This morning while watching “Mike & Mike” on ESPN, a debate arose as to which city has spawned the best athletes in the big four sports with Boston being touted as #1. The listener who did this listed the following three athletes: Larry Bird, Bobby Orr and Ted Williams.
That got me thinking.
Greeny and Golic decided that Bird wouldn’t even be the best basketball player on the list, subbing in Bill Russell. And when they tossed in Tom Brady as the best football player from Boston, they had a tough Top 4 to beat.
But it seemed that the ESPN duo did much of their estimating between Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles based on emotion and remembrance. So being the stat freak that I am, I decided to try and see exactly how history might answer this question.
I quickly Googled the Top 100 players in each of the four major sports – Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL). After a substantial amount of format editing in compiling lists from four different sites, I finally had something of an answer.
Before I reveal my findings I just want to say that these results are the best available, as I could not find all four lists from one source. I took them from the most reliable sources I could find, but these are not based on stats but on nationwide polls conducted at various points. One list came from ESPN (MLB) and I’m sure they likely have Top 100s for the other three as well. I just couldn’t find them.
That said, here we go!
The assertion that Boston has the best four athletes in the four major sports proves accurate. The following list, as will the others that follow, will include the top players, in order, from MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL with their sport rank in parenthesis and that city’s rank average on the final line.
- Ted Williams (4)
- Tom Brady (9)
- Bill Russell (3)
- Bobby Orr (2)
- Boston = 4.50
Oddly enough, the next closest city wasn’t even in Mike & Mike’s initial discussion, although they did bring them into the discussion later. That city: Detroit.
- Ty Cobb (6)
- Barry Sanders (4)
- Isaiah Thomas (25)
- Gordie Howe (3)
- Detroit = 9.50
Number three on the list is Chicago.
- Eddie Collins (42)
- Walter Payton (3)
- Michael Jordan (1)
- Bobby Hull (8)
- Chicago = 13.50
New York was just a fraction behind the “Windy City” in fourth place.
- Babe Ruth (1)
- Lawrence Taylor (5)
- Willis Reed (30)
- Denis Potvan (19)
- New York = 13.75
Los Angeles fell into fifth place, but proved to be an interesting rank due to Wayne Gretzky. If you look at “The Great One” statistically, he really did most of his damage in Montreal. But his popularity really grew when he hit the media center of Los Angeles. If you leave Gretzky in Montreal, that makes the top NHL player in Los Angeles as Marcel Dionne at #38 and with a city average of 26.75. But for the sake of the argument, we’ll include Gretzky in the City of Angels.
- Sandy Koufax (44)
- Eric Dickerson (23)
- Kareem Abduhl-Jabbar (2)
- Wayne Gretzky (1)
- Los Angeles = 17.50
So there you have it. I’m not really sure what this all means, but it interesting to look at where guys played and what impact they have had on the sporting world we live in.
- MLB Top 100 – ESPN.com
- NFL Top 100 – Ranker.com
- NBA Top 100 – Inside Hoops.com
- NHL Top 100 – The Hockey News
Don’t be fooled, this is nothing new.
And don’t think for one second that the NFL is the only league with player issues away from the field. It’s just their turn in the spotlight after keeping so much of it in the dark for so long.
It’s high time that the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and every other pro sports got schooled.
I was once given a glimpse of what it took to become a professional golfer when a friend took on that pursuit. While the expected endless hours of practice were discussed, what really surprised me were the variety of educational courses that were required.Things like managing your finances and handling groupies were part of the mix.
I’m guessing Tiger Woods’ grade in the latter was not so great.
Now, this was back in the late 80s and 90s, so I can only presume that it still exists at that level if not having become more extensive.
But just what is required to become a big league player in football, baseball and basketball?
We hear tales of former player/coaches like Herm Edwards going in and talking to rookie NFL players about how to handle themselves on and off the field and what a privilege it is to play the game. We can only assume that some kind of similar “rah-rah” speeches are given baseball, basketball and hockey.
But are these one-time gab sessions really getting it done? Evidently not.
So what to do?
I say we send them back to class.
With offenses like spousal abuse, child abuse and a variety of drug and PED abuse running rampant in pro sports today, it’s time these men and women were brought up to speed on just what they’re up against.
It is this writer’s opinion that professional sports be required to have all of its players, coaches and team personnel in a series of classes each and every off-season. They need to be attending classes on every kind of abuse – in how to avoid it, how to identify it and how to report it. They need classes in how to handle fans and reporters, and most of all how to handle their money.
These courses cannot be administered by the teams or leagues themselves. Rather, they need to be given by independent organizations and carry very real, very serious curriculum. Curriculum that must be studied, learned and regurgitated on very real tests. And they need to be given very real, very serious grades.
No, not like the “grades” they had in college. We’re talking grades that carry a significant penalty if they don’t get at least an 80%. They don’t pass, they don’t play, train or practice with the team until they do.
Courses like these would make help these athletes more aware of these cultural maladies and help them to avoid falling into them as well as identifying teammates who may be nearing the edge of making a mistake.
And yes, they need to be held accountable for not reporting it. Like teachers and various community service personnel, they need to be held accountable for not reporting information to their independent team officials if they see someone slipping into a pattern of abusing their wife or kids, or experimenting with various drugs or PEDs.
If they don’t report, they don’t play.
You may argue that this is demeaning to these players, treating them like children.
Well maybe when they stop acting like children, we can stop treating them that way.
Chances have been given. Repeatedly.
Opportunities afforded. Repeatedly.
Enough is enough.
The recent revelation that the NFL has had in its possession, since sometime in April, the full and uncut version of the Ray Rice beating of his then fiancee Janay Palmer from February 15, 2014, only serves to prove that they cannot handle anything properly. Even when a grievous offense such as this is laid out clearly before them, they can only think of their bottom line.
