Friday, August 31, 2012

How to Be a Met Fan in St. Louis

Why am I still doing this for the Mets? Why was I ever doing this for the Mets? Because all 30 teams must be done. Even for the Mets themselves, which was done this past June 22.

Anyway, on Monday the Mets go to St. Louis to face the Cardinals.  These teams had fights for the National League Eastern Division title in 1973, 1985 and 1987, and faced each other in the 2006 NL Championship Series.  As the great college football broadcaster Keith Jackson would say, "These two teams just don't like each other." Or, more accurately, their sets of fans don't.


Before You Go. The Monday game will be an afternoon game, because it's Labor Day.  So that'll be really hot.  The Tuesday game will be at night, and Wednesday will be a "getaway day" afternoon game., the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is predicting high 80s for Monday and Tuesday.  Not surprising, as St. Louis gets hot.  Really hot.  The new Busch Stadium is open, unlike the previous one, which, as Casey Stengel put it, really held the heat well.  But it's still going to be hot.  For Wednesday, the P-D is predicting late thunderstorms, which means the day game will probably be done in time.

Getting There.  Busch Stadium is 961 miles from Citi Field.  Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there. Round-trip, while changing planes in Chicago, is about $850 round-trip.  MetroLink, St. Louis' light rail system, will get you directly from Lambert International Airport to the ballpark.  Of course, if you're going for the whole series, you should get a hotel.

Bus? Not a good idea. Greyhound runs 8 buses a day between Port Authority and St. Louis, and only 4 of them are without changes. The total time is 22 hours and 25 minutes, and costs $325 round-trip. The Greyhound terminal is at Union Station, downtown at 430 S. 15th Street.

Speaking of Union Station, if you want to go by train, Amtrak will make you change trains in Chicago, from that city's Union Station to St. Lou on the Texas Eagle.  It's $376 round-trip.  You'd have to leave Penn Station at 3:45 PM, arrive in Chicago at 9:45 AM (you'll now be on Central Time), leave Chicago at 1:45 PM, and arrive in St. Louis at 7:21.  That's 26 hours and 36 minutes.

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. You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike, and take Interstate 78 West across New Jersey, and at Harrisburg get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which at this point will be both I-70 and I-76. When the two Interstates split outside Pittsburgh, stay on I-70 west. You’ll cross the northern tip of West Virginia, and go all the way accross Ohio (through Columbus), Indiana (through Indianapolis) and Illinois.  When you cross into Missouri, Exit 9 will be for the Sports Complex.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Illinois, and 15 minutes in Missouri before you reach the exit for your hotel. That’s going to be nearly 17 and a half hours. Counting rest stops, preferably 6 of them, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Kansas City, it should be about 24 hours.

Metrolink light rail has a $2.25 base fare, and the Metro buses are $2.00.  A Day Pass for the entire system is $7.50.  If you're staying for the entire series, a Weekly Pass is $25.

Tickets. The Cardinals, coming off a World Championship, are averaging 41,041 fans per game at the new Busch Stadium.  That's nearly a sellout ever game.  Tickets may be hard to come by.

If they are available, Infield Boxes will be $86, Field Boxes $46, and Corner Boxes $40.  The Upper Deck is a lot cheaper:Infield Pavilion $33, Infield Terrace $16, Bleachers $10.

Going In.  The old Busch Stadium was bounded by Broadway (left field), Walnut Street (3rd base), 7th Street (1st base) and Spruce Street (right field).  The new stadium was built next-door, and is bounded by Poplar Street and Interstate 64 (1st base), 8th Street (3rd base), Clark Street (left field, extended through the site of the old stadium) and Broadway (right field).

The Metrolink station for the stadium is on 8th, between Clark and Spruce, putting you outside the left field gate.

Busch Stadium has real grass.  Its predecessor started out that way in 1966, but had artificial turf from 1970 to 1995, and switched back in 1996.  The turf was designed to help the traditional Cardinal game of pitching, defense and speed, as exemplified in the Sportsman's Park era by the likes of Pepper Martin and Enos Slaughter, and in the turf era by Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and Vince Coleman.

When August Anheuser Busch Jr. -- a.k.a. Gussie Busch -- whose grandfathers were Adolphus Busch and August Anheuser, founders of Anheuser-Busch breweries, bought the Cardinals in 1953, he wanted to rename Sportsman's Park "Budweiser Stadium," so he could advertise his flagship beer.  Commissioner Ford Frick told him no, it would be too commercial.  Imagine that: A Commissioner of Baseball prohibiting a team owner from giving his stadium's name to a corporation! Gussie protested: Chewing-gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley let the Cards' ostensible arch-rivals, the Chicago Cubs, play at Wrigley Field.  Frick responded that Wrigley was the man's name, and that he didn't rename the ballpark Doublemint Stadium.  So Gussie accepted that as a hint to take, renamed the old yard Busch Stadium, and introduced the Busch brand of beer.  Regardless, Busch -- and especially the man then the voice of the Cardinals, Harry Caray -- used to team to sell Budweiser.  Harry was the greatest salesman any brand has ever known in the history of American capitalism -- unless you count the way Coca-Cola used Santa Claus.

All 3 Busch Stadiums have been heavy on Bud advertising.  Gussie had the Sportsman's Park/original Busch Stadium scoreboard replaced with one topped by the Anheuser-Bush logo, the giant A with the eagle flying through it.  When a Cardinal hit a home run, the scoreboard operator would push a button, and the eagle's mechanical wings would flap.  This was in 1953, 7 years before Bill Veeck ordered the fireworks-shooting "exploding scoreboard" for Comiskey Park in Chicago.  When Busch Memorial Stadium opened in 1966, the mechanical one was replaced by an electronic one.  On special occasions, such as Opening Day or World Series home games, Gussie himself, weaving a big hat with a peacock feather in it, would ride in the cab of a Budweiser carriage pulled by the company's iconic Clydesdales.  You think horse manure looks bad on real grass? Imagine that on the pale green of artificial turf.

Gussie died in 1989, leaving the brewery and the team to his son, August Anheuser Busch III, a.k.a. Augie Busch.  Augie sold controlling interest in the team in 1996, and the family sold controlling interest in the brewery in 2006, but the Busch family and the brewery still own pieces of the ballclub.  The new Busch Stadium, opening in 2006, still has A-B brand names all over the place.

Busch Stadium I (Sportsman's Park) was well north of downtown.  Busch Stadium II (Busch Memorial Stadium) was right downtown, and St. Louis' greatest icon, the Gateway Arch, built right before the stadium, could be seen over its left-field fence, and the idea was incorporated into the park's design, with an arched roof that gave the stadium a very distinctive look that separated it from the other multipurpose stadiums of the 1960s and '70s.

Busch Stadium III has a brick look on the outside that suggests an old factory -- or perhaps a brewery.  And the Arch is visible beyond straightaway center field, much more so than it was in the preceding stadium due to the new one's open outfield.  Other than that, though, the view isn't especially impressive: St. Louis has never exactly been known as a city of impressive skyscrapers, unlike such other Midwestern cities as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and, if you want to count Western Pennsylvania as "Midwestern" instead of "Northeastern," Pittsburgh.  Besides which, the stadium is 5 blocks from the Mississippi River, so there's not a lot of room to build anything especially impressive -- aside from the Arch, which is one block from the river.

But there is one other notable structure that can be seen from the park: The Old Courthouse can be seen beyond the left field fence.  This was where two of the most infamous court cases in American history began, both later settled unfairly by the U.S. Supreme Court in decisions that were overturned by Constitutional Amendments: Dred Scott v. Sanford, in which a slave sued in 1846 to be declared free after his master took him into a State where slavery had already been abolished; and Minor v. Happersett, in which a woman sued in 1872 to be allowed to vote.

Seating capacity is officially listed as 43,975, but can be boosted with standing room.  For Game 7 of last year's World Series, they shoehorned 47,399 into the place.  The park’s outfield distances are 336 feet to the left field pole, 375 to left-center, 400 to straightaway center, 375 to right-center, and 335 to the right field pole.  Like its predecessor, the new Busch Stadium is usually regarded as a pitcher's park.

Food.  St. Louis has a reputation for great barbecue, and Busch Stadium has a stand called Broadway BBQ in Section 509, near the Bleachers.

They also have stands named for Cardinal legends: Dizzy's Diner, for Dizzy Dean, Sections 139, 161 and 446; Gashouse Grill, for the 1934 World Champions known as the Gashouse Gang, Sections 132, 146, 150, 154, 233 and 450; and El Birdos Cantina, for the Latino-influenced 1967 World Champions (if you'll excuse the fact that it should have been "Los Pájaros" or "Los Cardinales"), Sections 141 and 148. They also have Hardee's stands at 135 and 358.

Keeping with the Midwest's rural image -- St. Louis may be a big city, but there may not be a team with a more countrified fan base than the Cards, even the Royals or the Braves -- they have a Farmer's Market at 136, across from Hardee's; and the Prairie Farms Family Pavilion at 507.

