Monday, November 2, 2015

November 2, 1995: "Clueless Joe"

November 2, 1995, 20 years ago: The Yankees name Joe Torre as their new manager‚ replacing Buck Showalter.

Torre had been a good catcher in the 1960s, a decent 1st baseman in the early 1970s, and a very good hitter throughout his playing career. His managing was another matter. He managed the Mets in the late 1970s, and he didn't have much to work with. He managed the Atlanta Braves in the early 1980s, and got them to a Division title in 1982 and almost to another in 1983, but that was it. He managed the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1990s, and didn't get too far.

The Cardinals fired him in 1995, and he thought he'd never manage again. "I'd run out of teams," he said, noting that he'd played for 3 teams, and managed all of them. He'd been a broadcaster between his Braves and Cardinals jobs, and figured he'd go back into the broadcast booth, and that's how he'd finish out his days in baseball.

Then George Steinbrenner called to offer him the Yankee managing job. Joe had never played in the American League, let alone managed in it. But George thought he was the guy. 

The New York Daily News, citing his lackluster managerial record up until then, and also the circus that tended to surround Steinbrenner, especially where managers were concerned, prints the headline "CLUELESS JOE."

You know the rest of the story. World Champions in his 1st season, 1996. Wild Card in 1997. World Champions in 1998, winning more games than any team ever had in a regular season and postseason combined, 125, including a 4-game sweep in the World Series. World Champions in 1999, including the best postseason record of the 1995-present Division Series era, 11-1. World Champions in 2000, beating the Mets in the World Series. American League Champions in 2001, missing another title by 1 run. Division Champions in 2002. AL Champions in 2003, with the dramatic AL Championship Series win over the Boston Red Sox.

Then, of course, the downturn, the kind of things that the Daily News probably expected when it printed the headline. A shocking ALCS loss in 2004. Pathetic performances in the AL Division Series in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Joe got lowballed by George's heirs: His sons Hank and Hal, Yankee brass Randy Levine and Lonn Trost, and general manager Brian Cashman. He walked out, and managed the Los Angeles Dodgers to a pair of Division titles, before taking a job in Major League Baseball's office.

Joe and the House of Steinbrenner made up. He's been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and is honored in Monument Park at the new Yankee Stadium.

The Daily News called him "CLUELESS JOE." They get reminded of that more than they do of "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD."

November 2, 1995 was also the day Seinfeld aired the episode "The Soup Nazi." Happy Anniversary, Schmoopie!

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November 2, 1865, 150 years ago: Warren Gamaliel Harding is born in Blooming Grove, Bloom Township, Ohio, outside Columbus, and lives most of his life in nearby Marion. Elected President in 1920, he died in office on August 2, 1923, as the Teapot Dome scandal began to swirl around his Administration. He got off easy with the law (2 of his Cabinet officers went to prison), but not with history (he is generally regarded as one of the worst, and dumbest, Presidents ever, and that's before you get into his womanizing).

He was a big baseball fan, and on Opening Day of the 1923 season, as the Yankees visited Washington to face the Senators, he threw out the ceremonial first ball, and shook hands with Babe Ruth.
November 2, 1881: The American Association of Professionals is founded, challenging the National League, with the motto "Liberty to All." The members are St. Louis‚ Cincinnati‚ Louisville‚ Allegheny‚ Athletic (Philadelphia)‚ and Atlantic (Brooklyn). This AA has officially, for many years, been considered by Major League Baseball to be a "major league."

The AA elects H.D. McKnight as its president. It votes to honor the NL blacklist in the case of drunkenness, but not to abide by the NL reserve clause. The new league will rely on home gate receipts‚ visiting teams getting just a $65 guarantee on the road‚ as opposed to the NL's policy of giving 15 cents from each admission to the visitors. The AA will allow Sunday games‚ liquor sales‚ and 25-cent tickets (about $6.50 in today's money)‚ all prohibited by the NL (which then charged 50 cents for all games).

Six of their clubs would eventually join the National League. Two would be contracted out of existence in 1900: The Louisville Colonels and the original Baltimore Orioles. The other 4 are still in business today, albeit under other names: The St. Louis Browns (St. Louis Cardinals), the Cincinnati Red Stockings (Cincinnati Reds), the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (Pittsburgh Pirates), and the Brooklyn Grays (who replaced the Atlantics in 1884, and are known today as the Los Angeles Dodgers).

November 2, 1889: North Dakota is admitted to the Union as the 39th State. At the same time, South Dakota is also admitted, as the 40th State. This is the only time 2 States have been admitted on the same day, and it begins a 10-day stretch in which 4 States are added.

Neither State has any major league teams, and very few professional teams at any level, due to being so sparsely populated: Between them, they have only 1.6 million people, and aside from Mount Rushmore, which is outside Rapid City, South Dakota, they don't have much in the way of tourist attractions.

For the most part, the Dakotas are considered part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul sports "market," and most people there are Twins and Vikings fans, though western South Dakota has a noticeable presence of Denver Broncos fans.

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November 2, 1913: Former St. Louis Browns manager George Stovall is the 1st figure from either of the established major leagues to jump to the Federal League‚ signing to manage the Kansas City Packers.

With glib salesman Jim Gilmore as its president‚ and backed by several millionaires‚ including oil magnate Harry Sinclair and Brooklyn baker Robert Ward‚ the Feds declare open war 2 weeks later by announcing they will not honor the major leagues' reserve clause. It will prove a long‚ costly struggle‚ similar to the AA's and AL's beginnings‚ but with more losers than winners.

On this same day, Burton Stephen Lancaster is born in Manhattan. One of the most acclaimed actors of the 20th Century, one of his last roles (but not his very last) was as an old doctor who used to be a baseball player in Field of Dreams.

November 2, 1914: John Samuel Vander Meer is born in Prospect Park, Passaic, County, New Jersey, and grows up in nearby Midland Park, Bergen County. On June 11 and 15, 1938, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, he became the 1st, and remains the only, pitcher ever to throw back-to-back no-hitters. He blanked the Boston Braves at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and then did the same to the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, in the 1st major league night game ever played in New York City.

Many years later, Johnny Vander Meer was interviewed by a reporter for the Chicago Daily News for the anthology book My Greatest Day In Baseball. He said, "It would seem natural for me to name the second successive no-hitter I pitched in 1938 as my biggest day in baseball, and I'll have to explain why it isn't. I was still just a novelty, a kid who had done a freakish thing."

He was sick the next year and couldn't get untracked. While the Reds won the Pennant, he was not called on to pitch in the 1939 World Series, which the Reds lost to the Yankees. He got sent back to the minors in 1940. "I knew that was what I needed. At the same time it made me realize just how quickly a fellow can fall from the pedestal."

He pitched solidly for the Indianapolis Indians, then the Reds' Triple-A team, and was called back up. On September 18, 1940, he started what could have been the Pennant-clinching game for the Reds, against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shibe Park. The game went 13 innings, and he pitched 12 innings. He batted in the top of the 13th and doubled, was sacrificed to 3rd, and Ivan Goodman hit a sacrifice fly to get him home. He was relieved by Joe Beggs for the bottom of the 13th, and the Reds won, 4-3. The Reds won the Pennant, and Vander Meer had his greatest day in baseball.

This time, he pitched in the World Series, tossing 3 scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers in Game 5. The Reds won in 7 games, and he had his ring.

He went 16-12 in 1941, and came close to a 3rd no-hitter. He peaked at 18 wins the next year, and led the NL in strikeouts in 1941, '42 and '43. He was a 4-time All-Star, so he wasn't just a guy who caught lightning in a bottle for 5 days.

He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Although he missed the entire seasons of 1944 and '45, at ages 29 and 30, prime years, he said that pitching on a Navy team helped his control, and the statistics do back that up somewhat. He won 17 in 1948, but that was it, and after a stint with the Chicago Cubs, he last pitched in the majors in 1951 with the Cleveland Indians. In 1952, pitching for the Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League, he pitched another no-hitter, at age 37.

Much like a later no-hit hero, Don Larsen, Vander Meer was actually slightly under .500 for his career: In his case, 119-120. He had allowed so much as 1 hit in each of those 1938 games, he might be remembered today for that feat, but not nearly as well.

Instead, for 77 years, every time a pitcher has thrown a no-hitter, the name of Johnny Vander Meer has come up, with people wondering if the new no-hit hero can match his feat. None ever has -- at least, not in the major leagues. I have heard that 1 pitcher did it in the minors since 1938, but I can find no reference to this achievement.

Vander Meer became a minor league manager in the Reds' organization for 10 seasons, before retiring in 1962. He then worked for a brewing company. He was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1958. He retired to Tampa, where the Reds long had their spring training complex, threw out ceremonial first balls at 6 World Series for the Reds (1961, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976 and 1990), jsat for an interview for the Reds' 100th Anniversary team video in 1992, and lived until October 6, 1997, suffering an abdominal aneurysm. He was 82.

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November 2, 1950: The Baseball Writers Association of America selects Phillies relief pitcher Jim Konstanty as the NL's Most Valuable Player. This was the 1st time it had been awarded to a relief pitcher, and, presuming you think pitchers should be eligible at all, it was totally justified: Without him, the Phils would have been in the middle of the stadings; with him, they won the Pennant. It would be another 31 years before another reliever won it, Rollie Fingers of the 1981 Milwaukee Brewers.

November 2, 1960: George Weiss‚ recently turned 66‚ resigns as general manager of the Yankees. He had seen the firing of manager Casey Stengel by co-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb, and figured he was next.

He said the Yankee farm system was drying up, and no one knew that better than he did: He'd built it, and seen Topping and Webb tell him, year after year, to trade prospects for a player or two who could help them win the Pennant in a given year. He said, at the time, that he gave the Yankees 5 years before they all fell apart. In the next 4 years, they won the Pennant. In the 5th, 1965, they crashed to 6th place.

Weiss is in the Hall of Fame, for having been GM for 11 Pennants and 8 World Championships, and for having been farm system director for 8 Pennants and 7 World Championships before that. But don't expect to see him ever get a Plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park: He was hated by the players for being so cheap, and was very much a racist. He's one of those "He was great at what he did, but... " figures in sports history.

He should not be confused with George David Weiss, who, in 1961, would write 2 classics of the early Rock and Roll Era: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the Tokens, and "Can't Help Falling In Love" by Elvis Presley.

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November 2, 1971: The Baltimore Orioles' Pat Dobson pitches a no-hitter against the Yomiuri Giants‚ winning 2-0. It is the 1st no-hitter in the history of exhibition games between Japanese and American teams. The Orioles compile a record of 12-2-4 on the tour.

November 2, 1972: Former Boston Red Sox shortstop Freddy Parent dies at the age of 96. Parent had been the last surviving player from the 1st modern World Series between Boston and Pittsburgh in 1903. He was also the last surviving player from the first Pennant race between the teams now known as the Yankees and the Red Sox, in 1904.

November 2, 1974: The Braves trade Hank Aaron to the Brewers for outfielder Dave May and a minor league pitcher to be named later. Aaron will finish his major league career in Milwaukee‚ where he started it in 1954.

Later that off-season, Aaron‚ the Home Run King of American baseball‚ and Sadaharu Oh‚ his Japanese counterpart‚ square off for a home run hitting contest at Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo. Aaron wins 10-9. Aaron finishes his major league career with 755 home runs, Oh finishes his Japanese Leagues' career with 868. How many Oh would have hit in the North American majors is a mystery.

November 2, 1975, 40 years ago: A surreal event takes place at Madison Square Garden. The New York Rangers had traded popular goaltender Eddie Giacomin to the Detroit Red Wings, sparking outrage among their fans. As it happened, the Rangers' next home game was against the Wings.

Seeing Giacomin in not the white jersey with the blue Number 1, but the red jersey with the white Number 31, the Garden crowd chanted, "Ed-DIE! Ed-DIE! Ed-DIE!" all night long, and actually booed the Rangers when they scored.

The Red Wings won, 6-4, and, for perhaps the only time in Madison Square Garden history, the home fans cheered a visiting team's victory.

