EPISODE #108: The “Almost Yankees” of 1981 – With David Herman

We’re stuck in the minors again this week – this time with Microsoft News senior managing editor and former newspaper sportswriter David Herman (Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of) – as we discuss the memorable story and unique circumstances of the 1981 championship season of the International League’s Columbus Clippers, the then-flagship farm club of the New York Yankees.

Longtime baseball fans will remember 1981, of course, as the year Major League Baseball experienced its first-ever mid-season interruption of play, as players took to the picket lines against ownership beginning on June 12th – just over two months into the schedule.

Once big-league play stopped, fans and sports reporters alike scrambled to fill the void – with organized baseball’s robust minor league system as the immediate beneficiary.  And suddenly, the heavily Yankee-influenced Triple-A Clippers found themselves basking in the unexpected spotlight of New York and national media attention, as the newfound best team in baseball.

The Clippers’ mix of raw recruits, MLB prospects, and minor league journeymen responded to opportunity by playing some of the greatest baseball of their lives – on what would be, arguably, the greatest team most of them would ever belong to.

Yet, almost as suddenly as the strike began, it ended (roughly two months later on August 9th) – leaving most of the Clippers to return to their ordinary aspirational lives and to be just as quickly forgotten.

Herman walks host Tim Hanlon through the previously untold story of a baseball team and its players (including the likes of once and future major leaguers like Steve Balboni, Dave Righetti, Buck Showalter, and Pat Tabler) performing in the shadow of one of the MLB’s most famous teams and infamous owners, George Steinbrenner – becoming a launching pad for some, a last chance for others, and the end of the major league dream for most.

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Almost Yankees: The Summer of ‘81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of - buy here

EPISODE #107: The Havana Sugar Kings & Cuban League Baseball – With César Brioso

Longtime USA Today sports writer/producer César Brioso (Last Seasons in Havana: The Castro Revolution and the End of Professional Baseball in Cuba) joins the show to explore the rich parallel histories of America’s and Cuba’s shared national pastime – and the colorful period of the late 1950s/early 1960s when it appeared baseball in the island nation was mainstreaming its way into eventual US major league status.

During much of the ‘50s, baseball in pre‑Castro Cuba was enjoying a golden age. The Cuban League – founded in 1878, just two years after the formation of the National League – was thriving under the auspices of American organized baseball. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, players regularly came from the US major, minor and Negro leagues to play in what was the country’s wholly integrated winter baseball league.  In addition, native-born Cuban teams routinely dominated annual Caribbean Series regional tournaments.

In 1946, Havana’s El Gran Estadio del Cerro became home to its own “regular season” US-domiciled (Class C Florida League) minor league franchise called the Sugar Kings.  By 1954, the club had grown to become a competitive member of the AAA International League as an official affiliate of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds (featuring future major league standouts such as Leo Cárdenas, Mike Cuellar, Vic Davalillo, Julián Javier, and Cookie Rojas) – eventually culminating in league and Junior World Series (over the AAA American Association’s Minneapolis Millers) titles in 1959. 

The impact of the Sugar Kings’ championships that year went far beyond mere baseball titles; they became de facto moments of national civic pride, as well as indisputable evidence that Havana and Cuba were more than ready for and deserving of a place in America’s major leagues.

Of course, the club’s achievements fatefully coincided with – and were ultimately undermined by – the events that year of the Fidel Castro-led Communist revolution over Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. 

By the end of 1960, the baseball landscape in the country looked much different: professional play was converted to an amateur state-sponsored model; American players stopped participating in the winter Cuban League; and the International League extracted the Sugar Kings from Havana and moved them to US soil, where they became the soon-to-be forgotten (after the 1961 season) Jersey City (NJ) Jerseys. 

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Last Seasons in Havana: The Castro Revolution and the End of Professional Baseball in Cuba - buy here

            

Havana Sugar Kings & Cuban League team T-shirts by Red Jacket/American Needle - buy here

EPISODE #106: Seattle’s “Sonicsgate” – With Filmmakers Jason Reid & Adam Brown

Documentary filmmakers Jason Reid and Adam Brown (Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team) join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the long, tortuous and acrimoniously messy departure of the NBA’s iconic Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2008 – a story newly relevant as the “Emerald City” prepares to welcome a new NHL expansion franchise, and as former owner (and Starbucks CEO Emeritus) Howard Schultz publicly explores a run for the US Presidency.

