Friday, April 30, 2021

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the St. Louis Hawks for Trading Bill Russell

Along with the late Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens,
Bill Russell is the only North American professional athlete
with more championship rings than he has fingers.

April 30, 1956: The NBA Draft is held in New York. With the 1st pick, the Boston Celtics -- having just completed their 1st 10 seasons, and not yet having appeared in an NBA Finals -- select Tommy Heinsohn, forward from the nearby College of the Holy Cross.

With the 2nd pick, the Rochester Royals selected Sihugo Green, a guard from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Green was a decent player, but hardly the kind of star you would expect to go as the 2nd pick overall.

With the 3rd pick, the St. Louis Hawks draft Bill Russell, a center who had led the University of San Francisco to back-to-back National Championships. It looked like the Hawks had gotten the better player.

But later that day, the Hawks traded the rights to Russell to the Celtics, for center Ed Macauley and forward Cliff Hagan.

Result: Over the next 13 seasons, Russell would lead the Celtics to 12 NBA Finals, and 11 NBA Championships. The Celtics became the most dominant team in North American sports history -- not winning as many World Championships as Major League Baseball's New York Yankees or the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiens, but winning more in a short period of time. 
Meanwhile, the Hawks won just 1 title, and were forced to move out of St. Louis, to Atlanta, where they have been a perennial letdown.

It is the biggest transactional blunder in the NBA's 75-year history. How could the Hawks have been so dumb?

How dumb were they? Maybe not as dumb as we've been led to believe.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the St. Louis Hawks for Trading Bill Russell

5. Money. As the biggest star coming out of college basketball, Russell was already believed to be ready to demand big money, which most NBA team owners didn't have. Hawks owner Ben Kerner didn't have it. Celtics owner Walter Brown did, because he also owned his arena, the Boston Garden, and the other team that played there, the NHL's Boston Bruins.

What's more, Brown owned the Ice Capades. At the time, it was a bigger moneymaker than the NBA or the NHL. So was the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. It came to New York every April, and so the Madison Square Garden Corporation gave them choicer dates. This forced the Rangers in 1950, and the Knicks in 1951, to play Finals games on the road, possibly costing them titles.

4. The Rochester Royals. They had a chance to select Russell, but passed on him. Why? Because Brown made a deal with Royals owner Les Harrison: Select somebody other than Russell, and I'll add Rochester to the Ice Capades' tour. It was an offer Harrison couldn't refuse. (And no heads -- human, horse, or otherwise -- were hurt in the process.)

It was a short-term fix for the Royals. But that's the way the NBA had to operate at the time. A year later, Harrison moved the Royals to Cincinnati. They won the NBA Championship in 1951. In the 70 years since, this franchise, now known as the Sacramento Kings, has never been back to the NBA Finals. But Harrison did what he had to do to stay in business, and that meant giving up a chance at a man who could have become one of the NBA's greatest players ever, and did.

But he might not have:

3. The Big Man Theory. Until Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA Championships -- 3 with Bill Cartwright at center, and 3 with Luc Longley -- it was generally believed that you had to have a big man in the middle to win an NBA Championship:

1949, '50, '52, '53 and '54 Minneapolis Lakers: George Mikan.

1957, '59, '60, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '66, '68 and '69 Boston Celtics: Bill Russell.

1958 St. Louis Hawks: Ed Macauley.

1967 Philadelphia 76ers, and 1972 Los Angeles Lakers: Wilt Chamberlain.

1970 and '73 New York Knicks: Willis Reed.

1971 Milwaukee Bucks, and 1980, '82, '85, '87 and '88 Los Angeles Lakers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

1974 and '76 Boston Celtics: Dave Cowens.

1977 Portland Trail Blazers: Bill Walton.

1978 Washington Bullets: Elvin Hayes.

1979 Seattle SuperSonics: Jack Sikma.

1981, '84 and '86 Boston Celtics: Robert Parish.

1983 Philadelphia 76ers: Moses Malone.

1989 and '90 Detroit Pistons: Bill Laimbeer.

But did you notice? Until Russell, Mikan was the only big man who was able to lead a team to an NBA title. Until Russell, the NBA's best players had been smaller guys who were good outside shooters, guys like Joe Fulks (1947 Philadelphia Warriors), Buddy Jeannette (1948 Baltimore Bullets), Bob Davies (1951 Rochester Royals), Dolph Schayes (1955 Syracuse Nationals) and Paul Arizin and Tom Gola (1956 Philadelphia Warriors).

Before Russell, there were 3 truly great "big men" in college basetball. Mikan, from DePaul University in Chicago, was one. Another was Bob Kurland of Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). He never played pro ball, instead taking a job with Phillips Petroleum, with a great benefits package, including playing for their "semipro" team. And the other was Clyde Lovellette of the University of Kansas. He had a good pro career, winning titles with the Lakers and later as Russell's backup on the Celtics. But he was never a pro star.

But there was no model for what kind of college stars would become pro stars. Like I said, the NBA was only 10 years old at this point. In hindsight, Mikan was the model. Russell admitted that Mikan was his idol. Mikan enjoyed being the progenitor of the NBA's big men.

But at the time, he was seen as a freak of nature, a happy accident that the Lakers had gotten their hands on. Big men were considered to be slow. Mikan was a good shooter and a strong rebounder, but he wasn't fast. Russell was fast. Chamberlain turned out to be even faster.

In 2021 at the NBA's 75th Anniversary, in 1996 at the 50th, in 1971 at the 25th, Russell seemed like the obvious player to both select and hang onto. In 1956, he wasn't the obvious pick to do that. Maybe he should have been, but he wasn't.

2. St. Louis. It's not just that the Hawks were far behind the Cardinals in terms of popularity in the city. It's that St. Louis was a racially segregated city, in Missouri, a racially segregated State. Cardinal stars like Bob Gibson and Curt Flood would chafe under the policies that segregation forced, until federal law broke it.

Russell -- who would eventually, very accurately, title his autobiography Memoirs of an Opinionated Man -- might not have adjusted so well, having been a boy in segregated Louisiana, and grown up in noticeably (but not completely) more racially liberal Oakland. He eventually had problems with race relations in Boston. In St. Louis, it might have been worse. As a result, he might not have won all those titles with the Hawks.

Anyway, it's not as if the Hawks blew it completely:

1. The Hawks Won a Championship. In 1957, the Celtics and Hawks each made the NBA Finals for the 1st time. It went to double overtime of Game 7 before the Celtics won it. In 1958, both teams made it back, and Russell hurt his ankle in Game 3, and was out the rest of the way. The Hawks, led by the men traded for the rights to Russell, Hagan and St. Louis native Macauley, as well as Hall-of-Fame forward Bob Pettit, won the title in 6 games.
The 1958 NBA Champions.
Hagan is Number 16, Pettit 9, and Macauley 20.

In 1959, the Minneapolis Lakers won the Western Conference, and lost to the Celtics in the Finals. In 1960 and '61, the Hawks returned to the Finals, and lost to the Celtics both times. Still, at that point, the players the Hawks got for Russell had gotten them into 4 Finals, winning 1. It could have been better, but it was still better than anybody else except the Celtics were doing.

VERDICT: Guilty. In St. Louis and Atlanta (where they moved in 1968), the Hawks haven't won a title since 1958, or reached the Finals since 1961. And if Bob Gibson could play in St. Louis and win the fans over, Bill Russell could do it, too.

Usually, these Top 5 Reasons posts end with an acquittal. This one simply can't. None of the 5 reasons provides reasonable doubt. The Hawks might not have traded 17 NBA Championships overall, or the 11 that Russell won, for the 1 that they did win and the inability to stay put long-term. But they did make this trade.

That's how dumb they were.

How Long It's Been: Milwaukee Won a World Championship

April 30, 1971, 50 years ago: The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Baltimore Bullets, 118-106, at the Baltimore Civic Center, to complete a 4-game sweep, and win the NBA Championship.

