|Posted on August 14, 2022 at 10:15 PM||comments (0)|
In the beginning, people were mesmerized when walking through the ballpark and hearing his voice. He once said, “What you hear on the air has always been me, because I made it a point not to listen to anyone else.” His sound was pleasing, and it was hard to forget that voice. This fellow preferred to work alone on the radio. He never wanted to talk to a partner; he wanted to talk with us. This guy never referred to his listeners as fans (short for fanatics); he preferred to call them his friends. He wanted his listeners to feel like they were sitting next to him. His grasp of the English language was impeccable. He always used the right phrases and nothing was ever out of place, not a hair, not a word. There is no doubt that baseball kept him young, and us too. This guy was more important to the game of baseball than anyone else who may have ever played. His calls were poetry, timeless and remembered, and his character was even greater than his broadcast skills.
A devout Catholic, he attended Mass every Sunday, before heading to the ballpark. Universally loved, he sometimes said a lot by simply saying nothing at all. This guy never yelled into his microphone; he understood the pace and rhythms of the game. For him, every baseball game was a canvas, and his job was to paint a masterpiece. His voice on the radio reminded me that no matter how much things change, some things stay the same. He took us to places near and far and told us stories of the game and its players that we never knew. Even though he was paid by the Dodgers, he was unafraid to criticize a bad play, or a manager’s decision, or praise an opponent. He always said he wanted to see the game with his eyes, not his heart. Dodger fans brought their transistor radios to the park, because they didn’t want to miss any of his stories. Everyone considered him family. There have been so many words used to describe him; and he made you think, cry and laugh, all at the same time. It seemed like he had been around forever. Not only did he connect generations of families with his words, he predated Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, the batting helmet, transistor radios, the designated hitter and the sacrifice-fly rule. In 1950, when he slid in behind a microphone for the first time, gas cost 27 cents a gallon, a postage stamp cost 3 cents and minimum wage was 75 cents an hour.
Winston Churchill once said, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you will see.” Vin Scully must have been able to see for miles. He never acted his age in his whole life. He was born mature and remained young. The masses are weeping in baseball Heaven, because 94-year-old Vin Scully has left us. He realized that the only thing we get to decide in life is what to do with the time we are given. I believe he used his time wisely. He always knew that the best announcing does not come from your memory; it comes from living through your experiences. And he had experience in spades.
Vin Scully, the red-headed kid, had a way with words. He was a miracle on the air. Every broadcaster wanted to be Vin Scully. It’s going to be hard to think about the Dodgers without thinking about him. He will forever be linked to the fans by five simple words, “It’s time for Dodger baseball.” Vin Scully dropped the mic for the last time on a Tuesday night. The date of his passing will read August 2, 2022. He was the heartbeat of baseball.
|Posted on August 2, 2022 at 11:15 AM||comments (2)|
The only way to stop this guy from playing defense was to lock the dressing room door before he came out. He was born to wear green and white. If he had learned to shoot a hook shot with both hands, they would have stopped playing the game of basketball. The man was a jokester, remarkably funny. The first thing I remember is his smile, and then it’s his laugh. He’s the only guy I knew who could laugh while he talked. It was more like a cackle than a laugh, but that cackle was unmistakable.
Standing 6 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 220 pounds; everything about him was oversized, even his hands. If he walked into a room, it was like the sun came in right behind him. You could feel the energy in the air on game day. This guy was born to win. You may not have liked him, but you admired him. The man was sometimes hard to accept, but he was rarely dull. He was not a touchy, feely kind of guy. The man was serious, never smiled, gave short answers, everything about him was defensive, and there was something about his eyes. He never backed down from anybody. This fellow played mean. His stare would land you on the disabled list. If he said he was going to get you, then he was going to get you. In Boston, basketball mattered. Being #1 is earned. Luck has nothing to do with it. You could tell he was going to turn things around right away.
