Baseball, Creepy history, Criminals, Pop Culture, Sports

Tito Francona and the Curse of Rocky Colavito. PART II

Curse Part two

Original publish date:  March 28, 2019

During a spring training Cactus League exhibition game on March 26, 1961, Cleveland Indians outfielder Tito Francona hit a 350-foot home run against the Boston Red Sox at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona. It’s 349 feet to right field, 366 feet to left field, and 410 feet to “dead” center. Unwittingly, when Tito’s homer flew over the right-field fence of paim-fringed Hi Corbett field and finally stopped rolling, it helped solve a murder case. As John Cota, a city parks employee, chased after it, he pulled up short at the edge of a shallow water trench. The ball rolled to a dead stop beside a body, partly covered with a coat, a .22-caliber revolver clutched in his hand. Police identified the body as that of Fred Victor Burden, 50, a house painter from Toronto. Burden was wanted by Tucson police in connection with the shooting death of former prize fighter James Cocio.
z tito_francona_solves_murderThe front page of the Tucson Daily Citizen on March 27, 1961 ran a story headlined, “Practice Homer Leads To Body”. The story detailed, “An over-the-wall smash by Cleveland Indians’ Tito Francona yesterday led to the discovery that Frederick Victor Burden had carried out his threat to commit suicide after killing a man in the home of his estranged wife. Burden’s body, with a bullet in the head, was found by city parks employee John C. Cota, 52, of 238 E. E. 19th St., while he was looking for a ball that had just been knocked over the west wall during the practice at Hi Corbett Field in Randolph Park. The partially concealed body was found lying in a shallow watering trench under low – hanging palm fronds when discovered about 11:30 a m.”
A few days prior, the same paper covered the story about the fatal shooting of 45-year-old James Contreras Cocio. Burden’s body was found lying face up with a .22 automatic pistol clutched in the right hand, his glasses found hanging on a small palm tree nearby. County Pathologist Louis Hirsth said Burden had been dead at least 48 hours. The killer had shot himself in the roof of the mouth, the bullet lodging in the skull. Before the discovery, Burden had been charged in absentia with the first-degree murder of Cocio, a World War II Marine veteran and former three-time Arizona featherweight boxing champion.
Burden, out of the country since January, had returned home from Canada unexpectedly to find his 46-year-old wife Irene and Cocio together in the couple’s home at 2207 E. 20th St. Mrs. Burden told police the two men had argued over her and investigators said it was obvious that the Tuesday night killing was the result of that quarrel. Police said the woman’s husband fired five quick shots at the victim when Cocio opened the rear door of the home and discovered Burden standing outside in his stocking feet. A sixth shot fired at Cocio’s body nearly two hours later wounded Mrs. Burden in the left leg. Burden drove his wife to the home of her employer after discovering the wound, and told her he was going to kill himself. She was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital for treatment of the leg wound and discharged the same day her husband’s body was found. No record survives as to whether parks department employee John Cota retrieved, much less saved, the baseball.
What many might have viewed as a bad omen didn’t derail Tito’s season however. Francona kicked off the season with a Chief Wahoo Indian “Ki Yi Waugh Woop!” He was batting .293 with eleven home runs and 53 RBIs at the All-Star break of the 1961 season and Tito was named to the American League All-Star squad for the only time in his career. He finished the season batting .301 with sixteen home runs, 85 RBIs and he lead American League left fielders in fielding percentage.
z 58558-5FrDespite having emerged as the best defensive left fielder in the league, Francona was shifted to first base during spring training in 1962 and finished the season leading the American League in double plays turned as a first baseman. He finished with 14 homers, 28 doubles and batted .272. When Birdie Tebbetts took over as Indians manager in 1963, Francona was moved back into left, but his numbers fell drastically. His .228 batting average was a career low, and his ten home runs and 41 RBIs were his fewest over a full season. The Indians acquired All-Star Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner to play left field prior to the 1964 season, so Francona split time between right and first base. After the season, he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later and cash.
Tito had quite a career, spanning 15 seasons and including stops with eight other teams, including the Braves, Cardinals, A’s, Orioles, Phillies, Tigers, Brewers and White Sox. He was originally signed by the St. Louis Browns in 1952 but left the game for two years to serve in the U.S. Army, by the time he returned, the team had relocated and was now the Baltimore Orioles. In 1956 upon returning to the O’s, Tito finished tied with the Cleveland Indians’ Rocky Colavito for second place in American League Rookie of the Year balloting behind Chicago White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio. For his career, Francona hit .272 with 125 homers, 656 RBIs and a .746 OPS in 1,719 games. Francona spent six seasons (’59-64) with the Indians.
z ,logo images 1And what about that curse? The curse of Rocky Colavito? Well, in recent years, it has dampened a little with the Indians “rebuilding years” of the past two decades. But. although they’ve played in three World Series Championships since 1995, they still haven’t won one. Here are just a few of the mishaps blamed on that curse since Colavito’s 1960 trade. September 1961: Fireballer “Sudden Sam” McDowell breaks two ribs throwing a fastball. June 1964: Third Baseman Max Alvis suffers an attack of spinal meningitis on a team flight. January 1965: The Indians reacquire Rocky Colavito from the Kansas City A’s in exchange for Rookie of the Year winner Tommie Agee and future 286-game winner Tommy John. July 1970: Reds star Pete Rose plows over catcher Ray Fosse in the All-Star game, effectively ending Fosse’s career in Cleveland. June 1974: Drunken fans pour onto the Cleveland Stadium field during ten-cent beer night, forcing a forfeit while destroying the diamond. March 1977: 20-game winner Wayne Garland hurts his arm in Spring training, effectively ending his career. March 1978: Indians trade Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley to the Red Sox. July 1981: Cleveland hosts the All-Star game which is delayed until August by the MLB strike. August 1981: 1980 AL Rookie of the Year “Super Joe” Charboneau is sent down to AAA, never to be heard of again. April 1987: Sports Illustrated picks the Indians to win the pennant but they lose 101 games and finish last. March 1993: three Indians pitchers die in car crashes and a fourth is seriously injured. July 1994: Indians are speeding towards the World Series when the season is cancelled by a player’s strike.
It is believed by some that the curse extends to the Indians’ old spring training home in Tucson as well. Hi Corbett Field served as the spring training home of Cleveland from 1947 through 1992. Hi Corbett has not been used for Spring Training games since, but parts of the movie Major League were filmed there which ironically portrayed the Cleveland Indians as the laughing stock of the league.
z 2 dudesThere is so much about Tito Francona that typifies that which makes baseball so interesting. Aside from one of the greatest nicknames in sports history, he was considered a journeyman for most of his career, but a damned good one. Tito Francona was a baseball player, a great husband and father and an even better teammate. When he died at the age of 84 he left a lasting legacy. Tito was there at the beginning of “The Curse” and although he’s gone, he’s likely to be there when the curse ends because “Little Tito” just might lead the Indians to a World Series Championship this season. After all, it was Francona who broke the Boston Red Sox Curse of Babe Ruth by winning two World’s Series titles in four years. Yep, baseball is a funny game.