The Bullets had 3 future members of the Basketball Hall of Fame: Forwards Wes Unseld and Gus Johnson, the latter being one of the NBA's earliest dunk artists; and guard Earl Monroe. "Earl the Pearl" was a sensational player. Walt Frazier of the Knicks was then his only competitor for the title of the NBA's flashiest player, and said, "I dreamt about a lot of women, but Earl Monroe was the only man I dreamt about." A year later, trying to regain the title they won in 1970, the Knicks traded for Monroe, paired him in the backcourt with Frazier, reached the Finals in 1972, and won the title in 1973.

But the Bucks, in only their 3rd season as an NBA expansion team, were also loaded. They had one of the greatest all-around players in basketball history, guard Oscar Robertson. And now, the Big O had been joined by the greatest player in college basketball history, center Lew Alcindor -- who, a year later, would announce his conversion to Islam, and the change of his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Oscar and Kareem would be named to the Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. As the league's 75th Anniversary arrives later this year, each is arguably still 1 of the 10 best players in NBA history.

Robertson (1), Abdul-Jabbar (33), forward Bob Dandridge (10) and guard Jon McGlocklin (14) would all eventually have their uniform numbers retired by the Bucks. Guard Lucius Allen (7) and forward Bob Boozer (20) had been All-Stars. Larry Costello, who had played on the Philadelphia 76ers team that won the 1967 NBA title, coached them to a 66-16 record. So while the Bullets were really good, this was not an upset.

The Bucks would reach the NBA Finals again in 1974, and lose a tough 7-game series to the Boston Celtics. Oscar retired after that Game 7. After another season, Kareem demanded a trade, to either his hometown of New York, or to Los Angeles, where he'd starred at UCLA. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and helped them win 5 titles.

The Bucks have won Division titles in 1972, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 2001, 2019 and 2020; and reached the Conference Finals in 1972, 1983, 1984, 1986, 2001 and 2019. But they have never reached the NBA Finals since 1974 -- although, at this writing, they stand to be the 3rd seed in the 2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs. This may be their best chance since 1974.

But they haven't won an NBA Championship since 1971. In fact, no Milwaukee-based team has won a major league World Championship since then. The city has never had an NHL team, nor an MLS team. Nor did it have one in the ABA, the WHA or the NASL. The Milwaukee Braves won the 1957 World Series, but moved to Atlanta in 1966. The Milwaukee Brewers debuted in 1970, but have won only 1 Pennant, in 1982, and lost the World Series.

And while the Green Bay Packers used to play some "home" games in Milwaukee from 1933 to 1994, they don't count as a Milwaukee team, so their 13 NFL Championships can't be included. Milwaukee hasn't had a professional football team since the Milwaukee Chiefs of the 1940-41 version of the American Football League.

So the last Milwaukee title remains that of the Bucks, won on April 30, 1971. That's exactly 50 years, half a century. How long has that been?

*

The 1970-71 season was the 1st in the NBA for 3 teams: The Portland Trail Blazers, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Buffalo Braves. The Braves have moved twice: They became the San Diego Clippers in 1978, and the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984.

Of the NBA's 17 franchises, 7 -- the Blazers, the Cavs, the Braves, the Bucks, the Phoenix Suns, the Seattle SuperSonics, and the Chicago Bulls -- had begun play no more than 5 years earlier. In addition to the Braves: The San Francisco Warriors moved across San Francisco Bay to Oakland before the next season, changed their name to the Golden State Warriors, and kept that name despite moving back to San Francisco in 2019; the San Diego Rockets moved to Houston before the next season; the Cincinnati Royals became the Kansas City Kings in 1972 and the Sacramento Kings in 1984; the Bullets moved to the D.C. area for 1973, taking the name Capital Bullets for a season before taking the name Washington Bullets in 1974, and becoming the Washington Wizards in 1997; and the Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.

The New York Knicks had moved into "the new Madison Square Garden Center" 3 years earlier. Not only has that version of The Garden now outlasted each of the 3 that came before it, but it is, by far, the oldest arena currently in use in the NBA, and the only one that was in use in both 1971 and 2021.

The home arenas of both 1971 finalists still stand. The Bucks played at the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center and Arena, usually shortened to "The Milwaukee Arena" or, due to its initials, "The MECCA." It opened in 1950. They moved across the street to the Bradley Center in 1988, and across another street to the Fiserv Forum in 2019.

The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee still plays their home games at the MECCA (officially, now the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena), but the Bucks (except for a regular season game celebrating their 50th Season in 2017), the basketball team at Marquette University, and minor-league hockey's Milwaukee Admirals have moved to each new arena in turn.

The Baltimore Civic Center opened in 1962, and was home to the Bullets from 1963 to 1973. It is now named the Royal Farms Arena, for a convenience store chain native to Maryland. Both it and the MECCA seat about 11,000 people, and while Baltimore would like to attract a new (or moved) NBA team, they will have to build a replacement, as there is no way to expand the older arena.

Several other arenas in use in the 1970-71 season still stand: The Suns' original home, the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum; the building the Lakers were then using, the Forum in suburban Inglewood; the building the Warriors were then using, the Cow Palace in suburban Daly City; the building the Blazers were then using, the Portland Memorial Coliseum; the building the Rockets were then using, the San Diego Sports Arena, now known as the Pechanga Arena; and the building the Detroit Pistons were then using, Cobo Hall, now known as the TCF Center.

The American Basketball Association was in its 4th season of play, and their title would be won by the Utah Stars, who defeated the Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels in 7 games. Despite some strong seasons by the NBA's Utah Jazz, the '71 Stars remain the only Utah-based major league sports team to go as far as they were allowed to -- if, that is, you consider the ABA to be "major league," and not Major League Soccer, whose MLS Cup was won by Real Salt Lake in 2009.

Of the 11 franchises then in the ABA, only 4 survive today, having been absorbed into the NBA in 1976. But only 1 of them is still using the same name, the Indiana Pacers. They had won the title in 1970, and would win it again in 1972 and 1973. The Denver Rockets survive, but became the Denver Nuggets in 1974. The New York Nets, based on Long Island, won the ABA title in 1974 and 1976, became the New Jersey Nets in 1977 and the Brooklyn Nets in 2012. And the Dallas Chaparrals became the San Antonio Spurs in 1976.

None of those teams is using the same arena. But 8 of the 1970-71 ABA arenas still stand: The Pacers' Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, the Rockets' Denver Auditorium, the Chaparrals' Moody Coliseum, the Colonels' Freedom Hall, the Virginia Squires' Norfolk Scope, the Memphis Pros' Mid-South Coliseum, the Carolina Cougars' Charlotte Coliseum (now the Bojangles Coliseum), and the Miami Floridians' Miami Beach Convention Center.

(The Nets' Island Garden and the Stars' Salt Palace have both been demolished and replaced by new buildings with the same name. And the Pittsburgh Condors' Civic Arena is gone.)

Major League Baseball had 24 teams. The National Football League had recently finished its 1st season after the merger with the American Football League, with 26 teams. The National Hockey League was wrapping up a season with 14 teams, including the expansion Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks.

The defending World Champions in each sport were the Knicks in basketball, the Baltimore Orioles in baseball, the Baltimore Colts in football, and, in hockey, the Montreal Canadiens were 18 days away from completing their dethroning of the Boston Bruins, whom they'd already beaten in what is -- rather unfairly -- considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Joe Frazier.

Pete Maravich and Dave Cowens were pro rookies that season. Julius Erving and Bill Walton were in college. Moses Malone was in high school. Bernard King and Larry Bird were in junior high school. Magic Johnson was 11 years old. Isiah Thomas turned 10 that very day, and Dennis Rodman was about to turn 10.

John Stockton was 9. Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were 8. Karl Malone (no relation to Moses) was 7. David Robinson and Scottie Pippen were 5. Dikembe Mutombo was 4. Gary Payton was 2. Christian Laettner was a year and a half old. Alonzo Mourning was 1. Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant weren't born yet.

