Recently I read “1941: The Greatest Year in Sports” by Mike Vaccaro, the excellent columnist for the New York Post. Vacaro interweaves vignettes about the year in sports – Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams .406 season, Whirlaway’s Triple Crown, Joe Louis over Billy Conn and more – with the shadow of war hanging over the world in 1941. Excellent read.
My favorite sports year is 1951 – my birth year. That was a great year for sports.
Start with “The Shot Heard Round the World,” Bobby Thomson’s dramatic ninth inning home run off Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds that gave the Giants the National League pennant over the Dodgers. At one point in August, the Giants trailed Brooklyn by 13 1/2 games, yet came all the way back to win a dramatic playoff game on what is generally regarded as the most memorable home run in baseball history,
The Yankees went on to beat the Giants in six games in the World Series. It was Joe DiMaggio’s final appearance in the Fall Classic; while Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays found October’s spotlight as rookies.
The year 1951 saw the first professional championship in North America for a team based West of St. Louis. The Los Angeles Rams beat the Cleveland Browns 24-17, gaining revenge for a last-minute loss to the Browns in 1950.
Earlier in the 1951 season opener, LA quarterback Norm Van Brocklin passed for 554 yards and five TDs in a 54-14 win over the New York Yanks. That record has stood up for more than 66 years.
The world of boxing witnessed the career intersection of two of the game’s all-time heavyweights. Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis. In an October bout at Madison Square Garden, Marciano, age 27, knocked down Louis, 37, twice in the eighth round before the fight was called as a TKO.
The great golfer Ben Hogan overcame a near-fatal automobile accident in 1949, winning both the Masters and the US Open.
In the NBA, the New York Knickerbockers nearly overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Rochester Royals before losing in seven games. The Royals won the final game 79-75 on April 21. It was their first, and to date only, NBA Championship.
That same day, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup four games to one over the Montreal Canadians, with all five games going into overtime. Bill Barilko scored the Cup-winning goal; sadly it turned out to be his final goal. Barilko died in a plane crash during the summer in a fishing trip to northern Quebec.
Dad, you are a hero. You were always my hero.
As you may know, in 1998 Tom Brokaw wrote a book called “The Greatest Generation” It was about a generation that transformed America and made it better for all us.
It was a generation that gave new meaning to the words courage, sacrifice and honor.
It was your generation. The Greatest Generation.
You lived through the Great Depression. You fought for our country in World War II, preserving our freedom. Later you married Mom and raised a family, teaching us good Catholic values and setting an example for all of us.
If there was a category in the Guinness Book of World Records for most weddings attended or christenings or first communions or graduations, you would surely hold the record. You were always there for us, looking out for us, always supportive.
You made sure each one of us was pointed in the right direction. You made life better for my family, for your grandchildren and great grands too. You defined the values, set the pace and then let us fly.
It was you that interested me in sports at an early age, and I’ve carried that passion through my entire life. Hey, they don’t call me SportsLifer for nothing.
You saw some of the most historic sports events in history, including a no-hitter, one of the major moments in TV history, and Roger Maris’ 60th home run to tie Babe Ruth’s record.
Monte Pearson’s no-hitter
On a steamy August Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1938, New York right-hander Monte Pearson pitched the first no-hitter in Yankee Stadium history. The Yanks beat the Cleveland Indians, 13-0, that afternoon to complete a doubleheader sweep.
Pearson, who was 16-7 that year and won exactly 100 games lifetime, faced the minimum 27 batters, striking out seven. Tommy Henrich and Joe Gordon each homered twice.
In the opener that day, Joe DiMaggio’s third straight triple of the game plated two runs in the bottom of the ninth to cap a three-run rally and give the Yankees an 8-7 victory. A crowd of 40.959 was on hand as the Yankees increased their American League lead to 12 games en route to their third straight championship.
