Brady’s Super Bowl journeys to be part of 2021 ESPN series
Tom Brady’s journey to each of his nine Super Bowls with the New England Patriots will be the subject of an ESPN series released next year.
Entitled “The Man in the Arena: Tom Brady,” the nine-episode series will include a look from Brady’s perspective at the six NFL titles and three Super Bowl defeats he was a part of. It should be a rare opportunity for up-close revelations from the usually private quarterback who left New England this year after 20 seasons and now is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The series will be produced by ESPN, 199 Productions (Brady’s production company) and Gotham Chopra of Religion of Sports.
“Through the series, we’re defining the key moments and challenges that were seemingly insurmountable, but through hard work and perseverance, became career-defining triumphs, in both victory and defeat,” Brady said.
Brady has won more Super Bowls than anyone and remains a bona fide NFL star at age 42. Unlike Peyton Manning, his contemporary for much of his career and the quarterback he is most often compared to, Brady normally has been reticent to provide behind-the-scenes information.
Connor Schell, ESPN’s executive vice president for content and one of the creators of the network’s 30 for 30 series, believes Brady has a fountain of memories worth the telling.
“To have personal firsthand accounts and an athlete at Tom’s level who doesn’t often give firsthand accounts can add up to a remarkable series,” Schell said.
Schell points to Chopra’s storytelling skill as a key factor in making Brady’s experiences compelling to fans – even the legions that have made the Patriots generally a despised franchise outside of the New England base.
“It is really a tribute to Gotham that he was able to earn that level of trust so Tom is willing to share his stories,” Schell said, noting that Chopra brought the project to ESPN. “We love these projects where these elements come together, and we’re able to give fans not just a good story but something they haven’t seen before.”
The episodes are expected to be grounded in Brady’s reflections and will include voices and outlooks other than his.
Schell added that ESPN is “thinking about how to evolve the genre and new ways to tell these stories and new hooks. And the access to Tom Brady is unique.”
NFL looks at adding “booth umpire” and tech advisor for refs
The NFL is considering adding a “booth umpire” and a senior technology advisor to the referee to assist the officiating crew.
The league also is looking at other rules changes, including an alternative to the onside kick.
NFL clubs received a list of potential rules changes on Thursday. Owners will vote on the proposals at the upcoming league meeting to be held by video conference on May 28.
The league’s competition committee told teams last month it supports studying ways to determine how officiating personnel who have access to a video feed could help on-field officials. A booth umpire would serve as an eighth game official.
If owners don’t approve adding a booth umpire and/or a senior technology adviser, the league could test a version of both rules in the preseason for possible future implementation.
The proposal that would give teams another option instead of an onside kick permits a team to maintain possession of the ball after a score by substituting one offensive play. The kicking team would attempt a fourth-and-15 from its 25-yard line. This could be done a maximum of two times per game.
Onside kicks have become infrequent – and hardly ever successful – since the NFL changed rules on alignments for kickoffs.
Other rules changes that’ll be discussed:
– Making permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful extra-point attempt.
– Providing the option to the defense for the game clock to start on the referee’s signal if the defense declines an offensive penalty that occurs late in either half. This would eliminate instances when an offense could benefit time-wise from committing a penalty.
– Expanding the defenseless player protection to a kickoff or punt returner who is in possession of the ball but who has not had time to avoid or ward off the impending contact of an opponent.
– Preventing teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.
The Eagles had proposed restoring preseason and regular-season overtime to 15 minutes and to implement rules to minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss. But they have withdrawn the idea.
Owners are expected to drop the use of video reviews on pass interference after a one-year trial that caused as many headaches as it solved issues. The competition committee has recommended not renewing the rule that was put in place for last season after an egregious missed call in the 2018 NFC title game affected the result.
Fitzpatrick awaits battle with Tua for Dolphins’ QB job
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s house was quiet at midday Thursday, probably because online schoolwork occupied his kids.
He has seven. And despite the pandemic lockdown, there are often enough youngsters gathered for the Fitzpatrick family to field a football team.
“My brother lives next door, and he has five kids. That’s 12 every day running around,” Fitzpatrick said from his home in Arizona. “It has been a little bit crazy.”
This will be Fitzpatrick’s 15th NFL offseason, and none has been like this. Normally he’d be taking part in spring workouts at the team complex, but because of the coronavirus, training sessions are conducted via Zoom.
Two things haven’t changed. Fitzpatrick’s beard still ranks among the best in sports, even with barbershops closed because of the pandemic. And he faces a battle for playing time whenever training camp starts.
The journeyman had one of his best seasons in 2019, leading a turnaround from an 0-7 start to a 5-11 finish. At age 37, he was voted the Dolphins’ most valuable player.
They nonetheless used their top draft pick on a quarterback, and if things go as the Dolphins hope, Tua Tagovailoa will supplant Fitzpatrick as the starter this year. They’re in the midst of a rebuilding project, with Fitzpatrick the only player on the roster in his 30s.
But he’s long accustomed to job insecurity. Even last year he was demoted to No. 2 behind Josh Rosen for a three-game stretch early in the season.
And he embraces the role of mentoring Tagovailoa, regardless of who’s No. 1.
“I’ve been in this situation before a little bit,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m excited for him to be here. I loved watching him play in college. He’s going to be an awesome addition to the team for a long time. I’m going to do the best I can to help him.”
Make no mistake, though: Fitzpatrick hopes Tagovailoa spends his rookie season on the bench.
“I’m as competitive as they come,” Fitzpatrick said. “I want to start. I know there are a lot of forces that go into it. Whether it happens or not, who knows?”
Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who also held a virtual interview session Thursday, noted that the QB battle plays into what coach Brian Flores wants at all positions.
“That’s big, drafting Tua,” Godchaux said. “Coach Flo is always going to look to create competition. That’s what elevates your team to the next level. By him doing things like that, the sky’s the limit for our team in the future.”
The pandemic, however, has slowed offseason momentum. The Dolphins signed 11 free agents and drafted 12 rookies, but holdovers like Fitzpatrick have yet to meet the newcomers.
“It’s difficult not being there,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of new faces, a lot of youth. You want to get on the field and start practicing and learning the system and each other.”
Fitzpatrick’s also eager to start working again with new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. They spent five seasons together with the Bills and Jets.
From a personal standpoint, Fitzpatrick sees one bright side to the pandemic.
“It actually has been a good time to get away from everything else and reconnect with family and enjoy each other — breakfast, lunch and dinner together,” he said. “We haven’t left the house a whole lot. It has been good for us in the sense we’ve gotten to spend a lot of quality time together.”
Super Bowl LV: Ranking top 5 NFL NFC contenders
The road to Super Bowl LV in the NFC is a challenging one given the depth in the conference.
That was illustrated by a 2019 season that saw three teams finish the year tied for the best record in the conference.
It should be similarly competitive again in 2020, though two teams stand out as the favorites to be representing the NFC in Tampa come February.
Here we rank the top five Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.
Philadelphia’s draft, particularly the selection of Jalen Hurts in the second round, may have split the Eagles’ fanbase, but this is a team that comes out of the offseason better equipped to deal with the kinds of injury crises that derailed their previous two campaigns.
The Eagles were the most injured team in the league in 2018, according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric, in which they ranked 32nd two seasons ago. They finished the 2019 season 21st in AGL but made the playoffs in each of those campaigns.
That is a testament to the work of head coach Doug Pederson and his staff but Eagles general manager Howie Roseman made moves to protect against injuries at the two positions where they have hit hardest in recent years, wide receiver and quarterback.
The selections of Jalen Reagor in the first round, John Hightower in the fifth and Quez Watkins in the sixth, along with the acquisition of Marquise Goodwin, give the Eagles significantly more strength in depth at receiver, where they were decimated in 2019.
Meanwhile, Hurts’ arrival offers Philadelphia a young backup capable of keeping the team afloat if Carson Wentz is sidelined again.
Philadelphia won the NFC East by the skin of its teeth in 2019 and the stellar draft the Dallas Cowboys enjoyed, highlighted by the selection of wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round, makes them favorites to come out of the division in 2020 in the eyes of many.
However, the Eagles had the edge on defense last year and the addition of Javon Hargrave to the interior of the defensive line in free agency solidified what is an imposing front.
The Cowboys have more questions than answers on that side of the ball and the impact of the disrupted offseason is more likely to impact Dallas and its new head coach Mike McCarthy.
While they’re a level below the class of the conference, the Eagles are the most complete team in the East and have a recent history of getting hot at the right time. After a successful offseason, that makes them a very dangerous proposition for their NFC rivals.
There are several signs that point to a Seahawks regression in 2019. Seattle was 9-2 in one-score games last season as the Seahawks went 11-5 while staying healthy for much of the year – they ranked sixth in adjusted games lost – and the work done in the draft by the front office can be considered uninspiring at best.
Seattle has concerns at edge rusher, with Jadeveon Clowney somehow still unsigned, and there remain issues on the offensive line despite improvements made up front by the Seahawks last year.
The Seahawks are not a normal team, however. Cases where logic and reason can be applied to Seattle are few and as long as the Seahawks have Russell Wilson under center, they must be considered contenders.
Wilson had the Seahawks within inches of winning the NFC West in 2019 and there is reason to believe the passing attack will be more dangerous in 2020 as D.K. Metcalf grows ever more comfortable in the offense alongside Tyler Lockett at wide receiver.
On defense, the Legion of Boom days may be long gone but the back seven possesses more talent than it is given credit for, with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright continuing to play at a very high level.
Seattle was 15th in Football Outsiders pass defense DVOA in 2019 but has the players to make improvements in that regard in 2020. If the Seahawks can succeed in making such strides, then that could make life much easier for Wilson and a team that was a win away from last season’s NFC Championship.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Adjusting to a new offense at the age of 42 during an offseason where his practice time will be abbreviated is one of the biggest challenges of Tom Brady‘s career.
There’s no reason not to expect him to relish it, however, and with the team the Buccaneers have assembled around him, Brady has the supporting cast to immediately contend at the sharp end of the NFC.
In Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, he may have the top starting wide receiver duo in the league at his disposal. O.J. Howard, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate is a potentially frightening trio to have at tight end while Ronald Jones II and Ke’Shawn Vaughn are set to form an extremely intriguing young running back pairing.
Tampa made a move to better protect Brady by trading up for tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round of the draft and the New England Patriots legend should also receive plenty of support from a defense that ranked fifth in the league in DVOA last year.
Shaquil Barrett and Ndamukong Suh are both back to re-join a fearsome front seven on which nose tackle Vita Vea and linebacker Devin White should continue to make strides.
Head coach Bruce Arians has thrived in his career while working with older quarterbacks. Working with the greatest of all time and a roster stacked with talent on both sides of the ball, the former Arizona Cardinals head coach can afford to have legitimate aspirations of going deep into the postseason in 2020.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans, and Drew Brees specifically, will have doubters to silence in the 2020 season after the Wild Card round let-down against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Saints, though, are perfectly set up to put the memories of that shock defeat behind them and challenge for the NFC crown.
Emmanuel Sanders‘ arrival in free agency weakened a rival as he came across from the San Francisco 49ers to give Saints the secondary option at receiver they have long since needed.
Sanders provides Brees with a dependable veteran option who will take some of the strain off Michael Thomas.
First-round pick Cesar Ruiz further solidified the interior of the offensive line with a versatile presence who can operate at center and guard, with his selection sure to have been a factor in the eyebrow-raising decision to cut Larry Warford.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints landed a potential steal in Zack Baun. If he can stay healthy, then Baun can be a prolific edge-rushing threat for an already loaded front seven.
The Saints lost out on a first-round bye because of tiebreakers last season. Only George Kittle‘s last-gasp heroics prevented them from knocking off the top-seeded 49ers in what proved a crucial regular-season encounter. With Sanders on the other side of that battle in 2020, New Orleans and San Francisco figure to be incredibly tough to split once again.
San Francisco 49ers
The Saints have an extremely strong case for being considered the class of the conference going into the new season given the losses the Niners endured.
In addition to seeing Sanders depart, the 49ers also traded All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts and saw left tackle Joe Staley retire.
The genius of the Niners’ offeseason, however, was the way in which they swiftly found replacements. Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk were selected in the first round to fill the voids left by Buckner and Sanders, while San Francisco arguably upgraded on Staley by landing seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams in a trade on day three of the draft.
San Francisco’s offensive line will not be expected to miss a beat with Williams slotting into an offense he is familiar with from his time with Kyle Shanahan in Washington.
The questions will surround how quickly Kinlaw and Aiyuk can perform at a level comparable to their predecessors and, in an offseason with limited practice time, the wait may be longer than the Niners hoped.
Robert Saleh’s defense may be anticipated to take a step back after finishing 2019 second in DVOA. However, what must be remembered is that the Niners won the NFC despite ranking 27th in adjusted games lost.
Only five teams were more injury-struck than San Francisco in 2019. Key defensive contributors such as Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, Jaquiski Tartt, D.J. Jones and Ronald Blair all saw their seasons either interrupted or ended by injury.
NFL COACH: ‘NO WAY’ RUSSELL WILSON FINISHES CAREER WITH SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
The recent hubbub around the NFL is that the Seattle Seahawks were talking about trading Russell Wilson back in 2018. The scuttlebutt is that they were in discussions with the Cleveland Browns for the No. 1 pick of that draft. Taking this a step further, there’s talk they would have likely selected Josh Allen atop the draft.
Obviously, none of that ever happened. Wilson is now the highest-paid quarterback in the land. And he’s worth it. However, there are some around the league who wonder if Wilson will remain in Seattle until he retires.
At least one NFL coach is sure Wilson will not finish his career in Seattle. Speaking with Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, this coach said there is “no way” Wilson will play for the Seahawks his entire career.
Remember, Wilson wants to play until he’s 45 years old. He’s 31 now.
With that in mind, the coach who spoke with Freeman believes Wilson will likely play for two more teams before he retires. This coach compared Wilson to Brett Favre. He also said he believes Aaron Rodgers will play for one or two more teams — something that seems inevitable these days.
RANKING THE NFL DIVISIONS, FROM WORST TO BEST
Which of the NFL divisions sits atop the league’s power rankings? It’s a tricky question we’re happy to dive into ahead of the 2020 campaign.
Given the upheaval around the NFL this offseason, there’s a lot going on. Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots and AFC East changed everything. Meanwhile, other teams are in full-blown rebuild mode. While that means a promising future for the fans, it will also make 2020 an even more difficult year to witness.
Without further ado, this is how we rank the NFL divisions, from worst to best.
New England Patriots
New York Jets
It’s not hard to argue that the AFC’s starting quarterbacks enter the year in the bottom half of the league. Sam Darnold and Josh Allen are both flawed, and the Jets haven’t exactly surrounded Darnold with elite talent. The Patriots lack explosive talent on offense and their confidence in Jarrett Stidham remains suspect. While the Dolphins may be entertaining, we wonder if Tua Tagovailoa will be ready early or if they’ll have to rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills have a great shot at the divisional crown, but it won’t be shocking if all four teams struggle in 2020.
New York Giants
The NFC East is Dallas’ division to lose. Period. The Eagles haven’t done enough on either side of the ball to take the division without a collapse from the ‘Boys. The Giants are about as exciting as lukewarm oatmeal. As for Washington, it will take years for Ron Rivera to make this team a contender. The Cowboys will be a playoff team this season, but the rest of the division falls well short.
Philip Rivers arriving in Indianapolis is one of the most intriguing developments of the 2020 NFL offseason. The Colts have since done an incredible job surrounding him with talent. This team could challenge Kansas City in the end.Houston’s offseason, on the other hand, was brutal. Deshaun Watson is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but the Texans keep failing him. While the Titans are rock solid, Ryan Tannehill must prove he can replicate his second-half success. As for the Jaguars, one of the worst teams in the NFL, they can just think about a loaded 2021 NFL Draft class.
