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Uncle Andy's Blog

AL MVP - Just Maybe


 

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.

Trust Me


 

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.

536


 

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.

What's your nickname?


“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

Little Big Man


 

 

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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