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By John Q. Horn

For Detroit Pistons fans and players, the best thing to come out of last season was its end.

Detroit finished with a 27-55 record amid plenty of empty seats at The Palace on game nights. The Pistons quickly, and quietly, dropped out of a lot of people’s conversations long before season’s end.

The hangover of a 55-loss NBA season is tough to cure. A year like that exposed a Pistons team that was weak in pretty much every area — scoring, defense, team chemistry and keeping the right players in the right positions from one game to the next. Coach John Kuester had to Frankenstein together a lineup seemingly every other night.

As they ready for the 2010-11 campaign, Detroit’s players and top brass agree that redemption starts with chemistry and keeping players healthy.

“First and foremost, guys can never control injuries,” says Piston guard Ben Gordon. “One of my main hopes is that everyone stays injury free. You know, I think that was half of the problem right there.

“We have so many talented guys, just staying healthy is a big part of our success. Once we are able to play, I expect our chemistry to pick up and I expect us to be a playoff team this year.”

Gordon’s season last year crystallizes that very concept. Gordon, a dynamic shooter who came to Detroit from Chicago via free agency in 2009, started last season in a furious style. He averaged 24 points per night in the first nine games, including 30 in a loss to Toronto in late November and another 29 points four games later in a win over Washington.

A right ankle injury landed him on the injured list after that scoring frenzy and his production never recuperated. Gordon would miss 11 games with the ankle and, later, another eight with a strained groin. And despite dropping a team- and season-high 39 points against Miami near season’s end, he averaged less than 10 points per game from December through March.

Injuries raided the Pistons’ roster of any chemistry. Guard Rip Hamilton missed 36 games with a sprained right ankle/sore hamstring medley. Forward Tayshaun Prince was lost for 32 games with back problems and a sore left knee. Ben Wallace missed 11 games with bad knees. And already this year, second-round draft pick Terrico White, a fierce dunker, is out with a broken foot. Starting forward Jonas Jerebko is out five months after blowing out his right Achilles. Both had surgery recently.

It’s impossible to establish and sustain cohesion when the core of the team is not playing together consistently.

“With the number of injuries suffered last year, we never really got to see what type of team we had because our coaching staff had to mix and match lineups for a majority of the season,” says Joe Dumars, the team’s president of basketball operations.

“I think this year we’ll have a much better idea of what kind of team we can become if we stay healthy. With that, we give ourselves a chance.”

Dumars improved the team’s chances with a solid NBA draft this year, taking 6’11” center Greg Monroe with the seventh overall pick, and White in the second round. In Monroe, Detroit gets a big man with uncanny passing skill. Dumars also signed veteran free agent guard/forward Tracy McGrady this off-season. McGrady, 31, is a seven-time All-Star but has battled injuries in recent years and is coming off major knee surgery in 2009. The move may or may not pay off.

Still, for Gordon, team health and chemistry will be critical if the Pistons plan on making a ruckus in the Eastern Conference. The Central Division alone will be difficult to navigate. Teams like the Bulls have improved on an already solid nucleus.

“Chicago will be tough,” says Gordon. “They already have a good, young, talented team and they just added Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver in the off-season. If we are able to stay healthy I think we are going to surprise a lot of teams.”

An off-season of rehabbing has given Gordon some time to drink in his new-ish surroundings.

“Michigan is great, it has great weather,” he says.

You know what else our great state has? Thirteen percent unemployment right now, down from the 20 percent that choked the region and the state last year. A lot of Real Detroit Weekly readers are on tight budgets. With an average ticket somewhere around $30-$35 each, plus $10-$20 to park, what incentive does a fan have to come out after what happened last year?

Dumars says that despite the tough economic times around here, he expects the Pistons to do what’s right on the court. He hopes fans respond.

“Our goal is to put a team on the floor that is hard working, passionate and committed to the core values of our organization,” Dumars says. “We have a number of quality players and people on our team, and I hope our fans will get behind them.”

Gordon, who will make $10.8 million this year, has a message for fans: “We are going to come out and play hard every night,” Gordon says. “People in Detroit, in this blue collar city, going through this time, it’s important that we stick together. We are building toward trying to get back to that championship level. We plan on coming out every night, fighting and scrapping until we get back to the top.”

Fighting and scrapping? Not sure if it gets much more Detroit than that.

Published previously by Real Detroit Weekly Magazine. Photo courtesy of the Detroit Pistons.

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One in a series of biographical essays published in “Contemporary Black Biographies.” Interviewed the Olympian myself.

Bob Beamon

Olympic long jump record holder

Reinventing oneself from a rough youth in a tough neighborhood to an entrepreneur and community advocate might be grounds to call someone a success. Establishing a world record in a sporting event with worldwide competition could earn someone the title of “highly respected.” Do that with an Olympic record that stands unbeaten for 23 years and, well, you might as well be named Bob Beamon.

Beamon immortalized himself in sporting history when he destroyed the world and Olympic records in the long jump during the 1968 summer games in Mexico City. From a sketchy upbringing replete with gangs, violence and the threat of jail, Beamon created a recipe for success. He took that negativity, mixed it with the rejuvenation of a second chance, added intense determination and turned it into the fuel that would power him across a sand pit in Mexico and earn him a gold medal.

