Friday, October 3, 2008

Champions often overcome handicaps, including having a bad temper

Many people have come from the rolls of the handicapped and acclaimed great status. In the sports world especially, many great champions were physically challenged.

Tommy Milton, whose name you probably won't remember, was the first race car driver to win the Indianapolis Grind twice. It was the most grueling 500-mile race in the world, and Milton accomplished his victories despite the fact that he only had one eye.

I remember this one very well. In 1945, a fellow named Gray wanted to play major league baseball, so he played his way through a couple of minor leagues and the St. Louis Browns signed him to a big league contract.

He played 77 games and batted .218 as the Browns leadoff hitter.

His full name was Pete Gray and he had only one arm, but he swung the bat very well, considering his handicap.

Once there was a boy named Johnny who was doomed to a life of illness. He was frail and weak, and the doctors suggested he take swimming exercises.

Until age 12, Johnny had never been in water deeper than that in the bathtub, but he finally learned to swim.

Johnny swam some in Lake Michigan and decided he liked it. The more he swam, the stronger he got, and he finally became the world's most famous swimmer.

His full name was Johnny Weissmuller, who was a champion swimmer and became Tarzan in the movies.

This has nothing to do with lameness, unless it was lameness of the brain. Babe Ruth was pitching against the Washington Senators in 1917 when umpire Brick Owens called his first three pitches balls. Ruth stormed off the mound and gave Owens a piece of his mind and told the umpire if he called the next pitch a ball, he would punch him on the nose.

Sure enough, the ball missed the plate, the batter walked, and Ruth punched Owens in the face.

He was promptly thrown out of the game and Ernie Shore came on in relief. The runner on first was caught stealing, and Shore retired the next 26 men, pitching a perfect game.

This one was not a cripple, but he once made a crack that created consternation in church. A student at Notre Dame, Knute Rockne was playing baseball on a warm day while Mass was being celebrated in a nearby chapel.

With windows open, the congregants were still rather warm when the priest asked, “How are you going to enter the kingdom of heaven?” and from outside, Rockne's voice boomed clearly through the open windows, “Slide, damn it, slide!”

Vernon (Lefty) Gomez, a great Yankee pitcher, was a clown. After his playing career he came to Asheville many times to scout ball players. He told funny stories. Here's one:

Tony Lazzeri, a Yankee infielder, was in the midst of a great fielding streak, and the New York newspapers were filled with his exploits. When a batter hit a ball back to Gomez, instead of throwing to first for the out, he threw to Lazerri.

After the game, Lazerri asked Gomez why he threw the ball to him, and Gomez answered, “I didn't know what to do with it, Tony, and I've been reading all week that you're the smartest fielder in the world, so I thought I'd let you decide where to throw it.”

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