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Among those on hand at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night were the Houston Astros two Hall of Fame players from another era. Both Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell whose careers were highlighted in my book, “Houston to Cooperstown- The Houston Astros’ Biggio & Bagwell Years” were as proud as new poppas when a baby is born.
The Astros were able to go one step further than any Astro team during the Biggio and Bagwell run. As Biggio put it in a post game interview with MLB.com’s Alyson Footer, when asked for his reaction when the last out was recorded and the Astros were World Champions, “You’re old, you cry now. We tried in ’05 and it just wasn’t to be.”
But even after retirement from his active playing days Biggio has stayed a part of the Astros even if in a part time role. “Thirty years here, getting an opportunity again, and being involved with the organization is special. And its got to be one of the greatest World Series of all time. What an emotional roller coaster it was. It’s incredible. It’s everything I thought it would be,” Biggio told Footer who was a medial relations employee for the team during many of Biggio and Bagwell’s active years.
As for Bagwell, “I’m ecstatic. They are great kids, they play hard and they never give up. I couldn’t be more proud of that guys that represent the Houston Astros right now. This is their deal. Anybody that played would love to be with those guys right now, but its not about us. It’s all about them. And what they did is just special.”
Having a big season in 2017 was not unexpected. This team was built very well by GM Jeff Luhnow when he sensed the time was right to augment his talented young corps with free agents and trade acquisitions. Names like Reddick, Beltran, McCann, Peacock and Morton joined the young corps. Later a deal acquiring Justin Verlander (which will keep him around for two more seasons) cinched the Astros run for the title. Even before the astute acquisitions for this season many observers felt the Astros would be a team to beat. Sports Illustrated even wrote a cover article in 2014 that predicted the Astros would be the World Series champions this year. They even had George Springer on the cover taking a big swing.
Prophetic? Springer was the MVP of the Series and in Houston they are declaring all talk about a so-called Sports Illustrated cover jinx a dead issue. They were dead on with that cover and the author of the article, Ben Reiter, is basking in the glow of his insights.
Biggio and Bagwell led the first golden era of Houston Astro baseball and both made it the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some of the members from the current team will likely follow them into the Hall someday. Before that they may be able to hang more championship skins on the wall. The Biggio and Bagwell era was only the pre-game show for and even bigger and better new golden era in Houston.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017, Houston, Texas, 3:21 PM. The following e-mail from Lynda J. Carnegie arrived in behalf of Solly and Betty Hemus:
“I just wanted to let you know that Solly Hemus passed away this morning. He passed very peacefully and was not in any pain. Funeral arrangements are pending. Obituary will be in the Chronicle in the next few days.”
Solly Hemus was 94 years old when he died. As always, he had been quietly, but fiercely fighting off ill-health in recent years and, irony of ironies, he would have been the last person we could imagine ever choosing to leave now – just two days shy of the MLB Playoffs first game in Houston – now set to go at Minute Maid Park at 3:00 PM on Thursday, October 5th. The former Houston Buff, St. Louis Cardinal, and…
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On Friday September 8, 2017 I announced my last football game. It was a decision I made after the game and when I returned home. The game was a high school meeting between LaGrange and Argyle and played at a neutral site in Belton at the wonderful home stadium of the NCAA DIII champion Mary Harden Baylor Crusaders.
It was a one-sided game won by Argyle 70-0. LaGrange, for whom I was airing the game as both an audio and delayed video stream for WTIM’s operations in LaGrange, featured J.K. Dobbins for three seasons. He is not around now. It makes a hugh difference! Though he wasn’t around much of his senior season due to a severe leg injury he value was shown when in his first game this fall at Ohio State he rushed for 181 yards!
This edition of the LaGrange Leopards won’t be as bad as they showed against Argyle, but it still may be a long season. Argyle, on the other hand, behind quarterback Jon Copeland who threw five of the six Eagle’s TD passes in the rout, may well join Dobbins in the top level of college football next season.
I mention the game only to emphasize my decision to end my game announcing career on a regular basis had nothing at all to do with the outcome. It had all to do with the number of miles and hours I would be on the road to complete the LaGrange schedule.
While the game at Belton was the longest road trip the fact that I live in North Houston and have to travel 100 miles each way just for a LaGrange home game (and all their road games are even further) was the killer.
When I accepted John Askins offer to help him get the WTIM operations off and running I did not total the mileage. He was willing to pay far more than the average high school football play by play announcer can normally expect so I said, “Yes.”
