Jan. NFL Items

Came across some good trivia in the book The Last Headbangers, which appropriately enough, features Jack Lambert making a rather savage tackle on the cover.


  1. Who is the only player in NFL history (as of the book’s writing) to have his jersey number retired even though he never played a single game in the league?
  2. What record setting running back was being discussed in this quote: “Trying to arm-tackle _____ was like grabbing a truck.” Clue: In 1972, when a record 10 backs rushed for 1,000+ yards, this man led the way with 1,251.
  3. What bruising fullback was the only man to be penalized for unnecessary roughness while running with the football when he knocked out a tackler with a forearm to his chin. Clue: The book said that his U-shaped nose guard on his helmet made his resemble a rodeo bull. The book also said this runner “played football like a bully.” One year this Stow, Ohio, native who was born on Christmas Day in 1946, ran for 1,117 yards while a fellow runner hit 1,000 exactly.

GREAT QUOTE: In 1973, Steelers coach Chuck Noll was convinced his team was ready to prove they were the best in the business. When a writer asked him if the Steelers grueling schedule made him have doubts? Was he worried? “No. We have an easy schedule,” he replied, “We don’t have to play the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Answers:  1. Ernie Davis. This Syracuse star was the #1 draft pick in ’62 (Washington). They traded him to the Browns where he and fellow Syracuse runner Jim Brown would have formed a dream backfield. However, stricken with leukemia, he became weak and died a year later having never appeared in an NFL contest.    2. O.J. Simpson. Now, I have no respect for the man, but I included this item to fill you in on another thing the book said about him. It quoted a defender as saying, “It took two or three guys to bring him down. Then he bounces up and gives you this crazy-eye stare, like, ‘Who the [expletive] are you, tackling me?’ We called it the death stare.” That “death stare” part and the maniacal eyes part sure conjured up image of Simpson as an alleged killer.    3. Larry Csonka. The other Miami runner was Mercury Morris and his story of how he hit 1,000 on the nose is another story for another day.

Basketball Items for Jan. 2020

Some basketball trivia:

  1. David Robinson grew from 5′ 9″ during his junior high days to 6′ 4″ in high school, but that spurt wasn’t his only one. By the time he reached the Naval Academy, he stood 7′ 1″!
  2. Bevo Francis scored 116 points in a game held between his Rio Grande College of Ohio (an odd name for a college outside–way outside–of Texas) and Ashland (Kentucky) Junior College. His scoring spree came back on January 9, 1953. He said of the outburst, “I’m 6′ 9″ and the other teams’ big men weren’t accustomed to coming outside to guard me.” He also pointed out, “There was no three-point line back in the 50s, but a lot of time, that’s where I was shooting from. The team from Ashland tried everything to stop me. They were pushing. They were shoving. They even put three men on me. All my shots were falling.” He was, as you’d guess, hot from the start. “By the third shot, I knew I was on to something special.”  Notice that in his era being 6′ 9″ or so made a player a BIG man.
  3. Bevo cont’d: The final score of the game was 150-85 with Francis clicking on 47 field goals and 22 free throws. His team went on to post a 39-0 record, but his record 116 points weren’t recognized by the NAIA or the NCAA because his team did not play all of their games versus four-year colleges. Ashland, as mentioned, was one such team, a JUCO.
  4. More on Francis: The following year, his team scheduled many big name schools even though they did not play a single game at home–that was due to their home gym’s capacity of a mere 200 fans. Their team was in such demand, they chose to play their games away from their normal home facility. That season Francis proved his 116 point game was no fluke as he poured in 113 versus Hillsdale College in Michigan.
  5. Did you know Ronnie Carr, a sophomore guard for Western Carolina is credited as sinking the first three-point basket ever in NCAA play? It came on November 29, 1980, during a season the three pointer was being used on an experimental basis in the Southern Conference. So, when Carr drilled a shot from beyond the 22 foot arc against Middle Tennessee State in a home contest (after a few other attempts were put up), he made history.
  6. More on Carr: He once said that a reporter told him that his historic bucket was like the first step taken onto the surface of the moon. Carr added, “I never thought of it like that. But it’s true when you consider the evolution of the game. One shot for Western Carolina. One giant leap for college basketball.” Incidentally, he said that the ball he used for that shot is now housed in the Hall of Fame.
  7. When Terry Holland was with Virginia and that college felt UNC was their big rival, he took a verbal shot at the Tar Heels coach, Dean Smith. Author Will Blythe said that Holland named his dog Dean. The reason? “. . . because, he said, the dog whines so much.”

