World Cup Report: No .300 Shooters in Soccer

American fans had plenty to cheer about at the World Cup, but at the end the US came up long on heroics but short on glory — and the quarterfinals.

They always say the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball. Watching the World Cup, however, it’s plainly apparent the hardest thing to do in sports is to score a goal in soccer. There are plenty of .300 hitters in baseball, but no .300 shooters in soccer, at least none in the World Cup.

Although the United States had a valiant Cup showing with some memorable rallies to make the round of 16, their inability to avoid the early deficit doomed them in the end. Playing from behind all the time wears on a team, and it seemed like the US was always playing catch-up, even in group play where they beat Algeria 1-0 in overtime on a goal by Landon Donovan, below right, in extra time to avoid elimination.

The US team played 390 minutes of soccer in South Africa — and led for just three of them.

The US had a chance to advance and perhaps gain some world recognition, but once more failed to take that next step. The 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana was disappointing, especially when one considers the USA has nearly 15X the population of that tiny African country.  The same Black Stars that knocked out the US in 2006 — and by the same score.

With so many other team sports in America, it’s no surprise that soccer has never really caught on in this country. Oversaturation will do that, and there are just so many sports Americans can absorb.

At the end of the day, the US team still has work to do in order to reach world class status. The last (and only) time the United States even made it as far as the semifinals was in the first World Cup in 1930. They were beaten 6-1 by eventual champion Argentina and finished third that year, and they haven’t been that close in 80 years.

As the New York Daily News said: “Going, Going, Ghana.”

Play in the World Cup is certainly dramatic, but FIFA must get with the real world and use available technology — at least for goal-scoring plays. Not a big advocate of instant replay for offsides and penalties.

But the whole world saw England score a second goal against Germany — everyone but the officials on the field. At the very least, position a goal judge directly behind the net to make goal calls and avoid controversy.

The Germans would argue the call makes up for 1966, when England’s Geoff Hurst (Sir Geoffrey Charles Hurst) scored a controversial goal in overtime against West Germany at Wembley Stadium to spearhead a 4-2 triumph and Britian’s only World Cup. Hurst remains the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.

Heck they even had video replay 44 years ago, as this You Tube link attests. You make the call.


Imagine: Celtics vs. Lakers, Best of The Best

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, two of the best in the Celtics-Lakers all-time match.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take the best players in Celtics and Lakers history — in their primes — and square them off in a playoff series.

A seven-game playoff series with the greatest players from the two greatest teams in NBA history. Give the Celtics the home court advantage, since they have won 17 NBA championships to 16 by the Lakers. So the inevitable seventh game would come down to a showdown in the old Boston Garden.

What match ups, some seen before, some never seen. The best of the best in the 64-year history of the NBA. Here are the teams.

Celtics

C — Bill Russell
F — Larry Bird
F — Kevin McHale
G — Bob Cousy
G — Sam Jones

Coming of the Boston bench as sixth man would be John Havlicek, shown below against Jerry West. Tom “Satch” Sanders is the lockdown defensive specialist.

The other reserves, in no particular order, would be Dave Cowens, Tommy Heinsohn, and Bill Sharman from the 50s, 60s and 70s, and two current members of the team, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Last cuts — KC Jones, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parrish

Lakers

C — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
F — Elgin Baylor
F — James Worthy
G — Jerry West
G — Magic Johnson

The top reserves are Kobe Bryant and Michael Cooper, a superior defensive player. Kobe may be the greatest Laker of them all, but with a backcourt of West and Magic, he brings more fire coming off the bench.

The bench is somewhat lopsided with Gail Goodrich and Pao Gasol bracketing three centers — George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquelle O’Neill. (Yeah, you gonna be the one to tell one of these guys they’re not good enough).

Last cuts — Slater Martin, Kurt Rambis, Bryron Scott.

Red vs. Phil
The coaches, Red Auerbach of Boston and Phil Jackson of Los Angeles, of course. Between them they’ve coached 20 NBA champions.

Imagine having Kobe Bryant and John Havlicek as sixth men.

Russell faced off against Wilt many times, but what fan wouldn’t want to see Russ against Kareem, or Shaq, or even Mikan.

So who would win? Game winds down to the final seconds tied, the old Boston Garden utterly electric. Who’s taking the lost shot? Is it going into overtime?

Imagine.


Seventh Game: NBA Takes It to the Limit

The Laker girls have done their history lessons and know the score – home court advantage can be overwhelming in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

When the Lakers and Celtics tip off tomorrow night, it will mark just the fourth time since 1984 that the NBA Finals have reached a decisive Game 7.

Something’s got to give.

If history serves correct, the Lakers will be celebrating their 17th NBA title. In 16 previous NBA seventh games, the home team has won 13 times.

