Friday, June 29, 2012

Yanks Lose On Girardi's Highly Illogical Pitching Management

Once again, Joe Girardi showed that he isn't exactly an Einstein when it comes to managing a bullpen.

Then again, I have no idea if Albert Einstein liked baseball, although he did live in Princeton, about halfway between New York and Philadelphia, for the last 22 years of his life.

Last night, in the 1st game of a 4-game home series against the Chicago White Sox, Ivan Nova pitched pretty well, going 7 1/3 innings, allowing 1 run on 6 hits and 3 walks. Boone Logan and Cody Eppley finished up the 8th.  hanks in part to Mark Teixeira's 13th home run of the season, the Yankees took a 3-1 lead into the 9th.

No problem, just bring in Mariano Rivera, and he'll slam the door.

Oh, that's right, he's out, probably for the season.

No problem, just bring in David Robertson, and he'll slam the door.

Oh, that's right, Girardi decided that, due to his recent success while Robertson was on the Disabled List, Rafael Soriano would be the 9th inning man.

No problem, just bring in Soriano, and he'll slam the door.

Oh, that's right, he's pitched 4 out of the last 5 nights, and is probably too tired.

No problem, just bring in Robertson, and he'll slam the door.

Problem: Girardi left Eppley in to begin the 9th.

And Alex Rios led off with a single.

No problem, just get Eppley out of there, and bring in Robertson.

Problem: Girardi did take out Eppley, but he brought in Clay Rapada.

And A.J. Pierzynski grounded back to the mound.

No problem, perfect double play ball, 1-6-3.

Problem: Rapada threw the ball away. Men on 1st and 3rd. Tying runs on base, potential winning run at the plate, with nobody out.

Okay, we've got a problem. So, get Rapada out of there and put in Robertson.

Which is what Girardi did.

Robertson threw 2 pitches to Dayan Viciedo.  No, I'd never heard of him, either.) The 1st was a fastball outside. The 2nd was a fastball that landed outside the field. Home run.

The Yankees couldn't come back in the bottom of the 9th against closer Addison Reed. Not a good name for a White Sox player, better for a Cub, as Addison Street is one of the roads bordering Wrigley Field.

White Sox 4, Yankees 3. WP: Hector Santiago (2-1), a native of Newark. SV: Reed (11). LP: Robertson (0-2).

But don't blame Robertson. If he'd been allowed to start the inning, chances are he would have gotten through it all right. After the homer, he did manage to get the next 3 batters on a strikeouts and 2 pop-ups. And he probably wouldn't have made that throwing error. (Although, to be fair, Mo did make a similar throwing error at a far less opportune time.)

The blame for this one rests solely on Girardi. Maybe he should have let Nova pitch a complete game. After all, he'd only thrown 98 pitches for just 1 run.  He was cruising.

Joe, this loss is on you.  Last night, you were highly illogical.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sweep of Cleveland Proves Costly

The Yankees swept the Cleveland Indians at The Stadium this week, but it was costly.

On Monday night, the Yankees put 2-spots on the board in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd innings, on the way to a 7-1 win. Dewayne Wise hit his 1st Yankee homer, Robinson Cano hit his 17th of the season, and Nick Swisher hit his 12th.

WP: Hiroki Kuroda (7-7), 7 innings, 1 run, 5 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts. And we were worried about him. No save, although Clay Rapada and Freddy Garcia each pitched a perfect inning of relief. LP: Josh Tomlin (3-5).

Last night, the Yankees scored 3 in the 2nd, thanks to RBI singles by Chris Stewart and Curtis Granderson. Alex Rodriguez did what some of us have so often criticized him for doing, hitting a home run when it doesn't seem to matter. (It was his 13th of the year.) So the Yankees took a 6-0 lead into the 9th, thanks to some nifty pitching by Phil Hughes, 8 shutout innings.

But Joe Girardi brought Cory Wade in to pitch the 9th. Wade has not gotten the job done this season, and he didn't get it done last night, either. He allowed a leadoff double to Jason Kipnis (no, I'd never heard of him before, either). The next batter was Carlos Santana – I was wondering who was on deck: Richie Havens? Country Joe McDonald? Sly Stone? – and he grounded to 3rd, moving Kipnis over.

Well, so what? If he scores, that only makes it 6-1. No big deal.

And Wade popped Michael Brantley up for the 2nd out. Out of the woods, right?

Wrong: Johnny Damon (Memba him?) singled Kipnis home. 6-1. Then Casey Kotchman singled, advancing Damon to 3rd. Then Jose Lopez hit one out.  6-4!

Damn it, Wade… Like the rest of us, Girardi had seen enough, and stopped futzing around. He brought in Rafael Soriano. (Did I say he stopped futzing around? This time, yes.) Soriano got Lonnie Chisenhall to line ground out to 1st, and that ended it.

WP: Hughes (8-6). SV: Soriano (16). LP: Justin Masterson (4-7).

Then today, came bad news: CC Sabathia has a groin strain, and will be out until after the All-Star Break. Rats.

Andy Pettitte took the mound, continuing his comeback. It was 2-1 Yankees after 4, thanks to an RBI double by former Yankee Shelley Duncan, driving in Carlos Santana (You got to change your evil ways… Shelley!) in the top of the 2nd, and a 2-RBI double by Eric Chavez in the bottom of the 4th.

But Kotchman led off the top of the 5th with a line shot off Pettitte’s ankle.  Turns out it's broken, and Andy will be out 6 weeks. So now we're down 2 starters. Make that 3: Remember Michael Pineda?

Remember that decision we had to make, to pare 7 starters (potentially counting Andy) down to 5? Not so funny anymore, is it?

Cody Eppley came in, and allowed 2 runs. Girardi got him out of there, and replaced him with Garcia. Considering how well he pitched in Pettitte's spot in the rotation, and considering his experience, it's likely he'll hold that spot at least until Andy comes back. He faced 7 batters and got them all out. David Robertson pitched a perfect 8th.

In the bottom of the 6th, A-Rod doubled, and Cano homered (his 18th), to make it 4-3 Yankees. In the bottom of the 8th, Chavez singled home 2 runs, to make it 5-3.

That insurance run turned out to be enormous, because Girardi replaced D-Rob with Sori, who did not have it. Chisenhall led off with a single. Shin-Soo Choo walked. Sori got Kotchman to line out, but Lou Marson singled to load the bases. And then Sori walked Michael Brantley to force home a run. 5-4.

As they say in English soccer, it was squeaky bum time.

But Sori got Asdrubal Cabrera to fly out to end it. Whew.

WP: Garcia (2-2). SV: Soriano (17… didn't deserve credit for a save). LP: Ubaldo Jimenez (7-6).

Going into tonight's games, the Yankees are now 4½ games (4 in the loss column) ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Eastern Division, 6 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, 6½ (7) ahead of the Boston Red Sox, and 8½ (9) ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays are, however, a game over .500, meaning all teams in the AL East are.

Elimination numbers: Jays 79, Sox 81, Rays 82, O’s 85.

The Yankees have now won their last 5, 15 out of 18, and 25 out of 32.

But being down 3 starters – 2 that we had last week – is not good.  But we're the Yankees: We get through everything else, we'll get through this.

Derek Jeter now has 3,183 career hits. A-Rod has 2,845, 155 from 3,000. He has 642 home runs, 58 from 700 and 121 from the record. He has 1,927 RBIs, 73 from 2,000 and 371 from the record.

Elsewhere in baseball today, the Mets tried to make "aggregate scoring" work at Wrigley Field. It doesn't. After blowing the 1st 2 games of their series with the Chicago Cubs, they beat the Cubs 17-1. That included 6 runs in 5th and 6 more in the 6th.

The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays, 10-4. David Ortiz hit his 399th career home run, passing Dale Murphy on the all-time list and tying Al Kaline. One more, and he's got 400.

Why is he even still in baseball? Give the Orioles their due: They kept Rafael Palmeiro long enough to get his 3,000th hit, but released him right after it was announced that, contrary to his testimony before the Congressional committee that got Roger Clemens in hot water, he had tested positive for steroids. And Palmeiro has effectively been blackballed from both employment in baseball and the Hall of Fame.

The Sox? They still sent Big Papi out there. He is now the last remaining player on the Sox from their tainted 2004 title.

How to Be a Met Fan in Los Angeles

Another one I should have gotten to sooner.  Sorry, real life intruded, and I had to delay this.  But, if you can afford it, there's still time to fly out there.

Tomorrow, the Mets will begin a 4-game series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.  But if beating the Dodgers in the 2006 National League Championship Series could not erase the treachery of 1957, then a 4-game regular-season sweep this time, if the Mets can do it, won't do it, either.

Perhaps Met fans should be glad that the Dodgers left Brooklyn then, and that the Giants left Manhattan at the same time.  After all, if they hadn't, the Mets never would have been created, and the fans of the 2 former clubs, the Capulets and Montagues of baseball (or the Hatfields and McCoys, if you prefer), would not have been united in the love of a new club, the canonization of the National League, and hatred of the Yankees.

Before You Go. Unlike the Seattle and San Francisco Bay Areas, the Los Angeles area has very consistent weather. It’s a nice place to visit. If you don’t mind earthquakes. And mudslides. And wildfires. And smog.  Check the weather forecast on the Los Angeles Times' website before you, so you'll know what to bring.

Getting There. It’s 2,779 miles from Times Square in New York to City Hall in downtown Los Angeles, and 2,789 miles from Citi Field to Dodger Stadium.  In other words, if you’re going, you’re flying.

After all, even if you get someone to go with you, and you take turns, one drives while the other one sleeps, and you pack 2 days’ worth of food, and you use the side of the Interstate as a toilet, and you don’t get pulled over for speeding, you’ll still need over 2 full days. Each way.

