Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to Be a Met Fan in Washington

The Mets close the season with a 3-game series at Citi Field against the Washington Nationals, the team known from their 1969 inception until 2004 as the Montreal Expos.

I like Washington, D.C., but it’s too bad I can’t do one of these as “How to Be a Met Fan In Montreal.” Instead, we’ll have to settle for the Nation’s Capital.

Next season, the Mets will be playing there April 26-28, July 29-31, and September 2-4.

Getting There. Getting to Washington is fairly easy. However, if you have a car, I recommend using it, and getting a hotel either downtown or inside the Capital Beltway, because driving in Washington is roughly (good choice of words there) as bad as driving in New York.

It’s 229 miles by road from Times Square to downtown Washington, 238 miles from Citi Field to Nationals Park. If you’re not “doing the city,” but just going to the game, take the New Jersey Turnpike all the way down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (a.k.a. the Twin Span), across the Delaware River into the State of, well, Delaware. This should take about 2 hours, not counting a rest stop.

Speaking of which, the temptation to take an alternate route (such as Exit 7A to I-195 to I-295 to the Ben Franklin Bridge) or a side trip (Exit 4, eventually leading to the Ben Franklin Bridge) to get into Pennsylvania and stop off at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly can be strong, but if you want to get from New York to Washington with making only one rest stop, you’re better off using the Delaware House Service Area in Christiana, between Exits 3 and 1 on the Delaware Turnpike. It’s almost exactly the halfway point between New York and Washington.

Once you get over the Twin Span – the New Jersey-bound span opened in 1951, the Delaware-bound one was added in 1968 – follow the signs carefully, as you’ll be faced with multiple ramp signs for Interstates 95, 295 and 495, as well as for US Routes 13 and 40 and State Route 9. You want I-95 South, and its signs will say “Delaware Turnpike” and “Baltimore.” You’ll pay tolls at both its eastern and western ends, and unless there’s a traffic jam, you should only be in Delaware for a maximum of 15 minutes before hitting the Maryland State Line.

At said State Line, I-95 changes from the Delaware Turnpike to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, and you’ll be on it for about an hour (unless you want to make another rest stop, either the Chesapeake House or the Maryland House) and passing through Baltimore, before seeing signs for I-895 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Exit 62.

From here, you’ll pass through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. Take I-895 to Exit 4, and you’ll be on Maryland Route 295 South, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Crossing into the District of Columbia, M-295 will become the Anacostia Freeway. Take Exit 3B for South Capitol Street East, go over the Frederick Douglass Bridge over the Anacostia River, and you’ll be right there. (The official address is 1500 South Capital Street SE.) If all goes well (getting out of New York City and into downtown Baltimore okay, reasonable traffic, just the one rest stop, no trouble with your car), the whole trip should take about 5 hours.

Washington is too close to fly, just as flying from New York (from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark) to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, once you factor in fooling around with everything you gotta do at each airport, don’t really save you much time compared to driving, the bus or the train.

The train is a very good option, if you can afford it. Washington’s Union Station is at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, within sight of the Capitol Building. But Amtrak is expensive. They figure, "You hate to fly, you don't want to deal with airports, and Greyhound sucks, so we can charge whatever we want." New York to Washington will run you anywhere from $106 to $225, depending on what time you go, and that’s before you add anything like Business Class or, God forbid, Amtrak’s overmicrowaved food. Still, it’s less than 3 hours if you take the Acela Express (formerly known as the Metroliner, this is the $225 option), and 3 hours and 15 minutes if you take a regular Northeast Corridor train.

When you get to Union Station, pick up copies of the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun. The Post is a great paper with a very good sports section, and in just 6 seasons has covered the Nats very well, despite the 1972-2004 era when D.C. had no MLB team of its own. As a holdover from that era, it still covers the Orioles well. The Sun is only an okay paper, but its sports section is nearly as good as the Post's, and their coverage of their town's hometown baseball team rivals that of any paper in the country -- including the great coverage that The New York Times and Daily News give to the Yankees and Mets.

Do not buy The Washington Times. It was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1982 as a replacement for the bankrupt Washington Star as the area’s conservative equivalent to the “liberal” Post. (That’s a laugh: The Post has George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Jim Glassman and Bill Kristol as columnists!) Under editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden, the Times was viciously right-wing, “reporting” every rumor about Democrats as if they were established, proven fact, and giving Republicans a free pass. Moon’s “Unification Church” sold the paper last year, and Pruden retired the year before. But it has cut about 40 percent of its employees, and has dropped not only its Sunday edition but also its sports section. And now, there’s another paper, the Washington Examiner, owned by the same company as the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and it is so far to the right it makes The Washington Times look like the Daily Kos. It is a truly loony publication, where Michael Barone and Byron York are considered moderates.

So avoid the loonies and the Moonies, and stick with the Post. Even if you don’t agree with my politics, you’re going down to D.C. for baseball, and the Post’s sports section kicks ass.

If you don’t want to spend all that money on Amtrak, could you take the bus? Greyhound is much cheaper, but, in this case, you really get what you pay for. While Union Station is a magnificent Beaux-Arts structure that is fit for a major world capitol, the Washington terminal for Greyhound is a joke:

* It’s a glass and steel box: The 1960s were a great decade for lots of things, but architecture was not one of them.

* It’s too small: It’s roughly the same size as the one in Richmond, Virginia (a city half the size) and the one in Atlantic City (even with tourists it’s probably got fewer people than D.C.).

* The location stinks, almost literally: It’s at 1005 1st Street NE, in the middle of a ghetto, and while it’s just 6 blocks to Union Station (easily the closest Metro stop), none of those six is a block you’re going to want to walk.

* Want a taxi from there? Good luck.

* And getting back, the lines will be ridiculous: Whichever bus you were planning on riding back to New York, presume they’ll run out of room and make you wait for the next one.

No, forget the bus: Leave the driving to a friend, or to Amtrak.

Washington’s subway, the Metro, was not in place until 1976, far too late to help either the “Old Senators” or the “New Senators,” but it works just fine for Nats games. Take the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, and transfer to the Green Line to Navy Yard station. (Those of you who watch the TV show NCIS will recognize the Washington Navy Yard as home base for Gibbs & Co. Rule Number 14: Never go anywhere without a FareCard.)

Coming out of the station, you’ll be at M Street and New Jersey Avenue SE. Turn right on M, and walk past 1st Street and Cushing Place to Half Street. Yes, between Capitol Street (in effect, the city’s north-south “zero line”) and First Street is “Half Street.” Make a left on Half Street, and in one more block, there is Nationals Park. From Union Station to the ballpark, via subway and then foot, should take 20 minutes, faster than it does to get from Midtown Manhattan to either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.

Tickets. The Nats have been terrible since they arrived, but they’re still doing better at the box office than they did in their last few years in Montreal, averaging 22,568 fans per game this season – and that includes the Stephen Strasburg sellouts. So getting tickets should not be a problem.

However, a lot of New Yorkers & New Jerseyans may have the same idea as you – and many of them are federal government employees or college students already living and working in the D.C. area. So, for games against the Mets, getting tickets might be harder than for any other Nats games. (In fact, the transient nature of the federal government was a big reason the Senators never made it: People came in from places that had teams, and rooted for them, not the Senators, and rarely went back home having been converted to Senators fans. The Nats seem to have the same problem, and we don’t yet know if winning will cure it.)

Field Level seats will run you from $34 to $80, but in the Mezzanine Level, you can see a game for $20-33. In the third deck the Terrace Level and the Gallery Level, tickets run from $26 all the way down to $10.

Going In. You're likely to walk in at the center field gate, at N & Half Streets. There, you will see three statues: Walter Johnson, “the Big Train,” the great pitcher for the “Old Senators” from 1907 to 1927, the game’s former all-time strikeout leader with 3,508 and still its all-time shutout leader with 113; Josh Gibson, the catcher for the D.C.-based Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, the man so powerful he was known as “the Black Babe Ruth” – although some black fans called Ruth “the White Josh Gibson” – and Frank Howard, the slugger for the “New Senators” known as “Hondo,” “the Monster” (he was 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds in his prime) and, due to D.C.’s status, “the Capital Punisher.” You might remember Howard as a Met coach and briefly the manager.

You might also notice the Racing Presidents. Four men dressed as the Presidents whose faces are on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. When I visited on July 26, 2009 (a 3-2 Nats win over the San Diego Padres in 10 innings), the huge-headed Presidents were dancing outside the gate, while “oldies” played over the stadium loudspeakers.

This was bad enough, until “Billie Jean” was played – this was within days of the death of Michael Jackson – and, cue the awkward moment, the guy dressed as Jefferson danced right into my line of sight as soon as Jacko got to the words, “The kid is not my son!” I also noticed that the costumes, all four of them, were filthy. Doesn’t the club wash them?

When the location for Nationals Park was chosen, the idea was to have a view of the Capitol dome and the Washington Monument. Unfortunately, they can only be seen from the first base/right field half of the stadium. But in the outfield, they planted another Washington trademark: Cherry blossom trees. That’s nice.

Food. Very good. Not only do they serve good hot dogs and other standard ballpark fare, but “Frozen Rope” serves good ice cream, and they also have that “futuristic” ice cream known as Dippin’ Dots. The Red Loft Bar, in the second deck in left field, is their version of a McFadden’s.

And the Nats do not have to look up I-95 at Boog’s Barbecue in Baltimore, Bull’s Barbecue in Philly, Brother Jimmy’s at Yankee Stadium or Blue Smoke at Citi Field, and feel any envy. In the right field corner is Teddy’s Barbecue, named for Theodore Roosevelt. I kid you not: They serve the best piece of ballpark food I have ever had, a big hunk of meat named “the Rough Rider” in honor of TR. Eating that gave me more pleasure than any ballpark experience this side of the Aaron Boone homer. It’s $12, but it will be worth every flick of the tongue.

