Thursday, August 31, 2017

Last Chance for Yankees to De-Shamble Themselves

Today is the deadline of the transfer window in England's Premier League (think "trading deadline," although it's almost always a player for cash), and many Arsenal fans are calling a window in which they signed Alexandre Lacazette, a world-class striker, and Sead Kolasinac, a world-class defender, "a shambles."

Idiots.

No, a shambles describes the Yankees at the moment. They went into this home series with the American League Central Division-leading Cleveland Indians only 2 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL Eastern Division, with the Sox coming in for 4 games right afterward. There was still a chance to win the Division, despite having dropped 5 out of 7 to the Sox earlier in August.

But on Monday night, despite a decent start from Luis Severino, the Yankees didn't get it done. Joe Girardi messed the pitching up again, the bats didn't get the job done, and a game that was 2-1 Yankees after 5 ended 6-2 Indians.

Tuesday night was a rainout, forcing a doubleheader yesterday. The opener saw Jaime Garcia give the Yankees 5 good innings, but Girardi took him out after that. The fact that Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle then pitched 4 scoreless innings is encouraging, but not that Girardi had no faith in Garcia. And the Yankees only got 5 hits, and lost 2-1.

Then the nightcap was as ugly a result as the Yankees have had all season. Jordan Montgomery (started and pitched 4 innings), Chasen Shreve (pitched into the 6th) and Caleb Smith (went the rest of the way) all had very little. This time, the Yankees got some hitting, including a home run from Greg Bird, who finally returned from injury rehab. But it was hardly enough, as the Indians beat us 9-4.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox won 3 straight. They now lead us by 5 1/2 games, 5 in the loss column, with a little 5 weekends and 4 weeks left to play.

My guideline is that if you have more weeks left than games behind, you have a chance at the Division; but if you have more games behind than weeks left, it's over.

Hal Steinbrenner could have done somethig about this. He could have fired Brian Cashman and installed a general manager more interested in winning now than in making promises from the future, promises that he can't keep. He could have fired Joe Girardi, and installed a field manager who understands that it's better to use fewer pitchers in a game than more. He could have accepted that not winning the Division in 5 years, not winning a Pennant in 8 years, winning only 1 World Series in 17 years is, for the New York Yankees, unacceptable.

Instead, we are stuck with Girardi and Cashman, not just through the end of the season, but for the foreseeable future. Since we believe Girardi to be a good family man, and since the breakup of Cashman's marriage, through his own fault, was not held against them, the old axiom of "They ain't gettin' rid of me 'less they catch me with a dead girl or a live boy" isn't going to work.

We have to live with incompetence in both the dugout and the front office, and we have to hope we can overcome them and our opponents.

So this is it: 4 games that will decide the Division, barring a hot streak by the Yankees and a nosedive by the Sox -- which has happened a few times before, but we can't count on it happening again.

The Yankees have to win at least 3 of the 4. Otherwise, it's the Wild Card or nothing. And, given Girardi's managing, a win-or-go-home-game the Wild Card Game might as well be nothing.

Even if we win, it, we'll have a Division Series with the Houston Astros, who are not only the best team in the AL this season, but will have the home-field advantage, and the emotional support of the entire country as they try to help their community heal from Hurricane Harvey and the Trump Administration's stupid response to it. That might as well be a 3-game sweep loss for the Yankees.

No, the Division must be won. Even that won't guarantee anything, not even home-field advantage in the ALDS, as we'd probably have to face the Indians again, with them having HFA. But it's still better than having to pull the upset against the emotionally-driven Astros.

So the Yankees must take at least 3 out of 4 against The Scum this weekend.

Here are the projected starting pitchers:

* Tonight, 7:05 PM: CC Sabathia vs. Eduardo Rodriguez.

* Tomorrow, 7:05: Sonny Gray vs. Doug Fister.

* Saturday, 1:05: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Drew Pomeranz.

* Sunday, 7:30: Luis Severino vs. Chris Sale.

This series is the Yankees' last chance to de-shamble themselves.

*

Corrected Countdown:

Hours until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 4. This is the last scheduled series against The Scum this season, although we could meet them again in the ALDS or the ALCS, though that is unlikely.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 1, tomorrow night, at the odd kickoff time of 6:55 PM, against Costa Rica, at Red Bull Arena, in a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier. 

Days until Rutgers University plays football again: 1, tomorrow night, home to the University of Washington. So here's the starting times: 6:55 PM, U.S. vs. Costa Rica in soccer; 7:00 PM, Yankees vs. Red Sox; 8:00 PM, Rutgers vs. Washington.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 2, this Saturday night at 9:00 Eastern Time, away to FC Dallas.


Days until The Arsenal play again: 6, on Saturday, 10:00 AM our time, home to AFC Bournemouth. They have a week off due to the international break, following their pathetic 1-0 loss to Stoke City and their 4-0 fiasco against Liverpool. If Arsenal want to make a run at the Premier League title, Petr Cech can never tend goal for them again.


Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 8, a week from next Friday night, home to Sayreville, a "derby."

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 17, against the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, September 17, at at Red Bull Arena. They will next play the D.C. Scum on Saturday, September 27, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. They are not scheduled to play New York City FC or the New England Revolution again this season. The Red Bulls might make the Playoffs, and NYCFC also will, but the Revs probably won't, so they almost certainly won't face each other again until next season.

Days until the U.S. Open Cup Final: 20, on Wednesday, September 20. The Red Bulls face Sporting Kansas City at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. This is Metro's 2nd trip to the Final of the American equivalent of the FA Cup, and if they win, it will be the biggest moment in franchise history -- if they win, and, if so, until they win their 1st MLS Cup.

Days until the New Jersey Devils play again: 38, on Saturday night, October 7, home to the Colorado Avalanche. A little over 5 weeks.

Days until the New Jersey Devils next play a local rival: 45, on Saturday night, October 14, against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan. Their 1st game against the New York Islanders will be on Sunday, January 7, 2018, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn -- and they'll have played the Rangers 3 times by then. Their 1st game against the Philadelphia Flyers will be on Saturday, January 13, 2018, at the Prudential Center in Newark -- and they'll have played the Rangers 3 times and the Islanders once by then. This is a weird schedule. But at least we have it. The NBA usually doesn't release its new season's schedule until August.

Days until the Alex Rodriguez Contract From Hell officially runs out, and the Yankees can spend his salary on new players: 62, on October 31. Exactly 2 months.

Days until the next election for Governor of New Jersey: 69, on Tuesday, November 7. A little under 10 weeks until we elect Phil Murphy, defeat Kim Guadagno, end Christieism forever, and send the Republicans and their illegitimate leader Donald Trump a message that their time has come and gone. But only if you vote!

Days until the next Rutgers-Penn State football game: 73, on Saturday, November 11, at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.

Days until the next North London Derby: 90, on Saturday, November 18, at the Emirates Stadium. This game was moved back to 5:30 PM London Time, 12:30 PM New York time, for TV purposes, but was not, as I thought it might be, moved to Sunday afternoon (morning, our time) or Monday night (afternoon).

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving high school football game: 85, on Thursday, November 23, at 10:00 AM. Just 12 weeks, and thank God it's at home, at Jay Doyle's Green Grove, rather than at that purple shit pit on Route 9.

