Archive for the ‘The World of Sport’ Category

Remembering Len Ceglarski

December 19, 2017

I covered college hockey for the Hockey News from 1969 to 1987, and was color radio commentator for Boston College hockey from 1973 to 1980. I’d like to share some of my memories of Len Ceglarski from those years.

Leonard S. Ceglarski passed away at the age of 91 on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Memories and tributes from the world of sport have been flowing in.  As well they should.

Len Ceglarski, coach

When Lenny retired from coaching college hockey in 1992, he was the all-time winningest coach in the game, with 673 wins over 34 seasons.  The first 14 seasons and 254 wins were at Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University ) in Potsdam, New York.  The last 20 seasons and 419 wins were at his alma mater, Boston College.

Len had succeeded the man who was his college coach, John “Snooks” Kelley, on that lofty winningest-ever perch.  Now that spot belongs to Jerry York, a man to whom Lenny gave his first job in hockey.  Not a bad tradition.

Jerry was Lenny’s first assistant coach at Clarkson, a small school in a one-horse town about 50 miles from the Canadian border.  During Lenny’s time, they played in a drafty old barn on an ice surface that had a neutral zone that was much shorter than regulation size.  As soon as players broke out of their own end, they’d be at the opponent’s blue line. It was a building more suited to peewee hockey than to college varsity play.

But Len Ceglarski made Clarkson’s teams into a perennial power in Eastern college hockey. Rarely did they miss the ECAC playoffs at the Boston Garden.  Three times they finished runners-up in the NCAA finals. Until York arrived for the last few years of his tenure, Lenny ran the show all by himself – the recruiting, the on-ice coaching, the scouting. He even had his children draw up designs and color schemes for the Clarkson team jerseys.

Len Ceglarski, player

When Snooks Kelley announced his impending retirement from BC after the 1971-72 season, the job was Len Ceglarski’s if he wanted it. He was an alumnus who had an impressive run at a place with fewer resources than BC. There would be no debate.  That’s what we all believed and hoped anyway.

But Lenny didn’t approach BC athletic director Bill Flynn right away, and many very fine candidates applied. Two of the more impressive interviewees were Arlington High legend Eddie Burns, a BC man, and Tim Taylor of Harvard. Had Ceglarski not accepted the position, Taylor may well have been picked.

Finally, Flynn called Len to ask if he was interested.  He was, and that was that. He and wife Ursula and their six sons moved back to Massachusetts form the North Country.

The first time I met Ceglarski was in 1969 at McHugh Forum. It was after a Tuesday night ECAC quarterfinal playoff. Clarkson knocked off host BC, 4-2, and was headed yet again to the Garden. A kid named John Halme scored two or three goals.

Lenny came up to the press row to talk to a couple of reporters. I don’t remember what was said, but I do recall thinking that he seemed like a genuinely nice man.  He also must be a good coach too; his team had lost 7-2 to BC during the regular season.  BC’s team was very talented. Tim Sheehy and his classmates were in their prime, as juniors, and Paul Hurley was back on defense for his final year after playing in the 1968 Olympics.

The following year, 1969-70, I began covering the game for the Hockey News. I went to my first game up in Potsdam late in February.  BC had already begun a disastrous second-half slide – they lost 8 of their last 11 games – but they put up a good battle before losing 7-5. At one point, with BC on the power play, the puck skipped up into the stands. The clock operator let seven seconds run off before stopping it. The officials either ignored it or didn’t see it.

That year was the last one for Ned Harkness at Cornell.  Since the mid-60s, Cornell, with a roster full of Toronto-bred junior players, had been the Red Menace.  They were feared and, for the most part, hated.  In 1969-70, Harkness’s team went undefeated, 29-0, and won the national championship.  Clarkson lost to them 3-2 in the ECAC final at the Garden. In that game, Cornell scored in the last minute. They won again over Clarkson, 6-4, in the NCAA final at Lake Placid.

Those two losses were most unfortunate. You see, Lenny was just about the only coach in the East who could beat Cornell regularly. It was almost impossible for anyone to win in Ithaca; Clarkson beat Cornell 7-0 down there at one point, then by 2-1 two years later. So how did old Ned Harkness address his situation? By refusing to schedule Clarkson.

Harkness was the polar opposite of Ceglarski. Yes, he always had good teams and he drove them to near-perfection. But he was a bandit, a schlemiel, and a scoundrel.  If an opposing team had a breakaway against his goaltender, all of a sudden the arena lights would go out.  The opponents’ dressing room at Lynah Rink would be heated up to about a hundred degrees between periods. Sand would be sprinkled on the floor around the visiting team’s bench in order to dull their skates.

For two or three years before they had to meet in those 1970 playoffs, Cornell just would not play Clarkson.  Cornell played a creampuff schedule – two games against all the Ivy League teams, which guaranteed them ten wins a year.  They played BU and BC and once each. Lenny had no use for Ned, and the feeling was mutual.  Good guys don’t always win, and the bad guy beat the good guy twice in 1970.

Since that year, I have never rooted for a Cornell team. I still don’t.  Even though “some of my best friends are Cornellians,” most of their fans in those days were arrogant, obnoxious, and entitled. You’d think they were the ones who were playing the game.  Cornell has renewed its rivalry with BU – and it is a good one, I’ll grant – and I pull for those Terriers every time. Old dislikes die hard.

In 1971, Clarkson was back in the ECAC final. Again they lost, this time to Harvard, by a score of 7-4. Harvard was playing inspired hockey, giving its coach Cooney Weiland a grand swan song.  After the ECAC championship game in Boston, the NCAA selection committee broke precedent and selected Boston University as the East’s second team for the NCAA finals.  Never before had they taken any but the playoff runner-up.

Jack Kelley’s Terriers were a great team, no doubt.  They had been upset by Harvard in the ECAC semis and had a record of 26-2-1. Clarkson, which had knocked off Cornell – who else – in the other semifinal game, had a record of 28-4-1. A strong case could be made for taking BU, but it still shouldn’t have happened.  Yes, I know BU won the national championship that year, but Len Ceglarski and Clarkson deserved to go to the finals in Syracuse.

I was at the last game Lenny coached against Snooks Kelley in 1972. It was up in Potsdam in late February. Clarkson was a solid team and was once again playoff-bound.  BC, a rag-tag bunch, was struggling desperately to get Snooks his 500th win before retirement.  That was their only objective for the season.

Miracle of miracles, the Eagles pulled it out 6-4. The score was tied late in the third period when forechecker Bobby Reardon picked the pocket of Clarkson defenseman Bobby Clarke. Reardon jammed the puck past Carl Piehl for the game winner.  Piehl was the second-string goalie. Ceglarski had chosen not to play his top guy in the net, his late nephew Kevin Woods.

A year or so later, I was reminiscing about that game with Lenny, and about how critical it was, as win number 498, for Snooks in his quest for 500. He half-smiled and said, “I did my best.”

I also was at Len’s last game as Clarkson coach. It was the 1972 ECAC quarterfinals. Clarkson played at Harvard and was the better team in a close contest. But they lost. Woods was in the goal this time. He had a bad-luck play at exactly the wrong time, when a long, fluttering shot by Bill Corkery glanced into the net off his glove hand.

In the post-game locker room, neither I nor any of the other reporters addressed the elephant that was standing there by asking, “So, is this your last game at Clarkson? Are we going to see you at BC next season?” And of course, he never said a thing either.

