EPISODE #53: NHL Hockey’s Minnesota North Stars with Author Adam Raider

In this week’s episode, we skate back to the National Hockey League’s 1967 “Great Expansion,” when the league ambitiously doubled in size from its “Original Six” to incorporate a half-dozen new franchises – including the seemingly most obvious and overdue market of all: the hockey-mad state of Minnesota and its cultural epicenter, Minneapolis-St.Paul. 

With a skilled management team led by amateur hockey pioneer Walter Bush, the Minnesota North Stars fielded a team-minded and quickly respectable squad of NHL journeymen, castoffs and amateurs that immediately won the hearts of the hometown Met Center faithful. 

By the mid-1970s, however, the North Stars had fallen on hard times, with perennially poor records and few playoff berths – until 1978, when, in an unprecedented arrangement, Cleveland Barons (née California Golden Seals) franchise owner-brothers Gordon and George Gund acquired the team and merged them.  Bolstered by an immediate influx of quality Barons like goaltender Gilles Meloche and forwards Al MacAdam and Mike Fidler – plus savvy acquisitions and draft picks like eventual Calder Cup-winning forward Bobby Smith, 1980 US Olympian (and Minnesota native) Neal Broten, and future Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli – the North Stars reeled off five straight winning seasons and reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1980-81.

Author Adam Raider (Frozen in Time: A Minnesota North Stars History) joins the show to recount the club’s rise to championship contention, and subsequent relapse in the later 1980s/early 1990s – that ultimately saw: the Gunds trade for rights to a San Jose expansion franchise; Calgary Flames owner Norman Green opportunistically swap his interests for the North Stars; and, despite the addition of Mike Modano and a 1991 Stanley Cup Finals run, Green achieve villainy status (“Norm Sucks!”) by moving the team to Dallas in 1993.

If you are a fan of today’s NHL Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars or even San Jose Sharks, the story of the North Stars is an important part of your hockey education!

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EPISODE #52: The Wild & Wacky World Football League with Author Mark Speck - Part Two

We conclude our conversation with WFL researcher Mark Speck (WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League; World Football League Encyclopedia; . . .And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams, and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers), as we find the league limping its way through an inaugural 1974 campaign that featured two mid-season franchise relocations (Houston to Shreveport, and New York to Charlotte), two outright team collapses (Detroit and Jacksonville), dwindling attendance and TV ratings, the ousting of league founder/commissioner Gary Davidson – and a championship “World Bowl” between two cash-strapped finalists (Birmingham and Florida) that was only allowed to take place after the IRS agreed to accept the game’s gate receipts as payment for an overdue tax bill.

A return for an improbable second season in 1975 was made possible only by dissolving the league entirely and legally reconstituting into a second incarnation (inexplicably with the same name), under the stricture of resort developer/Hawaiians owner Chris Hemmeter’s eponymous operating plan that called for franchise deposit fees, limited budgets and player revenue-sharing based on business success.  But with no renewed national TV contract (TVS declined the option after Joe Namath spurned the Chicago Winds’ lucrative offer to jump), a now-highly suspicious fan base, and far less press coverage than the previous year’s spectacle, the “new” World Football League fared even worse – folding entirely and for good on October 22, 1975 – after just 13 weeks of play.

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WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League - buy book here

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. . . And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers - buy book here



EPISODE #51: The Wild & Wacky World Football League with Author Mark Speck

Perhaps no defunct league in modern-day professional sports history endured a more ignominious storyline and spectacular demise than that of the World Football League – a uniquely disastrous attempt to establish a summer-into-autumn rival to the National Football League during the mid-1970’s.

Brimming with confidence from his co-founding exploits with two previous (and at the time, still very-much-alive) challenger pro circuits – the American Basketball Association in 1967, and the World Hockey Association in 1971 – WFL founder/commissioner Gary Davidson saw the 1974-era National Football League as the next logical target for his quintessentially anti-establishment sports management ambitions.  While the ABA and WHA both eventually yielded successful mergers of their most viable franchises into their established rivals, the World Football League quickly proved to be quite different – and, ultimately, Davidson’s professional and personal Waterloo.

