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|Posted on February 11, 2016 at 5:05 PM||comments (296)|
In 1964, before Spring Training, former Manager of the Yankees, Ralph Houk, had been promoted to the front office as the new General Manager. The new Yankees’ Manager had a familiar face, Yogi Berra. He had played 18 seasons with the Yanks, so he knew the Yankee way of doing things. He was a smart baseball man, but he had no managerial experience. The first obstacle for Yogi would be the transition from being one of the guys to manager. He would now be the man making the decisions. He went from being their peer to their boss. The transition got off to a rough start.
Second baseman, Bobby Richardson, always brought his family to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for Spring Training. The day before Spring Training was to start, Yogi called Bobby and asked if he could come over to the home Richardson was renting. “I want to try something out,” said Yogi. “Tomorrow I’ll be talking to the ball club for the very first time as the manager. I’m gonna set some rules,” said Yogi. Berra then began listing his rules: no tennis, no swimming, no golf, no card playing, and so on and so forth. Then, Yogi said, he would tell the players, “We’ll work hard on the field, but we’ll have some fun, too.” Then he looked at Bobby and asked, “How does that sound?” “That sounds good,” said Bobby.
The next day, Yogi gathered all the players and began reciting what he had said to Richardson the day before. Yogi had made it to about his third or fourth “No” rule when Mickey Mantle stood up, threw down his bat onto the concrete floor and said, “Aw hell, I quit,” and walked out to a chorus of laughter from the rest of the team. There went Yogi’s big opening speech.
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:51 PM||comments (29)|
We lost a familiar voice a couple of weeks ago, Jim Simpson. I grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and discovered Simpson in the late 1950’s as he became the first play-by-play radio announcer for ACC basketball. This was the days of no televised basketball games. My brother Cliff and I spent many nights listening to the golden voice of Simpson on my transistor radio. Remember, the first nationally televised college basketball game was not played until 1968, when UCLA played the University of Houston in the Astrodome. Interestingly, as I did research on Simpson for a chapter in my new book, I saw where Jim Simpson was also the first radio play-by-play announcer for the first Super Bowl. It really is a small world.
On Sunday, January 15, 1967, a local friend of mine, Jim Sambol, and 61,946 football fans made their way into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch what would later become known as the “Super Bowl” between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Remember this was 50 years ago. As you can see by the photo, his ticket cost him $12. The going rate this past week was $5300. The temperature at game time was 72 degrees. Jim grew up in Kansas City and he, along with several hundred fellow country club friends, purchased a package to Las Vegas that included tickets and airfare to the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. “We arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday,” said Jim. “My plane left at dawn, Sunday morning, for Los Angeles. There where several chartered planes loaded with Kansas City fans and some flights left at a later time. Unfortunately, when the later flights arrive in L.A., the smog was so bad they were not able to land, so those planes were forced to turn around and head back to Kansas City,” said Jim.
Some little-known facts about the Super Bowl I include that fact that the two teams used different footballs. Kansas City used the J5V by Spalding, and Green Bay used “The Duke” football made by Wilson. Super Bowl I is also the only Super Bowl in history to not sell out. Of the 94,000-seat capacity in the Coliseum, 33,000 seats went unsold. “I stood outside the Coliseum before game time and tried to sell our extra tickets, but there was no one to sell them too,” said Sambol. The Packers were favored by 14 points. This game was also the only Super Bowl to be broadcast simultaneously by two television networks, NBC and CBS. The cost of a 30-second commercial was $42,000. This year, Super Bowl 50 commercial spots will exceed 5 million dollars each. Only six officials were used by the NFL from 1965 through 1977, so Head Referee, Norm Schachter, oversaw a combination of referees from the two leagues. Since officials from the NFL and the AFL wore different uniforms, a neutral uniform was designed for this game. Neither team brought their cheerleaders, so the Ramettes of the Los Angeles Rams performed. “Halftime included a flying demonstration by the hydrogen-peroxide-propelled Bell Rocket Air Men,” said Sambol.
As for the game, the Chiefs’ regular season record was 11-2-1 and they had beaten the Buffalo Bills, 31-7, for the right to play in the championship game. The Packers, with a record of 12-2, beat the Dallas Cowboys, 34-27. According to Jim Simpson’s halftime report on radio for NBC, Kansas City led Green Bay in first downs, 11 to 9, and total yards, 181 to 164, but the Packers held a 14-10, lead on the scoreboard. The final score was 35-10, Green Bay. Packers’ quarterback, Bart Starr, was chosen as the MVP. Paul Hornung was the only Packer that did not play in the game, because he suffered from a pinched nerve in his neck. Elijah Pitts replaced Hornung and scored two touchdowns for Green Bay. The winner’s share of Super Bowl I was $15,000 and the losers earned $7,500. “After the game, I purchased a dozen hats in the parking for a dollar a piece,” said my pal Jim. Interestingly, the name of the trophies that are given to the AFC and NFC Champions are called the Lamar Hunt (AFC) Trophy and the Vince Lombardi (NFC) Trophy; and both played a part in this game.
Representing the two teams, a total of 14 players, two head coaches and one owner are currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The names are worth remembering. Packers: Vince Lombardi (coach), Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Willie Wood. Chiefs: Lamar Hunt (owner), Hank Stram (coach), Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Len Dawson, and Emmitt Thomas.
As for Jim Simpson, his voice and name are attached to many high-profile sporting events. Jim called 14 Olympics, 16 Major League Baseball All-Star Games, six Super Bowls and six World Series for television and radio. He worked for NBC from 1964-1979, calling AFL and later NFL broadcasts. On January 15, 1967, Simpson and former quarterback, George Ratterman, called Super Bowl I for NBC radio.