A real-life drama replete with local political intrigue, wily (and/or naïve) business dealings, and an array of villains straight out of Hollywood central casting – the Sonics-to-Thunder saga has quickly become a chilling metaphor for the triumph of business revenue streams and facilities real estate over the spectacle of athletic competition or the rooting interests of fans.

Reid and Brown walk Hanlon through: the landing (in 1967) and honeymoon first years of Seattle’s first-ever pro sports franchise; the region’s loving embrace of their own pro hoops team (especially during its 1979 league championship season); the Achilles’ heel of Key Arena and a city government wary of public stadium subsidies; a litany of lawsuits; and a raft of agenda-driven actors like the in-over-his-skis Schultz, a devious Oklahoma City lead investor Clay Bennett, and a complicit NBA Commissioner David Stern – all of whom share blame for the Sonics’ ignominious relocation in the minds and hearts of Seattle sports fans.

Plus: we speculate whether the 2021 arrival of the NHL to Seattle portends a return of NBA basketball – perhaps in the form of a newly constituted SuperSonics – in the years ahead!

Thanks to this week’s sponsors: Streaker Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, and 503 Sports!

Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team via Amazon Prime - access here

EPISODE #105: The World Football League’s Detroit Wheels – With Mark Speck

In a league uniquely rich in comic misadventures and financial disasters, perhaps no one franchise from the World Football League’s inaugural 1974 season stood out more for its own brand of woeful ineptitude than the Detroit Wheels.

Saddled from inception by an unwieldy ownership group of 33 different founding investors – including Motown Records superstar Marvin Gaye and Little Caesar’s Pizza founder (and budding Detroit pro sports patron) Mike Illitch – the Wheels’ front office featured neither cohesive management nor adequate funding to cover even the most basic of operating expenses, let alone a realistic budget from which to field a competitive team.

Unwilling to spend more than $10,000 per player, management unwittingly took the club out of contention for most of the NFL and CFL veterans flocking to other WFL franchises, while securing only three signings from its 33 picks in the league's college draft.  In pre-season desperation, the Wheels even advertised an open tryout that drew over 600 hopefuls, yet produced none good enough to make the roster.  As training camp progressed at Eastern Michigan University, one owner even suggested that the team move the players into tents in a nearby public park to help cut costs.

Worse still, the Wheels couldn’t secure a lease at either Detroit’s downtown Tiger Stadium or Ann Arbor’s (University of) Michigan Stadium – having to settle instead for Eastern Michigan’s Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, 35 miles and full hour’s drive outside of the city.   Unsurprisingly, the team averaged just 11,264 fans across five-ever home games, save for a relocated sixth match played in even further-distant London, Ontario, Canada before an assemblage of barely 5,000.

Not that there was much to cheer for anyway.  The Wheels lost their first ten games of the season, winning only once (a 15-14 away squeaker at the then-league-leading Florida Blazers in Orlando on September 11, 1974), before dropping their next three to fall to a WFL-worst 1-13 record.  By October 10th, creditors and the league had had enough, and the Wheels folded into oblivion – six games short of completing their first and only season.

WFL researcher Mark Speck (Nothing but a Brand-New Set of Flat Tires: The Sad, Sorry Saga of the 1974 Detroit Wheels of the World Football League) returns to the show to fill in the rest of the details!

Be sure to visit our sponsors OldSchoolShirts.com, Streaker Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and 503 Sports for great World Football League garb and gear!

Nothing But a Brand-New Set of Flat Tires: The Sad, Sorry Saga of the Detroit Wheels of the World Football League - buy here

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Numerous photos courtesy: Richie Franklin's World Football League website - visit here

EPISODE #104: Big League Baseball in WWII Wartime Washington – With David Hubler & Josh Drazen

On a cold and ominous Sunday, December 7, 1941, Major League Baseball’s owners were gathered in Chicago for their annual winter meetings, just two months after one of the sport’s greatest seasons. For the owners, the dramatic news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor earlier that morning was not only an assault on the United States, but also a direct threat to the future of the national pastime itself.

League owners were immediately worried about the players they were likely to lose to military service, but also feared a complete shutdown of the looming 1942 season – and perhaps beyond.  But with the carefully cultivated support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, organized baseball continued uninterrupted – despite numerous calls to shut it down.

