Voice for the Ages
September 21, 2017 | Issue #701
It’s Not Who Won or Lost the Game - - It’s How You Sold the Beer.
As a kid I read the newspaper, listened to the radio, checked box scores, memorized statistics, read the backs of baseball cards and dreamed the dreams that little boys dream. The News and Observer newspaper was my Bible. Many a night I dodged bedtime to listen to my transistor radio, hidden underneath my pillow. I loved living and dying with the outcome of each game. This broadcaster had universal respect from everyone in the league. He was the one constant I could count on. When I went to a baseball game as a kid, I wished it lasted all night. I felt the same way about listening to his radio broadcast. Using his baritone voice and incredible vocabulary, he was always honest, spoke in full sentences and had a sense of humor. He believed that less-is-more when communicating the action. Therefore, hearing the voice of Bob Wolff on my transistor radio seemed intimate, and private, as if he were sharing a secret with only me. For me, his voice for the ages will never be silenced. I can close my eyes even now and hear the excitement.
Growing up in North Carolina during the 1950’s, I was mesmerized by the baseball jargon of Red Barber’s “I’m sitting high in the catbird seat,” Mel Allen’s “How about that?” and Ernie Harwell’s home run call of “That ball is looooong gone!” As an adult, I moved across the country and fell in love with the voices of Jack Buck’s “Go crazy folks, Go crazy,” Harry Caray’s “Hey Hey,” and Milo Hamilton’s “Holy Toledo, what a play”. No doubt, listening to the call of a baseball game on the radio is cheaper than therapy. George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place.” There was never any doubt with Bob Wolff. Even though he never developed a signature call, you always got your money’s worth.
“If you want to get to the Bigs, keep talking”
Robert Alfred “Bob” Wolff was born on November 29, 1920, in New York City, but grew up in the Long Island community of Woodmere. His father, Richard, was a professional engineer and his mother, Estelle, a homemaker. Wolff proclaimed to be a sports nut during his early years. He was captain of his high school basketball team and was also one of the city’s top baseball prospects. In 1939, Wolff enrolled at Duke University on a baseball scholarship, but broke his ankle during a base-running drill in his freshman year. Wolff was invited to serve on local CBS radio station WDNC in Durham, North Carolina, as a color analyst for ACC basketball games. Although he longed to return to playing baseball at Duke, his college coach offered him some advice: “If you want to get to the big leagues, I suggest you keep talking.” Wolff graduated from Duke in 1942 and then served in the Pacific Theater during World War II, as a supply officer with the U.S. Navy. He resumed his radio career in Durham after being discharged as a lieutenant.
During the war, Bob met a navel nurse named Jane Hoy. They fell in love and married in 1945. Bob Wolff was offered and accepted the sports director’s job with WINX-AM radio in Washington, D.C. in 1946. One year later, he found himself as the very first television broadcaster for the Washington Senators’ Baseball Club. “Interestingly, there were only a few hundred people who actually owned TV sets at that time in Washington,” said Wolff. “My wife Jane and I did not own one. She would go to the appliance store to watch the games.”
Wolff became the television face and voice for the Washington Senators, from 1947 until 1960. Wolff’s play-by-play broadcast role would eventually expand into radio broadcasting along with pregame and postgame interviews. He even occasionally pitched batting practice and formed a group called the “Singing Senators,” where he played the ukulele. Only once during that time did the team’s win-loss record exceed .500. Eventually, to keep the audience attention, he began to share human interest stories and not which team was winning the game. Everyone watching knew the Senators were behind on the scoreboard. This was the part of his broadcast I enjoyed the most, the stories. The 1950’s and 1960’s were also a time where announcers were required to deliver their sponsors’ commercials live on-air, and Wolff was told to drink National Bohemian beer during the breaks between innings. In a 2003 interview with the New York Daily News, Wolff said “By the seventh inning I was kind of weaving my way through the broadcast.” Wolff eventually convinced his boss to hire a designated drinker.
