RIP
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By In RIP

Dean Smith

I was 21 years old the first time I talked to Dean Smith. It was like talking with royalty. I was almost 40 the last time I talked with Dean Smith. He remembered our first conversation.

Here’s something I wrote about Dean Smith five years ago. More to come, of course.

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By In Golf, RIP

Billy Casper’s Last Masters

Ten years ago, Billy Casper stalked his putt on the last green at Augusta National, a tricky five footer for double bogey, and the putt meant nothing while meaning everything. In the gallery was Shirley, his wife of more than a half century. In the gallery were 17 other Casper family members — some of his 11 children, some of his many grandchildren (when he died Saturday at age 83, there would be 71 grandchildren), some of his friends. They were there to see Billy Casper’s last Masters.

There were also reporters there, almost 100 reporters. I was one of them, and to be painfully honest we were not there to cover Billy Casper’s last Masters. We were there because Casper needed that last putt to score 106, the worst score ever recorded during the Masters, a score so high that many of the reporters (not me) could have beaten it.

Billy Casper never did get his due. In the 1960s, golf was dominated by what was then called the Big Three — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — but for a time, Casper was better than all of them. For three years, from 1968-1970, Casper won more tournaments than Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. Combined. He was a genius with the putter. In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic, he trailed Arnold Palmer by seven shots with nine holes to go. He tied the score with combination of brilliant play (he shot three-under on the back nine) and Palmer’s collapse (Arnie shot four over). Casper then beat the King in a playoff.
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By In RIP

Charlie Sifford

Charlie Sifford passed away on Tuesday, and I was reminded that Sifford was the topic of the only column (I think) that I’ve ever had spiked. I don’t bring this up to rehash old memories or embarrass any of the people involved (including myself) but instead to make a point about Charlie Sifford and what he faced in his life both as a golfer and a man.

I was the columnist at the Augusta Chronicle in the early 1990s, and it’s fair to say that in those days the newspaper was hypersensitive to the feelings of Augusta National. I wouldn’t say the paper was in the club’s hip pocket; the Chronicle reported all sorts of Augusta National stories, positive and negative and controversial. But, there was a very real sensitivity, especially to questions of race. In 1992, Charlie Sifford wrote a book called “Just Let Me Play.” I had just started as columnist at the paper. I thought it would be a good idea to talk to Sifford.

You might know Sifford’s story: He began golfing at the time he began caddying, age 13. He came of age in the 1950s, in the years of Rosa Parks and Brown vs. Board of Education, just after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. In golf, like in baseball, African Americans had created their own tournaments, their own circuit, and Sifford was a star. It was clear to anyone watching — just as it was clear for Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and others before Robinson — that Sifford could compete with the best white golfers in the world.

But he could not get into the PGA tournaments. Unlike in baseball, where there were unwritten rules, the PGA had a caucasians-only clause in its constitution.
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By In RIP

Ernie Banks

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By In RIP

Red Klotz

Red Klotz died Saturday. He was 93 years old. He lost more games than anyone in basketball history, and he won also more hearts along the way than anyone in basketball history. He had his pants pulled down, he was drenched by buckets of water, he fruitlessly chased basketballs through intricate dance routines. He sank more long jumpers, I’ll bet, than anyone who ever lived.

The last time I saw him, at his home by the water in Margate, New Jersey, he and his lovely wife Gloria asked me to come back again and, next time, bring my children. “This is a home for children,” he said. I kept meaning to go back.

This was the story I wrote about the man who lost more, and in the process won more, than anyone I’ve known in sports.
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By In Baseball, RIP

Tom Veryzer

When I was a kid, the Cleveland Indians ALWAYS won when we went to the ballpark. No, really, always. I don’t remember how many years the magical stretch lasted or how many games it involved, but it seemed pretty remarkable at the time. My Dad favored doubleheaders because my parents have always liked bargains — double-coupon days, buffets, doubleheaders, bat days, refunds, cap days, jacket days, etc. I know we went to at least five consecutive doubleheaders where the Indians swept. I know it.

