The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ten Things About Sports in North America That You Probably Didn't Know.

1.       The man responsible for the construction of Wrigley Field was the early 20th Century version of Ray Kroc. Or, more appropriately, Fred DeLuca and Peter Buck. You may recognize Ray Kroc's name (hint: Arches), but DeLuca and Buck might be a bit more esoteric: they're the founders of Subway. And in a similar vein, Charles H. "Lucky Charlie" Weeghman was a sandwich magnate in the city of Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century. He developed his own franchise chain of "lunch counters" in the Chicago area – owning 15 of them at one point. His net worth was, at its peak, an estimated US$8 million (Somewhere around $187 million today). After making a bid at purchasing the Saint Louis Cardinals, Weeghman joined up with John T. Powers as a charter owner in the new Federal League. After a year seeing his club playing on the campus of DePaul University, the league declared itself a major league – and Weeghman decided to move his team to a new, larger ballpark. He leased the land for the park from Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, and built a ballpark in just under two months. At the time, it was a single-deck park, and some of the seminary buildings still stood beyond the outfield walls. In fact, the park looked almost nothing like what Wrigley looks like now, 100 years later. After the Federal League folded, Weeghman purchased the Chicago Cubs and merged his Whales franchise with the National League team – and moved the Cubs from wooden West Side Park to his new ballpark. Unfortunately, World War I saw his luncheonette chain lose business, and he was forced to sell his stake in the Cubs to William Wrigley Jr. Wrigley renamed the ballpark after himself, while "Lucky Charlie" went through ups and downs in his private life – he was divorced and remarried in the early 1920's – and his business life. His brother, Albert Weeghman, took over the restaurants in Chicago, while Charlie moved to New York with his new (and younger!) bride to start over in the restaurant business. Just as he was getting things going again, Weeghman suffered a stroke in late 1938 and died. 

2.       The National Hockey League was formed out of spite, and still exists due to a lawsuit. In the middle of World War I, the existing National Hockey Association was having issues with the owner of the Toronto franchise, Eddie Livingstone. He had essentially bought up multiple teams to play in Toronto, and the NHA – based mostly in Montreal – didn't like the usurper. The league, which was only in its eighth season of operation, decided to contract to one Toronto based team, and an all-star "military" team that would be based out of the city, but would be more or less a public relations arm for the RCAF. Unfortunately, in February of 1917, the members of this team (known as the 228th Battalion Northern Fusiliers) were called to active duty. This left the NHA with five teams. The remaining owners voted to have Livingstone's franchise cease operations for the rest of the season to balance out the schedule. That was when the problems began. Livingstone was promised compensation from the league for his losses, but the league was too busy trying to get the insurance they took against the 228th team to pay out. During the off-season, there were heated words, threats of lawsuits, and slammed doors. In November of 1917, the owners of the NHA met in Montreal and decided to suspend operations of the league. A week later, as a "legal" move, Frank Calder and the existing clubs met and formed the National Hockey League. Unfortunately, the Quebec club was unable to certify that they could get ice time at their arena (the rink owner was a friend of Livingstone), so the new league awarded an "expansion" franchise to the owner of Toronto's Arena Gardens, Charles Querrie. Despite a fire that destroyed the home of the Montreal Wanderers mid-season, the new league finished the year, and (in a note of irony) the Toronto team won the league title. The NHA would not formally cease operations until the following season, when negotiations with Livingstone came to a standstill – and the Canadian government refused to pay the league any damages for the loss of the team. Livingstone would battle on and off with the NHL until his death in 1945. 

3.       The National Football League was formed in the offices of an Ohio car dealership. Ralph Hay had been involved in selling cars in the Canton, Ohio area for nine years when he purchased the Canton Bulldogs professional football team from a friend. Though the team was a success on the field, winning games against competition across the state, Hay was losing money on the cost of salaries for his players. Following through with an idea initiated from his team's star halfback, Jim Thorpe, he set up a meeting in August of 1920 with the managers of three other major Ohio-based teams – the Akron Pros, the Cleveland Tigers, and the Dayton Triangles. Together, they formed the American Professional Football Conference, and they wrote letters to the "major" pro teams across the Midwest to meet with them on September 17. In addition to the four Ohio based teams, representatives from six other teams showed up – including George Halas, who was the manager of the Decatur Staleys, and representatives from Chicago's Racine Street Cardinals football club. The number of people attending was so great, Hay had to move the meeting into his Hupmobile/Pierce-Arrow showroom. The ten teams, plus four other franchises that would join before the league began play that fall, were now known as the American Professional Football Association. Of the 14 teams that played that first year, only the Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) and the now-Arizona Cardinals remain in the league. Though his Bulldogs would be a dominant force in the early years of the APFA – which was renamed the National Football League in 1922 – Hay was still losing money on the team. He ended up selling out to a group of local businessmen after 1922. The Bulldogs would win the league title in both 1922 and 1923 – the first NFL team to win back-to-back titles. Hay passed away in 1944. 

