TOM FLORES’ TIES TO THE OLD AFL DAYS

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: Tom Flores.

I still remember the day when the onetime Oakland Raiders’ legend showed up at the University of Redlands.

Before Tom Flores’ speaking appearance that day, I’d been given an hour to sit with him in an adjoining room inside the school’s chapel. I grew up in Raider Territory, a town called Hayward, some 20 minutes south of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It allowed me a little background for this little chat.

“I’ll bet you,” he said, “that you can’t name the original eight AFL teams.”

“You guys started in Minnesota,” I told him.

Tom FLores (Silver & Black Pride)
Tom Flores, standing in front of his team in preparation for a game, led the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders to Super Bowl victories. In between those triumphs, Flores spoke at the University of Redlands (photo by Black & White pride).

Flores, who’d played collegiately at the College of Pacific in Stockton, smiled. I thought I had him.

Name the other ones, he challenged me.

I almost got them all. Buffalo Bills, Boston Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. Oh, and the New York Jets.

“Not perfect,” he said.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the Dallas Texans. The Jets were originally the New York Titans.

One of Flores’ memories: “I remember we were being paged over the intercom at the airport. They said, ‘Oklahoma Raiders.’

“They didn’t know if we were truck drivers or pro football players.”

The AFL weren’t exactly household names in those early 1960s. It was, he recalled, all-out war between the AFL and NFL.

After several minutes of taking on Flores’ trivia questions, he was introduced to a couple hundred audience members.

“There’s something about those stained-glass windows,” said Flores, noting the inner décor of the University of Redlands’ ancient chapel. “I had a few off-colored stories I was going to share with you, but I don’t think I’d better do that.”

He was part of pro football history. The part of the old American Football League that merged with the National Football League in 1970.

Flores had played QB for the Raiders. He wound up as an assistant coach to the legendary John Madden.

When Madden stepped aside as Raiders’ coach after the 1978 season, Managing General Partner Al Davis tabbed Flores as his head coach. What lied ahead were two Super Bowl championships, one in Oakland, the other in Los Angeles.

Flores’ visit to Redlands came in between those two titles.

“I don’t mingle in any of that,” Flores told me, referring to the conflict his boss, Davis, was having with the NFL and its commissioner, Pete Rozelle. “It’s hard enough to get a team ready to play.

“Teams don’t need all those other distractions.”

He was totally in Davis’ corner.

“I think he’s right. Six years ago, we had one of the best stadiums in football. Now, we’re one of the worst. Everybody has passed us by.”

That 27-10 Super Bowl win in New Orleans over Philadelphia in 1980 had some errant media coverage, he told that Redlands audience.

“We’re publicized as a team that has no discipline,” he said. “When we went to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, they publicized the fact that everyone on the team was out on Bourbon Street every night. Well, that wasn’t true at all.

“Only half the team was out.”

Audience members had questions.

On football’s best player:

“There are several and I should go position by position. But I think Walter Payton is one of the most complete backs in the NFL. He’d sure fit in with the Raiders.”

On the upcoming NFL draft:

“We’re not limited to a position in the draft. But I think we’ll look for an offensive back or receivers. If there’s one out there we like, we’ll take a dominating defensive player.”

On Davis:

“As long as I win, we get along great.”

 

PART 4: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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

Check out the earlier parts first if you haven’t yet!

After getting his college degree at Humboldt  State (Calif.) – Giants and A’s country, incidentally – my baseball-loving son Danny moved away to Tallahassee, Florida. Master’s degree. Marriage to Sara. Job. Career. A son, Elliott. While he claimed that his baseball interests died a little because he had no one around to share it, I’d long suspected that baseball’s PED controversies chipped away at how he viewed baseball.

“I don’t think it’s fair, Dad, that those guys are kept out of the Hall of Fame.”

I blame the unfairness and ineptitude of the media for killing Danny’s baseball love. I think he does, too.

Danny, plus my youngest son, Chet, aren’t advocating PED use. All they see is a widespread dose of unequal justice. They see media corruption. In other words, the players didn’t do any more wrong than the media did in failing to properly cover the corruption. How can they be allowed into the selection process when they failed at their own reporting assignments?

