Have the Cubs Had a Three-Fingered Player as Well as a Six-Fingered Player In Their Team History?

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: A baseball team had a “three-fingered” player as well as a six-fingered player in their team history!

One of the most famous players in Chicago Cub history is Mordechai “Three-Fingered” Brown, the Hall of Fame pitcher who had suffered a series of accidents to his fingers in his youth, including losing most of his index finger in a farming accident and then having his middle finger and ring finger broken while recovering from the original injury.

The result gave him a mangled hand that was basically three fingers and a thumb (and messed up fingers at that). That gave him an interesting grip on the baseball, though, that allowed him to throw pitches from odd angles, helping to make him a baseball Hall of Famer.

Years later, though, the Cubs would have a player who went the whole other direction entirely!
Read the rest of this entry »

How Did a Personal Visit From Legendary Coach Adolph Rupp Lead to a Top Recruit NOT Playing for Kentucky?

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.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: Dick Grubar was prepared to commit to playing at Kentucky until Adolph Rupp made a personal visit to his family.

One of the most powerful tools that a college coach has in recruiting players is the home visit. Especially the famous coaches, those that have won multiple titles and are legends in their own times. In fact, these visits are so persuasive that the NCAA nowadays limits them (so Nick Saban can’t show up at your house constantly to convince you to come play for him).

Back in the 1960s, though, there was more or less free reign, and coaches like The University of Kentucky’s Aolph Rupp, at the time the coach with the most wins in college basketball history, drew in players like honey drawing in flies.

Amazingly enough, though, in the case of Dick Grubar, it was Rupp who turned him from a “yes” on Kentucky to a “no.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Was Linebacker Jack Lambert Once Ejected From a Game for “Hitting the Quarterback Too Hard”?

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

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: Jack Lambert was ejected from a game for “hitting a quarterback too hard.”

At the end of the classic John Ford western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, there’s one of the most legendary lines in the history of cinema. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” I think of that when the legendary defense of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers is discussed, specifically the career of linebacker Jack Lambert.

In his book on the greatest linebackers in National Football League (NFL) history, Jonathan Rand described Lambert thusly:

It’s no knock on Jack Lambert to say the myth is bigger than the man. Lambert was, after all, on the light side for a middle linebacker. And the Lambert myth is so entertaining, so full of what both the bloodthirsty and romantics think pro football is all about, that only a killjoy would dare debunk it. And like many myths, those about Lambert contain some truth. So in the interest of truth – or should we say half truth? – the myth is a good place to start.

Very well-written by Rand, but at the risk of being a “killjoy,” I thought it would be fun to examine one of the many Lambert myths, specifically that he was ejected from a game once for “hitting a quarterback too hard.”
Read the rest of this entry »

How Did Playing “Sweet Caroline” Become a Red Sox Tradition at Fenway Park?

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 Red Sox began playing “Sweet Caroline” in honor of a Red Sox employee who named her newborn daughter “Caroline” in 1998.

One of the coolest baseball musical traditions is the singing of the Neil Diamond hit “Sweet Caroline” during the 8th inning of Boston Red Sox games played at Fenway Park.

WHY the song is played during the 8th inning of Boston Red Sox games played at Fenway Park is a whole other story.

The song has nothing to do with Boston, so why the connection?
Read the rest of this entry »

Were the Baltimore Colts Awarded Y.A. Tittle by the Commissioner of Their League, to Improve Competitive Balance?

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

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The commissioner of the All-American Football Conference awarded Y.A. Tittle to the Baltimore Colts to promote balance in the league.

Y.A. Tittle was an outstanding quarterback prospect during his years at Louisiana State University.

tittlelsu

In 1948, Tittle was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions with the sixth pick overall.

However, the Cleveland Browns of the All-American Football Conference (one of the more successful challengers to the National Football League) also selected him in the first round of the 1948 AAFC draft. In a great 2009 interview with Dennis Manoloff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tittle explained why he decided to sign with the Cleveland Browns:

The first professional football game I ever saw, the Browns played in it. [Cleveland coach] Paul Brown had me flown in and the Browns treated me like a king. I watched the game from the sideline. I was overwhelmed. After it was over, coach Brown took me back to the hotel and I signed a contract. He told me the Browns thought Otto Graham would only play one more year, and that I could learn from him for one season. It wasn’t true about Otto, of course. He played for many years after that

Otto Graham, of course, was the legendary quarterback for the Browns, who at this point had already won the first three championships of the AAFC (and were on their way to winning their fourth).

graham

Since Graham obviously DIDN’T retire, that led to an extraordinary measure by the commissioner of the AAFC, Jonas W. Ingram.
Read the rest of this entry »

Did Eddie Stanky Develop a Unique Way of Scoring on Sacrifice Flies That MLB Eventually Banned?

