Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28, 1955: Jackie Steals Home... Or DOES He?

September 28, 1955, 60 years ago today: Game 1 of the World Series, at the original Yankee Stadium. Yes, a World Series game was played on a September 28. This was also the 1st World Series game broadcast in color, on NBC (as were all World Series from the 1st telecast of one in 1947 until 1975), although hardly anyone has a color TV set at this point, and no TV recording of it, in color or otherwise, is known to survive.

There is film footage, though. That footage shows Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, his increasing weight (in part due to diabetes) having cut down on his speed, but not his daring, stealing home plate against the New York Yankees.

Home plate umpire Bill Summers rules him safe. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra says Jackie was out, and has a fit.

To the end of his life, Yogi insisted that he wouldn't have argued that strenuously if he wasn't sure, or if Jackie was definitely safe, as Monte Irvin of the New York Giants was when he stole home on Yogi in the 1951 World Series.

Whitey Ford was pitching, and he insists to this day that Jackie was out. But Phil Rizzuto claimed that Jackie was safe, and he knew because he was playing shortstop and had the best view of the play.

Whitey didn't like that, so he looked it up. The steal was in the top of the 8th inning -- and in the bottom of the 6th, manager Casey Stengel had pinch-hit Eddie Robinson for the Scooter! In the top of the 7th, a new shortstop took the field: Jerry Coleman (normally a 2nd baseman). Coleman was playing short when Jackie stole home.

So who was right? Judge for yourself. Here's the film. It's hard to tell from there. But this photo makes it obvious: He was out!
And if the Yankees had lost the game, and the World Series, because of this, there would have been an uproar -- or, as the Dodgers' legendary broadcaster, ironically now with the Yankees, Red Barber, would have put it, a rhubarb.

But the Yankees did not lose the Series, or even the game, because of the steal. The Yankees won the game, 6-5. Left fielder (and backup catcher) Elston Howard, a "rookie" at age 30, hit a home run off Don Newcombe in the 2nd inning, while 1st baseman Joe Collins hit 2 homers off Big Newk. Carl Furillo and Duke Snider hit home runs off Ford.

Like Carlton Fisk's home run in Game 6, 20 years later, Robinson's steal of home was a spectacular moment, but, ultimately, had no effect on the result of the Series.

Still, stealing home plate became Jackie Robinson's signature, along with his grace under more pressure than any American athlete has ever faced. He did in 19 times in the regular season, plus this time in the World Series -- still the last steal of home in a World Series game. (One of the many records that Ty Cobb set, and one that he still holds, is the most steals of home in a career: 54.) It even became a point of reference in Buddy Johnson's 1949 song about Jackie, with the Count Basie Orchestra having made the best-known recording:

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone.

"Gone" meaning "cool." Not as in "left the vicinity" or "gone in the head." No player ever kept his head -- or had to -- as much as Jack Roosevelt Robinson of Pasadena, California (and Stamford, Connecticut).

With the recent deaths of Yogi and Dodger 2nd baseman Don Zimmer -- Jackie was usually playing 3rd base by this point, not his standard 2nd -- the starting pitchers, Newcombe and Ford, pinch-hitter Eddie Robinson, and Yankee left fielder Irv Noren are the only players from this game who are still alive, 60 years later.

This Series was a classic, and it went to 7 games. In the end, as would be said in the Brooklynese accent, the Dodgers finally dooed it. After World Series losses in 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953 (the last 5 of those 7 against the Yankees), losses in Playoffs for the National League Pennant in 1946 and 1951 (the latter against the hated New York Giants), losing the Pennant on the final day of the regular season in 1942 and 1950, and finishing 2nd to the Giants in 1954 -- 10 close calls in a span of 14 years -- 1955 turned out to be the "Next Year" that Dodger fans from Williamsburg to Coney Island, from Morristown to Montauk, from Poughkeepsie to Point Pleasant, had waited for.


September 28, 1932: Game 1 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs score 2 runs in the 1st inning, but the Yankees outscore them 37-17 over the rest of the Series. Lou Gehrig hits a home run, and the Yankees win, 12-6.

September 28, 1959: Game 1 of the National League Playoff. It was the Braves' move to Milwaukee, with is (then) modern stadium and its huge parking lot, that made Walter O'Malley want a better ballpark for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and ultimately made him move the team to Los Angeles. Now, after the Braves have won the last 2 Pennants, there is a tie for the flag, and these 2 teams, representing cities that didn't even have teams 7 seasons ago face off at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Dodger manager Walter Alston starts Danny McDevitt, who pitched a shutout in the last game at Ebbets Field, 2 years and 4 days earlier. But he doesn't get out of the 2nd inning this time, as he falls behind, 2-1. Alston brings Larry Sherry in to relieve, and he goes the rest of the way. John Roseboro hits a home run off Carlton Willey, and the Dodgers win, 3-2, to take a 1-0 lead back to L.A.

September 28, 1998: The Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, having finished in a tie for the NL's Wild Card berth, face each other in a Playoff game at a raucous Wrigley Field. Former Minnesota Twins World Series winner Gary Gaetti hits a home run, and Rod Beck holds off his former team to save a fine performance by Steve Traschel, and the Cubs win, 5-3.

Sammy Sosa goes 2-for-4 for the Cubbies, and scores 2 runs. Barry Bonds goes 0-for-4 for the Jints. I guess Sammy's steroids were working that night, and Barry's weren't.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

M*A*S*H Should Be Rebooted

This has very little to do with sports, although there will be a couple of references.

The TV show M*A*S*H should be rebooted. The original show was one of the best ever, but there were a lot of things wrong with it.

For one thing, the continuity was all messed up. We were told in the Season 4 premiere that Colonel Sherman T. Potter (playing by Harry Morgan) took command on September 19, 1952, and that Captain B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) arrived one week earlier, and that Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) were still there.

But in Season 9, we're told that, by December 31, 1950,  .J., Potter and Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) were there, and that Frank, Radar, Captain John "Trapper" McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) were all gone.

You could count that episode, "A War for All Seasons," covering all of 1951, as an outlier and non-canon. But in the series finale, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit) says she's known Charles for 2 years -- so even if she's rounding up, we're talking the Summer of 1951, meaning there's no way B.J., Henry or Frank should still have been there by then.

Throw in the fact that Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda) went from living in Vermont, having a sister, and having his mother still being alive to living in Maine, being an only child, and having his mother die when he was 10. Henry's wife was Mildred, then Lorraine. The name Mildred was brought back for Potter's wife. On multiple occasions, Potter mentioned having a son. On later episode, he said he had a daughter. Later still, he said it was one daughter and no son.

Also, if Corporal Max Klinger (like his portrayer, Jamie Farr, whose real name is Jameel Farah) has Lebanese ancestry, are all his Lebanese relatives on his mother's side? Because Klinger isn't an Arabic name.

Poor Nurse Kelly. Or Kelley. Or Kellye. (Played by Kellye Nakahara.) We know her rank was Lieutenant throughout. But her name was never fully mentioned, or even definitively spelled. Early on, a couple of times, she was "Nurse Charlie," and another actress was called "Nurse Kelly."

After that, Nakahara's character was always referred to as "Nurse Kelly," suggesting that Kelly (however it was supposed to be spelled) was her last name. Funny, she didn't look Irish. Certainly, she didn't interact much with the very Irish characters of Trapper and Lieutenant, later Captain, Francis Mulcahy (William Christopher), the Jesuit priest who was camp chaplain. (Then again, Hawaii Five-O -- also on CBS, both the 1968-80 classic version and the current reboot -- had a character named Chin Ho Kelly.)

But, twice, including in the next-to-last episode, Margaret called her "Lieutenant Nakahara," suggesting that the actress' name was also the character's name. In one episode, she says she's half-Chinese and half-Hawaiian. But Nakahara is a Japanese name, and in another episode, she spoke fluent Japanese. Despite her previously-stated ancestry, and many chances to speak to wounded Chinese soldiers, at no time is she shown speaking Chinese.

Nor is Kellye ever shown speaking Korean, the language of the country they're actually in. Ironically, the only main character who shows any facility with Korean is Radar, who has some difficulty with English!

Indeed, it would have made sense (for any organization but this fictional version of the 1950s U.S. Army) to have a translator there. That could have been a good role for Kellye, and it would have given Nakahara much more screen time, instead of what she usually did: Stand in the background, assist the surgeons, or respond to requests: "Yes, Doctor," or, "Yes, Major."

Despite the "New Wave of Feminism" being underway by the time the show debuted on September 17, 1972, the nurse characters, aside from Margaret, really got short shrift, an issue addressed in the final season (Fall 1982), in an episode titled "Who Knew?" when one of the nurses dies in an accident, and no one seems to have learned much about her, not even Hawkeye, with whom she was on a date right before she died.

We know there were nurses named Able, Baker and Charlie (a reference to the "military alphabet"). A black nurse named Ginger Bayless (Odessa Cleveland) was a constant in Season 1. A Nurse Bigelow was frequently mentioned and shown, usually played by Enid Kent.

But the actresses playing these specific characters tended to change. This made no freakin' sense. The only nurse who tended to get significant screen time (if only to be in the background or to interact with Margaret and the doctors) was Kellye. And she was so underused, we might as well have called her "Uhura." (While Uhura is a Swahili name, like Obama, maybe, like Obama, it could sound Japanese.)

There's a few anachronisms as well. At one point, Hawkeye, hearing a lot of letters of Army acronyms spoken, mockingly sings, "M-O-U-S-E." The Mickey Mouse Club didn't start airing until 1955, 2 years after the war ended. In another episode, he references the assassination of Albert Anastasia, king of the New York Mob, which happened in 1957. And while Indochina is referenced in an episode, in the finale, it's called "Vietnam," and I'm not sure how widespread that name was in 1953.

The biggest anachronisms are the hairstyles. This was the Army. This was the 1950s. No way would Hawkeye, B.J. and Klinger have thad hat much hair. And I don't think the Fifties Army would have allowed B.J. to grow a mustache. Granted, Major Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist played by Allan Arbus in one episode every season, had a mustache, but, being older and higher-ranking, they might have given him some leeway.

Another problem is the ages of the characters. When the show began, Gary Burghoff was 29 playing 19; when he left, he was 36 playing 21 or so. How old was Klinger? We're led to believe he was a street kid, who might've been soon out of high school, but Farr was then 38. When the show ended, he was 49, and now playing a character possibly less than half his age!

