Leetch a Hall of Famer, On and Off the Ice

Hockey fans in general, and New York Ranger fans in particular, know all about newly-inducted Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch and his on-ice exploits.

Leetch, the Rangers second all-time leading scorer with 240 goals and 981 points, won the Calder Trophy as top rookie, two Norris Trophies as best defenseman, and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1994 when the Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

Who will ever forget his goal in the final game against Vancouver? With New York on the verge of a nervous breakdown after blowing a 3-1 lead in the series, Leetch scored the all-important first goal of the game to help lead the Rangers to a 3-2 win. I’ll never forget it.  I was in Madison Square Garden that night.

But there was another side of Brian Leetch that few fans knew, a side I was privileged to witness in person just before Christmas in 2001. Barely three months after the terrible attacks on the Twin Towers, a group of businesses and non-profits, including New York Cares, put on a toys for tots event in Manhattan for those unfortunate children who lost parents in the 9/11 attacks.

This event was held in the Garden, though not on center ice, and lasted most of the day. Other Ranger players came, handed out toys, signed a few autographs, and left.

But Leetch was there when the doors opened, and he didn’t leave until the last toy had been given out and the last child had left. He seemed to have a kind word for all.

There were no news cameras there day, no ESPN coverage, no feature stories in the next day’s Sunday papers.

But I know. I was there to see a great Ranger, and an even greater man, put smiles on kids’ faces and give them a little boost at a time when they needed it most.

You’re a good man, Brian Leetch, because you really do care. A Hall of Famer off the ice as well as on.


Happy Father’s Day, Dad

The first college football game ever televised, Waynesburg vs. Fordham in 1939.

On a steamy August Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1938, New York right-hander Monte Pearson pitched the first no-hitter in Yankee Stadium history. The Yanks beat the Cleveland Indians, 13-0, that afternoon to complete a doubleheader sweep.

Pearson, who was 16-7 that year and won exactly 100 games lifetime,  faced the minimum 27 batters, striking out seven. Tommy Henrich and Joe Gordon each homered twice.

In the opener that day, Joe DiMaggio’s third straight triple of the game plated two runs in the bottom of the ninth to cap a three-run rally and give the Yankees an 8-7 victory. A crowd of 40.959 was on hand as the Yankees increased their American League lead  to 12 games en route to their third straight championship.

One year later come September, Fordham University defeated Waynesburg College of Pennsylvania, 34-7, at Randalls Island in New York. But that wasn’t the story. NBC filmed the first college football game ever televised, as Bill Stern brought the play by play to viewers.

Waynesburg’s Bobby Brooks made history with a 63-yard touchdown run, the first televised TD. Reportedly, there was no victory dance in the end zone.

The W2XBS broadcast signal had about a 50-mile radius, and there were about a thousand TV sets in the New York metropolitan area at the time. The signal didn’t even reach Waynesburg, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. So who saw the game? Who knows?

Columbia Shocks Army
In October of 1947, Army was a huge favorite as the Cadets brought a 32-game winning streak into New York to face Columbia’s Lions. Army had not lost since 1943; Columbia was coming off losses to Yale and Penn.
Army led, 20-7, at the half, but the Columbia combination of quarterback Gene Rossides and received Bill Swiacki brought the Lions back for a stunning 21-20 victory.

And in September of 1961, Roger Maris of the Yankees hit a long home run into the upper deck at the old Yankee Stadium against Baltimore’s Jack Fisher. The round-tripper was Roger’s 60th of the season, equalling the mark Babe Ruth set in 1927.  Maris hit number 61 on the final day of the season, setting a record that many feel still stands.

These events, interesting in of themselves, have something else in common. My father was right there for each and every one. He was just 13-years-old at the Pearson no-hitter, with other family members. The decision was made to leave once the Indians got their first hit. That never happened.

My Dad went to the Waynesburg-Fordham game with his cousin, who was at that time the manager of a powerful Fordham team.  By the time Maris tied the Babe in 1961, my Dad was a father of four, two boys and two girls, including me, the oldest. Of course, my Mom had something to do that.

My Dad took me to my first Yankee game more than 50 years ago. He also brought me to my first Giants game, also at Yankee Stadium, and to my first Knicks and Rangers games at the old Madison Square Garden.

He’s always been there for me, whether it be coin, advice or a good meal. There’s still nothing I’d rather do than talk sports with my old man. I treasure the times I spend with him always.

Happy Father’s Day. Love you, Dad.

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Happy Father’s Day

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The Ins and Outs of Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Despite a 266-251 lifetime record, Eppa Rixey is in the Hall of Fame.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

The question of who belongs in the Hall of Fame — and consequently who doesn’t — sparks endless debate among baseball fans.

Well, the SportsLifer is about to solve some of those debates.

At each position, we’ve taken one Hall of Famer (OUT) and replaced him with a player more deserving of Hall enshrinement (IN).

