Itís possible I have found the youngest fan of the Sports Junkie. A poker dealer friend of mine from Sunset Station Casino in Henderson, NV., Joe Dalia, Sr., made my day recently. He told me that since he shared my website with his son, Joe Dalia, Jr., 14 years old, the young man has become a real fan of my articles. So Joe Dalia, Jr., you are the youngest known fan of the Sports Junkie, and thank you for it.
And a poker-playing friend of mine, Harvey Burnett, told me the following classic story that he knew Iíd thoroughly enjoy, having lived in St. Louis as I did, and having had the privilege of seeing the legendary Stan Musial play quite often. Musial was one of the greatest hitters baseball has ever known. (For more about Stan Musial, please refer to my article dated June 27, 2002.) A few years ago, a reporter in St. Louis asked Musial what he thought his batting average would be against the watered-down pitching of the major leagues today. Stan thought about it, and replied that he thought his average would be around .280 now. The reporter, surprised at the answer, asked Stan why he thought it would be just .280 now after compiling a lifetime batting average of .331 over 22 years with the Cardinals when the quality of pitching in the major leagues was so far superior. Replied Musial, "Because Iím 78 years old now. I canít swing the bat like I used to."
My long-time friend, Jim Zimring of L.A. is a former Denver resident, and cheers for everything named Denver. He is the most avid Broncos fan I know, and is in hog-heaven right now because of the incredible play of the Nuggets. Denver is the hottest team in the NBA; at this writing, theyíve won eight straight, and 22 of their last 24. And Jim loves the NBA all the more right now because of the plight of the Lakers, and no end in sight.
Regarding the Lakers, Dr. Buss is not terribly swift when making personnel decisions. He lets the greatest G.M. and architect in league history, Jerry West, leave for upstart Memphis. He lets one of the greatest head coaches in league history, if not the best coach ever, Phil Jackson, walk. And he trades the impact center of the league, Shaq. If Jerry West had been permitted to remain in charge, this wouldnít be happening to L.A. Itís one thing to make Kobe Bryant happy, but hereís something worth considering, even though itís too late; the league is loaded with Kobe Bryants, but Shaq is a rarity at his position. The teamís owner is responsible for the the demise of the Lakers period. It's all the more disheartening when you consider the fact that the Lakers aren't even the best NBA team in L.A. now, and that took lots of effort to accomplish.
Story of the Week
Jack Buck was a sports broadcaster for nearly five decades, and had one of the most distinctive and recognized voices in sports. That gravel voice became legendary. He was adept at any sport he broadcast, be it baseball, football, basketball, hockey, etc., and he did them all.
Buck began calling St. Louis Cardinals games on radio in 1954 (it isnít well known that Jack beat out another would-be legend, Chick Hearn, for the job), teaming with the celebrated Harry Caray. He became a St. Louis institution. He also became a national broadcasting celebrity.
Jack passed away in 2002 at the age of 77. But he left a legacy of most memorable broadcasts along the way. Weíll always remember gimpy Kirk Gibsonís game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 World Series, and Buckís incredulous "I donít believe what I just saw!" He was behind the microphone for the first telecast of the American Football League, and he called the NFL championship "Ice Bowl" between Dallas and Green Bay in 1967.
And when Ozzie Smith hit his famous homer of Tom "The Brick" Niedenfuer to win Game Five of the 1985 NL Championship series, he told Cardinals fans to "Go crazy, folks, go crazy!" Buck repeated the suggestion after Jack Clark buried Niedenfuer again the very next day to win the series for St. Louis.
Through all those years, in St. Louis and throughout the midwest, it was Jack Buckís calls of Cardinals games that made him a beloved figure. His signature call after Cardinals victories was "Thatís a winner!" And for all that, the team unveiled a richly deserved bronze sculpture outside Busch Stadium of Jackís likeness behind the microphone.
It should be remembered, too, that Buck called the NFL Monday night games and 17 Super Bowls on CBS radio with sidekick Hank Stram from 1978 to 1996. The Monday Night Football television team, depending on the team of the particular season, was not always my favorite, and I frequently turned off the television sound and listened to the great team of Buck and Stram call the game. They were a perfect football play-by-play and color team.
Jack Buck was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame broadcasterís wing in 1987. He later became a member of both the broadcasters and radio halls of fame. He was awarded the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, and received a lifetime achievement emmy in 2000.
I have met and known several sports figures down through the years. Iíve written about several of them, but I donít recall ever noting in my articles the fact that I knew any of them. But I will note this one. I met Jack Buck when we were co-members of the Clayton Club in St. Louis many years ago. We ran into each other a few times in later years, including Super Bowl XII in New Orleans, and a most memorable evening for me at Dodger Stadium when he was there for a Cardinals-Dodgers game. He was a super guy, very friendly and approachable, and never wore his success on his sleeve. He was a class act both in and out of the announcing booth. Cheers to the memory of Jack Buck.
Last Weekís Trivia
Clay-Ali won the heavyweight title four times. Who did he defeat in each of those four bouts to win the title? For starters, I was wrong; at my age, I should learn not to trust my memory entirely. He actually won the title just three times by defeating Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Leon Spinks. I had recalled in error that he defeated Joe Frazier to win the title as well, but he never did. Ali and Frazier fought three times. Frazier won their title fight in 1971. Ali won their non-title fight in 1974. When Ali defeated Frazier in their title fight in 1975, he was the reigning champion. So Ali, in fact, never won the title from Frazier. I was corrected by three of my readers; my very good friend, Pat Ross of L.A., Bill Radlin of Cleveland, Ohio and Barbara Lanchon from one of my all-time favorite cities, New Orleans, La. Thanks for keeping me honest.
Trivia Question of the Week
What are the most runs scored in one inning by both teams combined in major league baseball history? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.