August 2012 Archives

You only have memories if you are old enough

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Lately, I have been thinking back on all the wonderful relationships I have enjoyed over the years. It's been almost fifty years since Arthur Price and the late Alan Bernard convinced me to leave MCA and join Andy Williams relocating from New York to California. The best move I ever made.

As I contemplated what to write and whom to write about, I realized my friend of 66 years, Earle Wolfe was joining the world of we Octogenarians. To me, he was always the best-unsigned outfielder, never scouted.

Speaking of scouting this column then is about my old friend Al Campanis. Why Al? In all his years with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers going from Ballplayer to Scout to General Manager. It was Al who scouted and signed among other players the "Great" Sandy Koufax considered by many the best left-handed pitcher of all time.

Even the youngsters who read my column on a regular basis, probably will recognize his name as the Dodger's finest General Manager the whose career was instantly shattered by unfortunate remarks he made on national TV.  Those remarks in no way reflected the man he was.


  I spent many a Sunday Double Header in his Box at Dodger Stadium having breakfast while we talked about everything including his life's philosophy which he espoused in his wonderful book, "The Dodger Way".

Born in Greece, Al moved to New York with his parents when he was 6. A Greek Immigrant, Al Campanis with parents who talked Greek, seemed unlikely to ever scale the heights of Major League Baseball. But scale them he did!

After he graduated from New York University in 1940, he signed the then Brooklyn Dodgers.  There were lots of stops along his way to the majors; among them was the Montreal Royals.

 Here he played alongside his friend Jackie Robinson. He then briefly played at 2nd for the Brooklyn Dodgers. World War II made his playing career short-lived. At the time, he was the only native-born Greek to play in the Major leagues.

After the war, it was clear that Al had an eye for talent.  He often spoke about when he first saw teenager Roberto Clements and signed him immediately. The Dodgers didn't protect the kid and he was taken in the supplemental draft by Pittsburgh.

Soon he became chief scout for the team recording multiple successful signings. Al had an eye for talent, yet some got away.  He often told about when he first saw teenager Roberto Clements and signed him immediately, but the Dodgers didn't protect the kid and he was taken in the supplemental draft be Pittsburgh.

In 1968 he became General Manager. The first thing he did was trade his son Jimmy to Kansas City. He was G.M.  for 19 years. In1987, while exhausted, he went on ABC's Nightline.  There he was asked questions about Blacks as potential managers. The Dodgers had just selected Italian Tommy Lasorda over Coach Jim Gilliam who happened to be Black. A decision Al was part of.

 All responded Blacks just didn't have the training. Based on the tenor of the times, Al was castigated. The public wanted his head and they got it!

  Shortly after the interview, despite the fact that under his stewardship the team had reached the World Series 4 times... 3 times under Tommy Lasorda. Al got the ax.

Many prominent Blacks who knew Al came to his support, among them, the great Don Newcomb, because he was kind-hearted, moral man who contributed far more to the team than one botched interview could ever take away.

 I suggest to today's Enlightened Executives support him for inclusion into the Hall-of Fame.

He earned this right.  Give it to him!

Can Olympic Gold bring real Gold

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                    Merchandising and marketing are as old as when the Pilgrims made a meal for the Indians and the Indians supplied the corn. The art of commerce even saw the use of trinkets, craft items, artifacts and food as a way of barter.

Ever since there have been sports celebrities, there have been marketers in the form of Agents, Managers and Companies willing to have their product endorsed by a well-known name.

Back in 1912 it was different story. Jim Thorpe one of the world's all-time great Olympians, (he won both the Decathlon and the Pentathlon, an unbelievable feat) was forced to give back his medals because he had played two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics.  

30 years after his death in 1983, the IOC restored his medals. By then, the late George Steinbrenner tired of other countries calling themselves amateurs when in actuality all their athletes were paid to train on a full time basis, led a movement to allow professionals to compete in many of the sports disciplines. This move gave us a big boost toward victories.

However, the biggest lift came about due to politics... the disbanding of the USSR. If you look at the medal count in which we led by great numbers, you will see that if the Soviet Union still existed, the cumulative medal count would have put us in second place. However, since 1991 there has been no USSR and we are the beneficiaries.

 We would not have heard of Bruce Jenner, because there was no monetary support. This longtime Ventura County Resident would never have established the decathlon world record in 1976 at 8634 points.

 Bruce's wife at the time was able to support him, so that he could train full time. As a result, America had a new hero whose visage would for 7 years embrace the front of Wheaties, "The Breakfast of Champions".

Let's look at the recently concluded Olympics.

We should start by realizing a man I have known and worked with on many an occasion since 1971 has been solely responsible for the expensive rise of the Broadcast Rights Fees for the games. His name is Barry Frank and every 4 years he has asked for ever-increasing licensing fees. ABC and then NBC paid his price.

I believe any monetary reward that these athletes get is well earned.  They have deprived themselves, in many cases for years, in order to compete for a miniscule amount of time. Most competitions will end in disappointment, but for those who achieve should be rewarded.

To these athletes just one-hundredth of a second can often separate gold from silver. It can make the difference between the cover of a Kellogs Box and comparative obscurity.

Look at Gymnastics.  Prior to the games, everyone expected Jordan Wieber to win the All-Around Championship, the crown jewel of gymnastics. However, when she faltered, 17 year old  Gabby Douglas was there to pick up the pieces and within 24 hours had signed a million dollar deal with Kellogs who stole Wheaties traditional thunder.  

As great as they are, silver and bronze medals, evidence of dominance in a sport, have little, or no interest for corporate sponsors.  This is only true in the United States. In smaller countries that are seldom on the intercontinental stage, any medal is a big accomplishment.

These athletes sacrifice a great deal just to make the team.  Many do odd jobs and live hand-to-mouth for years. The gold Medal has to be considered the Trump card for endorsements.

It's interesting to note that actual metal values are: the Gold-$650, Silver-$335, and Bronze- $5. To the victors some financial aid comes in the form of $25,, $15,000... Silver, $10,000...Bronze. 

Security takes many forms

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Much has been written about security at 2012 games.  In fact, I have even written a few pieces.  In the wake of the many high profile terrorist attacks, both domestic and international, I remembered a security event that I personally was a part of.

In October 1978,I found myself in Strasbourg France. My friend and associate Frank Baer had invited me there.  If you don't know who Frank Baer was, let me tell you.

Frank, a former Gymnast was the Executive Director of the USGF (The United States Gymnastic Federation) and its founder. He started it all in his garage in Tucson. Arizona.  It was there, along with my FOX Sports Associate, Marty Groothuis, That I signed to represent the Gymnastic Organization in all areas of its growth. This included getting commercial endorsements, bringing about TV exposure, creating new uniforms and also establishing new competitions.

It worked out tremendously well.  However, the 2012 Olympics brought to mind an incident that involved me personally. It took place in 1978 at the Gymnastics World Championships in Strasbourg, France.

I had gone there as the guest of Frank Baer.  I had conceived this wild idea of bringing over the Romanian team to compete against the United States. To achieve this  would be quite a coup.  Of course, the crown jewel of the Rumanian team was little Nadia Comenici.

If you know your Olympic history, you will remember that Nadia at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal became the first Gymnast in history to score a perfect 10.00.  As a matter of fact, she wasn't done.  By the time that Olympiad ended she scored 6 more.  Her record of 7 still stands to this day.

So, there I was in Strasbourg, a sleepy little French Hamlet located in the Alsace... close to where my sister-in-law Rose grew up. But that is another story for another time.

My goal was to present my grandiose scheme and sign up the Romanians to make their first appearance in the United States. Strasbourg was a pastoral scene with blemishes. The blemishes to this ancient village were the police armed to the hilt with riot gear and armored half-tracks with mounted machine guns that patrolled every street of this ancient and delightful European Vista.

This was the first World Championship that the Israeli team had attended since the 1972 Munich Massacre.  Everything was tense and on edge. In fact, the Israeli team members were spread for safety reasons throughout 7 different hotels.

You need to understand this was taking place amidst the Cold War that existed.  There were two distinctive Political Blocs... Eastern and Western.  They trained separately and armed guards stood vigil at the entrances. Now, I had a problem! Traveling with me was my friend the late great columnist Jim Murray who later wrote about this escapade in my life. I was there as Frank Baer's guest.  I had no official standing, but I had to get behind the Iron Curtain, (The Eastern Bloc).  I needed an official badge.

I noticed that the most prominent badge was a Photo ID in a plastic 2 x 3 case pinned to one's lapel. What was I to do?  I hadn't come this far to be stymied.  Too many people were counting on me.  I suddenly hit on an idea. Upon reflection years later, I realized I could have been thrown in jail, or worse yet, killed.

I went to a local 5 & 10, where I bought an identical plastic badge holder into which I slid my California Driver's License (it had my photo), walked up to the eastern Bloc Sentry, who was armed with an UZI and controlled the meanest looking German Sheppard I think I had ever seen. I smiled at the guard, patted the dog on the head and won my victory.

However, that's not the end.  Sid Silver helped me arrange for a U.S v. Romania tour across the United States.  We sold out in no time.  Everything was going smoothly, or so we thought.

They were to start in NYC where Mayor Lindsey, The Firemen's band and a Red Carpet would great them.  Everything was set. Competitions involved cumulative scoring going from one city to the next. They would be in 5 Arenas in five different cities from NYC to Los Angeles in 10 days.

The night before their arrival I received a call at my home.  "Nadia had broken her pinkie finger and could not compete". I was devastated.  Every Arena had been completely sold out.  We refunded all the money and Lloyds of London reimbursed us.

You might think that was the end.  Hardly! While attending an Oak Park High School graduation party for my grand daughter Sarah and her friends, I learned the true reason.  As I related the story, one of the graduate's fathers, a Romanian gentleman, told me the real reason they cancelled was because the head of the Secret Police who was to accompany the Romanian Team had defected ...He was that man!

I subsequently verified the facts... after all it was the Cold War!


The day the pool turned red an Olympics story

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      In 1972, while enjoying the Summer Olympics from Munich I was introduced to Water Polo.

 The Olympic years have seen much political turmoil. For example, the United States boycotted in 1980. Russia reciprocated in "84.  A prime example was the 1956 Soviet Union/ Hungary Water Polo game.

 In1972, my son Steven had just started Agoura High School. He brought home papers for my late wife and I to sign allowing him to play football. I was all for it, but she said, " I don't want any 300 lb. monster jumping on my beautiful boy".

Without missing a beat, while watching Water Polo from Munich, Steven turned and said, "how about that?"  My wife knew he was a good swimmer and the sport looked clean, so she signed willingly!

When she saw her first game and the roughness of the sport, she doubted the wisdom of her choice.

He turned out to be the captain of Agoura's first team. Today, 40 years later, Agoura is among California's premier programs.

This week, our national team under Coach Terry Schroeder, left Ventura County heading to London with the highest of hopes. Schroeder is an exceptional leader and was a great player.

The Robert Graham Bronze Statue at LA Coliseum's main gate is a tribute to him. In 1984, he captained our Silver Medal team.

In 1956, as the Hungarian Olympic Team prepared to leave for the games, the streets were in open revolt.  Old, young and infirmed fought the Russians as Security Police openly strafed peacefully demonstrating citizens. It was civil war!

The airport was closed.  The Delegation had to board two buses adorned with Olympic Team Banners.  The Banners were for protection.  As they crossed the Czech Border, Russian Troops and tanks advanced on Hungary... signaling the end of the Hungarian Revolution!

To add to their despair for the homeland they had left, it took two weeks to get a plane from France to Prague to transport them to Melbourne.

 According to my friend, team member Gabor Nagy, upon arrival, they raised a Hungarian flag with a black mourning stripe in the Olympic Village... reminder of the National Tragedy unfolding in Hungary.

With the onus of their countrymen on their minds, they easily defeated Italy, Germany and America on a collision course, to meet Russia in the Semi-finals.

The atmosphere was electric!  

In order to prevent serious bleeding, referees checked toenails and fingernails prior to the game. They wanted no sharp weapons! However, from the beginning Elbows, head butts, and gouging were everywhere the pool was bleeding.

With Hungary leading 4-0 and seconds remaining, Russian Prokopov opened a wide gap above Zador's eye... the blood flowed.

The same guy broke my friend Gabor's nose a year earlier in Kiev. The referee called the game immediately to avoid an all out brawl. The next day, Hungary beat Yugoslavia for Gold.

The team defected en masse...  orchestrated by Time Inc. Sports Illustrated, The Hungarian/America Sports Federation, The AAU, Pan American Airlines and the American State Department.  

They played and won a lifetime victory of Freedom.


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.