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|Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:12 PM||comments ()|
On September 29, 1959, Gil Hodges scored the winning run and the Los Angeles Dodgers won their first National League pennant. They had finished in seventh place the year before and were expected to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. It had been an amazing finish to the season; but it had started off with a celebration of life. At the end of the 1957 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.
On Thursday, May 7, 1959, the L.A. Dodgers played the New York Yankees in a special exhibition game set up to be played at the L.A. Coliseum, during the season. There was no interleague play at the time and the National League and American League teams only met during the World Series. Dodger president and owner, Walter O’Malley, had declared this night to be Roy Campanella Night. The game was played in an effort to not only recognize “Campy” as a great player, but to use the proceeds from the attendance to help his family pay for his enormous medical bills. The crowd numbered 93,103 and became the largest to ever attend a baseball game at that time. During the fifth inning of the game, the Yankees and Dodgers were asked to leave the field, and Pee Wee Reese, dressed in his Brooklyn uniform, pushed Roy Campanella to the pitcher’s mound. Campy was seated in a wheelchair. Vin Scully described the scene like this: “All the stadium lights were turned off and 93,103 fans were asked to light a match or a candle. Their lights came on like thousands and thousands of fireflies.” “It was like every fan had a way to communicate to Roy,” said former teammate, Ralph Branca. The outpouring of affection rained down on Roy like Niagara Falls. When Roy heard there were 93,000 fans in the stands, he said to Reese, “Pee Wee, that’s my number turned backward, #39.” It was a night to remember.
Interestingly, it had been Pee Wee who had asked Roy Campanella to come stand with him at the mound the night the Dodgers honored Pee Wee with his special day. “He asked me because he was a little nervous,” said Roy. It was an extremely emotional night, and no one cared that the Yankees had won, 6-2.
A baby boy was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1921. They named him Roy Campanella. He grew up to play professional baseball by the age of 15 and joined the Negro League’s Washington Elite Giants, in 1936. They moved to Baltimore in 1937. Roy eventually signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 and spent two years in their Minor League system, until he joined the big club in 1948 as a catcher. Roy became an eight-time All-Star during his ten years with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Campanella was named the league’s MVP in 1951, 1953 and 1955, while playing on five pennant winning teams. He also hit two home runs and drove in four runs, to lead the Dodgers to the World Series title in 1955, over the New York Yankees.
At the young age of 36, a car crash on January 28, 1958, just days before he was scheduled to report for Spring Training, would leave Roy Campanella paralyzed from the shoulders down. He closed his store and had driven home that night. Although he was only traveling 30 mph, he hit a patch of ice and skidded into a telephone pole. The car turned upside down, and Roy was injured.
Roy Campanella once said, “The hardest thing for me is when I wake up in the morning, because I can’t move until someone comes and helps me get in my chair.” Many times while in the hospital, Roy lost his will to live. This gesture renewed his faith to continue living. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. His #39 was retired by the Dodgers in 1972. In the 1980’s, Tommy Lasorda made him a coach. Roy attended almost every home game until his death. But it was at Roy Campanella Night that the world of baseball celebrated his life.
“I would like to say that I will never forget this night as long as I live,” said Roy. “I thank God I was able to be here to see this site. Thanks a million.” Roy left us on June 26, 1993. He was 71. He had spent almost half his life in a wheelchair. Roy Campanella never played a game in Los Angeles for his Dodgers.
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 11:42 AM||comments ()|
I’m an American, red, white and blue. My father could be Ted Williams, my grandfather John Wayne and my great-grandfather George Washington. I love this country, its history and all it stands for. But take it from a guy who attends a lot of games in person, I really dislike what has happened to our National Anthem. I’m not talking about the words, they are truly inspiring, but the singing of the Anthem itself. I think the Anthem is sung far too often and mostly by unqualified people who have no business making a mockery of this song. I can promise you that Francis Scott Key never intended for this to happen. He was not watching the Yankees and Red Sox when he penned these lyrics.
Our Anthem was written during a time of war, from the bow of a British ship, as Key, a British prisoner, watched the British bombard U. S. Fort McHenry located in Baltimore, Maryland. The United States military raised a huge American flag on September 14, 1814, to signify their victory over the bombardment. It was this vision of our flag, waving through the smoke and brimstone, in the aftermath, which inspired Key. If you know the history, then the words make sense. You see, our National Anthem represents us and all those people who came before us. It’s sung so often now that it doesn’t seem to mean anything to the public. Some people don’t stand, others fail to remove their hats, and virtually no one places their hand over their heart as we were all taught in school. Even fewer sing along, and you get the feeling that people simply dread this part of the pre-game ceremonies. Could this be why so many fans arrive late to the game? Maybe they don’t want to stand through the Anthem again. You would think that people would get used to singing the Anthem as they do “Take me out to the Ballgame” or their favorite college fight song, but they don’t. Why, because it’s never sung the same way. It’s quite a long song and very difficult to sing. Most amateurs and some pros start off singing with too high a pitch and end up with nowhere to go at the end of the song. They either run out breath, range or both. I would rather not hear it sung at all than hear it sung badly.