But, if you really, really want to, well, in order to get there in time for this series, you may have to leave... right now. But in the future... Take Interstate 80 West across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Just before leaving Nebraska for Colorado you’ll get on Interstate 76, and shortly before reaching Denver you’ll get on Interstate 70 West. You’ll take that all the way to its end in Utah, where you’ll take Interstate 15 South. You’ll go through a short strip of Arizona before getting into Nevada (where you’ll see THE Strip, Las Vegas), before getting into California.

Assuming you're not going to a hotel first (and you really should), either in Los Angeles or near the stadium or Disneyland in Anaheim), you’ll get off I-15 at Exit 109A, and get on Interstate 10 West, and almost immediately onto U.S. Route 101 North, the San Bernardino Freeway.  Take that road's Exit 3 to State Route 110, the Pasadena Freeway, and Exit 24 will drop you off at Dodger Stadium.  The official address is 1000 Elysian Park Avenue.

Given an average speed of 60 miles an hour, you’ll be in New Jersey for an hour and a half, Pennsylvania for 5:15, Ohio for 4 hours, Indiana for 2:30, Illinois for 2:45, Iowa for 5:15, Nebraska for 6 hours, Colorado for 7:15, Utah for 6 hours, Arizona for half an hour, Nevada for 2 hours, and California for 3 and a half hours hours; for a total of 46 hours and 30 minutes. Factor in rest stops, you’ll need more like 3 full days. And, remember, that’s just one way. And if you end up using Las Vegas as a rest stop, well, you might end up missing the series and end up, yourself, as what “stays in Vegas.”

That’s still faster than Greyhound (65 hours, 40 minutes, changing buses 4 times, $435 round-trip, station at 1716 E. 7th Street at Lawrence Street) and Amtrak (64 hours, 15 minutes, $839 round-trip, Union Station at Alameda & Arcadia Streets). But flights, usually changing in Chicago, will be a lot more expensive.

Public transportation in L.A. is a lot better than it used to be, but not to Dodger Stadium.  The Number 2 bus leaves Union Station and drops you off at Sunset Boulevard and Douglas Street, and then it's a 15-minute or so walk to the stadium.  The Number 4 bus leaves Pershing Square, downtown, and drops you off at the same intersection.  L.A.'s new subway and light rail service won't get you any closer.  Taxis do go to the stadium, and will drop you off in Lot G, which is also where they will be waiting after the game.

Tickets.  With basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson having bought the Dodgers, settling their ownership situation, and injecting some much-needed cash into what had been one of the wealthiest baseball teams from their last few years in Brooklyn until owner Frank McCourt's spectacularly messy divorce, the Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball, and are averaging 39,883 fans per home game.

So getting tickets could be tough.  But compared to most teams, including the Angels down the freeway, they're relatively inexpensive.  Except for Field Boxes, every seat in the park can be had for $80 or less (unless you go to a scalper).  Reserve seats can by had for $28, and the top deck -- infield-only seats, although they may be the highest in baseball history, even higher than the upper decks at the old Yankee Stadium and Shea -- go for just $10.

Going In.  Dodger Stadium points away from downtown, but on a clear day you'll get a view of the San Gabriel Mountains.  It was built in 1962 and thus turns 50 this year, but its age is hidden well, with its architectural style giving it away much more than its condition.  The Dodgers have usually been nuts on maintenance, including cleanliness.

You’ll most likely be going into the stadium through the home plate entrance.  It may look odd, due to not being very tall.  This is an illusion, as the stadium was built into the side of Chavez Ravine.  Along with the Oakland Coliseum, up the coast, this is the only active ballpark where you can walk in the front gate and go downstairs to your seat.

Being in the California sunshine, the field has nearly always looked good.  But Walter O'Malley's old policy of no advertising inside the stadium, save for the two 76 logos (for the gasoline station chain now owned by ConocoPhillips) on the scoreboards, is long gone.  It doesn't make the place look tacky, though.  (Tommy Lasorda can do that, if he shows up.)

Food.  The Dodgers' team website, alone among the 30 MLB teams, does not give information about concessions.  It may be that they simply don't have any specialty stands, but this seems unlikely.  Their hot dogs, the Dodger Dog, is renowned as one of the best in baseball, though.

When the stadium opened, O'Malley had it built without water fountains.  The old bastard didn't want to give anything away.  The team website said that they have been installed since.

Team History Displays. The outfield fence has notations for the Dodgers' retired numbers: 1, Harold "Pee Wee" Reese, shortstop 1940-58; 2, Tommy Lasorda, pitcher 1954-55 and manager 1976-96; 4, Edwin "Duke" Snider, center field 1947-62; 19, Jim "Junior" Gilliam, 3rd base 1952-66 and coach 1967-78; 20, Don Sutton, pitcher 1966-80 (with a brief comeback in 1988); 24, Walter Alston, manager 1954-76; 32, Sandy Koufax, pitcher 1955-66; 39, Roy Campanella, catcher 1948-57; 42, Jackie Robinson, 2nd base (mostly) 1947-56; and 53, Don Drysdale, pitcher 1956-69.

Robinson, who grew up in Pasadena, never actually played for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.  Neither did Campy, who was paralyzed in a car crash in the off-season when the move happened, although he was kept employed by the Dodgers until his death in 1993.  Reese barely played in L.A.  But Snider, born in L.A. and raised in adjoining Compton (yeah, the Duke of Flatbush was straight outta Compton), was a member and indeed a key cog of their 1959 World Championship team in his hometown, as were Brooklyn "Boys of Summer" Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo.

Aside from Gilliam, who died while he was their 1st base coach (they wore Number 19 patches on their sleeves in the 1978 World Series against the Yankees), all of these are in the Hall of Fame.  Aside from team owner Walter O'Malley (at least part-owner 1942-79, sole owner 1950-79), all of the Dodgers' Hall-of-Famers from the Los Angeles move onward have had their numbers retired.

This could be why they have not officially retired Number 34 for Fernando Valenzuela (pitcher 1980-91, number not issued since), or Number 6 for Steve Garvey, 1st base 1969-82, only briefly issued since including for Joe Torre while he managed the Dodgers), neither of whom is in the Hall, and to be fair each is at least a step short of it.  The Dodgers do not have a team Hall of Fame.

The Dodgers' 6 World Series Championships are also shown on the outfield walls: 1955 (in Brooklyn), 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988.  Pennants and Division titles without going all the way are not shown.

Stuff. The Dodgers have a "Top of the Park Gift Store" in the upper deck behind home plate.  On non-game days, it's open 10 AM to 5 PM.

Contrary to its image as a city whose idea of culture is yogurt, there is a Los Angeles literary tradition.  Much of it is the "hard-boiled detective story," as pioneered by Raymond Chandler and his private eye Philip Marlowe.  Writers influenced by the city include Nathaniel West, Charles Bukowski, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly and Bret Easton Ellis.  And the Los Angeles Times has produced many fine sportswriters, including the late Jim Murray, and ESPN Around the Horn mainstays Bill Plaschke and J.A. Adande.  But as for books about the Dodgers? Uh...

Lasorda and Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully recently collaborated on The Dodgers: From Coast to Coast, as they are two living links to the club's Brooklyn days.  (Lasorda pitched for them there, and Scully is the longest-serving broadcaster in baseball history, having begun at Ebbets Field in 1950.) Plaschke wrote I Live For This: Baseball's Last True Believer for Lasorda.  Robinson (I Never Had it Made), Campanella (It's Good to Be Alive), and Drysdale (Once a Bum, Always a Dodger) all wrote good memoirs, although remember that Jackie and Campy never played for them in Los Angeles.

Arnold Rampersad's Jackie Robinson: A Biography is highly regarded, and Jane Leavy's Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy is fantastic.  So is Tom Adelman's Black and Blue: The Golden Arm, the Robinson Boys, and the World Series That Stunned America, which covers the 1966 season (and its leadup), culminating in the shocking World Series upset of the defending World Champion Dodgers by the then-upstart Baltimore Orioles, and is an excellent examination of both cities in that turbulent time (and is nearly as superb as Leavy's work in discussing Koufax).  Paul Haddad, who grew up in the Seventies and Eighties like I did, recently published High Fives, Pennant Drives and Fernandomania: A Fan's History of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Glory Years (1977-1981).

But if you read any of the books that try to justify O'Malley's move of the team out of Brooklyn, you have only yourself to blame when your head explodes due to the ingestion of bullshit through your eyes.  The truth is, O'Malley DID have a choice.  If he was "visionary" enough to see that Los Angeles was a great baseball market, he wasn't the first to have that vision (though the first to truly act on it), and he should have had the vision to get around New York's Mayor Robert Wagner and construction boss Robert Moses.

As for videos, of particular interest to Met fans is Gil Hodges: The Quiet Man, about the Dodger first baseman who became the Mets' first baseman and the manager who brought them the 1969 "Miracle." The Dodgers also have a collection of the official World Series highlight films of their 5 L.A. titles (1959, '63, '65, '81 and '88), a collector's edition DVD set of the 1988 World Series, which remains their last Pennant.  (This drought, currently 24 years, is their longest period out of the Series since the Series began in 1903.  The previous longest was 1920 to 1941.) There is no team-history DVD available (though the 1990 VHS tape, issued on the 100th Anniversary of the team's entry into the National League, could be available somewhere), and no Essential Games of the Los Angeles Dodgers or Essential Games of Dodger Stadium.

During the Game. The Dodgers' greatest rivals, in California as in New York City, are the Giants.  Their fans go from laid-back Southern Californians to rabid dogs when the Giants are in town.  But they have no ill will toward the Mets.  Sure, they want to beat New York.  Los Angeles always wants to beat New York -- doesn't everybody? But they will not initiate violence against you.

