Monthly Archives: September 2016

Dutch practice #2

Dag opnieuw (hello again). I’ve been keeping up on my Dutch practice, and it’s beginning to come along…at least I hope so. I want to be able to speak it the next time I go back to Belgium and/or the Netherlands. Here’s my new paragraph. All mistakes are mine, and hopefully I can learn from my mistakes.

Dag opnieuw. Ik hoop dat deze keer beter zal gaan. Ik maak mijn betste inspanning, maar ik weet het niet of ik ben het goed te doen. Ik wil niet stoppen met proberen. Vandaag ging ik naar het werk op acht 8u15. Morgen heb ik een vrije dag. Papa en ik zullen op een nabijgelegen park gaan. Het heet “Brown County State Park,” het grootste park in het gebied. Misschien gaat het regenen, misschien niet. Denken jullie dat ik goed doen? Papa is trots op mij, ongeacht. Toch zou het leuk zijn om mijn oma te praten in haar eerste taal. België is een land van contrasten. Ik wil ze tonen wat ik heb geleerd. Men zal onder de indruk zijn, ik hoop. Nu, ik ga om door te gaan. Laten we gaan!

I think it’s a good start so far, and hopefully my mistakes can be corrected so I can avoid them in the future.

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1999 World Series: Millennium approaches

The 1999 World Series was the ninety-seventh year overall, and ninety-fifth played, of the modern World Series which began in 1903. In the final year of the twentieth century, the Yankees solidified their status as the most dominant team in American sports. The new dynasty showed no signs of slowing down.

1999 World Series Logo
(The 1999 World Series logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

1999 World Series 
New York Yankees (AL) over Atlanta Braves (NL), 4-0 

Managers: Joe Torre (New York); Bobby Cox (Atlanta) 

Hall of Famers*
New York: Joe Torre (manager)
Atlanta: John Schuerholz (executive), Bobby Cox (manager), Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz

Series MVP: Mariano Rivera, P (New York) 

Analysis
Coming off a scandal the previous year, impeachment hearings began on President Bill Clinton. Despite misgivings, the government failed to gain enough vote to remove Clinton from office, although it’s rumored that it did have an impact on the Presidential race the next year.

Elsewhere, the West Nile virus first occurred in the United States. NATO began bombings on Yugoslavia following ethnic cleansing in neighboring Kosovo. In sports, Lance Armstrong became an American hero, winning the Tour de France for the first time (more on that later). On home soil, the United States won the Women’s World Cup in a penalty shootout with China. Brandi Chastain converted the winning penalty. Also in sports, Brookline Golf Club saw the Americans pull off the greatest comeback in the history of the Ryder Cup golf tournament at the time. Justin Leonard’s 45-foot putt did the European team in, after some motivational words from non-playing captain Ben Crenshaw.

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(Justin Leonard celebrates making his 45-foot putt to win the Ryder Cup. Photo courtesy of http://www.rydercup.com

Tragically, the golf world would lose one of its own. Mere months after winning the U.S. Open on the final hole against Phil Mickelson, Payne Stewart would die in a plane crash after his charter plane lost cabin pressure over the Dakotas. Another plane crash would take one of America’s favorite sons. John F. Kennedy, Jr., known affectionately as “John-John,” went missing with his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and his sister-in-law Lauren on July 16. All three went down with the plane, crashing into the water. We cried when John-John saluted his father’s casket in November 1963 on his third birthday. Now, we had new reason to weep for him. The “Kennedy curse” continued.

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(The wreckage of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane is recovered. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.)

On April 20, chaos and unspeakable tragedy awaited. That day, high school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold came late to school that day at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. They entered a hill near the school and opened fire. Moving through the school, they made their way to the library where the biggest massacre of the day occurred, in only seven minutes. Twelve students and a teacher lost their lives, before the perpetrators pulled the gun on themselves. It was the deadliest mass school shooting in American history.

In the wake of that, Americans were preparing for the new millennium. A computer bug known as Y2K was rumored to cause mass chaos – because programmers had only adjusted the last two digits. As it was, it was mostly mass hysteria, and the 2000s came in with few problems.

A cultural phenomenon began that year, as the phrase “Is that your final answer?” entered the lexicon. Based on the UK game show, the American version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? debuted. On November 20, John Carpenter (no relation to the film director) became the first person anywhere in the world to win $1 million on a network game show.

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(John Carpenter wins the top prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Photo courtesy of http://www.millionaire.wikia.com

As baseball entered the last year of the century, the Yankees looked better. In a controversial moment, new commissioner Bud Selig allowed Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roger Clemens to insist on a trade after two years. Unhappy with the lack of winning in Toronto, Clemens invoked his trade clause (seen by many as illegal) and went to the New York Yankees. For many Boston Red Sox fans, it was the ultimate stab in the back. He was Fredo Corleone now.

Elsewhere in Toronto, manager Tim Johnson was supposed to enter his second year. He had led the Blue Jays to an 88-74 record, only four games out of the wild card. Many credited this to his motivational stories he would tell his players about serving in the Vietnam War. But after a newspaper report, Johnson was found to have lied about this. After constant media persistence, Johnson was fired and replaced by Jim Fregosi.

One year after the great home run chase, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa looked for a repeat performance. Neither would reach their numbers from the previous year, but still had amazing totals – 65 for McGwire and 63 for Sosa. Despite this, neither player could lead their team to the division title, going instead to the Houston Astros, led by a pair of twenty-game winners, Jose Lima and Mike Hampton.

After acquiring Randy Johnson, the second-year Arizona Diamondbacks were in the playoffs. Manager Buck Showalter looked to lead the D’Backs to the title, and they shocked the Majors by winning the NL West.

The Braves continued their dominance in the NL East, with third baseman Chipper Jones winning league MVP honors. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz were their usual selves, and the offense was still good. But controversy was brewing. Reliever John Rocker did an interview with Jeff Pearlman for Sports Illustrated, where he made disparaging remarks about minorities and the city of New York. Whether this influenced the Mets or not, they came back hard this year, their best season since 1988. For much of the year, Jack McKeon and the Cincinnati Reds held the lead for much of the season. But then the Reds fell apart and the Mets rallied, forcing a one-game playoff in Cincinnati for the wild card. In that game, Al Leiter pitched the Mets to a 5-0 victory. After the Braves had criticized Mets players for their bravado, the Mets were in the playoffs.

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(New York Mets pitcher Al Leiter wins the one-game playoff in Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of http://www.reds.enquirer.com

Elsewhere in New York, Joe DiMaggio passed away at the beginning of the year, at age 84. Later in the Bronx, David Cone came in to pitch in an interleague game against the Montreal Expos on July 18. After a falling out, Yogi Berra and George Steinbrenner reconciled and Berra was honored that day. Additionally, former World Series hero Don Larsen was in attendance that day. Cone went on to pitch a perfect game, the second straight year a Yankee pitcher had done it.

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(David Cone celebrates with his catcher Joe Girardi after throwing a perfect game at Yankee Stadium. Photo courtesy of New York Post.) 

But hands down, the biggest stories of the year took place in Boston. First, the city hosted the All-Star Game that year. Mark McGwire put on a show in the home run derby, smashing home run after home run onto Lansdowne Street. Fans were lining up behind the Green Monster to try to catch the home runs that left the stadium. Despite this, Ken Griffey, Jr. won the event.

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(Mark McGwire puts on a show in the Home Run Derby at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of http://www.nesn.com

In the actual All-Star Game that year, hometown hero Pedro Martinez started for the American League. He faced six batters, and struck out five, including Sosa and McGwire. Prior to the festivities, an ailing Ted Williams was introduced the way he wanted to be, as “the greatest hitter who ever lived.” Known for his antipathy toward the fans, Williams finally tipped his cap to the Fenway faithful. As for the game, by the way, the AL won that game, 4-1.

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(Ted Williams tips his cap to the Fenway Park crowd. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.)

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(Pedro Martinez takes the mound in the 1999 All-Star Game. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.)

For Pedro Martinez, 1999 was his breakout year. He won the pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts), going 23-4 with 313 strikeouts and a 2.07 ERA. I’ll tell you, as a 12-year-old about to graduate elementary school, I never saw anybody like Pedro in 1999. He ran away with the Cy Young Award. In addition to the All-Star game, three other games stand out.

In September that year, the Red Sox came into Yankee Stadium, looking to gain momentum in the wild card chase. Pedro gave up a second inning home run to Chili Davis. As it turns out, it would be the only hit that Pedro gave up all game. On top of that, Martinez struck out 17 Yankee hitters, winning the game 3-1. It was arguably the best Boston moment since Clemens’ first 20 K game in 1986.

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(The 17-strikeout game in Yankee Stadium was Pedro at his finest. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.) 

As it turned out, Martinez didn’t win the AL MVP Award. Perhaps they were afraid to give it to a pitcher, but with all due respect to winner Ivan Rodriguez, there was nobody better that year.

The Yankees won the division by four games. Despite Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez winning the MVP award, it again was no contest as New York not only swept Texas for the second straight year, but also allowed Texas only one run in the series, after the Rangers scored 945 in the regular season. For Texas, they wouldn’t make it back to the playoffs again until 2010.

Boston won the wild card and opened the ALDS against Cleveland. Nomar Garciaparra had a breakout season as well in ’99, and staked Boston to a 2-0 lead in Game 1. But the bullpen faltered once again, after Martinez was forced out due to a back injury. Derek Lowe replaced him and Jim Thome hit a two-run blast to tie the score. In the bottom of the ninth, the Tribe won the first game when Travis Fryman hit a walk-off single. It got worse in the second game, as Bret Saberhagen was rocked hard, losing the second game 11-1. Things were looking like more Boston heartbreak. Heading home, Boston had to win all three games to win the series.

Back at Fenway Park, things looked pretty grim early. But Indians starter Dave Burba left with a forearm strain, and the score was 3-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Mike Hargrove bungled by bringing in his presumed Game 4 starter Jaret Wright out of the bullpen. The Red Sox loaded the bases, when John Valentin came up. In the top half of the inning, his error helped Cleveland tie the score. This time, he came through with a two-run double to give the Red Sox the lead for good. Brian Daubach followed with a three-run homer, and one more run scored in the inning to give Boston a 9-3 win. They were still alive.

Because of Hargrove’s gamble, Bartolo Colon was forced to start on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. Despite Boston’s pitching being a disaster, Colon and Cleveland were even worse, and the Red Sox evened the series. And you’re not reading this wrong – the score was 23-7. Yes, Cleveland’s pitching was so bad that the Red Sox scored a postseason record 23 runs on them. Four Boston home runs forced a Game 5 back in Cleveland.

Cleveland went with Charles Nagy, and Boston countered with Bret Saberhagen. The latter was knocked out in the second inning, trailing 5-2, and Nagy didn’t survive the third. Heading into the bottom of the fourth, it was 8-8. Red Sox manager Jimy Williams played a gamble of his own – he took out Derek Lowe and brought in Pedro Martinez, who still wasn’t fully recovered from his back injury. But Pedro may have been at his absolute best, pitching 6.2 innings, allowing three walks, eight strikeouts, and no hits. After getting eight runs on seven hits into the fourth, Cleveland would get no more for the rest of the game.

It was still 8-8 in the seventh inning. After Sean DePaula – whom many believed Hargrove should have used in Game 3 – kept Boston off the board for three innings, Paul Shuey came in out of the pen. Afraid of pitching to Nomar, Shuey walked him intentionally. This brought up Troy O’Leary, who already had hit a grand slam in the game. O’Leary smashed his second home run of the game, giving an 11-8 lead to Boston. Jacobs Field fell silent.

(Troy O’Leary’s two home runs sparked Boston in Game 5. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

Boston added a run in the ninth, and Pedro never looked back. He clinched the ALDS with a masterful performance, on a sore back. Cleveland had blown a 2-0 lead, and for the first time since 1986, the Red Sox had won a postseason series. Indians manager Mike Hargrove was fired after this series.

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(Pedro Martinez and catcher Jason Varitek celebrate the Red Sox’s impossible rally. Photo courtesy of http://www.boston.com

For the first time, the two biggest rivals in the game would play each other in the postseason. Maybe Boston could finally break their drought. In Game 1, Boston led 3-2 in the seventh, before captain Derek Jeter tied the game off of Derek Lowe. For all of Boston’s talent in 1999, the bullpen was a major issue, and it showed in the ALCS. After the game went to extra innings, Rod Beck surrendered a walk-off home run to Bernie Williams to give the Yankees the first game. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a great picture or video for it.)

