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Tinkering With the Game: Innovations by black people helped change the shape of baseball

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By Ron Thomas

Chronicle Staff Writer

The contributions black people have made to baseball haven’t been limited to accomplishments on the playing field.

“Most people think of what blacks did on the field: the base hits, home runs, great catches, by Willie Mays … which is fine,” said baseball historian Dick Simpson. “My point is that not only did they improve the game on the field, but black people were involved with fundamental innovations that became a part of baseball.”

One innovation dates back more than a century. Several others were developed in the Negro leagues, which, except for black newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender, were largely ignored by the media. Because of the relative lack of media coverage and documentation of the Negro leagues, some of these innovations are supported by lore rather than facts.

“I’m not prepared to argue firsts,” said Robert Peterson, the author of “Only the Ball Was White,” the ground-breaking book about the Negro leagues that was publishes in 1970. “There’s an awful lot of uncertainty in this field.”

But there is no disputing that without innovations by black owners, coaches and players, the national pastime would not be the game we know today. Here are some examples:

Shin guards now are worn by catchers to protect them from the spikes of players who are intent upon crossing home plate. But the first shin guards were invented by one two black second basemen, Binghamton’s Bud Fowier or Buffalo’s Frank Grant, who played minor-league ball in the 1880s in the International League. They invented the shin guards, which were wooden slats wrapped around their legs, because white opponents intentionally tried to spike them while sliding into second base.

In “Only the Ball Was White,” Peterson excerpted an 1889 Sporting News story in which an unidentified white International

INVENTIONS: Page C7 Col.

Frank Grant, shewn second from right on the bottom row in this developed shin guards to protect him from runners sliding into

League player admitted that he was “prejudiced” against teams with black players, yet “could not help pitying some of the poor black fellows” in the league. It is presumed the player was talking about the 1888 season when he said:

“Fowler used to play second, base with the lower part of his legs encased in wooden guards. He knew that about every player that came down to second base on a steal had it in for him and would, if possible, throw the spikes into him.

“… I have seen him muff balls intentionally, so that he would not have to try to touch runners, fearing that they might injure him. Grant was the same way: Why, the runners chased him off second base.”

In 1891, Sporting Life, a popular publication of the time, quoted another player, Ed Williamson, saying that the desire to injure Grant made the feet-first slide popular among white players. ” … he put wooden armor on his legs for protection, but the opposition proceeded to file their spikes to a sharp point and split the (shin guards),” Williamson said.

In three International League seasons, Grant batted .351 and once led the league in home runs. He also was an excellent second baseman, but eventually the abuse forced him to switch to the outfield after he missed many games due to injuries in 1888. The outfield, said baseball historian James Overmyer, was “less predatory” than second base.

Beginning in 1890, professional teams refused to sign black players until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1946 as a member of the International League’s Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team.

The first night game in major league history was played in Cincinnati’s Crosley Field on May 23, 1935, and event that revolutionized the game. But beginning in 1930, the Kansas City Monarchs, who temporarily had withdrawn from the Negro leagues to become an independent team, had popularized night baseball by playing under portable lights purchased by team owner J.L Wilkinson.

Technically, night baseball wasn’t a black innovation because lighted fields had been used sparingly in the past and Wilkinson was white. But night baseball’s value as a marketing tool was proven as the Monarchs competed against Negro league teams and on barnstorming trips throughout rural areas. The Monarchs’ success helped convince major-league baseball to adopt night baseball.

“Others had used lights as a novelty for maybe one game, but Wilkinson developed a system that could be used on a long-term basis,” said Janet Bruse Campbell, author of “The Kansas City Monarchs.” “It proved to be their salvation during the Depression because so many teams were going broke, especially minor-league and black teams.”

The Monarchs played their first night game on April 28, 1930, and Peterson said they introduced night baseball in many cities, including Pittsburgh and Detroit. In 1933, Gus Greenlee, who was black and owned the Negros leagues’ Pittsburgh Crawfords, installed lights in his team’s stadium, Greenlee Field.

Before lights had been introduced, baseball teams suffered because they could only play during daylight, when most potential fans were working. Buck O’Neil, who played for or coached the Monarchs from 1938-55, said they tried to get around that problem by scheduling twilight games which started at 6 p.m. and continued until sundown. Even so, games often ended before farmers, who worked extremely long hours, could arrive. Weekend games were another way to get around the daylight problem, but, said Campbell, “If there was a rain-out on weekends, it was financially devastating.”

So Wilkinson asked a Nebraska company to build a portable lighting system which would be transported by trucks. Telescoping poles were implanted in a truck bed, with each pole supporting six floodlights raised about 50 feet above the field. A 100-kilowatt generator was put in center field to provide electricity to the trucks, which were placed along the foulines and behind home plate.

“With the lights, he got everybody to the game,” O’Neil said. “And the lights were an attraction.”

O’Neil said batting, fielding ground balls and catching low line drives weren’t that difficult, “but of a high fly ball would go above the lights, you had to wait until it came below the lights (to see it). But if you learned how to judge the ball, you had some idea where it would come down.”

Campbell wrote there were even more problems, such as outfielders trying to make sure they didn’t trip over the generator’s wires while chasing a fly ball. “I think players realized (lights were) almost a necessary evil,” she said. “It allowed them to survive during the Depression but it wasn’t the ideal conditions.”

Now it’s commonplace to see a catcher snap the ball into his glove one-handed while he keeps his right, throwing hand behind his back to protect it from injury. Former major-league catcher Randy Hundley, who played with the Chicago Cubs from 1964-77, popularized that style, then Hall of Famer Johnny Bench perfected it.

But a half-century ago, the Negro leagues’ Lloyd (Pepper) Bassett, who starred from 1934-50, already was catching one-handed with his “squeezer” mitt.

“The mitts were kind of stiff, so he got the biggest mitt he could and took a lot of stuffing out of the mitt and caught most of the balls in the webbing,” said O’Neil. “(The usual) catcher’s mitts didn’t hinge in the middle. They were round and you had to catch the ball with two hands. Pepper would put that right hand behind him and catch that ball with one hand.

“So many catchers missed so many games with 9injured) knuckles or split fingers, but Pepper didn’t have that problem.”

Bassett, one of the Negro leagues’ best catchers, introduced another playing style that probably never has been emulated: catching in a rocking chair. In “Invisible Men” by Donn Rogosin, Bassett explained that when he played for the New Orleans Crescents in the 1930s, they weren’t drawing well, so “I had to figure out some way to put some people in the park.” He used that gimmick only sparingly, but it became his trademark.

The batter walks up to the on-deck circle, drops a doughnut-shaped weight over his bat, then swings the bat a few times to limber up before stepping up to the plate. Ever wonder who invented that doughnut?

The answer is the late Eiston Howard, a major-league catcher from 1955=68 who was best known as the handler of New York Yankees pitching staffs that won four World Series. He introduced the product – “Eiston Howard’s On-Deck Bat-Weight” – in the late 1960s to speed up a player’s swing and strengthen his arms, wrists and forearms.