Lenny’s honeymoon year at BC, 1972-73, was a lot of fun. Tom Mellor came back from the Olympics. Ed Kenty, Reardon, and Harvey Bennett were still around. Freshmen played for the first time on the varsity.  Richie Smith, Mark Albrecht, and Mike Powers were the impact rookies. The Eagles beat Cornell for the first time since before World War II and defeated BU as well. They made it all the way to the NCAA’s at Boston Garden.

With Lenny in charge, there was a new spirit of optimism after years of feeling uncompetitive against the big three rivals – BU, Cornell, and Harvard. But consistent success was a few years away. The rest of the 1970s were rocky, up-and-down until the recruiting stabilized.

Two of the most fun-filled years I can recall were 1976 and 1978. In ‘76, BC returned to the ECAC playoffs after a two-year absence.  They knocked off Cornell 6-2 in Ithaca – I never tired of beating Cornell and its oleaginous coach Dick Bertrand, a worthy successor to Harkness.  Nor did Len Ceglarski.  Beating Cornell delighted him more than winning against any other team.

BC also won the Beanpot in 1976, breaking a twelve-year drought, thanks largely to freshmen Joe Mullen and Paul Skidmore. Lenny had his car stolen right before the Beanpot final, a 6-3 win over BU. I think that the BC booster club would have bought him a new car every year if he could just keep winning the Beanpot.

In the 1976 playoffs, BC was seeded eighth and lost by a goal to top-seeded BU. The game was horribly officiated. John “Monk” McCarthy gave BU a preposterous third-period power play when BC’s Paul Barrett, kneeling next to the boards after a whistle, picked up the puck with his hand and flipped it over his shoulder.  That was one of several lousy calls McCarthy made against both teams. Len was never one to blast referees, and he kept a tight lip that night. All he’d say for the record – almost in tears – was “I’m so proud of them.”

Regarding referees, there was only one time in all the years I knew him that Lenny’s mouth got him in trouble.  In a Saturday afternoon game up at Cornell in 1980, Lenny suggested to Jack McGlynn that his refereeing objectivity had been compromised by his being a drinking buddy of Bertrand.  That got him a two-minute bench minor.

I had driven up to that game, leaving at 6:00 a.m. from the BC campus with the Dailey sisters, Patty and Nancy. They worked in the athletic department and were as devoted to Lenny and his teams as any fan ever was. We saw BC dominate most of the way and prevail, 6-5, after Cornell had a late flurry to make it close.

Usually, a dangerous breakdown like that would have ticked Lenny off. But not this time. After the game he was grinning like a cat full of cream. “We looked pretty good out there today, eh?” After all, it was another win over Cornell in Ithaca.

In 1978 we had the Great Blizzard. Three of them, actually. The middle one was the worst. BC had a tough time getting its game together. They lost big to BU at the Beanpot and at Cornell. The final game of the year was a makeup against UNH on a Sunday afternoon. The winner would be fifth and the loser would be eighth.  Skidmore had a good game in goal and BC pulled it out.

Dave Pearlman and I did the radio broadcast of the quarterfinal playoff game at RPI.  BC should have been playing at home. RPI, mere percentage points ahead in the standings, was there because they had avoided playing BU. Their snowed-out game against the Terriers, an almost certain loss, just couldn’t be made up, sorry.  Too much time out of class, our trustees are concerned, was the spin from coach Jimmy Salfi. So BC bused up to Troy, New York.

Lenny was interviewed by an RPI writer before the game. The questions, about RPI getting a home seed by avoiding BU, were almost taunting and intended to provoke. Lenny wouldn’t take the bait and asked the writer, “Well, what do you think? Do you think it was fair?”

BC ended up winning that night. When Paul Hammer scored the winner in overtime, Dave and I both jumped up in our seats. We pulled the plug out of the radio board, and for several minutes the audience back home didn’t know who won.

BC went on to win the ECAC Tournament and make it to the NCAA final game against BU. Neither team played particularly well; BU won 5-3. It was another NCAA runner-up slot for Len, his fourth and final.

BC would be a frequent qualifier for the big show but they were never able to win it. One year, it was superhuman goaltending by Providence’s Chris Terreri. Another time, BC lost its best player, Tim Sweeney, to an injury during the tourney. Bad bounces and bad luck were frequent visitors.  Boston College did not win the national title until 2001, with York as coach.

Ceglarski was a player on BC’s first NCAA winner in his sophomore season of 1948-49. But that he never won a national championship as a coach is a crying shame.  A coach who has such a long and successful career should get the chance to ascend to the very top of the mountain just once. It seems like the very nice guys, the gracious gentlemen like Len Ceglarski, sometimes just can’t get there.

Others in that category were Charlie Holt of UNH and Lefty Smith of Notre Dame. Each of them, like Lenny, deserved to win a national crown at least once in his lengthy and distinguished career. Perhaps they all lacked that last measure of cutthroat ruthlessness that you could see in coaches like Harkness, Herb Brooks, Bob Johnson, and Shawn Walsh, among others.

Of one thing, though, I’m certain. I’d have wanted my son to be coached by Len Ceglarski.

Recognizing Jim Reid: A Life on the Gridiron

December 15, 2017

Gridiron Club Master of Ceremonies Tom Burke Presents the John Baronian Award for Lifetime Achievement to Jim Reid of Boston College

At this year’s Gridiron Club of Greater Boston’s College Awards Night, the John Baronian Award for Lifetime Service to Football was presented to Jim Reid, defensive coordinator at Boston College. I had the honor of introducing Jim and presenting the award. Here’s what I had to say about him.

In my 42 years of announcing football at Boston College, I’ve seen some very fine defensive teams. That includes this year’s team and last year’s.  It also includes two years ago when the Gridiron Club honored Donnie Brown as Assistant Coach of the Year for putting together one of the best defenses in the country.

But I think my favorite BC defense of all time was the one for the 1994 season.  That was Dan Henning’s first year as BC’s head coach. The record was 7-4-1, and they ended up ranked 23rd in the nation in the final AP poll.

The 1994 defense was coached by Jim Reid. They were a bunch of feral beasts. They had Stephen Boyd at linebacker and Mike Mamula and Stalin Colinet on the line. They sacked the quarterback 47 times. That set BC’s all-time sack record, which wasn’t equaled until last year by another defense coached by Jim.

They blew away the French school from Indiana, 30-11, and limited them to less than 100 yards passing. In the Aloha Bowl they held a heavily favored Kansas State to a single touchdown.  They scored on a safety and sacked the quarterback eight times. Kansas State had minus-yardage rushing.

Jim is now in his 44th year of coaching football and in his second stint at Boston College. He’s been a member of the coaching staffs of the University of Iowa, Bucknell, Virginia, Syracuse, UMass, Richmond, and the Miami Dolphins. He’s been head coach at UMass, Virginia Military Institute, and Richmond.

Jim Reid delivering his inspirational acceptance speech after receiving the John Baronian Award in recognition of his 44 years of service to football.

Jim’s 44 years in the coaching profession, at so many levels, speak for themselves. But here’s a little something else.

Back in the mid-90s, Jim’s high school football coach, Hank Cutting, was guest of honor at a retirement dinner, over at Moseley’s on the Charles,  when was finishing up at Catholic Memorial. The CM athletic director, Jim O’ Connor, had lined up a well-known and respected college football coach to be the keynote speaker – the late Peter Carmichael. Pete was a member of Tom Coughlin’s staff at Boston College.

Two days before the dinner, Mr. O’Connor received a phone call from Coughlin. He said that Pete Carmichael would not be speaking at the event. All of the BC coaching staff had to be present for review of the films from spring practice. That review was expected to run well into the evening, so they’d have to find someone else.

Standing Ovation for Jim Reid, led by Boston College’s Zach Allen (right) and A.J. Dillon (center). They received the Bulger Lowe Award as New England’s best players – Dillon for offense and Allen for defense.

