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Must-Click Link: A National Anthem controversy . . . 49 years ago


People have been angry about athlete protests during the National Anthem in recent weeks, but don’t think for a moment this is anything new. Wide swaths of America get angry if you do anything that, in their minds anyway, disrespects the National Anthem.

Just ask Jose Feliciano who, in 1968, was asked to do the anthem before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and Cardinals in Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

Today David Davis of Deadspin walks us back through that controversy. A controversy which looks particularly idiotic with the aid of hindsight. Feliciano’s transgression: re-arranging the Anthem, making it into something of a folky and soulful number, reflecting the turbulent year in which it was being performed. Now we take no issue with a performer re-interpreting “The Star Spangled Banner,” but people were outraged at Feliciano’s rendition, however respectful — and, objectively speaking, beautiful — it was.

I can add one bit to this that wasn’t in Davis’ story. An acquaintance of mine was a low-level Tigers front office employee in 1968 and he was there for the game. When Feliciano began singing, the wife of Tigers owner John Fetzer went into a tizzy. My friend says she began ordering anyone within earshot to do whatever could be done to stop Feliciano. Unplug his amp, put something else louder over the speakers, anything. It was a bit of a chaotic scene, I was told, with no one really doing anything except trying to stay out of Mrs. Fetzer’s way in the short time the song took to complete.

Years later, as Davis notes, Feliciano was invited back to Detroit to perform the anthem and no one can be found now who will admit to being angry about it then. Everyone I know with a memory of it, in fact — family members and friends of family members who lived in Detroit in the late 1960s — claims they thought it was beautiful.

I’m assuming that, similarly, many people angry at Collin Kaepernick or Bruce Maxwell or any other protesting athlete today will claim, years in the future, that they were with them and understood what they were getting at.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.