Posts Tagged ‘Fenway Park’

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Bruins Fan Scorned

Friday, May 5th, 2017

For fans of the Boston Bruins, there are two types of hockey players—Bobby Orr and everyone else.  A product of Ontario—Parry Sound in Georgian Bay, to be precise—Orr ignited his hockey destiny the moment he laced up his first pair of skates.  Bostonians, fiercely loyal, welcomed Orr in 1966 with a storm of applause, adoration, and acclaim.  Hockey writers, too, noted Orr’s excellence with the Calder Memorial Trophy—the award for the “most proficient in his his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Orr, he of the destructible knees and indestructible fortitude, soon became a legend.  When #4 took the ice, the Boston Garden shook with promise of victory; in his first season, Orr helped lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers.  It resulted in a loss; nevertheless, the Bruins won hockey’s greatest honor twice during the Orr era, which ended after the 1975-76 season.  Orr shot the winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues to capture the Stanley Cup for the 1969-70 season.

After two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Orr retired after the 1978-79 season with 264 career goals, 624 career assists, and a collection of trophies marking excellence.  Orr’s boyish grin off the ice and steely exterior on it imprinted the kid from Parry Sound with a stamp reading “legend” in hockey annals.

When a legend gets injured, fans worry.

When a legend gets disparaged, fans defend.

When a legend gets mistreated on the field of play, fans react.  Violently, sometimes.  Such was the case on January 24, 1974 in a Bruins-Blackhawks game.  With less than a minute to go, defenseman Bill White stuck out his stick, tripped Orr, and began a wave of protest not seen since the nation’s forefathers dumped tea into Boston Harbor.  White’s action was purposeful, as clear as a cloudless sky on a spring day at Fenway Park.  At least it was, according to the Boston Garden crowd.

Orr, in a protest that could be heard in the parking lot, confronted referee Wally Harris, who acted promptly—he ejected Orr from the game for a 10-minute misconduct penalty.  White received no penalty.  Bruins fans, in turn, showed their displeasure by throwing garbage onto the ice—it took a little more than 30 minutes to clean the ice, cool tempers, and resume the game.  “I’ve been through a few things like that,” said Blackhawks centerman Stan Mikita, whose views were documented in the media, including, of course, the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe.  “But never as bad as this.  I never thought it would happen in Boston.  But it shows how people can get when the big man (Orr) gets flattened.  They want blood.”

Chicago sportswriter Bob Verdi posed a whiff of indictment against Orr in the Tribune.  “On the particular play, White dropped to the ice and knocked the puck away from Orr with a reaching stick sweep,” wrote Verdi.  “Orr’s momentum then carried him into contact with White’s right arm and stick.  There’s no way to prove it, but it looked as tho [sic] Orr was trying to force the penalty; he looked like Stan Mikita taking one of his famous swan dives.  Mikita, tho [sic], is more convincing.”

Alas, the Boston press felt differently about the penalty.  A Globe editorial stated, “Television reruns of the play made it clear what ignited the violence, but surely no one can believe that it was worth endangering the physical safety of the men on both teams or the officials to vent that fury.”

If a game has less than 10 minutes before completion, the player’s time off the ice for the 10-minute misconduct “Orr’s momentum then carried him into contact with White’s right arm and stick.  There’s no way to prove it, but it looked as tho [sic] Orr was trying to force the penalty; he looked like Stan Mikita taking one of his famous swan dives.  Mikita, tho [sic], is more convincing.”

If a game has less than 10 minutes before completion, the player’s time off the ice for the 10-minute misconduct penalty amounts to time served—the outstanding time will not be carried over, either to the next game on the schedule or the next game against the opponent.

The Blackhawks beat the Bruins 2-1.  But it was not the score that exhausted the crowd wearing Bruins paraphernalia to indicate their chosen team of worship, a trait designed by geography during one’s formative years, except in occasional instances.  It was treachery against a favorite son responsible, in Jupiterian fashion, for two Stanley Cups—treachery that pierced the hearts of college students in Cambridge; of cultured millionaires on Beacon Hill; of nature lovers in Boston Common; of civil servants at the Massachusetts State House; of gardeners in Brookline; of contractors in South Boston; of cab rivers ushering passengers to and from an airport named Logan; and of MBTA subway conductors.

A victory unites Bostonians of every stripe in society.  A betrayal, even more so.

 

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 24, 2017.

Ed Walsh, the White Sox, and Comiskey Park’s First Game

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Chicago welcomed an addition to its iconography on July 1, 1910.  Comiskey Park, that structure serving as a second home for baseball fans on the Windy City’s south side, débuted in an era of new stadia—Fenway Park in 1912, Ebbets Field in 1913, Weeghman Park (later rechristened Wrigley Field) in 1914.

It was about time that White Sox fans received a reward for their dedication to the team, according to I. E. Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune.  “For years the loyal rooters who have done so much to make this the greatest baseball city in the world have contented themselves as uncomplainingly as they could with accommodations inadequate to their needs while watching the fans of other and smaller cities rewarded, with far less reason, by modern steel and concrete edifices, each designed to surpass all its predecessors,” wrote Sanborn.

The White Sox opened this epoch of its history with a 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Browns.  Sanborn estimated the crowd at 28,000.

Comiskey Park saw one World Series champion team—the White Sox beat the Giants in 1917.  There were two other opportunities:  1919 and 1959.  The former, of course, has an ominous aura because of the “Black Sox” scandal that resulted in eight players being kicked out of baseball with the force of a sonic boom, otherwise known as Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s newly minted commissioner and a former federal judge.

Accused of purposed losing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for payoffs from gamblers, the eight players were acquitted in court.  Landis argued that the integrity of the game superseded the legal process result.

In 1959, the “Go Go Sox” compiled a 94-60 record to stand atop the American League.  The Dodgers defeated the White Sox in six games; it was the National League champions’ second year in Los Angeles.

What began in 1910 lasted 80 years—Comiskey Park finished its service as the home of the White Sox in 1990.  It was demolished the next year, which saw U.S. Cellular Filed become the team’s new site.

Ed Walsh got the loss for Comiskey Park’s opener, went 18-20 for the season, and led the American League in losses.  His career statistics earned him a place in White Sox lore:

  • 1.82 Earned Run Average
  • Led American League in Earned Run Average
    • 1.60 in 1907
    • 1.27 in 1910 (led major leagues)
  • Led major leagues in wins
    • 40-15 in 1908
  • Led major leagues in games started
    • 46 in 1907
    • 49 in 1908
    • 41 in 1912
  • Led major leagues in complete games
    • 37 in 1907
    • 42 in 1908
  • Led American League in shutouts
    • 10 in 1906 (led major leagues)
    • 11 in 1908 (led major leagues)
    • 8 in 1909
  • Led American League in strikeouts
    • 269 in 1908
    • 255 in 1911
  • 195-126 career win-loss record

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Walsh in 1946.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 26, 2016.

The Hall of Fame Case for Gene Autry

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Gene Autry wore many hats, proverbially speaking, besides the cowboy dome piece in his movies:

  • Owner of Los Angeles television station KTLA from 1963 to 1982
  • Original singer of the Christmas standard Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Army Air Corps officer and Air Transport Command pilot during World War II
  • Owner of Melody Ranch, a 110-acre site formerly known as Monogram Movie Ranch (bought in 1953, sold nearly 100 acres and used the remaining land for Western movies and television series)
  • Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch radio show
  • The Adventures of Champion radio show (about Autry’s horse Champion)
  • Radio stations
  • Television stations, in addition to KTLA
  • Rodeo
  • Record company

Baseball fans, however, knew Autry primarily as the man who planted a Major League Baseball flag in Orange County, California; Autry, once a part-owner of the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars, was the first owner of the California Angels ball club—originally named Los Angeles Angels—which had its first season in 1961.

