THERE WERE PLENTY OF REASONS WHY BOB GAILLARD DIDN’T WANT TO TALK

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 Univ. San Francisco basketball coach Bob Gaillard.

I guess I could understand a few reasons why visiting Lewis & Clark (Ore.) College basketball coach Bob Gaillard wasn’t in all that much of a mood to chat.

He had a basketball team to coach at the University of Redlands’ Lee Fulmer Memorial Tournament.

Plus, it had been so long since he’d coached at the University of San Francisco.

There wasn’t much he could add to a sad, dramatic and unfavorable tale about a scandal that was so richly embarrassing. At times like those, you hate being a media member. You have to ask, though.

Forty-five minutes before tip-off at Currier Gymnasium, I’d slid in beside him on the Pioneers’ bench. His players were warming up. Can’t remember if L&C was playing Redlands, or not, in the eight-team tournament that night.

Gaillard was in the midst of a 22-year coaching career in Portland.

Bob Gaillard
Lewis & Clark College basketball coach Bob Gaillard brought his team to win the Lee Fulmer Memorial Classic on three different occasions. The onetime Univ. San Francisco coach lived through turbulent times before landing in Portland (photo by Lewis & Clark College).

USF? Maybe there was something the media missed. New developments? A different side we hadn’t thought about?

“Was there any of that?” I asked.

“Look,” he said, shaking his head slowly, “I really don’t want to re-hash something like that. There’s nothing new. It happened so far back.”

What my readers might’ve wanted to know was about his USF background. There were people in Redlands that attended USF. He tried to be kind and patient.

Gaillard was at USF from 1968 through 1977, starting about a decade after Bill Russell had left the Dons.

By 1976, he was the Dons’ head coach, a team that included NBA-bound players like Bill Cartwright, Winford Boynes and James Hardy. The Dons were 29-2 that season.

That team, eventually placed on probation, was cited for academic fraud that included players getting special academic treatment, among other infractions.

Gaillard, the 1977 AP Coach of the Year, was fired.

No way he wanted to re-live those moments.

In the middle of his refusal, I kept thinking, “I really can’t blame you, coach.”

It was a lousy atmosphere in which to try and rekindle all that negative hype — the media coverage, NCAA sanctions, the outlaw nature of the players, everything.

It’s quite possible Gaillard had nothing to do with any of those scandals. What a story that might make for that tiny Redlands readership.

He’d brought his team from Oregon, flown into Los Angeles, caught a couple vans out to Redlands for this tournament. It was 1992, some 15 years after the fact.

“I’d really rather talk about this team,” he said.

Those were good years for the Pioneers, in fact, who were headed for a string of winning seasons.

Back to USF 1977. Wasn’t it curious that Gaillard’s Dons carried a 29-1 record into the 32-team NCAA Tournament? Their first-round opponent was none other than Nevada-Las Vegas, coached by Jerry Tarkanian.

Tarkanian had Redlands connections. It was right around that time that Tark himself had started getting NCAA attention.

Maybe that’s another reason Gaillard didn’t want to talk.

The Runnin’ Rebels ran the Dons out of the area that night, 121-95. In fact, USF had been 29-0 heading into their final regular season game against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish beat the Dons by 11.

As for Lewis & Clark at the 1992 Fulmer Tournament? The Pioneers not only won it, but they came back the following season and repeated as champions.

 

 

 

 

 

SPOTTING WILLIE WEST WATCHING HIS SON AT REDLANDS’ CURRIER GYM

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 L.A. Crenshaw High School coach Willie West, Jr.

It was a slow night at Currier Gymnasium, the ancient, never-to-be-replaced basketball center at the University of Redlands.

It was one of the first Bulldog games of the season. Longtime coach Gary Smith and I hadn’t yet discussed his team for the upcoming season — a normal pattern I’d carefully followed since my arrival at the local newspaper in 1979.

Casually glancing down at the roster, spotting a few familiar names, I came across one that struck a small chord. There was a guard with an interesting name, a familiar name.

Willie West.

Willie_West (Cal State Los Angeles)
Willie West, a Cal State-Los Angeles Hall of Famer, made an even bigger name for himself as coach of L.A. Crenshaw High School. He showed up at the University of Redlands one night to watch his son, Willie West III, play for the Bulldogs (photo by Cal State Los Angeles).

