The Walk On
August 10, 2017 | Issue #695
As I watched the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions this past weekend, I was reminded of players who waited a lifetime for their recognition. Jack Butler was one of those guys.
Some people collect antique cars; this person collected interceptions. He just had a nose for the football. He was the kind of guy who rolls up his shirt sleeves instead of running his mouth. As a defensive back, he could make the opposing quarterback hold the ball a little longer with his tight coverage. He was called square and boring by his teammates. He liked plain old vanilla ice cream instead of buttered pecan and was as uninteresting as Bill Belichick picking out a new hoodie. Butler owned a good sense of humor and was as loyal as a cocker spaniel. He played during a time in professional football when there were very few rules and even fewer referees to enforce those rules. He was cut from steel, and his teammates said for breakfast he had two cups of iron in a large bowl. “You could bump’em and push’em and do things,” said Butler. “You could grab onto his jersey so he didn’t get far from you.” Don Joyce, a longtime Baltimore Colt defensive lineman who played during Butler’s era once said, “Those guys were tough; Jack Butler personified the era.” They say that water covers 2/3rds of the planet earth. If that’s so, then Jack Butler covered the other third. He could go get that football with the best. This guy was like Pac man; he gobbled up everything and everybody, and just got stronger. It’s as if he had heard the play called in the other team’s huddle.
John “Jack” Bradshaw Butler was born on November 12, 1927, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jack grew up playing sandlot football with his buddies while studying to be a priest at a local seminary. Later he decided against being a priest and enrolled at St. Bonaventure University, located near Olean, New York, and walked onto the football team. The encouragement he received from Father Silas, the athletic director, was enough to convince him to play. Jack Butler is the last person to play in the NFL from St. Bonaventure, because the school dropped their football program after the 1951 season. Jack played on the Varsity team all four years (1948-51). He was named Honorable Mention in 1949 on the All-Western New York College Football Team for his defensive skills. In 1950, as an end, he caught 29 passes for 522 yards and scored five touchdowns. Jack Butler is also a member of the St. Bonaventure University Hall of Fame. Interestingly, Father Silas was also a Franciscan priest and his given name was Dan Rooney, the brother of Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Art Rooney. This relationship between Father Silas and Jack Butler would pay big dividends in the future for both Butler and the Steelers.
Butler graduated from college in 1951 and was ignored by professional football. He went un-drafted by all twelve teams. At 6’ 1” tall and weighing 200 pounds, he got the most out of his size. Butler had been an outstanding end. A phone call from Brother Dan to Brother Art insured Jack a tryout. Butler not only made the team as a defensive halfback (cornerback), but started that very first season. “He was just what the Steelers ordered, a back with good hands, good speed, good size, and his instincts were tremendous,” said Steelers quarterback, Ted Marchibroda. Ted was the only NFL first-round pick in St. Bonaventure history. Marchibroda later became a successful head coach for the Baltimore Colts, Indianapolis Colts, and Baltimore Ravens. Butler did not miss a start until 1959, when he suffered a career-ending injury to his knee after a collision with Philadelphia Eagle end, Pete Retzlaff.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were not a very good football team before the 1970’s. In 1951, they finished fourth out of six teams in the Eastern Division. The joke was, you knew it was going to be a long season when the opening day give-away was an apology letter from the General Manager. In 1951, while wearing #25, Jack Butler took five intercepted passes back for 142 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season. Three interceptions for 168 return yards were posted by Butler in 1952. In 1953, he returned two of his nine interceptions for touchdowns. Four of those nine interceptions were against one team, the Washington Redskins. He also recovered three fumbles. On December 13, 1953, Butler scored the winning touchdown for Pittsburgh over Washington, 14-13 on a 35-yard interception return. In 1954, Butler set an NFL record by returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a single game. By 1955, other teams began to learn their lesson and refused to throw in his direction. Butler did not intercept a single pass that year. In 1956, he recorded six interceptions for 133 yards and returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown. In 1957, Butler was like a magnet as he led the entire NFL with a career-best ten interceptions. Jack also scored a touchdown offensively on a pass reception from quarterback Jim Finks, against the New York Giants. Finks had been kept as quarterback by the Steelers and future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, Johnny Unitas, was cut. Butler added nine more interceptions in 1958. He also got off to a great start in 1959 with two interceptions, before his knee injury occurred in the seventh game of the season. That injury would end his season and career. Jack Butler never made more than $12,000 in any one season.
In 1963, after football, Butler became the longtime director of BLESTO, an NFL Scouting Combine that stood for Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization. This combine was established by Butler, to analyze college players and provide information for teams to be used in the NFL draft. It has been estimated that Butler and his staff scouted and graded over 75,000 college kids in his 44 years as the head of BLESTO. Butler retired in 2002. Butler would hire, train and oversee the scouts, but allow them to develop their own eyes for talent. He gave them a map, a stopwatch, and a list of names and schools and told them to go have fun. Scouts would write their reports into a notebook that had copy paper. Those reports were then sent to Butler, given a grade, and then sent to each team. Along the way, thousands of athletes were graded and a new breed of talent evaluators was born. Jack Butler’s greatest class would be discovered during the 1969 draft class by the Pittsburgh Steelers. It just happened to be Head Coach Chuck Nolls’ first year. This draft class is considered to be the finest single-team selection in NFL history. All five draft picks ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame. Names like “Mean Joe” Greene, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, Mike Webster, and John Stallworth leaped off the pages of NFL history. Jack Butler may not have become a priest, but he did become an NFL legend. The roots of his NFL scouting combine are still used today.
