A Fathers Day … Fifty years ago …

bunning5I was all of eight years-old, riding home from a family visit to relatives on my father’s side of the family.  It was a different time then, illustrated no less than by the way we stood on the floor of the back seat – unbuckled – to watch as Dad drove us home with all the windows rolled down in a car that knew not of air conditioning on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon.

The date is – in the interest of honesty – seven days short this Fathers Day of a full five decades of baseball history … June 21, 1964

Dad decides to spend the trip homeward listening to the Philadelphia Phillies playing the lowly New York Mets at Shea Stadium, which had opened for business just two months before.  Jim Bunning was on the mound that day in a game already in progress, the first game of a double-header.

For those baseball fans not born or baseball-aware before the turn of the century, a double-header is a scheduled event on a Major League Baseball team’s game calendar deliberately requiring the play of TWO games of baseball in one sitting. 

Baseball used to actually schedule double headers as a normal part of every team’s calendar, repeated several times a year … until they caught on to the concept of gate receipts and their effect on earnings and profitability.  You only see them nowadays when rain outs and tight scheduling require doubling up; and even then, they almost always require the fans to leave the stadium and buy additional tickets to see the second game.

They call this the Day-Night Double Header.  But you can refer to them as Double-Dipping-the-Fans-Because-You-Can Header!   

It was late that afternoon … around 4:00 when Dad turned the game on.  I was yet to reach the point of my full Phillies awareness.  That would be – rather traumatically – that following September when the renown ’64 Phillies would spiral in flames from 1st place in the National League with 12 games remaining …

Oh hell, I don’t want to go there!

My point being, I was hardly paying attention to the game as I bounced around the back seat, most likely in some sort of competition or conflict with my younger brother, Pat.  So I remember very little of the actual game, except for the conclusion when Dad mentioned that Jim Bunning had pitched a PERFECT GAME!

I knew not what that even meant at the time.

Bunning’s Father Day feat was most appropriate.  He was the father of seven children at the time (eventually having 12!!), only one of which was there in New York that day.

bunning1Bunning’s performance still goes down as one of the Top 10 perfectos in Major League Baseball history.  He threw only 89 pitches to complete the game, only 21 pitches were thrown as balls.  He struck out 10.  It was the first perfect game in the National League since 1880!  And Bunning became only the second pitcher at the time to throw a no-hitter in both the National and American Leagues.

The other pitcher to throw no-hitters in both leagues?  Cy Young

Bunning tortured his dugout mates by constantly talking about his developing perfecto, breaking a major baseball superstition.  He later recounted losing a no-hitter three weeks before against the Houston Colt .45s after keeping silent and decided he would not avoid the subject this time around.

What I remember most about Bunning was his wild follow through.  When he threw his hardest, he would fall off on his left side, often finishing with his left arm on the ground, his body almost parallel to the pitching mound.  Not exactly how the youngin’s today are coached.

Other interesting trivia from Bunning’s Very Special Fathers Day celebration:

    • Bunning’s first no-hitter was pitched on July 20, 1958 against the Boston Red Sox.  He was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and remarkably enough the game was also the first game of a scheduled double-header.
    • After the game, Bunning negotiated an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show for all of $1000., but it was enough to build a pool and pool house at Bunning’s Kentucky home!
    • Bunning struck out pinch-hitter John Stephenson for the last out throwing nothing but curve balls after recalling a similar game earlier in the season when Phils manager Gene Mauch told Bunning in at on-the-mound meeting that Stephenson “… can’t spell curve.”

Bunning went on to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.  His post-baseball career took him from local Kentucky political offices to an unsuccessful run for Governor to successful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually to a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Bunning left the Senate in 2011.  He continues to reside in Kentucky at the age of 82.

bunning4

 

 

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It’s how you say it, even when saying nothing at all

Photo from sportsnation.com

Photo from sportsnation.com

Much angst has plagued Philadelphia sports fans the past several weeks over the words or behavior of some the city’s biggest sports stars.  As with just about every other situation in Life, there are lessons to be learned and subtle insights into truths that can lie just below a stormy surface.

Two recent cases-in-point need no introduction to any Philly sports fan not lying in coma the past month.

The first incident was the very public benching of Phillies shortstop, Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins was benched – somewhat stealthily – by new manager Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Fame player who earned his plaque from both Production and Effort.  Although it was obvious that Rollins had wandered into Sandberg’s doghouse, it was only slightly less obvious the likely reason was Rollins “Who cares?” remark to questions about his slow start to the Spring Training season.