Team History Displays. The “old” Washington Senators played from 1901 to 1960, and moved to become the Minnesota Twins. The “new” Senators played from 1961 to 1971, and moved to become the Texas Rangers. The Nationals have history, but it’s nearly all in Montreal.

Nevertheless, there is a tribute, not just to the history of Washington baseball but to all of Washington sports. The Washington Hall of Stars, originally in place at RFK Stadium, has been recreated at Nationals Park. It honors lots of Redskins, from Sammy Baugh in the 1930s to Art Monk and Darrell Green in the 1990s. It honors Abe Pollin, who moved the NBA’s Bullets from Baltimore and made them the Washington Wizards, founded the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and for these teams built both the Capital Centre in Landover and the Verizon Center in downtown D.C. It honors legendary Boston Celtics coach (and Brooklyn native) Red Auerbach for being a star player at George Washington University, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard for having grown up in nearby Silver Spring, and Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Melissa Belote. It honors legendary sportswriters Shirley Povich of the Post (father of journalist Maury Povich) and Morris “Mo” Siegel of the long-gone Washington Star.

The baseball figures it honors are:

* “Old Senators”: Clark Griffith, Walter Johnson, Bucky Harris, Joe Cronin, Goose Goslin, Joe Judge, Ossie Bluege, George Case, Cecil Travis, Early Wynn, Eddie Yost, Mickey Vernon (who also managed the new Senators), Roy Sievers, Harmon Killebrew.

* “New Senators”: Gil Hodges (he managed them between retiring as a Dodger and Met player and becoming Met manager), Frank Howard, Chuck Hinton and George Selkirk (the former Yankee outfielder had been general manager of the new Senators).

* Homestead Grays: Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.

The Expos retired Number 8 for Gary Carter, Number 10 for both Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson, and Number 30 for Tim Raines. All of these numbers were returned to circulation after the move, and, except for the Number 42 retired for all of baseball for Jackie Robinson, the Nats have no retired numbers. Nor do they yet have any Hall-of-Famers of their own, unless you want to count their first manager, Frank Robinson, who was already in the Hall of Fame for 23 years when the team arrived in D.C.

Stuff. There’s a team store in the left-field corner. It’s got loads of jerseys, T-shirts, caps, and stuffed toys such as the Presidents and Screech the Eagle. Looking for team DVDs? You’re out of luck: All they had last year was a commemoration of their first season back, 2005. The franchise never made it to a World Series in Montreal, and they’ve never yet had a winning season in Washington. So there’s nothing celebrating anything like that, because, so far, there's nothing like that.

During the Game. You do not need to fear wearing your Met gear to Nationals Park. Despite the boisterousness of Washington fans when they watch their NFL Redskins, there’s a far more relaxed atmosphere at Nats games. That could, of course, be due to the fact that you have to be over 70 to remember when a Washington baseball team was in a Pennant race. (The old Senators won the World Series in 1924, the American League Pennant in 1925 and 1933, and finished 1 game behind the Detroit Tigers in 1945. The new Senators had just 1 winning season, a 4th-place finish in 1969.) It remains to be seen what happens when passion for a winning team is unleashed, but if the Redskins, the 1970s Bullets, or the 1998 or current Capitals are any judge, you still probably won’t have to worry.

The Nats have a fight song, “Welcome Home to the Nationals.” It’s not exactly as stirring as “Hail to the Redskins,” or even “Meet the Mets.” They don’t have a postgame victory song, either. But at least they don’t do “Cotton Eye Joe” like the Yankees and Phillies or “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” like the Orioles.

The Nats have a mascot named Screech, a bald eagle. Sounds natural enough. They also have the Racing Presidents. In a takeoff of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Sausage Race, in the middle of the 4th inning, the four guys wearing the Mount Rushmore President costumes, with the huge heads, break out of a gate in center field, run to the right field corner, and down the first-base line, where the first to break the tape is the winner. Over their period costumes, they wear Nats jerseys: GEORGE 1, TOM 3, ABE 16 and TEDDY 26, for their places in the chronological order of Presidents. Screech is the referee, in case anybody tries any funny business.

Which leads to, literally, a running gag: Teddy never wins. Sometimes he leads and trips. Sometimes, like the minor-league mascots who race kids around the bases, he gets distracted, as the opposing team caught his attention in the first game at Nationals Park in April 2008. Sometimes he gets sabotaged (as in June 2008, when, in an Interleague game with the nearby Orioles, the visiting Baltimore Bird tripped him just short of the finish line; in a special grudge-match race the next day, Teddy outraced the Bird). Sometimes he just plain screws up: At the final game at RFK Stadium in 2007, a lot of people figured he’d finally win, and the other 3 stayed back to “throw” the race, but Teddy went to the nearly-finished Nationals Park instead.

And sometimes... he cheats. (No doubt the real TR would have been appalled.) When I went, Teddy got on a motorized scooter (naturally, I yelled, “Holy cow!” in memory of Phil Rizzuto), and won the race that way. Naturally, “Honest Abe,” who finished 2nd, complained to Screech, who declared Abe the winner.

After the Game. If you’re looking for a postgame meal (or even just a pint), you’re probably not going to find it. Although there are condos going up adjacent to the stadium, it’s not exactly a neighborhood hopping with nightlife. If you’re only down for the one game, the best thing to do is get back to Union Station, grab a bite there, and hop on your train; or, if you’re driving, just hit one of the rest areas on the way back up I-95.

If you’re staying for the whole series, your best bet may be to head downtown, near the Verizon Center (home of the Wizards and Capitals) at 6th & F Streets NW, on the edge of Chinatown. You’ll find a lot of good (and maybe one or two great) nightspots there. I recommend Fado, an Irish-pub-themed place nearby, at 808 7th Street NW. (One of several around the country, including the Philadelphia one I’ve also been to; they’re the same company as Tigin, which has outlets at JFK Airport and Stamford, Connecticut.)

If you came to Washington by Amtrak, and you're not spending the night, you’ve got a problem: The last train of the night leaves Union Station at 10:00 PM (and arrives at New York's Penn Station at 1:50 AM), and since MLB games tend to last around 3 hours, you’re not going to make it unless it’s a pitcher’s duel. The next train leaves at 3:15 AM (arriving in New York at 6:40 AM), but do you really want to be in downtown D.C. from 10 at night to 3 in the morning? Better to come down on Friday afternoon or early on a Saturday, get a hotel, enjoy the sights on Saturday afternoon, see the game on Saturday night, and then on Sunday, choose between going to a second game and seeing something away from downtown. You'll be glad you did.

And since the Nationals are terrible for the time being, you've got a good chance of seeing a Met win.

Sidelights. There aren’t a whole lot of sites in the District related to baseball other than Nationals Park itself. The Ellipse, just south of the White House on the National Mall, has baseball fields. (If you ever saw the original 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, that’s where Klaatu’s ship landed.)

* Griffith Stadium. There were 2 ballparks on this site, one built in 1892 and one in 1911, after the predecessor burned down – almost exactly the same story as New York’s Polo Grounds. The second one, originally called League Park and Nationals Park before former pitching star Clark Griffith bought the team, was home to the old Senators from 1911 to 1960, and the new Senators only in 1961. The Redskins played there from 1937 to 1960, and won the NFL Championship there in 1937 and 1942, although only the ’42 title game was played there. There was another NFL title game played there, in 1940, but the Redskins were beaten by the Chicago Bears – 73-0. (Nope, that’s not a typo: Look it up.) While the Senators did win 3 Pennants and the 1924 World Series there, it was not a good home for them. The fences were too far back for almost anyone to homer there, and they hardly ever had the pitching, either (except for Walter Johnson). In 1953, the Yankees opened the season there, and Mickey Mantle hit a home run that was measured at 565 feet – though it probably shouldn’t count as such, because witnesses said it glanced off the football scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers, still a shot of about 450 feet. The Negro Leagues’ Homestead Grays also played a lot of home games at Griffith.

But by the time Clark Griffith died in 1955, passing the team to his son Calvin, the area around the park had become nearly all-black, and Calvin was a bigot who wanted to move the team to mostly-white Minnesota. When the new stadium was built, it was too late to save the original team, and the “New Senators” were born. Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, and Howard University Hospital is there now. Florida & Georgia Avenues NW. Green Line to Shaw-Howard University Station.

* Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Originally named District of Columbia Stadium (or “D.C. Stadium”), the Redskins played there first, from 1961 to 1996. The new Senators opened there in 1962, and President John F. Kennedy threw out the first ball at the stadium that would be renamed for his brother Bobby in 1969. (There was a JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, formerly Municipal Stadium, where the new arena, the Wells Fargo Center, now stands.) The new Senators played at RFK until 1971, and at the last game, against the Yankees, the Senators were up 7-5 with one out to go, when angry fans stormed the field, and the game was forfeited to the Yankees. The ‘Skins moved out in 1997 when their new suburban stadium opened. The Nats played the 2005, ’06 and ’07 seasons there. D.C. United, the most successful franchise in Major League Soccer (although they’re lousy at the moment), have played there since MLS was founded in 1996, winning the league title, the MLS Cup, 4 times, including 3 of the first 4. Previously, in the North American Soccer League, RFK was home to the Washington Diplomats, featuring Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. And the Beatles played there on their final tour, on August 15, 1966.

It was the first U.S. stadium specifically designed to host both baseball and football, and anything else willing to pay the rent. But I forgive it. It was a great football stadium, and not a bad soccer stadium, but for baseball, let’s just say Nationals Park is a huge improvement. And what is with that whacked-out roof? With the Nats and ‘Skins gone, United are the only team still playing there, and plans for a new stadium for them are on hold, so it will still be possible to see a sporting event at RFK Stadium for the next few years. 2400 East Capitol Street SE. Orange Line or Blue Line to Stadium-Armory. (The D.C. Armory, headquarters of the District of Columbia National Guard, is that big brown arena-like thing across the parking lot.)