Butler, #80 in your playbook, made the All-NFL First Team three times (1957, 58, 59), played in the Pro Bowl four times (1955, 56, 57, 58), and was selected to the NFL Hall of Fame on February 4, 2013. Jack Butler, a walk-on, is believed to be one of the very few Hall-of-Fame players who were not initially drafted by a professional football team. Other notable players drafted in 1951 are as follows: Andy Robustelli, Don Joyce, Bill George, Jack Christiansen, and Kyle Rote. In October of 2008, he became part of the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team, the Steelers 50th Anniversary team, and the Pittsburgh Legends Team. Butler intercepted 52 passes in 103 games while recording 827 return yards, and scored four touchdowns. Jack also recovered ten fumbles during his career. He was second only to Emlen Tunnell who had 79 career interceptions for the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers. Butler is listed as part of the NFL’s 1950’s All-Decade team and is still ranked 27th all time after all these years.
Jack Butler died from natural causes on a Saturday May 11, 2013. He was 86 years old. Our memory is a holy ground where our heroes have a resting place. He was survived by his wife, Bernadette, four sons, four daughters, a brother and a sister, and 15 grandchildren. Why it took so long for him to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is beyond me.
August 3, 2017 | Issue #694
British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once wrote,” The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your own riches, but to reveal to him his own.” Mission accomplished. Born in the Bronx, he was wise, but not a wise guy. Short and thin with the look of your paperboy, this fellow was not an athlete. He never hit a line drive, never stole home and never put the bunt sign on. He never pulled on a uniform or laced up a pair of spikes. He was a labor economist and negotiator. Unions were his game and arbitration bought him fame. He was smart, quiet, mild; nothing about him said “I’m in charge.” He rarely spoke, but was constantly taking notes. He was Moses with a mustache, a modern day Robin Hood who stole from the rich owners and gave to the poor players. He led the players’ union; he created a work place filled with freedom, riches, and the promise of immortality. We live in a world that’s too opinionated. It’s black or white, good or bad, up or down, or rich or poor. We yearn for the ability and wisdom to see both sides; baseball is a game that sees both sides, thanks to him. For the next 16 years, the economics of baseball would change drastically. He would show the players and, in fact the owners, the road to the promised land of milk and money. You heard me right, I said “Money.” “You count everything in baseball,” said Marvin Miller, “Including the money.”
Marvin Julian Miller was born April 14, 1917. Marvin grew up in Flatbush, a Dodger fan, while walking a picket line in a union-organizing drive, as a kid. His father, Alexander, sold clothing for a company located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His mother, Gertrude, taught elementary school and of course was a member of the New York City Teachers Union. Labor unions were in his blood. He graduated from New York University in 1938 with a degree in economics. During WWII, Marvin helped resolve a labor-management dispute for the National War Labor Board. Later he worked for the International Association of Machinists and the United Auto Workers. By 1950, he had joined the United Steelworkers Union and was negotiating labor contracts.
The players of Major League baseball started a union of sorts in 1954, but the association had little money, no full-time employees and did not engage in collective bargaining. They had also never challenged the reserve clause. Consequently, the players were unhappy with a system where the players were bound to the owners for as long as they wanted them and all player grievances were heard and ruled on by the commissioner, who was hired by and worked for the owners. Also, the pension plan was almost nonexistent. They desperately needed a leader. The minimum salary in the game was $6,000 and had stayed there for almost 20 years. The average salary in baseball at that time was $19,000 a year.
Baseball stars like Harvey Kuenn, Robin Roberts and Jim Bunning joined together to seek out someone to help them get a better pension plan. Marvin Miller was recommended by George Taylor, who ran the War Labor Board when Miller was employed there. They even spoke with Richard Nixon, who said he had other plans; he became President two years later. In the spring of 1966, Miller visited all the camps to speak to the players in person. Miller was hesitant at first and concerned that so many of the players were uneducated about the power and value of a union. Owners had convinced the majority that they should feel lucky to play a little boys’ game and get paid at the same time. It was voting time. That same year, Miller was named the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).
By 1968, the players’ union, with Miller at the head, negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in pro sports history. Miller introduced the world of sports to free agency. In 1970, players were granted the right to have their issues heard by an impartial arbitrator. In 1973, salary demands became part of the arbitration process. There is no doubt he could be tough-minded when needed. He could be condescending at times and talked down to the media and therefore the fans. Miller gave the word “strike” a new meaning besides something other than a pitched ball. He had his share of fights as Miller led the players through three strikes and two lockouts in his first ten years. On April 5, 1972, a sign was posted at every Major League park. It read “No Game Today.” The strike lasted 13 days; it was the beginning of the end for the fans and their pocketbooks. Fighting for nickels and dimes, Marvin Miller may have recorded more wins than Cy Young (511).
For all the accolades written above, Marvin Miller still remains outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has been denied five times. I believe I know the reason. The old saying goes, “The first guy through the wall always get bloodied.” The owners despised what Miller stood for, “Unions.” He cost them money, or so they thought. It wasn’t until years later that the owners began to understand that by giving a little, they too would get back a lot. Not only did player salaries and pension plans increase, but the value of the baseball clubs themselves would skyrocket. Marvin Miller revolutionized sports, making millions for the players and billions for the owners. Why? Because Marvin Miller knew a secret, that the fans would foot the bill. Remember, in 1966 there was no Super Bowl; the NBA was just getting off the ground with only ten teams in place. Baseball was America’s Pastime. Yes, Miller had become the master of the illusion. The illusion was owners versus players, when in fact they were both pitted against the fans. Yes, the fans would pay for almost anything to be distracted three or four hours a day in a world spinning out of control. The illusion worked as fans paid more to park their cars, as team merchandise, ballpark food, programs, and seat prices increased. Fans even paid additional taxes to build magnificent stadiums and they paid for personal seat licenses to insure a good seat at the ballgames. Where will it stop? You tell me.
