Results tagged ‘ Trevor Hoffman ’

Good Luck Retirements?

So now that Gil Meche has quit, does that mean the Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series this year?

Too laughable for words? How about Milwaukee, because Trevor Hoffman has hung ‘em up while still theoretically still with the Brewers?
If you haven’t clicked away by now, don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting there’s a predictable correlation between any of these things, but there is a not insubstantial list of occasions in history in which a prominent player – or even star – has retired only to see his last team go on to win the World Series the following fall.
Three of the game’s All-Time greats managed this impossible and dubious trick. Stan Musial was a World Champ in three of his first four seasons in the majors (’42, ’44, ’46 – he spent 1945 in the service) and then slogged it out with some pretty bad Cardinals teams for the next 17 years before retiring after the ’63 campaign. He then watched from the distant front office as the Birds won it all in ’64.
The other two immortals managed to miss out together. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been forced out of their player-manager jobs in Detroit and Cleveland respectively after a gambling scandal hit the American League in the late ’20s, and concluded their careers as teammates with the 1928 Philadelphia A’s. They left (Cobb to true retirement, and Speaker to a pinch hitting/managing gig with Newark of the International League), and the Athletics won the 1929 Series. Speaker had won crowns in Boston and Cleveland, but though he was in the Series in his second, third, and fourth full seasons in the majors in Detroit, the Tigers lost all three of those Classics and for everything else he did, Cobb could never claim he won a Series.
The most touching example of this impeccably bad timing would obviously be Don Mattingly, who arrived just after the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series. Mattingly suffered through the worst of the Steinbrenner years at Yankee Stadium from 1982 to 1993 without once seeing the post-season. Mattingly’s ’94 Yanks, a pretty good team, were snuffed out by the strike, and in ’95, when he finally reached the playoffs after having announced his retirement, they blew a chance at what would’ve been his only Series appearance by coughing up the 2-0 lead to the Mariners. The Yankees, with Tino Martinez in Donnie Baseball’s stead at first base, went on to win the Series in 1996.
Amazingly there are at least two other Yankee first basemen who did the same thing, although neither had as much to complain about as did Mattingly. George McQuinn retired after the 1948 season, just before the Yanks went on their run of five straight Championships. But McQuinn had already gotten his ring with the ’47 Yankees.
McQuinn’s retirement opened up a path for Joe Collins to take over much of the work at first base in the Bronx. Collins was hardly cheated: he only played eight full seasons but was on six World’s Champs. When the Yanks decided to trade him to Philadelphia after they lost the 1957 Classic, Collins retired – and New York rebounded to win the 1958 crown.
Mathematically, with all those titles, it’s not surprising that there are at least four other Yankees on this strange list. They began asking “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” in the winter of 1951 when he retired. With nine rings in just thirteen years on the field, the Yankee Clipper did not get shortchanged. Nevertheless, New York won two more in his first two years away from the game. The talented Jerry Coleman, still going strong in the Padres’ booth just 53 years later, quit the Yanks after the ’57 loss to Milwaukee and, like Collins, missed the ’58 crown. His fellow Yankee infield stalwart Gil McDougald retired after the ’60 loss to Pittsburgh and thus missed the ’61 win over Cincinnati and the ’62 victory over San Francisco. And of the most recent vintage, Mike Mussina’s triumphant climax to his great career, his first 20-win season in his swan song of 2008, also meant he missed out on what would’ve been his only ring in 2009.
This list is probably incomplete; I confess to having done it off the top of my head. But Pee Wee Reese is on it, retiring from the 1958 Dodgers and so on their ’59 Series winners only as a coach. If you want a manager, take Earl Weaver. He retired from the Orioles after 1982. They won it under Joe Altobelli in 1983. Making things worse, the Birds soured on Altobelli in ’85 and Weaver un-retired for two unhappy seasons. 
There are a couple of judgement calls, too. Tim McCarver called it quits from the Phillies at the end of 1979 and went into the broadcasting booth, only to be activated in September, 1980 when rosters expanded. But he was back in civvies for the World Series triumph, which would’ve been his first since St. Louis in 1964. There is also the iffy case of Harvey Haddix. The Baltimore Orioles traded the veteran pitcher to Milwaukee in August of 1965, but Haddix told the Braves he was intending to retire in a month and they shouldn’t waste money or players on obtaining him. In fact, his last major league game was on August 28, 1965, so I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not he qualifies on the bad timing roster considering the ’66 edition of the Orioles won the Series.
Lastly, the most frustrating case I can recall would have to be that of Mel Harder, the Cleveland Indians pitcher for whose Hall of Fame candidacy Ted Williams never stopped lobbying. Harder joined the Tribe in 1928, eight years after they’d taken the Series under player-manager Speaker. He won a tidy 223 games before finally giving up after his 20th season in Cleveland, in 1947. The Indians promptly won the 1948 World Series, in no small measure because of their rookie pitching coach – Harder himself. He stayed in that job through 1963 (and obviously the Indians never won the Series after his first year). To expand our terms a little bit, when the Indians let him go, Harder quickly hooked on as pitching coach of the Mets (five years before their Championship). He would move on to the Reds in ’66 and stay through 1968, exiting just before The Big Red Machine rose to prominence.
So if the Royals or Brewers surprise everybody this year, maybe you know why.