“Bat-head speed is so important, and when you can make the bat-head feel lighter you can whip the bat,” said baseball announcer Tim McCarver.

Howard’s invention, which he created with two friends, is far less cumbersome than loosening up by swinging a lead bat or swinging several bats at a time. The dough­ nut is made of metal dipped in plastic, and it has become such a fixture in major-league baseball that three doughnuts are displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

THE DOCTOR: Erving Is Making Final House Calls

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By Ron Thomas

It was 1976, the summer of the ABA-NBA merger and Julius Erving was being showcased in NBA cities for the first time. The ABA hadn’t had a major television contract and was more of a rumor than a memory for most of the nation. But anyone who called himself a basketball fan had beard about “The Doctor.”

Such was his legend that 6000 fans packed DePaul University’s Alumni Hall in Chicago to see this phenomenon from basketball outer space. They saw Mickey Johnson, then with the Chicago Bulls, set himself in the lane to take a charge from The Doctor, then lean back with his face toward the ceiling as Erving leaped over his head for a stuff.

With about two minutes left to play, Erving left the game accompanied by a standing ovation. The game continued, but the fans began streaming out of the arena.

“Doc be gone; I be gone,” one fan said.

After tonight, Doc will “be gone” from the Coliseum Arena, too. The game between his Philadelphia 76ers and the Warriors 730 tipoff, KNBR 680 Radio will be his final one here as he plays out his final NBA season. Fortunately, Erving can’t take our memories with him.

There are myriad ways to account for Erving’s 16 seasons of greatness dating to when he broke in with the ABA’s Virginia Squires in 1971. But Ervmg explains it best.

“I dare to be great,” he says. “Unless you dare to be great, you can’t be and never will be.”

Erving never wanted the law of gravity to restrict what he could do.

“I dream about flying a lot,” he said after a magical performance in 1983. “I just find myself floating out in space as if I had wings. I stay up a lot longer when I’m dreaming. I go sideways, backwards, do somersaults … It’s a fun way to sleep. Sometimes your dreams just seem so real.

“After you understand the fundamentals of the game, the artistry and creativity come from dreams and experimentation.”

It took Ray Wilson, Erving’s high school coach on Long Island, a few years to understand Erving’s quest for the unknown. Young Julius would make a remarkable move, and Wilson recalls thinking, “He was pretty lucky.”

Wilson concedes that be was “imposing my limitations- something I couldn’t do, I assumed he couldn’t do.” When an Erving move surprises him now, Wilson says, “I just shake my head and say he marches to a different drummer.”

Erving implants indelible memories. In the 1980 NBA finals against the Lakers, he swooped down the right side of the lane, curled under the basket with his arm and the ball extended out of bounds, then hooked around flat-footed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a reverse bank shot. Best shot I’ve ever seen, but probably far from the best Erving ever made

Jack McMahon, the Warriors’ director of play personnel, watched Erving for 10 years in Philadelphia. He’s seen all the maneuvers, but the Erving deluxe was a display of sheer power.

In a playoff game against Washington, “he took one down the middle hard and strong on Elvin Hayes,” McMahon recalled. “You talk about in-your-face’ This was ‘in-your-face supreme.’ I loved it; I’m not an Elvin Hayes fan.”

At a press conference yesterday in Oakland, Erving said his personal favorite occurred at Petersburg, Va., in his first pro exhibition game. At the University of Massachusetts, the tallest opponent Erying had faced was 6-foot-10, but the Kentucky Colonels of that era had 7.2 Artis Gilmore and 6-9 Dan Issel on the front line.

“I went around a guy named Wil Jones, and I was going to dunk the ball -just a conventional, one­handed dunk,” Erving said. “While I’m going up, (Gilmore and Issel) went up and they blocked out the basket.

“I felt myself slicing between the two of them and I held the ball up real high. Then I saw the white

ERVING’S CAREER STATISTICS

ABA REGULAR SEASON RECORD

Season/Team                      G               FGM        FGA        Pct.         FTA          FTM         Pct.         TR             Ast.         Pts.

71-72/Virginia                     84            907         1810      .501        467         627         .745        1319      335         2290

72-73/Virginia                     71            889         1780      .499        475         612         .776        867         298         2268

73-74/New York                 84            897         1742      .515        454         593         .766        899         434         2299

74-15/New York                 84            885         1719      .515        486         608         .799        914         462         2343

75-76/New York                 84            915         1770      .517        530         662         .801        925         423         2462

ABA TOTAL                            407         4493      8821      .509        2412      3102      .778        4924      1952      11662

 

NBA REGULAR SEASON RECORD

Season/Team                      G               FGM        FGA        Pct.         FTA          FTM         Pct.         TR             Ast.         Pts.

76-77/ Philadelphia        82            685         1373      .499        400         515         .777        695         306         1770

77-78/Philadelphia         74            611         1217      .502        306         362         .845        481         279         1528

78-79/Philadelphia         78            71.5        1455      .491        373         501         .745        564         357         1803

79-80/Philadelphia         82            838         1614      .519        420         534         .787        576         355         2100

80-81/Philadelphia         81            794         1524      .521        422         536         .787        657         364         2014

81-82/ Philadelphia        72            780         1428      .546        411         539         .763        557         319         1974

82-83/ Philadelphia        77            605         1170      .517        330         435         .759        491         263         1542

83-84/Philadelphia         78            678         1324      .512        364         483         .754        532         309         1727

84-85/Philadelphia         78            610         1236      .494        338         442         .765        414         233         1561

85-86/Philadelphia         74            521         1085      .480        289         368         .785        370         248         1340

86-87/Philadelphia         7               54            105         .514        27            31            .871        35            25            136

NBA TOTAL                             783         6891      13531   .509        3680      4746      .775        5572      3068      17495

 

 

 

Hand Issell come down, but the black band was still up there. Then that one finally came down, and I ended up dunking the ball (while) falling, and started running down the court.

“I really didn’t know what I had done, but I looked around and the place was hysterical. From that play on, I think I was established as a pro player.”

Pride and competitiveness have always been Erving’s driving forces. The past few years, he’s made a conscious effort to “master all aspects of the game” instead of being just a scorer. And losing is always unacceptable.

“He and I used to play one-on-one after practice,” former Virginia teammate George Irvine said, “and he’d work his tail off to make sure I didn’t win. I remember only winning a few times, and those were flukes.”

When Erving’s pride is stung he demands immediate payback – like a ill-tempered bill collector.

Watch Erving if his shot is blocked from behind. His face scrunches up into a snarl, and he vengefully hones in on the culprit who wronged him. Invariably, his claw-like hands will swat the next shot into the crowd.

Three years ago, Erving had struggled through two bad playoff games against Milwaukee. Philadelphia writers were calling for his basketball burial: “Is it time for The Doctor to make his last house call?”

Two nights later, Erving responded with a triple-double performance. After the game, totally out of character, he didn’t stick around to answer reporters’ questions- he went directly from the court to the team hotel across the street.