The Dodgers don’t have a guy in a suit to act as a mascot, not even unofficially, as the Dodger Sym-Phony Band dressed like "Dodger Bums" in the last 20 or so years in Brooklyn.  (The Dodgers don't really need a mascot, as long as Tommy Lasorda is still alive.) Like the Yankees, the Dodgers play "God Bless America" before "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th Inning Stretch.  In the middle of the 8th inning, they play "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey.  This pissed off Journey lead singer Steve Perry, who is a big San Francisco Giants fan.  He recently got the last laugh, as the Giants invited him to sing the song during their 2010 victory parade.

After the Game.  Dodger Stadium is one of those 1960s-70s suburban islands in a sea of parking, so you won’t be in any neighborhood, much less a bad one.  At least, as I said, there will be cabs waiting in Parking Lot G.

The closest thing I could find to a New York fan-friendly bar nearby is O’Brien’s Irish Pub, at 2226 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, which is the home of the local fan club of the New York Giants football team.  The local Jets fan club meets at the Federal Bar, at 5303 Lankershim Boulevard at Weddington Street.

Sidelights. The Los Angeles metropolitan area, in spite of not having Major League Baseball until 1958, has a very rich sports history. And while L.A. is still a car-first city, it does have a bus system and even has a subway now.

* Site of Wrigley Field. Yes, you read that right: The Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels played here from 1925 to 1957, and the AL’s version played their first season here, 1961. The PCL Angels were a farm team of the Chicago Cubs, and when chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought them both, he built the Angels’ park to look like what was then known as Cubs Park, and then named this one, and then the Chicago one, Wrigley Field. So this ballpark was Wrigley Field first. The Angels’ PCL rivals, the Hollywood Stars, shared it from 1926 to 1935. Its capacity of 22,000 was too small for the Dodgers, and the AL Angels moved out after one season.

Torn down in 1966, it lives on in ESPN Classic rebroadcasts of Home Run Derby, filmed there (because it was close to Hollywood) prior to the 1960 season. Mickey Mantle was a fixture, but the only other guy thought of as a Yankee to participate was Bob Cerv (then with the Kansas City A’s). Yogi Berra wasn’t invited, nor was Moose Skowron, nor Roger Maris. 42nd Place, Avalon Blvd., 41st & San Pedro Streets. Metro Red Line to 7th Street/Metro Center station, transfer to Number 70 bus. Be careful, this is South Central, so if you're overly nervous, you may want to skip this one.

* Gilmore Field. Home to the Hollywood Stars, this 13,000-seat park didn’t last long, from 1939 to 1957. A football field, Gilmore Stadium, was adjacent. CBS Television City was built on the site. 7700 Beverly Blvd. Metro Red Line to Vermont/Beverly station, then either the 14 or 37 bus.

* Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Probably the most famous building in the State of California, unless you count San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, which celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year.

USC has played football here since 1923. UCLA played here from 1928 to 1981, when they inexplicably moved out of the Coliseum, and the city that forms their name, into a stadium that could arguably be called USC’s other home field. The Coliseum was the centerpiece of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games. It was home to the NFL’s Rams from 1946 to 1979 and Raiders from 1982 to 1994, and to a number of teams in other leagues, including the AFL’s Chargers in 1960 before they moved down the coast to San Diego.

The Dodgers played here from 1958 to 1961 while waiting for Dodger Stadium to be ready, but the shape of the field led to a 251-foot left-field fence, shortest in modern baseball. They got the biggest crowd ever for an official baseball game, 92,706, for Game 5 of the 1959 World Series; 93,103 for Roy Campanella’s testimonial, an exhibition game against the Yankees on May 7, 1959; and the largest crowd for any baseball game, 115,300, for a preseason exhibition with the Red Sox on March 29, 2008, to celebrate their 50th Anniversary in L.A. A crowd of 102,368 on November 10, 1957, for a rivalry game between the Rams and the San Francisco 49ers, stood as a regular-season NFL record until 2005 (when a game was played at the larger Estadio Azteca in Mexico City). Ironically, the first Super Bowl, held here on January 15, 1967 (Green Bay 35, Kansas City 17) was only 2/3 sold. Super Bowl VII (Miami over Washington) was sold out. The Beatles played their next-to-last concert here on August 28, 1966. Officially, the Coliseum now seats 93,607, and would likely be a stopgap home for a new or moved NFL team until a modern stadium could be built.

* Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Next-door to the Coliseum, it opened in 1959, and hosted the Democratic Convention the next year, although John F. Kennedy gave his acceptance speech at a packed Coliseum, debuting his theme of a “New Frontier.” The NBA’s Lakers played there from 1960 to 1967, the NHL’s Kings their first few home games in 1967 before the Forum was ready, the NBA’s Clippers from 1984 to 1999, the American Basketball Association’s Stars from 1968 to 1970, the World Hockey Association’s Sharks from 1972 to 1974, the 1968 and 1972 NCAA Final Fours (both won by UCLA, even though it was USC's home court), USC basketball from 1959-2006, and UCLA basketball a few times before Pauley Pavilion opened in 1965 and again this coming season due to Pauley’s renovation.

Due to its closeness to Hollywood studios, the Sports Arena has often been used for movies that need an arena to simulate a basketball or hockey game, a fight (including the Rocky films), a concert, or a political convention.  Lots of rock concerts have been held here, and Bruce Springsteen, on its stage, has called the building “the joint that don’t disappoint” and “the dump that jumps.”

3900 Block of S. Figueroa Street, just off the USC campus in Exposition Park. The California Science Center, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the California African American Museum are also there, and the Shrine Auditorium, former site of the Academy Awards, is but a few steps away. Number 40 or 42 bus from Union Station. Although this is on the edge of South Central, you will probably be safe.

* Rose Bowl. Actually older than the Coliseum by a few months, it opened in 1922 and, except for 1942 (moved to Durham, North Carolina for fear of Japanese attack right after Pearl Harbor), it has hosted the Rose Bowl game every New Year’s Day (or thereabouts) since 1923. As such, it has often felt like a home away from home for USC, Michigan and Ohio State. UCLA has used it as its home field since the 1982 season. It hosted 5 Super Bowls, including the first ones won by the Raiders (XI) and Giants (XXI), plus the all-time biggest attendance for an NFL postseason game, 103,985, for SB XIV (Pittsburgh over Rams, the "home" field advantage not helping the Hornheads). Rose Bowl Drive & Rosemont Avenue. Number 485 bus from Union Station to Pasadena, switch to Number 268 bus.

* Pauley Pavilion. Following their 1964 (and soon their 1965) National Championship, UCLA coach John Wooden wanted a suitable arena for his ever-growing program. He got it in time for the 1965-66 season, and it has hosted 9 more National Championships, making for 11 banners (10 coached by Wooden). It was also the site of the 2nd debate of the 1988 Presidential campaign, where CNN anchor Bernard Shaw asked the question that shattered the campaign of Governor Michael Dukakis – not that the Duke helped himself with his answer. Oddly, he held his Election Eve rally there, despite being a Bostonian. (In contrast, Boston’s JFK held his Convention in the Coliseum complex but his Election Eve rally at the Boston Garden.)

Currently being renovated, so be advised of construction if you want to visit. Metro Purple Line to Wilshire/Normandie station, switch to 720 bus, then walk up Westwood Plaza to Strathmore Place. A few steps away is Drake Stadium, the track & field facility that was home to 1960 Olympic Decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and another UCLA track star you might’ve heard of, named Jackie Robinson. On the way up Westwood Plaza, you’ll pass UCLA Medical Center, now named for someone who died there, Ronald Reagan. The UCLA campus also has a Dykstra Hall, but I’m 99 percent sure it wasn’t named after Lenny Dykstra.

* The Forum. Home of the Lakers and the Kings from 1967 to 1999, built by their then-owner, Jack Kent Cooke, who went on to sell them and buy the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Known from 1988 to 2003 as the Great Western Forum, after a bank. The Lakers appeared in 14 NBA Finals here, winning 6, with the Knicks clinching their last title over the Lakers here in 1973; the Kings appeared in just 1 Stanley Cup Finals here (or anywhere), losing it.

Now owned by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, thus run by James Dolan, which means it’s going to be mismanaged. Elvis Presley sang here on November 14, 1970 and May 11, 1974. The Forum is not currently being used by any professional team, but was recently the stand-in for the Sunshine Center, the arena in the ABC sitcom Mr. Sunshine. 3900 W. Manchester Blvd. Hollywood Park Racetrack is on an adjacent site. Metro Silver Line to Harbor Transitway station, switch to Number 115 bus. (Be careful, this transfer is in South Central.)

* Staples Center. Home of the Lakers, Clippers and Kings since 1999, and usually the home of the Grammy Awards. 1111 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles. Nearest Metro stop is Westlake/MacArthur Park, 8 blocks away.

(Yes, that MacArthur Park, the one where songwriter Jimmy Webb used to take the girlfriend who ended up leaving him and inspiring the song of the same title recorded by Richard Harris and later Donna Summer, and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell, and “The Worst That Could Happen” by Johnny Maestro's later group, the Brooklyn Bridge. The worst that could happen there now, you don’t want to know: Since the 1980s the park has been a magnet for gang violence, although this was significantly reduced in the 2000s.)

* Anaheim Stadium. Home of the Angels since 1966, and of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams from 1980 until 1994, it was designed to look like a modernized version of the old Yankee Stadium, before that stadium's 1973-76 renovation.  The football bleachers, erected in 1979, were demolished in 1997 and replaced with a SoCal-esque scene that gives the place some character.  Unfortunately, the old "Big A" scoreboard that stood in left field from 1966 to 1979 was moved out to the parking lot, and now stands as a message board.  2000 E. Gene Autry Way at State College Boulevard.  Metrolink's Orange County Line and Amtrak share a train station just to the north of the stadium.

* Honda Center. Previously known as the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, it is across the railroad, the Orange Freeway and Katella Avenue from Angel Stadium. It has been home from the beginning of the franchise in 1993 to the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks – formerly the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and I still tend to call them the Mighty Dorks and the Mighty Schmucks. The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, with their typical luck, had to move one of their few home Playoff games there in 1992 during the South Central riot. 2695 E. Katella Avenue. Anaheim Metrolink stop.