Now where did I know that name?

Well, there’s Willie West, one of California’s most legendary high school basketball coaches.

His son, perhaps?

Why would Willie West’s son be at Redlands?

Had to be someone else. It was November 1995.

That slow night at Currier allowed me to scan the grandstands. One by one. Most were college students, of course. There were a few community die-hards. Plus staff members. There might’ve been or two I couldn’t recognize.

Finally, I spotted him.

Top row. Alone. Northwest portion of Currier.

Willie West, Jr. I’d come to learn that his son was actually Willie West III. He’d come to Redlands via State junior college powerhouse Ventura, where he helped lead the Pirates to a 37-1 record.

At that moment, his dad, Willie E. West, Jr., was still Los Angeles Crenshaw High’s basketball coach. West, Jr. and Bulldog coach Gary Smith had known each other for awhile. That was the connection that brought West III to Redlands.

Legendary? Twenty-eight league championships. Sixteen L.A. Section championships. Eight State titles. Dozens of kids enrolled in college. A few NBA players. Thirty-seven seasons. Career record, 802-139.

I’d only known a couple of players that wore Cougar colors. Even then, those guys never actually played varsity for The Man.

Said one young guy: “I practiced with them one summer. Most of the time, there wasn’t even a ball in the drills. He was tough, man. I mean it. You had to have something extra to play for him.”

A security guard at Moreno Valley High School was equally insightful: “I played JV (junior varsity) one season there. The practices were incredible. If you couldn’t cut it in practice, no way you’d be in the games.”

Truth is, West III didn’t play at Crenshaw during his senior year. His parents, divorced, led him to play in Houston after spending his sophomore and junior seasons playing in the Cougars’ uniform.

There were many nights West couldn’t have journeyed all the way out from his L.A. County home to see his son play. It was in-the-season for the Crenshaw coach.

Much was made of the fact that Willie III voluntarily took himself out of the Bulldogs’ starting lineup, giving Smith a scoring presence off the bench.

On a side note, it has to be noted that Smith — whose Bulldog teams were always competitive but rarely at the top of the standings — was held in high enough esteem that one of high school’s greatest coaches might send his son to play at Redlands.

A few nights after I’d made notice of the West-Redlands connection, West III hit for 28 points in a game against Chapman College-Orange.

I didn’t see Willie, Jr. in the stands that night.

 

BEEMAN’S COACHING ‘BUG’ STARTED DURING HER REDLANDS DAYS

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, plus NCAA Final Four connections, 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

I remember Laura Beeman, barely.

I knew her dad, Jerry, a lot better.

The guy lifted San Gorgonio High School into the highly competitive boys’ soccer world.

Laura was probably hanging around a gym, dribbling, shooting, learning to play basketball. No soccer for this kid, I’m guessing.

Jerry Beeman, competing in a hard-nosed Citrus Belt League soccer world, probably showed up in the Spartans’ gym every so often – San Bernardino High in Laura’s final seasons. Little did anyone realize, perhaps, is that Jerry’s little girl might’ve been laying the groundwork for her own coaching career.

She was a terrific player.

After a playing career that shifted from UC Riverside to Cal State San Bernardino between 1987-91, Beeman’s career eventually settled into coaching.

A Hall of Famer at Cal State, she had been that good of a player during the Lady Coyotes’ NCAA Division 3 days.

Laura Beeman Hall of Fame plaque
Laura Beeman, a homegrown San Bernardino basketball player, went on to become an All-American, a school record-holder and an eventual Hall of Famer (photo by Cal State San Bernardino).

Fast forward a few years: Beeman led Mt. San Antonio College to a myriad of women’s state championships and powerhouse status – 390-110, 4 California championships between 1995-2010.

Alongside Laker legend Michael Cooper, Beeman held a key role on the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks. She was Cooper’s assistant coach. Beeman had a hand in coaching the likes of Tina Thompson, Candace Parker (though on maternity leave one season) and the sensational Lisa Leslie.

One footnote: It wasn’t until Cooper’s second season, the Sparks going 10-24 in 2007, that he brought in Beeman as an assistant. The team responded with back-to-back playoff seasons in 2008 and 2009, losing in the conference finals both years.

By 2010, the Cooper-Beeman coaching combo wound up at USC, where the Women of Troy responded with 19-12 and 24-13 seasons with that duo running the sideline.

