Did a Convict Sign a Professional Baseball Contract…While Still in Prison?

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: A convict signed a contract to play professional baseball…while still in prison!

For at least a century (and very possibly longer than that), a very popular sport within prisons in the United States has been organized baseball. One of the biggest problems within prisons is finding things for the prisoners to do, and organized sports do a very good job at filling in those open hours in the lives of the inmates. In San Quentin Stat Prison in California, one of the largest prisons in the United States, they have been playing organized baseball since 1920 and are one of the few prisons that actually allows its prison baseball team to travel outside of the jail to play away games. As successful as having a baseball program is with most prisons, it was especially successful for one prisoner at Oregon State Penitentiary who actually signed a deal to be a professional baseball player while still a convict at Oregon State Penitentiary in 1942. Read on to learn Keith Crosswhite’s tale.

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November 4th, 2016 | Posted in Baseball Urban Legends | No Comments

Did John Wooden Say “Our Land Is Everything”?

BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said a notable impassioned quote about the importance of land to Americans.

Besides being a legendary basketball coach, the late, great John Wooden (winner of ten national championships as the head coach of UCLA, plus one championship as a player for Purdue in the 1930s) was also quite an inspirational writer and speaker. He wrote (or co-wrote) over a half dozen books and was an in demand motivational speaker until his death in 2010. He was a proponent of what he called the Pyramid of Success, which consisted of philosophical building blocks for winning at basketball and at life. Some of the famous maxims that Wooden coined over the years include, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and “Flexibility is the key to stability.”

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In her 2009 memoir, Going Rogue, former Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin spoke about a time that Coach Wooden’s words helped her through a disappointing moment in her life. Palin, who was a star basketball player during high school (leading her team to an Alaskan National Championship in 1982), has been a sports fan her whole life and even once dreamed of being a sportscaster for ESPN (which is at least partially the reason her daughter’s name is Bristol) so it comes as no surprise that she would find comfort in the words of Coach Wooden. In 2002, following his election a Governor of Alaksa, Alaskan Senator Frank Murkowski had to choose his successor in the United States Senate. He put together a list of candidates, including Palin. He interviewed her, but after the interview was over she had the impression that he was not going to be appointing her. On the drive home, she discussed her disappointment with her husband, Todd.

We were disappointed…for about seven seconds. We talked about the way the “ball bounces.” We reminded each other how UCLA Coach John Wooden had captured our thoughts in a book we’d read about him. I told Todd, “Coach Wooden said, ‘Things work out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.'” We said in unison, “Or something like that!”

Later on in the book, Palin continued to show her appreciation for Wooden’s words by making a Wooden quote the epigram for the chapter about her decision to run for Governor of Alaska against Murkowski. The quote reads:

Out land is everything…I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember that our grandfathers paid for it – with their lives.

It’s a powerful quote. But did Wooden actually say it?

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November 4th, 2016 | Posted in Basketball Urban Legends | No Comments

Was Maury Wills Such a Longshot That Topps Wouldn’t Even Sign Him to a $5 Contract?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Maury Wills was such a longshot to make it in the Major Leagues that Topps turned down the opportunity to sign him to a $5 baseball card contract.

Maury Wills is a true Los Angeles Dodgers legend. The Dodgers won their first championship in Los Angeles in Wills’ first season and went on to win two more titles during his first tenure with the team (1959-1966), with Wills being the team captain from 1963-1966. Wills made the All Star Game in five separate seasons and received the very first All Star Game Most Valuable Player Award ever in 1962! That same season, Wills beat out Willie Mays to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

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In 1962, Wills also won his second Gold Glove at shortstop and set a new Modern Era (post-1900) Major League record for the most stolen bases in a single season with 104 (the first player ever to steal over 100 bases in the Modern Era). Wills’ revival of the stolen base is probably his greatest legacy. Before he stole 50 bases in 1960, no National Leaguer had stolen 50 bases since 1923! However, while Wills was setting records and showing up on Most Valuable Player ballots there was one place he was conspicuously absent – packs of Topps baseball cards! Wills did not have a Topps baseball card until 1968, nearly a decade into his Major League career! For a card company that prided itself on having basically every Major Leaguer in the game, Wills was a notable exception. What makes it even more notable is why Topps did not have a Maury Wills card. You see, Topps did not feel Wills was worth paying the $5 it would have taken to sign to a baseball card contract!

Read on to see how such a strange occurrence could have taken place!

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October 21st, 2016 | Posted in Baseball Urban Legends | No Comments

How Did a Missed Free Throw by an Austin Peay Player Change the Direction of the New York Knicks for 15 Years?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

BASKETBALL LEGEND: A missed free throw by an Austin Peay player in 1987 changed the direction of the New York Knicks for the next fifteen years.