First college football game ever televised
One year later come September, Fordham University defeated Waynesburg College of Pennsylvania, 34-7, at Randalls Island in New York. But that wasn’t the story. NBC filmed the first college football game ever televised, as Bill Stern brought the play by play to viewers.
Waynesburg’s Bobby Brooks made history with a 63-yard touchdown run, the first televised TD. Reportedly, there was no victory dance in the end zone.
The W2XBS broadcast signal had about a 50-mile radius, and there were about a thousand TV sets in the New York metropolitan area at the time. The signal didn’t even reach Waynesburg, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. So who saw the game? Who knows?
Columbia shocks Army
In October of 1947, Army was a huge favorite as the Cadets brought a 32-game winning streak into New York to face Columbia’s Lions. Army had not lost since 1943; Columbia was coming off losses to Yale and Penn.
Army led, 20-7, at the half, but the Columbia combination of quarterback Gene Rossides and received Bill Swiacki brought the Lions back for a stunning 21-20 victory.
60 for Maris
And in September of 1961, Roger Maris of the Yankees hit a long home run into the upper deck at the old Yankee Stadium against Baltimore’s Jack Fisher. The round-tripper was Roger’s 60th of the season, equaling the mark Babe Ruth set in 1927. Maris hit number 61 on the final day of the season, setting a record that many feel still stands.
These events, interesting in of themselves, have something else in common. You were right there for each and every one. You was just 13-years-old at the Pearson no-hitter, with other family members. The decision was made to leave once the Indians got their first hit. That never happened.
You went to the Waynesburg-Fordham game with your cousin Bobby Pugliese, who was at that time the manager of a powerful Fordham team. By the time Maris tied the Babe in 1961, you were a father of four, two boys and two girls, including me, the oldest.
Our first Yankee game
You took me to my first Yankee game nearly 60 years ago, vs. the White Sox on a brilliant Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Six Hall of Famers were in the lineup that day, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, plus both managers, Casey Stengel and Al Lopez.
You also brought me to my first Giants game, also at Yankee Stadium, five days before JFK was assassinated in 1963. And to my first Knicks and Rangers games at the old Madison Square Garden on 8th Avenue and 49th Street. We once saw an NBA doubleheader.
We saw a Miami-Notre Dame game at the Orange Bowl in Miami, a Yankee game against the Rays in St. Pete, and some great Iona Prep football. Remember when you brought home some early VCR prototype in 1967 and taped the Thanksgiving Day game against New Rochelle with Marty Glickman doing the play by play on WPIX. That was mighty impressive..
You’ve always been there for me, whether it be coin, advice or a good meal. Over the years we must have spent 100,000 hours talking sports, and there’s still nothing I’d rather do. I treasure the times I spend with you always.
Merry Christmas, Dad. Love you always.
Hail Jimmy Walker. PGA champion and winner of the Wannamaker Trophy. But you’re not the first famous Jimmy Walker. We’ve seen you before.
Jimmy Walker, aka Beau James, at right, was major of New York City between 1926 and 1932. The flamboyant Democrat Walker was part of the Tammany Hall machine, and was forced to resign during a corruption scandal.
Another Jimmy Walker was Jimmy Walker, a guard from Providence College who played nine years in the NBA, with the Pistons, Rockets and Kings. A two-time NBA All-Star, Walker is the father of former NBA player Jalen Rose. He died of lung cancer in 2007.
And then there was Jimmie Walker, an actor and comedian known best for his performances on the TV series Good Times. Walker’s character was known for the catchphrase “Dy-no-Mite!”
Can’t forget your cousin, Johnny Walker.
The Best of SportsLifer
First posted on April 13, 2009 by sportslifer
T.S. Eliot knew how to write, but sports wasn’t his strong suit.
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. “
– T.S Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922
Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot, the American-British poet, playwright and critic, may have been a member of the Literature Hall of Fame, but he didn’t know sports.
With apologies to old T.S., shown below, April is America’s best month for sports.
April, the rites of passage, the season of rebirth, where Opening Day signals the start of another baseball season.