* Hollywood Bowl. This 17,376-seat outdoor amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills, with the HOLLYWOOD sign in the background, is one of the best-known concert venues in the world. Opening in 1922, it should be familiar to anyone who’s seen the original 1937 version of A Star Is BornDouble Indemnity, Xanadu, and Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. The Beatles played here on August 23, 1964, and again on August 29 & 30, 1965. 2301 N. Highland Avenue. Metro Red Line to Hollywood/Highland Station, then walk almost a mile up Highland.

* Academy Award ceremony sites. The Oscars have been held at: 1929, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (7000 Hollywood Blvd.). 1930-43, alternated between the Ambassador Hotel, 3400 Wilshire Blvd.; and the Biltmore Hotel, 506 S. Grand Avenue, downtown. 1944-46, Grauman's Chinese Theater (more about that in a moment). 1949-60, Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. 1961-68, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (which also hosted The T.A.M.I. Show in 1964), 1855 Main Street, Santa Monica (Number 10 bus from Union Station). 1969-87, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Avenue, downtown. 1988-2001, Shrine Auditorium, 665. W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles. (Metro Silver Line to Figueroa/Washington, transfer to Number 81 bus; Elvis sang here on June 8, 1956.). 2002-present, Kodak Theater (which also hosts American Idol), 6801 Hollywood Blvd (Metro Red Line to Hollywood/Highland).

All of these still stand, except the Ambassador, demolished in 2005. The site of a legendary nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove, and filming site of a lot of movies, the last movie filmed there was Bobby, in honor of the building's most tragic event, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968. (Directed by Emilio Estevez, one of its stars was his father Martin Sheen, who may be the only actor ever to play both Jack and Bobby Kennedy, although not in this film.)

In addition to the above, Elvis sang at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium on June 7, 1956, the Pan Pacific Auditorium on October 28 & 29, 1957; the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino on November 12 & 13, 1972, and May 10 & 13, 1974; the Long Beach Arena on November 14 & 15, 1972 and April 25, 1976; and the Anaheim Convention Center on April 23, & 24, 1973 and November 30, 1976.

The Los Angeles area is home to a few interesting museums, in addition to those mentioned at Exposition Park. The Getty Center is an art museum at 1200 Getty Center Drive, off I-405. The Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, was founded by the Singing Cowboy and Angels founder-owner to celebrate and study the Western U.S. and Native Americans. (Metro Red Line, Hollywood/Western.) Also at Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory, at 2800 E. Observatory Avenue, should be familiar from lots of movies (including Rebel Without a Cause) and TV shows.

The Hollywood section of town (not a separate city) has a few interesting sites,and the studio tours may be worth it, but do yourself a favor and skip the tours of stars’ homes. You’re probably not going to see any of the celebrities. You’ve got a better chance of seeing one back home on the streets of New York. And stay away from the HOLLYWOOD sign. You might remember the shot of it in the ESPN film The Bronx Is Burning, when the Yankees went out to L.A. to play the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series, their shot of the sign was accurate: In 1977, it was falling apart, a genuine ruin. A year later, it was restored, but it’s still no big deal up close. It was meant to be seen from afar.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater, with its cemented signatures and footprints of stars, is the centerpiece of the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the legendary intersection of Hollywood Blvd. & Vine Street (6931 Hollywood Blvd., also at the Hollywood/Highland Metro stop).

If you’re interested in American history, especially recent history, Southern California is home to 2 Presidential Libraries. Richard Nixon’s is not far from Anaheim, built adjacent to the house where he was born in 1913 at 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd. in Yorba Linda, Orange County. (They are currently preparing commemorations of his 100th birthday for next year.) Metrolink Orange County Line from Union Station to Fullerton, then Number 26 bus to Yorba Linda.

Nixon's “Western White House” at San Clemente can be reached by I-5 or by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner to San Juan Capistrano (the former Spanish mission where, as the song goes, the swallows return on the first day of spring) and then transferring to the Number 191 bus; however, the house, which Nixon called La Casa Pacifica, is privately owned (not by the Nixon family), and is not open to the public.

Centennial celebrations were held last year at Ronald Reagan’s Library at 40 Presidential Drive in Simi Valley in Ventura County. (Reagan was born in 1911, in Tampico, Illinois, about 130 miles west of Chicago.) Unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to reach without a car. Reagan’s Western White House, Rancho del Cielo outside Santa Barbara, is owned by a private foundation that can be contacted for tours. Nancy Reagan still lives at their post-Presidential home in the Bel Air section of L.A., and while I’m no fan of the Reagans, I’ll respect Nancy’s privacy (she is 90 and has been recovering from broken ribs recently) and not list the address (or how to get there) even though it’s been published elsewhere. It’s been remarked that the ranch was his home, whereas anyplace they lived in “Hollywood” was hers.

Did I forget anything important? Oh yeah, Southern California's original tourist destination, outside of the Hollywood studios. Most people I've talked to who have been to both Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World outside Orlando, Florida have said that the Florida one is a LOT better. Anyway, the address is 1313 S. Harbor Blvd. in Anaheim, and if you're staying in Los Angeles, just drive down I-5. Public transportation is possible, but it's a mile and a half from the closest bus stop to Disneyland's gates.


So, if you can afford it, go on out and join your fellow Met fans in going coast-to-coast, and enjoy the Mets-Dodgers matchup, and enjoy the sights and sounds of Southern California. In spite of the fact that this weekend may be one of those rare occasions where New York’s weather will be just as good.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Be a New York Fan in Chicago -- Wrigley Version, 2012 Edition

I should have gotten to this one sooner, since the series that starts tonight at Wrigley Field is the Mets' only visit to Chicago this season, and the Yankees' Interleague schedule does not include a visit..

Before You Go. The Chicago Tribune website is predicting good weather for tonight and tomorrow night, but 95 degrees for the game to be played on Wednesday afternoon.  So ignore all the stories you’ve heard about Chicago being cold (you’re going to Wrigley to see the Mets play the Cubs, not to Soldier Field to see the Giants or Jets play the Bears), dress accordingly, and remember to stay hydrated.

Getting There. Chicago is 789 land miles from New York, and Wrigley Field is 809 land miles from Citi Field. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

Unlike some other Midwestern cities, this is a good idea if you can afford it. If you buy tickets online, you can get them for $335 each way. Nearly every flight from the New York area’s airports to Chicago’s is nonstop, so it’ll be 3 hours, tarmac to tarmac, and about 2 hours going back. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line train will take you from O’Hare International Airport, at the northwestern edge of the city, to the downtown elevated (or “L”) tracks that run in “The Loop” (the borders of which are Randolph, Wells, Van Buren and Wabash Streets) in 45 minutes. From Midway Airport, the Orange Line train can get you to the Loop.  Both should take about 45 minutes.

Bus? Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities is relatively easy, but long, about 18 hours, and is $221 round-trip. The station is at 630 W. Harrison Street. (If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies, Midnight Run, this is a new station, not the one seen in that 1988 film.) The closest CTA stop is Clinton on the Blue Line, around the corner.

Train? Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:45 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station at 225 South Canal Street in Chicago at 9:45 every morning. It’s $190 each way. The closest CTA stop is Quincy/Wells, in the Loop, but that’s 6 blocks away – counting the Chicago River as a block; Union Station is, literally, out of the Loop.

If you do decide to walk there, don’t look up at the big black thing you pass. That’s the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, which, until the new World Trade Center is completed next year, will remain the tallest building in North America, which it has officially been since it opened in 1974. If there’s one thing being in New York should have taught you, it’s this: “Don’t look up at the tall buildings, or you’ll look like a tourist.”

But since you’ve come all this way, it makes sense to get a hotel, so take a cab from Union Station or Greyhound to the hotel – unless you’re flying in, in which case you can take the CTA train to within a block of a good hotel.

Of course, with the way the schedules run (and with my having to concentrate on real-world duties rather than write this, sorry), you won’t be able to leave by anything other than plane and get there in time for the first game of the series. A drawback to the Cubs playing mostly day games.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. The directions are rather simple, down to (almost but not quite literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key.

If you were going directly to Wrigley Field (not a good idea, as it has that one awful trait that all the pre-1930s ballparks had, minimal parking), you’d take Exit 48B for State Route 64/North Avenue, turn right onto North, turn left on Sheffield Avenue, and then turn left on Clark Street. Wrigley is bounded by Clark Street (3rd base), Addison Street (1st base), Sheffield Avenue (right field) and Waveland Avenue (left field).

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, and half an hour in Illinois before you reach your hotel. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 18 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not flying.

Tickets. In spite of the White Sox normally being the better team on the field, the Cubs have had the better attendance. This season, the Cubs are averaging 37,914 for home games, the White Sox just 22,190, even though the Sox are leading the American League Central Division, while the Cubs are 24 games under .500 and dead last in the National League Central, 15 1/2 games out. In fact, the Cubs have had a higher attendance than the White Sox every season starting in 1994, even though the Sox were then in a very good period and have actually won a Pennant and a World Series since: Even in their title season of 2005, the Sox trailed the Cubs in per-game attendance, 24,437 to 39,138. The Sox’ single-season record is 36,511 in 2007, and the Cubs had 39,040.

So, as you might guess, getting tickets to Cubs games isn’t easy. Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, scalpers swarm the streets, asking, “Anybody buyin’? Anybody sellin’?” Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, you should avoid them.

Also like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, even from legitimate sources, you’re probably going to pay a bundle. Lower-level seats go for $114 for Club Boxes, $104 for Field Box Infield, $82 for Field Box Outfield, $74 for Terrace Box Infield, $50 for Terrace Reserved Infield, $72 for Infield Upper Deck Boxes, $59 for Outfield Upper Deck Boxes, $47 for Terrace Reserved Outfield, $32 for Upper Deck Reserved Infield, and $29 for Upper Deck Reserved Outfield.  Forget the legendary Bleachers, those are sold out.

