Monday, August 31, 2015

How Long It's Been: Stephen Drew Finished a Game Batting Over .200


The Yankees' acquisition of 2nd baseman Stephen Drew, and their refusal to keep rookie Rob Refsnyder up at the major league level, has been lambasted as evidence of Brian Cashman's inadequacy as Yankee general manager.

When Drew hits the ball, he usually hits it out. But he hardly ever hits it. He's like a lefthanded version of Dave Kingman, minus the distance: Can't field, and can't hit, but when he does hit, it's a home run.

He had a good game last night, and finally raised his batting average above "the Mendoza Line" of .200, finishing at .201.

The last time he finished a game with an average of .200 or better was June 19, 2014. That's 437 days. How long has that been?

*

That night, Drew was playing for the Boston Red Sox against the Oakland Athletics, at the Oakland Coliseum (or whatever corporate name it had at the time). The A's won, 4-2. Drew went 0-for-3, dropping his average to an even .200.

That same night, the Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 6-4 at Yankee Stadium II. Derek Jeter played for the Yankees in that game. So did Ichiro Suzuki, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Yangervis Solarte, David Phelps, Shawn Kelly and Matt Thornton. None is with the Yankees any longer.

Drew is, having been traded to the Yankees on July 31, 2014, for the aforementioned Kelly Johnson.

The defending World Champions were the Boston Red Sox * in baseball, the Seattle Seahawks in football, the San Antonio Spurs in basketball and the Los Angeles Kings in hockey (the latter 2 having just been won). The World Cup was underway in Brazil, about to be won by Germany. Manchester City was champion of England's Premier League, and Arsenal had just won the FA Cup.

The New York Jets, New York Knicks and New Jersey Devils have all since changed their head coaches and their general managers. The New York Islanders have moved to a new arena.

Caitlin Jenner was still Bruce Jenner, and was still a Kardashian. The Duggar family was still regarded as good Christians. Bill Cosby was still considered a good person. Obamacare was still under serious threat. Gay marriage was legal in about 1/3 of the country, no more. Flying the Confederate flag on government property was not considered an unpardonable sin.

Howard Baker, Bobby Womack, Paul Mazursky, Alfredo Di Stefano, Tommy Ramone, Nadine Gordimer, Johnny Winter, Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, Richard Attenborough, Joan Rivers, Ian Paisley, Polly Bergen, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalir, Jan Hooks, Oscar de la Renta, Edward Gough Whitlam, Jack Bruce, Thomas Menino, Glen A. Larson, Mike Nichols, Viktor Tikhonov, Jean Beliveau, Joe Cocker, Luise Rainer, Mario Cuomo, Edward Brooke, Rod Taylor, Anita Ekberg, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Udo Lattek, Louis Jourdan, Lesley Gore, Leonard Nimoy, Anthony Mason, Dave Mackay, Lee Kuan Yew, Gunter Grass, Percy Sledge, Ben E. King, B.B. King (no relation), Anne Meara, John Forbes Nash, Christopher Lee, Ornette Coleman, Kirk Kerkorian, Dick Van Patten, Omar Sharif, Alex Rocco, Theodore Bikel, E.L. Doctorow, Lynn Anderson, Roddy Piper, Cilla Black, Yvonne Craig, Wes Craven, Oliver Sacks and my father were all still alive. Now, none of them is.

The TV shows The Last Ship, Tyrant, Girl Meets World, You're the Worst, The Mysteries of Laura, Forever, Gotham, NCIS: New Orleans, Black-ish, How to Get Away With Murder, The Flash, Jane the Virgin, Mike Tyson Mysteries, Marvel's Agent Carter, Empire, Secrets and Lies, CSI: Cyber, American Crime, The Royals, Lip Sync Battle, Daredevil, Humans, I Am Cait and Fear the Walking Dead have all premiered since then.

Drop Dead Diva, Californication, Gang Related, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, True Blood, Chelsea Lately, the next-generation version of Dallas, Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, The Newsroom, White Collar, the Colbert Report, 106 & Park, The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men, The Queen Latifah Show, Cougar Town, Justified, Revenge, Mad Men, 19 Kids and Counting, Hot in Cleveland, Phineas and Ferb, Nurse Jackie, Degrassi: The Next Generation, The Daily Show with John Stewart, Key & Peele and Hannibal have aired their series finales.

The much-hyped Selfie, State of Affairs and Constantine have done both. CBS' The Late Show was handed from David Letterman to Stephen Colbert, and its The Late Late Show was handed from Craig Ferguson to James Corden.

The very day in question, King Juan Carlos I of Spain abdicated, in favor of his son, King Felipe VI. ISIS began its offensive in Iraq. There had just been a revolution in Thailand. "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea was the Number 1 song in America.

Ruby Dee, who played Rachel Robinson in The Jackie Robinson Story; Eli Wallach, who voiced several men in Ken Burns' Baseball miniseries; Don Zimmer, Bob Welch, and Tony Gwynn Sr. had all died. No one yet knows the names of the great people who were born in June 2014, but Mario Goetze scored an extra-time goal to win the World Cup, and the stars of Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner continued to rise.

June 19, 2014. The Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 6-4 at Yankee Stadium II. The Red Sox lost to the Oakland Athletics 4-2 at the Oakland Coliseum. Stephen Drew finished the game with a batting average of .200. He would not finish with an average of .200 or better again until last night.

Can he keep his average above the Mendoza Line? Stay tuned.

Yanks Explode In Runs Before a Boston Series AGAIN

(Why does it look like Gregorius is trying to hit Drew on the head with a helmet?)

Once again, the Yankees scored a lot of runs in a series before they had to play the Boston Red Sox. This is especially worrisome to me when the game is at Fenway Park.

The Yankees staked Nathan Eovaldi to a quick 7-0 lead. Jacoby Ellsbury seems to be waking up at the right time, as he hit his 7th home run of the season in the 2nd inning, scoring 3 runs. Chase Headley (his 10th) and Stephen Drew (his 16th) both hit 2-run homers in the 3rd.

Drew, well, drew a bases-loaded walk in the 5th, making it 8-2 Yankees. But Eovaldi ran into trouble in the 6th, allowing a single, a double, and a 2-RBI single. Joe Girardi took him out for Adam Warren, and he allowed another run before putting an end to it, making it 8-5, and worrying Yankee Twitter.

But the Yankees exploded in the top of the 7th. With 1 out, Headley walked, Didi Gregorius was hit with a pitch, Drew singled to load the bases, Alex Rodriguez singled home Headley and Gregorius, Chris Young was sent in to pinch-run for A-Rod, Ellsbury struck out, Brett Gardner singled home Drew, Carlos Beltran singled to load the bases, Brian McCann singled home Young and Gardner, Greg Bird doubled home Beltran, Headley doubled home McCann and Bird, Gregorius walked (a rare feat, reaching base twice in one inning without a hit), and Drew singled home Headley. 9 runs on 8 hits.

Branden Pinder was brought in to relieve in the 7th, Girardi figuring that even Branden Pinder can't blow a 12-run lead. But Pinder and did what he does: He allowed a home run. Making it 17-6.

He did no more damage, and the Yankees scored 3 more runs in the 8th, on a sacrifice fly by Bird, a double by Pinder (yes, he undid his damage in this NL-park, no-DH game), and a single by Gregorius.

Yankees 20, Braves 6. WP: Eovaldi (14-2). No save. LP: Julio Teheran (9-7). Every Yankee starter got at least 1 hit, except for Eovaldi, and with A-Rod's pinch-hit we did get a hit from that spot in the order. Every Yankee starter, including Eovaldi, scored at least 1 run. Every Yankee starter except Beltran and Eovaldi got at least 1 RBI, and A-Rod's pinch-hit gave us RBIs from every spot in the order except Beltran's.

And Drew's average, below the Mendoza Line of .200 all season long, is now up to .201. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles.

*

So, with 5 weeks remaining in the regular season, here's how everything stands:

The Yankees trail those pesky Toronto Blue Jays -- peskier than at any time since October 1993 -- by a game and a half in the American League Eastern Division, just 1 in the all-important loss column. It's become a 2-team race: The Tampa Bay Rays are 10 games behind, the Baltimore Orioles 11, and the Red Sox 14.

(What has happened to the Orioles? Is it just the natural phenomenon of a Buck Showalter-managed team, that they went as far as they could go, and no more, and now need a new manager to finish the job?)

The Kansas City Royals have pretty much wrapped up the AL Central, leading the Minnesota Twins by 13 games.

The AL West is far from wrapped up, as the Houston Astros lead the Texas Rangers by 3 games and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by 6 1/2.

The Mets still lead the National League East, by 5 1/2 games over the Washington Nationals, 5 in the loss column.

The St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball, but have not wrapped up the NL Central, as the Pittsburgh Pirates are just 4 1/2 games back.

It's yet another Dodger-Giant showdown, as Los Angeles leads the NL West over San Francisco by 3 1/2.

If the current standings hold to the end of the season, the Wild Card play-in games will be the Rangers at the Yankees, and the Chicago Cubs at the Pirates.

Off to Boston. Bring on The Scum. Let's hope we don't need some of those 20 runs. After all, what good is scoring 20 runs against the Braves when the Jays also won, if we can't score enough runs on the Red Sox to stay even with, or even gain a game on, the team we're chasing?

