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Uncle Andy's Blog


Research reveals that the original word used in print, by sportswriters to describe spectators attending a sporting event from 1882 to 1910, was the word crank or krank, in some cases.  Female spectators were called crankess.

In a book written in 1903 entitled Humorous Stories of the Baseball Field by Ted Sullivan, baseball owner Charles Comiskey claimed he once called an enthusiast, who broke into his clubhouse a “fanatic.”  Sullivan clipped the word fanatic to “fan” in his writings.

William Henry Nugent wrote a column in March of 1929 called The Sports Section for a newspaper entitled “The American Mercury” and showed how many common sports terms used in North America are not Americanisms, but rather much older transplants from the British Isles.  He claimed the word “fan” can be traced from several sources.  The word “fancy” was long used as a class name in England and America for followers of boxing, dog fighting and pigeon racing.  One story is that baseball borrowed it and shortened it to fan.  Hall-of-Fame Manager Connie Mack claimed the word “fan” was first created to describe spectators who fanned themselves to stay cool during the games.  Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “fan” as an enthusiastic follower of the game, a devotee.     

Throughout the years, despite all this evidence, either the word fancy or fanatic has been appropriately shortened to the word fan.  It was easier to pronounce, easier to remember and didn’t sound quite as harsh.  That seems to be the American Way.   

It’s safe to say that the fans are the lifeblood of sports; always have been.  Without fans, there are no paid athletes or sporting events.  Fans from all walks of life have always footed the bill.  From ticket prices, seat licenses, parking, stadium costs, ballpark food, and drinks, to merchandise and memorabilia, fans have played their part in making sports franchises great and their owners rich beyond words.  The team on the field determines the score, but the number of fans in the seats and their purchasing power creates the value of the franchise itself.  

Over the years, the fans’ knowledge and enthusiasm for their teams and their infatuation with greatness on the field of play has not changed as dramatically as the athletes themselves.  Fans still live and die with every touchdown, four-foot putt, turnover, or home-run hit.  One thing that has changed the most is the fans’ ability to receive instant information and their desire to add their two cents’ worth on the results.  With the invention of fantasy leagues and social media, fans are much more in touch and therefore more opinionated.  There is no lag time in real information.  Most fans my age received our sports scores from the radio and the surrounding stories from the daily newspaper.  Television was well into the late 1960’s before games were shown in real time, and even then we were rewarded with only one or two local games a week, depending on the sport. 

Another change has been the appetite for (more) sports have increased, especially among the female population with the invention of Title IX. 

Even as the price of attending in person continues to soar, they still come.  But will they continue?  Cable television, sports television packages, Twitter, NFL Red Zone, FaceBook, My Space, satellite radio, iPads, and smart phones now allow fans to visually connect instantly.  A fan with tickets in Section D, Row 21, Seats 4 and 5, may now find a much cheaper and more comfortable couch at the house.  Another cloud of concern for the fan lies in the integrity of the games themselves.  Many athletes continue to cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs.  Most fans seem not to care until it is revealed that a cheater from another team affected the outcome of a game which included that fan’s favorite team.     

For the most part, fans will continue to find hope in their favorite athletes or teams.  They attach themselves to something they consider greater than they are themselves.  Most people believe we all need to feel a part of something good every day.  If their team wins they feel excitement, and when they lose they feel betrayed.  The emotions are real.  Hats off to the fans and to the owners; we say, “Be careful what you ask for.”  We the fans are footing this bill.  


Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Kintetic Triggers

Major League baseball players are the absolute worst.  Scientists called it a kinetic trigger, yet the players referred to their weird science as “routines.”  We all know the truth; they’re superstitious.  They confuse routine for superstition.  In the old days you would hear the words, hex, jinxed, quirks, rituals, and idiosyncrasies.  Some players even carried a rabbit’s foot in their pockets for good luck.  These triggers were designed to bring the individual luck or ward off the baseball demons.  You need not look any further than last year, as the playoff beards of the World Champion Boston Red Sox topped the “Curse of the Bambino.”  (The player’s refused to shave during the playoffs.)

There is no doubt that baseball is the hardest game of them all to excel in both mentally and physically.  The pressure to succeed allows us to doubt our own abilities.  Sometimes, the hardest thing in life to overcome is ourselves; our own superstitions.  In creating routines, we convince ourselves that we have given ourselves an edge that allows us to play better.  Is it true?  Some swear by it and others just laugh, but with success we form habits, some good, and some bad.  Superstitions come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and include everything from food to equipment and clothes.

Some examples are as follows.  Players sat in the same spot on the bench during every game.  They swung two bats in the on-deck circle before their turn at the plate.  Rally caps were in order when their team was behind.  Lots of players, especially pitchers, did not shave on purpose, before taking the mound.  It made them feel more aggressive.  Players wore the same underwear or sox when things went their way and their routine never included washing the articles of clothing if they continued to win.  Many players chewed tobacco to relax:  Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Luis Tiant and “Sparky” Lyle to name a few.

Now that you’re warmed up, let’s see how close you have been watching our National Pastime.  Let’s recall some of the more popular superstitions.  Did you know that “Babe” Ruth used to knock the dirt out of his spikes with his bat after every called strike?  Yankee pitcher Vic Rashi refused to allow his picture to be taken before a game he was pitching.  Ted Williams would place his bat under his arm and pull down hard on his cap after the second strike had been called by the umpire.  Jackie Robinson always walked to home plate to hit, by passing in front of the opposing catcher.  Even if the catcher was out at the mound talking with his pitcher, Jackie would wait until the catcher had retuned to his position and then pass in front of him, to step into the batter’s box.  Let’s call that intimidation at its best.  Phil Rizzuto would place his chewing gum on top of his hat for safe keeping, while batting.  When he got two strikes on him, he would place the gum back in his mouth.  Willie Mays never went to centerfield without first touching second base.  Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, twirled his right thumb while holding his bat, before hitting.  Pittsburgh Pirate, Ralph Kiner, never stepped on a white line on the field of play.  “It didn’t help or hurt me,” said Ralph.  “I just didn’t want to take any chances.” 

Remember Mark “The Bird” Fidrych talking to himself and constantly cleaning the mound while pitching for the Detroit Tigers.  After every 0-4 game, Chicago White Sox’s “Minnie” Minoso would shower in his entire uniform including spikes to wash away the bad karma.  Cincinnati Reds second baseman Joe Morgan would cock and re-cock his right elbow continuously, while waiting in the batter’s box for the next pitch.  Everyone knew about Wade Boggs’ superstition; he always ate chicken before every game.  Red Sox teammate Nomar Garciaparra’s toe tap between every pitch became the conversation piece when he played.  Larry Walker was crazy about the #3.  Not only did he wear #33 but he was married at 3:33 PM on November 3rd.  Walker always took three practice swings before an at-bat and purchased thirty-three tickets for underprivileged kids in section 333 for every home game.  Now I can’t explain why he hit 383 home runs for his career.  It seems to me he recorded fifty more than needed.  New York pitcher, Andy Pettitte, liked to listen to the entire sound track from the movie “Rocky” before the games he pitched; and Atlanta’s “Chipper” Jones played computer solitaire right up to game time in the club house. 

Time has not dampened the need for players to increase their chances of playing great.  Yankees’ Alfonso Soriano always makes a mark in the dirt next to home plate before stepping in the batter’s box.  New Texas Ranger, Prince Fielder, always breaks apart an Oreo cookie before the game.  Prince claims he can tell how the game will go by how much cream is stuck to one side of the cookie.  Oriole’s first baseman, Chris Davis, always brushes his teeth before every game.  Cincinnati Reds’ Todd Frazier chants before a game, as others in the clubhouse wonder if he’s okay.  White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn always spits a huge wad of gum onto the field of play before game time.  “I don’t know why I do it, I just always have,” said Dunn.  Jason Giambi claimed he had a magical beard.  After he grew the facial hair, his batting average went up 80 points.  I’m thinking the steroids helped.  Texas Ranger’s pitcher, Derek Holland, has to play Nintendo Hockey the night before he pitches. 

But the guy who takes the cake is Roger Clemens.  While with the Yankees, for good luck, Roger would rub Babe Ruth’s plaque that hangs in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, before every game in which he pitched.  You could even see him whispering underneath his breath, but I don’t think he has ever shared with us what he was saying.  It is also well-known that the strikeout in baseball is referenced as a “K” on your scorecard.  Roger Clemens recorded 4.672 “K’s” during his 24-year career.  You would think that was enough.  But Clemens took this a step farther by starting all four of his sons’ names with a K.  They are in order Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody. 

Kinetic trigger, I doubt it.  Can anyone say Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? (OCD)


Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.



If you were to push the words unbelievable and impossible together you just might get “unpossible.”  It’s the only way I can describe the 1983 NCAA basketball upset of N.C. State over the University of Houston.

Jim Valvano, known as Coach “V,” was a young, loud, brash, New York Italian basketball coach who owned enough nose to mind everybody’s business; if he ever fell face first, it would two days to dig him out.  Likeable and excitable, Valvano initially became known more for splitting his pants while jumping up and down during a game than winning.  My mother, Edith Purvis, worked at N.C. State for over 25 years.  She introduced me to Coach Valvano.  He had so much energy; it was like meeting three people at once.

Television and radio loved the guy; he was two-thirds con man and one-third coach.  Let’s just say he was different.  Jim loved people, food, and basketball and ate life in large gulps.  Basketball allowed him to enjoy and share his passions, and generating the greatest upset in college basketball history would insure that he be remembered.  His coaching style allowed his team to practice cutting down the nets one day a week, instead of working on stopping the back-door cut.  They talked about dreaming instead of baseline defense, about playing with confidence instead of implementing the half-court trap.  They worked hard, played hard, and had fun; but more importantly, they learned to trust one another while listening to their vagabond coach, who could take any defeat and turn it into dessert.  He was contagious, believable and could sell M&M’s to a diabetic. 

Head Coach Jim Valvano and Assistant coaches Ed McLean, Ray Martin, and Tom Abatemarco, would lead the Wolfpack to a 26-10 season record which included an 8-6 ACC record.  N.C. State would end their season ranked #14 in the Coaches’ poll and #16 in the Associated Press poll.  Just being invited to the dance would require them to win the ACC Tournament.  The Wolfpack would defeat Wake Forest 71-70, the Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, and Brad Daugherty UNC team 91-84 in overtime, and then Ralph Sampson and The University of Virginia 81-78, in succession.  State would receive the ACC Trophy and a #6 seed from the committee and was promptly sent out West to be discarded.

The NCAA Tournament started on March 2nd and ended at “The Pit” in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 4, 1983.  Only fifty-two schools participated in the tourney at that time, and the lowest seeds became the #13’s.  There was no shot clock or three-point line.  The field would be expanded the following year.  No one had any idea at that time that the real Cinderella would come to the party dressed like a wolf.  The Pepperdine Waves led by 6 points with one minute to play, in regulation.  It would take two overtimes for the Wolfpack to shake Pepperdine by the final score of 69-67.  Waves’ Head Coach, Jim Harrick, still does not believe they lost.  Dead ahead lay Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV bunch that had only lost two ballgames that year.  Sidney Green and UNLV led by 13 points with ten minutes to play.  State would prevail 71-70 in another nail biter.  N.C. State would now prepare for their Sweet Sixteen match-up with the Running Utes of Utah, coached by Jerry Pimm.  N.C. State was being held in high esteem by the press as a “team of destiny.”  In Raleigh, they referred to the team as “The Cardic Pack.”  The Wolfpack would win in a laugher 75-56.  It had been their first easy win.

They say what goes around comes around.  Up next awaited Goliath, the college player of the year, Ralph Sampson, and his 29-5 Wahoos of Virginia.  Coach Terry Holland and his team were looking to avenge their ACC Tournament Championship loss to the Wolfpack.  But it was not to be.  Virginia was up by 7 points with six minutes to play.  State won 63-62 by fouling Virginia with seconds to go, in a tie game, on purpose.  Who fouls late in a tie game on purpose?  “I couldn’t believe my ears when V started yelling ‘foul’ with the game tied” said Wolfpack forward, Thurl Bailey. 

After N.C. State returned from their victory in the regional, 5,000 people showed up to watch the Wolfpack practice in the Reynolds Neal Coliseum.  Valvano was on top of the world, and everyone lay at his feet.  “Survive and Advance” became his motto.  The Final Four would pit Georgia against N.C. State and #1 Louisville against #2 Houston (The Doctors of Dunk vs. Phi Slama Jama).  Hugh Durham’s Georgia Bulldogs had upset UNC, the 1982 National Champs, and thought they were prepared to take on the Wolfpack.  N.C. State won 67-60 and then waited to see who they would play.  The game they watched with the rest of the nation was incredible. 

Houston outlasted Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals, led by brothers Rodney and Scooter McCray, in what most thought was the championship game.  This up-and-down-the-floor playground basketball, with exclamation points provided by rim-rocking dunks, held the basketball world in awe.  The winner of this game would surely be crowned National Champ on Monday night.  The final score:  Houston 94, Louisville 81. 

 The next day during their press conference, Valvano claimed they would hold the ball against Houston.  “If we get the opening tip on Monday night, we may not take a shot until Tuesday,” exclaimed Valvano.  “Even my mother took the eight points and Houston.”

Head Coach Guy V. Lewis, with great players like Clyde Drexler, Larry Micheaux, Hakeem Olajuwon, Reid Gettys, Benny Anders, Michael Young, and freshman Alvin Franklin, waited to claim their rightful title.  I found it interesting that both Guy and Jim both used the “V” in name recognition and both teams’ colors included red and white.   

Before the game, Valvano did what he does best, “Talk.”  He also made it clear to his team that they were not going to hold the ball in front of 50 million people who would be watching on TV.  N.C. State missed ten shots in a row at the start of the game, but still led 33-25 at halftime.  Houston stormed back to lead by 7, with ten minutes to go.  Wolfpack strategy included not letting the Cougars dunk and fouling to get the ball back.  In short, it worked.  Freshman Benny Anders was fouled in a tie game with seconds left, as Guy Lewis hid his eyes in his red-and-white checkered towel.  Anders missed.  N.C. State now with the ball, moved up court.  The ball went into the corner to Bailey who returned it to Derek Whittenburg as time was running out.  Whittenburg launched a 30-footer that appeared to be on target, but short.  Time stood still for everyone but Wolfpack forward, Lorenzo Charles, who jumped up, caught the ball and dunked, all in the same motion.  It was over; N.C. State 54-Houston 52.  “If we win, pigs will fly, and pink elephants will drive Cadillacs,” said Valvano before the game.  Can anyone say “Unpossible?”

I should have known that my pal Dotson Lewis was seated courtside with Blackie Sherrod, the senior sportswriter for the Dallas Morning News.  When I asked Dotson for his thoughts, he said, “What a shocker.  I thought Guy Lewis had fainted when the game ended,” said Dotson.  “He was one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball.” 

At the end of the 1983 season, several Wolfpack starters were drafted.  They are as follows:  Thurl Bailey was drafted by Utah Jazz, Sidney Lowe by the Chicago Bulls, and Derek Whittenburg by the Phoenix Suns.  Lorenzo Charles and Cozell McQueen would later be drafted in 1984, by the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, respectively.

N.C. State won their last nine games of that 1983 season; and in seven of those games, they were behind on the scoreboard with one minute to play.  It was as if this team had been touched in some special way.  Was it divine intervention or luck?  Who cares?  Sometimes things happen in sports that bring attention to real life experiences.  I believe that Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech would not have had the same impact without his upset victory and later his bout with cancer.  The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research still continues twenty years after his death to lead the nation in money raised.  In short, Valvano’s seven simple, yet powerful, words will live on, “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up.”  True heroes never surrender. 



Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Thirty Two


There has always been something special about the #32.  I can’t explain what it is but I can tell you that it has been worn by many of the very best athletes in all of sports.  The first time I noticed the #32 was as a kid watching the great Jim Brown run for the Cleveland Browns.  Then Billy Cunningham made the #32 popular at the University of North Carolina before playing for the Philadelphia 76ers.  Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton, both Hall of Fame pitchers, wore #32, while “Magic” Johnson, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, Scottie Pippin, and Karl Malone also earned Hall-of-Fame status in the NBA wearing that number.  Don’t forget O.J. Simpson who also wore #32.  Buck Leonard of the Negro Leagues made the #32 famous, and he has also been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitols, Jason Kidd with the Phoenix Suns, and Sean Elliot of the San Antonio Spurs all wore #32.  Edgerrin James and Ricky Watters are also on the list.  But there is one fellow who slides under the radar when speaking about the #32.  His name is Elston Gene Howard, the first African-American to play for the New York Yankees.

Elston Howard was born in St. Louis, Missouri.  “Ellie” was a big strong guy who usually played the part of peacemaker.  He owned a great smile that displayed the gap between his two front teeth.  A four-sport letterman in high school, he is now in the Missouri Hall of Fame.  Howard tried out for the Cardinals in 1948, as an outfielder.  He was never called back.  Ellie later joined the Negro Leagues, the K.C. Monarchs.  His manager was Buck O’Neil, and he roomed with Ernie Banks.  “If I had a boy, I would want him to be like Elston,” said O’Neil.  Howard later signed with the Yankees and was sent to their Minor League team known as the Kansas City Blues.  He spent three years being converted to a catcher, by Bill Dickey.  The Yankees already had an African-American power hitter by the name of Vic Power in the Minors, but felt that Power was too flashy to fit the Yankee mold.  Power was traded in 1953, leaving Howard on deck.  Howard was sent to the International Leagues where he not only hit .331, but was voted the MVP of the league.  He was ready but the American League integrated much slower than the National League.  In 1954, New York did not win the American League pennant, which may have helped Ellie.  In 1955, there were still four teams that did not have an African-American player.  One of this those teams were the Yankees, who brought Howard up in 1955.  Yes, New York needed an African-American player but they also needed a Yankee.  His first game was April 14, 1955, and he did not disappoint.  Ellie hit .290, 10 home runs and 43 RBI’s, while platooning with Yogi Berra and Johnny Blanchard.  He also became the sixth player in MLB history to hit a home run in his first World Series at-bat, against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Howard played about 100 games in 1956 and 1957.  In 1958, Elston Howard became the first African-American to be named a World Series MVP, as the Yankees beat the Milwaukee Braves.

In 1960, Howard started more games at catcher as Yogi played in left field.  Ellie would knock a pinch-hit home run in Game One and hit a smoking .462 in the World Series, against the winning Pittsburgh Pirates club.  Casey Stengel was fired after the Series, and Ralph Houk took his place.  The first move Houk made in 1961 was to designate Elston Howard as the Yankees’ starting catcher.  Howard swatted .348, and the Bombers never looked back.  “I’m very fortunate to be with the Yankees,” said Howard.  “This is the greatest thing in my life.” 

The year 1963 was huge for Ellie.  Not only did he win the Gold Glove Award for the catcher’s position, but he basically carried the team as Maris and Mantle were hurt most of the year.  For his contributions, Elston Howard would become the first African-American to win the American League MVP Award. 

In August of 1964, the Yankees held an Elston Howard night at the stadium.  Words like pioneer and “instrument of change” were used.  The newspapers wrote, “He may be one of the most important Yankees ever.”  Teammate Bobby Richardson said, “Ballplayers know who the greatest players are, and they all knew Ellie Howard.”

Howard injured his elbow later on, which required surgery.  Unfortunately, he was still unable to straighten out his arm.  He would never be the same.  To his dismay, Howard was traded to the Boston Red Sox in the middle of the 1967 season.  There he led the Red Sox to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and helped Jim Lonborg win the American League Cy Young Award.  After fourteen years, Howard retired from playing at the end of the 1968 season.  In 1969, Howard became the first African-American coach in the American League with the Yankees and should have been the first African-American manager in 1973, but the Yanks chose Bill Virdon.  “If Elston had played for any other club, he would be in the Hall of Fame,” said Bobby Richardson.


In 1978, Ellie was diagnosed with a rare heart disorder and suffered from inflammation of the heart muscle.  He joined Phil Rizzuto in the broadcast booth as he was unable to fulfill his coaching duties.  “I never felt like I had it made.  I always played like I hadn’t got there yet.  It’s been a long battle for me.  When I look back on the years I can see where I earned whatever I got.  Nobody walked up to me and gave me anything.  I’m really proud of that.  I’m really more proud of trying than I am of anything,” said Howard.  Elston Howard died at the young age of 51 on December 14, 1980. 

The New York Yankees retired Howard’s #32.  He had played in a total of ten World Series.  “He is the one person I really miss today,” said Ernie Banks.  It has been said, there is no footprint to small too leave an imprint on the world.  History will remember #32 Elston Howard.



Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.


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