The Best of SportsLifer
First posted on April 13, 2009 by sportslifer
T.S. Eliot knew how to write, but sports wasn’t his strong suit.
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. “
– T.S Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922
Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot, the American-British poet, playwright and critic, may have been a member of the Literature Hall of Fame, but he didn’t know sports.
With apologies to old T.S., shown below, April is America’s best month for sports.
April, the rites of passage, the season of rebirth, where Opening Day signals the start of another baseball season.
April has the pageantry of the Masters, from Augusta National, the most beautiful golf course in the world.
Both the NBA and NHL playoffs begin in April, the second season for 32 basketball and hockey teams.
The NCAA Tournament may be heralded as March Madness, but the Final Four is an April event.
And finally there’s the NFL draft, one of the most popular events in the NFL outside of the Super Bowl.
What other months challenge April?
June has the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Belmont Stakes, last leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown.
October has the World Series, and peak activity in college and pro football to go with Fall foliage.
And February has the Super Bowl, the single biggest day in American sports, and the Daytona 500.
Give me April every time.
Like a 1970 Ford Pinto desperately in need of a tune-up, the Sultans of Swat have stalled out on the fantasy baseball highway. They’ve become the Sultans of Not.
Throughout April, the Sultans, co-owned and operated by Dr. G and yours truly, were the class of the Nightcap League.
But now the Sultans are sinking faster than a stone, with a red cross unit that looks like the 4077th M*A*S*H.
Five Sultans have already found the disabled list, the most recent being Troy Percival. He is threatening retirement, which might not be a bad idea considering the way he’s pitched lately
Three others are wearing the dreaded red cross label. And many of those injured Stallers got hurt early in the week, leaving the lineup down a man.
From Ace to Triple A
Adding insult to injury, another Sultan, Ricky Nolasco, who was supposed to be the ace of the Florida staff this year, has been shipped down to New Orleans, carrying his bruised ego and a 9.07 ERA to the Crescent City.
(Travel Note: If you’re going to be exiled, New Orleans is not a bad destination.)
(Mathematics Note: If you’re counting, that makes more than a third of the roster either rehabbing in the whirlpool or sampling the night life on Bourbon Street).
Nolasco isn’t the only bust in this Sultan-of-swing-and miss lineup. Cubs catcher Geovany Soto had a breakout season in 2008; this year he’s looked more like the second coming of Jake Gibbs.
Matt Holliday, who thrived on that thin Colorado air, has taken a holiday in Oakland. And shortstop Alexi Ramirez has been an automatic out for the White Sox.
The Sultans can’t seem to catch a break. On Sunday they had two of their starters, Felix Hernandez and Barry Zito, face off against one another.
Take away Blue Jays ace Ray Halladay and the incomparable Albert Pujols and this team is in the basement.. Problem is they keep walking Pujols, especially with Sultan/Cardinal Ryan Ludwick on the DL, and Halladay can’t pitch every day.
None of the other Stallers have lived up to the numbers on the back of their baseball cards
Such are the ups and downs of fantasy baseball.
“The thing the sixties did was show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.”
– John Lennon
Well, I finally made it to Woodstock, 39 years too late.
As the Yankees get set to open their final season in the original (albeit renovated) Yankee Stadium, look ahead to what I predict will be the toughest ticket in New York sports history — Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.
Yankee tickets weren’t always tough tickets. Even during the great championship runs and dynasties, an SRO crowd in the Bronx was a novelty, not a daily occurrence.
3. NFC East Is NFL’s Beast
Historically, what’s the best division in the NFL? If you use Super Bowl titles as the ultimate criteria, then it’s the NFC East, hands down.
Just like USC is known for producing tailbacks and Penn State linebackers, Syracuse University was once a football factory for running backs.
They’re the Lennon and McCartney of basketball, the Rogers and Astaire of hoops, the Batman and Robin of the hardwood.
6. All-Star Game: The Price Ain’t Right
The last time the All-Star game was held at Yankee Stadium in 1977, tickets were priced $10-15 for box and reserved seats. That’s a far cry from the $150-725 price range for the July 15 midsummer classic, and roughly two-three times the cost of tickets for last year’s game at San Francisco.
On a November afternoon in 1963, five days before President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, a 12-year old with this mother, father and cousin sees Y.A. Tittle and the Giants pound the 49ers in Yankee Stadium.
As Yankee Stadium closes its doors, this is the final of a three-part retrospective on the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.