Laura_Beeman_and_USC_basketball_players_in_2011
This was March 2011. During her two-year stint as a USC assistant coach, Laura Beeman stands in a group of Women of Troy players. Left to right: Briana Gilbreath (15), Jacki Gemelos (23), Beeman, plus Cassie Harberts (11) (Photo by Flickr).

In 2012-2013, Beeman took an open coaching position at the University of Hawaii, the goal of turning around its women’s hoops program beckoning her to the islands.

All these coaching gigs, dreams and all, had all started in Redlands.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d seen her play – first in high school, later at Cal State. Never interviewed her. Never got her aside to talk about her future. Never even saw a feature story on this dynamic player who turned basketball into a nice academic career – a graduate at Cal State, plus two Masters degrees.

Mickey McAulay, hired by Redlands in 1989 to try and turn the Lady Bulldogs into solid-class contenders, went from 7-19 to 16-9 in one season. A year later, Redlands took second place in a conference long since dominated by other schools.

By 1992, Beeman had been invited to join the Lady Bulldogs’ staff as a graduate assistant. It was a chance to get her first Master’s degree, this in counseling.

“When I started coaching,” she told Hawaii media in recalling her roots, “the basketball coaching bug; it bit. You know, I loved playing, but I had no idea I would want to coach.”

Jerry, the soccer coach, had his own pharmacy. Soccer was only a sideline for him. But his daughter worked the pharmacy, probably sharing no desire to ever become a pharmacist.

Watching McAulay, among others, coach – what worked, what didn’t, how kids responded, how they didn’t respond – Laura was thinking, “Okay, this is kinda cool.

“You know, I can kinda figure this out as I go.”

Before she left Redlands, the Lady Bulldogs notched their first-ever SCIAC championship. McAulay, her recruiting and coaching style – she had huge success at Anaheim Katella High before showing up at Redlands – probably deserves most of the credit.

Beeman’s presence at Redlands, however, deserves some attention.

It’s curious that, after her departure, the Lady Bulldogs’ yearly records started to get worse.

She spent two seasons as Mt. SAC’s assistant before she took over as head coach. Those stops with the Sparks and USC only added to her coaching resume.

At Hawaii (102-84, six seasons), in Beeman’s first four seasons, there was a third place finish, two ties for second place and an outright 2015 Big West Conference championship.

So far, only one trip to the NCAA Tournament has come for the Rainbow Wahine. No success in the post-season, but she’s working on it.

Those early coaching years at Redlands was the beginning of the coaching connection – or a Redlands Connection.

GREGG POPOVICH: NBA HALL OF FAME CAREER FROM POMONA-PITZER

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, Wimbledon and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, 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

There was something strangely familiar about the way visiting Pomona-Pitzer College had put an end to the longtime men’s basketball domination by the University of Redlands one night in January 1983.

For years, that small SCIAC basketball chase had been a two-team race between powerhouse Whittier College with the Bulldogs usually No. 2.

Located consistently at the bottom were two teams on historic losing streaks — Caltech, from Pasadena, and Pomona-Pitzer College from nearby Claremont.

It certainly didn’t seem like a launching pad for an NBA Hall of Fame coaching career for the Sagehens’ coach, Gregg Popovich.

Gregg Popovich
Who’d have believed that Gregg Popovich would launch an NBA Hall of Fame coaching career at tiny Pomona-Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif.? Part of that trek went through the University of Redlands (photo by Wikipedia).

It was the way he used his bench that night. It was reminiscent of UCLA a few years earlier. The Bruins, then under coach Larry Brown, had reached the NCAA championship game against Louisville (later vacated over infractions).

Kurt Herbst was the Sagehens’ big banger that night. Redlands couldn’t penetrate the 6-foot-6 wide body, who had plenty of help that night against the Bulldogs.

Backtracking a few years, it was Pomona-Pitzer that famously lost to Caltech, ending the Engineers’ 99-game losing streak. I remember that story went out on the Associated Press wire. I published that four-paragraph brief in the Redlands newspaper.

After all, two teams in Redlands’ conference seemed mildly interesting to our readership. That was our mandate, of course, to keep our pages local.

The Sagehens, for all intents and purposes, was a college freshman team — maybe not even that good.

So when I approached Popovich about those UCLA observations, he quickly summoned me inside the Sagehens’ locker room.