Wolff followed the team to Minnesota for one season (1961) before moving back to New York to work in Madison Square Garden. There, Wolff would cover the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League and the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association. Wolff also teamed with Joe Garagiola on NBC Sports to broadcast the Baseball Game of the Week.
Like most great sportscasters, Wolff prided himself with endless preparation. He believed that you could never have enough information.
Bob Wolff spent more than 75 years as a professional broadcaster. Every U.S. serviceman came to enjoy and appreciate Wolff’s work on the Armed Forces Radio Network. His most famous games in professional sports history include: Jackie Robinson’s last major league hit in Game Six of the 1956 World Series, (Robinson’s single in the bottom of the tenth inning scored Jim Gilliam for a 1-0 win for Brooklyn), Yankees’ pitcher, Don Larsen’s perfect game thrown in Game Five, also in the 1956 World Series, the 1958 NFL Championship Game won in sudden-death overtime by the Baltimore Colts over the New York Giants. This football game is often referred to as the “Greatest Game Ever Played.” Wolff was also on the call when Mickey Mantle hit his famous 565-foot home run off Chuck Stobbs in 1953. Mantle’s blast cleared the wall of Griffith Stadium in Washington and landed in the backyard of a house across the street. It is believed to be the longest home run ever hit in a Major League baseball game.
Over the years, Wolff broadcast games for eight different sports and averaged more than 250 live events each year well past his eightieth birthday. He estimated that he had covered over 11,000 sporting events and had spent over eight days of his life standing at attention for the playing of the National Anthem. He is still the only broadcaster to have called the championship game of all four major sports: baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Wolff joined Curt Gowdy as the only two broadcasters to be enshrined in both the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. When Wolff was inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while strumming his ukulele. Wolff also has a place on the Madison Square Garden “Walk of Fame.”
In 1996, Wolff wrote one of his three published books entitled, It’s Not Who Won or Lost the Game - - It’s How You Sold the Beer. In this book he recalled a live interview with a fan in the stands between innings. After a few questions, the fan revealed himself as Richard Nixon, the Vice President of the United States.
In June of 2009, the Washington Nationals, who returned baseball to the city in 2005, unveiled a plaque in Wolff’s honor and named their broadcast booth at Nationals Park, “the Bob Wolff Suite.”
In 2013, Wolff donated 1,400 video and audio recordings, representing over 1,000 hours of broadcast tapes to the Library of Congress. These tapes included his interviews with the legendary Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, Jim Thorpe, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson. They will be treasured for years to come.
A voice for the ages, Bob Wolff signed off for the last time on Saturday, July 15, 2017. The 96-year-old Wolff was living at his home in South Nyack, New York. Wolff is survived by his wife Jane, three children: Rick Wolff, Robert Wolff and Margy Clark; nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Bob Wolff always played it straight and, at 96 years of age, the only thing he ever cheated was time.
September 14, 2017 | Issue #700
Larry Merchant recently said, “Boxing is no longer mainstream, but there are more fights on cable television than ever before.” I’m old enough to remember the great fights. The heavyweights ruled the world of boxing in the seventies and early eighties. Before them, many great middleweight fighters earned dignity and respect in the squared ring.
Boxing is a brutal sport, where you can sometimes see your opponent taste his own blood. In this sport, a powerful overhand right and a chin made of lead were required to remain standing. This man would box until they turned out the lights. In the beginning, he was polished but a destroyer; he must have been a little crazy inside. He was always looking for that sweet spot between good and evil, a place to land a punch that would end it. He was as brave as Caesar and had more iron in his fists than a bloodmobile. He would knock the daylights out of his opponents and was strong enough to slam a revolving door shut. If he got dialed in, forget about it; you were going down. His opponents became walking bruises. Talk about giving up; most of the guys he beat up should have been waving a white flag. When they’re on their backs, you could sell advertising on the bottoms of their shoes. You need to understand that in a sport full of dreams, you could be beaten hopeless. Boxing is also a science, you can’t fight mad in the ring. Winning made him feel alive, like King Kong on cocaine, and they raised his right hand in victory 85 times.
