Monday, December 30, 2013

What Was New York Sports' Best Year?

Following yesterday's retrospective of the worst years in New York Tri-State Area sports, I decided to look at the best ones.

Using a not completely scientific method, and not counting college sports, the WNBA, or MLS, here's the top 10:

10. 2006. This is the only year in their 52-season joint existence that both the Yankees and the Mets won their respective Divisions. The Mets fell just 1 run short of a Pennant -- and haven't made the Playoffs since. Both Meadowlands Arena teams, the Devils and the Nets, won their Divisions, and the Devils beat the Rangers in the Playoffs for the 1st time in 4 tries.

In fact, 7 out of the 9 local teams made the Playoffs, the only time this has ever happened. The only ones that missed were the Knicks and the Islanders.

9. 2003. The Devils won the Stanley Cup. The Yankees won the Pennant, beating the hated Red Sox on the late comeback against Pedro Martinez and the Aaron Boone home run, but then lost the World Series to the team then known as the Florida Marlins. And the Nets made it back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships, and won the only NBA Finals games in their history, before losing in 6 to the San Antonio Spurs.

8. 2001. During the calendar year, 3 local teams reached the Finals of their sports, but all lost. First, the Giants walloped the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game at the Meadowlands, then got crushed by the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. Then the Devils lost Games 6 (at home) and 7 to lose the Stanley Cup Finals to the Colorado Avalanche. And the Yankees were stunned by the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the World Series, after those unbelievable comebacks in Games 4 and 5, meaning the 9/11 recovery fairytale would remain incomplete.

The Jets and the Knicks also made the Playoffs. And the Mets had that emotional first game back, highlighted by the Mike Piazza home run.

7. 1999. For the 1st time, both the Yankees and the Mets made the postseason in the same year. The Mets made a late run to win the National League Wild Card, then tried to come from 3 games to 0 against the Atlanta Braves, and had the extra-inning win in Game 5 before losing a thriller in Game 6, ruining the dream of a Subway Series. Then the Yankees closed the 20th Century by beating the Braves. The Knicks also made the Finals, but lost to the Spurs.

6. 1951. Only 6 teams were playing in New York at the time, but 4 of them were among the last 3 teams standing. The football Giants and the Rangers didn't make the postseason, but the Knicks got all the way to overtime of Game 7 of the NBA Finals before they lost to the Rochester Royals (the team now known as the Sacramento Kings).

The baseball New York Giants had that incredible (literally, as it turned out) stretch run where they caught the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then beat them in the Playoffs on the Bobby Thomson home run. Then the Giants led the Yankees 2 games to 1 in the World Series, before the Yankees won the last 3, allowing Joe DiMaggio to close his career as a World Champion.

5. 2012. Hard to believe it was that recent, isn't it? The Giants began the year by once again upsetting the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Then in May, the Devils and Rangers both went on thrilling Playoff runs, finally clashing with each other in an epic Conference Finals -- well, as epic as a postseason series can get without going the full 7. It sure felt like 7, especially went Game 6 went to overtime, and then Adam Henrique scored his 2nd overtime winner of the Playoffs -- on May 27, no less, the anniversary of the Stephane Matteau Game, finally exorcising that ghost.

The Devils lost the Stanley Cup Finals, though, to the Los Angeles Kings. The Knicks also won a Playoff game for the 1st time in 12 years, and the Yankees struggled through injuries to reach the American League Championship Series.

4. 1981. The Devils were still in Denver in those days, but the Islanders won their 2nd straight Stanley Cup, beating the Minnesota North Stars in the Finals, and the Rangers also made the Playoffs. The Yankees won the Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants, Jets and Knicks also made the Playoffs.

3. 1998. The Yankees had the greatest season any baseball team has ever had, complete with a perfect game, a runaway Division Title, a League record for wins (since broken), a tough ALCS, and a World Series sweep of the San Diego Padres. The Mets bounced back from nearly a decade of mediocrity, although they needed to win just 1 of their last 5 games to make the Playoffs, and lost all 5. The Devils won their Division, and the Giants, Jets and Knicks all made the Playoffs.

2. 1994. It was nearly a double title at Madison Square Garden, as the Rangers won their 1st Stanley Cup in 54 years, and the Knicks reached Game 7 of the NBA Finals, finally having beaten the Michael Jordan-less Chicago Bulls, before losing to the Houston Rockets. To get to the Finals, the Rangers had to beat the Devils, needing to win Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home, including double-overtime wins in Games 3 and 7, both won by goals by the aforementioned Matteau. The Islanders also made the Playoffs.

The Yankees were in 1st place on August 12, but that's when the strike began, ending the season as it turned out. When I made my chart, 1994 actually came out at Number 1. But since we got hit with the devastation of the strike, I cannot put this year at the top. Whether the Yankees would have won the World Series, we'll never know. If the season had reached such a conclusion, this would be a clear Number 1, with 2, nearly 3, teams going all the way, and 4 teams reaching their sports' Semifinals.

1. 2000. This one isn't just the last year in which 2 Tri-State Area teams went all the way. It is the year with the only Subway Series in the last 57 years. (Remember: It's only a "Subway Series" if it's the World Series -- regular-season series count in the standings, but not as a "Subway Series." They didn't call it that when the Giants and Dodgers played each other until 1957.) The Yankees beat the Mets, ending for once and for all the conceit that "New York is a National League town" and "Real New Yorkers are Met fans." (Are you listening, Curtis Granderson?)

In addition, the Devils won the Stanley Cup, beating the Philadelphia Flyers in a shocking 3-games-to-1 comeback in the Conference Finals, then facing the defending champion Dallas Stars in the Finals. The Devils lost Game 5 of the Finals at home in triple overtime, but won Game 6 on the road in double overtime on a goal by Jason Arnott. The Giants also began the run that would end in a Super Bowl the following January, and the Knicks also had a good Playoff run -- their last decent one to date.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New York Sports Has Had Worse Years Than 2013

2013 was a bad year for New York Tri-State Area sports. Here's how the teams rank... and, boy, are they rank:

1. The New York Red Bulls won their 1st trophy, in their 18th season of play: The Supporters' Shield, given to the team with the best overall record in Major League Soccer.

But in the MLS Cup Playoffs, they crashed out in the Quarterfinals, on a goal in extra time. Victims of the one soccer league on the planet where the team that finished 1st overall is not declared league champions, and doesn't use an away-goals rule that would have seen them advance to the Semifinals. And that was the best performance of any of the area teams.

2. Rutgers University women's basketball are currently 10-2, including a 6-game winning streak, although they haven't begun Big East Conference play yet. Neither loss is particularly shameful: By 1 point away to the University of Massachusetts, and by 4 to national power (and nationally-ranked) Louisiana State in a holiday-season tournament in Brooklyn (not exactly "home court" for the Lady Knights). But they didn't make the NCAA Tournament last season, within the calendar year.

3. The New York Yankees won "only" 85 games, tying for 3rd in the American League Eastern Division, 12 games out, and missing the Playoffs completely, 6 games out of the 2nd Wild Card berth.

Injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Chris Stewart pretty much doomed them, while Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan all imploded on the mound. Then they lost Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte to retirement, and Granderson and Robinson Cano to free agency. And the A-Rod PED case hung over them like a dark cloud all season long, and still does, as yet unresolved.

4. St. John's University men's basketball are currently 11-3, but, again, that's before getting into the "meat and potatoes" portion of the schedule.

Last year, they went 17-16, losing in the 1st round of the Big East Tournament (at Madison Square Garden, officially their "second home court"), and in the 2nd round of the National Invitational Tournament (which has been far beneath the NCAA Tournament in prestige for over 40 years).

5. Rutgers University football ended their season yesterday in a bowl game, the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. For most of the game, they were either tied or within 3 points of Notre Dame. But, late in the 3rd quarter, the Fighting Irish figured out that their ground game was being stopped cold, and their aerial attack wasn't being stopped at all, and ended up beating the Scarlet Knights, 29-16.

RU finished 6-7 in their final season in whatever the hell they're calling the Big East Football Conference now.  Five times, they allowed 41 or more points (incredibly winning 1 of those).

And next year, they have to play in the Big Ten. That means they have to play old rivals Penn State. And Ohio State. And Michigan. And Nebraska. That's 4 of the biggest programs in the history of college football. Things are not about to get better on the banks of the old Raritan.

6. Seton Hall University men's basketball is currently 9-4, but that's before starting conference play. They've won just 1 game against a decent team, Virginia Tech.

The Pirates went 15-18 last season, a horrid 3-15 in Big East play. They fell out of the tournament in the 2nd round, and qualified for neither the NCAA nor the NIT.

7. Rutgers University men's basketball are currently 7-7, and that's after winning their last 2 -- but before getting into the Big East Conference schedule. Only 1 win has been over a school that would be considered Division I-A in football -- barely, as it was Army. And only 2 of those 14 games have been on the road (losses to Alabama-Birmingham, and to George Washington University in Washington, D.C.) This is going to be a hard season in Piscataway.

This, as a follow-up to last season, when they went 15-16, lost to Notre Dame in the 2nd round of the Big East Tournament, and did not qualify for either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. Don't expect them to qualify for either one this season, either. Also, they had to fire head coach Mike Rice for verbally abusing his players. Eddie Jordan, a former NBA player and head coach who played on RU's famed 1976 Final Four team, is now in charge, and he's got his work cut out for him.

8. The New Jersey Devils have 40 out of a possible 80 points -- exactly half. Despite some heroic performances by legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur and his heir apparent Corey Schneider, goals have been hard to come by. They won last night, 2-1, with a 3rd-period goal, on the road... but that was against the Islanders, who are in an even bigger mess.

The image is worse than the reality: The Devils missed the Playoffs last season, and lost their best scorer to free-agent greed, Ilya Kovalchuk, after losing Zach Parise the same way the year before. At least the ownership situation is settled, and the team's future in New Jersey is secure.

9. The New York Rangers have 39 out of a possible 78 points -- exactly half. They are playing with no direction after making the Playoffs this past spring. And, after being signed to a new long-term contract, goalie Henrik Lundqvist is playing less like a "King" than ever. But James Dolan and general manager Glen Sather still don't seem to have any answers.

10. The New York Jets, playing their home games in MetLife Stadium, which is set to host this season's Super Bowl, went 8-8, thanks to their season-finale win, away to their longtime bête noire, the Miami Dolphins. Don't let that finale fool you: They need help, and lots of it. They do not have a reliable quarterback, and their defense is a shambles: 3 times it allowed at least 37 points. The Rex Ryan experiment has failed.

11. The New York Giants are actually worse. No, not in terms of image: The Jets' organization remains a laughingstock, while the Giants' is held up as a model of stability; in each case, those perceptions are completely fair. That remains true.

But on the field, the Giants went 7-9, and that's counting their season-finale win over the Washington Redskins, who are truly a basket case after being a serious Super Bowl threat last season.

Eli Manning, 2 Super Bowl rings or no, has become an interception machine. And defense, for Big Blue as for Gang Green the team's usual defining feature, has been bad, although injuries have a lot to do with it. Six times this season, the Giants have allowed at least 36 points. They scored 31 away to the Dallas Cowboys, 23 at home to the Denver Broncos, 21 at home to the Cowboys, 21 at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, and 21 away to the Chicago Bears -- and lost all of those games.

Like Eli, head coach Tom Coughlin can't hold the goodwill of 2 titles forever; perhaps, if he'd "only won one Super Bowl," he'd have been fired by now.

12. The New York Mets lost 88 games, finishing 22 games out in the National League Eastern Division, and 16 games out of a Playoff berth. They haven't seen the 2nd week of October in 7 years, and while (theoretically) things can change in a hurry, one does not simply suggest that the Mets will be in the Playoffs any time in the next 7 years. It is folly.

13. The New York Liberty finished 11-23, missing the WNBA Playoffs by 5 games. And yet, for the moment, the ladies are the best-performing pro basketball team in the Tri-State Area.

14. The Brooklyn Nets go into New Year's Eve game, away to the strong San Antonio Spurs, with a record of 10-20, after being hyped as being ready to "take over New York." (Yeah, Met fans like to use that expression. So did Brooklyn Dodger fans in the 1940s and '50s.)

