Journalist Hillel Kuttler hosts ABCs: Athletics Beyond Coronavirus. This podcast features discussions with people in the sports world about how they’re faring in these troubled times: athletes, coaches, executives, broadcasters and fans.
TOOTIE ROBBINS played 12 years in the NFL as an offensive lineman, almost all with the Cardinals. He died of coronavirus on Aug. 2 at age 62. Fellow lineman LUIS SHARPE and wide receiver KENNY THOMPSON recall a quiet teammate from rural North Carolina who enjoyed playing dominoes and listening to music and leaves behind his wife of 36 years. She was a Cardinals cheerleader. Like them, he met her through football.
BYRON BROWNE played centerfield on Oct. 1, 1970, in the Philadelphia Phillies' last game at Connie Mack Stadium. History professor BRUCE KUKLICK wrote a book about the ballpark (it opened in 1909 and was razed in 1976) and its neighborhood. As a visitor, Browne says, fans pelted him with bricks and oranges. Once, he hit a long homer to leftfield. Kuklick recalls wiggling around posts to see the action on the field, witnessing Bobby Shantz's 20th win for the 1952 A's and being stunned when A's fans booed their own player who broke his leg chasing a fly ball.
Not many star athletes work in education. BRIAN TAYLOR did, as a teacher, principal and administrator, before retiring recently. We discuss how he'd have prepared for the new school term to keep his schools and their sports safe from coronavirus. We speak, too, about his ABA and NBA career, including playing with the great Julius Erving, when their N.Y. Nets won two championships.
Fans mourning TOM SEAVER's death last week at age 75 don't tout his glowing statistics, big games won or record Hall of Fame vote count. Rather: his consistent excellence, leadership of the rags-to-riches 1969 N.Y. Mets and hearty laugh in TV interviews. More so: how we felt discovering a hero, and how our later-in-life selves retain the warm feelings he inspired. The insights people express here are as sincere as any I've heard on a hero's impact.
North Carolina high school terms have begun. The schools' sports are back, too, under new restrictions. KENNY DICKERSON (in photo) discusses working his first event, a volleyball match, while two of his autumn sports, football and basketball, remain on hold. He talks, too, about his dedication to officiating and to performing sports-charity work in less-well-off countries.
What a year 2020 has been for retired baseball coach TOM GAMBOA. He underwent a hernia operation in February while recovering from cancer. In June, he married off his daughter, Kristin, to ex-major leaguer TODD ZEILE. Two weeks later, Gamboa contracted coronavirus. I speak with Gamboa and Zeile about their long-time acquaintance, their blended families and this challenging year.
The Toronto Blue Jays are playing all of their home games in this abridged baseball season 100 miles and one country away: in Buffalo, N.Y. The franchise’s top executive, MARK SHAPIRO, discusses this oddity within an already bizarre season. He also shares some of the skills he’s called upon to create the team’s new reality.
Today marks 50 years since my father's ideal birthday present: my first baseball game. Gift No. 2 was the N.Y. Mets' 4-0 win. PHIL REGAN, who pitched the last two innings for the Chicago Cubs, tells me of his early impressions of the Mets' starting pitcher that day, Nolan Ryan; his first game as a boy in Michigan; taking his children to their first games; and his long career in baseball, which continues at age 83.
Before and during the coronavirus crisis, sports halls of fame announced their Class of 2020 honorees. The shutdown has delayed their induction ceremonies by up to a year, however. KEVIN LOWE (hockey), BARBARA STEVENS (basketball) and DONNIE SHELL (football) speak about being selected and the people they'll thank once the big day arrives.
The coronavirus pandemic is worsening, even as the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball are poised to reopen. Three members of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers (guard RODNEY McGRUDER, head trainer JASEN POWELL and strength-conditioning coach DANIEL SHAPIRO) speak from inside the Orlando, Fla., "bubble" about health-care precautions and returning to play
RON ROSS, a boxing author and authority, died of coronavirus in March at age 87. Four people close to Ross discuss his life: his daughter, LISA ROSS; boxing promoter LOU DiBELLA; retired boxer DMITRIY SALITA; and boxing historian MIKE SILVER.
On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled, 6-3, that social worker GERALD BOSTOCK was wrongly fired for being gay. His employer had learned of Bostock's sexual orientation because he played in an LGBTQ softball league. Bostock discusses what he likes about the sport, including how it helped him in recovering from cancer. "It's a human thing to want to be social and be part of something," Bostock (standing, second from left, in this Havoc softball team photo) says of the camaraderie he enjoys in sports. He's a fan of the Atlanta Braves -- as a kid, he was a Junior Brave -- and the University of Georgia Bulldogs. He warmly speaks of taking children in foster care to games. Some, he says, had never been.
