-based games aren't really Panama Canals, and football isn't exactly good for the environment.

I could say Vince Lombardi, because, like TR, he was a short, pugnacious New York native who refused to accept anything less than the best of himself, his line of work, and his country, and he helped move the game into the modern era.

But I'm looking for players, not coaches. Considering how he dragged the NFL into the modern era, in some ways against its will, it could be Joe Namath. Like TR, Broadway Joe is a New York icon. And, like TR, he was, and remains, more powerful as a symbol than he was as, as TR would say, "the man in the arena."

So, my Mount Rushmore of the NFL is Red Grange, Sammy Baugh, Sam Huff and Joe Namath.

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The Yankees have been defined by 4 players: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. As great as they were, as iconic as they have been, even such legends as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera can't match those 4. So that's the Yankees' "Mount Rushmore."

The Mets? Uh... Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza and... uh... David Wright? That doesn't even stand up to a 1969-to-present Yankee Mount Rushmore of Reggie, Donnie, Derek and Mo. And that's when you figure in that Mattingly never won a Pennant, because, so far, neither has Wright (who did, to be fair, come a round closer in 2006 than Mattingly came in 1995, easily the closest that either man came).

But a Mount Rushmore for the entire game? Who the "inventor of baseball" is has been debated for over a century, and it still isn't exactly settled. But Harry Wright, player and manager for the first professional team, the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, is the closest thing baseball has to a "George Washington."

It doesn't make sense to let a black man stand in for Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves; yet Jackie Robinson was black players' declaration of independence from both the color line and the Negro Leagues -- which, as long as they existed, were an excuse for the color line: "They have their own leagues, let them play there."

The closest thing we have to an "Abe Lincoln" is Curt Flood, who sacrificed his career, if not his life, to set the players free.

Theodore Roosevelt? Now, the chronology gets messed up, but who else but Babe Ruth? Aside from Wright, Robinson and Flood, is there any other man about whom it can be said, "After he did what he did, the game was never the same, and for the better"?

So, my Mount Rushmore of Baseball is Harry Wright, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood.

*

The NBA? The Boston Celtics could be said to have a Mount Rushmore: Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Larry Bird. No, Paul Pierce doesn't make it, any more than Franklin Roosevelt or Jack Kennedy or, God forbid, Ronald Reagan gets onto the original.

The Los Angeles Lakers could also have one, not including George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant have this in common: Neither one displaces one of those four.

For the whole league? Mikan is the George Washington, since he was the pro game's first superstar. Russell is the Thomas Jefferson, since, despite his dedication to Red Auerbach, he showed that players could have an independent streak. Michael Jordan is the Abe Lincoln, since he, more than any player before or since, embraced endorsement culture, and set players free from their mere multi-million-dollar contracts. And, again, the chronology gets out of whack, since there could be no one who more aptly fits TR's "speak softly and carry a big stick" mantra than Wilt Chamberlain.

*

The NHL? The Montreal Canadiens, despite being in Canada rather than America, have won: Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur. Patrick Roy doesn't make it. Nor, despite having the trophy for best goaltender of the year named in his memory, does Georges Vezina.

For the whole league? That's tough. The first NHL superstar was Phantom Joe Malone, the greatest player of the 1910s and early '20s, who won Stanley Cups with his hometown Quebec Bulldogs in 1912 and '13, had the best goals-per-game average ever when he scored 44 in the league's 20-game first season in 1917-18 (the same pace in today's 82 games would be 180 goals, nearly double Wayne Gretzky's record of 92), becoming the first and still only NHL player to score 7 goals in a game in 1920, and wrapping up his career by winning another Cup with the Canadiens in 1924, as a teammate of Morenz and Vezina. So he's the NHL's "George Washington."

Richard would be the Jefferson, since the Rocket was a revolutionary figure for both players at large and for French Canadians.

Hard to say who the Lincoln would be, although Gretzky's impact on the game was an "emancipation proclamation" for players (in that they could have some say in where they could go) and for the game itself (in that it emerged from a "civil war" between those who were holding it back and those who wanted to push it forward).

TR? Would it be Gordie Howe, thus messing up the chronology again? Would it have to be the greatest American player? If so, who is that? Jeremy Roenick? Brian Leetch? Mike Modano? Chris Chelios? No, let's make it Howe, who is still the greatest player ever, and who definitely spoke softly and carried a big stick. No hockey player ever more "crowded hours," to use another term TR loved. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jim Fregosi, 1942-2014; Tom Finney, 1922-2014

Remember "Laugh-In Weddings"? You know: "If Cyd Charisse married Julius Caesar, she'd be Sid Caesar."

Well, Sid Caesar died this week. And now, so has Jim Fregosi, who was the subject of another: "If Bella Abzug married Jim Fregosi, she'd be Bella Fregosi." (A play on "Bela Lugosi.")

*

James Louis Fregosi was born on April 4, 1942, in San Francisco. He attended Junipero Serra High School, Class of '59, in nearby San Mateo, named for the man who, essentially, was the founding father of California.

That same school has produced many other great sports personalities: John Robinson '54, legendary USC coach; Danny Frisella '64, a member of the '69 Mets; Tom Scott '69, a member of the Canadian Football League's Hall of Fame; Lynn Swann '70, who played for Robinson at USC and won 4 Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers; Bob Fitzgerald '84, Golden State Warriors broadcaster; and Gregg Jefferies '85, whose role with the Mets was nearly as dubious as Fregosi's. Also, Barry Bonds '82 and Tom Brady '95 -- the cheating bastards. From outside sports: John Shields '50, former CEO of Trader Joe's; Bill Keller '66, New York Times columnist; Michael Shrieve '68, drummer for Santana; Peter Barsocchini '70, creator of the High School Musical franchise; Michael Trucco '88, actor on the new Battlestar Galactica and Fairly Legal.

Fregosi was signed by the Boston Red Sox, but they left him unprotected in the 1961 expansion draft, and the Los Angeles Angels took him. (They became the California Angels in 1965, the Anaheim Angels in 1997, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2004.) He made his big-league debut on September 14, 1961, at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota. Batting 8th and playing shortstop, he went 0-for-3 against Jim Kaat and made an error, and the Minnesota Twins beat the Angels, 3-1.

Things got better, though. He came up to the big club for good in 1962, and was named to the American League All-Star Team in 1964, '66, '67, '68, '69 and '70. He wasn't a sensational hitter, but his OPS+ was at least 108 every year from 1962 to 1970, topping out at 127 in 1970, and in 1968 he led the AL with 13 triples. His fielding also improved, and he won a Gold Glove in 1967, not an easy thing to do with Luis Aparicio and Rico Petrocelli also in the AL. In 1971, an injury limited him to 107 games. Still, he was the greatest player in the first decade of the Angels' franchise, and to most observers he is still the team's all-time shortstop.

*

On December 10, 1971, the Mets sent pitchers Nolan Ryan and Don Rose, outfielder Leroy Stanton and catcher Frank Estrada to the Angels, for Fregosi.

Estrada played 1 game with the Mets in 1971, and never played again, for the Angels or any other team. Rose had also played just 1 game in the majors before the trade, washed out with the Angels in '72, and ended up pitching only 19 times. So giving them up was no loss for the Mets.

Giving Stanton up was another matter. He hit 47 home runs with 242 RBIs in 5 years with the Angels, and provided some veteran stability on the expansion 1977 Seattle Mariners. Not a great player, but the Mets sure could have used him.

As for Ryan: If you don't know what he did after leaving the Mets, you're either under the age of 25 and don't know your history, or you're reading the wrong blog. He turned from a pitcher with great speed but little control into the greatest strikeout artist in pitching history. He broke Walter Johnson's longstanding record for strikeouts in a career, broke Sandy Koufax' much more recent record for strikeouts in a season, and tied Steve Carlton's even more recent record for strikeouts in a 9-inning game (since surpassed by others). After leaving the Mets, Ryan had 295 wins, 5,221 strikeouts, and 7 no-hitters. He also reached the postseason 4 times before his career came to an end; the Mets, over that same period, 3. Think the Mets could have used Ryan, in his greatest season, in the 1973 World Series? Or, still throwing BBs at age 41, in the 1988 NLCS?

So giving up Stanton wasn't good, but giving up Ryan turned out to be a boneheaded move for the Mets. So they'd better have gotten something out of Fregosi, right?

Trading for Fregosi did make a little sense: Their shortstop, at the time, was Bud Harrelson: Good field, no hit. In the off-season of 1971-72, there was nothing wrong with wanting a healthy Jim Fregosi to play shortstop for your team.

But two things went wrong. One of them, the Mets could control, and handled badly: Instead of putting Fregosi at short, and keeping the decent if unspectacular Wayne Garrett at 3rd base, the Mets moved Fregosi to 3rd. (It's generally forgotten now, but 3rd base had been a point of embarrassment for the Mets at that point, and remained so until Howard Johnson came along in 1985.) Fregosi had become a good shortstop, but he was not a good 3rd baseman.

The other thing that went wrong, which they couldn't control, was that he got hurt. He broke his thumb that season, but played on, anyway. On May 19, he was batting .304, but went into a 4-for-44 slump that dropped him to .240. A 1-for-15 to end the season dropped him to .232.

On July 11 of the next year, the Texas Rangers made the Mets an offer, and they took it. Fregosi bounced back a little in 1974, like many of his teammates responding to manager Billy Martin, as the Rangers finished 2nd to the Reggie-Catfish Oakland A's. But it was a false comeback, and his injuries continued. The Rangers traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1977.

On June 1, 1978, when the Angels offered him their managing job, he asked the Pirates for his release, got it, and retired as a player.

Lifetime batting average, .265. On-base, .338. Slugging, .398. OPS, .736. OPS+, 113. Hits, 1,726. Home runs, 151, although he was never really a power hitter, topping out at 22 in 1970.

From age 21 to 28, he was an All-Star-caliber player. After that, he was just another injured player, and was done at age 36.

*

But it will be for his managing career that Fregosi is best remembered. In 1979, his first full season at the helm, with Don Baylor winning the MVP, big seasons at the bat also from Rod Carew, Brian Downing, Bobby Grich, Carney Lansford, Joe Rudi, Dan Ford and Willie Aikens; big pitching seasons from Ryan and Dave Frost, and a good righty-lefty bullpen combination of Mark Clear and Dave LaRoche, the Angels won 88 games and won the AL Western Division title, their first postseason appearance -- and did it in the only year between 1977 and 1981 that the Dodgers didn't at least reach a Game 163, thus momentarily taking the L.A. market away from the O'Malleys.

(Indeed, from 1977 to 1988, at least 1 of the L.A.-area teams got to at least a Game 163 every year except 1984 and 1987. It was also a good time for the Rams, the Raiders, the Lakers, and football at both USC and UCLA.)

There were a couple of oddities about that time. Frank Tanana, a workhorse who formed a good lefty-righty tandem with Ryan for a few years, was hurt and didn't do so well. And the Angels' most-used shortstop was Bert Campaneris (like Rudi, a star on those 1970s Oakland teams). He and backups Rance Mulliniks and Jim Anderson, between them, batted .229 and had only 4 homers and 46 RBIs. At age 37, not having played since the previous June, Fregosi might have been the best shortstop in the organization at the time!

The Halos were not expected to beat the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Championship Series, and didn't. But they could have: Game 1 went to extra innings, and lost Game 2, 9-8, before winning Game 3. They could have put the O's in a hole, but the O's won 102 games that year with just the kind of resilience they showed in the first 2 games. They won Game 4 in a blowout, and then nearly beat the Pirates in the World Series.

Injuries, and the loss of Ryan to free agency, hurt the Angels badly in 1980, and they went from first to worst. Fregosi was fired before the 1981 strike could be resolved. However, for his service to the franchise as both a player and a manager, his Number 11 was retired by team owner Gene Autry. The board of directors had retired 26 for Autry, as "the 26th Man," but Fregosi was the first actually-uniformed man to get his number retired by the Angels.

(Don't blame the Singing Cowboy for letting Ryan get away: Ryan wanted to be the majors' first $1 million a year player, and Autry was always willing to spend big money if he thought he could get big results. But Ryan also wanted to pitch in his hometown of Houston, and the Astros, at the time, had the money to spend. Autry couldn't offer Ryan home.)

Fregosi went on to manage the Triple-A Louisville Redbirds, winning regular-season American Association Pennants in 1983 and 1985, and winning the AA in the Playoffs in 1984 and 1985. That was all the Chicago White Sox needed to see to hire him, but his 3 seasons at Comiskey Park were undistinguished.

The Philadelphia Phillies gave him a chance in 1991, and for the first 2 seasons, not much happened. At that time, the Phils were regularly breaking the First Commandment of Team Sports: Thou shalt not allow thyselves to become boring.

In 1993, the Phillies had one of the least boring seasons in Philadelphia sports history. This was the year of "Macho Row," or, as broadcaster Harry Kalas called them, "This wacky, wonderful bunch of throwbacks." Lenny Dykstra. John Kruk. Darren Daulton. Curt Schilling. Danny Jackson. Larry Andersen. Mitch Williams. As Garth Brooks might say, they weren't big on social graces. But they won. In just 1 season, they went from 70-92 to 97-65. (To put that in perspective, the only Phillies team to have won a World Series to that point, the 1980 squad, won "only" 91. The 1964 team, so often cited as a great failure, won 92. So did the much-celebrated 1967 Red Sox and 1996 Yankees.)

They were a team of improbable come-from-behind victories. They dethroned the 3-time defending National League East champion Pirates, and even clinched the Division on their turf at Three Rivers Stadium, after also outlasting a pretty good Montreal Expos team. Then, in the NLCS, they stunned the heavily-favored Atlanta Braves (in their last year in the NL West), to take only the 5th Pennant in the Phils' 111-season history.

(Lest we forget, Mitch Williams was on the mound for that final out, leaping high into the air and pumping his fist. Say what you want about how the Wild Thing pitched in the World Series, but they wouldn't have won the Pennant without him.)
The Phils couldn't quite finish the story, as Joe Carter and the defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays smashed the glass slipper. Oddly, getting all the way to the World Series in their 1st year of contention might have been the worst thing that could have happened to the Phillies: If they had come close but not won the Pennant, they might have made the necessary moves to improve. Instead, they didn't do a good job of promoting young players, something that turned out to be necessary as injuries struck the ballclub. Fregosi, in particular, was accused of relying too much on veterans at the expense of younger players (a charge that would later be leveled against Joe Torre on the Yankees).

A lot of fans made angry calls to Philly's all-sports radio station 610 WIP. On May 21, 1994, Fregosi responded, and went a bit too far. According to the preeminent Philly sports blog, The 700 Level (named for the upper ring of the now-demolished Veterans Stadium):

Fregosi etched his name in Philly sports radio infamy when over heard making certain comments about WIP radio, which eventually made their way to well-known station personality Howard Eskin. The quote often varies in exact wording depending on the source, but reads something like:

“People who listen to WIP are a bunch of guys in South Philly that [fornicate with] their sisters and the people that work at WIP [fornicate with] their mothers.”

The comment, unsurprisingly, was deemed as offensive by many, and Fregosi had some answering to do for it. The manager did not deny that he made the comments, but sort of brushed them off as part of a “bull session” he was having pre-game, kidding around with a bunch of local reporters, and claimed that they had no bearing on his actual feelings about Phillies fans. “I sincerely appreciate our fans,” an impassioned and admittedly embarrassed Fregosi swore in a conference held on the matter.

Though it’s understandable why the comment drew the ire of many at the time, in today’s sports world of neutered press conferences and unremarkable quote-spewing, it can’t help but feel a little refreshing to think of a time when managers would offer vulgar, not-giving-a-rap off-the-cuff remarks like this. It’s probably the sort of thing that the great majority of notable Philly sportsmen have wanted to say about the shit-starting WIP at some point in their career, though it’s unlikely that many of them would have worded their thoughts quite so, uh, elegantly.

The Phillies let him go after the 1996 season, and he was hired by the San Francisco Giants' front office. His last managing job was with the Blue Jays in 1999 and 2000. The Phillies nearly hired him again in 2004, but hired Charlie Manuel instead -- and Manuel went one step further than Fregosi did, winning a World Championship.

Philly fans got over Fregosi's remark, and gave him a nice hand last year at the ceremony honoring the 20th Anniversary of the 1993 Pennant. He was also honored at the Angels' 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2011.

This week, he was on an MLB Alumni cruise in the Caribbean, when he suffered a stroke. Airlifted to Miami, he seemed to be stable, but took a turn for the worse, and died this morning. He was 71.

In Southern California, Jim Fregosi is the greatest Angel shortstop, and arguably the greatest Angel manager before Mike Scioscia.

In the New York Tri-State Area, he is a convenient symbol of the near-constant ineptitude of Met management.

In the Delaware Valley, he is the manager of Macho Row, the one Pennant won in Philadelphia in a quarter-century stretch.

Harry Kalas had it right about that team, and about Fregosi: He was a throwback. There aren't too many like him left in baseball, and I wish there were more.

*

But Fregosi was not the best athlete to die this week. It just came over the wire that Sir Tom Finney has died as well.

And if you're an American, you might never have heard of him.
Thomas Finney (no middle name) was born on April 5, 1922 in Preston, Lancashire, England, at his family's home, a few steps from Deepdale, the stadium of Preston North End Football Club. Soccer (or "football") had first been played on the ground known as Deepdale Farm in 1875, with the club being founded in 1878. No other site in the world has been used for the sport longer, continuously. By the time Sir Tom played there, the dates of the stands' openings were 1875, 1890, 1921 and 1934. Today, they're 1995, 1998, 2001 and 2008, so it's a modern stadium.

Tom's mother died when he was only 5 years old. He got good at soccer, and North End were interested in signing him. But his father insisted that, first, Tom complete his apprenticeship in the family plumbing business. Hence his nickname, the Preston Plumber.

He finished his apprenticeship, signed as a professional, and then had to go off to war. He fought under Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery as a tank driver in Egypt and Italy. He played for service teams, including a game against Egyptian actor-to-be Omar Sharif. He came home in 1945, and married Elsie Noblett. They had a son named Brian and a daughter named Barbara, and remained together 'til death did they part, in 2004.

Up until the George Eastham case in 1961, English football had not just an equivalent to baseball's reserve clause, but a maximum wage: £20 a week. As a plumber, he was making an additional £14 a week. And, since Preston weren't very good, they were often called "The Plumber and His 10 Drips." Another joke of English football in the 1950s: "Tom Finney should claim income tax relief, for his 10 dependents." And other was, "Tom Finney is a one-club man, and Preston are a one-man club." I wonder if anybody said, "The other players need to get the lead out for the plumber." (The Latin name for lead is plumbum, hence "plumber" and its atomic symbol, Pb.)

The 5-foot-8 winger, usually wearing Number 7, saw his League debut and his England debut both come early in the 1946-47 season. He said his goal on his England debut, in a 7-2 defeat of Northern Ireland in Belfast, was "my proudest day as a footballer." He would play for England in the 1950, 1954 and 1958 World Cups. But his 2 most notable England games were ignominious defeats: To America in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and to Hungary's Mighty Magyars in Budapest in 1954, 7-1. (He was not selected for the 1953 match against them, when Hungary won 6-3 to become the 1st non-British team to beat England on home soil.) Still, he won 76 caps for England, scoring 30 goals.

But Finney's legend grew, and in 1952, Palermo offered Preston £10,000 to bring him to Sicily. The club turned him down. It was probably for the best: Except for John Charles, British players have tended to spectacularly fail in Italy: Joe Baker, Ian Rush and Paul Gascoigne being the most notorious examples.

In 1953, Arsenal just barely edged Preston for the League title. In 1954, Preston reached the FA Cup Final, and Tom played despite not being fully fit. They lost 3-2 to Birmingham-area club West Bromwich Albion. (Preston haven't won the Cup since 1938.) Nevertheless, he was awarded the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year. 

In 1956, Preston visited Chelsea, and it poured before kickoff. At one point in the game, Finney beat 2 defenders, and won the ball, raising up a lot of water as he did. A photograph was taken, and named "The Splash." It is one of the iconic images of the game in that period.
"The match would not have been played today," he later said, "because there were huge pools of water on the playing surface. I was going past a defender and the ball ran in to a pool of water. It was a fantastic photograph and it won the Sports Photograph of the Year award."

He was awarded the FWA Footballer of the Year again in 1957, the 1st 2-time winner. Preston finished 3rd that year, and a close 2nd again in 1958. But they never won a trophy as long as Tom Finney was with them.

A persistent groin injury led him to retire in 1960, after 433 League appearances and 187 goals -- all for just 1 club. He was knighted in 1998. In 2004, a sculpture of The Splash, complete with a fountain -- perhaps fitting, giving his plumbing background -- was erected outside Deepdale. By that point, he was the club's honorary president. A new stand at Deepdale, and the street outside it -- Sir Tom Finney Way -- were named for him.
In front of his Splash statue

Tom died this morning at the age of 91. He had long outlived Bill Shankly, who had played on Preston's 1938 Cup winners and also had a new stand at Deepdale named for him, and later managed Liverpool to glory. Shankly had called him "the greatest player ever to play the game." Bobby Charlton of Manchester United, an England teammate at the 1958 World Cup, said, "His contributions to football are immeasurable."
In front of his stand at Deepdale

He didn't play for his club during its greatest era. He just gave it its greatest player, and its greatest personality. Sir Tom Finney was plumb great.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    Send Derek Home In Style


    So this is it. The 20th and last season for Derek Jeter:

    The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward. So really it was months ago when I realized that this season would likely be my last.

    As I came to this conclusion and shared it with my friends and family, they all told me to hold off saying anything until I was absolutely 100 percent sure. And the thing is, I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart.

    I vividly dreamed of playing shortstop for the Yankees. I never had to wake up. I have been living my dream every single day.

    I've experienced so many defining moments in my career: winning the World Series as a rookie shortstop, being named the Yankees captain, closing the old and opening the new Yankee Stadium. Through it all, I've never stopped chasing the next one. I want to finally stop the chase and take in the world.

    For the last 20 years I've been completely focused on two goals: Playing my best, and helping the Yankees win. That means that, for 365 days a year, my every thought and action were geared toward that goal. It's now time for something new.

    I have achieved almost every personal and professional goal I have set. I have gotten the very most out of my life playing baseball, and I have absolutely no regrets. Now it is time for the next chapter. I have new dreams and aspirations, and I want new challenges.

    There are many things that I want to do in business and philanthropic work, in addition to focusing more on my personal life and starting a family of my own. And I want the ability to move at my own pace, see the world and finally have a summer vacation.

    I want to soak in every moment of every day this year, so I can remember it for the rest of my life. And, most importantly, I want to help the Yankees reach our goal of winning another championship.

    *

    As if the Yankees needed another reason to do a hell of a lot better than last year.

    As things currently stand, Jeter's last home game will be on Thursday, September 25, against the Baltimore Orioles.

    His last game, period, on Sunday, September 28, against The Scum at Scumway Park.

    Meaning that the Yankees absolutely MUST have a Playoff berth already clinched on the 25th or earlier.

    Look, I don't care if they win it for Jeter, or who they win it for.

    As long as they win it.

    And you just know Derek feels the same. It's not about him, it's about the team.

    *

    Hours until the first U.S. hockey game of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: 13, vs. Slovakia, at 7:30 our time tomorrow morning. Also at 7:30 AM, we play Russia on Saturday and Slovenia on Sunday. Great, give our geography-challenged country both Slovakia and Slovenia in our group. Also, you know the Russkies have been waiting for Saturday's game, a chance to have our hockey team on their home ice since, oh, the evening of February 22, 1980.

