Damn Patriots

I was talking to a friend after the AB circus was cancelled in Oakland, leaving the deranged diva as the most toxic free agent since Kim Kardashian filed for divorce five minutes after marrying some NBA player.

“As long as Brown doesn’t sign with the Patriots, I’m good,” I joked.

“Dude . . Brown just signed with the Patriots . . ” My friend replied.

Of fucking course he did.

If there was any debate as to the most reviled franchise in professional sports, the New England Patriots just won it, again. Seriously . . gimme a more hated group than the boys from the 508. And no, ISIS doesn’t count.

Once upon a time, my beloved New York Yankees held that title with a seemingly eternal grip. In a swath of history that began with the Murderers Row lineup of 1927 and plowed through war torn lineups in the ’40’s, the golden age of baseball in the ’50’s and expansion in the ’60’s, the Yankees remained the most recognizable symbol of enmity in sports. They were immortalized on stage and screen as Damn Yankees, harmonized in Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson and despised by opposing fans everywhere.

They answered an eleven year championship drought- from 1964 to 1975- with a bunch of mercenaries and sons of bitches when the “Bronx Zoo” iteration won three straight pennants and two World Series titles in the late ’70’s. After which came ever more creative rivals to their most hated throne. The Los Angeles Lakers held a time share for most hated team in sports in the eighties, but Magic buffered any possibility of nuclear enmity. The Dallas Cowboys took up Mickey’s mantle in the ’90’s, but not for long enough a time to breach the gap.

The Russian hockey team was hated whenever the Winter Olympics came calling, but that was a matter of Stalin and Sputnik more than sport. The Edmonton Oilers were hated until Gretkzy was traded to America, after which all was forgiven. The Mets moved out of the Yankees basement in the mid eighties and became a renegade team of hate-worthiness, but their hard partying ways derailed any chance of a long term reign.

By the time the James Gang Miami Heat went Banksy on the Association in 2010, it was too late. The Yankees had already lost their Evil Empire to the New England Patriots. And it wasn’t even close.

The nexus of this changing of the guard came in the fall and winter of 2001-2002. The Yankees were at the height of their villainy entering a campaign in which they had added ace pitcher Mike Mussina from the rival Baltimore Orioles to a team that was favored to win a fourth straight title. When September 11th happened, it muted the national hatred for the pinstripes. Some fans even forged a temporary alliance with the Yanks on account of a city’s gaping wound. When the Yankees lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, it signaled both the end of a dynasty as well as their title as the most hated team in sports.

We just didn’t know it yet.

In February of 2002, the Patriots upset the heavily favored Rams in Super Bowl 36. To that point, Bill Belichick had been a middling disappointment as head coach and Tom Brady was a little known backup QB turned starter. The irony is that the Patriots shouldn’t have even made it to the Super Bowl that year, but for the “Tuck Rule Game” in which a Tom Brady fumble was ruled . . get this, an incomplete pass. Oh, and the team they beat in that infamous game? Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders. You really cannot make this shit up.

Fast forward seventeen years and the Patriots just screwed Gruden and the Raiders again with their signing of Antonio Brown. Unlike that first Super Bowl victory, the Patriots are no longer a feel good story. They have presided over an unprecedented run of success and scandal in the time since, collecting 6 Super Bowl titles, 9 Conference titles 16 division titles and more -Gates than the poshest neighborhood in Hollywood.

So now the most hated team has the most hated player. It’s the sporting equivalent of the Manson family adopting Pennywise. And okay yes . . Tom Brady is probably going to start acting his age this season and the Patriots can’t possibly make it back to the Super Bowl again and oh wait . . hold on I’ve got a phone call. Hey! It’s me calling, from this time last year!

Hey what’s up? Oh really, I said the same shit this time last year? 

Umm . . . never mind.

It doesn’t seem possible that a team birthed by monarch butterflies on a farm (I read it on the dark web) . . a team that once wore uniforms straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting . . a team that calls itself Patriots, could elicit the sort of rage my Yankees once took for granted.

It’s gotten so bad that after my pal Big Papi’s Orioles were basically eliminated from postseason play back in June, he told me he would be rooting for my Yankees to win it all. To which I replied with “Fuck you,”

I wonder if Antonio Brown plays baseball.