Authors David Hubler and Josh Drazen (The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever) join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the impact of World World II on the two major professional teams in Washington, DC – the American League’s Senators (aka Nationals), and the Negro National League’s Homestead Grays – as well as the impact of the war on big league baseball as a whole, including:

  • How a strong friendship between Senators owner Clark Griffith and Roosevelt kept the game alive during the war years, often in the face of strong opposition for doing so;

  • The continual uncertainties clubs faced as things like the military draft, national resources rationing and other wartime regulations affected both the sport and American day-to-day life; AND

  • The Negro Leagues’ constant struggle for recognition, solvency, and integration.

PLUS: The origin of the twi-night doubleheader!

AND: The ceremonial first-pitch ambidexterity of President Harry Truman!

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EPISODE #103: MISL Indoor Soccer's Origin Story – With Co-Founder Ed Tepper

We celebrate our second anniversary with the intriguing background story of the original Major Indoor Soccer League, with the man who started it all – Ed Tepper. 

A commercial real estate developer by trade, Tepper actually got his start in pro sports ownership as the owner of the original National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings – only to switch allegiances to an inchoate indoor offshoot of the world’s most popular sport after a chance exhibition (between the 1973 NASL champion Atoms and the Russian CSKA “Red Army” team) at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on February 11, 1974. 

Originally interested in the game’s bespoke Astroturf-covered surface as a potential improvement for his fledgling box lacrosse club, Tepper (along with 11,700+ enthusiastic curiosity-seekers) instead became instantly attracted to the fast-paced action and high scoring of “indoor soccer” – and quickly resolved to make a professional sport out of it.

In this illuminating interview, Tepper recounts some of the notable events and influential people along the journey from concept to the MISL’s official debut kick (by Cincinnati Kids part-owner Pete Rose, no less) on December 22, 1978 at Uniondale, Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum – including:

  • Convincing ABA Virginia Squires owner (and eventual MISL commissioner) Earl Foreman of the game’s potential;

  • The instant credibility boost of signing American superstar goalkeeper Shep Messing;

  • NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam’s on-again, off-again interest in the indoor game;

  • How (and why) NFL owners Carroll Rosenbloom and Al Davis wanted in; AND

  • The unsung role of TV executive Bob Wussler in garnering attention for the fledgling circuit.

PLUS: The untold tale of Tepper’s very own (barely one-season long) MISL franchise – the New Jersey Rockets!

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EPISODE #102: The World Football League’s Florida Blazers – With Mark Speck

World Football League researcher extraordinaire Mark Speck (And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams, and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers) returns to the podcast to discuss the incredible story of Orlando’s first professional sports franchise – and the crazy challenger football league that hastened both its creation and demise.

The Florida Blazers actually originated in late 1973 as the Washington Ambassadors, one of the originally-envisioned charter WFL teams to begin play the next summer.  From the outset, franchise owner/oceanographic engineer Joseph Wheeler had difficulties raising financing and securing a lease for DC’s RFK Stadium – and by March, had moved the team to nearby Norfolk, VA – with no better luck.    

Hastened by a nervous WFL Commissioner Gary Davidson, Wheeler sold the club in May of 1974 – a mere two months before the start of the season – to an Orlando, FL syndicate led by former New England Patriots player and executive Rommie Loudd, which had just lost (to Tampa Bay) a bid to get an NFL expansion team. 

Quickly setting up shop in a small and rickety Tangerine Bowl, the newly rechristened Blazers finally got their act together (at least on the field) with a surprising array of veteran (ex-Jets Bob Davis and Larry Grantham) and rookie (eventual league co-MVP Tommy Reamon) talent assembled by NFL star coach Jack Pardee – who rose to the league’s elite and ultimately to the World Bowl championship game. 

Incredibly, off the field, the franchise was a financial disaster – riddled with poor attendance, non-existent marketing, inadequate financing, unpaid bills (and players) – and an owner who ultimately would up in jail for tax embezzlement and narcotics trafficking.

And we’re only scratching the surface!

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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 here

Numerous photos courtesy: Richie Franklin's World Football League website - visit here

EPISODE #101: New York Yankees Broadcaster John Sterling

Legendary New York Yankees baseball play-by-play man John Sterling joins host Tim Hanlon for a cavalcade of career memories from his 50+ year journey in sports broadcasting – including a treasure trove of stops along the way with previously incarnated or otherwise defunct teams (and leagues).

Now celebrating his 30th consecutive season with the Bronx Bombers, Sterling’s unique vocal stylings have become synonymous with some of the Yankees’ most signature moments during that time – including the team’s dominant run of American League and World Series championships across the late 1990s and much of the 2000s. 

