Keeping Score: The Greek’s tragic tale

Friday, April 28, 2017

Good morning!

Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder bet $10,000 at 17-1 odds that Harry Truman would beat Thomas Dewey in 1948. Snyder played a hunch that women were turned off by Dewey’s moustache.

Dewey lost by 2 million votes and was wiped out in the electoral college, 303-189.  History.com says Truman beat his Republican challenger with the help of organized labor and a coalition of voters who were African Americans, farmers and Jews.

Aside from the facts, the moustache anecdote was a terrific lead-in for ESPN’s 30-for-30: “The Legend of Jimmy the Greek.”  

Snyder was a no-name from Steubenville, Ohio, who rose to fame by betting the underdog. In an era before the Internet and sports talk shows, he paid railroad porters to return with out-of-town newspapers so he could pore through the sports pages for news that wasn’t carried by the wire services.

Snyder was reportedly making $500,000 on the “NFL Today” in 1988 when he was fired for making racist remarks on Martin Luther King Day. He apologized, and appearances alongside Jesse Jackson underscored the black community’s forgiveness. But CBS wouldn’t relent and the Greek became a has-been.

He died broke and alone in Las Vegas, eight years after his career-killing gaffe. “We devoured this classic American character over one unfortunate incident,” said author and commentator Frank Deford.

CBS sports director Robert Fishman described seeing Snyder shortly before he died. “I was in Vegas and I called and said, ‘Let’s have dinner.’ At first, I didn’t recognize him. He was wearing a dirty sports jacket. There were grease stains on it. His hair was unkempt (and) down to his shoulders. We sat down, had dinner, and he asked if he could borrow some money. He had nothing.

“I can’t imagine this icon, this star, this man who I grew to feel deeply about had come to this end.”

The funeral was in Steubenville where he’s buried. At the wake, Fishman put a winning pari-mutuel ticket in Snyder’s casket. “It was good to see him go out a winner,” he said.

The Yankees are hitting home runs again and radio announcer John Sterling is calling the shots. Last Saturday, the Baby Bombers trailed Pittsburgh 3-0 when Starlin Castro tied it with one swing of the bat and Sterling proclaimed,“Star Light, Star Bright! Starlin just hit one with all his might!”

It didn’t end there. With New York leading 11-5 in the top of the ninth inning, Aaron Judge hit a solo blast that went 457 feet— the longest by a visiting player in PNC Park history. This time, Sterling nearly fell out of the booth. “Aaron is Judge and Jury, and this is Judgment Day!”

Whew, the man has no shame.

Joe Martino spoke at his friend Tom Fleming’s funeral this week.

The two-time NYC Marathon champion died of a heart attack during his school’s cross country meet in New Jersey. According to the New York Times obituary, Fleming said he wasn’t feeling well and walked to his car where he was found unresponsive.

Martino said the 65-year-old Fleming was a tireless advocate of running. “He helped with a Greenfield YMCA fundraiser we called the 200-Mile Challenge. I still see some of the T-shirts around.

“Bill Rodgers, Tom and I were truly the three Amigos. This is a tough one.”

Ever wonder why a registered Democrat and media savvy businessman like Robert Kraft would risk a public friendship with Donald Trump? According to a British tabloid called The Daily Mail, it started when Donald and Melania Trump attended his longtime wife Myra’s funeral. Afterward, said Kraft, “He called me once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life when I was down and out. He was one of five or six people who were like that. I remember that.”

Team U.S.A. went prospecting this month and struck gold in Slovakia. The Americans won all seven games to claim the U18 World Hockey Championship, beating Finland 4-2, after out-lasting Sweden 4-3 in overtime.

Only two New England players are on the roster, Oliver Walhlstrom of Quincy and Phil Kemp of Greenwich, Conn. Bernardston’s Doug Weiss was the team physician and was accompanied by his father Bob. “They played well and had no big injuries,” said Weiss, who will be the team physician at the upcoming World Juniors in Buffalo.

If the May 15 non-binding vote fails and Turners Falls High School is willing to change its nickname to the Rebels, it can get bargain-priced uniforms from South Burlington (Vt.) High School. 