PHIL CHENIER and WES UNSELD were teammates and friends for nearly a half-century until Unseld's death on June 2 at age 74. Chenier shares his unique perspective on Unseld, calling him a leader, "the ultimate team player," well-respected, always "calm and confident" before critical games. He poignantly tells of Unseld's year-long hospitalization and his dying alone because of coronavirus restrictions. "I will miss his laugh," Chenier says. "I will miss his smile."
STEVE BLASS pitched 10 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was there for Forbes Field's last game, on June 28, 1970. "It was my first major-league ballpark, and you never forget your first love," Blass says. He adds, as only a pitcher can: "I love the fact that it was 457 feet to centerfield and ... 365 feet down the leftfield line." Blass discusses his memorable games there: his debut in 1964, no-hitting the Dodgers for 6 2/3 innings in 1968 and (also in '68) playing leftfield for one batter. He worked for the team for SIXTY years, the last 34 coming as a broadcaster.
Fifty years ago today, the Reds played their last game ever at Crosley Field. WAYNE GRANGER discusses the experience of being on the mound at the end; even a half-century later, it "brings tears to my eyes," he says. He speaks of the team at the dawn of the Big Red Machine era, including his pitching nine innings of scoreless relief (to earn a save and a win) in a Sept. 1969 doubleheader sweep of the Giants and mouthing off to manager Sparky Anderson in 1970. And he pokes fun at himself for yielding in 1970 the only grand-slam homer ever hit by a pitcher (Baltimore's Dave McNally) in the World Series.
JOHN BROCKINGTON's greatest feat might not be setting an NFL record with three straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career. How about living 18+ years after receiving a kidney transplant -- and his marrying the donor? We dive into that at length. On other topics, he criticizes the “heinous, cruel, nasty and disgusting” killing of George Floyd and calls out the rioting that followed. Brockington also tells me of his Brooklyn youth, his Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, life as a Packer and being ripped off by his financial advisor.
Atlanta lawyer ANDY McNEIL and Athens, Ga., broadcaster JEFF DANTZLER discuss a photograph that McNeil's great-grandfather, Thomas Carter, snapped in 1918. The image shows fans at a Georgia Tech football game, all wearing face masks during the Spanish-flu pandemic that killed nearly 700,000 Americans among its global death toll of 50 million people.
SHAUN CLANCY conceded to the coronavirus's devastation and closed Foley's on May 29. We speak about the pub's popularity among baseball-industry folks and fans, and also its fall, joined by some special guests: MLB executive TYRONE BROOKS; Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster DAVE WILLS; retired N.Y. Times columnist GEORGE VECSEY; and Daily News reporter KRISTIE ACKERT, Clancy's significant other.
The ongoing marches haven’t yet inspired JEROME WHITE on how best to memorialize George Floyd, but some White-designed coronavirus face masks, showing Muhammad Ali and ex-President Obama, were worn at a Cleveland march. (They can be purchased.) He painted a mural for the city’s League Park project; has painted Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson and Jim Brown; and now is painting the late John Mackey, a Hall of Fame tight end, for Mackey’s daughter. He’d like to paint his former art student … Travis Kelce, star tight end for the Super Bowl champion K.C. Chiefs.
LILY McCLOSKEY (tennis and lacrosse) and BECKER KASH and CALEB DUNN (both cross-country) compete on their Ohio school's teams. This spring, they and several classmates were winners. Using 3-D printers, they produced face masks for hospitals, homeless shelters and dentistry practices, thereby helping to alleviate a national shortage during this coronavirus crisis.
The renowned broadcaster discusses the coronavirus shutdown, how baseball might return ... and much more: the influence of his Mets broadcasting partner, the late Bob Murphy; his late father Gerald's WWII trauma after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge; his passion for reading, to the extent that book discussions are side broadcasts to the Baltimore Orioles games he calls; and his admiration for Jackie Robinson.
CHRIS EPTING writes books on baseball history. TERRY CANNON runs two organizations devoted to preserving baseball’s characters and quirks. These Southern Californians relate stories about themselves and others who love the sport. For example, Terry's Baseball Reliquary ceremonies open with cowbells ringing in tribute to legendary fan Hilda Chester. Chris speaks about recently-deceased actor Fred Willard and their bonding over a mutual passion for visiting sites of long-gone stadiums.
BOBBY NYSTROM relives what he calls the "magical moment" on May 24, 1980, when his goal in overtime won the Stanley Cup for his Islanders, the first of their four consecutive championships. On the 40th anniversary, Nystrom discusses the play and its aftermath, such as this: He has no idea what became of his stick and the puck from that famous goal. During the coronavirus crisis, Nystrom said, he and his wife Michelle have been very careful about cleaning all groceries and take-out food they bring into their house.