Baseball, Creepy history, Criminals, Sports

Tito Francona and the Curse of Rocky Colavito. PART I

Curse Part one

Original publish date:  March 21, 2019

Spring training baseball is back. I am one of those legion of fans who wait every year to hear the five most beautiful words in the English language: “Pitchers and Catchers Report.” As a kid growing up, spring training baseball was always synonymous with Florida. In the Mid-1970s, my family took our spring break vacations at the Island Towers resort hotel in Fort Myers. It just so happened that the hotel was the spring training headquarters of the Kansas City Royals. So it was no big thing seeing guys like George Brett, Frank White, Freddie Patek, and Cookie Rojas hanging out at the pool or chasing my older sisters on the beach. Years later, I ran into Jamie Quirk at old 16th Street Bush Stadium and he informed me that the Island Towers were owned by Buck Martinez’s parents.
Ruth Jersey AuctionMy grandparents retired to Cape Coral in the late 1970s and I recall one of their oldster neighbors showing me a photo album from the 1930s with pictures of the New York Yankees at Spring Training down there. Turns out his family lived near the facility, Fort Lauderdale if memory serves, where the Yankees trained. I can remember the photos in there of Lou Gehrig in a bathing suit (MAN that dude was HUGE!) and Babe Ruth in full uniform on the beach, two bats resting on his shoulder with his fielder’s glove and cleats hanging from the back like a hobo pouch. In his pin striped uniform! On the Beach! Everything in that photo would be worth a small fortune today, including the photo itself!
z seaver 1Somehow, I became a Blue Jays fan. Probably because I went to their first spring training game in franchise history in Dunedin. March 11, 1977 they beat the Mets 3-1 at Grant Field, which was built in 1930 and looked like it. I went to a few games that year. I distinctly recall sitting on a wooden bleacher seat right next to Tom Seaver who was talking to me like it was no big deal. And he was pitching that day. Within a few weeks, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine.” Florida meant Spring Training, period. Somewhere along the line that changed.
They had spring training games in Arizona, something called the “Cactus League”, but that didn’t count for much back then. Today, more teams call Arizona home for spring training than ever before. The teams that play in Arizona now are the Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs & White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers. More than 100 games are scheduled between Feb. 21 – March 26, 2019. The broadcasters say that the travel in Florida is brutal, sometimes 3-4 hour bus rides, while the travel between stadiums in Arizona is usually less than an hour. When it comes to Arizona baseball, I think of a spring training story from the Cactus League that happened before I was born. The story emanates from Hi Corbett Field in spring training of 1961. But first a little background.
HiCorbett1March of 1961 was a busy time: America’s brand new President John F. Kennedy creates the Peace Corps, The Beatles start performing at the Cavern Club, Nine African-American students from Mississippi’s Tougaloo College made the first peaceful attempt to end segregation by staging a “read-in” at the whites-only main branch of the Jackson municipal public library, NASA launches a Mercury-Redstone BD rocket from Cape Canaveral as one final test flight to certify its safety for human transport. Alan Shepard had volunteered to take the flight and become the first man to travel into outer space, but was stopped by Wernher von Braun from going, Less than three weeks later, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin would, on April 12, would reach the milestone, Actor Ronald Reagan bursts onto the political scene with his speech “Encroaching Control” before the Phoenix chamber of commerce and the Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo is captured.
Hi Corbett Field is located in Tucson, Arizona. Opened in 1937, it was originally called Randolph Municipal Baseball Park. In 1951, it was renamed in honor of Hiram Stevens Corbett (1886–1967), a former Arizona state senator who was instrumental in bringing spring training to Tucson, specifically by convincing Bill Veeck to bring the Cleveland Indians there in 1947. Veeck owned a ranch in Tucson, and he and players sometimes rode horses there after games. Veeck claimed that he moved the team’s training camp from Florida to Arizona in order to avoid Florida’s Jim Crow laws.

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Bill Veeck

In the mid-1940s, while Veeck was owner of the then-minor league Milwaukee Brewers of the AAA American Association, during one of his team’s spring games in Ocala, Florida, the owner took a bleacher seat and started talking with the fans around him. Veeck had no idea that he had sat in the part of the stadium that was designated for African American fans. That turned out to be a big deal in the segregated “Jim Crow” South of the 1940s. Veeck had no idea that he was breaking a law that kept black fans from mixing with white spectators. In his book, “Veeck as in Wreck”, he wrote, “Within a few minutes, a sheriff came running over to tell me I couldn’t sit there.” The Brewers owner refused to move, and soon the mayor himself was threatening to force him to sit in another section. Veeck countered that if they wanted him to move from his seat, he would would move his team right along with him; to another city. The mayor finally backed down, but Veeck never forgot it.
In time, Veeck sold his stake in the Brewers and bought the Cleveland Indians. Veeck chose Phoenix, Arizona as the Indians’ spring training home for 1947. Veeck convinced the New York Giants to join his Indians so that the two teams could prepare for the season. The next season, Veeck signed Larry Doby to a contract, making him the American League’s first black player. Doby made his major league debut with the Indians on July 5, 1947, about 11 weeks after Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Giants followed by signing Hall of Famer Monte Irvin the next year and the Cactus League was born.
z B99629538Z.1_20180214121756_000_GTU1S68FU.1-0Last year, John Patsy Francona, a Cleveland Indians fan favorite better known as “Tito” died on the eve of spring training. It was the day before Valentine’s Day and the Indians’ pitchers & catchers were just trickling in to their spring training park in Goodyear, Arizona. The passing was made all the more bittersweet when you consider that the team was managed by Tito’s son, Terry Francona. Terry grew up in the Indians dugout where players called him “Little Tito.” As a member of the Montreal Expos, Terry played against our Indians here in Indianapolis at the old 16th street stadium. Before that he played college ball for Arizona State and led his team to the 1980 College World Series Championship. Terry Francona’s dad’s nickname of “Tito” was naturally passed down to his son, and although the broadcasters and news media still call him “Terry”, Tito is what the manager’s friends and players call him.
The elder Francona arrived in Cleveland in 1959 with baby Terry (born April 22 of that year) in tow. That season, Tito was at the top of his game and his presence knocked some all-time Indian greats right off the roster. Francona came to Cleveland in a one-for-one trade that sent Hall of Famer Larry Doby to the White Sox. (Ironically, it was the second time Tito had been traded for Larry Doby after the O’s traded him to the White Sox in 1958) Tito arrived at the “Mistake on the Lake” with big shoes to fill, but Francona, who began the 1959 season as a pinch hitter and utility man, quickly earned a regular place in the lineup. After going five-for-nine with a home run in a June 7 doubleheader against the Yankees, Francona replaced Jim Piersall as Cleveland’s starting center fielder. By the end of the season, he displaced Indians regular first baseman Vic Power, who was shifted to second base.
z AR-304189941That season Tito batted .363 with a career high twenty home runs and 79 RBIs to help the Indians to an 89–65 record and second place in the American League. His .363 average would have led the league, however, he fell 34 at-bats short of the 3.1 per game necessary to qualify. The batting championship went to the Detroit Tigers’ Harvey Kuenn, with a .353 batting average, ten points below Tito. Francona finished fifth in balloting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award that season. He compiled 20 home runs, 17 doubles, 79 RBIs, 68 runs scored, 145 hits, a .414 on-base percentage and a .566 slugging percentage in 122 games.
Ironically, the next season, Francona was shifted to left field when the Indians traded home run leader Rocky Colavito for Kuenn, the same player who edged out Tito for the batting title the year before. With former Indianapolis Indians slugger Colavito gone (Indianapolis was Cleveland’s minor league affiliate from 1952-56), Francona was inserted in the clean-up spot in manager Joe Gordon’s batting order. Tito tallied only six home runs through the All-Star break and was dropped to the number six spot in the batting order for August, and then back up to number two by September. Tito hit eleven home runs over the rest of the season to finish with seventeen overall. He batted ,292 and his 36 doubles led the American League for 1960. The trade of Colavito for Kuenn is considered by longtime Indians’ fans the beginning of the “Curse of Rocky Colavito” and as you might imagine, Tito Francona was right in the thick of it.Francona Tito 2053.68WTC_Bat_NBL

Music, Sports, The Beatles

Muhammad Ali Meets The Beatles.

Ali-Beatles

Original publish date:  February 21, 2019

Its February in Indianapolis. As I sit at my keyboard in 10 below zero weather, my power is out, the candles are lit and my compy is running on battery power. So…time for a happy warm memory. 55 years ago, on February 18, 1964 The Beatles met a young Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Miami Beach, Florida. The Fab Four were wrapping up their whirlwind tour of America (including two shows at the Fairgrounds in Indianapolis) and Clay / Ali was prepping for his February 25 fight against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Although both events would change history, for that brief moment in time, they were just five kids goofing around and mugging for the camera.

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The Beatles and Ed Sullivan.

In the previous nine days, the lads from Liverpool had performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York before a record television audience (and taped another program for later broadcast), played concerts at Washington, D.C.’s Coliseum and New York’s Carnegie Hall, then traveled south for their second Sullivan Show appearance at Miami’s Deauville Hotel. Their Meet the Beatles album was dominating the U.S. Billboard charts and their single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was blasting out of every transistor radio in the country. Beatlemania, which had already swept Britain for a year, was exploding worldwide. America hadn’t seen anything like this since Elvis Presley the previous decade. The band’s Svengali manager, Brian Epstein, decided the boys needed a rest and what better place to take a break than in Miami Beach?

Postcard Collection
The Deauville Hotel. Miami Beach.

The Beatles arrival in Miami is legendary and offers a great snapshot on the innocence of “Beatlemania” in South Florida. Some 7,000 screaming teenagers greeted the Beatles at Miami International Airport. The Fab Four were thrown in a limousine, raced across town, and rushed into the Deauville Hotel. The Deauville hotel was built in the mid-1920s, and was transformed into the Deauville Beach Resort in the mid-1950s. Towering over Miami Beach, the Deauville featured 500 rooms, on-site restaurants, nightclubs, boutiques, a beauty salon, swimming pool, an ice skating rink and it’s own radio station that routinely hosted Frank Sinatra and his rat pack. The Beatles stayed on the 12th floor, which has become a shrine to Beatlemania festooned with memorabilia and photographs on the hallway walls around the actual rooms where the Beatles stayed for those eight days in February 1964. There is a guard posted by the elevator and a sign that requests: “Silence.”. John and then-wife Cynthia Lennon stayed in room 1211. Paul, George, Ringo, manager Brian Epstein and others in their entourage shared rooms. There was no backstage in the Napoleon Ballroom. The band traveled from their hotel rooms, down the elevator, across a lobby packed with screaming girls to make their way into the ballroom and through the room filled with thousands of adoring female fans waiting to see them perform for millions more watching them on TV.