They say in the sport of boxing that a clear conscience is the sign of a bad memory. One event on March 24, 1962, lasting just 20 seconds in Griffith’s boxing career, would leave him forever haunted.
Emile Alphonse Griffith was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands on February 3, 1938. Emile never dreamed of being a professional fighter. He was discovered by the owner of a ladies’ hat shop, where Emile worked. The owner had been an amateur boxer and, when he saw Griffith working shirtless, he was impressed with his build. He introduced Griffith to trainer Gil Clancy.
Gil Clancy had spent his life training fighters and working ringside behind a microphone. “You have to be taught how to fight. It’s not a strength sport, it’s a skill sport,” said Clancy. “Hand speed and balance are far more important than muscles and strength.” He taught left foot forward, right foot back, elbows in--once you get a good foundation under them, then you can teach them how to punch. The first Clancy fighter to find success was Ralph “Tiger” Jones. Jones would defeat great fighters like “Sugar Ray” Robinson, Joey Giardello and “Kid” Gavilan, but his first champion was Emile Griffith. They would spend 20 years together winning the Welterweight and Middleweight Championships of the world. Other greats like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Jerry Quarry, and Gerry Cooney recognized Clancy’s talent and he worked with them in their corner before their big fights.
I remember watching Emile Griffith fight on Gillette Friday Night Fights on TV, with my dad. “It took eight fights to bring Emile Griffith’s family to the U.S. from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; every win meant enough money for another family member to fly to the States. Every time he made some money, he found a way to spend it,” said Clancy.
Emile had a good stiff jab, but he lost his killer instinct. “When he had a chance to put away a fighter, he slowed down,” said Clancy. Griffith won the 1958 New York Golden Gloves, Eastern Golden Gloves, and the National Golden Gloves under the watchful eye of Clancy. Griffith won 19 of his first 21 fights after turning professional.
After beating Florentino Fernandez and then busting up Luis Rodriquez, Emile was matched against current Welterweight Champ Benny Paret. Three times they fought each other with each winning one of the first two fights. Griffith took the welterweight title from Benny “Kid” Paret on April 1, 1961, and then gave it back September 30, 1961. Now it’s March 24, 1962, at Madison Square Garden, the twelfth round of the rubber match, and Paret has provided Griffith with extra motivation by touching Griffith on the buttocks and insinuating in Spanish that Griffith was a homosexual at their weigh-in. Emile became enraged and had to be restrained by his trainers. Paret came close to stopping Griffith in the sixth round with a lightning-fast combination, but Griffith was saved by the bell. After that round, Clancy screamed at Griffith to keep punching until either Paret held him or the referee made them break away from each other. “You keep punching until he does that,” says Clancy. During the twelfth round, Griffith eventually pinned Paret in the corner of the ring and unleashed 17 unanswered punches before Benny slumped to the floor. Referee Ruby Goldstein, a veteran of many championship fights, stopped the fight. Paret lay on the canvas unconscious and died ten days later in Roosevelt Hospital, without ever regaining his senses. The world of boxing, captured by ABC on black-and-white televisions across the United States, exposed the inherent violence of the sport. It was said that Emile Griffith entered the ring with the desire to punish Paret for his pre-fight comments. Griffith insisted he was only trying to knock Benny out, as he had done to numerous other fighters before. Even though Griffith would continue to fight for another fifteen years, he was never the same fighter. During an interview with Gary Smith in 2005, Emile admitted, “After Paret, I never wanted to hurt a guy again. I was always holding back.”
Interestingly, Goldstein the referee had a reputation of stopping fights in the early stages if a fighter appeared to be in trouble. Goldstein retired after the fight and never refereed again. Paret’s manager also took some heat for not throwing in the towel during the beating. Eventually Emile Griffith met with Benny Paret’s son, Benny Jr. Through tears they embraced as Griffith asked “Are you the Kid’s son? I didn’t go in there to hurt no one.” After retirement, Emile Griffith would visit Paret’s grave every week.