Over the years, Jim worked for NBC, ABC, CBS, and TNT. In 1979, a small fledgling company named ESPN lured Simpson away. His very name gave this new cable sports station instant credibility. Jim Simpson called the very first college basketball game ever televised on ESPN. His color commentator was none other than a new-to-the-business, Dick Vitale. Vitale credits Simpson with helping him develop as a sportscaster. Simpson also called USFL and College World Series Baseball Games for ESPN. In addition, Simpson was the initial U.S. sportscaster to appear live via satellite from Asia, and he was involved in the first American sportscast using instant-replay technology. Simpson, a television legend, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Emmy Awards show, in 1997. In 2000, he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. Jim Simpson left us for his field of dreams on Wednesday January 12, 2016, after a short illness. He was living in Scottsdale, Arizona, when he passed. He was 88.
I have info from reliable sources that the NFL has invited all living players and their immediate families to attend Super Bowl 50 at no cost. Personally, I have been blessed to attend five Super Bowls: XXVII (27), XXVIII (28), XXIX (29), XXX (30), and XXXIII (33). Those trips were always a blast and something every football fan should put on their bucket list. My friend Jim and I would like to say, “Enjoy the game.”
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:50 PM||comments (11)|
He moves with long deliberate strides that tell you he knows where he is headed. A great smile and eyes that sparkle; he puts you at ease quickly. This guy loves basketball. His first words may have been the “Big O” and “Wilt.” In a crowd, he appears more comfortable than an old baseball cap. He is intelligent, gives credit to everyone but himself, and is a fine speaker. Some say he could draw a crowd at the North Pole. He’s a guy that doesn’t mind showing you the way to success; it remains up to us to follow. He knows we only get a short amount of time to be great at what we want to do, so he does not waste time. He understands that sometimes greatness is about struggle not victory. It’s about finding out what’s inside, the reason for being who you are. He also knows that regardless of the score, there is always time to coach. Shooting free throws with this guy for ten minutes will teach you more about him than 15 years of sitting at a desk across from him. He’s a fine man, good husband, great father, trusted friend and a basketball coach. A teacher in tennis shoes, Willis Wilson is the perfect fit for Islander basketball.
The first time I met Willis Wilson was at the 2011 NCAA Final Four. Where else would you meet one of the most respected basketball coaches in the land? Interestingly, Willis, the newly-named Head Coach of the Texas A&M--Corpus Christi Islanders, was introduced to me by the Islanders’ original coach, Ronnie Arrow. We shook hands, spoke for a minute, and made plans to connect later back in Corpus Christi. I grew up in ACC country and, like Willis, I also love college basketball. I can’t wait for basketball season. I attend the Islanders’ pre-season practices on occasion and Coach Wilson has always made me feel a part of his program. In this crazy world of social consciousness, you will see, hear and smell three things at an Islander round-ball practice: Character, Toughness and Talent. He calls it the bedrock of his program when; in fact, I believe it is a reflection of him and all that he stands for. I think the thing I like most about Coach Wilson is that he coaches the old-fashioned way, with respect, patience, honesty and understanding.
Willis Thomas Wilson, Jr., was born on March 22, 1960, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the land of college basketball. His family later moved to Silver Springs, Maryland, where Willis won All-Metro Washington and All-County honors for Montgomery Blair High School. As a junior, Willis led his basketball team to the 1977 Maryland State Championship. The following year, Wilson was selected the MVP in Montgomery County and captained the McDonald’s Coaches Scholarship All-Star Team in the Capital Centre Classic.
Willis later played basketball and graduated from Rice University in 1982. He would begin his coaching career at his alma mater in 1985, as an assistant. With stops at Strake Jesuit Prep, Stanford, Rice and then Memphis, Willis is the winingest coach in Rice history and has so far placed 25 of his kids in the professional ranks. He has been selected Coach of the Year several times and has won way too many awards to mention here. Willis Wilson accepted the Islanders Men’s Head Coaching position on March 25, 2011. He inherited a very young team in disarray. In his third season, the Islanders showed tremendous improvement. In the 2013-2014 season, the Islanders earned a 14-4 win-loss regular season record in the Southland Conference and received a spot in the College Insider Tournament. There they recorded the Islanders programs’ very first postseason win since the team’s inception in 1999. Last year, Willis also earned the prestigious Ben Jobe Award, as the top Minority Coach of the Year, in Division I basketball. And this year he has already celebrated the 250th win of his coaching career.
Willis Wilson has always been there when I have asked for his help. He has spoken to his fans at my business and he and his wife, Vicki, have attended my book-signing events. He has asked me to speak to his team on occasion, and I treasure his friendship. Wilson has spent nearly 30 years breathing through a whistle while teaching young boys how to become men, how to be productive in society and accountable to others and “oh yes,” how to play the great game of basketball. So, if you want to see the results of a great coach and be proud of the kids representing our city, grab a ticket and Go Islanders.
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:49 PM||comments (9)|
There is an old story about a doctor who asked a young fellow what he dreamed about at night. The young boy answered, “Playing baseball.” The doctor then asked, “Don’t you ever dream about anything else?” “Of course not,” said the young boy; “if I did, I would miss my turn at bat.” A young boy like the one described above is retired now, living on the Island here with us, but his fire still burns for the game of baseball. Very few of us play at the Major League level, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still love it. There is nothing about the game of baseball that he doesn’t like. Everybody is just a kid from somewhere and, growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, he spent as much time as possible at Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a member of the Knothole Gang, once his hero, Duke Snider, got into his heart, he never got out.