I think we need to hold a contest to qualify singers for the National Anthem and only sing it before championship games, July 4th and special military events. Have you ever noticed that you never hear the Anthem played or sung before a game on television or radio unless it’s a championship game like the World Series or Super Bowl? Sponsors would rather run another commercial. Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” is a great song and much easier to sing. Could it be used instead? There was a time when no songs were sung before a sporting event. Remember the old movies where the umpire points to the pitcher and hollers, “Play ball”? That was it.
The National Anthem started being sung at ballparks during the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and Cubs at Comiskey Park. As American troops readied themselves to attack the Saint-Mihiel salient at the Western front in Europe, Game One of the Series was about to begin. When over 19,000 fans stood for the seventh-inning stretch, the band broke into the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and fans began to sing. As the song continued, more fans joined in singing and ended the song with a thunderous applause. Through their singing, they felt they were supporting our troops overseas, fighting for democracy during World War I. It’s interesting to point out that “The Star Spangled Banner” would not become our National Anthem until 1931, but as of that afternoon, it would continue to be an integral part of the game of baseball.
Remember this is the National Anthem of the United States of America, and it commands the same respect that you demand as an American. The Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence and this song are the ties that bind all Americans. Don’t take them for granted.
P.S. Shame on you if you don’t know the words.
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 11:38 AM||comments ()|
He could not have been made up. His talents while unique made him far from perfect. His desire to live was unrestrained and his appetite for life was uncontrollable. Someone once said, “He would eat anything that wouldn’t eat him.” That face made him impossible not to recognize and to this day, no one has ever looked the same. He never seemed to know what he was doing, he just did it. He may have been the first professional athlete to figure out that people come to the ballpark to be entertained; that baseball was show business. Could he have been some sort of alien?
Most people want to be in the presence of greatness and this was no different. The cranks would watch with anticipation as he swung two bats in the on-deck circle. As he made his way to the plate, people began to stand and clap; he hadn’t done anything yet, but still they applauded. There, he would kick the dirt a bit and smile at the pitcher. Pitchers hated facing him. Even the best twirlers would lose sleep the night before the game.
As the pitcher delivered the baseball, he would take that long stride, moving towards the ball with a little hop and immense power. The sound at impact was unheard of, before. When he connected with the ball, it went boom, bam, pow. Fans would turn their heads, looking upward towards the sky. Some people would be so frightened from the sound, they would duck. The ball would continue its upward flight, far into the afternoon sunlight, where it would most likely land in “Ruthville,” the right field bleachers of Yankee Stadium.
His thin legs and fragile ankles now moved opposite of each other but in unison, to carry him around the base path. Like a prancer, he would run on his tiptoes, with his head down, until reaching third base where he would doff his cap and wave to the fans before crossing home plate and disappearing into the dugout.
The most exciting thing in baseball was to see “Babe” Ruth hit a home run and the second most exciting thing was watching him strike out. Teammate Lou Gehrig once said, “I batted behind Ruth. It made no difference what I did; the fans were still talking about what he had just done.” All he did was invent the home run.
Ruth played at a time where writers of the day would cover up his excesses instead of taking time to dig them up. Newspaper men like Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Jimmy Cannon, and Paul Galico helped fuel the story of this mortal man who had become a god in a wool uniform. Some would have you believe that he was one of the few players who actually lived up to the hype.
It’s true that he was the first player to hit thirty home runs, forty home runs, fifty home runs and sixty. In fact, he set all the hitting records, most of the pitching records and in many ways, has never left the game. But Babe Ruth was more than baseball. He was a great dancer and he loved to listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio. He loved kids of all ages and backgrounds. He lent money to many of his teammates and showered his two wives and two daughters with anything they wanted. Most of all Babe Ruth was a consumer. He consumed food, drink, women, and life in large quantizes. The only thing that the Babe would not get, that he wanted badly, was a managerial job in baseball. It seemed that no one wanted a manager that they couldn’t control, and he was the only one of the original five Hall-of-Fame inductees that did not get a chance to manage. Sadly, no one realized that without baseball, the Babe had nothing. Baseball was all he knew. Ruth kicked around after baseball. Speaking engagements, advertising promos, and spring training appearances kept him going. He experienced tremendous headaches which led to the doctors finding throat cancer and surgery, but Ruth was never told he had cancer. He would later return to the hospital for the last time.