Green Bay Packers
You could argue that the Bears and Vikings got worse this offseason. Certainly, neither team significantly improved their chances. The Packers famously screwed over Aaron Rodgers by not drafting a single receiver in a draft stocked with impact talent. Green Bay will probably still win the division, but Detroit has a chance to exceed expectations and steal the crown. Overall, this division is mediocre.
A tremendously top-heavy division, the AFC North has two teams that could win it all. If Ben Roethlisberger is healthy (and can stay healthy), the Steelers have a crazy-good squad. Baltimore is one of the top Super Bowl contenders. If Lamar Jackson can develop his game as a pure passer, this team has dynastic traits. At this point, we have no idea what to expect from Cleveland. The Browns are loaded with talent, but they always find a way to disappoint. The Bengals will be fun to watch because of Joe Burrow, but we don’t expect much from them this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Las Vegas Raiders
Los Angeles Chargers
Of course, we start with the champs. Kansas City is a Super Bowl contender and will be every year with Patrick Mahomes. This is even more true in 2020 thanks to an elite supporting cast. It’s a dynamic squad many believe is the NFL’s next dynasty. The rest of the division is very intriguing. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if any of the other teams made it to the playoffs as a wild-card squad. And the Chargers will be better than anyone’s giving them credit for with Tyrod Taylor under center.
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Incredibly, the Rams are the weakest team in the NFC West right now. Just two years removed from the Super Bowl, this team is in a bind and needs Jared Goff to make significant strides in 2020. The other three teams in this NFL division, however, are all exceptionally dangerous. The 49ers, of course, are the defending NFC champs. The Seahawks and Cardinals could both make the playoffs and nobody would bat an eyelash.This division is absolutely loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. If not for the quarterbacks in the NFC South, the NFC West would reign supreme atop the divisional rankings.
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady. Drew Brees. Matt Ryan. Teddy Bridgewater. Okay, so Bridgewater isn’t in the same class, but you see where we’re going here.The Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints all feature Hall of Fame quarterbacks. They also have insane talent at the skill positions. Defensively, the Saints and Bucs are loaded. All three teams could finish above .500 easily in 2020. As for the Panthers, rookie head coach Matt Rhule has his work cut out. But don’t sleep on Carolina as a team that could surprisingly exceed expectations in 2020 as well.
NFL owners to vote on wild rule change that would allow a fourth-and-15 onside kick alternative
A dramatic rule change pertaining to onside kicks could be coming to the NFL in 2020 if the league’s owners vote to make it happen. The Eagles have proposed a rule that would give teams an alternative option to the onside kick. Instead of trying to recover an onside kick, teams would have the option of attempting to convert a fourth-and-15 play from their own 25-yard line. If they get the 15 yards, they get a first down and keep possession of the ball. If they don’t get the 15 yards, the other team would take over possession from wherever the play ended. For the rule to pass, 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners would have to vote on it at their next meeting, which will be held virtually on May 28.
Although NFL owners don’t generally approve dramatic rule changes — the Colts’ nine-point touchdown proposal got shot down in 2015 — the proposal from Philadelphia might actually have a chance to pass and that’s because it seems to have some support from the competition committee. Last year, the Broncos proposed a similar rule, and at the time, the committee actually voted 7-1 in favor of the proposal.
Despite the committee’s endorsement, most owners ended up voting against the proposed rule and it didn’t pass.
A big reason the competition committee liked the idea is because the success rate for onside kicks has fallen dramatically under the NFL’s new kickoff rules, which were implemented in 2018. Under the new rules, players aren’t allowed to get a running start, which makes it almost impossible to recover an onside kick. The onside recovery rate was just 7.5 percent in 2018 (4 of 53), which was a dramatic decrease over the 21.7 percent recovery rate from 2017 (13 of 60), when the running start was still permitted. In 2019, the onside rate went up to 12.5 percent (7 out of 56), but that was largely thanks to Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, who converted two in one game.
Not only would the fourth-and-15 play add some serious excitement, but based on numbers over the past few years, teams would also have a better chance of converting the alternative onside kick than they would the traditional onside kick.
Although the Broncos proposal got shot down last year, the Eagles proposal might have a chance of passing, and that’s because Philly made some slight tweaks. Under Philly’s plan, the fourth-and-15 play would happen from a team’s own 25-yard line, which makes it more high-risk than the Broncos plan, which called for the play to happen at the 35-yard line.
Also, under the Broncos plan, a team could only use the alternative onside kick once per game, and it could only happen in the fourth quarter. Under the Eagles plan, teams will be able to use it up to twice per game, and during any quarter.
If you’re wondering how exactly the play would be officiated, all normal rules would apply, so if a defense got called for defensive holding, the five-yard penalty would result in an automatic first down for the offense. Also, if the offense got penalized, they wouldn’t be allowed to then kickoff after the penalty is enforced. They’d have to run a fourth-down play from their new line of scrimmage, so an offensive holding penalty would lead to a fourth-and-25 from the 15-yard line, and if the offensive team didn’t convert, the defensive team would take over on downs from where the play ended.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because the Alliance of America Football instituted a similar rule for its inaugural season last year. In the AAF, instead of an onside kick, teams were allowed to try and convert a fourth-and-12 play from their own 28 after scoring. The catch in the AAF was that a team was only allowed to exercise this option if they were trailing by 17 or more points or if they were trailing with under five minutes left in the game.
The first-ever onside conversion attempt was a wild success in the AAF earlier this year, and the NFL definitely took note.
In the NFL, the play could be attempted after any score, including a touchdown or a field goal. A team could also attempt the fourth-and-15 after giving up a safety. Regular onside kicks could also still be attempted at any point in the game as well.
Marvin Lewis rips ‘offensive’ Rooney Rule incentive plan
Marvin Lewis has been outspoken in the past about the NFL finding ways to create more opportunities for minority coaches, but he does not think incentivizing teams with improved draft position is the answer.
Earlier in the week, the NFL tabled an idea that called for teams to move up several spots in the draft if they hired and retained a minority head coach or general manager for a certain amount of time. Lewis spoke with Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun about the proposal, and he thinks it is downright foolish.
“It was offensive, definitely offensive,” Lewis said. “It was like having Jim Crow laws.”
There are currently only four minority head coaches and two minority GMs in the league, and Lewis and others see that as a huge problem. However, using draft position to incentivize teams to hire a head coach or executive is an extreme idea. Instead, the NFL will now require teams to interview two minority candidates for head coaching jobs and one for coordinator jobs in order to satisfy the Rooney Rule. The previous rule only required teams to interview one minority head coaching candidate.
Lewis welcomes that rule change.
“We had come a long way as far as assistant coaches, but we never made any inroads in management,” the former Cincinnati Bengals coach said. “This will be a plus requiring more than one minority to be interviewed because it will cause them to take a deeper dive. This will allow more minorities more opportunities.”
There was a lot of outrage this offseason over the way some black head coaching candidates were overlooked, and Lewis urged the NFL to create more opportunities for those candidates. The new Rooney Rule requirements should do that without having to impact the draft.
Report: Dak Prescott, Cowboys still only disagree over length of contract
Dak Prescott is rumored to have turned down some mammoth contract offers from the Dallas Cowboys over the past several months, but a report we heard this week about the gap between the two sides may be a bit overstated.
Chris Simms of NBC Sports told 105.3 The Fan’s “K & C Masterpiece” on Tuesday that he has heard Prescott turned down a five-year, $175 million deal. Simms also said (via SI.com) that Prescott wants an insane amount of money — perhaps more than $45 million — for the fifth year alone.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the only issue between Prescott and the Cowboys at the moment is that Prescott wants a shorter deal than the team is offering.
The Cowboys aren’t going to pay Prescott more than $45 million for any single season. It’s possible that he demanded that in the fifth year of a contract only because he knew Dallas would never agree to it, and Prescott is said to be seeking a four-year deal. Previous reports indicated the Cowboys offered Prescott $35 million per year over five years, which probably is not that far off.
Dallas likes giving out long-term deals to star players, but Prescott is 26 and wants to be eligible for free agency again when he is 30. If he continues to play at a high level, he would be in line for a significant raise at that point, as the quarterback market has risen rapidly in recent years.
It still seems unlikely that Prescott will play under the franchise tag this season, though one fellow star quarterback does not think that would be a bad thing for Dak. If the only issue is the length of the contract, a long-term agreement is still the most likely outcome.
Report: Jamal Adams trade possible amid contract stalemate
Jamal Adams has been at odds with the Jets for a while, and that continues to be the case.
The New York Daily News’ Gary Myers reported on Thursday that Adams and the Jets are in a stalemate over the defensive back’s contract. The stalemate reportedly has caused some friction and made a trade possible.
Adams was the No. 6 overall pick in 2017 and is set to make $3.5 million this year. The Jets have already exercised the fifth-year option for him at just under $13 million, but he wants a long-term deal.
Adams is not planning to participate in the team’s virtual offseason program. The team is not in a rush to sign him to a long-term deal, and they are open to trading Adams.
Adams had 75 total tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2019. He has made the Pro Bowl in all three of his seasons.
Briscoe’s heartbreaking week ends with Xfinity victory
Chase Briscoe was grateful to bring a moment or two of happiness to wife Marissa in the worst week of their lives.
It was Tuesday, during a 12-week exam, that they learned that their expected child – they only learned Monday that it was a girl – had no fetal heartbeat.
Two days later, Briscoe won the Xfinity Series’ return to action when he held off Kyle Busch at Darlington Raceway.
“This has been the hardest week I’ve ever had to deal with and God is so good,” Briscoe said. “Even when I took the lead with 50 to go, I was crying inside the race car.”
Briscoe joined his wife’s appointment on a video call from the infield at Darlington, awaiting the rain-delayed race’s orginal start time. He and Marissa shared their news on Instagram on Wednesday, hoping it might help others cope with similar tragedies.
His story will reach so many more after the victory Thursday.
“This is more than a race win,” he said. “This is the biggest day of my life after the toughest day in my life, and to be able to best the best there is is so satisfying.”
Briscoe said he never seriously considered pulling out of the competition, that racing might be “therapuetic” in the series’ first event since March 7 in Phoenix due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Briscoe used two strong restarts and a quick pit stop to finish on top. He got the lead out of the pits during the final caution, then pulled away from Busch and Justin Allgaier on the subsequent restart with seven laps to go for his fourth career win and second this season.
“Honestly, winning the Daytona 500 couldn’t even top the feeling of just, like I was saying earlier, the ups and downs,” Briscoe said. “This is what my family needed and what my wife needed.”
Busch seemed to have the race in hand as he took the second stage in a dominant showing. But he was called for speeding in the pits and ordered to the back of the 39-car field.
But Busch was there to challenge Briscoe at the end, the cars touching off the final turn before Briscoe crossed the finish line in front by 0.08 seconds.
Allgaier was third, Austin Cindric fourth and Noah Gragson, the pole sitter who won the first stage, was fifth.
For Busch, it was another error that cost him a win at Darlington. In the NASCAR Cup Series race Wednesday night, he clipped Chase Elliott late to cause a spin – Elliott waited and extended his middle finger at Busch – and finished second to Joe Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin.
Busch was satisfied with his run.” I had a good showing, put on a little bit of an exciting show there at the end,” he said.
Busch said wife Samantha reached out to Marissa to offer solace. The Busch family had similar heartache in the past.
Briscoe appreciated the words of consolation from the Busches and all the friends in NASCAR he’s heard from the past two days.
Busch and Timmy Hill were in all three Darlington races. The two plan to run all four races at Charlotte, too.
After the delay Tuesday because of rain, more storms delayed the planned noon start for another 4½ hours.
NASCAR’s Cup Series had a successful return at Darlington with two races.
Kevin Harvick earned his 50th Cup win when he took Sunday’s race, the first for the series in 10 weeks while Hamlin won a rain-shortened race Wednesday night, the first time the series ran on that day since 1984.
AP source: NHLPA board voting on playoff format to return
The NHL Players’ Association’s executive board is voting on a 24-team playoff proposal as the return to play format, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday night because the vote was still ongoing. Results of the vote could be in as soon as Friday night.
Even if the executive board votes to approve the format, it doesn’t yet seal the deal for the NHL season resuming. The league and players union still need to negotiate other details, including health and safety protocols.
But the format is a substantial piece of the return to play puzzle.
Under the plan proposed by the joint NHL/NHLPA Return To Play Committee, the top four teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences would play each other for seeding while the remaining 16 teams face off in a best-of-five series play-in round to set the final 16 to compete for the Stanley Cup.
That would mean byes for Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and defending champion St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in West. Pittsburgh, Carolina the New York Islanders and Rangers, Toronto, Columbus, Florida and Montreal would also make it in the East and Edmonton, Nashville, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Arizona and Chicago in the West.
“I feel like if you’re doing the 24-team thing, it basically gives a team a chance that had no chance of making it, which if you play 82 there’s maybe 6, 8% chance that the team in 12th place (in the conference) makes it,” Carolina player representative Jordan Martinook said Wednesday, more than 24 hours before the executive board meeting. “Nobody’s ever seen this before, but at the end of the day, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are 16 teams, seven games a series.”
This format would lead to the traditional four rounds of seven-game series.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a perfect scenario where everyone’s super excited about,” Nashville’s Ryan Johansen said earlier Thursday. “As long as everybody can agree and be happy with the decision that will be made, that’s really all that matters.”
If the NHLPA’s executive board and the league’s board of governors approve the plan, the who of returning would be set. The where, when and how must still be determined, including how many cities will host games, quarantine regulations and testing.
“Nothing’s really certain until it’s certain, so things can change so quickly and they have on different things,” Return to Play committee member James van Riemsdyk of the Flyers said Wednesday. “We’re trying to keep as many options open and navigate through different things and hopefully come up with a vision that obviously first and foremost is the health and safety of everyone.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman this week said the league was looking at eight or nine locations to serve as hub cities for the resumption of the season.
It’s unclear when the league and players will agree to begin the second phase of preparations for return, which would be the reopening of team practice facilities and voluntary workouts. The following step would then likely be a three-week training camp before games resume.
“Obviously it’s an important thing to navigate through all the different issues that there are so that ultimately we can try to find a safe way to get things going here,” van Riemsdyk said. “There’s been some different talks and things like that and talking about a bunch of different things and trying to sort through some different issues.”
Vanderbilt’s Lee becomes SEC’s 1st woman athletic director
Vanderbilt has removed the interim title, making Candice Storey Lee the first woman to become an athletic director in the Southeastern Conference.
With Vanderbilt’s announcement Wednesday, Lee now is among only five women and the second black woman in charge of a Power Five program. Daniel Diermeier, who takes over as Vanderbilt’s chancellor on July 1, said Lee is the “living embodiment” of the university’s values and aspirations.
“Candice is perfectly positioned to lead our athletics program to new heights of success on and off the field of play,” Diermeier said. “She has the drive, creativity, and perseverance to help elevate our student-athletes, and the entire Vanderbilt Athletics program.
The 41-year-old Lee, a former Commodores basketball captain, was named interim athletic director Feb. 4 when Malcolm Turner resigned after one year on the job for the former NBA G League president. That made Lee the first woman to run athletics at Vanderbilt, and she said she was incredibly honored and could not be in this position without the support of Vanderbilt’s leadership, coaches, staff and fans.
“There are challenges ahead and much uncertainty about what college athletics can and should look like during a pandemic, but I firmly believe that anything is possible if we all work together,” Lee said.
Tennessee’s Joan Cronan was the only other woman to have been at least an interim AD at an SEC school, the conference said. She was the interim for the Volunteers for approximately three months in 2011. Cronan and Bev Lewis at Arkansas both were in charge of women’s departments when both schools had separate athletics departments.
Lee joins Carla Williams at Virginia as the only black women athletic directors at a Power Five school, with Sandy Barbour at Penn State, Jennifer Cohen at Washington and Heather Lyke at Pittsburgh the other women ADs.
As a four-year letter winner for Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team, Lee graduated with a degree in human and organizational development in 2000. She also received her master’s degree in counseling from Vanderbilt in 2002, and in 2012, Lee earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt in higher education administration.
She became Vanderbilt’s senior woman administrator in the athletics department in 2004 and deputy athletic director in 2016. In that role, Lee ran the day-to-day operations and also oversaw both football and women’s basketball for the Commodores.
Lee is a former member of the NCAA women’s basketball rules committee, former chair of the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse committee and a former chair of the SEC Senior Woman Administrators. Lee also is on the board of the directors for the YWCA of Middle Tennessee and on the SEC Executive Committee.
Susan R. Wente, Vanderbilt’s interim chancellor and provost, said Lee hit the ground running after being appointed interim athletic director earlier this year.
“We will look back and see this decision as a major turning point for Vanderbilt athletics, and our entire university,” Wente said.
Baseball players respond to MLB on virus protocols
The baseball players’ association gave management a wide-ranging response Thursday to a 67-page proposed set of protocols for a season to be played during the coronavirus pandemic.
Management had presented the union and the 30 teams the proposed draft last Friday.
The union said Thursday it addressed: protections for high-risk players, access to pre- and postgame therapies, testing frequency, protocols for positive tests, in-stadium medical personnel and sanitization procedures.
Players viewed many of the concepts in the original draft as over-the-top, such as arriving in uniform at the ballparks, a prohibition on them leaving without team permission and a ban on guests other than immediate family members. Players also objected to a ban on the use of showers and hydrotherapy.
The union wants more frequent testing than management’s proposed “multiple times per week.”
MLB is expected to make an economic proposal to the union within a few days. MLB hopes to start the season by early July.
Rays pitching prospect Honeywell has elbow procedure
Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Brent Honeywell had a decompression procedure on his right ulnar nerve and is set to begin strength and mobility exercises.
Dodgers head team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed the procedure on the 25-year-old right-hander in Los Angeles on Wednesday, working with Dr. Steven Shin to remove scar tissue from the area of the nerve.
Honeywell, who hasn’t pitched in the minors since September 2017, is scheduled to start exercises on Monday at the Rays’ spring training complex in Port Charlotte.
Honeywell was among Tampa Bay’s top prospects after going 13-9 with a 3.49 ERA in 26 starts for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham in 2017.
He missed the following season after Tommy John surgery during spring training. He sat out 2019 after an operation last June to repair a right elbow fracture.
Lace them up: Boxing set for June 9 return in Las Vegas
Add boxing to the list of sports on the comeback trail.
Promoter Bob Arum said Thursday he plans to stage a card of five fights on June 9 at the MGM Grand, the first of a series of fights over the next two months at the Las Vegas hotel. A second fight card will be held two nights later, with ESPN televising both cards, kicking off twice weekly shows at the hotel in June and July.
No fans will be allowed, and Arum said fighters and everyone else will be tested at least twice during fight week for the new coronavirus. The fights are pending approval of the Nevada Athletic Commission, which meets next week to consider the events, along with two cards that the UFC plans to stage at its facility in Las Vegas.
They are also pending the reopening of the MGM and other Las Vegas hotels, something that is widely expected to happen the first week of June, though no dates for a second phase of easing virus restrictions have been announced by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak.
“Once we get those fights in and UFC gets its initial fights in, both of us will ask for additional dates,” Arum told The Associated Press. “The key was getting enough testing, and we’ve got plenty of testing in Nevada to hold our events.”
In addition to Arum’s fights, British promoter Eddie Hearn said this week he plans to hold fights beginning sometime in July from the backyard garden of the family mansion outside London where he was raised. Hearn told The Athletic that the first fight card is tentatively set for July 15.
Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya has also talked about returning with a July 4 card, though he has offered no details. UFC returned to action earlier this month with cards in Florida, including a pay-per-view event, that took place without fans.
Arum declined to say who would be fighting on June 9, saying ESPN wanted to make the announcement after the fights are approved. But he said the cards would feature the same quality of fighters who were on ESPN before the shutdown of sports around the world.
The cards would be expanded to three-hour shows, Arum said, and feature a main event, a co-main and three supporting fights.
“These will be the same guys we were going to have before to the extent possible,” he said. “Guys like (Olympic medalist) Shakur Stevenson and others who would have been fighting on our cards.”
Stevenson was set to headline a Top Rank card in March at Madison Square Garden when it was called off at the last minute because of the pandemic. Another Top Rank fighter, Ireland’s Michael Conlan, was to fight in New York on St. Patrick’s Day, but Arum said Conlan won’t be on the upcoming cards because he’s unable to travel from Ireland.
Arum said fighters and cornermen will be tested when they arrive in Las Vegas the week of the fight and will be housed on a “bubble” floor at the MGM Grand. They will be allowed out only to eat at an approved restaurant in the hotel or to train at the Top Rank gym.
Fighters will also be tested the night before they fight. The double tests should eliminate the issue the UFC had when a fighter tested positive and was removed from the UFC 249 card, Arum said.
“Our protocols will be much more stringent than UFC had in Florida,” Arum said. “In ours you wouldn’t have a fighter testing positive the day of the fight or the day before.”
Arum credited Jim Murren, the former MGM CEO who leads a state task force dealing with the virus, with making sure there are enough tests available for fighters, judges, commissioners and anyone else involved on site. He said 60-70 people may be tested on fight day alone, using tests that can give results in a couple hours.
While pre-pandemic fights were held in the 16,000-seat MGM Grand Garden, Arum said the fights will be held in a convention area or ballroom at the hotel. There will be no media allowed, at least at the beginning, he said, because of the logistical difficulty of testing more people.
Arum’s Top Rank has a long-term deal with ESPN for fights that before the pandemic hit were on the main network and streaming service ESPN+. The network also combined with Fox to televise the pay-per-view of the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder heavyweight title card in February that was Top Rank’s last card.
Arum said he talked to Fury on Thursday and that plans are underway to hold the rematch – probably somewhere outside the U.S. – late this year. He said there are also still plans for a highly anticipated lightweight title unification fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez by the end of the year.
2020 NBA DRAFT PLAYER PROFILE: ONYEKA OKONGWU
A powerful post player who excels at rebounding the ball, defending the rim and scoring in the lane. Unpolished but with a lot of upside, Okongwu has an NBA frame and is on a trajectory to be a first round pick.
A big, strong and athletic player who can really bang in the paint and hold his ground
An excellent shot blocker with good instincts and intelligent defensive play – knows how to avoid fouls and how to keep the ball in play when he blocks a shot
Does a good job of reading the flight of the ball and battling for offensive rebounds
Has decent shooting form and has shown steady improvement – projects as a solid mid-range shooter who could develop 3 point range
Has good hands and catches the ball well
Runs the floor well and is an above average open court athlete
Knows his role and doesn’t try to do too much – isn’t afraid to do the dirty work
Needs to improve his ball handling skills
Needs to improve his free throw shooting
Can he develop into a floor spacer?
Reminds of Tristan Thompson but with more offensive upside.
A more bulky Bam Adebayo
Kendrick Perkins shares real reason why Rajon Rondo hates Ray Allen
There has been tension over the years among the 2008 Boston Celtics mostly centering around Ray Allen.
Allen left the Celtics to sign with the rival Miami Heat after the 2011-2012 season, which upset many of his former teammates. Kevin Garnett said at the time that he lost Allen’s phone number. KG still has hard feelings towards Allen over it.
Rajon Rondo is the other former Celtic who has had beef with Allen. Rondo said Allen wasn’t invited to the team’s 10-year anniversary celebration of the 2008 championship. Rondo also took a shot at Allen over the shooting guard’s book.
So why does Rondo hate Allen, aside from Ray leaving for Miami? According to former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, it’s because Rondo found out that Allen supported Boston trading Rondo for Chris Paul.
Perkins shared the story on SiriusXM NBA Radio.
“It was brought to the table, ‘what if we trade Rondo and get CP?’ And KG and Paul (Pierce) were like, ‘no, we ain’t doing that. As great as CP is, we just won the championship. We’re rocking with [Rondo].’ Ray was like, ‘nah, let’s do it.’ And what happened was Rondo ended up finding out about it, and that was it from there,” Perkins said.
“It was even to the point we brought boxing gloves to the gym and we made them box it out.”
Rondo and Allen remained teammates for a few more seasons even after that, but obviously tension continued, and Rondo still was holding a grudge towards Allen a decade later. This story from Perkins helps explain why.
Report: Nets exploring ways to trade for Bradley Beal
The Brooklyn Nets are interested in acquiring a third star player to pair with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this offseason, and one name to keep an eye on is Bradley Beal.
The Nets have had internal discussions about potential ways they could acquire Beal, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reports. While the Washington Wizards have not yet indicated whether or not they will entertain trade offers for Beal, the star guard is set to make $29 million next season on a team that is just 24-40 this year.
Beal, 26, has elevated his game since John Wall suffered a torn Achilles last year. Beal is averaging a career-high 30.5 points per game this season, and he clearly is not getting the recognition he deserves. He made it known that he was upset over not being selected for the All-Star Game, so it would not be a shock if he ends up wanting to be traded. However, he said back in March that he will not demand a trade and wants to remain with Washington.
The Nets could make some significant moves this offseason, as they are searching for a new head coach and Kyrie Irving has already hinted that he is unhappy with the team’s roster.
Purdue Track & Field Duo Earn Big Ten Medal of Honor
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Seniors Jaret Carpenter and Janae’ Moffitt of the track & field team have been named Purdue’s recipients of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, the Big Ten Conference has announced.
Two of the most decorated student-athletes in program history, Carpenter and Moffitt’s careers conclude with their names found throughout the Purdue cross country and track & field record books.
The Big Ten Medal of Honor is awarded annually at each university to the student-athlete demonstrating the greatest proficiency in scholarship and athletics. The conference first endowed a Medal of Honor in 1914, while each school named a male and female student-athlete beginning in 1982.
“I’d like to congratulate Janae’ and Jaret on their award recognition,” Purdue coach Norbert Elliott said. “This recognition is emblematic of their character, not only in athletics but also in the classroom.”
“Earning this award is a great honor and I want to thank (Cross Country Assistant) Coach (John) Oliver, Coach Elliot, (Associate Athletics Director) Calvin (Williams), and all of the athletic department support staff for providing the essential resources and opportunities to compete against the nation’s best athletes,” Carpenter said. “I also want to thank my teammates, without them, none of these accomplishments would have been possible. For this reason, I like to consider this award shared among everyone who has played a role in helping me become the best version of myself throughout my collegiate career. Ever grateful, ever true. I am excited for the future of the program and am proud to be a Boilermaker.”
“I am so grateful and humbled to have received this incredible honor,” Moffitt said. “Purdue University has not only given me the opportunity to learn and grow as a student-athlete but as a person. I am so thankful for their constant support and encouragement throughout my collegiate career and I am proud to now, and forever be, a Boilermaker.”
Carpenter is the 15th member of the Purdue men’s track & field program and seventh cross country runner to earn the award, while Moffitt is the seventh woman from the track & field squad to be recognized.
Additionally, 2020 marks the third time in school history that the track & field team has received both male and female awards, joining 1995 and 2016.
Carpenter turned in a record-setting senior season, which began in the fall with the cross country team. He finished 10th overall at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, the best finish by a Boilermaker since 1949, and became the 10th All-American in program history, including the second since 1987. He was named the Big Ten Men’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year, the second time a Purdue runner has earned the award. Carpenter also was recognized with USTFCCCA All-Academic Team, All-Big Ten First Team and Academic All-Big Ten accolades and earned the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
A Wayzata, Minnesota, native, Carpenter was one of two Boilermakers to break the school record in the indoor mile, with his time of 4:02.65 ranking No. 2 in program history. Additionally, he ran the third-fastest 10,000-meter NCAA Regional time in team history (30:15.3) and the third-fastest 8,000-meter Big Ten Championship time (24:03.5). In his career, Carpenter owns three school records, two set indoors (2019) and one outdoors (2018), and is in the top-six in program history in 10 total events. He also collected outdoor All-America honors in 2018, in addition to the 2019 cross country recognition.
Moffitt also concluded a historic career with a championship-caliber senior campaign in the high jump. She won her fourth overall Big Ten title and third indoors, becoming the third woman in conference history to win three or more indoor high jump titles. Moffitt qualified for her fifth NCAA Championships, where she was seeded seventh in the nation. She was named to the All-Big Ten Team for the seventh time in her career and collected first team honors for the fourth time.
A native of Marion, Indiana, Moffitt is No. 3 in Purdue history in the indoor high jump with a mark of 1.84 meters, set in 2017, and she is tied for No. 4 in the outdoor high jump with a jump of 1.82 meters, which she achieved three times. This year, she broke the meet record in the high jump at the Larry Wieczorek Invitational, with a mark of 1.81 meters on Jan. 17 in Iowa City, Iowa.
TODAY IN SPORTS HISTORY-1977
Janet Guthrie became today the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 auto race. Her average speed was 188.403 miles an hour on this last day of qualification for the race next Sunday.
The 39-year-old Miss Guthrie was first in line for a qualification attempt today. Driving the No. 27 Lightning-Offenhauser for Rolla Vollstedt, she turned in successive laps of 187.500, 188.363, 188.798 and 188.957 m.p.h. She had the fastest speed on the opening day of practice two weeks ago, 185.6, then raised her own best to more than 191 before ramming the wall on May 10. Her car was never the same after that. But more than a week of fine tuning and testing by her teammate, Dick Simon, brought the racer back up to competitive speeds.
Miss Guthrie did not make an official qualification attempt last year because her Vollstedt simply was not fast enough. At the time, she was unable to get above 173 m.p.h. in her own racer, but she proved her ability to many of the doubters by later practicing above 181 in A.J. Foyt’s backup car. However, her debut at the Speedway last year still marked a number of firsts. She was the first woman to enter officially the Indy 500, the world’s richest automobile race. And she was the first woman to drive around the track in actual practice, as well as the first to complete the mandatory rookie test.
Her return to Indianapolis this year was greeted with somewhat less fanfare, but the crowds of spectators and newsmen continued to watch her every move. “I want to thank my folks for not bringing me up thinking I couldn’t do something because I was a woman,” she said, still shaking but beaming after today’s qualification. “I’ve given a lot of thought to the symbolism of being the first woman here. I think it’s important to credit the women’s movement with creating the climate that made this possible.”
Her best lap in practice this week was 183 m.p.h. But she went over 186 this morning before making the qualification attempt. “This certainly is a major accomplishment in any racing career,” she said. “But no race driver does this alone. I’ve had help from people too numerous to mention. The car was right and it worked beautifully.
“During the run I was just thinking, ‘No mistakes,’ and there was an adjective or two in there.”
Janet Guthrie started 26th in the 33- car field at the Indy 500 one week later. She fell out with engine trouble after 27 laps. Guthrie returned the following year and finished ninth.
2003: Annika Sorenstam became the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to compete in a PGA Tour event when she teed off in The Colonial at Fort Worth, Tex. Sorenstam shot 71‚74 and missed the 36‚hole cut.
1963: Mickey Mantle homered off facade atop the third tier at Yankee Stadium against right-hander Bill Fischer of the Kansas City A’s. The shot, three feet from becoming the first to leave the Stadium, was almost identical to one Mantle hit off right-hander Pedro Ramos of the Washington Senators in 1956.
1994: After two successive post-season failures against them, the Knicks finally overcame the Chicago Bulls in the N.B.A. Eastern Conference semifinals, 87‚77, in the deciding Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Chicago, however, was without Michael Jordan, who had retired for the first time in his career. New York lost in the league finals to the Houston Rockets.
BASEBALL’S BEST: CHICO CARRASQUEL
Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel was the first great Hispanic defensive player in the major leagues. His play at shortstop made him as recognizable a big-leaguer as there was for several years. Carrasquel may not have revolutionized the position defensively like latter-day greats Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel – but he brought panache, born of his innate love for the sport and the excitement and joy he felt while on the baseball field. Some athletes, in the way they look or the way they play, are naturally appealing to the sports public at large. Carrasquel was one of them. From his minor league days, and for much of his time in the majors, the four-time All-Star was someone whom many people came to the ballpark with particular interest to watch.