The came the game to Belton. How far and how many miles in one day? My calculations say I drove or rode (John drove the trip to Belton both ways) was 438 miles. With a three hour prep/game in the middle I was sitting for about 11 hours. No wonder why from Saturday through Tuesday my lower back was still not right.
Before any 25 year old starts to laugh…remember it was 46 years ago when I was 25!
It was only fitting for a long drive to be a significant memory for my last game. It also was for my first.
On November 7, 1965 I was selected by long time Indianapolis sports announcer Tom Carnegie to give football announcing a shot. Tom was most and more world famous as the booming lead PA voice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 500 Mile Race each Memorial Day. But he was teaching a class at Butler University in sportscasting. I had changed my major from education to radio and television after my freshman year and was in his class.
The crew for the game that pitted Butler at Akron include as least five…and may six or seven students. Four of us would do a quarter of play by play on powerful WAJC radio, the 47,000 watt FM station at 104.5 on the Butler campus. As I recall the four included Dave Priest, Chris Buescher, Gary Nash and myself. Dave Smith was the producer/engineer. If there was one or two others they were used on color, however, the play by play guys may have just doubled up. My memory is not quite THAT good from 52 years ago! Was Barry Holhfelder on the trip just for grins?
I DO remember we all piled into one car and started the 291 mile drive to Akron early in the morning on game day. There was no budget for over night stays.
The game was played as the Rubber Bowl which for years was the prime stadium in Akron. At its peak it held more than 35,000 fans. For the game with Butler there was lots of elbow room. Even with it being “Dad’s Day” the listed attendance was only 2200. I still remember the center of the field was mostly dirt with the grass long gone from the activity that included many high school games each week with the Zips only one user of the field.
The Rubber Bowl–so named due to the number of major rubber and tire manufacturing companies that made Akron home at the time–is now gone. I found a shot of the stadium in decay that shows the press and broadcast booths. My play by play career started in one of them, but I must admit I don’t know which one.
Unlike what will be my last game in Belton, the Butler-Akron game was not one-sided. Akron won 14-7 when Richie Thomas ran the ball into the end zone with only 49 seconds to play. Butler’s Dick Dullaghan scored the Bulldog’s points on a seven yard run and successful extra point kick.
Then we all drove back to Indianapolis….a total of 582 miles in one day with a football game in the middle. Funny thing though. On that day I didn’t feel a thing.
The next week Tom Carnegie decided Gary Nash and I should be the voices of Butler football and later basketball–a position we held for the next three years never missing either a home or road game. I stuck with the business until last Friday night. I was very happy I did.
I still have a collection of old Sporting News (when it was the baseball “bible”) from as far back as the late 1950s. Today I ran across the issue of July 1, 1967. One of the big stories was of Houston Astro hurler Don Wilson’s first no hitter.
The amazing thing about Wilson’s feat was not that he did it. He fanned 15 Atlanta Braves, including Hank Aaron three times with the last being the final out of the game, but that he threw 143 pitches on just three days rest after having served up 155 pitches in a nine inning complete game win against the San Francisco Giants.
Hurlers still throw no hitters a few times each year. But hardly anyone is allowed to throw so many pitches in a no hitter. And no one will ever have back to back complete games on short rest with a total of 298 pitches!
That same issue of TSN also recalled the exploits of Jimmy Wynn during June of 1967. John Wilson, the sportswriter who gave him the nickname, “Toy Cannon” reminded us of Jimmy’s incredible power. And it was not that he hit home runs, but the distance the 160 pounder could put behind them.
Some examples: On June 6th Wynn hit the ball off the left field scoreboard in the “new” Busch Stadium. Yet earlier in his career at the old Busch (Sportsman’s Park) he hit that scoreboard twice. In Philadelphia he hit the ball over the roof at Connie Mack Stadium with the wind blowing in. In his home town of Cincinnati the Toy Cannon put on a real show. First he hit a ball over the 40 foot scoreboard in left center field. The next day he his one to the left of the scoreboard further than the first one. This time the ball crossed the edge of the parking lot, landed in a freeway feeder street, bounced up an embankment–heading right toward where Jimmy had grown up as a child. It finally came to rest some 600 feet from where it started at home plate.
The very next day the Astros were back in the Dome facing the Giants and Wynn went the opposite way to right off Frank Linzy to win the game. It was only the second opposite field homer Wynn had hit to that point.
Two days later Jimmy hit a ball into the mezzanine…a towering high blast. But he wasn’t finished. In the 6th he slammed a ball out of the park in the left field power alley becoming the first Astro ever to hit two home runs in a game at the Astrodome.