If anything could have saved the Babe, prayers would have done it, as millions of fans hit their knees every night and prayed for Ruth. The “Sultan of Swat” died of throat cancer on August 16, 1948. Over one hundred and fifty thousand fans lined up to pay their respects to the “Big Bam.” Say and write whatever you want about other baseball players, but Ruth will always be the symbol of baseball, as long as the game is played. Remember, he invented the home run.
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 11:37 AM||comments ()|
Sometimes we have to be careful what we ask for. That’s how I feel about instant replay in Major League Baseball. Nothing is ever perfect; that’s why we call it a “game.” In this never-ending effort to always get things right, we lose the spontaneity of the game. I used to celebrate instant jubilation when a touchdown was scored in an NFL game by my favorite team. Now I have to wait for the review, to see if the call stands. It takes something away from the game for me. I do think the Major League baseball players will adjust quickly to instant replay and the broadcasters will find a way to fill the time. Umpires have not resisted instant replay jargon for several years. “Managers now have something they never had before,” said Hall-of-Fame Manager, Joe Torre. “They have a chance to change the outcome of a game. Maybe they’ll have fewer sleepless nights.” Okay, I’ll accept that for now, but the real question is, how will instant replay be received by the lifeblood of the sport, the fans?
Please understand the reason instant replay is being used in Major League baseball isn’t because the umpires have been bad; it’s because umpires haven’t been perfect. This just in: they will never be perfect even with this system. Baseball, as in life, is not meant to be perfect. Social media allows and encourages instant outrage from fans that enjoy pointing out someone else’s mistakes. In response to this outrage, Major League baseball went back and reviewed every game played in 2013, in an effort to single out any play that would be considered too close to call or a play that may have the qualifications to be reviewed under this new system. There are 2,430 games played during a regular baseball season, and Major League baseball found 50,000 calls that fit the reviewable profile. Guess what! Only 377 of those plays would have been overturned by instant replay. That’s 0.754% or one call overturned for every 6.4 games played, and those numbers would occur only if those 50,000 plays were challenged by the managers. The percentage could easily be lower.
These numbers highlight what most baseball fans already knew; professional baseball umpires are better than NBA officials or NFL officials, period. The reasons are easy to decipher. Major League umpires are highly trained in a Minor League system before they reach the Major League level and only have the one job. Since balls and strikes are not part of the instant reply, there are fewer calls to make in a baseball game.
So here’s the scoop. Each stadium will have twelve camera angles including an overhead cam. Every play is fed into a 9,000-square-foot command center known as the Replay Operations Center. This center is part of MLB Advanced Media offices, located in Manhattan, New York. Inside the center reside eight professional umpires that rotate on a weekly basis along with many technical support people. These folks have access to 30 huge high-definition television sets, and you thought the Pentagon budget was expensive. In a sport where they pound their chest about 300-million-dollar contracts, they will not give us a clue on how much this experiment cost.
In an effort to not slow the game down, every play is being reviewed in real time, and these folks will have seen the play in question several times before a manager challenges a call and the on-site umpires ask for a ruling. Fans are also being shown the replays on their own stadium video boards.
So, you have to ask yourself was the system really broken. Did it need to be fixed? Does the outcome justify the cost? For those who say that one missed call is too many, I would say that’s not realistic and this system will not guarantee perfection. In fact, no system will; that’s the beauty of the game. It is as flawed as the people who play the game. I will agree that this is a work in progress. My fear is the next step. Why not go ahead and streamline the process and take the manager out of the equation. If the center determines the call is incorrect, they can speak to the umpiring crew within seconds and reverse the call. Now you have completely limited the power of the manager to someone who just fills out the lineup. Is that what you want, as a fan?
Perhaps the instant replay system should only be used during the playoffs. What do you think?
Email me at [email protected]
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 11:35 AM||comments ()|
Detective Purvis at your service, that’s right Andrew P. Purvis, for those of you who don’t remember. It was a fine Saturday morning, with an abundant blue sky shining through the bedroom window, when I discovered the secret of the “Suitcase Cats.” In my younger baseball days we called it a “high sky” because it seemed like you could see forever. Needless to say, on this occasion, being on this case would keep me inside. My stern investigation had turned up a massive amount of information as I struggled to put all the pieces into place. Oh, there was plenty of evidence if you knew how to look for it, and most folks knew that Gil Grissom on CSI had nothing on me. That’s why I made the big bucks. It all started so innocently, with little things being moved out of place. Rugs with corners turned up, items on tabletops moved, and straws and nail files with puncture holes; they were all parts of the clues to this case. Were these just stunts to throw me off track? Interestingly, clumps of hair, mostly white, would turn up in unusual places, and an occasional hairball would be found with no explanation. The suspects in this case were indeed sneaky and acted as if absolutely nothing was wrong. They kept completely quiet and showed no emotion whatsoever. Over and over, they denied or blamed each other for everything. I was sure they were in cahoots with each other and I was out to catch them in the act. Seems that can after can of cat treats have been mysteriously missing for years. I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but until the stash had been discovered, I could not make an arrest.
