Hopewell Is…Well…Hoping to Rise

The Hopewell Highlanders landed Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia in a recent trade.

April has been a struggle for the up-and-down Hopewell Highlanders of the Nitecap Fantasy League (the real NFL in case you’re wondering). The Landers, who were the Sultans of Swat last year before a change in ownership and a move from suburban Connecticut to the bucolic fields of Hopewell Junction, New York. have bounced as high as second and as low as ninth in this 10-team league.

And despite a big trade that rocked the league, the Highlanders are currently stuck in the middle of the pack. Hopewell is hoping to reap the benefits of the headline deal, which sent Tigers fireballer Justin Verlander along with outfielder JD Drew and infielder Ty Wigginton to Evil Zito for CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki.

The Junctioneers are looking for pitching consistency from the Yankees’ ace and more speed from the Mariners’ hit machine.

So far it’s been a season of inconsistency for the Highlanders, who miss the power of Albert Pujols and the pitching of Roy Halladay, two mainstays for last year’s Sultans. Of course neither is eligible to play in the 2010 NFL, which is American League only.

The Hopewell team is currently second in league in batting at .293, and Highlander pitchers are tied for second in strikeouts. But the team is next to last in steals and lagging in home runs, and ranks near the bottom of the league in both wins and saves.

Ordonez Leads in HRs
Only Magglio Ordonez with four has belted more than two home runs for the Landers, while Vlad Guerrero, hardly a speedster, led the team in steals until Ichiro arrived earlier this week. John Danks of the White Sox tops the team with three wins (CC also has three, but only one with the Highlanders) — in fact no other pitcher on the staff has more than a single victory.

And though Mariano Rivera has been his usual brilliant self with six saves and a 0.00 ERA, no other Highlander has recorded a save.

The left side of the Hopewell infield has been a drag. Third baseman Gordon Beckham, picked to win AL MVP by New York Daily News baseball writer Bill Madden, is barely hitting better than .200 with three RBIs. And shortstop Alexi Ramirez, a holdover from last year’s Sultans, isn’t doing much better.

The Highlanders are expecting big things from top pick Joe Mauer and first baseman Billy Butler, both of whom are hitting for average but have yet to display the power numbers they put up last season.

There’s still hope in Hopewell.

Yanks, Mets Both Won First Games on April 23

Teddy Ballgame, Ted Williams, hit his first major league homer on April 23, 1939.

On this day in 1903, the New York Highlanders — now known as the Yankees —  won their first major-league game, a 7-2 decision over the Washington Senators behind starting pitcher Harry Howell (no, not the former Rangers defenseman, knucklehead).

Exactly 59 years later, April 23, 1962, the Mets won their first game, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1 behind Jay Hook, below, to end a nine-game losing streak. The Mets would go on to lose a record 120 games that season.

Ted Williams in 1939 and Hank Aaron in 1954 each hit first major league home run on this date. Pete Rose got his first major league hit, a triple, 47 years ago today.

Cardinal third baseman Fernando Tatis enjoyed the greatest single inning in baseball history by hitting two grand slams in one inning — both against the Dodgers Chan Ho Park — on April 23, 1999. Park somehow survived and is still pitching today.

Hoyt Wilhelm isn’t pitching any more, but on this date in 1952 New York Giants knuckleballer homered in his first major league bat. He never hit another one — it was his only home run in 1,070 games.

On April 23, 1946, Ed Head of the Brooklyn Dodgers pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. Head won, 5-0. At least Head came out ahead..

On this date in 1964, Houston’s Ken Johnson became the first pitcher ever to lose a nine-inning no-hitter,

Warren Spahn, the winningest left-hand pitcher in baseball history with 363 victories, was  born on April 23. Another Hall of Famer, Sunny Jim Bottomley, was also born on April 23, as was ex-Brooklyn Dodger Dolph Camilli, and former Braves defensive standout and current White Sox Andruw Jones. Duke Carmel and Sean Henn are the only Yankees born on April 23.

These players … and others ….share a birthday with William Shakespeare, shown above, former President James Buchanan, Shirley Temple, Lee Majors, Roy Orbison …and the SportsLifer.

Womack-to-Cox-to-Mantle — Triple Play

The Yankees today pulled off their first triple play in nearly 42 years, or 6,632 regular season games ago. Alex Rodriguez fielded a grounder, stepped on third, fired to Robinson Cox at second, then on to Nick Johnson for the TP.

