Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Philip Francis Rizzuto-"The Scooter"

“Scooter” Rizzuto would have celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday, September 25th. He passed away last August, and was remembered at Yankee Stadium last Sunday.

The Yankees let New Yorkers know about the event by placing full page ads in The Post and The Times. They also outlined a few of the Scooter’s accomplishments in those ads.

He was the Number One minor league player of the year in 1940, and signed on for the princely salary of $ 40 per month. He played for the Yankees in 1941 and 1942, then enlisted in the Navy and served in the Second World War. He returned to the Yankees in 1946. In 1942, he tied the Major League record of five double plays as a shortstop in one game. He orchestrated 1,217 double plays in his career.

He was the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1950, batting .324. He won seven World Series with the Bronx Bombers in 13 seasons, enjoying his playing days with Mantle, Berra, Ford, Dimaggio, and a host of other Yankee greats.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, and was described in his citation as a “durable and deft shortstop, skilled bunter and enthusiastic base runner.”

He went on to spend 50 years behind the microphone on the Yankees payroll. Many of us fondly remember his banter during the games. He talked about wonderful Italian food, great New York restaurants, the moon, his wife Cora’s cooking, birthdays of friends and family, and occasionally mentioned something about baseball.

Most of the broadcasts were shared with Bill White and Bobby Murcer, with Mel Allen and all of the other great Yankee voices. White and Murcer shared centre stage with Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson during the ceremonies last Sunday. Master of Ceremonies, and long time Yankees announcer John Sterling shared tales from Rizzuto’s past.

Although Yogi did not speak on Sunday, Sterling recalled the time when the Yankees played a pre season game in Venezuela. Rizzuto was all of five foot six, and a fresh-faced rookie. Yogi noticed that Rizzuto had not entered the ball park with the other players, and went out to look for him. He found the Scooter arguing with the security guards, trying to explain that he was a player. They just refused to let the little fellow into the ball park. Yogi convinced them to allow Rizzuto to join the team.

Murcer’s message to the fans: “Scooter is now sitting at a round table in heaven with all of the other Yankee greats---discussing baseball. Mantle is there, with Ruth, Gehrig, Billy Martin, and Dimag. They are munching on canollis with plenty of fine Italian meats and cheese. Scooter would most certainly say: “Holy Cow, those huckleberry Yankees are in the playoffs again this year.”

In fact, the words “Holy Cow” became one of the Scooter’s trademarks years ago. I had lunch with him in Detroit in the mid 1990s, and he signed a book for me with the words: “Holy Cow! Phil Rizzuto.”

I spoke with Bobby Murcer briefly after the ceremony. He looked great following a tough battle with cancer. He remembers his trips to Ontario fondly, but spends little time fishing our lakes and rivers, as do many athletes and coaches. “No patience for that,” he told me.

Scooter spent the past year convalescing, and was visited every Wednesday by his best friend Yogi Berra. During the memorial ceremony Sunday, the Yankees donated $ 25 000 to the Berra Museum, in the Scooter’s honour.

The guests of honour, along with the Rizzuto family, then went to the monument area behind the left field wall at the Stadium to lay a wreath at Rizzuto’s monument. His number 10 is listed on the wall, along with the other Yankee greats.

It is understandable that the Scooter would seek out Derek Jeter whenever he went to the park following his broadcasting career. They both play between second and third, at the shortstop position. Rizzuto was the announcer when Jeter hit his first home run on Opening Day in Cleveland in 1996 off Dennis Martinez.

Jeter is not much of a memorabilia collector, but he treasures a photograph of himself and Rizzuto, inscribed with a message from the Scooter.

All Yankees have worn the number 10 on the sleeve of their uniforms since Rizzuto’s death in August.

A fine tribute to one of the truly greats of the game.

James Hurst

Monday, September 17, 2007


September Baseball

For all of you hockey fans, please allow me, for a moment, to indulge in a little late season baseball. Thanks to the September showers, the grass and the weeds are growing well. The squirrels are scampering in preparation for the hockey season. It is autumn, and the focus soon will be on the Fall Classic, the World Series.