In Spanish-speaking nations outside of his home country, Carrasquel was known as El Gato de Venezuela because of his cat-like fielding movements. As sportswriter Ray Gillespie put it, “Chico has a natural talent for putting color into his tosses across the infield by using a graceful follow-through.” His throws on double-play pivots also added flavor to the game, as Carrasquel said years after his retirement. He recalled that to avoid being spiked, “I was one of the first shortstops to throw the ball from second to first underhanded during double plays. Throwing the ball underhanded, the runner would have to slide or get hit with the ball.” Former teammate Minnie Miñoso recalled Carrasquel’s defensive brilliance in this manner: “I had seen so many good shortstops, but Chico played like no one I had ever seen. Gee whiz, this guy never misses a ball! What a glove. What hands. Perfect throw to first base all the time.”
Alfonso Colón Carrasquel was born on January 23, 1926, in Caracas, Venezuela. He was one of 11 children and the first boy in the family of María Lourdes Carrasquel and her husband Cristóbal Colón. They lived in a canton of the capital city called Caserio Corao. Cristóbal worked as a laborer in a brewery in La Guaira, a town on the coast north of Caracas. María Lourdes supplemented the household income as a street vendor of home-cooked products such as arepas (corn cakes), which Alfonso also helped sell starting around the age of nine.
María Lourdes was the sister of pitcher Alejandro “Alex” Carrasquel, who became the very first Venezuelan in the majors in 1939. More than 300 have followed since – Alfonso was third overall after his uncle and Chucho Ramos. He was comfortable using his mother’s family name instead of his father’s – no doubt because of the repute associated with the name Carrasquel in Caracas. No other boy in all of Venezuela, outside of his own family, could say that he had an uncle who had played in the major leagues. Young Alfonso especially enjoyed listening to his uncle’s baseball reminiscences, involving some of the game’s greatest names. This was a source of pride for the boy, who (when not hustling around the neighborhood on behalf of his large family) was playing baseball.
Many members of Alfonso’s extended family also played professional baseball. His nephew, also named Cristóbal Colón, made it to the majors for 14 games with the Texas Rangers in 1992. Cris was a shortstop too. Two of Alfonso’s brothers, Domingo and Martín, played in the U.S. minors. So did his first cousin, Manuel Carrasquel, and three other nephews: Domingo and Emilio Carrasquel and Alfonso Collazo. Yet another nephew, Juan Muñoz, played briefly in Venezuela’s winter league, La Liga Venezolana del Béisbol Profesional (LVBP).
Alfonso was a sensation in junior league ball from the age of 17. He played (and also pitched) with various local clubs, including El Triunfo, La Vega, and the team of the city’s electric company, Electricidad de Caracas. When he was 19, he became a member of the team that represented Venezuela in the Amateur World Series of 1945. The following year, the country formed a professional league, which played its first season in the summer before switching to the winter. Carrasquel joined the Cervecería Caracas team. He played seven seasons with that club and eight more after it was rechristened as the Caracas Leones in 1952. He went on to play 21 total in his homeland.
In 1948, Fresco Thompson of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Carrasquel to his first professional contract in the United States. The bonus was US$1,000. The scout traveled all the way to Caracas to secure the player. “I didn’t know where he [Carrasquel] lived,” Thompson said shortly after the signing. “The owner of the team didn’t have his address either. I had to wait around in my hotel room…until his team played again. We got along all right once he spelled out the name ‘Dodgers’ on my business card. That’s a universal word.”
After winning the Venezuelan batting title with a .373 mark (in 118 at-bats), Carrasquel reported to spring training with the Dodgers at their “atomic-age” camp in Florida in 1949. The 23-year-old – who, like many players, took a couple of years off his age for professional purposes – made his way around Vero Beach with the help of Roy Campanella, who had picked up Spanish while playing ball in the Caribbean and Mexico. But when camp broke, Campanella headed with the team to Brooklyn, and Carrasquel was shipped to Triple-A Montreal before being transferred to the Dodgers’ Double-A team in Fort Worth. Shortstop was the wrong position for a Brooklyn prospect in the 1940s and ’50s because Pee Wee Reese was entrenched there.
Carrasquel, as did nearly all Hispanic players of the era, faced the challenge of a new language. Montreal manager Clay Hopper did not play him because he could not speak English. Slightly more than four decades after his rookie season, Carrasquel recalled, “I was very lonely that year. I would go to my hotel room and look at myself in the mirror and say: ‘Buenos días, Chico. Como estás?’ I had to talk to someone, and that someone was me. But I was determined to be a big league player. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.”
Carrasquel had a fine year with the bat at Fort Worth: a .315 batting average, with 6 homers and 69 RBIs. This end-of-season report delved further into the minor-leaguer’s potential: “Most of the experts believe the Cats possess by far the hottest prospect in Chico Carrasquel, who is called the league’s greatest postwar shortstop, and one of the finest to perform in the Texas League.” It was at Fort Worth, incidentally, that the infielder received the nickname “Chico” from teammates.
In October 1949, Frank Lane, general manager of the Chicago White Sox, obtained Carrasquel. The initial terms were $25,000 and two minor-league players.7 The deal was among the best of many by the man called “Trader Frank.” Just weeks after the exchange, John P. Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News wrote, “Lane is just as happy he got Carrasquel from Branch Rickey as if he’d taken Montreal’s Sam Jethroe, for whom the Braves paid $125,000.” Meanwhile, Rickey said, “It was a bad deal. It was a mistake.” The following year, renowned sportswriter Bob Broeg said, “Rickey reportedly has labeled [the trade] as his worst mistake.”
The White Sox trained in Pasadena, California, in the spring of 1950. After just a year in the minor leagues, Carrasquel was appointed the successor to Hall of Famer Luke Appling, who had been a fixture at Comiskey Park since the early 1930s. At 42 years of age, Appling had played 141 games at short in 1949, hitting .301. However, sportswriter Ed Fitzgerald later echoed a sentiment no doubt held by the White Sox brass at the time. “Appling could still hit the ball hard, but he had slowed up so badly that the White Sox pitchers weren’t getting anything like the protection they deserved. It wasn’t Luke’s fault. It was just a case of time winning another victory.”
Carrasquel had a prominent role to fill and from Opening Day 1950 he measured up to the task. In his major-league debut that April 18, against Ned Garver of the St. Louis Browns, he walked in his first plate appearance and then singled in his first official at-bat. Number 17 – which he wore nearly throughout his career because there are 17 letters in Alfonso Carrasquel – also handled six chances in the field without fault. The White Sox lost at home, 5-3.
Carrasquel hit his first of 55 major league home runs on May 5, at Fenway Park, against Joe Dobson of the Red Sox. His overall play helped prompt the following mid-season prediction from GM Lane: “The new sparkle given our infield by Chico Carrasquel’s play at shortstop and outfielder Gus Zernial’s potential greatness at bat may enable us to finish this season in the upper division for the first time since 1943.” (The White Sox finished sixth in the eight-team league.)
On July 16, 1950, a mid-summer afternoon at Yankee Stadium, Carrasquel was at the center of a distinctive and significant ceremony. It was remarkable in that the honoree was a rookie who had played barely three months in the major leagues – the shower of gifts and praises he received would usually be reserved for elite players nearing the end of their careers. It was significant in that a Latin American player, for the first time, was receiving public esteem from North American baseball.
The tribute, or first “International Day” as Collier’s magazine called it, occurred between games of a Sunday doubleheader that was also broadcast in Spanish throughout Latin America. The politically motivated homage was the idea of Walter Donnelly, then U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Donnelly sought “to focus attention upon the United States as a land of opportunity for all and to combat untruths about this country with which the Communists were poisoning the minds of young Venezuelans.”
Carrasquel’s bounty included an automobile, luggage, watch, a television set and radio, plus an array of medals (from baseball and various fraternal orders) – not to mention 16,300 Venezuelan bolivars. That sum was then equal to about US$5,000 – five times his signing bonus. Carrasquel’s sister and mother were among those on hand at the New York event. Alfonso himself had just returned from Caracas a week earlier. He had taken advantage of the All-Star break to visit his wife, Marcela Rodríguez. She had given birth to a new son, Omar, born June 5. The couple had married on February 25, 1948, and welcomed their first child, Edgar, 12 months later.
Less than two weeks after “Carrasquel Day” at Yankee Stadium, Chico’s team was preparing for their sixth series meeting of the season against the New York Yankees. Chicago sportswriter Edgar Munzel previewed the series. “Although the White Sox in general are sinking in the American League race like a lead weight in a millpond,” wrote Munzel, “there was one among them who was definitely on the rise. In fact, he was rising to stardom so rapidly he seemed jet-propelled. The shooting star was none other than Alfonso ‘Chico’ Carrasquel, rookie shortstop.”13 When the story came out, Carrasquel’s 24-game hitting streak had just ended.
Carrasquel finished third behind Walt Dropo and Whitey Ford in the American League Rookie of the Year Award balloting. Dropo was the clear choice, with 34 homers and a league-leading 144 RBIs. Though he pitched only half a season, Ford made a strong impression with his 9-1 record and 2.81 ERA. Carrasquel – with 4 homers, 46 RBIs, a .282 average (his best in the majors), and sparkling play at short – also finished 12th in the voting for AL Most Valuable Player.
“The only thing that keeps general manager Frank Lane from grinning all over the place,” wrote Bob Broeg shortly after the season, “is a recent knee operation necessitated by Chico’s habit – like that of Pepper Martin – of jamming abruptly to a stop after sprinting from the batter’s box to first base.” The damaged knee cartilage forced Carrasquel to miss the last week of his rookie season, but he came back the next season without missing a defensive beat.
Early in the 1951 season, John C. Hoffman of Collier’s described Carrasquel in a feature called “Chicago’s Chico – Baseball’s New Mr. Shortstop.” “Physically, Chico suggests the late Tony Lazzeri, famed Yankee second baseman. High cheekbones betray some Indian blood and he smiles through dark-brown eyes adorning an expressionless countenance. There is good humor in his manner, and his temper is even. He walks with the stride of a panther, dresses elegantly off the field.”
Hoffman also depicted Carrasquel in the field. “Carrasquel plays deep at his position. His strong accurate arm permits him to stand far back. On fast grounders hit to his left or right, when he is caught off balance, he leaps high into the air after snaring the ball and throws to first base with both feet off the ground.” The latter part brings Derek Jeter to mind, though Jeter’s range was not comparable. Carrasquel also had to deal with an occupational hazard of shortstops – he received over 100 stitches for spike wounds throughout his playing days.
At least as early as 1951, his spectacular glove work also made Carrasquel one of the first Latin American players in the United States to receive a national endorsement deal. The Nocona Athletic Goods Company, a small Texas-based manufacturer of gloves, used his photo to complement their “major league quality” products. “Chico handles the hot ones with ease using his Nokona 59 glove…made especially for him,” one of the print ads (from 1954) proclaimed.
After winning just 60 games in 1950, the White Sox picked up to 81 in 1951. This included a 14-game winning streak – the first 11 on the road – from May 15 through May 30. The South Side of Chicago was infected with early pennant fever, as an Associated Press story described. “A crowd of more than 1000 rolled cheers through the LaSalle Street Station as Sox stalwarts detrained. Perhaps the loudest salvo of applause was directed at shortstop Chico Carrasquel.”
In July 1951, Carrasquel enjoyed what he later described as “my greatest thrill in baseball … my first All-Star Game … because I was the first Latin player to play in one.” The fans voted him in over reigning AL MVP Phil Rizzuto. Chico’s selection was reinforced this way by Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich: “If you’re asking how Carrasquel got into the All-Star act with a sub-.300 average, that’s easy. There isn’t a shortstop who’s outhitting him, and there isn’t a rival who deserves mention in the same inhalation with Carrasquel as a defensive man.” The AL’s shortstop went 1-for-2, his hit (a single) coming against NL starter Robin Roberts.
The White Sox were still in first place at the All-Star break, but they soon fell out of the hunt, despite Carrasquel’s continued fine play. On July 13 at Comiskey, Chico accepted 18 chances without fault in a 19-inning game against Boston. Two days later, he established a new AL shortstop record of 289 chances without an error. The streak (since surpassed by various players) reached 297. Also, on July 15, Carrasquel kept Sam Zoldak of the Philadelphia Athletics from throwing a no-hitter with a third-inning single.
In August, Look magazine ran a five-page feature centered around Carrasquel and how the White Sox pennant chances were tied to him. It described Carrasquel “at shortstop, covering ground like sunlight, inspiring the rest of the team to outdo itself in trying to match him.”
As the weekly magazine hit the newstands, a third Carrasquel “edition,” Alfonso Carrasquel Jr., made his happy arrival into the clan. Alfonso Sr. and Marcela had six children in total. Rosalia (born in October 1952) and Roberta (born in August 1956) were numbers four and five; the name of number six is not currently available. In a 2003 interview, Chico admitted to fathering other children from relationships he had with women during the 1960s. He stated that he took responsibility for all of them and that the offspring all bear his last name.
Manager Paul Richards reasserted the shortstop’s importance to his team and how much he wanted Carrasquel to stay in Chicago: “He’s unquestionably the standout player in our lineup,” said Richards. “He’s so brilliant, in fact, that he pulls the whole ball club up with him, because the rest give out that extra effort to try and keep up with him. If Chico ever got homesick and jumped the ball club like Luis Garcia [a player who went home to Caracas after four days in White Sox training camp], I’d hop a plane and go down to Venezuela after him myself. And if he refused to return, I’d keep right on going.”
Carrasquel had made such an impact in just two years that after the season his name was even bandied about in one-on-one trade talk involving a supposedly slipping Ted Williams. (The Red Sox great had hit “only” .318 that year.) “We stopped talking about Carrasquel almost simultaneously the moment his name was mentioned,” Frank Lane said in November 1951. “We’ll take Williams and pay him his Boston salary, not the $125,000 given out to gullible reporters in Boston. In return, we’ll gladly pay the proper and required price in player, money, marbles and bubble gum. But,” added a pompous-sounding Lane, “no proper price can possibly include our All-Star shortstop, especially in a deal for a 33-year-old outfielder who couldn’t play shortstop with the aid of three arms and a lacrosse racquet.”
A Chicago-based fan club also sprang up around the White Sox shortstop. Although the Carrasquelites may have sounded like a musical group from the emerging rock ’n’ roll era, they did not do any singing – except for the praises of their idol. An initial fee of $1.00 brought a one-year membership, with an official card, monthly bulletins, an annual journal, and invitations to monthly meetings during the season. There were periodic autograph parties too, also attended by other White Sox players.
The Carrasquelites had their share of female constituents, who called themselves “Carrasquelettes.” The handsome South American’s appearance brought them together as much as – if not more than – his stylish play. White Sox management appreciated Chico’s appeal to his feminine fans, who regularly boosted home ticket sales.
Carrasquel had signed his 1952 contract for a published $20,000, a good amount then for a third-year player and shortstop. But much to the disappointment of his boosters, their hero floundered in 1952. As the season drew to a close, Edgar Munzel was brutally frank in his criticism. “What has happened to Chico Carrasquel? The most brilliant young shortstop in baseball in 1950 has been playing like just another short fielder. Chico was hog fat last spring. He had slowed down afield and wasn’t hitting anywhere near his 1950 or 1951 pace.” Listed at six-foot-even and a normal playing weight of 170 pounds, Carrasquel did not have enough height to distribute the excess, something he could afford even less at his position. A broken finger in late June added to the misery of an inadequately played season of 100 games. “It [the injury] eliminated the possibility that he might play himself into condition through the summer heat,” wrote Munzel.