Charles frequently mentioned that he graduated from Harvard University, outside Boston. Once, he specifically mentioned that he was "Class of '43." This would make him 30 or so when he arrived. Granted, being bald doesn't help, but did Stiers look only 30 to you? He was 35; when the show ended, if we believe his '43 reference, he was 41 playing about 32.

And none of the characters, except Potter, are mentioned as having served in World War II, which ended 5 years before the Korean War began. Not even Margaret, who, because of her father, has lived on Army bases her entire life. Clearly, she's qualified to be a U.S. Army Major, so she's probably at least 30. Which means she was at least 25 when "The Big One" ended. That doesn't mean she was already a combat nurse, but it does mean she was no kid. Certainly, midway through the series, there was a reference to her needing to color her hair to remain blonde.

So, no mention of World War II service for the doctors. Does this mean the doctors (Henry and Potter excepted) had student deferments? This would be understandable, if it meant medical school that could make them military doctors, especially since no one knew until 1945 that the war would end anytime soon.

That makes them at least 30 when the war began, but look at the gray hair that Alan Alda and Mike Farrell had at the end: Alda was 47, Farrell 44. I'm 45, and I don't look nearly as old as any of the doctors, except Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper and has always looked good for his age.

Larry Linville, who played Frank, was just 4 years older than Burghoff. There's no way Frank, married with kids and a receding hairline, was just 4 years older than Radar. (Though Burghoff wore a hat to hide his even more encroaching baldness.)

Potter mentioned lying about his age to get into the Army for World War I, but in a later episode says he's 62, meaning he was 27 when the U.S. got into "Dubya Dubya One," and possibly already a fully-qualified doctor.

Finally, the way the Army is portrayed. A U.S. Army that incompetent wouldn't have won World War II. And there's no way Hawkeye, Trapper and B.J. would've gotten away with half the things they got away with just because they were great surgeons, no matter how many favors Henry and Potter could call in to keep them out of the stockade.

As for Frank, and the even crazier occasional guest star Colonel Flagg, played by Edward Winter, they would have been removed much sooner than they were. Maybe Hawkeye and B.J. wouldn't have been willing to ruin Margaret's career over the truth of her affair with the married Frank later on -- notably, Charles wasn't willing to lie to ruin it and get himself transferred back to his dream job at Tokyo General Hospital -- but early, when she was frequently as bitchy as she wanted to be, oh yeah, Hawkeye and B.J. would have eagerly ruined her and Frank. At the least, they would have threatened to if they didn't back off, big-time.

That's the only way Frank, in temporary command after Henry's discharge, could have allowed Hawkeye the 5-day R&R he had in the Season 4 premiere, forcing him to miss Trapper's goodbye. No way Frank agrees to that otherwise.

Also, I'd like to know where the characters are from, and what led them to become the people they were when we met them. Here's the hometowns that we know:

* Hawkeye: The fictional town of Crabapple Cove, Maine.
* Trapper: Boston.
* B.J.: Mill Valley, California, outside San Francisco.
* Henry: Bloomington, Illinois.
* Potter: Hannibal, Missouri.
* Margaret: Army brat, going from base to base with her father, at one point telling Klinger, "I was never in the same school two years in a row."
* Frank: Fort Wayne, Indiana.
* Charles: Boston.
* Radar: A farm outside Ottumwa, Iowa.
* Klinger: Toledo, Ohio, just like Farr.
* Mulcahy: Philadelphia.
* Kellye: Honolulu.
* Sidney: New York -- specifically, Brooklyn.
* Staff Sergeant Zelmo Zale (Johnny Haymer): Also Brooklyn.
* Staff Sergeant Luther Rizzo: Somewhere in Louisiana. Probably not New Orleans; I think that would have been mentioned.

Hawkeye mentions a familiarity with Chicago, but also one with Boston. Maybe, since it is the closest major city to Maine, and has many renowned hospitals, he went to medical school there, or did his residency there.

Did he meet Trapper there? It would explain why they were assigned together, and why they worked so well together. But, clearly, he hasn't met Charles (who arrived after Trapper left). And, in a later episode, Trapper is mentioned, and Charles shows no familiarity with him, so, clearly, they've never met, not even in a medical sphere. And yet, of the 3 men, only Charles seems to have a New England accent.

(This was also an oddity on Boston-based Cheers, where the only character who had one was Cliff. And while his portrayer, John Ratzenberger, was the only member of the main cast from any of the New England States, it was Connecticut, and he was from the New York side of the Nutmeg State, not the Boston side, and doesn't have a New England accent in real life. Nor do I recall many New England accents on other New England-based shows: Boston's St. Elsewhere, Crossing Jordan and Rizzoli & Isles, which recently had Stiers as a guest star; Rhode Island's Providence; Vermont's Newhart; and Maine's Murder, She Wrote and Haven.)

In Trapper John, M.D., the older John McIntyre is working at a hospital in San Francisco -- B.J.'s hometown! And this is never brought up! There's a reason for that, thought: For legal reasons, despite being on the same network, they had to say that this version of Trapper is based on the one from the 1970 film, played by Elliott Gould, not the 1972-75 TV version played by Rogers.

And I'd like at least one secondary character from each of the unused locations on the famous signpost, so that we understand that each of them represents somebody there. The signs, in order, are: Boston (Trapper and Charles), Seoul (the South Korean capital), Coney Island (could represent Brooklynite Zale), San Francisco (B.J. took it home in the finale), Burbank (no character on the original show was said to have come from the Los Angeles area), Death Valley (ditto, and I'm not sure why they would choose one of the few places on the planet more desolate than that section of central Korea to be on the signpost), Toledo (Klinger), and Decatur (not sure if it's the one in Illinois or the one in Georgia, at any rate no character was from either).

In the early seasons, before Klinger was promoted from secondary to primary character (and, in Season 10, from Corporal to Sergeant), there was an Indianapolis sign (no character was said to come from there, although Frank was from Indiana), but it was replaced by a Toledo sign. Also, early on, there was a second Seoul sign underneath the Decatur sign, and underneath that there was a Honolulu sign (which could be put on the reboot's version for Kellye).

But, definitely, there should be signs for all the primary characters. The Boston sign could stand in for Hawkeye's Crabapple Cove, especially since, as with Decatur, having "PORTLAND" could mean more than one State, in this case Maine or Oregon. Henry's Bloomington, likewise, could be confused with the ones in Indiana and Minnesota, so use Chicago for his. For Potter, Hannibal would be fine, although relatively close St. Louis could be used instead.

The Indianapolis sign could be replaced with a Fort Wayne for Frank, since Fort Wayne is a decent-sized city (bigger than Crabapple Cove, as Frank once pointed out). But, you know what, the heck with Frank: He was the one guy in camp who was happier away from his family (and closer to Margaret's hot lips).

Ottumwa, or at least Des Moines (Iowa's capital), would have to be there for Radar, and Philadelphia for Mulcahy. If Zale wasn't important enough to be the subject of the Coney Island sign, it could be explained as being for 7 or 8 soldiers there from the New York Tri-State Area, or it could be a tribute to visiting Brooklynite Sidney.


So here's what I propose: Definitive backstories, including birthdates and professional backgrounds, and:

* Season 1: The series premiere establishes their origin stories and how they got there. The season runs from September 1950 (Inchon landing) to June 1951. In the season finale, Henry gets sent home, but doesn't make it.

* Season 2: June 1951 to December 1951. Trapper out, B.J. in. Henry already out, Frank out of temporary command, Potter in. In the middle of the season, Margaret is engaged to Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscot, and they marry in the season finale, but the cliffhanger is Frank goes after them, and Charles is introduced. (This removes the "War for All Seasons" episode where they bet on the Pennant race that ends with the Bobby Thomson home run.)

* Season 3: December 1951 to September 1952. Charles settles in. In the finale, Radar's Uncle Ed dies.

* Season 4: September 1952 to July 1953. Radar goes home in the premiere. Klinger becomes the company clerk, and the dresses are put away for good (except for the ending of "Your Retention Please," a.k.a. the "Dear Maxie Letter" episode). The finale ends the war, with the consequences we saw in the original series finale.

* Season 5: Slowly, but surely, we bring the characters up to the present day, and show what happens to them. We got a hint of this in AfterMASH, the sequel series that aired because Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr and William Christopher wanted to continue, and the rest of the main actors didn't.

In spite of the blood and gore shown on more recent crime-procedural shows, there's no need to show any more of it than was shown on the original M*A*S*H. They proved that you don't need to show that to show that William Tecumseh Sherman was right when he said that war is "cruelty" and "all hell." (Hawkeye once heard the line, "War is hell" in the operating room, and said that war was worse than Hell, because, "There are no innocent bystanders in Hell.")

Keep the continuity. Enforce it. Have a date at the beginning of each episode. Have a historical adviser on hand. Better yet, multiple experts: On the Korean War, on U.S. military history, on medicine of the early 1950s, on Korean culture, and on Chinese culture (the other enemy at hand, besides the North Koreans). And use those experts to say what sort of behavior, and what sort of punishments for unacceptable behavior, and for overreacting to bad behavior, would have been allowed in the Army of the time. Make it realistic.

Have age-appropriate actors. The main roles can be starmakers for the people playing the main characters, including the 30 (or so)-year-old doctors and nurses. But you have to have kids, people 21 or under, playing Radar, Klinger, Private Igor Straminsky (the long-suffering mess tent hash-slinger played by Jeff Maxwell), and most of the wounded, who would be of draft age and thus ages 18 to 25.

Being older, Henry Blake and Sherm Potter should be played by established actors, one in his mid-40s and one in his 50s who could pass for older. (I like the idea of Potter lying about his age to get into WWI, but also the idea that being in 3 wars has aged him.) My suggestions are John Cusack (49 but can pass for a little younger, and from Chicago) for Henry, and Peter Krause (50, and from Minnesota but he can pass for rural Missouri) for Potter. I also like the idea of Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler on The West Wing) playing Sidney, who should be used more than just once a season.

And talk to Asian-American advocacy groups, to have the proper sensitivity to the native Korean characters, and show those characters who do not react well to them, such as Frank, getting their proper comeuppances.

