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Uncle Andy's Blog


 

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield once said, “To be a comedian you have to get on stage and find out if you’re funny.”  We never know how good we can be until we try.  You may have never heard the names Dick Weber or Earl Anthony.  These two achieved greatness, if only for a moment in time, but a moment most of us will never get close to.  But once in awhile, a guy comes along who knocks down all the obstacles that others have put in his way.  If you ever wanted to build the perfect bowler, you would point at this guy and say, “Just give me him.”  He was big for his sport, a powerful guy who stood 6’ 1” tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He was a high-energy guy, like owning a pet.  Some said he was so lucky he could walk between raindrops.  His family was dirt poor and he grew up in a town where everyone had the same thing, nothing.  He was also cocky, the kind of guy who would buzz the flight tower if he were a jet fighter pilot.  During competition, he developed the personality of a concentration camp guard.  Like a comedian, he needed the crowd approval like a new puppy needs petting.  In his sport, it was not so much what you do but how you do it and some said he could concentrate until his eyes melted into one.  You either liked him or loathed him.

This guy loved attention so much he would have changed his name to Ann Landers just to be mentioned in the newspaper.  He would stop at nothing to win.  He had incredible focus and drive, was a good all-around athlete and fearless.  He was a right-handed powerhouse with an awkward delivery.  He stood stoop-shouldered and did the unthinkable by bending his elbow on his backswing and pulling the ball back around his stomach, then pushing it forward.  No one could copy him, and they all tried.  Some said he got into his opponents’ heads like a bad sinus infection.  All he did was win.  A lot of people don’t want to be different and, if they are, they hide it so no one judges them badly. 

My dad once told me I had a better chance of striking oil in my backyard, finding a buried treasure, or hitting the lottery jackpot, than of bowling a perfect game.  Don Carter did not invent bowling, but you could not have convinced me otherwise.  If it weren’t for Don Carter, we would more than likely never have heard of Dick Weber or Earl Anthony. 

With two fingers and a thumb, Carter changed a blue-collar sport into a permanent fixture on prime time television.  During the fifties, baseball had Willie Mays, football had Johnny Unitas, and bowling had Don Carter.  Donald James Carter was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 29, 1926.  He grew up on the mean streets of town playing ball, baseball that is.  Most of his time was spent in the infield, except when he was asked to pitch.  Two of his American Legion teammates owned names you would recognize, Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola.  In 1944, after graduating from Wellston High School, he served a two-year stint in the United States Navy as a radar man in the South Pacific.  He was relieved of duty in 1946 and came home to St. Louis.  Carter signed a Minor League contract to play for the Philadelphia Phillies, but it was not to be.  During his first season of Class-D League baseball, Don found out he couldn’t hit Major League pitching.  He headed back to St. Louis again and got a job at Golden Eagle Lanes, sweeping lanes, setting pins, and tending bar.  He practiced every chance he got; he had always loved bowling.  You see, as a child, Don’s family struggled financially and money was always tight.  His mother surprised him on his thirteenth birthday by purchasing for him one game of bowling for the price of thirteen cents.  “Looking back on it now, that was the biggest birthday present of my life,” said Don.  Professional bowling, not baseball, would be his life-long calling.

He participated in one of the oldest sports in history, bowling.  The game itself has a long and rich history dating back to England in the 1300’s, and some say there are possibilities that some form of the game existed during ancient Egyptian and Roman times.  In his story about Rip Van Winkle, American writer Washington Irving mentions the sound of “crackling nine-pins.”  

It wasn’t until 1951, when a company called Gottfried Schmidt invented the modern day pinsetter machine that the sport of bowling took off in the United States.  Now, it is estimated that 95 million people in over 90 countries participate in bowling on a weekly basis.  Lots of athletes have invested in bowling alleys in the past.  Most athletes, like Johnny Damon, now just build their own lanes in their home.  Mickey Mantle Lanes was located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Did you know that the White House has its own built-in bowling alley? 

Beer is as much a part of bowling as blowing on your fingers.  In 1951, Don joined the Pfeiffer Beer Team from Detroit, Michigan.  They won the 1953 Open Championship.  After moving back to St. Louis again, in 1956, he joined the Budweiser Bowling Team.  This team won four straight National Team Match Games (1956-1959).  The 1958 team set an American Bowling Congress (ABC) League Series record for a five-man team, by scoring 3,858 points.  This record stood for 35 years.  His partners in crime were Ray Bluth, Dick Weber, Tom Hennessey, and Pat Patterson. 

In 1953, Don met and married female bowler, LaVerne Haverly.  They divorced in 1973.  Don then married another professional female bowler, Paula Sperber, who had won the 1971 U.S. Women’s Open.  Both his wives ended up elected to the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.

The very first “Superstar” of professional bowling was Don Carter.  After having learned the game as a child, Don went on at the age of 32, to become the founding member and first president of the Professional Bowling Association (PBA) in 1958.  Before that, all he did was win numerous tournaments in single competition and in team play.  He won seven PBA titles, including the 1960 National Championship.  He won four titles and $49,000 in 1960 alone, while neighborhood bowling alleys sprang up in every small town in the USA.  He was chosen Bowler of the Year six times and was voted the Greatest Bowler of All-Time in a 1970 bowling magazine poll.  Even though he has not bowled since 1972, he is still ranked 11th on the PBA list of top 50 bowlers from the last 50 years.  In 1964, Don Carter, a ten-pin bowling legend, was the first professional athlete from any sport to sign a one-million-dollar endorsement deal; it was with Ebonite International, a bowling ball manufacturer.  Carter also won four out of nine All-Star tournaments.  He won five World International events in a six-year span and he won the ABC Masters title. 

Television shows like Jackpot Bowling, Make That Spare and Championship Bowling were watched by millions of people.  By 1962, an incredible 32 events were scheduled in prime time.

Don Carter achieved many firsts in his chosen sport.  He became the first bowler to win every possible major tournament in his career.  He’s the first bowler to have a tournament named after him.  He was inducted into the American Bowling Congress (ABC) Hall of Fame in 1970, the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Hall of Fame in 1975, and he has written two books, entitled 10 Secrets of Bowling and Bowling The Pro Way.  Carter also bowled five “800 Series,” 13 perfect games and six “299 games” in sanctioned events.  One of the advantages of the game of bowling is that while most sports are not conducive to the elderly, it is possible to play this game well into old age.

Don Carter was forced to retire from competitive bowling in 1972 because of a bad knee.  “I really don’t think anyone under the age of 65 remembers me.  I’m really big with senior citizens,” laughed Carter.   

Don owned a chain of bowling alleys and a clothing line of bowling apparel.  He loved golf and painting and did charity work on behalf of abused kids.  He did not like public speaking or flying airplanes, therefore he stayed close to home after retirement.  In 1980, Carter’s star was dusted off by appearing in Miller Brewing Company’s award-winning commercials for Miller Lite beer. 

Don Carter, “Mr. Bowling,” a true pioneer and legend of his sport, died at his home in Miami, Florida, on Thursday night, January 5, 2012.  He had suffered from pneumonia and emphysema.  He was 85 years old.  Carter is survived by wife, Paula, two sons Jim and John, a daughter Caycee, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”  Don Carter was the best.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Professional football in the 1960’s meant putting your hand in the dirt and seeing who was better.  Very few of us, if any, grow up to be who we wanted to be when young.  This fellow did.  He played with and against players with names that will ring out as gridiron gods and will stand the test of time.  They called it the “Golden Era” of professional football.  These early days of pro football were not filled with 70-yard pass plays.  The game was like an atomic ground war.  There were no winners, only survivors.  It was 22 guys with clinched fists separated by less than ten yards of blood-stained dirt.  There were no injury timeouts unless you had already used up all your timeouts.  It was a time all about moving the chains.

  Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” You be the judge.  Robert Lee “Bobby” Smith was born on May 18, 1942, in Corpus Christi, Texas.  His was a family full of love and compassion, along with a healthy dose of church.  Bobby is married with four kids who all have their college degrees.

You’ll never forget the first time you meet him.  His presence can fill up the room.  At 73 years of age, his voice is soft and educated; he spoke to me like a father talks to his son.  I’ll remind you that it was guys like Bobby Smith that sold this game of pro football to the American public.  In the beginning, everybody is just a kid from somewhere, but this guy ran with the football like little boys do in their wildest dreams.  Some folks say he was so fast he could outrun raindrops.  Bobby had all the physical riches:  speed, power, vision, energy and size.  The only thing that could stop him was perhaps being kidnapped.  Retired now, he seems content until you start talking football.  You can feel his pulse quicken as the memories come flooding back.

Bobby attended Roy Miller High School from 1957-1959.  Besides starring for the football team and running the 100 and 220-yard dash, he was voted class favorite his senior year.  The Bucs football team was pretty good and made it all the way to the state semi-finals where Miller played Pasadena.  That made Smith the first African-American to play in Rice Stadium. “When I ran with the track team, there were some towns like Laredo that would not let blacks stay in the hotel with the team.  They spread out blankets on the floor in a local gym for us to sleep on,” said Bobby.  In 1991, he was inducted into the Miller Athletic Hall of Fame.

During his senior year, he received 81 offers to play college football.   Unfortunately, segregation only allowed three colleges in Texas to accept black players. They were:  Texas A&I Kingsville, West Texas State and North Texas State.  “I received a letter from Darrell Royal from the University of Texas,” said Bobby.  “Royal told me he would love to have me, but the school was not ready to integrate at that time.”  Bobby came very close to signing with the University of Michigan, but wanted badly to stay in Texas.  He chose North Texas State.  “I never regretted my choice,” said Bobby.  From 1961-1963, Smith was responsible for over 1,500 yards of offense and scored 17 touchdowns for the North Texas State Eagles.

Bobby Smith was picked 6th in the 11th round of the 1964 AFL draft, by the Buffalo Bills.  He received jersey #20 and promptly averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his rookie season, while scoring four touchdowns (once each against the Jets and Chiefs and twice against the Oilers).  Smith rushed 62 times and gained 306 yards.  He caught six passes for 72 yards, while helping the Bills achieve a 12-2 win-loss record in 14 games.  Along with stars like Jack Kemp, Daryle Lamonica, and “Cookie” Gilchrist, the Bills beat the San Diego Chargers 20-7 on December 26, 1964, for the AFL Championship. 

In 1965, the Bills finished first again in the AFL East with a 10-3-1 record.  Again, Buffalo beat the Chargers 23-0 on December 26, 1965, to win their second consecutive AFL Championship.  “We wanted to play the Green Bay Packers so bad,” said Bobby.  Smith was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 1966 season.  He played a limited role in eight games for Coach Bill Austin.  Their record was 5-8-1.  Bobby wore #37 and rushed for 93 yards but did not score.  The NFL expansion draft in 1967 allowed the newly-formed New Orleans Saints to draft players from other teams.  Bobby Smith was chosen from the Steelers.  Smith was injured in a pre-season game against the San Diego Chargers.  A shoulder injury that involved his clavicle being separated from his sternum ended his career.  Smith’s career totals are as follows.  He rushed 129 times and gained 536 yards, while scoring five touchdowns.  He averaged 4.2 yards per carry.  He also caught 21 passes for 214 yards and won two AFL Championship rings.   

In 1992, Bobby Smith joined his friend, “Mean Joe” Greene, in the North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame.  They are still very close.  Their wives were college roommates.  In 1961, Eagles’ running back, Bobby Smith, led the team in points scored and total offense.  

For Bobby Smith, scoring a touchdown wasn’t about winning a game.  It was much more than that.  It was about hope.  What he and others like him went through helped shape our times.  At the end of my interview, behind those big bright eyes and a smile that lights up the room, my new friend said to me, “I have something they can never take away.  I was the first black man selected to the Texas High School All-State Football Team, in Division 4A.”  We are what we remember.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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The event drew 5,000 people, standing room only.  NBC decided to televise the spectacle.  When their television producers walked into the building, they gasped and said, “Oh my, if we could just put this building on wheels.”  That building was of course Memorial Coliseum, the Madison Square Garden of the Coastal Bend.  “It was the perfect fight venue because every seat in the house was a great seat,” said promoter Lester Bedford.  The ceiling was low and rounded and smoking was permitted at that time.  The haze of the smoke hung over the ring as the boxers battled it out in front of a packed house.  It was loud and the fans colorful, a perfect setting for showing a fight on television.  From 1954 until 2004, boxing was the biggest professional sport in Corpus Christi, Texas.  That’s where I first saw Hector Luis “Macho” Camacho in person.  Macho Man was a young, brash kid from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.  Some guys have a chip on their shoulder; he had a whole cord of wood.  He came into the fight with eleven wins and no defeats.  They should have hung a sign over Camacho’s dressing room door that said “Speed Kills;” he just had such energy.  With lightning-quick hands he could hit you so many times you thought you were surrounded.  His challenger, Rafael Williams, sported an equally impressive record of 19-1.  On May 20, 1984, Macho Man danced while Williams kept catching Camacho’s right-hand jabs with his face.  The fight was stopped in the 7th round and ruled a TKO (technical knockout) in favor of Camacho.  At 5’ 6” tall and weighing 133 pounds, Hector was a middleweight, a star waiting his turn to shine.  Hector wore his hair cut close with a spit curl that hung down in the middle of his forehead.  His body was bronzed and his shoulders were broad enough to serve breakfast on.  He was a southpaw.  He owned guts, wanted glory, and was fifty miles away from being smart.

Hector Luis Camacho Matias was born on May 24, 1962.  He was the youngest of five children.  At the age of three, Hector moved to New York City’s Spanish Harlem with his mom, Maria, and took up boxing by the age of fifteen.  He had been kicked out of six different schools, but managed to win the New York City Golden Gloves Titles, three different times.  He was an admitted car thief, a drug user and had been arrested for shoplifting.  He eventually served time in prison at Rikers Island.  Pat Flannery, a language teacher who taught him to read, became a father figure to Hector.  It was Flannery who is credited with giving Camacho his nickname.  Sometimes even the harshest of sports acts as a rescue for some.

It has been said that in ancient times strangers shook hands to show they were unarmed.  That did not apply to the sweet science of boxing.  A precise counter-puncher, Camacho became a flamboyant fighter during a time when the sport was in its heyday.  Hector looked like an extra in a gladiator movie.  He would dress in unforgettable style and was always a favorite on the Las Vegas strip.  He wore dazzling outfits and dressed as a Roman gladiator, in an American Indian headdress, Army camouflage trunks with helmet, a Puerto Rican flag outfit, and cheetah-skin trunks.  He won four World Championships in three different weight divisions.  Those divisions were listed as super flyweight, lightweight, and junior welterweight.  Camacho would win one war after another.  He had the temper of a gangster and was so mean he would kick puppies.  Along the way he won a unanimous decision over Freddie Roach and Vinny Pazienza and a split decision over Edwin Rosario and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.  On September 12, 1992, in Las Vegas, Camacho lost a unanimous decision to Julio Cesar Chavez.  Camacho’s record now stood at 27-2.  On January 29, 1994, he lost a third time, to Felix Trinidad. 

On April 22, 1996, Macho Man returned to Corpus Christi to fight Wilbur Garst.  This was a tune-up fight for Roberto Duran.  The fight was stopped in the seventh round by TKO; Camacho was again a winner.  I was at ringside with my pal Scott Robinson; what a fight.  Angelo Dundee was Hector Camacho’s trainer. 

A total of 17 World Champions have fought in the old building:  From Frankie Warren to Buddy McGirt, Jesse Benavides to Ronnie Shields, Lupe Suarez to Evander Holyfield, “Sweet Pea” Whitaker to Meldrick Taylor, and Jorge Paez to “Jesse” James Leija.  I even remember Jerry Quarry singing the National Anthem before a fight at the coliseum.  Yeah, the old gal had seen a lot.  The coliseum was finally torn down in 2010. 

On June 22, 1996, Camacho fought and out-pointed Roberto Duran for a win, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  On March 1, 1997, Hector fought and knocked out “Sugar Ray” Leonard, sending Leonard into permanent retirement.  “He was not only quick, but accurate,” said Leonard.  But then he lost his next fight to Oscar De La Hoya.  “I remember Emanuel Steward told me, ‘You are not going to knock him out; his chin is made of granite, and his heart is twice the size,’” said De La Hoya.  Even though De La Hoya knocked Camacho to the canvas, Steward was proved correct as Camacho went the distance with De La Hoya, but lost by a 12-round unanimous decision.  Camacho would ask and get a rematch with Roberto Duran on July 14, 2001.  This fight would go the distance with Camacho winning for a second time over Duran.

CBS loved the guy.  They always wanted to air his fights because he got them good ratings.  Camacho would retire in 2010.  His thirty-year career record stands at 79-6-3 with 45 knockouts.  It seems kind of odd these days to write about boxing, a sport in which a concussion is usually the preferred outcome, while the game of football goes on trial every day in regards to eliminating concussions.

On Tuesday, November 20, 2012, Hector Camacho was shot in the left side of his face while sitting with a friend in a black Ford Mustang.  His friend, Adrian Moreno, was also killed by the drive-by shooter.  After surgery, he was declared brain dead on Thursday and removed from life support.  Camacho threw his last jab at life on Saturday, November 24, 2012.  He was 50 years old and died of a heart attack.  Cocaine was found at the scene, and there was no arrest at that time.  There is no doubt that he lived in the fast lane, as dangerously as he fought.  Camacho had five children from different relationships.  Camacho’s son, Hector Camacho Jr., is also a boxer like his dad, who is also survived by his parents. 

The President of HBO, Ken Hershman said, “Everybody at HBO Boxing is saddened by the tragic passing of Hector Macho Camacho.  During the prime of his career, he played an important role in driving the sport’s popularity.  He was one of those fighters you had to keep your eyes on.”  Bob Arum, the long-time boxing promoter, who put together the Oscar De La Hoya-Hector Camacho fight said, “I always thought Camacho was a fool, a loose cannon, but then I realized that he was very, very clever.  He had an instinct to know what would bring attention to him and the event.  Even though De La Hoya was the star, it was Camacho that carried that promotion,” said Arum.  “He was one of those rare athletes, a dynamic package of energy, talent, raw nerve, and arrogance,” said HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant.  Everybody knew that he had always been fighting for his life. 

In life as in death, time moves forward.  Macho Man and fight night at Memorial Coliseum are no more.    

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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To most folks he looked like just another old Texas cowboy in a pair of snakeskin boots and a Stetson, but he called himself the “World’s Greatest Gambler.”  If you were walking with him down the street and you decided to cross, he would bet how many steps it would take you to get to the other side.  He would bet on anything.  He lived in a world where bluffing was acceptable, exaggerating was expected, and dealing from the bottom of the deck could cost you your life.  He had been called a hustler, a charmer, a con man, a folk hero, and a Texas treasure.  He could talk a hungry squirrel out of his acorns and always ordered his coffee in a dirty cup.  He had won and lost more money than Chrysler, spent more time on TV than Al Capone; he’s been quoted more times than Abe Lincoln, and has told more stories than Andy Rooney. 

Were all his stories true--who cares?  He never forgot he was a promoter, a salesman, and a jokester.  His tales were designed to entertain you; that was all that mattered.  He had been an illegal bookmaker, a pool hustler, and a card shark.  He single-handedly brought poker out of the back streets to the flat green tables of Las Vegas.  He became nothing short of the face of poker.  “I was just trying to make a buck,” he once said.  

A tall, lanky character; he was not much to look at.  Some said he was so skinny he had to run around in the shower to get wet.  He once stated he hated to take a bath in the tub for fear of going down the drain.  He had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead on several occasions.  He wrote several books and e-books on poker, including No Limit Texas Hold’em and proposition bets.  In May of 2003, he published his autobiography entitled, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People.  One look at you and he could read your entire hand.  Amarillo Slim was all in from the day he was born.

Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Jr., was born in Jackson, Arkansas, on December 31, 1938.  As a teenager, Preston moved with his family from Jackson to Amarillo, Texas.  There he met “Minnesota Fats,” and shooting pool became Slim’s first love.  Slim learned from Fats the importance of conversation to get inside your opponent’s head.  “Poker is a game of people.  It’s not the hand I hold, it’s the people that I play with,” said Slim.  He later met Doyle Brunson and “Sailor” Roberts.  These three toured the country poker circuit in search of private games; they became known as “Rounders.”  He claimed to have won $587,000 playing poker.  He realized that he could get rich without having a job.  As Archie Bunker would say, “Those were the days.” 

His most famous quotation went like this:  “If you can’t spot the sucker within the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”  Slim won a total of five World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, including the main event in 1972.  He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992.  Between poker tournaments, Slim kept himself in the spotlight with outrageous proposition bets.  He won $300,000 from Willie Nelson playing Dominoes in Las Vegas; Slim beat tennis legend Bobby Riggs in Ping-Pong using a frying pan; he beat Minnesota Fats in a game of one-pocket pool with a broom stick; and he beat Evel Knievel in a round of golf using a hammer to hit his ball instead of a club.  He played poker with Richard Nixon, Mickey Rooney, Lyndon Johnson, and drug lord Pablo Escobar, took the New York Jets, Joe Namath, and the points in Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts, and smiled all the way to the bank.  He won $31,000 from Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder by rafting down “The River of No Return” (Salmon River in Idaho) in winter, and placed a substantial bet that George W. Bush would be elected President of the United States in the year 2000.  He even once wagered a cat could pick up a Coke bottle and won.  He shot free-throws with a football and rode a camel through the Casino El Mamouria in Marrakech, Morocco.  Like I told you, he would bet on anything.

He appeared on the Tonight Show eleven times.  He also starred on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, A.M. Los Angeles, Georgia Today, What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth, The Tomorrow Show and  I’ve Got a Secret.  His secret was that he once lost $190,000 playing poker in a single night.

Slim was arrested in 2003, and charged with indecency with a 12-year-old girl who turned out to be his granddaughter.  He pled guilty to a misdemeanor, paid the fine, and moved on.  Slim said he pled guilty to save his family from the embarrassment of a trial.  He later claimed he was innocent and had signed affidavits to prove it.  Was he bluffing?  Who knows?  His plea also cost him a movie deal.  Actor Nicholas Cage had met with Slim about a movie to be made about Amarillo Slim’s life with Cage playing his part.  With the bad press associated with the charge, the movie deal dissolved.   

Slim has been inducted into five different Halls of Fame, according to the Guinness Book of Records.  They are:  Poker, Gambling, Seniors, Legends of Texas and Legends of Nevada.  Slim once said, “I never go looking for a sucker.  I look for a Champion and make a sucker out of him.”

The word “tell,” used in poker, describes the signs a poker player uses when evaluating his hand.  Any change in a player’s behavior may give a clue to how that player assesses his hand, especially if that tell is unconscious and reliable.  An example of a player’s tells, could be his leaning forward or backward after looking at his cards.  Fidgeting, doing chip tricks, breathing patterns, tone of voice, facial expressions or sweating, could also be signatures of how a player views his cards.  There are also non-physical tells in poker.  Speed of play, betting patterns, and the quantity of chips played could be dead give-a-ways.  Being overly friendly, talkative or not making direct eye contact can be signs of bluffing.  The underlying rule too many tells is:  Weak means strong, strong means weak.  Players holding weak hands try to attempt to convince others they have a strong hand; whereas players holding a strong hand try to disguise their hand as being weak.  Remember, an unskilled player may misread a weak hand as a strong hand and thus make the wrong decision.  Slim was a master at reading his opponents tells and therefore knew what cards they were holding in their hands.  I found a list of Slim’s “Ten Keys to Success.”  They are as follows:

 

Play the player, not your cards.

Choose the right opponents.

Never play with money you can’t afford to lose.

Don’t play many hands, but when you do be prepared to move all in.

The minute you sit down, you’re working.

Look for tells of your opponent before you look at your own hand.

Diversify your play so others can’t pick up your tells.

Play slowly in a fast game and fast in a slow game.

Be able to quit when losing and continue when winning.

Conduct yourself so you’re always invited back.

 

Amarillo Slim drew to an “inside straight” and came up empty on Sunday, April 29, 2012.  Colon cancer always has “four of a kind.”  He was 83 years old and has lost his last bet against death.  I will leave you with a quotation the same way Amarillo Slim would have.  “When a man with money meets a man with experience, the man with experience leaves with the money and the man with the money leaves with experience,” (Anonymous).  Personally, I think Slim got away with both.

 

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Rodney Dangerfield once said, “To be a comedian you have to get on stage and find out if you’re funny.”  We all go though the process of finding out what we’re good at.  This guy became an amazing golfer.  He was harder to beat than Floyd Mayweather.  He could play as calm as a morning in May, and his middle name should have been money.  It was like he could reach down inside and find an extra gear.  When all was said and done, all he did was win.  He never seemed to have a bad round, a quiet round, but he never beat himself.  This guy had magic in his hands, and his personality matched the size of his physique.  It was like he had a pocket full of “gimme’s.”  On the golf course, he was all business, like a hit man with a 7-iron.  His high arching approach shots rained down like death from above on his opponents.  You would swear that if his putter were alive it would rob banks if left alone.  He just exploded off the tee and would use his short game to drive a stake through your heart.  He could get up and down out of a trash can with his 9-iron.  Someone once said if he missed a putt it’s because the hole moved.  There are stories that he practiced putting in the dark.  “On a pitch-black night, when you walk up to the hole just to see where it is, it stamps a very strong image in your mind,” Casper told Golf Digest in 2005.  “You develop a feel for everything:  the moisture on the grass, the small change in elevation, the exact distance to the hole, and all kinds of things your eyes alone can’t tell you.”  “Billy” Casper always played it where it lay.  At times, he seemed to be bullet proof.

William Earl Casper, Jr., was born on June 24, 1931, in San Diego, California.  His family soon moved to Chula Vista.  His father was an avid golfer who built a three-hole golf course on their farm.  It was here, at the age of four, that Billy received his first golf lessons from his dad.  As a kid, Billy was called “fatso” and other unflattering things at school.  He caddied at a golf course close by during the day and practiced putting at night.  At 16, Billy got a chance to see the great Ben Hogan play in an exhibition match and marveled at his shot-making abilities.  After graduating from high school, Billy attended the University of Notre Dame for a while before joining the U.S. Navy.  

Casper turned professional in 1954 and won his first PGA Tour event within two years.  Billy would soon stand among the game’s finest golfers.  The great Jack Nicklaus said, “When I played in a tournament and I came to the turn, I always looked at the leader board for three names:  Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Billy Casper.”

