By Neil Keefe
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It seems like yesterday that it was the morning of January 1, 2010 and I was riding the Metro North from Grand Central to Connecticut with a pounding headache as a result of a hangover, looking like I had just relived October 2004. As the train slowly moved through Noroton Heights and Rowayton and every other unnecessary stop on the Metro North route, I probably would have agreed to watch the Yankees blow another 3-0 series lead in exchange for a Gatorade.
At the time of the longest train ride of my life, the Yankees were world champions, the Knicks were as bad as ever, the Giants’ season was over, Rex Ryan had declared the Jets’ season over before the Colts revived it and Mets fans were convinced that Citi Field wouldn’t be a problem for their new $66 million left fielder, Jason Bay. A lot has changed since that day, but most people still don’t care what the Devils, Islanders and Nets are doing.
Outside of the drama and changes in the sports world in 2010, I got to see Gordon Gekko return to Wall Street, a robbery in The Town in front of the laundromat I used in Boston’s North End when I lived there for two years in college and Anne Hathaway naked for about two hours in Love and Other Drugs. I was reminded why Friday Night Lights is the best show on TV in Season 5 and why it’s devastating that there’s only six episodes left in the series. I became addicted to The League, fell for the Jersey Shore again and was happy to see Kenny Powers and Stevie Janowski return to the baseball world.
Even though the Yankees came two wins shy of returning to the World Series and the Giants collapsed for the second season in a row, 2010 was a good year.
I wrote a lot of words during 2010, and my first piece for WFAN.com was “I’m Going To Miss Johnny Damon” on February 1. Now here we are, nearly 11 months later and the Yankees are reportedly having talks about bringing back Damon when he probably should have never left in the first place. As John Sterling would say, “You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn!”
Most of the words I wrote this year were about the Yankees, but at some point I touched on every metro team that matters. When I went back through everything I wrote to come up with something for the end of the year, I thought it only made sense to write about the people that gave me things to write about in the first place. So here it is … The 20 People That Most Influenced My Writing In 2010. I just wish we could have Liev Schreiber from 24/7 narrate it.
20. The Voice of God … Bob Sheppard … The Voice of God
I actually didn’t write very much about Bob Sheppard, but as a Yankees fan he has been a major part of my life even though I never got the chance to meet him. I think when you grow up as a Yankees fan, you dream that one day you will have the chance to hear your name echo across the Bronx sky with perfect diction and pronunciation from Bob Sheppard.
When Sheppard first started missing games, I never really thought he would be gone for good at any point. Even at his age you just felt like he would find a way to get back to the Stadium and be as much a part of it as Monument Park and the facade.
Paul Olden, who is the PA announcer now, is good at his job in my mind, though I don’t know if there is any way to actually measure how good or bad a PA announcer is (but I do know I am not a fan of the Fenway Park announcer). The only problem is that Olden is not Sheppard no matter what he does or how good he is. There are rumors that Danny McBride might take over The Office once Steve Carell leaves at the end of this season, but it won’t be the same no matter how good McBride is or how good anyone is that they choose as Carell’s replacement.
It might be unfair to compare Olden to Sheppard or to hold him to that standard, but that’s what happens when your act follows the best there ever was and ever will be.
19. The Boss
In the back of my mind I always liked to think that George Steinbrenner was still in charge of the Yankees even though the last few seasons were filled with stories about the demise of his health.
I remember riding the Metro North and listening to WFAN on October 7, 2007 to the city to meet my friend Redz to go to Game 3 of the ALDS, which was the day that Ian O’Connor’s exclusive interview with George Steinbrenner was printed in The Record. Steinbrenner told O’Connor that Joe Torre’s job was on the line if the Yankees didn’t beat the Indians. I don’t know if anyone outside his immediate family really knew what Steinbrenner was capable of in October 2007, but I liked to believe that he was still calling the shots even if he wasn’t, and this story sure made it seem like the old George was still running the Yankees.
When the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee, I said, “In the 37 ½ years of his life that he ran the team (I know that number depends on when he technically stopped being in charge and you also have take away the years he was banned), only one ace turned down the Yankees’ money (to my knowledge) and that was Greg Maddux. Steinbrenner has been dead for five months, and the number of pitchers to turn down the Yankees’ money has already matched the total number during Steinbrenner’s 37 ½ years as The Boss.” Then a few days later Kerry Wood signed with the Cubs for $1.5 million when it was reported that the Yankees were offering two years and $10 million.