Days until the next Winter Olympics begins in Pyeongchang, Korea: 164, on February 9, 2018. Under 6 months.

Days until the next World Cup kicks off in Russia: 287, on June 14, 2018. Under 10 months. Has Bruce Arena turned our chances around? Maybe. Or maybe, with the tournament on his soil, Vladimir Putin will tell his bitch Donald Trump to tell Bruce Arena to tank the games. Maybe not. Or maybe only if we end up playing Russia. I don't think Arena will listen. If he doesn't, I hope his life insurance is paid up, because Putin has had people killed for defying him.

Days until September 2018 roster call-ups, when we can finally start to expect seeing most of these wonderful "prospects" for whom Yankee general manager Brian Cashman threw away a chance at the 2016 Playoffs: 366. Exactly 1 year, or 12 months. Of course, Clint Frazier is already up, but the bubble has already burst on him, and we've hardly benefited enough to offset the cost of Andrew Miller. We could end up seeing another of them sooner than that, but since most of them are at Double-A Trenton now, if that, who's kidding who?

Days until the next Congressional election, when we can elect a Democratic Congress that can impeach and remove Donald Trump from the Presidency: 432, on November 6, 2018. Under a year and a half, or a little under 15 months.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Mariano Rivera: 496, on January 9, 2019. A little under a year and a half, or a little over 16 months.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Derek Jeter: 855, on January 8, 2020. A little under 2 1/2 years, or a little over 28 months.

Days until the next Summer Olympics begins in Tokyo, Japan: 1,053, on July 24, 2020. A little under 3 years, or a little over 35 months.

Days until the next Presidential election, when we can dump the Trump-Pence regime and elect a real Administration: 1,155, on November 3, 2020. Under 3 1/2 years, or under 39 months.

Days until Liberation Day: 1,233, at noon on January 20, 2021. A little under 3 1/2 years, or a little under 41 months. Note that this is liberation from the Republican Party, not just from Donald Trump. Having Mike Pence as President wouldn't be better, just differently bad, mixing theocracy with plutocracy, rather than mixing kleptocracy with plutocracy.

How to Go to a Notre Dame Football Game -- 2017 Edition

"There are Notre Dame fans, and there are Notre Dame haters. And, frankly, they're both a pain in the ass." -- Dan Devine, Notre Dame head coach, 1975-80

And there is plenty of both. For better or for worse, even more so than The Catholic University of America, located in Washington, D.C., the University of Notre Dame (Latin for "Our Lady") is the Catholic university of America. And a lot of people of other religions admire it, too.

Academically and athletically, there is reason for this. On the other hand, I've seen lists of the Top 10 (including my own), 20 (Bleacher Report), 31 (Buzzfeed), 111 (a University of Michigan fan's blog), and even 303 (radio show host and University of Alabama fan Paul Finebaum's book) Reasons to Hate Notre Dame.

This Sunday, they open their season at home, facing Philadelphia's Temple University.

Before You Go. As a Midwestern city, with 45 miles of a Great Lake (Lake Michigan), South Bend can get pretty cold in the Autumn and winter. That shouldn't be a problem if you go early enough in the season. This weekend, for example, the weather is forecast as being in the mid-70s in the afternoon, and the high 50s at night. If this is your weekend to go, you shouldn't need a jacket. But for October and November, you should wear one.

The time zone situation in Indiana has long been screwy, but South Bend is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to fiddle with your timepieces.

Tickets. Good luck. Notre Dame has had 6 home games every season of this decade, except for 2010 when they had 7, and all of these games had a listed attendance of 80,795.

Ticketmaster has a few resale tickets available for $70 to $75, but most of what's available from them and other such outlets goes for twice that, or more.

I wonder what the Catholic teaching on ticket scalping is.

Getting There. It's 705 miles from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan to Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Your first reaction will be to fly. There is a South Bend International Airport, but it's very hard to get a round-trip nonstop flight there from New York, and harder still to get one for under $1,000. Perhaps you could fly to Chicago, rent a car at O'Hare, and drive the last 111 miles.

Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited leaves Penn Station in New York every day at 3:40 PM, and arrives at South Bend at 8:49 AM. It leaves South Bend just before midnight at 11:59 PM, and returns to New York the next evening at 6:23 PM. Round-trip fare is $210. The Amtrak station is at 2702 W. Washington Street. But you'd have to walk half a mile south on Meade Street to get to Western Avenue, then take Bus 10 to South Street, and switch to Bus 7 to the campus. Between them, the buses should take about 20 minutes.

Greyhound has 3 departures every day from Port Authority Bus Terminal, and round-trip fare is $418, but it can drop to $388 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound station is at 4671 Progress Drive, at the airport, but even though it's further away from the campus than the train station, getting there is easier: The Airport SuperSaver bus can get you to the campus in half an hour.

If your choice is to drive, the directions are rather easy. Take Interstate 80 West until it merges with Interstate 90. Once it becomes the Indiana Toll Road, take Exit 77 to Douglas Road, and turn right on Business U.S. Route 31, Michigan Street. Soon, the campus will be on your left.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio and 2 hours in Indiana. That's 12 and a half hours. With rest stops, preferably 1 in Pennsylvania, 1 in Ohio, and another near the State Line of both, that's about 15 hours.

Once In the City. Located in St. Joseph County, on the St. Joseph River, in north central Indiana, South Bend is home to a little over 100,000 people, but would be a wholly unremarkable place if not for the University of Notre Dame. Founded in 1865, it is the 4th largest city in the state and the economic hub of northern Indiana.

Street addresses are divided into East and West by Michigan Street, which is also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (and also, essentially, the River), and into North and South by Washington Street.

The sales tax in the State of Indiana is 7 percent. ZIP Codes in South Bend start with the digits 465, and the Area Code is 574. The leading newspaper is the South Bend Tribune. The South Bend Public Transportation Corporation, or "South Bend Transpo," runs buses with a base fare of just $1.00.

Once On the Campus. Although a County Seat, the city is dominated by the University of Notre Dame, founded in 1842. The school's most familiar feature is the Main Administration, a.k.a. the Main Building or the Golden Dome. As a result, Notre Dame students are often called Domers. The 1st one was built in 1844, burned down in 1879, and was then replaced by the current structure. They also have a reproduction of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, in Lourdes, France, to dovetail with the school's name. (Again: "Notre Dame" is French for "Our Lady.")
Aside from that Dome, the Grotto and the Stadium, the most familiar structure on the campus is the Theodore M. Hesburgh Library. Opened in 1963 as simply the Memorial Library, it was renamed for Father Hesburgh, who served as the University's President from 1952 to 1987, and got it built.

The Library towers over the north end of the Stadium, separated from it by a reflecting pool, and is dominated by a 134-foot-high mural officially named The Word of Life. Since the building was a library, Hesburgh wanted a mural that would depict Christian thinkers and scholars throughout history. He got it, from painter Millard Sheets, who put Christ, who was called "Rabbi" ("Teacher") by his followers in his time, top and center, with his arms outstretched.

But since the mural is easily visible from the stadium, and Jesus' arms are raised, the figure is known as known as "Touchdown Jesus." Certainly, Hesburgh wanted to win football games, but this was far from his vision for the library he built. To make matters worse, the Stadium's 1996 expansion obscures the lower half of the mural, so that most of the "scholars" and "thinkers" aren't visible, and only Jesus' "touchdown signal" can be seen.