The Yankees narrowly won the second game as well, 3-2, despite a home run from Nomar Garciaparra. Pedro Martinez’s older brother Ramon took the loss. Game 3 would feature the old generation versus the new generation. Roger Clemens took the ball for the Yankees against Pedro.

(Pedro Martinez gets the Red Sox back in it in Game 3. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Boston got a measure of revenge, not just on the Yankees but on Clemens himself. Actually, revenge is putting it mildly. Clemens was humiliated in front of his old fans. He was removed in the third inning, trailing 4-0. It would be 6-0 before the end of the inning. Boston wound up routing the Yankees 13-1, getting back to 2-1 in the series. Martinez struck out 12 and only two hits in seven shutout innings. Clemens was also subject to some of the funniest and cruelest chants that game. The call went, “Where is Roger?” The answer was, “In the shower.” 

The Red Sox were back in the Series, heading to Game 4. The Yankees were leading 3-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth, when a controversial play occurred. Boston first baseman Jose Offerman reached first base. Mariano Rivera came into the game. John Valentin hit a check swing ground ball to Chuck Knoblauch at second base. Offerman seemed to avoid the tag, and they got the out at first. Suddenly, second base umpire Tim Tschida said that Knoblauch applied the tag. Just like that, it was an inning-ending double play. It’s still remembered in Boston as the “phantom tag.”

(The “phantom tag.” Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(A better view of the “phantom tag.” It’s very obvious that Offerman avoids the tag and stays inside the baseline. Photo courtesy of http://www.realclearsports.com

The call totally demoralized the Red Sox. Rich Garces came in, but the Yankees scored six times in the ninth, winning 9-2. Who knows if the Red Sox could have tied the game, and maybe the series?

Ultimately, the Yankees closed out Boston’s dream with a 6-1 win in Game 5. Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez won MVP honors by winning his second game of the series. Boston’s dream was still on hold.

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(The Yankees celebrate the 1999 AL pennant. Photo courtesy of http://www.mlb.com

In the NL playoffs, Houston beat Atlanta in the first game, but then the Braves won the next three. Houston had suffered numerous postseason setbacks, and again had yet to win a postseason series. It would also prove to be the final year of the Astrodome. In the other series, New York defeated Arizona, with the final game resulting in backup catcher Todd Pratt winning the series with a walk-off home run.

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(Todd Pratt wins the NLDS for the Mets in Game 4. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

After being considered “dead and buried,” the Mets were now playing their hated rivals in the NLCS. The series would go down as a classic, which is possible even if it didn’t go seven games. After starting catcher Javy Lopez went down with an injury, his backup Eddie Perez stepped in for him. Perez was known as Greg Maddux’s personal catcher, and he shocked New York with a home run. The Braves won the first game 4-2 with Maddux getting the win.

Perez’s second home run off of former Yankee star Kenny Rogers helped the Braves to a 2-0 lead. They won 4-3, with John Smoltz relieving Kevin Millwood to get the save. It was sign of things to come for Smoltz.

The Braves took the third game as well, 1-0, scoring the run in the first inning without a hit – a leadoff walk and two throwing errors, including one by Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. Tom Glavine pitched seven innings, and now it looked for sure like the Mets were dead. Controversial closer John Rocker got his second save of the series.

Heading into Game 4, the Braves led 2-1 in the eighth. Rocker came in to try to get a four-out save. This time, however, New York’s resilience showed up. Facing elimination, John Olerud came through with a two-run single to give the Mets a 3-2 lead. Armando Benitez got the save and the Mets were still in it.


(Mets runners jump for joy as Atlanta reliever John Rocker looks on. Photo courtesy of http://www.centerfieldmaz.com

Game 5 remains one of the most iconic baseball games in my lifetime. Greg Maddux was looking to win his second game. Facing him for the Mets was right-hander Masato Yoshii. New York struck first when John Olerud hit a first-inning home run, scoring him and Rickey Henderson. In the fourth inning, Bret Boone and Brian Jordan hit consecutive doubles to make it 2-2. As a steady rainfall continued throughout the game, Mets manager Bobby Valentine kept using his bullpen, including rookie Octavio Dotel and Kenny Rogers. In total, the Mets used a record nine pitchers in Game 5. The bullpens helped the score hold up into extra innings. In the top of the thirteenth, Keith Lockhart was on first with two out. Chipper Jones laced a shot to left field. Lockhart rounded third and headed for the plate. For all of the criticism of his defense, Mike Piazza was ready. Right fielder Melvin Mora cut off the ball, relayed it to Edgardo Alfonzo, who fired to Piazza. Got him at home! Piazza held on to the ball, and Atlanta had blown a scoring chance. In total, Atlanta set their own postseason record – they left nineteen runners on base in that game.

(Keith Lockhart is thrown out at home. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

In the bottom of the thirteenth, the Mets threatened, before Rocker came in. He got four outs, taunting the Mets fans all the while. The game finally culminated in the fifteenth inning. Lockhart redeemed himself with a triple off Octavio Dotel. The Braves were three outs away from the pennant. Kevin McGlinchy was asked to finish it. The Braves loaded the bases, including a stolen base and a beautiful sacrifice bunt. Todd Pratt drew a walk to tie the game. Then, on ailing legs, third baseman Robin Ventura came to bat. Ventura worked the count to 2-1. McGlinchy threw a fastball. At 9:47 p.m., Ventura became the hero by cracking a grand slam into the bleachers to win the game. Or at least it should have been. After the winning run touched plate, Todd Pratt mobbed Ventura in between first and second, so officially, Ventura would have to settle for a “grand slam single.” Still, the Mets had rallied to win 4-3, and were still alive in the series, now trailing 3-2.

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(In a steady rainfall in New York, Robin Ventura’s “grand slam single” wins Game 5 for the Mets. Photo courtesy of http://www.mentalfloss.com

Were the Braves about to commit the ultimate collapse? Would the New York ghosts come out again? Those were pressing questions heading back to Turner Field.

Starting on short rest, Al Leiter was rocked for five runs in the first inning of Game 6. But after Kevin Millwood tired, the Mets rallied to get it to 5-3. A two-run single made it 7-3 Atlanta in the sixth. But once again, the Mets rallied. John Smoltz allowed two runs to get the Mets to 7-5. Then Mike Piazza capped the rally with a two-run home run. Bob Costas made the call: “Tied at seven, hoping for Game 7!”

(Mike Piazza hits a home run off of John Smoltz, tying the game at 7-7. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

The Mets took the lead in the eighth when Melvin Mora drove in a run. It looked like the Mets would force a Game 7. But this time, the Braves rallied. After Eddie Perez singled, Otis Nixon pinch-ran and stole second. On top of that, Piazza sailed his throw into center field, allowing Nixon to go to third. Brian Hunter followed with a single to make it 8-8.

Again, the game went into extra innings. Mora came through again with a single to give the Mets the lead. Again, the Mets were three outs away from a seventh game. Again, the Braves rallied. This time, Ozzie Guillen singled in Andruw Jones to tie the game against Octavio Dotel. It was 9-9.

The Mets didn’t score in the top of the eleventh. Many thought Dotel would come out for the bottom half. Instead, Valentine went with Kenny Rogers, notorious for his postseason struggles. Gerald Williams led off with a double. Bret Boone moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt. One out. With the winning run ninety feet away, Rogers was forced to walk Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan. This brought up Andruw Jones, notorious for swinging at everything. But this time, Braves coach Don Baylor told him to be patient. Jones worked the count full. Rogers needed a strike. He made his pitch. Ball four! Williams came across to score, and Jones broke Mets’ fans hearts with a rare show of patience at the plate. The final score was 10-9. The Braves had won the pennant.

(Skip Caray makes the pennant winning call. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

It was anticipated to be another good matchup between the Braves and Yankees. Unfortunately, the Braves were spent, physically and emotionally. There was little to offer in the series.

The final World Series of the century opened at Turner Field. Greg Maddux and Orlando Hernandez faced off. League MVP Chipper Jones staked Maddux to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was the only hit El Duque allowed for seven innings. It was still 1-0 in the eighth when Maddux began to tire. A walk and an error by Brian Hunter, combined with a John Rocker collapse, led to four Yankees scoring. That 4-1 scoreline held up, as the Braves only got one more hit. Mariano Rivera got the save to preserve Game 1.

The All-Century team was presented before Game 2, which was the highlight of the game. David Cone beat Kevin Millwood easily, 7-2. It was 3-0 in the first, and all seven Yankee runs came in the first five innings. Atlanta couldn’t get their two runs until the ninth inning.

Heading to the Bronx, Atlanta was running on fumes – and running out of time. This time, Tom Glavine pitched reasonably well. He had a 5-2 lead going into the seventh, before the Yankees pushed a run back. Chad Curtis came through with a home run to make it 5-3. Battling the flu, Glavine tried to pitch the eighth at Bobby Cox’s request, but he allowed a two-run shot to Tino Martinez to tie the game. Finally, in the bottom of the tenth, Chad Curtis his his second home run of the game, a walk-off shot against Mike Remlinger. Winning 6-5, the Yankees were up 3-0 in the Series.

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(Chad Curtis wins Game 3 with a home run. Photo courtesy of http://www.sportsonearth.com

But Curtis became the subject of controversy. Before the game, reporter Jim Gray interviewed Pete Rose, and very candidly asked him about the allegations of gambling. Rose was emphatically defiant, refusing to admit his culpability. Gray kept persisting, and Rose just as stubbornly refused to answer. After winning the third game, Curtis snubbed Gray for a game-winning interview, stating, “I can’t do it. As a team, we kind of decided – because what happened with Pete – we’re not going to talk out here on the field.” Joe Torre later stated that Curtis acted on his own.

Roger Clemens faced Smoltz in Game 4, two future Hall of Famers facing each other. Smoltz was looking to get the Braves back in it, against hope; Clemens wanted vindication for his postseason failures. In all of the Braves’ postseason losses, Smoltz was one of the few steady performers. Again, he pitched well, but the Yankees were patient, driving his pitch count to 75 by the third inning. In that inning, Tino Martinez drove in two runs and Jorge Posada added another. It was 3-0 Yankees. The Braves could do nothing against Clemens. Atlanta’s only run game in the eighth when Bret Boone singled in Walt Weiss. But Jim Leyritz tormented the Braves again with a solo home run, and Mariano Rivera was waiting. He would make it look easy, closing out the series-clinching 4-1 victory. Keith Lockhart flied to Curtis in left field for the final out.

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(The victorious Yankees celebrate their 25th World title. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.) 

The Yankees had won their 25th title, most of any sport in North America. Bob Costas summed it up so succinctly: “Team of the decade. Most successful franchise…of the century.”

Fun Facts 
The Yankees became the first team in North America to win 25 championships.

Payne Stewart was friends with Chipper Jones, and died in between Games 2 and 3.

This was the final time that NBC covered the World Series. Ever since 2000, Fox had done the broadcast.

This was Atlanta’s fifth pennant of the decade, their fourth loss, and most recent pennant to date.

The Yankees are one of the few teams to pull of a “reverse sweep” – that is, they sweep by winning the first two games on the road.

This was the final time until 2013 that the two teams in each league had the best record.

New York became the first team to go 11-1 in the postseason, repeated only one other time.

Three Yankees players – Luis Sojo, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill – lost their fathers during the course of the season. O’Neill’s father died the day of Game 4. Additionally, manager Joe Torre underwent surgery that year.

Chad Curtis was later convicted of numerous charges of being involved in sexual misconduct with minors, currently serving a 7 to 15 year sentence. He also ripped Derek Jeter for being “too friendly” with Seattle’s Alex Rodriguez during a bench-clearing brawl that year.

With the Knicks making the NBA Finals, this is the most recent time that the same city has played in the NBA Finals and the World Series in the same calendar year.

Had the two wild card winners won the pennant, it would have been a rematch of 1986. The Red Sox were actually a shock team that year, with very low expectations.

Playwright Richard Greenberg was reportedly inspired by this year’s Yankee team to write the 2003 Tony Award-winning play Take Me Out.

