EPISODE #79: The NHL’s New York/Brooklyn Americans – With Dale Morrisey

On September 21, 2013, a crowd of 14,689 Brooklyn hockey fans cheered when the NHL’s New York Islanders played a pre-season exhibition against the New Jersey Devils in the sleekly modern Barclays Center – the first-ever contest of its kind in New York’s most populous borough, and one that set into motion the eventual relocation of the team from Long Island to Kings County.

What few in the stands realized, however, was that the borough, technically, was the home to a professional hockey team many decades earlier.  Originally funded from a Depression-era bootlegger’s fortune, the New York (later renamed Brooklyn) Americans pre-dated the NHL’s long-running and legendary New York Rangers by a year, and were the star attraction of the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden during its debut in 1925. 

Featuring brightly colored, red-white-and-blue, star-spangled uniforms, and a roster of largely Canadian players from the recently league-expelled Hamilton (ON) Tigers, the “Amerks” were the immediate toast of the Gotham sports scene upon their arrival.  So much so that MSG majority owner Tex Rickard soon connived with the NHL board of governors to secure his own franchise (originally dubbed “Tex’s Rangers”) the following season – quickly dooming the Americans to second-class status as the league’s loveable losers for the rest of their mostly lamentable run through 1942.

Documentary filmmaker Dale Morrisey (Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss New York’s (and Brooklyn’s) original and oft-forgotten National Hockey League franchise, and the unique part hockey history it occupies.

Huge thanks to our sponsors Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, MyBookie, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s episode!

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EPISODE #78: The United States Football League – With Jeff Pearlman

Multiple New York Times bestselling sports book author Jeff Pearlman (Gunslinger; Boys Will Be Boys; The Bad Guys Won!; Sweetness) joins the pod this week to promote his latest literary treasure – a deeply personal devotional about the wild and ultimately misbegotten United States Football League.

Crafted from over four hundred interviews and borne of a childhood fascination/obsession, Football For a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL is a narrative tour de force that chronicles the bizarre and often comical story of the erstwhile early 1980s spring league that pugnaciously challenged the pro football establishment with a witches’ brew of ownership bravado, expensive player talent, national TV coverage, wayward franchises, bounced paychecks – and, audaciously, a Hail Mary of a class action federal lawsuit that won the battle, but ultimately lost the war against the supremacy of the NFL.  

Thanks to MyBookie, OldSchoolShirts.com, Audible, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for sponsoring this week’s episode!

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EPISODE #77: Before the NHL’s “Original Six” – With Andrew Ross

When quizzed on the historical origins of the National Hockey League, most fans reflexively default to the hagiographic construct known as the “Original Six” – the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Detroit Red Wings – as the seminal franchise lineup from which the modern-day NHL was ultimately built.

In fact, the league traces its official roots to a much friskier start dating back to 1917 – when, out of the ownership discord of the predecessor National Hockey Association (1909-17), and a rising challenge to Stanley Cup supremacy from other fledgling pro circuits like the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and Western Canada Hockey League – a then-four team (and all-Canadian) NHL made its debut with franchises in Toronto (Arenas), Ottawa (Senators), and Montreal (Canadiens and Wanderers).

Over the next 25 years, the league fitfully expanded and contracted across cities like St. Louis, Quebec, Hamilton, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit – and even a 16-season, dual-franchise odyssey in New York.  But, when the NHL Board of Governors terminated the financially troubled Brooklyn Americans after a World War II-ravaged 1941-42 season, the league settled back to just six reasonably solid clubs – a group that would remain stably intact until 1967, when the ambitious “Great Expansion” doubled its membership to 12, and set the stage for even more meteoric growth in the decades to follow.

Author Andrew Ross (Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945) joins host Tim Hanlon to talk about the league’s surprisingly rough-and-tumble first quarter-century of existence – including the winding economic journey that eventually defined hockey’s place in the North American professional sports firmament.

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EPISODE #76: Gordon Jago

We continue our march towards the upcoming 50th anniversary reunion of the North American Soccer League (as part the rechristening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX on October 19-21, 2018), with one of the coaching pioneers from the league’s heyday, Gordon Jago (A Soccer Pioneer: The Autobiography of Gordon Jago).