Autry’s journey to ownership began, as financial successes often do, in the wake of disappointment.  When the Los Angeles Dodgers switched radio broadcasters from Autry’s KMPC to rival KFI in 1959, an opportunity emerged.  A new American League franchise in Los Angeles would be a ripe opportunity for KMPC, particularly because of its sports broadcasting pedigree.  A former ballplayer raised the ante.  “Joe Cronin had known Autry since Gene’s barnstorming rodeo days over two decades earlier.  Cronin, now president of baseball’s American League, wondered if Autry was ready to tame the Wild Wild West’s newest franchise in L.A.,” wrote Robert Goldman in the 2006 book Once They Were Angels.  “Autry jumped at the opportunity.  It was a perfect fit, as not only did Autry love baseball, but he also had an impeccable reputation as a businessman and a person of integrity.”

And so, the mogul who grew up dirt poor in Oklahoma pioneered American League baseball on the West Coast.

And yet, the icon born Orvon Grover Autry is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Autry’s tenure as the Angels’ owner spanned decades, from the last days of the Eisenhower presidency to the first days of the Internet becoming a mainstream tool for information.  When Autry sold the Angels in 1996, he left a legacy difficult to match and easy to applaud.  His length of time made him a baseball fixture.  His integrity made him a model of comportment for businessmen.

Tom Yawkey is in the Hall of Fame, and rightfully so—he spearheaded the renovation of Fenway Park in the 1920s.

Walter O’Malley is in the Hall of Fame, which causes havoc in the hearts of Brooklynites, who see O’Malley as a betrayer for moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles.  His transit to Los Angeles after the 1957 season paved the way for Autry and other owners to establish teams west of St. Louis, theretofore the westernmost metropolis with a Major League Baseball team.

Barney Dreyfuss is in the Hall of Fame, a membership for the former Pirates owner resulting from many achievements, including being a proponent of the World Series; the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates played in the first World Series in 1903.

Gene Autry is not in the Hall of Fame, despite his steadfast ownership.

Devotion to the fans stands out.  Not content to simply have a financial ledger in the black.  Autry poured “his vast millions on players who made the club a winner if not a world champion.  He attended his final Angels game only 10 days before he died,” wrote Myrna Oliver of the Los Angeles Times in Autry’s 1998 obituary.

In 1982, the Angels retired 26 as Autry’s number to reflect being the “26th Man” on the roster, which has a limit of 25 players.  It was a sign of respect that Autry also earned from owners, fans, stadium workers, players, and baseball executives across Major League Baseball.  Such is Autry’s emotional connection to Angel Nation that the phrase “Win One for the Cowboy” resonates from Angel Stadium to Aliso Viejo, from Santa Ana to San Juan Capistrano.

Cooperstown awaits.  Patiently.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 29, 2016.

Indians, Red Sox, and the 1948 American League Playoff

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Cleveland’s baseball curriculum vitae has many bright points.  Examples include Bob Feller hurling three no-hitters, Larry Doby breaking the color line in the American League, and Quincy Trouppe leading the Buckeyes to a Negro League World Series championship in 1945.

There is also, of course, the fictional Indians team led by Rick Vaughn, Jake Taylor, and Pedro Cerrano in the 1989 film Major League.  This squad won the American League Eastern Division in a one-game playoff against the Yankees; it lost the league championship, a fact that occurred off-screen—audiences found out in Major League II, which depicted the captains of the Cuyahoga exorcising the previous season’s ghosts by winning the AL championship against the Chicago White Sox.

In 1948, under the leadership of player-manager Lou Boudreau, the Indians brought a World Series title to northeast Ohio.  But the road to victory had more curves than the Cuyahoga River.

An aura of anxiety covered Cleveland on the evening of September 24th, like the fog at the beginning of Dickens’s novel Bleak House—the Indians, the Yankees, and the Red Sox stood atop the American League in a triple tie.  Bostonians, meanwhile, savored the possibility of an all-Beantown World Series between the Red Dox and the Braves when the latter clinched the National League title on September 26th, thanks to a three-run blast by Bob Elliott agains the New York Giants in the first inning.  It was a sufficient cushion for a 3-2 victory; the win gave the Braves a National League pennant for the first time since the “Miracle Braves” accomplished the feat in 1914.