Casper’s hand to eye coordination was something to behold.  He was a genius with his short game.  He once claimed, “I could look at a telephone pole 40 yards away, take out a 7-iron and hit it ten times in a row.”   It took Billy Casper 25 years on the PGA Tour before he recorded his first hole-in-one.   He eventually made 23 before he retired.  Casper won at least once every year for 16 straight years.  Only Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer surpassed Casper with a win, in 17 straight years.  “I had to play well to feed my family,” said Billy. “I never got caught up in the history of the game.” 

Billy Casper’s first major win occurred in 1959, at Winged Foot, in Mamaroneck, New York.   There Billy set a tournament record with only 114 putts over 72 holes.   He crowd was so quiet you could hear ice melt. 

His most thrilling win was played at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California, during the 1966 U.S. Open.   Casper trailed Palmer by seven strokes with only nine holes to play.  Billy caught him with a four-under 32 on the back nine and beat Arnold by four shots in an 18-hole playoff.   Incredibly, Casper never three-putted over the 90 holes played.  Palmer was quoted afterwards, “He’s the greatest putter on the pro tour.”

It has been said, “It’s never spring until The Masters.”  The 1970 Masters was the scene of another thrilling victory by Casper.  It took another 18-hole playoff to beat Gene Littler.  It was in this match that Casper claims he hit the best shot of his career.  Casper’s ball was tucked down inside tall grass, with a small log two or three inches behind his ball on the par-5 second hole.  Casper took his 9-iron and lofted a shot up over the tall pine trees onto the fairway.  That shot allowed him to save par.

Casper also won nine events on the senior Tour including two more majors, the 1983 U.S. Senior Open and the 1988 Senior Tournament Players Championship.  His last win on the Senior Tour occurred in 1989.

I do not know how Billy Casper had time to play golf, as he fathered five children and adopted six with his wife Shirley Franklin Casper.  He was held as a wonderful husband and family man.  Billy and Shirley had 71 grandchildren and there is no telling how many great-grandchildren.  He was known for his charitable side and oozed kindness towards others.  He enjoyed the outdoors, especially fishing.  “Fishing not only rests and relaxes me; it also provides me with a muscle exercise that makes me stronger on the golf course,” said Casper.  In July of 1966, Billy also gave his time to our troops in Vietnam.  

Casper suffered from all kind of allergies from most meats and fruit and vegetables where certain pesticides were used.  He turned to eating venison, buffalo, elk, caribou, moose and organic vegetables.   He also converted to Mormonism in 1966.

“Billy Casper Golf” was a company Billy created which designed, built and operated 140 courses across the United States.  At present, it is the second largest company of its kind.    

Billy’s oldest son David is in prison in Nevada, serving a life sentence for committing many felonies and armed robberies.  “He will never get out,” said Casper.  Billy and his wife struggled with David’s fate and reached deep down inside trying to make sense of it all.  They never came to terms on how they could have done better as parents.  Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Billy Casper played in 584 events and recorded 69 total professional wins, including 51 PGA Pro-Tour events and 31 second-place finishes.  He was listed at #7 in all-time career wins behind Sam Snead, “Tiger” Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson.  Some of his wins came at famous golf courses and events such as Doral Country Club, the Greater Greensboro Open, the Bob Hope Dessert Classic, the Bing Crosby National Pro Am, and the Colonial National Invitational.  From 1962 to 1970, Casper and Nicklaus won 33 times on the PGA Tour.  Palmer won 30 times.  Casper’s advice to other golfers:  “Play more and practice less off the tee.”  Nicknamed “The Gorilla,” Casper was elected Player of the Year twice in 1966 and 1970.  He was the leading money winner twice and holds the American record in the Ryder Cup for most points.  He participated on eight Ryder Cup Teams and captained the team in 1979.  Casper has also won the Vardon Trophy five times, a trophy given for best stroke average.  Over the years, Casper wrote 37 articles for Golf Digest.  Casper was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978.  In 2000, Casper was ranked the 15th greatest golfer of all time in Golf Digest magazine.

“I think people recognize what I did more readily now than when it happened,” said Casper before he died.  “In my best years, everybody was talking about Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player.”  In 2014, Billy Casper passed out in the clubhouse at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia.  He had been going to cardio rehab for the last four months and seemed to be doing fine, when suddenly he began to feel bad.  He died quickly and quietly from a heart attack, at home in Springville, Utah, on Saturday February 7, 2015.  His wife of 62 years, Shirley, was by his side.  It has been said that Father Time always eagles No. 18.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Some teams call it the Big Dance,

For others it spells success.

If you’re a basketball fan in America,

It’s the tournament that’s simply the best.

 

Most teams win their own conference,

Some just play their way in.

Others get in on the strength of their schedule,

But for most teams it’s about losses and wins.

 

It all unfolds this Sunday,

The brackets for 68 teams.

Seeding becomes vitally important,

And the upsets still remain unseen.

 

For eight lower ranked teams

On Tuesday their games begin.

All eyes turn towards Dayton, Ohio,

To see which First Four teams move on with a win.

 

The tournaments first two rounds

Are full of excitement and dreams.

As the winners move on to the Regionals,

It cuts the field down to the sweet 16.

 

Three days are given for travel,

As the fans begin to speculate.

Can their team win just one more game?

Can they join the Elite 8?

 

And then if your team is still lucky,

To win just one game more,

Then you’re off to basketball heaven.

You will arrive at the Final Four.

 

The Final Four is a wonderful place,

Where young boys grow up to be men.

It’s where coaches can become legends,

If their teams can continue to win.

 

It’s a place where anything can happen.

A stage where tomorrow’s stars are born.

Three-sixty dunks and charging calls,

Three-pointers at the sound of the horn.

 

Two-three zones and half court traps,

Become part of the announcer’s jargon.

Offensive boards and the pick and roll,

For the price—This is really a bargain.

 

The Champ is then crowned on Monday,

And their opponent is filled with sadness.

You’ve got to be able to win six in a row,

Hey—that’s why they call it March Madness

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it’s taken place.”  There was never any doubt with this guy.  He took us to the barbershop, spoke to the hip-hop culture, and added a healthy dose of church.  He touched a whole segment of sports fans out there in the real world with his words.  He was “Cool &The Gang,” “Earth, Wind and Fire,” and “Sly & the Family Stone” all rolled into one.  With his catchphrases and street cred, he became a master at the language of sports for the inner-city kids.  He needed the spotlight and attention, like the rest of us need sunlight and oxygen.  His nickname could have been “Sideshow.”  Giving this guy a script to read was like giving Ricky Henderson the steal sign, feeding Dr. J. an outlet pass, or throwing Jerry Rice a post pattern; the results were going to be fantastic.  He spoke with a voice that was unafraid, and he was as friendly as a newborn puppy.  He may have been born wearing a three-piece suit, and some say he owned a heart two sizes too big.   He also had North Carolina Blue pumping through his veins. 

His motto was “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and everything is small stuff.”  His grin would give you a headache, and he had a way of getting beyond the media reports.  In his business he was known as a catch-and-shoot guy.  He was better than a bowl full of “Lucky Charms.”  I’ve even heard his mother’s fried chicken could bring peace to the Middle East.  This man helped create the word “celebrity” for sportscasters.  He’s completed more commercials than passes and couldn’t buy a bucket on EBay.  He was a charmer, a warrior and a father but, in the end, for all of us he was just “Stu.” Why?  Boo-Yah!  Because he was a sportscaster; Stuart Scott was as cool as the other side of the pillow. 

Stuart Orlando “Stu” Scott was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Orlando Ray and Jacqueline Scott.  The date was July 19, 1965.  The Scott family, consisting of four children, moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when Stuart was seven years old.  His father became a postal inspector.  Stu graduated from Richard J. Reynolds High School in 1983.  He had been the captain of the football team, ran track and as a senior, was elected Vice President of the Student Government.  Scott enrolled at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and graduated in 1987 with a degree in Speech Communications.  While at UNC he worked at the student-run radio station, known as WXYC.  Scott claimed that he and his roommate did not have cable while in college.  Therefore, he never watched ESPN.  Interestingly, ESPN became his first fulltime job in television.

In 1987, Stuart’s first job landed him in Florence, South Carolina, as a news reporter and weekend sports anchor for WPDE-TV.  He would leave a year later (1988) for WRAL-TV5 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  By 1990, you could find Stuart in Orlando, Florida, working as a sports reporter and sports anchor for WESH, an NBC affiliate.

In 1993, Al Jaffe hired Stuart Scott to work for ESPN2.  Jaffe was the Vice-President for talent and he was looking for personalities who would appeal to a younger audience.  Scott’s first gig was called SportsSmash.  This assignment consists of two short sports casts per hour during ESPN2’s SportsNight programScott represented new-school.  He owned the two most important qualities for television; he was entertaining and right.  After Keith Olbermann left SportsNight for SportsCenter, Scott took his place.  He would soon become a regular on SportCenter and, over time, he was teamed up with Rich Eisen, Steve Levy, Kenny Mayne and Dan Patrick. 

In 1996, the team of Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen aired at 1:00 a.m. on SportsCenter, nightly.  These two loved nothing better than singing a good duet every night, coming and going, in and out of commercial breaks.  My radio partner, Dennis Quinn, and I continue this strategy on our own radio show, The Q & A Session, which airs on ESPN 1440 KEYS, located in Corpus Christi, Texas.  We don’t sing well, but more importantly, we have fun.  By 2002, Scott was a studio host and eventually became the lead host in 2008.  When Monday Night Football moved to ESPN in 2006, Scott hosted the on-site show. 

On a Sunday morning, in 2007, before he was to cover the Monday Night Football in Pittsburgh, Scott experienced a stomach ache which got progressively worse.  He decided to go to the hospital instead of the game.  There he had his appendix removed and then learned he had cancer.  Two days later, Scott underwent colon surgery and started chemotherapy.  Stuart Scott continued to cover major events for ESPN while being treated for cancer.  These events included the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series and NCAA basketball tournament.  His cancer went into remission until it returned in 2011.  More treatment put him back in remission, but not for long.  He was diagnosed with cancer again on January 14, 2013.  By 2014, Scott had received 58 infusions of chemotherapy.  Radiation and more minor surgery was required, all while Scott continued his life as a father and host on ESPN.  On July 16, 2014, Scott was honored with the Jimmy V. Award for his ongoing fight against the dreaded disease.   He was suffering from kidney and liver complications, and the prognosis did not look good.  Scott told the audience, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”  He ended his speech with, “Have a great rest of your night, have a great rest of your life.”  That in essence was Stuart Scott, a better man when he knew he was dying.  His talent, work ethic and faith were never called into question.  The V Foundation for Cancer Research has now established the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund.

I briefly met Stuart Scott at the 2002 ESPY Awards.  The show occurred on July 10th and this was the first year that the awards show was being held in Los Angeles, at the brand new Kodak Theater.  I was with a group of about fifty sports radio broadcasters who worked for ESPN affiliates around the country.  The night before the event, there was a party held at the Kodak Theater that we all attended.  It was there that I met Linda Cohn, Rich Eisen, Bob Ley, Tom Mees and an injured Stuart Scott.  On April 3, 2002, three months before the ESPY Awards show, Stu got hit in the face with a football while attending the New York Jets training camp.  He had been there filming a special for ESPN.  The blow damaged his cornea.  He did receive surgery afterwards but soon began to suffer a drooping eyelid.  Scott began to wear glasses shortly thereafter. 

The next night before the ESPY Awards, we were all introduced individually and walked down the Red Carpet into the event.  I followed Green Bay Packer Hall-of-Fame football player, Paul Hornung, and preceded tennis star, Serena Williams.  Samuel Jackson hosted the show, and I sat in the upper deck between the late Ralph Wiley, a writer for Sports Illustrated, and Kansas City Star writer, Jason Whitlock.  This place was pure energy. 

Stu died early Sunday morning, January 4, 2015.  He was but 49. Stuart Scott married Kimberly in 1993.  They had two daughters Taelor and Sydni and they lived in Avon, Connecticut.  They divorced in 2007.  Scott was in another relationship with Kristen Spodobalski at the time of his death.

He was paid tribute by many athletes and his former partners of the ESPN.   “Stuart Scott changed the way we talked about sports,” said Michael Wilbon.  At one point, Stu became as famous as the athletes he covered.  For twenty-one years, Stu blended sports talk and African-American culture in a way that had never been used before.  He became the sound of change.  He talked the way kids talked at home.  He appealed to a younger demographic, and no one had ever seen or heard anyone like him on television.  ESPN understood that 80 percent of the players in the NBA were African-American and 70 percent, in the NFL.  What they didn’t know was how important it was to have someone these players could relate to.  Stuart Scott’s voice filled that roll with style and passion.

Scott became known as “the king” for his many catchphrases like “Boo-Yah,” “Game recognizes game,” “Just call him butter ‘cause he’s on a roll,” and my favorite, “You ain’t gotta go home, but you gotta get the heck up outta here.”  Stu received a lot of hate mail because people resented his hip-hop style and although ESPN had issues in the beginning with his delivery, they stuck with him. 

Tim Meadows of Saturday Night Live portrayed Scott in 1999.  Stu appeared in music videos and also displayed his writing talents by contributing monthly to ESPN the Magazine in his column referred to as Holla.  Some of his more impressive interviews included Michael Jordan, President Bill Clinton, Sammy Sosa, “Tiger” Woods and President Barack Obama.

Stuart Scott would have told you, it’s okay to fail and it does not mean you’re a failure.  He showed us it doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on;   it takes a lot of strength to let go.  Youth doesn’t bother to wave goodbye.  In the end, Stuart Scott’s courage was staggering.   He wore a tee-shirt with “EVERYDAY I FIGHT” printed on it, when he worked out, and never asked the doctors what stage of cancer he was in.  “I haven’t wanted to know…I’m trying to fight it the best I can,” said Scott.  There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes like this, “As long as there’s one person on this earth that remembers you, it isn’t over.”  I’ve got a feeling the name Stuart Scott will be remembered for a while.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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The game of baseball has always lent itself to stories, so storytelling becomes important.  This guy can tell stories with the best.  He’s loud, funny, relaxed and confident, traits he received from his dad.  He’s a born hitter, an on-base machine; some say his favorite pitch is the first one he sees.  As a youngster, he could roll out of bed and hit line drives and rip your heart out with a double.  Giving this guy a bat was like handing Jack Nicklaus a 7-iron, Wayne Gretzky a curved stick or giving Doc Holliday a hand gun, something incredible was about to happen.  At 6’ 3” tall and weighing 220 pounds, he could hit home runs like Mike Tyson hits a chin.  Now he’s a coach.  What this fellow does with his words is what Koufax did on the mound, what Mantle did with a bat and what Mays did in centerfield.  He allows all his kids to dream.  He understands that the easiest things to do in baseball are hustle and be prepared.  Everything else is hard.  Still, he was born to wear the green and blue.  Now Texas A&M Corpus Christi Head Baseball Coach Scott Malone hits home runs with his words and deeds, and he “kills it.”  The only way to stop Malone’s team is to lock the dressing room door before they come out.

Andrew Scott Malone was born in Longview, Texas, on April 16, 1971.  Scott played baseball for his father at Abilene-Cooper High School (ACHS) and won two 5A Texas State Championships in back-to-back seasons (1987-88).  Scott was selected second team All-State his senior year and Student-Athlete of the Year.  When his dad, Andy Malone, retired, he owned the most wins (861-345) of any high school baseball coach in the State of Texas.  “He taught me to play the game the right way, play aggressive, play to win, and that nothing is more important than your impact on kids,” said Scott.

As a pitcher, Scott signed a scholarship with Texas Christian University (TCU) in 1990.  In his first pinch-hit at-bat with the Horned Frogs, Scott hit a home run.  By the end of the year, Scott would be voted Southwest Conference Freshman of the Year.  For the next two seasons, Scott won the individual batting title and was named SWC Player of the Year and an All-American.  In the fall of 1992, Malone was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the ninth round.  He would play four full seasons, reaching Class AA.  Scott was also invited to the USA Olympic Team Trials.  In 1996, after baseball, Scott finished his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports studies at McMurry University, while participating as a student assistant baseball coach.  His coaching stops included TCU, Kentucky and UNLV.  Scott headed back to Texas as a hitting coach and spent four seasons in the Southland Conference at University of Texas-Arlington, where one of his guys was Hunter Pence, and University of Texas-San Antonio.  His kids led the league in hitting, three of the four years.  

You can see the passion in Scott’s eyes when he speaks about the game.  Scott’s favorite position to play was outfielder, and the most famous player he ever played with is Rich Aurilia.  He’s still in contact with Hunter Pence, just not as often.  Scott’s favorite players growing up were Nolan Ryan and Michael Young.   The greatest first baseman he’s ever seen is Will Clark; “He’d rather fight with you than let you strike him out,” laughs Malone.  His favorite piece of memorabilia is anything signed by Nolan Ryan, and the one guy he would love to meet in person is Derek Jeter.  We agree that Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, and the pitcher Scott owned at the plate was Jose Lima.  During a time where the length of the game is questioned, Scott loves slowing down the college game and maximizing his team’s time on offense.  “The secret to baseball for me is the kids,” said Scott. 

You’ll never forget the first time you meet Scott.  He’s one of those guys that always makes you feel better after speaking with him.  You can feel your heart rate increase just sitting in the dugout next to him.  Some guys collect coins, this guy collects baseball players.  Malone could sell newspapers to a blind man and everywhere Malone goes, his kids hit the baseball.  Scott Malone was inducted into the TCU Sports Athletic Hall of Fame, together with LaDainian Tomlinson in October of 2011. 

It has been said that a good leader rarely talks about being a leader.  Malone’s job now as coach is to perfect his kids’ game and their character.  He understands that you need to relax to play well, but not get comfortable.  Comfortable gets you beat.  He knows the only disability in life is a bad attitude.  Malone has learned that managing means a lot more than pulling pitchers and using pinch hitters at the right time.  A manager must know his players better than they know themselves.  You must be their teacher, their leader and, at times, their best friend.  A manager who fails to understand his players is more than likely doomed to lose. 

Scott’s “sweet spot” in life resides at home instead of on a baseball.  Her name is Lee and his best squeeze play always includes his daughters, Parker and Presley.  When kindness meets class, you have Scott Malone.  And he kills it.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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As a kid he would rather spend his time on a ball field instead of at the mall.  You can’t read a book and learn how to play a sport.  He believed you needed to play the game and watch the game being played.  You should be able to walk into any park with the scoreboard covered up and know which team is winning by watching how they are playing.  I can’t imagine how many games this fellow has seen.  As he grew older, he became a symbol of what’s good about the game of baseball, and he would rather play catch than sleep.  As a former American League All-Star pitcher, this guy could bury his pitches in the bottom of the box.  He had four right-handed pitches that could embarrass you.  With a fastball, curve, slider and changeup, he had many ways to sit you back down.  At times he pitched like home plate had eight corners.  He just lived at their knees.  Now he spends his time here with us.  You could say he’s our “diamond in the rough.” 

Corpus Christi Hooks’ President, Ken Schrom, is one of a kind.  If he had never played ball, if you had never heard his name and you passed him on the sidewalk one day, you would turn around and look.  I’ve known Ken Schrom for over 20 years and I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about him.  Ken loves hearing the vendors hawking peanuts, beer and popcorn at Whataburger Field.  He loves the sound of the ball popping the catcher’s mitt.  He loves the fairness of the game, the colors, the smells, and the feel of the ball in his hand.  He loves that he never grows old at the ballpark.  He also loves how the ballpark gets quiet when the game is on the line.  You will find Ken at game time standing on the concourse greeting folks, shaking hands and watching baseball. 

Kenneth Marvin “Ken” Schrom was born on November 23, 1954, in Grangeville, Idaho.  Ken Schrom was a heck of a high school athlete.  He was selected All-State in baseball and basketball and All-American in football at quarterback.  All total, Ken earned 11 athletic letters.  In 1973, after high school, Ken was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in tenth round, but decided to attend the University of Idaho on a football and baseball scholarship.  Schrom dreamed of becoming an NFL quarterback.  In fact his favorite player of all time is Bart Starr.  “I got in trouble more times than you can imagine because I wrote the #15 on everything I had, including new school clothes,” laughed Schrom.  Injuries steered him toward baseball.  Ken was later chosen and signed by the California Angels as a pitcher, in the 1976 amateur draft. 

Ken was traded in 1980 to the Toronto Blue Jays and debuted against the Kansas City Royals as a reliever, on August 8, 1980.  Ken would again be traded and become a starter and spend 1983-1985 with the Twins.  In 1983, Ken recorded a 15-8 win-loss record and was selected the Twins’ Pitcher of the Year.  On June 26, 1985, Ken threw a one-hit game for the Twins against the Royals.  It was the first one-hitter ever thrown in the Metrodome in Minnesota.   Schrom and his Twins got the win, 2-1.   

In 1986, Ken would find himself in Cleveland with the Indians.  He started off his season with a 10-2 record and was selected to the American League All-Star team which beat the National League 3-2, at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.  His 1986 All-Star jersey is one of his most prized possessions.  Ken would finish the year 14-7.  In 1987, Ken tore his shoulder labrum which required surgery.  His last game occurred on October 3, 1987.  Ken pitched over 900 innings in seven years in the Major Leagues, for three teams (Twins, Indians, and Blue Jays), and won 51 games while losing the same number.  He struck-out 372 batters and hit 25 while earning a 4.81 ERA. 

Schrom spent the next 16 years in the front office of the El Paso Diablos of the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization.  El Paso is where I initially met the Diablos’ owner, Jim Paul, and Ken Schrom.  Ken, his wife Cindy and the kids left El Paso and joined the Hooks in 2003.  Ken was selected the Texas League Executive of the Year in 2005.  He became the President of the club in 2009.  He was inducted into the University of Idaho Sports Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.  Ken is a fine man, a good friend and a heck of a baseball guy.  He was also kind enough to write part of the foreword of my newest book.  In his spare time, you can find him winning money from his friends on the golf course, or fishing somewhere quiet.

Did you know that in the past ten years, 56 of our very own Hooks’ players have joined the Houston Astros?  Ken Schrom just announced that on April 2, 2015, the Astros will make their third trip to our fair city to take on their Double-A club known as the Corpus Christi Hooks.  This is to be a homecoming for some, as there are 17 former Hooks’ players on the current Astros 40-man roster.  The game will be played at Whataburger Field with a 6:05 PM start.  Ken Schrom and I hope to see you there.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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While waiting on a pitch, his fingers moved like a piano player against the handle of the bat.  Hands back, right elbow up, hunched in the batter’s box, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do, play baseball.  He was the best player on a bad club for 19 years.  He had started out as a shortstop and, like many who played for awhile, he ended up a first baseman.  In the early 1950’s, before reaching the Major Leagues, this fellow played for $7 a game with Kansas City Monarchs of the old Negro Leagues.   “Cool Papa” Bell and Satchel Paige were two of his teammates.  As a young man, he was not all about baseball; it was the other way around.  Baseball is supposed to be all about guys like him.  He was a winner in life, which is far bigger than a game of baseball.  He became more important to baseball than hotdogs and nachos.  Heck, they named streets after this guy.  His joy was not defined by something that happened on the field.  He was able to filter out the down times that occurred in the game.  With his wonderful attitude about others and his abundance of enthusiasm about life, he could have been a Hall-of-Famer at anything he chose to do.  In ten minutes he could own the room.

“Do you know Andy?”  Those were the first words I ever heard him say in person.  We were standing on the field at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, before the 2004 All-Star Game.  He was tall and walked with the bend in his back of an old ballplayer.  His knees had been surgically replaced from the many slides into second base by his opponents with their spikes showing.  His eyes twinkled and were still sharp.  His face was thin with time.  I listened carefully as he said to Joe, “I’ve had 19 years of doing and 32 years of remembering.”  When Ernie asked, “Do you know Andy?” he was talking to Joe Booker.  The great Ernie Banks was actually introducing me to Joe.  Ernie had only seen me once before years ago but here he was introducing me to someone else as if we were old friends.  It’s the first and so far the last time that has ever happened to me.  I was astounded.  Yes, I knew Joe Booker quite well.  Joe and I had spent lots of time over the years in the media section, discussing the game of baseball and covering the hometown Houston Astros.  Banks had been a friend of Booker’s for years.  Ernie Banks saw me standing there quietly; waiting to interview him, and he read my name on my media credentials.  How cool is that?  Banks was one of the warmest and most sincere guys I have ever met.  I enjoyed being around him.  Baseball lost one of its best friends today, another part of my childhood taken away too soon for me.

Born at home on January 31, 1931, in Dallas, Texas, Ernest “Ernie” Banks would have turned 84 in eight days.  Ernie’s parents were named Eddie and Essie Banks and Ernie was the second of 12 children.  His father worked in a warehouse for a grocery chain, and his mom encouraged him to follow his grandfather’s career and become a minister.  Ernie loved swimming and playing football and basketball.  He never showed much interest in baseball until his dad bribed him with a store-bought glove for three dollars and gave him loose change to play catch.  Eddie had played baseball for several black semi-pro teams in Texas.  In 1950, Ernie graduated from Booker T. Washington High School.  Interestingly, Washington High School did not have a baseball team, so Ernie played softball at church and baseball during the summers, for a team known as the Amarillo Colts.  A natural athlete, Banks received athletic letters in football, basketball and track.

There seem to be two stories about how Banks joined the K.C. Monarchs.  A Monarch scout by the name of Bill Blair claimed to have discovered Banks, while a Kansas City player named James “Cool Papa” Bell says he influenced Banks to play for Kansas City.  Bell operated a team known as the Junior Monarchs and they were touring Texas, when he saw Banks play.  The story goes:  Bell telephoned “Buck” O’Neil, manager of the Monarchs, and told him about Ernie.  Buck signed Banks to a contract without ever seeing him play.  Either way, 19-year-old Ernie Banks joined the Monarchs in 1950, after high school.  It’s hard to believe that according to Buck, Ernie was shy and somewhat introverted at the beginning, when he arrived in Kansas City.  Banks always looked up to Buck O’Neil as a father figure.  I guess you could say Buck’s pleasant demeanor rubbed off on Banks. 