Tom Thibodeau, now the head coach of the Knicks, was 13. Lindy Ruff of the Devils was 11. Barry Trotz of the Islanders was 9. David Quinn of the Rangers was 4. Aaron Boone of the Yankees, Steve Nash of the Nets, Ronny Deila of NYCFC, Gerhard Struber of the Red Bulls, Robert Saleh of the Jets, Luis Roas of the Mets, Joe Judge of the Giants, and Walt Hopkins of the Liberty weren't born yet.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times; Canada 3 times; twice each in Japan, Russia, Korea; and once each in Germany, Austria, Bosnia, France, Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Brazil. The World Cup has since been held in Germany twice, and once each in America, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Brazil and Russia.

The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, was a few weeks away from being ratified. The EPA and OSHA were new. Title IX hadn't yet happened. Abortion was legal in a few States, including New York, but Roe v. Wade was nearly 2 years away. Amy Coney Barrett, the newest Justice on the Supreme Court, wasn't born yet.

The gay rights movement was in its infancy. The idea that people of the same gender could marry each other, and have the legal protections of marriage, was ridiculous -- but so was the idea that corporations were "people," and entitled to the rights thereof.

The President of the United States was Richard Nixon. The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller; of New Jersey, William T. Cahill; and of the State that was home to the Bucks, Wisconsin, Patrick Lucey. The Mayor of the City of New York was John Lindsay; and of Milwaukee, Henry Maier.

The current holders of those offices? Joe Biden was in his 1st year in public office, on the New Castle County Council in Delaware. Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy were 13. Bill de Blasio was about to turn 10. Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee were in college.

Former Presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, their wives, and the widows of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy were still alive. Gerald Ford was the House Minority Leader. Jimmy Carter was the Governor of Georgia. Ronald Reagan was the Governor of California. George H.W. Bush was America's Ambassador to the United Nations. Donald Trump was starting out in his father's real estate company. Bill Clinton was at Yale Law School, where he was about to meet Hillary Rodham. George W. Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard. (Sort of.) Barack Obama was 9 years old.

There were still living veterans of the Indian Wars and the Northwest Rebellion. Peter Mills, the last American known to have been born into slavery, was still alive. Norman Borlaug, leader of what was being called the food production revolution, was the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Pope was Paul VI. The current Pope, Francis, then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was teaching at a seminary in his native Argentina.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, and of Britain, Edward Heath. The monarch of both nations was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed. Arsenal of North London was 3 days away from dethroning Everton of Liverpool as Champions of England's Football League, and 8 days away from dethroning Chelsea of West London as holders of the FA Cup. There have since been 10 Presidents of the United States, 10 Presidents of the United States, and 5 Popes.

Major novels of 1971 included The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines, Being There by Jerzy Kosinski, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese, and The Winds of War by Herman Wouk.

Under his pen name Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel published his environmental allegory The Lorax. Books that were edgy about sex were still very much in, including Joan Garrity's The Sensuous Woman and Xaviera Hollander's The Happy Hooker: My Own Story.

J.R.R. Tolkein was still alive. Stephen King was a newlywed, and had yet to publish a novel. George R.R. Martin was about to get his master's degree from Northwestern University. J.K. Rowling was 5 years old.

Major films of the Spring of 1971 included Summer of '42, Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Woody Allen's Bananas, Billy Jack, The Beguiled, They Might Be Giants (inspiring the name of a band), a remake of Wuthering Heights, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Klute, Carnal Knowledge, and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Gene Roddenberry was kind of lost after the end of Star Trek, writing and producing the sexploitation film Pretty Maids All In a Row. George Lucas had just premiered his 1st directed film, THX 1138. Steven Spielberg's 1st, Duel, would premiere on ABC on November 13. Sean Connery had just wrapped up his last official James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. Jon Pertwee was playing The Doctor. George Reeves, dead for 12 years, was still the last live-action Superman, while Adam West was still a recent Batman.

All in the Family had recently debuted. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Soul Train and the PBS kids' show The Electric Company were on their way. CBS had just done its "Rural Purge," ending The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. and Green Acres. ABC followed with The Johnny Cash Show. Also recently canceled were Family Affair, Julia, Hogan's Heroes, Dark Shadows and The Ed Sullivan Show. In the latter case, they had to: Ed was slipping into dementia, and died in 1974.

Robert Kardashian was early in his law practice. Bruce Jenner had just graduated from Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. Kris Houghton was in high school. None of them were famous yet, and, as far as I know, none of them knew each other.

No one had yet heard of John Shaft, Kwai Chang Caine, Fred Sanford, Leatherface, Arthur Fonzarelli, Barney Miller, Lestat de Lioncourt, Rocky Balboa or J.R. Ewing.

The Number 1 song in America was "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night. The Rolling Stones released their album Sticky Fingers, they introduced their lips-and-tongue logo, and lead singer Mick Jagger married model Bianca de Macias. John Denver released "Take Me Home, Country Roads," Stevie Wonder "If You Really Love Me," Jerry Reed "When You're Hot, You're Hot," Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells a Story, Johnny Cash The Man In Black, Paul McCartney Ram, Ringo Starr "It Don't Come Easy," and Elvis Presley Love Letters from Elvis. The Carpenters and The Doobie Brothers each released their self-titled debut album. 

The Temptations released "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," and Eddie Kendricks left the group. The Doors released L.A. Woman. Within weeks, lead singer Jim Morrison was dead. The 1st Glastonbury Festival was held, and promoter Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East in New York and the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Don McLean first performed his song "American Pie," and referenced the closings in the last verse: "I went down to the sacred store, where I'd heard the music years before, but the man there said the music wouldn't play."

Inflation was such that what $1.00 bought then, $6.49 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp cost 8 cents, and a New York Subway ride 30 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 33 cents, a cup of coffee 46 cents, a McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $1.26, a movie ticket $1.65, a new car $3,742, and a new house $28,600. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed that Friday at 941.75.

The tallest building in the world was the Empire State Building in New York, but the World Trade Center in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago were both under construction, and would surpass it. Mobile telephones were still in development.

There were no home video game systems. Computers could still take up an entire wall. Steve Jobs was 16 years old, and Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were about to be. Apollo 14 had landed on the Moon 3 months earlier. Automatic teller machines were still a relatively new thing, and many people had never seen one. There were heart transplants, liver transplants and lung transplants, and artificial kidneys, but no artificial hearts. There were birth control pills, but no Viagra.

During the Spring of 1971, there was a military coup in Argentina. East Pakistan declared its independence, becoming Bangladesh, and suffering a war, a famine and a cyclone, which led to the charity concert at Madison Square Garden, hosted by former Beatle George Harrison.

An earthquake killed over 1,000 people in Turkey. A plane crash in Rijeka, Yugolsavia killed 78 people, mostly British tourists. Neville Bonner became the 1st Indigenous Australian to sit in his country's Parliament. And the Montreal Canadiens overcame internal strife, made worse by recent Quebec separatist terrorism, to win the Stanley Cup.

In America, on the day of the decisive North London Derby, the largest antiwar demonstration in the nation's history, 750,000 people, hit Washington; and President Nixon ordered Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, named in memory of a former political rival, to be used as a giant holding center for arrestees, who numbered over 12,000 -- about 1 out of every 62 demonstrators.

Lieutenant William Calley was convicted in the My Lai Massacre. Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and Federal Express were founded. The Supreme Court ruled that busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers. President Richard Nixon declared the War On Drugs. And the day after the Bucks won the NBA Championship, Amtrak officially took over America's passenger rail service.

Thomas Dewey, and Igor Stravinsky, and Ogden Nash died. Ewan McGregor, and Selena Quintanilla, and David Tennant were born. So were legendary athletes Pavel Bure and Picabo Street.

April 30, 1971. The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship. No Milwaukee team has won a World Championship since.

Will it happen again? The only current teams that can make it happen are the Bucks and the Brewers. The Bucks look like they'll have a good Playoff seed, while the Brewers are currently in 1st place in the National League Central Division. The potential for ending a half-century's drought is there. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: On July 20, 2021, the Bucks won the NBA Championship, beating the Phoenix Suns, 105-98, in Game 6, at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. The Suns had won the 1st 2 games, but the Bucks took the next 4 straight. In Game 6, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks' Nigerian-Greek forward, scored 50 points, only the 7th time in the league's 75 years that this has been done.

