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October 21, 2015

Can a Diehard Yankees Fan Root for the Mets? You Betcha!

Yesterday, I was listening to ESPN Radio, to Yankees sports broadcaster Michael Kay, whom I respect, going on and on that a "diehard Yankee fan" can't possibly root for the New York Mets in the postseason. He's gone so far as to say that Mets fans should "choke on their own bile!"

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am a diehard Yankees fan. My apartment might as well be a veritable Cooperstown of Yankee memorabilia. When the Yankees face the Mets in Interleague play, I root for the Yankees. When, in 2000, the Yankees faced off against the Mets in the first Subway Series in a generation, I rooted for the Yankees, who were victorious, and who, at that time, were busy carving out a virtual dynasty of pinstripe victories (World Series wins in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000).

And remember: A diehard fan isn't a fairweather fan. A diehard fan roots for his team even when they are perpetual losers. I was only 2 years old (1962) when the Yankees of Maris and Mantle won their last World Series before the late 1970s revival of the winning franchise, though in 1970, I did see the Yankees beat the Mets in the old Yankee Stadium for that exhibition game, "The Mayor's Trophy Game." That was about the only glory I could find in Yankee land until the back-to-back 1977 and 1978 World Series wins, with great ballplayers like Ron Guidry, who won the 163rd game of 1978 (the Cy Young year that he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA), when the Yankees came back from a 14-game deficit to tie the hated Boston Red Sox, and beat them at Fenway, going on to win the American League Pennant and the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers, for the second year in a row. And then... nada. The BLEAK 1980s and early 1990s. The Yankees were most certainly NOT the "General Motors" of baseball when I was growing up. I suffered through more than a decade of this city being a Mets town. In fact, New York City has almost always been a National League town; it supported two National League teams (the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers), and it was only natural that the National League loyalists embraced the Mets when the franchise took to the Polo Grounds field (abandoned home of the New York Giants) in 1962, and later, Shea Stadium in 1964, and Citi Field in 2009. They became the Miracle Mets of 1969, winning their first World Series over the Baltimore Orioles; they went back to the Series in 1973, losing Game 7 to the Oakland Athletics, but they won the insane 1986 World Series. For diehard Yankee fans, it was literally INSANE. The New York Mets, our crosstown rivals, were facing the Boston Red Sox... yes, the DESPISED Boston Red Sox, who were living under the "Curse of the Bambino," not having won a World Series since they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Their last Series win was in 1918. Now, Michael Kay, can you honestly tell me that you weren't just a little ... elated ... that that ball went through Bill Buckner's Red Sox leggings in Game 6, leading to a Mets victory, and a subsequent Mets championship in Game 7? You can't possibly have wanted the Boston Red Sox to win over the New York Mets. I mean, above all, we are diehard New Yawkas!!! I ain't gonna be rooting for the freaking Red Sox to win over a New York team, no way, no how!

Same goes for Second City Chicago (or is that Third City?). I mean, yeah, I know, the Chicago Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908 (though we don't have to listen to the Chicago White Sox anymore, telling us that they haven't won since 1917, thank goodness!). And if the Cubbies pulled off some kind of Red Sox miracle and win four straight over the Mets, I might even want to see them settle their own scores and join the ranks of modern World Series champions.

But as long as a New York team is in the race, I'm a diehard New Yorker. However, as I said, miracles do happen. I'm a diehard Yogi Berra fan too, and it was Yogi who said "It Ain't Over Til It's Over." The Yankees ought to know. That "Red Sox miracle," I just referred to, happened in 2004. Up 3 games to none, the Yankees lost FOUR STRAIGHT GAMES to the Boston Red Sox, who took the American League Pennant, and swept the St. Louis Cardinals to end their 86-year championship drought. When they were down to their last outs in their four-game victory over the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, there was a tiny part of my heart that said, "All right, already, win the damn thing so we don't have to hear about this Curse of the Bambino anymore!" Now, that doesn't mean I was ecstatic that they went on to win the World Series in 2007 and 2013, but enough is enough!

I may never root for the Red Sox, but who can doubt the humanity of the Fenway Faithful when they broke out spontaneously in a rendition of "New York, New York," after 9/11, or the humanity of the Pinstripe Faithful when they broke out in a rendition of "Sweet Caroline" after the Boston marathon tragedy? In the end, we're all just American baseball fans, and we honor the talented, even when they are on the other team. The Red Sox did good by Derek Jeter in his last games at Fenway, and the New York Mets did no less. All of baseball paid respect to the great #2.

So just because I'm a diehard Yankees fan doesn't mean that I can't admire the talented ballplayers on other teams. (Or the theme song of other teams!) Who doesn't marvel at the achievements of the fine Mets pitchers, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, or Matt Harvey. Harvey grew up a diehard Yankees fan, and attended the last game that Derek Jeter played at Yankee Stadium in 2014, rooting on one of his baseball heroes in another one of his great finales. The teams have had amazing cross-fertilization; how could a diehard Yankee player and former Yankee manager like Yogi Berra go on and manage the Mets to a World Series? How could a Mets manager like Joe Torre, go on and manage the Yankees to four World Series championships? I have admired the achievements of Mets from Tom Seaver to Mike Piazza to David Wright, current captain of the Mets, who, like Jeter, is a class act. How does admiration of talent on another New York ballclub make one any less a diehard fan of the New York Yankees?

So as another sports broadcaster, Howie Rose, would say, "Put it in the books": "Let's Go Mets!"

Postscript: Anything stated above does not mean that I identify with obnoxious Yankees fans who think they have a birthright to a World Series trophy, or to obnoxious Mets fans, who are usually expressing their Yankee hatred out of envy (my brother and sister-in-law, Mets fans, are, of course, exceptions!). And it should be noted that I have rooted for the Mets in the National League for as far back as I can remember. How else could the Yankees have met them in a Subway Series in 2000 if I didn't!?

Post-postscript: Congratulations to the New York Mets, who captured the National League pennant last night, sweeping the Chicago Cubs four games straight. In listening to all the post-game interviews, I could not help but think about all the current Mets who wore Yankee pinstripes in one capacity or another (Newsday actually tells us that through 2015, 122 players have played for both teams, including 62 position players and 60 pitchers): Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon (who was the winning pitcher last night), Tyler Lee Clippard, Kelly Johnson, and let us not forget the current Mets (and former Yankees) hitting coach: Kevin Long. I mention this because if it is supposed to be traitorous for diehard Yankee fans to root for the Mets, it must be positively sacreligious for former Yankee players and coaches to work for the Mets. This whole Kay-inspired tirade against rooting for the Mets is just laughably off-base, especially when rooting for the Mets almost always means that one is rooting for former Yankees, who just happened to be wearing blue and orange instead of Navy Blue pinstripes.

October 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1274

Song of the Day: 'Round Midnight, music by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, with lyrics later provided by Bernie Hanighen (though others further embellished the tune over time), was published in 1944, but it is thought that Monk had written the song in the mid-1930s. In keeping with the theme of this list, "My Favorite Songs," this one is not just my favorite Monk song, but, perhaps, one of my all-time favorites in the history of jazz. There are so many recorded performances of this wonderful jazz standard (perhaps the most recorded song written specifically by a jazz composer): the first version ever recorded, by Trumpeter and Big Band leader Cootie Williams (with a youthful Bud Powell on piano), the original rendering by Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald (with Oscar Peterson on piano), and Carmen McRae (of course) [YouTube links]. Among other performances: from the Oscar-winning soundtrack of the 1986 film with Best Actor-nominee, saxman Dexter Gordon, "Round Midnight", featuring Bobby McFerrin's "instrumental" vocal and Herbie Hancock's impeccable piano [YouTube link], the Miles Davis-John Coltrane masterpiece [YouTube link] from the 1957 Davis album ("'Round About Midnight"), and an utterly brilliant acoustic jazz guitar solo performance by the incomparable Joe Pass [YouTube link]. The list goes on and on, but I should note that among my favorite versions, there are two that stand out: the first, by the "Divine" jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, recorded live from her "In Performance at Wolf Trap" (presented on PBS TV on 28 October 1974) [mp3 link; her "Scattin' the Blues" is from the same concert, and don't forget another one of her live versions of "'Round Midnight", in which Sassy scatted, alongside be-bop trumpeter extraordinaire Dizzy Gillespie in 1987 [YouTube link]), and the second, by the often overlooked, but never underappreciated, trailblazing jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne, whose rendition appears on his classic 1963 album "Tapestry" [mp3 link]. Chuck was a family friend, and his style of "consecutive-alternate picking" had a deep impact on my own brother, Carl Barry, who is, of course, my all-time favorite guitarist. Chuck even played at my brother's wedding to Joanne, my sister-in-law, who just so happens to be one of the best jazz singers on earth. Chuck's version of this Monk classic is probably my favorite instrumental interpretation. We are two years away from the Monk Centenary; I'm glad to have brought more attention to his work in this mini-tribute on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of his birth. Long live Monk!

October 13, 2015

Song of the Day #1273

Song of the Day: Straight, No Chaser, composed by Thelonious Monk, with lyrics provided by Sally Swisher, has become one of the great jazz standards of the Monk legacy. Check out Monk's original 1951 recording (and that's Milt Jackson on vibes), and versions by Miles Davis, with Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, and, of course, Carmen McRae [YouTube links].

October 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1272

Song of the Day: Ruby My Dear, composed by Thelonious Monk, is another jazz standard that emerged from the work of this celebrated pianist. It was named after Monk's first love, Rubie Richardson. Check out Monk's solo piano version of this tune, Monk with John Coltrane, and Monk with Coleman Hawkins [YouTube links]. And, once again, one of the finest jazz vocalist interpreters, Carmen McRae, provides us with another wonderful take on a Monk song, from her album "Carmen Sings Monk," with lyrics by Sally Swisher, renamed "Dear Ruby" [YouTube link].

October 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1271

Song of the Day: Blue Monk, composed by Thelonious Monk, has become a jazz standard. It was featured on the artist's album, "The Thelonious Monk Trio," with bassist Percy Heath and drummer Art Blakey. Check out the original Monk recording, and other renditions as well, including one featuring the lyrics of Abbey Lincoln, another vocal version by Carmen McRae and finally, a swinging solo piano performance by McCoy Tyner [YouTube links].

October 10, 2015

Song of the Day #1270

Song of the Day: The Ballad of Thelonious Monk, words and music by Jimmy Rowles (with a little help from Jimmy McHugh), is a tribute to the legendary, lovably off-center jazz pianist, who was born on this date in 1917 (and who actually passed away on my 22nd birthday on 17 February 1982). The most hilarious and joyous rendition of this was performed by that wonderful interpretive jazz songstress Carmen McRae, recorded live at Donte's in Los Angeles, California in 1972 for her album "The Great American Songbook," with a group that included Rowles on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, bassist Chuck Domanico, and drummer Chuck Flores. Rowles's tune is a country-and-western paean to a jazz master [YouTube link]. We'll be tributing the Monk for a few days here at Notablog.

October 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1269

Song of the Day: Goodbye Mr. Evans [YouTube link to various renditions], composed by the incomparable jazz alto saxophonist, Phil Woods, was written as a tribute to the equally incomparable jazz pianist Bill Evans, who passed away on 15 September 1980. On 29 September 2015, the composer of this lovely paean to Evans, passed away. Two of my all-time favorite jazz musicians gone, 35 years apart, in September, standing on either side of the Equinox. Of Evans, Miles Davis was once criticized by the 'brothers' who could not understand why he'd hired a white pianist, to which Miles is said to have replied: "You find me a brother who plays like that, and I'll hire him." Miles knew what Bill brought to jazz, and jazz has never been the same since. Much the same can be said about Phil Woods; a disciple of Charlie Parker, who married Parker's widow, he took the bop linguistic of Parker to another level. From his brilliant Grammy-winning orchestral work [YouTube link] with Michel Legrand to his amazing small group recordings to his triumphs even in pop music (who can forget his melodic solo on Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are"?), Woods was one of the greatest jazzmen of his generation. I had the privilege of seeing both Evans and Woods in small group settings, the former at the Village Vanguard, the latter at The Bottom Line. Their virtuosity was matched only by the creativity of their individual musical imaginations. So it is fitting to remember Woods, who passed away on Tuesday, at the age of 83, with this tune (for which the legendary Steve Allen later provided lyrics), Phil's own celebration of another jazz master. Check out Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra, performing this wonderful composition, as well as a Phil Woods Quartet rendition (and among so many others, check out tenor saxman Scott Hamilton's version as well). [YouTube links]. Goodbye Mr. Woods. Gone, but, like Mr. Evans, never forgotten, for the loveliness he left to this chaotic world.