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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Page Flip: Walt Frazier, Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool (1973)

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

waltfrazierOn guarding Pete Maravich (p. 49): “You try to get him angry at himself, so you pressure him. If he makes a bad pass or you steal it from him you might be able to break downcourt for an easy layup because he’s at the other end talking to himself. And with his hair flying, you sort of wait for him to stop dribbling. Then for a second all the hair that’s been flying in the wind comes down over his face and he can’t see. That’s when you steal the ball. He can make the most incredible shots. When he’s hot, you just have to wait until the hurricane lets up.”

Hot Rod Hundley Transcribed, Ex. 1

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

This clip shows Utah Jazz guard Darrell Griffith having a big 40-point night on March 9, 1985, on the road vs. Chicago. This was from Griffith’s best season and he’d never be the same after hurting his foot and riding the bench for ’85-’86. Also having a great night, though – as he did every night the Jazz played – was play-by-play announcer Hot Rod Hundley, the heart and soul of the organization. As I’ve mentioned before, if his musical patter ever came out on record, I’d listen to it. If it ever got transcribed and published, I’d also read it.

My first exercise in transcribing Hot Rod (you can follow along):

Stockton to the left corner to Darrell Griffith. Griff fake right, go left, over the base, underhand shovel, good! Beautiful move.

All right, ball stolen by Griffith, and David [Ennis] Whatley threw it away. Watch this one – slam dunk! Reverse! Darrell Griffith!

Fred Roberts rebounds. Down court to Griff. Griffith takes it in over Oldham, slam dunk! The Golden Griff!

All right, Utah with the ball. Stockton hurries down the middle. Right side to the Golden Griff. Backs his way in. Fake right, turn left. Hook it up wildly and it goes in! Oh, what a shot by Darrell Griffith!

Jazz on the run. Griff down the middle. Griff behind the back. Alley oop! It goes, it counts, he’s fouled! Oh my goodness! Darrell Griffith.

Darrell Griffith. Take that! In your face, Mama, and lay it in! Darrell Griffith.

Woolridge with 14. 64-62. Right side, Griffith! A three-pointer from the parking lot! Darrell Griffith from Section J!

Again to Griffith. Darrell fakes right, go left, he’s down the middle, runnin’ up underhanded, scores! The Golden Griff!

Down the left side to Franchise [Hot Rod’s nickname for Jeff Wilkins]. Back to Griffith, two minutes left. Griffith drives the paint, slam dunk! In your face, take that one! The Golden Griff!

Super Moon Racing, 8/29/15

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

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Full moon mayhem at the Central Texas Speedway tonight in Kyle, Texas. Yellow flags and car parts flying all night long. No. 80, with the Confederate flag on his hood, lost control on the last lap of the street stocks race. It looked like something on Bewitched, as though someone wiggled a nose and made him crash. When they towed the car back all you could see was charred and tangled machinery where his flag used to be.

Song IDs: Willie Mays – “My Sad Heart”/ “If You Love Me” (1962)

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

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In the realm of musical recordings made by athletes, which includes such sobering entries as Terry Bradshaw’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Ron Cey’s “Third Base Bag,” and Shaquille O’Neal’s “I Know I Got Skillz,” this one’s as good as it gets. Willie Mays’s “My Sad Heart”/”If You Love Me” came out the same year his San Francisco Giants lost a hard-fought seven-game World Series to the New York Yankees, and it reveals a musical version of the Say Hey Kid as appealing as the famous baseball version.

We can tell from both sides of the record that Mays had good taste, demonstrating familiarity with Sonny Till and the Orioles (side A), Bobby Blue Bland (side B), and Little Willie John (side B). Writer credits for both went to Deadric Malone, the pseudonym for Don Robey, who owned the Duke-Peacock label empire. Before this, Mays had appeared on a 1954 cut credited to “Willie Mays of the New York Giants with the Treniers” called “Say Hey (the Willie Mays Song),” one of the other great baseball singles. Did any suspicion-prone baseball people notice in ’62 that the previous time the Giants had won a pennant Mays also recorded a single? (1954 was the year the New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians and Willie made his celebrated catch.) He should have been pumping out a record every year since then.

I’m hoping someone will step forward with footage of Willie Mays’ 1962 appearance on Tennessee Ernie Ford’s TV show to promote “My Sad Heart,” which never ended up charting.

***

Willie Mays – “My Sad Heart” (1962) : Maybe this song’s lack of chart success, come to think of it, had to do with its having no title hook.

Willie Mays – “If You Love Me” (1962)

Willie Mays of the New York Giants with the Treniers – “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song” (1954)

Straw Hat Busting Day

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Andy Coakley, quoted in The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs (p. 21): “It was September 1 [1905], and that was Straw Hat Busting Day in the major leagues. The custom died with the retirement of Babe Ruth. Rube Waddell was going around destroying straw hats. I had a pretty expensive skimmer which was in fine condition, and Waddell was waiting for me. As he ran for my hat, I backed up the aisle. He lunged. I struck him with my bag. He slipped and landed on his shoulder.” This kept Waddell from pitching in the World Series where his A’s lost to the Giants.

Hot Rod Hundley was the “Jazz” in Utah

Friday, March 27th, 2015

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Non-Salt Lakers don’t understand why the “Jazz” monicker stuck when their basketball team moved in from New Orleans. If they ever listened to Hot Rod Hundley do play by play, though, they’d know that the team had to be called that as long as he was on board. He was the very best – hands down. His verbal skills behind the microphone matched his physical skills as a ball player on the court: elastic, playful, and always entertaining. (He was the perfect voice to put the visual experience of kindred spirit “Pistol” Pete Maravich into words during the New Orleans years.) Every motion on the court crackled off Hot Rod’s tongue in real time with phrases like “yoyo back,” “hippity hop” and “belt high dribble” and when the Jazz won, they’d “put the game in the ol’ refrigerator.” Hot Rod Hundley was music, and if I had recordings of every game he called I would listen to all of them on road trips.

Stars and Strikes and nicknames

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

611fg2agtrl_sy344_bo1204203200_Dan Epstein’s Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76 tells the story of my baseball card collection, most of which I amassed as an 8-year-old in ’76 and ’77. In those days I loved the Bird, the Big Red Machine, and Hostess products, which came in boxes with baseball cards you could cut out. Still have my Dave Concepcion, Goose Gossage, Richie Zisk and more from that series along with most of the Topps cards. I had already scarfed down Epstein’s Big Hair and Plastic Grass, so I was especially pleased to see he’d zeroed in on the year of my personal baseball awakening. I hope he has more projects lined up.

For your enjoyment – a list of selected players and managers whose nicknames are addressed in Epstein’s book, along with links to their corresponding ’77 Topps card.

Sparky “Captain Hook” Anderson:  So nicknamed “for his tendency to pull pitchers at the first sign of trouble” (135).

John”The Candy Man” Candelaria: “Looked more like the sort of college kid you’d see smoking a jay upstairs in the cheap seats at Three Rivers Stadium than a top-notch pitcher capable of dominating major league offenses” (241).

Ron “The Penguin” Cey: Nickname “derived from his squat build, stubby limbs, and waddling gait…” (94).

Darrell “Nort” Chaney: Nickname chosen by the Atlanta Braves for the team’s nickname-on-jersey experiment “because of his resemblence to Art Carney’s Ed Norton character on TV’s The Honeymooners” (138).

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych: So nicknamed because of his “resemblance to Big Bird from the PBS children’s show Sesame Street” (128).

Tim “Crazy Horse” Foli: Nicknamed for his “tendency to go off on his own abrasive tangents” (158).

“Disco” Dan Ford: Nicknamed “for his love of the Minneapolis nightlife” (107).

Whitey “The White Rat” Herzog: “A reference to his shock of light blond hair” (258).

Burt “Happy” Hooton: He was “perpetually gloomy looking” (203).

Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky: “Perhaps the most confrontational pitcher in the game” (112).

Ralph “Road Runner” Garr: “Speedy” (15).

Randy “The Junkman” Jones: For his junk ball – a “sinking fastball that topped out on a good day at somewhere around 73 miles per hour” but which batters were “losing their minds trying to hit…out of the infield” (131).

Dave “Kong” Kingman: He preferred to be called “Sky King” (110).

Garry “The Secretary of Defense” Maddox: Because of his “startling speed and sparkling glove work in the outfield” (28).

Mike “Iron Mike” Marshall: For “herculean” performances in 1973 and 1974 that “earned him the first Cy Yound Award ever won by a relief pitcher” (62).

Andy “Bluto” Messersmith: As part of the Braves’ nickname-on-jersey experiment, Messersmith had to use “Channel” because his number was 17 and that was Ted Turner’s station. He was later permitted to use his college nickname “Bluto” (139).

Phil “Knucksie” Niekro: Knuckleballer (139).