Final Thoughts
The dynasty was back. Joe Torre officially cemented his Hall of Fame legacy. The Braves would never get that close again. A potential dynasty went away with a whimper, while the other one continued with a roar.

References and Sources 
Baseball Reference
Baseball Almanac
Wikipedia
http://www.mlb.com
http://www.worldseries.com
http://www.millionaire.wikia.com
http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1999
http://www.reds.enquirer.com
http://www.sportsonearth.com
http://www.centerfieldmaz.com
http://www.mentalfloss.com
http://www.rydercup.com
http://www.boston.com
http://www.realclearsports.com
http://www.nesn.com
Getty Images.
YouTube
Boston Globe. 
New York Post. 
New York Daily News. 
Daily News.
The Tenth Inning (Ken Burns)
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…Bobby Cox (ESPN Classic)
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…The U.S. for their Ryder Cup Celebration (ESPN Classic)
Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (MLB Productions)
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
Yankees Suck! (Jim Gerard)
Now I Can Die in Peace (Bill Simmons)
The Yankee Years (Joe Torre, Tom Verducci)
Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball (Bill Madden)
George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire (Peter Golenbock)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Lists (Andrew Postman, Larry Stone).
The Rocket That Fell to Earth (Jeff Pearlman)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Jerks (Michael Freeman)
The Underground Baseball Encyclopedia (Robert Schnakenberg)
God Save the Fan (Will Leitch)
Living on the Black (John Feinstein)
The Majors (John Feinstein)
Angels in America (Tony Kushner play)
Take Me Out (Richard Greenberg play)
Columbine (Dave Cullen)
Sports Illustrated, December 27, 1999.

1998 World Series: Just for the record

The 1998 World Series was the ninety-sixth year overall, and ninety-fourth played, of the modern World Series which began in 1903. On the diamond, records fell like never before, as two men chased the great home run record, and in the Bronx, a team looked to solidify itself as a dynasty, an increasing rarity in the modern age.

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(The 1998 World Series logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

1998 World Series 

New York Yankees (AL) over San Diego Padres (NL), 4-0 

Managers: Joe Torre (New York); Bruce Bochy (San Diego) 

Hall of Famers 
New York: Joe Torre (manager), Tim Raines 
San Diego: Tony Gwynn 

Series MVP: Scott Brosius, 3B (New York)

Analysis 
As we’ll discuss later in this chapter, it seemed like baseball was ready to play hero again, after beginning to pick itself back up from the ill effects of the strike. But 1998 still had memorable stories – Google was founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Pope John Paul II placed a trade embargo on Cuba. In Washington D.C., the National Airport was renamed after Ronald Reagan.

Pokemon would become an international phenomenon. France hosted and won the FIFA World Cup, knocking off the upstart Brazilians thanks to two goals from temperamental midfielder Zinedine Zidane, or “Zizou” for short. In Northern Ireland, peace agreements between Catholics and Protestants was ratified, on Good Friday, no less.

The biggest story that year occurred in the highest office. After several years of investigating the Whitewater affair, prosecutor Ken Starr felt like he had compiled enough evidence. During that name, new allegations came to light – that President Bill Clinton had engaged in sexual shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. Emphatically, Clinton stated, “I did not have relations with that woman…” It was later proven to be untrue, and Clinton would become one of the few Presidents to face impeachment charges.

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(President Bill Clinton denies his liaison with Monica Lewinsky. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.) 

In light of the allegations, could baseball respond? Even if the numbers aren’t authentic anymore, baseball came back, and came back hard.

Two new teams premiered – the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. To keep an even number of teams in each league, the Milwaukee Brewers switched leagues, moving from the American League to the National League. In one game in San Francisco, Arizona’s Gregg Olson walked Barry Bonds with the bases loaded to face light hitting catcher Brent Mayne. The strategy paid off as Mayne flied out to end the game, with the D’Backs winning 8-7. 324-game winner Don Sutton was inducted into the Hall of Fame, as were Larry Doby and George Davis.

But 1998 seemed to be a year of records. In his final season, Dennis Eckersley returned to Boston, and set the record with his 1,071st game pitched, breaking Hoyt Wilhelm’s mark. Despite this, the Red Sox lost the game 4-2. Boston had its closer, Tom “Flash” Gordon, set a record by converting 42 consecutive save chances. Earlier in the season, San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman got to 41, but blew it before the record could be set. And everybody in Boston remembers that it was Mo Vaughn’s final season, Nomar Garciaparra’s second season, and the first for a future Hall of Famer, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, acquired from the Montreal Expos in a trade. Pedro Martinez was now in Boston. Pedro paid immediate dividends, as he defeated the Oakland A’s 2-0 on Opening Day. Standing 5’11” on a good day – which was probably exaggerated by a few inches – Martinez won 19 games for Boston that year, setting up his unbelievable season the following year – more on that to come.

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(Pedro Martinez deals on Opening Day 1998 for the Boston Red Sox against Oakland. Photo courtesy of http://www.masslive.com

In a monumental trade, the Los Angeles Dodgers traded All-Star catcher Mike Piazza to the Florida Marlins. But Piazza was traded again soon after to the New York Mets, one of the biggest deals in Major League history. Piazza anchored the Mets for the next eight years. The Marlins, meanwhile, became the first defending champion to lose 100 games the following season, finishing with a horrible 54-108 record.

The Chicago Cubs would face tragedy and triumph this year. On February 18, broadcaster Harry Caray died at the age of 83. His famous rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” became a Cubs tradition. Although he would later be shelved for the rest of the year, there was a rookie waiting in the wings, a fireballer from Texas in the vein of Clemens and Ryan – his name was Kerry Wood.

On May 6, Wood took the mound against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field. He mowed down the formidable Astros lineup – a team that won 102 games that year, and would later acquire Randy Johnson in a trade with Seattle in July. All that Wood did was strike out 20 batters, joining Roger Clemens as the only two pitchers to that point to accomplish the feat. Even more incredibly, he allowed only one hit, which could have just as easily been called an error. Throwing a near no-hitter and 20 strikeouts? Perhaps the single greatest pitching performance of all time.

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(Kerry Wood delivers during his famous 20-strikeout game as a rookie. Photo courtesy of http://www.dailyherald.com

The Cubs were back in the playoff hunt for the first time since 1989. Helped by a breakout season by right fielder Sammy Sosa, the Cubs were knocking on the door. For Sosa, he and a prodigious slugger in rival St. Louis engaged the American public.

Sosa and Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire began chasing Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season. It seemed like McGwire and Sosa were trading the lead back and forth. Finally, on September 5, McGwire joined the 60-home run club, only the third man to do so. As the Cubs came to town, McGwire came to bat two days later, on a nationally televised game on ESPN.

(Mark McGwire hits his 61st home run to tie Maris. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

McGwire faced Kevin Tapani. Crack! Just like that, Maris’ record was tied. After crossing home plate, McGwire picked up his son Matt and lifted him up. Three days later, McGwire came to bat in the fourth inning against Steve Trachsel. Sammy Sosa was waiting in right field. Roger Maris’ family was in the stands.

On the first pitch, Trachsel came slightly low and away. McGwire laced it down the left field line. It looked like it might fall in for a double….but then it cleared the fence. It was number 62, and ironically the shortest home run he hit all year. In the moment, he missed first base initially, but remembered to touch it, and various Cubs players shook his hand. It was a moment to remember. Sosa raced in from right field, and the two men embraced. In that same game, Sosa hit his 58th to close in on Maris. Then McGwire embraced Maris’ family, a true passing of the torch.

(Mark McGwire hits his 62nd home run. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire embrace in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.)

Sosa had his turn on September 13, back in the friendly confines of Wrigley against Milwaukee. He crushed a fastball to left center, joining Big Mac and passing Maris as well.

(Sammy Sosa also breaks the record. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

The race continued. Finally, Sosa bowed out with 66, and in the final game of the season against Montreal, McGwire came to bat for the final time that season. Against Carl Pavano, McGwire became the first person to reach 70 home runs.

(In his final at-bat in 1998, Mark McGwire hits 70. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

But many were still unsure about the records. Earlier in the year, a bottle of a substance known as androstendione, “andro” for short, was found in McGwire’s locker. Were steroids responsible for the power? Was the record legitimate? Initially, people refused to believe the rumors about McGwire and Sosa, and the reporter who first broke the story was chastised. But in the next few years, the lid would be blown off, with big name stars paying the price.

The Cubs were in the playoff hunt, and had to face a one-game playoff with the Giants for the Wild Card on September 28. Initially, the Cubs had a 5-0 lead, only for the Giants to claw back to within 5-3. Former Giants closer Rod Beck was now with Chicago, and World Series hero Joe Carter came to bat, representing the tying run. This time, Carter couldn’t replicate his heroics. He popped up to Mark Grace at first base, and the Cubs had won the wild card, their first playoff appearance in nine years. However, the drought would continue, as the Braves swept them in three games in the NLDS. The Braves had arguably their best season of the decade, going 106-56. Tom Glavine won his second Cy Young Award.

(The Cubs win the 1998 NL Wild Card. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

In the AL, one record was snapped on September 20. After 2,632 consecutive games, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., who would later switch to third base in the final few seasons of his career, decided to take a day off. He had not missed a game since May 1982. The visiting Yankees gave him a standing ovation.

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(After ending his consecutive games streak, Cal Ripken, Jr. salutes the fans. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Sun.) 

But the Yankees would be the story of the American League that year. Things didn’t get off to an auspicious start, going 1-4 in the first five games. As it turned out, it would be an anomaly, as the Yankees would set an American League record for wins with 114, three more than the 1954 Cleveland team and two off the major league record set by the 1906 Cubs. In May of that year, David Wells pitched a perfect game in the Bronx. The Yankees looked to be unbeatable that year.

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(David Wells celebrates his perfect game at Yankee Stadium. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.) 

For the first time, the Red Sox and Yankees were in the playoffs in the same year. The Yankees 114-4 record was 22 games better than the Red Sox. Shockingly, the underdog Red Sox won the first game over Cleveland, 11-3. Pedro Martinez got his first playoff win, and Mo Vaughn hit two home runs. For Boston, it was their first playoff win since Game 5 of the 1986 World Series. But it would also be their last, as the Indians won the next three, with Boston’s normally reliable closer Flash Gordon blowing a 1-0 lead in the eighth. The Red Sox weren’t there yet, but would be closer in 1999. The Yankees made quick work of the Texas Rangers, not only pulling off the sweep, but also allowing only one run in the three games.

As previously mentioned, the Braves swept the upstart Cubs to advance to the NLCS for the seventh straight time. Many thought Houston would join them, but the San Diego Padres had a surprise waiting for them. Despite Randy Johnson’s 10-1 record since the Astros acquired him, Kevin Brown of San Diego struck out an NLDS record sixteen batters, winning the opener 2-1. Trevor Hoffman slammed the door. In Game 2, Houston tied the series when Bill Spiers hit a walk-off single. But that would be it for Houston, as the Padres won their first postseason series since 1984.

The ALCS matched the Yankees and Indians. In the opener, David Wells went 8.1 innings, allowing his only two runs in the ninth inning, and New York won 7-2. Despite this, Cleveland rocked the party each of the next two games. With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the twelfth, Travis Fryman laid down a sacrifice bunt. The throw sailed past Chuck Knoblauch, who argued the call was foul. Except that the ball was still live. Both Enrique Wilson and Fryman scored, and Cleveland would add another run to win 4-1.

Shockingly, Cleveland took a 2-1 ALCS lead, as Andy Pettitte fell to Bartolo Colon, 6-1. Four home runs staked Cleveland to a win. But Orlando Hernandez,  nicknamed “El Duque,” helped the Yankees even the ALCS. The other two games were relatively straightforward, and the Yankees took the pennant, with David Cone pitching the clincher, 9-5.

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(The Yankees clinch the pennant in Game 6. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

In the NLCS opener, the Padres and Braves traded the lead, including a blown save by Trevor Hoffman. But Ken Caminiti homered to give the Padres the opening game. Donne Wall would relieve Hoffman for the save. The Padres took the next two to lead the series 3-0. The Braves were on the verge of a shocking sweep. No team had ever rallied to win a series after being down so much. Still, despite leading 3-2, the Padres couldn’t complete the sweep, as a six-run rally helped the Braves stat alive, 8-3. In Game 5, the Braves got back to 3-2 in the series, once again rallying. After starting and winning so many games, Greg Maddux was asked to get the save after a two-run San Diego ninth got them to a run. He retired longtime nemesis Tony Gwynn. Heading back to Atlanta, with Tom Glavine going in Game 6, could the Braves do the impossible? It was the first time a team trailing 0-3 had forced a Game 6.