Scott Boras, baseballs most powerful agent, thanked Miller for changing his life. “I’ve negotiated nearly five billion worth of player’s contracts since 1980.” By the time Miller retired in 1982 as union chief, the average player’s salary was $326,000 a year. That figure exceeded 3.4 million in 2012, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were just sold for an unheard-of 2 billion dollars. The illusion worked and is still working. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig believes that Miller should be in the Hall of Fame based on the impact he made on the sport. Marvin knew the reason he had not been inducted. “I’ve never prepared an acceptance speech,” laughed Miller. Miller always believed he would earn election to the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum only after he died. If fans had a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Miller’s name may have been removed years ago. In 1992, legendary announcer Red Barber said, “Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.” He could be correct but, in my opinion, not for the right reasons.
Marvin Miller died of liver cancer on Tuesday, November 27, 2012, at the ripe old age of 95, in his home in Manhattan, New York. Miller had been a lifetime smoker. I guess he had waited long enough. For Marvin Miller, the worst feeling was being forgotten by the players. Speaking with the New York Times newspaper in 1999, Miller said, “I do feel a little irked and chagrined when I realize that the players have no idea that it was the union that changed everything. What’s taken for granted are the salaries, the perks, free-agency rights, salary-arbitration rights, all of which were tremendous struggles.” In 1997, the MLB Players’ Association created the Marvin Miller Man-of-the-Year Award and on April 26, 2009, he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
On December 9, 2013, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Tony LaRussa were all voted unanimously into the Baseball Museum Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era Committee. Marvin Miller was also on that ballot but again failed to receive the votes needed to be inducted.
Hall-of-Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax once said, “Baseball hasn’t changed; only the money has.” Well said, Sandy; well said. As for the fans and their wallets, the change has been undeniable.
Thou Shalt Not Steal
July 27, 2017 | Issue #693
Everyone who was there noticed. He was the talk of the camp. A 19-year-old kid with a slingshot right arm and the grit to let it go showed up at the 1991 Texas Rangers’ baseball camp. No, I’m not talking about a pitcher. This guy was kind of squatty and built more like a fire hydrant. The kid wasn’t even close to 6 feet tall, more like 5’9”, but he weighed close to 200 pounds. Could he hit a baseball? Could the kid catch a Major League pitcher? Could he call a game? Who knows? All anyone knew is that this kid could throw lightening bolts from the catcher’s position like Zeus with a facemask. Oh, he was good! Shutting down the run was his jam. When it came to catchers, he may not have been from this planet. He owned an cannon for a right arm and could throw a baseball through a carwash without getting it wet. Fearless, vocal and intense from behind home plate, most of the photographs you will see show him with his arms flailing and his mouth open. It seemed that he was always cheering on his teammates or celebrating a put-out at second base. His chest protector should have read “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”
Ivan Rodriquez was born on November 27, 1971, in Manati, Puerto Rico. When he got to the States, he spoke very little English, so everybody just called him “Pudge.” He debuted on June 20, 1991, against the Chicago White Sox. Not only did he get his first hit but, more importantly, he threw out Joey Cora and Warren Newson, who were both trying to steal second base. A legend was born.
On July 30, 2017, catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez entered the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum located in Cooperstown, New York. He was joined by first baseman, Jeff Bagwell, of the Houston Astros and outfielder, Tim “Rock” Raines, of the Montréal Expos. Pudge Rodriquez is only the second Texas Ranger to be inducted. The first was Nolan Ryan. Pudge played for six different teams during his 21-year career. He won his only World Series title with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and played in a second World Series with the Detroit Tigers, in 2006. Pudge was elected with 76% of the vote. At 45 years old, he is the youngest member of the Hall and the fourth native Puerto Rican. He joined Johnny Bench (1989) as one of the only two catchers to reach the Hall of Fame on their first ballot.
A student of the game, Pudge becomes energized when talking baseball. His best season occurred in 1999. Not only did he hit .332 with 35 home runs, but he scored 116 runs and was named the American League MVP. Pudge led the Texas Rangers to their third Division title in four years. Pudge Rodriquez was a 14 time All-Star with gold in his glove. He earned 13 Gold Glove Awards, the most of any Major League catcher to have ever played the game. He also led the league nine times in throwing out base runners.
Pudge set an amazing record of catching in 2,427 games. The grind, the wear and tear of bending down over and over must have been excruciating. He batted .296, while recording 2,844 hits, 572 doubles, 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI’s. He also stole 127 bases. No doubt, Rodriquez developed into one of the game’s greatest all-around catchers. It may be awhile before we see another like him.
If you’re a catcher and your name ends up in a sentence with Pudge Rodriquez, you’re doing something right.
We Were the First
July 20, 2017 | Issue #692
Nineteen Sixty-Three was a very memorable year in the world of sports. Wilt Chamberlain dropped 67 points on the Lakers and then 70 the following week on Syracuse. “Sonny” Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in the 1st round to win the heavyweight title, and Jack Nicklaus won “The Masters.” A young Pete Rose debuted for the Cincinnati Reds, and both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays signed the first $100,000 a year contracts in Major League baseball history. The great Jim Brown won the Bert Bell Award by setting the NFL single-season rushing record with 1,863 yards; the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs; and Jim Thorpe, “Red” Grange, George Halas were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bob Cousy and Stan Musial retired, and the College All-Stars beat the Green Bay Packers 20-17.
But for the past two seasons, a college football storm had been brewing down in Austin, Texas; and it all started with Head Coach Darrell Royal. The Longhorns’ football team had started the previous two seasons (1961 and 1962) ranked #1 in the nation, only to be turned away at the end. The 1961 team was upset by TCU, and the 1962 team settled for a tie against Rice. The stars seemed to be aligned in 1963, even though the Associated Press ranked the Longhorns #5 at the beginning of the year. Today my friend, Hix Green, gave me a firsthand look at how that 1963 National Championship season unfolded.
At 75 years of age, his mind is sharp and his voice educated. Just being around Hix makes me feel ten years old. Smiling constantly, he owns a “We’re going to Disney World” kind of face. Mostly retired now, he looks like he could still play. He seems content until you mention Texas football. His eyes open wide, and the memories come flooding back. As of this writing, the Texas Longhorns have won four National Championships in football: 1963, 1969, 1970 and 2005. “Yeah, but we were the first,” exclaimed Hix.
