Laying it down...
TIM PAN ALLEY...
Since Tim McCarver is one of those special people who need no introduction, we are not going to give him one. Just turn to Person to Person and enjoy the way an elegant, swelegant baseball mind can pick its way through any mine field of explosive questions.
First, however, allow us to boast a little. We are the only publication ever to get Tim McCarver to lay down a bunt for us! Check the pictures. That's Tim laying down a sacrifice bunt for our photographer.
The place: The St. Louis Cardinals' spring camp in Florida.
Time: February 1966.
Occasion: Illustration for an article on bunting (in Scholastic Coach).
As we recall, McCarver's pivot from the waist into bunting position (without moving the legs) represented a recent departure from the squared-around bunting stance.
It definitely offered a safer way to bunt and "to conceal the intention to bunt a little longer."
Question: Why would you ask a sacrifice bunter to conceal his intention to bunt? Isn't the entire focus supposed to be on giving yourself up to advance the runner?
Whatever, our writer, Mickey McConnell, a Branch Rickey disciple, thought enough of McCarver to call him a "classic bunter." When you look at the way Tim chokes up on the bat and places it into perfect position in front of the plate, "classic" seems to be the right word.
Nowadays, Tim performs all his classicism behind a mike.
PIE WEE-SO BIG...
Nothing was to symbolize sport more in the late 1940's than the keystone combination of the major league baseball team in Brooklyn, USA.
On the shortstop side, Pee Wee Reese, princely Southern gentleman. On the second-base side, Jackie Robinson, baseball's first black man, then in the process of integrating professional baseball.
Every day was an adventure, and it all came to a climax one Sunday afternoon on the road when the bigots in the stands joined the bigots in the field in a vicious verbal assault on the second baseman. It was like the firing on Fort Sumter. War seemed inevitable.
It was Pee Wee Reese who, with one simple gesture, diffused the fireworks. He crossed over to the second-base side, put his arm around Jackie's shoulder, and sent a message loud and clear to every fan in the ballpark: Jackie Robinson is my teammate, just like everyone else on the team.
More symbolically, he was telling everyone that Pee Wee Reese, captain of the team and Southern gentleman, and Jackie Robinson, descendent of slaves, were brothers joined in the same venture - winning baseball games.
While Pee Wee's gesture didn't end the conflict, it ended the nonsense for the day and marked another small step forward in the history of mankind.
By the time Robinson played his last game in 1956, the battle had been won.
By the time he died in 1972, he had been elected to the Hall of Fame.
By the time baseball entered the new millennium, Jackie Robinson had become a revered hero in America's social revolution.
Pee Wee Reese remained one of the most respected figures in baseball. When he died last August, Rachael Robinson, Jackie's widow, came to the funeral and was tearfully embraced by Pee Wee's wife, and they mourned together.
It always astonished us. How good people with good hearts, noble intentions, and courage somehow change the world around them for the better.
Allow us to quote from a letter from a friend and long-time contributor, Jack Stallings, recently retired legendary college baseball coach:
"It is difficult for me to believe that Pee Wee is gone. He was one of the all-time greats, as a ballplayer and as a person.
"As a high school senior, I went to Brooklyn in September of 1949 for a try-out with the Dodgers, and since I was a middle infielder Pee Wee and Jackie Robinson took an interest in me, gave me some tips on infield play and helped make me feel comfortable.
"Over the years, especially when he was with Louisville Slugger, I had an opportunity to meet with Pee Wee on many occasions and he was always 'the perfect gentleman' (a phrase that seems to fit him like a glove) to me and to everyone else.
"It is sad that so many people in baseball today have failed to understand, as Pee Wee did, the obligations they have to the game, to the fans, and to the kids. He was a very special person and will forever be missed."
"PURE" BUT NOT SIMPLE...
There probably never has been a basketball coach as brilliant as John Wooden. If you wanted to call him the greatest coach in all of sport, we wouldn't give you an argument.
But we do have a problem with his latest observation. We all know that he is a purist on offense. He believes heart and soul in the pure five-man game with its sharp passing, cutting, and cleverly designed screens, with minimum physicality and no exhibitionism.
That's the game he was taught, that's the game he coached - and that's the reason he has fallen in love with the women's game. It most resembles the game he taught and still lives by.
So far, so good. It's when he claims that this game is sounder and more appealing than the NBA brand that we have to take issue with him.
Maybe the pro game is too physical, too showy, and too one-on-one oriented. But it is understandable. First, the pros are playing on a standard-sized court that they outgrew a generation ago.
They are bigger, stronger, quicker, and more talented than any group of players before them, and there is no way they can play the game without a lot of physicality.
Second, what is the point of playing a neatly choreographed five-man offense when you have five guys who can score in a heart-beat with a single move? Why throw 10 passes and run around six screens for the same kind of shot?
Of course we are simplifying, but you cannot knock this kind of game when you have the athletes who can play it so beautifully and excitingly, and the fans who respond to it in such overwhelming numbers?
It's the kind of game you are going to see in the WNBA as soon as the women master the great one-on-one moves. Then watch how attendance rises, ticket prices soar, and everyone goes out on strike for more gender equality in the seven-figure salary scale.
Like everyone else who has spent much of his life watching extraordinary athletes doing extraordinary things, we never stop wondering about the well-spring of awesome athleticism.
Yes, we know all about genetics, environment, and the new training modalities. But every time you see a Michael Jordan, you have to believe that only God can make a tree or a Michael Jordan.
But than you learn about super athletes like Yogi Berra, Hank Greenberg, and maybe Mark McGwire and you realize that super athletes can also be self-made phenomena.
We don't profess to have any special prescience or scientific insight. But we do know some very special people who know all about the human body and how to get the most out of it.
Dan Riley, the curator of our Power Line, is one of them. A world-class strength and conditioning coach with the Washington Redskins, Dan is a prodigious student of his craft. He reads everything, researches everything, and relentlessly pursues anyone with a fresh idea on how to improve the human condition.
From Dan, we have acquired an intriguing insight into the miracle of super athleticism. If we understand him correctly, four signal characteristics go into the making of super athletes:
1. Genetics - being born with the right kind of body and the right kind of growth potential for the sport.
2. Environment - being brought up in an area that is sharply focused on a specific sport - to which young people will naturally gravitate.
3. Opportunity - being able to play the sport with good athletes, good facilities, and good coaching.
4. Attitude - bringing a great personal attitude to the sport: a strong work ethic, coachability, competitiveness, and team orientation.
How could a Michael Jordan fit into this mold?
Jordan was brought up in a basketball milieu and had the right kind of physical gifts for his sport, plus the environment and opportunity.
If he had been born in an impoverished area where, say, boxing was the way out for disadvantaged kids, he might have become a Muhammad Ali rather than Michael Jordan.
If he had been born in California or various parts of Florida, he might have become a Pete Sampras or Tiger Woods or a first-round quarterback.
If he had stopped growing at 5-8 rather than 6-6, he might have become an outstanding jockey or a lightweight boxer, but never a Michael Jordan. Fortunately (for the Bulls and the NBA), he possessed all of the four prerequisites for greatness. He was a tremendous physical specimen, perfect for basketball.
The facilities were there, plus good athletes and coaches; and he brought a perfect work ethic, coachability, and team orientation to his chosen sport.
His high school cheered. His college exulted, and Chicago and the NBA thanked God for the miracle bestowed upon them.
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|Author:||Masin, Herman L.|
|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1999|
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