The only exceptions to the rule were the 1978 Washington Bullets at Seattle; the 1974 Celtics at Milwaukee; and the 1969 Celtics at (guess where?) Los Angeles.

The Celtics counter that home court advantage with their unblemished 7-0 record in Finals that have gone the full seven, with four of those wins coming against the Lakers. Los Angeles is 3-5 in those do-or-die games, including 0-4 against Boston.

The best seventh games in the NBA Finals occurred in a 15-year stretch between 1955 and 1970. In summary:

1955: Syracuse Nationals 92, Fort Wayne Pistons 91
The seventh game went down to the final 12 seconds before Syracuse’s George King broke a tie with a clutch free throw to give the Nats the title.

1957: Boston Celtics 125, St. Louis Hawks 123 (2OT)
Bill Russell made his debut for the Celtics and helped gain the first NBA championship for Boston. The final game went into double overtime and the score was tied 123-123 before Andy Phillip’s foul shot put Boston up by one and then “Jungle” Jim Luscutoff gave the Celtics a 125-123 lead with another free throw. Bob Pettit’s shot at the buzzer rimmed the basket and fell out, giving Boston the title.

1962: Boston Celtics 110, Los Angeles Lakers 107
The Celtics came back with a convincing 119-105 victory on the road to force a deciding game. In that seventh game, with the score tied at 100, the Lakers’ Frank Selvy hit the rim with a last-second shot that would have dethroned the Celtics. Instead, the game went into overtime and Boston continued its dynasty, scoring a 110-107 win.

1966: Boston Celtics 95, Los Angeles Lakers 93
Bill Russell scored 25 points and took down 32 rebounds to give the Celtics their eighth straight championship in the 95-93 title game.

1969: Boston Celtics 108, Los Angeles Lakers 106
The Celtics, who finished in fourth place in the Eastern Division, came back to take the last two games as Bill Russell outplayed Wilt Chamberlain. Boston held onto what had been a 17-point lead in the finale to win its 11th title 108-106. Jerry West became the only player on a losing team to win Finals MVP.

1970: New York Knicks 113, Los Angeles Lakers 99
Los Angeles prevailed in the sixth game before Willis Reed hobbled onto the Madison Square Garden court and sparked the Knicks to a 113-99 victory and their first title. New York guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier led the way with 36 points and 19 assists.

Related Post: Can Celtics-Lakers Push The Envelope to Game 7?


Quick Hitters: SportsLifer Observations

Listening to all those annoying vuvuzela horns at the World Cup in South Africa reminds me of a swarm of bees. Commentators have described the sound as “annoying” and compared it with “a stampede of noisy elephants,” “a deafening swarm of locusts,”a goat on the way to slaughter” and “a giant hive full of very angry bees.”Ouch, dammit, just got stung!

Not a big soccer buff, but that gaffe by England’s keeper Robert Green that handed the United States a goal and ultimately a 1-1 draw with the favored Brits brought back memories of Bill Buckner.

BTW, why is England called England in the World Cup and the UK everywhere else?

These college conference shifts are making me dizzy. If this merry-go-round somehow turns into a football playoff system, it’s all good. If not, it’s bookkeeping .

Could’ve made some nice coin betting that Francisco Cervelli would have the same amount of RBIs as Joe Mauer (27) going into play on June 12.

Pete Carroll got out of Dodge just in time, leaving those USC penalties in his wake.

Playoffs make for strange heroes. The endearing image of the NBA Finals so far is little Nate Robinson hugging Glen “Big Baby “Davis aka Donkey and Shrek, shown right.

If we were living in an alternative universe and Butler’s Gordon Hayward had made that half-court heave to beat Duke, would it have gone down as the best shot in history? That’s a tough one, but well, the answer is yes. It beats Christian Laettner’s  buzzer-beater, as well as any of Michael Jordan’s game winners. Jerry West made a 63-foot shot to send a playoff game into overtime in 1970, but the Knicks went on to beat the Lakers that night. Then there was Gene Sarazan’s double eagle at the 1935 Masters. And Bobby Thomson’s shot heard round the world, that helped the Giants win the pennant in 1951. Would any of those top Hayward? Not in this alternative world.

Speaking of college hoops, why is Jim Calhoun hanging on at UConn.

Is there a better Jack Nicholson than Randle Patrick McMurphy in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”? How about here’s Johnny, Jack Torrance, in Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Or Melvin Udall in “As Good As It Gets.”

Tom Izzo isn’t taking that Cavaliers job unless he knows LeBron is coming back.

Do you think Patrick Kane would trade his name on the Stanley Cup for an Olympic gold medal? Kinda wondered the same thing about Sidney Crosy, but he’s already got both.

Is Brett Favre retired yet?


Can Celtics-Lakers Push the Envelope?

