Category Archives: Matt’s Books

Even the Royals doctored the field

I came across this article earlier today about how, allegedly, the Giants groundscrew might’ve doctored the infield dirt a bit in hopes of slowing down the Royals’ running game. Wouldn’t you know it…I happened to write about legendary groundskeeper George Toma in the book, “100 Things Royals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” The piece on Toma is a Q/A. So, although I’d like you to buy the book, here is an excerpt of that interview with Toma.

Royals 100 Cover

You eventually ended up here in Kansas City at Municipal Stadium. Even though the A’s, Chiefs and Royals love you and your fields, one player who wasn’t a fan of coming to Municipal was Mickey Mantle.

GT: Sometimes we would do things that we’ll call “groundskeeping by deceit.” Mickey Mantle didn’t care for (Municipal) because I kept centerfield hard and it was hard on his legs. One of my best buddies and a guy who serves as a coach for the Twins during spring training is Harmon Killebrew, who played with the Royals. I used to keep third base like concrete. The trainer would tell me, “you’re going to get my third baseman killed down there” because Harmon could hit that ball but he was a little slow. So we’d make it hard to make sure the ball would get through the infield. Groundskeeping by deceit.

Royals pitchers will say how they liked the way you could doctor the mound or a part of the infield a certain way when they were pitching.

GT: Guys like Steve Busby always wanted a little hole next to the rubber so he could push off. In the batter’s box, there used to be a special hole for George Brett and a special hole for Amos Otis and for Hal McRae. You could say we did a lot of cheating because we moved the batter’s box back about 10 inches. If we got caught, I’d blame it on my son, Chip. Everything went great until the Royals traded Buck Martinez to Milwaukee. The first time they came to town, manager George Bamberger came up to me and said, “George, I don’t want any of that stuff, moving that batter’s box.”

We could do a lot of things. At Municipal Stadium we had a Butternut clock on the left-field tower. It had two dots. … We would send Bobby Hoffman into the scoreboard before the game and then we’d get the other team’s signals. If those two dots were on, it was a fastball. If one dot was on, it was a breaking pitch. Or, they could look down the third-base line to (the mule) Charlie O’s pen. If the lantern was on, that was a fastball. If the lantern was off, it was a breaking pitch. All of that was just part of the game back then.

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A primer for Royals newbies

Royals 100 Cover

In case you’re curious (or even if you’re not), here’s the cover of that “100 Things Royals Fans…” book.

As the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles begin the 2014 American League Championship Series tonight in Baltimore, it seems like a good time to offer a primer, of sorts, to all Royals fans but particularly the bandwagoners, newbies and out-of-towners. After all, if you believe this ESPN Sports Nation poll, the only place in the country not pulling for the Royals are the states of Maryland and Virginia, and the District of Columbia. So, since I kinda wrote the book on things Royals fans should know, I figured now would be a good time for a quick guide so you can sound somewhat intelligent.

(Most of what you’re about to read is taken from that book on the right. If you want or need more info, I’d say buy the book. Not that it’ll completely help you, but at least you’ll have another book on your shelf.)

MR. K

The Royals weren’t the first Major League Baseball team in Kansas City.  That distinction belongs to the Philadelphia-Kansas City-Oakland A’s. After woeful seasons in Kansas City, though, thanks largely to a cheapskate owner Charlie Finley, the team bolted to Oakland. (Finley threatened/promised often to move the team, including to Peculiar, Mo.)

So, after the 1967 season, a group of local businessmen, plus Joe McGuff and Ernie Mehl, long-time sports writers and editors with “The Kansas City Star,” convinced Major League Baseball owners that Kansas City needed an expansion team. The only condition was that they had to secure an owner.

After much searching, that owner came in the gift of long-time Kansas Citian and pharmaceutical billionaire Ewing Kauffman. He was everything Finley wasn’t. And more. Conservative in his thinking and loved by his employees and others around him, Kauffman, who wasn’t a sports fan and didn’t understand the game of baseball, loved Kansas City and felt the city needed a major-league team. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that with some encouragement from close friends and his wife, Kauffman decided to step up to the plate for the city.

