David Bruce: The Funniest People in Sports: 250 Anecdotes — Prejudice, Problem-Solving

Prejudice

• For decades, large areas of the Indianapolis 500 grounds were for men only. For example, women — even women owners of Indianapolis 500 racing cars — were not allowed in the Indianapolis 500 garages. In 1950, racing fans were outraged when the movie To Please a Lady appeared to show the character played by Barbara Stanwyck in an Indy garage. However, the controversy was defused when Indy officials insisted that Ms. Stanwyck had not entered the all-male area. The movie people had cut a hole in a fence, Ms. Stanwyck had leaned through the fence hole, and her feet had at all times been outside the garage. (In 1977, Janet Guthrie broke a major barrier to women when she became the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500.)

• In 1896, the United States Open golf tournament was held at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. A man named John Shippen, who was part Shinnecock Indian and part West Indian, entered the tournament. However, because of his heritage, the other golfers did not want to play with Mr. Shippen and they threatened to boycott the tournament. The president of the U.S. Golf Association, Theodore Havemeyer, refused to give in to prejudice. He informed the golfers that if they boycotted the tournament, Mr. Shippen would win by default. They decided to play with Mr. Shippen.

• In 1931, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell became the first woman to sign with a men’s professional baseball team when she joined the minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts. In early April of 1931, she pitched in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees and struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, both of whom are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. After the game, the baseball commissioner cancelled her contract because he didn’t think women ought to be allowed to play professional baseball.

Problem-Solving

• The spitball has been a part of baseball for a long time; even now, a professional pitcher is occasionally caught throwing a spitball. In 1912, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a spitball pitcher by the name of Marty O’Toole. The other teams knew that Mr. O’Toole was throwing spitballs, and they knew how he was doing it. His technique was to hold the ball and his glove in front of his face, then lick the ball while it was hidden by his glove. However, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Fred Luderus figured out how to stop the pitcher from throwing spitballs. Mr. Luderus got hold of some hot liniment, and whenever he got to handle the baseball, he secretly applied some of the liniment to it. Soon, Mr. O’Toole’s tongue felt like it was on fire, and he had to leave the game.

• As coach of the Boston Celtics, Red Auerbach used to pull out a cigar and smoke it whenever the Celtics held a commanding lead in the final seconds of a game. This originated not so much as a way to insult other teams as a way to insult the “higher-ups” of the National Basketball Association. Mr. Auerbach once said that when the higher-ups of the NBA were picking on him, he tried to find something he could do to aggravate them. However, he didn’t have any luck solving this problem until he smoked a cigar one day while coaching a game. After the game, the higher-ups sent him a note saying that smoking cigars while sitting on the bench didn’t look good. Mr. Auerbach said that since reading the note, he has never been without a cigar.

• United States figure skater Tara Lipinski actually started out as a roller skater. She wanted to play on a roller hockey team, but when she tried out, she was the only girl among 150 boys — some of whom had a problem skating with a girl. Fortunately, the coach, Charlie Kirchner, was very intelligent. He told 25 boys and Tara to line up with their backs to him, then told them to skate backwards to the wall. Tara reached the wall first in record time, and the boys decided that they didn’t have a problem skating with a girl.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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