He is the kind of guy who looks you in the eyes and connects. The word “grit” always fit him better than his uniform, and he is so funny, he can make your pets laugh. Handing this guy a baseball bat was like giving George Patton a tank; something unbelievable was going to happen. Some said he could spot talent from a moving car and that his jump shot was illegal in three states. For many kids, Pat Dwyer became the Irish Robin Hood with a trunk full of baseball equipment. Somebody had to step up to the plate.
Bernard Patrick Dwyer was born January 7, 1942. “When I was a kid, I didn’t play baseball. A police officer by the name of Eddie Gray asked if I wanted to play baseball. When I told him I didn’t have a glove, he left, and then later returned with an old, used Wilson glove. That’s when I fell in love with the game.” Little did Pat know at that time the influence Officer Gray’s gift would have on his future. Baseball in the summer and basketball in the winter took up most of his time. Pat told me, “I was a better basketball player than baseball player in high school, but baseball was my first love. ‘Hubie’ Brown was my first basketball coach. I was always the first one to arrive at the playground.” While in high school, Pat played with and against future NBA Hall-of-Famer, Rick Barry. They played against each other during the season and with each other on local, all-star tournament teams. “I always held him to 40 or 50 points,” laughed Pat. Many years later, when Rick Barry joined the Houston Rockets, Pat took his son, Bernie, to meet Barry and get his autograph. “When we met, I told Bernie in jest, that this is the guy I used to outscore in high school,” said Pat. After a pause, Rick responded, “That may be true, but ask your father how much money he makes now and then I will tell you how much I make.”
Pat received several offers to play ball in college but, tired of school, he joined the Army. He enlisted in 1962 for two years and ended up in Germany. Before being shipped out to Germany he was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana. It was there that Pat met Lois, his future wife. In 1964, when he returned to the States, he married Lois and went to work for Anheuser-Busch in Newark, New Jersey. In 1970, he was transferred to Houston, Texas. There he played softball and basketball for the Budweiser teams, while continuing his education at San Jacinto Junior College. He didn’t like crunching numbers as much he did crunching fastballs.
Pat met Houston Astros’ scouting director, Dan O’Brien, in 1990. “He hired me to scout the four counties in and around Houston,” said Dwyer. Pat would spend the next 20 years sitting on wooden seats behind chicken wire, in out-of-the-way towns, for gas money and a pat on the back, looking for the next Nolan Ryan or Reggie Jackson.
Pastor, John Maxwell once wrote, “Greatness is by what we give, not what we receive.” Maxwell may have been talking about guys like Pat Dwyer. In 1994, Pat Dwyer became the brainchild of the RBI Program in Houston, Texas. RBI stands for Recycled Baseball Items. The idea was to collect old or used baseball equipment for underprivileged kids who could not afford their own equipment to play the game. “I started recycling old baseball gloves and used equipment in my barn, on a ranch located in Alvin, Texas,” said Pat. It was reported in 2015 that 35,000 kids around the Houston area and Central America have received equipment from this program, along with personal instruction from current and former professional ballplayers like Larry Dierker, Enos Cabell, Mike Hampton and Bob Aspromonte. In fact, it was Enos Cabell who asked Pat to bring his program to Houston. Pat, Bernie, and John Nash once delivered enough uniforms and equipment for 26 teams, to Guatemala, after hurricane Mitch destroyed their ball fields.
The recently departed Milo Hamilton always MC’d his fundraisers and asked Pat to sit with him in the booth during game night, on several occasions. “For a guy who talks a lot, I was in awe and speechless,” said Pat. For the kids, the RBI program has been the greatest thing since the invention of penicillin. The RBI program still continues today in the hands of Pat’s most trusted friend, John Nash.
Pat has been an avid memorabilia collector in the past, but sold off most of his collection to raise funds for the RBI program. He still has a signed photo of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider-- his most prized possession. The person he would most like to meet would be “Babe” Ruth and the most famous person Pat has ever met was President John F. Kennedy. Pat and Lois have reared three children: Bernie, Colleen and Michele.
Pat Dwyer, a fine Christian man, has strolled through life like he was holding the winning lottery ticket. I am reminded of what writer Joseph Campbell once said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” The RBI program has been Pat’s way of giving back, his way of saying thanks to Officer Gray. I’m proud to call him a friend.
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:48 PM||comments (4)|
There I stood with Corpus Christi baseball coaches, Hector Salinas, Lee Yeager and Steve Castillo, at the 2011 South Texas Winter Baseball Banquet. I was standing in high cotton. I felt like the guy who played third base with Tinker and Evers and Chance. That night the Corpus Christi Hooks were honoring the success of Head Baseball Coach, Steve Castillo with a Lifetime Achievement Award, after John Paul II High School had won their second state title. Castillo is slim built, business-like and wears tinted glasses. He looked like he should be teaching calculus in a baseball cap. He also has a heart as big as a watermelon, and you always get nine innings of truth from him in an interview. Castillo understood that baseball is the game of long seasons, where small differences decide who wins and who loses that game, that series, that season. There are so many sports slogans like “One game at a time,” but when you live it that’s when people notice. People noticed Steve Castillo. He was always two innings ahead of everybody else. He believed that good baseball cures bad baseball and preached to his kids that the best player on the team is the team.
So now we fast forward to the present, January 15, 2016. You know, the word “first” carries a lot of weight in the world of sports. Steve Castillo is now the first Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD) coach to be inducted into the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, located in Waco, Texas. The 65-year-old Castillo was caught completely by surprise for two reasons. It was his first year on the ballot, and the names of other coaches being nominated were impressive. Along with Castillo, the 2016 class included Julian Pressly of Odessa, Rudy Alvarez of Austin Bowie, and Jim Long of Brenham. Castillo has joined his dear friend, Steve Castro from Robstown, who recently passed away. These two are the only area coaches to enter the Hall of Fame. In 30 years, Castillo has won 717 games, while losing only 222 and tying 13. That’s quite a record. Castillo led Moody High School to three state championship games in 1983, 1994 and 2000, all of which they lost. Castillo left for John Paul II in August of 2006, and won two state 4A TAPPS Championships (2010-2011) in three trips. Steve has earned the Caller-Times All-Metro Coach of the Year Award four times and the All-South-Texas Coach of the Year Award three times. In 2013, his contract with the John Paul II Centurions was not renewed. The baseball community was shocked. Castillo, never one to look back, said, “They did me a favor. I’m really enjoying my three granddaughters.” So, hats off to Steve Castillo.
You see, Coach Castillo has never been unhappy at a ballpark. He has always been mad about baseball. He still gets lost in the game. There are very few things besides family that you can go through your entire life caring about. Baseball is one of those. Corpus Christi is proud of you, coach.
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:46 PM||comments (10)|
He’s a “good old boy,” with a wide smile and football stamped in his DNA. Back then he owned a gravelly voice, a tanned face, and he couldn’t say a word without using his hands. Content and now retired, he whispers more when he speaks. Back in the day, the smell of fresh-cut grass and a sweaty locker room made him feel alive, and he’d rather watch game film than sleep. He had spent almost 41 years drawing up plays and dusting the chalk off his hands, and he answered to the name of “coach.” Some said he could spot talent from a moving car and his playbook may have had only two words on the cover, “Option Football.” He felt naked without headphones, a whistle around his neck and a stop watch in his pocket. As head man he could be calm inside of a hurricane, never raised his voice, and as positive as Phil Mickleson with a three-foot putt, uphill. No one knew “veer” football like he did and he could turn an offense around faster than a Popsicle melts in August. He was a teacher first and a master communicator second; you just trusted what he told you. The old saying goes “There is no ‘I’ in team,” but there is one in WIN; and winning was what his teams did best. So in July, he became lucky number seven, the seventh former Texas A&M Javelina to be inducted into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame, and I can promise you there was no luck involved. If someone gave you the ingredients to make a football coach, you would create Ron Harms.
Someone once said, “If you’re going to learn to cross-country ski, start with a small country.” Head Coach Ron Harms was born on September 10, 1936. If anyone was born a football coach, it was he. After he had graduated from Valparaiso University in Indiana, Ron Harms began his teaching and coaching career at Lutheran East High School in Detroit, Michigan, as an assistant football coach. He also coached the track and cross-country teams. In 1962, after three years, he left to become the head football coach at Concordia College, located in Seward, Nebraska. At 27 years of age, it was his first head-coaching job. After six years, Harms left Concordia and headed to Alamosa, Colorado, to coach the Adams State Grizzlies. In the spring of 1974, after four seasons there, Harms resigned as Adams State head football coach and went to Kingsville, Texas, to hopefully land a job on Gil Steinke’s staff. Ron became the offensive coordinator during the 1974-75 seasons. Then he was offered and accepted an assistant coach’s job with Head Coach Grant Teaff of the Baylor Bears. Harms would spend the next three years in Waco, Texas, before heading back to Kingsville in 1979, to become their head football coach.
Harms’ induction into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame allowed him to join legendary coach Gil Steinke, for whom Harms had worked in 1974-75, and five of his former players. They are as follows: Darrell Green, John Randle, Johnny Bailey, Dwayne Nix, and Richard Ritchie. Both Randle and Green are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It’s an honor to be part of that group,” said Harms. The enshrinement ceremony occurred on July 20-21, 2012, in South Bend, Indiana.
Coach Ron Harms spent 23 seasons at Texas A&I Kingsville (later to be called Texas A&M Kingsville), two as an offensive coordinator and 21 as the head coach and athletic director. During his two seasons as offensive coordinator, A&I won 25 straight games and two NAIA Division I National Titles. Beginning in 1979, as a head coach of the Javelinas, Ron Harms’ teams won 14 conference trophies including 11 Lone Star Conference titles. Six of those championships came in a bunch from 1992-1997. His overall record at Kingsville was 172-72. Harms received five different “Coach of the Year” Awards during his tenure, including the NAIA National Coach of the Year. He has also been inducted into the Lone Star Conference Hall of Honor and the Javelina Hall of Fame. You have to respect excellence.
I am proud to call Coach Harms a friend and I have made the 35-mile trip to Kingsville from Corpus Christi many Saturdays to watch his teams win. It was like being in a pro locker room because many of his players would wind up in the NFL. Some guys collect cars; this man collected football players. Jorge Diaz, Kevin Dogins, Earl Dotson, Roberto Garza, Jermane Mayberry, Heath Sherman, Anthony Phillips, Johnny Bailey, Al Harris, John Randle, and Darrell Green are among the players I saw. But there are more. Names like Gene Upshaw, Randy Johnson, James Hill, Eldridge Smalls, Dwight Harrison, Ernest Price, and Don Hardeman made their way into the NFL ranks.
What is it about the game of football that’s so consuming? A game where the end results often lead to quarterbacks who can no longer raise their arm, linebackers who can’t bend over to tie their own shoes, and tackles who can’t get out of bed in the morning without the help of their wife. Maybe it’s a reflection of America; man on man, brute strength against force, confidence against fear. The game is played out on the biggest stages, televised nationally, in front of millions each week. Maybe part of the attraction is that we have to wait a week in most cases, to experience the excitement of the game again. “I enjoyed the sport itself, it was very intriguing to me,” said Harms. It appeared that they grew NFL players down in Kingsville, Texas, as 46 athletes from this Division II School have played on Sundays.
Harms, at 77 years old, now spends his time with his wife, Marlene, three daughters, one son, and chasing around a slew of grandchildren. He enjoys a swim now and again between rounds of golf and finds strength in his faith. They live in Aransas Pass, Texas, a quiet community located on the Gulf of Mexico.
Harms served a year on the NCAA Football Rules Committee with my friend, Dotson Lewis. “Harms always appeared logical and rarely spoke without thinking things through,” said Dotson. “He did a great job.”
Ron Harms and Davis Flores co-wrote a book entitled The Whole Enchilada, a history lesson of forty-one years of walking the sidelines. “I wrote it particularly for the fans of football, the Texas A&I Javelina fans,” said Harms.
Gil Steinke always claimed that Ron Harms was a “breath of fresh air.” I’ll say. You can’t find another Ron Harms; you just have to be happy with the time he gave us. Thanks Coach.
www.espncorpus.com Uncle Andy’s Blog
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:45 PM||comments (38)|
Marcel Proust once said, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” That line describes this fellow to a “T.” One of the perks of having a sports talk radio show and being able to attend many of my favorite sporting events has been to allow me to meet and converse with many of the best athletes in all of sports. Occasionally, these interviews would lead me to meeting another of my favorite players. Believe me, it’s the best part of this gig. Being a writer and writing well is hard work. As a sports enthusiast, we all have pockets full of stories to share. Writing requires constant thinking and there’s an added difficulty with writing about sports or athletes. You see, the writer ages but the players do not. They remain young and are constantly replaced with younger versions of themselves. In my case, I followed Mickey Mantle until Derek Jeter came along. But every once in a while, I meet an athlete who becomes a true friend, a guy I can trust and one I feel comfortable with. That’s when the stories really start to flow. Bart Shirley is one of those guys. My favorite sports writer, Jim Murray, once wrote in jest, “When you think everything is hopeless, just remember Yogi Berra.” That’s how I feel around Bart, ten years old with a bat in my hands. He has a way of serving as the rainbow in everybody’s cloud. I believe that man makes his destiny through his choices and values, and so does Bart. In my opinion, Bart Shirley was born with a heart three sizes too large. There is nothing this man would not do for you, and that’s a good thing. Bart is humble, God-fearing and snail quiet. I proudly refer to him in public as a “Corpus Christi Treasure.”
Barton Arvin “Bart” Shirley was born on January 4, 1940, in “The Sparkling City by the Sea,” Corpus Christi, Texas. As an athlete, this guy was electric, pure energy. Bart was fast; some said he could catch a cold in the desert. Bart played and starred as a shortstop in baseball for Head Coach A.J. Luquette and left halfback in football for Head Coach Bill Stages, for Ray High School in Corpus. Bart Shirley was what we call a two-play guy. You turn on the projector and watch him field two ground balls and then turn it off. His play was such that Bart was inducted into the Ray Texans’ Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995, as part of their inaugural class. After graduating from Ray in 1958, Bart, along with his close friend and teammate, Bobby Oliver, signed athletic scholarships and headed to Austin, Texas, to play for the Longhorns. After his freshman year, Bart would line up as a halfback for legendary football coach, Darrell Royal, in the 1959 Longhorn backfield. Bart would complete four of ten passes for two touchdowns, while executing the halfback-run option. One of those touchdown passes came against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for a Texas win. Bart also rushed for 90 yards on 25 carries and caught two passes for sixteen yards. In 1959, the star quarterback, Bobby Lackey, and the 9-2 Longhorns, would finish 4th in the final Associated Press Poll and would take on Ernie Davis from Syracuse, in the Cotton Bowl. The Orangemen from Syracuse won that day, 23-14.
Bart’s star shined even brighter on the baseball diamond for the 1960 Longhorns, as Bart started at shortstop for Head Coach “Bibb” Falk and was voted to the All-Southwest Conference team. Later that same year, Bart was signed as an amateur free agent by celebrated scout, Hugh Alexander, of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Alexander, who was referred to as “Uncle Hughie” by the players, had pitched and played outfield briefly for the Cleveland Indians before an oil field accident in Oklahoma took his left hand. Uncle Hughie became a scout and signed many great players like Allie Reynolds, Steve Garvey, Dale Mitchell, Don Sutton, Frank Howard, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and our very own Bart Shirley. “Once I signed the contract I lost my amateur status at Texas,” said Bart. “I went to Spring Training in 1960 and sent my signing bonus home to my mother.”
In 1961, Bart Shirley reported to the Atlanta Crackers, the Dodgers’ Double-A team, of the Southern Association. Bart later joined the U.S. Army Reserves and attended basic training, in 1961. He would fulfill a six-year obligation to his country. By 1962, you could find Bart playing shortstop for the Triple-A Omaha Dodgers of the American Association.
