Duke’s Passing Recalls Day at Polo Grounds

Willie, Mickey and the Duke.

With the passing of Duke Snider, now only Willie Mays survives from the great triumvirate that patrolled center field in New York in the 1950s. And the Boys of Summer are down a man.

In his New York Times obituary, Edwin Donald Snider’s career was summed up this way: “Playing for 18 seasons, he had 407 home runs, 2,116 hits, batted at least .300 seven times, had a lifetime batting average of .295 and was generally among the league leaders in runs batted in and runs scored.” And he was renowned for his superb defensive play as well.

The Duke will always be known as a Dodger – he spent a combined 16 years in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. But Snider was purchased by the Mets for $40.000 in 1963, played one season in New York, and finished his career with the San Francisco Giants in 1964.

Through the information found on sources like baseball reference and retrosheet, the  SportsLifer (in 1963 a SportsKid) was able to determine that he saw Snider play once, on a sticky, hot summer afternoon in New York.

The Duke was a Met then, batting cleanup and playing right field, when the Metropolitans hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at the old Polo Grounds in Manhattan.

Hickman’s Natural Cycle

That was the same game where Jim Hickman hit for the only natural cycle in Mets  history, powering them to a 7-3 victory. Snider had a big day that afternoon as well, with three singles and a pair of RBIs in four at-bats.

The Duke spent just one season with the Mets, but collected both both his 400th homer and 2,000th hit in a Met uniform.

Clearly near the end, he hit just .243 in 1965 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs. Several other players — some famous, some not so famous — appeared in that Mets-Cards game on August 7, 1963.

Stan Musial, playing in his final season, pinch hit for Dal Maxvill in the eighth inning and grounded to first base.

Ernie Broglio started the game and was the losing pitcher for the Cardinals. The following June, he was traded to the Cubs for Lou Brock.

Broglio Traded for Brock

That trade would propel the Cards to a World Series victory over the Yankees in 1964.  Bill White, Ken Boyer and Tim McCarver, mainstays on that 1964 club, all played in the Polo Grounds that day.

Broglio was relieved by Lew Burdette, who beat the Yankees three times to lead the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series win against the Yankees in 1957.

For the Mets, Tracey Stallard pitched a complete game and got the win. That’s right, the same Tracy Stallard who surrendered Roger Maris’ 61st home run on the final day of the 1961 season.

The Mets lineup featured several originals — including catcher Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman and Frank Thomas — along with rookie second baseman Ron Hunt. Hunt was once hit by 50 pitches in a single season and led the National League in HBPs for seven straight seasons.

You never know what you’re going to see when you go to the ballpark, right kid. The 9,977 fans who showed up at the Polo Grounds on 8/7/63 saw a lot.

Barnett Unsung Hero on Knicks Champions


Before the Knicks had Clyde and the Pearl in the “Rolls Royce Backcourt,” they had Dick Barnett.

Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe may rank as the best guard tandem in NBA history, but Barnett and his “Fall Back, Baby” jump shot, below left, brought the Knicks back to respectability and pointed them towards a pair of the NBA championships.

The Gary, Indiana native, a three-time All-America player at Tennessee State, was the first draft pick of the Syracuse Nationals in 1959. He played two years with the Nats and three with the Lakers.

In between was a one-year stint with the Cleveland Pipers, who Barnett led to the ABL Championship in 1962. (The owner of the Cleveland team was former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.)

Barnett came to New York in October of 1965 in a trade that sent forward Bob Boozer to the Lakers.

It was during his nine years in New York that Barnett made his mark. He joined a Knicks team that featured center Walt Bellamy, top draft pick Jim “Bad News” Barnes,  and a second-round pick out of Grambling named Willis Reed.

Knicks on The Rise
The Knicks would finish last in the Eastern Conference for the seventh straight year in 1965-66, but they were getting better. And Barnett was a big part of the story. He averaged a career-high 23.1 points that year, and two seasons later made the NBA All-Star team.