The WFL initially succeeded in persuading dozens of NFL stars to jump leagues for its hastily-arranged summer 1974 launch, largely because the NFL had no free agency, and the promise of a legitimate alternative offered newfound leverage for players seeking to improve their market values.  Many who did jump, however, signed “futures” contracts that would only take effect after the expiration of their NFL deals – a proposition that became increasingly dubious as under-capitalized WFL franchises seemingly began shutting down almost as soon as they debuted.  And that was just the start of what quickly became a litany of insurmountable calamities (including scandalous admissions of widespread game attendance inflation) that befell and ultimately sank both Davidson, and then the league itself – not once, but twice in just two years.

We begin our exploration of this most head-scratching of professional leagues with the dean of WFL researchers Mark Speck (WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League; World Football League Encyclopedia; . . .And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams, and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers), in a gift of an episode that just keeps on giving!

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WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League - buy book here

World Football League Encyclopedia - buy book here

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EPISODE #50: National League Baseball’s Detroit Wolverines with Author Brian “Chip” Martin

While the Detroit Tigers hold the record as the oldest continuous one-name, one-city franchise in the American League (debuting as one of the league’s “Classic Eight” charter clubs in 1901), they were not the first team to play major league baseball in the Motor City.  That distinction actually goes to the Detroit Wolverines of the late 19th-century National League, which took to the field for the first time against the visiting Buffalo Bisons on May 2, 1881 in front of a curious crowd of 1,286 at Recreation Park – land now occupied by today’s Detroit Medical Center in the city’s Midtown.

Playing in what was then one of the best professional ballparks in America – and during a pre-automotive era when Detroit was known more sumptuously as the "Paris of the West" – the Wolverines traipsed through eight seasons of big league ball, including its final three under the brash and ambitious ownership of pharmaceutical baron Frederick Stearns that produced 1887 National League and “World Championship” titles, boasted a gaggle of the sport’s best players (including four eventual Hall of Famers), and rankled competing owners with unprecedentedly aggressive approaches to raiding talent and splitting gate receipts.

The Wolverines were also a product of their time: an era when baseball’s formative transition to professionalism was still rough and uncharted, players were rowdy and roguish, and owners were eager to profit by whatever means necessary – including collusively restricting player movement, a mechanism that would continue to haunt the sport well into the next millennium.

Author/journalist Brian “Chip” Martin (The Detroit Wolverines: The Rise and Wreck of a National League Champion) regales host Tim Hanlon with the curious tale of Detroit’s first and oft-forgotten major league baseball franchise.  Plus: the immortal "Pretzels" Getzein!

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EPISODE #49: “Rock & Roll” NASL Soccer with Author Ian Plenderleith

By many accounts, the North American Soccer League was a one-of-a-kind phenomenon in the history of the world game – and, during its 1970s heyday (although it began shakily in 1968 and ended in shambles after the 1984 season) – a league years ahead of its time.  More than just Pelé and the star-studded, bigger-than-life New York Cosmos, the NASL lured international soccer’s biggest names like Johan Cruyff, Eusebio, George Best, and Franz Beckenbauer to play the “beautiful game” the way it was meant to be played—uninhibited, and with fan-pleasing innovations like sudden-death overtime, a 35-yard-line offsides demarcation, tie-breaking shootouts, and a points system that incentivized scoring regardless of result.

For international players, the NASL provided a bright and shiny alternative (or at least, summertime off-season respite) to the drearily conservative and cynically defensive state of the European game of the day.  Plush modern stadiums, professional cheerleaders, pre-game tailgating, clever promotional marketing – and increasingly attractive, though eventually unsustainable salaries – made US pro soccer an irresistible proposition.  Until, of course, it inevitably crashed back down to Earth like a once high-flying rock star’s private jet – bankrupting not only the league’s investors, but also the sport’s future in America in the process.

Author Ian Plenderleith (Rock 'n' Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss all the color and chaos of the world's first truly international league.

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EPISODE #48: How the ABA’s Indiana Pacers Helped “Change the Game” – with Bob Netolicky & Robin Miller

Four-time American Basketball Association All-Star Bob Netolicky and former Indianapolis Star sportswriter Robin Miller join host Tim Hanlon to share some of their most memorable (and heretofore untold) first-person accounts of playing and traveling with the thrice-ABA-champion Indiana Pacers – and promote their upcoming book We Changed the Game, penned in partnership with original team co-founder/owner Dick Tinkham.

Despite three championships, five finals appearances and the strongest fan base in the league, the Pacers – and by extension, the ABA itself – barely survived a number of remarkably close calls and dire financial situations during their collective nine-year pre-NBA-merger existence that nearly sank both the franchise and the league more than once. 