True, The Apostle's Creed states of Jesus, "He shall come to judge the quick and the dead," but no dogma of any religion says anything about its messiah officiating at sporting events.
Long preferring to stay independent in sports, Notre Dame is now a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports, except hockey, where it is a member of the Big Ten; and football, where it remains an independent. The reason they chose to remain independent in football, despite playing some of the Big Ten schools every year (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, frequently Northwestern), is that they did not want to split the bowl money they got with their conference opponents.

That was the official story. Some people have suggested that they did not want to play Michigan and Ohio State every year; and then, once Penn State and then Nebraska came into the Big Ten, making it 4 major powers, perhaps the Fighting Irish lost some of their fight, and were, indeed cowards.

As for that nickname: Like Loyola University of Chicago, Notre Dame originally called its teams the Ramblers. It wasn't until ND alumnus Francis Wallace began using the phrase "Fighting Irish" in his New York Daily News columns in the 1920s that anybody thought to call them that. In 1927, the University President, the Rev. Matthew Walsh, made it official. (At least Walsh was Irish.)

How accurate is the "Irish" nickname? Well, Frank Leahy, coach of their 5 National Championship teams of the 1940s was Irish. So was Ned Joyce, the administrator for whom their indoor sports arena was named. So were two of the members of the legendary mid-1920s backfield, the Four Horsemen, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden. So were George Gipp, Johnny "Blood" McNally, Leon Hart, George Connor, Johnny Lattner, Terry Hanratty, Mike McCoy, Tom Clements, Dan Devine, Ken McAfee, Dave Casper, Brady Quinn, and current head coach Brian Kelly.

But, ahem. Knute Rockne, who helped establish the team (more about that in "Team History Displays") was Norwegian. Moose Krause, the basketball coach whose name graces the road surrounding the athletic complex? Lithuanian. Father Hesburgh? German.

The other two Horsemen? Don Miller was English, and Harry Stuhldreher was German. Wayne Millner, Paul Hornung, Joe Theismann, Lou Holtz, and Daniel Ruettiger Jr., a.k.a. "Rudy"? All German. Angelo Bertelli, Ralph Guglielmi, Nick Buoniconti and Joe Montana? Italian. Johnny Lujack, Emil Sitko, Bill Wolski, Walt Patulski? Polish. Chris Zorich? Half-black, half-Croatian. John Huarte? An anglicization of the French name Huard. Curly Lambeau? Also French. Ara Parseghian, who just died a few weeks ago? Until Kim Kardashian came along, he was easily the most famous American of Armenian descent.

And that was before they began to have black stars like Zorich, Alan Page, Ross Browner, Vagas Ferguson, Allen Pinkett, Tim Brown, Tony Rice, Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, Ricky Watters, and Jerome Bettis, and the Samoan Manti Te'o.

An old joke: What do you call five Italians, three Poles and three black guys? "The Fighting Irish." Another old joke is that if it wasn't for Italian and Polish guys from Chicago and environs, there wouldn't be much fight in the Fighting Irish.

Yet if someone is Irish, and especially Irish Catholic, rooting against Notre Dame is "against your religion." Oy vey. Well, if Boston College football, and Georgetown and Villanova basketball, are any indication, there's a lot of Catholics who haven't drunk the South Bend Kool-Aid. Some of them have even got to be Irish (particularly at BC).

Going In. Notre Dame Stadium, "The House That Rockne Built," opened in 1930 - as it turned out Knute Rockne's last year as head coach. (He died in a plane crash in 1931, in Kansas to visit his sons at a boarding school there. He was only 43 years old.)
Notre Dame Stadium will never have a corporate sponsor on its name, because the name "Notre Dame" is, itself, able to generate enough revenue, a brand name every bit as much as the name "Yankee Stadium."

From the beginning, the seating capacity of Notre Dame was 59,075. A renovation in 1996 expanded it to 80,795, a new one just completed raised it to about 84,000 (they haven't released an official tabulation yet), and the demand for tickets still far exceeds supply. As you can see in this photo, from the south end, with the Hesburgh Library and Touchdown Jesus behind the north end, the visiting school's students and band, in this case those of the University of Michigan, are put in the northwest corner.
The stadium itself is not an architectural marvel. Indeed, the greatest thing about it is usually the team. There are no great columns like at Ohio Stadium, or Memorial Stadium in Illinois, or at Soldier Field in Chicago. Like Michigan Stadium, it's pretty much just a big stadium with an incredibly successful team in it. The field runs north to south, and was always natural grass until 2014, when it was replaced with FieldTurf. It didn't host a night game until temporary lights were brought in for a 1982 game, and it didn't get permanent lights until the 1996-97 expansion.
The north end, with the Golden Dome
and the Hesburgh Library behind it.
Photo taken September 1, 2007.
Georgia Tech beat them 33-3.

The official address of the stadium is Moose Krause Circle, about 2 miles northeast of downtown South Bend. Bus 7 will get you from downtown to the Hesburgh Library, and from there it's a short walk to the Stadium. If you drive in, parking is $30.

Edward Walter Kriaučiūnas, alias Ed "Moose" Krause, played football and basketball at Notre Dame in the early 1930s, and was the basketball coach and an assistant football coach in the 1940s. Moose Krause Circle surrounds not only the Stadium, but, to the east of it, the Edmund P. Joyce Convocation Center, with its 2 white domes, including the basketball arena, a hockey rink and an aquatic center.
Notre Dame Stadium and the Joyce Center

The arena, built in 1968 as The Athletic & Convocation Center, was renamed in 1987, as a tribute to Joyce, long a vice president of the University. As Hesburgh said: "Father Ned Joyce was my right-hand man for the entire 35 years that I was president of Notre Dame. It would be impossible to recount, even in cursory fashion, all the great things he did for Notre Dame during his 35 years as executive vice president. Without him, both the University and I would have been much diminished. 

The Joyce Center is a house of upsets: UCLA's record 88-game winning streak was bookended by losses there in 1971 and 1974. (Never, ever mention that 1974 game to Bill Walton, in the event you should meet him.) In addition to those wins, Notre Dame also upset the basketball team then ranked Number 1 in the nation in 1977 (San Francisco), 1980 (DePaul), 1987 (North Carolina), 1991 (UCLA again), 2012 (Syracuse), and 2016 (North Carolina again).

Elvis Presley sang at the Joyce Center, under its original name, on September 30 and October 1, 1974, and again on October 20, 1976. The Beatles did not play in South Bend on any of their North American tours.

Previously, they played at the Notre Dame Fieldhouse, which stood from 1900 to 1968 in what's now Fieldhouse Mall, to the west of Hesburgh Library. The basketball team was retroactively awarded National Championships for the 1927 and 1936 seasons, but they've only made the NCAA Final Four once, in 1978. The women's team, under head coach Ann "Muffet" McGraw, who just got elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, has been far more successful, winning the National Championship in 2001.

To the east of the Joyce Center is practice fields and the soccer and track facilities. This was the site of Cartier Field, where Notre Dame played football prior to the opening of the current stadium, and George Gipp and the Four Horsemen did their stuff. To the south of the Stadium and the Joyce Center are Compton Family Ice Arena, built in 2011 as the new home of the hockey team; and Frank Eck Baseball Stadium.

Food. This is the Midwest, Big Ten Country (though Notre Dame is not in the Big 10 for any sport except hockey), where food at sporting events is essential, and tailgating is -- although I hesitate to use this word when the subject is Notre Dame -- a sacrament. But Notre Dame Stadium is one college football ground where you may have better options than tailgating, or pubgoing before and/or after the game.

Being a college stadium, beer and other alcoholic beverages are not sold. There are what they call "Traditional Concession Fare" stands all over the Stadium, with hot dogs, bratwurst, nachos, jumbo pretzels, popcorn, candy, soft drinks, coffee and hot chocolate. But there are also specialty stands.

Under Section 7 in the lower level and 101 in the upper deck, is Domer Deli, with premium hand-carved sandwiches, turkey and prime rib, served with homemade chips. Under Sections 13 and 31 in the lower level is Gold Grill, with cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders and fries. Under Sections 4, 9, 23 27 and 31 in the lower level are stands serving pot roast sandwiches. Under Section 12 is BBQ Nachos. Under Section 18 is a pizza-by-the-slice stand. Under Section 30 is Prime Rib Nachos. And Section 31 is the Specialty Sausage Stand.

Team History Displays. Perhaps even more than the Yankees and the Montreal Canadiens, Notre Dame football likes to remind you of its history. They'd probably like you to think of them as "the Yankees of College Football," especially given how many games they've played at Yankee Stadium. They beat Army at the new one in 2010, after playing 24 games at the old one, going 15-6-3.

Most notable were the 1928 and 1946 games against Army. In 1928, they trailed 6-0 at halftime, and Rockne told the team about George Gipp, who helped them win the 1920 National Championship, but soon died. In those pre-antibiotic days, you really could die from something as simple as strep throat.

As Rockne told it, Gipp told him on his deathbed, "Sometime, when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they've got, and and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock, but I'll know, and I'll be happy." And then he told them, "Gentlemen, this is that game." And the players left the locker room in tears, and came from behind, and beat Army 12-6.

The truth? George Gipp was an alcoholic. He was a womanizer. He attended classes about as often as the Pope lit a menorah. He hardly ever showed up for Mass, too. And he was a compulsive gambler, who bet on anything, including his own team. If he said anything to Rockne as he was dying on December 14, 1920, it was probably more along the lines of, "Put a hundred bucks on the 4 horse in tomorrow's 7th race at Arlington for me." 

In spite of all that, because he was the best football player Notre Dame had yet seen, Knute Rockne got the administration to keep him on the team. But this was the dawn of mass media. The movie about Rockne and Gipp hadn't been made yet. These players would have been about 10 years old when Gipp played. So, presuming Rockne did give the speech -- regardless of whether he made it up or it was true -- it wouldn't have had much of an effect. But it makes a great story!

The 1946 game was billed as "The Game of the Century," because Notre Dame went into it ranked Number 2, Army was Number 1, and Army hadn't lost since Notre Dame beat them in 1943, and Notre Dame was undefeated as well, and they had won the last 3 National Championships between them, and whoever won this one would make it 4. It was broadcast coast-to-coast on radio. Network TV was still a year away, but it would have been huge on that, too. But the game didn't live up to the hype, and ended 0-0. Notre Dame got the National Championship anyway, just as they did 20 years later after their famous tie with Michigan State.

Notre Dame doesn't retire uniform numbers. They've won 7 Heisman Trophies: Quarterback Angelo Bertelli in 1943, quarterback Johnny Lujack in 1947, end Leon Hart in 1949, running back Johnny Lattner in 1953, quarterback Paul Hornung in 1956, quarterback John Huarte in 1964, and receiver Tim Brown in 1987. Bertelli and Lattner would see their pro careers cut short by military service. Lujack (now the oldest and earliest living Heisman winner) and Hart would have decent pro careers. Huarte turned out to be a bust. Hornung, moved to running back, and Brown are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Other Pro Football Hall of Fame members to have played at Notre Dame are: 1920s Chicago Bears center George Trafton, 1930s Green Bay Packers running back Johnny "Blood" McNally, 1940s Washington Redskins end Wayne Millner, 1950s  Bears linebacker George Connor, 1970s Minnesota Vikings defensive end Alan Page, 1970s Miami Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti, 1970s Oakland Raiders tight end Dave Casper, 1980s San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, 1990s Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, and, although they weren't elected as players, longtime Packer coach Curly Lambeau and 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.

If you must know: At Notre Dame, Rockne, Lambeau and Gipp played before uniform numbers were worn; Montana wore 3; Layden, Hornung, Hanratty and Te'o, 5; Bettis, 6; Huarte and Theismann, 7; Rice, 9; Watters, 12; Lattner, 14; Miller, 16; Crowley, 18; Pinkett, 20; McNally, 24; Ismail, 25; Stuhldreher, Lujack and Ferguson, 32; Millner, 40; Ruettiger, 45; Bertelli, 48; Zorich, 50; Buoniconti, 64; Connor, Page and Brown, 81; Hart, 82; Casper, 87; and Browner, 89.

If they were to retire numbers, then, to keep it from getting out of control, like with the Yankees, the Canadiens, and that other title-laden team with a leprechaun mascot, the Boston Celtics, the best guideline would be to only do it for players who won both the Heisman Trophy and the National Championship. Therefore: 14 for Lattner, 48 for Bertelli, and 82 for Hart -- and that's it. Not 3 for Montana, 5 for Hornung, or 5, 16, 18 or 32 for the Horsemen.

Notre Dame has been awarded 12 National Championships: 1920, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977 and 1988. By a weird string of events, Rockne (1920), Leahy (1943), Parseghian (1966), Devine (1977) and Holtz (1988) each won it in his 3rd season as head coach. (Don't get any ideas: Current coach Brian Kelly is starting his 8th season in South Bend.)
But the most important part of Notre Dame's football history isn't their National Championships. It's a game that was played on November 1, 1913, and if there is surviving film of it, it has never been released to the public.

Notre Dame, then just another of what we would now call the "mid-majors" among Catholic universities in the Midwest -- also including Xavier University in Cincinnati, the University of Detroit Mercy, DePaul and Loyola in Chicago, Marquette in Milwaukee and Saint Louis University -- did what Jim Thorpe, coach Pop Warner, and the Carlisle Indian School of Pennsylvania had famously done the season before: Upset Army. And they did it at West Point, no less.

They did it with the forward pass, which had been legalized 7 years earlier, but hardly used. Under head coach Jesse Harper, who would be replaced by Rockne in 1918, quarterback Charles "Gus" Dorias threw 17 passes to Rockne, completing 14, for 243 yards and 3 touchdowns. Notre Dame won, 35-13. Army wouldn't at West Point again for another 2 years. This made the forward pass worth noticing and trying, and it made Notre Dame a household name, before Rockne, as head coach, began cultivating the press and making it legend.

(Rockne and Dorais would briefly play in the pros, for the Massillon Tigers in Ohio, before the founding of the NFL. Dorais became the longtime head coach at Detroit Mercy. The Four Horsemen had brief pro careers as well, the NFL not really being a viable option in those days. Not until the 1950s did Notre Dame players begin to have great pro careers.)
Statue of the Four Horsemen inside the stadium.
Left to right: Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden,
Don Miller and Harry Stuhldreher.