The absolute last thing on their mind was doing what was right.
Commissioner Roger Goodell claims that he and the league never saw the full footage. But an AP writer claims that a law enforcement official sent a copy of the tape – with both the elevator beat down and Rice pulling Palmer from the car unconscious – in April to an NFL official. Goodell is now left to either admit that he lied or that his staff is so incompetent that they never showed it to him.
You can bet he’ll choose the latter. And if it’s not true, you can bet that whomever he throws under the buss will come back at him like some “Walking Dead” super zombie. But instead of shuffling slowly along in search of brains, he or she will hot-foot it straight to the closest news channel spewing dates, times and full accounts.
While it is now clear that between drugs/steroids, cheating and a complete disregard for human decency the NFL is completely incapable of managing its own affairs, they are just a hope, skip and a jump behind the likes of Major League Baseball, all of college sports and the rest.
Someone has to step in and fix this, and they have to do it now.
In my youth I thought that the government could handle a job like this. But several decades of growing up and experience tell me that they the only thing they would have done is screw up decades earlier.
There really isn’t a well qualified person or group who took run any of this with any integrity. So maybe we are just left to watch as the NFL, followed later by MLB, NBA and the rest slowly implode on themselves.
No, there is only one message these people understand. Only one language they speak. Only one thing that they hold precious and that we ultimately control.
The only way to effectively stop this nonsense is to hit them where it hurts the most, right in the wallet.
We can start with the NFL by not patronizing them until a certain level of acceptable behavior has been reached. And no, this is not one of those lame boycotts has is annually tried by not buying gas for one day. The gas doesn’t go anywhere and you are either going to buy it the day before or the day after. They lose nothing.
No, this means not watching games in person or on television. It means not buying their jerseys. It means not buying anything – and I mean ANYTHING – from a company that supports the NFL in any way, shape or form. it means cutting them off 100% so that their overblown, out-of-control egos and salaries are so deflated and depleted that they seriously have to consider going to work in their major from college.
Sadly, that just won’t happen.
A poll in The Baltimore Sun showed that 41% of the respondents thought the Ravens cutting Rice was the wrong decision.
“Fox & Friends” – the supposed defenders of the conservative right – were about as uneducated and unsympathetic Floyd Mayweather. “I think the message is, take the stairs,” said Brian Kilmeade concluded. With Steve Doocy adding, “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.”
No blame for thew abuser. No, certainly not … especially when your employed is in bed every Sunday afternoon with the perpetrator’s head honcho.
Unfortunately a vast portion of our society still thinks that Palmer, as well as other abused victims, must bear some of the fault. And as long as that mentality exists, this kind of ignorance, stupidity and all-out rampant greed will continue.
I’m starting to think that show last Fall, “The Revolution”, wouldn’t be such a bad scenario after all if for no other reason than the people who defend such abusers as Rice would be at their mercy.
And only then would their attitude even begin to change.
So as I’ve moved into my high school years, it seems I’ve fallen off the actual year cycle and into the academic calendar. So be it for the entry.
It had been a mail-in contest, with one entry per person. So I sent in 30 with the same address and different name. There were my parents, Ed & Cathy, and my brothers and sisters. And there was Bill, Frank and Steve that I made up just to name a few. But when the award letter came back it was in MY name.
We had won then right to buy two $3 tickets for $16.50 each. They were at the top of the right-field bleachers, looking right into the sun as the day game made its way into the late afternoon. But hey, we were there and that’s all that mattered.
And when the game came down to the final at bat, we watched as Bill Russell slapped a single to center that the Phillies’ Gary Maadux couldn’t field and allowed Ron Cey to score from second. It was epic and my dad and I were there!
My freshman year, however, was just odd.
I was still terrified of girls, but that was about the furthest thing from my mind.
Well, I’m a guy. So while it wasn’t the furthest thing from my mind, I wasn’t really concentrating on them at this point.
No, it was all about survival. It was about avoiding the likes of John Condos, the older guy who lived down the block from me. He seemed intent on having me push pennies around the rim of a toilet seat or something, and that just wasn’t gonna happen.
Because aside from John, everyone else seemed to think I was a junior or senior. I was a big kid at that age, big enough that more than a few friends hung out with me just to avoid the typical hazing the underclassmen got. Little did they know I’d avoided all manner of confrontation to that point in life, only having two fights through age 15. And both had ended badly for the other guy.
This year’s first memory was my friend James King and some of his other friends getting a little trouble with the law. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that as smart as that group was they acted pretty dumb. The only major problem for me that arose from it was that since I was close friends with James, the campus cops decided I must know something about what was going on. And so for a few weeks they religiously followed me into the gym at lunch time to watch me play basketball, I can only assume they thought some ill-gotten booty would be exchanged from James’ foray to the dark side of the law.
After about a month I had had enough of feeling like a criminal when I was likely socially sanitary than Mr. Clean. My mom drug me into the principal’s office to meet with Mr. McGrath, where she explained that I had better be left alone or there would be hell to pay. Mom was not a master negotiator, she believed in good ol’ blunt force diplomacy.
This was the year that former Beatle John Lennon was killed outside his apartment in New York. I was OK with their music from the 70s and all that, but it wasn’t like they were the end-all-be-all of the world. They were guys, in a band and the sang well. That was it. But when he was shot, you’d have thought the world was coming to an end.
Being much more of a football fan than a Beatles fan, I was a little put off when they interrupted Monday Night Football to announce Lennon’s death. It lasted only a few seconds, with the Patriots and Dolphins not missing a beat on the field. But when asked about it by some staff member of the Burros Blockbuster school newspaper, I gave what I thought was a pithy response with, “I’m sorry he’s dead, but I just don’t think they needed to interrupt Monday Night Football to report it.”