Yet, in the end, the team and the city improbably (and inspirationally) rallied together to keep the team (and the league) afloat – to ultimately become one of the four surviving franchises in the landmark merger with the National Basketball Association in 1976, as well as a source of deep, lasting and transformational civic pride for the city of Indianapolis that lasts to this day.

In this revealing, eyebrow-raising conversation, Miller and “Neto” set the record straight on numerous Pacer and ABA mythologies, and wax nostalgically authoritative on what really happened during the first nine years of the team’s pre-NBA existence.

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EPISODE #47: US Pro Soccer’s 1960s-Era Rebirth with Author Dennis Seese

The history of professional soccer in the United States is richer and far more complex than today’s generation of Major League Soccer fans might realize.  Multiple ethnically-infused pro leagues existed as far back as the early 1900s – but when the American Soccer Association collapsed in Depression-Era 1933, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s when the next serious attempt to bring full-fledged, top-flight Division One professional soccer to US shores was pursued in earnest.

In 1966, suddenly and incredibly, no fewer than three separate groups of well-heeled American sports businessmen coalesced around the same idea, each attempting to draft off of attention-generating events like entrepreneur Bill Cox’s International Soccer League tournaments and NBC’s surprisingly high-rated, near-live national TV broadcast of the World Cup Final from England.

According to research librarian (and unwitting soccer historian) Dennis Seese (The Rebirth of Professional Soccer in America: The Strange Days of the United Soccer Association), it was a tumultuous revival that ultimately yielded two hastily-assembled competing leagues the following year – the FIFA-sanctioned United Soccer Association (featuring whole-cloth international clubs pseudonymously representing 12 American cities), and the “outlaw” National Professional Soccer League (boasting a national CBS television contract and a one-month-earlier start for its ten teams) –  that rushed to beat each other to the American public with their pro versions of the “world’s game.”

What resulted was near-disaster: sparse crowds, dubious refereeing, anemic ratings, and a shotgun post-season merger to form a successor North American Soccer League in 1968 – which, despite its inherited broadcast TV coverage and official international governing body approval, sputtered mightily itself.  By the end of the merged NASL’s first season, only five teams remained – and the future of American professional soccer was very much in doubt. 

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EPISODE #46: The United States Football League with Author Paul Reeths

For the first time since Episode #11, we return to the brief, but unforgettable streak of pro football lightning known as the United States Football League, with the author of its definitive history, Paul Reeths (The United States Football League, 1982-1986). 

The brainchild of New Orleans plywood manufacturer/car dealer/World Championship Tennis co-founder/Superdome director/art-and-antiques dealer David Dixon, the USFL splashily announced its intention to bring big-league, springtime professional football to 12 major markets, at New York’s famed “21” Club on May 11, 1982.  In short order, the league added its first commissioner (sports cable TV executive Chet Simmons), a landmark marquee player signing (Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker), and, most valuably, national television contracts with broadcaster ABC Sports and upstart cable network ESPN.

In this illuminating episode, Reeths recounts some of the most memorable (and unbelievable) events from the USFL’s subsequent three-season run – and ultimately Pyrrhic antitrust legal victory over the National Football League – including the:

  • Origins of the “Dixon Plan” and its foundational belief in the insatiable fan appetite for pro football beyond the confines of the NFL’s fall schedule;
  • Surprisingly common bond among the league’s deep-pocketed owner-founders, the alarmingly rapid rate with which many bailed after the inaugural season, and the large line of expansion owners ready to replace them;
  • Unwittingly fortuitous 1982 NFL player strike that gave oxygen to the USFL’s challenger narrative;
  • Swift and destabilizing impact of Donald Trump’s arrival to USFL ownership in the summer of 1983 – and the movement towards direct fall competition with the NFL; AND
  • “Successful” restraint-of-trade federal court verdicts that provided way too little, and far too late to save the league from collapse.

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EPISODE #45: The ABA’s Indiana Pacers with Sportswriter Mark Montieth – Part Two

Veteran sportswriter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) returns to the podcast (Episode #41) to help complete the story of the Indiana Pacers’ nine-year sojourn through the American Basketball Association – including its shaky transition into a merger-expanded NBA in 1976.  

Arguably the most stable and successful franchise in the ABA’s short but colorful history, the franchise nearly collapsed under its own weight after its inaugural National Basketball Association campaign – if not for a hastily arranged 1977 Independence Day weekend telethon fundraiser devised by head coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard and his wife Nancy, that miraculously saved the team and cemented its place in the Indianapolis cultural landscape.