1. Johnny Unitas (Colts, Chargers, 1956-73)
A three-time champ with Baltimore, nine times an All-Pro, seventh all-time with 290 touchdown passes. Holds the NFL equivalent of Joe Dimaggio’s streak, 47 straight games with a TD pass.
It’s been compared to the Colosseum, been called The House That Ruth Built.
Mel Allen, the late Yankee broadcaster, once said, “St. Patrick’s is the Yankee Stadium of cathedrals.”
When the Red Sox gallant comeback against the Tampa Bay Rays finally fizzled in Game Seven, another potential dynasty bit the dust.
The Sox loss demonstrated once more just how difficult it is to build and maintain dynasty in baseball’s current three-series playoff format.
And it underlines the remarkable accomplishment of the Yankees, who won three World Series in a row and four out of five from 1996-2000.
If you define a dynasty as three championships in five years, only the Yankees qualify since the three-round playoff format was instituted in 1995. In fact, the Yankees are the only team to win back-to-back championships in that time frame.
And the Oakland A’s, who won three straight World Series starting in 1972, are the only team to earn the dynasty label since baseball first began a playoff format in 1969 with the league championship series.
The Yankees have the all-time record with five straight World Series championships between 1949-53. Overall, the Yanks won 14 pennants and nine World Series in a period that began in 1949 and ended in 1964.
The Bombers also won four in a row between 1936 and 1939. Both those runs occurred when the American and National League winners went directly to the World Series.
Other than the Yankees and the A’s, there have been three mini-dynasties in baseball history.
A’s 1910-11 and 1913
Red Sox 1915-16 and 1918
Cardinals 1942, 1944 and 1946
And what of this year’s World Series contestants? The Rays have never won a World Series, never even made the playoffs before this year.
And the Phillies have been around since 1883, and in all that time have just one World Championship to show for their efforts.
In 1980, the Phillies beat the Royals in six games, leading a young copy editor to come up with the headline “Phinally: It’s the Phillies” while working the slot for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
Red Sox (1915-16)
Blue Jays (1992-93)
This is the second of a three-part retrospective on the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.
Overall, there will be three categories — anything but baseball, baseball regular season, and baseball post-season.
This is the regular season baseball category….we’ll follow up soon with a top 10 devoted to World Series and post-season play at the Stadium.
Remember you read it first in the SportsLifer.
Top 10 regular season baseball moments at Yankee Stadium (chronological order)
Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923
1. The Stadium opens with pomp and circumstance and Babe Ruth’s home run beats Boston, 4-1. 1923
2. Babe Ruth hits one over the right-field fence and becomes the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season, 1927
3. Dying Yankee captain Lou Gehrig, at left, being hugged by Babe Ruth, tells a crowd of more than 60,000 “Today I consider myself the “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” 1939
4. Joe DiMaggio begins his immortal 56-game hitting streak by going 1-for-4 against the White Sox, 1941
5. The Yankees edge the Red Sox in the final two games of the season to win the pennant by a game, 1949
6. Roger Maris breaks Babe Ruth’s record with his 61st home run on the final day of the season, 1961
7. Mickey Mantle just misses hitting a ball out of the Stadium when he homers off the right field facade, 1963
8. Ron Guidry strikes out 18 batters to silence the Angels in a team record-setting performance, 1978
9. On the day they buried their captain, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer’s 5 RBIs give the Yankees a dramatic win, 1979
10. Double Perfect: David Wells, right, and David Cone pitch perfect games a year apart, 1998 and 1999
Other Yankee No-Hitters: Monte Pearson (1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Dave Righetti (1983), Jim Abbott (1993) and Doc Gooden (1996).
Opposing No-Hitters: Bob Feller (1946), Virgil Trucks (1952) and an army Houston Astros pitchers (2003).
Babe Ruth’s final appearance in The House That Ruth Built, 1948
Umps over-rule George Brett’s homer in the “Pine Tar” game, 1983
Tom Seaver gets 300th win as White Sox beat Yankees on Phil Rizzuto Day, 1985
Roger Clemens wins 300th game; reaches 4,000 K’s, 2003
Derek Jeter dives into the stands against the Red Sox, 2004
Material Guy (sung to the tune of Madonna’s Material Girl)
Some guys come through in the big spot
But that’s not my way
I get tight, I strike out
Or worse a double play
Fans can boo and they can plead
But they don’t see the light
Cause guys like me with cold hard cash
Are always mister right
….cause we are
Living in a material world
And I am a material guy
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material guy
Alex Rodriguez hears the boos on the road and at home.