They have the advantage of only being in their 2nd season in Brooklyn, so they don't have 2 generations of angry New Jerseyans thinking that enough is enough, and that they have had it with this team. But that works against head coach Jason Kidd, because these fans have no loyalty to him for what he did at the Meadowlands, and they want him out.

The problem is, it's hardly all Kidd's fault. Deron Williams has been hurt, Brook Lopez is out for the season, and Kidd isn't the one who brought in the washed-up and broken-down Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko.

Net management made fools of themselves by hyping the team so much, and now, they're paying the price. They did make the Playoffs last season, in this calendar year, which is something the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Devils and Liberty can't truthfully claim. But, as with the Knicks, that Playoff experience (a tough full-7-games 1st-round loss to the Chicago Bulls) seems like a long time ago.

15. The New York Knickerbockers go into their next game, on Thursday, January 2, 2014, also away to San Antonio, only 9-21. Only 3 teams have a worse record. Injuries have hurt them badly, literally and figuratively.

Even if the Nets had a better record, the Knicks might still be worse off, because the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden is getting poisonous: After finally winning a postseason game last spring (for the first time in 12 years) and also winning a postseason series (for the first time in 13 years), the fans are chanting their demand that head coach Mike Woodson get fired.

For what? He dragged that team to those achievements last season. He can't be blamed for the injuries. He didn't sprain Carmelo Anthony's ankle. He didn't strain Raymond Felton's groin. (At least, I hope not, that would be an entirely different can of worms.) He didn't sign the perpetually injured Kenyon Martin (who's been battling injuries since breaking his leg in his senior year at the University of Cincinnati, thus beginning one of the most disappointing careers in basketball history). He also didn't cause Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to become bricklayers (both under 36 percent from the field). He also didn't sign Tim Hardaway Jr., thinking that he'd be as good as Tim Sr. was (and still might become, but not yet, not by a long shot).

Woodson's not the problem, it's Knick management, for bringing in the bums and the broken-down.

16. The New York Islanders have 29 of a possible 78 points, after having made a rare trip to the Playoffs this past spring. Only 2 NHL teams have a worse record.

Putting aside the college teams, the Liberty, and the Red Bulls... Of the 9 main teams, the baseball and football teams blew their Playoff chances for 2013, both basketball teams and the Islanders will need miracles to make it in their current season, and only the Rangers and Devils look like they have even a remote chance.

Can it get any worse?


Bill Cosby, Temple University track star, had a story about his first time headlining as a comedian in Las Vegas.  This was in the early 1960s, when a black man starring in a comedy show, or in anything else, was still quite rare in America.  Apparently, his newfound fame wasn't helping him win in the casino:

You should never challenge "worse." Don't ever say, "Things couldn't get worse." Worse is rough...

I was down to my last two hundred dollars. I mean, not to my name, but I lost all I could sign for. And I said, "I'm gonna win something! It can't get worse!"

I went over to the roulette wheel. And got two hundred dollars' worth of quarter chips. Covered the table -- I mean, covered the table! Red and black, even up. I'm going to win something before I go to sleep. And the guy spun the ball and it fell on the floor.

Of course, it can get worse. Indeed, it has been worse:

* 2008: The Yankees, Mets (on the last day of the season), Jets, Knicks, Nets and Islanders all missed the Playoffs. The Devils lost in the 1st round, the Rangers in the 2nd. And the Giants lost in the Divisional Playoffs to their arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.

* 1989: The Giants and Knicks won their Divisions, but crashed out in the Playoffs (in the G-Men's case, in "The Flipper Anderson Game" against the Los Angeles Rams). The Mets finished 2nd, but no Wild Card in those days. The Yankees fell apart. The Rangers crashed out in the 1st round, and the Devils and Islanders missed. The Nets were their typical dreadful selves, and the Jets were 4-12.

* 1975: The Nets had won the ABA title the year before, and would win it the next year, but not this one. The Knicks, having won 2 recent NBA titles and come close to 2 others, got old in a hurry. The Yankees and Mets both had reasons to hope while playing in Shea Stadium, but neither made the Playoffs. The Giants and Jets couldn't see the Playoffs with binoculars. And, in those pre-Devils days, the Islanders shocked the Rangers in the 1st round of the Playoffs -- perhaps the beginning of the chant "Rangers suck," and perhaps also the beginning of Ranger fans' turning from among the classiest and most knowledgeable in hockey to being a bunch of drunken troglodytes. The Isles had a thrill ride before falling in the Semifinals.

* 1959: Only the 4 older teams were around then. The Giants won the NFL Eastern Division, but lost the Championship Game to the Baltimore Colts for the 2nd year in a row. The Knicks made the Playoffs, but lost in the 1st round to the Syracuse Nationals (who became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963). The Yankees finished 3rd, winning only 79 games, their fewest between 1925 and 1965. The Rangers missed the Playoffs.

* 1945: The last year of World War II remains the last year in which no New York Tri-State Area team made the postseason -- partly because there were only 3 teams, as the Knicks did not begin play until 1946-47.

Writing in today's New York Daily News, Hank Gola suggests the absolute nadir was 1966. He's got a case. Here's how bad it was, keeping in mind that the Nets, Devils and Islanders did not yet exist:

* Yankees: 10th in the single-division AL, 70-89. Only 3 other times have the Yankees finished last: 1908, 1912 and 1990. Age, injuries, and a dried-up farm system had caught up with them, and it had been only 2 years since they reached Game 7 of a World Series. Ralph Houk, who had previously managed them to the 1961 and '62 World Championships and the '63 Pennant, had to come back in from the GM's office, but there was little he could do.

In a midweek afternoon game, rescheduled from a rainout and in drizzly weather again, the smallest crowd in Yankee history showed up: 413 fans. Red Barber, tired of broadcasting for the Yankee organization, "committed suicide by cop," and had the cameramen pan the 67,000 seats that remained empty, and was fired.

At the end of the next season, the team would consist of a crumbling Mickey Mantle, Joe Pepitone, Mel Stottlemyre, and 22 guys named Steve Whitaker. (Bobby Murcer had been drafted and would miss '67 and '68.)

* Mets: 9th in the NL, 66-95. And that was the best record in their 5-season history to that point. They finished 1 place higher than the decrepit Pinstripes (can't really call this edition "the Bronx Bombers"), but the Amazin's still had a poorer record, 5 games behind.

And they made a huge mistake in the draft: With the top pick, they took high school catcher Steve Chilcott, who got hurt and never made the majors. The alleged reason they didn't take the guy who went as the 2nd pick was that he was a black guy with a white girlfriend. Actually, she was Hispanic. As, in part, was he. You might have heard of him: Reginald Martinez Jackson. He would win 3 Pennants each with the Oakland Athletics and the Yankees, and nearly help the California Angels win 2 more.

Hope was on the way, though: The next year, Tom Seaver would arrive. But, to this day, the Mets have won 4 Pennants, 2 fewer than Reggie did in half the time.

* Giants: Had their worst season ever, 1-12-1. Kind of a bad year to be at Yankee Stadium, and not just because of the poverty and crime that was increasing in the surrounding South Bronx neighborhood. They also lost the highest-scoring game in NFL history, 72-41 to the Washington Redskins.

Incredibly, head coach Allie Sherman was brought back for another season. Much like Coughlin now, he was holding on to memories, having guided the Giants to the NFL Championship Game in 1961, '62 and '63. (The win in '56, and the losses in the '58 and '59 title games, were under Jim Lee Howell.)

* Jets: In Joe Namath's 2nd year, they started out 4-0-1, but, as Jet teams tend to do, crashed. The rest of the way, they went 2-6-1. Overall, against the American Football League, they were 6-6-2. At the time, a performance like that, against competition like that, could have been summed up by Flushing resident Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), had All In the Family been on the air yet: "Well, whoop-dee-doo!"

* Knicks: Finished 30-50, 2nd-worst record in the NBA. Dick McGuire was a fantastic player before this, and would be a brilliant scouting director after this, but was a terrible head coach. Hope was on the way, though: After another season, they would draft Walt Frazier.

* Rangers: Finished dead last, with 47 points, 27 points out of a Playoff spot. Incredibly, in the next season, they closed calendar year 1966 in 1st place, and would make the Playoffs in 1967, the last "Original Six" season.

* None of the local college teams did much, either, although St. John's did win the NIT the year before.

* Even the Beatles couldn't sell out Shea Stadium, as they had the year before.

1966 was the year John Lindsay began his Mayoralty with a transit strike, and he tried to brush it off by saying, "New York is a fun city."

"Fun City" soon became a nickname, every bit as sarcastic as calling the Mets "Amazin'" was at the time.

So, Tri-State Area fans, remember: Not only could it be worse, but it has been worse:

* No more stadiums or arenas in ghettos. (No, the Prudential Center doesn't count. Nor does the Nassau Coliseum, nor does the transfer you have to make to get there without a car, from the LIRR to the bus at Hempstead Terminal.)

* Plenty of available, if overpriced, parking.

* Decent bathrooms.

* Good food, albeit at nutty prices.

* And management has plenty of resources in order to build (or rebuild) the teams and make them better. (With the apparent exception of the Mets.)

All we need now is for such building to happen, and for the teams to then perform.

It could be worse. A lot worse.

It can also be better. And it will be, eventually.

Friday, December 27, 2013

SI Got It Right: Peyton Manning IS the Sportsman of the Year

Peyton Manning is one of the top 10 quarterbacks of all time. He is a World Champion, could well win another title this season, and probably would have won at least 1 more Super Bowl had Bill Belichick not been an unrepentant cheater. Although he and his family are regular Republican donors, and he does commercials for the deeply evil "Papa John" Schnatter, he and his family are generous and seem like genuinely nice people.

And, this past season, at the age of 37, in the process of helping the Denver Broncos win the AFC West, he broke the single-season record for touchdown passes. So, yes, beyond any doubt, he is a legitimate candidate for Sportsman of the Year, for Sports Illustrated magazine or anyone else.

But, again, he's 37. This is his 15th season in the NFL -- his 16th if you count missing all of 2011 after neck surgery. He's had better seasons, including 2006, which he capped by leading the Indianapolis Colts to win Super Bowl XLI in February 2007.

In calendar year 2006, SI gave SOTY to Dwayne Wade, for leading the Miami Heat to their first NBA Championship. Was he a better choice than Manning? Possibly, as the big achievement came in the following calendar year.

Terry Bradshaw (1979, shared with Willie Stargell), Joe Montana (1990), Tom Brady (2005), Brett Favre (2007) and Drew Brees (2010) are NFL quarterbacks who've received the award. Until manning, Favre was the only one who did not get it in a calendar year in which he'd won a Super Bowl.

In 2007, a year which effectively began with Manning's long-awaited Super Bowl win, Favre captivated the nation with the story of his spectacular Monday Night Football game the day after his father passed away. It was also a year in which he broke some career records for quarterbacks, some of which Manning now holds, or likely will hold (unless he decides he's had enough and hangs 'em up after this great season).

SI has done "lifetime achievement awards" for its SOTY before:

* 1957: Stan Musial. Stan the Man, a serious candidate for the title of best hitter in National League history, and definitely the best in his own generation, did have a great individual season at age 37. So did his counterpart in the American League in his generation, Ted Williams, then 39. But neither one won the Pennant.

In contrast, another candidate for the title of best hitter in NL history, Hank Aaron, not only led his team to win the World Series, but hit a walkoff home run to win the Pennant-clinching game. So why Stan, and not Hank? Was it age -- Hank was just 23? Or was it... No, it probably wasn't race: The next year, SI chose a black man as Sportsman of the Year, track star Rafer Johnson. But Hank was still a better choice than Stan. So was Mickey Mantle, whose Yankees were beaten by Hank's Milwaukee Braves in the Series. So was Bill Russell, who led the Boston Celtics to their first NBA title.

* 1968: Bill Russell. By this point, Russell had won 10 NBA titles, 2 NCAA titles, and an Olympic Gold Medal. So, why now? Actually, this one was fully justified: He had just completed his 2nd season as the 1st black head coach in major league sports, and won the 1st title by a black coach. (Sort of: In the NFL's 1st season, 1920, Fritz Pollard was player-coach of the title-winning Akron Pros. But calling the NFL "major league" at that point was a bit of a stretch.) As it turned out, like a lot of player-coaches, Russell the coach didn't do to well without himself as a player.