Even if it isn't the Red Sox this time. You know the old saying: "In these games, you can throw out the records."

Certainly, this time, the Sox would like to do that.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

How to Go to a Rutgers Football Game -- 2015 Edition

This coming Saturday, at 12:00 noon, the football team at Rutgers University opens its 147th season of play, at home at Rutgers Stadium -- or High Point Solutions Stadium, if you must use the official, corporate name -- playing Norfolk State University of Virginia.

The last few years, Rutgers has always played an early-season home game against a "historically black college," providing Rutgers with an easy win, the visitors with big game-day revenue and a roadtrip to the New York market, and the home fans with a performance by the fantastic marching bands that usually accompany these teams.

The first time Rutgers played such a game, I went with my father, who was always involved with music. He went to watch the bands as much as for the game. When halftime came, and he, a native of Newark before it became a majority-black (now majority-Hispanic) city, saw a historically black school's marching band for the first time, he was thrilled. When the Rutgers band came on after them, the home fans booed them, knowing full well they couldn't meet the same standard.

So here's my how-to guide for Rutgers, the closest Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly known as Division I-A) team to New York City. The next-closest team, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, a.k.a. "Army," is 52 miles from Times Square. Next-closest is the University of Connecticut, based in Storrs but playing in East Hartford, 114 miles away. Syracuse? It may be in the State of New York, but Times Square and the Carrier Dome are 252 miles apart -- Penn State and the University of Maryland are actually closer.

Columbia in Manhattan, Fordham in The Bronx, Wagner on Staten Island; Hofstra (which no longer plays football) and Stony Brook on Long Island; Princeton and Monmouth in New Jersey; and Sacred Heart in Connecticut are all fairly close, but all are Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly named Division I-AA) schools.

College football hasn't been as big in New Jersey as the NFL since the Giants got good in the 1950s, and when Joe Namath made the Jets matter in 1968, that was pretty much it for Rutgers and Princeton, then both "small college." In the 1970s, Rutgers made a commitment to play what they called "big-time football," and Princeton wanted to stay in the Ivy League. Rutgers went big and, for the most part, has spectacularly failed; Princeton stayed at their level, and has, more often than not, done very well.

According to a map based on Facebook "Likes," showing each County in the country, the New York Giants are the leading NFL team in the New Jersey Counties of Sussex, Passaic, Bergen, Warren, Morris, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean -- all of North Jersey, and all of Central Jersey except Mercer. The Philadelphia Eagles were tops in the Counties of Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May -- all of South Jersey except for Ocean, plus Mercer.

In fact, until 2013, the New York Jets had just one County in the entire New York Tri-State Area where they had more fans than the Giants: Nassau County, Long Island, long the home of their team offices and training camp, Weeb Ewbank Hall on the campus of Hofstra University, across from the Nassau Coliseum. Now, even Nassau is listed as majority Giants territory. I guess Sports Illustrated had it right in 1986, when the Giants were on their way to their 1st Super Bowl win and the Jets were also Playoff-bound: "In the Big Apple, the Jets are always second banana."

However, that same map puts the lie to former coach Greg Schiano's claims about "the State of Rutgers" including New York City, Long Island, Philadelphia, Delaware, and even some of Florida. Big chunks of Bergen, Passaic and Sussex Counties prefer Penn State to Rutgers. Some parts of Bergen even have Notre Dame ahead. And the Southern half of the State, the part that tilts toward Philadelphia, and even towns near the Delaware River in the Counties of Warren, Hunterdon and Mercer, 200 miles from Beaver Stadium, prefer Penn State. The bastards.

Before You Go. Rutgers Stadium -- from here until the end of this post, I won't use its corporate name, because selling naming rights to a stadium is never a high point and it offers no solutions -- is 40 miles from Midtown Manhattan, so the weather will be just about the same. The weather is predicted to be hot: 88 degrees at game time, with thunderstorms possible later.

Tickets. Since Rutgers got good in 2005, tickets have been hard to come by, even with the recent expansion of the stadium. As of this writing, none of the 7 home games is completely sold out. But Big Ten powers like Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska are coming in, so don't expect to get great seats, even if you order now. (Nebraska once brought 16,000 fans to an away game against Hawaii.) That said, there isn't really a bad seat in the stadium.

Lower level (sections starting with 100) sideline seats go for $75, corner and end zone sections for $30. Upper level (sections starting with 200) middle seats go for $50, while on the ends (the upper deck only goes along the sidelines) are $30.

Getting There. As I said, Rutgers Stadium is almost exactly 40 miles from Times Square. However, do not take that for granted. Traffic getting out of New York City may be favorable to you on a Saturday morning, especially after Labor Day, but the last couple of miles before you reach the stadium will be bad. It would be best to go early, trying to reach the stadium at least an hour before kickoff, and, if you enjoy tailgating, you can do that. (If so, make it at least 2 hours before kickoff, to give yourself enough time to set up, cook, eat, and disassemble again.) If you don't enjoy tailgating, your best bet is probably to forget the car and take public transportation.

It's important to note that "Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey" is vast, including campuses (campii?) in Newark and Camden. The main campus straddles the Raritan River in Middlesex County. The College Avenue Campus (the original part of the school), the Cook Campus (the agricultural and environmental studies section) and the Douglass Campus (originally the New Jersey College for Women) are in New Brunswick. The Livingston Campus (including the arena) and the Busch Campus (including the stadium) are across the river in Piscataway.

New Jersey Transit runs rail service from Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan to New Brunswick, once an hour on Saturday mornings. The 9:14 Northeast Corridor train arrives in New Brunswick at 10:11, and the next one (10:14 to 11:11) will also get you there before kickoff. Round-trip fare is $26.
Coach USA (formerly Suburban Transit) runs buses from Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown to New Brunswick every hour on the hour, and it takes 50 minutes, dropping you off in front of the New Brunswick train station. A round-trip fare is $20.50. (On the way back, cross Albany Street to where the Ferren Mall stands -- for the moment; it's targeted for demolition.)

From the New Brunswick train station, there will be special Campus Buses to shuttle you to the stadium. These will be free. Although it's only 3 miles, depending on the traffic, this could take anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. You have been warned. At least, if you're wearing opposing-team colors, the RU fans will not harass you. They may be Giant, Jet, or (yikes) Eagle fans on Sunday, but on Saturday it's a whole other animal. They will leave you alone, or even try to be polite to you. (Unless you're wearing Penn State gear. In which case, stay away entirely.)

If you're driving from New York City, get onto the New Jersey Turnpike. Whether that means the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, or the Belt Parkway followed by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge followed by the Staten Island Expressway followed by the Goethals Bridge, all roads to Rutgers lead to the Turnpike.

Take the Turnpike to Exit 9, and take Route 18 North toward New Brunswick. The signs will lead you over the John Lynch Memorial Bridge. (John Lynch Jr., a corrupt former Mayor of New Brunswick, had it built and named after his father who had also been Mayor.) Once you're over the bridge, take the exit saying Campus Road/Rutgers Stadium/Busch Campus. (The sign was not changed when the stadium's name was.) Then turn left on Sutphen Road. The stadium will be on your left; to your right will be an indoor practice facility known as The Bubble (for a reason that will be obvious when you see it). At which point, follow the instructions of the Campus Police. If you do it right, you should hit a wall of traffic within 45 minutes of leaving The City.

Once In the City. New Brunswick is named for an English town, whose name was taken from the German city of Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, taken from "Bruno's wik." A wik was a marketplace and a rest stop for travelers in medieval Germany. Bruno, Brun, or Braun -- the English name Brown and the German name von Braun come from him -- was Duke of Saxony, and is a Catholic saint. He is said to have founded Braunschweig in AD 861.

The New Jersey city is considerably newer, although old by American standards: Formerly Prigmore's Swamp and Inian's Ferry, the first European settlement there was in 1681. The name was changed a little over 300 years ago, in 1714, in honor of the German-born new King of England, George I, who was also Elector of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg. His son, Prince Ernest Augustus, was the Duke of York and Albany, and the main intersection of the city is George & Albany Streets, named for the King and his son. (That son predeceased his father, and his son became King George III.) This is not, however, a "centerpoint": For east-west streets, addresses start at the Raritan River and increase westward; for north-south streets, they start on the south side of town and increase northward, so that the main intersection includes not 1 North George Street and 1 West Albany Street, but 410 George Street and 120 Albany Street.

A "King's Highway" was built in colonial times, and this is the forerunner of today's New Jersey Route 27, including part of Somerset Street, all of French Street, all of Albany Street, and the Albany Street Bridge over the river into neighboring Highland Park. The city was occupied by the British during the War of the American Revolution. While there is no Washington Street in town, and George Street is named for an earlier King (not George III), there is a Hamilton Street, named for Alexander Hamilton. The University's administration building, a.k.a. Old Queens, was built on a hill on that street, overlooking the river, where Hamilton observed British troop movements.

The seat of Middlesex County, New Brunswick is home to about 57,000 people. Long a haven for immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe (especially Hungary), the growth of the American middle class made possible the development of nearby towns like Franklin (named for Ben, not his colonial governor son William who accepted the charter for what became Rutgers), Piscataway, Edison, North Brunswick (which is actually south of New Brunswick), East Brunswick (ditto) and South Brunswick (and again, ditto, although in that case it made sense).

