One Wild and Crazy Night

Move over Bobby Thomson, you’ve got company. Meet Evan Longoria.

Go crazy folks! Go crazy!

Those were the words late announcer Jack Buck used to describe an implausible game-winning home run by shortstop Ozzie Smith in the 1985 National League playoffs.

Crazy sums up the final night of the baseball season, when the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals overcame improbably long odds and huge September deficits to waltz into the post-season as wild cards.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Colossal Collapse I
The Boston Red Sox became the first team in history to lose a nine-game September lead and fail to make the playoffs. Boston led Tampa Bay by nine games on September 3, but won just seven of 27 in September and allowed the Rays to win the wild card on the final day of the season.

Colossal Collapse II
While the Red Sox were melting down in the American League, the Braves were doing virtually the same in the National League wild-card race. The Braves were 9-18 in September. St. Louis trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 in late August, 8 1/2 on September 6, and by three with five games to play.

Philadelphia Freedom
Until now, the Phillies were the poster boys for September ineptitude. In 1964, Philadelphia lost a 8 1/2 game lead in September. That year the foldin’ Phils led the Cards and Reds by 6 1/2 games with just 12 to go, then lost 10 in a row and ended up one game back in a tie for second with the Reds, despite winning their last two games. St. Louis went on to win the World Series.

Oh So Close
The Red Sox were one strike away from beating the Orioles and at least earning a tie and forcing a one-game playoff for the wild card before falling to the Orioles. Boston had been 77-0 this year when leading after eight innings.

The Rays, who overcame a seven-run deficit, were one strike away from falling to the Yankees before Dan Johnson’s home run tied the game in the ninth. Tampa won in the 12th inning on Evan Longoria’s second home run of the game. The Yankees had not blown a seven-run lead in the eighth inning or later since 1953.

And the Braves lost a one-run lead to the Phillies with two outs in the ninth before eventually losing in 13 innings.

The Shot Heard Round the World
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Longoria’s homer marked only the second time in history a walk-off home run in the final regular season game propelled a team into the playoffs. The other was Bobby Thomson’s famous home run that gave the New York Giants a win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in a playoff for the 1951 National League pennant.

Boston, You’re My Home
The Braves once called Boston home before moving to Milwaukee in 1953. Imagine that.

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60 years ago, Van Brocklin passed the mark

It’s one of the oldest records in National Football League history.

Nearly 60 years ago, on a warm Friday night at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, Norman Mack Van Brocklin passed for 554 yards as the Rams beat up on the New York Yanks, 54-14. The date was September 28, 1951, the opening game of the NFL season,

Van Brocklin broke the single-game record set by Johnny Lujack of the Chicago Bears, who threw for 468 yards in a season-ending win over the Chicago Cardinals in 1949.

Since then, thousands and thousands of pro football games have been played. Rock and roll was invented. We’ve had 10 US Presidents. Man walked on the moon. Oh yes, and lest we forget, the Internet became vogue.

Van Brocklin, who was known as the Dutchman, threw five touchdowns that magic night against the dreadful Yanks, four to Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch (41, 47, 26 and 1). He also tossed a 67-yard touchdown to Vitamin Smith. All told, NVB completed 27 of 41 passes that afternoon, and was intercepted twice.

The Rams won the NFL Championship in 1951 with Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield sharing quarterback duties, although Waterfield started the majority of the 12 games the Rams played.

In the 24-17 championship game win over the Cleveland Browns, Van Brocklin threw just six passes. But one of them was a 73-yard bomb to Tom Fears in the fourth quarter to put the Rams in front for good.

History of Van Brocklin
Norm Van Brocklin, who played his college ball at Oregon, was a fourth-round pick (37th overall) of the Rams in the 1949 NFL draft.

He played nine seasons in Los Angeles, then was dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958 for tackle Buck Lansford, defensive back Jimmy Harris and a first round draft pick. Van Brocklin may have hastened his departure when he was intercepted six times in a 38-14 loss to Cleveland in the 1955 NFL title game.

Van Brocklin played three years in Philadelphia, and was named NFL MVP in 1960, his final season. That year he led the Eagles to a 17-13 win over Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers for the NFL Championship. It’s the only playoff game a Lombardi-coached  team ever lost, and also marks the last time the Eagles won a championship.

Van Brocklin became the first coach of the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961, and later coached the Atlanta Falcons for seven seasons.

A nine-time Pro Bowler, Norm was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

The 500-Yard Club

554     Norm Van Brocklin, Los Angeles Rams, 1951
527     Warren Moon, Houston Oilers, 1990
522     Boomer Esiason, Arizona Cardinals, 1996
521     Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1988
517    Tom Brady, New England Patriots, 2011
513    Phil Simms, New York Giants, 1985
519    Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 2006
509    Vince Ferragamo, Los Angeles Rams, 1982
505    Y.A. Tittle, New York Giants, 1962
504    Elvis Grbac, Kansas City Chiefs, 2000
503    Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2009


10 Cool Facts About Yankee Savior Rivera

Sometime soon, maybe by the time you read this, Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history, will pass Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list.

