Today's thoughts

Category: Sherm Lollar (Page 1 of 7)

Chicago White Sox Catcher

Retirement is not without Hassles: Coins #2538

When I was a kid about 10 years old, I became enamored with an older neighbor who collected coins and baseball cards. He showed me a 1910 Lincoln penny and told me about the rarer 1909-S-VDB. I was immediately fascinated and decided to begin a collection of my own. To make a long story short, I’m still collecting baseball cards but haven’t added to my pennies in years and never found a 1909-S-VDB. I’ve searched everywhere and have had several opportunities to buy one. Now, they are worth over a $1,000 and decidedly not worth my investment. In fact, I could just buy a fake one and who would know but me!

As a result of baseball and coins, the number 10 became special to me. In fact, my favorite player, Sherm Lollar, who played in the 1959 World Series, wore #10. I still collect his memorabilia, but coins, even dated 1910, are no longer a fascination. As a result, I’ve decided to sell all my coins and maybe buy more baseball cards. 

I currently have a Lincoln cent collection, Washington Quarters (state editions), and an assortment of change that my mother-in-law gave me. She hoarded Kennedy half-dollars, silver dollars, $2 bills, Susan B. Anthony dollars, and wheat pennies. They were kept in these cloth bank pouches that tie at the top similar to what you see in old time bank robberies. I’ve had these bags in my sock drawer for years. As I’ve searched through them, I’ve also found some Barber and Mercury dimes, Liberty & Franklin halves, a few Sacagawea dollars, Buffalo nickels, foreign currency, and a couple Morgan & Ike dollars. It’s a random assortment of coins that need a new owner. 

There’s a coin shop down the street that I’ll be visiting next week, probably to or from my chiropractor appointments. I’ll be lucky to get $1000, with a face value of $325, unless I’ve missed something during the course of valuation. It kept me busy yesterday, while there’s a sense of satisfactory closure to a childhood chapter of treasure hunting. I’m done hunting and gathering, it’s time to simplify and organize. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Admission is Free #2532

I’ve spent the last week reorganizing the Mike Museum. There’s now a small, framed painting of Emmett Kelly, the famous clown, done by my grandmother 50-some-years ago. I’ve also been watching the Bill Walton 30-for-30 documentary, “The Luckiest Guy in the World,” so I got down the Trailblazers basketball, wondering if it had his signature – no. It’s actually from the 2007-2008 season, long after their 1977 ABA Championship. All the Indy 500 memorabilia is back in place after last week’s race brunch. The home office is now a hodge podge of these items that I call “my museum.”

There are actually very few personal things of mine on display. Most are hidden away in binders, but there are a few sales and Toastmasters awards on the shelf, along with some of my dad’s. My pledge father’s Sigma Chi fraternity paddle is hung on the wall next to my wife’s Pi Beta Phi sorority paddle. The brass 1919 National Cash register, a reward from my first job, is not filled with money but rather dog tags, wrist bands, wine corks, playing cards, batteries, bottle openers, and other silly memories. Yes, I’m a hoarder, but everything is somewhat organized. Thousands of ticket stubs are encased behind glass. Books fill the spaces between models and bobbleheads, signed by their authors. A world globe reminds me of our travels. Jerseys, photos, and autographs are framed on the walls, even a Portland Timbers championship scarf carefully hung, plus baseball bats and balls housed in plexiglass cases. All my first-name heroes like Sherm, Reggie, Walter, Yogi, Ernie, Bobby and Babe line the walls and shelves. My favorite teams like the White Sox, Cubs, Hoosiers, Blazers, Ducks, Beavers, Boilers, Bears, and Pacers are all represented around me, as well as the venues where they played such as Comiskey Park and Assembly Hall.

The most important things, however, are mostly in binders, hidden away from view. There are thousands of sports cards, press passes, pennants, pins, photos, clippings, magazines, and posters. To many people this would all be junk, but to me it’s a lifetime. I spend many fulfilling hours keeping this stuff in order, as the museum curator. The Sherm Lollar collection, for example, includes over 300 objects from 1945 to present. It may very well be the largest in the world, but no one probably cares but me. Few people know who he is, and the baseball Hall of Fame has certainly forgotten his catching accomplishments. Today’s sport fans certainly know of Shohei Ohtani. His collection in my museum now includes in excess of 200 baseball cards. “Excess” is probably a good word to describe my hobby and Mike’s Museum, where admission is free. 

Old Sport Shorts: Sell not Accumulate #2524

It’s the middle of May and the start of the WNBA regular season, while the NBA playoffs begin to wind down. The Indiana Fever and Caitlin Clark had a tough debut against the Connecticut Sun, while the Indiana Pacers failed to maintain their winning momentum and fell badly to the Knicks. Shohei Ohtani had another big night at the plate for the Dodgers, while the Cubs lost to the Braves and the Sox split with the Nats. The Phillies and Kyle Schwarber were the first team to 30-wins, while the White Sox joined the Marlins in the 30-loss club. I.U. baseball plays the final series of the regular season against Michigan. Alex Palou won the Indy Grand Prix, in preparation for the upcoming Indy 500. That’s about it for me in the world of sports. 