I don’t know what the future holds for the Yankees with Hal running the team, and Hank to some degree, and Brian Cashman not facing the same pressure and accountability for his actions. I don’t know if the Steinbrenner family is serious when they say that they don’t plan on selling the team, but I do know that we are a couple of days away from 2011 and the Yankees don’t have a fourth or fifth starter.
18. John Tortorella
I haven’t written anything about John Tortorella since the end of last season when I thought he should be fired, and he probably should have been. If the Rangers find a way to not make the playoffs this year, I don’t think there is any chance that Tortorella comes back. Then again, Glen Sather has been able to keep his job with the Dolans for this long, so nothing is out of the question.
So far with the Rangers, Tortorella has blown a 3-1 playoff series lead and missed the postseason, and I am still waiting for him to show me something. Maybe I expect too much from the coaches of my teams, but I think anything other than advancing a couple of rounds in the postseason this year deserves being fired.
Once again Sather has built a team that will most likely end up with the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the postseason and probably lose in the conference semifinals at best. Everyone is still waiting for the Rangers to have a team that is supposed to win and a team that fans can feel confident about winning. How many years of Henrik Lundqvist’s career are the Rangers going to waste?
17. Amar’e Stoudemire
I was skeptical about the signing of Amar’e Stoudemire at first and I was even more skeptical when I realized that he would be the only big name free agent that the Knicks would come away with in the summer sweepstakes. But Amar’e has been everything and more for the Knicks and has brought back a winning mentality to the Garden and rejuvenated the interest of basketball in New York City.
I still wonder what the Knicks would be like had LeBron James decided that he would rather be the King of New York than the King of South Beach where it’s just not the same. The Knicks aren’t ready to win it all just yet, but with LeBron they could have been, and basketball in the city would have been as big a deal as it has ever been.
What Stoudemire has done in just a couple of months has been inspiring to watch and with Carmelo Anthony only wanting to play in Manhattan, the future of the Knicks finally looks bright for the first time in a long time. We have Amar’e Stoudemire to thank for that.
16. Omar Minaya/Jerry Manuel
I don’t think either of these two are worthy of their own spot, so I put them together since they will be linked together in Mets history.
Sandy Alderson has been the Mets general manager for as many games as me, but just watching how he conducts his business and what his presence feels like from his in-studio interview with Mike Francesa, I think Mets fans should be happy with the future of their team in the hands of Alderson. However, the Phillies rotation likely put a damper on any division title dreams for the Mets for the next five-plus years. But I don’t think any Mets fan has to worry about Sandy Alderson’s friends taking their shirts off and challenging minor league affiliates of the Mets, or get nervous that Sandy is going to blame his team’s public relations mess on media members wanting jobs in the organization.
I am a Willie Randolph fan, and I wasn’t a fan of the way he was let go by the Mets considering he could have done just as bad a job as Jerry did for the last two-plus seasons. But part of me is sad to see Jerry go since it was like seeing Wade Phillips go. Wade Phillips didn’t deserve to be the coach of the Cowboys anymore (he probably never did), but now with a competent person coaching the team, I am scared that the Cowboys might realize their potential and actually win. The Mets aren’t that talented, but they probably could have fared better than they did with Jerry since the middle of 2008.
15. Winter Olympics Hockey
I know that this isn’t a person, but it was an event that dominated the month of February at a time when the sports world is starving for excitement between the Super Bowl and March Madness and Opening Day, and the hockey tournament filled that void after being a disappointment in 2006.
After being embarrassed four years ago in Turin, Italy, Brian Burke put together a worthy Team USA that didn’t lose a game until the gold medal game when they lost to Canada in overtime. Ryan Miller became a household name for three weeks, though I am sure non-hockey fans don’t even know who he is now 10 months later, and for at least a few days this country was engulfed in hockey. I thought the level of interest would carry over into the NHL regular season and I think it did at first, but eventually hockey went back to being the way it has always been: a sport for lifelong fans and not casual fans.
The NHL can keep changing the rules to increase scoring or create better marketing campaigns or even fire Gary Bettman, but I think the NHL will always have that special niche with its fan base, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Maybe if less warm-weather cities had team and more cold-weather cities had teams the game would gain popularity, but maybe just one month every four years is enough for casual fans if it is as good as the 2010 Olympics were.
