|Earle Combs||Ralph Metcalfe||Arnold Palmer||Branch Rickey|
|Rogers Hornsby||James Naismith||Ty Cobb||Bart Starr|
"The Georgia Peach" was one of the fiercest competitors in baseball history, Ty Cobb went on to be one of the best of all time. Cobb is the only American League player to hit over .400 three times. He holds the major league record for lifetime batting average (.366), most years leading the league in batting (12) and hits (8). He was a terrific base stealer and has the all-time record of stolen bases of home plate (35). Often overlooked is that he led the league in RBI four times and had 100 or more seven times. Cobb also started the practice of swinging multiple bats in the on-deck circle to make the bat feel lighter at the plate. Cobb was one of the five original members and leading vote getter elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936.
Born May 29, 1910, Atlanta, Ga. Died October 10, 1978.Eddie Tolan (centre) practicing with Ralph Metcalfe (left) and George Simpson (right)In the early 1930s, Ralph Metcalfe was the prime U.S. sprinter, winning most of the national titles. He competed in both the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games, ending up with one gold medal, two silvers and a bronze. At Marquette University, Metcalfe won the national collegiate 100-220 double three straight years from 1932 to 1934. He did the same thing at the AAU meet during the same period and wound up with five-straight titles in the 200-220. Overall, counting indoors competition, Metcalfe won 11 AAU sprint titles, one of the highest totals on record. At the 1932 Olympics, he was second in the 100 and third in the 200. In 1936, he finally won a gold medal in the 4 x 100 relay after taking second to Jesse Owens in the 100. He tied the world 100-meter record of 10.3 eight times and the world 200 record once. He later became a successful businessman in Chicago and was a member of the U.S. Congress at the time of his death.
The fact that fans still recognize him isn't what surprises Brian Bartlett Starr. As quarterback for the Green Bay Packers dynasty that won five NFL championships in seven years, being recognized is to be expected. What astonishes Starr, 64, is that young people who weren't alive when the Packers won Super Bowls I and II (1966 and '67) know who he is. "It's nice to be recognized," he says. "But some are people who, when you first glance at them, you think, 'They're too young to know who I am.' That's when it's really an honor." Perhaps this pro-football hall of famer is also caught off guard because he is as modest as they come.
"I was an overachiever," Starr admits. "I was smart and courageous and had a committed work ethic. But I didn't have the physical talent many of the quarterbacks had. I had to work harder. I was also blessed to be with a group of talented players and coached by a phenomenal individual (Vince Lombardi) with a great staff." A Packer throughout his careers as player (1956 - 71) and coach (1975 - 83), Starr is still welcomed as a local hero in Wisconsin as well as in his home state, Alabama. The Montgomery native, who played college ball at the University of Alabama, and his wife live in Birmingham to be close to the rest of the family. He says he doesn't miss football.
"I'm very happy where I am," says Starr, chairman of National Healthcare Realty Management. "I love being in a service-oriented business, and I love Birmingham. Ten years ago, we lost our second son [apparently due to cocaine use]. And our oldest son, Bart Jr., started leaning on my wife and me to return to Birmingham so we could be nearer to each other. It may be the best move we ever made." In nine years the company Starr started has grown into a major player in the medical field. But his pride in the company's success is matched by the pleasure he gets from working alongside his son. "As I'm saying this, Bart Jr. is down the hall. That's something I wouldn't trade for anything."
William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey was purely and simply, the greatest fistic box-office attraction of all time. And, not incidentally, one helluva fighter, to boot. If Dempsey's opponent could walk away from a fight, it was considered a success. Some 60 of them, including those he met in exhibitions, never walked away from the first round, so great was his punch. Dempsey was the perfect picture of the ring warrior. Approaching his opponent with the teeth bared, bobbing and weaving to make his swarthy head with the perpetual five o'clock shadow harder to hit, his black eyes flashing and his blue-black hair flying, Dempsey took on the look of an avenging angel of death.
His amazing speed and lethal left hook combined with an anything-goes mentality bred of necessity in the mining camps of his youth, making every bout a war with no survivors. He used every possible means at his disposal to win, his definition of survival less a breaking of rules than a testing of their elasticity -- hitting low, after the bell, behind the head, while a man was on the way down, and even while he was on the way up. "Hell," he said, "it's a case of protecting yourself at all times."
But Dempsey never had to ___ his opponents did. After having spent several years out-boxing the local sheriffs, Dempsey came out of the west with a fearful record, a nickname, "The Manassa Mauler," and a manager named Doc Kearns, who was to play spear carrier to Dempsey's greatness. With an animal instinct, an inner fury and a lust for battle a searing path through the heavyweight division. Dispatching contender Fred Fulton in just 18 seconds in July of 1918, Dempsey proved he was no one-fight phenomenon as he followed that up with a 14-second knockout of former "White Hope" claimant Carl Morris. Now all that stood between "The Manassa Mauler" and the heavyweight crown was a small mountain by the name of Jess Willard. But after one puerile jab with the left, Dempsey whipped out his meal ticket, left hook, and left a dazed Jess Willard on the floor, his jaw shattered in seven places, his dreams of retaining his title just as shattered. Dempsey would become a legend in his spare time, defending his title but six times in the next seven years. Still, they were almost all classic feats of arms, fights that made ring history in the ring and at the box office as well.
But Jack Dempsey's place on the boxing landscape cannot be measured by barebone statistics alone. He had fewer fights than Jimmy Baddock, fewer knockouts than Max Baer, and fewer wins than Primo Carnera, three of his successors -- in name only. What Dempsey had that no one else had was the ability to capture the imagination of the American sporting public. For he alone spawned "The Golden Age of Sports," becoming the greatest gate attraction of all time, without exception, catnip for the masses who paid millions of Coolidge dollars for the privilege of witnessing this legend in action.