And talk to them about who should play Nurse Kellye, and give her an expanded role -- as the Season 11 premiere "Hey, Look Me Over" suggested, maybe she would be the right woman for Hawkeye in the end. After all, she's not a classic pinup girl, but she's no R-A-G-G-M-O-P-P ragmop. She's nice, intelligent, a very good nurse, and, in her own words, "I happen to be cute as hell!" It would also show that Hawkeye really has learned his lesson about women.


So, if I were writing it, what would I have happen to the main characters, over the rest of their lives, spelled out over the 5th and final season?

* Hawkeye: Goes back to Maine, allowing his father to retire as town doctor, and him to take over the practice. If he was 30 years old when the war began, that would make him 95 years old now. Considering how much he drank, and how much the war aged him, physically and mentally, I can't see him living much past age 70.

But, presuming he did marry Kellye and take her back to Maine with him, that gives them about 40 years together, until around 1990 or so. If they had kids, they'd now by in their 50s.

* Trapper: Goes back to Boston, to his wife and (at least) 2 daughters. Gets a job in a clinic, eventually opens a suburban practice. He was always in better shape than Hawkeye, and probably drank less. He probably lives longer, maybe long enough to see his beloved Red Sox cheat their way to the World Series win of 2004.

* B.J.: Goes back to Mill Valley, to wife Peg and daughter Erin. Commutes over the Golden Gate Bridge to a hospital in San Francisco. Maybe, in 1978, he tries to save the lives of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk when they're shot. Maybe he actually saves Harvey, who thus lives to become the face of gay America in life, instead of in death. He treats victims of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the one that interrupted the World Series.

He'd have been in his late 60s then, and retires shortly thereafter. Probably dies around the year 2000 or so. Erin, probably born in early 1951, would now be 64 years old. A hospital administrator, maybe?

* Henry: Many people have speculated that Radar's 20 words might not have been fully accurate: "Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There weren't no survivors." They want to believe that, somehow, Henry survived on a Pacific Island. Gilligan's Island, perhaps? No, that was said to be somewhere near Hawaii.

So here's my idea for the final episode of M*A*S*H, rebooted: It's 1973, 20 years after the end of the war, and evidence has reached the U.S. that an American has been treating natives on a Japanese island for 20 years, and the speculation is that it could be Henry, who (in those pre-Internet days) had no way of letting his country, let alone his family, know that he was still alive.

So the gang gets back together, they look for him, they find him, and they bring him back to Bloomington, where, aged by his island experience, he has a few years of happiness. He dies in 1979, at age 63, having a heart attack while watching a horrible TV show. In a tremendous inside joke, it will be McLean Stevenson's later TV disaster, Hello, Larry.

* Potter: Harry Morgan lived to be 96 years old, so there's no reason why Potter also shouldn't. After all, despite 3 wars having aged him, and a love of booze (but not to the extent of the hard-drinking Hawkeye) and cigars (but never once on the show did he smoke a cigarette), he was in remarkably good shape for his age. Probably from all his horseback riding, including on the show with his mare, Sophie.

This would have him living into the 1990s, perhaps long enough to attend a 75th Anniversary reunion of World War I veterans in 1993. As for the plot of AfterMASH, I have no problem with him going to St. Louis to work in a Veterans Administration hospital. But there's no reason to put Klinger and Mulcahy there as well. So let's just make the sequel show non-canon, shall we?

* Margaret: Once an Army nurse, always an Army nurse. She could have remained Stateside for the rest of her career, possibly as the mentor (mentress?) of Colleen McMurphy, Dana Delany's character on China Beach, which was essentially a Vietnam update of M*A*S*H.

And maybe, just maybe, she could find a nice conservative doctor with whom she could settle down, if not have any children. If she was 30 when the war began, she would have been in her 80s during the 2000s, and could still be alive then, but probably not now in 2015.

* Frank: This is an easy one. He goes back to Fort Wayne, but his wife Louise leaves him, fully convinced that what drove him over the edge in Korea was his love for Margaret. But, this being Indiana, he quickly finds a conservative woman who is happy to marry a well-connected Army officer veteran and doctor.

Then, with his hyper-patriotism and conservative beliefs, he gets the chance to work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Where he meets Vice President Richard Nixon. I think you know where I'm going with this: He becomes Nixon's personal physician, then gets involved in Nixon's 1968 campaign, then his 1972 re-election campaign, and gets caught on the tapes saying something he shouldn't, becomes a Watergate defendant, and goes to prison.

He doesn't serve long, but long enough that he becomes completely embittered, made worse by Wife Number 2 leaving him. He probably already having started drinking as much as Hawkeye did after the war. Now it accelerates, and he dies of liver failure on March 30, 1981, age 60 or so -- ironically, due in part to a doctor at George Washington University Hospital being pulled away from treating him to treat President Ronald Reagan, Frank's new favorite President, who's been shot.

* Charles: Considering his weight and how the war finally got to him in the finale, I'm not sure Charles would have been all right. Though never in combat, let alone wounded, he could have had post-traumatic stress disorder. Or would he? "Perish the thought, gentlemen," he'd say. "I am a Winchester!"

He got the chief of thoracic surgery job at Boston Mercy Hospital (which is fictional), and may have, at some point, taught a doctor or two from St. Elsewhere. Perhaps he failed to save the life of Red Sox star Harry Agganis in 1955 (he was treated as Sancta Maria Hospital in Cambridge), but was able to save the life of Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro after he got beaned in 1967 (he was treated at New England Deaconess Hospital, although he died young a few years later anyway).

It's not hard to imagine Charles marrying a proper Bostonian lady, nor is it hard to imagine a young medical student named Charles Emerson Winchester IV being acquainted with Cheers' Dr. Frasier Crane -- although an episode of Frasier definitively places Frasier's birthdate as being the day after one of Queen Elizabeth's children, though it doesn't say which one. It can't be Prince Charles, since he was born in 1948, or Princess Anne, born in 1950, and the newspaper from Frasier's birthdate specifically calls her the Queen, not a Princess as she was until 1952. So they're not college roommates. If it's Prince Andrew, born in 1960, or Prince Edward, born in 1964, it might make Frasier the right age to be Charles IV's roommate, but it would make him too young to be a practicing psychiatrist when he debuts on Cheers in 1984.

If Charles III lives to be 75, in 1996, that would make Charles IV about 40, which means not only could he be a teacher of Dr. Maura Isles of Rizzoli & Isles (Sasha Alexander), but there could be a 10-year-old Charles Emerson Winchester V, who would now be 30 and a practicing physician.

(M*A*S*H and Cheers both had Ken Levine and David Isaacs as writers. The connection was suggested when Stiers appeared on Frasier, hinting that his sophisticated scientist Dr. Leland Barton, not the less-than-upper-class retired cop Marty Crane, might have been Fraiser and Niles' real father, thus explaining their baldness, as Marty's hair, though white, was all still there.)

* Radar: Forget the ridiculous pilot W*A*L*T*E*R. Radar may have gotten married, but no way does the wife he married on AfterMASH leave him so soon, and no way does he become a cop in St. Louis. Not just that Radar is not fit for city life, but also that St. Louis is 260 miles away. It's still closer than Chicago, 300 miles away.

He probably stayed on the farm outside Ottumwa. Easily the youngest of these characters, if he really was 19 in early 1951, he'd be 83 now, and thus the likeliest to still be alive.

* Klinger: Again, forget AfterMASH: The plot setup that forced him to leave his beloved Toledo and rejoin Potter in St. Louis was stupid. Almost certainly, he stayed put. Maybe settling back in Toledo with Soon-Lee wouldn't have been easy, but that big family of his would have made her feel welcome, especially after first wife Laverne left him first for sausage-maker Morty, then for best friend Gus. If they had any sons, they would have been born too late to be of draft age in the Vietnam era, meaning they wouldn't have had to borrow any of dear old Dad's dresses.

Given his Army experience, I can imagine ol' Maxwell Q. getting a job with an advertising agency, giving ideas on how to sell clothing to all kinds of women, from ladies of society to streetwalkers. Do you see where I'm going with this? The Klingers eventually move to New York, and Max becomes one of the Mad Men! Why, you could even call him Mad Max!

He'd be in his mid-to-late 80s now, so he could still be alive. If not, do you think he was buried in his tux, or in one of his dresses? It should be the tux: In spite of the huge nose, when he was dressed up, Jamie Farr was actually a good-looking guy.

* Mulcahy: Now, the good Father going from his parish in Philadelphia to the "General General" in St. Louis to get his hearing, damaged in the finale, fixed, as on AfterMASH, is plausible. But like "my sister, the Sister" (Sister Angelica, the basketball-coaching nun), he was devoted to his parish, and likely would have gone back.

Or maybe, given his experience, he would have followed up on his suggestion and opened a Catholic school for the deaf in Philly. He could have coached and managed the first deaf man to become a boxing champion.

I get the idea that he wasn't that young when the war began -- William Christopher was nearly 40 when the show started -- so the chances of John Patrick Francis Mulcahy, S.J. still being alive today, at over 100, are not good. Which is too bad: I would have liked to have seen him there with Pope Francis in Philly yesterday.

So, by my count, here is the likelihood of the MASHers to be alive, if not necessarily in good enough health to be available, for a 50th Anniversary celebration of the end of the war in Korea in July 2003:

Probably yes: Radar, Klinger, Soon-Lee, Igor.

Possibly yes: Trapper, Margaret, Kellye, some of the other nurses, Zale, Rizzo.

Probably no: Hawkeye, B.J., Charles, Mulcahy, Sidney.

Definitely no: Henry, Potter, Frank.

And, yes, I see the odd arrangement of the names that suggests Henry Potter, the mean old man who runs Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life, played by Lionel Barrymore. As far as I know, there is no famous man named Sherman Blake.

Yanks 3 of 4 vs. ChiSox Are Too Little, Too Late

The Yankees began a 4-game home series against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night, with the American League Eastern Division title essentially lost to those pesky Toronto Blue Jays, but with a chance to make home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card play-in game close to a certainty.

Michael Pineda started the opener. He had his good stuff, going 6 innings, allowing just 1 run on 8 hits, and (I love this) no walks.

Carlos Beltran hit his 18th home run of the season in the 3rd inning. It was a 3-run homer, and that was the difference in the ballgame.

Yankees 3, White Sox 2. This time, it was the Yankees who made the most of their chances, and the White Sox who didn't. The Yankees got 3 runs on 7 hits, the White Sox 2 runs on 11 hits. WP: Pineda (12-8). SV: Andrew Miller (35). LP: Chris Sale (12-11).