The path to becoming one of baseball’s marquee team broadcasters was far from direct, however, and we (naturally) obsess over some of Sterling’s more memorable “forgotten” gigs along the way, including:

  • Falling into radio play-by-play with the NBA Baltimore Bullets as a late fill-in for Jim Karvellas;

  • Becoming the almost-voice of the ABA Washington Caps (until a hasty move to Virginia to become the Squires);

  • Hustling to secure radio rights to the upstart WHA New York Raiders for Gotham’s talk powerhouse WMCA - and the irony of later calling games for the NHL Islanders;

  • The highs of the ABA New York, and lows of the NBA New Jersey Nets;

  • “Phoning it in” for the World Football League’s short-lived New York Stars; AND

  • The ahead-of-its-time Enterprise Sports Radio Network.

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Classic John Sterling audio clips courtesy of Eric Paddon; follow him on YouTube here

EPISODE #100: WHA Hockey’s New England Whalers – With Former Owner Howard Baldwin

We celebrate our 100th(!) episode with one of the founding owners of the pioneering World Hockey Association – and the man ultimately responsible for the absorption of four its teams into the NHL in the “don’t-call-it-a-merger” of 1979. 

Hollywood film producer and original New England Whalers founder/owner Howard Baldwin (Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood) joins host Tim Hanlon for a rollicking ride through the modest beginnings, death-defying life, and lasting aftermath of pro hockey’s paradigm-transforming challenger league – as well as the tortuous journey of the only US-based franchise to survive the consolidation.

Come for Baldwin’s hard-to-believe stories of the Whalers and the WHA, like:

  • Winning the Avco Cup championship in the team’s (and league’s) very first (1972-73) season, despite being fourth in line for Boston Garden home dates behind the Bruins, Celtics and even the AHL Braves;

  • The courtship-turned-love-affair between the Whalers and the city of Hartford that led to the club’s relocation to the WHA’s (and ultimately NHL’s) smallest TV market in 1974; AND

  • Doubling as league president with the sole purpose of effecting a merger with NHL.

But also stay for tales of Baldwin’s incredible WHA after-life, including:

  • Riding into the 1980s with the NHL’s “Hartford” Whalers;

  • The curious interconnection between the Minnesota North Stars and the San Jose Sharks;

  • Winning the 1992 Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but losing the franchise to bankruptcy six years later; AND

  • Segueing into life as an Academy Award-winning Hollywood film producer.

Show your support for the show and the legendary WHA by purchasing commemorative garb from our great sponsors 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com and Streaker Sports!

Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood - buy here

EPISODE #99: Sports Broadcaster Bob Carpenter

You know him today as the long-time television play-by-play voice of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. 

But before becoming one of the baseball’s most admired and durable broadcasters, Bob Carpenter cut his professional teeth in the burgeoning (but ultimately fleeting) American pro soccer scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s as the lead “man-behind-the-mic” for such iconic teams as the NASL's Tulsa Roughnecks and the MISL's St. Louis Steamers – as well as some less-than-memorable ones, like 1983’s ill-fated US Soccer/NASL hybrid, Team America.

His springboard into TV sports broadcasting’s “big leagues” – including 15 years of nationally televised baseball with ESPN, plus lead announcing duties for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and his hometown St. Louis Cardinals – is rich in anecdotes, and we (naturally!) drag the versatile Carpenter back to some of the more “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:

  • A serendipitous segue from minor league baseball to “big time” pro soccer in Tulsa;

  • The Roughnecks’ gritty road to the 1983 NASL title as the league’s smallest-market team;

  • Leveraging national exposure from the NASL into soccer-centric gigs with the fledgling USA & ESPN cable networks;

  • The “invisible hand” of Anheuser-Busch’s soccer-mad executive Denny Long & his Bud Sports production division;

  • Returning home to call Steamers MISL indoor games at the often-packed St. Louis Arena (aka Checkerdome); AND

  • Masquerading as the “local” voice of the Washington, DC-based Team America – the de facto US National Team that played as an NASL franchise. 

Thanks to OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, Streaker Sports & SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s episode!

EPISODE #98: The Original XFL – With Brett Forrest

As another NFL season closes, we shift gears toward the forthcoming Alliance of American Football – the first of two new leagues attempting to again extend the pro game into viable Spring season play – where the USFL, World League of American Football and NFL Europe have famously tried before. 

