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Archive for September, 2009

Hi everyone:

For my latest blog entry, I think I will do something really weird – and actually write something rather short! Or at least short in comparison with what I really share with all of you. Much of this is because I am under time constraints.  As I write this, it is just past 6:45 a.m. on a sunny mid September Sunday morning.  I am a Lay Reader at my church in Mississauga, and today is one of my assigned Sunday mornings.  To be more specific, I am assisting at our 10:30 a.m. worship service later today. Since I live in Hamilton, it’s a long journey each time I go over – on average I try to allow for about 70 to 90 minutes to make the run on GO Transit’s Lakeshore West line over to Mississauga.  As an aside, especially for my readers outside this area, GO Transit is the commuter system of buses and trains which services Toronto and the surrounding area – it’s owned and operated by our provincial government. Hence the name. “GO” refers to “Government of Ontario”.  You can learn more about the system by visiting: http://www.gotransit.com  

When you also factor in that I want to be at St. Luke’s no later than 10:00 a.m., this doesn’t leave me with a lot of time. But today’s blog entry came to mind earlier this morning while I was taking my shower and then getting dressed, so I thought I should put this one up here before I head over to the GO terminal here in downtown Hamilton in a few minutes and begin my trip. Here goes!

They say that history is written by the victors. I wonder if the same is true in sports as well. That sports history is written by the winning team.  But I often wonder what it’s like when viewed by the losing team.

Let me give you a couple of examples. If you’re a passionate baseball fan, and also one who knows about the history of the game, then you have heard of Bobby Thompson’s famous 1951 home run to win the pennant for the New York Giants.  Better known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round The World”. But have you ever noticed that whenever you hear descriptions of the game it’s always from the Giants viewpoint?  I believe it was Russ Hodges whose voice you hear saying over and over: “the Giants win the pennant…”. 

 For me, as a Dodgers fan, that moment is very sad and painful because the Brooklyn Dodgers were the team the Giants defeated that afternoon at The Polo Grounds.  But does anyone have a record of how the Dodgers broadcast crew described it? Obviously Red Barber and his colleagues would not have been as excited as those calling the game for the Giants, but it would be interesting to hear, and to feel the emotions of the Dodger fans back then.

Here’s another example. If you read my recent blog entry about the New York Yankees, then you know that as a young lad growing up in Montreal, I was a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. And during my formative years (the 1960’s and 1970’s), the team won the Stanley Cup almost every year. And when you see and hear accounts of those victories, you always hear the Montreal perspective. Yes, even after all these years, I can still hear the legendary Danny Galivan saying words like “the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup” year after year.  But what about the other side? For example, when Montreal beat Chicago in 1971, or Detroit in 1966 – I wonder how the broadcasters in those cities described it. And why we don’t hear their reactions.

I think I have given you a couple of examples to describe what I am talking about. And I’ll bet when you read this, you’ll want to substitute your own famous sports moments.  Here’s one more that just came to mind. How about the famous California-Stanford college football game in November 1982? Yes, the one that’s almost always number one when anyone does a “Top 50 Strangest Football Plays of All Time”. Where California gets the football with a only few seconds left. Players lateral the ball off to teammates before the final player literally runs through the school band on the football field (I suspect it was the Stanford band, but don’t remember for sure). We always hear that one from the California Bears viewpoint. In fact, we always hear the same call, with the announcer shrieking about how it’s the most remarkable, the most amazing… you get the idea. As an aside, it was the final college football game for Stanford quarterback John Elway, who went on to a wonderful career in the National Football League. But outside of those who were probably listening to the Stanford announcers that day, has anyone ever heard how they described it at any time in the nearly 30 years since that day? I doubt it!

So in summation, why don’t we ever hear from the losing side whenever we hear the commentaries on these famous events? It would be fun to see the othe side, and in doing so understand the thoughts and feelings of both teams. I know it’s unusual to think that, but I think it would make for an interesting “take” on sports history to see the flip side of these events.

Well that’s all for now. I said back at the beginning that I wanted to keep this short – especially since I have to leave Hamilton for Mississauga shortly. Or at least much shorter than my usual entries. Yes, I admit that most of my blog entries can be rather long. But that’s just me, and my writing style. And when you decide to write about subjects that you are really interested in, it’s not always easy to be concise.

Time to sign off. As always, thanks to all of you for reading my blog entry. I’ll be back soon with another “tome” that I hope will be of interest to all of you. Until then, may God bless all of you, and I look forward to seeing you back here again soon.