I just added my 250th item to the Sherm Lollar collection, a couple of more magazine clippings from 1947 and 1962. His #10 White Sox uniform hangs in my office, along with a photo/plague, catcher’s mitt, signed ball, and tribute cups. The rest of the items are organized from 1945-1970 in three big binders, the span of his career as a player, coach, and manager. It may very well be the largest collection of his memorabilia in the world – if anyone cares. I still contend that he should be in Cooperstown, but that includes a long list of worthy candidates. He’s been in my heart since childhood but died of cancer at age 53.

My other collection is baseball cards, also mainly in binders. I did get a bit carried away with my Topps Now purchases of Shohei Ohtani cards. I’ve captured his U.S. career starting with his rookie debut with the Angels and leading up to the more recent Dodgers. He’s wowed us with his pitching and hitting, often compared to Babe Ruth. This year he’s on a quest for .400 and the triple crown, taking a break from pitching after surgery. I’ve amassed about 125 of his cards, captured at various stages of his young career. They are for sale and on display at a local Venice card shop, Blue Breaks, and have even been to Japan in search for a buyer.

I maintain binders full of Cubs and White Sox cards, that follow the careers of Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, Chris Sale, Joan Moncada, Luis Roberts, Elroy Jiminez, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and the 1959 American League Champion White Sox that began my interest in card collecting. I’m at the point in life now where I’m more in the mood to get rid of things rather than accumulate. 

 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Life by the Numbers – Part Two #2434

I Love keeping lists and have kept a diary for the last 25-years, so it’s hard to argue the accuracy of my life data. This history is admittedly all about bragging rights, but a good way to summarize my amazing life at age 72. Hopefully, I can add to my list as time goes on. It is impossible to account for all the fine dining establishments I’ve frequented or all the movies and books that I’ve read. The countdown from a million to zero starts here:


Done at least 1,000,000 lifetime pushups. 

Countless Marriott Points used.

Logged over 16,000 lifetime running miles.

Achieved 5,500+ consecutive running days.

Written over 1000 poems.

Attended over 350 Sporting events.

Purchased 340 Limoges Boxes.

Saw over 300 Concerts.

Own 275 Sherm Lollar related collectables.

Watched over 200 Broadway Musicals.

Weigh 195 pounds. 

Have 210 Shohei Ohtani baseball cards for sale.

Own more than 150 pairs of cuff links.

Visited over 125 wineries and a couple distilleries.

100-Plus Toastmaster Speeches given to earn DTM.

Enjoyed 72 years of life and still counting.

49 States traveled, so far.

37 Baseball Stadiums (including Minor League).

35 Countries*

Moved 32 times.

Snow Skied at 26 Resorts.

27 visits to Disney/Universal.

Over 20 Racetracks.

15 times to Vegas.

11 times to Hawaii.

Sold ads on 10 different radio stations and 4 print publications.

Attended 9 Final Fours and 2 Maui Classics.

Only 9 cars owned, plus a snowmobile and golf cart.

Bought 8 different homes in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Oregon, and Florida.

7 Cruises (5 Ocean 2 River).

Played in 6 different organized sports but not well.

6 Continents*

6 Dogs.

5 times to Italy and France.

4 Cats.

Worked at 3 TV Stations (ran 2)

Wrote 3 Unpublished Novels.

Studied at 3 Colleges to earn Marketing B.S.

3 Grandchildren nearby.

2 Marriages.

2 Marathons.

2 Grade schools.

2 Stepdaughters.

2 Cubs World Series games.

2 White Sox World Series games.

Attended Albion College and Indiana University.

1 College World Series

Pledged 1 Fraternity (Sigma Chi)

1 Son.

0 Super Bowls.

 

*includes 2024 Cross-Atlantic Cruise.

 

 

 

Old Sport Shorts: Mr. October or November #2420

Jose Altuve has added to his postseason legacy, cracking his 26th playoff HR (a 3-run blast) in the ninth, leading the defending Champion Astros to a 3-2 series margin over the Texas Rangers. This was after Texas had won the first two games. Talk about “clutch” in his quest for “Mr. October” status. (See Post #2418). He moves within 3 of all-time post-season HR leader Manny Ramirez, tarnished by two suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs. Moments later, Kyle Schwarber of the Phillies put one over the right center wall to surpass fellow left-handed sluggers Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle in the post-season Home Run Derby, his 19th from that side of the plate and fourth of in this year’s NLCS, all in the lead-off position, another record. In addition, Kyle ties right-handers Albert Puljos and George Springer, surpassing Carlos Correa and Nelson Cruz, establishing himself as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.

