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.