For Many St.
Louisans—the Sound of Baseball Remains the Voice of Harry Caray
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review
posted March 8
Saturday (March 1), Harry Caray would have been 100 years old.
kidding: It might be—it could be—it is: a century
those of us baby boomers that grew up in the Gateway City, state of
Missouri, the Ozark region or throughout the Midwest, Harry Caray was
the soundtrack of summer. For a quarter century, Caray was the voice of
the St. Louis Cardinals. His style was unique and no holds bar. His
voice boomed describing the exploits of Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst,
Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and others. For twenty-five years, Harry Caray
was the sound of St. Louis baseball.
the world where one can be immediately identified by their first name
(Elvis, Ozzie, Madonna, etc), if back in the day you said that “Harry”
was on the radio, you knew exactly who was on the air. For many of us
growing up in the 1960s and earlier, Caray’s familiar, bold and
dramatic musings heard through a transistor radio muffled under a
pillow (as we were hiding it from our parents after being sent to bed)
created the perfect ending to a summer’s evening.
Harry Christopher Carabina from Italian and Romanian parents, he grew
up on La Salle Street on the near south side of St. Louis on 3/1/1914.
Caray’s father died when he was an infant and his mother died when he
was around eight years old. In essence he grew up as an orphan.
his youth Caray played semipro baseball before auditioning for a radio
job at age nineteen. It was then when young Harry found his calling. He
would cut his teeth in the radio business in markets such as Joliet,
Illinois and Kalamazoo, Michigan before returning to his home town. He
joined the Cardinals radio broadcast team in 1945. It was here in St.
Louis and particularly behind a hot KMOX radio microphone where the
legend of Harry Caray evolved.
was Caray’s voice that narrated the stories of the successful seasons
of the mid/late 1940s, the challenging 1950s and the memorable 1960s
for the Cardinals. But it was during the down years of the 1950s when
Caray’s career rose to prominence. In February 1953, August A. Busch,
Jr. convinced his Anheuser-Busch Board of Directors to purchase the
Cardinals from Fred Saigh. The Big Eagle and Harry Caray were both cut
from the same cloth. Both wanted to be the center of attention. Both
appreciated pretty girls. Both were Type-A. Both were highly
most importantly, both could sell beer. That alliance would make Harry
larger than life. Over the KMOX airwaves he was an unabashed homer. But
above all, he could sell beer. Busch once referred to Caray as his best
beer salesman. The bond was then formed.
Busch’s influence, the powerful KMOX signal and Caray’s bombastic style
the Cardinal radio network became the largest in the Major Leagues.
Prior to 1957, St. Louis was the westernmost franchise. Cardinal fans
were emerging west of the Mississippi. Caray was the evangelist. Casual
and non-baseball fans listened to the games only to hear what Harry had
to say. During it all, he promoted and pushed Budweiser. The match
seemed made in heaven.
Cardinals went to the World Series three times during the 1960s:
winning it all twice. After advancing to the series in 1967 and 1968,
St. Louis was expected to make it a three-peat. It didn’t happen. In
1969 St. Louis finished a disappointing third in the newly created NL
East. But days after the final out, a bombshell was dropped in the
Gateway City. Harry Caray and the Cardinals parted ways. The larger
than life broadcaster was out as Cardinal broadcaster.
have been many of urban legends as to what led to the split. We’ll
never know for sure. But we did observe in a pre-cable, pre-internet
era, that the divorce was far from amicable.
St. Louis, Caray took his talents to Oakland where he spent one season
working for the colorful Charles O Finley’s A’s. One year later, Caray
was signed as an announcer by legendary owner and promoter Bill Veeck
of the Chicago White Sox. It would not take long for Harry to discover
that Chicago was indeed his kind of town.
Caray’s tenure on the south side, the White Sox were not very good. In
his first season the Sox went 56-106. The
high water mark was 1977 when they won 90 games. During Caray’s time on
the South Side, the Sox had a losing record in eight seasons.
despite the ineptness on the field, fans listened to the White Sox
games because of Harry Caray. Partnered with the colorful and
unpredictable Jimmy Piersall, the broadcasts were more entertaining
than the games. Caray introduced Comiskey Park fans to the familiar
chant from the musical group Steam as pitchers were removed from the
game or when the Sox were going to win:
“na-na-na-na---na-na-na-na-----hey, hey, hey---Good Bye”.
and Piersall would broadcast games from the bleachers. On July 12, 1979
Harry spoke over the Comiskey Park PA pleading for calm on “Disco
Demolition Night” where the Sox had to forfeit the second game of a
doubleheader. Fans rushed the field causing extensive damage.
the White Sox were not very good then—but it was sure fun to listen to
1982, Caray moved to the north side of Chicago: signing a contract to
broadcast games for the Cubs. It was there through the magic and power
of the WGN-TV Superstation signal where Harry Caray would be introduced
to a new generation of baseball fans. The Cubs turned Harry loose over
the airwaves and it proved to be reality television at its finest. The
Cubs were not very good. But just like when with the White Sox,
baseball fans tuned in to hear Caray offer his insight and opinions:
from trying to pronounce player’s names backwards to welcoming who at
the ball park that day to saluting the smallest towns throughout the
his stay with the Cubs, Caray introduced his trademark: the seventh
inning stretch singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. Regardless of
the score or the loyalty, Wrigley Field fans sang along with Harry: as
Caray, then in his 70s, used his microphone as a baton.
last conversation with Harry was in 1996. It was during a Saturday
afternoon game at Busch Stadium II between the Cardinals and Cubs.