Outside the stadium, there are statues of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, Devine and Holtz. Holtz is still alive, while Parseghian and Devine lived long enough to see their statues dedicated. There's also an equestrian statue inside the stadium, recreating the famous photo of the Four Horsemen.
Notre Dame has a few rivalries. They play both Army and Navy regularly. They lead Army 39-8-4, and haven't lost to them since 1958, having beaten them 15 straight times since 1965, including 2010 at Yankee Stadium and last year at the Alamodome in San Antonio. It was played locally on the West Point campus from 1913 to 1922, and again in 1973; at the old Yankee Stadium 1925-29, 1931-46, and 1969; at Ebbets Field in 1923, at the Polo Grounds in 1924, at Shea Stadium in 1965, and at Giants Stadium in 1977, 1983 and 1995. It's also been played at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia (then Municipal Stadium) and the old Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Navy rivalry is even more lopsided. It has been played every season since 1927, and Notre Dame leads 76-13-7, including winning every year from 1964 to 2006, 43 straight, an NCAA rivalry record. Navy has won 4 of the last 10, however. It was usually played at Baltimore's Municipal Stadium, and at its replacement, Memorial Stadium, in 1954, 1956, 1958, 1986 and 1988; and at the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium in 2002, 2006 and 2008. The game was played at Soldier Field in 1928; Cleveland Municipal Stadium 11 times between 1932 and 1978; Giants Stadium in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1992 and 2004, and MetLife Stadium in 2010; in Philadelphia 8 times at JFK Stadium and in 1993 at Veterans Stadium; the Redskins' FedEx Field in 1998 and 2014; Orlando in 2000 and Jacksonville last year; and 1996 and 2012 in Ireland. (I'll get to that in a moment.)

Notre Dame has rivalries with some of the Big Ten schools. Although they've only rarely played Ohio State and Penn State, they have a 48-28-1 lead over Michigan State, and a 58-26-2 lead over Purdue, but trail Michigan 24-17-1. The rivalry win the University of Miami has cooled off since the "Catholics vs. Convicts" days of the 1980s, and they now meet only once every 3 years.

The matchup with Jesuit school Boston College is known as the Holy War, and BC's upset in 1993, just 1 week after Notre Dame upset Florida State in yet another "Game of the Century," killed the Irish's National Championship hopes. Notre Dame leads 14-9 in a rivalry that didn't begin until 1975, winning the last 5 games (2009-15), although BC won the 6 before that (2001-08). They didn't play last year, but will play in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts this year.

Notre Dame's most notable rivalry is with the University of Southern California. Supposedly, USC was looking to boost their reputation outside the West with a national rival. Notre Dame was playing Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day 1926 (the Cornhuskers beat the Irish 17-0), and USC athletic director Gywnn Wilson and his wife attended. With travel costs a big factor at the time, Rockne rejected the idea, but Mrs. Wilson told Mrs. Rockne that a trip to sunny L.A. every other year was better than one to frigid Lincoln.

And so, in every even-numbered year since December 4, 1926, they have played each other at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. And, every odd-numbered year, Notre Dame has hosted, first in 1927 and 1929 at Soldier Field, and then since 1931 at Notre Dame Stadium. After the 1959 game, which was very cold, Notre Dame's hostings have been in mid-October, while USC's remain on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a prime-time matchup on ABC. Notre Dame's home games, of course, are contractually held on NBC, leading to the nickname "The Notredame Broadcasting Company."

Notre Dame leads the series 46-37-5, counting the controversial 2005 USC win that was later forfeited due to an NCAA penalty. They play for a trophy called the Jeweled Shillelagh. It has brass shamrocks and Trojan heads on it. Although there may be a reason why it's not generally shown in public.
No one has the guts to call
the winning team "the cock of the walk."

Since 2009, Notre Dame has had the Shamrock Series of away games combined with alumni activities in the week before the games. They have done this in San Antonio in 2009 and '16; New York (Yankee Stadium) in 2010; Washington in 2011; Chicago and Dublin, Ireland (Aviva Stadium) in 2012; Dallas in 2013; Indianapolis in 2014; Boston (Fenway Park) in 2015. The 2017 game will be in Miami on November 11, against the University of Miami at whatever the Dolphins are calling their stadium this season. (Hard Rock Stadium.)

Stuff. The Notre Dame Varsity Shop is not in the stadium, but next-door, at the northern end of the Joyce Center. The Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore is in the Eck Visitors Center, on Notre Dame Avenue to the west of the Stadium.

No college football team has more books written about it than Notre Dame. A chronological sampling:

* The Notre Dame Football Encyclopedia, by Michael R. Steele, complete through the 2011 season.

* Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football, by Murray A. Sperber.

* Coach for a Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne, by Jim Lefebvre -- not the 1960s Dodger.

* The Gipper: George Gipp, Knute Rockne, and the Dramatic Rise of Notre Dame Football, by Jack Cavanaugh.

* Loyal Sons: The Story of the Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football's 1924 Champions, also by Lefebvre. As with Shake Down the Thunder, this book's title borrows a line from "The Notre Dame Victory March."

* Leahy's Lads: The Story of the Famous Notre Dame Football Teams of the 1940s, by Jack Connor.

* Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame, by Jim Dent, author of The Junction Boys, telling of the 1964 season when Parseghian arrived and brought the program back, only to be denied the National Championship in his 1st season because he lost to USC in the last game.

* Ara's Knights: Ara Parseghian and the Golden Era of Notre Dame Football, by Frank Pomarico and Ray Serafin.

* The Devine Years: Notre Dame Football History From 1975-80, by Dan Flaherty.

* Unbeatable: Notre Dame's 1988 Championship and the Last Great College Football Season, by Jerry Barca. Because, of course, a college football season simply cannot be great unless Notre Dame wins the National Championship. (Rolleyes)

* Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed Ideals for Football Glory, by Don Yaeger and Douglas C. Looney, which tells the stories the South Bend mythmakers don't want told, from Gipp's carousing to, and focusing on, the crimes committed on Holtz's watch.

* Natural Enemies: Major College Football's Oldest, Fiercest Rivalry -- Michigan vs. Notre Dame, by John Kryk.

A 2006 DVD tells The History of Notre Dame Football, while there are others that tell of specific eras, and others devoted to specific games.

During the Game. Notre Dame is in Big Ten Country, but not in the Big Ten. They know they have more people who hate them than people whom they hate. No visitor, not even from an opposing team, has any reason to fear, so long as he doesn't antagonize anyone.

Before every game, the helmets are sprayed with paint of 23.9 karat gold. (Pure gold is 24 karats.) The helmets are always blank, without even a center stripe. Coming out of the locker room, the players slap a sign that reads "Play Like a Champion Today."
This is not Anfield, it is South Bend.

On your visit, you will notice something: Most of the people there are not from South Bend, or even from Indiana. Notre Dame has a national profile, and, as a result, a national student body. But it's more than that: For decades, Catholics all over America, including those who couldn't (or could but didn't) go to college, or who went to a small college without a football team, or even who went to a school that did have a football team and then threw them overboard for Notre Dame, have been Notre Dame fans. And a lot of these people have never set foot in Indiana, much less in South Bend.