Mr. O’Connor was in a bind. He put in a call to Jim Reid, who said he’d be glad to step in and speak in Pete’s place.

It didn’t matter that Jim was head coach of the University of Richmond at the time. He dropped everything, bought a plane ticket, and flew up to Boston at his own expense the next day.

That’s what I call going above and beyond in service to the game and to the people of football.

It’s an honor to present the John Baronian Lifetime Achievement Award to Jim Reid.

Remembering the American Football League

October 20, 2017

On October 18, 2017, the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston honored Larry Eisenhauer of the Boston Patriots as its Man of the Year. Larry was a superb defensive end for the Pats; he played from 1961 to 1969 and retired just before the American Football League merged with the National Football League.

I served as Master of Ceremonies for the evening. My welcoming remarks follow.

Joe Foss, American Football League Commissioner

Good evening, and welcome to the 22nd annual “Legends Night” of the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

We usually call this “NFL Legends Night,” but that’s not true this evening. We’re honoring a hero of the American Football League, so welcome to AFL Legends Night for 2017.

The AFL, born in 1960. With commissioner Joe Foss. Let me tell you about Joe Foss.

He was governor of South Dakota at the time he was asked to be AFL Commissioner.  Joe was a Greatest Generation member. In World War II, he was Marine fighter pilot in the Guadalcanal campaign.  He was launched off an aircraft carrier, by catapult, and flew 350 miles to that island in the South Pacific.

The Marines had already landed there. They were in desperate straits, surrounded by the Japanese, hemmed into a small perimeter that fortunately had an airfield.

Joe Foss became head of what they called the Cactus Air Force. Guadalcanal was code named Cactus.

The fight for that island, and in fact the fight for the Pacific, was decided largely in the skies. The Japanese fought with Mitsubishi Zero fighters; there were 72 of them shot down in the skies over the Solomon Islands. Joe Foss shot down 26 of them.  He received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt. Joe Foss’s total victories matched those of Eddie Rickenbacker, the “Ace of Aces,” in World War One.

What better guy to lead the American Football League – to lead a revolution against the establishment National Football league – than Joe Foss?

Joe Foss receiving the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as his wife and mother look on.

He would have been a great president of the United States of America.

Joe came to mind when I was thinking about how we might begin this evening’s program. But something else that kept coming up was a television show about early America.  I’m sure some of you remember it.  The HBO series about John Adams, starring Paul Giamatti, back in 2008.

Now, John Adams is a guy I’ve always felt a little sorry for. He was a one term president, between Washington and Jefferson, and the history books have always given him short shrift. The HBO series and the biography by David McCullough changed that. That’s a good thing.

Adams made a lot of mistakes and made a lot of enemies. But he was a true patriot, devoted to his country and his cause, and he was right on all the big questions.

What brought the series to mind, as I was thinking about tonight, was an interview with the producer. He talked about how they did not sugarcoat the portrayal of colonial times.  There was hardship always – worried about money – violence, brutality and unfairness. It was hard, just to survive. They wanted to show just how hard it was.

Boston Patriots’ founding owner Billy Sullivan

Well, it wasn’t easy for the American Football League to survive, back in those early days. In fact, it was pretty darn hard. The money? Well, let’s just say that an AFL salary might pay for a couple of practice sessions of NFL players today. The playing and practice conditions? Maybe we’ll hear something of them later in the program.

But like John Adams as president, the AFL with Joe Foss at the head, got one thing right. One very big thing, that the NFL did not get right.

When President Kennedy was assassinated on that Friday afternoon, Foss and the guys he worked for, Billy Sullivan and his fellow owners, cancelled the games for that coming Sunday. Billy, if memory serves, was the league owners’ representative at JFK’s funeral.

Pete Rozelle ordered that the NFL play its games anyway. And to Pete’s everlasting credit, he always maintained thereafter that the decision was the biggest mistake he made in his illustrious career as NFL commissioner.

But the AFL got it right the first time.

The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston’s 2017 Man of the Year, Larry Eisenhauer.

In drawing analogies between the birth of the American football league with the American nation – I really don’t mean to say that they are remotely comparable in importance. Pro sports are society’s toy department, and the AFL owners were building another section of that department. Our Founding Fathers were building a new country.

And it was a whole lot harder for General Washington, John Adams, and all of the founders of that day, to take on the British Redcoats than it was for Billy Sullivan and his motley band of revolutionaries to take on the mighty National Football League.

But take on the NFL they did. They prevailed. And unlike the Founding Fathers and the people of those colonies that became the United States of America, they had one helluva lot of fun along the way.

And so did we who watched them and cheered for them.

Let’s hear about those days now, and begin our speaking program.

 

A Long-Delayed Honor: Henry Woronicz is Inducted to the Boston College Hall of Fame

September 29, 2017

When the Boston College Varsity Club established its athletic Hall of Fame 48 years ago, the first class of 20 inductees included seven members of the 1940 football squad that went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee.  That was fitting. It had been BC’s greatest achievement in intercollegiate sports, the highlight of the school’s first golden era in the last golden days before World War II.

The man who did the most to make that bowl victory possible, other than perhaps “Chuckin’” Charlie O’Rourke, was Henry Woronicz.  

Henry was not included in that first class of inductees. Nor was he named over the course of many years as, finally, all of the starting lineup of that team had been enshrined. All but Henry Woronicz.

Decades passed. Memories faded. Nominating and selection committees came and went. Henry’s name came up from time to time, but he never received enough support in the voting.  Until this year.  Kudos to the selection committee, and especially to Varsity Club president Richard Schoenfeld, for their commitment to reviewing the merits of “old-timers” who, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.

One of my most enjoyable assignments each year is compiling the biographies of the inductees for the 2017 induction ceremony, which is on October 6. Henry’s story follows. He and his wife Marian both died 25 years ago. It’s a shame they won’t be there in person, but we know they’ll be there in spirit, and watching from the Second Balcony.

Henry Woronicz ’42: A Big-Play Guy

Big plays decide championships. Henry Bronislaw Woronicz was a big-play guy.

With the exception of quarterback Charlie O’Rourke, Henry Woronicz made more critical, tide-turning plays, in the most important games, than any of his teammates during Boston College’s glorious, undefeated 1940 season.  That season ended with a 19-13 win over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Now he joins all of the other starters from that team in the Eagles’ Hall of Fame.

“Henry Woronicz Paves Way to Boston College Victory” trumpeted the newspaper headline. The story’s subhead read “Triumph Over Mighty Men of Tennessee Real Lift for New England Football – Henry Woronicz Blocks Kick to Turn Tide.”

As one writer described it, “the breakaway plays, snap passes, and vicious line play kept the record throng at Tulane Stadium in a uproar.” At left end on both offense and defense, Henry Woronicz was right in the thick of that vicious line play for almost the entire contest.

Woronicz suffered a cracked cheekbone in the first quarter when he was smashed by an offensive lineman while rushing the passer. But he played almost every down anyway.

Henry Woronicz (right) with, from left, Mickey Connolly, Mike Holovak, and Ted Williams.

Tennessee led 7-0 at halftime.   On the Vols’ first possession of the third quarter, Woronicz broke through and smothered Bob Foxx’s punt.  It was the first block of a Tennessee kick in three years. Joe Zabilski recovered, and a few plays later the Eagles tied the score.

But it wasn’t just a blocked kick by the farm kid from Bridgewater that led to the Eagles’ victory. On the “glory play, the lace curtain clincher” in the words of the Boston Globe’s Jerry Nason, Woronicz made it happen.