I have always been a big Jimmy Rollins fan.  Even more so since his 2007 statement that the National League East Championship passed through Philadelphia.  Not only was this an aggressive statement in a season following several where the NL East was dominated by the Atlanta Braves, Rollins walked the talk; won the 2007 National League MVP; and ensured the Phillies first Division Title in string of division titles!

Yet, no one found fault with Sandberg’s public – though muted – benching of the team’s senior statesman during the spring lead-up to Sandberg’s first full season in the Phillies captain’s chair.  He needed to set a positive attitude, including a mindset where caring mightily about wins and losses would be paramount.  So even though it was “only Spring Training”, Rollins was sent a message about Leadership, Substance, and Mentoring.

HMC03_ChaseUtleyNow read the views on Spring Training ’14 as uttered by Chase Utley, the Phillies second baseman in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s April 5 article on Utley’s hot season start in contrast to his quiet spring.

“Obviously, you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing.”, Utley said.  “The most important thing is getting your rhythm going into the season.”

First off, no one is going to confuse Utley and Rollins in either personality or demeanor on the field.  Utley is all business all the time.  Rollins enjoys the game and is not afraid to show it.  Personally, if blessed with the ability to play the game at their level, I would prefer Rollins approach to enjoying the game as much as possible, if not necessarily his undervaluing the Power of Words.

In reality, Utley was expressing the very same mindset Rollins expressed when it comes to Spring Training success … or lack thereof.  The difference is that Utley’s quote was not issued in the midst of a slump – even if only a spring training slump.  Secondly, it’s not like Utley to be so flippant as to reduce his well-stated sentiment into two words certain to curdle the milk in Ryne Sandberg’s corn flakes!

Moral:  It ain’t so much what you say as how – and when – you say it.

Photo from the source.com

Photo from the source.com

Sometimes what’s not said that says all you need to know …

By now most of us are a bit sick of hearing about the Desean Jackson Philadelphia Eagles debacle.

When I first heard the rumors about the Eagles shopping Jackson, I chalked it up to off-season football beat writers being a bit bored waiting for the April college player draft.  No way could I see the Eagles wanting to jettison a skilled player that yielded 1300 yards and 9 TDs in just the previous season.

How could they be so stupid?!?

But then the stories – or rumors for all we really know – began to come out.  A lot of it was disturbing from a team unity/distraction-avoiding point-of-view … The most incriminating pieces of evidence coming from Jackson’s own Instagram account.

Until the whole story comes out – if it ever does – no one will really know what the Eagles knew and when they knew it.

The Big Aha! – for me however – was not what was being said; it was in what was NOT being said … by those in the Eagles locker room.

Where were the players when “one of their own” was being pilloried in the press and set adrift by a team that lives or dies by the profligacy of its Offense?!?  Why was there no circling of the wagons, no outward signs of support from those still with the team?  Where was the All for One and One for All?

Only LeSean McCoy came out in tacit support of Jackson, but that was only after the deed was done.

To me, that said so much more than all the stuff that was being said about the character of Jackson.  It was apparent that his standing among his team and teammates was lacking significantly.  It was obvious that there was certainly something behind what was being said, even if we never really know for sure what it was.

Moral:  Sometimes saying nothing says it all!

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcA

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read mhttp://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

Christian Laettner, I still hate you!

Laettner cutting out my heart

Laettner cutting out my heart

I never win anything even remotely related to skill or the ability to analyze complex data sets to project a likely outcome.  Gave up on sports wagering years ago after – finally – coming to the realization that I sucked at it.  Could never even begin to understand horse racing and handicapping odds.  Nor could I fake the slightest understanding of a daily racing form …

Recent years I gave up on one of my last remaining weaknesses … the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets (for entertainment purposes only). I have always enjoyed the tournament, especially the early rounds where upsets lie in deadly ambush.  But winning “entertainment purposes” from my finely honed college basketball acumen?

Not gonna happen …

Funny how most people I know rarely ever watch pre-March Madness college basketball, yet they believe they can reasonably predict the end result of the sport’s 66-team, rabidly emotional, magically unpredictable, championship-determining tournament.

I was one of those wackadoodles once; but it hasn’t been the same for me since 1992.

That was the year the East Regional was held in Philadelphia’s Spectrum.  It was the year of Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Ohio State as the top ranked teams.  It was the year Michigan made the run from a 6-seed to runner-up, losing to Duke in the National Championship game.

It was the Year of Christian Laettner.

I know the feeling.

I know the feeling.