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On the other hand, Cassius Clay was training hard in the ring and talking smack outside of it to anyone within earshot. The brash 1960 Olympic champion had earned his shot, raising steadily through the heavyweight ranks while racking up a 19-0 record including 15 knockouts. His 1963 victory over Doug Jones and subsequent drubbing of Englishman Henry Cooper rounded out his “Bum of the month” schedule and set up his shot at the title shot at the menacing Sonny Liston. While Clay / Ali was an intelligent technical fighter, Liston was a brute whose appearance, like Mike Tyson afterwards, screamed pain. Liston had won the championship in 1962 by flooring Floyd Patterson in the first round of their title bout. Ring experts proclaimed the lithe and lean Clay / Ali didn’t have a ghost of a chance against the mammoth brawler Liston.

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Problem was, like a scene straight out of “Rocky”, while “the champ” Liston was training in the relative splendor of the North Beach community center, “the upstart” Clay / Ali was sparring hard at the decrepit Fifth Street Gym in what is now South Beach. Despite its run-down appearance, the 5th Street Gym was a boxing mecca visited by the likes of Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Burt Lancaster during its heyday of the 1950-60s. The gym opened in 1950 on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach by Chris Dundee brother of Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Angelo Dundee. The rings were located on the second floor of the building and besides Clay / Ali, the gym was used for training by other champion boxers including Joe Louis, Carmen Basilio, Jake LaMotta, Willie Pastrano, and Sugar Ray Leonard.

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In shades of taunts to come, 22-year-old Cassius was unmercifully needling his opponent, going so far as to take his entourage by bus to Liston’s training headquarters to heckle the champion in front of the media gathered outside. Clay quickly branded Liston as the “big, ugly bear.” For his part, Liston, who was 35-1 when he met Clay / Ali, remained relatively silent, furrowed his brow, bowed his back and brushed the loudmouth youngster’s taunts off summarily. Liston was known for his toughness, formidable punching power, long reach, and intimidating appearance and was widely regarded as unbeatable.Cassius Clay at the 5th Street Gym (with Angelo Dundee) Miami Beach, FL 1961
The Beatles-or more likely someone in their entourage-requested a photo-op with heavyweight champion Liston. Fleet street photographer Harry Benson, traveling with the band on their first American trip, tried to set it up. But the grim Liston, made even grumpier from the constant harassment by Clay, had had enough youthful enthusiasm and decided he wanted no part of Beatlemania. 25-year-old New York Times reporter Robert Lipsyte, in town covering the lead up to the big fight, said Liston rebuffed the request by asking, “Who are these little sissies?”

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So Benson made a detour to the dingy Fifth Street Gym with the Beatles in tow for a hastily arranged session with Clay, whose own press agent welcomed the publicity. Because of dire predictions by experts promising a short, unmemorable contest, ticket sales were slow, even though it was title fight. Clay / Ali was a 7-1 underdog and aside from his antics outside the ring, he was still relatively unknown. While fight fans found Clay’s smack-talk amusing, they also believed the increasingly irritated Liston would quickly dispatch the braggart and shut the upstart’s mouth for good. Even the Beatles weren’t exactly thrilled at the proposed meeting. beatlesclay2406
The optics of the trip did little to encourage the Fab Four’s hope as they rambled up the gym’s decaying steps. Even John Lennon referred to the young challenger at one point as “that loudmouth who’s going to lose.” The lads were ushered into the dark and dank warehouse where they waited in the stale air for Clay / Ali to arrive. The fighter was late and the boys clowned around the rings, bouncing on and off the ropes like subjects in a Charlie Chaplin film. Photographer Benson busied himself by scouting out the best angles in the gym for his photos. The lads were tired and ready to hit the beach and chase chicks. As the time ticked away, the band became increasingly impatient and annoyed. “Where is he?!” Ringo Starr angrily asked. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” Lennon muttered as he headed for the door. Instead, Clay’s promoter had a couple security guards herd the band into a dressing room, where reporter Lipsyte found the boys fuming and cursing Harry Benson’s name.38129e97264397a786bd0a5734d8a149
Suddenly the door swung open and the startled band-mates looked up to see the biggest man any of them had ever seen framing the doorway. “Hello there, Beatles!,” Clay exclaimed. “We oughta do some roadshows together. We’ll get rich!” The Beatles were instantly mesmerized. Amid laughter, playful nudges and jostling, the five young men who would come to define their generation, headed into the gym. There they posed, mugged and improvised slapstick situations for the cameras like old time vaudevillians. The media image-savvy young boxer at first posed in his street clothes and then changed into his white trunks. Clay characteristically bit his upper lip and posed knocking the Beatles down like dominoes. The Fab Four dutifully lay on the canvas in mock defeat before as the young fighter towered over them. Clay suddenly picked the diminutive Ringo up off the floor and effortlessly cradled him in his arms like an infant. “Man, you guys are the greatest!” Cassius enthused. “The whole world is shook up about you!” One UPI reporter said Clay ad-libbed a little verse for the occasion: “When Liston reads about the Beatles visiting me / He’ll get so mad I’ll knock him out in three!”
tumblr_ozb3eploXt1rldhmro3_1280The exhausted Beatles were thunderstruck by the encounter. As the dunned Fab Four fled the gym and piled back into their limo, they swore oaths to photographer Benson that they’d never speak to him again, with one unidentified Beatle carping that the whole experience had been “degrading. You made a fool of us!” The feeling was apparently mutual. Back at the gym, Clay completed his workout, then hit the dressing room for a rubdown as the press prodded him for details. Cassius turned to Lipsyte with a puzzled look and asked about the four long-haired young Englishmen he’d spent the morning clowning with earlier by asking, “Who were those little sissies?”
ct-prj-phantom-punch-muhammad-ali-sonny-liston-20151203A week later Sonny Liston threw in the towel by refusing to come out of his corner for the seventh round of the title fight. Of the encounter, reporter Robert Lipsyte later wrote, “In 1964 my time was not very valuable. I was a utility night rewrite writer and speechwriter at the Times when Sonny Liston fought Cassius Clay for the first time. The Times, in its wisdom, did not feel it was worth the time to send the real boxing writer. So they sent me down to Miami Beach and my instructions were, as soon as I got there, to rent a car and drive back and forth a couple of times between the arena, where the fight was going to be held in a week, and the nearest hospital. They did not want me wasting any deadline time following Cassius Clay into intensive care.”
“As I walked up the stairs to the gym there was a kind of hubbub behind me. There were these four little guys in terrycloth cabana suits who were being pushed up the stairs by two big security guards. As I found out later, it was a British rock group in America. They had been taken to Sonny Liston for a photo op. He had taken one look at them and said “I’m not posing with those sissies.” Desperately, they brought the group over to Cassius Clay—to at least get a shot with him. They were cursing. They were angry. They were absolutely furious. I introduced myself. John said, “Hi, I’m Ringo.” Ringo said, “Hi, I’m George.” I asked how they thought the fight was going to go. “Oh, he’s going to kill the little wanker,” they said. Then they were cursing, stamping their feet, banging on the door. Suddenly the door bursts open and there is the most beautiful creature any of us had ever seen. He leaned in, looked at them and said, “C’mon, let’s go make some money.” He turned and the Beatles followed him out to the ring. They lined up. He tapped Ringo. They all went down like dominoes. It was a marvelous, antic set piece. And then it was over and they left.”
The Ottawa Journal newspaper of February 19, 1964 ran an article titled, “BRITAIN’S BUSH-HAIRED BEATLES MEET BOXING’S BARON OF BRAY” which reported, “Britain’s bush-haired Beatles met boxing’s Baron of Bray, Cassius Clay, Tuesday and it ended up in clowning, off-key pandemonium. Boxing and singing probably were set back 100 years when Gaseous Cassius teamed up with.. the four mop-haired singers during a break in training at the Fifth Street gym. “Man, you guys are the greatest. The whole world is shook up about you,” said Clay, apparently a longtime Beatle fan. The raucous meeting represented two firsts: Clay admitted that someone other than himself is “great,” for the first time, and he predicted that he will flatten Liston in three rounds, even though the brash 22-year-old contender is a 6-1 underdog at the moment. The Beatles, dressed in flashy sport shirts, snow-white vests and beach shoes, enjoyed the meeting as much as Clay. They entered the training ring with a “yeah, yeah, yeah” and pretended to attack Clay en masse. Clay shouted “no, no, no” and feigned horror. It was about what you’d expect from Clay – Beatle meeting: noise, poems and more noise. Photographers had a field day during the clowning, which didn’t end until trainer Angelo Dundee reminded Clay that he had a date in exactly one week. Before they left, Clay lifted Beatle drummer Ringo Starr two feet off the floor, tossed him up and wished him good luck.The other three Beatles, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, watched laughing. For the Beatles, the confrontation with Clay was the kickoff of a leisurely day on the beach. They have no more appearances to make and are vacationing until Friday when they return to London. For Clay, it was a respite from the serious business of hard training. Loudmouth or not, Clay apparently realizes what he is here for. He snapped back into the routine as soon as the Beatles left.”