Hix Green, III, was born on July 20, 1942, grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and attended Jefferson High School. Although rather small, Hix made up for his size with quickness, energy, speed and talent. The only thing that could have stopped this guy was a bad case of the flu. Not only was he an outstanding football player, but he also ran on the track team and qualified in the 100-yard dash during the Texas Relays. Green was not only recruited by Texas, Rice, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Navy, SMU, Coast Guard, Air Force Academy and Texas Tech, but he also received an appointment at Army. When I asked him “Why Texas?” he smiled and said, “When they flew me out there, the plebes convinced me that going to school at West Point was not all that it was cracked up to be.” Hix accepted an athletic scholarship to become a Longhorn. “I never regretted my decision,” said Hix.
In 1960, Hix reported for his freshman year with about 70 other players. “I looked around and the place was full of blue-chip players. Freshmen didn’t play on the varsity squad back then. Coach Royal red-shirted me for the 1961 season,” said Hix. In 1962, Hix got his first taste of big-time college football and the Longhorns finished 9-1-1, but lost on January 1, 1963, in the Cotton Bowl to LSU, 13-0.
The Longhorns would not lose another football game until October 10, 1964. That’s right! The Longhorns went untied and undefeated for the 1963 season. Hix started the 1963 season off right. On October 12, 1963, with 2:42 left in the 3rd quarter, Green scored a touchdown from three yards out, in a 34-7 romp over Oklahoma State. A blowout win over Oklahoma 28-7, in the fourth week of the season, pushed the Longhorns to the #1 ranking. On November 9, with the Longhorns leading 7-0 late against Baylor, Hix made what would have been a game-saving interception. Baylor’s All-American quarterback Don Trull threw to All-American wide receiver Lawrence Elkins, but Green intercepted Trull’s pass and ran it back 21 yards. On the next play, Texas fullback Tom Stockton fumbled the ball back to Baylor. It took a Duke Carlisle interception in the end zone to save the day.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy had planned a trip to Austin to visit Royal, but it was not to be. At 1:00 PM Central Standard Time, the nation stood still; JFK had passed away. “Most of us were on our way to class,” said Hix. “Nobody could believe what was happening. When we got to class, the teacher called it off. I do remember we practiced that day, but it wasn’t very spirited.” Texas Governor, John Connally, had also been shot but survived. Six days later, Texas played Texas A&M at Kyle Field. Hix played an important part in the Longhorns’ win over the Aggies. On an incredibly muddy field, the score stood 13-3 at halftime, in favor of the Aggies. In the fourth quarter, Green recovered a fumble on the Aggies’ side of the field and Tommy Ford later scored for the Longhorns, leaving the score 13-9 in favor of the Aggies. Later in the game, with Texas facing third down and 17 from their own 20-yard line, Green was surprised when a throwback pass was called in the huddle. Hix made the catch of his life for 20 yards, to keep the winning drive alive. Texas later scored and won 15-13, to keep their National Championship hopes alive. Up next would be Heisman Trophy winner, Roger Staubach, and #2 Navy, in the Cotton Bowl.
The first-ever Cotton Bowl to host #1 versus #2 was played on January 1, 1964, in Dallas, Texas. Texas played hard and well and stunned Navy 28-6. The Longhorns were crowned #1 in the nation for the first time in the school’s history.
The 1964 season started with four straight wins, until Arkansas came to town. The Razorbacks hung on for a 14-13 win over Texas, diminishing the Longhorns’ chances for another National Championship. On November 26, 1964, Hix recovered an Aggie fumble to help turn the tide for the Horns. With 2:24 left in the game, Hix scored a touchdown from two yards out, making the score 19-7 in favor of Texas over arch rival Texas A&M. Texas beat the Aggies that day, 26-7. “After the game was over, I ran off the field with the game ball,” said Hix. “I still have it at home, sitting on my desk.” Texas would meet #1 ranked Alabama next.
“On January 1, 1965, we played against Joe Namath and the Alabama Crimson Tide, in the first Orange Bowl to ever be played at night in primetime,” said Hix. “We stayed at a hotel on Miami Beach, and worked out at the University of Miami. There were even a few NFL scouts hanging around.” Hix received the kickoff for the Longhorns as the Orange Bowl got underway. Late in the game, the Texas defense made one of the most famous stops at the goal line, to preserve a 21-17 win for Texas. With time running out, Namath tried a quarterback sneak and still claims he reached the end zone, but Tommy Nobis and Tom Currie turned him away. Texas would finish the 1964 season 10-1 and ranked #5 in the nation.
At the end of our interview I mentioned to Hix, “So, you have never lost a football game to Oklahoma, Texas A&M, or Alabama, three pretty darn good programs.” “That’s right,” smiled Hix. “And we even beat Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson when they both played at Arkansas.”
Hix Green was a member of the Texas Longhorn football team from 1960-1964. He stands 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 170 pounds and played tailback and defensive back. “Everybody played both ways back then,” said Hix. Texas ran from a Wing-T formation, and used what was called a flip-flop offensive set. They had seven running plays to the right and then flipped the formation to run the same seven plays to the left. Hix spent a lot of time blocking for halfback, Tommy Ford, and quarterback, Duke Carlisle. Hix Green suited up for three Cotton Bowls and one Orange Bowl. During his career, Hix rushed 110 times, gained 318 yards and scored two touchdowns. Hix also recorded eight receptions for 80 yards. “We only had three pass plays,” laughed Hix. He also took his turn at running back kickoffs, returning punts and recovered several fumbles.
For some of us, football is life. It’s where we find our happiness. “I don’t think my stats are important,” said Hix. “My final stats were less than I achieved in many single high school games for San Antonio Jefferson, but when called on…I delivered.” There is no doubt that Hix made several key plays that helped the Longhorns achieve greatness. Here’s to my friend, Hix Green. There’s nothing like being part of the first!!
