Saturday, May 27, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Billy Martin and the Denver Bears

 



Legendary New York Yankees manager Billy Martin got his first managing job in Denver - taking over for the Triple A Denver Bears midseason in 1968.  The Bears had a record of 7 wins, 22 losses when Martin took the helm, and under Martin’s fiery leadership the team had a complete turn around, winning 66 games and losing 50 in their remaining games. 

The success with the Bears led to Martin being promoted as manager to the American League Minnesota Twins the next season.  Martin would never manage in the minors again, serving as manager for the Twins, Tigers, Rangers, A's, and of course the Yankees over his career.

One of the stars of that Bears team, third baseman Graig Nettles, would later star for Martin’s New York Yankee teams.  Art Fowler was Martin's pitching coach for the Bears - Fowler also followed Martin to serve as pitching coach in New York.

And Denver came calling again to Billy Martin when the Colorado Rockies were awarded a National League franchise in 1993.  “The Colorado people were going to let Billy run the whole show," said Billy's wife Jill (1).   Had Martin accepted that offer, the Rockies of the 1990's would have looked very different I'm sure!

During that 1968 season the Denver Bears hosted a “kids day” at the stadium for area youth baseball teams.  I played second base for my team and I was in attendance that day.  Billy Martin was always very personable with the fans, and he was on this day, too, giving a small group of young second basemen (including me) personal attention in showing us the finer points of playing the infield. 

As a baseball fan all my life, I always remember the job Billy Martin did to turn around that 1968 Denver Bears team.  It impressed on me that a good manager in baseball can have a positive effect on a team more than a head coach in any other sport.  The Colorado Rockies of today are proof of that too, with new manager Bud Black leading the team to the best record in the National League as of May 27th.







(1) from the book Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington, page 475.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Broncos Defeat Hot Dogs??


Broncos defeat the Hot Dogs???  In a 1969 game against San Diego the Broncos were shutting out the Chargers when suddenly the score read “Denver 13 Hot Dogs 0”!  “Bush league!” were the cries from the San Diego team and fans - you don’t mess with the scoreboard in a pro football game!    I was sitting in the South Stands at the old Mile High Stadium for that game.  As we all laughed at the scoreboard we later found out it wasn’t the Broncos who changed the score - turns out a fan had snuck into the scoreboard and changed the lettering of “San Diego” to “Hot Dogs”. 

This game also had significance in that it was the first time the Broncos had shut out an opponent, as the final score did turn out to be Denver 13 San Diego (Hot Dogs) 0.

As we walked out of the stadium that day my friend who sat by me that day said, “They could have spelled something a lot worse than Hot Dogs!”


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Lou Saban's Broncos

The Denver Broncos were one of the worst teams in pro football under Lou Saban’s coaching in the late 1960’s/early 70’s - or were they?  Saban’s won/loss record was bad during his Broncos coaching tenure (20 wins, 42 losses, 3 ties over 4 1/2 seasons).  But during those years the Broncos beat the defending Super Bowl champions TWICE in early season home games.  In 1969 the Broncos upset the New York Jets 21-19, and the following year the Broncos defeated the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs 26-13.  As a young Bronco fan I was in attendance at both these games, and it gave Denver fans false hope that the Broncos would be contenders in those years.  While Denver went on to have losing records in 1969 and 1970, those games were the start of an impressive home field advantage for the Broncos.  In their history the Broncos have a remarkable winning record at their Mile High Stadium home, highlighted by 24 consecutive home wins from 1996-1998, and defeating Tom Brady's Patriots 3 times in playoff games at Mile High.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Spencer Haywood's Amazing Season


(this is the first in a series of posts about my Denver Sports Memories)

The pro basketball team in our town once had a player who averaged 30 points and 19.1 rebounds for the entire season! And that player changed the face of basketball forever.  Spencer Haywood put up those gaudy numbers for the American Basketball Association Rockets during his only season in Denver (1969-1970).

Back in the 1960’s the NBA had a rule that college players could not enter their league until the player completed his college eligibility.  Haywood was the first to break the mold - jumping from college to the ABA Rockets after his sophomore year.  After his one year in Denver Haywood challenged the NBA’s college eligibility rule, and was allowed to play for the Seattle Supersonics, opening the door for college players to leave their ncaa teams early.

Today “one and done” college players, entering the NBA after one year of ncaa baskerball, are common place (ask the University of Kentucky!)  But Haywood’s one year was the best I have ever seen by a pro basketball player in Denver - even better than later more well known Denver stars like David Thompson and Alex English.  I remember watching a Rockets game with a friend where Haywood hit a 15 foot turnaround jumper over a defender from an impossible angle.  “Whoa!!” my friend and I said as we looked in each other in amazement.