Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nashua vs. Swaps


Fifty-five years ago today, one of the most famous match races in thoroughbred history took place at Washington Park in Homewood, which is long gone now but ranked as one of the foremost venues in racing for several decades in the middle of the 20th Century. Below is an account of the race from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     The Great Match Race of August 31, 1955, at Washington Park featured the two most illustrious three-year-olds of the day, Nashua and Swaps.
     The two had competed once before, in the Kentucky Derby of that same year. On that occasion, Swaps took command from the outset, then held off Nashua by a length and a half in a stirring stretch duel. Swaps returned to California after the Derby, leaving the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to Nashua, who won both races impressively. In July, Nashua came to Arlington Park and triumphed in the Arlington Classic—his eighth victory of the year in nine starts. Swaps, meanwhile, was still undefeated for the year. The public and the media clamored for a rematch. As soon as Nashua crossed the finish line in the Classic, Ben Lindheimer (executive director of Arlington Park and Washington Park) turned to Nashua’s owner William Woodward, Jr., who was sitting beside him, and proposed the match race. Several days later, Lindheimer announced that Nashua and Swaps would meet at Washington Park on the last day of August for $100,000, winner-take-all.
     Nashua was the best in the East, Swaps the best in the West. They met in the middle for the great match race.
     Swaps arrived in Chicago first and prepared for the match race by running in the American Derby, also at Washington Park, on August 20. Trying the grass for the first time in his career, he beat Traffic Judge (runner-up to Nashua in the Classic) by one length at a mile and three-sixteenths. Nashua warmed up for the race at Saratoga, where trainer Jim Fitzsimmons kept the rest of his stable and where jockey Eddie Arcaro was available for morning workouts.
     In Fitzsimmons and Arcaro, Nashua had two of the greatest names in the history of racing on his side. Fitzsimmons, a living legend, was 81 years old and had been in the game as a stablehand, jockey, and trainer since 1885. Though severely stooped by arthritis in his spine, he was invariably cheerful—hence his nickname, Sunny Jim. He had trained two Triple Crown winners, Gallant Fox and Omaha, and countless other stakes winners. He was also known for the many pearls of wisdom that he freely dispensed: “What you can learn from fixing up a cheap horse will come in handy on an expensive one”; “No trainer has ever made a bad horse good, but some trainers have made good horses bad”; “Keep regular hours, eat simple food, get plenty of fresh air, and always remember that human beings are inconsistent.”
     Arcaro had piloted two Triple Crown winners, Whirlaway and Citation (he remains the only jockey to have swept the series twice). His five wins in the Kentucky Derby, five in the Preakness, and six in the Belmont Stakes were all records. Horseplayers called him Steady Eddie, Heady Eddie, or, simply, The Master.
     Interestingly, though they were a nearly invincible team, Arcaro hated Nashua, whom he called “one mean bastard,” and the feeling seemed to be mutual. “He’d bite me,” said Arcaro, “if I let him.”
     While Nashua was a regally bred standard bearer of the Eastern racing aristocracy, Swaps was the product of humbler origins. The first California-bred to win the Derby since 1922 was owned by a roughhewn cowboy, Rex Ellsworth, and trained by another, Mesh Tenney. His jockey was a 24-year-old Texan, Bill Shoemaker, who before long would succeed Arcaro as the rider everyone wanted for a big race.
     Although it did not become widely known until later, Swaps had a chronic foot problem that flared up in the days just before the race. Ellsworth and Tenney even went to Lindheimer to see about postponing the event. But time had been set aside for a national telecast on CBS, and thousands were on their way to Chicago to witness what had been billed as the race of the century. Race day was also the closing day of Washington Park’s season. A postponement or cancellation would be a financial and public-relations disaster. Ellsworth agreed to go ahead.
     A crowd of 35,262—amazing for a Wednesday afternoon—turned out for the race, augmented by millions tuned in on radio or television. The race was carded for a mile and a quarter, with each horse carrying 126 pounds—the same conditions as their earlier meeting in the Derby. Heavy rains the night before had made the track soggy, but there was no standing water, and the racing surface was officially labeled “good.”
     In the Derby, Shoemaker and Swaps had gotten the jump on Arcaro and Nashua. Arcaro had bided his time in the early stages, waiting for another contender named Summer Tan to make a move. By the time Nashua raced Summer Tan into submission, Swaps had gotten away to a clear lead, and he was able to withstand a determined drive by Nashua in the last quarter mile. Arcaro vowed that he and Nashua would dictate the pace this time.
     Both horses appeared to be in peak form as they paraded to the post. No one in the crowd would have guessed that Swaps was less than a hundred percent; even Tenney wasn’t sure how much less than his best he was that day. Swaps was favored at 1-3; Nashua was 6-5. They entered the starting gate, Nashua in the No. 2 stall and Swaps in No. 4, and were off.
     “There was nothing complicated about it,” Evan Shipman wrote in Daily Racing Form. “As the doors opened, Arcaro, yelling like a banshee and wielding his whip with all his strength, shot Nashua to the front, while Swaps, away on the outside, veered farther out toward the outside rail.” Arcaro pushed Nashua from the bell and kept pushing him; he also forced Swaps away from the best footing on the inside part of the track. Nashua led as they passed the grandstand for the first time, and it was clear that Arcaro intended for him to lead all the way to the wire.
     Time is of little importance in a match race, of course, because all that matters is beating the other horse. But Arcaro put Nashua through the early stages of the race at a murderous pace, playing “catch us if you can.” Nashua went half a mile in 46 seconds, and six furlongs in 1:10.4 (a full second faster than excellent sprinters had managed in six-furlong races earlier in the day). He was going to make it very difficult for Swaps, racing outside in the heavier going, to get around him.
     Swaps was game, and several times Shoemaker brought him almost abreast of his rival. But Nashua refused to yield. Each time Swaps ranged up to contest the lead, Nashua dug in and extended his advantage. Even in the home stretch, Arcaro kept his whip busy to make sure that Nashua continued driving. Only in the final furlong, by which time the outcome had been decided, did he permit Nashua to coast.
     Nashua came to the wire six and a half lengths in front.
     “It was a great race and, naturally, the thrill of my life,” said Fitzsimmons. He went on to explain that he had instructed Arcaro simply to “Get out and go.” Then, smiling, Sunny Jim said, “And Eddie did.” The race catapulted Nashua to Horse of the Year honors. (Two years later, at the age of 83, Fitzsimmons trained another Horse of the Year, Nashua’s half brother Bold Ruler—who went on to even greater renown as the sire of Secretariat.)
     Tenney was gracious in defeat. “It was a great race and a mighty tough one to lose,” he said, “but I’ll definitely say the better colt won this afternoon.” He didn’t make any excuses, declining even to mention Swaps’s injury—but he did give the colt the rest of the year off. When Swaps came back in 1956 and won eight of his 10 starts, it was his turn to be Horse of the Year.