Andy Purvis is a local author and radio personality. Please visit www.purvisbooks.com for all the latest info on his books or to listen to the new radio podcast. Andy’s books are available online and can be found in the local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Andy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also listen to sports talk radio on Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session from 6-8 PM on Sportsradiocc.com 1230 AM, 96.1 FM and 103.3 FM. The home of the Houston Astros.
Fair Winds and Following Seas
July 13, 2017 | Issue #691
Look into those eyes. Notice that smile. Now you know why so many stop by to see him. They come by, young and old, to say “hello,” pay their respects, to place their hand on his shoulder or shake his hand. Most of them want to take a picture with him. Because of his WWII military service, he has been written about as much as any Corpus Christi resident.
There are not many Pearl Harbor survivors left, and his life story is indeed incredible.
But this is a tribute to a baseball fan. I imagine that Marvin Alexander’s life is divided by the four things he loves most: his God, his country, his family and baseball, and maybe not necessarily in that order. After 94 years, I’m sure he has stood for the National Anthem more times than there are stars in the sky. A Corpus Christi Hooks’ season-ticket holder from the beginning (2005), he sits four seats away to my right. It seems like he has always been there and, in fact, for me he pretty much has. Seat 8, Row 16, Section 117 should have a nameplate with his name attached to it. For years his beloved wife, Mary, joined him, until sadly she left us two years ago. Now his sons, Marvin Jr. and Mike, bring their dad to see the Hooks play. It seems he’s always had a baseball heart.
As I got to know Mr. Alexander more and more, I wondered where his love for the game of baseball came from. Turns out he was a pretty darn good pitcher, while in the Navy. After the war, Mr. Alexander was stationed at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. During the late 1940’s, a baseball team was organized. This semi-pro league was made up of several auxiliary air stations. “We played all summer long against teams located at Cabaniss Field, Rodd Field, Cuddihy Field, Chase field, Waldron Field, and in Kingsville and Laredo,” said Marvin.
I asked him about his best pitch. He described it as an “In” pitch. Now remember, baseball terms were different in the 1940’s. What he was describing was a fastball inside on the right-hand hitters. He also owned a fine curveball. “In 1947, you pitched all nine innings in those days” said Marvin. “There was no such thing as relief pitchers. If you couldn’t go nine innings you didn’t pitch.”
When I asked him who his favorite baseball players were, he surprised me. “I followed the local guys, Burt Hooten and Bart Shirley’s careers,” he said.
There are several funny stories that his boys have shared with me. “In 2010, on Mom and Dad’s 70th wedding anniversary, they decided to go to the Hooks game to celebrate,” laughed Marvin Jr. “We had so much fun. The ballpark ushers got together and decorated Mary’s seat,” said Mr. Alexander.
“Dad loved playing baseball; he was pitching on the day I was born,” exclaimed his younger son, Mike. “I was born at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi at the Navy hospital.”
“Yeah, and I won that day,” laughed Marvin. “I think the score was 5-2.” Mike would grow up with his dad’s love for baseball. Mike pitched for Carroll High School before receiving a scholarship to pitch at Blinn College. After two years there, Mike transferred to Sam Houston State and continued his dream.
Marvin and Mary Alexander married in 1940. A friend of mine, Marty Robinson, attends all the Sunday games with me. He once asked Mr. Alexander, “How do you stay married for more than 70 years?” Marvin just smile and answered, “Two words --Yes Dear.” Alexander later said, “She never raised her voice at me.”
Oh, how I would love to see through those baby blues if for only a moment. The players he has seen, the stories he could tell. Hunter Pence with that funny swing and Ben Zobrist hitting line drives like he owned the place. Mr. Alexander was one of the 9,022 fans who showed up to watch Roger Clemens strike out 11 in just six innings, on June 11, 2006. That same season, he pulled for the team to win their first Texas League Championship. Marvin liked watching J.D. Martinez roaming the Hooks’ outfield. He also enjoyed watching Jason Castro shut down the running game, while cheering for a George Springer “dinger.” He admired the quickness of Jose Altuve’s bat and the long, accurate arm of Carlos Correa. He smiled at a Dallas Keuchel’s slider and raved about Alex Bregman’s glove play at third base.
Andy Rooney once said, “The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.”
So, if you find yourself at Whataburger Field and you want to meet an extraordinary gentleman, stop by and say hello to a former pitcher, Marvin Alexander. Here’s wishing my friend fair winds and following seas.
July 6, 2017 | Issue #690
Outfielder Tori Hunter once said, “This is the kind of player that dads need to tell their kids, ‘Son, remember this guy. He’s going to be in your mind now, forever.’” The player he was talking about has a big head, piano white teeth, a smile as wide as the Mississippi River and a back so broad you could serve breakfast on it. He walks like his feet were sunburned, but he runs like Secretariat. This mild-mannered Mickey Mantle look alike was born in a family town. That means everyone knew everyone else in Millville, New Jersey, population 28,000. If you were given the opportunity to build your own baseball player, for your team, by using the parts of any other players, you would just point at Mike Trout and say, “I’ll just take that guy.” He was born to play. Some said that he wore his baseball uniform to bed the night before the opening day game in Little League.
Michael Nelson Trout was born in Millville, New Jersey, on August 7, 1991. Mike Trout not only donned a Yankee’s cap, but he also wore the #3 (Babe Ruth), while playing Little League Baseball. Trout wore #1 for the New Jersey, Millville High School Thunderbolts, where he earned the nickname, the ‘Millville Meteor.” He now wears #27 for the Los Angeles Angels. I think that’s interesting, since his and my two favorite players, Derek Jeter and Mickey Mantle wore #2 and #7 for the New York Yankees. Add the two together and you get #27.