He felt betrayed by the same reporters who’d praised him over the years, and they could read his reply in the box score. Later, he told a reporter he had dedicated that game to the “older generation.” Doc was 33 at the time.

Phil Jasner, who was covered the 76ers for the Philadelphia Daily News for six years, said that was the only time he can remember Erving refusing postgame interviews. Usually he is a reporter’s dream.

Erving sets aside an hour after practice every day for interviews, and after games he is often engulfed by a mass of reporters crowding around him.

It’s easy to identify the least important Philadelphia players (will history remember Sam Williams or Paul Thompson?) because they’re assigned the lockers next to Doc.

The 11th and 12th men almost never get interviewed, so Doc’s entourage of questioners can spread into their locker space.

But access doesn’t endear Erving to reporters; courtesy does. Approach Erving for an early-season interview, and before you can get to question No. 1, he’s liable to ask: “How was your summer?”

How was my summer? That’s a shocker. Players so seldom show an interest in a reporter’s life that an inquiry can leave you mute.

In addition to pursuing business interests after retiring, Erving wants to be an ambassador for basketball. No one has better qualifications.

Rumors fly around the NBA as often as planes in an airport. Yet Erving remains untouched by rumors; his personal life is considered exemplary, above reproach.

At a time when Americans rue the breakup of the family unit, Erving sat on Denver’s McNichols Area floor during the 1984 Slam Dunk Contest and listened to advice from a coaching staff composed of his children.

If a black athlete can speak his name without stumbling on the words, it’s common for him to be patronized for being “so articulate.”

But Erving truly deserves the description.

A few years ago at the league meetings, he accepted an award for teammate Bobby Jones. Erving was expected to give a speech; instead, he mesmerized the audience with a tribute to his close friend, who overcame epilepsy to become a basketball star.

Unlike so many athletes who waste their money, Erving has become a respected businessman. Sure, he has his Maserati and a fur coat, and one venture into the high fashion shoe industry flopped quickly. But now he is part owner or a Coca-Cola bottling company and a television station in Buffalo.

And though hundreds of pro athletes promise to “go back and get my degree,” Erving, who left Massachusetts after his junior year, actually did so by completing his course work during two years of road trips. He had no choice; he had promised his mother he would graduate.

“It was a matter of putting something to rest that was unfinished business.” He said yesterday.

“The Doctor” truly will be missed. The night Erving announced his decision to retire, a saddened Irvine said, “Julius Erving leaving basketball is like taking Mom out of apple pie.”

Redemption in ’04 for Black former Olympic Gymnast

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Date: Monday, August 23, 2004

By: RON THOMAS, BlackAmericaWeb.com

Ron Galimore, the first black Olympic gymnast, never got a chance to perform in the world’s greatest sports event The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to protest Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

At last, partial compensation has arrived during the 2004 Olympics. Now, Galimore is senior director- that means he’s the boss – of the USA Gymnastics men’s program. It has already produced: a silver medal in the team event, and the first American, Paul Hamm, to win Olympic gold in the all-around men’s competition.

There’s a likely chance of winning additional medals in Monday’s finale of the gymnastics competition, and the possibility that this Olympic team’s success will stop – or at least slow down – the elimination of men’s Division I intercollegiate gymnastics teams. In 1982, there were 79; now there are 19. That steep decline usually is attributed to the unintended consequences of Title IX requirements for parity in men’s and women’s sports programs, and to budgetary reasons.

“I’m hoping (the current team’s success) will have a positive impact,” Galimore told BlackAmericaWeb.com during a phone interview from Athens, Greece. “I don’t think one program was dropped when we won the gold in 1984. I’m hoping the attention will garnish creative energy in trying to maintain the programs.”

He already has heard that gymnastics clubs have been deluged with calls from parents that want to enroll their children.

“I really think (the sport’s popularity) is going to explode because we’ve gotten such good press out of this,” said University of Nebraska men’s coach Francis Allen. He recalled that as a child Hamm was inspired by a Russian gold medal winner. Allen wonders, “How many boys and girls were watching Paul and said ‘I want to win a gold Medal'”

The success of the men’s program has helped soothe the pain Galimore, the son of the late Chicago Bears football star Willie Galimore, still feels from the 1980 boycott.

When Ron Galimore made that Olympic team, he had already been a three-time national champion in floor exercise and the vault. “At the time, Ron could jump out of the building,” said University of California-Berkeley coach Barry Weiner. “He was so explosive. I believe at the time he was the best vaulter in the world.”

That’s what Galimore thought, too.

Then Russia invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979 and President Jimmy Carter responded by withdrawing the U.S. team from the Moscow Olympics.

There were 61 countries that joined the boycott, leaving 80 to compete.

Meanwhile, Carter’s decision ruined Galimore’s master plan to win a medal and then become a television sports commentator.

“When the boycott happened, I was devastated,” said Galimore. “I felt a little forgotten because people didn’t want to talk about it. It took me about five years to get over that because you’re thinking ‘What if? What if?’ But I was able to brush that off and get back on my feet.”

Galimore worked in marketing, handling a major sponsorship for the U.S. Gymnastics Foundation, opened his own gymnastics training center and was Florida’s men’s gymnastics chairman for five years.

When he became director of USA Gymnastics men’s program in 1994, it was so disorganized that there was serious doubt the United States would qualify for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The program rallied under his direction to win fifth place in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

That was commendable but, “We had a summit in 2000 and we didn’t want to be fifth anymore,” said Olympic assistant coach Miles Avery, who also is black. “lt’s great to be in the top six, but that’s not medaling.”

Now the silver team medal has been won, thanks largely to Galimore’s organizational skills. Unlike many foreign countries that train Olympic-caliber athletes at a central site, American gymnasts are spread throughout the country among college teams, club teams and private training centers. Yet, Galimore has been able to coordinate his sport’s coaches, judges, administrators and athletes to create a cohesive Olympic effort.

“I think Ron does a good job of meeting everyone’s needs,” coach Weiner said.

Avery, who has been seen on television lifting athletes up to the rings and high bar throughout the Olympics, also played a major role. He’s the personal coach for three Olympians- Paul and Morgan Hamm, along with Blaine Wilson – and made a critical decision that helped Paul Hamm rally from 12th place to first place in the all­ around after a shocking fall on the vault.

As Hamm trained for the Olympics, Avery suggested that he simplify his high bar routine by reducing the number of release moves (taking both hands far off the bar) from five to three. That paid off when Hamm perfectly executed three releases to score a decisive 9.837 out of a possible 10 in the all-around’s last event.

“He was able to withstand tremendous pressure and do the best routine on high bar in his life,” said Avery, who is Ohio State’s head coach.

On Monday, U.S. men could win additional gold in individual competitions in the high bar, parallel bars and vault. Even if they don’t, Galimore already feels partly redeemed for the 1980 boycott.

