The Mets are in the midst of a series with the Dodgers right now, and last weekend they were in San Francisco to play the Giants. Those two opponents are, of course, the two old New York teams. While everyone from Roger Kahn to Fred Wilpon has rhapsodized, written books, made movies, penned poems, built stadiums and sung songs in tribute to the old Brooklyn Dodgers, what about the New York Baseball Giants? They've always gotten the short end of the stick in the nostalgia department. Sure, there was the Shot Heard Round the World and five or so seasons of Willie Mays, but where are the odes to Monte Irvin? The poems about Whitey Lockman? The sitcoms about Alvin Dark? Where's the statue of Mel Ott? Why isn't a highway named after Bill Terry? And shouldn't a whole borough be renamed in tribute of John McGraw?
The Giants were the original Yankees, owning New York City, and winning five World Series in their years before moving to California. The Yankees even had to stoop to renting out the Polo Grounds and being the Giants' tenant. It was a National League city, and the Giants were the kings. The Dodgers were lovable losers, while the Yanks played in that "other league." The Brooklyn Dodgers get all the love - maybe that's because they had a borough to themselves and the Giants were just too successful. There's no Boys of Summer about the Giants. There are no modern stadiums built in homage to the Polo Grounds. There are no old men sitting next to me at a bar crying because the Giants left town 40 years earlier and because his mother was a saint and no one can say a bad word about her (yes, that happened to me once back in the '90s while drinking next to an old Brooklyn fan). While any 10-year-old New York sports fan can rattle off the star players of the 1950s Dodgers - Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Billy Cox, Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe - how about the Giants? Why aren't they engraved in our minds? Irvin, Lockman, Dark, Mays, Eddie Stanky, Hank Thompson, Wes Westrum, Don Mueller, Davey Williams, Bobby Thomson (though he is, of course), Larry Jansen, Sal Maglie, Jim Hearn, Johnny Antonelli, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ruben Gomez. There were more Hall of Famers on the Dodgers but those Giants won the same amount of World Series - one. Ok, I'll stop. Now I'm about to cry and I wasn't even alive when the Giants left town. And, yes, my mother was a saint.
Here are the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports:
Tributes, Schmucks and Groins: The Yankees honored George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard with a storybook ending on Friday night, when Nick Swisher drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to cap off a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Saturday was another story, though, when A.J. Burnett cut both of his hands on the clubhouse door after getting bombed early in the game. To make matters worse, he lied about the whole thing, telling the trainer that he wounded himself while whittling little wooden replicas of Joe Pepitone and Oscar Gamble between innings in honor of Old-Timers' Day. That incident certainly earns him the Schmuck of the Week award. But the Bombers took the last game of the emotional series, though they lost Andy Pettitte for a month or so when he strained his groin. He did it the old-fashioned way, though, by injuring himself while actually performing a baseball feat and not by attacking a clubhouse door with his groin.
Old-Timers' Day: What other franchise can roll out legends like Hank Workman, Jerry Narron, Duane Pillette, Dave Eiland, Don Johnson and Homer Bush? Or Brian Doyle, Aaron Small and Pat Kelly? Ok, ok, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, Mel Stottlemyre, first-ever DH Ron Blomberg and Mickey Rivers, who blasted the game-winning hit in the legends' two-inning affair, were also there. As was my favorite, Horace Clarke. But Lee Mazzilli? Really? Come on, Maz, you're a Met. Unfortunately, Yogi Berra couldn't attend because he had a minor mishap the evening before. After losing Big Stein and Sheppard, please don't let anything happen to Yogi. That would just be piling on. With the tribute being paid to Bob Sheppard, it's unfortunate that the Yankees employ the complete opposite of the classy, understated gentleman in John Sterling, who's the anti-Sheppard - self-serving, shtick-filled and ridiculously grating. And on Saturday afternoon, I could have sworn I spotted the ghost of George Steinbrenner lingering in the stadium taking down numbers of the players who needed haircuts. Gene Michael was, after all, looking a little shaggy around the edges out there.
A Weekend of Shutouts, Blown Saves and Blind Umpires: The Mets were shut out in two of the four games in San Francisco last weekend, Hisanori Takahashi was awful in his start (though he bounced back to pitch well last night), Frankie Rodriguez put in a ridiculous performance blowing a save in the series finale and in the bottom of the ninth of Sunday's game, we saw the worst five minutes of umpiring in baseball history. A ball that was clearly fair was called foul, a ball that was thrown right over the plate was called a ball and a runner who was easily safe at home was called out. Was that Mr. Magoo behind the plate? After the game, the woeful ump bumped into a water cooler and was heard to say, "Excuse me, ma'am, I didn't see you there," as he made his back to the umpires' locker room. (And the Yankees had some adventures in umpiring of their own last night. Jorge Posada doesn't bother tagging a runner who's called out at the plate anyway, and Alex Rodriguez clearly tags out a Royal attempting to steal third, but he's called safe. I guess umpiring is now like Olympic judging -- subjective and interpretive.)
