Sports Of The Times Yankees and North Carolina

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Yankees collected 10 hits and 4 runs off the Red Sox’ David Wells and knocked him out of the game after four and a third innings

SPORTS OF THE TIMES

History Repeats Itself in More Ways Than One at the Stadium

By DAVE ANDERSON

BASEBALL’S new order had begun. For the first time since 1919, the Red Sox were opening the season as the reigning World Series champions, but after their bus pulled up to the Yankee Stadium players’ entrance late yesterday afternoon, an old order was still in effect.

"Have your ID’s out," a Yankee sentry shouted. "Everybody have their ID’s out. Photo ID’s."

Almost any Yankee loyalist worth his or her pinstripes would have recognized the Red Sox players without a photo ID, but in the visiting team’s clubhouse downstairs, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona noticed that a new silver-gray carpet had been installed.

"I guess our Champagne messed up last year’s carpet," he said.

Several lockers had new inhabitants. Alan Embree had been moved to where Pedro Martínez had dressed and sometimes spoken, David Wells was assigned to Derek Lowe’s locker, and the new shortstop, Edgar Renteria, was in the departed Orlando Cabrera’s locker.

But the Red Sox’ objective had not changed: beat the Yankees.

"They’re the team in our division we need to beat," Johnny Damon said. "It’s important to start beating them right away."

They didn’t. Randy Johnson, scattering five hits and striking out six over six innings in a 9-2 victory, showed the Red Sox why this might be the Yankees’ year.

Kevin Millar had wondered earlier how the Yankee Stadium voices would react to the Red Sox as conquering villains.

"I want to see what they chant," Millar said. "They can’t chant ‘1918,’ and with Pedro on the Mets, they can’t chant, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ "

During the pregame introductions, the Red Sox, one by one, were greeted with boos, but the boos sounded more obligatory than emotional.

Including last night, the Yankees have opened the season 29 times against the Red Sox and hold an 18-10 advantage, with the 1910 game a tie. The Yankees are 9-3 at the Stadium, 7-4 at Fenway Park, and 2-1-1 at Hilltop Park in Upper Manhattan. But in the only two openers at the Polo Grounds, in 1917 and 1919, the Red Sox won both as the reigning World Series champions.

Two of the Stadium openers with the Red Sox had a theatrical twist – Babe Ruth’s home run in 1923 in the first game played at the Stadium, and Ted Williams’s debut in 1939 as a rookie.

After the Yankees acquired the Babe from the Red Sox in 1920, his record 54 home runs that season inspired a season attendance of 1,289,422 at the Polo Grounds. John McGraw’s New York Giants, the Yankees’ landlord, drew about 350,000 fewer fans. McGraw eventually told the Yankees to build their own ballpark. After purchasing land across the Harlem River in the Bronx, they constructed what has been known ever since as the House That Ruth Built for what was then a haughty sum of $2.5 million.

Before the 1923 opener, which attracted a crowd reported at 74,200, the Babe was heard to say, "I’d give a year of my life if I could hit a home run today."

In the third inning, he did just that. His three-run blast off the right-hander Howard Ehmke into the right-field stands assured a 4-1 victory.

"Ruth," The New York Times reported, "jogging over the home plate, grinned broadly, lifted his cap at arm’s length and waved it at the multitudes."

Among the multitudes was Harry Frazee, the Red Sox’ owner, who had dealt the Babe for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan on the Fenway Park mortgage, then labeled him an ingrate and a troublemaker. Frazee sat with the two Yankees owners who were his longtime friends, Col. Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston. In a pregame ceremony, Frazee had marched with Ruppert and Huston behind John Phillip Sousa’s band to the center-field flagpole to raise the Yankees’ 1922 American League pennant.

Sixteen years later, with a brash 20-year-old rookie outfielder named Ted Williams hitting sixth, the Red Sox arrived at the Stadium for another opener.

According to the book "Hitter" by the baseball writer Ed Linn, during batting practice, Williams stared at the height of the facade above the upper deck in right field and wondered if anyone had hit a ball over it. His teammates laughed. (Nobody has hit a fair ball out of the Stadium.) And when the right-hander Red Ruffing, the Yankees’ starter and future Hall of Famer who had been a 21-game winner the previous season, began to warm up, Williams snorted.

"That’s Ruffing, huh?" Williams said. "He doesn’t look that tough."

"He don’t look tough from here, Bush," said the right-hander Jack Wilson, alluding to the Red Sox’ dugout and using a term for a rookie that was popular at the time. "But when you stand up at the plate with a bat in your hand, then he looks tough."

Williams’s first time up, Ruffing struck him out on a high curveball. On his return to the dugout, Wilson told him, "This is the big leagues, Bush."

Williams snapped, "He throws me that pitch again, I’ll hit it out of the park." In his next at-bat, Williams almost did, his long line drive crashing near the top of the right-center-field wall for a double. He later struck out again and lofted an infield pop-up as Ruffing pitched a 2-0 shutout.

That 1939 opener was one of nine times the Yankees began the season against the Red Sox as the World Series champions. And last night, for the first time since 1919, it was the Red Sox’ turn – but, as at least two fans’ banners suggested, it might be another 86 years, or 2091, until the Red Sox reign again.

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Roy Williams, who lost two title games with Kansas, is back with a North Carolina team that is not as devoted to him as the Jayhawks were

A Coach’s Unsentimental Journey

By JOE DRAPE

ST. LOUIS, April 3 – He dropped a few dadgums and, for the umpteenth time, told the story about the lesson he learned from his mentor, Dean Smith, on how not to let a national title or lack of one define a coaching career. He also became steely-eyed and prickly at the suggestion that he had meddled in a Kansas program he had left behind by exchanging phone calls this season with two of his former players.

Roy Williams was being Roy Williams on Sunday. It meant that he sometimes came across as homespun as Sheriff Andy in Mayberry, and sometimes like the warden in "Cool Hand Luke," who brought menace to the phrase, "What we’ve got here is failure to communicate."

In just his second year as the coach of his alma mater, Williams has North Carolina in the national championship game, where the Tar Heels’ followers believe their team belongs annually. By arriving at Monday night’s game against Illinois, however, he once again had to answer questions about a wildly successful, and often melodramatic, career.

Williams’s teams have won 80 percent of their games over 17 seasons and have reached the Final Four five times, but he has not won a national championship, twice losing title games at Kansas. He dismissed any suggestion that he was a sentimental choice, and he said that he backed front-runners like his beloved Yankees and preferred the dominance of Tiger Woods to the hard luck of Phil Mickelson.

"I would think if we don’t win, it puts a heck of a lot more pressure on old Roy because you guys will be able to ask the dadgum question another year," he said. "I would like to win it, because I have that desire. But the other reason is so guys will ask me how many hole in ones did you have this summer. I’d love to have that question."

This talented, and in the past troubled, Tar Heels team may offer Williams the best chance to hold forth about his golfing handicap. He inherited it the week after Kansas lost to Syracuse in the 2003 championship game, ending a drama that was part Shakespearean and part the product of the college coaching roundelay.

It began when Matt Doherty, a player Williams coached at North Carolina and who had served as his top assistant at Kansas, resigned as the Tar Heels’ coach after a three-year tenure marked by inconsistent performances and rocky relations with many of these same players, as well as alumni. Williams was preparing the Jayhawks for the Final Four in New Orleans and was critical of Doherty’s treatment by North Carolina administrators and fans.

But at the same time, it was an open secret that Williams was the top choice to replace his former lieutenant. He refused to talk about the North Carolina job at the Final Four, and even lashed out – dropping an expletive much stronger than dadgum – at the CBS sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein, who asked him about his plans in the moments after the Syracuse defeat.

Despite an outpouring of love and support from Kansas fans, Williams decided to return to his native North Carolina. When Bill Self, then the Illinois coach, filled Williams’s vacancy at Kansas, the Illini hired Bruce Weber from Southern Illinois. Like Williams, Weber is in only his second season with the Illini and is coaching players his predecessor recruited.

But this is Weber’s first trip to the Final Four and, after initial resistance last season, the Illini appear to be united behind their coach. Williams and his Tar Heels, on the other hand, had a rougher transition. He characterized last season as one of the most difficult in his career, questioned his players’ effort and was unhappy with their tendency to put individual goals ahead of the team.

Still, he was gentle with them.

"When Coach first came in, you know, he was more worried about our feelings," the senior guard Jackie Manuel said. "He really didn’t want to rub anybody the wrong way. This year, he changed that. He just wanted everybody to work hard. It really didn’t matter how we felt about it."

So, when North Carolina lost its season opener against Santa Clara, Williams punished his team with one set of leg-burning defensive drills after another, withheld water, made his players watch more than two hours of film and dissected every frame of their folly. He has not let up.

Last week, after the Tar Heels won the Syracuse Regional, Williams was still not happy with his team’s defensive effort. When the Tar Heels returned to practice Monday, they found the rims in their practice facility had been removed and they knew they were not going to be running offensive sets.

"This year, it’s been much more matter of fact because they’re on the same page that I am," Williams said. "We’ve all been concerned about North Carolina winning. That’s the only concern."

As might be expected, these Tar Heels do not exude the warm and fuzzy family feel that Williams’s Kansas teams did. Williams often complimented the hard work and talent his North Carolina players demonstrated this season, but Sunday he was most passionate defending his brief phone contacts with Aaron Miles and Wayne Simien of Kansas. Self had implied that he did not appreciate Williams’s outreach.

"Yes, it does bother me for somebody to say I interfered," Williams said. "I did interfere because I recruited all those kids and I cared about all those kids."

Not surprising perhaps for a group that suffered through an 8-20 season two years ago and was blamed for pushing Doherty out, few Tar Heels proclaim devotion to Williams, but they do offer words of respect.

"I don’t think we’re trying to win a championship for Coach Williams," the senior forward Jawad Williams said. "We’re trying to win a championship for ourselves. It’s something we haven’t done, either. Hopefully we can meet halfway and get this thing done together."

Whether or not North Carolina wins Monday night, Williams insists that he will continue to coach his team and conduct himself the only way he knows how – heartfelt always, ornery sometimes.

He will also fall back for the umpteenth time on the words Smith told him shortly after North Carolina won the national title in 1982.

"I was relieved after we won the national championship," said Williams, who was Smith’s assistant when he won his first title. "I had tears rolling down my face. I said, ‘I’m so happy because it will shut those people up.’ "

Smith told him it did not matter.

"I’m not that much better a coach now than I was two and a half hours ago," Williams said Smith told him. "You sit back and think about it, and he really wasn’t."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top

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