Rain delay helps Cubs reign over Indians

A 17-minute rain delay before the 10th inning gave the Cubs the break they needed to capture their first World Series crown since 1908.  Cubs right fielder Jason Hayward called a team meeting in the weight room (or should we say Wait Room after 108 years), and urged his teammates on to victory.

Chicago tallied two runs in the top of the 10th to take an 8-6 lead, but the Indians scored only once in the bottom of the frame to end one of the most exciting World Series ever, 8-7.

See celebration here: http://m.mlb.com/news/article/207938228/chicago-cubs-win-2016-world-series/

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Cubs Win!

Cubs left fielder Ben Zobrist was named MVP after knocking in the go-ahead run in the 10th (Miguel Montero would add the winning RBI with a bases-loaded single.) Zobrist collected ten hits and was a magnum force, batting .357  in the Series.

Congratulations to the Cubs for killing the curse and breaking a 108-year drought. Now the pressure is on the Indians to overcome 68 years of futility. But when you consider the fact that Cleveland was missing its best player (starting center fielder Michael Brantley) along with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (and pitcher Danny Salazar, also not fully healed), the Indians are primed for a return engagement to the World Series in 2017 – perhaps against these very same Chicago Cubs.

 

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Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

The Chicago Cubs are heading to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Celebration at Wrigley

Celebration at Wrigley

Kyle Henricks pitched a two-hitter and Aroldis Chapman shut the door in the 8th and 9th to preserve a 5-0 shutout over the Dodgers.

First pennant since 1945

First pennant since 1945

The Cubs have clinched their first National League pennant in 71 years.

71-year pennant drought ends with '16 Cubs.

71-year pennant drought ends with ’16 Cubs

I was right about the Cubs winning  the pennant – but so was everyone else. But I was dead wrong about the Cleveland Indians. I figured they had no chance against the Red Sox or the Blue Jays, but they beat both teams convincingly, thanks to MVP Andrew Miller, who may be the best relief pitcher in baseball. In 11.2 innings pitched, Miller struck out 21 batters, while giving up 0 runs – that’s right he had an ERA of 0.00 against David Ortiz, Josh Donaldson and some of the best hitters in baseball.

Still the Indians do have pitching woes. Corey Kluber is their ace, but after that their starting pitching is not very deep. However, manager Terry Francona has been hinting that Danny Salazar could start a game. Salazar hasn’t pitched in over a month after suffering a strained flexor muscle in his right forearm, but he appears to be on the mend. Cleveland will need him to rock if they hope to roll over the Cubs.

The Indians do have Jason Kipnis at second and Francisco Lindor at shortstop – so they do have some talent. But the Cubs can out muscle them with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell – not to mention their pitching staff may be the best in baseball with the 1-2-3 punch of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrietta.

I think Cleveland can steal a game from Chicago, but the Cubs are the better team. And just as a baseball has 108 stitches, it would be poetic justice for the Cubs to wear the crown in 2016, after 108 years of futility. I’ll take the Cubs in 5 over the Tribe.

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Postseason Predictions

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Two fantastic finishes so far, featuring 3-run homers for the Blue Jays and the Giants in wins against the Orioles and Mets, respectively. I’m 2-0 in predictions thus far in postseason play, but maybe that’s just Wild Card luck.  Here are my picks for the rest of the playoffs:

American League Division Series (Best of 5 games):

Boston Red Sox over the Cleveland Indians in 3 games.

The Indians have no chance against the Red Sox after losing their #2 starter Carlos Carrasco to a broken hand and #3 starter Danny Salazar to a tendon injury. Making things worse – their ace Corey Kluber is recovering from a quadriceps injury and it’s unlikely he can be effective. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will have 22-game winner Rick Porcello (22-4) on the mound for Game 1. And Big Papi is healthy and hungry for a 4th ring in his final season. The Red Sox should sweep 3-0.

Toronto Blue Jays over the Texas Rangers in 5 games.

The Rangers are heavily favored and have home field advantage through the World Series if they advance, plus Cole Hamels (15-5) is one of the best pitchers in baseball, so it’s hard to count them out. But I’m going with the Blue Jays because they have the most powerful lineup in baseball. Did you see Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off homer against the Orioles? He hit 42 home runs during the regular season. The guy is clutch.  Josh Donaldson hit 37 round trippers, while Michael Saunders and Troy Tulowitzki each had 24. And Jose (Joey Bats) Bautista smacked 22 over the wall. Pitcher J.A. Happ is a 20-game winner and Aaron Sanchez was 15-2 on the season. The biggest problem for the Jays is that reliever Roberto Osuna is recovering from an arm injury. That could be a game changer, but I’ll take my chances on Toronto.