By voting those same players – Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, et al – as MVP or Cy Young winners, that fraternity of media was also part of the problem. It’s some of the more disgusting acts of hypocrisy. Many held out their votes for the Hall of Fame.

Many of those media types show up on TV, or as columnists, or on blogs, nodding, saying, “See? See? We told ya.”

They watched Verducci, “Game of Shadows” and Jose Canseco break the stories, or write their books. In effect, they got scooped. They piggy-backed on their research to stand up against PED users.

Jose Canseco (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Maybe Jose Canseco was as much of a hero off the field as he was on the field – using PED, then later confessing to the process. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Where were they when it counted? As sports editor of a small-city newspaper, I relied on their expertise and frontline coverage to properly present readers with stories. I wasn’t in MLB clubhouses like they were.

They’re not guardians of the Hall of Fame gates as they proclaim themselves. In fact, it wasn’t until after all of those golden on-field moments took place when they took action. Too late.

It’s a simple fact for Danny: Baseball’s over, at least in his mind. The sport has lost a fan.

Chet continues to surge ahead. His love for the game continues. His disgust for the Hall of Fame criteria, however, has increased. For the media. For the Hall voters, he’s spewing out total acrimony. Each January for the past few years, Chet seethes over the perceived injustice.

Brown_Chet
My son, Chet, doesn’t like the current Hall of Fame practices, but he still loves the game.

He questions Selig’s own 2017 induction, claiming that it was under his watch that baseball’s PED involvement had surged to unforeseen heights.

How dare Selig be allowed in while Bonds, among others, has been kept out. If the media, Commissioner’s office, not to mention each team had done its respective jobs, PED usage would’ve been exposed early enough and, perhaps, stamped out.

I don’t think Chet’s the only one that feels this way.

Previous Hall inductees Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre should’ve and could have known. La Russa fronted for McGwire with the media. He took up on McGwire’s side, pushing away media that dared to assault the single season HR record holder. For years, too.

Until McGwire confessed.

Torre and Cox, too, had guys in their clubhouses – Sheffield, Canseco, Man-Ram, A-Rod, plus others – that enhanced their playing efforts by using PED. World Series championships were claimed with “dirty” players on their rosters.

Weren’t those managers also part of the problem? Let’s give them benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps they didn’t encourage PEDs. But it was happening under their very noses. In their clubhouses. Did nothing to help clean up their sport.

Somehow, they all got a Hall pass to Cooperstown.

You almost get tired of hearing the refrain from voters, or the observers that don’t have a vote but want to interfere.

“Bonds was on his way to the Hall of Fame until 1998. But …”

There is no “but.”

What’s left is a mess. Millions like Danny and Chet continue to, perhaps, fret at the notion that suspected PED users Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez have been inducted. Meanwhile, some of baseball’s brightest stars have been left out.

It’s a deeply personal conclusion to a saga that won’t go away.

PART 3: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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

If you haven’t yet, check out parts 1 and 2 first!

Like baseball fans throughout the world, the Hall of Fame means something in my household. When one of your own gets inducted, there’s an almost electric feeling of pride connected to that honor.

Every time a Yankee – Yogi, Mickey, Joe D., Whitey, the Babe and Lou, among others – goes into Cooperstown, an entire legion of fans springs into emotionally-charged action. Right? Fans from each MLB team have a connection to every Hall of Famer.

Despite its many “connections,” no one from Redlands has ever been inducted into baseball’s sacred Hall.

From my own memories, the only Hall of Famers to show up in Redlands – I know, there has to be more – were pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and hitting star Duke Snider.

Ferguson Jenkins (Photo by Commons)
Ferguson Jenkins, a baseball Hall of Famer, was one of two known such inductees to show up in Redlands – for a youth baseball clinic. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Jenkins showed up at Redlands Community Field – white stretch limousine and all – in the mid 1990s. He was part of a youth baseball camp. Along with Redlands’ own Julio Cruz and former MLB outfielder Rudy Law, that trio gave a free clinic to dozens of local ball-playing youth.

Then hung around for an autograph session later. Danny, my oldest, was one of those kids who got autographs. Jenkins, Law and Cruz couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, a newspaper photo published the day after showed Danny next to Jenkins, a Cy Young Award winner.

Memorable.

As for Snider, the one-time legendary center fielder for the Dodgers – both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles – he showed up at the University of Redlands to watch his grandson play. Multiple times, in fact.

