How Did Trying to Prove He Could Dunk a Basketball Ruin a Pitcher’s Career?

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 top closer had his career de-railed by an attempt to show how he could dunk.

Cecil Upshaw was a major part of the success of the 1969 Atlanta Braves, who made it to the playoffs in 1969 only to lose to the “Miracle Mets.” The 26-year-old Upshaw was a dominant closer for the Braves, back in the days that a closer was more of a “fireman” than a traditional “enter the game in the ninth inning up three runs” pitcher. He threw 105 innings with a 2.91 ERA and 27 saves. This followed his 1968 campaign where he put up similar numbers (in 1967, he did much of the same, but in limited time as it was his rookie season). He looked to become a major part of the Braves’ future.

Then came 1970.
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Did a Player Get a Yellow Card for Faking an Injury…When Said Player Was DEAD?

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

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: A player got a yellow card for faking an injury – however, the player was DEAD!

Something that football often gets criticized for is the way that players attempt to draw fouls on each other by acting as though simple contact (that happens as a matter-of-fact in a game of football) was egregious contact. You know, someone bumps a player and the said player goes flying as if he were just hit by a truck.

The common term for it is “flopping” and while it is a problem in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, it is most associated with the world of association football.

It is seen as such a problem that they even came up with rules against it.

Soccer uses a “yellow card” system, where every time an egregious rule violation takes place the referee gives the player a “yellow card.”

If you get two yellow cards, you are then given a red card and you are ejected from the game and your team must play with one less player (in other words, unlike a basketball player who has been ejected from the game, you cannot substitute a replacement for the ejected player).

Here’s England star player Wayne Rooney getting a yellow card…

Here are the things you can give a yellow card for…

1. Unsporting behaviour
2. Dissent by word or action
3. Persistently infringing the laws of the game
4. Delaying the restart of play
5. Failing to respect the required distance of a corner kick or free kick
6. Entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission
7. Deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission

“Flopping” is specifically codified under rule 1. However, it’s one thing to SAY that you’re going to punish people for flopping and it’s a whole other thing to actually CALL it, as it can often be quite difficult to determine whether a player legitimately fell or is just pretending to be hurt.

That uncertainty was at play in May of 2010 in a fifth division match between Eastern European club Mladost FC and their local rival team, Hrvatski Sokol.
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Did the Coach of Harvard’s Football Team Once Strangle a Bulldog to Inspire His Team to Defeat the Yale Bulldogs?

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 coach of Harvard once strangled a live bulldog to death to motivate his team to defeat the Yale Bulldogs.

Percy Haughton was, without a doubt, the most successful football coach in the history of Harvard Crimson football.

One of the first professional head coaches (initially the job was either done by seniors or volunteers), Haughton (a former Harvard football player himself) led the team to a 72-7 record (with 5 ties) in his nine seasons as head coach of the Crimson. The team also claimed three national championships during his tenure. A major factor by Harvard (and perhaps more importantly, the boosters of the team) in deciding to bring in Haughton was Harvard’s record against Yale in the end of the year game (which eventually became referred to as simply “The Game”) the two rival schools had played since 1875 (with some gaps, like when The Game has become so violent that it was canceled for two years. Check out this old Football Urban Legend for a similar situation in the Army-Navy game of the same era). In the 28 games that they had played prior to the 1908 season, Yale had won 21 of them, including the last six (all shutouts!). So Haughton had a strong desire to defeat the Yale Bulldogs in the 1908 match, not just because of the pressure from his new position but because he, himself (as a Harvard alum) hated the Elis as much as anyone. The legend goes that Haughton actually strangled a live bulldog before the game in front of his players to motivate them to victory. They did, in fact, win the game 4-0 (field goals counted for 4 points back then) and the Harvard/Yale rivalry would no longer be a one-sided one from then on (they have basically split the series since 1908). It is one of the most famous pieces of motivation in college football history (right up there with “Win one for the Gipper!”). But is it true?
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Was Grover Cleveland Alexander Either Drunk or Asleep When He Was Brought in to Pitch in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series?

