25 years ago tonight

This year is the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which arrived in Georgia the same night as a nationally televised football game at Georgia Southern University:

I’ve announced games during rain (while we announcers were outside), snow, heat, cold and wind. Two years ago, I announced a three-day-long baseball game that started on Wednesday, included a tornado warning, and then was postponed due to lightning. Two days later, the rescheduling having to be rescheduled due to pools of water on the field, the game ended during, of course, a severe thunderstorm watch.

Last year, our second game of the season ended up taking four hours because of a 45-minute halftime lightning delay. We arrived at the stadium around 6 p.m., and left at 11:10 p.m., having announced a game that was literally the length of a Super Bowl.

A hurricane would be a first, though. Hurricanes don’t get up this far north, of course, though the remnants of hurricanes can, as low-pressure areas with geographically appropriate inclement weather.


The athletic equivalent of war

University of Virginia Prof. Mark Edmundson is the author of Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game:

Football is a warlike game, and we are now a warlike nation. Our love for football is a love, however self-aware, of ourselves as a fighting and (we hope) victorious people.

Until the end of World War II, it was possible for us Americans to think of ourselves as warlike only by accident. Europe pulled us into World War I. Many Americans wished to stay out. And when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, we had no choice but to fight.

The soldiers who returned from the war by and large believed the United States was finished with conflict, at least for a long time to come. The United States was a peace-loving nation, and it had earned the right to peace.

Then came Korea, Vietnam, three wars in the Middle East and no end of flare-ups around the world. One may think our military engagements have been justified and necessary. But it is no longer really possible to think America is a deeply peaceful, or even a peace-loving nation.

That kind of thinking smacks of the era when the national game truly was baseball. That game is skill-based, nonviolent and leisurely. Grunting effort has almost no part in baseball: It’s about subtle prowess, well deployed. You can win a baseball game without hating your opponents: In fact, too much passion will probably undermine your skills.

But in football, as skilled as its players are, you had best hate your opponent, or at least simulate some hatred for the space of 60 minutes of play.

Football is urban, tough and based to a large degree on the capacity to overwhelm the other team with sheer force. Football is a tank attack, a sky-borne assault, a charge into the trenches for hand-to-hand fighting. Football is following orders and sticking to the strategy. It’s about acting as a unit and taking hits for the group.

Football is generals (coaches) and captains (quarterbacks) and the enlisted guys who play on the line.

Football is about destruction. Sure, you win by getting more points than the other team, but to get more points, you generally have to slam the life out of your opponents. You try to do away with their skill players — by violence. Knock out the first-string quarterback and chances are you willwin.

It is beautiful, to be sure. The wide receiver competes with the ballet dancer in grace and style. The runner recalls the flashing leopard, the tiger on the move. It’s lovely to watch. War can be beautiful, too, one understands. The bombs create a memorable light. The crack of rifles is its own music.

The rise of football over baseball is about a change in America’s self-image. We’ve been ready to fight always (ask the Indian tribes or the Spanish who controlled much of the Southwest), but we haven’t been ready to admit it. Now it’s harder to escape the truth.

When people are willing to get publicly enthusiastic about football, they are showing a willingness to get enthusiastic about struggle and strife — maybe even about war, if they feel it is necessary. Granted, almost all games are sublimations of war. But no game is as close to war without slipping over to war as football is.

Aristotle thought the purpose of a violent spectacle was to purge dangerous feelings from the audience. Tragedy discharged the excess of pity and fear that built up in individuals. They left the theater feeling clean.

But Plato says something different. Plato fears we become what we behold. See violence enacted on a stage and your capacity for violence will increase. To Plato, football would feed a national capacity for violent action and be fed by it in turn.

From this point of view, football and war could enter a mutually energizing relation with each other: the more football, the more war; the more war, the more football.

If the modern world is truly a place where a nation must be ready to fight constantly to survive, then perhaps football serves a general good. But whether the only way to thrive as a nation and a people is through the capacity for warfare, one can certainly doubt.