After a sparkling youth career with England’s Charlton Athletic and the national Under-20s, Jago quickly segued to coaching in the mid-1960s as an assistant coach with First Division Fulham – where he, during a summer exhibition in Oakland, CA, became smitten with the idea of professional soccer in the US.

Persuaded by eventual NASL co-founder (and Episode #74 guest) Clive Toye, Jago jumped the pond in  to become head coach of the newly consolidated league’s 1968 Baltimore Bays, whose beer baron/owner Jerold Hoffberger soon gave up on the team, the league and the sport by the following season.  After a brief stint overseeing the US National team later that year for World Cup ’70 qualifying, Jago returned to England to hone his coaching skills with Queens Park Rangers (who he guided to First Division promotion in 1973) and Millwall (promoted from Third Division to Second in 1976).

But it was the US for good when Tampa Bay Rowdies owner George Strawbridge came calling in 1978 to replace the recently absconded Eddie Firmani as the successful Florida NASL franchise’s head coach – a team he promptly led to back-to-back Soccer Bowl championship games with perennial league all-stars like Rodney Marsh, Oscar Fabbiani, Steve Wegerle, Mike Connell, and John Gorman.

It was also there (actually, St. Petersburg’s cozy Bayfront Center) where Jago got his first taste of the professional indoor game (including an NASL indoor championship in 1980) – experience that would later serve as foundation for a nearly 20-year coaching and management career leading the formidable Dallas Sidekicks, netting league championships across the MISL (1987), CISL (1993), Premier Soccer Alliance (1998), and World Indoor Soccer League (2001).

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EPISODE #75: The World Hockey Association Hall of Fame with Tim Gassen

Buckle up for our sophomore excursion into the legendary World Hockey Association, as we chat with the passionate founder and meticulous curator of the short-lived but influential league’s official Hall of Fame, Tim Gassen. 

Physically ensconced inside the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, MN, as well as an expansive online digital presence, the WHA Hall of Fame is the undisputed historical authority on the brief seven-season life and wild times of the iconic 1970s-era challenger league that kicked the staid National Hockey League in the butt and reinvigorated the pro game in the process.

Gassen joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the:

  • Origins of his WHA fanaticism (sparked by childhood memories of Indianapolis Racers games);
  • Wayward (and illustrative) journeys of teams like the Jersey Knights (née New York Raiders/Golden Blades, then San Diego Mariners) and the Calgary Cowboys (birthed as the Miami Screaming Eagles, converted into the Blazers of Philadelphia, then of Vancouver, before saddling up for one last rodeo in the Stampede City);
  • Unmatched dominance of the Winnipeg Jets; and
  • Ongoing hunt for the Hall of Fame’s holy grail of artifacts – the makeshift WHA championship trophy hoisted by the league’s New England Whalers in 1973, in lieu of the yet-to-be-completed AVCO World Trophy.

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EPISODE #74: Clive Toye

Soccer America columnist (and Episode #6 interviewee) Paul Gardner summed up this week's Hall of Fame guest in his May 2015 commentary:

“The debt owed by American soccer to Clive Toye is a vast one. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say, flatly, that without Toye’s blind faith in the sport in the 1970s, pro soccer in the USA would have withered and died. Yes, Phil Woosnam and Lamar Hunt and Bob Hermann were there too. But in those unpromising years it was Toye’s voice -- it came in a steady flow of ridiculously optimistic press releases and grandiose plans for a future that few others even dared to ponder -- that called loudest.

“The New York Cosmos general manager credited with turning that league’s fortunes around when he signed Pele to a contract in 1975. Toye, who was born in England and came to the United States in 1967 at the age of 33, was president of three North American Soccer League teams – the Cosmos, Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard – and general manager of the [original National Professional Soccer League and subsequent NASL] Baltimore Bays.  [He] was an official of the NASL in helping it through its crisis year of 1969 and in its final months in 1985 – and helped to found the third American Soccer League in 1988.

There has always been the spirit of a showman in Toye, and surely it was that spirit that enabled Toye to overlook the virtual collapse of the old North American Soccer League and to see instead a glittering future for the sport in the USA, even to declare to anyone who was listening -- and not many were in those days -- the preposterous notion that the USA should begin preparing to stage the World Cup.

