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Rayonsports.com’s Fifth Anniversary

28 Apr

On April 28, 2010, I wrote the first few posts on this blog, which, as my “about” page explains, is my family’s idea of a place for me to vent on the world of sports instead of yelling obscenities at the television. I was unemployed when I first started the blog, so there were many more posts in the early days. In fact, I posted regularly almost every day back then. Nowadays most of the new posts come during football season, or when there’s a sports story worth noting. In going back over the five years of writing, I noticed that when I had more time to write I commented a lot more on national sports news, while recently most of my thoughts have centered on the local pro teams here in Buffalo, the Bills and Sabres.

Since I was an avid sports card collector as a child, the “Classic Sports Card of The Day” features were a natural to be a regular part of the blog, and it’s been fun tracking down old cards of sports heroes from the past. I remember owning a lot of the cards that I’ve featured here. The most unique card that I featured has to be the card of Triple Crown winning horse Secretariat. Being an “old school” sports fan, the other daily feature – the “Classic Team Logo of The Day” – has always been interesting for me. There are a lot of websites out there that are dedicated to old sports cards and sports team logos, and I really haven’t given enough credit to them for helping me research and find plenty of the material I’ve used on my site. They include www.CheckOutMyCards.com , www.VintageCardPrices.com , www.Logoserver.com  and Chris Creamer’s www.sportslogos.net .

Going back over the “feature” stories I’ve written over the years, I’ve obviously had a lot to say about a lot of subjects, including the plight of black athletes in the 1960s, the coddling of modern day pitchers in baseball, the relocation of pro franchises, remembering legendary sports figures who’ve passed away, concussions in sports, the old American Basketball Association and weeklong posts during Super Bowl week chronicling Super Bowl moments of the past. There’ve been many others also, but one of my favorite themes have been my “list” posts, where I pick my five “greatest” in different categories, such as greatest goaltenders, players who changed the game, favorite sports movies, top point guards, best coaches, etc. I haven’t done any of those in awhile, and reading some of the ones I’ve posted in the past has motivated me to try to continue doing them in the future. Another favorite of mine is something new I started during the 2013 football season. After four years of predicting the results of NFL games each week (and not doing badly, I must say), I decided instead to start a weekly feature I called “Throwback Thursday”, in which I picked a matchup scheduled that particular week in the NFL, and wrote an article about a game from the past between those two franchises. It was challenging to come up with a memorable matchup each week but I really enjoyed that challenge, and plan to continue the feature in the 2014 season.

In the comments section of my site, I have to thank family members who have supported it and sent comments, since a majority of the replies sent on each story are from them. The blog is actually just a hobby and I don’t promote it at all so I don’t expect a lot of reaction, but there have been some interesting and unexpected replies, and shares, at times. For instance, Bills’ linebacker Manny Lawson shared a portion of a Bills’ game review, in which I praised his play, on his site. In a “classic logo” post I did on the old ABA Dallas Chaparrals, I mentioned one of their star players, Glen Combs, and he later linked that post to his site. The website Bleacher Report, a sports site associated with Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting, has used many photos from my site and actually given me photo credits (even though the photos are usually stock pictures from the internet). It’s kind of cool that somebody over at that site must have Rayonsports on their radar as a source for material for their own site. One of the most satisfying replies I’ve received over the years came after I posted a story prior to the start of the NFL season about the 1946 NFL season, one in which a lot of historic changes took place, including the integration of the league when the Los Angeles Rams signed two black players – Kenny Washington and Woody Strode – a year earlier than Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. The post included an old picture of Washington and Strode posing during their college days at UCLA with teammate Robinson. Washington’s grandson sent me a reply, saying he’d never seen that picture of the three of them together, and thanking me for remembering his grandfather’s legacy.

It’s been fun to have this outlet for five years now, and I plan on continuing to write my opinions on the sporting world for hopefully at least another five years.

 

 
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MLB – Review of Warner Brothers Film ’42’

30 Apr

Movies about sports don’t usually measure up to  films that wind up getting Oscar buzz for being dramatic or memorable, but the movie “42” , chronicling Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, is more than just a run-of-the-mill sports movie. It’s an honest portrayal of an important event in American history. Sports often mirror society and that was never more apparent than when Robinson began his journey as the first African American player to break baseball’s color line in 1947. The film includes some dramatic scenes chronicling the mental and physical abuse Robinson faced as he made history in his rookie season. The movie has an outstanding cast, with newcomer Chadwick Boseman playing Robinson, and perhaps the best performance in the film is Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey

 Robinson faces prejudice from not only opposing teams and fans, but even his own teammates, who start a petition to keep from having to play on the same team with him. He is intentionally beaned in the head by a Pittsburgh pitcher and spiked in the calf purposely by Enos Slaughter. One of the most brutal scenes in the movie is when Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman, played by Alan Tudyk, comes out of the dugout and continuously heaps verbal abuse on Robinson when he’s at the plate. The scene is uncomfortable to even watch, yet the film’s producer says the language was actually cleaned up for the movie. Philadelphia’s team management winds up being criticized by sportswriters for Chapman’s behavior, so Chapman is ordered to pose with Robinson for a conciliatory photo to try and save face. Robinson relunctantly agrees to the photo, with some persuasion from Rickey, and Jackie suggests they pose holding a bat, “so we don’t have to touch skin.” The actual photo is below.

Jackie Robinson and Ben Chapman (actual photo)

The film has some light moments, such as the scene when Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, played by Hamish Linklater, approaches Robinson after a game and asks why he always waits until the entire team is finished showering before he showers himself. Robinson explains that he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but Branca tries to convince him that he shouldn’t feel that way. When he blurts out “c’mon, Jackie, shower with me”, he gets a laugh from Robinson and then tries to backtrack from the comment. Overall, the movie is uplifting, as Robinson’s Dodger teammates eventually come to respect him as a player and a man, and  defend him in the beaning and spiking incidents. One of those teammates was Bobby Bragan, who I actually remember as a major league manager when I first started to follow baseball in the 1960s. Bragan storms into Rickey’s office and demands to be traded rather than play alongside Robinson, but after a week rescinds the demand. It’s not mentioned in the movie, but Bragan later was quoted as saying that he changed his mind because “after just one road trip, I saw the quality of Jackie the man and the player, and told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson.” When Bragan attended Rickey’s funeral in 1965, he stated that he decided to attend because, “Branch Rickey made me a better man.” Those types of stories are the real legacy of what Robinson accomplished by running the gauntlet of racism during that initial season in major league baseball, and why his story is so much more than a sports biography. Robinson truly did change history.

 
 

Random Sports Thoughts

25 Mar

A lot of great sports stories came and went, in all 4 major professional sports, during the month when Rayonsports.com was on hiatus battling technical issues with WordPress. Here are some random thoughts on those stories:

* The off-season in major league baseball was very interesting, as a couple of high-profile free agents, both power hitters in their prime, hit the market, and for the first time in years, the usual high rollers, most notably the New York Yankees, weren’t major players. Albert Pujols, probably the best hitter active in the majors right now, signed with Anaheim, making the Angels a top favorite to represent the American League in the World Series this year. Then Prince Fielder, surprisingly, signed with his dad’s old team, the Detroit Tigers, making an already top contending AL team that much more of a power. It seems as though the Yankees weren’t factors in pursuing either player – for a couple of reasons – one being that offense really isn’t something the Yanks need, their problem is pitching – and the other being that Hal Steinbrenner appears to be taking a different approach than his father. He has made statements that he believes the team can win by building from within, with a much lower payroll than in the past.

* The Buffalo Sabres made a trade at the NHL deadline in which both the Sabres and their trading partners, the Vancouver Canucks, looked like they were giving up on former high first round draft picks. Buffalo, in dire need of help at the center position, got young Cody Hodgson in exchange for winger Zack Kassian, and also gave up Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was supposed to be an up-and-coming defenseman in their system, for a throw-in – Alex Sulzer. In dealing Kassian and Paul Gaustad, the Sabres, who are constantly criticized for a lack of character and soft play, traded away two players whose main contributions are in those areas. Hodgson did next to nothing for 10 games, and Sulzer actually made more of a positive contribution, although the deal has looked better lately as Hodgson has begun to find his mark. Getting a first round pick for Gaustad, in my opinion, is a steal. Then again, if they pick another Kassian with the choice, a player who they decide isn’t a fit a couple years later, then it’s not such a great deal. The best thing to happen out of the trade of Gaustad and Kassian is the promotion of young Marcus Foligno from Rochester, who has added some much-needed offense to a team that had become stale, and has become, along with linemates Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, the main reason Buffalo is still in playoff contention.