All of the items above come from an excellent source, ESPN’s College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men’s Game

If you have a preference as to whether I write more items about one sport over the others, feel free to leave a comment. I tend to favor baseball, but may be able to alter my approach a bit if readers show an overwhelming interest in some other sport(s). Thanks.

More on Musial

Here’s a continuation of some of the interesting material which I read about Stan Musial from the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 Yearbook and have been sharing through my blogs.

Of interest to Donora natives: In October of 1948, Musial announced plans to buy a home in the St. Louis area. He said he would then spend his offseasons there rather than in his hometown or in Florida. However, he never forgot or abandoned his Donora roots, coming back, for example, to many of his class reunions.

On August 21, 1949, Musial was honored in between games of a double header at Forbes Field. A group of 15 Donora business men arranged to get a new Cadillac for The Man.

July 1, 1951: Musial homered in the sixth inning versus the Pirates, helping the Cards force the game into extra innings. In the 12th, the Bucs, fearing and respecting Musial, gave him an intentional walk with two out and nobody on base–allowing the potential winning run to get on base rather than try to retire him. The move backfired when Stan stole second and scored on a double to win it.

Three years later on May 22nd another opposing manager tried some unusual strategy against Musial–in fact, The Sporting News stated the move was likely the first time any team employed the tactic. Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts replaced his shortstop with an extra outfielder and stationed him in deep right-centerfield. This time the drama ended when Stan struck out.

On August 26, 1957, Musial made a trip to Washington, Pa. (during a Cardinals visit to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates) to see Donora’s team play in the PONY League tournament. His nephew, Elmer Hall, was the Donora catcher that day.

Early in 1960, The Sporting News named Musial and Ted Williams as the two best hitters of the previous 10-year period, just as they had been for the decade of the 1940s. In the Fifties Williams hit .336 on 1,068 hits; Musial hit .330 on 1,771 hits after hitting a lusty .346 in the Forties. He would finish his illustrious career with a .331 batting average, one of the highest in baseball history.

The Sporting News also reported Stan remained the NL’s highest paid player in ’60, and that his earnings now made him the first NL player to reach millionaire status based on his cumulative salaries. According to that publication and figures from baseball reference, counting his minor league earnings which began with a $227 Class D contract, Musial wound up earning $1,258,177 for his playing days.

In his next to last season, 1962, old records fell like coffee from an overfilled cup of java in an old man’s hand. Musial set the MLB mark for total bases and NL records for hits, ribbies, runs, and games played. He already owned NL records for doubles, total bases, and extra base hits.

That was also the season in which Musial stated that, as has been claimed about Williams, that he could “see the bat meet the ball” many times. He said his hitting strategy included setting “up a zone about eight or 10 feet in front of the plate, and that’s the area I concentrate on.” He added, “As soon as the ball enters that area, I can tell if it’s a fastball or curve, not by the rotation, but by the speed.”

On Memorial Day of 1963, Musial was involved in a highly unusual play. The game was tied in the last half of the ninth and there were Cardinals on every base with no outs. That’s when he lifted a pop fly not far from second base. The umpire ruled him out on the infield fly rule. However, when no Giants player caught the ball, Curt Flood tagged from third and scored the winning run, giving Musial an RBI, his 23rd of the month.



