2013 gone but not forgotten
When you are an octogenarian one of things you should not do is read the obituaries. If you did, it would be easy to get depressed. Every day there is certain to be someone you know, someone you have liked, someone you may have worked with, or someone you have heard about and respect.
In fact, the list of departed friends is longer than those that are left. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have always looked at the glass half-full… I still do! I revel in the enjoyment and pleasure I get from seeing new young talents grow to take their rightful place in the firmament of life.
Yes. I envy them their youth and hope they will enjoy the experiences I have had the pleasure to be a part of. I adhere to Will Rogers’s philosophy, “I only know what I read in the papers”. So, if my name ever appears among those leaving, the only thing I know is I won’t go to work that day.
To that end, I am using today’s column to pay tribute to part of my own passing parade… those people who in sports I have interfaced with and whom have touched my life in one way, or another. Please bear with me.
Where do I start? I cannot do it chronologically, so I ask your indulgence and please allow me to ramble. In sports this year, 2013, has seen a passing parade. Many names will be familiar, others you won’t know, but they all influenced me in one way, or another.
It is an impressive list and my intention as I sat down to write today’s column was to do a vignette on each and everyone. This changed last night when a friend of mine came up to me and asked did I hear about Fred?
Fred Rheinstein was my friend and a genius. Before NASCAR and Grand Prix Racing became TV staples, Fred was at the forefront in developing new techniques that set the standard for Telecasting of the future.
He built the first major independent Post-Production House in America and with great innovation taught the world how to edit on tape. Fred was a man who accepted every technical challenge. Without him and my pal Clair Higgins, the world might never have seen Ali’s last fight.
In those days there was no Satellite transmission from the Bahamas, Fred arranged to have a portable Dish brought by Ferry from Tampa, Florida. Unfortunately, the barge sank in a typhoon. Ever resourceful, Fred had a backup plan allowing the world to see the event. What it was, I never knew, but it worked.
When we created the one and only L.A. Women’s Marathon, it was Fred’s revolutionary TV Direction that allowed us to develop the video that provided the ammunition for women to have their own marathon included in the Olympics beginning with 1984. Up until then, women were only allowed to run 5000 meters. Thank you Fred for giving us so much.
He was one of a kind!
In brevity, I shall mention a few of the others who brought me pleasure in the knowledge we were together for a brief moment in time.
Back in the 70’s when Lloyd Thaxton and I created the award-winning syndicated trivia game show Pro-Fan, Todd Christensen of the then Los Angeles Raiders was a frequent guest contestant. Unlike any other athlete I ever met, when you talked to this fearsome battering ram fullback/ tight end, you imagined you were in conversation with an erudite college professor.
Johnny Kucks threw a 3-hitter for the Yankees in game 7 of the 1956 World Series. In fact, he had a 1.98 ERA in 5 World Series. He was my chum when we both played basketball for the 60th Infantry Regiment in the service. I believe if he had gone to college, he probably would have been an All-American.
Bob Kurland was the first great 7 footer in Basketball. A 3-time All-American, he never turned pro. Instead, he played for the AAU Phillips Oilers leading them to many championships. When I coached the Camp Carson team, we had many scrimmages with Oilers. Not only his talent amazed me, but also his warmth as a friend.
I knew the great Welterweight and Middleweight Champion Emille Griffith quite well. A former haberdasher, he was one of the nicest humans I ever met.
His manager Gil Clancy once told me that after the Benny “Kid” Paret fight Emille was never the same. Prior to their fight, Paret called him a homophobic name. So angered was Emille that he battered Paret into unconsciousness. 10 days later without waking up, Paret passed away.
Bill Sharman was one of Basketball’s all-time greats. I appreciated him first, as a player with the Boston Celtics where I cheered for him as a fan. Later as the coach who brought the Lakers their first Championship when I worked closely with him, I often was the recipient of his kindness and wisdom.
In 1956, as a young man working for Gillette, I was sent to St. Louis to be part of the All-Star Game promotion. There, I met future Hal-of-Famer Stan “The Man” Musial. I was a life-long Ted Williams fan, but Stan also won my vote.
He hosted all of us at his restaurant, taking time to inquire about our families and our backgrounds. He spent an entire night getting to know us. Years later when ever I would meet Stan on a few occasions, I felt he forgot my name because he would always look me in the eye and say, “What da ya say, what da ya say?”
My pal Jerry Berger who was with Budweiser for many years and got to know Stan well, explained to me that was how he greeted everyone.
A few of the others who passed this year with whom I interfaced with were Boxer Ken Norton Sr …NFL football player Pat Summeral who along with John Madden made up first CBS’s then Fox’s most formidable NFL Broadcast team…U.S. Open Golf Champion Ken Venturi, also ventured into Broadcasting as an analyst rising to the top of the profession…Deacon Jones who as a Los Angeles Ram coined the phrase “sack” and because of his success was named “The Secretary of defense.
Last, but not least is Jerry Buss. Before he even owned the Lakers, I along with Joe DeCarlo spent many a fun day and evening in his presence. Once this successful Chemist and real Estate Developer bought the L.A. Lakers from my boss Jack Kent Cooke where everyone thought has had overpaid, he took the team to new heights. He created showtime and inspired devotion from his players who rewarded him with many championships. Like the others I mentioned, he was truly unique!
That’s my personal brief list of Sports figures that said “goodbye” in 2013.
I’ll simply close by asking, “What da ya say, what da ya say?”