Monday, June 19, 2017

Yankees In Freefall; Larry Grantham, 1938-2017

The Yankees come home from a Pacific Coast roadtrip, having won the 1st game, against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, and having dropped the next 6 straight, 2 to the Angels, and 4 to the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum. The club is now in freefall.

Luis Cessa was started by Joe Girardi, in the slot that would have been CC Sabathia's, had he not gotten hurt. He did not pitch well, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits and a walk over 4 innings. It is possible, givein his background as a reliever, that he was only intended as a 2-to-5-inning starter anyway, but he did not get the job done at any rate.

Actually, he allowed all but 1 hit and the walk of that in the 3rd inning, meaning he really had pitched like Sabathia -- of 2013, '14 and '15, struck by "Onebadinningitis." The other 3 innings, he was fine. Maybe there is hope for him.

The bullpen, which once again had Aroldis Chapman available, was terrific. Chad Green pitched the 5th and 6th innings, allowing 2 hits, but no walks. The much-maligned Tyler Clippard pitched a hitless 7th, albeit with a walk. And Chapman pitched a perfect 8th. So that's 4 scoreless relief innings, a welcome sight -- although it would be better if it were 2 scoreless relief innings one game, 2 more the next, following strong 7-inning starts.

But the bats were, quite literally, hit-and-miss. Matt Holliday, back from the allergies that were bothering him, hit a home run in the 2nd inning, his 14th of the season. Didi Gregorius hit one in the 4th, his 7th. The problem is, they were both solo home runs. Aaron Judge had an RBI single in the 3rd inning.

Other than that, though, the Yankees just didn't hit. Gregorius had an additional single, Brett Gardner had a single and a double, and Chris Carter drew a walk. That was the extent of the Yankees' baserunners yesterday.

A's 4, Yankees 3. WP: Jharel Cotton (4-3). SV: Sean Doolittle (3). LP: Cessa (0-1).

*

My concern that Chapman's injury would have the Yankees "treading water" until he got back proved well-founded:

* On May 14, the Yankees were 22-13.

* Since then, they are 16-16.

* Of those 16 losses, 8 have been by 1 run.

* And yet, the Yankees have lost only half a game: They were half a game up on the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Eastern Division on May 14, and are tied with the Boston Red Sox now.

But now we find out that CC Sabathia will be out for 6 more weeks. And that injury to The Great Prospect, Gleyber Torres? He needs Tommy John surgery, and will be out until next year's Spring Training.

Brian Cashman trading Chapman away last July 27 (before re-signing him for this season) for Torres and 3 other guys was never going to be a good trade unless Torres -- a natural shortstop, when we already had Gregorius, meaning either Gregorius or Torres was going to have to be moved to 3rd base if we wanted to keep both of them -- turned into the next Derek Jeter.

Now, he's turned into the next Brien Taylor. (By the fact of his injury, if not by what was injured, or how.) And he still hasn't faced a major league pitch. He's barely been at Triple-A. He's 20 years old, and his career might well be over.

"Yesterday is a canceled check. Today is cash on hand. Tomorrow is a promissory note." -- Hank Stram

"The future is now." -- George Allen

"You play to win the game." -- Herman Edwards

Yes, I know, those guys were football coaches, not baseball managers. They would all have told Cashman that those trades were stupid.

I did.

I was right.

I wish I had been wrong.

*

Speaking of football, New York football lost a legend over the weekend.

James Larry Grantham, who always used his middle name, was born on September 16, 1938 in Crystal Springs, Missouri. A linebacker, he was an All-American at the University of Mississippi, when their quarterback was All-American and future Yankee catcher Jake Gibbs. Both are in the Ole Miss Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 1960, the 1st year of the American Football League, he was drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Colts and the AFL's New York Titans. He chose the Titans, who changed their name to the New York Jets in 1963. He played in the All-Star Game in 8 of the AFL's 10 seasons, and was 1 of 20 players to have played in all 10.
Grantham wearing Titans navy and gold, at the Polo Grounds

So much has been made of Joe Namath quarterbacking the Jets that their defense has never gotten enough credit. Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank was the head coach, and Buddy Ryan was his defensive coordinator. (Like his son Rex turned out to be, Buddy was brilliant as a defensive boss, but not so much as a head coach later.) That defense had a line of Gerry Philbin, Paul Rochester, John "Jumbo" Elliott (no relation to the later Giant Super Bowl winner of the same name and nickname) and Verlon Biggs; a linebacking corps of Ralph Baker, Al Atkinson and Grantham, the defensive Captain; and a backfield of Johnny Sample, Randy Beverly, Jim Hudson and Bill Baird.