April has the pageantry of the Masters, from Augusta National, the most beautiful golf course in the world.
Both the NBA and NHL playoffs begin in April, the second season for 32 basketball and hockey teams.
The NCAA Tournament may be heralded as March Madness, but the Final Four is an April event.
And finally there’s the NFL draft, one of the most popular events in the NFL outside of the Super Bowl.
What other months challenge April?
June has the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Belmont Stakes, last leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown.
October has the World Series, and peak activity in college and pro football to go with Fall foliage.
And February has the Super Bowl, the single biggest day in American sports, and the Daytona 500.
Give me April every time.
Former Washington Redskin and Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Art Monk is the best athlete ever to come out of White Plains.
I was born and raised in White Plains, New York, 27 miles north of midtown Manhattan, the county seat of Westchester, famous for a Revolutionary War skirmish against the British in 1776. The oldest of four, I lived within walking distance of 11 first cousins, my grandparents and dozens of friends. It was a great place to grow up.
Of all the athletes to come out of White Plains, Art Monk was undoubtedly the best. Monk, the wide receiver who played most of his career with the Washington Redskins, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year,
A product of White Plains High School and Syracuse University, Monk was drafted in the first round of the 1980 NFL draft by the Redskins. During his 14 years in Washington, the Redskins won three Super Bowls. Monk’s 940 career receptions ranks eight on the all-time NFL list.
Monk’s best season was 1984, when had led the league with 106 receptions, at that time an NFL record. The three-time Pro Bowler finished his career with 68 touchdowns and 12,271 yards receiving.
Here is the SportsLifer list:
The Top 10 Best Athletes from White Plains
1. Art Monk — In addition to the above, he is also a distant relative of jazz pioneer Thelonious Monk
2. Larry James — A double medalist at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, James won a gold medal running the third leg on the US 4x400m relay team. That team set a world record of 2:56.16 seconds that lasted until 1992. James, left, handing off to Lee Evans, also won a silver medal in the 400m at the Mexico City games. As a collegian at Villanova University, James won the NCAA 440-yard title in 1970, and three indoor crowns at that distance in 1968, 1969 and 1970.
3. Dick Nolan — Joined the New York Giants as a defensive back in 1954 after a collegiate career at Maryland. A member of the 1956 Giants team that won the NFL championship, he had 28 interceptions in a nine-year career, including six in his rookie season. Later went on to coach the 49ers and Saints.
4. Jim Turnesa — One of seven famous golfing brothers, Jim was the only one to win a major championship, the 1952 PGA Championship, beating Chick Harbert 1-up in the match-play final. He was also a member of the 1953 Ryder Cup team.
5. Bob Hyland — Born and raised in White Plains and a graduate of Archbishop Stepinac High School, Hyland was an All-America offensive lineman at Boston College. He was drafted in the first round (ninth overall) by the Packers in 1967, and was a member of Green Bay’s second Super Bowl champion in his rookie season. Hyland played for four teams during his 11-year NFL career. His popular White Plains establishment, The Sports Page, was one of America’s first sports bars.
6. Sal Yvars — A catcher with the New York Giants and later the St. Louis Cardinals, he played eight years in the majors from 1947 to 1954. A .244 career hitter, Yvars best year was 1951 when he hit .317 for the Giants, who win the National League pennant on Bobby Thomson’s miracle home run.
7. Mal Graham — A first-round draft pick of the Celtics in 1967, this NYU product played two seasons and won two titles with Boston. Graham, pictured top row, right, with the 1968-69 Celtics, averaged 4.7 points per game. He is currently a judge with the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.
8. Jay Saldi — Tight end, he played his college ball at South Carolina before going to the Dallas Cowboys in 1976. Saldi played for seven seasons with Dallas, and was a member of the Cowboys team that won Super Bowl XII. His best year was 1980, when he had 25 receptions for 311 yards. He wound up his nine-year career with the Chicago Bears.
9. Marty Conlon – A Stepinac graduate who later played at Providence College, Conlon played with seven different teams in a nine-year NBA career.The 6-10 center averaged 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
10. Willie Turnesa — Another of the famous Turnesa brothers and a graduate of Holy Cross College, Willie won U.S. Amateur titles in 1938 and 1948 and the British Amateur in 1947.
White Plains Reserves
Eric Ogbogu – Graduated from Maryland in 1998 and played seven seasons with the Jets, Bengals and Cowboys as a defensive end.
Art Schult — A reserve outfielder with the 1953 Yankee squad that won a fifth straight World Series. Schult hit .264 lifetime in a career that spanned five years and four different teams.
Channing Frye — Born in White Plains, his family later moved to Arizona, Frye was a top draft pick of the New York Knicks in 2005 and averaged a career best 12.5 points a game as a rookie. The forward-center now plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Grover “Deacon” Jones — Not to be confused with the NFL Hall of Fame defensive end, Jones joined the Chicago White Sox in 1962. The first baseman played three years and posted a .286 lifetime batting average.
Casey Stengel always said the Mets would win when they put a man on the Moon. Both miracles happened in 1969.
The whole world didn’t stop on July 20, 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon. It just seemed that way.
For even as astronaut Neil Armstrong was landing on the powdery surface of the Moon that day, uttering 11 of history’s most famous words — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — the sports world carried on.
That famous Sunday featured a full schedule of baseball games, with many teams playing doubleheaders as was the norm in those days.
In Montreal, Bobby Pfeil’s bunt single in the 11th inning scored Ron Swoboda and gave the Mets a 4-3 win over the Expos and a split of their doubleheader. Montreal won the opener, 3-2.
The Mets, who would go on to miracles of their own that October, fell five games behind the Cubs in the National League East. Chicago’s Ferguson Jenkins and Dick Selma both pitched complete games as the Cubbies beat the Phillies, 1-0 and 6-1, at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.
In Atlanta, Pat Jarvis pitched a six-hit shutout as the Braves maintained their one-game lead over the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West.
Orioles Rule AL East
Meanwhile, Syd O’Brien’s two-run triple in the eighth inning led the Red Sox to a 6-5 win over the Orioles. Despite the loss, Baltimore still led Boston by 11 names in the AL East.
And a shutout by Jim Perry, Gaylord’s brother, helped the AL West leading Twins to a 4-0 win over the Seattle Pilots and a four-game lead over Oakland.
The same day that Eagle landed on the Moon, Oakland left-hander Vida Blue, who went on to win the AL MVP and Cy Young award in 1971, was the losing pitcher in his major league debut. The A’s and Angels split a doubleheader that day.
In the Bronx, Gene Michael’s single drove in Roy White with the winning run as the Yankees beat the Washington Senators, 3-2, in 11 innings. Walk-off win was not yet part of the baseball vernacular.
This was the first year of divisional play in the majors. Four new teams — the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals in the AL and San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos in the NL — joined baseball in 1969.
On that Sunday, July 20, Rod Carew of the Twins at .364 and Matty Alou of the Pirates at .354 and were the batting leaders. Oakland’s Reggie Jackson led the AL with 37 home runs; San Francisco’s Willie McCovey was tops in the AL with 30. Atlanta’s Phil Niekro led the majors with 15 wins.
Jacklin Celebrates British Open Win
In other sports, Tony Jacklin was still celebrating his win in the British Open the week before, first by an Englishman in 18 years.
And in football, Joe Namath and the rest of the Super Bowl champion New York Jets were gearing up for training camp at Hofstra University.
That same weekend, a car, shown above, driven by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., plunged off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard. Kennedy managed to escape the submerged vehicle, but his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. (Kennedy subsequently pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended two-month jail sentence.)
In 1969, the average family income in the United States was $8,389.00, and the price of gasoline ranged between 29 and 35 cents a gallon. A six pack of Coca Cola was selling for 59 cents and Hershey bar was .10 cents. The cost for a new Ford Mustang was a whopping $2,832.00 for a standard model.