CLODAGH FERRY, an Irish field hockey player, and DADI HALLDORSSON, an Icelandic soccer player, speak with me from Dublin and Rekjavik, respectively, about being far from the Burlington campus during society’s coronavirus shutdown as they stay in shape and take classes on-line. Being near their old friends but unable to get together with them “is so hard,” says Clodagh. Says Dadi: “It’s definitely been a struggle.”
Saying, "I miss our team, I miss our guys, I miss the game," GEORGE McPHEE tells me how his team and the NHL are preparing for an eventual resumption. He also discusses the club's stunning run to the Stanley Cup final in its first year; a humbling bicycle ride with his Capitals' rookie star, Alexander Ovechkin; owning a Manhattan restaurant while playing; and attending law school.
TIM MEAD tells me that cancelling this summer's induction weekend was difficult but sensible, and promises to host "a very special ceremony" in 2021. He speaks of attending the 2019 ceremony, his first as the Hall's president; being punked, early in his long career with the Angels, by Rod Carew; octogenarian/nonagenarian coach Jimmie Reese's mastery of the fungo bat; absorbing the moment of the Angels' 2002 World Series title; and putting his championship ring on other people's fingers.
BOB KENDRICK's enthusiasm for the Negro Leagues' history will leap through your speakers and into your soul. Our conversation covers this year's centennial of the leagues, their founding by Rube Foster ("one of the most influential" people in U.S. baseball history, Bob says), the museum's exhibitions, the museum's coronavirus-caused closing and more.
MARK WILF discusses the NFL draft, conducted virtually; checking in on players and other employees during the shutdown ("It's like an extended family," he said); his and players' charitable efforts now; and how his mother, a Holocaust survivor, is faring.
On the 89th birthday (May 6) of the great Willie Mays, BOB COSTAS tells me why he considers Mays "the greatest all-around baseball player I've ever seen" and about having interviewed Mays and Hank Aaron together. We also discuss Costas's trying to be helpful during this coronavirus shutdown and what leagues he thinks are likely to return to action first.
SAM NARRON, of the Washington Nationals' AA Harrisburg Senators farm club, is enjoying cooking dinners and being with his wife and young children during the coronavirus-caused shutdown. Even if the baseball season is played, he said, his pitchers "almost have to start from zero" to be ready. At least he got to attend last year's World Series and see the winning Nationals' trophy at spring training. We also discuss his joy in reaching the majors in 2004. He pitched in one game -- and that was it. Narron has no regrets.
JERRY NARRON discusses how he and his colleagues are preparing for a hoped-for 2020 season; his family's deep roots in baseball; twice falling excruciatingly short of the World Series; and memories of late Yankees teammate Thurman Munson.
Singer-keyboardist LENNY SOLOMON attends sports events wherever he performs worldwide, including in all 50 U.S. states. Australian rules football? South African rugby? British soccer? Israeli basketball? Yes, yes, yes and yes -- and plenty of American hockey, football, baseball and basketball. A sports fan of the first order, Lenny explains why the coronavirus-induced shutdown affects his fandom so deeply. He tells ample stories, too, of running on the field in two New York stadiums, shlepping by train just to watch a televised game and enjoying Rod Carew at bat. Need some joy during these crazy times? Have a listen.
STAN FISCHLER discusses the NHL's suspended season, his date with Suzanne Pleshette, watching his grandchildren play hockey in Israel pre-lockdown, his late wife Shirley's being a sports pioneer, attending triple-headers as a kid, the 1918 Spanish flu, the "disgraceful" boiled hot dogs at Ebbets Field, the NYC subway system and, for good measure, Borrah Minnevitch and His Harmonica Rascals.
MEL ANTONEN is a noted baseball reporter and analyst. He recently came down with coronavirus and is recovering well at home in Washington, D.C. Mel and I discuss his health, whether the Major League Baseball season will be played, Hall of Fame voting and politicians he's interviewed about sports.
In Part 2, CARL ERSKINE discusses Robinson, their great teams, how Erskine came to sign with the Dodgers -- twice, and his in-season neighbors in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. He speaks insightfully about a parallel involving his son Jimmy, 60, who was born with Down syndrome, and Robinson.
In Part 1, CARL ERSKINE, 93, discusses Robinson’s support for him; his childhood exposure to racial tolerance; his son, born with Down syndrome, who’s just turned 60; and how he and his wife, in their retirement community, stay in touch with their family during the coronavirus shutdown.
BILL MALLON places the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the historical context of three cancelled Olympics. He also weighs in on whether he’d attend sports events once the coronavirus crisis passes, and relates favorite moments from the Olympics — including a deeply personal one.