     Nashua raced from May 1954 to October 1956, Swaps from May 1954 to September 1956. But even though their careers overlapped almost exactly, they met only twice. Of Nashua’s 30 starts, 21 were in New York or New Jersey. Of Swaps’s 25 starts, 18 were in California. We’ll never know what might have happened had they come together for a third contest to settle their rivalry. Regardless, each did quite well going his own way. Nashua was champion two-year-old of 1954, champion three-year-old and Horse of the Year in 1955. Swaps was champion older horse and Horse of the Year in 1956. He closed out his career in Chicago with a victory in the Washington Park Handicap.
     The Washington Park Match Race was a memorable chapter, but far from the only one, in the careers of its principle protagonists: both horses, both jockeys, and both trainers had many triumphs ahead, and all six were destined for the National Racing Hall of Fame. But for William Woodward, Jr., Nashua’s owner, the match race was the last great victory. Less than two months later, he was shot to death in a bedroom of his Long Island estate—by his wife, who evidently mistook him for a burglar. When his executors liquidated Woodward’s assets, his many thoroughbreds included, Nashua fetched a price of $1,251,200. It was the first time that a horse had ever been sold for more than a million dollars.

Adapted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Friday, August 27, 2010

White Sox Honor Roll

White Sox retired numbers:
  2 - Nellie Fox
  3 - Harold Baines
  4 - Luke Applling
  9 - Minnie Minoso
11 - Luis Aparicio
16 - Ted Lyons
19 - Billy Pierce
72 - Carlton Fisk

World championship managers:
1906 - Fielder Jones
1917 - Pants Rowland
2005 - Ozzie Guillen

American League Most Valuable Player:
1959 - Nellie Fox
1972 - Dick Allen
1993 - Frank Thomas
1994 - Frank Thomas

World Series Most Valuable Player:
2005 - Jermaine Dye

American League Cy Young Award:
1959 - Early Wynn
1983 - LaMarr Hoyt
1993 - Jack McDowell

American League Rookie of the Year:
1956 - Luis Aparicio
1963 - Gary Peters
1966 - Tommie Agee
1983 - Ron Kittle
1985 - Ozzie Guillen