Team History Displays. The Cardinals have their retired numbers on the outfield wall: 1, Ozzie Smith, shortstop 1982-96; 2, Albert "Red" Schoendienst, 2nd base 1945-56, and at least a coach almost continuously since 1961, including stints as manager 1966-76 and briefly in 1980 and 1990, now 89 years old and "special assistant coach," essentially the Cards' Yogi Berra or Johnny Pesky; 6, Stan Musial, 1st base and left field 1941-63; 9, Enos Slaughter, right field 1938-53; 10, Tony LaRussa, manager 1996-2011; 14, Ken Boyer, 3rd base 1955-65, manager 1978-80; 17, Jay "Dizzy" Dean, pitcher 1930-37; 20, Lou Brock, left field 1964-79; 24, Dorrel "Whitey" Herzog, manager and general manager 1980-90; 42, universally retired for Jackie Robinson but also retired here for Bruce Sutter, pitcher, 1981-84; 45, Bob Gibson, pitcher 1959-75; 85, Gussie Busch, owner 1953-89.  The Cards' board decided to honor Gussie on his 85th birthday, hence the number; he did not retire it for himself.

Aside from LaRussa, whose number was just retired this season, following his retirement after last year's World Series, each of these honorees has a statue outside the stadium.  Musial actually has 2 statues, the 2nd being added along with the other retired number honorees.  The first one was unveiled outside the old Busch Stadium in 1968, and was moved to the new stadium.  It shows him in his famed "corkscrew" batting stance, and the base includes a quote from Commissioner Frick: "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."

Aside from Gussie, all of the Cards' retired number honorees are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The late broadcaster Jack Buck has an image of a microphone with the retired numbers, and Rogers Hornsby has a Cardinal "STL" logo there.  The slugging 2nd baseman played with the Cardinals 1915-26, also managing them to the 1926 World Championship, and briefly returned in the 1933 season before going to the other St. Louis team, the Browns.  In that 1933 season, he wore Number 4, but since he only wore it for 46 games, the Cards used the cap logo instead.  Hornsby and Buck also have statues outside the stadium.

The Cardinals do not have a team Hall of Fame, but they have a large number of Baseball Hall of Fame members: From their 1880s American Association Pennant winners, 1st baseman and manager Charles Comiskey (later the Chicago White Sox owner) and pitcher James "Pud" Galvin; between their 1888 and 1926 Pennants, 1st baseman Jake Beckley and left fielder Jesse Burkett; from their 1926, '28 and '31 Pennants, Hornsby, pitchers Grover Cleveland Alexander, Jesse Haines and Burleigh Grimes, 1st baseman "Sunny Jim" Bottomley, left fielder Charles "Chick" Hafey; from their 1934 "Gashouse Gang" World Champions, Dean, 2nd baseman and manager Frankie Frisch, shortstop Leo Durocher (who's mainly in the Hall for what he did as manager for other teams), left fielder Joe "Ducky" Medwick, and general manager Branch Rickey; between their 1934 and 1942 Pennants, 1st baseman Johnny Mize; from their 1942, '43, '44 and '46 Pennant winners, Musial, Slaughter, Schoendienst and manager Billy Southworth; from their 1964, '67 and '68 Pennant winners, Brock, Gibson, 1st baseman Orlando Cepeda and pitcher Steve Carlton; and from their 1982, '85 and '87 Pennant winners, Hezrog, Smith and Sutter.  Broadcasters Caray and Buck have also been honored by the Hall of Fame.

It is strange for fans of my generation and later to think of Caray, whose broadcasts and outsized personality symbolized the Chicago Cubs, as being the voice of the Cubs' arch-rivals, the Cardinals.  After all, his statue is outside Wrigley Field, not Busch Stadium Yet he broadcast for the Cards from 1945 to 1969, along with Schoendienst bridging the gap between the Musial and Brock-Gibson Pennants.  He was fired after allegedly having an affair with Augie Busch's wife -- which he never denied.  The Chicago White Sox picked him up, and, when his contract with them ran out, he had offers from both Chicago teams, but saw the Cubs signed up with WGN's "Superstation" project, and the White Sox hadn't.  He later said that if he'd stayed with the White Sox, he'd soon by "Harry Who?" The rest is history.

There is a St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, but it was moved from the old Busch Stadium to the new Blues arena, now known as the ScotTrade Center.  Cardinals elected are, in chronological order: Hornsby, Frisch, Dean, Medwick, Musial, 1940s shortstop Marty Marion, Schoendienst, Boyer, Gibson, Brock, 1970s catcher Ted Simmons, Herzog, Smith, Sutter, 1990s-2000s center fielder Jim Edmonds, and current owner Bill DeWitt Jr.  Also elected are Browns George Sisler and Roy Sievers, St. Louis native Yogi Berra, and Emma Bergman, who played for a St. Louis team in the women's league that played during World War II.

Stuff. Team Stores are located on Level 1, behind the left field and right field corners.  The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.

Books about the Cardinals are not exactly well-known outside the St. Louis area.  Peter Golenbock did his oral-history thing, which he'd previously done for the Yankees, Cubs and Brooklyn Dodgers, with The Spirit of St. Louis, which also included the Browns.

The legendary 1930s club was nicknamed for the Gashouse District, an area of gas tanks and slums which was torn down in the 1940s to make way for Stuyvesant Town.  John Heidenry has the best account of that club: The Gashouse Gang: How Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey, Pepper Martin, and Their Colorful, Come-from-Behind Ball Club Won the World Series -- and America's Heart -- During the Great Depression.

It was Brooklyn Dodger fans who gave the great Stan Musial his nickname: He hit so well at Ebbets Field, in that era from 1941 to 1949 when the Dodgers and the Cardinals had the NL's best rivalry outside of Dodgers vs. Giants, that when the Cards would return, fans would say, "Uh-oh, here comes dat man again.  Dat man is back in town!" Just as they nicknamed Pittsburgh Pirate sluggers Paul and Lloyd Waner "Big Poison and Little Poison" -- "big person and little person," although Lloyd was actually taller -- Brooklynites nicknamed Musial "Stan the Man." Many baseball observers have suggested that, due to his playing away from the media centers of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, he is one of the most under-appreciated great players ever.  But, now that he is past the age of 90, there have been a few books to boost his historial reputation.  The latest is Stan Musial: An American Life, by the legendary New York Times sportswriter George Vescey.  It should be as good a guide as any into the 1942-46 Cardinal champions.

David Halberstam's October 1964 does a good job of showing how the Cardinal champions of the 1960s came together, and also how the Yankee dynasty of the 1950s and early '60s began to fall apart, with civil rights and the Cold War as backdrops.  Doug Feldmann continues the story with (again, grammatically incorrect but that's the name that was used at the time) El Birdos: The 1967 and 1968 St. Louis Cardinals, which was really the first team to succeed using a well-balanced mixture of white, black and Hispanic players.  (The early San Francisco Giants had the mix, but not quite the success, winning just 1 Pennant.)

Whitey Herzog got together with Rob Rains and Alvin Reid to write Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the '82 Cards World Championship.  James Rygelski and Robert Tiemann wrote 10 Rings: Stories of the St. Louis Cardinals World Championship, which became out of date at the end of the season.  Rains tells how that happened in Wild Cards: The St. Louis Cardinals' Stunning 2011 Championship Season.

There are three World Series highlight films collections for the Cardinals.  Since the official highlight films only started with the Yanks-Cards matchup of 1943, the previous year's Cards win over the Yanks is not included.  But the 1943, '44 and '46 Series are packaged together, as are the Series of 1964, '67 and '68, and the Series of 1982, '85 and '87 -- even though the Cards lost 4 of those 9.  The 1982, 2006 and 2011 Series are packaged separately as well.

There is, as yet, no Essential Games of the St. Louis Cardinals DVD collection, but there is The St. Louis Cardinals - Greatest Games of Busch Stadium.  The games are: 1968 World Series Game 1 (Gibson strikes out 17 Tigers to set a Series record), 1982 World Series Game 7, 1985 NLCS Game 5 (Ozzie Smith, of all people, hits a walkoff homer), 1987 World Series Game 3, September 8, 1998 (Mark McGwire's record-breaking 62nd homer), and 2004 NLCS Game 7.

During the Game. Because of their Great Plains/Heartland image, Cardinals fans like a “family atmosphere.” They don't much like New York, but they won't bother Met fans just for being Met fans.  But I wouldn't go onto the streets of St. Louis or into Busch Stadium wearing Chicago Cubs gear.  Barring that, they will not directly antagonize you. At least, they won’t initiate it. But don’t call them rednecks, hicks or sheep-shaggers.

Cardinal fans wear red.  Bright red.  Cardinal red.  Nearly all of them.  This seems to be a requirement.  The entire stadium seems to be covered in it, and not just because the seats at Busch are red.

The Cards have a mascot, with perhaps the dumbest name of any mascot in the big four major league sports: Fredbird the Redbird.  He's no Phillie Phanatic, or even Mr. Met.

The Cardinals don't play a song after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th stretch, but in the middle of the 8th inning they play the old Budweiser TV commercial jingle "Here Comes the King," as in "Budweiser, King of Beers." "When you say Budweiser... you've said it all!" After the game, win or lose, they play "Meet Me in St. Louis," the theme from the 1944 Judy Garland film about the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.  (So, even that long ago, it was already a nostalgia piece.)