Mike Trout’s dad, Jeff Trout, was drafted in 1983 by the Minnesota Twins organization. Jeff left the game after four years, to start a family. The East Coast scout for the Los Angeles Angels, Greg Morehardt, played baseball with Jeff Trout in the Minor Leagues. After watching Mike play in high school, Greg wrote, “Mike Trout has a chance to be a Hall-of-Fame player.” Who writes that about a kid at age 17? Some scouts are just better than others. Morehardt had played against Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and many others.
Remarkably, on June 9, 2009, the day of the MLB Draft, Trout slipped down to pick #25 of the Los Angeles Angels. Pitcher Steven Strasburg was picked first by the Washington Nationals. He was followed by players I would bet most of you have never heard of: Dustin Ackley, Donovan Tate, Tony Sanchez, Zack Wheeler and Matt Hobgood, to name a few.
Trout debuted for the Angels on July 8, 2011. He batted eighth in his first Major League game. He went 0 for 3 but made a spectacular catch in centerfield that received a standing ovation from the Angeles crowd. He did not get a hit in his second game, either. Baseball has always been a game of failure. The question has always been, how do you handle the failure and then move forward. His first full season with Angels occurred in 2012. Playing every day, Trout started the year fast, hitting triples and home runs and catching balls above the fence. On June 27, 2012, Trout made a tremendous catch in Baltimore to steal away a sure home run. “I try to catch everything in the outfield,” said Trout. “I think it’s better to rob a home run than hit one.”
Since joining the big club in 2011, Trout has won two American League MVP Awards, five Silver Slugger Awards and has been chosen five times for the All-Star Game. He also received the American League Rookie-of-the-Year Award, in 2012. Mike Trout is the first player to win back-to-back All-Star Game MVP’s. In his five All-Star Game appearances he has hit for the cycle in his first at-bat in each game. In the 2012 All-Star Game, his first hit was single. In 2013, Trout doubled his first time up. In 2014, Mike hit a triple and then he hit a home run in his first plate appearance in the 2015 All-Star Game. What did he do last year? He started over with a single in the 2016 game.
At the time of this writing, Trout has become the youngest player in Major League history to record 150 home runs and 150 stolen bases. All I ask is that if you are a sports fan; please appreciate what you are seeing. If Mike Trout played in the 1950’s, he would be Mickey Mantle. It’s a shame he plays on the West Coast where most of us can’t see him on a regular basis. Mike Trout turns 26 in August. All he needs now is the big stage (World Series) to take the next step into greatness.
Mike Trout has been out more than a month from a thumb injury. He underwent successful thumb surgery and is beginning to hit off a tee. His return is expected shortly.
Is Mike Trout a “Natural” or is it just plain old-fashioned hard work? I think Mike gets it. He once said, “You put the work in and you put yourself in great situations, and good things will happen.” Wow, that’s pretty special for a guy who is just 25 years old. They will not retire Trout’s #1 at Millville High School. They will simple pass it on to some other kid who shows the promise of playing the game the right way.
June 29, 2017 | Issue #689
Christopher Columbus once said, “Life has more imagination then we carry in our dreams.” Champions come from heartbreak, from pain, darkness and sacrifice. Some of us become remarkable when we face our darkest nightmares. We all have our ups and downs but what this man went through, the many difficult periods of his life, was unbelievable. The adversity he experienced in his life created a machine. The loss of his wife and son so close together just didn’t seem quite fair. Yet, he was completely committed to the “sweet science.”
Timing and leverage
Commitment is giving all you have when things are not going your way. Boxing is a mental sport. What you do with your body only represents about one-third. The other two-thirds are about heart and soul. Boxing is also about timing and leverage. The way you move, the attitude you take, all of these things represent the science of boxing. It’s about give and take. You absorbed the blows and then push them back out at your opponent. He had long arms and a lean body, not an ounce of fat. He also had physical courage. Physical courage is where you are so exhausted you cannot move, yet you keep moving.
He looked so young you could have thought he was playing hooky from school. If you saw him in the street you would buy him a balloon and offer to help him find his parents. He was small is size, reminded you of your newspaper delivery boy, but he could hit you so hard it would knock the taste out of your mouth. He stood toe-to-toe and stopped his opponents in their tracks. He had a stinging, straight right hand followed by a jaw-breaking left hook. The man put 47 of his opponents asleep. Growing up in Pacoima, California, he learned the ways of the mean streets. They called him “Schoolboy.”
Bobby Chacon was born on November 28, 1951, exactly 26 days before I was, in Sylmar, California, a small town located in the San Fernando Valley. He trained in Pacoima. His parents were Mexican immigrants. His father left his mother, Gloria, and the rest of them, when he was young. His mom got remarried to John Banegas. Growing up in poverty in a tough neighborhood, Bobby was known as a schoolyard fighter. He finally graduated from San Fernando High School and got a good job working at a Lockheed factory. He eventually enrolled at California State University at Northridge, located in Los Angeles, California. But fighting was in his blood. He liked the combat. He decided to box professionally for a living.
Chacon started out as an amazing boxer. He could fight an airplane. He just had an aura about him. He was as unstoppable as a flood. In his prime, you could have thrown a safe at Bobby and it would not stop him from moving toward you. He could be both cruel and kind. He didn’t take people out with one punch, he put them in wheelchairs. The funny thing is, he never meant to injure people he just wanted to win the fight.