The poet William Blake looked forward to a day when the wars of swords would be over and when men and women would hash out their differences through argument and imagination, through what he called the arts of mental fight.

May that day come soon.

I’m not sure if Edmundson’s close is an indictment of just war or football as well. Chess as a spectator sport is unlikely to become popular, in the latter case. Edmundson’s quoting Plato is belied by the fact that football does not come close to the amount of off-field violence that has been found in soccer. (Including the Futbol War of 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras, which started with, yes, a soccer World Cup qualifying match, and ended with 3,000 dead Salvadorans and Hondurans in 100 hours. American football also has nothing in its history like the 1985 European Cup final, where 39 people died and 600 were injured before the final, and the match was played because of fears of more violence had the match been canceled. As far as football, Aristotle tops Plato.)

I also think Edmundson’s depiction of football as “urban” is inaccurate. Other than big cities in Florida and Texas, football is more a small-town sport. There are no football-power high schools in Milwaukee or Madison, though there are in the Milwaukee suburbs. The urban sport is really basketball. But come to a small town in Florida and Texas, and even in this state, and you will see where football rates.

It should be obvious that the modern world is truly a place where a nation must be ready to fight constantly to survive. It also should be obvious that, unless you think that such concepts as freedom and self-determination are unimportant enough to fight those would take those away, yes, the only way to thrive as a nation and a people is through the capacity for warfare.

More on the warlike game later.

The season that begins tonight

With high school football starting tonight (or later this afternoon, in my personal case), Buzzfeed passes on truisms from the ultimate high school football coach, Dillon Panthers coach Eric Taylor from NBC-TV’s “Friday Night Lights”:

1. He taught us to keep our composure.

2. And the importance of being punctual.

3. He taught us responsibility.

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

5. He taught us character.

6. And how to earn people’s respect.

12. And to tell the people close to you that you’re proud of them.

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

16. And how to be champions.

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us
17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us
17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

17. But most importantly, he taught us these six words to live by…

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

Come to think of it, this doesn’t have to apply just to high school football. Or to high school.

Bet on the Brewers?

I am highly dubious about the premise of this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story:

The math keeps getting better for the Milwaukee Brewers.

After sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers in improbable and relentless fashion, the Brewers now have the best record in the National League at 70 wins and 55 losses, and lead the St. Louis Cardinals by three games in the National League Central.

The Brewers can go 18-19 down the stretch while the Cardinals would have to finish 22-17 just to force a tie for the division lead.

With fewer than 40 games to go, how likely is it that the Brewers make the playoffs? I compiled a handful of projections and put them in a table:

Brewers’ playoff odds, as of 08/17
FanGraphs’ projections mode 82.9%
Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds report 88.4%
Sports Clubs Stats’ projections 94.7%

Those percentages all went up compared with last week’s projections.

For a further explanation on the accuracy of baseball forecasting and why I use FanGraphs’ data, click here.

Click on the link, and you’ll get additional data, if that’s what you want to call this, about the Brewers’ chances beyond just getting into the playoffs as of earlier this week.

The more up to date data can be found at FanGraphs, and you get a different set of predictions there. Those projections have the Brewers and Cardinals tying for the NL Central title, with 88 wins each. The Brewers there, as of Wednesday, had a 52.8-percent chance of winning the NL Central, where the Cardinals had a 42.9 percent chance of winning the Central. That may seem like a lot, but it is actually the second closest projection (the closest is the AL Central).

One reason you probably shouldn’t buy this is that the Brewers and the Cardinals have seven games against each other in September. The Brewers are 5–7 against the Cardinals, and the Cardinals made trades to get better pitching (though that pitching hasn’t been better so far), and the Brewers haven’t. What would be worse, frankly, is for a repeat of 2011 — the Brewers get the wins over the Cardinals in the regular season, and then the Cardinals get the last laugh in the postseason.

The other is that this tries to predict based on past performance. If you believe the Brewers have been playing over their heads (suffice to say that no one was predicting the Brewers would be in first place in late August), regression to the mean predicts an ugly September, particularly given their schedule (harder than the Cardinals’ schedule) and their lack of big-game-experienced pitching.

