US athlete today play on the largest stages man has ever seen. Michael Jordan's probably the most famous person alive. Adored by billions, extra-ordinarily fast and dexterous, trained in their particular sport since their pre-teens… they sometime have, despite all that other, interesting off-field character.
Alex Webster – retired NFL Giants half back - was tip toeing into his house at 6 AM one Saturday morning when his wife appeared.
"It's not what you think," he said quickly. "I went out last night, that true. But I, ha, came in around 2 this morning and the moon was out and the stars, so I laid down in the hammock in the front and must have fallen asleep. Just woke up and I'm coming inside now."
His wife put her hands on her hips and said, "Well that's pretty good, but I took that hammock down two weeks ago."
Webster thought a moment and said, "Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it."
A radio announcer engaged NY Yankee coach Yogi Berra to help in a pregame broadcast. “We’re going to do something called free association, Yogi. I mention a name -- and you just say the first thing that pops into your head! Okay?”
They went on the air and the announcer said, “I’ll mention a name and Yogi is going to say the first thing that comes into his mind. That’s all there is to it... Ready, Yogi?”
“Okay. Here goes: Mickey Mantle!”
Yogi asked, “What about him?”
A young boy stands with a baseball bat on his shoulder and a baseball in his other hand and says, “I am the best baseball player in the world. I am the best baseball player in the world.”
He is a skinny, but determined 14 year old.
Over and over: “I am the greatest baseball player in the world. I am the best in the world.”
And then he throws the ball up in the air and he grabs the bat with both hands and he swings with all his might and he misses.
The ball lands on the ground. “Strike one,” he says.
He picks it up, looks at it hard and starts all over again, “I am the best baseball player in the world. I am the best baseball player in the world.”
And he threw the ball up in the air and he takes another mighty, ‘though awkward, swing.
He misses again and the ball lands on the ground. Again he picks it up and takes a deep breath, looks at the ball hard and starts all over again, “I am the greatest baseball player in the world. I am the greatest baseball player in the world.”
And he throws the ball up in the air and he grabs the bat with both hands and he takes a mighty swing.
He misses. Again. And the ball lands near his feet.
The boy looks down and says under his breath, “Strike three. Strike three.”
And he reaches down and picks up the ball and holds it in his hand a moment, smiles and says, “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world. The best pitcher in the world.”
New England Patriot lineman, on the road for a pre-season game, puts a stand up lamp in his bed in an effort to beat bed check. Under the covers, the base of the lamp passed as feet, a couple of pillows along the stem passed as the pro player’s bulky body and the lamp shade, slightly covered with a pillow, passed for his head.
The young pro got it all set up and tippy-toed out of the hotel. Midnight an assistant coach, making bed check, opened the guy’s room and switched on the lights.
Lamp came on.
Back before they had radar guns to gauge the speed of pitches, an average size Pollock kid from the coal mine country of Pennsylvania named Steve Dalkowski broke into semi-pro ball as a pitcher.
According to everyone who saw him, this guy could throw faster than anyone had thrown a baseball before. Probably faster than a 100 miles an hour. Faster than anyone in organized ball could hit.
Problem was, he had no control. High, low, outside and inside… yes, indeedy, inside.
Sometime well inside. 100 miles an hour. Plus.
In professional baseball, he became something of a story. One thing, he wasn’t too bright. In the Baltimore organization, Paul Richards administered an intelligence test to all his players. Dalkowski tested out borderline mentally retarded.
Two, he had a drinking problem, often getting smashed the night before he pitched. Once, when he was stopped for drunk driving, he backed a car he had borrowed into a police car – wrecking both.
But that fast ball was something. Ted Williams sought him out to see for himself and set up a private session. Williams watched Dalkowski throw a couple of warm up pitches, then taking a bat, he walked into the cage, and toed the box. He looked up and nodded to the young pitcher to deliver his fast ball to the best hitting man in organized ball. Dalkowski nodded, reared back and fired.
Ted Williams never took the bat off his shoulder. People standing by said they saw the baseball in the Pollock’s hand, then he went through his pitch and there was a loud bang, and the ball suddenly appeared in the catcher’s mitt.
Willaims looked back at the ball, and out to Dalkowski, who was squinting, in sort of the stupid way he had about him, and Ted Willaims stepped out of the box and didn’t take another pitch.
Another time, Dalkowski misread his catcher’s sign for a curve, and threw the fastball instead. The catcher missed the pitch entirely, and it struck home plate umpire Doug Harvey flush in the mask, breaking it in three places, knocking Harvey back several feet and requiring him to be hospitalized for three days with a severe concussion.
They tried everything to help improve his control. They went so far as to build a wood frame, like a window opening, which represented the strike zone. Within a few pitches he shattered it. Built another. Shattered that one too, in a matter of a few 100-mile-an-hour-outside-the-strike-zone pitches. Another wood frame, more firewood.
The young Dalkowski never learned control. Never really made the big leagues. Eventually left organized ball.
But imagine those young men from opposing minor league teams who had go stand in a batter’s box and face that dumb, often hung-over wildman… knowing they were going to get 100 miles an hour fast balls thrown in their general direction… exact route unknown.
They said some stood there shaking, faces scrunched up, praying to God… peeing in their pants, some of them.
Tony Hennessy was the largest individual I had ever known.
Standing in the door to my dorm room at the University of North Carolina in 1961 he would block out the light. And the sound. He was on a football scholarship; played the right side of the Carolina line on the football team. Seemed to have about nine words of English at his immediate command. If more words were needed, he’d pause and think.
Playing poker with normal size people, like myself, he would cheat and we never would challenge him. The bet would be, maybe, forty cents to him and he’d put in a dime and we say that’s good, Tony. Sometime he’d reach for a pot after the cards had been laid down and pull it in front of him, whether he won or not. Usually we’d discuss this with him and sometime if he clearly had not won – say he had folded – then he’d give us the money back. If he had been drinking, he would not. He often drank and sometime when he came in from a night of drinking, he’d want to play cards and he’d wake us up. We were like his private playmates.
One Saturday afternoon we were called to his room to play cards. Warm beer was the drink of choice because it was the only liquid in the room. Shortly after eight that night Tony decided he wanted some hard liquor. Someone had a car, Tony knew that I had a doctored I.D. that I had picked up from my summer job at Myrtle Beach, so he sent me out with his money to buy a large bottle. He especially wanted a large bottle because he needed booze for the next day.
Now I do not mean to suggest that I was this large person’s lackey. That he could, out of hand, tell me to come play poker and then later tell me to stop playing poker and go out and get his liquor for him. I told him to go get his own damn liquor. Well not in those words.
I’ll be honest with you. I told him it was a good idea for me to be the one to go get the booze, because he was busy and I was not. Like I said Tony had intimidating size and bluntness. This does not faze some people. It does me.
I returned with his large bottle of liquor around nine thirty. The liquor store closed at nine. Tony used one of the nine words he knew thanking me when I came walking back into his room, by saying “Un.” He kept his eye on the liquor bottle in my hand as I went over to his desk and started to take my wind breaker off. For some reason, maybe it was the phase of the moon, I sat that bottle on the edge of the desk, half on, half off. Tony yelled. I tried to re-grab the bottle. My hand was tied up in the windbreaker I was taking off and I pushed the bottle off the desk. And it crashed and broke on the floor.
I ran out of the room, just pass that lunging three hundred pound individual, out the dorm and hid in the bushes by the tennis court. Tony came outside, bellowing, pawing the ground. It sounded like he was turning cars over, knocking trees aside as he looked for me. I thumbed home for the week end.
That’s mostly a true story.