“And when the NASL, by the skin of its teeth and by the mad devotion of Toye et al., did survive, it was Toye who gave the reborn league its glittering image with his invention of the Cosmos, with his canny maneuvering and dealing, who brought Pele and Beckenbauer to New York.  Showmanship indeed.”

Toye (A Kick in the Grass: The Slow Rise and Quick Demise of the NASL; Anywhere in the World) joins host Tim Hanlon for a lyrical and anecdote-filled journey through the pro league that he helped create, later put to rest, and which ultimately shored up the long-term foundation of the “beautiful game” in America.

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EPISODE #73: The Union Association’s Wilmington Quicksteps – with Jon Springer

Professional baseball was barely into its adolescence in 1884 when a hard-playing, hard-drinking minor league club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware―the Quicksteps―got the opportunity of a lifetime.

Led by prototypical early era stars like loud-voiced outfielder/team captain Tommy “Oyster” Burns (aka the “Wilmington Growler,” who sold shellfish in the off-season), and Canadian-born curveball pioneer Edward “The Only” Nolan (who was briefly blacklisted from the National League for lying about missing a game to attend a funeral when he was, instead, out drinking) – the Quicksteps attacked opponents with a spike-sharpened, rough-and-tumble style befitting the major league style of the era.

Managed by a cricket-playing New Yorker and bankrolled by a cigar-chewing sporting goods dealer who ran illicit gambling rings by night, the Quicksteps were the talk of the town and the East Coast baseball establishment – accruing an .800 winning percentage in the minors and holding their own (and occasionally winning) in exhibitions with big league clubs. 

The National League was less than a decade old then, and the American Association, which had been established two years earlier, was nipping at its heels. But when a maverick millionaire named Henry Lucas established a third major league that year―the Union Association―the pro game erupted into chaos.

When the ensuing battle for players and fans overwhelmed the upstart circuit’s Philadelphia Keystones midway through its inaugural 1884 season, the Quicksteps were invited and abruptly promoted to the Union Association to take their place in a single mid-season fell swoop.  Their arrival in the majors, however, was anything but a dream come true.

Author Jon Springer (Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps) joins the pod to describe the story of the briefly major league team loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays, comical misfortune, and behind-the-scenes drama that, for a tumultuous and remarkable summer, was driven and ultimately destroyed by its own dream of success – while yielding a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility.

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EPISODE #72: Baseball’s “Miracle” Boston Braves with Historian Charlie Alexander

When you’re the oldest continuously operating franchise in baseball (or in all of American professional sports, for that matter), you’re bound to have some stories – and the proverbial dusty boxes of history sitting in the attic of the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park are certainly full of them. 

This week, we rope in noted baseball historian Charlie Alexander (The Miracle Braves, 1914-1916) to delve into one of the more interesting and oft-forgotten periods of Braves baseball history, when the then-Boston version of the franchise shocked the baseball establishment by rising from last place in the National League on July 4, 1914 to win the league pennant by an astonishing 10 ½ games by regular season’s end (going 68-17 over their final 87 games – a winning percentage of .782), and then sweeping the heavily favored Connie Mack-managed Philadelphia A’s four games to none in the 1914 World Series.

Although also uncharacteristically competitive in the next two seasons (finishing second in 1915 and third in 1916), the “Miracle Braves” of 1914 remained the high-water mark for the Boston franchise over the three decades that followed – finishing no higher than fourth in the eight-team NL during that time, including four seasons in dead last.   It wasn’t until 1948 that the team won another pennant (losing in the World Series to Cleveland) – the last hurrah of the Braves’ run in Boston until absconding to Milwaukee during the 1954 preseason.

Buckle up for stories featuring umpire-baiting and platoon-pioneering manager George Stallings, the double-play infield (and eventual baseball Hall of Fame) duo of Johnny Evers and “Rabbit” Maranville, and the ferocious pitching trio of Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler – and the curious stadium swap between the Braves and the rival cross-town Red Sox during their respective 1914 and 1915 World Series championships.

Thank you SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Podfly, and Audible for sponsoring this week’s show!

