Category Archives: Other sports

Worst Avid Golfer


I was at the barber yesterday waiting for my haircut. He has a collection of coffee table books on baseball and golf. I was flipping through some of them and came across a Hartford Courant clipping from 1985 about a duffer named Angelo Spagnolo. This story is probably semi-famous in golf circles, but I had never heard it before: ESPN says it was 1986, but Sagnolo won(?) a contest that Golf Digest sponsored naming him the Worst Avid Golfer; shooting a 185 over at TPC Sawgrass. A 66 on 17 clinched the title. He was mentioned in Sports Illustrated as well. He seems to have a good sense of humor about the whole thing. “Hundreds of people told me I gave them hope,” (Spagnolo) says. “It didn’t make me feel any better about the way I played, but it made them feel better about the way they played. And I figured that was good for golf.”

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Icarus In Spikes


Mariano Rivera saved Enrique Wilson’s life. He blew Game Seven of the 2001 World Series but made his best save ever. Wilson was scheduled to fly home to the Dominican Republic on American Airlines Flight 587. But Arizona defeated the Yankees, so there was no victory parade. Instead, the utility infielder changed his travel plans and took an earlier flight home. Flight 587 crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens on November 12th, 2001. Rivera told Wilson “I am glad we lost the World Series because it means that I still have a friend.”

Chris Dial saved Alex Rodriguez’s life. Dial is a big baseball fan; has been a Mets fan since 1973. He developed a way of converting a fielder’s zone rating, or how often he fields balls in certain areas of the ball field, into runs saved for his team. Dial is also a chemist and inventor. He invented the Soft Ground Arrestor System. This is bubbly concrete placed at the end of a runway to slow down a plane that is going to fast. Think of it as a runaway truck ramp for airplanes. On Friday the 13th, October, 2006, Rodriguez and several others were on a private jet that made a hard landing at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California. The arrestor system stopped the plane.

Other sports stars haven’t had this luck with plane crashes; including some in pinstripes, as we shall soon see. Roberto Clemente might be the most famous one; flying a mission of mercy from Puerto Rico that never made it to Managua, Nicaragua. There was also Knute Rockne and Rocky Marciano. Team planes have crashed. There was Manchester United in 1958, the University of Evansville basketball team in 1977. There was a Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes and the survivors ate the dead. The movie Alive was about this incident.

But a more macabre story is that of Len Koenecke. Koenecke was a fairly decent outfielder in the Thirties. He didn’t really get a chance to play regularly until he was 27. He was a big drinker and that may have had something to do with his late start. His drinking problem was so bad that he got kicked off of the Dodgers and sent home. Keep in mind that this was when drinking in baseball was rampant. A few years earlier, Hack Wilson set the record for runs blottoed in while he was half in the bag. Koenecke had a few before his flight home and he stormed the cockpit. The pilot and copilot beat him off, but he kept coming. Finally, one of them grabbed a fire extinguisher and gave Koenecke on fierce blow and killed him.

In 1999, Payne Stewart’s crash was followed in real time. . Peter Finch must have been happy. Stewart was supposed to fly from Florida to Texas, but the plane he was a passenger in lost cabin pressure and it kept flying until it ran out of fuel and crashed into a Dakota field. Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison survived the 200 MPH ballet of the speedway, but both perished in aviation accidents. Allison was piloting a helicopter. Billy Southworth Jr. may have made the majors if it weren’t for World War II. He was International League player of the year once. Southworth became a bomber pilot and flew the requisite number of missions before rotating stateside. Alas, he crashed taking off on a routine mission from LaGuardia.

Southworth and Allison were second generation sports figures. Allison’s father was a NASCAR legend and Southworth’s dad was a Hall of Fame manager. But there are also plenty of brother combos from Hank and Tommie Aaron to Peyton and Eli Manning. There are even a few twins. Tiki and Ronde Barber were both in the NFL. (And Tiki wants back in.) Bob and Mike Bryan rule doubles tennis. There’s Ozzie and Jose Canseco. The New Britain Rock Cats once had a manager/pitching coach duo of Stan and Stu Cliburn. (This makes sense. They are a Minnesota Twins affiliated farm team.) Jim Thorpe had a twin brother who died young. Ryan Howard has a twin brother Cory. At one point Cory Lidle was his teammate with the Phillies. Lidle had a twin brother named Kevin.

Lidle crashed a plane into a New York City high-rise two days before Alex Rodriguez’s near crash. His brother Kevin was a ballplayer too. He played in the twilight world of indy league ball. One year he was on the Somerset Patriots. A teammate of his was a Florida kid named Jeff Anderson. Anderson’s father Jerry was a pilot himself. Back in 1979, the Anderson family lived in Canton, Ohio and Jerry was a passenger in a Cessna Citation when it crashed and burned while practicing take offs and landings. The pilot was another baseball player. His name was Thurman Munson.

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Pele As A Comedian


This essay over at Run Of Play riffs on David Foster Wallce’s essay “Roger Federer As A Religious Experience”; an essay I linked six weeks ago.