Griffith took the Lewis and Clark route to the Boxing Hall of Fame. Emile fought 24 times at the Mecca of professional boxing, Madison Square Garden. He also fought all over Canada, the United States and many other foreign countries including: Kensington and Wembley, England; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Sydney, New South Wales; Copenhagen, Denmark; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hamburg and Berlin, Germany; Cartagena, Spain; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Rome, Italy; Fontvielle, France; and Stadthalle, Vienna.
From 1958 to 1977, Emile Griffith put up his dukes and fought the good fight 112 times. He won often enough (85) to receive six world championships within three different weight classes: middleweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Twenty-three of his wins were by knockout. He also scored one draw and one no-contest. It was enough to land him in both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Emile also has a park named in his honor in his native Virgin Islands.
Emile Griffith went down for the count on July 23, 2013. At 75 years of age, he could not out-punch liver failure. He also suffered from a dreadful bout of dementia which robbed him of his memories. At the time of his death, Emile was living in Hempstead, New York, at a full-time care unit. Luis Rodrigo Griffith, Emile’s adopted son and caregiver, was with him until the end. I was once reminded that we are what we remember. Maybe it was best that Griffith remembered nothing. Forever haunted no more.
August 30, 2017 | Special Edition Issue #6
There he sat with bags of ice on each knee before every game. It was hard for others to ask for a day off with this guy in the room. Big smile, Hollywood looks; he thought he was lucky to be a big league ballplayer. I thought it was the other way around. This man was the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind getting stuck in a submarine with. It didn’t make any difference who you were or what you looked like, if he liked you, you were stuck with him. That’s just the way it was. He was true to himself. On the field, he looked as happy as a cocker spaniel in the back of a pickup truck on the freeway. He played very little at first; if you reached for your beer during the game, you would miss seeing him. He was a rugged do-it-all kind of player. If this guy had two good knees, he could have played forever. He turned into a fan favorite and a pleasure to watch.
There is an old Chinese proverb that goes like this, “You cannot pick up a pebble with one finger.” Darren “Dutch” Daulton understood that there isn’t anything little in baseball. Every man plays his own part to the best of his ability; no matter how boring it may seem, how simple, or how mundane, it all matters. As for most of the things that cause teams to lose, they don’t even know what they are. Most of what you do in the outfield is thankless, and defense is a nine-man effort on every play.
Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn once said, “When you sign your name on the dotted line, it means more than just playing the game of baseball. You’ve got to be responsible and show people how things are supposed to be done.” That was the very definition of Darren Daulton. No one loved baseball more than Dutch.
Darren Arthur Daulton grew up in Arkansas City, Kansas. He was born on January 3, 1962, to Carol and David Daulton. Darren was the starting quarterback and played baseball for Arkansas City High School. He was drafted in 1980, by the Philadelphia Phillies, in the 25th round. Daulton was just a wide-eyed kid when he was called up in 1983. The Phillies were composed of a core of fine players like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Gary Maddox, Steve Carlton, and Mike Schmidt. “I learned to play baseball from these old-school guys,” said Dutch.
Darren made his Major League debut on September 25, 1983. The Phillies had two All-Star catchers on their roster, Ozzie Virgil Jr., and Lance Parrish. Daulton received only three at-bats that season. He would play sparingly until 1988. Dutch became the Phillies’ starting catcher in 1989. Known primarily as a defensive catcher, he suffered at the plate until 1990. Dutch hit .268 and caught Terry Mulholland’s no-hitter on August 15, 1990. His career almost ended before it began. On May 6, 1991, Daulton was riding home with Lenny Dysktra from a bachelor party for teammate John Kruk when Dysktra slammed his car into two trees. Dysktra had three broken ribs, a broken collarbone and cheekbone, and was charged with drunk driving. Dutch had a broken left eye socket, scratched cornea and bruised chest.
Dutch’s best year at the plate was during the 1992 season. He hit 27 home runs and drove in 109 RBI’s but, unfortunately, the Phillies finished in last place in the Eastern Division of the National League. Dutch was presented his one and only Silver Slugger Award and made his first of three All-Star teams.