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EPISODE #71: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Al Miller - Part Two

We conclude our conversation with National Soccer Hall of Fame coach Al Miller, who shares a wide array of additional recollections, anecdotes, musings, and insights from a legendary career across US outdoor and indoor soccer, including:

  • An historic February 11, 1974 indoor game at Philadelphia’s Spectrum between Miller’s NASL champion Atoms and Moscow’s Red Army – generally acknowledged as the true genesis of the Major Indoor Soccer league four years later;
  • The positives and the negatives of the New York Cosmos “superteam” that dominated the NASL in the late 1970s/early 1980s;
  • Trading the Dallas Tornado’s cozy downtown confines of SMU’s Ownby Stadium for the major league bigtime of Irving’s Texas Stadium;
  • The only-in-the-NASL saga of the one-year Calgary Boomers;
  • Reuniting with Lamar Hunt via the 1983 Tampa Bay Rowdies; AND
  • Helping the city of Cleveland end a 30-year pro sports championship drought with the 1993-94 NPSL season-winning Cleveland Crunch.

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EPISODE #70: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Al Miller

In February 1973, the suddenly ascendant North American Soccer League hurriedly awarded a new franchise to Philadelphia construction magnate Thomas McCloskey, despite the league’s fast-approaching season start date of May 1st.  The result of some Super Bowl VII arm-twisting by Kansas City Chiefs (and NASL Dallas Tornado) owner Lamar Hunt after helping McCloskey secure last-minute tickets, the team that would soon become the Philadelphia Atoms had only three months to move from birth to first game. 

In desperate need of a head coach, McCloskey and GM/soccer novice Bob Ehlinger turned to a bright young Hartwick College coach named Al Miller to hastily assemble a roster and a playing style, which Miller quickly achieved with a handful of English lower-division journeymen married with a bevy of hungry, underappreciated American players from the college ranks – rapidly gelling into an NASL championship team that stunned the pro soccer pundits (including the editors of Sports Illustrated), and became a Philly fan sensation.

The immediate success of the Atoms and its decidedly American-style approach to the world’s game quickly thrust Miller into the US soccer coaching spotlight and set in motion a standout pro career that traversed the NASL, MISL and indoor NPSL (not to mention a brief stint helming the 1975 US Men’s National Team), and, ultimately a red jacket into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2008.

In the first of a two-part interview, Miller joins host Tim Hanlon to reveal some never-before-heard stories from the front lines of his pioneering coaching career, including the Atoms, the Dallas Tornado, the one-year Calgary Boomers, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the MISL Cleveland Force, and the three-time NPSL champion Cleveland Crunch.   

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EPISODE #69: The “Rebel” World Hockey Association with Ed Willes

Fresh off of kicking pro basketball’s establishment in the teeth with the launch of the upstart American Basketball Association in 1967, inveterate sports entrepreneurs Dennis Murphy (see also: World Team Tennis, Roller Hockey International) and Gary Davidson (World Football League) turned their attention to an even riper target of opportunity in 1971 – the monopolistic and monochromatic 12-team National Hockey League.

Their broadside against the NHL was the audaciously aspirational World Hockey Association – a seven-season 1970s-era wonder that brought a rollicking brand of ice hockey to no fewer than 27 markets across North America (not including four announced teams that relocated before even playing a game) – leaving in its wake a bevy of bounced checks, fractious lawsuits, and defunct franchises from San Diego to Cherry Hill, New Jersey.   

Amidst the league’s traveling circus of the weird (the Chicago Cougars’ 1974 playoff run ended by Peter Pan), and wonderful (the Houston Aeros’ Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe teaming for the first-ever father-son[-son!] combination in pro hockey), the WHA undeniably became the vanguard that dragged the sport kicking and screaming into the modern age by: ending the NHL’s monopoly grip on the pro game; freeing players from its reserve clause; allowing 18-year-old players to be drafted; introducing top-tier hockey to the US Sun Belt and the interior Canadian provinces; and opening up rosters to an exciting array of European talent in numbers previously unimagined. 

And, by the end of its run in 1979, ushering four new clubs – the Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers, and Hartford Whalers – into a merger-expanded NHL.

