Tuesday, April 16, 2024

April 16, 1954: The Tony Leswick Goal

April 16, 1954, 70 years ago: Only twice in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals has a Game 7 gone to overtime. They happened within 4 years of each other, and both were won by the Detroit Red Wings.

The Wings had won the Cup in 1950, when Pete Babando scored in double overtime of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. They won it again in 1952, becoming the 1st team ever to sweep the 2 rounds of the Playoffs in 8 straight. They still had enough talent to start a future Hall-of-Famer at every position: The Production Line of right wing Gordie Howe and left wing Ted Lindsay had a new center, with Alex Delvecchio replacing the retired Sid Abel; Jack Stewart had retired, but Red Kelly and Marcel Pronovost were on defense; and Terry Sawchuk had succeeded Harry Lumley in goal.

In the Finals, they would face the Montreal Canadiens. Les Habitantes (or the Habs, for short) had lost the Finals to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951 and the Wings in '52, but had won the Cup in '53, so they went in as the defending Champions.

Like the Wings, the Canadiens could start a Hall-of-Famer at every position. Right wing Maurice "the Rocket" Richard and center Elmer Lach were left over from the Punch Line of the 1940s, with the now-retired Hector "Toe" Blake on the left. There was also right wing Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion, left wing Bert Olmstead, and 3 future HOF defensemen: Émile "Butch" Bouchard, Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson. And, finishing their 1st full seasons in Montreal, center Jean Béliveau and goaltender Jacques Plante. However, it was Gerry McNeil, last season's Cup-winning goalie, who would be in the net for Montreal. Both of these teams were loaded.

The 1st 2 games, at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit, were split: The Red Wings won Game 1, 3-1; and the Canadiens won Game 2, by the same score. The action moved to the Montreal Forum, and the Wings won, 5-2 and 2-0. All they had to do was win Game 5 at home, but Ken Mosdell scored at 5:45 of overtime, and the Canadiens stayed alive, 1-0. Back in Montreal, the Habs held home ice, winning 4-1.

Game 7 was set for the Olympia on April 16. Hockey writers tend not to use the expression "Game of the Century" -- though they would do so for a later game at the Montreal Forum, the December 31, 1975 3-3 exhibition-game tie with the Soviet Union's Central Red Army team -- but, given the talent on the ice, and what happened in the game, it would have been justified.

Floyd Curry opened the scoring at 9:17 of the 1st period, giving the Canadiens the lead. At 1:17 of the 2nd, Kelly tied it. There was no scoring in the 3rd period, and the game went to overtime.

Boston Bruin fans won't like reading this, but Doug Harvey was doing the kind of things that Bobby Orr would do a generation later, becoming the 1st truly offensive defenseman. The difference was, Harvey was doing it in Canada, and on radio; while Orr did it in America, and on American television, and that's the main reason Orr is considered a contender for the title of the greatest player ever, along with Howe and Wayne Gretzky, and Harvey is not.
Orr won 8 Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defensemen, and 2 Stanley Cups. The Norris wasn't given out for the 1st time until 1954, and Kelly won it, but Harvey won 7 of the next 8, with Johnson winning the other; and won 6 Stanley Cups. Red Storey, an NHL referee at the height of Harvey's career, called him the smartest player in the game: "If he'd been a general, he'd have won every war." (Harvey was not related to the umpire of the same name who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

So it was with some irony that Harvey "scored" the most famous "own goal" in hockey history: At 4:29 of the 1st overtime, Tony Leswick launched a slap shot, and it deflected off Harvey, and past McNeill. There was nothing that either Harvey or McNeil could do, and the Wings were 2-1 winners, and Stanley Cup Champions.

Leswick, 31, was 1 of 3 brothers to play in the NHL, and an uncle of later baseball star Lenny Dykstra. He was just 5-foot-6, but was so tough, he was known as "Tough Tony" and "Mighty Mouse." He played in 6 All-Star Games, was with the Wings when they won the 1952 Cup, and would be with them in 1955, when they won the Cup again. He later coached in the minor leagues, and lived until 2001.

In 1998, The Hockey News ranked Harvey 6th on their list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players. Sadly, he had died in 1989. McNeill wasn't exactly blamed for letting the winning goal in, but Plante, who would rank 13th on The Hockey News' list, was ready, and, with stars like him, Richard, Harvey, Béliveau and Geoffrion, the Canadiens would win 5 straight Stanley Cups from 1956 to 1960. McNeill lived until 2004.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Ken Holtzman, 1945-2024

I don't need reminders of my advancing age. My bones, muscles and joints do that for me, just fine, even after two hip replacements.

I certainly don't need news that another member of the first team I ever loved has died, even though I know they're all old now.