* 1972: John Wooden, shared with Billie Jean King, making her the first Sportswoman of the Year and the pairing the first shared award. That BJK deserved to be considered is clear. But Wooden had won 6 NCAA titles before taking his 7th in the year in question. Why this time?

I could understand choosing Sandy Koufax in '65, Carl Yastrzemski in '67, Russell in '68, Tom Seaver in '69, and Bobby Orr in '70. But why was he not as deserving as Ken Venturi in '64 or Lee Trevino in '71? Those men weren't athletes, they were golfers. This was clearly a lifetime achievement award for the Wizard of Westwood.

* 1978: Jack Nicklaus. If you accept that golfers are athletes and therefore "sportsmen," this still doesn't make any sense. Yes, he won the British Open that year. But it was hardly his best year. So why then? Why him, instead of, say, Ron Guidry? Or Roger Staubach? Or Elvin Hayes? Or Guy Lafleur? Or Bear Bryant? Or Jack Givens? Or Mario Kempes? They could've given it to Steve Cauthen, the jockey who won the Triple Crown -- except they gave it to him the year before, when he gave them less reason to do so.

* 1985: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This one was justified because, although he was 38, Kareem carried the Los Angeles Lakers on his back to win the NBA title.

* 1986: Joe Paterno. My personal feelings about him aside, he had put Penn State into a de facto National Championship game. But he had done things like that before, a few times.

* 1992: Arthur Ashe. He was dying of AIDS, and closing a life devoted to activism of many kinds. It would have been better if they'd honored him in 1968 (when he became the 1st black man to win the U.S. Open, although Russell was a good choice) or in 1975 (when he became the 1st black man to win Wimbledon, a better choice than the now-disgraced Pete Rose).

* 1993: Don Shula. He broke the NFL career record for coaching wins, but it was hardly his best year. It should have been 1973, when he won back-to-back titles, including the capping of an undefeated season.

But SI picked Jackie Stewart, an auto racer. Jackie was a great personality, and perhaps the best at what he did (certainly, he was the best at the time), but auto racing is not a sport. It requires intelligence, toughness, and endurance, but no real athleticism. Also, the car is the biggest key: You put me in Stewart's car and Stewart in my 1979 Mercury Zephyr, and I'll beat him.

* 1997: Dean Smith. Yes, that was the year he broke the record for most NCAA coaching victories. (It has since been broken again.) And he did bring North Carolina to one more Final Four in his last season. But, as with some of these others, he had better years, including Shula's year of 1993, when he won the National Championship.

* 2011: Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt. Each is now the all-time leader in NCAA coaching victories for basketball played by their respective genders. And each had a great year. But, again, both had better years.


So, are there any figures who deserved Sportsman of the Year more than Peyton Manning? An answer of "Yes" would do nothing to diminish Peyton's achievements. Even if he has achieved more in other years.

Title winners in the various sports?

* NFL: Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, John Harbaugh... Great, but not really much buzz. And then there's the can of worms you would open if you gave it to Ray Lewis.

* NHL: Chicago Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane... No, not much excitement, unless you live in Chicagoland.

* NBA: Miami Heat. LeBron James won SOTY last year.

* MLB: Boston Red Sox. Had SI named David Ortiz, knowing full well he was a cheater and a liar about it, I would have told every Yankee Fan to cancel their subscriptions and never buy the magazine again.

* UEFA: Bayern Munich. Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery... Not exactly paragons of virtue.

* Olympics: There wasn't any. And in a non-Olympic year, an Olympic-sport achievement would have to be mind-boggling to qualify its achiever for SOTY.

* Boxing: The most notable boxer of the year was Floyd Mayweather, whose greatest claim to fame is that he's a coward, too chicken to risk his undefeated record against Manny Pacquiao, even though it's now proven that Pacquiao is not invincible. Mayweather says he won't fight Pacquiao because he won't do business with Bob Arum.

What a chump: If I had people calling me a coward to not fight someone, I'd call the fighter up, and do a "Creed-Balboa III": No promoters, no money, no cameras, no fans, let's just do this. Mayweather won't, because he's a coward. And no sportsman.

* Tennis: Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams each won both the U.S. & French Opens, while Andy Murray became the 1st British man to win Wimbledon since 1936. Can't really say any of them is ahead of Peyton for this year.

You know what? I can't say there's a single athlete who appreciably deserves it more than Peyton does.

So, I'm going to agree with Sports Illustrated: Peyton Manning is the Sportsman of the Year.

But his brother Eli still out-titles him, 2-1.

Mike Hegan, 1942-2013; Paul Blair, 1944-2013

Mike Hegan died on Christmas Day. Born on July 21, 1942, in Cleveland, the son of Indians catcher and Yankee pitching coach Jim Hegan, he reached the majors with the Yankees in 1964, and played in that year's World Series. After spending the '65 season in the minors, he was back up to the big club in '66 and '67, but was back in the minors in '68, and was left unprotected in the expansion draft.

He was taken by the Seattle Pilots, who became the Milwaukee Brewers after 1 season. He was the 1st All-Star in the franchise's history (after the preferred selection, 1st baseman Don Mincher, got hurt and couldn't play), and went to the Oakland Athletics, winning the World Series with them in 1972.

He came back to the Yankees the next year, and was the last batter in the last game at the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium. In 1974, he returned to Milwaukee, and closed his career in 1977. From 1976 to 2007, he held the record for consecutive errorless games by a 1st baseman, finally broken by (believe it or not) Kevin Youkilis.

He then broadcast for the Brewers, and then for the Indians, until heart trouble forced him to retire.  He was 71 years old.


As I said, Hegan's last year in the majors was 1977.  That's the 1st season of which I have any real memory. It was also Paul Blair's 1st season as a Yankee. But he had already had a distinguished career in the Orange & Black of Baltimore before putting on the Pinstripes.
Born on February 1, 1944 in Cushing, Oklahoma, he grew up in Los Angeles, and, like Hegan, reached the majors in September 1964, as the Orioles, Yankees and Chicago White Sox were in a wild 3-way race for the American League Pennant. The Yanks ended up beating the ChiSox by just 1 game and the O's by 2.

But in 1966, the Orioles won the 1st World Championship by a Baltimore baseball team since 1896, and the 1st ever for that particular franchise -- its 1st Pennant since 1944, when they were the St. Louis Browns. Blair was the starting center fielder, and became one of the best in the business.

In Game 3 of the '66 Series, he provided the game's only run with a home run off Claude Osteen of the defending World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Usually wearing Number 6, he is a member of the Orioles' team Hall of Fame.

Like Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger, the man known as Motormouth wasn't much of a hitter, but was a sensational fielder. Though he wasn't as bad as Belanger, and had his moments, leading the AL in triples in 1967 and in sacrifice hits in '69.

He won a Gold Glove in 1967, and then every year from 1969 to 1975. That O's team was loaded with good fielders: Belanger, 3rd baseman Brooks Robinson, 2nd baseman Dave Johnson (generally known as "Davey" by the time he became the Mets manager) and 1st baseman John "Boog" Powell became known as the Leather Curtain for their glovework. With Blair centering Don Buford in left field and Frank Robinson in right, the Baltimore defense usually gave manager Earl Weaver's fine pitchers the backup they needed, and the O's could usually find enough hitting to make the difference.

Weaver used to say, "The Oriole way is pitching, defense and three-run homers" -- not just home runs, but with men on base, usually produced by the Robinsons and Powell.

The O's won the Pennant in '69, '70 and '71, and the AL Eastern Division in '73 and '74. Although they were shocked by the Mets in the '69 Series, and the Pittsburgh Pirates launched a great comeback against them in '71, they beat the Cincinnati Reds in '70. Still, the O's weren't quite the juggernaut that the Yankees had been from the early 1920s to the mid-'60s, and they may not even have been as good as the A's they beat in the '71 AL Championship Series, but lost to in the '73 and '74 ALCS, led by Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter.

On January 20, 1977, the day Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as President, the O's traded Blair to the Yankees for Elliott Maddox and Rick Bladt. Blair was assigned Number 2, used the season before by Sandy Alomar Sr., and now, of course, identified mainly with Derek Jeter.

Yankee manager Billy Martin wasn't happy about owner George Steinbrenner and team president Gabe Paul forcing the signing of Reggie as a free agent onto him, and he frequently removed Reggie late in games, putting Blair in for defensive purposes.

Most notoriously, on June 18, Reggie misread a ball hit by Jim Rice of the Boston Red Sox, at the time one of baseball's most powerful sluggers but also one of its slowest runners, and Reggie let Rice reach 2nd base. Billy sent Blair out to right field. Seeing the mound conference, Reggie walked over to the right-field wall, and started talking with backup catcher Fran Healy in the bullpen, when he saw Blair trotting out with his glove. "You comin' in for me? Why?" Reggie asked. Blair, not sure himself, told him, "Billy's the manager, go ask him." Then came the confrontation in the dugout.

The Yankees won the Pennant anyway, and in Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers, Billy again replaced Reggie with Blair for defense. Except the Dodgers tied the game up, and now the Yankees had to go into extra innings with Paul Blair as the cleanup hitter -- a man with a lifetime batting average of .250, OPS+ 96, 1,513 hits, and just 134 home runs. (He hit 26 in 1969, but never topped 18 again. To be fair, though, Baltimore's Memorial Stadium was a serious pitcher's park.)

Paul Blair as your cleanup hitter, instead of the Hall-of-Famer in the making, the man about to be nicknamed Mr. October? No problem: In the bottom of the 12th, Blair singled home Willie Randolph with the winning run: Yankees 4, Dodgers 3.

Blair would play in 4 games in that Series, and in all 10 of the Yankees' postseason games in 1978, for a total of 4 World Series rings -- one of 7 players ever to win 2 with the Yankees and 2 with another team. (The others are Babe Ruth, Herb Pennock, Johnny Hopp, Enos Slaughter, Reggie and Catfish.) He was released by the Yankees early in the 1979 season, played that year with the Reds, and was brought back to the Yankees briefly in 1980, now wearing 27, as 2 had been given to Bobby Murcer.

Blair coached in college, first as the head man at Fordham University in The Bronx, and later at Coppin State College back in Baltimore.  He retired to Owings Mills, Maryland, the town known to sports fans as the corporate headquarters and training camp of first the NFL's Colts, and now the Ravens. In the 2007 ESPN miniseries The Bronx Is Burning, he was played by Seth Gilliam -- probably due to Gilliam's having appeared in the Baltimore-based TV show The Wire. His son Paul III also played pro ball, although he didn't reach the majors.

He enjoyed bowling, and was doing so on Christmas Day, when he suffered a heart attack, and died yesterday. He was 69.

Of the 1977 Yankees, Blair was preceded in death by Catfish and Thurman Munson; of the 1978 Yankees, those 2, plus Jim Spencer and Paul Lindblad.

UPDATE: Both Hegan and Blair were cremated, so there is no gravesite for either of them.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tales of Christmas Past

Some of the following actually happened, some is taken from TV shows and movies.

December 25, in the 753rd year since the founding of the city of Rome – or so Dionysius Exiguus, working in AD 525, would have us believe – Yeshua ben Yoseph was born in Bethlehem, in what is now the West Bank, Palestinian Territories.  In Greek, his name (of which Joshua and Isaiah are also derivatives) became "Jesus." "Christ" is also a Greek word, "christos" meaning "the anointed one."

Based on historical and astronomical evidence, and even passages in the Gospels themselves, this date is almost certainly incorrect. Besides, Jesus appears to be one of the last people in human history who would be concerned about people noticing his birthday. He’d rather we were good to each other.

Both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its companion series Xena: Warrior Princess had Christmas episodes, despite taking place centuries before the birth of Christ.  Hercules' episode, "A Star to Guide Them," was an allegory about the Nativity story and King Herod's order of "The Slaughter of the Innocents." Xena's series was frequently much darker than Hercules', but "A Solstice Carol," full of references to things that would become associated with Christmas in the 19th and 20th Centuries A.D., was really, really campy.  Both were set around the time of the Winter Solstice, which usually falls on December 22 -- which is possibly the reason that the early Church set Christmas on December 25, given the difference between the Julian Calendar then in effect and the Gregorian Calendar being used now.