Prior to the game, I was in the press lounge. Sitting very quietly in
the corner was Harry Caray watching the Fox Network pre-game show. On
the screen was his grandson Chip. As I passed his table, Harry smiled
and said to me, “isn’t he great?” I politely smiled, agreed continued
some small talk. During it all Harry just kept smiling.
here is this larger than life personality I grew up listening to via a
transistor radio under my pillow savoring the moment as a proud
grandfather. I started smiling also.
1989, Harry would be inducted into the Broadcaster’s wing of the
Baseball Hall of Fame and a year later, into the National Radio Hall of
Fame. He suffered a stroke in 1987. But Caray would not leave the
broadcast booth. Then in February 1998, Caray fell at a restaurant and
suffered a head injury. He died February 18, 1998 of cardiac arrest
with resulting brain damage.
was the season of the great Home Chase that rescued baseball from the
1994 Work Stoppage. The Cardinals’ Mark Mc Guire and the Cubs’ Sammy
Sosa would blast long flies in pursuit of Roger Maris’s single season
home run record. It would have been fun and perhaps fitting had Harry
hung around one more year to describe those events as only he could.
television (particularly cable television) is the primary outlet for
baseball. The legendary baseball voices from past years have been
replaced by some combination of blow-dried polished announcers and
former ball players: each parroting team written talking points and are
nothing more than an extension of the team’s marketing department. You
know: always remember that good seats are available, always look for
the positives and never criticize the Home Team.
wonder if Harry Caray would have been hired as a broadcaster in today’s
environment. My thinking is probably not. And that’s too bad. Games
were sure more fun during Harry’s day.
Saturday (March 1), Harry Caray would have been 100 years old.
Dan Kelly: Simply the
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review
posted February 7
On the same date the
Beatles made their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show a half century
earlier, this Sunday will also mark the twenty-fifth anniversary
of the death of long-time St. Louis Blues broadcaster Dan Kelly. He
once was called the "purest, most knowledgeable, most accurate" voice
in hockey. Kelly was 52 years old when he died at his Chesterfield home
after a five-month struggle with cancer.
Patrick Daniel Kelly was the best play-by-play announcer ever to
broadcast a hockey game. He was an announcer, a salesman, a preacher
and a teacher. Born on St. Patrick’s Day 1936, no one has ever come
close to his talents in describing the sport of hockey. To this day he
remains the Gold Standard in the industry. When Dan Kelly’s voice
boomed behind a nationally televised hockey game, you knew that game
had to be important.
There will always be a debate on who is/was the best baseball
announcer. While Cardinal fans lobby for the talents of the legendary
Jack Buck, one can understand why those on the West Coast provide equal
testimony for the great Vin Scully. Yankee fans speak with pride about
the calls of Mel Allen. Yet those in Michigan fondly will counter about
the homespun style of Ernie Harwell. You will never get consensus on
who is the best baseball announcer. But there is no debate on who is
hockey’s best announcer. As NBC’s Bob Costas once said: “hockey is a
sport that should never be broadcasted on radio. Yet in broadcasting
hockey, Kelly is like Secretariat in the Belmont. Whoever is second is
really closer to third or fourth”.
The Canadian-born, portly Irishman cut his broadcasting teeth in the
CFL and on his native land’s best-known hockey vehicle: Hockey Night in
Canada. Back in the day when only the original six teams skated in the
National Hockey League, a young Kelly would assist legendary
broadcaster Danny Gallivan in calling the Saturday night Game of Week
as it beamed throughout all the Canadian provinces and in the northern
US. It was THE event on TV in Canada.
Then in 1966, the NHL expanded: doubling from six to a dozen
franchises. The new markets would be Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Oakland,
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Local insurance executive
Sidney Solomon Jr. and his son Sidney III owned the St. Louis franchise
and nicknamed them the Blues. The Solomons purchased the deteriorating
fire trap at 5700 Oakland Avenue and transformed it into a hockey
arena. The Blues games were aired over the 50,000 red-hot watts of KMOX
Radio that first season. Buck was named as the team’s first radio
play-by-play man with former NHL defenseman and Coach Gus Kyle
providing the analysis. Jay Randolph replaced Buck once spring training
arrived. The Blues finished in third place that first season. But
behind the goaltending of veteran Glenn Hall, the Note advanced in the
playoffs to the NHL Finals: only to lose to the mighty Montreal
Canadiens in four straight games.
The following year, the Blues searched for a new play-by-play man to
take over for Buck. A young up-and-coming St. Louis hockey executive
named Scotty Bowman recommended Kelly to the Solomons. They’d pay Kelly
a king’s ransom to lure him and his family from Ottawa to St. Louis.
But it would be money well spent.
It took the 34-year-old Kelly and his partner Kyle only a short period
of time to earn the respect and admiration of the St. Louis listening
public. Kelly would educate his mid-America radio audience about the
rules, traditions, beauty and skills of hockey. With the help of the
KMOX signal, Kelly and Kyle would spread the word into over 44 states
and throughout Canada. Kelly’s familiar “He Shoots, He Scores” call
quickly became and still remains a St. Louis hockey staple. Kyle would
be the loveable sidekick: referring to close games as “barn burners”
and occasionally butchering the English language. A classic “Kyleism”
occurred after a jolting Bob Plager hip check. Old Gus said: “Plager
hit him so hard, his socks changed feet”. It was just great stuff.
Back in those days, the Blues were the hottest ticket in town. There
was actually a season-ticket waiting list for Blues games. 1968-1969
was memorable for the franchise and Kelly would serve as the narrator.
He painted the pictures with words over the KMOX airways as Hall of
Fame goaltenders Hall and Jacques Plante captured the Vezina Trophy.
Kelly’s description of all six goals scored by Red Berenson on a
November 7, 1968 night in Philadelphia remains legendary. Kelly and
Kyle would announce with fervor the fisticuffs when the Plager Brothers
and/or Noel Picard would not back down from the League’s tough guys.
