March 29, 2004

Baseball Sonnet

How slim-waisted, in spring, and hopeful.
That boys, in awe, admired each muscle
Wound like springy steel. That men would mention
Our names with those found in the pantheon.
Of this we were not unaware. Then summer.
Campaigns to strange cities. The glummer
Our chronicler’s dispatches became
The more we heard, though bitterly, those names
Again. Autumn came, filling us with fear.
We returned unrecognizable,
To no reception. We heard someone mumble,
Home, but we had no heart for it. It’s clear
That we will be destroyed and built again,
That home’s not where we’re going, not where we’ve been.


Posted by dog1 on March 29, 2004 at 07:42 AM in Sports | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 19, 2004

On This Day

1966.jpg

When I saw that UTEP was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament last night, I thought about the contribution of this small Texas school to college basketball. On this date, in 1966, Texas Western College, now known as UTEP, won the national championship, beating Kentucky easily 72-65. It was the first team with five black starters to win the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky had no black players on its roster.

Texas Western was given little chance by other coaches and sports writers.

Don Haskins, the coach of Texas Western, decided to change his lineup to match up better with Kentucky's quickness. It just so happened that his best lineup included five black players. Haskins has said that the racial composition of the team was not a factor.

"I hadn't thought of it as putting an all-black team on the court. I was simply playing the best players I had. It's what I had done all year. Then we came home, and the hate mail started pouring in. Thousands of letters, from all over the south."

It would be hyperbole to state that this single victory changed the landscape of college athletics. Black basketball players had been a part of championship teams prior to 1966. However, there was a sort of unspoken quota system at many colleges, and some southern colleges would not compete against integrated teams. This excellent history of the NCAA Tournament recounts the following:

Only three years before the Miners' success, Mississippi State Coach Babe McCarthy had to sneak out of town in the middle of the night to participate in the 1963 NCAA playoffs. He left before he was served injunction papers stemming from two segregationist state legislators seeking to prohibit the team from leaving Mississippi and using state funds to travel to the tournament. Billy Mitts, one of the "Jim Crow" state senators, was a former Mississippi State student body president, but his influence waned when a county sheriff apparently sympathetic to the players' plight graciously left an airport in time for them to board their plane and evade an unpleasant scene. Mississippi State, an all-white school at the time, had captured SEC championships under McCarthy in 1959, 1961 and 1962. But the Bulldogs--then more popularly known as the Maroons--declined automatic bids to play in the NCAA Tournament those three years because of an unwritten bigoted policy forbidding Mississippi State or Ole Miss athletes to compete in racially integrated contests.

This was, after all, 1966. And the victory was perceived by many as a turning point; many southern schools soon began to earnestly recruit black basketball players, even, though very reluctantly, Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.

In the end, Rupp choked on the loss. This was a proper finish capstone for a man who can be likened without exaggeration as George Wallace with a clipboard. When school president John Oswald ordered Rupp to desegregate he reportedly let out the plaintive whine, "That son of a bitch is ordering me to get some niggers in here. What am I going to do?"

Pat Riley, one of the players for the losing Kentucky team, suggested that the victory made a big difference for black athletes.

"When he came to the Lakers, Bob McAdoo told me how much the game meant, how it changed everything, how it opened up the world for black kids in the South. I guess I never really thought of it that way, that we were such a big part of history. The loss remains. I've never felt emptier. It was the worst night of my basketball life, but I'm proud to have taken part in something that changed so many other people's lives."

Some disagree that it was a turning point. There were trends toward desegretation in many colleges at the time that track with larger national trends outside of athletics. But at the least it certainly was a milestone worth remembering today.

(Edited for some miscues)

Posted by dog1 on March 19, 2004 at 03:19 PM in Sports | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 12, 2004

Steroids

John, at Only Baseball Matters, has some questions about steroids:

Let's start with the question of whether they are bad for you. I just don't see how you could come to that conclusion. The simple truth is that there have been essentially no studies done that have concluded that steroid use will cause anything. How can I say this? Because there have been essentially no studies done at all. Look it up. Go to the NIDA and try to find the huge library of studies and reports and data. It's not there. If it's not there, then where is it? I don't know, and neither does Lupica.

This subject drives me to distraction. I posted about it before. John is permanently enshrined in the links, from today forward, because he is an unrepentant Barry Bonds fan. (Oops, was I speaking of athletes as martyrs earlier?)

Posted by dog1 on March 12, 2004 at 11:25 AM in Sports | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 26, 2004

Unfrozen Caveman Sportswriters

Does Barry Bonds use steroids? Yawn. I don't care. I love to watch the way the man changes the game every time he comes to bat. Some people, apparently, love to speculate. They bore me. If only Babe Ruth had been on the Atkins diet he never would have been caught by that uppity Hank Aaron.

Posted by dog1 on February 26, 2004 at 03:54 PM in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack