Quick Takes


    “A hot dog at the ballpark tastes better than steak at the Ritz.” Humphrey Bogart.


    Bogey would have loved this deal. Starting this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers are giving fans a reason to come to games other than to see baseball. Tickets for seats in the right field bleachers are $35 each ($40 on game day) and includes an all-you-can-eat menu. The deal includes Dodger dogs, peanuts, popcorn, nachos, sodas and more, but excludes ice cream, beer and candy. I can think of another perk to get guys to Dodger Stadium, but that sort of thing is illegal in L. A. County.


    At one time, 28% of major league baseball rosters were African-Americans. That number is now just 8%. Why? Where baseball was the #1 sport years ago, football and basketball have become far more glamorous to kids. The operative word is glamorous. Young blacks, with their tremendous athleticism, want to emulate the stars of other sports, especially the NBA, and basketball allows kids to build on their individual athleticism more than any other sport. Latin Americans, who are used to playing baseball year-around, are to MLB rosters what African-Americans once were. Hard to imagine, but that 8% will shrink even more if blacks don’t become greater fans of baseball as kids.


    Poker doesn’t qualify as a sport on my list, but ESPN apparently feels it is. I recently saw the movie “Lucky You.” The center theme is poker, and some of its cast is a who’s who in the high stakes Vegas poker world. Surely, Hollywood would consult them regarding the poker scenes and strategy at the tables before filming. They obviously didn’t. I play a great deal of live poker, so I picked up on all the questionable scenes in the movie. Friends of mine did as well. It reached a point that the movie became a bit of a comedy to me. The less you know about poker, the more you’ll enjoy the movie. The best thing I can say for it…………it’s entertaining.


    Eric Gagne’s three seasons from 2002-2004 as the Dodgers’ closer is the best three-year stretch for a relief pitcher I’ve ever seen. During that period, he set a MLB record of an incredible 84 straight converted save chances. More recently, he has had a constant bout with injuries. He is now with the Texas Rangers, attempting to make a comeback. I hope he regains his form and rises to the top of his profession again.


    Football historians generally agree that the first game of American football was played on November 6, 1869 in New Brunswick, New Jersey between teams from Rutgers and Princeton universities. They played on a field 120 yards long (including the end zones, just as it is today) and 75 yards wide (versus 53 1/3 yards today). Columbia, Yale and Harvard soon added football to their athletic programs as well.  


    Only 13 players ever got four hits in their first MLB games. Those you’ve heard of are Casey Stengel, Willie McCovey, Kirby Puckett and Delino DeShields. One of them, Russ Van Alta, did it as a Yankee on April 25, 1933. What makes his performance even more incredible is the fact that Van Alta was a pitcher, and shut out the Washington Senators, 16-0, in the process.       


Story of the Week


    The 6-2, 220-pound Ollie Matson, an All-America college star at the University of San Francisco, was the Chicago Cardinals first-round draft choice in 1952. He delayed his pro signing so that he could compete as a member of the American track team in the 1952 Olympics. He won a bronze medal in the 400-meter race and a silver medal from the 1,600-meter relay. When he finally joined the Cardinals he experienced a sensational rookie season.


    When Ollie Matson first signed to play with the Chicago Cardinals in 1952, he was hailed as the fleet-footed ball carrier who would hopefully lead the Cardinals out of pro football’s basement. (Unfortunately for the franchise, one player maketh not a team, and the Chicago Cardinals would remain dreadful through their remaining years in Chicago when they moved to St. Louis after the 1959 season.)   


    Matson was named an all-pro defensive back in his rookie year, though he was also used on offense and ran back 20 kickoffs for 624 yards, a 31.2 average, and 2 touchdowns. He spent the 1953 season in the army, then returned to the Cardinals in 1954, and was used primarily as a running back.


    After the 1958 season, when traded by the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Rams for an unprecedented nine players, he was tabbed as the star who could give the Rams a long-awaited championship. Through no fault of his own, that didn’t happen. He spent four years in L.A. The Rams sent him to the Detroit Lions in 1963 and, after a year there, he finished his career with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1964 through 1966.


    Obviously, the greatness Matson achieved on National Football League gridirons must be considered an individual accomplishment. He never enjoyed the winning team momentum to carry him along, and only two of the 14 teams on which he played finished over the .500 mark. Enemy defenses concentrated on him alone. He was the Ernie Banks of football; great player, great attitude, terrible teams, no rings. Yet his career record is exceptional.

Matson was an All-NFL performer. During his 14 pro seasons Ollie earned first- or second-team All-NFL honors six times and was selected to play in six Pro Bowls.


    Over his brilliant 14-season career, Matson rushed for 5,173 yards, caught 222 passes, and scored 73 touchdowns. All told, he gained 12,884 yards on rushing, receptions, and returns. He still holds the all-time NFL career record for most combined return touchdowns (punts and kickoffs) with nine. He could do it all, and he did.


    What Matson could and should be remembered for is being one of the most versatile and talented offensive players to ever participate in the NFL. Ollie Matson was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.


Last Week’s Trivia


    Vince Coleman is the first and only player in history to steal 100 bases in each of his first three major league seasons. In 1989 he also set a record by stealing 50 consecutive bases without being caught. The outfielder boasted that he considered third base easier to steal than second, and in 1987 stole second and third in the same inning 13 times. Though he was a demon when on base, that was Coleman’s only true value. He often had trouble reaching first, what with a career .264 ba, a .324 obp, and 960 k’s in 13 seasons. He was a mediocre outfielder with a poor arm. But Coleman could steal bases, a career total of 752.


Trivia Question of the Week


    A few years ago, Central State University saw fit to bestow this athlete with an honorary doctorate. In his acceptance speech, the jock stated, “I don’t know what kind of doctor this makes me, but as I look out on all the fine women in the audience, I hope it’s gynecologist.” Who spoke this classic if not classy acceptance? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.