Bobby Chacon stood 5’5 ½ inches tall and weighed 126 pounds. His fans loved him. Under the tutelage of trainer, Joe Ponce, Chacon began boxing in 1972 and retired in 1988. Chacon won his first professional fight on April 17, 1972, against challenger, Jose Antonio Rosa. Bobby went on to win his first 19 fights before losing to former champion, Ruben Olivares on June 23, 1973. Chacon would win his next four bouts all by technical knockouts. On May 24, 1974, Chacon out boxed and beat cross-town rival, Danny “Little Red” Lopez, in front of a sold-out crowd with a ninth-round TKO. On September 7, 1974, at the age of 22, Chacon was crowned champion of the World Boxing Council, Featherweight title, by defeating former World Boxing Association Junior Lightweight champion, Alfredo Marcano, in nine rounds. Like most young athletes, Chacon began to enjoy the “sweet life.” He stared drinking heavily and partying. He suffered many clashes with the law, and his life began to spiral downward. On June 20, 1975, Chacon lost his title in his second defense against Ruben Olivares. Chacon’s biggest rivalry was with Mexican featherweight, Rafael “Bazooka” Limon. Limon beat Chacon in their first meeting, by decision on December 12, 1975. These two fought each other four times from 1975 to 1982. After nine straight wins, Chacon fought Olivares again on September 8, 1977. This time, Bobby Chacon defeated Olivares in a 12-round bout, by decision.
The fight was stopped in the seventh round as Chacon was brutally beaten and cut by super-featherweight, Alexis Arguello, on November 16, 1979. In 1980, Chacon had only one fight, a return match with Rafael Limon. Chacon came out on top. Chacon fought Cornelius Boza-Edwards on May 30, 1981. Edwards knocked out Chacon in the thirteenth round of a televised bout. Chacon regained his prowess and won five fights in a row, which kept him as the number-one challenger.
Tired of being a boxer’s wife
In March of 1982, Bobby’s life would be changed forever. Bobby’s wife, Valorie, flew to Hawaii in February and begged him to quit fighting. She saw what was happening to Bobby. She was able to get a job in Hawaii but, driven by alcohol and drugs, Bobby refused to move there; so she flew back. Valorie made one last phone call to Bobby the night before his fight with Salvador Ugalde. Unable to convince him to quit, she took a rifle and fatally shot herself, leaving him with three children ages 11, 8, and 6. Unbelievably, Chacon entered the ring on March 16, 1982, and won a $6,000 purse by knocking out Salvador Ugalde in the third round. Chacon explained after the fight that his wife was “Tired of being a boxer’s wife, but boxing was something I had to do, to get it out of my blood. I told her I would quit after my next loss or the following year, whichever came first, but not now.” Chacon continued, “I’ve got to keep on fighting, to go through with my career. Boxing, I’m going to treat like another marriage.” Bobby Chacon would marry again about 18 months after Valorie’s death. He purchased a farm with a mansion and 40 horses. He also purchased several Rolls Royce cars.
On January, 14, 1984, he challenged Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini to a fight in Reno, Nevada. The fight was stopped by referee, Richard Steele, one minute and 17 seconds into the third round. “Bobby had gotten enough,” Steele said. “I wanted it to end with this great champion standing and smiling.” Chacon said afterward: “I’m still smiling. Thank You.”
After announcing his retirement, Bobby changed his mind and returned to the ring in 1985. He won five fights, including those against former world champions, Arturo Frias and Rafael Solis. One of his wins also came against future trainer, Freddie Roach, on March 5, 1985.
Struggling from alcohol and substances abuse, Chacon won only one fight in 1987 and one in 1988, and then retired for good. Chacon, a California favorite, fought at the Forum in Inglewood 20 times and nine times at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.
His life would once again be marred by tragedy when his 17-year-old son, Bobby Jr., was murdered in 1991, during a gang-related shooting. He had spent or lost most of his money and began suffering from dementia pugilistica (boxer’s syndrome).
In 2003, Bobby was included on Ring Magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.” Chacon was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005. He was also scheduled to be inducted into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame on September 25, 2016, a few days before he passed away. The president of West Coast Boxing, Ricky Ferris, described Chacon as a blood-and-guts fighter who took on the very best fighters from three different divisions.
Why is it that people who need the most help won’t take it? Bobby had made a deal with the devil and it became time for the devil to collect. Chacon’s pursuit of happiness was never quenched. He was never satisfied and felt inferior inside without boxing. He fell in love with playing the villain. “Bobby’s life was not one without struggle and tragedy, but I pray he has now found peace in eternal rest,” said boxing great, Oscar De La Hoya.
Scrappy two-time boxing champion, Bobby Chacon, died on a Wednesday, September 7, 2016, while in hospice care in Helmet, California. Most of his family was by his side. The Boxing Hall of Fame lowered its flag to half-staff upon hearing the news of Chacon’s death. Chacon had suffered from the effects of brain damage, associated with dementia, then fell and struck his head. He was 64. He was survived by his mother Gloria Banagas, his stepfather John, a son Jamie, his daughters Donna and Alexis Chacon.
Singer, songwriter, Neil Young, once said, “It’s better to burn out than just fade away.”
A Perfect Afternoon Part III
June 22, 2017 | Issue #688
Skowron’s best season happened in 1960. He hit .309, 26 home runs, recorded 91 RBI’s during the regular season, and batted .375 with two home runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Series. The outfield at Yankee Stadium was nicknamed “Death Valley” by the players. The dimensions hurt Moose’s as well as many other players’ power numbers. The left field fence measured 402’ deep; it was 457’ to left-center, 461’ to dead centerfield, and 407’ to the right-centerfield fence. As a Yankee, only 60 of his 165 home runs hit came at home. Moose finished ninth in the MVP voting that year. Maris and Mantle finished first and second.
Two of Skowron’s best years occurred in 1961 and 1962. In 1961, he hit his career high 28 home runs and, in 1962, he taught and shared time with Joe Pepitone at first. Moose roomed with Joe Pepitone for only one night. Skowron expected his roommate to be in the room by 10 pm, because that’s when he turned in. The first night, Pepitone comes back to the room at 2 pm and finds the door locked and chained from the inside. Pepitone knocks and eventually kicks the door open only to find Moose waiting for him. Joe leaves and asked for a new roommate the next day. Pitcher Bob Turley would become Skowron’s new roommate.