The Knicks would win their first NBA Championship in 1970. Barnett, starting in the backcourt with Clyde Frazier, averaged 14.9 points per game in the regular season, 16.9 points in the playoffs.

In the clinching Game Seven against the Lakers, the game where Reed walked on the Madison Square Garden court to inspire his teammates and fans, Barnett scored 21 points as the Knicks won the NBA title.

Barnett remained a starter until the Knicks acquired the Pearl in 1972. He finished his career with another Knickerbocker championship in 1973. In all, Barnett played in five NBA Finals, three with the Knicks and two with the Lakers.

Barnett never averaged less than 12 points per game in his first dozen years, and finished his NBA career with a 15.8 scoring average and 15,358 total points. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, along with his coach John McClendon, on the strength of their three successive NAIA national championships at Tennessee State.

After his career, Barnett received a PhD in education at Fordham, and retired from teaching sports management at St. John’s in 2007. He was recently feted at Knicks Legends night at Madison Square Garden.

Dick Barnett’s number #12 hangs from the Garden rafters.

Melo-Drama: Knicks Look to End Drought

Nearly 40 years ago, the New York Knicks made one of the biggest trades in their history when they acquired Hall of Fame guard Earl Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash.

The Pearl teamed with Walt Frazier to give the Knicks one of the best backcourts in NBA history, and helped lead to New York to its second NBA title in 1973. They haven’t won one since.

This week the Knicks made another reach for that elusive ring when they acquired four-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. In a blockbuster deal, the Knicks traded away nearly half their roster, plus draft picks, in order to bring Melo to New York.

Anthony will join Amar’e Stoudemire to give the Knicks two superstars on the roster for the first time since….well since they last won a championship. Not suggesting New York is going to the NBA Finals this year, but they are heading in the right direction.

Lord knows the Knicks have tried to build a winner in the two decades since their title runs. Tried and failed. Repeatedly.

McAdoo in 1976
For example, in December of 1976, the Knicks sent John Gianelli and cash to the  Buffalo Braves for Bob McAdoo — a three-time NBA scoring leader and MVP in 1975 — and Tom McMillen. The feeling was that McAdoo would join four regulars from the championship days — Monroe, Frazier, Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson — along with newcomer Spencer Haywood to bring another winner to Madison Square Garden.

Well not quite. These Knicks never advanced past the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1978. McAdoo was sent to the Celtics during the 1978-79 season for three number one draft picks, one of whom was center Bill Cartwright.

Three years later, the Knicks acquired Bernard King from the Golden State Warriors for Micheal Ray Richardson and a 1984 fifth round pick. King had a spectacular but brief career in New York, and in 1984-85 became the only Knick in history to lead the NBA in scoring, at 32.9 points per game. Unfortunately he blew out his knee that season and later signed as a free agent with the Washington Wizards.

With King leading the charge, the Knicks advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals in both 1983 and 1984 before losing to the eventual NBA champion 76ers and Celtics respectively.

It seemed like Knicks were bound for more championships after they won the 1986 NBA draft lottery and drafted center Patrick Ewing of Georgetown. But despite repeated efforts to firm up the roster, the Knicks failed to bring in a second superstar to help Ewing.

In 1988, seeking help on the boards, the Knicks traded Cartwright and first and third round picks to the Chicago Bills for Charles Oakley and a first-round pick. Oakley was the NBA’s top rebounder in both 1987 and 1988, but it was Cartwright who won three championships with Michael Jordan and the Bulls while the Knicks were shut out

The Knicks kept on trying, and although the deals highlighted below made them competitive, they could never quite get over that championship hump.

Ewing Era Deals
— Knicks sign free agent John Starks, left, released by Golden State
1992 — As part of a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic, Knicks acquire forward Charles Smith
1994 — New York gets guard Derek Harper from Dallas for Tony Campbell and a first- round draft pick
1996 — On Bastille Day the Knicks make two moves, signing free agent guard Allan Houston from Detroit and acquiring Larry Johnson from Charlotte in a deal for Brad Lohaus and Anthony Mason.
1998 — Knicks trade Oakley and Sean Marks to Toronto Raptors for center/forward Marcus Camby.
1999 — In a mid-season deal, Knicks trade Starks, Terry Cummings and Chris Mills to Golden State for Latrell Sprewell.