Material Guy makes hundreds of millions of dollars, yet comes up bankrupt in the clutch. He hits tons of home runs, but is a lightweight under pressure. He plays games on and off the diamond, at home and on the road, with the Yankees and his wife and blonde strippers and even Madonna.
Material Guy is living in a material world. And he’s a loser. Alex Rodriguez has won three MVPs, but has never taken his team to the World Series.
Of course, he’s hardly the only reason the Yankees are fast-fading out of the playoff picture. Offensive incompetence, especially with runners in scoring position, anemic pitching and injuries have combined to put the Yanks on serious death watch.
But A-Rod is the lightning rod, the highest-salaried player in the game, and he’s paid to produce in the clutch. In that vein, he’s been a bust ever since coming to the Bronx. E-Rod, A-Wad, Double Play-Rod.
Just this week, in a crucial three-game series against the Red Sox, Material Guy was 2-for-13 with five strikeouts and grounded into a pair of rally-killing double plays as the Yankees lost two of three..
Lord of The Ringless
In fact, since Material Guy arrived in New York in 2004, the Yankees have failed to win the American League pennant. Before he came, they had been to the World Series six times in eight seasons, winning four championships.
When the Material Guy left the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers, both times for more money, his former teams immediately improved….dramatically
In 2001, Seattle set the all-time American League record with 116 wins, 25 more than the previous year with A-Rod. Texas immediately improved from 71 wins to 89 without A-Rod.
Amazingly, Material Guy went 15 full playoff games and parts of two others without a single RBI before hitting a meaningless home run late in the Yankees fourth and final game loss to the Indians last year. During that stretch he was 7-for-57 for a .123 batting average. Guys swinging with their eyes closed can manage 7-for-57.
His playoff failures have defined his career in pinstripes. A weak tapper and run-in with Boston’s Bronson Arroyo in 2004. A double play grounder in the ninth inning of Game 5 against the Angels in 2005 in a 5-3 loss.
In fact, Material Guy became such a head case under pressure that Joe Torre dropped him to eighth in the batting order two years ago in the final game loss to the Tigers. A-Rod went 0-for-3 and made a costly error as Detroit sent the Yankees packing in 2006.
In the most critical moment in last year’s playoffs, A-Rod struck out in the ninth inning of a 1-1 tie with the go-ahead run in scoring position; Cleveland went on to win, 2-1, in 11 innings en route to a series victory in four games.
Put it this way Yankee fans, game on the line, who would you rather have up there, Material Guy or Scott Brosius?
Pretty much says it all.
Fifty years ago, August 23, 1958, I saw my very first baseball game.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. A seven-year-old kid, walking into Yankee Stadium with my Dad and seeing the immense ballfield, the green facade, the monuments in center field. The pinstriped legends on the field.
That Saturday afternoon, the Chicago White Sox beat the Yankees, 7-1, as Billy Pierce bested Whitey Ford in a battle of southpaws.
Six future Hall of Famers played in that game — Ford, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Enos Slaughter for the Yankees and Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio for the ChiSox.
Ray Boone hit a solo home run and knocked in four runs for Chicago. Moose Skowron homered in the seventh for the only Yankee run.
I’ve been hooked ever since.
PS — Exactly 10 years later, August 23, 1968, I saw 28 innings of baseball at the Stadium. The Yankees won the first game of the twi-night doubleheader, 2-1; the two teams played to a 3-3, 19-inning tie in the nightcap.
Posted on August 19, 2008 by sportslifer | Edit
Soon we’ll be seeing all sorts of retrospective pieces on Yankee Stadium. Here we take an early look at the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.
Overall, there will be three categories — anything but baseball, baseball regular season, and baseball post-season.
This is the top 10 for anything but baseball….we’ll follow up soon with top 10s devoted to regular season and post-season play at the Stadium.
Remember you read it first in the SportsLifer.
Top 10 Yankee Stadium events (other than baseball), chronological order:
2. Undefeated Fordham and the Seven Blocks of Granite need one more win to reach the Rose Bowl, but NYU beats Vince Lombardi and company, 7-6,on a muddy field, 1936
3. Joe Louis not only knocks out Max Schmeling, below, in the first round for the heavyweight title, he gave the United States a shot of pride against Hitler’s Nazi Germany, 1938
4. In a game that featured four past or future Heisman Trophy winners, number one ranked Army and second-ranked Notre Dame play to a scoreless tie, 1946
5. Joey Maxim outlasts Sugar Ray Robinson, who lost 16 pounds in the heat, in 13 rounds in a light-heavyweight title bout, 1952
6. The New York Giants again don sneakers on an icy field and overwhelm the Chicago Bears, 47-7, to win their third NFL championship, 1956
7. Pope Paul VI hosts the first of three Papal Masses at Yankee Stadium, followed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, 1965, 1979 and 2008
8. Pat Summerall kicks a long field goal in a swirling snowstorm to give the Giants a 13-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, forcing a playoff for the NFL East crown, 1958
9. In what is called “The Greatest Game Ever Played” the Baltimore Colts defeat the New York Giants, 23-17, in overtime in the game that raised the profile of the NFL. At left, Alan Amache scores the winning touchdown in the December dusk, 1958
10. Muhammad Ali defeats Ken Norton by unanimous decision in their rubber match and retains his heavyweight championship, 1976
Tony Zale over Rocky Graziano for middleweight championship, 1946
More than 123,00 crowd first annual Jehovah’s Witness convention, 1950
Unbeaten heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano defeats Ezzard Charles.1954
Carmen Basilio outpoints Sugar Ray Robinson to capture middleweight crown, 1957
Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson knocks out the champ, Floyd Patterson, 1959
Giants Y.A.Tittle ties NFL record with seven touchdown passes against Washington Redskins, 1962
An inter-faith prayer service is held 13 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 2001
Billy Joel, U2 and Pink Floyd are among the few rock groups to play the Stadium
Several years ago, my son, who is as big a baseball fan as I am, asked me who was the greatest ballplayer I ever saw….in person?
Willie Mays I replied without hesitation. It wasn’t even close.
Saw Williams and Musial, Mantle and Aaron, Ripken and Gwynn, and Bonds too.
Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid, was the best.
As a kid in 1962, I saw Mays hit a grand slam at Candlestick Park against the Cubs. Later on, I saw him against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
And in 1972, I saw Mays, then with the Mets, and Henry Aaron at Shea. They both went hitless and wound up the evening still tied at 648 home runs apiece, trailing another pretty famous ballplayer name of Babe Ruth at that point in time.
Willie Mays would go on to hit 660 home runs, behind only his godson Barry Bonds, Aaron and Ruth. A four-time National League home run champion, Willie once hit four home runs in a single game, against the Braves in 1961. Not even Ruth, Aaron or Bonds ever did that.
He was Rookie of the Year in 1951 with the New York Giants, MVP in 1954 and 1965. He led the NL in stolen bases four times, and in triples three times. He won the batting title in 1954 with a .345 average, and finished .302 lifetime with 3,283 hits.
“I would love,” comedian and Giants fan Rob Schneider told Sports Illustrated recently, “to be the Willie Mays of anything.”
And he was equally as brilliant as a fielder. Mays won 12 straight Gold Gloves, and is perhaps best known for the most famous catch in baseball history, against Vic Wertz and the Cleveland Indians in deepest center field in the Polo Grounds, a catch that turned the 1954 World Series.
‘Where Triples Go to Die’
“Willie Mays and his glove,” Dodgers executive Fresco Thompson once said. “Where triples go to die.”
Two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Willie Mays on a flight from San Francisco to JFK. We didn’t talk during the flight, but when we got on the ground in New York I caught up with Willie and we walked together to baggage claim.
I told him about the conversation with my son. He smiled, and asked me which team I rooted for. I told him I was a Yankee fan.
“Well, why aren’t you a Mickey Mantle guy?” Willie asked.
“I loved Mickey, but I always thought you were the best,” I replied. “You were a better center fielder, and you hit more home runs. And you were faster than Mickey,”
“Not always,” said Willie. “”When Mickey came up, he was faster than any of us.”
Willie, Mickey and Joltin’ Joe
The discussion then turned to the 1951 World Series between the Giants and Yankees, and Willie asked me if I remembered the play where Mantle got hurt.
“I was still in the cradle when they played that World Series,” I said.
But I do remember reading about the play, how Joe DiMaggio called off Mickey for the ball at Yankee Stadium, and how Mantle stopped short, got his foot caught in a drainage cover and tore up his knee.
“Do you know who hit the ball?” said Willie. He quickly added. “I did.”
Think of the convergence of great center-fielders on that one play — Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle (who was playing right field that day) and Willie Mays.
That one play epitomized three Hall of Fame careers. Mantle, the legendary but oft-injured slugger. DiMaggio, the one-time greatest living ballplayer. Mays, the current greatest living ballplayer.