Monday, April 27, 2015
For many years, Sports Illustrated had a feature titled "Dum Quote of the Weak." Here's a pretty good nomination:
Last night, after the Yankees beat the Mets, I saw some yutz on Twitter say, referring to each team's postgame won-lost record, "14-5 > 11-8."
That wasn't the "dum quote." After all, it's true. The Mets do still have a better record than the Yankees.
There are reasons for it, too. One is that the Yankees do not have to play the Yankees.
My response to it was, "27 > 2." This refers to the number of World Series won by each team, and is also true.
Then, a very stupid Met fan tweeted, "live in the past idiot. Your team is old and washed up. Buy more talent." (Tweet not changed for correction of grammar.)
Let me get this straight: You've got a 36-year-old Michael Cuddyer as your cleanup hitter, at least until the overrated David Wright returns from injury, and you've got Bartolo Colon as one of your starters, and he's about to turn 42, making him older than any regular starting pitcher the Yankees have had since Phil Niekro was tossing knuckleballs for them 30 years ago. And you're saying the Yankees are "old and washed up"?
And that they should "buy more talent"? Well, we can. Can you?
My team is "old and washed up"? And your team just got beat 2 out of 3 by us, so what does that make you?
His response to that -- again, not corrected for any reason: "it makes the Mets the better team you play a hundred sixty two games it was just two wins"
So if you play 162 games, and it's not fair to base your view of who's better on 3 games (a legitimate point), why are you basing your view of who's better on 19 games? That's not even 3 weeks. It's one-ninth of the season.
A team doesn't usually get its reputation set by 19 games unless it happens at the end. Like the 1996-2000 Yankees. Or the 2007 Mets.
That's the calm, measured response that could be given in a forum such as this. Such is the nature of Twitter that I added this instead: "'It was just two wins'? It's not even one month, and you're saying @Mets are better? DAMN, you're stupid!"
I'm still waiting for a response. But how could he respond? He knows I've got him. One of the few things he knows.
As for last night's game: The Mets could have had it, but, being the Mets, they blew it.
Nathan Eovaldi did not have his good stuff, and was pulled in the 5th inning. He gave up a home run to Curtis Granderson to lead off the game. Not that long ago, this would have been no big deal for a pitcher, because the Grandy Man was a Yankee with reliable power. But since he went to the Mets, his batting stroke has disintegrated. This was his 1st homer of the season. The Mets scored another run in the inning, to take a 2-0 lead before the Yankees even came to bat.
But the Yankees came back. In the bottom of the 1st, Alex Rodriguez hit one out, his 5th of the season, and the 659th of his career.
Hitting Number 660, which would tie him with Willie Mays on the all-time list, would net him $6 million, according to the Contract From Hell. The Yankees don't want to pay it. Well, this isn't the NFL, where a contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on, and the team owners can do whatever they want and there's nothing the players can do about it. This is MLB, and the players have a strong union, and, like him or not, Alex is gettin' the money he was promised.
"I don't have a marketing degree," A-Rod said the other day. "I'm just focused on playing baseball."
In the next at-bat, Mark Teixeira reached 1st base on an error by 3rd baseman Eric Campbell. Nothing came of it, but it was a warning that the Mets were going to be less 2000, 1986 or 1969; more 1993, 1979 or 1962.
Bottom of the 2nd: John Ryan Murphy doubled. Stephen Drew struck out. Gregorio Petit doubled. Brett Gardner doubled. Chris Young (ex-Met) singled. A-Rod doubled. That made it 5-2 Yankees. Cuddyer made an error, but it also ended up not mattering much.
The Mets took 2 runs back in he 3rd, making it 5-4 Yankees. They threatened again in the 5th, and Joe Girardi took Eovaldi out. Eovaldi told the media that he understood.
Another Met error put runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out in the bottom of the 5th. A-Rod came up, and an error by Met shortstop Wilmer Flores led to another run. Maybe that 1 extra run made a difference in the Met players' minds, maybe it didn't. But the Mets were hopeless at the plate after that. Five Yankee relievers went 5 2/3 innings, allowing just 1 single baserunner, a walk.
Yankees 6, Mets 4. WP: Chasen Shreve (1-0, his 1st major league win). SV: Andrew Miller (7). LP: Jon Niese (2-1).
Two out of three from "the best team in baseball." Not bad for a bunch of old, washed-up players, huh?
The Yankees, who proved that they're the best team in New York (which is all that Met fans really care about being), and that Met fans, who had already become used to believing that they were better, needed to think again -- or, rather, think -- stay home to face what's left of the Tampa Bay Rays. Adam Warren starts tonight.
The Mets? Who do they play next, and where? Why should I care? They remain a small club in Flushing. They remain Number 2 in New York -- and that's got more than one definition.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
So the Mets beat the Yankees yesterday, 8-2. Matt Harvey (4-0) had his good stuff, and CC Sabathia (0-4) picked a fine time to not have his after pitching superbly in defeat in Detroit earlier in the week. Mark Teixeira hit a home run off Harvey in the 7th (his 8th of the young season), but that was hardly enough.
The series concludes at 8:00 tonight, with Nathan Eovaldi pitching against Jon Niese.
Yes, Harvey put the Mets on top yesterday, evening the series.
Do the Mets' idiot fans think that this changes anything? Yeah, they probably do.
Well, it doesn't. The Mets are still a joke, and nothing is going to change that anytime soon.
Top 10 Reasons the Mets Are a Joke
These are in chronological order. Not in order of lameness. Trying to put them in that order could take about 18 innings.
1. The National League. The main reason the Mets even exist is because fans of the stolen New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers could have a National League team in New York, alongside the American League's Yankees. They specifically wanted a National League team.
What the hell is so special about the National League?
"Well, Uncle Mike," you might say, "the NL doesn't use the designated hitter. It's real baseball." The Giants and Dodgers moved after the 1957 season. The DH didn't come in until 1973. So that wasn't one of the reasons at the time.
The NL is older. It was established in 1876, to the AL's 1901. Is that really important? Not by 1957, it wasn't; it certainly isn't in 2015.
The NL integrated first, beating the AL to it by a few weeks, April 15 to July 5, 1947. The NL got lights first, beating the AL to it by 4 years, 1935 to 1939. The NL had teams on radio first, although television was about even.
Somehow, I don't think that's what erstwhile Giant and Dodger fans meant from October 1957 to April 1962, when they had to get by in the New York Tri-State Area with just the Yankees.
Then there was the Continental League, which was announced in 1958 as debuting in 1960. In the end, it was a bluff, designed to get the established leagues to expand, which they did. If the CL had happened, and a "New York Mets" had debuted in it at the Polo Grounds in 1960, I don't think the former fans of the Giants and Dodgers would have given a damn that it didn't have official NL identification, or even the NL's blessing.
I think the real reason is that these people just hated the Yankees. Why? Because the Yankees (nearly) always beat them? From 1923 to 1956, the Yankees played the Giants and Dodgers in a combined 11 World Series, and won 10 of them.
Getting the Mets didn't help: They've now played each other exactly once in the World Series in 53 seasons (52 if you don't count 1994 as it didn't reach its intended conclusion), and the Yankees beat the Mets in 5 games.
So it wasn't all about the National League. They were just too chicken to admit, "We hate the Yankees."
Also, look at the other teams that lost teams in the 1950s:
* The Braves left Boston, leaving the city to the AL's Red Sox. Did New Englanders demand a new team in the NL? No.
* The Browns left St. Louis, leaving the city to the NL's Cardinals. Did people in the Mississippi Valley demand a new team in the AL? No.
* The Athletics left Philadelphia, leaving the city to the NL's Phillies. Did people in the Delaware Valley demand a new team in the AL? No.
These places just accepted that turning a "city" into a "metropolitan area," as inner-city whites moved into the suburbs -- some because they could afford to go to a nicer place, some because their neighborhoods were turning black and they didn't want to get called out on their racism by their neighbors -- meant that these places could no longer afford to support 2 teams each.
New York could afford to support 2 teams. Indeed, there's been times, even since 1957, when it looked like it could afford to support 3 teams. (That may have been the case as recently as 2008, but I don't think it's the case now, judging by home attendance at both Yankee Stadium II and Citi Field.)
But there was nothing special about the National League then, or now. Nor was there anything unacceptable about the American League, then or now. And if you think the DH makes the AL unacceptable, then you're an idiot who needs to enter the latter part of the 20th Century, because, apparently, getting you into the 21st Century is too much to ask. (I've mused on the stupidity of the Hate-the-DH argument before.)
So the fans who would be Met fans weren't devoted to the National League. They were just hating on the Yankees. I'm fine with that -- as long as you freely admit it, like the American League teams do. (Hell, on September 5, 1977, desperate for attendance as they'd fallen far out of the AL East race, the Cleveland Indians held "Hate the Yankees Hanky Night." It worked: They got 28,184 fans waving hankies at the Yankees, and they swept a twi-night doubleheader.)
Or maybe these ex-Giant fans and ex-Dodger fans just wanted a team in the NL so that their old heroes could come back and see them. The problem with that is, by the time the Mets arrived in 1962, most of their old heroes were retired -- or, as they saw when Gil Hodges and Duke Snider actually became Mets, should have been retired.
By the time Shea Stadium opened in 1964, there were no more Brooklyn Dodger heroes still playing (Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched for the Dodgers before the move, but didn't become stars until after it), and the only New York Giant hero left was Willie Mays. And he had already returned to New York to play the Yankees in the 1962 World Series.
2. Blue and Orange. The colors themselves, while hideous, aren't really the problem. It's the reason for them. The Mets' founders said that they were combining the blue of the Dodgers and the orange of the Giants. It made sense. When the Islanders were founded 10 years later, the also used blue and orange, and, like the Mets, they still use them today. (They even kept the color scheme while wearing those ridiculous "Gorton's Fisherman" jerseys in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons.)
Except... When the Knicks were founded, they used blue and orange. That was in 1946, 16 years before the Mets first took the field. Were the Knicks trying to combine the blue of the Dodgers and the orange of the Giants? No. The colors worn by the baseball teams were completely irrelevant.
New York City was founded by the Netherlands, as New Amsterdam, in 1624. The Dutch flag of the time was blue, white and orange. The City's flag used the same colors. It still does, unlike the current Dutch flag.
And the Knicks were named after the title character in Washington Irving's 1809 satirical novel A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker. From that point onward, "Knickerbocker" became a slang term for Manhattanites, and the caricature of "Uncle Diedrich" was modified for the Knicks' 1st logo. So it made sense that the Dutch colors became the Knicks' colors.
(A previous New York-based pro basketball team, the Original Celtics -- aside from the name, there was no connection to the later Boston franchise -- even had a star player named Henry "Dutch" Dehnert, although he was German, "Deutsch," rather than descended from the Netherlands, "Dutch.")
That the combination of the Dodger and Giant colors could be used for the Mets was nice, but let's not pretend that they weren't already being used by a New York team that had reached its sport's finals 3 times -- although they wouldn't win their 1st World Championship until after the Mets, and even the Jets, had won their 1st.
3. Shea Stadium. Beyond the delays that meant that "the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium" wouldn't open on Opening Day 1963, or in mid-season 1963, and was mere hours away from not being ready on Opening Day 1964...
It was billed as "the greatest baseball stadium ever built." It wasn't. Not by a long shot. Not by a center-field-at-the-Polo-Grounds-long shot.
Oh, sure, it wasn't nearly as cramped as the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field were. And it didn't have ridiculous dimensions like those 2 parks. And, unlike both of them and Yankee Stadium, it wasn't in a ghetto, and it had plenty of parking, and it didn't have support poles blocking your view.
What it did have was seats that were properly angled for football instead of baseball, upper-deck seats that might as well have been in another Borough, back rows of decks that had overhangs from decks above them that cut off your view of fly balls (a worse obstruction than Yankee Stadium's support poles), nasty wind that made a Met game in May as cold as a Jet game in December, and those planes taking off from nearby LaGuardia International Airport. (The ones taking off would go right overhead. The ones landing went on a different flight path, behind center field.)
Also, it was a lot harder to get an express train from Manhattan to Flushing Meadow-Corona Park. Whereas the D Train's express from 59th Street/Columbus Circle to 125th Street (bypassing 7 local stops) made getting from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Yankee Stadium 5 stops, and about 25 minutes even with the switch from the A to the D at 59th, to get from Port Authority to Shea, you had to first go through that dank, nastily-inclined tunnel connecting the Port Authority and Times Square subway stations, then get the 7 Train, and 9 times out of 10 it wouldn't be an express, so you had to make 19 stops! And it takes 35 to 40 minutes, considerably longer. Even the express makes 9 stops.
Shea, and now Citi Field, always had better parking and better food than Yankee Stadium, old and new. That's it. The stadium itself was never better than Yankee Stadium, even in 1973, when Yankee Stadium was a 50-year-old uneasy relic with thick support poles in the ever-nastier South Bronx, and Shea was a multicolored suburban palace. The original Yankee Stadium was a baseball park that hosted football; Shea Stadium was a football stadium that hosted baseball.
4. The Reaction to Losing Tom Seaver. Yes, it was awful the way he was pushed out by M. Donald Grant and his grinning lackey in the press, Dick Young of the New York Daily News.
To be fair, Young was a strong advocate for black players, and for a new team in New York, either through the Continental League or MLB expansion. That was before he, like Frank Sinatra, got grumpy and conservative in his old age.
Yes, Seaver deserved better. Yes, you, the Flushing Heathen, whatever else I can say about you, you deserved better than to have "The Franchise" taken away from you in that fashion.
But... come on. Babe Ruth left the Yankees in 1935. Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951. Mickey Mantle retired in 1969. Reggie Jackson was not re-signed in 1981. Mariano Rivera retired in 2013, and Derek Jeter retired in 2014. On none of those occasions did Yankee Fans react like a child who had been told his dog was "taken to a farm upstate."
There were 2 times when Yankee Fans did react like that. The 1st was for Lou Gehrig in 1939. Except he actually was going to die. The 2nd was for Thurman Munson in 1979. And he actually did die.
Great players leave. Great players come to take their places. Grow up.
Besides, it's not like having Seaver would have appreciably helped the Mets from June 1977 to September 1982 anyway. He would have made the difference between the Mets being horrible (which they were) and the Mets being merely mediocre and not as good as the Yankees (which they already were from April 1974 to June 1977). He would have given Shea a few thousand extra fans every 4th home game. That's it.
5. Retired Numbers. Yes, the Yankees have too many. I get that. We should give guys like Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada plaques for Monument Park, but don't retire their numbers. Fine, Met fans, go ahead and make that argument. Especially now that you have your own team hall of fame in a room off the Citi Field rotunda. (Actually, the Mets have had a team hall of fame since 1981, but it's only since 2010 and the opening of that room that it's been on public display.)
But the Mets' retired-number policy isn't much better than the Yankees'. It just stinks in the other direction.
Retiring 37 for Casey Stengel made sense for the Yankees: He managed us to 10 Pennants and 7 World Championships. It made no sense for the Mets to do it: He did nothing for you. He made you laugh? Then why haven't numbers been retired for Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart? Or, for that matter, for Marv Throneberry, Frank Taveras, Oliver Perez? Or even Steve Somers, Joe Benigno and Doris From Rego Park?
(Yes, I am aware, they never wore numbers for the Mets. They can share Number 66, in honor of WFAN.)
Retiring 14 for Hodges made sense, as he was the manager who won your 1st title. Retiring 41 for Seaver made sense, as he was your greatest player ever.
But keeping 24 semi-retired for Willie Mays, a decision made by founding owner and former Giants part-owner Joan Payson, is ludicrous: He did next to nothing for the Mets. Not retiring 8 for Gary Carter, especially once you knew he was dying, was really crummy. (Although Bobby Murcer died of the exact same thing, and the Yankees also had lead time on that, and didn't give him a Monument Park Plaque while he was still able to attend the ceremony, and still haven't, 7 years after his death.)
And, certainly, 17 should have been retired for Keith Hernandez. Who made the decision that it shouldn't be retired? Who does this guy think he is? Whoever he is, he hasn't done as much for the Mets as the man who can answer that question, "I'm Keith Hernandez!"
And if Mike Piazza was so great, how come 31 hasn't been retired for him? Are you waiting for him to be elected to the Hall of Fame? That wait wasn't kept for Stengel, Seaver, Mays, or Hodges (who, unfairly, is still not in the Hall).
(And if you think Piazza's not in the Hall of Fame because of his personality, well, that would be understandable... but that's not why he's not in yet.)
6. The Dynasty That Never Was. Under the current 3-divisions-plus-wild-card setup, putting the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central Division, the Mets would at least have won the NL Eastern Division every season from 1984 to 1990.
Instead, under the setup we had then, with only 2 Divisions, and only the Division Champions made the Playoffs, they won just 2 Division titles, riding a lot of postseason luck to winning the World Championship in 1986, and blowing the NL Championship Series to the Dodgers in 1988. That's it.
Face it: The 1986 Mets were not that good. Yes, they won 108 games in the regular season, the most won by a New York team between 1961 and 1998, and still the most ever by an NL team in New York in 139 seasons. But, statistically, they didn't match up well with any of the great Yankee teams, or the title-winning Giant and Dodger teams. Even the '69 Mets were better, statistically speaking.
Granted, it wasn't just drugs and booze. A lot of those guys (including the substance abusers) got hurt, and missed time for reasons that had nothing to do with drugs, performance-enhancing and not. But if the 1980s Mets were as good as you think they were, why only the 1 Pennant?
The competition was good? Yes, it was. So was the competition for the 1996-2003 Yankees, and in 8 seasons they won 6 Pennants and 4 World Series. In just 8 seasons, they won 50 percent more Pennants and twice as many World Series as the Mets have ever won in 53 seasons. And the 1990s Yankees had to survive 1 more postseason round than the 1980s Mets. If the Mets had to win a Division Series just to get to the '86 Houston Astros, would they have won it, or gotten derailed? Look at all that talent the Atlanta Braves had in the 1990s, and the NLDS and NLCS that the statistics say they should have won, but didn't.