Are the Celtics and Lakers on a collision course to a Game Seven? Maybe so.

Incredibly, NBA fans have witnessed just one Game Seven in the NBA Finals in the past 16 years, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs over the Detroit Pistons in 2005. Before that, turn back the clock to June 22, 1994, when Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets defeated the New York Knicks to win their first NBA championship.

Clang — that’s the sound of John Starks missing another three-pointer on his way to a 2-for-18 (0-for11 on threes) shooting performance that doomed the Knicks that night. Patrick Ewing would never come closer to a ring.

Since the NBA began play in 1946, there have been 16 seventh games in the NBA Finals. The Celtics and Lakers have played four previous winner-take-all games, with Boston winning each time — in 1962, 1966, 1969 and 1984.

Celtics 7-0 in Seventh Games
The Celtics have never lost a Game Seven in the finals. They’re a perfect 7-0. Boston beat the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks to win the championship in 1957 and again in 1960, and stopped the Milwaukee Bucks in 1974.

The Lakers are 3-5 overall in Game 7 finals, with wins against the Knicks in 1952 and the Syracuse Nationals in 1954, when the franchise called Minneapolis home, and in 1988 against the Detroit Pistons.

Los Angeles’ other Game 7 loss came in 1970, the Willis Reed game, when Walt Frazier produced one of the great Game 7 performances in history, 36 points and 19 assists.

In the first NBA Game Seven, in 1951, the Rochester Royals defeated the Knicks after New York rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force a decisive game.

NHL, MLB Game Sevens
The NHL has seen 15 seventh games since the league went to that format in 1939. Notably, five of those showdown games have occured since 2001, with Colorado, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Pittsburgh each winning one.

The Chicago BlackHawks, who ended a 49-year Stanley Cup drought by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in six games, lost Game Seven finales to Montreal in both 1965 and 1971.

In the NHL’s first Game Seven in 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings.

Major league baseball has had 35 seventh games, the last in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants for their only World Series win.


50: Maris, Mantle and Teddy Ballgame

Boston slugger Ted Williams homers during his final season, 1960.

Yeah, it happened 50 years ago this week, yet somehow I remember June 5, 1960, like it was yesterday. A beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, glove in hand, ticket in my pocket. Nine years old. Going to Yankee Stadium for a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox.

This wasn’t my first major league game, but this kid was hungry for a win after seeing the Yankees lose to the White Sox in 1958 and Tigers in 1959.

The Yankees were a .500 club entering play on June 5, 20-20 and fourth in the American League, coming off a subpar 1959 season where they finished a distant third. The Red Sox were mired in the cellar. Young Ralph Terry got the start for the Yanks in the first game that day, while the Red Sox countered with lefty Tom Brewer.

The Yankees jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a long home run by Mickey Mantle, The Yanks added three more runs in the fifth when Hector Lopez and Yogi Berra singled and Roger Maris, right, lined a home run into the right field seats. And when Tony Kubek’s single up the middle in the sixth plated Bobby Richardson, the Yankees had a 5-0 lead.

Williams Homers into The Bullpen
With two outs in the seventh and Terry seemingly cruising, the Red Sox suddenly rallied on hits by Bobby Thomson (yes, that Bobby Thomson who hit the shot heard round the world nearly nine years earlier just across the Harlem River at the Polo Grounds), Marty Keough and Pete Runnels to cut the lead to 5-2.

Up to the plate stepped Ted Williams. Now all through the game my father and relatives kept telling me to watch No. 9 in the Boston uniform. And in the seventh Williams hit a long drive into the Yankee bullpen in right to make it a 5-4 ballgame. It was the 495th home run of Williams’ historic career (he would finish with 521).

Yankee manager Casey Stengel then ambled to the mound and replaced Terry with diminutive left-hander Bobby Shantz. After an uneventful eighth, Boston loaded the bases with one-out in the ninth before Shantz got Vic Wertz to bounce into a double play to end the game.

The Yankees scored four runs in the first inning of the nightcap and cruised to an 8-3 victory, but we were long gone back home by then.

Yankees Win The Pennant
In 1960, the Yankees won the final 15 games of the season to edge out the Orioles and White Sox and win the first of five straight American League pennants, the final leg of a remarkable dynasty.

However, the Pittsburgh Pirates would upset the Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series that October, on a ninth-inning home run by Bill Mazeroski. The pitcher who surrendered that home run — Ralph Terry.

Mickey Mantle, left, would hit 40 home runs that year to win his fourth and final AL home run title. Maris, with 39 homers and a league-leading 112 RBIs. would win the American League MVP in his first year in pinstripes.

The Red Sox would wind up seventh in the American, ahead of the last-place Kansas City Athletics. Ted Williams, in his final year, would hit 29 homers — including one in his last at bat — and hit .316.