Sportswriter Ed Willes (The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association) returns to the podcast to discuss the brief but impactful legacy of hockey’s “rebel league” that gave up-and-coming stars their big-league debuts, others their swan songs – and provided high-octane fuel for some of the most spectacularly memorable moments in the history of professional hockey.

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EPISODE #68: The Birth of Major League Baseball’s World Series with SABR Historian Steve Steinberg

At the beginning of the 20th century, the professional game of baseball had already taken on much of its modern shape – where pitching and managerial strategy dominated, and “manufactured” offense meant taught and tense contests, albeit often with limited scoring.  Stretching roughly from 1901-19, the period dubbed the “Deadball Era” by baseball historians saw teams play in expansive ball parks that limited hitting for power, while featuring baseballs that were, by modern-day comparison, more loosely wound, weakly bound and regularly overused. 

Against this backdrop, the established National and upstart American Leagues hammered out their seminal “National Agreement” in 1903, which not only proclaimed the competing circuits as equals, but also mandated a season-ending (and aspirationally titled) “World’s Championship Series” to determine annual supremacy in the sport – now known more simply as the World Series.

Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) historian Steve Steinberg (The World Series in the Deadball Era) joins the pod this week to discuss the October Classic’s eventful first years, as seen through the dramatically-licensed written journalistic accounts (featuring literary luminaries such as Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, and Damon Runyon, among others), and revealing black-and-white (and often uncredited) photography of the leading newspapers of the time – a media environment devoid of Internet, social media, television, or even radio coverage. 

Of course, we discuss the bevy of previously incarnated teams that featured prominently during the period, including the first-ever World Series champion Boston Americans (now Red Sox), the “miracle” Boston Braves of 1914, the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers, both in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles) – and the two most dominant clubs of the era: John McGraw’s New York (now San Francisco) Giants and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia (later Kansas City, and ultimately Oakland) Athletics. 

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EPISODE #67: Behind-the-Scenes Tales from the Front Office with Thom Meredith

Our World Cup fever has yet to break, and we spend this week reveling in some of the heretofore unexplored (at least on this podcast) nooks and crannies of modern-day American pro soccer history with one of its most unsung front office heroes. 

In a career spanning over four decades, sports PR and event management executive Thom Meredith has proverbially “seen it all” across some of US sports’ most remarkable leagues, franchises and governing bodies – including remarkable (and sometimes dubious) assignments like handling press for the woeful NFL expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976-77, managing communications for Lamar Hunt’s World Championship Tennis circuit of the early 1980s, and directing a litany of events for the fast-growing (and World Cup USA-fueled) US Soccer Federation of the 1990s. 

But it’s Meredith’s work across some of the most exciting (and exasperating) teams of the late 1970s/early 1980s North American Soccer League – the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Washington Diplomats, Philadelphia Fury, and Dallas Tornado – as well as the enormously well-funded, but ultimately ill-fated Women’s United Soccer Association of the early 2000s, that really piques our obsessive interests.

In this episode, we journey back with Meredith – the consummate professional soccer management insider – as he recounts priceless moments shared in the trenches with a veritable Who’s Who of the modern American game’s most indelible personalities: Shep Messing, Francisco Marcos, Al Miller, Phil Woosnam, Jim Karvellas, Seamus Malin, Alec Papadakis, John Hendricks, Timo Liekoski, Dick Berg, Tony DiCicco, Pele – and, of course, the incomparable investor-patron Hunt.

We thank Podfly, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and Audible for their support of this week’s show!

EPISODE #66: Sports Broadcaster JP Dellacamera

Fox Sports soccer play-by-play broadcaster extraordinaire JP Dellacamera joins the podcast this week to discuss a pioneering career in sports announcing spanning over 30 years – including calling this year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – his ninth consecutive men’s quadrennial assignment since Mexico ’86.

Widely acknowledged as the original voice of US Soccer, Dellacamera’s calls have become synonymous with some of modern-day American soccer’s most indelible moments – including his accounts of the US Women’s National Team’s dramatic penalty kick shootout victory over China in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Paul Caligiuri’s historic “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” against Trinidad & Tobago in the final game of 1989 CONCACAF qualifying that punched the US Men’s National Team’s ticket for Italy ’90 – ending a 40-year World Cup finals drought, and reorienting the sport’s trajectory in the ‘States for decades to come.