A rough start smooths out

Born Aug. 29, 1946 in Jamaica, NY, Beamon’s surroundings were reportedly less than encouraging for success, unless that meant joining a gang or getting in trouble. According to information found at www.cjcj.org, Beamon had a long history as a teen of running away from home, skipping school, fighting and drinking. It also reported that his home life was exceptionally difficult. Never knowing his biological father, the Web article stated “his mother died when he was an infant and his stepfather assumed responsibility for him. His stepfather did little in the way of parenting. He drank a lot, beat his wife, his mother and Bob, and finally ended up in prison.” The article states that even at the age of 14, Beamon was in a gang and quickly advanced through its ranks by fighting and stealing. “He couldn’t even read. He joined a gang, worked his way up its hierarchy and got into a lot of fights. One of those fights spilled over into school at Queens P.S. 40. A teacher intervened and was struck. Beamon was expelled from school and charged with assault and battery.”

It might have been at that time, when the young Beamon was brought before a judge, that his life would begin to shift for the better. While social workers recommended jail, Beamon fortunately found himself before a judge he said was “thoughtful, compassionate and obviously interested in helping kids.” According to the www.cjcj.org article, Beamon was sent to Manhattan’s 600 School, an educational home for New York’s juvenile delinquents. “’They didn’t give up on me,’” he said in an article appearing at www.aol.com/people. The school kept kids inside during the day, learning a better way of life from tough teachers. “But Beamon learned some things, made some good friends and was given the opportunity to grow. It was a place where he had time to learn that there was more to life than trouble,” the article read. In it, Beamon said, “’I got off the corner and into the community center and school,’” he said. “’Going into Manhattan every day from Queens showed me a world that intrigued me.’”

Part of that world included the long, narrow stretch of asphalt that would lead to the long-jumping pit. Following his departure from the 600 School, Beamon set a Junior Olympics record in the long jump while in junior high school. By 16, “Beamon started setting city-wide records in track, culminating in a New York State record for the long jump. Now, he had a purpose, an opportunity, encouragement from others and an Olympic dream.”

Attaining historical sports immortality

After honing his long-jumping skills in New York with years of tireless training, Beamon qualified for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. There, he did something that would permanently engrain his name in sports history greatness. During the long jump competition, Beamon not only broke the world record, he annihilated it. Following his sprint, Beamon’s foot hit the toe board and what happened next would stand as an Olympic record for 23 years. Running through the air above the sandpit, Beamon would land exactly 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches from his launch spot. The record, previously held by the United States’ Ralph Boston and then-U.S.S.R’s Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, was shattered by nearly two full feet. In an event where records are broken in inches, Beamon’s leap was phenomenal.

A September, 1991 Sports Illustrated article written by Kenny Moore painted a dramatic picture of the event. “Back on that eerie October afternoon in 1968 when Bob Beamon set the greatest track and field record of all time, the air above Mexico City was charged by massing, rumbling thunderheads. Minutes after Beamon jumped 29 ft. 2 1/2 in., adding an incomprehensible 21 3/4 inches to the best our species had even done, the heavens deluged the Olympic Stadium with cold, hard rain.” Eerie indeed, but what makes Beamon’s record performance more mystifying is that he never cleared more than 27 feet in post-Olympic competition

Beamon told CBB that the leap itself and the distance he traveled was nearly a Zen-like result from years of training, focus and harnessing the proper energy to elevate himself, both figuratively and literally, to a higher place. “We train ourselves to peak at a certain time,” he said. “What I had been doing the last four, five, six years was training myself, getting myself prepared for that moment to stand in front of millions of people at the head of that runway and perform at my very best. I felt that after that, things were very different. To come back and duplicate those energies once you’ve done that, you have to find some new energies to do that. I felt that once I did, why do it again? I think I had to look for some other peak experiences that were very similar to winning the Gold. I had to exert all of my energies and graduate from college. Competing then did not become a top priority.”

The same Sports Illustrated article described part of Beamon’s historic feat that night. “When he realized what he had done, Beamon sagged into a neural collapse that suggested to physiologists that he had somehow summoned the superhuman strength that ordinarily comes upon people only in disaster. His 29 ft. 2 1/2 in., or 8.90 meters, was far beyond any predicted human limits. The next man to jump after Beamon in Mexico was Ter-Ovanesyan. ‘I was ashamed to jump,’ he said of Mexico City. ‘Bob had left us and gone on to a new world.’” That record would stand until broken by Mike Powell, more than two decades later,   during the 1991 World Championships.

Beamon told CBB that in the days following the jump, the mood was almost surreal. “I was basically walking around in a daze,” he said. “Sort of in a state of disbelief, in a sense. But I had all of my marbles together to enjoy the adulation that came with being an Olympic athlete. I was pretty much enjoying every moment. Actually, I had to leave to go back to school. I had to get back to a class I was enrolled in, so it was pretty much only a day and a half later.”