Alas, it was not to be. Series MVP Sterling Hitchcock pitched five innings, and a fielding error by Danny Bautista led to five San Diego runs in the top of the sixth. It would be the only runs of the game. San Diego clinched their second pennant with a 5-0 win, the Braves held to only two hits.

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(The San Diego Padres clinch their second pennant. Photo courtesy of http://www.mlb.com

The Padres came into the Series having knocked off two 100-win teams. Could they pull off the ultimate upset and win their first title?

Kevin Brown was asked to pitch the first game for San Diego. New York rookie Ricky Ledee got the Yankees on the board first with a double to make it 2-0. Greg Vaughn’s home run tied the score one inning later. Tony Gwynn gave the Padres the lead with a two-run shot, surprising considering that Gwynn wasn’t known for his home run power. Vaughn’s second shot made it 5-2 heading into the seventh. In the bottom of the seventh, Brown began to tire, putting two runners on. Manager Bruce Bochy went to the bullpen, which backfired. Chuck Knoblauch homered to tie the score, and later in the inning, the Yankees loaded the bases with Tino Martinez coming up. On a 2-2 pitch, Mark Langston’s borderline pitch was called ball three. It would have gotten the Padres out of the inning were it called strike three. Martinez responded with a grand slam, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead.

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(Tino Martinez hits a grand slam to give the Yankees the victory in Game 1. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.) 

Although the Padres got one more run in the top of the eighth, the missed strike call would loom large. Mariano Rivera closed out the first game, 9-6.

The second game was a disaster for San Diego. El Duque pitched the Yankees to a 2-0 Series lead, winning 9-3. Home runs by Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada sparked New York, and San Diego’s starting pitcher Andy Ashby was knocked out in the third inning.

Heading to San Diego, the Padres attempted to get back in the Series. After Sterling Hitchcock pitched six scoreless innings, the Padres scored three in the bottom of the sixth, when future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn drove in two runs. Ken Caminiti followed with a sacrifice fly. The Padres looked to be back in the Series. But a solo home run by Scott Brosius and a Caminiti error got the Yankees back to 3-2. Reliever Joey Hamilton held the lead.

In the top of the eighth, after a leadoff walk, Trevor Hoffman tried to get a two-inning save. He got a fly ball, then walked Tino Martinez. Brosius followed with his second home run in two innings, giving the Yankees a 5-3 lead. In Hoffman’s only World Series appearance, he couldn’t hold it. Greg Vaughn’s sac fly got San Diego back to within a run, but it was too little too late, as Mariano Rivera got a five-our save. It was 3-0 New York.

San Diego was on the rocks, and it would be up to Kevin Brown to keep the Padres in it. Brown pitched bravely, going eight innings, and it was scoreless through five innings. A groundout in the top of the sixth made it 1-0 New York. But San Diego couldn’t score to back Brown up. Finally, in the eighth, Brosius singled and Ledee followed with a sacrifice fly, making it 3-0 and putting the cap on arguably the greatest season in baseball history. San Diego put the tying run on base, but Rivera came in to get the final four outs. It was no contest against Rivera’s cutter. Mark Sweeney grounded out to Brosius at third base, and the Yankees had their second title in three years.

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(The New York Yankees win the 1998 World Series. Photo courtesy of http://www.newyorkyankees.mlb.com)

Fun Facts 
This is San Diego’s most recent pennant to date. They have not won a Series game since 1984.

Including the postseason, the Yankees won a record 125 games. They were named the #1 best team on the ESPN Classic program Who’s #1?

Greg Vaughn is the cousin of former Boston slugger Mo Vaughn.

Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez is the older half-brother of Liván Hernandez, who won the World Series MVP with the Marlins the previous year.

Despite San Diego being swept, they likely have two future Hall of Famers on the team, with Tony Gwyn already in. Closer Trevor Hoffman and manager Bruce Bochy are considered very good cases to make it to Cooperstown one day.

The Yankees tied the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL for the record for most championships in North America, with 24. Sadly for the Canadiens, they haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993.

San Diego became the first expansion team to lose the World Series twice. No San Diego team has won a title since 1963, the longest drought for any city with at least two professional teams.

This was the first time since 1989 that the team with the best record in the Major Leagues won the Series, the first sweep since 1990, and the first time since 1986 that a World Series winner won at least 100 games.

Bud Selig was named official commissioner, and this was the first time he officially presided over the trophy presentation.

San Diego became the first city to host a World Series game and the Super Bowl in the same calendar year. In Super Bowl XXXII, John Elway led the Denver Broncos to an upset 31-24 win for their first title.

Final Thoughts 
San Diego was no pushover in 1998. They won 98 games, and have as many as three Hall of Famers on that roster. But against the ’98 Yankees, did anybody really stand a chance? The dynasty was only going to grow.

References and Sources 
Baseball Almanac
Baseball Reference
Wikipedia
YouTube
Getty Images.
http://www.mlb.com
http://www.worldseries.com
http://www.newyorkyankees.mlb.com
http://www.masslive.com
http://www.dailyherald.com
http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1998
The Tenth Inning (Ken Burns)
Who’s #1? Best Teams (ESPN Classic/YouTube)
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
Yankees Suck! (Jim Gerard)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Lists (Andrew Postman, Larry Stone)
Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball (Bill Madden)
George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire (Peter Golenbock)
The Yankee Years (Joe Torre, Tom Verducci)
Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs (Peter Golenbock)
Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups (Rob Neyer)
The Baseball Codes (Jason Turbow, Michael Duca)
Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches, and Baseball (David Wells, Chris Kreski)
Baltimore Sun. 
New York Daily News. 
Chicago Tribune. 
Sports Illustrated.

1997 World Series: Take the money and run

The 1997 World Series was the ninety-fifth year overall, and ninety-third played, of the modern World Series which began in 1903. The two participants showed how the Wild Card would come into play, and how the best teams don’t always win. This is a forgettable World Series, particularly because of the circumstances surrounding both teams.

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(The 1997 World Series logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

1997 World Series 
Florida Marlins (NL) over Cleveland Indians (AL), 4-3 

Managers: Jim Leyland (Florida); Mike Hargrove (Cleveland) 

Hall of Famers*
None

Series MVP: Liván Hernandez, P (Florida)

* – as of 2016 

Analysis
1997 was a very strange year, in the world and on the diamond. Hong Kong was returned to China after decades of British rule. The Kyoto Protocol was signed in Kyoto, Japan, in efforts to reduce global warming, although America’s response wasn’t that favorable. In the United Kingdom, author Joanne “J.K.” Rowling published her first novel in the Harry Potter series, although its release was one year away in America. In film, James Cameron was “king of the world” as his film Titanic would become the highest-grossing film of all time at that point, and become the first film to reach the $1 billion mark. It would go on to tie two Oscar records – most nominations (14) and most wins (11).

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(The poster for the 1997 James Cameron film Titanic. Photo courtesy of http://www.traileraddict.com

Elsewhere, Madeleine Albright became the first woman to be Secretary of State in the United States. Mother Teresa died in India at the age of 87. In Zaire, notorious kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko, already in failing health, was ousted in a coup that saw Laurent-Désiré Kabila come into power. Mobutu would flee into exile in Morocco, ultimately dying in September. Zaire would revert back to its old name of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although the Congo Wars were about to start as a result of Kabila coming to power (many consider it “Africa’s World War”).

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(Mobutu Sese Seko was removed of power in Zaire, before dying later in the year. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Tragically, the world lost a princess. After petitioning earlier in the year for the elimination of landmines, Diana, former Princess of Wales, would be killed in a car crash along with her romantic interest, Dodi Fayed, on August 31 in Paris. The driver was reportedly drunk after mixing in anti-depressants, and crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. The world over mourned. I remember this very specifically – I was in fourth grade, and we received a kids’ variation of TIME magazine, and this was the first issue that year. Even more tragically, conspiracy theories persist to this day.

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(The death of Princess Diana rocked the world. Photo courtesy of TIME.) 

On the diamond, radical changes were coming. After decades of proposals, interleague play began. The Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants broke the mold on June 12.

In April, baseball celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut. Robinson’s widow Rachel was in attendance. Later, acting commissioner Bud Selig announced that from that moment on, the number 42 would be retired forever. Players currently wearing it would be grandfathered in, but it was a precedent.

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(President Clinton speaks during the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut. Photo courtesy of http://www.britannica.com

In a bitter divorce from Boston, Roger Clemens signed a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Many thought his career was over. But he came back with a 20-win season, and gave Red Sox GM Dan Duquette a bitter pill to swallow by beating the Red Sox 3-1 in his return as a visitor to Fenway Park. It was Clemens’ last supposed year of innocence. Still, all was not lost in Boston, as shortstop Nomar Garciaparra won Rookie of the Year.

Things were looking pretty glum on the North Side of Chicago, as the Chicago Cubs lost fourteen consecutive games to open the season to set a team record. After an 0-14 start, they finally broke through.

Twice in the same season, Randy Johnson of the Seattle Mariners struck out nineteen batters to tie a record for lefty pitchers. Sadly, one of them resulted in a loss for the Big Unit, a game in which Mark McGwire rocked him for a massive 538-foot home run in the Kingdome, one of the longest in stadium history. As it turned out, McGwire would be traded to the Cardinals later in the year, reuniting with Tony La Russa. McGwire finished with 59 home runs, setting up the chase for the following year.

(In a game where Randy Johnson struck out 19 batters, Mark McGwire still stole the show. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

In Seattle, Ken Griffey, Jr. ran away with the unanimous AL MVP Award, hitting .304 with 56 home runs, and leading the majors with 147 RBI. It would be the only time The Kid won in his career, but it was enough. Led by Johnson, Griffey, and Alex Rodriguez, many felt the Mariners had a great World Series chance that year.

Cleveland won its third consecutive AL Central title (in addition to hosting the All-Star game that year), but it wasn’t easy. Their 86-75 record was hardly cause for concern.. Shockingly, the Baltimore Orioles had the best record in the American League. Mike Mussina took a no-hitter into the ninth, before losing it earlier in the year. Many thought Cal Ripken, Jr would get back to the Fall Classic.

In the NL, the Braves continued their dominance, winning their sixth straight division title. For the first time in his tenure in the Bay Area, Barry Bonds would make the playoffs, as the Giants narrowly won the division over the rival Dodgers by two games. The Houston Astros had the worst record of any playoff team, going 84-78 to win the Central, the only team in the division to post a winning record. Although they still had a losing season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were 79-83, only five games behind. It would be a while before they got that close again.

The biggest shock was the NL Wild Card. In only their fifth season of existence, the Florida Marlins clinched the Wild Card. Owner Wayne Huizenga spent a considerable amount of money to try to win a championship, although he would just as quickly tear it apart. Pitcher Kevin Brown threw a no-hitter, and Gary Sheffield put together a borderline Hall of Fame case.

In the NLDS, Atlanta and Houston faced off for the first time in the span of a decade. In the opener, the first  postseason game played at the Braves’ new stadium Turner Field, Greg Maddux was able to “scatter” seven hits, winning the opener 2-1 over Houston ace Darryl Kile. After the second inning, Atlanta wouldn’t have any more hits – a first inning single from Kenny Lofton (acquired in a trade for David Justice), and a second-inning home run from Ryan Klesko – but it was enough. The next two games were no contest, as Glavine and Smoltz pitched the Braves to 13-3 and 4-1 wins, respectively. The Braves had swept the NLDS to advance to the NLCS for the sixth straight time.

Florida opened its first ever postseason series at its home of Pro Player Stadium against the Giants. San Francisco’s Bill Mueller and Florida’s Charles Johnson traded solo home runs, and the game went into the bottom of the ninth with the same 1-1 scoreline. With the bases loaded, Colombian shortstop Edgar Renteria laced a single to win the game, 2-1.