Darren Daulton played only 67 games during the 1994 season, due to a knee injury. He rebounded in 1995 and made his third All-Star team (1992, 1993, 1995), while playing in only 98 games. In 1996, because of another knee injury, Darren was able to start in only five games. Daulton played the 1997 season in left field for Philadelphia. After 14 seasons and nine knee surgeries with the Phillies, Daulton was traded. Darren was sent to the Florida Marlins on July 21, 1997, for Billy McMillon. He was given #20 to wear. Daulton hit .263 with 14 home runs during that season. Playing first base and pinch hitting for the Marlins, Daulton went 7-for-18 and hit .389 for the Series and led the Marlins to their first World Series victory, over the Cleveland Indians. Daulton played in his final game on October 26, 1997. It was Game 7 of the World Series. He retired immediately after the Series ended.
No doubt, Daulton was the heartbeat of this weird, wacky bunch of guys who enjoyed playing at life as much as they did baseball. Dutch was the glue that held this crazy bunch together. His teammates called him the Godfather. He reminded me of Jim Bowie, the leader of his rag-tag bunch of ruffians at the Alamo. Dutch was the kind of guy who would stay at your house about two hours after the party ended. The team was made up of out-of-shape ballplayers like John Kruk, Curt Schilling, Lenny Dysktra and Mitch Williams, who sported beards and funny-looking haircuts. They stayed up late after games, drank beer in the trainer’s room and talked baseball. Even though the Phillies did not name a captain during Daulton’s career, make no mistake that Dutch was the man. “When he spoke, we listened,” said John Kruk. “No one said anything. No one popped off.”
Dutch Daulton played 14 seasons of Major League ball. He retired with a .245 career batting average, a .357 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage. He hit 137 home runs, recorded 588 RBI’s and scored 511 runs, while playing in 1,161 games. On August 6, 2010, Dutch was inducted into the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame.
Daulton understood that, as players, they compete against the baseball and not the other team or who’s pitching. After the pitcher lets go of the ball, he can’t do anything about it. It’s what are you going to do to the baseball. You are always playing against the baseball, not your opponent.
After his career, Daulton was arrested for vehicle-related charges. He was charged with several DUI’s and had his license suspended several times. Eventually he would serve two and a half months in jail and another two and a half months in drug rehabilitation.
Daulton also published a book in 2007, entitled If They Only Knew. This book expounded upon his claims of experimenting with the paranormal.
In July of 2013, Dutch Daulton was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He underwent surgery to remove two brain tumors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. On February 23, 2015, Dutch announced he was cancer free, but the cancer returned in 2017.
Daulton was a long-time resident of Clearwater, Florida, the home of the Phillies’ Spring Training complex.
I am reminded of what Hall-of-Fame broadcaster, Vin Scully, once said, “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and the Old-Timers’ Game.” Darren Daulton died of brain cancer at the age of 55. The date will read August 6, 2017.
Book signing this Saturday,
I am so pleased to announce that I have decided to dedicate my book signing on Saturday, September 9, to my friend Bill Batey. Along with the dedication I will donate 100% of the royalties from any of my books sold during the event to the victims of Hurricane Harvey located here in the Coastal Bend in Bill’s name. He would have like that. I hope you can be a part of this event and please feel free to share this info with your friends.
I will be joined by many local coaches and Hall of Famers. This is a great time to get their autographs too.
Location: Barnes & Noble in Moore Plaza Time: 1-3 PM.
My number is 549 1619 and yes I will stay all afternoon to sign books if needed.
What’s Your Nickname?
August 30, 2017 | Special Edition Issue #698
“Ducky,” “Dazzy,” “Daffy,” “Dizzy,” and “Double Duty;” nicknames have been a part of baseball for as long as anyone can remember. Baseball nicknames have always been more prevalent because the sport itself has been in existence since 1869. Nicknames are fun, descriptive, and most often remind us of something that a particular player did during a game or perhaps where he was from. Most players’ nicknames were given to them by their teammates or managers, but every now and again, a writer or announcer would create a nickname to use as a tag line in the newspaper or on air during a broadcast. If you didn’t have a nickname, there was a good chance you were not very good or certainly not “top of mind” with the fans. Nicknames became so popular they are even used on their Hall-of-Fame plagues. So, have you ever heard of Ducky Medwick, Dazzy Vance, Daffy Dean, Dizzy Dean or Double Duty Radcliffe?