But that white flight from New Brunswick left poor blacks moving in, and the Hub City (so named because it was a major transportation center) became stricken with ghettos. Many children of those black citizens overcame this, and moved into the neighboring towns. Their places were taken by Mexican immigrants, their community settled, ironically, on French Street. (The street was almost certainly named for steamboat pioneer Daniel French, rather than the nationality of the original settlers on it.)

Today, New Brunswick's 4 main communities -- academic, legal (as I said, it's a County Seat), health care (2 major hospitals and being world headquarters for Johnson & Johnson make it "The Healthcare City") and immigrant -- combine to make it a very vibrant city. There's always construction going on, including downtown. The Barnes & Noble that forms the new campus bookstore is on the ground floor of the 2012-constructed tallest building in Central Jersey, the 24-story, 299-foot The Vue. It is connected by a walkway to the outbound platform (for trains running from New York and Newark toward Trenton and Philadelphia) of the train station.
The station is the hub for both New Jersey Transit buses to neighboring towns (fares: 1 zone, $1.50; 2 zones, $2.35; 3 zones, $2.90) and Campus Buses (free). The main newspaper is the Home News Tribune, created in 1995 as a result of a merger between the New Brunswick-based Home News and the Woodbridge-based News-Tribune. Sales tax in the State of New Jersey is 7 percent, and it does not rise in the County of Middlesex; quite the opposite: The City of New Brunswick is an Urban Enterprise Zone, cutting the sales tax in half to 3 1/2 percent.

Once On Campus. The school was originally named Queens College, and George III gave its royal charter in 1766, the 8th of 9 American colleges founded before independence. The others are New College, now Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1636; William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, 1693; Collegiate School, now Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, 1701;the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University (the current TCNJ used to be Trenton State), 1746; King's College, now Columbia University, in New York City, 1754; the College of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, 1755; the College of Rhode Island, now Brown University, in Providence, 1764; and Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, 1769.

Queens College was chartered by the Dutch Reformed Church. For this reason, the college green has a statue of William I, Prince of Orange (1533-1584), a.k.a. William the Silent, ancestor of the current Dutch royal family and the hero of Dutch independence (which Spain, through an assassination, did not allow him to see). Supposedly, if a senior still a virgin walks past his statue, "Willie the Silent" will be silent no more, and whistle. No one has ever reported having heard this whistle.

In 1825, the year Old Queens was completed, the school had run out of money and had to close -- at the time, they thought it might be permanent. Enter Colonel Henry Rutgers, a high-ranking member of the Dutch Reformed Church in Manhattan. A graduate of Kings College/Columbia University, Rutgers was a lifelong bachelor with no children, legitimate or otherwise (it has been retroactively suggested by activist groups that he was gay), and, having no family to whom he could leave his money, made considerable donations in his time.

Knowing of New Brunswick's role in slowing the British down, making the Continental Army's retreat, regrouping in Pennsylvania, and subsequent victories at Trenton and Princeton possible, he donated $5,000 (about $116,000 in today's money), and a bell for the cupola at Old Queens. In gratitude, and in hopes that the Colonel would leave them something more in his will, the regents renamed the school Rutgers College. The Colonel left them nothing more, but the name stuck, and the school's marching band still plays a song titled "The Colonel Rutgers March."
In New Brunswick, when people say, "The Colonel,"
they don't mean Harland Sanders or Sherman T. Potter. It means Henry Rutgers.

Rutgers became New Jersey's only land-grant college under the Morrill Act of 1862 (which created land-grant colleges), and, following the consolidation with Cook and Douglass, the State University in 1956. The University of Newark was incorporated into the RU system in 1945, and the College of South Jersey was in 1950. Douglass College was added in 1955. Cook College has always been a part of the Queens/Rutgers system. The main part of the campus, along College Avenue in New Brunswick, is still officially "Rutgers College." The Livingston and Busch campuses were added in 1969.

While the Queens name has never been restored, the administration building is still known as Old Queens, and some university flags still bear the script form of the letter Q. Some bear a script R. Both are flanked by the numbers 17 and 66, for the school's founding year. No one has ever seriously suggested changing the name to "the University of New Jersey" or "New Jersey State University" or even "Jersey State." It might have been better if they had: What's a better chant? "UNJ! UNJ! UNJ!" or "R... U... R... U... "
Old Queens

Going In. As I said, free Campus Buses will take you from the train station to the stadium. The official address is 1 Scarlet Knight Way. If you're driving, parking information is available here at ScarletKnights.com.

A statue depicting an early football player, honoring Rutgers as "The Birthplace of College Football," is at the stadium's north gate. There are also west, east and south gates.

The original Rutgers Stadium opened in 1938, built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Project Administrtion, at a low cost since it was built into a natural bowl, thus not requiring as much digging as one built on level ground would have. It had a West Stand, an East Stand, and a North Stand, all single-decked, all concrete with wooden benches, no actual seats. Seating capacity was 23,000.

On each side of the North Stand, between the other stands, were grass areas -- I don't want to use the term "grassy knoll," but they did get called that. When these areas got filled in, capacity rose to over 30,000. In 1969, a Centennial Game was played against Princeton, and ABC offered to televise it. So, for the first TV game in Rutgers football history, a few spare bleacher seats were added, and 31,219 was the paid attendance, the highest in the stadium's history. (Here's a shot of the old stadium, late in its history, after the Hale Center was built on the East Stand.)
According to a Home News article in 1988, on its 50th Anniversary, it was designed to last 50 years. Right on schedule, by this point, it was beginning to fall apart. Plus, at just 23,000 "seats," it was too small for what Rutgers, in the 1970s, began calling "big-time football." So when Giants Stadium opened in 1976, Rutgers began dividing their home schedule: 3 games "On the Banks of the Old Raritan," 3 games at the Meadowlands. A 1985 game against Penn State, a 17-10 loss, was the largest home attendance Rutgers has ever had, over 61,000. (Despite the opening of MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands in 2010, Rutgers has only played 1 game there, and got only 42,000 fans.)

So negotiations were undertaken with the State government, and in 1992, after a Halloween thriller with Virginia Tech, when a touchdown on the final play gave Rutgers a 51-49 win, and a 13-9 win over West Virginia, the old stadium was closed and demolished.

Playing their home games at Giants Stadium in 1993, Rutgers opened the new Rutgers Stadium on September 3, 1994, beating Kent State, 28-6. It had a horseshoe shape, open at the south end, maintaining a nice view of the riverfront and New Brunswick. The lower deck was rounded at the corners, but otherwise perfectly straight, and an upper deck was added along the sidelines. Also, for the first time, Rutgers Stadium had permanent lights. Capacity was now 41,500 -- still the smallest in the recently-formed Big East Football Conference. The Hale Center, with team offices, training facilities, a huge new locker room, and press facilities (the old press box was a dinky little thing on the West Stand, not much bigger than a high school stadium's press box), opened on the East Stand. (Here's a shot of that configuration, complete with the trees at the South end.)
Finally, in 2009, a new south end was built, as the new student section, and it gets as rowdy as the ends at English soccer grounds. This cut off the nice view (and forced the cutting down of a lot of trees), but it also turned the horseshoe into a fully-enclosed bowl, and increased capacity to 52,454 -- now that Rutgers is in the Big Ten, only Northwestern has a smaller stadium. (Indiana's is larger by a few hundred.) It's unlikely that there will be further expansion, unless they want to put a second deck on the North Stand.

The playing surface has been FieldTurf since 2004, after having been natural grass since the original stadium's opening in 1938.

Four matches of the U.S. soccer team have been played on the site, 3 before the 1994 reconstruction, 1 after it, a 1995 draw with Colombia.

Food. Don't expect anything fancy. It's pretty much the standard stadium fare, although the hot dogs are good. (Not great, just good.) The concession stands are plentiful, and are manned by local high school booster clubs' officials, eager to continue their partnership with The State University, so they're going to be friendly.

One interesting item is available on the West Stand, near the entry gate. For $5.00, you can get a fried turkey leg, as if you're Charles Laughton playing the old Tudor monarch in The Private Life of Henry VIII. Adjacent to this cart are stands for Premio Italian sausages.

Team History Displays. I mentioned that Rutgers has played at 1 game at MetLife Stadium. This was on October 19, 2010, a 23-20 victory over Army. It was also the game which defensive tackle Eric LeGrand broke his neck making a hit on a kickoff return. While he still can't walk, he has recovered to the point where he led the team onto the field in his motorized wheelchair in a snow-strewn game the next season, he got his degree, and became an analyst on RU broadcasts and a motivational speaker.
This is one man who's not afraid of The Dreaded SI Cover Jinx.
What's it going to do to him that's worse than what he's already endured?

In 2013, he became the first Rutgers football player to get his number retired, Number 52. That number is now shown on the wall of the North Stand. When his coach, Greg Schiano, left RU to take the head job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, he signed LeGrand to a contract, to make him an official NFL player, though, obviously, he never got into a game. In a corresponding display of equal class, LeGrand subsequently "retired" to open a roster spot for a deserving player.

Also on the North Stand are displays of the official logos from Rutgers' bowl appearances: The 1978 Garden State Bowl at the Meadowlands (a loss to Arizona State), the 2005 Insight Bowl in Phoenix (also a loss to Arizona State), the 2006 Texas Bowl in Houston (beating Kansas State), the 2007-08 International Bowl in Toronto (beating Ball State), the 2008 PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham (beating North Carolina State), the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl (beating Central Florida), the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando (losing to Virginia Tech), the Pinstripe Bowl in New York in 2011 (beating Iowa State) and 2013 (losing to Notre Dame), and the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit (beating North Carolina).