Christmas AD 800: Charles the Great (a.k.a. Charles Le Magne, Charlemagne and Carolus Magnus) is crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome.  Not that there was much about him that was holy.

Christmas 1000: The Kingdom of Hungary is founded by King Stephen I.

Christmas 1065: Westminster Abbey is consecrated in London. But the King of England, Edward the Confessor, who ordered and funded its building, is too ill to attend, and dies early the next year. Which leads to…

Christmas 1066: William, Duke of Normandy, a.k.a. William the Bastard and William the Conqueror, is crowned King William I of England at Westminster Abbey.

As the saying goes, never go into battle with a man called “the Bastard” or “the Conqueror,” because, chances are, he earned those nicknames.

Christmas 1183: Not the best of Christmases for King Henry II, his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, the princes Richard, Geoffrey and John. The film is The Lion In Winter, and they are played by the following: Henry by Peter O'Toole, Eleanor by Katherine Hepburn, the future King Richard I (the Lionhearted) by Anthony Hopkins in his first major film role, Geoffrey by John Castle (not to be confused with Godfather actor John Cazale), and the future Magna Carta signer King John by Nigel Terry (who would be a much better King, Arthur, in Excalibur).

On an episode of The West Wing, President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) confirms that this is his favorite movie of all time.  Though, uncharacteristically, the New Hampshire professor turned head of state gets Henry's quote wrong: In the film, it's, "I've snapped and plotted all my life.  There's no other way to be alive, King, and 50 all at once."

Christmas 1584: Princess Margaret of Austria is born in Graz, later to be the hometown of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  She married King Philip III of Spain, and was thus Queen of Spain from 1598 until her death in 1611, from complications of childbirth, her 8th.

She was the mother of King Philip IV of Spain, Anne of Austria (later Queen of King Louis XIII of France and mother of King Louis XIV), and Maria Anna of Spain (later Empress of Emperor Ferdinand III of the Holy Roman Empire).

Christmas 1635: Samuel de Champlain, the explorer known as “the Father of New France,” dies at the city he founded, Quebec -- which is still a capital, of the Province of Quebec.

Christmas 1642: Isaac Newton is born in Wolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, in the north of England.  And, from what I've heard of his personality, Sir Isaac could be considered, as they say in English "football," a Dirty Northern Bastard.  In other words, if you messed with him, clearly (Don't say it, Mike!) you didn't understand (Don't say it!) the gravity of the situation.  (He said it... )

Christmas 1757: Benjamin Pierce is born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.  A hero of the American Revolution, he served as Governor of New Hampshire twice between 1827 and 1830.  His son, Franklin Pierce, served New Hampshire in both houses of Congress, and was the 14th President of the United States.  Benjamin died in 1839, having lived long enough to see Franklin elected to the Senate.

It is unknown if, when naming the character based on himself "Benjamin Franklin Pierce," Dr. Richard Hornberger (writing the book M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors) knew that Franklin Pierce's father was named Benjamin, although as a native of neighboring Maine, he might have.  (Franklin Pierce did go to Bowdoin College in Maine.)

Christmas 1776: George Washington, under cover of darkness, leads the Continental Army across the Delaware River.  The next morning, when he's gotten all his troops across to the New Jersey side, he attacks the Hessians, German mercenaries fighting for Britain, who are sleeping off their Christmas revelry.  Thus is won the Battle of Trenton, thus keeping the Patriot cause alive in the War of the American Revolution.

This crossing is memorialized in an 1851 painting by, ironically, a German-born American, Emmanuel Leutze.  In a further irony, the British got their revenge: In World War II, the Royal Air Force destroyed the original, by bombing the Kunsthalle art museum in Bremen.  Leutze also painted a copy that hangs in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But, like Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Napoleon, on a horse rearing back, leading his troops over the Alps, the painting is factually incorrect and logistically ridiculous.  Just as Bonaparte would have ridden a mule over the mountains (and there is a painting depicting that), Washington would never have stood up in his boat.  Never mind making himself too easy a target, it might have made the boat tip over.

The Pennsylvania location of the start of the crossing, then known as Taylorsville, is now known as Washington Crossing, in the Township of Upper Makefield.  The New Jersey location where it finished is now known as Ewing, after one of Washington's aides, General James Ewing.

Among those who took part in the crossing were some future legends of American statecraft: Alexander Hamilton, Washington's Secretary of the Treasury and, in a way, the father of American conservatism; Henry Knox, Washington's Secretary of War; John Marshall, the longest-serving and most influential Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; and James Monroe, 5th President of the United States, and who, under 4th President James Madison during the War of 1812, had the unenviable task of serving as Secretary of State and War (Defense) at the same time, probably doing his country a greater service in that war than he did in the Revolution or his Presidency.  Monroe, who was 25 at the time, is often cited as the young man sitting behind Washington in the painting, holding the flag.  (That's another error: If any flags made the crossing, they would have been kept hidden.  Washington was a big believer in the element of surprise, hence the night crossing.)

Christmas 1806: A riot in Lower Manhattan -- or what would have been considered "Midtown" at the time.  Fifty members of the Hide Binders, a nativist gang of apprentices and propertyless journeyman butchers, gathered outside St. Peter’s Church to taunt Catholic worshippers leaving midnight mass. The watch prevented a serious disorder on the Eve, but on Christmas Day, Irishmen fearing a Hide Binder attack armed themselves with cudgels, stones and brickbats.

A skirmish broke out, a watchman was killed, and the Hide Binders invaded the Irishtown. The riot only ended when magistrates were able to restore order. The only people to get arrested were Irish -- a far cry from the end of the 19th Century, by which point the vast majority of the NYPD was Irish.

Traditionally, new groups have always been viewed suspiciously by the establishment in America.  The Irish, the Germans, the blacks, the Jews, the Italians, the Chinese, the Hispanics, and in more recent times the Arabs and South Asians have all, against their will, taken their turns as the targeted group. In the early days of the United States, Irish Catholics were particularly targeted and barred from holding office through a series of laws and requirements, such as a 1777 naturalization clause. The 1806 Christmas Riots occurred less than a year following the election of the first Irish Catholic to the State Assembly.

Christmas 1818: “Silent Night” is first performed, at (appropriately enough) the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. Father Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) wrote the lyrics (in German: “Stille Nacht”), and Franz Gruber (1787-1836) composed the melody.

That's Franz Gruber -- not Hans Gruber, the German terrorist played by Alan Rickman in Die Hard, which took place on Christmas Eve 1988.

Christmas 1821: Clara Barton is born in Oxford, Massachusetts, outside Worcester. She goes on to found the American Red Cross.  She lived on until 1912.

Christmas 1822: Clement Clarke Moore, a theologian in New York, is asked by his children if there are any books about Santa Claus. He decides to find out, but discovers that no bookstore in town has any such book. So he writes his own version of the story, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which establishes so much of the Santa Claus legend that we know today. The story is published the following year. Moore was born in 1779 and lived until 1863.

Christmas 1826: The Eggnog Riot, a.k.a. the Grog Mutiny, takes place at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Among the cadets who took part, but was not punished, was Jefferson Davis, future U.S. Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War under the aforementioned Franklin Pierce, and President of the Confederate States of America. Twenty cadets were court-martialed.

No. I am not making that up. There was an Eggnog Riot at West Point.

Christmas 1843: In London, moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge has a change of heart. Instead of treating it with a cry of “Bah, humbug!” he accepts Christmas the way those around him do, with the words of his employee Bob Crachit’s small, handicapped son Tim: “God bless us, every one!” The story is A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Some may say Scrooge was corrupted by socialistic thoughts.  Well, he didn't follow the suggestion of Christ that he give away all his money and possessions.  The reason we celebrate Scrooge is simple: He stopped being a jerk about having great resources, and started using them for good.  Liberals can celebrate him for finding his heart.  Conservatives can celebrate him for doing what they say should be done: "Let the private sector do it." Like Pope Francis has been saying the rich should do, Scrooge lived up to the Christian ideal.

Christmas 1856: James Francis Galvin is born in St. Louis. The Hall of Fame pitcher was nicknamed “Pud” because he “reduced hitters to pudding.” No word on whether it was figgy pudding.

He won 365 games -- a total topped by only 4 pitchers ever -- for the Buffalo Bisons (who went out of business in 1885) and the Pittsburgh team that would be renamed the Pirates before he retired, in a career that lasted from 1875 to 1892.  That career curiously stopped right before the distance from home plate to the pitcher's mound was extended from 50 feet to the now-traditional 60 feet, 6 inches, thus making it harder on pitchers.

He was poor and couldn't afford to take care of himself, and died in 1902.  He was only 45 years old.

Christmas 1867: Singer Andy Walker, played by a young Wayne Newton, makes his second appearance on Bonanza, in an episode titled “A Christmas Story.” Jack Oakie plays his uncle and manager, who tries to con Hoss Cartwright (Dan Blocker) out of the money he's trying to raise for an orphanage in Virginia City, Nevada.  But Andy is on to his uncle, and there’s a Dickensian twist to the ensuing Christmas party at the Ponderosa Ranch.

Bonanza episodes took place 99 years in the past -- established since a gravestone in a 1967 episode showed a date of death of 1868.  It's odd that, in the supposedly progressive 1960s, the 3 most progressive TV shows were Bonanza, which took place nearly a century in the past; Star Trek, which took place 3 centuries in the future; and The Twilight Zone, which, as Rod Serling's narration suggested, took place in "another dimension." As Trek creator Gene Roddenberry remarked, it was easier to get an allegory about a problem with current American life on television if it wasn't depicting current American life -- or even life on Earth at all.

None of the 5 Star Trek TV series yet produced ever had a Christmas episode, although there was a reference to a Christmas party in the original series episode "Dagger of the Mind," and a Christmas scene in a fantasy sequence in the film Star Trek: Generations.  So Christmas still exists in the future suggested by Star Trek.

Christmas 1868: In one of his last official acts as President, Andrew Johnson pardons all Confederate soldiers from the American Civil War, for any crimes they may have committed against the United States.

Christmas 1870: Chaja “Helena” Rubinstein is born in Krakow, Poland. She becomes a cosmetics tycoon, and lives on until 1965.  Those of us who grew up on PBS' childrens' programming in the 1970s and '80s know her name from the Helena Rubinstein Foundation, which contributed funding for Sesame Street, The Electric Company, et al.

Christmas 1875: “Young Tom Morris,” an early golf legend, and the son of an early golf legend known as Old Tom Morris, dies in his native St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. He is only 24.  He had recently played a match in terrible weather, and probably caught pneumonia.  Although it would be a Scotsman, Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, it would be decades before it could have saved Young Tom, who had also recently lost his wife and child in childbirth, and, between his grief and his illness, may have lost the will to live.

Old Tom Morris, born in 1821, lived on until 1908.  St. Andrews, home of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, and the site of 27 British Opens (but never, as yet, a Ryder Cup), is still "the Home of Golf," mainly because of the legacy of the Tom Morrises.

Christmas 1876: Muhammad Ali Jinnah is born in Karachi, British India. He becomes the founder of the nation of Pakistan in 1947, but lives only a year after its establishment.

Christmas 1878: Louis Chevrolet is born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. A pioneer of auto racing, he founded the car company that bears his name.  Which may also make his company the source of Eartha Kitt’s Christmas 1953 request: “Santa baby, a ’54 convertible, too, light blue.” He did not live to hear that song, dying in 1941.

Christmas 1884: Evelyn Nesbit is born in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. She became a popular Broadway actress after getting on the “casting couch” of architect, and friend of theater producers, Stanford White.

After marrying playboy Harry Thaw, a fellow Pittsburgher, she saw Thaw murder White, in the roof garden of the second Madison Square Garden (which White had designed), on June 25, 1906, resulting in “the Trial of the Century,” making her the most familiar woman in America thanks to the era’s “yellow journalism.”

Her life was a disaster after that. Before her death in 1967, she said of the only man she truly loved, “Stanny White died. My fate was worse: I lived.”

Christmas 1887: Conrad Nicholson Hilton is born in Socorro County, New Mexico Territory -- it wouldn't become a State until 1912. Sadly, the hotel icon, who lived until 1979, is now best known for his socialite great-granddaughters, Paris and Nicky.  He was recently played by Chelcie Ross on Mad Men.