At the end of the season, the Indians and the Red Sox shared the top spot in the American League; the Yankees trailed by two games.  A one-game playoff at Fenway Park determined which team would represent the league in the World Series against the Braves.  On the morning of October 4th, the date of the playoff, Harold Kaese of the Boston Daily Globe acknowledged the emotional impact of the pennant race.  “When today’s game is played, this town figures to be flat on its back from nervous exhaustion,” wrote Kaese.  “Before the patient recovers enough to take sports nourishment, the entire football season is likely to have passed unnoticed and The Country Club curlers will be getting ready for the Stockton Cup bonspiel.”

Gene Bearden, a rookie hurler, held back the Red Sox in an 8-3 victory for the Indians.  A 20-7 pitcher with a league-leading 2.43 ERA in 1948, Bearden struck out six, walked five, and allowed five hit in the triumph for the Tribe.  Boudreau had a career day—four-for-four with two RBI, three runs scored, and a walk; two hits were home runs.

Indians third baseman Ken Keltner knocked in three runs, scored one run, and went three-for-five.  Center fielder Larry Doby had a two-for-five day with one run scored.

The 1948 World Series between the Indians and the Braves culminated with the crown going to the former in six games.  Boudreau tipped his cap to Bearden, who won one game in the series and saved the sixth and deciding game.  “It was his series all the way,” declared Boudreau in Clif Keane’s account for the Globe.  “That’s all I can say.  It was his year.  Don’t give me any credit.  It was Bearden.”

Kaese, meanwhile, urged Red Sox rooters to avoid disgust, dismay, and disappointment, particularly if those emotions targeted utility player Sibby Sisti, who bunted into a double play to end the series.  “Think not unkindly” was Kaese’s repeated admonition.  For succor, Kaese pointed out deficits automatically placing the Red Sox at a disadvantage.  Plus, the Red Sox matched or surpassed the Indians in some areas.

“The Indians had to play National League ball to beat the Braves,” rationalized Kaese.  “They won because the had three excellent pitchers, whereas the Braves had only two—John Sain and Warren Spahn.  They won because they were a little sharper in the field, a little more timely at bat.

“The Braves scored as many runs (17) as the Indians.  They out-hit the Indians (.231 to .199).  They out-slugged the Indians (61 total bases to 57).”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 12, 2016.

The Lone Star Years of Román Mejías

Friday, February 24th, 2017

During the Colt .45s’ inaugural season—1962—Houstonians could point to few bright spots in the team’s 64-96 record.  Román Mejías was one of them.

Mejías played in 146 games, swatted 162 hits, and finished the season with a .286 batting average.  Initially a product of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, the Cuban outfielder broke into the major leagues in 1955.  A year prior, he noticed a 55-game hitting streak for the Pirates’ minor league team in Waco, Texas.

In his article “Mejías of Waco Batting .345 of Pirate Farm Club” in the August 11, 1954 edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald, Oscar Larnce spotlighted the phenom’s talent.  “I don’t see how Mejías can miss.  He can do everything and is improving every day.  He was in Class D last year, then jumped into a tough Class B league and still gets better,” said Buster Chatham, the Pirates’ business manager, as quoted by Larnce.

Mejías spent six seasons with Pittsburgh, never playing in more than 96 games.  In 1960 and 1961, he played a total of seven games.

On Opening Day in 1962, Mejías clocked two home runs and notched six RBI to help the Colt .45s start Houston’s major league status with a victory over the Cubs. Mejías’s ability did not, however, result in selecting for the first All-Star game of 1962.  In an article for the Pittsburgh Press about Mejías’s All-Star situation, Les Biederman noted that Mejías led the Houston ball club at the plate—.317 batting average, 20 home runs, 54 RBI.

Little by little, Mejías learned English.  “New man.  I disgusted last year when Pirates send me to Columbus,” he explained in the Biederman article.  “I feel I can play in majors and never have real chance.  Figure no more chances but Houston take me and now new man.

“No swing bad balls anymore.  Not always strikes but no way to reach for ball can’t hit.  No more wait for ball over middle of plate.  Can’t get hit with bat on shoulder.”

Houston’s baseball fans embraced the slugger.  In his article “Mejías’ Season of Milk, Honey?” in the May 30, 1962 edition of the Houston Chronicle, Zarko Franks wrote, “Few will argue with Mejías’ popularity with the fans back home.  The roar of their voices when he comes to bat is sufficient testimony.”

Because of political strife in Cuba during the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime, Mejías suffered a separation from his wife, son, daughter, and two sisters for 14 months.

After the ’62 season, the Colt .45s traded Mejías to the Red Sox for Pete Runnels.  Fenway Park’s brain trust commenced brainstorming to bring the Mejías clan into the United States.  Boston Globe sports writer Hy Hurwitz reported, “The Red Sox very quietly went about assisting Mejías in his plight.  There was no publicity on the Mejías predicament by request of certain officials who felt that any publicity might endanger the family’s chance for release from the Castro-dominated island.

“Exactly how much the Red Sox and owner Tom Yawkey did for this 31-year-old man will never be told.  Yawkey won’t let it be told.”

However it was accomplished, the Red Sox organization did its legacy proud in securing safe transport for Mejías’s family in March 1963.

Mejías ended his career in a Red Sox uniform after the 1964 season.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 17, 2016.

Yaz’s 3000th

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Carl Yastrzemski is synonymous with Boston, as significant in the city’s iconography as Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and the Paul Revere House.  To be a Red Sox fan is to know pride in Yaz’s representation of New England’s greatest asset—doing a job without regard to glamour or grandeur.

On September 12, 1979, Red Sox Nation celebrated when Yaz knocked a ball through the right side of the Yankee infield—#8 had reached #3000.

Suspense filled Fenway Park after Yaz hit the first pitch thrown to him by Jim Beattie—himself a native of the slugger’s adopted home base of New England—towards the area patrolled by Yankee second baseman Willie Randolph.  Leigh Montville of the Boston Globe described, “Would Randolph field the ball?  Nobody could say he could.  Nobody could say he couldn’t.  Not Randolph.  Not the pitcher, Jim Beattie.  Not the diehard, the final group of 34,337 which was waiting on this clear September night.  Not Carl Yastrzemski.

“Certainly not Carl Yastrzemski.”

Approximately a millisecond after the ball passed Randolph, cheers erupted throughout New England, from Kennebunkport to Kenmore Square.

It was the only hit of the night for Carl Michael Yastrzemski, whose 3000th hit was one of 140 that he notched in 1979.  For Yaz, baseball receded after retirement.  “I find that everyone remembers more about it than I do.  I just never think about having played baseball.  I was very fortunate, very gifted.  I think once I retired, I kind of said, ‘That’s it, there’s another life out there,'” said Yastrzemski in a 2011 profile by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.

When Yaz reached the elusive 3,000 plateau, he did it against the backdrop of a legendary rivalry, one of the most heated in sports.  It was all the more dramatic in 1979 because of what happened the year prior.  When the Red Sox leaped to a lead the size of the Grand Canyon—14 games in mid-July—a pennant was as likely to be lost as a Kennedy becoming a Republican.  And yet, the Yankees chipped away at the lead, forcing a one-game playoff after both teams had the same record at the end of the season.

Yaz was the voice of reason, if not pessimism.  In a 1986 article for UPI, Richard L. Shook interviewed several members of the Red Sox squad, including Bob Stanley, who said, “I remember Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) coming in after one loss and saying, ‘I’ve got a feeling we’re going to blow this thing’ [and] I think a lot of guys felt that.  Plus we had a lot of individual guys on that team.  They played for themselves.  They didn’t pull for each other.  They didn’t care if we won.”

Indeed, the Yankees won the pennant, thanks to a home run by Bucky Dent, forever villainous in the hearts and minds of Red Sox fans.

Yaz inherited Fenway Park’s left field region from Red Sox icon Ted Williams, playing his rookie season in 1961, a year of other firsts—Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space, John F. Kennedy became the first American president born in the 20th century, and Six Flags Over Texas became the first them park in the Six Flags stable.

When he retired after the 1983 season, Yastrzemski counted a Triple Crown, 3,419 career hits, and 452 home runs among his many achievements, the most significant being his gentlemanly manner.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 21, 2016.

Ted Williams Hits His Final Home Run

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

When a lanky native of San Diego hit a home run on September 28, 1960, it was not, perhaps, the most significant happening in his career—and certainly not the most significant happening in world affairs during the ninth month of the 60th year of the 20th century.

Ted Williams won two MVP Awards, the Triple Crown, and The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award seven times.  His career statistics include 521 home runs, .344 batting average, and .634 slugging percentage.  On that late September day, for the last time, Williams donned his Red Sox uniform, heard the cheers from the Fenway Park denizens, and went yard in his last at bat in the major leagues.

Legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post noted that the excellence of the Red Sox slugger negated any revelatory aspects of the milestone.  “It shouldn’t have been surprising.  Williams has been making a commonplace of the dramatic homer ever since he came into the majors,” wrote Povich.

Still, an emotional charge laced the moment as Williams placed a period at the end of a 22-year career, all in a Red Sox uniform.  Nicknamed “The Splendid Splinter” for his batting prowess, Williams understood the impact of the home run.  “The first thing he did after the game was to send the home run bat to Tom Yawkey upstairs by bat boy Bobby Sullivan.  Then he hung around and soaked up praise and adulation, the admiring glances of those who would not approach, the warmth of a winning clubhouse—as he never would again,” wrote Harold Kaese in the Boston Globe.

Nonetheless, Williams did not tip his hat to the crowd.

About three weeks after Williams’s last game, The New Yorker published John Updike’s account in its October 22, 1960 issue; “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” stands as a model of baseball writing.  It is an honest appraisal of the dynamic fostered in the Red Sox legend’s adopted city.  Updike wrote, “The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing of shared memories.”

Additionally, an unparalleled work ethic, according to Updike, set Williams apart from his peers.  “No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy,” opined Updike.

Invoking the theory of ceteris paribus—all things being equal—Williams’s home run might have been in the 600s rather than the 500s had he not served his country during World War II.  A hero for his service as a pilot, Williams did not play professional baseball from 1943 to 1945, losing three years in his prime.  When Williams returned in 1946, he showed no signs of slowing down—MVP Award, .342 batting average, and 123 RBI.  Additionally, he led the major leagues in walks (156), slugging percentage (.667), on-base percentage (.497), and runs scored (142).

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 16, 2015.

Sam Malone’s Lucky Bottle Cap

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

A guy walks into a bar.

It’s an introduction to the classic setup and punch line joke format.  It’s also the way that many episodes of Cheers began.

An NBC situation comedy set in an eponymous Boston bar modeled after the Bull & Finch Pub, Cheers took place largely within the confines of the bar where everybody knows your name.  Sam “Mayday” Malone, a former relief pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, owns Cheers.  There is a twist, however—Sam is a recovering alcoholic.

Débuting on September 30, 1982, Cheers boasted an ensemble cast featuring Ted Danson as Sam; Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, a waitress priding herself on her intellect, refinement, and appreciation for culture; George Wendt as beer-guzzling accountant Norm Peterson; John Ratzenberger as self-professed know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin; Nicholas Colasanto as endearing but absent-minded Ernie “Coach” Pantusso, Sam’s former coach; and Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli—a fierce advocate for Sam, a nasty nemesis of Diane, and a sarcastic talker to first-time customers and regulars alike.

Though it was not initially successful in the Nielsen ratings, Cheers evolved into a prime time powerhouse lasting for 11 seasons.  The guy who walks into Cheers in the first season episode “Endless Slumper” is Rick Walker, a Red Sox relief pitcher suffering a downturn on the pitching mound, worrying about his future in baseball, and receiving boos from the Cheers patrons upon his entrance.

Rick credits his coach with the idea of seeking advice from Sam about his recent travails.  “He said if anyone knows about slumps, it’s you,” explains Rick.  It is a dire situation, indeed.  Sam suggests finding a new ritual to break up his routine, perhaps carrying a lucky charm; a bottle cap was Sam’s talisman.  The former Red Sox pitcher turned bar owner reveals, “Well, it was a bottle cap that I found once.  For some reason, I picked it up and I started carrying it around with me.  After awhile, I guess I figured it had something to do with things going my way.”