In the earliest days of baseball, all the teams traveled by train. The industrial revolution was running full steam ahead, so it was only natural that some players’ performances would be attached to these metal monsters on wheels. “The Iron Horse,” “Big Train,” “Scrap Iron,” and “The Mechanical Man,” were used to describe Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Phil Garner and Charlie Gehringer. Nolan Ryan and Tommy Henrich were known as “The Ryan Express” and “Old Reliable” respectively.
Sometimes players’ nicknames reminded us of what town or state they were from. “The Georgia Peach,” “Louisiana Lightning,” “The Reading Rifle” and “Vinegar Bend” were a few. Others included, “The Fordham Flash,” “The Commerce Comet,” “Duke of Flatbush” and “The Katy Rocket.” Add “The Kentucky Colonel,” “Country,” “The Dominican Dandy” and “The Spaceman,” and you begin to get the picture. Could you have guessed in order, Ty Cobb, Rod Guidry, Carl Furillo, Wilmer Mizell, Frankie Frisch, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Roger Clemens, “Pee Wee” Reese, Enos Slaughter, Juan Marichal and Bill Lee?
Nicknames were also used like titles to salute the greatness of some. “Mr. Cub,” “Mr. October,” “Marse Joe,” “The Mahatma” and “Major,” placed players and managers on a pedestal. “El Presidente,” “Rajah,” “Prince Hal,” “King Carl” and “Master Melvin” are a few more examples. Would you have known the nicknames of Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, Joe McCarthy, Branch Rickey, Ralph Houk, Dennis Martinez, Rogers Hornsby, Hal Newhouser, Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott?
Many players’ first names were used in their nickname. Those examples are many. “Donny Baseball,” “Charlie Hustle,” “Harry the Hat,” “Alexander the Great,” “Will the Thrill,” “Mick the Quick,” “Tom Terrific,” “Billy Buck,” and the legend himself, “Stan the Man,” are a few. Those players’ names were well known: Don Mattingly, Pete Rose, Harry Walker, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Will Clark, Mickey Rivers, Tom Seaver, Bill Buckner and Stan Musial.
The reverse was also true. “Bucketfoot Al,” “Shoeless Joe,” “Sunny Jim,” “Marvelous Marv,” “Pistol Pete,” “Rapid Robert,” “Sleepy Bill,” “Gorgeous George,” “Steady Eddie,” “Sudden Sam,” “Sad Sam,” “Jumping Joe,” “Hammerin’ Hank,” “Diamond Jim,” “Bullet Joe” and “Bullet Bob,” were nicknames that included the players’ first name at the end. Those players’ names are as follows: Al Simmons, Joe Jackson, Jim Bottomley, Marv Throneberry, Pete Reiser, Bob Feller, Bill Burns, George Sisler Eddie Murray, Sam McDowell, Sam Jones, Joe Dugan, Hank Aaron, Jim Gentile, Joe Bush and Bob Turley.
Many players wore the moniker of our winged feathered friends. “Birdie,” “Hawk,” “The Grey Eagle,” “The Rooster,” “Bird,” “Goose,” “The Penguin,” “The Roadrunner,” “The Crow” and “Gooney,” were used to talk about George Tebbits, Andre Dawson, Tris Speaker, Rick Burleson, Mark Fidrych, Rich Gossage, Ron Cey, Ralph Garr, Frankie Crosetti and Don Larsen.
Lots of players were also given a nickname that represented other animals. “Moose,” “Rabbit,” “Catfish,” “Cobra,” “The Flea” and “The Wild Hoss of the Osage” were a few. These players’ real names were: Bill Skowron, James Maranville, Jim Hunter, Dave Parker, Freddie Patek and Johnny Martin who also went by another nickname, “Pepper.”