Kenneth Dale Holtzman was born on November 3, 1945 in St. Louis. Debuting with the Chicago Cubs in 1965, this Jewish lefthander was called "the new Sandy Koufax." In Koufax's 3rd-from-last regular-season appearance, on September 25, 1966, Ken Holtzman's Cubs beat Koufax's Dodgers, 2-1.

He didn't become the new Koufax, but he did go 174-150 in his career -- more wins than Koufax, although Koufax's career ended early due to elbow trouble. Included were 2 no-hitters, half as many as Koufax: On August 19, 1969, against the Atlanta Braves; and on June 3, 1971, against the Cincinnati Reds. He still holds the record for most games won by a Jewish pitcher.

He was a 2-time All-Star, in 1972 and '73. With the Oakland Athletics, he won the World Series in 1972, '73 and '74. In the 1974 Series, he hit a home run, something only 1 pitcher has done in Series play since (Joe Blanton of the 2008 Phillies). He also won a Pennant with the Yankees in 1976 and another World Series with them in 1977.
The Yankees traded him back to the Cubs in 1978, and he retired with them after the 1979 season. The Cubs have elected him to their team Hall of Fame. He was also elected to the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
He returned to his hometown of St. Louis, became an insurance salesman, and died yesterday, April 14, 2024. He was 78 years old, and had been battling heart trouble. He was survived by his ex-wife, Michelle; 3 daughters, Roby, Stay and Lauren; and 4 grandchildren.
Of the 1977 Yankees, Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash in 1979, Catfish Hunter died from Lou Gehrig's disease in 1999, Elrod Hendricks (only 10 games, none in the postseason) in 2005, Dock Ellis (traded in April) in 2008, Paul Blair in 2013, Dave Bergman in 2015, Jimmy Wynn in 2020 (not from COVID), Dick Tidrow in 2021, and Don Gullett earlier this year.
Still alive, in descending order of age, are: Lou Piniella, 80; Roy White, 80; Graig Nettles, 79; Sparky Lyle, 79; Marty Perez, 1 game before being traded in April, 78; Reggie Jackson, 77; Frank Healy, 77; Mike Torrez, 77; Cliff Johnson, 76; Fred Stanley, 76; Carlos May, 75; Mickey Rivers, 75; Dave Kingman, who played all of 8 games, all of them in the regular season, 75; Ed Figueroa, 75; Chris Chambliss, 75; Gene Locklear, only the last game of the regular season, and it was the last major league game he ever played, 74; Stan Thomas, 3 games as a September call-up, and never appeared again, 74; Ron Guidry, 73; George Zeber, 73; Bucky Dent, 72; Larry McCall, 2 games as a September call-up, 71; Dell Alston, 71; Ken Clay, 70; Willie Randolph, 69; Mickey Klutts, 5 games as a September call-up, 69; Gil Patterson, 68.

Yanks Stay On Top of MLB with 2 of 3 vs. Guardians

When I was a kid, the Yankees never, ever lost to the Cleveland Guardians.

Of course, when I was a kid, the Yankees never, ever beat the Cleveland Guardians, either. They were known as the Cleveland Indians from 1915 to 2021.

The Yankees and the Guardians were supposed to start a 3-game series at Progressive Field in Cleveland on Friday night, but it rained, resulting in a doubleheader on Saturday. Clarke Schmidt started the opener, and allowed 2 runs, 1 of them earned, over 5 innings and change. It was a little worrying that he walked 5 batters, along with allowing 3 hits, but he struck out 7. The bullpen kept the "Guards" off the scoreboard the rest of the way. A 2-run home run from Oswaldo Cabrera in the 6th made the difference, and the Yankees won, 3-2.

Cody Poteet, 29 years old and with 19 previous major league appearances to his credit, all with the Miami Marlins, made his Yankee debut as the starting pitcher in the nightcap. He went 6 innings, allowing 1 run on 6 hits, and no walks, striking out 4. Anthony Rizzo and Anthony Volpe each had 2 hits, and Juan Soto hit a home run, and the Yankees won, 8-2. That's 12 out of 15 to start the season.

The Sunday game didn't go so well. Nestor Cortés for the Yankees, and allowed 4 runs in 4 innings. Aaron Judge and Jose Trevino hit home runs. The Guardians took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the 8th. A double by Volpe tied the game in the 9th, and it went to extra innings -- meaning, the damn ghost runner came into play.

At first, it helped. In the top of the 10th, Soto was the ghost runner. Judge was intentionally walked to set up a double play. Giancarlo Stanton singled, but Soto couldn't score. Bases loaded, nobody out. The Yankees could have put the game away. Rizzo singled Soto and Judge home. It was 7-5. Gleyber Torres bunted the runners over.