National League Division Series (Best of 5 games):

Chicago Cubs over the San Francisco Giants in 4 games:

Yes I know it’s an even year and the Giants have momentum. Champs in 2010, 2012 and 2014. And nobody beats Mad Bum in October. Nobody. I get it. So I’ll concede Game 3 to the Giants on Sunday when Bumgarner is on the mound. But the Cubs have great pitching with ERA leader Kyle Hendricks (2.13) – and Game 1 starter Jon Lester was second best in ERA with 2.44. And don’t forget Jake Arrieta who led the Majors with a stingy .194 Average Allowed by batters. Arrieta also gave up the fewest hits in MLB – just 6.29 in nine innings. Third on the list was Kyle Hendricks at 6.73. Plus the Cubs lineup is potent with Kris Bryant (39 home runs) and Anthony Rizzo (32 homers).

Los Angeles Dodgers over the Washington Nationals in 5 games:

Washington’s woes begin with injuries. Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg is out with a bad elbow. Worst of all, All Star catcher Wilson Ramos is hurt and won’t be suiting up. And Washington’s best hitter Daniel Murphy (.347 batting average) is recovering from an upper leg injury. Even if Murphy plays, he won’t be 100 percent. The Dodgers  pitching is thin after Clayton Kershaw, but I’ll take the Dodgers by default.

American League Division Series (Best of 7):

Toronto over Boston in 7.

National League Division Series (Best of 7):

Cubs over the Dodgers in 5.

 

WORLD SERIES:

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!

After 107 seasons of failure, this is finally the Cubs year.

Chicago over Toronto in 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating the Old and the New

David “Big Papi” Ortiz made history on Wednesday night, hitting his 30th home run of the season – becoming the oldest player to do so in Major League Baseball.

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David Ortiz

At age 40, Ortiz has 40 doubles and also 100 Runs Batted In. His 10 seasons of 100 RBI’s is the most in Red Sox history – and it ties him with some immortals of the game – Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig.

But rookie sensation Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees is also making history, with a towering home run against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday.  Since graduating from Triple-A on August 3, the Baby Bronx Bomber has hit 9 home runs in just 70 at bats. He is the first and only Yankee to hit 9 homers in his first 21 career games – better than Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle. Sanchez has now tied Joe DiMaggio with 10 or more extra-base hits in his first 16 career games.

Gary Sanchez

Gary Sanchez

The 23-year-old is hitting .389 with 9 homers and 16 Runs Batted In. He’s so good that the Mariners walked him twice – intentionally – in Wednesday’s game. If he keeps it up, one day the name of Gary Sanchez might appear in the same sentence as David Ortiz.

 

 

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How To Make Baseball Better

When it comes to baseball, I’m a traditionalist.

Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle

So I’m not keen on Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci’s suggestions to change the rules by adding bonus batters and lowering the mound by two inches to pump up run production – see article here: http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/07/28/mlb-schedule-roster-mound-replays-bonus-batter?xid=nl_siextra

Verducci also calls for limiting the number of timeouts to six per nine innings (that would certainly speed up the games) and requiring relief pitchers to face at least two batters. Sure, fans would have fewer interruptions but I suspect some people enjoy the breaks to load up on hot dogs, pretzels and beer.

Verducci does call for shortening the 162 game season. As a traditionalist, I like the idea of bringing baseball back to it’s heritage of  154 games  – the way it used to be before MLB added 8 extra games in 1961 to accommodate expansion and the arrival of the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels. (And those Angels actually played in Los Angeles, not Anaheim).

As Verducci points out, Monday is the least popular day of the week in terms of fan attendance. Also, players need more days off. So why not schedule just one game on a Monday and make it a traditional baseball rivalry contest between the Yankees and Red Sox or the Giants and Dodgers or maybe the Cubs vs. the Cardinals? It would make Mondays special and allow more players to be healthy for the playoffs.

And while we’re at it, let’s shorten the playoffs. The World Series should never be about dodging snow flakes and sub-freezing temperatures while the gales of November are raging. But there have been more than half a dozen World Series games played in November:

http://www.sbnation.com/2015/11/1/9654130/world-series-november-baseball-history-mlb-mets-royals-game-5

I love the one-game playoff between the two wild card teams. The best of five format for the Division Series is great, but let’s also make the League Championship Series a five-game match-up, so the World Series can actually start and finish before Halloween.

It just doesn’t feel right to play baseball in sleet and freezing rain. After all, Reggie Jackson was “Mr. October” and not “Mr. November.”

And then finally, let’s get rid of the DH. I’ve never liked the Designated Hitter rule. The DH allows aging American League hitters to show off their one-dimensional offensive skills but it  dilutes the purity of the game.

Yes it’s exciting to see 40-year old David Ortiz smack one out of the park, but even more thrilling when a National League pitcher like Madison Bumgarner does it. In fact MadBum has 13 career home runs, with two of them against Clayton Kershaw.

The DH takes strategy out of the game – for example, what if your National League pitcher is due to hit next with a runner on second in the bottom of the 7th innning while locked in a 1-1 tie? If there are two outs, you might have to pinch hit for him, but if it’s MadBum maybe you like your chances with him at the plate and then pitching the 8th inning. The decision is a tough one for any manager, but that makes the game exciting. Plus, whatever happens, fans get to question the strategy of the manager, which makes for vibrant discussions on sports talk radio.

To me, baseball is nearly perfect the way it is, but a few tweaks might be good for the game. What do you think?

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Diamonds in the Desert

I’ve just experienced Baseball Heaven: Four games in 4 days in the Arizona desert. Imagine Cactus League action filled with blue skies, green grass and game temperatures of 90 degrees at first pitch. Somebody please toss me an ice-cold beverage.

It seemed surreal because Willie Mays was there signing autographs. And in my desert dream, Rollie Fingers, Blue Moon Odom, George Foster and Bert Campaneris were also there putting their imprints on cowhide.  And as I awoke, I witnessed current stars compete on the field – guys like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, Jose Abreu, Jason Heyward, Josh Reddick and Jonathan Lucroy.

For my first two days in the desert, I teamed up with my friend Marty Gonzalez, who flew in from the Bay Area.

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With Marty Gonzalez at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona

Together we experienced one of the most bizarre baseball games ever. On Day 1 in the desert, the Oakland A’s blew an 8 run lead in the 9th inning, allowing the Seattle Mariners to tie the score at 11. The A’s couldn’t muster any offense in the bottom of the 9th, so the score remained locked at 11 all.

And then everybody walked off the field.

What? There are no ties in baseball.

Well apparently there are ties in Spring Training – where 9 innings is all you get, no matter the score. Since when did MLB become more like Little League? That’s a first for me.

That night, Marty and I feasted in the atmosphere at Don and Charlie’s in Scottsdale, where you’ll find the best ribs in town and a full diet of signed baseballs, pennants and jerseys from Hall of Famers.

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Baseballs galore at Don & Charlie’s in Scottsdale

On Day Two, we traveled to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. The complex features 12 practice fields, 5,000 plants and trees including an orange grove and a five-acre lake that separates the Dodgers and White Sox team facilities. At 141 acres, it’s the largest venue in the Cactus League.

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Camelback Ranch in Glendale

Marty’s favorite feature was the life-size Tommy Lasorda bobblehead: a living shrine to the legendary Dodger manager.

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Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda

The Dodgers weren’t even playing that day, but that didn’t stop Marty from paying tribute to the man who guided the Dodgers to four National League pennants and World Series championships in 1981 and 1988.

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Together we saw the White Sox beat the Cubs 3-2 in a game in which the Northsiders produced only one hit. The White Sox have a much improved lineup, adding Todd Frazier and Austin Jackson to the mix, along with non-roster invites Jimmy Rollins and former Giant Travis Ishikawa. John Danks got the win for the Pale Hose, surrendering no earned runs in five innings pitched. Kyle Hendricks looked sharp for the Cubs, giving up just one earned run in five innings with three strikeouts and no walks.

Marty left that night and my son Matt flew in from Southern California. On Day 3, we discovered Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

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Baseball Between Us

Matt took a lot of heat from his friends on social media for wearing a Los Angeles Clippers cap. I couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

“Why are you wearing that ugly blue Clippers hat? I asked.

“I’ve have always liked the Clippers,” he explained. “They are my second favorite basketball team after the Sacramento Kings,” he said. “Plus all my baseball hats are at home in Sacramento,” he added. “Maybe you can bring them next time you come to visit.”

Great. I’ve always wanted to be a hat chauffeur.

The Tempe Diablo Stadium seats 9,315 people and overlooks the scenic Marriott Buttes Resort. The playing surface is Bermuda natural grass. The Angels have been training there since 1993.

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Home of the Angels

In the 3rd inning of our game, the Angels batted around the order with Albert Pujols crushing two home runs in the frame to lead the Halos to a 15-7 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

After the game, we headed to Scottsdale for my second visit to Don and Charlie’s. The ribeye steak was delicious, but even sweeter was watching Willie Mays sign autographs in the lobby. The Giants Hall of Famer was mobbed by fans who stood in line 30 deep to pay $200 for a signed baseball or $500 for a signed bat. The prices were too steep for me so I took this free picture instead:

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Willie Mays signing autographs

Next it was on to Old Town Scottsdale for a look at the historic downtown, which features scenes from the wild, wild West. Scottsdale is also my wife’s hometown, so we had to make a visit.

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Scottsdale, Arizona

Old Town has a scenic walking path that takes you to the Performing Arts Center, museums and other attractions including a trio of bronze horses.

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Horses in Scottsdale

On Day 4 of our adventure, my wife called to recommend a road trip. “You have to visit Desert Botanical Garden,” she said. “You’ll love it.”

Located in Phoenix not far from the zoo, Desert Botanical Garden is an outdoor museum with five trails that wind through more than 50,000 living plants. Since 1939, the Garden has showcased wildflowers and conservation with a fabulous display of cactus from around the world.

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We hiked the desert trails early in the morning to avoid the heat, then headed to Mesa to see the Oakland A’s once again, this time hosting the Chicago White Sox. Outfielder/1st Baseman Jerry Sands hit two home runs to lead the Sox to victory 6-2. Sands may benefit from the sudden departure of Adam LaRoche, who retired from baseball because the White Sox wouldn’t let him bring his 14-year old son to team workouts every day.

Hey I know it’s Spring Training, but what if all 40 players brought their kids to work – it would get crowded in a hurry and somebody would probably get hurt. LaRoche walked away from a $13 million contract to spend exclusive quality time with his family. That’s heartwarming but come on Adam – how many businesses can you name that allow employees to bring their kids to work every day? You don’t think that might be a distraction to other players who are trying to focus on baseball?

At Hohokam Stadium, it was fun to see former A’s players Rollie Fingers, Blue Moon Odom and Bert Campaneris signing autographs, along with George Foster of Cincinnati Reds fame.

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Rollie Fingers

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Fingers, Foster and Campy ready for autographs

Fans were eager to get a signed baseball for $50 a pop, far less than what Willie Mays commands, but then Willie is in a league all by himself.

After the game, Matt and I drove to the airport and said goodbye to our diamonds in the desert. Hopefully we’ll be back again next year to visit some different parks in the Cactus League. And who knows – perhaps there’s a sequel to Baseball Between Us in the future!

 

 

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KC Royals Takes The Crown

Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals – your 2015 World Champions. They were resilient – never say die. They were relentless – the comeback kids. Down 2-0 in the top of the 9th against Matt Harvey and somehow scored two runs to tie the game. Only to score 5 more in the top of the 12th.

The Royals came from behind 8 times this postseason. They beat the Mets in 5, after this blogger incorrectly predicted New York in 5. It just goes to show Yogi Berra was right. “In baseball,” he said – “You don’t know nothin’.”

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World Series Prediction

Mets Will Mash the Royals in 5

Good pitching always beats good hitting.

Madison Bumgarner proved that last year by clinching three of the four victories San Francisco needed to win the World Series against Kansas City.

Now the Royals are back, hungrier than ever after leaving the tying run on third base against the Giants in 2014. This year, the Royals are resilient. They scored three come-from-behind victories against the pesky Houston Astros in the American League Division Series. But the Royals are about to get flushed.

That’s because the New York Mets have the best pitching staff in the world. In their first seven postseason games, Mets pitchers lit up the radar gun at 95 mph exactly 41% of the time, according to baseballsavant.com. Most Major League teams have one ace. The Mets have three:

Matt Harvey, who will start Game 1:

matt harvey

followed by Jacob deGrom in Game 2 and the six-foot six Noah Syndergaard in Game 3. All three throw high heat. In fact, baseballsavant.com notes they hit 95 mph 22% of the time they pitched. By contrast, no other MLB team could hit 95 mph even 15% of the time.

The Mets will be well rested and well tested this World Series, having handily beaten two formidable teams – the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Do the Royals have a chance against the best arms in baseball? Well consider this: the Royals hit .284 against pitches thrown at 95 mph or higher – the best in baseball – according to baseballsavant.com. But even if Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain are able to make contact against the mighty Mets, they can’t get past the guy who is arguably the best closer in baseball – Jeurys Familia, who appeared in 76 games this year, shredding hitters with a miniscule 1.85 ERA.

