• In 1908, Jack Norworth wrote what is probably his greatest hit: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He wrote the song after seeing in a subway an advertisement for a New York Giants baseball game. Surprisingly, he had never seen a baseball game before—and he didn’t see his first baseball game until 1942. According to Mr. Norworth, not seeing a baseball game wasn’t important: “So what? I’m a songwriter. That’s what I like to do. Going to baseball games doesn’t interest me a bit.” He was refreshingly candid about his abilities as a songwriter, estimating that he had written “more than 3,000 songs, seven of them good.” Two of the good ones were “Shine on, Harvest Moon” and “Meet Me in Apple Blossom Time.”
• Edward “Duke” Ellington learned how to play the piano as a result of a baseball accident. While he was playing baseball with a group of kids from the neighborhood, a player threw the bat after making a hit. The bat hit Duke in the head, and his mother decided that he would be safer inside the house, taking piano lessons, than outside, playing baseball. As an adult, Mr. Ellington became a giant in the jazz world.
• Nate Archibald was six-foot-one, so as a player in the NBA, he was called “Tiny.” When coach Bob Cousy drafted Tiny to play for the Cincinnati Royals, he had never seen Tiny play, although he had heard much about his impressive basketball abilities. When Tiny met Mr. Cousy for the first time at the coach’s hotel room, Mr. Cousy was shocked by how small he was. Mr. Cousy said, “I knew he was little, but I didn’t know he was that little. Or that skinny. Or that baby-faced. I thought he was the bellhop.” When Tiny showed up by himself at the Madison Square Garden, at first the guard at the players’ gate wouldn’t let him through. Tiny told the guard that he played for the Royals, but the guard replied, “Sure, kid. And I’m the shortstop for the Yankees.” Mr. Cousy ended up telling the guard, “He’s one of my guys, but I don’t blame you for wondering about it. We haven’t even got a uniform that fits him yet. His number’s stuffed halfway down his pants.”
• Whitbread and America’s Cup sailor Dawn Riley sometimes ran into problems early in her career. She would show up on a boat, then discover the other sailors were expecting to sail with “Don” Riley. However, she was a good person to have along in an emergency. While she was sailing in an around-the-world Whitbread Race with an all-female crew, their boat developed rudder problems. Ms. Riley ended up using a hacksaw to create a temporary replacement rudder from a spinnaker pole. Despite the rudder problems, Ms. Riley and her teammates finished second in the race.
• Athletes can be honored in many different ways. Some athletes are honored by entire towns. For example, Ismay, Montana, is a small town that changed its name to Joe, Montana. In addition, Jim Thorpe was honored when the town where he is buried in Pennsylvania changed its name from Mauch Chunk to Jim Thorpe. Many players are honored when the team they played for retires their number, but Jackie Robinson was honored in 1997 (50 years after he broke the color barrier in modern major-league baseball) when EVERY major-league team retired his number: 42.
• Buck O’Neil, a third baseman in the Negro Leagues, acquired the rather strange nickname of “Nancy” from the great pitcher Satchel Paige. This is how it happened: Mr. Paige was entertaining two women in different rooms of the same hotel, and he mixed up the women’s names. Knocking on one woman’s door, he whispered, “Nancy? Nancy?” The door opened, and standing in the doorway was a woman whose name was not Nancy. She demanded, “Who is this Nancy?” Just then, Mr. O’Neil walked into the hallway. From then on, Mr. O’Neil was called Nancy.
• Jigoro Kano adapted the martial art of jujitsu into the sport of judo. In Russia, he demonstrated judo by facing a much bigger Russian fighter. He quickly threw the man, but he put his hand under the man’s head to cushion his fall and make sure the man was not hurt. For good reason, the 5-foot-4-inch-tall Mr. Kano was known as the Gentle Giant.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
The Funniest People in Sports, Volume 2: 250 Anecdotes — Buy