On June 3, 1968, a Monday night game at a mostly empty Yankee Stadium with the bases full in the ninth, Minnesota catcher Johnny Roseboro hit a line drive back to Yankee pitcher Dooley Womack. Womack threw to Yankee third baseman Bobby Cox, below, for the second out, and Cox fired to Mickey Mantle, playing first base in the final year of  his storied career, to complete the triple play.

The Twins went on to win the game 4-3 behind a cozy 7,238 fans who witnessed a slice of baseball history.

Mantle, of course, is one of the all-time greats, a Yankee legend and Hall of Famer. Cox had a forgettable major league career, but will someday go into the Hall for his managerial work with the Atlanta Braves.

And Womack will go down forever as Dooley Meatball for the ninth-inning home runs he surrendered earlier in that 1968 season to Bill Freehan and Jim Northrup to ruin what looked to be a Yankee doubleheader sweep against the Detroit Tigers.

Oh yes, the rest of the Yankee infield that night was shortstop Tommy Tresh and second baseman Horace Clarke. Remember 1968, high school, the Beatles, assassinations, protests…. and Horace Clarke.

There’s Never Been a Hoop/Hockey Double

The New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, but the Knicks couldn’t complete the double as they fell to the Houston Rockets in seven games.

With the NHL and NBA playoffs just getting started, five cities have the opportunity to accomplish something that’s never been done before — win hockey and basketball championships in the same year.

Only Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix remain in the race to win the elusive double rings.

Since the NBA was founded in 1946, eight cities have had teams in both the NBA and NHL finals in the same year. But none of those cities was able to win both a Stanley Cup and an NBA championship.

In both 1957 and 1958, the Celtics and Bruins played for championships for the city of Boston. In 1957, the Celtics won their NBA championship when they beat the St. Louis Hawks in seven games.The following year the Celtics lost to St. Louis in six games.

The Bruins meanwhile, lost both Stanley Cup finals to the Montreal Canadiens, in five games in 1957 and six games in 1958. The Canadiens were in the midst of a five-year championship run.

In 1972, both the Knicks and Rangers made their respective finals. That year the Lakers defeated in the Knicks in five games for the NBA crown, and Boston defeated New York in six games for the Stanley Cup.

Two years later, in 1974, the Celtics, led by center Dave Cowens, left, beat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games, but the Philadelphia Flyers surprised the Bruins in six games to win their first Stanley Cup.

The City of Brotherly Love was a two-time loser in 1980 — the 76ers lost to rookie point guard Magic Johnson and the Lakers in six games while the New York Islanders took the Flyers in six games for the first of four straight  Stanley Cups.

In 1992, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls beat Portland in six games, but the Blackhawks were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals.

New York came closest to the double rings in 1994. That year the Rangers beat Vancouver in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. But the Knicks fell to the Houston Rockets in another seven-game series.

Finally, in 2003, the New Jersey Devils beat the Anaheim Ducks in seven games to win the Stanley Cup, while the Nets lost to the San Antonio Spurs in six games.

Sorry T.S., April Is The Best Month for Sports

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.

Rangers Need to Dump Sather, Tortorella


A decade of lousy management is long enough. Goodbye Dr. Evil, Glen Sather.

Let’s not let the Rangers inspired run for the final playoff slot these last few weeks cloud the issue.

Truth is, if the Rangers showed the same intensity in all those mid-season games they messed up, especially the home games, they never would have found themselves in this position.

Bottom line: Glen Sather must go, and take John Tortorella with him. Bring in Mark Messier and Mike Keenan, the two men most responsible for the Rangers only Stanley Cup in 70 years.

Listen, we know James Dolan loves Sather’s Edmonton pedigree. But the guy has been in New York for 10 years now, and has won squat.

In 10 years, Sather’s Rangers have never finished higher than third in their division. And in those 10 years they’ve missed the playoffs five times, and won a total of two playoff series.

During his reign, Sather has released such beloved Rangers as Brian Leetch and Adam Graves and failed to hold on to Jaromir Jagr. That didn’t stop him from bringing in busts like Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez, just to name a few.

Other than Tom Renney, Sather’s coaching choices — like Bryan Trottier, Ron Low and himself — have left the Rangers high, dry and misguided.