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Hi everyone:

I originally wrote this in the fall of 2009, and have revised it from time to time since then. Including a 2010 revision I called “extra innings” which you will see at the bottom of this entry. You might say this is my affectionate tribute to one of the most successful sports teams in the world. Full disclosure – I am actually a lifelong Dodgers fan, my team is one of the Yankees most bitter rivals. To me, a Dodgers-Yankees World Series is THE classic match up. Especially when it has happened 11 times, first when the Dodgers were just a stone’s throw away in Brooklyn (7 times), and now since 1958 that the Dodgers are in Los Angeles (4 times). So I have a great love and respect for the Yankees and I hope it shows in this article. Enjoy!

It’s funny where blog entry ideas come from. This one started in the middle of a night back in August when I couldn’t sleep. Not sure why this was – may have been loud music from the apartment next door, or perhaps I was troubled about something.  But as I lay there at something like 3:30 a.m. tossing and turning, I wondered about what images come to mind when you mention certain sports teams.

And since we are now in mid September and the baseball season is nearing its conclusion, I started wondering about baseball teams and what comes to mind when you mention a specific team. So I thought it might be fun to explore this theme here online, and also offer something fun and lighthearted for my readers. Probably not a bad idea, given that my last two entries here discussed the struggles that Anglicanism is having in terms of how to address the issue of homosexuality. A very serious and for many people a very personal subject. So let’s now try something a bit less serious, and turn our attention to the baseball diamond.

What comes to mind when you mention a certain baseball team? This is something I just might explore from time to time here on my blog. And for starters, let’s look at the most famous and successful major league baseball team of them all, the New York Yankees.

So just what does come to mind when you mention the Yankees? Many things, I think. First of all, how about the history and tradition of the Yankees franchise. Perhaps the most storied team in all of professional sports anywhere in the world – although you might get an argument from my hometown Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Celtics, or Manchester United – just to name a couple of others.

But the Yankees sure have an impressive resume, and you could build a case that they are the most successful of all major league baseball franchises, and as noted above, in all of professional sports. Let’s start with 39 American League pennants and 26 World Series championships (note: although these “championship” stats reflect when I wrote this in 2009, the Yankees won their 40th pennant and 27th overall title only a few weeks later).  No other major league baseball team is even close to that kind of achievement. For the record, Montreal has won the Stanley Cup 24 times, most recently in 1993.  The Celtics have won the NBA championship 17 times, with their last title in 2008.  Manchester United has won 18 English football league titles (they are the current league champions – as of May 2009), the FA Cup (Football Association) 11 times and numerous European championships – their most recent one in 2008 when they beat Chelsea on a rain-soaked field in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. All very impressive to be sure. But let’s talk more about the Yankees.

For many baseball fans, it doesn’t “feel” like a World Series unless the Yankees are in it.  As noted above, they  have now been in the Fall Classic 40 times. So many appearances that every National League team that has ever been in the World Series has played the Yankees at least once, except for the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros. Ironically enough, when the Rockies made it to the Series in 2007, they faced off against the Yankees fiercest  rivals, the Boston Red Sox. And the Astros? As part of some realignments after the 2012 season (or was it 2013 – can’t remember for sure) , they are now in the American League, so obviously they won’t be playing the Yankees in the World Series anytime soon.

Not only has almost every National League team played the Yankees, but it has led to some fascinating combinations. When you include the 2009 Series, the Yankees have played in the World Series against the Dodgers in both Brooklyn (7 times) and Los Angeles (4 times), the Giants in both New York (6 times) and San Francisco (once), and the Braves in both Milwaukee (twice) and Atlanta (twice).  They have also played against older and established teams with their own proud histories, such as the St. Louis Cardinals (5 times), Pittsburgh Pirates (twice), Chicago Cubs (twice), Philadelphia Phillies (twice) and Cincinnati Reds  (3 times).

If you want more evidence of how often the Yankees have been in the Series they have also played some of the newer expansion teams in the National League, based in  places like San Diego (in 1998), Arizona (in 2001) and Florida (in 2003).  And in 2000, some 44 years after their last “Subway Series”, they once again played a National League team based in New York – this time against the Mets (the National League team which filled the void in New York left when the Giants and Dodgers left for California after the 1957 season).

When you think of the Yankees, how about those classic pinstriped uniforms with the interlocking “NY” logo that haven’t changed since at least the 1930’s, and maybe even before that. Indeed, the Yankees Web site notes that pinstripes first appeared on the Yankee uniform in 1912, and have been a permanent fixture since 1915.  The site also notes that the famous “NY” logo first appeared as early as 1877 and was actually designed by Louis F. Tiffany for a medal being presented by the New York Police Department to honour the first member of the force to die in the line of duty.  Yes, that “Tiffany”. As in the man who founded the famous New York jewellry store. And created the equally famous “Tiffany Lamp”.  The logo was first used by the franchise in 1909 when they were known as the “Highlanders” (the team name was changed to the Yankees when they moved to the Polo Grounds in 1913). Over the next 30 years or so the logo appeared and disappeared, but by the 1936 season it became part of the uniform for good. Except for a few minor alterations (such as broader pinstripes during the 1940’s), the classic design has remained unchanged ever since.