Schwarber can it the long ball and the dribbler off the end of the bat that led to the first run in game 5. The question then became can the Phillies hold on to the early lead for once or will the DBacks stage another comeback? It’s an understatement that reliever Craig Kimbrel has been a disappointment as he was for the Cubs and White Sox whenever I watched him pitch. I would doubt he gets another chance in this series if Manager Rob Thomson wants to keep his job. 

In the top of the 6th, Kyle Schwarber, wearing uniform #12, hit another bomb, his 5th of the NLCS and 20th overall, tying Derek Jeter. Harper matched it later in the inning, after stealing home in the first and joining Randy Arozarena as the only two players in history to do both in the same postseason game. These are “Mr. October” feats above and beyond Reggie Jackson!

Before this historical moment, I never paid much attention to the #12 jersey that Schwarber wore, unlike my childhood fascination with Sherm Lollar back in the 60s who donned the #10 that I since favored. Both Lollar and Schwarber were catchers, by the way, although Kyle now serves a DH role, and was used by the Cubs as an outfielder. I looked back through some of Schwarbs baseball cards, dating back to the I.U. days (2012-2014 when he hit 40 homers for the Hoosiers and wore #10 like Sherm). His USA Baseball, collegiate national team number was 44 in 2014, the year he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. Schwarber may have requested #10 when the Cubbies called him up, but that uniform number was retired in honor of Ron Santo back in 2003. 

The Phillies held on to win game five 6-1 and will have two more chances for a World Series spot when they return to Citizens Bank Park. Unlike the previous night when Schwarber’s run-scoring walk should have been the game winner prior to Kimbrel’s blown save, the bullpen did its job. Hopefully, Philly will advance and likely get a second chance against the Astros, allowing Schwarber and Harper more chances to rewrite the record books and ultimately outdo Houston’s esteemed advisor, “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson. There could even be a “Mr. November should this year’s series lasts longer than four games!

 

Old Sport Shorts: Mr. October #2418

This is a post that I hope to continue to expand upon, as Kyle Schwarber of the Phillies becomes the second player to have his own category on my blog, along with Sherm Lollar. Neither of these guys are exactly household names, but they are near and dear to me. I’ve been following Schwarber since his playing days at my alma mater Indiana University. Lollar was a childhood hero. Both played for multiple MLB teams during their respective careers and have won World Series rings, while Schwarbs, as I call him, still has a lot of history to make. 

“Mr. October” was the title earned by Reggie Jackson “for his clutch hitting in the postseason with the Athletics and the Yankees. He helped Oakland win five consecutive American League West divisional titles, three straight American League pennants and three consecutive World Series titles from 1972 to 1974. He then helped New York win four American League East divisional pennants, three American League pennants and back-to-back World Series titles, in 1977 and 1978. He then assisted the California Angels in their two AL West divisional titles in 1982 and 1986 and served as an advisor to the 2022 World Champion Astros, his 6th title (at Kyle Schwarber’s expense).

There have been recent references to Kyle Schwarber as the new “Mr. October,” after he tied New York Yankees legends Jackson and Mickey Mantle with 18 post-season home runs following two dingers the other night in Philadelphia, “the most by a left-handed batter in Major League baseball history.” Plus, in his case, there’s more work yet to do with at least two more games yet this month. Plus, Reggie took 77 games and Mickey 65 to reach the 18-mark, while Kyle did it in 60. Schwarber also earned me free Taco Bell food with a rare stolen base in last year’s World Series. (See Post 2186). Kyle is an all-or-nothing hitter with too many strikeouts and a hitting average below the Mendoza level. 

Schwarber’s long-ball heroics started eight years ago when he hit a solo homer for the Cubs in his second post-season at bat back in 2015. He also is the sole owner for lead-off dingers with four, after struggling earlier this month in the Divisional round of the playoffs.  Jackson hammered three consecutive home runs at Yankee Stadium in the clinching game six of the 1977 World Series. So, the word “clutch” adds immensely to Jackson’s October legend, while Schwarber has been upstaged by his teammate Bryce Harper when it comes to game-winning efforts, so far. This is the downside of serving as a lead-off hitter. Plus, this year’s World Series run for the Phillies could easily extend into next month, so either of these stars could claim “Mr. November.”

Other contenders for “Mr. October” include Manny Ramirez with 29 post-season homers, Jose Altuve (25), Bernie Williams (22), Derek Jeter (20), Albert Pujols & George Springer (19), and Carlos Correa & Nelson Cruz (18), while Randy Arozerena totaled ten during the 2022 season alone. Bernie Williams tops everyone with 80 post-season RBIs, all according to Baseball Reference. To Tell the Truth, will the real “Mr. October” please stand up!

To be continued…..

 

Old Sport Shorts: Pick ‘Em Poorly #2403

We choose our teams from the area where we live, the schools we attended, and outside influencers that cross our paths. I grew up in the Chicago area (northern Indiana) with a father that was a Detroit sports fan and neighbors that were Bears and White Sox supporters. My folks graduated from Indiana University and even baby pictures showed me in I.U. gear. They were able to win for many years with even me as part of their fan base but have fallen on hard times over the past 35-years of my life. 