He still wasn’t finished. In the 8th inning he squeezed his third home run of the game just above the fence and inside the left field foul pole to give the Astros another run in their win.
Jimmy would go on to hit 37 home runs that year but lose the HR title to Hank Aaron who hit 39. Aaron played at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, “the launching pad.” He hit 23 at home that year. Wynn hit 15 at the Astrodome.
The first year I really started to pay attention to Major League Baseball was 1956. I was ten years old then. I had been taken to my first major league game–Milwaukee Braves at Cincinnati Reds– by my grandfather the previous season. From that point on I was hooked.
I lived equidistant in official mileage maps from Cincinnati and Chicago (150 miles), but Cincinnati being a much smaller city was easier to get to and from. The Cubs and White Sox both had radio signals easier to catch (on WGN and WCFL) than WKRC in Cincinnati which was inaudible during the day and would come in and out at night, but only if I had the radio positioned perfectly. None of the teams had games televised into the Indianapolis market which was where the stations I could see–with an outdoor antenna– were located.
But I was hooked on the Reds because theirs was the first major league park I ever had seen. From the towering light poles to the deep green of the grass and the slope in the outfield that made left and center fielders have to go uphill on many fly balls, it was magic! I didn’t really realize just how much different the game was then than the one I followed and worked in for over 25 years until I started clearing up things in my home office and storage room.
I have found many old record books and magazines that date back to my first days being a baseball fan. One from Sports Illustrated dated April 15, 1957 caught my eye.
In the back of the book someone had put together some statistics from the 1956 season that would be considered quite analytical today, but were rarely shown 60 years ago. Yet to compare some of them today shows how much the game has changed.
For instance, in the American League the top ten in on base percentage were all over .400. Ted Williams was tops at .479. Ray Boone was 10th at .403. Mickey Mantle was at .464. In the National League no player was on base .400. Duke Snider was tops at .399. Names like Musial, Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews and Willie Mays were all in the top ten, but the .375 point which is what is currently considered minimum for being good was topped by only eight of the NL stars.
The most interesting of all the numbers was the category of strikeout and home runs. In fact a lead paragraph said, “The concentration of some hitters on home runs leads them to strike out more than they should. Only Ted Kluszewski and Yogi Berra homered more frequently than they fanned.”
“Only”…now since Barry Bonds, no one ever comes close to even breaking even between home runs and strikeouts. In 2015 the major league top ten in strikeouts ended at 158 with many more players in the +100 category.
The interesting facts from 1956: Of the top ten home run hitters in both leagues only two in each struck out as many at 100 times. Larry Doby (104) w/24 homers, and Jim Lemon (138) w/27 homers in the AL. In the NL, Duke Snider (101) w/ 43 homers and Wally Post (124) w/36 homers did it.
Kluszewski hit 35 homers and only struck out 31 times. Berra hit 30 homers and only fanned 29 times.
And remember Philadelphia Phillie catcher Stan Lopata. He his a credible .267 plus he hammered 32 home runs–striking out fewer than 100 times (93)-and led major league baseball in percentage of hits for extra bases. Over 50% of Lopatas hits were worth more than one base. He had fewer singles than extra base hits.
Their were a number of other listings in the magazine, but it will be gone soon. Missing a cover, it will be part of the clean out. But it found a way to live again before it goes. And we all were remembered just another way how baseball has changed in the last 60 years.
With the news of the passing of Muhammed Ali a few days ago my memory bank needed to be jogged for the two Ali fights I actually called on radio many years ago for the American Forces Korea Network out of Seoul.
The broadcast covered the entire country and was done using a method that is now being used by some of the major sports networks for international sports and even some college basketball. My partner and I were in a studio at the AFKN TV and Radio headquarters in Seoul with access to the television broadcast of the fight that was being aired live on Korea’s KBS Network.
In those days, the 70’s, many major fights had transitioned to pay-per-view productions in the United States, but were still made available for “over the air” viewing world wide for a simple rights fee.
As it turned to the two Ali fights, my partners, Howard Halperin for the first and Warren Wilson for the second, were quite significant in Ali’s career.
Howard and I were on the call on October 26, 1970 when Ali returned to the ring after a 3 1/2 year absence following his being banned from the sport for refusing induction into the U.S. military. He was taking a stand based on his Muslim beliefs, but he never filed for conscientious objector status which would have still placed him in the military, but in a non combat role. Biographers later indicated while the basics of his statements were true they were guided by both his religion and the fact that he wanted to keep fighting and not have to stop while in the service.
