I was in the 11th grade at Ganesha High School and while in Mrs. Anderson’s Spanish class I met James R. Bell. I know he passed the class………I can’t remember my grade??? LOL. Anyway we have been friends since and as you can imagine he is part of our broader family. During the years we have been fortunate to make many historic treks. Recently he joined Judith and myself as we made the journey to San Jose to see remnants of “speed city” and the Olympic Black Power statue which is on the campus of San Jose State University. Of course Tommie Smith and John Carlos made history in 1968 and it was heartfelt to see them bronzed in the statue funded by students.
As a early teen I was watching the 1964 Olympics. They were in black and white. The finals of the 4×100 men’s relay was about to start. As the starting gun sounded the sprinters took off and somehow the favored U.S. team was in trouble and appeared to be headed to defeat. As anchor Bob Hayes took the baton he tracked down all runners ahead of him and miraculously the Russian sprinter who surely thought he would be the first to touch the victory tape was stunned to see this ebony image zip past him. It was a historic leg of the relay race that has to go in history as a legendary comeback. Hayes was known as “Bullet” Bob Hayes and from that race earned the distinction of the fastest human. I was mesmerized.
In 1968 my track and field appreciation had matured so at 16 I had an understanding of the Olympic games as well as the anticipated boycott. The rest is history as while the men’s 200mm victory stand celebration exploded around the globe, all three runners sacrificed something very few could imagine. Their story is an important part of history. The Triumph and the Victory.
In 2005 San Jose State University supported to students who funded the status symbolizing the victory stand. There are several statues of this moment but the “Olympic Black Power Statue” is special as this was the campus Tommie Smith and John Carlos attended. The track team was known for its prowess everyone knew it as “speed city.”
During my stint at the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee it gave me great joy to see Peter Uberroth extend a hand to recognize the greatness of people like Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they too were appointed as staffers. I didn’t have a relationship with Tommie Smith as management of the games were all over the city. However, I did have a relationship with John as he visited my office at Expo Park and our subsequent office at Manual Arts. We attended several community events together and of course he brought his torch from the opening torch relay. It was magic.
Ricardo Gouvela aka “Rigo 23” did an amazing job in creating the statue. I was surprised at its height as well as the attention to detail.
If you have never visited the site, I would encourage you to do so.
To gain more information on this history
There is much more so just do a Google search of items you feel have legitimate authorship
Today is Jackie Robinson Day. All players, field personnel and umpires from ALL THIRTY Major League Baseball teams will have the honor of wearing Jack’s #42 jersey. For those who have a bye today, they have been granted permission to celebrate their game tomorrow. The Los Angeles Dodgers will be hosting the Colorado Rockies at the Ravine. Adhering to Covid-19 protocols there will be approximately 19,000 (28%) fans in attendance.
October 16, 1968 is well over 50 years ago. Tommie Smith captured gold while setting a world record in the men’s 200 meters final with a time of 19.83 at the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City. Worldwide 1968 was an iconic year.
At the time Smith’s gesture was seen as one of the worse sins a person could make. That is based on the perspective of Olympic officials and many who were in denial of world-wide social unrest, particularly right in the United States. It took years and for some over a half-century to understand and finally recognize the importance of the gesture made by Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman in accepting their medals.
“With Drawn Arms” came out in 2020. It was a great piece produced by Glenn Kaino. It is noted in the documentary that Olympic athletes are usually featured on the Wheaties Box. Unfortunately Smith was passed up. It took over 50 years as someone from Wheaties must have been paying attention or perhaps it was nudging by Kaino but the box recently came out. I was in Panama in December 2020 and received an email from Wheaties that the commemorative box would be produced and advance orders were being taken. The production is outstanding and three months later my box arrived today. By the way, it was even full of Wheaties!!!! Either way, as an Olympic aficionado, particularly the ’68 games I am honored to add the box to my Olympic memorabilia.
Professional Sports is a huge business. Major League Baseball (MLB) is near the top of the heap when it comes to money-makers. Yet, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp may have positioned himself for the 2021 “Bonehead of the Year” award when he agreed and signed into law the hat trick created by state legislators and voting officials in the disguise of voter protection. Senate bill 202 professes to be a bill designed to correct flaws in the voting system.
On surface just about everybody agrees there is nothing wrong with correcting something that is flawed. The problem is during the recent 2020 general election Kemp and voting officials all agreed there were no issues on the voting process. Sure, there may have been some minor adjustments needed but none rising to the level of needing a new law?