The Knicks were competitive throughout the Ewing era. They advanced to the NBA Finals twice, losing to the Houston Rockets in a seven-game series in 1994 and the San Antonio Spurs in five games in 1999.

In the past 10 seasons, the Knicks have made the playoffs just once, where they were promptly swept by their cross-river rivals the New Jersey Nets in 2004.

Are the Knicks on the championship track at last? Only time will tell, but the pieces are starting to fall into place. And the electricity is back at Madison Square Garden.

Casting a Hall of Fame Vote for Gil Hodges

OK. someone’s gotta help his cause. Crunch the numbers, do the math. Gil Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame.

For more than a decade — beginning in 1949 until the late 50s — Gilbert Raymond Hodges was as good as any first baseman in baseball. He was an eight-time All-Star during that span, and his batting statistics and fielding prowess ovdershadowed those of any other first baseman in that era.

Hodges appeared in one game as a third baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, then entered the United States Marine Corps during World War II. He served as an anti-aircraft gunner in the battles of Tinian and Okinawa, receiving a Bronze Star and a commendation for courage under fire for his actions.

Gil Hodges hit 370 home runs lifetime, batted .273, and drove in 100 runs seven straight years, beginning in 1949. Hodges hit at least 30 homers in a season six times, and at one time late in his career broke Ralph Kiner’s National League record for career home runs by a right-hand batter. He is one of the few batters to hit four home runs in a single game and his 361 homers remain second in Dodger history to Duke Snider’s 389.

He was the cornerstone at first base for a Dodgers team that won five pennants and a World Series in Brooklyn. And later Hodges helped lead the Dodgers to another championship in 1959 in Los Angeles, with 25 homers and 80 RBIs.

World Series Heroics
Beloved by Dodger fans, he drove in both runs of Game Seven of the 1955 World  Series as the Dodgers beat the Yankees, 2-0, to won their first and only championship for Brooklyn. He batted .391 in the 1959 Series and his home run in the eighth inning of Game Four gave Los Angeles a 5-4 win en route to its first championship in Los Angeles.

Hodges was a Gold Glove first baseman in an age before they gave out Gold Gloves. Hodges was one of the best right-hand fielding first basemen in history. He led the league in fielding percentage four times and in putouts and assists three times. and ranks second behind Charlie Grimm in NL career double plays by a first baseman.

But the trump card that separates Hodges from other candidates is his managerial record, albeit brief, topped by a World Championship in 1969. After winding up his career with the original Mets in 1963, Hodges was traded to the Washington Senators for Jimmy Piersall and replaced Mickey Vernon as manager. Hodges managed the Senators through 1967 and they improved each season.

Hodges took over the reins of the Mets in 1968. One year later the Miracle Mets became perhaps the most improbable champion in baseball history, rising from ninth place the previous year to win 100 games before sweeping the Braves in the first NLCS and later topping the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in five games in the 1969 World Series.

Hodges managed the Mets to a pair of third-place finishes in 1970 and 1971, but died of a heart attack while playing golf with other members of the Mets coaching staff just days before the 1972 season, two days shy of his 48th birthday.

Hodges came close to being elected to the Hall of Fame several times by the Baseball Writers Association of America. In his final year on the ballot in 1983, he garnered 63.4 percent of the vote, just short of the required 75 percent. Perhaps it’s time Cooperstown took another look at his credentials.

Related Hall of Fame Posts

Guidry vs. Koufax: A Hall of A Compare

Former Yankee Owner Jacob Ruppert Belongs in The Hall

Top 25 Triumphs: New York over Boston

The Giants stunned the Patriots on this Super Bowl TD pass to Plaxico Burress.

