Sports Outside the Beltway

Giants’ Legend Bobby Thomson Dies At 86

Another baseball great, and a man responsible for one of the most memorable moments in baseball, died today at the age of 86:

Bobby Thomson, who hit “the shot heard round the world” — an epic home run for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951, to climax baseball’s most memorable pennant drive — died Monday at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 86.

His death was announced by his daughter Megan Thomson Armstrong, who said je he had been in failing health and had recently had a fall.

Memorably described in a play-by-play call by the Giants radio announcer Russ Hodges, Thomson’s homer endures as perhaps the most dramatic play in baseball history, a stirring conclusion to the Giants’ late-summer comeback known as “the miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” and a moment that has since resonated in popular culture.

“I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen,” Thomson once said. “It was a delirious, delicious moment.”

It was the bottom of the ninth inning in the third game of a three-game playoff. The Giants were down by two runs and the count was no balls and one strike. Branca, who had just come into the game, delivered a high fastball to Thomson, perhaps a bit inside. In the radio broadcast booth, Hodges watched the baseball fly off Thomson’s bat.

“There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be … I believe — the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

“Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant, and they’re going crazy, they’re going crazy …

“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it, I do not believe it!”

Thomson’s three-run homer propelled the Giants to a 5-4 victory, he and Branca became bonded as baseball’s ultimate hero and goat, and the moment became enshrined in American culture. In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Thomson’s drive, and Don DeLillo used the baseball he hit as a relic of memory in the acclaimed 1997 novel “Underworld.”

Here’s the video of that legendary home run:

Another great one is gone.

Bill Jempty Update- Here’s another video. At the 0:38 point of the video a young woman is seen clapping. That is my mother. RIP Bobby.


Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner Dies At 80

Steinbrenner_w_trophyOn the morning of the All-Star Game baseball fans woke up to the news that New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had died in Florida:

George Steinbrenner, who bought a declining Yankees team in 1973, promised to stay out of its daily affairs and then, in an often tumultuous reign, placed his formidable stamp on 7 World Series championship teams, 11 pennant winners and a sporting world powerhouse valued at perhaps $1.6 billion, died Tuesday morning. He was 80 and lived in Tampa, Fla.

“He was an incredible and charitable man,” the family said in a statement.

“He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again.”

Steinbrenner’s death came nine months after the Yankees won their first World Series title since 2000, clinching their six-game victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at his new Yankee Stadium.

Steinbrenner had been in failing health for the past several years and had rarely appeared in public. He attended the opening game at the new stadium in April 2009, sitting in his suite with his wife, Joan. When he was introduced and received an ovation, his shoulders shook and he cried.

He next appeared at the Yankees’ new home for the first two games of the World Series, then made his final appearance at the 2010 home opener, when Manager Joe Girardi and shortstop Derek Jeter, the team captain, came to his suite to present him with his 2009 World Series championship ring.


Steinbrenner was the central figure in a syndicate that bought the Yankees from CBS for $10 million. When he arrived in New York on Jan. 3, 1973, he said he would not “be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all.” Having made his money as head of the Cleveland-based American Shipbuilding Company, he declared, “I’ll stick to building ships.”

But four months later, Michael Burke, who had been running the Yankees for CBS and had stayed on to help manage the franchise, departed after clashing with Steinbrenner. John McMullen, a minority owner in the syndicate, soon remarked that “nothing is as limited as being a limited partner of George’s.”

Steinbrenner emerged as one of the most powerful, influential and, in the eyes of many, notorious executives in sports. He was the senior club owner in baseball at his death, the man known as the Boss.

A pioneer of modern sports ownership, Steinbrenner started the wave of high spending for playing talent when free agency arrived in the mid-1970s, and he continued to spend freely through the Yankees’ revival in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the long stretch without a pennant and then renewed triumphs under Torre and General Manager Brian Cashman.

The Yankees’ approximately $210 million payroll in 2009 dwarfed all others in baseball, and the team paid out millions in baseball’s luxury tax and revenue-sharing with small-market teams.

In the frenetic ’70s and ’80s, when general managers, field managers and pitching coaches were sent spinning through Steinbrenner’s revolving personnel door (Billy Martin had five stints as manager), the franchise became known as the Bronx Zoo. In December 2002, Steinbrenner’s enterprise had grown so rich that the president of the Boston Red Sox, Larry Lucchino, frustrated over losing the pitcher Jose Contreras to the Yankees, called them the “evil empire.”