That season the Blues won the Conference title and returned to the NHL
Finals: only to again be swept by Montreal. After the season Kelly
narrated a KMOX-produced album re-living those 1968-69 highlights.
It took less than one season, but Canadian born Dan Kelly became a St.
He would become the Gateway City’s hockey evangelist. For the next
nineteen seasons, it would be Kelly’s voice describing Blues action on
those cold winter nights. He was behind the microphone in January 1972,
when some Blues players went into the stands in Philadelphia to
confront the Flyer fans: eventually sending Head Coach Al Arbour and
those players to jail. He calmly explained to fans why trading Berenson
to Detroit was a good thing as a young star named Garry Unger would be
coming to town. Kelly helped hockey fans grieve over the sudden death
of young defenseman Bob Gassoff. He told fans to keep the faith as the
Solomons were contemplating bankruptcy due to rising debts. He
introduced Ralston Purina as new Blues owner and Emile Francis as the
team’s new President. A few years later, he watched helplessly as
Ralston left the Blues for dead: with the distinct possibility the team
would be relocated to Saskatoon. He introduced and interviewed Harry
Ornest: a Beverly Hills businessman who bought the team off the scrap
heap while bringing hockey executives Ronald Caron and Jacques Demers
to town with him. Kelly described the classic 1981 first round Game 5
playoff game when Mike Crombeen’s double-overtime goal advanced the
Blues into the next round.
It was Kelly’s voice that narrated arguably the franchise’s most
memorable game: May 12, 1986 (a. k. a. the Monday Night Miracle). The
Blues faced elimination in Game 6 of the Conference Finals against
Calgary. St. Louis trailed 5-1 in the third period, only to tie the
game and then win it in overtime on a Doug Wickenheiser goal. Kelly’s
voice provided that soundtrack.
Dan Kelly was the link. From the Solomons to Ralston to Ornest to
Shanahan: from player trades to coaching changes, from possible
relocation to financial stability, it was Kelly that was the constant
for Blues fans. He not only taught the Gateway City the game of hockey,
but also served as the voice of reason and experience.
While hockey was his trademark, Kelly was also versatile in other
sports. He was in the locker room in Montreal when the Cardinals
captured the 1982 National League Eastern Division title. In 1983, he
and Mike Shannon described Bob Forsch’s second no-hitter. He was one of
the CBS regional NFL TV broadcasters. Kelly was behind the
University of Missouri radio network microphone when the Al
Onofrio-coached Mizzou football team marched into Columbus to upset
Ohio State. Kelly teamed with Bob Starr during the glory years of the
St. Louis Football Cardinals: including the legendary Mel Gray phantom
catch game against Washington. Plus Kelly made countless cameo
appearances on Jack Carney’s highly-rated KMOX radio show.
Unlike today, especially as seen on local cable telecasts, Kelly was
not bashful to speak his mind: even if it ruffled the feathers within
the Blues front office. One night he was in New York to emcee an event
honoring Arbour. Kelly introduced himself saying, “I come from St.
Louis where we had Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour and we fired them both.
How smart are we?”
Then in 1988, hockey’s greatest voice grew weak and ill. We eventually
found out that cancer was the culprit. Others would describe Blues
games. But it wasn’t the same. We then realized just how spoiled we all
were. In January 1989, the Blues honored for their play-by-play man.
That night it also was announced that Kelly would be inducted into the
Hockey Hall of Fame. The guest list included local celebrities such as
Buck, Costas, Whitey Herzog and Shanahan as well as his hockey
colleagues Don Cherry and Jiggs Mc Donald. They all took turns
playfully roasting, yet honoring the Voice of the Blues. But the Great
Kelly was too ill to attend in person. Ironically, he listened to all
the festivities on KMOX Radio from his hospital room.
A month later, hockey’s greatest announcer died at the far too young
age of 52.
Now a generation has passed since we heard Dan Kelly announce a hockey
game. Millenials do not know what they missed. Thank goodness for
audiotapes. On his tombstone at Resurrection Cemetery in southwest St.
Louis is engraved “Voice of the Blues”. That just says it all.
“Hockey is a sport that should never be broadcasted on radio. Yet in
broadcasting hockey, Kelly is like Secretariat in the Belmont. Whoever
is second is really closer to third or fourth”.
Said another way, Dan Kelly was simply the best.
A Valentine to Spring;
A Valentine to Baseball
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review
posted February 16
this cold and chilly Valentine’s Day weekend, there are signs of love
and warmth starting to spring up. Perhaps it can be best summarized in
these few words:
“Pitchers and catchers are working out in Jupiter, Florida.”
Yes, baseball is back and not a moment too soon. On this weekend of
love, God’s most perfect game is returning from its winter hiatus. One
can almost hear the serene and familiar sounding lyrics from the Mary
Tyler Moore Show of the 1970s:
“Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have a town, why
don't you take it”
Yes indeed, baseball is back. The last time we left our local nine was
on a chilly late October Wednesday night at Fenway Park as the Boston
Red Sox completed the deal in winning the 2013 World Series. Meanwhile
the Red Birds returned to the Gateway City to start their winter
vacation with an impressive consolation prize: the National League
2013 was a very good year for the Cardinals. Many positive things
occurred. St. Louis compiled a 97-65 record: best in the Senior Circuit
and tied for best in the Majors. As thoughts of the Christmas holidays
and Super Bowl blowout start to fade, local and national pundits are
now preparing for the 2014 baseball campaign. You know “that long and
To that end, the Cardinals are getting loads of valentines and lots of
love from the national press. It would be a fair point for a franchise
that was one game away from the World Series in 2012, two games away
from a World Series championship in 2013, that the anticipated 2014
squad might even be better than the previous two.
