Cafe 101: The 5th Course

Imagine there’s a sports heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
Where sports’ greatest legends

Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant is the Cafe 101. As the name suggests there are only 101 tables, each reserved for the greatest to don that number.

Depart to when they die.

Imagine all the athletes, of past and present day.

Now imagine a Cafe;
It’s not that hard to do.
There’s only 101 tables;
It’s open to a select few.

Imagine all the athletes, hoping to get a seat.

You may say I’m a dreamer;
But I’m not the only one.
Deciding the greatest athletes by number;
Who get to enter the Cafe 101.

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When I started on my quest to determine the greatest athlete to ever represent each jersey number from 00 to 99, I looked across the world of sports and knew some numbers would be challenging (every number 35 and under), some would be extremely difficult – 1, 7, 10, 12, 21, 32, 33, etc. but when I looked at the field of numbers there was 1 number I thought would be the most difficult of all, and it’s probably not one you would expect – #4.  I saw #4 and I immediately thought of Brett Favre, Lou Gehrig, and Bobby Orr.  It wasn’t the greatness that was going to make this difficult, well at least not just the greatness, it was that this is personal.  I’ve long been a fan of Lou Gehrig and he is one of my favorite baseball players (definitely my favorite Yankee) of all-time.  As a Vikings fan, I am a big Brett Favre fan and of course I live and work in Massachusetts so the influence of Orr is overwhelming.  Of course last week my Random Number Generator determined I would write about 4 this week and so I spent the last few days thinking long and hard on one question -

Favre Orr Gehrig?

Without further ado, this was my decision:

TABLE

LOU GEHRIG

First Baseman, New York Yankees (1923-1939)
6x World Series Champion, 7x All-Star, 2x AL MVP, Yankees Team Captain (1935-1939),  Major League Baseball All-Century Team, Hall of Fame – 1939

In a great battle between Iron Men (Favre and Gehrig) and one of the greatest hockey players of all time (Orr), I had to take Lou Gehrig.  For the longest time I thought I would take Brett Favre, one of the greatest Quarterbacks of all time, but then I began to realize that Gehrig is probably the greatest first basemen of all time and not just that, I think he is one of the top 5 baseball players of all time.  About 10 months ago I wrote that, “If I could build an all-time team around one player – no doubt in my mind that that player would be the Iron Horse” and I don’t plan to detract from that now.  He started and played in 2,130 straight games (a record until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995), he has 23 career grand slams, scored the winning run in 8 World Series games, has the most extra base hits of a first baseman, had a .765 slugging percentage in 1927, and was so good that the Hall of Fame waived the waiting period rule so they could vote him in a few months after he retired.   Had Gehrig not come down with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), he would have likely finished his career with around 3,700 hits and 650 homeruns.  In my mind, Lou Gehrig, not Babe Ruth, is the greatest Yankee of all-time.

More than that, he was a great all around person and his famed “Luckiest Man” speech, in my opinion, is the single most moving moment in the history of sport.

RUNNER-UP (TIE): BRETT FAVRE, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, & Minnesota Vikings (1991 – 2010) & BOBBY ORR, Chicago Blackhawks & Boston Bruins (1966-1978)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Mel Ott, Paul Molitor, Adam Viniatieri, Jean Beliveau, Chauncey Billups, Duke Snider, & Teresa Edwards

TOO SOON TO TELL: Taylor Hall, Brandon Phillips, Vincent Lecavalier, Antawn Jamison, & Kevin Kolb

TABLE

RICHARD PETTY

NASCAR Driver (1959 – 1992)
7x NASCAR Champion, NASCAR Rookie of the Year – 1959, 7x Daytona 500 winner, NASCAR Hall of Fame – 2010 (Inaugural Class)

There’s a reason that Richard Petty is known simply as “The King”.  He is without a doubt one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all-time and his 7 NASCAR titles are a record (tied with Dale Earnhardt).  He is also the only driver to have won the Daytona 500 7 times.  His 127 poles and 700 top 10 finishes in 1,185 races are also unbelievable feats.   Even sports fans like myself that really do not follow NASCAR are aware of the accomplishments of Richard Petty and have heard of the Richard Petty School of Driving.  This was a pretty simple decision for me to give Table #43 to Petty.