But Steinbrenner and the Yankees thrived through all the arguments, all the turmoil, all the bombast. Having been without a pennant since 1964 when Steinbrenner bought them, enduring sagging attendance while the upstart Mets thrived, the Yankees once again became America’s marquee sporting franchise.

Love him or hate him, and there were plenty of times over the last thirty-seven years when even Yankees fans hated him, there’s no denying that Steinbrenner was unlike any other baseball owner before him. He took a team that had floundered under CBS’s ownership for the better part of a decade — the Yankees had not appeared in a World Series since 1965, and had not won since 1962 — and turned it into a powerhouse. His $ 100 million investment is worth today an estimated $ 1.6 billion and doing better than ever.

Coming only a few days after the death of legendary Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Shepard, this death will be felt deeply in the Yankee family and I’m sure we’ll see some kind of tribute when the team returns to the stadium that George built on July 16th.


Former NBA Giant Manute Bol Dies At 47

1237813050_0Manute Bol, who literally towered over the NBA for ten years, died yesterday at 47 after contracting a skin disease:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Manute Bol, a lithe 7-foot-7 shot-blocker from Sudan who spent 10 seasons in the NBA and was dedicated to humanitarian work in Africa, died Saturday. He was 47.

Bol died at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, where he was being treated for severe kidney trouble and a painful skin condition, Tom Prichard, executive director of the group Sudan Sunrise, said in an e-mail.

“Sudan and the world have lost a hero and an example for all of us,” Prichard said. “Manute, we’ll miss you. Our prayers and best wishes go out to all his family, and all who mourn his loss.”

Bol played in the NBA with Washington, Golden State, Philadelphia and Miami, averaging 2.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks for his career. He led the league in blocks in 1985-86 with Washington (5.0 per game) and in 1988-89 with Golden State (4.3 a game).

“Manute’s impact on this city, our franchise and the game of basketball cannot be put into words,” 76ers president and general manager Ed Stefanski said in a statement. “He … was continually giving of himself through his generosity and humanitarian efforts in order to make the world around him a much better place, for which he will always be remembered.”

In the years after he left the NBA, Bol devoted himself to humanitarian work in his native Sudan and had actually just returned from there to start a project to build a new school in his home village. It’s believed that the skin disease he contracted may be related to something he encountered on that trip.


MLB Players Like Jim Joyce, Don’t Like Instant Replay

0603-galarraga-joyce-story.h2A new survey of Major League Baseball players reveals that their favorite umpire is Jim Joyce, the man who blew a call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game, and that they don’t like instant replay:

Jim Joyce, the umpire whose missed call deprived Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game on June 2, is baseball’s best umpire nonetheless, according to an exclusive ESPN The Magazine Baseball Confidential poll of 100 major league players.

In general, however, baseball players think the umpires are pretty good. Overall, 29 percent of the players surveyed gave the umpires a “B” grade, with 20 percent giving them a “C” and 16 percent and “A.”

Players also were decidedly opposed to replay and overwhelmingly applauded commissioner Bud Selig for not overturning Joyce’s call that kept Galarraga from being the 21st pitcher in history to throw a perfect game.

Joyce was named in 53 percent of the surveys, which asked players for the three best and three worst umpires in the game, as well as questions about instant replay and whether Galarraga’s perfect game should stand. That beat runner-up Tim McClelland, who ironically was panned for his performance in Game 4 of last year’s American League Championship Series. McClelland was named on 34 percent of the ballots.

Joyce, in his 22nd year in the majors, was the clear choice of National League players, with Jim Wolf (18 percent) second. Joyce and McClelland, a 27-year veteran, tied for first among American League players (52 percent) — both were former AL umpires before baseball combined its umpires into one entity in 1999.

CB Bucknor was named on 42 percent of the ballots as worst umpire, leading that category. The total narrowly edged Joe West, who was named on 40 percent, and Angel Hernandez, who was named on 22 percent.

The survey was taken after Joyce’s call, which came on what would have been the final out of a perfect game for Galarraga. Joyce called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe at first on a ground ball hit to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who threw to Galarraga covering the bag. Replays showed Donald was clearly out.

Here are some of the results:

Grade the umps:
1. B: 29%
2. C: 20%
3. A: 16%
Average grade: B

Replay on the bases?
Yes: 22%
No: 77%
Maybe: 1%

Replay on fair/foul calls?
Yes: 36%
No: 62%
Not sure: 2%

Overturn calls in Galarraga game?
Yes: 13%
No: 86%
Not sure: 1%

Interesting to say that least, and if the players don’t want instant replay then perhaps those clamoring for it need to stop and think for a bit.