A story in Monday’s Wall Street Journal reported the Board of School Directors voted to drop the Rebels nickname because the school’s mascot was a Confederate colonel— 25 years ago.

“There are just some things that can’t be re-branded,” said a parent.

The name change and accompanying new uniforms will cost $50,000.

There’s no such politically-incorrect connotation in the Powertown, where a rebel can be a rebel without getting hassled. The teams’ rallying cry could be “Rebels with a Cause.”

What’s better, the uniforms are blue — powder blue — but close enough.

On Oct. 8, 2006, Kevin Faulk fumbled and Miami recovered. It was the last turnover of Faulk’s career — a total of 485 catches and carries over a span of 73 games.

In Adrian Peterson’s last 485 touches he turned it over five times, including a crucial giveaway during the Vikings’ 10-9 playoff loss to Seattle.

Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick doesn’t like fumblers. It’s why he chose Mike Gillislee over Peterson. 

The 26-year-old Gillislee led the league with 5.7 yards per carry for the Bills last season. More important, he had no turnovers in 101 carries, according to the NFL’s game logs.

Sean Kuraly jumped up and down like a little kid after he scored his first NHL goal in Ottawa, and further endeared himself to Bruins’ fans by potting the game-winner in overtime, though it was ultimately for naught.

The 24-year-old Kuraly scored 43 goals in 154 games for Miami of Ohio. His father Rick holds the school record with 101.

Miami-Ohio is best remembered for squandering a two-goal lead in the final minute of the 2008-09 Frozen Four. Trailing 3-1, Boston University scored with 59 seconds left and tied it with 17 seconds left, then won it in overtime.

Kuraly can’t be faulted, since he wasn’t on campus until 2011.

SQUIBBERS: After 32 years behind the plate, retired MLB umpire John Hirschbeck gets to speak his mind, telling SXM co-hosts Ed Randall and Rico Petrocelli, “The rulebook to me now is screwed up. It’s written by lawyers, and lawyers don’t know baseball.” … Josh Hamilton, whose career was affected by injuries and addiction, was released by the Rangers this week. The 35-year-old Hamilton hit 200 home runs in 1,027 games and had 701 RBIs, according to baseball-reference.com. Hamilton pulled down $140 million during his abbreviated career. He’s one of only 16 players to have hit four home runs in one game. … The Baltimore Sun reported that Jaylen Brantley is transferring to UMass because he “expressed a desire to play more minutes,” he told Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. Brantley averaged 4.9 points and 16.8 minutes as the first backup guard off the bench last season. “I will be a Terp for life,” said Brantley, the Minuteman. …  Michigan State hockey coach Tom Anastos stepped down after going 78-122-24 in six seasons. Former Spartan and NHL veteran Danton Cole of the U.S. National Team Development Program is the new hire. … Ty Cobb must be laughing about the tizzy over Manny Machado’s ugly-but-legal slide into Dustin Pedroia. If Pedroia didn’t complain, why should anyone else? It makes everyone around the team look like whiners. … It used to be the ball went over the fence and that was it. Now you’ve got the projected distance, the launch angle and exit velocity. All well and good “If you’re into that sort of thing,” said Pirates announcer Gregor Brown. … Twins’ third baseman Miguel Sano is a Big Papi look-alike with 48 home runs in 786 career at bats. Sano was suspended a game after his dust-up with Tigers’ catcher James McCann. “He touched me with the glove and this is when I react,” said the 6-4, 260-pound Sano. … Baltimore backup catcher Caleb Joseph doesn’t have an RBI in 178 at-bats dating back to Sept. 11, 2015, against Kansas City. No wonder he lost his arbitration case, though $700K is still pretty good coin. … “It’s a swamp,” NHL analyst Pierre McGuire says of Ottawa’s boring neutral zone trap. “You need hip waders it’s so deep.” … Nathan’s regional hot dog eating qualifier is June 3 at the Fish Pier Entertainment Stage in Boston. The winner goes to the main event on July 4 at Coney Island. Last year, Joey Chestnut scarfed down 70 dogs (and buns) to win the $10,000 grand prize.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.