A lot of that love is directed to the young pitching staff. Let’s
review. Here is the rundown of the 2013 accomplishments of those St.
Louis pitchers who are as of today, 26 years old or younger:
Age W L Inngs
Shelby Miller 22
15 9 173.1
Trevor Rosenthal 23 2
24 5 2 62
Kevin Siegrist 23
3 1 39.2
25 10 5 124
Michael Wacha 21
4 1 64.2
Tyler Lyons 25
2 4 53
Carlos Martinez 21
2 1 28.1
John Gast 24
2 0 12.1
26 5 2 55.1
26 15 10 201.2
down on these numbers further, in 2013 Red Bird pitchers 25 years of
age or less as of today compiled a 45-27 record: 46.4% of 2013 wins.
Going one step further, 2013 St. Louis pitchers 26 years of age or less
as of today were 65-39: 67.0% of 2013 wins.
Pitching has always been and always will be the most coveted asset in
Baseball. In that department, it appears the Cardinals are solid. This
anticipated roster also explains why the Red Birds are being shown love
nationally and expectations are high throughout Cardinal Nation.
From the time that final out was made at Fenway in late October to
their arrival in Jupiter in mid-February, I suspect all of these young
arms were flooded with compliments, Atta-boys and verbal bouquets from
their families, friends and groupies. Plus with the national reports it
could understood how these young pitchers would really feel good about
themselves arriving in FLA.
To that end, establishing the correct mindset/attitude will be the
initial challenge for third-year St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny. The
Manager and his staff need these ball players to buy into the reality
that it isn’t 2013 anymore and that potential always takes a back seat
to actual performance. Matheny and GM John Mozeliak should be fully
aware that as defending National League Champions, they are not going
to sneak up on anyone in 2014. As defending National League Champs,
opponents will circle games with St. Louis on their calendars. Opposing
teams will be ready, eager and able to take their best shot against the
heralded Red Birds young arms.
Welcome to challenge #1 of 2014: the mindset of a young roster that has
To that end, this week, Red Bird catcher Yadier Molina discussed this
subject when he told Derrick Gould, the baseball beat writer of our
town’s only newspaper, “For me, honestly, it’s the best team that I’ve
been a part of when you look at it on paper,” Molina said. “We’ve got a
great lineup. We’ve got a shortstop who can swing the bat. But it’s on
“We still have to concentrate. We can’t take it for granted.”
Can I get an Amen from the congregation, please?
Molina, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday must take the lead in
creating that culture into the 2014 locker room, much like Chris
Carpenter, Lance Berkman and Jake Westbrook did in prior seasons. Any
youngster straying away from this script should be visited by one of
these veterans. This is likely why St. Louis signed infielder Mark
Ellis as a free agent in the winter. Ellis is an articulate and
confident veteran who can assist in molding that attitude.
Yes, baseball is back and not a moment too soon. Welcome to spring
training 2014 Cardinal Nation. This the first stop of this upcoming
eight (hopefully nine) month odyssey.
And although anticipation is high throughout Baseball Heaven, there
will be many peaks, valleys, challenges, accomplishments, smiles and
frowns before it could be said:
“They’re gonna make it after all.”
Happy Birthday, Hank
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review
posted February 7
On Wednesday February 5,
Hank Aaron will turn 80 years old.
The 1950s, 60s and 70s was an era when many of baseball’s glorious
names performed their skills and built their legends. Behind this
backdrop, with his quiet dignity, Henry Louis Aaron was at the top of
that list. Ascending from humble beginnings to the ranks of the Negro
League to Major League Baseball, Aaron demonstrated a consistency and
steadiness that is admired even in today’s trash-talking world of
social media and wall-to-wall tabloid sports journalism. When #44
played you never saw flashiness and you never saw boasting: only
consistent performance with class. He never felt the need to show up an
opponent. His work did all of his talking.
Aaron’s body of work outlined in his resume is beyond impressive: it
screams volumes In his 23-year career he blasted 755 career home runs
(#2 all time)—3,771 career hits (#3 all time)—2,297 career runs batted
in (#1 all time)—a lifetime batting average of .305---624 career
doubles ---1957 National League Most Valuable Player----24 All Star
Game appearances--NL batting champion in 1956 and 1959—three-time gold
glove winner. Although Aaron hit 755 career home runs, he never hit 50
or more long flies in a given season. You can do the math.
As a right-handed hitting outfielder for the Milwaukee Braves, Aaron
made his debut at the age of twenty on April 13, 1954. An injury to a
Braves’ outfielder created an opening for young Aaron to be added to
the Big League roster. And from that day, he never looked back. In his
first Major League game, Aaron went hitless. Two days later, he slapped
the first of his 3,771 career hits in a game against the St. Louis
Cardinals. Eight days later, Aaron blasted his first Major League home
run: also against the Red Birds and against pitcher Vic Raschi.
It would be the first of many that would span throughout five
Ironically, Aaron could have actually had 756 career home runs. It was
a night in St. Louis in a game against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium
I. The Red Bird pitcher was Curt Simmons: a left-hander whose most
effective pitch was a slow ball. On that night, Aaron was so anxious to
hit Simmons’ slow ball that when he made contact, the ball eventually
landed on Grand Avenue, Yet, Aaron was called out by the home
plate umpire for being out of the batter’s box. When asked after the
game, Simmons uttered a quote that is still used on Cardinal broadcasts
to this day: "Trying to throw a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying
to sneak a sunrise past a rooster."
Aaron became one of the most feared hitters in the game. In 1955, he
hit .27 home runs, drove in 106 RBIs and posted a batting average of
.328. As the 1957 National League Most Valuable player, Aaron was an
integral part of a Milwaukee Braves team that won their only World
Series Championship as they defeated the heavily-favored New York
Yankees in seven games. Then over the next two decades, Hank Aaron
would continue to pile up offensive numbers.
Hank Aaron was all business: serious business. He once said, “I never
smile when I have a bat in my hands. That's when you've got to be
serious. When I get out on the field, nothing's a joke to me. I don't
feel like I should walk around with a smile on my face.”
Unsung and at times unappreciated, he did not have the advantage of
playing in the bright lights of New York. Aaron didn’t have the
charisma and personality of Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. So when it
became obvious during the 1960s that Ruth’s career home run total would
be strongly contested, many of the press swarmed after Mays and Mantle.
But up in Milwaukee and later down in Atlanta, Hank Aaron quietly
continued to hit home runs. It eventually became obvious that if anyone
was to eclipse the Babe, it would be the man wearing #44 for the Braves.
Quietly and consistently Aaron climbed the ladder. He finished 1973
with 713 career home runs: one shy of Ruth’s all-time record. It would
be a long winter of anticipation for the slugger. Letters poured into
the Braves offices, as many as 3,000 a day for Aaron. Some wrote to
congratulate him, but many others were appalled that a black man should
break baseball's most sacred record. Among the negative correspondence
were death threats.
On Opening Day 1974, Aaron homered in Cincinnati to tie Ruth. Then on
Monday night April 15 before 53,775 fans at Atlanta Fulton County
Stadium during the Braves home opener, Aaron blasted his 715th career
home run. It occurred at 9:07 p.m. in the fourth inning against Al
Downing and the Los Angeles Dodgers before a nationally televised NBC
Network audience. This was a big deal and the eyes of the nation were
focused on the events in Georgia.
Two years later, #44 returned to the town where he started it all two
decades prior: this time to the Brewers as a Designated Hitter. On
October 3, 1976 at the age of 42, Aaron played his final Major League
game as a DH for the Brewers. He was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of
Fame on the first ballot in 1982, receiving 406 of a possible 415
ballots. It’s still unclear and quite mind boggling how the nine
naysayers did not vote for #44 in Round One.
Years after Aaron retired, impressive yet skeptical home run totals
surfaced. Fifty home runs in a season by one player occurred more and
more frequently. Under this shadow, home runs never looked the same. As
more and more long flies flew, more and more whispers grew louder and
louder: questioning the authenticity of those home runs. The word
steroids started to surface.
On an August 2007 night in San Francisco, Giants’ outfielder Barry
Bonds hit his 756th career home run passing Aaron. Bonds was viewed
skeptically as suspicion linked him to performance enhancing drugs. The
magic of the home run was diminished. When Aaron passed Ruth, the game
was beamed nationally on NBC as a must see event. When Bonds passed
Aaron, the game was shown as a regional broadcast on ESPN 2 with
Despite the cloud, Aaron would have none of it. The former Home Run
King congratulated the new King on taking over the thrown via a classy
video to the sold out crowd at AT&T Park.
To this day, although Bonds has the numbers, many followers of baseball
regard Aaron the true Home Run King. Despite it all, #44 avoided the
In his later years, Mantle expressed his respect for Aaron saying, “As
far as I'm concerned, Aaron is the best ball player of my era. He is to
baseball of the last fifteen years what Joe DiMaggio was before him.
He's never received the credit he's due."
In 1999, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of breaking Ruth's record,
Major League Baseball announced the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to
the best overall hitter in each league. Three years later, Aaron was
awarded the Medal of Freedom.
In his 1990 autobiography “If I had a Hammer” Aaron wrote: “I have
always felt that although someone may defeat me, and I strike out in a
ball game, the pitcher on the particular day was the best player. But I
know when I see him again I'm going to be ready for his curve ball.
Failure is a part of success. There is no such thing as a bed of roses
all your life. But failure will never stand in the way of success if
you learn from it.”
As we once again deal with lawsuits and PED innuendos relating to
prominent athletes in prominent markets, it is sometimes good to
reflect back to a simpler time.
"Trying to throw a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a
sunrise past a rooster."
Happy 80th birthday, Hammering Hank
St. Louis Sports Online
David Freese: Gone But Not Forgotten
this week, the Cardinals announced that they had traded David Freese to
the Los Angeles Angels, as part of a two-for-two swap that resulted in
CF Peter Bourjos moving east to St. Louis.
is a good one for St. Louis--an analysis will follow on these
pages...but Freese had grown stale in STL and the Cards' primary 2013
center fielder, John Jay, had as well. At the very least Bourjos will
platoon with Jay in 2014, while rising star Matt Carpenter, and rookie
Kolten Wong, will assume the third and second base positions,
It is hard
to get a handle on just how large of an impact St. Louis-area native
David Freese has had on STL baseball.
one way of looking at Freese...
In his four+ year major league career (all with St. Louis, spanning
2009-2013), David Freese appeared in 466 regular season games.
During that same period of time, Freese played in nine
post-season series (including the one-game 2012 wild-card game vs.
Washington), and during those series, appeared in 48 post-season
Do the math, dear reader!
While wearing a Cardinal uniform, hometown hero David
Freese appeared in 10% as many post-season games as regular season
When you think of modern-era post-season baseball, Derek Jeter comes to
mind as a perennial post-season participant.
In his nineteen years as a Yankee, Jeter has appeared in 2602
regular-season games...and a mind-boggling 158 games (in sixteen
different series). 158 games! That's a regular season of baseball that
Jeter has played, in MLB's post-season tournament.
The math, though says, that Jeter's post-season appearances amounted to
about 6% of his regular season appearances.
What about Freese' new teammate in Los Angeles...Albert Pujols?
During his eleven-year tenure as a Cardinal, Pujols played in 1705
(Hall of Fame-quality) regular-season games but 'only' (?!) 74
Pujols' playoff-to-regular season percentage therefore stands at 4%.
