November 2011 Archives

Misplaced adulation

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                     MISPLACED ADULATION

In light of the Penn State scandal, my friend, the brilliant young writer Evan Weiner, wrote an outstanding article about how, we, as a society, worship athletes and celebrities. I read the story with great interest.

You know, I am as guilty as all of you. In my time I too have idolized athletes who achieve great things because they have enjoyed bigger growth and physical prowess that allows us to vicariously live through their achievements.

We look at the guy, or girl who can run faster, coach a winning team, sink baskets with consistent precision, or hit a home run more often and farther than ever before. We even adore the beautiful actor/actress who gives a great and lasting performance.

This is fun!

However, they are not real heroes.  They are manufactured. Their contribution to society is minimal and yet we attribute to them knowledge and understanding they do not possess.

Now, there are thousands of people who have contributed to our greater good and benefit.  They are heroes! So, I have selected a few who might make up my All-Time Celebrity team. Understand, there are too many others to name who are also taken for granted... you might immediately think of others. For example, the inventors of the paper clip, the rubber band stick-its easily come to mind.

However, this is my column, so I decide. Here's what I have done. Play along with me Please.

I am creating the first United States versus the World All-Star Baseball Game.  Each team is made up of very well known as wells as little known people who have made an impact over many eons on our lives.

Before I submit my lineup, let me tell you who the officials are:

The umpires all bring vast experience to the game.

Behind Home Plate will be Mahatma Ghandi, the great pacifist who taught the world how to win confrontations peacefully. At First Base, will be that great negotiator Martin Luther King.  He was able to bring dignity and peace in a troubled world to an entire Race.  At Third Base, My arbiter would be Nelson Mandella.  Even from behind prison bars, he was able to resist tyranny and bring about change.

For the United States team my lineup would be as follows:

Leading off will be Rosa Parks.  She can wait out any pitcher and work him for a walk.

Batting Second would be Jay Edgar Hoover.  He will also be my catcher due to his ability to keep people from stealing. Batting Third. As my designated hitter, would be Steve Jobs.  He can figure out anything the pitcher can throw... look what he did with the Mac, the Ipad, the Iphone and the Ipod.

In Fourth Position, I would have either Linus Yale Jr., or Sr. Based on what they have done, they can easily get a Lock on anything the pitcher might throw. As my Fifth Batter, I would have either of the Wright Brothers, Orville, or Wilbur. Once they get on base they can really fly.

Batting Sixth, I think I'll use Albert Einstein.  He can quickly calculate the curvature and arc of the ball timing it to hit to any field. Batting Seventh, I was going to insert Helen Keller into the lineup, but realizing she could not quite visualize each pitch, instead, I placed Samuel Finley Breeze Morse there. I'm sure during his time at bat, the pitcher will signal what he plans to throw and Morse will be ready.

My Eighth, of course, is Thomas Alva Edison. Each time he's up, it's an illuminating at Bat. Last, but not least in the lineup is comedian and ventriloquist Paul Winchell. He has lots of heart and there will be nothing Artificial about his hitting. Paul, as we know, invented the Artificial Heart.

She's not batting, instead the manager of my team is Helen Keller. After all, when told what is happening and the team needs direction, there's no one better to transmit the hand signals.

I'd have Ben Franklin coaching at first.  He has proven he can come up with some electrifying plays. With men on base, he'll flying like a kite and maybe even pull off some lightening double steals. Young Mark Zukenberg as my third base coach will figure out the best way to get runners home for a score.

Oh yes!  I forgot my manager and how could I. For me Bill gates would be the man. He, as much as anyone can figure out the intricacies of any play necessary for victory... and my bullpen coach is Alexander Graham Bell. Nobody better to man the phones when we need a relief pitcher to come in.

The opposition is pretty tough.  There are scholars, artists, inventors and politicians galore.  Deciding on my first team was quite difficult.  I'm sure you may have many other selections.

The manager of my World Team would be Sir Winston Churchill.  No matter how far behind the team might be, he would hang in and figure a way to win.

To be the first base coach on the World team is Mother Theresa.  She was a unanimous choice, because nobody can comfort a runner who has been thrown out and is in pain better than this wonderful Saintly

The World Team leadoff Batter will be the Russian Vladimer Barmin.  Inventer of the first Rocket Launch Complex.  His bat would give pitchers fits if he were to lay down a bunt. England's Roger Bacon, the inventor of the magnifying glass, has a good eye as to what pitches to take, or not take.


2011 -- A champion down but not out

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     By Shelly Saltman

This year has proven to be one of great personal loss to not only me, but to the sports world in general. I personally lost among others, three close friends:

n     Hal Uplinger, the lanky stringbean who once played for the Baltimore Bullets, now the Washington Capitols.

n     Then there was the wonderful John Mackey considered by many the greatest tight end in NFL history, credited with bringing about collective bargaining for the players as the first president of the NFLPA. 

n     My friend, the gentle giant Bubba Smith ... I can still hear thousands of East Lansing spectators yelling "kill Bubba kill" as he terrorized one backfield after another. 

Today, I learned the great heavyweight champion and Ali's arch rival, Joe Frazier, has been floored by with a one-two punch known as liver cancer. Joe is in a hospice where he is being made as comfortable as possible.

I first met Joe in 1971 when I took on the assignment of worldwide promotion and publicity for the first Ali fight which took place March 8th of that year. About a month before the epic battle to come, I spent a month traveling between Philadelphia and New York. I was living at the St. Regis Hotel in the city and Joe was training at the Franklin Gym in Philadelphia.  My traveling companion on each train ride was the brilliant actor and a good guy, Burt Lancaster.  We had hired Burt to be the color commentator with the great Don Dunphy, my old Gillette Cavalcade of Sports mentor.

Burt was a student of the game. Meanwhile,  I had to make sure Joe kept to a grueling schedule of interviews and appearances. Joe was most accommodating and never turned down a request.  The shortest champion in history with the exception of undefeated Rocky Marciano, Joe never took a backward step.  Both a father and a son with a large and warm family, he had a big heart and greeted everyone with dignity and charm. Unfortunately, on the schedule of interviews, one  was at ABC with Howard Cosell.

It was here that Ali joined Joe and in promoting the fight called Joe, "A gorilla." Joe did not appreciate this. He was made to feel ashamed for his children. From that moment on, he genuinely despised Ali.  His training sessions, as the fight neared, took on greater ferocity.  Eddie Futch, the Hall-of Fame trainer who was in Joe's corner, wanted him to taper off.  Joe was having nothing to do with slowing down.

Years later, when I was working with Joe's brother, Tommy, at the Snake River, he relayed to me how Ali's insult had infuriated Joe so much, he couldn't sleep and in fact, wasn't following his per-fight diet by skipping many meals.  Everyone was worried.  There was no need to!

The night of the fight, Madison Square Garden was electric with anticipation.  The only two undefeated heavyweight champions were to meet to unify the title. I walked into the Arena with the "Brown Bomber" Joe Louis and his buddy, to me, the Real Sugar Ray, Robinson.  In all my years until I worked with Ali, I had never heard such a cacophony. By the way, Raymond Charles Leonard is a friend of mine and I respect what he has achieved. However, Ray Robinson was a hero to my generation.  Just as Ray Leonard has been to the next one.

The fight lived up to all the hype!  Only one KO and that was Joe putting Ali on the floor for the victory. This was the first fight in a trilogy that included one of the fights considered among the greatest of all time.

Joe's next fight was in Kingston, Jamaica. It was against young a heavyweight named George Foreman. I was there and we were all staying at the Blue Mountain Inn. Every night Howard Cosell, Roy Neiman and Hank Schwartz with our wives and Roy's girlfriend, would watch Joe and his Rock Band, "The Knockouts" perform into the wee hours of the night.  After all, as Howard, in his pontificating style, would tell anyone within earshot, "This fight is a farce.  It never should have been made. It is a mismatch.  Joe will kill this amateur, whatever his name is.  It won't go past the 2nd round".

We all bought into Howard's protestations.  Even George Plimpton, who was assigned by Sports Illustrated to cover the event, believed Howard.  George was a major celebrity having just written the best-selling novel, "The Paper Lion."  It was the story about himself who, as a non-pro, trained and played quarterback for the Detroit Lions in one game. He couldn't really find a story angle and decided he was covering us on the background of the fight.

The bell rang and Joe came out expecting to dispatch George with alacrity.  However, his late night gallivanting had taken its toll.  He was slow and cumbersome.  Foreman proved Cosell right. The fight went no more than two rounds.  Only it was Foreman standing over a dazed and prone Joe Frazier lying silently on the canvas.

George Plimpton ripped up his notes of one week's work and re-wrote his story.  LeRoy Nieman drew a picture of Joe stretched out on the canvas and young Neil Leifer, aiming to get one of his first covers for SI, was everywhere clicking away.

Needless to say, Joe was despondent, but not for long. Ali stood on the horizon and it was through Ali that Joe he saw the way to getting back his title. As result, they were to stage two of the greatest fights ever.  In fact, in the eyes of most pugilistic historians including my friend Burt Sugar, "The Thrilla in Manila," to this day stands as the classic for two gladiators pitted against each other in the squared circle.

On the way to Manila, I had both fighters train on Avenue of The Stars in Century City. Joe trained on Wednesday and drew a respectable crowd of more than  1,000 and he was off to Manila.  Two days later, Ali trained and the Los Angeles police estimated the crowd of over 20,000. They called on the "Fruit of Islam" to help keep the peace and there never has been a more law-abiding crowd.

Four weeks later, they met in the middle of the night in Manila.  Ali won! But Angelo Dundee and Ferdie Pacheco, my pal, the Fight Doctor, told me they were getting ready to throw in the towel before the last round. However, Eddie Futch in Joe's corner beat them to the punch. They raised Ali's hand in victory... while he was being held up by Angelo and Ferdie.  Shortly afterward, with the cameras off, Ali passed out and joined Joe in the hospital. Two men, equally matched had truly taken the measure of each other.

Now, Joe is fighting another opponent... liver cancer. He is facing great odds!  All we can pray for, is that the champion will be comfortable and take whatever comes his way with his usual pride and dignity

Joe, we are all in your corner!

Gridlock in the arena

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By Shelly Saltman

 The other night we were having dinner with our friends Riva and Sandy. Riva, who is an ardent Lakers fan, was shocked after she asked me if I missed the NBA season. I answered her, "not at all"!  She didn't understand it!  After all, I had worked for the Lakers during their 33-game win streak back in the 70's and had also been a part of the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Jazz (now Utah) startups.

 I am worried not that the NBA will stand for "No Basketball Anymore," but more importantly "No Business Anymore." Now, I know that what we read in the paper for the most part are either press releases, or the so-called experts making assumptions. 

I know from experience having been part of many negotiations over the years, especially the NFL 1981-82 strike where I was part of the NFLPA strike force, that the so-called experts make quantum leaps as to what they believe is happening.  When I would read the papers after a day of inside negotiating, I was amazed at their assumptions. For the most part, erroneous.

However, that strike made sense to me where the basic premise was the protection of the players well being. It was pointed out that at that time the average career lifespan was 4.3 years. Astroturf, the great cause of multiple knee injuries, was a major issue as well as the revenue sharing.  When my friend John Mackey, as the first president of the NFLPA sought a collective bargaining agreement, his reward was a long wait until he was finally voted into the Canton Hall of Fame.

In the aforementioned instances, our country's economy was robust and the causes fought for were necessary.  Today, our economy is hurting. At present, we have 9.1% unemployment and foreclosures are happening each and every day. People, who once paid their bills and stayed ahead of the collectors, are no longer keeping up. Bright students are not going to college because their families just don't have the money.

You might ask what does all of the above have to do with a strike, or in this case a lockout of sports teams, have to do with the economy.  The answer is everything!

I, as you know, am one of the creators and I sit on the board of the Tour of California bike race. As such, I go to meetings at Staples Center. AEG, who is the majority owner of the race, also owns the arena (Staples Center), which houses the Los Angeles Lakers.

I went to a restaurant near the arena, which I often patronize, only to find they were contemplating shutting their doors due to lack of business. The strike has taken its toll on the little people who are not only important to the teams merchandising success, but ushers, ticket takers, office staff even janitors have all been released and are on unemployment. This is magnified at arenas, their environs and staffs throughout the league.

I quit my lucrative position with the Lakers back in 1972, when I objected to Jack Kent Cooke's raising the cost of the floor seats to $25. Of course, that was almost 30 years ago and I recognize prices do increase. However, I also realize that the season ticket holders will probably come back once the lockout is settled.  They, for the most part, are the ones who can afford today's out of proportion pricing. I do not feel for them. I feel for the real fan who cannot afford the luxury of a night at the games.

I admit, unlike years ago, I am not privy to the inner workings, or the mind set of both sides. However, I do know this. Their timing could not be worse. How can anyone in today's economic meltdown have any sympathy for a league run by multi-millionaire owners and a league where even the lowest paid rookie makes over six figures a year.

So Riva, I empathize with your plight as a fan, but when they come back I shall be among the missing in the stands and I do not expect to even follow any of the teams I once rooted so hard for. I believe this intense and selfish desire on both sides should not go unpunished. The only way I see to repay their lack of respect for what they have inflicted on their fans and fans everywhere, is by not buying tickets to line their pockets even more.

Motor sports: a hazardous profession

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  By Shelly Saltman

Since the invention of the motor, man has always tried to go faster in an automobile.  He set goals against time clocks, between distances and, the ultimate, against another man or woman. He created a machine designed for speed. The object always is to see who could finish a prescribed distance fastest and win the race.

Eventually, race courses sprang up. Organizations devised rules and the race criteria for victory were made as equal as possible.  All the time, man continued to experiment on ways to go faster while attempting to make racing safer. Automobile, tire and parts manufacturers in order to bring about safer, smoother riding and more efficiency for the everyday consumer have used these same racing vehicles and tracks to test their products.

Motor sports provide exciting visual experiences, but riding in every car that adds to the excitement is the specter of injury, or death. Evel Knievel told me more than once that every time he rode his motorbike, he was looking directly into the face of his copilot, "Death."

It should be noted, however, that in over 100 years of racing at the Indianapolis Speedway there have not been that many deaths. This, to a great extent, is due to the governing bodies and the uniformity of race courses. In addition, the improvement of safety equipment, as well as numerous safeguards that have been put in place, has helped to minimize the severity of most crashes. However, when there is a death because of the spectacular nature when crashes occur, it captures both the morbid and, at the same time, the sympathetic nature of the public.

 Many courses are a 2.5-mile oval. The fabled Brick Yard in Indianapolis is such a track. For the 500, the drivers must negotiate 250 laps. Today's Indy Cars have been strategically designed for both speed and handling on such courses. When an Indy Car is used on a smaller track, the chance of having an accident is greatly increased. 

Such was the case in the recent passing of the great young champion Dan Wheldon.  Traveling at 225 miles per hour on a 1.5-mile oval track in Las Vegas, when he hit the other cars, he never had a chance. Because of the design of the course, there was no real straightaway; instead, the race for the most part was a constant series of left turns. Here, the rules of safety were compromised. The cars running that day were too fast for the configuration.  The race promoters and the organizers of the Las Vegas Race, in my eyes, were irresponsible.

Surprisingly enough in over fifty years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has experienced only 56 fatalities. Of course, one death is one too many.

In 1964, while working for MCA (The Music Corporation of America), I worked with the brilliant Jay Michaels (father of announcer Alan) who was always in the forefront of unique ideas for the presentation of sports. Many of these have transformed golf, tennis, football, horse racing and baseball to mention a few as to the way they are presented to this day on the electronic media.

In 1964, there were only three national networks and PBS, which was in major cities only. There were 20 Major League baseball teams and14 teams in the NFL. All television was black and white; color was yet to be invented. Baseball, boxing and the NFL plus golf were broadcast the most.  One network carried football, CBS.  Boxing was sport truly made for TV. Football was not yet the dominant sport and baseball was called "America's national pastime."

A true pioneer and a fan of all racing ... Formula One, as well as Indianapolis ... Jay figured he had the way to capitalize on a vast untouched viewing audience and that was through theater TV.

For those who are younger, in 1964 sports was not coming into living room at any time of the day as it is now.  There was no cable TV to tap into. Boxing had proved that, properly promoted, using designated signals to theaters, bars, and private venues the fans would come. This method of telecasting proved worthwhile and thousands paid the price of admission. All based on event being widely recognized, it proved to be of great interest to the fans.

The first big money fight of 20th century, the Ali-Frazier fight (March 8, 1971) was handled that way and fans shelled out millions. Jay had led the way.  However, his dream of racing in theaters proved to be a fizzle.

First, it lacked the excitement of being at the track whereas boxing fit the milieu perfectly. It translated well!  Racing did not.  What the spectator got was 2 1/2 hours of a monotonous drone as the cars whizzed by in a blur.  It was sleep inducing, but the seed was planted.

Unfortunately, the 1964 race saw another fatality.  Sensational driver Eddie Sachs who won many races used to always say, "If you can't win, be spectacular," was killed after crashing on the second lap... and it was spectacular.

My friend and associate for 40 years, Stuart Rowlands, has long been recognized as one of the foremost motor sports public relations experts.  Before he even started to ply his trade, he studied race car driving at the famous Brands Hatch school in London.  He often tells hair-raising stories of how in order to pass the strenuous tests you must step-by-step learn the proper braking, the turning, how to slide into a skid in order to avoid a mishap.  All the time, "safety first" is the motto.

He has told me, on more than one occasion, that the men who reach the pinnacle of racing, such as Dan Wheldon, are the men he most admired. Over the years in his dealing with the likes of the great Scottish driver Jackie Stewart and the equally great Argentinean Emerson Fittipaldi and others, he learned from all of them how well-prepared they are and how careful they are before stepping into the cockpit to wait for the green flag and the familiar, "Gentlemen start you engines."

The drivers all had trepidation prior to racing in Las Vegas.  There had been much pre-race talk about the cars being too swift for this venue.  So, we must ask ourselves why.  Why put yourself in harm's way? The promoters, the track and the racing organization should be held accountable for young Mr. Wheldon's death.  Hopefully, a lesson has been learned and taught!

What did they say?

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 By Shelly Saltman

Years ago when television was younger, Art Linkletter had a show, "Kids Say the Darndest Things." In school, we all read about Mrs. Malaprop and her adventures. Over the years, my daughter Lisa kept our family amused when more than once she would quote something in reverse order. I cannot think of anything now, but trust me they were funny.

In working with the late Jimmy Durante and for that matter Don King with all their wisdom on more than one occasion would mangle the English language. Norm Crosby from my old neighborhood in Boston has made a fabulous career of utilizing double-talk.

Double-talk in the dictionary is defined as "deliberately unintelligible speech combining nonsense syllables and actual words." All of the aforementioned used this form either without knowledge or without malice. In this election year, we might say many politicians use double-talk and we can doubt their intent.  However, this is a sports column, so let's take a look at some of the great ones who made both, do a double-take and laugh.

Baseball has had more than its share of these purveyors of that segment of the English language.  Immediately, two great personages of New York Yankee fame, come to mind ... Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra.  In their cases, their proclivity for mixing metaphors made many to make up other such phrases and attribute to them.

A lot of Yogi Berra's supposed quotes came from his friend Joe Garagiola.  As an announcer, Joe would attribute certain things to Yogi that immediately became baseball lore.

Among them, "No one goes to that restaurant anymore because they're too crowded," or "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." As for Casey, many a reporter would walk away from a press conference while looking at his notes would ask his contemporaries, "What did he say?"

So, I decided it would be fun to write a column on what some other well-known athletes had said that I heard. 

Here it is!  By the way, I do not consider any of these guys "dumb jocks," but rather like my daughter whom I love, every now and then they would say something that only they understood and left it for others to figure out.

For example, Greg Norman, the great golfer known as the "Shark," upon accepting the winner's trophy after winning the 1983 World Match Play Championship, said, "I would like to thank my parents - especially my mother and father" ... dah! How about Shaquille O'Neal on whether he visited the Parthenon while visiting Greece, said, "I can't really remember the clubs that we went to". ...No kidding?

Joe Torre who now holds a luminous position among the legends of baseball, in his earlier days while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and after having an All-Star season, negotiating for his next contract, said, "Either you give me what I demand, or I'll take what you're offering."  Needless, to say we are all thankful he got his deal and baseball was the better for it.

In baseball, the all-time hits record holder Pete Rose who was suspended from the game he loved because of gambling, in seeking reinstatement, once told the media, "All I want for my case to be heard in front of an impractical decision maker". I guess he got his wish, as he has never been re-instated.

David Thompson, a great collegiate player who became an All-Star in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, when asked if he had any outstanding problems in his play answered, "Ball handling and dribbling are my strongest weaknesses". He hid them well!

The list of such gaffes is endless.  All of us have been guilty of a malaprop, or two.  I know I have.  But isn't it fun to study others and their constant use of oxymorons. GOOD WORD! It means a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.  Next time you go into a seafood restaurant and you order Giant Shrimp... no kidding!

Before I wrap up this column, although there are thousands of incidents, I might have related, let me give you at least one by the man I consider the king of them all. Dizzy Dean was a legendary pitcher who turned to the broadcast booth at the end of his playing days where he daily fractured the language. Once when responding to a letter from one of his many detractors about his misuse of the language, He responded on the air with "Ol' Diz knows the king's English. And not only that, I know the queen is English."

So that's it!  We are all guilty at one time, or another.  As a matter of fact, as I get older, I find myself doing it more often. I have not yet gotten to the point where I shall say, "hello" when I mean goodbye




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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.