After the Game. Since the stadium is right downtown, any crime problem St. Louis has will probably not affect you.  As I said, leave the home fans alone, and they'll probably leave you alone.

A "Ballpark Village" is being built around the stadium, with retail outlets and restaurants.  A similar project, with the same name, has been planned for the area around Yankee Stadium since the renovation project for the old Stadium 40 years ago, but has never happened.  Hopefully, the Cardinals will have more luck.

Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood, owned by the 1960s Cardinal right fielder and longtime broadcaster, is at 620 Market Street at 7th Street, 2 blocks north of Busch Stadium.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I’m sorry to say that I can find no listings for where they tend to gather. Even those sites that show where expatriate NFL fans watch games in cities other than their own came up short.

Sidelights.  Busch Memorial Stadium, home of the Cardinals from 1966 to 2005, the NFL Cardinals from 1966 until 1987 when they moved to Arizona, and the Rams for 3 games in 1995 because the new dome wasn't ready, was across the street.  While it was never a major venue for football -- unless you count those "Bud Bowl" commercials during Super Bowls, where the arched roof of old Busch was easily recognizable -- there were 6 World Series played there, with the Cardinals winning in 1967 and 1982.  But only in 1982 did they clinch there; the Detroit Tigers clinched there in 1968, and the Boston Red Sox did so in 2004, with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon filmed by the Farrelly Brothers in their improvised rewritten ending to the U.S. version of Fever Pitch, with Major League Baseball giving them permission to film on the field after the game.

* Edward Jones Dome.  Home to the NFL's Rams since 1995, it's at 6th Street & Broadway, 9 blocks north of Busch Stadium.  Metrolink to Convention Center.

* Site of Sportsman's Park.  From 1866 onward, several ballparks stood on this site, including the one used by the Cardinals, then known as the St. Louis Browns, when they won 4 straight Pennants in the old American Association from 1885 to 1888.

Those Browns were owned by Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant (as were thousands of people in St. Louis at the time), and he was an outsized personality owning a baseball team decades before George Steinbrenner or Gussie Busch were born.  "Der boss president of der Browns," as he called himself in his accent, built one of the first amusement parks, adjacent to the ground, and a beer garden which could be called the first sports bar -- though this is disputed by Bostonians stumping for Michael "Nuf Ced" McGreevy's Third Base Saloon, which also opened in the 1880s.  But the ballpark burned down in 1898, and von der Ahe was ruined.  The new owners moved the team to Robison Field.

The team's name became the Cardinals with a change in uniform color in 1900, and the American League's Browns arrived in 1902, after spending the AL's first season in Milwaukee.  The AL Browns set up shop at the existing Sportsman's Park, and built a new one on the site, the last one, in 1909.

Those Browns remained until 1953, when Bill Veeck realized that Gussie Busch's purchase of the Cards meant the Browns simply couldn't compete.  The Cards had moved back to the site in 1920 and by 1926 had set the tone: The Browns were the landlords but legendary losers, while the Cardinals were the tenants but wildly successful.  Ten World Series were played in that ballpark, from 1926 to 1964, including the all-St. Louis "Trolley Series" of 1944, when the Browns led the Cards 2 games to 1 but the Cards won the next 3 straight to take it, ruining the Browns' best (and perhaps last) chance to take the city away.

Gussie knew that his Cards -- and the NFL's Cardinals, who played there after moving from Chicago in 1960 -- couldn't stay in a 30,804-seat bandbox tucked away on the North Side with no parking and no freeway access, so he got the city to build him the downtown stadium.  Sportsman's Park, the first Busch Stadium, the home of George Sisler, the Gashouse Gang and Stan the Man, was demolished shortly after the Cards left in 1966.  The Herbert Hoover Boys Club is now on the site, and, unlike most long-gone ballpark sites, there is a baseball field there.

Oddly, the two teams had different addresses for their offices: The Cards at 3623 Dodier Street, the Browns at 2911 North Grand Blvd.  Metrolink to Grand station, transfer to Number 70 bus.  Definitely to be visited only in daylight.

* Site of Robison Field.  Home of the Cardinals from 1898 to 1920, it was the last mostly-wooden ballpark in the major leagues.  Moving out was the best thing the Cards could have done, as -- hard to believe, considering what happened to them over the next quarter-century -- they were the town's joke club, while the Browns were the more-regarded team.  It was torn down in 1926 to make way for Beaumont High School, which still stands on the site.  3836 Natural Bridge Avenue, at Vandeventer Avenue.  Six blocks north and two blocks west of the site of Sportsman's Park.  Again: Do not visit at night.

* Scottrade Center, site of Kiel Auditorium, and St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.  The NHL's Blues moved into this new arena in 1994, after 27 years at the old Arena.  Originally, it was known as the Kiel Center in honor of the previous building on the site, and then the Savvis Center, after a company that would go bust in the tech bubble.  They've only reached the Conference Finals once since moving in, but at least they're stable and not in danger of being moved.  The building also hosts the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, known as "Arch Madness" instead of "March Madness."

The previous building was built in 1934, as the Municipal Auditorium, and in 1943 was renamed for the late Mayor Henry Kiel, who got it built.  St. Louis University played its home basketball games there for its entire existence, 1934 to 1991, before moving temporarily to the Arena and then to the Scottrade Center, before opening its new on-campus Chaifetz Arena in 2008.  The NBA's Hawks played there from their 1955 move from Milwaukee until their 1968 move to Atlanta, winning the Western Conference title in 1957, '58, '60 and '61 and the NBA Title in 1958.  1401 Clark Avenue (known on that block as Brett Hull Way in honor of the Blues legend) at 14th Street, 5 blocks west of Busch Stadium.  Metrolink to Civic Center.

* Site of 1904 World's Fair and St. Louis Arena.  The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was held at Forest Park in honor of the centennial of the start of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark heading out from St. Louis to explore the Louisiana Purchase.  It is remembered as the birthplace of the hamburger, the hot dog, iced tea, peanut butter, cotton candy and Cracker Jacks.  While they may have all been nationally popularized at that place and at that time, all of these claims of origin are dubious at best, except for Cracker Jacks, which are definitely a St. Louis creation.  Equally dubious was the 1904 Olympics, which were essentially a sideshow of the World's Fair; it wasn't until London in 1908 that they became an institution in and of themselves.  Very little of the Fair remains.  The Administration Building is now Brookings Hall, a major building of Washington University.  The Palace of Fine Art is now the St. Louis Art Museum.

The Arena opened in 1929 across Oakland Avenue from Forest Park.  At 14,200 seats, it was then one of the largest arenas outside the Northeast Corridor, and in terms of floor space only the recently-built "old" Madison Square Garden was larger.

It was the home of several minor league hockey teams until the NHL expansion of 1967 brought in the Blues.  At first, the NHL purposely put all the new teams in the same division, thus giving them an equal chance of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.  The Blues reached the Finals in their first 3 seasons, 1968, '69 and '70, due to having signed some legends at the end of their careers, such as Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, Dickie Moore and Glenn Hall.  They haven't reached the Finals since, and only reached the NHL's round of 4, under whatever name, twice in the last 42 years.

In 1977, the Arena had been expanded to 17,188 seats, and with Ralston Purina then being majority owners of the Blues, their "Checkerboard Square" logo was plastered everywhere and the building was renamed the Checkerdome until 1983.  It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1973 (Bill Walton hitting 21 of 22 shots for UCLA over Memphis State) and 1978 (Jack Givens' Kentucky defeating Mike Gminski's Duke).  But it was seen as being inadequate for a modern sports team, and the Blues moved out in 1994.  The Arena was demolished in 1999, and apartments and a Hampton Inn are on the site today.  5700 Oakland Avenue at Parkview Place.  Metrolink to Central West End, then Number 59 bus.

* St. Louis Walk of Fame.  Honoring famous people from the St. Louis area, including from across the river in southern Illinois, these plaques run from 6150 to 6699 Delmar Blvd.  Of the 129 current honorees, 25 are connected to sports: Cardinals figures Branch Rickey, Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola, Jack Buck and Bob Costas; the Browns' George Sisler; Negro League legend James "Cool Papa" Bell; St. Louis native and New York baseball legend Yogi Berra; football Cardinals Dan Dierdorf and Jackie Smith (as yet, no Rams); Hawks Bob Pettit and Ed Macauley (as yet, no Blues); boxers Henry Armstrong and Archie Moore; tennis stars Dwight Davis and Jimmy Connors; and track legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee.  Metrolink to Delmar station.

At 6504 Delmar is Blueberry Hill, the rock-and-roll-themed restaurant owned by St. Louis' own Chuck Berry -- who, of course, has a plaque on the Walk of Fame, as does his pianist Johnnie Johnson.  They are 2 of the 15 musical personalities on the Walk, including both Ike and Tina Turner, ragtime inventor Scott Joplin, jazz superstars Josephine Baker and Miles Davis, and opera singer Robert McFerrin, father of "Don't Worry Be Happy" singer Bobby McFerrin.

* Gateway Arch.  Built on the traditional founding site of the city, on the Mississippi River, on February 14, 1764, the arch, 630 feet high with its legs 630 feet apart at ground level, is surprisingly not an especially old landmark, opening to the public in 1967.  An underground visitors' center leads to a tram that takes you to the top, which is higher than any actual building in town, and serves as St. Louis' "observation deck." Like the Empire State Building, it has lights cast on it at night in honor of various occasions.  Admission is $10.  200 Washington Avenue at Market Street, access via Walnut Street.

* Brewery.  The world's second-largest brewery is the Anheuser-Busch plant on U.S. Routes 1 & 9, across from Newark Liberty International Airport.  The largest is A-B's corporate headquarters, south of downtown.  Public tours of the brewery are available.  1 Busch Place, Broadway and Arsenal Street.  Number 30 or 73 bus.

* Museum of Transportation.  A rail spur of the old Missouri Pacific Railroad (or "Mopac," later absorbed by the Union Pacific) enabled this museum to open in 1944.  It houses trains, cars, boats, and even planes.  From a New York Tri-State Area perspective it has one of the last 2 surviving New York Central steam locomotives, one of the last 2 surviving Delaware, Lackawanna & Western steam locomotives, an Erie Lackawanna diesel locomotive, and the 1960 DiDia 150, a.k.a. the "Dream Car" made famous by New York singing legend Bobby Darin.  3015 Barrett Station Road in Keyes Summit (though St. Louis is still the mailing address), west of downtown.  Bus 58X to Big Bend & Barrett Station Roads, then a 15-minute walk north on Barrett Station.

* Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  The closest the St. Louis area comes to having a Presidential Library, this park was built on land owned by the family of Julia Dent, the wife of the Union General and 18th President who is on the $50 bill.  7400 Grant Road, Grantwood Village, St. Louis County, southwest of downtown.  Tough to reach by public transportation: You'd have to take Metrolink to Shrewsbury station, transfer to the Number 21 bus, ride it to Walton and Grant Roads, and walk a little over a mile down Grant Road.


St. Louis has a history out of proportion to its size -- 318,000 within the city limits, 2.8 million in the metropolitan area -- and Cardinal fans like to think of their town as the best baseball town in America.  You are under no obligation to agree, but it is one of the best baseball cities, and every fan who can get out there should.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

CC Takes the Blame -- But Doesn't Fully Deserve It

"We haven't been playing well, and today was a day when we had the lead and I gave it up a couple times. What can you say? Everything is my fault."

So said CC Sabathia this afternoon.

CC is a man. Not a machine. Not a horse. Not a superman. A man.

A man who is, usually, a damn good pitcher.

This afternoon, he was not. 
But neither was he the biggest reason for the Yankees' 8-5 loss to those pesky Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium II.

The Yankees got right to it in the bottom of the 1st: Derek Jeter singled, Nick Swisher worked J.A. Happ for a walk, Andruw Jones singled Jeter home and Swish over to 3rd, and Curtis Granderson got Swish home on a groundout. 2-0 Yankees.

It started to go wrong in the top of the 3rd. Jeff Mathis led off the inning with a liner back to CC, which he couldn't handle, only deflect. Adeiny Hechavarria grounded to Jayson Nix, playing 3rd base in place of Alex Rodriguez. Nix bobbled the ball, and then Rajai Davis singled to right, to load the bases.

Mike McCoy grounded to Nix, who stepped on 3rd to eliminate Hechavarria, and fired home to eliminate Mathis. Men on 1st and 2nd, 2 out. But Edwin Encarnacion -- one of those Jays who always seems to be rather pesky toward the Yankees -- singled home Davis. Then Adam Lind, another player who always seems to play well against the Yankees, singled home McCoy. And Yunel Escobar doubled to left, scoring Encarnacion. 3-2 Jays.

The Yankees took the lead right back. With one out, Swish walked again. After another out, Jones walked. Happ threw a wild pitch, which ended up not mattering when Granderson doubled home both runners. 4-3 Yankees.

CC cruised for a while. But Lind led off the top of the 6th with a single, and Escobar hit one out. 5-4 Jays.

Joe Girardi took CC out for the 8th, and put in Derek Lowe. This would prove to be a rancid mistake. Lowe is done. As in stick a fork in him. The 1st 2 batters he faced were Escobar, double, and Kelly Johnson, bunt single. Girardi tried to correct this mistake by making them the only batters Lowe faced.

Of course, he brought in Boone Logan, which could well have compounded the mistake. Instead, Logan struck out Colby Rasmus. So he brought in Cody Eppley -- more Binder Ball. Mathis did the suicide squeeze, and that made it 6-4 Jays.

Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin hit back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the 8th to make it 6-5, but that was as close as the Yankees would get, and then in the 9th, Girardi played Binder Ball again. He replaced Nix with Eric Chavez, presumably for defensive purposes. But Chavez threw a grounder away, allowing McCoy to get to 2nd. Girardi ordered Encarnacion intentionally walked, to set up the double play (or at least a force). Then he pulled Eppley for Clay Rapada. Who promptly walked Lind. Then he pulled Rapada for Joba Chamberlain.

Hasn't it been sufficiently demonstrated that Joba came back too soon? And now Girardi has brought Joba in again?

Goose Gossage demands an explanation for this bullshit!

Joba gives up a double to Escobar. 8-5 Jays. And the Yanks go down meekly in the 9th.

WP: Happ (10-10). SV: Casey Janssen (17). LP: Sabathia (13-4).

The Yankees have tomorrow off, before starting a home series against the Baltimore Orioles, which is now far more important than anyone would have dared suggest on Opening Day.

Fortunately, the Orioles are losing 4-0 as I type this, so the Magic Number could go down to 30 tonight, anyway. But it's only the 4th inning. If they come from behind to win, they'll be just 2 games back in the loss column -- within the next series' margin of error.  In other words, if they win tonight and they sweep us, they'll be in 1st place.

This is unacceptable.

UPDATE: The Orioles lost to the Chicago White Sox, 8-1.

Hughes De-peskifies Blue Jays

After Monday night's debacle against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays, I decided that the Yankees needed 3 things from last night's game:

1. Enough runs to outscore the opposition.

2. A good enough starting pitching performance from Phil Hughes to make 1. be a lot easier.

3. A better relief appearance from Rafael Soriano than we got on Monday night.

We got all three. Hughes (13-11) was fantastic, going 7 innings, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks, striking out 5.

Which we needed badly, because Ricky Romero (8-12) also pitched really well. The Yankees got an RBI single from Nick Swisher in the 3rd and a sacrifice fly from Curtis Granderson in the 4th, and that was it. Soriano slammed the door in the 9th, the way he couldn't do the night before (got his 34th save), and the Yankees won, 2-1.

The Baltimore Orioles won last night, so they remain 3 1/2 games out, 3 in the loss column, and the Yankees' Magic Number to win the American League East drops only to 31. The Tampa Bay Rays lost, dropping them to 5 back, with an elimination number of 29. The Boston Red Sox lost, leaving them 13 1/2 back (14 in the loss column), elimination number 20. And with the loss, the Jays are 17 1/2 back (17), and 17 is also their elimination number.

The series concludes this afternoon, with CC Sabathia pitching against J.A. Happ. A battle of the initials. Hopefully, CC, the one who doesn't use periods in his initials, will do what he usually does, which is shut the opposition down.

Which is what Phil Hughes did last night.

Over the last 4 seasons, including this one, Phil Hughes has won 44 games for the New York Yankees. He makes $3.2 million this season.

In contrast, over those same 4 seasons, Johan Santana, for whom Yankee general manager Brian Cashman refused to trade Hughes, has won 30 games. He makes $25 million this season.

Johan Santana has a no-hitter. *

Phil Hughes has a World Series ring.

Say what you want about Cashman, but he got that one right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pesky Blue Jays Strike Again; Bobby Myrick, 1952-2012

Those pesky Toronto Blue Jays. You expect them to be tough when they're good (1983 to 1993, and 2006). But even when they're bad (1977 to 1982, 1994 to 2005, since 2007), they give the Yankees fits.

Last night, the Jays came into Yankee Stadium II on a pace to lose 90 games, 17 1/2 games out of first place  Even without Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera available, the Yankees should have swept this 3-game series.

At first, things looked good. Robinson Cano hit his 26th home run of the season in the bottom of the 1st. David Phelps gave up a home run to Adam Lind in the top of the 2nd, but Cano led off the bottom of the 4th with his 27th homer (definitely out of his slump). Mark Teixeira drew a walk. After a Curtis Granderson flyout, Eric Chavez singled, and so did Russell Martin, to bring home Teix. Raul Ibanez' groundout got Chavez home. 3-1 Yankees.

The Martin hit was one of several comebackers in the game that provided scary moments for the pitchers, and Jays starter Henderson Alvarez had to leave the game. They don't yet know if he will miss his next start, but it appears he won't go on the Disabled List.

Phelps gave up another homer the next inning, to Yorvit Torrealba. But Nick Swisher followed in the bottom of the 5th with a 2-run homer, his 20th dinger of the season. 6-3 Yankees.

Phelps allowed a run in the 7th, and Joe Girardi panicked yet again, taking out a starter too soon. He brought in Cody Eppley to finish the inning. It worked, so this panic move wasn't yet an issue -- but it would be, since Eppley would not be available later. David Robertson, who became a first-time father earlier in the day, pitched a scoreless 8th.

Rafael Soriano came out for the 9th. He struck out Torrealba, but allowed a single to Moises Sierra, a strange fusion of Moises Alou and Ruben Sierra, perhaps? He got Adeiny Hechavarria to pop up. (What is with these names on the Jays? They're weird even by Hispanic standards.) Then he allowed a single to Rajai Davis. (Not Hispanic, rather a black outfielder with good speed, from New London, Connecticut.) Up came Colby Rasmus, and Soriano got to 2 strikes, and we were a pitch away from "Untuck." Rasmus cranked the ball into the right field seats to give the Jays a 7-6 lead.

There were a lot of "George Carlin words" coming out of Uncle Mike's mouth at that moment, and a few other Yankee Fans' mouths as well.

If you're going to lose, do it in the regulation 9 innings. Don't put us through extra innings only to lose. So, in retrospect, I am not happy that Derek Jeter hit a home run to tie it in the bottom of the 9th. (His 14th homer of the season -- the 3,262nd hit of his career.) But the Yankees couldn't take the lead.

Derek Lowe pitched all right in the 10th, after Girardi went LOOGY by bringing in Clay Rapada to pitch to one batter. Remember, he couldn't use Eppley there, because he'd already taken him out of the game. In the top of the 11th, Lowe allowed a single to Mike McCoy, made a throwing error on a pickoff attempt to let McCoy get to 3rd, and Hechavarria hit a weak grounder that was just enough.

Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk in the bottom of the 11th, to put the tying run on 1st with 1 out, with 2 guys who had already homered coming up. But Jeter grounded into a forceout, and Swish took a called 3rd strike.

Blue Jays 8, Yankees 7. WP: Darren Oliver (3-2) -- seriously, Darren Oliver, whom the Yankees had owned since the 1996 Playoffs with Texas. LP: Lowe (8-11), though the loss really belongs to Girardi and Soriano.

The series continues tonight, with Phil Hughes on the mound for New York. He's pitched well lately, and we need him to pitch well again: While the Tampa Bay Rays lost, keeping them 4 games behind the Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles won, and closed to 3 1/2 back, 3 in the All-Important Loss Column.


Bobby Myrick has died.  He pitched 82 games in the major leagues, all with the Mets, from May 1976 to May 1978. By the standards of late 1970s Met pitchers, he wasn't all that bad: His "career" WHIP was 1.411, but his ERA+ was 104.

When he arrived, they gave him the locker next to Tom Seaver. At the trading deadline of 1979, still in the minors, he was one of the players the Mets traded to the Texas Rangers for Dock Ellis, who was at the end of a weird but somewhat successful career.

Being traded for Dock Ellis may have been the most interesting thing about Myrick. In spite of him having pitched for the Mets right at the time I was becoming aware of baseball, and most Met games being on WOR-Channel 9 (now WWOR), I have no memory of him.

He was a 3-sport star in his native Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and after leaving baseball he went back home, into the family's building supply business and became an ordained minister. The cause of death appears to be a heart attack while mowing a neighbor's lawn, no evidence of substance abuse or foul play. He was 59.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Swish and Grandy Lead Yanks Past Tribe

The Yankees badly needed to take at least 2 out of 3 in Cleveland this weekend.

Friday night: CC Sabathia came off the Disabled List, and we really needed the Big Fella to come through on the mound. He did: 7 1/3 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, just 1 walk.

Which wouldn't have mattered if the Yankees hadn't also gotten the runs they needed. They did. The big hero this time was Nick Swisher, who went 3-for-4, with his 19th home run.

Yankees 3, Indians 1. WP: Sabathia (13-3). SV: Rafael Soriano (32). LP: Cody Allen (0-1), a 23-year-old rookie reliever, who was having a really good season until he gave up Swisher's home run. We may be hearing more from him in the future.

UPDATE: Allen has done well for the Indians since.

Saturday night: Hiroki Kuroda, perhaps the Yankees' most consistently good pitcher the last few weeks, took the mound, and pitched pretty well again. He went 8 innings, allowed 3 runs, on 4 hits and 2 walks.

Which wouldn't have mattered if the Yankees hadn't also gotten the runs they needed. And, this time, they didn't. There was no big hero this time. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano each got 2 hits, but the rest of the team combined only got 3.

Indians 3, Yankees 1. WP: Justin Masterson (11-10). SV: Chris Perez (33). LP: Kuroda (12-9).

So the Sunday game was, if not a must-win for the Yankees, then certainly a need-win.

So, naturally, Freddy Garcia was sent out to start. Cue the creepy music.

The Yankees scored 3 runs in the top of the 2nd, to give Garcia a cushion. Eric Chavez led off with a single. Raul Ibanez drew a walk. Ichiro Suzuki singled home Chavez. Chris Stewart sacrificed them over. Jeter grounded out, but that got Ibanez home. And Swisher concluded the scoring by singling home Ichiro.

Garcia was fine for 4 2/3rds innings. But, needing just one more out to qualify for the win, he fell apart, allowing 2 runs. Joe Girardi panicked, and brought in Boone Logan.
Logan stopped the bleeding. Whew... That may have been the season there.

At a time like that, you want to send a message. I know what you're thinking: "Teix message!" Nope, Mark Teixeira did get a hit yesterday, but it wasn't a home run. What Curtis Granderson hit in the top of the 6th, right after the inning in question, was not only his 33rd of the season, but the 200th of his career.

The Grandy Man's blast, off Ubaldo Jimenez (9-13), finished off the scoring. Logan (5-2), David Robertson and Soriano (33rd save) slammed the door on the Indians. Yankees 4, Indians 2. Two out of three done.


So, on this morning of August 27, with a little more than 4 weeks to go, here's how things stand:

The Yankees lead the American League Eastern Division by 4 games over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Baltimore Orioles are 4 1/2 back, 4 in the loss column. The Boston Red Sox are 13 1/2 back (14), and the Toronto Blue Jays are fading fast, 17 1/2 back (17).

The Magic Number to clinch the Division is 32, over both the Rays and the O's, 22 to eliminate the Sox, 19 to eliminate the Jays.

The Yankees trail the Texas Rangers by 1 game in the race for best record in the American League.

If the current standings hold to the end of the season, there will be a tie for the 2nd AL Wild Card between Baltimore and the Oakland Athletics, with the winner facing the Rays for the Wild Card berth in the Playoffs, with the winner of that facing the Rangers, while the Yankees would face the Chicago White Sox.  he Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim also have legitimate shots at the Playoffs.

In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals would visit the Atlanta Braves.  If the Cards win, they would face the Washington Nationals while the San Francisco Giants would face the Cincinnati Reds. If the Braves win, they would face the Reds while the Giants face the Nats. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates are both still very much in it, and the Arizona Diamondbacks have an outside shot.

The Yankees have come home, and will start a 3-game series tonight against those pesky Blue Jays. David Phelps starts against Henderson Alvarez.

Friday, August 24, 2012

It Could Be Worse: We Could Be Red Sox Fans

The Yankees are not in a good spot right now.  But it could be worse.

Philadelphia native (and, presumably, Phillies fan) Bill Cosby told a story about how, when he was first doing standup in Las Vegas clubs, he got to gambling one day, and was losing. He was down to the last $200 that he could sign for. So he went to the roulette wheel, and, with $200 worth of chips, covered every spot on the wheel. That meant that, wherever the ball landed, he would not only get his money back, but he would win whatever anyone else had bet on the wheel. "It can't get any worse," he told himself.

What do you think happened? The ball spun out of the wheel and landed on the floor. Nobody won. His last $200 was gone.

Moral of the story? Coz says, "Don't ever say, 'It can't get any worse.' It can always get worse."

UPDATE: This post was written before we found out how bad Cosby really was.


The Yankees have had some bad teams over the years: 103 losses in 1908, 102 losses in 1912, 7th place out of 8 in 1925, 10th out of 10 in 1966, 9th the following year, 6th out of 7 in 1982 (just one year after a Pennant, mind you),  6th out of 6 in 1990.

These kinds of seasons have not happened since 1992, the last season in which the Yankees entered September without a shot at the Playoffs. For most teams, coming close to the Playoffs and just missing would be a decent season. For most teams, reaching the Playoffs and losing in the Division Series (baseball's quarterfinals) would be a good season. For Yankee Fans, World Championship or bust, such seasons are busts.

The Yankees have also had some embarrassing moments. Some of these moments have been kept quiet during the careers of the figures in question: The carousings of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio palling around with Mafia figures.

Some have become public. There was the animus between original owners Frank Farrell and Bill Devery, the shenanigans of Hal Chase in the early 1910s, State Senator (and future Mayor) Jimmy Walker (who certainly had no place to lecture someone on sobriety, alcoholic or romantic) publicly chastising the Babe in 1922, and Jake Powell's infamous racist radio interview in 1938.

There was Larry MacPhail's drunken tirade at the 1947 World Championship victory party, the trading of Vic Power after the 1953 season and the ridiculous, false reason behind it, the Copacabana Incident of 1957, and the way Roger Maris was treated in 1961 and onward.

There was the Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich family swap of 1973, George Steinbrenner's tangential involvement in Watergate that nearly got him sent to federal prison, the 3-way feud between George, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson, Billy's boozing continuing to be a problem literally until the moment of his death in 1989, the way George treated other managers, and George's banishment (later reduced to a suspension) in 1990.

There was the late-night antics of David Wells, the personal life of Alex Rodriguez, the various controversies surrounding Roger Clemens, the way Joe Torre was pushed out in 2007, and, of course, the most embarrassing of all, the home runs that turn out not to be after being declared as such by Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto and, in this generation, John Sterling.

(In Mel's case, I'm not old enough to remember him messing up, "Going, going, gone!", and am relying on anecdotes. In the Scooter's case, I kid because I love, and he admitted it when he goofed: "No, why don't I just shut up!" In Sterling's case, I like the guy, but he's done it too many times, getting my hopes up with, "That ball is high! It is far! It is... " and instead of "gone!" following it up with "a foul ball!" or "caught at the wall!")

Other teams have had embarrassing, and even despicable moments. In 1993, the Mets were bad. Not as bad as they were in their early days, 1962 to 1965, or even in the late 1970s, when M. Donald Grant had broken up the team that won Pennants in 1969 and 1973 (plus the World Series in the former and very nearly again in the latter), and the team was so bad and so uninteresting that only 9,740 fans came out per home game in 1979, and Shea Stadium was nicknamed "Grant's Tomb."

But Vince Coleman, once the golden boy speedster of Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals, threw a firecracker in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, and it hit a toddler girl. Bret Saberhagen, a World Series MVP with the Kansas City Royals and a 2-time Cy Young Award winner, squirted bleach at reporters, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "Bleacher Bum."

No, there was no drunken trashing of the plane on the flight home, as there was in 1986 when the Mets won the Pennant in Houston. And as far as I know, none of them were drunken drivers, although Dwight Gooden was still on the team in 1993 -- compared to most of them, he was, at the time, well-behaved. But the '93 Mets weren't just bad on the field, they were juvenile delinquents. And, unlike in '86, they weren't good enough to get away with it in '93. (The Phillies were that good in '93, and did get away with a lot -- and it wasn't just Lenny Dykstra, the man who links the '86 Mets to the '93 Phils.)


But the Boston Red Sox...

In 1969, Red Sox pitcher Steve Renko said, "Some teams go everywhere together. We get off the plane and go to 25 separate cabs." In the next few years, this would lead Peter Gammons, then making his name in the Boston Globe, to write, "Twenty-five men came to the ballpark, played a game, and took twenty-five cabs home." In other words, the Sox may have been a team, but they had no togetherness. This may have been an exaggeration.

Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal wrote last week that the current Red Sox are more like "25 players, 25 strollers." As in, they're babies.

In 1940, several Cleveland Indians players complained to team owner Alva Bradley about manager Oscar "Ossie" Vitt. (In 1937, Vitt had managed a Yankee farm team, the Newark Bears, to one of the greatest performances in minor league history. As a big-league skipper, he wasn't nearly so good.) Mel Harder, a great pitcher who was personally insulted by Vitt, told Bradley, "We think we have a good chance to win the Pennant, but we'll never win it with Vitt as manager. If we can get rid of him, we can win. We feel sure about that."

Whatever points they had to make were lost when Bradley blabbed to the local media, and the team became known as the Cleveland Crybabies. They missed the Pennant by 1 game -- no Divisional play or Wild Cards in those days.

Last week, supposedly, a bunch of Red Sox players went to team management and complained about manager Bobby Valentine, who has already run Kevin Youkilis, one of the most popular players among Sox fans, out of town. And that decision has backfired.

This is after the Sox' monumental collapse last September, when they led the AL East most of the way, and ended up not making the Playoffs at all thanks to a calamitous last 3 games in Tampa Bay, especially the last night.

Manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein were made the scapegoats, but the biggest problem players -- such as pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey -- were allowed to stay, because their contracts were too fat to be moved. So was that of outfielder Carl Crawford, who just had to be shut down for the season due to another injury.

Here's what I wrote last December 1, about the Sox' decision to hire Bobby V:

Now, he's going to manage the Boston Red Sox, a team with quite a few strengths, but also a lot of problems, including big egos, big stomachs, big injuries, and big psychological issues.

And while it's true that, if you can handle the media in New York, you can handle the media anywhere, the truth is that the New York media already knew and liked him from his playing days with the Mets; the Boston media does not really know him all that well, and, as is usually the case with outsiders in that oh-so-insular city, is unlikely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And speaking of Boston being an insular city, what do you think the Boston fans will think of Bobby Valentine? Suppose the Red Sox get off to a start like they had this season. Will they give him a pass, saying, "Give him a chance, he inherited a mess and he needs time to straighten it out"?

Even if they do, which would only be fair, suppose the Sox have a finish resembling the one they had this season. Results do matter. Will the Chowdaheads say, "Give him a break, he's only had one full season"? Or will they throw him to the wolves?

Silly question: Sox fans can be rather wolfish themselves -- and that's a quality that many of them not only admit that they have, but they tend to enjoy it!

To paraphrase David Byrne, Bobby Valentine may ask himself, "How did I get here? This is not my beautiful ballpark! This is not my beautiful team!"

Now, the chickens have come home to roost, and Bobby V lives in the chicken shack. And his team is laying eggs. At least if he were a farmer, he could use the eggs.

How long before he starts muttering, like Wilford Brimley, playing Pop Fisher, the old, bedraggled manager in The Natural, "I shoulda been a farmer... "?

Now we find out that only 4 Red Sox players went to the funeral of Sox legend Johnny Pesky.

To his credit, David Ortiz, whom I have slammed in this blog as much as I've slammed any person, not only went, but said the right thing about it to Sox station WEEI: "The funeral is the last goodbye you give to a friend. There's no way you're a friend with somebody, that person passes away, and you're not going to show up at his funeral."

The Sox aren't just losing, they're an unholy mess, both on the field and off. To borrow a line from Met fan Jerry Seinfeld, "The whole system's breaking down!"

The blog Obnoxious Boston Fan tells as much of the sordid story as the Globe's length limit will allow.

It's hard for me to feel sorry for New England sports fans. Their behavior since 1999, the 1st time the Yankees and Red Sox played each other in the postseason (unless you count the 1978 Boston Tie Party), has ranged from ridiculous at the least to outright despicable at the most.

But I'm not sure even they deserve this. Losing, yeah. A team that, intentionally or not, embarrasses them at every turn? 

True, the Yankees are in a tough situation right now, made tougher by the fact that, as rumored yesterday, Ivan Nova has, indeed, gone on the Disabled List; and also by the Tampa Bay Rays winning last night, cutting the Yanks' AL East lead to just 2 1/2 games.

Injured players such as CC Sabathia (pitching tonight against the Indians in Cleveland), Alex Rodriguez, and, possibly before the season runs out, Andy Pettitte, are coming back.

The Yankees are in a tough spot, but I'd rather be 2 1/2 up than 2 1/2 back.

The Red Sox? With all that payroll, they're 7 games under .500, 13 1/2 games out of 1st, and 8 1/2 games out of a Playoff berth.

Last night, they lost at home to the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim, 14-13. The Sox led 6-0 after 2 innings, tied the game in the 9th, scored in the bottom of the 10th to get themselves to within 1, but couldn't finish the job.

Someone told me that this was the 1st time in the 112-year history of the ballclub that the Red Sox scored 13 runs in a game and still lost. That may be true. I thought I remembered an August 2009 game where the Yankees clobbered them at Fenway on a Friday night, 20-13. But the score that night was "only" 20-11. And the Sox won the next day, 14-1. But the Yanks claimed the finale, 8-4.

Now we find out that Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez -- who was considered an AL MVP candidate exactly one year ago -- have been placed on waivers. I wonder if anyone will pick them up?


Yes, the Yanks are in a slump now. But as the Coz taught us, it can always get worse.

And this time, I don't even have to cite the current Mets. Even if they did just get swept at home in 4 straight by a Colorado Rockies team that came into the series on a pace to lose 100 games.

At least the Mets figured out, finally, after 2010, that they had to blow it all up and start over. And, as bad as they are now, they are better off than they were 2 years ago.

The Red Sox? They still need to blow it all up. While Ortiz is still there, there's no more Manny, no more Tek, no more Trot, no more Pedro, no more Youk, nor more Paps. No more Theo, no more Tito.

The Era of Big Papi is over.

And, unless payroll becomes a problem for the Rays, or the Baltimore Orioles can prove themselves more than one-year wonders, it will be the Rays that battle the Yankees for AL East supremacy for some time to come.