He was the kind of guy you could build a team around. Even as a center, he could run the floor and dribble the basketball. He had tremendous focus and anticipated everything that was going to happen on the court. He was the first professional to play the ball instead of the man. Others watched their opponent. Bill never took his eyes off the ball. Bill Russell was in constant motion and helped create the Celtics fast-break offense. In the early 1950s, the Celtics had always been a high-scoring team, but lacked the defensive presence needed to win tight games. Russell became famous for his shot-blocking skills, man-to-man defense and rebounding. It was Russell to his left, Russell to the right, Russell down the middle. He became the guy who allowed the Celtics to play the so-called “Hey, Bill” defense. Not only did he guard his man, but whenever his teammate requested additional defensive help, they would shout “Hey, Bill!” Russell was so quick that he could run over for a quick double-team and make it back in time, if opponents tried to find the open man. He was able to do this all while protecting the basket.
It has been said that the criteria for greatness and being the best at what you do or what you’ve ever done, is to ask if the history of what you did be written without mentioning your name. Think of how much history could be written without mentioning Bill Russell’s name. The answer: very little. Bill Russell was the ultimate winner. His name to this very day defines the Boston Celtics. The fire in Bill Russell never went out, not until the day he passed away. That day was Sunday, July 31, 2022. He was 88.
|Posted on June 21, 2019 at 11:34 AM||comments (166)|
There he stood, waiting for his flight. It was Monday morning after the 1991 NBA All-Star Game recently played in Charlotte, North Carolina. My brother Cliff and I had been the guests of Miller Brewing Company. We first toured the Roger Penske Racing facility, where they built their Indy cars and NASCAR’s. Rusty Wallace’s major sponsor was Miller Brewing. Then we attended the NBA Jam which included the Three-Point Shoot Out contest, the Slam Dunk contest and the Legends Game. On Sunday, the West beat the East and Charles Barkley was chosen MVP of the NBA All-Star Game. On Monday, I flew from Charlotte to Atlanta to change planes for my trip home to Corpus Christi, Texas. The fellow standing there was Bart Starr. I approached him with caution out of respect. I was excited. When I stuck out my hand to shake his, I noticed my hand was shaking. After introducing myself, I told him how sorry I was to hear about his son Bret who had recently passed away from a cocaine addiction. Although I imagine it was hurtful to talk about, I could not have said anything better. Sometimes God puts words in our mouth for others. Starr perked up like a Roman candle. He thanked me for my thoughts and told me that he and his wife Cherry were finding it difficult to deal with his loss. We spent about ten minutes talking about family, the real estate business, restaurant business, and traveling. Then his plane began boarding. We said our good-byes. It wasn’t until after he had left that I realized that neither of us had mentioned the Green Bay Packers or NFL football. We had exchanged business cards and wished each other a great flight. About three weeks later I received a color lithograph rolled up inside a container. It said it was from Bart Starr. When I opened the container I pulled out a beautiful 36X24 inch picture of Starr in uniform. It was autographed with his name in black ink. Interestingly, something told me to turn the photo over and on the back, Starr had written, “Dear Andy, Thanks for asking.” Bart Starr was thanking me for asking about his son. It still gives me chills to look at that picture. It was the first and last time I ever met Bart Starr.
There is no doubt that life rarely offered him an easy path. Starr was one tough son of a gun. He suffered a stroke in 2012 while giving a speech in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2014, a heart attack followed with multiple seizures. Bart underwent stem cell treatment in 2015 and got some better in 2016. He returned to Green Bay only a couple of times, in November of 2015 when Bret Favre’s #4 was retired and in October of 2017 for the Packers’ 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Championship season.
Bart Starr threw his last pass in life on May 26, 2019. He was 85 and died from a stroke he had suffered earlier. He was living in Birmingham, Alabama, with Cherry, his wife of more than sixty-five years. He is also survived by a son, Bart Starr Jr., and three granddaughters. Their youngest son, Bret, who is mentioned above, died of cocaine overdose in 1988 at the age of 24.
Generous until the end, in 1965, Bart and Cherry started the Rawhide Boys’ Ranch in New London, Wisconsin. This facility still helps at-risk and troubled youth in the state of Wisconsin.