The Garden State Bowl was, essentially, made up by Rutgers, and was played at Giants Stadium. It was a running joke that schools that had entered Division I-A recently had gone to "a real bowl game," and Rutgers, "The Birthplace of College Football," hadn't. (Or had had to make a bowl game up, at home, and still lost it.) They didn't go to a real one until 2005, in Phoenix (and, oddly, again lost to Arizona State, although, this time, Arizona State was playing just a few miles from their Tempe campus). As you might guess, the Pinstripe Bowl is played at the new Yankee Stadium, and is practically a home game for Rutgers.

However, Rutgers has never played in any of the traditional New Year's Day bowl games: No Rose, no Orange, no Cotton, no Sugar, no Fiesta, nor any of the 2nd-tier bowls that sometimes get played on or around January 1, such as the Sun, the Gator, or the Peach.

They had near-misses in 2006, when they lost to West Virginia University on a late play, denying them the Big East Conference Championship and a berth in a Bowl Championship Series game; and in 2012 when they lost back-to-back Big East games, resulting in a 4-way tie for the title, but the University of Louisville (the 2nd of the 2, and an absolutely disgraceful choke) got the Big East BCS berth. Still, a title is a title, and a notation is on the North Stand, near the bowl mentions.

In the middle of the lower deck on the East Stand, there are a number of displays relating to Rutgers' football history, including the original dedication plaque from the old stadium, and tributes to famous Rutgers wins, coaches and officials. There's also a plaque with the inductees into a hall of fame for high school football coaches and officials in New Jersey.

As I mentioned, a statue is outside the North Gate, on a strip of sidewalk called Scarlet Walk, honoring "the first college football game," in 1869. (More about that in "Sidelights.") Rutgers still has "The Birthplace of College Football" displayed behind the North Stand end zone, and on top of the big scoreboard at the South Stand.
There is no mention at the stadium for the 4 games the U.S. national soccer team played at the site, the highest attendance having been 12,063, only half-filling the 1938-1992 version of the stadium. That shows you just how far the U.S. team has come in 20 years: Now, it can come close to selling out the 82,000-seat Meadowlands.

Stuff. There's no official Team Store, but souvenir stands are all over the place. There's no funny hats, such as a big foam Knight helmet. They do, however, have the gimmick of a foam red sword. Season highlight DVDs are available at a stand on the East Stand.

The campus bookstore, the aforementioned Barnes & Noble, is at 100 Somerset Street, at the foot of College Avenue next to the train station. It sells all kinds of RU gear, from T-shirts and sweatshirts to caps. (And, yes, textbooks. Very, very expensive textbooks.) Across the street, at 109 Somerset, Scarlet Fever sells RU gear as well.

The stadium concession stands don't sell any books about the team, or the school. In 2007, Michael Pellowski published Rutgers Football: A Tradition In Scarlet, running from the debut in 1869 up to the team's recent revival and Big East near-miss. LeGrand wrote Believe: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life. (When selling merchandise saying "BELIEVE" to raise money for LeGrand's chosen charities, the EL, his initials, are black, while the other letters are red.)

William C. Dowling, a professor of English at RU, lamenting the increased emphasis on sports (especially football), has publicly ripped the school (that provides him with a job), having written letters to the Home News Tribune and the State's largest newspaper, the Newark-based Star-Ledger, and a book detailing "the other side of the story": Confessions of a Spoilsport: My Life and Hard Times Fighting Sports Corruption at an Old Eastern University.

During the Game. Safety will not be an issue. Regardless of what professional sports teams they root for -- and RU takes fans from New York-aligned North and Central Jersey and from Philly-oriented South Jersey -- the school is strict on making fans abide by a family-friendly code of behavior. Alcohol is not served in the stadium, and that's a good thing, given how students (most of them under age 21) get at football games. However, if you are staying overnight (unlikely if you're coming from New York City), or even if you want to stay late before taking a bus or train back into Manhattan, I would exercise caution on Easton Avenue, New Brunswick's main bar drag.

Despite having a large and good (but not great) marching band, RU usually has a live singer perform the National Anthem. The Anthem is followed by the Rutgers Glee Club singing the Alma Mater:

On the banks of the old Raritan, my friends
where old Rutgers evermore shall stand
For has she not stood
since the time of the Flood
on the banks of the old Raritan.

Which leads to the oddity of the name of the current RU coach, Kyle Flood.

His predecessor, Greg Schiano, liked to say of his team, "We just keep choppin' away." Someone got the idea to have a player (a different senior every game) lead the team onto the field holding an ax, run from their entrance at the southeast corner, and over to the northeast corner (the home bench is on the east side of the stadium), where a big tree stump is located, and swing the ax into it. "Keep Choppin'" T-shirts are sold, and foam axes are sold, to go along with the foam swords.
When public address announcer Joe Nolan -- also the traffic reporter on WABC-Channel 7's Eyewitness News -- says, "And that is another Rutgers... first down!" the band plays a fanfare, and the fans chant, "First down, touchdown, go RU!" And each score -- touchdown, field goal, even a safety -- is followed by the fight song, which is followed by the official school cheer:

RU, rah rah!
RU, rah rah!
Boo rah, boo rah, Rutgers rah!
Upstream, red team!

Red team, upstream!
Rah, rah, Rutgers, rah!

I didn't say the cheer was intellectually stimulating. Then again, Rutgers has pretensions to being a "public Ivy," and some of the actual Ivy League schools have even sillier cheers. (Seriously, Yale? "Boola boola"?)

Each score, including extra points, is followed by men in Revolutionary War garb (all wool, so it must be really uncomfortable in those September home games) standing behind the corner of the northwest end zone, loading and firing a cannon that is contemporary to that period. (Don't worry, there's no actual cannonball or other such projectile in there. It's loud and smoky, but as long as you're not standing right in front of it, you're safe.)
There are 2 Scarlet Knight mascots. One is a guy in a traditional cloth suit with a big foam head, his face resembling Pittsburgh Steeler mascot Steely McBeam (himself an obvious parody of former Steeler coach Bill Cowher).
The other is a man in an actual suit of scarlet-painted armor, complete with sword, riding a horse around the field. It is best to stay away from him, for this is a very dangerous creature, one that may knock you over, or step on you, or bite you, or kick you, or piss on you, or crap on you. The horse is a bit better-trained. (Old joke.) The horse is always white or gray, never dark.
After the Game. Win or lose, the band comes onto the field after the game and, once more, plays "On the Banks of the Old Raritan." It usually plays a few more songs before filing out. It's best to stick around for this: Not only are they usually very good musicians, but it gives you a chance to not get stuck in the immediate post-game exodus, making it easier for you to find your car (or your shuttle bus back to the train station) and leave the premises.

If you don't mind people doing the same, often to excess, Easton Avenue, extending northward from Albany Street and the train station, is the place to be for a postgame meal, or just a pint. From Brother Jimmy's BBQ right next to the station, to such New Brunswick institutions as the Corner Tavern (not to be confused with the Court Tavern), the Golden Rail, and the Olde Queens Tavern, this is where the Rutgers community (assuming they're at least 21 years old -- or think they can fool someone with a fake ID) goes to drink.

A particular favorite of mine is Stuff Yer Face, at 49 Easton at Condict Street, purveyors of strombolis. (Or is the plural form "stromboli," like the plural of that Italian pastry has no S, "cannoli"?) Their slogan is, "Enjoy a boli and a beer!" And boy, do they have a variety of beers. Indeed, they call it "the Beer Library."
Stuff Yer Face and the Stuff Staff, 2013

It's one of those places that likes to brag, "We were here before you were born." It opened on October 22, 1977, shortly after the Yankees won the World Series with Reggie Jackson hitting those home runs, so it's not true for me, but it is true for any Rutgers student who graduated after the 20th Century. Celebrity chef Mario Batali worked there while attending Rutgers.

Just 3 doors up, at 55 Easton, is Thomas Sweet, creator of "blended ice cream" and an equal New Brunswick institution. They also have an outlet in Princeton, catering to that other Central Jersey academic center. They've even opened one in Washington, D.C. -- catering to Jersey Boys and Jersey Girls working for the federal government, or studying there, maybe?
Sidelights. One of the great things about being in New Brunswick (I lived there for 2 years and have lived nearby most of my life) is that you're less than an hour from New York and less than 2 hours from Philadelphia), making their attractions easy to reach. This includes the sports teams, who play their home games the following number of miles from the Rutgers Student Center:

28 miles to the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils
31 miles to Red Bull Arena, home of the New York Red Bulls
35 miles to MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets
37 miles to the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders
38 miles to Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, Rangers and Liberty
46 miles to Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees and New York City FC
50 miles to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets
68 miles to the Philadelphia Sports Complex
84 miles to Talen Energy Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Union

There are some nearby places, some sports-related, that might interest you.