RUNNER-UP: DENNIS ECKERSLEY, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A’s, & St. Louis Cardinals (1975-1998)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Jack Sikma & Troy Polamalu

TOO SOON TO TELL: R.A Dickey, Darren Sproles, & Nazem Kadri

TABLE

DERRICK THOMAS

Linebacker/Defensive End, Kansas City Chiefs (1989 – 1999)
9x Pro-Bowl Selection, 3x 1st Team All-Pro, 3x 2nd Team All-Pro, 7x 1st Team All-AFC, 1x 2nd Team All-AFC, NFL 1990′s All-Decade Team, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year – 1989, UPI AFL-AFC Rookie of the Year – 1989, Dick Butkus Award (1988), All-American (1988), NFL Hall of Fame – 2009

58 was one of the easiest decisions I had to make.  You could make an argument for Jack Lambert here but Derrick Thomas is one of the greatest pass-rushers of all time.  I’m amazed to this day how long it took him to get in the Hall of Fame because the guy was an absolute beast.  He hold Chiefs franchise records with 41 career forced fumbles, 8 forced fumbles in a season, 19 fumble recoveries, 126.5 career sacks, 20 sacks in a season, and 3 career safeties.  Additionally the guy holds the NFL record for most sacks in a game with 7.  That mark broke the previous record of 6 in a game, which had also been set by Thomas. John Elway always said he could’ve played a few more years in a warmer climate like Miami.  I think Elway could’ve played a few more years if he didn’t have to face Derrick Thomas twice a year.  As a collegiate player, he set an NCAA record with 27 sacks in a single season while at Alabama.  His 52 career sacks at Alabama were also an NCAA record at the time.  It’s unbelievable to think of what Thomas could’ve accomplished if his career and life had not been cut short due to paralysis.  No doubt in my mind that Table #58 belongs to Derrick Thomas.

RUNNER-UP: JACK LAMBERT, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-1984)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Johnathan Papelbohn & Carl Banks

TOO SOON TO TELL: Von Miller, Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, & Kris Letang


TABLE

BUCK BUCHANAN

Defensive Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs (1963-1975)
Super Bowl IV Champion, 2x AFL Champion, 6x AFL All-Star, 2x Pro Bowl Selection, 6x All-AFL, 1x 2nd Team All-Pro, AFL All-Time Second Team, NFL Hall of Fame – 1990, College Football Hall of Fame – 1996

On back to back numbers we have famous Kansas City Chiefs defenders getting themselves a table at thea Cafe 101.  Buck Buchanan was an absolute monster from the time he played at Grambling under the legendary Eddie Robinson to the time he was the first draft pick in AFL history and had an amazing career with the Chiefs.  He was also the first black player to be drafted #1 overall in professional football history.  His defense and ability to penetrate the Minnesota Vikings’ vaunted offensive line helped the Chiefs hold the Vikings to only 67 yards giving the Chiefs their only Super Bowl win and one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets in history.  At 6’7″ 287 lbs, Buchanan was a force to be reckoned with.  Despite his size he was very quick and could run a 4.9 40 which allowed him to make tackles from sideline to sideline.  He started 166 straight games and is one of the greatest players in the proud history of the Kansas City Chiefs.

RUNNER-UP: HINES WARD, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers (1998 – Present)

ON THE WAITING LIST: James Lofton & Todd Heap

TOO SOON TO TELL: David Nelson, Fred Davis, & Daniel Fells

Agree? Disagree? Tweet @can_of_corn with hashtag #Cafe101 to tell us your picks!

Click to enlarge the seating chart for Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant.

 Will your favorite athletes be able to get a table at the Cafe 101? Keep reading to find out!  If you have any questions, comments, or snide remarks please comment below or tweet them to @can_of_corn! Courtesy of Devan Dignan+


The Greatest Game Never Played – 2nd Inning

"A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz." ~ Humphrey Bogart

*An asterik denotes a current player, mascot, manager, stadium, etc.

One of my great heroes, Bill Veeck, once remarked that there was nothing as beautiful as a ballpark full of people.  There is something about ballparks.  There is a beauty that cannot be described when you set foot into a modern marvel like Target Field, Yankee Stadium, or PNC Park.  There is a feeling of nostalgia that washes over you when you visit the Friendly Confines or Yawkey Way.  To many a ballpark is not simply just a place where grown men get paid to play a game – to many the ballpark is a temple.

It is a place that you go on Sunday to interact with other people.  You take the time to get ready and pull on your best jersey to show support for the team and players you love.  You pass your spending money down the aisle to the guy selling frozen lemonade.  Everyone shouts out to their team in unison and everybody stands together to sing  Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  In the stadium, fans gather to hope, dream, and pray that this year is the year that the World Series returns to their fair city.