Starr will always be remembered for his part in the “Ice Bowl” played at Lambeau Field against the Dallas Cowboys on the final day of 1967. This game would crown the NFL Champion. With Green Bay trailing 17-14 in the frigid cold, Starr comes to the sidelines to speak with Lombardi. It was third and goal at the Dallas two-foot line. Starr suggests he keep the ball and run it himself. Lombardi answers, “Then do it, and let’s get the hell out of here.” With 16 seconds left in the game, Starr scores behind guard Jerry Kramer’s and center Ken Bowman’s block, and the Packers won 21-17. It was the stuff legends are made from.
It’s funny, Starr had always wanted to be the best but never quite felt he was one of the best. There is one thing for sure, he was a better man than he was a quarterback, but still received unconditional love from fans and friends alike. The game of football was better for having Bart Starr under center. He would be happy with that.
|Posted on July 19, 2017 at 7:57 PM||comments (71)|
Nineteen Sixty-Three was a very memorable year in the world of sports. Wilt Chamberlain dropped 67 points on the Lakers and then 70 the following week on Syracuse. “Sonny” Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in the 1 round to win the heavyweight title, and Jack Nicklaus won “The Masters.” A young Pete Rose debuted for the Cincinnati Reds, and both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays signed the first $100,000 a year contracts in Major League baseball history. The great Jim Brown won the Bert Bell Award by setting the NFL single-season rushing record with 1,863 yards; the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs; and Jim Thorpe, “Red” Grange, George Halas were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bob Cousy and Stan Musial retired, and the College All-Stars beat the Green Bay Packers 20-17.
But for the past two seasons, a college football storm had been brewing down in Austin, Texas; and it all started with Head Coach Darrell Royal. The Longhorns’ football team had started the previous two seasons (1961 and 1962) ranked #1 in the nation, only to be turned away at the end. The 1961 team was upset by TCU, and the 1962 team settled for a tie against Rice. The stars seemed to be aligned in 1963, even though the Associated Press ranked the Longhorns #5 at the beginning of the year. Today my friend, Hix Green, gave me a firsthand look at how that 1963 National Championship season unfolded.
At 75 years of age, his mind is sharp and his voice educated. Just being around Hix makes me feel ten years old. Smiling constantly, he owns a “We’re going to Disney World” kind of face. Mostly retired now, he looks like he could still play. He seems content until you mention Texas football. His eyes open wide, and the memories come flooding back. As of this writing, the Texas Longhorns have won four National Championships in football: 1963, 1969, 1970 and 2005. “Yeah, but we were the first,” exclaimed Hix.
Hix Green, III, was born on July 20, 1942, grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and attended Jefferson High School. Although rather small, Hix made up for his size with quickness, energy, speed and talent. The only thing that could have stopped this guy was a bad case of the flu. Not only was he an outstanding football player, but he also ran on the track team and qualified in the 100-yard dash during the Texas Relays. Green was not only recruited by Texas, Rice, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Navy, SMU, Coast Guard, Air Force Academy and Texas Tech, but he also received an appointment at Army. When I asked him “Why Texas?” he smiled and said, “When they flew me out there, the plebes convinced me that going to school at West Point was not all that it was cracked up to be.” Hix accepted an athletic scholarship to become a Longhorn. “I never regretted my decision,” said Hix.
In 1960, Hix reported for his freshman year with about 70 other players. “I looked around and the place was full of blue-chip players. Freshmen didn’t play on the varsity squad back then. Coach Royal red-shirted me for the 1961 season,” said Hix. In 1962, Hix got his first taste of big-time college football and the Longhorns finished 9-1-1, but lost on January 1, 1963, in the Cotton Bowl to LSU, 13-0.