Batting champions:
1936 - Luke Appling
1943 - Luke Appling
1997 - Frank Thomas

Home Run leaders:
1971 - Bill Melton
1972 - Dick Allen
1974 - Dick Allen

Runs Batted In leaders:
1972 - Dick Allen

Leaders in victories:
1907 - Doc White
1908 - Ed Walsh
1917 - Eddie Cicotte
1919 - Eddie Cicotte
1925 - Ted Lyons
1927 - Ted Lyons
1957 - Billy Pierce
1959 - Early Wynn
1964 - Gary Peters
1972 - Wilbur Wood
1973 - Wilbur Wood
1982 - LaMarr Hoyt
1983 - LaMarr Hoyt
1993 - Jack McDowell

Leaders in earned-run average:
1906 - Doc White
1907 - Ed Walsh
1910 - Ed Walsh
1917 - Eddie Cicotte
1921 - Red Faber
1922 - Red Faber
1941 - Thornton Lee
1942 - Ted Lyons
1947 - Joe Haynes
1955 - Billy Pierce
1960 - Frank Baumann
1963 - Gary Peters
1966 - Gary Peters
1967 - Joel Horlen

Leaders in strikeouts:
1908 - Ed Walsh
1909 - Frank Smith
1911 - Ed Walsh
1953 - Billy Pierce
2003 - Esteban Loaiza

Manager of the Year:
1983 - Tony LaRussa
1990 - Jeff Torborg
1993 - Gene Lamont
2000 - Jerry Manuel
2005 - Ozzie Guillen

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cub Fans Bid Lou Adieu

     It was an aging and weary Lou Piniella who retired Sunday after nearly four years as manager of the Cubs. Piniella's experience with the Cubs was bittersweet, which is more than many of his forerunners (whose experiences were only bitter) can say.
     On the plus side, Piniella became the first skipper to lead the Cubs to back-to-back postseason appearances (in 2007 and 2008) since the immortal Frank Chance did so in 1906, 1907, and 1908. And he tried, at least, to establish a general atmosphere of accountability that was often lacking for the "lovable losers" of seasons past.
     Alas, like his immediate predecessor Dusty Baker, whose tenure also began with a bang, Piniella's stay with the Cubs ended with a whimper. Or maybe it was a yawn, given the almost incredibly dismal performance of this year's club. Piniella was clearly sorry to be taking off his uniform for the last time, but he must also have been relieved to be escaping what had become an awful mess.

     Forty-one years ago, it was a different story. Then Piniella was coming, not going. After getting one at-bat for Baltimore in 1965 and five for Cleveland in 1968, Piniella found himself in 1969 with the Seattle Pilots, a first-year expansion club that soon flew to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. This period of Piniella's career is colorfully recalled in Jim Bouton's famous book Ball Four.
     Bouton's first interaction with Piniella took place when he phoned the latter to enlist him in a player strike that was being planned. "I reached Lou in Florida," Bouton wrote, "and he said that his impulse was to report, that he was scared it would count against him if he didn't, that he was just a rookie looking to make the big leagues and didn't want anybody to get angry at him. But also that he'd thought it over carefully and thought he should support the other players and the strike. So he was not reporting.
     "That impressed the hell out of me. Here's a kid with a lot more at stake than I, a kid risking a once-in-a-lifetime shot. And suddenly I felt a moral obligation to the players. I decided not to go down [to spring training]."
     The work stoppage was soon averted, and the players duly reported to spring training. There, Piniella was not called "Sweet Lou," as he was in later years. He was "Red-Ass Lou," as fired up as they come. Pilots manager Joe Schultz took an instant and intense dislike to him. "[Piniella] says he knows they don't want him," Bouton wrote, "and that he's going to quit baseball rather than go back to Triple-A."
     Piniella was indeed sent to the minor-league camp, but he didn't quit. Just days after being farmed out, he was traded to the Kansas City Royals, the American League's other first-year expansion club, where he not only earned a starting job but won the Rookie of the Year award to boot. He played five seasons for the Royals and 11 more for the Yankees before embarking on a 23-year managerial career.
     Piniella won two World Series as a player and another as a manager. He spent four decades doing something he was deeply passionate about, making a very comfortable living in the process. He will most likely be elected to the Hall of Fame some day. It is certainly true of Piniella, as is said of so many baseball lifers, that he loved and respected the game. But what set Piniella apart from many of the others was that he so obviously enjoyed it as well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thrill of a Lifetime