The other – both in 2001 and in a reincarnated form coming next year – was and is the XFL, which we finally sink our teeth into for the first time this week with Wall Street Journal national security reporter Brett Forrest (Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV's Biggest Fiasco).

We drop this episode on the 18th anniversary of when the audacious joint venture between the Vince McMahon-helmed World Wresting Federation (now WWE) and the Dick Ebersol-captained NBC Sports opened play at a raucous Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas to see the hometown Outlaws battle the already-villainous New York/New Jersey Hitmen in front of a national primetime television audience.

Nearly two decades later, most who witnessed it (not to mention the tumultuous season that followed) still don’t know what to make of it.

Forrest digs into: the process of tackling his then-first-ever book assignment with Long Bomb (including the pre-season magazine article from which it came); some of the curious characters (the seemingly-legitimizing presence of Dick Butkus, the unwitting marketing genius of Rod “He Hate Me” Smart, the hungry group of eager players simply wanting one last shot at playing pro football) he encountered along the way; and the less-than-enthusiastic response of McMahon to the idea of a book about the league in the first place.

Be sure to check out the great XFL shirts and replica jerseys from our friends at 503 Sports!

Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV’s Biggest Fiasco - buy here

EPISODE #97: Pro Football’s Dynastic Cleveland Browns – With Andy Piascik

Win or lose in next week’s Super Bowl LIII, the five-time NFL champion New England Patriots are already guaranteed a spot in the annals of pro football history as one of the sport’s most dominant teams – especially when viewed through the truncated lens of the last two decades.

That said, a legion of successful clubs over the league’s prior eight decades – such as the Green Bay Packers of 1929-44 (and much of the 1960s); the 1981-98 San Francisco 49ers; the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers; the 1990s Dallas Cowboys; and the early 1970s Miami Dolphins – can legitimately claim the right to be included in the discussion of football dynasties, when normalized across the competitive realities of their respective eras.

Author Andy Piascik (The Best Show in Football: The 1946–1955 Cleveland Browns – Pro Football's Greatest Dynasty) joins host Tim Hanlon this week to detail how one of those teams – the Cleveland Browns of the late 1940s upstart All-America Football Conference and then early 1950s NFL – might just possibly be the proverbial “greatest” of all time, all things being equal.

The Browns were the only champion the well-funded, big-league challenger AAFC ever had in its four-season post-WWII run, and quickly made their prowess known to the pro football establishment in 1950 when they soundly defeated the NFL’s defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in the newly merged league’s opening game – and then proceeded to steamroll their way to the title later that season, as well as consecutive title game appearances (winning the last two) through 1954.

In the decade spanning 1946-55, the Browns – headed by legendary coach Paul Brown, and joined by no fewer than nine future Pro Football Hall of Famers (Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli, Bill Willis, Frank Gatski, Len Ford, Doug Atkins and Mike McCormack) – amassed a better record (105-17-4) and won more championships (seven) than any team in pro football history.

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The Best Show in Football: The 1946-55 Cleveland Browns - Pro Football’s Greatest Dynasty - buy here

EPISODE #96: The National Pastime in the Nation's Capital – With Fred Frommer

We throw another chunk of firewood into our baseball hot stove this week, as we warm up with the surprisingly long and rich history of the National Pastime in the Nation’s Capital with sports PR veteran Fred Frommer (You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions).

While historically smaller in population than its more industrial neighbors to its north and west, Washington, DC was regularly represented in the highest levels of baseball dating back to the earliest professional circuits – including the 1871-75 National Association’s Olympics, Blue Legs, and two named the “Nationals”; two new and separate Nationals clubs in the competing Union and American Associations of 1884; and two teams each in the American Association (another Nationals in 1884; Statesmen in 1891), and early National League (yet another Nationals from 1886-89; and “Senators” from 1892-99).

But it was the creation of the American League in 1901 that solidified the city’s place in baseball’s top echelon, as the (second) Washington Senators launched as one of the junior circuit’s “Classic Eight” charter franchises – establishing an uninterrupted presence for Major League Baseball in the District that endured for more than seven decades.  (Technically, the original AL Senators stayed until 1960, when the franchise moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN to become the Minnesota Twins – only to be immediately replaced by a new expansion Senators the next season, that lasted 11 more seasons until they moved to Arlington, TX to become the Texas Rangers in 1971.)