The Longhorns would not lose another football game until October 10, 1964. That’s right! The Longhorns went untied and undefeated for the 1963 season. Hix started the 1963 season off right. On October 12, 1963, with 2:42 left in the 3 quarter, Green scored a touchdown from three yards out, in a 34-7 romp over Oklahoma State. A blowout win over Oklahoma 28-7, in the fourth week of the season, pushed the Longhorns to the #1 ranking. On November 9, with the Longhorns leading 7-0 late against Baylor, Hix made what would have been a game-saving interception. Baylor’s All-American quarterback Don Trull threw to All-American wide receiver Lawrence Elkins, but Green intercepted Trull’s pass and ran it back 21 yards. On the next play, Texas fullback Tom Stockton fumbled the ball back to Baylor. It took a Duke Carlisle interception in the end zone to save the day.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy had planned a trip to Austin to visit Royal, but it was not to be. At 1:00 PM Central Standard Time, the nation stood still; JFK had passed away. “Most of us were on our way to class,” said Hix. “Nobody could believe what was happening. When we got to class, the teacher called it off. I do remember we practiced that day, but it wasn’t very spirited.” Texas Governor, John Connally, had also been shot but survived. Six days later, Texas played Texas A&M at Kyle Field. Hix played an important part in the Longhorns’ win over the Aggies. On an incredibly muddy field, the score stood 13-3 at halftime, in favor of the Aggies. In the fourth quarter, Green recovered a fumble on the Aggies’ side of the field and Tommy Ford later scored for the Longhorns, leaving the score 13-9 in favor of the Aggies. Later in the game, with Texas facing third down and 17 from their own 20-yard line, Green was surprised when a throwback pass was called in the huddle. Hix made the catch of his life for 20 yards, to keep the winning drive alive. Texas later scored and won 15-13, to keep their National Championship hopes alive. Up next would be Heisman Trophy winner, Roger Staubach, and #2 Navy, in the Cotton Bowl.
The first-ever Cotton Bowl to host #1 versus #2 was played on January 1, 1964, in Dallas, Texas. Texas played hard and well and stunned Navy 28-6. The Longhorns were crowned #1 in the nation for the first time in the school’s history.
The 1964 season started with four straight wins, until Arkansas came to town. The Razorbacks hung on for a 14-13 win over Texas, diminishing the Longhorns’ chances for another National Championship. On November 26, 1964, Hix recovered an Aggie fumble to help turn the tide for the Horns. With 2:24 left in the game, Hix scored a touchdown from two yards out, making the score 19-7 in favor of Texas over arch rival Texas A&M. Texas beat the Aggies that day, 26-7. “After the game was over, I ran off the field with the game ball,” said Hix. “I still have it at home, sitting on my desk.” Texas would meet #1 ranked Alabama next.
“On January 1, 1965, we played against Joe Namath and the Alabama Crimson Tide, in the first Orange Bowl to ever be played at night in primetime,” said Hix. “We stayed at a hotel on Miami Beach, and worked out at the University of Miami. There were even a few NFL scouts hanging around.” Hix received the kickoff for the Longhorns as the Orange Bowl got underway. Late in the game, the Texas defense made one of the most famous stops at the goal line, to preserve a 21-17 win for Texas. With time running out, Namath tried a quarterback sneak and still claims he reached the end zone, but Tommy Nobis and Tom Currie turned him away. Texas would finish the 1964 season 10-1 and ranked #5 in the nation.
At the end of our interview I mentioned to Hix, “So, you have never lost a football game to Oklahoma, Texas A&M, or Alabama, three pretty darn good programs.” “That’s right,” smiled Hix. “And we even beat Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson when they both played at Arkansas.”
Hix Green was a member of the Texas Longhorn football team from 1960-1964. He stands 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 170 pounds and played tailback and defensive back. “Everybody played both ways back then,” said Hix. Texas ran from a Wing-T formation, and used what was called a flip-flop offensive set. They had seven running plays to the right and then flipped the formation to run the same seven plays to the left. Hix spent a lot of time blocking for halfback, Tommy Ford, and quarterback, Duke Carlisle. Hix Green suited up for three Cotton Bowls and one Orange Bowl. During his career, Hix rushed 110 times, gained 318 yards and scored two touchdowns. Hix also recorded eight receptions for 80 yards. “We only had three pass plays,” laughed Hix. He also took his turn at running back kickoffs, returning punts and recovered several fumbles.