 

 

 

 

Snide of the Yankees

All that romance I was painting when I wrote about a day at the ballpark turned out to be a much needed prescription for my home town Bombers. Because after being held to one run in that eleven inning loss last Saturday, they exploded for thirteen runs the next day. And they haven’t lost since. I like to think we served as a baseball talisman for the pinstripes. It’s not the coziest notion, seeing as how there are thirty thousand peeps who think the same thing. But it still counts.

Anyways . . I figured since I was gifted with some free baseball at no additional cost (since the MLB hasn’t figured out how to tack that on yet ), Imma pass it along in kind.

  • The only time a hot dog is an entree is at the ballpark. Something happens to the little fuckers on the other side of the gates that ups the flavor equation exponentially. There’s nothing like having a dog at the game, because the game is the only place it tastes like Kobe beef with a fried egg on top.
  • That thirty thousand (or thereabouts) was the attendance for a Saturday afternoon first place showdown in which the weather was picture perfect says everything about the insane price structure of game tickets. In the quest to make each game an “experience”, the MLB has beaten the living shit out of the sticker price. I’d be sadder if I didn’t have the MLB network on speed dial.
  • As for those prices, it ain’t reserved for the seats. We grabbed a foot long, a bucket of chicken tenders and garlic fries with three drinks for the princely sum of $51 U.S. Mantles. I could have hosted a BBQ block party for less.

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  • And no, alcohol was not included in that price, which would have added a ten spot to the bill.
  • Because I do not drink alcohol when the sun is in prime time. It’s not because I’m an alcoholic vampire, but thanks to the memory of a football game in Baltimore in the middle aughts when I made merry under the sun. The resultant headache had me wishing I was Tracy Mills from the movie Seven.
  • The wave has made a comeback at stadiums across the country. And it made me wonder where this collective psychosis originated, so I found this article that settles the matter.
  • It should be illegal for a man to wear a jersey . . even at the ballgame. It also should be illegal for a woman not to wear a jersey, wherever they like. Sorry dudes, they’re just better at it.
  • Is it wrong to feel provoked when I see a flat bill on a baseball cap?
  • Eleven dollars for a 16 oz Bud Light is only worth it if there’s a bottle of Jim Beam inside the can.
  • If you’re not in line to see Monument Park before 11:50 am, you’re out of luck. The gates open at 11:30 am. We were unaware of this short window as we strolled over to find our seats and then grabbed some dogs before heading over. We made it with three minutes to spare. Babe Ruth’s number was three. Coincidence? Probably, but I like to think the dogs worked in our favor. Even at six bucks a pop.
  • As we waited in line to get into the Stadium, a sixty something dude who was six pack pregnant took off his t-shirt to put on his Rays jersey. If I hadn’t already spent forty five bucks to park my car, I’d have given him a fifty spot to keep his t-shirt on. We’re standing right in front of a fucking sign that prohibits just about everything short of breathing but this guy can go horror story on our eyeballs. Jesus!

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  • Why is it that conversations about sports always seem so smart when you’re spikes deep in them, but mindless when you’re eavesdropping?

About that Seinfeld skit: I spotted a fella of Italian descent several rows below us sporting a Jason Giambi t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. And my mind went here . . .

George: (Laughing) Jer, check out the guy in the fake Giambi jersey . . . amateur.
Jerry: Wait a minute . . are the sleeves cut off?
George: They are! Do you think he cut them off on purpose?
Jerry: What other possible explanation is there?
George: Who does that?!
Jerry: It’s unheard of!
George: There’s no room for people like this in civilized society!

From there, Jerry engages the fan in a conversation that goes sideways. After which Jerry and George end up being escorted from the Stadium by security.

  • The shift is the new phone booth stuffing. Scientifically speaking, it’s when the defense only butters one side of the bagel. It’s done so’s the hitter can’t pull the ball into real estate where they ain’t and it looks something like this.

The Shift

  • Players don’t know how to bunt any longer because bunts don’t get them paid.
  • It’s frightening how many dudes leave the men’s room without washing their hands.
  • What do you answer hot dogs, chicken tenders and a pound of garlic fries with? The responsible choice would’ve been salads, ice water and laxatives. Let the record show that a case of White Castles ain’t the responsible choice.

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Welp, that’ll do it. I’d like to send out a special thank you to Gary Cooper’s stylish Brylcreem, Derek Jeter’s tarnished reputation and the lost (then found) files of Kate Smith.

