BAIROS’ ANNIVERSARY: OLYMPIC HOPES RESTED ON HIS BIKE SPEED

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It’s September 17, the anniversary of a 2000 Sydney Olympic Games appearance.

After 34 years of Redlands Bicycle Classic mastery, The Johnny Bairos Story might fall somewhere through the cracks.

To this date, Bairos is the lone local cyclist who had ever found himself standing on the podium – first in a stage – after winning a downtown Street Sprint Prolog.

Kristin Holmes Bairos and Olympian Johnny Bairos
Johnny Bairos, the 1998 Street Sprint Prolog champion at the 14th Redlands Bicycle Classic, is the lone local product ever to win a stage at the now 34-year-old event (photo by Hollynet.com).

He was, in fact, going to be an Olympian. Bairos was considered a speed-whiz on a bike. He wasn’t a road cyclist or a criterium specialist. In a regular time trial, he was probably underwhelming. In a short race of a few hundred yards, he was your man.

It’s how Redlands Classic officials set it up in 1998. Armed with a myriad of world-class road racers at the 14th annual Redlands cycling clash, Bairos landed on a Sunshine Germany team.

Organizers set it up on State Street.

In a week dominated by U.S. Postal’s Jonathan Vaughters, who was chased throughout the weekend by future Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, plus team duels set up with Navigators, Volvo-Cannondale, Shaklee and the Postals.

Jonathan_Vaughters_CA_2011
Jonathan Vaughters overcame a Street Sprint Prolog loss to local rider Johnny Bairos to win the 1998 Redlands Bicycle Classic, then racing for U.S. Postal (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

The 20-year-old Bairos out-quicked all comers in the opening street sprint.

Bairos, for his part, was trying to claim a spot in the 2000 Olympic Games.

A couple years later, I had a chance to chat with him for a story on his destination for Sydney, Australia.

He was a track sprinting sensation, officially named to the U.S. Olympic cycling team by a female United States Cycling Federation official.

“I’ve gone the entire emotional spectrum,” Bairos said. “On both sides. This is so much more of a relief to hear her say it. I couldn’t be happier.”

Bairos, who found out he was on the team, had to pass a 45-minute physical by USCF doctor Gloria Beim on July 22, 2000. She flew from Colorado to examine Bairos, who was just shaking off the effects of a near-fatal crash while competing in the World Cup Cycling Championships at Mexico City on June 17.

Beim put Bairos through a virtual torture test, ranging from sprints, starts, riding, plus examining his knee and the rest of his body.

“I think she was extremely surprised to see how well I was doing,” Bairos said. “She saw the force in my starts, the strength in my legs, and the only thing that was wrong was there was a little infection in my knee.”

THE CRASH, FALL IN MEXICO

Bairos was sailing along in perfect health and a lock for an Olympics berth before the disastrous fall during the Keirin portion of the World Cup in which he went more than 20 feet over the track railing.

The torturous numbers – a 25-foot fall, seven days in the hospital, a non-finished 750-meter race.

“As soon as I went over the rail, I knew I was in trouble,” Bairos said last month after returning to the Inland Empire. “I just closed my eyes and prayed.”

During the race, a Venezuelan rider pushed his way to the front, forcing a French rider to react so he wouldn’t fall. They got tangled up and a Swiss rider behind Bairos hit his rear wheel, causing the chain-reaction crash.

The results were devastating.

A shattered right sinus cavity. A fractured left sinus cavity. A gash on his chin. Black eyes. Missing teeth. A broken jaw. Cuts, bruises and contusions all over his body. Doctors had to wire his jaw shut so his face could heal. Two screws were placed in his kneecap.

A little over two years earlier, he’d been celebrating a 200-yard downtown sprint win over guys like Vaughters, Evans, Trent Klasna, Chris Horner and a bunch more.

Bairos had surgery in Mexico then was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he had additional surgery.

“I learned that I never count my chickens before they’re hatched,” said Bairos.

In August, he said, “I’m not quite 100 percent. But I’m extremely close. Once it gets time to race, it’s not a question of being 100 percent. It’s a question of being 110 percent, 120 percent, 130 percent.”

ONE SECOND AWAY FROM QUALIFYING

Bairos had been regarded as the United States’ best cycling starter from a standing or stop position. He will lead off in the newly added sprint event, followed by longtime teammate and friend Marcelo Arrue, then by track veteran Jonas Carney.

“Nobody can go 200 meters from a stop position like Johnny can,” Redlands Bicycle Classic official Craig Kundig said. “That’s what he does, and he’s the best in the country. That’s why they have him leading off.”

There was no question in the minds of USCF officials that Bairos was the best man for the ride, so when the organization named the Olympic team in early July, it held open a spot for him until a deadline for submitting the roster.

“It was whether I was healthy enough to fill the spot,” he said.

And after passing the physical, it’s on to Sydney.

Bairos won a gold medal in the 1999 Pan American Games at Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada). He had three top-four finishes in World Cup competition and five top-10 finishes in national events.

“It’s usually dominated by the French, but the Spanish team has been giving them a tough time the last nine months,” he said. “There’s a big gap between them and everybody else.”

Bairos, who was an alternate in the match sprint and the Keirin (never seeing action in either), seemed clairvoyant.

The United States had hopes of contending for at least a bronze medal in team sprint. Bairos said France and Spain have the top two Olympic sprint teams in the world.

The race was on Sept. 17. He was on a team sprint lineup with USA’s Jonas Carney and Christian Arrue. Ripping off to a speed of 36 ½ miles an hour, the trio didn’t qualify off a 46-second clocking, last place in a field of 12.

A 45.701 clocking would’ve been enough to advance.

Bairos’ clairvoyance paid off: Eventually, France beat Great Britain for the gold medal.

EX-TERRIER COULD BE ON ROAD TO MAJOR COLLEGE HEAD COACHING SLOT

Keep your eyes on Louisiana State University. The Tigers’ win last weekend kind of underscored something taking place in Baton Rouge.

LSU, once the softball home of former Redlands East Valley softball stud Sahvanna Jaquish, is also the home of another local product.

David Aranda, whose brother, Mike, has long been a key basketball assistant coach at REV, always seemed to be injured during his playing days at Redlands. Longtime Terrier defensive coach Miguel Olmeda loved this guy during his prep days.

Technique. Attitude. Warrior mentality. All grade-A.

David Aranda is LSU’s high-achieving defensive coordinator.

DAVID ARANDA (photo by LSU)
David Aranda, a Redlands High School football player, once roomed with current Texas head coach Tom Herman at Cal Lutheran. These days, Aranda is defensive coordinator at Louisiana State University (photo by LSU).

When LSU fired a highly-regarded head coach Les Miles a couple years back, they kept Aranda. He’s paid dividends at whichever campus he’s been — Utah State, Hawaii, Southern Utah, Texas Tech, Wisconsin — in a typical life of a career college coach.

Aranda, meanwhile, might be among the hottest coaches in college football.

LSU’s head coach is Ed Orgeron, the same guy that slotted in as USC’s head man a few years back. In order to keep Aranda at LSU instead of going with Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M, he got a 4-year, $10 million deal (the highest among assistant coaches) to stay in Baton Rouge.

QB Joe Burrow transferred from Ohio State. LSU also picked up a strong placekicker, Cole Tracy, from NCAA Division 2 ranks.

TIGERS GETTING A-PLUS DEFENSE

Here’s what LSU has gotten ever since Aranda came down from Wisconsin in 2016:

On Sept. 1, LSU’s defense stood off No. 8 Miami, an offensive powder keg, 33-17, holding the ‘’Canes to 342 total yards, picking off two passes, including a 45-yard interception return for a TD, four QB sacks. It was 33-3 entering the final quarter.

In five seasons of Aranda-coached defenses, including three seasons at Wisconsin, his teams have been ninth twice, second, fifth and 12th overall in the nation for total defense.

There were a handful of 2017 NFL draft picks, including two first-rounders, plucked from Aranda’s LSU defense from 2016. Linebacker Duke Riley, who was spotted in last Thursday’s NFL opener for Atlanta, was one.

It might say something that when Aranda’s Wisconsin defense was second in the country in 2015, there wasn’t a single Badger taken in the following spring’s 7-round NFL draft.

Yes, there some underclassmen in ’15, but there were no superstar leaders — just a sound defensive system under Aranda’s watch.

All it takes is one quick glance at the Southeastern Conference. You’d note that it’s split into two divisions, Eastern and Western. The West includes No. 9 LSU, not to mention Top 10 teams Alabama and Auburn.

Talk about being in the fire pit of a red-hot fireplace inferno.

By the way, Fisher’s Texas A&M plays in that same division.

Lost for the season in that Miami win was a promising pass rusher, K’Lavon Chaisson. Aranda countered with a trio of replacements in last Saturday’s win over Southwestern Louisiana.

ESPN TALK CENTERS AROUND ARANDA

During ESPN’s televised coverage, announcers gave Aranda thumbs up.

“Highest paid coordinator in college football … sharp guy … he lit the room up … he’s got the air of a guy who could run a program. … just a joy to talk to.”

After Redlands, Aranda played at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The Kingsmen play in the same conference as the University of Redlands. In a sense, they got him from under the noses of the Bulldogs’ hierarchy. It’s more complex than that, of course, but he wore purple instead of maroon.

While at CLU, he roomed with a guy named Tom Herman. If you google Herman’s name, you might discover he’s head coach at Texas. That’s Univ. of Texas, the famed Longhorns of Earl Campbell, Darrell Royal, Vince Young, a ton of college football legends.

Wait a minute: Aranda and Herman in one dorm room?

 

 

UNUSUAL REDLANDS MATCHUP … IN BALTIMORE?

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It was Sept. 9, 1979.

City of Baltimore, Md. Site was Memorial Stadium.

Second week of the NFL season.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers in town to play the Colts.

The Colts’ Ted Marchibroda were taking on John McKay’s Bucs.

Among all the other pre-game notes was this zany little matchup:

Two kids from Redlands High School were playing against each other.

Brian De Roo, a second-year wide receiver who had been traded from the New York Giants, was standing on one sideline.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Brian De Roo

On the other sideline was none other than Greg Horton, whose NFL career had gone from Chicago to Los Angeles and, eventually, to the Bucs.

Greg Horton II
Greg Horton

Final score that day: Tampa Bay 29, Baltimore 26. It took overtime to pull it off.

There might’ve been a curious thing that took place.

Baltimore, trailing 26-17, sent its second-year receiver, De Roo, down the right sideline. Colts’ QB Greg Landry delivered the pass.

Caught.

Down the sideline.

Chased by defenders.

Touchdown.

One night later, that Landry-to-DeRoo touchdown made the Monday Night Football halftime highlights. Legendary ABC-TV sportscaster Howard Cosell delivered the words from that highlight.

Howard_cosell_1975
Howard Cosell put Brian De Roo’s name on national TV on September 10, 1979. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Cosell: “De Roo … could … go … all … the … way!”

He did.

When the game concluded, the Bucs had themselves a 29-26 overtime win that might have lifted this team’s confidence. Now into their fourth season after entering via a 1976 expansion – along with the Seattle Seahawks – McKay’s steady was starting to make its mark.

Tampa Bay was a possible playoff team.

First, though, they had to start winning games. Baltimore, a perennial contender, was standing in their way at Week 2.

The two Redlanders had gotten into the NFL by far different paths.

Horton, a 1969 Redlands High grad, chose Colorado as his collegiate destination. It was in that raucous, hard-hitting Big Eight Conference – dominated for years by Nebraska and Oklahoma – that helped develop his game.

Enough so that in 1974, George “Papa Bear” Halas chose Horton in the third round of the NFL draft.

Unlike Horton, who had long been a Redlands High prize, De Roo didn’t make the Terrier varsity until halfway through his senior season. Since Redlands rarely put the ball in the air, it should’ve been a complete surprise that he’d wind up leading Redlands in receptions that season.

At college selection time, De Roo wasn’t even planning on football. He’d chosen Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before University of Redlands coach Frank Serrao convinced him to play for the Bulldogs.

That he would eventually elevate himself into the NFL draft, 1978, was extraordinary.

A year after that, Horton v De Roo was taking place in Baltimore.

In that game, DeRoo snagged three passes for 81 yards in that game – perhaps his best game ever.

Horton, meanwhile, was part of the Bucs’ strength – an offensive line that propelled the likes of Ricky Bell to a thousand-yard season. In that game, however, Baltimore held him to 34 yards, plus another 56 yards on three receptions.

Bell racked up 1,263 yards that season, helping Tampa Bay into the NFL playoffs for the first time ever.

Horton also blocked for Doug Williams, the ex-Grambling QB taken in the first round of the 1977 draft. Eventually, Williams would follow Bucs’ offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs to the Washington Redskins.

On that date, Sept. 9, 1979, Redlands stood tall in the NFL when De Roo and Horton connected.

It was, said DeRoo, “the only time Greg and I ever played against each other in an NFL game. The only thing was that he only lasted one play. He shoved one of the referees and got thrown out of the game.”

DeRoo, for his part, caught only one pass the rest of the season.

Footnote: Baltimore continued to a Redlands connection, especially when Brian Billick turned up to coach the Baltimore Ravens to the 2001 Super Bowl championship. On that team was yet another Redlands connection, speedy wide receiver Patrick Johnson.

 

 

 

UMPIRE JOHN MCSHERRY PART OF NOON ROTARY RIB-TICKLING VISIT

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: Former major league umpire John McSherry.

So who was the toughest character to take on a major league umpire?

Redlands Rotary took their opportunity to bring in a guest speaker so far off the radar in early 1981. How about National League umpire John McSherry.

It was McSherry who gave a rib-tickling address to a packed house of Noon Rotarians, jammed into a downtown location not far from City Hall. At the moment, McSherry was working in nearby San Bernardino, training young umpires during the off-season at Little League Western Regional headquarters.

The Bronx, N.Y. native, who began his pro umpiring career in the Carolina League in 1967, told the locals, “Redlands is not to be confused with New York.”

McSherry_inset
National League umpire John McSherry was a featured guest speaking at Redlands Noon Rotary on one memorable weekday afternoon (photo by Wikipedia).

He started umpiring sandlot games there, games sometimes starting at 8:30 a.m.

“The first thing we had to do was go out to center field and wake up the drunks who’d been sleeping there all night.

“They didn’t want to be moved, so they just sort of wandered into the stands and watched the games. During the games, they used to bet their nickels and dimes on whether or not the kids would get a hit.

“If we called a kid out, some of them would lose their money. They wanted to win so they could get an early start on the evening’s festivities.

“And if you did call them out,” he said, “often they would throw the empties.”

He cracked about getting a police escort away from the sandlot field, he said, “and the two teams were on our side.”

It was life as an umpire, he told me, “I figured pro ball wasn’t any tougher than sandlot.”

Upon his visit to Redlands, Cardinals’ pitching great Bob Gibson had just been elected to the Hall of Fame.

“Gibson was excellent,” said McSherry. “The thing that made him so great was how he just moved the game along.

“He just said, ‘gimme the ball, let’s go.’ That guy just had a positive attitude and played to win. He’s definitely a Hall of Famer.”

One of his personal favorites was Gil Hodges, a Dodger legendary who led the Miracle Mets of 1969 to the World Series.

“You know how people get built up sometimes as being an all-around super guy? And then you meet them and none of it’s true.

“Well, Gil Hodges was not like that. He didn’t disappoint me. He was just a super man in everything.”

Major league umpires, at that moment, numbered only 50 to 60. It was tough to move into the major league level.

Toughest part of umpiring, he said, “was the travel. But I like the flying, all the moving around from city to city.”

Umpires like McSherry expect the question, though. Which managers were toughest on the umps. He’s heard the question often.

“Tommy Lasorda.

“(Leo) Durocher.”

“I’m glad I wasn’t in the American League. I felt bad for anyone that called Earl Weaver’s games.”

And, he said, “thank goodness Billy Martin wasn’t in the National League, either.”

Truth is, there was the World Series and the All-Star game. McSherry crossed paths with both managers in those classics.

There were no further explanations.

“I’ve got a job to do,” he said, “and so do they.”

 

IT TOOK A WORLD RECORD TO KEEP BACKHAUS FROM OLYMPIC GOLD

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Today, August 28, 2018, is the 45th anniversary of an Olympic moment.

So much history was locked with in the 1972 Olympic Games.

Held in Munich, West Germany, who could forget the slaughter of Israeli athletes by Palestinians in one of the world’s greatest divides?

The U.S. men’s basketball team lost a gold medal that led to an international incident.

Meanwhile, American sprinters Rey Robinson and Eddie Hart, nowhere to be found in the 100 and 200 finals, missed their preliminary heats when they received the wrong starting times.

On the plus side, there was wrestler Dan Gable, marathoner Frank Shorter and half-miler Dave Wottle, who came from behind to win the 800.

At Schwimmhalle, the Olympic swim center at the Munich Olympic Park, an American swimmer was re-writing the record books.

A Redlands swimmer was hot on his trail.

Mark Spitz. Seven gold medals. An American legend.

An Australian teen, Shane Gould, made his own mark with three golds, plus a silver and bronze at age 15.

There was another teenage swimmer at The Games.

That teen, Robin Backhaus, was attending Redlands High School.