Even if you buy this, you shouldn’t get your hopes up of a deep playoff run. The Brewers have just an 8.8-percent chance of getting to the World Series and a 2.8-percent chance of winning the World Series.

This Debbie Downer act of mine (but I am far from the only fan who feels this way) disgusts Gene Mueller:

The Brewers are atop the National League Central by three games as the new week begins, fresh off a sweep of the Los Angeles freakin’ Dodgers.  It’s a lofty perch they’ve held since well-before you mailed in your income taxes.  Think about that for a second, fans: a club given paltry-at-best chances of contending has been in first place for more than four months. …

But from Opening Day on, when the team’s early success was a pleasant surprise until these back-to-school-days of summer, there’s been an undercurrent flowing among fans, one that oozes doom and gloom, one that reeks of pending despair.

Jonathan Lucroy is an MVP candidate. Aramis Ramirez is strong and steady at third. Carlos Gomez is remains a beast.  Ryan Braun fights gamely on even though he’s left with only one functioning opposable thumb.  Starting pitching? No worries–beyond a pleasant surprise, in fact.  So what’s not to love?  Why are so many True Blue members of the Brew Crew so…blue?

They worry about Braun’s functionality. They fret about first base where Lyle Overbay isn’t the doubles machine we loved during his first tour of duty and where Mark Reynolds is prone to the whiff between prodigious homers.  They don’t care to see Rickey Weeks sharing time with Scooter Gennett at second. They worry about Jean Segura’s slide at the plate, and Khris Davis’ issues in left field. And, they live in mortal fear about the bullpen.

Solid points, indeed, but enough to take the shine off what’s been a season for the ages so far?

A team is the sum of its parts and the bottom line for the Brewers so far is that it’s a club good enough to lead a division where no one’s caught fire.  The Cards, Pirates and Reds haven’t gone on any daunting win streaks, but then again, Milwaukee hasn’t, either.  The Brewers July swoon served to fortify the doubters, and the lack of a torrid streak keeps many wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.

St. Louis is always a threat, and the Redbirds are due to get some starting pitchers back in September, just in time for the kind of run many fear could undo the Brewers–there’s something about that red parakeet that strikes fear in the heart of even the most fervid Milwaukee seam head–while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are contending despite injuries to key position players.  It would be nice to see some of these clubs falter, but that hasn’t been the case.

The big worries for Brewers fans should be injury and the pop-gun offense: the team lacks depth among position players and losing a big bat could be a death knell.  The attack?  Milwaukee seems to score just enough to get by but too often goes into funks that leave its hitters estranged from home plate.  It’s those kind of slumps that can be enough to thwart a late-season push during a critical series, or bounce a team from the playoffs in an early round.

The trade deadline came and went with GM Doug Melvin making a deal for another outfielder, Gold Glover Gerardo Parra.  It wasn’t enough for some fans, but the asking price for other available talent seemed too high with more than a few clubs hot for Jimmy Nelson.  Sometimes, the best trade is the one you DON’T make.  That said, don’t think Melvin is done looking for help, as deals can still get done (once those involved clear waivers).  He’s not the kind of guy to sit on his hands, especially when the club is this close to the playoffs.

Cheer up, Brewers Nation!  This is the kind of season many dreamed of but few thought would happen.  Not only is your team contending in a tough division, it’s leading the pack in late August. This could be a fantastic late summer that could segue into an exciting autumn.  And, even if the worst happens, how can anyone say they’re disappointed by the kind of baseball we’ve been treated to in 2014 (factoring out a large hunk of July, of course)?

Well, for one thing, 88 projected wins isn’t that impressive, even if it’s second best in the National League. That right there probably tells you what you need to know, that the National League isn’t very good this year. The Cardinals’ odds of winning the World Series are 5.3 percent, which indirectly proves a point about the value of pitching in a short playoff series. And Melvin has nine days to get better pitching before the playoff roster deadline.


Today’s game is brought to you by … no one

The National Football League season starts in four weeks.

That may not be as noticeable in the NFL’s lesser markets, as determined by success, or lack thereof, of their teams. The NFL has a rule that blacks out TV broadcasts if the game isn’t sold out within 72 hours of kickoff (or 48 hours if the NFL grants an extension, which it usually does when asked).

This is almost never an issue in Wisconsin, though it almost was last year when the Packers’ playoff game against San Francisco went deep into the week before it was sold out. Home NFL games — even playoff games such as the Ice Bowl — were always blacked out in home markets (in the Packers’ case, Green Bay and Milwaukee) until the early 1970s.

Federal Communications Commission commissioner Ajit Pai believes the blackout rule should be wiped out, and took the opportunity of an appearance in Buffalo to say so:

There’s no better place to discuss that topic than the City of No Illusions. This city has a rich sports tradition—the Bills, as you know, remain the only team ever to win four consecutive conference championships—and Buffalo is legendary for its loyal sports fans.

In some places, fair-weather fans find it easy to cheer for the home team. But Buffalonians don’t have that luxury. They’ve suffered their share of disappointments. As one local writer put it earlier this year, “If you are a sports fan in Buffalo, you know the words let-down, heartbreak and emptiness.” Brett Hull’s triple-overtime goal against the Sabres in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup. The Braves of the NBA leaving town in 1978 to become the Clippers. And, perhaps most painfully—wide right.

Unfortunately, the heartbreak isn’t even limited to the playing field. Over the last four seasons, nine Buffalo Bills home games have been blacked out in Western New York. And that’s where the FCC comes in.

Late last year, the FCC announced that it would consider eliminating its sports blackout rule. League blackout policies can prohibit local television broadcast stations from airing games. And if the local stations can’t broadcast it, the FCC’s blackout rule prohibits cable and satellite companies (within a local blackout zone) from carrying it. This hurts fans who can’t go to the game. …

In the wake of the FCC’s announcement last year, hundreds of people around the country have given us their opinions on whether the sports blackout rule is necessary today. … And one of the most persuasive proponents for getting rid of this rule has been Buffalo’s own Congressman Brian Higgins. …

To be sure, Congressman Higgins and I don’t agree on everything. He backs the Bills. I cheer for the Chiefs. He’s a Democrat. I’m a Republican. But there are at least three things that can unite Buffalo and Kansas City partisans and folks of all political stripes. First, there’s admiration for Marv Levy, who coached both of our teams with distinction. Second, it has been, is, and always should be the Buffalo Bills. And there’s also this: The time has come for the FCC to repeal its sports blackout rule.

Why do I say that? After carefully reviewing all of the arguments, I don’t believe the government should intervene in the marketplace and help sports leagues enforce their blackout policies. Our job is to serve the public interest, not the private interests of team owners.

During my time at the FCC, I have consistently stressed the need to get rid of unnecessary regulations—of rules that have outlived whatever usefulness they once might have had, of rules that keep hard-working American consumers out of the end zone. The sports blackout rule is just such a rule. …

Right now, the FCC is officially on the side of blackouts. We should be on the side of sports fans like Jon Neubauer, who told WIVB News 4 “I can’t make it to every single [Bills] game, [but] I’m still a huge fan.” I want the FCC to help fans like him watch the stars of tomorrow: the next Andre Reed, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame (and who has stood up for Buffalo of late); the next Thurman Thomas, who made it to five straight Pro Bowls; and the next Jim Kelly, whose brave battle against cancer inspires us even more than all of his on-field heroics.

Admittedly, if the FCC’s job is not to stand up for the private interest of NFL team owners, it will be standing up for the private interest of Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN, which broadcast the games.

The NFL, meanwhile, isn’t taking this sitting down, reports The Hill:

Just in time for kickoff, the National Football League is pushing federal regulators to keep a rule on the books that forces cable and satellite companies to black out some games. …

The league argues the rule helps teams sell tickets and creates a compelling stadium atmosphere, allowing the NFL to keep games on free television.

League lobbyist Ken Edmonds and other officials met with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s legal adviser last Thursday “to emphasize that the FCC’s sports blackout rule remains necessary and in the public interest,” according to a filing made public this week.

NFL officials told the FCC that the league is working with teams “to make blackouts exceedingly rare” by letting them lower the bar of what counts as a sold-out game, and noted that attendance has increased and the number of blackouts “has dropped dramatically.”

Last year, for instance, just two of the NFL’s 256 regular season games were blacked out.

“Although the League has taken a variety of steps to accomplish that goal, the blackout rule has been a critical contributing factor to that success,” league lawyers wrote.

In recent weeks, the NFL has also sent thousands of letters to the FCC from football fans who want to keep the blackout rule alive. The league also set up a website this summer calling for fans to “protect football on free TV,” offering links to contact Congress and the FCC.

The battle is being waged over the airwaves, too.

[Lynn] Swann, the Hall of Fame wide receiver and former Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate, said in an interview with the NFL Network over the weekend that the rule “helps grow the game and helps maintain it.”

“We need to make sure to protect the game so the widest number of people possible can view it and keep it on free TV for those people who don’t buy cable packages,” said Swann. He has been taking his pitch to local sports reporters and editors across the country.

When the rules were first adopted in 1975, teams said they were necessary to ensure that fans kept attending games in person instead of just watching them on TV. The potential for games to be blacked out encouraged people to buy tickets, they say, and maintain the revenue stream.

But critics of the rules argue that times have changed. The blackout rule allows NFL teams to be immune from the normal pressures of a free market and disproportionally hurts teams in smaller cities, they say.

For now, it looks like the reformers may be winning out.

Last December, the FCC unanimously voted to move forward with a plan to end the decades-old rules.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pushed strongly for the commission to finalize that process this summer.

So far, the FCC is still reviewing the arguments and has yet to place the item on its agenda.

In the meantime, officials at the commission have held several meetings with the Sports Fan Coalition, a group pushing to kill the blackout rule.

Even if the FCC did get rid of the rule, leagues like the NFL would still be able to negotiate individually with broadcasters, cable providers and satellite companies to black out some games.

One therefore wonders why the FCC is getting involved if the blackout rule could be negotiated between the NFL and its broadcasters anyway.

There is a big issue Pai could have brought up that is an even better rationale for eliminating the blackout rule. With exactly one exception (for instance, MetLife Stadium, home of the Giants and Jets), every stadium built since 1997 used at least some taxpayer funds, and most used a majority of taxpayer funds. (That includes Lambeau Field, the early 2000s renovations for which were paid for by a 0.5-percent Brown County sales tax.) Even the stadiums that didn’t use a majority of public funding for building construction certainly used public funds for infrastructure, including new roads to get to the stadium.

That doesn’t mean that taxpayers should get into NFL games for free. That does mean that taxpayers should at least be able to see what’s going on in the stadiums their tax money built, in this case by having home games on TV.

Blue Brewing

The Thursday trade-without-waivers deadline came and went with the Brewers making one acquisition — outfielder Gerardo Parra.

At least Parra is a left-handed hitter. He has six home runs, which is six more than outfielder Logan Schaefer, and two fewer than occasional lead-off hitter Scooter Gennett. But Parra (which must mean “left-handed” in Spanish, since former Brewer pitcher Manny Parra was also left-handed) is not a power hitter. He has never hit more than 10 home runs in a season, and to expect him to hit 10 to 15 home runs the rest of this season is unrealistic.

The Brewers did not improve themselves in their two biggest liabilities — left-handed power hitting and pitching. Nearly all of the Brewers’ notable hitters — center fielder Carlos Gomez, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right fielder Ryan Braun, and third baseman Aramis Ramirez — are right-handed hitters. The Brewers platoon at first base, but the right-handed first baseman, Mark Reynolds (today’s answer to Dave Kingman) has 16 of the 20 home runs at first base. The leading left-handed power hitter is Gennett, with eight, eight more than outfielder Logan Schaefer, who was platooning in left field for a while. The Brewers also platoon at second base, which means Gennett gets the majority of the at-bats (most pitchers are right-handed, of course), but Gennett is probably not a power hitter in this or any future season.

The Brewers do not have en0ugh pitching. The Brewers have literally never had enough pitching. They do not have a number-one or even number-two starter on their staff. That includes supposed number-one starter Yovani Gallardo, who has not pitched any better than a number-three starter all season. The bigger pitching issue is late-inning relief, before closer Francisco Rodriguez (though Rodriguez has a few spectacular flameouts this season), and, again, the Brewers didn’t improve themselves there either.

My contention throughout this season is that the Brewers have been playing over their heads, and that rarely lasts for even an entire season. The Brewers’ worst stretch of the season was just before the All-Star break, when they shed their entire division lead, only to win the final game of the season and thus take a lead into the break. They still have that lead, but I think it’s highly likely that lead will disappear after their weekend in St. Louis, which starts tonight. The Cardinals picked up two pitchers this week, though neither, thankfully, was superstar lefty David Price, who went from Tampa Bay to Detroit.

Parra is a Gold Glove winner, but left field is probably the least important defensive position in the outfield. Parra isn’t going to replace Braun in right or Gomez in center, and left fielder Khris Davis has been hitting home runs in left, so it’s not clear why the Brewers got Parra at all. They needed bench help (one other player they never replaced after he left was utility player Jerry Hairston Jr., who they got during the 2011 season), but I’m not sure Parra’s that bench help either.

There were a couple of rumors, or more speculation than rumor, that the Brewers might be going after two supposedly available left-handed first basemen, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and Boston’s David Ortiz. (Ortiz started his professional career in Wisconsin, when the Timber Rattlers were a Mariners affiliate.) Neither is playing to their traditional standards. Both are up their in years. Both are on teams that apparently are shedding their older and more expensive players. Howard is due $70 million the next two seasons, but supposedly the Phillies were willing to pay “most” of that to a new team. Neither deal happened, and the waiver period’s end makes deals more difficult, though not impossible.

This should not necessarily be read as a call to replace general manager Doug Melvin. Given the Brewers’ limited resources, maybe this team is the best he can do this year. This year demonstrates, though, the downsides of building from within, in that it takes longer and the penalties for failure to develop players (for instance, left-handed power hitters) or injuries (relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson) are harsher.

Brewers fans remember the playoff seasons — 1981, 1982, 2008 and 2011. They less remember the almost-seasons — 1979, 1983, 1987 (the Brewers managed to miss the playoffs despite their 13-0 start) and 1992. And this looks now like one of those seasons, not a playoff season.


35 years ago tonight

Today in 1979, I believe I was back in Madison after nearly a month camping with my father, Boy Scouts and Scoutmaster in the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

I know I did not watch the Yankees-Brewers game at Milwaukee County Stadium that night. The game was not on TV, because the Brewers didn’t televise home games, feeling it would hurt home attendance, until the Sportsvue subscription TV service debuted in 1984. (Sportsvue then died a year later, in large part because the Brewers chose the 1984 season to crater, just two years after their World Series season and the year after the Brewers contended almost all of the season.)

It’s too bad the Yankees-Brewers game wasn’t on TV, because, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Gary D’Amato, it had everything, including an epic brawl:

OK, old Brewers fans, how many Brewers do you recognize? For that matter, how many Yankees do you recognize?

The Yankees back then were…well, how to describe them? Think of the team you despise most and multiply it by 10.

“I think there’s always a dislike for the Yankees,” said Sal Bando, then the Brewers’ third baseman. “Being in your own division (the American League East), I think there’s a bigger dislike for them.”

Owner George Steinbrenner was the symbol of big-city, big-spending conceit. Irascible manager Billy Martin had a perpetual chip on his shoulder. Reggie Jackson was the self-proclaimed “straw that stirs the drink,” with a home-run swing to match his enormous ego.