4.       The greatest single-game accomplishment in National Basketball Association history is wrapped up in mystery – except for the accomplishment itself. In the early 1960's the NBA was still fighting to be seen as a legitimate professional sport. When it came to hoops, the college game was still seen as superior to the pro league that was now only in its 16th year of existence. Because of this, even squads based in big cities like Philadelphia were forced to take a back seat to college teams for arena dates. The NBA's Warriors (who would move to the San Francisco Bay area later in the decade) were forced to play dates in other far-flung locales, such as Hershey, Pennsylvania – home of Hershey Chocolate. One of the main reasons for the derision of the pro game was the integration of teams like the Warriors, who featured the seven-foot-tall center Wilt Chamberlain. "The Stilt", as he was nicknamed, was able to easily jump with hands above the hoop and throw the ball down forcefully – a play he called the "dipper dunk". His ability to make this very-high-percentage shot gave him scoring totals that had never been seen before in the league. He had posted games well above a point-a-minute on a regular basis, and on the night of March 2, 1962, the Warriors were having a field day against their opponents, the New York Knicks. Wilt's previous NBA record single-game point total was 78 – set in a double-overtime game (he also held the record for a regulation 48-minute game with 73). After three periods, the Warriors had a commanding 125-106 lead – and Wilt already had 69 points on the night. Not many people had come out to watch the game (4,124 was the announced attendance), but those that did would end up watching one of the most epic finishes to an individual performance in NBA history. The Warriors made a decision at the end of the third quarter that they were just going to give the ball to Wilt and let him score. By the time the Knicks realized what Philadelphia was doing, Wilt had already set the scoring mark at 79 – with 7:51 left in the game. New York tried to stall and hold onto the ball as much they could under the 24-second clock, but Wilt would not be denied. Even fouling him – a bane of Chamberlain's game, as he was not typically very good from the charity stripe – wasn't working. Wilt, using the then-popular underhand toss, sank free throw after free throw, ending up going 28-for-32 for the game. The Warriors, who hadn't fouled the entire half, decided to start fouling in reciprocation. The two teams ended up with 57 combined fouls – and Philadelphia had two players foul out of the game. With 2:12 left, Wilt had 94 points. He hit a fade-away jumper for 96, then took a lob pass with 79 seconds to go and slammed it in for point 98. The next possession, the Warriors passed it to a quintuple-teamed (yes, you saw that right) Chamberlain. He missed the first shot, but the Warriors got the rebound. He then got another pass, and missed yet again. After the second rebound, Philadelphia's Ted Luckenbill passed the ball to Joe Ruklick. Ruklick lobbed a high pass to Chamberlain with 46 seconds to go in the game – and Chamberlain tapped the ball in. Or, if some game observations are to be believed, he stuffed the ball through for point number 100. This is where the story of the game begins to break down; a bunch of the fans remaining in the stands stormed the court, and the final 46 seconds weren't played. Others stated that the game did continue, but Chamberlain just stood at center court, refusing to touch the ball. Even the final score of the game is disputed: the scoring report says the final was 169-147, but the one broadcast of the game that survived said the Knicks scored 150. That was the worst part about this historic moment: there were no movie or television cameras present to record the event. The complete radio broadcast was never saved on tape either; only bits and pieces survived due to private recordings of the broadcast on WCAU. Only the Warriors' call by Bill Campbell of the fourth quarter was ever found intact. Chamberlain would go on to win two NBA titles playing for the Warriors, Lakers, Sixers and (briefly) San Diego of the ABA before retiring – but he would never come close to repeating his performance on that early spring night in Hershey. 

5.       One of the most storied hockey franchises in the NHL was purchased with winnings from a horse race. Conn Smythe was a University of Toronto graduate in civil engineering, veteran of World War I, and a hockey loving businessman. He had success in coaching and managing his alma mater's hockey squad, and had dabbled a bit in managing professionally. Unfortunately, the NHL expansion team that had utilized his managing skills – Tex Rickard's New York Rangers – declined to make him the team's manager, favoring PCHA founder Lester Patrick. Smythe stewed over the decision, demanding payment for the job he did of selecting the players who would eventually lead to the team's first Stanley Cup in only its second year. Rickard offered to pay off Smythe, but nothing even close to the amount he wanted. A horse racing lover, Smythe offered to take $5,000 from Rickard and place a wager on an upcoming stakes race. Rickard covered the bet, and the horse came in as the winner – giving Smythe a payout of $25,000. That amount was enough that, less than a year later, Conn and a group of Toronto businessmen purchased the St. Pats franchise of the NHL, renaming them the Maple Leafs. Smythe re-did the team's colors in blue and white, the same colors as the trucks that his gravel and paving business used. A few years later, he had the Maple Leaf Gardens constructed in less than a year, giving his Leafs a grand palace of sport all their own. 