The Elkhart High School Blue Blazers were my hometown favorite. The only Indiana professional sports franchise was the Pacers, until the Colts showed up in the middle of the night. Nowadays, there are women’s teams and minor league teams, but the state is still primarily influenced by Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati teams. Hockey and soccer were not of interest to me until later in life, while I began to follow the Cubs since my dad and son were big fans. With my record of losers, I’m sure I’ve done them no favors in climbing on the bandwagon.

As a kid, I was drawn to players like Johnny Unitas of the then Baltimore Colts, Sherm Lollar of the Chicago White Sox, and Mike Ditka of the Bears. These attractions were likely due to the influence of television. For Lollar, it was the 1959 World Series against the Dodgers. Unitas joined the Colts in 1959 and Ditka the Bears in 1961, all in my vulnerable pre-teen years when I established initial fandom. “Johnny U” was the only one on a team outside my geographic circle. Ironically, the team moved to Indianapolis, as Peyton Manning eventually took his place in my heart, wearing that classic white helmet with the blue horseshoe. My dad talked me out of being a Yankees fan, despite my love of Mickey Mantle. They wouldn’t have probably won as many rings if I had stayed on board. 

Of all my teams, Indiana University basketball under Bob Knight is undoubtedly my most successful sports allegiance, witnessing three national titles, the most memorable in the stands when Keith Smart hit the winner. If I had chosen Notre Dame or Purdue, I would have seen personal glory in other sports, particularly football. I’ve tried to root for these teams, but negative childhood vibes have gotten in the way. It’s odd, because I’ve worked near both campuses and have had personal ties, so I should naturally be more supportive. My cousin played for the Irish and his father was an assistant coach, so it was the first stadium I ever visited, one of my treasured memories of going to games with my dad. I also interacted with Purdue coaches, like 
Tiller and Keady, and players such as Drew Brees, but my dad hated both schools, so I loyally followed along. 

As we moved from place to place, I adopted the local teams, but only rarely was it productive. The Illini were much less successful than the Hoosiers. While living in Austin, I did watch the Texas Longhorns win a College World Series title on TV and then saw live and in person the Oregon State Beavers equal that baseball achievement in Omaha, while working in Portland. I also followed the Portland Timbers when they won the MLS championship in 2015. The Oregon Ducks had their moments in football and basketball, but never won all the marbles. I even favored the Mariners in nearby Seattle, but they remain the only MLB franchise to have never played in a World Series – my kind of team. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013 but have been unable to repeat since I became their adoptive fan. 

Most all my favorite memories of my father are around attending sporting events, including the infamous “Hamburger” outburst. We went to high school games, ND Stadium, Comiskey Park, Riverfront, and Wrigley Field together. Saw “The Monster” explode with fireworks, celebrated those NCAA Championships of our IU Alma Mater, had lunch with Jim Coker of the Phillies, watched an angry Lou Pinella throw first base at an umpire, and witnessed Sammy Sosa top Babe Ruth’s HR record. Outside of sports, I remember carving our YMCA Indian Guides totem pole, along with a related overnight campout and our pinewood derby entry. We also traveled to Akron as a family to watch my good friend Tim Steffen compete in the Soap Box Derby nationals. Who could ever forget our lengthy station wagon journeys to Yellowstone, Wall Drugs, Mackinac Island, The Wisconsin Dells/Locks, Mt, Rushmore, Englewood, FL, and Gulf Shores. 

I never had success in the fantasy leagues or on betting in general, too often choosing players that ended up injured or performed poorly. I tried to stay out of my son’s selections, even though he invited me to be part of his team, a mistake he will learn to regret. We’re off to a bad start. Unfortunately, like father – like son. 

As far as professional sports, I have only gotten small doses of victory, otherwise it has been a miserable relationship. The Pacers have never won an NBA title, but the Colts did win a Super Bowl in 2007. Unfortunately, it was against my Bears, so it was a game of mixed emotions. The Bears won it all in 1986 and I reacted with my own “Super Bowl Shuffle.” The White Sox finally won rings in 2005 and the Cubs did it in 2016, games I was able to attend. That’s only 3 Chicago titles in 60 years of following these teams. That’s 171 losing seasons, including this year. The Bears are already 0-3, while the Cubs have dropped their last four as a potential playoff contender, and the long ago eliminated White Sox have only won four of their last ten. I logically should have been an obnoxious Bulls fan, but I spared them the “Johnston Jinx.” I really know how to pick ’em, don’t I? 

Old Sport Shorts: Happy Birthday Sherm #2383

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Sherm Lollar. Today, August 23, 2024, would have been his 99th birthday. Sadly, he died at the very young age of 53, 46-years ago. I’m at the Louisville Slugger Factory today diligently looking for any signs of his existence but couldn’t find a bat or plaque anywhere. I checked the vault and the wall of signatures but to no avail. I did get to swing an Eloy Jimenez bat, the only current White Sox player with a stock of lumber at the factory. I also tested the weight of bats used by former Cub players Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant, but the heaviest by far was the Babe Ruth model. 

They gave us mini bats for taking the tour and we had a penny flattened with the Slugger logo. My wife bought a magnet and an “It’s All About The Wood” t-shirt as additional souvenirs. My good friend Peter Browning had me check out the first custom bat ever made there, with a “Pete” Browning signature from 1884. He was the original “Louisville Slugger” before the company trademarked the name in 1894 “to honor his patronage and capitalize on his fame.” He was also dubbed “The Gladiator” and played for the local semipro team, the Louisville Eclipse, but helped coin the “Pirates” nickname in Pittsburg due to an 1891 player strike when he and several other players were accused of piracy after signing contracts while theoretically under the control of other clubs. He is one of many famous players who should probably be in the Hall of Fame. 

I do have a #11 Luis Aparicio Louisville Slugger in my collection and a #35 Frank Thomas manufactured bat from Hoosier, both players enshrined in Cooperstown. I’ve seen bats autographed by Sherm Lollar from Adirondack and H&R (Louisville Slugger parent company Hillerich & Bradsby) for sale on eBay. It’s one of the few items I don’t possess in my Lollar collection of cards, photos, articles, mitts, balls, caps, uniform, and trinkets. Few can probably rival my extensive inventory of memories from his illustrious two-decade plus catching and coaching career with the Indians, Yankees, Browns, White Sox, Orioles, A’s, Iowa Oaks, and Tucson Toros. He’s surely crouched behind Heaven’s Home Plate – Happy Birthday, Sherm!

Old Sport Shorts: Other Great Sports Moments #2258

This is a continuation of my last post where I listed my Top 10 Sports Moments (See Post #2257). However, there were just too many others that need to be mentioned. Because of my media connections and extensive travel opportunities, I’ve had the good fortune to attend 9 Final Fours (New Orleans 1982, Minneapolis 1992, Indianapolis 1991, 2000,2006, 2010, and Houston 2011) and 4 World Series, plus numerous auto races, games, championships, playoffs, tournaments, inaugural events, matches, stadiums and venues. To recall all of this was all a real test for my memory banks, aided greatly by diary mentions. 

I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, about 100 miles east of Chicago. There was little in the way of sports on TV when I was a kid, but on occasion my dad would take me to games in The Windy City. I wanted to see Mickey Mantle play, so we went to Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox. We also went to Wrigley Field and on one trip, he took me to lunch in the Prudential Building with Jim Coker, a catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. I also had an uncle who coached football at the University of Notre Dame and a cousin, Denny Murphy, that was an Irish tight end. I remember meeting him at a game against Cal. In addition, he took me to a N.D. basketball game at the Athletic and Convocation Center (ACC) that looked like a giant bra.  These were my first personal connections with top athletes. I went back to Notre Dame in 2017 for the stadium remodel, my boss, a N.D. grad, gave me front-row seats for the unveiling. 

My dad would often take me to high school basketball games at nearby North Side Gym, one of the largest in Indiana. He knew John Longfellow, the coach for the Muncie Central Bearcats, one of the best teams in the state. I got to go into the locker room after the game, another brush with greatness. Other than the annual high school basketball tournament, this venue mainly hosted some concerts, professional wrestling with Dick the Bruiser, and Roller Derby matches when the Bay City Bombers would come to town. Before single-class basketball was eliminated, I watched a classic battle for high school supremacy from our Hoosier Dome suite that I could never had imagined when I first went to Hoosier Hysteria games with my dad. A national record 41,046 were in attendance in 1990 when future I.U. star Damon Bailey led Bedford North Lawrence to the title, upsetting top rated and undefeated Concord High School and future NBA star Shawn Kemp 63-60. Concord was only about 15 minutes south of my hometown. It would be the last of 61 consecutive IHSAA finals sell-outs. 

By my 10th birthday, I had lost interest in the Yankees and took my dad’s suggestion of picking a team closer to home. As the White Sox played in the 1959 World Series, I was able to watch on black & white TV my catching idol, Sherm Lollar of the Sox play for the first time. We did go to a few games to see him in person, but I never got to meet the man. He and his teammates have become the main focus of my baseball card collection and lifelong allegiance to the Sox. 

I wrestled in high school and ran some track, but sports surprisingly were not a priority. Elkhart High was a big school with over 1000 students in my graduating class. We were state champions in football, wrestling, cross-county, and track, but I remember only occasionally going to Blue Blazer games or meets. I chose Albion College in Michigan after actually considering Purdue and played some intramural flag football for East Hall and eventually my fraternity Sigma Chi. I probably also attended a homecoming football game to watch the Britons. My frat brothers were hot on hockey and talked me into a Red Wings game. I also went to Milwaukee in 1971 as a weekend getaway and ended up at my first NBA game to watch Lew Alcinder and the eventual champion Bucks’. Outside of Chicago baseball, these games were my initial foray into professional sports. 

A year later, I transferred to Indiana University, rode for the Sigma Chi Little 500 team, and settled into an apartment with my high school classmate, Alan. I do not remember going to an I.U. game at the old fieldhouse, but I do recall a blowout win against Notre Dame at the new Assembly Hall. I met George McGinnis at a party and began to follow the Hoosiers. I must have come back to Indianapolis in 1971 from Bloomington to see my high school team compete for a state championship. I couldn’t get tickets for the game that was played at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University where the movie Hoosiers was filmed. I ended up watching the game on TV at the Sigma Chi house across the street. The Blue Blazers topped New Castle, and future I.U. big man, Kent Benson 75-70 in 3-overtimes. Benson led the undefeated Hoosiers to an NCAA title in 1976, an accomplishment that hasn’t since been repeated. A loaded East Chicago Washington squad won the championship game 70-60, but without ticket connections, I must have gone back to Bloomington. Ironically, I would never have to want for a ticket ever again!

I do remember getting excited about I.U. basketball when they made it to the Final Four in 1973 but lost to UCLA. I had a flat tire that morning and badly cut my hand on a piece of glass trying to fix it. I still have the scar as a reminder. The next few years, despite marriage and the birth of Adam, I became obsessed with basketball for the first time since I played in grade school and went to basketball camp. 

I began to follow sports even more once I got in the radio business and began to sell sponsorships for Blue Blazers basketball and football, plus Hoosier Hysteria, Notre Dame, Purdue, and I.U. games throughout the season. Eventually, our family moved to Ft. Wayne, another hockey town, anchored by the Comets on our 50,000-watt competitor and music became my major selling point. Free concert tickets and trade were job bonuses. Plus, working with our National rep I began to travel to New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit. I went to Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Tiger Stadium. I also worked a deal with the Chicago Sting and played against the Harlem Globetrotters. However, it wasn’t until I got the job at WIBC radio in Indianapolis that I truly found my calling. I now had the Indianapolis 500, Colts, Indians, and Pacers to promote.

As a newcomer to the Capital City, I was asked by station management to host our suite for the Coca-Cola Circle City Classic.  It was more than a football game between two black universities, it was a halftime battle of the band’s extravaganza. Apparently, no one else wanted to do it! This was my first experience with entertaining at events and would become the key to seeing every major sporting event or concert that came to town. The station had suite and hospitality access at Market Square Arena, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Hoosier Dome, and Victory Field. I also made my own partnership deals for racing through The Machinists Union, BRG Sports, Blackburn Sports Marketing, and Indianapolis Raceway Park. Many of these deals transitioned with me when I moved to WISH-TV. In addition, CBS Sports had almost every major sporting event from the Masters to the Superbowl, along with baseball and the Olympics. 

Beat The Pro was a promotion we sold at the insistence of my golf-loving boss. I had to spend most weekends on the golf course measuring distances to the pin. The only benefit for me was tickets to a White Sox suite, another memorable sports experience. I also earned a similar day at the park with the Wheel of Fortune syndicators. I was never in a suite at Wrigley, but they did have a club that served hot dogs on fancy Cubs’ china plates. They have since updated their facilities. 

During my time in Indy, I attended and worked with the AAA Indians at Bush Stadium where we had both press box seats and season tickets. I once celebrated on the field with Randy Johnson after a league championship. In addition, I frequently took clients to Colts training camp and on the field. World Gymnastics once did an exhibition, the U.S. Track and Field Championships and NCAA Finals provided autograph sessions with Gayle Devers and Michael Johnson, the PGA Championship came to Crooked Stick Country Club, while John Daly was the upset winner. NCAA Swimming and Diving was another big draw for the city. I also had ringside seats for a gruesome light heavyweight bout won by Marvin Johnson. Finally, I sat many times on the floor to watch the Pacers and Reggie Miller, including the NBA Playoffs. 

When I moved to Lafayette, it was all Purdue, but I.U. came to town at least once a year in basketball and every other year in football. I quickly learned that when Purdue won, business was better, so I put my Hoosier allegiance on hold. Plus, my mother-in-law was a big Boiler fan, so I presented her with front row seats for a game. I also had press passes, hospitality, and a beautiful stadium suite. I got close to the Purdue Athletic Director, along with Black & Gold Magazine and expanded our local coverage with the Joe Tiller and Gene Keady Shows. My wife was at WISH, so we continued to benefit from suite access to concerts and events. We saw Cathedral, where her girls went to school, win the state high school football title at the Dome. We also went with clients to the RCA Tennis Championships, with hospitality and great seats. During that timeframe, I played on the WISH softball team, as well as the traveling Pearson Group club, that appeared in the Media World Series held in Dallas, Phoenix, and Ft. Lauderdale. Add three more World Series to my list! I would eventually go to Omaha and the College World Series but only as a spectator. 

Most of my attention was still focused on racing, like the Indy 500, but I tried to diversify with other speed events like the U.S. National Drags and the Carquest Sprint Series at Raceway Park. They were each a far cry from the New Paris Speedway dirt track and the side-show demolition derby that I went to back in high school. While still part of the Indy media, I once spent an entire IndyCar season as a weekend warrior, going from track to track around the country. I was on the pit crew at Mid-Ohio and worked with sponsors at Elkhart Lake, Michigan International, the Milwaukee Mile, PIR, Monterey, and Laguna Seca. I also got tickets for the inaugural Las Vegas 400 Nascar Race. This all started when we would supplement our broadcast media packages with show car appearances, suite hospitality, driver endorsements, and sponsorship logos. However, in the month of May I was usually at the track with my all-access Gold Badge every day working these partnerships. 

Years later, the track expanded to include Nascar’s Brickyard 400, Formula One’s U.S. Grand Prix, an IROC Series, and the Brickyard Crossing PGA Championship. I was there for all four of these inaugural events and in the future secured tickets through my wife to the Daytona 500 and Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. We’ve also used her connections to see the Mariners and Seahawks in Seattle, the MLB All-Star Game/Home Run Derby in Miami, and several Portland Trail Blazer and Timbers MLS games, including a Playoff match. Most of the Blazer games were from the suite, but one was another unforgettable front-row seat. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve been back to Bloomington, but I’ve still managed to keep up with I.U. sports. I’ve been to Ann Arbor, Champaign, West Lafayette as previously mentioned, and East Lansing for games and went to Seattle to watch the baseball team play Oregon State at T-Mobile Stadium. I drove to both the Liberty Bowl and Independence Bowl to experience Hoosier football, but never smelled the roses. My wife and I also traveled up to North Texas for an I.U. gridiron loss against the Mean Green. I’ve seen the Hoosiers win at Conseco and Lucas Oil Stadium and lose year after year in the Big Ten Tournament. They did not make the Big Dance when it was held exclusively in Indy, but I was there in the midst of the pandemic. Hoosier soccer fell short in the championship game I attended in Santa Barbara with a college friend. Twice, I’ve followed the Hoosiers to Hawaii for the Maui Classic. On the first occasion I met Bob Knight and got his autograph. 

The Oregon Ducks became a favorite when we moved to Portland. I’ve been to both Autzen Stadium and Matthew Knight Arena. I’ve also seen them win in the Rose Quarter aka Moda Center for two Phil Knight events. Oregon State also played there. Plus, friends and I went to two Les Schwab Invitationals to watch several prospective college recruits impress the scouts. While living in central Illinois, we supported the Illini, so Assembly Hall was our new home for basketball and Memorial Stadium for football. I sat with retired Coach Lou Henson for a game. 

On the NBA front, I’ve been to America West in Phoenix to watch the Suns, Orlando to see the Magic at Amway Center, and to San Antonio’s AT&T Center for the Spurs, long after that initial big-time-basketball exposure at Milwaukee County Stadium while I was still in college. The Pacers and Blazers were the result of station-owned season tickets. The Knicks were always the favorite team to visit, especially when Reggie and Spike Lee were at each other’s throats.

I’ve never been to the Olympics but have experienced the Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene after it was delayed a year due to Covid. I also sat and watched the Olympic Freestyle Championships in both Breckenridge, Colorado and Stowe, Vermont when I was there on ski trips. Speaking of games on ice, exposure to the game of hockey has been sadly limited to the Ft. Wayne Comets, Indianapolis Ice, the Detroit Redwings 50 years ago, and the Portland Winterhawks a few years ago at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum

Another of my bucket list goals, was a Super Bowl. We had access to tickets every year but never wanted to pay the price. It likely will never happen, but I certainly can’t complain about a lack of big tickets throughout my lifetime. I thought about going to Miami when the Colts played the Bears, but honestly couldn’t decide on which team to support.  My first football love was Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts, who conveniently moved to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. However, the ’85 Bears had pushed the needle once again to Chicago sports. I’ve been to Soldier Field and continue to follow the Bears after all these frustrating years. I’ve worked closely with the Colts players and coaches through the years and have been to several Playoff home games. Road games have been in Houston and Chicago. I saw the Bears play in Indy. 

The one Chicago team that has had the most success is the Bulls. I was never a fan and actually picked a suite game the year after Michael Jordan retired. I tried to give them away, but no one was interested. The Pacers Market Square Arena suite was nothing more than a long couch in a closet positioned behind a glass panel. It was hardly fit for entertaining but came with extra tickets and a bartender. At the last minute, I ended up giving them to Adam and hours later M.J. announced his return. They were suddenly the hottest tickets in town and Adam reaped the benefit. His friends were even previously reluctant to go, but I remember his pager (prime technology at that time) buzzing like a hive of wasps on our coffee table just before game time. It was certainly one of his greatest sports moments. We probably could have made a fortune selling them, but scalping was illegal, and they were technically the station’s tickets. I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of unloading them because no one really knew I had somehow picked them at the beginning of the season. 

Baseball has endured as a consistent favorite from early childhood throughout today. I’ve already shared my stories of Chicago and Detroit games growing up and the four World Series attended. I never went to a college baseball game in Bloomington but got into it when we lived in Austin and learning the phenomenal record of longtime coach Texas Longhorn coach, Augie Garrido, who won two College World Series in his tenure. It was really the first time that I sat down and watched the entire tournament, inspiring me to attend one day. While in Portland, I began to follow the Oregon State Beavers and went to a few of their games at Hillsboro Stadium, home of the Hops, and at Portland State. 

I enjoy baseball but it’s often boring, too many times ideal for a nap. It’s easier to mention the Major League stadiums I haven’t been to: Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Minneapolis, San Diego, Philadelphia, Arlington’s Globe Life Field, Atlanta, Montreal, Arizona, and Oakland. Two stadiums, Coors Field and Progressive Park in Cleveland I’ve only just jogged around, while I saw the Texas Rangers play in their former Arlington home from a luxury suite. Our Dallas TV station carried their games, but Covid prohibited a planned visit to the new facility two years ago. I’ve also been to Minor League Stadiums in Round Rock, Texas to see The Express, Jupiter Beach for the Cardinals, Surprise AZ,  Charlottesville FL, Hohocum Scottsdale, and Cool Today, our neighborhood Braves Spring Training facility. The other day I drove around the Baltimore Orioles’ Buck O’Neil complex in nearby Sarasota. 

Visits to Cooperstown, the College Football Hall of Fame, and recently the NFL Hall of Fame rekindled many emotional sports memories. Recently, my wife and I went to see our local Venice High School Indians host a football playoff game, with thoughts of her two girls at the Hoosier Dome championship game we all went to before our marriage years ago. My dad gave me a love of sports at all levels, and we shared this passion throughout life. It continues with Adam and his favorite teams since childhood, the Dolphins and Cubs. What will be our next great moment? 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Sport Shorts: Big Bertha #2207

A friend was over last night and I showed him my prized Sherm Lollar #10 1955 game-worn jersey. It’s in a glass case along with his worn, signature Rawling’s glove that pales in comparison to the 45” mitt worn by Baltimore Oriole’s catcher Clint Courtney in 1960 to better handler the knuckler of future Hall-of-Famer Hoyt Wilhelm. Courtney was back-up to Lollar for half the 1955 season before going to the Orioles while Wilhelm came to the White Sox in 1963, the year Lollar retired. I could find no evidence that they ever formed the same battery because Lollar only played in 35 games that final year of his career due to injury.

I also came across some interesting stats that prove how much the catcher matters to a pitching staff. A good example is that of future Hall of Famer, Yadier Molina, who while on the disabled list, St. Louis Cardinals starting pitchers had a combined 3-10 with an ERA above 5. The same is true as to why World Series Champion catcher Martin Maldonado remains in the Astros starting lineup despite a batting average of .151. Catchers should not necessarily be judged on their hitting.

Defensive skills, the ability to call a game and work with pitchers are incredibly important to a team’s success. It supports my argument as to why more catchers like Sherm Lollar, should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. His outstanding .992 fielding percentage, using the cumbersome gear of the era, supports the argument. Could a bigger glove have enhanced his chances or at least earned him more attention?

Clinton Dawson Courtney, nicknamed Scrap Iron, was an American professional baseball catcher who played in Major League Baseball for the New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Washington Senators and Kansas City Athletics. He batted left-handed and threw right-handed. His oversized glove earned him notoriety. However, eventually MLB adopted a rule that restricted the size of a “Big Bertha” mitt like Courtney’s:

Rule 1.12: “The catcher may wear a leather mitt not more than thirty-eight inches in circumference, nor more than fifteen and one-half inches from top to bottom. Such limits shall include all lacing and any leather band or facing attached to the outer edge of the mitt. The space between the thumb section and the finger section of the mitt shall not exceed six inches at the top of the mitt and four inches at the base of the thumb crotch. The web shall measure not more than seven inches across the top or more than six inches from its top to the base of the thumb crotch. The web may be either a lacing or lacing through leather tunnels, or a center piece of leather which may be an extension of the palm, connected to the mitt with lacing and constructed so that it will not exceed any of the above mentioned measurements.”

The Sherm Lollar mitt in my collection measures less than 35” in circumference and is less than 11” from top to bottom. It’s well within the guidelines of this rule and ten inches smaller than Courtney’s. Meanwhile, “Old Sarge” Wilhelm, used primarily as a reliever, only had 52 career starts. Gus Triandos handled the catching duties in 32 of those games. Courtney got the assignment only 5-times, but “Big Bertha” also played a role in relief work during their two years together with the Orioles. Hail to the catchers!

« Older posts

© 2024 johnstonwrites.com

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