See my Quick Take last week on the Lakers. That evening, they proceeded to blow a 24-point lead in Game Four. As noted in my article last week, no physical and psychological intimidation. The Lakers played the Finals soft and small without a sense of urgency. The Celtics won because they deserved to win.
Chipper Jones continues to get better with age. Chipper, in his 15th. MLB season at 36, is having a career year in a great career. Jones, a switch-hitter, is hitting .403 at this writing. He enjoyed his best batting average last season at .337. Jones is ahead of the top switch-hitter of all time for one season, namely the great Mickey Mantle, who batted .365 in 1957. But it’s still early, and Jones’ age (36) and the Atlanta heat and humidity will have something to say about it before the season’s end.
When Cassius Clay dethroned Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964 when the champion failed to come out for round seven, a wise choice indeed, Clay knew he had won before referee Barney Felix and the announcers knew it. Clay saw Liston spit out the mouthpiece that had just been inserted, and immediately assumed his victory. Footage shows Clay dancing around the ring in triumph well before Felix made it official in Liston’s corner.
History shows that MLB home teams do not have a great advantage compared to home teams in the other major sports. It’s logical as baseball virtually lacks the intimidation factor when compared to hockey, basketball and football. Not this year. At this writing, all but five MLB teams have better records at home than on the road, and several aren’t close. The Braves are truly emphasizing the point, and shouldn’t pack a suitcase. They’re 25-11 at home, and just 10-25 away. I don’t understand it.
The Mets’ firing of Willie Randolph was as classless as it gets. It could have been done far more professionally, but it was certainly in keeping with the Mets image.
Story of the Week
There have been many “characters” in sports history. The subject of today’s feature story is one of my all-time favorite personalities. Alex Karras was a fine athlete and a funny man.
His Sports Career:
Alex Karras was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions in 1958. However, before his NFL career got underway, he signed a contract as a professional wrestler on December 13, 1957, earning $25,000 during the six-month off-season. Eight days later, he officially signed with the Lions, spurning an offer from the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
On January 7, 1963, Karras' ownership in Detroit's Lindell AC Bar became a source of controversy when league officials urged him to sell his financial interests in the place because of reports of gambling and organized crime influence. After first threatening to retire rather than give it up, Karras admitted placing bets on NFL games and was suspended by the league, along with Green Bay Packers’ running back Paul Hornung for the 1963 season.
During his exile, Karras returned to pro wrestling, but was then reinstated, along with Hornung, on March 16, 1964 by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Upon returning to action in 1964, Karras once refused when an official asked him to call the pre-game coin toss. "I'm sorry, sir," Karras replied. "I'm not permitted to gamble.”
During his first year back, player discontent with head coach George Wilson resulted in Karras asking to be traded. However, the Lions settled the issue when they fired Wilson after the 1964 NFL season.
After another season of controversy under new head coach Harry Gilmer, Karras was rumored to be ready to play out his option and sign with the expansion Miami Dolphins of the American Football League. Instead, Karras signed a seven-year contract with the Lions on May 20, 1966.
Despite the new contract, controversy remained, as Karras and Gilmer sparred in midseason, with the coach reportedly ready to release the veteran defensive tackle. As before, it would be the coach who would depart, with Karras' former teammate, Joe Schmidt, taking over.
Longtime teammate Schmidt became Lions coach in 1967. Karras was still an All-Pro selection in 1967-69, but after sustaining a knee injury late in the 1970 season, reported to training camp in 1971 with his job in jeopardy. After unimpressive performances in the 1971 preseason, Karras was released, ending his playing career at the age of 35.
His Show Business Career:
In 1968, Karras figured prominently in the film adaptation of George Plimpton’s book, Paper Lion, playing himself. Three years later, Karras was under consideration for the part of Carlo Rizzi, the duplicitous brother-in-law of the Corleone family, in The Godfather. The role was one of many acting opportunities that developed following his performance in Paper Lion.
Following his release by the Lions in 1971, Karras began acting on a full-time basis, playing a backwoods boy turned Olympic weightlifter named Hugh Ray Feather in The 500-Pound Jerk. A minor but memorable role came one year later in the western parody Blazing Saddles, as the very strong and very slow-witted thug Mongo knocks out a horse with one punch.
That same year, he was quickly brought in by ABC to replace Fred Williamson as a commentator for the network's Monday Night Football. He served three years in that role until leaving after the 1976 NFL season, with his most memorable comment coming in his first game, when he joked that bald Oakland Raiders’ lineman Otis Sistrunk, who never attended college, was from "the University of Mars." But his funniest line on MNF was his comment about his Detroit teammate Garo Ypremian when he stated to the millions in the television audience that “If I dropped a bar of soap in the shower and Ypremian was standing near me, I wouldn’t bend over to pick it up.” (It was one of the two funniest lines I ever heard on MNF, the other being Don Meredith’s comment about the name of Cleveland receiver Fair Hooker. Meredith stated he’d never met one.)
After MNF, Karras made various television and movie appearances. In the 1980s, Karras had memorable success in the TV sitcom Webster, playing the adoptive father of the title character, in a role that showcased his softer side. His actual wife, Susan Clark, played his fictional wife in the series. He and Susan Clark were also in the CBS movie Babe (1975).
In conjunction with the 100 years of Hawkeye football celebration in 1989, Iowa Hawkeye fans selected an all-time team. The squad featured eleven players on offense and defense, two kickers, and fifteen special mention players who received strong fan support. Alex Karras was voted to the team as a defensive lineman. Karras was elected to the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1977, and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
Last Week’s Trivia
The great running back Gale Sayers scored 22 touchdowns in his rookie season for the Chicago Bears in 1965. Keep in mind that the NFL regular season in those days was just 14 games. (It went to 16 in 1978.)
Trivia Question of the Week
Who was the first MLB pitcher to appear in 100 or more games in a season? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.