Sugar Ray Robinson, also known as Walker
Smith, first put on the gloves in the same Detroit gym where Joe
Louis got his start in
the fight scene. Grace, speed and power---knockout power from both
hands. Sugar Ray had everything he needed for a long, successful
career as a welterweight and middleweight champion. From his first
pro fight in 1940 at age 20 against Joe Echevarria to his final bout
in 1965 against Joey Archer, Robinson compiled a 175-19-6 record
that included 109 knock outs. He won the world middleweight title on
five occasions and was welterweight champion from 1946-51.
Columnist Jack Newfield, who has written a biography of Sugar Ray
Robinson, joins Dick Schaap in Victory Yard for the Sugar Ray
Robinson Night at the Fights edition of Friday Night at the Fights.
Though Newfield was around Robinson a lot during his career and
dubbed him "the perfect fighter," he also points out that Robinson
was "hard to get to know." Later in his career, Robinson was responsible for changing the
economics of boxing by exploring ancillary rights owed to performing
fighters. He also created boxing’s first "entourage" when he
traveled abroad in 1951 as Sugar Ray carefully maintained his own
style throughout his long career. Robinson also had a penchant for
arranging quick rematches after his rare losses in the ring, and
vengeance was usually his. "Ray was always at his best in adversity
or when he was under pressure," Newfield says.
BESIDES WG Grace, 1998 also marks the 150th anniversary of the other lustrous sportsman of the Victorian age. Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, was born on January 19, 1848, six months earlier than WG, at Dawley, now part of Telford. Grace lived until 1915 but had appeared in only the first two home Tests ever played (at The Oval in 1880 and 1882) by the time Webb perished, at 35, on July 24, 1883, as he attempted to swim the rapids below Niagara Falls. Webb was the son of a Shropshire doctor. He learned to swim in the Severn at Coalbrookdale. At 12 he enlisted on the Conway naval training ship on the Mersey, whence he joined the Rathbone line of cargo ships plying the East Indies and China trade routes. In 1874, by then a master with the Cunard line, he retired to concentrate as a professional on the new craze of endurance swimming. For starters he announced he would be the first to swim the English Channel. The world scoffed.
On August 24, 1875, smeared in porpoise oil for insulation and wearing a crimson costume of silk made by the firm that would later make Prince Ranjitsinhji's cricket shirts, Webb dived into the water off Dover's Admiralty Pier. Twenty-one hours and 45 minutes later, having covered 39 sea miles, he waded ashore at Calais, passengers and crew of the outgoing mailship The Maid of Kent leaning over the rails to serenade his last few strokes. Webb logged in his diary: 'Never shall I forget when the men in the mailboat struck up the tune of Rule Britannia, which they sang, or rather shouted, in a hoarse roar. I felt a gulping sensation in my throat as the old tune, which I had heard in all parts of the world, once more struck my ears under circumstances so extra-ordinary. I felt now I should do it, and I did it.' He slept for 12 hours in the Hotel de Paris, then returned by boat to Dover saying 'the sensation in my limbs is similar to that after the first day of the cricket season'. At a welcoming banquet at the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club the Mayor of Dover announced himself 'overwhelmed at an Englishman doing what has never been done before and will never be done again'.
The Daily Telegraph proclaimed: 'At this moment the Captain is probably the best-known and most popular man in the world.' Even the New York Times wrote: 'London baths are crowded, each village pond and running stream contains youthful worshippers at the shrine of Webb.' The Stock Exchange set up a testimonial fund. It raised an exceptional A2,424, of which Webb gave A500 to his father and invested A1,872 for a guaranteed annual income of A87 for life. He toured the world lecturing and swimming. He won A1,000 for an American 'Channel equivalent', crossing from Sandy Hook to Manhattan Beach, and the same sum for beating the US champion Paul Boyton in a 'world championship race' off Nantasket Beach. He got another four-figure sum for 'remaining afloat in a tank of water for 128 hours' at the Boston Horticultural Show. He did no end of that sort of thing. Webb and his wife Madeleine now had two children. With his fitness giving him concern he decided to play his last card which would, in spite of his spendthrift generosity, set up the family for life. The famous circus performer Blondin had lately caught the world's imagination by walking above the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Now the great Webb would swim under and across the Falls in all their boiling ferment, and not only that but he would aim straight through the fearsomely savage whirlpool, a quarter of a mile in diameter and rimmed by two awful ledges of jagged rock. With railway companies laying on special trains Webb reckoned his success would net him at least A12,000, a fortune.
Madeleine was ignorant of his intentions when he traveled to the Falls with a friend Robert Watson. On seeing from the bank the venomous whirlpool - a sight so terrifying it had apparently inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write The Maelstrom - Watson wrote: 'As we stood face to face I compared the fine handsome sailor I had first met with the broken-spirited and terribly altered appearance of the man who now courted death in the whirlpool rapids. His object was not suicide but money and imperishable fame.' At 4pm on July 24, 1883, spectators crammed on each bank saw Webb dive into the river wearing the same red costume he had worn to cross the Channel eight summers before. He was instantly gripped by the force of the current. Charles Sprawson's classic study of the swimmer as hero, Haunts Of The Black Masseur (Cape, 1992), describes Webb heading straight for the whirlpool: 'At first he kept on his way, swimming, then abruptly he threw up his arms and was drawn under. His last words to the boatman had been, 'If I die, they will do something for my wife.' 'Some days later his body was found by fishermen four miles below the rapids. It had been delayed by the force of the whirl-pool. His red silk costume had been torn to shreds, and his skull exposed. He had probably hit the submarine rocks he feared at the sides of the whirlpool.' He lies buried in the Oakwood cemetery at the edge of the Falls. In 1908, in what would have been his 60th year, they built the Webb Memorial at his birthplace in Dawley. Its simple inscription reads, 'Nothing Great Is Easy'.
Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth finished in a tie behind Ty Cobb when the first players were voted into the Hall of Fame in 1936. The fan of today may look at the stats of these men and wonder why Wagner stands alongside the other two. Yet Bill Deane, in his "Awards and Honors" piece in this volume, credits Wagner with six "hypothetical" MVP awards during his career?for the years 1900-1903, 1907, and 1909, years in which no award was given. Only Ruth dominated a league for so long a time. John Peter Wagner became "Johannes" and, later, "Honus" or "Hans," just as Wagner's nationality, German (a "Deutschman") became "Dutchman," hence Wagner's nickname, "the Flying Dutchman." Bowlegged, he "looked like a hoop rolling down the baselines" but reached the majors with Louisville. When the city was dropped from the league, owner Barney Dreyfuss bought Pittsburgh and took Wagner with him.
In 1900 Wagner won his first of eight batting titles, an NL record. He was stationed all over the diamond until Frederick "Bones" Ely, the regular shortstop, begged off. Wagner made three errors in an inning, then got lucky. With men on first and second, he gave the signal for a pickoff play and dashed toward second; the pitcher delivered to the plate instead, resulting in a one-hopper that Wagner turned into a double play. Wagner called it "the best play I ever made." The Dutchman led the Pirates to pennants in 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1909, when he outplayed Ty Cobb, and his batting average didn't fall below .300 until 1914. Wagner led the league five times in RBI and stolen bases, six times in slugging, and seven times in doubles. When he retired as a player in 1917, he led the NL in hits, runs, singles, doubles, and triples. After coaching at Carnegie Tech and owning a sporting goods store with Pie Traynor, Wagner fell on hard times. Early in 1933, Fred Lieb wrote a column about Wagner's plight, and new Pirate owner Bill Benswanger made him a coach. Honus boosted attendance and was given "Days," even in opposing cities. In Larry Ritter's The Glory of Their Times, Paul Waner remembered, "He must have been sixty ... [He'd] get out there every once in a while [and take infield practice] ... a hush would come over the whole ballpark, and every player on both teams would stand there, like a bunch of little kids ... I'll never forget it."
Born Pennsylvania, USA, Palmer is one of the greatest golfers of
the modern era
probably closest to the hearts of the American public than any
Lloyd Waner was the younger and smaller of the Waner brothers, the best-hitting sibling combo that ever played the game. Lloyd had an 18-year career; big brother Paul played in 20 big league seasons. For 13 of those years they played next to each other in the Pittsburgh Pirate outfield. Together they banged out 5,611 hits?517 more than the three Alou brothers, 753 more than the three DiMaggios, and 1,394 more than the five Delahantys. The Waners were the second set of brothers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, following nineteenth-century pioneers George and Harry Wright. Born almost three years apart in Harrah, Oklahoma, the Waner boys were very close growing up. They spent as much time as they could playing baseball, learning to hit corncobs with broomsticks. Their father, a former professional ballplayer himself, encouraged them. Paul once commented, however, "Our sister Alma was the best hitter in the family." Paul was Lloyd's first hitting coach, instructing him to hit down on the ball and to go for line drives rather than power. That was good advice, since neither of them was taller than 5-foot-9, nor weighed more than 150 pounds. Although Paul produced more extra-base hits (including four times as many homers) than his brother did during their major league careers, the two had similar batting styles, keeping the bat at rest on their shoulders until the pitcher began his delivery.
Lloyd's batting success came in part from his exceptional eye. He holds the major league record for fewest strikeouts by an outfielder with more than 500 at bats?only eight, in 1933. In 1941 Lloyd didn't fan for 77 consecutive games. He struck out 20 times only once after his rookie year, and in 18 seasons whiffed only 173 times. His ratio of one strikeout per 44.9 at bats is the second best in major league history. Waner also preferred to put the bat on the ball rather than walk; he never took more than 40 free passes in a season. Lloyd Waner was one of baseball's first speedsters. After his arrival scouts began to pay more attention to foot speed than they had in the past. His quickness made him an outstanding center fielder as well. He led the National League in putouts four times, including 1931 when he tracked down 515 fly balls, the tenth-best season ever. His 18 putouts in a 1935 doubleheader are also a record. Signed to a contract with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, the younger Waner sat on the bench for the 1925 season and watched his brother Paul hit .401. Lloyd was upset because the team had backed out of its verbal commitment to a $1,500 signing bonus, and on the advice of a Pirates scout he asked for his release early in the 1926 season. The Seals obliged, and on brother Paul's recommendation the Pirates put the younger Waner under contract. He hit .345 for Columbia, South Carolina, and was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
While Lloyd was tearing up the South Atlantic League, Paul was making his major league debut, hitting .336 with a league-leading 22 triples in 1926. Lloyd reported to spring training in 1927 with his brother, hoping to win a reserve outfielder position. The Buc outfield seemed complete with brother Paul, speedy Kiki Cuyler , and slugging Clyde Barnhart. But Barnhart showed up grotesquely overweight. All the steam baths in Paso Robles, California, couldn't get him into reasonable condition, so Lloyd won the starting job. Lloyd's first year was one to remember. He set the major league rookie record with 223 hits; 198 of them were singles, which equaled Wee Willie Keeler's mark from the nineteenth century. Waner hit .355 and led the league in runs scored with 133. Big brother Paul led the league with a .380 average, 131 RBI, 18 triples, and 237 hits. The two Waners combined for 460 hits and 247 runs, and on September 4 hit home runs in the same inning. During one exceptionally productive stretch for the two of them in Brooklyn that summer, a large person of Italian heritage was heard to holler in quality Brooklynese, "Every time I look there's that little poyson [person] on third and that big poyson on first." The Waners were christened "Big Poison" and "Little Poison" in the newspaper.