* The NBA salvaged a shortened season after their bitter lockout, and a big story so far has been the emergence of Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks who kicked around the league for a couple of seasons before getting his big chance this season in New York. “Linsanity” has cooled off recently, but after a coaching change, the Knicks are winning again, and could do some damage in the playoffs if they can qualify.

* After making the second-biggest splash in NFL free agency by signing Mario Williams (yes, Peyton Manning to Denver is a bigger story), the Buffalo Bills made a couple of less-publicized, but just as important, moves to improve their defense. The signing of Mark Anderson, who played for New England last year, is another boost to the team’s pass rush. At 6’4, 255 lbs., Anderson, to me, is mostly a situational pass rusher, a little too light to be an every down defensive end. However, the Bills seem to think he’s an every down guy. At any rate, he had 10 sacks for the Pats last season. This comparison says it all – Marcell Dareus led the Bills with 5.5 sacks in 2011; Anderson had 2.5 sacks in 3 playoff games alone for New England. The other move was re-signing veteran safety Bryan Scott, a key member of the secondary who adds a lot of depth and versatility. At 31 years old, he struggled at times in coverage, especially against big tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates, but also has shown a knack for making big plays at key times.

 
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Rayonsports.com Is On Hiatus

17 Mar

Rayonsports.com is on hiatus due to technical difficulties with WordPress but will resume posting next week.

 
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HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM RAYONSPORTS.COM !

24 Nov

RAYONSPORTS.COM WOULD LIKE TO WISH EVERYONE A HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 
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“Is This Heaven?, No, it’s Iowa.” My Five Favorite Sports Movies

20 Jun

Rocky, Remember The Titans, Safe At Home, Pride of  The Yankees, Rudy, Brian’s Song, Bull Durham, Bad News Bears, Hoosiers and League Of  Their Own. These are all films that get honorable mention on my list of favorites when it comes to sports movies. The 2 toughest to eliminate were Pride Of The Yankees, with Gary Cooper’s great portayal of Lou Gehrig, and League Of Their Own, based on the true story of a women’s professional baseball league that existed during the war years, a film that included Tom Hanks’ classic line “There’s no crying in baseball!” Here are the five sports films that made the cut – my favorite sports movies of all time, in no particular order:

1. Slapshot – a 1970s classic comedy about a minor league hockey team, starring Paul Newman as  aging veteran Reggie Dunlop, who is trying to hang on with the Charlestown Chiefs, a motley group that included the goonish and unforgettable Hanson Brothers (above). The Chiefs are a perennial loser and a financial mess, and are scheduled to fold at season’s end. Dunlop, actually the team’s player/coach, has the Chiefs start playing “goon” hockey and turns them around. The team’s final game, in which they play the Syracuse Bulldogs and their rookie goon – Ogie Ogilethorpe – is a hoot. The film came out in 1977, right around the time the old Philadelphia Flyer “Broad Street Bullies” were dominating the NHL using a style just a little less violent than the Chiefs.

2. Paper Lion – this 1968 classic chronicled author George Plimpton’s foray into pro football. Alan Alda played Plimpton, who had earlier pitched in a baseball all-star game and boxed 3 rounds against Sugar Ray Robinson, then written about his adventures. Plimpton has a hard time finding a team to buy into his idea, and my favorite scene in the movie is pictured above. Plimpton (Alda) is unsuccessful in convincing Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi to let him try out for the Packers, and as he escorts him to the door, with a sly grin Lombardi asks Plimpton “have you tried the AFL?”  When the film was made Lombardi’s Packers had demolished the AFL champs in the first 2 Super Bowls so the line was a real “shot”. Plimpton eventually gets the Detroit Lions to agree to let him try out, and the actual Lion players used in the film turned out to be pretty good comedic actors, especially Alex Karras, who went on to enjoy a decent acting career. The film is not an Academy Award winner, but I love it because it takes place in the golden era of NFL football that I grew up following in the 1960s.