Stephen Strasburg Impresses In Major League Debut

4684450947_131b1bb9f9If you live in the Washington, D.C. area, then you’ve been part of the hype about the Washington Nationals latest new phenom Stephen Strasburg, which started long before he’d ever thrown a single pitch in a Major League game. Last night, we learned that the hype may just have been justified:

WASHINGTON — For all the hype and expectations, projected debut dates guessed and re-guessed, every word and soundbite, millions though they were, one typically critical detail of a starting pitcher’s pregame routine was absent Tuesday night.

Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg never looked at a scouting report of his opponent.

“I was just trusting everything he called,” Strasburg said after the game, referring to his future Hall of Fame catcher, Ivan Rodriguez.

Strasburg said it so earnestly that maybe he didn’t understand the magnitude of what he had just accomplished. Hailed as the savior of baseball in D.C., the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft, whom some scouts described as the greatest pitching prospect of all time, had somehow managed to match or even exceed the exorbitant expectations placed upon him by striking out a Nationals-record 14 batters in seven innings of no-walk, two-run ball in a 5-2 win over the Pirates.  He interspersed 100 mph fastballs between curveballs and changeups that plummeted to the earth as if gravity’s pull suddenly grew stronger just before home plate.

“I can’t really put it into words any better than you saw,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “It was just a great night for baseball in Washington.”

As commentator George Will, a Nationals season-ticket holder who was among the sellout crowd of 40,315, once wrote, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.

Only time will tell if Strasburg becomes a truly great pitcher, or whether he burns out after a few seasons. So far, though, he’s doing well.


Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden Dies At 99

NCAA FINAL UCLA WOODENJohn Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach who led his teams to twelve NCAA Championships, died overnight at the age of 99:

John Wooden, a staid Midwesterner who migrated to U.C.L.A. and became college basketball’s most successful coach, earning the nickname the Wizard of Westwood and an enduring place in sports history, died Friday at Ronald Reagan U.C.L.A. Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since May 26. He was 99.

His death was announced by the university.

Wooden created a sports dynasty against which all others are compared, and usually pale. His teams at U.C.L.A. won 10 national championships in a 12-season stretch from 1964 to 1975. From 1971 to 1974, U.C.L.A. won 88 consecutive games, still the N.C.A.A. record.

Four of Wooden’s teams finished with 30-0 records, including his first championship team, which featured no starters taller than 6 feet 5 inches.

Three of his other championship teams were anchored by the 7-foot-2 center Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Two others were led by center Bill Walton, a three-time national player of the year.

Wooden retired after U.C.L.A.’s 1975 championship victory over Kentucky. A slight man hugely popular for his winning record and his understated approach, he ultimately became viewed as a kind of sage for both basketball and life, a symbol of both excellence and simpler times.

Even in retirement he remained a beloved figure and a constant presence at U.C.L.A., watching most games from a seat behind the home bench at Pauley Pavilion. Lines of well-wishers and autograph-seekers often snaked their way to his seat in Section 103B. Wooden always obliged his fans, until the university and his family requested that he be granted privacy in January 2008, when he was 97.

A dynasty like Wooden’s would be almost impossible now, because the best players seldom spend more than a year or two in college before turning professional. No N.C.A.A. men’s basketball coach has won more than four championships since Wooden retired. Of Wooden’s eight coaching successors at U.C.L.A., only one — Jim Harrick in 1995 — won an N.C.A.A. championship with the Bruins, who have managed to retain an air of the elite among basketball programs largely on Wooden’s legacy.

Wooden’s success fed upon itself. When he won his first two national championships, landed Alcindor and moved home games to the new Pauley Pavilion, high school stars begged to play for him. Besides Abdul-Jabbar and Walton, Wooden turned out celebrated players like Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard, Keith Erickson, Henry Bibby, Lucius Allen, Sidney Wicks, Jamaal Wilkes and Marques Johnson.

“He was almost a mystical figure by the time I got to U.C.L.A.,” said Johnson, a starter on Wooden’s final team. “I couldn’t really sit down and have a conversation with him about real things just because I had so much reverence for him — for who he was and what he had accomplished.”

College basketball is a much different game than it was in Wooden’s game, and it’s unlikely we’ll see the likes of him ever again.