But Alex Verdugo grounded into a double play. To start the bottom of the 10th, Caleb Ferguson was the Yankee reliever. Ferguson had nothing: He allowed a single, and RBI groundout, a double, a game-tying fielder's choice, and a game-losing sacrifice fly. Guardians 8, Yankees 7.

*

So, as things stand, the Yankees are 12-4, despite Gerrit Cole, D.J. LeMahieu and Jonathan Loáisiga being unavailable, our catchers batting a combined .157, Torres batting only .203, Judge batting only .207, Verdugo batting only .218, and no would-be closer better than Clay Holmes.

That 12-4 record is the best in Major League Baseball. They lead the American League Eastern Division by 2 1/2 games over the Baltimore Orioles, 3 over the Tampa Bay Rays, 3 1/2 over the Boston Red Sox, and 4 over the Toronto Blue Jays. Given the nature of the early season, when postponements are more common, and teams tend not to have played the same number of games, in the all-important loss column, the Yanks lead the O's by 2, the Rays by 3, and the Sox and Jays by 4 each.

The Yankees' roadtrip continues tonight, in Toronto. Luis Gil starts for the Yankees, against Chris Bassitt.

April 15, 1964: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Opens

April 15, 1964, 60 years ago: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opens, carrying U.S. Route 13 over, and under, the Chesapeake Bay, connecting Cape Charles, on the Delmarva Peninsula ("Del-mar-va": Delaware, Maryland and Virginia), with the resort city of Virginia Beach.

It is 17.6 miles long, and replaced a ferry service that had been operating since the 1930s. The company sold their ferry boats to the Delaware Bay Authority, which introduced the Cape May-Lewes Ferry service between New Jersey and Delaware, 3 months later.

Theoretically, the span saves people trying to get from the Northeast to the Hampton Roads area, including Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia's 2 largest cities, 95 miles and an hour and a half of driving.

But this is misleading: For most of its run, from Falls Township, Pennsylvania between Trenton and Philadelphia, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, Route 13 is only 2 lanes, 1 in each direction. From 1964 to 1999, this included the Bridge-Tunnel. A 2nd span, carrying southbound traffic over 2 lanes, opened in 1999, leaving the original span to carry northbound traffic over 2 lanes.

In 1987, the span, often abbreviated to the CBBT, was officially named the Lucius J. Kellam Jr. Tunnel. Kellam (1911-1995) was the first Chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission, who got it built.

There have been 3 incidents involving ships crashing into the bridge, forcing temporary closures for repairs, in 1967, 1970 and 1972; and 16 incidents involving cars going off the bridge and into the water, including 1 death in 2017 and another in 2020.

There is a plan to build an additional span, to make it 4 lanes in each direction. This plan states that it is not expected to be completed before 2040.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Yankees Eclipse Marlins 2 Out of 3

The team with baseball's best record, the New York Yankees, played a 3-game series against the team with baseball's worst record, the Miami Marlins, at the new Yankee Stadium.

Nestor Cortés started the series opener, and it was easily the best Yankee starting pitching performance of the season thus far: 8 innings, no runs, 2 hits, no walks, 6 strikeouts. Josh Maciejewski pitched a perfect 9th, making it a Cuban-Polish 2-hit shutout.

Anthony Volpe and Juan Soto hit home runs. Each had 3 RBIs on the night. Alex Verdugo went 3-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. The Yankees won, 7-0.

In a game pushed back to a night start due to the total solar eclipse earlier in the day, the Yankees won the Tuesday night game, 3-2. Carlos Rodón pitched 6 innings, allowing 2 runs, neither of them earned, on 4 hits and 2 walks, striking out 6. Ian Hamilton pitched a scoreless 7th and 8th, and Clay Holmes pitched a perfect 9th.

Verdugo hit a home run. Aaron Judge did not: He went 1-for-1... with 3 walks. Shades of Barry Bonds, but from the right side, and minus the cheating (as far as we know).

The Yankees were 10-2 to start the season, with (so far) no Gerrit Cole, no DJ LeMahieu, Jonathan Loáisiga is out for the season with an injury, the catchers were batting a combined .108 at the end of that game, Judge was batting .195, Gleyber Torres was batting .200, Verdugo was batting .220 in spite of doing well those last 2 games, and, except for Cortés on Monday, none of the starting pitchers had put up an especially noteworthy performance.

How is this happening? Are we simply getting 14 years of bad luck turned around in 1 season?

Not in the series finale, we weren't. Giancarlo Stanton hit a home run, and Soto had an RBI double. Other than that, the Yankees got only 3 hits. Marcus Stroman was shaky, and the Yankees lost, 5-2.

At 10-3, the Yankees still have the best record in baseball. They have today off. Tomorrow, they start a roadtrip with 3 games against the Cleveland Guardians.