As for seats on the rooftops on Waveland and Sheffield, price and availability depends on the landlord, but why would you go all the way to Wrigley Field and NOT be IN Wrigley Field to watch the game?

Going In. To get to Wrigley from downtown, do not drive.  If you drove into Chicago, leave your car at your hotel.  Driving around Wrigley is ridiculous, and parking around Wrigley, while probably safe, is a fool's errand.  Take the Red Line train to Addison. It’s about a 20-minute ride, making it faster than from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.

The area around Wrigley, originally known as Lake View (even though Lake Michigan isn’t really in view) but known as Wrigleyville almost continuously since the Cubs’ 1969 “September Swoon” season, should look and feel familiar, as it is reminiscent of a lot of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and North Jersey. The first time I visited, I thought I was in Newark, Bloomfield, Belleville. Only nicer.

You’ll be most likely to enter by the right field gate at Addison & Sheffield, or the home plate gate at Clark & Addison, under the legendary marquee saying:


The last time I visited, there was a Cubs Walk of Fame outside the home plate entrance. I’ve heard that it’s no longer there. I hope it is still in place.

At the right field gate is a statue of Harry Caray, who broadcast for the St. Louis Cardinals (1945-69), the White Sox (1971-81) and the Cubs (1982-97). He’s posed as if he’s leaning out of the press box window, his microphone catching the sound of the fans as they sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with him in the 7th Inning Stretch.  (On my first visit, in 1990, he was leaning so far out of the press box, I thought he was going to fall out. He didn’t, and kept broadcasting for the Cubs until he died just before the 1998 season began.) The base of his statue is a replica of Wrigley itself.

The place is surrounded by famous bars, including, going clockwise: The Cubby Bear (on the opposite corner of Clark & Addison), Slugger’s and Goose Island (across Clark from each other at the corner of Eddy Street), Casey Moran’s (at Clark & Patterson Avenue), Bernie’s Tavern (at Clark & Waveland), Gingerman’s (up Clark at Racine Avenue), and Murphy’s Bleachers, probably the most famous of them all (on the corner of Sheffield & Waveland). Fortunately, the streets surrounding the park have lots of souvenir shops and stands, another easy comparison with Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Unfortunately, this very commercial area also has a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell and a Starbucks.

The ballpark faces northeast, away from downtown and the city’s skyscrapers. If you’re expecting a nice view, forget it: It looks rather ordinary. Besides, at Wrigley, “the view” is the ballpark itself, the old poles, the brick walls, the ivy, the bleachers, the old scoreboard. The ivy and the scoreboard were both put up by Bill Veeck, future Browns, Indians & White Sox owner, when he worked for the Cubs in 1937. His father, also named William Veeck, had been a Chicago sportswriter and Cubs executive. Previously, ivy had been on the walls of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and the park of Indianapolis’ Triple-A team.

The distances are 355 to the left field pole and 353 to right, 368 to both power alleys (making it hard for a pull hitter but great for an alley hitter), and 400 to dead center, although the farthest point is a little to the right of that, as Wrigley is not symmetrical. And the first thing I noticed when I went exploring on my first visit is how much smaller the ballpark building is than the New York stadiums were: A walk from the left field corner to the right field corner was shockingly quick. (Although I should point out that there wasn’t a lot of obstruction on the concourse: There were only 15,495 fans in the park that day, September 13, 1990. The Cubs beat the Phillies, 6-5.) Note also that, like the old Yankee Stadium, you can’t get into the Bleachers from the rest of the park.

The park opened in 1914, as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, owned by Charles Weeghman, owner of a chain of lunch counters that were the precursor to today’s fast-food joints. When the FL folded, “Lucky Charlie” bought the Cubs, and moved them into Weeghman Park. But he fell on hard times, and sold the team. In 1921, it became Cubs Park, and the NFL’s Chicago team moved in, changing their name to match the Cubs: The Chicago Bears. William Wrigley Jr. bought the team in 1925, renamed it Wrigley Field, and added an upper deck in 1927. He died in 1932, and his son Philip K. Wrigley owned the team until his death in 1977, and his son William sold the team to the Chicago Tribune Company in 1981. The Trib finally sold the team in 2010, after presiding over the team’s most profitable, yet most frustrating, era.

As I said, the park’s two best-known features, the ivy and the bleachers, “only” go back to 1937; so while they were there when the Yankees played there in the 1938 World Series, they were not there in 1932 when Babe Ruth… well, you know what they SAY he did there in that Series..

The seating capacity is officially 41,009, although it was around 38,000 almost continuously from the addition of the bleachers in 1938 until 2005.

Food. As one of America’s greatest food cities, in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Chicago ballparks to have lots of good options. The White Sox do. The Cubs? Not really. In fact, aside from not being car-friendly, I’d say Wrigley’s biggest flaw is its food. The food is okay, but nothing special like the Sox have always had; considering that the park’s builder, Charlie Weeghman, was a restaurateur, this is a bit surprising.

There are concession stands all over, including one in the upper deck, an open patio right over the famed marquee. The Sheffield Grill and the pricier Captain Morgan Club are in the right field corner (Sections 137 to 140).  They have a hot dog stand called “The Works Loaded Dogs” at Section 121, a pizza stand called the Italian Hot Spot at 112, and CC’s Frozen Drinks at 115 – not connected to CC Sabathia.

Team History Displays. As I said, the Cubs had a Walk of Fame outside the marquee entrance, but I don’t know if it’s still there. They have flags on the foul poles honoring their retired numbers: 10, Ron Santo, 3rd base 1960-73, broadcaster 1990-2010; 14, Ernie Banks, shortstop and 1st base, 1953-71, a.k.a. Mr. Cub; 23, Ryne Sandberg, 2nd base 1982-97; 26, Billy Williams, left field 1959-71; 31, dual retirement for pitchers Ferguson Jenkins, 1966-73 and 1982-83, and Greg Maddux, 1986-92 and 2004-06.  Banks may still be the most popular athlete in Chicago history, ahead of Walter Payton, Bobby Hull and even Michael Jordan

The Banks, Santo and Jenkins flags are on the left field pole; the Williams, Sandberg and Maddux flags are on the right field pole. Banks, Williams and Jenkins are in the Baseball Hall of Fame (Jenkins is the only Canadian in it), Maddux becomes eligible in 2014, and Santo, long one of the players not in the Hall who is most often cited as deserving of election, was finally elected last year, about a year after he died.

Santo, who called himself “the single biggest Cubs fan of all time,” was recently honored with a statue outside the park, to go with Caray's.  Another legendary broadcaster, Jack Brickhouse, is honored with his signature call “Hey Hey” in red letters going down each foul pole.

Stuff. Clubhouse stores are located on the first level of the park, behind home plate and at each outfield corner. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.

As one of those supposedly “cursed” teams, and playing in a literary city (Chicago has produced a LOT of great writers), a lot of books have been written about the Cubs. Peter Golenbock, who wrote the oral histories Dynasty about the 1949-64 Yankees, Amazin’ about the Mets and Bums about the Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote Wrigleyville, which includes first-person accounts going back to the beginning of the franchise in 1876, thanks to writings left behind by early Cubs greats like Al Spalding, Cap Anson and Mike (King) Kelly, and interviews with the famed infield of Tinker-Evers-Chance and Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown.

Available DVDs include Chicago Cubs: The Heart and Soul of Chicago, Chicago Cubs: We Believe (a variation of a similarly-titled video about the Red Sox, including reminiscences of some of the many singers and actors who came from the Chicago area and are Cub fans), the Harry Caray tribute Hello Again Everybody, and the new tribute video Ron Santo: A Perfect Ten.

Only once since the official World Series highlight films started have the Cubs won a Pennant, so if you want to see them on an official WS film, you’ll have to get the Detroit Tigers’ package that includes the 1945 World Series.

Instead of titling a package The Essential Games of Wrigley Field, they have Chicago Cubs Legends: Great Games Collector’s Edition. This box set includes the entire broadcasts of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998, Sammy Sosa hitting his 61st and 62nd homers of the 1998 season, Greg Maddux’s 300th win in 2004, and a 5-for-5 game by Derrek Lee in 2005, plus a few extra clips such as Banks’ 500th home run in 1971, and the final outs of their 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2004 Division clinchers and the 1998 Wild Card Playoff.

During the Game.  Will you have to worry about wearing Met gear in Wrigley Field? I doubt it.  Milwaukee Brewers gear, possibly, as the Bears-Packers rivalry might kick in (although Brewers fans hate the Cubs much more than vice versa). St. Louis Cardinals gear, definitely.  But it's been 1993 since the Mets and the Cubs were Division rivals, and 1998 since they were competing for the NL's Wild Card Playoff berth.  So while there will be Cub fans who remember 1969, most of them will be age 50 and up, and not in a position to fight.  As for the ones who remember 1984, don't worry about them: The Cubs won the NL East that year, so they won't hold it against you.  Just be aware that night games will be edgier than day games, and don't provoke them.

Wayne Messmer is the public address announcer, and usually the National Anthem singer, having also done the Anthem for Chicago Blackhawks hockey games. He also has a radio talk show on WDCB, 90.9 FM, a public radio station.

The Bleacher Bums, first semi-organized in 1967, were the original Bleacher Creatures, the first large group of baseball fans acting in concert since the Boston Red Sox' Royal Rooters of the 1910s. They got called “bums” because the games were all in daytime, so why weren’t they at their jobs? In fact, many of the originals, in the late Sixties, were students at area colleges such as DePaul University, Loyola University, Northwestern University and the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. After getting beaten up by Cardinal fans (the Cards won Pennants in ’67 and ’68), one of them came to the next game wearing a bright yellow construction worker’s hard hat. Soon, lots of fans were wearing those, and some of these can still be seen in the Bleachers today.