In 1927 the Bucs edged out the Cards for the NL flag. A story is told that before the World Series, Lloyd and Paul watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig take batting practice. The younger said to the older, "Gee, they're pretty big guys, aren't they?" The dumbfounded Pirates were then swept by the powerful Yanks. But Lloyd later said that the story wasn't true, denying ever watching the Yankees warm up. He added, "I don't think Paul ever saw anything on a ballfield that would scare him." The facts bear him out. The Pirates were not squashed by the Yankees in the Series. Although the New Yorkers won in four games, two of them were decided by one run, and the final game was lost on a ninth-inning wild pitch. And the Poisons outhit Ruth and Gehrig,.367 to .357. Lloyd hit .400; his six hits included a double and a triple. The two brothers went on a national vaudeville tour following the Series, earning $2,000 a week. Paul noodled on the saxophone, Lloyd pretended to play violin ("Every so often we'd hit the same notes as the orchestra," he recalled), and they told baseball jokes. The fans loved them, and they were offered an additional 10-week tour, but the brothers realized their futures lay on the baseball field, not on the stage, and quit to begin training for the next season. Lloyd had more than 220 hits in each of the next two seasons, and led the league with 20 triples in 1929, marking the third consecutive year that a player named Waner was the NL triples champ. On June 9, 1929, the Waner brothers hit home runs in the same game. Six days later Lloyd had six hits in a 14-inning contest. Little Poison missed most of the 1930 season with appendicitis but still hit .362. In 1931 he returned with a .314 average and league-leading 214 hits.
During the next six years, while the Pirates bounced between second and fifth, Lloyd's average twice fell below .285. But starting in 1935 he hit .309 or better four years in a row, including a .313 showing in 1938, the year the Pirates lost the pennant late in the season on Gabby Hartnett's famous "Homer in the Gloaming." Lloyd had a 22-game hitting streak that season (his career best was a 23-gamer in 1935), and on September 15 the Waners hit homers in the same inning. By 1939 Buc management was looking to make room for some up-and-coming outfield talent, namely Maurice Van Robays and Johnny Rizzo. Waner played in only 92 outfield games that year and 42 the next. Swapped to the Boston Braves, then to Cincinnati a month later, he batted .292 for the season. When the Reds released him he caught on with the Phillies, but when they traded him to Brooklyn after the 1942 season he decided to hang the spikes up. But these were the war years. At age 37, Lloyd had to find a job in a defense plant or risk being drafted. Branch Rickey asked him to join the Dodgers in 1944, and he did, hitting .286 in 15 games. Late in the season he rejoined the Pirates, where his career ended in 1945. He retired with 2,459 hits and a career batting average of .316. He then scouted for the Pirates for the next four years and for Baltimore in 1955. In 1967, 15 years after his brother Paul was elected, Lloyd Waner was named to the Hall of Fame. He died in 1982.
Paul "Big Poison" Waner wasn't a big man, at five-eight, 153 pounds, but he was a big talent. Paul hit over .300 twelve straight years. He collected 200 hits eight times, tying Willie Keeler's record. Waner won three batting titles in 1927, 1934, and 1936. His .380 in 1927 won him the NL MVP Award. Paul learned to hit swinging at corncobs in Oklahoma. He stood deep in the box, feet together, and aimed at the top of the ball, swinging down as in a golf shot, a theory he later taught as coach. A line drive hitter, he led in doubles and triples twice each. He wasn't a home run threat, although he hit 15 in 1929. He recognized that approach as a losing game in spacious Forbes Field and became adept at lining the ball down either foul line. The worst that could happen was a foul ball. If the ball hit fair, he had extra bases. In twenty years, Paul had 3,152 hits, including 603 doubles and 190 triples. His batting average was .333, and he scored 1,626 runs and drove in 1,309. In his prime he was a fine defensive outfielder with the arm to play right field at Forbes. Paul was notorious for his drinking. One year manager Pie Traynor convinced him to lay off the sauce. When Paul's batting average dropped .240, Traynor took him out and bought him a drink. But despite humorous stories about Paul's hungover hitting, the boozing probably kept him from a couple of batting titles and left him only an ordinary player in his last few years. The story is that Paul beat out a grounder off an infielder's glove one day in 1942 for what could have been his 3,000th hit. However, he signaled the scorer to call it an error, preferring to wait for a clean blow for the big one. The infielder's comment has not survived.
Waner was named to the Hall of Fame in 1952.
In January, 1995, Jack Kemp announced that he would not seek the Republican presidential nomination for 1996. He said that his passion for ideas was not matched by a passion for fundraising. Many commentators said that his withdrawal was a huge loss for the Party and for the country, but that his influence would continue as a key spokesman for growth and opportunity, and ownership an reconciliation in America. In March, 1995, Senator Bob Dole and Speaker Newt Gingrich put Jack Kemp at the center of the tax and economic debate for the '96 campaign by naming him chairman of the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform to study how major restructuring of our tax code can help unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, grow the economy without inflation and create greater opportunity for people to escape poverty.
Mr. Kemp currently serves on the Board of Directors of Empower America, a public policy and advocacy organization he co-founded in 1993 with William Bennet, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Vin Weber. Empower America is dedicated to three founding principles: expanding freedom and democratic capitalism around the world; promoting policies to expand economic growth, job creation, and entrepreneurship for our nation; and advancing social policies which empower people, not government bureaucracies. Prior to founding Empower America, Mr. Kemp served for four years as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and proved to be one of our nation's most innovative leaders in that role. He was the first and strongest advocate of Enterprise Zones to encourage entrepreneurship and job creation in impoverished neighborhoods and of expanding homeownership among the poor through resident management and ownership of public housing.