O.J. Simpson, 1947-2024

 
When I was a kid in the 1970s, the Weekly Reader would poll kids of various ages, boys and girls alike, and ask them who their heroes were. O.J. Simpson, a running back who never appeared in a winning NFL Playoff game, always finished 1st. Finishing 2nd was Neil Armstrong.

The 1st man to walk on the Moon was Number 2.

(Note: I originally wrote this for his 70th birthday, after seeing someone compare him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had turned 70 3 months earlier. I updated it for his 75th birthday, and have updated it again.)

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Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, in San Francisco. He was always known by his initials, O.J., or "Orange Juice," or, more commonly, just "Juice." He grew up in the Portrero Hill neighborhood, graduated from San Francisco's Galileo High School, named for the legendary Italian scientist because it was built in, at the time, an Italian neighborhood.

Other notable Galileo alumni include fellow athletes the DiMaggio brothers, former Yankee 3rd baseman and American League President Bobby Brown, early basketball legend Hank Luisetti, Levi Strauss chairmen Peter and Walter Haas (Walter was also, for a time, the owner of the Oakland Athletics), and O.J.'s best friend, later a teammate at City College of San Francisco, the University of Southern California, and the Buffalo Bills, Al Cowlings.

After CCSF, O.J. went to Los Angeles, and led USC to the National Championship in 1967, 50 years ago, defeating crosstown UCLA and their quarterback Gary Beban in one of those occasional "Game of the Century" hypefests, one that lived up to the billing.

Beban won the Heisman Trophy as national college football player of the year anyway, but O.J. had another year of eligibility (under today's rules, he would have given it up and become eligible for the NFL Draft), and won the Heisman in 1968.

It's been suggested that the reason Philadelphia Eagles fans threw snowballs at a guy dressed as Santa Claus during the halftime show of their 1968 season finale at Franklin Field is that they were angry that the Eagles had refused to tank in order to get the Number 1 pick in the 1969 Draft, and won 2 games that they shouldn't have, and thus lost out on the right to draft O.J., and instead got Purdue University running back and defensive back Leroy Keyes.

Keyes played 4 seasons for the Eagles and 1 for the Kansas City Chiefs, and was a decent safety. He later returned to Purdue as an assistant athletic director, and died on April 15, 2021, at the age of 74. From 1994 to 2021, O.J. would probably have been willing to trade lives with him. And Eagles fans don't have to explain to their kids that O.J. played for them, and then what happened.

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Buffalo Bills fans do have to explain that. O.J. was not used well by Bills coaches John Rauch and Harvey Johnson. The Bills brought Lou Saban, who coached their 1964 and '65 American Football League Champions, back, and he rebuilt the offense around O.J. The Bills' offensive line, led by Hall-of-Famer Joe DeLamielleure and All-Pro Reggie McKenzie, was nicknamed The Electric Company, because "we make the Juice flow." ("Juice" is a nickname for electricity.)

On December 17, 1973, in a snowstorm at Shea Stadium against the Jets, O.J. set a new single-season NFL rushing record (since broken), becoming the 1st NFL player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

I chose the picture above, from around that time, of him at the peak of his playing career, because it makes him look as perplexed about his future as we all became.

The next season, the Bills went 9-5 and won the American Football Conference Wild Card (only 1 Wild Card per Conference at the time), and on December 22, 1974, O.J. Simpson played in an NFL Playoff game for the 1st time. The Bills went into Three Rivers Stadium and were beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 32-14. The Steel Curtain defense held O.J. to 49 rushing yards, although he did catch a touchdown pass. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl, the 1st of 4 they'd win in a 6-year span.

O.J. never played in another Playoff game. The Bills went 8-6 in 1975. In 1976, despite O.J. rushing for 273 yards against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day (a single-game record that would be broken the next year by Walter Payton), they went 2-12. Much as the New England Patriots have dominated the AFC Eastern Division since 2001, the Miami Dolphins dominated it from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, and it was hard for the Bills, the Jets or the Patriots to break through.

O.J. played 2 more seasons, for his hometown San Francisco 49ers, but they were terrible, going 2-14 in 1979, his last season, before they turned things around under coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana. Had O.J. hung around for 2 more seasons, he would have been just 34, and would have gotten a Super Bowl ring, if only as a banged-up backup. But his knee injuries made that impractical.

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But, as with certain other sports legends -- Don Mattingly, Anna Kournikova, and O.J.'s contemporary Pete Maravich come to mind -- not winning didn't matter. O.J.'s talent, good looks, and winning personality made him a bigger star than more successful running backs such as the Dolphins' Larry Csonka, the Steelers' Franco Harris, and the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Dorsett.

