First to break the color line in the American League when he debuted for the Cleveland Indians on July 8, 1947
If you’re not first … sometimes you just don’t get the recognition you deserve. Such is the story of Larry Doby. An absolutely terrific baseball player, Doby was the first black man to cross the color line in the American League. He did so on July 5, 1947. The problem for Doby is simple, it came three months after Jackie Robinson was the first to do so when he crossed the color line for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Interestingly enough, then Cleveland Indians owner, Bill Veeck, had his eye on Doby long before Branch Rickey had his eye on Robinson. But, Rickey beat Veeck and Robinson, deservedly so, gets the recognition. However, the story of Larry Doby is one that also needs to be told. He faced the same hurdles Robinson did and the two formed a bond that only they could understand. And, while Robinson was first, one accolade Robinson can’t claim is this … the first black man to star on a Major League Baseball World Championship team was Larry Doby. While he played sparingly during his half-season with the Indians in 1947, he was a fixture in centerfield for Cleveland in 1948 and helped lead them to a World Series win over the Boston Braves in six games … the last World Series won by Cleveland. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, special guest – Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League’s Baseball Museum – joins the podcast for a wonderful discussion about a baseball great, Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Doby.
In 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs was born. Now known as the National League, the teams that made up the NL back then were the Atletic Club of Philadelphia, Boston Red Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Red Stockings, Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Colonels, Mutual Club of New York and the St. Louis Brown Stockings. In 1878 the Indianapolis Blues joined the league and had a rookie pitcher on the team – Jim McCormick. Jim was pretty darned good. His record, was just 5-8. But he had a sparkling ERA of 1.65 in 14 starts and 117-innings pitched. It was the start of a magnificent career for McCormick, albeit a career dogged by awful teams. Nonetheless, McCormick put up impressive numbers over his 10-year career including a 45-win season and a 40-win season. Five times he pitched over 500-innings in a season, including 657 2/3 in 1880. He averaged 298-innings a year and finished his career with 265 wins and a 2.43 ERA. Yet, his accomplishments are never spoken of. Of the knocks against McCormick are the facts that he played only 10-years and he did have three seasons where he lost at least 30-games. Still, many of his contemporaries were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but McCormick has been pushed aside. Jay Wiley, a lifelong baseball fan, has made it a habit to explore the careers of those whom the Hall of Fame has bypassed, and McCormick tops his list. In fact, Wiley has created website, mccormickforthehall.com, and he posts about McCormick on twitter all the time. The stats Wiley posts and discusses are extraordinary and leaves one wondering how the Hall of Fame can overlook them. Wiley has made McCormick’s induction into the Hall a mission; and on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Jay joins the podcast to talk about why McCormick deserves to be inducted and have a plaque hanging in the Hall … and he has the numbers to back it up.
1941 Masters Champion & U.S. Open Champion
Craig Wood was one of the best golfers on tour during the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, over the course of his career, Craig won 21 events on the PGA TOUR. 17 of those 21 wins came before the 1941 season, but he had yet to experience the crowning moment of winning a Major Championship. Unfortunately for Craig, he continually came up short in the Majors. A victim of fate, Wood was the first golfer in history to lose in a playoff in each of the four majors. In 1933, he lost to Denny Shute in a playoff at the Open Championship. In 1934, when the PGA Championship was a match-play event, Wood lost on the second extra hole (the 38th hole of the championship match) to Paul Runyan. In 1935, he lost to Gene Sarazen in a playoff at the Masters, victimized by one of the greatest shots in the history of the game, Sarazen’s double-eagle at the par-5 15th; and in 1939, Wood lost in a playoff in the U.S. Open to Byron Nelson. The only other golfer to lose in a playoff in each of the four Majors is Greg Norman (1984 he lost to Fuzzy Zoeller in the U.S. Open, 1987 he lost to Larry Mize in the Masters, 1989 he lost to Marck Calcavecchia in the Open Championship, and in 1993 he lost to Paul Azinger in the PGA Championship). But, in 1941, Wood finally broke through winning the Masters and the U.S. Open. In that Masters tournament, Wood was the first man to win the event wire-to-wire. Nelson finished second three-strokes back. Not a very loud, or boisterous personality, Wood was somewhat reserved. Known for his prodigious distances, Wood was also quite deft with his putter. In 2008, Craig Wood was finally recognized – some say in a very long overdue ceremony – with induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Connor Lewis from the Talkin Golf podcast and George Petro a collector of Craig Wood golf memorabilia, join me for a wonderful discussion on Craig Wood and the art of collecting golf memorabilia.
Andre Lacroix, World Hockey Association & NHL
All-Time Leading Scorer in WHA History
The great Andre Lacroix, the all-time leading scorer in World Hockey League (WHA) is on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes. Me and Andre talk about the how the WHA started and its seven seasons, its merger with the National Hockey League in 1979-1980 when the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets (now the Arizona Coyotes), Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) and the New England Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes) all joined the NHL. Andre played all seven years of the WHA’s existence, but not in one place. In fact, Andre played for the Philadelphia Blazers, New York Golden Jets, San Diego Mariners, Houston Aeroes and the Whalers. Andre started his professional with the Philadelphia Flyers and immediately became one of their top-scoring threats. But, like Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent and others, Lacroix couldn’t turn down the money and potential the WHA offered. And it all worked out for Andre. In fact, Andre totaled more points than any other player in WHA history, handed out more assists than any other player and played in more games than anyone. But there’s so much more to his story and on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, the great Andre Lacroix shares much of it with me as we talk about his career in the WHA, the NHL and how it all started in juniors. Plus, we discuss the fact that Andre negotiated all of his contracts as well. And we also talk about Andre’s colorful new book, “After the Second Snowfall: My Life On and Off the Ice.”
6.4.76 – Phoenix Suns vs. Boston Celtics
The Greatest Game in NBA Finals History. Jojo White, Dave Cowens, Paul Silas, Paul Westphal, Alvan Adams and Ricky Sobers
On June 4, 1976, the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns squared off in a triple-overtime thriller in game 5 of the NBA Finals which, to this day, is still considered to be one of – if not – the greatest games ever played. The Suns march to the Finals was an unlikely one having dethroned a heavily favored and defending champion Golden State Warriors. Phoenix, just 42-40 during the regular season and having been swept in all four games they played against Boston during the season, appeared to be significantly overmatched. But, the Suns were confident after having beaten the Warriors. Phoenix had a roster with a few familiar names, but none were considered superstars. Paul Westphal, who later on would be considered one of the NBA’s upper-echelon guards, was the team’s leader. Having been acquired from the Celtics during the off-season, Westphal was just coming into his own. Alvan Adams was in his rookie year and was paying big dividends as the fourth pick in the NBA Draft, and lightly regarded guard Ricky Sobers was also enjoying a wonderful post-season. For the Celtics, a team laden with stars such as the legendary John Havlicek, Don Nelson and coach Tom Heinsohn, were heavily favored. But it was players like Jojo White, Dave Cowens and Paul Silas who starred for Boston in this particular game. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, I look back at game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals and talk about the careers of Westphal, Adams, Sobers, White, Cowens and Silas with Roger Gordon. Gordon, who has appeared on SFH previously, recently released the book, “6.4.76 Phoenix Suns vs. Boston Celtics,” returns to the podcast for this terrific discussion about a great game, the controversies that took place and the unknown players who starred.
The first man in the history of tennis to win 14 Grand Slam Championships
When examining the careers of the greats in the history of American men in the world of tennis, the first names that come to mind are guys like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Going back further, so many bring up names like Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, Don Budge and even Bill Tilden. But, one of the most overlooked names comes from the recent past – Pete Sampras. Not a very “colorful” personality. But the fact is, when you look at the numbers, the most important tournaments – Grand Slam events – until he retired after the 2003 season, no one in the history of men’s tennis had ever won more than Sampras’s 14. He won Wimbledon seven times, the U.S. Open five times and the Australian Open two times. So, what’s the knock? Why do so few recall the career of Sampras or put him up against guys like Connors or McEnroe? It’s a combination of the following four points: 1.) he didn’t play for an extended period of time, just 14 years … 2.) he never won the French Open … 3.) he was not fiery. He did not have that kind of personality. Many thought of him as a robot. He just went out and won, and was not very boisterous or vocal about it … and 4.) his reign as the all-time leader in Grand Slam victories was quite short. Steve Flink, a terrific tennis journalist joins me on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, to discuss the career of Pete Sampras. Steve recently releases a wonderful book about Pete, “Pete Sampras, Greatness Revisited” in which he spoke to Pete about his career and also spoke to many of his contemporaries and rivals, all of spoke very highly of Sampras and just how great a player he was. Really a terrific read. Steve and I talk about Pete’s climb to the top of the tennis world and just how strong and dominant his game was.
A look back at an amazing game and a discussion on former greats Emile Francis, Wat Tkaczuk, Arnie Brown, Dave Balon, and Orland Kurtenbach
On April 5, 1970, the New York Rangers were facing a long summer. The Rangers started the season on a roll. In fact, it was one of the best starts in franchise history. The Rangers were a shoe-in for the playoffs and were a favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup. Then injuries hit. First, in a game against the Detroit Red Wings, star defenseman Brad Park broke his ankle, and then more injuries followed. What was once a most promising season had turned into desperation; and on the season’s final day, the Rangers needed a combination of events to happen. Not only did they have to beat the Detroit Red Wings, they needed to score as many goals as possible and then hope, later that evening, the Montreal Canadiens would lose to the Chicago Black Hawks and be held off the scoreboard. Incredibly, everything that needed to happen did. The Rangers won, scored nine goals, Montreal lost and scored just two goals. The Rangers, by virtue of scoring more goals for the season than the Canadiens did, snuck into the playoffs. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, not only will we talk about that unique game, but we will touch upon the careers of four players who had a starring role for the Rangers that evening: Arnie Brown, Dave Balon, Orland Kurtenbach, Walt Tkaczuk and the Rangers colorful coach – Emile Francis. While it would tough to devote an entire podcast to any of the aforementioned, grouping them together in one episode and using the game as a device to talk about their careers is a great way to bring back memories of these forgotten heroes. Joining SFH for this episode is the author of a terrific book about that night in 1970, Reg Lansberry. He wrote the book, “9 Goals,” and offers great insight to each of these forgotten heroes. Additionally, New York Rangers historian George Grimm is back to add his thoughts on the game and these stars as well.
Spec Sanders only played four years of professional football, 1946, 47, 48 and 1950. But what a mark he left! Sanders was a multi-dimensional threat. Shifty speed as a tailback, terrific arm-strength and accuracy as a quarterback, and a stud as a defensive back, Sanders broke into professional football with the New York Yankees (yes, there was a professional football team named the New York Yankees) of the AAFC (All America Football Conference). His first year, Sanders gained 709-yards on the ground and scored six touchdowns; and through the air, Sanders passed for 411-yards and four touchdowns. But it was his second year when he turned the football world upside down by rushing for over 1400-yards and 18 touchdowns, while also throwing for over 1400-yards and 14 touchdowns. Unfortunately, both seasons ended with Sanders and his Yankees coming up short in the AAFC Championship game to the Cleveland Browns. Sanders, who played his college ball at Texas, was the first Longhorn to ever be taken in the first round of the draft. He was taken 6th by the Washington Redskins. But with the U.S. battling in World War II, Sanders put football on the backburner and joined his brothers in battle. By the time Spec’s days in the military were over, he was already 28 and hadn’t played in a few years. So, the Redskins didn’t pursue him and the Yankees did. Mistake. Sanders put on a show unlike anyone before him. So, he played for three years in New York before knee injuries forced him to retire. Interestingly, 1949 was the last year of play for the AAFC. In 1950, a new team was playing in New York. The New York Yanks (formerly the Boston Yanks) and the coach of the team, Red Strader talked Sanders to end his retirement and play for the Yanks. Sanders came back with one stipulation, his days under center and his days running with the ball were done. He would only play on the defensive side of the ball. Strader agreed, and in the Yanks 12-game season, Sanders set an NFL-record with 13 interceptions! Sanders was just a phenom. Gary Webster who wrote the book, “The League That Didn’t Exist: A History of the All America Football Conference,” returns to SFH for a wonderful conversation about Spec Sanders and the brief history of the New York Yankees and the New York Yanks.
Tom Fears was a record-setter. When he broke into the NFL as a rookie in 1948, he caught 51 passes. His second year, the split-end caught an NFL-record 77 passes and scored nine touchdowns. He broke his own record in 1950 with 84 passes for 1,116-yards and seven touchdowns. In a game against the Green Bay Packers that year, Fears hauled in an NFL-record 18 passes. The NFL had never seen anything like Tom Fears before, especially when you consider the NFL was still a league that was basically a running game. But the Rams of the late 40s and early 50s were a high-flying, high-scoring team that took advantage of the skills of Fears and quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin. After his playing days were over, Fears remained in the game working his way up the ranks as a coach ultimately landing the job as the first-ever head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Of course, expansion teams usually find winning difficult, and the Saints were no exception. After three-plus years, Fears was let go. But he didn’t give up. He went back to being an assistant and patiently waited for another opportunity. It finally came with the Southern California Sun of the WFL. Later Tom was a player personnel director with the L.A. Express of the USFL and, afterwards, started his own scouting service working with/for teams like the Pittsburg Steelers and Houston Oilers. However, his scouting service met a cruel ending after Tom’s role with the production of the film, “North Dallas 40”. Tom, who ultimately was enshrined in Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame is this week’s topic on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes with my guest Lee Elder a football historian/researcher from the Professional Football Researcher’s Association.
Jim Neilson was one of the most consistent, defensive-minded defensemen in the NHL during the height of his career in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was not a goal scorer, rather a defenseman who was as tough as nails to skate around. He would stand you up at the blueline, and was also a goaltender’s best friend. In fact, when teammates Eddie Giacomin and Gilles Villemure won the Vezina Trophy in 1971, it was one of Neilson’s proudest moments. Whether or not Neilson was recognized for his great play on the ice didn’t matter to him. The most important thing to Neilson, also known as “The Chief” was how well the team did, and as long as the team was winning, Neilson was happy. Neilson’s career was actually quite remarkable. Consider the fact that he grew up in an orphanage, his mother was Cree Big River First Nation, his father was Danish and together they had three children. However, times were tough, and Jim’s mother placed all three children in the orphanage. Obviously, Jim’s talents with a stick in hand were quite noticeable and the nuns made sure that Jim was well taken care of. They made sure he had enough to eat; and made sure he was able to get to the ice to play. His game developed from there, moving on to play in junior hockey with Kitchener-Waterloo and had the good fortune to be discovered by the New York Rangers. The Big Apple was quite the site for Neilson, but he grew to love the city and he spent 12 of his 16 years with the Broadway Blueshirts. Jim, however, was overshadowed, particularly during the late 60s and early 70s by one of the game’s greatest of all-time, Bobby Orr, and that might have contributed to the lack of notoriety “The Chief” got. Still, Jim Neilson was an all-star and a Norris Trophy finalist on more than one occasion. He also played in the shadow of one of the all-time great Rangers, Brad Park. However, there were many who played the game who knew just how valuable a player Jim Neilson was, including the first man in New York history to score 50-goals in a season, former captain Vic Hadfield, and Vic is one of my special guests on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes. Vic discusses just how good Jim was and the fact that Jim has wrongly been overlooked for induction into the Pro Hockey Hall of Fame along with Jim’s three children, Darcy Wade, Dana Neilson and David Neilson.
Sports can be a beautiful thing. An escape from the harsh realities of daily life. Crime. Politics. Just concentrate on what happens between the lines. The incredible talent so many of us wish we could possess. Guys hitting baseballs 450-feet. Draining three-pointers at rates never before seen. Hitting drives on the golf course routinely over 300-yards. The talents young quarterbacks have who not only can throw the ball with pinpoint accuracy, but can run like the wind, or the skills hockey players put on display night in and night out. That’s what sports is about and that’s why we tune in every night. But, when we can’t be there, we rely on the words used to describe these incredible feats that we missed. Legends with a pen in their hand are also a part of the game. There was a time, even if you saw the game, you couldn’t wait to pick up the newspaper the next morning to read about you watched the night before. Today, we go on-line to read about what we just watched. We enjoyed reading what Grantland Rice wrote, the innate ability of a Jim Murray to describe a game in way we never imagined, or the opinions of guys like Dave Anderson. Yes, sports writers and columnists were just as responsible for selling newspapers as anyone, and the sports writers who worked at the largest papers in the country were the guys who became the best-known. But there were (and still are) writers who worked at lesser-known papers whose names aren’t as well known, but they’re every bit as good – or better – than those from the major metropolitan newspapers and one such “scribe” is Jerry Izenberg. Jerry, now in his 90s, spent years writing for the Newark Star-Ledger and found stories about athletes and the games they played none of us dug deep enough for. Jerry made sport’s more interesting. Jerry also used his “power of the pen” to contribute more than just words to paper, but he used his forum to make life better for so many. He also earned the trust of some of the game’s biggest names including the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali. On this special edition of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes we visit with author Ed Odeven who recently wrote a book about Jerry, “Going 15-Round with Jerry Izenberg,” to talk about a legendary career that helped make the games and characters who played the games that much more interesting.
The name Buddy Young might not be familiar to many, but when he played, he was certainly familiar to his opponents and their coaches. They had to plan for him. How to stop someone that fast. Young was a speedster. Just 5-foot-4, he won several events in track while attending the University of Illinois, set two world records and eventually earned the nickname “Bronze Bullet”. One can only imagine what would have happened had Young decided to stick with track and compete in the Olympics. But, as good as he was in the 45, 60, 100 and 220, his real love was football and despite not garnering the attention he had hoped while attending high school, Young was able to make enough of an impression on the staff at Illinois to earn a scholarship. He didn’t disappoint. In fact, the first time Buddy touched the ball for the Illini, he ran 64-yards for a touchdown. The second time he touched the ball, he ran 30-yards for a touchdown. Not only was Buddy fast, he was quick and agile. His first year with Illinois he tied the legendary Red Grange for most touchdowns in a single season with 10. After a year off because of WWII military duty, Buddy returned to Illinois in time for the 1947 Rose Bowl against UCLA. Buddy was outstanding in the Illini’s 45-14 win and was named co-player of the game. His career in college came to an end a short time later when he accepted an offer to start his pro career with the New York Yankees of the AAFC (All America Football Conference). He played for the Yankees for three years. The AAFC disbanded after the 1949 season, Buddy remained with the Yankees in 1950 as the team kept its name and joined the NFL. In 1951, the Yankees became the Yanks and in 1952, Buddy was traded to a new NFL team, the Dallas Texans. The Texans only lasted that one year and Buddy wound up with the Baltimore Colts where he spent the final three years of his career. During his nine years, Buddy scored 44 touchdowns, rushed for 2,727-yards, caught the ball for another 2,711 yards and made the Pro Bowl in 1954. His departure from the Colts when he was just 29, was somewhat controversial and later, as an executive for the team, he met more controversy with the way he associated with his fellow African-Americans. It wasn’t pretty. We’re going to get into all of it with Andy Piascik, a long-time member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association.
Professional football was not a “thing” in the early 1900s. In fact, if anything it was a nothing more than a regional idea in many areas of the country, particularly the Midwest. College football was the “big” game along with Major League Baseball. When the U.S. entered World War I, however, things changed. Most of the regionalized professional leagues went by the wayside and many colleges/universities were affected as well, having to cancel seasons because too many players left school to fight for their country. Before most of these “new” soldiers finished training (and thankfully, the armistice was signed before many of them were to be shipped out), they joined football teams that were formed at their respective camps. And, those camps were located all over the U.S., from coast-to-coast and border-to-border. Once these teams were formed, they needed teams to play. So, games were set up. The games attracted crowds. Money was raised for several different funds related to war-time efforts. The games were good. Schedules were actually created, men like renowned-football reporter Walter Camp, started covering games and ranking teams. Playoffs for championships were staged. Even on the other side of the world, games were played between different divisions and the different branches of the U.S. armed forces. Heck, back here in the U.S., the Rose Bowl was contested by two military teams, the Mare Island Marines beat the Camp Lewis Army, 19-7. Men who had played college ball years earlier were once again putting on a pair of cleats and suiting up alongside younger players who had put their college football dreams aside to fight for their country. The success of “war Football” couldn’t be overlooked and it ultimately served as a proving ground, the predecessor to what we now know as professional football. Chris Serb, who wrote the book, “War Football: World War I and The Birth of The NFL,” joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a most interesting topic on the world of football prior to the formation of the National Football League.
Charley Trippi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968; and like so many stars of yesteryear, there are so few football fans who can tell you anything about Trippi, let alone tell you who he played for or when. Well, when Trippi retired after the 1955 season, he was the NFL’s all-time leader in yards from scrimmage. But, what is probably most impressive is this, Charley Trippi is the only member of the Hall of Fame who has rushed for at least 1,000-yards, has more than 1,000-yards receiving and has thrown for more than 1,000-yards! A phenomenal player for the Georgia Bulldogs, Trippi was the first overall pick in the 1946 NFL Draft. His rookie season of 1947, Trippi made an immediate impact on the Chicago Cardinals and helped them win the NFL Championship over the Philadelphia Eagles in a game that saw him rush for a touchdown and return a punt 75-yards for another touchdown. The epitome of an all-around player, Trippi was also an outstanding defensive back and punter as well. Playing in era when offensive numbers were not nearly as impressive as today’s numbers, Trippi was the type of player whom other teams had to plan for – and they struggled doing so because they never knew where he was going to line up, that is until he took over at quarterback for a struggling Cardinals team in the 1950s. Had Trippi been able to concentrate on just one facet of his game, running back, there’s no telling how many yards he could have rushed for. Joe Ziemba, author of the terrific book, “When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL,” returns to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a wonderful discussion about one of the NFL’s greatest – Charley Trippi.
Before the NFL was established, before the Chicago Bears, there was the Decatur Staleys. While many in Chicago might have heard of the Staley’s, few outside the Windy City have, and fewer know anything about the history of the Staleys … and, of those who know of the Staleys, so few know their history when it comes to Papa Bear, George Halas. The Staleys, you see, were an industrial league team. A.E. Staley, owner of the A.E. Staley Company had a great thing going to help boost company morale with a terrific company baseball team. Prior to 1919, Staley decided to field a football team as well. After losing their first game, 3-0, the Staleys jelled and went on to become one of the most dominant teams in football history. Their overall record of 6-1 was just a part of the story. Including their 3-0 loss, the Staleys outscored the opposition 294-13. Their star was Charlie Dressen, the same Charlie Dressen who would go on to a wonderful career in Major League Baseball as a player and a manager. George Halas, who tried to make it in the Majors with the New York Yankees, turned his attention to football and had a dream of creating a professional football league. So, he joined forces with A.E. Staley and ultimately became owner of the team. The rest, as they say, is history. But, the team that eventually became the Chicago Bears certainly established a terrific legacy and a rich history in their short existence playing in Decatur and joining me on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk more about the history of the Decatur Staleys is Chris Serb. Chris, a terrific writer and researcher, is also the author of the book, “War Football: World War I and the Birth of the NFL.” On this episode of SFH, Chris brings his wealth of knowledge about the Staleys, which he discovered while doing research for his book, to the show for a wonderful discussion about a team that pre-dates the start of the National Football League.
Pop Warner is one of the greatest football coaches in history when it comes to the collegiate level. But, as great as he was, he is probably best known for his name being associated with youth football. Despite a career that saw him win four national championships with Pitt and Stanford, most football fans have no idea about just how great a coach he was. Completely consumed by the game, his innovations are legendary, some of which are still prevalent in today’s game: the single wing, the double wing, the spiral, blocking techniques – even equipment! Pop could be out on a golf course, suddenly disappear and be found drawing up a play. It just hit him and he couldn’t wait to write it down. Pop’s start in the game was really by fluke. He was one his way to Cornell where he wanted to play baseball. The football coach saw him and asked him to try out for the Big Red. He did, and he caught the bug in a big way. Jeffrey Miller, author of “Pop Warner: A Life on the Gridiron,” joins me on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes as we take a look back at a legendary career as a coach and innovator … and, yes, we will answer the questions, who was Pop Warner? Why is his name associated with youth football? And, where did the name Pop come from?
In 1931, Dutch Clark decided to take a chance and go play for the Portsmouth Spartans of the NFL. After a successful collegiate career at Colorado College, Clark stayed at Colorado and worked as an assistant and coach the school’s basketball team. But, after one year on the sidelines, and after what was a spectacular career in college in which he averaged 10-plus yards on the ground as a junior, rushed for 1,349 yards and scored 203 points, he caught the eyes of football fans from around the country. In fact, he became the first All-America from any school in Colorado. But the fact that he decided not to immediately enter the NFL left many surprised. But, after sitting out one year, he joined the Spartans (now the Detroit Lions) and made an immediate impact. In fact, in his first year with Portsmouth, he was named the first-team all-pro at QB, led the Spartans in scoring with 60-points and led the Spartans to a fantastic 11-3 record. After just two years in the NFL, Clark was regarded as the best player in the league for the last decade! Nonetheless, after just two years of play, he decided to step away from the game, and go back to college and coach. He went back to Colorado and took over the program at the Colorado School of Mines. It didn’t go to well for Dutch as the Orediggers went 1-5. So back to the NFL Dutch went, only now he was off to Detroit where Portsmouth had moved and Clark picked up right where he left off. Dutch was again named first-team All-Pro at quarterback, was second in the league in points scored, third in rushing and fourth in passing – all-around great season for someone who had stepped away from the game. Dutch’s best season with the Lions came in 1935 when he led Detroit to a 7-3-2 record and a win over the New York Giants in the NFL Championship game, 26-7. A true superstar, on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, I examine the career of Dutch Clark with Chris Willis who wrote the book, “Dutch Clark: The Life of an NFL Legend and the Birth of the Detroit Lions.” Chris has also worked for NFL Films as the head of the research department since 1996.
In 1920, the NFL debuted. Actually, it was called the American Professional Football Association. That first season, the APFA fielded 14 teams: Akron (8-0-3), Buffalo (9-1-1), Rock Island (6-2-2), Dayton (5-2-2), Rochester (6-3-2), Canton (7-4-2), Detroit (2-3-3), Cleveland (2-4-2), the Chicago Tigers (2-5-1), Hammond (2-5), Columbus (2-6-2) and Muncie 0-1). There were two other teams as well, the Chicago Bears (10-1-2) and the Chicago Cardinals (6-2-1). So, not only did Chicago field THREE teams in 1920, only two teams have survived that first season and they both came from Chicago – the Bears and Cardinals. Yes, the Bears and Cardinals are the two oldest franchises in the NFL. While the Bears remain in their original NFL hometown, the Cardinals have since relocated three times: St. Louis, Phoenix and now Glendale where they are known as the Arizona Cardinals. In Chicago, however, the Cardinals experienced their greatest successes. They won the championship in 1925 (although there is a fascinating story behind that title), 1947 and lost 7-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles in a horrific snowstorm in the 1948 championship tilt. The Chicago Cardinals had many of the game’s greats including: Duke Slater, Paddy Driscoll, Ernie Nevers, Charley Trippi and Ollie Matson. But the Cardinals were a team that faced a continual uphill battle. They played on the south side of town and had difficulty gaining fans, at least loyal fans who would brave the elements and attend games. They rarely fielded winning teams. Yes, they had solid ownership, but the lack of in-person fan support hurt the Cardinals financially and ultimately ownership – the Bidwell Family – had to find a new place to call home or else the team could have folded. Interestingly, when the Bidwell’s were searching for a new home, Lamar Hunt offered to buy the team and move them. The NFL, rather than see the Bidwell’s sell the team, helped the Cardinals move to St. Louis. Hunt, turned down, founded the AFL. One could speculate that if Hunt got ownership of the Cardinals, would there have ever been an AFL? Joining Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a wonderful conversation about the Chicago Cardinals is Joe Ziemba author of the book, “When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL.” Joe is a treasure-trove of information and his passion for his beloved Cardinals really comes through in this fascinating discussion of a team that once called Chicago home – the Cardinals.
On August 5, 2020, just a short time ago, Horace Clarke passed away. During the peak of his playing days (1965-1974) one could argue that Clarke was one of the faces of the New York Yankees. Sure, whenever you’re on a team with the legend – Mickey Mantle – you’d be hard-pressed to say anyone but The Mick was the face of the franchise. But, there was much fanfare around Clarke. While he wasn’t the greatest, he personified what the Yankees were during this down time in their illustrious history. In fact, in 1966, the Yankees finished last for the first time since 1912 when they were known as the New York Highlanders. Clarke first learned to play the game in Frederiksted, U.S. Virgin Islands; and it’s there, Frederiksted, where Horace Clarke is best known as a hero. After all, so few Major League baseball players hail from the tiny island. Clarke caught the eye of scouts in his early 20s and worked his way through the Yankees minor-league system in short fashion and in order moving from Class D, to Class C, and on to A, AA and finally AAA. The Yankees were a team going through a transition and Clarke wound up replacing Bobby Richardson in the lineup. Horace had speed, swung a consistent bat, and didn’t strike out much. He was a decent infielder too. Some of the highlights of his career included hitting a grand slam as his first home run and then a grand slam for his second home run. (he is the only player in history to do that). In 1970, in less than a month, Horace broke up three no-hitters in the ninth inning with hits off Jim Rooker, Sonny Siebert and Joe Niekro. So, while Horace was a good ballplayer, you might be wondering why Horace Clarke is classified as a forgotten hero. There are two reasons: 1.) In his native Frederiksted, he was a hero based on all the work he did with recreational baseball after his playing days ended and 2.) selfishly, he was one of my favorite Yankees when I watched the team. I was always curious as to why he wore a helmet in the field and at my very first bat day, I got a Horace Clarke bat. Rory Costello who has written numerous bios for the SABR Bio Project, is my guest on this edition of SFH as we talk about the career of Horace Clarke.
The American League was founded by a few men, but two are largely given most, if not all, of the credit: Charles Comiskey and Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson. Despite what history tells us, there was a third gentleman who deserves just as much credit; and if Comiskey and Johnson were alive today, they would most likely concur – Tom Loftus. The three men spearheaded the idea of taking on the National League at a time when several leagues were trying to make a “go” of it. The Players League, the American Association and the Western League were the most noteworthy. With the exception of the Players League which lasted just over a year, all other comers were regarded as “minor” leagues, that is until the American League was hatched. In fact, the National League agreed to recognize the American League as a “major” instead of a minor league. But there was a lot of work to be done. Johnson, who wanted to create a league that would play a more fan-friendly style of baseball instead of the rough-and-tumble National League, needed help. Comiskey and Loftus also wanted to create something bigger than the lightly regarded circuits they were working with. So, with Johnson in tow, the three went about their business and worked on securing teams in cities with large populations. Instead of building teams in places like St. Paul, Minnesota or Dubuque, Iowa or other cities where filling the stands with thousands of people on a nightly basis would be a huge challenge, the triumvirate went about establishing teams (with the permission of the National League) in such places as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Chicago to name a few. Loftus was there every step of the way. He owned teams, managed the 1903 Washington Senators and actually led the American League contingent when both leagues sat down to establish rules that would be played in both leagues such as no designated hitter, a pitcher’s mound that was the same height in all parks and abolishing the rule in which a foul ball never counted as a strike. But Tom also grew tired of the game and the grind it presented and walked away shortly after the inaugural season of 1903. He was approached a few times thereafter to take control of a team or, in some cases, manage a team. But Tom, who had a terrific reputation as a manager, turned down all offers and stayed home in Dubuque. And it was that decision that played a huge and negative role in his legacy as one of the American League founders. Both Comiskey and Johnson were enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Loftus, well, he is barely mentioned anywhere in the annals of baseball history. On this edition of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, John Pregler, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) joins to talk about Loftus. Pregler just published an in-depth article about Loftus for SABR’s Baseball Research Journal and shares what he wrote and more.
In college, at McNeese State University, Tom Sestak was a tightend. He was on the field to help block for running backs and to hang back and block for the QB. But, at 6-foot-4 and 270-pounds, he was much more in the pros. In fact, Sestak, who was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 16th round of the 1962 NFL draft and the Buffalo Bills in the 17th round of the AFL draft, never lined up at tightend. Instead, Sestak, who chose to play for the Bills instead of the Lions, lined up at Defensive Tackle, and would go on to prove himself as one of the best to ever play the position. He was Rookie of the Year, was a consensus first team pick throughout his career and was thought of by many to be the best Defensive Tackle in the game – NFL or AFL. Amazingly, though, so few remember Sestak; and that could be because his career was cut short by injuries. But when he was on the field, he wreaked havoc. The Bills were not a good team prior to Sestak’s arrival. But coach Lou Saban was putting together a stifling defense and was missing one key ingredient. A big, quick, athletic DT to anchor the line. When Sestak showed up at his first Bills camp, Saban immediately switched him from TE to DT and it paid immediate dividends. The Bills experienced their first winning season by going 7-6-1 in 1962. Two years later they won their first of back-to-back AFL Championships and established themselves as one of the AFL’s best. Much of that had to do with Sestak who anchored a defense that in included the likes of Ron McDole (SFH episode No. 51), Jim Dunaway and Tom Day. It was a defense that went a record 17-straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher and in 1964 gave up just an average of 65-yards rushing per game and only four rushing touchdowns all year. Over a seven-game stretch that year, Sestak blocked three field goals and knocked down at least one pass in each of those seven games. Greg Tranter, a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association joins SFH to talk about this great DT from the Buffalo Bills.
Perhaps one of the most unassuming stars of the great New York Yankee teams of the 1950s, Gil McDougald was a star in his own right. Rookie-of-the-Year in 1951, McDougald hit career high .306 that year and led the Yankees in batting average on a team that included the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. A five-time all-star, McDougald was also a favorite of manager Casey Stengel. In fact, prior to his days with New York, McDougald was also a favorite of one of baseball’s toughest minor league skippers, Rogers Hornsby, a guy who really did like young ball players. But when McDougald joined Hornsby’s Beaumont AA club, the baseball great took an immediate liking to the youngster. And, when Hornsby was invited to the Yankees spring training camp in 1951, Hornsby gave New York a glowing evaluation of McDougald. One of Gil’s greatest attributes was his ability to play second, short and third. He came up as a second baseman, moved to third and when Yankee great Phil Rizzuto retired, McDougald slid over to short without problem. Gil’s defense was as solid as anyone’s. He had an accurate arm, could go deep in the hole, and rarely made an error. At the plate he had an incredible penchant for coming through in the clutch, and he found himself in the middle of many crucial post-season rallies. While not the greatest player in the Yankees storied lineup of the 1950s, he was one the key ingredients, glue that kept the team together. In his 10-years in New York, the Yankees won the pennant eight times, and five times the Yankees won it all. McDougald is also known for one of baseball’s most tragic events, the line-drive off his bat that ruined the career of Herb Score, one the game’s brightest young pitchers. While it was an accident, it still affected Gil despite Score telling him that it was just a part of the game. Bill Lamb, best-known for his research about players from the Dead Ball-era, wrote a terrific biography about his favorite players of the 1950s (despite the fact that he was a New York Giants fan) and joins SFH for a wonderful discussion about one of the Yankees forgotten stars.
Gil McDougald SABR Bio
When he first earned the nickname the “Toy Cannon”, Jimmy Wynn was not exactly pleased. In fact, he sort of took it as a slight. Small in stature, just 5-feet-9, Wynn realized the nickname was a compliment to the incredible power he possessed. Yes, Jimmy Wynn was one of baseball’s most feared sluggers during the 60s and 70s. Consider this, in 1967, Wynn led his Houston Astros with 37 homeruns, while the rest of the team hit just 56. In 1968, he hit 26 homeruns and the rest of the Astros hit just 40; and in 1969, Wynn belted 33 homeruns while the rest of the Astros hit just 71. Wynn was the Astros power source. But, guys like Astros manager Harry Walker never appreciated the type of player Wynn was. He didn’t like the fact that he struck out as much as he did, despite the fact he had a great eye (148 walks in 1969), a career OPS of .802 and that he was actually swift of foot (43 stolen bases in 1965). Wynn also had a few off the field problems and went through a bitter divorce during which he was stabbed by his then wife. The relationship between and Walker continued to spiral and ultimately the Astros needed to something. They fired Walker and brought in Leo Durocher. The “Lip” had a better appreciation for Wynn’s talents. Despite this, however, the Astros couldn’t find a winning formula and in December 1973 traded Wynn to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1974, his first with L.A., Jimmy had one of his best years ever. Ironically, the Dodgers hitting coach was Harry’s brother, Dixie, and he told Jimmy to just go out and play. And that’s what Jimmy did. He played to the tune of a .271 batting average with a then Los Angeles record of 32 homeruns and 108 RBI. He also walked 108 times. The Dodgers had a great team in 1974 and won the National League in four games over the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, the Dodgers ran into the Oakland A’s in the World Series who were in the midst of rolling off three straight World Championships. Wynn, 32 at the time, had reached the pinnacle of his career, and was traded a year later. He bounced around with the Braves, Yankees and Brewers afterwards before hanging it up after the 1977 season. For his career, Jimmy Wynn slugged 291 homeruns, knocked in 964 and hit .250. By today’s standards, not overwhelming. But if you consider the fact that Jimmy Wynn played most of his games in the Houston Astrodome, the site where fly balls went to die, and the fact that he outhomered his team at home on a routine basis, then you would understand just how dangerous a hitter the “Toy Cannon” was. Mark Armour, one of the founders of the baseball biography project for SABR, joins the podcast to talk about the great Jimmy Wynn.
In 1993 the Canadian Football League embarked on an aggressive expansion plan into the United States. First, the CFL expanded to Sacramento. In 1994, the CFL added the Las Vegas Posse, the Baltimore CFLers and the Shreveport Pirates. In 1995, it added the Birmingham Barracudas, the Memphis Mad Dogs and the San Antonio Texans. Not surprisingly, the CFL didn’t make it in the U.S. for a myriad of reasons. The weather (the CFL plays throughout the summer, and it’s just too hot for football), lack of fan interest and going head-to-head in areas of the country where College Football rules the roost. But, there was one team that actually met with a modicum of success – Baltimore. First known as the CFL’ers because the courts ruled they could not use the name “COLTS” the day before the 1994 season kicked off, Baltimore would eventually become known as the Stallions. And they were good. The team’s owner Jim Speros wanted to run the team as if it were located in Canada and not force “NFL-type” strategies on the franchise. There were several reasons for this, most notably, the CFL has a few rules that make it different from the NFLm and Speros didn’t want all of his players to have to re-learn how to play the game. So, he hired an experienced CFL staff, and it all paid off. In Baltimore’s first year, it made a run all the way to the CFL Championship Game – the Grey Cup – before losing to the BC Lions. In 1995, after starting the year 5-3, the Stallions caught fire and won its final 13 games to go 18-3 with a stunning 37-20 win over the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup to become the only U.S.-based team to ever win the CFL Championship. But, it was during the final weeks and the playoffs of that 1995 season that spelled doom for the CFL in the U.S. Art Modell announced he was moving his beloved Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and once that announcement was made, the Baltimore faithful abandoned the Stallions. In fact, Baltimore had led the CFL in attendance, but now fan support was dwindling and without strong support, the Stallions and the CFL couldn’t survive in a head-to-head match with the NFL. So, after winning the Grey Cup, the Stallions shut their doors and the rest of the U.S. entrants in the CFL followed suit. Ron Snyder, who recently penned, “The Baltimore Stallions: The Brief, Brilliant History of the CFL Championship Franchise,” is my guest on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes as we talk about the Baltimore Stallions, the history of football in Baltimore and the demise of the CFL’s foray into the lower 48.
One of baseball’s best outfielders of his time, Andy Pafko was a star for the Chicago Cubs. He helped the Cubs win the National League Pennant in 1945 by hitting .298 and knocking in 110 runs. In fact, 1945 was the season in which Pafko established himself as one of the game’s best and finished fourth in the NL MVP race. Unfortunately, the Cubs lost that series to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Pafko followed that season by hitting .282, .302, .312, .281 and .304 over the next five seasons, but staying on the field, healthy, for all 154 games each year was an issue. Pafko played with a “reckless abandon” and no regard for his body that left him banged up much of the time. One can only wonder what kind of numbers Pafko would have put up had he not be injured so often. As it was, Andy Pafko was an All Star in 1947, ’48, ’49 and ’50. But, with the Cubs failing to repeat their 1945 success in any of the subsequent seasons, Pafko was traded midway through the 1951 season to the Brooklyn Dodgers and that’s where he gained a great deal of his fame. While he only played for the Dodgers for 1 ½ years, it was quite exciting. In ’51, he was playing leftfield when Bobby Thomson hit the famous “Shot Heard Round the World.” It was Pafko backed up against the fence watching the ball sail over his head as the New York Giants had completed their historic comeback and layoff win over the Dodgers. In 1952, Pafko hit .287 with 19 homeruns and 85 RBI to help lead the Dodgers to the NL Pennant and a World Series appearance against the New York Yankees. Once again, Pafko found himself on the wrong side of a seven-game loss. Following the ’52 season, Pafko was traded the Milwaukee Braves (relocated from Boston) and starred for the team for two years until he was related to a part time role which included playing just 83 games in 1957. Nonetheless, 1957 was am historic year for the Braves as they won the NL Pennant to earn the right to face the Yankees in the World Series. While, Pafko saw limited time in the regular season, he saw action in six of the seven games World Series games and finally experienced a Series win as the Braves beat the Yankees to capture Milwaukee’s only World Series Championship. Joe Niese, who wrote the book, “Handy Andy” returns to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk about one of baseball’s forgotten heroes – Andy Pafko.
Episode 80: Skip Lockwood
Skip Lockwood was not one of baseball’s best-known relievers. In fact, Lockwood was a journeyman ballplayer who debuted with the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 as a third baseman. A “bonus-baby”, he did not do too well at the plate. So, the A’s sent him down to the minors and it was there he was converted to a pitcher. He had a live arm for sure. Lockwood made it back to the Majors with the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and stayed with the franchise (the Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers in 1970) through 1973. A short stop with the Angels in 1974 preceded his stay in New York with the Mets where he became the team’s No. 1 option out of the pen. Saving games for the likes of Seaver, Koosman and Matlack, Lockwood became a “hero” to Mets fans everywhere and on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes Skip Lockwood joins the podcast for a wonderful conversation about his career that includes such stories of how he negotiated an extra $100,000 into his contract with the A’s and Charlie Finley, his rude welcome to the Majors, the comical way he was credited with his first stolen base, the pranks played on him – especially during his debut with Mets – and the philosophies he followed that allowed him to become a force out of the pen. Skip, who recently released his first book, “Insight Pitch,” shares so much with us. Join Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for this wonderful conversation with this baseball veteran.
Episode 79: Edd Roush
The name Edd Roush is not a very well-known name to most baseball fans. Inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962, Roush played for the great Cincinnati Reds teams of the 19-teens and 1920s. Roush was an average hitter when he first joined Cincinnati and then took a few hitting lessons from the great Ty Cobb. Those lessons had a profound impact on Roush; and he became one the game’s best. In fact, if not for a few protested games, Roush would have won three batting titles in a row. As it is, he won the National League batting crown in 1917 and 1919. Oh, and that 1919 season is, of course, one of the most talked about seasons in baseball history – and Roush was right in the middle of it. Edd was the centerfielder for the Reds team that beat the infamous “Black Sox” in the 1919 World Series. Roush confronted a teammate about throwing games (Hod Eller, who said he was approached but refused), was quite wary of ex-teammate Hal Chase who made $40,000 off the series, and befriended another interesting character – Jimmy Widmeyer – who knew about everything that was going on. It’s all covered in this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes with Edd’s granddaughter, Susan Dellinger, who wrote the book, “Red Legs and Black Sox, Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series.”
Episode 78: Drazen Petrovic
Drazen Petrovic was a superstar on the rise. A sharpshooter from anywhere on the hardwood, Petrovic finally established himself as the leader of the then New Jersey Nets when he was just 27. Petrovic first came up with the Portland Trailblazers in time for the 1989-90 season, spent a year-and-a-half with them and was traded to New Jersey. With the Nets, Drazen wound up averaging over 22 PPG and led the team to the playoffs. But then tragedy struck. Drazen was killed in a head-on collision on the autobahn. A life cut way too short. But it was certainly a life filled with spectacular basketball and, as one would expect, a little controversy too. Petrovic was born in Sibenik, Croatia, played in the professional leagues in Yugoslavia and worked his way into the NBA. And I mean worked. Petrovic had a passion for the game unlike very few before or after him. Whenever he had the chance, Petrovic found a gym and practiced the game. He had workout routines, created drills and just, flat, outworked every other player around him. His love for hoops can be traced all the way to his days a schoolboy. He even found ways to “untune” his guitar so his instructor would have to spend half the lesson “retuning” the guitar and during that time, Drazen would find a place to practice. Drazen always played up in age, and others looked up to him. And, when he moved from team to team, or league to league, and the style of play changed, Drazen went straight to the gym and worked on his game in order to fit in or adjust. When he finally made it to the NBA, his game didn’t fit. So, he adjusted. But, playing for the Blazers, a team that contended for NBA Titles (Drazen appeared in the NBA Finals with the Blazers against the Detroit Pistons) didn’t workout. Drazen demanded a trade, and he found himself in New Jersey with the Nets. That’s where he took off. The team’s offense went through Drazen and he helped lead the team to the playoffs in years. However, there were distractions. His native Croatia was seceding from Yugoslavia and that created desperate times for many. In fact, Drazen was thinking about leaving the NBA, the league he had worked so hard to find a home in, after the 92-93 season. While he was weighing his options, Drazen took a trip to Germany and was a passenger in a car traveling the autobahn when tragedy struck. The car was hit head-on and Drazen was killed instantly. Todd Spehr, who wrote a terrific book about Drazen, “The Mozart of Basketball,” that includes interviews with family members and teammates from all the leagues he played in, joins the podcast from Australia for an in-depth conversation about Drazen Petrovic.
Episode 77: Oscar Charleston
When baseball fans gather and start debating who is the greatest ball player of all-time, the usual suspects are routinely discussed: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc. However, one name is never mentioned. The name of a ball player whom Bill James in his Baseball Abstract has ranked in the top-5 of all-time: Oscar Charleston. The original “Big O”, Oscar Charleston, as Hank Greenberg once said, “was one of the best ball players I have ever seen … He could hit and field with the best of them.” Pretty high praise from another of Major League Baseball’s all-time greats. Oscar, however, never got the chance to play in the Majors, rather he was a star in the Negro Leagues suiting up for teams such as the Indianapolis ABC’s, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. But, in exhibition games against MLB players, Oscar put on a show. And, of course, in the Negro Leagues he put on even a bigger show. Oscar had a career average of .339 and career slugging percentage of .545. Those numbers are based on the box scores baseball historians could locate. Oscar’s awe-striking power produced some of the longest homeruns of the day, he could run the bases unlike anyone the game had ever seen, and his play in centerfield was simply spectacular. Oscar’s popularity, however, is affected by the fact that he didn’t play in the Negro Leagues when there was a lot of structure, and his name – Oscar – doesn’t sound as “magical” as Satchel; and another fact, Oscar never had children, so there was never anyone to speak and campaign for Oscar after his untimely death in 1954. Jeremy Beer, whose recent book, “Oscar Charleston, The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Hero,” won the Seymour Medal, which is awarded by the Society for American Baseball Research – SABR – for the best baseball history or biography published in the preceding year, joins SFH for an in-depth and discussion about one of baseball’s forgotten heroes, a guy who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976 without much fanfare – Oscar Charleston.
Episode 76: Pierre Pilote
Pierre Pilote was not like the stereotypical Canadian child. He was not born with the proverbial pair of ice skates on his feet. In fact, Pilote didn’t care to skate much at all. Rather, Pilote took a liking to another game – baseball. But the baseball season is not very long in Canada and by the time Pilote became a teenager, he thought he might as well try ice skating to pass the time. Then he decided to try skating with a stick in his hand and play a little hockey. It wasn’t too long before he discovered he was pretty good at the game and a short time later he was playing minor league hockey. While a late start affected his ability to break into the NHL in early-20s, by the time he was 24 he finally got his chance, and the Chicago Blackhawks were certainly thankful. Pilote went on to play defense for Chicago for 13 years and during that time he won the Norris Trophy three times, and helped the Blackhawks end years of playoff droughts. With Pilote in the lineup, Chicago played in the Stanley Cup Finals three times and won the Cup in 1961. Of course, Chicago had some other pretty good players too, a la, Bobby Hull and Glenn Hall, but you can trace the Blackhawks climb to the top of the hockey world beginning with Pierre Pilote. Joining Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for this conversation is the terrific author, Waxy Gregoire, who, with Pierre, wrote the book, “Heart of the Blackhawks,” an in-depth look at the resurrection of the Chicago Blackhawks and the career of Pierre Pilote.
Episode 75: Darel Carrier
Darel Carrier is considered to be one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the ABA, the American Basketball Association. In fact, Carrier is on the ABA’s All-Time team. A prolific shooter from downtown, Carrier is the ABA’s all-time leader in 3-point field goal percentage. But his story starts long before his days as a member of one of the ABA’s most legendary teams – the Kentucky Colonels. Darel, who had a twin brother Harel, averaged over 30-points per game during his high school career and accepted a scholarship to play for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers instead of the scholarship he was offered by the University of Kentucky and the great Adolph Rupp. At WKU, Carrier was the team’s go-to star and his ability on the court led to him being drafeted in the 9th round of the NBA Draft by the then St. Louis Hawks. Carrier, however, felt that being selected so late would affect his ability to make the Hawks, so instead, he agreed to play for one of the most famous Industrial League teams of all time, the Phillips 66’ers. As Darel explains on this episode of SFH, playing for Phillips guaranteed him a great job with a terrific salary, and he enjoyed his three years with the company and team. However, the lure of playing professional basketball was too tempting and when the newly formed ABA came calling, Darel couldn’t say no and he accepted an offer to play for his home-state team, the Kentucky Colonels. For the next five years, Darel lit up the scoreboard. He and Louie Dampier formed one of the most formidable backcourts in the history of basketball. However, just as the Colonels were getting good and making deep runs in the playoffs, Carrier suffered an injury and found himself sitting on the bench. This was a tough assignment for a one-time star and rather than stay on the bench, Darel took up an offer to play for the Memphis Tams. One of the ABA’s weaker teams, Darel had hoped to turn the team around, but again injury derailed that plan. In fact, Darel suffered a torn Achilles early in the 1972-73 season and that ended his basketball career. Now, Darel Carrier owns his own farm and works as an auctioneer; and on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Darel Carrier joins the podcast to talk about his wonderful basketball career.