    Days until Arsenal play again: 4, Sunday afternoon (11:00 AM our time), home to Liverpool in the 5th Round of the FA Cup. Today, with a golden opportunity to finally teach Manchester United a lesson, Arsenal never got anything going, and only got a 0-0 draw. The loss to injuries of Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey has really hurt them lately. Still, Arsenal are only 1 point behind Premier League-leading Chelsea with just 12 League matches to play, which is a vast improvement over their usual form since the 2003-04 "Invincibles" season.
    Days until the Devils play again: 15, on Thursday night, February 27, home to the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is after the Olympic break ends. In 2 weeks.

    Days until the Devils next play a local rival: 17, on Saturday afternoon, March 1, away to the New York Islanders. We play away to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, March 11; home to the Rangers on Saturday night, March 22; away to the Islanders a week after that; and home to the Islanders on Friday night, April 11.

    Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 21, on Wednesday, March 5, a "friendly" (exhibition game) vs. the Ukraine in Kharkiv. Just 3 weeks. I suspect that there will be another tuneup match or two between the end of the European club season in May and the start of the World Cup in June.

    Days until the Red Bulls play again: 24, on Saturday, March 8, 7:30 PM, away to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

    Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 32, a Premier League match, on Sunday, March 16, at White Hart Lane. Just over a month.

    Days until the Yankees play again: 48, on Tuesday, April 1, at 7:10 PM, away to the Houston Astros.  Just 7 weeks.

    Days until the Yankees' home opener: 54, on Monday, April 7, at 1:00 PM (well, 1:07 or so), vs. the Baltimore Orioles.

    Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 57, on Thursday, April 10, at 7:00 PM (well, 7:07 or so), at Yankee Stadium II.

    Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 59, on Saturday, April 12, 2:30 PM, vs. D.C. United, at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.
    Days until Arsenal could win the Premier League title, presuming it goes to the final game of the season: 88, on Sunday, May 11, with a 10:00 AM (our time) start, away to Norwich City, of East Anglia.

    Days until the FA Cup Final, for which Arsenal is still eligible, at the new Wembley Stadium in London: 94, on Saturday, May 17.

    Days until the UEFA Champions League Final, for which Arsenal is still eligible, at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, Portugal: 101, on Saturday, May 24.

    Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 120, on Thursday, June 12. Exactly 4 months.

    Days until Rutgers plays football again: 198, on Saturday, August 30, away to Washington State, at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL Champion Seattle Seahawks. 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, therefore 212 days.

    Days until Rutgers makes its Big Ten Conference debut: 213 days, on Saturday, September 13, time to be determined, against old enemy Penn State.

    Days until Derek Jeter's last regular-season game (barring injury): 228, on Sunday, September 28, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

    Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 288, on Thursday morning, November 27, 10:00 AM. Under 10 months.

    Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 905, on Friday, August 5, 2016. Just 2 1/2 years.

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Longest-Serving Active MLB Broadcasters


    With the death of Ralph Kiner last week, and of Jerry Coleman last month, I was wondering just how many "old-time broadcasters" are left.

    Certainly, Vin Scully is still with the Dodgers, the last link to their Brooklyn days (that most of us know of, anyway).

    The following list shows only how long the broadcaster in question has been with his current team. I list the longest-serving current one with each of the 30 current MLB teams, plus anyone else who has been with them for at least 20 years. (For Arizona and Tampa Bay, of course, that last stat won't be possible until Opening Day 2017; for Washington, not until Opening Day 2024.)

    Studio analysts don't count, only guys actually in the booth calling the game.

    57th, Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1958 (That's the team's entire L.A. history. He arrived with the Dodgers in Brooklyn in 1950, so if he makes it to Opening Day this year, and he seems to be in good health at age 86, it will be 65 seasonss. Even Connie Mack and Phil Rizzuto weren't on a single team's payroll for that long. A recipient of the Ford Frick Award, the broadcasters' equivalent of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

    57th, Jamie Jarrin, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1958 After moving to the U.S. from Ecuador in 1955, he had never seen a baseball game. But he has broadcast every game the franchise has played as a Los Angeles team, all in Spanish, and has received the Frick Award from the Hall of Fame. He has been joined by Dodger legend Fernando Valenzuela.)

    46th, Denny Matthews, Kansas City Royals, 1969 (That's the franchise's entire history, although he now has a reduced workload. Frick Award.)

    44th, Bob Uecker, Milwaukee Brewers, 1971 (One season short of the franchise's entire history. Despite all the jokes, including his own, about his ineptitude as a player, he was the first Wisconsin native to play for the Milwaukee Braves. Frick Award.)

    43rd, Mike Shannon, St. Louis Cardinals, 1972 (Also played for them. John Rooney, although a relative newcomer to St. Louis, has been broadcasting for nearly 30 years.)

    41st, Marty Brennaman, Cincinnati Reds, 1974 (Good timing, as they won the World Series in 1975 and '76. Frick Award. His son Thom is also a broadcaster, and has worked with the Reds since 2007.)

    36th, Eric Nadel, Texas Rangers, 1979 (He received this year's Frick Award.)

    35th, Tom Grieve, Texas Rangers, 1980 (also played for them)

    35th, Ted Leitner, San Diego Padres, 1980 (Taking over for Jerry Coleman in Coleman's ill-advised year as manager, stayed on with him. Dick Enberg's long broadcasting career brought him to the Padres' booth in 2010, although his best-known baseball work was for the then-California Angels in the 1960s and '70s.)

    34th, Jerry Howarth, Toronto Blue Jays, 1981 (Buck Martinez, who also played for and managed them, broadcast for them from 1987 to 1999, and returned to their booth in 2010, so this will be his 18th season in their booth.)

    32nd, Ken Harrelson, Chicago White Sox, 1982 (missing one season as team GM; played for several teams, but not the White Sox)

    32nd, Steve Blass, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1983 (Also pitched for them. Lanny Frattare retired in 2008, after 33 seasons.)

    32nd, Joe Castiglione, Boston Red Sox, 1983

    32nd, Dick Bremer, Minnesota Twins, 1983

    32nd, Rick Rizzs, Seattle Mariners, 1983

    30th, Milo Hamilton, Houston Astros, 1985 (Though with a reduced workload, this will be his 54th year in an MLB booth, which included calling Henry Aaron's 715th home run for the Braves in 1974. Frick Award.)

    30th, Duane Kuiper, San Francisco Giants, 1985 (Also played for them. Jon Miller has been broadcasting MLB games since 1974, entering his 41st season, but continuously with the Giants only since 1997, his 18th. He's won the Frick Award, Kuiper hasn't.)

    28th, Bill Brown, Houston Astros, 1987

    26th, John Sterling, New York Yankees, 1989 (Previously did games for the Braves; also in New York, for the Nets, Islanders, WHA's New York Raiders & WFL's New York Stars, and hosted a sports-talk show on WMCA as far back as 1971. His career is high, and it is far. Though some people wish he was gone.)

    26th, Gary Cohen, New York Mets, 1989 (A Queens native and a Met fan from Day One.)

    25th, Tom Hamilton and Rick Manning, Cleveland Indians, 1990 (Manning played for them.)

    24th, Ed Farmer, Chicago White Sox, 1991 (Also played for them.)

    23rd, Michael Kay, New York Yankees, 1992 (Previously worked with Sterling on Nets broadcasts.)

    22nd, Mike Krukow, San Francisco Giants, 1993 (Also played for them.)

    22nd, Fred Manfra, Baltimore Orioles, 1993 (Joe Angel started with them in 1988, left in 1993, and returned in 2004.)

    22nd, Jim Price, Detroit Tigers, 1993

    22nd, Felo Ramirez, Miami Marlins, 1993 (Now 90 years old, the Cuban émigré he was doing Spanish broadcasts on radio well before the team then named the Florida Marlins arrived. In addition, Dave Van Horne has broadcast for the Marlins since 2001, and previously did so for the Montreal Expos, 1969 to 2000, their entire history to that point, so that's 46 seasons in total. Both Ramirez and Van Horne have received the Frick Award.)

    21st, Greg Brown, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1994

    19th, Ken Korach, Oakland Athletics, 1996

    19th, Pat Hughes, Chicago Cubs, 1996 (The deaths of Harry Caray and Ron Santo, and the move of Steve Stone across town to the White Sox, have seriously dented the Cub announcers' institutional memory.)