He starred in commercials for Hertz Rent-a-Car, and had already acted on episodes of TV shows, including Ironside, a police drama set in his native San Francisco). He was cast in The Towering Inferno (as the tower's chief security officer, he was one of the few big names whose character survived the movie), The Cassandra Crossing, Capricorn One, and, most notably, Roots, as Kadi Touray. He became a sideline reporter for NBC's NFL telecasts, and was very good at it.

He starred on the HBO series 1st & Ten as a star player forced by injury to turn to coaching (with fellow USC Heisman winner Marcus Allen as the player who takes his place), and showed a talent for slapstick as Detective Nordberg in the Naked Gun films. Ironically, the 1st one, in 1988, showed an L.A.-based athlete attempting a murder: Reggie Jackson, wearing his old California Angels uniform, played a player brainwashed to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, stopped by Leslie Nielsen's usually-inept Lieutenant Frank Drebin.

In 1983, James Cameron was casting The Terminator. He wanted O.J. to play the seemingly unstoppable cyborg from the future. But focus groups told him that there was no way that O.J. would be taken seriously as a killing machine.

In 1994, he had finished filming Frogmen, an action film about U.S. Navy divers, and had been interviewed on the set for Entertainment Tonight. He seemed enthusiastic about this film.

He was 46 years old, going on 47. He was dating budding actress Paula Barbieri. He was a member of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. He had a fabulous house in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He walked with kings, presidents and his fellow stars. He was rich, famous and popular beyond most people's wildest dreams.

Like Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby, he had transcended his status as a black man in a white-dominated society, to become one of the biggest celebrities in America, and he remained one even though he hadn't played a down of football in nearly 15 years.

But, as happened to Jackson the year before, and has happened to Cosby since -- and as had recently happened to white celebrities Pete Rose (also an ex-athlete) and Woody Allen (also involved in movies), his image was about to change in ways that we could not have possibly imagined.

Oh yeah: Frogmen has never been released. It remains in someone's vault, never seen by the general public. And O.J. was never cast in another feature film.

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When we went to bed on the night of June 12, 1994, we thought of O.J. Simpson as one of the greatest football players ever, a good sideline reporter on NBC's NFL telecasts, and a decent actor. If he had been the one who died that night, by whatever means, it would have been sad -- as far as the public knew at the time.

And, as it turned out, a lot of people would have been better off. Himself included.
We knew he had been married and divorced twice. What most of us did not know was that he had beaten both of his wives. The 2nd wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, had repeatedly called the police about it. One of the times, one of the responding lawmen was a young Detective named Mark Furhman.
Nicole told lots of people that she believed O.J. would kill her one day. On the night of June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson had dinner with her mother, Juditha Brown, at Mezzaluna Trattoria, an Italian restaurant in the Brentwood section of the Westside (it's always spelled as 1 word) of Los Angeles, where a friend of hers, Ronald Goldman, was a waiter.
Nicole drove her mother home. When she got home to 875 South Bundy Drive, about half a mile southwest of the restaurant, her mother called, saying that she left her sunglasses at the restaurant. Nicole called the restaurant. The glasses were found, and Ron agreed to deliver them.
Both Nicole and Ron were murdered at Nicole's house that night, brutally stabbed to death. She was 35, he was 25.
The middle of June 1994 was a weird time in America. Republicans were pushing hard against the agenda, and indeed the legitimacy as President, of Democrat Bill Clinton. We were beginning to hear about something called the Internet. Nirvana bandleader Kurt Cobain committed suicide at age 27. The threat of a baseball strike loomed, a threat that was, unfortunately, realized in August.
And both the Madison Square Garden teams, the Knicks and the Rangers, reached their sport's Finals. (This had previously happened in 1972: The Knicks lost to the Los Angeles Lakers; the Rangers, to the Boston Bruins.) On June 14, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup for the 1st time in 54 years, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7. By that point, O.J. was already a suspect in the murders.
On June 17, Game 5 of the NBA Finals was played at The Garden. While the Knicks were on their way to beating the Houston Rockets that night (though the Rockets would win the series in Game 7 in Houston on June 22), NBC went to a split screen.
Because Al Cowlings was driving a white 1993 Ford Bronco, California license plate 3DHY503, on Interstate 405, the San Diego Freeway, with O.J. Simpson in the back seat, with a gun to his head, and the police were following it. It was one of the most surreal events in television history.
Some time later, on the talk show The View, panelist Star Jones, a former Brooklyn prosecutor, defined friendship this way: "Who do you want driving the Bronco?" In other words, if you're in as much trouble as O.J. was in, who do you want to help you attempt to get out of it? Frankly, I think a better definition is, "For whom would you drive the Bronco?"
But since, by that point, everybody knew "A.C." not as a former football player, but as O.J.'s yes-man, Star did not have to explain her point. We all knew what she meant.
A.C. drove O.J. back to the house, where he was arrested. The ensuing legal process, including the "Trial of the Century," has been blamed for everything from the ruining of the American criminal justice system to the worsening of American race relations, from the dumbing down of American culture through "reality TV" to the rise of the Kardashian family (one of O.J.'s "Dream Team" lawyers, and one of his best friends, was Robert Kardashian Sr., ex-husband of Kris Jenner, and father of Rob, Kourtney, Kim and Khloe).
In hindsight, the evidence is overwhelming. But the verdict that was announced on October 3, 1995 was correct: "Not Guilty." Why? Because a conviction can only be achieved if all 12 jurors are convinced that the prosecution has proven the defendant's guilt, as the saying goes, beyond a reasonable doubt.
As soon as prosecutor Christopher Darden put Fuhrman, who'd been part of the LAPD's investigative team at the murder scene, on the stand, the case against O.J. was blown. Fuhrman had tampered with evidence, and evidence of his racism was presented.
Moreover, if Fuhrman had not been put on the stand, the bloody gloves would never have been put into evidence, and we never would have found out that, for whatever reason, they didn't fit. That's reasonable doubt, right there. The leader of O.J.'s Dream Team, Johnnie Cochran, was right: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
While morally wrong, the verdict was legally correct.

