JIM SLOAN ‘SHOT’ BEN HOGAN

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

Jim Sloan never really pushed his photos on anyone. In the media business, whether it’s on large metropolitan dailies or a mid-size, there are also small town dailies that attract a group of contributors ranging from writing correspondents to photographers. Sloan was a true professional.

The guy hustled, figured the angles, brandished his gear, fed film into the canisters, throwing his heart in the art long before modern technology – aka digital – was available.

Sloan, who specialized in Boy Scout photography throughout the years, had presented the local newspaper with a lengthy list of photos throughout the years. On the back of those mostly black-and-white glossies was the familiar hand stamp – “Photo by James Sloan.”

There were photos of President Eisenhower, especially during that time when the World War II general was living out his final years in the Coachella Valley. Sloan caught the ex-president in a variety of poses, mostly on the golf course.

Fellow photographer Ansel Adams, musician Stan Kenton and politician Ted Kennedy were among the celebrity shots. Plenty of stories could be written about his photography connections with those famous faces. In his own way, Sloan, himself, was a celebrity photographer.

One of his photos, however, stood out. I remember when he brought it into my office. “I got this,” he said, pulling the 2 x 4 black-and-white out a small white envelope, “when I was down in Texas. I got him to pose for this.”

I looked at the mug shot. Smiling, handsome, almost stylishly posing, was the familiar face of golf legend Ben Hogan.

459px-Ben_Hogan_Walking
This isn’t the photo that Jim Sloan provided to me during my days as a sports editor in Redlands. That photo, if it even still exists, is in possession of the newspaper. The Ice Man? This wasn’t the shot of golfing legend Ben Hogan that Redlands photographer Jim Sloan presented me with, but it will have to do (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

I glanced slyly at Sloan’s face. Hogan was a well-known recluse, a superstar who rarely claimed the spotlight. Players from Hogan’s era had often commented on Hogan’s arms-length distance, a coldness, a reluctance to seek the spotlight – but a legendary golfer.

Sloan’s photo was apparently opposite of such a philosophy. Was it a lie? Did Hogan occasionally shed that image? Was Sloan a personal friend? No, way. Couldn’t be. Ben Hogan, who had captured every major championship – four U.S. Opens, a British Open (in his only attempt), two Masters and two PGA titles – while overcoming that infamous 1949 car collision with a bus that nearly killed him.

All of which is a well-known story by now, part of history – along with that picturesque swing, the calmness, ice water in his veins, the famous comeback, the movie that depicted his life around the crash, Follow the Sun: The Ben Hogan Story. No sense in reciting all that here. This story is A Redlands Connection between a local photographer and a golfing icon that breathed immortality.

It was hard to trust Jim; I didn’t know him all that well, but I had to trust him. In a way, Jim Sloan was far more worthy than I was on a local front. A trick? A way to claim some kind of connection to a legend? A little self-indulgence? Redlands was a golf community, its country club often playing host to a variety of legendary connections. Wouldn’t it be great to fabricate a story with those golf partisans? A story connecting Jim Sloan to Ben Hogan would be a good one.

Golf had plenty of prominent connections to Redlands.

Club manufacturer Mario Cesario, whose son Greg was an All-American golfer at Arizona State, made golf clubs for Tom Watson, Nancy Lopez, Gene Littler and others – in Redlands. Watson himself even journeyed to Mario’s local shop for consultation.

Tiger Woods came to Redlands as a well-known five-year-old.

Phillips Finlay, younger brother of Madison Finlay, once took on Bobby Jones in the Roaring 20s. Or was twice? Or three times?

Dave Stockton, who famously outdueled Arnold Palmer at the 1970 PGA Championship, hailed from San Bernardino – but moved to Redlands.

On the other hand, here was a photo print of the Ice Man, Hogan’s historical nickname, that bore all of Sloan’s photographic trademarks. Remember my cynicism. That started melting away. I believed Jim Sloan was telling me the truth.

I asked the first question that came into my head.

“Did you shoot this photo in Redlands?”

Excuse my excitement. Jim, of course, had already told me that he was in Texas when he took the photo. Texas was Hogan’s home, somewhere near the Dallas area. I was excited to think that, somehow, Hogan might’ve traveled to Redlands.