Suspect number one had been seen at “the scene of the crimes” for about five years. She was big for her age and displayed an orange and white swirl of hair from head to toe. She resembled a cow, because her front legs were shorter than the back and she had a tiny stub for a tail that wiggled when she was scared. It had been wiggling a lot lately. She hated to be touched or so it seemed. She tried to blend in by hiding in the hall closet, bathroom dirty-clothes hamper, or resting under the coffee table, but I knew she was always there, lurking in the background. She was a pro if I’ve ever seen one. Her head was too big for her body and she tried to fool everyone into thinking that she slept all the time. I was on to her. It would take all my experience to nab her with the goods. Most folks called her “Tangy,” an alias for her real name, Tangerine.
Her culprit, the number two suspect, was the same age as she if you add a few days. He had been hanging around like he owned the place. He was different alright: clever, curious, aggressive, but actually a little dumb. His body was long and lean, which enabled him to get in and out of most tight spots. His tail was as long as his body and he carried a fighting weight of eleven pounds, three pounds lighter than his accomplice. He had started off white in color but as the days went by, like all good crooks, he had skillfully changed his appearance to a blend of grey, brown and black. His hair was course unlike her hair, which was as smooth as the grass on a putting green. His vision at night was incredible and you would swear that he could see into tomorrow. This suspect was brazen and would move around the house as if he were untouchable. I kept asking myself, is he intentionally seeking my attention to conceal her work, or did he think he was just too good to be caught? One thing for sure, they were quite a pair. He was called “Shadow,” which made perfect sense. He was so fast you would think he could disappear right before your eyes, as if you had just seen a shadow. It was time to put a stop to their hi-jinks and I was just the guy to do it.
So let’s go back to that morning, the morning that the suitcase cats were caught in the act. I had entered the bedroom where there were two suitcases left out from our last trip. They had not been put away, and one lay on the end of a chair and the other on the bed. The suitcases were from the same set, blue in color and made of heavy cloth. On top of these suitcases lay my suspects, as harmless as you can imagine. Tangy even placed her arms out around the suitcase as if she were hugging it. I had never thought to look inside those suitcases. One reason was that the cats look so restful lying on top of the suitcases and no one, including animals, wants to be disturbed while sleeping. Then it came to me, it seemed that Tangy was always asleep on one of those suitcases. Why had she picked that place to sleep? Was it because it was comfortable or was it just the highest spot in the room to sleep? It seems that all cats like high places and are not afraid of heights, or was there something else? Was she hiding something? Then it dawned on me that Shadow had been sleeping on the other suitcase for the past several days. It had been there right in front of me all the time. These suitcases were full of cans of cat treats. These two little furry crooks had been sneaking cans of treats from the kitchen into those suitcases. When the first suitcase was filled, the other suitcase came into play. This just reminded me of how much goes on during the day, while my wife and I are away. So the mystery of the Suitcase Cats had been solved, and my reputation was intact, Detective Purvis at your service. These two cat burglars had been caught. The treats were returned to the kitchen to be divvied up when needed and the suitcases put away. I wonder where all the cat toys are?
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 11:34 AM||comments ()|
Now I know why our cats used to like me so much, I had never taken them to the veterinarian. My wonderful wife has been taking care of our two cats, Tangerine and Shadow, for eleven years, until yesterday. Don’t ever make the mistake in thinking that your pets are just dumb animals. They instinctively know you inside and out. I think they can read minds. I’m certain that they just allow Grandma and me to live here with them. Anyway, it took me thirty minutes to catch our cats because they knew before I did that they were going to the vet. They even knew how to place their paws on the outside of the doors of their cages to keep me from pushing them inside.
I have to tell you, I’ve never before heard the kind of sounds coming from our cats when I placed their cages in the front seat of my car. It was unbelievable. You would think they were dying a slow, painful death. Shadow cried like a baby and I think Tangerine would have been a little better if she had been by herself, but eventually she joined in. I prayed a policeman would not stop me for anything, as he would surely arrest me for animal cruelty. So I talked to them and turned the music up and sang songs, but no use. I was the bad guy and they were letting me know it.
When I finally got to the vet, there was only one parking space. That should have been my first sign to turn around and go back home. As I entered the veterinary hospital with a cage in each hand, there were six people with seven pets ranging from a golden retriever that was as big as a horse to another cat smaller than mine. I was greeted to more howling and growling with owners pulling on leashes. It was busy, behind schedule and loud, kind of like my doctor’s office. There were no seats available, so I had to ask for a chair.