Beamon’s post-Olympic experiences would showcase personal success off the track. According to the www.cjcj.org story, Beamon would flip his Olympic success into a series of individual triumphs. The Web site reported that Beamon earned a public relations degree from Adelphi University, coach college track and head the Parks and Recreation programs in Miami-Dade, FL. He lived and worked in Spain and Mexico, all the while keeping active in the Olympic movement. Additionally, he would co-organize the South Florida Inner City Games with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and form the Bob Beamon United Way Golf Classic. His memberships include the New York Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Olympic Hall of Fame, and is ranked in ESPN’s list of Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century.

His thirst for success doesn’t stop there. By 2001, Beamon, his third wife Milana and daughter Deanna, lived in Miami where he is president of Bob Beamon Communication Inc. “He is an exhibited artist, has designed and marketed a successful line of neckties and spends much of his time as an inspirational speaker and corporate spokesman,” the www.cjcj.org article stated. “He has developed his own motivational program The Champion in You, in which he described how ‘champions are made by the things you accomplish and by the way you use your abilities in everyday life situations.’ His autobiography, The Man Who Could Fly: The Bob Beamon story had just been published. Most recently, Beamon accepted an appointment as the Director of Athletic Development at Florida Atlantic University.”

A flair for helping young people

For Beamon, most of his civic work is youth-centered. His charity golf outing benefit youth-related programs for the nonprofit United Way and is held annually in late October in southern Florida. According to information found at www.bobbeamon.com, the golf event helps to raise funds for the Bob Snow Scholarship. Establishing such charities to benefit children became a big charge for Beamon in the decades following the ’68 Olympic Games. Beamon told CBB that he didn’t forget what it was like growing up in the environment he did, so it is of great importance that he funnel as much back to children-based foundations as possible. “First of all, I was in a sheltered place where children were kept when I was in Harlem. I understand the feeling of being alone and not being with your family. The second part is, we have just as much opportunity as anyone else. If you use your common sense to be motivated to be around positive people, that will make a difference in your life. With the scholarship fund, we hope to have an impact on kids that will take advantage of the scholarship, pursue a career goal and have a real good life.”

Beamon appeared to having a good life by 2001. An accomplished athlete, degreed and educated, a philanthropist, artist and motivational speaker, his wide-ranging talents and abilities come from his varying background. From a tough kid in the streets who would rob and fistfight, Beamon found himself having to answer tough questions as a teen. And when he cleaned up his act and began focusing on the long jump, he did that so intently, he ended up jumping farther than anyone of his time, holding the world record for more than two decades. And like his last name partly suggests, he is “beaming” with a bright sense of pride and overwhelming desire to assist and motivate nearly everyone in his path. But for the former New Yorker, children are the top priority, especially when it comes to advice. “Staying focused and motivated are the keys to any situation, in lieu of common sense,” he told CBB. “Those things are very critical in being successful, particularly when you are very young. There is always room for improvement. That means there are gaps in there for you to make mistakes. You work with learning from mistakes and down the road, that helps you.”

The fund-raisers and foundations have served the youth community with what Beamon refers to as “backup systems.” In the article appearing at www.cjc.org, Beamon stressed the importance of helping kids. “’The backup systems—extended family, church, neighbors—are simply not there like they used to be,’” he said. “Beamon also observes that while today’s children are being exposed to more dangers, parents are becoming less watchful over, and less involved with, their own kids. Families are more fragmented and disconnected,” the article stated. “’We need to get out of denial and reach out to these kids,’” Beamon was quoted as saying. “’They need to understand what can happen to them and what is in store for them in the penal system. We much teach them that there is a better, more interesting world out there.’”

Sources

Periodicals

Sports Illustrated, September 9, 1991, page 14

Online

www.cjcj.org/centennial.beamon.html

http://people.aol.com/people/sp/olympics/beam.html

www.bobbeamon.com/today.htm

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One in a series of biographical essays published in the reference series “Contemporary Black Biographies”

John Henry “Pop” Lloyd

1884-1964

Negro League baseball player

Never fully allowed to showcase his talent against the white professional major league baseball teams in official contests, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd spent 23 years playing for the storied Negro League, where his skill for the game would become legend. Lloyd used incredible baseball savvy, combined with unbridled talent, to become one of the best shortstops to grace an infield for any league, black or white. His tireless dedication to the sport, and uncontested master of it, would force comparisons to some of the game’s greatest players.

John Henry “Pop” Lloyd was born April 25, 1884 in Palatka, FL, just outside of Jacksonville. According to a biography appearing in Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers by John B. Holway, Lloyd’s father died when he was an infant and was forced to drop out of grade school to work as a delivery boy. He did so as a porter in a railroad terminal. According to Holway, Lloyd was also playing baseball for the Jacksonville Old Receivers in 1905. For African Americans of that time, playing baseball in the south meant playing for obscure teams with colorful names, making very little, if any, money and traveling a lot. It wasn’t unusual for players to bounce from Florida to Georgia, to Alabama to Cuba and back. And Lloyd did just that.