For some of us, football is life. It’s where we find our happiness. “I don’t think my stats are important,” said Hix. “My final stats were less than I achieved in many single high school games for San Antonio Jefferson, but when called on…I delivered.” There is no doubt that Hix made several key plays that helped the Longhorns achieve greatness. Here’s to my friend, Hix Green. There’s nothing like being part of the first!!
|Posted on July 19, 2017 at 7:50 PM||comments (322)|
Look into those eyes. Notice that smile. Now you know why so many stop by to see him. They come by, young and old, to say “hello,” pay their respects, to place their hand on his shoulder or shake his hand. Most of them want to take a picture with him. Because of his WWII military service, he has been written about as much as any Corpus Christi resident. There are not many Pearl Harbor survivors left, and his life story is indeed incredible.
But this is a tribute to a baseball fan. I imagine that Marvin Alexander’s life is divided by the four things he loves most: his God, his country, his family and baseball, and maybe not necessarily in that order. After 94 years, I’m sure he has stood for the National Anthem more times than there are stars in the sky. A Corpus Christi Hooks’ season-ticket holder from the beginning (2005), he sits four seats away to my right. It seems like he has always been there and, in fact, for me he pretty much has. Seat 8, Row 16, Section 117 should have a nameplate with his name attached to it. For years his beloved wife, Mary, joined him, until sadly she left us two years ago. Now his sons, Marvin Jr. and Mike, bring their dad to see the Hooks play. It seems he’s always had a baseball heart.
As I got to know Mr. Alexander more and more, I wondered where his love for the game of baseball came from. Turns out he was a pretty darn good pitcher, while in the Navy. After the war, Mr. Alexander was stationed at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. During the late 1940’s, a baseball team was organized. This semi-pro league was made up of several auxiliary air stations. “We played all summer long against teams located at Cabaniss Field, Rodd Field, Cuddihy Field, Chase field, Waldron Field, and in Kingsville and Laredo,” said Marvin.
I asked him about his best pitch. He described it as an “In” pitch. Now remember, baseball terms were different in the 1940’s. What he was describing was a fastball inside on the right-hand hitters. He also owned a fine curveball. “In 1947, you pitched all nine innings in those days” said Marvin. “There was no such thing as relief pitchers. If you couldn’t go nine innings you didn’t pitch.”
When I asked him who his favorite baseball players were, he surprised me. “I followed the local guys, Burt Hooten and Bart Shirley’s careers,” he said.
There are several funny stories that his boys have shared with me. “In 2010, on Mom and Dad’s 70 wedding anniversary, they decided to go to the Hooks game to celebrate,” laughed Marvin Jr. “We had so much fun. The ballpark ushers got together and decorated Mary’s seat,” said Mr. Alexander.
“Dad loved playing baseball; he was pitching on the day I was born,” exclaimed his younger son, Mike. “I was born at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi at the Navy hospital.” “Yeah, and I won that day,” laughed Marvin. “I think the score was 5-2.” Mike would grow up with his dad’s love for baseball. Mike pitched for Carroll High School before receiving a scholarship to pitch at Blinn College. After two years there, Mike transferred to Sam Houston State and continued his dream.
Marvin and Mary Alexander married in 1940. A friend of mine, Marty Robinson, attends all the Sunday games with me. He once asked Mr. Alexander, “How do you stay married for more than 70 years?” Marvin just smile and answered, “Two words --Yes Dear.” Alexander later said, “She never raised her voice at me.”
Oh, how I would love to see through those baby blues if for only a moment. The players he has seen, the stories he could tell. Hunter Pence with that funny swing and Ben Zobrist hitting line drives like he owned the place. Mr. Alexander was one of the 9,022 fans who showed up to watch Roger Clemens strike out 11 in just six innings, on June 11, 2006. That same season, he pulled for the team to win their first Texas League Championship. Marvin liked watching J.D. Martinez roaming the Hooks’ outfield. He also enjoyed watching Jason Castro shut down the running game, while cheering for a George Springer “dinger.” He admired the quickness of Jose Altuve’s bat and the long, accurate arm of Carlos Correa. He smiled at a Dallas Keuchel’s slider and raved about Alex Bregman’s glove play at third base.
Andy Rooney once said, “The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.”
So, if you find yourself at Whataburger Field and you want to meet an extraordinary gentleman, stop by and say hello to a former pitcher, Marvin Alexander. Here’s wishing my friend fair winds and following seas.
|Posted on December 9, 2016 at 4:31 PM||comments (54)|
|Posted on July 6, 2016 at 4:42 PM||comments (166)|
While in high school, Jeff Francoeur played football and baseball. He was a terrific wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Jeff led Parkview High School, located in Lilburn, Georgia, to the State 5A High School Football Championships in 2000 and 2001. He also led his high school to the State 5A Baseball Championships in 2001 and 2002. He was recruited for both sports near and far, by many colleges. Head football Coach, Tommy Bowden, from Clemson University was after Francoeur to play for the Tigers, and he offered Jeff a scholarship to play wide receiver. Picture a scene where Tommy Bowden is visiting Jeff’s family on a recruiting trip when the phone rang in their home. As the conversation transpired Tommy Bowden realized that his dad, Bobby Bowden, the head football coach at Florida State is the one who is calling Jeff. Tommy Bowden asked Jeff if he could have the phone and Jeff complied. Tommy then says, “Hey, Dad, it’s me, I’ll call you back.” “It was an awkward scene,” said Jeff. “But I also played baseball, and the Atlanta Braves lured me away from football with a two-million-dollar offer to play baseball.”
|Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:18 PM||comments (56)|
There is no doubt that Pete Rose had a compulsion for hitting. In the summer of 1990, Pete Rose confessed to tax evasion and was sentenced to five months in jail and a fine. In January of 1991, after serving his time in prison, he was picked up by his son, Pete Rose, Jr. Pete asked his son if he knew where the closet batting cage was located. “Yes,” said Jr. “there happens to be one close by. When they got there, Pete asked the attendant which machine was the fastest. The attendant said they had a machine that threw 85 mph. Pete Rose, “the hit king,” was 51 years old when he stepped into the batter’s box. A crowd had now gathered around to see what would happen. On the very first pitch the machine delivered, Pete hit a screaming line drive straight back at the pitching machine. He dropped the bat, turned to the crowd, and said, “Some things never change.”
|Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:16 PM||comments (42)|
How do you begin to write about an icon; one of the few people, other than the Pope, who have been known worldwide for over a half century? The world knew his name. He was perhaps the most recognized man on the planet Earth. What more could be written? What secrets lie unknown? His entire life has been documented for history on radio, film, television, and in more books than the entire collection of the Encyclopedia Britannica. From the jungles of the Philippines to the deserts of Africa and all across this great land, the name Ali resonates with young and old, men and women, of every color and nationality, sitting around tables and telling stories. Smiles break out on their faces and their heads begin to move side to side in disbelief as their memory takes them back to a time when a loud, brash, insulting young boxer, not only changed his name and religion, but like the armies of Alexander the Great against the Persians at Issus, he waded knee-deep through the best collection of heavyweight boxers this world has ever seen. Ali always seemed to be in a hurry, and he boxed like he was double-parked. In a sport populated with more celebrities than a “Red Carpet,” Ali was always the best boxer in the room and disposed of his opponents like a box of Kleenex.
I was one of the millions who were mesmerized by Ali. Every picture taken of a young Ali had him with his mouth open. It was as if he had been born during a thunderstorm. He always put on a show before, during and after each fight. Ali had a wonderful smile, but those eyes, those eyes could see right through you. Ali could have been undefeated in a staring contest. He was authentic, a pioneer, muscles glistening under the ring lights; he was over-the-top, the “Louisville Lip,” the “Greatest of All Time.” With his hands down style, dancing constantly, bouncing on his toes in the ring, Ali put the sport on the world map and helped usher in the Golden Era of Boxing.