I imagine that my perfect game would also be played on a Sunday afternoon – 70 degrees out, no wind and a lazy cloud to help keep the sun from shining so brightly. As I begin my bid for a perfect game, I will take the time to set the stage for this game by selecting my stadium, the announcer, broadcaster, first pitch, national anthem singer, and the mascots.

THE STADIUM

"And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green; And the people played their crazy game with a joy I'd never seen; And the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs and the beer; Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here." ~ Frank Sinatra, "There Used to Be a Ballpark" (1973)

The Stadium: Ebbets Field (1913- 1960)

Nickname(s): The Cigar Box, The Band Box

Location: 55 Sullivan Place, Brooklyn, New York 11225

Team(s) that Played There:  Brooklyn Dodgers (1913-1957)

Capacity: 32,000

Signature Moment:  April 15, 1947 -  Jackie Robinson makes his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers at first base before more than 26,000 fans, changing the game forever.

Fun Fact:  On June 17, 1947 the first known televised soccer game in the US took place at Ebbets Field.

I imagine for a number of people the answer to this may have been Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Wrigley, or Busch.  I also know that at a National League Ballpark, there would be no DH but I think we can bend that rule for an afternoon.  Those who know me best probably expected me to choose Target Field,  Kauffman Stadium, or the Old Met.  The truth is though, that there is something about New York and baseball.  What basketball is to Indiana, hockey is to Minnesota, football is to Texas, and wrestling is to Iowa – that is what baseball is to New York.   When I think of the storied history of this game, I can’t help but get Brooklyn off my mind.   To many this field was constricting, a “cigar box”, and not the best way to watch the game, but to many more Ebbets is the symbol of a golden age of baseball.  Like Terrence Mann told Ray Kinsella, I too dreamed of playing at Ebbets Field when I was younger.  More than half a century after the Dodgers left for LA, there still remains a pain there for what has been lost.  The pain is so evident, that when the New York Mets decided to break ground on a new ballpark (Citi Field) a couple years ago, they modeled their new stadium after Ebbets Field and named the rotunda in Jackie Robinson’s honor.  The loss of the Dodgers to Brooklyn is one of the great sports losses of all time and for that reason, more than any other, I would have my game here and bring great baseball back to Brooklyn, where it belongs,  if only for a few hours.

Others Considered -

1. The Polo Grounds (1890 – 1963), New York, NY, Home of the New York (San Francisco) Giants, New York Yankees, and New York Mets. 

2. Metropolitan Stadium (1956 – 1985), Bloomington, MN, Home of the Minnesota Twins 

3. Wrigley Field* (1914 – Present), Chicago, IL, Home of the Chicago Cubs 

4. Griffith Stadium (1911-1961), Washington, D.C,  Home of the Washington Senators (Present-day Minnesota Twins) 

5. Comiskey Park, (1910 – 1990), Chicago, IL, Home of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs (1918)

NATIONAL ANTHEM SINGER

National Anthem Singer:  Alicia Keys 

Signature Song(s): You Don’t Know My Name (2003), Unthinkable (2010), & Fallin’ (2001)

All I can say about Alicia Keys is this girl’s voice is pure gold.  In the age of music we are currently in, it is a breath of fresh air to have someone with her talent as a popular recording artist.  And that’s all I can say about that.  This was a hard choice to make, even after I decided to exclude all non-American singers, but in the end it has to be Alicia Keys for me.

Others Considered:

1. Michael Jackson (The 12 year old who sang I’ll Be There not the 1988 Neverland Ranch version)

2. Billy Joel 

3. Frank Sinatra

4. Dolly Parton 

5. Marc Cohn

BROADCASTER

"It may sound corny, but, I enjoyed listening to Vin (Scully) call a game almost more than playing in them. He's been a special broadcaster for a lot of years and he's been wonderful to listen too for a lot of years. He definitely is the All Century broadcaster as far as I'm concerned." ~ Sandy Koufax

Broadcaster: Vin Scully*  

Nickname(s): The Voice of the Dodgers 

Team(s):  Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1950 – Present) 

Honors:  1982 MLB Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award Recipient for Excellence in Broadcasting 

Most Memorable Call:  April 8, 1974 – Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run that made him the all-time home run king

Fun Fact:  Vin Scully has called four  perfect games in his career: Don Larsen’s in the 1956 World Series, Sandy Koufax’s on September 9, 1965, Tom Browning’s on September 16, 1988,  and Dennis Martinez’s on June 28, 1991.