Establishing a legend

Lloyd’ s list of baseball addresses would change by the year. In 1906, Holway said Lloyd played for the Cuban X-Giants in Florida. In 1907, he joined the Philadelphia Giants. According to statistical information found at www.execpc.com, Lloyd’s early seasons were a blinding success. At the Web site, it is reported that Lloyd was part of the 1910 Leland Giants, a team that, with Lloyd’s help, compiled a 123-6 record. The following year, he headed to the New York Lincoln Giants and hit .475. He would later play for the Havana Reds, the New York Lincoln Giants (1911), the Chicago American Giants (1915), Leland Giants (1915), the Brooklyn Royals (1918), the New York Bacharach Giants (1921), the Hillsdale Daisies (1923), back to the Bacharachs (1924), back to the Lincolns (1926) and back to Cuba for one last season. During those years, Lloyd established himself as the premier player of his time, despite that Negro League teams were not allowed to play against the professional white teams of the National and American leagues. In 1915 with Cuba, Lloyd led the league with a .393 batting average and 24 hits. He never hit below .270 until his last two seasons of professional ball. He hit .361 in 1920 with Brooklyn, .400 for Atlantic City in 1924, .373 for Cuba in 1925 and .365 in 1927. Also, it wasn’t until toward the end of his career that Lloyd would have his most outstanding season.

In 1928, the 44-year-old Lloyd creamed pitchers with a .564 batting average, unheard of in other professional leagues. He stole 10 bases, hit 11 home runs and added 84 hits. The most notable difference was that Lloyd’s season was only 37 games in length. Stretch those averages out over the modern 162-game schedule and Lloyd’s performance is record-breaking and worthy of Most Valuable Player honors. Not typically known for hitting home runs, Lloyd relied mainly on his ability to get the hit, which he often did. His hitting stats remain phenomenal: 40 hits in only 28 games in 1912, 25 in 27 games in 1917, 13 hits in nine games in 1920, 83 in 63 games the following season, 40 hits in 28 games in 1926 and his jaw-dropping 84 hits in only 37 games during the 1928 season. And if being a dynamic player and consistent hitter wasn’t enough, Lloyd was also given the nod to actually manage couple of teams.

In 1921, the nation’s first black league had been established and Lloyd was asked to manage the new team in Columbus, Ohio. “The team was one of the weakest in the circuit, but Pop hit .337 before the club folded and he traveled east again to rejoin the Bacharachs,” Holway wrote. Two years later, Holway wrote that in 1923, the Eastern Colored League was born and Lloyd again was asked to manage. “The Hilldales had a powerful club. Lloyd and Frank Warfield sparkled as the double-play combination. Lloyd hit .333 as they easily outclassed the rest of the league,” he wrote. In addition to playing outstanding baseball, Lloyd educated younger players around him, boosting their confidence and, ultimately, their batting averages. Holway quoted Bill Yancey, a rookie shortstop who played with Lloyd. “’I was just a kid, and he was the great Lloyd I’d heard so much about, and he’s the one who taught me to play shortstop.’ Yancey remembered his first time at bat against the legendary Cyclone Williams. It gave Bill the shakes until Lloyd gently reminded him that Williams had to get the ball over the plate just like any other pitcher. It calmed the boy down considerably.”

A model of class and character

If Lloyd was the premier hitter of his time, he was also the consummate, all-around baseball player. A piece on Lloyd found at www.negro-league.columbus.oh.us supports such claims and sums up Lloyd’s ability accurately. “Perhaps the greatest player ever to come out of the Negro Leagues is the beloved and venerable John Henry Lloyd. ‘Pop’ Lloyd played shortstop, and was a complete ballplayer who could hit, run, field, throw and hit with power, especially in a clutch. The tall, rangy superstar was the greatest shortstop of his day, black or white, and with the exception of Honus Wagner in his prime, no major leaguer could compare with him.”

Former teammates and opponents not only praised his intense skill and talent, but his caring and gentle demeanor. Lloyd has been described as a kind and friendly man to those around him. Despite tense racial climates and the fact that Major League Baseball would not let the best African American players, many putting up superlative and staggering statistics to their counterparts, be recognized with the professional white teams. Negro League teams often played on the roads, behind circus productions, on dirt fields and generally before an audience consisting of residents from whatever town the traveling team had stopped to play. The white leagues played in professional parks with groomed green grass and before thousands of adoring fans who came from all over to cheer loudly. And still, Lloyd remained positive, enthusiastic and constantly in love with the game itself, and not the ugliness surrounding it.

In Holway’s book, former teammates show great admiration for Lloyd. “’He was a gentleman,’ agreed first baseman Napolean “Chance” Cummings. ‘Everyone who knew him liked him. He was a man practically everybody could get along with.’ And those who had to play against him, especially pitchers, gave the legendary left-hander the respect he earned. “’We dreaded to see him come to bat,’ shuddered pitcher Sam Streeter in Holway’s book. ‘Everything he hit was just like you were hanging out a clothesline. And hard? Mmmmmm-hmmmmm!’”

When his career was finished, Lloyd’s stats stood up against his white counterparts. He finished with a career .342 batting average, 988 hits, 11 doubles, 51 triples, 78 stolen bases and 26 homers. Conversely, in 29 games against white big leaguers, Lloyd hit .321 with 34 hits.  For all his efforts and amazing contributions to the game, Lloyd was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1976. Holway quoted Lloyd himself as answering the question of whether he was born too soon for the game. “’No,’ he once said. ‘I don’t consider that I was born at the wrong time. I feel it was at the right time. I had a chance to prove the ability of our race in this sport, and because many of us did our best for the game, we’ve given the Negro a greater opportunity now to be accepted into the major leagues with other Americans.’”