No Vaccine for Not Hitting

Losing is a disease, as contagious as polio. Losing is a disease, as contagious as syphilis. Losing is a disease, as contagious as the bubonic plague. Ah, but curable.
-- Dr. Knobb the psychologist (played by Peter Poth), The Natural (Set in 1939, before the development of the polio vaccine.)

Last night, I had a date with a lady named Moderna. It went well. I got another date with her, for about a month from now. 

But there is no vaccine for the way the Yankees have hit in this young season -- and it ain't as young as it used to be.

Yesterday afternoon, in the finale of a 4-game visit to Camden Yards and an 8-game roadtrip, the Yankees showed that the previous night's laugher over the Baltimore Orioles was no cure.

They went down 1-2-3 on the 1st inning, wasted a 2-out walk in the 2nd, stranded 2 runners in a 2-out rally in the 3rd, and stranded 2 more in the 4th.

They trailed 1-0 going into the top of the 5th, as Jordan Montgomery was pitching well, but not quite well enough. Brett Gardner started the inning with a single, and DJ LeMahieu drew a walk.

Giancarlo Stanton was the batter. Yankee Fans could be forgiven for thinking a triple play was coming. Instead, he singled, but the dimensions of Camden Yards are such that even the speedy Gardner couldn't score.

Bases loaded, nobody out. This is where the Yankees should have broken the game wide open. But Aaron Judge was given another day off. He is looking less and less like he won't be what we thought he would be: "The Next Great Yankee." He has Mickey Mantle's power, but also his tendency toward injury. 

Gleyber Torres flew out. Gio Urshela struck out. These 2 at-bats are where the game was really lost. Rougned Odor singled home 2 runs, but Aaron Hicks grounded out. It was 2-1 Yankees, but it should have been more.

Montgomery gave up a home run to tie it in the 6th. The Yankees had runners eliminated by double plays in the 6th and the 7th. Urshela drew a walk to lead off the top of the 8th, but no cliché here: Aaron Boone sent Judge up to pinch-hit, but he struck out. So did Hicks. And Gary Sanchez grounded out.

Chad Green pitched a 1-2-3 7th, but Boone didn't leave him in for the bottom of the 8th. The 1st 2 batters Darren O'Day faced walked and doubled. Now we can say it: "Cliché Alert: Walks can kill you, especially the leadoff variety."

There was little confidence in a 9th inning rally on #YankeesTwitter. Mike Ford and LeMahieu walked, but in between, Gardner struck out. After it, Stanton struck out.

Torres was up. He needed a hit, very badly. The team as a whole needed it. He got it, driving a pitch to left-center. But this is how the Yankees' luck is going: It bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double. Ford scored, but LeMahieu could only advance to 3rd. And Urshela hit a line drive that Oriole shortstop Ramon Urias caught, ending the threat.

Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the bottom of the 9th. Enter extra innings, now the realm of Commissioner Rob Manfred's "ghost runner" rule.

Urshela started the top of the 10th on 2nd. Tyler Wade tried to do the right thing: Bunt the runner over to 3rd. But he fell behind 0-and-2, and binned again. Foul ball, meaning a strikeout. 

Hicks grounded out. Sanchez was up, but instead of taking the easy out, the Orioles walked him, to fill 1st base and set up the inning-ending force play. It wasn't necessary, as Ford struck out.

Jonathan Loaisiga, one of the few bright spots this season, was brought in for the bottom of the 10th, with a runner on 2nd. The Orioles did what the Yankees tried to do in their half of the inning: Bunt the runner over, sacrifice-fly him home.

Orioles 4, Yankees 3. WP: Tanner Scott (1-2). No save. LP: Loaisiga (2-1, although it wasn't much his fault). If all you can get from a 4-game series in the Baltimore bandbox is a split, then you need to get better, and fast.

The Yankees are now 11-14, 4 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division, 4 in the loss column, with a game in hand.

The Yankees close April by starting a weekend series against the Detroit Tigers, who are off to an even worse start, 8-18. Here are the projected starting pitchers:

* Tonight, 7:05: Gerrit Cole vs. Tarik Skubal. In 13 major league games, the 24-year-old lefthanded native of the San Francisco Bay Area has a record of 1-7 with a 5.47 ERA. But he's never faced the Yankees before, and you know what that means. (It means, "Thank God this fact isn't paired with either a Saturday afternoon game on Fox or a Sunday night game in ESPN, or the Yankees would be lose for sure, even with Cole on the mound.")

* Tomorrow, 1:05: Jameson Taillon vs. Spencer Turnbull. His name sounds like that of a soap opera character, and you know what that means. (See the preceding answer, minus the Cole reference.)

* Sunday, 1:05: Corey Kluber vs. Jose Urena.

Then, the Yankees have Monday off -- and then the Houston Astros come to town. Domingo German will start the opener. There's a lot to prove in that series, especially for German, who was not available for the 2019 AL Championship Series, and could have made all the difference in it.

Scores On This Historic Day: April 30, 1945, The Death of Adolf Hitler

April 30, 1945: With the Soviet Union's Red Army having reduced his "Thousand-Year Reich" from most of Europe to the size of his bunker in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, shoots himself in the head. He was 56 years old.

His wife, Eva Braun, had also committed suicide, with a cyanide pill. The Nazi regime came to an end with the rump government's surrender 8 days later.

As the saying goes, the one service Hitler ever performed for humanity was to kill Hitler. But the regime he began on January 30, 1933, 12 years earlier -- including the war he started on September 3, 1939 -- had led to the deaths of 75 million people, military and civilian combined, including over 400,000 Americans.

The true depths of his depravity had already begun to reach the civilized world before word of his death had, as American, British and Soviet troops found the concentration camps where the Holocaust was carried out. In these camps, 11 million people died, some from murder, some from disease. And 6 million of them were put there for no crime other than being Jewish.

So the death of Hitler could not be a wholly joyous occasion, because it was a reminder of all that he did, and all that he could have done had he won.

The National Football League was in its off-season. The National Hockey League had already completed its season, with the Toronto Maple Leafs having won the Stanley Cup. And the National Basketball Association wouldn't begin play for another year and a half. And it was a Monday, a travel day in Major League Baseball. No games were played.

But Hitler's death wasn't announced by the Nazi government until the next day. But even on Tuesday, May 1, 1945, there were only 2 MLB games played:

* The Boston Red Sox beat the Washington Senators, 5-4 at Fenway Park in Boston.

* And the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers, 5-0 at Briggs Stadium (later renamed Tiger Stadium) in Detroit.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Steve Smith for the Edmonton Oilers Losing the 1986 Stanley Cup

April 30, 1963: James Stephen Smith is born in Glasgow, Scotland, and grows up in Cobourg, Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Oshawa. By the Autumn of 1980, he was in London -- Ontario, playing minor-league hockey.

In 1985, he made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers. He played 2 regular season games, and was not put on their Playoff roster, as they won their 2nd straight Stanley Cup. But in 1985-86, he was one of the League's top defensive rookies. He was about to turn 23, and it looked like he had a good career ahead of him.

April 30, 1986: Steve Smith has the worst birthday in hockey history. He took the ice with the Oilers against their Provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, in Game 7 of the NHL Smythe Division Final, at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.

The Flames stunned their Alberta rivals by taking a 2-0 lead, early in the 2nd period. But before that period ended, the Oilers tied the game.

At the 5:14 mark of the 3rd period, Smith took the puck near the side of his own net, and tried to pass it up the ice. But he made a mistake, and the puck went off the leg of Oiler goaltender Grant Fuhr, and into the goal.

Perry Berezan was the last Flames player to touch the puck, so he got credit for the goal. In soccer, the rule is different: Smith would have been "credited" with an "own goal."