* College Avenue Gym and site of First College Football Game. Next-door to the Rutgers Student Center, and across from Brower Commons, is the classic home of Rutgers Athletics. Built in 1931 after the previous gym burned down, "The Barn" seats only 3,200 people, and proved to be totally inadequate during the greatest season in the history of Rutgers basketball: 1975-76, when the Scarlet Knights won their 1st 31 games en route to the NCAA Final Four, finally losing to Indiana and then the 3rd place game to UCLA at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
A friend of mine who was a senior that year confirms that the noise inside the Barn was so intense, it made paint chips fall from the ceiling. This necessitated the building of a new structure for RU basketball. The Barn is, however, still used for sports like wrestling and volleyball. It also hosted New Jersey's last Constitutional Convention in 1947, at which the current State Constitution was written.
Cramped quarters inside the Barn

Behind it is Parking Lot 30, which was built on the site of one of the most important locations in the history of North American sports. For it was here, at what was then called College Field, that what is generally recognized as the first American football game was played, between Rutgers College and the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University), on November 6, 1869.

This was, essentially, a soccer game played by teams of 25 men each. The Rutgers men, determined to distinguish themselves from their opponents and thus make it easier for them to play, grabbed scarlet cloth -- a cheap color to obtain at the time -- and wrapped it around their heads like turbans, thus inventing school colors and, sort of, the football helmet. Under the scoring system of the time, Rutgers won, 6-4. That's 6 goals to 4, under today's scoring roughly 42-28. A rematch was played a week later at Princeton, and the men of Old Nassau got their revenge on the men of Old Queens, 8-0. (56-0.)
The best-known depiction of the November 6, 1869 game.
Apparently, no one thought to take a photograph,
which was possible at the time.

Oddly enough, Rutgers continued to play Princeton, the schools just 18 miles apart, but never beat them again until the dedication game for the first Rutgers Stadium in 1938. There was one surviving Rutgers player left, 69 years later, and the last surviving Princeton player died that very morning.

Rutgers continued to play at College Field until 1891, before moving across the street. 130 College Avenue at Senior Street.

* Alexander Library and site of Neilson Field. The main campus library is typical of the banal American architecture of the 1950s. Not so typical is a brick wall behind it on George Street, where a plaque can still be made out, saying, "NEILSON FIELD." The library was built on the site of the facility Rutgers used for their home football games from 1892 to 1938, moving into the stadium across the river in midseason.

Neilson Field continued to be used as a practice facility until 1953, when the new library was built. It also hosted high school games, especially the Thanksgiving game between New Brunswick and South River, which was moved to the stadium and played there until it was moved off Thanksgiving in the late 1970s (but is still a big rivalry). 169 College Avenue at Richardson Street.

* Louis Brown Athletic Center. Built on the Livingston Campus in 1977, this is not a building befitting a great university. Originally known as the Rutgers Athletic Center (and still nicknamed The RAC, pronounced "the rack"), it was renamed in 1986 for, as was the University itself long before, a major donor.
What can I say, but, "It was the 1970s." Begging the question,
"What idiot suggested that drugs can expand your mind?"

It's a tacky chunk of concrete in the middle of nowhere. And that's on the outside. On the inside, it was designed to hold 9,000 people (hardly a big-time capacity), but the sight lines up top are so bad, they don't even sell those seats anymore. Hence, an official capacity of 8,000.

The building is held up by big thick concrete columns at the corners, which obstruct a lot of views. And the concession stand -- that's singular, not plural -- doesn't sell much. And, unlike Seton Hall with their 3,200-seat Walsh Gym in South Orange, they don't have the option to play home games at the Prudential Center in Newark, with a basketball seating capacity of 18,711.
Like a lot of sports stadiums and arenas built in the 1960s and 1970s, it is functional – barely – and not worth its initial hype. Unlike many of those buildings, it still stands, not yet replaced by a far better one. Plans were once floated for a downtown New Brunswick arena seating 12,000, and now they're talking about expanding the RAC, perhaps to 12,500. For now, home is the building they've got, at 83 Rockafeller Road (named for Harry Rockafeller, a Rutgers coach, not "Rockefeller") at Avenue E.

* Yurcak Field. A 5-minute walk from the stadium, this 5,000-seat aluminum-bench facility, resembling a high school football stadium, is home to the RU soccer and lacrosse programs, and to Sky Blue FC of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS). Ronald N. Yurcak, an All-American lacrosse player in 1965, donated the money for it. 83 Fitch Road at Scarlet Knight Way.

* Memorial Stadium. Built in 1950 as the home of New Brunswick High School athletics, this facility was also used by the now-defunct St. Peter's High School. The building across the street was NBHS from 1967 until 2013, and is now New Brunswick Middle School. In 1978, the New Jersey Americans used Memorial Stadium as a home field, and, at the time, they had one of the greatest soccer players who ever lived, by then playing out the string, the Portuguese legend Eusebio.

The complex also includes a field for boys' baseball, another for girls' softball, and tennis courts, and each has been a former host for their respective Middlesex County, later Greater Middlesex Conference, championship tournament finals. The stadium has also hosted the County soccer finals. Joyce Kilmer Avenue between 9th and 12th Streets. (Formerly Codwise Avenue, the poet Joyce Kilmer was born on that street, and was killed in World War I.)

New Brunswick isn't a big museum city -- then again, it isn't a big city. Easily the most notable is the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, at 71 Hamilton Street, across from Old Queens. Adjacent, Scott Hall, at 77 College Avenue, hosts notable lectures and film festivals.

Speaking of films, there haven't been many movies filmed in or around New Brunswick. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was supposedly set there, but was filmed in Southern California. The 1984-90 CBS sitcom Charles In Charge was set in New Brunswick, with the Rutgers name dropped in favor of the fictional Copeland College, but was taped entirely in Hollywood.

*

Going to a Rutgers game is as close as you can come to a big-time college football experience in the New York Tri-State Area, especially since the Pinstripe Bowl is played at Yankee Stadium rather than on a college campus.

Rutgers haven't won much -- indeed, the Scarlet Knights make the Mets look as successful as the Yankees by comparison -- and, when they lose, it tends to be either a blowout or a calamity on a Red Sox or Cubs scale. But that's made what they have won all the sweeter.

Tragedy Mars Yankee Win Over Braves


Last night's game between the Yankees and the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field was touched by tragedy, as a fan fell out of the upper deck and died.

He's been identified are Gregory Murrey of the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. Known as Ace, he was 60 years old, and a Braves season-ticket holder for 23 years.

He fell 40 feet from Section 402 onto concrete in Section 202. He might have been better off if he'd fallen on a fellow fan. CPR was attempted, but he never had a chance.

At last check, the authorities said there was no evidence of foul play.

According to an article on the website of the city's premier paper (which used to be 2 good papers), the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

"Right now preliminary investigation reveals there is no type of foul play but we need to wait until the medical examiner rules on the cause of death," said Atlanta police lieutenant Charles Hampton, the department's homicide commander. "We’re asking anybody who’s in the area to come forward and let us know what they saw. But we don’t believe it was anything suspicious."
The fall occurred in the top of the seventh inning, as the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez was walking to the plate amid a chorus of boos. The apparently fell off the upper deck, the 400 level of the stadium, behind the home-plate area and landed between the second and third row of seats on the first level in section 202. Fans seated in that area immediately scattered, and paramedics rushed in and did chest compressions, a form of CPR, in an attempt to revive him.
The man eventually was carried out. But there were at least two pools of blood on the concrete where he was lying. Three rows of seats were emptied and a stadium worker with a mop arrived soon after to mop up the blood.
This was the 2nd such incident at that ballpark in a little more than 2 years, and the 3rd in 7 years. Justin Hayes of Cumming, Georgia fell 4 levels during a 2008 game and died. He was 25. And on August 12, 2013, Ronald Homer Jr. of Conyers, Georgia climbed a railing and jumped off, falling 85 feet to a parking lot. He was 30, and his death was ruled a suicide.

*

As for the game: A rare sellout crowd of 49,243 packed into The Ted to see the Pride of the South take on "them damn Yankees." They got to see fine pitching from rookie sensation Luis Severino. He pitched 6 scoreless innings, allowing 4 hits and 3 walks, striking out 5. His career major league ERA, in 5 starts, is now 2.17. Pretty strong, although no team has yet faced him twice and been able to adjust. Still, this is encouraging.

But every pitcher needs runs. (Some fewer than others.) Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a double. After Braves starter Matt Wisler got 2 outs, he walked Brian McCann and Greg Bird (the rookie continuing to do a fine job in place of the injured Mark Teixeira) to load the bases, and then he threw a wild pitch to bring Ellsbury home with Chase Headley at the plate. (Headley struck out to end the inning.)

The Yankees clung to a 1-0 lead into the 7th, then gave Severino some insurance when the inning began with back-to-back doubles by Headley and the previous night's hero, Didi Gregorius. Matt Marksberry was brought in to relieve Wisler, and he got Stephen Drew to pop up.

Having a 2-run lead, and being in a National League ballpark with no designated hitter, Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Severino, sending up Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was being announced as the pinch-hitter when Murrey fell. Adding to the tragedy is the oddity of A-Rod being linked with a controversy, and having nothing to do with it.

The game was held up for 10 minutes as first-responders tried to help Murrey, to no avail. A-Rod was intentionally walked, and Markberry got out of the inning with no more runs.

The Braves scored a run on Justin Wilson in the bottom of the 7th, but the Yankees got that run back in the top of the 8th, on a leadoff walk by Carlos Beltran and a double by the ex-Brave McCann, who really does like hitting at Turner Field.