So begins my story of Muhammad Ali, the ultimate song and dance man. You see, I’m one of those old guys and from the age of nine, I followed his career, sometimes angry, sometimes enlightened, but always mesmerized and after all that has been said and done, I’m proud to be able to say to any man, “Shake the hand that shook the hand of Muhammad Ali.” That’s right. Not only did I get to meet Ali in January of 1994, in Houston Texas, but I also had him sign a book and a pair of white Everlast boxing trunks, with black stripes down the sides. I could not believe how big he was in person and when I saw him up close, he was even bigger. I also shook his hand and sang “Happy Birthday” to him. I think I surprised him. Everyone waiting in the autograph line joined in.
His given name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, and named after a former politician. His mother, Odessa, was a cook and house cleaner. His father was a sign painter. Cassius grew up in a little pink house located at 3302 Grand Avenue. He loved playing board games and eating hotdogs with his brother, Rudy, and started boxing at the age of 12, after his new red Schwinn bicycle was stolen off a downtown street. Cassius reported the theft to Officer Joe Martin, who also ran a boxing gym. When Cassius described what he wanted to do to the thief, Officer Martin suggested he first learn to box. Officer Martin would train Clay for the next six years. His amateur debut occurred in 1954. Clay won six Kentucky Golden Glove titles and two National Golden Glove titles. Cassius was not a very good student and excelled in only art and gym class. He graduated 376 in a class of 391 from Louisville Central High School. He later said he never really learned to read a book and had to memorize his speeches. He was part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic boxing team that traveled to Rome. I watched him fight because I loved the Olympics; it was us against the world, and he was representing America. I was not disappointed.
In his later life, Ali became somewhat of a saint. Ali was able to transcend from one of the most controversial figures in sports to one of the most beloved. He was respected for sacrificing over three years of his boxing prime for standing firm on his anti-war principles. His demeanor grew softer in old age and the public responded to him in a positive way. Ali generated so much good will that the public’s perception of him changed. Ali had many famous quotes. My favorite goes like this: “It isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you down. It’s the pebble in your shoe.”
Ali, a social activist, on integration: “God made us all different. It’s natural to be with your own. I want to be with my own. I have a beautiful daughter and a beautiful wife and they both look like me. We’re all happy and we have no troubles. Every intelligent person wants their child to look like him. I want to be with my own. I love my people.”
The number of awards that Ali has received are too numerous to mention. Here are a few of the most prestigious. On September 7, 1960, Cassius Clay won an Olympic Gold Medal in boxing. In 1990, Muhammad Ali was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Although trembling and nearly unable to speak, Ali was chosen to light the Olympic caldron at the 1996 Olympic Summer games in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1999, Sports Illustrated named Muhammad Ali the Sportsman of the Century, and he became the first boxer to appear on a Wheaties Box. On January 8, 2001, Ali received the Presidential Citizen Medal from President Bill Clinton. On November 9, 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the highest award that can be achieved by a citizen in the United States. Also in 2005, the Muhammad Ali Center, a museum dedicated to respect, hope and understanding, opened in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Sports Illustrated announced that Muhammad Ali would grace their cover for the 40 time, during the week of his death.
In the ring, his agility, lightning hand speed, barrage of powerful punches and unpredictable movement allowed him to overwhelm his opponents. He was beautifully trained and conditioned. He circled his opponents like a well-oiled machine. What’s important to remember is that Muhammad Ali defeated every top heavyweight contender in his era. According to his trainer, Angelo Dundee, Ali just made it up as he went along. “Ali worked as hard as he talked,” said Dundee. He broke all the rules in the boxing handbook. He pulled away when he threw a punch, and again when a punch was thrown his way. Dundee criticized him for not slipping punches by moving his head and for keeping his hands low by his side instead of up in front of his face. Ali dared you to swing at him.