Episode 74: Jerry Quarry
He was once considered to be the most popular fighter in boxing. He fought champions such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Jimmy Ellis and Ken Norton. He fought over 200 times as an amateur, turned professional and went 53-9-4. Yet, when the roll call of great heavyweights is read, rarely – of ever – is the name Jerry Quarry mentioned. Sure, Quarry never won a heavyweight belt, still he was one of the most feared and durable boxers of his time. When Ali came back from exile, only one boxer ranked in the top-10 agreed to fight him – Quarry. Jerry Quarry didn’t back down from anyone. It wasn’t in his blood. Trained by his father beginning at the age of six, Quarry came from a family of boxers. Had boxing had a cruiserweight division at the time in which Quarry fought, his career might have taken on a completely different trajectory. He was light compared to his fellow competitors. Quarry fought at a weight of about 175-to-185-pounds, much lighter than the 200-plus pounds his opponents fought at. Quarry won his first 12 bouts before finally settling for a draw with Tony Doyle in his 13th fight, and didn’t lose a bout until Eddie Machen beat him in a decision on July 14, 1966. Quarry wouldn’t lose again until the famous heavyweight tournament in which 10 fighters were matched up in a playoff-type competition to fill Ali’s vacated WBA Championship. Quarry advanced to the championship bout after having defeated Floyd Patterson in a 12-round decision and then beat Thad Spencer by TKO. In the 15-round championship match against Jimmy Ellis, Quarry lost by decision. Quarry lost again in a championship match, this time to Joe Frazier for the New York State Athletic Commission World Heavyweight title. Quarry was TKO’d by Frazier in the 7th-Round in what was named the 1969 Fight of the Year by The Ring Magazine. Quarry got another shot at a World Heavyweight Championship a few years later, but was TKO’d by Ali in 1972 for the NABF Heavyweight Title. Ken Norton TKO’d Quarry in 1975 for the NABF title in Quarry’s final title bout. Throughout his career, Quarry took an awful beating. One of his shortcomings was the fact that he cut easily. This could have contributed to some of the TKO’s he suffered, worse, though, was the constant blows to the head he suffered, and he ultimately succumbed to those beatings via dementia pugilistica at the age of 56. One of the saddest events of Quarry’s life was his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in which he was able to attend, but the dementia was so severe, those in attendance say Quarry had no idea what was happening. George Thomas Clark, who appeared on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for discussions about Teofilo Stevenson and Archie Moore, returns to SFH for a wonderful conversation about “The Bellflower Bomber” – Jerry Quarry.
Episode 73: Dave Kerr-Chuck Rayner -Gump Worsley
Throughout the long history of the NHL, the New York Rangers have been very fortunate to have some of the game’s greatest goalies suit up and protect their net. Guys like the great Jacques Plante, Eddie Giacomin and most recently Henrik Lundqvist. But there have been others as well, goalies whose names have faded away with time and on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, we take a look back at three of those goalies: Dave Kerr, Chuck Rayner and Gump Worsley. Now, Worsley might be a very recognizable name to many hockey fans; however, he is best known for the multiple Stanley Cup Championships he won as the netminder for the immortal Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1960s. But, before he played for Montreal, Worsley was the star goalie of the Rangers, where he toiled between the pipes for 10 seasons. Like those before him, and many after, Worsley was a victim of a very weak team. Yet, he kept the Rangers in games and gave them a fighting chance. Dave Kerr preceded Worsley by 20-years. An outstanding goalie who led New York to a Stanley Cup Championship in 1940, Kerr also won a Vezina Trophy and actually finished his Rangers career with a record of 157 wins, 110 losses and 57 ties. Many of those wins were directly attributed to Kerr’s incredible play. Rayner, too, was victimized by a poor Rangers team and no matter how well he played, he could not lead New York to many wins. In fact, Rayner was significantly under .500 for the Rangers. In eight seasons he won 123 games, lost 179 and finished with 73 ties. But, he did lead New York to a Stanley Cup Final in 1950, a Final the Rangers lost in seven games (the 7th game went into double-OT). Rayner was so stoic in the nets, that, even though he finished his career 69-games under .500, he was still inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. George Grimm, who previously talked about Vic Hadfield with us, recently released a book, “Guardians of the Goal,” a historical look back at the men who minded the nets for New York, returns to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a wonderful discussion about these three New York goalies: Dave Kerr, Chuck Rayner and Gump Worsley.
Episode 72: Leo Lyons – NFL co-Founder
When he was just 16-years old, Leo Lyons had a dream. Professional football. Leo couldn’t understand why there was professional baseball (Major League Baseball) and professional football didn’t exist. Everyone laughed at Leo. Said his dream was ridiculous. They never believed in him, they never thought there was enough interest in football to make a professional league. His parents, his friends, local businesses, everyone. But Leo was determined. For the next 10-years, Leo worked hard. Continually working on his plan to form a professional football league. He kept journals, sketched out plans, bought his own team, the Rochester (N.Y.) Jeffersons and never gave up. The Jeffersons were the best team in New York, winning the New York State Championship on a few occasions and always found themselves in contention for more. However, as good as the Jeffersons were, Leo still couldn’t drum up local interest. In fact, very few people came out to support the “Jeffs”. Meanwhile, in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, football was growing. Interest in the game was skyrocketing and teams were forming throughout both states. Sure, while there wasn’t a lot of interest in the Jeffs, the local newspapers still covered their games and the legendary Jim Thorpe took notice. The Jeffs, who had just won the 1917 State Championship challenged Thorpe and his Canton Bulldogs. Thorpe accepted the challenge. The game did not go well for the Jeffs. In fact, Canton won 41-0. But the game wound up being one of the most important in football history as Leo’s friendship with Thorpe grew much stronger; and when Thorpe and his associates decided to take the leap and form a professional football association, Thorpe called Leo. Of course, Leo dropped everything, met Thorpe and all of his associates on September 17, 1920 at a car dealership in Canton, Ohio for the formation of the American Professional Football Association (two years later to be renamed the National Football League). John Steffenhagen, Leo’s great-grandson, used to hang out at Leo’s house. He had always heard about Leo’s interest in football, but at such a young age (7, 8, 9) he had no idea of Leo’s true interest in the game. He knew Leo liked football, but not to the extent he would learn later. Yes, long after Leo’s death, John finally learned just who his great-grandfather was. He was floored. With the help of John’s mother, and other relatives, John gathered as much memorabilia as he could, compiled it all, and is documenting it in a new book, “A Journey From The Sandlots To The National Football League,” which traces Leo’s life and the formation of the National Football League. John joins us on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a wonderful discussion about Leo Lyons.
Episode 71: 1936 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team
The first-ever U.S. Olympic Men’s basketball Team was surrounded by controversy. Not only was the team playing in the first-ever basketball tournament at the Olympics, but the game’s themselves itself, were most controversial. The world was on the brink of an all-out war as Hitler was wreaking havoc, and the 1936 Olympics were to be played in his backyard – Berlin, Germany. Somehow, though, Hitler convinced the world to visit Berlin for the Olympic Games. The U.S., which strongly considered boycotting the Games, ultimately decided to participate. The team the U.S. sent to Berlin for basketball was selected in a way few know. A tournament was staged in New York City at Madison Square Garden – and that tournament was controversial as well, as very few fans turned out. From that tournament, the U.S. Team was to be selected and it was to be made up from the two best teams, the teams that finished 1-2. Yes, “teams” played for the right to represent the U.S. and the Top-2 were selected, along with one collegiate player. That’s only party of the story though. Basketball at the 1936 Olympics was played outdoors and the weather played a significant role. While the U.S., as expected, dominated the tournament, the team was very splintered. In fact, half the team was not present when the U.S. won the Gold, nor was it present when the Gold Medals were handed out. And, yet, there was so much more when it came to these Olympics; and joining the podcast to talk about all of it is Andrew Maraniss who just released a new book, “Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany.” Andrew, who conducted countless interviews, and whose research is very evident about the topic, shared so much of what he learned on this edition of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes.
Episode 70: Earl Morrall
So, what is the most important position in sports? The majority of sports fans would argue that quarterback is the most important position is sports. As far as football is concerned, it would be awfully difficult to argue against it. But what about the second most important position on a football team? Well, Joe Gibbs who won multiple Super Bowl Championships as the head coach of the Washington Redskins once said that the second most important position on a football team is the backup quarterback! Again, that’s a pretty difficult assertion to argue against. After all, just take a look at the 2019 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints didn’t lose a beat when Drew Brees went down and Teddy Bridgewater replaced him. Where would the Indianapolis Colts be if they didn’t have Jacoby Brissett to step in for Andrew Luck after Luck abruptly retired before the season started. The Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles backing up Carson Wentz. What Kyle Allen has been able to do with the Carolina Panthers after stepping in for Cam Newton has kept the Panthers relevant. Throughout football history, there have been some terrific backups, but who is the greatest of them all? How about Earl Morrall? Equipped with a big arm and the uncanny ability to step in no matter what the situation was, Morrall did nothing but win. Over the course of 20-years, Earl Morrall played backup for guys like Bobby Layne, Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Unitas and Bob Griese. When Unitas went down, all Morrall did was lead the Baltimore Colts to an NFL Championship. When Bob Griese went down, all Morrall did was go 9-0 and lead the Miami Dolphins into the playoffs in 1972 when the Dolphins went a perfect 17-0. Morrall, won 63 games, threw for over 20,000-yards and won a league MVP. Mark Sullivan, who grew up a fan of the Baltimore Colts and later became a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association, the PFRA, has conducted hour upon hour of research, and has written several articles on his favorite sport – football – and recently authored an article about Morrall for the Coffin Corner, the PFRA’s publication. In that article, Sullivan detailed the career of Earl Morrall and now he joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for an in-depth discussion about Morrall. Mark talks about Morrall’s ability on the field, how legendary coach Don Shula signed Morrall as a backup after the Colts thought he was done and subsequently waived him, and how Morrall could never catch a break in his quest to become a starting quarterback.
Episode 69: Detroit Wheels of the World Football League
In 1974 a new football league made its debut: The World Football League. With high hopes, the WFL launched with team in Birmingham, Chicago, Orlando, Honolulu, Houston, Jacksonville, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Anaheim and Detroit. A few of the teams did well, and as one would expect, most didn’t including the Detroit Wheels. Yes, Detroit had a team in the WFL and it didn’t make it through the leagues’ first season. In fact, Detroit ceased operations just 14 games into a 20-game season. But what a legacy the Wheels left behind. Perhaps one of the most poorly run franchises in the history of sports, the Wheels had 33 owners and none stepped forward to be the face of the franchise. The Wheels started slowly and didn’t sign any players until after every other team in the league had already begun the process. The team was operated as a pay-as-you-go entity, had little to no budget, hired a coach who was overmatched when it came to professional football, the Wheels couldn’t find a local stadium, and once the season started, players came and went in droves. Mark Speck, who has made a hobby of learning as much as he can about each team in the WFL, has written a few books on WFL teams including, “Nothing But A Brand New Set of Flat Tires,” visits Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for an in-depth discussion about the Wheels and many of the crazy and zany situations Detroit created for itself. From considering asking players to sleep in tents during training camp to not having the money to pay for tape to tape the player’s ankles, the Wheels faced situations you would never think a professional franchise would ever face. The Wheels were actually a decent team, better than their 1-13 record would have you believe. It was a team that couldn’t figure out how to hold a late-game lead. In fact, seven of their losses came by seven points or less. But when you face the adversity the Wheels faced, like not getting paid, playing football becomes difficult. Listen to SFH now to hear more about this long forgotten professional football team.
Episode 68: Chuck Taylor – Converse All Stars
If you haven’t worn a pair of Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Stars, you most likely know someone who has. Arguably the most famous athletic shoe in history, more than 100-million pairs are sold every year. Long before adidas, Nike, puma, et al., added great technology to the shoes that are worn on today’s basketball courts, “Chucks” were the No. 1-selling basketball shoe. Every basketball player wanted a pair. So, who was Chuck Taylor? Was he a real person or just a fictional name added to the shoe? Well, not only was he a real person, he was one of the greatest shoe salesmen in history; and that’s just part of the reason why his name adorns every pair of Converse All Stars sold. Chuck Taylor was a good basketball player. He understood the game and he made a name for himself by knocking down doors after he was hired by the Converse Rubber Shoe Company. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Knute Rockne and John Wooden. He put on basketball clinics around the country and sold out gymnasiums. If you didn’t host one of his clinics, chances were, your team, your players would be hard-pressed to grab a pair of these must-have basketball shoes. He created the Converse Basketball Yearbook, an annual publication that had stories about the best basketball players in college, the best teams in college and wonderful instructional pieces actually written by Chuck Taylor. All of this led to Converse agreeing to put Chuck Taylor’s name on its best-selling shoe. So, how did all of this happen? How did Chuck Taylor turn a modest basketball career playing in industrial teams into what was then an empire? Abe Aamidor who worked as a reporter for the Indianapolis Star, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and other newspapers as well, and who has written several books, took on the task of writing a biography on one of the biggest and, perhaps, least known figures in basketball history – Chuck Taylor. Abe’s book, “Chuck Taylor All Star, The True Story of the Man Behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History,” published by Indiana University Press, is a wonderful account of how Taylor did it all. Abe joins us on this edition of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a terrific discussion about Chuck Taylor.
Episode 67: All America Football Conference – AAFC
For four years, 1946 through 1949, the NFL faced stiff competition from an upstart league, the All America Football Conference. The AAFC was the real deal. Rosters featured such stars as Otto Graham, Joe Perry, Frankie Albert and Y.A. Tittle. It’s champion team, the Cleveland Browns, could compete with any NFL team and its coach, Paul Brown, created a passing attack that NFL teams just couldn’t defend. The AAFC introduced professional football to areas of the country that had never seen such a brand of football before. Of course, as with anything new, there were growing pains, and combined with dwindling attendance and rising player salaries, the AAFC – along with the NFL – was in danger of going under. But, the AAFC refused to give in. So, the larger league, the NFL, agreed to take in two of the AAFC’s best teams in 1950 – the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49’ers; and a third team in 1951 – the Baltimore Colts. The AAFC gave football so much, including teams to areas such as Miami, L.A. and San Francisco. The AAFC gave us unlimited substitutions, and it also gave us football’s first unbeaten team, the Browns. But why was there a need for a second league, and who was behind it all? Gary Webster who wrote a terrific book, “The League That Didn’t Exist: The All America Football Conference, 1946-1949,” discusses all this and more on this special extended edition of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes.
Episode 66: Blanton Collier
There was a time when the Cleveland Browns were the best. Period. Their all-world coach, Paul Brown, revolutionized the game. He was the type of coach who would beat you with his players and he could beat you with your players. But, Brown saw things one way, his way. He didn’t agree with many of the player-personnel decisions by management and Cleveland’s new owner – Art Modell. So, after the 1962 season, Brown was let go and in came Blanton Collier. A player’s coach, Collier made a name for himself as a head coach with his time at the helm of the Kentucky Wildcats. With the Browns, Collier had to rebuild a team, and he did so quickly. His first year with Cleveland, the Browns went 10-4, and in 1964, his second team with Cleveland, Collier led the Browns to a record of 10-3-1 and a 27-0 NFL Championship over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. In his eight years as coach of the Browns, the worst Collier did was his last year, 1970, when Cleveland went 7-7. From 1963 through 1969, Collier’s teams were a threat to win the NFL Championship every year and yet, most Cleveland Browns fans don’t recall Collier and still think the last championship team was coached by Paul Brown. Roger Gordon who wrote the book, “Blanton’s Browns,” joins the podcast to talk about just how good a coach Collier was, the disability he had to deal with while coaching, losing the great Jim Brown, and making a name for himself.