Always bet diamonds.

I Got 99 Problems But A Pitch Ain’t One

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Going to the new Yankee Stadium is an exercise in the megalomaniacal excesses of old money crashing head long into new money and making babies; entitled little creatures whose trust funded silver spoon was upgraded to platinum in the reboot. For a culture stuck in a perpetual hunger for all things next gen, this joint plays a peach melody.

I’m plenty fine with the new digs, really. It’s just that, as a Yankee fan of a certain age . . I adhere to the bargain basement sensibility that asks, “If it’s swimming just fine, why the harpoon?”. Of course, just like Jeopardy whiz James Holzhauer, I know the answer before the question is set into its stone foundation. Yankee Stadium Part 3 is a masterstroke of inevitability run amok. Where sports stadiums have become premium tier caviar cribs, loosing a greed-think philosophy which has turned a day at the ballgame into a Disney vacation replete with fine restaurants and overpriced everything else. Seats have become investments, patrons have become guests and season tickets have turned into catching a couple games a year, maybe.

I miss the Yankee Stadium that was replaced by this one. The history of that place alone should have placed it on the National Register of Historic Places. The names that played its stage define an epoch of sporting accomplishment. From Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio to Mantle, Jackson and Jeter. Not to mention the rivals who graced the coliseum of a golden age: Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Satchel Paige and Hank Aaron. And that’s just the first chapter.

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And oh yeah . . Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi coached there. Joe Louis and Max Schmeling fought there. The 1958 Title Game (“The Greatest Game Ever Played”) between the Colts and Giants was played there. And Pope Paul VI and later Pope John Paul II celebrated mass there. And that’s just chapter two.

As we’ve seen, Cathedrals do fall and time is an impatient beast when it comes to change. Hell, the game has been transformed into a stat geek’s paradise; what with infield shifts that resemble pileups on the BQE and players who don’t know what a bunt looks like, and feast or famine box scores. But through it all, the game is really still as simple as a pitcher telling a little white pill what to do while a batter tries to talk it into doing something else.

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So it was that I took my son and his young bride to see the Yankees play the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon, in a battle for first place in the American League East. A match-up of team aces, with the Yankees sending out Masahiro Tanaka and the Rays answering with 2018 AL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell. Thing about aces, there are expectations. The crowd expects A plus cooking, so when he starts scribbling B work, the chatter can get colorful. I happen to think there’s a beauty to watching a pitcher negotiate outs from the third rail. And these two pitchers ransomed zeroes from their respective arsenals, as if devils at the wheel. Tanaka’s four seamer was flat lining and his slider called in sick and yet, he was able to muster six scoreless innings before getting hit on the shin and becoming the latest Yankee to hit the injured list, which reads like a Hemingway tally.

His counterpart, Blake Snell, has stuff that’s more wicked than a trigger happy ridge runner. And while his curve ball wasn’t fooling anyone, his Hi-Lo game kept the home team at bay; with a fastball that salted the rim and a change up that tossed them into the drink time after hopeless time.

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One of my favorite things about the game is the down time, with which a writer chisels out Longfellow, Hopper and even a little Seinfeld. I talked with my son about that magical ride of a ’96 Yankees club. And then I studied the iconic facade that wraps itself around the holler of blue seats whilst pitching a Seinfeld skit inspired by the Goombah with the Giambi t-shirt a couple rows south of us that had the kids cracking up. We figured out the Yankees Rushmore somewhere in between.

As is my baseball ritual, I honed in on the infinite ripples of a game. Like how Tanaka stops on a dime at the quarter pole of his delivery. And how Luke Voit plays first base like the most earnest of rugby players. And how Kevin Kermaier of the Rays became my Grand Master of a most favorite baseball funk, with his insane between pitch stretches and his bantering to teammates and that Tarantino howitzer of an arm.

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As is the new age custom, the bullpen took the keys a little more than halfway through and outside of a few hiccups, they made it into extra innings after a Gio Urshela drive to deep right died two feet short of a walk off home run celebration for the Bombers. In Kermaier’s mitt, because of course. And then Austin Meadows of the Rays tore a moon beam into those same right field seats two innings later to give the visitors the lead for good.

The 2-1 win gave the Rays temporary possession of first place. And from the looks of it, these guys are intent on being a thorn in the sides of baseball royalty this season. Talent is the greatest equalizer, and when you have the chops to do something about it, you always got next.