“To go from not thinking we would qualify for the 1996 Games to today’s success truly does help,” he said. ‘Being part of it and at the helm of it helped me feel there was a purpose for me to do something else big. It doesn’t replace the opportunity taken away from me, but it’s helped me in the second stage of my life.”

NFL’s Only Black Coach

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By Ron Thomas

Chronicle Staff Writer

Back in the 1920s, Frederick Douglass (Fritz) Pollard would have been shocked to know that in 1988 he still would be the only black head coach in NFL history. After all, Pollard didn’t consider himself especially noteworthy when he coached several NFL teams back then.

According to Pro Football Hall of Fame historian Joe Horrigan, Pollard was player-coach of the Akron (Ohio) Pros in 1921 and 1925-26, probably coached the Milwaukee Badgers in 1922 and was player-coach of the Hammond (Ind.) Pros in 1925.

“That made me the first black coach in the NFL, but it was no big thing,” Pollard said in a 1977 interview that appeared in an NFL publication. “I was just another coach and happened to be a colored man.”

But when Pollard died on May 11, 1986, he was 92 years old and no black coach had followed him. In recent weeks, several black assistant coaches have received nationwide attention as speculation increased that one might become the head coach of the Green Bay Packers or Los Angeles Raiders. It hasn’t happened yet, so Pollard still stands alone in history.

“He used to talk about it all the time.” said his 72-year-old son, Frederick Douglass Pollard Jr., who also is called Fritz. “He knew what the situation was and that they (NFL owners) weren’t ready to accept a black as a coach.”

John Pollard, Pollard’s “distant nephew,” said his uncle believed, “It’s a shame they don’t have black coaches when they have so many players come up through the ranks and people who … could have developed into a top coach. Also, these were people who loved the game.”

A Pioneer

Pollard was named after the famous slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and, like his namesake, Pollard was a racial pioneer throughout his lifetime. He starred at Brown University and in 1916 became the first black All-American and the first black player to participate in the Rose Bowl.

He entered the pro ranks in 1919 with the Akron Pros, who became charter members of the American Professional Football Association the following year. (In 1922, it was renamed the National Football League.) Most teams were in small towns because the larger cities were dominated by college ball.

The Pros were 8-0-3 in 1920 and Pollard, a halfback, ranked among the league’s leading scorers. He also was one of pro football’s early stars, along with the legendary Jim Thorpe. The next year one of Pollard’s teammates was Paul Robenson, also black, who later gained fame as a singer, actor and civil rights activists.

Akron’s official coach was Elgie Tobin, but Horrigan said there is “no question” that Pollard took over as player-coach in 1921.

“Elgie Tobin was listed as the coach, but when I came, they were still using some old plays.” Pollard told the New York Times in 1978. “So I said why don’t we try some of the stuff we had been doing at Brown. The owner, Frank Neid, told everybody that if they didn’t want to listen to me, they could leave right then.”

A Coach on the Field

Another reason Pollard assumed the coaching duties is that the rules then stated that there could be no coaching from the sidelines during a game. Consequently, the team captain or quarterback called most of the plays. (That’s how the expression “he’s like a coach on the field” derived.)

“Tobin was a limited player by 1921,” Horrigan said. “Pollard was getting more playing time and Frank Neid was paying Pollard quite a bit of money, so he got the second role as coach.”

Pollard’s son said he believes his father’s players “all knew his ability and liked him,” but true to the racial customs of that era, many fans despised Pollard.

“Akron was a factory town and they had some prejudiced people there,” Pollard told the Times. ”I had to get dressed for the games in Frank Neid’s cigar factory, and they’d send a car over for me before the game. The fans booed me and called me all kinds of names because they had a lot of southerners up there working. I couldn’t eat in the restaurants or stay in the hotels. Hammond and Milwaukee were bad then, too, but never as bad as Akron was.”

Pollard coached Akron to an 8-3-1 record in 1921, then moved on to the Milwaukee Badgers in 1922. Horrigan has written correspondence from Pollard stating that he was the Badgers’ coach, although some football historians dispute it.

“It’s so long ago and no official records were kept, but the preponderance of evidence suggests he was,” Horrigan said.

Horrigan said records indicate that Pollard was 2-1-3 with Milwaukee, then was replaced in midseason by Jimmy Conzelman for unknown reasons. Conzelman lost the last three games of the season.

A Busy Year

Pollard had a busy year in 1925, because he was player-coach at Hammond, player-coach at Akron and ended the season as a player with Providence. He finished his NFL career in 1926 as Akron’s player-coach, replacing AI Nesser in midseason.

Pollard’s coaching totals in 1925 and ’26 are unknown because record-keeping was so fuzzy and he changed teams so often. Such job­ hopping wasn’t unusual among NFL players in that era.

“Players jumped from team to team to go to the highest bidder,” Horrigan said. Enticing players from another team would be illegal today, but Horrigan said that in the 1920s it was the only way small-town teams could obtain a drawing card like Pollard.

After his NFL career, Pollard was an ambitious entrepreneur for the rest of his life. In addition to coaching semi-pro, college and high school football teams, he owned coal companies in Chicago, published a weekly newspaper in Harlem, made feature movies and was a theatrical booking agent. At 84, he still worked part-time as an income­ tax consultant.

Pollard’s son, a retired State Department official who lives in Silver Spring, Md., also was a star athlete. In the 1936 Olympics that made Jesse Owens famous, he won a bronze medal in the high hurdles, then he was the star quarterback at the University of North Dakota from 1936-38.

An injury in his last college game ended young Pollard’s football career, but he couldn’t have played in the NFL anyway because a color barrier existed from 1934-46, a period in which there no black NFL players.

Enjoyable Days

Pollard said his college roommate was the only other black player on North Dakota’s team. “Hell, there were only 28 (black people) in the whole state,” he said. But his coach, C.A. (Jack) West, made his playing days enjoybale.

Early in his career at North Dakota, Pollard said his teammates didn’t mind if he carried the ball often as they drove downfieId, but they grumbled if he called his own play near the goal line because they didn’t want a black player to get the glory of scoring a touchdown.

“After that happened twice,” Pollard recalled, “the coach called a meeting and said, ‘Dammit, Pollard’s my quarterback. Pollard calls the plays. I don’t want to bear any of that (complaining).’ ”

But even after West’s lecture, Pollard said he sometimes called plays for other players just to “mesh in” with his teammates. “I had to call those plays so they would block for me,” he said.

Because of those types of experiences, Pollard will be rooting hard for the Washington Redskins’ black quarterback, Doug Williams, during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

“I have been a Doug Williams fan for a long time because I know what he’s going through,” Pollard said. “It takes a long time to gain respect.”

Sporting Green | NBA Elite – Games Above The Rim

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By Ron Thomas

They are the daredevils of the NBA – the skywalkers who soar, swoop, dip and slither in midair to score points and thrill crowds.

“Going above the rim and making a play,” says Jullus Erving, the unofficial captain of the skywalkers’ air corps, “blocking a shot, pinning a ball on the glass, dunking the ball, bringing the ball down then, taking it back up- that’s the stuff dreams are made of.”

