OBSERVATIONS: I Beg To Differ With Red Smith

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, waiting for the Micigan-Washington national championship football game, expecting Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to display why he should have won the Heisman Trophy.

—SEEING RED: Former New York Times columnist Red Smith is one of an elite few sports scribes to win a Pulitzer Prize. His work was erudite and he used words that sent college professors scrambling for a dictionary.

And he despised basketball, as recounted in a collection of his columns by Daniel Okrent: ‘America’s Pastimes, The Very Best of Red Smith.’

He once wrote in a column after covering a Rhode Island State-Bowling Green NIT game, “This is written by one who would rather drink a Bronx cocktail than speak well of basketball.”

Yet the column was brilliant. And a Bronx cocktail is gin served straight up without ice and can raise the dead.

I do not share his opinion of basketball. I love the game. But not only have I not won a Pulitzer Prize, I’ve never been in the running for a Wurlitzer Prize.

For us basketball junkies, there is a dribblefest this weekend that is enough to make one see dunks in your sleep. It is the 21st version of Eric Horstman’s Flyin’ To The Hoop — 19 games involving 33 prep teams.

It begins Friday at Trent Arena in Kettering Fairmont High School and runs through Monday. Elite teams from seven states are involved — three defending state champions, 10 of the top 20 teams in Ohio, three pre-season top nationally-ranked teams, six 5-star prospects and 20 4-star players.

Fans not only can see future Division I stars, but celebrity coaches from all over the country sit in the stands scouting prospects.

Over the previous 20 Flyin’ To The Hoops, 99 players have made it to the NBA, including four No. 1 draft picks.

As basketball hoopla goes, this event is a swish-a-la-palooza.

—IF THE SHOE FITS: When Mickey Mantle was 19, fresh out of Commerce, OK, in 1951, he reported to his first spring training camp and New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel said facetiously, “It’s the first time the kid ever saw concrete.”

Then Mantle tore it up in 30 spring training games: .402, nine homers, 30 RBI. . .and made the team.

On Opening Day, Stengel noticed that one sole on Mantle’s baseball spikes was loose and flapping. “Don’t you have another pair of shoes?” he asked.

“I have a new pair in my locker, but they’re too big,” said Mantle.

Playing with the sole flapping, Mantle broke his bat on a ground ball on his first at bat. He went 0-for-2 before his third at bat. Because some guy named Joe DiMaggio was playing center field, Mantle was in right field.

Before his third at bat, DiMaggio stopped Mantle at the on-deck circle and whispered in his ear. Mantle singled, the first of 2,415 MLB hits. Then he scored, the first of 1,676 MLB runs.

Those shoes should be in the Hall of Fame, but at the time who knew?

—QUOTE: From Mickey Mantle: “Damn, to think you are a .300 hitter and you end up at .237 in your last season, then find yourself looking at a lifetime .298 average. It makes me want to cry.” (And he cried all the way to Cooperstown.)

—JOLTIN’ JOE: Speaking of Joe DiMaggio, 1951 was his last season and my great friend Andy Furman sent me a facsimile of the Brookly Daily Eagle from the day he announced he had made his last great catch, last great throw and poked his last single or home run.

He played only 13 years and was just 37 when he retired and said, “Injuries were the big factor in my decision, my shoulder and my knee. It has been agony for me go to go to the ballpark.

“I think I would have lasted a couple of years longer if it hadn’t been for night ball,” he said. “Not getting to bed until 2 o’clock, it was the seventh inning the next day before I could get my eyes open.”

Wonder if his wife, Marilyn Monroe, had anything to do with ‘sleepless’ nights?

—QUOTE II: From Joe DiMaggio on high salaries after he retired: “If I was sitting down with George Steinbrenner (former Yankees owner) and based on what Dave Winfield got for his statistics, I’d have to say, ‘George, you and I are about to become partners.’”

—THE WRIGHT WAY: It appears Wright State’s basketball team has plugged the holes in the bottom of the boat.

First of all, how many teams win a game when the opposition has three players who scored 26, 24 and 23 points?

That’s the way it was Saturday afternoon. WSU overcame that trio’s point barrage to whip Purdue Fort Wayne, 106-94. And that wasn’t in triple overtime. It was the regulation 40 minutes of score ‘em up basketball.

The Raider have beaten two good Horizon League teams back-to-back, Cleveland State and PFW. Purdue Fort Wayne was the league-leader at 4-0 and was 8-0 at home in the Alllen County War Memorial Coliseum.

It was the Raiders first road win of the season and they shot 66 % from the field and were unselfish with 22 assists on their 38 baskets.

WSU had four in double figures — Tanner Holden 26 (6 assists), Alex Huibregtse 21 (9 rebounds and 6 assists to go with his unpronuncable last name), Brandon Noel 13 and Andrew Welage 15 off the bench.

Coach Scott Nagy’s response was, “I hate to have to outscore people, but I’ll take it.” That’s probably because too often his Raiders treat defense as something sordid and unclean.

—ONCE IT WAS ‘THE GAME’: Bill Gunlock, a local business icon and a Miami University benefactor, passed away last week. He was 94.

When they line up nice guys, Gunlock stood at the front. He was my table companion every Monday at Dayton Agonis Club luncheons. He regaled us with stories of his coaching stops at Heidelberg, Bowling Green, Ohio State and the U.S. Military Academy, where he was defensive co-ordinator on the undefeated 1958 Army team.

In only 10 years of coaching as a defensive guru, his teams at Bowling Green, Ohio State and Army all had winning seasons.

At Ohio State, head coach Woody Hayes kept his nose out of Gunlocks,’ defensive busisness. Said Gunlock at one of the luncheons, “Before a game, at our last practice, Woody would come up to me and say, ‘Are we ready?’ I’d say, ‘Yes,’ and Woody would go back to the other end of the field, back to his beloved offense.”

The annual Army-Navy football game these days is nothing more than a wonderful pageant. The football teams are irrelevant on a national scope.

It wasn’t always that way. For a long time both were national powers and the game was The Game.

There was the 1948 game. Army was undefeated and Navy had lost 13 straight. Final score: Army 21, Navy 21.

It was Army’s revenge for the 1944 game. Army 59, Navy 0. Navy completed 15 passes, eight to Army defenders.

—PLAYLIST NO. 7: I have no words for this playlist because they are all some of my favorite instrumentals:

Rebel Rouser (Duane Eddy), Walk, Don’t Run (The Ventures), Classical Gas (Mason Williams), Telstar (The Tornados), Narco (Timmy Trumpet), Wipeout (The Safaris), Songbird (Kenny G), Feels So Good (Chuck Mangione).

Tusk (USC Band), Rumble (Link Wray).Green Onions (Booker T & The MGs), Honky Tonk, Part 1 & 2, (Bill Doggett), Tequila (The Champs), Jessica (The Allman Brothers).

***Did you know that Elvis Presley’s first recording was in 1953? He walked into Sun Records, paid $3.96 to make a record, ’My Happiness.’ And if you listen to it, it wasn’t very good. But I believe he overcame it.

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