These guys started the tradition, no longer allowed at any other ballpark, of throwing back home runs hit by opposing players. (This can be seen in the 1994 film Rookie of the Year.) On my first visit in 1990, Dale Murphy, then with the Phillies, hit one out off Rick Sutcliffe, and it went onto Waveland. Not a seat-seeking missile, a street-seeking missile. I figured, That’ll prevent it from getting thrown back. Wrong! A guy on the street threw the ball into the Bleachers, "hitting the cutoff man," if you will, and then it was thrown back onto the field! These people are dedicated.

A fan you might see is Ronnie “Woo-Woo” Wickers. Harry Caray called him “Leather Lungs” for his ability to yell, “Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo!” for hours at a time. Although he’s black and not quite as old (he turned 70 last year) and doesn’t have a pan and a spoon, it’s fair to say he’s the Cubs’ answer to the late Yankee Fan Freddy “Sez” Schuman.

Another fan you might see is Jerry Pritikin, who calls himself the Bleacher Preacher. He wears a propeller beanie, and to new Cub fans, the Preacher lays his hands on them, and baptizes them, “In the name of the father, Bill Veeck Sr.; the son, Bill Veeck Jr., and the Cubs’ holy spirit, Charlie Grimm.” (The father being the team president, the son being the scoreboard-builder and ivy-planter who went on to own other teams, and Grimm was a Cub player, manager, and all-around ambassador, managing them to the 1932 and ’35 Pennants.)

A fan you will almost certainly not see is Steve Bartman. You know the details; he’s the anti-Jeffrey Maier. He was sitting in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113. Along with the red seat in Fenway Park’s bleachers, where Ted Williams hit the (supposed) longest homer the park’s history, it’s probably the most famous single seat in baseball. To his credit, Bartman asked Marlin fans offering him gifts, including money, to send it instead to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Cubs’ official charity due to Santo’s involvement, having dealt with the illness. Bartman was once offered $25,000 to autograph a picture of himself after the incident, and turned it down. Where is he today, and what is he doing? Apparently, he’s still in the Chicago area, still working in the same field, and still coaching youth baseball.

Due to WGN cameras focusing on attractive women in the stands in that 1984 season, the Cubs may have the highest percentage of female fans of any team. But don't quote me on that: Both times I was there, Wrigley didn't exactly have an overly feminine atmosphere. It wasn't like a WNBA game or a figure-skating meet. But there have been times when the Friendly Confines seems like the world's largest singles bar. (As opposed to the old Comiskey Park, which Bill Veeck famously nicknamed "The World's Largest Saloon.")

For years, but no longer, Cub radio broadcasts began with the Harry Simeone Chorale (interestingly, based in Newark, New Jersey) singing “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game,” which can be heard at the beginning of some of the World Series highlight films of the 1960s. The Cubs have a semi-official theme song, sung by then-broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd during their ultimately failed 1969 Pennant run, invoking both men’s catchphrases: “Hey Hey! Holy Mackerel! (The Cubs Song).” It went, “Hey hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on the way... ” Yeah, I know, not much better than “Here Come the Yankees” or “Meet the Mets,” and not nearly as good as the crosstown team's "Let's Go, Go-Go White Sox."

Wrigley is supposedly a hitters’ park, due to the close power alleys and the wind. Don’t be fooled by this: Half the time, the wind is blowing in, and when that happens, it becomes a great pitchers’ park. The Cubs have never been worth a damn without good pitching; when they have had it, such as in 1945, 1969, 1984, 1998 and 2003, and have taken advantage of the true nature (literally) of Wrigley Field, they’ve been tough to beat.  So why haven't they won a Pennant since 1945 or a World Series since 1908? The answer, my friend, may just be blowin' in the wind.

The Cubs don’t have a mascot. For years, they didn’t need one; they had Harry Caray. He started his tradition of leaning out the window of the press box and leading fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch at the old Comiskey Park when he was doing White Sox games in the Seventies; Sox owner Bill Veeck heard this, and suggested Harry keep the radio mike on so that everyone could hear it. Harry took the tradition with him to Wrigley, and when they made their Pennant run in 1984, on WGN, one of the nation’s first cable “superstations,” suddenly everyone knew about it.

That season, that station, that song, and that broadcaster saved, if not the Cubs, then certainly Wrigley Field for at least one more generation: Had that Playoff run not happened, there’s a very good chance the Cubs and Bears could now be sharing some antiseptic dome out in the suburbs, maybe out by O’Hare. (The Allstate Arena, formerly the Rosemont Horizon, is out there; DePaul University plays its home basketball games there, as do the WNBA's Chicago Sky.)

With Harry gone, celebrities take turns singing the song. In the first season after Harry’s death, 1998, opposing broadcasters were the most frequent singers, including the Phillies’ Harry Kalas, the Cardinals’ Jack Buck (Harry’s former partner) and the Dodgers’ Vin Scully. (I don’t think any of the Mets’ broadcasters did; if they had, it would have been put on the local news.) Chicago and Chicago-area sports legends have taken their turns, including Banks, Sandberg, Mike Ditka, and, the last time I visited, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. I do not know who will be doing it this week; hopefully, it won’t be Ozzy Osbourne again.

Traditionally, when the Cubs win, a white flag with a W goes up on the flagpole behind the scoreboard, underneath the Stars & Stripes. When they lose, it’s a blue flag with a white L. Chip Caray, Harry’s grandson and now a Cub broadcaster, waits for the last out, and says, “White Flag time at Wrigley!” This caught on, and now fans bring their W flags to games.

However, much more often, the Cubs will lose. Steve Goodman, who wrote the classic song “The City of New Orleans,” and was himself dying of leukemia, wrote “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” This song will NOT be played at Wrigley, but it sums up what being a Cub fan feels like:

In 1984, Goodman wrote and recorded "Go Cubs Go," and was invited to sing the National Anthem before one of their Playoff games. But his leukemia called him out, and he died late in the season. His recording of "Go Cubs Go" is now played after every win.

After the Game. The neighborhood should be safe after a day game, but after a night game – they still play only 18 night games a year there, to keep the tradition going – with all that extra time to drink, it can get a little rough.  You probably won’t get anything more than a little verbal, but be on your guard.

Of the surrounding bars, I liked Murphy’s Bleachers the best, but I wouldn’t recommend going to any of them after the game. Better to try one of them before the game, when Cub fans are less likely to be agitated (positively or negatively) over the game.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I found listings of 3 Chicago bars where New York Giants fans gather: Red Ivy, just south of Wrigley at 3519 N. Clark Street; The Bad Dog Tavern, 4535 N. Lincoln Avenue (Brown Line to Western); and Trinity, at 2721 N. Halsted Street (Brown or Purple Line to Diversey). And I found these 2 which show Jets games: Rebel Bar & Grill, also just south of Wrigley at 3462 N. Clark; and Butch McGuire's, 20 W. Division Street (Red Line to Clark/Division).


Sidelights. Chicago is one of the best sports cities, not just in America, but on the planet. Check out the following – but do it in daylight, as the city’s reputation for crime, while significantly reduced from its 1980s peak, is still there:

* Comiskey Park – old and new. The longtime home of the Chicago White Sox, 1910 to 1990, was at 324 W. 35th Street at Shields Avenue (a.k.a. Bill Veeck Drive), and is now a parking lot, with its infield painted in. This was the home field of Big Ed Walsh (the pitcher supposedly helped design it to be a pitchers’ park), Eddie Collins, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the “Black Sox,” Luke Appling, the great double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox of the ’59 “Go-Go White Sox,” Dick Allen, the 1977 “South Side Hit Men” of Richie Zisk, and the 1983 Division Champions of Carlton Fisk, LaMarr Hoyt and Harold Baines.

The old Comiskey was also where future Yankee stars Russell “Bucky” Dent and Rich “Goose” Gossage began their careers, and where, in the last game the Yankees ever played there, Andy Hawkins pitched a no-hitter – and lost, thanks to his own walks and 3 errors in the 8th inning. The NFL’s Chicago Cardinals played there from 1922 to 1959, and the franchise, now the Arizona Cardinals, won what remains their only NFL Championship Game (they didn’t call ‘em Super Bowls back then) there in 1947. And in 1979, during what was supposed to be intermission between games of a White Sox vs. Tigers doubleheader, was Disco Demolition Night. Today, it’s called a fiasco, but the sentiment was right: Disco really did suck. But the biggest music event there was the Beatles' concert on August 20, 1965.

The new one, built in 1991, is across the street at 333 W. 35th Street. It was called Comiskey Park until 2003, when it became U.S. Cellular Field, a.k.a. "The Cell." Here, the White Sox won the 1993 AL West title, were in position to win the 1994 AL Central title when the strike hit, won the Central in 2000, went all the way in 2005, and won the Central again in 2008. A lot of people don’t like this park, but I do. Red Line to Sox-35th.

* Previous Chicago ballparks. The Cubs previously played at these parks:

State Street Grounds, also called 23rd Street Grounds, 1874-77, winning the NL’s first Pennant in 1876.  23rd, State, and Federal Streets & Cermak Road (formerly 22nd Street).  ed Line to Cermak-Chinatown.

Lakefront Park, also called Union Base-Ball Grounds and White-Stocking Park (the Cubs used the name “Chicago White Stockings” until 1900, and the AL entry then took the name), 1878-84, winning the 1880, ’81 and ’82 Pennants.  Michigan Avenue & Randolph Street in the northwest corner of what’s now Millennium Park, with (appropriately) Wrigley Square built on the precise site.  Randolph/Wabash or Madison/Wabash stops on the Loop.

West Side Park I, 1885-91, winning the 1885 and ’86 Pennants.  Congress, Loomis, Harrison & Throop Streets, now part of the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  Blue Line to Racine.

South Side Park, 1891-93, just east of where the Comiskey Parks were built.