I arrived at 9:05 for a 9:20 appointment. “Good luck” should have been written over the admission desk. I was led to the patient’s room at 10:10. The young girl began to ask me questions about Tangerine and Shadow. I played dumb and handed her the piece a paper with the info my wife had written out for me. Our cats were simply there for their yearly checkup. They were to be weighed, have their eyes and ears checked and be looked over in general. I was to purchase some medication for heart worms.
When she took Tangerine out of the cage first, the orange and white hair on this poor cat came out in clumps. I was shocked as she explained to me that Tangerine was just scared and that a burst of adrenaline would create this mess. There was enough hair on the table now to stuff a pillow. But there was good news, Tangy had lost some weight. Shadow was next and he was so aggravated that she decided to wait for the doctor to weigh him. Shadow hissed and made noises I had never heard before. The look on my face must have been enough to shoe her away as she turned and left.
Finally, at 10:30, the Vet shows up, a nice looking and acting man, who has never seen me before. With him are three other females who appear to be in training. He too begins to ask questions and I point to the note. He apologizes for the wait and begins to check the cats. Shadow has gained weight which is even better news. Again they hiss, howl, and now some grey hair too is flying everywhere. Grandma had written something about some previous blood work for Shadow and the Vet asked me again. So I called Grandma. After a brief discussion, the Vet said to Grandma, “I think your husband is ready to give this job back to you.” He could not have been more correct. You would not believe what it cost for him to tell me my cats were in great shape. Heck, we both knew that; it’s Grandma and me that are having the issues.
Guess what, the howling did not stop on the way home. Shadow and Tangerine may never acknowledge my presence again. We arrived home right at 11:00 AM and they were set free. I’m sure they are plotting against me as I type.
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 11:33 AM||comments ()|
Have you ever noticed when you’re watching old baseball documentaries or game films about the history of the game, that some players wore different uniform numbers during their careers? Did you notice that a lot of great players wore the same number? I remember playing ball as a kid in the Fifties, and everybody wanted to be #7. Why? That was Mickey Mantle’s number. When you said “seven,” everyone knew about whom you were speaking. The #3 carries even more weight in baseball lore, but Ruth was way before my time. I once competed with a couple of friends in a game of baseball uniform numbers. Jim Bruns, Lee Milazzo (a sports critic for the Dallas Morning news) and I each decided to sit down and come up with a list of our greatest players to wear #1 through #50. This is no small task, and we gave ourselves a couple of months to complete this assignment. Many of our answers were the same, like Lou Gehrig for #4, Willie Mays for #24 and Ted Williams for #9; but what astounded me was how many great players and Hall of Famers started with one number and later changed to the number by which everyone remembers them. Most baseball fans probably know that Joe DiMaggio wore #9 his first year, before switching to his famous #5; but did you know that Hank Aaron started with #5 before changing to #44?
Team owners resisted putting numbers on uniforms initially, because they felt that fans would stop buying scorecards at the game. In 1916 and 1917, Cleveland and St. Louis experimented with numbers on the sleeves of the players, but abandoned that idea until the Thirties. Finally, the New York Yankees became the first team to permanently wear uniform numbers on April 16, 1929, not so much to identify players but to create a batting lineup. This lineup would determine which player was to bat first, second, third and so on. So, the reason “Babe” Ruth wore #3 was because he hit third in the order, and Lou Gehrig wore #4 to bat fourth. So, it stands to reason that if you have fifty or more players trying to make the club of only 25, some players who had higher numbers during Spring Training would receive lower numbers after making the team. That would explain guys like Billy Martin changing from #12 to #1, and Nellie Fox from #26 to #2. Bob Gibson started with #58 before he made #45 famous; and Tony Oliva took #38 to start, but ended up with #6.
By 1932, all of the American and National League teams were wearing uniforms with numbers, and sometimes the opposite of the above happened with players’ uniform numbers. As time went by, some players’ numbers were retired or became available because of trades or injuries. This allowed players like Billy Williams, who started with #4 to trade up to #26, while Monte Irvin made the Giants club wearing #7 before changing to #20. Larry Doby also went to a higher number. Doby went from #6 to #14.
Many players went to great lengths to keep the numbers they received when they reached the Majors. Some even offered to buy from or trade with another player for their number. There always seems to be a story behind most numbers that players wear. Barry Bonds insisted on wearing his father Bobby’s #25.
Because of the popularity of some great players, many wear their number out of respect, just like “us kids.” Brooks Robinson and George Brett started out with #6 and #25, respectively, but both ended up wearing #5 out of respect for Joe DiMaggio. Catchers Yogi Berra and Rick Ferrell began their careers with #38 and #10, only to end up with both wearing the #8 of HOF catcher Bill Dickey, who by the way, also started with #10.
Sometimes you can even play dominos with great players’ numbers. Just use the numbers with which the player started and finished, to bridge a gap from one great player to the next. Al Kaline wore #25 before he changed to #6; Mickey Mantle started with #6 his first year, before making #7 a worthy number; Hank Greenberg wore #7 before receiving #5; and Mel Ott wore #5 before he wore #4 for the rest of his career.