Items from Two of the ’60 Bucs

Just spoke with one of the heroes of the 1960 World Series, catcher Hal Smith, a man who shares the same name as the actor who played Otis Campbell on the Andy Griffith Show. Smith turns 89 on Pearl Harbor Day, coming up soon (as of  the time of this writing). Without Smith’s eighth inning homer, Maz is denied the opportunity to play the role of the game-winning hero. 

Smith, who possesses a great sense of humor, has a stock reply when asked a question to which he can’t recall the answer: “I was a catcher—I took too many foul balls to the head.” 

After Smith left the Pirates, going to Houston in 1962, the magic of Pittsburgh departed with him. Did he still root for the Pirates when they didn’t play Houston or follow them in box scores? “No. I played against them. I didn’t root for them after that. I didn’t care about them winning or losing because they were just another team.” He did, however, still pull for old teammates individually. “We’re still friends,” he said in the November 2019 interview.

Smith said, “I enjoyed Pittsburgh. It was a good baseball town, and I came from some teams that were not in good baseball towns, Baltimore and Kansas City. They were terrible baseball towns.” 

He realized that even though the Pirates would enjoy success again in the Seventies and, to a lesser extent, in the Nineties, nothing could match the joy the win in 1960 brought. 

In addition to interviewing Smith, I spoke with about eight other Pirates for my upcoming book (out in 2020 on Amazon), 1960: When the Pittsburgh Pirates Had Them All the Way. Some of the material in this blog is from that book, other info is exclusive to this blog. Here are some items from Dick Groat:

Being a Pittsburgher all his life, he said when he was traded to the Cardinals it broke his heart. One advantage of the move, though, was playing with Stan Musial. Hitting behind Musial in the lineup was an enormous boost for Groat who admires The Man. “He was absolutely wonderful,” Groat began. “I never had so many good balls to hit in my life. They weren’t going to walk me to get to Stan Musial.” 

Going to the Cards also gave Groat another World Championship in 1964, the season Groat called his best in the majors. “I finished second in the MVP voting behind Sandy Koufax. I’m very proud of that because you can’t find a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax. He and Bob Gibson were the number one and two pitchers in all of baseball.”

Groat was an All-American basketball player at Duke University (his was the first jersey to be retired by the school and it would be 28 years before another player was so honored). He wound up playing one year in the NBA, long before big-name, two-sport stars such as Bo Jackson came along.

“Mr. [Branch] Rickey gave me the opportunity when I was a junior at Duke. He said, ‘If you’ll sign a contract, I’ll start you against Cincinnati tomorrow night.’ I said, ‘Mr. Rickey, I appreciate that, and you know I want to play baseball, but I’m going back to Duke to finish my scholarship and play both basketball and baseball. If you make the same offer [next year], I promise you I’ll sign with the Pirates.’ And he lived by his word.”

Even though Groat’s days at Duke are so distant, in 2019 when asked if he still follows the Blue Devils basketball program, he replied, “Sure! My daughter Tracey still lives in Durham and her husband, Lou Goetz, was a former basketball coach at Duke [under Bill Foster], so I certainly follow them. Coach K, I feel, is a friend of mine and a very special coach, as is the boy he kind of raised, his number one assistant for eight years, Jeff Capel, who is now the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Groat was asked if he had mixed feelings when his hometown Panthers, a team he broadcast for over a period of decades, played the Blue Devils in basketball. He didn’t hesitate, “The truth of the matter is, I’ve been a Pitt fan since I was probably five or six-years-old. And it boils down to the fact that I read an article in Sport magazine that said they played big league baseball at Duke. That was in a story about Coach Jack Coombs, and then when my brothers made a couple of phone calls, [a school official] got me a basketball scholarship because Duke didn’t give baseball scholarships back in those days.”

Although he would have fit in nicely at Pitt, he certainly made the right decision in going with Duke. He did say that he was good friends with “every one of the Pitt players. I played basketball with them in tournaments around here.”

