Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ones That Got Away: Cubs, Part 1

Of the three dozen or so most prominent examples of players, coaches, and/or managers who left Chicago early in their careers and went on to greater glory elsewhere, escapees from the Cubs outnumber those of our other local franchises. The most noteworthy from before World War II are recalled below.

Rube Waddell
Cubs, 1901

     Although he ranks among the greatest lefthanders of all time, Rube Waddell is remembered as much for his eccentricities as for his pitching. For example, he loved to chase fire engines, and would do so even during games. He came to Chicago in 1901 after two partial seasons with Louisville (which was then a major-league club) and a full year with Pittsburgh. He went 13-15 for the Cubs before his erratic behavior got him suspended for the last month of the season.
     Sold to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, Waddell averaged 22 wins over the next six years and became the most proficient strikeout artist the game had ever seen. In 1903, when Waddell struck out 302 batters, no other pitcher in the league struck out even 200. His 349 strikeouts in 1904 established a record that stood for 61 years. He entered the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1946, whereupon Mack said, “I have seen all of the best lefthanders since the late 1890s, but none was greater than Waddell.”

Fred Toney
Cubs, 1911 - 1913

     The man who won the only double no-hitter in major-league history did so against his former teammates. Fred Toney broke in with the Cubs in 1911 and appeared in a total of 34 games between then and 1913, winning four and losing five. He didn't pitch at all in the majors in 1914, but he resurfaced with Cincinnati in 1915 and won 135 games over the next nine years for the Reds, Giants, and Cardinals.
     Toney's best year was 1917, when he racked up 24 wins, including complete-game victories in both ends of a July doubleheader. On May 2 of that year, he outlasted Hippo Vaughn and the Cubs in the greatest pitchers' duel of all time. Neither Toney nor Vaughn allowed a hit for the first nine innings, but the Reds finally broke through with a run on two hits in the top of the tenth. Toney retired the Cubs 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the frame to record a ten-inning no-hitter.

Cy Williams
Cubs, 1912 - 1917

     On the day after Christmas in 1917, the Cubs traded Cy Williams to Philadelphia for another veteran outfielder, Dode Paskert. Williams, one of the National League’s foremost home-run hitters in 1915 and 1916, was coming off a sub-par season in which he had batted just .241 with 5 homers and 42 RBIs. Paskert was an eleven-year man who had never attained stardom but could be a solid contributor on the right ballclub. The trade looked like a gift in 1918, when Paskert hit .286 and knocked in a career-high 59 runs for the pennant-winning Cubs while Williams continued to struggle. Between 1920 and 1928, however, Williams belted 197 home runs—more than any National Leaguer except Rogers Hornsby. When he retired in 1930, he had hit 251 homers and had topped the 1,000 mark in both runs scored and RBIs. Paskert had already been out of baseball for nine years.

Joe McCarthy
Cubs, 1926 - 1930

     Joe McCarthy never played in the major leagues and had never managed there either when he was hired as skipper by Cubs president Bill Veeck, Sr., in 1926. His veteran players never let him forget either of these facts—they called him “bush leaguer” or “busher.” Nonetheless, McCarthy showed his mettle early on by trading the fabled pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander when it became clear that the two couldn’t get along. The Cubs won the pennant for McCarthy in 1929, but he was fired after a second-place finish in 1930. He hooked on with the New York Yankees, for whom he won eight pennants and seven World Series (including two four-game sweeps of the Cubs). McCarthy’s career total of nine pennants tied the record held by the legendary John McGraw; it was later surpassed by Casey Stengel’s ten. McCarthy and Stengel share the record for world championships with seven. McCarthy ranks first all-time in winning percentage for both the regular season (.615) and World Series (.698). He entered the Hall of Fame in 1957.