West Side Park II, 1893-1915, winning the 1906 and 1910 Pennants and the 1907 and 1908 World Series, the only World Series the Cubs have ever won.  Taylor, Wood and Polk Streets and Wolcott Avenue, now the site of a medical campus that includes the Cook County Hospital, the basis for the TV show ER.  Pink Line to Polk.  (Yes, there's a Pink Line.)

Prior to the original Comiskey Park, the White Sox played at a different building called South Side Park, at 39th Street (now Pershing Road), 38th Street, & Wentworth and Princeton Avenues, a few blocks south of the Comiskey Parks.

* United Center and site of Chicago Stadium. From 1929 to 1994, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks played at Chicago Stadium, “the Madhouse on Madison,” at 1800 W. Madison Street at Wood Street. The NBA’s Bulls played there from 1967 to 1994. The United Center opened across the street at 1901 W. Madison at Honore Street.

At the old Stadium, the Blackhawks won Stanley Cups in 1934, ’38 and ’61, and the Bulls won NBA Titles in 1991, ’92 and ’93. At the United Center, the Bulls won in 1996, ’97 and ’98 and the Blackhawks won the 2010 Cup. The Democrats had their Convention at Chicago Stadium in 1932, ’40 and ’44, nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt each time; the Republicans also had their Convention there in ’32 and ’44. The Democrats held court (or rink) at the United Center in 1996, their first Convention in Chicago since the disaster of 1968. And Elvis Presley gave concerts at the Stadium on June 16 and 17, 1972 -- giving the last of these as burglars were breaking into the Watergate complex in Washington. Blue Line to Illinois Medical District (which can also be used to access the site of West Side Park II and ER), or Green or Pink Line to Ashland-Lake.

* Soldier Field. Opened in 1924, and for years was best known as the site of the Chicago College All-Star Game (a team of graduating seniors playing the defending NFL Champions) from 1934 to 1976, and as the site of the 1927 heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, the famed “Long Count” fight, which may have had what remains the greatest attendance ever for a U.S. sporting event, with figures ranging from 104,000 to 130,000, depending on who you believe. It definitely was the site of the largest crowd in the history of American football, 123,000, to see Notre Dame play USC a few weeks after the Long Count.  In spite of various expansions, the universities of Michigan and Tennessee and Penn State still can’t top this. Games of the 1994 World Cup were also held at the old Soldier Field.

Amazingly, the Bears played at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970, with the occasional exception. The story I heard is that Bears founder-owner-coach George Halas was a good friend of both the Wrigley and Veeck families, and felt loyalty to them, and that’s why he stayed at Wrigley, despite it having just 47,000 seats for football. But I heard another story that Halas was a Republican and didn’t like Chicago’s Democratic Mayor, Richard J. Daley (whose son Richard M. recently left office having broken his father’s record for longest-serving Mayor), and didn’t want to pay the city Parks Department a lot of rent.  It also could have been all money and no politics, as Halas was known to be cheap: Mike Ditka, who nonetheless loved his old boss, said, “Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.” The real reason the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 was Monday Night Football: Halas wanted the revenue, and Wrigley didn’t have lights until 1988.

A 2002-03 renovation demolished all but the famed Greek-style columns that used to hang over the stadium, and are now visible only from the outside. It doesn’t look like “Soldier Field” anymore, as opposed to the new Yankee Stadium having been designed to look like the old one did before its 1973-76 renovation. Capacity is now roughly what it was in the last few years prior to the renovation, 61,500. And while the Bears won 8 NFL Championships from 1921 to 1963 while playing at Wrigley (8 more titles than the Cubs have won there), they’ve only won one more at Soldier Field, the 1985 title capped by Super Bowl XX. The Monsters of the Midway have been tremendous underachievers since leaving Wrigley. 1410 S. Museum Campus Drive, at McFetridge and Lake Shore Drives, a bit of a walk from Roosevelt station on the Green, Orange and Red Lines.

* Site of Chicago Coliseum. There were 2 buildings with this name that you should know about. One hosted the 1896 Democratic National Convention, where William Jennings Bryan began the process of turning the Democratic Party from the conservative party it had been since before the Civil War into the modern liberal party it became, a struggle that went through the Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt years before it finally lived up to its promise under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It was here that Bryan gave the speech for which he is most remembered, calling for the free coinage of silver rather than sticking solely to the gold standard: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Now a part of Jackson Park, at 63rd Street & Stony Island Avenue. 63rd Street Metra (commuter rail) station.

The other was home to every Republican Convention from Theodore Roosevelt’s in 1904 to Warren Harding’s in 1920, including the 1912 Convention where TR split from the party after being maneuvered out of the nomination to return to office, and his subsequent Progressive Party Convention was also held there. It was also the original home of the Blackhawks, from 1926 to 1929 and briefly again in 1932. In 1935, roller derby was invented there. In 1961, an NBA expansion team, the Chicago Packers, played there, becoming the Zephyrs in 1962 and moving to become the Baltimore Bullets in 1963. The Coliseum hosted a few rock concerts before the Fire Department shut it down in 1971, and it was demolished in 1982. The Soka Gakkai USA Culture Center, a Buddhist institute, now occupies the site. East side of Wabash Avenue at 15th Street, with today’s Coliseum Park across the street. Appropriately enough, the nearest CTA stop is at Roosevelt Avenue.

* Site of International Amphitheatre. Home to the Bulls in their first season, 1966-67, and to the World Hockey Association’s Chicago Cougars from 1972 to 1975, this arena, built by the stockyards in 1934, was home to a lot of big pro wrestling cards. Elvis Presley sang here on March 28, 1957. The Beatles played here on September 5, 1964 and August 12, 1966. But it is best known as a site for political conventions. Both parties met there in 1952, the Democrats in 1956, the Republicans in 1960, and, most infamously, the Democrats in 1968, with all the protests. The main protests for that convention were in Grant Park and a few blocks away on Michigan Avenue in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, one of the convention headquarters (now the Chicago Hilton & Towers. 720 S. Michigan), but the Amphitheatre itself, torn down in 1999, was at 4220 S. Halsted Street, where an Aramark plant now stands. Red Line to 47th Street. NOT to be visited after dark; indeed, unless you’re really interested in political history, I’d say, if you have to drop one item from this list, this is the one.

* Northwestern University. Chicago’s Big Ten school is just north of the city, in Evanston. Dyche Stadium/Ryan Field, and McGaw Hall/Welsh-Ryan Arena, are on Ashland Avenue between Central Street (Purple Line) and Isabella Street. And while Northwestern’s athletic teams have traditionally been terrible, the school has a very important place in sports history: The first NCAA basketball tournament championship game was held there in 1939, at Patten Gymnasium, at 2145 Sheridan Road. The original Patten Gym was torn down a year later, and the school’s Technological Institute was built on the site. Sheridan Road, Noyes Street and Campus Drive. Purple Line to Noyes.

* National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame.  Appropriately in Chicago's Little Italy, west of downtown, it includes a state uf Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio.  Other New York native or playing baseball players honored include Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin, Vic Raschi, Tony Lazzeri, Dave Righetti, Frank Crosetti, Roy Campanella, Sal Maglie, Mike Piazza, Bobby Valentine, John Franco, Carl Furillo, Frank Viola, Jim Fregosi, Ralph Branca, Rocky Colavito, broadcaster Joe Garagiola, and the last active player to have been a Brooklyn Dodger, Bob Aspromonte, and his brother Ken Aspromonte.  1431 W. Taylor Street at Loomis Street.  Pink Line to Polk.

* Museums. Chicago’s got a bunch of good ones, as you would expect in a city of 3 million people. Their version of New York’s Museum of Natural History is the Field Museum, just north of Soldier Field. Adjacent is the Shedd Aquarium. On the other side of the Aquarium is their answer to the Hayden Planetarium, the Adler Planetarium. And they have a fantastic museum for which there is no real analogue in New York, though the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is similar: The Museum of Science & Industry, at 57th Street & Cornell Drive, near the University of Chicago campus; 56th Street Metra station. The Art Institute of Chicago is their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 111 S. Michigan Avenue, just off the Loop.

* Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. If you’re a fan of that movie, as I am (see my 25th Anniversary retrospective), not only will you have taken in Wrigley Field, but you’ll recognize the Art Institute as where Alan Ruck focused on Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Other sites visited by Ferris, Cameron and Sloane were the Sears Tower, then the tallest building in the world, 1,454 feet, 233 S. Wacker Drive (yes, the name is "Wacker"), Quincy/Wells station in the Loop; and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 335 S. La Salle Street, LaSalle/Van Buren station in the Loop.  (The LaSalle/Van Buren station is shown in another John Hughes film, as it is where Steve Martin & John Candy finally reached Chicago in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.) I’m not sure what street the von Steuben Day Parade went down.

While the house that stood in for the Bueller house was in Long Beach, California, the Frye house is in Highland Park, north of the city.  However, it is a private residence, and not open to the public, so I won’t provide the address, even though I know it.

The restaurant from the film, Chez Quis, did not and does not exist. Nor did, or does, Adam's Ribs, a barbecue joint made famous in a 1974 M*A*S*H episode of the same title.  Today, there are 18 restaurants in America named Adam's Ribs, including two on Long Island, on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park and on the Montauk Highway in Babylon; and another on Cookstown-Wrightstown Road outside South Jersey's Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. But only one is anywhere near Chicago, in Buffalo Grove in the northwestern suburbs.

Not far from that, in the western suburbs, is Wheaton, home town of football legend Red Grange and the comedic Belushi Brothers, John and Jim. John and Dan Aykroyd used Wrigley Field in The Blues Brothers, and Jim played an obsessive Cubs fan in Taking Care of Business. Their father, an Albanian immigrant, ran a restaurant called The Olympia Cafe, which became half the basis for John's Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, better known as the Cheeseburger Sketch: "No hamburger! Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger... No fries, chips!... No Coke, Pepsi!"