The score was tied at 13, and the clock was winding down. O’Rourke passes of 19, 24, and seven yards brought the ball to the Tennessee 24. With the Vols all thinking pass, Chuckin’ Charlie faded back and cocked his arm.  But then he tucked it and ran around Woronicz’s left end. Henry mowed down the tacklers and Charlie dashed into the end zone.

But perhaps none of those Sugar Bowl exploits would have been possible had Henry not also turned the tide against Georgetown earlier in the season. He was one of three Eagles who played the entire 60 minutes of that 19-18 triumph, called by revered sportswriter Grantland Rice, “The greatest football game ever played by colleges or pros.”

The weather was so cold and rainy that week that Boston College had to practice indoors, at the Boston Latin School gymnasium. Georgetown raced to a 10-0 lead so effortlessly that, as the book “Honor on the Line” describes, it “left Eagle fans with their collective countenance dark as the leaden sky.”

But with the situation becoming desperate, coach Frank Leahy called a play that was “..the great unveiling. O’Rourke lateraled to Lou Montgomery who rolled to his right and, while in the grasp of Augie Lio, crossed up the defense by passing the ball downfield.  It grazed the fingertips of defender Allen Matuza before falling into the arms of Henry Woronicz at the three yard line, and Woronicz walked in for the first Eagle touchdown.”

Yes, Henry Woronicz was a big-play man. For both the “great unveiling” and the “lace curtain clincher,” he was Leahy’s go-to guy. But he was a hard-luck guy too. That cracked cheekbone against Tennessee was the least of his woes. A severe knee injury two years before almost ended his football days.

After a stellar career at Brockton High, Henry played on an undefeated BC freshman team and cracked the starting lineup as a sophomore. But in spring practice in 1938, he took a hit from the future Monsignor George Kerr and tore up the knee. He withdrew from school and went home to work.

Boston College didn’t forget him. A year later, down to Bridgewater came a delegation from the school – athletic director John Curley, Father “Red” Collins, and backfield coach Ed McKeever – to ask Henry to return to the Heights.  They were persuasive, as was Henry’s future wife Marian Mitchell, about completing his education. So in January of 1940, he re-enrolled.

After the Sugar Bowl season, Leahy moved on and Woronicz played for Denny Myers. In the second game of 1941, a Tulane blocker chopped him from behind and sidelined him for seven games.  Henry played the final game, against Holy Cross at Fenway Park, wearing a big knee brace.

Woronicz was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and got a look from the Philadelphia Eagles. He served four years in the Navy before returning to a career of teaching and coaching. His high school stops included head coaching Bridgewater High for two years and assisting at Waltham High for two. He was also head coach of the Bridgewater Rams and the Randolph Rams, both semi-pro teams.

At the college level, Henry assisted old BC mates O’Rourke and Zabilski. He worked for Chuckin’ Charlie at UMass Amherst in the late 1950s. His last stop was a five-year stint with Joe, from 1964 to 1968, at Northeastern.

In 1985, when he retired from 25 years of teaching physical education at Waltham, the evening’s program read “Henry was Waltham’s answer to Vince Lombardi; he taught by example that effort and perseverance equal success.”

Henry and Marian, who were married in November 1942, had five children: Elizabeth, Janet, Sheila, Stephen and Henry M. They also had seven grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. In retirement, they made several cross-country treks by car. Both Henry and Marian passed away in 1992.

Let’s let Charlie O’Rourke have the last word about the guy who did so much to make his own pigskin heroics possible:

“Henry was a helluva player. He was a good, rough tough kid who played both ways for us. He was equally good at both positions.  At defensive end, nobody got around him and he was always putting pressure on the passer. As a tight end, he could block with the best. He could block and catch the football. He could also demonstrate very well as a coach and was well-liked by the players.”

Remembering “Red” Martin, Boston College Hockey’s All-Time Great Defenseman

July 28, 2017

Tom “Red” Martin, one of Boston College Hockey’s All-Time Greats, Passed Away on July 27, 2017. I’ve known Tom for many years and have frequently interviewed him for articles and books.  This blog post has two pieces I wrote about him: a profile in the 2014 Beanpot Tournament program, and a chapter section from Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room.

Rest in peace, Tom. They’ve broken the mold. We won’t see your like again.

From the Beanpot Program

Tom Martin: Just a Hard-Working Kid from North Cambridge

By Tom Burke

Tom Martin, c. 2012

In the Land of Beanpot, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Tom “Red” Martin played the entire 60 minutes of Boston College’s 4-2 championship win over Harvard in 1961. True, though Martin sat out two minutes of action for a minor penalty.

That feat wasn’t such a big deal for Tom. After all, he usually logged more than 50 minutes per game anyway. He’s prouder that he scored the winning goal, taking Billy Hogan’s faceoff draw at the point and letting fly a slap shot that caught the inside of the far post.

Defeating Harvard in that Beanpot final was the last big triumph for BC in Martin’s college career, which included two All-America accolades and the Walter Brown Award. But maybe it shouldn’t have ended that way.  Watson Rink at Harvard was Tom Martin’s early hockey home, and he probably should have gone to play for Cooney Weiland. He initially decided to do so, but Eagle coach John ‘Snooks” Kelley won him over with “Your mother would want you to go to Boston College.”

Tom’s mother Anne was a marvelous, hard-working lady who waited tables in and around Harvard Square.  Widowed when Tom was two years old, she moved into a house owned by Saint Peter’s Parish and frequently needed “Mother’s Aid” charitable payments to make ends meet.  One time, when Tom had sneaked out for a football practice before he’d done his chores, Mrs. Martin walked to the field and marched her son off the gridiron and back home.

That never happened again, and Tom had already developed his own work ethic anyway. From age eight through college, he sold papers at the Sunday masses at St. Peter’s.  He would help Tom Sheehy, the manager of Watson Rink, scrape the ice and wet it down with water from wooden barrels.

Mr. Sheehy let Tom skate there frequently. Sometimes he’d go one-on-one with Billy Cleary. On other occasions he scrimmaged with the Harvard varsity at practices. When he had Watson’s ice sheet to himself, he’d practice skating backwards. Then he would run the two miles to home backwards, pivoting sharply each side as he went.

Tom played baseball and football in high school and states that learning to take and deliver hits in football was an invaluable preparation for hockey.  Jimmy Fitzgerald, who scored the winning goal for BC in its 1949 NCAA championship win over Dartmouth, was his high school coach and first hockey mentor.

“I learned the fundamentals of hockey from Jimmy,” said Tom. “Things like getting out of the zone, head-manning the puck and breaking out yourself after you’ve passed it. That way you create an opportunity for yourself. He also taught me the basics of passing.”

After college, Martin started out at Boston University Law School. He left after a semester, however, because he wanted to join the U.S. National Hockey Team and eventually play in the Olympics.  He made the 1962 team that took a bronze medal in the World Tournament in Colorado Springs.

Back home, Martin needed to work before Olympic tryouts. He took the suggestion of BC accounting professor Jim Dunn that he join one of the Big Eight accounting firms, known as “Ulcer Outfits” for the  pressures they put on workers.

Tom landed a job at Arthur Andersen and was assigned audit work at Perini Construction in Framingham.  Tom got the leeway to work on his hockey game in the mornings and come in to work around noon.  He was the only “cake eater,” as western-based players called eastern boys, to make the final cut. He became assistant captain of the team and roomed with Herb Brooks for the 1964 games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Boston College fans of that era fondly recall Martin’s long floater-play passes to classmate Billy Daley that frequently resulted in scores.  Daley would win a defensive zone faceoff and bolt straight up ice. Martin would swing the net, wait for opposing defenders to yield a passing lane, and hit Daley in full stride near the center circle.

Coach Tom with head coach Snooks Kelley and classmate Billy Daley

When opponents adjusted, Tom found a different gap in the coverage or banked the puck off the boards.  He got the same results – from assessing the situation, taking advantage of openings, exploiting opportunities, and making adjustments.

That modus operandi might well be the story of Tom Martin’s business life.  On several occasions he has recognized business opportunities or detected developing trends in the marketplace, and he’s moved to take advantage of them – just as he did with pinpoint passes through gaps in hockey defenses.

Tom’s Norwood-based company, Cramer Productions, is one of the most highly respected integrated marketing communications organizations in the country. Cramer employs over 100 people in event planning and executions, video and digital production, interactive media, web casting, and print and direct marketing.  The company’s revenue tops $30 million per year. Its client roster includes EMC, Fidelity, Jordan’s Furniture, Raytheon, Reebok, Ocean Spray, Michelin, Motorola, and many other big names of the business world.

Tom went back to Andersen after the Olympics and stayed there for five years. He also made time to serve as Snooks Kelley’s assistant at BC for three years, earning a whopping $500 salary. He then accepted an offer from his greatest career mentor, Tim Cronin, who ran Cramer Electronics.  Like Cronin, who was fifteen years his senior, Tom was trained as a numbers guy.  But he learned all about management and leadership from watching Cronin deal with people.

Cramer grew to national size and more than $100 million in sales. Tom was put in charge of the Northeast region. After Arrow Electronics purchased Cramer in 1979, Tom saw an opportunity and took out a loan to buy the company’s small video equipment division. He’d noticed that Japanese companies had been promoting video, then a new business technology, for businesses communications. Arrow wasn’t interested in video.

Tom kept the Cramer name and launched Cramer Productions.  After a few years, he noticed that many of his clients weren’t getting full benefit from the video equipment.  At meetings, they still used boring slides and overheads.

“I thought  ‘Hey, we should be in the production business’ and our clients liked the idea. So we set up a studio in our building in 1982 and did a few automobile commercials. Car commercials were all produced locally in those days,” he said.

Somewhere along the way, Barry and Elliott Tatelman of Jordan’s Furniture came calling. Cramer began producing all of the popular “Barry and Elliott” commercials. Word got around, and Cramer Productions outgrew its Newton location. They moved to bigger quarters in Braintree.

The high inflation of the mid ‘80s nearly put the Cramer under as the prime rate soared from five percent to near 20 percent.  Technology kept changing in the capital-intensive production business, requiring smaller film, more compact cameras, and differently configured editing suites. “We were hanging on by our thumbs,” says Tom.

But he saw another opportunity amid the difficulties. The company meeting planners needed video for their events.  Cramer began renting out its equipment and added creative services and event staging to the product line.  Business flourished again, and soon Cramer needed bigger space.

Tom got another loan, this time for a million dollars, and bought a 70,000 square-foot building in Norwood. Cramer worked hard to build up the meeting planning and event production business while burnishing their reputation in film production.

Sports fans will recognize several Cramer film oeuvres: “Banner Years,” the Boston Garden farewell; “Boston Red Sox: 100 Years of Baseball History;” “The Story of Golf,” an Emmy-winning PBS feature; and “The Beanpot: The First 50 Years.”

About ten years ago came another sea change. The digital marketplace was taking off. Information would be transmitted digitally – over the Web and on CDs – and Crammer staffed up to get in on the action.  Martin went out and hired, and digital is now a big segment of Cramer’s business.

Tom keeps a financial information binder in his office.  Not everybody gets to see its color-coded graphs and charts that tell the Cramer business score and standings from every conceivable angle. His accounting background at Andersen drilled fiscal discipline into him.  He had seen many businesses and some competitors close up shop after neglecting to manage the balance sheet.

There’s another binder that every visitor to the company can see, however. It bulges with dozens of thank-you letters from charitable organizations that Cramer has helped over the years, either gratis or for cost.  The senders include Big Brother/Big Sister, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Easter Seals, Franciscan Children’s Hospital, Greater Boston Food Bank, Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, March of Dimes, Mother Caroline Academy, Sisters of Saint Joseph. Rosie’s Place, and Second Helping.  Cramer dispenses at least a million dollars’ worth of professional services to non-profits each year.

Tom and his wife June celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2012. Six of their seven children are on the Cramer Productions team.  Tom is company chairman and the face of Cramer, but much more active on the golf links nowadays. And he’s good at that too. He has won the senior division of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament and the Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship.

A favorite quote from Danny Thomas in Tom’s office gives a visitor yet another clue to Tom “Red” Martin’s career. “Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.”

 

Excerpted from the Beanpot chapter in Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Eagles Hockey Stories Ever Told by Tom Burke and Reid Oslin

Tom Martin in his BC playing days

One old and familiar bit of Beanpot lore is defenseman Tom “Red” Martin’s playing the entire game of the 1961 championship final and taking home the Most Valuable Player Award. True, but with an asterisk. Martin had a minor penalty in the game, so he skated for 58 minutes, not 60.

Tom was a three sport athlete who always kept himself in fine shape. He also played first base for the Eagles’ baseball team that made it to the College World Series in 1960 and 1961.  He routinely played 50 minutes a game anyway. It was more difficult in the packed and hot Boston Garden than in chilly little college rinks, but hardly a superhuman feat for Red Martin.

Tom is prouder of scoring the winning goal than he was of playing at much as he did that evening.

“Billy Hogan drew back a faceoff to me. I was a right-handed shot. A kid from Harvard came out to block it, and my shot caught the left inside post,” said Tom.

That was BC’s third goal, scored at 10:06 of the third period. The Crimson got one back to narrow the margin to a single goal again. Martin’s classmate Billy Daley scored on a wraparound to clinch the win with 2:29 to play. Hogan had opened the scoring in the first period and assisted on Jack Leetch’s second period goal. Jim Logue made 30 saves in the BC net to just 17 for Harvard goalie Bob Bland.

It was the first time that attendance in the old Boston Garden hit the magic number of 13,909, a capacity crowd and the largest to witness a college game there since 1931.

Snooks Kelley waxed particularly eloquent after the game.  He said afterwards,

“I’ve said I thought we were the best team in New England, even when we lost a couple.  But now I know we are the best in the East. Of that I feel positive.  That Jimmy Logue is the best goalie in the business. Look what he did tonight.  Red Martin is as good a defenseman as anybody will ever find. Billy Daley is terrific.  Those sophomores – Billy Hogan, Ed Sullivan, Jack Callahan, Jack Leetch, Ken Giles and the rest. Tonight they were wonderful. They wouldn’t be denied.

The 1960-61 Eagles. Tom is at center of first row.

“You can stop a Daley two times. He’ll get in the third time.  You knew Red Martin would come through. Men like these can’t be stopped forever. And they weren’t.”

Snooks might have gotten a little carried away in his euphoria. Harvard had beaten the Eagles twice already and was missing three of its regulars in the Beanpot.  They didn’t lose another game and finished 18-4-2 to BC’s 19-5-1. Tom Martin, looking back on it all, says simply “It was a great rivalry.”

Few people of that era appreciated the BC-Harvard rivalry as did Tom Martin. He grew up in North Cambridge and spent many hours skating and scrimmaging one on one with a student named Bill Cleary on the near-perfect ice surface at the Crimson’s Watson Rink.  He played high school hockey at Cambridge Latin under Jimmy Fitzgerald, scorer of the winning goal in BC’s 1949 NCAA championship game against Dartmouth.

Martin initially decided to play his college hockey for Cooney Weiland at Harvard. He informed Fitzgerald, who asked him to go and let Mr. Kelley know. That Mr. Kelley was Snooks, who taught in the school. Young Martin dutifully told Mr. Kelley, who promptly summoned a substitute to monitor his class. He brought Martin to the teacher’s lounge and laid the full Catholic trip on the lad, finishing his pitch with, “And your mother would want you to go to Boston College.”

Whether Tom’s mother Anne ever had a preference for Tom’s post-secondary schooling, we’ll never know.  But the Catholic angle hit home with Tom. Anne, widowed when Tom was two, lived in a house owned by Saint Peter’s Parish. Tom sold newspapers at Sunday masses from the time he was in the third grade until after college. Even though he lived about a mile from Harvard, he was going to BC.

He and Daley made the floater play a staple of the BC attack. They liked to pull it late in the game, to “send ‘em home happy” as the wisecracking center Daley would say in calling for the floater. Daley would win a defensive zone draw back to Martin. Tom would retreat behind the net and watch as the opposing defensemen moved laterally out on the blue line. Daley would then sprint up the ice, his diagonal path taking him through the gap between the defensemen. Martin, emerging from the other side of the cage, would then hit the streaking Daley with a long pass and send him in alone for the score.

The floater play worked many times, with Billy Daley getting the goal and Tom Martin the assist. But in the 1961 Beanpot it was Tom Martin who scored the crucial goal. He never came off the ice, save for the two minutes of his penalty, and  the 13,909 who were there that evening saw a feat of endurance that has never since been duplicated, and almost certainly never will.

 

Farewell to The “Sweet Kentucky Babe”

July 16, 2017

Vito “Babe” Parilli, the first of the truly great quarterbacks to play professional football for the Boston/New England Patriots,  lost his battle with cancer and passed away on July 14, 2017 at the age of 87.  The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston honored Babe as its Man of the Year in 2006.  I was Master of Ceremonies and program editor for the Man of the Year Dinner. Before the dinner, I spent some time with Babe and learned the story of his life in football, which is appears below.  If you’re a fan of football, especially of Patriots football, you’ll enjoy getting to know Babe. He was one of a kind. 

By Tom Burke

Vito “Babe” Parilli, Boston Patriots’ quarterback

Back when he was in college, lunch hour was always a singular experience for Vito Parilli.

Rather than sipping sarsaparilla and munching burgoo with fellow students on the campus green at Lexington, Kentucky, Vito would report to the office of the university’s head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. They would sit across from each other and engage in a nerve-wracking board game of the Bear’s personal design, a daily test that made organic chemistry look like basket weaving.

“It was a simulated football game. He’d say ‘I’ll give you a down and distance. What play do you call?’ Then after I answered, he’d say, ‘Okay, you gained three yards. Now what do you call?’” explained Babe recently.

“Sometimes I’d even stay over to his house and play it. The Bear programmed me.  He never sent in the plays, but I always knew what he wanted. In every situation. In four years there, I don’t think I ever got a delay of game penalty either,” he adds proudly.

 

Babe led the Wildcats to the most successful three-year stretch in the school’s football history.  They rolled up a 28-8 record and appeared in the 1950 Orange Bowl, the 1951 Cotton Bowl, and the 1952 Sugar Bowl. In the Wildcats’ 13-7 Cotton Bowl upset of mighty Oklahoma, Babe completed nine of 12 passes for 105 yards and was named the game’s top offensive player. In the Sugar Bowl his senior year, Babe had two TD passes and was MVP in a 20-7 win over TCU.

The Rochester Rifle

Babe in action at Kentucky

Parilli’s father August emigrated to America early in the 20th century, just in time to don an American army uniform and head back to Europe to fight the Kaiser. He was wounded in the Argonne Forest but made it home and went to work for the Phoenix Glass Company in Rochester, Pennsylvania just north of Pittsburgh.

Vito was the youngest of three kids in the Parilli family. There was no television in those days, and every high school boy lived for Friday nights and football. Vito was a fullback in a single-wing backfield. Bryant did not recruit him, but he had always wanted to be a Wildcat. He tagged along on a couple of campus visits to Kentucky with a high school friend who eventually enrolled in a Big Ten school.

After seeing Parilli in a high school all-star game, though, the Kentucky coaches got interested and invited him back down to Lexington for a workout.  They decided that he could become the quarterback to follow George Blanda.

Babe worked out all summer long in Lexington before enrolling, taking in strategy sessions in the morning, field drills in the afternoon, and practicing faking and ball handling in front of a mirror at night. By the time sophomore year rolled around, he was more than ready.

Babe as a Kentucky Wildcat

Known as the “Rochester Rifle” after his home steel country, Parilli set four NCAA passing records – for touchdown passes in a season and a career, and most passes competed and passing yards in three varsity seasons. He was twice a first team All-America selection and finished third and fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Bryant called Parilli the best fake-and-throw passer he’d ever seen, with hand strength so formidable that he could pump three times before releasing the ball.  One sportswriter said “Parilli could take an elephant out on the field and, told it was a football, hide it.”  Another opined, “He handled the ball with the skill of a trans-Atlantic card shark, and can dot a receiver’s eye (right or left as the occasion demands) at 80 yards.”

Parilli was in Army ROTC at college, but he did not have to go into the service upon graduation. Drafted by Green Bay and its new coach Vince Lombardi, he split the quarterbacking with Tobin Rote for two years. Then came the call to military duty.

“I think we were called up because of Senator Joe McCarthy. One of the things kept saying was that the country was not going to give any special privileges to professional athletes,” said Parilli.

Babe spent an uneventful two years in Rabat, Morocco as a traffic controller at an air defense command center. He was able to cross the Mediterranean while on leave and see his grandmother for the first time at her little village near Naples. One poignant memory of that visit was a sign that simply read “October 17,” commemorating a day late in World War II when Nazis bent on retribution stormed into the village and killed all the young men they could find.

Babe returned to pro football in 1956, but his full brilliance as a passer and field general did not emerge until 1962, the third year of the American Football League and Babe’s second campaign with the Boston Patriots. It was a lengthy and sometimes painful route to stardom for the kid from Beaver County.

The first stop was Cleveland, who had traded for his rights when Babe was in the service, hoping that Parilli would take the mantle of the retiring Otto Graham. Five games into the 1955 season, however, Colts’ defensive end Gino Marchetti blindsided Parilli and battered his throwing shoulder so badly that Babe could hardly move the arm.  Six months of convalescence and little response followed.

“I went to a doctor in Kentucky who gave me a cortisone shot and just said to go out there and throw as hard as I could.  That was the way to break it up,” said Parilli.

The straightforward remedy worked, and 1957 found Parilli back in Green Bay. He shared the quarterback job with Bart Starr for two years. The 1959 season rolled around, and Parilli got word that he’d been traded to Philadelphia to be Norm van Brocklin’s understudy. Sick of playing second fiddle, Babe went to Canada instead where he put in a season with the Ottawa Roughriders.

In 1960, the American Football League was born, and Parilli went to Oakland where he and Tom Flores divided the qb duties. Traded from Oakland to Boston after the 1960 season along with Billy Lott for Dick Christy and Hal Smith, Babe shared the quarterbacking duties with Butch Songin in 1961.

Holovak Puts Babe in Charge – at Last

Babe in action as a Boston Patriot

The Pats sent Butch to the New York Titans for 1962, and Babe took over the number one slot. Ably backed up by Tom Yewcic, Babe at last had a team he could call entirely his own.

“It was really the first time in my career that I didn’t have to split the top job with someone.  Mike Holovak was the first coach who gave me that opportunity, and I’ll always be grateful to Mike for that,” said Babe recently.

For the next six seasons, Parilli’s schooling under Bryant paid back all the accrued dividends that Babe’s previous coaches in Green Bay, Cleveland, Oakland, and Ottawa might have collected for their respective teams.  With a talented receiving corps that included Gino Cappelletti, Jim Colclough, Artie Graham, Tony Romeo, and Larry Garron out of the backfield, Babe directed an exciting offensive show in virtually every game.

Parilli set every passing record in the young club’s history during over seven seasons, and his stats have endured in the Pats’ record books where he is now fourth all-time behind Drew Bledsoe, Steve Grogan, and Tom Brady. Babe threw 2,410 times as a Patriot and completed 1,140 passes for 16,747 yards and 132 touchdowns.  His 31 TD tosses in 1964 was the team’s single-season record until Tom Brady surpassed it with 50 in 2007.

The Patriots had a winning record in five of Parilli’s seven seasons and posted an overall mark of went 50-39-9. Babe was a three-time league all-star and the comeback player of they year in 1966 when he led the team to a record of 8-4-2 after a 4-8-2 campaign the previous season.

“He was just a very smart quarterback. Not a scrambler. It was the way he conducted himself out there, and way he called the games,” said Gerry Philbin, a defensive tackle and member of the AFL all-time team who played against Parilli as a member of the New York Jets. The two became teammates for 1968 and 1969, the final two years of Babe’s career when he served as backup and mentor to the Jets’ young quarterback, another Bear Bryant protégé from Pennsylvania named Joe Namath.

“Babe was a tremendous athlete. He ought to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a good punter, and he was the holder for Don Maynard, our kicker. It was very comforting to us, knowing that Babe was there if we needed him,” said Philbin.

The Jets, of course, made football history by upsetting the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in the 1969 AFL-NFL championship game, the first such contest to be dubbed “Super Bowl.” Namath’s brash guarantee of an upset was the most memorable episode of Joe Willie’s entire career. But the prediction and outcome of the game did not surprise Parilli.

“We were lucky to beat Oakland [27-23] in the AFL championship game. But I remember watching films of the Colts along with Joe. We turned to each other and agreed, “Hey, the Raiders are better than these guys. We can beat ‘em,’” recalls Babe.

One other title game in Parilli’s career is not such a good memory for long-time Pats’ fans. The San Diego Chargers won the 1963 AFL West division outright. The Pats and Bills tied atop the East and had a playoff game in snowy Buffalo. The Patriots won 26-8, but then had only three days to prepare and fly cross-country to meet a well-rested foe. San Diego had had two close wins over Boston, 17-13 and 7-6, during the season. It should have been a good match up, but the Patriots were at a hopeless disadvantage and lost 51-10.

Babe and Gridiron Club of Greater Boston president Dave O’Brien in 2006

After his playing days ended, Parilli remained with his beloved game as a coach and front office executive. Babe tutored Terry Bradshaw for three years as a member of the Steelers’ staff.  He also put in three years at Denver and one with the Patriots before casting his lot with the World Football League.

Gridiron Club historian Ned Cully points out that Parilli is the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first coach of the Charlotte Hornets?” The Hornets were a reincarnation of the New York Stars of the short-lived WFL. Babe was coach of the Boston Bulls, Stars, Hornets, and Chicago Fire of that league. Later on, he got into arena football in venues that included New England, Denver, Las Vegas, Anaheim, and Palm Beach.  He has also worked in real estate, public relations, and as owner of a golf course. He now resides in Denver.

“I really liked working with the arena ball players. They’d play for $500 a game, and they were looking to make their mark. It was just like us, back in the old days,” he smiles.

 

A Boston Baseball Story

June 9, 2017
Piersall2

Jimmy Piersall

The recent passing of Jimmy Piersall brought back a load of memories. If you’re a New Englander of my generation, you automatically think “Piersall” when somebody says “center fielder.” He patrolled that sector of Fenway Park all through my childhood, from 1952 to 1958. I was shocked and confused when the Red Sox traded him for Vic Wertz and Gary Geiger in December of ’58. How could they do that?

Jimmy’s personal problems with a bipolar disorder, which were depicted in the film “Fear Strikes Out,” were well documented. When he came up to the Sox in 1952, he dubbed himself the “Waterbury Wizard,” a reference to his home town in Connecticut. His teammates didn’t care for that one.

The Red Sox were decent all through the 1950s. They usually had a winning record but never finished higher than third place. Their outfield was pretty damn good, with Piersall between Ted Williams in left and Jackie Jensen in right. Piersall was twice an All-Star – which meant a lot more then than it does now – and won three Gold Gloves.

I met Jimmy once, in 1964. He was playing for the Los Angeles Angels at the time. He stopped by Waterman’s Funeral Home in Kenmore Square for the wake for my uncle Walter. My father was there with me, and he asked Jimmy to come over and shake my hand. That was a thrill.

DON GILE HEADSHOT

Don Gile

But now to my Boston baseball story. Jimmy Piersall is a supporting actor in this one. The star of the story is a journeyman player named Don Gile (pronounced Jee-lee.)

Several years ago, my company had a luxury box at Fenway Park. I went there one night when the “legend” host happened to be Dick Radatz. Contemporaries will remember Dick, the unhittable – for a few years – closer whom Mickey Mantle once dubbed “The Monster.” Dick was perfect as a host – nice guy, erudite (he went to Michigan State and was, as he told us that night, only the 25th major leaguer to have attended college at the time he was playing.)

Dick Radatz

Dick Radatz

Dick told me a great tale about the 1963 All-Star Game, which I wrote up here. I happened to mention that one time I’d met, among other Red Sox of that era, Don Gile. It was at the Cottage Park Yacht Club one Sunday evening in the summer of 1962. We had heard that a bunch of Red Sox were around, and we went out to the floats to get their autographs.

The players put down the cases of adult beverages that they were loading onto the docked cabin cruiser and signed, obligingly. Yes, things were different back then. I still have those autographs. One of them is Gile’s. When Radatz heard this he said,

“Ah, Don Gile. Let me tell you about Don Gile.”

It was September 30, 1962, the second game of a doubleheader (remember them?) and the final game of the year. Gile, a reserve catcher and first baseman, was in the lineup. In 17 previous games, he’d not had a hit. He was rather down on himself.

Autographs

1962 Red Sox autographs: Don Gile, Mike Fornieles, Bob Tillman

During pregame warmups, a bunch of the players from the two teams were chatting on the sidelines. The opponents were the Washington Senators. Piersall was their center fielder.

Jimmy listened sympathetically to Gile’s story of frustration. He said, “Hit one to me in center. I’ll short-leg it for you and we’ll get you a hit.”

Sure enough, that happened. Gile hit a soft fly ball that Piersall pretended mightily to chase and catch.  But the ball fell in, and Gile had his first hit of the season. Thank you, Jimmy Piersall.

Came the last of the ninth. The score was tied. There were two runners on base. Gile came up. He swung hard. The air was shattered by the force of his blow.

Shattered too was the baseball. It flew high over the nets in left field for a walk-off home run.

Gile circled the bases, kept his head down, crossed home plate, and made a beeline for the dugout.

“By the time we got into the clubhouse, he was gone,” said Radatz. “We never spoke to him and never saw him again. He never played another game in the majors.”

I have no reason to doubt any of this story. Gile’s final year in the majors was that season of 1962, when he was 27 years of age.  He had two hits in 41 at-bats: a single, a homer, and three runs batted in.

