Sunday, May 31, 2015

FA Cup-Winning Goalscorers, 1872-2015

Yesterday, Arsenal won the Football Association Cup for a record 12th time, 2nd in a row. The North London giants beat Birmingham-based Aston Villa, 4-0, at the new Wembley Stadium in West London.

Theo Walcott, injured in the 3rd Round last season and unable to play in the remainder of the season, including the Final, scored the opener near the end of the 1st half. The joy on his face was obvious: Although he'd scored in that 3rd Round game before his injury, he so badly wanted to be a part of the tournament win; this time, he was the biggest part of it. He's scored more goals and made more appearances for Arsenal than any current member of the club, but this was far and away the biggest moment in his career.

Goals were scored in the 2nd half by Alexis Sanchez (who'd been anonymous in several big games despite scoring lots of goals in smaller ones, but hit a screamer after scoring both Arsenal goals in the Semifinal against Berkshire side Reading), Per Mertesacker (the German-born defender and Captain using his 6-foot-6 height to score a header), and Olivier Giroud (the much-maligned, and unfairly so, French striker, having come on as a substitute for Walcott, sidefooting in a shot in stoppage time).

Last year's hero, extra-time goalscorer Aaron Ramsey, really wanted to be the hero again, as he had several shots on goal, but none quite made it in. He got frustrated. But he still got his 2nd FA Cup winner's medal.

Wojciech Szczesny, benched for last year's Final in favor of his fellow Pole Lukasz Fabianski, this time got the start in place of the 2nd half of the season's usual starter, Colombia native David Ospina, and kept a clean sheet. He had no sensational saves, but had a few nice ones. He may well have redeemed himself.

I am very pleased that the 2 biggest heroes of this Final were guys who didn't play in last year's Final, Walcott and Szczesny. Jack Wilshere, like Walcott injured and unable to play in last year's Final, came on as a substitute, and got his winner's medal.

Arsene Wenger has now managed 6 FA Cup wins, more than any manager ever. He truly gambled by benching Giroud for Walcott. As the smart Arsenal fans say, "Arsene Knows." (The dumb ones still want him out. I guess trophies are no longer what matter to them.)

It was the 1st time Arsenal had ever scored 4 goals in the final of any cup tournament, other than the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (forerunner of today's Europa League), and that was over 2 legs (losing 3-1 to Anderlecht in Brussels, Belgium, and then beating them 3-0 in London, for a 4-3 aggregate win).

Villa haven't won the Cup since 1957. This was their 1st appearance in the FA Cup Final since 2000, when they lost to Chelsea, in the last Final played at the old Wembley Stadium, which opened in April 1923, the same month as the old Yankee Stadium. Like that stadium, the old Wembley was replaced with a new one; unlike the new Yankee Stadium, which was built across the street from the old one, the new Wembley was built on the site of the old one, a process that took 7 years, meaning that 6 Finals were moved to the next-biggest stadium in the British Isles, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. (Prior to 1923, the Final was usually held in London, although there were exceptions.)

Shay Given, of Ireland, was 22 when he started in goal for North-East club Newcastle United against Arsenal in the Final at the old Wembley in 1998. Yesterday, at 39, he started in goal for Aston Villa against Arsenal in the Final at the new Wembley. Don't blame the loss on him: He defied his age, making 4 outstanding saves, and essentially kept Villa in the game until Alexis' unstoppable net-seeking missile made it 2-0.

Indeed, Villa did not play poorly. They worked hard, and even in the brief amount of time left after Giroud's goal, they did not hang their heads and act like a beaten team. They weren't humiliated, they were simply defeated by a better team. And even that wasn't truly assured until Mertesacker iced it.

The trophy was handed out by the President of the FA -- Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II. William also handed it out to Arsenal last year. Previously, Arsenal have received the Cup from King George V in 1930, King George VI in 1936 and 1950, Prince Charles in 1979, and Prince George, Duke of Kent, in 1971, 1993, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005. (The Duke of Kent is still alive, but it's William's duty now.)

The Queen, now 89 years old but showing no signs of slowing down, also awarded the World Cup to England Captain Bobby Moore at the old Wembley Stadium in 1966. She has admitted to being an Arsenal fan, as were her parents before her (George VI and the woman my generation knew as Elizabeth the Queen Mother -- who lived to be 101 and was still making public appearances, with canes but still upright and mentally with it, near the end). But she hasn't handed the FA Cup out for a long time, and never gave it to an Arsenal Captain; the Gunners just weren't very good at the time. Prince Charles, now 66 and still heir to the throne, has admitted to being a fan of Lancashire side Burnley, which got relegated this season.

William, next in line after his father Charles, is an Aston Villa fan: He didn't like that most of his friends sided with the obvious clubs, such as Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea, so he went with an underdog club. (Villa have a decent history, but they haven't done much in the last 30 years.) His brother, Prince Harry, is an Arsenal fan. I wonder what dinner was like last night.

William's wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton, recently gave birth to Princess Charlotte, a year and a half after the birth of Prince George, who was born at the start of the 2013-14 season.

She has now had a baby in every season that Arsenal have reached (and won) the FA Cup Final since the new Wembley opened. For her sake, I hope that's just a coincidence!

*

These men scored the goals that won FA Cup Finals.

Year, name of scorer, club (location, if club has not already been mentioned), uniform number (or the number that would have corresponded to his position prior to 1930), minute of the game of the scoring of the goal that assured his team would have more than the opposition. "ST" means stoppage time, also known as injury time: Time that the referee adds on, at the end of each half, to make up for game time missed due to any stoppage, such as to care for an injury, to address fouls, or for time-wasting; it is added at his discretion, and the number of minutes is a minimum and can have additional time added. "ET" means extra time, what North American sports would call overtime.

Some of the spellings of these names -- of players and of clubs -- may seem odd. Rest assured, I have checked them, and they are correct.

Although Britain entered World War I in August 1914, the League season and Cup tournament that were soon to begin were allowed to play out until May 1915. Then football was suspended for the duration. The war ended in November 1918, but this was considered too late to reorganize for a 1918-19 season, and so that season was not played. The 1919-20 season began on time.

Britain entered World War II in September 1939, and the League season and Cup tournament that had already begun were called off. League football was suspended for the duration, but "Football League War Cup" tournaments were played, and I have included the scorers of the winning goals in this list. The war ended in August 1945, too late to reorganize a new League season for 1945-46, but an FA Cup tournament was organized and held in its entirety. The 1946-47 season began on time. After the troops came home from each World War, attendances skyrocketed, and the game became more popular than ever.

1872 Morton Betts, Wanderers (London), 7, 15th
1873 Arthur Kinnaird, Wanderers, 10, 27th
1874 Charles Mackarness, Oxford University, 2, 10th
1875 William Stafford, Royal Engineers, 8, time of goal unknown
1876 Charles Wollaston, Wanderers, 6, 30th
1877 William Lindsay, Wanderers, 3, 86th
1878 Arthur Kinnaird, Wanderers, 4, 35th
1879 Charles Clerke, Old Etonians (Eton, Berkshire), 6, 59th

1880 Clopton Lloyd-Jones, Clapham Rovers (South London), 11, time unknown
1881 Edwards Wynyard, Old Carthusians (Godalming, Surrey), 9, time unknown
1882 Reginald Macaulay, Old Etonians, 8, 8th
1883 Jimmy Costley, Blackburn Olympic (Lancashire), 10, time unknown but was in ET
1884 Jimmy Forest, Blackburn Rovers (Lancashire), 5, approximately 35th
1885 Jimmy Forest, Blackburn Rovers, 6, time unknown
1886 Joe Sowerbutts (his real name), Blackburn Rovers, 9, time unknown
1887 Archie Hunter, Aston Villa (Birmingham), 9, time unknown
1888 Jem Bayliss, West Bromwich Albion (West Midlands), 9, time unknown
1889 Fred Dewhurst, Preston North End (Lancashire), 10, 15th

1890 Nat Walton, Blackburn Rovers, 10, 10th
1891 Jack Southworth, Blackburn Rovers, 9 time unknown
1892 Jasper Geddes, West Bromwich Albion, 10, time unknown
1893 Harry Allen, Wolverhampton Wanderers (West Midlands), 5, 60th
1894 James Logan, Notts County (Nottingham), 9, time unknown
1895 Bob Chatt, Aston Villa, 8, 1st (30 seconds)
1896 Fred Spiksley, Sheffield Wednesday (Yorkshire), 11, 18th
1897 Jimmy Crabtree, Aston Villa, 6, 44th
1898 Arthur Capes, Nottingham Forest, 10, 42nd
1899 Billy Beer, Sheffield United, 8, 65th

1900 Jasper McLuckie, Bury (Lancashire, now in Greater Manchester), 9, 9th
1901 Tom Smith, Tottenham Hotspur (Middlesex, didn't get put in London until 1965), 7, 76th
1902 Billy Barnes, Sheffield United (Yorkshire), 7, 79th
1903 George Ross, Bury, 6, 20th
1904 Billy Meredith, Manchester City (Lancashire, now in Greater Manchester), 7, 23rd
1905 Harry Hampton, Aston Villa, 9, 2nd
1906 Sandy Young, Everton (Lancashire, now in Merseyside), 9, 77th
1907 George Simpson, Sheffield Wednesday, 11, 86th
1908 George Hedley, Wolverhampton Wanderers, 9, 43rd
1909 Sandy Turnbull, Manchester United (Lancashire, now in Greater Manchester), 10, 22nd

1910 Albert Shepherd, Newcastle United (Northumberland, now in Tyne and Wear), 9, 52nd
1911 Jimmy Speirs, Bradford City (Yorkshire), 8, 15th
1912 Harry Tufnell, Barnsley (Yorkshire), 8, 118th (ET)
1913 Tommy Barber, Aston Villa, 4, 78th
1914 Bert Freeman, Burnley (Lancashire), 9, 57th
1915 James Simmons, Sheffield United, 7, 36th
1916 Tournament canceled due to World War I
1917 Tournament canceled due to World War I
1918 Tournament canceled due to World War I
1919 Tournament canceled due to World War I

1920 Billy Kirton, Aston Villa, 8, 100th (ET)
1921 Jimmy Dimmock, Tottenham Hotspur, 11, 53rd
1922 Billy Smith, Huddersfield Town (Yorkshire), 11, 67th (penalty)
1923 David Jack (future Arsenal star), Bolton Wanderers (Lancashire), 8, 2nd
1924 Neil Harris (not the actor), Newcastle United, 9, 83rd
1925 Fred Tunstall, Sheffield United, 11, 30th
1926 David Jack, Bolton Wanderers, 9, 76th
1927 Hughie Ferguson, Cardiff City (Wales), 9 74th
1928 Tommy McLean, Blackburn Rovers, 10, 22nd
1929 Billy Butler, Bolton Wanderers, 7, 79th

1930 Alex James, Arsenal (North London), 10, 16th
1931 W.G. Richardson, West Bromwich Albion, 9, 58th
1932 Jack Allen, Newcastle United, 9, 72nd
1933 Jimmy Stein, Everton, 11, 41st
1934 Fred Tilson, Manchester City, 11, 74th
1935 Ellis Rimmer, Sheffield Wednesday, 11, 85th
1936 Ted Drake, Arsenal, 9, 74th
1937 Raich Carter, Sunderland, 8, 72nd
1938 George Mutch, Preston North End, 8, 119th (ET, penalty)
1939 John Anderson, Portsmouth, 9, 43rd

1940 Sam Small, West Ham United (East London), 7, 34th
1941 Robert Beattie, Preston North End, number and time unknown
1942 Frank Broome, Wolverhampton Wanderers, 7, 51st
1943 Blackpool, scorer, number and time unknown
1944 Charlton Athletic & Aston Villa drew 1-1, replay canceled due to war-related issues
1945 Bolton Wanderers, scorer, number and time unknown
1946 Peter Doherty (not the singer), Derby County, 10, 92nd (ET)
1947 Chris Duffy, Charlton Athletic (South London), 11, 114th (ET)
1948 Stan Pearson, Manchester United, 10, 80th
1949 Jessie Pye, Wolverhampton Wanderers, 9, 42nd

1950 Reg Lewis, Arsenal, 10, 18th
1951 Jackie Milburn, Newcastle United, 9, 40th
1952 George Robledo, Newcastle United, 84th
1953 Bill Perry, Blackpool, 11, 92nd (ST)
1954 Frank Griffin, West Bromwich Albion, 7, 87th
1955 Bobby Mitchell (not the American football star), Newcastle United, 11, 52nd
1956 Bobby Johnstone, Manchester City, 7, 62nd
1957 Peter McParland, Aston Villa, 11, 73rd
1958 Nat Lofthouse, Bolton Wanderers, 9, 3rd
1959 Tommy Wilson (not the music producer), Nottingham Forest, 9, 14th

1960 Mick McGrath, Blackburn Rovers, 6, 41st, own goal to Wolverhampton Wanderers
1961 Bobby Smith, Tottenham Hotspur, 9, 66th
1962 Bobby Smith, Tottenham Hotspur, 9, 51st
1963 David Herd (former Arsenal star), Manchester United, 9, 57th
1964 Ronnie Boyce, West Ham United, 8, 90th
1965 Ian St. John, Liverpool, 9, 113th (ET)
1966 Derek Temple, Everton, 11, 74th
1967 Frank Saul, Tottenham Hotspur (now, finally, in North London), 11, 67th
1968 Jeff Astle, West Bromwich Albion, 9, 93rd (ET)
1969 Neil Young (not the singer), Manchester City, 10, 24th

1970 David Webb, Chelsea (West London), 6, 104th (ET)
1971 Charlie George, Arsenal, 11, 111th (ET)
1972 Allen Clarke, Leeds United (Yorkshire), 8, 53rd
1973 Ian Porterfield, Sunderland, 10, 51st
1974 Kevin Keegan, Liverpool, 7, 57th
1975 Alan Taylor, West Ham United, 9, 60th
1976 Bobby Stokes, Southampton, 11, 83rd
1977 Jimmy Greenhoff, Manchester United, 8, 55th
1978 Roger Osborne, Ipswich Town, 7, 77th
1979 Alan Sunderland, Arsenal, 8, 89th

1980 Trevor Brooking, West Ham United, 10, 13th
1981 Ricky Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, 5, 76th
1982 Glenn Hoddle, Tottenham Hotspur, 10, 6th (penalty)
1983 Bryan Robson, Manchester United, 7, 25th
1984 Graeme Sharp, Everton, 9, 38th
1985 Norman Whiteside, Manchester United, 4, 110th (ET)
1986 Craig Johnston, Liverpool, 8, 62nd
1987 Gary Mabbutt, Tottenham Hotspur, 6, 95th (ET), own goal to Coventry City (West Midlands)
1988 Lawrie Sanchez, Wimbledon (South London), 10, 37th
1989 Ian Rush, Liverpool, 14 (usually 9), 104th

1990 Lee Martin, Manchester United, 3, 59th
1991 Des Walker, Nottingham Forest, 4, 94th (ET), own goal to Tottenham Hotspur
1992 Michael Thomas (former Arsenal star), Liverpool, 11, 47th
1993 Andy Linighan, Arsenal, 5, 119th (ET)
1994 Eric Cantona, Manchester United, 7, 60th (penalty)
1995 Paul Rideout, Everton, 15, 30th
1996 Eric Cantona, Manchester United, 7, 85th
1997 Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea, 16, 1 (42 seconds)
1998 Marc Overmars, Arsenal, 11, 23rd
1999 Teddy Sheringham, Manchester United, 10, 11th

2000 Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea, 16, 73rd
2001 Michael Owen, Liverpool, 10, 88th
2002 Ray Parlour, Arsenal, 15, 70th
2003 Robert Pires, Arsenal, 7, 38th
2004 Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United, 7, 44th
2005 Patrick Vieira, Arsenal, 4, penalties
2006 John Arne Riise, Liverpool, 6, penalties
2007 Didier Drogba, Chelsea, 11, 116th (ET)
2008 Nwankwo Kanu (former Arsenal star), Portsmouth, 27 (previously 25), 37th
2009 Frank Lampard, Chelsea, 8, 72nd

2010 Didier Drogba, Chelsea, 11, 59th
2011 Yaya Toure, Manchester City, 42, 74th
2012 Didier Drogba, Chelsea, 11, 52nd
2013 Ben Watson, Wigan Athletic (Greater Manchester), 91st (ST)
2014 Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal, 16, 109th (ET)
2015 Theo Walcott, Arsenal, 14, 40th

Scored the Cup-winning goal twice: 7 men, most recently Didier Drogba in 2010.
Done it 3 times: Drogba.
Fastest: Bob Chatt, 1895, 30 or so seconds.
Did it to his own team with an own goal: Mick McGrath, Gary Mabbutt, Des Walker.
Latest in regular time: Bill Perry, 1953, 92nd minute.
Did it in extra time: 16 men, most recently Aaron Ramsey in 2014.
Latest in extra time: George Mutch in 1938 and Andy Linighan in 1993, 119th minute.
Did it with an in-game penalty: Billy Smith, George Mutch, Glenn Hoddle and Eric Cantona.
Did it during postgame penalties: Patrick Vieira in 2005, John Arne Riise in 2006.

In 2009, Louis Saha of Everton scored 25 seconds into the game, the fastest FA Cup Final goal ever (for those games where I've listed "time unknown," if it had been scored in the 1st minute, that fact surely would have been recorded), but Everton went on to lose the game.

Squad numbers were assigned to positions until 1993. The highest number allowed was 11 until substitutes were allowed starting in the 1966-67 season, then 12 until 1986-87, then 14 with the allowance of a second sub, until 1993. The highest number yet worn by any player in an FA Cup Final is 45, by Mario Balotelli of Manchester City in 2011. The 42 worn in the same game by winning goalscorer Yaya Toure would have broken the record had Balotelli not played.

Roberto DiMatteo is the only non-playing manager to have both scored an FA Cup-winning goal and managed an FA Cup-winning team.

Jimmy Forest never played for Nottingham Forest. Alan Sunderland never played for Sunderland. Ricky Villa never played for Aston Villa.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How Long It's Been: The Flyers and Warriors Were World Champions


May 27, 1975, 40 years ago today: The Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup. They beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 in Game 6 at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium.

This was the 1st Finals that didn't have either the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins in it since 1964. It was also the 1st Finals that didn't have any of the "Original Six" teams -- Montreal, Boston, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings -- in it since the 1925-26 season, the season before the Rangers, Hawks and Wings began play.

This was the Finals best remembered for Game 3, the Fog Game. Not because Flyers coach Fred Shero was nicknamed Freddy the Fog, but because Buffalo, a city famed for cold and not used to heat, didn't have an air-conditioning system in "The Aud," which had been built in 1940 and was already obsolete. Seriously: There's atmosphere, and then there's too much atmosphere. And so fog developed on the ice: Players, the officials, and the puck were practically invisible. During stoppages in play, the grounds crew skated around the ice, carrying bedsheets, in an attempt to dissipate the fog. During others, the players just skated around in circles. Neither of these tactics worked for very long.

It could have been called the Bat Game. Just a few minutes before the fog started to form, a bat started flying low over the players. (Buffalo stood in for 1939 New York in the film version of The Natural, but it's never been confused for Batman's Gotham City!) Sabres center Jim Lorentz had finally had it with this mother-freakin' bat in that mother-freakin' arena, and slapped it with his stick. As far as has been recorded, this is the only time a player has ever killed an animal during an NHL game.

Some Buffalo fans, already used to bad luck, began to worry that this was an omen. But the game went to overtime, and Rene Robert -- along with Gilbert Perrault and Rick Martin, part of the Sabres' French Connection Line -- scored the game-winner.

That brought the Sabres to within 2 games to 1, and they tied the series. But the Flyers took the last 2 to win the Cup. Goaltender Bernie Parent was the big hero, allowing just 12 goals in 6 games, including a shutout in the clincher. He became the 1st player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (Most Valuable Player of the Playoffs, an award established in 1965) in back-to-back years; only Mario Lemieux has done it since.

In addition to Parent (Number 1), Captain Bobby Clarke (16) and Bill Barber (7) got their uniform numbers retired and were elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Also elected were Coach Shero, general manager Keith Allen, and owner Ed Snider. (Barry Ashbee, injured the previous year but still got his name on the Cup, was an assistant coach on this team, and his Number 4 was retired after his early death.) Other interesting figures included the defenseman brothers Joe and Jimmy Watson, former Toronto Cup-winner Ted Harris, vicious defenders Ed Van Impe and Andre "Moose" Dupont, the even more vicious Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, 1974 Cup-clinching goalscorer Rick MacLeish, 1975 Cup-clinching goalscorer Bob "Hound" Kelly, future 1989 Calgary Flames Cup-winning had coach Terry Crisp, and future broadcasters GaryDornhoefer and Bill Clement.

The Flyers haven't won the Cup since. Even the ancient Israelites, also guilty of many sins, got out of the wilderness after 40 years.