225px-Robin_Backhaus_1972
Robin Backhaus, a 17-year-old swimmer at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, won a bronze medal in the butterfly (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Born in Nebraska. Attended Redlands High. His swim club was in Riverside. Wound up in Hawaii. Alabama. In Washington, the U.S. Northwest.

On Aug. 28, 1972, Backhaus won a bronze medal for his third-place performance in the men’s 200-meter butterfly. His time, 2:03.23, finished behind Spitz’s world record 2:00.70, with Gary Hall, Sr. (2:02.86) and Backhaus completing an American sweep.

Imagine that for a Redlands Connection!

A Redlands swimmer beaten only by a world record.

In that 200-fly finale, Backhaus outlasted Jose Delgado, Jr., of Ecuador, by over a second to grab that bronze medal.

Even the pathway to the championship race is littered with challenges.

Backhaus posted the fastest time in the heats leading up to the finals, beating West Germany’s Folkert Meeuw in 2:03.11. By heat four, Spitz won his race and stole away, however briefly, Backhaus’ Olympic record swim.

Spitz, who surpassed Backhaus’ 2:03.11 clocking with a 2:02.11 of his own, claimed the record in that semifinal heat.

The top two finishers from each heat qualified for the finals.

It took that world record swim from Spitz, his 2:00.70 outdueling Hall and Backhaus.

310px-Gary_Hall,_Mark_Spitz,_Robin_Backhaus_1972
From left to right, Gary Hall, Sr., Mark Spitz and Robin Backhaus, who swept the 200-meter butterfly event at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Spitz, who won seven gold medals, set a world record in the race (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Delgado, West Germany’s Hans Fassnacht, Hungary’s Andras Hargitay, East Germany’s Hartmut Flockner and Meeuw took fourth through eighth place in the overall outcome. Even Meeuw’s last place clocking, 2:05.57, was world class.

Backhaus was surrounded by superior talent on his U.S. Olympic team:

  • Jerry Heidenreich, two relay gold medals, part of six world records
  • John Murphy, a relay gold and bronze in the 100-back
  • Mike Stamm, silver medals in two backstroke events, plus a relay gold
  • Tom Bruce, former world record holder in 4 x 100 free
  • Steve Furniss, bronze, 100-individual medley
  • Gary Hall, Sr. – Two years before Munich, Hall set a world record in 200-fly
  • Mike Burton (3-time Olympic champion, former world record holder)
  • Steve Genter, gold medalist (silver in 100-free)
  • John Hencken, 13 world records, 21 American records
  • Doug Northway, like Backhaus, was 17, capturing bronze in the 1500-free
  • Tim McKee (3-time silver medalist)

A footnote to McKee: Swimming observers will recall a close finish – losing to Sweden’s Gunnar Larsson by two one-thousandths of a second in the 400-IM – in which the scoreboard reflected a dead heat at 4:31.98. In a controversial decision, event judges named Larsson the winner with a 4:31.981 to McKee’s 4:31.983.

Under new federation rules, timing to the thousandths of a second are now prohibited. It was that race which led to the change in rules.

The U.S. copped 43 medals, seven of its 17 gold medals won by Spitz, two shared in pair of relays.

Spitz, meanwhile, might’ve been caught up in the explosive nature of The Games. As a Jewish American, Spitz was asked to leave Germany before the closing ceremonies. The deaths of those Israeli athletes had left a trickle-down effect for the remainder of The Games.

POST-OLYMPIC CAREER

Domestically, Backhaus won three Amateur Athletic Union titles, at the indoor 200-yard butterfly in 1974, plus the 100-fly in 1973.

He also won NCAA title in the 200-fly in 1975.

His club was based in Riverside. One of his coaches was Chuck Riggs, who would help develop several future champions, including Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead. Riggs was voted into the Swim Coaches Hall of Fame in 2018.

Chuck-Riggs
Chuck Riggs, who was coaching for the Riverside Aquatics Association in the early 1970s, had a hand in coaching Robin Backhaus’ climb to the Olympics in 1972.

Backhaus’ college choice was Washington, later transferring to Alabama, which is where he graduated.

Backhaus, a teacher and swimming coach at Konawaena (Hawaii) High School, eventually surfaced as a swimming trainer in Texas and California for over 20 years.

A year after his Olympic exploits, Backhaus won a pair of gold medals, plus a bronze medal at the 1973 World Aquatics Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

There was a win in his specialty, the 200-fly, plus his part in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. In the 100-fly, Backhaus stroked home in third place.

Born on Feb. 12, 1955, Backhaus never swam competitively for Redlands High. He’s a Terrier Hall of Famer, though, in the school’s growing history of top-level athletes that includes that likes of NFL’s Brian Billick, Greg Horton, Patrick Johnson and Jim Weatherwax, track & field’s Karol Damon, soccer’s Heather Aldama, baseball’s Julio Cruz and volleyball’s Keri Nishimoto.

En route to the ’72 Olympics, swimmers had to qualify at the U.S. Trials at Portage Park in Chicago.

In the 200-fly, Spitz’s 2:01.53 outgunned Backhaus’ 2:03.39.

Backhaus’ only other hope for another Olympic event came in the 100-fly, but he was unable to qualify at the Trials.

Think of it this way: For a brief time, Backhaus held the Olympic record for that 200-meter butterfly. It took a world record swim, from Spitz of all people, to edge the Redlands teenager for the gold medal.

There would no Olympic Games for Backhaus in Montreal 1976.

‘NIGHT TRAIN’ LANE: ‘SWEATING A LOT’

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

When I got hold of him around the summer of 1993, Richard Lane was living in Detroit, where he’d once worked for the Lions and, eventually, with city youth programs.

“Whew,” said Lane, who died in 2002, 28 years after he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Red-lands! You’re talking about a long time ago. All I can remember about Redlands was that I needed a ride to get out there. I didn’t know how to get there.”

Dick “Night Train” Lane knew what to do when he arrived. Redlands was the spot he had to prove his value to Rams’ coaches. He wasn’t yet known by his nickname, “Night Train.”

Dick_Lane_1962 (wikipedia)
Dick “Night Train” Lane remembered trying to make the Los Angeles Rams at his first NFL training camp in Redlands, 1952 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

My job was to track as many “Redlands” Rams as I could. For a 12-year period, the Los Angeles Rams trained at the University of Redlands. This was historical. Imagine such an event taking place today.

Years later, Lane remembered the tiny little city.

“I got out of the service,” said Lane, who was 6-feet-2, 210 pounds. “My first connection, my first real connection with the Rams was in Redlands. I had to make the team there.”

Not drafted. Not scouted. Just signed. In Redlands.

Lane attracted the attention of Rams’ coaches. He played receiver. Split end? Not with the Tom Fears and “Crazy Legs” Hirsch tandem still operating as the NFL’s top pass-catching duo in what was considered one of the most potent attacks in league history.

“You know,” Lane said, “I hate to say this, but I think I could’ve been a little better (receiver) than what they had there” – referring to Fears and Hirsch.

“I covered them in practice. That’s how they noticed me on defense. That’s their thinking then: If I could cover Tom and ElRoy, then I deserved a place on the team.”

In one of Joe Stydahar’s final moves as Rams’ coach, one perhaps aided by defensive coach Hampton Pool, Lane was switched to defensive back. It was in that season that Lane picked off a record 14 passes over what was then a 12-game NFL schedule.

“Joe quit a game into the season,” said Lane. “I didn’t really get to know him that well. Both guys … I give credit to for my making the team.”

Which enemy QBs did he fleece?

“I intercepted Johnny Unitas,” said Lane. “Otto Graham was another guy. Uh, Bobby Layne … (Y.A.) Tittle … got a long (return) against (Babe) Parilli when he was with the Packers … (Charlie) Conerly. A lot guys.”

By 1954, Lane, who came up with 68 career interceptions, was traded by the Rams to the Chicago Cardinals. “I don’t know why I was traded. It’s hard to have the kind of season like I had that first year. I’m pretty sure they felt I slacked off somewhat.”

While Lane’s career was just beginning, another was concluding.

Coming off a National Football League championship one season earlier (1951), the Rams seemed to be the hot team. It would be the final season for quarterback Bob Waterfield. Norm Van Brocklin, another Hall of Fame QB, had been drafted out of Oregon.

Lane, the incoming wide receiver, had little chance of making this team. By 1952, Hirsch and Fears were the best tandem of split ends in the NFL.

“Don’t ask me to pick between them,” said Lane, referring to the QB tandem. “Bob retired after my rookie season, though. Both men were great. Both were great quarterbacks. I couldn’t pick between them.”

It was all taking place right in Redlands; the scheming of Lane, who kept his split end jersey No. 81 when he went to cornerback. History was being set on the old field at the University of Redlands.

“I was only with the Rams for a couple years,” he said. “I moved on.”

These were just a portion of the stories engaged at the Rams’ pre-season training camp.

“Night Train,” he said, referring to his nickname. “Ah, man. It was that song (by Buddy Morrow). No, not Buddy Morrow. It was Jimmy Lester. Tom (Fears) gave it to me. Started calling me that.

“No one called me Dick or Richard,” he said. “I had the Necktie nickname, too. I got guys by their necktie. They outlawed that kind of tackle, the clothesline.”

Night Train Lane, however, stuck – all the way to the Hall of Fame.

Night Train was the hot song.

There were plenty of hot nights in the Redlands dorms, Lane recalled.

“I swear, if they’d invented air conditioning back then,” he said, “they wouldn’t have given it to us. They wanted us to sweat.

“Ha-haaaaa,” he said. “That’s what I remember about Redlands. Sweating a lot.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JULIO CRUZ BECAME FIRST TERRIER MAJOR LEAGUER

I met Julio Cruz exactly three times – once in the clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium when he was a member of the Seattle Mariners.

The other times came years later. He had long since retired. His onetime home city, which had been Redlands, was near Seattle. Someone had convinced him to come back for an off-season baseball clinic at Community Field.

A few years later, Julio was inducted into the newly-formed Redlands High School Terrier Hall of Fame.

Brooklyn-born. Moved to Redlands. Graduated. Headed for San Bernardino Valley College. Signed as a free agent. California Angels. That was just the beginning.

Julio hit .237 over nine seasons in the major league. He is, indeed, a Hall of Famer. In Redlands. The guy has taken part in some of baseball’s greatest moments.

JUlio Cruz
Julio Cruz, a Redlands High product, became the first Terrier to ever play in the major leagues (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Sports Editor Jeff Lane, my predecessor at the Redlands newspaper, had done plenty on Julio during his five-year stint. Julio was a popular product. To that point, no Redlands player had ever drifted their way from that city into the major leagues.

Ed Vande Berg, a southpaw pitcher, would be next. In fact, the two would eventually be teammates in Seattle.

Julio, a 1972 Redlands High graduate, played at nearby San Bernardino Valley. Though undrafted, he was signed by the California Angels on May 7, 1974 as a free agent.

The Angels sent him into their minor league system. As a 19-year-old, he batted .241 for Idaho Falls of the Rookie League in 1974. On he went, right up the Angels’ chain – .261 for Quad Cities, .307 for Salinas, .327 for El Paso and .246 for Salt Lake City at age 22.

EXPANSION — A REAL BREAK FOR CRUZ

The American League, about to expand from 10 teams to 12 teams by 1977, had to make players available in a draft pool. Julio, left unprotected by the Angels, who had ex-Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy at the MLB level. No room for Julio.

While Julio batted .366 for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League – stashed with the Padres’ chain while Seattle organized its minor league system – it wouldn’t be long before he got his shot at the major leagues.

On Nov. 5, 1976, Julio had been the 52nd player taken in the American League expansion draft when two new franchises appeared in the American League – Seattle and Toronto.

Suddenly, he was suddenly a Mariner.

In a curious draft footnote, pitcher Butch Edge was taken by Toronto out of Milwaukee’s chain. Edge would eventually wind up in Redlands years later as the University of Redlands’ men’s golf coach.

Other players taken in the draft included Pete Vuckovich being plucked away from the White Sox by Toronto. Vuckovich would eventually wind up with the Brewers, winning the 1982 Cy Young Award.

As for Julio, he quickly turned into a Seattle stalwart. Longing for star players, Julio’s base-stealing skills turned him into a popular Mariner.

He stole 59 bases in 1978, then swiped 49, 45, 43 and 46 bags over the next four seasons. What’s lost in those numbers is that he stole 49 in just 107 games in 1979. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he stole 43 times in 94 games.

If there was a weakness to his game, Julio’s on-base-percentage was awfully low – his highest at .363 in ’79 – but he put a lot of bunts in play to try and get on base.

There were some decent hitters in Seattle – Al Cowens, Richie Zisk, Dave Henderson, Willie Horton, Bruce Bochte, Ruppert Jones, among others – with pitchers like future White Sox teammate Floyd Bannister and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry playing in Seattle with Julio.

Gaylord Perry
Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry notched his 300th career victory in a Seattle uniform. In fact, teammate Julio Cruz made the final out when he fielded Willie Randolph’s grounder (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In fact, Julio was on the field on May 6, 1982 when Perry (10-12 that season) won his 300th game. He beat the Yankees in the Kingdome to notch this milestone victory.

In fact, it was Cruz who fielded the grounder off Willie Randolph for the final out.

TRADED TO THE CHISOX

On June 30, 1983 — MLB’s trading deadline — Cruz was swapped to the Chicago White Sox for second baseman Tony Bernazard. The results of that trade might’ve been the impetus for the ChiSox vaulting to an American League Western Division title by 20 games over Kansas City.

“Let’s Do It Again” was the theme for 1984.  What the ChiSox did was fall back to fifth place, 14 games under .500.

General Manager Roland Hemond, who leveraged the Bernazard-for-Cruz swap, brought in pitcher Ron Reed and practically stole future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver from the Mets.

Roland_Hemond_at_SABR_Convention_2014
Chicago White Sox General Manager Roland Hemond was responsible for landing Julio Cruz in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in 1983 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Their contributions weren’t enough to offset poor showings, perhaps reflected by 1983 ace pitchers Lamarr Hoyt (13-18) and Rich Dotson (14-15) one season later.

There were 54,032 fans at Yankee Stadium when Seaver beat the Yankees for his 300th career win. Cruz, in the dugout batting less than .180, wasn’t part of that ChiSox 4-1 triumph.

On the field, though, were Hall of Famers like Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, MVP Don Mattingly and, of course, Seaver. Managers Tony La Russa and Billy Martin squared off against each other.

One night later, Cruz was back in the lineup, going 2-for-2 off Ron Guidry — caught stealing by Yankee catcher Butch Wynegar.

The ’85 White Sox club bounced back to win 85 games and actually led the division in June.

By 1986, the club was in disarray with new general manager Ken Harrelson, who had replaced Hemond, and manager Jim Fregosi. It would be four more seasons before the Chicago White Sox finished over .500.

Julio was living off an impressive free agent contract that was signed in December 1984, a six-year deal between $3.6 and $4.8 million. He never finished out his contract.

Julio played in 1,156 games; swiped 343 bases; don’t forget impressive .982 defense at second base.

Released by the White Sox in July 1987, Cruz signed as a free agent with Los Angeles. But the 1987 Dodgers already had a second baseman. Steve Sax would go on to lead his team to a World Series title a year later. Julio never actually played in L.A.

A TERRIER HALL OF FAME RETURN

He was part of the second class of Hall of Fame inductees at his former high school. In fact, Julio unwittingly opened the door to a humorous line given by fellow inductee Brian Billick, of Super Bowl fame.

Julio had spoken emotionally about his Terrier days. The memories. Boy, he had fun. The teams he’d played on. There was some success. The Terriers, with Cruz in the lineup, won the first Citrus Belt League title in 1971 — 44 years after their previous championship from 1927.

At the Redlands Hall of Fame podium, Cruz shared a memory.

“Just being in the showers with guys like Brian Billick was a thrill. Those were highlights for me. I’ll never get over that.”

Billick, the Terrier great defensive back/QB who was head coach of the Baltimore Ravens when they won the Super Bowl, was being inducted the same night.

In fact, Billick broke the crowd up when he said, “Julio, it’s amazing to me that you felt like the highlight of your high school career was taking a shower with me.”

A few years before that Hall of Fame moment, Cruz, along with ex-major leaguer Rudy Law and Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins took part in a baseball clinic at Community Field. Former Pirates and Yankees pitcher Dock Ellis, I was told, showed up late.

Hundreds of youth had shown up for that historic event at the corner of Church and San Bernardino. This was a rare moment for local youth.

Dads let their kids know who this guy was. Julio Cruz, of Redlands. Former major leaguer. Little guy. Second baseman. Switch hitter. Lots of speed. Wanna be a big leaguer? Listen. Watch.

Jenkins and Law couldn’t have been more classy.

Julio, the ex-Terrier, knew he was at home.

They gave tips. They shared stories. They shook hands. Smiled. They signed autographs.

Julio became a coach. Broadcasting games for the Mariners, Julio Cruz took his Brooklyn-to-Redlands-to-Seattle-to-Chicago travels really well.

Why not a Terrier Hall of Famer? He fit the mold. While playing with, or against, all those MBL Hall of Famers, he played for one Cooperstown-bound manager, La Russa.

It was a diamond-style Redlands Connection.