O.J. regained his freedom. But a civil suit was brought by the Brown and Goldman families. With a different standard -- only a preponderance of the evidence is necessary to decide, although the jury must still be unanimous on that -- he was found liable for the victims' deaths, and forced into a whopping fine.

He lost the estate at 360 North Rockingham Avenue, about 2 miles northwest of the murder scene. He lost his trophies, including the Heisman. He lost his TV and film residuals. Even any income he would get from books (he did write one, cheekily and cruelly titled If I Did It) and any memorabilia shows he was hired for (and he was hired for some) would go to the Brown and Goldman families. Pretty much the only income that legally couldn't be touched was his NFL pension.

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O.J. moved away from his beloved L.A., to Miami, where the stigma against him wasn't as strong. In Miami, pretty much the only thing that will make people hate you is support for the Castro regime in Cuba.

But O.J. did not act like an innocent man who wanted to rebuild his life after his exoneration. He continued to act like a guilty man who wanted to rub in your face the fact that he got away with it. He found income and ways to keep it that the Browns and the Goldmans couldn't do anything about. He appeared in rap videos. And, just as Donald Trump, one year older, did instead of his job, he played lots and lots of golf in Florida, instead of doing what he promised he would do: "Look for the real killer."

A joke made the rounds in 2017: The future didn't turn out the way we expected. O.J. Simpson killed somebody, Pete Rose is banned from baseball, Bill Cosby is a rapist, Michael Jackson is dead and a pedophile, Tom Selleck is selling reverse mortgages, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura became Governors, and Donald Trump is the President.

Now, let me ask you a question. Suppose someone you love had been murdered. And you had been arrested for it. And, after a long process, you had been acquitted. Would you ever again do anything that might get you put in prison?

Of course not. Even if you actually did it, you wouldn't want to risk putting yourself back in that position. How stupid -- or how crazy, or how mentally impaired -- would you have to be to do that?

Eventually, even South Florida didn't want O.J. anymore, and he moved to Las Vegas. On September 13, 2007, he led a group of men into a room at the Palace Station Hotel, where sports memorabilia dealer Bruce Fromong was staying. They pulled guns on Fromong, and stole O.J.-related items. O.J. later said the items had been stolen from him, and denied that he and the others broke in, and that they had weapons.

On October 3, 2008, 13 years to the day after his acquittal in Los Angeles, O.J. was convicted in Las Vegas. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison -- meaning that, if he lived and served his entire sentence, he would get out in 2041, at the age of 94.

On July 20, 2017, the Nevada Parole Board decided to grant O.J. parole. He was released on October 1, having served nearly 9 years for armed robbery. That's more than many killers serve for murder.

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I have another question: With what we now know about what contact in football does to the human brain, is it possible that O.J. has brain damage, resulting in the kind of impairment that feeds narcissism, male privilege, racial anxiety, and the sense of entitlement that comes with fame and fortune?

Or, to put it another way: Suppose that, for whatever reason, O.J. didn't kill Nicole and Ron in 1994, and that both were still alive to this day; but, instead, he eventually remarried, and, sometime after we began to learn about football-related brain damage, killed his next wife. Or, suppose that didn't happen, but something like the Vegas robbery did, and only then did we learn about all the crazy things that O.J. had also done.