* Uline Arena/Washington Coliseum. This building was home to the District’s first NBA team, the Washington Capitols, from 1946 to 1951. They reached the 1949 NBA Finals, losing to the Minneapolis Lakers of George Mikan, and were the first team coached by Red Auerbach. Firing him was the dumbest thing they ever did: He went on to the Boston Celtics, they went on to oblivion. It was last used for sports in 1970 by the Washington Caps of the ABA. It was the site of the first Beatles concert in the U.S. (aside from their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show 2 nights before), on February 11, 1964. It still stands, and is used as a parking lot, particularly for people using nearby Union Station and the Greyhound Terminal. Unfortunately, it’s a rotten neighborhood, and I wouldn’t recommend visiting at night. In fact, unless you’re a student of NBA history or a Beatlemaniac, I’d say don’t go at all. 1140 3rd Street NE, at M Street. Red Line to Union Station, and then it’s a bit of a walk.

* Verizon Center. Opened in 1997 as the MCI Center, the NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals have played here ever since. Only one Finals has been held here, the Caps’ 1998 sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. But it’s a very good arena. 601 F Street NW, at 6th Street. Red, Green or Yellow Line to Gallery Place-Chinatown Station.

* Capital Centre. From 1973 to 1997, this was the home of the NBA’s Washington Bullets, who became the Wizards when they moved downtown. From 1974 to 1997, it was the home of the Capitals. The Bullets played in the 1975, ’78 and ’79 NBA Finals there, although they’ve only won in 1978 and clinched that at the Seattle Kingdome. The Cap Centre was also the home for Georgetown University basketball, in its glory years of Coach John Thompson (father of the current coach, John III), Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Remember those 1980s battles with the St. John’s teams of Louie Carnesecca, Chris Mullin and Walter Berry? Elvis Presley sang there on June 27 1976 and on May 22 and 29, 1977. (He never performed in the District.) It was demolished in 2002, and a shopping mall, The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, was built on the site. 1 Harry S Truman Drive, Landover, Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside the Capital Beltway. Blue Line to Largo Town Center station.

* FedEx Field. Originally known as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, for the Redskins owner who built it and died just before its opening, it has been the home of the Redskins since 1997. RFK Stadium had just 56,000 seats and was the NFL’s smallest for years, but with close seats even in the upper deck, it provided one hell of a home field advantage. In contrast, FedEx seats 91,704, the largest seating capacity in the NFL (the arch-rival Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium can fit in 110,000 with standing room but has “only” 80,000 seats), but the seats are so far back, it kills the atmosphere. Being out in the suburbs instead of in a hard part of the District doesn’t exactly intimidate the opposition, either. As a result, the Redskins went from 5 Super Bowl appearances, winning 3, while playing at RFK to just 2 Playoff berths and no visits to the NFC Championship Game since moving to FedEx. 1600 FedEx Way, Landover, practically right across the Beltway from the site of the Cap Centre, although you’d have to walk from there after taking the Blue Line to Largo Town Center in order to reach it without a car.

* The Smithsonian Institution. Includes the National Museum of American History, which contains several sports-themed items. 1400 Constitution Avenue NW. Blue or Orange Line to Federal Triangle. (You could, of course, take the same lines to Smithsonian Station, but Fed Triangle is actually a shorter walk.)

In addition, the University of Maryland, at College Park, can be accessed by the Green Line to College Park and a shuttle bus. Byrd Stadium is one of the nation’s best college football stadiums. But I wouldn’t recommend sitting in the upper deck if you’re afraid of heights: I think it’s higher than Shea’s was. Across from the stadium is Cole Field House, where UMd played its basketball games from 1955 to 2002. The 1966 and 1970 NCAA Championship basketball games were played there, the 1966 one being significant because Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) played an all-black starting five against Kentucky’s all-white starters (including future Laker, Knick and Heat coach Pat Riley and Denver Nuggets star Dan Issel). Elvis sang there on September 27 and 28, 1974. The Terrapins won the National Championship in their final season at Cole, and moved to the adjacent Comcast Center thereafter.

Remember that Final Four run by George Mason University? Fairfax, Virginia. Orange Line to Virginia Square-GMU.

Have fun in the Nation’s Capital. And if Teddy wins, that’s okay. If the Nats win, well, maybe not. After all, it’s the Mets who trade in “miracles.”

Washington D.C.'s All-Time Baseball Team

Almost done with these. After this, it'll just be the 2 New York teams and Cincinnati. I'm doing the Capital Region's team (the District of Columbia, not Trenton or Albany) because the Nationals are heading to New York to face the Mets to close out the regular season.

Washington D.C.'s All-Time Baseball Team

A little bit of power, a little bit of speed. The rotation is a little shaky, but that may change in the next few years. The bullpen? Um... Actually, compared to the regional all-time teams elsewhere in the Northeast -- Boston, Philadelphia, neighboring Baltimore and especially the 2 New York teams you'll be seeing -- this one is easily the weakest.

1B George McQuinn of Arlington, Virginia. A 6-time All-Star, he had the misfortune to play most of his career with the St. Louis Browns, with whom he batted .324 in 1938 and .316 in 1939. From 1938 to 1944 he averaged 16 home runs and 84 RBIs for that sorry franchise, which later became the far more-respected Baltimore Orioles. In 1944, the Browns won their one and only American League Pennant, mainly because the traditionally stronger teams had lost more men to the war effort.

In 1947, he was acquired by the Yankees, and gave them a .304 average, 13 homers and 80 RBIs, and he was a big part of their World Championship team. He played one more season before retiring with a .276 average, a 110 career OPS+, 1,588 hits including 315 doubles, 64 triples and 135 homers.

2B Tony Womack of Danville, Virginia. He was an All-Star as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997. It was the 1st of 3 straight seasons he led the National League in stole bases: 60, 58 and 72. Traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, he helped them reach the postseason in 1999, 2001 (his 9th-inning single helping to beat the Yankees and win the World Series) and 2002.

After that, he bounced around, reaching the postseason with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 (disaster), the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 (Pennant, but swept in the Series), and the Yankees in 2005 (he forgot how to hit), before running out the string with the Cincinnati Reds and back to the Cubs in 2006. He was not much of a hitter, but stole 363 bases and was a good fielder.

SS Maury Wills of Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C. Probably the best player ever born in the District, he redefined baserunning. A process that began with Jackie Robinson in 1947 and was accelerated in 1959 by Chicago's Pennant-winning "Go-Go White Sox," who faced the Dodgers, including Wills, in the World Series was thrown into overdrive by Wills in 1960, beginning a string of 6 straight seasons in which he led the NL in stolen bases. In 1962, he broke Ty Cobb's 1915 record of 96 steals in a season, with 104, a record that would stand for another 12 years. He was named NL Most Valuable Player that season.

In 1965, he stole 94. He helped the Dodgers win Pennants in 1959 (beat the White Sox), 1963 (swept the Yankees), 1965 (beat the Minnesota Twins) and 1966 (got swept by the Orioles), and they just missed a Pennant in his MVP year of 1962 (tying the San Francisco Giants for 1st place, but losing a Playoff).

But his ego, his drinking and drug problems, and Dodger management's cheapness and lack of repsect for the players who had won for him, led to hit exit after the '66 season. That and the retirements of Sandy Koufax and Jim Gilliam ended the Dodgers' 1st great era in California. He didn't have a great career: His lifetime batting average was .281, his OPS+ a mere 88, and "just" 2,134 hits.

Yes, he stole 586 bases, but that's not a great qualification: There are 10 players with more in the Lively Ball Era (1920-onward): Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Max Carey and Joe Morgan are in the Hall; but Tim Raines (222 more), Vince Coleman (166 more), Willie Wilson (82 more), Bert Campaneris (53 more) and Otis Nixon (34 more) are not; and Kenny Lofton is not yet eligible.

On, their Hall of Fame Monitor, where a "Likely HOFer" is at 100, Wills is at 104 (appropriately enough); but on their Hall of Fame Standards, weighted more toward career stats, where an "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at just 29.

Of his 10 "Most Similar Batters," Dave Bancroft, Johnny Evers and John Montgomery Ward are in; but Larry Bowa, Steve Sax, Don Kessinger, Donie Bush, Kid Gleason and Roger Peckinpaugh are not; Luis Castillo is still active, but who's kidding who. Wills makes this team, but he's only getting into the Hall of Fame by buying a ticket.

UPDATE: Raines is now in the Hall.

Honorable Mention to Granville "Granny" Hamner of Richmond, Virginia. Until Jimmy Rollins came along, it was a tossup as to whether Hamner or Bowa was the best shortstop the Philadelphia Phillies have ever had. A 3-time All-Star, he set a major league record with 157 games played in 1950 – all 154 regularly-scheduled games and 3 made-up rainouts, a record that wouldn't be breakable until the expansion to a 162-game schedule in 1961.

With Mike Goliat, he formed a fine double-play combination that held with the Phils from 1948 to 1952. He was a member of the Pennant-winning "Whiz Kids" of 1950, batted .300 in 1958 (and just missed in 1954), had a surprising (for a Fifties shortstop) 71 homers from 1950 to 1954, and 4 times topped 80 RBIs for the Fightin's. He is a member of the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame. His brother Wes Hamner also briefly played for the Phils.

3B Don Money of La Plata, Maryland. A 4-time All-Star, he became a potent hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers, helping them to rise to respectability in the late Seventies. He began to decline, though, and by the 1982 Pennant season, Paul Molitor was making Money more of a DH, and he only played 1 more season. Still, they wouldn't have gotten there without him.

Honorable Mention to Ernest Judson "Jud" Wilson of Remington, Virginia. A star in the Negro Leagues, mostly with the Baltimore Black Sox in the Twenties and the Philadelphia Stars in the Thirties, he was also a Homestead Grays teammate of Josh Gibson, who suggested that Wilson might have been the better hitter (if not the more powerful one); and briefly a Pittsburgh Crawfords teammate of both Gibson and Satchel Paige, who called him 1 of the 2 toughest hitters he ever faced, along with Charles "Chino" Smith.

Wilson was one of the "overlooked" Negro League players elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, and was yet another for whom it's too bad we don't have full statistics to peruse or film to view, to get an idea of how good he really was. Chances are, he was better than Don Money or David Wright.

I'm not going to give an Honorable Mention to David Wright of Norfolk, Virginia. It seems like every year, from April through August, he's an action hero; but in September, he becomes The Invisible Man.

LF Charlie Keller of Middletown, Maryland. The University of Maryland graduate was known as King Kong Keller because he was big, strong and hairy. Not to his face, mind you: He hated that nickname. And he could back it up, too: From 1939 to 1943, he was one of the best hitters in the game, averaging 99 RBIs. From 1940 to 1943, he averaged 25 home runs.

In 1939, he scored the winning run in Game 4 of the World Series, enabling the Yankees to sweep the Cincinnati Reds; it became controversial because, intentionally or otherwise, he kneed the Reds' Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi in the groin, stunning him momentarily and causing him to lose the ball, enabling Joe DiMaggio to score an additional run. After spending 1944 and most of '45 in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II, he came back with a vengeance in 1946, hitting 30 homers with 101 RBIs. He was just 29 and looked like he was headed to the Hall of Fame.

But a back injury put an end to that. He still managed to give the Yankees some production, forming one of the greatest outfields ever with DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich. They won the World Series in 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947 and 1949. But after that last one, his injuries made the Yankees give up on him at age 32. He played 3 more years, including a brief comeback with the Yanks, but after 189 homers and 5 All-Star Games in 6 full seasons, he was done.

Still, he had a career batting average of .286 and a mighty 152 OPS+. He returned to Maryland and trained racehorses at his Yankeeland Farm. His brother Hal Keller had a spell as the catcher for their "hometown" Washington Senators.

Honorable Mention to Curtis Pride of Silver Spring, Maryland. He can see you applaud this selection, but he can't hear it. He starred in baseball, basketball and soccer for John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, and played basketball rather than baseball at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Despite his deafness, he played in the majors from 1993 to 2006, batting .250 as a reserve outfielder, including a .300 average, 10 homers and 31 RBIs in 95 games with the 1996 Detroit Tigers. He briefly played for the Yankees in 2003, but despite playing for them, the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves in a successful era for each, his only postseason appearance was with the Angels in 2004.

There were a few deaf players in the late 19th and early 20th Century, mostly called "Dummy" because "dumb" then meant "mute" rather than "stupid," but Pride is the only hearing-impaired player to make an impact in the last 100 years.

CF Al Bumbry of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Either B.J. Upton or his brother Justin (a right fielder) might end up on this list someday, but, for now, Bumblebee is the center fielder. Named the American League Rookie of the year in 1973, he played all but his last season with the Baltimore Orioles, making just 1 All-Star Team (1980) but was the leadoff man on 4 postseason teams, just missing 4 others.

His lifetime batting average was .281, he led the AL in triples in 1973, had at least 29 doubles 3 times, collected 205 hits in 1980, stole at least 22 bases 5 times with a peak of 44 in 1980, and was a member of the 1979 Pennant winners and 1983 World Champions.

RF Jim Lemon of Covington, Virginia. He may have looked like a lemon in leading the AL in strikeouts 3 straight seasons, but, considering he was a Washington Senator, playing his home games in Griffith Stadium with its distant fences, he was one of the best power hitters in the game in the late Fifties.

He led the AL in triples in 1956, and from that season through 1960, 5 years in a tough ballpark, he hit 141 home runs. In 1960, he made his one and only appearance in the All-Star Game, and was also 1 of 3 Senators, along with Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison, to appear on the TV show Home Run Derby.

Strangely, the move of the team to become the Minnesota Twins, in the far more hitter-friendly Metropolitan Stadium, did him no favors, as his production declined. However, he was subject to injuries, and had his last productive season in 1961, the team's 1st season as the Twins, and was done at 35. He seems to have fit the "steroid profile," but there were no steroids in baseball in those days. 

He later returned to Washington to manage the new Senators, the franchise that became the Texas Rangers in 1972, although he wasn't exactly a "local" guy: Covington is 230 miles from D.C., in the Shenandoah Valley hard by the West Virginia State Line. Still, this is the team he qualifies for geographically.

C Randy Hundley of Bassett, Virginia. He spent most of his career with the Chicago Cubs, winning a Gold Glove in 1967, making the NL All-Star Team in 1969, and showing surprising power for a Sixties catcher.

Unfortunately, he's probably best known as a player for the Cubs' '69 "September Swoon," including the game at Shea Stadium where Tommie Agee scored the winning run, and Hundley turned to the umpire, screamed, and jumped about as high as a man wearing catching gear can to protest. The replay showed, yes, Agee was out, but that's Cubs luck for you. (That was September 8: The next day was the Black Cat Game.)

Randy went on to found the 1st "baseball fantasy camp" at the Cubs' spring training grounds in Scottsdale, Arizona, and still runs it today. His son Todd, like his father, was born in Martinsville, Virginia, but grew up in the Chicago suburbs while his dad played for the Cubs, graduating from Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, and, while a good player in his own right (202 home runs, All-Star berths with the Mets in 1996 and ’97), he is geographically ineligible for this team, and I can't take him ahead of Jim Sundberg for the Cubs' all-time regional team. Maybe ahead of Tom Haller for the White Sox edition, but you can't put a Hundley on a White Sox team!

Dishonorable Mention to Brady Anderson of Silver Spring, Maryland. Sure, he was a 3-time All-Star. Sure, he had a 109 career OPS+. Sure, he had 1,661 hits, including 338 doubles and 210 homers. And, sure, he helped the Baltimore Orioles nearly reach the Playoffs in 1989 and got them there in 1996 and 1997. But…

Look, here's his home run totals from 1992 to 2000: 21, 13, 12, 16, 50, 18, 18, 24, 19. Can you pick out the season in which Brady Anderson used steroids? Cheater!

SP Guy Harris "Doc" White of Washington, D.C. This Georgetown University graduate and actual medical doctor starred for the White Sox from 1903 to 1911, helping them win the 1906 World Series with an 18-6 record, leading the AL in ERA with 1.52 and WHIP with 0.903. A year later, he went 27-13. The Sox tailed off a bit in 1912, taking him down with them, and his career record was 189-156. But his career ERA+ was 113, and his WHIP was 1.121.

SP Eppa Rixey of Culpeper, Virginia. Despite all their success over the years, the Cincinnati Reds have only 1 pitcher in the Hall of Fame, Rixey, and a lot of people don't think he belongs, either. After helping the Phillies win their 1st Pennant in 1915, he went to the Reds in 1921 and put together seasons of 19, 25, 20, 15, 21, 14, 12 and 19 wins before tailing off. His career record was 266-251, 87-103 (but a 2.83 ERA) for the Phils and 179-148 with the Reds. His ERA+ was 115 and his WHIP 1.272.

SP Steve Barber of Takoma Park, Maryland. He was one of the "Baby Birds" who helped the Orioles reach their 1st Pennant race in 1960, as a 22-year-old rookie. He won 18 the next season and 20 just 2 seasons later, in 1963, making the All-Star Team and becoming the 1st Baltimore pitcher to win 20 in a major league season in 64 years. In 1966, he went 10-5 with a 2.30 ERA to make another All-Star Game, as the O's won their 1st Pennant and World Series.

But 1967 was the year it all went wrong. On April 30, he was removed from a game against the Detroit Tigers with 2 out in the 9th inning after having given up 2 runs despite having not surrendered a hit. Stu Miller got the final out to complete the no-hitter, although the Orioles lost 2-1. 

Then he hurt his elbow, and was traded to the Yankees. Today, he's probably best remembered for being with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, where Jim Bouton would record in his diary that became the book Ball Four that Barber said, "My arm's not sore, it's just a little stiff." He hung on until 1974, finishing 121-106, with a 105 ERA+.

Fred Talbot of Fairfax, Virginia was a teammate of Barber's on those ill-fated '69 Pilots, but doesn't make this team. "But at least I don't look like a sissy."

SP Joe Saunders of Falls Church, Virginia. He won 17 games for the Anaheim Angels in 2008 (making the AL All-Star Team), 16 more in 2009, losing just 7 and helping them reach the postseason each time. Having a bad season this year, he was traded to the Diamondbacks after going just 6-10 for the Angels, is now 9-16, but is only 29, and should bounce back.

SP Justin Verlander of Goochland, Virginia. Just 27 years old, he's already won 83 games in the majors, with an ERA+ of 117 and a WHIP of 1.259. In 2006, he was the AL Rookie of the Year, helping the Tigers win the Pennant. He has now made 3 All-Star Teams.

RP Billy Wagner of Tannersville, Virginia. In the regular season, he's been as good as relievers come. His career record is 47-40, he's got a 188 ERA+, a 0.996 WHIP, and 421 career saves – only Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith and John Franco have more, and only Franco has more among lefthanders.

But it's in the stretch drive and in the postseason where he becomes a liability. His Houston Astros won NL Central titles in 1997, '98, '99 and 2001, but won just 2 postseason games in that stretch, with Wagner losing an NLDS game in '97, blowing a save (but getting the win anyway) in another in '98, and getting shelled in another in '01.

He almost reached the Playoffs with the 2005 Phillies. He came within a run of the Pennant with the 2006 Mets, but Yadier Molina had other ideas. (That wasn't Wags' fault, but a 3-run blowup in the 9th in Game 2 of that NLCS was.) His ineffectiveness was a big reason why the Mets blew that big lead in 2007, and his injury was a big reason why they blew a September lead in 2008 as well.