The Unbearable Lightness of Perfect Games

There have been 20 official Perfect Games (sorry, Harvey Haddix; sorry, Pedro Martinez) in baseball history, and thanks to Dallas Braden and now Roy Halladay, there have been two of them in just twenty days.

Of course it’s more preposterous than that. Because Mark Buehrle threw his perfecto for the White Sox just last July 23rd, there have now been three perfect games (15 percent of all of them, ever) in the last 130 days of Major League Baseball play.
Wait – it gets worse. The first perfect game, by Lee Richmond of Worcester of the National League, was thrown on June 12, 1880. The second, by Johnny Ward of Providence (also still in the NL that season), took place just five days later. So now we’re talking about a quarter of all of them, ever, being concentrated in a net span of 135 days of play.
Wait – it gets worse still. After Richmond and Ward set the standard for pitching perfection in less than a week, the next perfect game thrown in their league, was a mere 84 years and four days after Ward’s, on June 21, 1964. That was Jim Bunning’s 27-for-27 against the Mets, which, to round it out neatly, was the last such game thrown by a Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher until Halladay did it tonight in Miami.
And yes, therein lies the last bizarre coincidence. Halladay’s victim: Florida. Braden’s, three weeks ago? Tampa Bay. Buehrle’s, last year? Tampa Bay. Those three perfect games in the 130-day span were each against the two Florida teams.
HELMETS AND GROUP HUGS:
Baseball got lucky again; David Huff of the Indians was sending out his own health updates on Twitter, and actually back in the ballpark with his teammates before they finished their rally against the Yankees. But the luck can’t last forever: at the current rate of growth of bat speed, a pitcher will be maimed or killed before the decade is out, and the sport must take any action that will even slightly reduce the chance or delay the possibility. The easiest solution has been mentioned here before: since at the end of their deliveries, pitchers are closer to batters, than batters were when the pitchers released the ball, pitchers and batters alike should be wearing helmets. Period.
As to the Kendry Morales disaster, this too has been coming for awhile (ask Jake Peavy about it, or Denny Hocking). You are not excluded from the laws of physics just because you’re happy and celebrating. Presumably this needs no new rules, just players seeing the videotape.
MAYBE IT’S THE DO:
Having just watched John Axford (right) record his second career save with a 1-2-3 inning against the Mets, I’m beginning to wonder if half of closing is style.
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                                   COURTESY WPIX-TV
Axford’s story is well-known now: Notre Dame, Tommy John surgery, transfer, independent ball, released, A-ball last season, and suddenly thrust into succeeding Trevor Hoffman in Milwaukee when his velocity jumped up to the mid-90′s this spring. Plus he donned the Rollie Fingers style handlebar. The gentleman on the left you may not recognize, and if he had his way, this photo would never have seen the light of day. It is during his time in the Puerto Rican Winter League of 1972-73, at which point his career stats were 7-1, 4.28, 2 saves. Soon would come a Fu Manchu (and a grownup haircut), 309 more saves and eventually Cooperstown. That’s Rich Gossage, aged 21, and, no, the hair wasn’t attached to the cap.

