POST-RETIREMENT ARTICLE II
Iím back! No weekly articles anymore. Just do it when I feel like it. I actually decided to do another article while we were 9,600 feet up in a helicopter during our Western Canada vacation two weeks ago. I decided I wanted to do many things in the immediate future during that helicopter ride, one of which was land.
Las Vegas legend Danny Gans passed away on May 1st. He was just 52. The entire city is in total shock and disbelief. He was an absolutely brilliant performer. At one time, Gans was a professional baseball player, and later held a small role in the film Bull Durham. After an injury ended his sports career, Gans turned to the entertainment industry, traveling on the road for years before landing in Las Vegas.
As Vegas personalities and attractions go, Danny Gans was in the class of Sinatra and Elvis. He told Larry King in February that he felt obligated to his audiences to put everything he had into his performances. He did!
I once lived in Memphis. Memphis is where I go for barbeque and blues. I love Memphis, so this story was all the more heartwarming for me. It is the quintessential rags-to-riches story.
Meet Michael Oher (pronounced OAR), a 6-5, 309-pound All-America tackle from the University of Mississippi. He is now a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore made him their first draft choice in this yearís NFL draft.
Among 13 siblings from the poorest part of Memphis, he never knew his father, whose murder he learned of months after the fact in high school. His mother, Denise Oher, was addicted to crack cocaine. The kids were scattered about in various places.
Michael attended 11 schools in nine years. If not in a foster home, he lived with friends. He was homeless.
"As I look back on stuff, it's crazy how I got here," he says. "But it didn't seem tough at the time. I just lived day to day, did the best I could."
A turning point came when Tony Henderson, who allowed Michael to crash on his sofa, brought him along when he took his son Steven to enroll at Briarcrest Christian School on the other side of town. Oher ultimately was admitted as a special-needs case.
Another pivotal moment occurred during his first Thanksgiving break, when Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy spotted Oher as they drove past a bus stop near the school. It was snowing. Oher, then 16, was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts.
Sean, then a volunteer assistant basketball coach at the school who had met Oher at the gym, says Leigh Anne grabbed the wheel. Next came a U-turn. "She cried the second she met him, and it was over," Sean recalls.
The Tuohys took in Oher, allowing him a safety net in their home in upscale East Memphis two blocks from the school. For months he came and went as he pleased, and Leigh Anne worried when he didn't spend the night. They hired a tutor to address severe academic deficiencies, paid his tuition and gave him a wardrobe and other essentials. Sean says the generosity was not the result of any epiphany or even as much as a family meeting. "We think God sent him to us," Sean says. "Earthly explanations don't make sense."
About a year later, Oher, a black, moved in permanently with the wealthy white family. Before Oher's senior year in high school, the Tuohys, with daughter Collins at Briarcrest and a younger son, Sean Jr., became his legal guardians.
"They've got big hearts," Oher says. "To take somebody from my neighborhood into your house? Nobody does that. I don't think I'd even do that. I'd help you out, but with a daughter and with all the violence and drugs where I come from ... they didn't have to do that. I owe a lot to them."
I knew the Oher story before the NFL draft. As I watched the draft on television, I was pulling for Oher to be selected early by a NFL team. He was. The Baltimore Ravens made a wise choice. In addition to being an obvious football talent, Michael Oher will give this NFL opportunity everything he has to be successful, and he will be.
MANNY PACQUIAO VS RICKY HATTON
Oscar De La Hoya officially retired from boxing a month ago. Had you seen Manny Pacquiao dominate him last December 8, you would know why Oscar retired. Going into the Ricky Hatton fight Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden, I wondered if Manny was that good or De La Hoya was that finished, or both.
I was at that fight in December. Manny was the obvious winner a minute into the match. After eight rounds against Oscar, it was official. The once Golden Boy was done, and he knew it. I didnít bet that fight, and Ií regretted it since. I certainly wasnít going to make that mistake again. And although I bet on Manny to defeat Hatton, I still wasnít sure why Manny looked so absolutely invincible against Oscar in December, or Iíd have wagered much more.
Watching Pacquiao against Hatton Saturday night answered the question. It didnít take long to realize the greatness of Manny Pacquiao, with his power in both hands, hand speed, foot speed, and instinct. Pacquiao didnít simply defeat Hatton; he demolished him with three knockdowns in two rounds.
Manny Pacquiao is recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the ring today. And with all due respect to the legendary and great Sugar Ray Robinson, whom I remember very well and have seen countless times on film, Manny could well rival Robinson as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time.
You wonít believe it! The story always follows my trivia question ďWho is Alice Roth?Ē No one ever gets it. I did it at a recent appearance at a temple menís club here in Vegas prior to my presentation about my hero, Jackie Robinson, last month.
On August 17, 1957, Hall-of-Famer Richie Ashburn was batting at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Ashburn fouled a pitch into the stands that struck spectator Alice Roth, breaking her nose. As they were loading her on a stretcher, another foul swing found Alice Roth again. Ashburn plunked the very same spectator twice during the very same at-bat. What are the odds? Letís start with a billion-to-one, and keep going.
Sunday morning, I was invited back to the same temple menís club, but not to do a presentation. This time I was a guest and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the presentation of the great basketball player, Spencer Haywood.
Spencer Haywood was a dominant basketball force and a star performer in college, our 1968 Olympic gold medal team, the ABA and the NBA. Heís a super guy, and a pleasure to reminisce with.
Iíve written this before as a Quick Take in at least one of my seven years worth of articles. Based on his stats in the major categories and what he meant to the game, it is a travesty of justice that Spencer Haywood is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
There have only been six players in MLB history who have more home runs than strikeouts and have hit over 40 home runs in a season. The Cardinal great, Albert Pujols, has a shot at it this year. Pujols actually came close to doing it in two prior seasons, 2004 and 2006.
Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig (twice), Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize (twice), Ted Kluszewski (three times) and Barry Bonds have done it. I donít recognize Bonds, the steroid fraud, for any of his field feats. That leaves five. Itís not easy to do as power hitters tend to accumulate an abundance of strikeouts along the way. If it were easy to do, more players would have done it.
At least for now. Iíll be back. After all, Iím still one of the top two million sportswriters in the world. OK, that could be pushing it.