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Keeping Score: A last look back


Friday, January 11, 2019

Good morning!

Always a smile, always encouraging, 95-year-old Paul Seamans passed away on New Year’s Day.

As per his obituary, Seamans qualified for the U.S. Olympic pentathlon team a decade after he captained a sub chaser in the Western Pacific. He taught in the classroom and outdoors on riflery and archery ranges and helped officiate track and field events. 

He quite likely penned more stories and columns for this newspaper than anyone but Richie Davis and Irmarie Jones, and his death is a reminder of others who left us in the last 12 months, and here’s a look at a few before the new year sweeps us forward.

Gil Santos died on Patriots Day nearly five decades after his his first play-by-play broadcast for the New England Patriots. The season opener was Sept. 19, 1971, against Oakland at Schaeffer Stadium. Jim Plunkett threw two touchdown passes and Charlie Gogolak kicked two field goals to help the Pats win 20-6.

When he signed off for the last time in 2012, Santos had broadcast three Super Bowl championships with his longtime sidekick Gino Capelletti. Raised a few miles from Foxborough, Santos began doing four high school games a week. “It’s important to get experience at the high school level,” he told the Boston Globe.

“He never felt more comfortable than sitting in a press box,” added his son Mark.

Santos ranks with the region’s elite from an era when AM radio ruled the airwaves with Johnny Most (Celtics), Ned Martin (Red Sox) and Bob Wilson (Bruins).

Tom Wolfe, who coined the term “Limousine Liberal” in his 1987 best seller Bonfire of the Vanities, died last May in a Manhattan hospital. He was 88. Born in Richmond, Wolfe wrote of inner space (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and outer space (The Right Stuff), and pumped out a bestseller every five years. “I really prefer playing baseball to writing bestsellers,” he told New York Post columnist Cindy Adams. “I lived for baseball.”

On March 29, Daniel Joseph “Rusty” Staub died at age 73 in the emergency room at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach. Nicknamed “Le Grand Orange” by Montreal Expos fans, Staub is the only player to have at least 500 hits for four different teams — Detroit, Houston, Montreal and the New York Mets. He was born on April Fools Day in New Orleans, where the delivery room nurse saw his mop of red hair and called him “Rusty.” A philanthropist, his Rusty Staub Foundation distributed more than 12 million meals and gave $117 million to victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Billy Cannon, 80, won the Heisman Trophy playing halfback at LSU in 1959.  A first round pick of the Houston Oilers, he gained 6,111 yards from scrimmage and scored 64 touchdowns in 11 seasons. During off-seasons he studied to be a dentist, but his business failed and in 1983 he was convicted of printing counterfeit money and did four years in a Louisiana prison. According to SI, he gave his Heisman Trophy to a restaurant owner in exchange for free lunches, and was the dentist at the Louisiana Penitentiary from 1995 until his death on May 20.

Mountain climber Charlotte Fox, 61, died on May 24. She reached the top of Mount Everest in 1996 and survived a blizzard that killed eight others. “I just curled up in a ball and hoped death would come quickly,” she told PBS. Ironically, Fox died from falling down the stairs at her home in Telluride.

Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst, 95, died on June 6 in Missouri. After 11 seasons in St. Louis and twice leading the NL in at-bats, Schoendist was traded mid-season to the New York Giants as part of a nine-player deal. “He was the toughest to give up,” said Cards GM Frank Lane, “the type who could go out and make five errors in a row and the fans wouldn’t be mad at him.”

Actor Burt Reynolds, 82, died at the Jupiter (Fla.) Medical Center, three towns from where his father had been the Riviera Beach police chief. Reynolds wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award in the 1972 film “Deliverance,” but it was his finest performance. A halfback at Florida State, he switched to acting and starred in dozens of movies but never got the prize he’d coveted. “I said I’d rather win the Heisman than an Oscar. I lied.”

Paul Zimmerman, aka Dr. Z, 86, was a Sports Illustrated football writer whose mock drafts and concise reporting backboned the magazine’s NFL coverage for nearly three decades. Zimmerman began as a Jets beat writer for the New York Post the same time George Eskanzi was covering the Jets for the New York Times. “He was the rival reporter I feared the most,” Eskanzi told NYT obit writer Richard Sandomir. “On Monday following a game, I would reluctantly pick up the Post to see what angle I missed, what quote he got.”

During a series of 110-yard sprints on May 29, Maryland football player Jordan McNair collapsed of heatstroke. He died two weeks later, and the investigation revealed that the ambulance wasn’t called until nearly an hour after the 19-year-old lineman went down. Head coach DJ Durkin and strength coach Rick Court were both fired. In the season opener at Texas, Maryland lined up in a missing man formation with no right guard. The Terps were flagged for delay of game and Texas declined the penalty.

In Sarasota, Bruce Kison, 68, died four months after his cancer diagnosis. Kison won the first World Series night game ever played, pitching the Pirates over the Orioles in Game Four of the 1971 Fall Classic. … Willie McCovey, 80, Rookie of the Year for the Giants in 1959, hit 521 home runs (tied with Ted Williams and Frank Thomas for 20th) and nearly won them the 1962 World Series but for Bobby Richardson’s two out grab in the ninth inning of Game 7. … Stan Mikita, 78, won four MVP trophies and a Stanley Cup playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. Mikita invented the curved stick and was one of the first players to wear a helmet.

Though I’m surely and regretably missing people, a farewell salute to Bill Budness, Butch Margola, Bobby Thompson and Jackie Petrin.

Budness was a Raiders linebacker and high school coach. Margola was an outstanding athlete and fierce golf competitor, Thompson was an astute handicapper and Petrin was a devoted hockey mom.

And so long to my friend Paula Dobrydnio. “She was the most solid broad in the world,” said her husband John. “She owned two businesses and sent out racehorses, and when the kids didn’t have anything to do, she’d take ‘em to the Red Rose and over to the Civic Center to watch the hockey game. She was happy just sitting on a bale of hay and talking to the grooms and hotwalkers.”

SQUIBBERS: Congrats to Greenfield’s Todd McDonald for being promoted to VP of Sales & Strategy of the Springfield Thunderbirds. McDonald has brainstormed promotions like Pedro Martinez bobblehead night on Feb. 2, a run-up to Pedro Night at the MassMutual Center on April 13. … SportsHub co-hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarrotti are fretting about tomorrow’s showdown in Foxborough. “If both teams play their best game,” said Felger, “the Chargers win.” … Maybe, but Philip Rivers has three TDs and six picks his last four games and is 0-7 all-time against Tom Brady, who’s thrown nine TD passes and only three interceptions his last four. …. George Howe Colt’s new book “The Game: Harvard, Yale and America in 1968” is a 50th anniversary recollection of Harvard’s comeback from 29-13 to tie Yale in the final four minutes. Pete Varney caught the 2-point conversion that tied the game. Varney played for Jim Smith at Deerfield Academy, but his best sport was baseball. He drilled pitches off the Barton dormitory in left field and over the bank in center field. A first round pick of the White Sox in 1971, Varney lasted only four seasons in the big leagues, batting .247 with five home runs in 190 at-bats. … Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson told Sirius-XM’s Mike Ferrin he’s deserving of his nickname “Big Sweat” posted on baseball-reference.com. “I’m first team all-sweat. I’ll go through five or six jerseys in one outing.” …. Deerfield Academy’s hockey team improved to 7-3 after the Big Green beat Loomis, 5-2, on Wednesday. The win came after an all-they-could-give effort against top-ranked Salisbury on Saturday that ended in a 7-5 loss (including an empty-netter). … The 2017-18 prep school goalie of the year Eric Green was in Amherst for last week’s game against UMass. Now at UMass-Lowell, he played at NMH for coach Kevin Czepiel, whose team beat the Berkshire School on Wednesday to improve to 9-4. … NMH grad Oliver Drake keeps his bags packed. The 6-4, 215-pound right-hander appeared in 33 games for five different teams last season. Last week he was sold by the Blue Jays to Tampa Bay. …  The Saint Louis Billikens went into Wednesday’s game against UMass ranked 308th in scoring (67.4 ppg) and were held in check but still managed to beat  the Minutemen 65-62 before 6,325 at Chaifetz Arena. The Minutemen lost the game in the first half when the Sons of Julius failed to grab an offensive rebound and dribbled away the last 17 seconds, absent-mindedly forgetting to take a shot. … What’s with second leading scorer Jonathan Laurent? The UMass forward sat out Wednesday’s game after scoring just 21 points the last two games. Was he even on the bench?… Code of Honor, the Kentucky Derby prospect mentioned here last week, finished fourth at 4-to-5 in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday. “Not a pretty race for sure,” said N.Y. handicapper Dave Gonzalez. “He came in carrying extra weight and is still too high strung. He expended a ton of energy in the paddock area.” … The field for the $9 million Pegasus Cup two weeks from today is expected to include B.C. Classic winner Accelerate and runner-up Gunnevera, Preakness and Haskell runner-up Bravazo and Florida Derby winner Audible. … Farewell to Jerry Kells, railroad man extraordinaire and charter member of the Greenfield Men’s Hockey League.

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.