Not to mention reputations.

Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan and James Worthy explore the atmosphere around and above the rim in a way few mortals can.

All are small forwards or big guards – the positions that seem to have the best combination if size, strength and flexibility – and they symbolize the playing-in-the-air artistry more prevalent now than ever in the NBA’s 40-year history.

But by “daring to be great” – one of Erving’s personal mottos -they also expose themselves to serious injury.

“The element or danger doesn’t really enter the priorities you think about when you’re on the ground,” Erving said. “It’s right up there one or two when you’re above the rim.

“Where am I going to land, and who’s going to be under me? Is it going to be some guy who will take my legs and put them where my head was, or will this be a safe flight and a safe landing?”

When Erving goes up, he says he’s always looking or feeling for “ground space.” Sometimes, opponents provide it. “If guys see you coming down wrong, they’ll catch you to keep you from hurting yourself,” Wilkins said.

Other skywalkers don’t acknowledge the danger. “I’m so used to it now, there’s no fear,” Jordon said.

Skywalking was a stranger to the NBA until the late 1960s, when Elgin Baylor and Johnny Greens joined the league. They both are black, and in the 1990s, eagle-like thrusts to the basket became more common as the number of black players increased.

Tom Sanders, a Boston defensive star in the ’60s, said black players learned to defy gravity because they concentrated as developing their skills more than white players.

In addition, basketball is king in predominantly black urban areas, whether there is a scarcity of playing space and money required for other sports (such as golf and tennis).

“It comes down to the number or blacks who take the game seriously,” Sanders said, adding a personal concern that too many young players place basketball above academics.

Sanden said that when he played, every team bad at least one player with extraordinary leaping ability – Connie Hawkins, Joe Caldwell – but there was much less dunking because of a popular defensive philosophy.

Today, dunking and playing in the air are accepted fundamentals of pro basketball

“If you make me look bad, I may hurt you a little bit.”

Today, dunking and playing in the air are accepted fundamentals or pro basketball, says Lakers coach Pat Riley, executed best by “disciplined leapers” who have tremendous body control.

“It’s the evolution of the athletes,” Riley said. “The training methods and their physical makeup have changed the game. It’s being played much higher and taller than in the past.”

In skywalking, there is no prepared flight plan. Says WiIkins: “I just do whatever comes to mind”

So does Worthy, who credit skywalking to “God-given talent” and spontaneity.

“You run into obstacles you, don’t expect when you first take off,” he said. “Once you run into them, creativity is just automatic.”

A few years ago, Worthy pulled off one of the most sensational moves ever seen in the Coliseum Arena when he went up for a baseline shot, spun 360 degrees around the Warriors’ Larry Smith, then banked in a jumper.

Credit it to planned spontaneity.

Earlier in the game, Smith had blocked two of Worthy’s shots after Worthy bad eluded his main de­ fender. The next time, Worthy shook Purvis Short, waited for Smith to leap, then jumped and spun around him.

“I didn’t know it was going to be a turn.” Worthy said. “That playground instinct just came out. I never practiced that before.” And he has not been able to duplicate the move since.

Jordan, who has missed most of this season with a broken foot, appears to change direction in midair effortlessly, but he says it’s easier to play earthbound.

“On the ground, you control your steps,” he said. In the air, you can’t. You can’t go around a person.”

But Jordan does, doesn’t he? “It looks like it,” he said. “A lot of times when you change direction, it’s because you got bumped.”

Worthy never rehearses his moves, but Erving takes a studious approach that defies the concept of the “natural athlete.” He sometimes will sit at courtside and think about different ways to expand the court’s dimensions.

For a memorable basket in the 1980 playoff finals, Erving drove down the right side of the foul lane, floated under the backboard with the ball extended out of bounds, then curried under the left corner of the backboard for a reverse layup over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“They don’t know what to do when I’m holding the ball out of bounds,” Ervin& said at the time. “Do they go for it? Do they …. or me to bring it back? It has a tendency to freeze defenders. That’s from studying the game – that’s not natural, either.”

Even Erving’s subconscious reaches skyward. He has dreams in which he is flying, which inspires his on-court imagination.

Perhaps Erving is mere studious because he is a skywalker by necessity, rather than by nature.

As a younger growing up in Roosevelt, Long Island, he most admired Jumpin’ Johnny Green, the 6 foot 3 Knicks forward who often would grab a teammate’s off-target shot in midair and guide it into the basket.

“I always got a kick out of that part of his game.” Erving said.

Erving flights of fancy began for more practical reasons. He wasn’t a good outside shooter, so be needed a way to get closer to the basket.

“I started saying, “This is wonderful. I can create as avenue for myself and get to the basket, (where) I can jump up and just drop it in. It was almost a no-brainer.

“And out on the break, there was the challenge of taking the little guys for a ride.”

Erving’s flights can get dangerously bumpy.

“There’s an electricity that goes through you if you think you should be on the ground and suddenly you’re not.” Erving said. “Suddenly you’re riding on somebody’s shoulder or you get turned around. It’s like a shocking experience and it’s very, very scary.”

After one of those flights, Erving likes to stay on the runway for a while.

How do defenders stop skywalkers? Denver shall forward Alex English has the unenviable task of guarding many of them. He doesn’t let his ego get in the way of reality.

“It’s difficult in that they may go over your head, but you use your fundamentals like blocking out and staying on the floor when they shoot.” English said. “Some plays you just have to accept that you can’t so anything.”

Of all the players who specialize in playing in the air, English is most awed by the former NBA star who officially carried the nickname “Skywalker.”

“When I played with David Thompson.” English said, “he did things that just blew my mind.”

Magic’s ‘Stolen’ Talents

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Laker Star Copies from The Best

By Ron Thomas

Chronicle Correspondent

Boston

Magic Johnson proudly admits that he is a thief – one who has stolen parts of his offensive weaponry from some of the best basketball players who ever lived.

If he were not such a student of the game, he probably would not have made Tuesday’s 12-foot hook shot that gave Los Angeles a 3-1 lead in the championship series. Tonight, the Lakers go for win No.4 and the NBA title at Boston Garden.

Tuesday’s game-winning shot was not a Magic original. Instead, he modeled it after teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s famous “sky hook”, just as Magic previously had emulated Bob Cousy’s passing, Oscar Robertson’s back-in jumper and George Gervin’s deceptive drives.

“I’ve always believed that if

 

you look at other people’s games and see something that can help our game, you should steal it.” Magic said. “Why not? That’s a smart player to me.

“You just steal a little to make your game better, and the guys I took things from were the best in the game. Now I take all those guys and add it to my game, and this is Magic Johnson’s game.

“Here I am.”

The newest addition is his hook, which he shoots with the right or left hand.

Before this season, Magic had used the hook since college, but only in pickup or H-O-R-S-E games. Then, last summer in training camp. Coach Pat Riley changed Johnson’s role from playmaker to scorer-passer, and Magic decided to add variety to his repertoire of shots.