 In 1951, Banks was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Germany during the Korean War, where he injured his knee in basic training.  Banks later served as the flag bearer in the 45th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion at Fort Bliss, located in El Paso, Texas.  While there, he occasionally played basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.  Banks was discharged in 1953 and returned to Kansas City to play with the Monarchs.  Ernie’s roommate was a fellow you might remember, Elston Howard.  At the end of the 1953 season, the K.C. Monarchs sold Banks’ contract to the Chicago Cubs for $10,000 in cash.  Banks signed on September 14, and became the first African-American player for the Cubs.  His first Major League at-bat occurred on September 17th.  Ernie was 22 years old.  Banks’ first home run was hit out of Sportsman’s Park three days later.  Cardinals’ pitcher Gerry Staley provided the fastball.  It was the first of 512 home runs to be hit during Banks’ 19-year career.  Banks would hit 40 or more home runs five times during his career.  He contributed his power to switching to a lighter bat (34-31 ounces), and developing strong wrists by playing handball.  Ernie Banks would become the ninth player in Major League history to reach 500 home runs. 

Shortly thereafter, in 1954, second basemen Gene Baker would join the team.  These two would not only be roommates on the road, but turn into one of the best double-play combinations in the National League.  The first baseman at this time for the Cubs was Steve Bilko.  Cubs’ announcer, Bert Wilson, could be heard describing a double play as “Bingo to Bango to Bilko.”  After hitting 19 home runs, Banks finished second to Wally Moon in the Rookie-of-the-Year race.  In 1955, 44 home runs left Ernie’s bat and he played in his first All-Star Game.  Banks also set a record by hitting five grand slams in a single season.  It was quite a year for “Mr. Sunshine.”

Banks became the first player to win the National League MVP Award in back-to-back seasons, 1958 and 1959.   In 1960, Banks won his first and only Gold Glove at the shortstop position.  Banks was moved to left field at the beginning of the 1961 season, but soon found a new home at first base.  On a Friday during the 1962 season, Banks was hit in the head by a ball thrown from pitcher Moe Drabowsky, a former Cub.  Banks left the field on a stretcher, unconscious.  He spent two days in the hospital and then sat out Monday’s game.  On Tuesday, incredibly, Banks returned to the lineup and hit three home runs and a double.  Ernie Banks played with many stars, but his favorite was Lou Brock.  Banks roomed with Lou while playing with the Cubs.

Banks finished playing the game of baseball on September 26, 1971, at the age of 40.  He had been a 14-time All-Star, and a two-time National League home run (1958-1960) and RBI (1958-1959) champ.  This North Side hero taught everyone how to lose gracefully, as he never got the chance to win it all.  The incredible amount of joy he received back from the fans easily replaced any World Series ring he may have won.  He continued to serve the Cubs as a coach, instructor and administrator.  Banks was married a fourth time in 1997.   Hank Aaron was his best man, and Ernie and his new wife Liz adopted a baby girl in 2008.

Banks won the 1968 Lou Gehrig Award.  Ernie had a lifetime batting average of .274.  He recorded 2,583 hits and 512 home runs, and batted in 1,636 runs.  With a vote of 83.8%, Banks was inducted into the Baseball-Hall-of-Fame Museum in 1977, on the first ballot.  In 1982, Ernie’s #14 was the first to be retired by the Cubs.  In 1999, Banks was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.  In 2008, The Cubs unveiled a statue of Banks just off the third-base side of Clark and Addison streets.  The Library of Congress named Ernie a “Living Legend” in 2009.  On August 8, 2013, Ernie Banks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.  “I handed him a bat that belonged to Jackie Robinson,” said Banks. “He was trilled to hold that bat.”

 Mr. Sunshine took his place in the heavenly lineup on Friday, January 23, 2015.  He died of a heart attack at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.  Baseball’s brightest light flickered and went out.  Expect the Cubs to honor Ernie during the season, especially during the Major League opener set for Sunday night on April 5, 2015.  In the end, Ernie Banks honored his mother and father by becoming a great baseball player and an ordained minister.  There’s a good chance there will be a double header in Heaven this weekend.  At a time where drugs, steroids, cheating and spousal abuse fill the sports pages, Ernie Banks was a breath of fresh air.  He was a reminder of all that is good in the world of sports.  Perhaps Major League baseball should have every team play a double-header next year in his honor.  I will remember the rhythm of his voice and that smile.  Thanks, Ernie.

I will end with a quotation by Ernie that will stand the test of time. “There’s sunshine, fresh air, and the teams behind us.  Let’s play two.”

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Bill Cosby once said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”  “No Fear” should be this guy’s middle name.  He is the kind of guy who would play basketball with you in your backyard if you asked him.  A good-looking guy; when you see him, you like him immediately.  He is a born entertainer.  At 6’ 4” tall, with a 45-inch vertical leap, he can jump out of your area code and light up a scoreboard like an old-fashioned pinball machine.  He can stuff a basketball faster then you can say “Sweet Georgia Brown” and is worth the price of admission all by him self.  Some around here say he is the medical definition of “goose bumps,” and you can’t fake goose bumps.  He loves nothing more than posterizing the competition.  He plays the game for keeps, as if behind enemy lines, and is more versatile than a Swiss Army knife.  “I love it,” he said to me.  

He’s #33 in your program, Harlem Globetrotter Will “Bull” Bullard from Detroit, Michigan.  One of nine siblings, Bull’s first experience with basketball was when he witnessed a pick-up game in the Motor City.  “I was amazed at how tall and athletic these guys were,” said Bull.  “I only played basketball in high school and then signed a scholarship to play at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, for former Coach Ronnie Arrow.”  Bull was part of Arrow’s team that won the 2007 Southland Conference Championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  In 2008, Bull was selected to participate in the NCAA Slam Dunk Contest held in San Antonio, Texas.  Bullard finished second but was the only competitor to receive a perfect score on an amazing slam dunk.  Bullard jumped over two of his 6’ 8” teammates and then dunked the basketball with both hands.  When he completed that dunk, the look on people’s faces in the crowd reminded me of the folks who witnessed the attempted docking of the Hindenburg.  The closest I will ever get to a dunk is a donut.  In the stands sat representatives of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters.  “I was just being myself,” said Bullard. “The Globetrotters called the next day, and I’ve been a Globetrotter ever since.”  Bull Bullard was poised for greatness.  With the Globetrotters, Bullard is now connected to thousands of yesterdays.  Greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man.

The Harlem Globetrotters were created in 1926 by Abe Saperstein in the city of Chicago, Illinois, not New York City as most people think.  Their first game was played on January 7, 1927, 48 miles west of Chicago in Hinckley, Illinois.  Of course they won.  The Globetrotters over the years have played and won more than 22,000 exhibition games in over 120 different countries and before 120 million fans.  They continue to spread hope and smiles to all those they come in contact with.  Their coach is former Globetrotter, Jimmy Blacklock.  “Globie” has been their mascot since 1993, and they continue to perform to Brother Bones’ version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”  In 2002, the Harlem Globetrotters were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a team.     

“I’ve played in 47 different countries,” said Bullard.  “We practice every day, sometimes play nine games a week, and have entertained millions of fans.  From December to May, we have our USA Tour followed by a European Tour and then a Military Tour.  We won 200 games last year and they were all on the road.”  When I asked what his favorite moment had been so far in his Globetrotter career, he answered, “My first trip oversees to Germany; on that plane, I realized this was all for real.”  Who in their right mind would want to be a Washington General?  I asked while laughing.  “I don’t know, man,” laughed Bull.  “They are all professional athletes and they work hard.”  The most dangerous city he has ever played in with the Globetrotters was Mexico City and the country he liked best was the United Kingdom.  “The city was beautiful,” said Bull.  I asked him to share with me the stats of his best game as a Globetrotter.  His answer was, “Millions of smiles and lots of autographs.”  Globetrotter you wished you could have played with?  Fred “Curly” Neal, Marques Haynes, Reece “Goose” Tatum, Meadowlark Lemon, Herbert “Geese” Ausbie,” then he stopped himself and said, “All of them.”  Bull’s favorite food is salmon and sautéed spinach.  His restaurant of choice is Famous Dave’s.  Best advice anyone has ever given to you:  “Always stay humble and never give up,” he answered.  That reminded me of the Jimmy Valvano speech on ESPN.  “Magic” Johnson is the athlete he would most like to meet.  I tried to get him to change his nickname to “Windmill” Will Bullard because I’ve seen Bull throw down.  He reminds me of Dr. J., but no deal. 

Bull Bullard’s favorite charity is the (MTMF) Marvin Thomas Memorial Fund in Seattle, Washington.  This fund helps needy children of all walks of life have the opportunity to play their favorite sport.  “Every time I’m at home, I hang out there and help the kids,” exclaimed Bullard.

I fell in love with the game of basketball because my father introduced me to the Harlem Globetrotters.  As a young kid, we were there watching the Globetrotters and my father started laughing out loud.  He worked all the time, as most fathers did, and I had never seen him laugh so hard and now we were laughing together.  That is the “Magic” of the Harlem Globetrotters and you didn’t even have to like basketball.  When I told Bull that story he responded, “Man that’s a great story.  That’s what the Globetrotters are about, giving back to the community.  That’s why I’m a part of this team.  I love playing basketball and making people laugh.”  Bull is a part of that magic.  I am reminded of a quotation from writer Joseph Campbell that went like this:  “There is nothing more important than being fulfilled.”  I think Bull has this all figured out. 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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The sight of this man breaking the huddle would quicken your heartbeat.  With their adrenaline flowing, opposing linemen called him “Sir.”  They asked about his family, his dog, and how things were going at home.  Most of these giants stood several stories higher than the rest of us, and they hated the sound of a whistle.  Whistles meant you had most-likely been caught doing something illegal, and the play was being called back.  Wasted effort ticked these guys off.  They owned faces that looked like they had blocked a punt, and no one could out-cuss them.  Even Keith Jackson called them “The Big Uglies.”  To be a good offensive lineman, you have to have been born with a football name.  Names like “Chuck” Bednarik, Mike Munchak, Jim Otto and Art Shell come to mind.  If Munchak had been named Robby Phillips, he would have run track or played in the band.  As an offensive lineman, you learned to live with a high jersey number and the screaming sounds of pain and horror in a pile of human flesh.  You can’t imagine what grown men will do to each other in the “pit.”  It’s not uncommon to see linemen come stumbling out of a game like drunks being thrown out of a bar.   

These guys loved nothing more than getting the back of a defensive lineman’s jersey dirty.  They understood the power of intimidation.  He led the offensive linemen down the field like Sherman marching through Georgia.  They wanted to hit you and the words “trap play” and “sweep” made them smile.  The key to being a good offensive lineman is that you have to make your guy look at you, fight with you and focus on you and not the ball carrier or quarterback.  “Their eyes can tell you when a stunt is on.  I focus on their jersey number, never their head or hips.  Those areas can be used to fake you out.  When I make them look at me, eye to eye, I’ve got a chance,” said Fuzzy. “That’s when they usually start yelling, ‘He’s holding me.’”  If Fuzzy Thurston could have learned how to bite through a helmet he would have.

Frederick Charles “Fuzzy” Thurston was born in Altoona, Wisconsin, on December 29, 1933.  His father, Charles, was a common laborer who passed away when Fuzzy was two years old.  His mom, Marie, found it tough to raise a family of eight by her self so Fuzzy spent some time growing up with an aunt who lived in Florida.  He got his nickname for his curly hair as a baby.  Fuzzy graduated from Altoona High School and received a scholarship to play basketball at Valparaiso University in Indiana.  Remarkably, Altoona High School did not have a football program.   Fuzzy was such a fine athlete that he was finally persuaded by the football coach to try out for the football team, before his junior year of college.  In 1954, Fuzzy led the Crusaders of Valparaiso to the Indiana Collegiate Conference title and was selected All-American twice.  Fuzzy was also named All-Conference for the 1954 and 1955 seasons, while being named the Conference’s Top Lineman, in 1955.

Thurston was drafted in 1956 by the Philadelphia Eagles, but he did not make the team.  He then joined the Army for a couple of years and later tried out and made the Baltimore Colts’ team as a backup, in 1958.  He would wear #64 for the Colts.  That was the year that Baltimore beat the New York Giants in sudden death overtime, in what many referred to as the greatest game ever played.  The offensive coordinator for the Giants was none other than Vince Lombardi, who liked what he saw in the film of Thurston’s play.  In 1959, before the season began, Lombardi became the head coach of the Packers and worked a trade with the Colts for Thurston.  Fuzzy wore #63 for the rest of his career and played for Lombardi for nine seasons in Green Bay.  He was the bedrock of the 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967 championship teams, which included the first two Super Bowls.

The NFL locker room before game time is quieter than a Church on Monday morning.  Guys are sitting in front of their lockers looking like they have lost their mothers.  The defensive guys try to read or remember what they had watched on film all week.  Offensive linemen apply Vaseline on their jerseys; clear for white jerseys and dark for the colored jerseys.  Yes, it’s illegal but done anyway.  The intensity fills the room.   

Offensive linemen would rather run block than pass block.  They are aggressive by nature.  “Take the game to the enemy” was their mindset.  Paul Hornung once wrote in his book, Golden Boy, that Fuzzy, an otherwise excellent pass blocker, had a tough time pass-blocking the behemoth defensive tackle, Roger Brown, of the Detroit Lions.  “So Fuzzy invented the Lookout Block,” said Hornung.  “In one game, Bart Starr had been sacked about six times.  It got to be a joke,” said Hornung.  “So when the next pass play was called, just as Starr was getting ready to take the snap from center Jim Ringo, Fuzzy yelled out, ‘Look Out, Bart.’  That cracked everybody up,” said Hornung.

Thurston was also well known for an answer he gave to a sportswriter’s question after the “Ice Bowl.”  The temperature of that game in Green Bay against the Dallas Cowboys was played at 13 degrees below zero.  The referees claimed that it was so cold that their whistles stuck to their lips.  The sportswriter asked Fuzzy how he prepared to play in such cold weather.  Thurston responded that he drank “about ten vodkas” in order to stay warm.  The fact is Fuzzy would have never had the guts to drink before a game for fear that Lombardi would find out. 

Offensive linemen are the worst golfers in the world.   Maybe it’s because they spend so much time in a three-point stance.  They have bad breath on purpose and most of them take out their false teeth before the game.  Offensive linemen never want to hear their opposing guys’ names mentioned on the public address system.  That means they made the tackle.  Offensive lineman is really a misnomer.  The offensive guy is really trying to defend his quarterback.  Offensive lineman hate quick defensive linemen like Deacon Jones.  “The offensive lineman’s best friend is most times a good running back.  They can fake the defensive player right into your block,” smiled Fuzzy.  “Offensive guards have three different pulling plays; short pull, long pull and the deep pull,” said Thurston.  “Defensive players come at you in different ways, that’s why we watch film.  I may have to hook a linebacker in or kick a cornerback out of the play.”  Defensive linemen have three options to attack.  They can meet you head on, dodge you or undercut you.  At 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 245, Fuzzy was one of the brooms in Green Bay’s famous sweep.

Forever the optimist, Thurston was once hit so hard by defensive tackle Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs that his steel face mask was bent.  “As he came to the sideline,” said Jerry Kramer, “I asked him how things were going with Buchanan?  Fuzzy answered, ‘I’m kicking his butt.’” 

Fuzzy Thurston was adored by people everywhere.  I think it was because he was both a player and a fan.  His motto to future Green Bay Packer players was simple:  avoid the distractions, enjoy the game and respect the team.  Teammate Dave Robinson referred to Thurston as “the heart and soul of the Packers.  He was the thing that made us a team.”  Fuzzy played in 116 games and is one of only three in NFL history to participate on six NFL championship teams.  The other two were teammates Forrest Gregg and Herb Adderley.  Thurston retired in 1967 and was inducted into the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame in 1975.

After football, Fuzzy built and owned a chain of taverns around Wisconsin known as Fuzzy’s #63 Left Guard Bar & Grill.  Even the phone number to the bars ended in 6363.  Fuzzy would have turned 81 years old on December 29, 2014.  Cancer made it difficult for him to speak and Alzheimer’s disease stole away his memories.  Cancer had claimed Thurston’s larynx in the early eighties and three years ago he was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer.  Thurston died on Sunday December 14, 2014.  He has been staying in an assisted living facility in Howard, Wisconsin.  His #63 will never be worn again in Green Bay, as it has been retired.  Over three hundred gathered at Lambeau Field on Friday December 19 to say good-bye to one of the architects of the “Green Bay Sweep,” at that time one of the most unstoppable plays in professional football.  Most interior offensive linemen remain obscure, but with a name like Fuzzy, you had to be a guard.  This was not the case with Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston.  Their names will be linked together for all time.  They were like peas and carrots; it’s impossible to say one name without the other.  Eleven players from the 1964 through 1967 Packer’s teams have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  That’s half the starting team.  Why not Jerry Kramer or Fuzzy Thurston?  These two will always remain frozen in time.

As a junior in high school, I once spent a week at the Johnny Unitas sports camp during the summer.  During camp we watched game film at night.  One of those films was about the “Green Bay sweep.”  The message:  the sight of Kramer and Thurston leading either Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor around the line of scrimmage made defensive backs faint.  Stopping these guys was like trying to halt a rockslide.

Fuzzy was named to the 1961 and 1962 All-Pro teams.  Thurston was elected to the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.  Fuzzy lost his wife after 55 years of marriage.  Sue passed away in 2012.  Fuzzy also left behind a daughter Tori, two sons Mark and Griff, and three grandchildren.  

Oklahoma quarterback and now in the House of Representatives, J.C. Watts once said, “It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on.  It takes a lot of strength to let go.”  When the end comes for our heroes we find ourselves asking how could this be true.  The answer sometimes:  It just is.  Fuzzy realized at the end that he had influenced a lot of people along the way, guys like me.  He knew he had done the best he could and lived a clean life.  He was a great player but also a nice guy.  “It’s such an honor to be a Green Bay Packer, and I cherish that every day of my life,” said Thurston. 

Of the 43 men who played on Lombardi’s last team in 1967, 15 are now deceased.  The average age of those alive is 72.2.  The Glory Years are becoming the Golden Years.  We have already lost Henry Jordon, Lew Carpenter, Lionel Aldridge, Max McGee, Ron Kostelnik, Elijah Pitts, Gale Gillingham and Ray Nitschke.  Teammates Paul Hornung and Jerry Kramer are both 79.   Bart Starr turned 80 and Forest Gregg is now 81.  Father time moves on.  I can still close my eyes and see Fuzzy and Jerry in perfect step, running at a 45 degree angle, a search-and-destroy mission if there ever was one.  

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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He’s a “good old boy,” with a wide smile and football stamped in his DNA.  Back then he owned a gravelly voice, a tanned face, and he couldn’t say a word without using his hands.  Content and now retired, he whispers more when he speaks.  Back in the day, the smell of fresh-cut grass and a sweaty locker room made him feel alive, and he’d rather watch game film than sleep.  He had spent almost 41 years drawing up plays and dusting the chalk off his hands, and he answered to the name of “coach.”  Some said he could spot talent from a moving car and his playbook may have had only two words on the cover, “Option Football.”  He felt naked without headphones, a whistle around his neck and a stop watch in his pocket.  As head man he could be calm inside of a hurricane, never raised his voice, and as positive as Phil Mickleson with a three-foot putt, uphill.  No one knew “veer” football like he did and he could turn an offense around faster than a Popsicle melts in August.  He was a teacher first and a master communicator second; you just trusted what he told you.  The old saying goes “There is no ‘I’ in team,” but there is one in WIN; and winning was what his teams did best.  So in July, he became lucky number seven, the seventh former Texas A&M Javelina to be inducted into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame, and I can promise you there was no luck involved.  If someone gave you the ingredients to make a football coach, you would create Ron Harms.

Someone once said, “If you’re going to learn to cross-country ski, start with a small country.”  Head Coach Ron Harms was born on September 10, 1936.  If anyone was born a football coach, it was he.  After he had graduated from Valparaiso University in Indiana, Ron Harms began his teaching and coaching career at Lutheran East High School in Detroit, Michigan, as an assistant football coach.  He also coached the track and cross-country teams.  In 1962, after three years, he left to become the head football coach at Concordia College, located in Seward, Nebraska.  At 27 years of age, it was his first head-coaching job.  After six years, Harms left Concordia and headed to Alamosa, Colorado, to coach the Adams State Grizzlies.  In the spring of 1974, after four seasons there, Harms resigned as Adams State head football coach and went to Kingsville, Texas, to hopefully land a job on Gil Steinke’s staff.  Ron became the offensive coordinator during the 1974-75 seasons.  Then he was offered and accepted an assistant coach’s job with Head Coach Grant Teaff of the Baylor Bears.  Harms would spend the next three years in Waco, Texas, before heading back to Kingsville in 1979, to become their head football coach.

Harms’ induction into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame allowed him to join legendary coach Gil Steinke, for whom Harms had worked in 1974-75, and five of his former players.  They are as follows:  Darrell Green, John Randle, Johnny Bailey, Dwayne Nix, and Richard Ritchie.  Both Randle and Green are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It’s an honor to be part of that group,” said Harms.  The enshrinement ceremony occurred on July 20-21, 2012, in South Bend, Indiana.

Coach Ron Harms spent 23 seasons at Texas A&I Kingsville (later to be called Texas A&M Kingsville), two as an offensive coordinator and 21 as the head coach and athletic director.  During his two seasons as offensive coordinator, A&I won 25 straight games and two NAIA Division I National Titles.  Beginning in 1979, as a head coach of the Javelinas, Ron Harms’ teams won 14 conference trophies including 11 Lone Star Conference titles.  Six of those championships came in a bunch from 1992-1997.  His overall record at Kingsville was 172-72.  Harms received five different “Coach of the Year” Awards during his tenure, including the NAIA National Coach of the Year.  He has also been inducted into the Lone Star Conference Hall of Honor and the Javelina Hall of Fame.  You have to respect excellence. 

I am proud to call Coach Harms a friend and I have made the 35-mile trip to Kingsville from Corpus Christi many Saturdays to watch his teams win.  It was like being in a pro locker room because many of his players would wind up in the NFL.  Some guys collect cars; this man collected football players.  Jorge Diaz, Kevin Dogins, Earl Dotson, Roberto Garza, Jermane Mayberry, Heath Sherman, Anthony Phillips, Johnny Bailey, Al Harris, John Randle, and Darrell Green are among the players I saw.  But there are more.  Names like Gene Upshaw, Randy Johnson, James Hill, Eldridge Smalls, Dwight Harrison, Ernest Price, and Don Hardeman made their way into the NFL ranks. 

What is it about the game of football that’s so consuming?  A game where the end results often lead to quarterbacks who can no longer raise their arm, linebackers who can’t bend over to tie their own shoes, and tackles who can’t get out of bed in the morning without the help of their wife.  Maybe it’s a reflection of America; man on man, brute strength against force, confidence against fear.  The game is played out on the biggest stages, televised nationally, in front of millions each week.  Maybe part of the attraction is that we have to wait a week in most cases, to experience the excitement of the game again.  “I enjoyed the sport itself, it was very intriguing to me,” said Harms.  It appeared that they grew NFL players down in Kingsville, Texas, as 46 athletes from this Division II School have played on Sundays.

Harms, at 77 years old, now spends his time with his wife, Marlene, three daughters, one son, and chasing around a slew of grandchildren.  He enjoys a swim now and again between rounds of golf and finds strength in his faith.  They live in Aransas Pass, Texas, a quiet community located on the Gulf of Mexico.

Harms served a year on the NCAA Football Rules Committee with my friend, Dotson Lewis.  “Harms always appeared logical and rarely spoke without thinking things through,” said Dotson. “He did a great job.” 

Ron Harms and Davis Flores co-wrote a book entitled The Whole Enchilada, a history lesson of forty-one years of walking the sidelines.  “I wrote it particularly for the fans of football, the Texas A&I Javelina fans,” said Harms. 

Gil Steinke always claimed that Ron Harms was a “breath of fresh air.”  I’ll say.  You can’t find another Ron Harms; you just have to be happy with the time he gave us.  Thanks Coach. 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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He moves with long deliberate strides that tell you he knows where he is headed.  A great smile and eyes that sparkle; he puts you at ease quickly.  This guy loves basketball.  His first words may have been the “Big O” and “Wilt.”  In a crowd, he appears more comfortable than an old baseball cap.  He is intelligent, gives credit to everyone but himself, and is a fine speaker.  Some say he could draw a crowd at the North Pole.  He’s a guy that doesn’t mind showing you the way to success; it remains up to us to follow.  He knows we only get a short amount of time to be great at what we want to do, so he does not waste time.  He understands that sometimes greatness is about struggle not victory.  It’s about finding out what’s inside, the reason for being who you are.  He also knows that regardless of the score, there is always time to coach.  Shooting free throws with this guy for ten minutes will teach you more about him than 15 years of sitting at a desk across from him.  He’s a fine man, good husband, great father, trusted friend and a basketball coach.  A teacher in tennis shoes, Willis Wilson is the perfect fit for Islander basketball.

The first time I met Willis Wilson was at the 2011 NCAA Final Four.  Where else would you meet one of the most respected basketball coaches in the land?  Interestingly, Willis, the newly-named Head Coach of the Texas A&M--Corpus Christi Islanders, was introduced to me by the Islanders’ original coach, Ronnie Arrow.   We shook hands, spoke for a minute, and made plans to connect later back in Corpus Christi.  I grew up in ACC country and, like Willis, I also love college basketball.  I can’t wait for basketball season.  I attend the Islanders’ pre-season practices on occasion and Coach Wilson has always made me feel a part of his program.  In this crazy world of social consciousness, you will see, hear and smell three things at an Islander round-ball practice:  Character, Toughness and Talent.  He calls it the bedrock of his program when, in fact, I believe it is a reflection of him and all that he stands for.   I think the thing I like most about Coach Wilson is that he coaches the old-fashioned way, with respect, patience, honesty and understanding.

Willis Thomas Wilson, Jr., was born on March 22, 1960, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the land of college basketball.  His family later moved to Silver Springs, Maryland, where Willis won All-Metro Washington and All-County honors for Montgomery Blair High School.  As a junior, Willis led his basketball team to the 1977 Maryland State Championship.  The following year, Wilson was selected the MVP in Montgomery County and captained the McDonald’s Coaches Scholarship All-Star Team in the Capital Centre Classic. 