But the home run Teddy Ballgame hit on a sunny Sunday in June at Yankee Stadium was the one I will always remember. I saw Maris, Mantle and Williams homer in the same game. And I saw the Yankees win for the first time in my life.


Almost Perfect: A Mustache on the Mona Lisa

This play at first base cost Armando Galarraga a chance at baseball immortality.

When umpire Jim Joyce blew the call on Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game, he not only painted a mustache on the Mona Lisa, he also opened Pandora’s box to all sorts of discussion, debate and historical comparisons.

For one, the inevitable cry for expanded replay rules to decide close calls on the bases ensued. (No, the games run too long as is.)

Secondly, many appealed to commissioner Bud Selig to invoke the “best interests of the game” clause to overturn Joyce’s call and give Galarraga the perfecto. (No, breaking precedent here could lead to all sorts of controversy moving forward.)

Unfortunately, Joyce’s call will go down as one of the worst ever by an umpire, considering the circumstances. He joins the company of Don Denkinger, whose errant ninth inning call in game six of the 1985 World Series gave the Royals life and ultimately cost the Cardinals a championship.

Ironically, if Galarraga had dropped Miguel Cabrera’s toss, it would have been ruled an error, and a no-hitter would still be in effect.

Through it all, Galarraga exhibited remarkable poise and grace — especially when considering he’d been deprived of baseball immortality. In some strange way, he’ll be  remembered more for losing he perfecto than some of the 20 other pitchers who have been perfect since 1880.

And Joyce, one of the better umpires in the game today, showed class by admitting his mistake and apologizing to Galarraga.

12 Perfect Innings
Many still recall the hard-luck lefty Harvey Haddix, above right, of the Pirates, who pitched 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves only to lose the perfect game, no-hitter, shutout and game in the 13th. When baseball redefined scoring rules in 1991, Haddix lost credit for both a perfect game and a no-hitter.

And then there was the strange case of Ernie Shore of the Red Sox, who in 1917 relieved Babe Ruth in the first inning after Ruth walked the first batter, argued the call and got tossed by home plate umpire Brick Owens, who the Babe slugged on his way to the clubhouse. The runner was thrown out stealing, and Shore then retired the next 26 Washington Senators. For years, Shore was credited with a perfect game, but the ruling was changed and the game is now listed as a shared no-hitter between Shore and Ruth.

In addition to Galarraga, nine other pitchers have retired the first 26 batters only to lose perfect games. Most recently, Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina came within a strike of a perfect game at Fenway Park in 1999 before Carl Everett of the Red Sox lined a single to left.

At Wrigley Field in 1972, Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas, left, was one strike away from a perfect game with a 2-2 count on Padres pinch-hitter Larry Stahl when fate, in the person of home plate umpire Bruce Froemming, intervened. Froemming called the next two pitches — both of which were close — balls. Pappas recovered to complete the no-hitter, but to this day he continues to begrudge Froemming.

Some 25 years later, a Chicago radio personality, during an interview with Pappas, got Froemming on the phone and the two argued on the air. Pappas also said in 2006 that he has seen video tape footage of that game on WGNtelevision and can see Froemming smirking immediately after the walk was issued; Froemming denied the charge.

Here’s the almost perfect list. Each of the following pitchers lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth.

Almost Perfect

1908: Hooks Wiltse
New York Giants (vs. Philadelphia Phillies)
George McQuillan was hit with a pitch, but Wiltse ended the game with a 10-inning no-hitter.

1932: Tommy Bridges
Detroit (vs. Washington)
Dave Harris hit a single.

1958: Billy Pierce
Chicago (vs. Washington)
Ed FitzGerald hit a double.

1972: Milt Pappas
Chicago (vs. San Diego)
Larry Stahl was walked, but Pappas ended the game with a no-hitter.

1983: Milt Wilcox
Detroit (at Chicago)
Jerry Hairston hit a single.

1988: Ron Robinson
Cincinnati (vs. Montreal)
Wallace Johnson hit a single.

1989: Dave Stieb
Toronto (vs. New York)
Roberto Kelly hit a double.

1990: Brian Holman
Seattle (vs. Oakland)
Ken Phelps hit a home run.

2001: Mike Mussina
New York (at and vs. Boston)
Carl Everett hit a single.

2010: Armando Gallaraga
Detroit (vs. Cleveland)
Jason Donald hit a single.

PS — The SportsLifer was lucky enough to witness one of the 20 perfect games in baseball history. I was in the lower right field seats at Yankee Stadium with my son, nephew and brother-in-law on a May day in 1998 when Yankees left-hander David Wells pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. As we left the Stadium that afternoon, I told my nephew, seven-years-old at the time, that he could go to a thousand ballgames and never see another perfect game.