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: Eddie Stanky developed a unique way to score on a sacrifice fly that was later specifically banned by Major League Baseball.

Eddie Stanky is probably best known for the last team he played in the Majors, the St. Louis Cardinals, who he joined in 1952 as the player-manager (he became a full-time manager the next season).

He managed the team until 1955. He gained a good deal of press during that period, but he was already well known in the world of baseball, and not for his three All-Star appearances as a player. No, Stanky was well-known for being one of the most annoying baseball players ever.

And Stanky would not even deny it if asked about it – he knew that he was annoying, but he felt that doing so would be the best bet for his team to win. Occasionally his annoying actions went beyond annoying and entered into just flat out bad behavior (like when he tried to get his team at the time, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to refuse to let Jackie Robinson play for the team – perhaps non-coincidentally, 1947 was Stanky’s last year with the team), but for the most part they had a certain sort of charm to them.

For instance, the “Eddie Stanky Manuever” is what other players would call it when Stanky came up with the idea of “Hey, if I’m playing second base, why don’t I jump up and down to try to distract the batter?”

But what I wish to talk about here is another one of Stanky’s innovations, one that, while perhaps a little annoying to Major League Baseball (as they banned the practice) I think is actually pretty darn ingenious (and no wonder he was picked up as a manager – he had a good brain for baseball strategy).
Read the rest of this entry »

Was Bill Russell Traded for the Ice Capades?

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.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Rochester Royals passed on Bill Russell in the 1956 NBA Draft because the Boston Celtics arranged for the Royals to get the Ice Capades.

NOTE: I wrote a condensed version of this piece for the Huffington Post here. You can go there if you want just the gist of this story. My “official” version is so darn long that I split it into two pages here.

On the day of the 1956 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft, Boston Celtics general manager (and coach) Arnold “Red” Auerbach made one of the greatest trades in NBA history. He dealt All-Star Center Ed Macauley and rookie small forward Cliff Hagan (drafted by the Celtics in 1953 but never played for the team as he remained at the University of Kentucky for one more season and then spent two years in the military) to the St. Louis Hawks for the second pick in the draft, University of San Francisco center Bill Russell. Macauley and Hagan were both great players (they are both in the Basketball Hall of Fame), but Bill Russell was one of the greatest players of all-time and led the Celtics to a remarkable eleven championships in his thirteen seasons in the NBA (amusingly, one of the only years he failed to win the title was in 1958 when he and the Celtics were defeated in the NBA Finals by none other than Macauley and the Hawks, which still remains the only title in Hawks franchise history).

nba1957celtics-russellmeek2

You might have noticed, though, that the trade was for the second pick in the draft. The Rochester Royals had the first pick in the draft. Why didn’t they draft Russell? There is a legendary story explaining why they passed on Russell. Here is Auerbach telling the story to John Feinstein in Feinstein’s 2004 collection of Auerbach stories, Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game:

‘So how’d you get them to not take Russell?’
Red smiled. I had set him up perfectly.
‘The Ice Capades,’ he said.
‘The Ice Capades?’
‘Sure. Walter Brown [the owner of the Celtics] was president of the Ice-Capades. I had him call Les Harrison, the owner in Rochester, and tell them he’d send the Ice Capades up there for a week if they didn’t draft Russell.’
‘So you got Bill Russell for the Ice-Capades?’
‘You got it.’

Auerbach told basically the same story to Terry Pluto for Pluto’s classic 1992 oral history of the early days of the NBA,
Tall Tales: The Glory Years of the NBA, in the Words of the Men Who Played, Coached, and Built Pro Basketball

Listen, most people don’t know it, but we had assurances from Rochester that they would not take Russell. Lester Harrison was having trouble booking the Ice Capades. At one time, Walter Brown owned part of it. So Walter told Harrison, ‘If you pass on Russell, I’ll help you get the Ice Capades.’ That clinched the deal.

Bill Russell has told essentially the same story, as well, but he also specifically noted that it was Auerbach who told him the story much later on (as he was not privy to the details of the trade at the time).

The “Bill Russell was traded for the Ice Capades” story has now become an accepted part of basketball lore. But is it true?
Read the rest of this entry »

Did the Chicago Bears Once Draft a Future Hall-of-Famer Based Solely On the Sound of His Name?