If the 1986 Mets had to play the 1998 Yankees in a World Series, it wouldn't have gone the full 7. It's not like the '86 Mets could, like the '98 Yankees, call on David Cone, who didn't arrive in Flushing until '87.
But Met fans still hold up the '86 team as exemplars of "Baseball Like It Oughta Be." That's because it remains their last title. But the way they went through the season, acting like Animal House in polyester? Maybe it was effective, but it wasn't anything "like it oughta be." And, starting the next season, it wasn't nearly as effective as it should have been, either.
The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies (who, like the '86 Mets, featured drunken bum Lenny Dykstra) are hailed as beloved, successful slobs. But ask a Phillies fan what meant more: The 1993 "Macho Row" Pennant, or the 2008 World Series title. He'll tell you 2008. If the 1999-2000 Mets had been good enough to go all the way, they would have been far better as role models than the 1980s version. Though Piazza and Armando Benitez would have fit in well in '86.
7. Bernie Madoff. Say what you want about George Steinbrenner, and he did some rotten things and made some boneheaded decisions, but he never would have been fooled by Bernie Madoff.
What's that, you say? George got fooled by Howie Spira? That's because Spira had something George was a sucker for: A hard-luck story. Something Madoff didn't have. And getting fooled by Spira didn't cause George to lose millions, forcing his team into 6 years of mediocrity. (True, there were 4 such years, but it wasn't due to a drop in George's finances.)
8. Sportsnet New York. SNY could have been a great sports network. And, I'll admit, while it's not as good as YES, it's a pretty good sports network. But comparing it with YES, it falls well short.
Showing classic games? Most of those wouldn't register as "Yankees Classics" if the Yankees had done the exact same thing.
Focusing on Johan Santana's no-hitter? All that does is allow people to see that Carlos Beltran's line drive was a clean, fair base hit, and that the "no-hitter" was bogus.
Showing regular-season wins by the Mets over the Yankees? You don't see too many Yankee regular-season wins over the Mets on YES' Yankees Classics -- although you do see 2000 World Series replays.
Also, where's the Met equivalent of Yankeeography? Then again, they did do a 50 Greatest Mets, whereas we don't yet have a 50 (or 100) Greatest Yankees program.
Then there was that "broadcasters' challenge," the radio guys against the TV guys. It was shocking to see how little the Met broadcasters -- including former players like Hernandez and Ron Darling -- knew about the team for whom they broadcast. Even Gary Cohen, who should know better, came up well short. That was embarrassing.
9. Citi Field. You guys had many years to plan this. Years to figure out how to get it right. And, I have to admit, nearly everything about it is an improvement over the Flushing Toilet. Except the planes: I think the noise from the planes might actually be worse.
But it really isn't all that different from some of the other 1990s and 2000s ballparks. Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Jacobs Field in Cleveland. Coors Field in Denver.
And it doesn't have any spectacular features. It doesn't have the warehouse like Camden Yards in Baltimore, or the river view like Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, or the view of the downtown skyscrapers like PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Even the minor-league parks in town can top it on that score: MCU Park in Brooklyn has a view of Coney Island's landmarks, and Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island has a few of Lower Manhattan and, as someone put it when it opened in 2001, it looks like the Statue of Liberty is playing a very deep center field.
But the most annoying part of Citi Field is your beloved Shake Shack: It has lines that cause fans to miss an inning or two. That sort of thing was supposed to be left in the 20th Century! The 1st time I went there, the game went to extra innings at 1-1, and I missed both runs while on line for Shake Shack!
(The shakes are pretty good, but not good enough to make anybody echo John Travolta's line from Pulp Fiction about whether a milkshake is worth $5.00.)
The most embarrassing thing about Citi Field is the name. And I'm not even talking about naming it after a hated bank. It was understandable: Citi bought out Chemical Bank, which bought out Manufacturer's Hanover, which was a big sponsor for the Mets (and, for a time, the Yankees, too). It's a part of your heritage, just like Kahn's hot dogs and RC Cola. (Although you seem to have abandoned those.)
But "Citi" can be rhymed. Some fans, reflecting the "Flushing Toilet" nickname for Shea Stadium, call the new park "Shitty Field." I prefer to call it Pity Field, because the Mets have mostly been pitiful since it opened. But the name was just too easy to parody. The Met organization should have known better.
But then, if they knew better, they would not be the Mets. There's always going to be a little bit of 1962, a little Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Clarence "Choo-Choo" Coleman, in them.
10. "Take Back New York." Tell ya what: Beat the Yankees in a World Series. Then you can say that you've taken back New York.
Until you do, nothing you do will mean you've taken it back. Even if you pull off another "miracle" and win the whole thing this season, it'll still be 27 to 3.
You talked about taking back New York in 1999, and you couldn't set up the real "Subway Series." You talked about taking back New York in 2000, and you lost the real Subway Series. You talked about taking back New York in 2006, the one season since 1988 that you've actually gone further than we have, and you choked. You talked about taking back New York in 2007 and 2008, and we know how those seasons ended. Don't we?
Now, you're talking about "taking back New York" again. Based on what, exactly? David Wright? He disappears every September. Matt Harvey? He'd be the Yankees' 4th starter. Jacob deGrom? He'd also be the Yankees' 4th starter. How ya gonna take back New York with a 36-year-old Michael Cuddyer as your cleanup hitter?
No, "Take Back New York" is a joke. The Mets are a joke. Have been for most of their history. Have been continuously since 1992. Still are. Will remain so for the foreseeable future.
And I haven't even mentioned Chico Escuela. Or Spider-Man. Or Sidd Finch. Or Bobby Bonilla. Or Steve Phillips. Or the marijuana situation of a few years ago. Or Warm Bodies, the film suggesting that zombies inhabit Citi Field -- at least zombies are looking for brains. Or Sharknado 2. Or Jeff Wilpon firing a woman for being unmarried and pregnant.
Or how Jack Klugman would have been better off visiting Shea Stadium in character as Dr. Quincy, to perform an autopsy on the team, that he would have if he'd visited in character as Oscar Madison of The Odd Couple.
The Mets are a joke.
(Even after winning the Pennant last season, the Mets spectacularly failed in the World Series, blowing leads in all 5 games, including the 1 they won anyway. The Mets are still a joke.)
Friday, April 24, 2015
Remember all that talk about how the Mets were going to "Take Back New York"?
Seems like only yesterday.
In fact, it was sooner than that: It was just a few hours ago.
Until tonight, the Mets did look like a better team on paper.
Well, you know what they say: Baseball games aren't played on paper, they're played on grass. (Except when they're played on plastic. Give the Mets credit for this: They've never accepted artificial turf.)
Tonight's opener of the Subway Derby at Yankee Stadium II? It turned the Flushing Heathen's battle cry of "Ya gotta believe!" into a cry over shattered belief.
In the bottom of the 1st inning, Mark Teixeira hit Jacob deGrom's 17th pitch of the night over the right field fence, driving in Brett Gardner ahead of him, and the Yankees led 2-0.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the 3rd with a home run, his 1st of the season. Gardner singled to center, although our old friend Curtis Granderson threw him out trying to stretch it to a double. Then Alex Rodriguez drew a walk. Then Mark hit another Teix Message, his 2nd of the game and his 7th of the season. Brian McCann singled. Carlos Beltran walked. Chase Headley singled to load the bases. Stephen Drew flew out to center, but it was enough to get McCann home. (Which is saying something, because he runs slower than the average Met fan's thought processes.)
The Mets got a run back in the top of the 6th, but that was it. Michael Pineda pitched brilliantly: 7 2/3 innings, 1 run, 5 hits, no walks, 7 strikeouts. Let's face it, just about any of the Yankees' starters would be the Mets' ace -- even ahead of the overrated Matt Harvey.
Yankees 6, Mets 1. WP: Pineda (3-0). No save. LP: deGrom (2-2). And, as Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay would say: "The time of the game, a very manageable 2 hours and 33 minutes."
To paraphrase the film 300, Met fans did not enjoy this, but it was over quickly.
The series resumes tomorrow at 4:00, for the Fox Saturday Game of the Week. The fake ace, Matt Harvey, starts against the real ace, CC Sabathia.
Today, the first Subway Derby of the 2015 Major League Baseball season begins at Yankee Stadium II.
No, it's not a Subway Series. That can only happen in October, in the World Series. And that will never happen again, because the Mets are never winning another Pennant.
Yes, I'm aware that the Mets are 13-3 and have won 11 straight. It means nothing. They are not about to "take back New York."
They said they were going to do that in 1999-2000. And we stopped them.
They said they were going to do that in 2006-07-08. We didn't get the chance to stop them: They stopped themselves.
How is 2015 different? It isn't.
Someone -- I won't embarrass this person with identification, but you know who you are -- went to a game at Pity Field a few days ago, and says it has "a 1985 feel to it," that the Mets "have their swagger back."
Swagger? Over what? You don't have swagger over an 11-game winning streak. You have swagger over actually having won something. At the least, over making the Playoffs, something the Mutts haven't done in 9 years.
A 1985 feel. Really.
Let's compare the 1985 Mets to the 2015 Mets, shall we?
1B Keith Hernandez vs. Lucas Duda.
2B Wally Backman vs. Daniel Murphy.
SS Rafael Santana vs. Wilmer Flores.
3B Howard Johnson vs. David Wright (if he's healthy).
LF George Foster vs. Michael Cuddyer.
CF Mookie Wilson vs. Juan Lagares.
RF A young Darryl Strawberry vs. an aging Curtis Granderson.
C Gary Carter vs. Anthony Recker.
Aside from 3rd base, and even there it's a lot closer than you might believe, is there a single position at which you'd take the 2015 player?
Maybe Murphy instead of Backman, because Backman, while capable of making things happen once he got on base, wasn't a very good hitter. Maybe Flores instead of Santana, although neither could hit. Maybe the Granderson of 2008 to 2011 was worthy of standing alongside Strawberry. Not the current version.
Also, the pitching? The bullpen stinks, and the rotation has a question-mark Matt Harvey, a sophomore-jinx-in-the-making Jacob deGrom, a question-mark Jon Niese, a question-mark Dillon Gee, and fat steroid freak Bartolo Colon, who could get caught and suspended again at any time. Does that sound like Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Ed Lynch and not-yet-reliever Rick Aguilera to you?
Does that sound like a winning combination to you?
(Okay, Lynch and Aguilera were terrible starters. Aguilera was moved to the bullpen in 1986, and the Mets traded Calvin Schiraldi for Bob Ojeda to be the 4th starter, and that made all the difference -- especially in the World Series.)
All it's going to take to burst the Flushing Heathen's balloon, to show them that their team is not in position to take anything back, is these 3 games.
Bring it on.
I have a lot of catching up to do.
So did the Yankees. But they're doing it. If they can do it, so can I.
When last we left the Bronx
Meanwhile, fans of The Other Team, fans I have branded the Flushing Heathen, were feeling very optimistic.
I'll get to them later.
On Wednesday, April 15, against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, things got worse. Talk about a taxing day. Nathan Eovaldi looked like yet another former Miami Marlin pitcher who can't hack the American League East. In 5 innings, he struck out 9, but also allowed 8 hits and 3 walks, for 2 runs. Still, he had a 3-2 lead, partly thanks to Alex Rodriguez' 2nd home run of the season.
Of course, Joe Girardi trusts a pitch count more than his own eyes. Nevertheless, this time, he can be excused for removing Eovaldi: It wasn't the 101 pitches that was the problem, it's that he was getting hit.
But the O's scored 5 runs off 3 different Yankee pitchers in the bottom of the 6th. That was it: Despite a couple of runs in the 8th, it ended Orioles 7, Yankees 5. WP: Brad Brach (1-0). SV: Zach Britton (3). LP: David Carpenter (0-1).
The Yankees were 3-6 -- a pace for 54-108. That's expansion-team-level bad. That's post-fire-sale-level bad.
Is it possible for a baseball team to have a "must-win game" in April? The Yankees went down to Tampa Bay, facing a Rays team without the classless thug Joe Maddon in charge for the 1st time since 2007 -- the 1st time since we had a warmongering idiot in the White House.
Friday night, the Yankees went into Tropicana Field, a.k.a. The Really South Bronx, where an announced crowd of 15,752 came out. The 752 must've been the ones rooting for the Rays.
It looked like onebadinningitis again, as Adam Warren entered the bottom of the 4th with a 2-0 lead, thanks to homers by A-Rod and Stephen Drew (each man's 3rd of the season), and left it trailing 4-2. But the Yankees tied it in the 6th, as Brian McCann walked, and A-Rod hit another homer.
Carlos Beltran led off the 8th with a single, and was replaced by pinch-runner Brett Gardner. But it looked like the Yankees were going to waste this potential tying run, as both Mark Teixeira and McCann flew out to center. Gardner stole 2nd, hoping A-Rod could single him home. He did.
Yankees 5, Rays 4. WP: Dellin Betances (2-0). SV: Andrew Miller (3). LP: Kevin Jepsen (0-1).
Jepsen? Any relation to Carly Rae Jepsen? "Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but we're the Yankees, you're losing, no maybe!"
On Saturday, it was Tanaka Time. Masahiro Tanaka took the mound, and, despite remarks that he hasn't fully regained his velocity after his injury, every time he goes out, you get the feeling that 1 run will be all he needs.
He got more than that. as the Yankees scored 2 on a McCann triple in the 6th, and 7 in the 7th. Observe: A Chase Headley single, a Drew double, a Gregorio Petit sacrifice fly, a Jacoby Elllsbury single, a Gardner single, an A-Rod walk to load the bases, a Teix sac fly, McCann hit by a pitch, and a Chris Young grand slam, his 3rd homer of the season.
Tanaka allowed just 2 baserunners, a single and a double, over 7 innings. Giving him 9 runs seems almost unfair. But then, how often have the Yankees scored 9 runs over the last 3 years?
Yankees 9, Rays 0. WP: Tanaka (2-1). No save. LP: Jake Odorizzi (2-1). Attendance: 20,824.
On Sunday, Michael Pineda was a bit uneven. He got into the 6th, striking out 5, but also allowed 3 runs on 7 hits and a walk. Fortunately, the bullpen allowed just 3 baserunners the rest of the way.
No homers this time, but Jones went 3-for-4, while Ellsbury, Headley and Didi Gregorious each got 2 hits. Yankees 5, Rays 3. WP: Pineda (2-0). SV: Miller (4). LP: Matt Andriese (0-1). Attendance: 21,791.
Attendance for the entire 3-game series: 58,367. Or slightly more than would have fit into the post-renovation old Yankee Stadium for 1 game.
Or would fit into Montreal's Olympic Stadium for 1 game. #MoveTheRays
That got the Yankees back to .500. Off to Detroit for 4 against the Tigers.
On Monday night, CC Sabathia pitched like his old fat self. In other words, brilliantly. He allowed 2 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks, striking out 5.
Wouldn't it have been nice if the Yankees could have taken 2 of those 9 runs from Saturday in St. Petersburg, and moved them to Monday at Comerica Park? Alas, it doesn't work that way. Against Alfredo Simon, Joakim Soria and, yes, Joba Chamberlain (who got 2 outs in the 8th), the Yankees could manage just 1 run on 7 hits. The 1 run was a solo blast by Teixeira in the 4th (his 4th of the season).
Tigers 2, Yankees 1. WP: Simon (3-0). SV: Soria (5). LP: Sabathia (0-3).
Back under .500.
On Tuesday night, it appeared that the Yankees had reached a conscious decision to have had enough of this crap, and to start hitting the ball.
Eovaldi was pitching well, but clinging to a 1-0 lead. Clearly, he needed more runs. He got them in the top of the 7th, as Young and Drew each hit his 4th homer of the season. That was all that was needed.
Yankees 5, Tigers 2. WP: Eovaldi (1-0). SV: Miller (5). LP: Kyle Lobstein (1-1).
Back to .500.
Then came Wednesday night's game, my favorite game of the season so far. The Yankees scored 6 runs before Adam Warren even threw a pitch. Granted, that can sometimes cause a pitcher to get nervous, or cocky, and lose focus. Indeed, Warren did allow 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st.
But the Yankees took 2 of them back in the top of the 2nd, and the Tigers did not recover, getting only 1 hit and 1 walk the rest of the way. Incredibly, in this blowout, the Yankees only got 1 home run, Teixeira's 5th. Which is fine with me: I don't care how the Yankees score, as long as they win.
Yankees 13, Tigers 4. WP: Warren (1-1). No save. LP: Former Tampa Bay pain in the ass David Price (1-1).
Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees proved what they couldn't prove on Monday night: That they could win without scoring many runs.
The teams only got 6 hits between them, as Comerica Park is a pitcher's park, unlike its homer-happy predecessor Tiger Stadium. Tanaka allowed a run in the 1st, and cruised the rest of the way. But he still trailed 1-0 going into the 6th inning.
The Tigers really beat themselves, and the Yankees took advantage. Tom Gorzellany walked Ellsbury to open the 6th, and Ellsbury stole 2nd. Gardner grounded him over to 3rd. Gozellany struck out Beltran, and it looked like another "Yankee RISPfail" in the making. But he balked Ellsbury home to tie the game. Tiger manager Brad Ausmus argued with the umpires, and got tossed.
Ellsbury doubled to lead off the 8th, and Gardner bunted him over to 3rd. Gorzellany intentionally walked Beltran to set up the doule play. It didn't work, as McCann grounded out to get Ellsbury home.
That was it: Yankees 2, Tigers 1. WP: Betances (3-0). SV: Miller (6). LP: Gorzellany (0-1).
So, despite all the doubters and doomsayers, the Yankees are 9-7 as they go into this earliest-ever series against The Other Team, who are currently riding high.
Time to lay them low. The Yankees are ready to rumble. Those overhyped schmucked better be ready to get exposed.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
This new job has provided me with the chance to get back on my feet. But I've been so tired upon coming home that I haven't been able to update this blog much.
So let me go over some tributes that shouldn't have waited so long.
Lon Simmons was born Lonnie Alexander Simmons on July 19, 1923, in Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. But he grew up outside Los Angeles in Burbank, California. Certainly not the kind of background you would expect a San Francisco Bay Area legend to have.
He served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. He could have been a big-league ballplayer, and briefly pitched in the Philadelphia Phillies' minor-league system. But his future was in radio. At the time, it was still very possible to have a future in radio.
He broadcast in Elko, Nevada, near the Nevada-California State Line, and was hired by a station in Fresno, when the San Francisco 49ers hired him in 1957. In 1958, the New York Giants baseball team moved to San Francisco, and hired him as well.
In 1964, the 49ers played the Minnesota Vikings, and the Vikings' Jim Marshall picked up a fumble by the 49ers' Billy Kilmer... and ran the wrong way with it. Simmons had the call:
Mira, straight back to pass. Looking, now stops, throws, completes it to Kilmer up at the 30-yard line. Kilmer driving for the first down, loses the football! It is picked up by Jim Marshall, who is running the wrong way! Marshall is running the wrong way! And he's running it into the end zone the wrong way, thinks he has scored a touchdown! He has scored a safety! His teammates were running along the far side of the field, Russ, trying to tell him go back!
(Why the Niners were using 2 quarterbacks, George Mira and Kilmer, in 1 formation, I don't know.)
This wasn't the 1st time such a thing had happened in a football game involving a team in the Bay Area. In 1929, Roy Riegels of the University of California did it in the Rose Bowl against Georgia Tech, before being stopped by his own teammate, then the subsequent punt was blocked for a safety, giving Tech the margin of victory -- one of the few times defense ever actually won a game.
In Marshall's case, he got away with it, as the Vikings still won. He eventually set an NFL record for consecutive games played, appeared in 4 Super Bowls, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Simmons had rotten luck: Although the 49ers reached the NFL Championship Game in his rookie season, and the NFC Championship Game in 1970 and '71, they never reached a Super Bowl while he was their announcer. He left after the 1980 season -- and it was in the next season that they started winning Super Bowls. But he was brought back in 1987, and got to announce a 49er title the next season, before leaving again, just before they won again.
In baseball, he remained with the Giants through 1973, then came back in 1976, and then went across the Bay to announce for the Oakland Athletics from 1981 to 1995. In that case, it was because his employer, KSFO, switched teams, not because the Giants had a problem with him. (As far as I can tell, they didn't.)
He had a sense of humor about his job: "I don't mind hate mail, but when a letter comes to the station addressed, 'Jerk, KSFO, San Francisco,' and I get it, that's when I start to worry."
During the 1989 World Series, the great A's announcer Bill King came down with laryngitis. Had the earthquake not happened, Games 3 and 4 would have happened earlier, and King would have been fine. Instead, Simmons stepped in for him, and was the lead radio announcer when the A's won the Series.
Simmons would occasionally rejoin the Giants in the 2000s, and in 2004 was honored with the Ford Frick Award, the Baseball Hall of Fame's award for broadcasters. He died on April 5, 2015, about 2 weeks ago (you can see how far behind I am), at the age of 91.
Lon Simmons was one of those guys about whom you could say, "When they made him, they broke the mold." In the case of Stan Hochman, I think the mold dissolved.
Doug Collins, former Philadelphia 76ers star and head coach, said:
I have the utmost respect for Stan. I've known him since 1973. He was passionate about his work, and he knew his subjects. Before he would interview you, he did his homework so you knew that anything that he was going to write was done with due diligence. I consider him a dear friend.
Stan is Philly, through and through. When I think of all the writers that have come and gone through Philadelphia, that's what I think of. Stan and that voice. He was a throwback. He knew how to separate when to be a reporter and when to turn off the tape recorder. I understand the job that reporters have to do and sometimes it's not easy to ask the tough questions, the ones that need to be asked. Stan had a way of not only asking them so that you wanted to answer, but also made you feel better talking about it. He was tough, but fair. I always respected that.
Stan wasn't born in Philly, though. He was born in 1928 in Brooklyn -- which has a little-brother complex with Manhattan, and that might be why he understood Philly so well.
He went to New York University, and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He joined the staff of the Philadelphia Daily News in 1959, and the only way he left was in a coffin, on April 9. He was 86.
He covered it all in the City of Brotherly Love (and Several Hatreds): The Eagles' 1960 NFL Championship and their 2 Super Bowl defeats, Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, the 1964 Phillies Phlop, the 76ers' titles under Wilt and Hal Greer in 1967 and Julius Erving and Moses Malone in 1983 (with Billy Cunningham as a rookie 6th man for the former and as head coach for the latter), Eagles fans booing Santa Claus, Philly's adopted son Joe Frazier rising to the Heavyweight Championship of the World, The Flyers' back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Phillies ending droughts with the 1980 and 2008 World Championships, Villanova's 1985 miracle, and the rise of sports-talk on radio and TV -- of which he became an integral part.
He covered games at Connie Mack Stadium, Franklin Field, Municipal/John F. Kennedy Stadium, the Philadelphia Civic Center, the Palestra, the Spectrum, Veterans Stadium, what's now known as the Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park.
In 2009, he was interviewed for his 50th Anniversary with "The People Paper," and said this:
Why do I keep doing what I do? The answer is, because I still enjoy it... I'm just a guy who truly enjoys what he's doing in a city that cares deeply about its teams, but wants to read stuff that's 'tough but fair.'"
All of you have heard of baseball's racial-integration pioneers, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby. Some of you have heard of the pioneers in other sports: Kenny Washinton and Marion Motley in the NFL; Willie O'Ree in hockey; and Chuck "Tarzan" Cooper, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton and Earl "the Big Cat" Lloyd in the NBA. (Apparently, to be a racial trailblazer in the NBA -- well before there were the Portland Trail Blazers -- you needed a badass nickname.)
You may not have heard of Art Powell. But you should.
Unfortunately, I had not heard of Lloyd's death at the time, so let me get to him first.
Earl Francis Lloyd was born on April 3, 1928, in Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. He played college basketball at West Virginia State, then an all-black school, and was drafted by the Washington Capitols in 1950. Their coach, Red Auerbach, a former star at George Washington University, liked that he was a D.C. guy. And Red didn't care about color, only talent and character.
The way it worked out, Cooper was the 1st black man drafted by an NBA team, the Boston Celtics; Clifton, a former Harlem Globetrotter, was the 1st one signed to a contract, by the Knicks; and Lloyd was the 1st one who actually got into a game, 1 day before Cooper and 4 before Clifton. It was Halloween Night, October 31, 1950, and the Nats lost to the Rochester Royals, 78-70. This was not a big surprise, as the Royals, forerunners of the Sacramento Kings, went on to win the NBA Championship that season.
The Caps were badly mismanaged, and owner Mike Uline's firing of Auerbach didn't help -- especially when Auerbach went to the Celtics and dragged the NBA into the modern world. The Syracuse Nationals picked Lloyd up, after he'd served in the Army (like Hochman, in the Korean War), and he helped them reach the NBA Finals in 1954, losing to the Minneapolis Lakers. In 1955, they won the title, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Finals.
That tells you what the NBA was like in the Fifties: Cities the size of Rochester, Syracuse and Fort Wayne could reach the Finals, and no one thought that was shocking.
Lloyd ended his career with the Pistons, after they moved to Detroit, in 1960. He remained with the Pistons as an assistant coach. In 1965, general manager Don Wattrick wanted to make Lloyd the NBA's 1st black head coach. But he was overruled by ownership, and, instead, the head coaching job went to Dave DeBusschere -- later proven one of the sharpest minds in basketball, but, at the time, a 25-year-old player. What a massive insult to Lloyd.
He was, however, given the job in 1972, after Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens had been named NBA head coaches, but didn't last long. He became an NBA scout. In 2003, because of his pioneering role, and also because he was one of the best players of his time, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He died on February 26, at age 86.
Arthur Lewis Powell was born on February 25, 1937, in Dallas. and grew up in San Diego. He went to San Jose State, and played in the Canadian Football League, as did several other black players, knowing how many racist Southerners were playing in the NFL, and how few up there.
Powell was 1 of 2 notable rookies with the 1959 Eagles who didn't stick with the Eagles. The other was John Madden, who got hurt in preseason, was taught how to analyze football film by Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, and became a great coach and later broadcaster because of that.
Powell played for the Eagles in '59, but wasn't with them when they won the title in '60. They were scheduled to play an exhibition game with the Washington Redskins in Norfolk, Virginia, and found out that he and his black teammates weren't going to be staying at the same hotel as their white teammates. To make matters worse, his black teammates didn't want to do anything about it.
So he jumped the team, and signed with the New York Titans of the American Football League -- the team that became the Jets. In 1960, he led the AFL in receiving touchdowns. In 1962, he led it in receiving yards. In 1963, having been traded to the Oakland Raiders, he led it in both categories. (The Titans weren't unhappy with him, but they were desperate for cash, and the Raiders offered it.) In a league that put emphasis on the passing game, he was a big star. Indeed, it could be argued that he was the first star player in Jets' history, even if he was gone by the time the name was adopted for the 1963 season.
In 1963, a preseason game between the Raiders and the newly-renamed Jets was to be held in Mobile, Alabama. He found out the seating would be segregated. This time, he managed to get 3 black teammates to back him up, and they told Raiders GM Al Davis (not yet the owner) that they wouldn't play in a segregated stadium. Say what you want about the man that Al Davis became, but, on this occasion, he did the right thing: He backed his black players up, and the game was moved to Oakland.
In 1965, after the 1964 season, the AFL All-Star Game was scheduled for Tulane Stadium in New Orleans -- a city which then didn't have a team in either the NFL or the AFL. Powell and other black players were refused service by white taxi drivers and white nightclubs -- and this was a few months after the Civil Rights Act became law. Powell again organized, and 21 black players said they wouldn't play. The game was moved to Houston -- also a Southern city, but one which had already, through the AFL's Houston Oilers, accepted the black players as equals, so they knew it could be trusted.
Powell went to the Buffalo Bills in 1967, and, following the AFL-NFL merger, returned to the NFL in 1968, with the Vikings. Between both leagues, he caught 479 passes for 81 touchdowns -- an exceptional ratio. After the AFL was fully, uh, integrated into the NFL, and All-Time AFL Team was chosen, and Powell and Houston's Charlie Hennigan were selected to the Second Team. The First Team selections were Don Maynard of the Jets and Lance Alworth of the San Diego Chargers, both later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Powell returned to Southern California, and ran a small oil company. He died on April 6, at the age of 78.
Jim Mutscheller was not as significant a pro football receiver as Art Powell. But he was important. After all, he was the 1st NFL player from the Pittsburgh satellite town of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and thus served as an inspiration for another man from that town, Joe Namath.
James Mutscheller -- no middle name, but he was nicknamed Bucky -- was born on March 31, 1930 in Beaver Falls. He went to Notre Dame, and was a sophomore on their 1949 National Championship team under Frank Leahy.
Yet another Korean War veteran, his NFL debut was delayed until 1954, when he became a tight end for the Baltimore Colts. He played 8 seasons with them, including the NFL Championship season of 1958 and '59, a target for the great quarterback Johnny Unitas. One of his catches was key to the Colts' winning drive in the 1958 NFL Championship Game victory over the Giants at the original Yankee Stadium.
He caught 220 passes for 3,685 yards and 40 touchdowns -- numbers that don't leap off the page today, but noticeable then. He was named an All-Pro in 1957.
After his playing career, Mutscheller stayed in the Baltimore area, living in Towson, Maryland, where he died on April 10. He was 85.
Eddie LeBaron was a big star in the NFL in the 1950s. A big one -- but not a tall one.
Edward Wayne LeBaron -- often incorrectly listed as Eddie Lee LeBaron -- was born on January 7, 1930 in San Rafael, California, north of San Francisco. He went to the College (now the University) of the Pacific in nearby Stockton and, after becoming yet another Korean War veteran, was ready to enter the NFL.
NFL GMs blanched at drafting 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie because he was just 5 feet, 9 3/4 inches. LeBaron was just 5-foot-7, yet he was one of the best quarterbacks of his time. After the Marines discharged him with a Bronze Star in 1952, he became only the 2nd starting quarterback the Redskins ever had following their 1937 move to Washington, succeeding the legendary Slingin' Sammy Baugh. He was a 4-time Pro Bowler.
In 1960, he became the 1st starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys -- and thus the 1st player to cross the divide of what eventually became the NFL's nastiest rivalry. After 4 seasons, in which the Cowboys were terrible (ah, the good old days), in 1963 he gave way to Don Meredith.
On October 9, 1960, the shortest quarterback in the NFL's modern era threw the NFL's shortest touchdown pass. The ball was 2 inches from the goal line, yet LeBaron dropped back to pass, and threw to Dick Bielski. The opponent? Oddly enough, the Redskins.
He became a lawyer, a broadcaster for CBS, and an executive with the Atlanta Falcons. He retired to Stockton, and died there this past April 1. He was a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, and, showing no hard feelings for his having gone to the Cowboys, the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Between my new job, and using my weekends to make up for lost time when I had no income, finally, I'm back to getting this blog going. It's about time.
When last I left you, the Yankees had rebounded from an awful home opener against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays with a win in the 2nd game. The rubber match of the series was played on Thursday night, and it didn't go so well for the Bronx "Bombers."
CC Sabathia made his 1st start of the season, and fell victim to onebadinningitis. He was fine in innings 1, 3, 4 and 5. But the 2nd? The Jays hung 4 runs on him. Despite Alex Rodriguez's 1st home run since September 20, 2013 -- the 655th of his career -- it ended Blue Jays 6, Yankees 3.
WP: Daniel Norris (1-0). SV: Miguel Castro (1). LP: Sabathia (0-1).
Out went the Peskies. In came The Scum. Hell of a time for the Boston Red Sox to cross the City Line.
And Friday night's game was the longest, by time, in the history of any Yankee Stadium. As it turned out, it was a 19-inning waste of time.
Nathan Eovaldi started for the Yankees, Dave Miley for the Red Sox. Neither one survived the 6th inning. They were the lucky ones. The Sox used 9 pitchers, the Yanks 8.
It was 3-2 Sox in the bottom of the 9th, and looking grim for the Yankees -- and unremarkable for the neutral fan. Then, with 2 outs, the 3rd baseman hit a last-gasp home run. Good old Chase Headley.
A-Rod doubled with 1 out in the 11th. Mark Teixeira was intentionally walked to set up the double play. Both got stranded. Didi Gregorius singled with 2 out in the 12th. Stranded. Brian McCann was hit with a pitch to lead off the 14th. Stranded. Brett Gardner drew a walk with 2 out in the 15th. Stranded.
In the top of the 16th, David Ortiz, the big fat lying cheating bastard who has not only never been punished for his cheating, and his getting caught, and his lying about it, by Major League Baseball, but has been rewarded for it, hit a home run. Why is he even still allowed to play?
Why is Teix, whose injuries have rendered him a shell of his former self, still allowed to play? This is why: He can still hit the ball out of the park. He did so, leading off the bottom of the 16th.
In the bottom of the 17th, with 1 out, Gardner walked. But the best baserunner the Yankees have had since the Rickey Henderson experiment got picked off. That was crucial: Garrett Jones singled, and that would have put Gardner on 3rd with less than 1 out. Jones was stranded.
The Sox took the lead in the top of the 18th. But doubles by McCann and Carlos Beltran tied it back up. Beltran was on 2nd with 1 out. But he got stranded.
The game moved into the 19th inning. Then, and only then, did Yankee broadcaster John Sterling, who used to broadcast for the Atlanta Braves, cite the 19-inning 4th of July Mets-Braves epic from 1985, which he called "the wackiest, wildest, most improbable game in history."
This game wasn't nearly so bizarre as that one, although there was a 16-minute delay because a bank of lights went out. $2.3 billion spend on the new Stadium, and they didn't pay the electric bill?
Esmil Rogers pitched nobly, effectively a "quality start" in relief, but he ran out of gas, and allowed the Sox to manufacture a run. Jacoby Ellsbury singled to start the bottom of the 19th, but Gardner flew out, and Jones grounded into a double play, to end it after 6 hours and 49 minutes.
Red Sox 6, Yankees 5. WP: Stephen Wright (1-0), who has the same name as the famous "existential comedian" from Boston who's a big Red Sox fan (although he spells it "Steven"). LP: Rogers, who deserved a better fate (0-1).
And then, after playing until after 2:00 in the morning, the Yankees had to play a 1:00 PM start. The ultimate "day game after a night game." I knew they wouldn't win this one.
We certainly can't blame Adam Warren: As poor as he was as a reliever most of last season, he gave us a decent start, getting into the 6th inning having allowed just 1 earned run. Unfortunately, there was another run, unearned. And, unlike the night before, when it was brilliant, the bullpen didn't help.
Chris Young hit a home run in the 8th inning, but the Yankees had nearly as many errors (3) as hits (5).
Red Sox 8, Yankees 4. WP: Joe Kelly (1-0). No save. LP: Warren (0-1).
The Yankees were now reeling. They were 1-4.
Funny: That was their record after 5 games in 1998. And we all know what happened that season...
Of course, that was when their lineup was Knoblauch, Jeter, O'Neill, Williams, Martinez, Strawberry or Davis as DH, one of those or Ledee as LF, Posada, Brosius; their rotation was Cone, Wells, Pettitte, Hernandez, 5; and their bullpen was Nelson, Stanton, Rivera. Clearly, the current team does not measure up. (Something that people who compare the 2015 Mets to the 1980s Mets also need to consider -- more about that in a later post.)
On Sunday, having finally got my first full-week paycheck in a year and a half, I went to my first live Major League Baseball game in nearly a year. Like I said: It's about time.
Cliche alert: It was a beautiful day for baseball, and I was at Citizens Bank Park to see the host Philadelphia Phillies take on the Washington Nationals. Ah, the Phillies, the team of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Chico Ruiz, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Jamie Moyer, Cliff Lee, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge...
Where'd everybody go? Age and injuries have seriously caught up with the Fightin' Phils. 2007 to 2011 was their 1961-64 Yankees, but 2012 became their 1965, and 2015 sure looks like their 1968. In their entire 9-man starting lineup for my game, I saw only 3 names I recognized. Only 2 of them as Phillies: Howard and Ben Revere. The 3rd was Jeff Francoeur, who I still think of as an Atlanta Brave. Rollins has been traded. Werth left via free agency. So have Burrell and Lidge, who retired. So has Moyer, who had to mainly because his age had matched his uniform number, 50. Halladay had to retire much too soon because of injury. And with injuries. Howard, Utley and Hamels are shadows of their former selves.
The Nats, meanwhile, had former American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer starting. And Bryce Harper. And Jordan Zimmerman. This could have gotten ugly.
It didn't. The Nats took a 2-0 lead. But the Phils managed to tie it. Did the Phils win? As Harper would say, "That's a clown question, bro." The Nats scored 2 in the top of the 10th, but the Phils tried to come back... and fell just short. Nats 4, Phils 3.
The atmosphere in Philly has gotten bad. September 1964, October 1977, late 1980s, late 1990s bad. The locals now expect the worst. And Ryan Howard, who looked like a sure Hall-of-Famer, now can't hit the ground if he fell off a ladder. Sad to say, he is done. Probably has been since that strikeout that ended the 2011 NLCS injured him.
But I saw a Major League Baseball game for just $20. Yay, me. Okay, the cost of a round-trip visit from my home base to Philly, including a bus, 2 trains and the Broad Street Line subway, is $46.60 -- and that's just transportation! But "The Bank" might be the best of the new ballparks, getting a ticket for $40 or less isn't hard, and they've got the best ballpark food east of Detroit.
Too bad the Phillies, unlike in the ballpark's 1st 8 seasons (2004-11), don't put up much of a fight.
Attendance: Officially, 30,094. I was there, and I'm telling you, in the immortal words of Jim Gosger (as quoted by Jim Bouton in Ball Four), "Yeah, surrrre!" A gorgeous spring Sunday, and if it was over 25,000, I'd be surprised. It might not even have been 20,000.
One more note: I saw a bee land right on the nose of the Harry Kalas statue, in front Harry the K's restaurant behind the left-field pole. A fan saw it, and got rid of it. (The bee, not the statue.) I couldn't resist doing Harry's voice: "And it is... outta here!"
Looking at the out-of-town scoreboard at CBP, I saw the Yankees and Red Sox were not yet playing. That next Yankee game was an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball contest. Against the Red Sox. For the Yankees, this is usually a recipe for frustration -- sometimes, a recipe of outright disaster. Usually with unacceptably pro-Red Sox, anti-Yankee broadcasting.
By the time I got back to New Brunswick, I came down the steps of the station, and saw inside Brother Jimmy's Barbecue, and saw a home run from Chase Headley. Good.
Then I saw the score: Yankees 7, Red Sox 0. In the 1st inning! With Masahiro Tanaka as our starter!
My 1st thought was, "Note to self: Have eyes checked." Then I remembered that I had my eyes checked this past November, and got new glasses -- as it turned out, I didn't need a new prescription, just new glasses, since my old ones had some scratches on the lenses.
The much-maligned Stephen Drew had already hit a grand slam in the inning. Brian McCann added a homer in the 8th. A-Rod had a double and 4 RBIs. Headley had 3 hits; McCann, Gardner and Beltran, 2 each. A-Rod and Ellsbury each had a hit and 2 walks, meaning they each reached base 3 times.
Worried about Tanaka's durability, Joe Girardi limited him to 5 innings, and he allowed 4 runs, 3 earned. But, between them, David Carpenter and Kyle Davies pitched 4 innings, allowing no runs, 4 hits, and no walks. The Sox led Clay Buchholz twist in the wind until the 4th inning.
Yankees 14, Red Sox 4. WP: Tanaka (1-1). No save. LP: Buchholz (1-1).
A blowout win over The Scum. On ESPN. It's about time!
And then, yesterday, the Yankees began a roadtrip, visiting the Baltimore Orioles. Michael Pineda was not sharp. Going into the top of the 7th, the Yankees trailed 4-2. Solo homers by Young (his 2nd of the season) and Teix (his 3rd). You can't just hit the ball out, you gotta get men on base before you do it.
The Yankees loaded the bases, and Girardi sent the much-maligned Drew up to pinch-hit. Remembering that Camden Yards is a bandbox, and that it's important to hit the ball hard with men on base, Drew hit it out. Grand Slam.
The Orioles pulled a run back in the bottom of the 7th, but the Yankee bullpen got the job done. Yankees 6, Orioles 5. WP: Pineda (1-0). SV: Andrew Miller (2). LP: Tommy Hunter (0-1).
Meanwhile, also yesterday, the Red Sox had their home opener. Throwing out the ceremonial first ball? Tom Brady. Fellow cheater, except he's cheated his way to 1 more title than the Sox have. I wonder if the ball was deflated.
And then, tonight, the momentum stopped. As they have many times since their former manager William Nathaniel Showalter III became the Orioles' manager, the Yankees let Adam "Don't Call Me Pacman" Jones beat them with a home run. Orioles 4, Yankees 3. WP:
SV: Zach Britton (2). LP: Sabathia (0-2).
The Yankees are now 3-5. 2-1 since a 1-4 start, but still not good.
154 games to go.
Monday, April 13, 2015
April 13, 1940, 75 years ago today: The New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup.
Stop laughing. You remember the "NINE-teen-FOR-ty!" chant that used to be used before June 14, 1994? Well, this is what it was about.
The Rangers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in 6 games, taking Game 6 and the Cup 3-2 in overtime at Maple Leaf Gardens, on an overtime goal by Bryan Hextall.
Hail the Champions:
General Manager Lester Patrick (Hall of Fame)
Head Coach Frank Boucher (HOF, Captain of the Rangers' 1928 & '33 Cup-winers)
1 Dave Kerr, goaltender
2 Art Coulter, defenseman and Captain (HOF)
3 Erhardt "Ott" Heller, defenseman
4 Alex Shibicky, left wing
5 Mac Colville, right wing
6 Neil Colville, center (HOF, also played as a defenseman, Mac's brother)
7 Phil Watson, center
8 Walter "Babe" Pratt, defenseman (HOF)
9 Lynn Patrick, left wing (HOF, Lester's son)
10 Clint Smith, center (The last survivor of this team, living until 2009)
12 Bryan Hextall, right wing (HOF)
14 Kilby MacDonald, left wing
15 Murray "Muzz" Patrick, defenseman (Lester's other son)
16 Alf Pike, center
17 Stan Smith, center
In the photo above, Kerr is flanked by Patrick and Boucher.
In those days, the Rangers were, with some justification, known as "the Classiest Team in Hockey." And their fans were hailed as classy, and knowledgeable. And no one said that the Rangers sucked. Or stunk.
That was a long, long time ago. Sometimes, it seems like a galaxy far, far away.
That was 75 years ago. In that time:
The United States of America has gone from 48 to 50 States. Canada went from 9 Provinces to 10, taking on what was then the British colony of Newfoundland. Germany, then 1 single "Reich," was broken up into what is now 5 countries. The Soviet Union went from 1 country to 18. Yugoslavia went from 1 country to 7. India went from being 1 British colony to 5 separate independent nations. Every single European colony in Africa gained its independence, and so did many in Asia. Korea and Vietnam went from 1 country to 2, and Vietnam went back to being 1. Siam became Thailand. The Belgian Congo became Zaire, and then the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Belgium and the Netherlands essentially ceased to be empires.
There have been 13 Presidents of the United States, 12 Prime Ministers of Canada, and 7 Popes -- but only 2 British monarchs.
Television went from a curiosity to a dominant feature of American life, to something that the Internet has, essentially, superseded.
Computers, desktop computers, laptop computers, the Internet and smartphones were invented.
Rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul music, surf rock, folk rock, psychedelia, heavy metal, glam rock, disco, punk rock, rap, grunge rock and autotune have all been invented. All 4 Beatles were born, grew up, met, became famous, broke up, had solo careers, got married, and had children; 2 of them have died. Tony Bennett went from recording the songs of Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams to doing duets with Lady Gaga.
My father was born, grew up, earned 2 science degrees from Newark College of Engineering, watched it be absorbed into the New Jersey Institute of Technology, served in a war, got married, had 2 children, had 2 grandchildren, worked 30 years for the State of New Jersey, grew old, and died.
Science fiction went from Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon to the previously not-yet-existing Captain Video, to Star Trek, to 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Star Wars, to much of what had previously been considered science fiction becoming science fact. Men have gone into space for the first time, and have gone to the Moon -- and decided that going back to the Moon was no longer worth it.
Superman and Batman went from new characters to worldwide phenomena; while Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, the Flash, the Green Lantern, the Green Arrow and the Atom were created; Marvel Comics and the entire Marvel Universe were created; the entire Watchmen saga took place; and comic books went from 10-cent kids' stuff to 5-buck graphic novels. James Bond, Dirty Harry, Jack Ryan, Alex Cross and Harry Potter were all created.
The National Hockey League went from 7 teams to 30, East Coast to West Coast, Canada to the Sun Belt. Major League Baseball went from 16 teams in 10 cities, all in the Northeast and the Midwest, to 30 teams in 26 metropolitan areas, East Coast to West Coast, Canada to Florida. The National Football League went from, essentially, a minor league with 10 teams to a behemoth with 32 teams, East Coast to West Coast, North to South. The Canadian Football League was outright founded. The National Basketball Association was founded.
The Olympics, both Summer and Winter, have been held in American 5 times, Italy 3 times, Canada 3 times, Britain twice, Norway twice, Australia twice, Japan twice, Austria twice, France twice, Russia twice, Switzerland, Finland, Mexico, Germany, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Greece and China. The World Cup has been held in Brazil twice, Mexico twice, Germany twice, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile, England, Argentina, Spain, Italy, America, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa; and has been won by Brazil 5 times, Germany 4 times, Argentina twice, Italy twice, Uruguay, England, France and Spain.
Shea Stadium in New York, and Giants Stadium just outside it; Foxboro Stadium outside Boston; the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium; Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum in Philadelphia; the Coliseum outside Cleveland; Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati; the Charlotte Coliseum; Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the Omni; the Reunion Arena in Dallas, and Arlington Stadium and Texas Stadium outside it; Robertson Stadium in Houston; the Hoosier Dome and Market Square Arena in Indianapolis; Milwaukee County Stadium; the Metrodome in Minneapolis; Metropolitan Stadium and the Metropolitan Sports Center outside it; Mile High Stadium and the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver; and Candlestick Park in San Francisco were all built, used, and demolished. And "the new Madison Square Garden" surpassed the demolished old Garden, home of the 1940 Rangers, in age. And Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles did the same for Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
North American major league sports have been racially integrated, and gone international. Free agency has come to all 4 sports. Artificial turf, electric scoreboards, electronic scoreboards, fireworks-shooting "exploding scoreboards," DiamondVision TV screens, domed stadiums, retractable-roof stadiums, sports-talk radio, network TV, cable TV, all-sports cable TV stations, and arenas capable of going from basketball court to hockey rink, or vice versa, in mere hours, making the playing of both sports on the same day, have all been invented.
Lester Patrick grew old, retired, died, and became the namesake of both one of the NHL's divisions (a distinction that lasted from 1974 to 1992) and a trophy that stands as a lifetime achievement award for service to American hockey (though he, himself, was Canadian, from Drummondville, Quebec).
Bryan Hextall, hero of the clinching game, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, became the father of Bryan Hextall Jr. and Dennis Hextall, became the grandfather of Ron Hextall, and lived long enough to see all 3 of them become NHL All-Stars.
The entire careers of Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Gordie Howe, Mark Howe, Marty Howe, Jean Beliveau, Terry Sawchuck, Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Dennis Hull, Brett Hull, Frank Mahovlich, Peter Mahovlich, Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito, Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden, Dave Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Denis Potvin, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Patrick Roy, Mario Lemieux, Scott Stevens, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Rob Niedermayer, and all 6 Sutter brothers have been played in full.
The Stanley Cup itself went from a cigar shape to the barrel shape we know today. (That redesign took place in 1948.)
And in all those 75 years, here are the Stanley Cups won, with the "Original Six" teams in bold:
Montreal Canadiens 20
Toronto Maple Leafs 10
Detroit Red Wings 9
Edmonton Oilers 5
Boston Bruins 4
New Jersey Devils 3
Chicago Blackhawks 3
Pittsburgh Penguins 3
Colorado Avalanche 2
Los Angeles Kings 2
Philadelphia Flyers 2
Calgary Flames 1
Dallas Stars 1
Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Carolina Hurricanes 1
Anaheim Ducks 1
New York Rangers 1
That's right: In three-quarters of a century, the New York Rangers have won just 1 Stanley Cup. The Islanders have only been around since 1972, and the Devils since 1982, and have won 7 Cups between them; the Rangers, in that time, just 1.
Compared to the other "Original Six" teams, all of whom had significant Cup droughts, the Rangers' record of even reaching the Stanley Cup Finals is pathetic. In 75 years:
New York 5
Just 5 trips to the Finals in 75 years? An average of 1 trip to the Finals every 15 years?
And in 75 years, 1 Stanley Cup.
And their fans think Devils fans are jealous of their history?
1-for-75. You know what that means?
It means that Sam Rosen was right about that 1994 Stanley Cup: This one already has lasted a lifetime!
Saturday, April 11, 2015
You know what I hate? Besides the Red Sox. And the Mets. And the Rangers. And Old Bridge. And Penn State. And Notre Dame. And Duke. And the University of Miami. And Tottenham. And Chelsea. And Manchester United. And Stoke City. And Real Madrid. And Barcelona. And Juventus. And Bayern Munich. And Galatasaray.
I hate extra innings. Screw "free baseball," I only care about winning. If you're going to lose, do it in 9, and don't waste my time.
Loki: "I have an army!"
John Henry: "We have a Big Papi. And steroids."
This was the longest game, by time, in the history of either Yankee Stadium. And tied for the longest in innings.
And the Yankees had plenty of chances to win it, but lost it.
I'll elaborate after tonight's game. When I will have 3 games to catch up on.
I hate extra innings. Screw "free baseball," I only care about winning. If you're going to lose, do it in 9, and don't waste my time.
Loki: "I have an army!"
John Henry: "We have a Big Papi. And steroids."
This was the longest game, by time, in the history of either Yankee Stadium. And tied for the longest in innings.
And the Yankees had plenty of chances to win it, but lost it.
I'll elaborate after tonight's game. When I will have 3 games to catch up on.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
I've written before on the subject of "Onebadinningitis." One bad inning can ruin your whole day. Especially if it's Opening Day.
Well, on Monday, Opening Day, one bad inning for the Yankees against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays, and a Met victory away to the defending Division Champion Washington Nationals led a lot of people -- including a many Yankee Fans who, unlike Met fans, the Flushing Heathen, should know better -- to presume that the sky was falling, and that the Mets really were going to "take back New York" this season.
After 2 games, it has become considerably clearer. Calm down, people: The Yankees got this. And, as usual, the Mets don't got nothin'.
For the 1st time since 2008, the Yankees' Opening Day starter was someone other than CC Sabathia. Masahiro Tanaka, having returned from the injury that short-circuited his spectacular-in-the-making U.S.-rookie season, earned that starting nod.
An announced crowd of 48,469 -- they called it a sellout -- watched Super Hiro cruise through the 1st 2 innings. He began the game (and the season) by striking out the Jays' leadoff hitter and shortstop, the massively overrated ex-Met Jose Reyes. (Yes, he still plays in the major leagues.) Then he got former Yankee catcher Russell Martin to ground out. Then he struck out Jose "Test Me For Steroids, Already" Baustista to end the inning. He got through the 2nd inning easily, allowing only a single to former Yankee Dioner Navarro.
But the warning signs were there: His velocity, a concern all through spring training, still wasn't where it should be.
And then came the 3rd inning, the one bad inning. A single, a walk, an error by 3rd baseman Chase Headley on a Reyes bunt, and a Martin single. Amazingly, in such a key situation, Tanaka got Bautista to fly out. Then he threw a gopher ball to another Yankee Killer, Edwin Encarnacion. Before he could get the 2nd out of the inning, it was 5-0 Toronto.
Manager Joe Girardi, not trusted by the Yankee brass to use his eyes and his brain to decide on his own pitching moves, was told to give Tanaka a pitch count of 90. Instead, he took him out after 4 innings, only 75 pitches. He used 5 relievers, allowing only 1 run over 5 innings. As our old friend Phil Rizzuto would have said, "But the damage is done, I tell ya, Bill White, it's unbelievable, holy cow."
In the bottom of the 3rd, Alex Rodriguez -- batting 7th, Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers surely noticed, and standing as the designated hitter -- came to the plate in a major league game for the 1st time since September 25, 2013. He got a nice hand from the Yankee Fans. Maybe they figured that, since the game was now all but hopeless, he would do what he usually does when, either way, the game is not on the line, and hit a home run. Nope: He drew a walk.
He did, however, later get a hit. And Brian Gardner later hit the 1st Yankee home run of the season. But, aside from A-Rod's single and Gardner's homer, the only Yankee hit was a single by Brian McCann. And new shortstop Didi Gregorius made a baserunning blunder, breaking one of those "unwritten rules of baseball": He made the last out of an inning at 3rd base. (You're not supposed to make the 1st out of the inning at 3rd base, either. For some reason, though, making the 2nd out of the inning at 3rd isn't considered as bad.)
Blue Jays 6, Yankees 1. WP: Drew Hutchison (1-0). No save. LP: Tanaka (0-1).
And the Mets beat the Nats, 6-1. To make matters worse still, in the day's one 30-teams-15-in-each-League-setup-forced Interleague game, the Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-0, in Philadelphia.
The media had a field day. and the Flushing Heathen treated the day's events like porn.
Well, you know what Phillies fan Benjamin Franklin said: There are 3 things in life that are certain: Death, taxes, and Met fans believing too much in their team in April. Last night, after a day off for both New York teams, the Nats brought the Mets back down to Earth, 2-1. And the Phils beat the BoSox, 4-2.
The Yankees sent Michael Pineda, another injury question mark, to the hill, and he responded very well. He went 6 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 6 hits and a walk, striking out 6.
But it was 2-1 Toronto when he left. Chris Martin pitched a perfect 7th. Dellin Betances, supposedly ready to be the closer this season (I, in particular, have supposed it), was sent in by Girardi in the 8th instead of the 9th, and allowed another run. It wasn't his fault, really: A McCann throwing error was involved. This made it 3-1 Toronto, and, with the way the Yankees hit in October 2012 and all through 2013 and 2014, that looked like that. Done and dusted. 0-2, at home no less.
In the bottom of the 8th, the New York Yankees remembered that they are the New York Yankees. Aaron Loup came in to relieve for Toronto. Chris Young pinch-hit for Gregorious, and his a Texas Leaguer for a double. Jacoby Ellsbury singled him over to 3rd. Gardner was hit by a pitch, loading the bases with nobody out.
Sounds great, right? Well, we've had 2 1/2 years of "Yankee RISPfail," so optimism was still in short supply.
It was determined that Loup was injured -- yet another problem with the pitching that will prevent the Jays from being a true factor in the Playoff race. So Brett Cecil was brought in. With Carlos Beltran up, Cecil promptly threw a wild pitch. Cecil struck him out, then -- in the kind of strategy that will also help to doom the Jays -- was told to intentionally walk Mark Teixeira, who, the last couple of seasons, hasn't been able to hit sand if he fell off a camel. Bases loaded with 1 out.
Cecil hit McCann with a pitch, forcing in a run. And Headley hit a line shot up the middle that Cecil could only deflect into left field, scoring Gardner.
That proved to be the winning run. After so many years of seeing horrible LOOGies -- Lefty One Out Guys -- in Pinstripes, Andrew Miller closed the Jays out in the 9th, with what must be the 1st lefthanded save for the Yankees since... hey, if any of you know, let me know, huh? Because I'm pretty sure we didn't get any from Boone Bleeping Logan.
Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3. WP: Betances (1-0). SV: Miller (1). LP: Loup (0-1).
The series concludes tonight at The Stadium. CC makes his 2015 debut, while Daniel Norris starts for the Jays.
In another note last night: Adrian Gonzalez hit 3 home runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers last night, giving him 5 in 2 games. And, playing for the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim, Albert Pujols hit the 521st home run of his career, tying him with 3 Hall-of-Famers: Ted Williams, Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas. When Ted closed his career by hitting Number 521, it made him 3rd all-time. When I was a kid, it was enough for 8th. Now, the 3 of them are 18th.
And broadcasting legend Lon Simmons has died. I'll have a tribute post for him tonight.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
April 8, 2005, 10 years ago: The film Fever Pitch premieres, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. It tells the story about a man in love with a woman and a baseball team, and what happens when the 2 loves come into conflict.
It was based on the 1992 memoir of the same title by Nick Hornby, then an English teacher in London, and a fan of North London soccer team Arsenal. He told of following the team from the fall of 1968 until just before publication, including the 1971 "Double" season (meaning that they won the Football League Division One and the Football Association Cup in the same season) and the next League title, which wasn't until 1989 -- 18 years.
(While "Eighteen fucking years!" became a catchphrase when the movie came out, some clubs, including some big ones, have waited longer than that. Some, a lot longer. Some clubs with significant support have never won it.)
It had previously been made into a film in the United Kingdom, premiering on April 4, 1997, starring Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell. This version, with Hornby writing the screenplay, followed a fictionalized version of Hornby during the epic 1988-89 season, with flashbacks to his youth in 1968 and 1972.
The United States version was adapted by Providence, Rhode Island-based filmmakers Peter & Bobby Farrelly, fans of New England's sports teams, including baseball's Boston Red Sox. They cast Fallon, then a former star of NBC's Saturday Night Live, and not yet the host of a late-night talk show, now hosting The Tonight Show. Ironically, in real life, Fallon is a fan of the New York Yankees, the Red Sox' arch-rivals -- so this film proves that he really can act.
This version of the film follows the Red Sox in their own epic season, of 2004. To avoid confusion, this film was renamed The Perfect Catch for the British Isles market. (The French version of the British film is titled Carton Juane -- "Yellow Card," which is what a referee shows a player as a warning. A red card is for a foul so bad, it requires the player to be immediately sent off, and getting a second yellow card in a single game is followed by a red card.)
The 2 versions are similar in some ways, but I find the differences fascinating. The following is in chronological order -- not necessarily in the order in which the events are shown onscreen, but in the order in which they happen in the main characters' lives.
U.K.: Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines "fever pitch" as "a state of extreme excitement or activity." This is frequently brought on, in many countries, and in various different sports, by watching, or even talking about, sports.
In the United Kingdom, a "pitch" is what they call the field of play in football (or, as we'd say, soccer) and rugby. Example: When Paul (roleplaying as the current Arsenal team, including the stylish London-born midfielder David Rocastle) and Steve (roleplaying as the 1971 Arsenal team, including their Captain, the rugged Scottish defender Frank McLintock) are playing the tabletop game Subbuteo, Steve causes one of his players to knock over one of Paul's. Paul, pretending to be a broadcaster, says, "Oh, that's a terrible foul by McLintock on Rocastle! He'll be lucky to stay on the pitch after that!"
U.S.: In the United States, a "pitch" is the act of throwing a baseball to put it into play. In baseball's cousin game of cricket, popular in Britain and its Commonwealth nations but largely abandoned by America around the time of the Civil War of the 1860s, they call pitching "bowling" and the pitcher "the bowler." The batter is the "batsman," and the catcher is the "wicket-keeper," just as, in soccer, they call the goaltender the "goalkeeper," and a "keeper" more often than a "goalie."
Colin Firth as Paul Ashworth, and Ruth Gemmell as Sarah Hughes
U.K.: The lead character is Paul Ashworth, who also narrates from his perspective of whenever you consider "now" to be. When we first see him, he is 11 years old, matching Hornby's age at the time. He is played by Luke Aikman. (Aikman is now 31, and has appeared in just 3 films since 1999, none since 2010. He's now a skiing and snowboarding instructor.)
Paul lives with his mother and his younger sister in Maidenhead, in Berkshire, about 35 miles west of Central London -- coincidentally, about the same distance I lived outside Midtown Manhattan when I was a boy. His parents are divorced, and his father has moved to France with his new wife.
In spite of the divorce, as he later tells Sarah, they weren't living in poverty. "But I was rootless," he says, noting that he didn't have anything he could later feel sentimental about except "telly programmes and pop music and stuff like that." ("Telly programmes" being TV shows.) That was before he met The Arsenal.
U.S.: The lead character is Ben Wrightman. When we first see him, he is 7 years old. He is played by Jason Spevack, who was cast because he lived in Toronto, where the Farrelly Brothers did a lot of filming, even of scenes that are allegedly in Boston, because it saves money. (Spevack is now 17, and starring in the title role in the Canadian series Dino Dan.)
Ben is an only child. His parents are recently divorced, and his mother has moved from New Jersey back to her native Massachusetts. (She is played by Siobhan Fallon. Despite having the same surname, and also having been a castmember on SNL, she and Jimmy Fallon are not related, and had no scenes together in the film.) As yet, Ben has no friends in his new hometown, which appears to be a suburb of Boston. Like Paul was at age 11, he is mopey and seems to have no interests.
U.K.: On September 14, 1968, Paul's father (played by Neil Pearson), whose first name is never revealed, visits, and takes him to the North London home of the Arsenal Football Club, Arsenal Stadium, nicknamed Highbury after its neighborhood, to watch the home team play Stoke City, a club in Staffordshire, considerably north of London.
Between 1927 and 1953, Arsenal had won the Football League Division One title 7 times, and appeared in 6 Football Association Cup Finals, winning 4 of them. Meaning that, at this point, they were already, historically speaking, one of Britain's best soccer teams. So, on the surface, this seems like a good idea, even though Paul says, "I'm not really a football fan." It will be the last time in his life that he can truthfully say that.
(In the book, Hornby mentions that, while attending Cambridge University in the late 1970s, he went to many games of Cambridge United, then moving up through England's divisions from Four to Three to Two -- and then back down to Three. He also mentions a notorious 1988 visit to Wembley, the national stadium in Northwest London, where he sees awful behavior by the English hooligans during a match between the national sides of England and the recently-crowned European champions, the Netherlands.)
When Paul first sees them play in 1968, "The Arsenal" (not always written that way -- Capital T, Capital A -- but their fans like to speak of them as such), managed by Bertie Mee, have been in a long down period, in which it is joked that, since their last League title was won a month before Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, "Arsenal haven't won a trophy since the Coronation."
U.S.: In 1980 -- no exact date is given -- Ben's mother has to work on a Saturday afternoon, so she calls her brother Carl to watch him for the day. Uncle Carl, clearly much older than she is, must be her last resort, her only other living relative, since he doesn't look like someone who likes kids.
The story's narrator is Al Waterman, a sponge manufacturer, who sits near Carl at Fenway, and they are clearly old friends, to the point where, in the film's climactic scene, Al defends Carl's memory in trying to convince Ben to do what he (Al) thinks is the right thing.
Al only says that Carl didn't have kids, and nobody ever mentions whether Carl was married. It may be that Carl was gay, and that Al simply wanted to protect the memory of his closeted friend -- but this is just speculation on my part. Carl seems like the kind of guy who, if it were true, would want to hide the fact at all costs, being a Bostonian of a certain age. (Probably old enough to have grown up at least partly in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and to have fought in World War II in the early 1940s or the Korean War in the early 1950s.)
Al is played by Jack Kehler, who was 58 during filming, clearly had his hair darkened for the 1980 scene, and may have been makeup-aged for the 2004 scenes. Carl is played by Lenny Clarke, a comedian and a very big Red Sox fan in real life. He is definitely straight. He was 50 at the time of filming, but, due to his white hair and his weight, looked even older, so it's not surprising that, while the actor is still alive as of this writing, the character was dead by 1993.
Carl takes Ben to Fenway Park, in the Kenmore Square section of Boston. In 1980, the Sox were at the end of what was, by their standards, a good period: From 1972 to 1979, 8 seasons, they were at least in the American League Eastern Division race until the last week of the season 7 times, until the last weekend 5 times, and won the 1975 AL Pennant. But intra-ownership strife and dissension between management and players began a downturn that would last a few years, and the Sox were well out of the race in 1980. And, as Al points out to Lindsey, the Sox won the World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918 ("They were royalty, the elite," he says -- just like Arsenal were in their country from the early 1930s to the early 1950s) -- but the haven't won the World Series since 1918.
U.K.: Before the match, Paul is taken by his father to a nearby chip shop, a place serving fish & chips: Fried, battered strips of fish, traditionally cod, and slices of potato, usually thicker than what we call French fries. Britain has chip shops the way we have burger joints, although burgers have since caught on there, while chip shops haven't yet caught on outside U.S. cities with a strong British expat community, like New York and, interestingly enough, Boston. (Both cities are heavily Irish, but the Irish also tend to like fish & chips.)
Like a pub (a British-style bar), a chip shop is generally a good place for discussing the upcoming game, and the team in general. At the dawn of the 1968-69 season, The Arsenal already have some of the players with whom they will win the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (which became the UEFA Cup in 1971 and the Europa League in 2010) and the 1971 Double, and were coming of a season in which they had reached the Final of the League Cup, but lost it. (They would do so again that season.) They are not ready to contend by any means, but they are not, as is said by a middle-aged man named Frank that the Ashworths meet in the chip shop, "fucking rubbish."
Indeed, somebody didn't do their research: Frank says that, in "the last home game of last season," "they were rubbish, they were fucking rubbish!" Wrong: They defeated West Bromwich Albion, a West Midlands club, 2-1. West Brom had just won the FA Cup, so this was no small feat. Frank also speaks ill of midfielder Jon Sammels, who was a decent midfielder, going on to score 52 goals for the club, including the goal that clinched the Fairs Cup in 1970.
At the time, Stoke had 2 players from the 1966 England team that won the World Cup: Former Arsenal star George Eastham (whom the adult Paul later admits to his boss was "before my time") and goalkeeper Gordon Banks.
Upon his first sight of the Highbury pitch, his eyes widen, and he delivers his first smile of the story. The game doesn't go well at first, and the profanities spew forth from the stands, with one fan yelling that classic British curse, "For fuck's sake, Arsenal!" another yelling, "Sammels, you're a fucking idiot!" and still another yelling, "Sod yourselves!" (In the film, there are women in the stands. But in the book, Hornby wrote that what stuck with him in that first game was "the overwhelming maleness of it all.")
But Arsenal win, 1-0 -- or, with, as Andrew Mangan likes to say in his fantastic Gunners chronicle Arseblog, "that most classic of scorelines: One-nil to The Arsenal." In the 1st half, Arsenal were awarded a penalty, defender Terry Neill stepped up to take it, Banks deflected it, and, in the scramble, the ball came back to Neill, and he scored. Why a defender was taking penalties, I don't know; but, while unusual, it's not rare. Neill, later to manage Arsenal to the 1979 FA Cup, did score a few goals on penalties.
Paul's father wants to leave early to beat the traffic.
Paul: "But they might score again!"
Dad: "There is a remote possibility of that, yes; but it won't be this afternoon." (Seeing Paul look perplexed) "That's a joke. If you're going to be an Arsenal fan, you're going to have to get used to jokes like that."
Paul: "I will!"
In the book, Hornby mentions that his father was actually a fan of another club in the capital, West London side Chelsea, who, in the late 1960s, were considered one of the most fashionable clubs in England, much more so than Arsenal -- although, until the late 1990s, successes for them were few and far between. On September 14, 1968, Chelsea were away to another West London side, Queens Park Rangers (QPR), and beat them 4-0.
If the elder Mr. Hornby really was a Chelsea fan, and Chelsea were playing in West London, much closer to Maidenhead than Highbury is, why didn't he simply take Nick there? Hornby admitted in his essay on that first game that if his father had taken him to see any other club, he likely would have supported that club for the rest of his life. Considering that London is home to Chelsea, QPR, Arsenal's North London arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, East End club West Ham United, and yet another West London club, Fulham, and that all of these clubs were then more fashionable, and (at least in recent times) more successful than Arsenal, why did his father take him to see Arsenal? I suppose only the elder Mr. Hornby knew for sure. (Ticket prices, perhaps? That wouldn't be the case today: Since moving from the 1913-built Highbury to the new Emirates Stadium in 2006, Arsenal infamously have had the highest ticket prices of any "football club" in Britain.)
Highbury, as it would have appeared in Paul's youth. Photo taken from the Clock End,
the south side of the stadium, with the roofed, terraced North Bank, Paul's usual haunt, in the distance.
U.S.: Like Paul at Highbury in 1968, Ben falls in love at first sight of the Fenway field. Hall-of-Famers Jim Rice and Dennis Eckersley appear in the film as themselves, putting on their old Red Sox uniforms and looking remarkably unaged, though Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski, taking batting practice, is played by an actor whose face is never seen.
"Yaz" on his 1978 Topps baseball card.
Unlike the British Fever Pitch, there is some questionable language in the U.S. version, but none of George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Use On Television." Still, during the game, Uncle Carl calls then-Red Sox manager Don Zimmer a bum and, borrowing the nickname that former Sox pitcher Bill Lee had given him, a gerbil.
Fenway Park. I'm not sure about the date, but the left field wall
is no longer covered with ads, leading to the name "The Green Monster,"
and the gasoline ad over it still reads "Cities Service," the former name of CITGO,
so this has to be between 1947 and 1964. By the time of Ben's 1st game in 1980,
the sign would say "CITGO," and the center field scoreboard would have
been erected (it was done in 1976).
According to Al's narration, All-Star right fielder Dwight Evans hit 2 home runs, and the Sox won, though he doesn't mention the score. Evans did hit 2 homers in a Sox victory in 1980, over the Minnesota Twins on July 25 -- but that was in Minnesota, not at home. Most likely, the scriptwriters, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell, just made it up. (They also wrote the script for City Slickers, Billy Crystal's 1991 city-guys-in-a-Western-setting film with lots of baseball references.)
On the drive back home, in a darker echo of Paul's father telling him through a joke that Arsenal (then) aren't very good, Carl tells Ben, "Be careful, son: They'll break your heart." He was right, of course. The Sox heartbreaks of 1946, 1948, 1949, 1967, 1972, 1974 and 1975 were before Ben's time. And he wouldn't quite remember 1978 and "Bucky... Freakin' Dent," as he later cites to Lindsey. But he does experience 1986 and Bill... "Buckner... " And 1999, with the Sox' defensive meltdown and the questionable umpiring in their American League Championship Series loss to the Yankees. And 2003, with the 8th inning collapse and the Aaron Boone home run to give the Yankees the Pennant. But we don't see the 1999 and 2003 moments (the 2003 one is at least mentioned), although 1986 is referenced later in the story.