On Friday night, the Yankees weren't so lucky. CC Sabathia, who had been pitching better lately, looked like the washed-up ex-ace he has looked like for most of the season. He got into the 7th inning, but allowed 4 runs, and didn't get much support from the offense.

1st inning: Yankees went down 1-2-3. 2nd: Brian McCann was hit with a pitch, Greg Bird walked, both stranded. 3rd: Brett Gardner was hit with a pitch, Alex Rodriguez drew a walk, both stranded.

4th: Singles by McCann and Chris Young. Walk by Rob Refsyder to load the bases. (Sure, now, Joe Girardi puts in the alternative to the hapless Stephen Drew.) Didi Gregorius singled home McCann and Young. That tied the game at 2-2 -- and that's all the Yankees got.

5th: McCann drew a walk, and was wild-pitched to 2nd, stranded. 6th: Refsnyder doubled, Gregorius walked, double play. 7th: Chase Headley led off with a single, eliminated on a double play, Yanks didn't score in the inning. 8th: McCann led off with a walk, eliminated on a double play, Yanks didn't score in the inning. (Just 1 inning later, and we're already in reruns.) 9th: Yanks went down 1-2-3.

White Sox 5, Yankees 2. WP: Carlos Rodon (9-6). SV: Our old friend David Robertson (32). LP: Sabathia (5-10).

CC has been the difference. He was still an All-Star in 2012, and pitched a complete-game in the AL Division Series-deciding game over the Baltimore Orioles. But he tailed off in 2013, was even worse and injured for much of 2014, and has struggled here in 2015. His games are why the Yankees didn't make the Playoffs in '13, and '14, and why they're not going to win the AL East in '15.

Except it hasn't been all his fault. This season, in CC's 10 losses, and in 2 of his no-decisions, the Yankees lost 6 games by 1 run, and scored less than 3 runs in 6 games. Turn half of those games around, giving the Yankees 6 more wins, including 1 against the Blue Jays, and we move up 7 games in the standings. In other words, instead of currently being 4 games behind the Jays in the AL East, the Yankees would be 3 games up, with the best record in the AL.

So I guess it wasn't former hitting instructor Kevin Long's fault that we weren't hitting from September 2012 onward.


Suppose, before yesterday afternoon's game, I had told you that Adam Warren was going to start, and that the Yankees were going to get only 2 runs on 7 hits. You'd have been sure that we would lose, right?

First 2 batters of the game: Warren allows a single and a stolen base to Adam Eaton, and an RBI single to Jose Abreu. White Sox 1, Yankees 0. "Aw, boy, here we go again," you were thinking.

Bottom of the 1st: Yanks waste a leadoff single by Jacoby Ellsbury. 2nd: Yanks waste a 1-out walk by Young. 3rd: Yanks waste a leadoff single by Refsnyder. 4th: Yanks waste a leadoff walk by A-Rod. 5th: Yanks waste a 1-out single by Gregorius.

Warren has pitched well since giving up the run, but, going to the bottom of the 6th, it's still White Sox 1, Yankees 0. And it's looking for all the world like it's going to end that way.

Bottom of the 6th: Ellsbury leads off with a single. He steals 2nd. Headley hits a ground-rule double. A-Rod hits another. 2-1 Yankees.

That's how it ended, because Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Miller each pitched a perfect inning. WP: Warren (7-7.) SV: Miller (36). LP: John Danks (7-14).


Today, Ellsbury led off by drawing a walk off Pale Hose starter Erik Johnson. Gardner reached on an error that got himself to 2nd and Ellsbury to 3rd. McCann plated Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly.

It remained 1-0 Yankees, just as it was 1-0 South Siders the day before, with Luis Severino matching Johnson goose egg for goose egg, until, again, the bottom of the 6th. Dustin Ackley led off with a home run, his 9th of the season. After Gregorius popped out, Slade Heathcott singled, Brendan Ryan singled him to 3rd, Ellsbury popped up, Gardner walked to load the bases, and a passed ball got Heathcott home. So Heathcott advanced 3 bases and scored without benefit of a hit (other than his own, which got him on 1st base in the first place). 3-0 Yankees.

The teams traded runs in the 7th, but the Yankees put the game away with a pair of runs in the 8th. Yankees 6, White Sox 1. WP: Severino (5-3). No save. LP: Johnson (3-1). The Yankees took 3 out of 4 from the South Siders.

Too little, too late.


Here's how Major League Baseball stands, with exactly 1 week to go in the regular season:

American League Eastern Division: The Yankees trail the Toronto Blue Jays by 4 games. The Jays' Magic Number to clinch the Division is 4: Any number of Jays wins and Yankee losses, combining to add up to 4, and the Jays win it.

This means that, even if the Yankees win all 7 of their remaining games -- 4 against the Boston Red Sox at home and 3 away to the Baltimore Orioles -- the Jays could merely go 4-3, and take the East. The Jays have clinched at least a Wild Card berth, meaning they're officially in the postseason for the 1st time in 22 years.

AL Central: The Kansas City Royals have clinched.

AL Western: The Texas Rangers lead the Houston Astros by 2 1/2 games, and the surging Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by 3. Their Magic Number to eliminate each of them is 5.

AL Wild Card: The Yankees will almost certainly host the play-in game. But the Astros are only a half-game ahead of the Angels for the other berth. The Minnesota Twins are only a game and a half behind the Astros. Not yet mathematically eliminated, but with very little shot, are the Cleveland Indians (4 back), the Orioles (5 1/2) and the Red Sox (6 1/2).

National League East: The Mets clinched yesterday, for their 1st postseason berth in 9 years. For whatever that's worth: The next-closest team is 3 games over .500, the next-closest 18 games under. The NL East is weak. If you need any more evidence, recall that the Mets went 2-4 against the Yankees this season, including 1-2 at home at Citi Field.

NL Central: Three teams -- the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs -- have all clinched Playoff berths. But the order of finish remains unclear. The Cubs can't win the Division, and will be the road team in the NL Wild Card play-in game. It's their 1st postseason appearance in 7 years. But the Cards' lead over the Bucs is 2 1/2 games. The Cards' Magic Number is 5, but they can't take anything for granted just yet.

NL West: The Los Angeles Dodgers lead their arch-rivals and the defending World Champions, the San Francisco Giants, by 6 games. The Dodgers' Magic Number is 2. This one is pretty much over.

NL Wild Card: The Cubs will be the road team, and it's just a question of who hosts them: The Pirates (much more likely) or the Cardinals.

So, most likely, here are the Playoff matchups, with the team with home-field advantage listed 2nd:

AL: Astros at Yankees, winner to face Royals; Rangers at Blue Jays.

NL: Cubs at Pirates, winner to face Cardinals; Dodgers at Mets.

I can see the Yankees winning the play-in game, if Girardi doesn't panic if his starting pitcher lets the leadoff man on in the 6th. Beat the Royals and get into the AL Championship Series? Possible. Beat the Rangers for the Pennant? Possible. Beat the Jays for the Pennant? Unlikely, unless the Yankee bats suddenly get hot, or the Jays' bats go cold or they're struck by a key injury. Which could be the already-hurt Troy Tulowitzki: While they looked like world-beaters after getting him at the trading deadline, they've looked very human since he got hurt.

The Pirates will win the play-in game, and I've got a feeling that they could beat the Cardinals to advance to their 1st NLCS in 23 years. Dodgers vs. Mets: Curse of Donnie Baseball vs. Curse of Kevin Mitchell. The way the Mets are going, they could win. But Pirates vs. Mets? "Don't ever go against The Family." Besides, it's the Mets: Curse of Kevin Mitchell. We know that they will blow it, we just have to wait and see how they will blow it. The Pirates win their 1st Pennant in 36 years, the longest current streak in baseball. (Not counting the Mariners having now played 39 seasons without ever winning a Pennant, and the Expos/Nationals franchise having played 47 season without one.)

World Series: Because the AL won the All-Star Game, the AL has home-field advantage in the World Series. Except, last year, when it was Giants vs. Royals, the Giants won Game 7 in Kansas City. I don't think the Pirates will care about that. Granted, 1971 and 1979 were a long time ago, but, both times, the Pirates won Game 7 on the road. I think the Pirates can win again.

Of course, I also said the Yankees would win the AL East, because the Division was so weak. I didn't count on the Jays getting Tulowitzki and David Price.

What's Worth Celebrating In New York Baseball, What's Not

Tonight, I will have a post detailing the Yankees' now-concluded 4-game home series with the Chicago White Sox. This needs to be said first.

According to Greg Prince, author of the book Faith and Fear in Flushing, and co-author with Jason Fry of the blog of the same name, the National League Eastern Division title that the Mets clinched last night was the 17th "champagne moment" in team history.

Here they are:

1. 1969 National League Eastern Division title
2. 1969 NL Pennant
3. 1969 World Series
4. 1973 Division
5. 1973 Pennant
6. 1986 Division
7. 1986 Pennant
8. 1986 WS
9. 1988 Division
10. 1999 NL Wild Card
11. 1999 NL Division Series
12. 2000 Wild Card
13. 2000 NLDS
14. 2000 Pennant
15. 2006 Division
16. 2006 NLDS
17. 2015 Division

Interestingly enough, most of these were at home. Only #'s 4 (Chicago), 7 (Houston), 10 (Cincinnati), 16 (Los Angeles) and 17 (Cincinnati) were won on the road. Oddly, after just 3 of the 1st 15 where clinched on the road, the last 2 have been.

By the same measure, here are the Yankees' last 17 "champagne moments":

17. 2012 American League Division Series
16. 2012 American League Eastern Division title
15. 2011 Division
14. 2010 ALDS
13. 2010 AL Wild Card
12. 2009 World Series
11. 2009 AL Pennant
10. 2009 ALDS
9. 2009 Division
8. 2007 Wild Card
7. 2006 Division
6. 2005 Division
5. 2004 ALDS
4. 2004 Division
3. 2003 Pennant
2. 2003 ALDS
1. 2003 Division

So the Mets have had 17 "champagne moments" in their entire 54-season history. The Yankees have had 17 of them in the last 12 completed seasons, not counting any they may yet have in this season.