Along the way, however, the ABA Pacers made indelible marks on both the city and the basketball establishment, including: barn-burning rivalries (especially with the Kentucky Colonels and Utah Stars); stellar local collegiate talent signings (including Purdue All-American and Sports Illustrated high school cover boy Rick Mount, and Indiana University standout and eventual Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer George McGinnis); a downtown-revitalizing, franchise-stabilizing, state-of-the-art Market Square Arena; and the acrobatic, yet distinctively ‘fro’ed Darnell “Dr. Dunk” Hillman, who just may have been able to leap high enough to nab quarters off the top of backboards, according to sportswriter legend.

Plus: Pacers general manager Mike Storen answers his own letter; Bob Netolicky secures a trade, then begs to come back; the WHA hockey Racers nearly sink the franchise; and why Indianapolis' Pacers made the NBA cut - but Louisville's Colonels did not.

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EPISODE #44: Arena Football League Founder Jim Foster - Part Two

We conclude our two-part journey into the early history of the Arena Football League with founder and inventor Jim Foster, who recounts some of the most notable events of the league’s formative years – including a memorable 1987 “demonstration season” featuring:

  • The February debut “Showcase Game” in suburban Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon between the hometown Bruisers and the Miami Vise – highlights of which later dominated ESPN’s SportsCenter;  
  • A return to the Horizon for the first-ever nationally televised league match four months later (after a non-televised inaugural game the night before in Pittsburgh) – an overtime thriller that left fans, ESPN broadcasters, and league officials scrambling for the newly-written rule book;
  • The league’s first “Arena Bowl” championship game (won by the visiting Denver Dynamite) in front of a sold-out Pittsburgh Civic Center and a live national TV audience; AND
  • US patent filings (officially granted in the spring of 1990) protecting the original rules, play and configuration of arena football – and precluding potential competition (like 1989’s almost-World Indoor Football League) from stealing the concept.

Plus: the early dynasty of the Mike Illitch’s Detroit Drive; the holier-than-thou genius of coaching legend Tim Marcum; Des Moines gets a team; what happens when a ball gets stuck in the goalpost during the run of play; and can today's Arena Football League be saved?

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

EPISODE #43: Arena Football League Founder Jim Foster

As the new year beckons, the fate of the Arena Football League – one of America’s most innovative modern-day professional sports concepts – hangs in the balance.  With only four teams (the mutually-owned Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade, defending champion Philadelphia Soul, and a still-unnamed Albany, NY squad) confirmed for the upcoming 2018 season, the AFL will play with exactly the same number of franchises that comprised its inaugural “demonstration” season back in 1987 – and a mere fraction of the 19 clubs that competed during its heyday in the early-to-mid 2000s.

Much has happened to the league and the sport during those 30+ years, of course – and few doubt that the unique (and once-patented) excitement of arena football won’t eventually find a sustainable business model and a return to long-term stability. 

In the interim, however, we delve into how it all began, with the first of our two-part interview with Iowa native Jim Foster – the inventor of arena football and the founder of the original Arena Football League – who takes host Tim Hanlon on rollicking excursion across the uncharted sports terrain of the 1970s and 80s that led to both the birth of a sport and the launch of a professional league, including: 

  • Exporting professional American football to Europe decades before the NFL;
  • Discovering fans’ year-long appetite for pro football via the USFL;
  • Scribbling parameters for “indoor football” on a manila envelope while attending the 1981 MISL All-Star Game;
  • Tinkering on a shoestring with facilities, equipment, rules, and approaches to TV broadcast coverage;
  • Tapping into the nostalgia and cost economics of two-way players, as well as the fan appeal of “run-and-shoot” offensive action; AND
  • Defending the notion of centrally-controlled league ownership from franchise-hungry charter owners.

This week’s episode is sponsored by SportsHistoryCollectibles.com , Audible and Podfly.

EPISODE #42: Entertainer Pat Boone and the ABA’s Oakland Oaks

We usher in the holidays and round out our debut season with the inimitable Pat Boone – an American entertainment legend and inveterate business entrepreneur, with a life-long passion for the sport of basketball.  In a career spanning over six decades (and counting!), the incomparable Boone has just about done it all in the fields of music, film, television, and stage, as well as the pursuit of a wide variety of business interests – including being the majority owner of the American Basketball Association’s charter Bay Area franchise, the Oakland Oaks.