Mr. Kemp also serves as a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and on the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity, the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, and was most recently elected to the Board of the Prestigious Howard University. In addition, he has been selected as Deputy Chairman of the International Democratic Union, a worldwide organization of political leaders of the "center-right," dedicated to advancing the cause of democracy, freedom, and free market economics. Before his appointment to the Cabinet, Mr. Kemp represented the Buffalo area and Western New York for nine terms in the United States House of representatives from 1971-1989. He served for seven years in the Republican Leadership as Chairman of the House Republican Leadership Conference. Jack Kemp came to Congress after 13 years as a professional football quarterback. He was elected captain of the San Diego Chargers from 1960 to 1962 and of the Buffalo Bills, a team he helped lead to the American Football League championship in 1964 and 1965 when he was named the league's most valuable player. He also co-founded the AFL Players Association and was five times elected president. Mr. Kemp is married to the former Joanne Main. They have four children-Jeffrey, Jennifer, Judith, and James-and nine grandchildren, and reside in Bethesda, Maryland.
Dr. James Naismith
Dr. James Naismith came up with an idea for a different kind of sport in 1891 called basketball. Originally it was referred to as netball, but today has become one of the greatest sports ever. Mr. Naismith was a professor at Springfield College and was struggling with a concept for a new type of game to condition young students during the winter months after football had ended and the track and baseball seasons were still several months away. Gym classes at that time tended to be regimented calisthenics, gymnastics and drills, and the students were restless for active games they could play indoors. During a temporary teaching assignment of a gym class of 18 bored and restless young men, Naismith conceived of a way to play within the confines of a gymnasium and without the natural roughness of outdoor games such as football and rugby. In addition to borrowing elements from lacrosse, rugby and football, Naismith recalled "duck on the rock" a childhood game from his native Canada, which gave him the idea of tossing a ball in an arc toward the goal. To keep the game from becoming too rough, he required that the player with the ball either dribble it in order to run or take only one stride before passing to a teammate.
On the last day of his teaching assignment, Naismith selected a soccer ball for his new game and asked the janitor if he had any wooden boxes to be used as goals. The janitor offered him two peach baskets he had in the storeroom, which Naismith accepted. After hammering the goals into place and asking the department secretary to type up his 13 rules of the game, Naismith organized his class into two groups of nine men each. The janitor was on hand with his stepladder to retrieve the one ball that was successfully tossed into the basket during the game that day. Eventually, one of the students suggested they call the game "Naismith ball." Naismith laughed and said that such a name would kill the game. The student then suggested "basketball" to which Naismith agreed. On that December day in 1891, as the first game of basketball was played in the YMCA gymnasium in Springfield, Naismith not only discovered the solution to his problem of keeping student-athletes in condition during the winter months, but also created what has become one of the most popular team sports in the world today.
Naismith was a true believer in the YMCA ideal of emphasizing both spiritual and physical development. He also believed that girls as well as boys could benefit from playing the game of basketball. When a group of grade school teachers asked Naismith shortly after the invention of the game about its suitability for girls, he encouraged them to organize a girls team and offered the use of the gym. Indeed, during his courtship of his future wife, Maude Sherman, he encouraged her to play, and when the first girl's basketball tournament was held in March of 1892 at the "Y," Maude was among the players. On top of inventing the game, he also was admitted to the Springfield Basketball Hall of Fame, which none the less was also named after him. Basketball has come a long way since Mr. Naismith, but it wouldn't have been possible without him.
Rogers Hornsby was suspicious, short-tempered, and the greatest right-handed hitter that ever lived. The Rajah hit .300 or better in fourteen full seasons, won the NL batting title six straight years (1920-1925), is the only right-handed hitter to bat .400 or better three times and ended his career with a lifetime average of .358, second only to Ty Cobb. Like Cobb, he was thorny and idiosyncratic, reserving the right to bet on horses and refusing to read books or see movies for fear it would hurt his eyesight. His career didn't begin auspiciously; Hornsby made 58 errors at shortstop in the Texas League and was unimpressive in 18 games with the Cardinals in 1915. Manager Miller Huggins told him to put on weight and, 25 pounds heavier, the Rajah hit .313 to lead the Cardinals in 1916. By the mid-1920s he was the dominant player in the NL, winning the Triple Crown in both 1922 and 1925, when he became the Cardinals player-manager and was also named MVP for the first time. For the five-year period 1921-1925 his batting average exceeded .400! In 1926 he slumped to .317 but he gave the Cardinals their first pennant and helped upset the Yanks in a seven-game Series. Two months after his great triumph, on December 20, 1926, he was traded to the Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring. Before the trade could go through, Hornsby had to sell 1,000 shares of St. Louis stock lest a Giants player own stock in the Cardinals; he nearly tripled his money, finally settling for $120,000.
He was traded again to the Braves and then the Cubs. With Chicago in 1929, he hit .380 with 39 homers and 149 RBI, to win his second MVP award in his last full year as a player. Hornsby managed the Cubs from the end of 1930 until August 2, 1932, when he was replaced by Charlie Grimm; the Cubs went on to win the pennant and demonstrated their affection for Hornsby by cutting him out of the World Series pool. The Rajah finished up with the Browns and managed in the minor leagues for fifteen years before coming back to lead the Browns in 1952 and the Reds in 1953. He ended his career as a Mets scout and coach. Hornsby was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1942.
Hall of Famer Earle Combs was an exceptional all-around ballplayer who made key contributions to the mighty Yankee teams of the 1920s and 1930s. He was born in Pebworth, Kentucky, in 1899. Hoping to become a teacher, he attended Eastern Kentucky State Normal School in Richmond, where he played basketball, ran track, and starred on the baseball field, hitting .591 in his final year. During the summer he taught in one-room schools, but he soon learned that he could make more money and have more fun playing semipro baseball. When he hit .444 for the Harlan team, the Louisville Colonels of the American Association signed him. His first professional game was a total disaster. Installed in center field, he soon made two errors on groundballs. The Colonels overcame those miscues to lead by a run in the ninth. With two opposing runners on base, another ball bounced toward Combs and rolled between his legs. Before he could run it down and send it back to the infield, both runners, and the batter, had joyfully circled the bases to win the game. Afterward, he sat in front of his locker, bleakly contemplating life as a Kentucky schoolteacher. Colonels Manager Joe McCarthy approached the disconsolate rookie. "Look," he said, "if I didn't think you belonged in center field on this club, I wouldn't put you there. And I'm going to keep you there."