The road to broadcasting global soccer’s marquee events has by no means been a straight and narrow one, however, and we (of course) chat with Dellacamera about some of the more memorable “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:

  • Talking his way into his professional debut calling local TV games for the 1978 NASL expansion Detroit Express;
  • Handling radio play-by-play for the American Soccer League’s ALPO dog food-sponsored Pennsylvania Stoners;
  • Parlaying years of minor league hockey broadcast experience into lead announcing duties for indoor soccer’s Pittsburgh Spirit of the fledgling MISL;
  • Cementing his stature as the voice of US women’s soccer as the play-by-play lead for the 2001 launch of the WUSA; and   
  • Returning to his first love of pro hockey – finally at the NHL level – with the short-lived Atlanta Thrashers.  

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EPISODE #65: The CFL’s American Expansion Experiment with Sportswriter Ed Willes

As Johnny Manziel’s pro football comeback journey wraps up a promising pre-season with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, we take a moment this week to reminisce on the approaching 25th anniversary of the CFL’s bold, but ultimately ill-fated attempt to bring its exciting brand of pigskin south of the border in 1993.

When the NFL put the brakes on its two-year World League of American Football experiment in the summer of 1992 (which included a franchise in Montreal, dubbed the “Machine”), an economically wobbly CFL sensed an opportunity to fill the gap in US markets newly comfortable with the notion of pro football, as well as a potential growth path for the tradition-rich Canadian game to expand outside the Provinces.  In fact, two WLAF owners, Fred Anderson (Sacramento Surge) and Larry Benson (San Antonio Riders) "crossed over" to the Canadian League and were awarded newly rechristened franchises for 1993 – Anderson’s Sacramento Gold Miners and Benson's San Antonio Texans. 

While the Gold Miners were the only ones to make it into the following season’s expanded CFL schedule (Benson literally – and ominously – left the league at the altar by bowing out the day of the league’s press conference announcing the expansion), the door was open to a wild three-season adventure that brought the wide-open Canadian game to far-flung American outposts in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Shreveport, Memphis, Birmingham, and, ironically (via eventual relocation from Sacramento), San Antonio.

Longtime Vancouver Province sportswriter Ed Willes (End Zones and Border Wars: The Era of American Expansion in the CFL) joins the podcast to discuss the league’s short-lived American expansion effort, which then-commissioner Larry Smith had hoped to eventually encompass ten US teams in a fully expanded 20-team league.  

Among the misadventures, Willes recounts: the 1995 champion Baltimore Stallions (who operated as the nickname-less “CFLers” the previous season in a trademark dispute with the NFL over the “Colts” moniker); the woefully attended Las Vegas Posse (who practiced on the Strip in the Riviera Hotel’s parking lot and were forced to play their last “home” game in Edmonton); the Memphis Mad Dogs’ unique approach to fitting the longer/wider CFL field into the Liberty Bowl; why football-mad Birmingham couldn’t draw flies for Barracuda games once college and high school seasons started; and the “Great Tucker Caper” – featuring the infamous brothers Glieberman and their attempt to steal away the Shreveport Pirates to the greener pastures of Norfolk, VA.

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EPISODE #64: American Soccer’s “Dark Ages” with Writer Michael J. Agovino

It wasn’t easy being a soccer fan in the United States in the 1980s. 

While the 24-team North American American Soccer League ushered in the decade with an air of stability and momentum (the NASL even sold a pennant labeling the game the “Sport of the 80’s”), it wasn’t long before big-time American pro soccer was dangerously on the ropes (the NASL shrank to just nine franchises by 1984) – and then seemingly gone for good when the league officially sank into oblivion in early 1985.  For a nascent generation of US fans newly hooked on the world’s “beautiful game,” it felt like an abandonment – and an air of disillusionment beset the American soccer scene in the immediate years that followed. 

For Bronx-born writer Michael J. Agovino (The Soccer Diaries: An American's Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game), the demise of the NASL and its global flagship New York Cosmos franchise was simply the last nail in the coffin of his soccer “coming of age” during the early 80s – the conclusion of an arc of tragedies: the US Soccer Federation’s unsuccessful bid to replace Colombia as host of the 1986 World Cup; the US national team’s failure to even qualify for the quadrennial event; and the unfathomable death of 41 fans in a riot at the 1985 European Cup Final in Brussels’ Heysel Stadium. 