Willy Miranda – a Cuban shortstop who was also known for fancy fielding, but who never hit much – subbed for Carrasquel. Over the last two months of the 1952 season, the White Sox (who finished in third place) regularly fielded a lineup of four Hispanic position players – something never seen before in major league baseball. In the infield, either Carrasquel or Miranda played alongside first-year third baseman Héctor Rodríguez. In the outfield, Jim Rivera (a New Yorker whose parents were Puerto Rican) played next to left fielder Minnie Miñoso.
In 1953, Chicago finished third again, albeit with an improved win total of 89. Carrasquel had regained his prior form and it plainly showed. After having ballooned to 192 pounds the previous spring, he had arrived at camp at 180. The trimmer shortstop lifted his average to .279 and made only 18 errors in 758 chances. The fans voted Carrasquel onto the All-Star team over Rizzuto again (he was held hitless in two trips).
In 1954, Chicago fielded its strongest team since 1920, winning 94 games. That was still only enough for third place in the AL behind the Cleveland Indians (who won 111) and the Yankees (who won 103). Carrasquel sustained his All-Star level of play, hitting 12 homers (the most he had in any big-league season). Though he hit just .255, he drew 85 walks – contrary to the perception of Latinos as free swingers, Chico had a good eye, as befit the team’s leadoff hitter. Carrasquel played in every one of the White Sox games in 1954. He was second on the team in RBIs (62) and third in runs scored (106). With the glove, he remained a standout.
That year’s All-Star game had an unprecedented international scope. Chicago Daily Tribune writer Arch Ward, who had conceived of the Midsummer Classic in 1933, wrote that the balloting was conducted “with the cooperation of more than 200 newspapers, radio and television stations, representing the United States, Hawaii, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela and Panama. Orestes Minoso, Chico Carrasquel and Bobby Ávila learned they have many amigos in Latin American countries by landing on the starting squad.” Having three Hispanics in the starting lineup was a first in All-Star play. Carrasquel, who played the entire game, was 1-for-5.
The 1951 Collier’s article on Carrasquel had called him “Baseball’s New Mr. Shortstop” – so it was ironic that there was friction between him and baseball’s original “Mr. Shortstop,” Marty Marion, in 1955. Paul Richards had left the White Sox with nine games to go in 1954, after signing a three-year deal to manage the Baltimore Orioles. Marion, a coach, completed the season as manager with a one-year pact to return in the same capacity.
In spring training 1955, Marion fined Carrasquel $100 for missing practice. Carrasquel was said to be ill, but reportedly, a check of his room found it unoccupied. Once the season started, Marion criticized Carrasquel’s defensive play, coming out and saying his shortstop was letting fieldable balls turn into hits from lack of effort. Previously, Carrasquel’s harshest critics had inferred that he “let up” when the game was decided or out of hand, that his level of play was too often equal to the competition, that only first division teams brought out his best. Carrasquel always refuted the charges by responding, “I play hard whether we are winning or losing.”
In spite of the criticisms, Carrasquel made the All-Star team for the fourth time in five years. Though Chico didn’t match his offensive numbers from 1954, he made double figures (11) in home runs again. At Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, on April 23, he enjoyed perhaps the finest day of his career at the plate. He sprayed five singles and scored five times in a 29-6 rout of the Athletics.
Marion decided to give Carrasquel a few days off before the All-Star Game amid worries about his play in the field. It might have been an even more embarrassing message if Carrasquel had been selected to the AL All-Star squad as a starter, but even as a substitute, it still could not have felt good. After the mini-break in mid-season, Carrasquel was back in the lineup and homered in each game as Chicago swept a doubleheader from the Washington Senators.
The White Sox had another respectable year in 1955, but in the end, their 91 wins were still good enough only for third place in the AL. A month after the end of the regular season, they traded Carrasquel to Cleveland. The front office thought he had lost a step, and another Venezuelan shortstop was ready to take over: Luis Aparicio. In 2005, the Hall of Famer said, “Chico was my hero and mentor. He took me under his wing, and I’m grateful to him for making me the ballplayer that I turned out to be.” Several days later, another countryman, Luis Sojo, added, “When you talk about shortstops in Venezuela, you mean [Carrasquel]. He was a mentor to everyone, Aparicio, Vizquel. All the Venezuelan players wanted to play shortstop because of him.”
Lane was not involved in the Carrasquel deal, at least not when it took place; he had become GM of the St. Louis Cardinals. However, a Chicago newspaper report from July 1955 offers additional insight:
“Venezuelan sportswriters burn up the long distance wires to the Comiskey Park office of Frank Lane to keep abreast of Chico’s moves. Lane’s latest contact with south of the border journalists came when one excitedly telephoned to check a rumor that Chico was feuding with field boss, Marty Marion.
‘Marion and Chico aren’t having any trouble,’ Frank said.
‘Are you and Chico having any trouble?’ the Venezuelan asked. Lane said no.
‘Well, is Chico having any trouble with anybody?’
‘Yes,’ said Lane. ‘With American League pitchers.’”
Carrasquel and outfielder Jim Busby brought slugger Larry Doby from Cleveland, a pretty good indication of Carrasquel’s perceived value around the league. Doby was one year removed from leading the American League in home runs and runs batted in. (Busby was known more for his speed and defense.) In a stamp-of-approval quote, Indians general manager Hank Greenberg said, “By acquiring Carrasquel, generally recognized as the American League’s outstanding shortstop, and Busby, a speedster, who is one of the fine fielders of the league, we believe we have improved our club.”
Though the shortstop regretted leaving Chicago, he welcomed the trade as a needed parting of the ways from Marion, with whom he had sparred. Chico stated that Marion had his own different way of playing shortstop and that Marion tried to change the way he played. The manager said publicly, “We couldn’t stir him up anymore and maybe he’ll do better somewhere else.” Marion took a swipe at Chico’s fielding habits, saying that he would waste time by not moving toward the ball on a double play, that sometimes he would squat to field a ball and sometimes not, and that balls which he would have gobbled up the previous year were going through his legs.
Carrasquel looked forward to his new team and to another major-league first: a Hispanic double-play combination with Mexican second baseman Bobby Ávila. Carrasquel believed he and Ávila would form the “best such pairing in the American League.”
Carrasquel had two more of his best days at the plate in 1956. On April 26, against Kansas City, he had a career-best seven RBIs (making him the second Hispanic player after Luis Olmo, and the first in the AL, to get as many in a single big-league game). On August 27, he hit two homers off Hal Griggs of the Senators, marking his only multi-homer game in the majors. Overall, though, he hit a disappointing .243-7-48 in 141 games for his new team.
In 1957, the Indians fell into the second division for the first time in 11 seasons under new manager Kerby Farrell, who replaced Al López. That July, Carrasquel got his one thousandth hit – a single against Chicago’s Jack Harshman. He became the second Hispanic after Bobby Ávila to reach that milestone. Chico also got the last two of his four big-league grand slams that season. The second, also against Chicago, came on August 15. Left fielder Minnie Miñoso nearly brought the homer back into Comiskey Park “when he leaped over the left field fence and had the ball momentarily but it dropped out of his glove over the fence.”
Though he boosted his average to .276 for the season, with eight home runs, Chico’s playing time was curtailed to 125 games. His fielding seemed to have regressed; he committed 24 errors.
The Indians hired Frank Lane away from the Cardinals over the winter in an effort to improve the club and its attendance. Lane brought in Bobby Bragan – Carrasquel’s manager back at Fort Worth in 1949 – as skipper. Through 1957 and 1,099 major league games in the field, Carrasquel had made only one appearance away from shortstop (two innings at third base in 1956). In 1958, however, he began to appear at third with some frequency. Chico became more acquainted with third base than ever before after the Indians traded him to Kansas City on June 12 for Billy Hunter (who had followed Carrasquel at shortstop at Fort Worth). The Athletics had a good-fielding shortstop in Joe DeMaestri; after acquiring Carrasquel, they moved third baseman Héctor López over to second.
Shortly after joining his new team, Carrasquel tore off seven hits as the A’s swept a doubleheader from the Red Sox. The infielder had five hits, including a double, in the opener, and drove in five runs for the day. Overall, though, he managed only a combined .234-4-34 line for his two clubs, a drop from his .276-8-57 marks of 1957.
As the 1958 World Series was being played, the Athletics sent the 32-year-old Carrasquel to the Baltimore Orioles in an even-up deal for Dick Williams. In Baltimore, Carrasquel was reunited with his former manager, Paul Richards, and (briefly) with Bobby Ávila. Carrasquel was the primary shortstop for the so-so 1959 Orioles. (Willy Miranda, Baltimore’s starter much of the time from 1955, played sparingly in his last big-league season.) Hampered by an injury that left him with just 50% vision in his left eye, he hit only .223 in 114 games, the lowest average of his career. His last appearance in the majors came at Fenway Park on September 23, 1959.
Carrasquel rejoined the White Sox in January 1960 as a free agent, but Chicago released him in late April before he played a game. He then went to the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, playing 35 games with their Triple-A team in Montreal. That marked the end of Carrasquel’s career in the U.S., but he remained active in Venezuelan winter ball until 1967. In 816 regular-season games in his homeland, he hit .278 with 46 homers and 357 RBIs. He was a member of four champion teams in the LVBP with Caracas (1947-48, 1948-49, 1951-52, and 1956-57) plus another as a playoff reinforcement with Valencia (1957-58).
While still a star player in Venezuela, Carrasquel managed his Caracas Leones squad to a third-place finish in the 1957-58 winter season. Chico ended up managing in all or parts of 10 winter-league campaigns in his home country. In 1982, again as the manager of the Leones, the 56-year-old Carrasquel became the first Venezuelan to lead his national team to a Caribbean Series title. The Lions captured the bragging rights to Latin American winter ball in Hermosillo, Mexico, winning 5 and losing 1. Carrasquel is one of 11 players to have his uniform number (17) retired by the Caracas club.
For several years after retiring as an active player, Carrasquel was a scout for the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. Starting in 1980, he also served as a broadcaster covering the Venezuelan winter league. Carrasquel became a Chicago White Sox Spanish-language radio color man from 1990 to 1996, stepping down at the age of 70. As an extended part of his radio duties, Chico represented the White Sox community relations department. The position offered the outgoing former player an opportunity to interact frequently with a new generation of Chicago fans.
In 1991, the LVBP honored Carrasquel by naming its reconstructed Puerto la Cruz Stadium after the country’s first big league all-star. The stadium, home to the Anzoátegui Caribes, hosted the 1994 and 1998 Caribbean Series.
In 2003, the former shortstop was among the inaugural class of players enshrined in his country’s Baseball Hall of Fame in Valencia. That January, in Caracas, Chico suffered an armed carjacking at the hands of two thugs. Luckily no one was seriously injured, including his sister, who was with him at the time.
Carrasquel, throughout his later years, stayed close to the game. His fame helped him as a tireless promoter of youth baseball in Venezuela. In 2004, he established a non-profit organization in his name to help broaden the horizons of underprivileged children in his nation. His sister, Emilia Carrasquel, remained one of the foundation’s Venezuelan board members as of 2014.
One of the last public appearances for Carrasquel occurred on April 13, 2004, at U.S. Cellular Field. Confined to a wheelchair, he joined three other great Venezuelan shortstops – Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepción, and Ozzie Guillén (then the White Sox manager) – in throwing out ceremonial first pitches before Chicago’s home opener against the Kansas City Royals.
The fondly-remembered player, who had been suffering from diabetes, died of a heart attack on May 26, 2005, in Caracas. He was 79. He was predeceased by his first wife, Marcela, and second spouse, Conny (both women died several months apart in 2000). During a nationally televised speech, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez declared two days of mourning for the idol. “¡Viva Carrasquel!” he shouted. Ozzie Guillén said, “I don’t think he was the greatest player ever to come from the country. But to me, he was the greatest man to come from Venezuela.”
TODAY IN BASEBALL HISTORY
1914 Ben Tincup becomes the first person from the Cherokee tribe to play in the major leagues. The 21 year-old Phillies right-hander makes his debut at Forbes Field in an 8-2 loss to the Pirates.
1922 The Yankees, who have been sharing the Polo Grounds with the Giants since 1913, begin construction on their ballpark in the Bronx. The stadium will become known as the ‘House that Ruth Built,’ acknowledging the Babe’s popularity and influence.
1925 Pete Donohue goes 5-for-5 with four singles and a home run when the Reds beat Philadelphia at the Baker Bowl, 11-2. The 24 year-old right-hander also gets the win, giving up seven hits, only two more than his production at the plate, in the complete-game victory.
1930 Babe Ruth ties a major league record by hitting five homers in two games and six homers in three games when he hits a trio of round-trippers in the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader, two more in the opener of today’s twin bill, adding one more in the nightcap. Teammate Lou Gehrig also goes deep three times in the second game of the doubleheader, a 20-13 Yankee victory over the A’s at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.
1933 Yankee third baseman Joe Sewell is struck out for the first time this season, a victim of Cleveland’s Wes Ferrell. The 34 year-old infielder, playing in his final season, will strike out only three more times in 524 at-bats.
1938 Ted Lyons records his 200th career win when Chicago beats Washington at Griffith Stadium, 9-2. The future Hall of Famer, nicknamed Sunday Teddy for his success on the Sabbath, winning 52 of 82 decisions on that day of the week from 1939 until 1942, will compile a 260-230 record during a 21-year major league career, all with the White Sox.
1942 Ted Williams is sworn into the U.S. Navy but will remain with the Red Sox until called for active duty. Earlier in the year, a public outcry occurred when the Boston outfielder asked to be reclassified from Class 1-A to 3-A, due to being the sole support of his mother, causing the Quaker Oats Company to drop him from their ads.
1952 The Celler congressional committee concludes the need to regulate baseball is unnecessary. The report states that the major leagues can solve their own issues, and opposes legislation exempting the sport’s reserve clause from existing antitrust laws.
1954 Due to Reds’ manager Birdie Tebbetts implementing a four-man outfield against Stan Musial, the box score for the contest shows left-handed thrower Nino Escalera coming into the game as a shortstop. In reality, although Escalera replaced infielder Roy McMillian, the rookie manager stationed him in right-center between Cincinnati outfielders Wally Post and Gus Bell.
1957 At Fenway Park, the Red Sox go deep four times in the sixth inning in an 11-0 rout over Cleveland. Gene Mauch, Ted Williams, Dick Gernert, and Frank Malzone all homer on the first 16 pitches thrown by Cal McLish.
1959 Hoyt Wilhelm one-hits the Yankees in the Orioles’ 5-0 victory at Memorial Stadium. Jerry Lumpe’s single in the eighth spoils the knuckleballer’s bid for a no-hitter.
1962 Roger Maris is intentionally walked four times to establish a major league record. The quartet of free passes is issued by four different Halo hurlers in New York’s’ 2-1 victory over the Angels in 12 innings at Yankee Stadium.
1963 Mickey Mantle once again barely misses becoming the first player to hit a home run out of Yankee Stadium. The monstrous walk-off blast off A’s hurler Bill Fischer, which gives the Yankees an 8-7 victory, lands just a few feet below the decorative facade down the right-field line.
1968 At Wrigley Field, Pirates’ slugger Willie Stargell hits three home runs and barely misses a fourth in a 13-6 rout over the Cubs. ‘Pops’ also hit a single and a double, which bounced off the railing of the left-field fence back onto the playing field.
1976 Reggie Smith drives in five runs in the Cardinals’ 7-6 victory over Philadelphia at Veterans Stadium. The St. Louis switch-hitter’s third homer of the game, a two-out solo shot in the ninth, proves to be the difference.
1977 In a 14-10 Boston victory at Fenway Park, the Red Sox (6) and Brewers (5) combined for 11 home runs to tie a major league record. The round-tripper riot matches the mark set by the Yankees and Tigers in 1950 and equaled by the Cubs and Mets in 1967.
1981 After an 11-25 (.306) start, the Twins make a managerial change, replacing Johnny Goryl. Billy Gardner, a very successful minor league skipper, winning six championships in 13 seasons, gets his first opportunity to manage a big league club.
1982 In his last major league at-bat, Mario Mendoza, who will become a minor league hitting instructor, reaches first on a fielder’s choice, ending his nine-year career with a .215 batting average. The Ranger infielder’s name will become infamous, as players struggling at the plate will become known as performing below the ‘Mendoza Line.’
1983 Cliff Johnson ties Jerry Lynch’s major league mark when he hits the 18th pinch home run of his career. The eighth inning solo shot comes off Tippy Martinez in the Blue Jays’ 5-0 victory over Baltimore at Exhibition Stadium.
1985 Pete Rose becomes the all-time leader in the National League for runs scored when he crosses the plate for the 2,108th time in his career. The Reds’ player-manager surpasses Hank Aaron when he tallies a run in the sixth inning of a 7-4 loss to Chicago at Wrigley Field.
1990 During the Cubs’ 2-1 victory against the Reds in a 16-inning contest at Wrigley Field, Andre Dawson is walked five times intentionally to set a major league record. Yankees outfielder Roger Maris established the previous mark of four free passes in a game on this date in 1962 and then equaled by Padres shortstop Gerry Templeton in 1985.
1992 Felipe Alou becomes the manager of the Expos, replacing Tom Runnels who compiled 68-81 (.456) record during his one-plus seasons at the helm. The new 57 year-old skipper, who will manage the team for a decade, leads the 17-20 Montreal club to an eventual second-place finish in the National League East.
1995 After a brawl between the Durham Bulls and Winston-Salem Warthogs, which takes more than 30 minutes to sort out, ten players are ejected during ‘Strike Out Domestic Violence Night’ at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The president of the Carolina League will hand down 124 days of suspensions, which will include every player in uniform for a specified amount of time.
1998 Brian Cox enjoys a 6-for-6 performance, which includes a grand slam in the team’s ten-run third inning when Florida State demolishes Delaware 27-6 in the NCAA Atlantic II Regionals. Matt Diaz, a freshman for the Seminoles, contributes three home runs to the rout of the Fightin’ Blue Hens.
1998 The Mets trade Preston Wilson, Geoff Goetz, and Ed Yarnell to the Marlins for Mike Piazza. Florida had acquired the All-Star catcher last week from the Dodgers, along with Todd Zeile in exchange for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich, and Manuel Barrios.
1999 Mark McGwire becomes the third player to launch a ball out of Dodger Stadium when one of his two home runs travels 483 feet in the Cardinals’ 10-7 victory at Chavez Ravine. The slugging first baseman joins Willie Stargell, who accomplished the feat twice in 1969 and 1973, and Mike Piazza, whose Ruthian blast cleared the ballpark two seasons ago.
1999 After a stint on the disabled list and a rainout, Yankees’ right-hander Roger Clemens finally breaks the American League record for consecutive victories with 18, previously shared by Johnny Allen (Indians, 1936-37) and Dave McNally (Orioles, 1968-69). The somewhat anticlimactic accomplishment includes ten no-decisions.
2000 Scoring seven times in the bottom of the ninth, the Brewers make their biggest comeback in franchise history, knotting the score at nine before only 3,913 fans at County Stadium. Jose Hernandez’s solo homer in the next inning completes the come-from-behind victory when Milwaukee beats the Astros, 10-9.
2001 For the second time this season, Barry Bonds homers in six consecutive games. His nine homers during this span establish a National League mark. Senators’ slugger Frank Howard’s 1968 feat of hitting ten homers in six games is the major league record.
2002 In what appears to be a lopsided trade, the A’s trade a stunned Jeremy Giambi (.274, 8, 17) to Philadelphia in exchange for pinch-hitter John Mabry (.286, 0, 3). The Oakland outfielder is also four years younger than the Phillies’ utility man, but he doesn’t meet the ‘Moneyball’ approach preached by GM Billy Beane.
2002 Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura approves a financing framework of $120 million for a $330 million open-air stadium. The bill has only lukewarm support because they are unsure if they’ll be able to find the required down payment and get a guarantee from major league baseball that a team will play in Minnesota for at least 30 years.
2003 Arturo Moreno purchases the World Champion Angels from Walt Disney for $184 million to become the third owner in the 43-year history of the franchise. The 56 year-old outdoor advertising tycoon, a fourth-generation Mexican-American, is the first Hispanic to have a controlling interest in a major league club.
2004 Oakland retires Reggie Jackson jersey number 9, honoring the slugger who played his first nine Hall of Fame seasons with the A’s, helping the team club capture three consecutive World Series (1972-74). The former Athletics’ right fielder, who had his number 44 retired by the Yankees in 1993, becomes the eighth player to have his number retired by two or more teams.
2006 In a 3-1 loss to the Braves at Petco Park, Jake Peavy fans 16 batters to set a Padres regular-season record for strikeouts and helps the team reach a franchise mark for a nine-inning game with 18 Ks. The 24 year-old right-hander from Alabama, who struck out every batter in the starting lineup at least once, including getting Andruw Jones swinging in three consecutive at-bats, loses the game when the only fly ball he allows lands beyond the fence as Ryan Langerhans takes him deep for a two-run homer in the second frame.
2008 J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell both hit grand slams when the Red Sox beat Kansas City, 11-8. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who gives up three runs in 5.1 innings, remains unbeaten, improving his record to 8-0 with the Fenway Park victory.
2009 With a broken-bat triple in the sixth inning, Michael Cuddyer completes the cycle in the Twins’ 11-3 victory over Milwaukee at the Metrodome. In his first three turns at-bat, the Minnesota right-fielder hit a three-run home run in the first inning, doubled to the gap for a ground-rule two-bagger in the third, and singled in the fourth frame.
2010 After setting the mark in his previous game, Mike Redmond’s major league record errorless-streak behind the plate comes to an end when his throw to second base, trying to thwart a would-be base stealer, skips past Mark Grudzielanek. The Indians catcher’s streak started on July 22, 2004, and covered a span of 253 games.
2010 Matt Stairs ties a major league mark when he homers for his eleventh team in San Diego’s 2-1 interleague victory in Seattle. The Padres designated hitter’s fourth-inning homer off Ian Snell ties Todd Zeile’s record, who accomplished the feat by going deep in an Expo uniform in 2003.
2012 Ricky Nolasco becomes the franchise leader in career wins when Miami beats Colorado at Marlins Park, 7-6. The 29 year-old right-hander, who hit a double to put his team ahead, surpasses Dontrelle Willis for the most team victories, improving his record to 69-53 for the South Florida squad.
2014 Barack Obama becomes the first U.S. president to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. During his visit, the Commander in Chief, a White Sox fan, holds FDR’s green-light letter and a pair of spikes worn by Chicago’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was one of the eight players banned from the game for their alleged role in fixing the 1919 World Series.
WORLD SERIES HISTORY-1963
The National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers had rebounded from a late-season collapse in 1962 and went on to win the National League pennant with a six game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. The biggest factor in the team’s comeback was an all-star pitching combination featuring a young lefty named Sandy Koufax and a right-hander named Don Drysdale. Koufax had struck out a staggering three-hundred six batters in three-hundred eleven innings and his counterpart had won nineteen games with a 2.63 ERA. Veteran Johnny Podres had added fourteen wins of his own (five of them shutouts) and ace reliever Ron Perranoski made sixty-nine appearances while going 16-3 with a 1.67 ERA. Their opponents, to no surprise, were their long-time rivals the New York Yankees, who in classic “Bomber style”, boasted four sluggers with twenty or more home runs and an equally qualified pitching rotation. Whitey Ford had twenty-four victories and Jim Bouton, Ralph Terry and Al Downing prospered as well winning the American League pennant by 10½ games. It was the seventh meeting in the Fall Classic between the two ball clubs with the American Leaguers leading the marathon 6-1.
Koufax went against Ford in the opener and quickly set the pace by striking out his first five batters including Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Tom Tresh, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Before the Yankees had a single hit off the rising left-hander, his team was up 4-0. Former Yankee Bill Skowron (who had been obtained after the ’62 Series) singled home a Dodger run in the top of the second and John Roseboro cracked a three run homer later that inning. He added another run in the third and Koufax continued to dominate at the mound. After four innings, the Yankees were still waiting for their first base runner and things would not get much better. After sitting down Mantle, the Dodger ace forced Maris to foul out, but allowed the “Pinstripes” to load the bases on consecutive singles by Elston Howard, Joe Pepitone and Clete Boyer. The threat quickly disappeared though as Hector Lopez (batting for Ford) became the eleventh K victim. After striking out pinch-hitter Phil Linz in the eighth, Koufax had moved one K within Carl Erskine’s single Series game strikeout record of fourteen. The record would have to wait though as a late-inning homer by Tresh stalled the impending celebration, but it was only a matter of time. The first three of New York’s final four outs in Koufax’s 5-2 triumph came on a grounder, a liner and a fly ball. The last out of the game was record-breaking strikeout No. 15, with pinch-hitter Harry Bright submitting the score.
Podres attempted to keep Los Angele’s momentum alive in Game 2 and combined with two out relief from Perranoski to beat the Yankees, 4-1. Willie Davis set the pace at the plate with a two run double in the first and was followed by Skowron’s homer in the fourth. Adding to the Yankees frustration was the Series-ending injury to outfielder Roger Maris who was hurt running into a rail in pursuit of a Tommy Davis triple. With a two-games-to-none lead, the Dodgers returned to their newly christened west coast palace known as Dodger Stadium. Don Drysdale made the homecoming even sweeter with a three hit, 1-0 victory that ended with nine more strikeouts for the Yankees. Bouton had completed the outing while holding his own, but surrendered the critical game-winning run in the first on Jim Gilliam’s walk, a wild pitch and a single by Tommy Davis, who had just captured his second straight National League batting championship.
In a classic rematch of the Series opener, Ford and Koufax went at it again as one pitcher tried to complete a sweep and the other attempted to keep his team alive. Both adversaries held each other scoreless until the fifth inning when the Dodger’s Frank Howard launched a rocket homer to left. Mantle evened the score with a blast of his own in the seventh after going a miserable one for thirteen in Series at bats. Maury Wills, known primarily for his speed (one-hundred four steals in ’62) regained the lead for the Dodgers in the bottom of the inning and from there on it was all Los Angeles. First, Gilliam led off the eighth with a high-bouncer that resulted in a critical Yankees infield error between Pepitone and Boyer who had missed to connect on the throw. Then, Willie Davis came in with a sacrifice fly to deep center field that scored his leadoff man. Finally, Koufax stayed in to finish the job and went on for the six hit, eight K, 2-1 triumph that not only swept the Yankees, but also ended their latest consecutive Series winning streak at two.
BASKETBALL’S BEST: JAMES WORTHY
In 12 years with the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, “Big Game” James Worthy was known for his ability to maneuver around opposing players at a dizzying pace. “I just decide I’m going to go around [a defensive opponent] when I’m setting up and when I get the ball, I go,” he told Sports Illustrated. He also thrilled fans with trademark one-handed swooping dunks. With the Lakers, Worthy helped his team capture three NBA championships. “I don’t think there has been or will be a better small forward than James,” former Lakers coach Pat Riley told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. “He was always such a quiet guy. But when he was in his prime, I can guarantee you, there wasn’t anybody who could touch him.”
James Ager Worthy was born on February 27, 1961, the youngest son of Ervin and Gladys Worthy. He was raised in Gastonia, North Carolina, where his father was a Baptist minister. Worthy started playing basketball around the age of four, though he acknowledged during his Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech, “I just hated the sport,” according to Newsday. His parents inadvertently changed his mind. The Worthy family believed in hard work and hard study and it was expected that their children would go to college. However, on a minister’s salary that was not so easy to accomplish. Worthy saw his parents struggling to pay college tuition for his brothers and decided to get a scholarship to help out. “[That] was the only reason I wanted to play ball,” Worthy continued.
By ninth grade Worthy was making local headlines. By tenth grade colleges were after him. Already nearing his full height of six feet, nine inches, Worthy was very big, very fast, and very good. As he led Ashbrook High to victory after victory, even his opponents cheered for him. By his senior year he had played on five All-American teams, earned Conference Player of the Year, and amassed an incredible average of 21.5 points per game (ppg) and 12.5 rebounds per game (rpg). Scholarship offers poured in. Worthy stayed close to home, choosing the University of North Carolina (UNC). His decision again was influenced by his family. “[UNC Coach Dean Smith] talked to my parents and promised two things; I would go to class and I had to go to church unless I had a letter from my parents,” Worthy told Hoophall, the Web site of the Basketball Hall of Fame. “From that point I knew I wanted to play for Coach Smith.”
Worthy donned the UNC Tar Heel uniform in 1980 but midway through his freshman year he slipped and shattered his ankle. Doctors had to implant two screws and a six-inch metal rod to repair the damage. He missed 14 games and began to doubt his future in basketball. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to come back with the same type of intensity I’d always had,” the NBA Web site quoted him. His fears were unfounded. His sophomore year, with the screws still intact, Worthy stormed back onto the court. He averaged 14.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg, helping to lead the Tar Heels to the NCAA championships. Though they lost to Indiana, Worthy’s reputation as a top college player was cemented.
Worthy entered his junior year at UNC at the top of his game. “He was the quickest guy on our North Carolina team,” a former UNC coach told Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. “And we had Michael Jordan as a freshman. But James was a man among boys underneath. And when the big games came, his eyes got big.” With an average of 15.6 ppg in the regular season, Worthy led his team to the 1982 NCAA championships. In a pattern that came to characterize him, Worthy shifted into high gear during the playoffs and scored 28 points in the final game to seal the championship.
In three years at UNC Worthy was named to 11 All-American teams, voted Most Outstanding Player of the 1982 NCAA Final Four, chosen Helms Foundation National Player of the Year, and of course, earned an NCAA championship. He was ready to go pro. He left UNC just before his senior year and threw his name into the 1982 NBA draft. The Los Angeles Lakers did not hesitate to make him the number one draft choice.
In 1982 the Lakers were the reigning NBA champions and their roster boasted superstars Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson. The team also had Jamaal Wilkes as small forward—the position Worthy was drafted to play. On just about any other team, Worthy would have become an immediate star. On the Lakers, he was relegated to the background. “We could all see he was a big-time player, but I think what everybody appreciated most under the circumstances was that he kept his mouth shut,” Johnson told Sports Illustrated. In fact Worthy gained a league-wide reputation for his stoicism. He did not scream for joy over a win, nor complain loudly about a loss. He shunned media attention and did not engage in locker room banter. “We know him, but we don’t know him,” Johnson told Sports Illustrated. This quiet demeanor came to be an essential part of his success in pro ball. “James was a great player within a system,” Jerry West, former general manager of the Lakers, told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.
While he was still a rookie, Sports Illustrated called Worthy “one of the best players to come into the NBA in the last decade.” He earned that praise, playing in 77 games and scoring the highest field goal percentage of any rookie in the league. He also became the fourth rookie in Lakers history to score 1,000 points. Worthy’s feats landed him on the NBA All-Rookie team. Coaches and fellow teammates were also impressed. “He has unbelievable footwork,” Lakers forward Maurice Lucas told Sports Illustrated. West agreed, telling the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, “James was an impossible matchup. Put a smaller guy on him and he’d go over him. Put a taller guy on him and he’d go around him. Put a smaller, quicker guy on him and he’d still go around him. That was his special skill.” Unfortunately, near the end of the season Worthy broke his leg and was sidelined during the playoffs.
Back on court by the middle of the 1984 season, Worthy racked up a 14.5 ppg average. Again, he turned up the heat during the playoffs, increasing his average to 17.7 ppg. Worthy and team went on to face long-time rivals the Boston Celtics in the championships series. According to Sports Illustrated, “[Worthy dominated] the first three games.” By the fourth game, the Celtics—and their fans, known for taunting opposing teams in order to unnerve them—had had enough. As Worthy took the floor for a potentially game-tying free-throw, the heckling began, not only from the fans, but also from Celtic players. Worthy missed and the Lakers went on to lose the series. “I really didn’t appreciate that,” Worthy told Sports Illustrated. “I just thought it was kind of low. It was my first experience with the Boston mystique. It was kind of cheap—but that’s the Celtics.”
In 1985 the Lakers returned to face Boston in the NBA championships. After losing the first game by 40 points, the usually quiet Worthy spoke up. “Before Game 2, I remember James saying, ‘Let’s go out and play like the Lakers,'” teammate Michael Cooper recalled to the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. “Now, that doesn’t sound like anything special. But it reminded us that we hadn’t been ourselves.” Taking his own advice, Worthy, whose season average had been 17.6 ppg, increased his average to 21.5 in the playoffs. In the finals against Boston he nudged even higher, to 23.7. “The bigger the game, the more important the situation, the better James plays,” Riley told Sports Illustrated. Playing like a Laker, Worthy helped the team win the championship. “That was the one I cherish the most,” the NBA Web site quoted Worthy. From 1959 to 1969, the Lakers had faced the Celtics seven times in the championships, losing each time. In breaking that losing streak, Worthy and crew became Los Angeles heroes.
For the first time in his professional career Worthy’s scoring average topped 20 ppg in the 1986 regular season. He also made the first of seven consecutive appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. The All-Star series—held mid-season each year—features players voted on by fans. Worthy’s inclusion proved that he had finally come out of the shadow of Jabbar and Johnson. Worthy and the Lakers faced the Celtics again in the 1986 championship. Boston won but the Lakers bounced back the following year. In 1987 the Lakers tore through the playoffs and then trounced the Celtics in six games to retake the NBA crown.
By 1988 Worthy was a superstar. During home games the stadium shook as the crowds chanted his name. Sports journalists across the country wrote that Worthy was indeed “worthy”—of praise, fame, even basketball history. Characteristically, Worthy stayed focused on basketball. His scoring average again topped 20 ppg, helping the Lakers coast to another championship appearance. This time their opponents were the Detroit Pistons. The series came down to the wire in the seventh game. Worthy, again proving his grace under pressure, pulled off the best game of his career. He scored an astounding 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. In basketball, when a player attains double-digits in three different game statistics, it is called a triple-double;—an amazing feat that attests to a player’s versatility. By scoring the first triple-double of his career, Worthy helped the Lakers beat the Pistons, 108 to 105. Worthy donned his third championship ring and was named Most Valuable Player of the Finals. He also earned the nickname that has come to define him: “Big Game” James.
The Lakers lost the NBA championship to the Pistons in 1989 and did not make it past the semi-finals in 1990. They returned to the finals in 1991, but lost to the Chicago Bulls. As the Lakers fell, Worthy’s play also declined. In 1991 he posted the best scoring average of his career with 21.4 ppg, yet his field goal percentage dropped for the first time in eight seasons. The following year Worthy had surgery on his knee and sat out most of the season. When he came back in 1993 he had record low averages in every category. He was suffering tendonitis and knee pain. “Physically, he’s beat up,” teammate Sam Bowie told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. Worthy decided to retire a week into his thirteenth season with the Lakers. He was 33. In addition to his physical ailments, Worthy admitted to Hoophall, “I lost the love of [playing] the game.”
Following retirement, the previously media-shy Worthy took on several high-profile jobs. He covered the NCAA Final Four for CBS and appeared on Fox Sports News. He guest-starred on Everyone Loves Raymond and Star Trek: The Next Generation. On the professional speaking route, he began commanding up to $20,000 an appearance. He also wrote a basketball column for Sports Ya!, a Spanish-language Web site. Meanwhile, he received several prestigious honors for his years with the Lakers. On December 10, 1995, Worthy became only the sixth player in Lakers history to have his jersey—number 42—retired. In 1996, the NBA named Worthy one of the 50 greatest basketball players in history. And in September of 2003 Worthy was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “This is the ultimate,” Sports Network quoted Worthy as saying during his acceptance speech. “It is more than an honor to be amongst the Hall of Famers tonight.” However, in typical modesty, he clarified to Hoophall, “of all my goals, this was not one of them.… I played basketball to try to get my parents from working so hard.” He not only succeeded, he became a basketball legend in the process.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1945-46
At a Glance
NCAA Champion–Oklahoma A&M (31-2; coached by Hank Iba/12th of 36 seasons with Cowboys; won Missouri Valley title by five games with a 12-0 record).
NIT Champion–Kentucky (28-2; coached by Adolph Rupp/16th of 41 seasons with Wildcats; went undefeated in SEC along with LSU).
NCAA Consensus First-Team All-Americans–Leo Klier, F, Sr., Notre Dame (16.9 ppg); Bob Kurland, C, Sr., Oklahoma A&M (19.5 ppg); George Mikan, C, Sr., DePaul (23.1 ppg); Max Morris, F-C, Sr., Northwestern (17.2 ppg); Sid Tanenbaum, G, Jr., NYU (12.9 ppg).
Football connections seemed to dominate college basketball. Clarence “Nibs” Price completed a unique Rose Bowl-NCAA Tournament double when his California basketball team finished in fourth place in the NCAA playoffs with a school record for victories (30-6) one year after going 7-8. On January 1, 1929, Price had coached the Cal football squad in its 8-7 defeat to Georgia Tech in the Rose Bowl game that is famous for Roy Riegels’ wrong-way run for the Bears. Oddly, Tech’s coach in that game (Bill Alexander) had been in charge of the Yellow Jackets’ basketball squad for four seasons the first half of the 1920s.
George Ratterman, a quarterback for Notre Dame’s football team, scored the last 11 points for the Irish in a 56-47 upset of a Kentucky squad that eventually won the NIT. Ratterman averaged 8.6 points per game as a starting forward. . . . Halfback Glenn Davis, runner-up in Heisman Trophy voting for the second straight year, was a member of Army’s basketball squad. He captured the prestigious football award the next season. . . . Freshman Doak Walker earned a letter with SMU’s basketball team. The football halfback finished among the top three in Heisman Trophy voting the next three school years.
Rhode Island State upended Bowling Green in overtime in the NIT quarterfinals after the Rams’ Ernie Calverley swished a shot from beyond halfcourt at the end of regulation. Calverley was named NIT Most Valuable Player although Kentucky freshman Ralph Beard outscored him, 13-8, when UK won the final, 46-45. Beard had played freshman football for the Wildcats, starting three games at fullback behind quarterback George Blanda.
NIT kingpin Kentucky finished with a 28-2 record although former All-American Bob Brannum and future All-American Alex Groza were serving in the U.S. Army. The captain of the Wildcats’ squad was All-American guard Jack Parkinson, who served in the U.S. Air Force the next season. . . . LSU joined UK in the undefeated ranks in SEC competition. Coach Harry Rabenhorst guided the Tigers to winning league marks each of their first 12 seasons in the SEC with him at their helm.
Oklahoma A&M’s Bob Kurland authored a school-record 58 points in an 86-33 rout of St. Louis. Kurland, a native of Jennings, Mo., doubled the Billikens’ output in the first half on his way to powering A&M to a 38-16 lead at intermission. The victim of Kurland’s outburst was Ed Macauley, then a freshman and future All-American and NBA standout. Macauley said he kept a newspaper clip of the box score in his billfold throughout his career. “Every time I thought I needed to be humble,” he said. “I would look at that box score and remember I was the guy who held Kurland to 58 points.” . . . Baylor (25-5/coached by Bill Henderson) joined Cal in having their winningest seasons in school history. Harvard (19-3/Floyd Stahl) had its winningest campaign until 2009-10. . . . All five starters for Oklahoma A&M were All-Missouri Valley Conference first-team selections. . . . One of the All-MVC second-team choices was St. Louis’ Henry “Hank” Raymonds, who would later coach five Marquette squads to the NCAA Tournament in a six-year span from 1978 through 1983. . . . St. Louis lost to Vee Green-coached Drake. Green, in the second of two years at the Bulldogs’ basketball helm, also guided the school’s football squad to a 13-12 victory at Fresno State in the Raisin Bowl. . . . Harvard, which went 4-25 the previous two seasons, set a school standard with 13 consecutive victories. Its own regular-season defeat was against Holy Cross (47-42).
Purdue’s Ward “Piggy” Lambert ended his 29-year coaching career with a 371-152 record. Lambert directed the Boilermakers to six Big Ten titles and five co-championships and holds the conference record for longevity. He was succeeded by assistant Mel Tabue with seven games remaining in his final season, which marked the school’s first losing league mark (4-8) since 1919. “He (Lambert) loved to stress the little things,” said John Wooden, a Hall of Famer as a player and as a coach who was chastised by Lambert for always driving the ball to his right until he became equally proficient driving left.
A then college-record crowd of 22,822 watched Ohio State defeat Northwestern, 53-46, and DePaul upend Notre Dame, 63-47, in a doubleheader at Chicago Stadium. The victory enabled Ohio State to clinch the Big Ten crown in the Buckeyes’ regular-season finale. . . . Defending Big Ten champion Iowa won its first two games by a total of 127 points (87-25 over Augustana and 91-26 over South Dakota) and its first five outings by an average margin of 43.6 points. . . . The University of Chicago dropped out of the Big Ten after its fifth consecutive winless league record. The charter member, despite having only one all-league choice in a six-year span from 1925 through 1930 and only one selection in its last 10 seasons in the alliance, continued to boast more All-Big Ten picks with 49 than Ohio State (until 1954), Indiana (1957), Michigan (1964) and Iowa (1965) for an extended period. . . . Indiana, coached by Harry Good, was Big Ten runner-up after finishing in ninth place the previous year. . . . Marquette (11-7) reached double figures in victories for the only season in a 12-year span from 1940 through 1951.
SWC champion Baylor was winless in league competition the previous year. . . . Texas A&M posted its lone triumph over Texas (50-44) in a 16-game stretch from 1943 through 1950. . . . SMU became the third different SWC member in as many years to go winless in conference play. . . . Guy Lewis became the first Houston player to crack the 30-point plateau in a game. He later became the Cougars’ all-time winningest coach and guided them to five Final Fours. . . . Kansas State lost a school-record 11 consecutive games en route to a school-worst 4-20 mark. It was the Wildcats’ 15th straight non-winning season. They were 3-5 at home for their last losing record there before setting an NCAA record for consecutive home winning seasons that was extended to 50 through 1995-96. . . . Oklahoma went .500 (23-23) in two seasons without All-Americans Allie Paine and Gerry Tucker while they served in the U.S. Army.
Elmore Morgenthaler, a 7-1 center for New Mexico School of Mines, was called the “tallest player in the world” by the Converse Basketball Yearbook. The Boston College transfer scored 12 field goals in an 84-61 victory over Drury (Mo.) in an exhibition game with 12-foot baskets at Kansas City. Field goals counted for three points in the contest. . . . Bob Kloppenburg, Southern California’s leading scorer with 10.9 points per game, went on to briefly coach the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Seattle SuperSonics. . . . Both of the PCC divisional winners went from last to first in one year (Idaho in North and California in South).
Ozzie Cowles captured his seventh Ivy League championship in his last eight seasons as Dartmouth’s coach. At one point, Dartmouth won 72 of 76 home games with Cowles at the helm. None of the 11 coaches since him compiled a winning career record with the Big Green. . . . Boston College fielded its first intercollegiate basketball team since the 1924-25 season and notched a 3-10 record. . . . Connecticut’s losing streak against the Coast Guard reached seven consecutive games. . . . Yale compiled a 14-1 record in Red Rolfe’s fourth and final season as its coach. He became Yale’s coach in 1942 after playing in the World Series with the New York Yankees earlier that year. . . . Penn’s Tom “Herb” Upton, an All-EIBL first-team selection, went on to play shortstop with two American League teams for three years from 1950 through 1952. . . . Manhattan defeated Villanova 10 consecutive times in their series until losing to the Wildcats, 42-40. . . . The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) compiled a modest 5-11 record, but two of its victories came against Villanova (43-38) and Maryland (52-25). . . . La Salle lost its last five games to finish with the Explorers’ only losing record (9-14) in a 29-year span from 1936-37 through 1964-65. . . . George Washington compiled its only losing mark (7-8) in a 25-season stretch from 1929-30 through 1955-56 (GWU did not field squads in 1943-44 and 1944-45 because of World War II). . . . Penn State’s John Lawther, who previously coached Westminster (Pa.), compiled his first losing record (7-9) in 20 seasons.
The Official Basketball Guide reported that “a record-breaking crowd of 8,800 paid admissions” saw Duke’s second game with North Carolina “in Duke’s big indoor stadium.” The Guide went on to note that “this is reputed to be the largest crowd ever to see a game in the South.”
Georgia Tech freshman Jim Nolan led the SEC in scoring with 14.6 points per game. He was the fourth different individual in as many years to lead the SEC in scoring from two schools (also Tulane) that are no longer members of the league. . . . Forward Bobby Lowther became the only two-sport All-American in LSU history. Lowther averaged 14.7 points per game in basketball and also excelled in track and field, finishing second at the NCAA Championships in the javelin and fourth in the pole vault. . . . Clemson, coached by Rock Norman, defeated intrastate rival South Carolina, 47-42, for the Tigers’ lone victory in a 22-game stretch of their series from 1941 to 1951. Norman previously coached the Gamecocks and two other in-state programs (Furman and The Citadel). He is the only individual to coach four different major colleges in the same state. . . . Wake Forest posted the fourth-best record in the 16-team Southern Conference after going winless in the league the previous year. . . . All-Southern Conference first-team forward John Seward of league tournament champion Duke had been a POW in Germany. Seward was an all-tourney selection in 1943 before leaving to serve in the U.S. Army. . . . Richmond registered its only triumph over George Washington in their first 20 meetings until 1954.
1946 NCAA Tournament
Summary: Oklahoma A&M’s Bob Kurland was the only player for the NCAA’s first repeat champion to score in double figures in any of the Aggies’ three playoff games. He tallied a tourney-high 29 points in a 52-39 victory over California in the Western Regional final. Twenty-six different players appeared in A&M’s 33 games, but only three scored more than five points in either of the two Final Four frays. “We are not going to play them; they are going to play us,” A&M coach Hank Iba said.
Star Gazing: Sam Aubrey, who had been seriously wounded in the war, came back to be a regular for A&M although there was doubt whether he would ever walk again. Aubrey went on to succeed Iba as coach of the Cowboys for three seasons from 1970-71 through 1972-73.
One and Only: Kurland became the only player to score more than half of a championship team’s points in a single tournament (total of 72 points accounted for 51.8 percent of Oklahoma A&M’s output in three games). . . . The only member of the champion Aggies’ roster to later play in the NBA was freshman guard Joe Bradley, who averaged 3.4 points per game. Bradley contributed 1.9 points per game for the Chicago Stags in 1949-50.
Numbers Game: Bones McKinney, who averaged 9.8 points per game as a junior center for NCAA runner-up North Carolina, was the only one of the five individuals to play for and coach a team in the Final Four in the 20th Century to average more than 5.5 points per game in the season his alma mater reached the national semifinals. McKinney, who averaged 9.8 points per game for Carolina, coached Wake Forest to the 1962 Final Four. . . . This was the only one of the first 18 NCAA playoffs through 1956 where North Carolina won a tourney game. . . . Harvard, coached by Floyd Stahl, made its only NCAA Tournament appearance in the 20th Century. . . . The Big Six (regular-season champion Kansas), EIBL (Dartmouth) and SEC (Kentucky defeated co-champion LSU in postseason tournament) did not have representatives in the NCAA tourney.
Celebrity Status: Hank Knoche, the leading scorer in the Mountain States (Big Seven) Conference with 16.4 points per game for Colorado’s playoff team, became the CIA’s deputy director under George Bush in 1976.