Kansas City has solid relievers in Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. But their starting rotation of Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura and Johnny Cueto don’t match up to the top three for the Amazin’ Mets.  New York has yet another weapon in 24-year old Steven Matz. The rookie pitcher was 4-0 this year with a 2.27 ERA and he’s scheduled to start Game 4.

And then there’s this guy named Murphy. The Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy is the first player in MLB history to homer in six consecutive postseason games. The Mets have all the MoJo this year.

I can see the Mets sweeping the Royals in four games – but KC is too scrappy to get shut out. So I’ll say the Mets in 5 games. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Can Cubs Go Back To The Future?

The last time the Cubs won the World Series was 1908. That’s 107 years ago for anyone counting. But hey – anyone can have a bad century!

But can the Cubs break the Curse of the Billy Goat this year? The curse dates back to 1945 when a Chicago bar owner by the name of Billy Sianis was banned from the Wrigley Field ballpark when he tried to sneak in his pet goat into a World Series game. Fans complained about the stinky goat and the team kicked Billy out of the park. The owner of the Billy Goat Tavern vowed revenge, declaring, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The goat wasn’t the only thing that stunk up the place. The 1945 Cubs lost to the Detroit Tigers and have never been back to the World Series ever since that fateful encounter with a goat.

In 2015 the New York Mets stand in the way of a Cubs team making the World Series. But one thing going for Cubbies is a movie prediction. In the 1989 movie, “Back to the Future Part II”, the Cubs actually win the 2015 World Series.

Ironically, the screenwriter was a guy named Bob Gale – a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Gale tried dreaming up the most improbable scenario for a movie about the future and realized that the Cubs winning the 2015 World Series was a plot no one could ever predict or would ever believe. See movie clip below:

Back To The Future

In a recent interview with ESPN, Gale said, “It’s a double joke because they win the World Series against Miami – which didn’t have Major League Baseball in 1989…but we were predicting there would be a Major League team in Miami.”

By the way, Universal Pictures is releasing the 30th anniversary Back To The Future three-pack on Tuesday, October 20.

It would be fun the see the Cubs break the Curse. The 2015 Cubs have an important Sacramento connection on their roster – pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Chris Bosio Photos - 2013/02/18 @ Mesa, AZ

 

Bosio played ball at Cordova High School and Sacramento City College. In the Majors, he threw a No-Hitter  for the Seattle Mariners on April 22, 1993. He began coaching baseball in 1998 and taught my son how to pitch when Matt was in Arden Little League.

So for all those reason I’m rooting for the Cubs to win it all.  Maybe this is the year the Cubs will go Back To The Future.

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It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

Yogi Berra was one of my Yankee heroes. As a kid, I loved watching him play at Yankee Stadium, anchoring my beloved Bronx Bombers behind the plate, or slamming a bad pitch over the short right field fence.

Yogi won ten World Series championships – more than any other player in baseball history. Even the great Joe Dimaggio sported just nine rings, while the legendary Lou Gehrig had but eight. Mickey Mantle matched his number 7 with with seven world titles, the same as Babe Ruth.

But I loved Yogi most for his witty “Yogisms” – even more than his on-field exploits. Who could argue the logic of “You can observe a lot just by watching,” or “If people don’t want to come to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”

One time Yogi was asked what he would do if he found a bag with a million dollars in it. “Well I’d find out who it belonged to,” said Yogi, “And if he was poor, I’d give it back to him.”

Yogi was always a mentor in the Yankee clubhouse, offering sage advice to the rookies. He told them, “Never answer an anonymous letter.” And “Never buy good luggage, you only use it when you travel.”

But my favorite Yogi story goes something like this. Yogi was home with his wife Carmen and she asked him, “Yogi where do you want to be buried?”

“What do you mean?” Yogi asked.

“Well,” she said. “You were born in St. Louis. You played for the New York Yankees. And you live in New Jersey. So where do you want your final resting place to be?”

Yogi pondered the question for a moment. “Carmen,” he said, “Surprise me.”

There’s a hole in the universe now that he’s gone. As Yogi would say, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

I will miss his wit, his dedication to the Yankees and his love for baseball. MLB network put together this nice tribute to Yogi. It’s called “8 minutes In Honor of Number 8.”

Enjoy – Or as Yogi once said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

Click on the link below:

8 Minutes In Honor Of Number 8

 

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