They vehemently protested when the sly Donald J. Trump started his charade of irregularities. To boot, the courts threw out or ruled against the numerous cases by Trump and his allies that something was amiss. Kemp, the legislators and voting officials apparently misunderstood who Trump was.
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Abraham Lincoln
Trump built a career on hustling (taking advantage of people) and adopting gangster-like moves way before he decided to run for the presidency. The problem is many people did not know who he was and felt, “how bad could it possibly be?” His moves did not change. He merely brought the same style during his term as president. As hustlers do, once the race for the 2020 presidency heated up, he went into action. He threw out all sorts of insinuations and ridiculous banter to cloud the issue of fairness. This was done as a type of insurance policy as surely, he wanted to win but just in case he was on the losing end, he would have created some protection or justification that he was somehow harmed.
Even though I haven’t forgotten once the 1996 Olympics was over, the stadium was supposed to be named after famed slugger – Henry Aaron. Instead, ego or some other calamity overcame team owner Ted Turner and he named the stadium “Turner Field.” To add insult to injury less than twenty years later officials agreed the stadium needed to be moved and relocated to a more favorable part of Georgia which offered easier access to their predominate fan base. Nothing is wrong with that – business is business, although I’m still not convinced something nefarious occurred because they left the “hood” for greener pastures. Truist (SunTrust) stadium is in Cobb county and actually not that far from the old location. It’s a great venue with all of the modern amenities needed to attract a wider swath of fans who might like baseball but really appreciate the developments that have restaurants, bars that add to the fan experience. Plus, the stadium features a great plaque and memorial to Aaron.
Everybody seems to want to chime in on this issue. Your political perspective pretty much dictates your opinion. As a matter of fact, those who embrace a conservative ideology such as writers David Harsanyi and Jeff Greenfield have penned recent articles stating moving the games from Georgia is a mistake. Worse, they point out MLB has been tricked or bullied by those with a “left-wing” ideology! What? They point to Colorado having some voting guidelines which some might consider suppressive. What they fail to realize is unlike Georgia they did not change laws after swearing everything was alright. So, what they try and communicate to their readers is what some might call a “red-herring.”
There are thirty MLB teams and each one thirst at the opportunity to host the All-Star game. When they selected Truist to host the 2021 event it was a no-brainer as it was fit to be a great host. Then came the darn 2020 general election which included voting for president. By normal standards the election wasn’t even close. It was just a matter of counting all of the ballots. Lo and behold Joe Biden snakebit Trump for the presidency and the cous de gras was Joe Ossoff and Rafael Warnock turned everything upside down by capturing the two Senate seats. Immediately after professing everything was copasetic, someone must have tinkered with the legislators and Kemp’s water? They immediately went to work and inadvertently bought into Trump’s malarky (Biden) and other’s that the voting system was indeed flawed.
Perhaps, it is like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell waking up and realizing it has been the donations from major corporations which fueled his ascent to power? MLB surely woke up. They realized the new law was a ruse where you give one but take two or three or however you define it, the outcome is to make voting more difficult for a certain part of the electorate. By another definition that is called voter suppression. Most will confess, in political races you don’t need to win by a zillion. A couple here, a couple there and even though it may be a close race, victory can be had. Many corporations sided with MLB and promptly issued their public outcry that the new bill was a solution looking for a problem.
Poor Jared Polis who is the Governor of Colorado was minding his own business. I mean it is April and Christmas has long passed and won’t return for a couple of months. His state was already on MLB’s roster to host an upcoming All-Star game. However, since Kemp couldn’t muster up the courage to maintain his position that Georgia’s recent election was in order, he kowtowed to those like Trump and other malcontents and the result is his gift to Polis.
MLB quickly ratified the move and the rest is history as Georgia is left wandering like Rip Van Winkle felt once he awakened. “What the hell just happened????” And to add insult to injury Kemp’s move forced MLB to demand Atlanta Braves players cover over any and all All-Star logos.
Postscript – I originally did a Facebook post referencing the passing of Elgin Baylor. I removed it after receiving a notice from one of my Sintown homies, Vince Wisniewski and decided to expand the post to an actual article. That is how special Elgin Baylor was to us who grew up in his playing era.