"I always saw Larry as the captain and the leader," Philbin said. "His football knowledge, the way he skirted around blockers and made tackles, he just surprised a lot of people. Pound for pound, he was the best player on the Jets."

There were 3 games in which the 1968 Jets allowed 31 or more points, and they went 1-2 in them. In the remaining 11 games, they allowed 21 or fewer points, and they went 10-1 in them. They allowed a combined 53 points in the last 4 regular season games. The AFC Championship Game, against the Oakland Raiders at Shea Stadium, was a struggle, but the Jets won it -- and it was a better game than the one that followed, on January 12, 1969.
I've seen Super Bowl III in full a few times. A great moment is not necessary a great game. This was not a good game at all. But that was because the Jets got the job done. Early in the 3rd quarter, it was still Jets 7, Colts 0. In fact, for all the hype about Namath, his money, his attitude, his hair, his white shoes, his personal style, and his big mouth and the guarantee he made with it, he only led the Jets on 1 touchdown drive the entire 60 minutes, and passed for no touchdowns. He did, however, get the Jets within Jim Turner's field goal range 3 times: 32, 30 and 9 yards.

But it was 16-0 Jets with 3:19 left on the clock, when the Colts finally scored, thanks to an injured Johnny Unitas coming off the bench and working his magic. Had the 2-point conversion been in place at the time -- the AFL used it, the NFL didn't, and since this was during the merger process, the NFL's rules prevailed -- the Colts could have made it 16-8 instead of 16-7, and the Jets might really have been in trouble. But they still needed 2 scores in the last 3 minutes, and even prime Johnny U couldn't do that -- and Johnny U was 35 and shaking off a season-long injury: That TD was his 1st drive of the entire season.

The Colts were not going to get those 2 touchdowns. With Ewbank, Ryan and Grantham running the defense, the Jets held the Colts to 143 rushing yards, 181 passing yards, and 4-for-12 on 3rd down conversions. The Jets intercepted 4 passes and recovered a fumble. Turnovers decided this game: The Jets only lost 1 fumble, and Namath threw no interceptions. (In fact, he only threw the ball 29 times, for 17 completions and a rather ordinary 195 yards. And he got sacked twice; for as good as they were, the Jets got no sacks of Earl Morrall and Unitas.)

That 16-7 score was the final, and the Jets were World Champions. They have not made the Super Bowl since, going 0-4 in AFC Championship Games.

Grantham remained with the Jets through the 1972 season. He came out of retirement in 1974, to play for the Florida Blazers of the World Football League. The Orlando-based club made it to the league title game, the World Bowl, losing to the Birmingham Americans. Grantham then retired, and the league folded in the middle of the next season.

He was a Jets radio broadcaster, and later moved into the business and banking industries in his home State of Mississippi. He was named to the AFL's All-Time Team and, when MetLife Stadium opened, the Jets' Ring of Honor.
"That probably climaxes a career, and doesn't take second place to anything," Grantham said at the time. "I'm not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and, sure, that's a great, big honor. But, to me, this honor with the Jets is unbelievable. Just think of all the players they've had up there from 1960 'til now. It's something I can't put into words."

He died this past Saturday, June 17, 2017, in the State capital of Jackson. He was 78 years old. At the moment, I have no information on survivors.

With his death, there are now 32 surviving members of the 1968-69 World Champion New York Jets:

* On offense: Quarterbacks Joe Namath and Babe Parilli; receivers Don Maynard, Bill Rademacher and Robert "Bake" Turner; tight end Pete Lammons; running backs Mark Smolinski, Bill Mathis, Emerson Boozer, Lee White and Matt Snell; centers John Schmitt and Paul Crane; guards Bob Talamini and Randy Rasmussen; and tackles Dave Herman and Jeff Richardson.

* On defense: End Gerry Philbin; tackles Paul Rochester and Steve Thompson; linebackers Carl McAdams, Ralph Baker, Al Atkinson and John Neidert; cornerbacks Randy Beverly, John Dockery and Earl Christy; and safeties Jim Richards, Bill Baird, Mike D'Amato and Cornell Gordon.

* On special teams: Placekicker Jim Turner.

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