Fading Aces: Congratulations, Mike Pelfrey! He's the first National League pitcher since 1900 to allow more than 50 base runners without getting 50 outs in a four-start span. That's not the kind of history you want to make. He's gone from All-Star contender to the worst pitcher in baseball. What happened? He's back to working slow, not throwing his fastball and looks tentative. Where did the confident, quick-working 9-1 Pelfrey run to? And his "ace-in-the-making" partner, Phil Hughes, also got hammered this week, giving up six runs in five innings to the Angels. Too much rest? Too many Hughes Rules? Mechanical issues? Whatever the case, Hughes is fading almost as quickly as Pelfrey, but he's not quite that bad yet. The rest of the Mets were just as putrid as Pelfrey, though, as they were swept by the lowly Diamondbacks and shut out by the Dodgers last night. The Mets are still looking for their first series win since June. The Yankees, on the other can hand, can actually score runs, as they split with the Angels and jumped all over Kansas City in the opener of a four-game series, with A-Rod blasting his 599th career home run.
See You in 2027 - or Not: As indecisive as Hamlet and Brett Favre, Ilya Kovalchuk finally chose New Jersey over LA and the KHL. And it seemed he'd be calling Newark his home for a long, long time, as he signed a whopping 17-year contract. Hold on, did I just write 17? As Frank Barone would say, "Holy crap!" Unfortunately for the Devils, the NHL wasn't buying into the fact that Kovalchuk would still be playing when he's 44, as they were obviously trying to circumvent the cap. Let's face it, nothing good can last for 17 years. Not the Beatles, not a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast, not Rick DiPietro . . . well, Gordie Howe could have gotten away with signing this contract since he was 52 years old when he played in his last NHL game, and Law & Order made it past 17 years, but they had the luxury of changing cast members as the years went on. I don't think there's a clause in Kovalchuk's contract that will allow him to be replaced by Sam Waterston after his productivity starts to decline. If accepted, what would that contract have meant for Zach Parise? A 57-year contract? One that will ensure his future grandchildren a spot on the team as well?
Goooooooaaaaaaaaaal: That was fast. Thierry Henry made his U.S. debut last night scoring a goal in the Red Bulls 2-1 loss to Tottenham in the Barclays New York Challenge. Not since Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Georgio Chinaglia played for the Cosmos has the New York area seen such star power come from overseas.
Ring of Honor: The Jets announced that they will start their own Ring of Honor, since they now have a stadium of their own (well, kind of, sort of). Joe Namath, Weeb Ewbank, Don Maynard, Winston Hill, Joe Klecko and Curtis Martin will be the first inductees. Hey, what about Ed Marinaro? Surely his work on Laverne & Shirley and Hill Street Blues should count for something.
Sweet Lou: Lou Piniella announced his retirement this week. He may be going out a Cub, but he made his bones in New York. After spending spring training of 1969 with the Seattle Pilots, he was traded to Kansas City, where he won the Rookie of the Year award, and then made the All-Star team in 1972. Before the '74 season he was shipped to the Yankees in a deal for Lindy McDaniel, and spent 11 seasons in pinstripes, playing in four World Series and winning two (compiling a .319 average with 10 RBIs in 22 games). He was, of course, anything but sweet on the field, as he was one of the fiercest competitors the sport has seen. And he took that drive, determination and flat-out craziness with him when he became one of the winningest managers of all time (14th on the list). He served as a coach, manager and general manager of the Yankees. He led the Reds to the World Series in 1990. He managed the Seattle Mariners in their heyday. He won two AL Manager of the Year awards and one in the NL. And he, of course, had many famous tantrums, throwing bases into the outfield, kicking dirt on umpires and entertaining fans for years with his antics. Thanks, Lou. Enjoy your retirement.
The Major: Now a third Yankee legend has passed away in the span of two weeks, as Ralph Houk died on Wednesday at the age of 90. Known as The Major, Houk came by his nickname honestly, as he was a major in the army during World War II, and was awarded the Purple Heart, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star. He was a jack-of-all-trades for the Bombers, serving as player, coach, manager and general manager of the team. After spending parts of eight seasons as a backup catcher from 1947 to 1954 with the Yanks, he managed in the minors for a few seasons, and then joined the big team as Casey Stengel's first base coach. He succeeded Stengel as manager in 1961, and led them to two World Series victories, was bounced upstairs to the GM position in 1964, but returned to manage the team from 1966 to 1973. He resigned after George Steinbrenner's first season as owner before the Boss had a chance to fire him. Houk went on to manage the Tigers for five years ('74-'78) and the Red Sox for four ('81-'84).
Give Him the Heater: If George Steinbrenner, Bob Sheppard and Ralph Houk passing away weren't bad enough (and Yogi Berra falling and not being able to attend Old Timers' Day), here's some more sad news: Actor James Gammon, who played Lou Brown in Major League, died this past week, at the age of 70. Sure, the gravelly voiced character actor was in other movies like Cool Hand Luke and Urban Cowboy, and even appeared in a few episodes of Charlie's Angels, but he'll always be Lou Brown to me. And he'll always be remembered for leading the Indians to their first ever Eastern Division title (I know, I know, it was only a movie, but it's still real to me). But there is some good news: Harry Doyle (ok, Bob Uecker) will be back in the broadcast booth tonight for the Brewers after having heart surgery three months ago.
(For in-depth analysis and discussion of the Yankees, Mets, Devils, Jets and Red Bulls, go to SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley, Amazin' Avenue, In Lou We Trust, Gang Green Nation and Once a Metro, respectively.)