Normally the NCAA Tourney was just a reason to spend several afternoons in a public establishment amply equipped with televisions in the company of friends.  But in the early rounds of the 1992 tournament bracket I was en fuego!  As the Round of 32 ended, I realized I had a pretty good bracket collection going … through no fault of my own.

As luck would have it, I had ridden Michigan as my surprise entry into the Final Four.  I had the potential – with a Kentucky win over Duke – of having three of four Final Four survivors! (Kansas and Ohio State having been ousted earlier by University of Texas – El Paso and Michigan respectively.)

So, like any other stat geek with a finely developed obsession common among baseball fans and fantasy sports addicts (Guilty x2), I spent hours analyzing the various permutations and likely results from the conveniently supplied Excel spreadsheet provided those like-minded “entertainment purposes” fans who had ponied up the $10 donation.

And I quickly realized that if Kentucky won its Regional Final matchup against Duke, I would be in the primo “entertainment purposes” driving seat heading into the Final Four and almost unbeatable due to a significant “entertainment purposes only” point lead!

I was on top of the world!

And then this happened …

For a more rounded, less suicidal (mine) version of this History of Misery event watch Ric Bucher‘s video report of The Carnage that left me with a nervous facial tic for years whenever I glimpsed the basketball floor at the Spectrum.

Of course, I don’t really hate Christian Laettner.  I simply hated what his exceptional skills on the court contributed to my wakening realization that fortune did not await me as the result of my keen sports betting insight.

So yes, I guess I hate Christian Laettner for saving me untold fortunes in the 20 years or so since.

It’s a complicated anti-relationship!

Failure to launch

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Mission Plan:  Awaken at 0330-0345 hrs and catch Major League Baseball‘s first game of the 2014 season, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks from the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Sydney, Australia.

Mission Status:  Failure, Complete & Utter

I finally woke up at 0550 hrs, well past the 0400 hrs starting time, and figured I might as well fahgettaboutit.

So in the tradition of Great OverSleepers such as Jean-Paul Jean-Paul, what do you think did in my ambitious plans for MLB’s Australian Opening Day?

Was it the …

  1. Snooze button
  2. AM/PM confusion
  3. Radio alarm volume control

Answer will be posted tomorrow!

Super HoHum

Pre-snap high-fiving, a common Superbowl party faux pas

Pre-snap high-fiving,
a common Superbowl party faux pas

So another Superbowl Sunday is upon us.

Yippee …

Another opportunity to watch The Big Game with a crowd of one-time-a-year football fans.  The same ones who will make insightful contributions and ask pointless questions throughout The Big Game until a mortuary silence descends in stunning suddenness at every commercial break.

Yep … Fun times …

I have long decided that most seasons the Best Pro Football Games are played in the weekends of the Division and Conference Championship games.  The mania of Superbowl week just stokes a lot of distraction and the interests of the football shoobies.

Peyton, the guy waving his hands

Peyton, the guy waving his hands

A good thing for the NFL corporatists, not so much if you actually like to get inside the game; enjoy Joe Buck’s insights (ducking behind the couch); and hear Peyton (Broncos quarterback, the guy who will be standing behind the players, who are all bending over, waving his hands around like Abbie Lee Miller on “Dance Moms“) playing mind games at the line of scrimmage (that’s the place where they spot the ball before every play).

The Superbowl has evolved into a huge social event, as opposed to a reason to watch a really good football game, over the decades since few people cared about the Green Bay Packers (They are not playing today.) manhandling the Kansas City Chiefs (Andy Reid’s new team, also not playing today) 35-10 in the first Superbowl (1967), back when The Big Game wasn’t even called the Superbowl (AFL-NFL World Championship Game).

200px-Super_Bowl_logo.svgBut that’s OK.  After any event has a successful run as long as this one has, it takes on a life of its own.  I have gone to many Superbowl happenings and have avoided others.

It all depends on the varied moods and interest levels of this cranky man.  And who’s playing …

If New England or New York was in it again, I’d probably welcome the chance to get be hopelessly distracted.

Today, I’ll just hunker down for this Superbowl Sunday and watch it in the comfort and relative quiet of my own home.  Hope it’s a good one!

Cranky Man’s favorite Philly sports moments

A tribute to the only reason I ever watched a Sixers game

A tribute to the only reason I ever watched a Sixers game

Now before I disappoint, I must warn you that this is not a treasure trove of Cranky Man’s various sports accomplishments.  Many though they are, I was a child born before the Age of Electronics-at-Your-Fingertips.  Sadly there is no video, films or even a decent grainy photo of those numerous magical moments from my past.