There will only be two teams playing that best of seven series. Toronto baseball fans are now in a bit of a funk, because the team was officially eliminated last week. But they are not alone, because there are baseball fans in the other 28 cities which have franchises in the same boat.

The New York Yankees are in the hunt, and are making a serious charge at the Boston Red Sox. The Beantowners remember 1978 ever so well, when the Yankees came from 14 games out of first place, and overtook the Sox on the last day of the season. Bucky Dent punched a homer over the Green Monster. Yaz popped out to Nettles at third. That does not rest well in the minds of the Red Sox Nation.

There are a couple of other craws in the Red Sox mind that stir unpleasant emotions. Bill Buckner had a ground ball slip under his glove to open the floodgates for disaster.

Almost twenty years ago, we did a family tour of the North Eastern States-Vermont, New Hampshire, a little Maine to visit with Terry Meagher at Bowdoin, and a little Massachusetts. That entire area is painted Red Sox red.

While chomping away on a burger at McDonald’s, I was interrupted by a gentleman in his early sixties. He suggested that I remove my Yankees cap, mainly for geographic reasons. I did so quickly, and asked him if he were a Sox fan.

“Used to be,” he replied. “Until Johnny Pesky let that roller go through his legs,” he continued. Pesky’s name was familiar, but a little before my time. “Broke my heart. Haven’t followed the game much since then.”

I asked what year that might have been. “Late Forties. Leave it at that,” he replied.

I always wondered how he felt when the Sox did win the World Series, finally, in 2005. Perhaps there was a spark for the old team.

Last Thursday, the Yankees and the Jays were knotted at one run apiece in the late innings. The Yankees were on a roll, about to sweep the Jays.

Bobby Abreu stroked a single to left field to open the ninth inning. This followed a vain attempt by the Jays to go ahead in the eighth. The Jays’ Greg Zaun led off the inning by walking to first. Curtis Thigpen came in to run for him.

John McDonald sacrificed Thigpen to second. Textbook baseball. One out, runner on second. Followed by two strikeouts to end the inning. Ouch!

The Yankee ninth, again. Alex Rodriguez followed Abreu, with none out. Not a good thing for the Jays. But he struck out. Matsui singled to put two runners on base, with only one out. Jays fans cringed at the possibilities, having suffered, along with Doc Halladay at recent late inning collapses; however, this was followed by ground ball outs by Cano and Cabrera.

The Jays were still alive in the bottom of the ninth. Alex Rios came to the plate with nothing to show for his previous three trips. But he spanked a single up the middle to open the inning. To make matters worse for the Yankees, he stole second easily.

Your Friendly Giant, Frank Edward Thomas, followed Rios. He had already made a contribution by driving in Russ Adams in the first inning. A smooth firm stroke drove the ball through the infield to centre field, allowing Rios to score easily from second. A. J. Burnett trotted from the dugout to offer his congratulations. Although he was not credited with the win, he had pitched superbly for seven innings.

The Yankees young phenom, Ian Kennedy, surpassed Burnett’s work, allowing one hit through seven innings. But the bullpen let him down, and he did not record the victory. His day will come, and hopefully soon for the Bronx Bombers. They will need more strong innings from him, and from their other starters to close on the Red Sox.

A most exciting win for the Jays, despite their place in the standings.

On Sunday night, the Yankees closed the gap on the Red Sox, aided by the contributions of three future Hall of Famers: Roger Clemens started, and kept the Red Sox at bay for seven innings in a duel with Schilling, Derek Jeter launched a dinger over the Green Monster to chalk up three runs on the board, Mariano Rivera closed the deal in the bottom of the ninth.

We now have two weeks of regular season baseball. The Jays entertain the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to close out the season. They travel to New York this week, then on to Baltimore. Obviously, they can be real spoilers for one of the front runners in this race. Adds a little spice to the pudding.

There are still a few seats left for the bus trip on September 30th. It is the last game of the season, Fan Appreciation Day. The trip is sponsored by the Belleville Club, and leaves Belleville at 9:00am for the 1:07 start. Cost is $ 60 for the bus and the game ticket. Call 613-399-2278 for tickets. A great way to close out the season!

