You can never see everything in the Smithsonian on one visit to Washington D.C. Or on two. There’s just too much. Too many exhibits, too much history. You pick and choose.
Same thing applies to my parents’ basement.
On each trip back to Minnesota, I head down to the basement and to the side room that’s called — depending on the speaker — either the junk room or the treasure room. It holds old golf clubs, older love letters, magazines, books, report cards, bills, boxes and items that could just be called “miscellaneous.” I’ll dig around for a bit and find something I want to take back to NYC. Other times I just explore for the fun of it.
This time I found a stack of old sports books, which must have been collected by my dad and his brothers and now live in Janesville, MN, waiting for the day when they’re sold, given away, burned or crumble into nothing.
Let’s take a look.
I should have said I believe these books belonged to my dad or uncles. But I’m not sure who originally had the “League Rule Book” for the Woman’s International Bowling Congress, INC., for the 1968-69 season. There are no bowlers in our family. We live a block from a bowling alley and went up to it maybe five times when I was a kid. No one in the extended family bowls. Of all the conversations centered around sports our family has had over the decades, perhaps two involved bowling. So where did the rule book come from? It’s just nestled there, hidden between biographies of Hank Aaron and NBA Official Guides. Did someone date a female bowler? If it was my dad… no, it couldn’t have been, not then. They got married in 1968, he wouldn’t have had a bowling lady on the side lane, right? The small book — more of a pamphlet, really — is in pristine condition, as if no one ever opened it and studied the rules pertaining to EMERGENCY DEFAULTS, which state, “Failure of a team to bowl when scheduled shall be considered a default unless its failure to bowl was due to what is considered, by the executive board of the league, a sufficient cause.”
A few years ago I stumbled upon an old basketball instructional guide from the late 1950s. This time I found a “Basketball Player Handbook. 1963.” Someone in the family is really into following the documented rules of the sport. The National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations published the book and the tome includes tests for those who want to partake. For instance, mark X in proper square:
1. About protesting an official’s decision: (1. Captain may courteously confer with official about decision not involving judgment) (2. Any player may stop game to enter protest to official) (3. When player is charged with a personal foul, it is good policy for him to help scorer determine player to be charged with the foul) (4. Showing displeasure with a decision is unsportsmanlike and promotes blind prejudice among team followers).
I’m not even exactly sure what the question is, but the answer — found on Page 61 — is 1, 3 and 4.
Alex Karras — people under 45 remember him as Mongo from Blazing Saddles, those under 35 know him as the dad on Webster — had a biography called “Even Big Guys Cry,” and according to the cover it was the No. 1 sports book of the year in 1977, although the reasons for the description are not really spelled out. The blurbs talk about how the book is not the normal athlete’s autobiography. Seems accurate, considering the book “Tackles the truth” about how Karras learned “about sex from a high school teacher in a tender, deeply touching affair.” Huh.
Unfortunately the book doesn’t contain an index, but I finally found the correct passages. Karras was in high school. The teacher’s name? Miss Potts. “A radiant Irish lady who had come all the way from Dublin to teach at Gary Emerson until summer recess. She had rust-colored hair and green eyes and a glowing smile.”
For the record, Karras’ co-writer was Herb Gluck. Credit him with the descriptions, even if they’re Karras’ memories.
Then, Karras, recalls and Gluck writes, “One day after class we got into close quarters at the blackboard. Close enough that I could smell the fragrance of her body. I had an erection. Miss Potts brushed against it. Forgetting everything except what was happening, I stood there rigid and frightened. Miss Potts lowered her eyes for an instant, then looked up and took my hand. Not passionately. Gently. As gentle as her smile.
“Would you like to come to my house this evening?” she asked.
“Yes, Miss Potts.”
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“No, Miss Potts. Honest to God, I won’t.”
Imagine an athlete writing this today. Imagine a female athlete writing this about a male teacher. They smoked, sat in her apartment, listened to the phonograph and finally made love. For the record, “She took her time. She made me take mine.” Miss Potts eventually moved back to Ireland (one step ahead of the law) and young Alex was disappointed.
Moving on. Dear God, move on.
How about a wholesome book? Something like “Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys.” Published in 1972, the book, perhaps not surprisingly considering Captain Comeback’s reputation, does not contain any descriptions of teacher-student love.
Every year my dad still buys the Who’s Who in Baseball books and one in this pile is from 1959. Interestingly, Roger Maris was listed one slot below Mickey Mantle in this edition. The previous season — 1958 — Maris hit 28 homers for Cleveland/Kansas City while Mantle slugged 42. The book first lists hitters, then pitchers. The final hitter? Donald William Zimmer, still 45 years from his showdown with Pedro Martinez in Fenway Park. The final pitcher? George Zuvernick Jr. Went 2-2 with Baltimore.
I pulled out the NBA’s official guide to the 1966-67 season. It’s fun looking at the records from a time when the league was still in its infancy. The second, third, and fourth-leading scorers of all time, respectively, were Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes and Bob Cousy. The top guy? Well, Wilt, of course. Even though he’d only been in the league seven years. At that point in his career, Wilt’s lifetime average was 39.6 and he had 21,000 points and (insert joke about his sleeping partners here).
Other books in this pile? An NFL record book from 1977, “Football stars of 1973,” and “The Pass Catchers,” which contains a section on Kansas City star Otis Taylor, who played on the 1963 Prairie View team that St. John’s defeated in a memorable championship game.
One of the Hank Aaron biographies is called “Hank Aaron…714 and Beyond.” It’s about Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record and the description makes you think this book details the night Aaron broke the mark. It does not. The book came out in 1974, the year Aaron finally did hit No. 715. Unfortunately for the author, Jerry Brondfield, Aaron ended the 1973 season with 713. So instead of writing about the new record, Brondfield had to write about the pursuit, which came so close, but had to wait a year. Tough marketing on that one and a limited lifespan for the book.
I feel for the writer.
Then again, he could have been stuck writing soft-core porn involving Alex Karras.