U.K.: We next see Paul, still played by Aikman, it is in the 1971-72 season, the season following the Double campaign, when Arsenal are still very much fashionable, and Charlie George, scorer of the goal that won the previous season's FA Cup, is still sung (including by Paul in his dining room) as "the King of Highbury."
Charlie George and captain Frank McLintock with the Cup, after the Final.
How good were Arsenal in 1970-71? A better question to ask would be, "How deeply were they ingrained into their fans' memory?" Even though the 1988-89 team is in 1st place -- or "top of the League" -- at the season's midway point, Steve, clearly an Arsenal fan at least as long as Paul's been, is still under the spell of the most famous Arsenal squad of them all, one which, in the public memory, had surpassed the mighty 1930s team built by Herbert Chapman, and had not yet been replaced by the current group under George Graham or the later internationally-staffed superteam built by Arsene Wenger. Seeing Paul, playing as the current club in Subbuteo, leading him 4-0 while he plays as the '71 squad, he says, "This lot would never beat the Double team 4-0 in Subbuteo. It's just... I'm crapping it!"
Back to 1972: Now 14, Paul covers his formerly nearly-shaven head with a wild mop of red hair, and he looks remarkably like a junior version of Colin Firth. He badgers his mother into letting him go to Highbury on his own, and she finally relents.
(In the book, however, Hornby mentions that this was the early days of English football hooliganism, and he remarks that she shouldn't have let him go: "I could have been killed!" Later in the book, he mentions having been at Highbury for a match against West Ham in 1982, and seeing lots of violence, and later hearing that a West Ham fan had stabbed an Arsenal fan to death in the Arsenal station of the Underground, or the Tube, which is what London calls its subway system).
When Arsenal are paired with Reading, then a Division Two club and the actual closest Football League team to Maidenhead, in the 4th Round of the FA Cup, in a game scheduled for February 5, 1972 at Reading's Elm Park, she gets him a ticket for it.
But, not knowing these things at the time, she doesn't try to get it in the away section. Traditionally, in order to minimize crowd violence, football clubs put all the away team's supporters in adjoining sections, away from the home team's fans. In this case, which is not based on race or religion (at least, not outwardly), segregation is a good thing. Paul's Mum (whose name is also never revealed) tells him, "I just said, 'One, please,' and they gave me that." And the ticket is in the home part of the stands.
"I was surrounded by a load of country bumpkins," he later tells his mother and sister. When the locals press him about where he's from, he tells the truth, and a man says, "Maidenhead? Maidenhead in Berkshire? Two miles down the road?" Paul says, "More like six." (In the book, the man says it's four miles, while Nick says, "Nearer ten." It's actually fifteen.) The man says, "A bit nearer Reading than Arsenal, though, isn't it? You should be supporting your local team this afternoon!" He said it in a teasing manner, knowing one teenage boy wasn't going to cause trouble surrounded by Reading fans. But few things anger an Englishman more than someone choosing a big club like Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea over their local team.
Arsenal won, 2-1, on a goal by Pat Rice, a defender who, as his sister points out, "never scores, does he?" "First of the season," Paul says. (This is an error: It was his 2nd. Rice would later Captain the Arsenal team that won the 1979 FA Cup, and serve as an assistant coach from 1986 to 2012, and would even briefly be caretaker manager in 1996.) This is the only away game Paul is shown attending in the entire film.
On April 15 of that year, Arsenal were scheduled to play Stoke in the FA Cup Semifinal (after having beaten Stoke in the previous year's Semifinal), which is always played at a neutral site -- in this case, at Villa Park in Birmingham in the West Midlands, home to Aston Villa.
In the film, Paul's father had promised to take him, and then reveals on the morning that he didn't get the tickets. Paul is angry, and his father says, "We don't have to go to Arsenal every time I'm in London, do we? I thought we'd be beyond that stage now."
In one of the greatest lines I've ever heard associated with sports in any form, Paul sums up what every true fan believes: "We'll never be beyond that stage."
But in the book, Hornby tells a very different story: His father did get a pair of tickets, but couldn't go, and so Paul took a school friend up to Birmingham. The game ended 1-1, with Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson getting hurt, and, with substitutions then limited by rule to a single player per game, and no goalie named as a sub, John Radford moved from forward to goal, with Ray Kennedy taking Radford's place. A replay was played 4 days later, at Goodison Park in Liverpool, home of Everton. Despite having backup Geoff Barnett in goal, Arsenal won, but lost the Final to Leeds United at London's original Wembley Stadium. (Don't blame Barnett for allowing the game's only goal: The diving header by Allan "Sniffer" Clarke was a great shot, and it probably wouldn't have been stopped by a healthy Wilson, either.)
Another difference: In the film, Paul tells his father, "McNab won't play. Bertie Mee wouldn't risk him." Bob McNab, the usual starting left back (and father of actress Mercedes McNab), had been injured. In the book, though, Hornby not only says that McNab did play, but that he saw him going in before the game, and asked him if he would play, and he said he would. Hornby noted that this was the first time an Arsenal player had ever spoken directly to him, and 1 of only 4 times it had happened prior to the book's publication.
Hornby did not attend the 1971 Final, which Arsenal won over Liverpool, but did attend the '72 edition. (In another flashback scene, Paul is shown watching the '72 Final on TV, grimacing over Clarke's winning goal.) He also attended the 1978 Final, which Arsenal lost to Ipswich Town; the 1979 Final, which they won in dramatic fashion against Manchester United; and the 1980 Final, which they lost to West Ham United. The film shows brief clips of some of these games, but makes no mention of whether Paul attended any of them, although, clearly, he didn't go to the '71 Final.
After 1980, Arsenal did not appear in another FA Cup Final through the book's 1992 publication; they have since won Finals in 1993 (over Yorkshire club Sheffield Wednesday), 1998 (over North-East club Newcastle United), 2002 (Chelsea), 2005 (Man United) and 2014 (Yorkshire club Hull City), and lost in 2001 (to Liverpool).
We also see a scene from April 22 of that season, with Arsenal home to West Ham, their first home game since Paul was denied the trip to Villa Park. This may be why he looks so determined as we see him preparing, to the tune of "Baba O'Riley" by The Who. (Their lead singer, Roger Daltrey, is an Arsenal fan, and I think he may have made an uncredited cameo in the film, as a middle-aged man in a raincoat, seated a row ahead of the Ashworths in the 1968 scene.) We see Paul putting on his scarves, walking out of the house, and then out of the Arsenal tube station, down the street, and onto the old North Bank terrace of Highbury.
Unlike the 1968 scene, filmed from Highbury's West Stand, this scene, and the terrace scenes from 1989, were filmed at Fulham's ground, Craven Cottage, because Arsenal had already complied with the post-Hillsborough Disaster, post-Taylor Report rule mandating all-seater stadiums, with no more standing-room admissions. Fulham, then in dire straits financially, had not yet done so, and so it still had a standing terrace where pre-Taylor Report scenes could be filmed. (The cash from the studio did help, and they were able to comply soon thereafter.)
One of the problems I have with this film is that, while there are some nice shots of Highbury's Art Deco exterior, we only get the one shot of its interior. And we get no scenes of any other London landmarks that most outsiders could identify, such as the Palace of Westminster (including the Big Ben tower), Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, or the as-yet-unbuilt Millennium Dome/O2 Arena and London Eye.
Arsenal won this 1972 game 2-1, with both goals scored by Alan Ball, who was with Lancashire club Blackpool in 1966 when he played on England's World Cup winners.
U.S.: We see no intermediate scenes of Ben, and hear no mention of what happened in his life between 1980 and 2003. But, unlike the British version of the film, we get some wonderful shots of Boston, including the skyline, with the old and new John Hancock buildings, the Old North Church, Boston Common, Paul Revere's statue, the hardscrabble Italian neighborhood of the North End, where Ben lives in the film's "present," 2003-04; and the tony Back Bay, where Lindsey lives.
And while, as a Yankee Fan, I despise the Red Sox, I love Fenway Park, and there are some fantastic shots of the old Kenmore Square bandbox. The Farrelly Brothers made sure of this, getting all the necessary permissions from the ballclub and from Major League Baseball's office.
U.K.: In 1989, Sarah reminds Paul, "You stopped seeing your father when you didn't need him to take you to the games anymore." But in the book, Hornby said that he reconciled with his father, and even took him, and his 2 younger half-brothers, to games at Highbury.
Paul's mother and sister are very much still alive in the film's "present," 1989. But we never see his father after 1972. Indeed, we don't even know if he's still alive in 1989 -- only that Hornby does not mention that his own father has died, so it can be presumed that he was still alive at the time of the book's 1992 publication.
U.S.: Aside from Uncle Carl, the only other mention of his family that we get from adult Ben is that his father died 2 years ago -- but he says to Lindsey, "I just found out this morning, so it's been a rough 24 hours. You know, maybe I should get a cell phone." Since this is clearly a joke, we don't know if we can say for sure that the elder Mr. Wrightman is dead. He doesn't mention his mother, either.
Ben says in 2004 that he he inherited his 2 season tickets from Uncle Carl, and that he hasn't missed a Red Sox home game in 11 years. This means that Carl died in 1993, when Ben would have been 20 and in college, almost certainly in Boston.
U.K.: We next see Paul in September 1988, at the age of 31, 20 years to the month after his first game at Highbury. He is teaching an English course at North London Comprehensive School, presumably not far from Highbury, and thus from his flat (or apartment, as we'd say), which is near the stadium.
In the book, Hornby mentions that he'd gotten into Cambridge University, where his love of literature led him to become an English teacher in real life. It was also in this period that he got very interested in the hard-rock scene, leading to a love of music that led to his novel High Fidelity, which was also Americanized into a film, starring John Cusack, and the action shifting from London to Chicago. (It also featured my beloved Catherine Zeta-Jones as one of the Cusack character's ex-girlfriends.)
Paul also coaches the school's Under-14 football side, so we know that this school is, as we'd say in America, a junior high school or a middle school. One thing that drives me crazy with the difference between British English and American English is that what they call a "public school" isn't what we'd call a "public school": It's what we'd call a "private school." Despite the school uniforms, North London Comprehensive is clearly what we'd call a "public school."
U.S.: We next see Ben in October 2003, at the age of 30, when he is teaching a 9th grade math course at East Boston High School, so his students are a little older than Paul's. He is also an assistant coach for the school's baseball team.
Since we never hear anything about Ben from 1980 to 2003 -- except that his Uncle Carl died and left him the season tickets -- and there's no "real Ben" who wrote a memoir, the way we have for "the real Paul" -- we have no idea what led him to get interested in math (maybe it was through a love of baseball statistics?) or to become a teacher. But his students seem to hold him in the same high level of esteem in which Paul is held by his students, possibly because his pliable maturity allows him to deal with them on their level.
U.K.: Paul's Highbury flat has some Arsenal memorabilia in it, but he hasn't decorated it like a teenage boy might, with posters on all the walls (just one bulletin board), memorabilia all over the place, and T-shirt after T-shirt as a replica of his favorite team's uniform hanging in his closet. He appears to own just one Arsenal shirt, a 1970s-era design with the Number 7 on the back, presumably in honor of that era's Arsenal star, Irish winger William "Liam" Brady, whom he, later in the film, calls "the greatest Arsenal player ever." (A bit of a stretch, even before Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry came along.)
If you were welcomed inside, you'd know that this was the home of an Arsenal fan, but you'd presume he's relatively mature. Indeed, when Robert Parker, one of his students, who is also a top player on the team he coaches, and (like Paul was in 1968) the son of recently divorced parents, asks to go to the next Arsenal home game with him, and says his mother "won't let me go without a responsible adult," Paul says, "Oh, well, there you are: You see, Saturday's the one day of the week when I'm not a responsible adult. I turn into someone your age, only not as sensible as you."
U.S.: Unlike Paul's flat, Ben's North End apartment is a total Red Sox shrine, complete with a wall covered with a mural of Fenway's 37-foot-high left-field wall, the Green Monster, with the scoreboard displaying the scoreline from Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS: Red Sox 13, Yankees 1.
Among his other club memorabilia is the "Impossible Dream" album about the Sox' 1967 Pennant season, the gruesome Sports Illustrated cover showing the damaged eye of the beaned Tony Conigliaro (cited by Al to Lindsey, "Tony C: Best young player in baseball. Takes one in the eye at 22. He's finished at 26!"), a phone in the shape of a baseball glove, Red Sox sheets, Red Sox pillowcases, a Red Sox shower curtain (so he's never away from the Sox, even in bed or in the bathroom), and a closet full of Sox T-shirts, with the names of players both current and long-gone. As Lindsey tells him, he's "a man-boy: Half-man, half-boy."
U.K.: Paul's best friend is Steve, whose last name is never revealed. We don't know when they met: There's no mention of Steve having been one of the 4 other boys Paul was walking home with and trading player stickers with in 1972; but, by 1988, they have clearly been friends for quite some time.
Steve's job is also never revealed. There are 2 clues, and they don't help much: We never see Steve at Paul's school, so he's not a co-worker; and, when we first see him, it's a Monday night (September 26, 1988), and he's wearing a suit and a nice long coat, so, clearly, he makes enough money to afford that.
Steve appears to be unmarried. But we don't know much about him. In fact, we know more about his brother, whom he and Paul have gone to see play in a local league's football match. The brother isn't named -- Steve yells at him, "Oi! Number 9! You're a donkey!" (a common insult for a bad player in England), and the brother responds by flipping the bird. The brother was good enough to get a trial at Leyton Orient, an East London club that's never reached the first division, and turned it down, and now plays in a local league while he makes a bundle running a computer-related business.
The only other thing we know about Steve is that, on November 28, 1983, he slept with a woman named Caroline Walsh (We learn her last name, but not his!), and then the next day he got a raise at work, and thus "felt invincible" as he went to Highbury to see Arsenal play in the League Cup against West Midlands side Walsall, and then lost in one of the biggest upsets in club history. (Walsall went on to the Semifinal, where they took mighty Liverpool to a replay before losing. They had, even more famously, beaten Arsenal in the FA Cup in 1933, when Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman rested his stars to keep their League form. It worked: Arsenal won the League that season.)
Steve is played by Mark Strong. Unlike Firth, who had already appeared as Mr. Darcy in a film version of Pride and Prejudice, he was not especially well-known in America when the film came out in 1997. (Indeed, aside from Firth, none of the actors then were.) He has since developed a reputation for playing bald villains, including the main antagonist of the first Sherlock Holmes film with Robert Downey Jr. In that film, which takes place in 1891 (Tower Bridge, which opened in 1894, is shown under construction), his business holdings are said to include the Woolwich Arsenal -- the workplace of the men who, in 1886, founded what became the Arsenal Football Club. Although I can't prove it, that just had to be an inside joke.
U.S.: Ben has 3 friends that he hangs out with. At the time, unlike Fallon, none of their portrayers were well-known at the time. None of the characters' last names are mentioned, and only one's job is.
As with Steve at his brother's soccer game, we first see Ben with 3 friends at a sporting event, except they're all playing in it: Touch football in the park.
Evan Hellmuth plays Troy, and after his first appearance, he is never again never seen without his beret with the Sox' familiar red B, possibly to hide encroaching baldness. (He's otherwise best known for his appearance in a commercial for Cars.com, in which he wears a lime-green beret: "A lime-green hatchback!") He seems to be the one that Ben spends the most time with. Willie Garson plays Kevin, a bald, bespectacled anesthesiologist. Armando Riesco plays Gerard, and, aside from his Red Sox fandom and his friendship with the other 3, we know nothing about him.
None of them gives any indication of being married -- although we get a hint of Garson's role as Stanford Blatch, Carrie's gay friend, on Sex & the City: In the climactic scene, Troy mentions that Lindsey pinched Johnny Damon's butt, and Garson's Kevin smiles and yells, "Yeah!" (Garson is openly gay in real life.)
U.K.: Sarah Hughes is played by Ruth Gemmell. She is a history teacher, newly arrived at North London Comprehensive. She appears to be around Paul's age, and, to borrow Matthew Broderick's line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "is so uptight, if you stuck a lump of coal up (her) ass, in 2 weeks, you'd have a diamond."
While she doesn't say much about her dating history, Jo refers to her by what appears to be a college nickname, suggesting that she doesn't sleep with just any man: "Iron Knickers Hughes." (Knickers are what we would call underwear.)
That said, she is highly intelligent, enjoys teaching, and is a very fit jogger. I should note that, as an American, when I say, "fit," I mean, "in good physical condition." When the English say, "fit," they mean, "having a sexy body." The two frequently go together, but this is not set in stone. Paul does, however, say to Steve, "She's not unattractive." I agree... but she's no Drew Barrymore.
Sarah's place of origin is never mentioned. I can't place her accent, although Gemmell is from Darlington, in County Durham, in England's North-East, a place with a heavy Scottish presence as it's not far from the England-Scotland "border," and Gemmell is a Scottish name. The only reference we hear about her family is that she has a sister, who, in the film, is mentioned once, and is neither named, nor seen, nor mentioned again.
While their initial relationship is one of antagonistic co-workers, they come to realize that each is good for the other: He needs to grow up a little, and she needs to loosen up a little.
She starts off by not knowing much about football: She had overheard a conversation between Paul and a student's parent, and thought they were discussing a game between Arsenal and "Wolves United." Paul corrects her, and says, "It's just 'Wolves,' no 'United.'" While there are plenty of clubs in England with "United" as part of their name -- West Ham in East London (yeah, I know, that doesn't sound right), Manchester, Sheffield, Oxford, Leeds and Newcastle, to name a few -- the full name of the West Midlands club usually called "Wolves" is Wolverhampton Wanderers.