Because some things never go out of style.

Ruth and Consequences

 

Babe

It doesn’t feel like fourteen years.

That’s how long it’s been since the Yankees and Red Sox last met in October. It was the year when A-Rod became the biggest four letter word in baseball after being traded to the Yankees. The year when Curt Schilling became the biggest four letter word to Yankees fans. And it was the year when the Sawx erased an 0-3 deficit in the ALCS and took down the Bronx Bombers, giving Babe Ruth a much deserved sleep after eighty five long years.

As a Yankees fan, it was a fucking nightmare.

My team was Vegas buttah that season. They were Shakespeare on paper and savagely expert at winning big moments once the leaves turned. They owned the diamond in a way Liz Taylor would’ve appreciated, and they were spit roasting the New England Nine over the first three games of the 2004 ALCS to the tune of 32-16. The Evil Empire was primed and ready to quash the rebellion and take their arch-rivals out in a four game sweep. It was over . . .

And then Dave Fucking Roberts stole second base off the great Mariano Rivera and changed everything. When Roberts scored to tie the game at four in the bottom of the ninth, it was a tremor and when Big Papi smacked a two run walk off homer in the twelfth to stave off elimination . . it was a quake. But when Big Papi hit another game winning homer in extra innings the following night to cut the Yankees lead in the series to three games to two?

Shit . .  got real.

The rest became Dickens, with a tale that two cities will take to their blessed baseball graves. To anyone who calls the 2018 division series between these blood rivals a chance for pinstripe redemption . . or reaffirmation for the Bosox, well . . they have no idea what they’re talking about.

This, ain’t that.

Truth be told, I’m glad the “Curse of the Bambino” won’t be painting the corners of this series. As romantic a notion as it was, it also happened to be complete bullshit.

The “Curse” refers to a long held notion by certain baseball peeps that when Boston sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, it unleashed a sinister pox on their title chances forevermore. What these peeps were saying, in essence, was that shitty management and even shittier performances in pressure situations had nothing to do with the fact that Boston couldn’t win. It was all Babe Ruth’s fault. For eighty five years, the Yankees behaved like the grown ups at the table by taking care of business and collecting more hardware than a mechanic. While the Red Sox played hide and seek with Babe Ruth.

Okay, when the light hitting Bucky Dent did this to the Red Sox in the 1978 one game playoff at Fenway . . the dramatic effect was Bambino’esqe. But it was one game, one lucky shot.

Between 1919 and 2004, the Red Sox won the division title five times and the pennant twice. And it would be worth noting they beat out the Yankees to do so each time. Hell, it could be argued the other New York team delivered Boston its most wicked October pain when they did this . . .

And no, Babe Ruth never played for the Mets.

The Yankees and Red Sox didn’t meet in a legit playoff series until 1999, after MLB expanded the playoffs. Their 2004 tilt was only their third playoff meeting, ever. And ooookay . . the memories of what happened the year before were still fresh in the minds of every New Englandah worth his chowdah . . .

But Aaron Boone’s family tree ain’t got the Babe sitting up in it, so there’s that. Quite simply, it was the self full-filling prophecy of an organization that tripped over its shoelaces more than Charlie Brown. All that bad juju was their own damn fault, but like every other loser, the Red Sox had to blame someone else. So why not the dead guy?

Until 2004, when they stopped taking no for an answer and made October theirs for the first time since Woodrow Wilson was in office. And it pains me to say this but Imma do it anyway. That’s how it had to go down, if the Red Sox were ever going to get past all the curse nonsense. They had to rip the hearts out of every Yankees fan, the way New England’s heart was ripped out inside all those winters that came much too early. It was only fair.

Tonight isn’t about Bucky Dent or Dave Roberts, Ron Guidry or Curt Schilling. Big Papi and A-Rod are making tee times now. Aaron Boone will take the field, but this time as Yankees manager. All those names have been replaced with Judge and Torres, Betts and Bogaerts, Sale and Happ.

The Sox have won three World Series titles since breaking through in 2004 while the Yankees haven’t won since 2009, so yeah . . things have changed considerably since they last faced off. And while I never did buy all that curse business, let’s just say I wouldn’t be upset if the Babe decided to tune in.

For old time’s sake.