Frommer joins host Tim Hanlon to look back on DC’s deep and oddly curious relationship with baseball, including:  

  • The Senators’ often-lamentable on-field performance that entrenched Washington as “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League;"

  • The advent of the ceremonial Presidential season-opening “first pitch” tradition;

  • New York’s rival “Damn Yankees;”

  • The Negro National League’s Homestead Grays’ second home; AND

  • Why it took 33 years for Major League Baseball to finally return to the Nation’s Capital.

Thanks to our great sponsors: 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, and OldSchoolShirts.com!

You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions - buy here

EPISODE #95: The MISL’s Denver Avalanche – With Former Owner Ron Maierhofer

It was December 1979, and Denver-area IT marketing and sales executive Ron Maierhofer was having what some would consider to be a mid-life crisis.  Just off the heels of an annual work retreat and now vacationing on a British Virgin Islands beach with his wife, Maierhofer – a second-generation German-American immigrant and a former player with a lifelong passion for and recreational involvement in the sport of soccer – mused that his business career just wasn’t doing it for him anymore, and that a radical change of pace might be in order.

His muse was the fledgling professional sport of indoor soccer – and his entrée, the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League – the firecracker circuit that had just debuted a year earlier with its fast-paced play, enthusiastic crowds and a non-stop excitement that offered an alluring anecdote to relatively staid pace of the newly popular outdoor game.  The MISL, Maierhofer reasoned to himself and his wife, was the future of soccer – and his chance to make a profession of his love of the “beautiful game.”

Within months, Maierhofer was back home in Denver: hustling up an investment group (including his investment banker brother); working municipal politicians (securing hard-to-get dates and benefits from the city’s McNichols Arena); devising clever marketing hooks (like dash-board rumble seats and a new home for the popular Denver Broncos cheerleaders); and schmoozing the MISL’s top brass during the 1980 All-Star Game and Championship Playoffs in St. Louis – to eventually land what would become one of three new franchises (along with the Chicago Horizons and Phoenix Inferno) in the fall of 1980.

Maierhofer (No Money Down: How to Buy a Sports Franchise; Memoirs of a Soccer Vagabond) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the heady rise, against-all-odds success, and (ultimately) rapid fall of his two-year “dream job” owning and running the Denver Avalanche – including life lessons learned from his adventure, and the fans that still fondly remember his efforts to this day, nearly 30 years later.

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No Money Down: How to Buy a Sports Franchise - buy here

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EPISODE #94: Major League Baseball’s Seattle Pilots – With Bill Mullins

We kick off the New Year with our first-ever discussion about one of Major League Baseball’s most enduring enigmas – the ephemeral, one-season Seattle Pilots.

However, as we discover in our conversation with this week’s guest Bill Mullins (Becoming Big League: Seattle, The Pilots, and Stadium Politics), the story of the team’s 1969 American League misadventures has a much longer historical arc – one rooted in the decades-long success of the city’s minor league Rainiers prior – and extending years afterward, when a new expansion Mariners franchise took to the Kingdome turf in 1977.

In between, the story of the Pilots wends its way through the concentric worlds of pro sports economics (MLB’s blind zeal for expansion in the West Coast’s third-most populous market); municipal politics (Seattle’s quest for “major league” status, from the 1962 World’s Fair to a tortuous pursuit of a modern domed stadium); managerial challenges (an underfunded ownership group with limited resources and overly-optimistic revenue expectations); and logistical realities (a quaint-but-aging minor league Sicks’ Stadium, ill-prepared for the more pronounced demands of big league play and fan comfort).

And, oh yes, a surprisingly competitive on-field performance filled with memorable highs (winning both their first-ever game [at the California Angels, 4/8/69], and their home debut [vs. the Chicago White Sox, 4/11/69]); forgettable lows (three home runs by Reggie Jackson in a 5-0 loss to the Oakland A’s, 7/2/69); and a deceivingly last-place finish in a tightly-bunched AL West cellar, only a handful of games behind the Angels, Royals and White Sox.

Despite the Pilots’ woes, the legacy of this quixotic franchise remains remarkably endearing to the Seattle fans who got to experience the city’s first taste of big-time major league sports fifty years hence.

Be sure to visit our new sponsor Streaker Sports – where, fittingly, you can order a beautiful baby blue classic Seattle Pilots logo T-shirt to commemorate this episode (and the team’s 50th anniversary)!