Well, I don’t “know it.” But I believe it. I went back nervously to Baseball Reference because it seems unlikely that the Indians even swept that many doubleheaders. But it’s easy to forget: Teams played A LOT of doubleheaders in the mid-70s. it turns out the Indians swept 18 home doubleheaders in my childhood years, including two against the Yankees. I remember being at both of those. My childhood delusions live on!

In any case, by 1978 I know our family winning streak was very much a part of our baseball experience. And I vividly remember a Friday night in July, on the way to the ballpark, we talked confidently about how the Indians HAD to win because we were coming. It was July 7, I now know, and I’m pretty sure it was my first night game. My Dad was not much for night games (no bargains there). We only went that night because of a promise. He had taken my brother David and me to the July 4th game against Baltimore*, only we never got there. We got started late, and we got caught up awful traffic, and my Dad couldn’t find a parking spot (the crowd of 36,000 or so seemed like a million). At some point, in frustration, he begged us kids to just go bowling. In return, he promised to take us to the Friday night game. So we went bowling. It was just as well: The Indians lost, further confirming our belief that we were blessed.

*We had gone to the Independence Day game in 1977 (July 3rd against the Royals — a 6-3 victory!) and my Dad liked the bargain of fireworks after the game. It wasn’t QUITE the bargain of a doubleheader or bat day, but it was close.
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By In Football, RIP

Chuck Noll

Most coaches coach. That’s obvious, I guess. Their success and failure depends on coaching stuff — how they strategize, how they organize, how they accumulate talent, how well they teach and so on. Their jobs come down to their words and their plans and their decisions. That seems so self-evident that it feels silly to even bring it up.

Except for this: For some, success and failure doesn’t come down to such things. Most coaches coach. Some coaches, though — a rare few — just ARE. They aren’t triumphant for their gameplans or preparations or their communication skills. Their success radiates from the person they are.

Chuck Noll was just such a coach.
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By In Baseball, RIP

Don Zimmer

Some years ago, on a yellow and muggy afternoon in Baltimore, I considered Don Zimmer. Batting practice rushed around us, that peculiar bit of baseball chaos — ground balls skittering along the grass, throws floating across the infield, a coach behind the L-shaped fence pitching baseballs to men in a cage, outfielders lazily chasing after fly balls and then returning to their conversations. It was a scene I had seen hundreds of times. But it was a scene Don Zimmer had seen ten thousand times. He sat on the top row of the bench across the dugout from me, and he chewed whatever he was chewing. He stared out into the sun and regarded batting practice like it was the first time he’d seen either.

What is it about men like Zim … men who love baseball so much that you might expect to find in them, like inside the great horse Secretariat, hearts almost twice the average size? You see them around all around the game. They write lineup cards in Augusta and take tickets in Springfield and mow the outfield grass in Toledo. They drive the Florida backroads looking for young talent and they sit in cramped Iowa City press boxes and they keep immaculate scorebooks for American Legion ball in Sacramento.
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By In Baseball, RIP

Ralph Kiner

SOCHI — There are countless Mets fans who probably have no idea just how good a hitter Ralph Kiner was in his prime. In a way, there can be no greater tribute. Ralph Kiner died on Thursday. He was 91 years old. He was a broadcaster for the New York Mets for 53 years. And he rarely let on that there was a time when he was one of the great sluggers in the history of baseball.

Kiner lived two lives, which is one more than most of us get to live. He got to be the great ballplayer who drove Cadillacs because, as he is often quoted saying, “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords.” And he got to be a broadcaster who was so beloved that this malapropisms were not only endured but celebrated.

“On Father’s Day,” he said, “we wish you all a happy birthday!”

Funny, I remember listening that day and I recall him saying, “It’s Father’s Day, so to you all you father’s out there, happy birthday!” The point’s the same. Ralph Kiner’s mistakes as a broadcaster made him more delightful, not less.

“That’s the great thing about baseball,” he said. “You never know what’s going on.”
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By In Baseball, RIP

Jerry Coleman

Calvin Trillin has written on more than one occasion that the best hamburger in the entire world is broiled and served at Winstead’s in Kansas City, and he insisted that his evaluation had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he grew up in Kansas City.

I agree with him. Winstead’s (Steakburgers since 1940!) does make the best hamburger in the world. And this viewpoint has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I lived most of my adult like in Kansas City. Really.

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