Expert consensus is that Vin Scully is the greatest sportscaster of all time.  He has been on hand for some of baseball’s greatest moments.  From the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only world championship in 1955 to  Bill Buckner’s muffed ball in the 1986 World Series to Aaron’s 715th home run, Scully has called it all.   He is the best man for the job in this instance, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.  He has called four perfect games in his lifetime and so I would want him on hand for my perfect game.  In a game that’s bound to see several home runs his famous call of “Forget it!” is a must.

Others Considered:

1.  Harry Caray, Chicago Cubs

2.  Jack Buck, St. Louis Cardinals 

3.  Ernie Harwell, Detroit Tigers 

4.  Harry Kalas, Philadelphia Phillies

5. Red Barber, Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, & New York Yankees

ANNOUNCER

"You're not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name." ~ Carl Yastrzemski

PA Announcer:  Bob Sheppard (1951-2007)

Nickname(s): “The Voice of God” (credited to Reggie Jackson)

Team(s): The New York Yankees

Honors:  Inducted into the St. John’s University and New York Sports Hall of Fames

Fun Fact: The award for the most outstanding student-athlete at St. John’s is named for Bob Sheppard

Let’s face it – nobody did it better than Bob Sheppard.  There is something about those words of “Good evening and welcome to Yankees field” and I like to think that for one day he could change that over to Ebbets.  As Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski once said, “You’re not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name”.   Bob Sheppard announced more than 4500 Yankees games including 6 no-hitters and 3 perfect games.  He was so influential on Derek Jeter that in 2008, Jeter asked Sheppard to record the announcement of his name and even today a year after Sheppard’s death – that recording is used to announce Derek Jeter when he comes up to bat.  I never got the chance to go to old Yankee Stadium and hear that voice and it would be a must for a game like this because he’d be the only one who could do this game justice.

Others Considered: None


CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH

JFK throwing out the first pitch of the Washington Senators season in 1962. Many reports commented that after that game, he was not shy about sticking around to sign some autographs - not only for the fans, but for the players as well.

Ceremonial First Pitch:  John F. Kennedy 

Past First Pitches Thrown: The 1961, 1962, and 1963 home openers for the Washington Senators (Texas Rangers) 

Fun Fact: Every morning at breakfast, President Kennedy ate the same meal – an egg hard boiled for 4 minutes and an English Muffin.

After World War I, baseball grew in popularity and united the nation.  It became such a fanfare at Griffith Stadium – home of the Washington Senators – in Washington, D.C. that it was not considered baseball season until the President of the United States had thrown out the first pitch on opening day.  It was such a big deal that when Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was not a fan of baseball but loved golf, skipped the home opener to play a round of golf at Augusta National during the Master’s – he received a beating in the national media.  When you walk into my living room, the first thing you will see is a framed portrait of John F. Kennedy that my grandmother kept in her house.  Being an Irish Democrat, John F. Kennedy has always been one of my greatest heroes.  I remember writing papers for school about him as a kid and reading “Profiles in Courage” when I was in junior high.  When I began to imagine this game and it’s traditions and pageantry, I immediately knew that my dream game would have him throwing out the first pitch.  After all, his message and presidency is one of the influences that inspired me to dream in the first place.

Others Considered: None

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME LEADER

"If you were a hot dog and you were starving - would you eat yourself? I know I would."

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” Leader:  Harry Caray 

Nicknames(s):  The Mayor of Rush Street 

Team(s):  St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Browns (Baltimore Orioles), Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and Chicago Cubs 

Honors: 1989 Ford C. Frick Award Recipient, 1989 Inductee into the Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame 

Fun Fact:  Though primarily known for baseball, Caray, a St. Louis native was also the voice of the University of Missouri Tigers and the St. Louis Hawks (Atlanta Hawks) early on in his career. 

While Nancy Faust had long played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the organ during the 7th inning stretch of ballgames at Comiskey Park, it was Harry Caray who made it a public singing exhibition.  Caray had routinely sang the words to himself when Faust played the organ so one afternoon, local broadcaster Jay Scott decided to leave the broadcast booth mics on without Caray’s knowledge.  As Harry sang, others sang along with him in what has become one of baseball’s greatest traditions.  A statue outside of Wrigley Field immortalizes Harry Caray leading the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the Friendly Confines.  Who else could possibly be chosen for this role? 

Others Considered:  Is this even a question?

MASCOTS

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Charles Finley once announced to a room full of reporters (with his mule by his side) that he was going to ride Charlie O. around the bases at a Dodgers game to which one reporter wrote, "If not for the program, you would not be able to tell which one was the owner."