The Flames' 3-2 lead held, and they won, eliminating the Oilers from the Playoffs. The Flames had lost to the Oilers in the Playoffs in 1983 and 1984, and would again in 1988 and 1991. This remains the only "Battle of Alberta" Playoff series that the Flames have won.

It is the most famous own goal in hockey history, and it produced the most devastating loss in the history of Edmonton sports. Oiler fans were outraged. But, led by Captain and superstar Wayne Gretzky, Smith's teammates stood up for him. The next year, the Oilers rebounded to win the Cup. When taking it from NHL President John Ziegler, Gretzky let Smith be the 2nd Oiler player to lift it, and the crowd at the Coliseum gave him a standing ovation. All was forgiven.
Smith would help the Oilers win the Cup again in 1988 and 1990, remaining with them for 1 more season. He joined the Chicago Blackhawks for the 1991-92 season, and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He stayed with them through 1997, then closed his career with, oddly enough, the Flames, playing for them until 2000.

In 804 regular-season NHL games, he had 72 goals and 303 assists. And he reached 4 Stanley Cup Finals, winning 3. A decent playing career, with one awful moment. He has since worked as an assistant coach with the Flames, the Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres, and a scout with the Blackhawks.

But that one awful moment tends to stand out. Is that fair? Did he really cost the Oilers the 1986 Stanley Cup, and prevent them from matching the 1956-60 Montreal Canadiens' run of 5 straight?

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Steve Smith for the Edmonton Oilers Losing the 1986 Stanley Cup

5. The Montreal Canadiens. No, I don't mean the shadow of their late 1950s dynasty, or any of their other dynasties. The Flames went on to reach the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals, where the Canadiens beat them in 5 games. They might have beaten the Oilers, too.

4. Grant Fuhr. Although he was an easy choice for the Hockey Hall of Fame (he was the 1st black player so honored), this time, he had a rotten series. He allowed 4 goals in Game 1, 5 goals in Game 2 (which the Oilers won anyway), 4 goals in Game 4 (which the Oilers won anyway), and 4 goals in Game 5, before allowing the calamitous own goal.
He allowed 25 goals in the series, compared to the 24 allowed by the Flames' Mike Vernon, who's not in the Hall of Fame, but should be.

3. The Oilers' Defense. This was a team with Hall-of-Famer Paul Coffey, and also Kevin Lowe, Lee Fogolin, Charlie Huddy -- and Steve Smith, who was a good player. But it wasn't just Fuhr: The Edmonton defense allowed those 25 goals, too.

2. The Oilers' Offense. This was a team with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson, all of whom are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. And yet, they scored only 1 goal at home in Game 1, 2 in Game 3, 1 at home in Game 5, and 2 at home in Game 7.

The most potent offense in NHL history, and they didn't get the job done.

1. The Calgary Flames. In a situation like this, it's tempting to say that the side that won was actually better. Certainly, the Flames weren't as talent-laden as the Oilers. But they did sweep their previous Playoff series, against the Winnipeg Jets. They won Games 1 and 5 in Edmonton, before winning this shocking Game 7 in Edmonton. And they won the Conference Final over the St. Louis Blues.

They had Hall-of-Famers Lanny McDonald, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Joe Mullen, ; plus All-Stars Mike Vernon, Joel Otto and Gary Suter; Doug Risebrough, who had won 4 Cups with the Canadiens in the late 1970s; John Tonelli, who had won 4 Cups with the New York Islanders in the early 1980s; and Nick Fotiu, who had reached the Finals with the 1979 New York Rangers.

They did lose the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadiens, although 2 of their losses were by 1 goal. And a slightly revamped Flames team beat the Canadiens in the Finals just 3 years later. So it's not like the Oilers lost to an undeserving team.

VERDICT: Not Guilty. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Now, Thats More Like It

When the New York Yankees travel to Camden Yards to play the Baltimore Orioles, last night's game with the kind of game you expect to see. 

Let's start with the pitching. Domingo Germán started for the Yankees, and it was like the Summer of 2019 all over again. He was brilliant: They let him pitch 7 innings, and he allowed only 3 hits, just 1 through the 1st 6, 1 walk and 6 strikeouts.

Pitching like that deserves to get backed up. Mike Ford led off the top of the 2nd with a home run. That would prove to be all the Yankees needed, but not all they got.

In the 3rd, they got 3 straight singles, by DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres, and a home run by Gio Urshela. That made it 5-0. For the 1st time all season, the Yankees looked truly comfortable.

Aaron Hicks drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the 5th, and Clint Frazier homered in the 8th. Yankees 7, Orioles 0. Now, that's more like it. WP: Germán (2-2). No save. LP: Dean Kremer (0-2).

By the way, for those of you complaining that MLB games take too long: This one ended in 2 hours and 33 minutes.

Except for Joe Biden, who delivered his 1st speech to a sort-of Joint Session of Congress last night (as is usually the case with a President's 1st such address, the words "State of the Union" were not used), no one had a bigger win than the Yankees last night.

The Yankee game, and the President's speech: In both cases, now, that's more like it.

Certainly not the Mets: A night after losing 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox, they lost 1-0 in a typical Jacob deGrom start. 

The Yanks-O's series concludes this afternoon. Jordan Montgomery starts against Jorge Lopez.

Scores On This Historic Day: April 29, 1992, The South Central Riots

April 29, 1992: Four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, all of them white, are found not guilty of assault and excessive force against a black suspect, Rodney King. The jury of 12 was composed as follows: Nine white people, six men, three women; one bi-racial man, the only person on the jury known to have African descent; one Latina woman, and one Asian-American woman.

The reaction of Southern California's black community to these officers getting away with the brutal beating of a black motorist was fury. About 1 hour after the verdicts were read, a riot broke out in South Central Los Angeles. It would last 4 days, kill 64 people, and cause over $1 billion in damages.

The American economy was already in a deep recession, and those always hurt nonwhite people more than white people. Over a quarter of a century earlier, in the wake of, among others, the Watts riot in Los Angeles in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "A riot is, at bottom, the language of the unheard."

It was another nail in the coffin of the re-election effort of the incumbent President, George H.W. Bush, a Republican. Just 34 days after the verdict, the Democratic side of the California Primary was won by Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

The following night, he appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show, at Paramount Studios, 8 miles to the north of the epicenter of the riot, and laid out his vision for overcoming these problems. It probably won him the election as much as anything else did, and made Hall a more historically significant late-night talk-show host than Johnny Carson and all his competitors combined.

Ironically, the riot also pretty much ended the career of Tom Bradley, Los Angeles' 1st black Mayor. First elected in 1973, as both a hero policeman and a civil rights activist, and a City Councilman since 1963, he had guided the city through great growth, but also great trouble. He was unable to put an end to the record of police brutality that the city had been building up since well before Watts -- since before even the "Zoot Suit Riots" against Mexican-American youths in 1943.

L.A.'s Mayoral elections are officially non-partisan, but Bradley was a Democrat. The 2nd night of the riots, April 30, he appeared on Arsenio's show, in an auditorium only half-full due to concerns about what might happen. He was 74 years old, and looked even older, and so tired. (He probably hadn't gotten much sleep the night before.)

In 1993, Richard Riordan, a wealthy Republican lawyer who had never run for public office before, ran for Mayor of the country's 2nd-largest city, and won, and was re-elected in 1997. But the Democratic City Council stood in the way of most of his proposals, and although he later ran for Governor and Senator, he never won another election.

Since James Hahn was elected in 2001, L.A. has had only Democratic Mayors, including the current one, Eric Garcetti -- whose father, Gil Garcetti, was the District Attorney whose office was in charge of the biggest prosecution of Riordan's time in office, the O.J. Simpson case of 1994-95.

There have been race riots in America since 1992, but none nearly as bad as South Central's. Not even at the height of the recent protests against police brutality.

April 29, 1992 was a Wednesday. There were 12 Major League Baseball games played that day:

* The Yankees lost to the Texas Rangers, 5-1 at the old Yankee Stadium. Matt Nokes hit a home run, but that was the Pinstripes' only home run.