How many "champagne moments" have the Yankees had since the Mets had their 1st in 1969? There were 2 in 1976, 3 in 1977, 3 in 1978, 1 in 1980, 2 in 1981 (not 3, since their Division clinch was as a result of the split-season format set up by the strike), 1 in 1995, 4 in 1996, 1 in 1997, 4 in 1998, 4 in 1999, 4 in 2000 (including the big one against the Mets, as seen in photo above), 3 in 2001, 1 in 2002, and then the 17 I mentioned above.

Yankees since 2003: 17
Mets since 1969: 17

Yankees since 2006: 10
Mets since 2006: 1 (none until last night)

Mets since 1969, including 1969 (really, since 1962): 17
Yankees since 1969 50

You want to go all-time? Counting those won by the New York Giants baseball team and the Brooklyn Dodgers, to which Met fans believe they're entitled as the inheritors of those legacies? Be my guest:

Dodgers: 13 Pennants, 1 World Series win: 14
Giants: 17 Pennants, 6 World Series wins (counting the postseason series of 1889): 23

National League teams from New York: 54
Yankees: 99

Yes, when the Yankees clinch a berth in the AL Wild Card play-in game, it will be, by the FAFIF definition, their 100th "champagne moment."

No other club can touch that. The next-best is the St. Louis Cardinals, with 61.

(Yes, I am aware that some of these "champagne moments" happened during Prohibition. I suspect there was some boozing it up in the clubhouses on those occasions anyway. Or, at least, at the hotel, where less prying eyes would be.)

The Mets are right to act as though clinching a 1st-place finish is a big deal. After all, they haven't done it in 9 years, and have only done it 6 times in 54 years: 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 2006 and 2015. (Remember: When they won the Pennant in 2000, they got there through the Wild Card. Something the Yankees have never done -- although, this time, they'll have to in order to reach the World Series.)

By the same token, if you're pardon a little "Subway Series" reference (actually, tokens came into use in 1953, and MetroCards had begun to take over by 2000, so tokens were really only used in a Subway Series in 1953, '55 and '56), if the Yankees clinch a berth in the AL Wild Card play-in game, they should not celebrate especially hard. Even if they win it, and clinch a berth in the ALDS, they shouldn't celebrate much more than if it were, say, a walkoff win in an ordinary game.

Given the Yankees' history, even when they win the Division, it shouldn't be celebrated as if you've won anything for the 1st time. Unless the team you beat out is the Boston Red Sox.

The Toronto Blue Jays are, as I've put it, pesky. They play in ridiculous uniforms on ugly artificial turf in a stupid football stadium. And their fans are annoying.

But only the Red Sox are The Scum. Other teams have had classless moments against the Yankees (the recent Tampa Bay Rays, and the late 1970s-early 1980s Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals, for example), but only the Red Sox are The Scum. Capital T, capital S.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm Not Wild About the Wild Card -- Yanks Better Be

No, Nova is not tipping his cap to the fans.

Last night, at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Yankees played the most important game of the regular season thus far. Never mind winning it for Yogi Berra, in whose memory they are now wearing the Number 8 on their left sleeves: The Yankees needed to win it, period.

They didn't. And as much as I'd like to blame this one on manager Joe Girardi, I can't. Even though he lifted Ivan Nova in the 6th inning, in a tie game, having thrown 110 pitches -- translation: He should have been allowed to at least finish the inning -- and then used 4 pitchers that no sane general manager would have on the major league roster before September call-ups (James Pazos, Caleb Cotham, Andrew Bailey and Bryan Mitchell).

It didn't help that the Jays' big hitting hero was former Yankee catcher Russell Martin, a Toronto native, who nonetheless grew up in the better Canadian city of Montreal.

The Yankees lost this game because they didn't hit. Here's what they got off Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Strohman (7 innings) and relievers Brett Cecil (1) and Roberto Osuna (1):

* 3rd inning: Didi Gregorius singled with 2 out. Stranded.
* 4th: Brian McCann singled with 2 out. Stranded.
* 5th: Greg Bird leds off with a single, but was erased on a double-play grounder by Chase Headley. Had Headley struck or flied out, it could have meant a very different result, because the game was still 0-0 at this point, and Dustin Ackley doubled, which would have scored Bird. Instead, Ackley is stranded.
* 7th: Carlos Beltran drew a 1-out walk. After Bird flew out, Headley singled. But both runners were stranded.
* 9th: Alex Rodriguez led off with a double. He was stranded.

Just 7 baserunners all night. The top 2 men in the order, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, both went 0-for-4. You can't have that, and still expect to win the game.

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 0. WP: Strohman (3-0). No save. LP: Nova (6-9).

Note to Trekkies: "Blue Jay Four" was the callsign for Captain John Christopher, U.S. Air Force, in the Star Trek time-travel episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." Christopher was played by Roger Perry


So now, the Yankees are 3 1/2 games behind the Jays, with 11 games to play. Here's the remaining schedules:

Yankees: 4 at home vs. Chicago White Sox, 4 at home vs. Boston Red Sox, 3 away to Baltimore Orioles.

Blue Jays: 3 at home vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 4 away to Orioles, 3 away to Rays.

If the Jays only split their 10, 5-5, that would give them 92 wins. As I've said many times, 93 is usually enough to win the American League Eastern Division. In order to get to 93 -- in this hypothetical situation, 1 more than the Jays, thus winning the AL East -- the Yankees would have to win 10 of their last 11. They way they're hitting, and the way Girardi is managing? Don't make me laugh.

Even if the Yankees win "only" 8 of their last 11, that would give them 91 wins, meaning the Jays would have to lose 7 out of 10 to give the Yanks the Division.

There's an off-day on October 5, the day after the regular season ends. This is so that, in case any of the Division races ends in a tie, there can be a Playoff. But even finishing in a tie with the Jays will require both a much better effort by the Yankees and a major slump by the Jays.

Face it, the Jays won the Division last night.

So it's the Wild Card play-in game for the Yankees, on Tuesday night, October 6, first pitch at 8:08 PM.

If the current standings hold, the Yankees will host that game at Yankee Stadium II, and play the Houston Astros, a team that was perhaps the worst in baseball for 4 years running, but is fully resurgent now, and still has an outside shot to win the AL West.

The Minnesota Twins are a game behind the Astros, and the Los Angeles Angels are a game and a half back. The Orioles, the Rays, the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Seattle Mariners and the Detroit Tigers are all still alive, at least mathematically. The only AL team truly eliminated thus far is the Oakland Athletics.

The Kansas City Royals' Magic Number to clinch the AL Central is 2. The Texas Rangers' Magic Number to clinch the AL West is 8.

The Mets' Magic Number to clinch their 1st National League East title since 2006 -- only their 2nd since 1988 -- is 5. The Washington Nationals simply aren't taking advantage of the Mets' slowdown, any more than the Yankees did for the Jays.

The only teams to actually clinch Playoff berths so far are the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cards' Magic Number to clinch the NL Central is 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers' Magic Number to clinch the NL West is 5.

The Pirates lead the Wild Card chase, and they'll host the Chicago Cubs on October 7. The defending World Champion San Francisco Giants have an elimination number of 2, and the Nats of 1, and they're the only other NL teams where it's still, however remotely, possible. The Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are all out -- indeed, the D-backs are 16 games out; the Phils, a whopping 32.

Face it, the Mets took advantage of a weak NL East this season, a Division which, just as it was when they won it in 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1988, no one else seemed to want to win. Especially in 1973, when the Mets won it with a mere 82 wins. (They've already won 85, 2 more than the Yankees -- of course, the Yankees won the season series, 4 games to 2.)

But the Yankees... Presuming Masahiro Tanaka only misses that 1 start (last night) due to the hamstring issue, the play-in game would come at his turn in the rotation. Unless Girardi screws that up, too.

I'm not wild about the Wild Card play-in game. But the Yankees better be. They will need to hit, and score early. If not, can you imagine...

It's the top of the 6th, and the Yankees lead, 1-0. Tanaka is pitching brilliantly. But he walks the leadoff batter, and Girardi looks over to Larry Rotschild's pitch count, and sees that Tanaka is up to 86. And he walks out to the mound, and takes the ball from Tanaka, and hands it to Adam Warren. Next thing you know, it's 6-1 Astros, and... the Yankees mount a comeback that falls just short, losing 6-5.

No true fan should ever hope his or her team loses, just so that the manager/head coach is fired.

But if the Yankees do not at least qualify for the AL Division Series, Joe Girardi should be fired as Yankee manager.

Simple as that, baby.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bird the Word Again, Yanks Need to Win It For Yogi

Within the sad reality of the loss of Yogi Berra -- as the himself might have said, he was not merely one-of-a-kind, he was irreplaceable -- there was a game last night as he drew his last breaths, and it left many of us, metaphorically, breathless.

Luis Severino started this must-win game, against the 1st-place Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, under perhaps more pressure than any 21-year-old Yankee pitcher has ever been, and went 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks. Of course, Joe Girardi was reluctant to use him for longer, but Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances each pitched a scoreless inning.

Sevy (who really needs a better nickname) got an immediate boost. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a double (that's what he hasn't been doing lately, but it is why he gets the big bucks). Brett Gardner flew out, but Alex Rodriguez drew a walk. Brian McCann singled home Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran hit a sacrifice fly to bring home A-Rod. 2-0 Yankees, before the Blue Jays could even come to bat.

The Jays got single runs in the 3rd and the 4th to tie it. Beltran hit a home run in the 8th (his 17th of the season), and it looked like the Yankees had it wrapped up.

But in the bottom of the 9th, the usually reliable Andrew Miller blew it. He gave up a 1-out, game-tying home run -- to Dioner Navarro, the former top Yankee prospect whom we included as part of the trade package for Randy Johnson. (Which didn't work out.) At least Navarro didn't become a star anywhere, although he's done better than that other great Yankee catching prospect who got really fat, Jesus Montero.

Miller almost made it worse: He got a 2nd out, but allowed a double and 2 walks to load the bases before finally getting out of the 9th.

Fortunately for Miller, Bird was the word. McCann led of the top of the 10th with a single, Rico Noel pinch-ran for him, Slade Heathcott reached on that rarest of plays, catcher's interference, and then Greg Bird let his bat do the squawking, driving a 3-run shot deep to right field. 6-3 Yankees.