Growing up in the era when Elgin Baylor joined the Lakers brought many great memories of Vince and those friends from Sintown who went to Ganesha High School. At the time Sintown was a basic bedroom community in Pomona. Ganesha was built in the late ’50’s. It was an interesting time for our country. People were moving around looking for a place to raise their family. In Sintown you had your close friends but you knew just about everyone. Like so many communities White Flight was happening right before our eyes yet it didn’t matter to the Whites or Hispanic’s who stayed because they appreciated the diversity afforded to their families. We left Los Angeles two months before the Watts Riots and landed on Carlton Street. Fast forward as mentioned everyone got along and sports was a common denominator but the NBA wasn’t what it is today. The Lakers had Jerry West and Elgin Baylor and we perhaps took their greatness for granted, but we also had Chick Hearn giving us the play-by-play.
Baylor has passed and even though it has been several days I still can’t get over it. Anybody and everybody from that era wanted to emulate his style of play. That is, except the ultra conservative coach Fulkerson. More on him later. In 1960 the Lakers ditched Minneapolis and came to Los Angeles. They played at the Sports Arena which was part of the complex that also housed the Coliseum. My brother Ronald and I remember attending our first professional baseball games when the Dodgers moved there in 1958. Surprisingly we can’t remember going to a Lakers game? Maybe it was because the Lakers were new but to have a professional team in that 9,000 seat arena was a big deal. I do recall one time circa 1967 my Father secured tickets for us to go to a game. I forget exactly what we did to make my him upset and cancel our trip……but looking back maybe it was just a ruse? Anyway, before my time with Coach Fulkerson, Ganesha was coached by the legendary Coach Lee Mathis – crew-cut and all. For a new school who had to play second-fiddle to powerhouse Pomona High School that exodus of families who left Los Angeles and landed in Pomona, specifically Sintown was like being awakened at Christmas!! After the great Rex Huxford graduated in 1968, our 1969 Varsity squad had Dean Ligenfelter, Robert Hines, Ronnie Carr, my brother Ronald and of course the unstoppable Wilbur Gatson just to name a few, A few from my class who got elevated to the squad as juniors, such as Gary Fisher, Stanley Johnson and Steve Burns.
Those ’69 athletic teams pumped pride and inspiration to that campus in west Pomona as Sintown became the incubator of possibilities. What a year and yes, we finally beat the hell out of Pomona High School and just about everyone in the San Antonio league. It was also the year Ronald was able to secure number 22, which of course was Baylor’s number.
There are so many stories about Baylor, it is incredible. In Sintown or specifically at Ganesha everyone loved him and despised the thorny Celtics. As I’ve mentioned Baylor was affectionately known as “The Captain” because when he was on the court he took charge. As mentioned Basketball today is not the basketball I grew up watching. A great attribute about sports is that it transforms cultures and community. The Lakers had few African-American players but like the rest of the league that was alright because at least it was our team. Plus, we had one of the best players in the league. He was a revolutionary who transformed the game. At that time players were not acrobatic. They weren’t hanging in the air to fool the defenders. There was no double-pumping, shooting the ball off the dribble, going behind the backboard, dunking over the Celtics Bill Russell. Yet, that’s who Baylor was and he did so wearing LO-CUT CONVERSE ALL-STARS!!!! At 6’5″ he was known as a small forward. He took the Lakers from the 9,000 seat capacity to the ultra-modern Fabulous Forum in Inglewood that could hold a whooping 18,500 fans. Baylor was before the Pearl, before Clyde, before Dr. J. Rick Barry, the Iceman, Magic, Jordan, Kobe, LeBron and the rest.
One last story. I know this is supposed to be about my little tribute to Elgin Baylor but his name brings back so many memories about my teen and young adult years. I was the lucky lad because as mentioned my brother Ronald was a year ahead of me and I knew all I had to do was make the varsity squad and number 22 would be mine for the ’70 season, although some games he wore number 15.. As my luck would have it Coach Matthis retired after that great ’69 team graduated. Coach Fulkerson had been his assistant so he took over the reigns in 1970. He considered himself a “purest.” You had to shoot the ball a certain way – elbow neatly tucked in, no leaning but jumping straight up. There was to be nothing acrobatic or anything assimilating Baylor’s style – not that Fulkerson didn’t like him. He was just stuck on a very basic conservative style of play. Even lay-ups had to be performed a certain way. It would be suicidal to think about “going behind your back” or look like you were “trying to dunk” and even trying to “spin a reverse lay-up.” Anyway, I made the team and the equipment manager Mr. Auckee arranged for me to have number 22 for the season. Wow!!!! It didn’t matter I barely made the team as I surely didn’t have the shot Fisher or Tucker had or the soft touch that Burns had. Further as much as Fulkerson tolerated the greatness of the ’69 squad, in ’70 he had his favorites in Hackley and Tharp so my ticket in making the team was displaying sheer hustle, willingness to hit the boards and understanding the ball was for others to shoot. My reward was limited playing time but that was not as important as being on the team. I could put up with Fulkerson’s antics and humiliation he dished out to those he considered radical or caught up in the social unrest that was also part of that era. I was just stoked to be wearing Elg’s number and the pride just to suit up because of all the numbers on our team, 22 was mine.