James Hurst-sportslices.blogspot.com (613-399-2278)

Monday, September 10, 2007


The Orange Experience

A couple of weeks ago, I took the opportunity to experience the “Orange” for the first time. I went with a crew to Syracuse for the Friday Night football game.

I did have a previous peek inside the Carrier Dome--- the bubble on the hill. It was several years ago during the March Break, and Syracuse was hosting preliminary games for the NCAA basketball tournament. There were a couple of teams working out, but with all of the curtain work used for basketball, it was difficult to imagine the Dome as a football venue.

Syracuse has been having a difficult time of it the past few seasons. They have put some fine teams on the field in the past, and won the National Championship in 1959. They have appeared in 22 post season bowl games. They have won the “Big East” four times. There are several former Orange players in the NFL.

There are also former Orangemen currently playing in the Canadian Football League including Pat Woodcock, Jeff Pilon, and Thomas Whitfield.

There is a history of excellence. There is a tradition of success.

Recently, those ideals meant nothing to the University of Washington Huskies. The West Coast boys let the Orange put up three points to begin the game, then proceeded to pulverize the Syracuse Eleven.

The Orange defence was porous, the offence inept. Then again, this is college football. These are young adults. There are bound to be mistakes. To get to the Bowl games at the end of the season, a team needs to play almost flawless football.

(Michigan State was ranked quite high this season. They were toppled in their first game by unranked Appalachian State in one of the greatest upsets ever in college football, and again this past weekend. This will be a rebuilding year.)

Most college teams leave the locker room to begin the game in a furious, excited manner-running, jumping, high-fiving. The Orange did otherwise. They begin their entrance with the historical “Orange Quad Walk”, slowly making their way through fans and supporters to the Carrier Dome. There were almost eighty of them, and they formed a phalanx, similar to the defence position of the Romans. There were eight players across the front, followed by eight more directly behind them, and the rest of the team in the tight formation in a most imposing fashion.

The Huskies from Washington, obviously, were not all that impressed.

They were led by a quarterback who would look good right now in a Hamilton Tiger Cat uniform. He passed well, executed running plays with precision, and ran for almost 100 yards. He had enough speed to get around the corner of the defence, and scoot upfield for eight to ten yards at will.

The bands were magnificent. They performed as only American College bands can perform at half time. They broke into smaller groups and sat in the stands near us, inspiring some of the worst dancing I have seen in years. They motivated the fans, but not the home team.

When you go to the Carrier Dome, and you must, be prepared for the active noise level. The place was not quite full, but the fans really gave the old ear drums a workout. At least at the start of the game.

American universities like to recognize alumni for the efforts, and achievements. Those who have been successful financially often reward the school with nice financial gifts to recognize their alma mater. They also make decent tax write offs. Schools also pay heed to their former great athletes.

There are banners that adorn the Dome, recognizing former greats of the game who played in Syracuse. In the football media guide, a page is devoted to alumni who achieved success in all walks of life: astronauts, actors, novelists, Pulitzer Prize winners, governors, senators, and many others.

There are five individuals with ties to Syracuse who are enshrined at the Pro Football hall of fame in canton, Ohio. Four players: Jim Brown, John Mackey, Larry Csonka, and Jim Ringo. One owner has also made the grade in Ohio-the legendary Al Davis, current owner of the Oakland Raiders, was inducted in 1992.

At half time, one of the greatest football players ever to play the game anywhere was honoured at centre field. Ernie Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, presented yearly to the top college player. He was drafted first overall in the 1962 NFL Draft.

Tragically, Davis developed leukemia at that time. He died in 1963, at the age of 23. A magnificent bronze statue was unveiled on the field, and it will be placed near the entrance to the Dome. As well, Ernie’s story is to be told on the Big Screen. Filming for “The Express” is now underway, and the movie will be released nationally in October, 2008.

Ernie also led the Orange to the national championship in 1959. The Orange would like to build for another glorious triumph on the golden anniversary of their only title. Head Coach Greg Robinson and his team have their work cut out for them.