The two teams traded runs in Game 2, heading into the last of the ninth tied, 6-6, after Marlins second baseman Craig Counsell made an error to help the Giants tie the game. Sheffield singled and stole second to lead off the last of the ninth. Free agent addition Bobby Bonilla walked, and then Moises Alou came to bat. He singled to center field. As Dante Powell came up to throw the ball home, the throw looked good, but struck the pitcher’s mound and caromed away, allowing Sheffield to score easily. Shockingly, the Marlins led 2-0 on the Giants.

The Giants would complete their choke in Game 3, the final postseason game at Candlestick Park. Devon White’s grand slam shocked the Giants, who fell 6-2. Alex Fernandez would win the clincher, and Bonds would be forced to wait again to try to reach the Fall Classic.

It would be a matchup of division rivals in the NLCS. Most favored the Braves. But in Game 1, Greg Maddux would be let down by his defense. After Fred McGriff’s error loaded the bases, Moises Alou rocked a base-clearing double past Chipper Jones at third base. It would get to 5-1 by the third inning following another error, and all five runs were unearned. The Braves got it to 5-3, but Kevin Brown’s six innings were anchored by the Marlins bullpen, who held on to win the first game.

Despite four walks in the second game, Tom Glavine went 7.2 innings to get the Braves level in the series, winning 7-1 in Game 2. Klesko and Chipper Jones homered to stake the Braves. The teams split the next two games in Florida – 5-2 Marlins in Game 3 and 4-0 Braves in Game 4 – before the tumultuous Game 5, held in high disregard by Braves fans. In part because of his girth, home plate umpire Eric Gregg would be a household name after the fifth game.

As Kevin Brown had a cold, rookie Liván Hernandez got the nod for the Marlins against Greg Maddux. Although Atlanta had runners at the corners with none out in the top of the first, Hernandez struck out the side to escape the jam. In the bottom of the inning, Bobby Bonilla drove in Devon White with a single. Michael Tucker’s second-inning home run helped the Braves tie the game. It would stay 1-1 until the bottom of the seventh, when Jeff Conine drove in Bonilla. Throughout the game, the 300-pound Gregg gave Hernandez the benefit of the doubt, in large part due to Gregg’s size contributing to a wider strike zone. It was still 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, when Fred McGriff came to bat. On a full count, Hernandez threw what looked like ball four. But Gregg called it strike three to end the game, and the Marlins were heading back to Atlanta leading the series. Hernandez set an NLCS record with 15 strikeouts. But with the wider strike zone, Atlanta may have won the game. Or maybe not.

(Eric Gregg’s controversial strike zone call helped the Marlins in Game 5. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

In any case, the Braves were now facing elimination again. Tom Glavine tried to save the Braves’ season, but four first inning runs helped the Marlins triumph, 7-4. A fully healthy Kevin Brown won his second game of the Series, and shockingly, the Wild Card Marlins were in the World Series.

The Orioles and Mariners faced off in the ALDS, which many saw as unfair, as one of the two teams would be eliminated early. In the first game, Mike Mussina beat Randy Johnson in the Kingdome, 9-3. The Orioles won the second game by that same score. Seattle staved off elimination with a Game 3 win at Camden Yards, but Baltimore proved their staying power with Mussina winning his second game to give the Orioles a 3-1 game win and 3-1 ALDS win as well.

In the other ALDS, the Indians and Yankees faced off. In Game 1, Cleveland looked to be cruising to an easy victory, leading 6-1 in the fourth. But after making it 6-3, the Yankees stormed back with a five-run sixth, with Tim Raines, Derek Jeter, and Paul O’Neill hitting three consecutive home runs. The Yankees led 8-6. Coming into his prime, Mariano Rivera closed off the first game. Cleveland was demoralized.

Cleveland rallied to win 7-5 in Game 2, before New York won 6-1 in Game 3 at Jacobs Field. Heading into Game 4, the Yankees appeared to have the edge. They jumped out to an early lead on RBI singles by Paul O’Neill and Cecil Fielder. But after that, Orel Hershiser bore down and held the Yankees off the board for the rest of the game. David Justice’s home run made it 2-1, but the scoreline stayed that way heading into the eighth. Mariano Rivera came in to try and nail it down, having saved 43 games that year. With four outs to go from clinching, Sandy Alomar, Jr. came to bat. Known as Roberto’s brother, Sandy was actually a decent player as well, and he crushed a 2-0 pitch to right field to tie the game at 2-2. It was Rivera’s first blown save in the postseason, and his last until 2001.

(Sandy Alomar, Jr. homers to tie Game 4 against Mariano Rivera. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

In the bottom of the ninth, Cleveland won the game with small ball. After a sacrifice bunt moved Marquis Grissom to second, Omar Vizquel’s single won the game, 3-2. There would be a fifth game.

The game was back and forth, before heading into the ninth with Cleveland ahead 4-3. Jose Mesa tried to save the game, but Paul O’Neill doubled to represent the tying run. But Mesa bore down and got Bernie Williams to fly out to end the game and the series. 1997 would see a new team win the title.

Cleveland and Baltimore faced off in the ALCS. In Baltimore, the teams split the first two games, before heading to Cleveland. In Game 3, Orel Hershiser and Mike Mussina waged a classic pitcher’s duel. Mussina would set an ALCS record with fifteen strikeouts, which would be matched by Hernandez in the NLCS several days later. Heading into the top of the ninth, Cleveland was up 1-0. Jose Mesa came in to close it out, but after Marquis Grissom lost Brady Anderson’s fly ball in the Jacobs Field lights, Baltimore tied the score and the game moved to extra innings. It would finish in the twelfth on a controversial ending. Closer Randy Myers took the hill for the Orioles. With one out, Marquis Grissom drew a walk, and Tony Fernandez singled to move him to third. Omar Vizquel came up, and on a 2-1 pitch, attempted to pull a suicide squeeze. He missed the ball. As it turned out, though, so too did Orioles catcher Lenny Webster. The ball scooted past Webster, and Grissom hustled home to win 2-1. Or was it? Orioles manager Davey Johnson rushed out to protest the ball being bunted foul, and therefore a dead ball. Still, the call was upheld and Cleveland won a lengthy game.

(The controversial missed bunt – you make the call. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

In Game 4, another blocked play may have doomed the Orioles. After tying the score at 5-5 in the fifth, Cleveland put runners on second and third. Arthur Rhodes threw a wild pitch, allowing Justice to score. During the play, Justice and Rhodes collided at home plate, and home plate umpire Durwood Merrill obstructed Webster’s view. Sandy Alomar, Jr. raced for home, and scored as well. It was 7-5 Cleveland. Still, Baltimore tied the score in the ninth before Sandy Alomar, Jr. took hero honors with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, to win 8-7. Controversially, the Indians were up 3-1.

Baltimore staved off elimination in Game 5, 4-2, although Randy Myers allowed both Cleveland runs in the ninth inning. It would head back to Baltimore for Game 6.

Game 6 saw an unusual play before the game. During batting practice, Cleveland infielder Bip Roberts was hit by a line drive by Tony Fernandez, and so the latter came into play second base. Another pitching duel occurred, between Mussina and Charles Nagy. It would go into the top of the eleventh scoreless. With two outs, Fernandez came to bat against Armando Benitez. He rocked a solo home run to right field to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead. Although Brady Anderson singled to put the tying run on base, Jose Mesa struck out Robert Alomar – on a pitch that looked like it hit him – to win the ALCS for Cleveland.

Image result for 1997 alcs game 6 fernandez home run
(Tony Fernandez’s home run won the 1997 ALCS for Cleveland. Photo courtesy of http://www.letsgotribe.com

The 1997 World Series is forgotten by many, and with good reason – it was a pretty pathetic series, with the exception of the final game. Still, we push on.

The opening game matched Liván Hernandez against Orel Hershiser in Miami’s Pro Player Stadium. Back in the lineup, a healthy Bip Roberts doubled in the top of the first, and Justice drove him in with a single. Florida tied it in the third, and following a three-run shot by Moises Alou in the fourth, Charles Johnson also homered to go back-to-back. Two more runs drove Bulldog from the game. Despite solo home runs from Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, it wouldn’t be enough as Florida took the opening game 7-4.

In the first inning of Game 2, David Justice and Jeff Conine each drove in a run for their respective teams. But for Cleveland starter Chad Ogea, he settled down and got the win over Kevin Brown. Sandy Alomar, Jr. added the nail in the coffin with a two-run sixth inning home run, and Cleveland won 6-1 to even the series.

Although Cleveland took a 7-3 lead after five innings in their home park in Game 3, it wouldn’t be enough, as the Marlins rallied with two in the sixth and seventh. The ninth inning would be completely wild. The Marlins hit and hit and hit, and three errors also helped Florida score seven times to make it 14-7. But then Cleveland rallied back to score four times in the bottom of the ninth, to make it 14-11. But Dennis Cook nailed the game down.

Game 4 started as the coldest game in World Series history, at just over 38 degrees Fahrenheit. During the game, snow flurries crept in and out. Two rookies faced off, with Jaret Wright going for the Indians and Tony Saunders for the Marlins. It would be Wright prevailing, winning 10-3. Indians third baseman Matt Williams hit a two-run homer, and reached base six times in the game. It was 2-2 in the series.

In the final game in Cleveland, Hernandez got his second win of the series. But it wasn’t easy. Taking a lead of 8-4 into the bottom of the ninth, Cleveland rallied for three runs and had the winning run at the plate. But Alomar, Jr. couldn’t repeat his heroics and flied to Sheffield in right to end the game. Back in Miami for the sixth game, Cleveland would force a seventh game, winning 4-1. Chad Ogea got his second win, and a great defensive play by Omar Vizquel helped the Tribe back in it. For the first time since 1991, there would be a seventh game.

Because the first six games were all duds, it’s easy to forget how good the seventh and final game was. For Cleveland, Jaret Wright got the ball on short rest. It would be Al Leiter for Florida. Through six innings, Wright was brilliant, allowing only a first inning single to Edgar Renteria. In the top of the third, Cleveland’s hopes began to soar as Tony Fernandez singled to drive in Thome and Grissom. Nine outs away from their first title in 49 years.

The lead was cut in half when Bobby Bonilla homered to get Florida on the board in the seventh. Still, Paul Assenmacher and the Cleveland bullpen kept the Marlins off the board.

Heading into the top of the ninth, Cleveland almost had a third run. Matt Williams walked and a force play kept a runner on first with one out. Jim Thome singled to send Sandy Alomar, Jr. to third. Closer Robb Nen came in to try to keep the Indians off the board. Grissom grounded to Renteria at short. Rather than try for the double play, Renteria threw home to Charles Johnson. Alomar was tagged out and Renteria’s heads-up play kept the Marlins down by a run. A fly out ended the inning. Cleveland had blown its chance. But they were still three outs away. Jose Mesa attempted to nail down the save.

Alou singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth. After Bonilla struck out by swinging at a fourth ball on a full count, Cleveland was two outs away. Then Charles Johnson singled, sending Alou to third. Light-hitting Craig Counsell came to bat. Mesa came inside. Counsell lifted a fly ball to right field. Ramirez made the catch. But it was deep enough to tie the game as Alou trotted home. For the first time in World Series history, a team had blown a ninth-inning lead with three outs to go in a seventh game. Mesa would never live it down. The score was tied, and the game went to extra innings.

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(Jose Mesa kicks the dirt on the pitcher’s mound after blowing the lead in Game 7. Photo courtesy of http://www.11points.com

Robb Nen struck out the side in the tenth, and Mesa was pulled after giving up two singles. But Charles Nagy got out of the tenth. In the top of the eleventh, Jay Powell walked the leadoff batter. But on a sacrifice bunt attempt, Powell alertly fielded the ball and threw to second to get the out. Cleveland didn’t score and Nagy was still on the mound.

Bobby Bonilla singled to lead off the eleventh inning. Gregg Zaun came up to pinch-hit for Charles Johnson. He attempted to bunt, but a heads up play by Nagy resulted in him making the catch. Bonilla barely scampered back to first. One out. Counsell came up to bat, and hit a ground ball to Tony Fernandez. It should have been a tailor-made double play, but Fernandez booted the ball, which went into right field. It was a clutch error by Fernandez – from hero to goat in the blink of an eye.