New York and Boston have been battling for bragging rights since the early days of America, when the Knickerbockers and the Pilgrims squared off in the feats of strength. Here are New York’s top 25 wins over its sporting rival to the North:

1. Giants 17, Patriots 14, Super Bowl XLII, 2008 — The unbeaten Patriots were huge 12-point favorites over the Giants, who had to win three playoff road games just to get to the Super Bowl. But the New York pass rush battered Tom Brady all game, and after a miracle connection with David Tyree, Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress with the winning touchdown with just 35 second remaining.

2. Yankees 5, Red Sox 4, AL East playoff, 1978 — In 1978, the Yankees trailed the Red Sox through most of the summer, at one point trailing by 14 games in July. But the Yanks caught fire, buoyed by September’s Fenway massacre, and the two times wound up tied. In the one-game playoff, Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer just over Fenway’s wall, and Goose Gossage preserved New York’s win.

3. Mets 6, Red Sox 5, 10 innings, Game Six, World Series, 1986 — The Red Sox were within one strike of their first World Championship in 68 years, when the Mets roared back. Two-out singles by Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight plated one run, a wild pitch let in the tying run, and then Mookie Wilson’s dribbler went through the legs  of first baseman Bill Buckner as Knight raced home with the winning run.

4. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5, 11 innings, Game Seven, ALCS, 2003 — The Red Sox took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but manager Grady Little left Pedro Martinez out to dry and the Yankees rallied to tie the score. The game remained tied into the last of the 11th, when Aaron Boone hit knuckleballer Tim Wakefield’s first pitch into the lower stands in left field to give the Yankees the pennant.

5. Yankees 5, Red Sox 3, 1949 — The Red Sox needed only a split in the final two games of the season at Yankee Stadium to win the AL pennant. In the Saturday game, the Yankees came back from a 4-0 deficit to win 5-4 on Johnny Lindell’s home run in the eighth. The next day, Jerry Coleman’s bases-clearing double helped the Yankees to a 5-0 lead in the eighth, and they held on to win the pennant.

6. Knicks 94, Celtics 78, Game Seven, NBA Eastern Conference finals, 1973 — The Celtics had never lost a Game Seven anywhere, let alone home, and had clawed back from a 3-1 deficit to force the decisive showdown in Boston. Behind a 16-point third period by Walt Frazier and the defensive work of Dean Meminger, the Knicks pulled away to advance to the NBA finals, where they beat the Los Angeles Lakers.

7. Jets  28, Patriots 21, AFC divisional round playoff, 2011 – Following a 45-3 loss to the Patriots in the regular season, the Jets were dbig underdogs against the top-seeded Pats going into the AFC divisional round playoff in Foxboro. But Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes — to LaDainian Tomlinson, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes — to lead the Jets to the upset victory.

8. Yankees 15-3, 13-2, 7-0, 7-4, Fenway Massacre, 1978 — The surging Yankees had already shaved 10 games off Boston’s one-time 14-game lead when they arrived in Boston in early September. Four days later the two teams were tied after the Yankees hammered out 42 runs and 77 hits against Boston’s beleaguered staff.

9. Knicks 121, Celtics 114, Game Five, first round, NBA Eastern Conference playoffs, 1990 — The Celtics and Larry Bird won the first two games in the best-of-five series, including a 157-128 win in Game Two. But the Knicks behind Patrick Ewing , left, rebounded to win two games at home and the decisive final game in the Boston Garden.

10. Rangers 6, Bruins 3, Game Five, first round, NHL playoffs, 1973 — The Rangers avenged a loss to the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season. Rookie Steve Vickers scored a hat trick to lead the Blueshirts. These two Original Six franchises haven’t faced off in the playoff since.

11. No-Hitters — Yankees pitchers have thrown thee no-hitters at the Red Sox: George Mogridge in 1917 (first no-no in Yankee history); Allie Reynolds in 1951 (his second of the year); and Dave Righetti in 1983, on the Fourth of July, George Steinbenner’s 53rd  birthday. (Cy Young pitched the only Red Sox no-hitter against New York, back in 1908, when they were known as the Highlanders.)