The ones from New York City, because they would take the Subway to Yankee Stadium to see Notre Dame play Army, were nicknamed "Subway Almuni." Cities with large Irish populations became lousy with them, whether they had a subway system or not: Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco.

Of course, a factor in this was some of these cities not having a major football-playing college. By the 1950s, NYU and Fordham were no longer serious football programs. Of Philadelphia's "Big 5," none played what Rutgers would later call "big-time college football"; even now, only Temple plays in Division I-A (and that, barely). Boston had Boston College, but from World War II until the arrival of Doug Flutie in the early 1980s, BC was a nonfactor; BU, Holy Cross and UMass were Division I-AA, and Harvard was the Ivy League.

Blue-collar Baltimore didn't have such a team: The nearest schools were the University of Maryland, which is closer to Washington, and the Naval Academy, which is, literally, elitist. Neither Michigan nor Michigan State is within an hour's drive of Detroit. Chicago had Northwestern, which was long terrible, and the University of Illinois was well Downstate. Are you getting the picture? For people in these cities, Notre Dame was it.

When the team takes the field, the loudspeakers will play the chant, "Here come the Irish!" and the band will play "The Notre Dame Victory March," with its chorus of "Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame." Between the 3rd and 4th quarters, the band will play Pyotr Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Long before the Boston Celtics got one, Notre Dame had a live leprechaun mascot, usually a gymnast who could do flips. 
From 1960 to 2014, during the 4th quarter, the crowd would go silent, and then hear Sgt. Tim McCarthy of the Indiana State Police read out a driving safety message, beginning, "May I have your attention, please. Football fans, After the game, your number one priority is to get home safe and sound." But he would close with an atrocious pun. "Monkey around in traffic, and you may end up in a cage." "Drive like a musician: C sharp, or B flat." "A drinking driver is like a gun: Both are dangerous when loaded." "Drive like a happy doctor: Have a lot of patience." "Driving half-lit is not very bright." "The reason we hammer at safety is to prevent you from getting nailed." "Remember: No one relishes a pickled driver." McCarthy has been succeeded, but he's the kind of man who can't be replaced.

At the conclusion of every home game, win or lose, the team turns to the student section, and salutes them by raising their helmets in the air. The band then plays the Alma Mater, "Notre Dame, Our Mother."
After the Game. Legends of Notre Dame restaurant is a University-owned and University-themed restaurant at 54801 Juniper Road, a block south of the Stadium. Three blocks further to the south, Eddy Street Commons is an enclosed shopping center at 1234 N. Eddy Street. It includes McAlister's Deli and Brothers Bar & Grill. Across Eddy Street are O'Rourke's Public House, a Cajun restaurant named Yats, Chipotle, Five Guys, and an Italian restaurant named Barbici.

Fiddler's Hearth Pub is the place to see your favorite European soccer team in action, but it's downtown, across the river and away from the campus. 127 N. Main Street, at Columbus Court.

Sidelights. Aside from Notre Dame, there is one sports site in South Bend worth discussing. The 5,000-seat Four Winds Field at Coveleski Stadium, opened in 1987, is home to a team in the Class A Midwest League. "The Cove" was named for Stan Coveleski, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the 1920s Cleveland Indians, who retired to South Bend. And then, in 2013, for Four Winds Casino.
The team that plays there was named the South Bend White Sox when they arrived in 1988, the South Bend Silver Hawks in 1994, became an Arizona Diamondbacks farm team in 1998, and back to its Chicago alignment when they became the South Bend Cubs in 2015. They've won 12 Division titles, most recently in 2008; and 6 Pennants: 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2001 and 2005. 501 W. South Street.

According to various polls, the MLB team with the largest grip on fandom in South Bend is the Cubs with 48 percent, followed by the White Sox with 12 percent, and the Yankees with 7 percent. The White Sox play 91 miles to the northwest, the Cubs 102 miles to the northwest, and the next-closest team, the Detroit Tigers, 218 miles to the northeast.

Despite the City and the University being in Indiana, Chicago has a greater hold on the South Bend sports imagination than Indianapolis, probably due to the teams simply being older, and thus more ingrained. In the NFL, the Chicago Bears, 95 miles away, are more popular than the Indianaolis Colts, 150, or the Detroit Lions, 218. In the NBA, the Chicago Bulls, 97, are more popular than the Indiana Pacers, 150, or the Detroit Pistons, 218. In the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks, 97, are more popular than the Detroit Red Wings, 218. And in MLS, the Chicago Fire, 100, are more popular than the next-closest team, the Columbus Crew, 254.

Knute Rockne is buried in Highland Cemetery, at Lathrop and Olive Streets, 3 miles northwest of downtown and 3 miles west of the campus. Bus 4 to Bus 16. Snite Museum of Art is at 100 Moose Krause Circle, across from the northwestern corner of the Stadium. George Gipp is buried near his Michigan hometown; Harry Stuhldreher, a native of Massillon, Ohio, in Pittsburgh; Don Miller near his native Cleveland; Jim Crowley, from Chicago, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to which he had retired; and Elmer Layden, from Davenport, Iowa, in Chicago.

The movies Knute Rockne, All-American (1940) and Rudy (1993) were filmed partly on campus, and both had their premieres in South Bend. In the former, Pat O'Brien played Rockne; legendary coaches Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner and Howard Jones played themselves; Ronald Reagan played Gipp, earning him the eternal nickname "The Gipper," and reminding us that if he had played the real, rather than the sanitized, Gipp, he never would have won an election; and future TV Superman George Reeves as one of the players who cries over Rockne's speech.

On The West Wing, Martin Sheen's President Jed Bartlet is a Notre Dame graduate. The 2000 episode "The Portland Trip" takes place on the eve of the Michigan-Notre Dame game, and he and his Chief of Staff, Michigan graduate Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer, trash-talk each other's teams. Later, White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, played by Allison Janney, asks him why he, a brilliant kid from New Hampshire who was accepted into the much-closer Harvard and Yale, went to Notre Dame. "I thought about becoming a priest." Why didn't he? "I met Abbey." Given that he graduated high school in 1960, before Notre Dame went co-ed, the future President would have met the future Dr. Abigail Bartlet, played by Stockard Channing, when she was attending the women's college in South Bend, St. Mary's College, which is still in business.

*

The Notre Dame experience is likely to be better than the game itself, regardless of whether you "Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame" or "Send a volley cheer on high" for the opposition. Love it or hate it, Notre Dame football is an American classic.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Jud Heathcote, 1927-2017

Jud Heathcote was not a magician, but he did make some magic -- and made Magic.

George Melvin Heathcote was born on May 27, 1927 in Harvey, North Dakota. I can find no reference to where his nickname "Jud" came from. Both of his parents were teachers. His father, Marion Grant Heathcote, was a basketball coach, but died in a diptheria outbreak when George was 3. His mother, the former Fawn Walsh, moved with her son back to her hometown of Manchester, Washington, in the Seattle suburbs.

He became a 3-sport star at South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, served in the U.S. Navy at the tail end of World War II and for a while thereafter, and went across the State to play basketball at Washington State University under head coach Jack Friel, for whom the court at WSU's Beasley Coliseum is named.

