Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Happy Paul O'Neill Day!

Met fans probably think their team made a great trade in getting Yoenis Cespedes. But they've never made a trade as good as this one. Even their 1983 trade for Keith Hernandez and their 1985 trade for Gary Carter only got 1 World Series win. This one led to 4 World Series wins for the Yankees.

November 3, 1992: On the same day that Bill Clinton is elected President of the United States, the Yankees trade center fielder Roberto Kelly and 1st baseman Joe DeBerry to the Cincinnati Reds, in exchange for right fielder Paul O'Neill.

At the time, I thought this was a great trade for both teams. O'Neill was a good hitter and a good fielder, who had done well in Cincinnati, playing for an equally fiery right fielder, his manager, Yankee Legend Lou Piniella. (Sweet Lou doesn't have his Number 14 retired or a Plaque in Monument Park, but he helped the Yankees win 4 Pennants and the YES Network gave him a Yankeeography, so I'm calling him a Yankee Legend -- capital Y, capital L.) Playing in Yankee Stadium, with the short porch in right field, I figured O'Neill would hit more home runs than in the more neutral confines of Riverfront Stadium, and that Yankee Fans would love his intense personality.

I was right on both counts, as Paulie was our right fielder for the next 9 years, effectively taking the spot that many fans thought that Jay Buhner should have still had. In those 9 years, the Yankees made the Playoffs 7 times, winning 5 Pennants and 4 World Series. (He also won the Series with the Reds in 1990.) Although his Number 21 hasn't been officially retired, it's hardly been given out since. Last season, he got his Monument Park Plaque.

Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps has been mocked as a lousy trade. Think of it, instead, as Jay Buhner for Paul O'Neill: 5 Pennants for New York, none for Seattle.

I also figured that Kelly, a native of Panama and an All-Star in 1992, would find the Reds a better fit. He'd been held back by being a righthanded hitter in Yankee Stadium, where left-center and center fields, while not as pronounced as in the pre-renovation era, was known as Death Valley. Riverfront was not only friendlier to righthanders, but had artificial turf, accommodating his speed. I thought the Reds were getting a great player.

As it turned out, I was wrong on this count. Although he made another All-Star Team with the Reds in 1993, injuries plagued him, and while he was on postseason teams with the 1995 Los Angeles Dodgers, the 1997 Seattle Mariners, and the 1998 and 1999 Texas Rangers, he never played on a Pennant winner. In 2000, the Yankees brought him back, but released him in April, and he never played in the majors again.

A sad story? Not so fast. He managed in the minor leagues, and since 2008, he has been the 1st base coach and hitting instructor for the San Francisco Giants. With them, he now has 3 World Series rings, only 2 fewer than O'Neilly. Also on manager Bruce Bochy's staff are forer Yankees Dave Righetti Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens and Joe Lefebvre. How about that?
(Kelly, with former Giants star Pablo Sandoval.)

Not that this gives the Reds any comfort: They still haven't won a Pennant, or even a National League Championship Series game, since 1990. "Curse of Paul O'Neill," Ohio Valley?

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November 3, 1926: Two of the top players of the last decade -- in the case of one, of the last 2 decades -- resign as player-managers. George Sisler, arguably the greatest 1st baseman who has ever lived to this point, resigns as manager of the St. Louis Browns, but will remain a player. Dan Howley is named his replacement.

On the same day, Ty Cobb resigns as manager of the Detroit Tigers, and announces his retirement from baseball. Soon after, a 3rd legend retired as a player-manager, Tris Speaker of the Cleveland Indians.

Unlike Sisler, for whom everything seems to have been above-board, it soon came out that the Georgia Peach and the Grey Eagle were coerced into retirement because of allegations of game-fixing brought about by Dutch Leonard, a former pitcher managed by Cobb. Leonard claimed proof existed in letters written to him by Cobb and Smoky Joe Wood, former ace pitcher, who'd been Speaker's teammate on the Boston Red Sox and again with the Indians.

Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis held a secret hearing with Cobb, Speaker and Wood. A second secret meeting among the AL directors led to the unpublicized resignations of Cobb and Speaker. Rumors of the scandal led Judge Landis to hold additional hearings, in which Leonard subsequently refused to participate.

Cobb and Wood admitted to writing the letters, but claimed that a horse-racing bet was involved, and that Leonard's accusations were in retaliation for Cobb's having released him from the Tigers, thereby demoting him to the minor leagues. Speaker denied any wrongdoing.

On January 27, 1927, Judge Landis cleared Cobb and Speaker of any wrongdoing, because of Leonard's refusal to appear at the hearings. Landis allowed both Cobb and Speaker to return to their original teams, but each team let them know that they were free agents, and could sign with any club they wanted.

Speaker signed with the Washington Senators for 1927, and Cobb with the Philadelphia Athletics. Speaker then joined Cobb in Philadelphia for the 1928 season, the last in the majors for each of them. (Sisler played on until 1930.) Cobb said he had come back only to seek vindication, and to say that he left baseball on his own terms.

Cobb's replacement as Tiger manager was George Moriarty, a former Tiger infielder who is, until now, an American League umpire. He is the only man to hold the positions of player, umpire, scout and manager. He will also become the grandfather of Michael Moriarty, who becomes an actor, best known for playing a baseball player in the film Bang the Drum Slowly. Speaker's successor in Cleveland is Jack McCallister, and having succeeded Speaker is about the only noteworthy thing about him.

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November 3, 1953: Baseball's rules committee restores the 1939 rule which says that a sacrifice fly is not charged as a time at bat.

Also‚ the committee votes for the "no gloves on the field rule." Hank Greenberg‚ who proposed the change‚ says "Aside from the possibility of hindering the play‚ gloves on the field look sloppy." It also made it easy for opposing players to sneak creepy-crawly or otherwise disgusting things in the glove of an easily scared player, such as the Yankees' Phil Rizzuto.

The committee also makes a rule that any runner will be called out for deliberately running the bases backwards or even taking a lead off the base in the wrong direction.

A new balk rule is instituted which gives the batter an option: If he gets a hit after a balk is called‚ he has the option of accepting the outcome of the pitch‚ instead of being limited to the advance of the runner(s). This is the baseball equivalent of a football team that is the beneficiary of a penalty having the option to decline it, if the outcome of such is more advantageous to them than the outcome of the penalty.

Rule suggestions rejected‚ as noted by Bob Timmerman‚ include the re-legalization of the spitball‚ 2 bases for an intentional walk‚ and the option of declining ball 4.

November 3, 1954: The Yankees tour Japan, and draw a record crowd of 64‚000 when they play the 1st game against the All-Japan Stars in Osaka. Andy Carey slugs 13 home runs‚ and catching prospect Elston Howard bats .468 on the 25-game tour. Each has thoroughly impressed the Yankee brass, and both get promoted to the Yankees for 1955 -- in Howard's case, making him the 1st black player for the Yankees in a regular-season game.

November 3, 1964: Philadelphia voters approve a bond issue raising $25 million to pay for a new stadium that will house both the Phillies and the Eagles.

Due to cost overruns, a 1967 measure will be needed to authorize an additional $13 million, bringing the final price tag to approximately $50 million, making Veterans Stadium one of the most expensive ballparks ever built. (To put that in perspective: The inflation-adjusted total cost of $384 million compares with the $24 million, or $184 million in today's money, needed to build Shea Stadium.) Various delays will keep The Vet from opening for 6 1/2 years, before it does so on April 10, 1971.

As bad as The Vet was in its last few years, it served its purpose: It saved the Phillies and Eagles from moving out of Philadelphia. Until then, the Phils were playing at Connie Mack Stadium, formerly named Shibe Park, which seated only 33,608 and was stuck in the North Philadelphia ghetto, which was just struck by a race riot the summer before the 1st bond issue, which certainly didn't help the atmosphere in the stands as the Phils lost 10 straight games to blow what looked like a sure Pennant.

And the Eagles were playing in Franklin Field, a much nicer stadium that seated 67,000 at the time, but was built in 1922 with absolutely straight grandstands, providing bad sightlines if the ball was at the other end of the field; no luxury boxes, and a poor lighting system.

Both teams needed a modern stadium, and, while the "cookie-cutter" trend got old in a hurry, and The Vet did as well, without it, the Phillies might, today, be in Denver or Seattle or Toronto, while the Eagles, instead of almost moving to Phoenix, as they apparently were considering for the 1985 season, due to owner Leonard Tose's financial woes, might have actually done so.

November 3, 1968: Cardinal broadcaster Harry Caray is struck by a car while crossing a street in St. Louis. Both of his legs are broken‚ as are his nose and one of his shoulders.

He recovers, but while he does, it is revealed that he was having an affair with Susan Busch, the wife of Augie Busch, the son of Cardinal owner Gussie Busch. Harry never denied it, only saying, "I never raped anybody" -- essentially admitting it and calling Susan Busch a slut. (Augie would divorce her and marry Virginia, a lawyer. He has 2 children with each wife.)

Gussie fires Harry, and Harry heads to Chicago, and burnishes his already-potent legend by broadcasting for first the White Sox, then the Cubs. Today, it's hard to imagine Harry with any team but the Cubs, or to imagine anyone else as the voice of the Cardinals other than Jack Buck.

November 3, 1970: The Phillies trade Curt Flood to the Senators for 3 minor league players. The embattled outfielder had refused to go to Philadelphia after the 1969 trade from the Cardinals, citing he was not a piece of property to be sold, becoming the first player to seriously challenge the reserve cause. He would quickly wash out with the Senators, unable to shake off the rust from missing the entire 1970 season.

November 3, 1989: The NBA's expansion Minnesota Timberwolves play their 1st game. They lose 104-96 to the Seattle SuperSonics at Seattle Center Coliseum. Tyrone Corbin leads the T-Wolves with 20 points, while Dale Ellis of the Sonics leads all scorers with 33.

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November 3, 1993: Cleveland pitcher Cliff Young is killed in a truck crash in Willis‚ Texas. He is only 29. He is the 3rd Indians pitcher to die this year, following Steve Olin and Tim Crews in the spring training boating accident that also badly injured ex-Met Bob Ojeda.
November 3, 1995, 20 years ago: The NBA's expansion Toronto Raptors play their 1st game. Unlike the Timberwolves, their debut is at home and a win. They beat the New Jersey Nets, 94-79. Alvin Robertson scores 30 for the Raps, the only major league sports team ever named for a dinosaur.

November 3, 1996: Kobe Bryant makes his NBA debut at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Just 18 years old, and the 2nd-youngest player in NBA history to that point, the son of former Philadelphia 76er Joe "Jellybean" Bryant plays just 6 minutes and does not score, nor does he record any assists, and just 1 rebound.

He does, however, play on the winning side: Shaquille O'Neal, the former Orlando Magic star also playing his 1st game for the Lakers, drops 35 points on the Timberwolves, and the Lakers win 91-85.

November 3, 2001: The Arizona Diamondbacks even the World Series at 3 games apiece with a 15-2 win over the Yankees in Game 6. Randy Johnson gets the win for Arizona, while Danny Bautista drives in 5 runs. Arizona knocks out a Series-record 22 hits‚ and scores 8 runs in the 3rd inning, knocking Andy Pettitte out of the box.

November 3, 2004: The Mets name Yankee coach Willie Randolph, who grew up in Brooklyn as a Met fan, as their new manager. The Phillies name Charlie Manuel as their new manager. One of these moves will work out only so well, and no more. The other will work out very, very well.

On this same day, Sergei Zholtok dies. He played for several team in his NHL career, most recently the Nashville Predators, and had gone back to his native Latvia to play during the NHL lockout. He suffered a heart attack while playing for Riga 2000 against Dinamo Minsk of Belarus, in Minsk. He was only 31.

November 3, 2012: The Nets make their Brooklyn debut, a little delayed due to Hurricane Sandy. The opponents are the Toronto Raptors, who played their 1st game at home to the Nets, 17 years to the day before.

This time, the Nets announce their freakin' presence with authority. Despite 28 points from the Raps' Kyle Lowry, the Nets win 107-100, led by 27 points from Brook Lopez. Attendance: 17,732.

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