UCLA legend John Wooden nearly became manager of Pirates



Doc Emrick, unparalleled Professor of Hockey, now emeritus, can recite the roster of the 1981 Port Huron Flags and has on file a copy of the warranty on their Zamboni.

But then there’s baseball and, despite his mostly unrequited affection, his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. If Emrick drank, his fridge would be loaded with Iron City Beer. So last week, when he hit me with this one, I had to know more.

In the mid-1960s, the Pirates, looking to replace infirm manager Danny Murtaugh, very nearly hired John Wooden, the famed UCLA basketball coach, to replace him. The Bucs very much wanted him, but Wooden, who came close, declined.

Emrick sent along some old newspaper clips and memories to support this tale.

The Bucs’ GM was Joe L. Brown, the son of well known comedian, actor and baseball freak Joe E. Brown. Joe E. and Bing Crosby each owned a piece of the Pirates.

Joe E. Brown adopted Bowling Green University in Kentucky as his unofficial alma mater. The school named its theater in his honor. Emrick earned his doctorate in broadcasting from Bowling Green, thus the “Doc.”

Joe L. Brown was in California, dining with Wooden — he was already firmly established as the peerless UCLA basketball coach — when the question was raised:

Then Angels manager Mike Scoscia walks off the field with former UCLA coach John Wooden prior to the start of Game 2 of the World Series in 2002.

Would Wooden, well versed in baseball, manage the Pirates? He’d stated that baseball was his first love.

But Wooden told Brown he doubted the players would take him seriously. “I don’t know who’d be run out of town first, you or me.” But the offer lingered until the Pirates hired Harry “The Hat” Walker.

“Wooden,” said Emrick, “kept a newspaper clipping in his wallet as proof of that offer.”

And Joe Torre, when he managed the Dodgers, 2008-10 — Wooden died in 2010 — has said that Wooden told him the same story. Imagine, Wooden nearly skippered Roberto Clemente!

As Paul Harvey would say, “and now you know the rest of the story” — even if you didn’t know its beginning.

Historian nails baseball love of ‘Red Badge’ author

One more?

Gary Cieradkowski, a superb baseball artist, writer and historian — check out his Infinite Baseball Card Set site — has chronicled the baseball life of Stephen Crane, author of the 1895 Civil War classic “Red Badge of Courage.”

Crane grew up playing baseball in Newark. His desire to play caused him to flunk out of Lafayette College. He next attended Syracuse, where he was good enough to attract scouts, then joined a newspaper in Asbury Park where his short literary career was born. He died destitute in 1900 at 28.

As Cieradowski notes, Crane wrote, “But heaven was sunny blue and no rain fell on the diamond when I was playing baseball.”

Let’s take a ride on the local. First stop, Gary Cohen. Come back to us, Gary!

Gary Cohen

If you were seated beside him at a Mets game, and returned after a trip to the gender-appropriate facility to ask what you missed, and he said, “The Cards put up a four-spot in the third” or that Robert Gsellman “has acquitted himself well on the mound” — silly talk — you might again remove yourself, this time to find one of those $5 Subway Foot-Longs the Mets for 14 bucks.

Would anyone think less of Cohen if he said, “The Cards scored four in the third” or “Gsellman pitched well”?

On the up side, YES’s Yankees telecasts now include a small and helpful upper-left graphic carrying the name of the pitcher and the batter. Sure beats that all-game “THE YES APP” sell graphic in the upper right.

SNY, which only notes the pitcher, would be wise to add that to Mets’ telecasts.

Next, why do I prefer John Flaherty as an in-game Yankees YES analyst over David Cone and Paul O’Neill? With Flaherty, Michael Kay is least inclined to play “20 Questions.”

With Flaherty, Kay is more likely let it come naturally and casually, as opposed to being eager to find something, anything — food, family, exit velos, launch angles, lunch angles, spin rates, “high-leverage situations,” hype and more stats than you can shake a slide rule at — to talk about and often to produce forced laughter.

Let it be TV. First and foremost, let us watch.

Call out GMs, but not own mock drafts

In about 11 months, surviving NFL GMs will be asked if they regret making such-and-such a high draft pick, given that he has thus far been a bust. The media won’t mock their own mock drafts, but GMs are subject to hindsight hunting.

And, almost invariably, GMs will answer, “No,” they have no regrets.

Such episodes bring to mind my favorite wait-for-it moments from Super Bowl postgame shows, when the losing side’s coach, even after crushing losses, is interviewed.

He stands, back to a cinder block wall wearing a solemn expression, when he’s asked, “Coach, would you do anything different?”

And, invariably, he answers, “No.”

Me? Having just lost the Super Bowl I’d confess that given a second chance I’d do everything differently. I’d punt on first down, have my defensive backs carry butterfly nets, defer both kickoffs.

Having just lost, what would I have to lose?

Showtime boxing is still making deals with Floyd Mayweather, proof that even in these “woke” times, the ViacomCBS network will gladly throw money at an athlete who did time, two months of a three-month sentence, for the assault of one of the two mothers of his four children.

But Showtime’s sense of social indignation is selective. It had no problem sustaining the employment of vulgar Showtime co-host Stephen Jackson after the former NBA player issued an ignorant, hateful anti-Jewish spew.

Leave it to Subway to hire the most repugnant, attention-starved, me-first member of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, Megan Rapinoe, as a TV endorser. Was Subway unaware that her boorish World Cup behavior didn’t play any better in America than everywhere else?

For 12 of his 18 NBA seasons Steve Nash played 70 or more games. Twice he played all 82, twice he played 81. And he played hard, all-in, two-way ball, not this hideous game of “3-Point Loiter.” Thus I wonder what he thinks — really thinks — when he heads to coach the Nets not knowing who among his players will be playing, let alone feel like playing.

Late last month, the Jazz attempted 57 3-pointers in one game. Same game, they took just 38 2-pointers. Of those 3s, they hit just 16 (28.1 percent). The Jazz, currently the top team in the Western Conference, lost that game to the Timberwolves, now tied for the second-worst record in the NBA. Pay for a ticket? I’d pay you to turn it off.

We leave you today with the wisdom of Jimmy Durante: “I know money can’t buy you love, and money it can’t buy you happiness, but give me some and I’ll do my own shopping.”


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