It was the end of an era that had seen the Rangers rise to championship contention, but the closest they'd gotten to the Stanley Cup was the 1972 Finals, losing to the Boston Bruins in 6 games. They were knocked out of the previous season's Playoffs by a 3rd-year expansion team, the suburban Islanders.

Just 9 days after The Giacomin Game, they would trade Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi to the Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais. The Rangers would miss the Playoffs in 1976 and '77, before bouncing back in '78 and reaching the Finals in '79.

With new management coming in, the Rangers made peace with Eddie, and retired his Number 1 in 1990.
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November 2, 1999: The Texas Rangers trade outfielder Juan Gonzalez‚ pitcher Danny Patterson and catcher Gregg Zaun to the Detroit Tigers for pitchers Justin Thompson‚ Alan Webb and Francisco Cordero‚ outfielder Gabe Kapler‚ catcher Bill Haselman‚ and infielder Frank Catalanotto.

The trade of "Juan Gone" is the beginning of the breakup of the Rangers' first postseason team, winners of 3 of the last 4 AL West titles.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners announce that superstar Ken Griffey Jr. is requesting a trade closer to his home. The Mariners agree to try to trade him during the off-season. The superstar outfielder will get his wish in February when Seattle trades him to the Reds for Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez and Brett Tomko, and minor leager Jake Meyer.

Of course, Cincinnati, where his father Ken Griffey Sr. once played, isn't all that close to Junior's adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida.

November 2, 2004: After a groundskeeper finds a grenade in the Wrigley Field turf, police bomb and arson investigators are called to evaluate the right field discovery. The rusty, hollowed-out shell turns out to be harmless and its origins remain a mystery.

November 2, 2005, 10 years ago: Andrew Bynum, a native of Plainsboro, Mercer County, New Jersey, plays 6 minutes for the Los Angeles Lakers in their season opener, against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center, becoming the youngest NBA player ever: 18 years and 6 days old. The Lakers won, 99-97.

Ironically, but appropriately, the center had been personally instructed in the preseason by Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had once (erroneously, it turned ought) been thought to have been the NBA's oldest player ever. Kareem was 42 when he bowed out after the 1989 Finals, but research showed that Pat Hickey, who played with the Providence Steamrollers in the league's 1st 2 seasons, was just short of 46 when he last played in 1948.

Bynum is now 28, but his record still stands. He won NBA Championships with the Lakers in 2009 and '10, and was an NBA All-Star in 2012. But he's already missed the entire 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons due to injuries, and is now a free agent, his career in jeopardy at age 28. But then, he does have 2 titles, and I don't think we'll be seeing any more 18-year-olds playing in the NBA -- certainly not for a team with a pedigree anywhere near the Lakers'.

November 2, 2009: Game 5 of the World Series. Trying to stave off elimination at home at the hands of the Yankees, the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies back Cliff Lee with a 6-1 lead after 3 innings, thanks to 2 home runs by Chase Utley (a future Met villain) and another by Raul Ibanez (a future Yankee hero). Utley's shots tied him with Reggie Jackson for the record for most home runs in a single World Series: 5.

The Phillies led 8-2 after 7, but the Yankees came storming back, and had closed to within 8-6 with the tying runs on in the 9th. As the Fox cameras panned Citizens Bank Park, I could see the looks on the faces of Phillies fans. Most remembered 1993. Many remembered 1977. Some remembered 1964. They all at least knew of the earlier team disasters. They all seemed to be saying, "Oh, no, it's happening again!" But Ryan Madson got the final out for the save, and the Phillies would play Game 6 in New York 2 nights later.

Madson, who'd been with the Phillies the year before and won the Series then, is the only member of the newly-crowned 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals who had previously won a World Series. He has become the 46th player to win the Series representing both Leagues. Among the others are his 2008 Phils teammate Shane Victorino, and 15 Yankees, including Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, both of whom also won with the Mets. The other Mets to have done it are both from the 1986 team: Howard Johnson (who also won with the 1984 Detroit Tigers) and Rick Aguilera (1991 Minnesota Twins).

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