Game called due to darkness

Lloyd played his final season in 1942, at the age of 58. According to information found at www.execpc.com, he coached and played semipro baseball with the Johnson Stars, later knows as the Farley Stars. He also served as Little League commissioner for many years in Atlantic City “On October 2, 1949, as Jackie Robinson was being named the Most Valuable Player of the National League, Atlantic City rewarded their foster father with the dedication of a $125,000 stadium at Indiana and Huron Avenues. It bears the name ‘”Pop’ Henry Lloyd’ and an inscribed plaque: ‘To a great ball player and a fine man.’” Holway wrote that he worked as a janitor in an Atlantic City high where, as little surprise, he was a favorite with students.

After a two-year illness, Lloyd passed away on March 19, 1965. At www.execpc.com, Yancey is quoted as eulogizing his former teammate and mentor: “’Pop Lloyd was the greatest player, the greatest manager, the greatest teacher. He had the ability and knowledge and, above all, patience. I did not know what baseball was until I played under him.’”

Sources

Books

Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers, by John B. Holway.

Online

www.negroleague-baseball.columbus.oh/lloyd.html

www.negroleaguebaseball.com/1999/November/pop_lloyd_profile.html

www.execpc.com

— John Horn

Published originally by Gale Group/Thomsen Media

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Big time boxing, international bouts come to Joe Louis Arena

By John Horn

In what has to be the most aptly named venue for fighting, boxing returned in extra-large fashion Oct. 22 to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.

Typically home to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, the Joe hosted a two-bout main event and three undercard fights that featured the unification of the WBO and WBC featherweight belts.

Previous WBO champ Prince Naseem Hamed beat Mexico’s Cesar “Cobrito” Soto in a 12-round unanimous decision featuring more glitz (or gauche, depending on whom you talk to) and wrestling tactics than actual boxing stratagem.

In front of more than 13,000 spirited Detroit boxing fans, Hamed and Soto’s championship unification bout took center stage in an arena named for one of the game’s best. For Hamed, the fight’s locale, just blocks away from the enormous bronze Joe Louis fist monument, was ideal.

“Joe Louis is a great arena,” Hamed said. “The support was great tonight. It was an unbelievable feeling. I definitely have to return to Detroit to fight.”

Hamed — the Sheffield, England, native known worldwide for his flashy entrances, back-flips in the rings, cocky confidence and, most important, his undefeated record — ran that mark to 33-0-29.

Despite the lengthy pre-fight display of music and fireworks, Hamed and Soto barely got off a fight. Soto’s style was to constantly clinch and hug, prohibiting Hamed from getting off a consistent package of good shots on the WBC champion.

The clutching and grabbing came to a ridiculous head in the fifth round when Hamed body-slammed Soto in the middle of the ring. The flip was a result of Hamed ducking low to avoid a Soto jab and Soto virtually leaning over on top of the champion’s back. Impatient for the break, Hamed stood straight up, flipping Soto a few feet in the air before he landed on his back.

Hamed was deducted a point by referee Dale Grable, but was not disqualified, much to the dismay of Soto.

“When he threw me up in the air, any real referee in boxing would have disqualified him immediately,” Soto said through his interpreter. “I demand a rematch.”

The rest of the fight maintained the lame status quo, resembling a rugby scrum more than a boxing match. Soto kept his chin down throughout the fight, tangling Hamed’s arms whenever possible. Of Hamed’s 484 punches thrown, 153 landed. Soto went 107-for-498.

Hamed countered with a shove of Soto to the mat in the 11th round and another in the 12th, when Hamed fell over Soto in the corner in action that turned out to be short of grappling. When the forgettable mess was over, Hamed got what he came for, the second featherweight belt.

“I’m taking the WBC belt back to Britain, where it belongs,” Hamed said.

As far as the style of the fight (or lack thereof) was concerned, Hamed said he was simply reacting to Soto’s method of boxing.

“If you’re going to manhandle me, I’m going to body-slam you,” Hamed said. “My heart is not like a normal heart. You have to realize that if you are going to fight, we go down to the trenches, and I’ll win.”

Hamed placated the crowd of supporters with his trademark entrance. Standing atop a riser with chrome palm trees and bookmark black panther statues, Hamed danced to a medley of Motown and rap music through a sea of special-effect fog.

The crowd, many sporting signs in Hamed’s favor or draped in British flags, welcomed Hamed to an area he appeared to have already embraced.

Having trained with Emanuel Steward for the last several months in Detroit’s Kronk Gym, Hamed has spent considerable time in Dearborn, connecting with the Arab-American community. Hamed has been so impressed with the Detroit area that it is reported he bought a couple of homes in Dearborn and intends to move his mother there.

Smaller bouts have been featured in JLA over the last few years, but promoter Cedric Kushner said a return engagement to the arena is not out of the question. He said the state’s governing boxing body was successful in its inaugural effort.