     Richard Duchossois got the thrill of his 88-year-old life Saturday when Eclair de Lune carried Duchossois' blue and yellow silks to victory in the 21st running of the Beverly D Stakes, the race named in honor of Mr. D's late wife, who passed away in 1980.
     "When the filly broke loose [drawing away in the stretch], I stopped thinking," Duchossois said. "When we won, I didn't know what to think. Then someone hit me on the back and said we won."
     After Eclair de Lune and jockey Junior Alvarado crossed the finish line a length and a half in front of runner-up Hot Cha Cha, fans sitting near Duchossois gathered around to congratulate him while those in adjacent sections applauded. As Duchossois started to make his way toward the winner's circle, fans throughout the grandstand joined in.
     By the time Duchossois was met in the winner's circle by Alvarado and trainer Ron McAnally, the warm applause had become a loud and sustained ovation from the entire crowd of 30,304. Alvarado had tears streaming down his face, and McAnally was overcome with emotion as he tried to explain how happy he was for his longtime friend.
     "This was for this man right here," McAnally said, with his arm around Duchossois. "He deserves it so much. He is a first-class man, and I know how much he wanted to win this race for his late wife."
     "We've had others in the Beverly D [1991, 1992, and 2006] that we thought might be good enough," Duchossois said. "But they never cut the buck." Eclair de Lune, a four-year-old German-bred filly that McAnally found in France, was specifically acquired to end that losing streak--and she did.
     Duchossois was a giant in the racing game long before his filly's stirring victory in the Beverly D. If racing ultimately fails to survive in Illinois, it will be no fault of his, for he has done more than anyone (and more than anyone could have expected) to prop up that struggling sport.
  • In 1981, Duchossois helped to create the world's first million-dollar race, the Arlington Million (its inaugural winner, John Henry, was trained by McAnally).
  • In 1985, Duchossois was instrumental in staging the "Miracle Million" using tents and temporary bleachers on Arlington's infield, just 23 days after the grandstand and clubhouse were completely destroyed by fire.
  • In 1989, Duchossois opened the rebuilt Arlington facility, which was far more magnificent than purely economic considerations would have dictated. Perhaps following his heart more than his head, Duchossois had attended to every detail concerning the physical setting, amenities, and overall experience of his customers. The new Arlington did not exist merely to serve its function as a place to take bets and present races. It was meant to represent more than that.
  • In 1996, Duchossois offered a million-dollar purse to lure the great Cigar to Arlington, where the latter tied the all-time record (since broken) by winning his 16th consecutive race.
  • In 2002, Duchossois brought the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships to Arlington.
None of these triumphs equaled Saturday's, at least to Duchossois himself. "I'd rather win this race [the Beverly D] than the Kentucky Derby," he said as he wiped away tears of joy. "This one means more to me."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

One in a Million

Saturday is Arlington Million day. Gio Ponti, last year's champion, will be seeking to join the great John Henry as the only two-time winners of that race, which still ranks among the most prestigious grass races in the world. A remembrance of John Henry, who won the first Million in 1981 and repeated in 1984, appears below.


     John Henry was on the small side and nothing much to look at, as befitted the son of an obscure sire with the somewhat comical name Ole Bob Bowers. He was sold as a yearling for only $1,100, and then—to add injury to insult—was gelded in a futile attempt to curb his nasty temper. He spent his early career running at cheap tracks in Louisiana, with little success.
     His record stood at three wins in 17 tries when he was bought by Sam and Dorothy Rubin in May 1978. Shipped to New York, John Henry became a winner from the instant he walked off the van. He won his first start in the Rubins’ colors on May 21 at Aqueduct, paying odds of 12-1. On June 1 at Belmont Park, he raced on grass for the first time and won as he pleased—by 14 lengths. This was the turning point for John Henry. Running on grass and at longer distances, he was an entirely different horse.
     On September 16, John Henry paid his first visit to Arlington Park and notched his first major stakes victory, capturing the Round Table Handicap by 12 lengths. By this time, bettors had taken note of his transformation from claiming also-ran to stakes winner; he left the gate in the Round Table at odds of 1-2.
     John Henry was on his way. He had a good campaign as a four-year-old in 1979, finishing first or second in nine of his 11 starts. The next year John Henry had eight wins, three seconds, and a third in 12 starts; he received the first of his four Eclipse Awards as best male grass horse of the year.