As Agovino framed it: “Soccer – my new friend – was dead.”

Undaunted, Agovino’s love affair with soccer persisted, while Americans slowly got wise – qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, hosting the event in 1994, and re-birthing the pro game with Major League Soccer in 1996 – and ultimately turned it into one of the most popular sports in the country.

We chat with Agovino about US soccer’s mid-1980s “dark ages” and subsequent phoenix-like rise from seeming oblivion, including memorable stops like: New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal; the NASL’s Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup; the 1991 Cosmos Reunion Game; Tony Tirado’s lyrical Spanish (and broken English) SIN-TV broadcasts; “Soccer Made in Germany;” and the legacy/enigma of Giants Stadium.

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EPISODE #63: Baseball’s Federal League with Author Dan Levitt

In late 1913, the newly formed Federal League of Base Ball Clubs – more simply known as the “Federal League” – declared itself a third major professional baseball league in competition with the established circuits of organized baseball, the National and American Leagues.

Led by inveterate baseball promoter John T. Powers, and backed by some of America’s wealthiest merchants and industrialists, the Federal League posed a real challenge to baseball’s prevailing structure at the time – offering players the opportunity to avoid the restrictions of the organized leagues' oppressive and despised reserve clause.  The competition of another, better-paying (though detractor-labeled “outlaw”) league caused players' salaries to skyrocket, and quickly demonstrated the bargaining potential of free agency for the first time – seeds first sown two decades earlier by the similarly-intentioned Players’ League in 1890.

For the next two seasons, NL and AL owners fought back furiously in the press, in the courts, and on the field – while the Federal League drew substantial fan attention with its high-quality play and superior stadia across its mix of directly competitive (Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Louis), and underserved (Buffalo, Indianapolis [later Newark, NJ], and Kansas City) markets. 

After sustained behind-the-scenes interference by owners of the senior leagues, the Federal League folded after the 1915 season, but not without leaving lasting marks on America’s Pastime that still define the sport today – including a landmark federal lawsuit (Federal Baseball Club v. National League), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to Major League Baseball; and the construction of one of baseball’s most iconic and enduring stadiums (Chicago’s Wrigley Field), originally built for Charles Weeghman’s Federal League Chicago Whales.

Award-winning author Dan Levitt (The Outlaw League and the Battle That Forged Modern Baseball) joins the podcast to discuss the history and legacy of the last independent major league outside the established structure of professional baseball to make it to the playing field, and the last serious attempt to create a third major league until the abortive Continental League of 1960.

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EPISODE #62: The Whaler Guys

It’s been 21 years since the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers abruptly bolted for the (supposedly) greener pastures of North Carolina and a rechristened life as the Carolina Hurricanes, but don’t tell that to superfans Peter Hindle and Jerry Erwin – the self-professed “Whaler Guys” – who have made it their personal mission since 2011 to keep the memory of the franchise they love alive,  and, with any luck, bring top-tier pro NHL hockey back to the Nutmeg State.

As the hosts of their eponymous weekly Hartford Public Access TV show, Hindle and Erwin are not only passionate about remembering what the Whalers used to be, but also relentlessly focused on virtually every aspect of local civic development that might help someday return the city of Hartford to the ranks of “major league” status once again.

We get into all things Whalers past (the legendary “Brass Bonanza” theme song, the iconic logo); present (XL Center renovation updates, the Guys’ Whaler-themed Connecticut state license plate initiative); and future (what current NHL markets are prime candidates for relocation, where Hartford stands against other potential franchise cities like Quebec, Houston, Kansas City, or Seattle) – as well as the Guys’ thoughts on the Hurricanes’ sudden rediscovery/re-embrace of the team’s heritage in its previous incarnation.

PLUS: why the Coyotes, Panthers and even (ironically) Hurricanes would all do better in Hartford; why Whaler jerseys remain so popular; the vision of original (WHA New England) team owner Howard Baldwin; and the two most unsung heroes in Whaler history – Peter Good and Jacques Ysaye (aka Jack Say).