Looking back now, not a great response. But the ire it drew from the school paper’s adviser was a little over the top. She wrote a commentary and cited me as being “… apathetic vermin …”, and that’s where she crossed the line.
The next day Mom and I were back in McGrath’s office. She had been a little perturbed after the campus cop thing, but she was in full-on attack mode now. Had his desk not been so big, I’m sure she would have gnawed his leg off.
McGrath pulled in the teacher, who’s name escapes me now and instructed her to apologize for the commentary and that she had to write a full retraction in the next issue of the school paper. At first she refused. But when McGrath indicated that he already had her termination papers in hand if she failed to comply, she relented and fell in line.
All this time I’m in freshman Geography, being taught by the offbeat teacher named Frank Mazer. Mazer was unlike any other teacher I ever had. He had this strange sense of humor (still does, by the way) and unlike other teachers, he seemed to
really care deeply if you got the material. He didn’t just want you to learn it, he wanted you to genuinely get it.
As basketball season rolled around, I found out that he was the freshman coach. I went through tryouts and ended up as one of the 15 young men to make the squad. I wasn’t a front line player, but I hustled my way into significant playing time. I dove for so many balls that Mazer would later nickname me the Human Bruise.
That moniker didn’t stick, but another one did – Magic Gut.
There has always been a lot discussion and interest into how this name came to be, and why I even let it exist as it seems derogatory in nature. But trust me, when considered against the other names I was getting called, it was clearly the best of the bunch.
One day while playing basketball at lunch (long after the campus cops had stopped being my lunch-time “fan club”) we were in there playing hard and having a great time. On this particular day, we were all acting as our own play-by-play announcers, ‘broadcasting’ our maneuvers and trick shots as we executed them. It was kind of dumb. But hey, we were freshmen!
It was in the Spring and the NCAA Tournament had just ended, with Michigan State having defeated Indiana State for the title. One player emerged from that game on a media rocket ride, and his name was Ervin “Magic” Johnson.
So as I took the ball at the top of the key, I decided to drive to the hoop and began by ‘broadcast’…
“Magic fakes left, dribbles right, spins to the hoop and scores! Magic Johnson rolls it in!”
It was at that moment that Greg Markarian, chimed in with, “More like Magic Gut!”
Everyone laughed, but it wasn’t at me. And that made all the difference.
A few years later I did the same thing to Rob White. But we’ll save that story for a few chapters down the road.
That summer, while playing in my final year of Senior League, I had my first and only multiple home run year. I hit one of Jimmy Lawler and one off Paul Bergens. Those feats of strength jump-started a great season in which I struck out 30 times in 18 games.
Yeah, the pros were sure to be impressed.
My sophomore year was a little less strained. I knew my place with women and it was either as the “coveted” big brother or as the undatebale material guy. Either way, i was OK with it, so let’s move on!
When basketball season rolled around we had tryouts and there were a ton of guys going out. We all hustled our butts off for two weeks to impress coach Al Sedios and then gathered in the locker room after the final session to find out who had made it and who was going home. Sedios started slowly reading a list of the 15 names of the guys who made the team, and when he stopped reading mine had not been called.
This was really the first of a series of moments in my life where I really thought I knew what was going to happen, but this time it didn’t. As we left the training room and headed to our lockers, some of the guys tried to console me. It did little good. There were guys on that team I knew I was better than and all my mind could was race in a feeble attempt to ascertain why they got picked and I did not.
I went home, flopped into bed and cried.
The next morning I sat in front of a TV watching Saturday morning cartoons. I had found a six-pack of 7-Up in the garage and was drinking them as I watched the likes of “Thundarr the Barbarian” on the screen. I’d polish off a can, crush it and rifle it into the fireplace. My mom would walk through the room occasionally, looking me over and just letting me sit. She new I was ticked and I think even she was a bit miffed.
Then the phone rang.
“Tim, its for you,” she called from the living room. “Its Steve Fry.”
“What does he want?” I scowled.
“I don’t know, just come and take it.”
I did and said hello.
“Hey Tim, its Steve. I was just wondering why you weren’t at practice today?”
I had been in a bad mood that morning, that put me in overdrive in a heart beat. “Real funny Steve. How about we meet somewhere and I kick your ass?”
I’m guessing that Sedios must have heard that through the earpiece on the other end, listening to Steve’s call as he made it from the Burroughs coaches office. I heard the rustle of a phone being given to someone else and then he came on the line.
“Tim, this is coach Sedios and I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” said Sedios.
He went on to explain that when he was reading the names the night before he must have skipped over mine, telling me he was as nervous to read the names as we were to hear them. Of course, none of us were counting names, we were just listening for our own.
He related how when the team’s practice had come to an end that morning that the guys were all on the line and he only counted 14. “Where’s Allen?” he asked, to which Fry had responded, “You cut him last night.”
Oh to have been a fly on the wall of the gym that day.
When I coached years later, that one experience proved more valuable than just about any other athletically. It gave me the perspective of being cut when I had never been cut before. And it allowed me to show compassion to those I was having to let go from the team.
At the end of that year we played a game in Palmdale that I will never for get. It was a very intense game and right before the final buzzer a huge fight broke out. The benches cleared and when the melee was cleared, the refs were ready to call the game a double forfeit because neither team had any players left.
It was then that Mazer, having been sitting with Sedios on the bench, pointed over to where our team had been sitting. And still seated was myself, the pacifist. I thought the reason they were fighting was stupid, so I just sat there and watched the whole thing. And when the refs confirmed that I hadn’t moved, we got the win.
I got my first job sometime this year as well, working for Mr. Dye at Compard Computer Center. We sold these things called Apples and they were just cool. Mr. Dye’s task for me was to learn how to play all of the games that were available for them. Yeah, play games. All afternoon. And get PAID for it. Life was good!