     In 1981, the six-year-old John Henry won five of his first six starts in top-quality stakes competition. Then he came to Arlington for the inaugural running of the Arlington Million, the first race in the world to offer a million-dollar purse. The Chicago area had been hard hit by rain for several days prior to the race on August 30, and the Arlington turf course was very soft and spongy. John Henry had tried soft turf only once before, and had been well beaten on that occasion. To make matters worse, he drew the outermost post position in the Million field, No. 12.
     Sent off at odds of 11-10, John Henry was the heavy favorite of the crowd. But in the early stages of the mile-and-a-quarter race, it was obvious that he did not find the boggy footing to his liking. He was far out of contention for the first half mile. “It was terrible,” said jockey Bill Shoemaker. “He wasn’t handling it at all down the backstretch, and I didn’t think we’d be close. I was trying to urge him a little, without making him sour, but he was struggling.” Key to Content led all the way down the backstretch and into the far turn, with 40-1 longshot The Bart in hot pursuit. John Henry was eighth as they entered the far turn.
     Turning for home, Key to Content yielded command to The Bart. John Henry had moved up to fifth, but he was still six lengths from the front with only a quarter mile left to go. “He began to pick it up on the turn and moved through the upper stretch pretty good,” Shoemaker recalled, “although he was still a beaten horse at the eighth pole. I was trying to hold him together at that point, for he was working very hard and beginning to tire.”
     John Henry, furiously charging on the outside, was giving Shoemaker everything he had—but it didn’t seem to be enough. Only an eighth of a mile from the wire, The Bart was still holding him off by a full length. John Henry kept coming. He edged ever closer to The Bart until, finally, with the cheers of the crowd rising to a crescendo, the two flashed across the finish line together. It was impossible to tell which horse had won. NBC originally identified The Bart as the winner, but the photo-finish pictures confirmed that John Henry had prevailed by a nose.
     “He overcame everything,” trainer Ron McAnally said. “He had the worst post position and this soft turf wasn’t his type of racetrack. But I never saw him run a better race.”
     The little gelding’s thrilling triumph in the first Arlington Million catapulted him to Horse of the Year honors in 1981. He finished the year with eight victories in 10 outings, and earned almost $1.8 million. In 1982, physical problems prevented John Henry from defending his title in the Million; he won twice in only six starts that year. He was on the sidelines again for much of 1983, his eight-year-old season. The third Arlington Million, on August 28, was only his second start of the year. Again made a heavy favorite (at 14-10) by the crowd at Arlington, John Henry was as game as ever in losing by merely a neck to Tolomeo.
     John Henry had perhaps his finest year in 1984, at the ripe old age of nine. He won six of his last seven races, finishing second in the other. He earned a staggering $2,336,650, and was again voted Horse of the Year. Along the way he won his second Arlington Million. A crowd of 39,053 turned out on the perfect afternoon of August 26 to cheer him on. Again the bettors’ favorite at 11-10, John Henry bided his time in third position under Chris McCarron while remaining always within striking range. At the head of the stretch McCarron angled him right to make his customary outside run to the wire, and he easily ran down the pacesetting Royal Heroine to score by a length and three quarters.
     The victory put John Henry over the $5 million mark in career earnings—at a time when no other horse in history had collected even $3 million.

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How the Bears Almost Became the Cubs

     As 99 percent of Bear fans know, the Bears started out as the Decatur Staleys in 1920. They played three home games in Decatur and five in Chicago. In 1921, A.E. Staley decided to get out of the football business. He suggested that player/coaches George Halas and Dutch Sternaman take over ownership of the team and move it to Chicago. He even offered them $5,000 to get started, in return for a promise to retain the name “Staleys” for one more year. Halas and Sternaman eagerly took him up on it.
     Shortly before the 1921 season, Halas called on Bill Veeck, Sr., president of the Cubs (and father of a seven-year-old son who was destined to become a legend). Halas wanted to make Wrigley Field his team’s permanent home. According to Halas, the negotiations lasted less than two minutes. Veeck asked for no cash up front, probably recognizing that the young entrepreneur had none anyway. Instead, he asked for a straight 15 percent of the gate receipts and all concessions. Halas, inwardly delighted but not wanting to accede too easily, said the Cubs could have all the concessions except the game programs. Veeck agreed. Veeck suggested that the Cubs’ take should be raised to 20 percent whenever the gate exceeded $10,000. Halas agreed. The deal was sealed with a handshake, and, according to Halas, never committed to paper. It remained in effect until the Bears moved to Soldier Field half a century later.
     In 1922, the Chicago Staleys needed a new name. “I considered naming the team the Chicago Cubs,” Halas remembered, “out of respect for Mr. William Veeck, Sr., and Mr. William Wrigley, who had been such a great help.”
     Naming the team the Cubs would not have been as strange as it might seem today. In the early decades of pro football, it was not at all unusual for a city’s football team to be named after its baseball team. There were, and still are, the New York Giants. There were the Pittsburgh Pirates, who later became the Steelers. There were the Boston Braves, who eventually moved to Washington and became the Redskins. There were the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees—none of which lasted long enough to be remembered except as answers to trivia questions. And there were the Detroit Lions, whose name derived from that of their baseball cousins, the Tigers.
     Ultimately, Halas decided not to name his team the Cubs. Years later, he explained why. “I noted football players are bigger than baseball players,” he wrote, “so if baseball players are cubs, then certainly football players are bears!”
     The Staley franchise was officially transferred to the Chicago Bears Football Club, Inc. A year later, the fledgling American Professional Football Association also adopted a new name—the National Football League.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bears Honor Roll