Heathcote stayed in Eastern Washington, and settled in Spokane, where he lived for the rest of his life. He coached at West Valley High School, and then as an assistant at WSU. In 1971, he was hired for his 1st collegiate head coaching job, at the University of Montana. In 1975, he got them their 1st Big Sky Conference Championship, and to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, falling to John Wooden's last UCLA team.

That got Heathcote noticed, and in 1976, he was hired by Michigan State University. The timing of his arrival in East Lansing was great: Not only did MSU have Kirk Gibson to star in both baseball and football (winning the Big Ten title in 1978), but the basketball team had Greg Kelser and a big kid with a big smile, from neighboring Lansing: Earvin Johnson, who had already been nicknamed "Magic."

Together, in 1979, they got the Spartans only their 2nd trip to the Final Four (the 1st had been in 1957), and won the National Championship, beating Indiana State and their much-hyped forward Larry Bird in the Final at the Special Events Center (now the Jon M. Huntsman Center) on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. It was the most-talked-about NCAA Final ever, is often credited with turning the Tournament into the modern "March Madness," and became the subject of Seth Davis' 2009 book When March Went Mad.
Jud Heathcote, Greg Kelser and Magic Johnson, 1979.
Magic had to switch from Number 33 to Number 32
with the Los Angeles Lakers, due to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

He led MSU to the Big Ten title in 1978, 1979 and 1990. He retired after the 1995 season, with a 418-275 record, 339-221 at Michigan State, and handed the reins off to Tom Izzo, his assistant since 1982 and his chief assistant since 1990. Izzo has added 7 Conference titles in the regular season, 5 in the Big Ten Tournament, 7 Final Four berths, and the 2000 National Championship.
Tom Izzo and Jud Heathcote

"No one cared more about the welfare of the game than Jud," Izzo said. "He was a coach's coach, and a mentor to many." In addition to Izzo and Johnson, this included Scott Skiles, one of his players who's coached in the NBA with Phoenix, Chicago, Milwaukee and Orlando; Tom Crean, who got Marquette into the Final Four and won a Big Ten title with Indiana; Kelvin Sampson, whom Crean succeeded at Indiana, won 3 Big 12 Tournaments and a Final Four berth with Indiana, and is now the head coach at the University of Houston; and Brian Gregory, who won an NIT title with Dayton and is about to begin coaching South Florida.

After retiring, Heathcote returned to Spokane. He went to home games of the city's Gonzaga University, having a monthly lunch date with coach Mark Few, and continued to watch Michigan State on TV and occasionally traveling there, admitting that he tended to second-guess coaching decisions he saw in TV games.

He died this past Monday, August 28, 2017, at the age of 90, having stayed active until the end. He was elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, but not to the main Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. This oversight should be corrected in next year's election, and I hope it will be.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How Long It's Been: David Wright Played a Major League Game

David Wright announced that he's had another setback in his injury rehab. He almost certainly will not play for the Mets this season.

He only played 1/3rd of the 2016 season. He only played 1/4 of the 2015 season, including the World Series. His home run helped the Mets win Game 3 -- 1 of only 2 World Series games they've won since 1986 -- but his 14th inning error helped to cost them Game 1.

He will probably never play in another postseason game -- unless he both comes back and gets traded. He may never play in another regular-season game.

Wright is 7 years younger than Alex Rodriguez. Guess which one played in a regular-season Major League Baseball game more recently.

A-Rod's last game was on August 12, 2016.

D-Wright's last game was on May 27, 2016 -- 12 weeks earlier.

He went 1-for-4. The Mets beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-5 at Citi Field. His last hit was a home run off Chris Hatcher in the 4th inning, his 1,777th career hit (all with the Mets, and a franchise record) and his 242nd career home run. His last at-bat was a strikeout against Louis Coleman in the 7th.

May 27, 2016. That's 459 days. How long has that been?

*

The Mets have gone from defending National League Champions and serious World Championship contenders to their perennial status as one of the joke franchises of baseball. Never mind 1969, 1986, 2000, or even 2006: 2015 now seems like a long, long time ago. It seems like further back than the Yankees' last Pennant, in 2009 -- and they won the World Series.

Of the 13 players the Mets used in that game, 5 are no longer with them: Curtis Granderson, Neal Walker, Eric Campbell, Addison Reed and Ty Kelly. And that's not counting Wright.

The Chicago Cubs have won a Pennant. That hadn't happened in 71 years. The Cubs have won a World Series. That hadn't happened in 108 years. The Cleveland Indians have won a Pennant. That had only happened 5 previous times in 115 years, and only 3 in the preceding 62 years.

The Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Vikings, Sacramento Kings and Edmonton Oilers all opened new venues. Soon, the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings will move into a new arena together. The Milwaukee Bucks began building a new arena. The San Diego Chargers have moved to Los Angeles. The St. Louis Rams, who had already been announced as moving back to Los Angeles, completed that process. And the Vegas Golden Knights have been announced.

The defending World Champions in the "Big 4" sports were the Kansas City Royals, the Denver Broncos, the Golden State Warriors and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was, ah, who even knows how many "heavyweight champions of the world" there were then, or are now, let alone who they who were, and are?

The Giants, Knicks, Islanders and New York City FC have since changed head coaches. The Olympics have since been held in Brazil. The New England Patriots have cheated their way to another Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Penguins to 2 more Stanley Cups, Chelsea FC to another Premier League title, Manchester United to another FA Cup, and Real Madrid to 2 more UEFA Champions League wins. The Cavaliers won Cleveland's 1st World Championship in any sport in 51 1/2 years, before the Warriors took the title back.

The President of the United States was Barack Obama, and the idea that Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton was only slightly plausible, but less ridiculous than the idea that Russian hackers could steal the election for him, or that Bernie Sanders supporters would stay home on Election Day, or vote for 3rd-party candidates, resulting in the "election" of the most un-Bernie-like President ever. We didn't think they could be that selfish, or that stupid. But they were both.

We have since seen Britain vote to leave the European Union, and its Prime Minister resign because of it. We have since Brazil impeach and remove its President. We have seen the Colombian Civil War end.

We have seen a man murder 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando. We have seen admitted Confederates and Nazis march in Virginia, and seen them murder a woman (white, and not a Jew), and seen 50 of them chased out of Boston common by 40,000 counter-protestors. And we have seen a larger crowd hit Washington, D.C. to protest a new President than attended his Inauguration the day before -- and that was before he said there were "good people" on both sides of that Virginia march, appointed a corporatist to the Supreme Court, and pardoned a convicted felon who admitted his was running a concentration camp behind his badge.

We have seen the release of the last of J.J. Abram's blasphemous films undeserving of the Star Trek label, and the 1st of his Star Wars films, Episode VII, which was essentially Episode IV redone, just as his 1st "Star Trek" film was, except neither was anywhere near as good. We have also seen the release of the 1st Star Wars film outside the episodic sequence. We have seen Match Game rebooted, with current celebrities as panelists and a considerably looser language policy, and it (blank)ed. And we have seen Natalie Portman, Kim Allen and, sort of, Kim Kardashian play Jacqueline Kennedy.