Last weekend the Orange got clobbered in Iowa 35-0.

But they will give it the “Old College Try” next weekend at home against Illinois. And the game inside the Dome is a most worthwhile experience for all football fans. Only an hour or so from the Ivy Lea Bridge. Take your passport, although you can still get across with your birth certificate.

For les than fifty bucks, you can fill the tank with gas, get a ticket to the game, wolf down some mighty hot chicken wings, enjoy the spectacle. A season ticket can be had for $100! Or a family pass for two adults, two kids, a parking pass and a $5 concession coupon for $85! Go to SUATHLETICS.com for details!

Monday, September 03, 2007


Canadian Classics on Labour Day

Summer loves are finished. Kids are getting ready for school. Hockey players are back at training camps. The highways are jammed. It’s Labour Day. In the evening.

That means that the Argos have once again punished the Tiger Cats. And the Eskimos took a drubbing in Calgary.

These traditional rivalries reach a frenzied state at this time of year. They meet on the first Monday in September, then again five days later in the opposition’s house. In most circumstances, the competition is intense; for these games, it often goes over the top.

Quite often, several of the players have played for both of the teams involved in the game. For a variety of reasons, players have moved to other teams-trades, finances, hostility-to name a few.

Early Monday morning, the Argos packed their bags and headed to Ivor Wynne Stadium in downtown Hamilton. The place is always jammed for the Labour Day game, and the weather usually co-operates. I went to that game two years ago, and it was truly spectacular. Mind you, the expectations are always high for the Tabbies, and they have not met those expectations recently.

The woeful Tiger Cats had but one win going into the game, and are now one and eight. The Argos have won three games, and have lost six. The teams are close, intensifying the rivalry between these Eastern rivals.

With the win, the Argos have now won ten in a row over the Tiger Cats. Ouch! The last time the Hamiltonians humbled the Hog Towners was on Labour Day, 2005.

Both teams have had the quarterback blues this year. The Argos lost Mike Bishop in July, when he broke his wrist late in a game against Calgary. He played on Labour Day against the Ticats, and found a groove as the game wore on.

The Tabbies continue to experiment with the pivot position. They started Timmy Chang, the former Hawaii star. Following the game, he blamed himself for the defeat. The outcome was also affected by inept Hamilton receivers, who dropped balls that were catchable. There were also a few referee decisions that went against Hamilton that may have affected the outcome of the game.

But the final score was 32-14, and that is not exactly close. Chang was 5 for fifteen, and threw a costly interception into the arms of Byron Parker. Jason Maas, the enigmatic QB who was supposed to lead the Tabbies to fame and fortune, didn’t fare much better. During a critical drive near the end of the game, he rolled out, faked a pass, and threw the ball into the ground. The Argos recovered the fumble. Richie Williams finished the game for the Ticats at the helm.

Prior to the game, Coach Charlie Taaffe warned the Hamilton players not to take any foolish penalties. They had stung themselves several times this year. He went on to tell them not to block anybody on kickoff returns, nor on punt returns. The team was often penalized in those situations. His comments were slightly tongue in cheek. But he did want to make the point to his players not to take unnecessary penalties, which often negate great returns.

Hamilton running back Jesse Lumsden did not dress for the game. He is the third leading rusher in the CFL with 627 yards. In a half time interview, he indicated that he would be ready for the game next Saturday in Toronto.

There will be a hoard of locals at the Rogers Centre in Toronto next Saturday. It will be the return game with the Ticats in Toronto. The annual Belleville Minor Football League trip will leave the Franklin Coach terminal on Bell Boulevard at 11:00am for the 3:00pm start. There will be a pickup in Trenton at the RONA Cashway store at 11:15am.

There are 20 seats left on the second bus. Tickets are $ 50 for the bus and game ticket. Call 613-399-2278 for information and tickets.

No matter who starts at QB for the Ticats, it will be an exciting game, always is between these two teams. Bishop has earned the job for the Argos. Future Hall of Famer Damon Allen will watch from the sidelines once again.

September 3, 2007

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