He seemed excited, perhaps impressed that I’d made that wise connection.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s exactly the blueprint we use for this team I’ve got here. Larry Brown …” his wife drifted off into a rash of interpretation, basketball lingo and connecting the dots between UCLA and Pomona-Pitzer’s rise to prominence.

Another coincidental connection! Popovich and Brown were connected.

Those connections would later surface, re-surface and surface again.

Popovich spoke of his Air Force Academy background. He was hired at Pomona-Pitzer to coach and run a campus dormitory — something like that, he told me.

His connection with Brown, he told me while Sagehen players were giddily showering after their upset win over Redlands, dated back to 1972. It was at the Olympic tryouts.

Larry Brown
Larry Brown, coaching here at Southern Methodist University, was the catalyst to an NBA coaching Hall of Fame career for Gregg Popovich, who lifted himself from tiny Pomona-Pitzer College to the San Antonio Spurs (photo by SMU).

If Brown coached it, Popovich tried it.

“That’s the relationship we have,” said Popovich.

Popovich was using Brown’s system of defense, not to mention a substitution pattern that was eerily similar. Strange as it might sound, in 1983, that system stood out.

It was a starting five, plus two key contributors off the bench.

Popovich copped to it all.

There was no possible way anything he told me that night could crystallize into Pop’s eventual NBA Hall of Fame career.

I’d keep an eye on Popovich, who took one season off to take a sabbatical at Chapel Hill, N.C. under the eye of Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith. By 1986, Popovich had lifted the Sagehens to the school’s first SCIAC championship in nearly seven decades.

He’d turned it around on a campus that seemed oblivious to its athletics program. In fact, I wrote a column about that once, receiving admonitions from almost all corners of the SCIAC.

I’d written about how some SCIAC campuses were cheating their student-athletes — taking their tuition monies and providing them with slighted facilities, inauthentic coaching and only mild support.

These campuses were supposed to stand for academic strength. Sports, it was reasoned, was pay-for-play. Intramurals. Deemed not important enough. That was my take in the piece.

Truth is, many of those coaches didn’t try hard enough. They didn’t hit the recruiting trail hard enough. Popovich, in fact, did that. I didn’t report that part of it. I should have.

A few Redlands athletic officials were also mildly upset, perhaps thinking their SCIAC rivals suspected that they’d put me up for the piece.

Popovich, in his own way, bailed me out.

“I think you’re one of the reasons I was hired here,” he told me.

In another nice twist, Brown — having led Kansas to an NCAA championship in 1988 with Danny Manning being the key player — invited Popovich’s Pomona-Pitzer team for a non-conference game the following season.

I’ll never forget the score of a Pomona-Pitzer vs. Kansas matchup at the Phog Allen Field House. It was 94-38, Jayhawks.

Eventually, the San Antonio Spurs hired Brown, who stands today as the only coach to win NCAA and NBA (with Detroit) championships. That Spurs’ hiring led Brown to bringing on Popovich.

While spending a couple seasons with the Golden State Warriors, consider that Nevada-Las Vegas’ legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian had been railroaded out of his job with the Runnin’ Rebels.

Tark turned up, briefly, as Spurs’ coach. It didn’t last more than a half season.

Eventually, Popovich appeared as Spurs’ general manager. Bob Hill was their coach.

All of which led to Popovich taking over as Spurs’ coach in 1996. Just over one decade earlier, he’d been in tiny Currier Gym talking over the Sagehens’ win against Redlands.

That Popovich-to-North Carolina connection was Air Force related. Smith had long ago been an Air Force assistant coach under Bob Spear. That was Popovich’s coach when he played for the Falcons.

Connections in the coaching world add up quickly.

I keep giving myself an “atta-boy” for that 1983 observation on a cold, rainy night in Redlands.

 

 

 

DE ROO WATCHED DISASTROUS MIRACULOUS HORROR

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

They called it the Miracle at the Meadowlands.

Redlands’ Brian DeRoo had a front row seat for the “miracle,” an infamous and highly replayed conclusion to an NFC Eastern Division game between the New York Giants and the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

On this date, November 19, 1978 – exactly 40 years ago today – Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik mishandled a snap in the waning seconds of a game seemingly won by New York.

Onetime All-Pro fullback Larry Csonka couldn’t quite get to Pisarcik’s handoff.