Moose became expendable with the play of Pepitone at first base, and he was also in the midst of a messy divorce. In 1963, Moose Skowron was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He played poorly most of the regular season, but very well in the World Series against his old team, the Yankees. He had always been a big game player. The Dodgers beat the Yankees in four straight games with Koufax, Drysdale, Podres and Osteen toeing the mound. Afterwards, Mantle was quoted as saying to Moose, “If we had to be swept by anyone, we’re glad it was a team with you on it.”
Skowron would become part of the Washington Senators’ baseball club in 1964. Before the year was out, Moose was traded to the Chicago White Sox on July 13, 1964. He would play for his home town until May 6, 1967, when Moose was sent to the California Angels to finish out his career.
Dom Forker saved a chapter just for Moose Skowron in his book, Sweet Seasons. In his interview with Moose, Dom had mentioned that the Yankees had hit 240 home runs as a team in 1961 under Ralph Houk. Six Yankees had hit 20 or more home runs. “That’s the record I hope stands forever, “said Moose. “If someone else breaks it, I hope they put an asterisk next to it. Why? We didn’t have a designated pinch hitter.”
“When I played for the White Sox, my grandmother thought everyone in the crowd was yelling ‘boo,’” said Moose. “I said, ‘No grandma, it’s all right. They like me; they’re saying, Moooose.’ She was so relieved.’” Eventually his skills melted away like ice cubes in a glass. Moose retired in 1967; he was 36 years old. His last game occurred on October 1, 1967, with the California Angels. He was released on October 9, 1967. Moose had played a total of 1,478 games, 1,463 of those games at first base. Thirteen times, he played at third and two times at second base. Skowron batted .282, with 211 home runs and 888 RBI’s during his 14-year career. On June 12, 1980, Moose Skowron was inducted into the National Polish-American Hall of Fame.
Moose helped the Yankees win seven American League Pennants while playing for Casey Stengel and Ralph Houk. He may have been considered the first “Mr. October.” He batted over .300 five times and became a bright and shining star during World Series play. Moose batted .293, recorded 39 hits while hitting eight home runs. Moose also drove in 29 runs in 39 World Series games. His eight World Series home runs tied him with Joe DiMaggio and Frank Robinson and placed him 7th all-time in number of World Series home runs hit. Moose also set another World Series record by playing 31 consecutive games without committing an error. Moose Skowron is one of just seven players in the history of Major League baseball to hit a home run in a World Series game for both leagues. The other six are Matt Williams, Enos Slaughter, Roger Maris, Reggie Smith, Kirk Gibson, and Frank Robinson. Moose was a smart hitter. He learned to go with the pitch and think along with the pitcher. That made him intimidating. Moose and Yogi Berra are the only two Major League players to hit three home runs in a Game 7 of a World Series. Moose made the All-Star team eight times and won a total of five World Series rings, four with the Yankees and one with the Dodgers.
His last visit to Yankee Stadium occurred on July 17, 2010, during an Old-Timers Day Game. Moose had not smoked a cigarette since Mantle died in August of 1995. “I smoked for forty years. I was an endorser for Camel cigarettes. We got paid to smoke. We’d be in the runway by the dugout smoking, Yogi, Hank and me,” said Skowron. Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, and Bill Skowron all went to Dallas during Mantles’ last days. They were also pallbearers at Mickey Mantle’s funeral.
After baseball, Moose became a sales rep for Intercheck Inc., a check printing company. He relocated in Naperville, Illinois, remarried, and sent all three of his kids to college. Moose Skowron and Minnie Minoso became spokesmen for the Chicago White Sox.
The year was 1990. There they all sat in a row, Bill Skowron, Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer, laughing, telling stories, and signing autographs. I was in Heaven. I think my pal Jim Bruns was with me. It had been known in autograph circles for years that Mantle would not sign without his two closest friends. Mickey had said, “If you want me, you have to take them, too.” Mickey knew that neither of them had made very much money while playing for the Yankees; it was his way of helping them along. Skowron’s top salary was $37,000 a year, and he never grossed more than $600,000 in his entire 14-year career. The money was never grand in New York, but the game was. That’s why the World Series money was so important. I shook Skowron’s hand and handed him a black and white photograph taken of him in 1959. In the picture, he had just recently broken his wrist and was wearing a cast. I had found and purchased the picture one summer while visiting in Phoenix, Arizona. He laughed and signed the photo. Moose had started at first base in 1956, and I asked him what he remembered about Game 4 of the Series when Don Larsen had pitched his perfect game. Skowron said, “Johnny Kucks was my roommate that year, and I remember that we all sat in the same seats in the dugout. We were superstitious in those days. But nothing seemed to bother Don, and he smoked cigarettes between innings.”
Moose collapsed in 2011, after watching a Spring Training game in Phoenix, Arizona, with his son, Greg. It was then that he received the news of his lung cancer. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation and bounced back quickly. He was told he was in remission, but cancer does not play by the rules. It comes and goes as it pleases. His voice was a little bit softer and his eyes would fill with tears when talking about the old days. He was special. He seemed to be a bigger and stronger man when he knew he was dying. “He was a dear friend and a great team man,” said Yogi Berra. “I love Moose. He is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known,” said White Sox owner, Jerry Reinsdorf.
On the same day that 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper was brought up from the Minor Leagues to the Washington Nationals, Bill “Moose” Skowron passed away. Baseball, like life, has a way of moving on. That day was Friday, April 27, 2012. It was a perfect afternoon. Congestive heart failure brought on by lung cancer took its toll on the tough guy. Moose spent his last moments in Northwest Community Hospital, located in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Skowron was 81 years old. His wife “Cookie,” daughter Lynnette and son Greg were left behind.
The White Sox will wear a patch on their right sleeve in tribute to Moose. It will be a triangle with his initials BMS inside. I’m surprised the Yankees have not honored Moose in some way. Another part of my childhood has passed before my time. The lives of those who have moved on reside in the memories of the living.