Thanks to Martin Engelman of Pro Stars for the invitation to the gala grand opening of the magnificent Field of Dreams store in its new location in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace last Saturday night. It was great spending time with Martin and his lovely wife MJ. Thanks, also, for the hospitality shown me by Sam Battistone and Klaus Moeller. Many other notables were in attendance including Pete Rose and renowned artist Malcolm Farley. The evening was literally sports junkie heaven. When you get to Las Vegas, you don’t want to miss Field of Dreams in the Forum Shops. Ask for my pal Kevin Wallin, and tell him I sent you.
As a side note to the above, it amazed me that everyone at the event crowded around Pete Rose and paid little attention to me. After all, Rose only had 4,256 big league hits more than I did. And to compound the injury, not one person, not one, was wearing a jersey with my name on it. (I'm trying to get over it.)
Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio is excellent. He’s absolutely correct about the fallacy of the importance of a strong minor league MLB system. For the most part (Albert Pujols and others admittedly excluded), strong teams are strong due to free agency and trades. Prospects in a farm system are merely potential, and potential does not win right now. The strong teams use the dog teams as their farm systems. That’s the stupid structure of MLB, and as long as it is, the large market teams should play by Selig’s rules, and they do. Sure, you have to have a farm system, but those farmers should be used to trade for established quality who can produce right now. After all, owners in large-market cities have damn little patience, at least my kind of owners, and enough "potential" will only get you fired if you’re a GM or a field manager!
By virtue of the preceding take, this is perfect. Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Enquirer writes, “The Phillies surrender. They just got a four-pack of suspects.” I’d say that says it all. The Yankees screwed Phillies GM Pat Gillick. They stole Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle for three Class A players and one roster player who has already been assigned to the Phillies’ AAA Columbus farm. If the Phils want to unload salary, fine, but at least get some quality in return, and I don’t mean lots of Class A "potential." Philadelphia fans should be up in arms for this one. If commissioner Bud Selig permits this sort of thing, more power to George Steinbrenner and/or GM Brian Cashman for taking advantage of it. I am Bud Selig’s most vocal critic, and I’d like to challenge him on many points involving MLB’s structure (Ive written him more than once for an open forum; no response.), but keep in mind that no one held a gun to Gillick’s head, although it would certainly seem so, and the other teams in MLB had the same shot at this felonious assault on the Phils’ roster. Pat Gillick might wish to enroll in Wharton’s business school; it’s right there in Philadelphia for him.
In 1946, the year after World War II ended, Osaka Bombers pitcher Sushi Moryama pitched to just eight batters on the Tokyo Suns. He walked all eight men on 32 straight pitches. It was his first and last game in the Japan National League. To illustrate how poor his vision and control were, Moryama had been a kamikaze pilot during the war; he flew 12 missions.
(If you believe this story, I have 42,000 acres of oceanfront property in Las Vegas I want to sell you cheap.)
Story of the Week
When renowned boxing historian Bert Sugar talks, I listen. Sugar knows the fight game. He published his list of boxing’s all-time greatest fighters last year. I’ve already written about his top fighter, and mine, too; that man is “Sugar Ray” Robinson. I’ve done a feature about his second-rated all-timer, Henry Armstrong. Today’s feature is about the fighter who ranks #3 on Sugar’s all-time list; his name is Willie Pep.
Well, it really isn’t. The man who scissored the name “Papaleo” into the palindromic “Pep” was some fighter. Like Ray Robinson and later Muhammad Ali, his movements resembled gloved tap-dancing. He fought like he didn’t like being hit, which he didn’t, having developed a healthy respect for his teeth at an early age. Throughout his 26-year boxing career, most of his 65 knockouts came not from malicious blows but rather from opponents falling to utter exhaustion.
Willie was a featherweight and typically fought at 139 pounds. That weight class was very conducive to lots of movement, and he was the leader of that pack. He rose from the amateur ranks in Connecticut, and turned pro in 1940. After winning over 50 fights in little more than two years, he became the youngest fighter in over 40 years to win a championship when he decisioned Al Wright for the featherweight title in 1942 at age 20.
Most of his 242 opponents rated Pep the toughest fighter to simply hit they had ever fought. His greatest virtuoso performance came the night he actually won a round without throwing a single punch. (This would have been a great trivia question.) Pep moved, switched to southpaw, danced and weaved his way to a winning round on all three scorecards against one Jackie Graves in a 1946 fight, never throwing or landing a single punch in the round. (No fighter deserves to win a round without landing a punch. Ridiculous! But it did happen.)
When I think of Willie Pep, I immediately think of his prime nemesis, Sandy Saddler. Saddler gave Pep more trouble than any other fighter during his long career. They fought four times for the featherweight championship; Saddler actually won three of those epic fights. The two fighters were anything but friends; I am given to understatement from time to time. Their last fight took place on September 26, 1951 in New York’s Polo Grounds, and was labeled by Nat Fleischer, founder and editor of The Ring Magazine, a “disgraceful brawl” replete with gouging, tripping, head-butting and wrestling. Saddler TKO’d Pep in the ninth round of that contest. (Just one week later, Bobby Thomson knocked out Ralph Branca in the same Polo Grounds. (If you don’t know what I’m alluding to here, a sports historian you’re not.)
For Pep to have fought for as long as he did was a miracle given the fact that he suffered near-fatal injuries in a plane crash on January 8, 1947. Miraculously, Willie came back just five months later, not just to walk, but to fight and win again.
Willie Pep was featherweight champion from 1942 to 1948, and then from 1949 to 1950. His pro career record was 230-11-1. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Last Week’s Trivia
Baseball Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield was drafted by four pro teams in three different sports. They were the San Diego Padres (MLB), the Minnesota Vikings (NFL), the Atlanta Hawks (NBA), and the Utah Stars (ABA). To be sure, Dave Winfield was one superior athlete!
Trivia Question of the Week
When was the first NFL game televised? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.