Clearly, the history of basketball is filled with seemingly minor decisions that had ripples that affected players and coaches throughout the league. One of the most famous would be “What if the Portland Trailblazers had drafted Michael Jordan with the #2 pick in the 1984 NBA Draft?” But just as clearly, there are smaller examples that might not have the same glorification of the Blazers passing on Jordan or the Detroit Pistons passing on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in the 2004 NBA Draft, but they still change a team’s destiny.

This brings us to Bob Thomas, and how his missed free throw in 1987 affected the Knicks franchise for the next fifteen years or so.

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October 14th, 2016 | Posted in Basketball Urban Legends | 2 Comments

Were Jack Dempsey’s Gloves “Loaded” When He First Won the Heavyweight Championship?

This is the latest in a series of examinations of legends related to boxing and whether they are true or false.

BOXING URBAN LEGEND: Jack Dempsey’s gloves were “loaded” when he first won the world heavyweight championship.

On the Fourth of July, 1919, 24-year-old William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey defeated Jess Willard and won the world heavyweight championship title. Dempsey would hold the title for the next seven years before losing it to Gene Tunney in September of 1926. Dempsey was an underdog going into the match against the champ, as the 37-year-old Willard had five inches and a good fifty pounds on Dempsey. The match clearly was not a “David versus Goliath” set-up (while an underdog, most papers gave Dempsey decent odds – the New York Times reported betting was 5-4 against Dempsey), but some members of the press still sold it as such. Therefore, there was a great deal of surprise when Dempsey not only defeated Willard, but he brutalized him, winning in three rounds as Willard’s corner could not let the champ come out for the fourth round.

JackDempsey

Dempsey knocked him down seven times in the first round and after the match, the story was that Willard lost six teeth and suffered a broken jaw, as well as other fractures in his facial bones (plus some broken ribs).

Confusion over how Dempsey could cause all of those injuries soon turned to suspicion that Dempsey was cheating, using some sort of “loaded” glove, that is to say a glove that was treated with a hardening substance or, in the alternative, hiding a heavy object (like a tire iron) in his glove, to increase the force of his blows. When Dempsey’s then-manager John “Doc” Kearns confessed that the gloves were loaded in a Sports Illustrated excerpt of Kearns’ biography in 1964 (it was published posthumously, as Kearns died in 1963), the suspicions from 1919 became a hot topic and have remained a contested subject ever since. So, did Dempsey use loaded gloves to win the title?

Read on to find out!

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October 7th, 2016 | Posted in Boxing Urban Legends | No Comments

Did the Undertaker Really Play High School Basketball With Magic Johnson?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: Magic Johnson played high school basketball with WWE’s The Undertaker.

A popular game to play with celebrities is to look at them “Before They Were Famous,” particularly when they were younger. It is especially fascinating when you discover that two different celebrities crossed paths when they were younger, like learning that Jon Hamm taught The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Ellie Kemper acting in high school or that NFL superstar Randy Moss was high school football teammates with veteran NBA point guard Jason Williams. Thus, it comes as no surprise to find out that people were quite fascinated with a piece of trivia that has been making the rounds on the internet for the last few years (to the point where a number of readers have suggested it to me to use in this column) that Earvin “Magic” Johnson, legendary star of the Los Angeles Lakers played high school basketball with Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway, famed wrestling star of WWE.

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Is is true?

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September 28th, 2016 | Posted in Basketball Urban Legends | 1 Comment

Is There a Golf Course In Hawaii That Exceeds The Maximum Difficulty Rating for Golf Courses?

This is the latest in a series of examinations of urban legends related to golf and whether they are true or false.

GOLF LEGEND: The course at Ko’olau Golf Club has a slope rating of 162 (where the maximum slope rating is 155).

STATUS: False, but Once Basically True

In what is likely the most famous scene in the classic 1984 comedy, This is Spinal Tap, the director of the “mockumentary” about a fictional rock band, Marty DiBergi (played by Rob Reiner, who did, indeed, direct the film), is given a tour of the stage equipment of Spinal Tap lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest). Tufnel is especially proud of his Marshall guitar amplifiers, whose volume level have eleven as the highest setting instead of ten (typically, amplifier sound levels are set as zero to ten), believing that his amplifiers having eleven as the highest level means that his amplifiers are louder than all others (“it’s one louder”). When DiBergi asks him, “Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?” Tufnel has no idea what he is trying to get at, repeating again that these amps go up to eleven.

I am reminded of this famous scene when the course at Hawaii’s famed (or perhaps infamous?) Ko’olau Golf Club is discussed. If you consult almost any guide to golf courses of the world, you will find a consistent description of this dramatic course.

You see, the golf course, which was carved out of rain forest on the windward side of the Ko’olau Ridge mountain ridge on the eastern side of the island of Oahu, and contains winding ravines as the target for holes, incredible and dramatic elevation changes and huge sand bunkers is: “[c]onsidered the toughest course in the nation from the back tees with a slope rating of 162.”

This is especially remarkable since the highest slope rating theoretically possible is 155.

So what’s the true story behind Ko’olau Golf Course’s amazing slope rating? And what, exactly, is a “slope rating?”
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September 23rd, 2016 | Posted in Golf Urban Legends | No Comments

Were the Boston Braves Named After Members of the Boston Tea Party?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Boston Braves were named after the members of the Boston Tea Party.

An interesting part of baseball history that is worth noting is how few of the current baseball team nicknames were used prior to the 20th Century. Don’t get me wrong, some teams certainly do have nicknames going as far back as the 19th Century, but most teams had informal nicknames that would often change seemingly at a whim.

The first Boston baseball club is a good example of this, as they entered the National Association in 1871 known informally as the Boston Red Stockings (in honor of the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who had dissolved following the 1870 season).

In 1876, they joined the newly formed National League and since a new version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings were also in the league, the Boston team became known as the Red Caps (a lot of teams went by the colors of their uniforms). That name stuck for a few years before they began being referred to as the Boston Beaneaters from 1883 until 1906. During this time, the American League had debuted and they had a rival Boston baseball team, known as the Boston Americans. When the Beaneaters dropped red from their uniforms after the 1906 season, the rival Boston team quickly picked it up themselves and became known as the Red Sox.

The newly red-less team now had all-white uniforms, and since their owner’s last name was Dovey, the press quickly dubbed them the Boston Doves in 1907. That name stuck for a few years before they tried the Boston Rustlers in 1911 and then, finally, the name that they would use for almost all of the next century (and still use today), the Boston Braves.

But the origin of the Braves name is a confusing one, especially as the name carries with it controversy (along the lines of other teams named after Native Americans, like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians). Defenders of the Braves often point out that the name is actually derived from a significant event in United States history – the famed Boston Tea Party.

Is that true?
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September 13th, 2016 | Posted in Baseball Urban Legends | No Comments

Were the Chicago Blackhawks Once Forced to Pull a Local Goalie Out of a Bar to Start Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about hockey and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the hockey urban legends featured so far.

HOCKEY URBAN LEGEND: Were the Chicago Blackhawks once forced to start a local goalie they found in a bar drinking on the day of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals?

You only have to go back to the 2002 World Series Champion Anaheim Angels to see an example of a player plucked from obscurity thrown into the spotlight in a championship season. Angels pitcher Francisco Rodriguez was a minor leaguer who only made the 2002 postseason roster due to a rash of injuries to the Angels bullpen late in the year – he went on to become a dominant part of the Angels championship team and after a few years of being their top setup man became their regular closer in 2005, eventually setting the record for most saves in a single season. So the hope is alive in many minor league players that all they need is the right break and they could get their moment in the sun. That moment came for Alfred “Alfie” Moore on April 5, 1938, a day that began as any other for the minor league goaltender (whose season had ended weeks ago) and ended with him winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals for the Chicago Blackhawks!

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However, Moore’s situation was a lot stranger than Rodriguez’s, including one of the more persistent myths in NHL history.

Read on to find out more!
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September 9th, 2016 | Posted in Hockey Urban Legends | 2 Comments

Did Walter Johnson Pull Off a Feat That George Washington Only Did in Myths?

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Walter Johnson reenacted a mythical George Washington coin toss.

In John Ford’s classic 1962 western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, there is a classic line after a newspaperman discovers the truth of who actually shot Liberty Valance. He is undeterred, though, noting “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That’s exactly what United States history was for quite some time when partially fictionalized histories about famous people like Christopher Columbus and George Washington became accepted as fact by most Americans. In the case of Columbus, Washington Irving’s A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus credited Columbus with proving that the Earth was not flat, a belief no one seriously still had in the late 15th Century. In the case of Washington, Parson Weems’ A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington invented what is perhaps the most famous George Washington anecdote, the tale of young George confessed to cutting down a cherry tree despite knowing that he would most likely be punished severely for his actions. However, Weems also invented a few other Washington anecdotes, including the time young George threw a silver dollar (since they didn’t actually have silver dollars, it “must” have been a piece of slate the size of a silver dollar) across the Rappahannock river.

In 1936, Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “The Big Train” Johnson decided that he would do in real life what Washington only did in myth.

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Did Johnson manage to throw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock river? Read on to find out…

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September 2nd, 2016 | Posted in Baseball Urban Legends | 3 Comments