This forced Nagy to walk Jim Eisenreich intentionally to lad the bases. Devon White could be the hero. But he hit a grounder to Fernandez, who threw home. Bonilla’s hard slide meant only one out. Fernandez made the play, but he’ll never be remembered for it. One more out to a twelfth inning. It would be up to Edgar Renteria.

The first pitch was a strike. On the next pitch, Nagy came over the middle. Renteria smacked it up the middle. Nagy tried to catch it, but it deflected off his glove – and rolled into center field. Counsell hustled home with the winning run. The Florida Marlins, only five years old, had won the World Series.

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(The Florida Marlins win the World Series after Craig Counsell scores the winning run. Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. leaves the field in defeat. Photo courtesy of Miami Sun-Sentinel.) 

But after the win, the triumph soured. Apparently, owner Wayne Huizenga meant for this team to be a short-term investment. He began a fire sale of players over the next two seasons, and the following year, the Marlins would finish dead last with a 54-108 record – by record, the worst title defense in Major League history (hence this post’s title).

For Cleveland, the pain lingers to this day. Four strikes away. They’re still waiting to this day, the second longest drought after the Cubs.

Fun Facts
As previously mentioned, Game 4 was the coldest game in World Series history.

Game 7 – October 26 – was played on Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove’s birthday.

The Marlins pitching staff set a World Series record with 40 walks in the series, broken in 2011 by the Texas Rangers. It’s still the record for a National League team, and for a team that won the title.

Marlins outfielder Devon White shares a record with Hall of Famer Travis Jackson of the 1924 New York Giants – in Game 7, they went hitless in six trips to the plate.

Game 7 featured a record twelve pitchers – six for each team.

Marlins reliever Ed Vosberg was the first player to appear in the Little League World Series, the College World Series, and the MLB World Series.

Edgar Renteria is the first superstar player from Colombia, a country not known for baseball.

Because he couldn’t earn the save in Game 7, Jose Mesa became involved in a feud with Oar Vizquel; Mesa was accused of “choking,” and Mesa vowed to hit Vizquel with a pitch every chance he got, and did so at least twice.

Game 6’s attendance was the highest since Game 5 in 1959.

The Marlins became the fastest team to win the World Series, doing it in their fifth year of existence. Arizona broke their record in 2001.

This was the first time that the World Series trophy presentation took place on the field. Whenever the winning team clinches at home, it has been that way ever since, except for 1999.

Indians pitcher Chad Ogea was the subject of a hilarious anecdote involving Manny Ramirez. In 1994, members of the team were O.J. Simpson’s (Ogea rhymes with O.J.) Bronco chase. When told that O.J. was on the run from the police, Manny responded with, “What did Chad do?”

This is the Indians’ last World Series appearance to date. They have waited 67 years as of 2015, the longest drought in the American League, trailing only the Cubs.

This is the first World Series where the winning team had no Hall of Famers on its roster; in fact, as of 2016, there are no Hall of Famers at all!

This is the third and most recent “checkerboard” World Series – that is, the winning team won the odd numbered games, and the losing team won the even-numbered games. The other two instances were in 1909 and 1962.

The Marlins became the first wild card team to appear in and win the World Series.

Final Thoughts 
This has to be one of the weakest World Series ever. Baseball is truly misleading – despite it going seven games, only the seventh game was any good. The teams were forgettable – it should have been Atlanta vs. Baltimore, in my opinion. And the title defense remains the worst in history. Money talked in 1997.

References and Sources 
Baseball Almanac
Baseball Reference
Wikipedia
YouTube
http://www.traileraddict.com
http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1997.html
http://www.11points.com
http://www.worldseries.com
http://www.letsgotribe.com
http://www.britannica.com
Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…Bobby Cox (ESPN Classic)
The Tenth Inning (Ken Burns)
Miami Sun-Sentinel. 
TIME. 
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame: The Year the Marlins Bought the World Series (Dave Rosenbaum)
Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups (Rob Neyer)
The Psycho 100 (Steve Lyons)
The Curse of Rocky Colavito (Terry Pluto)
The Seventh Game (Barry Levenson)
The Underground Baseball Encyclopedia (Robert Schnakenberg)
Living on the Black (John Feinstein)

Secret Places of a Lifetime list

For the book Secret Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems.

A. The World at You Feet 
1. The Cherohala Skyway  – Great Smoky Mountains
2. Willis Tower – Chicago, IL

B. Last Wildernesses
None

Inconclusive
1. Foret de Brotonne – Normandy, France
2. Shining Rock Wilderness – North Carolina

C. Island Getaways
None

Inconclusive
Ile des Cygnes – Paris, France

D. The Road Less Traveled 
None

E. Secret History
None

F. Spiritual Havens 
1. Our Lady’s Church – Bruges, Belgium

Inconclusive 
Chapelle Expiatoire – Paris, France
City of London Churches – London, England

G. Hidden Treasures
1. Chateau d’Hassonville – Ardennes, Belgium

Inconclusive
Begijnhof of Kortrijk – Kortrijk, Belgium (I give myself half a point, because they also talk about one in Bruges, and I know I’ve been there) – .5 points
Lumina Domestica – Bruges, Belgium
Biltmore House – Asheville, North Carolina

Near-Miss
1. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – Boston, MA

H. Undiscovered Villages 
None

I. City Secrets
1. Birding in Central Park – New York, NY
2. Le Chatelain – Brussels, Belgium

Inconclusive
1. National Garden – Washington, D.C.

Total: 6.5/500 (1.3%)

New travel book: 1001 Historic Sites

So, this one I don’t have (I’m reading it at the public library), but here’s one that’s similar: 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die. As usual, I expected repeats on a few of these, but it’s always nice to get some new ones if I can find them.

My list.

Belgium  
1. Belfry of Bruges
2. Rubens House
3. Waterloo Battlefield 

Inconclusive: World War I Trenches

England 
1. Avebury Stone Circles
2. Blenheim Palace
3. Buckingham Palace
4. Eton College
5. Nelson’s Column
6. Stonehenge
7. Tower of London
8. Westminster Abbey
9. Windsor Castle

France
1. Arc de Triomphe
2. Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Strasbourg)
3. Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Paris)
4. Eiffel Tower
5. Normandy Beaches
6. Pont Neuf

Inconclusive: Ducal Palace of Brittany; La Conciergerie; Palace of Versailles; Palais de Rohan; Père Lachaise Cemetery; Sainte Chappelle

Germany 
1. Aachen Cathedral

Inconclusive: Cologne Cathedral

United States 
1. Alamo Mission
2. Capitol Building
3. Ellis Island
4. Empire State Building
5. Gateway Arch
6. Lincoln Memorial
7. Mount Vernon
8. Statue of Liberty
9. Washington Monument
10. White House
11. Wrigley Field

Inconclusive: Arlington National Cemetery; Brooklyn Bridge; Graceland; Grand Central Terminal; Library of Congress; Monticello

Totals: 30 out of 1,001 (2.99%)

Happily, this is the highest number of any list. At least 30, and perhaps as many as 44, if any of the inconclusive items can be confirmed.

Step back

There’s a quote from Buddha that I really enjoy, especially in this current climate of negativity that we are in, nationwide and likely worldwide:

“You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”

Incidentally, I don’t meditate all that much, mostly because my attention span doesn’t pay attention well enough to help me do so. But, contrary to popular opinion, I’ve come to find that keeping quiet has actually helped me. I do get angry sometimes, but it’s very rare. I usually don’t have any anger in me. It’s not my nature. What is my nature is to just take it, no matter how bad it is. Somebody’s gotta do it, right?

There’s this notion that in order to truly “belong” in this world, we have to participate in it, to speak up. But I’m able to type this from a computer, because I’m alive, with a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on my dinner table, because I took a step back and didn’t do what was expected of me. Call me a “sell-out,” a “company man,” if you wish. I’ve heard them before. I’d like to think that it’s not true, and if it is, well, there are worse things to be.

In a year where anger, lingering bitterness, illness, death, you name it, have run riot, why do we keep subjecting ourselves to it? Perhaps in order to avoid being hurt, we need to back off sometimes. I’m not saying don’t stand up for yourself, but there are numerous ways to do that. I do stand up for myself, but nobody knows because I don’t tell them. From the Aspie perspective, don’t let anybody tell you that the isolation is a bad thing. I won’t speak for everybody, because everybody’s experience with the condition is different. But from all the people I’ve talked to, there’s a constant desire for privacy. For many of us, myself included, we want the isolation. We like being alone. Why is there still such a stigma behind this train of thought?

It’s not necessarily an “us against the world” mentality as it is the fact that we can’t adjust to the world we’re given. I’ve acclimated as well as I can to the “rules” of life. But I don’t think it’s unfair to ask you to play by my rules every once in a while. And one of them is this: don’t hold on to negativity, or at the very least, let it fuel you. Any crap left in my life is filtered out in the comfort of my apartment. It’s my calm place. The stimulation of life is too much sometimes. Why should I have to give that up?

I also use the quote as an incentive. My mom had a lot of anger and sadness, personal, political, professional, and a lot of other ways I can’t describe. She was a shell of her former self at the end of her life. As negative as this will sound, I use the quote as a way of saying to myself, “Don’t be like that.”

Buddhism is supposed to be about the inner peace. And this is my way of finding it. Is it selfish? Probably. Is it isolating? Yes. But, is it calming as well? Absolutely. This is my equilibrium. I’m not saying I won’t participate, but I’m going to do it on my own terms. That’s the best I can do.

1996 World Series: An empire reborn

The 1996 World Series was the ninety-fourth overall, and the ninety-second played, of the modern World Series which began in 1903. After fifteen years of hibernation, the mighty Yankees built a new dynasty, difficult to come by in the modern era of baseball. For their manager, it marked the first time he reached the Fall Classic in almost 4,300 games.

1996 World Series 
New York Yankees (AL) over Atlanta Braves (NL), 4-2 

Managers: Joe Torre (New York); Bobby Cox (Atlanta) 

Hall of Famers 
New York: Joe Torre (manager), Wade Boggs, Tim Raines  
Atlanta: John Schuerholz (executive), Bobby Cox (manager), Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz 

Analysis
1996 didn’t quite live up the panache of the previous two years. Robert Mugabe won re-election in Zimbabwe, although only 32% of the voting population came to the polls. Major League Soccer, started as an incentive to get the World Cup in America two years prior, began in June; the San Jose Clash beat D.C. United, the league’s first champion, 1-0. D.C. United would be similar to the Yankees as the first MLS dynasty, winning three of the first four titles. Twelve climbers died in the worst disaster in the history of Mount Everest. A sheep named Dolly became the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell. In Colorado, six-year-old beauty pageant contestant JonBenét Ramsey would be found murdered the day after Christmas. Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole in his re-election campaign.

One year after returning to the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan led them to their fourth title in six years, this time on Father’s Day (and my ninth birthday), June 16. For Jordan, it was a bittersweet title, following the murder of his father in 1993. The Bulls set a record for an 82-game season in the NBA, going 72-10. It stood for 20 years.

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(Michael Jordan wins the 1996 NBA title. Photo courtesy Getty Images.) 

Sports would be a big deal in Atlanta that year. The home of Rhett Butler hosted the Summer Olympics, and saw a year of memorable events. The first moment came at the opening ceremony – after suffering from Parkinson’s disease, not to mention having his title stripped for protesting in Vietnam – Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch to open the games. Later that year, the documentary When We Were Kings was released about his famous fight with George Foreman, and would win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

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(Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic torch in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) 

Later in the Olympics, the women’s gymnastics team won the all-around gold medal, albeit not without some late drama. The supposed anchor of the team, Dominique Moceanu, had two falls, forcing it up to little-known Kerri Strug of Tucson, Arizona. Strug fell on her first vault, and it looked like the Americans were going to choke. Even worse, Strug hurt her ankle and looked unlikely for her second vault. Coach Bela Karolyi said, “Kerri, we need you one more time.”

Strug went for her second vault. She flipped through the air, and managed to land well enough to stand up. She caught her balance, wobbled slightly while not falling, then fell to the ground in tears clutching her ankle. She would be out of the individual all-around, but it gave the United States its first team gold medal in gymnastics. Karolyi carried her to the podium amidst a sea of cheers.