As time passed I got into repairing them as well. One day a guy brought in a machine that was in a wood case, not too much unlike the one see at the right. When I went to fix it it had a serial number of a bunch of zeroes and something like 48 at the end. We logged it, repaired it and sent it on its way. Knowing what we know now, I’d have kept it and gave him a new one. That thing had probably come right our of Steve Wosniak’s garage and today would be worth a ton.
Burroughs baseball came and went, with nothing substantial in the mix. And summer was now void of much of the action I had seen previously because I was too old for Little League. So it was work and summer school so I could finish up Driver’s Ed and get my license.
Next time, I become and upper classman!
Junior High. That time in life when the acne you’ve managed to ignore for the previous several years becomes the defining aspect of your entire being.
I’ve now reached age 13 in my quest to recount the past 50 years of my life as I head toward my birthday later this month. And these next six years were clearly the most formative of my life.
After completing sixth grade and leaving the likes of Mrs. Oretga, Mrs. Urseth and Mr. Oshel behind, I entered into a realm where classes changed every hour and the struggle to figure who we were was cloaked in everything we did.
Welcome to James Monroe Junior High School.
I was a little overwhelmed that seventh grade year. As someone who was very into sports, I didn’t play anything for the school that first year. In all honesty, I just didn’t think I had anything to offer. I played baseball when the spring rolled around, and at the time, that was all that mattered.
It was during that first year that I met James King. James lived in the outer reaches of Inyokern and spent something like 20-30 minutes one way on the bus to school each day. And while his athletic career never existed because of that commute, he was an extremely talented brainiac. When we got to eighth grade, Mr. Maxwell had a contest to see who could figure out how to get all of the numbers 1-100 using only four fours in a variety of equations. James won that contest and then took it to the extreme, figuring out how to make every number up to like 100,000 or something. No contest. No prize. Just did it because he could.
Yeah, made my head hurt too.
Becoming James’ friend was really the first time I realized that I possessed the strange ability to converse with both geeks and jocks. Kind of like an interpreter, but for two groups that rarely take to each other or have need to do so. Its proven to be a semi-useful skill as the years have gone by. Too bad Syrians and Jews aren’t jocks and geeks.
When baseball season rolled around it was a grand season, capped by my making the 3-year-old All-Star team. We only had on e tournament to play in Tehachapi, but oh what a weekend that turned out to be.
When we got to the field for our first game, my dad noticed that the umpired were climbing out of this unusual van. As my parents explained later, the umpires were convicts from Tehachapi Prison, a facility for mostly drug dealers and users and one my brother had the unfortunate experience of spending extended amounts of time in . But they were on work release and the tourney directors assured us they would be fine, and they were far better than promised.
The plate umpire was a long, lanky site of a man named Slim Johnson. For him to have to squat down so that he could accurately call balls and strikes seemed like more punishment than anyone in that facility deserved, especially for multiple games. But Slim was so enthusiastic about his job that he made every call seem like a cheer. And when someone was called out on strikes to end a frame, he exploded from behind the plate in his own mini one-man show. He was awesome!
When we got to the final game, the opposition was especially rowdy. With Slim and his partner unfortunately on their way back to the prison, the games officials were less than stellar. The calls seemed pretty one-sided and when the other team got rude, they did nothing.
And that’s when things went a little south.
One of our top pitchers that year was Doug Sullivan. Doug was a strapping left-hander that threw hard, and I mean hard. But he also a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and somehow the other team sensed that. At one point while on the mound, the opposition were really riding Doug and it finally got to him. When the other team’s coach made some derogatory comment with a man on first, Doug made a perfect pick-off throw – right at the coach’s face! Fortunately said coach was behind the dugout storm fencing.
When the game ended, Doug had reached his boiling point. I saw him moving toward the exit to our dugout at full steam and I got in his way to try and stop him. He pushed hard enough to get us both onto the field when I noticed Doug’s mom at the fence, grasping it frantically.
“Don’t let him go, Tim!” she implored. “Do not let him go!”
At that point I had lowered my head into Doug’s chest, trying to hold him back like some linemen hit a tackling dummy. I wrapped my arms around him and kept him from moving long enough for a coach and some other guys to help me out. It wasn’t until later that my mom informed me that while I was holding Doug in place, he had a baseball in each hand and was evidently heading to the first-base dugout to exact a little ‘Walking Tall’ justice on the opposition.
So my first foray into school athletics began. It all started with soccer and my having to convince Fred Parker and Jack Clark that I should be our team’s goalie. They really thought I should be a full back and had chosen Jeff Nelson to be in the net. He didn’t want to be there and so one day I convinced him to not show up for a game. He bailed, I got into goal and never left.
And with the whiz kid Frank Ortiz acting as a one-man offensive machine, we managed to work our way to the top of the standings before losing to Murray in the finals.
When basketball season rolled around I made Clark’s Heavyweight Basketball Team. When you look at the team picture for that year, I’m the tallest guy in the program. And that included Scott Fulton. I was a starter and given the honor of performing the tip-off for each half of every game. I won e very single tip except against Antonio Dobbins of, guess who … Murray.
In the spring we had track and field, and due to my birthday falling in a weird place I was placed in the 12-13 age bracket instead of the 14-15 one. That meant that my 6-1, 150-pound frame was going up against kids half my size. I ran the 4×100 relay a few times to help out the team, but specialty was the shot put and discus. I set school records in both of those events that may still stand to this day. I mean, throwing a 10-pound shot was like tossing a softball.
I attended my first dance and never left the bingo table. How could I have known then I’d be a Southern Baptist five years later?