One quick note, near the end of the season we were playing Pomona at their gym and during a brief stint I was in the game. I had a break-away and was going in for a layup and the Baylor magic came over me as I was able to hang in the air, like Elg just long enough for the defender to lose his ascent which allowed me to do a double-pump and finish the shot by banking in the layup. That was one of the key memories I remember of my playing days at Ganesha. It was like a secret, something you keep to yourself. Coincidently once I graduated from Ganesha and moved back to Los Angeles I started improving my game way beyond the ridicule I received from Coach Fulkerson. One of Chick Hearn’s favorite calls was “Baylor goes baseline and scores with a dunk.” I finally got that play down and use to take great delight in executing it. As I have attempted to stress watching Baylor gave you the confidence to try new things. The Capt’n is gone but his spirit and memories will be something we all treasure.
This is a shot of the Staples Center marquee paying homage to Baylor. The cover photo is a gift from one of my Sintown homies – the great Jacques Bordeaux. He too appreciated Baylor’s greatness and knew what he meant to me so out of his collections of goodies he gifted me the treasured bobblehead.
[postscript – I live in West Adams and approximately four miles west of the Staples Center. In 2018 the Lakers awarded Baylor a statue which is alongside the other greats of the Lakers/Kings organization. I was mortified as when the news of his passing there were loyalist like me who simply wanted to visit the statue as a way to pay respect. The Lakers and the Staples Center boneheaded management team had the entry way blocked and only if you knew where the statue was, it was impossible to see from the street. A bitter disappointment so I guess I will have to wait for the pandemic to end or when those knuckleheads realize it is OK to get close up.]
Henry Aaron passed away yesterday. For baseball nerds like myself I was sad to hear the announcement. It came on the heels of what has been quite a week. First, we saw the news that Trump “was gone.” After four years of tremendous turbulence which saw him contribute to the Republican party losing the House of Representatives, then the Senate and finally the presidency his antics, criminal behavior and abusive personality will undoubtedly make him one of the most memorable boneheads in history. That same day civility returned as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
Larry King RIP
Then this morning we awakened to the news that legendary broadcaster Larry King passed away at 87. But this post is about Henry Aaron.
The legend of The Hammer
Sports is part of our culture and oftentimes history is made right before our eyes. Henry Aaron was an unassuming professional athlete. He was known as “Hank” and later as “The Hammer.” During his era many great African-American players blossomed and their slugging prowess might have been taken for granted.
Through his career he was not known as a high-profile player. His first major league team was with the Milwaukee Braves which was considered a small-market franchise. This more than anything allowed him to fly under the radar as it was not until you analyzed his stats that you realized his greatness. He played twenty-three years and not once did he go on the DL (disabled list). There were no pads to protect his body from blazing fast-balls, no batting gloves to protect his hands from being jarred by a batted ball which didn’t connect with the sweet spot of the bat. He just went and did his job, day in, day out and through it all earned the distinction as the home run king.
The historic 4th Inning
On that Monday night in 1974, I was at the apartment of my buddy Ed Davis. The Braves were playing our beloved Dodgers and we knew it was a matter of time but we sat in anticipation drinking Schlitz beer. Just like that, after Al Downing (known as Gentleman Al) let go of the pitch we heard Vin Scully describe the historic moment of 715.
Aaron wound up with a whopping 755 home runs. He became a great ambassador of the game and for his activism in civil rights. As Atlanta was preparing for the 1996 Olympics, Aaron’s home field, Fulton County stadium was about to be transformed into the main Olympic venue. We heard that once the games were complete the stadium would be named in honor of him. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In 2000 I finally got a chance to visit “Turner Field” and while I came for the game as the Braves were hosting the Pirates, I wanted to see the field replication that was embedded into the parking lot. It featured an accurate layout of the field and had a marker where Aaron’s 755th blast landed. What a site! As I went to see the game, I was lucky to catch a home run ball off the bat of a Pirates player.
In 2017, Trust Park (Suntrust) became the new home of the Braves. I was still miffed they moved from “the hood” but I had a trip to Atlanta which coincided with the baseball season and luckily it was a home game. I organized the trip because I wanted to see long-time Dodger Matt Kemp who had been recently traded to the Braves. In addition, I wanted to see the much-heralded Hank Aaron statue and other tributes the new stadium featured. It was quite a site.