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: Grover Cleveland Alexander was drunk and/or asleep in the bullpen when he was called out to face Tony Lazerri in the 7th inning of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series.

Modern baseball fans certainly recall the heroics of Jack Morris pitching a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and Randy Johnson pitching an inning and a third of scoreless relief on one day’s rest in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series and Madison Bumgarner pitching five innings of scoreless relief on two days’ rest in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Well, right up there in the annals of World Series pitching heroics is Grover Cleveland Alexander’s performance in the 1926 World Series.

The 39-year-old Alexander had joined the Cardinals earlier in 1926 after being cut by the Chicago Cubs (Alexander was still a pretty productive pitcher for a bad Cubs team, but he did not get along with the manager of the Cubs and the thought was that the next good Cubs team likely would not have Alexander on it due to his age, so why not just cut ties with him now?) and had won Game 2 of the ’26 Series against the New York Yankees. In Game 6 of the Series, with the Cardinals trailing 3 games to 2, Alexander pitching nine innings in a 10-2 Cardinal victory.

Now, in Game 7, played the very next day, the Cardinals were clinging to a 3-2 lead when the Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh inning with future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri (the Yankees’ #6 hitter) at bat with two outs. Cardinals player/manager Rogers Hornsby went to Alexander. Alexander came in and struck Lazzeri out. Alexander then proceeded to retire the Yankees over the next two innings, with the last out famously coming on an attempted steal of second base by Babe Ruth, for a Cardinals World Series victory.

Great story, no? Well, over the years, the story has almost always included the extra “fact” that Alexander, figuring he was not going to be pitching Game 7, spent the night of Game 6 drinking so much that by Game 7 he was dozing off in the bullpen with a bottle of whiskey in his pocket when he was roused to go save the Cardinals’ season. Supposedly, Hornsby met him in left field as he entered from the bullpen to see if he could even see straight, noted that he was hammered but figured that a drunk Alexander was better than a sober anyone else, so stuck with the future Hall of Famer. Even better story, right?

But is is true?
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Did FIFA Change the Rules of a Contest When Diego Maradona Was Voted Player of the Century?

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

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: FIFA changed the rules of a contest when Diego Maradona was voted Player of the Century in 2000.

In 2000, FIFA decided to let fans vote on who would be given the title of the “Player of the Century.” The voting was done online, and in overwhelming fashion, the winner was Argentine star Diego Maradona.

Maradona certainly had a case for the honor. Most historians agree he’s at least among the five best players of the 20th Century.

However, he is also not Pelé.

The Brazilian star is perhaps the most famous soccer/football player of the 20th Century, and when the fans voted for Maradona, FIFA panicked and hilarity ensued.
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Why Were Two Little League Teams Each Trying to Lose in the Final Inning of a Playoff Game?

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: Two teams playing in the Little League World Series were both trying to intentionally fail in the last inning of their match-up so that they could advance to the final of their region.

The idea of strategically losing is a well ingrained concept in the world of sports. In most leagues, the team with the worst record in the regular season will have the first pick of the next season’s draft (or in the NBA, the team with the worst record will have the best odds of getting the first pick in a lottery drawing held after the season). Therefore, if there is a particularly heralded prospect available in the upcoming draft, it actually makes a certain amount of sense for a mediocre team to try to become as bad as they can to give themselves the best chance to snare the number one pick. It is such a well known strategy that there is even a phrase for it – “tanking the season.” We have seen it work well for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Pittsburgh Penguins (who netted themselves Lebron James and Mario Lemeiux, respectively), but we have also seen it backfire horribly, as it did for the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics when they had the worst two records in the NBA in 1996-97, but saw the 3rd worst team, the San Antonio Spurs, end up with Tim Duncan in the 1997 NBA Draft.

Beyond losing to get a good draft pick, teams also often intentionally lose to affect where they are seeded in the playoffs. I have written in the past about an amusing incident where the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks both tried to lose their final meeting of the 1999 NBA season because the Heat wanted the Knicks to be the #7 team and face the #2 seeded Pacers while the Knicks wanted to be the #8 team so that they could face the #1 seeded Heat.