No video of those broken field runs on cold, snowy days with a well-worn pigskin under arm as I danced through flailing arms or plowed through helpless tacklers on makeshift gridirons along Ashton Road.  No snapshots of my gazelle-like grace as I tracked down a moonshot homerun fail on a sun-scorched softball field at Thomas Holme School at Willits and Holme Avenues.  No montage of my patented top-shelf, net-filling wrist shot during ridiculously hot and humid summer night street hockey games in the parking lot of the old Crown, Cork and Seal factory at Angus and Ashton Roads.

Sadly those magical moments are lost forever to the public except as they reside in my somewhat refracted long-term memory, exaggerated somewhat perhaps – like photo-shopped wedding pictures of an imperfect bride.  However, I might be able to find a few witnesses, given enough time and access to a sufficient supply of memory jogging altering alcohol.

No, what we have here are those distance moments and recent events in Philly sports history that shaped my psyche as a Philadelphia sports fan.

Some of the moments I have selected may surprise you.  In many cases they are not those iconic moments when Championships were sealed for the Ages.  Instead, they might be the plays that made that Championship seem probable, maybe inevitable.

Some are simply those indelible feats of personal accomplishments from which heroic sports memories are made.  Several memories are those of epic failure, that as an early sports memories many recall those long stretches of Philly sports futility.

Needless to say, your list of memorable Philly sports moments will include some of these, and others as well.  So feel free to offer your own, and maybe it will show up on a future trip down Memory Lane!

The Earliest Baseball Magic – Fathers Day 1964:  The family is bundled into the car driving home from an afternoon Fathers Day visit.  I am eight years old.  Dad turns on the radio just in time to catch the last few innings of Jim Bunning‘s perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies against the futile New York Mets in the first game of a sun-baked doubleheader.

Video: A perfect Fathers’ Day

It took him just 91 pitches and was the first perfect game in the National League in 84 years.

It was also the year of the Great Phillies Collapse of ’64, something of which we dare not speak.

Bunning was an all out, full-body thrower; often finishing his follow through his left forearm on the ground.  He would retire from baseball in 1971 and would be elected a U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1999.  He still serves in the Senate,

The Night Superman wore a “P” – June 23, 1971:  It was an ungodly hot day in Cincinnati as the Phillies prepared to take on the Reds that night.  Pitcher Rick Wise was not feeling well on the back-end of a bout with flu-like symptoms.  When he stepped out onto the Riverfront Stadium Astroturf field, the on-field temperature was close to 120 degrees.

Wise recalled that his warm-up pitches seemed like they could barely reach the plate.  Yet after the Reds went down in order through the first nine batters, Wise started to feel stronger figuring the heat had sweated the last of the flu from his system.  When he batted in the fifth inning, Reds starter Ross Grimsley left a slider up in the zone and Wise hit it out of the park for a homerun.

At some point after this, a bored fifteen year-old heard from a friend that Wise was pitching a no-hitter.  The Phillies weren’t much better – if better at all – than the 1964 version.  So not many 15 year-olds spent their time inside the house during the Summer watching them struggle in their mediocrity.  But a no-hitter is a no-hitter, so we all ran into the house to catch the last innings.

In the eighth inning, with a no-hitter a very real possibility, Wise came to bat against reliever Clay Carroll.  When he looked down at the third-base coach for the sign on a 2-0 count, George Myatt simply turned his back to Wise.  He could swing away.  Carroll layed one out over the plate and Wise drove it for his second homerun of the game.

In the ninth, Wise got two outs and none other than perennial hit machine, Pete Rose, stood between Wise and no-hit, two homerun immortality.  Rose worked the count to 3-2 then …

Video: The Reds get Wise’d

In one of those romantic twists that makes baseball such an interesting game, Rick Wise was the starting pitcher in that second game of the doubleheader in which Jim Bunning pitched his perfect game 7 years before!

Favell’s Big Flop … April 2, 1972:  It’s the last game of the Philadelphia Flyers 1971-72 regular season.  The hometown hockey club, which I had just started to follow, needed to simply avoid a loss to grab the last playoff spot.  A win or even a tie against the Sabres in Buffalo would do the trick.

Doug Favell was in the nets.  Favell was known as a flopper, who loved to flop and flail in the crease.

As the third period ran down into its final seconds, the Flyers clung to their first playoff berth in stubborn defensive hockey and a 2-2 tie.  With just 15 seconds left in the game Sabres defenseman Gerry Meehan – a former Flyer himself – collected a puck inside the Sabres zone and made a pass in the neutral zone.  As he cleared the blue line he got the puck back …

I was devastated and for months broke into nervous twitches every time I heard the name Doug Favell.

Clarke and The Hound:  Of course much better Flyers memories were right around the corner!

Bobby Clarke‘s overtime goal in Game 2 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals didn’t clinch The Cup, but it convinced this Flyers fan that they would inevitably bring Lord Stanley to Philly for the very first time!

Then in 1975 the Flyers won the Stanley Cup again.  But it was Bob “The Hound” Kelly who set the table just 11 seconds into the 3rd period of a scoreless Game 6.  He absorbed a hellacious hit from Buffalo defenseman Jerry Korab; controlled the puck behind the net; and with a little help from Bobby Clarke nudging Korab out-of-the-way …

Current Flyers and NHL broadcaster, Bill Clement scored the second and final goal to wrap up the Flyers successful Stanley Cup defense.

Boone to Rose:  Any Philadelphia sports fan knows the date, October 21, 1980.  On this night the Phillies would win their first World Series.  But it was this iconic play between Bob Boone and Pete Rose from the clincher that seemed to represent the hand of the baseball gods to anoint those Phillies as World Champions.

Wilbert romps through Cowboy-land:  It was January 7, 1981.  The Philadelphia Eagles had been improving steadily since Dick Vermeil had been hired as coach in 1976.  By 1978 – and the Miracle in the Meadowlands   – the Eagles were playoff bound over the next several seasons.  Then, on a bitterly cold day in January 1981, they were facing the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game and a chance to go to their first Superbowl.

On their very first drive of the game, the Eagles drove down to the Cowboys 42-yard line and Wilbert Montgomery set the tone for the rest of the day.

A great bonus …  Listening to the call by Tom Brookshier and Pat Summerall.

Wilbert’s romp and an unbreakable defense won the game 20-7.  The Eagles lost the Super Bowl however, to Jim Plunkett and the Oakland Raiders.

J & J … No, I was never a big Sixers fan; but there have been times I watched, enthralled to see some of the best athletes to ever play in Philly.

In 1983, when the Sixers won their last NBA title, it was Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, and Moses Malone – the final piece to the puzzle – who made it possible.  Jones playing the perimeter and stout on defense; Malone backing up his “fo’, fo’, fo'” playoff series prediction; and Julius simply being Julius.

Shane, Stairs and Utley’s Gambit:  When the Phillies finally broke through again in 2008, their ascendency to World Series Champion was no sure thing.  Yet it was a collection of plays that eventually convinced me that it could, should, then would happen.

Carol and I sat in the 300 level at Citizens Bank Park when Shane Victorino hit his grand slam off C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series.  It followed an epic at-bat by starting pitcher, Brett Myers.

It convinced me that the Phillies just could win this thing.

Video: Victorino slams Big C.C.

Victorino did it again, with the Phillies down 5-3 in the 8th inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Chavez Ravine against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I always though Victorino’s home run off Cory Wade was even bigger than Matt Stairs‘ game-winning deep space launch off Jonathan Broxton, because it changed the entire Dodgers relief strategy as well as tied the game.  Both were unforgettable moments that convinced me the Phillies should win the whole enchilada.

Video: Victorino lines a fence topper

Video: Stairs launches Broxton

But it was Chase Utley‘s play in the rain-delayed Game 6 of the 2008 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays that proclaimed to this fan that the Phillies would win their second World Championship.

Video: Utley goes schoolyard on the Rays

The rest, as they say, was His-TO-ry!

And finally, I leave you with this little gem that slightly pre-dates my own backyard football career.  How exactly we are able to reach all the way back to 1928 to watch a sandlot game of football is amazing!

What were my most Memorable Philly sports moments?

I am working on a post of those Philly sports moments I found the most exciting/memorable. Can you guess what they are?

For perspective, these are events and plays that occurred during my sports-aware years. Being born in 1956, I wouldn’t have been “aware” until maybe the age of 6-8 years old.

I talking the most memorable, not the most obvious. So don’t think Brad Lidge kneeling near the mound. Think about what might have convinced me that was the likely outcome.

Also, keep in mind, I only have a passing interest in anything basketball.

I have ten moments in the queue, and might add one or two more. And only one – not so oddly enough – is a “negative event”. Several are individual accomplishments, but certainly not all are.

Can you hazard a few guesses?

Winners take home Absolutely Nothing!