Dolph Camilli
Cubs, 1933 - 1934
     The trade of Dolph Camilli to the Philadelphia Phillies for another slugging first baseman, Don Hurst, early in the 1934 season was in keeping with the Cubs’ philosophy of going with tested veteran players. Camilli had played in only 48 big-league games, while Hurst had been a top run producer for years—leading the league with 143 RBIs in 1932. But the trade soon proved a disaster. Hurst played only 51 games for the Cubs, hitting .199, and never appeared in the majors again. Camilli had an eight-year stretch with the Phillies and Dodgers during which he scored 88 or more runs every year, hit 23 or more homers every year, and knocked in 100 runs five times. His league-leading 34 homers and 120 RBIs in 1941 carried Brooklyn to its first pennant in 21 years, and Camilli was selected the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

Eddie Stanky
Cubs, 1943 - 1944

     When the Cubs dealt second baseman Eddie Stanky to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the move attracted little notice, and not only because it occurred on D-Day—June 6, 1944. But “the Brat,” as Stanky was called, soon made his mark. He employed all kinds of tricks to annoy and distract his opponents, and they usually worked. He led the National League in walks three times and in runs scored once, and played a key role with pennant winners in Brooklyn (1947), Boston (1948), and New York (1951). Leo Durocher said that Stanky “can't hit, can't throw, can't run—all he can do is beat you.”
     “If you had the bases loaded in the ninth with two out, and the pennant depended on it,” Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey used to ask his rookies every spring training, “who would you want up to bat for you?” The youngsters would name the usual suspects—Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, etc. Then Rickey would exclaim, “Wrong! You’d want Ed Stanky!”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dave Duerson, 1950 - 2011

     When rookie safety Dave Duerson, a third-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, was informed that he had made the Bears' roster at the close of training camp in 1983, he did not receive the good news from defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in quite the way that he'd imagined. He wasn't told, "Welcome aboard; we're glad to have you!" Instead, the crusty Ryan told him, "You better be good. I had to cut my best friend to make room for you." Ryan was referring to Doug Plank, the human missile whose uniform number had given the famed "46" defense its name.
     Duerson, who passed away last week at the age of 50, turned out to be pretty good. He played seven years for the Bears, the last five as a starter. He made the Pro Bowl in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988. In 1986, he set a record for defensive backs by recording seven sacks. In 1987, he received the NFL's Man of the Year award, which goes to the player who best combines excellence on the field with a commitment to community service (the award was renamed for Walter Payton after his passing in 1999).
     Duerson "stepped in and did a great job for us," said Bears head coach Mike Ditka. It was no fault of Duerson's that he was not as famous in Chicago as most four-time Pro Bowlers would have been, because the Bears of those days were well stocked with larger-than-life characters (starting with Ditka himself) who, intentionally or not, tended to attract the spotlight.
     After leaving the Bears, Duerson served as a backup with the New York Giants and the Phoenix Cardinals, wrapping up his 11-year career in 1993. He was one of only three 1985 Bears to earn two Super Bowl rings. It is well known and still lamented that the Super Bowl XX champions never returned to the pinnacle--but Duerson picked up a second ring with the 1990 Giants, as did Richard Dent with the 1994 49ers and Jim McMahon with the 1996 Packers.
     The intelligent, ambitious Duerson became a successful entrepreneur after his playing days, and for some time he was viewed as a role model for retired athletes wishing to make a smooth transition to other careers. Duerson later suffered reversals that included financial difficulties and a domestic-battery complaint in 2005, but former teammates who saw him at the 1985 Bears' reunion last November said he looked fit and seemed to be in good spirits. They were stunned to learn that his death has been ruled a suicide. "I knew he had some problems," Ditka said, "I knew he lost his business. I knew all that. [But] it's just a tragedy."
     "For someone to leave us at age 50, very young, active, and in great shape, that's tragic," said former linebacker Jim Morrissey. "It's way too early for someone to pass. We were just hoping he would have said something, that we could have helped."
     Although Duerson did not reach out for help himself, it's possible that his untimely passing will eventually help others. He donated his brain to further research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological disease that has afflicted many former NFL players.

Friday, February 18, 2011

'Twas Twenty Years Ago: Chicago Sports Memories of 1991

MICHAEL JORDAN (foreground)
     After losing the Eastern Conference finals to the Detroit Pistons in both 1989 and 1990, the Bulls vowed that it would not happen again in 1991. They won 20 out of 21 games during a late-season surge that saw them overtake Detroit for the division title. Michael Jordan, in his seventh season, earned his second Most Valuable Player award, while fourth-year men Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant emerged as key contributors.
     In the postseason, the Bulls made quick work of the New York Knicks (three games to none) and Philadelphia 76ers (four games to one) to set up the opportunity that they had waited for all year: a rematch with Detroit in the conference finals.
     The Bulls not only won the series; they swept it in four straight games. They trailed for just 13 of the 192 minutes played. Detroit coach Chuck Daly frankly admitted that his team had no answer for the Bulls' quickness, athleticism, and desire. As the clock ticked down in the final game, Detroit's Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Mark Aguirre, and Dennis Rodman embarrassed themselves more thoroughly than the Bulls' dominance had. They left the bench and slinked into the locker room before the game was over. "[The Bulls] still haven't proved anything," Rodman said. "They've got to win about five or six championships before they're a great team."
     Even by Rodman's impossibly lofty standard, of course, the Bulls qualified for greatness before the decade was out.
     They dispatched Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers with surprising ease in the NBA Finals to capture their first world championship. Jordan cradled the trophy in his arms and wept for joy, but also for relief that he was no longer a superstar whose team had never won a title. He didn't know yet that this first ascent to the pinnacle was not the culmination of his career, but just the beginning of a new phase.

     The Blackhawks sailed through the 1990-91 season with a record of 49-23-8, racking up 106 points and capturing the President's Trophy as NHL regular-season champions. Ed Belfour won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and the Vezina Trophy as the league's outstanding goalie. Laconic veteran right wing Steve Larmer and brash young center Jeremy Roenick were the club's top offensive threats, and Chicago native Chris Chelios, newly arrived from Montreal in a trade for star center Denis Savard, anchored the backline. The Hawks went into the postseason with justifiably high hopes—but they failed to advance beyond the first round. They lost the first series to the Minnesota North Stars, four games to two.

     In Mike Ditka's 10th year as their head coach, the Bears went 11-5 and qualified for the NFL playoffs as a wild-card entry. The streaky Bears won their first four games, lost two, won five, lost two, won two, and lost one. Somewhat infamously, they were bombed 52-14 by San Francisco in the season finale on Monday Night Football. The 49ers (who finished at 10-6) had already been eliminated from the postseason, and they took out their frustration on the Bears before a national audience.
     The Bears lost to Dallas, 17-13, at Soldier Field in the divisional playoff round. It turned out to be their last playoff game under Ditka, whose postseason record ended up at 6-6. The Bears sent five players to the Pro Bowl: running back Neal Anderson, center Jay Hilgenberg, linebacker Mike Singletary, strong safety Shaun Gayle, and free safety Mark Carrier.

     The White Sox moved into the new Comiskey Park (now known as U.S. Cellular Field), directly across 35th Street from the parking lot which occupied the site of their previous home. They drew over 2.9 million to the new park, not just breaking the franchise attendance record, but shattering it by 800,000. Coming off an excellent showing in 1990, the Sox slipped a bit in the standings, going 87-75 to finish eight games behind the world-champion Minnesota Twins. On the plus side, a pair of 23-year-olds, first baseman Frank Thomas and third baseman Robin Ventura, established themselves as rising stars. Both would be fixtures on the South Side for years to come.
     On August 11, 21-year-old lefty Wilson Alvarez made his White Sox debut a memorable one, tossing a no-hitter at Baltimore. (He had started one game for the Texas Rangers in 1989, becoming the first person born in the 1970s to play in the major leagues.) The 7-0 victory put the Sox 20 games over .500, but they proceeded to drop 15 of the next 17 and never threatened thereafter.