12. Knicks 113, Celtics 104, 2 OTs, 1985 — The Miracle on 34th Street, as the Knicks came from 25 points down to beat the Celtics in double overtime…on Christmas Day.

13. Yankees 4, Red Sox 1, 1923 — Yankee Stadium opens to pomp, circumstance and the first home run in the new yard — by Babe Ruth fittingly enough in the house that he built.

14. Jets Rout Patriots — Throughout their years in the AFL and AFC, the Jets have had some huge routs of the Patriots, most notably 48-14 in 1968, 42-7 in 1990, and 45-7 in 1993.

15. Yankees 15, Red Sox 10, 1950 — Opening Day at Fenway Park, Red Sox take a 9-0 lead. But the Yanks explode for nine runs in the eighth — rookie Billy Martin had two hits and three RBIs in the inning — and spoil the opener for Boston.

16. Yankees 1, Red Sox 0, 1961 — On the final day of the season, a sunny Sunday at Yankee Stadium, Roger Maris belted his 61st home run against Tracy Stallard to break Babe Ruth’s record.

17 . Rangers 4, Bruins 1, Game Six, NHL semifinals, 1940 — The Rangers eliminate the Bruins in six games, right, and go on to win the Stanley Cup. It would be 54 years before they won another.

18. Knicks 111, Boston 103, Game Five, NBA Eastern Conference finals, 1972 – The Knicks finish off the Celtics, 4-1, and move on to face the Los Angeles Lakers.

19. Yankees 12, Red Sox 11, 10 innings, 1996 — The Yankees rally from behind three times and finally win it in the 10th on rookie Derek Jeter’s two-out single to score Wade Boggs.

20. Yankees 4, Red Sox 3, 10 innings, Game One, ALCS, 1999 — Bernie Williams takes Rod Beck deep, and send the Yankees on their way to another pennant….and World Series.

21. Rangers 7, Bruins 4, 1979 — Traded from the Bruins to the Rangers four years earlier for a package that included Brad Park and Jean Ratelle, Phil Esposito returns to burn Boston with four goals.

22. Yankees 22, Red Sox 1, 2000 — The Yankees scored 16 runs in the last two innings and handed the Red Sox their most lopsided home loss ever.

23. Jets 34, Patriots 31, OT, 2008 —  This may have been Brett Favre’s signature moment as a Jet. He was brilliant in the fourth quarter and overtime, displaying the old Favre magic, to give the Jets the win. .

24. Rangers 9, Bruins 0, 1969 — The Rangers erupt at Madison Square Garden, scoring three goals within 38 seconds in the final period to punctuate the romp.

25. Knicks 82, Celtics 75, Game Four, NBA Eastern Division finals, 1953 — Knicks finish off Celtics, 3-1, and move on to face the Minneapolis Lakers.

A familiar scene in the rivalry – New York on top, Boston trailing.

1927 New York Giants — Forgotten Champs

The 1927 New York Yankees are considered one of the greatest teams in baseball history.

Yet New York had another championship team that year, 84 years ago, a team long since forgotten.

That team was the New York Giants, who in just their third year in the fledgling National Football League won their first title.

The Giants finished 11-1-1 in the 12-team league and were crowned NFL champions in a time before playoff systems were used. The Giants, who called the Polo Grounds home, shut out 10 opponents that year. They allowed just three touchdowns all season and wound up outscoring the opposition 197-20.

NFL, 1927
Those opponents included both the second place Green Bay Packers (7-2-1) and third place Chicago Bears (9-3-2). The Cleveland Bulldogs, who finished fourth (8-4-2), put the only two blemishes on the Giants record, beating New York 6-0 after playing the Giants to a scoreless tie earlier in the season.

The remaining NFL teams in 1927 were the Providence Steam Roller, New York Yankees, Frankford Yellow Jackets, Pottsville Maroons, Chicago Cardinals, Dayton Triangles, Duluth Eskimos and Buffalo Bisons, who dropped out of the league after five straight losses to start the season.