Willis later played basketball and graduated from Rice University in 1982.  He would begin his coaching career at his alma mater in 1985, as an assistant.  With stops at Strake Jesuit Prep, Stanford, Rice and then Memphis, Willis is the winingest coach in Rice history and has so far placed 25 of his kids in the professional ranks.  He has been selected Coach of the Year several times and has won way too many awards to mention here.  Willis Wilson accepted the Islanders Men’s Head Coaching position on March 25, 2011.  He inherited a very young team in disarray.   In his third season, the Islanders showed tremendous improvement.  In the 2013-2014 season, the Islanders earned a 14-4 win-loss regular season record in the Southland Conference and received a spot in the College Insider Tournament.  There they recorded the Islanders programs’ very first postseason win since the team’s inception in 1999.  Last year, Willis also earned the prestigious Ben Jobe Award, as the top Minority Coach of the Year, in Division I basketball.  And this year he has already celebrated the 250th win of his coaching career. 

Willis Wilson has always been there when I have asked for his help.  He has spoken to his fans at my business and he and his wife, Vicki, have attended my book-signing events.  He has asked me to speak to his team on occasion, and I treasure his friendship.  Wilson has spent nearly 30 years breathing through a whistle while teaching young boys how to become men, how to be productive in society and accountable to others and “oh yes,” how to play the great game of basketball.  So, if you want to see the results of a great coach and be proud of the kids representing our city, grab a ticket and Go Islanders.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”  This story is about someone like that.  He was one of Seattle’s most revered sports figures and one of the top football coaches in this country.  He even coached his coaches.  He was all about the details and organized with a capitol “O”.  He even planned his own funeral right down to the music.  This fellow owned the college football world in the Great Northwest.  He was Meet the Press, The Tonight Show, and Saturday Night Live all rolled into one.  He inspired folks to be better people.  He treated everyone from the stars to the lowliest walk-on players with dignity and respect.  He believed that good friends build character and they enrich your life; but as an opposing coach, you never felt comfortable until you shook his hand.  After eighteen seasons, he became the winningest coach in Washington Huskies’ history.  This fellow was one of the people you meet in life that you never forget.  The players’ names changed from year to year, but one name remained constant, Don James.  He was one of a kind, a master of the moment.  We have lost a lot of great coaches these past two years:  Joe Paterno, Jack Pardee, Darrell K. Royal, “Bum” Phillips, Chuck Fairbanks, Paul Dietzel, and now Don James.

Donald Earl “Don” James was born on the last day of the year 1932, in the high school football capitol of Ohio, Massillon.  James grew up on the corner of “Happy and Humble” streets.  Don’s older brother Tommy was currently playing in his third year of a ten-year career in the NFL.  Tommy, a star in his own right, played for the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and spent his last year in the pros with the Baltimore Colts.  Don graduated from Massillon’s Washington High School in 1950 and was recruited by the Miami Hurricanes to play quarterback.  There, Don set five school passing records, while manning a defensive-back position on occasion.  It was said Don could move linebackers with his eyes.  In 1954, he graduated and received a B.A. degree in Education and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  After graduation, Don also won the Phillips Optner Trophy, which honored the senior player at the University of Miami with the highest grade-point average.

Chuck Mather, Don’s former high school coach, had moved to coach at the University of Kansas while Don served his country.  In 1956, Don joined Mather at Kansas, as a graduate assistant for the football team.  Mather said at the time, “James seemed so young; he looked like he was playing ‘hooky’ from school.”  In 1958, after two years at Kansas, James became the Head Football Coach at Southwest Miami High School, located in Florida.  After that season, James would spend the next twelve seasons working as an assistant football coach at Florida State, Michigan, and Colorado.

In 1971, James accepted the head-coaching position at Kent State University.  In four seasons (1971-1974), his Golden Flashes compiled a 25-19-1 record while winning the 1972 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship and receiving the school’s very first Bowl bid.  James was also named the Conference Coach of the Year.

James served as the “Dawgfather” (his nickname) to the Washington Huskies Nation from 1975 through 1992.  James’ first two seasons were tenuous, as the Huskies went 6-5 and 5-6.  His 1977 team had a few bumps but definitely help kick-start the program.  The team started 1-3, before quarterback Warren Moon, running back Joe Steele, and receiver Spider Gaines began their magic.  They routed Oregon 54-0 and started a streak of seven wins in the next eight games, ending the season with a big win over a heavily-favored 4th ranked Michigan team in the 1978 Rose Bowl, 27-20.  It was Washington’s first bowl game of any kind since 1964.  “What you need is a Bowl season and a marquee win, to get the program going,” said James.

During his eighteen seasons, he led Washington to six conference titles and a part of the 1991 National Championship.  His 1991 team not only went undefeated (12-0), but “smoked” the University of Michigan 34-14 in the Rose Bowl.  That 1991 team has been regarded as the best in Washington University history.  They scored a modern era record 461 points and only gave up 101 points, setting another record for the least amount scored against them.           

 The door to the College Football Hall of Fame swung open for Don James in 1997.  The Tyee Center, the stadium’s only premium-seating area, at Husky Stadium, has been renamed The Don James Center.

There were many great players associated with Don James.  James oversaw 109 of his players drafted by the NFL, including ten in the first round.  He coached seven All-Americans and some of his greatest players were:  Steve Emtman, Napoleon Kaufman, Billy Joe Hobert, Mark Brunell, Brock Huard, and Warren Moon.  James’ greatest attributes were humility and his willingness to change and get better.  He emphasized speed on both sides of the ball.  It made it magic, to play in the Emerald City.

There is a little-known story told by former Dallas Cowboys’ Vice President of Player Personnel, Gil Brandt.  In 1981, Texas A&M asked Brandt for help with its search for a football coach.  Brandt targeted two people for the Aggies:  Michigan’s “Bo” Schembechler and Washington’s Don James.  “Schembechler flirted with the idea,” said Gil.  “James didn’t even have to think about it.  Don said, ‘I’m flattered you would even talk to me, but they’ve been so good to me at Washington.  I don’t think it would be appropriate.’  They were offering him to be the coach, athletic director and have the automatic roll-over in the contract, all of that.  It was a lot more money than he was making at Washington, let me tell you.  But he gave it no thought,” explained Gil.  Don James was 49 at the time and coming off of back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances.  James was perhaps one of the hottest coaches in the nation, but he didn’t want to play “The Game.”  James wanted to build a tradition at Washington.  The Texas A&M Aggies hired Jackie Sherrill. 

Along with the 1972 MAC Coach of the Year Award, Don James received eight other coaching awards during his career.  He was chosen the AFCA Coach of the Year in 1977.  James won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, the Eddie Robinson Award, Sporting News Award, and the George Munger Award, all in 1991.  And he was chosen the PAC-10 Coach of the Year three different times (1980, 1990, and 1991).

Don James held a tremendous influence in the college and professional coaching ranks.  His coaching tree contains familiar names such as “Dom” Capers, Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, Jim Mora, and Jim Mora Jr.  From these top assistants came the likes of Andy Reid, John Harbaugh, “Chuck” Pagano, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, Ron Rivera, “Jimbo” Fisher, Jason Garrett, Jim Haslett, Will Muschamp, and a slew of other well-known coaches.

 Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban, says he would not have chosen the coaching profession if it had not been for Don James.  Saban loved cars and wanted to one day own a car dealership.  Don James coached Nick Saban for two years, while at Kent State University.  In 1973, James offered Saban a graduate assistant coach’s job.  Forty years later, Nick Saban is one of the best college football coaches in the land.  “He wanted you to reach your full potential as a football player, but more importantly, he wanted you to do well in school and become the person you could be so you would be successful in life,” said Saban.  “He was the same way when it came to assistant coaches or anyone who worked for him.  You were a better person because of the time you spent with Coach James.” 

“There aren’t enough words to describe not only the great coach he was, but also how much he cared for people and the positive impact he made in the lives of everyone he came in contact with,” said his most successful pupil, Nick Saban. 

The most successful coach in Washington Huskies’ history passed away after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer on October 20, 2013.  It was said that when he died, his eyes were closed but his heart was still open.  James was 80 years young.  He had been scheduled to begin chemotherapy shortly after being diagnosed.  James’ complete win-loss record stands at 178-76-3 with a 10-5 Bowl record.  James’ ten Bowl wins placed him fourth in most wins in college football history, behind only Paul “Bear” Bryant, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.  Don James was survived by his wife, Carol, three children, Jeff, Jill and Jeni, along with ten grandchildren. 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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There were only four, the first four African-Americans to play professional football.  And guess what?  They all started in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in Major League Baseball.  So, sit back, enjoy and discover the brief history of these four players that integrated professional football. 

Kenny Washington, halfback, was from Los Angeles, California, and attended Abraham Lincoln High School.  In 1939, after high school, Kenny rushed for 1,914 yards in his UCLA career, a school record that stood for 34 years.  He led the nation in total offense and became the first consensus All-American in the history of the UCLA Bruins’ football program.  Washington felt the wrath of discrimination when he was left out of the East-West Shrine Game that same year.  After graduation from UCLA, Chicago Bears Head Coach, George Halas, tried to sign Washington but was blocked by racial discrimination from the other NFL owners.  So from 1941-1945, Kenny joined a semi-pro football team known as the Hollywood Bears, of the Pacific Coast League.  When the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946, an agreement was drawn up between owners, that teams could be integrated.  Washington signed with the Rams on March 21, 1946.  Kenny only played in the NFL for three years, but his performance was exceptional.   Washington was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956, and his jersey #13 was the first to be retired by UCLA.  He would become a distinguished police officer for the LA Police Department.  In 1971, Washington died at the young age of 52.

“Woody” Strode is a name you will know if you enjoyed John Wayne westerns, as he starred in many of the big-screen movies produced by John Ford.  Strode was not only a football star, but a decathlete in track and field.  He was born in Los Angeles, California, and attended high school at Jefferson, located in East L.A.  He later enrolled at UCLA in 1939, where he joined Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington in the Bruins’ backfield.   Ray Bartlett was the fourth member of the UCLA backfield and he, too, was an African-American.  This was at a time where there were only a dozen or so black players participating on college football teams across the land.  The Bruins would play the National Champion USC Trojans to a 0-0 tie, in the 1940 Rose Bowl.  Strode would sign with the Los Angeles Rams on May 7, 1946.  No other black players had played in the NFL from 1933 to 1945.  In 1948, Strode joined the Calgary Stampeders as an offensive end and helped them win the Grey Cup Championship that same year.  Strode retired in 1949, because of injuries.  Woody Strode also dabbled in professional wrestling, before the NFL and afterwards.  Standing 6’ 4” tall and weighing well over 200 pounds, he was billed as the 1962 Pacific Coast Negro Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.  Strode also became a terrific actor and is best remembered for his roles in Spartacus, Sergeant Rutledge and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  Strode had parts in 67 movies during his career.  Woody died in 1994 of lung cancer.  He was 80.

Bill Willis bent over and put his hand in the dirt for eight seasons for the Cleveland Browns.  He was an excellent defensive lineman who was selected All-Pro all eight years, while winning four AAFC Championships (All American Football Conference) and the 1950 NFL Championship.  The Browns beat the New York Giants 8-3, as Willis made a game-saving tackle in the fourth quarter on Gene “Choo-Choo” Roberts.  You can also find Willis in the Cleveland Browns’ Ring of Honor and a part of the NFL’s 1940’s All-Decade Team.  Coach Paul Brown called Willis “One of the outstanding linemen in the history of professional football.”  After graduating from Columbus East High School, Bill attended Ohio State from 1941-1945, and then signed with the Cleveland Browns in 1946. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Bill also joined the Buckeyes’ track and field team at Ohio State and was a part of the Buckeyes’ first National Championship Football team, in 1942.  Bill retired in 1954 at the age of 32, and became Cleveland’s first chairman of the Ohio Youth Commission.  His goal was to help troubled youth in the Cleveland area.  His #99 was retired by the Buckeyes, and he entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.  He has also been a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1977.  Bill Willis #30, died in 2007.   

Marion Motley signed ten days after Bill Willis with the Cleveland Browns.  Born in Leesburg, Georgia, Marion grew up in Canton, Ohio.  He attended and played football and basketball at Canton McKinley High School.  After graduation, Motley enrolled at South Carolina State College in 1939, but later transferred to the University of Nevada before his sophomore year.  In 1943, he suffered a knee injury and returned to Canton after dropping out of school.  Motley joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 and managed to play fullback and linebacker for a military team known as the Great Lakes Blue Jackets, coached by none other than Paul Brown.  By 1946, Motley was back in Canton working in a steel mill.  In one of the oddest recruiting stories ever told, Motley wrote Paul Brown and asked for a tryout.  Brown declined, but later signed Bill Willis.  After Willis made the team, Brown reconsidered and asked Marion Motley to come try out.  Brown later admitted that Willis had needed an African-American roommate.  Motley signed for $4,500 a year and averaged 8.2 yards per carry in his first season.  Marion led the league in rushing in 1948, as the Cleveland Browns posted a perfect 15-0 record.  When the league folded after the 1949 season, Motley was the AAFC’s all-time rushing leader with 3,024 yards.  There was another pleasant surprise.  Paul Brown estimated that more than 10,000 black fans attended Cleveland’s first game.  As mentioned above, Cleveland won the 1950 NFL Championship and, by 1951, Motley began to feel the physical effects of the game and suffered a knee injury.  Marion Motley would retire before the 1954 season started.  His career rushing average of 5.7 yards per carry is still the all-time rushing record for fullbacks.  Motley asked many NFL teams for a coaching job but was turned down.  He later worked for the U.S. Postal Service, Miller Construction, and the Ohio Department of Youth Services.  Motley died in 1999 of prostate cancer.  He was the second African-American player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Motley was also named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994.

It would be hard to imagine the game of pro football without the likes of players like Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and David “Deacon” Jones.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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On a good day, he could get four brand new tires and a tank full of gas in less than 14 seconds.  He would make his living going around in circles and getting in and out of car windows.  All that was needed was about 3,500 pounds of equipment, four tires, an occasional quick fist, and nerves of steel.  Add cat-like reflexes, 360-degree vision, and a bucket of chips on your shoulders and you have a professional race car driver.  One mistake could cost you the race, your life, or both. This fellow spent a lot of time pushing down and turning left on race tracks all across the country.  Why, because he was a professional race car driver, and a darn good one.  

Terrance Lee “Terry” Labonte was built on November 16, 1956, in Corpus Christi, Texas.  All that it required was a bit of racing fuel for blood, some sheet metal for hide, a little oil pressure for a pulse and a heart the size of an 8-cylinder motor.  This guy loved the sport and talked about automobile racing like your grandmother talks about recipes.  Growing up, his weekends were spent on paved and unpaved tracks all over South Texas, especially around San Antonio and Corpus Christi.  In 1978, Terry eventually found his way to Darlington, South Carolina, where he finished fourth in the longest race he had run up to that point.  He finished seventh at Richmond, Virginia, the following week and was on his way to a fine career, where he competed in 890 races spread out over 36 years.  Terry Labonte would take the checkered flag 22 times and was crowned a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in 1984 and 1996.  Terry and his younger brother, Bobby, learned about cars while watching their father work on and build cars as a hobby, for their friends.  Terry is also the father of former Nationwide Series driver, Justin Labonte. 

“Texas Terry’s” most favorite moment occurred on March 28, 1999, at the Texas Motor Speedway, near Fort Worth, Texas.  I was there!  Labonte had a great car that day (Kellogg’s #5 Chevrolet Monte Carlo) and displayed 500 miles of great courage.  Terry had run upfront most of the race, but after a poor pit stop, Terry found himself running second behind Dale Jarrett.   Labonte proceeded to run Jarrett down and caught and passed him with less than ten laps to go, for the win.  An estimated 200,000 fans, including myself and friends, began to get up out of our seats.  “It was then I noticed the crowd,” said Terry Labonte.  “Everybody was standing up.  I knew I couldn’t let them down.”  I had been a guest of Miller Brewing Company and remembered that there were so many people we had to park several miles from the track to catch a bus into the facility.  I had never been to any sporting event attended by this many people, including Super Bowl XXVII, played in 1993, at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, California.  We had seats in a suite, but I wanted to go down next to the track to experience the race from trackside.  I stood right at the fence for a few laps.  For those of you who have never been to a NASCAR event, the roar of the engines was unbelievable, but it was not the kind of noise that hurts your ears.  I had a soft drink in my hand and noticed that when the cars roared down the straightaway in front of me that the displacement of the air created a vacuum that sucked the beverage up and out above my cup and then the liquid fell back into the cup as they passed.   After the race, I also noticed what felt like saran wrap on my bare arms.  Sure enough, it was a light coat of high-octane racing fuel that permeated the air.  It was interesting that at trackside, you can only see the cars as they make their way to your right around the first turn and then you can follow them down the back stretch into the next turn.  Then all you can see is a blended glimpse of colors from the cars as they pass by at 200 plus mph.  It gave me goose bumps, and you can’t fake goose bumps.  It was powerful and the kind of rush you would feel if several F-4 Fighter Jets were to fly overhead.  

Terry Labonte drove ten seasons for Billy Hagan, three years for Junior Johnson, and eleven years for the Rick Hendricks teams.  Labonte also spent some time with Richard Petty, the Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman team, along with the Joe Gibbs team and Michael Waltrip team.  On October 17, 2014, at the age of 57, Terry Labonte announced his retirement.  He will be missed.

Terry Labonte also won the 1989 IROC Championship and holds the all-time record for longest drought between Sprint Cup Championships (12).  His brother Bobby was the 2000 Winston Cup Champion.  He was elected one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998 and has been inducted into the National Quarter Midget Hall of Fame.  Terry sat on the pole for 27 of his races and also finished in the Top Ten, 361 times.  The Labonte brothers have a park named after them in their home town of Corpus Christi, Texas, and were both chosen for entry into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, in 2002.  They continue to support the Ronald McDonald House here in Corpus.  There is no doubt that the NASCAR Hall of Fame awaits his presence. 

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Remember when you used to run and play outside until it got too dark to see, or until Mom yelled, “Supper’s ready.”  Running, jumping, skipping and playing outdoors was what you lived for.  Being inside meant chores, homework, and looking after your younger brother or sister.  Heck, back in the day, kids could take a stick, a ball of any kind, and a rock or the corner of a broken cinder block, and make up more games than you can download on your iPhone.  They exercised their bodies while expanding their minds and using their imaginations.  Now, unless they are playing an organized sport, the only moving body parts appear to be their thumbs.  “This cannot be good for our youth,” said local fitness guru, Victor Betancourt.  “So, we decided to put the fun back in fitness for the kids.”  And they’re doing it for FREE.  “What about social media,” I asked.  “Is too much television, texting, games, Facebook and Twitter creating unhealthy kids?”  “Moderation is the key,” answered Betancourt.  The message, get them involved in physical activity even if it’s just swimming.  Have you ever met a kid who didn’t like the water?  So, if you want your child to be well-rounded (that doesn’t mean just physically but mentally as well), get them moving.  

V-Fit Productions started in 2010, but Victor Betancourt has been a personal trainer for well over eighteen years.  Visit their studio at 2001 S. Staples and you will find 6,000 square feet of specialized equipment designed to put you back on the right track for healthy living.  No frills here, just hard work and results.  “Exercise doesn’t do it alone,” says Betancourt.  “Sleeping right, eating the right foods in the right amounts will help make a difference.”  V-Fit has organized well over 60 races of all lengths since their inception, but now Betancourt, a father himself of a 15-year-old son, feels the time is right to capture the kids of Corpus Christi.  “Kids Get Fit,” a nonprofit event, is just one of four each year that directly benefits the kids.  And now Kayla Butts, a well known local registered dietitian and nutritionist, has joined the V-Fit team.  This program will make a difference you’ll see, and I hope someday you can say your child is healthier because of companies like V-Fit Productions. 

Now for the best part, here’s the skinny.  On Saturday, December 20, at Cole Park on Shoreline Drive, you and your kids are going to show up at 8 AM with your running gear on and with jingle bells tied into your shoes laces.  For $25 each, there will be a 5K run for anyone who wants to participate and a 1K fun run including a laser tag, FREE for the kiddoes.  The name of this event is “Jingle All The Way,” and it benefits The Boys and Girls Club of Corpus Christi, located at 3902 Greenwood Drive.  You can also sign your kids up for FREE classes right now by visiting www.bgccorpuschristi.org/.  There will be a costume contest and lots of great door prizes to be given away.  All V-Fit asks is that you register @vfitproductions.com before you get there, or go by The Boys and Girls Club and sign up.  V-Fit is giving the gift of health this Christmas.  Now, that’s what I call a great present.  V-Fit, making it fun to be fit.   

P.S. Don’t be surprised if Santa is waiting for you and your kids at the finish line.   I wonder what you will ask Santa for this Christmas. 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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According to former boxer, Abe Attell, the 1919 World Series scandal that almost took down the National Pastime, was put into place by the notorious New York gambler, Arnold Rothstein and Joe Sullivan from Boston.   Attell agreed to be interviewed in October of 1961, by “Cavalier” magazine.  “The results of that fix,” said Attell, “were felt over two years and destroyed one of the greatest ball clubs (the Chicago White Sox), smashed the fortunes of their owner, and ruined the careers of eight pretty fair ballplayers.”  Attell first met Rothstein in 1905.  Abe was the first Jewish boxing champion in the U.S. and Featherweight champion of the world.  Attell was known as the “Little Champ” and weighed all of 118 pounds and had held the title for 12 years.  Abe eventually was beaten by Johnny Kilbane in 1912; he retired and went to work for Rothstein. 

A Boston-based gambler by the name of Joseph “Sport” Sullivan made it known that he wanted to meet with Rothstein.  Arnold sent Abe Attell to find out what Sullivan wanted.  Sullivan had been accused of “fixing” many different sporting events, including the 1903 World Series and several professional fights and auto races.  Sullivan had also been seen hanging around the 1906 World Series.  He was arrested in 1907 at the Boston Braves’ ballpark for gambling in public.  Sullivan was arrested again in 1911, 1913 and 1914 for gambling.  Sullivan was not, as the movie Eight Men Out seems to imply, some small-town crook.  Rothstein and Sullivan knew each other very well.  Sport was treated as a hero by many other gamblers and recruited the services of ex-ballplayer, “Sleepy” Bill Burns, and ex-fighter, Billy Maharg, to dig up dirt on current players.  According to Attell, Sullivan’s two guys were seen playing pool with pitcher Eddie Cicotte and first-baseman “Chick” Gandil, both of the Chicago White Sox.  In fact, Sullivan knew both Cicotte and Gandil as early as 1912.  The true story of the fix will never really be known.   Attell was to be Rothstein’s go-between with Sullivan and claims that Gandil, Cicotte and Sullivan all met at the Boston Buckminster Hotel to talk about fixing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.  At this point, Abe was told by Rothstein the fix would never work and the deal was dead.  But, according to Sullivan, plans were made and the list of players chosen to participate was approved.  Gandil claimed he could get seven or eight players to participate, the fix was in.

According to Abe in his interview, “I found out later that the players were asked to meet with Gandil in his hotel room on September 21, 1919.  They agreed to throw the Series for $100,000 in advance to get even with owner Charles Comiskey, because he had cut their pay during World War I.  Burns and Maharg were to deliver the money to the players,” said Attell.  Joe Jackson did not attend this meeting but later found $5,000 under his pillow, which he kept.  Sport Sullivan, while well-off, did not have access to $100,000 at that time, so he approached Arnold Rothstein who agreed to front the money.  Baseball in those days was not as clean as others thought.  In 1917, the racetracks around the country had been closed by the U. S. Government for the duration of the war, so gamblers started betting on baseball.  There would become a nationwide network of baseball bookies.  Bookies started asking a player who was pitching that day, how they were feeling, and if anyone was injured.  Any inside information was just a short step away from tampering with the ballplayers themselves.  All this info improved the gamblers’ odds of winning.  There were many games that appeared to have been fixed before 1919.

So the best of nine World Series was played with the Reds winning five games to three.  Everybody knew the Series had been fixed, but Charles Comiskey refused to believe it.  In 1920, the embarrassed White Sox owner; put up $10,000 for anyone who could offer evidence that the fix had actually occurred.  This is when Billy Maharg spilled his guts to a newspaper man in Philly.  This accusation became known as the “Black Sox Scandal.”  When the Grand Jury made the names of the suspects public, Sport claimed that he had been labeled the “goat” of the fix and admitted to handling several thousand dollars in bets, but had not been in on the fix.  Sullivan was indicted by the Cook County grand jury on nine counts of conspiracy to defraud but was never arrested or appeared at the trial.  Interestingly, Sullivan never even went to Chicago.  According to Attell, Rothstein called a meeting with Sullivan and Abe.  Attell was to go to Montreal, Canada, and Sullivan to Mexico.  Rothstein was to also disappear, but did not.  Instead Rothstein went to Chicago with his lawyer, William J. Fallon, and denied knowing anything about the fix and blamed the fix on Attell.  Attell became angry and threatened to spill what he knew.  Before Abe could be indicted, interestingly, all the signed confessions by the ballplayers and all the records from the Grand Jury disappeared.  How much it cost to steal all the Grand Jury evidence is anyone’s guess.  The trial ended in an acquittal for all the defendants, yet the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned the eight accused players from organized baseball, for life.

 These players’ names are as follows:  Claude “Lefty” Williams, Eddie Cicotte, George “Buck” Weaver, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg, and Oscar “Happy” Felsch.  Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte were the only two players that confessed to participating in the fix.  The dirty players claimed they received very little money.  Some said Bill Burns kept $30,000 for himself and bet against the White Sox.  No one knows what happened to the rest of the $100,000.  Billy Maharg never got his ten grand from Comiskey.  The other ten clean players, including the manager of the White Sox, were each given a $1,500 bonus by Comiskey after the Series was over, for being honest. 

Abe Attell claimed his reputation was tarnished and that Arnold had made $350,000 on the fix.  Rothstein got away scott-free and the aging Sullivan was barred from all ballparks and racetracks and slowly faded from public view.   Then along came this pitcher, a big, ugly, overgrown kid from Baltimore by the name of George Herman Ruth.  He began to take his turn at bat for the Boston Red Sox, but that’s a whole other story.  He would become known as “The Babe.”