6.       The biggest championship game in American pro sports was named for a children's toy. The National and American Football Leagues had finally settled their differences, with some skilled negotiations involving Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. Hunt was now tasked at settling one of the major points of the merger: a championship game between the American and National leagues. In July of 1966, while he was considering ways of marketing the game, one of his children was bouncing around a small, hard rubber ball, branded by Wham-O (the people who brought you the Frisbee and the hula hoop). The name of the ball was the "Super Ball." At the time, colleges were still popular with the pageantry and glamour of the major Bowl games: the Rose, the Cotton, and the Orange Bowls. An idea coalesced in Hunt's mind – one that he suggested in a letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. The championship game would be played on a neutral site in a warm-weather setting, like the college bowl games of the day. However, instead of calling it by some fruit or local product, he suggested the league name it the "Super Bowl". The name wasn't immediately used (the other owners decided on "AFL-NFL Championship Game"), but by the time the two leagues merged completely in 1970, the name "Super Bowl" was part of NFL lore. 

7.       The location of the first major pro sports Hall of Fame was based upon a myth. The origins of the game of baseball are generally accepted as being rooted in the English game of "rounders", as the games both featured using a bat and a ball, and running around to bases in a particular order. The first organized game of "base ball" happened in 1845, when Alexander Cartwright's New York Knickerbockers played their first game on the Elysian Fields. However, as the 19th century came to a close, National League president Abraham Mills sought to find an "American" origin to the National Pastime. In the name of patriotism, a commission was formed in 1905, headed by Mills and Chicago Cubs president Albert Spalding. Their goal was to discredit sportswriter Henry Chadwick's contention that the game evolved from rounders. In April, a witness came forth with a story. Abner Graves recalled to the Mills Commission that, when he was a child growing up in the idyllic Catskill Mountains, a now-famous Civil War general named Abner Doubleday had come up with a diagram of a baseball field, and had set up the first game in 1839. Unfortunately, there was one very big problem with the story: at the time the gentleman claimed the game was "invented", Doubleday was nowhere near the village of Cooperstown, New York. Instead, he was a plebe going through the US Military Academy at West Point – which was on the opposite side of the state from Cooperstown. Graves also proved to be a bit unreliable, as he expressed anti-British sentiments to the commission, and admitted that he did not have the original diagram, nor were any of the others who took part in the game still alive. Graves himself would end up dying in a mental ward shortly thereafter. Decades later, in 1934, discussion was building over a way for the game of baseball to honor its past and its heroes. A prominent man from Cooperstown, Stephen Carlton Clark, purchased the ball claimed to be from Graves' family, and built a museum exhibit around it. The museum happened to coincide with the idea of honoring the game's best players by starting a Hall of Fame. The Clark family endorsed the idea whole-heartedly, and in 1936 the newly-created National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum inducted its first five members: Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb. 

8.       A city in the United States lost the right to host the winter Olympics because of a referendum. In May of 1970, the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympiad by the International Olympic Committee. Their bid had included a grand plan that would construct a new ski resort just minutes away from the city, along with various venues for non-Alpine events. However, plans for the resort fell through almost immediately as environmentalists sued to block the plan. The backup site was located in Vail, which was over 90 miles away – and that was on a good day. Interstate 70 was not completely finished through the state, and to accommodate the Olympics, there would need to be a large outlay of federal expenditures. The Federal government, in turn, wouldn't provide the money without state assistance. Some state legislators, led by Richard Lamm (who would go on to become Governor of the state), didn't want a thing to do with raising taxes for a potential boondoggle and money sink that the Olympics would bring. They proposed to bring the financing question as to whether or not the state should approve a $5 million bond issue to publicly fund the games to a state-wide referendum. On November 7, 1972, Colorado voters turned down the measure by a 60%-40% margin. With no public money available to help finance the games, the DOOC had to withdraw its bid for the games less than four years from the planned opening ceremonies. After consideration of several other rejected sites in North America (including future Olympiad sites in Salt Lake City and Whistler-Vancouver), the IOC awarded the games to Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck had hosted the games eight years prior (in 1964), and still had many of their venues in operation. 