* The New York Mets beat the Houston Astros, 1-0 at Shea Stadium. Yes, both New York teams were at home on the same day: The Yankees in the day, the Mets at night. Attendance: Yankees, 14,270; Mets, 16,400. It was the end of the era when the Mets were, beyond any dispute, the best and most popular team in New York. Daryl Boston singled home a run in the 2nd inning, and Bret Saberhagen pitched a 3-hit shutout.

* The Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox, 6-1 at Fenway Park in Boston.

* The Toronto Blue Jays beat the team then known as the California Angels, 1-0 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. Todd Stottlemyre, Mel's son, pitched a 7-hit shutout, while Jim Abbott went the distance in a hard-luck defeat.

* The Cleveland Indians beat the Oakland Athletics, 5-2 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

* The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-0 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Zane Smith pitched a 4-hit shutout.

* The Atlanta Braves beat the Chicago Cubs, 8-0 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. John Smoltz pitched a 7-hit shutout.

* The Milwaukee Brewers beat the Kansas City Royals, 5-3 at Milwaukee County Stadium.

* The Baltimore Orioles beat the Minnesota Twins, 5-4 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

* The San Diego Padres beat the Montreal Expos, 7-2 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego.

* The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-3 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

* And the St. Louis Cardinals beat the San Francisco Giants, 2-1 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The winning run scored in the top of the 12th, when former Yankee closer Dave Righetti, pitching for his hometown team (he was from San Jose, California), threw a wild pitch.

*

The NBA Playoffs were in their 1st Round. The Chicago Bulls completed a 3-game sweep over the Miami Heat, 119-114 at the Miami Arena. The Phoenix Suns completed a 3-game sweep over the San Antonio Spurs, 101-92 at the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio.

And in spite of the riots, Inglewood was considered insulated enough that the game scheduled for there that night went on. The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 121-119 in overtime, despite 42 points by the Blazers' Clyde Drexler. That would be the only game the Lakers would win in the series.

This was the 1st time that the Los Angeles Clippers had made the Playoffs in 16 years, when they were the Buffalo Braves. Both L.A. teams moved Game 4 of their series: The Clippers to the Anaheim Convention Center (soon to be replaced by the arena now known as the Honda Center), and the Lakers to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

*

The NHL was also in the 1st Round of its Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New Jersey Devils beat the New York Rangers, 5-3 at the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands. It was Game 6. But the Rangers won Game 7 at Madison Square Garden 2 nights later.

The Hartford Whalers beat the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1 at the Hartford Civic Center. Yvon Corriveau scored the game-winner, only 24 seconds into overtime. The Buffalo Sabres beat the Boston Bruins, 9-3 at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. And the defending Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, beat the Washington Capitals, 6-4 at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Yankee Bats Boost Kluber, Beat O's

Going into last night's 2nd game of a 4-game series against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Yankees needed to start playing as advertised. I hate it when there's lies in advertising.

Before the game, the Yankees announced they'd traded verstaile outfielder Mike Tauchman to the San Francisco Giants, for Wandy Peralta, whose performance thus far in his career suggests that he is not the lefthanded reliever that the Yankees need; and a player to be named later. Not a good trade, or so it currently appears.

Fortunately, the Yankees did something they had only done once before this season: They scored a run in the 1st inning. DJ LeMahieu led off the game with a double. Giancarlo Stanton grounded to 3rd, forcing DJLM to stay put, Aaron Judge singled, but it was too close for DJLM to score. But Gio Urshela hit a sacrifice fly to center, and DJLM was able to come home.

That early run was a big boost to Corey Kluber. He sent the Orioles down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 1st, pitched a hitless 2nd, and sent them down 1-2-3 in the 3rd.

In the top of the 4th, Kyle Higashioka hit a home run. LeMahieu and Stanton singled, Judge walked to load the bases, and Urshela singled LeMahieu home. Stanton also tried to score, but was thrown out. But it was now 4-0 Yankees.

Kluber was great in the 1st 3 innings, but he faltered in the bottom of the 4th, allowing double, groundout, RBI single. But he then got a strikeout and a groundout to end the threat. He allowed a hit in the 5th, but no runs. He was allowed to start the 6th, and allowed a leadoff walk. (Hold your cliches.) He got an out, but allowed a single.

So it was 1st and 3rd, less than 2 outs. Going against the script, Aaron Boone kept him in. (Brian Cashman must have had a fit.) But Kluber got a lineout and a groundout to end that threat. He'd pitched 6 innings, allowing only 1 run. That was hoped for by most, but predicted by few.

He was rewarded with an insurance run, as Stanton led off the top of the 7th with a home run. Clutch? Clutch enough for me. And clutch enough for Boone, who sent Kluber out to start the bottom of the7th. He allowed a single, got a strikeout and a flyout, then allowed another single. That was enough for Boone, who brought Jonathan Loaisiga in, and he got out of it.

Loaisiga allowed a leadoff walk and a 1-out single in the 8th, but got out of it. Lucas Luetge pitched a 1-2-3 9th to end it. Yankees 5, Orioles 1. WP: Kluber (1-2). No save. LP: Bruce Zimmermann (1-3).

It wasn't quite the Camden Yards slugfest we were hoping for. But if the Yankees can get these kinds of key hits, and Kluber can keep pitching like this, the Yankees won't look like a 70-92 team. (They are currently 10-13, a percentage of .435, which translates to 70-92 over 162 games.)

The series continues tonight. Domingo German starts for the Yankees, and Dean Kremer for the O's.

Scores On This Historic Day: April 28, 1923, Wembley Stadium Opens

April 28, 1923: The Empire Stadium opens, in Wembley, West London. It was renamed Wembley Stadium in 1927. The 1st event is the Football Association (FA) Cup Final. West Ham United, from the East End of London, crosses town to face Manchester-area team Bolton Wanderers.

The official capacity of the stadium was 125,000, making it the largest in the world at the time. But so many people came in that many were standing on the field -- or, as they say in Britain, the pitch -- thus threatening to make it impossible to play the game. Some sources have the total at 300,000 -- probably an exaggeration, but it may still have been the most people who ever attempted to attend a sporting event on planet Earth.

Finally, mounted policemen were brought in, to clear the crowd from the pitch. George Scorey, a London policeman, was not on duty that day, but answered a call for emergency assistance at the stadium. He mounted his horse, Billy, and drove the crowd back. Although Billy was gray, this event became known as "The White Horse Final," as most people in the British Empire saw the newsreel in black and white, and saw Scorey on Billy as a heroic "man on a white horse."

The game began 45 minutes late, with fans standing around the pitch, kept back by the mounted cops and a string fence. Bolton forward David Jack scored the stadium's 1st goal just 2 minutes into the game, and Jack Smith added another in the 53rd minute, giving the Wanderers a 2-0 win.

After the game, a tradition was born: The Bolton players climbed the 39 steps from the pitch to the royal box, and their Captain, forward Joe Smith, received the FA Cup from none other than King George V, father of the eventual King Edward VIII and King George VI and grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.

The original Wembley opened 10 days after the original Yankee Stadium opened in New York, and 3 days before the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum opened. The Twin Towers at its front gate became iconic long before anyone thought to design New York's World Trade Center that way, and its roof was extended around the ends in 1963.

It hosted the FA Cup Final every year until it closed in 2000. It was the main stadium for the 1948 Summer Olympic Games. It hosted the Finals of the 1963 European Cup (AC Milan defeated Benfica), the 1966 World Cup (won by England on home soil over West Germany), the 1968 European Cup (Manchester United defeated Benfica), the 1971 European Cup (Ajax Amsterdam beat Panathinaikos), the 1978 European Cup Final (Liverpool beat Brugge), the 1992 European Cup Final (Barcelona beat Sampdoria), and the 1996 European Championship (German beat the Czech Republic).

It also hosted 9 NFL preseason exhibitions between 1983 and 1993, the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football in 1991 and '92, and home games of soccer team Arsenal in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, due to their North London home field, Arsenal Stadium, a.k.a. Highbury, seating only 38,000.