Becoming Big League: Seattle, The Pilots and Stadium Politics - buy here

EPISODE #93: National Soccer Hall of Famer Bobby Smith

We close out an amazing second season of episodes with a special year-end conversation featuring the US pro soccer pioneer who is, at least indirectly, responsible for the creation of this little podcast.  

Just weeks after signing with the fledgling New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in January 1976, league All Star Bobby Smith (along with fellow Philadelphia Atoms teammate Bob Rigby) was already out pounding the promotional pavement in support of his new club – including (unwittingly) a stop at host Tim Hanlon’s then-elementary school in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey to hand out recreational league trophies and sign autographs. 

The seeds of life-long pro soccer fandom were quickly sown, soon blossoming into an obsession with America’s most famous and successful franchise – and, over time, morphing into an enduring fascination with professional teams and leagues across all sports which, like the Cosmos and the NASL, ultimately came and went.

Defender extraordinaire Smith joins the podcast to discuss his remarkable American pro soccer career before, during and after winning back-to-back NASL titles (1977, 78) with the Cosmos – including:

  • Winning his first league championship with the inaugural 1973 Philadelphia Atoms;

  • A skills-enhancing off-season loan to Irish first division side Dundalk in 1974-75;

  • Playing alongside world’s-best talent like Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Carlos Alberto during his time in New York;

  • Post-Cosmos stops with the NASL’s San Diego Sockers, Philadelphia Fury and Montreal Manic;

  • Indoor soccer adventures with the MISL’s 1980-81 Philadelphia Fever;

  • 18 caps with the US National Team during the 1970s; AND

  • Induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007.

A big thank you to all of our great sponsors this past year – SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, and Audible!

Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos - rent or buy here

Philadelphia Atoms NASL & Philadelphia Fever MISL T-Shirts from OldSchoolShirts.com - click individual shirt photos or buy here

EPISODE #92: “Retro” Pro Lacrosse History – With Steve Holroyd & Dave Coleman

We celebrate the (labor dispute-delayed) opening weekend of the National Lacrosse League’s 2018-19 season – as well as the return of the iconic Philadelphia Wings franchise – with two of pro box lacrosse’s most ardent fans and chief chroniclers.  

Metro Philly natives Steve Holroyd and Dave Coleman are the engines behind the historical treasure trove known as RetroLax.com, which digs deep into the history of the pro indoor game in North America – and features a wealth of hard-to-find stories and rare game footage from circuits like the original six-team National Lacrosse League of 1974-75, the one-year National Lacrosse Association of 1968, and, of course, the precedents to today’s NLL – 1987’s Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse and 1988-97’s Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

Holroyd and Coleman join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the origins of their interest in the game; their commitment to definitively “filling in” the surprisingly substantial and lengthy backstory of professional lacrosse in North America; what they’ve learned and who’ve they met along the way; and their thoughts on where the pro game is headed – as the NLL re-enters Philadelphia and expands into San Diego, and the outdoor Major League Lacrosse gets ready to battle the new Paul Rabil-founded, private equity-backed Premier Lacrosse League this coming spring.

Check out our great sponsors for all your last-minute “forgotten sports” gift-giving needs: SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, and Audible!

EPISODE #91: NASL Soccer Video Archeology – With Dave Brett Wasser

The images are grainy, the commentary earnestly naïve, and the theme music disco-infused, but the bigger picture is clear – it’s American soccer history, in all its VHS videotape glory.

Gleaned from a simpler, pre-HD media landscape of the 1970s and early 1980s – much of it before even the mass consumer adoption of the VCR – the roughly 900 hours of TV broadcast match coverage that still survives from the pioneering North American Soccer League is a veritable time machine of pro soccer’s coming-of-age.   And one man has been chiefly responsible for compiling and preserving it.

De facto soccer video anthropologist Dave Brett Wasser has spent over two decades tracking down virtually every known snippet of NASL game footage – more than 450 league and exhibition matches in all – for what is arguably the most comprehensive collection of vintage soccer Americana anywhere.

Meticulously (and sometimes just plain luckily) sourced from a myriad of former players, coaches, TV network vaults, and even garage sales – Wasser’s now-digitized trove has become the go-to source for some of the NASL’s most memorable competitive moments for today’s generation of soccer broadcast producers and documentarians.  Including even the newly-rechristened National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX.

In this revealing conversation with host Tim Hanlon, Wasser talks about: his childhood memories of local WOR-TV/New York broadcasts of Cosmos games; the impetus to rediscover them as an adult in the early 1990s lead-up to World Cup USA 1994; the people he’s met along the way of amassing his collection; and the tenuous relationship with the Hall of Fame in his quest to comprehensively digitize and permanently house the entire set of videos for current and future generations of American fans of the “beautiful game” to enjoy and learn from.