My point is this: if your recollections of David Freese are primarily
post-season-based...there's a reason for that. He played A LOT of
October baseball as a Cardinal.
October baseball is good.
October baseball is meaningful baseball.
David Freese was good at October baseball.
Gone but not forgotten.
Contact Mike at:
St. Louis Sports Online
Role Models in Radio; Role Models in Coaching?
always good radio to be found the day after the Philly Eagles lose.
That's because 97.5 The Fanatic employs long-time sports-talk radio pro
Tony Bruno, who, with wit and wisdom and alacrity, persuades most (but
not all) of his ever-insufferable listeners not to jump from the top of
the nearest tall building. The wonder of the internet brings Bruno and
his Philly-based station to anyone looking for an entertaining
similar vein, the Cardinals' flagship radio station, 'The Voice of St.
Louis' (TVoSTL), in the mid-afternoon of Wednesday, November 7, 2012,
supplied a great deal of potential.
callers alike on this station, during the mid-afternoon time slots,
lean right-of-center (ya think?!)...and the day before (November 6) was
of St. Louis' (TVoSTL) has always tilted a bit to the right.
example, you can bet the mortgage that long-time CBS VP Robert Hyland
had no use, in 1972, for most of the positions held by that year's
Democratic presidential nominee (George McGovern).
somehow, back in those days, the political views of the newsreaders and
hosts at TVoSTL were, if not difficult to ascertain...they were at
least restrained. Hyland himself voiced an occasional, usually
right-of-center 'editorial' in the early a.m. (before what is now
called morning-drive), but his opinions were not delivered with the
'in-your-face' and 'take-no-prisoners' mentality that a certain Cape
Girardeau-born nationally-syndicated personality (heard five days a
week on TVoSTL) has popularized.
'take-no-prisoners' approach to talk-radio has metastasized: in all
likelihood, the locally-based right-of-center show that commences on
TVoSTL at 2 pm (and other regional shows like it around the country)
would not exist were it not for the popularity of the
nationally-syndicated show that precedes it.
Tuesday, November 6, voters in Missouri re-elected Democratic senator
Claire McCaskill...while voters in the United States re-elected
President Barack Obama.
results virtually guaranteed that compelling mid-afternoon radio would
be found the next day on TVoSTL.
during the 2 o'clock hour on November 7, while discussing the election
results and a 60 Minutes TV segment that featured a chilly and forced
conversation involving US senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Harry
Reid (D-NV), TVoSTL's mid-afternoon local host chimed in with his own
view, agreeing with the notion that it would be hard for anyone
(including the Republican leadership in the US Senate) to work with
Reid, saying "Yeah, I hate Harry Reid too."
chuckled--I was right! Then I groaned and quite literally thought of
Robert Hyland, whose approach to radio is missed by many.
is gone, and a man with the golden EIB microphone has acolytes all over
the United States.
and groan was followed by a click, as I changed the station to a St.
Louis-based sports-talk station, whose update guy was discussing the
St. Louis University men's basketball program and its head-coaching
sports, and to SLU basketball in particular.
in the wake of what is apparently a life-threatening medical issue, SLU
head coach Rick Majerus has relinquished his coaching duties and has
been replaced, on an interim basis, by veteran basketball man Jim Crews.
played (1972-1976) and served as an assistant coach (1977-1985) at
Indiana for more than a decade while the Hoosiers were coached by Bob
Knight, was, beginning in 1985, a head coach at Evansville and then
Army, for 24 successive seasons (seventeen and seven years,
respectively), during which time his teams qualified for four NCAA
basketball perspective, SLU's athletics department is fortunate that
Majerus, prior to the 2011-12 season, was able to persuade Crews to
return to coaching and join his staff at SLU.
thinking about Crews, though, centers on a post-game press conference
held at the Arena at SIU-Carbondale, after an Evansville-SIUC game.
recall the outcome of the game. I don't remember anything about the
game itself. I'm not even certain as to the game's exact date, although
I am certain it was in the late 1990s.
What I do
recall, vividly, is being embarrassed, as a 1980 graduate of
Evansville, to be in the same room with Jim Crews, as he, while serving
as Evansville's head basketball coach, berated and
belittled...INTENTIONALLY...a young man who was apparently the Aces'
beat writer for the Evansville daily newspaper.
reporter, who didn't look a day over the age of thirty and did not at
all resemble the late Mike Wallace in demeanor, had the temerity to
politely ask a mundane question about something that had transpired
during the game he had just witnessed...a game that, as part of his job
description, he was required to describe to his paper's readers.
would have none of the reporter’s questions and the reporter did not
persist in asking them. Crews left the closet-sized room for the
comfort of his team's locker room, leaving most of the other half-dozen
or so in the tiny room shaking their heads. I do not recall, ever, in
person, witnessing a more childish, silly and needless display of (bad)
attitude by a person in a position of leadership.
that's not exactly true.
of months later (late in the decade of the 1990's), Bob Knight visited
Jupiter FL as a spring-training guest of his buddy, then-Cardinals
manager Tony La Russa.
pre-game session near the Roger Dean stadium first-base line, La Russa
and a horde of media left the area, and Knight and I remained in place,
alone for several minutes.
details are not important, suffice it to say that as Jim Crews was to
that Evansville-based basketball reporter, Bob Knight was to yours
was not interested in idle chat of any type that morning, and had a
rather direct way of expressing that perspective. Furthermore, his
approach is not likely to be found in the classic book 'How to Win
Friends and Influence People'.
No one can
deny the (broadcasting) excellence of Rush Limbaugh, in terms of
listenership and revenue generation. Limbaugh is a wealthy man and a
man of significant influence.