KAUFFMAN STADIUM

The Royals spent their first four years at old Municipal Stadium, near downtown Kansas City. Municipal had been the home to several teams throughout its history, including the Negro Leagues’ Monarchs and the A’s…not to mention the Kansas City Chiefs. In ’73, the club moved to state-of-the-art Royals Stadium, which featured a monstrous (and now, iconic) scoreboard in center field, flanked by a water spectacular and (argh!) artificial turf. It was one of the few new single-use stadiums (read: non-cookie-cutter that could be found in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia to name a few) in baseball. The old girl, since renamed Kauffman Stadium, underwent a $250-million facelift prior to the 2009 season.

WE LOVE DON DENKINGER

If the Royals advance past the Orioles — and, perhaps, even if they don’t — you’ll likely hear the name Don Denkinger, who was the umpire at first base during Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. You will hear St. Louis fans curse Denkinger because they believe he lost the World Series for them with a questionable call late in that game.

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Royals trailing the game, 1-0, and the World Series, three games to two, pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off the inning by grounding a ball toward first base. Cardinal first baseman Jack Clark fielded it cleanly and flipped to pitcher Todd Worrell, who was covering first. Although Worrell seemed to touch first before Orta on the bang-bang play, Denkinger called Orta safe. (There was no replay at the time.)

“As a pinch-hitter, in my mind I just was going to try to get a good at-bat and see if I could get on base,” Orta told me 25 years later. “I wanted to help start a rally. When I hit that soft groundball, my instincts said to run as hard as I could. I hustled down the line and was called safe on the play. And I thought I was safe, yes.”

Right or wrong call, the Cardinals self-destructed after that. First, Jack Clark missed a popup in foul territory off the bat of Steve Balboni, who went on to single. Royals catcher Jim Sundberg then tried to sacrifice bunt, but the Cardinals threw out Orta at third. With runners at first and second and one out, a ball got past Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter, which moved Balboni and Sundberg up 90 feet.

Pinch-hitter Dane Iorg, who had been hitless in the Series, delivered a base hit that scored Balboni and Sundberg, on a headfirst slide, and sent the Series to a seventh game. The hit should’ve turned Iorg into a hero. Instead, with the controversy from earlier that inning, Iorg’s hit often remains forgotten in World Series lore.

Of course, any time there’s mention of 1985 or blown calls in baseball, Denkinger’s name comes up. And usually with a cuss word immediately before or after. There’s one thing to remember, though.

“We scored the winning run with one out,” says Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza. “We still had an out (left in the inning) if the play went differently at first (with Orta). The way things had been going for us that season, who’s to say that whoever was coming up next doesn’t hit a home run and we win anyhow? It was a magical season for us. … (The Cardinals) had every opportunity in the world to come back in Game 7, but we blew them away. … Hey, they had us down three games to one. If you can’t close it out at three games to one, don’t blame it on the umpire. Yeah, (the call) went our way … (But) you have to be able to close out a team when you have them down like that.”

YEAH, GAME 7

Improbable teams have won the World Series, but none has come back from such improbable odds as the 1985 Royals. Kansas City came back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit in the ALCS against Toronto and then did the same thing against the Cardinals. In Game 7, the Royals turned in one of the most lopsided wins you’ll ever see in World Series history, beating St. Louis 11-0. A young pitcher named Bret Saberhagen threw a five-hit, complete-game shutout en route to becoming the series MVP.

BEST OF TIMES, WORST OF TIMES

As fans during the 1970s and ’80s, we didn’t think we’d ever see bad baseball played by the Royals. Why would we? They won the American League West division in 1976, ’77, ’78, ’80, ’84 and ’85. (They also played in a three-game Western Division playoff against the A’s following the strike-split season of 1981.) They reached their first World Series in ’80, where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, and then beat the Cardinals in ’85. Are you kidding me? They’ll be great FORRRR-E-VERRRR! Shows what little we knew. After beating St. Louis in 1985, as you’ve heard way too many times already during this postseason, they didn’t reach the playoffs again until this year. Along the way, they’ve had only seven seasons of better than .500 baseball and way too many years of ineptness with a few 100-loss seasons mixed in. So please pardon our excitement. I hope you can understand.

That said, although there are multiple players and managers who should be mentioned, here are three who have had their numbers (5, 10, 20) retired.

GEORGE BRETT

Simply put: he’s recognized as “Mr. Royal.” (If there were such a distinction.) He’s the only Royals player in the Baseball Hall of Fame (excluding guys in the HOF who played a season or two here, such as Harmon Killebrew). The career numbers remain staggering: 3,154 hits, 317 home runs, 665 doubles, 137 triples, 201 stolen bases and three American League batting titles (the first person to earn one in three decades). Maybe it’s appropriate, then, that many remember the player by a single number: 5. For 21 seasons, George Brett wowed Royals fans with his offensive numbers and his ability to come through in the clutch. Brett was the 1985 American League Championship Series MVP and eight-time Royals Player of the Year. By the way, Brett is the distinguished, tan guy in the suite that’s been shown countless times on TBS during the postseason.

FRANK WHITE

Frank White is one of the greatest success stories in Royals history. After growing up in Kansas City and attending Lincoln High School, which didn’t have a baseball team, White was working as a sheet-metal clerk when the Royals selected him from a tryout for their experimental Baseball Academy. The test paid off for the Royals. White played 18 seasons at second base in front of his hometown fans. During that time, he was an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, a five-time All-Star, collected more than 2,000 hits, and, in 1985, became the second second baseman in major-league history to bat cleanup in the World Series. In 1980, he was the American League Championship Series MVP. His No. 20 was retired in 1995, nine years before the Royals honored him with a statue outside Kauffman Stadium. He should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Travesty that he’s not.

DICK HOWSER

Dick Howser is one of the greatest managers in Royals history, along with Whitey Herzog. Howser, who managed from 1981-87, is best known for leading the Royals past Herzog’s Cardinals in ’85. Three days after managing the American League club in the 1986 All-Star Game, on July 18, doctors diagnosed Howser with a malignant brain tumor. Less than a year later, on June 17, 1987, Howser lost the battle. He was 51. That same year, his number 10 became the first number the Royals retired. They’ve since retired numbers 5 and 20.

NED YOST

The Royals current manager is Ned Yost. He isn’t particularly loved by the fans or the media like Howser was. And we’d swear that he’s tried to screw up this team (we call that being “Yosted”) with the way he’s rested everyday players and used pitchers, but there’s no denying that he’s helping put this club in a position to win. Now, as long as “we” can avoid being Yosted against Baltimore.

DAYTON MOORE

Like Yost, fans have been ready to run general manager Dayton Moore out of town for a couple years. He took over a franchise that had a wretched farm system, asked for patience, took more criticism than George Bush and Barack Obama combined, and now can sit back with an “I told you so” grin if he wanted. He’s too kind to do that, though.

THE TRADE

The news in December 2012 shocked every baseball insider, along with every wanna-be seamhead. The Royals acquired James Shields, an All-Star front-end starting pitcher, Wade Davis, a solid pitcher, and reserve infielder Elliot Johnson (the “player to be named later”) from Tampa Bay in a monstrous deal that sent Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard to the Rays. To date, it’s the biggest trade in Dayton Moore’s tenure — and one of the most notable in franchise history.  Most “experts” felt Moore had been bamboozled. Or simply lost his mind.

It’s too early to tell the complete significance and label it as a good or bad deal, but without Shields and Davis, it’s doubtful the Royals would be playing Baltimore in the ALCS.

DENNY MATTHEWS

The radio “voice” of the Royals, Denny Matthews has been with the organization since its first game in 1969. (Mainly) younger fans today think Denny is dry and boring in this day of screamers and countless catch phrases. He was brought up in this business at a time when the idea was for the broadcaster to paint the picture and then let you as the listener envision it. He doesn’t feel a need to scream during a game. For (many) fans my age and older, Denny — and his longtime broadcast partner Fred White, who died last year — is the voice of summer. He’s been honored by the Hall of Fame with the Ford C. Frick Award. It was well deserved.

Now, as you prepare to watch the ALCS and listen to the TBS broadcasters go on and on about how it’s been more than a generation since the Royals have been in the postseason, you can try to impress your spouse, kids and buddies with at least a little wisdom about what this organization has been and why Royals fans have painted Kansas City blue during the past couple weeks.

 

 

 

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Mike Webster: A Fallen Warrior

After watching PBS’s stunning Frontline last night, dealing with head trauma in the NFL, I thought this might be an appropriate time to post an excerpt about Mike Webster from a book I wrote several years ago, THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY: PITTSBURGH STEELERS. (Shameless plug: you can purchase the book here!) Webster, who played for Pittsburgh and ended his career with Kansas City, was featured prominently in the Frontline special. Without further delay, here you go…

There’s a photograph from 1984 of Mike Webster, the Steelers Hall of Fame center. He resembles a warrior of any time or place, striding triumphantly off the field of battle. He’s carrying his helmet. His hair is wet from perspiration. His knuckles and wrists are taped. There are drops of blood below the No. 52 on his white jersey as well as on his gold pants.

For 17 years, 1974-90, Mike Webster gave his sweat, his blood (as well as the blood of others), and really everything he had to the Steelers (1974-88), the Kansas City Chiefs and the game of football.

Webster was tough. He was a throwback.

“The sight of Mike Webster on a cold, snowy winter day taking the field with short sleeves was the one picture that symbolized the strength and toughness of the Pittsburgh team,” former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson said.*

Picked by the Steelers in the fifth round of the 1974 draft out of Wisconsin, Webster joined three other future Hall of Famers taken by the team: Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert and John Stallworth.

Webster backed up Ray Mansfield at center for two years before becoming a starter. He went on to play a team-record 15 seasons with the Steelers and set the model for consistency by playing in 220 games, including 177 consecutive. That streak might’ve been longer if it hadn’t been for a dislocated elbow that kept him out of four games in 1986.

“I’m not sure I was a Hall of Famer,” Webster said during a conference call in January 1997, minutes after the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selection committee saw otherwise. “I was there every Sunday, and I did everything I could to be as good as I could be.”

Former teammates with the Steelers will point to Webster’s play and consistency as one of the cogs in the team’s success throughout the 1970s, including Super Bowls XIII and XIV. Then, at the end of Webster’s career, the Chiefs signed him hoping that their young guys could learn from his work ethic and dedication to the game.

“I’ve never seen anybody like Mike Webster. He is the most professional football player I’ve ever met,” quarterback Steve DeBerg, who played with Webster in Kansas City, told The Kansas City Star in December 1990. “To be honest, I think Mike Webster has had a very big influence on the reasons I’m playing well this year. He was my roommate in training camp. He’s my roommate on the road. His professionalism just wears off on you. The guy is amazing. I feel really honored to be exposed to a guy like that. I feel he has had an impact on my performance.”

DeBerg, who had been in the league 11 years before taking snaps from Webster, went on to have the third-best season of his career with 3,444 passing yards in 1990.

After spending those last two years with the Chiefs, Webster, like so many ex-athletes, struggled to find a post-playing life. Business deals fell through, costing him his finances. Things were so bad at times that his family couldn’t even afford toilet paper. His marriage fell apart and his wife moved with their four kids to her hometown of Lodi, Wisconsin.

All the while, Webster’s health was deteriorating. He endured constant pain, headaches.

He was homeless at times, sleeping in his car or at a Pittsburgh train station. Sometimes he’d stay at a budget motel near the Pittsburgh airport. He was a volunteer assistant strength and conditioning for about nine months with the Chiefs, and he’d sleep in the equipment room, hoping no one would find out.

“Mike would not accept any assistance for any reasons,” said Chiefs President and General Manager Carl Peterson. “I knew he was having not only financial problems but also health problems, but he would never allow anyone to try to help him. He’d just disappear.”

“My problems are my problems,” Webster would say.

Those problems mounted. In 1999, Webster was diagnosed finally with brain damage from repeated and long-term head trauma — basically, dementia. Also that year, in September, Webster pleaded no contest to forging a prescription for Ritalin. He was placed on probation.

The dementia worsened. Webster would forget where he lived. And the damn pain wouldn’t go away. His head, his back, his shoulder, his knees, his feet. Seemingly every inch of his body hurt. It would get so bad that Webster stunned himself with a Taser gun in order to sleep.

Throughout the early part of the 21st Century, a battle increased between retired NFL players, the NFL and the NFL Players Association over, mainly benefits. Diseases and ailments such as dementia, Alzheimers, and numerous back, knee and hip problems started taking their toll on a large number of players. According to many ex-players, the NFLPA, led by Gene Upshaw, turned its back on its own who were in desperate need.

Former players receive benefits based on time of service and when the injuries occurred. Although an alarmingly high number of players are suffering from dementia-type illnesses — including former Steeler Ralph Wenzel — the NFL Players Association has argued that there isn’t a correlation between head injuries and life as an NFL player.

Webster was convinced to seek benefits. He unintentionally became the poster child for the ex-players’ cause.

The NFLPA argued that Webster didn’t qualify for full benefits because there was no evidence in their eyes that his problems started before 1996. However, Webster was awarded — and won in an appeal seven years later, in December 2006 — full benefits retroactive to his retirement in 1991.

Tragically, he wasn’t able to see the fight against the NFLPA to the end. On September 24, 2002, Mike Webster’s physical and mental pain went away forever. He died of an apparent heart attack. He was 50.

About two years before Webster died, one of his sons, Garrett, moved to Pittsburgh mainly to be with him, but also to play high school football in Pennsylvania.

“Normally it’s the parent waking up the son to go to school,” Garrett Webster, then 22, told The New York Times in 2006. “With us, it was me waking him up to tell him to take me to school. There were times it did get to be too much for me, but there is no way I would trade what I went through. I loved the moments when we sat in a car and shared a pizza or sat in an apartment with no furniture and watched a movie because we didn’t have anything else to do. Those memories made me grow up faster, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

*Sources for all quotes are listed in THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY: PITTSBURGH STEELERS. (Shameless plug #2: you can purchase the book here!)

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An ode to Elvis and George: In honor of Elvis’ disappearance

Of course it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here. So long, in fact, that I completely forgot how to log in! With that out of the way, and a promise — or a threat — of more posts more regularly, including at least one new weekly “feature” beginning next week, I’m digging into the vault for a “Flashback Friday.” (Hey, maybe I have two new weekly ideas…) In honor of our celebration of “Elvis Day” today, here’s a column I wrote a few years ago about Elvis and Royals great George Brett.

Technically, based on the title, what you are about to read should be poetic and it should be sung. Well, since I’m not the best at writing poetry (only so much rhymes with “roses are red, violets are blue”) and you really don’t want me to sing (think William Hung on AMERICAN IDOL or Carl Lewis singing the national anthem), don’t get your hopes up about this being a true ode.

Twice a year in our household, since I am a huge Elvis Presley fan — OK, borderline nut — we celebrate “Elvis Day.” It’s a day that concludes with eating a meal from one of Elvis’ cookbooks, a rousing game of Elvisopoly, and, finally, one of his extraordinary movies (OK, you can stop laughing now). Today, we’re celebrating the anniversary of the day Elvis “disappeared.”

An oftentimes-neglected attribute of Elvis is his generosity. When I mentioned that to former Royals announcer Fred White one time, we made the comparison between Elvis and George Brett, one of White’s good friends.

Just start with the Hall of Fame. Ironically, Brett found out that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 5, 1999, three days before Elvis’ 64th birthday. Maybe they are similar … in an odd sort of way.

George was drafted out of high school; Elvis cut his first record out of high school. George had batting titles in each of three decades; Elvis had gold records in each of three decades. George flirted with a .400 batting average in 1980; Elvis was spotted at a gas station off Georgia highway 400 in 1980.

Even though most people know Elvis only for his music and his movie roles — OK, to the general public maybe just his music, behind the scenes he was an extremely generous person. (Yes, for the sake of argument, I’m using past tense even though we celebrate the whole “disappearance” thing.) Presley’s benefactors and close friends, who, for the most part, were not famous people, usually were the only ones to see this side of him.   Brett is best known for his defensive play at first base — OK, maybe his hitting and his play at third. Away from the field, Brett was, and still is, an extremely generous person. Like Elvis, only his benefactors and close friends, who, for the most part, are not famous people, usually see this side of George.

White told me a great Brett story. About 90 minutes before a late-season game toward the twilight of Brett’s career, a young family spotted White walking into Royals Stadium. They asked Fred to help their young son meet George Brett. Fred told them that it likely wouldn’t happen, but he would try to mention it to George. To the family’s surprise, George went up to the lobby and talked to the boy for several minutes. From Fred’s account of the story, George and the boy had a fun and lively conversation. Obviously, George didn’t have to do that. But that’s George. Who knows, Brett may not remember the details of that incident, but I can guarantee that boy and his parents won’t forget those few minutes.   One thing I learned quickly about George is that he isn’t willing to talk much about his generosity. (Believe me, some former athletes are more than happy to share their stories of “generosity.”) The first time I interviewed Brett was when we worked on the Foreword for White and Denny Matthews’ book, PLAY BY PLAY. A couple of the funniest stories in the entire book come from the Foreword; one about ice hockey and the other about a black lab named Boo. Throughout the interview, I pulled several wonderful stories out of George regarding some of the ways he has helped people over the years. But, he wasn’t eager to tell those stories.   Even though George Brett can probably walk around in public easier than Elvis Presley can, they are quite similar. Well, maybe they are alike only in their generosity toward helping others. But, that should be good enough.

Now, where did I put those bananas and peanut butter…

 

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Behind the Stats: Today I’m thankful for…

Read nearly every newspaper around the country today — most of which you can find online, which is a slight reason newspapers are in their current dire state, but I digress — and you’ll read a column such as this. Our list of things for which we’re thankful.

In many ways, as some writers have said, this is a crutch column. Lists seem to be like that to some old-school writers. At the same time, though, writing of list of things for which I’m thankful almost seems that it’s not done nearly enough. Kind of like honoring veterans one day a year.

Of course, most of these are sports related and specific to the Kansas City area, except for the number of things in the list. As I wrote a few weeks ago, several of us celebrated recently the life of friend and former Lipscomb University pitcher Scott Shannon, who lost a battle with cancer 20 years ago this month. His number at Lipscomb was 23.

That said, in no particular order, this year I’m especially thankful for….

1. Christ. It seems so blasé these days to list religion first, especially with the firestorm under which Tim Tebow is planted. But, when you read through Tony Dungy’s book, “Quiet Strength,” or you spend a few minutes with someone like Dayton Moore, Kevin Seitzer or ex-Kansas State tight end Paul Coffman, you’re reminded that leading off with this should never seem trite.

2. Family, especially my wife and our three kids. Of course my parents and my in-laws fall in that category, too.

3. Friends. When you’re an extreme introvert, it’s nice to have a few people around you who can put up with your quirkiness.

4. Our service men and women, along with police officers and firefighters. I’m a big chicken. So I’m in complete awe when I think about these people who choose to defend our freedoms or keep us safe on a daily basis.

5. Frank White. My blood always boils this time of year with all of the discussions about the Baseball Hall of Fame and which of the current candidates deserve or don’t deserve to get in. The pointless debates don’t include Royals Hall of Famer Frank White. And, by this time they shouldn’t because he should be in already. But he’s not, which is a travesty. During his era, he was one of the game’s best all-around defensive players. He remains one of the best second basemen of all-time. Besides his play on the field, I do value Frank’s friendship.

6. The Royals and the Chiefs and the optimism that we have at the beginning of each season, and the fact that when one season hits the tank we can start looking forward to the other. By the way, pitchers and catchers report in 70-some-odd days, depending on when you’re reading this. Although, if we were going to look forward to pitchers and catchers reporting when the Chiefs season tanked, we could’ve said, “pitchers and catchers report in six months.”

7. Denny Matthews and Fred White. No offense to Ryan Lefebvre or Bob Davis whatsoever, but for me it’s always been natural to say the names Denny and Fred together. In various combinations, they’ve been great together for the past 38 years. They’re also great individuals and friends.

8. Max Falkenstien. In a way I could put Max with Denny and Fred. Like Denny and Fred, Falkenstien was one of my heroes growing up. He certainly is missed during the KU broadcasts.

9. The T-Bones. The baseball team, not the steak. (Although I’m thankful for the steak, too.) I’ve written about the T-Bones and General Manager Chris Browne in previous columns and articles, so it shouldn’t be a big shock that I think they’re a wonderful and important part of the Kansas City sports landscape. However, in a moment of weakness this past season, they did something so unthinkable that I had to add them to this year’s list. Desperate during the season, they asked me to fill in as their public address announcer when the legendary Dan Roberts had to miss a game. My start in this media business actually can be traced to doing PA work, so it’s not a complete stretch to think that I could do it. To think, though, that a professional baseball team would ask me does seem far-fetched. But, it went well enough, evidently, that they asked me in August to work PA for the Willie Wilson Baseball Classic. Who knows, maybe they’ll be in a bind again next season.

10. Jim Chappell and Chappell’s Restaurant and Sports Museum. Jim likely will argue that he should be higher on the list, and he may be right. But, you’ll be able to read more about Chappell’s in this space in a full-length column tomorrow. Suffice to say for now that Chappell’s is the best sports museum in the Midwest. Hands down. And the food is excellent, too. They must be doing something right since they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary this week.

11. The Border War. The rivalry between KU and MU (listed alphabetically, by the way) is one of the best, most heated, most hated and most overlooked in all of college sports. And, at least for the time being, is likely about to come to an end, because of both schools. Although Saturday’s football game promises to be exciting for about two possessions, it looks like both men’s basketball games this season could be classics.

12. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  As a long-time Kansas Citian, I sometimes take for granted this city’s role in black baseball. We have a chance to be reminded of that with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

13. Steve Renko. I have so many reasons to be thankful for Renk, the Kansas City area native, who spent only one season, 1983, with the Royals. Besides the fact that he was one of my “Behind the Stats” radio sidekicks for nearly two years, he’s also a constant source of encouragement, information and opinions. Not to mention, he’s taken time to work with one of my sons who wants to be a pitcher. Most of those times, though, I think he’s working as much with me as a father of a kid who wants to pitch.

14. The Jazz Museum. As a huge fan of jazz, particularly the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Count Basie, it’s awesome to have the Jazz Museum next to the NLBM. It’s pretty easy to do both in the morning and still have time to grab lunch down the road at Arthur Bryant’s before driving past 22nd and Brooklyn, the site of where the Blues, Monarchs, Athletics, Chiefs and Royals all played.

15. Kansas Citybarbecue. Too many to have a favorite.

16. Pineapple and Canadian bacon. The person who first decided to try that odd combination on a pizza is a genius. Plain and simple.

17. Ken Morrow. Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, we’re lucky to have Morrow in the Kansas City area. The current Director of Pro Scouting for the New York Islanders and a winner of multiple Stanley Cups, Morrow is a great ambassador for amateur hockey in the Kansas City area. Besides — and as important as the rest — he was an important part of the 1980 U.S. hockey team that beat the Soviet Union during the Olympics.

18. The running/biking trails around the area. Yes, there are other cities with better or more extensive trails, but if you’ve lived in or visited cities without trails as nice as here you know how lucky we are. Now if we only had leaders who understood the importance of light rail.

19. Cedric Tallis, the Royals’ first general manager in 1969. Although he orchestrated one of the worst trades in baseball history, Lindy McDaniel from the Yankees in exchange for Rookie of the Year Lou Piniella, he’s also responsible for building the Royals into winners relatively soon into their existence with trades that brought Piniella, Buck Martinez, Amos Otis, Cookie Rojas and Fred Patek to Kansas City. Tallis deserves to be in the Royals Hall of Fame.

20. Taco Via. OK, this one might seem a little odd, unless you grew up on the Kansas side of the state line. If you grew up on the Missouri side, you might not know about the Via’s nachos, sanchos, taco burgers, enchiladas and sauce so good that you could drink it faster than a QT Quart. What you may not realize is that the restaurant moved about 500 yards from its location at 95th and Antioch in Overland Park – and the new location opened this week.

21. Municipal Auditorium. What a great, historic place to watch a basketball game. To think, more NCAA men’s championship basketball games have been played there than any other venue in the country.

22. LIVESTRONG Park. I’m not a big soccer fan. Those who know me might even take the word “big” out of that first sentence. But, what an incredible stadium in Kansas City,Kan.! Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you need to see the stadium at least once. It’s also cool to think about that stadium being within an Alex Gordon throw from the Kansas Speedway and CommunityAmerica Ballpark.

23. The NAIA. This isn’t a knock on the NCAA, but the NAIA “gets it.” They understand the importance of pushing the idea of character, not only to their institutions but also to local high schools, grade schools and amateur sports leagues. President/CEO Jim Carr and his staff should be commended for the work they do. Not to mention, the sports teams at NAIA schools are extremely competitive and fun to watch.

For more information on Matt Fulks’ books, or to suggest a “Behind the Stats” topic, visit Matt at www.mattfulks.com.

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Behind the Stats: Larry Munson was one of a kind

College athletics has lost one of its most legendary announcers. Larry Munson, the long-time radio voice of all things Georgia Bulldogs and, before that, Vanderbilt Commodores, died Sunday night after a bout with pneumonia. He was 89.

Munson was as beloved by Georgia fans as anyone else who walked between the hedges. His style, simply put, was that of an A-1 “homer.” Sure, he bled Vandy black and gold for several years, but since the mid 1960s, it’s been all Georgia red and black.  There wasn’t any gray in a Munson broadcast. It was “we” and “they.” And, it didn’t take long after turning on a game to figure out if his team was playing well. He lived and died with each play. Frankly, instead of many cookie-cutter broadcasters today, Munson conveyed exactly what the fans felt.

Breaking into broadcasting while at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., I heard all about Munson and his unmistakable style. And the first time I heard him on the radio, I knew immediately that it was Larry Munson and the Georgia Bulldogs.

I got to know Munson during the 1990s, while working on my second book, “The Sportscaster’s Dozen: Off the air with Southeastern Legends.” The book featured firsthand stories from 12 “legendary” broadcasters from the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast Conferences.

Of course, Larry Munson was one of the dozen who agreed to be featured, giving me and, eventually, the book’s readers, a behind-the-scenes look at his career — the highlights, low lights, and everything in between.

Away from the microphone, Munson was a man’s man. He enjoyed hunting and fishing, cigars, jazz, movies, and so on. When broadcasting, he was one of a kind.

As I wrote it in “The Sportscaster’s Dozen,” radio play-by-play is a wonderful art form. Frank Lloyd Wright said that “television is chewing gum for the eyes.” That said, radio must be chewing gum for the mind, for the imagination, with a good announcer providing the flavor.

For Georgia and Vanderbilt fans, Larry Munson provided that flavor better than salt, pepper, oregano or paprika ever could.

But, Munson was so much more than only the “voice” of Vanderbilt and Georgia. He was one of the pioneers of a weekly fishing show on television. He called professional baseball games, first with a minor-league team in Nashville, and then with the Atlanta Braves. He was the “voice” of the Atlanta Falcons.

So, although you can read countless Larry Munson stories right now, please indulge me for a few minutes as I share two of my favorite Larry Munson stories from “The Sportscaster’s Dozen.”

The late Curt Gowdy, with whom Munson worked in Wyoming, helped Munson land a job in Nashville with Vanderbilt and the Nashville Vols, a minor-league baseball team, after World War II. (While in Wyoming, Munson had seriously considered becoming a jazz pianist, but Gowdy convinced him to stick with broadcasting.) At that time, it was common for broadcasts to be re-creations. (Basically, as you might remember from “Bull Durham,” for instance, in a re-creation, the announcer would receive a note on the Western Union wire, with brief notes about a play. The announcer then would make a sound effect and describe the play as if he was sitting in the stadium.)

Munson was known in broadcasting circles as being sensational at re-creating games. He had proof, too.

When he arrived in Nashville at WKDA radio in 1947, he talked the executives into carrying pro football “out of Chicago.” At that time, there were two teams in Chicago, the Cardinals and the Bears. So, there was a home game every week.

There was a permanent Western Union line up there that enabled us to do games every single Sunday.  That worked for two years. … It was fun because I could get on a jammed elevator leading up to WKDA on Monday, not saying a word to anybody, and the people would be talking about hearing that announcer talking about how hard it was snowing in Chicago the day before with the guys sliding on the ice when they went out of bounds.  It was difficult keeping a straight face knowing they didn’t realize it was me with sound effects sitting upstairs of that building.

Oddly enough, I thought about the second story on Saturday when ESPN’s Lee Corso dropped the F-bomb on TV. Larry Munson’s moment, much like Munson himself, is legendary in Nashville, especially with old timers, if you will. Like many stories of its nature, there are variations of the truth. John Forney, the late Alabama broadcaster, told me his version for “The Sportscaster’s Dozen.” (Munson told me his version 50 years later, but brushed it off, so we didn’t put it in his chapter.)

As the story goes, the Nashville Vols were playing either Little Rock or New Orleans in a wretched, blow out of a game. During the late innings, as Munson thought he sent the game to a commercial break, he said, “What a freaking way to make a living.” Only, the guy in the studio had fallen asleep and hadn’t started any commercials, so Munson’s microphone was still on. That might not seem terrible, except Munson said a different “f” word instead of freaking. That wouldn’t go over well anywhere, but especially not in the buckle of the Bible belt.

The next inning, someone brought a message to Munson. It was from his boss. It read: “Dear Larry: It sure is, but you don’t have to tell everyone.”

Whether you are a Yellow Jacket or a Volunteer or a Gamecock or a Gator, you know that Larry Munson was one of a kind. There never will be another like him. He will be missed by anyone who ever had a chance to get to know him.

If you have a favorite Larry Munson memory, feel free to leave it in the comments section. For more about Matt Fulks, please visit www.MattFulks.com.

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