Don Novello, an SNL writer who played Father Guido Sarducci, said the other half of the inspiration was the Billy Goat Tavern, originally operated by Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis, originator of the supposed Billy Goat Curse on the Cubs, across Madison Street from Chicago Stadium, from 1937 until 1963. At that point, Sianis moved to the lower deck of the double-decked Michigan Avenue, since it was near the headquarters of the city's three daily newspapers, the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and the now-defunct Daily News. Mike Royko, who wrote columns for each of these papers, made it his haunt and frequently mentioned it in his columns.

Novello and Bill Murray, Chicagoans, were regulars at the Billy Goat, but John Belushi later said he'd never set foot in the place, so while the others may have drawn inspiration from it, his came from his father's restaurant.

Sam Sianis, nephew of the original Billy, still serves up a fantastic cheeseburger (he was there when I visited in 1999), he deviates from the sketch: No Pepsi, Coke. It's open for breakfast, and serves regular breakfast food. It looks foreboding, being underneath the elevated part of Michigan Avenue, and a sign out front (and on their website) says, "Enter at your own risk." But another sign says, "Butt in anytime." 430 N. Michigan Avenue, lower deck, across from the Tribune Tower. Red Line to Grand. The original location near Chicago Stadium has effectively been replaced, at 1535 W. Madison Street.

You may notice some other film landmarks. The Chicago Board of Trade Building was used as the Wayne Tower in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. And Chicago stood in for Metropolis in the Superman-themed TV series Lois & Clark, with the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower as standout landmarks.


Every American should visit Chicago. And every baseball fan should see a game at Wrigley Field. Along with Fenway, it's the last ballpark standing from before World War I -- and now, one of the last two still in major league use from before the JFK years. It's the last ballpark in which Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson played, and along with Fenway one of only two left in which Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams played. And Wrigley has an added advantage that Fenway doesn't have: No Red Sox fans!

Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens; Fern Flaman, 1927-2012

Before this weekend's Yankees-Mets series began, Met closer Frank Francisco said this about the Yankees:

"I can't wait to face those chickens. I want to strike out the side against them.I've done it before... I said what I said. I'm not sorry. That's what I think. I think they complain too much about everything."


On Friday night, the Mets backed their closer's idiotic words up. In the bottom of the 1st inning, the Mets tagged Andy Pettitte for 5 runs. After that, Pettitte and 3 Yankee relievers allowed just 1 run on 5 hits and 2 walks, but the damage was done. Home runs by Alex Rodriguez (his 12th), Andruw Jones (his 7th) and Robinson Cano (his 15th) gave the Yankees a chance, but it wasn't enough. Mets 6, Yankees 4. WP: Jon Niese (5-3). SV: Francisco (18). LP: Pettitte (3-3).

Saturday night was a different story, with a better ending. The Mets took a 3-0 lead on Ivan Nova and, well, as they say in English soccer, "Three-nil and you fucked it up!"

Top of the 7th: Mark Teixeira leads off by drawing a walk. Nick Swisher doubled: In an apparently bad year, this was Swish's 20th double of the season and we're still in June. And Raul Ibanez, now 40 years old, tied the game with his 11th homer. (I still can't figure out why the Phillies let him go.)

Met manager Terry Collins replaced starter Jon Rauch with Chris Young, who promptly struck out Russell Martin. Then, seeing as how this was a ballpark in the developmentally ignorant National League, and the designated hitter was not allowed, the pitcher's spot in the batting order came up. Yankee manager Joe Girardi decided to pinch-hit for reliever Clay Rapada with Eric Chavez, who had never hit a pinch-hit home run before.

This must be the Mets' year for "things that have never happened before." Chavez hit one out, his 5th homer of the year. Final score: Yankees 4, Mets 3. WP: Rapada (2-0). SV: Rafael Soriano (14). LP: Rauch (3-7).

Now, you could blame the Met bullpen for blowing this one. But it wasn't the bullpen, or even the manager who brought it in. It was the starting pitching, the hallmark of Mets success (on those rare occasions when they have success), that blew this one.

Which brings us to last night, because the Yankees reversed the process. But they still managed to not lose the game. Because they are not the Mets. They are the Yankees.

It was the most-hyped pitching matchup of the season, the battle of the initials: CC Sabathia vs. R.A. Dickey. And yet, neither man had his good stuff. The Yankees took a 4-0 lead in the top of the 3rd, thanks in part to Swish's 11th homer. (Bad year? He's now batting .268.) The Mets pulled a run back in the bottom of the 3rd. The teams traded runs again in the 5th. The Mets tied the game in the 6th, chasing CC with the "help" of the Yankee defense, which made 3 errors. Dickey didn't make it to the 7th, either.

The game was decided in the top of the 8th, with Cano's 16th homer. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, the Mets got the tying run on, but Rafael Soriano slammed the door. Yankees 6, Mets 5. WP: Boone Logan (yes, Boone Logan, now 2-0). SV: Soriano (15). LP: Miguel Batista (1-2).

So the Yankees take the series at Pity Field, 2 games to 1, and win the season series, 5 games to 1.

And where, you may ask, was Frank Francisco, he of the big mouth, who backed it up Friday but didn't appear in the last 2 games? Was he scared to show up? Was he... chicken?

No. He was injured. Yesterday, the Mets put him on the Disabled List, not with flapping gums, or a swollen ego, or even with hurt feelings, but with a left oblique strain.

The Mets are now 39-34, still something of a surprise, in 2nd place in the NL Eastern Division, 3 1/2 games (5 in the loss column) behind the Washington Nationals. (The Nats have 3 games in hand.) Take out the Mets' usual poor performance against the Yankees, and they'd be half a game out, even in the loss column (and they'd have 3 games in hand).

The Yankees? They are right about where they should be: 43-28, 2 1/2 games (3 in the loss column) ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, 3 1/2 (4) ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, 5 1/2 (6) ahead of the Boston Red Sox, and 6 1/2 (7) ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.  (The other 4 teams all have a game in hand on the Yankees.)

The Yankees' Magic Numbers to eliminate these teams are 84 for the Jays, 85 for the Sox, 87 for the Rays and 88 for the O's.

Derek Jeter now has 3,180 career hits. Alex Rodriguez has 2,844, putting him 156 away from joining Jeter in the 3,000 Hit Club.

A-Rod has 641 home runs, 19 short of catching Willie Mays, 59 short of 700, 73 short of Babe Ruth, 114 short of Hank Aaron, and 122 short of surpassing Barry Bonds to become the all-time leader -- by the measure officially in place now. Yeah, I know, but until they officially strike Bonds' name from the record books, A-Rod's total, however artificially boosted, will also have to count.


Speaking of the Red Sox, they traded Kevin Youkilis, he of the poor attempts to imitate Elvis Presley with his hips, to the Chicago White Sox.

This means that, 5 years later, they have only 8 players remaining from a World Championship * team: Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and, of course, the big fat lying cheating bastard David Ortiz.

Curt Schilling, another member of the 2004 and '07 World Champion * Red Sox says he lost all his baseball savings, about $50 million, in a video game company, and is blaming the government of the State of Rhode Island, including Governor Lincoln Chafee. Chafee, who like his father John has served as both Governor and a U.S. Senator, is a Republican-turned-Democrat. I'm guessing that doesn't sit well with Crybaby Curt.

Hey, Curt, it could be worse: You could be a Met! After all, they haven't won a World Series since 1986!

And even that one, they got lucky: They faced the Red Sox. Who, as we now know, haven't won a World Series without cheating since 1918. 
Schilling would probably like to blame Woodrow Wilson for that, and Ted Kennedy for 1986.

But who's in first place in the AL East?

As the legendary bandleader Louis Jordan, arguably the inventor of rhythm & blues, would say, "Ain't nobody here but us chickens."


Fern Flaman died 3 days ago. In hockey, he was what we sports fans call "a lifer."

Ferdinand Charles Carl Flaman was born on January 25, 1927 in Dysart, Saskatchewan. He played minor-league hockey in our area, for the Brooklyn Crescents in 1943-44. He was called up to the Boston Bruins for 1 game in 1945, for another in 1946, and in 1947 was called up for good. 

His teammate, and later neighbor, Milt Schmidt, said, "If there was anyone tougher than Fern Flaman during my career, I can't imagine who it would be."

Having married a woman from Boston and established a home there with her and their daughter, he was upset to be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs early in the 1950-51 season. But it worked out, as he helped them win the Stanley Cup. It would be his only title -- as a player.
In 1954, knowing how much Fern loved Boston (he still kept his off-season home there), Leafs general manager Conn Smythe offered to trade him back. He stayed with the Bruins through the 1961 season, becoming their Captain.
He was still one of the best shot-blockers in the League, and his body-checking fit well with the Boston Garden's narrower-than-usual rink and the team's image, which would later get them labeled "the Big Bad Bruins" and "the Lunch Pail Athletic Club."

No less a hockey speed merchant that Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiens said, "When I go near that fellow, believe me, I look over my shoulder." And the greatest hockey player of all time, legendary Detroit Red Wings scorer and tough guy Gordie Howe, said, "He's the toughest defenseman I ever played against."

In 1961, the Bruins offered to make him a player, the head coach, and the GM of their nearby top farm team, the Providence Reds (now the Providence Bruins). He held all 3 roles through 1964, then coached in the minors until 1970, when he returned to Boston proper as head coach at Northeastern University. He coached them for 19 years, being named national Coach of the Year in 1982, and winning the Hockey East title in 1988.

In 1989, he was hired as a scout by the Devils, and helped build the Cup winners of 1995, 2000 and 2003. In 1990, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
He died this week, on June 22, 2012, from cancer, at the age of 85. The Bruins, the Leafs, the Devils, Northeastern University, and all hockey fans have lost one of the game's great people.

UPDATE: Flaman's final resting place has not been publicly revealed.