    17th, Larry Andersen, Philadelphia Phillies, 1998 (Took over as the Phils' player-turned-broadcaster after the death of Hall-of-Famer Richie Ashburn. With the deaths of Ashburn, Harry Kalas and Andy Musser, and the recent firing of Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews, the Phils' broadcasting seniority has gone way down in recent years. Incredibly, Bill Campbell, who broadcast for them from 1963 to 1970, is not only still alive, but still doing a radio show.)

    17th, Dewayne Staats and Todd Kalas, Tampa Bay Rays, 1998 (The franchise's entire history; Staats, owner of the best name in the history of baseball broadcasting, previously did Yankee games 1990-94; Kalas is the son of legendary Phillies voice Harry.)

    17th, Greg Schulte, Arizona Diamondbacks, 1998 (the franchise's entire history)

    13th, Terry Smith, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 2002

    13th, Jack Corrigan and Drew Goodman, Colorado Rockies, 2002

    10th, Chip Caray, Atlanta Braves, 2005 (The Braves' longest-serving continuous announcer, son of former Braves announcer Skip and grandson of St. Louis/Chicago legend Harry, has only been there since 2005 because of a major shakeup in 2007. Chip previously broadcast for the Cubs, as did his grandfather before him. Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, who hasn't broadcast for any of the teams for whom he played, broadcast for the Braves from 1989 to 2006, went to the Nationals for 2 years, and returned, so this will be his 24th season with them. Although a native of Alabama, he was already in the minor leagues when the Braves moved to Atlanta, so he wasn't able to grow up  a fan of theirs.)

    10th, Charlie Slowes, Washington Nationals, 2005 (Previously with the Rays for their entire history to that point, 1998-2004.)

    So that's 10 Frick Award winners currently broadcasting: Scully, Jarrin, Matthews, Uecker, Brennaman, Nadel, Hamilton, Ramirez, Van Horne and Miller.

    Saturday, February 8, 2014

    Times Countries Have Hosted the Olympics

     

    America, 8: Summer, 1904 in St. Louis, 1932 and 1984 in Los Angeles, 1996 in Atlanta; Winter, 1932 and 1980 in Lake Placid, New York; 1960 in Squaw Valley, California; and 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Denver was supposed to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, but backed out due to cost overruns.

    France, 5: Summer, Paris in 1900 and 1924; Winter, Chamonix in 1924, Grenoble in 1968, Albertville in 1992.

    Japan, 4: Summer, Tokyo in 1964, and scheduled to host again in 2020; Winter, Sapporo in 1972, Nagano in 1998. Tokyo was supposed to host in 1940, but those games were canceled due to World War II. It's just as well, since Japan was one of the aggressors in that war.

    Britain, 3: Summer, London in 1908, 1948 and 2012. London was supposed to host in 1944, but those games were pushed back to 1948 due to World War II.

    Canada, 3: Summer, Montreal in 1976; Winter, Calgary in 1988, Vancouver in 2010.

    Italy, 3: Summer, Rome in 1960; Winter, Cortina d'Ampezzo in 1956, Turin in 2006.

    Germany, 3: Summer, Berlin in 1936, Munich in 1972; Winter, Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936. Berlin was supposed to host in 1916, but those games were canceled due to World War I. It's just as well, since Germany was the main aggressor in that war.

    Russia, 2: Summer, Moscow in 1980; Winter, Sochi in 2014. As Bob Costas pointed out last night, because of the 1980 boycott, this is the first Olympics in Russia in which America has participated. And we got a nice hand from the Russian crowd. I wonder what Putin thought of that.

    Greece, 2: Summer, Athens in 1896 and 2004. There was a 1906 Olympics in Athens that sometimes gets counted, because it gets credit for restoring the "Olympic Movement" after the travesties of 1900 and 1904, but the IOC does not officially count it.

    Australia, 2: Summer, Melbourne in 1956, Sydney in 2000.

    Norway, 2: Winter, Oslo in 1952, Lillehammer in 1994.

    Austria, 2: Winter, Innsbruck in 1964 and 1976.

    Switzerland, 2: Winter, St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948.

    Korea, 2: Summer, Seoul in 1988; Winter, Pyeongchang is scheduled to host in 2018.

    China, 1: Summer, Beijing in 2008.

    Spain, 1: Summer, Barcelona in 1992.

    Yugoslavia, 1: Winter, Sarajevo in 1984 (now in Bosnia).

    Mexico, 1: Summer, Mexico City in 1968.

    Finland, 1: Summer, Helsinki in 1952. Oddly, despite Finland's reputation as a cold-weather nation, it has never hosted the Winter Olympics.

    Netherlands, 1: Summer, Amsterdam in 1928.

    Belgium, 1: Summer, Antwerp in 1920.

    Sweden, 1: Summer, Stockholm in 1912. Due to Australia's animal quarantine laws, Stockholm also hosted the equestrian events in 1956.

    Brazil, 1: Scheduled to host the Summer Olympics in 2016.

    *

    Europe 30
    North America 12
    Asia 8
    South America 1 (in 2016)
    Africa, so far, never

    *

    In an English-speaking country: 16
    German: 7 (both Swiss Olympics were held in the German part of the country)
    French: 5 (6, if you count Quebec)
    Spanish: 2
    Dutch: 2 (Antwerp is on the Dutch side of Belgium)

    *

    Nations that, at the time, were...

    Democracies: 45 (presuming Brazil stays democratic through 2016, South Korea does so through 2018, and Japan does through 2020)

    Dictatorships: 8: Germany, both of 1936's Games; Mexico, 1968, they had elections but who was kidding who; Russia, 1980 and 2014, I mean Russia has elections, but who's kidding who; Yugoslavia 1984, China 2008

    Friday, February 7, 2014

    Ralph Kiner, 1922-2014


    Quick trivia question: Who is the all-time home run leader among living players born in the State of New Mexico?

    If you said Ralph Kiner, you would have been right, up until today. He hit 369 home runs. Next is Vern Stephens, who hit 247. Next is the still-living, still-active Cody Ross, who currently has 130. Next is Billy McMillon, with 16.

    There is a lot to be said in favor of New Mexico, but producing baseball talent is not part of it. Even the best player ever to come from there, by far, grew up elsewhere.

    *

    Ralph McPherran Kiner was born on October 27, 1922, in Santa Rita, New Mexico. He was 4 years old when his father died, and his mother moved him to the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra, California, and he grew up there.

    As his contemporary Duke Snider pointed out, the Southern California weather enabled kids to play baseball all year long, which led to the Pacific Coast League (including the less-weather-friendly Oregon and Washington State) producing a seemingly endless stream of baseball talent, which continues to this day. It's why the College World Series is dominated by the Sun Belt: California teams, Arizona teams, Texas teams, Louisiana State, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Florida teams.

    Ralph was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, played in the low minors in 1941 and '42, and in 1943 was a member of the first sports team to be named the Toronto Maple Leafs, then the Pirates' top farm team. But World War II was raging, and his country called.

    When he came back from serving as a pilot in the U.S. Navy, he was 23 years old and ready to make the big club. On April 16, 1946, he made his major league debut for the Pirates, against the St. Louis Cardinals at Sportsman's Park. Batting 3rd and playing center field, he had a single and a walk in 5 trips to the plate. The Pirates won, 6-4, a bump in the road for the Cardinals, as they went on to win their 4th Pennant and 3rd World Series in a 5-year stretch. He hit his 1st major league home run 2 days later, on April 18, in the top of the 8th off the Cardinals' Howie Pollet. But the Cards won that game, 6-2, as Stan Musial also homered.

    After that, he was mainly a left fielder. He wore Number 43 in his rookie season, the last year in which the Pirates wore red, white & blue uniforms. In 1947, he was given Number 4, and the Pirates wore blue & white. In 1948, they switched to black & gold, the same colors as the football team that had been named for them but was now called the Steelers, and they have worn those colors ever since.

    That first season, 1946, he led the National League by hitting 23 home runs, a pretty good total for a man whose home games were in Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. "The Old Lady of Schenley Park," home to the Buccos from 1909 to 1970, had dimensions very close to those of the pre-renovation, 1923-73 version of Yankee Stadium: Close in the right-field corner, but pretty distant everywhere else. Left field was 360 feet away, its furthest point was 462 to left-center, and straightaway center was 442. Terrible for a righthanded hitter, which Ralph was.