9.       A major league sports stadium was built on the site of a public housing project. In post-war Los Angeles, the city government was experiencing a population boom – and a severe housing shortage. In an early attempt at eliminating "urban blight", the city purchased up the land in what was known as Chavez Ravine. The area was home to a poor Mexican-American community that was there as a result of housing discrimination elsewhere in the city. As the 1950's began, the city made grand plans to turn the slum-like area into public low-income housing, under the name of Elysian Park Heights. However, in the wake of anti-communist feelings in southern California, public housing projects lost their support. In 1953, the project came to a halt – even as the city had already controlled most of the property. A few years later, an interested party from the east coast took a helicopter ride over the city. When the copter flew over the area of the ravine, the visitor turned to the person accompanying him and said, "That area. I want that area." The city of Los Angeles was only too glad to give the land of their housing project – which was still in the process of being cleared – to Walter O'Malley. After getting the rights to the remaining lots of land and clearing it, O'Malley's Dodgers finally moved into their new ballpark in 1962. The irony of the situation is that even as the first pitch was being thrown at Dodger Stadium, the team's old ballpark back in Brooklyn (Ebbets Field) was being demolished to make way for… a public housing project. 

10.    A major league expansion team was forced to move due to bankruptcy – after only one year of play. After O'Malley and the Dodgers had shown how baseball-mad the former cities of the Pacific Coast League were to the nation, the race was on to try to bring more West Coast cities to the majors. After Gene Autry became owner of the third California-based team in 1961, the relative success of the Angels was a lure to another owner – Charlie Finley. Finley's Kansas City A's had been the laughingstock of the league since their days in Philadelphia, and he wanted to change that. In 1967, he started to scout cities along the Pacific coast where he could move his ball club. He visited the city of Seattle, but came to the realization that the city was far from ready to host MLB. Instead, he moved the A's to Oakland – another long time PCL hotbed. The move began a series of lawsuits and negotiations that resulted in the two major leagues reluctantly deciding to expand. To placate the people in Kansas City, the AL agreed to place an expansion city there. William R. Daley, the former owner of the Cleveland Indians, had considered moving the Tribe to Seattle back in 1964. Now, he was the majority owner of a group seeking to bring the major leagues to Seattle. In 1968, King County voters approved the construction of a new domed stadium in the Seattle Center area of downtown Seattle, as a condition for approval of expansion. Thus, the Seattle Pilots were born. Almost immediately problems began to pick up: first, the AL was forced by the threat of legislation to move up the date expansion would happen from 1971 to 1969. Next, the Pilots had to pay $1 million to compensate the PCL for the loss of one of their most successful franchises, the Seattle Angels (formerly the Rainiers). The biggest problem, however, was their ballpark: Sick's Stadium (named after longtime Rainiers owner Emil Sick) was a minor league park, and was nowhere near ready to be converted to major league standards. Despite this, GM Marvin Milkes and manager Joe Schultz maintained optimism that they could finish in the top half of the standings of the new American League Western Division. Opening day, however, saw a ballpark that was only half ready due to cost overruns and bad weather. The scoreboard wasn't even completed until the night before the home opener. Some of the 17,150 fans who attended opening day had to wait until the third inning to find their seats, because workers were still assembling them at first pitch. Though the park would eventually reach a capacity of 25,420 by June, the team was floundering from poor attendance and poorer play on the field. The Pilots posted a disastrous 9-20 record in July (and followed that up with an even worse 6-22 record in August), falling completely out of the race for a top three spot in the Division. Milkes, attempting to get some sort of quality squad on the field, ended up trading away some of his better players to contenders – including noted author Jim Bouton, who wrote about his experience as a pitcher for the expansion squad in his epic book, Ball Four. The stadium's infrastructure and lousy attendance (678,000, an average of only 8,370 per game) led to Daley refusing to put up more money to fund the sinking team. The team had an unlikely savior in a group of businessmen, led by Allan H. "Bud" Selig, who were seeking legal action against MLB over the movement of the Braves to Atlanta in 1966. During the 1969 World Series, minority owner and club president Dewey Soriano agreed to sell the team to the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club. However, the remaining owners of the team refused to sign off on the deal. A couple of other ownership groups sought to buy the team, but one failed financially and the other was rejected by American League owners. Even as the ball club reported to Arizona for spring training, Pacific Northwest Sports Incorporated (the ownership group of the team) was facing lawsuit after lawsuit. After the state of Washington filed an injunction on March 16, 1970, to stop the sale of the team to Selig and the Brewers, PNSI was forced to declare bankruptcy. At the bankruptcy hearing, GM Milkes stated that the team didn't have enough money to pay the coaches, players, and other staff of the team. Also, if the team didn't pay the players within 10 days, they would all end up as free agents and the city of Seattle would be left without a baseball team in 1970. Federal bankruptcy court accepted the club's declaration of bankruptcy on April 1, clearing the way for the sale of the team to Selig. The team's uniforms and equipment had been sitting in trucks in Provo, Utah, waiting to hear whether they would head northwest to Seattle or east to Milwaukee. Seattle would not get another major league baseball team until 1976, when the American League awarded an expansion club to Seattle.