Denied the ability to play its NBA All-Star marquee signing (and cross-town San Francisco Warriors star) Rick Barry for the inaugural 1967-68 ABA season, Boone’s Oaks endured a league-worst 22-56 record, amid dismally low crowds at the brand-new Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena.  Barry’s official arrival the next season (despite a knee injury that curtailed his play after only 35 games), paired with the hiring of two-time NBA champion head coach Alex Hannum, and an influx of future perennial All-Star talent like Doug Moe and Larry Brown, instantly rejuvenated the club’s competitive profile, as the Oaks zoomed to a league-leading 60-18 “worst-to-first” regular season record and a dominating run in the playoffs to capture the 1968-89 league championship.

Despite the reversal of fortune on the hardwood, Boone lost a fortune at the box office (in excess of $2 million in just two seasons), as neither Barry nor a title provided any significant lift in ticket sales – or visible hope of near-term future improvement in the competitive Bay Area market.  Former Baltimore Bullets NBA owner (and later Major Indoor Soccer League co-founder) Earl Foreman purchased the franchise (and its debts) from Boone for $2.6 million in August of 1969 and moved them to the Nation’s Capital, where they became the one-year Washington Caps, replete with a reluctant Barry in tow.

In this revealing conversation, Boone recounts: the events that led him to become a pro basketball owner; the tortuous journey of landing Rick Barry; the thrill of winning an ABA championship; the unwitting blank check that kept the Oaks financially afloat, but nearly sank Boone personally and professionally; and why, despite his continued passion for the sport, he never pursued another professional basketball ownership opportunity in the decidedly more stable NBA in later years. 

Plus: a ring more expensive Elizabeth Taylor's; dunking over Bill Russell; comparing pro titles with Mark Cuban; and our quest for footage of the 1978 CBS/NBA Three-on-Three Tournament!

This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Podfly, Audible and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com !

EPISODE #41: ABA Basketball’s Indiana Pacers with Sportswriter Mark Montieth

Long-time Indianapolis pro hoops beat reporter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) joins host Tim Hanlon to delve into the intriguing story behind the efforts of late-1960s civic leaders to re-establish a top-tier professional franchise in the capital city of basketball-mad Indiana after a curious 14-year absence.   

One of eleven charter franchises in 1967’s upstart American Basketball Association, the Indiana Pacers literally and figuratively “set the pace” early and often during the league’s nine-year existence – amassing three ABA championships, five finals appearances, and a dazzling array of All-Star talent including the likes of Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Billy Knight, and future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, and head coach Bob “Slick” Leonard.

In a league synonymous with wild games, outsized personalities and vagabond franchises, the Pacers were a uniquely steady constant on the court, in the stands and with the local Indianapolis community – which later rewarded them with a downtown-transforming arena of their own in 1974, and ultimately, helped bolster their case to become one of only four ABA clubs to be included in the post-merger National Basketball Association in 1976.

Our thanks to SportsHistoryCollectibles.com , Audible and Podfly for their sponsorship of this week’s episode!

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EPISODE #40: The Three Acts of Pro Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes with Columnist Gary Singh

Long-time Metro Silicon Valley columnist and San Jose, California native Gary Singh (The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the confusing journey and three distinct incarnations of one of American soccer’s most colorful and persistent professional franchises.  

As one of four West Coast expansion teams (along with the Los Angeles Aztecs, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps) added for the North American Soccer League’s breakthrough 1974 season, the original San Jose Earthquakes were an immediate hit both on the field (finishing second in the all-new Western Division, and led by the league’s leading scorer Paul Child) and in the stands, where they drew in excess of 15,000 fans a game to a less-than-modern Spartan Stadium – more than double the league average.  Though never regular championship contenders, the ‘Quakes cultivated a rabidly loyal fan base that became the envy of clubs across the league – until the NASL’s ultimate demise ten years later. 

Elements of the club soldiered on semi-professionally in the following years, but the appellation (along with some of the previous cast) returned in earnest in 1999, when the management of San Jose’s struggling (and unpopularly named) Major League Soccer “Clash” sought to rekindle some of the original magic – and by 2001, the second iteration of the Earthquakes were contending for and winning MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield titles.   