The Giants were led by two Hall of Fame linemen, tackles Steve Owen, shown right, and Cal Hubbard, who played both offense and defense. Owen went on to coach the Giants for 24 seasons beginning in 1930, and won two championships of his own, in 1933 and 1938.

Hubbard is the only man to be voted into both the Baseball and Football Hall of Fame. Playing alongside Steve Owen, Hubbard was a rookie on the 1927 Giants, but a year later requested a trade to Green Bay, which won the NFL championship in his first three years beginning in 1929. He finished his football career in 1936 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a franchise that was to become the Steelers.

Baseball Umpire
Hubbard later became an umpire in the American League from 1936 to 1951. Immediately recognized as one of the game’s greatest officials, he was eventually elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1927 Giants were led offensively by fullback Jack McBride, who scored 57 points, with six touchdowns, two field goals, and 15 extra points. Tailback Hinkey Haines and wingback Mule Wilson each scored six TDs.

The Giants were coached by coached Earl Potteiger, who joints the ranks of Steve Owen (2), Bill Parcells (2), Jim Lee Howell and Tom Coughlin as the only men to  coach the Giants to championships. Potteiger coached the Giants again in 1928, finished 4-7-2, and was dismissed.

Potteiger also played and managed minor league baseball. And apparently there are no known photos of William Earl Potteiger….but we do have his autograph.

Footnote: While the Giants were winning their 1927 championship, the New York Rangers were beginning just their second season in the National Hockey League. The following April, the Rangers beat the Montreal Maroons 3-2 to win Stanley Cup, giving New York three professional championships in less than six months.

Steelers Could Tie Giants With 7 Titles

If the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl XLV, they will tie the New York Giants for third place on the list of all-time NFL champions with seven apiece.

The Steelers are shooting for their seventh Super Bowl. The Giants have won three Super Bowls, three other NFL championship games, and one title in 1927 before the league began playoff series.

The Green Bay Packers lead the all-time list with 12, including the first two Super Bowls. The Chicago Bears are next in line with nine championships.

The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers have each won five Super Bowls.

Growing Up on The Super Bowl

The Los Angeles Coliseum was the site of the first Super Bowl, Packers vs, Chiefs.

I grew up on the Super Bowl. That’s right, true confessions The SportsLifer is also a Super Bowl lifer.

My mind wanders back to those high school daze and Super Bowl I — back when it was called the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game. I remember watching the game with my father and brother, knowing Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers were the best football team in the world.

While Joe Namath guaranteed victory for the Jets in Super Bowl III, I wagered $5 with my Dad, who took the Colts and gave me 18 points. Jets 16, Colts 7 in the coming-out party for the American Football League.

Several years later, a college student now, I saw Super Bowl VII in a dirty old bar in Worcester, Mass. That was the year of the unbeaten Miami Dolphins. Perfect.

As a sportswriter, I wrote about the Super Bowl in Scene and Heard, my column with the Fitchburg Sentinel and Leominster Enterprise, and later in my TV-Radio sports  column at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Those columns may exist in hard copy somewhere, but they never made it on to the information highway.

Super Giants
Later in life, I watched with joy as the Giants won three Super Bowls, twice on the home television, including the unlikeliest of all wins against the unbeaten Patriots. A

And I’ll forever recall kneeling at the bedside of a dying man willing Scott Norwood to miss the kick. Wide right, thank you.

Once I even went to go to a Super Bowl, when the Giants faced the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Had a fun time, meeting Joe Namath, Dan Rather, Adam Sandler and other celebs. No fun watching the G-Men fall big, 34-7.

During the years I’ve been to countless Super Bowl parties, hosted by both family and friends. I’ve run pools, I’ve won pools, I’ve lost pools. I’ve seen dynasties dominate decades, like the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers of the 80s, the Cowboys of the 90s and, most recently, the Patriots.

Last year I was at Mickey Mantle’s on Central Park South as IBM hosted a party for industry analysts on the eve of the company’s POWER7 announcement. The Saints made history that day, winning the first Super Bowl for New Orleans.

Who knows what Super Bowl XLV will bring?