Also on this day, Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whiskey is first produced.  Merry Christmas, indeed.  Of course, this may also bring us back to the subject of the Hilton sisters.

Christmas 1890: Robert LeRoy Ripley is born in Santa Rosa, California. Yes, he was born on a Christmas Day – believe it or not!

Actually, a lot of the items he put in Ripley's Believe It Or Not were stone-cold lies that he just liked.  But some of them were true.  He died in 1949.

Also on this day, in Lancashire, England, soccer hooliganism, if not "invented," was first exposed to a wide audience. Blackburn Rovers played a home match at Ewood Park against nearby team Darwen. Rovers were due to play West Midlands club Wolverhampton Wanderers the following day, Boxing Day, and so fielded a weakened team. This infuriated the fans, particularly as ticket prices had been increased for the game.

When the Darwen team appeared, the fans urged them to leave the pitch, which they did, later re-emerging with their second eleven. Eventually, Blackburn and Darwen fans invaded the pitch, pulling up the goal posts and threatening to wreck the press box. The police intervened and finally managed to control the situation.
Christmas 1897: Actually, the "Yes, Virginia" editorial was published in the New York Sun on September 21 of this year.  Laura Virginia O'Hanlon, later Laura Douglas, lived on until 1971.

Christmas 1899: Humphrey DeForest Bogart is born in Manhattan. Listen, sweetheart, if you don’t have a Merry Christmas, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

Bogie died from smoking in 1957, but he may still be the most beloved actor in American history.  "Here's looking at you, kid."

Christmas 1902: Barton MacLane is born in Columbia, South Carolina. Like Bogie, he developed a reputation for playing tough guys, especially cowboys and cops.  He died in 1969.

Christmas 1905: Della Young has just $1.87 – about $34 in today’s money – not enough to buy a Christmas present for her husband Jim. She goes to a woman who buys hair, has her long hair cut, and receives $20, enough money to buy a platinum fob chain to go with the watch that Jim owns and loves.

As it turns out, Jim sold the watch, and used the money to buy hair-care products for Della, which, now, she can't use until her hair grows back to a respectable length.

This story was “The Gift of the Magi,” by William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O. Henry, and is included in his 1906 collection of stories, The Four Million, named for what was then the population of New York City.  It has been copied many times, as you'll see below.

Supposedly, Porter wrote it at Healy's, which is now Pete's Tavern and claims origination as the Portman Hotel in 1829, thus making it (or so they say) the oldest continuously run bar in New York.  It's at 129 East 18th Street at Irving Place, in Manhattan's Gramercy Park.

Christmas 1907: Cabell Calloway III is born in Rochester, New York. “Minnie the Moocher” is not exactly a Christmas carol, but on December 25, Cab Calloway might’ve sung it, “Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho-ho-ho!” He died in 1994.

Christmas 1908: Denis Charles Pratt was born in Sutton, Surrey, England, outside London. He was better known as the author Quentin Crisp.  He lived until 1999.

Christmas 1913, 100 years ago: Tony Martin is born in San Francisco. A singer and actor, and one of the few surviving entertainers of the 1930s, he starred on the Burns & Allen radio show, and married Alice Faye and Cyd Charisse. He and Charisse were married from 1948 until she died in 2008. He died in 2012.

Christmas 1914: Upon hearing German soldiers sing Christmas carols in their trench on the Western Front of what was then called The Great War (later World War I), the British soldiers start to do so in theirs. Soon, the men on both sides come out of their trenches, and stop treating each other as enemies for a few hours, exchanging food, drinks, and trinkets.  It becomes known as the Christmas Truce.

Legend has it that there was even a soccer game. Sorry, forgot to “speak English” there: A football match. It's not clear which side produced the ball, but according to most accounts that discuss the match, the Germans beat the English, 3-2. The first time, but not the last, that Englishmen would be defeated by Germans at their national game.  But, as Sir Alf Ramsey pointed out before the 1966 World Cup Final, twice in the 20th Century, the English (well, the British, and their allies) would beat the Germans at their national game (war), and on their soil no less.

Military historian Andrew Robertshaw (a technical advisor for the film version of the World War I story War Horse) says such a truce would have been unthinkable a year later: "This was before the poisoned gas, before aerial bombardment. By the end of 1915, both sides were far too bitter for this to happen again."

In 1997, Garth Brooks and Joe Henry wrote a song titled "Belleau Wood" for Brooks' album Sevens.  It describes a Christmas truce between American and German soldiers at Belleau Wood in 1917.  But this is fiction, as the battle of Belleau Wood took place in June 1918, in Aisne, Picardy, France.

Christmas 1924: Submitted for your approval: Rodman Edward Serling is born in Syracuse, New York, and grows up in Binghamton. Rod Serling died in 1975, at age 50, from smoking-induced heart attacks.

But he hopes you have a Merry Christmas. He sends you this greeting… from The Twilight Zone.  (His opinion of the “Twilight Saga” books and films is unrecorded.)

Christmas 1925: Ned Franklin Garver is born in Ney, Ohio, outside Toledo. In 1951, he went 20-12 pitching for the St. Louis Browns, the team that became the Baltimore Orioles 3 years later. This was quite a feat, considering that the Browns went 52-102 that year. Garver was the starting pitcher for the American League in that year's All-Star Game in Detroit.

Pitching in the major leagues from 1948 to 1961, with mostly bad teams, Garver finished with a career record of 129-157. But he must have had some talent, above and beyond his remarkable 1951 season, because the great Ted Williams said, "He could throw anything up there and get me out." He is still alive, age 88.

Christmas 1926: Emperor Yoshihito of Japan dies of a heart attack, brought on by pneumonia.  He was only 47.  He is succeeded by his son, who becomes Emperor Hirohito.

Christmas 1927: Jacob Nelson Fox is born in St. Thomas, Pennsylvania.  Nellie Fox, a diminutive but crafty 2nd baseman, had his Number 2 retired by the Chicago White Sox, whom he led to an American League Pennant in 1959, resulting in his being named the AL's Most Valuable Player. Yankee pitching legend Whitey Ford called him the toughest out he ever faced, and author, radio show host and White Sox fan Jean Shepherd called him his favorite player of all time.

Along with his contemporaries Phil Rizzuto, Gil Hodges and Richie Ashburn, and the younger Ron Santo, Fox was one of those guys that everyone hoped would one day get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but wondered why it was taking so long.  Rizzuto lived long enough to make it, in 1994.  So did Ashburn, in 1995.  Fox didn't, dying of skin cancer in 1975 and getting elected in 1997.  Santo didn't, either, dying in 2010 and being elected in 2012.  Hodges died in 1972, and his supporters are still waiting.

Christmas 1928: Nellie Elizabeth McCalla is born in Pawnee City, Nebraska, and grows up in Iowa. Known professionally as Irish McCalla, she was a model, one of pinup artist Alberto Vargas' "Varga Girls." She got into movies in the early 1950s, and in the 1955-56 season starred in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. By her own admission, "I couldn't act, but I could swing through the trees."

She left acting for art, her last role being on an 1963 episode of 77 Sunset Strip, and became an accomplished painter. But her status as an action-adventure hero -- the female one on TV -- kept her in demand at nostalgia and sci-fi/fantasy conventions. She died in 2002.

Christmas 1930: Eliot Ness (played by Robert Stack) discovers that an old friend and informant of his, Hap Levinson (who does not appear onscreen), has been shot and killed after playing Santa Claus at a Chicago orphanage.  Hap turns out not to be the first victim in a series of killings.  Ness finds out what's going on and who's to blame.

This was on an episode of The Untouchables.  Oddly, it did not air anywhere near Christmas, but rather on September 25, 1962.

I previously had Al Jackson, a pitcher with the original 1962-69 Mets, being born on December 25, 1935, in Waco, Texas.  It turns out he was actually born on December 26.  He is still alive.

Not still alive is comedian Alan King, who claimed in his memoir Name Dropping that he was born on December 25, 1927, in Manhattan.  He said, "I seem to recall there was another notable Jew born on that day, a few years earlier." But he was also a December 26 baby, born Irwin Alan Kniberg.  (A lot of Jews named Alan or Allen were actually "Irwin Alan/Allen," including Alan Ginsberg, although the film director known in the 1970s as "the Master of Disaster" had Irwin Allen as his entire name.) King grew up in Brooklyn, became a star by 1948, and was a comedy legend.  He died in 2004.  He was survived by his wife.

Christmas 1934: A rare Christmas Day-Boxing Day soccer doubleheader begins, as Arsenal, the defending Football League Champions, defeat Preston North End 5-3, at Arsenal's North London stadium, Highbury. The next day, Preston get revenge, 2-1 at their Lancashire ground, Deepdale.

By the 1970s, England's Football Association would stop allowing Football League games to be played on Christmas Day. To this day, however, they are still played on Boxing Day, usually neighboring rivals to save on travel costs.

Christmas 1937: Arturo Toscanini conducts the NBC Symphony Orchestra on radio for the first time, beginning a tenure that lasts 17 years.  His selections include Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Johannes Brahms.

Also on this day, O’Kelly Isley Jr. is born in Cincinnati.  A very different kind of musical legend, he was the eldest of the singing Isley Brothers, he grew up and go their start in Teaneck, New Jersey -- eventually starting T-Neck Records.

He and his brothers Ronald and Rudolph (no, he wasn't born on Christmas, and didn't have a red nose) wrote "Shout!" (As in, "We-e-e-e-e-e-ll... You know you make me wanna SHOUT!") They also wrote "Nobody But Me" (as in, "No no, no, no no, no no no no no... Nobody can do the SHINGALING! like I do... "), which didn't chart for them, but became a hit a few years later for the Human Beinz.  O'Kelly died in 1986.

Christmas 1938, 75 years ago: Karel Capek dies of pneumonia in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia.  The science fiction pioneer was only 48.  His 1922 play, Rossum's Universal Robots, contained the first published example of the use of the word "robot." He claimed the word was coined by his brother Josef, meaning "serf labor," essentially labor without any choice, as a robot could be programmed to do.

Karel had refused to leave his homeland after the Nazis annexed it, and this stress, combined with a spinal condition that made life very painful, may have contributed to his early death.  Josef, a painter and a writer in his own right, didn't live much longer, as the Nazis sent him to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where he died in 1945, age 58.   

Christmas 1939: Ralphie Parker actually gets his Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time built right in to the stock. (This particular model did not exist in real life.) And doggone it if, but for the grace of God and his glasses, he doesn’t come near to shooting his eye out!

The film is A Christmas Story, narrated by the author of the original story, Jean Shepherd (who has a cameo as a parent standing on line with his son for Santa Claus in the store).  Shepherd grew up in Hammond, Indiana, outside Chicago, although he was older than Ralphie, as 1939 was the year he graduated from Hammond High School.

In the film, Cleveland stands in for both Chicago and Hammond.  Cleveland's Public Square is easily identifiable, with its big Civil War memorial in the center, the Terminal Tower (built in 1930), and Higbee's department store, which has since been turned into Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, although the Higbee's sign seen in the movie is still there.

Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley.  Something tells me that, for Christmas 2013, there won't be too many guns, real or toy, given to kids.

Christmas 1940: Pal Joey, a musical based on the novel by John O'Hara, premieres at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre at 243 West 47th Street in New York. It includes the songs "Chicago" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." It stars Gene Kelly, Vivienne Segal, June Havoc, Van Johnson and Stanley Donen.

It's better known for the 1957 film version, starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. In spite of Sinatra having done the best-known versions of both "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)" and "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)," the song "Chicago" in this musical is neither one of those.

Christmas 1944: Jair Ventura Filho is born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Known as Jairzinho, he starred with hometown club Botafogo and the Brazilian national soccer team, and won World Cups for his country in 1962 and 1970.

He is still alive, and currently manages a team in the lower divisions of Brazil's league system.

Christmas 1945: Billy Bailey, co-director of the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan, of Bedford Falls, New York, with his late brother Peter’s son George, loses $8,000 meant for the firm’s accounts -- about $100,000 in today's money. Unable to come up with the money, George runs into one awful occurrence after another, and wishes he’d never been born.

An angel named Clarence Goodbody shows him what the world (or, at least, his home town) would have been like if that had been the case. George changes his mind, and finds that all the people he’d selflessly helped over the years have come to pay him back, to show him that, in the way that matters, he’s “the richest man in town.”