At 6-foot-9, he usually has a height advantage over defenders, so the hook shot seemed ideal for him.

“Plus, even if a man is taller than you, that’s one of the only shots you can still get off,” he said. “It’s just a hard shot to block.”

The hook no Ionger was a toy to fool around with. Because it was to become an important part of his arsenal, Magic wanted to learn the proper technique for releasing it. So he consulted Abdul-Jabbar, the hook shot guru.

“I gave him permission to shoot it,” Abdul-Jabbar joked. “It’s hard to get the rhythm of it, so I worked on it with him, and I guess he’s worked on his own.”

Magic practiced and practiced the hook during training camp, and sometimes he polished it on his indoor basketball court in his mansion basketball court in his mansion in Bel Air. It became one of his favorite shots, and in March, he beat the Warriors with it in Oakland.

When the final seconds of Tuesday’s game arrived, Magic’s “real junior, junior sky hook” had been perfected before he lifted it over the fingertips of Boston’s 6-11 Hevin Mellale and seven-foot Robert Parish.

“At that time, that was my best shot,” Magic said. “I’ve been hitting it all season. I just let it go.”

Profiting from older players’ excellence has been a life­ long habit for Magic, beginning when his father, Earvin Sr., taught him how to think on the court.

While growing up in Lansing, Mich., Magic spent many hours watching Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson star in televised games. Since they both are unusually tall guards, Magic said he watched Robertson closely, and now they talk basketball every summer.

Gervin and the late Terry Furlow also lived in Michigan, so Magic played one-on-one games against them when he was in high school. He didn’t get a chance to do that against Cousy, who was 31 when Magic was born, so Johnson has studied films of probably the greatest passer ever.

As a result of Magic’s history lessons, he has become an incredibly versatile superstar.

“l looked at bow Oscar backed in and just shot over people,” Magic said. “On the passing, everybody can pass, but how you pass to set somebody up for a shot is the key. Cousy used to do that the best. He used to drive in and drop it off for a shot.

“Gervin had all the moves, so once he drove in, he could get his shot over everybody. You very rarely saw George Gervin get his shot blocked because he had a technique to slip and slide in to make you, as a big man, unable to jump.”

Now Magic, the ex-pupil, has become a tutor to many high school and college players. Two of his prize students are Celtic guard Sam Vincent, another Michigan native, and University of Iowa …… Marble, and Magic often plays one-on-one against youngsters at basketball camps.

It’s his way of paying back Gervin and Furlow, an NBA player who died in a 1980 auto accident.

“When I was young, Furlow used to beat me 15-0,” Magic said. “I was in high school at that time. I would get so frustrated that I would quit. He said, ‘You’re not going to quit. If I beat you everyday 15-0, pretty soon you’re going to get one game.’

“He beat me every day for a while 15-0, then finally 15-1, 15-2, and you start scoring on him. The same way with Gervin. He would kill me, but by learning, after they beat me I would beat everybody my age and a little older than me. They were so proud of me when I made it to the press.”

Today, Magic Johnson is the star every young player should copy – there’s something in his game for everyone.

Jackie’s speed disrupted games

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By Ron Thomas

Independent Journal reporter    

No baseball skill eluded Jackie Robinson. He had a .311 lifetime batting average, eached double figures in home runs in nine of this 10 seasons, scored more than 100 runs six times, fielded competently and played at least 50 games at four different positions, mostly second base.

Yet, it was Robinson’s daredevil base running that endures in the minds of Marin residents who wrote or called the IJ about his exploits. How they loved to see Robinson give opponents a nervous breakdown as he darted long the basepaths.

He stole 197 bases during his career, which isn’t an astounding number. But it was how he swiped them – and the fact that he stole home 19 times – that made Robinson so unique.

Jules Becker’s devotion to the Chicago Cubs, runs deep, which is understandable since he remembers seeing Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander pitch for Chicago in 1929. When Robinson broke into the majors, Becker was a Chicago sportswriter who detested the Dodgers’ star because he drove Chicago pitches crazy.

Particularly Bob Rush, a 6 foot-4, 205 pound right-hander whose slow delivery made him an easy target for Robinson’s fleet feet. “He was all arms and legs, and Jackie Robinson used to steal his jockstrap,” said Becker, who lives in Ross.

Once Robinson reached first base, he was always threatening to steal second.

“He would dance back and forth so they would keep throwing over to first, and he would take a little longer lead,” Becker said. ‘Robinson would taunt you to try and pick him off, and you knew he was going to go.”

Eventually, the anxious second baseman would start edging toward second, which would open a hole in the infield that the batter could punch a hit through.

“The next thing you know they’ve got men on first and third and there’s nobody out,” Becker said. “Now Jackie’s jockeying back and forth, and you’re wondering if he’s going to steal home on you. Meanwhile, you forget all about the guy at first, and the pitcher’s not even thinking about the batter. Robinson would disrupt the entire defense.”

Here’s how Theodore Belsky, a reader from San Geronimo, described the chaos that followed.

Because Robinson was pigeon-toed, he wasn’t a classic-looking, smooth-striding sprinter. “With the loose-fitting uniforms of the time and his body motions, he seemed to be moving in different directions at the same time. But it was a deception,” wrote Belsky, who then was a high school student in nearby New Jersey.

“He would take a longer lead off third base than anyone else. The pitcher would begin his windup. At the precise moment, Jackie would accelerate at full speed down the road to home plate. Most of the time he would make a dead stop at the halfway point.

“Of course, the pitcher wouldn’t know if he was going all the way, and would frequently throw the pitch off mark. Sometimes he would throw it wild and Jackie would walk home, scoring a run that he alone had forced to happen.”

Occasionally, Robinson would start his sprint and never stop.

“Thirty thousand people in the stands would hold their breath,” Belsky continued. “The pitcher would tense. The catcher would tense. Everyone but Jackie Robinson would tense. It was like you were watching the event in slow motion and normal speed at the same time.

“Finally, when he reached home plate, sliding away from the waiting catcher, everyone would watch for the umpire’s call. If he was safe, the stands would explode in screaming and yelling and applause! It all took place 50 years ago, but one cannot forget such excellence of performance in 100 years!”

Unlike today, when fame and riches separate fans from their heroes, players of Robinson’s era lived in working-class neighborhoods and even rode the subway to games. Yet meeting or just getting close to Jackie Robinson could be a mind-blowing experience.

Tim Devault, a retired post office station manager who now lives in Mill Valley, was 12-year-old living in the San Joaquin Valley when Robinson was a rookie. Devault’s family soon moved to Los Angeles, and Devault was in high school when Robinson played in a offseason game in Southern California.

Devault worked in the concessions stands so he could watch the big leaguers play at the stadium of the minor-league Los Angeles Angels.

”This white kid was a clubhouse boy for the Los Angeles Angels,” recalled Devault, who later had a tryout with the then-Milwaukee Braves. “He asked me ‘Do you want to see Jackie Robinson? You can see him up close if you carry these bats.’