     The Bears are going through their paces at training camp, and fans are eagerly looking forward to another NFL season. Here's a look back at some of the men who have made the Bears Chicago's favorite team and one of the greatest franchises in all of sports.

Bears retired numbers:
  3 - Bronko Nagurski
  5 - George McAfee
  7 - George Halas
28 - Willie Galimore
34 - Walter Payton
40 - Gale Sayers
41 - Brian Piccolo
42 - Sid Luckman
51 - Dick Butkus
56 - Bill Hewitt
61 - Bill George
66 - Clyde "Bulldog" Turner
77 - Red Grange

World champion head coaches:
1921 - George Halas
1932 - Ralph Jones
1933 - George Halas
1940 - George Halas
1941 - George Halas
1943 - Luke Johnsos (co-coach)
1943 - Hunk Anderson (co-coach)
1946 - George Halas
1963 - George Halas
1985 - Mike Ditka

NFL Most Valuable Player:
1943 - Sid Luckman
1977 - Walter Payton

Super Bowl Most Valuable Player:
1986 - Richard Dent

NFL Leading rusher:
1934 - Beattie Feathers
1939 - Bill Osmanski
1956 - Rick Casares
1969 - Gale Sayers
1977 - Walter Payton

NFL Leading passer:
1943 - Sid Luckman
1945 - Sid Luckman
1946 - Sid Luckman
1949 - Johnny Lujack

NFL Leading scorer:
1934 - Jack Manders
1965 - Gale Sayers
1985 - Kevin Butler

Defensive Player of the Year:
1985 - Mike Singletary
1988 - Mike Singletary
2005 - Brian Urlacher

Offensive Rookie of the Year:
2001 - Anthony Thomas

Defensive Rookie of the Year:
1973 - Wally Chambers
1990 - Mark Carrier
2000 - Brian Urlacher

Coach of the Year:
1963 - George Halas
1965 - George Halas
1985 - Mike Ditka
1988 - Mike Ditka
2001 - Dick Jauron
2005 - Lovie Smith