Two pair of great pitchers wore the same numbers: Carl Hubbell and “Lefty” Gomez both made the #11 popular, but they started their careers with the #10 and #22 respectively. Number 16 was worn by pitchers Whitey Ford and Ted Lyons, who started with #19 and #14, respectively. Speaking of #19, Bob Feller made that number famous after he traded it for his first jersey, #9. Three great players wore #21: Warren Spahn, George Kell and Roberto Clemente. Two of them, Spahn and Clemente, did not start their careers with the #21. They wore #16 and # 14, respectively, but Kell started with #21, switched to #15, and then switched back to #21. I’m sure there’s a reason, but I can’t find it. Even stranger was the number sequence worn by Roy Campanella: “Campy” started with #33, then moved to #39. He was then sent back to the Minors only to return with #56, before reclaiming his old #39.
Some of the game immortals never wore a number. Players Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, “Wee Willie” Keeler, Eddie Collins, Cy Young and Walter Johnson have all gone into the Hall of Fame numberless. Manager Connie Mack never had a number because he never wore a uniform. Anyway, I’m not going to give you the rest of my lineup. If you enjoy the history of baseball as much as I so, you will do your own list. Have fun!
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 11:32 AM||comments ()|
Buck O’Neil was a fascinating guy who spent his lifetime in baseball. His smooth delivery of stories and incredibly sharp mind lured you into another world where baseball was life. He could delivery decades of baseball knowledge at the drop of a cap. Baseball was his religion. His voice reminded you of your grandfather, telling tales on the back porch, on a breezy night in October. It was as if he could tell you almost anything and you would nod with approval.
One of my favorite interviews with “Buck” O’Neil occurred with film producer Ken Burns. Burns asked Buck if the game of baseball would always survive. (Please remember when reading his answer that Buck O’Neil was 88 years old at the time of this interview). Buck responded “Yes, somebody or something will always happen to keep the interest of the game alive.” Then he told this story: “I heard Ruth hit the ball. I’d never heard that sound before, and I was outside the fence but it was the sound of the bat that I never heard before in my life. And the next time I heard that sound, I’m in Washington DC, in the dressing room, and I heard that sound of a bat hitting the ball—sounded like when Ruth hit the ball. I rushed out, got on nothing but a jockstrap—rushed out—we were playing the Homestead Grays and it was Josh Gibson hitting that ball. And so I heard this sound again. Now I didn’t hear it anymore. I’m in Kansas City. I’m working for the Chicago Cubs at the time, and I was upstairs and I was coming down for batting practice. And before I could get out there I heard this sound one more time that I’ve heard only twice in my life. Now, you know who this is? Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson was swinging that bat. And now I heard this sound…and it was just a thrill for me. I said, here it is again. I only heard it three times in my life. But now, I’m living because I’m going to hear it again one day, if I live long enough.”
Another of my favorite interviews with Buck occurred on a televised Major League game hosted by ESPN’s Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Miller asked Buck. “Was Josh Gibson really as great as they say?” Buck smiled and said, “Oh, he was better than that.” Wow! I may never forget that answer. How clever of this old man to leave the listener with the thought that however great you thought Josh Gibson might be as a player, he was really even better than that.
The last time I saw Buck O’Neil in person was in July at the Fan Fest of the 2004 MLB All-Star Game. I was standing with a friend of mine, Mike Patranella, at the Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit. I was telling Mike and a few others about some of the players that were pictured there in the display. I had just finished talking about Buck O’Neil when in he walks, as big as life. I said hello. Shook his hand and asked him how he was doing. His smile was still contagious, there was still a twinkle in his eyes and his warmth filled the room as he answered, “Wonderful.” It was then that I turned to the folks standing there and said, “Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. Buck O’Neil.” I left him there surrounded by well-wishers and admirers.
Buck O’Neil, a fine Negro League player, coach, manager and MLB scout, has been denied induction into Baseball’s Hall of Fame by the voting process. Most fans thought it an injustice but it didn’t seemed to bother him. He just loved being a part of the game.
On Friday night, October 6, 2006, my friend Buck O’Neil passed away peacefully in his sleep. He had entered the hospital on September 17, in his hometown of Kansas City, at the age of 94. He will be missed. I remember a quote from Buck that he read at his friend Satchel Paige’s funeral. Buck said, “Don’t feel sorry for us. I feel sorry for your fathers and your mothers, because they didn’t get to see us play.” As usual, he was right. Maybe now he can hear that sound again in Heaven.
|Posted on April 23, 2016 at 12:56 PM||comments ()|
Hall of Fame basketball player, George Gervin once said to me, “I can’t show you what he did but believe me, he did it.” He could do things that most players in today’s game can’t do. Oh, you could see glimpses of him by watching some of those who came after him: Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, David Thompson and a young Charles Barkley come to mind. This guy made you happy just to watch him and only one scout came to see him play in high school. College scout, Howard Garfinkel said, “As a senior, he was 6’3” tall, and no one thought he would be that good.”