This was not, however, the day to say, "Leadoff walks can kill you." Baseball is not only a game, or just a game, but it certainly isn't life and death.

Yankees 3, Braves 1. WP: Severino (2-2). SV: Andrew Miller (28). LP: Wisler (5-5).

The series continues this afternoon. Nathan Eovaldi starts against Julio Teheran.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Age of Gregorius Dawns In Rout of Braves


During the 1996 World Series, a fan held up a sign in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium:

1864 YANKEES BURN ATLANTA
1996 ATLANTA BURNS YANKEES

Didn't quite work out that way, did it?

Last night, the Yankees opened an Interleague series against the Braves, at Turner Field, which debuted the year after that legendary series -- and is scheduled to close at the end of next season, after only 20 years.

The Braves are moving to SunTrust Park, in Atlanta's northwestern suburbs. Why? Apparently, their white Tea Party fan base doesn't like going into a Chocolate City.

Yes, I went there. They also don't like going in to see the mostly-black Hawks of the NBA. They don't seem to mind going in to watch the mostly-black Falcons of the NFL, and yet the Georgia Dome, only 25 years old, is also in the process of being replaced.

Atlanta is America's worst sports city -- at least, among those with teams in at least 3 sports.

And MLS thinks a team full of foreigners is going to make it there? Y'all, please.

For perspective: The last stadium built, intended as a permanent home for a Major League Baseball team, that lasted 20 seasons or less was... Hilltop Park, home of the Yankees 10 seasons, 1903 to 1912.

*

At any rate...

Masahiro Tanaka started for the Yankees, and got into a little early trouble, allowing 3 runs over the 1st 2 1/3 innings, before retiring 13 straight into the 7th, then stranding a double.

It ended up not mattering, because the Yankees finally broke the bats out. With 2 outs in the 1st, we got a single from Carlos Beltran, back-to-back walks by Brian McCann and Greg Bird to load the bases, a ground-rule double by Chase Headley, and a home run by Didi Gregorius, his 7th of the season. He has really come on as of late, and, despite his slow start, is putting up better numbers than last season's Yankee shortstop, ol' What's His Name.

Anyway, Tanaka had a 5-run lead before he'd ever thrown a pitch. In the 2nd, the Yankees again struck with 2 outs, getting singles by Brett Gardner and Beltran, a walk by McCann to load the bases, back-to-back RBI walks by Bird and Headley, and an RBI single by Gregorius. 9-2 Yankees after an inning and a half.

Things calmed down until the 8th. Up 9-3, the Yankees led off with Jacoby Ellsbury, who singled. Gardner grounded into a force play. Beltran doubled. McCann hit a home run, his 23rd of the year. Bird grounded out, but Headley hit another ground-rule double, and Gregorius singled him home.

Chris Young hit his 14th homer of the season in the 9th, and a McCann sacrifice fly scored a run. Yankees 15, Braves 4. WP: Tanaka (10-6). No save. LP: Williams Perez (4-5).

Didi went 4-for-5 with 6 RBIs. Everybody sing: This is the dawning of the Age of Gregorius! The Age of Gregorius! Gregorius? Gregorius!

The series continues tonight, with Luis Severino starting against Matt Wisler.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Al Arbour, 1932-2015


Who is the greatest living head coach or manager in New York Tri-State Area sports? If you said Al Arbour, you might well have been right from 1983 until today.

Now, it has to be Joe Torre. He won 4 titles with the Yankees.

Arbour won 4 titles with the Islanders. In a row.

*

Alger Joseph Arbour was born on November 1, 1932 in Sudbury, Ontario. He played hockey as a defenseman (or "defenceman," as it would be "spelt" in Canada) and starred for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey Association. Named for the British Royal Air Force fighter planes of World War II, they had a working relationship with the NHL team across the river, the Detroit Red Wings. In the 1953-54 season, the Wings called him up, and he played 36 regular-season games and was a member of their Stanley Cup winners.

But the Wings were loaded, particularly with Hall of Fame defensemen Red Kelly (still alive) and Marcel Pronovost (who also died this year, after many years as a Devils scout). Arbour divided the 1954-55 season with the Edmonton Flyers and the Quebec Aces, and was not with the Wings as they successfully defended the Cup.

He was a victim of the fact that the NHL then had just 6 teams, thus 120 jobs, the stingiest of the 4 major North American sports. By the time the NHL expanded in 1967, a lot of guys who should have been playing in the league for years were in their 30s, and, finally getting their chance, it didn't last long.

He spent the 1955-56 season with Edmonton, and was called back up to the Wings, but didn't get into a game. He divided 1956-57 between Edmonton and Detroit, and spent the entire 1957-58 season with them.

But they traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks in what could be called an incestuous deal: The Norris family owned both the Wings and the Hawks' arena, the Chicago Stadium. (Indeed, they sort-of had a hand in half the league, as they also ran the boxing promotion company at that era's edition of Madison Square Garden. They were also a bit mobbed-up.) The Wings and Hawks were kind of like the Yankees and the Kansas City Athletics at this time: If Yankee management had had enough of a player, they sent him to the A's; and if the A's developed a good player, he'd become a Yankee. The difference in hockey was that the Hawks usually didn't have good players in the 1950s, so the shuttle only worked one way, such as when Wings star Ted Lindsay helped found the NHL Players' Association, Wings operating officer (and eventual majority owner) Bruce Norris punished this impudence by sending him to the Hawks.

But this turned out to be foolish, and it not only wrecked the Wings for a few years, it gave the Hawks a chance. Lindsay would be gone by the time the Hawks won the Cup again in 1961, but Arbour would be there, along with Hall-of-Famers Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote and Glenn Hall. To add insult to injury, it was the Wings that the Hawks beat in the Finals.

Then, in a weird move -- possibly a vindictive one? Were they "getting too big for their britches"? -- Arbour and Hawks Captain Eddie Litzenberger were traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs after the 1961 Cup win. And they helped the Leafs to the 1962 Cup, beating, of course, the Hawks in the Finals!

(Arbour and the man who coached him on the Leafs, George "Punch" Imlach.)

Arbour and Litzenberger are still the last 2 of the 11 players to have won back-to-back Cups with different teams, and Arbour is 1 of 11 players to have won Cup with 3 different teams -- including ex-Devils Claude Lemieux and Joe Nieuwendyk, and old-time Ranger Gord Pettinger.

The Leafs buried Arbour on their Rochester Americans farm team (just across Lake Ontario from Toronto, so close, yet so far away). He only played 10 games with the Leafs the next 2 seasons, and thus was not a member of their 1963 and 1964 Cup winners. (The Amerks did win the Calder Cup with Arbour in 1965 and 1966.) He was stuck at Rochester for the entire 1966-67 season, and again wasn't on the Leafs as they won the Cup.

The Leafs haven't been back to the Finals since, while Arbour would be a part of 8 Cup Finalists from that point onward. Coincidence? "Curse of Al Arbour"? No: The Leafs' inability to win the Cup, or even make the Finals, since the month before the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper is due to intransigent management over nearly half a century, and how Arbour was treated was but a small part of that.

Arbour was 34 years old, and despite winning 3 Stanley Cups and proving his defensive talent, had played a grand total of 395 games over 14 seasons -- an average of 28 a season, and hadn't played in more than 6 in 5 years. Expansion was the answer, and the St. Louis Blues, laden with discarded veterans, not only gave him his chance, but made him their Captain.


(Yes, he wore glasses on the ice. He wasn't the last NHL player to do so, but he was one of the last.)

That move, and the ones to gain veteran players like Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey and Red Berenson, paid off. For the 1st 3 seasons of the expansion era, the NHL put the "Original Six" in the Eastern Division and the "Second Six" in the Western Division. Thus, Chicago and Detroit were in the East, while Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were in the West. This was designed to ensure that an expansion team would reach the Finals every year.

And the Blues won the West in 1968, 1969 and 1970. And got swept by the Montreal Canadiens in 4 straight in '68, got swept by the Habs again in '69, and got swept by the Boston Bruins in '70.

In other words, it didn't work out the way the NHL had hoped. So realignment came in, by geography, and the Blues... haven't been to the Finals since the Beatles broke up, and have still never won a Finals game in 48 years. They've usually been good, but never good enough.

Before the 1970-71 season, head coach Scotty Bowman was lured away by the Canadiens, who must have been impressed despite their sweeps of his team in '68 and '69. Arbour was named interim head coach until Bill McCreary Sr. came in. But the Blues fell victim to the realignment, and McCreary was fired, and Arbour was named player-coach. He retired as a player after the '71 season, and continued to coach the Blues in '72 and '73.

*

The NHL continued to expand, and in 1972-73, the New York Islanders debuted at the Nassau Coliseum. Like most new teams, their 1st season was dreadful. Original coach Phil Goyette was awful, and replacement Earl Ingarfield was no better. So general manager hired Arbour, who was respected around the league.

After their 1st-ever win against their built-in archrivals, the New York Rangers, future Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park noticed the changes that Torrey and Arbour were making, saying,  "They have a system. They look like a hockey team." (Contrast that with the Devils' 2nd season, in which Wayne Gretzky, harshly but accurately, said they were "putting a Mickey Mouse operation out on the ice.")