“The Michigan Commission did a good job, for this being their first big fight,” Kushner said.

Published originally by C & G Newspapers

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Roseville native makes it big in Texas

From former local prep pitcher to The Show, Brian Sikorski is living the dream

By John Horn

He’s in.

It might have taken a little longer than he originally planned, but Roseville native Brian Sikorski is now in the big league, the real big league.

Sikorski, a 26-year-old right-handed pitcher, is currently a member of the starting rotation for the Texas Rangers this season. And he made it in the most fundamental way possible, accomplishing each step of the way pretty much by the book.

After toiling in the minor leagues for five years, Sikorski finally got his break last month. While pitching for the AAA Oklahoma Red Hawks of the Rangers’ farm system, he caught word Aug. 15 that his next start on the mound would be his first professional start for a Major League baseball team.

While in Las Vegas the night before throwing for the Red Hawks, Sikorski said he got the news that he was headed to the big league in a, well, most direct fashion.

“I was in the game that night and the pitching coach came in and asked me how I felt,” he said. “I told him I felt fine. He said ‘well that’s good, because you’ve got the ESPN Game of the Week against the Yankees tomorrow night. Good luck.’”

The next night, Sikorski tore into the defending World Champions at The Ballpark in Arlington. In his debut, he went seven innings, giving up only four hits, striking out five and did not allow any earned runs or homers.

“To tell you the truth I wasn’t all that nervous,” he said. “It was my first major league start and I did have some butterflies, but the first pitch I threw, the guy popped up to left. It was a huge relief. After that, I approached it just like it was any other game.”

The Yankees, however, would get redemption. His next start, in famed Yankee Stadium, resulted in a 3-2 loss Aug. 21 when he gave up three earned runs in four innings. His following starts would not have storybook results either, including:

  • A 9-3 loss at home to Toronto. He gave up 10 hits and four earned runs in five innings.
  • A 14-7 win against Cleveland. He gave up four earned runs in five innings, but struck out four in the no-decision.
  • A 13-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sept.6. In four innings, he allowed five earned runs, striking out five and giving up two homers in another no-decision. The Rangers had a three-game series against the Tigers at Comerica Park Labor Day weekend, but Sikorski did not pitch that weekend. At press time Sept. 11, he was 1-2 with a 5.47 ERA, 22 strikeouts, 16 walks and 16 earned runs in 26.1 innings pitched.

He’s new to these ranks and, like everything else he’s previously encountered, Sikorski is absorbing and remaining focused.

“This is a learning experience for me,” he said. “Hopefully this is not my only time in the big leagues. I really haven’t thrown all that badly. I’ve made two mistakes and it cost me five runs. I’m trying to learn from those mistakes.”

He didn’t seem to make many mistakes when he was a standout athlete at Roseville High School, where he was named MVP his junior and senior years.

Former Roseville baseball coach Bob DeStefano said he and his coaching staff realized Sikorski’s talent on the mound when he was only a sophomore. Sikorski was throwing against Utica High when the notion hit DeStefano.

“This is the first kid who looked like he was barely throwing the ball, but it was exploding,” DeStefano said. “I had coached for 35 years. My assistant coach and I just looked at each other and said ‘wow.’ We just sat there and he kept throwing BBs.”

DeStefano said it was Sikorski’s hard work and determination that have placed him in the major leagues. He said the pitcher took it upon himself to improve his game, keep getting better and stay driven.

“I didn’t teach him how to throw 92 mph,” DeStefano said. “This is Brian. He had to work to become where he is at now. It is his hard work and desire, or else he wouldn’t be where he is now.”

Sikorski enrolled at Western Michigan University and pitched for three years before being drafted by Houston in 1995.

Extracting as much as possible from every opportunity seems to be his strong suit. College life and playing baseball there is fun, but Sikorski said he took advantage of the situation and is glad he did.

Growing up in Roseville and taking a minor league mound in New Orleans are two different worlds. For Sikorski though, it’s no big deal.

“Once I was signed and sent to Auburn, New York, that was really nothing, as far as living,” he said. “College helped prepare me. Going to college kind of helps you mature a little bit.”

Now he is in the pros, on a team with some of the game’s finest players and future Hall of Famers. He is on the same roster as Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and ace closer John Wetteland.

“This is a dream come true,” he said. “For me, every day I can run out on that field or be in batting practice, I am having fun. It is an indescribable feeling. Sometimes you find yourself being a little kid again. You grew up watching them on television, now you realize they’re your teammates.”

His personal life is starting to mirror his professional life. He has an 8-month old son, Easton, and has been married to his wife, Samantha, for two years. And where did they meet? They played Little League together when he was 9. Later they would be high school sweethearts and ultimately married.

Dream girl, dream job and a bouncing baby boy. Life is good for Sikorski right now, and if he sticks to what brought him here so far, he’ll probably end up in pretty good shape.