Tortorella ought to be fired, if for no other reason than his senseless decision to pul  goalie Henrik Lundquist in the second period of a loss to the Buffalo Sabres in the final week of the season.

Lundquist carried the Ragners onn his back all season — without him, they are not even sniffing a playoff berth. Sadly, Henrik’s reputation as king of the shootout took a loss in the final loss to the Flyers.

But Lundquist is not the Rangers problem. Sather is. And Torts must go took  Time to clean house, Jimmy Dolan.

Bring back some excitement and a winning tradition to the Garden. Bring back Messier and Keenan.

Pac-10 Leads With 15 NCAA Titles

Throughout history, the NCAA basketball tournament has been dominated by teams from the six major conferences — ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC. In fact, 61 of the 71 total championships — more than 85 percent — have been won from teams from one of these six conferences.

Not surprisingly, the Pac 10 is the overall leader with 15, led by UCLA. The Bruins have won 11 NCAAs overall — 10 under John Wooden, including seven in a row from 1967 through 1973.

The ACC is next with 11 titles, led by five by North Carolina, three from Duke and two from NC State.

The Big East, Big 10 and SEC are even with 10 total titles apiece. Multiple winners are Kentucky (SEC) with seven; Indiana (Big 10) with five, and Michigan State (Big 10), Florida (SEC) and Cincinnati, Louisville and UConn (all Big East) with two apiece.

Kansas has won three of the five Big 12 NCAA championships and Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) the other two.

The other 10 championships are divided amongst the Mountain West (Wyoming, Utah and UNLV); West Coast (San Francisco twice); and Patriot League (Holy Cross); CUNY (CCNY); Atlantic 10 (LaSalle); Horizon (Loyola of Chicago); and Conference USA (Texas Western, now UTEP).

CCNY, which remains the only team to win both NCAA and NIT championships in the same year, 1950. The Beavers now face the likes of Baruch, Lehman and Hunter in the City University of New York (CUNY) Athletic Conference.

Butler could join the Ramblers of Loyola Chicago as the only Horizon League champions. Loyola Chicago beat two-time champion Cincinnati in overtime to win the crown in 1963.

Duke aims for its fourth championship overall and first since 2001 — all under Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K is looking to tie Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp for second all time behind Wooden with four championships.

Footnote: Of course, many of these conferences did not exist when Oregon won the first NCAA tournament in 1939. The championship tallies above are based on where the schools  play today.

Four Teams, Four Stories, One Survivor

West Virginia, led by Jerry West (44), made its last Final Four appearance in 1959.

For a while there last weekend, it looked like the NCAAs would have a fresh Final Four, comprised of four teams that had never won the tournament.

Butler and West Virginia did their part on Saturday, but then three-time champ Duke and twice-crowned Michigan State spoiled the fun.

You need to go back 20 years, to 1990, to find the last time you had four teams that had never won in a Final Four. That year in Dallas UNLV’s Runnin’ Rebels crushed Duke 103-73 to win their first and only championship. Arkansas and Georgia Tech lost in the semifinals.

And way back in 1959 was the last time that four teams — California, West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville — made the Final Four for the first time.

Cal won its only title that year, beating West Virginia 71-70 in the championship. The Mountaineers’ great guard Jerry West — Zeke from Cabin Creek — scored 28 points and was named the outstanding player of the tournament despite the loss.

West Virginia Returns

West Virginia is back for the first time in 51 years to try and capture that elusive title. And Jerry West’s youngest son, Jonnie West, is a reserve guard for the 2010 Mountaineers.

Michigan State has been to the Final Four eight times — six times since 1999 — and won championships in 1979 with Magic Johnson and 2000.

The Spartans went to their first Final Four in 1957, when they lost to eventual champion North Carolina in three overtimes in the semifinals. The Tar Heels beat Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas team in another triple overtime game the following night for their first championship.

Duke has been to the Final Four 14 times, winning it all in 1991, 1992 and 2001. The Blue Devils made their first appearance in the Final Four in 1964, Despite a height advantage, Duke lost in the finals to coach John Wooden and his UCLA Bruins, who finished 30-0 and won the first of Wooden’s 10 championships.

Butler has never been to the Final Four, but the Bobcats don’t have to travel far to get there, just 6.2 miles to Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, according to Google maps.