What Might Have Been: Ohio State captured the Big Ten Conference crown but was edged by national finalist-to-be North Carolina (60-57 in overtime) in the East Regional final to finish the season with a 16-5 record. The Buckeyes might have had sufficient firepower to prevent Oklahoma A&M from repeating as NCAA champion if their top two scorers from Final Four teams the previous two years had still been around. But Don Grate, a two-time NCAA consensus second-team All-American forward, signed a pro baseball contract as a pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies prior to his senior year, and center Arnie Risen played just six games in the first semester before becoming academically ineligible and ending the season with a pro franchise in Indianapolis. Risen led the NBA in field-goal percentage three years later when he was the Rochester Royals’ top scorer and an All-NBA second team selection.
Putting Things in Perspective: George Mikan-led DePaul defeated Oklahoma A&M in both 1945 and 1946.
NCAA Champion Defeats: DePaul (4-point margin) and neutral court vs. Bowling Green at Chicago (11).
Scoring Leader: Bob Kurland, Oklahoma A&M (72 points, 24 ppg).
Most Outstanding Player: Bob Kurland, C, Sr., Oklahoma A&M (52 points in final two games).
Championship Team Results
First Round: Oklahoma A&M 44 (Kurland team-high 20 points), Baylor 29 (Johnson 10)
Regional Final: Oklahoma A&M 52 (Kurland 29), California 35 (Wolfe 14)
Championship Game: Oklahoma A&M 43 (Kurland 23), North Carolina 40 (Dillon 16)
COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME: THOMAS HARE
Thomas Truxton Hare is one of a handful of men to be a four-time first-team All-America. According to Walter Camp, Hare was the only player who could have made All-America at any position. He was selected as a charter member of the College Hall of Fame (1951), and has been named to numerous all-time All-America teams. Playing guard in the guards-back formation, Hare ran, punted, kicked off, and drop-kicked extra points. He called signals and was captain two years. He played every minute of every game for four years. Penn went 15-0 his first year, 1897, and was 47-5-2 in his career. He scored two touchdowns against Michigan in 1899 and made a 65-yard run against Cornell in 1900. He was on the 1900 Olympic track team at Paris, placing second in the hammer throw and first in the tug of war. He added a law degree at Penn in 1904, practiced law in Philadelphia, served as president of Bryn Mawr Hospital, excelled as a painter, and wrote eight books for boys.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S BEST: ROGER STAUBACH
Roger Staubach (QB, Navy, 1962-64)
Passing yards: 3,571 | Rushing yards: 682 | TDs: 35
Before Staubach led America’s Team in the NFL, he won the Heisman Trophy as Navy’s quarterback in 1963. Known as “Roger the Dodger,” Staubach passed for 1,474 yards as a junior in 1963, while also winning the Maxwell Trophy and Walter Camp Memorial Award. After four years in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam, Staubach joined the Cowboys in 1969 and led them to the Super Bowl four times, including victories in 1972 and ’78.
TODAY IN THE NBA
May 22, 1994
Toronto, scheduled to enter the NBA as an expansion franchise in 1995-96, unveiled Raptors as the team’s nickname.
May 22, 2017
The Golden State Warriors defeat the San Antonio Spurs 129-115 in the Western Conference Finals for a 4-0 series win.
SEASON REVIEW: 1966-67
The NBA continued to evolve in the 1966-67 season, with a new team joining the fold and a significant change being enacted in the postseason. There were changes, too, to the league’s hierarchy as the eight-time champion Boston Celtics finally saw their reign end.
The Chicago Bulls were added as an expansion team and the Baltimore Bullets moved to the East. With two five-team divisions, the playoffs were changed so division winners no longer received a first-round bye.
Philadelphia, which had hired veteran Alex Hannum as coach, got off to a 46-4 start and never looked back, posting an NBA-best 68-13 record. Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham scored more as Wilt Chamberlain concentrated on rebounding and defense. Chamberlain still finished third in scoring (24.1), but he also led the league in rebounding (24.2) and was third in assists (7.8).
That group guided Philly to its first Finals appearance since 1955 and once there, Chamberlain exacted revenge on his former team — the San Francisco Warriors — as the Sixers wrapped up the championship in six games.
The true Finals that season, though, were perhaps played in the East finals. It was there that Chamberlain faced his longtime nemesis, the Celtics, and finally ousted them. Though Philly topped Boston in five games, two of those games were decided by five points or less. But team-first play reminiscent of the Celtics’ own dominant style is what helped Chamberlain vanquish the defending champs.
“The whole season was just magical, something where a team played almost perfect basketball,” said Sixers guard Wali Jones. “We played as a team/family concept.”
Even the Celtics had to admit the 76ers were better.
“They’re playing the same game we’ve played for the last nine years,” said K.C. Jones, who had known nothing but NBA titles in his first eight seasons as a player. “In other words, team ball.”
Eastern Division semifinals
Boston defeated New York (3-1)
Philadelphia defeated Cincinnati (3-1)
Western Division semifinals
St. Louis defeated Chicago (3-0)
San Francisco defeated Los Angeles (3-0)
Eastern Division finals
Philadelphia defeated Boston (4-1)
Western Division finals
San Francisco defeated St. Louis (4-2)
Philadelphia defeated San Francisco (4-2)
Points — Rick Barry, San Francisco Warriors (35.6)
Assists — Guy Rodgers, Chicago Bulls (11.2)
Rebounds — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers (24.2)
FG% — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers (68.3)
FT% — Adrian Smith, Cincinnati Royals (90.3)
Most Valuable Player — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers
Rookie of the Year — Dave Bing, Detroit Pistons
Coach of the Year — Johnny “Red” Kerr, Chicago Bulls
All-Star Game MVP — Rick Barry, San Francisco Warriors
HOCKEY’S BEST: CHARLIE CONACHER
Many decades before the cannon blasts of Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber, and of Al MacInnis and Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion and other thunderous shooters before them, there was the man known as “The Big Bomber.”
Charlie Conacher, the second captain in Toronto Maple Leafs history after Clarence “Hap” Day, possessed the most fearsome shot of the 1930s, the rockets off his heavy wooden stick a terrifying sight for maskless, thinly padded goaltenders; that is, when the goalies saw the puck at all.
Conacher was a mountain of a man at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, a skater who was taller and heavier than almost every NHL player of his day. And when the right wing unloaded shots, which he did with great zeal from every part of the rink, the results usually weren’t pleasant for the goalie standing in the way.
The Toronto native was a massive star on Maple Leafs teams from 1929-30 through 1937-38, before he signed for a season with the Detroit Red Wings and played the final two seasons of his 459-game NHL career with the New York Americans.
Conacher was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning Maple Leafs team in 1931-32, and five times between 1930-31 and 1935-36 he was the NHL’s leader or co-leader in goals. Playing on Toronto’s legendary “Kid Line” with Joe Primeau and Harvey “Busher” Jackson, he twice led the League in points, more than a decade before the Art Ross Trophy was introduced to honor the feat.
In October 2016 Conacher was voted No. 11 on a list of the top 100 Maple Leafs, as chosen by a panel and a fan balloting, having been elected to the Hall of Fame in 1961, six years before he died of cancer at 58.
In his prime, what got fans, teammates and opposing goalies talking most about “The Big Bomber” was his shot, a heavy, wrist-flicked snap perfected two decades before the slap shot was popularized by Geoffrion of the Canadiens.
Never was Conacher’s shot more frightening than in the third and final game of the 1932 Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers, with Toronto steaming toward a sweep.
It was midway through the second period at Maple Leaf Gardens when Conacher unleashed a drive at Rangers goaltender John Ross Roach. Toronto Star sports editor Lou Marsh described the scene in the next day’s edition:
“It was a period that almost ended in tragedy,” Marsh wrote. “Young Chuck Conacher, 205 pounds of TNT, let one of his smoking shots go from away over the fence just inside the blue line.
“Roach, as game as a badger, threw himself in front of the sizzler and it hit him under the heart. The terrific impact drove him back into the nets, but he straightened up again and the puck was cleared.
“Then he slowly dropped his stick, struggled a second with his gloved hands at his throat, and silently folded up and dropped to the ice. He looked like a man shot through the heart.
“There was a moment’s awed silence and then a rippling groan as Roach stiffened out on the ice,” Marsh continued. “It looked as if the popular Port Perry (Ontario) netman had been killed for he lay without a move. It was a solar plexus blow – a shock to the big motor centre of the body. It took Roach five minutes to recover.
“When Roach staggered back to his feet, Conacher skated over to him. It’s reported he said to his rival and old friend, ‘Don’t worry, Johnny, that’s the last high shot you’ll see from me tonight.’ “
Charlie Conacher was born Dec. 10, 1909, in Toronto, one of 10 children – five boys and five girls – in one of Canada’s greatest sporting families, all of the siblings excellent in school athletics.
Charlie was a poor skater at first, a goaltender from the start because he was so weak on blades. But he worked fiercely to improve and was a promising junior when the Toronto Marlboros dressed him as a forward for the 1927-28 season.
Charlie saw light at the end of his tunnel after a childhood lived in poverty, saying, “I was born in one of Toronto’s high-class slums. We didn’t have a pretzel, we didn’t have enough money to buy toothpaste. … We were poor as church mice.”
Yet this did nothing to keep the children from thriving as athletes, most notably brothers who are the only three siblings immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame:
Lionel, the best athlete of the three, played for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, Montreal Maroons and Chicago Black Hawks, and Roy suited up for the Boston Bruins, Detroit and Chicago.
Lionel did well at any sport he tried – hockey, boxing, wrestling, lacrosse and baseball. In 1950 a panel of newspaper sports editors voted him greatest all-around athlete of the first half of the 20th century.
But it was Charlie, larger than life in Toronto, who most captured the imagination of Maple Leafs fans, arriving from the junior Marlboros in 1929-30 to score 20 goals in 38 games, with coach Dick Irvin putting Conacher on a line with center Primeau, 23, and left wing Jackson, 18, to form the “Kid Line.” During a seven-season span from 1929-36, the trio piled up nearly 800 points.
He was a priceless teammate to the men he played with, his sheer size a deterrent to those who wished to take liberties with smaller players.
“I never had a finer friend in Toronto than Charlie,” said diminutive defenseman Frank “King” Clancy, a teammate of Conacher’s with the Maple Leafs from 1930-37. “He was my protection as a Maple Leaf. He didn’t go looking for trouble, but if it came along, he would clear it up.”
Conacher was the brightest light on a team known through the 1930s as “The Gashouse Gang,” leading by deed and example. Barely out of his teens, he had fans and seasoned hockey men taking sharp notice.
“What amazed the veterans was the fact that 20-year-old Conacher not only could take it, but he could dish it out as well. They began to treat him with a respect seldom before afforded a newcomer,” wrote Ed Fitkin, a former Maple Leafs public relations man, in his 1953 book “The Gashouse Gang of Hockey.”
Growing with Conacher’s fame was his joie de vivre, a soaring spirit that often caught unsuspecting teammates in its crosshairs.
Two pranks of note:
One night in New York, fuming about being cast on Irvin’s checking line, Maple Leafs plugger Harold “Baldy” Cotton was rambling on to roommate Conacher about his lot in life, saying he’d never again pass the puck. Conacher listened for so long, then grabbed Cotton by the ankles and dangled him outside their hotel room upside down, many stories above Times Square.
“Do you think you could shut up if I let you back in?” Conacher called down to his howling teammate, according to former Maple Leafs general manager Frank Selke in his 1962 book “Behind the Cheering.”
Cotton, terrified of heights, zipped his lip but only after pleading for his life.
Then there was the time, Selke related, when Conacher and then-captain Day conspired to relieve the boredom of the road in Boston, offering Red Horner $25 if he’d swim fully clothed, his suitcase trailing behind him, across a hotel swimming pool. Horner made the swim but earned not a penny for it; Conacher said he’d forgotten to collect $1 from each player for the wager.
If his pranks were legendary, it was Conacher’s world-class talent and his trailblazing that made him a legend in Toronto. On Nov. 12, 1931, he scored the first Toronto goal at sparkling new Maple Leaf Gardens, and on Jan. 19, 1932, he became the first player in franchise history to score five goals in one game, in an 11-3 rout of the New York Americans.
He would miss plenty of playing time with injuries, but was so skilled that his spot in the lineup always was waiting when he returned.
Just as important to his fans was that “The Big Bomber” was a man of the people who never forgot his roots, either walking down the street or running a downtown Toronto gas station with Lionel in the mid-1930s, with drivers lining up around the block to fill up at his pumps.
“The fondest memories I have of Charlie were the ones that found us scrounging apples off other people’s trees or getting a freshly baked loaf of bread from Canada Bread,” wrote longtime Conacher friend Red Burnett, a Toronto Star columnist.
“There were card games in the park, pick-up sides, battles with gangs from other parks, all of it valuable in the learning the art of survival. That was Conacher, leader and champion of the poor sweats who knew what it was to be hungry and without a dime.”
TODAY IN THE NHL
2009: Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom sets an NHL record by playing in his 228th consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff game, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at United Center. Lidstrom breaks the record set by Larry Robinson from 1973-92. He finishes his NHL career with 263 postseason games played, second all-time to former teammate Chris Chelios (266), and plays on four Stanley Cup-winning teams before retiring in 2012.
1970: The NHL grows from 12 teams to 14 when the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks are officially granted franchises. The expansion fee is $6 million. The new teams will begin play in the 1970-71 season and are placed in the East Division, with Chicago moving to the West along with the six teams from the 1967 expansion. The Sabres finish fifth and the Canucks sixth in their first season, ahead of the Red Wings.
1986: Patrick Roy makes 15 saves for the first of his 23 playoff shutouts in the Montreal Canadiens’ 1-0 victory against the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of the Final at the Forum. Claude Lemieux scores the only goal of the game with 8:50 remaining in the third period. The Canadiens become the first team to win 100 games in the Final, as well as the first to win 10 home games in one playoff year.
1992: The Blackhawks advance to the Cup Final for the first time since 1973 and complete a sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the Campbell Conference Final with a 5-1 victory. It’s the 11th consecutive victory for the Blackhawks, a playoff record. Brian Noonan scores twice in Chicago’s four-goal second period and Ed Belfour finishes with 20 saves.
2002: Dominik Hasek becomes the first goalie in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be credited with an assist in overtime. Hasek and Steve Yzerman get the assists when defenseman Fredrik Olausson scores at 12:44 of OT to give the Red Wings a 2-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Pepsi Center. It’s Olausson’s first playoff goal in 10 years.
2004: The Tampa Bay Lightning advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since entering the NHL in 1992 when they defeat the visiting Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Goals by Ruslan Fedotenko and Freddy Modin help Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk advance to the Cup Final for the first time after 22 seasons in the NHL.
2007: The Anaheim Ducks advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time since entering the NHL in 1993 by holding off the Red Wings 4-3 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. The Ducks lead 3-0 after two periods, and a goal by Samuel Pahlsson with 14:06 remaining makes it 4-1. That proves to be the series-winner when Pavel Datsyuk scores twice for the Red Wings, who outshoot the Ducks 16-3 in the final 20 minutes.
2012: The Los Angeles Kings return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 19 years by defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in overtime in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final in Glendale, Arizona. Dustin Penner scores at 17:42 of overtime to give Los Angeles 12 victories in 14 games through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Kings become the second team in NHL history to defeat the top three seeds in its conference since the NHL changes its playoff format in 1994. The other is the 2004 Calgary Flames; each team is coached by Darryl Sutter. Los Angeles improves to 8-0 on the road in the 2012 playoffs and sets a record with its 10th consecutive postseason road win. It’s the first trip to the Final for the Kings since the Wayne Gretzky-led team loses in five games to the Canadiens in 1993.
2017: The Nashville Predators advance to the Cup Final for the first time since entering the NHL in 1998 by defeating the Ducks 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena to win the Western Conference Final in six games. Colton Sissons scores his third goal of the game with six minutes remaining in the third period to put the Predators ahead 4-3. Pekka Rinne makes 38 saves for Nashville, which wins three straight series after entering the playoffs as the second wild card from the West. Peter Laviolette becomes the first man to coach three teams to the Cup Final.