Episode 65: Ernie Nevers
On November 28, 1929, Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns for the Chicago Cardinals and kicked four extra points. That’s 40-points in one NFL game by one player, and that’s still the record. And Nevers did NOT do this against a pushover franchise. He scored all of the Cardinals points in a 40-6 win over the Chicago Bears. That’s only part of the story. Ernie Nevers was a phenomenal athlete. Not only was he a cornerstone of two NFL franchises, the Duluth Eskimos and the Chicago Cardinals, but he also pitched for the St. Louis Browns in 1926, 1927 and a part of 1928. Nevers was also a terrific talent in track and actually signed a contract to play professional basketball. But, football is where he really excelled. In fact, the 40-points he scored on that Thanksgiving Day was the middle game on an incredible stretch in which he scored all of the Cardinals points in a 19-0 win over the Dayton Triangles just four days earlier, and three days after he scored the 40-points he put up all of the Cardinals he scored a touchdown, kicked a PAT, threw for a touchdown and intercepted a pass! So, in the span of just seven days, Ernie Nevers scored 66 points – a record that will likely stand forever. On the diamond, Nevers was a pitcher. He never firmly established himself at the Major League level and went just 6-12 in his brief career. He’s probably best remembered for giving up two of Babe Ruth’s 60 homeruns in the Babe’s record-setting year of 1927. But football is where Nevers really made a name for himself. Nevers, who spent just two seasons with Duluth and three with the Cardinals, played in a total of 54 games. But what he did in those 54 games was so remarkable, that in 1963, Nevers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its inaugural class along with such greats as Red Grange, George Halas and Jim Thorpe, among others. Lee Elder, a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association, returns to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a wonderful discussion on one of football’s all-time greats.
Episode 64: The Bush Leagues: Joe Brovia, Joe Bauman and Bob Crues
Sometimes, no matter how good you are in the minors, you just can’t catch a break and make it to the majors. Meet Joe Brovia, Joe Bauman and Bob Crues, three ballplayers who enjoyed terrific, and in certain instances, historic minor league careers. However, only Brovia ever got a taste of what it’s like to play in Major League Baseball. Brovia, when he was 33, was called up to the Cincinnati Reds to be used exclusively as a pinch hitter. In 21 games, he hit just .111, was sent back down and never again appeared in the majors. Bauman was the first professional baseball player to ever hit more than 70 homeruns in a single season, while Crues also enjoyed a historic season belting 69 homeruns in 1948 for Amarillo in Class C Ball. Gaylon White who wrote the recently released book, “Left On Base in the Bush Leagues,” spent years collecting stories and conducting interviews to write this wonderful book that takes a look at all three players and several others. Brovia, prior to his callup to Cincinnati, was hitting .325 for the Oakland Oaks of the PCL which was considered by many to be a third Major League. Brovia slugged 213 homeruns over the course of his minor league career that started with El Paso in 1940 and concluded with Veracruz in the Mexican League in 1957. Bauman caught the eye of the Boston Braves and actually played for Boston’s minor league clubs in Hartford and Milwaukee, but didn’t enjoy the experience. He was quite satisfied with playing in places like Amarillo, Artesia and Roswell. In fact Bauman was so revered in Roswell, the stadium is named after him and he is buried across the street. Crues actually crossed paths with Bauman as the two played together with Amarillo – a nightmare for opposing pitchers. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes we’ll take a look back at the careers of all three AND we’ll also talk a little about Ron Necciai, the only pitcher in professional baseball history to strike out 27 batters in a 9-inning game.
Episode 63: Burleigh Grimes
Baseball outlawed the spitball in 1920. However, each team was allowed to designate two pitchers (if they already threw the spitter) to throw it until they retired. Burleigh Grimes of the Brooklyn (Dodgers) Robins was one of those pitchers. His spitball was quite unique in that he “coated” the ball with a special sap from a type of tree in Polk County, Wisconsin. Grimes continued to use his spitter, whenever he felt necessary throughout his career which ended after the 1934 season. Overall, Grimes won 270 games and was enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York by the Veteran’s Committee in 1964. A fierce competitor, Grimes never backed down from anyone and even let his teammates know it when he was unhappy with them. This trait – “fierceness” – might also be why so many baseball fans know the name Burleigh Grimes, but so few can tell you much about his career. It was Burleigh’s intense desire to win that actually proved to be a detriment to his career as he was shipped from team to team to team. In fact, Grimes changed addresses nine times during his 19-year career that saw him play for the Pirates (three times) the Dodgers (who were also known as the Robins, and we talk about that in this episode of SFH), the Giants, the Braves, the Cardinals (twice), the Cubs and the Yankees. In fact, after going 1908 in his lone season for John McGraw and the New York Giants, Grimes was traded because he just couldn’t get along with a few of his teammates. Well, maybe “getting along” is too strong, but he let it be known if he wasn’t happy with their play behind him when he was on the mound. And that’s too bad, because Grimes could pitch. He won 270 games during his career and helped four of his teams reach the World Series, coming out on the winning side once, 1931, when he went 2-0 for the Cardinals in the Redbird’s win over the Philadelphia Athletics. Author Joe Niese wrote a terrific biography on Grimes, “Burleigh Grimes, Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer,” and is here to discuss the terrific career of Grimes and also talks about the unique spitball that Grimes threw.
Episode 62: Ray Billows
The 2019 U.S. Amateur was won by Andy Ogletree. Certainly not a name that’s on the tip of your tongue. But there are many past champions of the U.S. Amateur who are very much a part of our daily conversations, especially golf fans. Guys like the “King” – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. To make it to the finals of the U.S. Amateur is a huge accomplishment. Not only do you need to make it through your local qualifier, then you have to make it through stroke-play. Today, 312 golfers qualify for the stroke-play portion of the tournament. From there, the top 64 players advance to match play. If, by the way, there’s a tie for 64th, they’re settled in a sudden-death playoff. Those final 64 players are matched up in a bracket very much like college basketball. No. 1 plays No. 64, No. 2 plays No. 63, No. 3 plays No. 62 and so on. It’s a grueling tournament as the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur requires the winner of each match to play 36-holes a day until just two golfers are left standing; and then they face-off in 36-hole match-play final on Sunday. Today, the champion is awarded the Havemeyer Trophy. Ray Billows was one of the top golfers of his era at a time when amateur golf was bigger than professional golf. Billows thrived in the U.S. Amateur winning 74% of all the matches he played. In fact, he advanced to the final match three times, but he was never able to win. Each time Billows played in the finals, he lost. Not only did he lose, but Ray Billows is the only golfer in history to lose the U.S. Amateur three times, certainly one of the most disappointing facts about his career. Certainly, the fact that the U.S. Amateur wasn’t played for four years during the prime of his career because of World War II contributed to his disappointment. But to make it to the finals three times is a huge accomplishment. The fact that Billows played on two Walker Cup teams, won the New York State Amateur seven times and numerous other tournaments over the course of his career prove just how good Ray Billows was. The USGA recognized Ray’s brilliance on the course by honoring him with an exhibit at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, NJ. Tom Buggy, who had the pleasure of playing golf with Ray, wrote a book about Billows (long after he had passed) called, “Ray Billows, The Cinderella Kid,” and he’s on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk about Ray’s career, the ups and downs he experienced and why he decided to play amateur golf instead of professional golf.
Episode 61: Ken Williams
Ken Williams was one of baseball’s most feared sluggers of the 1920s. A star for the St. Louis Browns, Williams was a career .319 hitter who hit 196 home runs for his career while toiling in relative obscurity for a team that usually finished near the bottom of the standings. Williams, who never revealed his real age, was reportedly five-years older than what he claimed; and his career was shortened by the fact that he didn’t make for good until he was 30-years old. But, once he did make it, he made a big statement. In fact, after slugging 24 home runs and knocking in 117 to go along with a .347 average in 1921 – his first full season with the Browns, Williams backed that up with his best season. In 1922, Williams stopped Babe Ruth’s run on leading the American League in home runs, which he had done for four consecutive years. Williams led the A.L. with 39 round-trippers, lead the league with 155 RBI and hit .332. While Williams never topped Ruth again in the home run race, he still terrorized pitchers, and he was one of the streakiest hitters the game has ever known. Dave Heller, who wrote the book, “Ken Williams, A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow,” joins the podcast for a wonderful conversation about one of the game’s most overlooked and forgotten stars.
Episode 60: Hal Trosky
When you are competing for notoriety against the likes of Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg, you have to be really good … great … to grab headlines. You need to hit a ton of homeruns. You need to rack up the RBI’s and you better have a terrific batting average to go along with all of that. Well, that’s exactly what Hal Trosky of the Cleveland Indians did. In fact, in his first four full years for the Indians, he averaged 33+ homeruns a season, over 136 RBI a year and his batting average over his first four years was .310. The guy could flat-out rake! In 1936, his best year, he hit .343 with 42 homeruns, 162 RBI and 405 total bases! His OPS was 1.026. In his first two full seasons, he played every inning of every game. Yet, he was a virtual unknown. Playing for a team that never contended, Trosky was relegated to playing in obscurity. At a time when baseball staged two all-star games a year, Trosky was never invited – a terrible injustice. How could a guy who hit the way he did, a guy who other teams had to plan for, a guy averaged 27 homeruns and 122 RBI a year for his career to go along with a yearly average of .302 be so overlooked? Hal Trosky is the true definition of what this podcast is all about – a forgotten hero. Perhaps, even more amazing is this, very few fans of the Cleveland Indians know his name. Well, on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, we recall the career of Hal Trosky and remind fans of the Indians just how great he was; and here to help us do that is William H. (Bill) Johnson who wrote the terrific book, “Hal Trosky: A Baseball Biography.”
Episode 59: Ray Collins
So many baseball players have had their careers cut short by injury. Some of those careers might be considered marginal, and others might be considered a tragedy based on the fact that the career was on an upward trajectory and headed for greatness. Ray Collins, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1909 and into the 1915 season had one of those careers. His last full season, 1914, at the age of 27, Collins went 20-13 – this followed a campaign in which he went 19-8. But, 1915, Collins developed shoulder issues, went 4-7 and never pitched in the Majors again. And that’s a shame because Collins was a stalwart on the Boston pitching staff. He was a key ingredient in Boston’s 1912 World Series win over the New York Giants, and was able to hold his own against opposing pitchers the likes of Cy Young and opposing hitters the likes of Ty Cobb. Collins, who hails from Vermont, is also regarded as one of the best ever to suit-up for the University of Vermont. In fact, Collins was enshrined into the University’s Hall of Fame. While pitching for Vermont, Collins also pitched in Class D minor league baseball, something you could do back in the early 1900s, and he was a dominant force. Several major league teams took notice of Collins and wanted to sign him. But, it basically came down to two: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Collins decided on the latter, mostly because they played closest to his home state of Vermont. Tom Simon, somewhat of an expert when it comes to baseball players who grew up in Vermont, and a member of SABR, joins the podcast for a wonderful discussion on a career that was cut short by injury, the career of Ray Collins.
Episode 58: Mungo Park, David Brown, Jack Fleck
Three golf champions. Three remarkable championships. Three very unique stories about three guys who had never won before: Mungo Park, 1874 Open Championship; David Brown, 1886 Open Championship; Jack Fleck, 1955 U.S. Open. Each have very unique stories and joining Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to help tell their stories is Connor Lewis from the TalkinGolf History podcast. Connor is one of the foremost golf historians around, created the Society of Golf Historians and is absolutely enthralled with the game and its history. His knowledge is second-to-none and the stories he recalls and relates are absolutely terrific. Mungo Park won the 1874 Open Championship after spending 20-years at sea. David Brown won the 1886 Championship after he had given up the game to become a roofer. More remarkable is the fact that he was actually working on a roof when he was convinced to come down, tee it up, and then went on to capture the Claret Jug. Jack Fleck, who was in Normandy on D-Day, ultimately became a professional golfer, qualified for the 1955 U.S. Open, found himself 9-strokes back after the first round, climbed into contention, tied Ben Hogan on the 72nd hole and beat Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win! In the episode of SFH, we take a look back at all three championships and talk about the careers of all three golfers.
Episode 57: Hank O’Day
Hank O’Day is one of the most unique and important figures in the history of Major League Baseball. He broke into the game as a pitcher in the American Association for Toledo in 1884. He finished his career seven years later with the New York Giants. During his career, on occasion, O’Day stepped out onto the field as an umpire and when his playing days concluded, he turned to umpiring permanently. Well, sort of. In 1912, O’Day stepped back into the dugout as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and went 75-78. He was let go after that one season. In 1914, the Chicago Cubs hired O’Day to be their manager and he went 78-76 and was again let go after just one season. So, O’Day put his mask back on and went back out on the field as a manager and ultimately spent the better part of three decades calling games. Major League Baseball officials consulted O’Day throughout his career and after his days on the field were over to discuss the rules of the game, what new rules should be instituted, which rules should be tweaked and which rules should be abolished. Sometimes they agreed with Hank and on other occasions they didn’t, which of course, disturbed O’Day greatly. O’Day was also on the field to make one of the most famous calls in baseball history, the call that led to the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs tying 1-1 in the heat of the 1908 pennant race … the famous “Merkle Boner” game. O’Day dedicated his life to the game he loved so much probably to the detriment of enjoying a normal personal life. He was basically a hermit. Dennis Bingham, who umpires games in the Chicago-area, and is a member of SABR, is one of the most foremost authorities on the career of Hank O’Day and he joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for an in-depth conversation on one of the most interesting and unique figures in baseball history.
Episode 56: Roy Sievers
Roy Sievers was one of the most clutch hitters in baseball history. In fact, Sievers, who won the 1949 American League Rookie of the Year with the St. Louis Browns, hit nearly a quarter of his 318 career homeruns in the eighth inning or later. But, becoming a clutch hitter almost didn’t happen. After winning the ROY in 1949, Sievers fell into a slump and that was followed by a devastating right-shoulder injury that almost cost him his career. In fact, during the four-year stretch of 1950 through 1953, Sievers played in just 247 games and hit just 19 homeruns. But, Browns owner Bill Veeck worked hard with Sievers to help him overcome the injury, and Sievers did just that. After Veeck sold the Browns, the team moved to Baltimore and Sievers was traded to the Washington Senators. Great news for Washington, not so good for the new Baltimore Orioles. Sievers, not only recovered, he became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. Over the course of the next 10-years, Sievers connected for 275 homeruns including an American League leading and career best 42 in 1957 to go along with 114 RBI. Sievers was named to five all-star teams and three times finished in the top-5 for MVP voting. Greg Wolf, the co-Director of the BioProject for SABR, and a frequent guest on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, returns to the podcast for a wonderful discussion on Sievers, the Browns, Bill Veeck and more. Wolf, by the way, just finished working on a new book, “Wrigley Field, The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison” and you can pick up a copy by visiting SABR.org or Amazon.
Episode 55: Seattle Pilots
2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of a Major League Baseball team few remember – the Seattle Pilots. In 1969, baseball expanded by four teams and split each league into two divisions. The National League added the San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos (now known as the Washington Nationals) and the American League added the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots. The Pilots lasted just one year in Seattle (and most of spring training in 1970) before being “officially” sold and relocated to Milwaukee. Bill Mullins who authored the book, “Becoming Big League, Seattle, the Pilots, and Stadium Politics,” joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for an in-depth conversation on what happened to this team. It’s truly a remarkable story. There were politicians who wanted a team in Seattle, and there were many that were opposed it. Even residents of Seattle were split. But, perhaps, the biggest hurdle of all was the stadium. Seattle did not have a stadium that could handle Major League Baseball. Sure, there was the Sick’s Stadium and its 11,000 seats, but it was old and had so many issues. However, the American League wanted to put a team in Seattle and after much negotiation and finding a group that would come together to take on ownership, the Pilots were awarded to Seattle. But, they would have to renovated Sick’s Stadium and that’s where everything went wrong. From warped seats, to people having to climb the light towers to turn the lights on, to wet paint, to inadequate restroom facilities to low water pressure, it was a debacle. The team itself was a typical expansion team and finished last in the newly formed American League West … and that wound up being a problem as well after the team’s General Manager, Marvin Milkes, said it was good enough to finish third. The problems were many, the fans didn’t come and ownership stopped paying its bills. A most fascinating story, listen to the short history of the Seattle Pilots now on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes.
Episode 54: Dolf Luque
Dolf Luque won 194 games over the course of his 20-year Major League career. In 1923, he put together one of the greatest seasons ever for the Cincinnati Reds going 27-8. Luque, however, never again won 20-games in a season, but remained extraordinarily consistent. In fact, in 1925 he went 16-18 and finished in the top-15 (13th) in MVP voting and in 1933, at the age of 42, he went 8-2 for the New York Giants and finished 25th in MVP voting. In that year’s World Series, pitching in relief, Luque became the first pitcher from a Latin American country to win a World Series game. But like so many, the career of Luque is long forgotten, despite the fact that he is the 5th winningest pitcher in the rich history of the Cincinnati Reds. Even more surprising is the fact that he isn’t even mentioned is one of the most treasured pictorial histories of the Reds. How is this possible? Baseball historian Peter Gordon, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) who has also written and researched about a variety of topics on the game, returns to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a conversation about Luque. One of the first from Cuba to play Major League Baseball, Luque also salvaged several careers including that of Sal “The Barber” Maglie. Luque, working as a coach in the rival Mexican League when Maglie was trying to work his way back to the Majors, taught Maglie how to pitch inside and that turned Maglie’s career around. Luque, who was inducted into Mexico’s Baseball Hall of Fame, is also a member of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame for his career as a player and the fact that he’s the second winningest manager in Cuban baseball history … and he’s also a member of the Reds Hall of Fame.