The Number 1 song in America was "One Dance" by Aubrey Drake Graham. And we have seen Drake start dating Robyn Rihanna Fenty (who also uses only her middle name as her stage name) and feud with Meek Mill. We have seen a song titled "Black Beatles" hit Number 1, and we have seen Kendrick Lamar hit Number 1 with a song whose title describes few performers today: "Humble." We have seen Lady Gaga troll Donald Trump at the Super Bowl halftime show in every song she sang, without mentioning his name once. And we have seen New Jersey native Ashley Frangipane, a.k.a. Halsey, become a superstar.

Actors Anton Yelchin, David Huddleston, Kenny Baker, Fyvush Finkel, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughn, Ron Glass, Alan Thicke, Miguel Ferrer, John Hurt, Mike Connors, Barbara Hale, Richard Hatch, Bill Paxton, Don Rickles, Tim Pigott-Smith, Powers Boothe, Roger Moore, Adam West, Stephen Furst, Martin Landau, Jerry Lewis and Jay Thomas have since died. So have actresses Gloria DeHaven, Alexis Arquette, Florence Henderson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara Hale, Erin Moran, Glenne Headly and Jeanne Moreau. So have directors Michael Cimino, Garry Marshall, Jonathan Demme, John Avildsen, George Romero and Tobe Hooper.

So have music personalities Ralph Stanley, Scotty Moore, Marni Nixon, Neville Marriner, Bobby Vee, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Greg Lake, George Michael, Al Jarreau, Chuck Berry, Chris Cornell, Greg Allman, Prodigy, Chester Bennington and Glen Campbell. So have writers Edward Albee, Nat Hentoff, William Peter Blatty, Derek Walcott, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Sam Shepard. So have Nobel Peace Prize winners Elie Wiesel and Shimon Peres. So have Kings Rama IX of Thailand and Kigeli V of Rwanda. So has Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. So have astronauts John Glenn and Gene Cernan.

And so have sports legends Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Pat Summitt, Nate Thrumond, Věra Čáslavská, Arnold Palmer, David Herd, Carlos Alberto, Sammy Lee, Miruts Yifter, Milt Schmidt, Graham Taylor, Piet Kiezer, Raymond Kopa, Jim Bunning, Darrall Imhoff, John Kundla.

Obviously, nobody famous in their own right has been born since then, but children have been born to Mark Zuckerberg, George Clooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, and to Russell Wilson & Ciara.

May 27, 2016. David Wright hit a home run for the New York Mets. He hasn't played in a major league game since.

Will he ever play in another? It is looking increasingly unlikely. His career may be over.

If it is, he will have played his last game at age 33. Not even 33 1/2.

I wonder if Met fans would give that 2015 Pennant back to have the "rest of his career" that Wright was supposed to have.

Monday, August 28, 2017

So Where Do the Yankees Stand, With 5 Weeks Left?

When the Yankees sandwiched losing 5 out of 7 to the Boston Red Sox around a 4-game sweep of the Mets, whose existence grows ever more pointless, I said the season was over.

Maybe not. Despite dropping the opener of this past weekend's series with the Seattle Mariners, and wearing those stupid uniforms, including the 1st-ever instance of the Yankees having names on the backs of their uniforms (a phenomenon introduced by the Chicago White Sox in 1960, so the Yankees went 57 years without doing it, before this ridiculous MLB promotion), they took the last 2, including yesterday's 10-1 laugher.

With 21 of the 26 weeks of the regular season to go, the Yankees are 70-59. They are 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division, 2 in the loss column. The other 3 teams in the Division are all at least 8 games back, so it's down to the Yankees and the Red Sox, as God (or Abner Doubleday, or whoever really invented baseball) intended it.

The Yankees are currently holding one of the AL's Wild Card slots, but I do not trust Joe Girardi to manage and win a win-or-go-home game.

There are 33 games left in the regular season. That's 5 weeks. At home, the Yankees have 4 against the Red Sox (this coming Thursday through Saturday), 3 against the Cleveland Indians (starting tonight), 4 against the Baltimore Orioles, 3 against the Minnesota Twins, 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays, and a rainout makeup against the Kansas City Royals. On the road, the Yankees have 3 in Baltimore, 3 in Arlington against the Texas Rangers, 3 in Toronto, and 6 in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Yankees should be able to win 12 of the 18 home games, and 9 of the 15 road games. That would be 21 of the last 33, giving them 91 wins.

I've done the match: Since the start of Divisional Play in 1969, the average number of games won by the 2nd-place team in the AL East is 92, meaning the number needed to win the Division, more often than not, is 93. So, while the Division is still there for the taking, even if the Yankees do win 21 of the last 33, itself a 103-win pace, they will probably need to find at least 2 more wins (making for a 113-win pace).

Unless, of course, the Red Sox choke down the stretch, as they did in 1949, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1978, 2006, 2009 and 2011.

The Mets? Don't ask. They're 21 1/2 games behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East, and 14 games out of the 2nd NL Wild Card slot.

If the current standings hold to the end of the season, the Playoffs would be as follows, with the 1st team mentioned having home-field advantage over the 2nd team mentioned:

AL Wild Card Game: New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins.

AL Division Series: Houston Astros vs. Wild Card Winner, and Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox.

NL Wild Card Game: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies.

NL Division Series: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Wild Card Winner, and Washington Nationals vs. Chicago Cubs.

Based on what I've seen thus far, my predictions would be as follows:

In the American League, the Yankees would beat the Twins. I base this on the fact that the twins seem to be the one team Yankees have no trouble with in the postseason. But then the Yankees would lose to the Astros, probably in 4 games.

The Indians have shown they can handle the Red Sox, both in this year's regular-season and in postseasons recent. And, given their experience, the Indians would probably beat the Astros and win their 1st-ever back-to-back Pennants.

In the National League, I'm not sure who would win between the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, but neither of them would stand much of a chance against the Dodgers. The Cubs would beat the Nationals, simply because the Nationals always choke when they reach the postseason. Funny, we used to say that about the Cubs. Not  anymore!

And while the Dodgers are no longer under the curse of Donnie Baseball, they still haven't won a Pennant since 1988. The Cubs have.

They have the edge in experience, and until Clayton Kershaw can prove that he can pitch and win in the postseason, the comparisons of him to Sandy Koufax, or any other great Dodger pitcher, or any other great pitcher, period, are ridiculous.

Yes, I am predicting a World Series rematch between the Cubs and the Indians. The difference this time is that the Cubs do not have Aroldis Chapman as the closer. At this point, I don't know if that's a plus or a minus.

But that's not important at this point. What matters to me is that the Yankees are on course to at least make the Playoffs, but they have not won a postseason game since the 2012 Division Series, and have not won a League Championship Series game since 2010.

That's 7 years without making a serious run at the Pennant. That is too long. Of they do not do so again this year, there is absolutely no excuse not to fire Joe Girardi as field manager and Brian Cashman as general manager. If the Yankees do not at least make the League Championship Series, both Girardi and Cashman need to be fired and replaced with competent people.

I can forgive trying and failing. I cannot accept what has been done thus far. Building for next year is no longer enough. We have had enough "next year's." I want to win this year. Show me you're trying to win this year. Simply settling for the wild card is not enough.

Back when we still liked her, Susan Sarandon taught us, "It's a long season, and you've got to trust it." This already feels like a long season, even though we're still in the running.

An even older saying says, "A baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint" -- if you'll pardon the mixing of sports metaphors. The problem with that statement is, once September arrives, the season becomes a sprint.

Runners, take your mark.