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As for Liston, rumors circulated that the champ had been drinking heavily the night before the fight. Liston was still a world-ranked boxer when he died under mysterious circumstances at the estimated age of 39 (Sonny’s birth certificate has never been found). Almost a year after defeating Chuck Wepner on January 29, 1970, whose 1975 title fight with Muhammad Ali was the model for the “Rocky” films, Liston was found dead by his wife, Geraldine, in their Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971. Upon returning home from a two-week trip, Geraldine smelled a foul odor coming from the main bedroom. There she found her husband slumped up against the bed atop a broken foot bench. It was believed the champ was undressing for bed when he fell backward breaking the bench. Geraldine called Sonny’s attorney and his doctor, but did not notify the police until two to three hours later. Police found a quarter-ounce of heroin in a balloon in the kitchen and a half-ounce of marijuana in Liston’s pants pocket. 300px-Liston_BE055243
Following an investigation, Las Vegas police concluded that there were no signs of foul play and declared Liston’s death a heroin overdose. The coroner said Sonny’s body was too decomposed to be conclusive and officially declared the cause of death to be “lung congestion and heart failure” to save embarrassment for the family. The date of death listed on his death certificate is December 30, 1970, which police estimated by judging the number of milk bottles and newspapers around the front door of the property. Many people who knew Liston insisted that he was afraid of needles and never would have used heroin. Some claim Liston was murdered by the mob and a loan-sharking ring in Las Vegas. Others said Liston was murdered by drug dealers with whom he’d become involved. Underworld connections and his unrecorded date of birth added to the enigma.
For their part, that evening The Beatles went to a drive-in movie, where they watched Elvis Presley in Fun In Acapulco. Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, “THE” heavyweight champion of a generation. It was a title he’d retain on and off for the next 15 years, twice as long as The Beatles lasted as a group. That hastily-arranged photo op of greatness from 55 years ago has become an iconic mixed-metaphor snapshot of the sixties. The participants are all shown smiling, jostling and cajoling each other in the ring, betraying no trace of the resentment being felt on all sides. Three of the five subjects are gone from this earth, but those images have achieved pop culture immortality.

John F. Kennedy, Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents, Sports

Do You Remember January 22, 1973?

jan 23, 1973

Original publish date:  January 22, 2019

Were you alive on January 22, 1973? If so, consider this a reminder, if not, let me show what a typical day was like for a late-stage Baby Boomer like me. January 22, 1973 was a Monday in the Age of Aquarius. All in the Family was # 1 on television and The Poseidon Adventure was tops at the box office. Carly Simon was riding the top of the charts with her hit song “You’re so vain.” A song that has kept people guessing who she’s singing about to this day. Is it Warren Beatty? Mick Jagger? David Cassidy? Cat Stevens? David Bowie? James Taylor? All of whom have been accused. Carly has never fessed up, although she once admitted that the subject’s name contains the letters A, E, and R.

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The month of January 1973 had started on a somber note with memorial services in Washington D.C. for President Harry S Truman on the 5th (he died the day after Christmas 1972). Then, Judge John Sirica began the Nixon impeachment proceedings on the 8th with the trial of seven men accused of committing a ” third rate burglary” of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate. Next came the Inauguration of Richard Nixon (his second) on the 20th. Historians pinpoint Nixon’s speech that day as the end of the “Now Generation” and the beginning of the “Me Generation.” Gone was JFK’s promise of a “New Frontier,” lost was the compassionate feeling of the Civil Rights movement and LBJ’s dream of a “Great Society.” The self-help of the 1960s quickly morphed into the self-gratification of the 1970s, which ultimately devolved into the selfishness of the 1980s.

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The line between want and need became hopelessly blurred and remains so to this day.
Twelve years before, John F. Kennedy decreed, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” On January 20th, 1973, Richard Nixon, purposely twisted JFK’s inaugural line by declaring , “In our own lives, let each of us ask—not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?” At that moment, the idealism of the sixties gave way to narcissistic self-interest, distrust and cynicism in government of the seventies. Although it had been coming for years, when change finally arrived, it happened so fast that most of us never even noticed.
January 22nd was warm and rainy. It was the first Monday of Nixon’s second term and it would be one for the books. That day, Nixon announced that the war in Vietnam was over. The day before, his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Lê Đức Thọ signed off on a treaty that effectively ended the war; on paper that is. The settlement included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam. It addition, the United States agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and advisers (totaling about 23,700) and the dismantling of all U.S. bases within 60 days. In return, the North Vietnamese agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war. It was agreed that the DMZ at the 17th Parallel would remain a provisional dividing line, with eventual reunification of the country “through peaceful means.”
That same day, the United States Supreme Court issued their landmark decision 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Better known as Roe v. Wade. Instantly, the laws of 46 states making abortion illegal were rendered unconstitutional. In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to privacy extended to her right to make her own medical decisions, including having an abortion. The decision legalized abortion by specifically ordering that the states make no laws forbidding it. Rove V. Wade came the same day as the lesser known ruling, Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), which overturned the abortion law of Georgia.

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The Georgia law in question permitted abortion only in “cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother.” Other restrictions included the requirement that the procedure be “approved in writing by three physicians and by a three-member special committee that either continued pregnancy would endanger the pregnant woman’s life or “seriously and permanently” injure her health; the fetus would “very likely be born with a grave, permanent and irremediable mental or physical defect”; or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.” Only Georgia residents could receive abortions under this statutory scheme: non-residents could not have an abortion in Georgia under any circumstances. The plaintiff, a pregnant woman known as “Mary Doe” in court papers, sued Arthur K. Bolton, then the Attorney General of Georgia, as the official responsible for enforcing the law. The same 7-2 majority that struck down a Texas abortion law in Roe v. Wade, invalidated the Georgia abortion law.
The Roe v. Wade case, filed by “Jane Roe,” challenged a Texas statute that made it a crime to perform an abortion unless a woman’s life was in danger. Roe’s life was not at stake, but she wanted to safely end her pregnancy. The court sided with Roe, saying a woman’s right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Dozens of cases have challenged the decision in Roe v. Wade in the 46 years since the landmark ruling and the echoes of challenge are heard to this day.

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And what did Nixon think about that day’s ruling? The same Oval Office taping system that would bring about his downfall in the Watergate Scandal recorded his thoughts on Roe V. Wade for posterity. “I know there are times when abortions are necessary,” he told aide Chuck Colson, “I know that – when you have a black and a white, or a rape. I just say that matter-of-factly, you know what I mean? There are times… Abortions encourage permissiveness. A girl gets knocked up, she doesn’t have to worry about the pill anymore, she goes down to the doctor, wants to get an abortion for five dollars or whatever.” Yep, that was the President of the United States talking. And his day wasn’t even over yet.
At 3:39 p.m. Central Time, former President Lyndon B. Johnson placed a call to his Secret Service agents on the LBJ ranch in Johnson City, Texas. He had just suffered a massive heart attack. The agents rushed into LBJ’s bedroom where they found Johnson lying on the floor still clutching the telephone receiver in his hand. The President was unconscious and not breathing. Johnson was airlifted in one of his own airplanes to Brooke Army General hospital in San Antonio where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Johnson was 64 years old. Shortly after LBJ’s death, his press secretary telephoned Walter Cronkite at CBS who was in the middle of a report on the Vietnam War during his CBS Evening News broadcast. Cronkite abruptly cut his report short and broke the news to the American public.

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His death meant that for the first time since 1933, when Calvin Coolidge died during Herbert Hoover’s final months in office, that there were no former Presidents still living; Johnson had been the sole living ex-President Harry S. Truman’s recent death. Johnson had suffered three major heart attacks and, with his heart condition recently diagnosed as terminal, he returned to his ranch to die. He had grown his previously close-cut gray hair down past the back of his neck, his silver curls nearly touching his shoulders. Prophetically, LBJ often told friends that Johnson men died before reaching 65 years old, and he was 64. Had Johnson chosen to run in 1968 (and had he won) his death would have came 2 days after his term ended. As of this 2019 writing, Johnson remains the last former Democratic President to die.

