Giant Steps


Last weekend, amid the so-called Greatest Day in New York Sports, the National League New York Giants entered the picture and managed to go 1-1. The win came at the expense of Roger Clemens, whose defeat by the Mets Sunday night halted the threat to Carl Hubbell’s record streak of 24-straight winning decisions for the Giants in 1936­37. Hubbell’s streak ended on Memorial Day in front of more than 60,000 fans at the Polo Grounds, the second-largest crowd ever to see baseball there. After the game, Hubbell was presented with the ’36 NL MVP award by another pretty fair ballplayer— Babe Ruth.

The loss came with the death of Eddie “The Brat” Stanky, the Giants resourceful leadoff hitter and second baseman best known for jumping on Leo Durocher’s back following Bobby Thomson’s famous home run that won the ’51 NL pennant. Durocher, who had also managed Stanky when both were with the Dodgers in the mid ’40s, was fond of saying, “Stanky can’t hit, run, or throw. All he can do is beat you.” After winning the pennant in ’47, Branch Rickey traded Stanky so that Jackie Robinson could play second base. Stanky proceeded to help the ’48 Braves win the pennant. Durocher grabbed him for the Giants in ’50, and in ’51 Stanky hit 14 homers for that miracle team, almost half his career total. Stanky was not beneath using racist trash talk to goad Robinson that year, but so intense was the Giants-Dodgers rivalry that the elder statesman among the Giants black players, Monte Irvin, just smiled and said, “That’s fine with me, Eddie.” And in a steal attempt in the ’51 World Series against the Yanks, Stanky kicked the ball from Phil Rizzuto’s glove and slid safely into second base. It ignited a Giants rally, and Rizzuto, stating the play was illegal rather than admitting he was outmaneuvered, would never speak to Stanky again.

Subterranean Series

It’s tough to do the right thing and still get slammed for it. By doubling the number of Subway Series games, Major League Baseball threw an uncharacteristic bouquet to its fans. (Sportswriters who complain about how this dilutes the uniqueness of the event are like rock critics who whine that Bruce Springsteen should go back to playing small clubs; they’d change their tune real quick if they had to camp out for tickets.)

The games themselves were better theater than Death of a Salesman. When Derek Jeter jacked his Game 1 homer, Yankee Stadium rocked like it hadn’t since the Chuck Knoblauch/Tino Martinez back-to-backers in the Fall Classic. On Saturday, a tasty cross-cultural pitching matchup was punctuated by a Yankee comeback and a coaching staff putsch worthy of George Steinbrenner. And on Sunday, streaks of all kinds came to an end— Roger Clemens winning, the Mets losing, Jeter getting on base, and Joe Morgan insisting the Big Red Machine would make mincemeat out of these Yankees.

But nobody— except the three sellout crowds— seemed to notice. Depending on whether or not you followed the French Open, the series was the third or fourth biggest sporting event of the weekend. No, baseball’s schedule makers— who won’t pencil in World Series games on Monday for fear of butting heads with Monday Night Football— couldn’t have predicted this harmonic convergence of sports karma. But the Belmont and the NBA playoffs didn’t exactly sneak up on them. Next time, guys, how about looking at a calendar?

A Very Sticky Wicket

International sport is littered with political fallout— take the 1969 Honduras­El Salvador soccer war, or the 1990 riot between football clubs Red Star Belgrade and Dynamo Zagreb that many believe was the catalyst to a decade of Balkan confict. But in terms of deep-seated national hatred, there could have been no greater grudge match than Tuesday’s meeting of India and Pakistan in the second round of the Cricket World Cup, currently being held in England.

India and Pakistan have been fighting each other for more than 40 years, but with the most recent outbreak over the disputed mountain region of Kashmir and the successful tit-for-tat testings of nuclear weapons by both nations, tension in the subcontinent is close to an all-time high.

That tension is more than manifested by cricket fans in the two feuding neighbors, says Indian writer Harsha Bhogle. “When it comes to India and Pakistan, we are not a mature audience,” Bhogle told The Guardian newspaper. “The child and the beast in us rear their heads simultaneously.”

Throughout the early ’90s, both sides met only on neutral territory. But in 1997, in a form of cricket diplomacy, India toured Pakistan, and then this winter, Pakistan traveled to India. It was not a complete success. First the Hindu ultranationalist party Shiv Shena dug up the pitch in Delhi, and then, in Calcutta, Indian fans rioted and the match had to be completed in an empty stadium.

As the teams prepared for yesterday’s match, Pakistan’s captain, Wasim Akram, called on his supporters to remain calm, while political leaders of both nations prayed their team would give the opposition a sound stuffing.

contributors: Stu Hackel, Allen St. John, Matthew Yeomans
sports intern: Joshua D. Gaynor
sports editor: Miles D. Seligman