The word “Big” is used quite often in nicknames as in “The Big Cat,” “The Big Unit,” “The Big Hurt,” “Big Mac” and “Big Popi.” Of course they are as follows: Johnny Mize, Randy Johnson, Frank Thomas, Mark McGuire and David Ortiz.
I think it’s interesting that lots of nicknames start with the letter “B.” “The Bull,” “The Barber,” “Baggie,” “Boog,” “Boomer,” “Bulldog,” “Blue Moon,” “Boo,” “Biz,” “Blackjack” and “The Brat,” are just a few. These nicknames represent Greg Luzinski, Sal Maglie, Jeff Bagwell, John Powell, David Wells, Orel Hershiser, John Odom, Dave Ferriss, Negro-Leaguer James Mackey, Jack McDowell and Eddie Stanky.
The letter “S” is also used to start its fair share of nicknames. “Scooter,” “Slats,” “Stretch,” “Senor,” “Suitcase,” “Sarge” and the “Say Hey Kid,” are well known nicknames for great players such as Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion, Willie McCovey, Al Lopez, Harry Simpson, Gary Mathews and, of course, the wonderful Willie Mays.
In my opinion, some of the funniest nicknames are Robert “Hack” Wilson, Willie “Pops” Stargell, Roger “Doc” Cramer, Ryne “Ryno” Sandberg, Dennis “Eck” Eckersley, Robert “Hoot” Gibson, Don “Newk” Newcombe, Pete “Inky” Incaviglia, Ted “Klu” Kluszewski, Howard “Hojo” Johnson, Charles “Chili” Davis, Harry “Cookie” Lavagetto, Eddie “Cocky” Collins, Jose “Cheo” Cruz, and Johnny “The Human Crab” Evers.
Some believed that Kennesaw Mountain Landis was a nickname for the Judge and first ever commissioner of Major League baseball, but not true. It was his real name.
There are a handful of players that were so great, one nickname would not suffice. George Herman Ruth had many nicknames, including “The Babe.” Ruth would also be called “The Sultan of Swat,” the “Great Bambino,” “Big Bam,” the “Colossus of Clout,” “King of Crash,” the “Bambino” and the “King of Swing.” The great Ted Williams carried as many as four nicknames that I can use here: “The Kid,” the “Splendid Splinter,” “Teddy Ballgame” and “Thumper.” Ted’s nemesis, Joe DiMaggio, was also referred to with several nicknames. The “Yankee Clipper” was the most popular, but he was also called “Joltin’ Joe” and simply “Joe D.”
This is by no means a complete list and, as you read along, you may remember some I have left out. My sports talk radio pal, Dennis Quinn, tries to stump me at the beginning of every show. So far, I have held my own. We also enjoy giving our guests and listeners nicknames, on our show. I have read where there were about 7,000 baseball players with nicknames out of the 19,000 or so players who have played in the Major Leagues and new ones occur every year.
So, this weekend, MLB decided to have a “Player’s Weekend” where each player could sport his nickname on the back of their jersey. Three hundred fifty seven of the players chose to use some form of their original name, like “KB” for Kris Bryant, “Tony” for Anthony Rizzo, “Miggy” for Miguel Cabrera or “Mad Bum” for Madison Bumgarner. But some of the more interesting nicknames were “All Rise” by Aaron Judge, “Mr. Smile” by Francisco Lindor, “Big Fudge” by Jake Marisnick, “Boomstick” by Nelson Cruz or “Big City” for Matt Adams. Who was your favorite?
“Never Nervous” Andy Purvis
An Umpire for Life
August 17, 2017 | Issue #696
He was a fairly tall, good-looking guy, who moved with long deliberate strides that told you he knew where he was headed. With a great smile and eyes that sparkled, he put you at ease quickly. This guy loved baseball. His first words may have been Teddy Ballgame or “Yaz”.” In a crowd, he appeared more comfortable than an old baseball cap. He had always been fearless and a bit cocky, with lots of confidence. He kind of reminded me of what “Wild Bill” Hickok would have been like to know. He was also intelligent, gave credit to everyone but himself, and was a fine speaker. Some said he could draw a crowd at the North Pole.
No doubt being an umpire is an unusual profession, but for those who enjoy being yelled and cursed at and occasionally threatened, while living out of a suitcase for seven months a year, this is the perfect job. You’ve got to love baseball to be an umpire. I imagine Major League Baseball Umpires always feel out of place, kind of like the third guy on a double date. First, no one comes to a baseball game to watch the umpires and being labeled as invisible may be the best you can say about them. They argue for a living and no one roots for the umpire. Umpires have no home park; they play all their games away. They are paid well and only have one job, to get every call right. Point-four seconds is the time a hitter has to hit a 95 mph fastball after it has been released by the pitcher. It’s also the time an umpire has to call that pitch a ball or a strike. Steve Palermo was a Hall-of-Fame person and a darn good umpire. He always respected the game, regardless of who the players were.
Warren Buffett once said, “The world is a great movie to watch, but you don’t want to sleep walk though it. Look for a job you would take if you didn’t need a job and your life will be wonderful.” Umpire Steve Palermo fit this description perfectly, until one hot July summer night in Dallas.
Stephen Michael Palermo was born on October 9, 1949, in Worcester, Massachusetts. His father, Vincent, was an elementary school principal and his mother, Angela, was a homemaker. Steve studied education at Norwich University, Leicester Junior College and Worcester State College. For extra cash, he would spend his time umpiring Little League and high school baseball games. It was during one of these Little League All-Star games that Barney Deary, the fellow in charge of Major League Baseball’s Umpire Development Program, saw him work. In 1971, Deary convinced Palermo to drop out of college and enroll in an umpiring school in Florida. Five years later, Palermo took his place on the field as a professional umpire. He made his Major League debut on October 2, 1976. He was 27 years old. In 1977, Steve became a fulltime American League professional umpire. In 1980, the umpires started wearing numbers on their uniform. Steve wore #14. He was considered one of the best in the business by his fellow umpires, Major League players and managers.
Palermo had his share of excitement. On October 2, 1978, Steve was umpiring third base when the Yankees’ Bucky Dent hit a go ahead three-run home run over the Green Monster, in the 7th inning, to determine the Eastern Division Champs. Palermo’s dad was a Red Sox fan and questioned why Steve had called the shot a “fair ball.” Palermo later said, “It was fair by about 20 feet.” On July 4, 1983, Palermo was behind home plate when Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees threw a no-hitter at Yankee Studium. Along the way, Steve also worked the 1983 World Series. I personally saw him work the 1986 All-Star Game in Houston, Texas. Steve also worked four different American League Championship Series (1980, ’82, ’84 and 1989).
On Saturday July 7, 1991, Palermo and his fellow umpires went out to eat after the ballgame. Steve had worked third base that night, as the California Angels were in town to play the Texas Rangers. They had eaten before at Campisi’s Egyptian restaurant on Mockingbird Lane. It was late when the manager of the restaurant shouted out that two of his waitresses who had just finished their shift, were being attacked in the parking lot. Palermo and two other men, one being former SMU football player, Terrence Mann, ran out to stop the robbery. They caught one of the robbers. Two others jumped in a car with a driver and the three fled away, but returned shortly thereafter and fired several shots at the rescuers. Mann was hit twice, once in the arm and once in the neck. A fourth shot struck Palermo in the back. He just dropped to the ground immediately, like when the lights go out. The bullet wound severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the waist down. The doctor told Steve and his wife, he may never walk again. But the doctor didn’t know Steve Palermo. As an umpire, Palermo was not used to losing arguments and set out to regain his ability to walk. Just three months after the shooting, with rehabilitation and determination, Steve Palermo had recovered well enough to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game One of the 1991 World Series, played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. With the help of a cane and a small leg brace, Palermo returned to the field and the game he loved, but he would never umpire a baseball game again.
Next Week: Trouble ahead
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 email@example.com. 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.