For pitchers, we’ve put five hurlers in and taken five out.

Omit the debates about Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox, gamblers like Pete Rose, and Mark McGwire and his fellow needle-pushers of the steroid generation. They’re out.

Also out are active players and players who have retired within the past five years and are not yet eligible for the Hall.

Who’s in? Who’s out? Here’s the list:

CATCHER

 IN — Joe Torre — A .297 lifetime batting average, 252 home runs, and a National League MVP and batting title in 1971 with the Cardinals are good enough. Torre, right, will eventually go in as a manager..

OUT — Ray Schalk — The ancient catcher played 17 years with the White Sox, but a .253 lifetime average, 11 home runs and 594 RBIs have Schalk on the outside.

FIRST BASE

IN — Buck O’Neil — A first baseman and manager in the Negro Leagues, most notably with the Kansas City Monarchs, he later became the first black coach in the majors.

OUT — George Kelly — Despite six straight .300 seasons and four straight 100 RBI years, Highpockets, who had a nice career with the Giants and three other teams, gets the boot.

SECOND BASE

IN — Lou Whitaker — A mainstay with the Detroit Tigers for 19 seasons, Sweet Lou hit .276 with 244 homer runs and 1084 RBIs, He was Rookie of the Year in 1978.

OUT — Bill Mazeroski — The Pirates second baseman is best known for his dramatic home run that decided the 1960 World Series. Maz hit .260 lifetime with 138 homers.

SHORTSTOP

IN — Bill Dahlen — His 20-year career spanned the 19th and 20th Centuries, and Bad Bill, left, hit.272 with 2457 hits and 547 stolen bases.

OUT — Joe Tinker — The Cubs shortstop of the Tinkers to Evers to Chance trio, his .262 lifetime average doesn’t cut it with this group.

THIRD BASE

IN — Ron Santo — This legendary Cubs third sacker had 342 home runs, 1331 RBIs and a .277 average, with five Gold Gloves and nine All-Star appearances.

OUT — George Kell — Perhaps the toughest cut, with only 10 3B in the Hall. Kell hit .306 lifetime and won a batting title in 1949, but was never much of a power hitter..

OUTFIELD

IN — Andre Dawson — Made his fame with the Expos and Cubs, hit 438 lifetime home runs, had 1591 RBIs, and was the 1987 National League MVP.

IN — Sherry Magee — A Phillie, Brave and Red from 1904-19, he led the league in RBIs four times and hit .291 lifetime, including a league-leading .331 in 1910.

IN — Tim Raines — A .294 lifetime hitter, Raines is fifth all-time in stolen bases with 808. The four players ahead of him, are all in the Hall of Fame.

OUT — Richie Ashburn — Hit .308 lifetime with a couple of batting titles, but only 29 career homers and 586 RBIs put Ashburn, right, on the pine.

OUT — Harry Hooper — Played with Red Sox and White Sox from 1909-25. Hooper played on four champions but hit just .281 in his career.

OUT — Ralph Kiner — This vaunted Pirates slugger won seven home run titles, but hit .just 279 in a brief 10-year, major league career.

PITCHER

IN — Ron Guidry — Louisiana Lightning fashioned a 170-91 record and a 3.29 ERA, and went 25-3 in 1978 while winning the Cy Young award with the Yankees.

IN — Tommy John — Anyone who has a surgery named after him is automatically eligible. John was a three-time, 20-game winner and had 288 career wins.

IN — Jim Kaat — Kitty played for 25 years, won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, and was 283-237 while winning 20 games three times in his career.

IN — Firpo Marberry — Lost in the haze of history, Marberry was 148-88 lifetime, primarily with the Senators, and with 101 saves was the career leader from 1926-46.

IN — Tony Mullane — He had five straight 30-win campaigns on his way to 284 victories in the late 19th Century, mainly with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

OUT — Jack Chesbro — This right-hander, with 198 career wins, made the Hall primarily on one great season, 41 wins for the New York Highlanders in 1904.

OUT — Ted Lyons — Just because Lyons, left,  pitched for some mediocre White Sox teams his entire career doesn’t mean 260-230, 3.67 ERA all-time deserves the Hall.

OUT — Gaylord Perry — Granted, Gaylord was a 300-game winner and a Cy Young pitcher, but the spitballer lost 265…and he was an admitted cheater.

OUT — Robin Roberts — He won 20 games six straight seasons and 286 in his career, but no pitcher in history allowed more home runs (505) than Rockin’ Robin.

OUT — Eppa Rixey — Those who never saw him pitch wonder how this Phillies and Reds left-hander made the grade with a record just 15 games better than .500.

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Roles Reversed in Red Sox-Yankee Rivalry

Sometime late in the night of October 17, 2004, the world changed. Up became down. Losers became winners. Winners became losers.

From the rocky shores of Maine to the tiny towns of New England to the Hub that is Boston, the change was felt.