The last event was a match between the national soccer teams of England and Germany, a Group Stage match for qualification for the 2002 World Cup, and a restaging of the stadium's most famous event, the 1966 World Cup Final (when Germany was still West Germany). This time, the Germans emerged victorious, 1-0.

The stadium was soon demolished. A new, 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium suffered serious construction delays, finally opening on March 9, 2007.

*

April 28, 1923 was a Saturday. There were regular Football League games played on the day, including Arsenal's 2-0 win over Yorkshire team Sheffield United, at the Arsenal Stadium, a.k.a. Highbury, in North London.

There was no NBA yet. The NFL was in its off-season. So was the NHL, with the Ottawa Senators having won the Stanley Cup the month before. But there were 6 Major League Baseball games played on the day:

* The New York Yankees, having defeated the Boston Red Sox in the Yankee Stadium opener 10 days before, had the tables turned at Fenway Park, as the Red Sox won, 5-3.

* The New York Giants lost to the Boston Braves, 6-4 at the Polo Grounds.

* The Brooklyn Robins lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2 at Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. Named for their manager, Wilbert Robinson, they would go back to their former name, the Dodgers, after he was fired following the 1931 season.

* The Detroit Tigers beat the St. Louis Browns, 4-1 at Navin Field in Detroit. It was renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938, and Tiger Stadium in 1961.

* The Chicago White Sox beat the Cleveland Indians, 6-3 at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

* The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3 at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.

* The Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates were scheduled to play at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, but the game was rained out. It was rescheduled for August 29, and the Cubs won, 6-2.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Matt Harvey Passes the Audition, Shuts Yankees Down

In 2015, the Yankees struggled just to make the Playoffs, and lost the American League Wild Card Game, because they only got 3 hits and didn't score.

Meanwhile, across town, Matt Harvey was the ace of the Mets, and helped them win the Pennant, and was the toast of the town. He was 26, and although he had been part of the reason the team lost the World Series, he seemed to have a limitless future.

Harvey has battled injury ever since. He has pitched for 5 different teams in the last 4 seasons. And his control has been atrocious. As Yogi Berra might have said, Even when he can pitch, he can't pitch.

So his start, in the opener of a 4-game series between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, perhaps the best hitter's park in the AL, should have been just the kind of occasion to let the Yankees have a very nice evening.

It wasn't. Aaron Judge, on his birthday -- the former "next great Yankee" is only 29 -- grounded into a double play to end a threat in the 1st inning. And Deivi Garcia, on only his 2nd pitch of the game, gave up a home run to Cedric Mullins. It was only one-nil to the Baltimore, and yet the game already felt lost, because of the Yankees' troubles with hitting.

Cruz didn't pitch badly after that, giving up only 1 more run, in the 3rd. But he was limited to 4 innings -- just 65 pitches -- and was sent down to the Yankees' "alternate site" after the game. Way to mess with a kid's confidence, especially after you've been bigging him up as one of the team's great "prospects." God, Brian Cashman ruins everything he touches.

The Yankees wasted 1st and 2nd with 1 out in the 2nd, and then Harvey didn't allow another baserunner until Clint Frazier walked to lead off the top of the 6th. This time, a leadoff walk didn't kill anybody, because DJ LeMahieu grounded into a double play. Then came back-to-back doubles by Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. If LeMahieu had simply struck out, the doubles would have made the score 2-2. Instead, it was 2-1 Orioles, and that was as close as the Yankees got.

Knowing Cashman, and his love of once-great, injury-riddled players, this was Harvey passing an audition to be a Yankee. And he knows the Yankees need better starting pitching. He'll probably trade a good player to get Harvey.

What good player? With our luck, Judge. Certainly, it won't be Stanton, or his golden boy, Gleyber Torres.

Lucas Luetge pitched the 5th without allowing a run, so the smart thing to do would have been to leave him in for the 6th. The smart thing was not done: Darren O'Day was brought in. Hit by pitch, single getting runner to 3rd, strikeout, balk. 3-1 Baltimore. Justin Wilson was brought in for the 7th. As with Cruz, the 1st batter he faced was Mullins. As with Cruz, he let Mullins hit a home run. 4-1 Baltimore.

Then came the top of the 8th. Frazier and LeMahieu started it with walks. The next 2 batters were Stanton and Judge. If they were the 2017 versions of Stanton and Judge, you would like your chances. Of course, the Yankees didn't have Stanton in 2017. Stanton flew out. But Judge drew a walk to load the bases. But Rougned Odor struck out.

The batter was Gio Urshela. He hit a line drive single to left. Frazier scored. LeMahieu made 3rd easily, and thought he could score. So did Oriole left fielder Austin Hays. But Hays did think he had a chance to throw Judge out at 3rd to end the inning. It was close, but Judge was out.

The real question was, did Frazier touch home plate before Judge was tagged out. If so, then that's another run that should count, making the score 4-3 instead of 4-2. The umpires ruled that the tag came first.

Aaron Boone was enraged, and demanded an instant replay to check to see if Frazier scored before the tag. Umpire Greg Gibson was told he'd taken too long to ask, and wouldn't get it.

In his book Planet of the Umps, former umpire Ken Kaiset said that there is one word you must never use to an umpire. Despite what the film Bull Durham suggested, that word is not "cocksucker." It's "you."

You can tell an umpire, "That was a bad call!' and stay in the game. But if you say, "You blew that call!" you get thrown out of the game. You can say, "That was a dumb call!" You can't say, "You're an idiot!"

Boone was told he didn't ask for a replay fast enough. He yelled, "You didn't give me a chance!" He used the Y-word (not the one used by fans of London soccer team Tottenham Hotspur), and he was tossed.

The replay shown on YES showed that Frazier did touch home plate before Judge was tagged out, so the run should have counted.

This afternoon, on his ESPN radio show, simulcast on YES, Michael Kay dropped the objectivity he had to show on the previous night's TV broadcast, and ripped everybody. He ripped Gibson for not granting the replay. He ripped Boone for taking too long. He ripped Judge (who did this on his birthday, mind you) for trying to take 3rd base, going against one of those classic "unwritten rules of baseball": Never make the last out of an inning at 3rd base. And he ripped the Yankees for not hitting.

And that last point should be the story of the game, more than the argument. Did the Yankees get robbed? You bet your sweet bippy. Did that make the difference in the game? We'll never know. Given the way this team has hit this season, it might not have. The Yankees went down quietly in the 9th, so if they didn't follow a successful replay challenge with hits, they still would have lost.

No, the fault for losing this game belongs to the hitters for not hitting enough, and Cashman for his horrible pitching strategy.

Orioles 4, Yankees 2. WP: Harvey (2-1). SV: Cesar Valdez (5). LP: Cruz (0-1).

The series continues tonight. Corey Kluber starts against Bruce Zimmermann.

Scores On This Historic Day: April 27, 1994, South Africa's 1st All-Races Election

April 27, 1994: The Republic of South Africa ends apartheid by holding its 1st all-races general election. Lines of people miles, and hours, long developed, stunning the world with footage. It shook many people up, including Americans, who had taken the right to vote for granted.

The African National Congress won 62 percent of the vote, resulting in 252 seats in the national legislature, the National Assembly. As a result, its Leader, Nelson Mandela, was sworn in as President on May 10.
The National Party, which went into the election as the party holding the government, got just 20 percent, winning 82 seats. Its leader, Frederik W. de Klerk, who had set the end of apartheid in motion by releasing Mandela from his 27-year imprisonment 3 years earlier, lost the post of President, but remained Deputy President under an agreement reached to set the election up.

Coming in 3rd, with 10 percent of the vote and 43 seats, was the Inkatha Freedom Party, led by Zulu tribal Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Mandela appointed him Minister of Home Affairs.

Since then, April 27 has been a national holiday in the country: Freedom Day.

On June 21, 1990, 4 months after his release, Mandela had addressed a civil rights rally at the original Yankee Stadium. A former professional boxer, he, like many national leaders -- some more ethical than others -- understood how sports can shape public opinion. He helped inspire South Africa to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home soil, which he hoped -- correctly, as it turned out -- would help in bringing his country together.