It must send chills up the spine of any Yankee player to pull on a uniform that looks almost identical to what Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio, Tony Kubek, Billy Martin, Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Don Larson, Mariano Rivera or other Yankee greats once wore. I remember once reading an article about baseball uniforms where the author stated that the Yankees should be the only team allowed to wear pinstripes. Don’t know about that, but they sure look sharp whenever they take the field. Is there any more quintessential New York image than the Yankee uniform, complete with the pinstripes and that classic NY logo? Maybe the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. But those pinstripes certainly rank right up there as a symbol of America’s largest city.

They even served as an inspiration for New York’s other baseball team, the Mets. As I noted earlier,  they came into the National League in 1962 to replace the Dodgers and Giants – who had moved out to California after the 1957 season. As one might expect, the Mets borrowed various elements from the Dodgers and Giants when they were adopting their team logo, colours and uniform design. Their “NY” logo came from the Giants. Their team colours came from the Dodgers (blue and white) and the Giants (black and orange).  But the pinstripes? Why from the Yankees, of course! All are still in use by the Mets today.

And what about the incredible players who have worn those Yankee pinstripes through the years.  I mentioned a few of them earlier – here’s a few more for you. Ron Guidry, Elston Howard, Roger Maris, Bill Dickey, Bobby Richardson, Thurman Munson, Yogi Berra, Roy White, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada,… And of course the most famous Yankee of them all, Babe Ruth. Although the Yankees Web site  mentioned that the Babe never played with the famous NY logo on the uniform – although it was on the cap .  As the legendary Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen might have remarked: “How about that?”

But to look at the many famous players who worn the Yankee uniform –  I mean it’s incredible. And that’s just a small sampling. Little wonder that the Yankees have been so successful through the years. To think of the great players who have plied their trade in New York is almost mind-boggling.

The Yankees are also an organization that simply ooze with class, a respect for the past, a passion for doing things right, and maintaining that winning tradition. Love them or hate them (and most people outside of New York do hate them!), I think you can’t help but respect the franchise and their history.

And of course how about the fans. Having grown up in Montreal and cheering for the Canadiens through their “glory years” of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I think I understand what Yankee fans are like.  That’s because as Habs fans, we exhibit similar qualities and attitudes. When I was young, if the Canadiens didn’t win the Stanley Cup every year, it was a lost season. While many people outside Montreal saw it as rude and snobbish arrogance, we had supreme confidence that our team could bring home the Cup every year, because they were that good – to the point where they often did. During the first 25 years of my life, Montreal won the Stanley Cup more than all the other NHL franchises combined. It was a great time to be a Canadiens fan. But I digress!

Same thing with the Yankees.  Many New Yorkers say it’s a lost season if the Yankees don’t win the World Series.  And just like us back home in Montreal, Yankee fans display supreme confidence that the team can do it year after year. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the team can draw on vast financial resources, and as such can attract the best and highest paid players to don those famous pinstripes.

Another lasting image of the Yankees is that they are the team that everyone loves to hate. Or at least that’s the case outside New York. And even within the city, the rivalry between the Yankees and their cross-town rivals the Mets is strong. Especially on the 2 weekends each year when as part of inter-league games, they play each other.  I read something on the Net recently showing how New York is split when it comes to their ball teams. People in Manhattan, and the Bronx tend to be  Yankee fans. In Brooklyn,  Queens and out on Long Island, it’s the Mets. The same study indicated that the “rich folks” tended to be Yankee fans, while the blue-collar working class crowd favoured the Mets. Fascinating, isn’t it?

I must confess to you all that I am not a big fan of inter-league play – that part of the baseball season, usually in May and June, when the National and American League teams play each other.  I don’t see the interest when Toronto plays Colorado. Or Florida plays Seattle. Atlanta vs. Texas? San Francisco against the Chicago White Sox? Doesn’t work for me. But I love inter-league when 2 teams from the same city or state play each other – the so called “derby” games (to borrow an expression from English football matches). So something like Yankees vs. Mets really turns me on. Or the “Windy City Classic” when the Cubs and White Sox go at it. As a Dodgers fan, I love it when we play the Angels,  whether it’s at Dodger Stadium – or just a short drive down the freeway to Anaheim.  Same thing when the San Francisco Giants play their rivals from across the Bay in Oakland. In fact, I have been told that on a clear day in San Francisco, if you are watching a game at the Giants stadium located on the shores of San Francisco Bay, you can actually see the A’s home ball park off in the distance. Wow!

But I cite all this, including some thoughts on inter-league play to show that the Yankees are a team that inspire very powerful emotions among baseball fans. For many people, especially in New York and the surrounding area, they love the Yankees and cheer them on with a passion that may be unrivalled. Except, of course, if you are a New Yorker and cheer on the Mets instead.  On the other side, however, millions of baseball fans across North America hate the Yankees and absolutely love it when the team loses.

You very rarely find “neutrals” when it comes to the team – it’s a very polarized environment. I think a lot of it is because they are the most successful team in major league baseball history, and perhaps in all of pro sports. Or maybe it’s the way the team wins, or the image they portray. As I noted earlier, it’s either supreme confidence knowing that the team is good enough to win – or it’s the same thing manifesting itself as arrogance. How dare any other team think about winning the World Series. It belongs to the Yankees. When other teams win the Series, it’s just a minor set-back. It’s just a matter of time before the championship trophy comes home to the Bronx.

Sound familiar? As a Montrealer, I used to hear those same things every year about our beloved Habs. Perhaps not so much now. After all, Montreal has not won the Cup since 1993. The economics of hockey are different now, and the best players don’t always wind up in Montreal. There are more teams in the NHL today than there were back in the glory days. But Habs fans still watch and wait for “Les Glorieux” to win the Cup and bring it home to Montreal.

I sometimes wonder if maybe it’s jealousy on the part of other baseball teams. They look at the Yankees and their proud history and tradition and wonder why they can’t have that too. I can understand that. Many other baseball teams have proud histories, and are also class organizations that do things right. I think of teams like the Cardinals, Giants, Braves, Reds and Pirates.  And of course my beloved Dodgers. In the American League, franchises such as the Tigers, Indians, White Sox – and of course the Yankees most bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox. By the way, I did a blog entry a while back about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and how it reminded me of the famous Star Wars movies. I’m not so sure that it’s true anymore, but have a look at what I wrote and decide for yourself.

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed my look at the New York Yankees. Love ’em or hate ’em – you can’t help but admire and respect their legendary tradition and winning history. As I write these words, they are once again at the top of the American League. Will they win yet another Series this fall and close out their first season at the “new Yankee Stadium in winning fashion? Could be. When the original Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 they won the Series in its first year. The only other time that has happened was when the St. Louis Cardinals moved into the new Busch Stadium in 2006 and defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series. In 2009, the Yankees just might repeat what they did in their old stadium across the street, some 86 years ago. We’ll see what happens.

Play ball, and as their fans chant night after night at their home in the Bronx – Let’s Go Yankees!.

Greg

EXTRA INNINGS (AKA BONUS COVERAGE)!!: It’s now August 2010, almost a year after I wrote the above article. And I thought it might be fun to provide an update of sorts. What’s happened to baseball’s most storied franchise since I published that entry.

The Yankees did indeed go on to win the 2009 American League pennant, the 40th in their long and proud history. They went on to play the defending World Series champions, the Philadelphia Phillies. Just as in their previous Series meeting in 1950, the Yankees proved to be too much for the Phils, and won their 27th World Series championship. They did indeed win the Series in their first year at the new Yankee Stadium. Just as their predecessors did long ago at the original Stadium. And as I just noted above, the St. Louis Cardinals did it in 2006.

But the year has also brought some sadness to the franchise, in that the Yankees also lost two of their most remarkable people earlier in 2010 – within days of each other.

First, their colourful and often controversial owner George Steinbrenner. When he bought the Yankees in 1973, the team was in ruins. It had been almost 10 years since their last Series (1964) and they were no better than an expansion team. Old Yankee Stadium was crumbling too. But within a few years, things had turned around. The team returned to the Series in 1976, and although they lost to the Big Red Machine (aka the Cincinnati Reds, led by stars such as Pete Rose, Tony Perez, George Foster, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan), they won the next 2 years (1977 and 1978) against my beloved Dodgers. Much of that newfound success could be attributed to their new owner and the commitment to the proud Yankee tradition that Steinbrenner revived.

And the Stadium? Just as the team bounced back from oblivion, so did their famous home. During the 1974 and 1975 seasons, it was closed and almost rebuilt from scratch (the team shared Shea Stadium with the Mets during that time),and then reopened good as new for 1976. As noted above, that first season back in the Bronx brought a return to the Series – but their bid to duplicate what happened when it first opened in 1923 (and what would happen at the new Stadium in 2009) fell short.

The second legendary Yankee to leave us during 2010 was their iconic public address announcer Bob Shepherd. He began his duties at the Stadium on Opening Day 1950, and remained at the microphone for over 50 years. He witnessed many of the great moments in team history, such as countless no hitters and Series championships, as well as Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 Series. Many have called him “The Voice of God”. And when you heard him, it wasn’t hard to see why. An amazing talent, and equally amazing longevity. We may never see his like again.

May both men rest in peace, and may those Yankee pinstripes still grace many a baseball diamond long after all of us have left this planet.

Thanks for reading this entry – until next time!!

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