Celebrate the holidays (and help us keep our shows going!) by patronizing our great sponsors: 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, Audible, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com!

EPISODE #90: The National Football League’s Origin (and Survival) Story – With John Eisenberg

Episode #86 guest John Eisenberg (Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future) returns, this time to guide us through the fascinating formative years of the National Football League – and the five now-legendary figures responsible for nurturing its development through tumultuous times and an often-uncertain future into what is now America’s most popular sport.

In his new book The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire, Eisenberg highlights the individual dedication and collective conviction of Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney, Chicago’s George Halas, New York’s Tim Mara, Washington’s George Preston Marshall, and Philadelphia’s Bert Bell to risk everything in building and growing the game of professional football.

Originally formed (as the “American Professional Football Association”) at a time (1920) when the sport barely registered on the national scene (baseball, boxing, horse racing, and even the college version of the game all rated higher in fan appeal) – the circuit (renamed the National Football League two seasons later) injected structure and integrity into the sport, on the shared belief that a viable professional business was both possible and inevitable.

Fending off existential threats from a constant stream of challengers – including the better-funded All-American Football Conference (AAFC) of the late 1940s and American Football League (AFL) of the early 1960s – the five owners ultimately succeeded by repeatedly sacrificing short-term success of their respective teams for the longer-term good of the NFL as a whole.

The story of the NFL’s rise to the top of America’s pro sports landscape is one of not only historical significance but also of methodical – and sometimes, just plain lucky – business ingenuity.

As the holiday season approaches, be sure to check out our great sponsors: OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and Audible!

    

The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire - buy here

Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future - buy here

EPISODE #89: The NBA Buffalo Braves – With Tim Wendel

The Buffalo Braves were one of three NBA expansion franchises (along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers) that began play in the 1970–71 season. 

Originally owned by a wobbly investment firm with few ties to Buffalo, the Braves eventually found a local backer in Freezer Queen founder Paul Snyder – who, by the end of the first season, had inherited a team that was neither good (penultimate league records of 22-60 in each of its first two seasons), nor easy to schedule (third-choice dates for Buffalo’s venerable Memorial Auditorium behind the also-new NHL hockey Buffalo Sabres, and Canisius Golden Griffins college basketball).

Snyder addressed the Braves’ on-court issues by luring head coach Dr. Jack Ramsey from the Philadelphia 76ers, while drafting key players like high-scoring (and later Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Famer) Bob McAdoo, eventual NBA Rookie of the Year Ernie DiGregorio, and local (via Buffalo State) crowd favorite Randy Smith – yielding three consecutive playoff appearances from 1973-74 to 1975-76.

Off the court, Snyder looked to regionalize the team’s appeal beyond “The Aud” by scheduling select home games in places like Rochester, Syracuse and even Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens – and team attendance, TV ratings and revenues achieved league-average levels.

By the summer of 1976, however, Snyder was facing severe pressure to sell the team and get it out of “The City of Good Neighbors.”  Of particular consternation was Canisius president Fr. James Demske, who publicly thwarted the Braves’ attempts at decent home dates – which angered the NBA enough to force the issue with Snyder. 

Snyder, who said he was losing money anyway, threatened to move the Braves to suburban Miami’s Hollywood Sportatorium, a deal that collapsed after the city of Buffalo sued and secured a new 15-year Aud lease – with a provision it could be broken if the team didn’t sell 5,000 season tickets in any future season.  

Author and Western New York native Tim Wendel (Buffalo, Home of the Braves) joins the pod to discuss the convoluted story of what happened next, including:

  • Snyder’s ownership sales to former ABA owner (and eventual Kentucky governor) John Y. Brown and businessman Harry Mangurian;

  • The subsequent dismantling of the team and overt attempts to drive down attendance to break the Aud lease;

  • The two-season coaching and player carousel that followed – including the curious six-minute career of Moses Malone; AND

  • How the Braves’ eventual move in 1978 to become the San Diego Clippers wouldn’t have happened without the Boston Celtics.

Thanks to 503 Sports, Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s show!

Buffalo, Home of the Braves - buy here

 
 

1974-75 Buffalo Braves Collectors Card Set SportsHistoryCollectibles.com - click photo or buy here