Assorted dishes from the Sunday morning buffet table:
Thanks for the wonderful response to last week’s Coffee about the passing of old-time big league baseball player Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant. (https://royberger.com/sunday-morning-coffee-june-20-2021-one-cool-cat/) Some of you remembered him well; others just barely and a good portion not at all but loved his story overcoming racial and social adversity to make it not only in baseball, but in life.
In a month when Juneteenth became a national holiday, there was a part of Mudcat’s background that I didn’t include in last week’s piece that becomes so relevant today illustrating just how much our world has changed in a short 50-60 years.
Former Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith moved the franchise from Washington D.C. where they were the Senators to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1961 where fittingly they were dubbed the Twins. Allegations of being a racist followed Griffith from Washington to Minnesota though it was only speculation and never confirmed. Ironically, the 1965 American League champion Twins were anything but a typical white-bread team built with minority players like Mudcat, Camilo Pascual, Earl Battey, Cesar Tovar, Zolio Versalles and Tony Olivia all playing key roles leading the Twins to the World Series.
Mudcat had a career year in 1965 with 21 wins, tops in the American League. He pitched three World Series games and won two but that wasn’t enough to stop the Dodgers from winning in seven. With all his success, Mud never got good vibes from team owner Griffith.
Grant earned $21,500 in 1965 and was looking for $35,000 in 1966, a substantial raise but on par with other 20-game winners in the game. Griffith literally played hardball with him. Grant was in no mood for his owner nor a prolonged negotiation. Instead, he decided to expand his off-the-field singing career which, after the World Series, moved from local nightclubs to the national stage on both the Mike Douglas and Johnny Carson shows. At the same time he angered the Twins owner who believed Mudcat cared more about singing than negotiating a baseball contract. On the other hand, whether he signed a new deal or not with the Twins didn’t matter much to Mudcat, who was perfectly content singing for a living if he had no place to throw his fastball. A tug-of-war finally ended when the Twins relented and gave Mudcat the $35G he asked for in ‘66.
Grant never regained his 1965 pitching form and was traded to the Dodgers in 1967. About that trade Mudcat told me, “I was traded to the Dodgers because Calvin Griffith and I didn’t see eye to eye on money and frankly a lot of other things, too.”
Mudcat’s and everyone else’s suspicions about Griffith being a racist were finally confirmed in 1978 at a Lions Club meeting in the Minneapolis suburb of Waseca. Griffith, when asked why he moved the team from Washington to Minnesota in 1961 responded to what he thought was an assembly of club members only. He paused before answering and asked if there were any Blacks in the audience. Seeing none he said, “I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 Blacks here. Black people don’t go to ballgames, but they’ll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it’ll scare you to death. We came here because you’ve got good, hardworking White people.” He should have also asked if there were any reporters in the room. There was one from the metro Star Tribune among the gathering. Griffith found that out in the next day’s headlines. So did everyone else. Oops.
Today, really only a few years later, a comment like that would get Griffith banned from the game for life and force a franchise sale. And rightly so.
The Stanley Cup Finals are set with the Montreal Canadiens meeting the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning for the toughest trophy to win in all of professional sports. Montreal is a heck of a story. They were the last of 16 teams to qualify for the playoffs and 50-1 underdogs to win the Cup. Their opening round match-up was against division winning Toronto and after falling behind three games to one, they somehow won the next three. Their second-round opponent, Winnipeg, was much better on paper but the game is played on ice and Montreal swept them in four. They entered the Cup semifinals against our Vegas Golden Knights as the biggest underdog in Cup semifinal history. Vegas easily won the first game and it seemed like it was going to be a short series. From that point Montreal outworked and frustrated offensive-minded Vegas and won the series in six games. It was no fluke. Incredibly, the Canadiens are the first team from Canada to reach the Cup finals in a decade. They are also the last team from Canada to claim the Cup, all the way back in 1993, the same year Joe Carter brought a world baseball championship to Toronto. They remain big underdogs against Tampa Bay who eliminated the New York Islanders in seven tough games. That’s two years in a row Vegas and the Islanders have made the last four only to go home early. Montreal is good, Tampa is better. I hope the Canadiens win but I think it will be the Lightning in five to repeat.
There’s nothing more exciting than playoff hockey; yet NBC, who has the national television contract, challenges its viewers to find the games on cable. This year you had to search NBCSports, USA Network, CNBC or Peacock and hope you found the broadcast. The first two games of the Finals will be somewhere on cable too this week. That will all change next season when the NHL moves to ESPN and gets the exposure the great game deserves. If you are not a hockey fan, or not familiar with the game’s jargon, but actually do stumble on the Montreal-Tampa Cup Final here’s a brief primer on hockey-speak, a language the sport has all to itself. The players on each team are known as “the boys”. You’ll hear coaches say, “the boys” played hard. The place where the boys dress is not a locker room but just “the room.” They don’t wear jerseys, instead “sweaters.” They are not a team but a “group” and most times a “special group.” A shot between the goalie’s legs is the “five-hole” and no team plays in an arena, instead they play in their “barn.”