    But in '46, Ralph was just getting warmed up. In 1947, the Pirates brought in Hank Greenberg, the great slugger of the Detroit Tigers, making him baseball's first $100,000 a year player. (That's about $1.05 million in today's money, meaning, compared to today's players, even the highest-paid player in the game's history to that point was underpaid.) To help him out, the Pirates put an inner fence in left field, in front of Forbes' familiar scoreboard, reducing the left-field pole from 360 to 335. The area between the fences was called Greenberg Gardens. After playing in '47, Greenberg retired, and the area was renamed Kiner's Korner. The inner fence was removed after he was traded.

    Kiner always credited Greenberg with making him a better hitter, and the results speak for themselves: 23, 51, 40, 54, 47, 42, 37, 35. Those were his seasonal home run totals from 1946 to 1953, making him easily the best slugger in the National League in the Truman Administration. Those 54 homers in 1949 were the most by a National Leaguer between Hack Wilson's 56 in 1930 and Mark McGwire's 70* in 1998. It's a total that was never reached by Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson or Mike Schmidt -- and only once by Mickey Mantle. Indeed, from 1938, when Greenberg hit 58, until 1997, when steroids allowed McGwire and others to rewrite the record book, the only player who hit more than that in a season was Roger Maris, his "61 in '61" breaking Babe Ruth's 1927 record of 60.

    As Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn said, "Ralph Kiner could wipe out your lead with one swing."

    The Pirates' broadcasters at the time were Bob Prince, a.k.a. "The Gunner," and Albert "Rosey" Rowswell, the man who nicknamed the Pirates "the Buccos." These men were homers to the extent that they made Yankee mikemen Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto and John Sterling sound objective by comparison. Rosey, who grew up outside Pittsburgh, claimed not to have missed a Pirates home game since 1909, the year Forbes Field opened and Honus Wagner led them to win the World Series for the first time.

    Rosey had a trick: When a Pirate hitter, more often Kiner than anyone else, would hit a ball that looked like it would be a home run, he imagined an old lady whose house faced Forbes Field, and he would yell, "Open the window, Aunt Minnie, here it comes!" Then Prince, or whoever was handy at the moment, would drop a box full of items to make it sound like glass was breaking, and say, "Too late!" (I've also heard that Rosey would smash a light bulb there in the broadcast booth, but that sounds a little too dangerous.)

    On Opening Day of the 1948 season, the year after Kiner hit 51 to set a club record (which he would break in '49), entertainer Bing Crosby, a minority owner of the Pirates, was in the booth with Rosey, but he kept talking through a Kiner swing, and Rosey had to interrupt him: "Open the window, Aunt Minnie!... There it goes, clean clear over the scoreboard! Home run for Ralph Kiner, his first of the 1948 season! Let's hope it's the first of 61!"

    Rosey died on the eve of the 1955 season, by which point his Aunt Minnie routine could be seen as just an act, because television was beginning to take over, and fans watching at home could see that there was nothing but parkland for a few blocks beyond the left and center field fence, until the Carnegie Museum, which can be seen behind that scoreboard in the famous photo of Bill Mazeroski's home run that won the 1960 World Series.

    In spite of Ralph's home run heroics, the Pirates were a bad team. In 1952, they lost 112 games, the most of any NL team between the 115 of the 1935 Boston Braves and the 120 of the 1962 Mets. In The Road to Bali, one of the "Road Pictures" he made with his pal Bob Hope (himself a minority owner of the Cleveland Indians at the time), Dorothy Lamour asked Bing, "Do you still have pirates in America?" And Der Bingle said, "Yes, but they're in the basement."

    And on June 4, 1953, Branch Rickey, the man who built championship teams in St. Louis and Brooklyn, and was now the general manager in Pittsburgh, but about whom it was said he had money and players and didn't like to see them meet, traded Ralph to the Chicago Cubs, along with fellow future broadcaster Joe Garagiola, George "Catfish" Metkovich, and, ironically, the man who had given up Ralph's first homer, Howie Pollet; for 6 players (the only one who might be familiar to a New York fan was the former Brooklyn outfielder Gene Hermanski, by then washed up) and $150,000. Rickey wanted Hermanski to take over in left field, but he really wanted the money, and Cubs owner Phil Wrigley, he of the chewing-gum fortune, was one of the few among the 16 team owner who was willing to spend it (not that it did him much good after 1945).

    Ralph didn't want to go. He liked Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh fans loved him. But he made $90,000 in 1952 -- the highest in the game at that point, as Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio, the 2nd $100,000 man, had retired; and Ted Williams, the 3rd, only got about $25,000 of his scheduled $125,000 that year before the Marines called him to Korea. Ralph's 1952 $90,000 works out to about $800,000 today. Looking to not have to pay him a similarly huge sum, or more, in the future, Rickey told him, keeping in mind that 8th place was last in the League at the time, "We finished 8th with you, and we can finish 8th without you."

    Of course, putting a power hitter in Chicago's Wrigley Field, with its close power alleys and its wind frequently blowing out, should have helped Ralph a lot. It did, at first. And, like Greenberg did for him, he was able to help out a young player just coming up: Ernie Banks, who would go on to become one of the best sluggers in baseball in the late 1950s and all through the 1960s.

    But a back injury made it hard for him to swing. After the 1954 season, the Cubs sent Ralph to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Sam Jones. A rare good move for the Cubs, as Jones, that next season, became the first black pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the major leagues.

    But the Indians' GM at this point was his mentor, Greenberg, and he thought Ralph could help the Tribe, who had won the American League Pennant, but were under no illusions about the Yankees trying to reclaim it (which they did). Ralph wore Number 9 for the Indians, but his back injury limited him to 390 plate appearances. That, and the distant fences at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, limited him to a .243 average, 18 homers and 54 RBIs. In other words, when he could play at all, he could still hit the ball a long way. But, like Greenberg, a bad back led him to call it a career early. He was just short of 33 years old when he played his last game, on September 25, 1955 -- 3 days before Jackie Robinson stole home in the World Series, and 5 days before James Dean was killed in a car crash.

    Years later, I was watching a Mets game, and a player had hit his first major league home run. And Tim McCarver said something shocking: "I don't remember my first major league home run. You'd think I would, since I didn't hit very many of them!" Ralph said, "I remember my first home run. I don't remember my last home run. Because, at the time, I didn't think it would be my last!"

    His last home run was on September 10, 1955, off Ellis Kinder of the Red Sox at Fenway, and it was significant, since it was part of a 5-run 7th inning that gave the Wahoos a 10-7 win, their 5th straight win, moving them to a game and a half ahead of the Yankees. But they only went 6-7 the rest of the way, and finished 3 games back. It was the only Pennant race Ralph ever played in. (Ted Williams didn't homer in the game, but he did go 3-for-5 with an RBI.)

    Greenberg didn't forget his friend, though, and appointed him as GM of the Indians' top farm team at the time, the San Diego Padres of the PCL. (The major league team with that name replaced them in 1969.) It looked like, again, Ralph was following Hank's path.

    But in 1961, the Chicago White Sox -- for whom Greenberg was now the GM -- offered him a broadcasting post. The next year, the expansion New York Mets offered him one.

    *

    Ralph was a one-dimensional player. He couldn't hit for average. He was one of the slowest players in the game at the time. He didn't embarrass himself in the field, but had he played in the AL after 1973, he would likely have been a designated hitter.

    But what a job he did in that one dimension. He led the NL in homers every season from 1946 to 1951, had 7 100+ RBI seasons including a League-leading 127 in 1949, led the NL in on-base percentage once and slugging percentage 3 times.