 

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Willie Mays joined the New York Giants in 1951, but it was not until 1954 that Mays began to blossom into one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  That year, Mays became the youngest African American to grace the cover of TIME magazine.  He was also voted to participate in his very first All-Star Game.  The Giants had a great year, winning 97 games and the National League pennant.  They would face the Cleveland Indians, who won an American League record 111 games, eclipsing the old record of 110 wins held by the 1927 New York Yankees.  The Indians had four terrific pitchers of which three would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  They are as follows:  Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Early Winn and Mike Garcia.  The Major League record for wins in a 154-game season was held by the 1906 Chicago Cubs, at 116.   The 1954 World Series featured racial and ethnic diversity, as Cleveland had three African Americans, Larry Doby, Al Smith and Dave Polk, and the team also included Bobby Avila and Mike Garcia who were both of Mexican decent.  New York boasted three African American players by the names of Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson.  Giants’ Pitcher Ruben Gomez was born in Puerto Rico.

Game One began on September 29, 1954, and Mays batted fourth in the lineup.  A crowd of 52,751 sat side by side as NBC readied to broadcast the game nationwide.  It would be the first time most of the country would see Willie Mays play baseball.  In the crowd were the wives of Jackie Gleason and Lou Gehrig.  Perry Como sang the National Anthem. Right-hander Sal Maglie started on the bump for the Giants. The first batter for Cleveland, who was the favorite to win, was Al Smith, and Maglie hit him right in the middle of the back with a fastball. The message:  Welcome to New York.   Avila followed with a single, and Vic Wertz hit a line-drive triple to right field, scoring both runners.  By the time Mays came to bat, the Giants had scored a run against Indians’ pitcher Bob Lemon and had one man on base.  Mays walked, and Hank Thompson hit a screamer to the right side, driving in another run and leaving Mays stranded at third. The score at the bottom of the first inning:  Cleveland 2, New York 2.  Lemon and Maglie would now settle into a pitchers’ duel.  Wertz had Maglie’s number and singled in the fourth, and again in the sixth inning, he ripped another hit to right.  With the score still tied, Larry Doby started the eighth inning with a walk.  Al Rosen then got a hit.  With two on, nobody out, Vic Wertz was the next hitter.  Giants’ manager Leo Durocher was not going to let Maglie face Wertz again, so he brought in left-hander, Don Liddle.  Now, the stage was set.

Liddle got ahead in the count against Wertz, one ball, two strikes.  Liddle’s next pitch, a fastball, was aimed inside but stayed out over the plate.  Wertz extended his arms and hit the ball square.  This line-drive blast passed just to the right of second base rising, as Wertz put his head down and started running hard to first base.  Mays, in centerfield, said later he knew it was hit well, by the sound of the ball coming off the bat.  Mays turned, full around, head down, running as hard as he could, straight toward the wall in centerfield. The wall stood an estimated 483 feet from home plate.  This ball was sailing directly over Mays’ head, the toughest of all catches to make. 

Liddle headed over behind third base with his head down, to back up the throw that would eventually come from Mays in centerfield.  Everyone in the park stood up, including the Giants in the dugout.  After running nearly 90 feet, Mays finally glanced over his left shoulder.  The dark green wall in front of Mays stood 8 ½ feet high and had no padding.  When Mays right foot hit the cinders of the warning track, he knew there was only ten feet left between him and the wall.  Mays now looked up and extended both arms like Jerry Rice, and opened his Rawlings Model HH glove.  Wertz’s blast fell gently inside.

 Doby on second base had started towards third, but slowed as he realized he would have time to go back to tag second, if the ball was caught.  Rosen on first base headed hard to second, certain he would score.  Wertz never saw the catch and did not realize it had been made, until he passed Rosen coming back to first.  Wertz would stare at Mays in disbelief when he realized what happened.  He cursed and then kicked the water cooler when he reached the dugout.

NBC announcer Jack Brickhouse’s call went like this.  “There’s a long drive...way back at center field…way back, way back, it is a--Oh, my!  Caught by Mays!  Willie Mays just brought this crowd to its feet with a catch which must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people.  Boy!” Doby retreated to second base, touched and headed to third.  But Mays whirled, losing his cap, and threw to second base all in one motion.  As Doby reached third, Rosen had made it back safely to first base.

No one really understood the importance of “the catch,” as there were still two Indians on base, at first and third, with only one out.  With the stadium still in an uproar, Cleveland Manager, Al Lopez would now send up pinch-hitter, Dale Mitchell, and Leo Durocher countered with a new pitcher, Marv Grissom.   Liddle was done after facing only one batter.  It was at this time that one of the great lines in the game of baseball was uttered.  When Grissom reached the pitcher’s mound, Liddle tossed him the ball and said, “Well, I got my man.”   Mitchell was then walked to load the bases.  The next Indians’ batter, Dave Pope struck out.  Then catcher, Jim Hegan hit a fly ball out to right field.  The game went into extra innings as neither team could score in the ninth.  Wertz led off the tenth and hit what should have been a triple to left center, but Mays raced it down and held Wertz to a double.  Some say this is where the Indians quit.  In the bottom of the tenth, Mays was due up second.  Mays walked with one out and stole second on the next pitch.  Lemon then intentionally walked Hank Thompson, bringing “Dusty” Rhodes to the plate.  Rhodes ended the game with a 257-foot home run, down the right-field line.  It landed in the first row, 200 or more feet shorter than Wertz’s blast to centerfield.  The New York Giants won Game One 5-2, and would go on to sweep the Indians for the 1954 World Series title.  It was considered one of the great upsets in World Series history.

During the Series, Wertz batted .500, 8-for-16, with two doubles, one triple and a home run, but all anyone remembered was his out.  Mays went 4-for-14 (.285) and drove in three runs.  Mays was selected MVP.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Marcel Proust once said, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  Every once in a while, I meet an athlete who becomes a true friend, a guy I can trust and one I feel comfortable with.  Bart Shirley is one of those guys.   

Just being around Bart; made me feel ten-years old.  He has a way of serving as the rainbow in everybody’s cloud.  In my opinion, Bart Shirley was born with a heart three sizes too large.  There is nothing this man would not do for you, and that’s a good thing.  Bart is humble, God-fearing and snail quiet.  I proudly refer to him in public as a “Corpus Christi Treasure.”  

Barton Arvin “Bart” Shirley was born on January 4, 1940, in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Bart played and starred as a shortstop in baseball for Head Coach A.J. Luquette and left halfback in football for Head Coach Bill Stages, for Ray High School.  His play was such that Bart was inducted into the Ray Texans’ Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.  After graduating from Ray in 1958, Bart signed an athletic scholarship and headed to Austin, Texas, to play for the Longhorns.  In 1959, after his freshman year, Bart would line up as a halfback for legendary football coach, Darrell Royal.  Bart would complete four of ten passes for two touchdowns, while executing the halfback-run option.  One of those touchdown passes came against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for a Texas win.  Bart also rushed for 90 yards on 25 carries and caught two passes for sixteen yards.    

Bart’s star shined even brighter on the baseball diamond for the 1960 Longhorns, as Bart started at shortstop for Head Coach “Bibb” Falk and was voted to the All-Southwest Conference team.   Later that same year, Bart was signed as an amateur free agent by celebrated scout, Hugh Alexander, of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  “Once I signed the contract I lost my amateur status at Texas,” said Bart. “I went to Spring Training in 1960 and sent my signing bonus home to my mother.”    

In 1961, Bart Shirley reported to the Atlanta Crackers, the Dodgers’ Double-A team, of the Southern Association.   Bart later joined the U.S. Army Reserves and attended basic training, in 1961.  He would fulfill a six-year obligation to his country.  By 1962, you could find Bart playing shortstop for the Triple-A Omaha Dodgers of the American Association.  In 1963, he would hone his skills for the Triple-A Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League, before being called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 14, 1964.  At the beginning of the 1966 season, Bart was called up again to the big club on April 19th.  Shirley would stay with the Los Angeles Dodgers until June 25.   Walter Alston and the Dodgers continued to play well and won the 1966 National League pennant with a 95-67 win-loss record.  With stars like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, winning was made easy, but it was not enough.  Bart was proud to be a part of that team.  The Dodgers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles for the 1966 World Series title.  Bart received his share of the 1966 World Series money.    

In 1971, Bart decided he was not yet through playing baseball and did what many American players have done before him.  He headed to Japan.  There he signed with the Chunich Dragons of the Japan Central League.  Bart would play there for two years.  Other American Major League players that played in Japan while Bart was there include Clete Boyer, Davey Johnson, John Miller and his close friend Jim Lefebvre.

Bart Shirley returned to the States in 1973 to manage in the Dodgers’ Minor League system.  Bart would manage a total of 401 games in three years, while winning 199 for a .496 winning percentage.

Pastor Mark Salmon introduced me to Bart Shirley.  Mark had met Bart in August of 2001 when Mark became the Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church.  Mark Salmon, being a diehard baseball fan of the Yankees, and his friend Bart spent hours talking baseball.  “His greatest days were not when he was a professional baseball player, but as a true and devoted friend,” said Salmon.

One of those devoted friends was a fellow by the name of Garron Dean.  Garron has been a Bart Shirley fan for sixty-plus years.  “We went to junior high and high school together and participated in sports together all those years,” exclaimed Garron.  “Upon graduation, he went to Texas and I went to LSU and we lost each other until he returned to Corpus Christi.  Bart had been in Japan playing baseball.”  Dean continues, “Bart is one of the most honest individuals I have ever known and a devout Christian who spends a lot of hours devoting his life to Christ,” said Dean.     

Interestingly, Bart’s high school relationships with teammates stand as strong today as ever.  They continue to move in and out of each others’ lives to this very day and gather occasionally to remember and celebrate their past.  Bart and his current wife, Victoria, make their home here in Corpus Christi.  What I would want to leave with Bart and others is the realization that whoever you are, there is some younger person who thinks you are perfect.  I would count myself as one of those who feel that way about Bart Shirley.  The fact is we need our heroes more than they need us.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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He was born in New York City, a few blocks from the Pologrounds, but raised in Newark, New Jersey, the son of a Jewish pharmacist who thought baseball was a waste of time and energy.   At the age of four, he began playing baseball in the street anyway and his father, Bernard, never allowed himself to watch.  His father taught him Hebrew and Yiddish at home and made sure he learned to speak Latin, Greek and French while attending Barringer High School.  It has been said that as a teenager, he read ten different newspapers a day.  No doubt he was brilliant, and he attended New York University for one year before enrolling at Princeton.  He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University where he added Spanish, German and Sanskrit to his bag of languages.  He also played baseball while at Princeton.  He later studied overseas in Paris and attended Columbia Law School here in the States, while learning Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian.  If you’re counting, that’s fifteen different languages in all, not including some regional dialects.   

Born a genius but a mediocre ballplayer on March 2, 1902, Moe Berg played fifteen seasons of professional baseball for five different Major League teams. On June 27, 1923, Berg was signed by the Brooklyn Robins.   After the season was over, Moe took his first trip abroad by sailing from New York to Paris.  Instead of returning in 1924, to get in shape for the upcoming baseball season, he decided to tour Italy and Switzerland.  Berg later played catcher with the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and Cleveland again, then finished with the Boston Red Sox.

In the winter of 1932, Herb Hunter, a retired ballplayer, arranged for three Major League players to travel to Japan to teach baseball seminars to the Japanese.  Those three players were Lefty O’Doul, Ted Lyons and Moe Berg.  They talked and taught baseball in six of Japan’s largest universities at that time.   Berg stayed behind when the seminars ended and continued to explore Japan.  Berg also visited Manchuria, Shanghai, Peking, Indochina, India, Egypt and Berlin.  Berg’s second trip to Japan occurred in 1934, when he was asked to travel with an American Baseball All-Star team that included future Hall-of-Fame players like “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and “Lefty” Gomez.  They were to play against the Japanese All-Star teams.  Berg took with him a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera to document his trip.  During this trip to Tokyo, Berg paid a visit to St. Luke’s Hospital, where the American Ambassador Joseph Grew’s daughter was a patient.  This hospital was the tallest building in the Japanese capital.  While he was there, he sneaked on top of the hospital and filmed the city, military installations, railway yards, factories and its harbor.  He never did visit the ambassador’s daughter.  So why was a third-string catcher (Moe Berg) asked to join this Hall-of-Fame group?  He was a spy for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), to later become known as the CIA.  The film footage he shot would later be used by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle to plan his famous bombing raid on Japan near the end of World War II.  Berg had two loves, baseball and spying.

During the war, Berg was also asked to parachute into Yugoslavia to assess the value of two groups of partisans.  Berg reported back to Winston Churchill that one group known as Marshall Tito’s partisans would be of value to the war effort.  Churchill ordered all-out support for these underground fighters based on Berg’s report.   Berg also later parachuted into German-held Norway and joined an underground group who helped him locate a secret heavy water plant to be used by the Nazis to build an atomic bomb.  Berg’s info helped the Royal Air Force find and destroy the plant.

Moe Berg would also receive a code name, “Remus.”  Berg was sent to Switzerland to hear a leading German physicist, Werner Heisenberg, lecture on building an atomic bomb.  Berg posed as a Swiss graduate student.  He managed to slip past the SS guards and then sat in the front row.  In his pocket were a pistol and a cyanide pill.  Moe Berg was to listen to the lecture and determine if the Germans had progressed far enough along to build an atomic bomb.  If so, he was to shoot Heisenberg and then swallow the cyanide pill.  Berg determined that the Germans were nowhere near their goal of building an atomic bomb.  So, after the lecture, he congratulated Heisenberg on his speech and walked him back to his hotel.  Moe Berg’s report was read by Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was reported that Roosevelt responded, “Give my regards to the catcher.” 

Casey Stengel never quite put it together, but he knew something was up.  Casey said of Moe Berg, “That is the strangest man ever to play baseball.”  The baseball writers also had their fun with Moe Berg, claiming that he could speak fifteen different languages but he couldn’t hit in any of them.  After the war, Moe Berg, the third-string catcher, was awarded the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honor for a civilian in wartime.  Berg refused to accept the medal, claiming he would have to tell people about his travels and reveal his spying secrets.  In 1972, after his death, his sister accepted the medal.  It now hangs in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame Museum. 

Moe Berg’s 1933 Goudey baseball card #158 is the only baseball card on display at CIA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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In 1988 Fleer Baseball Card Company sent Bob Bartosz into the field to take pictures of the Major League baseball players for their 1989 issue.  Second baseman Billy Ripken, younger brother of Cal Ripken, stood proudly with his bat on his right shoulder, his right hand on top of his left hand as he gripped the bat.  Billy was the third member of the Ripken family to be associated with the Orioles as his dad Cal Sr., was the manager.  It is interesting to note that Billy was known more for his glove than his bat as he had only hit four home runs in first two years with the Orioles. So, why did they picture him with a bat instead of fielding a ground ball?  That is the real question.  But, on this day, his batting stance would be the least of his worries and probably shed some light on how he felt about his hitting in general.  You see, there were two words written on the bottom of the handle of his bat that were clearly legible, F___ Face.  How this got by the proof readers is beyond my imagination.  Nevertheless, When Fleer discovered the error, they rushed to correct.  Many cards had already been released to the public and of course Billy was questioned over and over by the media.  He denied knowing anything about the curse words written on the bat handle. 

Fleer released versions in which the text was scrawled over with a marker, whited out with correction fluid; the card was also cut by machine in an effort to take out the explicative words and also airbrushed.  On the final corrected version, Fleer obscured the offensive words with a black box.  Many of these corrected cards have become collector’s items with some cards reaching as high as $1,200 in mint condition.  There are at least ten different variations of this card, #616.  Years later, Ripken finally admitted that the bat was his and he only used it in batting practice.  The words written on the handle were to help him distinguish it from his game used bats and he had never intended to use that bat for the Fleer baseball card.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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It was July 4, 1976, Independence Day.  The Philadelphia Phillies and the rest of the country were celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  They invited the President, Gerald Ford, to throw out the first pitch.  At the time, Pat and Bob Bartosz lived in Philadelphia where he had been a cop.  He was now a professional photographer, and Pat was a proofreader.  They were also huge baseball fans.  In fact they would later be hired in 1980 by Fleer Baseball Card Incorporated, to take pictures of professional baseball players for their sports cards.  But on this day, Bob had asked and received clearance from the President’s Secret Service to be on the field taking pictures of the event for the Philadelphia Enquirer.  Bob left for the ballpark early.  He had not been gone very long when the phone rang and Pat answered.  The president of the Gannett Company (a news service marketing company) would also be in attendance and would be on the field as a guest of President Ford during the throwing out of the first pitch.  The Gannett Company wanted a picture of their president and President Ford together.  This was before cells phones so Pat hurried to the ballpark to get word to her husband, Bob.  Pat did not have clearance to be on the field so she wrote a note to Bob and handed it to a policeman.  He gave the note to the Secret Service.  As soon as they read the note, the Secret Service whisked Bob off the field into the dugout where they frisked him briskly.  The note said, “Bob if you shoot the President shoot the guy in back of him, too.” 

Wives, don’t you just love them?

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Do you believe now?  “Wait till next year” does not apply.  The Fall Classic just came early.  Do you believe in magic?  How about ghosts?  Some say the ghost of Yankee Stadium intervened.  Who knows?   The forecast had been a 75% chance of rain, but not a drop fell that night.  There is no doubt that in the years to come only a few will remember who won the 2014 World Series, but everyone connected to the game of baseball will remember the night of September 25, 2014.  Under the circumstances, last night’s results will go down as one of the greatest final home games in the history of baseball.  You see, the magic of sports are those moments that can’t happen in real life.  Of all the great Derek Jeter moments, tonight’s topped them all.  I hope you took a good look, because that’s what a baseball player looks like.  Then he kissed and hugged his parents before celebrating with his teammates.

It was the bottom of the first inning with Jeter batting second, when he hit an RBI double.  Derek later scored the second Yankee run.  With the Yanks leading 5-2, New York closer David Robertson blew a three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning, as the Orioles tied the score 5-5.  In the bottom of the ninth, José Pireta began the inning with a single and was replaced by pinch runner, Antoan Richardson.  Antoan was bunted over to second base by Brett Gardner.  Then Jeter used his inside-out swing to hit a walk-off single to right field, scoring Richardson.  The roar of the crowd was so loud the dust flew off of the back of my TV.  It was over; Yankees won 6-5, a story-book ending.  For twenty years, Jeter has never played on a losing team.  People will relive that day for years to come. 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I believe that the attraction to Derek Jeter comes not so much from his being a great baseball player, on the winningest franchise in sports history, but in the fact that he reminds us all of what being an American means.  He is hardworking, loyal, honest and morally sound.  He shows good judgment, is kind, law abiding, considerate of others and respectful.  He never embarrassed anyone about anything.  Jeter believed he could overcome any obstacle placed in front of him.  I believe he would have been great at anything he chose to do in life.  His story will be shared by generations.  Unfortunately, it’s sad to realize that Jeter is not the norm anymore; he’s the exception.  As my dad, Gordon, would say, “This guy was a real piece of work.”

On May 29, 1995, Derek Jeter debuted in his first game as a New York Yankee, compliments of Yankees’ Manager, “Buck” Showalter.  Jeter started at shortstop and batted ninth in the lineup that day.  He struck out once and recorded no hits.  The Yankees lost to the Seattle Mariners that night, 8-7 in 12 innings.  The Yankees lost five games in a row before winning at home against the Los Angeles Angels, on Sunday, June 4, 1995.  The rest, as they say, is history.

On August 13, 1995, less than three months after Jeter became a Yankee, my childhood hero, Mickey Mantle, died.  In 1964, as a 13 year-old kid, I saw Mantle play at Yankee Stadium and thanks to my two sons, Bill and Harry, who took me on vacation in 2010 to Baltimore to see the Yankees play the Orioles, we saw Derek Jeter.  Not many people can say they have seen their two heroes play in person, forty-six years apart.  Jeter made baseball better.  The old saying goes, “It’s good to be king,” but in this case, it was also good to be his subjects.  I think Ozzie Smith summed it up best when he said about Jeter, “He’s a play-off player.”  I just hope there are more Derek Jeter’s around the corner.

I am reminded of a great poem written by Grantland Rice, a sports writer from the 30’s, 40’s and early 1950’s.

 

“For when the One Great Scorer comes,

To mark against your name,

He writes -- not that you won or lost,

But HOW you played the Game.”

 

So Jeter rested on Friday and claimed the designated hitter spot in Boston this past weekend to finish out his career.  On Sunday, in his final at-bat, Jeter did what he does best.  He hit an RBI single and left us on our feet thanking him for his time.  “I wanted my last view from shortstop to be in Yankee Stadium,” said Jeter.  On Friday night, Jeter finally shared with the media his most personal thoughts.  He said, “I know that there are a lot of people that have more talent than I do, but I can honestly say I don’t think anyone played harder.”

It was Buck who suggested that Jeter be given the #2 to wear.  Owner George Steinbrenner was concerned, as only the best of the best in Yankee lore had worn the lower numbers.  You’ve heard the names, Billy Martin, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, “Yogi” Berra, Bill Dickey, Roger Maris, and Phil Rizzuto.  Only the #2 and #6 had not been retired.  “You had better be right,” said Steinbrenner to Showalter.  Buck was right.   Joe Torre, Jeter’s second manager, who wore #6, has just had his number retired for all time by the Yankees.  Now Jeter’s #2 will take its rightful place in Monument Park. 

Joseph Campbell once said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  Now Derek wants to be an owner.  Will he be a good owner?  I don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet against him.  He will continue to oversee his Turn 2 Foundation, which funds programs that discourage drug and alcohol use among young people and promote healthy lifestyles. 

Unfortunately, Father Time always has the last at bat and when Derek Jeter enters the Baseball Hall-of-Fame Museum, he will join Lou Boudreau as one of only two Hall-of-Fame players to record a walk-off hit for a win in their final home game.   

And to all you Jeter critics, I say, “Perhaps you should just sit quietly and let everyone think you are uninformed instead of opening your mouth and removing all the doubt.”

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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It’s Friday the 19th and I’m casting my vote now; I’ve seen enough.  This guy blew past his team record like it was just another day at the park; and the record holder was sitting about forty feet away, behind home plate, with the Texas legend, Nolan Ryan.  Normally, when a player approaches a record; his biggest obstacle lies within his own mind.  One of the secrets of this great game of baseball is that you get to play every day, so over-thinking sometimes becomes easier.  It happened at 8:32 PM on Tuesday night, September 16, 2014.  In the fifth inning, against the Cleveland Indians pitcher, Corey Kluber, (16-9) at Minute Maid Park, José Altuve lined a double, down the left field line, for his 210th hit of the season, and tied former Astro and future Hall-of-Famer, Craig Biggio, for the Astros’ all time, single-season record for hits.  In his next at-bat in the seventh inning, Altuve broke the record with a single, back up the middle of the diamond. 

Now, in order to put this feat in the proper perspective, you need to know that Hall-of-Fame players like Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Carl Yastrzemski, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Joe Morgan and Eddie Murray never got 200 hits in a season.  In fact, I was shocked to find out the Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew and Reggie Jackson never even got to 160 hits in a season.

Altuve shook Craig Biggio and Nolan Ryan’s hands after the game.  “Biggio said, ‘Congratulations and keep swinging,’” said José.  “I really appreciated that.”  You can’t find two better guys than Biggio and Altuve.  The only thing dirty about these two was their uniforms. 

At 24, José Altuve looks more like the batboy.  I’ve got cats older than this guy.  He’s also short in stature, 5’6” if he’s lucky.  Altuve’s so small, that if he came in a box you’d put it in water before opening, in hopes that he would grow.  When he crouches over in the batter’s box, his strike zone looks like the size of a cigar box.  This guy can motor, one of the most exciting guys on the base path.  They say he once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.1 seconds, backwards.  I’m just kidding, but he is fast.

I love hearing the crack of José Altuve’s bat, on the radio.  We are all stuck with the radio until Comcast, Drayton McLane and the Astros solve their issues in court.  José is a savage hitter who can blister a fastball.  This guy can hit his way out of anything except jury duty.  The only way to stop this guy from hitting is to lock the clubhouse door before he comes out.  I get a lump in my throat watching him hit.  He can hit the skin off of a baseball and loves showing off that arm. 

In baseball you need to relax to play well, but not be too comfortable.  Comfortable gets you beat.  So, how do you focus and relax at the same time?  That’s called discipline.  One of the secrets of baseball is wondering what’s next.  The pauses permit conversation and imagination.  It’s a game of limitless possibilities and the odds of failure are enormous.  We don’t know anymore about what will happen than we know about life.  Even the very best in the game fail seven out of ten times in baseball.  It’s a game of democracy, you can be any size or color or nationality.  It’s a fair game and no matter how hard players and owners try to screw it up, it just keeps going on and on. 

During Wednesday night’s game, Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco (8-5) struck out 12 Astros and only gave up two hits in a 2-0 win for Cleveland.  Guess who made the two hits?  You got it.  José led off the fourth inning with a single, and then hit another single with two outs in the ninth inning, to reach 213 hits.  There’s nothing slow about Altuve. 

When you can be voted AL MVP at 5’7” like Yankee shortstop, Phil Rizzuto, or 5’8” second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, who was voted AL MVP in 2008; that says something about the opportunity in baseball.  

There are stars and superstars, and then there is José Altuve.  This two-time All-Star currently leads the American League in batting average (.340), hits and steals.  He is also second in doubles.  I can make a case that he has helped his team win an extra 20-25 games this year.  During this remarkable stretch of hitting, Altuve has also become the first Astro to record multiple hits in seven straight games, passing former Hooks’ outfielder, Hunter Pence, who held the record with six.  Altuve also hold the Major League record of 65 multi-hit games in the 2014 season and is the first Major League player to have at least 213 hits, 43 doubles and 53 stolen bases in one season, since Ty Cobb in 1917.  Now that’s MVP “stuff”!

I find it interesting that both Mike Trout and José Altuve wear the #27.  Mike Trout, the odds on favorite to win the AL MVP, has never recorded 200 hits and has 46 less hits than Altuve at this time.  He is no doubt a great player but he has lots of help up and down his line-up.  If I had a vote, I would vote for José Altuve for the American League MVP.