     The Cubs came into the season with three new big-name, big-money free agents on the roster—outfielder George Bell, starting pitcher Danny Jackson, and closer Dave Smith. None of them performed up to expectations, and manager Don Zimmer didn't last through May. Club president Don Grenesko mentioned to reporters that Zimmer, like every employee of the Tribune Company, would be subject to an annual performance evaluation. When Zimmer (who was not familiar with or agreeable to the practices of corporate "suits" like Grenesko) took offense and demanded that he receive his evaluation then and there, Grenesko obliged by firing him.
     Zimmer's replacement was Iowa Cubs skipper Jim Essian, a catcher on the White Sox' "South Side Hit Men" team of 1977. Essian guided the Cubs to a 59-63 mark for the remainder of the season and never managed in the majors again. General manager Jim Frey was also shown the door after the season, and he too was replaced by a White Sox alumnus, Larry Himes.

     Owned by suburban car dealer Jeff Sullivan and trained by Chicago fixture Ernie Poulos, Black Tie Affair won his last six starts—all in graded-stakes competition—to take home Horse of the Year honors. He was the first Chicago-based Horse of the Year since the 1950s, he remains the last to date, and (given the lamentable state of racing in Illinois), he might well have been the last of all time.

     They passed away in 1991: William "Dick the Bruiser" Afflis, 62, professional wrestler; Luke Appling, 83, White Sox shortstop 1930-1950, Hall of Famer; Smoky Burgess, 64, Cubs catcher 1949 and 1951, White Sox pinch hitter 1964-1967; Leo Durocher, 86, Cubs manager 1966-1972; Harold "Red" Grange, 87, Bears halfback 1925 and 1929-1934, Hall of Famer; Paul Thompson, 84, Blackhawks left wing 1931-1939 and head coach 1938-1945.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chuck Tanner, 1929 - 2011

     Chuck Tanner played for the Cubs, managed the White Sox, and approached everything he did with infectious optimism. He passed away last Friday at the age of 81.
     Tanner made his big-league debut as a player for the Milwaukee Braves on Opening Day in 1955, cracking a home run on the very first pitch he saw. The blow did not portend greatness, however, for Tanner's eight-year career produced totals of 21 homers, 98 runs scored, and 105 runs batted in, to go with a .261 batting average. More than half of Tanner's hits, homers, and RBIs came in a two-year stint with the Cubs in 1957 and 1958.
     Tanner resurfaced in the majors when he was named skipper of the White Sox late in the 1970 season. After 17 consecutive winning seasons from 1951 to 1967, the Sox had fallen on hard times. They bottomed out in 1970, losing a club-record 106 games while drawing only 495,000 fans to Comiskey Park. The Sox went 3-13 under Tanner as they limped to the finish line.
     It looked like more of the same in 1971, as the White Sox lost 38 of their first 60 games and occupied last place into July. But the Sox went 12 games over .500 for the rest of the way to finish at a respectable 79-83. Tanner's positive attitude and relentless cheerleading helped, but not as much as his decision to convert knuckle-balling lefty reliever Wilbur Wood into a starter. Wood won 22 games and finished third in the voting for the Cy Young award (for the rest of Tanner's tenure as manager, Wood led the league in games started every year; he won 106 games in five seasons). A pair of 20-year-olds, lefty Terry Forster and righty Rich "Goose" Gossage, anchored the bullpen, and third baseman Bill Melton led the league with 33 home runs.
     Thanks to the Sox' improved play on the field and the arrival of the ultimate baseball-and-beer salesman, Harry Caray, in the broadcast booth, attendance increased nearly 70 percent.
     In 1972, first baseman Dick Allen was acquired in a trade for pitcher Tommy John. Having worn out his welcome with three other clubs in the past three years, Allen flourished with the White Sox. He skipped batting practice, traveled separately from his teammates, and smoked on the bench, but Tanner didn't mind. He blithely admitted that he had one set of rules for Allen and another for the rest of the team. The moody slugger responded with a then-club-record 37 homers to go with 113 RBIs and a .308 average and won the Most Valuable Player award as the Sox finished just five and a half games behind the Oakland A's, who won the world championship. Tanner was named American League Manager of the Year.
     A particular highlight of that season was a doubleheader sweep of the Yankees on June 4 before a Bat Day crowd of 51,904 at Comiskey Park. In the nightcap, the Sox were trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth when Allen blasted a three-run pinch-hit homer into the upper deck in left field.
     The White Sox were relevant again. Attendance ratcheted up to 1.17 million in 1972 and 1.3 million (third highest in club history at the time) in 1973.
     Tanner was let go when Bill Veeck reacquired the franchise after the 1975 season. He managed the A's for one season, then piloted his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, for nine years, winning the World Series in 1979. He concluded his career with the Atlanta Braves in 1988. Phil Garner, who played for Tanner with the Pirates and later became a manager himself, said, "Chuck Tanner taught me nearly all I know about baseball."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Robinson vs. LaMotta: "The Second St. Valentine's Day Massacre"