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(Bela Karolyi carries and injured Kerri Strug to the podium after Strug won the gymnastics gold medal for the U.S. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Finally, there was some sadness at Atlanta that year. At Centennial Olympic park, a bomb erupted, killing two people (one died at the scene, the other suffered a fatal heart attack). 111 more were injured. Security guard Richard Jewell was initially suspected, but clues later pointed to fundamentalist Eric Robert Rudolph; he would bomb three more establishments before his arrest in 2003.

Baseball was not quite back from the effects of the strike yet. And 1996 didn’t offer as much as 1995 did, but there were still moments. Ozzie Smith played his final season with the Cardinals. In what would prove to be his final season in Boston, an increasingly dispirited Roger Clemens refused to renegotiate his contract with GM Dan Duquette. In what would prove to be his 192nd and final win in Boston, he matched his own record of 20 strikeouts in Tiger Stadium against Detroit. His 192 wins are tied with Cy Young for the team lead.

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(Roger Clemens strikes out 20 Detroit Tigers on September 18, his final win with the Red Sox. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.) 

Two Hall of Fame managers began with new teams. The first came in the Bronx.

Following the playoff collapse against the Mariners the previous year, Buck Showalter’s contract was not renewed. Called in by newly reinstated owner George Steinbrenner to replace him was Joe Torre. Many saw the manager as too nice to handle all the egos in the Big Apple, particularly Steinbrenner’s. Added to that was the fact that he had never made the World Series as a player or manager in over 4,000 games, and had won only one division title, with the 1982 Braves, which ended in a sweep. The previous summer, he had been fired ignominiously from St. Louis. The headline in the New York Daily News said it all:

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(The “Clueless Joe” headline on the cover of the sports section. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.)

But this time, Torre had more talent around him than ever before. He had former Red Sox batting champion Wade Boggs at third base, veterans Cecil Fielder and Tim Raines to pick up the slack, rising stars in Bernie Williams, veterans in Paul O’Neill. He had John Wetteland to anchor the bullpen, along with an up-and-coming righthander named Mariano Rivera. He also had a rookie named Derek Jeter, originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, who had dreamed of playing for the Yankees his entire career. Jeter went on to win Rookie of the Year honors, and conducted himself with a professionalism rarely seen in rookies.

Torre knew he must have had something special on the evening of May 14, in a rematch with Seattle. Former Mets phenom Dwight Gooden, his career destroyed by arm injuries and a cocaine addiction, started that night for the Yankees. All “Doc” Gooden did was throw his first career no-hitter, with Jeter catching the final out.

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(Dwight Gooden is carried off the field after his no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on May 14. Photo courtesy of http://www.banishedtothepen.com)

The Yankees would follow this up with an AL East title, going 92-70 to finish second in the American League in record. In the AL Central, Cleveland had the best record in baseball for the second straight year, 99-62, and looked to repeat as AL champions. After years of frustration, the Texas Rangers finally won the West for the first time, led by league MVP Juan Gonzalez and catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The Baltimore Orioles took the wild card at 88-74, with Brady Anderson having a career year with 50 home runs. Cal Ripken, Jr. and Mike Mussina were the stalwarts of the club.

As for the “other” Hall of Fame manager, Tony La Russa’s tenure in Oakland ended, and he replaced Mike Jorgensen in St. Louis, who had taken over for Torre. He brought future Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley with him. Despite an 88-74 record, the worst of any division winner that year, it was enough to take the NL Central by six games ahead of the Houston Astros. It was their first playoff appearance since 1987. Elsewhere, another team returned to the postseason, when the San Diego Padres made their second ever playoff appearance and first since 1984, with Bruce Bochy winning his first division title. The Dodgers won the NL Wild Card, although Tommy Lasorda would be forced into retirement. Bobby Cox’s Braves won the NL East, the best record in the National League at 96-66. Many expected a rematch of the Series the previous year.

La Russa’s old team opened the NLDS against San Diego and the league MVP Ken Caminiti with a 3-1 victory. Former Blue Jay Todd Stottlemyre was brilliant, and only a Rickey Henderson solo home run ruined a shutout. Eckersley shut out the Padres in the ninth. In the second game, the lower-seeded Cardinals took the early lead on a Willie McGee double. Caminiti tied it with a home run in the top of the fifth, but in the bottom half of the inning, Ron Gant’s double cleared the bases. Future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn drove in two runs to get San Diego within a run. Then after tying the game in the eighth, San Diego’s bullpen couldn’t hold it. Brian Jordan scored the go-ahead run on a groundout, and Eck got his second straight save.

Moving to San Diego, the Padres were on the ropes. Although it was 5-5 going into the top of the ninth, Brian Jordan broke San Diego hearts with a two-run homer to left. Eckersley’s  third straight save buoyed a shocking Cardinal sweep.

The other NLDS between the Braves and Dodgers was also a sweep, but not quite as easy. Former infielder Bill Russell was now managing Los Angeles, but was unable to hold his own. Fred McGriff got the Braves on the board first in Game 1 with a fourth inning sac fly. One inning later, rookie of the year Todd Hollandsworth  – the fifth consecutive Dodger to win the award – hit an RBI double to tie the game. In the best season of his career, Braves pitcher John Smoltz won 24 games and the Cy Young Award. Still, he left with a no-decision. Javy Lopez broke the tie with a game-winning home run in the top of the eleventh. Mark Wohlers put a cap on the Braves’ opening game victory. Three solo home runs staked Greg Maddux to a 3-2 win in Game 2, and the third ace Tom Glavine beat Hideo Nomo 5-2 to win the NLDS, with Chipper Jones hitting a home run.

The NLCS opened in Atlanta, with Smoltz going for Atlanta. Despite this, he allowed the first run of the game on Brian Jordan’s triple, who later scored. But Mark Lemke’s two-run double gave the Braves the lead in the fifth. Still, the Cardinals wouldn’t go away, tying the game in the seventh. But in the bottom of the eighth, Javy Lopez drove in two with a single against relieve Mark Petkovsek (pronounced “pet-KYE-zek”) to win the first game for the Braves.

Still, the Cardinals shocked Greg Maddux in Game 2. Maddux actually pitched pretty well, and after Marquis Grissom homered, the Braves rallied from a 3-0 score to tie it at three. But then Chipper Jones made an error at third base, scoring the go-ahead run, and keeping the bases loaded. Gary Gaetti responded with a grand slam to shock Maddux. Dennis Eckersley got the final four outs, and the series was shockingly tied headed to Busch Stadium.

Two home runs from Ron Gant against his former team propelled the Cardinals to a 3-2 win in Game 3. Denny Neagle went for Atlanta in Game 4, and had a 3-0 lead after seven innings. But then Dmitri Young came through with a two-run triple, and Royce Clayton singled to score Young with the tying run. Brian Jordan’s solo home run in the bottom of the eighth completed the Cardinals’ comeback. Up 3-1 against the defending champions, many in Cardinals locker room started celebrating. Many in Atlanta felt slighted by this – there was still one game to go.

John Smoltz tried to save the series for Atlanta; not only did he get his second win, but the Braves gave him a tremendous outpouring of offense, including a 7-0 lead after two innings. Jeff Blauser’s triple was aided by outfielder mis-communications, leading to a five-run first inning. The 14-0 score kept the Braves in it.

The Braves forced a seventh game with a 3-1 win. Greg Maddux got a measure of revenge after beating opposing starter Alan Benes. Maddux was helped by a great catch by Marquis Grissom in center field. There would be a seventh game.

It would be Tom Glavine against Donovan Osborne in the finale. After Glavine got the Cardinals out in the top of the first, it would be no contest after that. Osborne allowed three runs in the bottom of the first before Glavine came to bat. Against the opposing pitcher, Osborne missed to Glavine, who was a decent hitting pitcher for the era. Glavine hit a sinking line drive to left field, and Gant dove for the ball – and missed. The ball rolled to the wall, and Glavine had a triple. It was 6-0 Braves and Osborne was out, failing to make it one inning.

The carnage continued, as series MVP Javy Lopez homered in the third inning, and later in the game, rookie Andruw Jones – no relation to Chipper – added one of his own, the youngest player to homer in the postseason. McGriff added one of his own to complete the humiliation of the Cardinals. Glavine went seven innings, but it was no contest. Royce Clayton flied out to Grissom in center, and the Braves rallied from 3-1 down, winning the final game 15-0. In the final three games, the Cardinals were outscored 32-1.

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(The Atlanta Braves win their second consecutive NL pennant. Photo courtesy of http://www.sportslistoftheday.com

In the American League, the wild-card Orioles opened the ALDS with a shocking 10-4 victory over the Indians, in their first postseason game since 1983. Four home runs staked David Wells – a future Yankee – to a win in the opener. The second game was probably the best, with Brady Anderson’s misplayed fly ball allowed Cleveland to tie the score at four apiece in the top of the eighth. But in the bottom half, former Blue Jay Roberto Alomar – involved in a spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck earlier in the year – sparked a three-run rally, to steal the second game 7-4. Armando Benitez got the save. Heading to Cleveland, the Orioles were up 2-0.

The Indians staved off elimination with a 9-4 victory at Jacobs Field, but the Orioles clinched the series with a shocking extra-inning Game 4 victory. Down to their final three outs, Baltimore tied the game off of Jose Mesa (who would have an even bigger collapse one year later), and won the game in the twelfth inning when Alomar homered to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead. Former Nasty Boy Randy Myers closed the game out, and the Orioles became the first wild card team to win a postseason series.

In their first postseason game in history, Texas won in Yankee Stadium in the first game, 6-2. John Burkett defeated David Cone. Joe Torre’s playoff career with the Yankees didn’t go well. As it turned out, Texas would fall in the next three games, giving Torre his first playoff series win ever (with Texas third baseman Dean Palmer’s throwing error leading to a Game 2 5-4 victory in twelve, and another late inning rally the next game). Texas wouldn’t win its next postseason game until 2010.

The ALCS featured New York against Baltimore. The first game would be remembered for a controversial moment. Heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Orioles were leading 4-3 with Armando Benitez on the mound. Rookie Derek Jeter came to bat. In the stands in right field was 12-year-old fan Jeffrey Maier, who had been given the tickets as an early Bar Mitzvah present.

Jeter lifted a fly ball to right field. Tony Tarasco went back to the wall, preparing to jump. But before he got the chance to, Maier reached out his glove over the right field fence – which should result in fan interference and the batter being called out – and pulled the ball over the fence. Tarasco began furiously protested to umpire Rich Garcia, but Garcia upheld the home run. Furious, new Orioles manager Davey Johnson, lured away from the Reds, asked the umpires to review it. They did, and made the same call. Jeter’s home run tied the game at four.

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(Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence to pull in Derek Jeter’s game-tying home run, while Tony Tarasco tried to catch the ball. Photo courtesy of Huffington Post.) 

In the stands, Maier was hailed as an “angel” on board, particularly after Bernie Williams homered to win the first game for the Yankees in the bottom of the eleventh. The Yankees had struck first blood.

In evening the series the following day, the Orioles appeared to have shaken off the controversy. The Yankees helped their cause by leaving eleven men on base and David Cone walking six. The final score was 5-3. Despite this, New York was ready to pounce.

Moving to Camden Yards, Mike Mussina took a 2-1 lead with four outs to go. But Jeter ignited a rally, and Bernie Williams’ RBI single tied the score. Tino Martinez followed with a double, aided by Todd Zeile making a mistake at third. After catching the relay throw, Zeile attempted to bluff a throw. But the ball squirted away, and the heads-up baserunning of Williams led to the go-ahead run for the Yankees. Two more runs would score before the inning was over, on a homer by Cecil Fielder. The Yankees took Game 3, 5-2, then beat Rocky Coppinger in Game 4, 8-4. Any hopes of a Baltimore comeback died in Game 5 after a six-run Yankees third inning. Despite getting the score back to 6-4, it wasn’t enough. For the first time in fifteen years, the Yankees had won the pennant.

(The New York Yankees win the 1996 AL pennant. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Going into Game 1, Joe Torre looked at the scoreboard. He saw no other games that night – it was finally his time. He felt a lump in his throat, and many tears were still left over from the ALCS.

Unfortunately, the Braves spoiled Torre’s party. After a rainout postponed the first game by a day, John Smoltz went against second-year pitcher Andy Pettitte. Andruw Jones hit two home runs, highlighting a six-run third inning to make it 8-0 at the time. The Braves offensive juggernaut looked poised to continue after winning the opener 12-1.

In Game 2, Greg Maddux scattered six hits over eight innings. This time, Atlanta’s offense played small ball, and went up 2-0 in the series, winning both games in New York. The final score was 4-0.

Because of the rain delay, the travel day was eliminated. In between games, the fickle Steinbrenner came to Torre and asked what his plan was. But Torre was calm. He said to Steinbrenner that the Yankees would find a way to sweep the three games in Atlanta, then come back home to win it at home. Although Steinbrenner liked his bravado, it seemed like a daunting task.

David Cone got the ball for the Yankees in Game 3, facing Tom Glavine. Glavine also pitched well, allowing only one earned run, but left trailing 2-1. With the same scoreline in the bottom of the sixth, the Braves were threatening. Torre came out to talk to Cone, wanting the truth of how he felt. Cone, who was supposed to have missed the season after shoulder surgery, said he felt fine. Torre knew he was probably not telling the truth, but he also understood the competitive nature of pitching. Torre left Cone in. And Cone got out of the inning with the lead. Bernie Williams homered to help the Yankees score three times in the eighth, and although the Braves got a run back, it wasn’t enough. John Wetteland shut down the Braves in the ninth, and the Yankees won 5-2 to get back in the series.

Game 4 showed the resilience of the Yankees team that year. It would be a battle of fourth starters. Denny Neagle went for Atlanta, while a largely ineffective Kenny Rogers went for New York. Fred McGriff homered to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second, and three more runs, including a bunt single by Jeff Blauser, drove Rogers from the game in the third inning trailing 5-0. After five innings, it was 6-0 Atlanta, who were twelve outs away from a 3-1 series lead. But the sixth inning spelled trouble for Neagle.

Derek Jeter led off the top of the sixth with a pop up into foul territory. Inadvertently, umpire Tim Welke impeded the progress of right fielder Jermaine Dye, who was chasing the ball. The ball fell foul. Given another chance, Jeter singled to start a three-run rally. Torre had talked about cutting the lead in half, and had it. Despite this, the Braves kept that three-run lead into the eighth, with Mark Wohlers attempting to get a two-inning save.

Third baseman Charlie Hayes dribbled a ground ball to third base that stayed fair by mere inches. Former Met Darryl Strawberry singled to put two runners on. A fielder’s choice forced out Strawberry, putting runners at the corners with one out. Pinch hitter Jim Leyritz came up to bat. After he worked the count to 2-2, Wohlers missed over the plate with a slider. Leyritz smashed it to left. Andruw Jones went back, but couldn’t get it. Home run. The game was tied. Once again, the Braves had a collapse from their bullpen. And for Wohlers, his career never recovered after that. By 1999, he’d be in the minors with the Reds.

(Gary Thorne’s call of the Jim Leyritz home run that tied Game 4. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

The 6-6 tie stayed that way through the ninth and tenth, with Yankee pitcher Graeme Lloyd getting McGriff to hit into an inning-ending double play in the tenth. Heading into the top of the eleventh, Steve Avery came in out of the bullpen. As good as Avery had been for Atlanta, he was now past his prime. He got the first two outs of the inning, but then a walk to Tim Raines and a Jeter singled forced him to intentionally walk the bases loaded. With light-hitting Andy Fox due up, Torre countered by sending in former Red Sox star Wade Boggs to pinch-hit. Boggs was the last player Torre had left on his bench. But on a full count, Boggs’ patience paid off, drawing a walk to force in the go-ahead run. Brad Clontz relieved Avery and gave up another run on a pop up that was misjudged by Ryan Klesko. It was now 8-6, and Wetteland had another easy save. The Yankees had rallied to tie the series.

Game 5 was a pitcher’s duel between Smoltz and Pettitte. They traded zeroes for the first three innings. In the top of the fourth, Charlie Hayes lofted a fly ball to Marquis Grissom in center field. At the last minute, Jermaine Dye crossed in front of Grissom, who dropped the ball for a two-base error. A groundout and a Cecil Fielder double scored the run. Pettitte ran into trouble in the sixth, when Smoltz and Grissom singled. Mark Lemke attempted a sacrifice bunt, but Pettitte made the play and forced Smoltz at third. Then, Chipper Jones hit a grounder that Pettitte recovered. Double play! Just like that, he was out of the inning.

Still, the Braves were threatening. Despite never pitching a complete game yet, Pettitte went out in the bottom of the ninth. Chipper Jones rocked him for a leadoff double, and after McGriff grounded out, Torre brought in John Wetteland. Javy Lopez grounded out, but then Ryan Klesko walked to put the winning run on first. Up came Luis Polonia. After fouling off seven pitches, Polonia lined a fly ball to Paul O’Neill in right field, playing on sore legs. O’Neill raced to stick out his glove. Caught! If it fell, the game would have been tied, or perhaps the Braves would have won. Instead, O’Neill’s catch ended the game, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead heading back to the Bronx. Torre’s prediction had come true.

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(Paul O’Neill makes the catch to save the fifth game. Photo courtesy of http://www.newyork.cbslocal.com

Many in Atlanta felt like the victims of a practical joke. Heading into Game 6, it would be up to Jimmy Key. Adding to Torre’s desire was the fact that his brother Frank underwent open-heart surgery the night before. Greg Maddux tried to save the season for Atlanta. But in the third inning, with a runner on third, catcher Joe Girardi lofted a triple over center field, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Jeter drove him in with a single, and then stole second. Then another single made it 3-0 Yankees.

The Braves got a run back to make it 3-1. Later, it looked like Grissom had stolen second, but he was called out (and the call was later proven to be blown), and Bobby Cox was ejected. The Braves had run themselves out of a run, as a double later in the inning would have made it 3-2. After Mariano Rivera pitched two innings to keep the lead, Wetteland came in one last time.

That baserunning gaffe, accurately called or not, would come back to bite the Braves. With two on and two out, Marquis Grissom singled to bring the Braves back to within a run. Had Grissom been called safe, the game would have been tied. It was up to Mark Lemke to keep the Braves alive. This time, Lemke lifted a pop up into foul territory towards third base. Charlie Hayes waited. He made the catch, and for the first time since 1978, the Yankees were champions. Atlanta’s reign came to an end. And for Joe Torre, he finally had his title. A huge weight was lifted off his shoulder.

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(The Yankees win the 1996 World Series, their first tile in eighteen years. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.)

Fun Facts 
There’s a famous photo of Wade Boggs riding on the back of a police horse after the Yankees clinched. For Red Sox fans, this was extremely painful, as Boggs was one of their best players for eleven years, and would have won with them in ’86 had the Buckner play not occurred. He was also known for his superstitions: he wrote the Yiddish word “chai,” meaning “life,” in the batter’s box before each at-bat, and would eat chicken three times a day on game days.

For the first time since 1906, the road team won the first five games. Game 6 was the only game won by the home team this year.

For the third time in the decade, Atlanta lost the series despite outscoring the winning team.

Graeme Lloyd, the winning pitcher in Game 4, is believed to be the first and only Australian to be on a World Series-winning roster.

This is the third time the Yankees rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win the Series, joining 1958 and 1978. For the third straight time, the team that overcame this deficit lost the first two games at home (the ’85 Royals and ’86 Mets). No team has rallied from an 0-2 deficit since.

The Braves became only the fourth team to lose a game 1-0 on an unearned run. The most recent team before this was the 1986 Mets, who also won the Series.

The Yankees are the most recent team to date to win Games 3, 4, and 5 on the road.

Games 3-5 were the final postseason games played at Fulton County Stadium.

Atlanta became the only city to host a World Series and the Olympics in the same year.

Luis Polonia of the Braves had three stints with the Yankees and would join their 2000 title-winning team.

John Wetteland became only the second reliever (after Dennis Eckersley) to earn four saves in one round of the postseason.

Jeffrey Maier, the kid who pulled the ball back over the fence in the ALCS, was ironically considered for the draft by the Baltimore Orioles. An Orioles fan went on to make a documentary called I Hate Jeffrey Maier, and Maier appeared in it. While Maier was not selected in the 2006 MLB draft, he left Wesleyan University as the all-time leader in hits for the school. As a result of his play, Yankee Stadium installed a net over the outfield fence to prevent further controversy.

This was the first World Series broadcast done on FOX. Joe Buck became the second-youngest broadcaster in World Series history at age 27 (Vin Scully was 25 in 1953).

Speaking of television, the Braves became the first team to appear on all four major networks to broadcast a World Series – ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. Only the Philadelphia Phillies have duplicated this feat since.

This was the first time the World Series logo was featured on the side of players’ hats, a practice that continues to this day.

John Smoltz is the only pitcher with at least 200 wins and 100 career saves. He would turn to the bullpen after an arm injury in the late 1990s threatened his career. 1996 was the only 20-win season of his career.

Jimmy Key and Greg Maddux, the starting pitchers in the decisive Game 6, led their respective leagues in wins in the 1994 strike-shortened season.

Final Thoughts 
“Clueless Joe” was no more. Much like Casey Stengel, the Yankee magic did wonders for his managerial career. A new Yankees dynasty was about to be born, much to the chagrin of the rival Red Sox and everybody else. In just five years, Torre clinched his spot in the Hall of Fame.

References and Sources 
Baseball Almanac
Baseball Reference
Wikipedia
YouTube
Getty Images.
http://www.banishedtothepen.com
http://www.newyork.cbslocal.com
http://www.sportslistoftheday.com
http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1996.html
http://www.mlb.com
New York Daily News. 
Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
Huffington Post. 
The Tenth Inning (Ken Burns)
Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame….Bobby Cox (ESPN Classic)
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
Yankees Suck! (Jim Gerard)
The Underground Baseball Encyclopedia (Robert Schnakenberg)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Lists (Andrew Postman, Larry Stone)
Chasing the Dream (Joe Torre)
The Yankee Years (Joe Torre, Tom Verducci)

Boston Red Sox breakdown – September 2016

As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, they come into the weekend with a two-game lead over Toronto, although four teams in the AL East (with the exception of Tampa Bay) are jockeying for position, all within four games of each other.

The good news is that Rick Porcello joined the 20-win club last night (September 9). Not only is he the first member of the club this year, he’s the first Red Sox pitcher to win twenty games since Josh Beckett in 2007. He’s got four starts left, and has been undefeated at home. I think he’s got a good shot for at least two more wins. With the Sox in the heat of a pennant race, they face J.A. Happ in Rogers Centre in Toronto. Happ goes for his 18th today, so if he’s going to join the club, Boston needs to make him earn it.

More importantly, the pitching matches don’t favor Boston in this series. Aaron Sanchez is 13-2 against 6-10 Clay Buchholz. Although Buchholz has been rebounding over the last month, he’s been inconsistent due to injuries, and perhaps attitude.

So, are the Red Sox out of it? Hardly. They need a little bit of help, but they certainly have the numbers.

With that said, scheduling will be tough. All of their remaining 22 games are against division foes, and only three against last-place Tampa Bay (all three on the road, and not until September 23). Twelve of those twenty-two games are on the road. With a shaky bullpen, and slightly inconsistent starting pitching, can the offense help them to the division title? To win the division, I think they need to win at least twelve more games, probably thirteen. A 92-70 finish might be enough. With Baltimore and Detroit battling for Wild Card positioning, I think Boston controls their own destiny.

One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be a nerve-wracking and exciting stretch run.

Pennant races are heating up! September 8, 2016

Updates as of September 8, 2016.

American League
1. Texas Rangers (83-57)
2. Cleveland Indians (81-58)
3. Boston Red Sox (78-61)
Wild Card 1: Toronto Blue Jays (77-62)
Wild Card 2: Baltimore Orioles (76-63)
Still in contention: Detroit Tigers (75-64, 1 GB of Baltimore)
Still in contention: Houston Astros (74-65, 2 GB of Baltimore)
Still in contention: New York Yankees (73-65, 2.5 GB of Baltimore)
Still in contention: Kansas City Royals (72-67, 4 GB of Baltimore)

National League 
1. Chicago Cubs (89-50) – magic number is 9
2. Washington Nationals (82-57)
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (79-60)
Wild Card 1: San Francisco Giants (74-65)
Wild Card 2: St. Louis Cardinals (73-65)
Still in contention: New York Mets (74-66)