Aaron’s legacy will be remembered by fans around the globe and known for his humanity and goodwill.
You’ve heard it stated before…..”better late than never!!!!!” The Negro Leagues are celebrating their 100th Anniversary and there has been great interest from those who only read about them or saw limited footage. Today Major League Baseball (MLB) announced the records from the Negro Leagues will be consolidated into the officials records.
Olympian and great track and field athlete Larry Questad passed away on Nov. 1. 2020 at the age of 77. Some may not recall the name Questad but during his prime competition years he was known as “The fastest white man in the world.” Earlier this year I was doing some research on the Olympics and came across a documentary which focused on the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, specifically the Men’s 200 meter medal celebration where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fist.
A part of the doc featured Questad’s reaction during the victory ceremony as he was perched in his seat at the stadium. He voiced being stunned and surprised at what he was watching as well as somewhat disappointed. Being from Utah he was not entrenched at the urban ills many in the black community experienced. He further mentioned great frustration with the Olympic coaching team for not allowing him be a part of the Men’s 4×100 relay because the coaching staff had decided to run “an all black team.” He assumed since lead runner Jim Hines was injured during one of the prelims, he would get selected as based on running times he was in the top four.
In life perspective is everything. Many like myself understood the protest, while those such as Larry saw it as something negative, if not disrespectful.
After watching the doc I knew I had some homework to complete. As a sixteen year old High School student and a person who always loved track and field, as well as being on staff at the 1984 Olympic Games which granted me the opportunity to meet both Tommie Smith and John Carlos, all I could wonder is why I had never heard about Questad’s lament?
About two months ago I tried to contact Questad. To my amazement I made contact and was eventually directed to his wife; Elizabeth who agreed to set up a tele/interview with him. About a month later, I struck oil as Larry called and allowed me a brief interview.
He has an amazing story and I am so grateful for his family in allowing me to speak to him. I was not aware of any severe health issues other than he was planning a hip surgery.
I would encourage you to do a little research to discover his feats. Even though he finished sixth in that iconic 200 meter race in Mexico City, to this day he holds records which are still standing.
Rest In Peace – LARRY QUESTAD, A life well lived.
I finally located the footage featuring Peter Norman. It included the comments I mentioned earlier made by Larry Questad regarding his perspective on the Black Athletes plight as well as being slighted for not being allowed to run on the Men’s 4×100 relay team. Astonishingly he admits to being in shock if not downright embarrassed by the gesture Smith and Carlos employed. Again, it shows how people from different groups see things differently. In Questad’s world it was unthinkable to show “disrespect” to the country you were representing. On the other hand Smith and Carlos challenged the very government of how Blacks were targeted and suffered trying to realize a productive lifestyle.
For many of us 2020 will be a year we were sheltered in place due to Covid. Since most of us have reduced going out we have watched a lot of TV.
“With Drawn Arms” was recently released and I saw the preview today. IT IS A MUST SEE. Not because you are a documentary nerd, a track and field affectionado or some type of revolutionary. The doc is about the great Tommie Smith and his world record breaking performance at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Smith was an exceptional athlete but many remember his powerful gesture along with teammate John Carlos as they stood on the victory stand in what has become international folklore.
Produced by Glenn Kaino it is moving and inspirational as you are invited to get to know Tommie through his narration of many personal moments.
The doc is a solid 10 and available on the STARZ network.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) season of 2020 will forever be remembered by the worldwide Covid pandemic. The season was adjusted so that all involved in the national pastime could be played in conditions deemed as safe as possible. MLB continued its international appeal although surprisingly the number of players as part of each team’s 40 player active roster, dropped by 3 from the previous year. Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest country and also known as a Latin powerhouse. For the 2020 season twenty-two players are part of MLB’s thirty team active rosters. Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest country and prides itself as a Latin baseball powerhouse and ranks in the top five around the globe. A key metric not openly discussed is the national team has lost some of its lustre through defections as stars lucky enough to be noticed by an MLB team gladly make the transition. Similarly to the Negro Leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color-barrier was its popularity. However once Robinson opened the door the rest is history as many wanted to see those “stars.” Thus the Negro Leagues “prime product” was diluted and eventually disappeared. Hopefully high level baseball in Cuba can be sustained.
One more point about this year’s lineup, two star studded players have experience in MLB but as of this writing are not officially on any teams roster.