Episode 53: Jimmy Demaret
Every spring when the Masters rolls around, the names that are mentioned the most are the names we’re most familiar with, the iconic names: Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Jones … and Player, Watson and of course Woods. Even in defeat, a guy like Greg Norman whose flair for the dramatic – and even his wardrobe – is remembered well. But there’s one guy whose name is rarely mentioned, a guy who had a wardrobe rivaled by few, a guy whose 31 victories on TOUR – as of this publishing – have only been surpassed by 15 others and a guy who was the first to win the Masters three times – Jimmy Demaret. Sometimes there is no explanation as to why some of the game’s greats just don’t get the recognition they deserve or are not remembered the way we think they should be and Demaret certainly falls into that category and on this edition of Sports’ forgotten Heroes, John Companiotte who wrote a wonderful biography about Demaret, “Jimmy Demaret, The Swing’s the Thing,” joins the podcast as we look back at a simply marvelous career … a career that saw Demaret contend into his 40s, a career that included the construction of one of golf’s great venues, the Champion’s Club in Houston, TX, and a career that included a unique friendship with one of golf’s purported most standoffish personalities – Ben Hogan. But it was Demaret’s game that was most impressive. A silky-smooth swing, the way he could play in the wind, his burning desire to win – despite the calmness he showed on the outside – and, of course, the fact that his accomplishments were recognized by his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame makes his story even more remarkable when you consider how little he’s talked about. It’s all covered on this edition of SFH.
Episode 52: Kansas City Scouts
The National Hockey League added two teams for the 1974-75 season, the Washington Capitals and the Kansas City Scouts, the latter of which just might be the least-remembered team in professional sports history. In fact, the Kansas City Scouts NEVER played before a full house in their home building, the Kemper Arena. From the start, the Scouts faced an uphill battle. Unlike today’s game, when the NHL makes an expansion draft somewhat fruitful for an incoming team like the Vegas Golden Knights, back in the mid-70s the Scouts (and Capitals) got virtually nothing for their entry fee into the league with the exception of the right to be called a professional hockey organization. The Scouts and Capitals basically were relegated to selecting fourth-line players, skaters who normally found themselves scratched from action, or players who were borderline minor leaguers. There were a few gems available, namely Simon Nolet from the then Stanley Cup Champion Philadelphia Flyers, goalie Michel Plasse from the Montreal Canadiens, and Wilf Paiemont who was signed out of the newly-formed Under-19 Draft. The Scouts put together a good management team in Sid Abel and Bep Guidolin, but financial challenges, an arena that wasn’t ready in time to start the season, and an ownership group that numbered more than 30-part owners are just some of the reasons why the Scouts barely made it through two seasons and were sold to a group that moved them to Colorado. Joining the podcast to talk about the Scouts is Troy Treasure who recently released a the book, “Icing on the Plains – The Rough Ride of Kansas City’s NHL Scouts.” Treasure’s research is deep and the stories he uncovered about this Kansas City franchise are fascinating and in certain instances – stunning. On this episode of SFH, we talk Kansas City Scouts hockey and their short-lived existence.
Episode 51: Ron McDole
Ron McDole played 18 years of professional football including eight with the Buffalo Bills (starting when they were in the AFL), and eight with the Washington Redskins. A defensive end, McDole still holds the record for most interceptions by a DE, and he was quite deft at blocking kicks as well. McDole’s unique perspective on the game and learning from two of the best, Lou Saban and George Allen, is captured in his book, “The Dancing Bear, My 18 Years in the Trenches of the AFL and NFL” and on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Ron McDole is here to share many of his stories. What is was like to play football and have to work during the off-season to earn a living, playing for George Allen’s Over the Hill Gang with the Redskins, and he reflects on many of the game’s wonderful personalities with whom he played including: Jack Kemp, Sonny Jurgenson, Billy Kilmer, Paul Maguire and Jim Dunaway. McDole also reflects on the great times he had off the field, his legendary Halloween parties and the fact that he and a few of his teammates were actually “banned” from eating at a few all-you-can-eat establishments. McDole also discusses how his career almost ended because of a serious bout with migraine seizures. On the field, McDole was agile, quick and relentless in pursuit. He still holds the record for most interceptions by a defensive lineman with 12, and proudly talks about the defense he played that did not allow a rushing touchdown for 17 straight games. We’re excited to have Ron McDole on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes.
Episode 50: Kentucky Colonels of the ABA
The American Basketball Association (ABA) lasted just nine years, but what a nine years it was! So many great names played in the ABA from Dr. J and Artis Gillmore, to Rick Barry, Moses Malone and Dan Issel (plus many, many others). Incredibly, though, only three teams made it all nine years and only two – the Indiana Pacers and Kentucky Colonels – actually played all nine years under the same name. The Pacers, in fact, were just one of four teams that merged with the NBA when the ABA folded. The others were the New York Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets), Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs. The Colonels, however, might have been the most celebrated of all, and yet, they were not one of the teams that merged with the NBA. Team owner, John Y. Brown, did not want to pay the entry fee and instead, disbanded the team. What a shame! The Colonels had such terrific talent, had won the ABA title just a year prior to the merger and were one of the ABA’s most popular teams. Gary P. West wrote a terrific book about the Colonels, “Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association, The Real Story of a Team Left Behind.” West also enlisted the services of Lloyd “Pinky” Gardner to help write the book. Gardner, who worked with the Colonels, has a treasure chest of Colonels paraphernalia including recaps of every game the team ever played. Gary P. West is our guest on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes as we take a look back at the colorful history of one of the ABA’s most historic teams, the Kentucky Colonels.
Episode 49: Cincinnati Royals of the NBA
One of the NBA’s original teams was the Rochester Royals. In fact, the Royals won an NBA Championship in 1951. But, Rochester was not an ideal location as the NBA was trying to grow and establish itself in larger cities. So, after the 1956-57 season, the Royals packed up and left for Cincinnati. Cincinnati welcomes the Royals with open arms – at least at first. Tragedy struck the team early on as young and upcoming star Maurice Stokes suffered a devastating head injury and that certainly affected the Royals performance on the floor. And while the tragedy of Stokes is a huge part of the Royals legacy in Cincinnati, they did enjoy some success on the court, particularly in the mid-1960s when they were led by one of the NBA’s all-time greats: Oscar Robertson. However, not even the “BIG O” could get the Royals over the hump and into the NBA Finals. The Royals made the Conference Finals in back-to-back season, 1963 and 1964, but like every other team in the NBA, they couldn’t get past the Boston Celtics. The Royals last appearance in the playoffs was 1967, and by the time 1972 rolled around, it was basically a forgone conclusion that NBA basketball, at least in the form of the Royals, would not make it in Cincinnati and the team relocated to Kansas City (splitting time, at first, in Omaha) and is now known as the Sacramento Kings. Of course, there’s a lot more to the Royals history in Cincinnati and joining Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk more about the short history of the Cincinnati Royals is Gerry Schultz the author of, “Cincinnati’s Basketball Royalty: A Brief History: A LOOK BACK at 15 years of Cincinnati Royals NBA Basketball”.
Episode 48: Red Kelly
Red Kelly broke into the NHL at the age of 20 with the Detroit Red Wings, and he impressed right away. Back when Kelly played (made his debut in 1947-48), it was rare for a youngster to make the “big” team out of his first camp. But Red did, and it wasn’t until after the 1966-67 season that Red finally hung up his skates for good. He spent 20 years in the NHL and along the way he was a member of right teams that won the Stanley Cup, he won the Lady Byng four times, the Norris once, and finished top-10 in Hart Trophy voting seven times. Red scored 281 goals and added 542 assists. He spent his first 12-plus seasons with the red Wings, but after a bitter dispute with one-time close friend and Detroit executive Jack Adams, Red was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he spent the final eight years of his career. More amazingly was the fact that, while with Toronto, Red also served his country as a member of the House of Commons. Later, after he retired, Red coached the expansion Los Angeles Kings and followed that with a stint as the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins before ending his career as coach of the Maple Leafs. Red Kelly himself joins me on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, along with Waxy Gregoire the co-author of “The Red Kelly Story” for a deep dive look at the career of this all-time great.
Episode 47: St. Louis Hawks
The NBA has played witness to several teams packing up an moving to new cities. The Lakers went from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Oakland where they play right now (they’re moving back to San Francisco), The Jazz moved from New Orleans to Utah … there have been many, but the one team few know the history of is the Atlanta Hawks. In fact, the Hawks moved to Atlanta from St. Louis, and when they played as the St. Louis Hawks, they were one of the NBA’s best. Actually, not only were they one of the best, they won the NBA Championship in 1958 and appeared in the NBA Finals four times in five years (1957, 58, 60 and 61); and had the ball bounced their way, the Hawks might have won another championship – or two? But winning and playing in St. Louis is only a part of the amazing story of this franchise. Had it not been for the Hawks, the great Boston Celtics teams of the 1950s and 1960s might have never happened. Bill Russell might have never stepped foot on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden and the Celtics might have ceased to exist! Greg Maracek, founder of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and author of the book, “Full Court: The Untold Stories of the St. Louis Hawks,” joins the podcast for a terrific conversation about the former champions. Greg, who also was the paly-by-play voice for several St. Louis-area teams including the St. Louis Blues of the NHL and the St. Louis University Billikens basketball team is this week’s special guest as we take a look back at one of the NBA’s most powerful teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s, while also exploring the reasons why the Hawks left St. Louis for Atlanta.
Episode 46: George Taliaferro
George Taliaferro was sitting around with a few friends just a short time after he had signed a contract to play professional football with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference. The year was 1949 and up until that point, there hadn’t been an African-American drafted by an NFL team. Knowing that, Taliaferro thought it was a safe bet to sign with the Dons. Along came one of George’s friends asking George if had heard the news that George had been drafted by an NFL team. Of course, George thought his friend was joking. He wasn’t. George Taliaferro was drafted in the 13th round of the 1949 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. George was caught off-guard. However, as he would prove throughout his life, George was a man-of-his-word and honored his contract with the Dons bypassing the opportunity to play in the NFL. Unbeknownst to George and others, 1949 wound up being the last year of existence for the AAFC and in 1950 George Taliaferro suited up for the NFL’s New York Yankees and was off and running as an NFL player. But that’s just a part of an extraordinary story, an extraordinary life of a man who overcame so much and gave back in so many ways. Dawn Knight, a school teacher in Indiana who took classes from Taliaferro while she attended Indiana University, formed a terrific friendship with George and later wrote a book about George, “Taliaferro: Breaking Barriers From the NFL Draft to the Ivory Tower,” is on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk about Taliaferro’s career on the field and off.
Episode 45: President George H. W. Bush
George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, was not only a man who devoted his life to serving his country; but before he dedicated his life to such service, he studied at Yale University and while there, played firstbase for the Eli’s. While he wasn’t necessarily the greatest of hitters, in fact, he was what you would call a “light-hitting first baseman”, he did put the ball in play. His main contribution, however, was with his glove. In fact, his career fielding percentage is nearly 20-points higher than the first basemen he played against. Bush’s career at Yale spanned three seasons, 1946, 47 and 48, and the Yale teams of 47 and 48 played in the first two editions of the College World Series. Joining Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for this look at the college baseball career of Bush 41 is Herman Krabbenhoft, the author of a terrific and extremely in-depth biography of the President. Krabbenhoft, who self-published a quarterly baseball research journal for 10 years, has written many articles for SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) of which he joined in 1981. In fact, Krabbenhoft’s research is so detailed, Baseball Weekly had to correct its own research to match that of Krabbenhoft’s after Baseball Weekly discovered that Krabbenhoft’s research was much more thorough and accurate. Listen to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to hear just how in-depth Krabbenhoft’s research is, and for a terrific retrospective on the baseball career of President George H.W. Bush.
Episode 44: Frederick Arthur Stanley … LORD STANLEY
The name Frederick Arthur Stanley might not mean much to many, but to the world of hockey, it is one of the most important names in the entire sport. In fact, almost every hockey player in the world hopes to one day get their name inscribed on the bands that help to make this trophy one of the most cherished in all of sport – the Stanley Cup. So, who was Frederick Arthur Stanley and why is the Cup named after him? Well, he was appointed Governor General of Canada by Queen Victoria in 1888 when Canada was still under the governance of the U.K. He spent a few years in Canada with his family following through with the Queen’s wishes and performing whatever business the Governor General needed to perform. Stanley was an avid sportsman, but his children participated much more and took a liking to the game of hockey; and it was his children who introduced him to the game. While Stanley who later became known as “Lord Stanley” enjoyed the game, he never became fully enamored with it. However, his daughter, the Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, loved the game and convinced her father to donate a sterling silver cup to the amateur champion of Canada. Known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the Cup ultimately found its way into the hands of the National Hockey League and is now known as the Stanley Cup. Kevin Shea, one of hockey’s best-known authors, a man who has written, to date, 17 books on the sport he loves, co-authored the book (with John Jason Wilson), “Lord Stanley, The Man Behind the Cup,” returns to Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for another conversation … this one quite unique in that we talk about a man who had such a profound impact on a game he never played.
Episode 43: Gus Dorais
The name Gus Dorais is not very familiar to football fans, but it should be. He was one of the game’s greatest innovators and was the first All-American to play at Notre Dame. He was, arguably, the star of the Fighting Irish on a team that also included one of the game’s biggest legends – Knute Rockne. Dorais was the team’s starting quarterback, a stud runner and kicker, and a heckuva safety. He played professionally for the Massillon Tigers of the Ohio League before his career was cut short by another legend – Jim Thorpe. But, the biggest contribution Dorais made to the game was as a coach; and, perhaps, the biggest decision he made was his first decision – whether to stay in South Bend and take a job with Notre Dame, or move on to become the head coach at Dubuque. He chose the latter in an effort to help his best friend – Knute Rockne – who needed a job after his had fallen through. Of course, Rockne went on to help build Notre Dame into one of college football’s greatest teams, while Dorais built smaller programs: Dubuque, Gonzaga and the University of Detroit. After his college coaching days were over, Dorais took on the challenge of coaching the NFL’s Detroit Lions. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes author Joe Niese and Gus’s grandson, Bob Dorais, who worked together to write the book, “Gus Dorais, Grid Iron Innovator, All-American and Hall of Fame Coach,” are here to talk about Gus, his friendship with Rockne, and his career on the field and on the sidelines.
For more on Gus Dorais: Gusdorais.com
Episode 42: Archie Moore
Archie Moore is the only boxer in history to face Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson AND Muhammed Ali. An absolutely terrific boxer, Moore captured the light heavyweight championship by unanimous decision at the age of 36 over Joey Maxim. Moore held the title for 10-years before he was stripped of the belt for failure to fight as a light heavyweight towards the of his 10-year reign because he wanted to win the heavyweight championship. Unfortunately, that dream never became a reality. But, what Moore did over the course of his career is absolutely incredible. His career lasted 28 years! He won 199 times and that included a record 149 knockouts. Later in life, Archie found himself on the big screen as Jim in Huckleberry Finn and the on TV in such iconic shows as Adam-12, Emergency and the Batman TV series. He certainly led a full life, but because he never won the heavyweight belt, his notoriety does not match that of the champions we know best: Joe Louis, Marciano, Patterson, Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield. But his ability in the ring was every bit as good, and the fact that he was a light heavyweight champion for as long as he was should never be overlooked. George Thomas Clark, author of “Death in the Ring” and who previously appeared on SFH (episode 6: Teofilo Stevenson) joins us once again, this time for a look back at the career of the Mongoose; Archie Moore.
Episode 41: Joe “The Jet” Perry
Joe Perry, nicknamed “The Jet” for his incredible speed was the first man in the history of the NFL to rush for 1,000-yards in back-to-back seasons. He did so for the San Francisco 49’ers in 1953 and 1954. More amazing, Perry became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, but while he was still playing the great Jim Brown surpassed him and “stole” Perry’s thunder. That alone just might be the reason why so few know much about Perry – especially outside of San Francisco … and that’s a shame, because Perry was something special. In fact, until Frank Gore passed Perry in 2011, he was the Niners all-time leading rusher. For his career, Perry rushed for 9,723 yards over a 16-year career that included a 2-year stint with the Baltimore Colts and two years with the Niners when they were members of the AAFC. Perry scored 71 touchdowns on the ground and 12 through the air. Revered by his teammates and the fans of San Francisco, the Niners actually held a “Joe Perry Day” in 1955 despite the fact that he played through the 1963 season. An all-timer, Perry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969. He was also a star in the San Francisco 49’ers famous “Million Dollar Backfield” with Hugh McIlhenny, John Henry Johnson and Y.A. Tittle. Returning to the podcast to talk about “The Jet” is football historian and Lee Elder who is also a longtime member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association.
Episode 40: Joe Kapp
Joe Kapp is known to most fans of the Minnesota Vikings, but outside of Minnesota? Well, he is not a household name; after all, Kapp only played four years in the NFL, three in Minnesota and one with the Boston (now New England) Patriots. Kapps’s road to the NFL was a long one. He starred at Cal-Berkley and won a Rose Bowl as the Bears QB. Drafted by the Washington Redskins, Kapp never reported to the team because the two couldn’t come to terms on a contract. So, Kapp went north and played for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League and later the British Columbia Lions. In fact, Kapp led the Lions to the Grey Cup championship in 1964. But he wanted to play in the states and after the 1966 season, he got his wish when the rarest of trades was engineered between the Vikings, Stampeders, Lions and the expansion New Orleans Saints. When all was said and done, Kapp wound up at Met Stadium as the QB for the Vikings and in 1969 led Minnesota to its only NFL Championship. They later lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL-NFL Championship game (now known as the Super Bowl). But another contract squabble cost Kapp and, after just three years in Minnesota, he wound up with the Patriots. Boston was horrible and that spelled the end of Kapp’s career. But while in Minnesota, he certainly made his mark. Edward Gruver who has written several articles for the Professional Football Researcher’s Association, including a terrific piece about Kapp, and who has a new book coming out about the great rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders called, “Hell With the Lid Off: Inside the Steelers-Raiders Rivalry That Changed Pro Football,” joins the podcast for a look back at the fabulous career of Joe Kapp.
Episode 39: Duke Slater
Duke Slater is not a name many football fans are familiar with … but every football fan should know him. Slater was the greatest offensive lineman of his time. In fact, of the 99 games he was eligible to start, he started 96 of them, and it would have been 97 except for the fact that the state of Missouri didn’t allow men of color to play during that period of our country’s history. Slater also played every down – that’s offense, defense and special teams – in 90 games – that’s every second of every game! Simply stated, there was no one better. In fact, the great Red Grange said Slater was the best lineman ever and named him as one of the greatest players to ever suit up in an NFL game. Slater was voted into the inaugural class of the College Football Hall of Fame … and is a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association Hall of Very Good, which has actually been the springboard for several eventual members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Neal Rozendaal who authored the book – Duke Slater: Pioneering Black NFL Player and Judge – joins us for a terrific look back at a legendary career that also had a lot of meaning to a lot of people off the grid iron as well.
Episode 38: Tinker and Evers and Chance
Tinkers to Evers to Chance, one of the most famous double-play combinations in MLB history and, yet, so many don’t really know their story. Some can’t even tell you their first names! But they were good. In fact, they were the key the greatest 5-year and 10-year stretches in baseball history! Yes, Tinker, Evers and Chance were in the center of a run by the Chicago Cubs that once saw them win 102 out of 120 games! Over the 10-year stretch of 1906 thru 1015, the Cubs AVERAGED 99 wins a year! From 1906 thru 1910 they AVERAGED 106 wins a year! The famous trio all wound up in baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1946. But who were they, where did they come from and what made them so special? Heck, what were their first names? On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, author David Rapp who wrote the book, “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” and author Dennis Snelling who wrote the book, “Johnny Evers, A Baseball Life,” join the podcast for roundtable discussion on the lives and careers of these three middle infielders who were at the heart of the Cubs dynasty, in the middle of one of baseball’s most famous episodes AND you’ll hear a story that I’m sure will shock many when it comes to their relationship on the field.
Episode 37: Bob Allison
Bob Allison spent four years in the minor leagues before breaking in with the Washington Senators in 1959. When he made it to the Senators (now the Minnesota Twins), very few thought Bob possessed any power, after all, in four minor league seasons he hit just 28 home runs. Well, his rookie year stunned almost everyone! Bob connected for 30 home runs and drove in 85 on his way to a surprising Rookie of the Year award. From there, Bob established himself as one of the games feared sluggers. However, playing in a lineup that also included future Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew, one of the greatest to ever play for Minnesota, did not help Bob’s national popularity. But, in Minnesota, Twins’ fans loved him and revered him. Injuries robbed Bob of a long career as he was only healthy to play a full season in nine of his 13 years. But, if you calculate his career stats and break them down to what he would do on average if he played 162 games a year, Bob would have hit 27 home runs a year with 84 RBI a season. Joining the podcast is Gregory H. Wolf, director of the Bioproject for SABR, Greg has written over 150 biographies for SABR and has authored several books including: “A Pennant for the Twin Cities,” and “Winning On The North Side, The 1929 Chicago Cubs.”
Episode 36: Lefty O’Doul
Lefty O’Doul first tried to make as a pitcher with the New York Yankees and then then Boston Red Sox. But he languished on the bench for both teams and was sent to the minors. But O’Doul could hit and the Salt Lake City Bees convinced O’Doul to give up pitching and concentrate solely on hitting. Wow! If only O’Doul heeded this advice earlier in his career. In his first full season, 1928 with the New York Giants, he hit .319. Traded in 1929 to the Philadelphia Phillies, O’Doul came up one-hit shy of hitting .400 and finished the season with an incredible .398 batting average and the NL Record of most hits in a season with 254. As phenomenal a hitter as he was, because of his persistence to make it as a pitcher, O’Doul just didn’t play long enough to merit serious consideration for enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame despite finishing his career with baseball’s fourth highest batting average of all time – .349. However, he is in Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame, and for good reason. O’Doul played a pivotal role in helping Japan establish a professional baseball league AND, more importantly, helped ease tensions between the U.S. and Japan after World War II had ended. In fact, General Douglas MacArthur said what O’Doul did was one of the greatest acts of diplomacy in the history of the U.S. Author Dennis Snelling who wrote the book, “Lefty O’Doul: Baseball’s Forgotten Ambassador” joins the podcast for a terrific look back on one of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes.
Episode 35: Sal “The Barber” Maglie
When Sal Maglie finally made his Major League debut at the age of 28, all the years of hard work and persistence had finally paid off. After going 5-4 with a 2.35 ERA, however, Maglie did not make the New York Giants the following season. Deciding to play in the Mexican League proved to be a double-edged sword. Maglie, under the tutelage of Dolf Luque, refined his skills on the mound; but commissioner Happy Chandler suspended all those who left the Majors for Mexico. After other players sued baseball to get back in, Maglie finally got another chance. At the of 33, Maglie put on his Giants uniform once again and this time he stuck. A totally different pitcher, this is when Maglie earned the nickname “The Barber”. He owned the inside part of the plate and was happy to give batters a close shave with his fastball. Maglie went 18-4 in his return season and proceeded to dominate baseball for the next five years – and also pitched in three of the greatest games in baseball history. Peter Gordon, a longtime member of SABR, joins the podcast to talk about the terrific career of Sal “The Barber” Maglie.
Episode 34: Kiki Cuyler
Hazen Shirley Cuyler is better known by his nickname – Kiki Cuyler – and yet, very few baseball fans can recall this Hall of Famer despite the fact that he played 18 years and finished his career with a batting average of .321. In 1925 he set two records that still stand for the Pittsburgh Pirates, most runs scored in a season with 144, and most total bases in a season with 369. But his time in Pittsburgh was short-lived, and after just four full season with the Pirates he was traded away to the Chicago Cubs amid a few different controversies of which might have cost Pittsburgh the 927 World Series Championship. Cuyler played with some of the game’s most legendary names, and was a very well-known player as well. But for whatever reason, and with such a unique nickname that is actually pronounced “Cuy Cuy” very few fans of the Prates or the Cubs, whom he led to two World Series appearances can recall the man whom drew comparisons to Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Joining the podcast for a look back at the career of Kiki Cuyler is Gregory Wolf, co-director of the biography project for SABR.
Episode 33: Lyman Bostock
Sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes you wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time and the consequences can be severe. For Lyman Bostock, a baseball player on the rise, a young superstar, that was the case. During a road trip with the then California Angels to Chicago for a series against the White Sox, Bostock visited his old hometown of Gary, Indiana and in a tragic series of events, was shot dead. Bostock did nothing wrong with exception of going out to dinner with family and friends. An awful, awful end to a man with incredible potential. A guy, who in 3 ½ season with the Angles and Minnesota Twins had hit .311 with an OPS of .791 … a guy whom the Angels had hoped to build a championship team around, a guy who was so much more than just a ballpayer, a guy who gave back to his community in ways few would believe. Author K. Adam Powell who penned the book, “Lyman Bostock, The Inspiring Life and Tragic Death of A Ballplayer,” joins the podcast for a terrific look back at the life and career of Lyman Bostock.
Episode 32: Ralph Guldahl
Ralph Guldahl joined the PGA TOUR in 1931, walked away from the game in 1934, rejoined the TOUR in 1935, and retired from the game for good in 1940. But in between, he was absolutely phenomenal. During his time on TOUR he won 16 tournaments including three Majors – the 1937 and 1938 U.S. Open and the 1939 Masters. He also won the Western Open in 1936, 1937 and 1938 when the Western was thought of as a Major too. In all, Ralph won 16 times on the TOUR and was named to three Ryder Cup teams. The great Sam Snead once said of Ralph, “If Guldahl gave someone a blood transfusion, the patient would freeze to death,” … that’s how cool and even-keeled Ralph was on the golf course. Tony Parker, golf historian from the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum joins the podcast to talk about the forgotten career of Ralph Guldahl.
Episode 31: Giorgio Chinaglia
Before the MLS, before the Premier League, there was the NASL – the North American Soccer League, and while there have been attempts to revive the league, with the MLS now established as America’s highest division of soccer, the fact is, the “old” NASL will never come back and be what it once was. But at its height, the NASL was a league on the world’s stage. Players from around the globe flocked to the U.S. to get in on the action, particularly in New York where the Cosmos ruled. In a town that featured the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers and Knicks, the Cosmos didn’t play second-fiddle to any of them, and leading the way was, perhaps, the most colorful soccer player to ever play in the U.S. – Giorgio Chinaglia. One of the most feared strikers in the game, Chinaglia is the greatest goal-scorer in the history of American soccer. Period. Sure, others might have been or currently are more skilled with the ball, but none of them scored like No. 9. In fact, he once scored seven (7) goals in one game; and netted 18 goals in the 1980 playoffs in just seven (7) games. In 213 games he scored 193 goals. Kartik Krishnaiyer from World Soccer Talk and terrific soccer historian is back on SFH to talk about one of the most flamboyant players to ever step on the pitch – Giorgio Chinaglia.
Episode 30: Dolph Schayes
Dolph Schayes was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest, yet, so few recall him; and many confuse him for his son Danny (who played 20 years in the NBA). Dolph broke in with the Syracuse Nationals in the 1949-50 season after starring at NYU. The Nationals outbid the New York Knicks for Dolph’s services and reaped the benefits of Schayes’s ability to score and rebound. In fact, the 6-foot-8 center/power forward led Syracuse to the playoffs EVERY year of he played, including the magical season of 1954-55 when the Nationals won the NBA Championship. Despite how good Syracuse was, drawing fans was always a challenge and after the 1962-63 campaign, Syracuse left town, relocated to Philadelphia and changed their name to the 76’ers. During the team’s first year in Philly, Schayes served as its player/coach. He retired as a player to concentrate on coaching and after his third year was let go. But, as a player, he dominated and was actually the league’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder when he retired. Joining SFH to talk about Dolph Schayes is Dolph Grundman, author of the book, “Dolph Schayes and The Rise of Professional Basketball.”
Episode 29: Gottfried von Cramm
Gottfried von Cramm was once the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world. But when he faced Don Budge in the finals of Davis Cup match played at Wimbledon in 1938, he was ranked No. 2. The pressure he was under was unlike any he had ever felt before, and a pressure unlike – possibly – any other athlete has ever felt before or since. You see, von Cramm was a German-Jew, a homosexual and was playing at a time when Adolf Hitler was just coming into power. In fact, the while German’s had an idea of what Hitler was about to do, the rest of the world didn’t … some from Hitler’s gestapo were in attendance that day in 1938, special guests of the King and Queen. The swastika was flying too. But von Cramm knew what was going on, and if he lost that match to Budge, there was no telling what wrath he would face. Author Marshall Jon Fisher recounts the events of that match so well in his book, “A Terrible Splendor,” and is back on SFH as we talk about that match and the career and life of a true hero – Gottfried von Cramm.
Episode 28: Urban Shocker
Urban Shocker was regarded by many as the best pitcher of his time. In fact, Babe Ruth said he was the best pitcher he faced. Other pitchers said that Urban was the best. Writers of the day, such as Damon Runyon, and others called Urban the best too. He started his career with the New York Yankees was traded to the St. Louis Browns and then several years later, the Yankees reacquired him. He was the one player of whom the Yankees said they made a mistake in trading. Over the course of his career he won 187 games. Yet, so few have ever heard of Urban Shocker. He played from 1916 through 1928 – and it was towards the end of the 1928 season in which Shocker succumbed to mitral valve failure, a condition he was able to hide from his teammates and his wife. He struggled with this condition for the last half of his career, and despite it, he was still baffling hitters with a variety of pitches. Steve Steinberg, author of “Urban Shocker, Silent Hero of Baseball’s Golden Age,” joins SFH to talk about Urban, how revolutionary parts of his game were, how dominant he was, and just who was Urban Shocker.
Episode 27: Roberto DeVicenzo
April 14, 1968 will go down as one of the most incredible events in the history of the Masters as Roberto DeVicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard and missed an opportunity to wear the Green Jacket. DeVicenzo signed for a score worse than what he actually shot and thus, in doing so, had to accept that score. Had he corrected the error, he would have played Bob Goalby in an 18-hole playoff to decide the champion. Special guest, golf historian and former host of Golf Talk Live, Peter Kessler, joins the podcast as we look back at the incredible events of that day; which ultimately overshadowed a terrific golf career that is rarely spoken about, the career of Roberto DeVicenzo and his 231 worldwide wins.
Episode 26: Gene Conley
Gene Conley did something no other athlete before him or who played after him ever accomplished – win a championship in two of the major four sports we follow (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL). Not Deion Sanders, not Bo Jackson, no one. Conley won the World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and came off the bench to help the Boston Celtics win NBA championships in 1959, 1960 and 1961. On this edition of the Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, John Husman, team historian of the Toledo Mud Hens (a team that Conley played for prior to being called up to the Braves), a member of SABR and a long-time friend of Conley’s joins the podcast to talk about his old friend and his great career.
Episode 25: Vic Hadfield
He was the first player in the history of the New York Rangers to score 50 goals in one season. He was originally signed by the Broadway Blues to be an enforce, to add grit to the team. And when he joined teammates Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert to form the GAG line (goal a game), the fortunes of the Rangers turned around and they became one of the best team in the NHL reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 1972 only to lose to the Boston Bruins and Bobby Orr in six games. Despite never winning the Cup, the late 60s and early 70s were glory years for the New York Rangers and Vic Hadfield just might have been the heart of the team. George Grimm recently released a book, “We Did Everything But Win”, a terrific look back at the Rangers’ teams of that era, and he joins the podcast to talk about those Rangers and Vic Hadfield.
Episode 24: Dave DeBusschere
Dave DeBusschere was, simply stated, remarkable. A world class two-sport star who was raised just outside of Detroit, DeBusschere was a stud pitcher and an even better basketball player. Taken by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA’s territorial draft, he was also selected by the Chicago White Sox … and he played professionally for both teams. On the hardwood, DeBusschere quickly established himself as one of the NBA’s premier forwards. For the White Sox, however, he bounced back-and-forth between the minors and the majors. The Pistons, however, knew he was something special and to convince him to forego his career as a Major League pitcher, Detroit named DeBusschere player/coach when he was just 24-years old. Bill Pruden, who has written several biographies for SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) including a bio on DeBusschere is this week’s guest as we look back on a simply remarkable career.
Episode 23: Johnny “Blood” McNally
Johnny Blood is a member of the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Inducted in 1963 in a class that included Sammy Baugh, Red Grange, Curly Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Halas, Bronko Nagurski and others, “Blood” might be the least known of all of them. Johnny’s given name is “McNally”, but gave himself the name “Blood” because, well, he just liked it (after he saw it on a marquee). Blood was big, and most coaches wanted him to play defense. But he would have none of it, and wanted to play offense, or else he wasn’t going to play. An all-around great athlete, and still the NFL record holder of catching the most TD passes in a season as a halfback, Johnny is one of four former Green Bay Packers with a statue erected in his honor. Ralph Hickok, author of “Vagabond Halfback, The Saga of Johnny Blood McNally,” enlightens us with some great stories and a look back on the career of this football great.
Episode 22: Don Budge
Don Budge was the first player in the history of tennis to win the Grand Slam. In 1938, he won the Australian Championships, French Championships, Wimbledon and U.S. Championships. In fact, after having won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships to close out 1937, he actually won six straight Grand Slam titles. Rod Laver, who won the Grand Slam in 1962 and again in 1969, is the only other male tennis player to win the Grand Slam. Budge played at a time when tennis was king of the hill. It was, perhaps, the most popular sport back in the 30s and 40s when Budge was at his best. Marshall Jon Fisher, author of “A Terrible Splendor” a terrific book about one of the greatest tennis matches ever played, is the guest on this edition of SFH to talk about the great career of this forgotten hero.
Episode 21: Frank Ryan
Frank Ryan is the last quarterback to lead the Cleveland Browns to an NFL Championship and he joins the podcast to talk about his career and the Browns team of 1964 – the last year Cleveland won the NFL title. Lightly regarded when he came out of Rice in 1958, the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the 5th round of the draft because they were impressed with his arm strength. But, for most of his four seasons with the Rams, Ryan rode the bench … and when he did get a chance to play, coach Bob Waterfield had a quick hook when Ryan made a mistake. Frustrated with his playing time, Ryan requested a trade and prior to the 1962 season, the Rams met Ryan’s request and shipped him to Cleveland. The Browns QB at the time was Jim Ninowski and midway through 1962 he suffered an injury opening the door for Ryan to become the team’s starter. He didn’t relinquish that job until 1968. In between, Ryan led the Browns into two NFL Championship games including a 27-0 win over Baltimore in 1964. Author Roger Gordon who has written several books on the Browns also joins the podcast.
Episode 20: John W. Heisman
Who was John W. Heisman and why was the trophy to honor the college football player of the year named after him? Well, when you take a look back at Heisman’s legendary coaching career, the contributions he made to the game are many and most of them are still evident in the game we watch today. But, that’s only part of the story. Amazingly, Heisman didn’t want a trophy awarded – period! So, for someone who didn’t want a trophy awarded to begin with, the fact that it is named after him – The Heisman Trophy – makes this story even more incredible; and joining me on the podcast is the man charged with keeping and preserving the legacy of John W. Heisman – his great-nephew and co-author of the book, “Heisman, The Man Behind The Trophy,” John M. Heisman.
Episode 19: Ernie DiGregorio
Ernie DiGregorio was the NBA Rookie of the Year for the 1973-74 season. The No. 3 pick out of Providence after leading the Friars to 27-4 mark during his All-America senior season, Ernie was as exciting as they come. Standing just 6-feet tall and weighing all of 180-pounds, he was a magician on the court. If you were open, Ernie would find a way to get the ball to you. In fact, he set the rookie record for most assists in a game (25) and led the NBA during his rookie campaign in assists with an average of 8.2 per game to go along with 15.2 points-per-game. And, in his rookie year he led the Buffalo Braves to their first-ever playoff appearance. But, a knee injury cut Ernie’s career short. Tim Wendel, author of “Buffalo, Home of The Braves”, makes his second visit to the podcast as we take a look back at the career of Ernie DiGregorio.
Episode 18: Dennis Maruk
Dennis Maruk was one of the first hockey players to score 60 goals in a season and he joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk about his magical year, career and more. There was a time when scoring 60 goals in a season in the NHL was a very rare accomplishment. Phil Esposito was the first to break the barrier when he scored 76 in 1970-71. Guy Lafleur reached the 60-goal mark, so did Steve Shutt and Mike Bossy. Those guys were the NHL’s big guns. Few, though, had ever heard of Dennis Maruk … and even today very few recall Maruk. But he was one of the first to do it when he lit the lamp 60 times in 1981-82 for the Washington Capitals. Since then, the magical number 60 has been broken many times. But when Dennis did it, it was a huge accomplishment and hardly anyone noticed! Dennis just released a book, “Dennis Maruk, The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man,” where he talks about his career, playing in the shadows of some of the game’s greatest players ever, and his life afterwards.
Episode 17: Bob Waterfield
Bob Waterfield led the Cleveland Rams to an NFL Championship in 1945, and followed that by leading the Los Angeles Rams to an NFL Championship in 1951. In fact, Waterfield is the only quarterback to lead the Rams franchise to two NFL Championships. He is also the only rookie quarterback to ever win an NFL Championship. Waterfield played for the Rams from 1945 through 1952 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. He might also be remembered for his poster pinup wife, and high school sweetheart – Jane Russell. Jim Sulecki, author of, The Cleveland Rams, The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, joins the podcast to talk about this forgotten hero of the NFL: Bob Waterfield.
Episode 16: The Buffalo Braves
The 2017-2018 season is the 40th anniversary season of the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that, in recent years, has played with high expectations. However, Los Angeles is not where the Clippers got their start. In fact, prior to moving to home, the Clippers called San Diego home for six years. But that’s not where they got their start. In fact, the Clippers were born as the Buffalo Braves for the 1970-71 season and called Buffalo home for eight years. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Tim Wendel, author of “Buffalo, Home of The Braves” joins the podcast for a wonderful conversation about a team whose legacy grows by the day.
Episode 15: Justin Fashanu
In 1980, Justin Fashanu catapulted his young career on the pitch into another stratosphere with a most incredible goal against powerhouse Liverpool. In fact, won the prestigious “Goal of the Year” Award, and earned Fashanu a $1,000,000-pound transfer fee from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest. It was the largest transfer fee, at that time, ever for a black footballer. But was it too much too son? Was Justin too young to handle this new fame and fortune? Was he emotionally not mature enough to cope with his new surroundings? Kartik Krishnaiyer from World Soccer Talk joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk about a most fascinating talent whose career had so much potential and ended in tragedy.
Episode 14: Cleveland Rams
In 1937, 80 years ago, the Rams made their NFL debut. Only, it wasn’t in Los Angeles and it wasn’t in St. Louis. The Rams were originally the Cleveland Rams, and after a tumultuous existence in Cleveland, the Rams packed up and departed for Los Angeles 27 days after winning the team’s first NFL Championship. The Rams continually struggled to attract fans, only twice reached .500, including their 9-1 season of 1945, and had to deal with a variety of issues that doomed their Cleveland existence from day one. Jim Sulecki, whose father was in the stands for the 1945 title game against the Washington Redskins, and who recently published a book, The Cleveland Rams, The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, joins the podcast for a fascinating look back at one of the NFL’s forgotten teams.
Episode 13: Amos Otis, OF – Kansas City Royals
Amos Otis was, arguably, the first real superstar in the history of the Kansas City Royals. Acquired from the New York Mets on December 3, 1969 (along with pitcher Bob Johnson) for third baseman Joe Foy, Otis enjoyed a terrific, if not, great career with the Royals. 1970 was his first full season in the majors and with Kansas City (the Royals second year of existence) he hit .284, stole 33 bases, led the American League in doubles with 36 and appeared in the All Star Game. For his career, he won three gold gloves while playing centerfield for Kansas City and appeared in five all-star games. A career .277 hitter, Amos Otis was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in its inaugural class of 1986 along with pitcher Steve Busby. Bill Lamberty, a long time member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), and author of several articles for the SABR’s biography project, joins the podcast for more on Amos Otis.
Episode 12: Benny Friedman, QB – New York Giants
In 2005, QB Benny Friedman was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was an honor long overdue. Friedman is considered by many to be the QB to have turned the game of football from a running game to a passing game. In 1929, with the New York Giants, Friedman threw 20 touchdown passes. That number would not be equaled by anyone until 1977. In fact, no other team passed for 20 touchdowns until 1942! As SFH guest Lee Elder notes, there might not be a New York Giants or an NFL had it not been for Friedman. Friedman also served as a coach, and an athletic director after his playing days were over. But it was his mission to have pre-1958 NFL players included in the league’s pension program that might have delayed Friedman’s entrée into the Hall of Fame. Lee Elder from the Professional Football Researcher’s Association joins the podcast to talk more about Benny Friedman.
Episode 11: Hal Newhouser
Over the course of his 17-year career (15 with the Detroit Tigers and two with the Cleveland Indians), Hal Newhouser went 207-150. While not overly incredible numbers, it’s what he did from 1944 through 1949 that shows how dominant a pitcher he was. During that 6-year stretch, Newhouser went 136-67. In 1944 he was 29-9 and followed that by going 25-9 in 1945 and 26-9 in 1946. He is the last American League pitcher to win at least 25 games three years in a row. In 1944 and 1945 he won the MVP Award – the only pitcher to ever win the award in back-to-back years, and in 1946 he finished second. Yet, when it came to the Hall of Fame, Newhouser couldn’t garner the votes needed for induction, that is until author David M. Jordan launched a campaign to get “Prince” Hal Newhouser inducted. On this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Jordan joins the podcast to talk about Hal Newhouser and his remarkable career.
Episode 10: Nate Colbert
On August 1, 1972 Nate Colbert led his San Diego Padres into Atlanta for a doubleheader against the Braves. Neither team was a contender. The Braves finished the year with a record of 70-84, and the Padres wound up 58-95. But on this particular day, what happened in Atlanta was the talk of baseball. Colbert put together one of the greatest performances in the history of the game. He went 7-for-10 with five home runs, 13 RBI and a record 22 total bases. It was the kind of performance one can only dream about … and Colbert did! In 1952, Stan Musial hit five home runs in a doubleheader for the Cardinals against the Giants and Colbert was in the stands to see all of them as an 8-year-old boy! Bill Swank, regarded as San Diego’s preeminent baseball historian joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a look back at that incredible day and to recall the career of San Diego’s all-time leader in home runs.
Episode 09: Willie Anderson
Willie Anderson was one of the top golfers in the world during the early 1900s. Of course, this was at a time when professional golf tournaments were few and far between and amateur golfers were held in higher regard. Nonetheless, Anderson was as good as anyone. In fact, he was dominant and became the first golfer to hold two Major U.S. titles at one time, the U.S. Open and the Western Open (the Western Open was considered a Major back in the early 1900s). More impressively, though, Anderson won the U.S. Open in 1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905. He is still the only golfer to ever win three straight U.S. Open Championships and he won four overall. And, if not for a fourth place finish in 1902, he would have won five straight. Tony Parker, historian and researcher at the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum joins us to take a look back at one of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes.
Episode 08: Dean Chance
Playing for the then Los Angeles Angels in 1964, there was no reason for anyone t o think Dean Chance was going to have a breakout season. After all, he went 14-10 in 1962 and followed that with a 13-18 campaign for the Angels in 1963 … and the Angels just weren’t a good team. In fact, Los Angeles finished 1964 with a record of 82-80. Los Angeles’s other team, the Dodgers, were led by Sandy Koufax who had won the Cy Young Award in 1963 and would go on to win it again in 1965 and 1966 (and with a 19-5 mark in ’64 to go along with a 1.74 ERA, Koufax could have won again in ’64). But 1964 was the year of Dean Chance. Flat out, he dominated the game in a way few have ever done. We’ll take a look back at Dean’s 1964 season and his career with 2-time Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain … and we’ll also explore Dean’s fascination with boxing and the IBA with boxing Hall of Fame members Bill Caplan and Don Chargin.
Episode 07: Tony Lema
Tony Lema had it going, he was on top of his game and was one of the stars of the PGA TOUR. He had won 22 tournaments around the world, 12 on the TOUR, and the 1964 British Open. He had such confidence in his game, that he thought the Big 3 of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player should have been renamed the Big 4. Lema was a fun-loving guy and golf galleries loved to watch him play. He was flamboyant, dressed to the nines, used gold-colored tees, and after every win he treated the press to champagne. To say he was loved by all would be an understatement. But it all came to a tragic end in 1966. After the final round of the 1966 PGA Championship at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, Lema boarded a chartered flight to a small town just outside of Chicago and the plane encountered problems and crashed on the 7th hole of the Lansing Sportsmen’s Club killing aboard. Family friend Bill Roland authored a terrific biography on Lema, Champagne Tony Lema; Triumph to Tragedy and joins me on the podcast as we look back on the career of Champagne Tony Lema.
Episode 06: Teofilo Stevenson
Cuba’s greatest athlete ever? Perhaps. Cuba’s greatest boxer? No doubt. Teofilo Stevenson is the only man to win three straight Olympic Boxing Gold Medals in the heavyweight division. Stevenson won in 1972 (Munich), 1976 (Montreal) and 1980 (Moscow); and there are many who think he would have won a fourth straight Gold had Cuba not boycotted the 1984 games in Los Angeles. When the Olympics rolled around, Stevenson was a household name even here in the U.S. He possessed one of the most devastating right hands of all time, and at 6-foot-5 he was as intimidating as they came. But Stevenson never fought as a professional and reportedly turned down millions to turn pro and fight for the World Championship against the likes of Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Author, writer, researcher George Thomas Clark (Tom Clark) joins me on this episode of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a look back on the remarkable career of Teofilo Stevenson and what might/could have been.
Episode 05: Ed Delahanty
In the early 1900s, Ed Delahanty was the biggest star in baseball. Regarded, by some, as baseball’s first 5-tool player, he hit over .400 three times, and was the game’s most powerful hitter. But he was struggling financially and, essentially, had to pay his team to continue playing. Big Ed was caught up in a battle between the well-established National League and the upstart American League. He was so distraught over his situation that he left his team in the middle of a road trip and was never to be seen again. John Saccoman, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) joins me on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a conversation about Ed Delahanty – his hall of fame career, and the tragedy that followed.
Episode 04: Bill Barilko Part II
In 1951, playing in their fourth Stanley Cup Finals in five years, the Toronto Maple Leafs squared off against their arch-nemesis the Montreal Canadiens. As hockey historian and author Kevin Shea noted, this one was going to be for the ages. And while only five games were needed in the best-of-seven series, the Finals couldn’t have been any closer. Every game went into overtime. In the fifth, and final game, Bill Barilko beat Montreal goaltender Gerry McNeil with a backhander to give the Leafs the Cup, their fourth in five years, and establish Toronto as a dynasty. However, it was to be Toronto’s last Cup until 1962 … and sadly, it was also to be the last goal Bill Barilko would ever score. In this, Part II of the Bill Barilko story on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, Shea joins me for a conversation on game five, and the incredible tragedy that followed.
Episode 03: Bill Barilko Part I
Bill Barilko was a terrific, young defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was called up to the team during the 1946-47 season and helped lead the Leafs to the Stanley Cup Championship. The following season, Barilko established himself as a rock along the blue line and again helped lead the Leafs to a Stanley Cup Championship. In 1948-49, Barilko and his Toronto teammates became the first team in NHL history to win three straight Stanley Cup Championships; and they made it four in five years in the 1950-51 season. In fact, the ’50-’51 Finals was historic. Toronto vs. Montreal. Heated rivals. Every game of that series went into overtime. The Leafs won it five games, and in that fifth game Barilko scored the overtime goal to clinch the Cup. But it’s what happened during the summer following that championship that makes the Bill Barilko story incredible. Kevin Shea, hockey historian and author of the terrific biography on Bill Barilko, aptly named “Barilko” joins me on this podcast as we look back on the career of Bill Barilko.
Episode 02: Billy Cannon Part II
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1959 at LSU, Billy Cannon signed a contract with Pete Rozelle and to play for the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. But Bud Adams of the upstart AFL’s Houston Oilers also had his eyes set on the star halfback and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. On this podcast of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, we take a look back at the controversy surrounding Billy Cannon and entre into professional football, his life after his playing days were over, his fall from grace, and his remarkable rise afterwards. Joining me again are Charles de Gravelles, author of “Bill Cannon A Long, Long Run” and Jim Weathersby from TheSportsHistorian.com. They take a look back at Billy’s career with the Oilers and Oakland Raiders, and how he transformed the tight end position into a scoring threat as well.
Episode 01: Billy Cannon Part I
Billy Cannon won the Heisman Trophy while at in 1959. A year earlier, he helped lead LSU to its first National Championship. After his college days were over, Cannon embarked on a fabulous pro career. But it’s what happened after his playing days were over that makes the story of Billy Cannon even more intriguing. My guests for this podcast are Charles de Gravelles, who wrote the book, “Billy Cannon A Long, Long Run”, and Jim Weathersby from TheSportsHistorian.com. Part I covers Billy’s days in high school through his playing days at LSU. It also explores Billy’s life off the field.
Episode 00: About Sports’ Forgotten Heroes
This podcast details what you can expect every OTHER Tuesday on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes. The fact that it’s about greats of the game not named Babe Ruth, Jim Brown or Michael Jordan. It’s about Billy Cannon, Dean Chance, Tony Lema, and other great, great stars of the past time has forgotten. Authors, writers, athletes, historians, and sometimes the star themselves will appear on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes.