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Wed, June 19

Sports' 'good ol' days' weren't always so good

Another day. Another gray hair. Another grim reminder that ... I must have been missing a great party these past 20 years or so.

You read it from sports columnists around the state. You hear it every Sunday night on Phoenix's myriad of sports TV talk shows:

"Today's athletes are alienating their fan-base like never before," the pundits assure us. "It's just not like it used to be."

The last part of that equation is hard to argue with. I've never seen any photographs of Joe DiMaggio wearing his hat backward, or Gayle Sayers with earrings drooping from his nose. (Or are those noserings drooping from ears?)

But you know what ... I can't buy a candy bar for a dime anymore, either.

And you know what else? Things weren't always so good. Not in the world of sports, or any other world you can venture into.

Is today's sports world zanier than it was 20 or 30 years ago? I need only look at Alex Rodriguez's contract to come up with 252 million good reasons why the answer is a resounding "yes."

But was the sports world really better a generation ago? Or even two generations ago?

I suspect that most of you are answering with an equally resounding "yes."

But before you get too worked up about today's basketball players wearing baggy pants, let me do my best in reminding you that things weren't always so good.

Or maybe you've sprouted a few gray hairs lately, too.

I can remember when:


I can remember when Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Doc Ellis threw a no-hitter - while under the influence of LSD.

I can remember watching, in person, Phoenix Suns star forward Connie Hawkins get taken out of a game in Los Angeles and storm straight to the shower because he didn't think he was playing enough.

I can remember reading about the contract holdout of Los Angeles Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who were both seeking the ungodly amount of $100,000. Both threatened to sit the entire year if their demands weren't met.

I can remember Oakland Raider safety Jack Tatum's dirty hit on New England Patriot receiver Darryl Stingley, which left Stingley paralyzed for life. To this day the two have never spoken.

I can remember UCLA basketball star Bill Walton marching in campus protests against the war in Vietnam; blaming President Richard Nixon for the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, and calling the FBI "the enemy."

I can remember being taken to Anaheim Stadium for my 10th birthday, being excited about sitting next to the Angels bullpen then hearing one Angel pitcher tell another "I wish this (the game) would hurry up and get over with so we can go slop down some Budweiser."

I can remember when there was so little interest in the NBA that only certain playoff games were televised at all, and the NBA Finals were shown on tape delay beginning at 11 p.m.

I can remember when New York Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapped wives in the middle of the season.

I can remember when Muhammad Ali sidestepped the military draft for "religious reasons," then returned to the ring shortly thereafter. Yes, the same Muahammad Ali who carried the torch to open the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

I can remember when NFL quarterback Art Schlichter stiffed his bookmakers to the tune of $750,000. He's been in and out of jail ever since.

I can remember Wilt Chamberlain receiving Shaquille O'Neal-like criticism for having "too many outside interests" after Wilt tried to set up a fight between himself and Ali. I also remember Wilt shooting an O'Neal-like 51.1% lifetime from the free throw line and later boasting about scoring 20,000 - women.

I can remember hearing about Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach performing the ultimate form of "trash talking" by lighting a victory cigar each time the Celtics would clinch another win.

I can remember Celtics center Bill Russell having a clause in his contract saying that he would always earn at least one dollar more than rival Wilt Chamberlain.

I can remember the infamous tell-all book "Ball Four" by former New York Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton, who said that about 75% of baseball players cheated on their wives, and that baseball icon Mickey Mantle would often push autograph-seeking kids out of his path after a bad game.

I can remember baseball's last 30-game winner, Denny McLain, doing prison time for racketeering, bookmaking, loan sharking, etc.

I can remember reading about a gambling scandal that rocked college basketball in the 1950s, and another one that kept Connie Hawkins out of the NBA in the 1960s.

I can remember legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes enrolling his players in "basket weaving" courses to keep them eligible.

And finally, I can remember reading a quote attributed to Ty Cobb in the 1940s in which Cobb said "All today's players care about is their paycheck."

So, while sifting through Allen Iverson's filthy rap lyrics and A-Rod's $252 million contract, just remember: Life might have been more innocent back then, but sports' good ol' days weren't always so good.

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