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

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: A future Hall of Famer was drafted in the last round of the 1934 NFL Draft based on the sound of his name!

The first germ of the idea that became the National Football League Draft (the first of the major sports leagues to have a draft) occurred in 1934 when Philadelphia Eagles owner Bert Bell contacted Stan Kostka, a graduating senior from the University of Minnesota who was an outstanding fullback and linebacker. Bell asked Kostka that if Bell personally came to see him and offer him more money than any other team was offering, would he sign with the Eagles? Kostka said yes. So Bell flew out to Minneapolis and met with Kostka. He offered him $4,000, $500 more than any other team had offered. Kotska hedged, and Bell gave him a deadline of an hour. In an hour, Kostka still could not commit. What Bell had figured out what was going on was that Kostka was trying to call the Brooklyn Dodgers (the NFL one, not the MLB one), the team that had offered him $3,500, to see if they would up their offer but had been unable to get through. So Bell finally said, “If you give me an answer right this second I will give you $6,000.” Kostka would not commit, so Bell left. Kostka ended up playing for the Dodgers in 1935.

Bell was convinced that this system of the teams bidding against each other was bad for the league but even more importantly to Bell, it was bad for his Eagles, who finished the 1934 season 4-7 due to what Bell felt was their inability to land the top players over the more solvent big market teams like the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. After the end of the 1934 season, in early 1935, the other owners ratified Bell’s historic proposal for an NFL Draft after the 1935 season (where Bell’s Eagles fell to 2-9).

The first draft was held on February 8, 1936 in Philadelphia, where Bell’s Eagles held the first pick. The nine-round draft was a ramshackle affair, with the number one choice choosing never to play professional football and a grand total of four Hall of Famers being drafted – none stranger than the fellow drafted in the final round by the Chicago Bears, a player drafted because of the sound of his name!
Read the rest of this entry »

Was Wilt Chamberlain Drafted While he Was Still in High School?

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: The Philadelphia Warriors drafted Wilt Chamberlain while he was still in high school.

In 1971, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Haywood v. National Basketball Association, which involved NBA Star Spencer Haywood, who left college after his sophomore year at the University of Detroit and was eventually outright signed by the Seattle Supersonics. At the time, the NBA had a rule that stated that no player could join the NBA until four years after they graduated high school (they adopted this rule soon into the NBA’s existence). So, naturally, the NBA took issue with Haywood playing for the Sonics and the Sonics countered by backing Haywood in an anti-trust suit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 that players should be allowed to be drafted sooner than four years after graduating high school, although the rule was predicated on the player in question being able to demonstrate economic hardship that required him to pursue a professional career right away. The 1971 NBA Draft saw the introduction of a special “hardship draft” for these players.

This was not the first time the NBA saw a player join the league before he finished college, though, as back in the 1962 Draft, the Detroit Pistons picked prep star Reggie Harding out of high school. The league disallowed Harding from playing for the Pistons, but eventually agreed that he could play in the NBA after waiting one year after his high school class graduated, provided that the Pistons spend another draft pick on him in the 1963 Draft. So Harding had to play in a minor basketball league for a year before finally entering the NBA in the 1963-64 season. Harding’s personal problems in his short NBA career (including a number of run-ins with the law) likely led to the NBA going back to a strict interpretation of the “no player can play in the NBA sooner than four years after graduating” rule that led to the Haywood lawsuit.

But even earlier, in the 1950a, the NBA saw a high school player effectively be drafted out of high school, as the Philadelphia Warriors basically drafted Wilt Chamberlain right out of high school with their territorial pick!
Read the rest of this entry »

How Did a $1 Investment in 1926 Turn Into 10% Ownership of the Minnesota Vikings in 1960?

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

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: A $1 investment by a team manager eventually turned into 10% of the Minnesota vikings.

The early days of the National Football League (NFL) were so much different than the current NFL that they are barely even recognizable to modern fans. So many things needed to go just right for the league to make its way to where it is today. Had it not been for the actions of some early NFL pioneers, there is a very good chance that the NFL would have folded and perhaps we would be following some other league today (the American Football League, perhaps). One of these early pioneers was Ole Haugsrud. Haugsrud owned the NFL franchise in Duluth, Minnesota, a franchise Haugsrud purchased for $1 (I guess you could say 50 cents even, since Haugsrud purchased the team with a partner). That deal in 1926 eventually led to another deal in 1960, where Haugsrud became owner of 10% of the Minnesota Vikings. How, exactly, did those two deals become connected? Read on for a journey into the strange early years of the NFL.
Read the rest of this entry »