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Nixon mentioned all of these events (and more) on his famous tapes. All the President’s men are there to be heard. Along with Colson, Nixon talks with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman (whom ha calls a “softhead” that day), Bebe Rebozo, Ron Ziegler, and Alexander Haig. Haldeman is the first to inform Nixon of LBJ’s death in “Conversation 036-051” by stating “He’s dead alright.” For his part, Nixon states in “Conversation 036-061” that it makes the “first time in 40 years that there hasn’t been a former President. Hoover lived through all of 40 years” and then refers to the recent peace treaty, “In any event It’ll make him (LBJ) look better in the end than he would have looked otherwise, so… The irony that he died before we got something down there. The strange twists and turns that life takes.”

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Another event took place that night to round out the day, but unlike the others, you won’t find mention of it on the Nixon tapes. In Jamaica, a matchup of two undefeated heavyweight legends took place. Undisputed world heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier (29-0) took on the number one ranked heavyweight challenger George Foreman (37-0) in Jamaica’s National Stadium. Foreman dominated Frazier by scoring six knockdowns in less than two rounds. Foreman scored a technical knockout at 1:35 of the second round to dethrone Frazier and become the new undisputed heavyweight champion (the third-youngest in history after Floyd Patterson and Cassius Clay). This was the fight where ABC’s television broadcaster Howard Cosell made the legendary exclamation, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
“This is a peace that lasts, and a peace that heals.” Nixon announced to the American people the next day. The announcement came exactly 11 years, one month and one day after the first American death in the Vietnam conflict: 25-year-old Army Specialist 4th Class James Thomas Davis of Livingston, Tenn., who had been killed in an ambush by the Viet Cong outside of Saigon on Dec. 22, 1961. For you budding numerologists out there, that translates to 11-1-1. It was all downhill from there. LBJ’s death precipitated the cancellation of several Inauguration events and a week later, on January 30, former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy, James W. McCord Jr. and five others were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. The dominoes were falling and eventually “Down goes Nixon! Down goes Nixon!”

Baseball, Indianapolis, Sports

A Christmas card from the Indianapolis Clowns.

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Original publish date:  January 3, 2019

My wife and I have developed a Christmas time tradition of visiting Gatlinburg, Tennessee every December. We’ve been traveling to the area on and off for over 25 years. Back then the region retained an atmosphere where one could imagine Dolly Parton walking down the sidewalk but nowadays, one might expect to see Wayne Newton driving past in a limousine instead. It used to be the type of place where kitschy souvenir stores sold Cedar wood souvenir moonshine stills, featured live bears and homey gemstone pits for the kids to dig through. But those days are long gone. Gatlinburg is today home to glitzy storefronts selling Harley Davidson clothes, designer moonshine and Pandora charms.
You can still drive through Smoky Mountain National Park in search of black bears at Cades Cove and find a cozy log cabin to eat a flapjack in. Some things never change. A couple weeks ago we stopped at an antique mall near Lexington Kentucky where I found a shoebox full of old letters just begging for my attention. One of the envelopes contained a Christmas card from the old Indianapolis Clowns Negro league baseball club. I opened it quickly but carefully, saw what was contained inside, and handed it to Rhonda with the explicit instructions, “Don’t lose this.” I knew we were going to be holed up in the room for the next couple days and this would be a fun thing to examine over morning coffee.
I’m an early riser; Rhonda likes to sleep in and I’m okay with that. It was time to examine my find. The envelope contained a Christmas card from the 1961 Clowns baseball team after they relocated to Hollywood, Florida in the late 1950s. The Christmas card looks like any other; bright red, white & green with “Season’s Greetings” on the front. However the magic happens when you open it and the contents are revealed. The interior features a great real photo image of the entire uniformed team captioned: “Indianapolis Clowns Baseball Club” at bottom. The photo is actually a B&W snapshot that was individually inserted into a pocket window frame inside the card. It is easy to imagine a room full of elegantly dressed women chatting gleefully away as they carefully stuff each photo in place in the Clowns’ front office. Or maybe it was a room full of bat boys and ticket takers. Regardless, it makes for a romantic holiday image.
z d1901The card reads: “Greetings of the Season and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year. Baseball’s Professional Clowning Champions- 35th Consecutive Annual Tour! Indianapolis Clowns Ed Hamman, Bus. Mgr. Syd Pollack, Gen. Mgr. Box 84- Hollywood, Florida” inside. The original mailing envelope has the return address on front and same on back via an embossed stamp on the back. The Christmas card was sent to the Babe Ruth Baseball League in Vero Beach, Florida. True baseball fans will recognize Vero Beach as the spring training home of former Negro leader Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers and later the Koufax/Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers. For a baseball fanatic, there is a lot going on in this little Christmas card.
z d1900The team photo pictures 10 players in old wool baseball uniforms standing in a line with another four players dressed in comic field costumes including a female player holding one of the Clowns’ trademark props, a grossly oversized baseball bat. The Clowns were one of the first professional baseball teams to hire a female player. They featured three prominent women players on their roster in the 1950s: Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1935-2017) a right handed pitcher who went 33-8 in 3 seasons with the Clowns, Constance “Connie” Morgan (1935-1996) who played 2 seasons at second base for the Clowns and the first female player in the Negro Leagues, Marcenia “Toni” Stone (1921-1996) who once got a hit off of Satchel Paige.
Most of my interest in the Clowns centers around the fact that they’re from my hometown. But also because they were the first professional team for one of my baseball heroes; Hank Aaron. On November 20, 1951, Aaron signed his first Pro contract with the Clowns. The 6 foot, 180 pound Aaron would play three months at shortstop, batting cleanup for the Clowns. He earned $200 per month.
While with the Clowns, his teammates called him “Pork Chop” because it was the only thing the kid from Mobile Alabama c76-34fknew how to order off the menu. Aaron first experienced overt northern style racism while playing with the Clowns. The team was in Washington, D.C. and a few of the Clowns’ players decided to grab a pregame breakfast in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium. The players were seated and served but after they finished their meals, they could hear the sounds of employees breaking all the plates in the kitchen. Aaron and his teammates were stung by the irony of being in the capital of the “Land of Freedom” whose employees felt they “had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”

Aaron finished with a .366 batting average in 26 official Negro league games; 5 home runs, 33 RBI, 41 hits, and 9 stolen bases. At the close of his three months with the Indianapolis Clowns, Aaron received two offers from MLB teams via telegram; one from the New York Giants and the other from the Boston Braves. Years later, Aaron recalled later: “I had the Giants’ contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more. That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates – fifty dollars.” The Braves eventually purchased Aaron’s contract from the Clowns for $10,000.
6e74e37f42cfa93767ef6009b79ad35aDuring Aaron’s tenure the Clowns were a powerhouse team in the Negro American League. However, the story of the Indianapolis Clowns does not begin, or end, with the Hank Aaron connection. The team traces their origins back to the 1930s. They began play as the independent Ethiopian Clowns, joined the Negro American League as the Cincinnati Clowns and, after a couple of years, relocated to Indianapolis. The team was formed in Miami, Florida, sometime around 1935-1936 and was originally known as the Miami Giants. After a couple years the team changed its name to the Miami Ethiopian Clowns and hit the road to become the longest running barnstorming team in professional baseball history.
Over the next few decades, the Clowns developed into a nationally-known combination of show business and baseball that earned them the designation as the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. The team built a national following as one of baseball’s favorite entertainment attractions during the 1930s and the club was the only “clowning team” to earn entrance into black baseball’s “major leagues.” Though the Clowns always played a credible brand of baseball, their Globetrotter-like comedy routines was the stuff that paid the bills, filled the stands and brought national attention.
In 1943, the team toned down its clowning routines and joined the Negro American League. They also moved to Ohio’s Queen city to became the Cincinnati Clowns. The team floated back and forth between Cincinnati and Indianapolis for the 1944 and 1945 seasons before officially moving to Indianapolis after World War II in 1946. While this was an epiphanal moment in the history of Indianapolis baseball, the euphoria didn’t last long.newscan0024
Baseball’s color barrier came tumbling down on April 18, 1946, when Jackie Robinson made his first appearance with the Montreal Royals in the Triple-A International League. Robinson was called up to the parent club the next season and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant on his way to winning the first National League Rookie of the Year award. After Robinson’s success, a steady stream of black players representing the elite of the Negro leagues flowed into the majors leagues. By 1952, there were 150 black players in major league baseball. For the Clowns, the result was sadly predictable. Black fans followed their stars to the big leagues, and attendance at traditional black ballparks tanked.
The Negro National League folded after the 1949 season. Some proposals were offered to keep the league alive as a developmental league for black players, but that idea was contrary to the goal of full integration. The Negro American League continued on throughout the 1950s, but closed its doors for good in 1962, the year after this Christmas card was issued. So the Negro leagues, once among the largest and most prosperous black-owned business ventures, faded into oblivion. After the demise, the Clowns continued barnstorming across the country and returned to their clowning routines out of financial necessity. It remains a testament to the strength of the Clowns’reputation that they were able to sign a young Hank Aaron who would, nowadays, come out of baseball’s minor league system.
The years immediately preceding this Christmas card were, despite the demise of the Negro leagues, the most productive for the Indianapolis franchise. In 1950 the Clowns won their first Negro American League championship behind their star catcher Sam Hairston, who won the League’s Triple Crown title with 17 homeruns, 71 RBI and a .424 batting average. Hairston also led the league with 100 hits and 176 total bases.
During the 1951 season the Clowns did not play a single home game in Indianapolis but won their second Negro American League championship. The Clowns captured their third league championship in 1952. The Clowns’ success earned them a steady barnstorming gig during the off-season traveling with Jackie Robinson’s All Stars. In 1954, the Clowns won their fourth league championship in five years. The next year, the Clowns dropped out of the league to pursue a full time barnstorming schedule. The Clowns played 143 games on the road in 1963. Although this sounds like a staggering number, it is the smallest number of games the Clowns had ever played in one year. Along the way the Clowns broke all color barriers by playing in front of both white and black crowds.
downloadHarlem Globetrotter star “Goose” Tatum also played for the Clowns during this time. Goose was as much of a showman on the diamond as he was on the basketball court. Whether fielding balls with a glove triple the size of a normal one, confusing opposing players with hidden ball tricks or playing second base while seated in a rocking chair, Tatum was amazing. During the same era, Richard “King Tut” King played the field using an enormous first baseman’s mitt and occasionally augmenting his uniform with grass hula skirts in the field. King, who spent over 20-years with the Clowns, paved the way for great white baseball comedians like Max Patkin.
Clowns pitcher Ed Hamman would fire fastballs from between his legs and from behind his back while going as far as to go into the crowd to sell peanuts and programs while his team was at bat. Hamman also invented   “shadow ball”. Hamman’s brainchild had all nine players going through the motions of a real game from pitching to fielding to batting -all without a ball. Hamman’s name appears on the 1961 Christmas card as the team’s business manager.
lfBy 1966 the Indianapolis Clowns were the last Negro league team still playing. The Clowns continued to play exhibition games into the 1980s, but as a humorous sideshow rather than a competitive sport. After many years on the road as a barnstorming team, the Clowns finally disbanded in 1989. The Clowns were also the first team to feature women as umpires. The 1976 movie “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings”, starring James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor, is based on the Indianapolis Clowns.
According to the official website of the Negro Leagues: “The Harlem Globetrotters have won their place in the world’s hearts as comedians with great basketball skill. The Indianapolis Clowns did exactly the same in segregated America. The Clowns crossed all color barriers with their brand of comedy and earned their place in baseball history with trend setting ideas, actions and great play between the lines. Unlike the Globetrotters however, the Clowns took an opposite road to fame. The Clowns became a legitimate playing team after beginning as entertainers -the exact opposite of their basketball playing cousins.” Seasons greetings everybody through the haze of history and your Indianapolis Clowns.

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Indianapolis, Indy 500, Pop Culture, Sports

Henry T. Hearsey Indianapolis Bicycle Pioneer.

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Original publish date:  November 25, 2008  Updated/Republished December 6,2018

As Christmas morning creeps ever-closer, parents all over the Hoosier state are making their lists and checking them twice. No doubt, at least a few of those lists will include a bicycle. I’m not sure if the bike retains the same lofty perch it did a half a century ago. I’m equally unsure if moms and dads still spend the hours after midnight busting knuckles, pinching fingers and squinting hopelessly at indecipherable directions written in more than one language.
The bicycle has become almost an afterthought in today’s world. But once, it truly was the eighth wonder of the world. The bicycle introduced a radical new invention known as the “pneumatic tire”. In addition to air-filled rubber tires, we can thank the bicycle for giving us ball bearings, devised to reduce friction in the bicycle’s axle and steering column, for wire spokes, and for differential gears that allow connected wheels to spin at different speeds.
And where would our airplanes, golf clubs, tent poles and lawn furniture be without the metal tubing used in bicycle frames to lighten the vehicle without compromising its strength? Bicycles also gave birth to our national highway system, as cyclists and cycling clubs outside major cities across the country tired of rutted mud paths and began lobbying for the construction of paved roads. What’s more, many of the bicycle repair shops were the breeding grounds for a number of pioneers in the transportation industry, including carmakers Henry Ford and Charles Duryea and aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. All of these men started out as bicycle mechanics. And did you know that Indianapolis was on the cutting edge of the bicycle industry from the very beginning?
dont-laughAlthough the first documented appearance of a bicycle in Indianapolis can be traced to a demonstration of the high-wheeled bike called the “Ordinary” in 1869, these old fashioned contraptions (known back then as “Velocipedes”) would be almost unrecognizable to the riders of today. With their huge front tires and seats that seemed to require a ladder to climb up to, these early bikes were awkward and unwieldy for use by all but the most hardy of daredevil souls (They didn’t call them “boneshakers” for nothing back then). It would take nearly 25 years after the close of the American Civil War before the bike began to resemble the form most familiar to riders of today. The development of the safety bike with it’s 2 equal-sized wheels in the 1880s made the new sport more acceptable as a hobby and pastime.
download (1)In 1887 bicycle mechanic and expert rider Henry T. Hearsey (1863-1939) opened the first bicycle showroom in Indianapolis. His store was located at the intersection of Delaware and New York Streets on the city’s near eastside. Hearsey introduced the first safety bike to Indianapolis, the English-made Rudge, which sold for the princely sum of $150 (roughly $4,000 in today’s money). Keep in mind that was about twice the price of a horse and buggy at the time. He would later open a larger shop at 116-118 North Pennsylvania Street. He is credited for introducing the 1st safety bicycle in the Capitol city in 1889. Hoosiers took to it immediately and within a few short years, the streets of Indy were so clogged with bicyclists that the City Council passed a bicycle licensing ordinance requiring a $ 1 license fee for every bicycle in the city.
Henry Hearsey had fallen in love with Indianapolis during an exhibition tour for the Cunningham-Heath bicycle company of Boston, Massachusetts in 1885. He not only sold the first new style bicycles in the Indy area, he also formed the first riding clubs in the city. These clubs, with colorful names like the “U.S. Military Wheelmen”, the “Zig-Zag Cycling Club” and the “Dragon Cycle Club”, would regularly host festive long distance bicycle trips known as “Century Rides” to towns like Greenfield and Bloomington. This period has been called the “Golden Age of Bicycling” by historians. Hearsey also had two famous names working for him at his bike shop: Carl Fisher and Major Taylor.

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Major Taylor

Legendary Indianapolis African American bicycle champion Marshall “Major” Taylor was hired by Henry Hearsey to perform bicycle stunts outside of his shop in 1892. 14-year-old Taylor’s job was as “head trainer” teaching local residents how to ride the new machines.Taylor performed his stunts while dressed in a military uniform and earned Major_Taylorthe nickname “Major”, which stuck with him the rest of his life. He has been widely acknowledged as the first American International superstar of bicycle racing. He was the first African American to achieve the level of world champion and the second black athlete to win a world championship in any sport. Carl Fisher was one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, developer of the city of Miami and the creator of the famous “Lincoln Highway” and the “Dixie Highway.”SafetyAd
His innovations included the installation of a revolutionary foot air bellows system that would be known for decades as the “town pump” for public use outside of his store. His shop became a popular hangout for the city’s bicyclists who liked to drop in and rub elbows with all of the greatest bike racers of the age. Indianapolis was a midwest mecca for pro-bicycling in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Hearsey would often use the massive Tomlinson Hall in Indy to unveil the newest model of bicycle in the 1890s. Tomlinson Hall was the largest public venue in the city and Hearsey would routinely fill the place to the rafters with excited Hoosier bicyclists, which would be like renting Lucas Oil Stadium to unveil a new bike today. Cycling in the Circle City was so popular that on April 28, 1895 the Indianapolis Journal ran an eight-page supplement called the “Bicycle Edition” entirely devoted to the cycling craze consuming the Hoosier State and the rest of the country.
NewbyRaceAdCycling was so popular in Indianapolis that the city constructed a racing track known as the “Newby Oval” located near 30th Street and Central Avenue in 1898. The track was designed by Shortridge graduate Herbert Foltz who also designed the Broadway Methodist Church, Irvington United Methodist Church and the Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church. Foltz would also design the new Shortridge High School at 34th and Meridian. The state of the art cycling facility could, and often did, seat 20,000 and hosted several national championships sponsored by the chief sanctioning body, “The League of American Wheelmen.” The American Wheelmen often got involved in local and national politics. Hoosier wheelmen raced into the William McKinley presidential campaign in 1896 and helped him win the election. With this new found political clout, riding clubs began to put pressure on politicians to improve urban streets and rural roads, exclaiming “We are a factor in politics, and demand that the great cause of Good Roads be given consideration.”Newby-Oval-pin
During this turn-of-the-century era, Indianapolis became one of the leading manufacturers of bicycles in the United States with companies like Waverly, Munger, Swift, Outing, Eclipse and the Ben-Hur offering some of the finest riding machines of the day. According to the Indiana Historical Bureau, from 1895-96, Indianapolis had nine bicycle factories employing nearly 1,500 men, women and boys. Not to mention a couple dozen repair shops, parts suppliers and specialty stores stocking bicycle attire like collapsible drinking cups, canteens, hats, goggles, shoes and clothing.