Published originally by C & G Newspapers

 

 

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First in a three-part series highlighting Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame July 23, 2000. Covered the event in Cooperstown as a credentialed media member. The Hall of Fame class included Sparky Anderson and Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

Cooperstown to honor Tigers’ greatest coach

By John Horn

If someone says “the sun is hot,” or the “rain is wet,” you are in the presence of painfully obvious statements. Here’s one more: Sparky Anderson is headed to the Hall of Fame.

Anderson, along with four other legends of the sport, will be inducted July 23 into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

This, by the way, is no easy feat. Criteria for Hall residency is not only strict, but attainable only by the extraordinarily talented.

Most batters have to hit at least 400 homers and roughly no less than 1,200 RBI in a career. Pitchers typically need to have won at least 300 games, a couple of Cy Young awards and have struck out somewhere around 2,000 hitters, at the least.

So it comes as little surprise that Anderson, the third-winningest manager of all time (behind John McGraw and Connie Mack) gets the nod into the game’s most revered theater, immortalized amongst the sport’s finest players and coaches.

“We’re all going to pass away, there is no question about it,” Anderson said while in town recently for a charity golf benefit. “But the Hall will never pass away. It will be there until the end of the world. That’s what I told Tommy Lasorda when he went in. I told him ‘Tommy, I hope you understand this means eternity.’”

The numbers have it

Anderson’s statistical achievements run rampant, including: the first manager to win 600 games in both the American and National Leagues, the first to win World Series titles in both leagues, 2,228 career wins, American League Manager of the Year in 1984, 34 postseason wins, including 16 in the World Series.

In 1984, he managed the Detroit Tigers’ championship squad that went 35-5 in its first 40 games, en route to a 104-58 record and a World Series season nobody in Michigan, let alone Detroit, will ever forget.

Detroit finished that World Series season in an unforgettable Game Five at Tiger Stadium, where outfielder Kirk Gibson cranked a three-run, eighth-inning homer, adding to its 5-3 lead and sealing the title.

Broach the subject with anyone who might remember that year and you will get the same dopey smile replete with eye gleam.

That terrific accomplishment aside, Anderson was all too familiar with championship baseball before he came to Detroit.

In Cincinnati, he engineered the Big Red Machine in the mid-70s to back-to-back championships. Those teams had talent so deep, it could make your ears pop. Anderson watched over a roster featuring the names of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and George Foster.

He left town with five division titles, four pennants, two world championships and finished below second place only once in that time. Having coached a variety of great players, Anderson himself knows what it takes to compose a championship roster: a will to win means very little without ability.

“The number one thing is always talent,” Anderson said. “Nothing will override talent. You can have all the courage you want, but you stick them in that dugout, and I’ll take the guys with the talent. And I’ll whip on you all day long.

In a word: class

Anderson’s numbers will get anyone into the Hall of Fame. And while stats are what counts when it comes to induction, if they ever decided to base it on integrity and selflessness, he still would be a lock.

While a manager in Detroit, he started his children’s charity organization C.A.T.C.H. Annually, that body raises thousands of dollars, with proceeds going to a wide variety of children’s programs in and around inner-city environments.

Discussing the game with Anderson puts you amidst baseball genius. But bring up charity work, and the importance of it, and you’re only in the company of a man who feels his top priority is to merely smile and help others.

“That is what I am proudest of,” he said. “I don’t even know how it got me going, but we did get it going. People really truly realize that we are doing good things, and helping children.”

Former Tigers first baseman Dave Bergman joined the team just in time for the 1984 season. He said Anderson’s mix of baseball acumen and uncanny ability to mold athletes not only into players, but respectable members of society, might be one of his most outstanding characteristics.

“I knew he was a special person the first week I was with the ballclub,” he said. “All he expected of you was to give a good effort and let the chips fall where they fall. If you did that, then he would stay by your side.”

Managing a team where nearly each member is playing to his maximum potential is a gift for any coach. However, factoring in egos of professional athletes can be a tireless chore. Bergman said Anderson not only had it down to a science, but threw in priceless life lessons as well.

“I think Sparky taught us ‘veteran’ players how to be men,” Bergman said from his office in Southfield, where he partners a money management firm. “I say that because he didn’t dodge any bullets when it came to tough questions being asked of him by the press.

“He handled everything head-on. That is one thing I learned from him.”

Words to live by

In his book “They Call Me Sparky,” the former coach, along with co-author Dan Ewald, wrote that when it comes to affording someone respect, the doorman is no less important than the owner.

He continues at length about the clutch importance of not acting like a jerk or a hothead or a loudmouth, convincingly reminding readers that actions send out the most visible signal of ability and personality.

“I hope that I lived up to what my father told me when I was 11,” he said. “He said ‘I am going to give you a gift and I want you to cherish it. The most important gift you will ever receive in your lifetime, is that it will never cost you a dime to be nice.’

“After all these years, I just hope I came close to that gift that he gave me. In my heart, I know I did, I just hope others feel that way. That’s important.”

See next week’s edition for C & G Newspapers’ spotlight on Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, Negro League standout and former player for the Detroit Stars.

Published originally by C & G Newspapers

 

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Second in a three-part series highlighting Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame July 23, 2000. Covered the event in Cooperstown as a credentialed media member. The Hall of Fame class included Sparky Anderson and Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

Detroit Negro League legend honored by Cooperstown

By John Horn

C & G Staff Writer

In the modern baseball era of high-tech weight rooms, genetically engineered bodybuilding compounds and the comfort of commercial flight, some might forget about those players who simply relied upon a bat, glove and raw talent.