In 2009, he got back to the postseason with the Red Sox, but got shelled in 2 ALDS games against the Angels. His postseason ERA is 10.32, his WHIP 1.941. This season, he's had a renaissance at age 38 with the Atlanta Braves, going 7-2 with a 1.32 ERA and 36 games. Show of hands: Anybody think the Braves are going to win the Pennant with a 38-year-old Billy Wagner as their closer? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Picking a manager for this team is hard. Probably the best manager ever from the District was Charles N. "Pop" Snyder, who led the Cincinnati Red Stockings (for whom he was also the catcher, and forerunners of today's Reds, not to be confused with the "first professional team" of 1869) to the 1st American Association Pennant in 1882, but it was a verrrry different game back then.

The best manager from the D.C. side of Maryland was probably Ray Miller, and while he was a great pitching coach, he wasn't a very good manager. The best from Virginia may have been Lemon, while managing the new Senators. Jim, that is, not Bob. I could, of course, go with Maury Wills, who managed the Seattle Mariners late in 1980 and early in 1981, but that would require me to be as fried on cocaine as he has since admitted he was at the time. No thank you. I'll stick with Jim Lemon, unless we can get Randy Hundley to put his fantasy-camp leadership to good use.

J is for Hopeless -- And So Is Ray

In Spanish, the letter J is pronounced like the English letter H: "Ha."

Javier Vazquez, as a Yankee: J is for "Hopeless."

Yankees 8, Pesky Blue Jays 4. Home Run Javy gave up 7 runs including 3 homers.

Manager Joe Girardi says he may pitch Vazquez for an inning on Sunday. What's the matter, Joe? Don't you love us anymore?

As Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post and ESPN's Pardon the Interruption would say, Vazquez is in a Gots To Go Situation.

The Rays also lost, but their Magic Number to clinch the AL East is 3. So...

Rays sweep their last 4 in Kansas City: They win no matter what the Yanks do.

Rays take 3 of 4: They win no matter what the Yankees do.

Rays split: Yanks have to sweep the Red Sox in Boston, with A.J. Burnett likely to start on Saturday and Javier Vazquez likely to pitch at least one innning on Sunday.

If the Yanks can only take 2 of 3 in Boston, the Rays would have to drop 3 of 4. That would be great to see, although it wouldn't be one of the epic collapses in baseball history, especially since they're still going to the Playoffs. (See the 2006 Tigers, who had a 10-game lead in the AL Central on August 7, but blew it to the Twins, but got the Wild Card and won the Pennant anyway, beating the A's who beat the Twins in the other ALDS.)

After Evan Longoria reamed Rays fans out for only 12,000 came out for the Playoff clincher, and only averaging 23,000 at home all season, a sellout crowd of 36,973 came out last night.

That includes 20,000 seats the Rays organization gave away. So only 16,973 paid.

I know we're in a recession. I know the Tampa Bay area has 12 percent unemployment. Hey, you people voted for "President" George W. Bush twice, Governor Jeb Bush twice, and Governor Charlie Crist once. Stop voting for Republicans, and your economy will get better.

I also know that, on top of the economic difficulties, there's a lot of old people down there who are on fixed incomes. Well, tough: If you can only get 12,000 people in a domed stadium (so there's no weather issue) on a night when the home team can clinch a Playoff berth, then maybe they should be somebody else's home team.

Move the Rays to Montreal. Or to Charlotte. Or to Nashville. Or to Salt Lake City. Or to Portland, Oregon. Hell, move them to Buffalo: They get lousy weather all the time, and their economy has stunk even in the last couple of eras of economic growth, but have you seen the attendance the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons get at Pilot Field (whatever they're calling it now)? If it ever got the word that a team was coming, and the ballpark got its built-in-possible expansion from 20,000 to 40,000 seats, I'll bet they'll get 36,000 fans for a Playoff clincher.

Tampa Bay does not deserve Major League Baseball. Let the Rays hear "Merci!" from Montreal, or "Thanks, y'all!" from Charlotte or Nashville, or gratitude of some wording from somewhere else.

Like Yogi Berra said, "If people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's gonna stop 'em."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finally Clinched

Finally! Yankees 6, Pesky Blue Jays 1 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. CC Sabathia takes it into the 9th inning, and the Yankees clinch no worse than the American League Wild Card, with 4 games to play. At the very least, we are going to the Playoffs.

If the Rays win 4 of their last 7, we'd have to win all of our last 4 to win the AL East.

If the Rays win 5 of their last 7, they win it no matter what we do.

Looks like the Rays will win it. But we could settle it in the ALCS, if both teams keep up their end of the bargain.


Tonight, Javier Vazquez goes for the Yankees -- for the last time ever? Please -- against Brett Cecil.

Tomorrow is a travel day. On to Boston, to close the regular season against The Scum.

Friday night, with the Sox pitching Daisuke Matsuzaka, Joe Girardi will throw Andy Pettitte.

Saturday afternoon, against Clay Buchholz, it will be A.J. Burnett. Oy.

Sunday afternoon, against John Lackey, probably Phil Hughes, just to keep him fresh.

CC will be held back for Game 1 of the Division Series, the following Wednesday or Thursday. Pettitte would then start Game 2 on 4 or 5 days' rest. This would set Hughes up as the Game 3 starter, rather than Burnett, Vazquez, Dustin Moseley or Ivan Nova.

The Yankees can still win the Division Title. At this point, though, I think I want it more than they do.

The Jeter Era Yankees simply do not understand the value of teaching opposing teams a lesson, do they? After all, in the Playoffs, this will be either the 4th time since 1996 that they play the Texas Rangers, or the 4th time since 2003 that they play the Minnesota Twins, and those teams keep coming back!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Milwaukee's All-Time Baseball Team

The Mets are playing out the string. So are the Milwaukee Brewers.

Neither of these facts is surprising: Since April 1970, when the Brewers made their debut, these 2 teams have made the postseason a grand total of 9 times in those 41 seasons.

The surprising part is that the Brewers are now, since 1998, in the National League. True, the Braves were in both the NL and Milwaukee from 1953 to 1965 (and had a bit of a rivalry with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1953 to 1957 and the L.A. edition of the Bums thereafter), but it still doesn’t make sense to see the Brewers on the Mets’ schedule.

They've never faced each other in the postseason – although the Yankees and Brewers played each other in the strike-forced 1981 AL East Championship Series. The Yanks took the 1st 2 at Milwaukee County Stadium, then the Brew Crew took the next 2 at the old Yankee Stadium.

George Steinbrenner then went into the Yankee locker room and reamed them out, spewing profanities left and right. Bobby Murcer, trying to play both the veteran leader and the Christian gentleman, said, "Now is not the time, George, now is not the time." George said, "It is the time, goddamnit!" And did another 30 seconds of that before Rick Cerone stood up and said, "Fuck you, George!" and stormed out of the room. That shocked George and everyone else, and the next night, led by back-to-back 4th-inning homers by Reggie Jackson and Oscar Gamble, and another by, appropriately, Cerone, the Yanks won the deciding Game 5, 7-3.

The closest the Mets and Brewers have ever come to meeting in the postseason was in 2008, when a Playoff matchup was possible going into the final day, but the Mets completed yet another collapse for the NL East, and the Brewers edged the Mets for the NL Wild Card. It was also possible in 2007, when the Mets had their previous NL East collapse and the Brewers finished only 2 behind the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central.

In 1987, the Brewers were in the AL East race most of the way, before stalling at 91 wins and finishing 7 games behind the Detroit Tigers, while the Mets just missed in the NL East, 3 behind the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the Cardinals who beat the Brewers in their only World Series to date, a 7-game thriller in 1982.

Milwaukee's All-Time Baseball Team

This is limited to just 1 State, Wisconsin, and not even all of that: Westernmost Wisconsin, the Eau Claire area, is considerably closer to Minneapolis than to Milwaukee. (Eau Claire itself: 92 miles to Minneapolis, 246 miles to Milwaukee.) Theoretically, you could include the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but no player from that region was good enough to make this team.

Which means that, despite the relatively small region, Milwaukee has a pretty decent all-time baseball team. A solid infield. A very powerful outfield. And the 1st 3 starters are pretty strong. After that, well, I said, "pretty decent," not "great."

1B Fred Luderus of Milwaukee. A star for the Phillies in the 1910s, he helped them win their 1st Pennant in 1915. A career OPS+ of 114, he hit 251 doubles despite only having full seasons in the majors between the ages of 25 and 33, although he remained a productive player in the high minors until he was 39.

2B Jim Gantner of Fond du Lac. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, he was the starter for the only Brewer Pennant-winner in 1982, and in that World Series he batted .333 with a .943 OPS. He never batted .300 but batted at least .280 6 times, and hit 262 doubles. He played over 1,400 games at 2B and over 300 at 3B. He pitched an inning for the Brewers in a 1979 game, allowing 2 hits but no walks and no runs.

SS Tony Kubek of Bay View High School in Milwaukee. He recently received the Ford Frick Award, equivalent to election to the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster, for his work with NBC on the Saturday Game of the Week and on World Series broadcasts, most notably the 1975 Cincinnati-Boston epic.

But he was a pretty good player, too. He was the 1957 AL Rookie of the Year, and in both that season and 1958 he returned home to play the Braves in the World Series, losing in '57 but winning in '58. He made 3 All-Star teams, formed a superb double-play combination with Bobby Richardson, and hit 178 doubles and 30 triples despite a back injury ending his career when he was just 29. 

He's probably best known for a ground ball that hit a pebble and hit him in the throat in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, helping the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Yankees. But he did help the Yankees win the Series in 1958, 1961 and 1962.

3B Lafayette "Lave" Cross of Milwaukee. This guy goes back a ways, all the way to 1887, the 1st term of President Grover Cleveland. A converted catcher, he starred for 3 Philadelphia teams: The Athletics of the American Association, the Phillies in the NL, and the Athletics in the AL (no connection to the AA team except by name).