Joe Pisarcik
N.Y. Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik made the ill-fated handoff attempt that led to the Miracle at the Meadowlands on Nov. 19, 1978 (Photo courtesy of the Calgary Stampeders).

Fumble!

Eagles’ defensive back Herman Edwards recovered. Twenty-six yards later, Edwards had scored. Philadelphia had an unexpected 19-17 victory. It should’ve been a 17-12 Giants’ triumph.

DeRoo, who had been drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 1978 NFL draft out of the University of Redlands, who had been placed on injured reserve durng his rookie season.

“I was standing on the sidelines for that play,” said DeRoo, “ducking and dodging pieces of headsets that were splintering from being smashed on the ground by various assistant coaches.”

That was the reaction to one of pro football’s biggest late-game blow-ups. Pisarcik had been taken from the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

Edwards, who would eventually become a head coach at both the pro and collegiate level, changed the Eagles’ fate. It turned out to be a huge boost to an eventual Super Bowl berth two years later. Philly, who went into the game at 6-5, used that win over the Giants to reach that season’s NFL playoffs.

Herm Edwards (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Herm Edwards may have singlehandedly lifted the Philadelphia Eagles into a new era with his fumble return at the Miracle of the Meadowlands (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Helmets were also rebounding off the turf,” said DeRoo. “John Mendenhall (a Giants’ assistant) went the highest!!!”

It was a simple play. Pisarcik was expected to take one more snap. Kneel with the football. Running out the clock. Preserving a 17-12 Giants’ upset. Instead, he botched the handoff.

The Giants-Eagles rivalry dated back to 1933.

As for the Giants in 1978, it was another step in the team’s growing era of mediocrity – 6-10, fifth place in the NFC East that season.

The Eagles, meanwhile, finished 9-7 and reached the playoffs as a wild-card. They lost to Dallas in the playoffs.

Giants’ head coach John McVay, who would eventually move on to an executive position with the Bill Walsh-coached San Francisco 49ers, lost his job in New York.

DeRoo, meanwhile, was traded to the Baltimore Colts after the season.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Redlands Connection Brian DeRoo had a view of the disastrous Miracle at the Meadowlands. He was a New York Giants’ rookie in 1978. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Football League).

“I always wanted to thank John,” said De Roo, “for allowing me to go on the road trips with the team. In those days, most of the guys on IR just stayed home during road trips. I always wanted to find John and thank him for that.”

 

 

BRIAN SABEAN: IN REDLANDS TO WATCH HIS SON PLAY AT REDLANDS

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: San Francisco Giants’ General Manager Brian Sabean.

No interviews with this guy. I had a job to do and Brian Sabean was being a Dad.

It was my habit to cover University of Redlands football games from the visitors’ grandstand.

NCAA rules prevented me from being on the sidelines in between the 30-yard-lines. It’s OK. I understand. That’s reserved for players, coaches and referees. But I needed better vision.

In the school’s well-constructed press box, there was too much unprofessional behavior (footnote: Maybe that’s all changed in later years), rooting for favorable Bulldog plays, snarling at officiating calls — you get the picture.

You might not think it gets in the way, but it’s a distraction in covering highly-competitive games.

It chased me to the visiting side’s grandstand.

On a sparkling, cold Saturday night, Redlands was playing Occidental College, from Eagle Rock near Pasadena, in 2008.

Game about to start. Both teams ready. Appearing out of the stairwell was a familiar face. As a lifetime San Francisco Giants’ fan, I couldn’t believe who I’d spotted. What in the world was Brian Sabean doing at Redlands? This was football, not baseball.

Brian Sabean
Brian Sabean, a longtime executive with the San Francisco Giants who helped construct four World Series teams and three champions, was spotted at a University of Redlands football one night while watching his son play for visiting Occidental College (photo by San Francisco Giants).

Quickly, I scanned Oxy’s roster.

Sean Sabean, a six-foot, 210-pound freshman linebacker from San Mateo Serra High School, was on the Tigers’ roster. It was Brian’s son.

What a great Dad, I thought. This was an out-of-the-way location, for sure.

I had a list of questions formulating for Sabean — if only I could get to him. I was covering a game. On deadline. He wasn’t working.

The San Francisco Giants had just parted ways with Barry Bonds. Years of getting close, including a 7-game World Series loss to the Angels in 2002, had frustrated Giants’ fans everywhere.

