Who Shares America’s Birthday

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this July 4.

As today’s games have already begun, I’ll dispense with the usual rundown from yesterday, except to point out the Jays’ 17-1 demolition of the Indians and the Mets 14-3 destruction of the Cubs.  Wilmer Flores of the Mets put up 6 hits in 6 atbats including 2 home runs.  Only Edgardo Alfonso of the Mets had ever registered six safeties in the same game since the Mets began play in 1962. As for the Indians, following their 14-game winning streak they have lost their last two including yesterday’s walloping 17-1.  Only 4 of today’s games will be played under the lights.  The rest will be under the good light of day.  If the Nationals need fireworks, closer Jonathan Papelbon has been activated from the DL, so anything can happen in their game, which is the earliest of the day. Several  pitchers vital to their teams’ success have been put on the shelf.  The D-Backs have had to put Zack Greinke on the DL with a left oblique strain. With Greinke being a righty, anything on that side would be more of a concern. The Nationals’ Joe Ross is also on the 15-day DL now with right shoulder inflamation, 3 words that are as frightening to a pitcher as the words “signed divorce papers” are to a regular working man. The Bluejays found out that using Ryan Goins as a pitcher Friday wasn’t a good idea.  He’s on the DL now with right forearm tightness. Maybe worst of all, Clayton Kershaw is on the DL with what the Dodgers call “Mild disc herniation,” which if you’re not in baseball means a whole lot of pain.

Above all birthdays, this is birthday 240 for the United States, the country where baseball began.  The new country promised unprecedented freedoms which have only expanded over time. The first baseball man to share the country’s birthday is Jose Oquendo who was born on this day in 1963 in Puerto Rico. He was the ultimate utility player, and as such played from 1983-95. He was briefly a Met but mostly a Cardinal, for  whom he coached from 1999-2015. he twice managed the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic. He had to pitch twice-once in 1987 in a blowout and in 1988 during a marathon which he lost in the 19th. Nominally he is still a Cardinal but he’s on medical leave due to a knee injury.

Jim Beattie is 62 today. He pitched with the Yankees and later became general manager of the Expos. Two of the great Yankee names were born on the 4th of July, but neither swung a bat or threw a pitch.  Broadcaster John Sterling, who has been the lead radio voice of the Yankees since 1989 was born John Sloss on this day in 1938. Born in New York, he began broadcasting in Baltimore with the NBA Bullets and Morgan State.  He was a talk show host on WMCA radio in New York whose signal was so awful that fewer people heard his broadcasts than read this column.  He covered the Islanders and Nets, again mostly on WMCA.  He created his first signature call  on Long Island yelling “Islander goal, Islander goal, Islander goal!!!!!” when the team scored.  It was a taste of things to come. He joined the Yankees in 1989 where he hasn’t missed a game since. His best years were with Michael Kay at his side from 1992-2001.  I’m lucky enough to own a number of recordings from those years, and the Sterling of today is a pale shadow of the Sterling who worked with Kay, the Brooklynite who now does Yankees’ TV.  Starting on Memorial Day 1991 he began to yell “Ball game over, the Yankees win, the Yankees win,” holding out the word “The,” as only he can.  After the 1996 World Series, I wasn’t the only Yankee fan to record his finishing call and put it on my answering machine. (You remember what an answering machine was?)  Today, a reliable source has told me Sterling’s eyesight is failing and his color commentator Suzyn Waldman tries to backstop him.  This has led to tension in the booth that can be felt. In 2000 his then-wife Jennifer gave birth to triplets, this in spite of Sterling’s advanced age.  I’d like to know if he had 3 calls as each of the triplets joined the world.

Bulletin! Bulletin! Bulletin!  Joey Chestnut ate 70 hot dogs to destroy the competition at the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest. We return you now to your regularly scheduled column.

OK, with the contest over I can concentrate and this beleaguered computer can work at its normal speed.  Running ESPN and writing a column strains the computer’s resources.  Anyhow, another great Yankee non-player was born on the 4th of July, and it was George Steinbrenner III, dubbed “The Last Lion of Baseball,” by his biographer. He was born in 1930 and died in 2010, and the team has been in tatters without him.  His sons Hal and Hank are a joke as owners. George was married for 54 years, in spite of something that occurred with Barbara Walters.  I couldn’t believe this to be true when I read it in the biog, but a faithful friend and reliable source told me he knew it to be an absolute fact. George would be somewhere in the stadium with Walters, and his lackies were under order to keep Mrs. Steinbrenner in the dark about what George might be up to.  Judging by Walters’ voice alone, I’d say George’s judgment was better in picking players than in picking people to hang with other than his wife. Steinbrenner had been in the shipbuilding business, and the Yankees were a wreck when he bought them.  He wanted to build them into an unsinkable dynasty and had massive success doing so, particularly when he hired Joe Torre to manage in 1996 and for once let his manager run the team.  While the Yankees had won 2 World Series early in George’s reign, (1977-78,) they won 4 between 1996 and 2000 and were a heartbeat away from winning in 1997 and 2001. In his reign they also lost the 1976 and 1981 World Series. Twice, well-loved Yankee Don Mattingly was criticized for his hair-once in 1991 and again in 1995 when he grew a goatee.  He grew so frustrated he said he was willing to be traded, which never happened.  Steinbrenner’s run-ins with players managers and other execs would fill a book, and they do. Bill Madden wrote it, and it’s called “Steinbrenner, the Last Lion of Baseball.” The owner died in the same week as Bob Shepherd, the famed Yankee public address announcer.

Chuck Tanner, Pirates and White Sox manager was born this day in 1929 and passed away in 2011. He hailed from New Castle, PA. He played for the Braves, Cubs and Indians between 1955 and 1962, but is much better known as a manager. After 7 years in the Angels’ minor-league system including managing in Hawaii in 1970, he became the White Sox pilot from the tail end of 1970 until 1975. He managed Oakland to second place in 1976 and for his services, his reward was being traded to the pirates.  Only a nut like A’s owner Charlie Finley would trade any manager, much less a proven keeper. The Pirates kept him through 1985 when they lost 104 games.  He managed their world championship team in 1979. He managed two seasons and part of a third with the Braves. From there he went to baseball front office work.

Happy Birthday again, America, and to all celebrants, be safe.  If you can’t go out and celebrate, go to youtube and watch “The Great American 4th of July,” a movie made for PBS by Jean Shepherd, the architect of “A Christmas Story.”  Ralphie is older now, has a big date on July 3, and a parade is set for the next day.  Enjoy.






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