The voting members of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame certainly aren’t in that group.

When that body arrived at its list of the year 2000 inductees, the Detroit sports community gained even more clout when two of its own made the list. Former Detroit Tiger manager Sparky Anderson, the third-winningest coach of all time, got the nod.

But Detroit’s second representative — the first time two Detroiters have been enshrined in baseball’s hall of fame in the same year — got to Cooperstown the hard way. Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, a five-time All-Star who ended his career with the Detroit Stars of the Negro League did so during a time when talent and ability spoke for itself.

That, and one other thing. He happened to do so during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, when segregation ruled and racism boiled.

For that, the Hall of Fame welcomed him into baseball’s finest theater the weekend of July 23, 2000 during its formal induction weekend. Stearnes and Anderson joined Tony Perez, Carlton Fisk and Bid McPhee as the Hall of Fame’s newest residents.

A league of their own, unfortunately

To understand the magnitude and harvest the necessary respect for Stearnes’ induction to the Hall of Fame, one must recognize the circumstances under which he performed.

When Stearnes broke into the league in 1921 with the Montgomery Grey Sox of the Negro Southern League, the Negro Leagues itself was in its embryonic stage.

League games in the1920s were generally part of touring variety shows. For most during those times, specifically in the Deep South regions of Georgia and Alabama, the Negro League games would be the only baseball they could see. In most parts, there were no newspapers and radios were considered an unattainable luxury.

Thanks to the ills of segregation during that time, black people obviously could not attend the same schools or eat in the same restaurants as white people, let alone play on the same baseball field with or against them.

Major League Baseball started with the National League in 1876, with the American League following in 1901. Until expansion in the 1960s, both were comprised of eight-team circuits. They included the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and a host of others.

They played against each other, fought for league pennants and ultimately a shot at the World Series, all before the adoring eyes of America’s fans.

The Negro League players competed against their own teams with such names as the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Atlanta Black Crackers, Birmingham Black Barons, Homestead Grays, New York Cubans and Hilldale Daisies. They did it on dirt fields before locals.

America’s pastime has a long litany of disturbing scenarios. And when it comes to race and baseball — aside from the hateful nonsense Henry Aaron had to endure en route to breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record — there might be no bigger injustice than the Negro Leaguers being denied the chance to play against the white teams of their time.

They disguised the discrimination under the rules of segregation, a that’s-just-the-way-it-is type of defense. But players and fans of that time could easily argue, the white American and National Leagues ran a serious risk of being one-upped by the black players.

Negro League players were notoriously fast. Baseball folklore, some of it painfully exaggerated, pointed to the blinding speed of Hall of Famer James “Cool Papa” Bell. According to legend, Bell was so fast that he once hit a grounder past a pitcher and the ball hit him in the leg as he slid into second base.

Maybe that’s a stretch, but no one can deny that Bell was a consistent .400 hitter, doing it during the same time as Ty Cobb, Harry Heilman, Bill Terry and Rogers Hornsby. Not to mention years before Boston’s Ted Williams.

Stormin’ Norman

Most Negro League players were part of several different teams, some as many as eight or 10. And if they didn’t play there, they went to Mexico, Cuba and Santa Domingo.

And so it was with Stearnes, who himself played for 12 different teams in his 19-year career.

The steady outfielder hit consistently throughout the 1920s, winning the batting title four times and compiling a .360 batting average while playing for the Detroit Stars, whose home games were held at the city’s Mack Park.

In 1932, Stearnes joined the Chicago American Giants for several seasons, where his huge bat garnered him four appearances in the East-West All-Star Game, not to mention the inaugural All-Star game in 1933.

After a tour in Philadelphia where, of course, he hit higher than .360 again, he returned to Detroit in 1937. And guess what he did that season? If you said that he hit for .383 and yet another All-Star game appearance, you’ve said the right thing.

Stearnes’ unorthodox batting stance was the mainstay behind his consistent hitting power. Looking as if he was about to fall over the batter’s box, Stearnes style was definitely unique.

A 1993 interview with the late Jimmie Crutchfield, featured on a Negro League-related Web site, Stearnes’ teammate yielded a little more about his style.

“He was a quirky-jerky sort of guy who could hit the ball a mile. Turkey had a batting stance that you’d swear couldn’t let anybody hit a baseball at all. He’d stand up there looking like he was off balance.

“But, it was natural for him to stand that way, and you couldn’t criticize him for it when he was hitting everything they threw at him.”

It has been, and probably will continue to be, argued that Negro League players could have definitely held their own with the American and National Leaguers. When Cobb was hitting .390 for the Tigers in 1913, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd was doing the same for the New York Lincoln Giants. When Detroit Tiger Charlie Gehringer was hitting .371 in 1937, Stearnes batted .383, in the same city.

In recent decades, several players have been given their due, gaining entrance to the Hall of Fame, including Satchel Paige, Bell, Lloyd and now Stearnes.

And rightfully so.

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