Combs soon became an excellent outfielder, outrunning flyballs and snagging tricky grounders. He finished his first season at Louisville with a .344 batting average. In 1923 he upped his average to .380, and the Yankees bought his contract for $50,000 and two players. When spring came around, however, he refused to report to New York's training camp. He had been promised a percentage of his purchase price by the Colonels but had received nothing. "I am not a dumb animal to be browbeaten, cowed, lashed, coerced, or goaded into anything I do not think is right," he announced. The Colonels paid him. Combs had been such an accomplished basestealer in the minor leagues that Louisville fans called him "the Mail Carrier." When he became the New York Yankees' leadoff hitter, though, Manager Miller Huggins took him aside and explained that times had changed. With sluggers such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel in the lineup, the Yankees needed little help in scoring runs. Stealing bases made no sense when the next batter was likely to hit one into the seats. "Up here," Huggins said, "we'll call you 'the Waiter.'"
As a result, Combs never stole more than 16 bases in a major league season. Had he played for any other team he might have doubled or tripled that figure. Nevertheless, his scoring record shows the wisdom of Huggins's strategy. Despite missing most of three seasons due to injury, the Waiter scored more than 100 runs in 8 of his 12 seasons for a total of 1,186 runs, an average of 99 a season. The American League's best leadoff man, Combs collected at least 190 hits five times on his way to a .325 career batting average. While Ruth, Gehrig, and others hit home runs, the left-handed-batting Combs's specialty was hitting line drives to all fields, although he collected more than his share of extra-base hits. When one of his drives sliced between the outfielders, he was a good bet to wind up on third base. He led the AL in triples three times and finished with a career total of 154, averaging more than one three-baggier for every 10 games he played. Combs was also a skillful bunter and was especially good at drawing walks, the last thing a pitcher wanted before facing Ruth or Gehrig. His career on-base percentage was .397.
The 6-foot, 185-pound speedster broke in quickly with the Yankees in 1924, hitting .400 in his first 24 games before fracturing his ankle and missing the rest of the season. Combs's injury probably cost the Yankees the pennant. After winning flags in 1921, 1922, and 1923, New York finished second to Washington by two games. In 1925 Combs, fully recovered, showed that his great start the previous year had been no fluke. He lashed out 203 hits, batted .342, and scored 117 runs. But Ruth was out of the lineup for much of the year, and several other players had disappointing seasons. The Yankees plummeted to seventh place. In 1926 Ruth returned to form, Gehrig blossomed at first base, and second baseman Tony Lazzeri added another powerful bat to the lineup. The Yankees clinched the pennant with a victory in St. Louis. The next day they clowned their way through a doubleheader with the hapless Browns. Among other hijinks, Combs performed a burlesque strikeout. Perhaps he should have played with more dedication; he finished the year with a .299 batting average, the only time he failed to hit .300 until his final major league season. The exciting 1926 World Series was highlighted by Pete Alexander's clutch strikeout of Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the final game. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Yankees in seven.
The next year featured the New York club that many experts consider to be the greatest team of all time, the 1927 Yankees. With the bats of Murderers Row behind them, the Bronx Bombers cruised to the pennant and demolished the Pirates in four straight games in the Series. During the regular season Ruth slugged his then-record 60 home runs, and Combs set a club record with 231 hits. In 1986 Don Mattingly topped Combs's mark with 238. Gehrig was a favorite of Yankee fans, and Ruth was of course the most popular figure in baseball. But Combs also rated high with both fans and reporters. In appreciation of his fine season in 1927, the fans in right field at Yankee Stadium took up a collection and bought him a gold watch. In 1931 sportswriter Fred Lieb wrote, "I believe if a vote were taken of the sportswriters on who is the most popular player in New York, I think the vote would go to Combs." The Yanks won another pennant and swept another World Series in 1928 but fell short the next three seasons. In 1929 Manager Miller Huggins, whose two favorites had been Gehrig and Combs, died suddenly. In 1931 Joe McCarthy, Combs's original manager at Louisville, became the Yankee skipper. The next year New York was back in the Series, toppling the Chicago Cubs in four games. Combs never played in another Series. On July 24, 1934, he ran into the center-field wall at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis while chasing a flyball and suffered a fractured skull as well as shoulder and knee injuries. In 1935 he appeared in 89 games as a player-coach before retiring as a player to coach full time. His first coaching assignment was to teach a young prospect named Joe DiMaggio the intricacies of playing center field at Yankee Stadium. Combs coached with the Yankees and several other teams through 1954 and then settled down on his 400-acre farm in Kentucky. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1970, six years before his death. "I thought the Hall of Fame was for superstars," the modest center fielder said, "not just average players like I was."
Branch Rickey was a baseball genius, the greatest front-office man the game has ever known. He was also a sanctimonious, hypocritical cheapskate, a man who would play fast and loose with the rules and go back on his word when it suited him. That he was a successful general manager for 42 consecutive years, for the Browns, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates, becomes almost irrelevant when compared to how much he did to shape the modern baseball landscape. First, he literally invented the farm system in the early 1920s when he was with the Cardinals. Before that the minor leagues were composed of independent teams that survived by developing and then selling players to the majors.
Second, he integrated baseball. Nearly five decades later?after Brown vs. Board of Education, after the Civil Rights Act, after the Voting Rights Act, and after Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali?it's easy to underestimate the impact and significance of his decision to sign Jackie Robinson. Certainly, it was inevitable that baseball's color line was going to be broken. But when Rickey hired Robinson, America's armed forces were still segregated, and African-Americans were still being lynched in parts of the country. What Rickey did transcended the game and became a significant event in the history of the United States. Finally, his plans to form a third major league in 1959 convinced the leaders of Major League Baseball that they had to expand. That was the beginning of a sports explosion in this country that continues to this day.