She later admits to Jo that, after hearing Paul and Steve talk about the game so much, some knowledge "sinks in after a while": That it's easy enough to remember that they're top of the League, that Alan "Smudger" Smith is the team's leading scorer, and that she recognizes David "Rocky" Rocastle when he is shown in a report on the local TV news.
U.S.: Lindsey Meeks is played by Drew Barrymore. She is from Baltimore, home of a division rival of the Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles. She doesn't seem to be a fan of theirs, or even to consider baseball a big deal. But, unlike her British counterpart, she knows enough about the sport in question to get one of Ben's jokes: He sends her an e-mail, saying, "Sending you a dozen roses for Valentine's Day." When she opens it, a bouquet of roses appears, and then the blooms all turn into heads of baseball legend Pete Rose, and she laughs.
Lindsey's parents still live in Baltimore (or, more likely, in its suburbs). Her father, Doug (played by Hill Street Blues and Doogie Howser, M.D. actor James B. Sikking), sells golf carts, and does well enough at it to afford a nice house and a country club membership. Her mother, Maureen (played by JoBeth Williams, best known as the mom in the Poltergeist films), was, like Ben, a teacher, and is now a principal.
Despite their achievements, they are not stuck-up, and, on a visit to Boston to see Lindsey, they do not immediately dismiss Ben simply because he's a teacher who doesn't make a lot of money. They find his Sox fandom ridiculous, but he wins them over by getting them a tee time at The Country Club, a famous golf club in Boston. (One of Ben's students is the son of a clubmember.)
Lindsey also has a sister, Donna, and she badly wants their parents to like Ben more than they like Donna's husband, whose name is not mentioned. Neither Donna nor her husband is ever shown in the film.
Both Lindsey and her parents keep a dog. Lindsey's dog, Ernie, likes Ben, until she breaks up with him after the argument following the "Gatsby Party" that forced him to miss the great Sox comeback over the Yankees. The next time Ernie sees Ben, he growls at him.
Unlike her British counterpart, she is not one of Ben's co-workers. Rather, she works in public relations in downtown Boston, and, since her job involves statistical models, she meets Ben because he thought a visit with such a person, working at such a company, would be a good field trip for his math students.
Like Sarah, she keeps in shape, but does so with 3 friends at a gym, not by jogging with just 1 friend. She's a little uptight, but not nearly as much as Sarah: She appreciates that Ben can be a little juvenile at times.
She's nearly 30 -- or, as she puts it to her friends, "I'm about to turn twenty-ten." She laments that she's never found the right guy. "I date poodles," she tells Ben on one of their early dates -- meaning that the men she dates turn out to be self-obsessed and high-maintenance. Her friends claim that the problem is that she dates men who are successful at work because they're so driven, and don't really allow for personal development -- "It's like you're dating yourself," says her friend Sarah (not to be confused with Ruth Gemmell's character), to which Robin adds, "Ding ding ding!" So while Robin thinks dating a teacher isn't a good idea, because he doesn't make much money, Molly and Sarah think Ben might be good for her.
Unlike Paul and Sarah, Ben and Lindsey hit it off immediately. This is probably because the baseball season runs from April to October, meaning that Ben and Lindsey meet after the Sox have been knocked out by the Yankees in "The Aaron Boone Game," so his attention is undivided. In contrast, the English football season runs from August to May, with the schoolyear running from September to June, and so Paul and Sarah meet while Paul is somewhat distracted by football.
This manifests itself in the U.S. version when, after dating all fall and winter, spring comes, and baseball season starts, and, while she goes along with it at first, she comes to resent Ben's Sox fixation, drawing a contrast between "Winter Guy" and "Summer Guy."
U.K.: Like Paul, Sarah is seen with 1 friend. Holly Aird plays Jo. We don't know what Jo does for a living, although the first time Sarah invites Paul in, she says Jo is away, which could be a business trip. She also says that the apartment is Jo's, suggesting that she, unlike a teacher, makes enough money to pay for an apartment that is considerably nicer than Paul's.
Jo is acerbic. With a weird mixture of cynicism and delight, she can tell, before either Sarah or Paul can, where the relationship is going: Her first line in the movie is, "I've seen this film: You end up shagging on the carpet." When Sarah later says, "I owe you a new carpet -- well, at least, a new spare bed," Jo cheers and says, "I knew it! I knew it!" But she also misjudges Paul: At various times, she calls him "a yob," "the football hooligan" and "a sad and lonely bastard."
Single herself, Jo once dated a cricket player, so, clearly, she's not totally turned off by sports. But she doesn't know much about football. When Sarah mentions that she recognizes Rocastle on TV, and says, "Certain things sink in after a while," Jo asks, "What else has sunk in? Do you know who their best goal-hanger is, and where they are in the championship cup, and all that?"
Later, when the League title comes down to the final game between Arsenal and Liverpool, she says, "Now, I've heard of Liverpool. They're famous for being good, aren't they?" She gets that right (certainly, it was true all through the 1970s and 1980s), but then gets the names wrong: "Gary Lineker, Peter Shilton, all that lot?" She has Liverpool Football Club confused with the England national team. Shilton, a goalie who still holds the record for most games played for the national side, played most of his career for Nottingham Forest, which dueled with Liverpool for honors in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Lineker, a striker, probably best remembered for his time at Arsenal's arch-rivals Tottenham, at least played in Liverpool, but for the city's "other club," Everton.
U.S.: Like Ben, Lindsey is seen with 3 friends. KaDee Strickland, later (as was JoBeth Williams) part of the cast of ABC's Private Practice, plays Robin. Ione Skye, daughter of 1960s British singer Donovan and sister of actor Donovan Leitch, and best known in America for Say Anything... , plays Molly. Marissa Jaret Winokur, star of the 2002 Broadway musical version of Hairspray (but not the 2007 film remake), plays Sarah.
Molly and Sarah are, from the first time they meet Ben, considerably more supportive of Lindsey & Ben's relationship. This is matched by the few scenes we see of their husbands. Unlike Jo, Lindsey's 3 friends are already married, though none has children yet. (Toward the end of the film, Molly reveals that she's pregnant.) Molly's and Sarah's husbands seem like nice guys, but Robin's husband Chris is an all-around jerk, actually offering to let Ben sleep with Robin in exchange for his season tickets.
We don't know what any of these women do for a living, but all 3 (especially Robin) seem to be doing very well. When Robin mentions that Ben is 30 years old and available, and suggests that there has to be a reason for this (which we, unlike they, already know to be his Sox mania), Sarah gives a hint as to her work, saying, "My company can do a credit check on him."
Molly figures out why Robin is not supportive: Whereas Molly and Sarah are much more secure in their personal and professional lives, Robin and Lindsey have always been very competitive, especially with each other. Early in their work lives, Robin had the upper hand, but Lindsey has since surpassed her. Unlike Lindsey, Robin has "the personal success, the marriage." So Robin, in her own mind, is "winning." But if Lindsey marries Ben, then, Molly reasons, between making more money and being tied on the marriage issue, Lindsey will be the winner, and Robin will be the loser, and she doesn't want to be the loser. Robin responds to Molly's theory by punching her out.
U.K.: Jo warns Sarah about getting too deeply involved with Paul, citing her relationship with the cricketer: "Soon after Tim and I split up, I woke up one morning, and realized that I could remember his batting average from the previous season." (While in baseball, a batting average is hits divided by at-bats, in cricket, it's the total number of runs a player has scored divided by the number of times he has been out -- roughly comparable, though hardly equivalent, to a baseball player's slugging percentage.)
U.S.: Robin assumes the Jo role, constantly warning Lindsey that Ben may not be the right guy. After staying out late at Fenway with Ben caused Lindsey to literally get caught sleeping on the job by her boss the next morning, Robin points out that the relationship is affecting her work. "You know what's happening here?" she says. "You're being colonized. You know, like in the old days, when the French and the English would go into Asia and Africa. They'd raise their flag, they'd impose their culture, and they'd colonize."
U.K.: Paul says, "It's not easy to become a football fan. It takes years. But if you put in the hours, you're welcomed, without question, into a new family. Except, in this family, you all love the same people, and hope for the same things. What's childish about that?"
U.S.: Ben tells Lindsey, "I like being part of something that's bigger than me -- than I. It's good for your soul to invest in something you can't control." And Lindsey tells Ben, "You're a romantic. You have a lyrical soul. You can love under the best and worst conditions."
He calls the fans in the seats around him "my summer family." He says, "This is a real family. The Red Sox don't get divorced." Except he's already contradicted that, by pointing out that Viv and Artie Belknap have been divorced for 20 years, but still go to the games together because neither one wants to give up their ticket. (What Ben didn't say is that the Red Sox and many of their players, including some club legends, have gone through "messy divorces." Just among players on their 2004 roster, this included Nomar Garciaparra in mid-season and, eventually, Manny Ramirez.)
U.K.: In April 1989, Sarah mentions to Paul that they've been together for months now, and have never gone away together, and that she wants to. He doesn't want to, because it would mean going on the weekend, and he doesn't want to miss an Arsenal match -- for which, to be fair, he, as a season-ticket holder, has already paid.
U.S.: In the winter of 2003-04, considerably earlier in the relationship than with Paul and Sarah, but before Ben has made the extent of his Sox mania known to Lindsey, they go away together, to Niagara Falls. It was chosen because it's not far from Toronto, where they did a lot of filming. In editing, this scene was moved up by a few months: Originally, it was part of a roadtrip the Sox made to play the Toronto Blue Jays, and a scene was filmed at the SkyDome (since renamed the Rogers Centre.
Highbury, as it appeared from 1993, after its conversion to all-seater,
until its 2006 closing. This photo was taken from the corner of the North Bank,
the side of the stadium from which Paul preferred to watch.
U.K.: Sarah doesn't go to a match with Paul until April 15, 1989, the 33rd game of the 38-game League season. This is 6 months into their relationship. But the only real friend who's with them, on Highbury's North Bank standing terrace, is Steve. Arsenal beat Newcastle United 1-0, on a 2nd-half goal by Brian Marwood. But that's not the big story of the day.
U.S.: Late in the winter -- about 5 months into their relationship, but there's been no games that count for the Red Sox in the interim -- after his season tickets arrive by mail, Ben gets down on one knee, and holds up the kind of jewelry case that suggests an engagement ring. Hey, this is a huge commitment for him. He opens the case, and reveals a ticket inside. He's inviting her to come to Opening Day with him. Although she clearly loves him, Lindsey seems a little relieved that he's not actually proposing marriage, and she says yes.
When they get to their seats, right behind the Red Sox dugout on the 1st-base line, Ben introduces Lindsey to the friends he calls "my summer family." Opening Day is shown to be a day game against the Dallas-based Texas Rangers. (In real life, the Sox' 2004 home opener was a 10-5 loss to Toronto.)
Fenway, during the 2004 World Series.
U.K.: At halftime of the Arsenal-Newcastle match, Paul learns that something has happened at another game, the FA Cup Semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, played at the neutral site of Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, home of Sheffield Wednesday. All he knows at the time is what Steve tells him: "There's a bloke over there with a radio, reckons there's people hurt." In the book, Hornby mentions that snippets of what happened got around the North Bank, and by the time the game they were watching was over, they already knew there'd been deaths.
When Paul and Sarah get home, they see on TV just how bad it was: Due to a mistake in opening the wrong gate, people rushed in, and hundreds were crushed against the wire fencing that surrounded the field, used to prevent people from running onto the pitch. (The Arsenal board had refused to put up perimeter fencing at Highbury, and, as a result, lost the right to host FA Cup Semifinals.) Hundreds were hurt, and, as Paul and Sarah watch, they hear that 74 people are confirmed dead. The death toll would eventually reach 96, including 1 who was in a coma for 4 years before finally succumbing. (Hence, in the book, Hornby says 95.)
What became known as The Hillsborough Disaster was a turning point in English soccer: Standing-room areas were replaced by all-seater sections, which reduced seating capacity, which forced some teams (including Liverpool) to tear down those sections of the stadium and build new ones, while others (including Arsenal), realizing that their stadiums were now antiquated, to build entirely new ones. (Some, including London clubs Tottenham and Chelsea, rebuilt their stadiums one stand at a time, over 4 years, so as not to be forced out of their homes for a season or two.) Indeed, up until the early 1990s, as the Taylor Report, commissioned after the disaster, was released, Boston's Fenway Park and Detroit's Tiger Stadium were baseball's oldest active parks, opening on the same day in 1912, but most English soccer stadiums were older than that, many dating to the 1880s. Now, nearly every stadium in the Premier League is a construction, or a piece-by-piece reconstruction, of a stadium done in the 1990s and 2000s.
Closed-circuit TV cameras also began to cut down on violence, inside and out. It also helped that most of the original hooligans had gotten older, and grown out of their tendencies; while hooliganism hasn't completely gone away, it is significantly reduced, so that the areas in and around stadiums, underground (subway) stations, and intercity rail stations are no longer "no-go zones" on matchdays. Paul was wrong when said, "This doesn't change anything": So much had changed.
And yet, there are many who still long for the old days: In spite of all the improvements, some people miss the pre-Premier League times of lower ticket prices, stadiums (however inadequate for modern times) with character, and -- xenophobically -- mostly-British teams, without the influence of foreign ownership, where "a foreign player" was a Scotsman, a Welshman or an Irishman.
U.S.: There is no analogous disaster -- indeed, not since the 1920s has there been a fatal stadium accident in North American sports. But, in July, Lindsey is struck by a foul ball, and sustains a concussion. The game is at Fenway, against Lindsey's hometown team, the Orioles. Submarine-style lefthander Mike Myers pitched to Oriole shortstop Miguel Tejada. But when the replay is shown on Fox Sports later, it's Tejada batting against a different pitcher. The Sox won.
In real life, the Sox and Orioles did play each other at Fenway in July, a game on the 21st and a day-night doubleheader on the 22nd. The nightcap on the 22nd is the only one of those games that the Sox won, and, while the scene was clearly filmed on that night, Myers did not pitch in that game: He wasn't acquired by the Sox until August 6.
Come to think of it, why was Lindsey wearing a jacket in July? I mean, I know New England weather can be difficult to predict -- Mark Twain, who lived the last few years of his life in Hartford, Connecticut, famously said, "In New England, if you don't like the weather, wait a minute" -- but a July night in Boston, cool enough to wear a jacket?
U.K.: After the Newcastle match, and the news of the Hillsborough Disaster, Paul finds out that Sarah is pregnant -- and ambivalent about it. She doesn't know if she's going to keep the baby, and she isn't particularly keen on marrying Paul. Paul, however, thinks it's "brilliant" -- a word the British use for "super" or "wonderful." He now realizes that a promotion he'd been offered would be a great idea, due to the raise he'd get. He says they'll get a house together, big enough for a family of 3. Sarah thinks he's gone mad, and, foreshadowing Lindsey's "man-boy" remark, says, "My God, I'm impregnated by a 12-year-old!"
U.S.: In early September, Lindsey thinks she might be pregnant. This leads to an argument over where their relationship is going. Ben buys a Red Sox onesie for the baby, who he initially calls "the player to be named later," only to hear from Lindsey a few days later that she's not pregnant.
U.K.: From Paul's soliloquy, after his row with Sarah after seeing the news report about the Hillsborough Disaster:
Football has meant too much to me, and has come to represent too many things. See, after a while, it all gets mixed up in your head. You can't remember whether life's shit because Arsenal's shit, or if it's the other way around.
I've been to watch far too many games, and spent far too much money, fretted about Arsenal when I should have been fretting about something else. I've asked too much of the people I love.
Okay, I accept all that. Perhaps it's something you can't understand, unless you belong...
The great thing is, it comes again and again. There's always another season. You lose the Cup Final in May? Well, there's the 3rd Round to look forward to in January. And what's wrong with that? It's actually pretty comforting, if you think about it.
U.S.: Ben, after Troy sees that the Yankees have clinched the American League Eastern Division title again, and asks, "Why do we inflict this upon ourselves?"
Why? I'll tell you why: Because the Red Sox never let you down. That's right. I mean, why, because they haven't won a World Series in a century or so? So what? They're here. Every April, they're here. At 1:05 or 7:05, there is a game. And if it gets rained out, guess what: They make it up to you! Does anyone else in your life do that? The Red Sox don't get divorced. This is a real family! This is the family that's here for you!
U.K.: Paul misses a game to go house-hunting with Sarah. The house he selects? It's just down the block from his current flat: Instead of down the block from the stadium, it's the first house on Conewood Street, across Avenell Road from the stadium! "Can't afford anywhere else," he says. Sarah, invoking Arsenal's North London postal code: "N5's not the only place in the world, you know!" Paul: "Come on, Sarah, you know that's not true."
The Art Deco East Stand entrance, built in 1936, the only part of the stadium that
remained standing after the land's conversion to the Highbury Square flats.
The game is an away game, though, at Middlesbrough, 250 miles from North London, up in the North-East of England, and "The Boro" aren't exactly rivals, certainly not on the level of Tottenham, or Chelsea, or Manchester United, or the team with whom Arsenal are battling for the title, Liverpool. So it's not like Paul was making a great sacrifice. Still, by selecting this house, he's showing that his Arsenal fandom is at least as high in his mind as his potential wife and child, meaning he hasn't made that much progress in the 7 months he's been dating Sarah. (In all fairness, as Paul points out, the house is also close to both work and a tube station.)
Paul and Sarah walk out of the house, which Sarah has rejected, just in time for Paul to turn on the radio, and, not listening to Sarah's suggestion of alternative places to live, hear the announcement that Martin Hayes has scored, producing what turns out to be a final score of, as the author of Arseblog puts it, "that most classic of scorelines: One-nil to The Arsenal."