So the idea of stragetically losing is normal. However, what is abnormal is seeing two teams that were playing in the final inning of the game that decided who would go to the finals of their region in the Little League World Series (where the winning team would advance to the Little League World Series) where one team was trying to let the other team score and the other team was trying intentionally to make outs!
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Were the Cleveland Browns Named After Boxing Legend Joe Louis?

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: he Cleveland Browns were named after boxer Jou “The Brown Bomber” Louis.

The Cleveland Browns opened shop in 1946 as one of the inaugural teams in a new professional football league designed to compete with the National Football League (NFL), the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). They were led by coach (and part-owner) Paul Brown, who was one of the most famous sporting figures in the state of Ohio at the time, having coached Ohio State to a shared national championship earlier in the decade (following years of dominance in Ohio High School football). So it would seem logical that the team was named after Coach Brown, right?

Well, from a 1995 Washington Post article when the announcement was made that Browns owner Art Modell was moving the team to Baltimore (where they became the Baltimore Ravens):

Contrary to popular belief, the Browns were not named for their famous coach Paul Brown. Rather, they were called the Brown Bombers, after the nickname of the revered boxer of that era, Joe Louis. The name later was shortened to the Browns.

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So, is the popular belief true?
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Did a Hall of Famer Really Leave a Letter to be Opened After His Death Revealing Whether He ACTUALLY Made a Famous Catch?

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 Hall of Famer revealed the truth behind a famous catch in a letter only to be read after his death.

On October 13, 1974, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Sam Rice passed away at the age of 84. His death came almost exactly 49 years after Game Three of the 1925 World Series (October 10, 1925). In that game, Rice made one of the most famous catches in World Series history.

Sam_Rice_portrait

It was also one of the most controversial catches. The controversy surrounded whether Rice ACTUALLY made the catch. Since the play involved Rice being out of everyone’s field of vision for at least ten seconds, only Rice knew the answer for sure. Rice always actively avoided telling people the truth (not even his own wife and children), and legend had it that Rice had written a letter for the Baseball Hall of Fame containing the truth that was not to be opened until his death.

Well, two weeks after Rice died, there was no such letter. Cliff Kachline, the official historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said “That Sam Rice letter has been a rumor for a long time, but we never had any solid evidence there was one.”

Was there a letter?
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Did Andre the Giant Really Try Out for the Washington Redskins?

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: Andre the Giant once tried out for the Washington Redskins.

The late André René Roussimoff was best known as the stage name he worked under as a professional wrestler – Andre the Giant.

andrethegiant

The French-born legend was one of the early stars of the World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation (WWWF/WWF) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, preceding Hulk Hogan as the main “babyface” wrestler (wrestling term for the “good guy” wrestlers) for the WWF. He gained even more fame when he appeared in the 1987 classic hit film The Princess Bride as the gentle giant, Fezzik. At seven feet four inches and nearly five hundred pounds (a result of gigantism), Roussimoff was an imposing and surprisingly athletic figure who marveled fans for years before his untimely death in 1993 at the age of 46 due to congestive heart failure.

His athleticism (and size) has led to a persistent legend that Roussmoff tried out for the Washington Redskins and their coach, George Allen, offered him a contract to play in the National Football League (NFL) in 1975. As the story goes, after the tryout, Roussimoff ultimately decided to pass on the deal, changing not only his professional legacy but perhaps NFL history, as well.

Is that true, though?
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Which NBA Hall of Famer Was Ejected From an MLB Game Despite Never Actually Appearing in an MLB Game?

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: Bill Sharman was ejected from a game in the Majors but never actually played a game in the Majors.

The late, great Bill Sharman is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (as a longtime star for the Boston Celtics) and as a coach (as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers when they set a then-record for the most wins in a single season with 69 wins – since surpassed by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls). I actually featured a basketball legend about Sharman’s early experiences coaching Wilt Chamberlain awhile back (you can read it here).

However, in his early years as a Celtic, Sharman also split time playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league team. He was in the Dodger system from 1950 through 1955 (he was a Celtic from 1951-1961).

Sharman actually got called up to the Majors on September 27, 1951. That might have been the beginning of a new era in his life, except for a close play at the plate.
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