Girardi left Miller in for the bottom of the 10th. It seemed unfair that he'd get to be the winning pitcher. It seemed less fair when Miller allowed another home run, this one to Edwin Encarnacion, who always seems to hit the Yankees hard. But Miller closed the game with no further damage.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 4. WP: Miller (3-2). No save. LP: Mark Lowe (1-3). The Yankees are now down by 2 1/2, 2 in the All-Important Loss Column, with 12 games to play.

Tonight's game is easily the biggest of the season, and the Yankees will take the field with black Number 8s sewn onto their left sleeves, in memory of Yogi. Ivan Nova starts for the Yankees, Marcus Strohman for the Jays.

Come on you Bombers! Win it for Yogi! As the man himself would say, "Don't make too many wrong mistakes!"

Yogi Berra, 1925-2015

As the man himself might have said, if he'd considered it, "I can't die, I'm havin' too much fun to live."

Yogi Berra, the only man to be a veteran of both the D-Day invasion and Major League Baseball, the only man to play in 14 World Series, the only man to win 10 World Series, the only man to win Pennants as manager of both the Yankees and the Mets, and the man only half-jokingly called "America's greatest living philosopher," is living no more.

It was announced by the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center at 2:00 this morning that he had died last night -- on the 69th anniversary of his 1st major league game. (Yogi might have called that "High-ronic.")

No further details have been given, but he was living in a nursing home in West Caldwell, Essex County, New Jersey since his wife Carmen became too sick to live in their house in Montclair, also in Essex County, and eventually he became too frail to live outside it himself. She died a year and a half ago. Now, he has joined her. He was 90 years old.

I'm not surprised that he went so soon after she did. Partly because this season was the first Old-Timers' Day ceremony he did not attend since he returned from his self-imposed "exile" in 1999. And partly since they made such a great couple. As he put it, "We have a great time together, even when we're not together."

Some early reaction:

"No! Say it ain't so. He was a good man, my former manager and friend! RIP Yogi." -- Dave Winfield, Yankee Hall-of-Famer.

"My thoughts and prayers to the Berra Family!!! Yogi you were an icon and legend to us all who play this amazing game of baseball! #8 #YogiBerra" -- Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox World Champion.

"Sorry to hear of the passing of one of baseball's greatest! Words can't describe what he meant to the game and city of New York. #YogiBerra" -- Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves legend and probable future Hall-of-Famer.

"I choose to believe that his last words were a doozy." -- Brandon McCarthy, former Yankee pitcher, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yogi supposedly once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." My life is almost exactly half as long as his, and I've been watching him for about 40 years now. This past May 12, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, I wrote down my observations of his life:


May 12, 1925, 90 years ago: Lawrence Peter Berra is born in St. Louis, Missouri.

He grew up in the Gateway City at the same time as 5 members of the U.S. team that shocked England at the 1950 World Cup: Goalkeeper Frank Borghi, right back Harry Keough, centre-half Charlie Colombo, inside right Gino Pariani, and outside right Frank Wallace (born Valicenti). I don't know if Berra knew any of them, but given that 4 of them were also Italian-Americans, it's very possible. Left half Walter Bahr of Philadelphia, father of Super Bowl-winning placekickers Matt and Chris, is now the last living man who played in that game, 65 years ago.

When Larry Berra was 11 years old, he played in a baseball game on a sandlot field that didn't have dugouts. So the players all sat on the ground. Larry sat there with his arms and legs folded. He and his teammates had recently seen a movie about India, and one of the characters in it was a yogi, and one of them, Jack McGuire said, "You look like a yogi."

He's been Yogi ever since. A few years back, Bob Costas asked him what his wife Carmen calls him. He said, "She calls me Yogi. If she calls me Lawrence, I know I'm in trouble."

And, just as the makers of the Baby Ruth candy bar had to concoct a story that it wasn't named after Babe Ruth in order to avoid paying the Babe royalties for the use of his name, Hanna-Barbera Productions officially said that the cartoon character Yogi Bear wasn't named after Yogi Berra. Berra didn't take legal action, knowing that he'd get better publicity if he left the ridiculous lie alone. Because he was "smarter than the average bear."

Top 10 Yogi Berra Moments

These are in chronological order.

1. The Best Brothers Ever. Yogi said his older brothers Mike and Tony were better ballplayers than he was. On the list of things great ballplayers said (or may have said) that seem as if they can't possibly be true, it's up there with Willie Mays, a quarterback at his all-white high school outside Birmingham, Alabama who wouldn't get recruited by white colleges, saying he was better in football (or any sport) than he was in baseball.

Pietro Berra, the boys' father, was an Italian immigrant. So was Giuseppe DiMaggio of San Francisco. Giuseppe forbid his boys to play baseball, saying they were going to go to work. His oldest son Vince disobeyed him, played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, came back, and slammed a wad of cash on the kitchen table. Seeing more money at once than he'd ever had in his life, Giuseppe welcomed Vince back, and also let sons Joe and Dom play pro ball.

Pietro Berra was a bit more intransigent. When the hometown St. Louis Cardinals were interested in Mike, he was underage, and he needed his father to sign his contract with him. The father told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work." So he did, and gave up his dream of playing in the major leagues.

A little later, the Cards were interested in Tony. At this point, Tony was underage, and needed his father to sign his contract with him. But Pietro told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work." So he did, and gave up his dream of playing in the major leagues.

A little later, the Yankees were interested in Lawrence -- or "Lawdie," as his parents called him in their accent. Again, the underage son needed the father to sign the contract with him. But Pietro told him, "No, you are not going to play baseball. You are going to go to work."

This time, Mike and Tony stepped in. At this point, both were not only working, but married, and living together -- and both were past their 21st birthday. They told their father that if he didn't co-sign Yogi's contract, they would. And that, if he threw Lawdie out of the house for this, Lawdie could come and live with them.

Pietro knew that his bluff had been called. Any power he still had over Lawdie had been canceled out. He co-signed the contract. The rest is history -- or, as Yogi's future manager Casey Stengel would say, "And you could look it up."

2. D-Day. There were 156,000 men who were in the Allied landing force in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, arguably the pivotal day in human history. As of last night's games, according to (a website which is your friend, whether you know it or not), there have been 18,484 men who have played Major League Baseball. Only 1 man is in both categories: Seaman Lawrence Peter Berra, USN (United States Navy).

Yogi was a gunner's mate on the U.S.S. Bayfield, an attack transport ship. He was just past his 19th birthday, and until signing his Yankee contract to play minor-league ball -- a journey interrupted by his service in World War II -- he had never been outside St. Louis before. And there were all those Nazis, ready to kill him. You'd think he would have been terrified.

He might have been the most composed guy on either side of the English Channel. He recalled seeing the rockets being fired by both sides: "To me, it looked like the 4th of July." He got through it, and through the entire War, without a scratch.

Not so lucky was Lieutenant James Montgomery Doohan of the Canadian Royal Artillery. He killed a few Nazis on Juno Beach, and had his right middle finger shot off. That's right: He literally gave the Nazis the finger. That's why, whenever he was shown operating machinery as Scotty on Star Trek, he did so with his left hand.

3. Breaking Up the Biggest Trade. Yogi debuted in the major leagues on September 22, 1946, in the 1st game of a doubleheader with the Philadelphia Athletics at the original Yankee Stadium. Batting 8th, catching, and wearing Number 38, he went 2-for-4, including a 2-run home run off Jesse Flores, the 1st of 358 homers he would hit in the major leagues -- still a record for anyone 5-foot-8 or shorter. The Yankees won, 4-3, behind Yogi's homer and the pitching of Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler.

Legend has it that, after the season, Yankee co-owner Larry MacPhail and Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey -- who had just won his 1st American League Pennant -- got together and, as both men liked to do, got drunk.

They retained enough lucidity to realize that Joe DiMaggio, a righthanded hitter, was losing lots of hits in Yankee Stadium's left field and center field, known as "Death Valley" -- long outs that might be home runs over the high but close left field wall at Fenway Park. (The wall's advertising signs were about to come down, resulting in it being clear, with the green-painted tin seen underneath, leading to the nickname the Green Monster.) This trade would also reunited Joe with his brother Dom, who was with the Red Sox.

Likewise, Ted Williams, a lefthanded hitter, was losing lots of hits in Fenway's expansive right and center fields, hits that might be home runs to the "short porch" in right field at Yankee Stadium.

So the 2 powerful drunks wrote up the trade of all time on a cocktail napkin: They would trade Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio. Regardless of whether the trade worked out, if that napkin had survived, how much would it be worth today?

To put it in a modern perspective: Can you imagine the Giants trading Madison Bumgarner to the Dodgers for Clayton Kershaw? Or Real Madrid swapping Cristiano Ronaldo to Barcelona for Lionel Messi? No, you can't imagine it. But I've never heard anybody deny this story.

What's that, you say? You do deny this story? You say the trade never happened? That's right, but it did almost happen, and nobody's ever gone out of his way to deny that. (MacPhail died in 1975, Yawkey the next year, and neither ever confirmed nor denied the story.)

In the morning, sobered up, Yawkey decided -- forgetting that the Yankee Clipper was a great fielder and a great baserunner, and that the Splendid Splinter was, by his own admission, neither -- that Ted was worth more than Joe. So he called MacPhail up, and demanded that he throw in a player he liked. He couldn't think of the player's name, but knew he was a decent hitter and a good left fielder, and could also catch a little. MacPhail realized that Yawkey was talking about Yogi, and put the kibosh on the deal.

The next season, when Yogi would likely have won the AL Rookie of the Year award had there been one at the time, the St. Louis Browns, desperate for attendance as always, hosted Yogi Berra Night at Sportsman's Park, welcoming the hometown hero as he came in with the Yankees. He told the crowd, "I'd like to thank everybody for making this day necessary." He meant, "...for making this day possible."

This quote, which Yogi repeated upon his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, was reported in the next day's newspapers, and is definitive proof that Yogi did not start saying weird things after listening to the similarly-quotable Stengel, as they hadn't met yet.

Perhaps Yogi should have included Tom Yawkey and his hubris among those who had made that day necessary.

4. All His Experiences. Yogi wasn't a natural behind the plate. Although, now wearing Number 35, he hit the 1st pinch-hit home run in World Series history, off Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in Game 3 of the 1947 World Series -- a game the Yankees lost anyway, though they won the Series in 7 games -- the Dodgers ran rampant on him, successfully challenging his arm and his positioning. He didn't get much better in 1948, either.