A career .292 hitter, he had 2,651 hits, 412 of them doubles in the really dead-ball era, and stole 303 bases. Twice had an OPS+ of 132, and 2 others times over 120. He helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win the NL Pennant in 1900 (technically, the last "World Championship" the franchise would win for 55 years) and the A's win AL Pennants in 1902 and 1905.

Honorable Mention to Ken Keltner of Boy's Technical High School in Milwaukee. A 7-time All-Star with the Cleveland Indians, he had an OPS+ of 112, 308 doubles, and 2 100-RBI seasons. But he's best known as a good fielder, who made 2 stirring stops to help the Indians halt Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak on July 17, 1941.

He nearly helped the Indians win the Pennant in 1940, and had his best season for their World Champions of 1948, batting .297 with 31 homers and 119 RBI. But injuries made that his last full season, and 3 years later he was retired. He spent much of the rest of his life as a scout, and was inducted into the Indians' team Hall of Fame.

LF Al Simmons of Milwaukee. The State of Wisconsin is loaded at left field, with Davy Jones of Cambria (the 1907-09 Detroit dynasty), Morrie Arnovich of Superior (a 1940s All-Star), Andy Pafko of Boyceville (won Pennants in the 1950s both with the Dodgers and with his home-State Braves), and even Harvey Kuenn played a lot of left field.

But I'm going with Aloys Harry Szymanski, known as Bucketfoot Al for the way he stepped toward 3rd base when he swung. He swung very well: .334 batting average, 132 OPS+, 2,927 hits – just 73 more, and had he been in the 3,000 Hit Club, he would be much better-remembered today.

Those were the most hits of any righthanded hitter in AL history until surpassed by Al Kaline. Of those 2,927, 539 were doubles and 307 were homers – that total ranked him 5th on the all-time list when he retired, behind Babe Ruth, his A's teammate Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott and Lou Gehrig. He had 1,827 RBI.

He helped the Philadelphia Athletics return to glory, winning the World Series in 1929 and '30 and 107 games and the Pennant before losing the Series in '31. Here's his averages for 1925 (age 23) through 1931 (29): .387, .341, .392, .351, .365, .381 and .390 (the last 2 winning the AL batting title). He had at least 100 RBI in each of his 1st 11 seasons, getting 157 to lead the AL in '29, 165 in '30 and 151 in '32. (Incredibly, in '30 he lost the RBI title to Gehrig with 174, and in '32 to Foxx with 169.)

After the 1932 season, needing cash after having lost all his money in the stock market and the A's successes not paying for themselves, Connie Mack sold Simmons to the Chicago White Sox. As a South Sider, beginning with the next season, he started in the 1st 3 All-Star Games. He began to decline and then bounced around a bit, before returning to the A's as a player-coach under Mack.

He died of a heart attack shortly after turning 54, in 1956. He is in the Hall of Fame and on the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame (his plaque having been moved from Veterans Stadium to the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society house in nearby Hatboro). However, the A's, out of Philly since 1954, have not retired a number for him. (He wore several, but in '31 when the A's started wearing numbers, he wore 7.)

On August 19, 1996, to highlight an article about the 1929 A's, suggesting that they, not the 1927 Yankees, were the greatest baseball team ever, Sports Illustrated put Simmons on the cover, rather than Mack or fellow Hall-of-Famers Foxx, Mickey Cochrane or Lefty Grove. Three years later, The Sporting News named him Number 43 on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players.

CF Clarence "Ginger" Beaumont of Rochester. Another old-old-old-timer, this graduate of Wisconsin's Beloit College helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the NL Pennant in 1901, '02 and '03. In 1902, he won the NL batting title, and in 1903 he led the League in games, at-bats, hits, total bases and runs. His career batting average was .311, OPS+ 123. Unfortunately, the Pirates had already traded him by the time they won the 1909 World Series, but in his last season, 1910 (he was only 33), he helped the Cubs win a Pennant.

RF Harvey Kuenn of West Allis. He actually played more shortstop than any other position, but right field was his 2nd-most frequent position, and I needed someone here. He was AL Rookie of the Year in 1953, and made the All-Star team in his 1st 8 full seasons. He led the AL in hits in 1953, '54, '56 and '59, and in doubles in '55, '58 and '59.

He won the '59 batting title with a .353 average, but just before the next season, the Detroit Tigers traded him to the Indians for the previous season's home-run leader, Rocky Colavito. The trade worked out much better for the Tigers, as Cleveland fans, loving the Rock, booed Kuenn for no good reason. He didn't hit for much power, but he did bat .308 that season. The Indians traded him to the San Francisco Giants, and he helped them win the 1962 Pennant. His lifetime batting average was .303, with 2,092 hits, 356 of them doubles, and an OPS+ of 108.

He is also the manager of this team, having taken the Brewers – nicknamed "Harvey's Wallbangers" for their power hitting – to that 1982 Pennant, still the only Pennant won by a Milwaukee team since the Ike Age. His son Harvey Kuenn Jr. also played in the Brewers' system.

C Damian Miller of West Salem. He had a relatively short career, but he did make the NL All-Star Team in 2002. He is here for his fielding – and because the next-best choice is Charlie Ganzel, who won 5 NL Pennants from 1887 to 1897, but was not substantially better, stat-wise. Miller helped the Arizona Diamondbacks reach 3 postseasons (including the 2001 World Championship) and the Chicago Cubs 1 (2003, nearly winning the Pennant).

SP Charles "Kid" Nichols of Madison. This is a tough choice, geographically speaking, because he's listed as having gone to Queen Elizabeth High School in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. (Which Queen Elizabeth? He would have graduated in 1887, so not Elizabeth II, nor her mother the wife/widow of King George VI.)

But there's no doubting why he's in the Hall of Fame: 361 wins against just 208 losses from 1890 to 1906, including 7 times in 8 years winning at least 30 – both before and after the pitching distance moved from 50 feet in 1892 to 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893, so that didn't affect him much. He won an additional 103 games in the high minors, for a total of 464 – he could have ended up 2nd on the all-time wins list behind Cy Young, his only rival for the title of Pitcher of the Decade for the 1890s. 

His career ERA was 2.96, ERA+ 140, WHIP 1.224. He won Pennants with the Boston Beaneaters in 1891, '92, '93, '97 and '98. He was probably the best pitcher the franchise now known as the Atlanta Braves had until Warren Spahn, to say nothing of Greg Maddux.

SP Adrian "Addie" Joss of Beaver Dam. From 1902 to 1910, he was 160-97, ERA 1.89 (2nd-lowest ever), WHIP 0.968 (lowest ever). He pitched a perfect game in 1908. He won 51 games in 2 years for the Cleveland Indians in 1907 and '08. He was absolutely sensational. After just 9 seasons, he was 31, and should have been just getting started.

But just before the 1911 season, he died of spinal meningitis. Today's medicine could have saved him. It wasn't until 1978 that the Hall of Fame waived its 10-season requirement for him. After all, it wasn't his fault" If he'd been stricken just 1 week, later he would have pitched at least once in the 10th season, and qualified.

SP Burleigh Grimes of Emerald. In 1920, the spitball and other doctorings of the baseball were banned, but 17 pitchers were allowed to continue using it for the rest of their careers. Grimes was the last to use the spitter legally, in 1934.

Before that, however, he was fantastic, winning 270 games and losing 212. He had 5 20-win seasons, and won Pennants with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1920, the St. Louis Cardinals in 1931, and the Chicago Cubs in 1932. He is in the Hall of Fame.

SP Dick Bosman of Kenosha. He's not up to the level of the 1st 3; in fact, he was just 82-85 for his career. But in 1969, pitching for the Washington Senators, he went 14-5 and led the AL with a 2.19 ERA. He went 16-12 in 1970, but the next season, the Senators' last before moving to become the Texas Rangers, his run support vanished and he was only 12-16.

On September 30, 1971, he started the last game the Senators ever played, against the Yankees at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, and stood to be the winning pitcher as the Senators led 7-5 with 1 out left in the 9th, before the angry fans stormed the field and the game was forfeited to the Yankees. He also started the team's 1st game as the Rangers. He had only 1 more winning season and was done at 32. He has since gone on to become one of baseball’s best pitching coaches.

SP Shane Rawley of Racine. He was a journeyman for the Seattle Mariners, but in 1982 the Yankees traded for him, and he went 27-28 for the Pinstripes before being traded to the Phillies for Marty Bystrom and Keith Hughes on June 30, 1984. Stupid trade! Why would you give up a proven reliever like Bystrom for a .500 pitcher like Rawley?

Guess what, it was the Yankees, not the Phillies, who were stupid. Bystrom made 15 appearances for the Yankees, was awful and injured, and never pitched after age 26. Rawley went 13-8 in '85, 11-7 in '86, and 17-11 in '87. Don't get me started: This one hurts. Do you think the Yankees couldn't have used his arm in those seasons? He fell apart in '88, and was done a year later at 33, finishing 111-118 – but at a time when he could have helped the Yankees a lot, he was stuck on a poor Phils team. That trade didn't work out for anybody.

RP Rinold "Ryne" Duren of Cazenovia. He was known for his "coke-bottle glasses" and his wild warm-up tosses. He was one of those guys who could throw hard, but you never knew where it was going to go.

One of those players the Yankees of the 1950s always seemed to get from the Kansas City Athletics right when they needed one, in 1958 he led the AL with 20 saves and had a 2.02 ERA and a 1.097 WHIP. It was his only good year in a Yankee uniform, but it meant a World Championship. It was injury and alcohol that did him in, and years later he beat the booze.

In 1982, I was watching the Yankees' Old-Timers Game on WPIX-Channel 11, and Joe Pepitone stepped in to bat against Duren. Mel Allen was broadcasting from a table behind home plate, piped into the public-address system, and said, "Don't worry, Joe. He won't hit you... hard!" Legend has it that Ryne Sandberg was named after Ryne Duren.