Because of his glasses, he was said to resemble actor Gary Burghoff and his M*A*S*H character, Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly, and he seemed very intuitive as a coach, so he was also nicknamed Radar. Today, a Daily News writer remarked that, with his behind-the-times hair and suits, he looked like a character on Mad Men.

In 1975, Arbour got his young Islander team into the Playoffs in their 3rd season, his 2nd. Then they shocked the Rangers, clinching at The Garden. Then they fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3 games to none... and won 4 straight to take the series in 7 games, something that had only happened once before in NHL history. (In the 1942 Finals, the Wings won the 1st 3, and the Leafs won the next 4.) Then they almost did it again, falling behind the Cup holders, the Philadelphia Flyers, 3 games to none, and taking it to a Game 7, before the Flyers' experience edge showed.

In 1976 and 1977, the Isles lost to the Montreal Canadiens, who went on to win 4 straight Cups under Bowman. In 1978, the Isles had the best overall record in the NHL -- the President's Trophy wouldn't be first awarded for this until the 1985-86 season -- but got shocked by the Leafs, in a rare moment of glory for them. (They got to the Semifinals before falling to the Canadiens.)

In 1979, the Isles and the Rangers had an epic Semifinal, which the Rangers finally won, before losing to the Canadiens. Isles fans could say the Rangers hadn't won the Cup since 1940 -- or, as they chanted, "Nine-teen-for-ty! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)" But, however long ago, the Rangers had won it. Ranger fans, and fans all over North America, could say that the Islanders couldn't win the big one.

At first, 1979-80 didn't look like it would be the season for them to do it, as the Flyers had a record unbeaten streak of 35 games (26 wins, 9 ties). Clearly, the Isles needed at least one more piece of the puzzle. Torrey found it, getting Butch Goring from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline in March. With Goring, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Bob Bourne, John Tonelli and 1980 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Ken Morrow, they were on their way, closing the regular season by going unbeaten in their last 12 games.

This time, no one could stop the Islanders from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. They were young, but experienced and, especially with the addition of Goring, tough. They faced the Flyers in the Finals, and took a 3-games-to-2 lead, going into Game 6 at the Coliseum. The date was May 24, 1980, now just over 40 years since the Rangers last won the Cup. And the Isles did not want to go into the Spectrum in front of the vicious Philly fans for a Game 7. They didn't have to, as the game went to overtime, and Bobby Nystrom pushed the puck past Pete Peeters. Long Island had a Stanley Cup.


So did the entire New York Tri-State Area. Lots of people who glommed onto the Rangers during their run to the Finals the year before proved to be bandwagon fans, and switched to the Champion Islanders. Led by Torrey in the boardroom, Arbour on the bench, and Captain Potvin on the ice, the Isles won the Cup again in 1981, defeating the Minnesota North Stars in the Finals, and again in 1982, becoming the 1st U.S.-based team ever to win 3 straight Cups. The Nassau Coliseum received the nickname "Fort Neverlose."

It wasn't always easy, and, in particular, a 1982 series saw them pushed to the brink by the Penguins before an overtime goal by Tonelli bailed them out, sending them to a Finals win over the Vancouver Canucks.

They became so popular that the NHL decided that the Tri-State Area could host 3 teams, and approved Dr. John McMullen's purchase of the Colorado Rockies and their move to the Meadowlands to become the New Jersey Devils. It wouldn't have been possible without the success of the Islanders, who made it 4 straight Stanley Cups in 1983, defeating Gretzky's rising Edmonton Oilers in the Finals. Finally, in 1984, the Oilers beat the Isles in the Finals, but not before they'd won 19 consecutive postseason rounds.

By comparison: The record in baseball is 11, set by the 1998-2001 Yankees. In football, 8, set by the 1965-67 Green Bay Packers and tied by the 1988-90 San Francisco 49ers. In basketball, 24, by the 1959-66 Boston Celtics, but the NBA wasn't exactly getting the best possible athletes at the time, and the Celtics found lots of ways to cheat. In contrast, by 1980, the NHL was getting players from Canada, America, Scandinavia, and even the first few defectors from Eastern Europe (mostly Czechoslovakia). There weren't yet any players from the Soviet Union, but it's hard to say that the Islanders weren't facing the best possible competition. (After all, the Isles' Cup win wasn't the biggest American hockey win of 1980.)

And the North American teams that have won 4 titles in a row? Since the founding of the NHL, there's been the 1956-60 Canadiens (5), the 1976-79 Canadiens, and the 1980-83 Islanders. In the NBA, the Celtics won 8 straight 1959-66, but they haven't done it since. Nor the Los Angeles Lakers, nor the Chicago Bulls. The Miami Heat reached 4 straight Finals, but won "only" 2 of them. In baseball, the Yankees won 4, 1936-39; and 5, 1949-53. They came so close in 1998-2001, but fell 1 run short.

There's another way to look at the Islanders' 4 straight Cups: They won as many Cups in those 4 seasons as the Rangers have in their entire 89-year history, and 1 more than the Devils have in their 33 years.

Bill Torrey brought the players together, and Al Arbour led them. They are, arguably, the 2 greatest figures in the history of Tri-State Area hockey.

*

But nothing lasts forever. They did not reach the Finals in 1985 or 1986, and Arbour moved upstairs into the front office. Terry Simpson was named to replace him, but didn't do well, in spite of the 1987 4-overtime Game 7 "Easter Epic" against the Washington Capitals. The superstars of the Eighties were getting old and injured. He was fired after the 1988 season, in which the Devils made the Playoffs for the 1st time and, in their 1st series, eliminated the Islanders. Amazingly, this remains the only time the Devils and the Islanders have met in the postseason.

Arbour was re-installed, and got the Isles into the Playoffs again in 1990. In 1993, he led the Isles on a magical run to the Eastern Conference Finals -- the last time to date that they've reached the NHL's last 4. Again, as in 1976 and 1977, it was the Canadiens who ended their run and went on to win the Cup. And yet, like the Leafs after 1967, they've never been back. (Again, as with the post-1967 Leafs, it's been shortsighted management that's done it.)

After 1 more Playoff berth in 1994, Arbor retired again, figuring that, at age 61, he'd coached his last game, having won 739 games as Islander coach, with a banner with his name and that number standing in for a "retired number" being raised to the Nassau Coliseum rafters in 1997. The previous year, finally eligible, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He was done. Or so he thought. On November 3, 2007, Islander coach Ted Nolan officially stepped down, just for 1 night. He'd noticed that Arbour had coached 1,499 regular-season games with the Islanders, and thought it would be nice if he got to 1,500. He cleared it with team management, and invited Arbour to come back for 1 more game. He was 75, and became the oldest man ever to be an NHL head coach. The Isles beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2. After the game, Arbour's 739 banner was lowered, and a new one raised, with the number 1500.


His 1,500 games and 740 wins with the Islanders, when combined with his Blues tenure, mean he coached 1,607 games in total, winning 782. Both figures are 2nd all-time in the NHL, behind Bowman. Counting the Playoffs, he coached 1,725 games, winning an even 900. (But that milestone wasn't mentioned when he coached his 1,500th Islander game.) He reached the Playoffs 16 times, all but 1 with the Islanders. And, of course, he won 4 Stanley Cups (all in a row) in 5 trips to the Finals (all in a row).

The Hall-of-Famers he coached included Glenn Hall with the Blues; and, with the Islanders, every single one of their players who has yet made it: Potvin, Bossy, Trottier, Smith, Gillies and Pat LaFontaine.

After the 2007 one-game comeback, Arbour stayed retired. He and his wife Claire had a summer home in their hometown of Sudbury, and a rest-of-the-year house in Longboat Key, Florida, across Tampa Bay from Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Al Arbour died this morning, in hospice care in Sarasota, Florida, where he was being treated for Parkinson's disease and dementia. He was 82 years old.

(One of the last photos, with Islander broadcasters Jiggs McDonald & Ed Westfall.)

If Arbour had never coached the New York Islanders, there might now be a 2nd NHL team in the New York Tri-State Area, along with the Rangers. It might be the Devils. But it almost certainly wouldn't be the Islanders, with whom he built a legacy that people decided was worth saving, and so they never moved to Kansas City, or Las Vegas, or Portland, or anywhere else they'd been rumored to be going.

Instead, the Islanders are moving west on Long Island (on the island itself, if not the cultural "Lawn Giland" that includes only Nassau and Suffolk Counties), to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where they will open their new season on October 9, just 6 weeks from tonight.

No doubt, they will have some type of notation for Arbour on their jerseys, along with a commemoration of their move to a new (if not brand-new) arena. Probably a patch with his initials, AJA, maybe with his signature stitched across them, maybe also with his dates, 1932-2015, or maybe with the number 1500. Or maybe the initials over an image of 4 Stanley Cups.

Without Al Arbour, the New York Islanders would have been a failed experiment, surely moved out of the Tri-State Area at some point in the last 20 years, having never reached the Stanley Cup Finals. With him, they are staying put, as an iconic team of American hockey. Along with Bill Torrey, who is still alive at age 81 and also living in Florida, he is more responsible for that than anyone.

It is odd that Arbour died today, as somebody declared it "National Bow Tie Day." It is Torrey, nor Arbour, who is known for wearing a bowtie, to the extent that it appeared in the place of a number on his banner at the Coliseum, and presumably at the Barclays Center now, along with Arbour's 1500 banner.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Darryl Dawkins, 1957-2015


I met Darryl Dawkins once. The date was May 31, 1986. The place was Public Storage, a storage facility at Route 18 & Milltown Road in my hometown of East Brunswick, New Jersey.