However, stymied by an inability to construct a soccer-specific stadium in the area, owner-operator Anschutz Entertainment Group pulled up stakes and relocated the club to Houston for 2006 – taking further championships with them.  Nonplussed San Jose fans revolted – and a new “expansion” franchise was quickly announced by MLS officials, with plenty of structural caveats that ensured today’s now-third incarnation of the ‘Quakes rightfully retains all of its accumulated heritage and rich legacy.

Thank you Audible and Podfly for your support of this week’s show!

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EPISODE #39: The Continental Indoor Soccer League’s Indianapolis Twisters with Broadcaster Kenn Tomasch

Former sportscaster and fellow defunct pro sports enthusiast Kenn Tomasch joins host Tim Hanlon to dig deep into the two-season saga of the Indiana (née Indianapolis) Twisters of the Continental Indoor Soccer League – the mid-90s summertime indoor soccer circuit hatched by a collective of team and arena owners from the NBA and NHL to keep their facilities humming during their respective “off”-seasons.  CISL franchises controlled by entities outside the big-league fraternity were also part of the mix (accounting for half of the eventual 18 teams during the league’s five-year run from 1993-97) – including the tumultuously tenuous Twisters, who cycled through two separate ownership groups as well as a temporary spell of league receivership during its brief 21-month existence.

As the radio “Voice of the Twisters,” Tomasch was there for all of it, including:

  • A rousing home debut on June 21, 1996 at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena that saw the club drop an entertaining 7-6 overtime decision to the Washington Warthogs;
  • Dwindling announced home-game crowds of barely 2,000+ just months later;
  • Co-owner Rodney Goins ceding his role as president mid-season to become an active player on the Twisters roster – debuting as US pro sports’ first-ever player-owner on August 23, 1996;
  • Becoming “wards of the league” two weeks later when Goins and his co-owner brother suspend operations – and team radio broadcasts;
  • New ownership, team name, logo, colors – and a surprising second-place regular season finish in 1997;
  • Losing home-field playoff advantage due to a scheduling conflict, and ultimately an early exit from a potential title run; AND
  • The abrupt folding of the venerable San Diego Sockers just days before the 1997 season that foreshadowed the CISL’s demise later in the year.

This week’s episode is sponsored by Podfly and Audible.

EPISODE #38: Women’s Professional Baseball with Film Producer/Director Jon Leonoudakis

Documentary film producer/director Jon Leonoudakis (The Wrecking Crew!) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss Season Three of his digital video series The Sweet Spot: A Treasury of Baseball Stories – devoted to the plight of women in the pursuit of playing America’s pastime.  Over this season’s nine episodes, Shutout! The Battle American Women Wage to Play Baseball tackles the tortuous journey of women in baseball from multiple angles – including notable attempts at professional play over the last century, such as:

  • The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – launched in wartime 1943 to keep interest in the sport alive while enlisted male players served overseas, the AAGPBL continued well into the early 1950s with a spirited blend of competitive moxie and girl-next-door femininity that delighted hundreds of thousands of fans across the Midwest and inspired a landmark 1992 film (A League of Their Own) that cemented its legacy generations later;
  • The Colorado Silver Bullets – formed in 1994 in the wake of the success of the movie, the Coors Brewing Company-sponsored Silver Bullets barnstormed the US for four seasons under the managerial tutelage of National Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro – holding its own against dozens of men's minor league, semi-pro and all-star amateur teams; AND
  • Ladies League Baseball – the short-lived 1997 West Coast-based women’s pro circuit (and its even shorter-lived 1998 successor, the Ladies Professional Baseball League) that sought to build on the Silver Bullets’ pioneering success, but failed to generate sustained enthusiasm at the gate.

This episode is supported by our friends at Audible and Podfly.

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EPISODE #37: The NHL’s California Golden Seals with Author Steve Currier

Ice hockey makes its long-awaited return to the podcast, as host Tim Hanlon revisits the legendarily forlorn California Golden Seals franchise of the late 1960s/early 1970s National Hockey League, with author Steve Currier (The California Golden Seals: A Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams).   Part of the NHL’s “Great Expansion” of 1967, the Seals never posted a winning record in any of its 11 years of existence (including its last two seasons as the Cleveland Barons), and consistently finished dead last in league attendance despite playing in a then-state-of-the-art  Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum Arena. 