It's not that the Flyers haven't had good teams. Frequently, they've been very good. The Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1976 (got swept by the Montreal Canadiens), 1980 (lost to the New York Islanders, partly thanks to referee Leon Stickle if you ask Philly fans), 1985 (lost to the Edmonton Oilers), 1987 (lost to the Oilers again), 1997 (got swept by the Detroit Red Wings) and 2010 (lost to the Chicago Blackhawks). Infamously, they lost Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Devils in 1995 (Claude Lemieux vs. Ron Hextall) and 2000 (Scott Stevens vs. Eric Lindros). But they've never won the Cup again.

Why not? Look no further than Parent. In 1979, Parent took a shot to the eye. His mask wasn't like the helmets of today: He sustained an eye injury, and never played again. The Flyers have never had another great goalie. Pete Peeters petered out, Pelle Lindbergh drank and drove and crashed into a South Jersey school and died, Ron Hextall was Ron Hextall, John Vanbiesbrouck was over the hill, Garth Snow melted, Brian Boucher wasn't good enough, Roman Cechmanek's empire fell, and so on, and so on, and so on.

*

Two days earlier, May 25, 1975, 40 years ago: The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship. Picked by many to get swept by the Washington Bullets, the Warriors instead pulled the sweep themselves, winning Game 4 96-95 at the Bullets' arena, the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, just outside Washington's Capital Beltway.



The Warriors were coached by Al Attles, who played on their NBA Finals teams of 1964 and 1967, and before that was with them when they moved from Philadelphia in 1962. Their biggest star was Rick Barry, the free-throw shooting savant. Both were from New Jersey: Attles from Newark and its Weequahic High School, Barry from Roselle Park. Until Newark native Shaquille O'Neal came along, they were arguably the 2 greatest players the Garden State had ever produced.

Attles' 16 and Barry's 24 are both retired by the Warriors. Keith Wilkes wore 41 and played for this team. As Jamaal Wilkes, he would later star for the Los Angeles Lakers, and they would retire 52 for him.

The winning margin was supplied by free throws hit by Butch Beard, who coached the New Jersey Nets for a (horrendous) time.)

It was the 1st time in the history of major league sports that both finalists' managers/head coaches were black, as the Bullets were coached by Boston Celtics legend K.C. Jones. He couldn't win them a title, but he won them with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986. The Bullets would have to wait until 1978 to win their title. (The Baltimore Bullets won the title in 1948, but went bust in 1954. The new Baltimore Bullets started play in 1963, moved to the Washington area in 1973, and became the Washington Wizards upon moving inside the District, to the arena now named the Verizon Center, in 1997.)

Today, the Warriors are 1 win away from their 1st Western Conference Championship, their 1st trip to the NBA Finals, since then. Maybe we should start calling Steph Curry "Moses."

It's been so long since the Warriors won the NBA title, or even reached the NBA Finals, that the last time they did, people couldn't say, "Warriors! Come out and play-ay!" The film The Warriors, from whence that line comes, wasn't released until 1979. (It had nothing to do with basketball, although there was a gang calling themselves the Baseball Furies, wearing baseball uniforms and KISS-style makeup -- or perhaps David Bowie-style makeup.)

Brace yourself: Bandwagon fans are coming. Maybe not on a Miami Heat-with-LeBron James level, but certainly on a Chicago Blackhawks level.

*

Forty years since the Philadelphia Flyers, Philly's hockey team, and the Golden State Warriors, Philly's former basketball team, went all the way. How long has that been?

It was a bad time for New York sports, except for the 2 teams then calling the Nassau Coliseum home. Although the New York Nets won ABA titles in 1974 and 1976, this was the season in between. The Islanders, in their 3rd season of existence, shocked the Rangers in the Playoffs, and then came from 3-games-to-none down to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then almost did the same to the defending champion Flyers, before "Shero's Heroes" won Game 7.

The Rangers then went into the next season, and blew it all up, firing longtime boss Emile Francis first as head coach, then as general manager. They traded popular goalie Eddie Giacomin to the Wings, which became a public relations nightmare when their next home game was against the Wings. Then they traded club legends Jean Ratelle and Brad Park for Bruins superstar Phil Esposito, a move which worked out okay for the Rangers, but better for the Beantown Brats.

None of the others did much. Because of the renovation of the original Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium played host to a record 4 major league sports teams in 1 calendar year: The usual Mets and Jets, and the tenant Yankees and Giants. Although the Yankees were still in the American League Eastern Division race by Labor Day, they couldn't sustain it, and none of the others came even that close in their leagues. The Knicks were in their 1st season after the retirements of Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Jerry Lucas, and, left with Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Earl Monroe, couldn't hold it together. The Devils, of course, did not exist: The franchise was in its 1st season, 1974-75, and was the Kansas City Scouts.

There were 18 teams in the NBA. In addition to the Bullets now being the Wizards: The Buffalo Braves became the San Diego Clippers in 1978 and the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984; the expansion New Orleans Jazz became the Utah Jazz in 1979; the Kansas City Kings became the Sacramento Kings in 1985; and the Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.

The ABA title was won by the Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels, but when the league folded the next year, the Colonels were not 1 of the 4 teams absorbed into the NBA: The New York Nets (who became the New Jersey Nets in 1977 and the Brooklyn Nets in 2012), the Indiana Pacers, the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets.

There were 18 teams in the NHL, including the expansion Scouts and Washington Capitals. The Scouts became the Colorado Rockies in 1976 and the Devils in 1982. The Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980. The Oakland-based California Golden Seals became the Cleveland Barons in 1976. They and the Minnesota North Stars were the most financially-strapped teams in the NHL, and they were merged in 1978, keeping the North Stars name, making the Barons, named for one of the most successful minor-league teams, the last team in North American major league sports to, essentially, go out of business. The North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993.

There were 14 teams in the WHA, including the Houston Aeros, with Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty, winning their 2nd straight title. But when 4 WHA teams were absorbed into the NHL in 1979, the Aeros were not among them. Probably because the Howes had gone to the New England Whalers, who became the Hartford Whalers upon joining the NHL, and the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. The Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. The Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, and the Arizona Coyotes in 2014. The only WHA team still competing in their original city is the Edmonton Oilers (although not their original name, as, in the 1st WHA season, 1972-73, they were the Alberta Oilers, fooling no one in Calgary into supporting them).

There were 24 teams in MLB, and 26 teams in the NFL. There were 28 combined teams in basketball, and 32 combined teams in hockey. So that's a total of 110 teams -- 94 of which still exist. Of those 94 teams, only 17 are playing in the same buildings they were using in May 1975. This takes into account the Islanders, who've now played their final competitive game in the Nassau Coliseum in Hempstead, and will be moving into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in October.

The Warriors and the Knicks are the only ones in the NBA, and the Rangers and Oilers are the only ones in the NHL. While the Knicks' and Rangers' efforts to build a replacement for "the new Madison Square Garden" are currently stalled, the Warriors are planning on replacing the Oracle Arena (formerly the Oakland Coliseum Arena) with a new arena in San Francisco, a few blocks down the waterfront from the Giants' AT&T Park. And the Oilers are building a new arena to replace Rexall Place, formerly named the Northlands Coliseum.

There are 6 MLB teams currently using pre-1975 ballparks: The Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Athletics, and both Los Angeles-area teams, the Dodgers and the Angels.

The 5 NFL teams currently using pre-1975 stadiums are the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. The latter 3 seem committed to building new stadiums, and the latter 2 are threatening to move to Los Angeles (or, rather, back to L.A.) if they don't get them. (The Chicago Bears claim Soldier Field was built in 1924, but the original was totally demolished except for those colonnades on each side, which, unlike at the original, you can no longer see from inside the stadium opened on the site in 2003.)

Although the San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks are all in new or relatively new buildings, the 3 teams based in Oakland are still using the same buildings they were using in 1975, or even 1968. (This despite the Raiders having moved to L.A. in 1982 and returned in 1995.) True, both buildings have been significantly altered. But the fact that the A's and Raiders can't get replacements for the aging Coliseum, and that it took the Dubs until recently to get a new arena deal, shows that Oakland is not only messed-up, but screwed. It is entirely possible that, despite the Coliseum complex's 50th Anniversary coming up next year, by 2020 Oakland may have no major league teams at all.

NBA legends Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and, as previously mentioned, Reed, DeBusschere and Lucas had all just retired after the previous season. A few of the old NHL stars were still playing in the WHA: Howe, Bobby Hull, Jacques Plante, Dave Keon. Henri Richard retired as the grand old man of hockey, winning a record 11 Stanley Cups in his 20 seasons.

Current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was 9 years old. Current Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol was 6. Of the New York Tri-State Area managers and head coaches: Tom Coughlin of the Giants was 28 and the quarterbacks coach at Syracuse University, Terry Collins of the Mets was celebrating his 26th birthday (meaning he turns 66 today) and in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league system, Lionel Hollins was 21 and was just drafted out of Arizona State by the Portland Trail Blazers, Alain Vingeault of the Rangers was 14, Todd Bowles of the Jets and Scott Stevens of the Devils were 11, Joe Girardi of the Yankees was 10, Jack Capuano of the Islanders was 8, Derek Fisher was 9 months old.

The Warriors dethroned the Celtics as NBA Champs, and the Flyers had made it back-to-back Cups -- a feat last achieved by an American team in 1954-55 by the Wings. The Pittsburgh Steelers had recently won their 1st Super Bowl. The defending World Series winners were the A's, making this the middle of a great period for Oakland sports (if you ignore the pathetic Seals), as the A's won the Series in 1972, '73 and '74, while the Warriors won the NBA in 1975, and the Raiders won the Super Bowl for the 1976-77 season. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," the Heavyweight Champion of the World was Muhammad Ali.

The President of the United States was Gerald Ford. Former President Richard Nixon, his wife, and the widows of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry Truman were still alive. Jimmy Carter had just left the Governorship of Georgia, and announced his campaign for President. Ronald Reagan had done the same after leaving the Governorship of California. George Bush the father was Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office to the People's Republic of China -- America didn't officially have diplomatic relations with them at the time -- while George Bush the son was failing in the energy business. Bill Clinton was teaching law at the University of Arkansas, while Hillary Clinton was practicing law in Little Rock. Barack Obama was in junior high school in Hawaii.

The Governor of New York was Malcolm Wilson, longtime Lieutenant Governor under Nelson Rockefeller, who'd resigned the office to become Ford's Vice President. The Mayor of New York was Abe Beame. The Governor of New Jersey was Brendan Byrne.

In the cities of the World Champions, the Mayor of Philadelphia was Frank Rizzo, whose hamfisted tactics and steadfast standing with his former fellow cops made him "the original Rudy Giuliani" (and also a fascist bastard who does not deserve that statue outside City Hall); and the Mayor of Oakland was John H. Reading, Mayor for all the city's titles in the Seventies.

In the States of the World Champions, the Governor of Pennsylvania was Milton Shapp, while Edmund G. Brown Jr., a.k.a. Jerry Brown, had recently succeeded Reagan as Governor of California. Reagan had gained the office by beating Jerry's father, Edmund G. Brown Sr., a.k.a. Pat Brown. In 1975, Jerry Brown was America's youngest and strangest Governor. After some time out of politics, he rebuilt his career, won the Governorship again in 2010, and is now America's oldest and, arguably, most successful Governor.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau. The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- and the Prime Minister was Harold Wilson. East Midlands soccer team Derby County, for the 2nd time in 4 seasons, had shocked the nation by winning England's Football League, while East London club West Ham United had just won the FA Cup.

Major novels of 1975 included Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow, Shogun by James Clavell, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner, and Black Sunday by Thomas Harris -- about a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl. It was Harris' 1st novel, and every novel he has published since has featured the serial-killing psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.

Major films in theaters at the time of the Warriors' and Flyers titles included Escape to Witch Mountain, Death Race 2000, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Eiger Sanction, The Happy Hooker, The Other Side of the Mountain, The French Connection II, The Return of the Pink Panther, The Strongest Man In the World, The Wind and the Lion, a film version of The Who's rock opera Tommy, and 2 of the more surreal motion pictures in a surreal era for them: The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Monty Pyton and the Holy Grail.

The final episodes of Gunsmoke, Ironside, Mannix, Adam-12, and the original versions of The Odd Couple and Kung Fu had recently aired on television. The writers of M*A*S*H responded to McLean Stevenson's desire to leave the show by cruelly killing off his character, the Army unit's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, M.D. It was the first time a TV show had done this to a major character, aside from having to do so due to the death of the actual actor.

TV was escapism: We watched it to get away from the awful things of real life, even with a war-based show like M*A*S*H. On TV, things might look bad for 25 or 55 minutes, but, barring those dreaded words "To Be Continued... ", at the end of the half-hour or the hour, you knew that things were going to be okay. The death of Henry Blake meant that this could never be taken for granted again. Within a year, James Evans Sr. would be killed off on Good Times. Four years after that, J.R. Ewing would be shot on Dallas, inventing the TV end-of-season cliffhanger. After this came everything from the Moldavian wedding massacre on Dynasty to the assassination of Kate Todd on NCIS; from the various gut-wrenching Castle cliffhangers to anything that happens on Game of Thrones.

On the day of the Flyers' Cup win, Paul McCartney released the Wings album Venus and Mars. John Lennon had recently been a guest on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show; it would turn out to be his last televised interview. Elton John released Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which became the 1st album ever to debut at Number 1 on Billboard magazine's album chart. Elvis Presley had just turned 40, and released Today, an album of, ironically, mostly cover versions. The Jackson 5, including 16-year-old Michael, had just released the album Moving Violation, including the hit single "Dancin' Machine." Ritchie Blackmore quit Deep Purple to form Rainbow. Pete Ham of Badfinger killed himself by hanging. Ron Wood officially debuted with the Rolling Stones; by 1992, he had been their rhythm guitarist longer than Brian Jones and Mick Taylor combined. Stevie Wonder performed before 125,000 people in the Human Kindness Day concert at the Washington Monument. Frank Sinatra was touring with a big band led by old friend Woody Herman.

Mobile telephones existed, mainly in cars. Handheld phones were being made, but were big and bulky, and hardly anyone had ever seen one. Personal computers were debuting. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee all turned 20 in 1975. Jobs had just founded Apple with Steve Wozniak. Gates and Paul Allen had just founded Mircosoft. Berners-Lee was at Oxford University.

The current holders of the Nobel Peace Prize were Seán MacBride, President of the International Peace Bureau; and Eisaku Satō, Prime Minister of Japan.

In the spring of 1975, American troops left Vietnam for the last time. Communist troops took over there, and in Cambodia. The U.S. did manage to rescue the S.S. Mayaguez from Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, but lost more people in the rescue than it rescued. The Red Army Faction terrorists took hostages in Sweden, leading to the term "Stockholm Syndrome." Junko Tabei became the 1st woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. A bus crashed in Grassington, North Yorkshire, England, killing 32 people, the worst automotive disaster in British history. The Busch Gardens theme park "The Old Country" opened in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Chiang Kai-shek, and Moe Howard, the last surviving member of the Three Stooges, and William Hartnell, the first Doctor Who, died. So did baseball legend Lefty Grove. Within days, track star Steve Prefontaine would be killed. Christina Hendricks, and Ray Lewis, and David Beckham were born. On the very day the Warriors won the title, Lauryn Hill was born; on the day the Flyers won, Andre 3000 and Jamie Oliver.

May 25 and 27, 1975. The Golden State Warriors and the Philadelphia Flyers won their respective sports' World Championships. Neither has happened in the 40 years since.

The Flyers don't look like they'll end their drought after 41 years, either. Can the Warriors end it at 40? While I was typing this, they eliminated the Houston Rockets to win the Western Conference Championship, and advanced to the NBA Finals to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are currently 4 wins away from winning the title.

Of course, the Cavs have played for 45 seasons, and have never won the title -- indeed, they've never won an NBA Finals game, getting swept by the Spurs in their only appearance, in 2007. But LeBron James is back with them.

It's Cavs vs. Dubs. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Yanks Hit, Then Stop Hitting, In Tampa Bay


So after taking 3 of 4 at home against the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees headed down to St. Petersburg to take on the dessicated, Joe Maddon-less husk of the Tampa Bay Rays.

CC Sabathia hadn't won a game yet, his 0-5 record reflecting a little bit of poor pitching, and a little bit of good pitching not backed up by much hitting. The Big Fella did his job: 7 innings, 4 runs (3 earned), 6 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts.

This time, he got the run support. Alex Rodriguez hit his 8th home run of the season, the 662nd of his career. Chase Headley hit a home run, his 4th of the season. Carlos Beltran hit a home run, his 2nd of the season (and in as many games). Brett Gardner hit a home run, his 3rd of the season. And Mark Teixeira hit a home run, his 11th Teix Message of the season. So that's 5 homers, 3 by guys who were "old" and "washed-up" according to Met fans, Red Sox fans, the national media, and other Yankee Haters. Headley also had an RBI on a sacrifice fly.

Yankees 11, Rays 5. WP: Sabathia (1-5). No save. LP: Alex Colome (2-1). Attendance: 10,619. Pathetic. I've been to high school football games with bigger crowds than that -- and I don't live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or the South.

*

For the Tuesday night game, the Yankees sent out Nathan Eovaldi, who had won his 1st 3 decisions. He looked good again, cruising through the 1st 6 innings, with a 2-0 lead thanks to back-to-back 1st inning singles by Brian McCann and Beltran.

But, this time, Joe Girardi's fealty to pitch counts worked the other way. He saw that Eovaldi hadn't thrown too many pitches, so he left him in. Big mistake: He allowed 2 runs in the 7th, and 2 more in the 8th to lose it.

It's worth noting that the Yankees had a man on 2nd with nobody out in the 1st, men on 1st and 3rd with 2 out in the 2nd, a man on 1st with 2 out in the 4th, a man on 1st with 1 out in the 8th, and a man on 1st with 1 out in the 9th. None of those men were brought around to score.

Rays 4, Yankees 2. WP: Kevin Jepsen (1-2). SV: Brad Boxberger (9). LP: Eovaldi (3-1). Attendance: 10,417. What, did they only open 11,000 seats, because they thought that was all they could sell? Can they no longer even get ex-New Yorkers to show up and watch the Yankees play the Rays?

*

The Wednesday night game was even more frustrating. Another one of those games where you wish the Yankees hadn't wasted all those runs in a recent game.

Adam Warren pitched much better than his last outing, going 7 full, allowing 3 runs on 7 hits and just 1 walk, striking out 7. That should have been enough to win, if the lineup had done its job.

It didn't. Back-to-back 1st inning singles by Teixeira and McCann gave the Yanks a 2-0 lead before the Strays even got to bat. But that was it. Lots of missed opportunities.

None worse than the top of the 5th. With 2 out, Teix beat out an infield single. McCann singled into the hole. And Beltran singled to center. But Teix was thrown out at the plate. Girardi challenged the call, but it was upheld.

Rays 3, Yankees 2. WP: Nate Karns (3-1). SV: Boxberger (10). LP: Warren (2-2). Attendance: 11,924.

*

Then came the Thursday night game. Chase Whitley got hurt, and had to come out in the 2nd inning, and went on the Disabled List. Girardi brought  Esmil Rogers in to relieve him, and this Mr. Rogers once again proved he can only pitch well in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

A-Rod hit his 9th home run of the season, and he, Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury (twice) added singles. That was it for the Yankee offense.

Rays 6, Yankees 1. Attendance: 11,977.

Think about that: The 4 games combined had an attendance of 44,927 -- barely enough to fill Tropicana Field, not enough to fill the new, smaller version of Yankee Stadium. Jeez, move to Montreal already!

The Yankees moved on to Kansas City. I'll discuss that series in my next post.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Yanks Take 3 of 4 vs. O's


I've set a new personal best: The Yankees have now played 11 games since I last blogged about the current team.

It's not that they've been terrible. It's that real life has intruded, and I've been working on other things.

For this reason, I'm going to break this up. This post will be about the May 7-10 home series against the Baltimore Orioles.

*

On Thursday night, May 7, Joe Girardi sent Nathan Eovaldi out to face the Birds at The Stadium (Mark II). He was a bit shaky, allowing 3 runs in less than 6 innings. Fortunately, the bullpen, of Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just 1 baserunner (a walk by Miller in the 9th inning).

Eovaldi did leave with the lead. In the 1st, an Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly and a Mark Teixeira single each brought home a run. In the 3rd, A-Rod hit a home run, his 7th of the season, and the 661st of his career, passing Willie Mays for 4th on the all-time list. In the 5th, a Teix double made it 4-3 Yankees.

That was the final score. WP: Eovaldi (3-0). SV: Miller (12). LP: Chris Tillman (2-4).

*

The Friday night game was a little shakier. Adam Warren started, and he didn't make it to 5 full innings. Wilson wasn't all that neat in relief of him, either. But after him, the bullpen was solid: Chris Martin, Betances and Miller pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

Again, A-Rod got the Yankees on the board with a sacrifice fly. Brian McCann hit one out, his 3rd of the season. Carlos Beltran, who's turned it on lately, doubled home another run, and that provided the difference.

Yankees 5, Orioles 4. WP: Betances (4-0). SV: Miller (13). LP: Miguel Gonzalez (3-2).

*

The Saturday afternoon game didn't go so well. Chase Whitley didn't make it through the 6th inning. We now know he's going to need Tommy John surgery, and he'll be out until the middle of the 2016 season.

2016. Man, I can remember when 1990 sounded like "the future." You know, cities filled with skyscrapers taller than the World Trade Center, connected by monorails, flying cars, robots that would do anything, TV-phones... Okay, we have TV-phones, and there are a few skyscrapers on this planet that are taller than even the new World Trade Center....

This time, the offense and the bullpen couldn't bail the starter out. It was another "Yankee RISPfail," going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. John Ryan Murphy got a run home with a sacrifice fly, and Beltran singled home a run, but that was int.

Orioles 6, Yankees 2. WP: Wei-Yin Chen (1-1). SV: Zach Britton (6). LP: Whitley (1-1).

*

So on Sunday, the Yankees really needed a good start. They got it from Big Mike. No, not me: Michael Pineda.

By the way, all you people who said trading Jesus Montero for Pineda was a bad idea, and felt vindicated by Pineda's injury struggles? Thought you might like to know: Montero has spent most of last season and all of this season in the minor leagues. He hasn't gotten a hit in a major league game since June 21, 2014. That's almost 11 months. He's gotten just 25 major league hits in 2013, '14 and '15 combined. He's also had problems with weight and discipline.

So Pineda took the mound, and set a Yankee record for most strikeouts in a game without a walk: 16.

Naturally, Girardi, being a slave to the pitch count, took Pineda out after 7 innings, because he'd thrown 111 pitches. Pineda did allow a single to start the 7th, but got a forceout and 2 strikeouts to get out of the jam. Clearly, he was not tiring. The Yankee record for strikeouts in a game is 18, set by Ron Guidry on June 17, 1978, and Pineda needed 2 of the last 6 to at least tie it. The major league record for strikeouts in a game is 20, and Pineda needed 4 of the last 6 to at least tie it. But Girardi thinks the number of pitches a pitcher has thrown is more important than actual performance.

The Yankees backed him up as follows: Beltran hit his 1st home run of the season, McCann hit his 4th, Didi Gregorious had an RBI single and an RBI double (about time), and Jacoby Ellsbury had an RBI double.

Yankees 6, Orioles 2. WP: Pineda (5-0). No save. LP: Bud Norris (1-4).

The Yankees flew down to Tampa Bay after this game. A discussion of that series will be in my next post.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New York Teams in the Semifinals


I realize that I am very much behind on Yankee games. My next post -- barring a very newsworthy event -- will be an update.

To my dismay and disgust, the New York Rangers are in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals -- the Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Due to the way the Playoffs have been structured in each sport, the Rangers have reached the Playoffs more than any other team in the New York Tri-State Area -- mainly because, from 1943 to 1967, a team only needed to finish 4th out of 6 teams in a single-division League to do it. And that made every Playoff berth a Semifinal berth.

But how have they done once they got to the Semifinals?

Note: For baseball teams, "the final four" means that, from 1883 to 1968, they finished no worse than 2nd in their League.

1. New York Yankees, 54: 1904, 1906, 1910, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2012.

-. New York Giants (baseball, defunct), 33: 1885, 1889, 1890, 1894, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1928, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1952, 1954.

2. New York Rangers, 30: 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1947, 1950, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1994, 1997, 2012, 2014.

3. New York Giants (football), 28: 1927, 1929, 1930, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1986, 1990, 2000, 2007, 2011.

-. Brooklyn Dodgers (defunct), 22: 1888, 1889, 1890, 1899, 1900, 1902, 1916, 1920, 1924, 1940,
1941, 1942, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956.

4. New York Knicks, 16: 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000.

5. New York Islanders, 10: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1993.

6. New York Jets, 9: 1960, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1982, 1998, 2010, 2011.

7. New Jersey Devils, 7: 1988, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2012.

8. New York Mets, 7: 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000, 2006.

9. Brooklyn Nets (includes seasons as New York Nets and New Jersey Nets), 4: 1974, 1976 (ABA Champions means they were 1 of the last 2 teams standing, never mind the last 4), 2002, 2003.

*

And when they got to the Semifinals?

1. Nets: Won the ABA title or reached the NBA Finals 4 times. 4-0. 1.000. Don't start gloating yet, Brooklyn -- especially since 2 of those were done on The Island and the other 2 in Jersey.

2. Yankees: Reached the World Series 40 times, failing 14. 40-14. .741.

3. Giants (football): Won the single-division NFL (1925-32), reached the NFL Championship Game (1933-65) or the Super Bowl (1966-2014 seasons) 20 times. 20-8. .714.

-. Dodgers (defunct): Reached the World Series 13 times. 13-9. .591. That's right: A better record than the Yankees or the Giants -- a better percentage, if not a higher total.

4. Devils: Reached the Stanley Cup Finals 4 times. 4-3. .571. Better than the Rangers? Yes, even better than the Islanders.

-. Giants (baseball): Reached the World Series 17 times. 17-16. .515.

5. Knicks: Reached the NBA Finals 8 times. 8-8. .500. That's not bad at all. Indeed, it's the same as the Yankees.

6. Islanders: Reached the Stanley Cup Finals 5 times. 5-5. .500. 

7. Rangers: Reached the Stanley Cup Finals 11 times. 11-19. .367. Not good. Better than the Mets or the Jets, but what kind of a standard is that?

8. Mets: Reached the World Series 4 times. 4-3. Won Finals twice. So, 2-7. .286.

9. Jets: Reached the Super Bowl once. 1-8. .111.

*

And upon reaching the Final?

1. Yankees: Won World Series 27 times. So, 27 out of 54 -- 27-27, half. .500.

2. Devils: Won Stanley Cup 3 times. 3-7. .429.

3. Islanders: Won Stanley Cup 4 times. 4-6. .400.

4. Giants (football): Won 8 NFL Championships. 8-28, .286. However, once they get to the final four stage, they have never lost, except for a 1950 Playoff for the NFL Eastern Division title. And they haven't lost an NFC Championship Game since the game was created for the 1970 season.

5. Mets: Won World Series twice. So, 2-7. .286.

-. Giants (baseball): Won World Series 7 times. So, 7-33. .212.

-. Dodgers: Won World Series 4 times. So, 4-22. .182.

6. Rangers: Won Stanley Cup 4 times. 4-26. .133. Pathetic.

7. Knicks: Won NBA Finals twice. So, 2-16. .125. That's awful.

8. Jets: Won Super Bowl once. So, 1-8. .111. But they've never lost a Final!

9. Nets: Have never won NBA Finals. 0-4. .000. The only team in the New York Tri-State Area that has never won a World Championship -- unless you count the Red Bulls, NYCFC, or the Liberty.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Top 10 Yogi Berra Moments

May 12, 1925, 90 years ago: Lawrence Peter Berra is born in St. Louis. He grew up in the Gateway City at the same time as 5 members of the U.S. team that shocked England at the 1950 World Cup: Goalkeeper Frank Borghi, right back Harry Keough, centre-half Charlie Colombo, inside right Gino Pariani, and outside right Frank Wallace (born Valicenti). Left half Walter Bahr of Philadelphia, father of Super Bowl-winning placekickers Matt and Chris, is now the last living man who played in that game, 65 years ago.

When Larry Berra was 11 years old, he played in a baseball game on a sandlot field that didn't have dugouts. So the players all sat on the ground. Larry sat there with his arms and legs folded. He and his friends had recently seen a movie about India, and one of the characters in it was a yogi, and one of them said, "You look like a yogi."

He's been Yogi ever since. A few years back, Bob Costas asked him what his wife Carmen calls him. He said, "She calls me Yogi. If she calls me Lawrence, I know I'm in trouble."

And, just as the makers of the Baby Ruth candy bar had to concoct a story that it wasn't named after Babe Ruth in order to avoid paying the Babe royalties for the use of his name, Hanna-Barbera Productions officially said that the cartoon character Yogi Bear wasn't named after Yogi Berra. Berra didn't take legal action, knowing that he'd get better publicity if he left the ridiculous lie alone. Because he was "smarter than the average bear."

Top 10 Yogi Berra Moments

These are in chronological order.

1. The Best Brothers Ever. Yogi said his older brothers Mike and Tony were better ballplayers than he was. On the list of things great ballplayers said (or may have said) that seem as if they can't possibly be true, it's up there with Willie Mays, a quarterback who wouldn't get recruited by white colleges, saying he was better in football (or any sport) than he was in baseball.

Pietro Berra, the boys' father, was an Italian immigrant. So was Giuseppe DiMaggio of San Francisco. Giuseppe forbid his boys to play baseball, saying they were going to go to work. His oldest son Vince disobeyed him, played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, came back, and slammed a wad of cash on the kitchen table. Seeing more money at once than he'd ever had in his life, Giuseppe welcomed Vince back, and also let sons Joe and Dom play pro ball.

Pietro Berra was a bit more intransigent. When the St. Louis Cardinals were interested in Mike, he was underage, and he needed his father to sign his contract with him. The father told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work." So he did.

A little later, the Cards were interested in Tony. At this point, Tony was underage, and needed his father to sign his contract with him. But Pietro told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work." So he did.

A little later, the Yankees were interested in Lawrence -- or "Lawdie," as his parents called him in their accent. Again, the underage son needed the father to sign the contract with him. But Pietro told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work."

This time, Mike and Tony stepped in. At this point, both were not only working, but married, and living together -- and both were past their 21st birthday. They told their father that if he didn't co-sign Yogi's contract, they would. And that, if he threw Yogi out of the house for this, he could come and live with them.

Pietro's bluff was called. He co-signed the contract. The rest is history -- or, as Yogi's future manager Casey Stengel would say, "And you could look it up."

2. D-Day. There were 156,000 men who were in the Allied landing force in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, arguably the pivotal day in human history. As of last night's games, according to Baseball-Reference.com (a website which is your friend, whether you know it or not), there have been 18,484 men who have played Major League Baseball. Only 1 man is in both categories: Seaman Lawrence Peter Berra, USN.

Yogi was a gunner's mate on the U.S.S. Bayfield, an attack transport ship. He was just past his 19th birthday, and until signing his Yankee contract to play minor-league ball -- a journey interrupted by his service in World War II -- he had never been outside St. Louis before. And there were all those Nazis, ready to kill him. You'd think he would have been terrified.

He might have been the most composed guy on either side of the English Channel. He recalled seeing the rockets being fired by both sides: "To me, it looked like the 4th of July." He got through it, and through the entire War, without a scratch.

Not so lucky was Lieutenant James Montgomery Doohan of the Canadian Royal Artillery. He killed a few Nazis on Juno Beach, and had his right middle finger shot off. That's right: He literally gave the Nazis the finger. That's why, whenever he was shown operating machinery as Scotty on Star Trek, he did so with his left hand.

3. Breaking Up the Biggest Trade. Yogi debuted in the major leagues on September 22, 1946, in the 1st game of a doubleheader with the Philadelphia Athletics at the original Yankee Stadium. Batting 8th, catching, and wearing Number 38, he went 2-for-4, including a 2-run home run off Jesse Flores, the 1st of 358 homers he would hit in the major leagues -- still a record for anyone 5-foot-8 or shorter. The Yankees won, 4-3, behind Yogi's homer and the pitching of Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler.

Legend has it that Yankee co-owner Larry MacPhail and Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey -- who had just won his 1st American League Pennant -- got together after the season and, as both men liked to do, got drunk.

They retained enough lucidity to realize that Joe DiMaggio, a righthanded hitter, was losing lots of hits in Yankee Stadium's left field and center field, known as "Death Valley" -- long outs that might be home runs over the high but close left field wall at Fenway Park. (The wall's advertising signs were about to come down, resulting in it being clear, with the green-painted tin seen underneath, leading to the nickname the Green Monster.) This trade would also reunited Joe with his brother Dom, who was with the Red Sox.

Likewise, Ted Williams, a lefthanded hitter, was losing lots of hits in Fenway's expansive right and center fields, hits that might be home runs to the "short porch" in right field at Yankee Stadium.

So the 2 powerful drunks wrote up the trade of all time on a cocktail napkin: They would trade Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio. Regardless of whether the trade worked out, if that napkin had survived, how much would it be worth today?

What's that, you say? The trade never happened? That's right: In the morning, sobered up, Yawkey decided -- forgetting that the Yankee Clipper was a great fielder and a great baserunner, and that the Splendid Splinter was, by his own admission, neither -- that Ted was worth more than Joe. So he called MacPhail up, and demanded that he throw in a player he liked. He couldn't think of the player's name, but knew he was a decent hitter and a good left fielder, and could also catch a little. MacPhail realized that Yawkey was talking about Yogi, and put the kibosh on the deal.

The next season, when Yogi would likely have won the AL Rookie of the Year award had there been one at the time, the St. Louis Browns, desperate for attendance as always, hosted Yogi Berra Night at Sportsman's Park, welcoming the hometown hero as he came in with the Yankees. He told the crowd, "I'd like to thank everybody for making this day necessary." He meant "possible."

This quote, which Yogi repeated upon his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, was reported in the next day's newspapers, and is definitive proof that Yogi did not start saying weird things after listening to Stengel, as they hadn't met yet.

Perhaps Yogi should have included Tom Yawkey and his hubris among those who had made that day necessary.

4. All His Experiences. Yogi wasn't a natural behind the plate. Although, now wearing Number 35, he hit the 1st pinch-hit home run in World Series history, off Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in Game 3 of the 1947 World Series -- a game the Yankees lost anyway, though they won the Series in 7 games -- the Dodgers ran rampant on him, successfully challenging his arm and his positioning. He didn't get much better in 1948, either.

So when Stengel became Yankee manager in 1949, he hired Bill Dickey as a coach. Dickey was then regarded, along with Mickey Cochrane, as 1 of the 2 greatest catchers who ever lived. Stengel told Dickey to teach Yogi everything he knew about catching. To show Yogi that he trusted him, Casey even gave Yogi Dickey's old uniform number, 8. (Dickey was given 33.)

Yogi's improvement was quick, and when asked why, he said, "Bill Dickey is learning me all his experiences."

He should have said, "Bill Dickey is teaching me everything from his experience." I suspect that Yogi may have gotten the expression from Dizzy Dean, the Cardinals pitcher who had become a broadcaster for both St. Louis teams. Diz once read, on the air, a letter from a teacher who said he shouldn't use the word "ain't" on the air, because it was bad for children to hear that. He told the teacher, "A lot o' folks who ain't sayin' 'ain't' ain't eatin'. So, teach, you learn 'em English, and I'll learn 'em baseball."

I suspect that Yogi was one of the people that Dizzy "learned baseball." Who knows, Dizzy might also be the reason Yogi ended up saying things like, "Nobody ever goes there anymore, it's too crowded," and, "Pair up in threes," and, "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

5. Five in a Row. Dickey's experiences must have worked: Yogi, along with the pitching, was the biggest reason the Yankees won the 1949 Pennant, starting a string of 5 straight World Championships. The 1953 World Series ring has a diamond inside a number 5. Whitey Ford has said that's his favorite World Series ring.

When the Yankees won 3 straight World Series in 1998, 1999 and 2000, Derek Jeter told Yogi he'd catch up with him. When the Yankees lost the Series in 2001, Yogi (who couldn't have been happy about that) told Jeter, "Now, ya gotta start over."

Jeter may have been cheated out of 3 AL Most Valuable Player awards: In 1999, 2006 and 2009. Yogi might also have been cheated out of 3: In 1949, 1952 and 1953. But he actually did win 3: In 1951, 1954 and 1955. It's been suggested that Yogi is the most valuable Yankee of all time. Certainly, he's the most underrated.

All tolled, Yogi played in 14 World Series, winning 10 of them. Both records that, well, if Jeter wasn't going to break them, it sure looks like nobody will.

6. If the World Were Perfect. Yogi once said, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be." Meaning that a perfect world would be boring. One man who was definitely not boring was Don Larsen, a pitcher so off-kilter in the head he was nicknamed Gooney Bird. (Or Gooney for short.)

In Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Larsen pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers. Yogi caught it. Years later, he said, "It never happened before, and it still hasn't." He's right, sort of: While no longer the only no-hitter in postseason history, it's still the only one in World Series history. And it wasn't just a no-hitter, it was a perfect game. Larsen threw exactly what Yogi called, on every one of his 97 pitches, and it worked.

Two days later -- a Subway Series, so there was no need for a travel day -- Yogi hit 2 home runs, powering the Yankees to a 9-0 win in Game 7. Yogi hit 3 homers and had 10 RBIs in the Series.

7. The Businessman. Yogi looked dumb, and his "Yogi-isms" made him sound dumb. This was far from the case. While still active players, he and teammate Phil Rizzuto opened a clothing store and a bowling alley, both in New Jersey.

By this point, the Scooter lived in Hillside, and Yogi lived in Upper Montclair, where his next-door neighbor was naval engineer and New Jersey Devils founding owner John McMullen. The store, the bowling alley, other business interests, and, yes, his salary -- the most he ever made in a season was $65,000, but that was a big sum for the early Sixties -- allowed him to buy a big house. Rizzuto called it a mansion. Yogi said, "It's just a big house with rooms." Giving directions to it, he once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." The house was between the prongs of the fork, so this wasn't just Yogi being Yogi.

Yogi's familiar face, lovable personality and way with words led him to being hired as a pitchman for all kinds of products. He seemed to specialize in drinks: As early as 1957, he did an ad for Florida orange juice. (Sorry, no "Yogi-isms" in this one.) He also did ads for Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink and Miller Lite beer -- or, as it was known at the time, "Lite beer from Miller." This 1987 commercial included a rather confused pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander.

Sadly, in 1960, he did an ad for Camel cigarettes. (Cigarette advertising was banned from American TV in 1971.) He must've quit smoking at some point, because he's still alive at 90. (Then again, DiMaggio smoked until dying of lung cancer at 84.) So maybe Yogi doesn't need Aflac insurance. But, what the heck, they gave him a check -- which was just as good as money.

My favorite Yogi commercial doesn't appear to be on YouTube: "What's your favorite Entenmann's?" Yogi's favorite also happens to be mine: In a line that, like the Aflac and Miller lines, was clearly written for him in his style, he said, "That's easy: Chocolate chip cookies. You can taste how good they are just by eating 'em!" (A takeoff on his line, "You can observe a lot by watching.")

8. The Harmonica Incident. In 1959, Yogi and left fielder Elston Howard had their positions switched by Stengel. Talking about how the sun combine with the old Stadium's roof, he said, "It gets late early out there."

He was still a key figure on Pennant-winning teams. But after the 1963 season, Yogi was 38 and clearly slowing down. And, with Ralph Houk, his former backup catcher, being moved up from field manager to general manager, Yogi was offered the job of managing the Yankees.

There were those who thought that Yogi was too much of a softie to manage, especially players he'd played with. On August 20, 1964, the Yankees were in a dogfight for the Pennant with the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, and had just been swept by the ChiSox in 4 straight. The tension on the bus from Comiskey Park back to O'Hare Airport was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife.

Reserve infielder Phil Linz pulled out a harmonica he'd begun learning how to play. Yogi, sitting at the head of the bus, heard it, and yelled back, "Whoever's playing that thing, shove it up your ass!" Linz didn't hear what he said, and asked Mickey Mantle what Yogi said. Being a wisenheimer, Mickey said, "He said, 'Play it louder.'" So Linz did.

Yogi got up, walked down the aisle of the bus, saw Linz, and said, "I thought I told you to shove that thing up your ass." Linz said, "If you want it shoved up my ass, why don't you shove it there?" He flipped the instrument to Yogi... who slapped it down.

There are 2 versions of what happened next. One is that everyone saw that Yogi could mean business, and that the respect for him as a manager developed. The other, which is more believable, is included in Peter Golenbock's book Dynasty, and is backed up by the surviving '64 Yanks all saying that respect for Yogi was never an issue. This version says that the slapped-down harmonica bounced off Joe Pepitone's leg. Pepi then fell into the aisle in mock agony, rolling around on the floor of the bus like a Spanish soccer player (with the bad hair to match). Everyone cracked up -- and loosened up.

With respect for Yogi restored, or the tension shattered, whichever is true, the Yankees went on a tear. They flew to Boston and lost 2 more, then won 28 of their last 39, including an 11-game winning streak from September 16 to 26, and won the Pennant, winning 99 games, beating the White Sox by 1 game and the O's by 2. Yogi had won his 1st Pennant as a manager, and he wasn't even 40.

But they lost the Series -- ironically, to Yogi's boyhood team, the Cardinals. And Yankee management fired him, which they were determined to do even if he won the Series. "That's baseball," he said. At least they told him to his face. That would not be the case the 2nd time he was fired as Yankee manager.

9. It Ain't Over. By this point, Casey was managing the expansion Mets. He hired Yogi as a coach. He even put Yogi in 4 games, where he went 2-for-9. Clearly, he was done. When Casey retired in that 1965 season, Met management kept Yogi on, as a drawing card as much as anything else.

He was still a Met coach during the 1969 "Miracle" season. Asked about the Mets' World Series upset over the Baltimore Orioles, he said, "We were overwhelming underdogs." It sounds funny, but it was absolutely true. When manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack on the even of the 1972 season, Yogi was named manager.

On August 5, 1973, the Mets were in 6th and last place in the National League Eastern Division, 11 1/2 games out. A few days earlier, a reporter asked Yogi if the Mets were out of it, and he said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Yogi's syntax may have been cold, but the Mets got hot, winning 34 of their last 53. On August 26, they were still in 5th place, behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and even the 5th-year expansion Montreal Expos -- but were only 6 1/2 games back. From then on, they won 24 of their last 33, including a 7-game streak from September 18 to 25, and won the Division with an 82-79 record --the worst record of any 1st-place team in baseball history (in a full season of at least 154 games, anyway). Then they upset the Cincinnati Reds for the Pennant.

In Game 3 of the NL Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose slid hard into Bud Harrelson to break up a double play, and then shoved the much smaller man, starting a bench-clearing brawl. When Rose went back out to left field the next inning the fans in Shea Stadium's left field stands threw garbage onto the field at Rose. Yogi and Willie Mays, then playing out the string with the Mets, went out there, and told the fans to stop, or else the game would be forfeited to the Reds. They listened, and the Mets won the Pennant in 5 games.

They lost the Series in 7 to the Oakland Athletics, though. To this day, there are Met fans who blame Yogi for losing the Series, for starting ace Tom Seaver on 3 days' rest in Game 6, instead of saving him for Game 7 on full rest. This is nonsense: If you have Tom Seaver, you send him out to close it out. Tom didn't get the job done that day, although a smart baseball fan would credit the A's for getting it done. (Don't forget, they had Reggie Jackson, who homered in Game 6 and Game 7, building his reputation as "Mr. October.")

Yogi and Carmen, circa 1973:
"We have a great time together, even when we're not together."

If Met fans held a grudge against Yogi then, they seem to have stopped: On back-to-back Sundays in September 2008, he attended the closing ceremonies of both New York ballparks. He got a thunderous ovation at the old Yankee Stadium, and then a nice reception at Shea Stadium.

Eventually, Yogi began to tell people, "I try to say, 'It isn't over 'til it's over.'" I guess the influence that Dizzy Dean still had on him ain't goin' away.

10. The Exile and the Restoration. Mets president M. Donald Grant, right up there with Brooklyn Dodger owner/mover Walter O'Malley and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner as the most hated man in the history of New York baseball, fired Yogi as Met manager in 1975. Unlike many Met fans -- especially after Grant forced Seaver out 2 years later -- Yogi never held a grudge against him.

His Yankee teammate Billy Martin had just been hired as Yankee manager for the 1st time, and brought Yogi to his coaching staff. Through 9 managerial changes by Steinbrenner, including Billy 3 times, Yogi stayed. After George fired Billy for the 3rd time, he promoted Yogi to manager for the 1984 season.

The Detroit Tigers ran away with the AL East in 1984, en route to a title. But the Yankees won 87 games, a respectable total, especially considering Yogi hadn't managed in 9 years. Everyone was optimistic for 1985, and George publicly promised that Yogi would be given the whole season. He wasn't: The Yankees lost 10 of their 1st 16, and George fired Yogi.

In retrospect, competitively, it was the right thing to do: George brought Billy back for the 4th time, and, despite not quite having enough pitching all season long, the team ended up winning 97 games, finishing 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. That wasn't the problem. George breaking his promise wasn't the problem, either.

The problem was that, unlike Houk in 1964 and Grant in 1975, George didn't call Yogi up to his office and tell him face-to-face, man-to-man. Nor did George go down to Yogi's office to tell him himself. Instead, he sent team scout Clyde King -- a former major league pitcher who had briefly been Yankee manager himself in 1982 -- to tell Yogi.

This time, Yogi held a grudge. Not against King, but against George. He swore he would never set foot in Yankee Stadium again as long as George owned the team.

As the years went by, he kept this promise. In 1988, George thought he could lure Yogi back by dedicating a Plaque for him in Monument Park. He did this for Dickey as well -- Number 8 had been jointly retired for them in 1972. Dickey was 81, in a wheelchair, and had to come from Arkansas to be there -- and he went. Yogi was 63, in good health, and George could've sent limousines to pick up Yogi and his family, and they'd be at Yankee Stadium in an hour, if only he'd accept the invitation. He didn't.

In 1995 and 1996, the Yankees were back in the postseason. George invited Yogi to throw out a ceremonial first ball. He refused. In 1997, the 1st Yankees-Mets Interleague series was played at Yankee Stadium. Again, George invited Yogi. Again, Yogi refused. In 1998, an Interleague series was held at Shea for the 1st time. The Mets invited Yogi. No grudge here: Wearing a Mets cap, Yogi, 73, threw out a perfect strike of a first ball.

That same year, a group of Yogi's friends opened the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, on the campus of Montclair State University, not far from his home. This was a very big deal, as not many athletes have museums in their honor while they're still alive. (Interestingly, Dizzy Dean was one, in his adopted hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, although it's gone now, its exhibits moved to become art of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, also in the State capital of Jackson.)

The next spring, DiMaggio was dying. George went to visit Joe at the hospital in Florida that now has a children's wing that bears his name, due to his donations. George asked Joe if there was anything he could do for him. Joe told him to make up with Yogi.

Not long after that, Yankee broadcaster Suzyn Waldman talked to Carmen, and Carm said her great regret was that, unlike Yogi's children, his grandchildren had never seen him at Yankee Stadium in a Yankee uniform. So Suzyn went to talk to George, and said, "I'd like to talk to you about Yogi." And George, still rattled by his visit with DiMaggio, said, "Why, what's wrong?" Suzyn said she knew, at that point, that a reconciliation was possible.

A meeting was set up at the Yogi Museum. In front of the media, George said, "I'm sorry." Yogi said the perfect thing to say in the situation: "It's over."

George invited Yogi to throw out the first ball on Opening Day, an honor usually given to DiMaggio, who had died on March 8. Later in the season, Yogi wore his old Number 8 uniform for the 1st time in 14 years, on Old-Timers' Day.

In June 1999, I visited the Museum for the 1st time. I wrote on the comment card, "I'm glad I came. If I hadn't come, I wouldn't have known what I wasn't missing." I got a nice postcard back, complimenting me on my choice of words, and advertising future events.

One such event was a bus trip from the Museum to The Stadium for Yogi Berra Day on July 18, 1999. I thought about it... and decided not to go. On the one hand, it was brutally hot that day, almost 100 degrees. On the other hand, I missed maybe the greatest day in Yankee history -- and as Yogi might say, I'm not just whittling Dixie.

Yogi got all kinds of gifts, and read a heartfelt speech that was totally on the level, no Yogi-isms. Then Yogi caught a ceremonial first ball from Don Larsen. Then, with Yogi and Don both watching, David Cone pitched a perfect game. Coney remarked that there was a Number 8 marked behind home plate, and he had thrown 88 pitches. It was a real "You can't make this stuff up" moment. After the game, the scoreboard put up one of Yogi's best-known lines: "It's deja vu all over again."

Yogi and Carm, not long before her death in 2014.

*

Today, there was a party for Yogi at the Museum. There was recently a break-in at the Museum, and several priceless artifacts were stolen. The Yankees and Mets organizations both chipped in to pay for replicas, which were presented at the party; however, the originals have yet to be recovered.

Carmen got sick a few years ago, and they had to move from the Montclair house -- which was listed for $888,888, appropriately enough, and sold quickly -- to a nursing home. Soon, it was clear that advancing age had left Yogi frail enough that he was no longer living there just for her.

She died on March 6, 2014, at age 85, after 65 years of marriage. They raised 3 sons, Larry, Dale (who also played in the majors, including on the Yankees under his father) and Tim (a receiver at the University of Massachusetts who briefly played with the Baltimore Colts as a kick returner in 1974 -- no, he didn't wear Number 88, instead wearing 84). Tim runs the company that handles Yogi's business affairs, named LTD Enterprises for them (Larry, Tim, Dale). Yogi and Carm had 11 grandchildren, including Lindsay Berra, who now writes for MLB.com.

It's hard for Yogi to get around these days. When he's introduced on Old-Timers' Day, it's always last, together with Whitey Ford, who's in a bit better shape but is still 86, on a golf cart. He looks so old, and very weak. (UPDATE: On Old-Timers Day 2015, Yogi wasn't well enough to attend.)

But he's still very much with it. According to his granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, who writes for MLB.com, she asked him about Tom Brady's "Deflategate." She said that "Gramp" said, "If you're going to cheat, it's better if you don't get caught."

Last year's birthday party at the Yogi Museum
L to R: Jorge Posada, Yogi, Reggie "Indiana" Jackson, Joe Girardi.

He likes to say, "I really didn't say everything I said." Well, less important than what he's said is who he's been. He's an American treasure.

And thank God he's not yet a buried treasure. Happy Birthday, Yoag.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How Long It's Been: Tottenham Finished Ahead of Arsenal

This past Monday afternoon (Monday night, local time), Arsenal defeated Hull City 3-1, ensuring that they would finish the Premier League season with more points than the other major soccer team in North London, Tottenham Hotspur.

Because of their origin as a "works side" (in America, we would say "company team," as were the origins of the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers) at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, Arsenal have a cannon on their badge. Thus, the team is nicknamed the Gunners. As a result of this, their fans are called Gooners.

Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs for short, frequently has their fans called Spuds by Gooners. I don't see the connection, except that potatoes grow underground where there's no light, and Spurs fans don't seem to see the light. As in...

Q: How many Tottenham fans does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It doesn't mater: They'll still be in the dark.

When Arsenal are assured of finishing ahead of Tottenham in the League table (standings), Gooners celebrate it as "St. Totteringham's Day." Monday's win means that they have finished above Tottenham for 20 consecutive seasons.

It's a very nasty rivalry, but when you can't finish better than the team you hate the most for twenty years, that's not much of a rivalry, is it?

In that time, Tottenham have had some good seasons. In 2010 and 2012, they finished 4th; both times, Arsenal finished 3rd. In 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013, they finished 5th; each of those times, Arsenal finished 4th.

They've had some good cup runs. In 1999 and 2008, they won the League Cup (beating Arsenal in the Semifinal in 2008); in 2002, 2009 and this season, they reached its Final; in 2007, its Semifinal (losing to Arsenal). They reached the Semifinal of the FA Cup in 1999, 2001 (losing to Arsenal), 2010 and 2012; they reached the Quarterfinal in 2002, 2005 and 2007. Their 4th place finish in 2010 qualified them for the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League, only their 2nd time in the tournament originally known as the European Cup, and they advanced to the Quarterfinals; their 4th place finish in 2012 did not qualify them for such, because another London team, Chelsea, who'd finished 6th, won the tournament and took England's 4th spot. And in 2007 and 2013, they reached the Quarterfinal of the UEFA Cup/Europa League. (The name change happened in 2010.)

And they've had some big wins over Arsenal, in individual games. But they've never finished ahead of Arsenal.

To make matters worse, in 2004, they came from 2-0 to forge a 2-2 draw with Arsenal at their home ground, White Hart Lane -- but that was enough for Arsenal to clinch the League title. For the 2nd time, Arsenal won the League at White Hart Lane. The first time was in 1971. In other words, Tottenham have won the League exactly twice, in 1951 and 1961, and clinched at White Hart Lane both times, and yet Arsenal have won the League there exactly as many times as Tottenham have.

Twenty years since Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal. Twenty years since there was no St. Totteringham's Day in a season. How long has that been?

*

Tottenham finished 7th in 1994-95, while Arsenal finished 12th. Despite the high finish (by their standards), it was a rough time for Spurs. Indeed, they shouldn't have finished ahead of Arsenal: Due to financial irregularities by previous owners, they were fined £600,000, deducted 12 points, and banned from the 1994-95 FA Cup. New owner Alan Sugar -- computer mogul, and producer and star of the original British version of Donald Trump's The Apprentice -- challenged the sanctions in court. Although the fine was increased to £1.5 million, the deduction and cup ban were rescinded.

Tottenham replaced former star Ossie Ardiles as manager with Gerry Francis, a former star at another London club, Queens Park Rangers. He's now 63, and hasn't managed in 14 years. Tottenham's leading scorer was Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the heroes of West Germany's 1990 World Cup win. He's now the manager of the American national team. Naturally, Germany's biggest club, Bayern Munich swooped in, and bought him, leaving Spurs without their best player. They also ended up having to sell Romanian star Gheorghe Popescu.

It was a rough time for Arsenal as well. Their manager was Stewart Houston, who was serving as caretaker manager following the firing of George Graham, who'd been caught having accepted a large financial gift as a result of a player's transfer. They also had to deal with the injuries and drug rehab of Paul Merson, and the injury-forced retirement of striker Alan Smith. Paul Davis would also retire, and Kevin Campbell would be sold.

Somehow, the holders of the European Cup Winners' Cup reached the Final of that tournament again, losing to Spanish club Real Zaragoza, on a late extra time goal by Turkish player Nayim. Nayim had previously played for Tottenham, and, to this day, Spurs fans still sing his name, even though the goal and the game had absolutely nothing to do with Spurs. When a former Arsenal player does something to beat Tottenham, Arsenal fans get excited and laugh, but they quickly move on. This shows you how stupid Tottenham fans tend to be.

Bruce Rioch would manage Arsenal the next season, and then Arsene Wenger would come in, and he's still there, having finished above Tottenham every season he's managed in England, while Tottenham have gone through manager after manager after manager, and failed. Mauricio Pochettino is in charge now; in 1995, the Argentine was 23 and playing centreback for Espanyol, "the other club in Barcelona."

In the 1994-95 season, the League was won by Blackburn Rovers, by 1 point over Manchester United. Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish was their manager, their leading scorer was future Newcastle United and BBC Match of the Day star Alan Shearer, and their Captain was Tim Sherwood -- future Tottenham manager, and currently preparing to manage Birmingham side Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal. (There's a conundrum for Spurs fans: Rooting for Arsenal, or for a manager they believed wasn't good enough for their club.)

Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry City, Norwich City and Ipswich Town were all in the top flight. Now, none of them are -- and Wimbledon aren't even in Wimbledon anymore, having moved to become Milton Keynes Dons, while a new AFC Wimbledon have been formed.

This was the last season of 22 teams in the top flight; ever since, it's been 20. Of the 22 teams in the League that season, every one, in accordance with the Taylor Report in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, has either modernized its stadium or built an entirely new one. Tottenham, now, appears to finally be getting ready to start building the replacement for White Hart Lane. Of the 1994-95 Premiership teams, Arsenal, Wimbledon/MK Dons, Southampton, Coventry, Manchester City and Leicester City have all built new stadiums; while West Ham United are preparing to leave Upton Park and move to the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Including the teams that are in this season's Premier League, add Hull City, Stoke City and Swansea City.

At the end of that season, Ted Drake died. He had been an Arsenal star in the 1930s, and in 1955 he became, until 2005, the only man ever to manage Chelsea to a League Championship. Such legends of the game as Stanley Matthews, Silvio Piola, Harry Andersson and Leônidas da Silva were still alive.

Everton won that season's FA Cup, and Ajax Amsterdam won the Champions League. Defending World Champions in the sports that most Americans would recognize were the San Francisco 49ers in football, the Houston Rockets in basketball, the New York Rangers in hockey (ugh, but they were about to be dethroned by the New Jersey Devils), and, since the 1994 postseason had been canceled, the Toronto Blue Jays spent a 3rd straight offseason as reigning World Champions of baseball. Boxing was already hopelessly messed up, and the "Heavyweight Champion of the World" was George Foreman according to the IBF, Riddick Bowe according to the WBO, Bruce Seldon according to the WBA, and Oliver McCall according to the WBC.

As the 1994-95 soccer season came to a close, Andrea Pirlo was about to turn 16 and playing in Brescia's youth system, Steven Gerrard was about to turn 15 and playing in Liverpool's youth system, John Terry was 14 and playing in West Ham's youth system, Zlatan Ibrahimović was 13, Arjen Robben was 11, Cristiano Ronaldo was 10, Wayne Rooney and Manuel Neuer were 9, Olivier Giroud was 8, Lionel Messi was about to turn 8, Sergio Leonel "Kun" Agüero was about to turn 7, Mesut Özil was 6, Aaron Ramsey was 4, Neymar was 3, and Harry Kane was about to turn 2.

In the wake of the 1994 World Cup held in America, Major League Soccer was in the process of being founded. The current manager of the New York Red Bulls, Jesse Marsch, was a senior at New Jersey's Princeton University. New York City FC manager Jason Kreis was playing for the Raleigh Flyers, in the league that then stood as America's 3rd division. The team no longer exists.

Joe Girardi was the catcher for the Colorado Rockies. Terry Collins was manager of the Houston Astros. Tom Coughlin had just been hired as the 1st head coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. Todd Bowles was a senior defensive back at Temple University. Derek Fisher was a junior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Lionel Hollins was wrapping up his playing career, with the Houston Rockets, and was about to return to his alma mater, Arizona State, as an assistant coach. Scott Stevens was leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup as Captain. Adam Oates was a star center for the Boston Bruins. Alain Vigneault was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators. Jack Capuano was a minor-league assistant coach.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, Canada, Britain, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in France, Japan, Korea, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Bill Clinton. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, their wives, and the widow of Lyndon Johnson were still alive. George W. Bush had just begun "serving" as Governor of Texas. Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister wasr John Major. David Cameron was working for Carlton Communications. The Mayor of London was Sir John Chalstrey. Boris Johnson was writing for a national newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, which, then as now, was so conservative that it was nicknamed the Torygraph. The Prime Minister of Canada was Jean Chretien. Stephen Harper was already in their Parliament.

The Governor of New York was George Pataki, and of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman. The Mayor of New York was Rudy Giuliani. Andrew Cuomo was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (he would be full Secretary of HUD in Clinton's 2nd term), Chris Christie was a Morris County Freeholder, and Bill de Blasio was working as an aide to Congressman Charles Rangel.

Nick Hornby, the Arsenal fan who made Arsenal fandom cool for the first time since the early 1970s with Fever Pitch, published High Fidelity. Frank McCourt publishes Angela's Ashes. Memoirs were published by Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom) and Leonard Nimoy (I Am Spock -- a sequel to his controversial 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock). 

Major movies released in the Spring of 1995 included Bad Boys, The Basketball Diaries, While You Were Sleeping, Friday, Crimson Tide, Die Hard with a Vengeance, the faux-historical Scottish films Rob Roy and Braveheart, and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain -- Gentlemen, start your Hugh Grant jokes. The TV shows NewsRadio and Sliders had recently debuted. Empty Nest, Matlock, Blossom and Full House wrapped up their runs.

Selena was shot and killed. Former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was nearly stabbed after a concert in the Detroit area, with security guards getting hurt in the process. Tupac Shakur got married in prison. (He was doing time for rape. The marriage didn't last, and not because he was shot and killed on the outside.) Hanson and Sugar Ray released their debut albums. The surviving Beatles were putting together The Beatles Anthology. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley began to split up.

Most people had never heard of Osama bin Laden or Vladimir Putin, Simon Cowell or Katie Price. Princess Diana was still alive, and Prince William was turning 13. Kim Kardashian was 14, future Lady Gaga Stefanie Germanotta was 9, Miley Cyrus was 2, and Justin Bieber was a "Baby." Derek Jeter was about to make his major league debut, Tom Brady was about to graduate high school, LeBron James was 10, and Sidney Crosby was 7.

Mobile telephones were around, but larger than we're used to now, and still mainly of the flip-open variety. Most of us had heard of the Internet, but most of us weren't on it yet. The Netscape IPO, often considered the dawn of the Internet Age, was a few weeks away. There was no Facebook, no YouTube, no Instagram, no Pinterest.  

The current holders of the Nobel Peace Prize were Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. How'd that work out?

In the Spring of 1995, the first Chechen War broke out. The federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up, and the Unabomber struck for what turned out to be the last time. Christopher Reeve had his paralyzing horse-riding accident.

Harold Wilson, and Ginger Rogers, and Howard Cosell died. Celeste Buckingham, and Adnan Januzaj, and Héctor Bellerín were born.

The Spring of 1995. Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League. It has never happened again.

Twenty years. If I were a Tottenham fan, I would find that monumentally embarrassing.

But then, being a Tottenham fan is, all by itself, monumentally embarrassing.