“Jackie was sitting in a chair soaking his feet and I wanted to shake his hand, but I said no, just leave him alone. I figured he must have been bombarded by millions of people. Don’t go over and bother him. Just watch him. I didn’t want to invade his space, and I think he probably would have shaken my hand. But I saw him – and I was just awestruck.”

TIED TO THE GAME: Jules Becker was a sportswriter in Chicago when Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. He displays his favorite baseball tie at his San Rafael office.

 

Jackie reached beyond the diamond

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By Ron Thomas

Independent Journal reporter

 

On April15, 1947, Robinson shattered a barrier that excluded baseball players of color from the major leagues for more than half a century.

 

NOW 50 YEARS after Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the modern era of major league baseball, it’s impossible to imagine how powerful a figure he was in America until he died in 1972.

With little exaggeration, one could call the Brooklyn Dodgers great the father of all black ballplayers who came after him.

That does not mean that home run king Henry Aaron or one of today’s brightest stars, Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr., would have been any less talented if Robinson had not appeared. But if was Robinson who literally risked his life and tolerated unfathomable abuse to integrate America’s most revered sport in 1947. It was a time when racial segregation not only was customary, but often was the law.

That, alone, would constitute enough accomplishments to satisfy almost any human being. Then add that Robinson was perhaps the greatest all-around athlete this country has ever produced, and in half a century no baseball player has rivaled his ability to stir a crowd to the brink of a collective heart attack.

All that falls far short of describing Robinson’s legacy. For through his uncommon intelligence and his willingness to step into a tornado of racial conflict, he virtually lifted millions of black people onto his back and carried them out of the realm of invisibility.

No longer could African Americans’ talents be ignored, like a piece of brown-colored lint that could be brushed aside. For whether Jackie Robinson was stealing home plate on the baseball field, verbally sticking a burr under America’s saddle because of its continued racial discrimination, or announcing which presidential candidate he would endorse; he was a black person who commanded national attention for a quarter century.

“Up until the time Martin Luther King becomes a dominant national figure, which is in the 1960s, within the public perception Jackie was arguably the most well­ known and most important African American in the nation,” said Jules Tygiel, a San Francisco State history

 

Marin Independent Journal

Robinson

From page B1

professor who wrote the acclaimed book “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and his Legacy.”

“I’ve been thinking,” said Ron Walters, a professor of Afro- American Studies at the University of Maryland, “where does the sensibility of black people come after World War II to start the civil rights movement? Someone told me Jackie Robinson gave black people a sense of confidence.”

For all those reasons, Robinson, who officially broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947, is being honored throughout majors this season, which begins Tuesday.

All-around athlete

When Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey dared to sign him to a minor-league contract on October 23, 1945, Robinson already had established himself as one of America’s most remarkable athletes. After entering UCLA in 1939, the Pasadena native became the only Bruin in history to letter in four sports: football, basketball, track and baseball – and the latter was his worst sport.

After completing military service during World War II, Robinson was playing for the Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs when Rickey decided he was the ideal black candidate to eventually integrate the majors. Not only was Robinson’s athletic ability attractive, but he displayed the smarts, worldliness and self-control to handle the racial abuse that was sure to come.

After starring in 1946 for Montreal, Brooklyn’s Triple-A affiliate, Robinson was promoted to the National League’s Dodgers in 1947. Suddenly there was a black presence in major league baseball, then the pinnacle of the sports world, for the first time since blacks were banned in 1887. Later in ’47, Cleveland’s Larry Doby integrated the American League.

Until Robinson arrived, African Americans largely existed on the margins of society. Whites and blacks routinely lived in a world of segregated employment, places of worship, education and neighborhoods – and that separation often was viciously enforced by police and the law.

POLITICKING: Jackie Robinson visited Marin City in 1960 to encourage residents to vote for Richard Nixon for president.

by pitches at a record-breaking rate and was the frequent target of beanballs before batting helmets were used. He had promised Rickey that he wouldn’t retaliate, yet he hit .297 with 29 stolen bases and 125 runs scored as a rookie.

Role model for blacks

Black people everywhere could relate to his struggle. Walters remembers assemblies in his all­ black elementary school in which Robinson was extolled as a role model.

“They would say about his character that he couldn’t yield to his temper that he had to make it because he carried the hopes and aspirations of black America on his shoulders.”

Robinson drew huge crowds of white and black fans wherever he played, and in his first eight seasons he hit between .296 and .342. while usually playing second base. He was fiercely competitive, the perfect catalyst to drop into the annual, intra-New York passion play between the New York Yankees and the Dodgers.

Tygiel was born in Brooklyn in 1949 and lived in a predominately Jewish neighborhood. By 1956, when Tygiel saw his first game in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, he was a Robinson worshiper.

“He was so much of the folklore I grew up with,” Tygiel said. “People talked about Jackie Robinson all the time.

 

Easily overlooked

“Blacks were invisible in the same way that people that clean office buildings are invisible to people who work there,” said historian Howard Zinn, a former professor at Boston University and Spelman College. “It’s partly a class phenomenon and partly a race phenomenon. They’re not part of your existence.”

Even when black people worked in whites’ homes as maids, laborers or child-care providers, they were easily forgotten. “They came, they worked and they left,” Zinn said.

The Negro Leagues provided a fertile setting for talented black baseball players such as Satchel Paige. But major league owners were so opposed to integration that during talent-starved World War II, one-armed, white outfielder Pete Gray and 15-year-old pitcher Joe Nuxhall reached the majors. Meanwhile, black stars remained unwanted and black fans chafed.

“Most whites had vaguely heard of Satchel Paige,” Zinn said. “I don’t think it entered their minds that he’s not in the major leagues.”

“There was never any feeling that you’ve got to keep them out. You didn’t think about it,” said Jules Becker, a San Rafael public relations counselor who was a Chicago sportswriter in the ’40s.

Rookie of the year

Robinson changed all of that. Not only was he an instant success as a first baseman, winning the first National League Rookie of the Year award, but his presence also sparked reactions from bigots that no one could ignore.

For instance, Philadelphia Phillies manager Sam Chapman tongue-lashed Robinson with crude, racist taunts, receiving hate mail and death threats from the public were a constant in Robinson’s life.

They all tried to intimidate him. Instead, they made him a national hero.

Professor Walters was a 10-year­ old growing up in Wichita, Kan., when Robinson broke the color barrier. Television broadcasts were almost nonexistent at the time, but he vividly recalled how black people were mesmerized by radio broadcasts of Dodgers games.

Excitement at bat

“Every time he got up to bat there was a catch in people’s throats, and everything stopped: ‘Let’s see if he can get a hit,'” Walters said. “Everybody was tuned in to the radio and there was this hush when Jackie stepped up to bat.

“I imagined, ‘Are black people all over the country doing this?’ And yes, they were.

“It was a shared reality, and that’s how powerful his position was. When he got a hit, oh my God the jubilation. And when he didn’t, the whole race was troubled.”

