October 2011 Archives

Sports nicknames

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(This column was written Oct. 15, 2011)

                      By Shelly Saltman

A new book written by my friend Rene Henry inspires today's column.   Entitled the "Iron Indians," it is the story of the 1953 William and Mary football team. With only 24 players and 15 scholarships playing against huge schools with $20 million budgets and teams of 120 or more with at least 85 scholarships, W&M won five of their first six games. An exceptional achievement that I am told soon will be made into a screenplay.

The book made me think about so many accolade-type names over the years in various sports denoting teams, as well as individual achievements or lack thereof. 

For example, the 1926 Brown University eleven acquired the nickname of "The Iron Men." This sobriquet was awarded to them due to the fact the first team played practically every minute of every game and as a result they had a 9-0-1 record with 7 defensive shutouts. Brown scored 223 points to their opponents 36. They played all the powers of the era and only a missed field goal marred their record.

In the early '50's, while writing a sports column for my college newspaper, The UMASS Collegian, I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the sportswriting legend Grantland Rice. He achieved instant mortality when he dubbed the 1924 Notre Dame backfield, " The Four Horsemen."

Knute Rockne's famed backfield had led Notre Dame for three seasons losing only two games during that time.  The backfield of Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden became forever linked with Greek mythology.  They were to Rice, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse...Death, Destruction, Pestilence and Famine.  Never has a more appropriate name been applied to the deeds of a football foursome.

The number seven has often been a favorite when used to describe great football line play.  Not to be overlooked is the Fordham football team of the 1930's. The team was consistently a national power, but that other Catholic School, Notre dame with its Four Horsemen, was getting all the national press. So in 1936, the school publicist conceived the idea of calling the offensive line, their most important weapon, "The Seven Blocks of Granite. Today, Fordham no longer has a football team, but perhaps their most renowned graduate, Vin Scully is a Hall-Of-Fame Announcer... considered by many the best there ever was.

How about some of the great nicknames given to players?

 Wilt Chamberlain was often called "Wilt the Stilt".  Given this name when he played briefly with the Harlem Globetrotters, it was a nod to the tall circus performers who walked on wooden poles, or "stilts".  However, the nickname given to him by his own family, he once told me, was his favorite..."The Big Dipper".  He was so-called because when as a sprouting teen-ager, his height made him bend, or "dip" to get through doors.

How about Elroy "Crazy legs" Hirsch? This great University of Wisconsin, Los Angeles Rams Running Back who became the first full-time "flanker" in NFL history. The coach split the talented receiver outside from his previous halfback position.  He got his name not only because of his sensational runs when carrying the ball, but by the way he ran when carrying the ball... In 1942, the Chicago Daily News describing him said, " His crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions all at the same time: he looked like a demented duck."... The name stuck!

Like other sports, hockey too has had its share of descriptive nicknames.

 For example, Maurice "the Rocket" Richard. This Montreal Canadian was the first NHL Player to score 50 points in a season and 500 in a career. He was called "The Rocket" because of his bursts of blinding speed when going around defensemen and zeroing in on the goalie.

Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geofrian got his nickname because was he was credited with inventing the slapshot which when he let it go, sounded like a clap of thunder. He was the second NHL player in history to score 50 goals in a season, joining his teammate, "The Rocket."

However, in hockey, the most apropos name goes to Wayne Gretzky.  Called "The Great One", he left no doubt that the moniker was well deserved. He is the all-time point scorer. When he retired he held 40 regular season records, 15 playoff records and 6 All-Star records. Moreover, he was the only player to score 200 points in one season... he did this 4 times. He also scored over 100 goals in 16 seasons.

Boxing has had its share of great sobriquets.  To me, Joe Louis' nickname "The Brown Bomber" was a perfect fit. He was a black man who fought tirelessly to get a chance at the Heavyweight title held by the white establishment. His fists were so powerful, opponents felt as if they been bombed. My movie "Ring of Passion" told the story of his battle for recognition.

In basketball, how about Pete Maravich aptly nicknamed "Pistol"?  He never met a shot he wouldn't take. Or Jamaal Wickes who was dubbed "Silk", because of the smooth way he moved on the court.

There have also been many detractor names.  When the New Orleans Saints were a losing team, many called them the "Aints." When the Green Bay Packers played the Tampa Bay Buccaneer, both with long losing records, Chris Berman of ESPN labeled the game, "The Bay of Pigs."

Throughout Sports history, there have always been and always will be pet names... Hot Rod, Dr J, Tank, The Galloping Ghost and many more. Let me know your favorite!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Sox -- a heart-broken fan's lament!

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(This column was written Oct. 15, 2011)

 

By Shelly Saltman

 

By now, all of you who have read my column know that having grown up in Boston, I support my teams until the bitter end. My Yankee loving friends (I use the last word advisably) are really gloating.  Well, I guess unfortunately, it's their turn.

 

No wonder, my friend Dr. Vishva Dev, head of cardiology at Los Robles Hospital, scheduled me for a Nuclear Stress Test on the afternoon of the game.  He must have had a premonition that I would be watching as I had folowed every game during September.

 

Lo and behold, my beloved Red Sox blew it!

 

In the city that once housed the "Miracle" Braves of 1914, (they went from last place in July to winning the World Series in October), the Red Sox enjoyed a reverse miracle. Imagine, on Sept. 3, the Red Sox were 9 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for the wild card and at season's end in the final game they lost out by one game and were eliminated.

 

It's ironic that in 1914, the Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves) performed one of the most memorable reversals in MLB history. In last place on July 4th, they were good enough to take over for good on September 8th that year.  They were called the "Miracle" Braves.

 

This year, hand in glove with the Red Sox, the Atlanta Braves (in my heart of my youth, still two Boston teams) did an "el foldo." Like the Red Sox, theirs was en epic collapse. The Braves were 10.5 games ahead of St. Louis on August 26th.  I live in California, but the teams I root for are in the Bay State.

 

A few years ago, the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics were the kings of the hill.  Every championship was theirs.  This year, they all finished out of the money, but the Bruins, bless them won the Stanley Cup.  The banners of all four teams still hang proudly from the balcony of the State House.

 

This euphoria for the Red Sox fans, based on a winning the World Series, started seven years ago. It put an end to the curse of the Bambino brought about by the sale of the great Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees in 1919. As a Yankee, he and the team called the "Bronx Bombers" went on to establish record upon record, winning series after series.

 

The "Babe", or the "Sultan of Swat" as he became known was the team's leader and 4 years after his arrival, 1923 when Yankee Stadium was built it was and to many it still is, referred to as the "House that Ruth Built."

 

More often than not, with many great players in the lineup like Ted Williams and in later years Carl Yaztremski, the best the Red Sox could do was finish second. It took 88 years before the Red Sox would once again win the World Series... that was 7 years ago.

 

In the Old Testament, I am reminded of the story of Joseph who in the Book of Genesis was sold into slavery by his jealous 11 brothers. Taken to Egypt, he rose to prominence in charge of all the wheat harvests.  He had a dream and learned that there would be 7 years of abundant harvest followed by 7 years of famine.  To ward off disaster, during the abundant years he stored wheat expecting the years of famine.  He was wise and when others suffered, because of Joseph, the Egyptians had a surplus of wheat.

 

Well, the 7 years of baseball riches appear to be over.  What have the Red Sox planned for in the future?  It is obvious that during September, the pitching staff was decimated.  The bats, which had been so powerful earlier, lay heavy on the brawny shoulders of the most prolific hitting teams ever assembled. A 42-year-old pitcher who can't win wants to come back. Others injured might never pitch again.

 

So, I ask, what does the future hold seven years of losses with no hope of resurrecting!  I hope not!

 

My stress test proved flawless, I am healthy!  I did not, however, show broken heart.

 

Where have all the wordsmiths gone?

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(column written Oct. 15, 2011)

                 By Shelly Saltman

You know when I first started to have a career in sports and education, I dreamed of being the next great hall-of-fame announcer. I worked diligently to get rid of the Broad A's and the ending of sentences with an "R" sound that told of my New England roots. To be an announcer with fluid tones and speak flawless English was the goal of all of us embryo announcers. I can't count the hours I spent mastering tongue twisters.  How many times did I say, "She sells seashells down by the seashore" in multiples of 3?

Broadcasting in the mother tongue was a gift!  However, today, it is the generation of the "deez, demz and dozas." Pronunciation and proper projection are a thing of the past. For the most part, if you have been an ex-jock with a recognizable name you can probably have a successful opportunity in broadcasting. Many of these retired athletes have great knowledge about their sport and that is good. This makes the listening to the games enjoyable. In this respect, my hat is off to my friend Ed Goren who as President of FOX Sports has been meticulous in hiring his announcers.  They all bring both knowledge and expression in good English to each airing.

This selection process is especially worthwhile since young minds are influenced by what they hear and try to emulate the experience. But then again, it's not just in the sports firmament... its news and reality shows as well.

I was lucky!  I grew up in a community where education and sports were dominant in most every household.  My mother was an immigrant whereas my father was born in Boston. On my father's side, it was important that I become the first male to go to college.  Though my mother and her many sisters would speak to each other in the language of Eastern Europe from whence they came, it was never in front of us.  My parents both insisted that this is where we were born and this is where lived and to speak English properly was a "must"

The Saltmans were all "jocks".  My dad and three of his brothers had all been professional athletes.  My mother's side was the opposite.  They were all academics.  I thought back on this the other day when I was contemplating this column.

 I really felt I was at sea when while watching FOX News. Talking about the Republican debates, the anchor, a pretty young thing made a joke out of the pronunciation of one community as she bastardized its name ... the city, was in this case. "Canandaigua, N.Y... pronounced "can-an-day-kwa."

Please do not get me wrong!  In the days of the old World Football League, we hired the first female sideline reporter and she did an excellent job.

Two many of the news outlets have settled for pretty faces who have no concept on how to use the English language and they, the suits, turn over to "rip and tear" apprentices, the coveted jobs of anchorperson. These were the jobs handled by the Murrows, Cronkites, Wrathers and Jennings. Today, there is no serious tone when such a person delivers dire news with a smile.

My cousin Dr. Martha Birnbaum, who as recently as 20 years ago was involved in re-writing "The Random House language Dictionary," she taught linguistics at Brown, Wisconsin, CUNY and UMASS and who was among the first to teach the computers Voice Recognition, today is a successful consultant in Voice Recognition and Communication.  She is appalled by this lack of proper use of our language.

My friend Bob Block's cousin, Mervyn Block, a long time watchdog of how to broadcast in the English language, remembers the days when CBS with its plethora of reportorial talent looked to him for constant checking and scoring how they did.

The FCC, which used to have teeth, was constantly calling on the carpet the Network, or Station that was not clear in their message, or news delivery. Then along came, "Jersey Shore".  This show and cast are a perfect example of how far the quality of broadcasting has slipped... and they unfortunately are "role models" to millions of future illiterates.

Dear reader, if you are still with me, I apologize for getting away from the original premise of this column which is the sad state of sports broadcasting today.  However, as I wrote and looked around I realized despite its many faux pas, sports broadcasting in the hands of a literate purveyor of the news is not that bad.

So what if the announcer says' "It's a new world's record!"  Well, dah! If it's a world's record, of course it's new. Or if Doug Collins, a fine basketball analyst, once said, "Anytime Detroit scores 100 points and holds the other team below 100 points, they almost always win." Dah! How about when racing announcer Ted Walsh once said, "This is a lovely horse, I once rode her mother." Oops, Dah!

I loved it when baseball announcer Chip Carey once said, "it's a partial sellout."... And he's considered one of the best, having a great legacy. I also love the one that you might remember when hockey announcer Bob Kelly muttered the immortal, "That was a complicated play folks. So let's have a replay for all of you scoring in bed"...Oh, no!

Two Hall-of-Famers, after their illustrious careers on the diamond, made occasional mistakes as broadcasters.  Ralph Kiner in summing up a Pittsburgh Pirates broadcast, said and I quote, "We'll be back with the recrap after this message." I guess, years ago, that was Potty Humor... mild by today's standards.  Finally, I cannot overlook St. Louis Cardinal great Dizzy Dean who often said when describing a base runner, "He slud into third." Can you imagine this one phrase brought out the wrath of teachers groups, parents groups and religious organizations demanding he be replaced.

Wow!  Where are those groups now when we really need them?  You know,  there is a proven way to summon them!

Press one for Spanish and two for English!

 

 

The world's greatest athletes

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(this column was written Sept. 16, 2011)

 By Shelly Saltman

For most of my 80 years I have been blessed with good health.  I was a "jock" in the true sense.  It occupied all my time growing up and eventually led to an extremely lucrative vocation. Yet, like most of us I took the fact of this blessing of good health for granted. Even though I had an anonymous placard on my desk that said "I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

Every time when I talked to my young friend Richie Heller on the phone and I asked him how he was, his standard answer would often times be, "How should I be, I got, up this morning." Now having survived a couple of severe medical intrusions into my otherwise blessed life, I take nothing for granted.

As a matter of fact, I remember when I was a teenager in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I played Ping Pong with the man who ran the YMCA Youth Program.  His name was Harold Russell. Although he had two hooks for hands, there was no one who could beat him one-on-one.  Mr. Russell was later to become an actor and for his role in the "Best Years of Our Lives" he won two Academy Awards. He received one for Best Supporting Actor and the other for being an Inspiration to all Handicapped Veterans.

When we played, he had just returned from World War II service where he lost his hands. I never forgot him and the lessons he taught about perseverance and dedication to achieve. Today, the annual award presented by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities is called the "Harold Russell Medal." All my memories of Harold came flooding back as I talked to my dear friend and doctor Jeff Galpin.

Jeff, himself, a victim of polio that threatened his life as a youngster of 8, not only became a brilliant scientist, but in his wheelchair has proven to be an outstanding athlete competing in all sports. As he told me, he is motivated to be the best in all things he does.  Jeff personifies what Harold Russell wrote in his 1949 biography..."It is not what you lost, but what you have left that counts."

 In fact, Jeff tells the story of how, when preparing for a track meet (in his wheelchair), he had as a coach, "Bullet" Bob Hayes, at the time the world's fastest sprinter and eventually a star on many Dallas Cowboy championship football teams.  Hayes kept yelling at Jeff to dig in with his heels if he expected to win the meet. Jeff pointed out to Bob that he cold not use his legs, so Bob kept yelling "wheel it, wheel it!" Jeff won his heat.

While I was president of FOX Sports, I was proud to produce one network special on the Paralympics.  It met with great critical acclaim, but it was never repeated. Imagine how rewarding it is to turn your infirmity into a power positive.

Being physically handicapped, to these athletes, only spurs them on.  Unlike the spoiled prima donnas that are blessed with overactive pituitary glands and great physical prowess, they take their gift seriously.  If you are an extreme athlete you are cool. If you are an extreme athlete who uses a wheelchair, you are a hero!

Organized sport for persons with physical disabilities really took off as a result of rehabilitation programs following World War II. Due to the needs of large numbers of injured ex-service members and civilians it became recreational first and then competitive. Sir Ludwig Guttmann of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England is credited with the foresight to bring this about. In 1948, while the Olympics were being held in London, he created a sports competition for wheelchair athletes at Stokes Mandeville. This evolved into the modern Paralympic Games. Today, Paralympics are governed by the International Paralympics Committee in conjunction with a multitude of other international sports organizations.

In case you did not know, beginning in the late 1980's and early 1990's, several countries and organizations started to include athletes with disabilities into major games such as the Olympics, integrating these athletes into able-body sports organizations.  Since the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, which many of us were a part of, exhibitions of Paralympics' events have been included.  However, long overdue is the acceptance of full medal events, long overdue.

This year, four separate flames will be lit for the torch relay ahead of next year's London Paralympics ... they will be ignited in London; Belfast, Northern, Ireland; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Cardiff, Wales.

The torch relay will begin on Aug. 24 carrying the torch to London for the Opening Aug. 29 ceremony. The games will run to Sept. 9. I admire these athletes for many reasons.  Not the least among them is their pluck and determination. Countries are starting to realize the lesson and inspiration taught by watching these athletes. Russia for example, is working to make the entire city of Moscow, handicap friendly.

As a matter of fact, snow and all, one of Russia's most decorated athletes is 39 year old Sregei Shilov.  You can find him even in the midst of the harsh winter, racing down a makeshift track, preparing for an array of summer athletic events.  He barely has had time to celebrate the gold medals in cross-country skiing that he won at the Vancouver Games.

When you cheer for your favorite NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLB  team, realize that they are gifted athletes, but understand the obstacles they face are nothing compared to what a Paralympics athlete faces everyday of his life.