Honorable Mention to Jerry Augustine of Kewaunee and the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. A lefty complement to the righthanded Duren, Augustine played his entire career for his home-State Brewers. He won 25 games for the Brewers in 1977 and '78 as they became a respectable team, then was converted into a reliever. He didn't help much down the stretch in 1982, and did not appear in the World Series. But he did help a terrible team become a good one.

Finally, add to this team, Honorable Mention to Bob Uecker, of Technical High School in Milwaukee, the 1st Badger Stater to play for a Wisconsin MLB team, with the Braves in 1962 and '63, and was the backup catcher on the 1964 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and has been the voice of the Brewers almost since their inception.

He also starred as family patriarch George Owens on the ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere, and in a hilarious series of commercials for Miller Lite beer. With his penchant for comedy, intentional and otherwise, he titled his autobiography Catcher In the Wry. Of course, if you ever saw him try to hit, you'd probably use his home-run call on him: "Get up! Get up! Get outta here!"

Cancel the A.J. Burnett Show

The Carol Burnett Show was funny. The A.J. Burnett Show isn't funny anymore, and it's time to cancel it. Or, at least, for it to "go on hiatus" until next February, when spring training starts.

On a night when ex-Yankee manager Buck Showalter and his Baltimore Orioles did the Pinstripes a favor, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0, the Yanks fell behind the Pesky Blue Jays 7-0 in Toronto, with A.J. getting rocked, allowing 7 runs and not even getting out of the 3rd inning.

Despite 5 2/3 scoreless innings from Jonathan Albaledejo, Dustin Moseley, David Robertson, Boone Logan and Chad Gaudin, and homers by Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees could not complete the comeback, 7-5 -- practically a repeat of their Friday and Saturday performances against The Scum.

Speaking of whom, Boston also won, so the Yankees' Magic Number to clinch a Playoff berth remains 1, but the Rays' Magic Number to win the AL East is now 6. So if the Yankees win 4 of their last 5, the Rays can still win the Division if they win 5 of their last 7: Their 5 wins + 1 Yankee loss = Rays, AL East Champs.

That would be competitively tolerable, but emotionally unacceptable.

CC Sabathia goes tonight. Wednesday, Andy Pettitte. Thursday is a travel day. Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Boston, the pitchers are not yet set.

If there's still a chance on Sunday for the Yanks to win the Division, do you pitch CC that day, on 4 days' rest? Or do you hope for the best from someone else, and save CC for Game 1 of the ALDS, either at home to Texas (if the Yanks win the Division anyway) or at Minnesota (if the Wild Card)?

Whichever it is, I don't want to see A.J. pitch again this season. Let him work out his problems in next year's spring training. Or, if someone offers us a nice deal in the interim, trade him.

True, with Andy Pettitte a 50-50 bet as to retiring, giving up Burnett would leave the Yankees with 2 rotation holes to fill. I'm comfortable with going into the 2011 season with Sabathia (20 wins going into tonight), Phil Hughes (18), Moseley, Ivan Nova, and one as yet undetermined. (Talking Andy, who'd turn 39 during the season, into one more year? Signing Cliff Lee as a free agent, even if we only get 3 seasons out of him? Maybe the return of Joba Chamberlain to the rotation?) The Yankees do have options; A.J. Burnett may no longer be one of them.


I really shouldn't have used the word "bet." It was 90 years ago today, September 28, 1920, that 8 Chicago White Sox were suspended for their role in fixing the previous season's World Series.

For 1st baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil, it didn't matter, as he'd already retired after the 1919 World Series. For infielder Fred McMullin, it didn't matter, as he was a reserve anyway. But it mattered for left fielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, center fielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch, shortstop Charles "Swede" Risberg, 3rd baseman George "Buck" Weaver, and pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams, for they were still key members of the White Sox, who also had 2nd baseman Eddie Collins and catcher Ray Schalk, who would both go on to the Hall of Fame.

Weaver, who was asked to participate but refused, and was banned anyway, was truly wronged: Essentially, he was an honest man punished for not being a snitch. Where was Al Pacino's Colonel Frank Slade from Scent of a Woman when Weaver need him? "Hoo-ah!"

Most of them played "outlaw" ball (outside the control of "organized baseball") for a few years thereafter, but none was ever let back into the good graces of the officials of the game. Jackson was the first to die, in 1951, and was the only one of the bunch who seemed headed for the Hall of Fame. (Not that there WAS a Hall of Fame until 1936.) McMullin died in 1952, Weaver in 1956, Williams in 1959, Felsch in 1964, Cicotte in 1969, Gandil in 1970, and Risberg was the last to go, in 1975.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tough But Winnable Final Week

Imagine, Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon blowing 9th-inning saves. In the same game. How often does that happen?

About as often as Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur all fail to win on the same weekend. Which happened: Liverpool blew a late lead and got only a draw, ManUre erased a late deficit to escape with a draw, and the rest all lost.

But after Phil Hughes pitched well, leaving losing 1-0, Alex Rodriguez hit his 611th career home run (152 to go), and gifted Mariano a 2-1 lead. But Mo blew it, and Papelbum was handed a 3-2 lead by the Red Sox. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the 9th, and only got 1 run.

Still, it was enough to extend the game to extra innings -- or "free baseball" as Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay calls it. They loaded the bases again in the 10th, this time with nobody out, Hideki Okajima got the first out for the Sox, but he walked Juan Miranda with the bases loaded, forcing home Brett Gardner, and it was, as Yankee broadcaster John Sterling would say, "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!"

I don't know if he's ever said that after a walkoff walk -- it was very nearly a walkoff hit-by-pitch, which I think I've seen once in 34 seasons of watching baseball on television or live at the ballpark -- but Sterling, and I, gladly take it.

4-3! We beat The Scum, 4-3! We beat The Scum, 4-3! We beat The Scum, 4-3!

The Rays also lost, so the gap is closed. Right now, the Yankees are 93-63, the Rays are 93-62, half a game ahead, 1 in the loss column, and the Rays have a Magic Number of 7 to clinch the AL East.

What's more, the Yankees Magic Number to clinch a Playoff berth of some kind or other is 1. Any Yankee win in our last 6 games, or any Red Sox loss in their last 7 games, and the Yanks are in. As Jon Miller of ESPN pointed out, officially, the Yanks have clinched at least a tie for the Wild Card: If the Yanks and Sox end in a tie, there would be a Playoff, a la 1978. (Although that was for the AL East, no Wild Card in those days. If there had been, the Bucky Dent Game might not have been played at all, or at least not when it was.) So, technically, the Yankees clinched a playoff berth -- if not, officially, a Playoff berth. They're no worse than in a playoff for the Playoffs.

The Minnesota Twins have clinched the AL Central, the Texas Rangers the AL West, the Philadelphia Phillies no worse than the NL Wild Card. The Phils' Magic Number to clinch the NL East, and the Cincinnati Reds' to clinch the NL Central, are both 1: Both can finish it off tonight. The NL West remains in doubt: The San Francisco Giants lead the San Diego Padres by half a game. It looks like the Colorado Rockies have slipped out of it, as they're now 4 1/2 back. The Padres are in the NL Wild Card lead, half a game (1 in the loss column) ahead of the Atlanta Braves, 4 ahead of the Rockies.

So here's what's left: The Yankees play 3 games in Toronto, and then 3 in Boston. Tampa Bay plays 3 at home against Baltimore, and 4 in Kansas City.

If the Yankees take 2 out of 3 in each series, that will put them at 97-65. Since the AL went to the 3-Division setup in 1995 (well, 1994), only once has a team won as many as 97 games and not won the Division. And that was the 2004 Red Sox (98 to the Yanks' 101), who, A, won the Pennant and World Series anyway, and B, cheated.

Since the AL went to a Divisional setup at all in 1969, the only other times a team has won as many as 97 and not won the Division have been the 1977 Red Sox and Orioles (each 97 to the Yanks' 100), the 1978 Red Sox (99 to the Yanks' 100 due to the Playoff, as referenced above), the 1980 Orioles (100 to the Yanks' 103), and the 1985 Yankees (97 to the Jays' 99). So, not counting the strike-shortened seasons of 1972, '81, '94 and '95, 97 wins has been enough to win the AL East in 31 out of 36 full 162-game seasons -- 86 percent of the time.

Sidelight: Think about that 1978 season for a moment. When it ended on October 1, the Yankees and Red Sox both had 99 wins, necessitating a Playoff to deliver one of them the 100th win. The Milwaukee Brewers (then in the AL) won 93. That's 3 teams in 1 Division with at least 93 wins, which is sometimes enough to win the Division. (Just 4 years later, the Brewers won the Division with 95.) The Orioles finished 4th and still won 90. The Detroit Tigers, then in the East, won 86, not a bad total at all considering they lost 105 just 3 years earlier. So 4 teams won at least 90 and 5 teams won at least 86. In one Division! The Kansas City Royals won the West with "only" 92.

However, if the Yankees do take 4 out of 6 to finish with 97 wins, it won't mean anything if the Rays don't lost 4 out of 7 against the 94-loss Orioles and the 92-loss Royals. That would leave them at 96-66, a game behind the Yankees in this scenario. If the Rays win 4 out of 7, then they win 97, and the Yanks would have to take 5 of 6 to win the Division, as a tie for first would give the Rays the Division due to the facts that, A, The loser of this Division race is guaranteed the Wild Card, thus making a playoff for the Playoffs unnecessary; and B, the Rays won the head-to-head season series.

I still want to win the Division. The Rays are getting too big for their britches, as my Grandma would say. Actually, she might not have agreed: I think she would have liked the way this team plays. They might have reminded her of the 1980s Mets. But she did use that expression all the time.


Jets last night, in Miami, the city where they won their one and only Super Bowl, and where the Dolphins have spent the last 41 years, more often than not, making them pay dearly for that? Very good.

Considering they started the season with a very tough first 3 games, vs. Baltimore, vs. New England and at Miami (which, as I said, has been a tough city to play in for the Jets, even on those rare occasions when the Dolphins haven't been good), 2-1 is nothing to sneeze at. Considering how the Minnesota Vikings have been doing under Brett Favre, I think their only really tough game until Week 13 at New England is going to be in Week 6 at Denver. (That includes a bye in Week 7.) It is not that hard to believe that, going into Foxboro on that occasion, the Jets could be 10-2. Certainly, talent-wise, they should be no worse than 8-4.

Giants yesterday afternoon, at home, against the Tennessee Titans? Very bad. 1-2 is not going to cut it in the NFC East, especially since the Dallas Cowboys got off the deck yesterday and won their first. Tom Coughlin is now Number 3 out of 9 on the Tri-State Area hot seats.

Jerry Manuel of the Mets, clearly, is Number 1. If he is still the Mets' manager on Halloween, we will all be shocked. Including him.

And, at the rate that Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello (who has been allowed, first by the late Dr. John McMullen and now by Jeff Vanderbeek, to pretty much be the de facto owner) goes through head coaches, new hiring John MacLean will always have to look over his shoulder, even if he has the Mulberry Street Marauders in first place in the Patrick -- I mean, Atlantic Division toward the end of the regular season. His status as the franchise's all-time leading goalscorer will not help him as head coach.

MacLean scored 347 goals for the Scarlet & Green, later the Scarlet & Black. Patrik Elias, who has surpassed Johnny Mac as the all-time scoring leader, 754 and counting to 699 due to having a lot more assists, has 314 goals, but is unlikely to surpass him in goals at this stage of his career. Zach Parise has 160, and is likely to surpass MacLean's team record, barring injury, in 2015.


Curse you, CBS! You put the new Hawaii Five-O on at Mondays at 10:00! Opposite Castle on ABC! How dare you!

As CBS icon (and noted New York Giants fan) Andy Rooney might say, "You know what really gets my goat? Having 2 of your favorite TV shows on at the same time. Did you ever wonder why the networks do that? I have."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sickening Stuff

10-1 to the Sox last night, becomes 10-8 but no closer. 6-0 to the Sox today, becomes 7-3 but no closer. A-Rod hits 3 home runs in the 2 games and it's all pointless.

I wanna throw up -- and I haven't eaten at the Hammarskjold Junior High School cafeteria for 26 years!

Update for "How to Be a Red Sox Fan In New York": Instead of going to New York, go to hell! You'll recognize it, it kind of looks like Charlestown.

To make matters worse, I bought a pack of M&Ms today. More than half of them were blue or orange! Met colors!

Want more sickening stuff? In their first real test this season, Rutgers lost. 17-13. At home. To North Carolina. A team that came in 0-2 and had a bunch of players suspended for "extracurricular activities."

And Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion must've switched uniforms. 3-0 to West Brom before a late comeback made it 3-2, but no closer. And Arsenal have back-to-back games at Belgrade for the Champions League and at Chelsea?

At least Chelsea also lost, in their first real test of the season, to Manchester City. And Tottenham lost, to West Ham United, who came into this 6th League game of the season with exactly zero points. Same old Tottenham, always choking. Instead of "forever blowing bubbles," the Hammers blew off Spurs.

"One team in London! There's only one team in London!" Yeah, except, today, it was West Ham.

At least East Brunswick High won last night, beating J.P. Stevens 35-0. I didn't go. On a scale of 0 to 10, how upset am I that I missed it? Maybe a 3.

The Yankees better slaughter the Sox tomorrow night. And somebody better beat those St. Petersburg pipsqueaks.

What about the Giants and Jets tomorrow? As Daniel Craig said when asked if he wanted his vodka martini shaken or stirred, "Do I look like I give a damn?"


Speaking of great British actors, I want to wish a Happy Birthday to the most beautiful woman in the world, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

And also to her husband, Michael. Not me.

I hope he gets well. For her sake. She seems to love the guy.

Which, I guess, proves that nobody, not even she, is perfect.


Days until I accept that CZJ will never be mine: I still don't know.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 6, this Friday, at Fenway Park, the last series of the regular season.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 6, this Friday, at home against Woodbridge.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 7, Saturday afternoon, home to Tulane. A team that hasn't done much in the last 70 years. Think they can win this one? Gibbs Rule Number 8: "Never take anything for granted!"

Days until the Devils play hockey again: 13, on Friday, October 8, at home at the Prudential Center in Newark, against the Dallas Stars. Under 2 weeks.

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 21. Just 3 weeks.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 29, on Sunday, October 24, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Under a month. Then the Rags come to the Prudential on Friday, November 5. The first game of the season against the Islanders is on Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, at the Nassau Coliseum, followed the next day by the first game of the season against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, at The Rock.

Days until the next North London Derby: 56, Saturday, November 20, at New Highbury.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 60. Just 2 months.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 236 (estimated).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 412.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 567 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 670.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 753 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,023 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,222.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,686 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,710 (estimated).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Top 10 Red Sox I Don't Like

The following is by no means limited to current players. In fact, it has as many former Scummers than current Scummers.

Who am I kidding? There's no such thing as "former" here. Once Fenway Scum, always Fenway Scum!

10. Calvin Schiraldi. Only one reason: He couldn't get one more out in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. I would love to be able to tell Met fans about the Curse of Amos Otis. I have to settle for the Curse of Kevin Mitchell.

9. Jason Varitek. Be a man: If you're going to fight with someone, take your mask off, you fucking coward. He called for Captain Cornrows, Bronson Arroyo, to purposely hit Alex Rodriguez, and then, when A-Rod dared to say, "Fuck you" to Arroyo, Varitek left his mask on and shoved his catcher's mitt into A-Rod's face. Sort of like it was a purse. (See #7.)

This is the Captain of the Red Sox. Do you think former Yankee catcher and Captain Thurman Munson would have done that? Nope.

8. Kevin Youkilis. It's not just the wagging of his rear end. It's that he gets all huffy when somebody hits him, but says not a word when one of his fellow Sox does it, and they do it so much more. (See #s 1 & 4.) Youk, if you can't stand the heat, get the fuck out of the kitchen.

He has become such a symbol of the Sox, one Yankee Fan writes a blog with the title "Fack Youk: Come for the Vulgarity, Stay for the Analysis." Good blog, great title.

7. Bill Lee. Until the 1999 season gave the rivalry the kickstart into the venom it still "enjoys," no Red Sock ever hated the Yankees more. Remember that 1976 brawl? Graig Nettles supposedly threw Lee and separated his shoulder. (His left, his throwing shoulder.) And when Lee yelled back, Nettles sucker-punched him. Either one was wrong, but then, Lee was a sucker.

He said, "The Yankees fight like hookers swinging their purses." Uh, Spaceman, 2 questions. First, how would you know how hookers fight? Second, if that's how they fight, how come you lost?

I'd call him a dope, but then, this is the guy who admitted sprinkling marijuana on his pancakes. Went to the University of Southern California, which also produced Tom Seaver, a pitcher who was righthanded, literate, evenhanded, classy, and didn't get into trouble. Perhaps not Lee's exact opposite, but close enough.

6. Jonathan Papelbon. He wasn't there in 2004 -- Keith Foulke, not offensive enough to make this list, was the Sox closer then -- but he was the closer in 2007, and in the leadup to the 2008 All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium, he thought his World Series success meant that he should be the American League's closer for the ASG, not Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. This is why Yankee Fans call him Papelbum.

He is so typical of the Sox fandom: He has an alligator mouth and a hummingbird ass. Sox fans will tell you that there's one team that seems to have Rivera's number, and it's the Sox. Well, there's one team that seems to have Papelbon's number, and that's the Yankees. It must be each side's familiarity with another.

Prediction: Six games left between the teams, and Papelbon blows a save in at least one of them. Of course, in about half the saves he blows, the Sox manage to win in extra innings anyway, but let's put a stop to that.

5. David Ortiz. There are actually 4 Red Sox I dislike more than Big Sloppy? Yes, even though he turned out to be a big fat hypocrite on the steroid issue. In fact, since the Red Sox "won" 2 World Series thanks more to him than to any other person, you can make a good case that nobody in baseball benefited more from steroids than he did.

4. Josh Beckett. If all he'd done was help the Marlins -- aided as they were by Ivan Rodriguez's steroid use -- beat the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, I could've ignored him thereafter. But he became a Red Sock, and turned into Super Punk. A rather whiny punk, at that.

3. Manny Ramirez. Yes, it's the steroid cheating when he was good enough to not. Yes, it's the long bombs he hit off the Yankees in both Cleveland and Boston. Yes, it's the mud on the helmet -- although Jorge Posada, a real man, does that, too. Yes, it's the whole "Manny Being Manny" idiot savant act.

But after 2008, even Sox fans saw what a low character he is. You must be one, to be shoving old men around when they work for the same team that you do. (See #1.)

2. Curt Schilling. He pitched well. He showed courage. He came through in big situations. And he donates to the charity fighting ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's Disease.

None of which changes what his manager with the Phillies, Jim Fregosi, said about him: That he loves TV cameras so much Fregosi called him Red Light Curt. And Ed Wade, then the Phils' GM, said, "One day out of five, he's a horse. The other four, he's a horse's ass."

And that was before he hurt the Yankees with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series. Let alone when he decided to make himself the face of Sox fans' hatred for the Yankees. And the face of the distant minority of New Englanders who still haven't figured out that conservatism doesn't work.

Yes, he gives to charity. So did Al Capone.

You gotta be a pretty low-down bastard to make Curt Schilling Number 2 -- other definitions of that term aside. Which leads me to...

1. Pedro Martinez. He pitched much of his career with 3 teams: The Red Sox, the Mets, and, early on, the Los Angeles Dodgers. That alone would make him a candidate for the athletes I dislike the most. But Pedro wasn't just any athlete.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, the iceberg finally appears to have been sunk. Domo origato, Hideki Matsui.