    His career home run total was 369. That may not sound like much, but, keep in mind, he was limited -- by war at the beginning, and by injury at the end -- to just 10 seasons. Now, doubling his career to 20 seasons wouldn't necessarily have doubled his career total to 738 -- more than Babe Ruth had, but less than Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds ended up with -- but 500 certainly wasn't out of the realm of possibility, even if he had played the rest of his career in "Cavernous Cleveland Stadium." Knowing Greenberg, he might have brought Ralph to the White Sox, whose Comiskey Park wasn't exactly conducive to sluggers, although, in 1959, with Ted Kluszewski bopping 'em out, they won the Pennant, and a healthy Ralph Kiner, then approaching his 37th birthday, could have made a difference in the World Series, even if only in a veteran's pinch-hitting role like the Yankees had in that decade with Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter.

    To put those 369 homers in another light: At the time he retired, in 1955, it was 6th all-time, behind Ruth's 714, Jimmie Foxx's 534, Mel Ott's 511, Gehrig's 493, and the still-active Williams' 394 (of the 521 with which he would finish). Among righthanded hitters, only Foxx had more; among NL hitters, only Ott did. DiMaggio had 361, Mize 359. Musial would end up with 475, but, at the time, had only 325. His homer rate was, until the Steroid Era, 2nd only to Ruth's.

    Ralph has often been cited as being the player who said, "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Fords." The line actually predates him, but he did add to it, by explaining why he wouldn't choke up on the bat to try to raise his average: "Cadillacs are down at the end of the bat."

    Hits: 1,451 -- meaning he should have had about 2,500, which wouldn't have gotten him into the magic circle of 3,000, but would have put him ahead of Mantle's 2,415 and DiMaggio's 2,245. Batting average: .279, nothing special. On-base percentage: .398, which is very good (7 times he walked at least 98 times in a season). Slugging percentage: .548 -- at the time, 10th, trailing only Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg, DiMaggio, Rogers Hornsby, Mize and Musial. OPS+: 149, meaning he was 49 percent better at hitting than the average player in his time.

    Unfortunately, that shortened career, and people by that point knowing him mainly as a broadcaster, nearly kept him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Those 10 seasons in the major leagues meant that he met the minimum requirement for election (which has been waived in a few special cases, such as Negro League players). And by 1971, by which point 11 players had joined the 500 Home Run Club, his 369 no longer seemed like such a big number.

    It wasn't until 1975, his 15th and last year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) ballot, that he got the necessary 75 percent of the ballots to be elected -- and, even then, he got 273 votes, 2 more than the 75 percent needed. (Had he missed out that time, he would have had to wait a few years, until he was eligible through the Veterans' Committee.)

    Even then, he had to wait 45 minutes to find out. Why? Because Jack Lang, the sportswriter whose job it then was to call the newly-elected to tell them that they had, in fact, been newly elected kept calling him, and calling him, and calling him, but kept getting a busy signal. Why? As Ralph explained when Jack finally got through to him, his mother-in-law had been calling him every 5 minutes to ask if he'd made it on this last try.

    Nevertheless, the Pirates would eventually retire his Number 4, The Sporting News listed him at Number 90 on their end-of-the-century list of the 100 Greatest Players, and he was a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In 1995, in his book Ted Williams' Hit List, Ted named him one of the Top 20 Hitters of all time. He has been honored with a statue in his hometown of Alhambra.

    He was introduced, along with many of the All-Century Team finalists, before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park, and with 48 of the other 60 living Hall-of-Famers before the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

    *

    Bing, knowing Ralph was both a Southern Californian and a highly-paid, highly-eligible bachelor, set him up with some of Hollywood's finest. In 1949, he accompanied 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor to the premiere of Twelve O'Clock High. He dated Ava Gardner, before she married Frank Sinatra. You may remember the 1994 film Angels In the Outfield, which used the California Angels as the team that needed divine intervention. It was a remake of a 1951 film, which used the then-downtrodden Pirates, and Ralph was in it. It starred Janet Leigh -- before she married and divorced Tony Curtis, became the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis, and got hacked to death by in Psycho by Anthony Perkins, who played ballplayer and eventual broadcaster Jimmy Piersall in Fear Strikes Out -- and Ralph was her date for the premiere.

    Shortly after that premiere, Ralph got married for the first of 3 times, to tennis player Nancy Chaffee.
    Greenberg was his best man. That year, Nancy was ranked Number 4 in the world among female players, and she and Patricia Todd reached the Finals in the U.S. Open ladies' doubles. The year before, she'd reached the Semifinals of ladies' singles at the U.S. Open and the Quarterfinals at Wimbledon. But that was as close as she ever got to winning a major, since, by her own admission, she now liked Ralph more than she liked tennis.

    Together, she and Ralph had 3 children. But, possibly encouraged by Greenberg, who was good at the game, he took up tennis as well. In a memoir, Baseball Forever, Ralph mentioned that he once beat her in tennis. "Of course," he added, "she was 8 months pregnant at the time." They eventually divorced, and she married another sportscaster, Jack Whitaker. She even became an announcer herself.

    Ralph later married a woman named Barbara George, which also ended in divorce. A third marriage, to DiAnn Shugart, lasted for the rest of her life. He would eventually have 5 children, who, between them, presented him with 12 grandchildren.

    *

    Like Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn, Herb Score, and some other players, it could be said that the demarcation line between whether you're old yet or not could be if you remember Ralph as a player, or only as a broadcaster. If you remember him as a player, you're probably at least 65 years old.


    But 2 generations of New York sports fans got to know him only as a broadcaster -- although, unlike those other men, not for any of the teams for which he played. He joined the original Mets broadcast team, with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. As those 2 men were eventually honored with the Hall of Fame's recognition for broadcasters, the Ford Frick Award, it could be said that the Mets had an all-Hall of Fame broadcast team from 1962 to 1979.

    Ralph broadcast with Lindsey and Murph on WOR-Channel 9, which had been the Dodgers' station from 1950 until they left Brooklyn after the 1957 season. That triad took Met fans through the awful beginnings of the team at the Polo Grounds, the early days when the biggest draw at the brand-new Shea Stadium was the stadium itself, the "miracle" World Championship season of 1969, the Pennant year of 1973, and the collapse of 1977, caused by team president M. Donald Grant's salary dumps, by which point attendance dropped so much, Shea began to be called "Grant's Tomb."

    In 1980, Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon bought the team, and brought in Frank Cashen as GM, and the Mets began to climb out of the hole. With Nelson retiring, and Murphy now mainly doing radio, there was a new team of Kiner, former major league catcher Tim McCarver, and Steve Zabriskie. Upon his retirement as a player, Rusty Staub joined them on Channel 9, which became WWOR in 1987. This was the Mets' greatest period, where they finished 1st or 2nd in the NL Eastern Division every year from 1984 to 1990, including the 1986 World Championship, which remains the franchise's last. In fact, a one-day's delay due to rain meant that they won it on October 27, which was his 64th birthday.

    Starting in 1963, Channel 9 began airing Kiner's Korner, hosted by Ralph, usually as a postgame show or between games of doubleheaders. The show ran until 1995, and old episodes can now be seen on SNY -- something you can't see on the Yankees' YES Network, since they had no equivalent show on WPIX-Channel 11; or, if they did, none of the broadcasts have survived.

    Ralph was an expert interviewer, and occasionally a great caller of games. And, showing that greatness always recognizes greatness, he paid tribute to a fine outfielder for an opposing team, by saying, "Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox."

    It's lucky he didn't goof, and call the Philadelphia Phillies' Gold Glove center fielder "Elliott Maddox." It would have been an easy mistake to make, since Elliott played center field for the Mets, and Ralph saw him a lot more.

    It would have been especially easy for Ralph to make that mistake. Like Herb Score of the Indians, Jerry Coleman of the Yankees and Padres, and a few others, he dropped some beauts in his time on the air. A few times, he began a broadcast with, "Hello again, everybody, and welcome to New York Mets baseball. I'm Ralph Korner."

    Another time, he opened a broadcast with, "Hello, again, everybody. Welcome to New York Mets baseball. I'm Ralph Kiner,, along with Tim MacArthur." After the game, which the Mets lost, Tim McCarver said, "You know, Ralph, Douglas MacArthur said, 'Chance favors the prepared mind,' and the Mets obviously weren't prepared tonight." Ralph said, "He also said, 'I shall return,' and so shall we, right after these messages."