A judge’s ruling and a decision by the boxing commissions ended that idea. Ali was the Heavyweight Champion until he was stripped of the title as well as banned from fighting. His career was at least put on hiatus when he was still unbeaten as a pro and 29-0. He was only 25 years old. In 1970 after losing three prime years, Ali was allowed to resume his career.
The state and city of New York which was then still the heart of boxing would not allow Ali to fight within the state even after his bans had been lifted by the courts and boxing commissions elsewhere. Both the city and state would lift their bans soon, but not yet. So his comeback fight was staged in the old Atlanta City Auditorium. His opponent would be Jerry Quarry.
Ali’s main goal was the re-claim the heavyweight title from the current unbeaten champ, Joe Frazier. But he had to have a least a couple fights before that to tune up and to prove he had not lost the skills to compete.
In the Quarry fight he took charge and defeated Quarry in three rounds. I recall that well since my partner Howard Halperin was from the Atlanta area we used him as much to describe the arena and area as much or more than an analyst. There wasn’t too much to analyze. Ali was superior.
While we had the commentary of the Korean announcers available in an audio ear piece and some hard to hear background English announcing, if needed, neither of us spoke Korean, the English speakers were nearly impossible to hear and the Korean crew was actually doing the fight as we were…from a KBS network studio across town. No matter. There were no insights we were missing out on . Ali simply was in command.
His next fight against Oscar Bonevena was not aired on AFKN. The main reason was because it was fought on December 7, 1970 and as a U.S. government military broadcast operation it was not deemed the thing to do on Pearl Harbor Day. Ali won that one as well and was now 31-0. A meeting for the title with Joe Frazier was next.
The AFKN studios were outfitted again for me to call the fight to be held at New York’s Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. My partner this time would be Warren Wilson who had a long officiating career. A civil service employee of the the U.S., Warren had been an NFL official as well as a boxing referee.
Our broadcast was on the AFKN radio network, but we made frequent mentions that servicemen who had access to TVs could catch the video on KBS and tune in our English-language commentary on the radio. We were all synched since what they saw was exactly when we were seeing it. No satellite delays to be concerned with.
As history records it… Frazier won the fight by decision, giving Ali his first professional loss and keeping Joe unbeaten. But while accounts from ringside indicated Frazier had scored a lot of points early it was not quite as easy to tell from television and the announcers in the AFKN studio (Warren and I) didn’t always see it that way.
My partner and I saw Ali dancing around and flicking a punch or two and seemingly rarely getting hit as Frazier worked hard. Those at ringside saw far more of Frazier’s punches solidly catching Ali although he rarely reacted as though they had.
By the time the fight ended we were in agreement that Ali may have re-claimed the title by a narrow margin. Wrong. Frazier was awarded a unanimous decision. To our defense each card was very close at least.
The next day I received the following poem which I read on my TV sportscast from an Army captain who had listened:
The stage was set, the anthem sung-though not by Bob Goblet,
When friend Greg Lucas scanned the set, and then commenced to say,
That Cassius Clay had come out strong, that Clay was in command,
For certain Frazier, after four, would surely cease to stand.
The middle rounds were much the same, the lip enjoying cameras,
Welts appeared on loser Joe, as he absorbed those hammers.
Clay hit and bobbed and hit again- too fast for Greg to call it,
Those of us with dough on Joe reached sadly for our wallet.
By big round ten the die was cast, Cassius would be king,
Joe could not get close inside, his punches had no sting.
His fans paid off their bets, with a shame but known to sinners,
When all at once, decision time, and Frazier was the winner!
Oh, somewhere in the world of sport, the sun does shine on high,
And Lucas calls the play by play, from that studio in the sky.
And all the angels have box seats, and come there to be pleased,
By the boy who came there from a bout with foot in mouth disease!
More than 45 years later I still have the original script copy of that poem which I read on the air that night.
It is interesting to note from the poem that several years after Ali had changed his name legally from Cassius Clay there were still many who would not use it. It may partly have been in this case since the poem was written by a military man who was quite active during the Viet Nam War, although not currently serving there.
For all of the good that Ali did during his life and the way he treated all people he was not always the same person when he was young as he was over the last three decades. People of all races did not embrace him as much as they have over time. The universal love for Ali did not exist 50 years ago. He, and the world, grew into it.
I am just happy to remember I got to call his comeback fight…as well as the first time he ever lost–even if I didn’t think he had at the time!