This guy may have invented the word, “style.” His hands were large, strong and he could palm a bowling ball. His “afro” was even bigger. The man was like Woodstock, everyone wanted to be there when he played. He owned dignity, class, presentation and cared about language. He spoke clearly and concisely, he changed the way black basketball players were viewed. Watching this guy with a basketball was like seeing “Babe” Ruth hit for the Yankees. He was the ABA’s biggest star that no one had ever seen. Professional basketball games were not televised until the leagues merged in 1976. Unless you have a ticket stub to prove it, you probably never saw him either. This fellow grew into a cult figure and was the coolest guy in your time zone.
There was a time when history was passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Some of the stories that got passed along became legendary. Sometimes legends are incredible, but sometimes the real story is even better.
Julius Winfield Erving, II, was born in East Meadow, New York, on February 22, 1950. As one of three children, their father was killed in a car crash when Julius was nine years old. His mother moved the family to Roosevelt, New York, when he was 13. Outside of the window of their house was a basketball court at Carmel Park, where Julius, his brother Marvin and a friend, Archie Rogers, spent countless hours. Julius and Archie would eventually join a local Salvation Army team. They were the only two African-American kids on a squad of 12 players. “I practiced trick shots left-handed and right-handed every day,” said Julius. Erving’s closest friend at Roosevelt High School was Leon Saunders. Julius called him
“Professor,” and Leon called Julius “Doctor.” By his senior year, Julius was 6’ 3” tall and wore # 42. During the summers, Julius Erving began playing at legendary Rucker Park, located in Harlem. It was here that his high school coach, Ray Wilson, witnessed Erving’s magic.
“One afternoon I was at Rucker Park, and Julius didn’t know I was watching. On a breakaway, his feet left the floor at the top of the circle. I closed my eyes because I didn’t think he would make it to the rim, much less make the shot. But he dunked the ball with one hand, and then he acted like it was no big deal. From that moment on, the secret was out,” said Wilson. For Julius Erving, gravity appeared to be overrated. Half man, half amazing, he jumped like he was 7’ tall. He was the coming of a new era in basketball.
Thanks to a phone call by Wilson, in 1968 Erving enrolled at the University of Massachusetts. The freshman who could fly would surprise a lot of folks. He grew to 6’ 7” by his junior year and averaged 27 points per game and 20 rebounds. His numbers would have been better if the NCAA rules had not limited his play. There was no dunking or three-point shot.
Meanwhile, back at home, his younger brother Marvin began to suffer from Lupus. After three months, Marvin was placed in the hospital, and a call was made for Julius to come home. Julius arrived in time to see his 16-year-old brother die. Erving, just 19 years old, began to withdraw from sadness, but took his brother’s spirit back to school with him. That summer, Erving returned to Rucker Park. He drew the largest crowd to ever see a game there. People sat on the apartment building rooftops, climbed trees and surrounded the court. He received nicknames like the “Black Moses,” “Houdini” and “The Hawk,” until he spoke up and said, “Call me Dr. J.”
In 1971, Dr. J. was offered a contract for $125,000 a year for four years, to play for the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association (ABA). He signed the contract and left UMASS one year early. It was with the Squires that I got to see Dr. J. play for the first time against the Carolina Cougars. In 1973, the Squires sold Dr. J’s rights to the New York Nets. There he would wear the #32 and would lead the Nets to two ABA Championships (1974 and 1976), while being selected the ABA Playoff MVP in the same two years. He was also selected the league MVP three years in a row (1974-1976), and he played in five ABA All-Star Games (1972-1976). During the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a new event was added. They called it the Slam Dunk Contest. It was made for Julius Erving. Two of his opponents, David “Skywalker” Thompson and George “The Ice Man” Gervin, along with the rest of the world, still talk about it. Remember how this article started with a quotation by Gervin? Well, Dr. J. dunks the red, white and blue basketball from the foul line. When he leaves the floor, he is 15 feet away; the basket is ten feet high in the air, and the crowd goes crazy.
Julius Erving was in high demand. He joined the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976. They gave him uniform #6. After getting to the NBA Finals on several occasions, Dr. J, and the 76ers finally won an NBA Championship in 1983, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers. Erving explained it this way: “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good your team is,” said Erving. In comes Moses Malone to the rescue. Dr. J. and Moses, was like having peas and carrots. Erving was selected the NBA MVP in 1981, and he played in 11 straight NBA All-Star Games (1977-1987). He was also a two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (1977 and 1983).