    You know the old baseball broadcast disclaimer? "Any rebroadcast of this game, without the written consent of the New York Mets and Major League Baseball, is similarly prohibited.” (I always heard Yankee announcers Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer and Bill White say it as "strictly prohibited.") Ralph had trouble with the word "similarly," until he changed it to “likewise prohibited.”

    Among the inept early Mets was 1st baseman Marv Throneberry. Among the Mets who didn't make it to the 1986 title was former Cincinnati Reds slugger George Foster. Once, Ralph called Darryl Strawberry "Darryl Throneberry"; another time, "George Strawberry." On another occasion, Ralph got Darryl's name right, but one of his achievements wrong: "Darryl Strawberry has been voted to the Hall of Fame five years in a row." (He meant the All-Star Team. Darryl has not been elected to the Hall of Fame, and probably never will be.)

    He once had Hubie Brooks as a guest on Kiner's Korner, but kept calling him "Mookie," as in Wilson. And he also called Hubie "Foster Brooks." (Foster was a comedian who, in spite of being a teetotaler in real life, was known for his drunk act.) Calling Sid Fernandez "Sid Hernandez" was easy enough, since Keith Hernandez was also on the Mets at the time. He also once called Gary Carter "Gary Cooper." (Well, Cooper did play a Hall-of-Famer, Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees.)

    When Vince Coleman was on the Mets, Ralph called him "Gary Coleman" a few times. I'm surprised he didn't call him "Ronald Colman" (a contemporary of Gary Cooper's). But he never called him "Choo Choo Coleman," after an early Met catcher. In a mistake that happened to Ralph, rather than because of him, he asked Choo Choo, whose real name was Clarence, "Tell us about your wife: What's her name, and what's she like?" Choo Choo said, "Her name is Mrs. Coleman, and she likes me." (Choo Choo is still alive, 76 years old, and attended the Mets' 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2012. At that time, he denied that he said the famous line. The broadcast is lost, so we can't prove it either way, but it was cited in early accounts of the team.)

    He doubled down on one, in a game against the Pirates: Dale Berra, Yogi's son, was coming around to score; rather than make the mistake of calling him "Yogi," he instead confused him with Pirate catcher Ed Ott (I don't see how, they looked nothing alike), and called him Mel Ott. (No relation to Ed.)

    Some more choice Kinerisms:

    "Tickets to all Mets home games are available in advance from Tricketron." (Admittedly hard to say, Ticketron was bought out by Ticketmaster in 1991.)

    "The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is, they have the best home record in baseball."

    (on the other side of the coin) "All of the Mets' road wins against the Dodgers this year occurred at Dodger Stadium." (I never heard about that one until today, but I did once hear Bobby Murcer say on a Yankee broadcast, "The Detroit Tigers are very tough at home, especially when they play at Tiger Stadium.")

    (on a slump by Dodger pitcher Don Sutton) "Sutton lost 13 games in a row without winning a ballgame."

    "The Pirates will be a very competitive team this season because they made some great off-season accusations!" (He meant acquisitions.) 

    "The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning." (He meant "this game.")

    (seeing Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter get hurt) He's going to be out of action for the rest of his career. (He meant the rest of the season.)

    "Solo homers usually come with no one on base." (Can't argue with that one!)

    "All of Rick Aguilera's saves have come in relief appearances." (Ditto.)

    "Kevin McReynolds stops at 3rd, and he scores." (This is similar to "He slides into 2nd with a standup double." Both Score and Coleman are said to have used that one.)

    (discussing a new Hall-of-Famer, who allegedly called himself "the straw that stirs the drink")
    "Reggie Jackson called himself the spoon that stirred the cup."

    (seeing Jesse Jackson, no relation to Reggie but a friend of his, in the stands) "We'd like to give the Reverend Reggie Jackson a warm Shea Stadium welcome."

    (seeing the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, visible in the distance from Shea) "It reminds me of the Golden State Bridge." (Okay, the Golden Gate Bridge is in the Golden State, but it's painted flame-red, not battleship-gray like the Whitestone.)

    "Tony Gwynn was named Player of the Year for April." (He meant Player of the Month.)
     
    "The Mets just had their first .500-or-better April since July of 1992." (I think he meant their first .500-or-better month.)
     
    "The Mets are winless in the month of Atlanta."
     
    (seeing Jason Isringhausen start against Todd Stottlemyre) "This will go down in history as the game where the pitchers have the most initials."
     
    Ralph once blamed his malaprops on having to listen to original Met manager Casey Stengel (1962-65), and also Yogi Berra during his time as Met coach (1965-71) and manager (1972-75). Casey and Yogi, of course, were also known for their mangled syntax, although Yogi is on record as having said some doozies before he ever met Casey. And, indeed, Ralph once said, on the air, "If Casey Stengel were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave." (He may have gotten that one from President Gerald Ford, who allegedly said it about Abraham Lincoln.)

    Ralph's usual home run call was, "It is going, it is going, it is gone, goodbye!" But, like Mel Allen with, "It is going, it is going, it is gone!" and John Sterling with, "It is high, it is far, it is gone!" he would occasionally futz it up: "This one deep to right,and it is way back, going, going, it is gone, no, off of the top of the wall."

    The line most often cited as the biggest Kinerism is, "On this Father's Day, we again wish you all Happy Birthday." Along the same lines, he once said of a father-and-son pair of players, "There's a lot of heredity in that family."

    But the all-timer came in the late 1970s, when both the Yankees and the Mets had Manufacturers Hanover -- a.k.a. Manny Hanny, later bought out by Chemical Bank and then Chase -- as a broadcast sponsor. Anyway, Ralph ended an inning by saying, "We'll be right back, after this message from Manufacturers Hangover."

    (One of Manny Hanny's previous incarnations was the Brooklyn Trust Company, which, due to the Dodgers' financial difficulties in the 1930s, owned a one-quarter share of the team's stock. In 1942, they needed to appoint a new trustee to oversee that share. They chose a 38-year-old lawyer for the company: Walter Francis O'Malley. In 1944, O'Malley bought that quarter-share from his employers, and the rest is history. The other man they considered, among the lawyers working for them, was a 35-year-old former Georgetown basketball player named William Alfred Shea. Yes, the same Bill Shea that Mayor Robert Wagner would turn to in order to help bring National League baseball back to New York, for whom the Mets' stadium was named, and who became a good friend of Kiner's. As Mel Allen would say, "How about that?")

    *

    Ralph attended every induction ceremony for the Hall of Fame from his own in 1975 until last year. Of course, he even managed to goof on that on the air: "The Hall of Fame ceremonies are on the 31st and 32nd of July."

    In 1986, my grandmother and I attended the induction ceremony for the first time. (I attended 2 more, but will never go to another, and unless a player you absolutely loved is going in, don't go. By all means, go to Cooperstown, visit the Hall and the area's other attractions. But Induction Weekend is the absolute worst time to go: A town of 1,800 simply can't handle 75,000 visitors.) Ralph was seated next to Ted Williams, and all through the ceremony (at which the inductees were Willie McCovey, Bobby Doerr and Ernie Lombardi), Ted kept talking to Ralph. At one point, Ralph turned to talk to whoever was sitting on his other side... and Ted reached over and, literally, bent his ear, to turn his attention back to him. For the rest of her life, Grandma wondered what Ted was saying to Ralph.

    In 1995, Ralph suffered a stroke, and developed Bell's palsy. This affected the muscles in his face, leading to a change in his voice. Other than that, though, he continued to broadcast.

    But like a lot of aging broadcasters, he began to cut back, doing only home games, and, in the last few years, going into the booth only on Friday nights or on special occasions. When Citi Field opened in 2009, the TV booth was named in his honor, and the radio booth was named in Murphy's memory.
      
    Ralph Kiner died today, at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 91 years old. It was a remarkable life, and a career that spanned so much of baseball history.
     
    When he played his first professional game in 1941, men like Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove and Mel Ott, who had begun in the 1920s, were still playing. When he broadcast his last game last fall, he was watching players who could still be playing into the mid-2030s. That's a span of over 100 years.
     
    Baseball Forever was the title of his memoir. "Baseball Forever," indeed.