Born in 1881 and raised on an Ohio farm, Rickey coached and played semipro baseball and football to pay his way through Ohio Wesleyan College. A devout Methodist, Rickey kept a promise to his mother that he would not play or work on Sundays. He wouldn't even travel on the Sabbath. Of course, later in his career his teams played on Sundays and he always called the ballpark to check on the day's receipts. While at Ohio Wesleyan he also coached the baseball team. He had a black first baseman, Charles Thomas, who was refused admission to a South Bend hotel on a trip to play Notre Dame. Rickey finally persuaded hotel management to allow Thomas to share his room. In the room, according to Rickey, Thomas rubbed his hands together and cried to his 21-year-old coach, "black skin, black skin. If only I could make it white." Years later, Rickey tearfully retold the story and said it was the genesis of his crusade to break the color barrier in the major leagues. A catcher with a strong arm, Rickey began his professional career in 1903, and after impressing scouts while playing for Dallas he was purchased by the Reds late in the 1904 season. But Reds Manager Joe Kelley released him when he learned that Rickey wouldn't play on Sundays.
Rickey went back to Dallas in 1905, was sold to the White Sox, and then was traded to the Browns. He told the Browns that he'd only play from June 15 to September 15 because he planned to pursue a law degree from Allegheny College and coach the school's baseball and football teams. And he wouldn't play on Sundays. The Browns agreed to his stipulations. However, he played only one game that season, going hitless in three at bats. Then he headed home to Ohio to tend to his seriously ill parents. He returned to the Browns in 1906 and had his best season, hitting .284 in 201 at bats. But he got into a conflict with his manager, Jimmy McAleer, who warned Rickey he would withhold a portion of his salary if he left before the end of the season. Rickey stayed after college officials at Allegheny gave him a leave of absence, but he told Browns owner Bob Hedges that he would never play for McAleer again. Hedges obliged by selling Rickey to the New York Highlanders. Rickey hurt his arm during the winter, which ultimately sabotaged his career. Because of the injury, he didn't report to New York until midseason. On June 28, 1907, in his first game for Manager Clark Griffith, Rickey's arm was still sore, and the Senators stole a record 13 bases on him. He hit .182 in 137 at bats, and except for two cameo at bats in 1914 when he was managing the Browns, his playing career was over.
He began taking law classes at Michigan and in 1911 became the school's baseball coach. After he got his degree and went into practice he also agreed to do some scouting for the Browns. In 1913 Rickey became a full-time employee of the Browns as an executive assistant, and soon after that became their general manager. In the final weeks of the season Hedges gave him the manager's job as well, which Rickey kept through the 1915 season. And yes, he stayed home on Sundays, letting a coach handle the team. Rickey's background in football led him to experiment with different coaching methods, some of which he'd tried at Michigan. The Browns' 1914 training camp featured handball courts to improve hand-eye coordination, batting cages, sliding pits, a running track, and lectures. Rickey strongly believed that there was a "right way" to play baseball, and that it could be taught. He refined this approach with the Dodgers in the 1940s, converting an old military base in Vero Beach, Florida, into Dodgertown, a state-of-the-art spring training complex for organization-wide instruction. Rickey introduced the first "Iron Mike" pitching machines there, and he also had strings set up to outline the strike zone for pitching workouts.
"Gentlemen, I do not know the game of baseball," Rickey, the grand thespian, would intone with his mellifluous voice at the start of one of his standard spring addresses, "but I intend to learn it." His innovations didn't help the Brownies, but his legal background and Michigan connection did. George Sisler had signed a professional contract as an underage high schooler without parental consent, but he had not accepted any money. He then decided to enroll at Michigan. When the pro contract threatened his eligibility, Rickey advised the family to move to invalidate the agreement. Rickey was thus able to keep the star of his team, and the grateful young Sisler signed with Rickey's Browns when he graduated in 1915?after Rickey convinced club owner Bob Hedges to break a gentlemen's agreement that had earmarked Sisler for the Pirates. By the time Sisler had become a star for the Browns, Hedges had sold the team to Phil Ball, and Rickey had moved across town to the bankrupt Cardinals as club president. After serving as a major in a World War I chemical warfare unit with Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Sisler, Rickey returned to the Cardinals as president and, saving a $10,000 salary, as field manager. After the club finished seventh in 1919 while teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, Sam Breadon bought 72 percent of the stock. Rickey owned the rest.
Breadon demoted Rickey to vice president but allowed him to continue as field manager. About that time Rickey developed his farm system plan?out of necessity. The Cardinals could not afford to compete with other teams to purchase top talent from independent minor league teams. His task was monumental. First, he developed a philosophy: he would look for speed and strong arms. Rickey believed those gifts were essential and that other baseball skills were teachable. But that was the easy part. When he was done, the Cardinals farm system included 33 teams. In contrast, each major league franchise today operates only five or six minor league teams. Rickey had to devise a method of acquiring teams. He had to establish a system of tracking and evaluating players in every organization in the majors. He had to hire a network of scouts and organize tryout camps. He also had to develop an organization-wide teaching system. It was a task perfectly suited to Rickey's energy and intellect, and one he was able to carry out even though he was still the field manager.
By 1925 the Cardinals were on the verge of becoming a force in the National League. (Starting in 1926 they would win five pennants in the next nine years.) Rickey wanted to stay on as manager. But 38 games into the season Breadon ordered Rogers Hornsby to take the job, and an angry Rickey sold his stock in the team to Hornsby. Rickey finished his managerial career with a 597-664 record, and never ended a season higher than third place. Rickey was well suited to being a full-time executive. Although he never uttered an oath stronger than "Judas Priest" and did not drink alcohol, he was, for all his religious pretensions, a skilled manipulator of baseball's rules and people. He also had the gift to spot talent, and it didn't hurt that he was a shrewd trader. Rickey's motto: it's better to trade a player a year early instead of a year late. He was also a cartoonist's dream, a living caricature with bushy eyebrows and big jowls. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, favored bow ties, and smoked enormous cigars. Then there was his rhetoric. He loved using $5 words, and could he ever turn a phrase. "Luck is the residue of design," his best known saying, remains in vogue decades later. He acquired his nickname, "the Mahatma," in the 1940s, when Gandhi became a player on the world stage. The nickname was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it also shows the respect given to the man who had such a significant impact on the game.
His tenure with the Cardinals proceeded smoothly until 1937, when Commissioner Kenesaw Landis investigated charges that Rickey was illegally signing and stashing players in his huge farm system. Landis ordered the release of 73 Cardinal farmhands from Rickey's "chain gang," and gave the players the right to sign with any team they wanted. Rickey's parsimony became legendary. Johnny Mize actually believed that Rickey preferred to have his teams finish a close second so that he could cash in on a pennant-race gate without having to fork over pennant-winning raises to his players. Enos Slaughter once said that Rickey "would go to the vault to get change for a nickel." Eddie Stanky described one negotiation with Rickey, "I got a million dollars worth of advice and a very small increase." Pittsburgh's Ralph Kiner recalled Rickey denying his promise for a raise after Kiner had won the NL home run title. Said Rickey, "We finished last with you and we can finish last without you." Dodger outfielder George Shuba has a classic Rickey story. He was negotiating with Rickey and wanted an increase to $23,000. During the meeting, Rickey was summoned to another office for a phone call. As he waited, Shuba noticed a contract with Jackie Robinson's name on it for $21,000. When Rickey returned, Shuba agreed to take $20,000. Later, he found out that the Robinson contract was a phony and that Rickey's phone call was a setup.
While he was nickel-and-diming his players, Rickey was becoming a rich man. He had a deal with the Cardinals and Dodgers that gave him a 10-percent commission on every player sale?talk about possible conflicts of interest. Bill Veeck told a more sinister Rickey story in the book, Veeck As in Wreck. It seems Rickey once agreed to a deal over the phone, then went back on his word, and denied that the phone conversation had ever taken place. By 1942 Rickey's contract was up in St. Louis. He was fed up with Breadon, and vice versa. No one really knows if he was fired or if he quit, but he moved over to the Dodgers without missing a beat. Rickey protege Larry MacPhail was leaving the Dodgers club after building it into a contender, so Brooklyn hired Rickey as president and general manager. He also bought 25 percent of the team. When Commissioner Landis died in 1944, Rickey could move ahead with his plans to integrate baseball. Landis, a little-known villain in baseball's sordid history of discrimination, had quashed Bill Veeck 's bid to buy the Philadelphia Phillies during World War II and stock the team with stars from the Negro Leagues. But by the end of the war Rickey sensed the timing was right.
He also knew it was a smart move. More and more teams were starting to copy his farm system, and he wanted, as always, to stay a step ahead of the competition. And unlike Veeck, who integrated the American League when he signed Larry Doby in 1947, Rickey never paid a Negro League team for a player, knowing the owners would not want to be blamed for delaying the end of the color barrier. Rickey's expansion machinations began in the spring of 1945, when he announced the formation of the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers to play in a new United States Baseball League (USBL) and dispatched scouts to search the Negro Leagues for talent. However, the Brown Dodgers and USBL were a scam designed to hide Rickey's real purpose?the integration of the established major leagues. At first he intended to sign several black prospects, then he decided to sign only one. His scouts suggested pitcher Don Newcombe, but Rickey deemed the 19-year-old too young for the pioneer role, foreseeing the abuse the first African-American major leaguer would encounter.
The second choice was Kansas City Monarchs shortstop Jackie Robinson, who was 26, a former Army officer, and a four-sport star at UCLA. In their now-famous first meeting, Rickey warned Robinson of the trials he'd have to endure without being able to retaliate. An angry Robinson asked, "Do you want a player afraid to fight back?" Rickey replied, "I want a player with the guts not to fight back." On October 23, 1945, with the approval of his Dodgers partners, Rickey signed Robinson. After a brilliant 1946 season in Montreal, Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 and was an immediate star. Rickey's Dodgers thus got the jump on the rest of baseball, signing such black stars as Newcombe, catcher Roy Campanella, pitcher Joe Black, and second baseman Jim "Junior" Gilliam. As a result, between 1947 and 1956 the Dodgers won seven pennants in 10 years. Rickey, however, did not last long enough in Brooklyn to enjoy all the fruits of his labors. Walter O'Malley, one of Rickey's partners, wanted control of the team, and his first order of business was to engineer Rickey's ouster. Here, finally, was someone as intelligent and devious as Rickey.
O'Malley made his move after the 1950 season, when he led a boardroom coup that forced Rickey out. Rickey, however, cried all the way to the bank because a clause in his contract forced the Dodgers to match the highest bid for his stock if he was not rehired. Rickey produced a $1.25-million offer, more than double O'Malley's estimate of the stock's value. O'Malley went to his grave believing the offer was a phony, and there's a good chance he was right. Rickey moved on to Pittsburgh, laying the foundation for the 1960 Pirates team that won the World Series. His greatest coup with the Pirates was drafting Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers, who were trying to hide him in the minors by not playing him regularly. Rickey's last venture was the Continental League, his response to the majors' repeated refusal to expand beyond 16 teams. One of his fellow "owners" was Joan Payson, who eventually acquired the expansion Mets franchise. Rickey was 77 by then, but his involvement in the proposed new league, which presaged the American Football League, the American Basketball Association, and the World Hockey League, was enough to put the fear of God into the major leagues. By 1961 Organized Baseball initiated an expansion program that has added 12 new teams during the past 32 years. Rickey died in 1965, less than two weeks before his 84th birthday. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.