The film is It’s a Wonderful Life, and George is played by James Stewart, Billy by Thomas Wilson, and Clarence by Henry Travers.

(For the record: In the "bank run" sequence, set in 1932, $242 then would be $4,178 today; $20 would be $345; $17.50 would be $302; and the $2 the Baileys ended up with would be $34.50.)

ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel recently showed what the film would have looked like from the perspective of the villain, Henry Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore.

On the same day, in real life, Noel Redding is born in Folkestone, Kent, England. He was the guitarist for the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  He died in 2003.

Also, Rick Berman is born in Manhattan. He become the keeper of the Star Trek flame after Gene Roddenberry died, until it was foolishly given to J.J. “Jar-Jar” Abrams.  He is still alive.

Ken Stabler is born in Foley, Alabama. “The Snake” quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI.  Somehow, he, too, is still alive.

Gary Sandy is born in Dayton, Ohio. Not far from Cincinnati, where he played radio station manager Andy Travis on WKRP in Cincinnati – not to be confused with country singer Randy Travis.  Sandy is still alive.

Christmas 1946: Legendary comedian W.C. Fields dies from the long-term effects of alcoholism.  He was 66.  In a film, he said, "I was in love with a beautiful blonde once, dear. She drove me to drink. That's the one thing I am indebted to her for." This was eventually mixed up, and has become popularly known as, "'Twas a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the decency to thank her for it."

He might have agreed with quirky singer Jimmy Buffett, born this same day in Pascagoula, Mississippi: “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame.”

Also born on this day, in Stow, Ohio, is football legend Larry Csonka. So is former baseball manager Gene Lamont, in Rockford, Illinois.

Christmas 1947: A man known only as Kris Kringle, hired to work as Santa Claus at the main Macy's store in New York's Herald Square, is committed, and his lawyer, Fred Gailey, can find only one way to get this harmless, if apparently delusional, old man out of the psych ward: By proving to a court that, just as Kris claims, he really is Santa Claus.  It works, and Fred wins the heart of Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), who had hired Kris, and her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood, 8 years old at the time of filming but playing 6).

Miracle On 34th Street has been remade in 1973 and 1994.  In those versions, Santa was played by Sebastian Cabot and Richard Attenborough, the lawyer by David Hartman and Dylan McDermott (by then starring as a lawyer on The Practice), Mrs. Walker by Jane Alexander and Elizabeth Perkins, and Susan by Suzanne Davidson and Mara Wilson.

For the 1973 version, the lawyer's name was changed to Bill Schafner, and Mrs. Walker's name was changed from Doris to Karen -- definitely not to be confused with the Karen Walker played by Megan Mullally on Will & Grace!

For the 1994 version, the lawyer is named Bryan Bedford, Mrs. Walker goes back to Doris (or, rather, "Dorey"), and Macy's had refused to give permission to use their name and Gimbel's had gone out of business, so fictional store names had to be used.

Christmas 1948: Barbara Ann Mandrell is born in Houston. She, and her singing sisters Louise and Irlene, were country when country wasn’t cool. And when it was.

Christmas 1949: Mary Elizabeth Spacek is born in Quitman, Texas. “Sissy” Spacek also sang country music, playing Loretta Lynn in the film version of Lynn’s memoir Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Also on this day, Leon Schlesinger dies of a viral infection at age 65.  A film producer, he was a relative of the Warner Brothers, and founded their cartoon division, leading to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and all the others.  Including Porky Pig.  So he died on a Christmas Day.  Dare I say it? I dare: "Abadee, abadee, abadee, aba, That's all, folks!"

Christmas 1950: Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce, a surgeon with the U.S. Army at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, Korea, has to leave a Christmas party there to attend to a wounded soldier in a foxhole.  While still wearing his Santa Claus costume.  This was on an episode of M*A*S*H.  Hawkeye is played by Alan Alda.

On the same day, in real life, four Scottish university students steal the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish heritage, from the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey in London.  The klutzy Jocks broke the Stone in two.  Incredibly, they managed to get the pieces back to Scotland.  Early the next year, the culprits were caught, and the Stone was returned to Westminster.

In 1996, the British government elected to keep the Stone in Scotland, until necessary to crown a new British monarch.  So far, Queen Elizabeth II (whose mother was Scottish) remains on the throne, for nearly 62 years now, and the Stone's transport back to Westminster has not been necessary.

Also on this day, Jesus Manuel Marcano Trillo is born in Caripito, Venezuela. A child born on December 25, and named Jesus? Not just Jesus, but Jesus Manuel -- as in short for "Emmanuel," meaning "God with us"? He’s better known as Manny Trillo, the second baseman of the 1980 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Unfortunately for all of humanity, on the same day, Karl Christian Rove is born in Denver, and grows up to prove himself Christian, literally, in name only.

Christmas 1951: On another episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye pays tribute to the camp's chaplain, 1st Lieutenant (later Captain) Francis Mulcahy (played by William Christopher).  And the company clerk, Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) tells another surgeon, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) that, on Father Mulcahy's recommendation, he'd written to Charles' mother, and asked her to send something that would remind the down-in-the-dumps Boston Brahmin of happier times.  She sent his old toboggan cap, and Charles was overjoyed.  This time, Santa was played by Captain B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell).

Christmas 1952: On yet another episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye, B.J., Major Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit), and Father Mulcahy are called away from Mulcahy’s party for the local orphans, to tend to a wounded soldier. The soldier has no chance, but when Margaret finds a picture of his family in his pocket, B.J. goes back to work, saying, “A family’s Christmas wreaths should be green, not black.”

Despite their efforts, the patient dies at 11:25 PM. Hawkeye, seeing his best friend take it hard -- clearly thinking of his wife, Peg, and daughter, Erin, back home in the San Francisco suburb of Mill Valley, California -- moves the clock ahead, so that the time of death will read 12:05 AM, December 26.

Farrell also wrote and directed this episode.  Harry Morgan played the commanding officer, Colonel Sherman Potter… and, in this episode, Potter played Santa Claus.

On yet another episode of M*A*S*H, the MASHers are celebrating Christmas with British soldiers, who tell them of the tradition of the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, which in England is celebrated with two things.  Neither of which turns out to be prizefighting, as is found out by Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Q. Klinger (Jamie Farr), a former corpsman who, by this point, has replaced Radar as company clerk.  One is noblemen trading places with their servants, to boost morale.  The British Army matches this by having the officers and enlisted men switch jobs.

(The other Boxing Day tradition, not mentioned on the show, is, as I mentioned earlier, nearby "football clubs" playing each other in "derby" matches.  Although there was an episode that had wounded British soldiers mentioning their country's FA Cup, including Arsenal defeating Manchester United in a match.  Arsenal did not, however, win an FA Cup Final during the Korean War, their best performance being losing the 1952 Final to Newcastle United.  They did win the Final in 1950, right before the war, and take the 1953 League title, the last one before the war ended.)

Potter thinks the Boxing Day switcheroo is a great idea.  So he becomes company clerk, and names Klinger commanding officer.  Suregons Hawkeye and B.J. become hospital orderlies.  Charles, a gourmet who's always complaining about the quality of Army food (though, to be fair, they all did), is assigned to be the cook.  Then problems arise, and Klinger is in way over his head.  And then casualties arrive, and Hawkeye says, "Just this morning, I was an orderly.  And now, I'm doing abdominal surgery."

The Korean War lasted 3 years, plus one month.  But M*A*S*H had 4 Christmas episodes. Clearly, those British soldiers had to have arrived in the half-hour remaining of Christmas 1952, between the time B.J. lost the battle to save that soldier and midnight.  It couldn't be 1950, since it would have been Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) in B.J.'s place, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) in Potter's, and Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville) in Charles'.  And it couldn't be 1951, since Klinger has already replaced Radar as company clerk.

In real life, on Christmas Day 1952, Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder is born in Georgetown, Guyana. She became the actress CCH Pounder. (Like the Yankees’ CC Sabathia, she does not use periods.)

And the Number 1 song in America is the original version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," by Jimmy Boyd, then about to turn 14, much older than the character he's playing.  Once married to "Batgirl" Yvonne Craig, and not to be confused with the actor of the same name who played J. Arthur Crank and Paul the Gorilla on The Electric Company, this Jimmy Boyd continued singing and doing standup comedy, often opening for the various members of the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, and died in 2009.

Christmas 1953, 60 years ago: Patrick "Patsy" Donovan dies at age 88.  The native of Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland was one of the top baseball players of his time, the 1890s and 1910s.  A right fielder, he batted .307 for his career, collecting 2,253 hits, playing mainly for the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.  He led the National League in stolen bases in 1900.

He also managed both teams, as well as the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Red Sox.  But the only Pennant he was involved in was in his rookie year, with the Dodgers (or, as they were then known -- I swear, I am not making this up, it came from several of their players having gotten married in a single off-season -- the Bridegrooms) in 1890.

On television, Father Xavier Rojas (Harry Bartell -- far be it for a TV network in the early '50s get a Hispanic actor to play a Hispanic character) at the Old Mission Plaza Church in Los Angeles discovers that the statue of the Infant Jesus is stolen from its crib. The statue's worth is only a few dollars, but it is of great sentimental value for the parish.

L.A. Police Sergeant Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and Officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) promise to try to get it back before mass on Christmas Day, but this means that they have less than 24 hours to catch the thief.  As was always said on Dragnet, "The story you have just heard is true.  The names have been changed, to protect the innocent."

When Dragnet returned in color in the 1960s, a 1967 episode basically redid the story, this time with Detective Friday teaming with Detective Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan -- 8 years before he first played Colonel Potter).

Christmas 1954: Singer Johnny Ace shoots and kills himself backstage at a concert in Houston. He was allegedly playing Russian Roulette and had no intention of killing himself.

But the world of music breaks even, as Annie Lennox is born in Aberdeen, Scotland. With Eurythmics and on her own, she is one of the world’s most beloved living singers.

Christmas 1955: Not having enough money to buy his wife Alice a proper Christmas present, Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden pawns his bowling ball. And on Christmas Eve, he finds Alice has given him a proper bag for his bowling ball.

This Honeymooners episode, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was based on “The Gift of the Magi.” Ralph was played by Jackie Gleason, Alice by Audrey Meadows.

A year earlier, when "The Honeymooners" was still just a sketch on the hourlong The Jackie Gleason Show, Gleason played most of his characters: Ralph, Reginald Van Gleason III, Joe the Bartender, Fenwick Babbitt, and the mute, pantomiming Pour Soul.  Noticeably absent was "Charlie Bratton the Loudmouth."

Halfway across the country, in Milwaukee, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) discovers that his pal Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) has nowhere to go on Christmas.  Naturally, Richie proves that, on occasion, he can be every bit as cool as the Fonz, and invites him to have dinner with the family.  Happy Days, indeed.

This episode, titled "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas," aired in 1974 -- and it was eventually established that the show took place 19 years in the past; hence, 1955.

Christmas 1957: Charles Pathe, a pioneer in film and recorded sound, dies in Monaco, one day short of his 94th birthday.

Christmas 1958: Alannah Myles is born in Toronto. Essentially a one-hit wonder, the singer of the 1990 Number 1 hit “Black Velvet” has suffered nerve damage and has difficulty moving, but she still records.  She says "medical marijuana" has helped her condition.

Someone born this day who moved a bit better was Hanford Dixon, born in Mobile Alabama. The All-Pro cornerback for the Cleveland Browns would bark like a dog at his teammates to get them psyched up, and fans in the bleachers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium would start barking along with him. Soon, he started calling that section the Dawg Pound, and they would respond by wearing dog masks and throwing dog biscuits.

Someone born this day who moved even better still was Rickey Nelson Henley, born in Chicago. His mother, who had named him after singer Eric Hilliard "Ricky" Nelson, remarried and took him to her husband's hometown of Oakland, California, and the boy was renamed Rickey Henley Henderson. A Baseball Hall-of-Famer and by far the all-time leader in stolen bases, Rickey is a legend. Just ask him.

Christmas 1960: Fired after arriving for work late and sloshed, department store Santa Henry Corwin wanders into an alley and finds a bag filled with gifts. The spirit of the holiday is one of the few bright spots in Henry's life, and as he begins handing out the gifts, he realizes the bag is able to produce any gift a recipient requests. After a brief jail stint that ends with Henry changing the mind of his mean, skeptical former boss, he continues handing out gifts.

