Hall of Famer Larry Doby, the second black in major league baseball behind Jackie Robinson, and the first black in the American League, passed away on June 18th. at 79 years of age. Doby, signed by Bill Veeck, then owner of the Cleveland Indians, was a pioneer for black representation in major league baseball. Doby had to endure the very same prejudice and racial abuse as did Robinson, abuse from the media, fans (both on the road and at home), opposing players, and even his own teammates. He was a man to be respected. For more about Larry Doby, please see my article dated 1-30-03.
Story of the Week
Bill Sharman was unquestionably one of basketball’s greatest pure shooters of any epoch. He was also one of the most adept athletes at making foul shots; he led the NBA seven times in this category, five times in consecutive years. Sharman was one of the game’s most relentless winners, having won four NBA championships as a player, and three pro titles as a coach.
Sharman was a fanatic proponent of relentless physical conditioning, and also one of the sport’s cleverest and most fate-charmed coaches. As a player, he rained his deadly jumpers first at Southern California (twice Pacific Coast Conference MVP), and then in the Boston Garden during the earliest seasons of Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics. He teamed with Bob Cousy for the finest NBA backcourt of the league’s first decade.
Sharman’s foul-shooting numbers during those Boston years were marvelous, especially when considering the conditions that prevailed in early NBA seasons. Balls, would you believe, were not always perfectly round, playing floors were often warped and rarely allowed for true bounces, and arena temperature in such illustrious sites as Rochester, Syracuse, Fort Wayne, and elsewhere were often in the low 40s (since windows were left open to combat smoke-filled buildings), and shooters’ hands were near-frozen as a result.
When it came to coaching, Sharman had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He first enjoyed a championship team in the ABL with Cleveland in 1962, and later in the ABA with Utah in 1971. His best stroke of fortune, however, involved taking over the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Gail Goodrich.
That great team won a still-record 33 straight games. Bill Sharman thus stands as the only coach to win titles in three pro leagues (ABL, ABA, NBA) during the second half of the century.
And this knack for timely positioning also showed up on the baseball diamond where he once starred as a promising late-‘40s outfield prospect for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Called to the big leagues for the final month of the 1951 season, his last month in pro baseball, he was in uniform and on the Dodgers’ bench when Bobby Thomson did the Bums in at the Polo Grounds.
Weeks earlier, the same Bill Sharman, who never appeared in a big-league game, was tossed from the Dodgers’ bench for umpire-baiting. He is perhaps the only ballplayer ever ejected by an umpire in the major-leagues, while at the same time never having appeared in a big-league lineup.
Bill Sharman is enshrined in the Basketball Hall Of Fame.
Last Week’s Trivia
Who holds the major league career record for most home runs hit in one ballpark? Mel Ott did it in the Polo Grounds as a New York Giant. The total was 323. (Babe Ruth was the selection of most people who e-mailed me, and a logical choice it was, but Yankee Stadium was not completed until late-1923, four years after Ruth was acquired from the Red Sox. And the all-time home run leader, Hank Aaron, played his home games in three different parks.)
Trivia Question of the Week
Who holds the all-time major league career record for home runs hit by a catcher? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.