Sabean had started rebuilding the Giants with draft picks like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Buster Posey would soon come onto the scene.

The questions:

  • Barry Bonds.
  • Performance enhancing drugs.
  • Drafting ball players.
  • Any trades he might be working on.
  • Free agents?

Sabean was constructing a team that would win three World Series championships in the coming years.

At Redlands, 2008.

 

 

DEE FONDY: REMEMBERED BY BUD SELIG AND WILLIE MAYS

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

In memory of the 1973 World Series.

Dee Fondy, an ex-major league baseball player who lived in Redlands for years, never seemed to show up in the spotlight. He was completely without fanfare. His son, Jon, said his late father never sought the publicity of local newspapers, preferring a low-key existence. A war hero and a local product (though he was born in Texas) from San Bernardino, Fondy was a golf-playing member at Redlands Country Club during his retirement years.

It wasn’t all that well-known, however, that Fondy was a premiere advance scout for the New York Mets — a spot that is most likely among baseball’s under-appreciated roles. A year after nearly producing a scouting report that nearly helped win the 1973 World Series, Fondy landed a spot with the Milwaukee Brewers.

It was Fondy who scouted the defending champion Oakland A’s for the Mets in its 1973 showdown against a Hall of Fame-led team, namely Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, “Catfish” Hunter and manager Dick Williams.

The Mets, injured and suffering throughout the season, managed to package an 83-79 season together. It was good enough to win the National League Eastern Division.

In the National League playoffs, New York outlasted a 99-win Reds’ teams loaded with Hall of Famers — Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, plus the likely Cooperstown inductee Pete Rose — in five games.

The A’s were baseball’s defending champions, having beaten the Reds one season earlier. This time, it was Oakland taking on the Mets, whose Hall of Fame talent included Tom Seaver and Willie Mays, playing his final season.

The Mets had a 3-2 lead in the Series, based off 10-7, 6-1 and 2-0 wins over the A’s in Games 2, 4 and 5. Hunter outdueled Seaver in Game 6, 3-1, before Kenny Holtzman beat Jon Matlack in Game 7, 5-2.

Fingers, the loser in Game 3, saved three of those games. It took Oakland’s best efforts.

“Dad’s scouting report was in Yogi Berra’s back pocket,” said Jon Fondy, Dee’s son, who had produced the report. “They almost pulled it off and beat the A’s.”

Berra, a Hall of Famer, was New York’s manager. Part of Fondy’s scouting report had to be data that led to Mets’ pitchers holding A’s hitters to a .212 Series average with just two HRs.

The comparative rosters of both teams should have left Oakland in position to sweep the Mets, or at least take them in five games. Fondy’s notes on the A’s, however, gave New York’s pitchers a strong advantage.

One season later, Fondy was off to Milwaukee.

Dee_Fondy_1953
Virgil Dee Fondy spent four decades in major league baseball, notably as a first baseman over eight seasons, later as an advance scout (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Fondy, a lefty during his playing days, wound up with the young, expansionist Brewers – eventually heading a scouting department that signed Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. In the Brewers’ only World Series appearance, 1982, those future Hall of Famers were paramount in the teams’ success.

CONSTRUCTING AN OBITUARY

Upon Fondy’s death – Commissioner Bud Selig responded to a call from a local newspaper – to laud the career and life of the onetime Pirates, Cubs and Reds first baseman. Fondy had once been traded with Chuck Connors, who went on to fame as television’s “The Rifleman,” a CBS production.

Selig, of course, knew Fondy from his days as Brewers’ owner. Fondy had worked for Selig.

In August of 1999, Dee Fondy died at a retirement home in Redlands.

In his obituary, I wrote: “He had played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds and was the last player to bat in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, died of cancer. He was 74.

“Fondy, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier, died at Plymouth Village.”

His death reverberated through baseball.

While working on Fondy’s obituary, I’d placed a call to the MLB offices in New York City, seeking comment — a standard procedure. Baseball usually responded quickly. In this case, it was the commissioner, Bud Selig, who had placed the return call.

Bud_Selig_on_October_31,_2010
Alan “Bud” Selig, a Hall of Famer as onetime Commissioner of Baseball, weighed in personally on Dee Fondy’s 1999 death (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

I was out of the office when Selig called. Mike Brown, the news editor, took the call, jotted down Selig’s comments, and forwarded them to me. I must’ve missed the commissioner’s call by just minutes in August 1999.