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Louis vs. Braddock


     When Joe Louis stepped into the ring to challenge heavyweight champion Jim Braddock on a pleasant summer evening in 1937, he carried more than his 197 pounds. He also carried the hopes and dreams of his fellow African Americans, the majority of whom were still being denied the most basic civil rights. It was a sign of the times that Louis was described by the Tribune on the morning of the bout as the “sleepy-eyed son of an Alabama cotton picker” who was “no more excited about tonight’s encounter than if he was going a-huntin’ or a-fishin’.”
     The unassuming 23-year-old Louis was seeking to become only the second black man to win the heavyweight title. The first, Jack Johnson, had been anything but unassuming, and when his controversial reign ended it was widely suggested that no other black man ever would, or should, be given a title shot. But now, after two decades, a black man did have the opportunity. Millions prayed that the man in question, Louis, would make the most of it.
     Braddock, for his part, was a champion of questionable quality. At 29, he had wrested the title from Max Baer—who, the Tribune’s Arch Ward claimed, “would have been a setup for any well-conditioned plumber in an informal bust-as-bust-can street corner brawl.” Now, two years later, he was making just his first title defense. Like Louis, Braddock weighed in at 197. He was a mediocre 50-21-5, with 26 knockouts, and thus a decided underdog against Louis, who was 33-1 with 28 knockouts. Nonetheless he put on a brave face, professing to be unconcerned about the awesome punching power of the man known as the Brown Bomber. “There will be a knockout tonight,” Braddock said, “but it will be Louis, not I, who will be counted out.”
     An estimated 50,000 spectators filled Comiskey Park for the bout. Among them were Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, who had met at Soldier Field ten years before in the famous “long count” title fight.
     Louis and Braddock electrified the crowd in the first round, as they charged out of their corners and slugged it out in the center of the ring. A wild haymaker by Braddock missed, and Louis responded with a left-right combination that dazed the champion. Then, out of nowhere, Braddock landed a right uppercut that floored Louis. Joe was back on his feet in an instant. The two fighters traded hard rights to the head at the bell.
     In the second round, Braddock was the aggressor. He pounded Louis’s body, then scored with a right to the head followed quickly by a left to the midsection. Just before the bell, Louis delivered a pair of solid rights to the side of Braddock’s face.
     Louis gradually took over from then on. The third through sixth rounds were fairly uneventful, but Louis had more spring in his step and began to wear the older man down with well-aimed jabs and crosses. By the seventh, a cut over Braddock’s left eye was bleeding freely. Early in that round, Louis rocked Braddock with two short lefts to the face. The champion was game, and he kept battling—but even his better blows failed to faze the challenger. Braddock was fading fast by the end of the round.
     In the eighth, Braddock presented a stationary target for Louis’s volleys. Louis deftly stepped out of the way of a right and responded with a stinging left to the forehead. Braddock flailed in vain with his right, and Louis sent a left hook into his breadbasket. Then Louis planted his feet and delivered a smashing right to the jaw. “Braddock’s knees sagged,” Ward wrote. “He did not stagger back as he might have from a less deadly wallop. He started to sink slowly but certainly.” Braddock toppled over onto his right side, and he was out cold as the 10-count was administered. It took two minutes more for him to regain his senses.
     Braddock had done his best, but after all he was merely a good fighter who found himself confronted by a great one. Less than eight rounds into his first title defense, his tenure as champion was over. The reign of his successor would last almost 12 years and include 25 successful defenses, both all-time records.
     The people throughout the nation who had huddled anxiously around their radios and then erupted in celebration might not have realized it fully, but a corner had indeed been turned. Joe Louis had taken the first step in what would eventually become a parade of great African-American athletes destined to dominate the world of sports.

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Monday, August 9, 2010

Voices of Summer: The White Sox on Radio

     The home-team baseball broadcaster has a unique position among sports announcers. None other visits with fans every day for six months at a time, year after year after year. None other is so inseparable from our memories of specific players and games, or of lazy summer evenings from long ago. None other becomes virtually a family member for those who closely follow the team.
     The White Sox began broadcasting their games on radio in 1924, on television in 1948. Prior to 1944, the Sox did not grant exclusive rights to any radio station; as a result, multiple stations carried the games in any given year, including five in 1931 alone. Of the 11 stations that carried the games at one time or another during those years, no reliable record of the broadcasters exists today except for WMAQ and WGN.
     Below is the complete list of White Sox broadcasters on radio.

Radio Stations
Various, 1924-1943
WIND, 1944
WJJD, 1945- 1951
WCFL, 1952-1966
WMAQ, 1967-1970
WTAQ, 1971-1972
WMAQ, 1973-1979
WBBM, 1980-1981
WMAQ, 1982-1995
WMVP, 1996-2005
WSCR, 2006-present

Radio Play-by-Play
Hal Totten (WMAQ), 1926-1934
Bob Elson (WGN), 1930-1942
Jack Brickhouse (WGN), 1943
Bob Elson, 1944-1970
Harry Caray, 1971-1981
Joe McConnell, 1982-1984
Lorn Brown, 1985-1988
John Rooney, 1989-2005
Ed Farmer, 2006-present

Radio Analyst
Jack Brickhouse (WGN), 1940-1942
Jack Brickhouse, 1945
Dick Bingham, 1952
Don Wells, 1953-1960
Ralph Kiner, 1961
Milo Hamilton, 1962-1965
Bob Finnegan, 1966
Red Rush, 1967-1970
Ralph Faucher, 1971-1972
Gene Osborn, 1973
Bill Mercer, 1974-1975
Lorn Brown, 1976-1979
Jimmy Piersall, 1977-1980
Mary Shane, 1977
Joe McConnell, 1980-1981
Rich King, 1980-1981
Early Wynn, 1982-1983
Lorn Brown, 1983-1984
Del Crandall, 1985-1988
Wayne Hagin, 1989-1991
Ed Farmer, 1992-2005
Chris Singleton, 2006-2007
Steve Stone, 2008
Darrin Jackson, 2009-present