Tea Leaves

If you have a fantasy league team – or just like to play Closer Roulette – there is nothing more perversely fascinating than to watch an actual big league club suddenly go to Bullpen Plan B, or even Plans C and D, seven weeks into the season.

Such a scenario seems to be playing out in Milwaukee where future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman may have finally taken a curve he can’t handle. Carlos Villanueva was handed the keys and wound up on the sidewalk, too. And suddenly it was rookie John Axford successfully stanching the flow in Minnesota Sunday, with his fellow freshman Zach Braddock setting up.
The key for reading signs in Milwaukee was Tuesday’s game, and with the Brewers up 2-0 on Houston in the seventh it seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out what Ken Macha had in mind. Then the Brewers scored four and suddenly there was nothing to be gauged by the exercise innings of Villanueva and Todd Coffey in the 8th and 9th.
Maybe there was. While it was still 2-0, Macha had Villanueva warming up to pitch the 8th, putting the lie to the presumption that Axford had pitched Sunday only because Villanueva was overworked. We will never know who Macha would have used in a save situation, but it clearly wasn’t going to be Carlos.
Brewer management, incidentally, is giddy over the power arms of the two rookies. It is always sad to see the possible end for a class act and nearly unbeatable performer like Hoffman (and make no mistake about it, this could easily be the end), and it seems a little cruel to hear of two guys who combined don’t have a week invested in the pension plan drawing drools, but such is baseball life.
All of which reminds me somehow of one of those rare instances in which Rotisserie can speak volumes about reality. I am in my fourth year with a bunch of actors in an NL-only league. Among the ten of us, and counting 12 guys on our two-man disabled lists, we “own” 262 National League players. Only ten of them are Pittsburgh Pirates and it’s only that high because somebody just took a flier on Neil Walker (the other nine are Doumit, Cedeno, LaRoche, Jones, McCutchen, Milledge; Dotel, Hanrahan, and Meek – we count Holds).

Best Baseball Autobiography Since Bouton?

Dirk Hayhurst’s description of himself for the author’s ID in his upcoming book The Bullpen Gospels reads in part, “Dirk is a former member of the San Diego Padres, and after this book gets printed, a former member of the Toronto Blue Jays.”

I’m not sure he’s correct. In fact, I’m not sure that in these times when so many fans feel like they’re constantly having the wool pulled over their eyes by athletes ill-equipped for the attempt, if Hayhurst’s constant honesty, his remarkable candor, his drumbeat of unadorned confessed self-doubt, and his seamless writing, won’t resonate through the sport like the first true wonderful day of spring when the game and the weather finally reassure you that winter has been beaten back, at least for a season.
In fact, I’m not sure that he hasn’t written the best baseball autobiography since Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. For Hayhurst, who bombed as a starter for the Padres in 2008 and then showed promise out of the Jays’ bullpen the season past, has written what Bouton wrote, and what a decade before Bouton, what Jim Brosnan wrote – a book that is seemingly about baseball but which, as you read further and further into it, is obviously much bigger than that. These are books about life: struggle, confusion, purpose, purposelessness, and the startling realization that achievement and failure are nearly-identical twins, one which gnaws and deadens, the other which just as often produces not elation but a tinny, empty sound.
Brosnan’s achievement, in The Long Season and Pennant Race, was to introduce to a world which previously had no information of any kind on the subject, the concept of athlete as human being. What did he have to do when demoted, or traded? What happened when management changed? Was there a Mrs. Athlete, and could they share a martini now and again? (answer: You bet). 
Bouton’s breakthrough was to show the concept of athlete as flawed human being. Too many martinis, some of them shared with women other than Mrs. Athlete. Athletes who might not have been geniuses on the field or off, but who seemed invariably managed and coached by men even less intelligent. The struggle to self-start as one’s team sank from optimism, to contention, to inconsistency, to irrelevance, to embarrassment. And yet, were they enjoying themselves, did their lives change for the better, was being an athlete fun? (answer: You bet).
And now here is Hayhurst, who may single-handedly steer baseball away from the two decades-long vise grip of Sport-As-Skill-Development. Since my own childhood, we have ever-increasingly devalued every major leaguer but the superstar. Late in the last century we began to devalue every minor leaguer but the top draft choice. If you don’t make it into somebody’s Top Prospects list, you might as well not exist. Dirk Hayhurst is writing of his days, his months, his years, as far away from the Top Prospects lists as imaginable. He is, in The Bullpen Gospels, often the last man on an A-ball pitching staff, and trying to answer a series of successively worsening questions cascading from the simplest of them: Why?
This, of course, is why the book transcends the game. It’s not just Dirk Hayhurst’s existential doubt about whether he’ll reach the majors or why he’s still trying or if he shouldn’t be helping the homeless instead of worrying about getting the last out of a seven-run inning. He is experiencing the crisis of reality through which we all pass, often daily: when our dreams about life crash head first into its realities, what the hell are we supposed to do then?
Thus The Bullpen Gospels is a baseball book the way “Is That All There Is?” is a Leiber-Stoller pop song by Peggy Lee from 1969. It is the primordial battle of hope and faith and inspiration versus disillusionment and rust and inertia.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? But of course therein lies the delightful twist: like Brosnan and Bouton before him, Hayhurst repeatedly rediscovers the absurd hilarity of it all, and the book is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. And like all great artists, he pulls back curtains we never thought to investigate: from how assiduously minor leaguers debate which “Come-out songs” they will choose or which numbers they will wear, to the pecking order of seat locations on the ever-infamous bush league bus trip.
My favorite is probably the mechanics of something the average reader will have never heard of before, let alone have contemplated. It’s “the host family” – the living arrangements by which the non-first-rounders survive their seasons in the minors. Hayhurst hilariously defines such temporary homes as ranging from Wackford Squeers’ Dotheboys Hall, to the visitations from In Cold Blood:

Some families are the perfect model citizens, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Host family with their white picket fence and adorable little children with their cherub faces who can’t wait to be just like their new older brother. Some families are wealthy and treat you like the draft pick you always wanted to be. Some host families aren’t even families at all; some are just one person: a well-toned Cougar looking for an after-hours power hitter to keep her company between filming.

Depending on the makeup of the player, all these choices are desirable. However, they only represent one side of the coin. On the flip side, there is the family who has a pack of misbehaved trolls for children with parents who don’t believe in discipline. The reason your PlayStation has peanut butter leaking from the optical drive can be chalked up to “youthful curiosity.” You may live with a super fan who wants to play coach, manager, and parent. He’ll live vicariously through you and evaluate, criticize, judge, blog, and call the organization about you. Or you may end up with a miserable old spinster who loves cats and hates men…

Players aren’t saints either, and it takes a special family to agree to house one. If you’re a devout Catholic family, getting a Mormon player can make things a tad awkward. If you’re parents of little children, getting that Bostonian player who uses “****” for greetings, good-byes, pronouns, adjectives, verb, and prayer, might be more than you bargained for…

As this excerpt suggests (and the asterisks are mine), it doesn’t hurt that Hayhurst is a fluid and gifted writer, whose prose can take off like a jet and compel you to read for half an hour more than you have. He populates the pages of The Bullpen Gospels with teammates, some identified, some amalgamated, some under aliases – and if the book takes off, ripping the Hayhurstian masks off the more colorful ones may become a low-key hobby after the book is published on March 30 (it’s already up for pre-orders on Amazon and no doubt elsewhere – I’d get it now because I think they’ll be able to raise the price later).

