Quick Takes

The Western Division of the National League sucks! I’m talkin’ categorically and otherwise. It’s going to be a great big joke when the final tally is in for 2005, and the division winner ends up at .500 or less.

 The Dodgers, members of that NL Western Division group of misfits, fit right in. They are an insult to their once-proud name. So much for tradition; tell it to the idiots who buy tickets to Chavez Ravine. I went through the NL stats Y-T-D (thru 8/23) in all hitting and pitching categories. No wonder the Dodgers are 11 games below .500 at this writing. As a team, they don’t hit or pitch worth a Dodger Dog. And to make matters worse, there’s no relief in sight.

And how do you spell “relief?” You don’t spell “relief” Tom Niedenfuer. The current Dodgers team is the one he belongs on; they deserve each other. Now there’s a guy who was precisely 20 years ahead of his time. Hard to imagine, but 20 years have gone by since the 1985 NLCS. The Dodgers won the first two games. The Cardinals won the next two. Game Five in St. Louis found the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. The incomparable Ozzie Smith hit his first left-handed home run ever to give the Cards the series lead. Game Six in L.A. found the Dodgers leading 5-4 in the ninth. With first base open, slugger Jack Clark settled things by drilling a three-run homer. (LaSorda should have had Clark intentionally passed; I called it before Clark's historic pop.) Both of those clutch bombs were hit off the Dodger pitcher who never ever began to define the word "clutch", namely Tom Niedenfuer.  

I couldn’t pass this one up; it’s a classic. Thanks to Ray Desjardins of Los Angeles for this recent e-mail. “Just think. If Arte Moreno hadn’t changed the name of the Angels, L.A. wouldn’t have a major league baseball team!”  Super line, Ray. I wish I'd have thought of it.

I read a great article this week. I considered treating it as a trivia question later, but just couldn’t resist sharing it with you now. Would you believe that two batters were both ejected from a MLB game during the same at-bat?!  It’s true! In 1952, during a game against the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ Bob Elliott kicked dirt arguing over a called strike. Umpire Augie Donatelli ejected Elliott. Bobby Hoffman finished the at-bat by being called out on strikes. Hoffman argued the called third strike. You guessed it; Donatelli ejected Hoffman as well.          

Story of the Week


          Smokin’ Joe was a great heavyweight champion who put up the toughest resistance Muhammad Ali ever faced. He was the first man to defeat Ali. And only Ali and George Foreman ever beat him. His cumulative pro record was 32 wins, four losses (two to Ali and two to Foreman) and a draw in a bout against someone named Floyd Cummings in 1981; that, his very last fight, was to be Frazier’s comeback after five-plus years away from the ring. Those 32 wins included 27 knockouts.

          Frazier was a 1964 Olympic heavyweight Gold Medalist. The following year, he turned pro in his adopted home town of Philadelphia. He won his first 11 bouts by knockout, four in the first round. In 1966, Joe began to face opponents who were or had once been ranked contenders. After wins over Eddie Machen and Oscar Bonavena, The Ring magazine placed Frazier as the #6 contender in the heavyweight division. He then defeated Doug Jones and George Chuvalo, and was made the #1 heavyweight contender just three years after launching his professional career.

          After Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing induction into the armed forces, the New York State Athletic Commission paired Joe with Buster Mathis for its version of the world title. Frazier won the fight by a knockout in the eleventh round. He defended that New York title four times. In 1970, he unified the heavyweight championship with a fifth-round knockout of WBA champ Jimmy Ellis.

          Later that year, Ali was cleared to fight again. He challenged the champion, and Frazier accepted. They signed to fight on March 8, 1971 in Madison Square Garden. It turned out to be “The Fight of the Century” as it was dubbed. The two fighters hammered each other. In the fifteenth round, Frazier actually knocked Ali down, a rare accomplishment in Ali’s career. Joe had plainly won the fight, and was clearly the world champion.

          In 1973, Frazier lost the title to George Foreman. Despite that lop-sided Foreman win, the Ali-Frazier rematch was the hot ticket. On January 29, 1974, the two played to another full house at Madison Square Garden. This time, Ali won a unanimous decision.

          The two great champions met again for a final clash in Manila in 1975. By then, Ali had recaptured the title, so the latter was on the line. Once again, the two battered each other. The contest was virtually even through the first 11 rounds. The next three rounds were clearly Ali’s as he cut Frazier’s mouth and swelled his left eye nearly shut. “The Thrilla In Manila” was stopped after the fourteenth round.

          After another knockout loss to Foreman in 1976, Frazier retired. Then came the comeback Cummings fight in 1981 that formally put the lid on Joe’s great career, a career that would have been viewed with the proper respect due it were it not for those losses to Ali and Foreman. Smokin’ Joe was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

Last Week’s Trivia

          Phil Esposito was the first NHL player to score more than 100 points in a season. He scored 126 points as a Boston Bruin during the 1968-69 season.

Trivia Question of the Week

          What was the claim to fame of Antonio Inoki? Now there's a household name. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.