After former Pirate Jerry Lynch retired, he and Groat became partners, running the golf course they designed in 1966, the Champion Lakes Golf Club in the Laurel Highlands area. Groat still owns the course, one which was once given a 4-Star rating by Golf Digest which listed it as one of the top 50 public courses in the country.

Groat stated, “Jerry and I actually walked the property for two solid months, had the golf course laid out exactly the way we wanted, and 53 years later it’s still exactly the same other than the fact that it’s in country club condition. That was our goal, and we kind of lived by it, we were going to build a country club [type course] and make it available to the man that couldn’t afford to pay for the green fees of a country club.”

At Duke University, Groat wound up studying Business. Then one day, said Groat, “Coach Jack Coombs, the baseball coach said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing in Business. You’re going to play major league baseball and basketball so you better get a teaching degree because you might want to coach someday.’ So I ended up with a teaching degree.”

Asked if the courses he did take in Business helped him when he became an owner of a golf course, he snickered, “No. Not really.”

Final note: if you’re interested in such baseball topics (and others), three of my books are on Amazon so just go there and type in my name to see all of my titles but you have to keep scrolling down to see them all as some of them are mixed in with, for example, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne movies. The three latest books which I recently worked on to place on amazon are Baseball Oddities (I’d wait until December to order this one as I’m still fixing one more thing on it), Great Tales of Baseball, and Behind the Scenes with the Cleveland Indians. You could even pre-order what is probably my favorite of the books I’ve written,

Wits, Flakes, and Clowns: The Colorful Characters of Baseball

Baseball Pet Peeves

FIRST COMPLAINT: Is anyone else bothered when one of the former baseball players whose name was linked to cheating by using PEDs gets rewarded by getting a job in the world of baseball, a world he helped taint? Off the top of my head I can think of the following former players who were hired as coaches: Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and there has been speculation that Jason Giambi will join that group. Andy Pettitte got a job as a special adviser to the Yankees general manager in Feb. of 2019.

Of course, many other players who got caught, served their punishment but only after their inflated stats had earned them huge contracts. Why not take a chance I’ll get caught if a) I might not get caught  b) I can put up big numbers  and c) ultimately I already made or will make a bundle of loot thanks to PEDs so it’s worth it.

Other men who were rewarded with jobs include FOX analyst Alex Rodriguez. I’ll never understand why anyone would hire someone who tarnished baseball as these cheaters did. Of course, FOX also hired Pete Rose, but that’s another story.

SECOND ISSUE: I’m not big on the stats young members of the BBWAA seem to love now so I have to complain about the kind of stats put up by some Cy Young Award winners. Go back to Felix Hernandez or stick with the NL winner over the last two years, Jacob deGrom. In his case, his wins total is incredible.

Bob Feller used to say he didn’t care about any stat but one, the most important one, WINS. He’d cruise a bit when he had a big lead, unconcerned that his ERA would suffer. He wanted to stick it out for nine innings and allow his fate to be in his hands as he secured win after win after win.

Now, over the two seasons de Grom has won the award, he has put up some incredible numbers, BUT his two-year win total is a mere 21. That’s right. He’s 21-17 over that span, hardly a big boost to his team. It may or may not be fair, but look at what men such as Steve Carlton did in ONE YEAR. “Lefty” went 27-10 in ’72 when his entire Phillies team won just 59. That’s pretty close to being responsible for half of his team’s wins. One more example. When Sandy Koufax won his last two Cy Young Awards in 1965 and 1966, he won 53 times, 2 1/2 times as many as de Grom.

Of course if you go back to real old-timers, the contrast is even more startling. I chose one pitcher off the top of my head and glanced at his best two and three consecutive seasons for wins. Grover Alexander won 64 in back-to-back seasons and his highest win total over a three-year stretch was 94. That means to match him, in 2020, de Grom only needs to win 73 games!

If you agree or disagree with my two complaints, please make a comment on  Thanks.


Did You Know Items–early Nov.