To become the Heavyweight Boxing Champion, you first have to win a fight. And win, he did. He was the 1960 Light-Heavyweight Olympic Champion and a three-time World Heavyweight Champ. His opponents were up and down off the canvas so many times they must have thought they were riding on an elevator. Over 21 years, his career win-loss record stands at 56-5, with 37 wins by knockout. He had fought in a squared ring for more than two decades, but his stage was never big enough. In the ring he became known for the “Ali shuffle.” He will be remembered more for what he did outside the ring, what he stood for, and what he believed in. People don’t become great because they are perfect every time out. They become great when everything goes wrong and they still find a way to win.
We all knew this day was close. Ali suffered with Parkinson’s disease for 32 years. Interestingly, it was his ability to take a punch that ultimately did him in. He spent the last ten years of his life in Scottsdale, Arizona. A part of all of us slipped away today. So, now Ali embarks on life’s last mystery. History will record the date of his death as Friday, June 3, 2016, in a Phoenix-area hospital. He died from septic shock, brought on by natural causes. He was but 74. The man himself, “Ali,” reminded us, “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” A better fighter may come along one day, but Ali will always be “The Champ.”
One of my favorite writers, Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, tells a wonderful story about Ali visiting a children’s hospital. While there, Ali speaks with a young boy who is dying of cancer. After they had spent a few minutes together, Ali said, “I’m going to beat George Foreman and you’re going to beat cancer. “No,” said the boy. “I’m going to meet God, and I’m going to tell him I know you.” I wonder what that little boy and Ali are talking about now.
Muhammad Ali once said, “The fame, the championships, the boxing, it’s all good, but it’s more important to treat people right and to worship God, and living a good life. It’s more important than just being a boxer and beating up people.” Some people just come along at the right time, and some of us never die. Their legend lives on through the ages. Ali’s legacy will always be a part of our history. It has been said that Ali whispered to George Foreman during their fight, “Is that all you got?” He’s whispering the same to all of us now.
|Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:16 PM||comments (54)|
June gives all baseball cranks a chance to relive the legend of Mighty Casey. Of all the fictional characters to come out of baseball, none has ever held a place in the minds and hearts of fans, as has Casey. The legendary poem, “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, celebrates its 128 anniversary this month. This poem has appeared in nearly all baseball magazines or periodicals and every true fan has heard of the team known as the Mudville Nine. No matter how many times you have read this poem or heard it read, you can’t help but sift through the verse to find out about Cooney and Burrows or Flynn and Blakely. What position did Casey play? Did he bat left or right, and what was the score? And yes, the umpires; even in 1888, the umpire was considered more the enemy than the opponent. Some of the questions can be answered; some not; but still we look. Even though Casey is a fictitious character, he represents every Major League hero we’ve ever had. If you squint your eyes just so, you can see Ruth, Mantle, Aaron, Bonds, and Stanton. Harper, Trout, Casey and the others become one in the fact that even the very best players fail, seven out of ten times at bat. Baseball is a lot like life, in that failing normally precedes success. Even so, the great ones continue to step into the batter’s box and risk the strikeout to hear the cheers. Casey seems to have created a niche for himself in the imaginary Hall of Fame, not because of what he did, but rather because of what he failed to do.
Casey at the Bat
It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville Nine that day;
The score stood two to four, with but an inning left to play.
So, Cooney died at second, and Burrows did the same,
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest,
With that hope which springs eternal within the human breast.
For they thought, “If only Casey would get a whack at that,”
They’d put even money now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake,
And the former was a pudd’n and the latter was a fake.
So, on the stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat;
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a “single” to the wonderment of all.
And the much-despised Blakely “tore the cover off the ball.”
And when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Blakely safe at second and Flynn a-huggin’ third.
Then from the gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell.
It rumbled in the mountaintops, it rattled in the dell;
It struck upon the hillside and rebounded on the flat;
For Casey, mighty Casey was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat;
No stranger in the crowd could doubt, ’twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him, as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance glanced in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped.
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey; “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on the stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone in the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian Charity, great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he made the game go on.
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud” cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered Fraud.
But one scornful look from Casey, and the audience was awed;
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain;
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let the ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lips; his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel vengeance his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go;
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And somewhere, men are laughing; and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville: Mighty Casey has struck out.
Ernest Lawrence Thayer June 3, 1888