Dan Rather was once asked how one should go about becoming successful.   He answered, “Get up early, work hard in between and stay late.”  It worked for Rather and it is working for José Altuve right now.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Some guys are just born into their profession; this fellow appears to be a natural.  Smart, tenacious, seasoned, but still humble, “Buck” Showalter is one of the reasons I love baseball so much.  He’s a fine man who has spent his life showing up early and staying late, and playing, learning, and teaching this great game in between.  He continues to earn the respect of the players, owners, and fans, while managing from the dugouts of some of the greatest cathedrals built in professional sports.  Along the way this two-time Manager of the Year has won over a 1,000 games, influenced, and made better some of the best-of-the-best this game has to offer.  One of Buck’s favorite things to say is “Trust Me,” and there is no doubt there are a lot of people who do.  The names of superstars like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Randy Johnson,  Alex Rodriquez, “Pudge” Rodriquez, Juan Gonzalez, Adam Jones, and Matt Weiters are just a few of the players who have all benefited under Buck’s tutelage.  Guys like Buck Showalter make me proud to be a baseball fan. 

Baltimore Orioles’ Manager, Buck Showalter took time out of his busy schedule to spend 25 minutes on the air with his long-time friend and my radio partner, Dennis Quinn, and myself.  Our show, known as the Q & A Session, is aired on ESPN 1440 KEYS in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Through Dennis’s friendship, I have had a chance to meet Buck and interview him several times, during the “off season,” which Buck thinks is the worst word in the English language.  “It’s a very busy time if you want to have success during the season, that’s for sure,” remarked Buck.  After our greetings, Dennis, and I did what we do best, we pay tribute to our fallen sports heroes and help educate our listeners.

When Dennis asked about former Baltimore Hall-of-Fame Manager Earl Weaver, who had just passed away, Buck responded, “He’s special to all of us in this organization.  We’ve had him in camp the last two years and the more you’re around him; the more you realize why he had so much success.  I remember his love for the Baltimore Orioles and the satisfaction of our improvement last year.  It took me four or five years before I could call him Earl; he’s always been Mr. Weaver to me.  He was a good man and we’re going to miss him.  We will pay homage to him this summer in a lot of ways.  So, I’m looking forward to that,” said Showalter.  “I think what a lot of people are going to miss is the way Earl went about being successful.  Earl would say.  ‘We missed the cut-off man, botched some run-down plays.  We did some things that weren’t perfect but, we didn’t repeat them,’” said Buck.  “We had Earl at Spring Training the last couple of seasons.  After he had a couple of cups of coffee in him, it was beautiful,” continued Buck.  “He was engaged, taking questions; the guys were a little nervous.  They had so much respect for him.  As I’m riding around in a golf cart with him, taking in different drills, Earl would say, ‘Everybody tries to reinvent the wheel.  It’s all about being brilliant at the basics and trust me, it didn’t hurt having Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson and some of those guys, but they caught the baseball.  If the ball stays in the ballpark in the American League East, you had better get a glove on it; you’re not going to get many chances,” said Showalter.

I mentioned that my two sons and I had traveled to Baltimore two of the last three years to see the Orioles and Yankees play and witnessed the Brooks Robinson statue.  I asked him about the centerfield section now known as The Garden of the Greats and if they were saving a spot for Buck Showalter.  “No, trust me, the timing was great with the club being improved and it was about paying homage to our six Hall-of-Famers.  Earl and in no special order, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, about one per month.  It was special,” said Buck.  “We got lucky with the weather and these guys talked and came into our clubhouse and it was a great celebration of our history.  Our ownership paid for all that and those statues will be a lasting tribute to our great Hall-of-Famers.”

Dennis pointed out that Earl Weaver had been run 91 or 92 times by the umpires during his career and asked Buck how many times he had been tossed.  “Oh, I don’t know,” said Buck.  “I don’t keep up with that.  I do know the fines are a lot different now than they were then, and that it is part of my job description.”  When Dennis asked Showalter if he might turn his hat around to get closer to “Blue” as a tribute to Earl, during his next disagreement with an umpire, Buck’s response was, “That would almost be disrespectful to Earl, to place myself in his category.”  Buck continued, “I would never do anything to embarrass them (umpires).  They are professional and trying hard.  Their experiences allow them to make educated guesses because the ball moves too fast.  The only thing that gets under my skin is when they don’t show up for work or when they become vindictive or lazy.”  Buck continued, “I think everybody is hoping for more replay including the guys on the field.  I’m sure the guys on the field (umpires) will take as much replay as they will put in there.” 

It is no secret that the American League East Division got better this off-season, especially, in Toronto.  When I suggested that 85-90 wins might be enough to win the division, Buck countered, “We had the number 90 on the board last year.  Listen,” said Buck, “the game has changed a lot.  We now hit the ball where the grass doesn’t grow.  Strikeouts have gone up.  One year I had close to 700 plate appearances or 650, and only struck out twenty-something times.  Nowadays, they strike out 20 times in a week.  If you follow the money trail, you know where it goes,” said Buck.  “I was very fortunate to play; we are all the best at some level, and then we are weeded out.  Trust me, when I saw Don Mattingly, I knew I wasn’t going to be the first baseman for the New York Yankees.”

Dennis insisted that Buck had done the best managing job last year he had seen since Dick Williams of the 1967 Red Sox, who took that team from worst to first.  “How do you grade yourself?” asked Dennis.  “Dennis, I don’t get involved with that,” said Buck.  “We are at the mercy of the players and really to the mothers and fathers of the world.  By the time I get them at my level, they have pretty much formulated the way they are going to go about life and about competition.  So, shame on you if you don’t do your homework and don’t know what you’re getting.  We’ve got some really good people that are easy to trust.  I probably had as much fun this season as I have had at any time.  It was a club that after awhile I knew I could trust, and late in Spring Training I knew I had something special going on with the players and what they had bought into.  It will be a challenge this year to hold onto that,” said Showalter.

“As far as grades and all that stuff, it’s about the players.  We are just passing ships in the night,” said Buck.  “There are a lot of people that can do this job as well, if not better than me, and I’m just honored I have been able to do it this long.  Baltimore is my last stop, my last rodeo.  They know it and I know it and when they get tired of me, trust me, they will not have to talk much.  I’ll just say thanks, tip my hat, shake their hands, and head on out the door,” exclaimed Buck.  Neither Dennis nor I believed that.

It’s quite refreshing to find small-town values still exist.  Buck remains unspoiled by the distractions of big league baseball.  So, it’s safe to say that Dennis and I will be pulling for the Orioles this year in the highly contested AL East.  “Good pitching carries over,” said Buck; “Trust me.”

 

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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By 1967, Mickey Mantle was the only reason left to go to a Yankee game.  He had fulfilled his promise to his wife, Merlyn, and hit his 500th home run on Mother’s Day.  After the game, Mantle took the time to thank the Yankees winning pitcher that day, Dooly Womack, for allowing him a chance to celebrate.  By now, Mantle had also conceded to himself and his close friends that he would never be able to catch Willie Mays statistically.

In 1968, Mantle felt lost.  He could no longer hit or run like he used to.  His body was breaking down.  “Who are these guys?”  Mantle was quoted as saying, after looking around at his new teammates.  Tony Kubek and Phil Linz had left the team by 1965; Roger Maris and Bobby Richardson were gone by 1966.  Elston Howard was traded in the middle of 1967; Yogi Berra was gone; and Whitey Ford was now the pitching coach for the Bombers.  On May 30, 1968, Mantle was his old self again.  He went 5-for-5 for the third time in his career with two home runs, a double, two singles and five RBI’s, and scored three runs.  Washington Senators’ first baseman Frank Howard said, “I’ve never seen five balls hit so hard.”  It was Mickey’s finest game since his Triple Crown season of 1956.  On June 29th, Mantle hit his 529th home run.  On July 27th of that season, he fell below the .300 lifetime batting average.  He went 0 for 12 in three straight games and knew he would never be able to return to .300.  He was ashamed and said he was going to quit.  Five days later, he was thrown out of a game for cursing an umpire; it was the seventh time in 18 years.  Six weeks later, on August 10th, he hit his 530th and 531st against the Minnesota Twins.  On August 22nd, he tied Jimmy Foxx for third place of all time, with home run number 534.

On September 17th, the Tigers beat the Yankees in Detroit and clinched the 1968 American League pennant.  The following day was a rainout.  So, on the afternoon of September 19, 1968, Denny McLain was scheduled to pitch.  McLain had already posted 30 wins, becoming the first pitcher since Dizzy Dean to accomplish that feat.  When Mantle came to the plate in the eighth inning, the fans gave him a standing ovation.  Even the Tiger players stood on the top step of the dugout and applauded.  Everyone was a Mantle fan.  Mantle was McLain’s hero, the reason he had become a switch-hitter when he was in high school. 

No one knew what McLain was about to do.  Denny called “time” and called his catcher Jim Price out to the mound.  McLain said, “Listen, he only needs one more home run to beat Foxx.  Let’s give him a shot at it.  You just go behind home plate, put your glove up, and let me see if I can hit it.”  Price understood; Mickey was his hero, too.  Price returned and got down in his crouch and gave Mickey a look.  McLain threw him a batting practice fastball.  “It was like 50 mph with an arc on it,” said McLain.  “And the dummy takes it for a strike.”  Mantle now looks down at Price and says, “What was that?”  Price responded, “I don’t know.”  Mantle says, “Is he gonna do it again?”  Price said, “I don’t know.”  Price now gets up and calls time again, and starts towards the mound and McLain yells for all to hear, “Just tell him to be ready.”  McLain continues, “I throw the next pitch and Mantle fouls it off and I’m thinking, oh man, now I’ve got him 0 and 2.  I’m tired of messing around; I’m just going to strike him out.”

McLain is now beside himself and he yells, “Where the hell do you want it?”  Mantle points with his bat.  “I throw one more pitch and he hits a line drive into the right field stands for home run number 535.  We all had tears in our eyes, because Mickey represented baseball in the fifties and sixties,” said Denny.  As Mick goes by first base, Norm Cash hits him on the rear with his glove.  “Nice going” and “Congratulations” are heard as he passes second and short.  As Mickey gets to third, he starts yelling “Thank you” to McLain.  “Thank you, thank you, I owe you one,” screams Mantle.  McLain says, “Mickey that’s enough.”  McLain is thinking he is going to hear from the commissioner if Mantle keeps this up.

As Mantle steps on home plate the crowd erupts and they are now standing again.  Joe Pepitone shakes his hand.  The Tigers are up again and the fans will not stop cheering; so Mickey comes out of the dugout for a curtain call and decides to head towards the mound.  “I almost wet my pants as he started toward me.  I just did not want him to get to the mound,” says McLain.  Mickey finally sat back down.  But that’s not the end of the story.

Joe Pepitone steps into the batter’s box and motions where he wants his pitch, then McLain throws a 90 mph fastball right at his head and down goes Pepitone out of the way.  “When I got up,” said Pepitone, “I looked over in the dugout and Mantle has got both of his hands over his mouth laughing his butt off.” 

McLain was right and he did receive a letter from the commissioner that said he was taking the integrity of the game in his own hands.  McLain denied he intentionally threw a gofer ball to Mantle.  Famous baseball writer Red Smith had the last word when he wrote, “When a guy has bought 534 drinks in the same saloon, he entitled to one on the house.”  After the game, Mantle autographed the home run ball for McLain.  He wrote, “Denny, thanks for one of the great moments in my entire career, Mickey.”  In 1978, a fire took McLain’s home along with the baseball.  Mickey signed another ball for him.  “Until the day he died, he kept thanking me,” said McLain.

Mantle hit an uneventful home run number 536 the next day at Yankee Stadium off of Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox.  He played his last game five days later on September 25, 1968, and recorded one single off Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians.  I still miss Mickey.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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“Ducky,”  “Dazzy,”  “Daffy,” “Dizzy,” and “Double Duty;” nicknames have been a part of baseball for as long as anyone can remember.  Baseball nicknames have always been more prevalent because the sport itself has been in existence since 1869.  Nicknames are fun, descriptive, and most often remind us of something that a particular player did during a game or perhaps where he was from.  Most players’ nicknames were given to them by their teammates or managers, but every now and again, a writer or announcer would create a nickname to use as a tag line in the newspaper or on air during a broadcast.  If you didn’t have a nickname, there was a good chance you were not very good or certainly not “top of mind” with the fans.  Nicknames became so popular they are even used on their Hall-of-Fame plagues.  So, have you ever heard of Ducky Medwick, Dazzy Vance, Daffy Dean, Dizzy Dean or Double Duty Radcliffe?   

In the earliest days of baseball, all the teams traveled by train.  The industrial revolution was running full steam ahead, so it was only natural that some players’ performances would be attached to these metal monsters on wheels.  “The Iron Horse,” “Big Train,” “Scrap Iron,” and “The Mechanical Man,” were used to describe Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Phil Garner and Charlie Gehringer.  Nolan Ryan and Tommy Henrich were known as “The Ryan Express” and “Old Reliable” respectively.

Sometimes players’ nicknames reminded us of what town or state they were from.  “The Georgia Peach,” “Louisiana Lightning,”  “The Reading Rifle” and “Vinegar Bend” were a few.  Others included, “The Fordham Flash,” “The Commerce Comet,” “Duke of Flatbush” and “The Katy Rocket.”  Add “The Kentucky Colonel,” “Country,” “The Dominican Dandy” and “The Spaceman,” and you begin to get the picture.  Could you have guessed in order, Ty Cobb, Rod Guidry, Carl Furillo, Wilmer Mizell, Frankie Frisch, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Roger Clemens, “Pee Wee” Reese, Enos Slaughter, Juan Marichal and Bill Lee? 

Nicknames were also used like titles to salute the greatness of some.  “Mr. Cub,” “Mr. October,” “Marse Joe,” “The Mahatma” and “Major,” placed players and managers on a pedestal.  “El Presidente,” “Rajah,”  “Prince Hal,” “King Carl” and “Master Melvin” are a few more examples.   Would you have known the nicknames of Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, Joe McCarthy, Branch Rickey, Ralph Houk, Dennis Martinez, Rogers Hornsby, Hal Newhouser, Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott? 

Many players’ first names were used in their nickname.  Those examples are many.  “Donny Baseball,” “Charlie Hustle,” “Harry the Hat,”  “Alexander the Great,” “Will the Thrill,” “Mick the Quick,” “Tom Terrific,” “Billy Buck,” and the legend himself, “Stan the Man,” are a few.  Those players’ names were well known:  Don Mattingly, Pete Rose, Harry Walker, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Will Clark, Mickey Rivers, Tom Seaver, Bill Buckner and Stan Musial.

The reverse was also true.  “Bucketfoot Al,” “Shoeless Joe,” “Sunny Jim,” “Marvelous Marv,” “Pistol Pete,”  “Rapid Robert,”  “Sleepy Bill,” “Gorgeous George,” “Steady Eddie,” “Sudden Sam,” “Sad Sam,” “Jumping Joe,” “Hammerin’ Hank,” “Diamond Jim,” “Bullet Joe” and “Bullet Bob,” were nicknames that included the players’ first name at the end.  Those players’ names are as follows:  Al Simmons, Joe Jackson, Jim Bottomley,  Marv Throneberry, Pete Reiser, Bob Feller, Bill Burns, George Sisler          Eddie Murray, Sam McDowell, Sam Jones, Joe Dugan, Hank Aaron, Jim Gentile, Joe Bush and Bob Turley.

Many players wore the moniker of our winged feathered friends.  “Birdie,” “Hawk,” “The Grey Eagle,” “The Rooster,” “Bird,” “Goose,” “The Penguin,” “The Roadrunner,” “The Crow” and “Gooney,” were used to talk about George Tebbits, Andre Dawson, Tris Speaker, Rick Burleson,  Mark Fidrych, Rich Gossage, Ron Cey, Ralph Garr, Frankie Crosetti and Don Larsen.

Lots of players were also given a nickname that represented other animals.  “Moose,” “Rabbit,” “Catfish,” “Cobra,” “The Flea” and “The Wild Hoss of the Osage” were a few.  These players’ real names were:  Bill Skowron, James Maranville, Jim Hunter, Dave Parker, Freddie Patek and Johnny Martin who also went by another nickname, “Pepper.”

The word “Big” is used quite often in nicknames as in “The Big Cat,” “The Big Unit,”  “The Big Hurt,” “Big Mac” and “Big Popi.”  Of course they are as follows:  Johnny Mize, Randy Johnson, Frank Thomas, Mark McGuire and David Ortiz.

I think it’s interesting that lots of nicknames start with the letter “B.”  “The Bull,” “The Barber,” “Baggie,” “Boog,” “Boomer,” “Bulldog,” “Blue Moon,” “Boo,” “Biz,” “Blackjack”  and “The Brat,”  are just a few.  These nicknames represent Greg Luzinski, Sal Maglie, Jeff Bagwell, John Powell, David Wells, Orel Hershiser, John Odom, Dave Ferriss, Negro-Leaguer James Mackey, Jack McDowell and Eddie Stanky.

The letter “S” is also used to start its fair share of nicknames.  “Scooter,” “Slats,” “Stretch,” “Senor,” “Suitcase,” “Sarge” and the “Say Hey Kid,” are well known nicknames for great players such as Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion, Willie McCovey, Al Lopez, Harry Simpson, Gary Mathews and, of course, the wonderful Willie Mays.  

In my opinion, some of the funniest nicknames are Robert “Hack” Wilson, Willie “Pops” Stargell, Roger “Doc” Cramer, Ryne “Ryno” Sandberg, Dennis “Eck” Eckersley, Robert “Hoot” Gibson, Don “Newk” Newcombe, Pete “Inky” Incaviglia, Ted “Klu” Kluszewski, Howard “Hojo” Johnson, Charles “Chili” Davis, Harry “Cookie” Lavagetto, Eddie “Cocky” Collins, Jose “Cheo” Cruz, and Johnny “The Human Crab” Evers. 

 Some believed that Kennesaw Mountain Landis was a nickname for the Judge and first ever commissioner of Major League baseball, but not true.  It was his real name.

There are a handful of players that were so great, one nickname would not suffice.  George Herman Ruth had many nicknames, including “The Babe.”  Ruth would also be called “The Sultan of Swat,” the “Great Bambino,” “Big Bam,” the “Colossus of Clout,” “King of Crash,” the “Bambino” and the “King of Swing.”  The great Ted Williams carried as many as four nicknames that I can use here:  “The Kid,” the “Splendid Splinter,” “Teddy Ballgame” and “Thumper.”   Ted’s nemesis, Joe DiMaggio, was also referred to with several nicknames.  The “Yankee Clipper” was the most popular, but he was also called “Joltin’ Joe” and simply “Joe D.”   

  This is by no means a complete list and, as you read along, you may remember some I have left out.  My ESPN radio pal, Dennis Quinn, tries to stump me at the beginning of every show.  So far, I have held my own.  We also enjoy giving our guests and listeners nicknames, on our show.  I have read where there are about 7,000 baseball players with nicknames out of the 17,000 or so players who have played in the Major Leagues and new ones occur every year.  Do you know whose nickname is “Country Breakfast?”    

 

                                     

                                                   “Never Nervous” Andy Purvis

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Oscar Robertson never won five.  Neither did Robert Parrish, Shaquille O’Neal, Paul Silas, James Worthy or Kevin McHale.  Heck, Wilt won only two and Larry Bird only has three.  What am I talking about?  Rings, NBA championship rings.  This guy has won five rings, just like Magic, Kobe and Tim Duncan, and I bet you’ve never even heard of him.

This guy was as quick as a cat, a bulldog, country tough, a bundle of energy, and a tremendous competitor.  He owned a great personality, was one of the first athletes to wear contact lenses, and could sell a blind man a newspaper.  This fellow played like he had a one-year contract and in fact he did.  He was a catch-and-shoot guy when flying one-handed push shots dominated the league.  One sports writer wrote, “He’s the Eddie Stanky of basketball.  He’s too small to play, he can’t shoot, he’s not a fast runner and he doesn’t do tricks with the ball; yet he’s one of the greatest clutch players and defensive stars the game has ever seen.”  Slater Martin could play the stars of the game to a standstill.  A defensive wizard, he wasn’t considered a great scorer, yet he ranked 11th in post-season scoring and finished on the top 25 All-Time scoring list, when he retired.  One of the last of the truly great little men, Martin once slugged it out with 7-foot Wally Dukes of the Detroit Pistons.  It took several players to separate them.  Slater Martin was a modern day “David” who spent eleven years in professional basketball cutting down Goliath.  

Slater Nelson “Dugie” Martin Jr. was born on October 22, 1925, in Elmina, Texas.  Don’t bother to look it up, it isn’t there anymore.  You see, Slater’s father operated a railroad station and general store in Elmina, until the entire family decided to pack up and move 70 miles to Houston.  Dugie was two years old at the time.  When the Martin family left, the town ceased to exist.  Folks called him Dugie, a nickname his grandfather had given him, after Dugan’s Tavern, a bar featured in the “Mutt and Jeff” comic strip.

 Martin attended Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, Texas, and starred for the baseball, football, and of course basketball teams.  He also enjoyed slipping on a pair of boxing gloves on occasion.  At 5’ 7” tall and weighing about 130 pounds, Slater ate, drank, slept, dreamed and lived basketball.  He would play a big part during his junior and senior years (1942-1943) in helping Jefferson Davis High School win consecutive Texas State Championships in basketball.  Martin’s size made him difficult to recruit.  The story goes that Slater hitchhiked to Austin for a tryout at the University of Texas and made the team.  Longhorn Head Coach H. C. Gilstrap was impressed with Martin’s desire and determination.  Slater enrolled at Texas in the fall of 1943 and played in several varsity games as a freshman.  In 1944, Martin’s college career was interrupted by World War II.  Slater joined the Navy and grew to 5’ 10” tall while he was away.  He returned to school in 1946 and helped the Longhorns, now coached by Jack Gray, to reach the 1947 NCAA Final Four.  In a tournament that included eight teams, the “Mighty Mice” of Texas would beat Wyoming before losing to Oklahoma by one point, 55-54.  This placed them in the consultation game where they beat City College of New York (CCNY) 54-50, to claim third place.  Holy Cross, with a freshman guard by the name of Bob Cousy, would beat Oklahoma for the title.  Slater would remember watching Cousy play.  These two would make some history together.  On February 26, 1949, Slater Martin scored 49 points in an 81-60 victory over Texas Christian University (TCU) and set the Southwest Conference single-game scoring record that stood for years.  He was also selected an All-American that year, while finishing his career with 1,140 points, to become the highest scorer in Texas team history at that time.

 Only three Texas Longhorn players have had their numbers retired:  Slater Martin #15, T.J. Ford #11, and Kevin Durant #35.  Of these three, only Slater is apart of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  He was inducted on May 3, 1982.

“I saw Slater sit on a basketball during a game for ten minutes,” said my pal, Dotson Lewis.  “Texas was playing the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks loved to run-and-gun under Head Coach Eugene Lambert.”  This game was played in the early forties during the days of no shot clock, no five-second call, and when goal tending was allowed.  “Arkansas had a big kid in the middle named George Kok who was 6’10” tall, so Texas slowed the game down by stalling the ball,” continued Dotson.  “Slater brought the ball over the center court line uncontested, and then sat down on top of it like he was sitting on a pumpkin.  It was the darnedest thing I’ve ever seen.  No one from Arkansas came out to confront him.  I think the final score ended up in Texas’ favor,” exclaimed Dotson.   Dotson Lewis became a Hall-of-Fame Supervisor of Officials and officiated college football, basketball, baseball and volleyball in many conferences.

Martin joined the Minneapolis Lakers in 1949.   He was married and had a family.   “Although the pay was horrific,” said Slater, “I wanted to play basketball for a living.”  After the Lakers paid George Miken, Vern Mikkelson and Jim Pollard, there was little money left over for Martin and the others.  Martin held out for more money at contract time for four of the seven years with the Lakers.  Martin and the Lakers won four NBA Championships in his first five years with the Lakers.  Martin scored 32 points against the Knicks in 1952, to clench the NBA Championship for the Lakers.  Eventually, the Lakers decided to trade Slater Martin.  The Hawks inquired about him but the Lakers did not want to trade him to St. Louis because both teams were in the same conference.  So, in 1956, Martin was traded to the New York Knicks for center, Wally Dukes.  New York then traded him in December to St. Louis, for Willie Naulls.  Hawks’ owner, Ben Kerner exclaimed, “Martin saved my franchise.  I’d have gone broke without him.”  Slater Martin’s financial troubles were over.  “Martin gave us great leadership,” said Bob Petit.  “He was the glue who held us together.”  Before the 1956-57 seasons, the St. Louis Hawks lost their head coach, “Red” Holzman.   So, Kerner made Martin the coach of the Hawks, but Slater really disliked the job.  Martin appointed his roommate and teammate, Alex Hannun, to succeed him, and then resigned after eight games as coach. 

“Buddy” Blattner was the St. Louis Hawks’ radio announcer and roomed with Slater on the road.  “One year, the team got to Boston at three o’clock in the morning, and I fell asleep almost immediately,” said Blattner.  “I woke up three hours later and saw Martin pacing the floor.  I asked him what was wrong.”  Slater responded, “Nothing, I’m just thinking about Cousy.”  “At six o’clock in the morning?” exclaimed Blattner.  “I’m always thinking about Cousy,” said Martin.  Slater was the only guard in the league who could check Bob Cousy at the door.  In the 1957 NBA Championship game, Martin held Bob Cousy to two baskets out of 20 shots and outscored Cousy 23 to 12, but the Hawks lost in double overtime to the Celtics.  “He never left you alone,” said Cousy.  “I don’t know where he gets all the energy.”  In 1958, Slater Martin, with Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan, led the St. Louis Hawks to their one and only NBA title.  It took six games to bring down the mighty Boston Celtics.  While with the Hawks, Martin and Cousy would meet on the floor of battle a total of three times, in the NBA finals.  Slater Martin once shut out Bob Davies of the Rochester Royals; it was the first time in 16 years that Davies didn’t score.  Martin retired in 1960 from injuries.  He was 34 years old.  In 1962, Slater Martin was elected to the Texas Longhorn Hall of Honor.  He was also inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, in 1964. 

In 1966, Martin was hired as the general manager and head coach for the Houston Mavericks of the American Basketball Association (ABA).  On February 2, 1967, the Mavericks became one of the ABA charter members.  They played their home games at Sam Houston Coliseum.  Martin tried his best to draft Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, but both opted instead for the NBA.  In 1968, Martin coached the Mavericks to the ABA playoffs against the Dallas Chaparrals.  Houston was defeated three games to none.  With attendance dwindling, the Mavericks were purchased by James Gardner and the team was moved to North Carolina.  There they became the Carolina Cougars from 1969-1974.  It was in North Carolina that my dad took my brother and me to see our first professional basketball games.  The Cougars drafted local stars like Doug Moe, Bob Verga, Larry Miller, and Ed Manning (the father of Danny Manning).  We got to see, firsthand, stars like Julius Erving (Dr. J), George Gervin, Charlie Scott, and Moses Malone.  By 1975, the Cougars had moved again and became the Spirits of St. Louis.  After several more moves, this original franchise is now known as the Utah Jazz.   