After suggesting Creighton Avenue as a potential place to live, Sarah had been going further and further north with her suggestions: Bounds Green (in London), Watford (not far outside it, and with tube access), and Darlington, which is a short distance due west of Middlesbrough (and is Ruth Gemmell's real-life hometown). After Paul's reaction to Hayes' goal, she says, dripping with sarcasm, "Helsinki! Helsinki United are very good this season!"
Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is 1,500 miles from London, and as far north as Scotland's Shetland Islands, the northernmost point in the United Kingdom. The most successful soccer team in Finland is Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi (translated into English as "Helsinki Football Club"), usually referred to as "HJK Helsinki," and, while they won their league the previous year and would the next year (and, at this writing, have won it 6 straight seasons), they did not win it in 1989.
U.S.: In order to make it up to Lindsey after their pregnancy-close-call fight, Ben agrees to go to a 1920s-themed party that Robin's husband is throwing for her birthday -- instead of the Sox' game that night, against the arch-rival Yankees. It's the first Sox home game he's missed in 11 years.
They have a great time, but, when they leave the hotel where the party is at, they find the parking-valet service has a radio tuned to the game, and the Yankees are smacking the Sox, 7-0. And Ben says the words he's been given many times by people who can't accept his fandom, but never expected to say himself: "It's only a game." They get back to Lindsey's apartment, and make love, and Ben calls it, "the best night of my life" -- even though he thinks the Red Sox have been pounded by the team he hates the most.
Lindsey gets hungry, and decides to get up and make a Spanish omelet. As she does, the phone rings. It's Troy, who Ben gave his tickets for the night, and Troy says that, in the bottom of the 9th, the Sox strung together 10 straight hits, and beat the Yankees 8-7: "The one game you missed? You missed the greatest game everrrrrrrr!" (Such a result did not actually happen in 2004.)
U.K.: In the week following the open house next to Highbury, Paul interviews for the job, and, as he admits, "It didn't go brilliantly, did it?" He finds out the following Saturday that another teacher got the promotion. And then he and Steve go to see Arsenal lose 2-1 to Derby County, putting their title bid in jeopardy. Paul says, "This is the worst day of my life."
Sarah comes over afterwards, having heard that he didn't get the job. She tries to comfort him -- but he thinks it's about the game, and when she realizes that, they get into a hell of a to-do.
She tells him, "It's only a game." He yells: "Don't say that! That is the worst, most stupid thing anybody could ever say!" He points out that he's wanted Arsenal to win the League for "Eighteen fucking years!" And he asks, "Do you remember what you wanted 18 years ago? Or 10? Or 5? Was it to be head of year at North London Comprehensive? I doubt it."
Sarah says that she was a kid 18 years ago, and that if her priorities hadn't changed, something would have gone seriously wrong. As opposed to 18 years ago, "I don't want to marry David Cassidy!"
At least, in Paul's case, he had seen Arsenal win the title once; while Ben had seen the Red Sox "win the league" in 1986, they hadn't won the World Series since 1918 -- 86 years.
Then again, that might be the equivalent of Arsenal winning the UEFA Champions League, or the European Cup as it would have been known in 1989. They have never won that. Up until 1998, a team could only get into the tournament by being the champion of its national league the season before. Since the tournament only began in the 1955-56 season, and Arsenal only won the League once between 1953 and 1989, they had only been in it once: In 1971-72, they got to the Quarterfinals, before losing to the mighty Netherlands side Ajax Amsterdam, led by Johan Cruyff. Arsenal wouldn't play in the 1989-90 version, either, because of the 5-year ban from European play placed on all English clubs after the Heysel disaster. Arsenal's next participation was in the 1991-92 season, and they got knocked out in the second round by Benfica, the legendary team from Lisbon, Portugal. The closest they've come is in 2006, when they led the Final over Barcelona 1-0 in he second half, but lost, 2-1.
Sarah tells him that they've been pretending that the relationship is going to work out, and that it won't. She leaves him.
U.S.: When Ben gets the call from Troy about the Sox' 8-run comeback, he tells Lindsey that the night is a disaster. He feels like he's being punished for putting her wishes ahead of the team. Lindsey says, "Earlier, you said it was only a game." He doesn't yell like Paul does, but his contradiction is just as harsh, and nearly word-for-word: "Twenty-three years, I've been going. Twenty-three years! Do you remember what you wanted 23 years ago? How about 10? How about 5?"
Lindsey says, "Twenty-three years ago, I was 7, and I wanted to marry Scott Baio, and if I still wanted to marry Scott Baio, I'd think there was something seriously wrong with me." She kicks him out: "You broke my heart," Ben.
U.K.: After Sarah leaves, Paul is sitting at home, watching a sitcom, with the remains of a pizza dinner at his side. His mother calls, and he does his best to cover up what happened.
U.S.: A few days after getting dumped, Ben goes to Fenway with Troy, and gives his little speech about how the Sox are "a real family." And says he's strong enough to take the Sox yet again finishing 2nd to the Yankees, "Because I am bulletproof!"
And yet, the scene shifts to Ben, sitting at home, with the remains of a chicken-wings dinner at his side, watching his videotape of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, repeatedly rewinding and replaying the Bill Buckner error that allowed the Mets' winning run to score, wallowing in his own misery.
U.K.: Arsenal's home game against Derby was supposed to be the season finale, but the Hillsborough tragedy pushed the schedule back. They can only work a draw to South London club Wimbledon in their new home finale. So, the way it works out, the only way Arsenal can win the League is to win the season finale, on May 26, 1989, away to Liverpool -- where they hadn't won in 15 years -- by 2 goals. Winning by 1 goal won't be enough, as they will be tied with Liverpool on overall points, and the 1st tiebreaker, goal difference, will still favor Liverpool.
Paul and Sarah discuss it after school, but they make no effort to reconcile.
U.S.: The Red Sox do make the American League Playoffs as the Wild Card (only 1 Wild Card per League at the time), and sweep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to advance to the AL Championship Series against, of course, the Yankees. And the Yankees win the 1st 3 games, including a 19-8 pounding in Game 3 at Fenway.
After the game, Ben and his friends see 3 Sox players drinking at the same bar: Captain and catcher Jason Varitek, center fielder Johnny Damon and right fielder Trot Nixon (who play themselves in the film). Troy, Kevin and Gerard are furious that these guys are just casually drinking after one of the most humiliating defeats in franchise history. But Ben realizes that, even for seasoned professionals, the game isn't everything. He decides to try to reconcile with Lindsey.
But Lindsey isn't having it: She thinks that the only reason Ben is making an effort to get her back is that the Sox have their backs to the wall, and the season is about to end: "This is Winter Guy talking. I already know I like Winter Guy. It's Summer Guy that broke my heart." Ben walks away in tears, knowing he's lost her, seemingly forever.
U.K.: Sarah is invited to an end-of-schoolyear party by one of her students, and, as Paul did earlier, she compares Sarah to manager Graham: Although she can be hard on her students, under her leadership, they learned, and they excelled. By this point, she's checked the TV, and has seen Arsenal go up 1-0 on a goal by Smith. She finally begins to get what everyone else sees in the club, and heads for Paul's flat.
Which is where Paul and Steve are watching the game, and, while Steve is still optimistic with the game 0-0 at halftime, Paul is convinced that it's hopeless:
Paul: "You're living in cloud cuckoo land! Join the real world!"
Steve: "In the real world, it's 0-0 at halftime!"
Paul: "Might as well be 8-0."
Steve: "Jesus, Paul, you need medical help! You've got some kind of disease that turns people into miserable bastards!
With the game headed for stoppage time, Sarah rings the doorbell. Not knowing who it is, Paul, convinced that this is the worst 1-0 win in the history of sports, opens the window and curses out his as-yet-unidentified visitor.
Then Michael Thomas scores the epochal goal that wins the League in the last minute of the last game of the season, and everyone goes nuts: Paul, Steve, Paul's mother, Robert Parker and his mother, even Jo manages a fist-pump and a "Yes, yes, yes!" When the whistle blows, the necessary 2-0 win in the books, everyone comes out of their houses, and Sarah gets swept up into a massive party in the streets. (A notable error: The game, played on a rare Friday night for British soccer, kicked off at 8:05 PM for TV coverage, thus was played entirely at night, but the film's postgame celebration begins while it's still daylight.)
Sarah sees Paul, and tells the taxi driver who took her in that she's never seen him so happy. Paul sees her, walks over to her, and kisses her as if nothing had ever gone wrong.
U.S.: On October 17, 2004, Lindsey gets her promotion, but finds out from Robin that her husband Chris is with Ben at Game 4 of the ALCS, and that Ben is selling his Red Sox season tickets to him for $125,000 -- $25,000 more than a price Ben has once rejected, and also the price for which the great Babe Ruth was famously sold from the Red Sox to the Yankees in the 1919-20 off-season.
Ben's "summer family" begs him not to do it, but, like Paul had all through the Anfield Finale, he's given up on the Red Sox: "If I keep these tickets, all I'm going to be reminded of is what I lost for them."
Lindsey realizes that the Red Sox are to Ben what her job is to her: "It's the only place where I feel like I know what I'm doing. It's... safe. Oh my God." She leaves the celebration. She manages to get into Fenway (it costs her $600), and when she borrows binoculars and sees Ben about to sign the ownership transfer papers, she jumps onto the field, runs across it, hides behind Johnny Damon and grabs his butt, eludes security guards, and gets to Ben's seat, and tells him, "If you love me enough to give up your seats, I love you enough to not let you!" And she tears the papers up. (Then she goes to jail, where, presumably, Ben bails her out.)
That final scene is ripe with errors. First, the broadcast would not have shown her on TV: The networks do not show people running onto the field, to discourage others from doing it. The security guards would never have let her reach the infield stands, let alone stand and talk to Ben. Finally, the Green Monster scoreboard clearly depicts a game against Tampa Bay, in the top of the 5th inning, rather than a Playoff game; the only other game played that day was Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
U.K.: Since the film was made in 1996, by which point manager Graham and many of the players from the 1989 side had left The Arsenal, Hornby and the producers knew how the movie would end. So if you were a British citizen, watching the film as it was released in April 1997, you knew that Arsenal would win.
U.S.: Since the film was made in the summer of 2004, when it was still believed that there was no way in hell the Red Sox could win the World Series (due to the supposed "Curse of the Bambino," the result of the Red Sox' sale of Ruth to the Yankees), it was generally assumed by the Farrelly Brothers and the writers that, although they could make Ben and Lindsey get back together, the movie's ending wouldn't be happy for the team.
(In the 1961-62 season, after becoming the first team in the 20th Century to "do The Double," Arsenal's arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, signed star forward Jimmy Greaves. While he helped them win 2 FA Cups and a European Cup Winners' Cup, "Spurs" haven't won he League since. But nobody in England talks about a "Curse of Greavsie." In 1991, Spurs won the FA Cup, beating East Midlands club Nottingham Forest, but star midfielder Paul Gascoigne, trying to make a dirty tackle, broke his own leg instead. Spurs had already agreed to sell him to Rome-based club Lazio. The deal didn't work out for either club, and Spurs haven't won anything since, except for 2 League Cups. But nobody in England talks about a "Curse of Gazza.")
But as filming was wrapping up, and the Red Sox clinched the Wild Card berth in the American League Playoffs, somebody asked, "What if the Red Sox do win the World Series?" The Farrellys called the MLB offices, and made arrangements to allow them to film Fallon and Barrymore on the field in the moments after the Sox clinched.
So it was written into the film that Al Waterman's narration states that, right after Lindsey tore up the transfer papers, the Sox made their 9th inning comeback, won Games 4 and 5 in extra innings at Fenway, Curt Schilling won Game 6 at Yankee Stadium pitching with a sutured ankle and a bloody sock, the Sox clobbered the Yankees in Game 7 to win the Pennant, and then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in 4 straight. On October 27, 2004, The Red Sox beat the Cards in Game 4, clinching their 1st World Championship in 86 years, and Fallon and Barrymore were on the field, in character.
Al all but credits Lindsey taking Ben back with being the reason the Sox turned it around. At the time, who knew that the real reason was that the Sox were full of steroid cheaters? Well, the Sox themselves knew it.
U.K.: When Paul finds out Sarah is pregnant, he suggests Liam as a name, if it's a boy. It's a good name, he says, but also says, "It's only the name of the greatest Arsenal player ever." Sarah doesn't give voice to an opinion on the name -- or on whether Liam Brady is the greatest Arsenal player ever.
The story ends on the night of the Anfield Finale. It certainly appears that Paul and Sarah have reconciled, and that they are destined to get married and have the baby. Presumably, Liam Ashworth -- if, that is, the child was a boy -- would have been born near the end of calendar year 1989, and would now be 25 years old. Paul and Sarah would be in the latter half of their 50s, and possibly still teaching, assuming that neither one of them became rich and famous, such as through Paul completing his analogue to Hornby and writing a memoir of his football fandom.
Would Paul have pushed Liam into supporting Arsenal? Almost certainly. Would Liam have become a good player? If so, he would have inherited his athletic genes from his jogging mother, not his soccer-coaching father.
U.S.: At the end of the film, no mention is made of a wedding, but Al narrates that, now, Lindsey actually is pregnant, and has apparently accepted Ben's wish to name the child after one of the Red Sox' 2 greatest legends: "You know that little 'player to be named later'? Ben says, if it's a boy, they'll name him Ted Williams Wrightman. If it's a girl, Carla Yastrzemski Wrightman. Let's all pray for a boy!"
Ben and Lindsey would now be 41 years old, and little Ted/Carla would be 9, turning 10 in Summer 2015. Oh boy, that means Ben would have had to miss Sox games to be with Lindsey -- even if the baby was born during a roadtrip or the All-Star Break, he missed some home games for the first month or so!
My verdict on the U.K. version: Putting aside my bias (I love The Arsenal)...
I have never seen a movie that does a better job of explaining what it's like to be a fan of a sports team -- in any sport, in any country. It captures both the agony and the ecstasy. But it also shows us that Bill Shankly, the Liverpool manager of the 1960s and the early '70s, was wrong: Neither football/soccer nor any other sport is more important than life and death. Nick/Paul was right: "I have my own life now, and my own successes and failures aren't necessarily tied up with theirs. And that's got to be a good thing... I suppose."
I do have 3 flaws I wish to cite. I wish there had been more game footage, and more shots of the interior of Highbury, and of London itself. Really, this story could have been rewritten for any number of teams: Liverpool the same year (they did rebound from the Hillsborough Disaster to win the FA Cup, after all); Liverpool in the season after the Heysel Disaster, 1985-86 (when they won what remains their only Double); Brian Clough's teams, either Derby County in 1972 or Nottingham Forest in 1978; Aston Villa of 1981, when they won their 1st title in 71 years; Everton of 1985, when they won the League and the European Cup Winners' Cup, only to be denied the chance to play in the 1985-86 European Cup due to the Heysel ban, which had nothing to do with them; or even the Blackburn Rovers season of 1994-95, not long before filming started, in which they won the League for the 1st time in 83 years, and did so in dramatic fashion.
Another flaw is that I wish they had shown more of younger Paul, including how he and Steve met. I'd like to think they met at Wembley during the 1979 FA Cup Final, in which Arsenal threw away a late 2-0 lead against Manchester United, only to win it anyway, 3-2. And Sarah's transition to being furious with Paul to returning to him -- especially after his window tirade -- seems a bit forced.
But, overall, the film is a good balance of comedy and drama, the acting is good, and the story is a classic. On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being a typical Tottenham run-in, and 10 being the Michael Thomas goal, I give it an 8.
My verdict on the U.S. version: Putting aside my bias (I love the Yankees and hate the Red Sox)...
The acting is good, and it never feels like anybody's performance is forced. Lindsey's transition from resenting Ben to coming back to him feels much more real than Sarah's with Paul. Since this film is much more of a comedy (the Farrelly Brothers' specialty), the shift to drama after the Sox comeback (the 7-0 one, not the 3-0 one) feels strong, and the turnaround at the end much more real. While Sarah is only angry at Paul, Lindsey expresses both anger and sadness at Ben, which gives her turn back to him a bit more punch. And the shots of Boston, and Fenway in particular, are fantastic.
That said, the Farrellys specialize in silly movies, including in gross-out humor, and this film has a high silliness quotient. Which would be fine, if they were making a spoof film like Airplane! or one of Mel Brooks' comedies. A parody of sports-underdog films really hasn't been made (spoofs of pretty much every other genre have), and this was never intended to be one.
But the silliness is a bit excessive. "Yankee Dancing." Robin punching Molly. "Hey, ump, get off your knees, you're blowing the game!" Ben putting the moves on a concussed Lindsey. The scene with Lindsey trying to hide her looking for her shoe from The Third Wilson Brother. Ben complaining (and exaggerating) about Lindsey's criticisms while coaching the JV baseball team. Chris' birthday poem for Robin. Although, I have to admit, Sarah's "Then why don't you dress better?" line to Robin is a classic.
The Farrellys weren't trying to remake the U.K. version, and they weren't trying to make a great film. They were trying to make a fun movie, and they succeeded. Although, as a Yankee Fan, I consider this to be a horror film. But, you know, Red Sox fans seem to hate it, because it makes them look like a bunch of childish nitwits. As Bill Murray would say, "So I got that going for me, which is nice." (But then, as a Cub fan, Murray could have made a movie like this.) On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, and 10 being Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, I give it a 7. Good, but not as good as the U.K. version.
Would I recommend the U.K. version to U.S. viewers? Absolutely. You'll agree with me that there's never been a better expression of what being a fan is like.
Would I recommend the U.S. version to U.K. viewers? No. While you don't have to know much about baseball to enjoy it, it's not really about being a fan. It's about being a fan of a particular team. One that British viewers are unlikely to care about. Especially now that the Fenway Sports Group also owns Liverpool Football Club, and, pretty much anybody who doesn't love Liverpool hates them.
But then, that's also true of Arsenal. And the Red Sox. And the Yankees.