AL Mascot:  Charlie O. Mule

Team:  Kansas City Athletics/Oakland Athletics (1963-1976) 

Fun Fact:  Charlie O. shared a pen in the Kansas City Municipal Menagerie with Warpaint, the horse mascot of the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Those who know me best are not going to be surprised that I chose a live mule, nor are they going to be surprised that I chose a Kansas City mascot.  The truth of the matter is though that as a good, loyal 816er I am not a fan of Charles O. Finley in the least.  When Finley brought the A’s from Philadelphia to KC, there was concern about how committed Finley was to staying in Kansas City (apparently not so loyal after only a 12 year stay) so Missouri Governor Warren Hearnes gave Finley a Mule (the state animal of Missouri).  To demonstrate his commitment to Kansas City, Finley embraced the mule and named it Charlie O.  He changed the team’s colors to green and gold and ditched the longtime elephant and made Charlie O the mascot of the Kansas City A’s.  When the team moved to Oakland, Charlie O the jackass went along with Charlie O. Finley (the even bigger jackass).   When Finley sold the team, the new owner re-adopted the elephant as the logo but kept the colors of green and gold the same.

The reason I had to choose Charlie O. was because Finley would take his Mule with him EVERYWHERE – bars, hotel lobbies, everywhere.   There is something about the spectacle of Charlie and his mule and an old traditional live mascot that would make me want to see Charlie O at this game.

He carries around a cannon that shoots hot dogs into the crowd (and occasionally the face of an elderly woman) - how can you not love Sluggerrr?

Others Considered:

1. Sluggerrr*, Kansas City Royals (1996 – Present) 

2. Wally the Green Monster*, Boston Red Sox (1997 – Present)

3. The Bird*, Baltimore Orioles (1979 – Present) 

4. Rally Monkey*, Los Angeles Angels (2000 – Present)

5. Andy the Clown, Chicago White Sox (1960 – 1990)

 


 

 

 

 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

National League mascots are just better than those in the American League. Can you really blame me for having to pick two?

 

NL Mascot:  The Phillie Phanatic* (1977-Present) 

Team: Philadelphia Phillies 

Honors: Inducted as a charter member of the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2005, Named the best mascot ever by Sports Illustrated for Kids

Fun Fact:  The Phillie Phanatic is only one of two MLB mascots on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  Our next mascot is the other.

In 1977, Dennis Lehman felt the Phillies needed a mascot similar to the famous San Diego Chicken to attract more families to Veterans Stadium.  Named for the Philadelphia fans, the Phanatic wears a Phillies jersey with a star for a number.  He has always proven popular with fans but not as much with opposing players.  In fact in 1988, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda assaulted the Phanatic for mocking his players.  There is probably not a better known mascot in all of sports than the Phanatic.

NL Mascot:  Youppi (1979 – 2004)

Team: Montreal Expos

Honors: His likeness is on display at Cooperstown

Fun Fact: On August 23, 1989, Youppi became the first mascot in Major League history to be ejected from a game after Tommy Lasorda complained during the 11th inning of a game between the Dodgers and the Expos.   

Youppi has been a longtime favorite mascot of mine and a reminder of a past baseball team.  I have always really valued great mascots since my favorite team (the Minnesota Twins) has always had mascots that were pretty awful.  Youppi was designed by the same company that developed the Phillie Phanatic and was similar to the Phanatic in many ways – Tommy Lasorda was not a fan of his antics either.   Youppi was so popular in Montreal than in 2004 when the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. and adopted the eagle “Screech” as their mascot, the Montreal Canadiens bought the rights to Youppi making him the first mascot to make the jump from Major League Baseball to the National Hockey League.

The Swinging Friar is cool but what the Padres really need to bring back is the Swinging Friar logo (and Tony Gwynn while they're at it)

Others Considered:

1. Swinging Friar*, San Diego Padres, (1958 – Present)

2. Fredbird*, St. Louis Cardinals, (1979 – Present) 

3. Mr. Red, Cincinnati Reds, (1955 – 2007) 

4. Pirate Parrot*, Pittsburgh Pirates, (1979 – Present) 

5.Mr. Met*, New York Mets, (1962 – Present)


Well there you have it.  The stage has been set for a truly perfect game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York.  With the anthem sung by Alicia, the first pitch thrown out by JFK, and the shenanigans of the Phillie Phanatic and Youppi – how can this not be a great day?

In the third inning we will get into the stuff you probably care about – the players.  I will start by selecting the Catchers and 1st basemen in the next installment of The Greatest Game Never Played.

STAY TUNED

Which stadium and mascots would you choose?

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ‘em!