Sam carries it with him, still.  Acceding to Rick’s plea to borrow the bottle cap, Sam suffers a notable setback.  Earlier in the episode, Sam demonstrated his bar slide—sending a mug of beer down the bar so it makes a 90-degree turn.  After Rick leaves Cheers, Cliff orders a beer.  Sam’s bar slide fails, the mug goes off the end of the bar, and the bar’s customers look aghast when the mug crashes on the floor.

Rick’s luck takes a 180-degree turn—he gets three saves and two wins in two weeks.  When Diane implores Coach about about the bottle cap’s import to Sam, Coach explains that Sam never won a game because of the bottle cap.  In fact, it had nothing to do with baseball.  But Coach refuses to divulge further.

Sam’s luck also does a 180-degree turn, but in the other direction—locking his keys in his car, exploding his television by leaving it too close to the heater, burning his hands on the coffee pot.  The bad luck streak inspires the Cheers gang to have a pool on mishaps, which includes scrapes and nicks while shaving.  Norm strongly encourages Sam to get the bottle cap returned.  “For the first time in my life, I’d rather be me than you,” declares Norm.

As Sam reaches for the phone to call Rick, Cliff informs him that Red Sox game just started.  It lasts 21 innings, thereby raising Sam’s tension because he’s increasingly desperate to get the bottle cap from Rick who wins the game.  When it ends, Sam calls Fenway Park and leaves a message for Rick.

With Carla, Coach, Norm, and Cliff having already called it a night, Sam and Diane are alone in the bar, leaving Sam the opportunity to tell the whole story about the bottle cap.  “It’s the cap off the last bottle of beer I ever drank.  Last anything I ever drank,” discloses Sam.  “I remember holding on to that bottle cap during some pretty rough nights.  I’d wake up in the morning and I’d have its imprint in my palm.  I mean it was flat because I was squeezing it so hard.  When I was tempted to have a drink, sometimes I’d look at the bottle cap.  And it would stop me.”

It’s a rare scene of raw emotion for Cheers, intensified when Sam says, “You want to know something really crazy?  Last couple of nights I have really had an urge to have a drink.”  When Rick returns the call, Sam discovers, to his terror, that the former slumping relief pitcher lost the bottle cap in Kansas City on a road trip.  It augments Sam’s urge to return to alcohol.  Diane tries to stop Sam, but to no avail.  He pours himself a mug of beer; a close-up shot of the mug enhances the dramatic moment.  To Diane’s relief, Sam attempts a bar slide, which succeeds.  “I guess I gave the wrong one to Rick,” says Sam.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 2, 2015.

Coca-Cola and Baseball

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

The Pause That Refreshes.  The Real Thing.  The Best Friend Thirst Ever had.

Coca-Cola.

With slogans changing nearly every year, Coca-Cola is entrenched in American culture through a barrage of advertising campaigns, marketing strategies, and celebrity endorsements.  During the height of American pride—some say jingoism— in Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” presidency, Coca-Cola plucked the country’s patriotic heartstrings in the 1980s with its Red, White & You slogan.

Naturally, baseball provides a fantastic distribution outlet for Coca-Cola to target thirsty consumers who want a cold beverage as a companion for hot dogs, Cracker Jack, and peanuts.  But Coca-Cola’s relationship with baseball goes beyond exclusive pouring rights in America’s ballparks and stadia.

AT&T park in San Francisco boasts an 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle.  Citi Field has Coca-Cola Corner.  In Buffalo, Coca-Cola Field is the home ballpark for the Bisons, a Triple-A team in the International League.  According to the Bisons web site, Coca-Cola Field has a seating capacity of 18,025.  Designed by HOK Architects, Coca-Cola Field débuted in 1988.  The Lehigh Valley IronPigs call Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania their home.

Beyond stadium naming rights, Coca-Cola ventured into the front office with ownership of the Atlanta Crackers, a team in the Negro Leagues.  The soft drink giant rescued the team from financial oblivion.  Honoring its history, Coca-Cola recounts the genesis on its web site coca-colacompany.com:  “When the Great Depression began, the economic slowdown hit baseball hard.  The Atlanta Crackers were floundering in a sea of debt and bad management.  By the end of the 1929 season, the team was sold to several local businesses, including the Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company and The Coca-Cola Company.  Famed golfer (and lawyer) Bobby Jones acting as vice president.”