     The sensational middleweight title bout between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta on February 14, 1951, went down in Chicago boxing lore as “the second St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
     When Robinson stepped into the Chicago Stadium ring that night, his record as a professional was a stupendous 122-1. LaMotta was responsible for the “1”; he had defeated Sugar Ray in the second of their eventual five meetings. Now, after six years, their paths crossed again because Robinson had outgrown the welterweight class, of which he was world champion, in two ways—it was difficult for him to stay under the 147-pound weight limit, and it was impossible for him to find worthy challengers.
     Both fighters were 29 years old, but that was all they had in common. Robinson was tall, lean, lithe, and even elegant; he was now carrying 154 pounds on his five-foot-11 frame, but his chest was only 36½ inches and his waist 28½. LaMotta was built like a fireplug; though only five-foot-eight, he sported a 42-inch chest and 33-inch waist. After strenuously reducing for several weeks, he came into the fight just half a pound below the middleweight maximum of 160.
     The fight drew a crowd of 14,802 and a national television audience of millions. From the opening bell, LaMotta forced the issue. The man later portrayed by Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull stalked Robinson, battering him with body blows and forcing him to retreat from lefts to the head. LaMotta dominated for the first eight rounds.
     The tide turned in the ninth. Now LaMotta’s spirit was willing, but not his body. All of a sudden he was a stationary target for Robinson’s harassing jabs and punishing shots to the midsection throughout the ninth and 10th rounds. LaMotta flashed back to life in the 11th, briefly backing Robinson into a corner and flailing at him with both hands. When Sugar Ray broke free, he took command for good. “I came out fast and got going after that,” he said.
     “LaMotta was finished,” Wilfrid Smith wrote, “but he would not quit. Throughout the 12th round Robinson hit the fading champion with either hand. He jabbed and hooked, and all that saved LaMotta was an ingrained desire to walk toward the man who dealt him punishment.” LaMotta did not land a meaningful punch in the 12th, but he absorbed plenty. Late in the round, Robinson was hammering him so savagely that George Gainford, Robinson’s manager, yelled, “Stop the fight! Stop the fight!” Referee Frank Sikora, however, did not act.
     LaMotta had never been knocked down in his career, and against Robinson he retained this distinction by sheer stubbornness. By the 13th round he was completely defenseless. For two minutes Sikora glanced nervously at the Illinois boxing commissioners sitting ringside, as if looking for advice, while Robinson continued to pound LaMotta. Jake was bleeding from the mouth and from the left eye when he staggered back against the ropes with his arms at his sides. Finally, Sikora moved in and stopped the contest. Robinson was awarded a technical knockout. It was later suggested that LaMotta’s reputation for occasional brutality in the ring had led Sikora and the other officials, perhaps unconsciously, to allow him a taste of his own medicine before calling a halt to the carnage.
     Despite taking a terrible beating, LaMotta remained defiant. “I didn’t go down, Ray,” he told Robinson before leaving the ring. “You didn’t get me down.”
     LaMotta admitted that this had been the toughest of his six fights with Sugar Ray. “I just ran out of gas,” he said. He had lost 17 pounds in the past few weeks, including four pounds the day before the bout, in order to get under the 160-pound limit. The drastic weight loss had sapped his strength, and no fighter could hope to beat Sugar Ray Robinson at less than a hundred percent. After the fight, it took more than two hours for the exhausted LaMotta to summon the energy to get dressed and leave the Stadium. Robinson spent a portion of that time soaking his left hand in a bucket of ice. “No bones broken,” Dr. Vincent Nardiello assured reporters. “He just hit Jake so hard and so often with it that it’s thoroughly bruised.”
Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bears Hall of Famers

     The list of Chicago Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was longer than that of any other franchise even before it was lengthened with the recent election of Richard Dent. When Dent is enshrined in Canton this summer, he will join 31 other Bears who have been so honored.
     Some of them are names--such as Halas, Grange, Nagurski, Luckman, Butkus, Sayers, and Payton--that are legendary even to the most casual fans. Others are not as vividly remembered today. All helped to make the Bears the flagship franchise of the most successful sports league in the world.
     Below is the complete list of Hall of Famers who spent at least part of their careers with the Bears (asterisks indicate those who were honored chiefly for their achievements with other teams).

Doug Atkins, defensive end, 1955-1966 (inducted 1982)

*George Blanda, quarterback/kicker, 1949-1958 (inducted 1981)

Dick Butkus, linebacker, 1965-1973 (inducted 1979)

*Guy Chamberlin, end, 1920-1921 (inducted 1965)

George Connor, tackle/linebacker, 1948-1955 (inducted 1975)

*Jimmy Conzelman, halfback/end, 1920 (inducted 1964)

Richard Dent, defensive end, 1983-1993, 1995 (inducted 2011)

Mike Ditka, tight end, 1961-1966; head coach, 1982-1992 (inducted 1988)

*John "Paddy" Driscoll, quarterback, 1926-1929; head coach, 1956-1957 (inducted 1965)

Jim Finks, general manager, 1974-1982 (inducted 1995)

Danny Fortmann, guard, 1936-1943 (inducted 1965)

Bill George, linebacker, 1952-1965 (inducted 1974)

Harold "Red" Grange, halfback, 1925, 1929-1934 (inducted 1963)

George Halas, end, 1920-1929; head coach, 1920-1929, 1933-1942, 1946-1955, 1958-1967; owner, 1921-1983 (inducted 1963)

Dan Hampton, defensive tackle/defensive end, 1979-1990 (inducted 2002)

Ed Healey, tackle, 1922-1927 (inducted 1964)

Bill Hewitt, end, 1932-1936 (inducted 1971)

Stan Jones, offensive guard/defensive tackle, 1954-1965 (inducted 1991)

*Walt Kiesling, guard, 1934 (inducted 1966)

*Bobby Layne, quarterback, 1948 (inducted 1967)

Sid Luckman, quarterback, 1939-1950 (inducted 1965)

William "Link" Lyman, tackle, 1926-1928, 1930-1931, 1933-1934 (inducted 1964)

George McAfee, halfback, 1940-1941, 1945-1950 (inducted 1966)

George Musso, guard/tackle, 1933-1944 (inducted 1962)

Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski, fullback/tackle, 1930-1937, 1943 (inducted 1963)

*Alan Page, defensive tackle, 1978-1981 (inducted 1988)

Walter Payton, running back, 1975-1987 (inducted 1993)

Gale Sayers, running back, 1965-1971 (inducted 1977)

Mike Singletary, linebacker, 1981-1992 (inducted 1998)

Joe Stydahar, tackle, 1936-1942, 1945-1946 (inducted 1967)

George Trafton, center, 1920-1921, 1923-1932 (inducted 1964)

Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, center, 1940-1952 (inducted 1966)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Colonel Now Ranks as a Hall of Famer

Richard Dent
     Col. Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame used to say, "We do chicken right." His point was that the company did not allow itself to be distracted by offering hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, or other fast-food staples. KFC focused on one thing and did it very well.
     Early in his career with the Bears, Richard Dent picked up the nickname "Colonel" because it was said that he, like Sanders, focused on one thing (in his case, rushing the opposing quarterback) and did it very well.
     Dent's ability to rush the passer made him the most proficient sacker of quarterbacks in Bears history and the sixth most proficient in NFL history. It earned him four trips to the Pro Bowl, a first-team All-Pro nod in 1985, and the Most Valuable Player award for Super Bowl XX. This past Saturday, it also earned him election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
     Extraordinarily lithe and agile for his size (six-foot-five and 265 pounds), Dent relied more on quickness than brute strength to go around blockers. "He could play at a level that I don't care who you were," former NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden said, "you couldn't block Richard Dent."
     Perhaps the man who came closest was Dent's teammate, Jimbo Covert. After he was informed of his election to the Hall of Fame, Dent gave a shout-out to the former All-Pro offensive tackle who might have ended up in Canton himself but for the injuries that shortened his career. "Practicing against him every day," Dent said of Covert, "made the games seem easy."
     When he is inducted into the Hall this summer, Dent will become the third member of the 1985 Bears' defense to be enshrined, having been preceded by Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton.
     Buddy Ryan, the coordinator of that incomparable defensive unit, has argued that Dent's moniker is misleading, for "the Colonel" didn't simply take off after the quarterback on every play. Ryan often assigned Dent to run away from the quarterback to cover potential receivers. "I used him in coverage a lot, and most defensive ends just rush the passer," Ryan said. "But he paid the price so we could run the defense we wanted to run. He could have had a lot more sacks if I hadn't used him in coverage."
     Even when Dent was otherwise occupied, opposing quarterbacks were far from safe. Hampton, Steve McMichael, Mike Hartenstine, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson, and Singletary would be swarming from all directions. "It was," New England guard Ron Wooten said, "like trying to beat the tide back with a broom."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Voices of Summer: The Cubs on Radio

     With two feet of snow on the ground in Chicagoland and the temperature straining to get above zero, it seems a good time to turn our thoughts to summer--and baseball broadcasts have been one of the key features of summer for the past nine decades or so.
     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 afternoons and evenings from long ago. None other becomes virtually a family member for those who closely follow the team.
     The Cubs began broadcasting their games on radio in 1924, on television in 1948. In the early years, the club did not grant exclusive rights to any station, so fans could choose among multiple stations carrying the same ballgame at the same time with with different announcers. WGN has been closely identified with the Cubs for many years, and younger fans might be surprised to learn that it has been the exclusive home of the Cubs on radio "only" since 1959. Both WGN and the Cubs were owned by the Tribune Company from 1981 until the Cubs were sold to the Ricketts family in 2009.
     Below is the complete list of Cubs broadcasters on radio.

Radio Stations
Various, 1924-1943
WJJD, 1944
WIND, 1945- 1958
WGN, 1959-present

Radio Play-by-Play (era of multiple stations)
Hal Totten, 1924-1935 (WMAQ), 1936-1943 (WCFL)
Quin Ryan, 1925-1927 (WGN)
John O'Hara, 1928-1933 (WCFL), 1936 (WJJD)
Bob Elson, 1928-1941 (WGN)
Pat Flanagan, 1929-1940 (WBBM), 1941-1943 (WJJD)
Russ Hodges, 1935-1938 (WIND)
John Harrington, 1937-1938 (WJJD)
Charlie Grimm, 1939-1940 (WJJD)
Jack Brickhouse, 1942-1943 (WGN)

Radio Play-by-Play (era of single station)
Bert Wilson, 1944-1955
Jack Quinlan, 1956-1964
Vince Lloyd, 1965-1986
Dewayne Staats, 1987-1989
Thom Brennaman, 1990-1995
Pat Hughes, 1996-present

Radio Analyst
Bud Campbell, 1951-1953
Bob Elson, 1954
Jack Quinlan, 1955
Gene Elston, 1955-1957
Milo Hamilton, 1956-1957
Lou Boudreau, 1958-1959
Charlie Grimm, 1960
Lou Boudreau, 1961-1987
Jim Frey, 1987
Dave Nelson, 1988-1989
Bob Brenly, 1990-1991
Ron Santo, 1990-2010

Duly Noted: Harry Caray frequently worked on radio for the Cubs during his 16 years (1982-1997) with the club, usually handling play-by-play for three innings per game. He is not listed above because his main area of responsibility was the TV booth. Or was it singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chet Walker's Big Day

     Under their no-nonsense young coach Dick Motta, the Bulls became one of the NBA’s best teams in the early 1970s, winning 50 or more games in four straight seasons. One of their stars of those years was Chet “the Jet” Walker, the silky forward who along with Jerry Sloan was the spiritual leader of the team. In 1971-72, the Bulls rang up a 57-25 record, the best in franchise history prior to the 1990-91 world championship club. It was a great year for Walker, whose tenth NBA season proved to be one of his best. When he was inexplicably left out of the All-Star Game that year (he was included in 1970, 1971, 1973, and 1974), teammates and fans were incensed, but Walker said nothing. He preferred to make his statements on the court.
     On the Sunday afternoon of February 6, 1972, Walker made a most emphatic statement. He scored 56 points against the Cincinnati Royals at the Stadium, breaking Bob Love’s club record of 47 and his own personal high of 44. It was also the top single-game output in the NBA for the season.
     The crowd of 15,130 was largely composed of Boy Scouts who were enjoying a special outing. They saw Walker score 16, 13, 14, and 13 points in the four quarters as the Bulls romped to a 119-94 win. Cincinnati coach Bob Cousy tried matching up Nate Williams, then Tom Van Arsdale, and finally Ken Durrett against Walker, but none of the three could stem the onslaught. “I don’t think he [Cousy] has a defensive forward who can stay with Chet,” Motta said afterwards. “If they concentrated on Chet, Love would have the same kind of game.”
     Motta removed Walker from the game with ten minutes left and the Bulls safely ahead. By that time Chet had scored 43 points. As the fourth quarter wound down, someone passed a note to Motta informing him that Walker was only one point shy of a career high and four short of the club record. Motta put him back in with 5:05 remaining. “I don’t usually do that,” Motta said, “because I think [individual] records are horseshit. But nobody in the world deserves it more than Chet. He’s given me more than I deserve.”
     Guard Bobby Weiss, who had been feeding Walker most of the day anyway, now went to him every time the Bulls got the ball. “Early, we were going to whoever was open,” Weiss said, “as we always do. We were feeding Chet to win then, because he was in position for the shots. It wasn’t until the last few minutes that we disrupted things to look for him.” Walker established his personal best when Sam Lacey was whistled for goaltending with 4:28 left. A little over a minute later, a 12-foot jumper equaled Love’s mark. Finally, with 2:44 Walker made a spectacular move for a layup and was fouled by Durrett in the process. He coolly sank the free throw to give him a three-point play that advanced his total for the game to 50.
     “I knew I was scoring a lot,” said Walker, “but I didn’t know about the record until Benny [Bentley] announced it to the crowd.”
     When Motta took him out for good with 21 seconds left, the tally stood at 56. As Walker came off to a standing ovation, the first man to shake his hand was Love, whose club record he had surpassed. “He’s a great player,” Love said, “and everybody’s very happy about it. One thing about this team—there’s no animosity. We’re very close.” The Bulls were also very good, but their title aspirations were regularly thwarted by the Western Conference’s two great teams of those days, the Milwaukee Bucks, who won 63 games that year, and the Los Angeles Lakers, who won 69 (including 33 in a row).
     To this day, Chet the Jet is one of only two players in Bulls history to have scored 50 or more points in a single game. He accomplished the feat once, and the other player--whose name you can probably guess--did it 37 times.