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The Newby Oval on Central Avenue and 13th Street.

In the years before World War I, two entire city blocks around Pennsylvania Avenue became known as “bicycle alley”. Here bicycle enthusiasts congregated among the many manufacturers, outfitters and repair shops to talk shop, swap stories and plan routes. Some of the more popular spots to ride in the Circle City included 16th Street and Senate Avenue, Broad Ripple and the tow path along the Central Canal.
The gem of Indianapolis’ cycling community was the Newby Oval on Central Avenue and 13th Street. The $23,000, quarter-mile track featured a surface made of white pine boards, rough side up to keep wheels from slipping. Wire brushing removed splinters before the floorboards were dipped into a tank of wood preservative and nailed into place. The track featured a “whale-back” design of banked curves to increase safety and accommodate speed. The Newby Oval featured grandstand seating, two amphitheaters, and bleachers designed to hold more than 8,000 spectators.
The Newby Oval’s first race, sponsored by the League of American Wheelmen hosted its first bike race on July 4, 1898. The contest included ragtime, two-step, and patriotic tunes to serenade the riders and spectators alike. Every time a rider neared the finish line, spectators fired their pistols in the air in anticipation. For a time, the Newby Oval was considered to host the city’s first automobile race. The euphoria didn’t last long though. Because cars would need to run in separate heats at the Newby Oval, the event was moved to the State Fairgrounds, where multiple vehicles could compete at one time. The track’s building materials were put up for sale and by early 1903, the Newby Oval was dismantled. By the turn-of-the-century, interest in cars was outpacing bicycles. By 1908, the bicycle craze was over.
With the advent of the automobile and motorcycles in the early 1910s, interest in bicycling as a form of transportation waned. Henry T. Hearsey changed with the times and became Indianapolis’ first automobile dealer. Hearsey lived at 339 East Tippencanoe Street, just a stone’s throw away from the James Whitcomb Riley house in Lockerbee Square. Indianapolis, just as it had in the generation before with bicycles, soon become a pioneer in the manufacture of automobiles, second only to Detroit in fact. Most of the parties involved in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were former colleagues of Henry Hearsey and members of his bicycle clubs.

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Carl Fisher-Indy 500 Founder

While images of the old fashioned high-wheeled “ordinary” bicycles and the winged tire logo of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are instantly recognizable to sports fans all over the world, no-one remembers Henry T. Hearsey today. Hearsey not only introduced Indianapolis to the first commercially viable bicycle, opened the first Circle City bicycle shop, was the first to recognize the genius of Major Taylor and Carl Fisher and opened the first car dealership in the city. He was born during the Civil War, flourished during the Gilded Age / Industrial Age / Progressive Era / Roaring Twenties and survived the Great Depression. Henry T. Hearsey, the trailblazing businessman whose name is unknown to most Hoosiers, died in the summer of 1939. He lies buried in Crown Hill Cemetery among the many notable names from the pages of Indianapolis’ history, most of whom knew him personally and called him by his nickname. Happy holidays “Harry” Hearsey, the Circle City tips its collective cap to you.

Abe Lincoln, Presidents, Sports

The Abraham Lincoln Handball.

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Original publish date:  September 20, 2018