Richard M. Nixon was President of the United States, Woodstock was on the horizon and man was on the Moon.
In an era dominated by Tiger Woods and a field of also-rans, it’s nice to recall a time when real, honest-to-goodness rivalries existed in golf.
And none of those rivalries came close to rivaling the one between Arnold Daniel Palmer and Jack William Nicklaus.
Ian O’Connor, columnist with the Bergen Record, chronicles the rivalry that put professional golf on the American map in “Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry.”
Statistically, Nicklaus was the master (no pun intended) — quite possibly the greatest golfer ever, at least until Tiger came along. Jack won 18 majors, Arnie won 7. Jack had 73 PGA wins, Arnie 62,
“Jack was Arnie’s kryptonite,” writes O’Connor, “and the feeling of weakness and inferiority that swept over Palmer in Nicklaus’ presence wasn’t one that sat well with the golfer cut out of the western Pennsylvania hillside.”
And yet, no matter how many times Jack won or how many majors he dominated, Arnie owned one thing that Jack wanted above all else — the collective heart of the golfing public.
The King And The Bear
In many ways, Arnie and Jack were like older brother/younger brother, the King and the Bear, competitors on the golf course and in the boardroom.
It all began in an exhibition match at the Athens Country Club in Ohio in 1958, the 29-year-old Palmer, fresh from a win at the Masters, and the 18-year-old Nicklaus, headed for Ohio State. Palmer won that day, but it was Nicklaus who impressed onlookers with his booming drives.
“Arnie & Jack” covers many of the heralded clashes between Palmer and Nicklaus, like the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Colorado. Palmer was a full-blown TV sports star in the early 60s, rivaling Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Johnny Unitas. He turned up everywhere from the Perry Como Show to advertisements for L&M cigarettes.
Palmer, with Arnie’s Army in tow, trailed Nicklaus and the immortal Ben Hogan by seven shots with just 18 to play — and came back to win the Open. with a 280. Nicklaus’ total of 282 was the best amateur score in U.S. Open history.
Two years later, at the 1962 Open at Oakmont Pa. a mere.40 miles from Palmer’s Latrobe, Pa. home, the crowd mocked Jack’s weight calling him “Fat Gut” and “Fat Jack” and “Ohio Fats.” Nicklaus shut out the distractions, silenced the crowd and beat Palmer in a playoff.
Nicklaus always believed he was the better player…and history would bear out the Bear. But he never really felt the love of the golfing public until the 1986 Masters, when he finally earned the full adulation of the golfing public.
The 1986 Masters
“A great piece of Americana, forty-six years old, coming in with the lead,” is how columnist Edwin Pope described the Masters finish in the Miami Herald. “People were pathetically exuberant, There was a huge amount of people crying, and they weren’t ashamed of themselves for crying. They were just so happy to see this happen, for Jack to end up like Arnold at Augusta. I think Jack felt as good about that part of it as he did about being in the lead.”
O’Connor’s book humanizes the friendship between Arnie and Jack, a friendship strengthened through their wives, Winnie and Barbara.
When Winnie died of cancer in 1999, the Nicklaus family was watching their 30-year-old son Gary attempt to earn his PGA tour card after eight failed attempts. Palmer tried to convince Jack that he should stay with his son, but Jack came to the funeral. After the service, Jack was getting updates on his cell phone. Arnold asked how Gary was doing.
“He’s got a couple of holes to play,” said Jack
“Well, come on, let’s turn on TV,” said Arnie.
“You don’t have to do that,” said Jack.
“I would want to,” Palmer replied.
Gary shot 63 in his sixth and final round.and earned his tour card.
Overcome by joy and sadness, the two old rivals fell into each other’s arms and cried.
In “Arnie & Jack,” O’Connor brings those glory days and memories, both happy and sad, back to life.