Marty “Taco” Perez: Not a racial slur, but chosen as his Atlanta Braves jersey nickname because he “really, really liked tacos” (139).

George “Boomer” Scott: “The most feared hitter in the Milwaukee lineup” (131).

Earl “Heavy” Williams: Self-chosen for the Atlanta Braves nickname-on-jersey experiment “because the moody catcher and first baseman considered himself to be one bad dude” (138).

Players with Topps cards whose nicknames are mentioned but not addressed:

“Downtown” Ollie Brown
Rick “The Rooster” Burleson
Jim “Catfish” Hunter
Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock
Lynn “Big Mac” McGlothen
John “The Hammer” Milner
John “The Count” Montefusco
Dave “The Cobra” Parker
Biff “Poco” Pocoroba
Rick “The Whale” Reuschel
Fred “Chicken” Stanley
Dick “Dirt” Tidrow
Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn

Song ID: The Trammps – “Disco Inferno” (1978)

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

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Writing about “Celebration” reminded me of this from Dave Marsh, from The Heart of Rock and Soul (1989): ” … on Opening Day 1978, at Yankee Stadium, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack blasted through the slowly filling stands during batting practice. Then Reggie Jackson stepped to the plate, and took a couple cuts. Warmed up, he began sending balls flying out of the park – to right and right center and one or two to left, each clearing the fence by yards….

“[Y]ou could feel Reggie get pumped right along with the music. The track was ‘Disco Inferno,’ of course, and Jackson made me feel the vitality of the music as a bubbling stew of drum and bass, building and building and boiling over and building again til you were wrung out and breathless …Afterwards, I felt about disco kind of the way I felt about Reggie himself: not exactly something I aspired to be but pretty damn awesome when it found its groove.”

The Trammps – “Disco Inferno” (1977)

Song ID: Kool and the Gang – “Celebration” (1980)

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

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A book idea I have is to take a quasi familiar, cultural wallpaper song like this and interview 500 people to get quick vignettes or anecdotes about what they were doing when they first heard it. “Celebration,” for me, long before it became a wedding standard or Erik Estrada strutted to it on CHiPs, was this:

In Salt Lake City, during the first two seasons after the New Orleans Jazz had relocated, you could get courtside tickets at the Salt Palace for $12. I saw more live basketball during 1979-81 than I would for the rest of my life. My friends and I would go early and watch the teams warm up before introductions. Before a Jazz-Pacers game in November 1980, we observed Rickey Green and John “Bay Bay” Duren doing ad lib dance steps to it as it thumped from the speakers and we had no idea what it was. Then we noticed two of the Pacers (Kenny Natt? Johnny Davis?) doing the same thing. The scene reinforces itself every time I hear this song, decades-running.

Kool and the Gang – “Celebration” (1980)

Chuck Culpepper, Bloody Confused: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer (2007)

Friday, February 5th, 2010

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I started following the English Premiership habitually in the early 2000s for precisely the opposite reason why US sportswriter Chuck Culpepper did, as chronicled in his Bloody Confused. I needed a break from partisanship. A diehard Utah Jazz fan then as now, I was still smarting from our two championship losses in a row at the hands of Captain Underpants. Having played a good bit of soccer in my day and already a tad anglophilic, the Premiership offered a wide expanse of history and drama that I could take in dispassionately and enjoy from afar, stress-free.

Have you ever watched an entire soccer game on, say, the Fox Soccer Network? It’s positively soothing – two separate 45 minute-plus segments of uninterrupted action. Here in the US it’s all about stops and starts and jarring, noisy commercial breaks that jackhammer themselves into our brains during every TV viewing of any of our big 3 sports. It ought to give you a headache and I worry about you if it doesn’t. (Face it, Super Bowl hypemeisters – even the greatest, most expensive and inventive commercials imaginable are best when nonexistent. Because they’re commercials.)

Culpepper, on the contrary, a burned out American sportswriter, sick of all the canned and cliché-ridden interviews, big money corruption at the lowest of levels, steroid millionaires attributing touchdowns and home runs to the Almighty, and, yes, the ice-cold impartiality that sportswriters are expected to develop, is yearning to rediscover the heartbeat in good old fashioned, devoted sports spectatorship. So he moves to England, where thick-skinned fan loyalty runs rampant and where sports culture has gotten a centuries-long head start.

He then launches a season-long quest for a team to support, by the end of which he’s become a true-blue “Up Pompey” fan of Porstmouth FC (bless his heart – have you seen the tables lately?). In so doing, he’s able to talk about all kinds of little details that American followers of the Premiership will likely appreciate most. (Just about any other book you’ll read about Euro soccer, including Nick Hornby’s seminal Fever Pitch, takes cultural familiarity with the sport and its historical checkpoints for granted.)

These details include: fan behavior (focused reticence alternating with song bursts, as well as a wholehearted willingness to hug total strangers); the profanity-laden group sings; the train rides; the fan rivalries (hardly the hooligan horror show, nowadays, we’re led to believe over here); the inability to get a ticket for key matches if you don’t have a “buying history”; what it’s like to visit Old Trafford — England’s Yankee stadium and home of Manchester United — as well as Plainmoor, home of League Two’s Torquay United (League Two is actually the name of the fourth-tiered league); and what drives fans in a league with no NFL-style parity and where the same four teams usually win it all over and over again (answers: the relegation system and DNA, among other things).

Speaking of DNA, Culpepper’s willingness to openly shop for a team in a land where team loyalty is involuntarily inscribed at birth in said DNA is amusing. In one scene he tells some Newcastle supporters, who are essentially England’s long-suffering Cub fans, how he’d once been on the verge of “picking” their team for his own. Their words upon parting: “It’s not a choice.” Being a Jazz fan who’d likely change team support, if I only could, to some perennial championship contender like the odious Lakers, but knows it’s impossible, this resonated with me.

His reasons for going along with Portsmouth, though, are believable, and I, for one, didn’t find myself second guessing his eventual allegiance. His reasons: A certain indefinable charm and personal attraction, along with good rapport with Porstmouth fans he found himself crossing paths with often, including a likeable guy who dresses up in a blue bear outfit before every game. Now what’s not to like about that? And Culpepper’s description of the euphoria and agony true fans are supposed to feel are convincing. He’s associated himself with the club in a way that will have readers wondering how Culpepper felt about the team’s highly improbable FA Cup victory in 2008 (you can find out here, actually) as well as their current financial traumas and residence in last place.

Portsmouth, in fact, if things don’t change soon, are looking at relegation at the end of this season. This is an aggravating but wonderful system in British soccer (and pretty much everywhere else but here) where teams that finish the season in the last three slots get dumped to a lower league while the three top teams from that lower league get promoted. It adds a whole new dramatic “playing for safety” element to a season that’s an altogether foreign concept to Americans. I can testify of the relegation system’s power because it’s responsible for bringing me down from my once-blissful state of Premiership impartiality.

I’d started keeping my eye on the small London club Fulham FC when they promoted to the Premiership in 2001 – the first time ever since their formation in 1879. They were a long time favorite of a European friend of mine and their every success made me think of how much I knew it pleased him. Then I found myself taking an irresistible shine to this relatively humble and easily ignored team that plays at a charming stadium on the River Thames called Craven Cottage, in honor of the centuries-old hunting lodge that’s a stadium fixture. The team’s nickname, thus, is the “Cottagers,” one rivaled only by Everton’s “Toffees” in instant charm.

Anyway, I started getting that unmistakeable feeling of personal investment during the turbulent 2007-08 season, when, by season’s end, it looked like Fulham’s basement habit would be bringing their Premiership run to a close. With three games left, they faced certain relegation barring a rare surge of good fortune. Incredibly, they won the first two of those last three games, including a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Manchester City. On the last day of the season, though, they still had big trouble, with Reading and Birmingham City, their two basement rivals, having already won. If they lost their last game against, ahem, Portsmouth, or even drew, they were going down. If they won, they’d barely – I mean barely – survive.

Well, they won that final away game with a Danny Murphy header in the 76th minute, and I’ve never come down from that now-legendary “Great Escape.” Fulham may have escaped relegation, but I did not, having de-evolutionized to the type of person who mutters expletives during moments like the present when Fulham struggles with key soccer concepts like scoring goals, and who nonetheless plans inevitable pilgrimages to Craven Cottage, even if the club were to someday find itself in League Two. And while my high-minded, dispassionate era was kinda pleasant while it lasted, my response to Bloody Confused and Culpepper’s immersion in fandom was ultimately one of envy, and although he writes that it’s “hard being a fan,” my own experience tells me that it’s harder, apparently, not to be one.

Fulham’s “Great Escape,” featuring Jimmy Bullard, Danny Murphy, Brian McBride and Roy Hodgson as The Magic Manager.