No one can
deny the (coaching) excellence of Bob Knight, in terms of four-year
player graduation rates and national championships. Bob Knight is in
basketball's Hall of Fame, and, like Limbaugh, a man of significant
effect of Limbaugh, on aspiring broadcasters...and the effect of
Knight, on aspiring coaches--it seems to me that the plusses and
minuses of those effects can (and should) be debated, in part because,
in fact, only a fraction of their work is on public display.
listeners hear, on the radio, from Limbaugh...is unique to him...and
impossible to duplicate. And what goes into Limbaugh's daily
'performance' is something unseen to his listeners; it is private.
Indeed, Limbaugh's private life is just that: private.
radio studios all over America, the talk-show posers try to imitate the
the clownsuit at 2 pm on TVoSTL. Click.
fans of college basketball saw of Knight, on the bench, was certainly
unique to him...and also impossible to duplicate. One can argue, I
think, that Bob Knight succeeded as a college basketball coach in spite
of his public demeanor, not because of it.
today, in high school and college gymnasiums all over America, the
coaching posers still try to imitate the General, in all his glory.
Bob Knight was dismissed, at Indiana, in September of 2000, after
physically accosting and verbally abusing an IU undergrad. It was,
according to the leadership at Indiana, the last in a long line of
missteps committed by Knight.
Jim Crews was dismissed, at Army, in September of 2009, under cloudy
circumstances that some said involved physically
accosting and verbally
abusing Army players (i.e. cadets). Crews’ offense was, according
to the athletic leadership at Army, the last in a string of missteps.
His dismissal came only a few weeks after signing a three-year contract
extension (with a two-year option), and just weeks before the start of
the college season.
years after his dismissal at Army, one hopes that Jim Crews emulates
the results associated with Bob Knight, and leaves out the General's
won't hunt in the genteel college basketball climate that is St. Louis
University, whose most successful modern-day coach (the late Charlie
Spoonhour) opened practices to the public at the old gym on Pine Street
and, for awhile, was arguably the most beloved sports figure in St.
was a site to see—while Spoonhour watched his team do 3-on-3 drills,
runners were circling the track above the court. Runners as in students
and faculty. Other athletes were exercising courtside, too…but there
was an excitement in the air: everybody wanted to be a part of
Spoonball—it was fun and all of St. Louis knew it.
that interim coach Jim Crews gets the memo.
WDBX Sunday Sports Review
Intro mp3 #1
Ozzie Smith, Tony La Russa, Bruce Weber, Jerry Kill, Rich Herrin and
Charlie Spoonhour, and Joe Buck)
Intro mp3 #2
Jan Quarless, Rick Ankiel, Ron Caron, Walt Jocketty, Brian Jordan and
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review
Hockey in the Springtime: Game On!
posted March 24
late March here in the Gateway City. That means three things are on the
minds of local sports fans. First, late March means the Cardinals are
making final preparations for breaking their Spring Training camp and
heading north. Second, the NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing
and bracket watching/cursing continues.
it’s time to start paying attention to the National Hockey League and
particularly our town’s entry: the St. Louis Blues.
are entering the final month of the drudgery of the NHL regular season.
The sole purpose of this six-month ordeal is to thin the herd from
thirty teams to sixteen teams. Only in the National Hockey League do
you play six months of slugfest hockey so that 53.33% go to the
weekend the Blues punched their ticket. They will be one of those
sixteen invitees in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It has been a very
good season for our local ice heroes. At this writing, St. Louis leads
the Central Division with 103 points: posting an overall record of
48-16-7. Local hockey fans now know there will be playoff tickets to
save up for. Local media may start growing their silly playoff beards
to help the cause.
history tells us that although the Blues again will be playing in the
NHL’s second season, the real question is: just how long will they be
around? In their first three seasons of existence, thanks to the
structure of the newly-expanded NHL, St. Louis reached the Stanley Cup
Finals. Since then it has not been so good. During most of the
following forty-two seasons since 1971 when they did make the playoffs,
the Note was knocked out in either the first or second rounds.
optimism exists by puck heads in the Show Me State. But history does
not lie. Do we know if the Blues will reach round three of the playoffs
will reach the third round of the playoffs for third time in 43
seasons? Do we know if they will reach the Cup Finals for the first
time since the Nixon administration? Heck, Red Schoendienst was the
Cardinal Manager and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was TV’s most
popular show the last time the Note played in the Finals.
instead getting all emotionally raveled, unshaven and joining the local
media on their cheerleading bandwagon, let’s see what we know and what
we do not know about our Blue.
know the Blues have a solid and successful Management team calling the
shots. All have successful track records. Let’s start at the top. The
team’s current Chairman Tom Stillman became the team’s NHL Governor on
May 9, 2012. Stillman is also the Chairman and CEO of Summit
Distributing: a St. Louis-based beer distributor. He entered the beer
business in 1994 with the acquisition of a local wholesaler and has
delivered steady growth and results. Stillman is also a bottom-line
businessman. Unlike his predecessor he announces actual attendance
totals for home games. While he is not afraid to spend money for
players to improve the product, Stillman makes it crystal clear that in
order for the Blues to be successful, all revenue streams, from season
tickets to luxury boxes to concessions to broadcasting rights must
justify the expenses.
another way, Tom Stillman is an upgrade from the smooth-talking Dave
also know that Ken Hitchcock is a successful NHL Head Coach. Now in his seventeenth NHL season, Hitchcock’s
career Head Coaching record is 653-398-88. His teams finished in first
place seven times and at this writing, his 2013-14 are in the top spot
in the Central Division. Hitchcock’s name is engraved on the Stanley
Cup as the Head Coach for the 1998-99 Champion Dallas Stars. Hitchcock
has an Olympic Gold Medal as the Assistant Coach for Canada’s
championship hockey team this year in Sochi. Hitchcock has represented Canada at international
competitions. He led his team to the Silver Medal at the 2008 World
Said another way, Ken Hitchcock is an upgrade from the
overmatched Davis Payne
also know that Doug Armstrong is a proven and successful NHL Executive.