It’s heavier stuff than I’ve been able to write about up to now. It talks about the meaning of Pele. I still haven’t been able to do something as heady as writing about The Meaning of X yet. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you can. Incidentally, “Pele As A Comedian” links to a comment on another article at that blog that mentions baseball.

The perfectly symmetrical face — when generated as an artificial image, which is the only way perfect symmetry happens — is less interesting, less attractive, than the face that bears, however subtly, the asymmetries of ordinary human physiognomy. Pelé is just too damned symmetrical. What did he do excellently? — well, everything…

For the same reason I do not find it especially interesting to watch Albert Pujols swing the bat. Impressive as hell, yes, but not interesting. Everything’s too perfect: the balance, the stillness of his head, the economy of movement. How much more fun to watch Babe Ruth, with his pot belly and huge stride and prissy little mince around the bases.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade in virtual salons that discuss sports. Run of Play might earn more looks from me. A virtual tip of the fedora to Bethlehem Shoals at Free Darko for bring this new &^%$ to light.

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This Would Have Been An Interesting Post-Baseball Career


Heard this guy on the radio today talking about Hurricane Earl. Thought he might’ve been John Cangeolosi and not John Cangialosi.

In other, unrelated, news Carson Cistulli showed up in my dream the other nite. I don’t recall talking baseball with him, but we discussed the Travers Stakes and fantasy football. The odd thing is that I have no idea what happened in the Travers Stakes this year. I’ve been up to Saratoga a couple of times to see it and it’s a blast, but I haven’t seen my horse racing friends much lately. As for fantasy football, a feeble attempt was made to bring the league together this year, but it looks like it ain’t happening.

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Breaking The First Panel


Another Comics Mockage Blog. That girl almost poked my eye out! This Week In Milford tackles Gil Thorp. Sports and the funny pages are two great tastes that taste great together; usually. But this strip has been lame this summer. Needs more Coach Kaz for sure!

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The Baer Essentials


Max Baer was once heavyweight champeen of the world back when that meant something. If you saw Cinderella Man, he was the guy that Braddock had to beat to win the title. On his way to the top, he killed Frankie Campbell in the ring. Campbell was a boxing name. His real name was Francisco Camilli. Had a brother named Dolph Camilli who played baseball. Leo Durocher was his manager when Dolph was a Dodger.

I’m not going to tell you that much about Durocher. If you want to read more, seek out Nice Guys Finish Last. Anyways, Durocher fell out of favor in Brooklyn went on to manage the Giants. But then he returned to the Dodgers as a coach. He was with them in LA and The Lip wound up doing some guest shots on TV. It was an era that had rather unrealistic, absurdist TV shows and he was on a few of them. Mr. Ed, The Munsters, and The Beverly Hillbillies – he was on them all. It was in the last of these where he appeared alongside Max Baer Jr. (aka Jethro Clampett.) Did they talk about Max’s dad beating to death the brother of one of Leo’s more valuable players? Who knows? The conversation would have been 47 years ago and I doubt Baer remembers it. And Durocher is dead.

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NYT: Roger Federer As A Religious Experience


More of David Foster Wallace on tennis. Here’s my favorite part:

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.

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WSJ: Tennis Becomes A Numbers Game


Tennis sabermetrics. This is a sport I’d like to get into more someday.

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Vintage Vintage Base Ball and The Best Year in Sports


I caught June 17, 1994 last month. It (among other things) inspired me to look up the issue of Sports Illustrated that covered that day. While looking through that issue, I stumbled upon this article about a vintage base ball team that had been playing in Ohio since 1981. I wonder if the baseball strike inspired these guys to get off the couch and play. Why not? The Cosmic Baseball Association was one of the offspring of the strike. I play vintage ball, but only started this year. So I’m a little hazy on the rules, but the ones they play by seem a little off. But they play using older rules than we do.

This morning, or last nite, I started thinking about what was the best year in sports history. It might be 2008. NPR makes that argument and mentions 1960 and 1969. Maybe it’s 1969, if you are a New Yawker. What say you? I don’t think a year necessarily has to be a calendar year. SI didn’t think so, either. They would occasionally print a special issue retrospective in the late winter from around 1977 to 1984. I’m partial to this one because it includes the Miracle On Ice. That might be the biggest sports story in my living memory.

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Esquire: String Theory


I read this David Foster Wallace piece today. Wimbeldon’s going on right now, after all. And Wallace seems to have a cult following that I’m trying to understand. (I think that both Bill Simmons and Bethlehem Shoals are fans.) I did like it even though Wallace and I are polar opposites when it comes to writing. I am terse while he was expansive; like a Joe Posnanski or Aaron Gleeman. Too, I tend to keep my digressions within the main body of the text, instead of shunting them off to footnotes. But I am beginning to see some advantages to his method.

Wallace also wrote this article for the New York Times Play magazine. I may tackle it later. I happened to read the Esquire piece in a compilation book. I didn’t realize it was online until after reading the piece. Frankly, I find stuff that long much easier to follow in print than online.

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