Soon, one of his giftees points out that Henry has taken nothing from the bag himself. All he wants? To continue playing Santa every year.  The wish is granted when he finds an elf with a reindeer-driven sleigh waiting, to whisk him off to the North Pole.

This was an episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “Night of the Meek.” Henry was played by Art Carney.

Also on this day, in Mayberry, North Carolina, department store owner and resident Scrooge Ben Weaver demands that Sheriff Andy Taylor lock up local moonshiner Jim Muggins. Muggins' family, as well as Andy's, gather to celebrate the holiday with Jim. After witnessing how Jim and Andy and their broods can turn the jailhouse stay into a warm, inviting celebration, Weaver gets himself arrested so he can be part of the fun, and he ends the holiday by getting a nip of Jim's hooch himself.

This was the only Christmas episode of The Andy Griffith Show, and was titled “The Christmas Story.” Andy was played by Andy Griffith, Deputy (and substitute Santa Claus) Barney Fife by Don Knotts, Ben by Will Wright, and Jim by Sam Edwards.

Christmas 1961: Owen Brewster dies of cancer at age 73.  Governor of Maine from 1925 to 1929, and serving in both houses of Congress from 1935 to 1952, he was an ally of Red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, and nearly as reckless, his challenges to Howard Hughes allowing for his corruption to be publicly revealed, ruining his career.

In the film The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes -- and premiering on Christmas Day 2004 -- Brewster is played by Alan Alda, who once again plays a native of Maine, but one whose politics are diametrically opposed to those of Hawkeye Pierce.

Christmas 1962: The film version of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird premieres, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and, in their film debuts, 10-year-old Mary Badham (sister of film director John Badham and now an art restorer), William Windom, Alice Ghostley, and, as the mysterious Arthur "Boo" Radley, a young Robert Duvall.

Christmas 1963, 50 years ago: Although it's not specified, a Christmas party could be the "Oh What a Night" that produced the Four Seasons song "December 1963," a Number 1 hit in March 1976.  In real life, at Christmas '63, the Seasons -- Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito -- had a hit with their version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."

Christmas 1965: Charlie Brown, the lead character of Charles Schulz' comic strip Peanuts, wasn't the first fictional character to wonder what Christmas was all about, nor the last.  Nor was he the first nor the last to get his Christmas hopes laughed at.

But, as his best friend Linus Van Pelt (voiced by Chris Shea) points out (after quoting The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 8 through 14, to remind us of "what Christmas is all about"), like the scrawny little tree that he'd found, ol' Chuck (voiced by Peter Robbins) just needed a little love.  A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanuts special, and it remains the best.

Christmas 1966: Agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin have to protect Chairman Georgi Koz, a foreign leader, who looks suspiciously like Nikita Khrushchev, at the United Nations.  This episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was titled "The Jingle Bells Affair."

Solo was played by Robert Vaughn, Kuryakin by David McCallum, and Koz by Akim Tamiroff, who was born in the part of the Russian Empire that is now the former "Soviet republic" of Georgia, but was of Armenian descent.

Christmas 1968: The Apollo 8 astronauts become the first people of Earth to see the far side of the Moon.  Upon seeing a phased Earth, appearing as the Moon usually does, from lunar orbit, the astronauts -- Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman -- take turns reading from the Bible, but the opening, the Creation story of Genesis, rather than the First Christmas story.

Also, Helena Christensen is born in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is one of the most heralded models of the last 25 years.

Also, Jim Dowd is born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Growing up in neighboring Brick, he was the first New Jerseyan to play for the Devils, and remains the only New Jerseyan to have his name on the Stanley Cup, having scored a late winner in Game 2 of the 1995 Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.

Christmas 1969: Baby's First Christmas. Well, mine, anyway. Not that I knew it.

Christmas 1970: Felix Unger, a commercial photographer -- portraits a specialty -- asks his roommate, New York Herald sports columnist Oscar Madison, to play Scrooge in a neighborhood production of A Christmas Carol.  Oscar bah-humbugs the idea, until his awful diet produces a nightmare in which he actually is Scrooge, Felix becomes Jacob Marley, and "Ebenezer Madison" sees his Christmas Past, his Christmas Present, and a possible Christmas Future.  This convinces him to do the play.

This episode of The Odd Couple was titled "Scrooge Gets an Oscar." Felix was played by Tony Randall, and Oscar by Jack Klugman.  Sadly, Klugman died on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012.

Christmas 1971: The longest game in NFL history was played. The Miami Dolphins beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 24-21, in the 2nd overtime of an AFC Divisional Playoff. It was also the Chiefs’ last game at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, before moving to Arrowhead Stadium in September 1972.

Also on this day, Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong is born in the Kensington section of London. Best known for her song "Thank You" and her guest appearance in Eminem's video "Stan," Dido also sang one of the sexiest songs I've ever heard, "Who Makes You Feel." With her husband, Rohan Gavin, she had her first child, a son named Stanley, in 2011.

Also on this day, Justin Trudeau is born in Montreal to Canada's Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, and his much-younger wife Margaret. Two years later to the day, another son would be born to them, Alexandre Trudeau. Both brothers would become journalists, and Justin now serves in Parliament, as Leader of the Liberal Party, his father did before him.  If the Liberals are returned to power in the next election, the Trudeaus will become Canada's first father-and-son heads of government since Britain's Kings George III and IV (and William IV, another son of George III).

Christmas 1973, 40 years ago: Adrian Scott dies at age 61.  A native of Kearny, New Jersey, he was one of the Hollywood Ten, performers, writers, producers and directors who accepted going to prison rather than testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee -- itself, one of the most un-American things in American history.

Also on this day, the film The Sting premieres, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  The theme song is Marvin Hamlisch's arrangement of Scott Joplin's 1902 song "The Entertainer" -- although my mother and a lot of people in her generation still call the song "The Sting."

Christmas 1975: Two very different Boston legends are born. Hideki Okajima is a Japanese-born pitcher for the Red Sox, who helped them win the 2007 World Series.

And Rob Mariano is born in Canton, Massachusetts. "Boston Rob" continually wore a Red Sox cap while appearing on the CBS series Survivor, and ended up marrying his season's winner, Amber Brkich. Together, they went on to compete on another CBS series, The Amazing Race. They now live in Pensacola, Florida, and have 3 children, all girls.

Christmas 1976: Office of Scientific Intelligence Agent Steve Austin (Lee Majors), a former U.S. Air Force Colonel, test pilot and astronaut, discovers that an OSI project is being tampered with by a modern-day Scrooge.  So The Six Million Dollar Man uses his enhancements to create the episode's title, "A Bionic Christmas Carol," and gets the man to mend his ways.  Factoring in inflation, the $6 million it cost to "rebuild" Steve in 1973 would be about $31 million today.

Another superhero, Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), faces down a saboteur in "The Deadly Toys."

Meanwhile, across the country, in Queens, it's Christmas dinner at the Bunkers' house on All In the Family.  Gloria and Mike (Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner) invite David, an old friend of Mike's living in Canada, but choose not to tell Archie and Edith (Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton) that the reason David went to Canada is that he is, as the episode's title states, "The Draft Dodger." (He was played by Renny Temple, who has mostly directed since the late 1980s.  Unlike most of these Christmas episodes, this one actually did air on a December 25, a day on which networks usually show reruns, thinking families will be eating Christmas dinner at the time, or show "family entertainment" films and specials.)

Archie had also invited a friend, Pinky Peterson (Eugene Roche), whose son had asked him whether he should accept being drafted into the Army and fight in Vietnam, or run away to Canada.  Pinky advised him to obey the law, and accept being drafted.  Pinky's son was killed, making Pinky a "Gold Star Father." Also a widower, Pinky was thus alone on Christmas, and Archie, in a gesture of humanity not often seen from him, thought Pinky could use the company.

When Archie finds out about David, he rants and raves, until Pinky asks if his opinion means anything.  Archie, citing Pinky's circumstances, says his opinion means more than anyone else's.  Pinky tells his son's story, and offers David the handshake that he says his son would have given.  As usual, Archie does not take defeat well.

Christmas 1977: Charlie Chaplin dies as a result of a stroke. The most renowned of all silent-film actors is truly silenced, at age 88.

Also on this day, as neither man's faith celebrates Christmas, Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt meet in the latter's country, beginning the discussions that will lead to the Camp David Accords 9 months later.

Christmas 1978: Bert doesn’t have enough money to buy a Christmas present for Ernie. So he sells his beloved paper-clip collection to Harold "Mr." Hooper, and uses the money to buy a soap dish for Ernie’s beloved Rubber Duckie. But Ernie doesn’t have enough money to buy a present for Bert, either, so he sells his Duckie to Mr. Hooper, and uses the money to buy a cigar box, perfect for storing Bert’s collection.

Then Mr. Hooper comes over and gives them presents: Bert gets his paper clips back, and Ernie gets his Duckie back.  The boys, feeling guilty, tell Mr. Hooper – who’s Jewish, and has been wished a Happy Hanukkah by Bob – that they’re sorry they didn’t get him anything. He tells the boys, “I got the best Christmas present ever: I got to see that everybody got exactly what they wanted.”

The other main plotline of A Sesame Street Christmas was Oscar the Grouch's cruel question to Big Bird: How does big fat Santa Claus get down those skinny chimneys? As it turns out, it doesn't matter how: Apparently, he does it.

Bert was a puppet operated by Frank Oz, Ernie by Muppets creator Jim Henson. Mr. Hooper was played by Will Lee, and Bob by Bob McGrath.  And Carroll Spinney played both Big Bird and Oscar.  He turns 80 on the day after this Christmas, but still plays both roles.  Yes, he still puts on the Big Bird costume.

Christmas 1979: Actress Joan Blondell dies of leukemia.  She was 73, having been born on August 30, 1906 in New York, the same day and in the same city as my grandfather, George Goldberg, who later changed his name to George Golden.  (His wife, my grandmother, Grace Darton, was born on the same day as actor Dennis Weaver, although not in the same city.)

As her name suggests, Joan Blondell was a blonde, and is best remembered for her "gold digger" roles in early 1930s films, including the legendary Busby Berkeley production Gold Diggers of 1933, in which she sings "We're In the Money" and "Remember My Forgotten Man."

Christmas 1980: Hazzard County Executive Jefferson Davis "Boss" Hogg (Sorrell Boke) hires a trio of criminals to hijack a load of Christmas trees bound for the Georgia locale, knowing that Bo and Luke Duke (John Schneider and Tom Wopat) were responsible for the deliveries and receipt of a $500 down payment.

With the community convinced that the Duke Boys had stolen the funds, the crooks each dress as Santa Claus and break into Hogg's safe to retrieve the stolen money. Bo, Luke, their cousin Daisy (Catherine Bach) and their mechanic friend Cooter Davenport (Ben Jones) eventually team to give Hogg and the bad guys a lesson in confusion. In the end, Hogg - who has played the part of Scrooge throughout the episode - gets a lesson in the meaning of the season.  This episode of The Dukes of Hazzard is titled "The Great Santa Claus Chase."

Christmas 1982: Chicago Police Detective Neal Washington (Taurean Blacque) tries to make amends with the widow of a liquor store owner that he accidentally killed while trying to foil a robbery.  Another Detective, Michael "Mick" Belker (Bruce Weitz), goes undercover as Santa Claus.  This episode of Hill Street Blues is titled "Santaclaustrophobia." That title is also used for a 2003 episode of The King of Queens.

Also on this day, Philadelphia commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) learns of the scam pulled by Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche); and that his apparent tormentor, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), is also about to become a victim of the scam. He teams up with his butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott) and his prostitute girlfriend Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) so that he and Billy Ray, and the Dukes (definitely richer and meaner than the "Duke Boys" of Hazzard), will be Trading Places.

Christmas 1983: Spanish artist Joan Miro dies of heart disease.  He was 90.  Yes, in the Spanish region of Catalonia, "Joan" is the masculine form of "John," so, unlike Joan Blondell, he was male.

Christmas 1984: Jessica and Lisa Origliasso are born in Albany Creek, Queensland, Australia.  The twin sisters formed the singing duo The Veronicas.