The reaction will be fascinating to see. In 1970, my father endured my clamoring and bought Ball Four and read it himself before handing it to me: “I know you know all these words. Just don’t use them around the house. Read this carefully, there’s a lot of truth in here.” But ever since, we fans have been bombarded for decades by altered versions of truth, all of them writ large and desperately trying to impress us with their essential-ness. Baseball books have tended to focus only on the big, and to try to make it bigger still. We’ve gone from the unlikely accuracy of Jose Canseco’s slimy indictment of the steroid era, through the analyze-all-the-damn-fun-out-of-the-game-why-don’t-you tone of Moneyball and its imitators, through what may in retrospect be seen as a Hayhurst-precursor in Matt McCarthy’s fraudulent Odd Man Out, through dozens of historical works insisting everything that has ever happened in baseball has re-shaped the nation – Jackie Robinson (yes), the 1951 N.L. pennant race (very possibly), the 1912 World Series (no way).
Here, instead, will be a modest book by a modest relief pitcher who has appeared in the modest total of 25 major league games presenting what the modest author thinks (incorrectly) is only modest truth. He has yet to get his own major league baseball card and as I write this there are exactly two of his souvenirs available on eBay and one of them is a photo for $6.99 (“Or Best Offer”). His preface warns you if you seek scandal or steroids, look elsewhere, and the only bold face name in the whole 340 pages, Trevor Hoffman, comes across as a low-key gentleman.
And yet there in the prologue Hayhurst offers a key to what he has written and why, self-guidance to which he sticks pretty neatly: “I also believe there is more to the game than just baseball. For all the great things baseball is, there are some things it is absolutely not. And that is what this story is all about.”
Of course, just as Bouton’s exposure of the real flaws of the real men who played baseball in 1969 made them even more appealing than the phony deities into which they’d been transformed, the great things are made somehow greater by how well Hayhurst contextualizes them, how honestly he tells his story, and how vividly he takes us inside his world.

Hall of Famers and Numbers Without Wings

They don’t give me a vote.
I was once gratified to read somebody argue that they should, but if I remember correctly this was written by somebody else who also didn’t get a vote, but probably should. 
The logic behind that assertion will presumably decrease as time goes by. But it is staggering to consider that for decades, writers elected – or prevented the election of – dozens of players who they literally never saw play in a game that mattered. By the time Ron Santo was first seen by future Hall of Fame voters working in Baltimore, Boston, and all the other American League cities save for Chicago, L.A., and New York, he was a worn-out 34-year old part-time second baseman who had already hit 337 of the 342 homers he would ever hit. Seeing them on television has been the actual qualification for some large number of voter-nominee interactions since television began.
But I digress. Capsule summaries of the candidacies of those on the new ballot just released Friday:
Roberto Alomar: No, just barely. I don’t think he was as good as Sandberg and I always said Sandberg shouldn’t go in before Joe Gordon. I’m not judging Alomar on the spitting incident, I’m judging him on the fact that for whatever reason, at age 34 he not only turned from a superstar into a fringe major leaguer, but he also turned into a millstone around the neck of a franchise. The bad taste may fade with time, but right now I couldn’t vote for him.
Harold Baines: Yes, just barely. He’s hurt by the 2,866 hits – he’s in that Buckner zone. Everybody else who got to Buckner’s level of hits (2,763) has gotten in, or will, or is Pete Rose.
Bert Blyleven: Definitely. Fifth all-time in strikeouts now (passed by Clemens), by any measure one of the game’s great curveballers, and 287 wins. And by the way, those 3,701 strikeouts? They came with only 1,322 walks. 

Andre Dawson: Yes. Farcical he has had to wait.
Andres Galarraga: I just don’t see it. 399 homers in the power era just doesn’t get there.

Barry Larkin: A great player and one of my favorites, but I don’t recall ever during his playing career having had even that Alomarian sense that this could be a Hall-of-Famer. If we’re looking to put a Reds shortstop in Cooperstown, it should be David Concepcion.
Edgar Martinez: The first test of how the DH-as-position will resonate through history. I can see electing pure DH’s but to me the batting bar is a little higher for them than other batsmen who field. Two batting championships and a RBI title is not sufficient. Ferris Fain won two batting championships, too, and I don’t see a big argument for him in Cooperstown (and he did it in consecutive years, too).
Don Mattingly: Sigh, no. I wish. The back injury killed his chances – he dropped from superior to slightly-above-average. For competitive fire, diligence, class, yes. But we don’t do it that way.
Fred McGriff: Amazingly, yes. Here is the silver lining to the steroid era. Suddenly his 493 homers and ten 30-home run seasons look surprising, even refreshing, considering the worst thing he was ever accused of taking were Boring Pills. No offense, but when the Yankees had to bribe Toronto to take Dave Collins off their hands in the winter of 1982-83 and the Jays said “OK, but you have to take Dale Murray off our hands – and we want this kid McGriff,” the Yanks would have been better off saying “take Mattingly.”
Mark McGwire: Hall of Fame? For what? For pretending to Congress that nothing happened before that steroid hearing? Fine. You got your wish. Nothing happened. Your lifetime numbers are 0-0-.000. And by the way, why is it ok for him to just waltz back in as batting coach of the Cardinals? Would we let Bonds come back in? This is unacceptable, and it gives credence to the very disturbing claim that race is at play when it comes to the punishment of steroid cheats. Mark McGwire is a steroid cheater.
Jack Morris: Another beneficiary of a little perspective. I used to flinch at that 3.90 ERA. There seems very little doubt that Tom Glavine will go in on the first ballot at 3.54. I’m looking more at the 254 wins and the clutch performances. Aye.
Dale Murphy: Yes. Preposterous that he’s had to wait. Two-time MVP, thought he was tailing off at the end of one season so he went to the Instructional League that fall to work on his hitting, turned himself from a defensive disaster to a star centerfielder, and was cooperative with every fan, reporter, and vendor. During his era as an every-day starter, 1978 through 1991, he was baseball’s leading home-run hitter, and he’s not in because he hit 398 homers and not 400? And we’re seriously considering Edgar Martinez before him?
Dave Parker: To be fair, something of a victim of expectations. But when he came up he was thought to have been the best all-around talent to ascend to the majors perhaps since Mays. 339-1493-.290 with 147 steals, two batting titles, and no homer crowns, isn’t very much, I’m afraid.
Tim Raines: No. It is very close. Maybe the steals should earn him a spot. The rest of the offensive production just doesn’t.
Lee Smith: Here’s a startling question: who led his league in saves more often during his career? Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, or Trevor Hoffman? The answer is Smith (four), though Rivera (three), and Hoffman (two) can still do something about it. But doesn’t it at least suggest Smith’s 478 saves should be taken seriously, too? I vote yes.
Alan Trammell: No. I wish it were otherwise.
I do want to see how many guys vote for Shayne Reynolds.
THE UNEXPECTED BENEFIT OF WATCHING MLB NET’S ‘ALL-TIME GAMES’:
There are at least two big heavy fascinating books devoted to no less a topic than the attempt to record all of the uniform numbers worn by big leaguers. It may not fascinate you, but it fascinated two guys, including the eminent researcher Mark Stang, to take the time to do the research, and two publishers to pay the costs.
That’s why an odd vigne
tte from an odd MLB Network choice for one of its “All-Time Games” is fascinating – to a few, anyway. It’s a black-and-white video of the Montreal Expos outlasting the Pittsburgh Pirates at Jarry Park in Montreal on September 2, 1970. And at mid-game, rookie announcer Don Drysdale starts commenting to his partner Hal Kelly about the odd spectacle he’s seeing in the visitors’ bullpen. 
This – and forgive the photographed screen grab – is the spectacle:
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COURTESY MLB NETWORK

The righthander in mid-pitch is John Lamb (of the Pirates’ odd Lamb/Moose/Veale pitching staff). The lefty awaiting the throw is George Brunet, and he is not an outfielder loosening up his arm to replace Roberto Clemente. He’s a lefthanded pitcher – one who pitched fifteen seasons for nine different teams, plus thirteen more in the American minors, plus teams in Mexico up until nearly the day he died in 1991 – whom the Bucs had obtained from the Washington Senators three days earlier.
And he is wearing uniform number 4. Drysdale says to Kelly that Brunet is going to change the number as soon as possible because: a) pitchers just don’t wear “low numbers” like that, and b) Brunet has told him so. Left unspoken is the fact that Brunet, listed at 6’1″, 195, was probably closer to 220 by the time he got to Pittsburgh, and they probably gave him number 4 because, in that first year in which double-knit unis were ever used in the majors, it was likely the only shirt they had that fit him.
Both those big heavy uniform books show Brunet wearing only 22 for Pittsburgh. Yet, there he is, a few moments later, years ahead of Toronto’s Number 7 Josh Towers, actually getting into his second game as a Pirate, wearing the number they would eventually get around to retiring in honor of Ralph Kiner.
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COURTESY MLB NETWORK

As an utter sidebar, I loved watching this game until I realized that the second of my two trips to Montreal as a kid to explore unbeatable, electric (and frigid in August with aluminum seats)  Parc Jarry, was exactly one week before this game was played. Alors! This game is newer than the last time I actually saw that old field!

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