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EPISODE #61: Sports Promoter Doug Verb

If someone ever decides to build an American sports promotion Hall of Fame, the inaugural class will undoubtedly be led by this week’s special guest, Doug Verb.  In a career spanning more than 40 years in professional sports management, Verb’s remarkable career has included spearheading marketing, promotion, publicity, and television for some of the most innovative and memorable leagues and franchises of the modern era. 

One of the founding executives of both the pioneering Major Indoor Soccer League (along with sports entrepreneurs Earl Foreman, Ed Tepper, and previous podcast guest Dr. Joe Machnik), and the frenetic Arena Football League (with the sport’s inventor [and past two-part guest] Jim Foster), Verb additionally  served as president of pro soccer’s legendary Chicago Sting from 1982-86 – which, incredibly, drifted between playing in two separate leagues during his tenure (for one year, simultaneously) – the outdoor North American Soccer League and the indoor MISL. 

In our longest and more anecdote-filled episode to date, Verb vividly recounts the highs and lows of launching new teams, leagues and even sports themselves from whole cloth – with nary an operational blueprint or career roadmap to be found.  Buckle up for a wild ride through the woeful 1976 NASL Philadelphia Atoms, the “Rocket Red” pinball-like MISL, soccer for all seasons in the Windy City, and birthing indoor football. 

PLUS:  Kiddie City to the rescue; Earl Foreman’s “Brother-in-Law Effect;” getting paid in soybeans; and the curious one-game history of the Liberty Basketball Association! 

AND:  Verb reveals plans for a first-ever Major Indoor Soccer League reunion later this year in Las Vegas!

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EPISODE #60: Baseball’s League That Never Was: The Continental League with Professor Russ Buhite

By the summer of 1959, the absence of two former National League franchises from what was once a vibrant New York City major league baseball scene was obvious – and even the remaining/dominant Yankees couldn’t fully make up for it.  Nor could that season’s World Series championship run of the now-Los Angeles Dodgers – a bittersweet victory for jilted fans of the team’s Brooklyn era. 

Fiercely determined to return a National League team to the city, mayor Robert Wagner enlisted the help of a Brooklyn-based attorney named William Shea to spearhead an effort to first convince a current franchise to relocate – as the American League’s Braves (Boston to Milwaukee, 1953), Browns (St. Louis to Baltimore, 1954), and A’s (Philadelphia to Kansas City, 1955) had recently done.  When neither Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or even MLB Commissioner Ford Frick, could be convinced by the opportunity, Shea and team moved on to an even bolder plan –  an entirely new third major league, with a New York franchise as its crown jewel.

Financial backers from not only New York, but also eager expansionists in Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Toronto, Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Buffalo joined in the effort – christened the “Continental League” – and recruited longtime pioneering baseball executive Branch Rickey to do the collective’s bidding.  In preparation for an inaugural 1961 start, Rickey immediately preached the virtues of parity, and outlined a business plan that included TV revenue-sharing, equally accessible player pools, and solid pension plans; properly executed, it would take less than four years for the new league to be a credible equal of the National and American Leagues.  His plan: poach a few established big-league stars, and supplement rosters with young talent from a dedicated farm system that would quickly ripen into a formidable stream of high-caliber players and, in turn, a quickly competitive “major” third league.  That, plus an aggressive legal attack on MLB’s long-established federal antitrust exemption – designed to force greater player mobility and expanded geographic opportunities.

Suddenly pressured, MLB owners surprisingly responded in the summer of 1960 with a hastily crafted plan for expansion, beginning in 1962 with new NL teams in New York (Mets) and Houston (Colt .45s) – undercutting the upstart league’s ownership groups in those cities, and promising additional franchises in the years following.  Within weeks, the Continental League was no more, and the accelerated expansionary future of the modern game was firmly in motion.

Original Continental League minor leaguer Russ Buhite (The Continental League: A Personal History) joins host Tim Hanlon to share his first-person account (as a member of the proposed Denver franchise’s Western Carolina League Rutherford County Owls in 1960) of both the build-up to and letdown of the “league that never was” – as well as the broader history of the unwittingly influential circuit that changed the economic landscape of modern-day Major League Baseball.

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