Would his defense team have gotten him off for that crime by citing his impairment? Maybe. Had they tried that in the history that we know, in 1994 and '95, it would have been shamed out of court. But if the Vegas robbery had been his first offense, who knows?

What we do know is that, for better or for worse, O.J. Simpson will never leave our public consciousness.

Orenthal James Simpson died of cancer, in Las Vegas, today, April 10, 2024. He was 76 years old. It was nearly 30 years after the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
The most recent photo of him that I could find

The film The Dark Knight featured Aaron Eckhardt as fictional District Attorney Harvey Dent, who said, "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." And he went on to prove it.

The film The Sandlot featured Art LaFleur as the ghost of Babe Ruth, saying, "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."

O.J. Simpson was a hero. He is a legend. It's worth remembering that not all legends are heroic ones, or have happy endings. He remains a legend. And a villain.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

April 10, 1934: Charlie Gardiner's Last Stand

April 10, 1934, 90 years ago: The Chicago Black Hawks win the Stanley Cup for the 1st time, thanks to a spectacular Finals performance by goaltender Charlie Gardiner. He never played again.

(Note on names: Gardiner was alternately listed as "Charlie" and "Chuck." I've seen "Charlie" used more, so that's what I'm going with. And the team was also listed as "Black Hawks," two words, until 1986, when someone found their original charter admitting them to the NHL, and saw that it was written as one word, "Blackhawks." They notified the NHL office, who made the single word official, and they've been the "Chicago Blackhawks" ever since. But since they were using "Chicago Black Hawks" at the time, that's what I'm using here.)

The Black Hawks and the Detroit Red Wings had both entered the NHL for the 1926-27 season, after the collapse of the Western Hockey League. The Hawks were originally staffed by the players of the WHL's Portland Rosebuds, while the Wings' owners bought the players from the Victoria Cougars, and they named their new team the Detroit Cougars, with new owners renaming them the Detroit Falcons in 1930 and the Detroit Red Wings in 1932.

However, the NHL does not recognize the Chicago team as a continuation of the Portland team, nor the Detroit team as a continuation of the Victoria team. In 1916, the Portland Rosebuds became the 1st U.S.-based team to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. In 1925, the Victoria Cougars were the last team from outside the NHL to win the Stanley Cup, but the Wings do not claim this title, nor would the NHL recognize it if they did.

The Black Hawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the 1st time in 1931, losing to the Montreal Canadiens. By the 1933-34 season, they were loaded with stars. They featured wingers Harold "Mush" March, Paul Thompson and Johnny Gottselig; defensemen Clarence "Taffy" Abel, Lionel Conacher and Art Coulter; and goaltender Charlie Gardiner.

(Conacher, brother of Toronto Maple Leafs star Charlie Conacher, is the only man in both the Hockey and Canadian Football Halls of Fame, and also starred in rugby and lacrosse, 2 sports that are considerably bigger in Canada than in America. He even played minor-league baseball. In 1950, he was voted Canada's Athlete of the Half-Century.)

The Wings were also laden with talent, allowing them to reach the Finals for the 1st time. They had right wing Larry Aurie, left wing Herbie Lewis, centers Ralph "Cooney" Weiland and Ebenezer "Ebbie" Goodfellow, and defenseman Doug Young. Their goalie was Wilf Cude, not exactly a star. And it would be the goalies who would decide the Finals, which, at the time, was best-3-out-of-5. (It became best-4-out-of-7 in 1939.)

The 1st 2 games were played at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit. Game 1 went to double overtime before Thompson won it. The Hawks also won Game 2, 4-1, giving them a commanding lead going back to the Chicago Stadium. The Wings struck back in Game 3, scoring 3 goals in a little over 6 minutes in the 3rd period, and winning 5-2 to keep their hopes alive.

Gottselig was the 2nd Russian-born player in the NHL, and the 1st Russian-born star, although he, and most people in his birthplace of Klosterdorf (now named Gammalsvenskby, and located in Ukraine) were ethnically German. He emigrated to Canada with his family, and grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Johnny Gottselig

Gardiner had been born in Edinburgh, Scotland, but moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with his family at age 7. Cude had immigrated from Wales to Winnipeg, and he and Gardiner became friends. Gardiner became a local star in both baseball and Canadian football before concentrating on hockey. The Black Hawks acquired him in 1927, and in 1932, he won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie. He was the 1st lefthanded goalie to win it, catching pucks with his right hand.

But trouble was on the horizon. The following season, he developed a tonsil infection, which drained his strength. On Christmas Eve, 1932, he made 55 saves to help the Hawks beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, earning public praise from opposing star Charlie Conacher and NHL President Frank Calder. But he collapsed in the locker room afterward, and was taken to a Toronto hospital.