“They had some characters, some crazy guys on that team,” [first baseman Cecil] Cooper said. “But they had an awesome team with guys like Bucky Dent, Willie Randolph, Thurman Munson, Reggie, (Mickey) Rivers, (Lou) Piniella.”

The Brewers were coming into their own. After eight consecutive losing seasons (nine counting the franchise’s one year in Seattle), they’d gone 93-69 in 1978 and were en route to winning 95 games in ’79.

Bando and Cooper had arrived in 1977 to join Robin Yount and Don Money. Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner and Charlie Moore were ascending young players. Gorman Thomas had found a home in center field.

“We were a good team,” Bando said. “Oh, yeah, there was no question about it.”

Left-hander Mike Caldwell started the series opener. He was a bit of a character himself, known for carrying an expensive valise, in which he stored one item: a bottle of ketchup.

A crafty veteran who mixed speeds well, Caldwell already was known as the “Yankee Killer,” having shut out New York three times the year before.

“The Yankees always ruled the roost,” Caldwell said. “But I pitched extremely well against them my whole career. They had a lot of left-handers and free swingers in their lineup.”

The Yankees scored a run in the first inning, but Cooper answered in the bottom half with a two-out solo shot off starter Ed Figueroa. The homer earned Cooper a brushback pitch from Figueroa in his next at-bat, in the third.

“Figueroa was a different kind of guy,” Cooper said.

To underscore the point, when approached in the locker room after the game, Figueroa denied not only brushing back Cooper, but his own identity. “I’m not Figueroa,” he said, dismissing reporters while blow-drying his hair.

Jackson led off in the top of the fourth and Caldwell’s first pitch was high and tight and delivered the appropriate message.

“Mike was a hard-nosed, mean, grumpy kind of guy,” Cooper said. “He always stood up for his teammates.”

Jackson said nothing and worked the count to 2-2. On the next pitch, Caldwell again came inside, this time with a rising fastball that buzzed Jackson’s chin, causing the Yankees slugger to topple over backward.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happened, and it is truthful,” Caldwell said. “I wanted to throw Reggie a fastball on the inside part of the plate because he had some holes in his swing there. I was trying to telegraph to him that I was going to throw a curve and the ball slipped ever so slightly on my fingertips and I threw a fastball that was inside and it rode up on him.

“It turned into what you would call a perfect knockdown pitch.”

Jackson got up and dusted himself off. Caldwell then threw a curve and Jackson hit a towering pop-up to Bando at third.

Craziness ensued.

Caldwell moved toward Bando and was pointing to the ball and yelling, “Third!” when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a bat coming at him. Jackson, trotting to first base, had expressed his displeasure with Caldwell’s pitch location by flipping his bat toward the mound.

“As I’m waiting for the ball, I hear the fans yelling,” Bando said. “That usually doesn’t happen with a pop-up, so I figured something was going on.”

An angry Caldwell picked up Jackson’s bat by the fat end and slammed it into the ground. Dissatisfied that it didn’t shatter, he took a step or two toward home with the intention of breaking it on the plate. Umpire John Shulock was already coming out to meet him.

“He said, ‘No, Mike, not here,’” Caldwell said.

By then, Bando had caught the ball, Jackson had rounded first and now, shedding his glasses and helmet, was rushing the mound as the dugouts emptied.

“He got his hands around my neck and if you’ve seen pictures of it, it looks like I got killed,” Caldwell said. “His momentum carried him over me and I wound up on top of him. My right arm was pinned under his neck. I had my left arm around the front of his neck and I think I tore two or three gold chains.

“Reggie said, ‘You threw at me!’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t throw at you.’ He said, ‘You swear to God? You swear to God?’ I said, ‘Hell, yeah, I swear to God.’”

It took 10 minutes to restore order but the only casualties were Shulock, who’d gotten in the way of a punch, and Brewers manager George Bamberger, who strained a calf muscle. Jackson was ejected but Caldwell was allowed to stay in the game, none the worse for wear other than a few scratches.

Martin declared that the Yankees were playing the game under protest, and when he returned to the dugout, he was pelted with a few objects and a fair amount of verbal abuse. He started climbing into the stands but was pulled back by players and security guards.