Rivera has 600 saves in his career, and 42 more in the post-season. Do the math, that’s almost four full seasons of getting the last out in a Yankees win.

Perhaps the most indispensable Yankee over the past 15 years….heck perhaps the most valuable player in baseball during that time….Rivera is a Hall of Fame lock.

Here are 10 cool facts about Mariano Rivera:

1. Since he became the Yankee closer in 1997 (taking over for the departed John Wetteland), Rivera has been remarkably consistent.  He’s had at least 28 saves for 15 straight seasons.

2. Rivera actually started 10 games in 1995, his rookie year. before the Yankees realized he was born to be a reliever. That year he had a 5-3 record to go with a 5.51 ERA.

3. Since then, Rivera’s ERA has been above 3.00 just once (3.15 in 2007). His career low came in 2005, when he recorded a 1.38 ERA. Overall, he’s 75-57 with a 2.22 ERA. IMG_0343

4. Mariano has led the American League in saves three times — 45 (1999), 50 (2001) and a career-high and Yankee best 53 in 2004.

5. Mariano Rivera has never won a Cy Young Award. He did finish second once, third three times, and fifth once in Cy Young balloting. He finished as high as ninth in AL MVP voting in 2004 and 2005.

6. “I save games, they save lives. That’s what real heroes are all about.” — Mariano Rivera, who gave his 2001 Rolaids “Relief Man” award to FDNY.

7. Only one player in baseball, wears #42 — Mariano Rivera. That number was retired in 1997 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s “color barrier.” However players who were wearing #42 at that time were allowed to keep it until they retired. Fittingly, Rivera is the only one left.

8. Mo claims his most memorable moment came in 2003, when he pitched three scoreless innings against the Red Sox before Aaron Boone homered to win Game 7 of the ALCS.

9. Rivera’s post-season numbers are off the charts. In addition to his 42 saves, Mariano has an 8-1 record and a microscopic 0.71 ERA in playoff competition.

10. Rivera has given up just two post-season home runs in 94 games, neither to a left-hand hitter. Sandy Alomar, Jr, of the Indians (1997) and Jay Payton of the Mets (2000) are the only two players to claim a post-season home run against Rivera.


Remembering 9/11: Never forget

This is a piece I wrote on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and later published in SportsLifer on the 10th anniversary of that fateful September day.  Hard to believe that September 11, 2001, was 10 years ago. It was a day that America lost its innocence. Hardened by the experience, we live on.

9/11/01

The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote, “grief returns with the revolving year.” That simple premise holds true this day, now more than ever…for New Yorkers, for Americans and most especially for the families and friends of the innocent victims killed in the ghastly terrorist attacks last September 11.

The emotions are truly overwhelming. Foremost is sadness, for those who lost their lives that day at the World Trade Center and for the families who are trying to cope with that loss. For the rescuers. For those who died at the Pentagon. For the heroes who fought back and altered the course of United Flight 93. That remorse is mixed with anger and the question why anybody would do this to fellow human beings. And of course there is a strong sentiment of American patriotism.

It was a day that changed our lives forever.

As I reflect back on the events of September 11, 2001… and not a day goes by that I don’t think about that fateful, clear-blue day…I realize again and again and again how lucky I am. So many lives that day were changed forever by a quick decision, a twist of fate, the luck of the draw.

Several of my IBM colleagues and I originally had a 9 am meeting scheduled on 9/11 with Wall Street Journal personal technology editor Walt Mossberg at the World Trade Center Marriott hotel. Purely by chance, I called the Journal several days before and discussed moving the meeting to 590 Madison (corner of Madison and 57th) in midtown Manhattan. The request was made purely for selfish reasons…so that we could accommodate additional briefings that morning…and also so we didn’t have to lug a bunch of desktops, notebooks and monitors to lower Manhattan.

Fortunately for all of us as it turned out, the Journal agreed to the meeting shift.

That morning, as I met Mossberg in the 590 lobby a little before 9 (he had stayed at the WTC Marriott the night before and checked out around 8:15 that morning), he asked if there was an airport nearby, and whether planes took off over Manhattan. I replied that LaGuardia was probably just 5-7 miles away, but that takeoff and landing patterns generally wouldn’t take planes over Manhattan. Then I asked why. He responded that as he got out of the cab, he happened to look up to see a large plane flying down 5th Avenue. He thought it was going to hit one of the midtown skyscrapers.

Anyway, we proceeded to the 6th floor and our windowless conference room. The briefing began right on time, right around 9. Within minutes, my cell phone started ringing. Calls from my family, the office, even the Journal.