I was a 16-year-old, 5-foot-6, 120-pound high junior at nearby East Brunswick High School, stopping off at the event on my way to see EBHS compete in the Greater Middlesex Conference baseball tournament in New Brunswick. (We beat Carteret, and went on to win the tournament.)

He was a 29-year-old, 6-foot-11, 250-pound professional basketball player for the nearby New Jersey Nets, already a legend.

In those days before sports salaries got out of control, and offseason personal appearances really did help a bee-baller's bank account, he was hired to referee a contest between E.B.'s police and fire departments, to see who could fill up a storage unit with basketballs the fastest.

He was late, and we were wondering if he was going to show up at all. Just as I decided he'd stood us up, and turned to leave and get on my bike to head out to New Brunswick, I heard this big voice say, "I gotta sign all those?"

It was the man known as Chocolate Thunder, and, no, he was not asked to sign every one of those basketballs. The event then went off without a hitch.

He was big and scary-looking, but that was just an image. He couldn't have been nicer. He was, figuratively and all-too-close to literally, bigger than life.

*

Contrary to the legend he wrote up for himself, Darryl Dawkins (no middle name) was not born on a planet named Lovetron. But he was born near a Magic Kingdom, in Orlando, Florida, on January 11, 1957.

In 1975, he led Maynard Evans High School to a Florida State Championship. This was a year after Moses Malone had been pursued by both the NBA and the ABA out of Petersburg High School in the Norfolk, Virginia area. Hoping to follow the same path, Dawkins renounced his college eligibility, and declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft as a hardship case. As Malone was selected by the ABA, Dawkins became the 1st high school star chosen by the NBA.

The Philadelphia 76ers made him the 5th overall pick. David Meyers (Ann's brother) was chosen ahead of him, but did not become an NBA star. The others picked ahead of him did: Marvin Webster, Alvan Adams, and the man known as Skywalker before anyone ever heard of Mark Hamill, David Thompson.

Dawkins' 1st game was against the Knicks. Walt Frazier, himself a legend, looked at him and said, "I bet his teachers called him Mr. Darryl."

"They wanted me to be Wilt Chamberlain right away," Dawkins said. He had no college education, but he knew he was not going to be the Big Dipper at the age of 18 1/2. He didn't play much in his rookie season, 1975-76. But in 1977, the 76ers reached the NBA Finals for the 1st time in 10 years, since they had, yes, Wilt Chamberlain at center. They played the Portland Trail Blazers, who had Bill Walton healthy for one of the rare times in his career. Dawkins guarded Walton, and it certainly wasn't Dawkins' fault that the Sixers blew a 2-games-to-none lead and lost 4 straight. He earned the admiration of many basketball observers, including Walton himself.

In 1978, the 76ers traded George McGinnis, and at 21 Dawkins was the starting center for one of the NBA's greatest franchises. He became a star, and, hearing about his dunking ability, music superstar Stevie Wonder gave him the nickname "Chocolate Thunder."

On November 13, 1979, his legend truly began. The Sixers played the Kansas City Kings (now in Sacramento) at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium (as their regular home, the Kemper Arena, was undergoing repairs). He reached up for a dunk, and threw it down with such ferocity that the glass backboard shattered, sending shards of glass to the hardwood below.

Dawkins was not the 1st man to do this. During pregame warmups for one of the first games ever played by the Boston Celtics in 1946, Chuck Connors -- who also played baseball and became much more famous as an actor -- accidentally broke a backboard with a warmup shot, forcing a delay in the tipoff as a backboard was found from another arena in town. Gus Johnson of the Baltimore Bullets, one of the NBA's earliest dunk artists, supposedly broke 3 in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Before "dunk victims" got "posterized," there was Bill Robinzine. When Dawkins broke the backboard, Robinzine ducked, covered his face, and ran. After the game, Dawkins' imagination went wild, and he named the incident "The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am Jam."

(Robinzine became a tragic figure. He was a decent defensive forward who played 7 years in the NBA, but was released after the 1982 season. Unable to sign on with another team, he committed suicide. He was only 29.)

Three weeks later, at home at The Spectrum, playing the San Antonio Spurs, Dawkins broke another backboard on a dunk. Unlike the Connors and Johnson incidents, both of his breakings were caught on live television, and so they were seen by pretty much anyone who wanted to see them.

And Dawkins, like baseball great Satchel Paige naming his vast array of pitches, started naming his dunks, including the Rim Wrecker, the Spine-Chiller Supreme, and, creating an expression that became a description for big dunks in general, the In-Your-Face Disgrace.

He also gained nicknames for himself. Added to "Chocolate Thunder" were "Sir Slam" and "Doctor Dunkenstein." That last one, however, would become better remembered for Utah Jazz star Darrell Griffith.

Like the aforementioned Paige, his baseball contemporary Dizzy Dean, and Dawkins' own contemporary, football quarterback Terry Bradshaw, Dawkins figured out that if you've got a certain image, use it to your advantage before others can use it to theirs. Possibly inspired by the man known as Doctor Funkenstein, rock bandleader George Clinton and his "P-Funk Empire," with his "Mothership Connection" stage set (the first "black people in space" most people saw, outside of Star Trek's Lieutenant Uhura), Dawkins began telling people he was from the planet Lovetron, where he had a girlfriend named Juicy Lucy, and practiced "interplanetary funkmanship."

(As far as I know, he never explained what "interplanetary funkmanship" meant. I would have liked to have found out. Clinton and James Brown were probably mad that they didn't think of it first.)

But despite having Dawkins, Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney and Caldwell Jones, and being coached by Hall of Fame player Billy Cunningham, the Sixers kept falling short in the Playoffs, despite telling their fans "We Owe You One" after the '77 Finals choke. They lost the 1978 Eastern Conference Finals to the Washington Bullets (now Wizards). In the 1980 NBA Finals, Dawkins showed that he might have been from another planet, but by NBA standards, he was no superman, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers was. They blew a big Game 7 lead in the 1981 Conference Finals and lost to the Boston Celtics.

It got worse in the 1982 Finals, also between the Sixers and Lakers. Kareem absolutely abused Dawkins in that series. The Sixers finally had enough, trading Dawkins to the New Jersey Nets for a 1st Round draft pick. Ironically, considering how his career began, the Sixers also traded for Moses Malone -- and Big Mo (as opposed to Cheeks, a.k.a. Little Mo) finally won the NBA title in 1983, sweeping the Lakers.

*

The Nets, who had moved to the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford in 1981, after 4 years at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway following their Long Island tenure as the New York Nets, were a good team at the time. Dawkins joined Buck Williams, Otis Birdsong, Mike Gminski and Albert King, and in 1984, the Nets eliminated the defending World Champion 76ers in the 1st round of the Playoffs. Then they took the Milwaukee Bucks to 6 games before losing.

Dawkins' ability to get inside and dunk, but also his shooting proficiency, meant that he was always among the league leaders in field-goal percentage. And he was a good rebounder on both offense and defense. And, of course, the big dunks kept on coming. The late 1970s and early 1980s was the golden age of science fiction movies (although TV sci-fi at this point was campy as hell and not really worth watching), and every basketball fan wanted to visit Lovetron. (It had to have been a better experience than visiting Mork's homeworld of Ork.) I suspect there was more than one NBA scout who wanted to visit Lovetron, just to see if there was another Chocolate Thunder there.

But, as it turned out, that win over the Sixers would be the Nets' only postseason series win since joining the NBA from the ABA in 1976, until Jason Kidd arrived for the 2001-02 season. And injuries began to plague Dawkins. In particular, a back injury in 1985-86 (a few months before that day at Public Storage) put an end to his NBA productivity. In 1987, the Nets traded him to the Utah Jazz. The next season, he went to the Detroit Pistons. In 1989, the Pistons won their 1st NBA title, but Dawkins only played 14 games, none of them in the Playoffs, and did not get a ring.

He then bounced around, playing 5 seasons in Italy's league, then spending the 1994-95 season with the Harlem Globetrotters, where his dunks and his personality would seem to have been a perfect fit. Alas, even there, injuries frequently kept him off the court. After a pair of brief comebacks in the minor leagues, he finally hung up his sneakers in 2000.

By that point, dunking became not the province of enormous centers -- despite the actions of Shaquille O'Neal -- but quick guards like Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, and forwards like Dominique "the Human Highlight Reel" Wilkins. But Dawkins' legend never faded away.

He overcame a drug habit, and married 3 times, having a son and 2 daughters. He coached the Newark Express of a women's league, and later a pair of minor-league teams, the Winnipeg Cyclone (as a player-coach) and the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs of Allentown in the Lehigh Valley.

He stayed in the area, and coached at Lehigh Carbon Community College. He seemed to have his life together, embracing both his legend and a responsibility of teaching the game to a new generation. He was a regular Twitterer from January 2012 onward, claiming in his bio that he was still "bringing funkiness to all over the world."

His last tweet came just 14 hours before I heard that he had died of a heart attack this morning, at the age of 58.

It is hard to believe that he is dead. Men from the planet Lovetron can't die, can they?

I hope the planet gives him a state funeral.