The game finally resumed and after the Yankees went ahead, 3-2, Money drove in a run and Cooper hit a two-out, two-run homer off Ron Davis in the seventh to put the Brewers back on top, 5-3.

Randolph answered in the eighth with a two-run shot off Caldwell to tie the score. Martin brought in the flame-throwing Gossage for the ninth and he quickly retired Molitor on a groundout and Money on a fly to center. Up came Cooper.

“Gossage was one of the toughest guys I ever faced,” Cooper said. “He was a big guy and he had that Fu Manchu mustache. He looked like he could take a big piece of steak and tear it in half.”

Gossage made Cooper look bad on a couple swings and ran the count to 1-2.

The next pitch, however, wound up in Brewers’ lore. Cooper turned on a fastball and the ball traced an arc in the night sky and disappeared over the right-field wall. Cooper hopped and skipped his way around the bases, the roar of “C-o-o-p!” ringing in his ears.

Bud Selig, then the Brewers’ owner and now the outgoing commissioner, called the fans’ reaction to Cooper’s game-winner the greatest he had ever seen at County Stadium.

D’Amato tells the rest of what happened in that series. (Hint: If you were a Brewers fan, you liked the other two games too.)

The 1979 season was the only year between 1976 and 1981 that the Yankees didn’t at least win the AL East. Much of the reason was the absence of Gossage, who three months earlier had broken his thumb when he fell in the Yankee Stadium shower during a fight with teammate Cliff Johnson.

Martin (whose stops as a player included, believe it or not, the Milwaukee Braves) was, well, indescribable. His record says he was one of baseball’s best managers. He had the ability to make bad teams at least competitive; until the Texas Rangers started resembling a baseball team in the 1990s, he was their manager during the Rangers’ best season, a surprise second-place finish. Martin also managed the 1969 Twins, 1972 Tigers and 1980 Athletics to division titles.

But Martin was born, or fated, or perhaps cursed, to be a Yankee. He got the Yankees to the 1976 World Series and won the 1977 World Series, despite, among other things, a televised argument in the Fenway Park dugout with the aforementioned straw who stirs the drink. He started the 1978 season as the Yankees manager before he resigned after his comments about Steinbrenner and Jackson. (Martin said the two deserved each other; “one’s a born liar and the other’s convicted.” The latter referred to Steinbrenner’s federal conviction for illegal, as in excessive, campaign contributions to the 1972 Richard Nixon presidential campaign; the former referred to, the most recent conflict between Martin and Jackson.)

Shortly after the resignation, Martin was introduced at a Yankees Old Timers Day, where the Yankees announced that Martin was going to be the Yankees’ manager in 1980, with manager Bob Lemon (who had just been hired after Steinbrenner tried to, believe it or don’t, trade Martin for Lemon) moving to a front-office position. Martin, however, replaced Lemon after the Yankees got off to a bad start in 1979, which is how Martin was in Milwaukee that night.

There was a permanent Yankee loss shortly after this. The Yankees were in Milwaukee on a road trip that ended in Chicago before the Yankees went back to New York. On a day off before the first game of their homestand, Munson, who had gone home to Ohio, decided to take his new jet out and practice takeoffs and landings. Munson’s plane crashed, and Munson died.

Martin — who, remember, was supposed to manage the Yankees in 1980, not 1979 – didn’t get to the 1980 season. He was fired after a fight in a Minneapolis hotel with a marshmallow salesman. Really. Martin returned to manage the Yankees in 1983 (the season with the infamous Pine Tar Game), 1985 (fired again after a late-season fight with pitcher Ed Whitson) and 1988 (canned again).

Martin’s career arc at any one stop was generally (1) get hired, (2) do surprisingly well with young players,  (3) get in the playoffs, (4) burn out his young pitchers, then wear out his welcome with (5A) his players or (5B) management and (6) get fired. Martin was reportedly about to be hired by the Yankees again for the 1990 season, but he died in a car crash in late 1989.