Slater Martin had been chastised all his life for being short; too short to play basketball.  Some teammates joked, “Give him an inch and he would be 5’ 11”.  There have been very few players who stood less than six feet tall that were good enough to play with the big guys.  Martin was one of the best of the little big men. 

Slater Martin died suddenly on Thursday, October 18, 2012, while living in a skilled care nursing home in Houston, Texas.  He was 86 years old and survived by his sons, Slater Jr. and Jim.  Wearing the #22, Martin had become a five-time NBA Champion (1950, 1952-1954, 1958), a seven-time All-Star (1953-1959), and was selected to five All-NBA Second Teams (1955-1959).  Martin collected 7,337 points, 2,302 rebounds, and dished out 3,160 assists, during his NBA career.  Slater Martin averaged 9.8 points per game and 4.2 assists per game, in 745 regular-season games played.  He averaged 10.0 points and 3.2 assists per game, in 92 post-season games.  The season after Slater Martin retired, the Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles, where they reside today.  In April 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers honored Martin and other surviving members from the Minneapolis years, in a celebration at the Staples Center.

John Ruskin once said, “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become.  Your vision is the promise of what you shall at last unveil.”  The giants of the game had nothing on the little big man, Slater Martin.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble 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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Will Rogers once said, “Long ago, when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft.  Today it’s called golf.”  This fellow was the kind of player people came to watch practice.  He hit shots so close to the pin, he could kick’em in.  A super talented golfer, his gift was stealing par; if his putter were alive, it would rob banks.  He played during a time where his woods were actually made out of wood.  Through the game of golf, he learned how to focus and relax at the same time?  That’s called discipline.  He began to make difficult look easy and brought golf courses to their knees.  But then his hands began to rob him of feeling, yet the picture taken of him nearly fifty years ago, dropping his putter and raising his hands in the air in disbelief on the 18th green at Congressional Country Club, said it all.  “My God, I’ve won the Open.”  

Kenneth “Ken” Venturi grew up in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California.  He was born May 15, 1931.  He wasn’t very tall and never weighed very much.  In fact, he was so skinny it was said that his back pockets ran together.  He was quiet, a bit withdrawn and lacked confidence.  “When I was 13, the doctor told my mother that I would never be able to say my name or speak clearly as long as I lived, because I had an incurable stutter.  So, I went out and found the loneliest sport I could find and took up golf,” said Venturi.  With breathing exercises and assorted therapies for his stutter, Ken would find a way to communicate through his mouth and his driver.  The isolation he sought by playing golf eventually made him famous.  Young Ken played hundreds of rounds of golf at Harding Park Golf Course.  He often played two balls at the same time while playing alone.  He would practice drawing one ball, while trying to fade the other.  “When I got to the point, I could do both consistently, I knew I was a good golfer,” exclaimed Ken.  His parents understood, as they both worked in the Pro Shop.  There it began for Ken Venturi, a guy who obtained confidence and clout through his golf stroke and not only played well professionally, but would go on to entertain the world of golf with his thoughts and words, while broadcasting a record 35 years for CBS Sports.  Folks said he talked the way the players themselves talked.  Ken Venturi’s journey took him to the World Golf Hall of Fame.  The neatest thing about America is that this country loves a comeback.  When he heard the news of his induction, Venturi’s response was, “The greatest reward in life is to be remembered.  Thank you for remembering me.” 

Early on, Venturi gained attention from the world of golf, as an amateur.  He had honed his game at the feet of Byron Nelson.  As a 14-year-old, Venturi idolized Nelson and followed him during the 1946 San Francisco Open.  As Nelson prepared to chip onto the fifth green, Venturi leaned in and snapped a picture.  Nelson politely backed away and said to the wide-eyed youngster, “Son, will you please put up that camera and back out of here?”  Ken ran home to tell his mother as best he could, “Byron Nelson talked to me, Byron Nelson talked to me.”  At the 1952 U.S. Amateur Championship, Ken Venturi finally met his hero, Byron Nelson.  He was introduced by Eddie Lowery, a local car dealer and amateur golfer.  A life-long friendship began, as Nelson took Venturi under his wing.  Peggy Byron once said after her husband Byron had passed away, “It was just a precious, precious friendship.  I think that if Byron could have, he would have adopted Kenny.”

Venturi attended college at San Jose State University, sold cars, and did his turn in the military in Korea and Europe.  Ken began to turn heads by winning the California State Amateurs Championship in 1951 and 1956.  At age 24, and as an amateur, Venturi led the 1956 Masters after three rounds.  He was attempting to become the first amateur to ever win at Augusta, but it was not to be.  Venturi shot an 80 in the final round and relinquished a four-shot lead to finish second to Jack Burke, Jr.  Legendary golf writer, Herbert Warren Wind, wrote, “But the Masters is a drama in four acts, not three, and on the fourth day it was exit Ken Venturi and enter Jackie Burke.  It was still the best performance by an amateur in the history of the Masters.”  As of this writing, no amateur has ever won the Masters.  He turned pro at the end of the 1956 season.  Ken would come close to winning the Masters twice more in 1958 and 1960, but he finished second both times to Arnold Palmer. 

Venturi won the 1964 U. S. Open Championship in triple-digit heat and suffered from dizziness and dehydration.  He was advised to quit, but continued while suffering the effects of heatstroke.  It would be the only Major golf tournament he would win during his career.  In 1964, Venturi won Sports Illustrated Sportsman-of-the-Year Award and was elected the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Player of the Year.  In 1965, Ken played on the winning Ryder Cup Team and then later in 1996, he appeared in the movie, Tin Cup.  He portrayed himself as a commentator.  Venturi also received the 1998 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Superintendents Association of America.  Venturi also lent his name to several instructional golf schools and helped redesign the Eagle Creek Golf & Country Club located in Naples, Florida.  In the year 2000, he was selected as the non-playing captain of the President’s Cup Team.  He also owns a Golden Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars.  All in all, Venturi played professionally for ten years, winning 15 events, and retired in 1967.

Ken Venturi joined CBS Sports in 1968 as an analyst on their golf telecast.  He was paired with Pat Summerall until Pat retired in 1994.  Jim Nantz joined the CBS Sports broadcasting line-up in 1986 and became Venturi’s partner.  They shared 17 seasons together, while working approximately 20 tournaments a year.      

Ken Venturi, the voice of golf for 35 years, died in the hospital on Friday, May 17, 2013.  Ken suffered from an infection in his spine and intestines and also developed a case of pneumonia. His death came eleven days after his May 6, 2013 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

 Life like golf is filled with many hazards, but the will to live is a powerful thing.  Some people think that to be strong is to never feel pain.  In reality the strongest people are the ones who feel it, understand it, and accept it.  That was Ken Venturi.  “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,” said John Wayne.  Although Ken Venturi had overcome stuttering, carpel tunnel syndrome in both wrists, a car accident in 1961, alcoholism, prostate cancer in 2000, and quintuple bypass surgery in 2006, he was loved; and he loved the game of golf right back.  Venturi had always said that if Byron Nelson had taught him anything it was this:  “Be good to the game and give back.”  Judging from the outpouring of love from the world of professional golf, I believe Ken got it right.  He retired from CBS Sports in June of 2002, after the Kemper Open, and was living with his third wife, Kathleen, in their Rancho Mirage home in California.  It has been said that his home resembled a professional golf museum.  Venturi was 82 years old.  He had many pals from the world of entertainment.  Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, and Jack Jones were just a few.  Venturi called Frank Sinatra a dear friend and once roomed with him, while living in San Francisco.

Interestingly, Venturi died on his one-time golf broadcasting partner, Jim Nantz’s, 54th birthday, and one month and one day after his original golf broadcasting partner, Pat Summerall, who was also 82 when he passed.  Venturi divorced his first wife, Conni, in 1970.  They had two sons together, Tim and Matt.  His second wife, Beau, died in 1997.

Venturi had many charities he was involved with.  He was building a home for abused woman and children in Florida.  He traveled every off-season to Ireland, to help raise money for mentally-challenged children, and worked hard on programs to bring golf to the vision-impaired.  His Guiding Eyes Golf Classic has raised over six million dollars.

Like most of us, Ken Venturi had many stories to tell.  He once told how he opened his balcony window of his hotel room and hit a dozen or so balls out into the night, before the final round of the 1959 Los Angeles Open.  “It must have worked,” he said.  “I shot a 63 the next day and won the tournament.”  When Byron Nelson was unable to be the honorary starter for the 1983 Masters, he asked Ken Venturi to fill in for him.  “Of course I agreed,” said Ken.  Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, and Ken Venturi teed off together.  This next excerpt was told in an article written for Golf Digest.  Later in his life, after retirement, Venturi often played a few holes in the mornings, alone.  “It reminded me of the way it all started,” he said. 

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  Ken Venturi always looked up at the stars. 

One of his ways of giving back was by never charging a dime for a golf lesson to anyone.  Nice shot Kenny.  Save me a tee time.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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Remember the movie, “League of Their Own,” about the all girls’ professional baseball clubs created during World War II?   It stars Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, as Manager Jimmy Dugan.  One of the most famous lines in the movie is when Hanks is confronted by one of his players who begins crying.  Hanks responds, “Are you crying?  There’s no crying in baseball.”  Just ask the Texas Rangers.  If there was any team that should be crying, it’s the Rangers.  For a team that has been decimated by injuries, watching the Rangers’ team play on a nightly basis, you wouldn’t know it.  This happy-go-lucky bunch, always smiling, jabbing at each other with their words, are currently 20 games out of first place and last in the American League West Division.   You wouldn’t know it by watching them play that they have had 23 players on the disabled list.  You wouldn’t know that they have used a record 81 players this year, or that there have been 11 different first basemen, all because of injuries.  Heck, if you could play first base, you might get a start tonight.  The Rangers should build a hospital next to Globe Life Park.  Sure, to a man they all want to win, but I think they have it all figured out.  They’re having fun.  They’re having fun playing the game they love.   Fun is good; send in the clowns.  Everybody loves humor, and that includes the players. 

For many years, owners and general managers have placed their money and emphasis on putting a winning product on the field and creating a positive and fun-filled night for the fans.  The dizzy bat race, bobble heads and jersey give-aways keep fans coming back.  Playgrounds, swimming pools, and birthday clubs are a treat for the kids. 

Baseball likes colorful players.  Along the way there have been many funny characters and cut-ups that have become part of the fabric of this great game.  Casey Stengel, “The Old Perfessor,” preferred to make reporters laugh instead of making sense.  Casey once told a reporter, “See that fellow over there?  He’s 20 years old, and in ten years he has a chance to be a star.  Now, see that other fellow over there; he’s 20, too.  In ten years, he has a chance to be thirty.” The great “Dizzy” Dean not only slaughtered the English language but once said, “The good Lord was good to me; he gave me a strong body, a good right arm and a weak mind.”  Yankee pitcher “Lefty” Gomez confessed, “Sure I talked to the ball a lot of times in my career.  I yelled, ‘Go Foul, Go Foul.’”   Lefty also tells a story about facing the Red Sox, with the bases loaded, and Jimmy Foxx waiting at the plate.  Yankee catcher Bill Dickey called for a fastball, and Lefty shook him off.   So, Dickey calls for a curveball, and Lefty shakes him off again.  Dickey calls time and heads out to the mound.  Bill says, “What do you want to throw this guy?”  “Nothing” said Gomez.  “Let’s wait a while; maybe he’ll get a phone call.”  The legendary Satchel Paige loved having fun.  He even spent some time pitching for a Negro League team named the Indianapolis Clowns.  Paige often took his warm-up throws sitting down, with his catcher waiting behind the plate in a rocking chair.  Satchel also gave all of his pitches names.  “I got bloopers, loopers and droopers.  I got a jump ball, a “be” ball, a screw ball, a wobbly ball, a “whipsy-dipsy-do,” a hurry-up ball, a nothin’ ball and a bat dodger.  My “be” ball is a “be” ball because it “be” right where I want it, high and inside.”   And who could forget his Bowtie pitch? 

Ted Giannoulas, who stand 5’4” tall and weighs 165 pounds, started wearing a chicken suit 40 years ago.  He began handing out candy to children at the San Diego Zoo for $2.00 an hour.  Ted became known in baseball circles as “The San Diego Chicken.”  Yes, he’s been to Corpus Christi, several times.  He now calls himself “The Famous Chicken.”  Ted has worked 6,500 baseball games not counting birthdays, weddings, parades, you name it, and he’s been there. 

Max Patkin, “The Crown Prince of Baseball” has also been to Corpus Christi.  Max passed away several years ago and baseball still looks to replace the funny man.  I once spoke to Max and he told me his biggest fear was somebody saying, “He used to be funny.”  I assured him there was no way that would happen.  He was funny.  People go home knowing the score, but they also take home the experience. 

It’s true that the fans are the lifeblood of the team, but what about the players.  No one likes to lose yet they trot out to their positions, game in and game out, during the “Dog Days of Summer.”  That’s where I think the manager makes the difference.  How do you get the players to treat every game like it’s opening day? 

As the Manager of the Texas Rangers, one of Ron Washington’s jobs is to make out the line-up card.  I’m sure Ron has to walk through the clubhouse and take role call just to see who’s available to play.  His other job is to remind his players to have fun.  He has to set the tone in the clubhouse and the dugout.  He has to remind his players to give their best, win or lose, and remember to have a good time.  Owners sometimes make the mistake of not hiring genuine, passionate managers.  The manager should be able to make the players feel comfortable.  Sure, they make a ton of money, but they’re still little boys at heart.  No player wants to strike out or to be the last out of a ballgame, but the fact is, a lot of us are the last out and a lot of us do lose.  The fun part comes from the effort, and then certain success that follows at the plate.  Washington understands that he is still dealing every day with 25 kids, out on a sandlot, doing exactly what they loved when they were six or seven years old.  The fans may own the game, but the fun starts with the ballplayers.  Humor does not have an age attached.  Nope, there is no crying in baseball; just asks Ron Washington.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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Comedian Richard Pryor was once asked how he would like to be remembered.  He said, “I want people to look at my picture, remember, and laugh.  I would like to leave some joy.”  This guy was always a pleasure to watch and a joy to have known.  He was shorter than the program stated, with 44-inch thighs that resembled twin jet-engines.  At 209 pounds, power was his forte.  Built close to the ground like a fire hydrant, he could churn up defenses like a high-speed lawnmower.  Undersized for a pro football player, his stats didn’t measure his heart.  His ticker weighed a ton.  Handing this guy a football was like giving Wyatt Earp a handgun,  LeBron James an outlet pass, or Mike Trout an extra strike; something incredible was about to happen.  This guy ran tough; it was like trying to tackle a Pepsi machine.  He simply sawed defensive linebackers in half at the line of scrimmage.  He was never late to anything in his life including moving the chains for a first down.  His job was to cut a path to the end zone for the running back or stop all oncoming traffic in the backfield, while keeping his quarterback standing upright and his uniform clean.  Dallas Cowboy offensive guard, John Niland, once said, “If we needed three yards or less for a first down, we knew we had it.  Give Robert the ball, and we had it.  We’d block a yard and a half, and he’d get the other yard and a half on his own.  It was a given.”  Robert Newhouse played like he had invented the fullback position.  I can hear Verne Lundquist now, “There goes Newhouse busting it up the middle.”  His teammates called him “House.”

Robert Fulton Newhouse was born on January 9, 1950, in Longview, Texas, and played football at nearby Galilee High School in Hallsville, Texas. Although he rushed for 200 yards and sometimes over 300 yards per game in high school, he was only recruited by one Division I school, the University of Houston.  With Robert Newhouse running the ball, Houston finished 9-2 in 1969 and was ranked 12th in the nation.  In 1970, Houston finished 8-3 and was ranked 19th.  In 1971, before his senior season started at Houston, Newhouse cracked his pelvis in a car accident.  He chose to play though the pain and propelled Houston to a 9-3 record and a ranking of 17th in the nation.  Newhouse was selected Second-Team All-American by the Associated Press.

Newhouse still holds the University of Houston’s all-time rushing record for a single season with 1,757 yards.  Newhouse broke many other school records, some of which still stand today.  He had ten 100-yard games in a season (1971), sixteen 100-yard games in a career, and the most 200-yard games in a season, with three.   Back when the College All-Stars played the Super Bowl Champions from the year before, Newhouse scored a touchdown against the Cowboys.  I always wondered if that touchdown had anything to do with the Cowboys’ drafting him.  Robert Newhouse also played in the Hula Bowl and was inducted into the University of Houston’s Athletics Hall of Honor in 1977.   Robert Newhouse is also a member of the Texas Black Hall of Fame.

Newhouse played 12 seasons under the “Man with the Hat” legendary Hall-of-Fame Coach Tom Landry.  House was selected by the Cowboys in the second round of the 1972 NFL draft.  He was given #44.  During the 1973 season, House recorded his longest run from scrimmage, 54 yards, against the Philadelphia Eagles.  He switched from halfback to fullback to replace a retiring Walt Garrison and became a starter in 1975.  He would make his presence felt that year by leading the Cowboys in rushing with 930 yards and was listed ninth in the league with 4.4-yards per carry.  By 1977, Tony Dorsett had been drafted and House became more of a blocking back for Dorsett and Calvin Hill.  By 1980, Newhouse began splitting time in the backfield with Ron Springs.  He would continue to play sparingly until he retired after the 1983 season.

The play was called:  “brown right, X-opposite shift, toss 38, halfback lead, fullback pass to Y.”  Dallas was leading 20-10 with seven minutes to go, in Super Bowl XII.  The Denver Broncos had just fumbled and Dallas recovered the ball on the Broncos’ 29-yard line.  Coach Landry sensed that Denver was on the ropes and called for a trick play to seal the victory.  Newhouse was nervous in the huddle.  “I was worried because I had all this stickum on my hands, said Newhouse.  “Preston Pearson handed me this rag, and I was in there, scrubbing it all.  They’d seen us run the play right but not to the left, and so they didn’t recognize it in time.”   At the snap, Newhouse took a pitch from quarterback Roger Staubach and began running to his left, as if he were going to run down the sideline.  Instead, he stopped quickly, turned and threw back to the right, over the outstretched hands of Denver defensive back Steve Foley, hitting wide receiver Golden Richards in stride for a 29-yard touchdown.  The Dallas Cowboys would go on to win their second Super Bowl title by a score of 27-10.  Landry said after the game, “Newhouse’s pass play won it for us.”  Robert Newhouse became the first running back to pass for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.  “The thing I remember most about that halfback option play we ran against Denver,” said former Cowboy personnel director Gil Brandt,  “is that we ran it going left, and it’s a lot harder to go left than right.  During the week they must’ve practiced the play ten times, and he never completed it.  And that was going right.  Here it is going left, and he completed it.”

Newhouse finished his Cowboy career with 4,784 yards rushing, 956 yards receiving and scored 31 touchdowns.  He averaged over an astounding four yards per carry.  He also participated in three Super Bowls during the 1970’s (X, XII, and XIII). I believe he should be in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.

After retirement, Newhouse worked another 29 years for the Cowboys.  He worked with ticket sales, the Cowboys’ alumni relations programs, minority procurement, and helped with the players’ development off the field.  Part of Newhouse’s job was providing the community opportunities to experience the Cowboys and their players in a different setting.  For years the Cowboys’ basketball team would travel to Corpus Christi, Texas, and play a charity basketball game at Ray High School.  That’s when I first met Robert Newhouse.  Later on, I had a chance to do play-by-play with my radio partner, Shane Nelson, on 97.5 The Waves.   I also got to meet Michael Irvin, Leon Lett, and many others.  Newhouse was a class act but he couldn’t shoot a lick.  He left the Cowboys’ employment in 2008.

Robert Newhouse suffered a stroke in 2010.  Doctors had been treating him and hoping he would become healthy enough to withstand the surgery required for a heart transplant.  Newhouse was confined to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, at the time of his death.  “My dad’s last days were terrible,’ said his son, Rodd Newhouse.   Former Dallas Cowboy, Robert Newhouse, died from complications of heart disease on Tuesday, July 22, 2014.  He was but 64 years old.  He is survived by his wife Nancy, twin daughters Dawnyel and Shawntel, two sons Roderick and Reggie, a former wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.

“House was a great football player,” said Roger Staubach.  “Off the field, he was a great man, kind and caring, solid as a rock.”

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “Time is more valuable than money.  You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”  The only thing that could keep Robert Newhouse out of the end zone of life was time.  Come on, admit it.  He was the kind of guy you wished you had on your team.  

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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Tall and talented with an infectious smile, he was a kooky character that no one could figure out.  There is an old saying that goes like this; men in the game are blind to what men looking on see clearly.  He was not good looking; in fact his face most often resembled a guy who had just witnessed a murder.  As a young man, his ears were so big, he could get cablevision, and you could stare at him and watch him grow.  He was not the kind of pitcher that you used to make clinic films.  To him it was just a game and you were supposed to have fun.  Pinball machines and comic books stole away his time during days off, while he celebrated his potential in bars across the country at night.  “Let the good times roll,” was his motto and he once answered a friend’s question, “Do you drink Canada Dry?” with “I already have.”  This night owl with huge feet liked the ladies, but loved baseball and booze even more; he could get as drunk as Dean Martin.  He once blew into a breathalyzer and the machine said, whoa, whoa, one at a time please.  His fellow teammates called him “Gooney” and the bartender referred to him as “Last call Larsen.”  He believed that a hangover is just your body’s way of saying that you should not have stopped drinking.  His accomplishment in the game of baseball remains unique and one-of-a-kind. 

There was another side of Don Larsen which would become perfect.  This professional night-fighter, who also became a mediocre Major League pitcher, was born on August 7, 1929, in Michigan City, Indiana.  His father was an American Legion baseball player who took his son to see “Babe” Ruth and the New York Yankees.  Growing up in the West Coast Mecca of baseball talent in the forties, San Diego, Larsen would combine good control and a quirky personality into a Minor League contract with the St. Louis Browns.  He would turn down several college basketball scholarships offers in order to pitch for a living.  It would be one of the best decisions he ever made.  Five Minor League teams in four years would be enough to land him in St. Louis for the 1953 season.  One day after watching Larsen throw, the immortal pitcher “Satchel” Paige once said, “This kid has potential to be the greatest.”  Larsen didn’t turn out to be the greatest, but he did prove to be perfect for one day. 

In 1953, Larsen hit .284 as a rookie with three home runs and won seven out of nineteen games on a Browns team that lost 100 games.  He was really just another pitcher whose face looked like an old catcher’s mitt after an “all-nighter” at the local bar.  Regardless of what he felt like, he continued to show up and throw.  His stamina was amazing.

In 1954, the Browns moved to their new home, in Baltimore, Maryland.  Larsen continued to show signs of brilliance even though he became the first pitcher to lose twenty games in a season, with the Orioles.  He would finish the 1954 season with three wins and twenty-one losses.  As luck would have it, Larsen always pitched well against the Yankees, and this did not go unnoticed by “The Old Perfessor,” Casey Stengel.  Casey just knew that Larsen would get better with age and worked a trade with Baltimore that would send Don Larsen along with pitcher Bob Turley to the 1955 Yanks.  Larsen, who wore #18, won nine out of eleven games the first year in New York and became one of Toots Shore’s best customers.

Spring Training, 1956, would begin with a car wreck for Gooney.  Although Larsen escaped unhurt, it was Casey who had the last laugh.  Casey told a reporter, “Larsen should get a medal.  He’s the only guy I know who could find something to do in St. Petersburg, Florida at three in the morning.”  It would be the beginning of a memorable season.  Don would make 38 appearances and post an 11-5 win-loss record for the World Series bound Yankees.  In an effort to improve for the relentless Casey Stengel, Larsen experimented with a no-wind-up pitching motion.  It would yield perfect results in Game Five of the 1956 World Series.

The Yankees would face their cross-town rivals and current World Series Champion, Brooklyn Dodgers.  Larsen had been roughed up in Game One, as the Dodgers held serve in Brooklyn with back-to-back wins.  In those days, the starting pitcher was sometimes not known until game time.  Third base coach and long-time Yankee, Frank Crosetti, would place a new baseball in the starting pitcher’s shoe, before the game.  Crosetti had no problem finding Larsen’s size 13 shoes before Game Five.  The Series was now tied two games apiece as the six foot, four inch Larsen warmed up in front of the Yankee dugout. 

In the second inning, Dodger great, Jackie Robinson, hit a sharp liner that ricocheted off the knee of Yankee third baseman Andy Carey and in the direction of shortstop Gil McDougald.  Gil’s throw beat Robinson to the bag.  A home run by Mickey Mantle, off Brooklyn pitcher Sal Maglie, and a great catch by Mantle in centerfield, while running flat-out to his right, would give Larsen a two-run cushion by the sixth inning.  It always seems that one or two outstanding defensive plays in the field become the common denominator for throwing a no-hitter or better yet, a perfect game.  These omens were not to be ignored.  Larsen smoked a cigarette in the dugout to relax before going out in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Yankee teammate Mickey McDermott said, “It was then that we noticed he had a zero going.”  Larsen’s ball just seemed to know how to run away from the barrel of the Dodgers bats.  The eighth inning came and went as little Yogi Berra and big Don Larsen continued to work their magic.  Dodger Dale Mitchell would pinch-hit for pitcher Sal Maglie with two outs in the top of the ninth inning.

If I asked you to make a list of all the pitchers who had the goods to throw a perfect game in the World Series, I’d bet the farm that Larsen’s name would never come up.  The air was filled with electricity as teammates behind Larsen moved in different directions, each trying to guess where Mitchell would put the ball in play.  It was not to be.  Umpire “Babe” Pinelli raised his right arm for a called third strike on Mitchell, and history had been made.  “Never before and never since,” is how New York Yankee public-address announcer Bob Sheppard described the scene.  It was October 8, 1956, and Larsen had done the impossible.  He had thrown 97 pitches, while hurling a perfect game for the first World Series no-hitter.