So when Stengel became Yankee manager in 1949, he hired Bill Dickey as a coach. Dickey was then regarded, along with Mickey Cochrane, as 1 of the 2 greatest catchers who ever lived. Stengel told Dickey to teach Yogi everything he knew about catching. To show Yogi that he trusted him, Casey even gave Yogi Dickey's old uniform number, 8. (Dickey was given 33.)

Yogi's improvement was quick, and when asked why, he said, "Bill Dickey is learning me all his experiences."

He should have said, "Bill Dickey is teaching me everything from his experience." I suspect that Yogi may have gotten the expression from Dizzy Dean, the Cardinals pitcher who had become a broadcaster for both St. Louis teams. Diz once read, on the air, a letter from a teacher who said he shouldn't use the word "ain't" on the air, because it was bad for children to hear that. He told the teacher, "A lot o' folks who ain't sayin' 'ain't' ain't eatin'. So, teach, you learn 'em English, and I'll learn 'em baseball."

I suspect that Yogi was one of the people that Dizzy "learned baseball." Who knows, Dizzy might also be the reason Yogi ended up saying things like, "Nobody ever goes there anymore, it's too crowded," and, "Pair up in threes," and, "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

(Speaking of things we might "suspect," the earliest known "Yogiism" -- also written as "Yogi-ism" and "Yogism," but always pronounced "YOH-gee-IZ-im" -- is something he supposedly said when he was in school at age 12. A teacher got exasperated with him, and asked, "Don't you know anything?" And, according to the story, Lawrence/Larry/Lawdie/Yogi said, "I don't even suspect anything." I don't know if the story is true, but it's believable, because, at some point, Yogi was asked, "How did you like school?" And he said, "Closed.")

5. Five in a Row. Dickey's experiences must have worked: Yogi, along with the pitching, was the biggest reason the Yankees won the 1949 Pennant, starting a string of 5 straight World Championships. The 1953 World Series ring has a diamond inside a number 5. Whitey Ford has said that's his favorite World Series ring.

When the Yankees won 3 straight World Series in 1998, 1999 and 2000, Derek Jeter told Yogi he'd catch up with him. When the Yankees lost the Series in 2001, Yogi (who couldn't have been happy about that) told Jeter, "Now, ya gotta start over."

Jeter may have been cheated out of 3 AL Most Valuable Player awards: In 1999, 2006 and 2009. Yogi might also have been cheated out of 3: In 1949, 1952 and 1953. But he actually did win 3: In 1951, 1954 and 1955. It's been suggested that Yogi is the most valuable Yankee of all time. Certainly, he's the most underrated.

Casey once said, "I never play a game without my man." His man was Yogi.

All told, Yogi played in 14 World Series, winning 10 of them. Both are records that, well, if Jeter wasn't going to break them, it sure looks like nobody will.

6. If the World Were Perfect. Yogi once said, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be." Meaning that a perfect world would be boring.

One man who was definitely not boring was Don Larsen, a pitcher so off-kilter in the head he was nicknamed Gooney Bird. (Or Gooney for short.)

In Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Larsen pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers. Yogi caught it. Years later, he said, "It never happened before, and it still hasn't." He's right, sort of: While no longer the only no-hitter in postseason history, it's still the only one in World Series history. And it wasn't just a no-hitter, it was a perfect game. Larsen threw exactly what Yogi called, on every one of his 97 pitches, and it worked.

Two days later -- a Subway Series, so there was no need for a travel day -- Yogi hit 2 home runs, powering the Yankees to a 9-0 win in Game 7. Yogi hit 3 homers and had 10 RBIs in the Series.

7. The Businessman. Yogi looked a bit silly, and his "Yogi-isms" made him sound dumb. This was far from the case. While still active players, he and teammate Phil Rizzuto opened a clothing store and a bowling alley, both in New Jersey.

By this point, the Scooter lived in Hillside, and Yogi lived in Upper Montclair, where his next-door neighbor was naval engineer John McMullen, later a minority partner in the Yankees, majority owner of the Houston Astros, and founding owner of the New Jersey Devils.

The store, the bowling alley, other business interests, and, yes, his salary -- the most he ever made in a season was $65,000, in his last season as a player, 1963, but that was a big sum for an athlete in the early Sixties -- allowed him to buy a big house. Rizzuto called it a mansion. Yogi said, "It's just a big house with rooms." Giving directions to it, he once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." The house was between the prongs of the fork, so this wasn't just "Yogi being Yogi."

Yogi's familiar face, lovable personality and way with words led him to being hired as a pitchman for all kinds of products. He seemed to specialize in drinks: As early as 1957, he did an ad for Florida orange juice. (Sorry, no "Yogi-isms" in this one.) He also did ads for Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink and Miller Lite beer -- or, as it was known at the time, "Lite beer from Miller." This 1987 commercial included a rather confused pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander.

Sadly, in 1960, he did an ad for Camel cigarettes. (Cigarette advertising was banned from American TV in 1971.) He must've quit smoking at some point, because he's still alive at 90. (Then again, DiMaggio smoked until dying of lung cancer at 84.) So maybe Yogi doesn't need Aflac insurance. But, what the heck, they gave him a check -- which was just as good as money.

My favorite Yogi commercial was part of the "What's your favorite Entenmann's?" series. Yogi's favorite product of the famous bakery (which originated in Brooklyn but, like so many people from that Borough, moved out to Long Island) also happens to be mine: In a line that, like the Aflac and Miller lines, was clearly written for him in his style, he said, "That's easy: Chocolate chip cookies. You can taste how good they are just by eating 'em!" (A takeoff on his line, "You can observe a lot by watching.")

8. The Harmonica Incident. In 1959, Yogi and left fielder Elston Howard had their positions switched by Stengel. Talking about how the sun combine with the old Stadium's roof, making it difficult to see a fly ball from left field, he said, "It gets late early out there."

He was still a key figure on Pennant-winning teams. But after the 1963 season, Yogi was 38 and clearly slowing down. And, with Ralph Houk, his former backup catcher, being moved up from field manager to general manager, Yogi was offered the job of managing the Yankees.

There were those who thought that Yogi was too much of a softie to manage, especially players he'd played with. On August 20, 1964, the Yankees were in a dogfight for the Pennant with the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, and had just been swept by the ChiSox in 4 straight. The tension on the bus from Comiskey Park back to O'Hare Airport was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife.

(Yes, I know: In the years since the Michael Vick scandal, the word "dogfight" is touchy. But since Yogi served in World War II, where a "dogfight" was a battle between pilots of opposing air forces, I have no qualms about using it in a piece about a WWII vet.)

Reserve infielder Phil Linz pulled out a harmonica he'd begun learning how to play. Yogi, sitting at the head of the bus, heard it, and yelled back, "Whoever's playing that thing, shove it up your ass!" (Yogi was old-school even by the standards of the Sixties, but he was no prude when it came to language.) Linz didn't hear what he said, and asked Mickey Mantle what it was. Being a wisenheimer, Mickey said, "He said, 'Play it louder.'" So Linz did.

Yogi got up, walked down the aisle of the bus, saw Linz, and said, "I thought I told you to shove that thing up your ass." Linz said, "If you want it shoved up my ass, why don't you shove it there?" He flipped the instrument to Yogi... who slapped it down.

There are 2 versions of what happened next. One is that everyone saw that Yogi could mean business, and that the respect for him as a manager developed. The other, which is more believable, is included in Peter Golenbock's book Dynasty, and is backed up by the surviving '64 Yanks, all of whom said that respect for Yogi was never an issue. This version says that the slapped-down harmonica bounced off Joe Pepitone's leg. Pepi then fell into the aisle in mock agony, rolling around on the floor of the bus like a Spanish soccer player (with the bad hair to match). Everyone cracked up -- and loosened up.

With respect for Yogi restored, or the tension shattered, whichever is true, the Yankees went on a tear. They flew to Boston and lost 2 more, then won 28 of their last 39, including an 11-game winning streak from September 16 to 26, and won the Pennant, winning 99 games, beating the White Sox by 1 game and the O's by 2. Yogi had won his 1st Pennant as a manager, and he wasn't even 40.

But they lost the Series -- ironically, to Yogi's boyhood team, the Cardinals. And Yankee management fired him, which they were determined to do even if he won the Series. If he was upset, he never let on: When people would ask him about it, he'd just say, "That's baseball."

At least they told him to his face. That would not be the case the 2nd time he was fired as Yankee manager.

9. It Ain't Over. By this point, Casey was managing the expansion Mets. He hired Yogi as a coach. He even put Yogi in 4 games, where he went 2-for-9. Clearly, he was done. When Casey retired in that 1965 season, Met management kept Yogi on, as a drawing card as much as anything else.

He was still a Met coach during the 1969 "Miracle" season, under manager Gil Hodges, a Brooklyn Dodger opponent of Yogi's in 6 World Series. Asked about the Mets' World Series upset over the Baltimore Orioles, he said, "We were overwhelming underdogs." It sounds funny, but it was absolutely true. When Hodges died of a heart attack on the eve of the 1972 season, Yogi was named manager.

On August 5, 1973, the Mets were in 6th and last place in the National League Eastern Division, 11 1/2 games out. A few days earlier, a reporter asked Yogi if the Mets were out of it, and he said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Yogi's syntax may have been cold, but the Mets got hot, winning 34 of their last 53. On August 26, they were still in 5th place, behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and even the 5th-year expansion Montreal Expos -- but were only 6 1/2 games back. From then on, they won 24 of their last 33, including a 7-game streak from September 18 to 25, and won the Division with an 82-79 record -- the worst record of any 1st-place team in baseball history (in a full season of at least 154 games, anyway), but good enough nonetheless. Then they upset the Cincinnati Reds for the Pennant.

In Game 3 of the NL Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose slid hard into Bud Harrelson to break up a double play, and then shoved the much smaller man, starting a bench-clearing brawl. When Rose went back out to left field the next inning the fans in Shea Stadium's left field stands threw garbage onto the field at Rose.

The umpires got a message to Loren Matthews, the Shea public-address announcer, who announced that if the throwing didn't stop, the game would be forfeited. The crowd didn't listen. Finally, not wanting to be members of the first MLB team ever to forfeit a postseason game (at home, no less), Yogi, ace pitcher Tom Seaver, and Willie Mays, then playing out the string with the Mets -- New York baseball icons all, even the 29-year-old Seaver by then -- went out there, and told the fans to stop, or else the game would, indeed, be forfeited to the Reds. They listened, and the Mets won the Pennant in 5 games.