Christmas 1988, 25 years ago: New York Police Detective John McClane goes to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife Holly, at the same time that Hans Gruber and his terrorists decide to rob her company of $640 million in bonds.  The film is Die Hard.  Ho ho ho and yippie-kai-yay.

Christmas 1989: Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is overthrown, in the latest chapter of the anti-Communist revolutions of Eastern Europe of that amazing year. He and his wife Elena are executed.

Also on this day, legendary Yankee manager Billy Martin is killed in a drunken-driving crash near his home in Johnson City, New York.  He was 61.

On Married... with Children, a takeoff on It's a Wonderful Life is done.  Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) gets shocked into unconsciousness while working on his Christmas lights, and is visited by a rather unlikely guardian angel, played by Sam Kinison.  He gets to see what the world would be like if he had never been born.  As it turned out, much better for Peg (Katey Sagal).  Unable to stand this, Al wants to live again.

Christmas 1990: What would become known as the World Wide Web gets its first trial run.  Also on this day, the film Home Alone takes place.  Compared to Ceausescu and Martin the year before, the Wet Bandits, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, get off considerably easier, despite being tormented by Kevin McCallister, the child protector of the home they were invading in Shermer, Illinois. Kevin was played by Macaulay Culkin.

Also on this day, The Godfather Part III premieres. Yes, that's what you want to do on Christmas Day, go see a Mob movie. And, unlike the first two parts, which are beloved classics, the third time was definitely not the charm.

Christmas 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President of the Soviet Union. He had become the opposite of “a man without a country”: He was, in effect, a one-man country. The next day, the Supreme Soviet dissolved, its last act being to dissolve the Soviet Union itself after 74 years.

Christmas 1993, 20 years ago: New York Police Detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is not the first man you would think of to play Santa Claus at a Christmas party, but he does it.  James Martinez (Nicholas Turturro) gets his shield, promoting him to Detective.  And Detective John Kelly (David Caruso) visits his mother at a nursing home.  Her Alzheimer's-affected mind has her going back and forth between seeing her son as the man he is, and also as her husband, also a detective named John Kelly, who'd been killed in the line of duty years earlier.

This episode of NYPD Blue was titled "From Hare to Eternity," for a subplot in which Detective Greg Medavoy (Gordon Clapp) discovers that a cat living in the 15th Precinct house has eaten a rabbit he'd wanted to bring home to his kids.

Also on this day, the films Tombstone, Grumpy Old Men and Philadelphia premiere.

Christmas 1994: Tim Taylor has to tell his son Randy, who wants to spend Christmas at a ski lodge with his friends, “Christmas isn’t about being with people you like! It’s about being with your family!” The show was Home Improvement, Tim was played by Tim Allen, and Randy by Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

"Tim the Tool Man," not yet playing St. Nick in the Santa Clause movies, could use some of Superman's invulnerability.

However, on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Big Blue (Dean Cain) has his hands full.  "Seasons Greedings" adapts the Superman villain Winslow P. Schott, the Toyman, for the small screen.  Instead of the Ben Franklin-ish appearance of the comic book villain, this Toyman, a man fired from his job designing toys, is played by Sherman Hemsley.  So he invents toys that spray a substance that makes people greedy, and makes adults act like children -- and Kryptonians are not immune.

With help from Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher), things get straightened out, Schott sees the error of his ways, and he even gets a date -- who is played by Hemsley's former TV wife, Isabel Sanford.  Dick Van Patten (as a Santa), comedian Dom Irrera, and Dean's mother Sharon Thomas Cain also appear.

Also on this day, the film I.Q. premieres.  I would never have cast Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein, but he did a great job.  Meg Ryan plays his niece (a character made up for the movie), Tim Robbins as the decidedly “town not gown” Princeton mechanic who falls for her before finding out who her uncle is, and Keene Curtis as President Eisenhower.

The film was shot on location in Princeton, New Jersey, where Einstein lived the last 22 years of his life.  However, be warned: There is a scene where Einstein is driving a Volkswagen Beetle convertible, with Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti” blasting out of the car stereo.  I don’t think Einstein ever drove a car, and, if he did, I doubt it would be the Hitler-championed “People’s Car,” and he died a few months before “Tutti-Frutti” was recorded.

Christmas 1995: Dean Martin dies of emphysema at age 78.  It is unfortunate that one of the leading singers of Christmas songs -- or "Christmas" songs, as I explained in my entry on Problematic Christmas Songs -- died on a December 25.

Christmas 1996: JonBenet Ramsey is found murdered at her home in Boulder, Colorado.  She was 6. Her killer has never been definitively identified.  Had she been born a few years later, she likely would have been a child beauty pageant opponent of Alana Thompson, a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo.

Christmas 1997: Denver Pyle, best known as Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard, dies of lung cancer at the age of 77.

Meanwhile, back in New York, we find out what Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) did when he, you know, actually worked.  He worked at H&H Bagels -- which actually existed, until going out of business in 2012.  He and his fellow employees went on strike 12 years earlier, demanding an hourly rage that has now become the New York State minimum wage.  Kramer goes back to work, but soon quits.

The Seinfeld gang's, uh, friend, dentist Tim Whatley (Bryan Cranston, breaking naughty if not outright bad), hosts a Hanukkah party.  Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who has an on-again-off-again relationship with him, can't believe Tim is still Jewish.  Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld) says, "It's a breeze without the parents." Jerry had previously believed (and may still have believed, at this point) that Watley had converted just so he could tell Jewish jokes and use Yiddish words with impunity.  Asked, "This offends you as a Jew?" Jerry says, "No, it offends me as a comedian!" And George Costanza (Jason Alexander) has to deal with his father Frank (Jerry Stiller) reviving, upon urgig from Kramer, his former, noncommercial December holiday.  "This is the best Festivus ever!" he yells during "The Feats of Strength."

Christmas 1998: Just Shoot Me! airs "How the Finch Stole Christmas," narrated by Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane on Cheers and Frasier), who uses his basso profundo voice to sing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Finch." But Dennis Finch (David Spade) has (roughly) the same thing happen to him that the Grinch did.

The episode also has references to It's a Wonderful Life and, with Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni) looking a lot lot ol' Chuck thanks to his bald head and his shirt, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Christmas 1999: White House Director of Communications Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) discovers that a homeless man, who'd received a winter coat that Toby had donated, has died, and is a Korean War veteran.  Toby uses his position to get him a military funeral and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.  President Bartlet (Martin Sheen, as stated earlier) isn't happy about how it was done, but allows it.  His secretary, Delores Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), attends the funeral, and tells Toby that her late husband had also served in the Korean War, and that their twin sons had been killed in Vietnam -- on Christmas Eve, 1970.  (As far as I know, their names were never mentioned on The West Wing.) The episode is titled "In Excelsis Deo."

Christmas 2000: A darker episode of The West Wing, titled "Noel," telling of how Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, after being the person most seriously hurt in the recent assassination attempt on President Bartlet.  Cellist Yo-Yo Ma appears as himself, and his performance triggers the memory of the police and ambulance sirens from the attempt.  Bradley Whitford won an Emmy for playing Josh in this episode.  Near the end of it, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) tells Josh the story about a man who falls into a hole, and puts Josh at ease by saying, "As long as I got a job, you got a job."

Christmas 2001: Or, rather, 2 days before.  In "Bartlet For America," A Congressional hearing into whether President Bartlet committed any crimes in keeping his multiple sclerosis from the public focuses on Leo, who flashes back to the first Bartlet campaign.  Before a shocking truth can be revealed, the Republican Counsel on the committee, Cliff Calley (Mark Feuerstein), recommends that they break for Christmas.  This buys time for a solution, and both the President and Leo keep their jobs.

Christmas 2002: Now re-elected -- it was never explained on the show why Presidential elections were now taking place in even-numbered non-leap years -- Bartlet has an old problem crop up, as reporter Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield), who has a flirtatious relationship with White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), arrives in a Santa Claus suit, and tells her he knows about the assassination of a foreign defense minister (and brother of the prime minister) who ran a terrorist group that intended to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge -- except that, in West Wing World, "their 9/11" was prevented.  Meanwhile, we discover that Toby was born 2 days before Christmas 1954, and his father, Julius "Julie" Ziegler (Jerry Adler), an ex-con due to working for the Jewish organized-crime outfit Murder, Incorporated, visits, and they have to tie up loose ends.  The episode is titled "Holy Night."

Christmas 2003, 10 years ago: The Bartlets, President Jed and First Lady Abbey (Stockard Channing), are still dealing with the repercussions -- including with each other -- of the kidnapping of Zoey (Elisabeth Moss) the preceding spring.  It is not clear whether daughters Liz (Annabeth Gish) and Ellie (Nina Siemaszko) will come to the White House for Christmas.  In the end, they all do.

Jed remembers a trip to Egypt: "Saw the Pyramids and Luxor, and then headed up into the Sinai. We had a guide, a Bedouin man, who called me 'Abu el Banat.' And whenever we'd meet another Bedouin, he'd introduce me as Abu el Banat. And the Bedouin would laugh and laugh and offer me a cup of tea. And I'd go to pay them for the tea and they wouldn't let me. 'Abu el Banat' means 'Father of daughters.' They thought the tea was the least they could do." "Abu el Banat" is also the title of the episode.

Christmas 2004: The Aviator premieres. Yeah, that’s what you want to do on Christmas Day: Go see a movie about a nut like Howard Hughes. Leonardo DiCaprio pulls it off, though.

Also superbly bringing screen legends back to life are Katharine Hepburn by Cate Blanchett, Ava Gardner by Kate Beckinsale, and No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow.

Another film premiering on this day is a live-action version of Fat Albert. Albert and the Cosby Kids are brought from cartoons into "the real world," and Albert (played by Kenan Thompson) meets his maker. No, he doesn’t die: He meets Bill Cosby, who faints upon seeing him for the first time.
Christmas 2005: The West Wing skipped over an entire year of the Bartlet Presidency, and jumps ahead to the end of Year 7 for "Impact Winter." While the President suffers a paralyzing multiple sclerosis attack on a state visit to China, there is concern that an asteroid might hit Earth, resulting in the worst-case scenario, the phenomenon described by the episode's title.  While both crises are averted, Josh realizes that Year 8 is going to be an election year, and someone has to take the baton for Year 9.  He thinks he's found his man, Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), and shows up on Santos' doorstep in Houston, as a "ghost of Christmas yet to come." There was no Christmas episode for Season 7/Year 8.

Elsewhere in Washington, The Jeffersonian Institute is quarantined due to an outbreak of Valley Fever. This forces Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) to focus on a murder.  Also, the Jeffersonian gang finds out that Billy Gibbons of the band ZZ Top (who plays a fictional version of himself) is the father of one of their own, Dr. Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin).  This episode of Bones is titled "The Man in the Fallout Shelter."

Christmas 2006: James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, dies of pneumonia.  He was 73.

Christmas 2008: For the first time, NCIS airs a Christmas episode.  The Gibbs team is asked to investigate a long-ago murder, of a sailor whose death certificate had been signed by Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum).  Guest stars include Peter Coyote, Kay Lenz, and Eric Stonestreet, in the role that likely got him hired for Modern Family.

Also on this day, in real life, Eartha Kitt dies of cancer. The singer of “Santa Baby” and one of 3 women to play Catwoman on the 1960s “Batman” series apparently had used up her 9th life, but what a life it was. She was 81.

Christmas 2009: al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old native of Nigeria, tries and fails to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253, going from Amsterdam, the Netherlands to Detroit.  Because he failed, the plane landed safely, and all 289 people on board (aside from him) survived.

"The Underwear Bomber," having one of the most ridiculous nicknames of any criminal ever, is now surviving multiple life sentences at the "supermax" federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

Christmas 2012: Mystery writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and New York Police Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) spend their first Christmas together as a couple, after finding out who killed a man dressed as Santa Claus, on Castle.

Christmas 2013: A man dressed as Santa Claus -- the brother of the husband of a friend of my sister's -- showed up at my sister's apartment, and presented my 6-year-old nieces Ashley and Rachel with new bicycles.  They were so happy.  This was the best Christmas ever!

Or it will be, until they can do something like that for their own children.  Or even, God willing, before that can happen, they could help me do it for their cousin, my own as yet hypothetical child.

May your days be merry and bright. God bless us, every one. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Sleep in heavenly peace.