I coulda had a 3-pointer
My older brother, Jerry, was the family athlete. All-state in football, captain of the riflery team (yes, our school had a riflery team), and a power-hitting left-handed first baseman in baseball season. So naturally I suffered from Little Brother Syndrome and tried desperately either to replicate Jerry's achievements or to excel in some other realm.
I opted for the latter. Tried amateur boxing for a while. The good news: I was strong and what was sometimes called "plucky." I could hit hard and I could take a punch. Was never knocked out or even knocked down. The bad news: I had slow hands, and with no amount of striving could I achieve those super-quick reflexes that any successful boxer needs. Plus, when it came to footwork ... let's put it this way. Get out your Illustrated Guide to Sports Terminology and look up "stumblebum" and you'll find my portrait.
Next I tried out for the basketball team. The coach believed in giving kids a chance to play, and we wound up with 15 boys on the squad. I was a third-string guard. Halfway through the season a couple of players were fired for the proverbial "violations of team standards." I think they skipped practice once too often. A couple of days later their two best friends quit in protest.
That left 11 players: five on the first string, five on the second string - and me. As the last game of the season approached, my stats read: field goals: 0, foul shots: 0, total points: 0, minutes played: 0.
Came the season finale and we were locked in a tight contest with another local high school. With just seconds remaining we were down by one point, something like 33-32. Basketball was a slower and lower-scoring game in those days.
One of our guards started up the court with the ball and tripped over a defender's foot, twisted his ankle and went down. Time called. Our guy had to leave the game.
For some reason, Coach didn't put in a second-stringer. He sent me in.
The other guard passed the ball to me. I looked down the court. Our two forwards were jumping up and down on either side of the key. Our center was closer to me, ready to take a short pass. But time was running out and there was only time for one desperation play.
I was at midcourt. I reached back and threw an overhand pass like a soldier hurling a hand grenade. I was aiming at the taller of our two forwards. My aim was lousy. My pass was a couple of feet offline and 3 feet high.
Swish! Nothing but net! The buzzer sounded. The score was 34-33. We had won. A gasp went up from a gymnasium full of fans, followed by a cheer.
I'll let you in on a secret. Everybody in that gym thought I had made an amazing shot from midcourt. It would have been a three-pointer if three-pointers had been invented back then, but two points were enough to win the game.
To this day, not a soul on the hardwood, not my teammates, not our opponents, not the officials or coaches or fans in the audience knew that I only made that shot because my aim was lousy. But now you know it.
If three-pointers had been invented back then, my crazy winning shot would have been one. Yes, in another era, I coulda had a three-pointer.
-Richard A. Lupoff, third-string guard
A hero my size
I loved Ms. Nancy Finley's reminiscences (niece of former Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley), recently printed here. Of course, they began in Kansas City - mine go back a bit farther.
Shibe Park, Philly, the Ath-uh-letics (as it was pronounced).
It must have been 1951 or '52. I was maybe 10, and Bobby Shantz was pitching. Won the game.
My father wanted me to see a Jewish ballplayer throwing the ball. Hank Greenberg was done and Sandy Koufax hadn't shown up yet.
My dad was sort of an unofficial team dentist for some of the players, and we went to the locker room after the game. (A few players said
"Hey Doc," and one joked about him looking happy and "not 'down in the mouth' today.")
My dad may not have known Shantz's stats, but he could tell me how many fillings those players had.
And we gave casual kudos to the winning pitcher.
Bobby Shantz was not one of the players my dad knew, but he was a nice guy and, of course, in a pretty good mood. Friendly - smiled and chatted. And I realized: "Hey, I'm almost as tall as he is."
Wow. A hero a little kid could almost look right in the eye.
Saw him a few more times on my own with friends (when we were
cutting Saturday art and music classes at the Settlement School).
Streetcar went straight to the ballpark, 5 cents.
Shantz took a line drive into his wrist a year or so later. And I felt it was somehow rude to go and see him pitch when he couldn't do it.
But I still have his baseball card in my office. No, not the original, a reproduction that I got in a sports memorabilia store. When I asked about it, the owner was so delighted someone else knew who Bobby Shantz was that he said, "Here, take it as a gift."
Howard Pearlstein, fan extraordinaire
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