3. The Natural – this movie was panned by some critics when it came out for being too hokey, but those critics didn’t get it. The movie was made from an old book, and was  intentionally made in the sappy, storybook style of the author, Bernard Malamud. Robert Redford was terrific as the movie’s hero, Roy Hobbs, who attempts a comeback after mysteriously disappearing from the game. Robert Duvall, one of my favorite actors of all time, plays an impish sportswriter trying to figure out Hobbs’ story. Hobbs reunites with an old flame, played by Glenn Close, and in the end discovers that he is the father of her young son. Hobbs’ game-winning home run at the end, which breaks the scoreboard and sets off an electrical fireworks display (see picture above) is a little over the top, but again, it’s a fantasy movie with a fantasy ending.

4. Major League – any movie that ends with the Cleveland Indians winning the pennant is going to be on my all-time favorites’ list. This film may be the best comedy sports movie ever made however. It is filled with great comedy moments, like Bob Uecker’s radio play-by-play (“juuuuust a bit outside”) and Pedro Cerrano’s locker room voodoo ceremony designed to help him hit a curve ball.  There  are memorable characters, like Wesley Snipes’ portrayal of the cocky Willie Mays Hayes, crusty manager Lou Brown and of course, Charlie Sheen as the “Wild Thing”, pitcher Rickie Vaughn. The team is inherited by a rich widow who wants to move it to the warmer climate of Miami, and she orders the general manager to field the worst team he can so they’ll lose and make it easier for her to relocate from Cleveland. Tom Berenger, as washed-up catcher Jake Taylor, and Corbin Bernsen, as highly-paid prima donna Roger Dorn, battle throughout the movie but ultimately they all come together in the end. The movie spawned 2 sequels, but those never lived up to the original.

5. Field of Dreams – “Is this Heaven?”  No…it’s Iowa.” A classic line from this fantasy film about baseball and its’ timeless place in people’s lives. Kevin Costner, who has starred in numerous sports films, plays Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, who hears voices in his cornfield telling him “if you build it he will come”. To the dismay of his family, he then builds a baseball diamond in the cornfield, and eventually the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson shows up with a squad of old deceased ballplayers who begin playing on the field. Kinsella then is compelled to go out and find author Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones, after the “voices” tell him to “ease his pain”. After picking up Mann in Boston in his van, the pair both see a vision on the scoreboard involving a “Moonlight” Graham, another player of the past who played one inning in the major leagues but never got a chance to bat. Graham, in his later years after he became Doctor Graham, is played by Burt Lancaster in his final movie role. Obviously, with the plot of the movie involving ghosts, voices and even time travel (Kinsella finds the older Graham when he leaves his motel room and suddenly it’s 1972), this film is total fantasy, but it is a great film that has a lot of life lessons to be found. The movie received 3 Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, a rarity for sports movies.

 

Jalen Rose, Grant Hill & The “Uncle Tom” Debate

23 Mar

                                                        ESPN’s Jalen Rose

Two of the best things about ESPN are the “30 for 30” documentary films produced by the network and the First And Ten morning program, aired weekday mornings and featuring a debate desk segment where sportswriter Skip Bayless engages in lively arguments with guest debaters on timely sports topics. Recently, one of the films, about the early ’90s Michigan college basketball team that featured five starting freshmen dubbed the “Fab Five”, stirred some controversy and was debated in at least 2 segments on First And Ten. In the documentary, one of the freshmen players, Jalen Rose, ridiculed the black players from Duke University as “Uncle Toms”, verbalizing the feelings of many black inner city athletes at the time who felt that well-to-do, two-parent  black families who sent their kids to an elitist school like Duke were “selling out their race”. Rose, who went on to have a successful NBA career, is now an NBA analyst for ESPN, and in my opinion one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining ex-athletes working in the media today. He is frequently a guest debater on the First And Ten show, and gives Bayless all he can handle in arguments about not just basketball but all sports. Rose was invited on to explain/defend his comments from the documentary, and wasn’t proud of them, saying that he hopes people who see the film realize they were made by “a seventeen year old inner city kid with absolutely no filter between his brain and his mouth”.  Frankly, I believe Rose, and if you see the film and realize how much Michigan administators used the “Fab Five” to sell merchandise and make tons of money off of their notoriety at the time, while the players saw none of the money, you come to realize why those players developed attitudes toward “The Man”.