Currier recounts: a revolving door of promising players (though not future Hall of Fame legend Guy Lafleur, who might have become a Seal, if not for a previously traded first-round draft pick); hapless owners (from millionaire socialite Barry Van Gerbig, to flamboyant baseball disruptor Charlie Finley, to hotel magnate Mel Swig, to [eventually] the NHL itself); and outlandish marketing decisions (including mid-season name changes, garish green/gold uniforms and scuff-prone white skates, live seals on ice, and currying favor with a supposedly influential Bay Area barber community) – all of which made the Seals franchise one of the most idiosyncratic footnotes in modern-day hockey and pro sports history.

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The California Golden Seals: A Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL's Most Outlandish Teams - buy book here

EPISODE #36: Dead-Ball-Era Baseball’s “Chief” Meyers & the New York Giants with Author Bill Young

Author/historian Bill Young (John Tortes “Chief” Meyers: A Baseball Biography) returns to the podcast to discuss the life and legacy of one of Major League Baseball’s most intriguing personalities from the sport’s “dead-ball era” of the 1900s/10s.  The sturdy, hard-hitting battery-mate (and eventual vaudeville stage partner) of Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Matthewson – as well as a fixture in some of legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw’s most successful teams – “Chief” Meyers was also one of the few true Native Americans to ever star in professional baseball, overcoming enormous prejudicial obstacles along the way.   Unlike other Native American players who eschewed their tribal identities to escape bias and ridicule, Meyers—a member of the Santa Rosa Band of the Cahuilla Tribe of California—remained proud of his heritage, and endeared himself to fans and the press with his disarming, accessible and uniquely erudite personality.  After retiring from the game in 1920, Meyers quietly returned to his roots to become a tribal leader, only to be rediscovered by a new generation of fans and scholars in 1966 with the publication of Lawrence Ritter’s acclaimed oral history of the early game, The Glory of Their Times.

We thank Audible and Podfly for their continued support of the show!


John Tortes "Chief" Meyers: A Baseball Biography - buy book here

The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It - buy book here

EPISODE #35: National Soccer Hall of Famer Paul Child

Former NASL, MISL, CISL (and even ASL) soccer great Paul Child becomes the fifth National Soccer Hall of Famer to join the podcast – and regales host Tim Hanlon with a bevy of eyebrow-raising anecdotes from a 25+ pro career as a player and coach across teams and leagues in both the outdoor and indoor versions of the game, including: 

  • Taking a chance to get first-team play as a 19-year-old via loan with the Atlanta Chiefs in the fragile 1972 North American Soccer League;
  • Learning to love the narrow confines and uniquely spray-painted burgundy and black penalty areas of San Jose’s Spartan Stadium;
  • Laying carpet for and dodging chicken wire during the NASL’s primitive inaugural indoor tournament in San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1975; 
  • Wondering if sellout crowds in Atlanta’s Omni for Chiefs indoor games in the early 1980s were for spirited play, or cheeky promotions like “Who Shot J.R.?” night;
  • Taking the early 1980s Pittsburgh sports scene by storm – and regularly outdrawing hockey’s Penguins – with the MISL’s Spirit; and
  • Earning two caps for the US National Team – despite not being an actual American citizen!

This week’s episode is supported by our friends at Audible and Podfly!

EPISODE #34: The National Basketball League with Author Murry Nelson

Basketball historian and Penn State professor emeritus Murry Nelson (The National Basketball League: A History) returns to the podcast – this time to dive into the deep end of one of the modern-day NBA’s  most important formative tributaries. 

The National Basketball League was forged out of an industrial collective of independent “company teams” that dotted the Midwest in the mid-1930s – and through the corporate patronage of firms like Goodyear, Firestone and General Electric, became a full-time pro hoops circuit that eventually stretched from Syracuse to Denver – with a hefty dollop of smaller markets in between.   Teams like the Oshkosh (WI) All-Stars, Anderson (IN) Duffy Packers, Tri-Cities (IA)  Blackhawks, and Toledo (OH)-based Jim White Chevrolets – along with star players like the lane-dominating Leroy “Cowboy” Edwards, long-range shooting ace Bobby McDermott, and the pro game’s first true “big man” George Mikan – broke new ground,  and spawned the launch of an even bigger-market competitor (the Basketball Association of America, in 1946) that ultimately resulted in a 1949 merger that yielded what we now know as the National Basketball Association.

Today’s Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, and Philadelphia 76ers all emanated directly from the NBL – although you might not know it, given the NBA’s tilted version of basketball history, as Nelson tells host Tim Hanlon in this enlightening episode.

Out thanks to Podfly and Audible for their support of the show! 

The National Basketball League: A History, 1935-1949 - buy book here