Throughout the metropolitan area and the five boroughs of New York, especially in the Bronx, the earth moved.

Red Sox nation felt the change. So did the Yankee empire. And the world hasn’t been the same since.

What a colossal change. From the time they purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox before the 1920 season right up until that fateful 2004 ALCS, the Yankees dominated this rivalry. (And many argued that Yankees-Red Sox really wasn’t even a rivalry — it was a nail vs. a hammer, and the Bronx bombers did all the hammering.)

Curse of the Bambino

It was the Curse of the Bambino, a phrase first coined by columnist Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe. A curse that lasted longer than a lifetime.

Oh sure the Red Sox had their moments, American League pennants in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. But they went 86 years without winning a World Series.

Meanwhile, the Yankees built dynasty upon dynasty, 39 pennants and 26 World Championships between 1921 and 2000. And they had their way with the Red Sox in every big game, like 1949 and 1978 and 2003 and so many others.

Then came Game 4, 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees in 12 innings and began the most improbable playoff run in baseball history. One bloody sock and three games later, the Sawx were American League champions and on their way to their first World Series triumph since 1918.

Red Sox Rule the World

Boston won another World Series in 2007.

Meanwhile the Yankees, in a reversal of roles, have failed to win a playoff series since, failed to even make the playoffs last year.

And so far this year, the Red Sox have played the Yankees eight times — and won all eight games. Blowouts and comebacks, shutouts and one-run decisions, Boston has won them all.

The Red Sox grind out at-bats and get the big hits; the Yankees leave runners in scoring position. The Yankee bullpen falters; Boston holds the fort. New York starters sometimes fail to get out of the third inning; Boston gets a good pitching performance almost all the time. And when they don’t, they simply outslug the once-vaunted Bombers.

Yes, it’s a different world now.

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First Impressions Aren’t Always Lasting

On April 23, 1952, Hoyt Wilhelm, a rookie with the New York Giants, stepped to the plate and in his first major league at-bat clouted a home run at the Polo Grounds..

A right-handed knuckleballer, Wilhelm went on to record his first major league win that day as the Giants beat the Boston Braves, 9-5.

It marked  the start of a storied 21-year career that saw him post a 143-122 record, a 2.52 ERA and 227 saves with nine different teams. As a Baltimore Oriole, Wilhelm pitched a no-hitter against the Yankees in 1958.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985.

No More Homers
Hoyt Wilhelm would come to bat 431 more times in his career, finishing with a .088 batting average. He never hit another home run.

Wilhelm is one of 100 players throughout baseball history who homered in their first  at bat. Of the remaining 99, only Cleveland outfielder Earl Averill went yard to begin his major league career.

Averill homered against the Tigers on opening day in 1929. He wound up with 238 home runs and a .318 lifetime average, and was a six-time All -Star.

Of those 100 players, only three hit grand slams — Bill Duggleby of the Phillies in 1898, Jeremy Hermida of the Marlins in 2006 and Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Indians in 2006.

First Pitch, Grand Slam
Kouzmanoff hit his grand slam on the first pitch he saw, one of just 22 rookies to accomplish that feat.

Only Bob Nieman of the St. Louis Browns in 1951 and Keith McDonald of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000 homered in their first two at- bats.

Former Minnesota Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti wound up with 360 homers, the most of any player who homered in his first at-bat. Only five others — Averill, Bill White, Tim Wallach, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Lee — hit as many as 200 homers in their careers.

Earlier this year, Atlanta Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer became the 100th and latest player to homer in his first at-bat.


IBM Powers French Open Website

IBM technology practically puts fans on the clay court at Roland Garros Stadium.

The French Open has been full or surprises so far this year. In one of the biggest upsets in tennis history, top-seed and four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal, master of the clay court, was knocked out by unheralded 23-seed Robin Soderling of Sweden.

Meanwhile, second-seeded Roger Federer, Nadal’s archrival, had to rally from two sets down to defeat Tommy Haas of Germany. And Novak Djokovic of Serbia, picked by many to be a French Open finalist this year, was also eliminated.

On the women’s side, #1 seed Dinara Safina and #2 seed Serena Williams have battled to stay alive, while Serena’s sister, third-seeded Venus Williams, was upset by unseeded Czech Lucie Safarova

If you’re having trouble following the action from  Roland Garros Stadium, simply visit the official French Open website. IBM consolidated 60 servers that once powered to website to six Power 550 Express servers using POWER6 processors and PowerVM virtualization technology.

Information generated through technologies such as intelligent sensors on the court that calculate the speed of a players server — coupled with real-time data analytics — gives tennis fans the chance to track matches and their favorites.

As part of the dynamic infrastructure, a new feature called Visual Match helps fans follow matches as they happen. Positioning the mouse on the ball shows viewers the speed of serves as they happen, as well as the score of a match or a fault at the precise moment it occurs.

It’s almost as good as being in Paris.

C’est magnifique.