Bud Selig Will Not Overturn Umpire’s Call In Blown Perfect Game

bildeBaseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced this afternoon that he would not overturn umpire Jim Joyce’s call that denied Armando Gallaraga a perfect game last night:

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he would look at the game’s umpiring system and the expanded use of instant replay, but would not reverse the blown call that cost Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers a perfect game on Wednesday night.

“While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed,” Selig said in a statement. “Given last night’s call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features.”

Selig said he would consult with baseball’s labor unions and the game’s special committee for on-field matters before announcing any decisions.

Selig also praised umpire Jim Joyce, whose blown call in the bottom of the ninth cost Galarraga the perfect game, for his handling of the situation afterwards, as well as Galarraga and Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

“The dignity and class of the entire Detroit Tigers organization under such circumstances were truly admirable and embodied good sportsmanship of the highest order,” Selig said. “[Galarraga] and Detroit manager Jim Leyland are to be commended for their handling of a very difficult situation.

“I also applaud the courage of umpire Jim Joyce to address this unfortunate situation honestly and directly. Jim’s candor illustrates why he has earned the respect of on-field personnel throughout his accomplished career in the Major Leagues since 1989,” Selig said.

While the desire for justice in this situation is apparent, it would appear that Selig did not have many options in this situation. Rule 9.02 of the Official Rules of Major League Baseball is pretty clear:

(a) Any umpire’s decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.

There is no process for appealing such a judgment call, and no authority under the rules for an appeal of such a judgment call to the Commissioner, or any other authority. The only way Selig could have “fixed” this would have been to ignore the rules and manipulate the results of a baseball game after the fact; and that would have been just as wrong as Jim Joyce’s bad judgment call last night, if not worse.

No doubt this entire incident will lead to some re-examination of the rules and there will be discussion of allowing appeals, or instant replay. That’s a discussion worth having, but I’m glad that Selig didn’t pervert the Rules of Baseball just to make things “right.”


Armando Galarraga’s Feat Even Rarer Than A Perfect Game

IMG_2399-thumb-550x412-2108221There’s news this afternoon that Major League Baseball is considering reviewing the blown call that ruined Armando Gallaraga’s perfect game last night. Assuming that it can be done without completely disregarding the rules of baseball, I think it would be  proper thing to do.

Until then, though, Armando Gallaraga can take some comfort in the fact that he currently is in a club even more exclusive than the one made up of pitchers who’ve pitcher perfect games:

On ten occasions in Major League Baseball history, a perfect game has been spoiled when the batter representing what would have been the third and final out in the ninth inning reached base. Unless otherwise noted, the pitcher in question finished and won the game without allowing any more baserunners:[54]

  • On July 4, 1908, Hooks Wiltse of the New York Giants hit Philadelphia Phillies pitcher George McQuillan on a 2–2 count in a scoreless game—the only time a 0–0 perfect game has been broken up by the 27th batter. Umpire Cy Rigler later admitted that he should have called the previous pitch strike 3. Wiltse pitched on, winning 1–0; his ten-inning no-hitter set a record for longest complete game no-hitter that has been tied twice but never broken.
  • On August 5, 1932, Tommy Bridges of the Detroit Tigers gave up a pinch-hit single to the Washington Senators’ Dave Harris.
  • On June 27, 1958, Billy Pierce of the Chicago White Sox gave up a double, which landed just inches in fair territory, on his first pitch to Senators pinch hitter Ed Fitz Gerald.
  • On September 2, 1972, Milt Pappas of the Chicago Cubs walked San Diego Padres pinch hitter Larry Stahl on a borderline 3–2 pitch. Pappas finished with a no-hitter. The umpire, Bruce Froemming, was in his second year; he went on to a 37-year career in which he umpired a record 11 no-hitters. Pappas believed he had struck out Stahl, and years later continued to bear ill will toward Froemming.
  • On April 15, 1983, Milt Wilcox of the Tigers surrendered a pinch-hit single to the White Sox’ Jerry Hairston, Sr.
  • On May 2, 1988, Ron Robinson of the Cincinnati Reds gave up a single to the Montreal Expos’ Wallace Johnson. Robinson then allowed a two-run homer to Tim Raines and was removed from the game. The final score was 3–2, with Robinson the winner. (Robinson’s teammate Tom Browning threw his perfect game later that season.)
  • On August 4, 1989, Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays gave up a double to the New York YankeesRoberto Kelly, followed by an RBI single by Steve Sax. Stieb finished with a 2–1 victory.
  • On April 20, 1990, Brian Holman of the Seattle Mariners gave up a home run to Ken Phelps of the Oakland Athletics.
  • On September 2, 2001, Mike Mussina of the Yankees gave up a two-strike single to Boston Red Sox pinch hitter Carl Everett

And then, of course, there’s Gallarga.

