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Uncle Andy's Blog

Overcoming the Odds


 

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  He was quiet, a bit withdrawn and lacked confidence.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.

 

Send in the Clowns


 

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.

House


 

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.

 

Throwing Zeroes


 

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.

Blood Picture


 

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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