And now I must come clean on something, and I will be sending Keith Haywood a message regarding this after I post this. I won a wrestling tournament at Monroe for the heaviest weigh division when Keith was unable to find shoes to wear on the mat. He asked another student if he could borrow his shoes for the match, but I begged the guy not to give them to him because I was afraid Keith would crush me.
It was small. It was petty. And Keith deserved better, a lot better. Sorry Keith.
Parker, Clark and Don Crouse. All three of these men had a major influence on me, but maybe none more so than Clark. He taught me that math could be fun and that organization and creativity were keys to being successful. When he and Parker gave me the Coach’s Award at the end of the school year, it laid a foundation for the work ethic I’ve had the rest of my life. The words of the plaque stated that it was “Given for outstanding Desire, Attitude and Hustle.”
Next time I head into high school. Now it starts to get really groovy.
And the beat goes on …
So here we are in my ninth year of life in 1973. I know this is Day 10, but that’s what ya get when you’re born early a in a year.
Third grade was pretty uneventful, as a whole. Mrs. Lovett was my teacher and all I really remember about her was a lot of grumpiness.
But this was the year that my dad began coaching my baseball teams. We were the twins and we had quite the rogues gallery. I could be mistaken, but I think this was the year that I met Greg Bond. Even if I’m wrong, we’re going with it because now I’m thinking of him.
Greg and I have had a unique friendship over the years, running into each other now and again. Of late we have re-connected via Facebook and he is one of the few people that I can have a legitimately in-depth political discussion with where I know that he will (A) make coherent arguments and support them, (B) won’t drop to name calling if things aren’t necessarily going his way, and (C) isn’t so died in his party’s dogma that he can’t see the other side.
Rare qualities in today’s faceless Facebook climate.
I also met Jay Young this year. Jay gave me my first instance of being knocked unconscious, which has happened twice in my life. I can clearly remember me playing second base and Jay being at third during a practice session. Our assistant coach, Mr. Brown, was hitting ground balls and sent one up the middle. Jay and I went for it and collided, with Jay’s knee going right into my stomach. I lost my wind, evidently blanked out and awoke to the team circled around me while Coach Brown pumped my right leg like and old-fashioned water spigot.
I guess that was ‘high tech’ emergency medicine back in the early 70s. Good thing John Gage and Roy Desoto came along soon thereafter to set us straight.
This was the year that I can honestly say that I really, really started following baseball. Thanks to my friendship with Jeff Johnson, I was quickly becoming a Dodger fan. And it was that year that I can really remember watching not just who the Dodgers played and how they did, but really paying attention to what they did. I watched how Steve Garvey hit, how Don Sutton pitched and how Davey Lopes turned a double play at second.
And I watched that World Series against Oakland where the Dodgers just didn’t have the guns to take down the A’s.
But no matter what else happened, that great catch and throw out by substitute outfielder Joe Ferguson. He was in right when Reggie Jackson hit a fly ball to right-center with Sal Bando on third. Jimmy Wynn was in center, but had a sore arm. Ferguson ran in front of Wynn, caught the ball and rifled it home to catcher Steve Yeager who applied the tag.
The Dodgers lost that series, but stole my heart.
1974 was also the year when I met the first of some awesome teachers in my life. In fourth grade it was Mrs. Cortichiato. Mrs. Cortichiato was just incredible in how she taught us stuff. But her greatest gift to me was reading. I like to read today, but she read to us in such an imaginary, enthusiastic and creative way that you could almost see what she was saying. We spent about an hour or so each day as she read from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, crouching down while singing the Oompa Loomps chants and using a variety of vocal inflections to impart every mood of each character.
Years later as Sports Editor at The Daily Independent, I was covering a Burroughs volleyball game when I noticed a Cortichiato on the roster. It was her daughter and I felt oh so old.
It was also this year that my mom took me to Mrs. Merrick to learn to play guitar. We showed for the first lesson and she started instructing me on how to finger the chords on the neck. When I told her it hurt, she informed me that it wouldn’t after awhile as I would form calluses later. Dismayed, when we left I told my mom I wouldn’t be going back as I couldn’t lose the touch on my fingertips for baseball.
Even on my non-throwing hand.
Yeah, I was a dork.
This was my first year in what Ridgecrest Little League called ‘AAA’. It was backward of what the big leagues did, but we didn’t care.
My dad and Mr. Cope took over the Senators. We were an OK team, but were very young. I had to big moments that year, the first coming at the hands of the league’s most feared pitcher – Roman Revels.
Roman was lanky, a year older and much taller than every other kid in the league. In the short 45-foot pitching distance, his stride seemed to put him within a few feet of the plate when he’d pitch. It was downright scary.
But one night as his Indians faced my Senators, I came to the plate determined to get a hit off him.
As I stood in, he gave me his typically scarey stare. I’m pretty sure he had pitches beyond a fastball, but I doubt he was about to ever waste them on me. I believe it was the second or third pitch when I connected with one, check-swinging the bat and never completing the cut. But the ball took off like a rocket and found its way over the 7-Up sign in left-center. I rounded the bases bases at full speed, not really sure what was happening. By the time I got to the plate, my team was all there like we had won the title.
Later that year I had another memorable encounter, this time in the field. We were playing the Indians again and I was at third base. Guess my dad figured I was a power hitter now, and back then those guys didn’t play second base.
There was a man on third when a screaming grounder headed my way. The runner broke for home and I rocketed it to Mark Cope at home plate. The runner turned to retreat to third and Mark whipped the ball back, arriving at the same time as the runner. I remember him being bigger than me and lowering his shoulder as he tried to get to the bag. We collided a few feet in front of third and I went down like a sack of potatoes. It stunned me and when I looked up I saw two things – my mom hovering over me, having somehow gotten onto the field faster than the Flash, and the ball still cradled in my glove.