You know, it was so strange. We were probably only 2-3 miles from the World Trade Towers, but we may as well have been a million miles away. We didn’t hear anything, see anything, feel anything. We finished our briefing around 10, then opened the conference room door.

There were only a few people on the floor, and they were huddled around listening to radios. The gravity of the situation, the extent of the attacks, was readily apparent to us. Reports kept filtering in, the fires were spreading, people were falling from the towers, another plane had hit the Pentagon.

Soon after, we received word via radio reports of the collapse of the Twin Towers, first the South Tower then the North Tower. At that point, I wanted to get out of Manhattan and back to my home, approx. 80 miles north of the city. Ironically, I had driven my car into the city the day before — normally I take the train to Grand Central. People were being urged not to drive, since tunnels and bridges leading into and out of Manhattan were closed. But I reasoned that people would be allowed to drive out of the city eventually, especially to the north, where the bridges are small.

Mossberg was eager to leave with me, since one of his sons attends college near my home. The IBM team decided to remain in New York.

So we left, not knowing what would happen, or whether we’d even be allowed to drive. There was lots of pedestrian traffic, similar to St. Patrick’s Day in some respects without the festive atmosphere. But vehicular traffic was fairly light, and we made good time up Third Avenue, all the way to Harlem. We hit gridlock between 122nd and 123rd St.

After 20 minutes or so, people began getting out of their cars. It was eerie — to the north all you could see was beautiful blue sky, to the south smoke and dust.

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, a truck driver next to us said he heard that they had opened the Willis Avenue Bridge, where First Avenue crosses over into the Bronx. We pushed through, and were soon on our way northward. I got Walt Mossberg to a hotel, then made my way home.

In the weeks and months since September 11, I’ve read with avid interest the accounts of what happened to the World Trade Center Marriott. How debris rained down from the North Tower, cracking the pool, with water cascading down, causing the hotel elevators to fail. How the hotel was cleaved in two by the collapse of the South Tower, then destroyed when the North Tower gave way. How the brave firefighters of Brooklyn Ladder 118 — and other FDNY brothers — were able to evacuate hundreds of hotel guests. How more than 50 people, including hotel guests, employees and firefighters, died in the WTC Marriott.

I thank God I’m alive. God Bless America.


Eddie Collins: The Pride of Dutchess County

Barely a man survives who saw the great Eddie Collins play ball. One of the great second basemen in baseball history, Collins was part of the original class inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1939.

There’s a section of the Sports Museum of Dutchess County devoted to Eddie Collins, the greatest athlete ever born in this bucolic county in the Mid-Hudson Valley, situated less than 75 miles from Times Square. Collins, born in 1887,  was a native of Millerton, a small, rail town in the Harlem Valley, in the northeast part of the county.

Here are 10 things about the great Collins you may not know:

1. Collins father John was a railroad freight agent. When little Eddie was eight months old, the family moved to Tarrytown, 30 miles north of New York City. There Collins attended the Irving School.

2. Eddie Collins (like Lou Gehrig after him) attended Columbia University, where as a 135-pound, 16-year-old he quarterbacked the football team and was the starting shortstop for the baseball team.

3. While still at Columbia, Collins made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1906, and reached Big Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox for a bunt single in his first at bat.

4. Collins became the regular second baseman for the A’s in 1908. He was an everyday player for the next two decades, with the A’s and later the White Sox. In 1914, he won the Chalmers Award, a precursor of the MVP. was the American League’s MVP. That year Collins hit .344 and scored 122 runs to lead the league.

5. Nearly 100 years ago, on September 11, 1912, Collins became the first player in the 20th Century to steal six bases in a single game. Exactly 11 days later he did it again. That mark has since been equalled by several players, most recently  by Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay against the Red Sox in 2009, but never broken.

6. Collins played on four World Series winners (A’s in 1910-11-13 and White Sox in 1917), and was a stalwart post-season performance. Three times in six World Series he hit better than .400, and finished with a .328 lifetime average in post-season play.

7. Collins was one of the clean members of the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” team that threw the World Series to Cincinnati. “Sure, I heard that the fix was on, but I looked on it as just idle gossip and completely preposterous,” said Collins afterward.

8. Collins played his last game at age 43 on August 2, 1930. He finished his career with a .333 lifetime batting average, 3,315 hits (ninth all time), 1821 runs and 745 stolen bases, which is the seventh highest total of steals lifetime. He has the fewest home runs, just 47, of any member of the 3,000 hit club.

9. Collins joined the Red Sox as vice president and general manager when fellow Irving Schooler Tom Yawkey purchased the team in 1933. Sadly, he is perhaps best remembered for his no-show decision in 1945, when Jackie Robinson and two other Negro Leaguers tried out for Boston. That decision resulted in the Red Sox becoming the last team to integrate.

10. A devout religious man, Collins passed away on Easter Sunday, 1951, at age 63. Survived by his wife and two sons, he was buried in Linwood Cemetery in Weston, Massachusetts.