Kick Out the Sports!
by Bob Cook
Bob Cook's weekly ruminations on sports appear Mondays in Flak.
On July 31, the Baseball Hall of Fame will enshrine Wade Boggs and Ryne
Sandberg, both ex-players. But the Hall of Fame isn't just about those who
took the field. It has a wing called "Pioneer/Executive," a place to honor
luminaries such as Harry Wright, the inventor of the pre-game fungo, Henry
Chadwick, the inventor of the box score, and Candy Cummings, the inventor of
the curveball and the fake *** name.
Certainly, most of what we see today was invented in baseball's earliest
days, but it still isn't right that the only Hall-enshrined pioneer not from
the 19th Century is team owner and promotional genius Bill Veeck. (Yes,
Larry MacPhail pioneered night games, plane travel and pension plans, but
unlike Veeck, he was inducted more because he was an executive whose teams
won World Series titles.)
Despite what Bob Costas might tell you, baseball has seen plenty of change
for the better since TV began broadcasting in color. So it's time the
Baseball Writers Association of America, the star chamber that fills the
Hall, recognized these five pioneers:
1. Curt Flood
If you want a sense of how conservative baseball writers can be, assume they
probably will never honor Curt Flood, who died in 1997, while such wacky,
out-there, crazy liberals as Orrin Hatch have. Of course, the way Hatch
honored Flood gives you an idea of why the writers won't. Hatch introduced
the ultimately successful "Curt Flood Act of 1998," which codified players'
freedom of movement between teams even as it upheld baseball's antitrust
Twenty-eight years previous, Flood, a three-time All-Star outfielder for the
St. Louis Cardinals, had sued Major League Baseball to end the "reserve
clause" that effectively bonded players to their teams for life. Flood had
objected to being traded to Philadelphia, which he considered a racist city,
and objected to being sold like a piece of property.
Flood actually lost his case in the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision
featuring a bizarre, Harry Blackmun-written justification that focused as
much on the sanctity of baseball as it did the law. (Essentially, Blackmun
shoved it off to Congress to solve.) Flood not only lost the case; he lost
his career, too. But within three years of that 1972 decision, further
challenges to baseball broke the chokehold teams had on their chattel, and
the free-agency era had begun.
Maybe fans and crotchety sports columnists carp about players not having
"loyalty" to their teams, but the Flood case proved that loyalty was a sham.
Plus, how would your team sign that big free agent if Flood hadn't
challenged the system? For Flood, a self-described child of the '60s, his
bust should consist of him wearing a cap embossed with a Black Power fist.
2. Dr. Frank Jobe
Tommy John the player, rightfully, is never going to make the Hall, but
Tommy John the surgery should.
The procedure is formally called ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction,
but you're as likely to hear that term as to hear someone say Lou Gehrig
died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Frank Jobe, a California orthopedist,
pioneered "Tommy John Surgery" in 1974 by transplanting a tendon from the
Dodgers pitchers' right wrist to his left elbow, where it replaced a torn
ligament. A UCL tear used to be a career-ender, but John pitched 14 more
seasons after his surgery. Now, it seems like it's more difficult to find
pitchers who haven't had the surgery than those who have. Without Jobe,
baseball would be putting pitching machines on the mound.
Jobe must have known what he hath wrought, for there is a reason others who
perform Tommy John surgery don't call it Tommy John surgery - Jobe
trademarked the name. Instead of his head, Jobe's bust should consist of a
very muscular elbow.
3. George Toma
George Toma has forgotten more about grass than Method Man and Redman could
Toma is America's most famous groundskeeper, not that there's a lot of
competition. Still, in 42 years as a groundskeeper for the Kansas City
Athletics (before they moved to Oakland), the Kansas City Royals and the
NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, Toma was the first to make an art out of preparing
a field. Instead of just mowing the outfield and throwing some dirt down,
Toma paid meticulous attention to the variety of grass that was planted, how
it was fertilized and how it ultimately looked - same with the dirt. Toma,
who retired in 1999, literally made a career out of watching the grass grow.
No wonder he's handled the turf preparations for every single Super Bowl.
How many other groundskeepers get their own book and bobblehead doll? The
NFL Hall of Fame gave him an award that was as close as he's going to get to
being inducted; baseball should one-up the NFL and actually induct him.
Instead of Toma's bust portraying him wearing a cap like a ballplayer, you
could let him pick what variety of grass should be planted, Chia Pet-style,
on top of his bust.
4. Charley Lau
Here's a partial list of people who had disciples: Jesus, Bob Dylan, Charley
Lau. Lau was a hitting coach, but hitting guru was more like it. He was the
first hitting coach to actually study hitting, teaching anyone from stars to
journeymen - which Lau was as a player - how to consistently hit for average
and power beyond tips like "keep your eye on the ball" and "hit 'em where
they ain't." Lau was the Moses whose 10 absolutes of hitting were the Ten
Commandments that turned a lowly, .200-hitting scrub like George Brett into
a Hall of Famer. Brett, Carlton Fisk and Dave Winfield all thanked Lau by
name in their induction speeches.
Lau moved from the Kansas City Royals to the New York Yankees to the Chicago
White Sox before he died of colon cancer in 1984, at age 50. At the time of
his death, he was on leave from the White Sox. The team was paying him more
than $100,000 a year - at the time, an astronomical sum for a coach.
For his bust, Lau's head should be, as he said in Absolute No. 7, still and
down at contact.
5. Ted Giannoulas
Ted Giannoulas can't yet be enshrined, because he hasn't technically
retired. Giannoulas, 31 years into his career, is still showing up at
ballparks, hockey rinks and promotional appearances across America.
Who is Giannoulas? He's officially known as the Famous Chicken, but he's had
more nicknames than Ol' Dirty Bastard: the KGB Chicken, the San Diego
Chicken, The Hardest Working Bird in Show Business, The Godfather of
Feathers, The Mascot of the Millennium. He's the reason there's a Phillie
Phanatic, a Phoenix Suns Gorilla and a Capitol City Goofball. He's the
original guy in the creature suit, dancing like an idiot to draw a laugh
while the pitcher takes 10 minutes to adjust his jock.
Giannoulas' original qualification back in 1974 was that he was willing to
wear the chicken suit KGB radio created for promotions. (The station went to
his San Diego State campus to find a sap willing to get paid $2 an
appearance because no one from the station would wear the suit.) The chicken
ended up at San Diego Padres games, at Elvis concerts, just about anywhere
people gathered - and the station fired him for sticking his beak in too
many places. KGB sued Giannoulas to prevent him from ever wearing a chicken
suit again, and the case worked its way up to the California Supreme Court,
with Giannoulas victorious. That led to the most famous mascot event ever -
the chicken's "Grand Hatching" out of a giant egg at Jack Murphy Stadium as
"Also Sprach Zarathustra" blared. So to answer the debate, the chicken came
first, before the egg.
Soon, Giannoulas and his chicken suit were all over the country, on the
field and on TV, co-hosting "The Baseball Bunch" with Johnny Bench.
Imitators sprouted. The Sporting News named him one of the 100 most powerful
figures in 20th Century sports.
Sure, Giannoulas wrote me a complimentary note after my July 11 column about
Lou Piniella. But I'm pushing him because he's a legitimate Hall of Famer,
the man who brought entertainment to millions, teaching the sports world
that showing fans a good time was more than just tossing a team onto the
field. Giannoulas' bust should, of course, be his chicken head, with his top
and bottom beaks pulled in opposite directions, his classic pose.
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