The next day, the subject was debated again, this time between Bayless and African American NBA writer Chris Broussard, another highly respected journalist. Bayless pretty much conceded his time to Broussard to make his case, and ESPN’s resident NBA insider made an eloquent argument. He exonerated Rose, who had been criticized in an op-ed column written by NBA player Grant Hill, son of former Dallas Cowboy Calvin Hill, who played at Duke during the Fab Five era. He said he understood Hill’s criticism also, and that it was good for the “Uncle Tom” reference to be discussed, since it has become a subject hotly debated in the African American community. He said he was disgusted by the way that even today, young blacks with no clue about the history of that term among blacks, were using it to denigrate affluent blacks in two-parent families. He criticized the hip hop community for promoting the idea in their songs that affluent black men who man up and parent their children were “Uncle Toms who sell out their race”, and offered the thought that the real sellouts to their race were the black men who joined gangs, ignored their children, sold drugs, brandished weapons and wound up in prison, thus propogating long-held stereotypes of the African American race. It was a powerful argument, and included stories of how some in the black community once criticized Bill Cosby’s television show as “an unrealistic portrayal of a black family.” It was a powerful argument, and was another example of what I see all the time in the world of sports – that sometimes sports shows that are generally considered “light entertainment” can do more good and shed more light on the real human condition than some of those pompous Sunday morning political programs.

                                           NBA Insider Chris Broussard

 
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RAYONSPORTS.COM WILL RETURN ON MARCH 1ST

25 Feb

RAYONSPORTS.COM WILL RETURN FROM HIATUS ON TUESDAY, MARCH 1ST, 2011. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

 
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Black Athletes In The 1960s

18 Jan

My perspective on African American athletes in the 1960s was pretty much formed by whatever was written about them in the press at the time. It was a very impressionable time for me, and the gang I grew up with, and I remember we idolized many pro athletes and didn’t really make much of what color they were, as long as they helped whatever our favorite team at the time was win games. I read a column over the weekend in which retired Buffalo News columnist Larry Felser recalled his first meeting with Buffalo Bills star Cookie Gilchrist. He was in the team’s locker room trying to get Cookie to do an interview, and Gilchrist told him he couldn’t at the moment but to give him his address and he would do it later. Sure enough, Gilchrist showed up at his house and stayed for over 3 hours, granting the interview. It reminded me of what Bill Russell, the former Celtic great and another of the greatest athletes of the ’60s said, when asked why he refused to sign autographs. Russell said that signing his name on a piece of paper for a stranger felt impersonal, and that he’d rather stop and have a five minute conversation with a person than sign his name and have that person walk away. I think there was a purpose to Gilchrist’s request to meet Felser at his home. It was a test of sorts, to see if the young writer respected him enough as a man to actually invite him into his home, rather than just do the interview in the “safe” confines of the locker room. Looking back, I believe that was what a lot of black athletes at the time were really looking for – to be shown respect as men in a time when in a lot of places they still weren’t allowed to be served in restaurants, or had to use separate bathroom facilities, or stay in separate hotels on the road than their white teammates. They were searching for basic human dignity. One of my athletic heroes growing up at that time was the legendary Cleveland Browns’ fullback, Jim Brown. I recall reading a story once where Brown came into the locker room carrying a briefcase. He was already starting to look into a post-football acting career, and also was beginning to become involved in the growing Civil Rights movement, and carried a lot of papers having to do with these non-football interests in that briefcase. When a sportswriter asked him why he needed a briefcase, he responded that he was a businessman. The writer ridiculed him in a column and labeled him a “malcontent”, which was a term that was tossed around a lot back then by white writers when they were looking to describe black athletes whose behavior they didn’t understand. You could write a novel documenting what Muhammad Ali went through alone. When Curt Flood, an African American outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, challenged baseball’s reserve clause tying a player to his team, he was called a malcontent and worse, and eventually was unofficially blackballed from the game by owners. Of course, every modern day player who signs a huge free agent contract should thank Flood for his courage. I admire and idolize the players from that era even more now than I did then, armed with the perspective of a grown man who now sees the battles they fought on the field and off.

 
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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM RAYONSPORTS.COM

24 Dec

 

Rayonsports.com would like to wish everyone a Merry

 Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!!

 
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