Abraham Lincoln is in the National Handball Hall Of Fame. What, you say? There’s a national handball Hall of Fame? Well, I don’t know if such an entity exists or whether the 16th president is enshrined there. But if it does and he ain’t…he should be. I do know that Lincoln is inducted into the wrestling Hall of Fame, but that’s another story.
Serious Lincoln fans have likely heard a reference to the “alley by the journal office” a few times over the years but may not know much about it. Abraham Lincoln was known to be a sportsman for most of his life in an age when organized sports were hard to find. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard about Lincoln’s prowess as a wrestler and extraordinary strength as a young man. He was known to “roll ten pins” (bowling) and play billiards and chess but admitted that he never excelled at any of them. Mr. Lincoln engaged in these games for exercise and amusement, both physically and mentally. During play he routinely regaled those present with jokes, western anecdotes and stories which made him popular with opponents and teammates alike.
z Railsplitter1.previewLikewise, you may have heard that he was a handball player, as have I, but details have always been hard to find. The game of handball was much better suited to Lincoln. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, his long legs and gangly arms served the rail splitter well. Muscles honed while wielding an axe as a youth were kept tight and toned as an adult. Lincoln milked his own cows and chopped his own wood even though he was a successful, affluent lawyer with little time to spare.
In the years before Lincoln was elected president he was a successful Springfield lawyer and often played handball in an alley by the Illinois state journal newspaper office to ease his stress load. The paper occupied a three-story building at 116 N. Sixth Street. The building next door immediately south was a three-story building that housed a store operated by John Carmody. The next building south was known as the Logan building, owned by Judge Stephen T. Logan.
The large vacant lot between these two buildings was the site of the storied impromptu handball court used by lawyer Lincoln and his friends. The brick walls of the Carmody store and Logan building formed at the front and back walls of the handball court and the other two sides were enclosed by wood fences standing 6 to 8 feet high. The fences also had wooden bench seats for visitors watching the matches or for players waiting their turn to take on the winner.
z lincoln hbThe term handball really didn’t exist in Lincoln’s day. It was called a “game of fives” by Abe and his contemporaries. When Mr. Lincoln went to town, he frequently joined with the boys in playing handball. In the Springfield version, players choose sides to square off against one another. The game is begun by one of the boys bouncing the ball against the wall of the Logan building. As it bounced back, and opponent strikes it in the same manner, so that the ball is kept going back and forth against the wall until someone misses the rebound. ‘Old Abe’ was often the winner, for his long arms and long legs served a good purpose in reaching and returning the ball from any angle his adversary could send it to the wall. The game required two, four or six players, spread equally on each side. The three players who lost paid 10 ¢ each, making 30 ¢ a game. So as you can imagine the games got pretty serious.
z FivesCourt clerk Thomas W.S. Kidd spoke of Mr. Lincoln’s love of the game: “In 1859, Zimri A. Enos, Esq., Hon. Chas. A. Keyes, E. L. Baker, Esq., then editor of the Journal, William A. Turney, Esq., Clerk of the Supreme Court, and a number of others, in connection with Mr. Lincoln, had the lot, then an open one, lying between what was known as the United States Court Building, on the northeast corner of the public square, and the building owned by our old friend, Mr. John Carmody, on the alley north of it, on Sixth street, enclosed with a high board fence, leaving a dead wall at either end. In this ‘alley’ could be found Mr. Lincoln, with the gentlemen named and others, as vigorously engaged in the sport as though life depended upon it. He would play until nearly exhausted and then take a seat on the rough board benches arranged along the sides for the accommodation of friends and the tired players.”
In May of 1860 the most noteworthy game of handball in our country’s history took place on this court. The Republican National Convention, held in a woodframe building specifically designed for use known as the “wigwam”, had kicked off in nearby Chicago on May 16th. The Whig party had imploded, the free soilers were migrating and the anti-Catholic populists from the Know Nothing party were flocking to the Republican Party with its anti-slavery message. Even though this promised to be a raucous convention, the eventual GOP nominee, “Abram Lincoln”, decided to stay home and play handball instead. According to Lincoln he, “was too much of a candidate to go to Chicago and not enough of a candidate to stay away.”
Most Lincoln scholars agree that Abe played handball all three days of the convention (May 16 – 18) to relieve stress while waiting for news to arrive by telegraph at the Illinois state journal newspaper offices. The last day of the GOP convention, Friday, May 18, 1865, Lincoln rose bright and early and headed downtown. Although nervous and anxious, Lincoln greeted neighbors and friends on the streets and on the square around the Illinois Capital Building.
At 8:30 a.m. Lincoln nervously visited the second floor office of lawyer James C Conkling located at 119 S. Fifth Street. Mr. Conkling had just returned from Chicago and Lincoln was anxious to hear any news from the convention. Conkling told Lincoln to relax, assuring him that he was sure to be nominated that day. Lincoln however, was not so confident and told Conkling, “Well, Conkling, I guess I’ll go back to my office and practice law.” But here is where the narrative takes a mysterious turn.
Lincoln did not arrive back to his law office until just before 10 am. We know this from accounts of the many well-wishers, friends and supporters who were waiting the arrival of their candidate on the corner of Sixth and Adams on the square. Shortly after ten, Edward L Baker, one of the editors of the Illinois state journal, appeared at the office of Lincoln and Herndon with two bulletins in his hand. The first one announcing that the delegates were filing back into the wigwam; the second, that the names of the candidates for president had been presented to the chairman of the convention.
The initial news was not good. When voting for the nomination began, William H. Seward led on the first ballot with 173 1/2 votes. Lincoln was a distant second tallying 102 votes. There were 465 delegates at the convention, making 233 votes necessary for the nomination. Simon Cameron received 50; Salmon P. Chase got 49, Edwin Bates had 48. Witnesses claimed that, upon hearing the news, Mr Lincoln threw himself upon a horsehair couch in the office without expressing any opinion on the news. By all accounts, Lincoln was very guarded in all of his statements that morning.
After a few minutes, Lincoln arose from the chair and said: “The dispatches appear to be coming to the Journal office… Let us go over there.” When the Lincoln entourage arrived at the foot of the stairway leading to the telegraph office on the north side of the public square, Lincoln said: “Let’s go up; it must be about time for the second ballot.” The results of the second ballot were coming across the tickertape as Lincoln entered the room. The telegraph operator handed the news to Mr. Lincoln. On the second ballot, most of the Pennsylvania delegation jumped over to Lincoln, putting him in a near-tie with Seward (184 for Seward and 181 for Lincoln). Although silent, witnesses remember a look of satisfaction appearing on Lincoln’s face.
News soon arrived that on the third ballot many additional delegates switched to Lincoln, and he won the party’s nomination. Lincoln was nominated and would be elected the nation’s 16th president. He appointed Seward Secretary of State, Cameron Secretary of War, Chase Secretary of the Treasury, and Bates Attorney General.
But where was Lincoln from 8:30 am to 10 am? His longtime friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon was the first to say that Lincoln was playing handball during that period. Henry Wirt Butler confirmed that he was engaged in a game with the candidate at Mr. Lincoln’s request while awaiting news from the convention. When young Mr. Butler was born, Lincoln was a practicing attorney in Springfield living at the home of Mr. Butler’s parents. He had just finished reading the Life of William Wirt and suggested that the baby be named after the former U.S. Attorney General. When the boy whom Lincoln had named grew to be a young man he became a favorite of the Great Emancipator’s and read law for some time in his office. It should be noted that Wirt was barely 20 years old and Lincoln was 51 at the time of the game.
z 1891 - Bloxham FivesLincoln’s friend, Dr. Preston H Bailhache, recalled a handball game played on a court built by Patrick Stanley in an ‘alley’ in the rear of his grocery in the Second Ward, which is still standing. “I have sat and laughed many happy hours away watching a game of ball between Lincoln on one side and Hon. Chas. A. Keyes on the other. Mr. Keyes is quite a short man, but muscular, wiry and active as a cat, while his now more distinguished antagonist, as all now know, was tall and a little awkward, but which with much practice and skill in the movement of the ball, together with his good judgment, gave him the greatest advantage. In a very hotly contested game, when both sides were ‘up a stump’ – a term used by the players to indicate an even game – and while the contestants were vigorously watching every movement, Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Turney collided with such force that it came very near preventing his nomination to the Presidency, and giving to Springfield a sensation by his death and burial. Both were badly hurt, but not so badly as to discourage either from being found in the ‘alley’ the next day.”
2516a4fa5cb6c7cf47acacefaa2aeb93Another eyewitness was the unofficial gatekeeper of the Handball Court, William Donnelly, a nephew of John Carmody. Years later, Donnelly offered this account to a reporter, “I worked in the Carmody store and usually had charge of the ball court. I smoothed the wall and leveled the ground. I made the balls. Old stockings were rolled out and wound into balls and covered with buckskin. Mr. Lincoln was not a good player. He learned the game when he was too old. But he liked to play and did tolerably well. I remember when he was nominated as though it were yesterday. It was the last day of the convention and he was plainly nervous and restless.”
Donnelly continues: “He played handball a good deal during every day of the convention, evidently to relieve the over-strained mind. I was standing down in front of the Carmody store when Edward L. Baker, Charlie Zane (Judge) and one or two others brought word from the telegraph office that he was nominated. It was the bulletin showing the result of the third and last ballot. I naturally followed the crowd upstairs to the editorial room on the second floor. The stairway was in the alley outside the building. The telegram was read and then handed to Mr. Lincoln who read it out aloud again. After a lot of hand shaking, we returned to the street below. Mr. Lincoln appeared anxious to get away. When he came to the entrance of the ball court, the players gathered round, congratulated him and pledged him their support.”
The account continues: “He thanked them, looked at the telegram he had in his hand and said: there’s a little woman over on eighth Street that will be glad to hear the news; if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go and tell her. He then left for home. I can see him now as he went away. He leaned forward and walked mighty fast. The boy that went with him had to run almost to keep up with him. Mr. Lincoln never came back to the court or played handball after the day he was nominated. I did not vote for Mr. Lincoln in 1860. There were only three Irishmen who did. They were called Irish Republicans and were regarded as curiosities.”
z kidsJohn Carmody recalled another handball game: “An incident took place, during one of those games, which I have retained clearly in my memory. I had a nephew named Patrick Johnson who was very expert in the game. He struck the ball in such a manner that it hit Mr. Lincoln in the ear. I ran to sympathize with him and asked if he was hurt. He said he was not, and as he said it he reached both of his hands toward the sky. Straining my neck to look up into his face, for he was several inches taller than I was, I said to him, ‘Lincoln, if you are going to heaven, take us both.’”
For years a myth circulated that Abraham Lincoln was playing handball when he was notified that he had received the nomination for President. Obviously that legend must be filed alongside the myth that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address on the back of an envelope on the train ride to Gettysburg. Neither story is wholly true but there is a grain of truth in each. Lincoln was playing handball at the time the delegates in Chicago were voting and he edited the Gettysburg address on the train.
Historians confirm that Abraham Lincoln never returned to that handball court after that day. Years later, President Lincoln spoke about his athletic prowess on the night of his reelection as President in 1864: “For such an awkward fellow, I am pretty sure-footed. It used to take a pretty dextrous man to throw me.”
z sm hbIn October of 2004, the Smithsonian Institution displayed Abraham Lincoln’s handball as part of their exhibit “Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers.” It’s small (about the size of a tennis ball), dirty and well worn and really, really old. The ball has “No. 2” stamped on the side but it is unclear if the stamp was on the ball when Lincoln handled it or if it was stamped on the side for reference years later. It came from the Lincoln Home in Springfield, where Lincoln lived with his family from 1844 until 1861.
The ball was found in the 1950s in a dresser drawer when Lincoln’s Springfield home was being restored. Smithsonian officials say the descendants of one of the men who played handball with Lincoln donated it to the Lincoln Home. A contemporary newspaper article verified that the ball was indeed one of those used by Lincoln to play handball in the alley. Personally, I have my doubts about the provenance of the Smithsonian’s Lincoln handball, but, for the purposes of this article, we’ll leave that alone for now.
There is one footnote about that handball you won’t find in the Smithsonian’s official literature. On May 18, 1860, while Lincoln was having a friendly neighborhood game of “fives” to calm his nerves, just a few blocks from the Wigwam, on the second night of the convention, the McVicker’s Theater just a few short blocks away was opening “Our American Cousin” -the play Lincoln would be watching at Ford’s Theater his last night on Earth.
z 6603301_3_lAlthough Assassin John Wilkes Booth was not in the production, he would appear at the McVicker’s 4 times in different productions between 1862 & 1863 while Mr. Lincoln was in the White House. Ironically, the McVickers Theatre was the very first place where actor Harry Hawk began theater work as a call boy, or stagehand. Hawk was the actor on stage alone at the moment of Lincoln’s assassination and likely uttered the last words Mr. Lincoln ever heard. Who knew a well worn piece of leather sports equipment could have so many connections?