Cafe 101: The 3rd Course

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.

Imagine there’s a sports heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
Where sports’ greatest legends
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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As a sports fan, I love the idea of a paradise where all athletes are in their prime.  A place where we can watch Sandy Koufax and Roy Halladay pitch to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  A place where Terry Bradshaw can throw the deep ball to Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.  Where Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Shaq can all play on the same court.  Where Pele and Lionel Messi can go head to head on the pitch.  So far, Sports Heaven’s most exclusive restaurant has seated 8 (Tables 7, 10, 27, 30, 53, 59, 80, & 88) and today we seat an additional 4.  So without further ado we dive into today’s 4.  Please click the corresponding links above to read previous Cafe 101 posts.

TABLE

AL OLIVER

Outfielder/First Baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, & Toronto Blue Jays (1968-1985)
1971 World Series Champion, 7x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger Award Winner, 1982 NL Batting Title

With there being so few athletes who have worn the number 0 (let alone GREAT athletes), this was one of the easiest tables to snare at the Cafe 101.  Of course most people think of Agent Zero, Gilbert Arenas, himself when they see this number and while Arenas has had a solid career I had to take MLB journeyman Al Oliver.

Al Oliver had a great career.  He was the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award, was a big part of the 1971 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and his 1982 batting title shows that he performed over a long period of time.   In 1980, as a member of the Texas Rangers, he set an MLB record with 21 total bases in a doubleheader.  Al Oliver ranks in the top 50 in several MLB categories including hits (2,743), games played (2,368), total bases (4,083), RBIs (1,326), & Extra base hits (825).  Additionally he had a career batting average of .303 and hit 219 home runs in his 18 year career.  There are many who believe he is deserving of induction into the MLB Hall of Fame.  I don’t know about all that but I do believe he is clearly the most deserving of Table #0.

RUNNER-UP: SHAWN MARION, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, & Dallas Mavericks (1999-Present)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Orlando Woolridge & Gilbert Arenas

TOO SOON TO TELL:  Russell Westbrook, Bismack Biyombo, Mike Bibby, & Enes Kanter

TABLE

MAGIC JOHNSON

Point Guard, Los Angeles Lakers (1979-1991, 1996)
5x NBA Champion, 1979 NCAA Champion, 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist, 3x NBA MVP, 12x NBA All-Star, 3x NBA Finals MVP, 9x All-NBA First Team, 2x NBA All-Star Game MVP, Basketball Hall of Fame  – 2002

There are many, many, many great athletes who have worn the #32 and I knew this number would be tough and spark a lot of debate; but this table has to go to Magic Johnson – in my opinion, the greatest point guard of all time.   You could even make an argument that he’s the greatest player of all time.  From his college career at Michigan State to his HIV-shortened NBA career with the Lakers, Magic Johnson was always the consummate professional and a winner at every point of his career.  His 11.2 assists per game average is still an NBA record and his rivalry with Larry Bird that started in college is the stuff of legend.  Some of the greatest athletes of all time have worn 32 and in my eyes, Magic was the greatest of the great.

RUNNER-UP: JIM BROWN, Cleveland Browns (1957 – 1965)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Sandy Koufax, Bill Walton, Elston Howard, Shaquille O’Neal, Julius Erving, Karl Malone, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, David Beckham, O.J. Simpson, Christian Laettner (College), Edgerrin James, Kevin McHale, & Jimmer Freddette (College)

TOO SOON TO TELL:  Blake Griffin, Maurice Jones-Drew, Josh Hamilton, & Toby Gerhart

TABLE

JERRY KRAMER

Guard/Kicker, Green Bay Packers (1958-1968)
2x Super Bowl Champion, 5x NFL Champion, 5x 1st Team All-Pro, 1x 2nd Team All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowler, 1960’s All-Decade Team, NFL 50th Anniversary Team

It is absolutely shocking to me that Jerry Kramer is not in the Hall of Fame.  In fact, he is the only member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame.   When we’re talking about the #64, for me, it came down to two of the greatest guards in the history of the NFL.  It came down to Jerry Kramer and Randall McDaniel.  For me this was tough because it was about a Viking vs. a Packer and while Randall McDaniel is a Hall of Famer and widely regarded as the most versatile offensive lineman of all time, but I have to admit that Kramer is the better guard.   Jerry Kramer was an integral part of the famed “Packer Sweep” that helped lead the Pack to 5 NFL Championships.   His ability to get around the corner helped win the Packers the first two Super Bowls and is a big part of the reason that Jim Taylor is in the Hall of Fame.  His most notable achievement as a blocker is probably leading the way for Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl”.

Additionally he spent three years as a kicker for the Packers amassing 117 points.  In the 1962 NFL Title Game against the New York Giants, his three field goals and PAT were the difference in a 16-7 Packers victory.  Kramer has been snubbed by the Hall of Fame but he wasn’t about to get snubbed by me.  Table #64 belongs to him.

RUNNER-UP: RANDALL MCDANIEL, Minnesota Vikings/Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1988-2001)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  George Blanda, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, & Y.A. Tittle

TOO SOON TO TELL: David Baas & Anthony Herrera

TABLE

SERGEI FEDOROV

Centre, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets,  Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Minsk, & Metallurg Magnitogorsk (1986 – Present)
3x Stanley Cup Winner, 3x President’s Trophy Winner, 2x Olympic Medalist, 3x Gold Medalist in World Championships,  6x NHL All-Star, NHL All-Rookie Team – 1991, Hart Memorial Trophy – 1994, 2x Frank J. Selke Trophy Winner, Kharlamov Trophy – 2003, Lester B. Pearson Award – 1994

The #91 debate really came down to some great defensive players in their respective sports.  On one hand we had Pistons & Bulls great Dennis Rodman who is one of the greatest defensive players the NBA has ever seen.  On the other we had Sergei Fedorov one of the best defenders and playoff performers to ever grace the ice.  In the end, I had to give the nod to Feds.  Fedorov is a proven winner who proved to be among the best in the world at every stage of his career.  His 1993-94 season is one of the best seasons anyone has ever put together.  He won the Hart, Selke, and Pearson Trophy all in one season.  That would be the equivalent of winning the MVP Award, Defensive Player of the Year Award, and being voted All-Pro unanimously all in one season in the NFL.  It’s absolutely unbelievable. In 1998 he won the Stanley Cup and the Olympic Silver Medal in the same year.

As great as Feds was during the NHL regular season, he was phenomenal during the playoffs.  He is considered by many the greatest playoff performer of all time.  He holds the record for most points in overtime (27).  He is ranked 13th in playoff points, 12th in playoff shorthanded goals, and 8th in playoff assists, and he was the 3rd player to have 4 consecutive 20+ point Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Yep, the Russian Rocket is more than worthy of Table #91.

RUNNER-UP: DENNIS RODMAN, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, & Dallas Mavericks (1986-2000)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Kevin Greene

TOO SOON TO TELL: Tamba Hali, Magnus Paajarvi, John Taveres, Justin Tuck, Marc Savard, Cameron Wake,  & Ryan Kerrigan

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

Click photo 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!

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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!