Small consolation, yes, but at least it’s something.


LeBron James: Cleveland “Has The Edge” In Deciding Which Team Will Get Me

we-are-all-witnesses-lebron-james-546522_1024_768Take it for what it’s worth, but LeBron James says that Cleveland is leading the pack of all his potential suitors:

CLEVELAND (AP) — One month before the start of the N.B.A.’s free agency period, LeBron James has handicapped his field of suitors: The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the pack.

In his first interview since the Cavaliers’ season ended with a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics, James told CNN’s Larry King that Cleveland had “an edge” to re-sign him when free agency begins July 1.

King, who interviewed James at his home near Akron on Tuesday, asked him if Cleveland had “an edge going in.”

“Absolutely,” he said in a portion of the interview released by CNN. “Because, you know, this city, these fans, I mean, have given me a lot in these seven years. And, you know, for me, it’s comfortable. So I’ve got a lot of memories here. And so it does have an edge.”

The interview will be shown Friday on “Larry King Live.” Other than his postgame interview, James has not talked to the news media since the Cavaliers were eliminated by the Celtics.

The cynical view will be that LeBron will go where the money is, but he’s also shown a fairly strong connection to his hometown over the past seven years, so the possibility of staying in Cleveland is not out of the question at all.

Here’s an except from the interview that CNN has made available:


Cleveland Pitcher David Huff Hit In Head During Freak Play

A scary moment during yesterday’s Yankees-Indians game:

NEW YORK — It is the worst nightmare of both the pitcher and the hitter, the ball that is hit so hard there is simply no time to duck, no time to react, no chance for the elemental reflex of self-preservation.

It happened in the third inning of Saturday’s Yankees-Indians game, and for several heart-stopping, breath-holding minutes, it was easy to imagine that the worst thing that could happen on a baseball field had just happened, in full view of 46,000 spectators.

Cleveland right-hander David Huff threw a pitch to Alex Rodriguez, and before either of them could possibly have known what was happening, the ball was back in the pitcher’s face, smacking with a THWACK! off Huff’s left temple that must have been audible in the remotest sections of the ballpark.

Huff, a 25-year-old in his second big-league season, fell face down and motionless on the pitcher’s mound. Rodriguez, reacting with a hitter’s instinct, barreled around first base and into second. Nick Swisher, on second base, came around to score. The baseball, ricocheting as sharply as if it had hit concrete, wound up in right field.

And the hearts of 46,000 people leaped into 46,000 throats as a crowd of teammates, trainers and paramedics rushed to the mound and the fallen pitcher.

Rarely has Yankee Stadium been as quiet as it was at that moment and rarely has a ballgame there suddenly seemed so unimportant. As the medical staff worked over Huff, who did not move for what seemed like hours, Rodriguez and Swisher dropped to their knees, their eyes focused on the ground.


Huff was taken to an ambulance waiting by the service gate beyond the left-center field fence and rushed to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where a CT scan revealed no neurological damage. The pitcher was kept briefly for observation and then sent back to Yankee Stadium.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez, who was visibly affected by the incident, left the ballpark immediately after the game and called a Yankees publicist from his car for the location of the hospital, hoping to visit Huff before he was released.

Learning that Huff was on his way back to the ballpark, Rodriguez was given the player’s cellphone number and was trying to reach him Saturday night.

“Your heart stops. You want so badly to take it back,” Rodriguez said in a statement relayed through Jason Zillo, a Yankees publicist. “You’re scared. You think of him, you think of his family. You think of a million other places that the ball could have gone, other than where it did. Why there?

“I mean, we’re playing a game. A game. I know it’s a business, too, but to all of us, playing it should always be a game first, and when something like that happens right in front of your eyes it makes you think long and hard about things much bigger than throwing or hitting a baseball or running around the bases for a few hours a day. I’m so thankful that he’s going to be OK.”

It really is just a freak accident of physics. A move to the left or the right, a little more or less force on the ball, and things would’ve turned out differently. Fortunately, Huff is okay.

Here’s video of the incident, which is still cringe-inducing even when you know that the injury wasn’t bad:


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