All of which would have begged several questions: Why was he here? Who does he know from Redlands? Will he be returning here sometime? But, no, Hogan was never on local turf.

I wish I could re-create the conversation I had with Jim Sloan about his Hogan photo – but he was always in a hurry. There was no real conversation. Any time he showed up, it was always a quick-hitting visit. Sloan, in my memory, only showed up a few times for talk, presenting photos, or discussing some sports-related shot he’d taken. Something about the guy, always on the move, seemingly like he was late for something.

“I’ll give you this,” he said, “to use when he dies. Keep it in your obit file.”

And Jim Sloan disappeared. A few years later, Jim Sloan died. Hogan outlived him by a few years.

PART 1 – A REAL REDLANDS CONNECTION

Tiger Woods
Image credit: Tour Pro Golf Clubs

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

There seemed to be no master plan. Redlands has produced athletes. Coaches. Dramatic moments. Memorable moments. Historical moments. Connections beyond belief. Tennis & golf. Baseball & soccer. World Cup & the Olympics. Football & basketball. Bowling & auto racing. You name it. Children born to Redlands parents launched careers in various sports.

Sometimes, even outside legends came to the local area.

Think of Tiger Woods playing golf at Redlands.

Or these “connections”:

  • Pete Sampras played in a junior satellite tournament in Redlands.
  • Muhammad Ali never boxed here. But did he come to Redlands?
  • Former World Boxing Council welterweight champion Carlos Palomino did show up.
  • A couple of area second basemen – one from Redlands and the other from Colton – played against each other in the 1983 American League playoffs.
  • A Hall of Fame bowler once showed up once to roll a few practice frames en route to a PBA Arizona tournament.
  • Former NBA players John Block and Cazzie Russell, basketball’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966, brought in small college teams to coach against the University of Redlands.
  • Two years before Villanova won the NCAA Division 1 men’s college basketball championship, the Wildcats played on the same court at Redlands.
  • Landon Donovan, pro men’s soccer. A homegrown.
  • Heather Aldama, pro women’s soccer. Another homegrown.
  • A future NBA coach brought a horrible Pomona-Pitzer College team to beat Redlands, then launched a Hall of Fame career in San Antonio.
  • A former baseball Hall of Famer watched his grandson play center field at the University of Redlands.
  • One of college basketball’s greatest coaches spent two seasons in Redlands.
  • The original “Lucky Louie” learned to drive in Redlands around 1919 – then won three times at the Indianapolis 500.
  • Redlands produced a track & field Olympian in 1920. Eighty years later, there was a men’s soccer Olympian, a female high jumper, plus a male cyclist.
  • For a dozen years, a professional football team launched its season from the local university. The nostalgia was surreal. Names like Ollie Matson, Les Richter, Norm Van Brocklin, ElRoy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Tom Fears, plus Jane Russell’s husband, Bob Waterfield, were among those that showed up on local turf. The numbers of Hall of Famers attached to that group, which includes Pete Rozelle, Tex Schramm and Joe Stydahar, is off the charts.
  • A veteran baseball player scouted Oakland so effectively that the scouting report he turned over to 1973 New York Mets’ manager Yogi Berra nearly helped topple the A’s dynasty in the World Series.
  • Wimbledon entries. Golf’s U.S. Open. PGA Championship. A Harlem Globetrotter? An area tennis coach once tended to a world-ranked star. Local photographers that shot Ben Hogan and Wayne Gretzky.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/21462832908/in/photolist-yGACtf-21QZTjP-am2XuR-am2ThR-am5AsJ-am2Ubz-am5FA7-am5TMu-am2UZa-am5Bfh-am5WXf-am5NoL-am2QEM-am2DpK-am5qTS-am5JSu-am38Ga-am5M5G-am5w3U-am5urq-am3842-am37mg-am2WCR-am2RWc-am5t8G-am38W4-am339p-am5LLG-am2Qz6-am2EDt-am5TvW-am2YUV-am2VVH-am2SGz-am33HV-am2YAr-am5qm3-am5P5A-am2VPM-am5EU5-am5CP9-am2LoH-am5x2G-am2YnH-am5Lg3-am2LPg-am5rvJ-am32Dz-am5HTq-am2M2k
Image credit: “Yogi Berra at Shea Stadium Closing Ceremonies” by slgckgc licensed, CC BY 2.0.

Heaven forbid, there’s so much more.

There is a good chance that most Redlands athletes aren’t included in this book. In fact, count on it.

There’s a Hall of Fame at Redlands High and another one at the University of Redlands. That’s good enough for multiple all-league, all-conference, All-CIF or NCAA Division 3 All-Americans in any sport.

There are great soccer midfielders, tremendous water polo goalies, ball hawking safeties on a football field, along with some catchers and pitchers, hurdlers and pole vaulters, hitters from both the gridiron and diamond, rebounders, shooters and great glove men, plus swimmers and tennis stars who won’t make it into these blogs.

Let’s not forget the golfers.

In over 100 years at Redlands High School and over a century of athletic tradition at the University of Redlands, some of sports’ most cherished and respected names have touched the lives of local spectators. Played memorable games. Won league or conference championships. Or barely missed. Many of those accounts made the local daily newspapers.

These blogs aren’t intended to list each All-American, every all-leaguer, local all-star, league MVPs, conference players of the year, or even the kids that had All-Pro or All-Star aspirations, only to hit a bump in the road. It’s not even to pay tribute to the mainstream coaches that have conceived, trained, managed, and inspired teams to impressive championship seasons.

The exceptions, of course, are these: If they reached the pro ranks, or major colleges, Olympics, World Cup, an All-Star game, a professional draft, or something of note beyond just their local community, well … They’re in! Hopefully. We’ve researched a ton.

It’s a long, arduous task to corral all the Redlands greats. We’ve got most of them.  I think.

MOTOR RACING, FOOTBALL, SOCCER,

AND SCARY VOLLEYBALL BANQUET

Would it occur to anyone that Redlands High product named Jim Weatherwax could count himself as one having been coached by both Vince Lombardi and Jerry Tarkanian?

Or that Redlands High’s Brian Billick can claim as onetime employers Bill Walsh, Tom Landry and Lavell Edwards?

Gary Nelson, a classic grease monkey, got his start in auto racing working for a local legend, Ivan Baldwin, later serving as crew chief for NASCAR legends Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

That’s noteworthy.

As a Sports Editor whose time measured from 1981-2002, one of my biggest pet peeves was against pushy parents. Throughout the life and times of area news media, parents of even the top athletes fought for respect given to their much-decorated sons or daughters in print.

A classic example: Hours before the season-ending banquet for a CIF-Southern Section championship volleyball team, no less than three parents of athletes from that team contacted me by telephone at the local newspaper office.

They were upset about the way their daughters were “coached” by the author of this championship team. Their feelings was that he had been unfair. This coach, Gene Melcher, substituted their daughters in and out of matches, replacing their daughters with someone else’s daughter.

These telephone calls were made to reflect the fact that “something” might happen at the banquet, if not an actual boycott, casting a gray cloud over this championship banquet.

Wow! These parents waited until banquet night to settle a score with a coach? Settle a score with a coach who guided their team to the championship?

Talk about pushy parents. See? This is what you deal with on the sports desk of any newspaper – small, mid-size or major daily publication.

Since I was invited to attend, and speak, at the banquet, I could hardly wait to see what would take place. There could be an actual story for the newspaper. Imagine the headlines: “Parents disrupt team banquet!” I couldn’t wait to see if these parents had the bitterness to pull it off. It would have been off the charts for sheer gall. Imagine undermining an event at which they were celebrating the ultimate goal – a championship.

More than one observer has uttered the now-cliché phrase: “These parents wouldn’t be happy if God were coaching their team.”

During each of those phone calls, I gently tried calling out these parents, making a game attempt to talk them out of their funk. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than a parent who thinks their kid has been wronged.

Thankfully nothing out of the ordinary occurred. During my remarks, I was nervous over the fact that something might take place. In fact, the banquet went perfectly fine. Parents of these high school-aged athletes sat in complete celebration about the achievements of their daughters’ team.

Pushy parents can’t get their kids’ names into these blogs.

I can just hear some of those parents: “We’ll see about that.”

Read Part 2 here.