Later that summer I remember the epic World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. It was a classic, what with George Foster’s laser to the plate after catching a foul ball and Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 homer.
Even though I was Dodger fan, I grew a greater appreciation for the Reds and their manager Sparky Anderson that year.
As far as baseball went, this was one of those incredible years. And not all of it was on the field.
When Spring came my dad and Mr. Cope were back at the helm, this time with my dad as the assistant. When they had tryouts, they called me in to help evaluate the talent and they really listened to what I had to say.
During that session my mom decided to try out this new-fangled thing we had just bought called a microwave. She decided to make brownies in it, putting them on the table in the dining room that had been turned into the Senators’ Draft Central. Being a kid I quickly downed several of them as we looked over players, barely chewing enough to taste them. Brownies in 10 minutes? Are you freaking kidding?!?!
My dad and Mr. Cope got around to trying them about an hour later. When they tried to pick one up they were as hard as rocks. I silently wondered what might be happening tome internally.
We went 17-1 that year, running through our league schedule like water through a sieve. The only loss came at the hands of team where the opposing coach’s older son was umpiring the bases. Needless to say that there were several calls that were highly “questionable”.
In the City Championship Game that pitted Ridgecrest’s best team, us, versus China Lake’s best team, it was a classic. David Wooten was their ace pitcher and we sent Jay Perry to the mound. The game was scoreless until the sixth, when I think they scored four runs. We answered with four in the bottom of the frame to extend the game. I believe they scored once in the eighth (which we answered) and they won it in the ninth with another tally. It was a classic game and still the best baseball tilt I’ve ever been part of.
I made my first All-Star team that year and we played in Bishop. We didn’t do as well as we thought we should have, but it was still like taking that next step.
Later that summer the Jersey Maid Milk Company ran a baseball trivia contest on its cartons, with the winner getting tickets, airfare and everything else to the World Series. I enlisted my mom to help me research the answers, and so off to the library we went. We came home with about a dozen books and dug in.
As we turned page after page, I noticed that my mom was looking at one book rather intently. She had stopped skimming and was reading some story she found. And when she turned the page, she broke into a small stream of tears that steadily grew.
“What wrong mom?” I asked.
“I … I know him,” she replied.
I walked over to look at the book, a large picture of some old guy on the right-hand page. He had a nice smile, but I didn’t know him.
“His name is Jack, Jack Rothrock,” she siad as she sniffed. “I lived with him and his wife when I ran away from home as a kid.”
“Wait! You know someone who won a World Series? I sarcastically queried. “Come on!”
“I did. I really did.” she said.
I left it at that and went back to my own research. But as that summer drug on, she was relentless in researching this guy and where he might be. And one day, she found him living just a few hours away in San Bernardino.
We drove down and found his home, a small trailer in some park. She knocked on the door and it slid open. Tears were shed as they hugged on each other. Finally my mom introduced me to Jack and his wife, Ardith. We shook hands and Ardith offered to let me sit in their living room to watch Saturday morning cartoons as they reminisced.
About an hour or so later Jack limped out of the kitchen, his replaced hip giving him some trouble.
“Your mom says you like baseball,” he said in a gravelly voice. “That true?”
I said yes and he asked me to follow him. He stopped at the first bedroom in the small trailer, opening the door and clicking on the light.
The smell of infield dirt poured out of the room as I walked in, seeing boxes of various things covering the floor. There was a mit in one and many had newspapers and clippings. As I looked around the room I saw a team picture unlike anything we had ever taken in Little League. Each player had his own image and at the top is said “St. Louis Cardinals, 1934 World Series Champions.”
I looked at Jack and he smiled, then pointed toward one side of the image. “That’s me right there. You know any of these guys?”
“Yeah,” I said in wonderment. “That’s Dizzy Dean, and that’s Rip Collins and that’s Frankie Frisch!”
“That’s pretty good,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not even sure I know them all anymore.”
We must have been in that room for an hour looking at papers, gloves and anything else he wanted to show me. In a subsequent visit he confided in me that his kids didn’t really care about his career and that it was nice to get to share it with someone who cared. He had made a decision that he wanted me to have his World Series ring in his will, but he died before he could get it changed. His kids then suddenly cared, as they came in and sold it all off. It was truly sad.
Jack always seems to keep coming back up in my life. He was the one who gave me the ability to see history, and especially sports history, in a new light. It was more than just the wins and losses. It was the love of a game that he gave me and that I’ll never forget.
Year six, or as you probably recall it – 1970.
I turned six and moved into the first grade.
I broke my arm this year while playing superman – dressed in a cape (aka dishtowel) and my underwear. When my mom took me to the hospital the doctor asked me about my arm and the other bruises I had. I told him, “Oh, my mom beats me up all the time.”
Now in today’s vernacular, that would result in a platoon of operatives from Child Protective Services descending upon my house and my parents being led away in shackles. But in 1970 it means the doctor looking at her, looking back and me and my adding, “We wrestle all the time.”
He looked at me, at my mom and back at me. And without a word went back to work.
At age seven I finished up first and moved into second grade, meeting two of the singularly most influential people of my life.
The first was Kurt Seaman. We met in Mrs. Urseth’s second grade class, sitting across from each other. My mom had yet to really find her ‘brown bag lunch mojo’ at this time in my life, and so my midday snacks were marginal at best. But Kurt’s mom made these magical mustard and ham sandwiches. I’m not sure how Kurt gained any weight that year, or if even did, as I was regularly haggling with him to get those sandwiches.
As it turned out, we only lived a few blocks apart and so we’d get together and play from time to time. And then one day he introduced me to this new kid, Jeff Johnson.
Jeff and Kurt fed the two sides of the person I’d later become. Kurt was the adventuresome, devil-may-care stuntman that we all wished we could be as a kid. There wasn’t anything on this planet that Kurt wouldn’t try to launch him and his bicycle over.