14. Matt Dodge
I don’t like Matt Dodge because he isn’t a good punter, but I don’t blame any of the Giants’ losses this season on him because since the first day that his punting became a problem, he has proven that he doesn’t deserve to be in the NFL. Tom Coughlin stuck with him for the whole year when he could have gone another route, and at this point watching Dodge take the field is just a joke and I just expect the worst possible scenario when he is waiting for the snap.
The same way that DeSean Jackson and Devin Hester and Dez Bryant bring that sense of excitement and anticipation to special teams, so does Matt Dodge. On any punt attempt, Dodge might drop the snap, fall down, bobble the ball, lose a shoe, kick the ball on a line drive to the returner, kick the ball into the stands or completely whiff on the kick. I am still waiting for him to try and throw a 60-yard touchdown pass instead of punting.
I actually felt bad for Dodge when Coughlin was out on the field ripping into him after the collapse in what was the most uncomfortable TV moment aside from the five nights a week when Jay Leno is introduced on the Tonight Show and audience members awkwardly go up to the stage and give him high fives. I’m pretty sure Matt Dodge didn’t give up the 21 points that tied the game and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the one missing every tackle on Jackson after Jackson muffed the punt. Matt Dodge has become a household name as a punter, and that is as bad as an umpire or referee becoming a household name. You just want to do your job and do a good job because there isn’t a non-die-hard fan that knows the names of good punters or good umpires or referees. Just the bad ones.
13. Rex Ryan
I’m not sure who Rex Ryan wants to be. One day he wants to be an NFL coach and the next day he wants to be friends with the players and a class clown with the media. So far his team has underachieved by the standards he set in Hard Knocks (leading the league in wins), but you would never know that from the way he conducts himself.
I was still on the fence about whether or not I liked Rex Ryan and then on Sunday when he was giving his press conference and found out in the middle of it that the Jets made the playoffs because the Jaguars lost, and he started acting like the Jets had decided their own fate with a convincing win, well it was then that I finally decided Rex isn’t for me.
I don’t agree with everything that Bill Belichick does or how he handles the media, but I get why he acts that way, and at least he is consistent. He gave this interview outside the locker room after losing to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, and had the Patriots won, his postgame interview probably would have been very similar.
Call him smug, or arrogant or pompous, but call him consistent. That is all I ask of Rex. Be consistent. Find a personality and stick with it. Either be an authority figure or a coach that is buddy-buddy with the players. Don’t try to be both because you can’t be both.
12. Joba Chamberlain
Three years ago it was rare if someone reached base against Joba Chamberlain, and it was nearly impossible to score against him. Now he is only in the majors because of the name he built for himself in 2007.
I don’t get Joba Chamberlain. I don’t know how he used to be so dominant and now he is so inconsistent. I think part of it has to do with Brian Cashman’s genius plan to stretch him out to be a starter then to be a reliever then to be a starter then to be a reliever again. And I think the other part of it is that Joba is too cocky to make adjustments to the league after the league clearly made adjustments to him.
I was part of the “Joba should be a starter” party and now I think we are all seeing why. Forget the fact that he was barely given any time to progress as a starter, but let’s look at where the rotation currently stands with a major gap in major league ready arms to fill the voids left by not signing Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte’s indecision. If Joba had remained on the path to be a starter, one of the two rotation spots would be filled right now, and I wouldn’t need to worry about whether A.J. Burnett is going to finally earn his salary or if Andy Pettitte could put his family on hold for another year.
11. DeSean Jackson
I didn’t necessarily write about DeSean Jackson, but anything I have written about the Giants enduring another collapse is directly related to DeSean Jackson who has clearly made it his personal mission to rip the hearts out of Giants fans every December.
Last season the Giants needed to beat the Eagles to take over the division lead and make the playoffs, and the Eagles went into East Rutherford and put up 45 points on the Giants and Bill Sheridan. Jackson scored on a 72-yard punt return and a 60-yard pass, catching six passes for 178 yards. He backpedaled into the end zone on the 60-yarder, holding the ball out and laughing as he watched the Giants’ season fall apart.
It was Jackson again who put the dagger in the Giants this season with his punt return that I will have to watch be replayed during every Giants-Eagles game for the rest of my life. And now Jackson has assisted in helping Michael Vick (or Mike Vick according to Cris Collinsworth) be named the Pro Bowl starter in what has been as been as big of a comeback year as Enrique Iglesias’ 2010 has been. Just devastating.
I don’t need any incentives to hate the Eagles or the city of Philadelphia’s sports teams, but DeSean Jackson is a good incentive.
Part II coming on Thursday.
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