It helped that Robinson was such a dynamic and stubborn player. Tygiel said that when Robinson first entered the majors he was hit

America’s hero

“In Brooklyn, Jackie was a hero. I think throughout America, Jackie came to symbolize all that was good about America and optimism about solving racial problems. In the neighborhood I grew up in, Jackie was close to a saint.

“I think the vast majority of whites really came to respect him in the field. He made an undeniable case for integration. How could you deny that talent?”

Especially for black people, his stature also stemmed from Robinson’s public stance against inequality in baseball and general society. During and after his career, Robinson seldom held his tongue.

“He fit right in with new aspirations of a new stage of black life,” Walters said.

Impact beyond baseball

Labor leader A. Philip Randolph had pressured the federal government to integrate the labor force during World War II. Black soldiers who had been stationed in Europe had tasted freedom, and upon their return, they wanted a full meal of it at home. And in 1954, the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision had mandated school integration.

Robinson set foot in the trenches of that battle for equality.

In 1952, he accused the Yankees of prejudice because they had no black players. He bitterly complained about the bigotry black players faced in Florida during spring training. On the national front, by Robinson’s third season he was decrying racism at a Congressional hearing.

After he retired from baseball in 1956, Robinson remained controversial. Politically, he was a Republican, yet he maintained his independence. Every presidential election, Republican and Democratic candidates sought his endorsement.

Fighting to the end

When Robinson was honored in Cincinnati during the 1972 World Series, he was almost blind and extremely ill from diabetes and heart disease. Yet, just nine days before his death, Robinson used the occasion to chide baseball for having no black managers.

His stances often riled white people. “In the South and (other areas), he was the uppity black, he was too pushy,” Tygiel said. Their thinking was, “He had gotten this wonderful opportunity. Why can’t he be satisfied with what he has instead of asking for more?”

That same refusal to settle for less endeared him to black people, and others committed to social change.

“If Roy Campanella (a much more compliant Brooklyn star) had broken the color line, we would not celebrate it in the same way we celebrate Jackie Robinson,” Tygiel said. “What really elevated this beyond the story of integration was his intelligence, the fieriness of his personality. He was just a unique individual by any measure.”

 

FAST PACE: Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson steals home during a game in 1948 against the Boston Braves.

 

The Doctor Is In Erving on a Roll in NBA Finals

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“Sometimes when we’re playing a fastbreaking game, I dare to be great. I take a lot more chance on the court than I do in life.”Julius Erving

By Ron Thomas

Philadelphia

Pro basketball’s most celebrated acrobat, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Julius Erving, appears to be a paradox. On the court, even he compares himself to a crap shooter who just rolls out the dice, then leaves the result in the hands of fate. In his off-the-court activities, he says, “I’m a poker player who lays back and baits.”

But those contrasting styles are not a reflection of his approach to life. For, whether shaking and baking into tonight’s sixth game of the NBA finals at the Philadelphia Spectrum, or considering possible business ventures, Erving is a calculated risk taker who seldom loses.

In Game 5 of the series Wednesday night, 30-year old Julius Erving was the virtuous of the left baseline, scoring most of his 14 fourth-quarter points from there as Philadelphia made up a 12-point deficit before losing, 108-103, and falling behind in the series three games to two.

The Lakers double-teamed, triple-teamed and fouled Erving, but he always made the decisive breath-taking move in a 36-point performance.

It was an occasion on which Erving dated to be great.

“Taking chances is the only thing that’s made me the player I am,” he said. “The first time I grabbed the ball with one hand in junior high school (in Roosevelt Long Island), I was taking a chance because if it slipped out of my hand the coach would say, ‘What are you doing?’

“In college (at the University of Massachusetts), I passed to a guy cutting through the lane and he missed it, and the coach told me to ‘Take that move back to Roosevelt!’

My word: DEFENDING BLACK SPORTS JOURNALISTS WHO AREN’T DEFENDING VICK

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BY RON THOMAS, DIRECTOR, JOURNALISM & SPORTS PROGRAM

When a high-profile black athlete gets arrested, raising our racial antenna is black sports journalists’ natural reaction. But not when it came to Atlanta Falcons icon Michael Vick, who proved to be an uncommon criminal.

When Spike Lee hosted Morehouse’s “Forum on the Black Athlete” in May, at least half of the program was spent analyzing why black male professional athletes are getting arrested at an alarming rate.

Some panelists chastised athletes for making incredibly irresponsible decisions. Other panelists smacked down the white sporting press, stating that they take delight in further besmirching the image of black males. Several black sports journalists, including me, came across as staunch protectors of black men wearing cleats, spikes and sneakers.

It sounded noble, yet it felt uncomfortable. I left the Leadership Center hoping that aspiring journalists in the audience understood that black journalists’ roles are to find the truth, add perspective and seek fairness regarding everyone we write about. Do that, I tell Morehouse’s first year of journalism students, and undoubtedly racism and negative stereotyping will be uncovered along the way.

So when the federal indictment against Vick came down for financing and participating in dog fighting activities, some black sports journalists preached caution for good reason. If nothing else, history has taught us that “justice” for black men is a concept, not a fact. It’s often wise to withhold opinions until guilt or innocence has been proven.

But Vick’s offense – for six years funding an illegal business that trained dogs to kill and killed dogs that couldn’t – rightly stripped many black sports journalists of their protective instinct.

He hadn’t gotten into a spur-of-the-moment fight in a nightclub, been caught driving with a suspended license, or succumbed again to an addiction that had captured his soul. In the world of sports, that’s common criminality, and often perspective has its place. Ten years ago NBA star Latrell Sprewell choked his white coach, yet I wrote that P.J. Carlesimo wasn’t the blameless victim because he’d been cursing out and humiliating his black players for more than a year. I wouldn’t change a word.

Vick’s case was different. Backed by the riches from a 10- year, $130-million contract, he looked at all the investment opportunities within his grasp and chose extreme, perverse cruelty to animals. That’s uncommonly criminal.

Black journalists still should critique his press coverage, which is what my basic news writing class did the morning Vick filed his guilty plea. We questioned, for instance, why the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a split- image photo of Vick a few days before. The good Vick was pictured in his helmet and face mask; the bad Vick was wearing a do-rag and earring. Did that create a stereotypical equation – do-rag + earring = criminal – or was that merely an artistic way of unpeeling a side of Vick that had been concealed from view?

For many black columnists, such a question was a minor issue. What disturbed Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, ESPN.com’s Jemele Hill, the Kansas City Star’s Jason Whitlock, and others (myself included), is that Vick had escaped the ghetto- glorified “thug life” and then chose to dash back into its clenches in a uniquely vile way.

When black athletes get involved in criminal activity, how much should black sports journalists condemn and how much should we defend? That’s a mental tightrope, and I always fear falling too heavily on one side or the other.

In this situation, Vick’s choice of a reprehensible second career has made my decision much easier. For him, my protective shield is much, much thinner than usual.

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