By Hal McCoy
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave waiting to see which NBA team makes Obi Toppin a multi-millionaire. And you have to love what Toppin said when asked if his Dayton Flyers would have won the NCAA tournament if the pandemic hadn’t intervened: “Hell, yeah.”
—It was December, 1977 and baseball’s winter meetings were in Honolulu, Hawaii. Sports editor Si Burick was scheduled to go, but something came up that he couldn’t go.
Assistant sports editor Ralph Morrow approached me and said, “How would you like to go to Hawaii?” How would I like a million dollars, tax-free?
“Si can’t go. You can take your wife, too, and spend an extra week after the meetings,” Morrow continued.
As it turned out, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And I had. Well, not died, but I did go to heaven, or at least paradise. My son, Brent, still flashes around a picture of me on Waikiki Beach wearing a black Speedo Blush.
Meanwhile, while I was on the beach shouting, “Surf’s up,” a major blizzard hit Dayton, 13 1/2 inches worth with high winds and bone-breaking temperatures. I never felt anything but a warm breeze off the Pacific Ocean.
During the meetings, I was working in the media workroom at the Sheraton Waikiki when another writer approached.
“Hey, your team (the Cincinnati Reds) just traded for Oakland A’s pitcher Vida Blue,” he said.
“For whom?” I asked.
“First base prospect Dave Revering,” he said.
“No way,” I said. “That’s the most lop-sided deal in the history of baseball.”
“No, no,” said the writer. “The Reds are also sending $1.75 million to the A’s because owner Charlie Finley needs money.”
The story checked out and I wrote it. Reds publicity director Jim Ferguson was in the process of putting together the 1978 media guide. He quickly added Blue’s bio to the guide, complete with a photo of Blue, an air-brushed Reds hat on his head.
Blue and Tom Seaver in the same rotation? That’s what it would have been.
One problem. One big problem. Blue, although his picture and bio were in the media guide along with Seaver’s, never threw a pitch for the Reds.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who hated Finley with a highly elevated passion, stepped in and said, “No deal.” His reasoning was that a team sending $1.75 million to another team was not in the best interest for competitive balance in baseball.
So Vida Blue, who turned down Finley’s request to change his first name to True (True Blue, get it?), remained with the A’s.
And Revering remained with the Reds. . .but not for long. Two months later Revering was traded, again to the A’s, this time for relief pitcher Doug Bair. While Bair was an excellent closer, he wasn’t Vida Blue.
—QUOTE: From pitcher Vida Blue: “I think I have already signed some scrap of paper for every man, woman, and child in the United States. What do they do with all those scraps of paper with my signature on it?” (One piece of paper he never signed was a contract with the Reds.)
—QUOTE: From Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley to pitcher Vida Blue during 1972 contract negotiations: “So you won 20 games? Why didn’t you win 30?)
—MLB is continuing its path toward decimating minor league baseball, with plans to eliminate at least 42 franchises. One of the teams is the Daytona Tortugas, the high-Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
The Daytona franchise is one of dozens with deep ties to the game’s history. The Tortugas play at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. That’s the site of Robinson’s first game against white professional players on March 17, 1946, when the Montreal Royals played the parent Brooklyn Dodgers, after racial threats forced Brooklyn GM Branch Rickey to move the Royals’ training camp from Sanford to Daytona Beach.
The Dayton Dragons are not on the list, but could be financially crippled by an expected mandate from MLB. Teams will be ordered to fly to all cities farther than 350 miles. There are several teams in the widespread Midwest League that exceed that limit for Dayton, which travels everywhere by bus.
Some include Cedar Rapids, Clinton and Burlington, all in Iowa, plus Beloit and Grand Chute, both in Wisconsin.
Can you imagine the logistics of getting flights from Dayton to some of those small burgs?
—Did you know that the Cincinnati Reds were the first major league team to fly? The Reds chartered an American Airlines DC-2 to travel to Chicago to face the Chicago Cubs on June 8, 1934.
It must have frightened them to near-death. They finished last that season.
—After breaking ‘The Curse of the Bambino’ with the Boston Red Sox and ‘The Billy Goat Hex’ with the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein resigned this week as Director of Baseball Operations with the Cubs.
Upon leaving, he said there would be a third chapter in his curse-hex breaking methods, after taking at least a year off.
How about ‘The Curse of Rocky Colavito” with the Cleveland Indians? The Tribe hasn’t won a World Series since 1948, the longest streak in MLB.
The Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 85 years, but with Epstein as general manager, Boston won the 2004 World Series. And added another in 2007. On to Chicago, where the Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in 108 years. They won it in 2016.
So, a 72-year drought in Cleveland should be easy.
—QUOTE: From Theo Epstein when people said pitcher Curt Schilling pulled a Willis Reed after Schilling pitched a World Series game on a bloody ankle years after Willis Reed played the final game of the 1970 NBA championship game for the New York Knicks with a torn muscle in his thigh: “Ten years from now I think people are going to say Willis Reed pulled a Curt Schilling. Willis Reed scored four points. Curt Schilling went seven innings against one of the best offenses of recent memory (St. Louis Cardinals). No offense to Willis Reed.”
—Former Reds manager Lou Piniella and his pitching coach, Stan “Steamer” Williams were huge horse racing fans and I often accompanied them to horse emporiums.
One day we were at Philadelphia Park (now Parx Racing) and after every race Williams would jump to his feet, wave a ticket, and yell, “Another winner.”
This went on for six races. After he hit the seventh race and headed for the pay window, Piniella sifted through a stack of discarded losing tickets at Steamer’s seat.
“My gosh, no wonder he is winning every race. He is betting every horse in every race to win.,” said Piniella with a shake of his head. “That’s Steamer for ya.”
Yes, Steamer won all 12 races that day and lost $186.
—QUOTE: From legendary boxing writer Bert Sugar: “If horse racing is the sport of kings, then drag racing must be the sport of queens.” (Hey, I didn’t say it. Bert Sugar did.)
—Houston Rockets gunner/guard James Harden, already making $33 million a year, turned down a two-year $103 million contract extension. He would become the NBA’s first $50 million a year player.
Why, why, why? Number one, he wants out of Houston because Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is a staunch supporter and heavy contributor to President Donald J. Trump.
Number two, Harden wants traded to the Brooklyn Nets so he can play with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t turn down $50 million a year to play with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
—QUOTE: From Houston Rockets guard James Harden: “If you have a dream, chase it no matter what it takes.” (Obviously, that dream doesn’t include $103 million over a 730-day period.)
—Some of the favorite places I’ve visited on vacations in the good ol’ US of A. Baseball trips don’t count:
1-Siesta Key (Sunsets beyond belief), 2-Asheville, N.C. (Country Kitchen for breakfast, yum-yum), 3- Temecula, Calif. (Wine here, wine there, wine everywhere), 4. Las Vegas (Hit me), 5. Cape Cod (bed and breakfast), 5 Gatlinburg, Tenn. (On the mountain, not on the tourist-trap shopping strips), 6. Outer Banks (wild horses can’t keep me away), 7. Salisbury, N.C. (I love trains), 8. New Orleans (red beans and rice. . .every day), 9. Honolulu (haven’t made it to Maui or any of the other islands). 10. Hilton Head, S.C. (Great clam chowder at every restaurant.)