On the other side, Jeff was the ultimate planner. He created so many things that the rest of us could hardly keep up. He created an arcade-style baseball game in his backyard using baseball cards, a large marble and a ruler. He created a NASCAR racing game using 1/24 scale models, a pair of dice and an action/hazard card deck that he created. And possibly best of all, he created a new brand of croquet that had all us perfecting the shot where we plopped our opponent’s ball into a compost pile.
This is where the ‘sickness’ began.
In the spring of this year I was at Kurt’s house one day when his mom informed us it was time for him to go to practice.
“What do you have practice for?” I queried.
His reply was one word. One beautiful, action-filled word.
After several more occurrences of Kurt having to leave for practices, I somehow got invited to go. I don’t recall it if was from Kurt or his parents inviting me or if my parents asked how I could get involved. But somehow I got there.
And from that day to this, baseball has always been the game I truly love.
Football is great and basketball is exciting. But they just aren’t baseball.
I played with Kurt that year on the Red Sox, coached by Richard Dominguez. He was a great guy and taught me all the basics of the game and who became a good friend as I grew into a man.
With a new-found love of the game, my dad made it a point to take me to my first game at Dodger Stadium that summer. My parents had friend named Rudy and Lenore Garza who lived in the Los Angeles area, and they happened to have four season tickets on the first base side of the most beautiful stadium of the day.
I can remember walking into the stands on the field level and finding our seats, some 15 rows behind first base and right in line with second. It was like we were right on top of the field, so close you could smell the grass and see the actual faces of the players. My temporary addiction for baseball cards would come later, so this was the first time I’d ever seen these guys except for the few times I watched games on TV with my dad. It was surreal.
At the time the big player for the Dodgers was outfielder Willie Davis. Davis was the man then, with the likes of Garvey, Cey, Lopes and Russell not even assembled yet for their historic run of consistency. But all I wanted that night was a foul ball.
Sometime in the second inning that opportunity came. Davis was at the
plate and flared a foul ball out way, looping toward our seats behind the right field dugout. As the ball neared it became clear that it wasn’t going to make it deep enough to our seats. Rather, it was angling toward this guy and his girlfriend. He sat there with his arm around her and very calmly raised his hand to make the catch … BAREHANDED!
He looked at the ball for a moment and tucked it away in his pocket.
At the time, Dodger Stadium was not sold out every night and the stands were lean for that game as well. Many of the patrons had transistor radios on them to listen to the dulcet tones of Vin Scully as he filled in all of the nooks and cranny’s of the game. But even Scully, a broadcast veteran of some 20 years at that point, took a minute to acknowledge the catch made by this guy.
A few innings later Davis was at bat again. It seemed too much to hope that he’d flare another one our way, but a few pitches in he did just that.
It looked like an instant replay of the one he’d hit earlier, arching high into the night and spiraling down toward Rudy, my dad and I. And just like the previous time, it just didn’t look like it was going to make it quite far enough.
And sadly, it did not.
For the second time in as many tries, the guy with his girlfriend reached up and snagged the ball barehanded … AGAIN! This time I had run up much closer, hoping that he might take pity on me and give me the ball. He looked it over for a moment before slowly reaching over and, with a smile on his face, handing it to his girlfriend.
It was a lot of years later before I recognized the value of a girl, and I certainly didn’t see it in that moment what possible use they could be. I’d learn that a few years later.
This time Scully exploded, immediately recognizing that the same guy had caught the ball a second time. The fans even gave him a small round of applause.
I walked back up to my seat without a ball, but that, as Billy Crystal once said, “Was my best day ever.”
Well, at least to that point in my short eight years of life.
Next time, age 9!
So here we are on the third installment of my march toward half a century in age. At least now things are starting to get interesting.
Well, just a little.
Still not a ton to actually remember here. But it was during this time that I started making friends that I’d have for years to come.
The first was Marine West. Marine was skinny and gangly, pretty much like every other kid at that age. Well, except for me, who always seemed be in the top percentile when it came to growth and size.
But Marine was one of my earliest friends. I can vaguely remember playing at the day care on the naval base and being forced to take naps on these mats that were not very comfortable. I never liked naps. Well, not until I got over 40.
In later years Marine turned out to be very attractive. I think I heard that she became a pilot for some airline.
This is where possibly my second earliest memory occurs. In April of 1969 the United States had surged ahead in the race to the moon, with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins reaching the surface. My mom and dad had one of those huge console televisions back in the day, and while the color was a little wonky, you could see Armstrong making his way down the ladder and eventually to the surface.
I’ve always had this weird sense of history. I see and look at things in a way very different from most folks. And even then I remember thinking just how incredible it was. Something told me that this was big. Even at age five I knew, this was big.
During this time my dad, Edwin Melvin Allen Sr., had become a huge fan of three things. He watched network news every waking minute except for when The Lawrence Welk Show or Star Trek was on.
My dad and I would talk about space and he’s always bring up watching Star Trek. And I always remember thinking what a dumb show it was. But about six years later I totally got it, and we’d hash out every episode down to the last detail. I’d draw versions of the Enterprise and I think he’d get excited, thinking I was going to become an engineer just like him.
To this day I still love that show and its various incarnations.
And I still have a weird attachment to champagne music.
As I entered kindergarten I can remember more friends, but n0ne more so than Roxanne Aslanian. Roxanne was kind of one of the guys, a tom boy. But she has become the one friend that I still remain in contact with today, 45 years later. She married one of my best friends in the world, Jeff Johnson, who I met just two years later through my other great friend Kurt Seaman. The three of us have been staying close for some 43 years this year.