By the start of the 1933-34 season, was so admired by his teammates, they named him team Captain. He is 1 of 6 goalies to have served as Captain of an NHL team. In 1949, a rule was established prohibiting goalies from being Captains, because leaving the crease to talk to officials, which only the Captain (not even the head coach) can do, was considered an unfair timeout.

In 1934, he was again awarded the Vezina Trophy, and was selected as the starting goalie for the NHL All-Stars against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Ace Bailey Benefit Game. But the month before the game would be played, the team was on a train back to Chicago, when the pain in Gardiner's throat became severe, and spread throughout his body. He had to be hospitalized again, and it was determined that the infection had spread to his kidneys. This was before antibiotics, so he could have died right there.

Throughout the season, he still refused to have the tonsils removed, so that he wouldn't miss any games, and played in the Benefit Game on February 14 anyway. He could often be seen slumped over the crossbar of the goal when the action was at the other end. On March 29, in a Playoff game, he shut the Montreal Maroons out, but had a fever of 102 degrees, and a doctor tended to him during the intermissions.

Maybe Gardiner's infection was bothering him in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, as he allowed 5 goals, after allowing just 1 in each of the 1st 2 games. Whatever was going on inside him, he didn't show it in Game 4 in Chicago. Nor did Cude. Not only did regulation end scoreless, but it was still 0-0 at the end of the 1st overtime period. Finally, at 10:05 of the 2nd overtime, March scored, and it was over: Chicago 1, Detroit 0.
Mush March

For the 1st time, the Cup belonged to an NHL team west of Toronto. As Calder was the Commissioner, it was his job to hand the Cup to the winning Captain, and that was Gardiner. In the Hawks' 3 wins, totaling 231 minutes, he had allowed just 2 goals, averaging a goal every 115 minutes. Counting the 5 he allowed in Game 3, it was a goal every 41 minutes. Had there been a most valuable player award for the Playoffs at that time, he surely would have won it.

Two months later, on June 10, 1934, in his hometown of Winnipeg, Gardiner collapsed and fell into a coma. He died 3 days later, from a brain hemorrhage brought on by the infection. He was only 29 years old.

Upon hearing of his death, Red Wings head coach and general manager Jack Adams, for whom the NHL's Coach of the Year trophy and its now-discarded Adams Division would be named, called him "a grand chap. One could not help but like him. He was undoubtedly the finest netminder in the League. What is more, he always played the game as a gentleman."

The Hawks lost another player in the off-season. Center Jack Leswick, only 24 years old, had played 37 games for them in the regular season, which turned out to be his only NHL season. On August 4, 1934, his body was found in the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg, without his wallet. Foul play was never confirmed, but it could have been either an accident or a suicide.
Jack Leswick

His brothers Pete and Tony also played in the NHL, and Tony's overtime goal in Game 7 of the 1954 Finals gave the Red Wings the Stanley Cup. Another brother, Terry Leswick, abandoned his family, and his wife remarried. They'd already had a son, who took his stepfather's last name. He became a baseball star: Lenny Dykstra.

With this Cup, and the Chicago Bears winning the NFL Championship Game on December 17, 1933, Chicago became the 2nd city, after New York in 1927-28, to have both the NFL Championship and the Stanley Cup at the same time; and the 1st city to have won the most recent NFL Championship Game and Stanley Cup Final.

They have been followed by the Detroit Lions and Red Wings in 1936, 1952 and 1954; the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins in 2009; and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lightning in 2021. The New York Giants and Rangers were NFL and NHL titleholders in 1928, but that was before the institution of the NFL Championship Game.

With much the same team, but with Mike Karakas in goal, the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup again in 1938. They reached the Finals again in 1944, still with some holdovers from 1934, but lost to the Canadiens. Gardiner would have been 39, so he could still have been playing, and possibly made the difference. By this point, antibiotics had been developed that could have saved his life. But it wasn't possible in 1934.

In 1945, the Hockey Hall of Fame was established. Of the 1st 9 players elected, 2 were goalies: Gardiner, and the man for whom the league's trophy for goaltending was named, Georges Vézina of the Canadiens. He, too, had died early, from tuberculosis, at 39, in 1926. Gardiner has also been elected to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. In 2018, an arena in his old neighborhood in Winnipeg was renamed the Charlie Gardiner Arena.

The Blackhawks named him to their 75th Anniversary Team in 2001. They retired his uniform Number 1, but for a later goalie, Glenn Hall. He was not named to the NHL's 100th Anniversary 100 Greatest Players in 2017. But in 1998, at a time when there were considerably more people still alive who had seen him play, The Hockey News ranked him 76th on their list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings have faced each other in the Finals only once more, with the Hawks winning again in 1961. But they have played each other in the Playoffs 16 times, with the Hawks leading, 9-7.