Did you know many major leaguers also played college football (and, of course, some even played in the majors and the NFL including Bo Jackson and Brian Jordan to name just two).

Here are a few men who played college ball and major league baseball: Mike Hargrove, Mickey Hatcher, Mike Cubbage, Darin Erstad, Lee Elia, Todd Helton, Art Howe, Rick Helling, Quinton McCracken, Herbert Perry, Merv Rettenmund, Chris Singleton, Bill Spiers, John Stearns, Eric Young, Ron Villone, and Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. As a nostalgia test, how many of those men do you remember playing either (or both) sports?

Did you know that in 1927 when Babe Ruth set the record for the most homers in a single season with 60, the entire output of the American League was 439. Therefore, Ruth accounted for 12% of all the league’s homers that season. Author Lee Allen made the amazing point that in 1953, when the N.L. hit a total of 1,197 HR, for a player to account for 12% of those blasts, he would have needed to belt an astonishing, impossible 145 home runs.

Here’s an item from June 19, 1927, which seems like a misprint given the way the game is played today: Jack Scott of the Phillies went the distance in both games of a double header, giving up only four runs but splitting two decisions. He is the last pitcher in the majors to complete two games on the same day.

Apparently, many years later Wilbur Wood, a knuckleball pitcher, started both ends of a double header, but apparently he never managed two complete games. Nowadays, of course, many pitchers don’t record two C.G. all year long and the amount of C.G. that league leaders put up today is, by contrast, absurdly low.

Fights among teammates are neither common, everyday events nor rare occurrences, but did you ever hear about two TV baseball announcers who got into it? One such skirmish took place on September 4th of 2018 when Detroit’s Mario Impemba and Rod Allen fought in the broadcast booth prior to a game in Chicago. The two had worked together for 17 years before the fight. Fox Sports Detroit suspended both men for the rest of the season.

I never understood why the Reds signed Homer Bailey to a big contract a few years ago. I thought he was way over valued. Well, in September of 2018, the Reds dropped him from their starting rotation when his record tumbled to 1-14 and his ERA soared to 6.09. On day’s he pitched his Reds went 1-19 for a “winning” percentage of .050!

Here’s a quick quiz item (below) taken from my book Name That Ballplayer 2nd edition which is coming out in April. If interested, you can pre-order it now for $12.99 on Amazon:

The book is divided into sections with each subsequent section containing more and more difficult questions. The reader’s job is to guess the identity of the player in question using as few clues as possible. There’s more to it, but for now, try your skill with one sample item.

Question from an easy section:

Clue #1:  A member of the Hall of Fame, Class of 2005, this popular Cubs infielder retired from the game part way through the 1994 season, upset with his performance and too proud to take what he felt would be an undeserved paycheck. He couldn’t stay away from the game he loved too long, though, and was back in 1996.

#2: In his first big league season, 1981, he played just 13 games for the Phillies. Traded the following season to Chicago along with Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus, he would spend 15 years with the Cubs. His most memorable day of that tenure may well have been his two-homer performance on national television in June of 1984, with both smashes coming off the nearly untouchable Bruce Sutter.

#3: A real gimme clue—he was named after former big league pitcher Ryne Duren. Answer below, after next item.

Last point about Bailey: When he was removed from the starting rotation, he let it be known that a) he was making (not exactly earning) $21 million in the fifth year of a six-year deal which paid him $105 million in all.  b) Bailey had the nerve to notify the Reds that he did not feel capable of working out of the pen–to which unsympathetic Reds fans probably muttered sarcastically, “Oh, poor Homer.” Or maybe, “Well then, where in the world CAN you pitch?” The Reds, however, must have listened to his lament as he did not work another game after his last start for them on 9/5/18.

They shipped him to the Royals who swapped him to Oakland and his 2019 split season resulted in his best record of his career at 13-9 but his ERA was 4.57, exactly what his lifetime ERA was going into ’19.

The Who Am I answer is Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. If you’d like a few more samples, perhaps more challenging ones, just let me know by making a comment.