Larsen would celebrate that night as sports writers scrambles to write the story of the year.  The Series would go seven games with the Yankees finishing as World Champs.  Larsen would be voted Series Most Valuable Player and receive a new Corvette and a guest spot on the Ed Sullivan television show.  Unfortunately, it was all downhill for Larsen after the perfect game.  Not only had his wife filed for divorce on the day of his perfect game, but he didn’t even get a raise from the Yankees brass for the following season.  It was no fun watching him fall apart.  In 1959, he was traded, along with Hank Bauer and a couple of other teammates, to Kansas City for Roger Maris and a little-known pitcher.  In 1961, he helped the San Francisco Giants win a pennant, but later found himself in Texas, pitching for the Houston Astros, by 1965.  He was finally released in 1967 by the Cubs, after only four innings pitched.  Larsen had been the victim of greatness for just a moment, kind of like yesterday’s news. 

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Don Larsen.  He was a guest at the National Sports Card Convention in Dallas, Texas.  Don was quieter than I thought he would be.  He was just sitting there looking around like he was on a butterfly hunt.  His nose and cheeks was cherry-red, as if he had been drinking.  He spoke in a raspy voice and wore the look of a grizzled veteran.  He was serious, never smiled, and gave short answers.  There was something about his eyes.  It must have been a day like this that Al Capone was born.  Maybe he was just tired of being asked about the events of 1956.  I think in some ways, he felt left out of the baseball history books, or maybe he just expected more.  Life can be fleeting at times; you get what you negotiate, not what you’re worth. 

I remember an interview with Yogi Berra that was done by a sportswriter on the day of the last game ever to be played at old Yankee Stadium.  Everybody that was somebody was there, including all the old and young Yankees.  Berra was asked what he would remember most about his time in the “House that Ruth built.”  Even after three Most Valuable Player Awards, 13 World Series Championships as a player and coach, having his #8 retired or being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, all as a Yankee, he thought for a minute and said, “The perfect game with Larsen in the 56’ World Series.  That’s only happened once and I caught it.”  I have often wondered how Don Larsen would have answered that question.  The perfect game was Don Larsen.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose.  There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”  He was a quiet guy, but special:  a game changer extraordinaire.  He had reached his inner peace and was okay with who he had become.  He was once a tall, pencil thin, redheaded kid with a slingshot right arm; he could be as awkward as Jimmy Stewart.   He was small town, as country as corn shucks and always talked football, always.  He had a face that was hard to forget and looked as though he never had a square meal in his life.  He owned high cheek bones, deep-set blue eyes and was baldheaded most of his life.  Even at an early age, he looked older than a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars.  But, you don’t become a legend without a fight.  He was in for the fight of his life. 

The black and white photo taken of him on Sunday, September 20, 1964, has over the years become ingrained in the very minds of every fan of the world of professional football.   Morris Berman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette snapped this iconic image at old Pitt Stadium.  This picture would change the way photographers looked at sports, and it emphasized the power of capturing a moment of reaction from the players themselves.  In this photo the quarterback now rested on his knees, in the dirt and grass of his own end zone.  He had been knocked down and bloodied by Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive end, “Big Bad John” Baker, who stood 6’ 7” tall and weighed 280 pounds.  Baker’s teammates kidded that John was so big he had his own zip code. This QB would suffer a concussion and a cracked sternum on this play.  His helmet is missing, head down, his shoulders slumping, all while looking exhausted, in pain, broken and discouraged beyond explanation.  Even his swollen hands screamed disbelief as they lay on top of his thigh pads.  He had thrown an interception while being leveled by Baker.  The ball landed in the arms of Steelers’ defensive tackle, Chuck Hinton, and was returned for an eight-yard touchdown.  The New York Football Giants had lost another game.  Pittsburgh would beat New York that day, 27-24. 

But it’s his bald, bloodied head that draws your attention in this photo.  You see, there are two streams of blood visible, one running from his forehead into his left eye, while the other sneaks its way down in front of his left ear.  The “Blood Picture,” he called it, the one picture of him that everybody wanted autographed.  It’s true, I have one myself.  This photo was taken during his seventeenth and final season.  “I hate this picture,” he once said.  Most of us never admit we are too old until it’s too late.  He was 37 years old but looked 50.  A copy of this photo hangs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Eventually, he used this picture on the back cover of his 2009 autobiography, entitled Nothing Comes Easy:  My Life in Football: Y.A. Tittle.  The Giants finished their season in last place with a dismal 2-10-2 record.  Y.A. Tittle, down and out, retired.  

Interestingly, “Big Bad John” Baker lived in the neighborhood where I grew up, located in Wake County, in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina.  Baker attended Ligon High School and then North Carolina Central University.  He was drafted in 1958 by the Los Angeles Rams.  My dad introduced me to John Baker in the off-season, as Baker would return to Raleigh and shop at my dad’s convenience store, known as Gordon’s Market on Six Forks Road.  In 1978, long after his retirement, Baker would be elected Sheriff of Wake County, North Carolina; and he served for 25 years.  Baker used this photo as a campaign tool.  John Baker died on Halloween Night, October 31, 2007, which was appropriate, because the man was simply scary.  Baker was 72 years of age.  In 1972, Baker had appropriately been elected to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. 

Born October 24, 1926, in a small town in Texas, with a Biblical name right out of the Old Testament, Yelberton Abraham Tittle would make the #14 a famous number in New York City.  As a kid, Tittle would change his name to Y.A.  It just seemed simpler to say, and he was embarrassed to say his full name.  “I’ve got the worst name in the world,” he once said in an interview.  Y.A. grew up in the town of Marshall, just a long post pattern from the Louisiana state line.  In 1936, at the age of ten, he had wanted to be like quarterback, Sammy Baugh.  He would lead the Marshall High School Mavericks at quarterback, while wearing a long-sleeved jersey and a leather helmet.  Y.A. was a bit headstrong and was once benched because he refused to run the plays called by his head coach.  Y.A. would grow to be 6’ tall and weigh 192 pounds, and he was recruited by Louisiana State University (LSU).  Tittle accepted their offer and headed to Baton Rouge to play for the Tigers.  He also liked being close to his older brother, Frank, who attended Tulane.  “Frank was my hero,” said Y.A.  In 1947, as a junior, Tittle, while wearing the #63, was named the MVP of the Cotton Bowl which, was played in an ice storm against the University of Arkansas.  The game ended in a scoreless tie.  “It was cold,” said Tittle, “Five degrees below zero.”

Hopefully, you know the rest of the story.  Y.A. Tittle became the first pro football player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, on November 22, 1954.  The New York Giants retired his #14.  In 1971, Y.A. Tittle also joined the Pro Football Hall of Fame.   

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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They are almost all gone.  Only a few remain, maybe less than twenty.  Most are in their late eighties with a few lucky enough to reach ninety.  Because of their age, they now leave us more often than before.  It seems that we lose one or two every month.  The last five years have suddenly taken their toll on the professional Negro League players.  I’m not talking about the guys who played in the Negro Leagues after 1950, but the ones who played before Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the Major League color barrier in 1947.  Those are the real Negro League players.  A talented group of men of color, who never let the word “No” get in the way of a ballgame.  These players did not have the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues, no matter how talented they were.  So for nearly forty years, they played hard and often the game they loved.  Some baseball historians believe that this group of men may have been arguably the greatest and most innovative baseball players of their day.  Players with names like Verdell Mathis, Joshua Johnson, Whit Graves, and Rick Laurent excelled at this game.   Have you ever heard of John Beckwith, Dick Lundy, or John Donaldson?  Believe me, these guys were ballplayers.  They played everywhere, on any kind of field, in any country, and invented the word “barn-storming.” 

With the vision and money of men like Andrew “Rube” Foster in the 1920’s, and “Gus” Greenlee and “Cum” Posey, Jr., in the 1930’s, the Negro Leagues were created; and teams from Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Baltimore, and other cities began to compete for baseball fans of all races.  The players came from Cuba, Venezuela, The Dominican Republic and almost every state in the union, including the Mexican Leagues and other outlaw leagues, to form some of the greatest teams of all-time.  The Birmingham Black Barons, Homestead Grays, New York Black Yankees and the Pittsburgh Crawfords had a deep and successful tradition of great baseball by great players.  The Kansas City Monarchs, Memphis Red Sox, Philadelphia Stars, and Baltimore Elite Giants also attracted huge crowds and big-time players.  Although times were tough and money scarce; the talent on the field and the quality of their play never wavered.  It has been documented that all-black teams played all-white teams a total of 438 times during the off-season, with 309 victories to their credit.  Players like Webster McDonald, Frazier Robinson, Connie Johnson, and Sam Bankhead never failed to excite the crowds with their hard-nosed play.  Remember, anything went, in the Negro League’s style of ball.   Every player in the league could hit the fastball and run to first base in under four seconds.  Negro League pitchers were forced to be creative with their pitches, to be successful.  They threw shine balls, spitballs, cut balls and the bowtie pitch with regularity, to keep the hitters off balance.  The knock-down pitch was expected if you hit a home run in your previous at-bat, and the art of bunting and stealing bases was an everyday part of the Negro League game.  There was lots of talking and bragging on the field, while little tricks of the game became commonplace.  All in all, the Negro League game was exciting, entertaining, and on the cutting edge of professional baseball.  Other players who have had their last at-bat recently are Garnett E Blair, Sr., Toni Stone and “Nap” Gulley.  They continue to leave us at a rapid rate.  It’s human nature to want something that you can’t have; and before long, the Negro League players and their game will pass before us like the wind through the branches of a tree.  Only a few outspoken players shared the stories of their times.  They helped document the accomplishments of their peers and the struggle of their game.  They reminded us of a time when race was an obstacle in sports, yet you heard no bitterness in their voices.  Players like Bill “Ready” Cash, Sammie Haynes, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe and the most famous and outspoken, John “Buck” O’Neil, told us about a remarkable group of men and their love for and contributions to the game of baseball.  They told us of Henry Miller, Wallace Guthrie, and Amos Watson.  O’Neil explained the clever nicknames that tell a story or remind us of where these players were from.  Players like Bill “Fireball” Beverly, Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, Edsall “Catskills” Walker, “Crush” Holloway, and Burnis “Wild Bill” Wright are examples of players with great nicknames, who have passed on recently.  Davis’ and Walker’s nicknames hint at where they were from, like Piper, Alabama, and the Catskills of Albany, New York, while “Fireball,” “Crush,” and “Wild Bill,” attest to Beverly, Holloway and Wright’s competitiveness and abilities. 

You have probably noticed that I have not mentioned the Negro League Hall of Famers.  That is not what this article is about.  Those players will be remembered because they have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum, but they only make up a very small segment of the Negro League games and its glory.  This article is about the other guys, like Jimmy Crutchfield and Armando Vasquez.  Stars like Max Manning, Willie Pope, and Wilmer Fields should not be forgotten. These are the gentleman who rode the buses, played in two towns on the same day, and brought the National Pastime to non-Major League small towns all over the South and Midwest.  They may not have played in the Major Leagues but they did play professional baseball.  If you ever have the opportunity to meet or talk with a Negro Leaguer in any setting, please do.  You might not recognize the names, but the stories will scream the universal language of baseball.  This is their last at-bat.  Do the names Gene Benson, Mahlon Duckett or Quincy Trouppe ring a bell?  They should; but if not, look them up.  You will be surprised.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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“He’s sitting on 714.”  Most baseball fans believe it’s one of the top five calls of all-time.  These two guys are forever joined in baseball lore by less than forty words, spoken into microphone one early evening on April 8, 1974, by Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton, forty years ago.  It was the first game of the new season.  The Atlanta Braves were at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Here’s how the call sounded as Henry Aaron settled into the batter’s box.

“He’s sitting on 714!  Here’s the pitch by Downing, swinging, there’s a drive into left centerfield, that ball is gonna beee…OUTTA HERE!  IT’S GONE!  IT’S 715!  There’s a new home run champion of all-time and it’s HENRY AARON!”    

 It was “pure” Milo Hamilton.  For some of us, baseball is life.  I still wonder about the places he’s been, the players he’s interviewed and the scores of fans he’s entertained.  For most of us, he’s Uncle Milo.  He was family; he came into our homes 162 times a year, until these last couple of years.  I even listened to his call when I was at the Astros game.  He always stirred my imagination.  One of the secrets of baseball is that you play almost every day.  Therefore redemption was only hours away.  Milo used the game to help people discover themselves.  They could use those discoveries to confront anything in their life.  Baseball is a teacher; it reveals your heart and soul and the game is designed to reveal it to you. 

There will never be another like him as far as I’m concerned; I love the old man.  As he got older, he began to look tired, frail, and almost sickly until he found his way into the announcer booth or onto the field of play.  It was like flipping a switch.  A microphone made his eyes light up like lanterns.  The game simply turned him on.  Milo could sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and make you laugh.  He walked every day into his radio booth intoxicated by the promise of that day’s game.  He didn’t like being surprised; he studied and saved his information in a satchel that may have been as old as him.  He loved baseball so much; even his computer wore batting gloves.  No one wanted to talk to Milo Hamilton about another announcer or player; they wanted to talk about Milo Hamilton.  The longer an announcer stays with the same team the more the fans identify with that team.  Fathers, sons, and sons of sons, we all become a part of his history.  

His educated eyes could fill books with the magic of the grand old game.  Most of us know about his calls of eleven no-hitters, the grand slams, and historic home runs.  For sixty-seven years, he opened his scorecard and charted baseball history.  He taught us how to figure batting averages, told us how players got their nicknames and why.  He described routine double-plays, the importance of a bunt single, why stealing third increases the chances of scoring by nine, and the reason so many players strike out looking.  He taught us about Uncle Charlie, twin killings, chin music, and frozen ropes.  Seeing-Eye singles, right down Kirby and “Holy Toledo, what a play!” became his signature calls.  Every play reminded him of days gone by, when only the player, the city, and the circumstances were different.  I would love to see through his eyes, if only for a moment.  Listening to him call a game made me feel like a hundred dollar bill in a two dollar wallet.  Writer Phil Hirsh once wrote, “Baseball is the only game you can see on the radio.”  Milo made it easy for all of us.  His canyon deep voice was unmistakable.  He was always “in” the game.  You could never tell by his tone of voice whether his team was behind or ahead.  Everybody wanted to be connected, to be a part of him.  Let’s call that a professional. 

Baseball looks so easy to play from your seat.  It is, in fact, the hardest of them all.  The game moves at a pace where a grandfather can talk about what’s happening on the field with his grandson.  They see and experience virtually the same game.  Milo taught me how to score a game, what to look for, how to anticipate a great play.  He gave us a history lesson every night and allowed us to dream about what it would be like to play Major League baseball.  All words seemed better to me when spoken by Milo Hamilton.   

What you saw was what you got with Milo.  Not many of us find our true place in life; that does not hold true for Milo Hamilton.  I can’t imagine him doing anything else.  Milo has been a part of the Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session radio show for almost twenty years.  Twice every year he joins us on the air, live from Houston, Texas.  My partner Dennis Quinn always referred to our interviews as “Milo unplugged.”  On two different occasions, we took our show on the road to Minute Maid Park, and Milo was nice enough to join us there, in the booth, talking baseball.  We talked old school baseball; from “Stan the Man” and “Hammerin’ Hank” to “The Ryan Express.”  We covered everything from the disappearance of the hook slide to the tragedy of steroids and everything in between.  There is never a time I did not learn something.  It has been said that the greatest classroom often lies at the feet of the elderly.  How true.

Milo was inducted into the Broadcast Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.  He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2000.  He has been an announcer for 67 years.  His first job in Major League baseball started in 1953, with the St. Louis Browns.  He has also announced for six other Major League clubs. 

I once told him how much he was loved as I was leaving his company.  I think it may have surprised him.  He didn’t know how to respond, but he smiled.  I’m absolutely sure he knows he’s loved, but does not hear it enough.  We are always more appreciative of something we had and have now lost. 

Milo visited Corpus Christi, January 24, 2014, with the Astros caravan.  I couldn’t wait to see him.  When he walked into the room he was surrounded by the TV guys like Custer at the Little Big Horn.  We sat and laughed and talked about the call.  He and Hank still speak with each other quite often.  Milo looked good as he is winning his battle with cancer.  I’ve never met a more giving individual.  There will never be another Milo Hamilton.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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One of the best things about sports are the stories and, as time moves past us, sometimes the stories behind the stories get left out or pushed aside.  As a sport enthusiast who has written several books, aired on the radio for twenty years and interviewed many persons from the world of sports, I am amazed at how often we do not know the whole truth.   The history of this game is important to me.  During the summer of 2000, my radio partner, Dennis Quinn, and I interviewed a fellow who was working as an executive for the Texas Rangers.  At that time he had spent 61 years in professional baseball as a player, manager, and front office executive.  In that interview, he described to us a firsthand account of Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech given on July 4, 1939.  You see, he was there as the lead-off hitter for the Washington Senators.  I’ve got to tell you, firsthand accounts of historic events give me “Goosebumps.” 

It was already a hot and muggy day when they opened the Yankee Stadium turnstiles at 10 a.m. that morning.  The New York Yankees were hosting the Washington Senators in a doubleheader on Independence Day.  A big crowd was expected as several busloads of fans from Manville, New Jersey, poured into their seats to see for the first time their hometown hero, a rookie centerfielder named Johnny “Legs” Welaj.  Legs had been born on May 27, 1914, in Moss Creek, Pennsylvania.  His family soon moved to Bound Brook, New Jersey, where he graduated high school in 1934, and began playing semi-pro baseball.  Johnny had starred in baseball, basketball and football, and become the inaugural member of his high school’s Alumni Hall of Fame.  He joined the Albany International League in 1936, and his contract was sold to the Washington Senators in 1937.   Welaj made his debut as a Washington Senator on May 2, 1939, and this was the first time his fans, friends, and family would see him play as a professional.   “We were told it was to be ‘Johnny Welaj Appreciation Day,’” said Legs.  Johnny’s contingent of fans gathered around home plate before Game One to celebrate.  It was not until then that Welaj was informed by the Yankee management that Lou Gehrig would give his retirement speech that same day. 

For the first time ever, he was afraid to be on a ball field.  During Game One, Lou told Joe McCarthy, “I’d give a month’s pay to get out of this.”  Joe did not respond.  The Yanks lost the first game, 3-2.  The Yankees lined up along the third-base line and the Senators down the first-base line.  A band marched onto the field.  Lou had lost weight, his uniform no longer fit as he shuffled toward home plate with his head down, arms hanging lifeless by his sides.  Ed Barrow walked beside Gehrig, edging him along.  It was July 4, 1939, before Game Two of the doubleheader.  “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” was about to begin, and 61,000 fans sat in silence at Yankee Stadium.  Now making his way from the dugout, he has been regarded as the greatest first baseman in the game.  Even though his body had been breaking down since the beginning of 1938, he never complained.  Lou Gehrig was the heart of the New York Yankees.  The Yankees hung the World Series buntings out around the stadium and invited the 1927 Yankees’ team to this event.  Special guests were introduced, including Babe Ruth and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia.   Then Lou received the gifts, a fishing rod, silver plates, and a trophy.  Lou never said a word, as these gifts were handed to him.  The gifts piled up around his feet, as he was not strong enough to hold them.  Lou Gehrig also became the first Major League player to have his uniform number retired.  Gehrig would be the only Yankee to ever wear the #4.  The Yankee emcee, Sid Mercer, asked Lou if he had anything to say.  Gehrig, head still down, wiping away tears with a white handkerchief, shook his head “no.”  Then the fans begin to understand this was it, the last time they may see the “Iron Horse.”  They stood in unison and chanted, “We want Lou!  We want Lou!”  Gehrig stood still, afraid he might collapse if he moved too quickly.  Manager Joe McCarthy whispered in Lou’s ear.  Gehrig slowly stepped toward the microphone and the fans quieted down.  It was as silent as an empty classroom.  Gehrig ran his hand through his hair, then leaned forward and poured his heart out for everyone to hear.  Lou Gehrig would speak without notes, while ringing his blue cap between both his hands.  His words may have been the strongest message anyone had ever heard.  I’m convinced that most of you have only heard a portion of Gehrig’s farewell speech, perhaps the first two sentences and the last two.  Below are his words in their entirety. 

“For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break.  Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.  I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.  When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as are standing in uniform in the ballpark today?  Sure, I’m lucky.  Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert?  Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow?  To have spent six years with such a grand little fellow as Miller Huggins?  To have spent the next nine years with that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?  Who wouldn’t feel honored to room with such a grand guy as Bill Dickey? When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift—that’s something.  When the groundskeepers and office staff and writers and old timers and players and concessionaires all remember you with trophies—that’s something.  When you have a wonderful mother-in-law, who takes sides with you, in squabbles against her own daughter—that’s something.  When you have a father and mother who worked all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body—it’s a blessing.  When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest I know.  So I close in saying that I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for.  Thank You.”

Henry Louis Gehrig grew up in New York City, the only survivor among four siblings.   Lou learned about the game of baseball by collecting baseball cards from his father’s Sweet Corporal cigarette packs.  A mama’s boy, he was considered shy and socially awkward, strong but clumsy, a misfit on a team of drinkers and hell raisers.  There is no doubt that Gehrig and Ruth formed the greatest slugging tandem in baseball history.   He married his sweetheart Eleanor.  He called her “Pal” and she called him “Luke.”  In January of 1938, Lou went to Hollywood to act as an extra on one of the most popular westerns at that time, Rawhide.  He was having trouble with his balance.  Bruises and blisters began to appear on his hands.  Still, Lou never missed a game that year.  Gehrig would be diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or what is now called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”   Doctor’s gave him hope, even wrote him letters of encouragement, all while telling his wife, Eleanor Gehrig, the terrible truth.  There was nothing they could do, Lou would not survive.  Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941.  He was 37 years old and, as expected, fought to live until the end.  Some say the Good Lord wept as the New York Yankees were rained out that day.

Our friend, Johnny Welaj, passed away on September 13, 2003.  He had been living at the “Autumn Leaves of Arlington” Assisted Living Center.  He was 89.  Interestingly, Johnny had a brother also named Lou, who played with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1942 to 1950.

The Yankees won Game two for Lou, 11-1.  How lucky I have been to see and experience the greatness of Lou Gehrig through the eyes of Johnny Welaj.   Happy Independence Day! 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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No, I’m not talking about the game of basketball, but rather the first five players inducted into the National Baseball Hall-of-Fame Museum located in Cooperstown, New York.   Contrary to popular belief, the first election of players into the Baseball Hall of Fame occurred in 1936, not 1939.  And yes, even though the famous picture of the inaugural class contains ten new members, there were only five original inductees.  Two-hundred and twenty six voting members made up the original Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).  This game called baseball had been played professionally since 1869.  So naturally a special Veterans Committee, made up of men who were more familiar with the players from the early years, was given the authority to also select new members.  The overall intent was to have fifteen honorees by July 12, 1939, the year the Hall of Fame would actually open its doors to the public.  These fifteen would be represented by ten players from the 20th century writers and five from the 19th century Veterans Committee.

Interestingly, players who had been thrown out of baseball like “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and Hal Chase were included on the original ballot, but few writers chose to vote for them.  Each of the voting writers was instructed to vote for ten players and 75% of the those votes or 170 votes were needed to be enshrined.  A total of 47 different players received votes on the very first ballot, but only five players received enough votes to reach the 75% mark.  They were as follows, in order:  Ty Cobb received 222 votes or 98.2% to lead all players; “Babe” Ruth and Honus Wagner were tied for second with 215 votes each or 95.1% of votes cast; the first pitcher, Christy Mathewson, collected 205 votes or 90.7%; and Walter Johnson was fifth with 189 votes or 87.6%.  That’s a heck of a starting five. 

The Veterans Committee was comprised of 78 voters, and 57 different players and managers received votes.  As with the writers, 75% of the votes cast or 59 votes were needed to be inducted, but none received the 75% required.

Eight new members were elected for the class of 1937, three players by the writers and five by the Veterans Committee. “Nap” Lajoie 83.6%, “Tris” Speaker 82.1%, and “Cy” Young 76.7%, received the votes needed for enshrinement by the writers. The Veterans Committee elected John McGraw, Connie Mack, George Wright, Byron Johnson and Morgan Bulkeley.

The 1938 class consisted of just three new members. Pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander received 80.9% of the writers’ votes, while the Veterans Committee selected Henry Chadwick and Alexander Cartwright.

The induction class of 1939 would include ten more new members, three selected by the writers, six from the Veterans Committee and one by special vote.  George Sisler led the way with 85.8%, followed by Eddie Collins with 77.7% and “Wee Willie” Keeler with 75.5%.  Lou Gehrig would get the nod through a special ballot while still alive, due to his terminal illness that forced him to retire early.  Lou Gehrig would die on June 2, 1941.  The six new members chosen by the Veterans Committee are as follows:  “Cap” Anson, “Buck” Ewing, “Candy” Cummings, Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, Al Spalding and Charles Comisky.  All in all, thirteen 20th century players and thirteen 19th century selections (26 total) made up the inaugural class for the first public opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The first induction weekend festivities began on July 12, 1939.

I do think it’s interesting that Ty Cobb received more votes than Babe Ruth.  They competed against each other from 1914 to 1928, when Cobb retired.  Cobb, a demon on the base paths, went to the plate with a bat in his hand 11,434 times in his 23-year career.  He recorded 4,189 hits, far and away the most ever, until passed by Pete Rose.  Cobb batted .366, still tops in all of professional baseball, while recording 724 doubles, 295 triples and 117 home runs.  Ty had 897 career stolen bases, 54 of those coming at home plate, another record.  Cobb also scored 2,246 runs while batting in 1,938 runs.  In his day, the game was played base to base and home runs were frowned upon.  Cobb always said he could hit home runs if he wanted to; so on May 5, 1925, Cobb hit three home runs in one game against the St. Louis Browns.

Ruth went to bat 8,399 times, or 3,034 times less than Cobb during his 21 seasons.  “The Babe” recorded 2,873 hits while hitting at a .342 average.  Ruth collected 506 doubles, 136 triples, and slammed an unbelievable 714 home runs.  He also stole 123 bags, scored 2,174 runs, while driving in 2,214 RBI’s.  Ruth’s big body, big personality, and his big booming bat changed the perception of the game for the fans.  The long ball was invented.  Ruth was a seven-time World Series Champ, where Cobb’s Tigers played in three World Series but never won.  No matter how much better Cobb played than Ruth, the Babe always stole the spotlight in the eyes of the fans, but not the writers.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” 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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