On April 27, 1994, the day of his election, a Wednesday, there were 12 games played in Major League Baseball. The Yankees were in one, but on the road:

* The Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners, 12-2 at the Kingdome in Seattle. They had 5-run innings in the 3rd and the 5th, but only 1 home run, by Jim Leyritz. Scott Kamieniecki was the winning pitcher, over Dave Fleming.

* The New York Mets beat the San Diego Padres, 3-2 at Shea Stadium. The game went 15 innings, before Fernando Vina singled home a run.

* The Montreal Expos beat the San Francisco Giants, 7-1 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

* The team then known as the Florida Marlins beat the Colorado Rockies, 3-2 at what was then named Joe Robbie Stadium in the suburb of Miami Gardens, Florida. (It's now Hard Rock Stadium.)

* The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds, 3-1 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

* The Cleveland Indians beat the Chicago White Sox, 8-7 at Jacobs (now Progressive) Field in Cleveland. The Pale Hose scored 2 runs in the top of the 12th inning, but the Tribe scored 3 in the bottom half, with a home run by Manny Ramirez, Matt Merullo drawing a walk, Kenny Lofton reaching on an error, and Mark Lewis doubling Merullo home.

* The Minnesota Twins beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 6-0 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Scott Erickson pitched a 4-hit shutout.

* The Texas Rangers beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 11-3 at what was then known as The Ballpark in the Dallas suburb of Arlington, Texas.

* On a rare day when both Texas teams were at home, the Houston Astros beat the Chicago Cubs, 8-5 at the Astrodome in Houston.

* The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-4 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Veteran reliever Larry Andersen, forgetting the cliche that walks, especially the leadoff variety, can kill you, began the bottom of the 10th by walking Henry Rodriguez and Tim Wallach, and allowed an RBI single to Cory Snyder.

* On a rare day when both the Dodgers and the team then known as the California Angels were at home, the Angels lost to the Baltimore Orioles, 13-1 at Anaheim Stadium.

* And the Boston Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics, 1-0 at the Oakland Coliseum. Former Met Ron Darling went the distance in defeat for the A's. In contrast, it took 3 BoSox to pitch a 2-hit shutout: Frank Viola (also a former Met), Scott Bankhead (a former Yankee) and Jeff Russell.

*

The NFL was in its offseason, but the NHL was into its Playoffs. The NBA had just ended its regular season, and its Playoffs were about to begin. There were 3 Stanley Cup Playoff games played that night, all of them Western Conference Quartefinals:

* The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 1-0 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Mike Eastwood scored the winner for the Leafs. 

* The San Jose Sharks beat the Detroit Red Wings, 6-4 at the San Jose Arena (now the SAP Center at San Jose).

* And the Vancouver Canucks beat the Calgary Flames, 2-1 at the Saddledome in Calgary. Geoff Courtnall scored the overtime winner for the Canucks.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Nelson's Riddle Blows Chance at Yank Sweep of Tribe

Before this series between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, if you had told me the Yankees were going to take 3 out of 4, I would have gladly taken it.

And when they took the 1st 3, I was very pleased.

It's so much that they lost the 4th game, it's how.

Jameson Taillon started, and was fine for the 1st 3 innings, allowing just 1 baserunner, a single, and striking out the side in the 3rd inning.

Manager Aaron Boone tinkered with the batting order again. He put Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot, Giancarlo Stanton as the DH and batting 2nd, Aaron Judge 3rd, Rougned Odor at 2nd base and batting 4th, Gleyber Torres 5th, Gio Urshela 6th, Mike Ford at 1st base and batting 7th, Gary Sanchez 8th, and Mike Tauchman in left field and batting 9th.

And in the top of the 4th inning, this lineup looked like it might have paid off. Torres, who has really responded well to the criticism he faced earlier in the week, led off with a single. Urshela hit a home run to put the Yankees on the board. Then Odor hit one out, the first back-to-back home runs for the Yankees on the season -- in their 21st game. Which is an indication that general manager Brian Cashman's strategy of "Bomb the opposition out of the yard" hasn't worked too well.

Especially considering that the Indians not only erased that 3-0 lead in the bottom of the 4th, but took it. Taillon allowed single, single, single, home run, with Franmil Reyes' blast giving the Tribe a 4-3 lead.

The Yankees had their chances thereafter. Judge led off the 5th with a single, and advanced to 2nd on a groundout and 3rd on a wild pitch. Tauchman doubled and Frazier walked in the 6th. Odor reached on an error in the 7th. Sanchez was hit by a pitch in the 8th. None of them scored.

And if the Yankees had lost 4-3 like that, I wouldn't have liked it, but I could have lived with it. But that's not what happened.

Because, for the bottom of the 5th inning, Boone (almost certainly on the order of Cashman) brought in Nick Nelson. Yes, Nick Nelson, ol' Number 79, who pitches, as Colonel Sherman T. Potter (played by Harry Morgan) would have said on M*A*S*H, with all the efficiency of a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest. Remember: The Yankees were only down by 1 run. But, to me, bringing Nelson in was a message: "This game is already lost."

Cliche Alert: Walks can kill you, especially the leadoff variety. Nelson began the 5th with walk, lineout, wild pitch, single, sacrifice fly. 5-3 Indians.

Uncharacteristically, Boone left Nelson in for the 6th: Triple, groundout, RBI double, strikeout, RBI single. Luis Cessa, surprisingly, pitched a perfect 7th and a perfect 8th, but it didn't matter.

Indians 7, Yankees 3. WP: Sam Hentges (1-0). No save. LP: Taillon (0-2).

The Yankees are now 9-12, 4 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division, 3 in the loss column, as they have 2 games in hand. By the way: In those 1st 21 games, the Yankees still haven't scored a run in the 1st inning all season.

After the game, Nelson was sent down to the Yankees' "alternate site." A game too late, it would seem. He's a riddle. Not to be confused with mid-20th Century music giant Nelson Riddle.

The Yankees move on to 4 away games against the Baltimore Orioles. Deivi Garcia makes his 1st start of the season, against former Met "ace" Matt Harvey. We're all hoping Garcia pitches like 2015 Harvey -- not like 2016 onward Harvey. And we're hoping the Yankees do in Camden Yards what they usuall do there: Treat it like their own personal home run playpen. Come on you Bombers!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Face the Music: King Cole Beats Bieber

The 3rd game of this 4-game series between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field was billed as a great pitching tool between Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber. And it lived up to that description: The game was scoreless going to the bottom of the 4th.

That was when the Indians struck first. With 1 out, Jose Ramirez hit a triple, and Eddie Rosario singled him home. Cole struck Franmil Reyes and Josh Naylor out to get out of it, but, given the opposing pitcher and the Yankees' hitting so far this season, that 1-0 deficit may as well have been 5-0.

But the Yankees managed to back "King" Cole up, and face the music, straighten up and fly right. Aaron Hicks decided to treat Shane Bieber as if he was Justin Bieber, and hit a long home run to tie the game. Bieber then struck Clint Frazier and Kyle Higashioka out, but Rougned Odor again justified his recent acquisition with a home run of his own. It was 2-1 Yankees.

That was all Cole needed, as he breezed through the 5th, the 6th and the 7th. Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone let him keep going because both Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green were unavailable for relief duty, since each had pitched 2 nights in a row.

Justin Wilson got into a little bit of trouble in the 8th, and Jonathan Loaisiga was needed for a 4-out save. Yankees 2, Indians 1. WP: Cole (3-1). SV: Loaisiga (1). LP: Bieber (2-2).

That's 3 in a row for the Yankees, for the 1st time all season. With the Boston Red Sox losing, the Yankees are now just 3 games behind them in the American League Eastern Division, 2 in the all-important loss column. We may have fully shaken off that horrible start to the season.

The series with the Indians concludes this afternoon, as the Yankees go for the sweep. Jameson Taillon pitches for us, Triston McKenzie for them.