Itís hard to imagine that, had he lived, Francis Albert Sinatra would be 87 years old today, December 12. If I ever do the Entertainment Junkie, as Iím planning to do eventually, he will be my lead story, just as Jackie Robinson was my lead story for the Sports Junkie. Itís entirely fitting in my eyes. My thanks to Las Vegas for doing Frank's birthday justice.
Another star who did it his way was Roone Arledge, who passed away recently. Arledge was the brilliant innovator of Monday Night Football for ABC Television Sports, in addition to all the other contributions he made to all segments of sports and news viewing at ABC. Before Arledge got his chance, ABC was dead last in a three-team race. He discovered ABC gold.
Story of the Week
Dick Groat was a fine major league baseball player. He played in the majors for 14 years. He was a team leader. He was a very good shortstop. He had a lifetime batting average of .286. And he was the National League MVP in 1960.
(That was also the year Bill Mazeroski hit the home run that won the World Series for Pittsburgh in the seventh game; that homer got him into the Hall Of Fame, undeservingly I might add, but thatís another subject.)
This article is not about Dick Groat, the baseball player. It is about Dick Groat, the basketball player. And a great basketball player he was. His greatest sports reputation and legacy were conceivably as a basketball player at Duke University.
Only two things stood between Dick Groat and a much larger piece of college basketball immortality. One was Groatís own more impressive legacy on the major league baseball diamond. The other was the fact that the crack guard had the misfortune of performing at Duke a handful of seasons before the new ACC confederation brought Tobacco Road campuses into the national sports spotlight.
Dick Groat led the nation in scoring in 1951 with a lofty total of 851 points. His per-game average was 25.2. He averaged more than 25 points per game over his last two seasons at Duke, and to prove that he wasnít just a one-dimensional scoring machine, he also posted the top total in the land for assists in 1952, and set a new free-throw mark a season earlier. It was all good enough to lead his Blue Devils to 20-13 and 24-6 records, earn several All-America selections, and garner the Helms Foundation National Player of the Year trophy for his senior season.
Groat seemed to lean toward baseball from the start, however, and had come to Duke in the first place because of the schoolís high status in baseball. It was an irony of his Duke sojourn that one of the nationís premier basketball players would never appear in NCAA or NIT post-season events, but would instead pace his team in baseballís College World Series. Red Auerbach made a short stopover as assistant at Duke, and tutored the ace guard in offensive fundamentals. So did Harold Bradley. Groat would learn from both men, and polish his game under their tutelage.
Dick Groat was a premier collegiate basketball player, to be sure, but the baseball fates dragged Groat with it, and he became a stellar major league baseball player. Whether remembered for his basketball or baseball skills, I remember Dick Groat as a tremendous athlete and a winner.
Last Weekís Trivia
What did the New York Yankees accomplish in 1966 for the first time in 54 years? They finished last in the American League.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who was the first black to be manager or head coach of a major league sports team? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.