“Dee Fondy was one of my favorite people,” Selig told Brown. “He had a great sense of humor. He and I used to kid each other a lot.”

FONDY’S MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER 1951-58

Fondy hit .286 with exactly 1,000 hits (69 HRs) over eight seasons in the majors, having batted .300 over four full seasons. His debut, in April 1951, came just a month before Willie Mays’ legendary MLB entry.

Signed originally by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, Fondy came to spring training in 1949 and competed with Gil Hodges and Connors for the starting job at first base. Dodger lore shows, of course, that the spot was won by Hodges.

Fondy played in the Dodgers’ farm system until being traded, along with Connors, to the Cubs for outfielder Hank Edwards. It was a golden era of Dodger baseball that included Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, plus Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and a host of highly popular Dodger players.

He won a spot on Chicago’s roster. His first major-league hit was a bases-loaded triple off St. Louis pitcher Ken Raffsenberger. It was opening day, April 17, 1951, at Wrigley Field.

By 1957, Fondy was traded to Pittsburgh. In that deal, the Cubs sent Gene Baker and Fondy for the Pirates’ Dale Long and Lee Walls. Midway through that ’57 season, Fondy was leading the National League with a .365 average, finishing at .313.

Traded to Cincinnati for Ted Kluszewski, a transaction mentioned by Tom Cruise’s character in the 1988 movie “Rainman,” his career concluding in that 1958 season.

Fondy grounded out for the last out at Ebbets Field in Pittsburgh’s 2-0 loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 24, 1957. That grounder went to Don Zimmer, whose throw to first baseman Jim Gentile ended an era.

The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles the following year.

Jon Fondy had some fun memories.

“I ran into Willie Mays once and he said, ‘I’ve still got the bruises from the tags your dad used to give me. He was a hard-nosed player,’ ” said Jon, a freelance cameraman who has covered major league games.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays once told Dee Fondy’s son, Jon, that he laid some pretty hard tags on him. “I’ve still got bruises,” said the inimitable Mays (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

It was off to work, eventually, as a scout for the Mets and in Milwaukee, where he signed Molitor, who went on to collect over 3,000 hits.

Fondy retired from baseball in 1995 after serving as a special assistant to the Milwaukee general manager.

“He was as good a judge of talent as I’ve ever known,” Selig said. “He played a great role in the development of the Brewers. I had as much faith in his baseball knowledge as anyone I know.’”

FONDY’S FUNERAL: ONE FINAL HURRAH

It was at Fondy’s funeral that several ex-players – Ray Boone and Sal Bando included – had shown up to pay final respects. Another funeral-goer was a man named Fred Long. For years, Long coached local baseball, eventually rising to becoming a major league baseball scout.

Fondy’s influence had been felt in Long’s scouting life.

Long, who was nearing 80 at the time of Fondy’s funeral, had plenty of stories to share, sporting World Series ring — Florida Marlins, 1997.

Fondy, said Long, was one of the best guys he’d ever known. “And the guy knew baseball, too. You should’ve heard him.”

His minor league career included stops at Santa Barbara (California League), Fort Worth (Texas League) and Mobile (Southern League), each a Brooklyn Dodger farm club.

Before his climb into the major leagues, Fondy racked up 863 minor league hits, whacking out 130 doubles and 52 triples.

His career as a minor leaguer, major leaguer, scout and scouting director covered exactly 40 years — 1946-1995.

Isn’t it interesting that Fondy worked as a scout for the same organization in which Hodges — who edged him for Brooklyn’s first base job — was the manager?

Born on Halloween in 1924, Dee Virgil Fondy’s death took place on Aug. 19, 1999 in Redlands. Fondy, a native of Slaton, Texas, served in the Army during World War II and was part of the forces that landed on Utah Beach in Normandy in 1944, three months after D-Day. He received the Purple Heart.

Fondy had also been survived by twins, Jon Fondy and Jan Cornell of Las Vegas. His wife, Jacquelyn, had died a year earlier. Fondy’s funeral was in nearby San Bernardino, almost directly next door to Perris Hill Park’s Fiscalini Field.

Growing up in San Bernardino, Fiscalini Park was where Fondy had played plenty of baseball.