I enjoy Boxing as a sport.  Many label it as barbaric, or animalistic.  To me, it is the quintessential challenge!  When a man has been knocked down, he  must get up to win. That is the plight of the Paralympics athlete.  Struck down by accident, or illness, he/she can never give up.

The Bronx Bombers -- aptly name

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(This column was written Sept. 2, 2011)

 

  

By Shelly Saltman

 

By now, dear readers you must know I am a life-long Red Sox fan.  So this is a column that actually is tough for me to write.  It is with begrudging admiration that I must praise and salute the new "Bronx Bombers"... the New York Yankees of 2011.

Guys named Cano, Martin and Granderson did something no other Yankee team in history, or for that no other team in history, has ever done.  What is it you ask? Well sir, they each hit a grand slam home run in the same game.  That's right! Three in one game ... and each one off of a different pitcher.

 

I would have thought their names should have been Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, or even Mantle.  The guys who were lauded in their Hall of Fame careers as the original "Bronx Bombers".

 

To understand what a great feat this was you must look at the achievement in proper perspective. In almost 100 years of legendary slugging, the Yankees never enjoyed a day like this.  In fact, next month Major League baseball will enjoy its 200,000th regular season game.  You know that means no other team ever enjoyed such a day as well.

 

In baseball, a grand slam is a home run with "bases loaded."  In other words it means that runners occupy all three bases. In other sports, tennis and golf for example, it's a term for sweeping a sport's major tournaments.

 

As best as I could find out in referring to The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the term grand slam is attributed to the card game of contract bridge. There, a grand slam means one has won all the possible tricks. The word "slam" is usually associated with a loud sound... for example, a door being shut with excessive force... or slamming the door on one's opponent.  The explanation actually fits the baseball nomenclature.  After a grand slam in baseball means you have caused a total of four runs, the most possible from one hit, to score.

 

Looking back in baseball's historic past, we learn that a player named Roger Connor (who?) hit a grand slam on September 10, 1881.  He was playing for the Troy Trojans (again who?), at the time.

 

When talking about grand slams, somehow it's always a Yankee name is associated.  For example, did you know that Lou Gehrig, (my all-time hero though a Yankee; Ted Williams is second in my book), holds the all-time career record with 23.  Don Mattingly, another Yankee and the current manager of the Dodgers, held the one-season record.  He hit 6 in 1987. His seasonal record was tied in 2006. Albert Pujols, still playing for St. Louis, tied the one-season National League record in 2009.

Probably, the greatest grand slam in baseball history belongs to Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente.  He hit a walk-off inside-the-park grand slam giving his Pirates a one run victory over the Chicago Cubs 9-8.  I personally think it is the ultimate grand slam.

 

Not to be outdone, a pitcher by the name of Tony Cloninger got into the act in 1966.  Pitching for the Atlanta Braves, he hit two in a game against the San Francisco Giants. One last statistic that I found fascinating is that Fernando Tatis of the Cardinals hit two in one inning in 1999 off of L.A.'s  Chan Ho Park. Park was only the second pitcher to give up two grand slams in one inning.  It was done once before in 1890.  However, in the 1890 game, it was to two different batters, whereas Park gave up his to one batter.

 

The idea for this column came from a friend of mine, Steve Nober.  I hope you have found it informative. However, I want you to know, I still do not like the Yankees ... so, go Red Sox!

 

What do you know about water polo?

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(This column was written Aug. 31, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

When Ryan Nober told his mother that he was going to try out for the water polo team at Calabassas High School, she was taken aback.  She had heard the name of the game, but had no idea how it was played, what the size requirements were etc. In fact, she is a bright lady, so I am not attributing the next statement to her, but I have even been asked, "how do they control the horses in the water?" No kidding!

Water polo is a sport I am quite familiar with.  My son Steven not only played it when at Agoura High School, he had great success as a member and captain of the nation's 4th ranked NCAA team when he was at the University of Arizona.

Armed with this knowledge, I took it on myself to tell Mrs. Nober all about water polo.  It was chore I welcomed gladly because I remember fondly how during my son's high school years all the team would often hang out at my house, the Modlin brothers, Peter Sedgwick, Moby, Coach Vidokovich and the rest of the gang. A nicer bunch of kids has never been assembled. They were a team that brought both local and national honors to their school.

Steve got into water polo because his mother would not sign the papers for her little boy (he was even six feet then) to play football. So, as a result I had to learn about water polo.  Let me share with you what I found out.

First, there are very few formal records as to the origin of water polo. However, it is said that the sport began in the rivers and lakes of mid-19th century England as an aquatic version of rugby. In the beginning, they used an inflated rubber ball imported from India.  In the Indian language, balls are called "pulu" pronounced "polo". Put together it became water polo.

To attract more spectators to swim meets and the like, the London Swimming Association designed a set of rules for indoor swimming pools. Since the inception of these rules, there have been many changes over the years, too many to bore you with.  Simply stated, today the rules parallel those of ice hockey.

Water polo was first played in the United States in 1888. At that time, the game featured the rugby style of play, which resembled American football in the water.  It became very popular and by the 1890's it was playing to large audiences in major venues across the country. The championship game in Boston's Mechanics Building drew 14,000 spectators.

A ritual before each game is for the referee to inspect the fingers and toes of each player to make sure the fingernails and toenails have been cut short enough.  Since a lot of the action can get rough and takes place under water out of the referee's sight, the toes and fingers could act like knives inflicting damage.

Eventually, it became an Olympic sport and ironically was to play a dramatic part in world politics at the 1956 Olympics when Hungary played Russia.

In 1956, Russia in a malevolent show of force, crushed a civilian uprising in their then satellite country of Hungary.  The Russians were brutal! Tanks rolled onto the streets of Budapest.

During this period, the Hungarian national water polo team training in Czechoslovakia for the Olympics, had been sequestered from the violence at home. The Russian tanks rolled over their homeland on November 4th, quelling a spontaneous uprising by the oppressed Hungarians that had been going on for 12 days.

When the Hungarian team arrived in Australia at the beginning of December just weeks after the revolution had been put down, they first learned of the onslaught that had taken place at home only a few weeks earlier. Hundreds of Hungarians had been killed, thousands more arrested.

My friend Rene Henry recently called this to my attention and reminded me that our friend Gabor Nagy had been a member of that team. We, who have lived in comfort and freedom as U.S. citizens, cannot even imagine what went through the minds of those Hungarian athletes.

The historical events played a great part in what transpired that year at the Melbourne Olympics. Hungary and Russia were two of the premier teams. Hungary won their first matches at the Olympics with ease.  On December 6, 1956, they faced the Russians in a semi-final match.

Hungary proved to be the better team and won by a big margin.  However, it was slugfest worthy of Muhammad Ali's best moments in the ring. Forget about the toes and fingers inflicting damage, the water in the pool that day went from a clear blue to crimson... fists flew! In no small way, the Hungarian team had avenged their countrymen... and they went on to beat Yugoslavia and win the gold.

Most of the team sought political asylum in the United States and went on to colleges and universities including USC where a legacy of water polo and aquatic greatness was to begin.

Ironically, the star of that team, Ervin Zador, who was so bloodied he could not play in the final, went on to make Olympic history as the coach and teacher of  U.S. teenage sensation Mark Spitz who won seven gold medals at Munich in 1972.

As for my friend, Gabor Nagy, he has documented this momentous time in Olympic history in a screenplay... I believe he entitled it, "The Day The  Pool Ran Red."

One day, I hope it gets made into a movie. It is an important story.

 

 

 

Only Wimbledon is bigger!

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(This column was written Aug. 12, 2011)

 By Shelly Saltman

At the end of this month, during the last two weeks and ending on Labor Day wWeekend, the United States Open Tennis Championship, informally the U.S. OPEN will be contested.  Unfortunately for me, my accident four years ago in a national age group tennis tournament will prevent me from competing.  Of course, the fact that I have no TALENT is inconsequential.

There has been a Men's National Championship since 1881. The U.S. OPEN has been the fourth and final tennis major comprising the Grand Slam each year; the other three are the Australian and French Open plus Wimbledon.

The U.S.OPEN has tiebreaks in every set, including the last set.  The other three Grand Slam tournaments have tiebreaks in every set other than the last set (i.e. the fifth set for men and third for women. ) As a result, the last set continues indefinitely until a two-game lead is reached. There have been some extremely long matches. 

The longest recorded match was at Wimbledon in 2010. John Isner against Nicolas Mahut.  It took 183 games ... 11 hours, 5 minutes over  four-days. The U.S. Open's longest match by comparison was only 5 hours, 26, minutes... in the 1992 semi-finals between Stefan Edberg and Michael Chang.

Once an exclusive high society event for men only, it has grown to a championship with more than 600 male and female professional players.  Beginning in 1968, the Open Era saw the prize money grow from  $100,000 where last year, it was almost $25,000,000.

Originally as the United States National Championships, only amateur men who belonged to clubs that were members of the United States Lawn Tennis Association could compete.

Six years after the first  men's nationals, the first U.S. Woman's National Championship was held in 1887 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. The event bounced around... the Newport Rhode Island Casino, 1884-1911,  New York, 1915-1921... Philadelphia, 1922-23... and since 1924 back in New York.

Lamar Hunt laid the foundation for the modern pro game with his WCT (World Championship Tennis).  He hired the 8 top players in the world whom he called the handsome 8 (Newcombe, Drysdale, Taylor, Pilic, Ralston, Bucholz, Barthes and Roche).

 In 1971, with WCT, the late Hal Golden created a magnificent event, "The World Series of Tennis." It featured the "Handsome 8" playing quarterfinals to finals against the clock.  A show made specifically for TV.

Along with Hal, the late Jay Michaels (Alan's dad) and myself built a stadium in Epsen, Australia, where it was an overwhelming success and also televised it down under. Never could get it on TV in the U.S., a revolutionary and exciting competition, which to this day could give tennis a boost... ah well!

Meanwhile. Lamar Hunt remains the Rodney Dangerfield (he got no respect) of tennis... to the point, where the ITF and the ATP shut him out. Maybe with him tennis would have fared better.

The junior development program worldwide has produced some outstanding results. Unfortunately, today where we once dominated, the United States is lagging behind. However, not because of Walt Disney and the Disney Company's lack of trying.

In 1982, a Disney Vice President named Horst Kolischek wanted to capitalize on the great Disney Character, "Goofy."  As we all know, "Goofy" tried every sport, although a good sport was a klutz. So a competition featuring all the best ranked 12 and 14 year olds worldwide, met in competition at Disneyland (U.S. Juniors) and two weeks later at Disney World (International Juniors).

I was called upon to create two 2-hour TV specials in a format I labeled "Sportainment." It featured the play of 12 and 14 year olds named Chang, Tarrango, Agassi, Sampras, Wheaton, Graf, Seles to name a few. They would go on to great success as they grew while my partner Ron Glazer and myself basked in a job well done earning a Emmy nomination.

Tennis is a great sports and is played by all age groups well into their 90's.  The cream of the crop will meet in the U.S. Open and the competition will provide much tension and excitement.

Over the years there have been many great rivalries:  Federer and Nadal; Borg and McEnroe; Sampras and Agassi; Edberg and Becker. 

This year, perhaps we can expect to see Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal carry on what is proving to be the newest hot rivalry.

Another great one has passed

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(Column was written Aug. 6, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

With the passing of Aaron Charles "Bubba" Smith, we have seen two of the most formidable Baltimore Colt players of all time come to the end of their journey on life's gridiron. Last month, the great John Mackey passed away.  Now, his teammate Bubba Smith will be once again joining him.

I knew and liked Bubba. He and his Raider teammate George Anderson would often hang out my FOX offices, joining me for lunch.  On occasion, his brother Tody who had played for USC and the NFL who was his agent would also show up.

Later, on a few occasions when I was with Tommy Hearns at his training camp in Traverse City, Michigan, Bubba would arrive unannounced, alone with no entourage as so many of these athletes had, and enjoy the sparring sessions. Bubba, as big and as menacing as he appeared, was a gentle giant. Whenever he walked into my office, the door would disappear.

One day he walked into my office and he had trouble fitting through the door I didn't understand it.  Until I looked up and saw that he was carrying 200 pound Anderson in his arms. Anderson had broken his leg in the game the previous day against the Chargers. His leg was stiffly extended by means of a cast.  There was no flexibility at all. Bubba was trying to navigate through the portal, carry George, cane and cast.  After all, he had promised George that we were going to eat in the Executive Dining Room next to Mel Brooks.

Needless to say, Sid Silver came to the rescue took the cane, placed a chair outside the door with an Ottoman and solved the problem.

 In those days, Bubba was done playing football and was enjoying success along with Chicago Bears retired great linebacker as inept golfers in Miller Lite Beer c ommercials. One would say, "Tastes great", the other would retort "Less Filling". The commercials swept the country and wherever he appeared instead of saying "Kill Bubba Kill" which was a chant when he was sacking quarterbacks for Michigan State, the audience would greet him with either "Tastes Great", or "Less filling".

In those days, he was hoping to capitalize on the high profile from the ads and was making the rounds of casting offices. Monthly, he would come in with new head shots or a new resume sheet... and of course, I would enlist my pal Alan Rice and call around to a few of our casting director friends.

While on a cold call, he met and befriended a funny man who at the insistence of all his friends at the New York Telephone Company where he worked as repairman left his job trying to make it in Hollywood.  Art Metrano was not only funny, but also as talented character actor.  I was delighted to meet him because in those days he had been popping up on television, especially the "Tonight Show" where he often would play his signature role of a magician performing absurd tricks while constantly humming an inane theme song "Fine and dandy".

Soon he was to appear in the motion pictures "Police Academy 2" and "Police Academy 3" as Commandant Mauser. Bubba appeared in all 6 "Police Academy" movies as the enforcer and man of strength, Moses Hightower.

Art Metrano fell off a ladder while fixing a light bulb in his garage, severely injuring his spinal cord and is disabled. However, he turned his misfortune into a positive. He wrote a funny book, which has raised countless dollars and tours with his one-man show, "Jews Don't Belong on Ladders".

I hadn't seen Bubba in quite awhile, but when we talked he was still making the rounds of the casting offices.

You know, he was such a good guy here on earth; the Lord most likely will cast him in the role of Moses so that he can help keep the peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sport of kings???

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(Column was written July 28, 2011

 By Shelly Saltman

My last column was about this year's Baseball All-Star game. I received countless comments. One comment from John Moore of Ventura caught my eye. I had pointed out those sports that were popular in my youth. John suggested I should have included horse racing.  You know!  He was right! As a result, I went back into my memory bank, did a little extra research and here's what I learned.

 I remembered that when I was a student at the University of Massachusetts, I voraciously read everything written by Damon Runyon.  You probably know most of them," Sorrowful Jones, The Lemon Drop Kid, Salty O'Rourke" and of course, "Guys and Dolls". All became either movies, or Broadway plays. The main protagonists were bookmakers, jockeys, bettors, touts and breeders.  In short, the characters involved with the SPORT OF KINGS.

I admired him so much that while in college, I created "Shelly's Spectacle" which raised countless dollars for the "Damon Runyon Cancer Fund." You can only imagine my euphoria when years later I worked with the great man himself. However, I am getting off track (no pun intended).  Let's talk about the sport.

Horseracing competition first started in Central Asia! Tribesmen domesticated the horse around 4500 B.C. Today, modern racing exists primarily due to the fact it is a major arena for legalized gambling. It is the second most widely attended U.S. spectator sport, after baseball. Annually, on the average, there are more than 8,000 days of racing attended by almost 60 million people betting over $9 billion.

 The British are credited for starting professional horse racing during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). Match races gave away to races with several horses and spectators placed bets. Throughout the United Kingdom, racetracks sprung up.

In order to attract the best horses, the tracks offered large inducements. As a result, breeding and owning horses became profitable.  Based on greed, an unscrupulous element was born, making it necessary to have a national governing body. In 1750, racing's elite formed the Jockey Club, which to this day still exercises complete control over English racing.

British settlers brought horses and horseracing to the New World.  The first racetrack was out on Long Island as early as 1665 only 45 years after the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.

The rapid growth of the sport without any central governing body led to criminal elements dominating the tracks. , Around the turn of the 20th Century, elite owners met in New York and following the English model formed the American Jockey Club.

Antigambling sentiment saw most states ban bookmaking. Racing was almost wiped out.  By 1908, the number of tracks had dwindled to 25.  However, in that same year, pari-mutuel betting was introduced at the Kentucky Derby. States got on the bandwagon welcoming the return of racing by legalizing this form of betting. This meant the states would have a share of the money bet.

By the end of World War I, prosperity and great horses like Man o' War and Seabiscuit saw fans filling the tracks. The sport prospered until World War II. Those were the years, which I talked about in my All-Star article.

Pari-mutuel betting offers many ways that you can lose your money. Wagering on the outcome of horse races has been an integral part of the appeal of the sport since B.C. Today, it is the sole reason horse racing survives. Under this system, somewhere between 14-25 percent of the total amount wagered goes to the track off the top for a variety of expenses.

The balance is divided among those who bet. Before each race "odds" are placed on a visible board. If the "odds" are 4-1 that means if you wager one dollar and your horse wins, your return is four dollars. There are many different ways to bet... the terms are simple. In order of first, second and third, they are called " win, place and show". 

 "Daily double"... selecting the winners of two consecutive races. "Exacta"...selecting the first and second place winners of a race in order. "Quinella"... selecting the first and second horses in either order.  "The pick six" is the real moneymaker... it is when the winners of six consecutive races are picked.

Earlier, I talked about Damon Runyon.  Where we live in Thousand Oaks, among our friends are Dr. and Mrs. Gurvey. Mrs. Gurvey is the daughter of Jule Fink. Damon Runyon would only go to the track if he went with Jule. Jule was a pioneer who revolutionized how one wagered and beat the odds. An immigrant boy, he was an honest bettor.

He started in the racing industry before World Wart II. At 15, he worked for his father, a barber who took bets.  After taking the bets, he would read the ticker tape results from all over the country.  Once the results were in, he and other boys were sent to collect the money.  They would run as fast as they could to collect each debt... He became known as one of the "Speed Boys."

He was a genius at handicapping and developed a system for winning that has never been equaled. His talent caught everyone's eye.  Celebrities and world leaders flocked to be with him.  These men included not only Runyon, but also presidential advisors and Wall Street giants.

As I learned about the Jule and betting, I became more determined to learn about how the pari-mutuel betting system works.  I asked my friend Jerry Berger, a follower of breeding who also has been a horse owner. He explained that in betting, first you look at the bloodlines... (who was the sire and who was the mare). Then you look at the track record and who the competition was and at what track... and who the competition is in the current race.  Then you place your bet.

With the current economy, Attendance at racetracks is down.

I've often thought with our current financial crisis how a man with Jules' mathematical and financial wizardry might help our economy. I know it sounds ludicrous, but in these dire times, we should explore every avenue. One day at Monmouth Race Track, I met a lady betting her Social Security check. 

WOW!

I remember all-star games

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    (Column was written July 15, 2011)

    By Shelly Saltman

I recently watched the 2011 edition of what was called the Baseball All-Star Game.  FOX, as usual, did an outstanding job of covering and telecasting the entire weekend.  Unfortunately, the charisma and the excitement were not there. This was reflected in the viewing public's response.  The ratings, which are most important, were at an unusually low level.

So, I decided to go back in my own personal memory bank of All-Star games past... many of which I personally attended, worked on, or historically either heard on radio (not TV), or read about.

As a result, I wanted to refresh my memory of some of the highlights I might share with you, the reader.  Here goes!  Hope you enjoy my meanderings.

I was actually only two years old when perhaps the greatest All-Star game performance I've ever heard about took place.  The man in the middles was Carl Hubbell. Carl was a left-handed pitcher with the New York Giants.  He was so good; his sobriquet was "King" Carl Hubbell. He was an All-Star selection nine times, but it was in his second one, 1934, that created a memorable and unduplicated day.

The American League had five future Hall of Famers in their lineup... Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.  Carl struck all five out in succession.

But I have gotten ahead of the story I wish to tell. Actually, I feel how the game began is interesting.

In 1933, baseball was truly the American sport. Pro football and pro basketball and, for that matter, soccer were yet to capture the public's fancy.  During the depression, baseball and boxing dominated the sports appetites of the nation. Amateur sports and Olympic news were capturing most of the headlines. Baseball, however, at the time, was a common social ground that bound strangers.  Each game presented a unique set of probabilities and possibilities, as well as chance.

As a matter of fact, I look on baseball as an American tradition that is a never-ending story.  In this story, every game is a nine-inning chapter and all nine players have the opportunity to be a hero.  Through the decades, every team has at least one superstar player, one overall hero.  He is the one that brings the local fans out to the stadium.  However, there is only one game that brings them all together at the same time... the All-Star Game.

The All-Star Game, initiated by Chicago Tribune Sports Editor Arch Ward, was not only to increase the interest in baseball, but as part of the Chicago's "Century of Progress Exposition".  It was huge success and it was held in Comiskey Park where my dear friend Eddie Einhorn still roams the halls.

This year, fifteen of the elected so-called "stars" opted not to play.  However, many had lame excuses, at least in my eyes.  For example, many pitchers did not show because they had pitched either two, or three days earlier.

I ask, why couldn't they show up, be in the dugout, let the fans see them and if necessary, pitch an inning, or two, or for that matter, just play catch with the catcher prior to the game? That way the local fans would have had the thrill of at least seeing players they have only heard about. Read about, or saw on TV.

I can understand a Derek Jeter just coming off an injury, not wanting to risk re-injuring himself.  But he could have made a token appearance!

It's true that the All-Star Game has not necessarily been good for a player who could be hurt.  But then again, he could be hurt at any time. Yet, all too often the case of "Dizzy" Dean is cited.

In the 1930's, "Dizzy" Dean along with his brother Paul "Daffy" Dean were the scourge of the National League. Throwing in tandem, they made the St. Louis Cardinals almost invincible.  In the 1937 All-Star Game, the Indians Earl Averill hit a hard line drive right at the mound and off of "Dizzy's" toe, fracturing the digit.

  When told it was fractured, "Dizzy" who later would be one of the most colorful baseball announcers simple said in "Dizzyese"... "Fractured, hell! The damn thing is broken." This broken toe sped up his retirement.  When he returned to pitch, his mechanics were all off and subsequent shoulder and elbow trouble followed. The game, however, did not lose "Dizzy" who became one of its most sought after color commentators.  He created baseball lore in the genre of "Yogi" Berra and Casey Stengel.

To managers and owners, this incident stands out as a warning to protect their property, which in these days of astronomical salaries for mediocre talent means chances they are not willing to take. The fan that pays for the tickets is made to suffer.

I have personally been involved in a few All-Star games. As a kid, I had the unique pleasure of having a father who enjoyed baseball.  There wasn't money for a lot of things, but there was always enough for Red Sox and Braves season seats.

In 1946, the game was held in Fenway Park, Boston. I went there hoping to see my hero, Ted Williams, do something terrific.  He didn't let me down. What a day he had.  He drove in 5 runs on four hits.  Two were home runs.  But the second was monumental.

He was facing "Rip" Sewell of the Pirates.  Since he was a notorious hitter to right field they had on the Williams' shift.  That meant that meant that with the exception of the third baseman who was at short and the pitcher/catcher, the other seven guys were to the right of second base.

"Rip" was famous for the "Eephus" ball.  It was a pitch thrown in knuckle ball fashion reaching heights of 10 feet and more before it crossed the plate. It is considered a junk pitch with very low velocity and thrown with hardly any speed. It had been catching the National League batters off guard and was almost unhittable. Thrown almost like a softball pitch in a schoolyard, the hitter had to supply tremendous power.  Teddy Baseball did just that.  On the second pitch, he hit it over 400 feet over the right field wall.

Another All-Star game experience I enjoyed was inadvertently discovering a terrific broadcasting talent.  My old friend Ed Halian and I were out in St. Louis for the 1957 game at Sportsman's Park. We were working for the Gillette Company.

 In those days, Gillette and its "Cavalcade of Sports" dominated all sports broadcasting.  Gillette practically had a monopoly on events; the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls, Friday Night Fights and the Triple Crown of Racing.

Two days before the game, we had a dilemma.  There were supposed to be three great announcers in the radio booth... they were Harry Caray, Bob Neal and Kurt Gowdy.  For some reason, Kurt was stuck in Boston and couldn't make it.

 Ed and I had been listening to KMOX radio while staying at the Chase- Park Plaza and could not stop laughing at the former journeyman St. Louis Cardinals catcher who was now an announcer.  Knowing of our predicament, we went to our boss Paul Burns and suggested that he be used.  After all, he knew Sportsman's Park, St Louis and the players.

Gillette agreed and Joe Garagiola had his first network "gig". Last year, at a Phoenix High School graduation, I bumped into Joe and we briefly discussed the paths life had taken us since that fateful game in 1957.

The British are coming

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(Column was written June 23, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

April 19th in Boston has always been the day to celebrate of Paul Revere's ride on the 18th to Lexington and Concord to alert the waiting Minutemen, (farmers), that the British were coming. Despite what Sarah Palin believes, the signal was by lantern, which was to be hung in the tower of the North Church, one lantern if by land, two if by sea.  It was never "bells" designed to warn the British. I know this is fact because I not only went to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Grammar School in Cambridge, but the great poet himself immortalized the horse ride in verse, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

About now, you are probably asking, "Isn't this supposed to be a sports column?"

Well, it is and there are many parallels to be drawn!

First, in New England, April 19th traditionally celebrates the ride. As a kid growing up, I knew that the Boston marathon would be run on that day with at least 200 of the best marathoners in the world competing, and secondly, it would be followed annually by the opening of the Red Sox season.

 Times have changed:  there are now thousands competing in the marathon, plus the Red Sox opening date varies.  How I miss those gentler times when my dad would take my younger brother Bobby and I over to Commonwealth Ave to watch the finish of the race and than hope a trolley to Fenway Park to cheer the for the Red Sox.

But we are about to be invaded by the British again and it involves horses once more. Prince William and his bride Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, will be paying their formal visit to the former colonies.  Among the things in their visit will be a stop in Southern California.  While in Southern California, Prince William will compete in a charity polo match at the Santa Barbara Polo Grounds.

All proceeds from the event will go to the Princes William and Harry Foundation. The Foundation's prime purpose is to raise funds to help disadvantaged people, bring about environment awareness and help in conservation, plus to help heal and mend the broken lives of returning veterans.  So if you have a spare ... $4,000 around you can sit in the VIP section and sip tea with the royals, or for a mere $400 you can get in under General Admission.  Sounds like a good deal to me.

But what do we Americans really know about polo? When I lived in Cleveland and was working for a TV station near where we lived in Gates Mills, Ohio, there was a Polo Field.  On many a Sunday, my late wife and I would pack a lunch, take Steven and Lisa, go out to the field and enjoy an afternoon picnic sitting on the roof of our car.

Polo is both an interesting and exciting sport once you get to understand it a little bit. For this article, I did some extensive research. Briefly, here are the salient points of what I learned.

The game was first played in Persia (Iran) and it took place in the latter part of the 5th century BC, or as late as the 1st century AD.  It's a variable date.

It began as a training game for cavalry units, usually the king's guards, or other elite units. Warlike tribesmen took up the sport and they played with as many as 100 on a side. It was miniature battle... in time, it became the national sport of Iran and spread throughout the world. Today, the game is played with four players on a side.

It is no more a miniature battle. The name Polo is derived from the Tibetan word "Pulu" meaning "Ball." The mordern game of Polo, though formalized by the British, is derived from Manipur (now a state of India),  who played "Pulu".  Polo is the Anglicized version.

 

 

 

 

To be or not to be a golfer

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(Column was written June 17, 2011)

 By Shelly Saltman

Over the years, many of my friends who are avid golfers have asked me to join them and take up the game. In truth, I won't do it because it might prove embarrassing to them and especially to me.

I played in a Pro-Am once and to give you an idea how bad my drives were, a member of my foursome around the sixteenth hole turned to me and asked me if my husband played golf as well. That was it!  I never picked up the clubs again to play. 

That is not to say that golf has not given me some great moments. In 1953, as a young announcer in Massachusetts, I drew the assignment of covering on radio for a local station The Walker Cup, or when I was involved with the Andy Williams San Diego Open from its inception.

For those who do not know, the Walker Cup match has been in existence since 1921.  It is a combined effort that takes place every other year in odd numbered years pitting the best amateur golfers of the United Kingdom and the United States against each other. 

The R & A (The Royal and Ancient Golf Club) and the USGA (The United States Golf Association), golf's amateur governing bodies make the team selections.  It is named for George Herbert Walker, the grandfather of the 41st president of the United States, and great-grandfather to our 43rd president.

It has been a premier showcase for many potentially great pros.  The year I broadcast, the United States had, among others, on its team, a young Coast Guardsman from San Diego named Gene Littler and a fellow Californian, Ken Venturi.  Through 2009, the U.S. is leading with the number of victories - 34 to 7. However, like in so many sports as in life, the pendulum has been swinging to more of a balance.  The last two competitions, the U.S. barely eked out victory.

The Ryder Cup, golf's professional version, which came after the Walker Cup, is played along the same lines.  In fact, the Ryder Cup, which originally also had just a U.S. v U.K. format, has widened its scope to make it U.S. v Europe.  This format gives the U.S. plenty to worry about. Especially, since so many of today's top golfers are coming from the other side of the pond.

You know, I wonder about golfers.  My boyhood friend and pal, Earle Wolfe, lives in Palm Desert,  an area considered a golf Mecca.  If you talk to Earle (he lives in a gated golf community), he'll gladly tell you he plays golf on any day ending in "y".  Other times if you ask him how he did, he'll tell you he's throwing his clubs away.

This brings to mind, the fine art of throwing your club. Tommy Bolt won 15 PGA Tournaments in his, career including the 1958 U.S. Open. He is 55th on the all-time wins list even though he didn't join the tour until he was 32 years old.  In 2002, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. As one of the most explosive men to ever play professionally, he, however, was better known for something else...  his temper.

 So bad was his temper that at various times he had nicknames such as: Terrible Tommy, Tempestuous, Thunder Bolt, as well as Vesuvius.  These names were all well earned.  Probably, my friend, the Late Los Angeles Times columnist  Jim Murray said it best. He wrote after watching Tommy play a round, " You could sense the lava rising, the ash spewing, the top about to come off... Mr. Bolt was about to erupt."

When Tommy's game was not going smoothly, his caddy, the gallery and his fellow players all knew to watch out... a club, or for that matter, clubs would be flying. He would sometimes launch a club into a lake with a two-handed backswing.  His inability to control his temper and his emotions cost him tournaments.  The great bantam Ben Hogan, his friend, often said, " If we could've just screwed another head on his shoulders, Tommy could have been the best ever."

His wild antics brought about a dubious honor.  Because of him, the PGA made it a two-stroke penalty for anyone who throws a club during tournament play.  The rule is affectionately known as the "Tommy Bolt Rule."  The day after the rule took affect, Bolt himself was the first to break it.  This time, it wasn't because he was mad he just didn't want some other golfer to be the first to break "his" rule.

There have been many other incidents of club throwing.  Two that come to mind belong to of the current acknowledged giants of the game... John Daly and Tiger Woods.

In the third round of the 1997 PGA, Daly was one under par and just three strokes off the lead.  At the 12th hole, his drive sailed onto the fairway.  Unfortunately, it was the 17th fairway.  Daly went berserk!  He threw his club completely over the gallery and into the woods.  Before they could continue the match,  it required two marshals to jump a chain-link fence to retrieve it.

Tiger Woods at the height of his game won the Bay Hill Invitational four successive years... 2000 to 2003.  One more victory in 2004 and he would have stood alone as the only pro with most consecutive wins at one tournament. Apparently, the pressure got to him.   He was in 46th place in the final round and on the 6th hole; he hit one into the water.  Then, according to many witnesses (he wasn't on camera), he threw his club after it. 

Like everything else that day, he missed. He accidentally hit has caddy Steve Williams instead. When asked about it later, Tiger said, "Steve was just as mad as I was, so it doesn't really matter."  I wonder if anyone ever asked Williams.

So, I don't play golf.  Not just because I am not good at it, but in reality I could not afford to throw away any clubs.  I should ask my pal Earle if he ever really went though with his protestations. After all, like me, he is a tight-fisted New Englander.

Times they have changed

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(Column was written June 16, 2011)

                            TIMES THEY HAVE CHANGED

By Shelly Saltman

I was watching the Dallas Mavericks defeat the Miami Heat and realized I have been around long enough to see many dramatic changes in sports and in particular in the NBA. I was a kid in college when, in 1950, Chuck Cooper became the first black player drafted by an NBA team, the Boston Celtics. Until 1950, there were no black players in the league.

In the recent playoffs, 80 percent of the players were black, indicating how many superior athletes had been kept off rosters for too long a time. This anti-black attitude not only deprived the black athlete an opportunity to make a superior living, but also to make an outstanding contribution to the sport of basketball.

In 1950, however, there was a black team capable of winning championships. They were exciting and had a roster that even challenged the best the NBA had to offer. As a matter of fact, in 1948 and 1949 they even defeated the NBA's premier team, the Minneapolis Lakers, two years in a row. They, of course, were the Harlem Globetrotters. It was a hallmark in professional basketball history... an all-black team had beaten the best white team around. 

Along with some other college ballplayers at the time, I had a chance to play against them.  I didn't play that much, but for the short time I was in, I had the misfortune of guarding Marquis Haynes who was considered the best dribbler of his time. ... How embarrassing. In front of 6,000 fans, all there for support of the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, I could find nowhere to hide.

They were that good!  Until then, they were mainly introduced to the basketball fan as the Clown Princes of Basketball. Besides having a group of sensationally talented basketball players, Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein understood they needed something different to appeal to families.  The team developed the use of a theme song, "Sweet Georgia Brown." 

They added humorous antics that became part of their trademark ... the confetti-filled bucket, the drop-kick basket, the mimicking of the officials, the ball under the jersey etc. Then they signed with ABC's Wide World of Sports and were filmed throughout the world playing basketball and carrying on with their antics in the most unusual places ... on the Great Wall of China, or on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean. They played everywhere.  Touring 360 days a year.

In a short time, with the NBA struggling for survival and trying anything to get people to fill their arenas (they tried doubleheaders, two-for-one nights, and door prizes -- which all worked with a minimum of success), when they announced the Harlem Globetrotters were part of the bill, invariably they sold out. Soon the Globetrotters were not just part of the bill, they were the headliners.

The Globetrotters were first formed in 1928 while they played exhibitions before dances at the Chicago's Savoy Ballroom; their intent was to tour Illinois. In 1929, with Abe Saperstein at the helm, they were touring Iowa as well taking on all-comers under the name of the New York Harlem Globetrotters. Although all the players came from Chicago, mostly the South Side, Saperstein decided to add the name Harlem since that part of New York City, at the time, was considered America's largest black community... and to out-of-town spectators, it added an aura of mystique.

Saperstein recruited the most talented black athletes he could find. With  nowhere else to sell their wares, the tryouts featured thousand of aspirants. Many future NBA greats played for the Globetrotters.  Among the many were Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and Connie Hawkins, who after Chuck Cooper and the Celtics broke the barrier down, were able to enter the NBA.

In the NBA until this day, retired players who played before 1965 do not have a pension.  Only one player, and a great one at that, who played in that era, Bob Cousy, has a pension. I have been involved with the West Coast NBA Alumni and one of the goals, just as the color barrier was torn down, is to get these men who had to hold two jobs, pay for their own car fare to games and many times dress in the men's rooms of antiquated arenas, a pension.  Cousy got his because when he was coach of the Kansas City Royals after 1965, he put himself in one game, thus, he became pension eligible.

In the meantime, because of the hard road paved by both black and white players who barely eked out a living, the Mavericks/Heat playoff combined payroll exceeded a quarter of a billion dollars.  The NBA Players Association, made up of many millionaires, has refused to supports benefits for these older players who are now diminished in numbers and many infirmed.

It is time to give back and say thank you to all the pioneers in one of America's premier sports.

Who's the boss?

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(This column was written June 13, 2011)

   By Shelly Saltman

My late father used to say, "Sheldon, the only thing you can start on a shoe string is a knot!" Dad was right to an extent, because many of us have done all right when we started with meager beginnings. In fact, in order to get a nickel for a Hershey's chocolate bar, we had to find some empty Coca-Cola bottles, which we turned in to the corner variety store for two cents each, and when we had five bottles, Earle and I each had our own Hershey bar.

I often thought in those days, wouldn't it be nice if I owned a candy store then I could share with all my buddies. However, I would have made sure that I listened to the adults around me so that I didn't eat too much and get an upset stomach, or a big head.  That would have been easy to do.

In sports as in business, many scions have inherited the mantle of leadership and in essence, their own candy store, or for that matter their own candy factory. Hell, look at Donald Trump!  His dad kick-started him with millions that gave him the luxury to fail time and again and still make people believe he is a great businessman. Ask the numerous investors who through his multitude of bankruptcies, he left high and dry.

One of the great areas of legacy (father to son) is sports.  Many have been worthy of assuming the mantle ... immediately names like Rooney, O'Malley and Mara come to mind.  Still there are many more who must be watched carefully and judged by their actions.

In the case of the aforementioned three, they had their predecessors to lean on and respected their experience.  None of them flaunted their position.  They respected those who helped to make the franchise handed to them worthwhile. Now, we get to young Jimmy Buss.  His dad has turned the keys to the great Candy Store known as the Los Angeles Lakers over to his control.

Among the things he has inherited is not only a great brain trust in two proven champion team developers, Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, as well as one of pro basketball's all-time great players in Kobe Bryant. Not a bad trifecta!.

He also inherited the immediate need to replace one of the game's greatest coaches. Not a bad trifecta!

With this in mind, you would expect the young crown prince to call upon all three to aid in his decisions. However, insiders have told me that this was not the case.  Whether he consulted his dad, or not, I do not know.  However, this I do know.  In all decisions basketball, his dad always deferred to the minds he respected.

 Hell, when Jerry West said I do not want to coach and recommended his old teammate Pat Riley for his first coaching job, despite his doubts, the senior Buss did not stand in the way of West's recommendation. Jerry Buss was smart enough to realize that Jerry West, Mr. Basketball, is the NBA Logo for a reason. 

So Pat, who at the time was the legendary Chick Hearn's broadcasting color commentator, became coach of the Lakers.  Unlike most fans, I knew Pat would be something special.  From a personal perspective and my time working as a Laker executive, I knew Pat's dedication to the game and the team.  At the time I was there ('71-'72). Pat was the sixth man. When he entered the game he was always an electrifying force.

He had a drive and a hunger like no other member of the team. Not only would he play "21", or "Horse" with any of us who were around on none-game days, but he would be out constantly speaking at Boys Clubs, Rotaries, or anywhere the team needed him on a consistent basis. The only player to do so! He was also constantly asking Coach Bill Sharman why he made the moves he did.  That was the season the Lakers won 33 straight and 69 for the season.

Jim Buss in searching for the new coach went on his own naming Mike Brown as head coach. Brown may prove to be just the right remedy, but until now, his only achievement was that he was the Cleveland Cavalier coach who had LeBron James.

Jimmy did not consult any of the three before making the move.  In fact, in making the decision the way he did it, he might have torn down the house that Jerry, Mitch and his father built.

 In addition, he might have alienated his foremost asset and franchise player Kobe Bryant. It's not unusual for disgruntled stars to ask for a trade when they are unhappy.  Kobe had been an outspoken advocate for assistant coach Brian Shaw to become head coach. In his eyes a proven coaching talent and a member of the Lakers family.

Jim Buss is out to prove this is his team and he will take no prisoners.  Jimmy Buss himself has no credentials.

Since the coaching decision, Jerry West is no longer affiliated with the team. He has left and taken a position as executive consultant to Peter Guber and the other new owners of the San Francisco Warriors...

...And I am wondering, can history repeat? Jerry West built the nucleus for the Memphis Grizzlies team success from its inception. He also gave the Lakers an unknown coach that he plucked out of the broadcast booth.  In his first move, he has tapped Mark Jackson, a long-time NBA player and ESPN analyst with no coaching experience, to leave the broadcast booth and become the Warriors new head coach.

It'll be interesting in the Western Conference to carefully watch the Lakers and the Warriors.  Who will show more progress?  Wanna bet?

 

Sports and its legacy of scandal

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 (This column was written June 8, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

Recently, many miles of media ink have been devoted to the cycling scandal and the attempt to link Lance Armstrong.  Also, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been front and center.  So, I decided to do a little exploration and, much to my amazement, I discovered that each generation in a variety of sports has had to deal with scandals.

At the basis of it all, GREED!

In baseball, probably the worst was when the Chicago White Sox became the Black Sox in 1919.  Here, on a mammoth scale, a gambler named Arnold Rothstein was able to get to almost an entire team, (eight members), and arrange to have them lose the World Series.  The benefactors were an organized group of gamblers. The worst victim was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.  A brilliant young ballplayer who was semi-literate, he ended up being banned for life.

This scandal brought about the appointment of Judge Kennesaw "Mountain" Landis as professional baseball's first commissioner.  Immediately, Judge Landis, although elected by the owners, was given a free hand to rule and he frequently used it to protect the integrity of the game. Even at one point bringing down his gavel and banning Bob Meusel, president of the Phillies, in 1943.  Today, it is different; we have a commissioner with limited power under the control of the owners.

Illegal gambling has always been a large problem in sports. As well as doping. No matter how great the name, no one was immune to the commissioner's wrath.  Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Pete Rose have all felt the wrath of this office. Today, doping fills the headlines.

College basketball has had more than its share of point shaving schemes. In the 1950's, the great CCNY team that won both the NCAA tournament and the NIT (which was more the important tournament at that time) was involved in a season of game fixing. The bettors did well, but the five players were banned for life. 

The CCNY coach at the time, the great Nat Holman, said if any of his boys fixed games, he would never coach again ... and he didn't. Basketball has seen many recent occurrences of this type of scandal in the 1960's, 1970's, 1980's and 1990's. 

Coaches are not immune to cheating, or looking the other way. In 1986, SMU boosters gave football players thousands of dollars from a "slush fund" with the knowledge of university administrators. A few weeks ago, Coach Jim Tressel of Ohio State, under attack for looking the other way while star players on his team accepted gifts of money and services, resigned.

 Many programs at the highest level are under scrutiny. USC was stripped of its 2004 national championship. With the Ohio State stigma, State's senior quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, has opted to forego his education and attempt to turn pro.  The tragedy is that, according to knowledgeable football men, scouts and coaches, he is not ready.  Therefore, the offshoot is he might never have a pro career and after three years of higher learning, he will have nothing to show for his efforts... i.e. no diploma.

The NFL also has not been immune. It too has had more than its share of doping allegations and steroid use... and since 2007; the public has been privy to the off-field antics of many players and their involvement with law enforcement.  Notably, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Tank Johnson, "Pacman" Jones and Chris Henry come quickly to mind. When I was a kid, the champion New York Giants football team and its quarterback Frankie Filchock was suspended by the NFGL from 1947 -1950.

Ice hockey, pro basketball and pro soccer have been far from untouched by gambling and rigging of votes.  In 2006, Operation Slapshot was an investigation into gambling ring operated by a NHL assistant coach.

In soccer, there have been many times when officials have been caught in the middle of controlling the games to benefit either personal betting, or in association with organized gambling.  It happens at the highest level in Italy, Greece, England and even Brazil. Today, even Sepp Blatter, recently re-elected president of FIFA, soccer's governing body, is still operating under a cloud of impropriety.

What about pro basketball?  In 2007, NBA referee Tim Donaghy was under investigation for betting on league games, including some in which he worked. Which reminds us of the on-going controversial decision to ban Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader (4256), from ever being involved in organized baseball and despite his great hits record, omitted from the Hall of Fame. His crime: gambling on games, many in which he was the manager of one of the teams.

Motorsport has not escaped the evil ogre of scandal.  How about in 2008 when Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr was accused of deliberately crashing in the Singapore Grand Prix to help his Renault F1 teammate Fernando Alonzo win.  Hell, in 2007,a year earlier, in Formula One, Stepneygate came about when Scuderia Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney passed on secret documents to Mike Coughlan of McLaren.

So, why have I written this column?  I only touched the surface of scandals.  Yearly, in all sports there are countless.  All of the scandals have one common thread... to get an advantage with the express purpose of monetary reward.

How can we control it?  I don't know!  However, if you have ever read Karl Marx Communist Manifesto, it actually made sense.  Now, I am not a Communist, never was, never will be! Nevertheless, I have read Marx's thesis.  I feel sure Sarah Palin and I share this distinction. However, it is easy to see why the Manifesto never worked.

GREED!

Does anyone have an answer?  Unfortunately, like so many things in today's society, sports too are broken.

In my earliest days as an announcer during the 1940's ... a sleepier. simpler, more innocent, less complicated time, I would end my broadcast with the phrase, "Keep a boy in sports and he stays out of courts."

How wrong could I have been?

I found my Captain Marvel

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(This column was written May 24, 2011)

 

By Shelly Saltman

 

Holey Moley Uncle Dudley!  Those were words echoed by one of the comic book heroes of my youth. The words were spoken by Billy Batson, the 145-pound alter ego of the man he became, 215-pound Captain Marvel once he said the magic word "Shazam."  As Captain Marvel he was able to fight evil wherever he found it.

 

Leigh Montvale is my Captain Marvel. He has written a complete and wonderful book entitled "Evel." The book unmasks the legendary daredevil Evel Knievel for what he really is ... a man in disguise who when he put on his red, white and blue motorcycle leathers, made everyone think who was a doer of good... someone to be looked up to by an entire generation of both kids and adults.

 

Back in 1978, I wrote an innocuous book entitled "On Tour with Evel Knievel." It jumped immediately to the top of the charts and sales were booming.  It was an innocuous book about "Peck's Bad Boy".  ("Peck's bad Boy" was a series of books about a popular fictitious character read by many at the start of the 20th century).

 

The book I wrote, "On Tour with Evel Knievel" was sanitized and completely checked out by his attorneys, since he was my partner, prior to publication.  I did not want to destroy the image of a hero that I had worked so diligently to cultivate. Instead he did it to himself when he attacked me and went to jail. Fear of suit by Knievel saw the publisher Penguin pull my book from the stores.

 

In the book "Evel," which is on sale everywhere now, Leigh Montvale pulls no punches.  Based on countless hours of research, many interviews and his own award-winning prose, Leigh takes us on a vivid behind the scenes view of the life of a man who perpetrated one of the great frauds on the public. Evel made us believe that he was a genuine American hero.  It was all a fiction.  Hell! The fictional character Captain Marvel has proven to be the real hero.

 

In the book "Evel", Montvale traces Knievel's earliest roots from the time he was born until past his death.  He is a masterful storyteller who makes the reader feel as if he is meeting Knievel for the first time. He has captured the zaniness, the courage, the cowardice and the complexity of the man.

 

While I was in charge of the worldwide promotion for the Snake River Canyon Jump, my company Invest West Sports and myself were in partnership with Top Rank and Bob Arum. I spent three extremely long months traversing the country in a Lear Jet with Evel. I ate every meal with him, met his grandmother, his wife at the time, Linda (a wonderful lady), joined him at his house and witnessed first hand many of the things Leigh talks about in "Evel"...  Things I never put in print, nor repeated.  Montvale captures it all ... both the pain and the ecstasy.

 

Since reading "Evel", I have had a chance to compare notes with many of my associates and friends from that time. Dave Herscher, who never got credit for the masterful way he catered to the press at the Snake River under most trying circumstances, whimsically shared with me his recollections.  Unfortunately, I could not talk to the late Joey Goldstein who handled all the metropolitan New York press and then some.  Joey often took abuse when Evel would say, "I hate Jews." Joey would bark back, "I hate Montanans."

 

Joey, to his credit, never backed down and did a magnificent job. When Bob Arum first met Knievel, Knievel said, "There are three things I hate... Jews, New Yorkers and lawyers." Bob is all three.  Knievel then would laugh such moments off, claiming he was only joking. Montvale, in studying Knievel's history, unmasks him for the bigot he was.

Don Branker, the man responsible for all the logistics of the jump, got to despise Knievel so much that he took out his revenge in a most creative and unusual way. Montvale captured those moments.

 

It was not just a trip down memory lane. For me, it was more.  Through Leigh's words, I heard Knievel's sarcasm, his disdain for others and his egomaniacal ravings.  After reading the book, I went to my personal trove of one-on-one voice recordings that I made with Knievel.  I still have over 125 hours of these left.  I was amazed at the accuracy of Montvale's portrayal.

 

True, I enjoyed reading it because I knew most of the characters.  However, even if I didn't it would be a book worth the investment. It is written well and it is factual.

As for myself, with an arm that is all pins and steel as a result of Knievel's maniacal attack on me back in 1978, to see what Leigh Montvale has written, has completely vindicated what I have said about Evel all along.

 

The irony of Knievel's attack on me is the fact that five weeks before he died, Knievel had a copy of my book at his bedside and supposedly told his lawyer, "I just read Saltman's book.  You know it was pretty good."  Knievel attacked me based on hearsay, having never looked between the covers of the book.

 

If you are a reader and want to enjoy a good, true story, I urge you to buy "Evel" and look between the covers.

 

What a week for American cyclists

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(This column was written May 24, 2011)

 

By Shelly Saltman

 

Today, the Amgen Tour of California, the almost 900 mile, eight stage road race that traversed the state from North to South, came to a successful conclusion. Levi Leipheimer, the three-time champion and the pre-race favorite, did not win. Instead, he finished second. When he realized that his Radio Shack teammate, Chris Horner, was stronger and in better position to win it all, he became what is known as the "Domestique".  In other words, for the good of the team, he became subservient to the eventual winner in the true spirit and form of teamwork, Levi was there to fend off any challenges from wherever they came... he guarded against on-rushing adversaries... he protected Horner and at the same time kept at a pace that saw him, Levi, finish second.

 

Imagine Americans finishing 1-2 in the race designated as the world's second most important cycling event only surpassed by the more than century old "Tour de France."...  And the ATOC is only in its sixth year and growing. In actuality, the third finisher was also an American, Tom Danielson, who rode for the German team Garmin- Cervelo.

 

It is hard to believe that 12 years ago, my son-in-law Danny and I had a vision. The vision of a road race came about as we worked with my granddaughter Sarah as she studied her fourth grade California atate history.  Today, Sarah is going into her senior year, ironically at the University of California.

 

As we read and Danny got more into it, we realized that the founding monks placed Missions, now historic, one day's horseback ride along the "Camino Real" ... Spanish for the "Royal Highway." It was a simple premise and, since I was working on other major promotions at the time, I told Danny to table the idea for a while.

 

Later that year, we watched Lance Armstrong win one of his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys. America had a hero!  Now was the time. We would go from Mission de San Diego right up route 101; weaving in and out through hills and dales, until eight days later we would reach the Mission at Carmel, California.

 

The premise was solid and with the aid of my pal, David Salzman, one of the finest TV minds I have ever known, we set out to put it together.  In no time it was real. We had the funding, we had an executive team in place, we hired Medalist Sports out of Atlanta to coordinate all the logistics, had the approval of United States Cycling, the governing body and had a exceptional deal with CBS TV that David had negotiated. We even found available time on the hectic world-racing calendar that did not interfere with any other sport on TV (i.e. playoffs etc;). Our publicity plan, international in scope, headed up by Internationally renowned Stuart Rowlands was unparalleled.

 

We were on our way to France to get approval from the international body when the funding group put criteria on us that were unpalatable to us as promoters.  Thus, we walked away from them.

 

A little down-crested, but not defeated, we heard that AEG had just spent millions of dollars in building a Velodrome at their Home Depot facility. We approached AEG who liked the idea.  In fact, they told us that another group from Westlake, headed by Jim Passantino and Tim Walsh, had thought of a race with no definite parameters except they had a ready sponsor in Amgen. A marriage was thus arranged between AEG, Jim's group and us. Everyone brought something different for the table.

 

Most importantly, more than just money, AEG brought an efficient and alert organization. David and I brought TV and promotional expertise. Tim and Jim contributed their knowledge and passion of cycling. Thus it was that within two years, the ATOC became recognized as America's most important road race with a live following of over 2 million people along the route, according to the California Highway Patrol.

 

The race team hired Medalist Sports, which pleased both David and myself.  However, for some reason, unknown to us, AEG opted to go with Versus Cable instead of CBS. It is still on Versus.

 

AEG Sports President Andrew Messick and his mignons did an outstanding job.  However, most of the individual praise for its success goes to a young lady named Kristen Bacochin.  Kristen is the heart and soul of the event.  She had her hand in every detail while balancing the needs of her newborn daughter Olivia.  This dedicated woman went throughout the event with either little, or no sleep. Now that this year's event is history, she is already planning for next year.

 

There are many things that need correcting.  Although the telecasts, produced by the same team that broadcasts the Tour de France, were superb, at each stage they fell short by quite a bit of time.  We were scheduled for two hour programs, but we sometimes were as short as 60 minutes with nothing prepared to fill the time. This must be addressed as we do our critiques.

 

Although we were on Euro-Sport and other international broadcast entities reaching over 200 million people, we did not do a good job of pre-race publicity.  Yes, the roads were crowded, but they were in the hamlets and their outskirts that the race traversed.  Here, there was adequate publicity and promotion. The rest of the country to a great extent was in the dark.

 

Overshadowing this year's event, as it did last year, were accusations of doping. In both instances, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton decided to take shots at Lance Armstrong to coincide with our race.

 

Now, I do not know whether he doped, or not.  I do know this: because of his immense popularity and personal efforts, his charitable fund, "Livestrong" had contributed countless millions to cancer research.

 

In fact, prior to Sunday's final stage, having lost my late wife to cancer, I stood alongside the Thousand Oaks race course and cried unashamedly, as 200 to 300 plus cancer survivors waving little pennants, some in wheelchairs, some in walkers, but all smiling preceded by 20 minutes, the bike riders. Many of them can be thankful for the work Lance has done and to some extent, owe where they are today to him and Amgen's "Breakaway for Cancer Campaign".

 

Based on what he has accomplished, the charges against him seem trivial.  On the other hand, if he has cheated, he deserves to be punished accordingly. I, for one feel that out of spite, jealousy, or the desire to promote a book, the accusers are petty and self-serving.

 

All in all, everything considered it was a great seven days, (the first stage had to be aborted because of inclement weather), not only for us who were involved, but even more so for America. A great sporting event was delivered to the public without a single incident to mar the joyousness it brought.

 

Violence in sports

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(This column was written May 10, 2011)

                                      Violence in Sports

By Shelly Saltman

This evening I was watching the Los Angeles Lakers play the Dallas Mavericks in round two of the 2011 playoffs.  Dallas easily manhandled the Lakers and swept the team in four straight games to advance to Round 3.

The frustrated Lakers were completely outplayed and looked like old men who had no legs left to stand on and run.  Until this point, for the most part, when I was associated with the team, I was proud of the organization.  The Lakers epitomized all that was good in sport ... sportsmanship, dedication and the desire to win.  All three were missing.  Dedication and desire to win appeared to be left in only the two players with the longest association with the team... Kobe Bryant and Derrick Fisher.

Sportsmanship went out the window when Andrew Bynum, the Laker's  youthful center, low bridged and nearly crippled the Mavericks Juan Barea... an uncalled for and unnecessary act of violence.  But we have to ask ourselves what precipitated this?

In  preparing this column, I called on many past incidents of athlete violence in sports, some I witnessed personally and others I have only read about.

However, before I show examples, let's look at how violence has crept into the fabric of our games.  To that, let's go back to back the year 1939.  In that year, a man named Carl Stotz and his wife, living in Williamsport, Pa., along with a few of their friends, actually started the "Little League".  The came up with this idea a way to bring about an organized league that would teach kids sportsman, fair play and teamwork.

Today, it is the world's largest organized youth sports program with nearly 200,000 participants yearly, in 80 countries.  However, it has deviated far from the original concept. The idea was to win if you can with proper coaching and fun.  In fact, when I was living in Ocean Township, N.J., I coached a couple of years. Fortunately, I had a former major league ballplayer to help teach the kids fundamentals.

He took care of the baseball while I took care of having fun.  If we got too far ahead, I made sure every kid played.  In fact, I would bring in my son Steven to pitch and, although  he loved it, he could not pitch and the other teams would be given a modicum of self esteem.  It was not win at all costs.  It was learn, do your best and play hard.

One of the parents was always yelling at his son in a merciless fashion.  The poor kid, only 12 years old was crying all the time.  I had a few words with the parent as had the umpires.  Next week at the local Town Hall Meeting, the township enacted a fine system to control rowdy parents.  This fine consisted of money, possible banishment from the field, or even jail time.

 It was a shame that we had to come to this. However, the win at all costs mentality of many parents demanded drastic action.

Psychologists tell us that we can almost always directly attach the reaction of the youngster to role model behavior.  This simply boils down to parents and star athletes.  Numerous polls  have been extremely indicative of the out-of-control parental interference.

There have been some drastic results.  On April 12, 2005, a 13-year-old boy was held for murder at a Pony League ball game.  Three months later, it came to light that a T-Ball coach paid a player to assault a teammate.

SportingKids magazine conducted a survey of over 3,300 parents, coaches, youth sports administrators and youth and here's what they found:

84% witnessed parents acting violently (shouting, berating, using abusive language)

80% believe inappropriate behavior is destroying what youth sports are meant to be.

There are many more :  In Hampton, Pa., a parent body-slammed a high school referee after he ordered the man's wife out of the gym for yelling obscenities during a basketball game... the referee had a concussion.  In Kentucky, during a fifth grade Little League game, a player's father who happened to also be a teacher physically confronted the umpire at half time and precipitated a riot.

Sports Illustrated for Kids had a similar survey with even more example. In New Jersey,  referee James Clay, a 50-year-old with seven years of officiating experience, was slugged in the head and neck after ejecting a Clayton High School soccer player.  He was arrested but released in the custody of his parents. ... In Illinois, a 39-year-old parent  ran on to the football  field and attempted to strangle Mike Byrne, a 27-year officiating veteran.  Illinois is treating this as felony.

In Oklahoma, a high school baseball coach attacked the umpire after the game in the locker room... In California, a 32-year-old father knocked the umpire unconscious over a disputed call at a Palm Springs 9 and 10 year old game...

But the most heinous is when arguments spill over and become fatal...

In Palmdale, Calif., a boy killed another boy while standing in a concession stand line with a baseball bat, all because he was being teased at just losing a game ... and finally in July1999 in New York State, a teenager was convicted  of killing a six-year-old.  His defense was he was imitating wrestlers on TV.

I have only demonstrated the tip of the iceberg.  There are 1,000 more instances of mayhem committed by imitating role models.

Andrew Bynum is the latest to fall off his pedestal.  His apology today was vacuous and appeared insincere. I feel Commissioner Stern must make an example of him. At the risk of being trite, he must be stern !

Time to ante up

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(This column was written April 20, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

I know it isn't a sport, but it certainly is a game that for centuries thousands of people through out the world have played. It's called poker.  It's a game where fortunes have been made or lost, where people have enjoyed ultimate highs and the depths of despair. On occasion, poker has even been the cause of wars.

In 1978, my pals and associates,  Matt Helreich and Sid Silver, when I was president of FOX Sports, helped me to convince Amarillo Slim to allow us to do a poker tournament TV show with him. At the time, Slim was recognized as the world's greatest poker player.

I was fortunate to sell a one-time-only program from Harrah's in Reno, Nev., to NB It was to be the first time that a poker tournament was ever on national TV.   It turned out to be a fantastic live competition and all the poker  playing  greats of the time competed. However, in being limited by 1978 technology, we could not translate the live excitement and tension of the event to the television screen. Today it is different.

You know, when my pal Clair Higgins invented the TV mobile unit, I thought it was one of the greatest innovations of all time.  Imagine today we get feeds from all over the world and it is a sophisticated art form.  Clair started it all. When he first did it, he used an old school bus to follow then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy up and down the United States as he stumped for votes. How sophisticated has it become?

Let me tell you about technical advances not in the class of social networking and the like, but nevertheless quantum steps anyway.

Two Christmas's ago, I was at Clair's house.  Clair was busy running around taking pictures with a palm-size Sony Camera.  He took me into his den where a framed picture of the old bus is on the wall.  With pride, respect and awe, he pointed to the camera in his hand and said "Shelly see that bus.  Everything we put in there then , is in the palm of my hand today"... WOW!

I was truly amazed when my associate Tony Verna first put an extra tape machine in the mobile unit to use during the Army-Navy game of Dec. 7, 1963.  The idea was to follow the Navy quarterback and eventual Heisman winner Roger Staubach. Tony zeroed in on Roger, but the hero of that game was Navy's other back.  In spite of it, Tony Verna with a simple extra video tape machine in the mobile unit, gave birth to instant replay. It was another move that revolutionized sportscasting forever.

All I  was lucky to sell to TV at that time was the single poker tournament with Amarillo Slim.  To be there, as I said, was exciting.  However, to watch the tournament on TV at that time, was as exciting as watching grass grow.  Which certainly is not exciting, unless you are a gardener. A decade later, an enterprising ESPN technician came up with the idea of putting one secretive camera under the poker table.  This was done by placing a window in the table at each position where there was a player in the game. The camera focused on what the player was holding in his hand. This was transmitted  from within the player's grasp to the control gooth. 

Video and audio techs would see everything, but selectively only feed various viewpoints to the announcer and the viewing audience.  Such feeds are blacked out from the view of the competitors.  Thus the audience could see simultaneously what each player's hand looked like and literally be part of the player's thought process as he/ she placed their various bets.

In other words, the viewer could now play along with the competitor. As a result, televised poker has become one of the most watched programs in the world.  With a multitude of different poker tournaments being telecast programs on various channels sometimes simultaneously. The telecasting has brought a new breed of fans anxious to learn about the game.  Part of the learning curve is the lexicon or the attendant vocabulary that is significant to poker.

So I decided to look into what various descriptive phrases used by the commentators meant. Here goes:

The phrase  "All in" means betting all your chips. "Trips" means three of a kind. "Down to the felt" means that a player is so broke that all he can see in front of him is the green felt of the poker table. When you hear "underdog" that means someone has a weak hand and is likely to lose. "Tapioca, or Tap City" signifies its bye-bye time for the player as he/she has no more cash for betting.

If ever you hear "rag" that means someone has an up facing card so low in value it cannot affect the outcome of the game. Should you want to force competitors out of playing a hand you "buy the pot" which is a bet so large that other players must fold.

We have all heard of Charlie Sheen and his "Tiger Blood".  Well in poker, the phrase "alligator blood" is a player who keeps his cool under pressure. When we hear "he's catching cards", someone's on a winning streak.  How about the term "wheel"? That's the best hand in lowball poker -- 6,4,3,2,A.  If you ever traveled on a train and played cards which a great many people still do, this gave birth to the term "railroad bible": simply, a deck of cards.

There sometimes are three very different players in one game..." the fish," he's only in the game so he can be beaten out of his money ... "George" is another name that gamblers call a fish... and a "rounder."  He's a guy who makes his living parting "fishes and georges" from their money.

It's poor form to "splash the pot" where you just toss your chips into the pot, without placing them there... in such a way, the players can't actually see how much is your bet. There are a slew of other names. Let's look at just a few:

"Rake":  the house's share; "cowboys": kings; "ladies": queens; "paint": a face card; a "rock": a conservative player who takes no chances; "base deal": dealing from the bottom of the deck; "in the hole": cars dealt facedown so only the recipient can see them; "bullets": a pair of aces; big slick: a king and an ace in the hole and finally a boat is a full house.

Now that I have shared all these phrases with you, please don't ask me to play in your Monday night game.  You see, I am a "fish."

Who do we blame?

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   (This column was written April 11, 2011)

 By Shelly Saltman

"Honey, what do you want to do this weekend?"

"Let's take the kids to a Dodger game!"

That was a typical decision on beautiful Los Angeles weekend day.  That, however, was a long time ago.  That was before I gave up my four reserved seats which I had for over a decade.  Quite a few years earlier, I had let my annual renewal application for my Raiders  50-yard line reserved seats go unfilled.

Let me tell you why:  my son-in law, Danny, had taken my daughter and  my two granddaughters to a Sunday afternoon game.  We had planned a barbecue at my house for 5 o'clock that evening.  I was surprised when Danny and the kids showed up slightly after two. After all, the game started at 12:30.  Danny very wisely decided,  based on the foul language and the obvious high level of intoxication, it was not a place where he and his family wished to be.  The kids, 11 and 8 at the time, as well as my daughter were visibly shaken.

Violent incidents at sports events  are not uncommon.  However, in most cases, an irresponsible media and an obviously uncaring management do not goad them on. There in lies the plight of Los Angeles and its once-beloved Dodgers.

However, it goes deeper than that.  It is to shake our heads and ponder what has become of our young people;  however, a better question to ask is what have we taught our young people.  The message we communicate to our young people is muddled and hypocritical.  We give lip service to values:  love they neighbor, be truthful, and be responsible. Dishonesty reaps rewards until you get caught.  When you get caught you go to prison, but when you come out you write a best seller and make millions.

I do not think the thugs who beat up an unsuspecting Brian Stow this past week , will suffer that fate.  They are out-and-out "no-goods.  Ironically, Brian Stoy, father of two, a paramedic, wearing a San Francisco Giants jacket and trying to enjoy his first-ever game at Dodger Stadium, had sent a text to his friend back home in San Francisco that he was afraid of the crowd around and how they were acting. The limited security and the ushers were doing nothing to help the situation . 

There have been over the years many nasty incidents and not just confined to Dodger Stadium.  But what will the Dodgers actually do about a stadium careening out of control.  In the Dodgers case, unlike the halcyon years, they appear to have an owner who in response to this horrific attack gave what I would call a Marie Antoinette response.  At the height of turmoil in France when Napoleon was told that the populace had no bread, she replied "let them eat cake." That statement only enraged an unhappy populace.

Apparently unfeeling, Dodger owner Frank McCourt has responded with words. Yes. He has brought in the cop from Boston who once headed up the police force to review and beef up security.  Hopefully, he is not locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.  We all respect to the First Amendment and the media's right to express its voice,  good broadcasters urge fans to support their teams.  Unfortunately, there a lot of these so-called "shock jocks" who actually advocate violence and retribution against visiting fans. 

One way to stop this rabble rousing is for the various station ownership to become responsible and not only read, but respect the charter that gives them the right to be on air in the first place.  It very plainly has a paragraph that distinctively calls for broadcasting for the best interest of the listener. In Los Angeles, this goes lacking. I urge the FCC to take heed and appropriate action. Then, of course, look at the overall media featuring and exalting reality shows that prey on the prurient interests of the listener. But then again ratings mean money and money means success ... BUT AT WHAT PRICE?  Here , an innocent young man from San Francisco lies in an L.A. hospital fighting for his life.

When the O'Malleys built Dodger Stadium they were there as a family supervising every detail.  Nothing was too small to check. They took pride in what they were building.  They knew the fans and the fans knew them.  They were neighbors and in constant high profile.

Fifty miles down the road, Artie Moreno, the owner of the Angels, shows how he cares for the fans.  He mingles with the people, asks for suggestions and tries to follow through.  He wants a fan-friendly atmosphere.

When I worked for Jack Kent Cooke, I learned a lot about him and his care for the community.  In this case, it was Inglewood, Calif.  Jack supervised everything from the menu to be served to the cleanliness and neatness of the Arena.  On the day of every game, he would personally check the cleanliness of the rest rooms, the dimness of the Arena and each  day before game time, he had me walk the perimeter of the parking lot to see if there were  any apparent potential problems. After all, as Chick Hearn was quick to point out, "The Forum ... the house that Jack Built."

Each week, I would meet with then Inglewood Police Chief Jay Stroh and check out all safety measures. If the Chief saw something wrong, it would be rectified before game time. If not, I would have my head served on a platter.  Mr. Cooke, who drove himself relentlessly, put the fan above everything else.

Now, there have been incidents elsewhere in the sports world. The Philadelphia Phillies have had their share of problems as have the Chargers, Padres, Steelers and Pirates, but in all instances, their ownership answered forcefully and with authority. Words were not enough in all cases, unruliness was met with the force of law.  However, in all cases, the fans respected the owners.  This is not the case in L.A.

After a Dodgers-Giants baseball game last season, a dispute over team loyalties  left one man dead in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. Experts say the assaults show the danger associated with being a sports fan in America. Behavioral expert Tom Carey says when a sports rivalry occurs, fans can easily convince themselves that the opposing team is the enemy. Carey says it is this type of environment that leads to unprovoked assaults.

The Dodgers have a dichotomy.  On one hand the have the most respected voice in sports in Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully and, unfortunately, a voice that is neither believed or trusted in the person of owner Frank McCourt.  Vin, the most persuasive spokesman any sports entity could have, no matter how good he is, cannot overcome the dalliances of Mr. McCourt.

After all, "All the King's Men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again."

Voices that live on forever

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[This column was written April 4, 2011]

By Shelly Saltman

In both days of joy and sadness, the voices we hear on the radio have always been a source of comfort, joy, exhilaration and happiness, as well as sorrow. They have lifted us to great heights and they have seen us through our moments of despair.  They have been there to tell us about victories and defeats.  Fortunately, in my lifetime, I have not only been able to listen to them as a young man, but on many an occasion, work with them side-by-side.  No matter what the sport -- baseball, boxing, basketball, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey or the Olympics -- the great ones could and did call them all.

I have worked with Don Dunphy, Ernie Harwell, Marty Glickman, Vin Scully, Dick Enberg, Alan Michaels, Curt Gowdy, Bob Prince, Harry Carey and Chick Hearn to mention a few.  Each has been, or still is a master of his craft.  They are among those  who coin the memorable phrase that will stay with a child long after he has become an adult or moved elsewhere.  Each local team has had such a voice and their "isms" that are everlasting.

Such a man was my friend,  neighbor and associate, Francis "Chick" Hearn. In  fact, when I was at the Forum working with the Lakers and the Kings, Francis was kind enough to give my son, Steven, a junior then a senior at Agoura High School, a job as his official runner.  As for running, Chick Hearn calling of the Lakers' games was just starting and would go through 3,338 consecutive contests.  In that period, he forever changed the way basketball games would be called.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before the 1960-61 season, the Lakers moved from Minneapolis into the then brand new Sports Arena in Los Angeles. The Arena has a seating capacity of 16,000 and, until two years ago, it was home of  USC basketball. It was also there that, as co-commissioner of boxing for the 1984 Olympics, I was based. It was a warm and cozy arena.  Not like so many of today's mega-types, but it was a place where one could feel an intimate experience with the players.

The Lakers with such great players as future Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, playing against all the great teams of the day were drawing only 1,000 to 1,500 fans. One day, the audience was so sparse the public address announcer, suggested that all the fans introduce themselves to each other so they wouldn't be strangers.  It didn't look as if the team was going to make it in L.A.

Bob Short, the then owner, was a renowned penny-pincher and would spend as little money as he could to promote.  The Lakers were not on either radio or TV. Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe, the team doctor at the time, kept nagging Bob to reach in his pocket and at least buy radio time for one broadcast.  Ernie, a former pro ballplayer himself, understood how radio could build an audience having played for the Knicks in New York and listened to the mellifluous tones of Marty Glickman who did as much for building interest in pro basketball as anyone in history.

Tired of Ernie's pestering him, (Ernie, by the way, is the father of Kiki, long time Westlake resident and pro all-star), Short  flat out told Ernie, if you care so much, reach in your pocket and pay for the time yourself. Ernie did this!

Ernie, not having much knowledge of who could do the play-by-play, found a young announcer who had recently come from WMBD in Peoria, Ill., to do the USC football and basketball.  You guessed it, Francis Hearn.

Ernie reached in his pocket and paid for the radio time and paid Francis.  Francis needed someone to talk to. Thus Ernie became his first color man.  In later years, he would have a young Al Michaels and even a newly retired Pat Riley before he became a Hall of Fame coach.

As part of the deal, Ernie got the station to commit to so many promotional spots leading up to the first broadcast.  Game day came and needless to say, Chick was an immediate hit.  As a result, the station picked up three more games that season, increased the number the following year and the crowds grew proportionately.

When Jack Kent Cooke came on the scene and bought the Lakers, he stole Francis away from USC and in November 1965 a legend began. In that time and for 37 years, he did not miss a broadcast. The feats of Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig and Johnny Kerr are truly what legends are made of, but Francis "Chick" Hearn stands shoulder-to-shoulder alongside them.

He got the sobriquet of "Chick" when as a young basketball player at Bradley University. His teammates played a prank  and  presented him with a shoebox.  They hung around to see his reaction.  When he opened it, he did not find Sneakers, but instead a dead chicken.  From then on he was affectionately called "Chick".

When Jack Kent Cooke heard this story, he immediately dubbed his announcer "Chick" and thus it was so.

You know, Alan Michaels had his moment in history when he called the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team victory "The Miracle on Ice." Marty Glickman made a New York orange drink famous when after each Knick basket, he would say, "Good like Nedicks."  Harry Carey in Chicago would lead every one during the middle of the seventh inning in a rendition of "Take Me out to the Ballgame." Ernie Harwell, revered Detroit Tiger announcer,  would say things like "That ball is long gone " after a home run, or he was "caught window shopping" after a called third strike.  Bob Prince, legendary Pirates announcer waved the "Green Weenie," an oversized Heinz pickle, to hex opponents. 

None, however, captured the imagination, the way Chick did.  There were so many "Chickisms"  it is tough to single out any one.

He created his own jargon ... "a 20 foot lay-up" was jump shot by Jamaal Wilkes; "air ball" an errant shot that failed to touch either the rim, or the backboard; "boo-birds", fans who jeer their own team when they play badly; "caught with his hand in the cookie jar", a reaching foul; "the charity stripe", the free throw line; "It'll count if it goes", a player that is fouled in the act of shooting; "didn't draw iron", a shot which misses the rim, but hits the backboard; sometimes he would add, "but it drew a lot of flies"; "dribble-drive" a player who drives to the basket while shooting; "finger roll", a shot where the ball rolls off the shooters fingers; "a frozen rope," a shot with no trajectory; "he's in the popcorn machine," meaning a defensive player got faked into the air; and, of course: "The mustard's on the hot dog," when a player makes and unnecessary showy play which ends in a turnover. A small smattering of his phrases of which there are many more ... often imitated.

It was only fitting that this week they unveiled a statue to Chick in front of the Laker's current home, Staples Center. So when a young fan, asks his father, "Daddy who was that man?"  His father can truly say, "The greatest basketball announcer that ever called a game."

A tragedy that might have been avoided

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(This column was written April 4, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

It is always sad when an athlete in the prime of his, or her, life is struck down for no apparent reason.  Until that time, we normally ask no questions and then we are up in arms.

This is the story about a husband and wife who for years have been calling attention to the need for, as well as asking for, better examinations for high school-age athletes.  It is a story that although necessary, for the most part, has fallen on deaf ears. 

Oh yes! Everyone is sympathetic and thinks it's a great idea, but no one is moved to action. The death of 16-year-old Wes Leonard in Hilldale, Mich., recently has unfortunately called attention to a husband and wife from Ventura County. Tim Lins is a coach at Moorpark High School and Mary is a cardiac rehab nurse at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center. Coach Lin has seen such a sad event in his own program.

They, for years, have been talking to anyone who would listen.  Most often it fell on deaf ears ... basically because of the expense involved in their plan. They wish to test every athlete prior to the season for any heart abnormalities.  For the most part no one listened. Finally, someone has listened.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

They have enlisted the expertise of Dr. Vishva Dev, the medical director of Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.  Dr. Dev, a recognized cardiology specialist possessing a comprehensive and compassionate understanding of situations involving the heart, has volunteered and is ready to help in every way, including the use of testing facilities during down time. He has suggested they could use this expensive equipment at minimal cost thus keeping the equipment in use.

However, the idea, though a good and necessary one, has hit a snag. Doctors might be willing to donate their time and services, but in this litigious country of ours they have to worry about personal liability.  This is an extremely difficult thing to get around.  Securing such insurance for the doctors would be extremely costly. Hell, we cannot raise enough money for pencils and papers and teacher's salaries in today's economy! How can we even think of doing this?

I turned to an old friend who also happens to be my personal doctor and, as an internal medicine specialist, is constantly called upon by NIH (the National Institute of Health) to solve some of their most difficult problems. He felt he had the answer.  One, I think might actually be doable.

Jeff is not just a doctor, but like most of us he is an avid sports  fan. In his case, it's anything Chicago except the White Sox. In baseball, he is a Cubs fan ... sorry Eddie Einhorn and President Obama.  But that's another column for another time.  Especially, since I am a Red Sox/Celtics fan.

However, to do what the Lins want to do and what medical men feel is necessary cannot be accomplished without funding.  In today's economy there has to be a way to achieve their goal. Jeff's idea is to put together a game plan and seek funding for research whereby Coach Lins' high school can become the pilot program. The program primarily would consist of testing young athletes prior to the season with the proper equipment.

There is no guarantee that this is a solve-all, but if one Wes Leonard, or Hank Gathers, or for that matter Florence Joyner, can still be with us and leading a fruitful life, then this testing would have proven successful. It's a worldwide problem.

As a matter of fact, around the same time that Leonard became a fatality, Mathew Hammerdorer, a 17-year-old rugby player in a Colorado high school died of cardiac arrest.  He had an undiscovered congenital heart defect. On March 10, a Little, N.C., football player dropped dead while playing in pickup basketball game in the high school gym.  Reggie Garret, a Houston high school quarterback, died last season.

There is a whole litany of such incidents.  There are, of course, typical symptoms, signs that parents can see such as chest pains, dizziness, or passing out.  These are typically passed over or ignored with the admonition don't overdo your exercise.

I speak from experience.  I am older, but I thought I had  indigestion.  Thanks to Dr. Dev and his awareness, I am here today to write bout it.

We shouldn't just praise the Lins for their efforts, we need to figure out a way to help.  All ideas and proposals are welcome. In the meantime, we should all learn CPR and insist our teenage athletes be properly checked up before embarking on any sport.

Portrait of a sports icon

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(This column was written Jan. 19, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

You know, life is strange.  One minute you are happy and healthy, the next minute out of nowhere your life is changed. I realized this many times over the nearly eight decades that I have been here, but never so dramatically as when I received an e-mail this week telling me that my friend Hal Uplinger has bone cancer.

Icons are not just the guys who kick that last minute field goal, or run a kickoff back for a 90 yd TD. Icons are made of many elements, most of which the public never knows about, never hears about and takes for granted.

I first met Hal when I was working at a CBS-TV affiliate in Cleveland, WJW-TV.  He was king of the hill!  He was the senior producer of CBS network football. You, of course, realize that in the late 1950s and 1960s, CBS was the only football on black and white television... there was no cable, UHF was in its infancy and aside from the three networks there was PBS.

Hal was the king ... the "go to" guy.  The names that today are legendary in the football galaxy would seek out his advice.  The Maras of New York, the Rooneys of Pittsburgh and even the Cowboys' Tex Schram were his disciples. His word was law.

Sitting in that truck on a Sunday afternoon, he called the shots and helped build televised football in to an American viewing habit, (mostly male). Under the most trying of circumstances, he was unflappable. He was there when Tony Verna's "instant replay" became a reality. He witnessed the famed 1967 "Ice Bowl" game in Green Bay between the Packers and the Cowboys.

A native of Los Angeles, he was one of the nation's most sought after collegiate recruits out of John Marshall High School, then Los Angeles City College. He went on to play for Long Island University under the legendary Clair Bee.

Hal proved to be outstanding and then played with the 1953-1954 Baltimore Bullets of the NBA.  In an era of New York basketball scandals, his collegiate career was above reproach helping to restore dignity to NCAA basketball.

Lincolnesque in stature, he rose to many an occasion, putting his effort to many worldwide humanitarian causes. We reunited again in the 1970s when I was president of FOX Sports.  Hal came to work with me and through his worldwide contacts we were able to bring many first-time events to television.  He walked with legendary leaders and earned their respect.  Names like Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandella call him friend.

The 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles is the only Olympiad to ever be monetarily profitable. The major tribute for this goes to the Chief Executive Officer Peter Ueberroth. However, what Peter did was surround himself with key executives in all areas.  Hal Uplinger was tapped to be U.S. Olympics liaison with the world.  As such, he built an unbelievable Rolodex that still stands all Olympiads in good stead.  Unfortunately, there has been only one Hal Uplinger. 

His reputation between the IBC and the television nations of the world allowed him to, as executive producer of Live Aid in 1985 (to this date the most magnificent television broadcast ever) to reach an audience of 155 countries, or approximately 2 billion people. This telethon translated into more than $227,000,000 in donations to humanitarian causes. 

Hal was the executive producer of the American part of the telecast. Hal was stationed at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia (99,000 attended live) while 72,000 attended live in Wembley Stadium, U.K.

He has since been spending his time in worldwide humanitarian causes and has received many accolades, among them, a "1989 Computerized Smithsonian Award in the Media, Arts and Entertainment Category" for the production of "Live Aid'.

He is not done by a long shot.  Here are still many worlds to conquer and many more causes to fight... among them illness.

Icons, sometimes are never seen, but affect us in a big way.  Thanks Hall... Keep it up.

The NFL -- A proud history of great names

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(This column was written Jan. 14, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

I have always enjoyed learning about the legacy of teams and their origins as they developed over the years.  For example, one thing that always intrigued me was the fact that the University of California (Berkeley), the first of the great California system, was nicknamed the Bears.  So it was obvious when UCLA was founded they should be the Baby Bears. Thus UCLA chose the Bruins. The comparison goes even further.  Since California's uniform colors were dark blue, their young offspring UCLA chose baby blue.

However, that's neither here, nor there.  What is here is the fact that although major league baseball for years has called itself "America's National Pastime," the true wearer of that moniker is the NFL.  The NFL has perhaps the most rabid fan base in the history of the United States.  How the teams were named, I think, is of great interest.

When the Bears, then the Decatur Staleys, moved to Chicago, they played their first seasons at Wrigley Field, home of baseball's Cubs. Owner  George Halas in tribute to his landlord called his team the Bears ... as simple as that! Paul Brown, Cleveland's great coach when he founded the 1968 Cincinnati AFL expansion team, he named it the Bengals after so many Cincinnati teams that had gone before.  When the leagues merged in 1970, he kept the name.

The Buccaneers got their name from a radio contest in 1974, just a month after Tampa was awarded an expansion franchise.  Buccaneers was the winner beating out many names including Mafia, Buzzards and Sea Horses.  Imagine instead of a pirate, the logo might have been a guy in a cement block.

The Cleveland Browns were part of the All-American Football Conference in 1946 and became part of the NFL in 1950.  Paul Brown was their first coach and General Manager.  Although the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996, the fan based remained and in 1999 when the NFL awarded the city a new franchise, the name Browns was re-activated.

Dallas Cowboys...seems like natural fit?  However, they were originally the Rangers, but did not want to be confused with a local minor League baseball team who were the Rangers at that time. The Philadelphia Eagles joined the NFL during the height of the Depression 1933. Bert Bbell, the owner, named the team Eagles in honor of the New Deal's Recovery Act's symbol - the Eagle.

Some teams received their names by contests, others by the owners.  For example, owner Tony Morabito chose 49ers for his San Francisco franchise because of the area's gold rush history. Tim Mara named his New York team the Giants.  They played their games at the Polo Grounds, home of the baseball Giants.  A destination that was already well known.

The naming contests produced thousand of entries and many of the winners. Jacksonville held a contest two years before the franchise was awarded in 1991 with Jaguars getting the majority. Atlanta chose the Falcons in a contest by a teacher named Julia Elliot who argued that the Falcon is a proud and dignified bird symbolized by great courage.

The Miami contest, which eventually selected the Dolphins, posed an interesting situation.  The name was a runaway choice, but because so many people picked it there had to be a tiebreaker. The winner had to pick the winner and the score of Notre Dame versus U of Miami.  The game ended in a scoreless tie, but the winner who received two lifetime passes to Dolphins games was Mrs. Robert Swanson of Miami.

In 1960, Oakland held a contest to pick a name for its AFL team.  The fans chose Senors, but management opted for Raiders.  Even then, Al Davis swam against the tide. The most successful contest was in Seattle in 1975. There were 20,365 entries. Seahawks, a name describing the city's link to the sea was one of 1,741 different names. Seahawks was named on the most ballots, 151.

Boy, did New Orleans pick the right name, or what?  They were awarded the franchise on All Saints Day in 1966.  Also, when you think of New Orleans, immediately jazz comes to your mind and of course the great song made famous by Louie Armstrong, "When the Saints Go Marching In."  A perfect marriage!

Houston Texans joined the NFL as an expansion team in 2002.  The name tells the story.   They replaced the Houston Oilers who moved to Nashville in 1996 after 36 years and are now the Titans. After two seasons as the Tennessee Oilers (the name made no sense), owner Bud Adams changed the name to the Titans.  A sensible name selected from Greek Mythology since Nashville is often referred to as the "Athens of the South."

In 1936, Cleveland's new AFL franchise took their name from one of the top collegiate teams of the era... The Fordham Rams.  The name has stuck through moves to Los Angeles and St. Louis. 

The Green Bay Packers came by their name legitimately. Curley Lambeau, one of the team's founders and long-time coach, worked for Indian Packing at the time.  The packing company provided the original jerseys, equipment and uses of its athletic field for practice, as a result the Packer name fit perfectly.  Two interesting sidebars are 1) the field they play on today is Lambeau Field and 2) the team is owned by the citizens of Green Bay.

It was Minnesota General Manager Bert Rose who recommended the name Vikings in 1960.  The board of directors liked it immediately since the name represents the Nordic tradition of the region, as well as an aggressive person. The Patriots and the Steelers both have names that also feet their regional heritage.  New England sportswriters originally picked Boston Patriots capitalizing on the area's involvement in the founding of our nation sparked by Paul Revere's ride.

The Steelers were founded in 1933 and originally the Pirates like their baseball neighbors.  However, in 1940, the wife of the ticket manager pointed out to owner Art Rooney what the steel industry meant to Pittsburgh.  Rooney not only changed the name, but also placed U.S. Steel's logo on the helmet where it has been ever since.

The Jets were originally the Titans in the AFL.  In 1963, a five-man syndicate headed up by my MCA boss, Sonny Werblin, changed the name to the Jets.  It was Sonny's ability to land an NBC contract and his drafting of Joe Willie Nameth that more than anything brought about the AFL merger into the NFL. Partially called the Jets because their playing field was close by LaGuardia Airport.

In 1946, the Miami Seahawks of the All-American Football Conference moved to Baltimore.  A contest was held and Charles Evans of Middle River, Md. suggested Colts.  His reasoning simple, the Colts were the youngest entry in the league in an area famous for its racehorses.

For years, I sat on the board of the John Mackey Foundation. John, as the first president of the Players Association, was responsible for bringing about free agency.  A Hall of Famer, he defined the role of tight end.  Today, unfortunately, he is not well. When the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984, they kept the name ... a misfit.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the Dallas Texans in the AFL.  The name was picked to honor Kansas City Mayor Roe "The Chief" Bartle who was instrumental in bringing the team to Kansas City.

Speaking of Missouri, the St Louis Cardinals who since have moved to Phoenix, actually started as a football club on the southwest side of Chicago.  They were known as the Normals until 1901.  At that time the owner received some faded hand-me-down maroon jerseys from the University of Chicago. The color looked more like Cardinal red. The team became the Racine Cardinals, keeping the name as they moved: Chicago 1922, St. Louis 1960, and finally, Phoenix, 1988.

The Detroit Lions were originally the NFL's Portsmouth's Spartans. In 1934, the new owner George Richards renamed the Lions since the area already had a successful feline team... baseball's Tigers.  Denver Broncos got their name in a contest that capitalized on Denver's Wild West heritage.

I saved the Redskins, Ravens and the Chargers for last. The Redskins because I was always told by my mother, an immigrant lady, that my dad and my uncle Louie played for the Boston Indians.  Thanks to a reader I learned there was never a team named Indians in Boston only Braves and Redskins... the same team.  To my mom, they were Indians.  They played in Boston for four years and moved in 1937 to Washington, keeping the name.

After a 12-year void, football returned to Baltimore from Cleveland.  The name Browns remained in Cleveland, but focus groups selected the name ravens honoring one of Baltimore's most famous sons, Edgar Alan Poe and his poem "The Raven." The San Diego Chargers were so-named by a Hollywood resident because the man who owned them in 1960, Baron Hilton, also owned the then new "Carte Blanche" charge card.  Silly reasoning, but it stuck first in the AFL and now the NFL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I need a name ... the NBA

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(This column was written Jan. 13, 2011)

By Shelly Saltman

I have been a basketball fan from the first moment my dad took me to the Boston Garden.  You can imagine what a thrill I had when I was at Cambridge Latin School and we played in the Eastern Massachusetts Tech Tourney.

 Over the years, I have reminisced many times with my pal Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe as to what it was like in those early days .I remember well the Syracuse Nationals. The Rochester Royals, the Saint Louis Hawks and the Fort Wayne Piston-Zollners... and the only sneakers we wore were the Chuck Taylor Converse high tops.

Who were those teams?  But I am getting ahead of myself.

As most of us know, basketball, America's only original sport, was born in a school gym in Springfield, Mass. With inclement weather, not unlike today, the children, forced to stay indoors, were bored.  In order to make school more palatable, Dr. James Naismith, the teacher, hung two peach baskets on either side of a room and invited the children to shoot a ball into it.

From this humble beginning, by the 1920s, there were hundreds of professional basketball teams in cities and towns. It was like a revolving door.  Leagues came and went and players switched loyalties like the wind (sound familiar?).  Among the early teams were the New York Renaissance Five, the Harlem Globetrotters and the Original Celtics.

In 1946 the Basketball Association of America was formed.  The first game was played in Toronto between the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers.  In 1949 the BBAA became the National Basketball Association (NBA). Today, the NBA has a total of 30 teams and is the top professional league in the world. However, there is talk from the commissioner's office, due to our economic times, about eliminating some of the teams.

But even now, I often wonder if today's fans really know whom they are rooting for.  For example, how many lakes are there in Southern California?  Surely, not as many as the 10,000 that spawned the name for the Minnesota team that moved its franchise to Los Angeles.  Or the team I was originally part of, the New Orleans Jazz. Our name made sense, because the team was in the city where some say jazz was born.  Yet, moved to Salt Lake City it would seem reasonable that they would have had a name like the Crossroads, the Utes, or the Saints (in deference to the NFL team)... which are nicknames for Salt lake City.

When we first had the Phoenix Suns, since it was located in the "Valley of the Sun" we ran a contest in which thousands entered. The most prevalent choice was "Suns."

Look at Denver; famous for its gold mining history, "Nuggets" was a perfect choice. Let's look at some of the others and where they have come from.

The Los Angeles Clippers were the Buffalo Braves (Buffalo being located where there are many recognized Indian Tribes) from 1970 to 1978.  In 1978, they became the San Diego Clippers ...  San Diego historically being noted in the early days as the home of the "long boats", or Clipper ships.  In 1984 they became the Los Angeles Clippers.  Does it make sense?

Since 1946 the Boston team has been the "Celtics."  Good choice since Boston enjoys an extremely large Irish population. The Chicago Bulls were so named because Chicago's Stockyards are the terminus for much of America's beef industry.

Another name that has a history and colorful past is that of the Atlanta Hawks. As one of the original 17 NBA franchises, they started out as the Buffalo Bisons.  The name was perfect fit because of the city's name.  However, after only 13 games into the inaugural season, owner Ben Kerner, an Illinois native, moved the team to Moline in the Tri-cities area.  Moline located on the banks of the Mississippi made up this area with Rock Island, Ill and Davenport, Iowa.  The team was thus named the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, (note: the famous Blackhawk Wars were fought in this region.)

It was here that in 1949 the league first met Red Auerbach as a playoff coach.  In 1951, they moved to Milwaukee, becoming the Milwaukee Hawks....then in 1955 until 1968, they were located in St. Louis.  The St. Louis Hawks along with the Boston Celtics much like the Lakers and the Celtics of today were perennial playoff contenders and champions.  Today, in Atlanta I do not know if a Hawk of the flying variety has been spotted.

Heat is a great name for the Miami team, just as Magic fits well in Orlando, because of Disney's Magic Kingdom. Bobcats fits well in Charlotte, but I do not think their predecessor's name Hornets has been that good a fit in New Orleans for the past eight years.  Nor do I think Grizzlies is the right name for Memphis since 2001.  It worked well in Vancouver since there are many such bears residing there, but not in Tennessee.

The Indiana Pacers name is a perfect fit.  Located where the Indy 500 is run and the pace car plays an important role, the name came with the team in 1976 when the ABA was folded into the NBA. Also coming from the ABA in 1976 was the New Jersey Nets.  They had previously been the New Jersey Americans and the New York Nets in the ABA.  For one year, 1976 they were the New York Nets until they became the New Jersey Nets.  A perfect moniker for a basketball team, but also a homogenous name that in the New York Metropolitan Area easily fits with the Mets of baseball and the Jets of football. Just as the name Raptors fits the Toronto team.  A bird of prey, the Raptor is indigenous to that area of Canada and since 1995 has preyed on NBA opponents. The San Diego Rockets name ironically fit better in 1971 when they were moved to Houston, the home of NASA and rocketry. 

 

 Dallas made a good choice of their name in 1980 when they selected Mavericks.  After all, among the dictionary definitions of maverick is "a free spirit, or an informal cowboy."  Located in cow country it was an obvious choice.

There was an earlier Dallas team called the Spurs... also a good name.  This team in the old ABA was the Chaparrals, but when they moved to San Antonio in 1973, they became the Spurs and kept the name from 1976 when they joined the NBA. The Trailblazers of Lewis and Clark fame since 1970 should never leave Portland.  However, how does the Harford Trailblazers sound?  HUH! Or for that matter, can you picture the Providence Timberwolves if ever the Minnesota franchise is moved?

The Golden State Warriors had been the Philadelphia Warriors since 1946, which moved in 1962 to the Bay Area becoming the San Francisco Warriors. The Syracuse Nationals in 1963 became the 76ers, a perfect name fit for when Philadelphia replaced them.

I wonder if the Washington Wizards fans really know whom they are rooting for.  If they cheered for the Chicago Packers in 1961, the Chicago Zephyrs in 1962, the Baltimore Bullets for a decade beginning in 1963, the Capital Bullets in 1973, the Washington Bullets in 1974 and since 1997, Washington Wizards, then they really know their team.

The New York Knickerbockers since 1946 are simply called the Knicks. Oklahoma Thunder, a good name since 2008, chosen for the weather pattern of the area.  Thank goodness they didn't keep "Supersonics" when they moved from Seattle.  Although sometimes Thunder does sound like a sonic boom. Milwaukee Bucks is a good name, because of the large moose/ elk/ deer population of the area.

Ah, the Sacramento Kings, housed in California since 1985 truly have a regal history. From 1948 and for nine years, as the Rochester Royals, they were one of the NBA's premier franchises. For twelve years after that, as the Cincinnati Royals with great players like Oscar Robertson they carried on the tradition.  For three years 1972- 1975, they played an equal amount of games in Kansas City and Omaha. They yearn for the good old days of Rochester, N Y.

Probably my favorite story about a name change and one that truly fits is the Detroit Pistons.  From 1948-1957, they were the Fort Wayne Zollner-Pistons.  Fred Zollner, a local piston manufacturer wanted notoriety and publicity for his product.  Thus he invested in his own team never realizing that when moved to the Motor City of Detroit, all the team had to do was drop the Zollner and Pistons looked as if it was specifically named to be part of the city's landscape.

In my next column I hope to have enlightening fun with the NFL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golf is Big Business

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(This column was written Nov. 29, 2010)

By Shelly Saltman

I am not a golfer!  Tried it once and in frustration thanked my host and returned the loaned set of left-handed clubs. However, I love watching the best in the game and have been intimately involved.

Among the events I created, produced, or ran over the past 50 years was one of the most important stops at the time on the pro-tour ... The Andy Williams San Diego Open.  It was so-called from 1968 until 1989 it then became the Buick Invitational until last year when it became the Farmer's Insurance Open.

In 1968, personalities who loaned their names in order to raise money for good causes were among the reasons that a struggling PGA in the '60s and '70s was kept alive. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Andy, Glen Campbell and Joe Garagiola to mention a few.  They not only lent their name, but they exerted great effort to bring in the top golfers to insure success.

Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Doug Sanders were among those who played all the events.  The celebrities also played in each other's tournaments to help lure large galleries. The marriage between spots and entertainment celebrities is one made in golfing heaven.

I wonder who we'll see as we wander the Lake Sherwood course?

So, although I do not play golf, I can appreciate what goes into running a major event.  One such event is the Chevron World Challenge, which takes place at Lake Sherwood Country Club, and is formerly known as the Tiger Woods Invitational.

In fact, Tiger has won this event four times and although he has had a bad year, (for him); Las Vegas oddsmakers have made him the favorite. Why not? He has won it four times. 

The past two years he has been absent from the Tournament because of injuries ... first, a knee operation and then, an automobile accident.  Pundits for lack of something else to say, called it "The Tiger-less Woods" Tournament". Fortunately, his absence took nothing away from Jim Furyk's wonderful round of winning golf last year

What triggered my writing of this article is an ad I saw in the media asking for volunteers to help run the tournament. I can attest it is a massive undertaking and cannot survive without large manpower. In 1968 for the San Diego Tournament, Dennis Waitley and I needed thousands of volunteers.  It was a logistic nightmare.

The AWSDO was an Official PGA Tour stop unlike the Chevron, which is unofficial.  Unofficial or not there are many similarities in the required tasks.  Wardens, messengers, press aides, scorekeepers, host drivers, clubhouse support and many more bodies are necessary.

In 1968, our total prize money was $356,000 and was at the time the largest purse on the tour.  The Chevron event, an invitational featuring 18 of the top golfers in the world, has a total prize package of more than $5 million and is not the largest purse of the year.  In fact, the golfer who finishes last will still get $170,000.

The AWSDO was for the benefit of the Salk Institute and Dr. Jonas Salk.  How proud I was that first year when I presented Dr. Salk with a check for $350,000. This year, the Tiger Woods Educational Foundation will receive a check that will dwarf what Dr. Salk received by many thousands.

Many of us will go out to the Tournament and have a wonderful time.  We shall get what we expect.  We will eat tons of hot dogs, enjoy the hamburgers and the vista of one of the world's most beautiful country clubs.

In order to help us enjoy this exceptional week will be the minions of the PGA and everyone else under the aegis Lake Sherwood's general manager.  We will take for granted the smooth operation without realizing the planning and the man-hours that not only were expended during the tournament, but also the many weeks leading up to it.

The work, although a professional event, brings into play a massive number of amateur helpers (volunteers) who take pride in a job well done.  The combined police forces of the California Highway Patrol, the Ventura County Sherriff's Office and the Westlake and Thousand Oaks Police departments unite for the second time in seven months to insure a safe, smooth operation and a great event.

In May, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village were the focus of the cycling world with the Amgen Tour of California.  This month, the entire world is looking at the Chevron Invitational making our area one of the top sports locales in the world.

The backbone, without a doubt, of a successful event are the Ventura County citizens from all walks of life who contribute their times and effort.

See you at Sherwood!

 

 

 

 

Something to be thankful for: the USSA

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(This column was written Nov. 20, 2010)

In 1974, when I was president of FOX Sports, I was also involved with Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe on the president's Council of Physical Fitness.  The great Coach George Allen was our chairman and he had a dream, which we shared, of building a sports academy in California.  George never realized that dream.  However, my friend and mentor Bob Block, a founder and the first United States Sports Academy chairman, introduced me to a true sports visionary, Dr. Tom Rosandich, who did get the academy built.

Located outside of Mobile, Ala., it is a bastion of all that is good in sports.  It is an academic Mecca!  It does not train athletes to become better at their chosen sport. Instead, the USSA trains sports leaders. Sitting on its board is a legendary group of men who have been athletic directors, coaches and academics from America's top universities.

I felt it was important for me to write this story at this time. All around us we are seeing the bastardization of what it means to get an education.  Unscrupulous agents pay monies under the table to induce young men to play athletically for various schools while coaches and AD' s pretend to be oblivious to what is going on around them.

True, I am of the opinion that to get a scholarship and enjoy an education is an award well earned. It should be enough!  However, I also believe that many young men from impoverished families should receive a legitimate stipend over and above their sometimes all too meager scholarships.  This fee would be for services rendered in helping the school fill their stadiums and fielding a winning team.  A team, which in turn directly relates to alumni gifts and monetary awards based on pride.

However, like so many other sports fans, I am appalled at what is going on!

Then there is the USSA standing tall amidst all the chaos.  Under Dr. Rosandich's leadership and guidance they have stayed true to their mission statement for almost 40 years.

When the five men first founded the academy in 1972 in Milwaukee, Wis., (they originally were the Board of Directors, today, they comprise the Board of Trustees), they set out to achieve the following goals.  They wished to become an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university that would serve the nation and the world with programs in instruction, research, and service.  They have achieved all of their goals and more.  Today, it is the world's foremost sports university. It is an American original.

Since the academy's inception they have awarded many bachelor, master's and doctoral degrees. Where there were none before, sports-specific courses are now part of the curricula in over 200 accredited American colleges and universities. Academy graduates, like religious missionaries, have spread the word.

The courses taught range from bachelor's and master's degrees in sports science, to doctorates of education in sports management, sports coaching, or sports studies. No facet of the sports environment is left unattended ... sports fitness and health, sports medicine and sports psychology round out the available curricula. Also, among the courses taught are NCAA compliance, Olympianism and personal training. 

It is interesting to note that the five founders who banded together at Milwaukee in 1972 were spurred on by the disastrous showing of the American team at the just past tragic Munich Olympic games.  They looked around and saw that the powerhouse nations of the Eastern Bloc all had national sports academies and were turning out gold medal winners by the carload. Something had to be done and they did it.

With old-fashioned American ingenuity and without government funding they set about making their dream a reality. They started in a single office donated by Dr. Block. Today, the Academy occupies countless acres and its graduates hold many important positions in not only academia, but also in the worlds of amateur, collegiate and professional sports. They represent all that is good about athletics.

A visit to the Academy means the visitor will see a Walk of Fame featuring legendary sports figures, as well as the world's greatest gallery of sports art.  A forty-foot mural of Hank Aaron hangs in a place of honor and is one of the many highlights. The Academy is also the home for the world's most complete sports sculpture garden.

Americans know well the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Many have visited Springfield, Mass., and the birthplace of basketball. Still others make pilgrimages to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  All these trips are great, but in order to be a complete fan, the USSA in Daphne, Ala., just outside of Mobile should be a "must see."

We all know and admire Annapolis, West Point and the United States Air Force Academy.  Now, we should add the United States Sports Academy to the list.  It is an American academy institute of higher learning.

Among the many things the Academy does is to give awards in countless area of sports.  For example, one of the recipients of the art award is LeRoy Neiman.  Among the awards, one is named for a former sportscaster named "Dutch" Reagan who became the 40th president of the United States. The "Ronald Reagan Media Award" was among the things that gave the late president the utmost pleasure in bestowing.  High among that lists that gratified him was the one he gave to his friend Vin Scully, the venerated and revered voice of the Dodgers.

So, when you next visit the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, think about putting the USSA on your list of places to visit.

 

 

 

 

 

Where are the heroes?

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(This column was written Nov. 12, 2010)

I am in a reflective mood ... thinking back not only to when I was a kid in Boston, but 65 years ago when I had my first job on radio as a sports announcer.  There were no computers and there was no TV.  We had to paint pictures using our words. It was always a great challenge, but many met it.

We had heroes and they were genuine. 

My personal hero was the Boston Red Sox Ted Williams.  He fought in two wars and never had a scandal connected to him. 

Tommy Harmon, whom I met years later and was my partner in forming the first radio sports network, pre-dating ESPN by years, was a true hero. 

Shot down twice during World War II, this Heisman trophy winner, walked out of the jungle to become ABC's first director of radio sports on the West Coast. Today, his legacy lives on through his family including his son, actor Mark, a former UCLA quarterback. Tommy was a hero.  However, his dream of the radio sports network never materialized as he passed away in 1990, two months before our launch date.

The airwaves and sports were filled with men and women of character.  They never had to stoop to use "potty" language, as Bill Cosby would say.  My late friends Francis "Chick" Hearn and Ernie Harwell were such men. Today, Vin Scully continues that tradition.  Not only is he a hero to masses, but also like the others he remains a simple family man dedicated to those he loves.

The FCC used to frown on foul language and a station could lose its license if an announcer used smut, or did anything unethical.  The word "hell" could cause such trouble.

On-air news, plus news-related programming was above reproach. It was the era when they didn't allow advertising to taint their broadcasts.  In those days, news was presented uninhibited and factual. To be on the air, you had to be a pillar of the community.

Alas, those days are gone!  Today, off-color language permeates the landscape.  A disgraced politician caught with a lady of the night is rewarded with his own television show.  A commentator showcasing congressional candidates to the world quietly is contributing to their campaigns.  He is slapped on the wrist and in an arrogant flaunting fashion, after two days suspension, returns to the air more filled of himself than ever.

Females who have contributed nothing to society except appearing in a lewd, salacious sex tapes are rewarded with their own reality shows. A young actress with a serious problem of flaunting the law publically displaying her drunkenness is adored for the wrong reason by a celebrity-starved public.

I ask, where have the heroes gone?

During my career, I was lucky that I dealt in sports for the most part, with men of great character.  However, I too had my share of perpetrating an occasional fraud on the public.

My role with Evel Knievel and the Snake River canyon, which has been well documented, was one.  To my dismay, I did too good a job. I was part of taking a roustabout, carousing individual and making him an icon of family values and hero to millions.  Accolades which he didn't deserve. In truth, he personified the antithesis. It hurts when I see my grandchildren and their friends playing with Knievel toys.  He had the right moniker, "EVEL", but it truly was spelled wrong.  It deserved to be "EVIL."

Don't get me wrong! I still love sports and there are still some true heroes!  It was easy for me to run the "Andy Williams San Diego Open"(golf). I knew from working with him for years that the face the public saw was genuine.  Our shows personified   good bBroadcasting and life values.

I first met and worked with Wayne Gretsky when he was just 20. He was with the Edmonton Oilers. Here, nicknamed "The Great One," was an unassuming hero to millions of adoring hockey-crazed Canadians.  Quietly, I watched how he treated everyone with dignity and respect.  I saw how caring he was to not only his mother and father, but to the club houseboy named "Joey."... A "special" person. Wayne never worked to earn respect as he came by it naturally.  Now, years later, he still carries himself in the same dignified manner.

I spent a great deal of time working with Muhammad Ali.  You do not have to agree with his stand on the Vietnam War... most don't  ... but you have to respect his conviction to his religious principles. He gave up his career at its height for what he believed.

I did not know Pat Tillman of the Arizona Cardinals and the U.S. Army. He was a hero!  He earned that respect for what he believed in...unfortunately, giving his last breath.

These men and many others were heroes.  Today, in this chaotic fast paced world, too many of us do not stop to smell the roses and heed the lessons of our parents. We idolize radio pundits, immoral people, and egomaniacal individuals who care only for themselves  contributing nothing to life's passing. A handsome actor, who is a drunk and lecherous, is not a hero!

I ask, "Where are the heroes?" They're out there! We just have to look.

 

Calling Mr. Fix-it

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(This column was written Nov. 10, 2010)

 

The other morning at the Lake Sherwood gym, we discussed the fact that the AVP, the world's premier volleyball league, had just filed bankruptcy. The NBA is talking about cutting down the number of active teams and the NFL apparently will have a forced work stoppage.  The easy reasoning is today's "copout" phrase is "The Economy."

To solve these problems we need someone like former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell who understands compromise.

Since his days in the Senate, he has worked for Republican and Democratic presidents as well as baseball. Sports needs a man in the trenches, not a czar but a man in the trenches.

I thought of my old pal Mike O'Hara and found him on a Westlake tennis court. There is no magic solution to league problems, but we must get opposite sides talking.

Why O'Hara? 

In 1953, as a UCLA junior, he put together a team of six students to informally represent UCLA in a National Collegiate Volleyball Tournament at Omaha.  Paying their own way and wearing UCLA basketball jerseys, this rag-tag group went to Nebraska and won. They returned with the tallest trophy still in the UCLA trophy case today. Thus, volleyball became a UCLA varsity sport.  Years later, when UCLA became the first university in America to win 100 national championships, 19 were Volleyball.

He competed in beach volleyball from Ventura to Brazil. Talking about the AVP's demise, he became nostalgic. At Manhattan Beach, he and his partner had won five straight championships. The record still stands! His name is enshrined in the Manhattan Beach Walk of Fame. (volleyball's Wimbledon and its Holy Grail).

He overcame Olympic politics making the indoor game an Olympic sport at Tokyo in 1964; in 1992 the beach game was at Barcelona. He understood that the "point per serve" system was cumbersome causing matches as in the Atlanta  '96 finals to last over four hours.   He changed the rules. Today, you score on every play and there is no ad. It is called the "rally system," speeding up the game.  He was the second inductee into the sport's Hall of Fame and today, sits on their advisory board.

This  is not about volleyball alone. It is also about professional basketball, football and track and field. O'Hara was part of the founding group of three leagues in the '70's.

First there was  the World Hockey Association in 1971 which merged with the NHL in 1979. 

Realizing that the NHL at the time was paying "slave wages" to players, the WHA raided the NHL and gave their marquee player Bobby Hull the first million dollar bonus in history to leave the Chicago Blackhawks and join the Winnipeg Jets. 

The next season Detroit's Gordie Howe agreed to leave the Red Wings. Both Hull and Howe were the face of the NHL at the time. Because of the WHA, the NHL was forced to raise the salaries of its players and merge.  This meant that young talents such as Wayne Gretsky would finally be seen outside of Canada. It brought hockey to smaller markets using established NHL stars while being a breeding ground for future All-Stars.

The NHL did not stand idly by.  They absorbed many of the teams ... among them the Winnipeg Jets, the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers.  The Indianapolis team folded and their young center was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers. Thus the world outside of Canada and hockey got to know Wayne Gretsky. When the WHA merged into the NHL, the original owners, who paid $25,000 for their teams, got a windfall of $300,000.

Next came the ABA, located in small cities. The league  changed the face of the NBA forever.  The San Antonio Spurs, the Indianapolis Pacers and Julius Irving became part of the NBA, as did innovations such as a widened foul lane, a shot clock and the 3-point play became a permanent part of the NBA.

In 1974, his associates, sensing dissatisfaction within the NFL, started the World Football League.  Using the same "attack with lots of cash in hand," they lured NFL stars to jump to their league.  Among them was bruising Dallas Cowboy fullback Calvin Hill (Grant's father).  In fact, I remember 5-year-old Grant disrupting the opening Hawaii team press conference while being wild at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  He is still running wild in Phoenix.

Before it was over, the league had contributed the two-minute warning, the two-point conversion and wider goalposts to NFL rules.

He started the ITA (International Track Association) when he signed every track and field gold medalist from the tragic 1972 Munich Olympics.  His innovative electronic rabbit was instrumental in tying, or breaking 50 world records.

As soon as the shoe companies saw how popular Mike was making the sport, they stepped in with "cash-filled fists" at the '76 Montreal Olympics and made endorsement deals too large for him to match.  Today, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Michael Jordan all owe O'Hara a "thank you".

His new book, "Volleyball; Fastest Growing Sport in the World!" Has been hailed as the finest ever written on the sport.  For copies contact o'haraent@aol.com.

He is the type of visionary that  sports needs.  No axe to grind, just results to be achieved. We do not need gridlock in sports especially now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The green-eyed Monster ... the NCAA

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(This column was written Oct. 21, 2010)

Whatever happened to Sam Keller?

You remember him.  He came out of San Ramon, Calif., high school as one of the most sought after quarterbacks in the country. As a freshman in his first collegiate start at Arizona State University, he was the MVP of the 2004 Sun Bowl.

In the 2005 season, he was the starting quarterback and was setting all kinds of records.  In fact his September was considered, by many, one of the greatest in recent memory. During that month he passed for 1,443 yards in four games, 16 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Unfortunately, his season was cut short when he tore a ligament in his thumb.

Forced to play injured by an over-aggressive coaching staff, he was not the old Sam and was benched by Coach Dirk Koetter.  Next year, in pre-season, he looked as he had before, a guy labeled with great ability and ready to lead the team. Two days before the opening game, he was named starting quarterback.

At this point, the story is that the father of Westlake's Rudy Carpenter demanded a meeting with Coach Koetter. Supposedly, the elder Carpenter demanded Rudy start, or else Rudy would transfer since Rudy had more eligibility left than Sam. The two quarterbacks had been battling for the starting position throughout spring training.

Koetter relented and the next day, the day before the start of the season, in an unconscionable move, Sam was told he would not start.  Koetter expected Sam to take the demotion gracefully giving him two quality quarterbacks.  Instead of Rudy transferring, Sam did and he redshirted at Nebraska.  ASU had a bad season after which Coach Koetter got fired.

As for Sam, when he finally started in his senior year for Nebraska, he was leading the nation in passing proficiency, until he hurt his shoulder against Texas.  There was even early season Heisman talk. He had set a Nebraska record by completing 63.1 percent of his passes.

Sam did get to play briefly in the NFL. As backup quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, in the season finale, he threw for a TD.  His pro career ended there, but today from a legal standpoint he is a thorn in the side of the NCAA.

Along with UCLA basketball All-American, Wooden Award recipient and NCAA Tournament MVP Ed O'Bannon, he is leading a class action lawsuit of many former athletes against the NCAA. Unlike all previous such suits involving the NCAA, the courts have agreed to hear it. Now, years after  playing their final games, they feel this is their most important challenge and an opportunity to create a lasting legacy.

The athletes are attempting through federal lawsuits to get the NCAA to share its annual revenues with student-athletes. They want an equitable piece of the money that the NCAA earns from licensing players' images long after they have left college. According to O'Bannon, there are millions of dollars being made by the NCAA from this usage and the players receive nothing. They admit that they did benefit by receiving an education.

Keller cited the fact that the NCAA receives money on an on-going basis from commercials that use the player's likenesses for DVDs, and video games among other marketing money makers.  Electronic Arts, Inc., for example, makes countless dollars from their video football and basketball games that are completely based on player's images.

Today, the NCAA revenues have been buoyed by the fact they recently signed a $10.8 billion TV deal for 14 years. This is augmented by the marketing of the players' images and players want part of this.

The NCAA is not budging, using the old bromide that the student-athlete is prohibited from receiving payment other than scholarships for their participation in sports. It claims that the athletes upon entering college have signed away any rights on a form, which the NCAA said they must sign, or they could not play for their school. The NCAA claims this form gives them the right to the players' images in perpetuity and prevents the athlete from marketing his own image.

There have been eight lawsuits and a federal jJudge in San Francisco refused to throw them out.  They are now consolidated into one. This debate is as old as the NCAA itself.  In the past, the NCAA has always prevailed, but this time might be different.  It shall be interesting to follow.

As to the question where is Sam Keller?  Sam, with his bachelor of arts degree, runs the bar at the Fairmont Princess Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz.

 By the way, I have followed Sam since he was five years old and playing in Pop Warner... and perhaps, just perhaps, this time the scales of justice might be balanced on the side of the athlete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.