Dr. J. retired at the end of the 1986 season. His #32 has been retired by UMASS and the Brooklyn Nets. His #6 has been retired by Philadelphia. He has also been selected to the NBA’s 35th and 50th Anniversary Teams. Dr. J. was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Today the word “Legend” gets over-used, but not in the case of Julius Erving. They say the game can get along without you, but that may not apply to Erving. Dr. J. made it a point to dunk a basketball every year on his birthday, until he turned 60.
|Posted on April 23, 2016 at 12:43 PM||comments ()|
“Incoming.” That’s how it must have felt in the beginning as issues were constantly being lobbed like mortar shells into the game. But like a good soldier, located behind enemy lines, he adapted and moved forward. The National Basketball Association was a complete mess in the late seventies and early eighties. Lack of respect was rampant. The league was full of drugs, and violence had permeated a game of grace and skill, in the locker-room and on the court; even the NBA Finals were tape-delayed. The league was just trying to survive as Larry O’Brian stepped down at the end of the 1983 season.
Enter David Stern, a Manhattan New York Knicks fan who had grown up to be a lawyer. Stern always loved the game. Stern reminisced about going to the Knicks games with his dad at the original Madison Square Garden. The cost of seat in the upper deck was fifty cents. “It was a time when you could improve your seats by tipping the usher,” said Stern. As a lawyer, one of his firm’s clients was the NBA. “In 1978, my job became to protect the client,” laughed Stern. In 1984, Stern eventually became the Commissioner of the NBA. His body of work speaks for itself. On February 1, 2014, at the age of 71, Stern stepped aside as he completed his 30th season as commissioner.
When David Stern came into the league, there were 23 teams valued at 400 million dollars total, and the league office employed 24 people. Today, the current 30 teams are valued at 19 billion and there are 1,100 employees in 15 different offices around the globe. There are also an unprecedented 92 international players on the rosters. The secret to Stern is that he understood that this sport was capable of influencing people worldwide. The NBA is truly a global game. “There was no such thing as sports marketing until Michael Jordan came along,” said Stern.
Stern is also very proud of the diversity of his sports players, coaches, owners, and front-office people. He jokes that his nickname is “Easy Dave,” but don’t tell Mark Cuban that. “In sports, our product is the players,” said Stern. “My job is to grow the game so the players and owners of all 30 teams make money.”
When you ask him about his favorite player he defers to a list. The names of Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and “Dr. J” come up. His least favorite and most favorite memories both include Magic Johnson. “When Magic announced he was HIV positive, I thought he was going to die,” said Stern. “We were so uneducated about HIV at the time.” His favorite memory occurred in Orlando at the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. Stern allowed Magic to play and of course Magic had a huge night, hit the last shot of the game and became the MVP. I was there, center court with my friends from Miller Brewing Company. Bob Lanier sat in front of us. Buddy Ryan sat to our right about four seats away, and Jerry West sat behind us. I was in basketball heaven. All-Star Tim Hardaway had offered to let Magic Johnson play in his spot. Commissioner Stern gave the okay.
Stern loved draft night except when he had to pronounce names of overseas players. “I loved being a part of these kids’ journey and the accomplishments of these players and their families,” stated Stern.
“It has never been personal with Mark Cuban. I have never been upset with him; he just has his own way to communicate,” said Stern. “And I have mine.” In fact, it was Stern who cast the deciding vote to approve Cuban as an owner. Ted Turner was one of Stern’s biggest thorns in his side. “He would break things for fun,” laughed David.
“You do not enter the stands,” said David Stern. The display of violence in The Palace at Auburn Hills by players and fans was embarrassing. Stern had no problem being judge and jury with fines and missed games handed out like candy on Halloween. He has worked hard to remove the fisticuffs from the games.
“My most prize possession is an autographed book sign by ‘Red’ Auerbach,” said Stern. “It says, ‘To the best commissioner in my lifetime and a fan of the NBA.’” “I loved him, he was a complete gentleman, a fiercest competitor and a good friend,” stated Stern. Stern also has one of the original posters commemorating the Fifty Greatest Players in NBA History hanging in his home. It is signed by all except “Pistol Pete” Maravich, who had passed away earlier. “It was like we still had Ruth, Gehrig, and Cobb still alive,” said Stern. “I really don’t have much stuff at my house,” said Stern, “Just the memories.”
I met David Stern in Phoenix, Arizona, at a luncheon during the 1995 NBA All-Star Game. He signed my program and let me take his picture. One of the things he said that impressed me, “The best seat in sports is courtside at a basketball game.” I believe that to be true. “He leaves a footprint that is much bigger than his shoe size,” said Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Stern has excelled as an ambassador, judge, marketer, and fan.
David Stern was replaced by Adam Silver who has worked side-by-side with Stern for 22 years. “So far, so good,” said Silver.