They lost the Series in 7 to the Oakland Athletics, though. To this day, there are Met fans who blame Yogi for losing the Series, for starting Seaver on 3 days' rest in Game 6, instead of saving him for Game 7 on full rest. This is nonsense: If you have prime Tom Seaver, you send him out to close it out. Tom didn't get the job done that day, although a smart baseball fan would credit the A's for getting it done. (Don't forget, they had Reggie Jackson, who homered in Game 6 and Game 7, building his reputation as "Mr. October.")

Yogi and Carmen, circa 1973

If Met fans held a grudge against Yogi then, they seem to have stopped: On back-to-back Sundays in September 2008, he attended the closing ceremonies of both New York ballparks. He got a thunderous ovation at the old Yankee Stadium, and then a nice reception at Shea Stadium.

Eventually, Yogi began to tell people, "I try to say, 'It isn't over 'til it's over.'" I guess the influence that Dizzy Dean still had on him ain't goin' away.

10. The Exile and the Restoration. Mets president M. Donald Grant, right up there with Brooklyn Dodger owner/mover Walter O'Malley and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner as the most hated man in the history of New York baseball, fired Yogi as Met manager in 1975. Unlike many Met fans -- especially after Grant forced Seaver out 2 years later -- Yogi never held a grudge against him.

His Yankee teammate Billy Martin had just been hired as Yankee manager for the 1st time, and brought Yogi to his coaching staff. Through 9 managerial changes by Steinbrenner, including Billy 3 times, Yogi stayed. After George fired Billy for the 3rd time, he promoted Yogi to manager for the 1984 season. Yogi accepted, although I can certainly believe a scene in the 2007 ESPN film The Bronx Is Burning, where Joe Grifasi, playing Yogi, and John Turturro, playing Billy, are discussing George, and Billy says, "Sometimes, managing is the worst job in the world," and Yogi says, "Tell me about it."

The Detroit Tigers ran away with the AL East in 1984, en route to a title. But the Yankees won 87 games, a respectable total, especially considering Yogi hadn't managed in 9 years. Everyone was optimistic for 1985, and George publicly promised that Yogi would be given the whole season.

He wasn't: The Yankees lost 10 of their 1st 16, and George fired Yogi. In retrospect, competitively, it was the right thing to do: George brought Billy back for the 4th time, and, despite not quite having enough pitching all season long, the team ended up winning 97 games, finishing 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. That wasn't the problem. George breaking his promise wasn't the problem, either.

The problem was that, unlike Houk in 1964 and Grant in 1975, George didn't call Yogi up to his office and tell him face-to-face, man-to-man. Nor did George go down to Yogi's office to tell him himself. Instead, he sent team scout Clyde King -- a former major league pitcher who had briefly been Yankee manager himself in 1982 -- to tell Yogi.

This time, Yogi held a grudge. Not against King, but against George. He swore he would never set foot in Yankee Stadium again as long as George owned the team.

As the years went by, he kept this promise. In 1988, George thought he could lure Yogi back by dedicating a Plaque for him in Monument Park. He did this for Dickey as well -- Number 8 had been jointly retired for them in 1972. Dickey was 81, in a wheelchair, and had to come from Arkansas to be there -- and he went. (I was there: It was the only time I ever saw Dickey in person.) Yogi was 63, in good health, and George could've sent limousines to pick up Yogi and his family, and they'd be at Yankee Stadium in an hour, if only he'd accept the invitation. He didn't.

In 1995 and 1996, the Yankees were back in the postseason. George invited Yogi to throw out a ceremonial first ball. He refused. In 1997, the 1st Yankees-Mets Interleague series was played at Yankee Stadium. Again, George invited Yogi. Again, Yogi refused. In 1998, a Yanks-Mets Interleague series was held at Shea for the 1st time. The Mets invited Yogi. No grudge here: Wearing a Mets cap, which must have burned George up to no end (I understood, but it bothered me), Yogi, then 73 years old, threw a perfect strike of a first ball.

That same year, a group of Yogi's friends opened the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, on the campus of Montclair State University, not far from his home. Despite the name of the school, its campus straddles Montclair in Essex County, and Little Falls in Passaic County, and the museum and the adjoining minor-league ballpark named for Yogi are in Little Falls.
This was a very big deal, as not many athletes have museums in their honor, especially while they're still alive. Interestingly, Dizzy Dean was one: A museum for him opened in his adopted hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. It's gone now, its exhibits moved to become art of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, also in the State capital of Jackson, and also adjoining a minor-league ballpark.

The next spring, DiMaggio was dying. George went to visit Joe at the hospital in Florida that now has a children's wing that bears his name, due to his donations. George asked Joe if there was anything he could do for him. Joe told him to make up with Yogi.

Not long after that, Yankee broadcaster Suzyn Waldman talked to Carmen, and Carm said her great regret was that, unlike Yogi's children, his grandchildren had never seen him at Yankee Stadium in a Yankee uniform. So Suzyn went to talk to George, and said, "I'd like to talk to you about Yogi." And George, still rattled by his visit with DiMaggio, said, "Why, what's wrong?" Suzyn said she knew, at that point, that a reconciliation was possible.

A meeting was set up at the Yogi Museum. In front of the media, George said, "I'm sorry." Yogi said the perfect thing to say in the situation: "It's over."

George invited Yogi to throw out the first ball on Opening Day, an honor usually given to DiMaggio, who had died on March 8. Later in the season, on Old-Timers' Day, Yogi wore his old Number 8 uniform for the 1st time in 14 years.

In June 1999, I visited the Museum for the 1st time. I wrote on the comment card, "I'm glad I came. If I hadn't come, I wouldn't have known what I wasn't missing." I got a nice postcard back, complimenting me on my choice of words, and advertising future events. One such event was a bus trip from the Museum to The Stadium for Yogi Berra Day on July 18, 1999.

I thought about it... and decided not to go. On the one hand, it was brutally hot that day, almost 100 degrees, and the post-renovation old Stadium didn't provide much protection from the sun.

On the other hand, I missed maybe the greatest day in Yankee history -- and as Yogi might say, I'm not just whittling Dixie.

Yogi got all kinds of gifts, and read a heartfelt speech that was totally on the level, no Yogi-isms. Then Yogi caught a ceremonial first ball from Don Larsen. Then, with Yogi and Don both watching, David Cone pitched a perfect game. Coney remarked that there was a Number 8 marked behind home plate, and he had thrown 88 pitches. It was a real "You can't make this stuff up" moment. After the game, the scoreboard put up one of Yogi's best-known lines: "It's deja vu all over again."
Yogi and Carm, at the Museum, not long before her death in 2014


Today, there was a party for Yogi at the Museum. There was recently a break-in at the Museum, and several priceless artifacts were stolen. The Yankees and Mets organizations both chipped in to pay for replicas, which were presented at the party; however, the originals have yet to be recovered.

Carmen got sick a few years ago, and they had to move from the Montclair house -- which was listed for $888,888, appropriately enough, and sold quickly -- to a nursing home. Soon, it was clear that advancing age had left Yogi frail enough that he was no longer living there just for her.

She died on March 6, 2014, at age 85, after 65 years of marriage. They raised 3 sons, Larry, Dale and Tim. Dale who also played in the majors, including on the Yankees under his father. Tim's sport was football: He was a receiver at the University of Massachusetts, and briefly played with the Baltimore Colts as a kick returner in 1974. No, he didn't wear Number 88: Instead, he wore 84. Tim runs the company that handles Yogi's business affairs, named LTD Enterprises for them (Larry, Tim, Dale). Yogi and Carm had 11 grandchildren.

It's hard for Yogi to get around these days. When he's introduced on Old-Timers' Day, it's always last, together with Whitey Ford, who's in a bit better shape but is still 86, on a golf cart. He looks so old, and very weak. (UPDATE: On Old-Timers Day 2015, Yogi wasn't well enough to attend.)

But he's still very much with it. According to his granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, who writes for, she asked him about Tom Brady's "Deflategate." She said that "Gramp" said, "If you're going to cheat, it's better if you don't get caught."
A photo from last year's birthday party at the Yogi Museum.
L to R: Jorge Posada, Yogi, Reggie "Indiana" Jackson, Joe Girardi.
Why they posed in front of a copy of the Rolling Stones' album
 Sticky Fingers, I don't know.

He likes to say, "I really didn't say everything I said." Well, less important than what he's said is who he's been. He's an American treasure.

And thank God he's not yet a buried treasure. Happy Birthday, Yoag.


That's what I wrote on May 12. Well, he's gone now.

And the Yankees are in Toronto. I can hear him now: "They were out of the country when I died! Jeez, they were even out of the city!"

No doubt, they will take the field tonight wearing black armbands, possibly with little Number 8s over them, although it may take until they come home before they wear uniforms with the numbers.

It's not clear how many D-Day veterans are still alive. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which has a heavy focus on D-Day, estimates the total at 5,000 to 10,000, with about 850,000 veterans from the entire war still alive, dying at a rate of 500 a day.

With Yogi's death, 3rd baseman turned cardiologist turned former American League President Bobby Brown is now the last surviving player from the 1947 and 1949 World Champion Yankees. Ralph Branca is now the last living man who played in Game 7 of the 1947 World Series. And Don Larsen is now the only surviving player from his World Series perfect game.

Yogi was often said to be a good luck charm. Maybe, now that he's one of the "Ghosts of Yankee Stadium," he can use whatever magic he had on the Yankees' behalf. You know that, at some point in whatever remains of this season, there's going to be "WIN IT FOR YOGI" signs at the new Stadium.

After all, although his life has come to a conclusion, he'd still remind us that the battle for a 28th World Series win ain't over.

By the way, that $65,000 that Yogi made in his final season, 1963? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI Inflation Calculator, that's worth about $506,000 in today's money.

Yogi Berra's worth to the Yankees these last 70 years: Priceless.

UPDATE: The "treasure" wasn't buried. He was cremated, and his remains were interred next to those of Carmen at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover, Morris County, New Jersey. This place is not to be confused with the cemetery of the same name in Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York, where Babe Ruth is buried. But, as Yogi himself might have said, "It's close enough to be a coincidence."