The Dubs will be back!
With the Thanksgiving weekend beckoning, it might be prudent to take a breath and move away from politics, impeachment and Trump for a bit (clearly, Trump fatigue is setting in), and write about other things. (Wait, Thanksgiving weekend; I’m retired. Isn’t Thanksgiving weekend like any other weekend?). So, today’s Around the Block, and perhaps a few more upcoming ones, will cover the other part of the newspaper that I devour: the Sports Section. (Newspaper? Sports Section? Am I really that old?).
Despite my move to Florida, after 40+ years in the Bay Area, my team affiliations remain in place: the Giants, Niners and Warriors in particular. (Hockey and the Bay Area never made it for me; and, as you’ll see below, in a market with more than one professional team, you gotta make a choice. So, sorry A’s. And not sorry Al Davis as it never seemed possible to root for the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.
Hope you enjoy reading!
As the 2019-20 NBA season gets into full swing and the incredible reign of Golden State Warriors as one of the greatest teams in history of sports appears to be coming to a close, I thought I’d put some perspective on what it’s like to watch a team go from the very top, the absolute pinnacle, to well, mediocre at best, unwatchable at worst.
But first some background.
I grew up in Brooklyn. Although my father had absolutely no interest in sports – playing; watching; even discussing, he had two redeeming sports qualities.
The first: At least twice a season he’d get four box seats at Yankee Stadium to entertain clients at Yankee games. And, of course, he’d take me. (Entertaining clients at Yankee games was a big deal in those days – not just because the Yankees were the premiere team in the #1 baseball city in America, but because of the incredible costs involved. I mean imagine the expense report: Four box seats at $3.50 each + $.25 for the usher who dutifully showed us to our seats and wiped them down with his duster glove. Wow, at those prices it didn’t even pay to fudge your expenses!)
And the second? One of the three evening newspapers my father brought home each night was the New York Post (the others were the Journal-American and the World Telegraph and Sun). The ‘50’s Post was owned by Dorothy Schiff and was the only truly liberal paper in the city. But most important, it had the best Sports section of any newspaper in town, maybe in the world. I devoured the Sports section every night reading the Leonards (Schecter and Koppett) and the other columnists and beat reporters for their insights into our New York teams.
And, those New York teams? The basketball Knicks, the hockey Rangers, the football Giants and, of course, baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and New York Yankees.
As the only teams in their respective sports, we kids followed the Knicks, Rangers and (New York Football) Giants. While the Giants were always competitive and sometimes great, the Knicks and Rangers were dreadful…but follow them we did. (BTW, talking costs – GO tickets for the Knicks and Rangers at the old Madison Square Garden on 8th Avenue were 50¢ and 75¢ respectively in the nosebleed sections. The only problem was because of the shape of the Garden’s stands, you couldn’t see about 1/3 of the rink at Ranger games Probably didn’t matter since they were so bad.)
Baseball, however, was a problem in New York City in the ‘50’s. Were you a Dodger fan, a Giants fan or a Yankees fan? Who was the best centerfielder, Duke Snider, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?
For most kids, the problem wasn’t really a problem; you rooted for the team from the Borough you lived in. (I guess kids in Queens and Staten Island simply didn’t follow baseball then.)
I was different. Remember, my Dad was sports uninvolved and uninformed, so I couldn’t follow his lead. And, since we lived in Brooklyn, I should have been a Dodgers fan.
And then…along came Fred Shoenhunt.
Fred was a strapping, ex-Marine Gunnery Sergeant who lived next-door to us on Avenue H in Brooklyn. He reveled me in his Korean War heroics, let me try on his white Marine dress cap and talked sports incessantly. And Fred was a Yankee fan. So, I became a Yankee fan…the only kid in the neighborhood who was one. But given that the Giants and Dodgers abandoned New York after the 1957 season, I only had to endure a few years of abuse.
But what did it mean to be a Yankee’s fan in the ‘50’s? With Fred as my mentor, I really started paying full attention to the games in 1952 (yes, I was only six, but Fred was an incredible influence). And the history – five straight World Series championships from 1949 to 1953 (four of the five against either the Dodgers or Giants). American League champs in 1955*, 1956, 1957 and 1958 with Series wins in ’56 and ’58.
(*Just to keep the New York spin on this, the Yankees lost to the Dodgers in 1955 – no more “Wait ‘til next year” – it was “da Bums” first World Series championship; and in 1954, although the Yankees came in second to Cleveland in the American League, the Giants beat the Indians in a four-game World Series’ sweep.)
And then the ‘60’s. The Yanks acquired Roger Maris and went to the Series only to lose in seven games to the Pirates in the 1960 World Series. 1961, the year of the M&M boys, with Maris and Mantle battling each other to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record and a Series win over Cincinnati. In 1962 the Yankees beat the San Francisco Giants in seven. 1963, another American League championship but a dreadful World Series as the Yankees were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The only saving grace in 1963 – the star of the Series was Brooklyn’s own, and landsman, Sandy Koufax! 1964, yet another American League championship but a seven-game Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
That loss to the Cardinals was telling. The Yankees were getting old. Management was getting desperate. So much so that they fired legendary Yankee manager, Yogi Berra, and hired Johnny Keane, the Cardinals skipper.
And then, 1965. The Yankees had a losing season for the first time since 1925 finishing 25 games out of first place. An aging, hurting Mickey Mantle hit .255 with only 19 home runs. In 1966 the Yankees finished last in the American League for the first time since 1912! The Yankees did not return to the World Series until 1975.
So, what does this mean to Warriors’ fans.
Keep the faith. Celebrate the greatness of the last five years; you experienced not just great teams, but exciting, entertaining, fun teams. The Yankees demise was due to bad management (CBS owned the team during the lean years). They got back to the top because the new owner, George Steinbrenner, would do anything to win. Guess what? The Warriors owner, Joe Lacob, will do anything to win. And his leadership team, including GM Bob Meyers and coach Steve Kerr, is the best in the business.
Will it take 10 years, like the Yankees to come back? According to Lacob, “I think we’ve got a lot of good young players in place. Potentially, there’s a silver lining in all of this, who knows? And I’m very optimistic about our future. Very optimistic about our future. I think we’re going to be there at some point. Can’t say when. We’ve obviously got a lot of injuries now, but we’re going to be there.”
Let’s hope “can’t say when” and “some point” is sooner than later. In the meantime don’t despair, you could have been a Knicks fan in the ’50’s!