Gile became the second Red Sox player of all time to hit a home run in his final at-bat. Two years earlier, Williams had done it on that day, famously chronicled by John Updike in The New Yorker,  that “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” It was Williams’s 521st career homer; it was Gile’s third.

Other than Don Gile, who’s 82, they’re all gone now: Piersall, Radatz, Williams. May they rest in peace. And thanks to all of them for those baseball memories.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Remembering a One-of-a-Kind Fireman on International Firefighters’ Day

May 4, 2017

Jack Kirrane, 1960 Olympic Team captain and toughest defenseman

Today the world honors the brave first responders who every day put their lives on the line in service to those whose own lives must be preserved and protected when fires break out – at home, at work, on the road, anywhere.

It’s fitting that we do this – thank you to all firefighters for your service.

No better day than today to remember one special man was not only a lifelong member of the firefighting profession. He also served his country on the battlefields of Korea, and he led an unlikely contingent of his countrymen to an improbable and storied triumph in the world of sport.

Jack Kirrane of Brookline, Massachusetts is that man. He was captain of the 1960 United States Olympic Hockey Team that won the Gold Medal at Squaw Valley, California.

With all due respect to Mike Eruzione and his merry band from the 1980 games at Lake Placid, the 1960 Olympic victory was the real Miracle on Ice. The Americans ran up a 7-0 record in those games. They went 4-0 against the three best teams in the world: 7-5 vs the Czechs, 3-2 vs, Russia, 2-1 vs. Canada, and then 9-4 vs. the Czechs again for the Gold Medal.

Mitt Romney and his Salt Lake City Olympics organization took the easy way out in 2002 when they had the 1980 team members light the Olympic Flame. They should have given that honor to the 1960 team. Kirrane and coach Jack Riley were both still alive at that point, and they were both in Salt Lake City along with several other team members.

It was a minor miracle that the 1960 team held together and even made it to Squaw Valley in one piece. Just before the games, Riley got the OK from USA Hockey president Walter Brown to add the Cleary brothers, Bill and Bob, to the squad. The team desperately needed more scoring and playmaking. The Clearys had not gone through the pre-Olympics grind with the rest of the team, and some of the players threatened a boycott.

Jack Kirrane would have none of that, telling everyone that if he had to go to California alone to represent America, he’d do it.

As it turned out, that last-minute personnel move made all the difference. The Clearys played brilliantly. There would have been no Gold Medal, and probably no medal at all, without them.   The last man cut to make room for them was Herbie Brooks, who coached the team to Gold 20 years later.

Kirrane had been playing on the international stage as far back as 1948 at St. Moritz. He was the youngest player on his team then. He was the oldest player in 1960.

After the 1948 games he played for the Boston Olympics, which was a feeder team for National Hockey League players. Fernie Flaman, among others, played for the Pics. Kirrane never got an NHL shot, however. He was drafted into the army and shipped off to Korea.

Brookline honors Olympic hockey captain Jack Kirrane.

After serving in Korea, Jack joined the Brookline Fire Department and kept playing high-level amateur hockey. When the tryouts for the 1960 team came along, he took a four-month unpaid leave of absence. He also sold his pickup truck to pay his own way to the tryouts. When he returned to work, he had lost his seniority and had to start at the bottom.

Jack worked as a firefighter for 38 years and retired as a lieutenant. He also managed Harvard’s hockey rink for 15 years. He’s a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and there’s a rink named for him at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline.

I never knew Jack Kirrane. Everyone who knows and loves Boston sports and ice hockey ought to know who he was and what he did.

I wish that I’d had, at least, the honor of shaking Jack Kirrane’s hand. So today, on International Firefighters’ Day, I’d like to given him a special thank-you, as we all express our gratitude to his teammates on those hook-and-ladder trucks all over the world.

Great Men and Great Guys

April 23, 2017
grinold

Jack Grinold

This week’s passing of Northeastern University’s and Boston sports’ beloved Jack Grinold, my good friend and good friend to countless others, brought back so many memories. Here’s one, a recollection of one his personal anecdotes, that’s not only a fond memory. It’s also instructive.

Jack lived in Brighton, about a block from Boston College. One of his walking routes, for those infrequent days when nothing was going on in his life, took him through the campus.

It was a mid-summer Sunday afternoon a few years ago. BC was deserted. Summer session was over, and the students had not begun to arrive for the fall semester.  Boston College’s middle campus is a landscaping gem; the trees, greenery, flower beds and walkways have been beautifully maintained for many years.

Jack was strolling through campus when he saw a man hunched over, close to the side of one of the buildings. Coming closer, he realized that the man was a gardener, digging with a hand spade and pulling up weeds that had begun to sprout through the mulch.

monan

J. Donald Monan, S.J.

Coming closer still, he recognized the lone gardener. It was J. Donald Monan, S.J., former president and then chancellor of Boston College.

“Hey, Father, what you up to?” cried Jack.  And if you knew Jack, you know exactly how that high-pitched greeting sounded.

“Hello, Jack,” came the reply. “I just saw these weeds coming up, and I figured I’d better do something about them.”

Then they had a nice little chat, just the two of them, and each proceeded along his way.

Kipling once wrote something about walking with kings but not losing the common touch.  The late J. Donald Monan’s station in life made him one who frequently walked with kings. But how many of those of his social rank would – literally – stoop to pull weeds from a garden in the realm he ruled for so many years?

More importantly, Father Monan sought out and valued the company and conversation of people of all stations in life. He also knew that he had a kindred spirit in Jack Grinold. That’s a quality that makes those who rank as “great men” truly great.

In that respect, Jack Grinold was J. Donald Monan’s peer. And both of them knew it. Jack’s place on life’s organizational chart wasn’t as lofty. He wasn’t a king. But kings sought him out and valued his advice. So did students, and athletes, and writers, and historians, and everybody else.  Jack Grinold always had a kind word and genuine, sincere interest in others, no matter what their station. So too did J. Donald Monan.

I can imagine the two of them now, meeting up in the Second Balcony and looking down on the rest of us. There will be no weeds to pull, no press releases to get out. Still, they’ve got plenty to do up there, legions of old friends and acquaintances to catch up with.

But I suspect that each February, perhaps, they’ll get together for another little chat. Fierce competitors that they are, they’ll root for their respective schools’ teams in the Beanpot. But only if it’s a BC-NU matchup. Otherwise, I bet, they’ll be pulling for each other.

After all, that’s what great guys do.

Looking Back at the 1936 Olympics

January 3, 2017

on-board-ss-manhattanEighty-one years ago today (January 3, 1936), the United States Olympic Ice Hockey team set sail for Europe on the S.S. Manhattan.  They would play several exhibition matches along the way, but their ultimate destination was Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The coach was my uncle, a 32-year old guy named Walter Brown.

On February 6, 1936, the opening event of the Olympics was a game between the United States and Germany, played despite a heavy snow storm.  The summer Olympics and the heroics of Jesse Owens and the University of Washington crew team (“The Boys in the Boat’) were yet to come.

Our guys won it, 1-0, and eventually finished with the Bronze Medal. In the final round, we tied Great Britain, 0-0, and lost the last game 1-0 to Canada. The winning goal in that one came when a puck eluded U.S. goalie Tom Moone, who was blinded by the bright sun behind the shooter.

Great Britain won its first and only Gold in those games. Canada won the Silver Medal after three consecutive Golds.  The USA team actually never lost to the Brits, tying them in Germany and beating them in another game played in England.

The teams traveled in style.  The S.S. Manhattan, owned by United States Lines, was the largest steamship ever built in America. The line published a book with a passenger list, which was given as a souvenir to all travelers. Its pages are reproduced here.

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