In 1963, he would hone his skills for the Triple-A Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League, before being called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 14, 1964. On Tuesday September 15, while wearing #11, Bart collected 3 hits in 4 at-bats including a double, with one RBI and a run scored against pitchers, Bob Friend and Joe Gibbon, of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Dodgers beat the Pirates 5-3 that day. Bart also turned two double plays, from the shortstop position, that day, with Nate Oliver and Ron Fairly. Interestingly, Bart’s teammate, Willie Davis, and opponent, Roberto Clemente, also had three hits each in that game.
“My greatest memory in professional baseball was when I got the game winning hit against pitcher, Jack Baldschum, of the Philadelphia Phillies, while playing with the Dodgers in 1964,” said Bart. “We won 4-3 and I was extremely excited.” That hit came three days later on September 18th; Bart had collected two more hits with his last hit driving in the winning run against the Phillies.
By the end of 1964, Bart had played in 18 games while hitting a respectable .274. He scored six runs with one double, one triple, and recorded seven RBI’s. Bart struck out eight times and walked six times. He remained on the big club until the end of that season.
In 1965, Bart suffered a terribly sprained ankle in Spring Training. It also didn’t help that Maury Wills was playing shortstop for the Dodgers. “I was sent home for a week to recover,” said Bart. “I had a real shot at making the club before my injury.” After healing, Bart found himself back in Spokane for the season. At the beginning of the 1966 season, Bart was called up again to the big club on April 19th. Shirley would stay with the Los Angeles Dodgers until June 25th, and was then drafted on November 28, 1966, by the New York Mets in the Rule 5 baseball draft. Walter Alston and the Dodgers continued to play well and won the 1966 National League pennant with a 95-67 win-loss record. With stars like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Willie Davis, John Roseboro and Don Sutton, winning was made easy, but it was not enough. Bart was proud to be a part of that team. The Dodgers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles for the 1966 World Series title. Bart received his share of the 1966 World Series money.
Bart Shirley opened the 1967 season with the Mets, while wearing the # 6, before being sent back to the Minors on April 29th of that same year. Bart was traded back to the Dodgers on May 18, 1967, by the Mets. At the beginning of 1968, Bart finally joined the Dodgers for the last time on July 31st. Bart wore the #2 in 1968. His final game occurred on September 29, 1968. He was 28 years old. Bart headed back to Spokane for the 1969 and 1970 seasons, but the writing was on the wall. In his four years in the Major Leagues, Bart had played in 75 games, while hitting .204. He scored 15 runs on 33 hits with 11 RBI’s and recorded no home runs.
In 1971, Bart decided he was not yet through playing baseball and did what many American players have done before him. He headed to Japan. There he signed with the Chunich Dragons of the Japan Central League. Bart would play there for two years. I asked Bart if he could change anything about his baseball career, what it would be. He thought for a minute and said, “I was blessed with a great arm and could cover a lot of ground with the best, but I wish I had applied myself more to the art of hitting sooner than I did. It wasn’t until I got to Japan that I really started to understand hitting. The Dodgers wanted me to hit more to right field, but when I got to Japan they pitched me inside so I became more aggressive and began to pull the ball to left field. I began to look more at location instead of the spin of the ball. When I learned to bend my knees, while swinging, which in turn kept my bat level and in the hitting zone longer, I became a better hitter with more power.” That explains why Bart made better contact in the “Land of the Rising Sun.” During his two years in Japan, Bart played in 246 games, hit 15 home runs and drove in 79 RBI’s, in a short period of time. I asked Bart what the major difference was in Japanese baseball versus the Major Leagues. “The pitching is not consistently as good,” responded Bart. Other American Major League players that played in Japan while Bart was there include Clete Boyer, Davey Johnson, John Miller and his close friend Jim Lefebvre.
Bart Shirley returned to the States in 1973 to manage in the Dodgers’ Minor League system. He would get his start in Daytona Beach, Florida. In 1974, you could find him managing in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and in Danville, Illinois, during the 1975 season. Bart would manage a total of 401 games in three years, while winning 199 for a .496 winning percentage.
Pastor Mark Salmon introduced me to Bart Shirley. Mark had met Bart in August of 2001 when Mark became the Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church. Mark Salmon, being a diehard baseball fan of the Yankees, and his friend Bart spent hours talking baseball. “We had many great conversations about the Yankees and his career with the Dodgers and Mets. We even talked about his college career at the University of Texas,” exclaimed Mark. “I also heard many stories of his days at Ray High School.” Bart is an Elder and very active member at Grace and I was surprised to find out he sang in the choir. “I felt especially close to Bart when his wife, Bette, got sick and passed away. His Ray High School friends embraced him with such love and I heard over and over again how much Bart had meant to them over the years.” Mark continued, “Bart also subbed for me several times at Whataburger Field and led Baseball Chapel with the visiting and hometown Hooks teams. His greatest days were not when he was a professional baseball player, but as a true and devoted friend.”
One of those devoted friends was a fellow by the name of Garron Dean. Garron has been a Bart Shirley fan for sixty-plus years. “We went to junior high and high school together and participated in sports together all those years,” exclaimed Garron. “Upon graduation, he went to Texas and I went to LSU and we lost each other until he returned to Corpus Christi. Bart had been in Japan playing baseball.” Dean continues, “Bart was a born sportsman and to this very day he is an avid and accomplished golfer.” I myself have never played golf with Bart. I do admit that the only compliment I’ve ever received on the golf course was, “Hey I think we can find that one.” Bart would always smile when I mentioned that. “Bart is one of the most honest individuals I have ever known and a devout Christian who spends a lot of hours devoting his life to Christ,” said Dean.
“When Bart returned to Corpus, he joined Tommy Wright at Citizens Bank, where he learned the ropes on how to become a banker,” said Garron Dean. “Then he had the opportunity to go to work in the Real Estate business and began working with my firm for about five years before he chose the insurance business, where he has been ever since.”
Interestingly, Bart’s high school relationships with teammates stand as strong today as ever. They continue to move in and out of each others’ lives to this very day and gather occasionally to remember and celebrate their past. Bart and his current wife, Victoria, make their home here in Corpus Christi. Bart Shirley is not so much a religious man as he is a spiritual man. Calm but intense, Bart makes difficult look easy. He understands that real toughness is finding strength in something other than yourself. Faith is about living in the unknown, and suffering occurs when we lose part of our identity. The loss of a job, a child, spouse or home can be painful.
George Orwell once said, “At a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” What I would want to leave with Bart and others is the realization that whoever you are, there is some younger person who thinks you are perfect. I would count myself as one of those who feel that way about Bart Shirley. Both Mark Salmon and Bart Shirley wrote some very kind words about my earlier books, In the Company of Greatness and Remembered Greatness which I decided to use at the beginning of my newest book, Greatness Continued. Bart also joined me during one of my book-signing events this year and quickly became the star. The fact is we need our heroes more than they need us.
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:43 PM||comments (15)|
As a kid he would rather spend his time on a ball field instead of at the mall. You can’t read a book and learn how to play a sport. He believed you needed to play the game and watch the game being played. You should be able to walk into any park with the scoreboard covered up and know which team is winning by watching how they are playing. I can’t imagine how many games this fellow has seen. As he grew older, he became a symbol of what’s good about the game of baseball, and he would rather play catch than sleep. As a former American League All-Star pitcher, this guy could bury his pitches in the bottom of the box. He had four right-handed pitches that could embarrass you. With a fastball, curve, slider and changeup, he had many ways to sit you back down. At times he pitched like home plate had eight corners. He just lived at their knees. Now he spends his time here with us. You could say he’s our “diamond in the rough.”
Corpus Christi Hooks’ President, Ken Schrom, is one of a kind. If he had never played ball, if you had never heard his name and you passed him on the sidewalk one day, you would turn around and look. I’ve known Ken Schrom for over 20 years and I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about him. Ken loves hearing the vendors hawking peanuts, beer and popcorn at Whataburger Field. He loves the sound of the ball popping the catcher’s mitt. He loves the fairness of the game, the colors, the smells, and the feel of the ball in his hand. He loves that he never grows old at the ballpark. He also loves how the ballpark gets quiet when the game is on the line. You will find Ken at game time standing on the concourse greeting folks, shaking hands and watching baseball.
Kenneth Marvin “Ken” Schrom was born on November 23, 1954, in Grangeville, Idaho. Ken Schrom was a heck of a high school athlete. He was selected All-State in baseball and basketball and All-American in football at quarterback. All total, Ken earned 11 athletic letters. In 1973, after high school, Ken was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in tenth round, but decided to attend the University of Idaho on a football and baseball scholarship. Schrom dreamed of becoming an NFL quarterback. In fact his favorite player of all time is Bart Starr. “I got in trouble more times than you can imagine because I wrote the #15 on everything I had, including new school clothes,” laughed Schrom. Injuries steered him toward baseball. Ken was later chosen and signed by the California Angels as a pitcher, in the 1976 amateur draft.
Ken was traded in 1980 to the Toronto Blue Jays and debuted against the Kansas City Royals as a reliever, on August 8, 1980. Ken would again be traded and become a starter and spend 1983-1985 with the Twins. In 1983, Ken recorded a 15-8 win-loss record and was selected the Twins’ Pitcher of the Year. On June 26, 1985, Ken threw a one-hit game for the Twins against the Royals. It was the first one-hitter ever thrown in the Metrodome in Minnesota. Schrom and his Twins got the win, 2-1.
In 1986, Ken would find himself in Cleveland with the Indians. He started off his season with a 10-2 record and was selected to the American League All-Star team which beat the National League 3-2, at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. His 1986 All-Star jersey is one of his most prized possessions. Ken would finish the year 14-7. In 1987, Ken tore his shoulder labrum which required surgery. His last game occurred on October 3, 1987. Ken pitched over 900 innings in seven years in the Major Leagues, for three teams (Twins, Indians, and Blue Jays), and won 51 games while losing the same number. He struck-out 372 batters and hit 25 while earning a 4.81 ERA.
Schrom spent the next 16 years in the front office of the El Paso Diablos of the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization. El Paso is where I initially met the Diablos’ owner, Jim Paul, and Ken Schrom. Ken, his wife Cindy and the kids left El Paso and joined the Hooks in 2003. Ken was selected the Texas League Executive of the Year in 2005. He became the President of the club in 2009. He was inducted into the University of Idaho Sports Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. Ken is a fine man, a good friend and a heck of a baseball guy. He was also kind enough to write part of the foreword of my newest book. In his spare time, you can find him winning money from his friends on the golf course, or fishing somewhere quiet.
Did you know that in the past ten years, 56 of our very own Hooks’ players have joined the Houston Astros? Ken Schrom just announced that on April 2, 2015, the Astros will make their third trip to our fair city to take on their Double-A club known as the Corpus Christi Hooks. This is to be a homecoming for some, as there are 17 former Hooks’ players on the current Astros 40-man roster. The game will be played at Whataburger Field with a 6:05 PM start. Ken Schrom and I hope to see you there.
|Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:41 PM||comments (17)|
There we sat courtside at an Islanders’ men’s basketball game. My new friend’s name was Richard. He had driven from Wisconsin with his wife Mary to watch their oldest son Mark. No, Mark wasn’t playing; he was one of the assistant coaches of the Islanders’ men’s basketball team. They had been making trips south for many years. On this night, Mark Dannhoff, “Coach D,” would help lead the Islanders to another victory, one of twenty that they would win that season. Mark, the first of three boys, was born on September, 7, 1967. His two younger brothers are named Darren and Steve. While in high school, Mark also played shortstop, catcher and second base on the baseball team. “I wanted to play professional baseball until I got hit in the face,” said Mark. His childhood heroes included Walter Payton, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Michael Jordan. “Back then, the game was still all about team,” said Dannhoff. Mark started and starred for La-Crosse Central High School basketball team at the guard position. He was one of the major contributors to leading the team to the state championships, only to lose in the semi-finals. He continued playing basketball at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and lettered as a freshman until an ankle injury ended his career, prior to his sophomore season.
Mark was never a big fan of professional basketball and preferred college from the beginning. He is a mild-mannered, smart guy with a Master’s degree, yet he finds himself using phrases like “pick and roll,” “ball screens,” “posting up” and “baseline defense.” Very few of us find the job that we fit in the best. “Coaching basketball for life is all I ever want to do,” said Dannhoff. Mark wants to be a head coach again, and he should be. He became an assistant at his alma mater (Wisconsin-La Crosse) at age 20; and two years later, he was hired as the head coach of Northland Community College. “I took the job as head coach,” said Mark, “because my college coach said to me, ‘One day you’re going to want to be a head coach and they’re going to say, but you’ve never called a timeout.’” His task, rebuild the program. “There were no scholarships available, so I had to give everyone a tryout,” said Mark. “I was learning on the job. I wish I knew then what I know now.” Not only did he turn the program into a winner, but they won their conference championship in his fourth year.
The long story, short is that Mark Dannhoff has coached 26 years for many different Division I programs all across the South: from Georgia State, Mercer, Tulane, University of New Orleans, and Pan American, Mark has coached more than 46 future professional basketball players along with two NBA players. You may remember Linton Johnson who played with the San Antonio Spurs and the New Jersey Nets. I’m sure Mark will be given the opportunity to be a Division I head coach one day. There have been many fine things said about Mark by some of the best coaches in the country: Roy Williams, “Wimp” Sanderson, Tony Bennett and Bo Ryan, to name a few.
Two years ago, Mark Dannhoff, under the leadership of Head Coach Willis Wilson, helped guide the Islanders to their first-ever post-season win against Northern Colorado in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT). Last year, the team participated in their second consecutive CIT where they beat Florida Gulf Coast, but then lost at home to Kent State. “We should compete for a Southland Conference Championship this year,” said Coach Dannhoff. “I think you will see more balanced scoring and a better example of sharing the basketball.” I asked coach what was his favorite coaching philosophy? “You’re only good if someone else says you’re good,” he said. Coach D is not a collector and has only one autographed item: a picture of Michael Jordan hitting the winning shot against Georgetown in the NCAA Finals. The person Mark would most like to meet, if it were possible, is the departed John Wooden.
We spoke a lot about recruiting. “The hardest part is the time spent in doing the job right and how to convince a kid to go to a school where he fits in the best. Everybody can’t play at Duke, Kentucky or Wisconsin,” said Coach Dannhoff.
During his down time, you can find Mark hanging out near the ocean. He loves the water, fishing, jogging and playing golf. When he has something heavy on his mind he returns to a safe place, where he feels the most comfortable, shooting baskets in the gym. Mark Dannhoff has been a good friend. Not only do we share our enjoyment for the game of college basketball, but he has always taken his time to honor me with his presence at weekly lunches and during my book-signing events. He recently spoke at a potluck dinner held at my church, Island Presbyterian, here on the Island.
To find out more about Coach Mark Dannhoff’s basketball teachings and philosophies, check out his website at coachdallaccess.com. Go Islanders!
|Posted on January 6, 2016 at 10:30 PM||comments (9)|
The day he was born, the doctor told his mother he would not live through the night. He had come into this world weighing only one pound, 13 ounces. It was 1931 in rural Texas, and there were no incubators to be found. Still, his grandmother had hope for his survival. She placed him in a shoebox, turned her oven on and placed the box on the open oven door. It was here that he would defy the odds. Not only did he survive, but he would spend the rest of his life going places where no one had gone before. Bill Shoemaker would climb aboard the backs of 40,350 different horses during his forty-plus years of horseracing. He would visit the winner’s circle 8,833 times including 11 Triple Crown races, and his mounts would earn an astounding sun of 123 million dollars in purses. A good friend of mine named Roy Davis both owned and loved horses. He also knew how to bet them. Roy once attended a charity event in Oklahoma City, and the guest speaker was none other than Bill Shoemaker. A reporter from the local media, who was not very knowledgeable about the sport of horseracing, confused Spectacular Bid with the great Triple Crown winner, Secretariat. This reporter assumed that Shoemaker had ridden Secretariat and asked Shoemaker what he remembered most about Secretariat. Shoemaker thought for a minute and his answer was priceless. “The thing I remember most about Secretariat,” said “Shoe,” “was that she had the smallest rear-end of any horse I had ever seen, and the longer I chased her, the smaller it got.” Roy said, “Shoemaker’s answer brought the house down with laughter and made the reporter red in the face.