The Crackers needed an investor with the financial strength to shoulder this financial burden.  With its headquarters in Atlanta, Coca-Cola saw an opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to invest in the hometown team:  “When the condition continued to worsen, Robert Woodruff, Coca-Cola’s president, stepped forward to buy the Crackers to keep the team in Atlanta.”

Coca-Cola also sweetened the investment portfolio of a baseball legend to epic proportions.  As shrewd with investments as he was in the batter’s box, Ty Cobb used his frugality to launch his roster of stocks.  In a 1991 Los Angeles Times article titled “A Money Player: Ty Cobb Was a Peach When It Came to Investments, Too,” Cobb’s autobiography ghostwriter Al Stump explained Cobb’s financial prowess, claiming that Cobb was worth $12.1 million when he died in July 1961.  He cited a Cobb quote regarding the initial Coca-Cola investment: “For example, Coca-Cola was a new drink on the market in 1918.  Wall Street didn’t think much of it.  I gambled the other way with a small 300-shares buy, then with bigger buys and then Coke jumped out of sight.  It brought me more than $4 million as time went by.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2014.

1977: A Year of Extremes in New York

Friday, November 4th, 2016

1977 was the best of times for fans of the Yankees, but the worst of times for fans of the Mets.

After seeing the Yankees get swept by the Cincinnati Reds in the ’76 World Series, George Steinbrenner went shopping; Steinbrenner led a group to purchase the Yankees in 1973.  He persuaded Reggie Jackson to come north from a year-long sojourn in Baltimore, where Jackson played for the Orioles in 1976.  Jackson was more than a winner.  He was a champion with three World Series titles from his tenure with the Oakland Athletics.  Indeed, the A’s ball club was a dynasty, winning the series in three consecutive years—1972, 1973, 1974.

Free agency allowed Jackson to get top dollar for his services.  Brash with flash and lots of cash, Jackson drew attention.  An article in Sport magazine added tension to the Yankees team.  Robert Ward quoted Jackson: “I’m the straw that stirs the drink.”  Jackson has said that the quote is incorrect.  Controversy abounded within the clubhouse.

Then, on June 18, 1977, manager Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson brawled in the Yankees dugout during a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.  Martin though that Jackson loafed on a ball hit by Jim Rice to Jackson’s position in right field.  Rice stretched the hit into a double.  Martin, in turn, replaced Jackson with Paul Blair.  With the game broadcast on national television, the Martin-Jackson fight put the Yankees in the spotlight.  But winning can absolve a lot of sins.  And winning is exactly what the Yankees did.

The 1977 World Series pitted the Los Angeles Dodgers against the boys in pinstripes.  A Hollywood screenwriter could not have written a better ending.  The Yankees added another World Series title to their legacy, vanquishing the Dodgers in six games.  Jackson hit three home runs in Game 6, each on the first pitch and each off a different pitcher: Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, Charlie Hough.

The other New York team also found itself in controversy in 1977.  It was not a winning season for the Mets, however.  They compiled a 64-98 record.  When Tom Seaver negotiated with the Mets in ’77, the thought of him in another team’s uniform was unthinkable.  He was, after all, the team’s franchise player.  But that’s exactly what happened.

Seaver, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, began his career with the team in 1967, leading the Mets to a World Series championship in 1969 and another World Series appearance in 1973.  They lost the ’73 contest to the A’s in seven games.

Dick Young of the New York Daily News wrote several columns about the negotiations, crossing an unwritten line in sports writing when he mentioned Seaver’s wife in a column.  Young wrote that Nancy Seaver was unhappy about Nolan Ryan making more money than her husband.  After the column appeared, Seaver wanted out of the Big Apple.  Quickly.

The Mets engineered a trade to the Cincinnati Reds.  It brought Pat Zachry, Dave Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman to Shea Stadium.  In 1978, Seaver pitched a no-hitter.  Meanwhile, the Mets rebuilt, investing in younger players.  Nearly a decade later, they won the 1986 World Series.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 1, 2013.