Friday, August 6, 2010

On Fire

     One hundred and four years ago today, on August 6, 1906, the Cubs beat the Giants in New York by a score of 3-1. Their record was now an enviable 69-30 (.697), and they led the defending world-champion New Yorkers by 5½ games. But better was yet to come.
     The Cubs won the next two days as well, making it three in a row. They traveled across town to Brooklyn and swept four from the Dodgers. Then they returned home to Chicago, where they swept three more from the Dodgers, then beat the Giants on August 18 to extend their winning streak to 11.
     The Cubs lost to the Giants, 7-0, on August 19. Then they won 14 in a row.
     They lost to the Cardinals, 5-2, on September 2. Then they won 12 more in a row.
     The Cubs’ 5-1 victory over the Pirates on September 16 was their 37th in the past 39 games. They had lost only twice in a stretch of games that represented, in those days, more than a quarter of the season. The Cubs’ record now stood at 105-32 (.766). They were 17½ games ahead of New York and 20½ in front of Pittsburgh.
     After the greatest sustained run in baseball history, the Cubs cooled off a bit, winning “only” 11 of 15 for the rest of the season. They finished at 116-36, 20 games ahead of the Giants, with a percentage of .763 that still ranks as the best of all time.
     Of the Cubs’ pitchers, only Bob Wicker compiled a losing record. He was 3-5 before being traded on June 2 to St. Louis for Orval Overall, who went 12-3 for the Cubs and became a mainstay for the next several years. The records of the other Cub pitchers were as follows: Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown 26-6; Jack Pfiester 20-8; Ed Reulbach 19-4, Carl Lundgren 17-6; Jack Taylor 12-3; Fred Beebe 6-1. The team earned-run average was 1.75.
     When asked whether he was amazed that the Cubs had won 116 games, Reulbach said, “I wonder how we came to lose 36.”
     The White Sox, no slouches themselves, were propelled to the American League pennant by a 20-game winning streak that overlapped with the first half of the Cubs’ sensational 37-2 run. From August 2 through August 18, the two Chicago clubs combined for a mark of 29-1.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Key Acquisition

The 2010 Cubs were sellers, not buyers, at the trading deadline—hence the departure of lefthander Ted Lilly, a gamer, a leader, and a winner, and as such a poor fit for this year’s club. Sixty-five years ago, however, it was a different story. The midseason acquisition of Hank Borowy sparked the 1945 Cubs to the pennant, their most recent to date.

     On a day off in late July 1945, Cubs manager Charlie Grimm and general manager Jim Gallagher went fishing. When they returned in the wee hours “full of beer” by Gallagher’s own admission, Gallagher’s wife told him that someone from New York had been trying to reach him by phone all afternoon and evening. He dialed the number given and found Larry MacPhail, general manager of the Yankees, on the other end of the line. (He was the grandfather of Andy MacPhail, who was not born yet but would one day occupy the same position with the Cubs.)
     “What will you give us for Borowy?” MacPhail demanded.
     Gallagher could not believe his ears. Hank Borowy, 29, was a mainstay of the Yankee staff, compiling a record of 56-30 since 1942. Then, as now, quality starting pitchers were a precious commodity. This was all the more true given the wartime talent pool.
     “How the hell can you ever get waivers on him?” Gallagher asked.
     “I’ve got the waivers,” MacPhail replied. “Do you want him, or don’t you?”
     By asking for waivers, MacPhail had theoretically made Borowy available to any American League club that was willing to fork over $7,500. But, no doubt suspecting that MacPhail would withdraw Borowy’s name as soon as someone filed a claim on him, the other American League general managers all passed. MacPhail was now free to deal Borowy to a National League club for any mutually agreed-upon price.
     The startled Gallagher acquired Borowy for $97,000 and two minor-league players who were never heard of again. MacPhail’s apparent generosity has been wondered at ever since. One theory holds that he believed Borowy was about to be drafted into the service, another that he assumed recurring blisters on Borowy’s pitching fingers would soon end Hank’s career. Grimm had perhaps the most interesting explanation. “A few years before, when Larry was with the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Grimm said, “he had made a slick deal with the Cubs for [second baseman] Billy Herman. I’ve often thought he showed his appreciation by clearing the way for us to land Borowy.”
     The acquisition would prove to be a godsend for Gallagher and the Cubs. Borowy made 14 starts, going 11-2 with a 2.13 earned-run average. He was 3-1 against the defending champion Cardinals, who finished three games behind the pennant-winning Cubs. “Without Borowy,” teammate Don Johnson said, “we could not have beaten the Cardinals. I think everybody felt that way.”