This isn’t what the hockey gods imagined— when the puck dropped for the Knights-Montreal playoff game a week ago Wednesday in Las Vegas, the temperature outside the Knights’ barn, T-Mobile Arena, was 115 degrees, the hottest temp in which a professional game of shinny was ever contested.
Once upon a time I probably knew this but forgot. St. Louis baseball great Stan Musial had 3,630 hits during his 22 seasons playing with the Cardinals. Of those hits, 1,815 came at home, the other 1,815 on the road. That’s how you become a .331 career hitter.
Here’s another staggering baseball stat: it’s been over 20 years since a game was played in Yankee Stadium without at least one batter drawing a walk.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate baseball for doing it to itself once again. This ridiculous new rule checking the pitcher for foreign substances will sure speed up the game and keep public interest, won’t it?
Caesars just completed a $200 million renovation on its Harrah’s Las Vegas Strip property. Admittedly, I haven’t been there in a while but from what I can remember, that’s not nearly enough.
Up the Strip from Harrah’s, Resorts World, the $4.3 billion newest hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard, rolled its first pair of dice this past Thursday to rave reviews. It’s the first new hotel to open on the Strip in over ten years, since the Cosmopolitan. City leaders hope Resorts World, built on the site of the former Stardust Hotel, gives some life to the dormant track north of the Wynn.
Meanwhile the NBA is down to their final four and one thing is certain — whoever wins will have clean champagne glasses to sip from. Of the four semi-finalists, only Milwaukee has ever won before, way back in 1971 sweeping Baltimore, paced by two future Hall of Famers, Kareem and the Big O, Oscar Robertson. If Atlanta, LA Clippers or Phoenix wins they’ll all be first timers. Not sure why, and it really doesn’t matter, but I find myself pulling for Atlanta.
Only one player in the history of basketball has ever led the NCAA (1964-65), the NBA (1966-67) and the ABA (1968-69) in scoring. He’s the University of Miami’s Rick Barry, who shot free throws underhand at a career clip of 90%.
Speaking of which, today free throw shooting on all levels of basketball and bunting on all levels of baseball are lost arts.
I need somebody, when they get a few minutes, to explain to me exactly what the 9-0 vote by the United States Supreme Court last week stipulates with regard to compensating college athletes. According to the Wall Street Journal, “(the) decision doesn’t open up a world of direct, unlimited pay for college athletes, an issue that wasn’t before the court. Instead, the justices said the NCAA must allow colleges to recruit athletes by offering them additional compensation and benefits, as long as they are tied to education.” I guess that means schools can now slip athletes $100 every time they go to history class or maybe even buy them a car if they agree to attend chemistry lab. I’ll have a better chance of one day understanding cryptocurrency than ever comprehending the nuances of the NCAA and its member institutions.
And before we leave the NCAA alone for the rest of the day, a thumbs-down to any consideration of a 12-team football playoff. Leave things as they are. The four-team playoff system works. It creates just the right amount of debate on who belongs in it and who gets left out. Since the present format was instituted in 2014, Alabama has won three times, Clemson twice and LSU and Ohio State once. All of them had license to win.
So, the Raiders Carl Nissib comes out and will be the first openly gay active player in the NFL, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Good for him, no doubt that was gutsy. He was immediately praised by the league, the Raiders organization and the media. I may be wrong, and I hope I am, but I don’t think it will play nearly as well with the opposition on the field, the opposing fans or maybe even in his own locker room.
William Hill Sportsbook has published their 2021 NFL Coach of the Year odds— Miami’s Brian Flores and Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski are co-favorites at 12-1. David Cullen, the rookie coach of the Texans, is a 75-1 long shot. For my sawbuck, Bill Belichick at 18-1 to reinvigorate the Patriots and Jon Gruden at 50-1 who’s hearing murmurs of media frustration in Vegas to have the Raiders contend in the AFC West, are probably worth plays. The Jets new guy Robert Saleh at 20-1? Not so much.
Speaking of the Jets, how much more disrespect can we Jets fans handle? Stations Casinos published their Super Bowl odds for the upcoming season and the Jets weren’t even listed. Enough already.
Finally, as we begin to pack-up for our upcoming summer writing hiatus, first we’ll be gone for the next two weeks. Have a great and safe Fourth and party like it’s 2021.