Armstrong joined the Blues as the Executive Vice President and General
Manager on July 1, 2010. He was named President of Hockey Operations
and General Manager/Alternate Governor on September 4, 2013. Armstrong
was a part of the Stars’ organization after moving to Dallas in 1993.
He helped lead the franchise to two Presidents’ Trophies, two Western
Conference titles and the 1999 Stanley Cup championship. Armstrong
spent 17 years with Dallas: his final six
seasons as the club’s General Manager. The 49-year old Armstrong was
also a member of the Management Group that oversaw Canada’s 2014
Olympic Gold Medal winning hockey team.
Said another way, Doug Armstrong is an upgrade from local
media favorite John Davidson.
ergo and hence, all three men have successful resumes. That is what we
now brings us to the players. And that is what we don’t know.
past time for these Blues players that we have been told possess all
that potential to put up or shut up once and for all. Management has
provided tools and support. They went out and acquired Jay Bowmeester
and Ryan Miller. Management invested the money to lock down Bowmeester,
Alex Petroangelo and Alexander Steen. Management has provided the time,
talent and treasure. The Front Office has done its part.
now time (past time?) for the players to step up and prove once and for
all they are worthy. While I’m sure they are all good people, here’s
the bottom line. To date, this core group of players has not done it in
the playoffs. It’s time once and for all for David Backes to prove that
he is as much as a Blues Captain as Brian Sutter or Barclay Plager were
before him. It’s time once and for all for TJ Oshie, Steen, Patrick
Berglund, Barret Jackman and the rest not to be as invisible in the
playoffs as Keith Tkachuk was in prior first rounds. It’s time once and
for all for Petroangelo to demonstrate in the playoffs that he is
worthy of that big-money contract he held out for and if he can be
mentioned in the same breath as Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger.
and for all, it’s time. Can they do it? Yes--Will they do it? That is
what we do not know.
visitors to this space might recall these musings provided by this
bureau in early March.
areas concern me. Their first and/or second round opponent will likely
be some combination of the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, San
Jose Sharks and/or Anaheim Ducks. At this writing St. Louis is 0-2-1
versus Vancouver, 0-3-0 against Anaheim, 1-2-0 against Los Angeles and
0-3-0 against San Jose. Said another way in 2013-14 the Blues are
1-10-1 against their likely first and/or second round opponents. Said
even another way, ten of the Blues fourteen losses were against these
four Western Conference fraternity brothers.”
see if the addition of Ryan Miller and Steve Ott will change the
dynamics. Until then, in order for the Blues to avoid their normal fate
of a first or second round exit, the road to the Conference Finals will
go through the West Coast: at least once or twice.”
& not to sound snarky, remember these are still the St. Louis
Blues. Year in and year out when expectations are high, the Blues
always found some way not to get the job done. Local fans & media
have had their hearts broken more times than a teenage girl with a
sentiments remain unchanged. Here is what we know and what we don’t
late March and the St. Louis Blues are in the playoffs again. That we
will the Note last more than one or two rounds this time? That we don’t
way we need to answer those questions once and for all.
St. Louis Sports Online
Blackhawks, Kings and Blues
year's Stanley Cup tournament, how, exactly, did the Blackhawks defeat
the Kings? And why did the Kings vanquish the Blues?
week, in the fifth game of their best-of-seven Western Conference
championship playoff series, the Blackhawks of Chicago defeated the
Kings of Los Angeles. The winning goal was scored in the game’s second
overtime period and made the score 4-3 (advantage Chicago).
with Blackhawk wins in the first, second and fourth games of the
series, the victory resulted in the end of the Kings’ reign as Stanley
Cup champions, as they were defeated by Chicago four-games-to-one.
series-clinching double-overtime goal was scored by Hawks’ winger
was born in Buffalo NY, beat all-world LA goalie Jonathan Quick with a
medium-range one-timer reminiscent of Hall of Fame snipers Jari Kurri
and Mike Bossy.
Kane’s third goal of the game…and added to his reputation as one of the
NHL’s premier finishers.
series-clinching goal was the successful culmination of a two-on-one
break, as he and superstar center Jonathan Toews skated toward the
Kings’ net with only LA defenseman Rob Scuderi between them and goalie
puck-carrying Toews quickly but patiently approached Quick on the
left-wing side before cleanly passing the puck to Kane, who lagged
behind Toews a fraction of a second on the right side of the rink.
perfect set-up from Toews was, in a blink-of-the-eye, buried by
Kane--and an Original Six Stanley Cup final between Chicago and Boston
prepares to do battle with Boston, a look back at the Blues’ last two
playoff losses (both to LA) as well as the Blackhawks’ recent victory
over LA is warranted.
Chicago’s series with LA, commentators referenced the hard-hitting and
physical nature of the Kings-Blues opening round series. LA’s players
noted that their six games with the Blues were more physical than
either subsequent battles with San Jose or with Chicago.
nhl.com stats suggest that the Blues (with 40 hits per game) virtually
matched the Kings (41 hits per game) hit-for-hit, in their six game
series, while the Blackhawks, in their five game series with the Kings,
were outhit (per game) 44-32.
numbers sink in, puckheads. The Blues were as physical as the Kings
(but lost), while the Blackhawks were not as physical as the Kings (and
So why did
Chicago have success against Los Angeles?
speed and skill.
about that the next time a so-called hockey know-it-all says that the
only thing keeping the Blues from playoff success…is their lack of
It just is
not true. In the 21st Century version of NHL hockey, speed and skill
win games and win championships.