UPDATE: I spoke too soon. The Sox came back and won the World Series * in 2013.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Questions Are More Glaring Than the Answers

Question: Is Phil Hughes ready to pitch in pressure-packed situations the rest of the way?

Answer: Apparently, yes. Last night, at the new Comisk... that is, at U.S. Cellular Field, Hughes pitched 7 innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. A good effort against a good-hitting Chicago White Sox team. Whatever was wrong last night, Hughes was not part of it at all. Nine times out of ten, that kind of starting pitching will get you a win.

Question: Is CC Sabathia coming back soon?

Answer: Definitely, yes. He says he's ready, and he has been penciled in as the Yankees' starter in their next game, tomorrow night in Cleveland. This is a good game in which to come back: Not only is he a former Indian who knows the park, and is unlikely to be fazed by Cleveland fans booing him and calling him a traitor (a la LeBron James), but the Indians' lineup isn't exactly what it was in 2008, when he was traded to Milwaukee so that the Indians could get something for him before his contract ran out.

Question: Is Derek Jeter washed up like the smartasses said he was after the 2010 season?

Answer: That would be a big fat OH HELL NO. He hit another home run last night, his 13th of the season. He now has a .324 batting average, and is within 1,000 hits of Pete Rose's all-time record. Okay, it's highly unlikely that he'll get to 4,256, but 4,000 is no longer out of the question, and 3,772, which would put him 3rd on the all-time list behind Rose and Ty Cobb, just ahead of Hank Aaron, now seems well within reach.

Question: Is Robinson Cano out of his slump?

Answer: Possibly. He went 2-for-4 last night.  He's up to .304.


Question: Is the Yankees' hitting slump over?

Answer: Hardly. Aside from Jeter's homer, and a single and a double from Cano, the only Yankee hit last night was a double by Mark Teixeira. Chris Sale pitched brilliantly, even better than Hughes.

White Sox 2, Yankees 1. WP: Sale (15-4... Cy Young Award, anyone?). SV: Addison Reed (23).  LP: Hughes (a hard-luck 12-11).

Question: Presuming CC will be back to his usual self, and Hughes stays at this level, and so does Hiroki Kuroda, who's been lights-out lately, are the Yankees okay down the stretch, in terms of starting pitching?

Answer: At the moment, no. Having 3 reliable starters will set you up pretty well for the Playoffs, but it's better to have 4. And, right, now, the last 2 slots are question marks.

Ivan Nova won 15 straight decisions running from late 2010 to early 2011. Since then (correcting an error I made in yesterday's blog entry), he's 2-5; in games he's started, starting from June 28, the Yankees are 3-8.

It was reported that he's got shoulder stiffness, and he's gone back to New York to be examined. He could be headed for the Disabled List. He will miss his next turn in the rotation.

Andy Pettitte remains on the DL. David Phelps, while good in relief this season, hasn't been all that sharp as a starter in Pettitte's place. Freddy Garcia is starting to look done -- as is Bartolo Colon, now with the Oakland Athletics, and suspended for 50 games due to testing positive for testosterone, as was another former Yankee, Melky Cabrera. (More on them in a moment.)

Question: So it's Sabathia, Kuroda, Hughes, and... who for the 4th and 5th slots?

Answer: Phelps will have to remain in the rotation, at least for a while. Because of days off, a 5-man rotation is less necessary than it's been in the last month. But moving former starters Derek Lowe (who may not have been a good pickup after all) or Joba Chamberlain (who came back way too soon, and did no one any favors by doing so) back into the rotation would be an awful idea.

Here's how the rotation looks the rest of the way:

August 24 vs. Cleveland: Sabathia
August 25: Kuroda
August 26: Garcia
August 27 vs. Toronto: Phelps
August 28: (Nova's place in the rotation)
August 29: Sabathia
August 31 vs. Baltimore: Kuroda
September 1: Garcia
September 2: Phelps
September 3 vs. Tampa Bay: (Nova's place)
September 4: Sabathia
September 5: Kuroda
September 6 vs. Baltimore: Garcia
September 7: Phelps
September 8: (Nova's place)
September 9: Sabathia
September 11 vs. Boston: Kuroda
September 12: Garcia
September 13: Phelps
September 14 vs. Tampa Bay: (Nova's place)
September 15: Sabathia
September 16: Kuroda
September 18 vs. Toronto: Garcia
September 19: Phelps
September 20: Sabathia (4 days' rest)
September 21 vs. Oakland: Kuroda (4 days' rest)
September 22: Garcia (4 days' rest)
September 23: (Nova's place)
September 24 vs. Minnesota: Phelps (4 days' rest)
September 25: Sabathia
September 26: Kuroda
September 27 vs. Toronto: Garcia
September 28: (Nova's place)
September 29: Phelps
September 30: Sabathia
October 1 vs. Boston: Kuroda
October 2 vs. Boston: Garcia
October 3 vs. Boston: (Nova's place) (not Phelps)

So, as you can see, against AL East chasers Tampa Bay and Baltimore, there are 3 games that would, if he were healthy and reliable, be started by Nova, 2 each that would be started by Garcia and Phelps.

The last of these games is September 14. I doubt that Pettitte will come back before that date.

You also have to keep in mind that September 1 is the day that the rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40 players, so there may be a minor-league call-up or two that could help in this regard. And that's only 9 days away.

Question: Who would be this hypothetical prospect called up?

Answer: Not either of the "Killer Bs." Dellin Betances has been awful at Triple-A Scranton, and he's hurt anyway. So is Manny Banuelos. Perhaps Ramon Ortiz, the former Angels star who went 15-9 with a 3.77 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP for the 2002 World Champions. Granted, that was 10 years ago, he's 39, and he's pitched a grand total of 38 games in the majors since 2007. But at the moment, pitching for Scranton, he's 12-5, with a 3.13 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Is he really a less appetizing option than continuing to count on 2 out of the 3 questionables, Nova, Garcia and Phelps?

Question: What about the bullpen?

Answer: Rafael Soriano is fine. The rest of the pen is not. In football, they say a quarterback should never lose his job due to injury. (Tell that to Drew Bledsoe.) When Mariano Rivera went down, David Robertson was promoted from 8th inning man to 9th inning man. When he went down, Soriano was so promoted. When Robertson returned, Joe Girardi kept Soriano for the 9th and Robertson was put back in the 8th slot. This was a mistake, as D-Rob hasn't been the same since.

Joba, as I said, came back too soon. Lowe is probably not an answer. Phelps was all right in the bullpen, but he probably won't be a reliever the rest of the way. Clay Rapada, for the most part, has been good. Cody Eppley has not. Boone Logan was brushing aside my anger toward him, but lately he's been back to being Mr. Atrocious. Dear God, do not let Girardi bring Cory Wade back out.

I suspect that, if we can replace one of the 3 rotation question marks -- that is, either find someone to replace Nova, Garcia or Phelps, or get one of those 3 back on track -- that will make the bullpen less necessary, thus reducing the likelihood of Eppley or Logan futzing it up; and also reducing the pressure on Robertson, thus making him more effective.

Question: What the hell, Melky and Bartolo?

Answer: No one can yet prove that they were using performance-enhancing drugs while with the Yankees, so if your question is...

Question: Does this mean the Yankees' 2009 title is now as invalid as the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 titles?

Answer: Yes, exactly as invalid. As in, completely valid.

A, If the Yankees were "cheating" in those years, and their titles have to be vacated, then you'd better vacate the Red Sox' titles first. The evidence against them is far worse, and the evidence against many of the other teams that were chasing the Yankees in those years (Baltimore 1996-97, Texas 1996-99, Arizona 2001, Ivan Rodriguez's Florida 2003 and Detroit 2006) is also more glaring than that against the Yankees.

B, Melky didn't get this good until he went to the San Francisco Giants.

C, Colon wasn't even with the Yankees in 2009.

D, You'll notice neither of them got caught until they went to the San Francisco Bay Area -- the home of BALCO, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, and Barry Bonds.

So let's move on... Sort of...

Question: Is Skip Bayless really that much of an asshole?

Answer: He is one of the most hated sports pundits in America. He may have been trying to boost his reputation among Yankee-haters yesterday, when he went on ESPN and openly suggested that Jeter's return to his prime-years stats may be due to PEDs.

On the same segment, Stephen A. Smith, not exactly beloved himself, took the moral high ground and smacked Skip with it. Way to go, Stephen A.: Standing up for responsible journalism, because such journalism has never found evidence that Jeter has been using -- something that cannot be said of Bonds, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez or Mike Piazza.

So let's move on... For real...

Question: When is Pettitte coming back?

Answer: According to Erik Boland in today's edition of the Long Island paper Newsday, he should be throwing off a mound by next week. According to Chad Jennings in the Journal News, the main paper in New York's Westchester County, Andy thinks he can pitch again this season, and would like to pitch again next season, too.

Granted, his return this season is by no means guaranteed, and the timing of it remains vague. The Yankees cannot yet presume that he will take the mound again in September -- or even October.

Question: When is Alex Rodriguez coming back -- and what can we expect from A-Rod when he does?

Answer: According to the New York Daily News baseball staff on Monday, both A-Rod and Pettitte had encouraging X-rays. I wouldn't count on A-Rod returning before Labor Day (September 3), but, having had rest, both physical and mental (and you always have to consider the mental with Alex), he'll probably be better off than if he'd played all the way through the season. Which could be big trouble for American League pitchers the rest of the way.

Question: When is Brett Gardner coming back?

Answer: September 1, roster call-up day, is a possibility. But it's much more likely that he'll miss the rest of the season, and be ready for spring training next year.

Question: What about the offense? Jeter, Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Ichiro Suzuki have been good, and Cano may be back. But Russell Martin is still hitting under .200, Raul Ibanez has tailed off, Andruw Jones is suddenly looking very old after a good first half, and Curtis Granderson is in a nasty, strikeout-prone slump. What can be done about that?

Answer: The return of A-Rod, as he was in 2009 when he forced pitchers to give good stuff to Teix, may be the key. It would stabilize things. Granted, it would reduce the hot-hitting Chavez to DH status, especially if Andruw continues to return to his 2008 Dodger levels. But a lineup of...

SS Jeter
CF Granderson
2B Cano
3B Rodriguez
1B Teixeira
DH Ibanez or Chavez
LF Swisher
RF Ichiro
C Martin

...would be hard to shut down in full.

It would help if Gardner could return down the stretch, thus adding contact hitting, speed and good defense, but I wouldn't count on it happening this season.

And finally...

Question: The Yankees' AL East lead was as high as 10 games. Now it's down to 3 over the Tampa Bay Rays, and 5 over the Baltimore Orioles. How worried should we be?

Answer: We are the New York Yankees. We do not panic. But we do get concerned.

But ask yourself this:

Question: Where would you rather be on August 23, with 38 games to go: Three games ahead, or three games behind?

Answer: In 1st place, of course.

NCIS Rule Number 8: Never take anything for granted. We've seen too many 1st-place teams take nosedives and miss the Playoffs completely: The 1914 Giants, the 1934 Giants, the 1935 Cardinals, the 1951 Dodgers, the 1956 Reds, the 1964 Phillies, the 1969 Cubs, the 1974 Red Sox, the 1978 Red Sox, the 1987 Blue Jays, the 1995 Angels, the 2007 and 2008 Mets, and, just last year, the 2011 Red Sox and Braves.

We've even seen teams collapse, blow leads, and still win Pennants: The 1949 Yankees (up by 12, down by 1, but won last 2 to take Pennant) and the 2006 Tigers (up by 10, blew AL Central, but made Playoffs as Wild Card and won Pennant).

Remember 1996? The Yankees were up by 12 on Baltimore, and the lead was cut to 2. We won the Division anyway, and won the whole thing. Remember 2000? We led the whole way, then lost 16 out of our last 19 (counting Game 1 of the AL Division Series), but still won the whole thing.

I'm not saying, "Relax." Or even "Keep calm and carry on." I'm saying, "I know it looks bad at the moment, but we still have the advantage, we still have the more talented roster, we still have the more experienced players, and things are not as bad as they seem.

Our Magic Number to clinch the AL East is still just 35. According to, our chances of winning the Division are 74.9 percent (3 out of 4), and our chances of at least making the Playoffs are 96.5 percent.

Today is a much-needed day off. Tomorrow, against a weak Cleveland team, we can get it going again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Let Strasburg Pitch: Washington Has to Go For It

So, the Washington Nationals are likely to shut down Stephen Strasburg when he gets to 180 innings pitched this season.

I understand wanting to preserve the future. Stopping him from pitching now, so that you’ll have him in 2013 and beyond, is every bit as understandable as a team in rebuilding mode getting of its biggest, most expensive stars and starting over, thus sacrificing 1 to 3 bad years to make 5 to 10 ten good ones.

But the Nationals, as of this writing, are 76-46. They lead the National League East by 6 games over the Atlanta Braves, whom they are playing this week, and whom they’ve beaten the last two nights.

Throw in the two-wild-cards system we have starting with this season, and, according to, the Nats have a 99.8 percent chance of at least making the Playoffs. Their chance of winning the NL East is 90.9 percent.

Here are the percentages each team has of at least getting its League’s 2nd Wild Card:

N.Y. Yankees
Chicago Sox
Tampa Bay
San Francisco
St. Louis
L.A. Dodgers
L.A. Angels
Kansas City
N.Y. Mets
San Diego
Chicago Cubs
So if you’ve only got a 1 in 500 chance of missing the Playoffs, why would you bench your best pitcher? It would be like being a boxing trainer, getting your exciting young fighter into a fight for one of the championship belts, with a shot at possibly unifying the title, and then sending him out to face the champion with one hand tied behind his back.

Look at Washington's record. And I’m not just talking about the Nats, I’m talking about Washington sports in general:

This is the Nats’ 8th season since they moved to the District of Columbia. Before that, they were the Montreal Expos. None of the previous 7 seasons were winning seasons. Their last season above .500 was 2003 in Montreal, 9 years ago. Their last season of at least 84 wins was in 1996, 16 years ago. That was also the last season in which, had the current Playoff setup been in place, they would have made the Playoffs. Had the 1994 season been played to a conclusion, and had the standings that were frozen at the time of the strike held, the Expos would have gone into the Playoffs with the best record in baseball, and thus home field advantage all the way through the NL Playoffs, and, under the systems in place then (alternating between Leagues) and now (League that wins the All-Star Game), would have had HFA in the World Series as well.

The Nats finished 80-81 last season, and 81-81 in their first season in D.C., 2005. No Washington-based baseball team has finished above .500 since the 1969 Washington Senators, who went 86-76. That was 43 years ago. It was the only time the 1961-born franchise, which became the Texas Rangers in 1972, would top .500 until 1974. The last time before that was the “old Senators,” the team that became the Minnesota Twins in 1961 to be replaced by the Senators/Rangers franchise, going 87-67 in 1945.

That 1945 Senators team was also the last Washington baseball team to really be in a Pennant race, finishing a game and a half behind the Detroit Tigers. That was 67 years ago. Two-thirds of a century.

The last Washington baseball team to win a Pennant was the 1933 Senators. That was 79 years ago.

The last Washington baseball team, and the only one, to win a World Series was the 1924 Senators. That was 88 years ago.

Think about that for a moment: Washington has an 88-year drought. That’s as long as Chicago had (1917-2005), and it’s longer than Boston had (86 years, 1918-2004). San Francisco recently ended a drought (53 seasons, 1958-2010), and Cleveland’s is still ongoing (64 years, since 1948). And, while it’s true that Washington didn’t even have a team for 33 seasons (1972-2004), the fact remains that no team currently in the major leagues has waiting longer for a World Series, a Pennant, or even a Pennant race.

No D.C.-area team, in any sport, has won a World Championship since the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI -- 20 years ago.

None has reached the Finals since the Capitals got swept in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. In the 14 years since, lots of noticeably smaller markets have made Finals: Neighboring Baltimore, Calgary, Cleveland, Edmonton, Houston, Nashville, Orlando, Ottawa, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, San Antonio four times. In two sports: Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina (Charlotte in the NFL, Raleigh twice in the NHL), Denver, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis. In 3 sports: Detroit and Tampa Bay! That's not New York, L.A., Chicago or even Boston achieving that. While Washington hasn't reached the Finals in any sport in 14 years – unless you count Georgetown basketball reaching the National Championship in 2007.

The Caps have made the Finals just that once in almost 40 years, winning exactly zero Finals games.

The Bullets/Wizards haven't won a title in 34 years, or reached the Finals, or even the Conference Finals, in 33.

Even Georgetown, for all its success, has won only one National Championship, in 1984. The University of Maryland is inside the Capital Beltway, and they won the National Championship in 2002. But that’s still not major league.

Think about it: The Caps have never won a title; the Redskins, not since George Bush – the father, not the son – was was living in the White House a few miles away; the Wizards, not since Jimmy Carter; and Washington baseball, not since Calvin Coolidge.

The Nats have to go for it. They have to send their best pitcher out there. If they think he’s throwing too much, they can always give him an extended spring training next season and debut him in the majors on May 1, 2013.

But how many chances does a team get to play in the World Series? Look at the 1980s Mets: People thought they’d be a dynasty. They only got into 1 World Series. Look at the Rays: For all their surprising success, they’ve gotten into just 1 World Series so far. Look at the Rockies: They won 21 out of 22 down the stretch in 2007 and won their 1st Pennant; they’ve won a grand total of 1 postseason game since clinching that Pennant.

Look at the Phillies: They were a young team when they won the 1950 Pennant, hence the nickname “Whiz Kids.” They thought they’d get into a few more. They didn’t. When they finally got back to the Playoffs in 1976, they figured there’d be lots of Pennants. There were only 2. When they won a surprise Pennant in 1993, they thought there’d be more; it took them until 2008 to get back, and for all the games they’ve won – since opening Citizens Bank Park in 2004, they’ve at least been in the Playoff race every year until this one – they’ve only won the 1 title in that stretch.

The Nats have to go for it. For, as the saying goes, tomorrow is promised to no one.