Another person I met in that class was Jenny Rungo. I can remember sitting in class while Mrs. Osterman read to us. Her dad, Ralph Rungo would come in from his office and sit with us, listening intently and always flashing that huge smile. He later became my dentist (his slogan was the “Tender Tooth Mender”) and was the absolute best at making sure I felt minimal pain – even with 70s technology.
That’s a wrap for now. Next time it starts getting groovy as we head into the 70s!
Onward and upward with our countdown. For the 50 years of Allen’s life, this is Casey Kasem.
I just loved that guy growing up!
So now I’m 46 days away from turning 50, and so a look back and the next three years of my life since number one.
Not a whole here as I was still pretty much clueless about the world around me.
Its in this year that I can say I honestly have my first vivid memory.
It was during the spring of this year that we had some rain storms that really drenched Ridgecrest and the Mojave’s High Desert region. My mom and dad and had purposed to make the backyard a liveable place, and in doing so had planted grass in the center and a number of fruit tree around the perimeter.
But on one rainy day in particular my nephew, Tommy, and I had decided that we wanted to run around the yard in our underwear. Tommy, being my sister Margaret’s first son and just a year younger than me, would pretty much do whatever I suggested at that point. Good thing I was such and angelic child.
Somehow we came up with the idea of turning over one of those plastic wading pools that people buy their kids and holding over our heads while we ran around. Our feet got wet in the grass and from the patio pavement, but we were dry as could be.
I use to tell me mom that I remembered doing that for years and she could never recall the occurrence. And then one day, years later when I was in my teens, she found a picture of my nephew and I holding the pool over our heads as we tried getting in the sliding glass door.
I wish I had that picture now.
And yes, if I had it I’d publish it for your enjoyment.
This was also the year that I sustained my first injury. While “wrestling” with my older brother, Eddie, he rolled over my foot and kind of tweaked it. They took me to the doctor, x-rayed it and found that there was a small chip that was in my ankle. They determined that it was no big deal and did nothing but tell my mom to ice me up and head home.
Year later when I was on the freshman basketball team, under the guidance of one Frank Mazer, I severely sprained my ankle while doing some rebound drills with teammate Mike Campbell. When they looked at the x-rays they said it looked like your typical sprain, except for this bone chip that was floating around and looked out of place.
Ya gotta love 1960′s medical technology.
As of this morning at 12:23 a.m., I’m on a countdown clock to a magical place.
No, I’m not going to Disneyland nor am I heading off to Oz.
50 days from today, I turn 50.
Birthdays have never really hit me hard in the past. I remember 13 as I found it strange that the youngest of my older siblings, Carol Sue, was then 26 and exactly double my age. And I recall turning 36 as it kicked me into the dreaded 36-50 age bracket on most surveys.
Those were dark times in the land.
50, however, kind of sits there like an enigma.
On one hand it stands as a mile-marker, hailing the fact that I’ve made it a long way.
On the other, it reminds me that the life expectancy estimate for men is 76, which means I’m two-thirds of the way there.
But I’ve decided that this march toward a rather stoic number should be celebrated, not mourned. And so, I am going to attempt to take a look back each day over each year of my life. Of course the early ones will pretty much just be me recounting things that went on in the world and how they may have affected my personal development. Later entries will reflect on some of the people and events that I have been part of or been witness to.
You people who love my old stories will get a real kick out of that, I have no doubt.
And so I will start by relaying a comment from my wife, Dee, that got me thinking about my time here on planet Earth. I was looking in the mirror when I asked her, Is there was any remnant of blonde left in my hair? I mean, tell me the truth. Be honest.”
“Not really,” she replied.
“No shades or even a hint of it, huh?” I asked.
“Well, you’ve got 50 shades of grey. Well, not those 50 shades of grey, but you know what I mean.”
Boy did I ever.
And so, like one of melodic idols Billy Joel, we’re gonna take a look back at history as I knew it and see if I really did start the fire.
On February 23 Edwin and Cathy Allen brought the fifth of their five children into the world – Timothy Crane Allen. I landed on the planet three months to the day after the assassination of president John F. Kennedy in the small desert community of Ridgecrest, California.
As I was told by my parents, I walking by six months, thanks to my brothers and sisters running me up and down the hall by my hands. Too bad while I was learning to walk and run, that I didn’t a get a great grip on the concept of balance. A trait I’m sure one Frank Mazer could attest to in my high school years.
The Beatles beat me here by just a few weeks, assuming the were all the real members of the band. My nephew Andrew Spooner later did a rather lengthy expose of why the man we know as Paul McCartney is nothing but an imposter. I couldn’t really care, personally, but the whole backwards masking thing on “Revolution 9″ was pretty interesting.
My dad was feverishly working on the guidance systems for the Sidewinder Missile back then, a creation that he had earned a U.S. Government Patent for. Until I saw it’s impact in the China Lake Naval Station’s air combat museum a year ago, I never really understood the impact and advantage that this missile had on aerial combat. My dad was a lot cooler than I ever gave him credit for.
Later in life I realized that I had been born in an off-year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team I would follow with some enthusiasm as a youth. For a long time I thought was a bad sign. Then Rupert Murdoch bought the team and I knew nothing they did was my fault.
Finally, upon entering the world a friend of my brother’s and close to our family, Ernie Davidove, died on Vietnam. I use to play on athletic fields in my hometown named after him, and my mom would tell me stories about how he would feel her stomach while she was pregnant with me just before he left for the war.
Later in life I had the opportunity to take a picture of his name from the war memorial in Washington, D.C. Oddly, almost eerily, my reflection was blurred in the background – him being present and myself in the background, just as it had been before he left.
And so we begin. 50 days from now I’ll hit another milestone. And like an aging NASCAR driver hitting the final turn on a tri-oval track, I’ll be headed for home. Here’s hoping to being able to lengthen the racing schedule for a few more seasons.