After one game, Bulldog coach Scott Laverty came up to me just outside Redlands’ dugout.

“I saw you sitting next to Duke,” he said.

Duke?

I had no idea what he was talking about, or who he was talking about. I’d just been talking to some guy. I had no idea I was sitting next to a Hall of Famer.

“Duke Snider,” Laverty said. “I thought I saw you talking to him.”

Duke Snider (Photo by Wikipidia Commons)
Duke Snider, whose legendary batting helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers into five World Series, showed up in Redlands to watch his grandson play. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Duke Snider? Are you kidding? THE Duke Snider?

“That’s his grandson playing for us in center.”

Jordan Snider, an all-conference outfielder in 2007, had played center field for Redlands that day. From nearby Temecula. The Duke lived just south of there, in Escondido, perhaps – San Diego County.

Neither Jenkins nor Snider were ever caught up in the PED nonsense that plagued the sport as we turned into this century. Their places in the Hall are safe and secure.

Not quite, though, for other significant ballplayers.

I interviewed both men for stories in local media. Both were fabulous.

They came from a different era, long before the sport was affected by PED use. Suddenly, guys like Jenkins and Snider were overshadowed by known PED users like Clemens and Bonds.

“It’s like they stamped out the guys I used to root for,” said my oldest son, Danny, who at one time was a rabid baseball fan. Hey, there are some guys that made it clean. Cal Ripken, Jr., Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Tony Gwynn were in his card collection.

Check out part 4 here!

PART 1: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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

Here is how baseball’s Hall of Fame PED controversies has affected me, my family and, perhaps, a generation of baseball fans:

The raucous, unfair and unprofessional behavior of around 500-plus voting media members has rendered the process as complete buffoonery. It’s a cartoon of mass proportions. While the media continues to swing and miss in all its political coverages – whether you lean politically left or right – its Hall of Fame contributions may be among the most shameful display of professional conduct.

It’s almost as if the Hall-selecting committee exhibits no code of conduct.

It’s deep and personal when the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are kept out of the Hall. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, plus Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez. Jose Canseco could’ve had a shot. And Gary Sheffield, plus Alex Rodriguez.

On Jan. 22, 2018, four more players were elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America. None of the afore-mentioned claimed a spot, though A-Rod is not yet eligible.

My son, Danny, collected all their baseball cards in the early 1990s. Born in 1984, the kid followed my lead into following a sport in which many fathers and sons enjoyed together. Danny bought, traded and craved baseball cards.

Danny mug
My son, Danny Brown, was a rabid baseball fan who, perhaps, stepped away from the sport once inequality of media bias started to stain the Hall of Fame.

That little guy, age eight on up, adored those cards.

He memorized their stats.

We went to games, seeking autographs afterwards.

When it was time for the World Series, or the playoffs, or a huge pennant race game, we had the TV on full bore.

My youngest son, Chet, had pictures. Cards. Autographs. Autographed balls. He stared relentlessly at TV screens whenever Bonds came to bat. On those trips to the ball park, there were no trips to the rest room or snack bar when the Giants’ lineup was only a couple players away from Bonds’ spot in the batter’s box.

As the PED drama played out, dozens of players were spotlighted for using performance enhancing drugs. In the cases of the afore-mentioned players, it’s possible they’ll never be inducted into the sport’s greatest showcase.

I remember Danny saying to me, “Dad, I don’t know who to believe any more. It’s like they’re taking my childhood heroes away.”

Eight years younger than Danny, Chet completely bought in – BIG TIME – to the San Francisco Giants. At a time when Bonds was asserting himself into baseball’s home run chase, Chet was like millions of others.

Barry Bonds (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Barry Bonds, a San Francisco treat, was considered a traitor to the game by almost every other baseball fan other than the Giants. There are plenty that believe he belongs in Cooperstown. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Watching. Admiring. Enjoying those magical moments.

Milestone moments like 500 home runs. 600. 660, tying Willie Mays. 700. Then 715, cracking the Babe. Finally, 756, working his way past Hank Aaron.

He was almost at the game against Washington when Bonds slugged No. 756. I wouldn’t let him, nor his sister, Kelli, go to a night game by themselves. They went up to the Bay Area to stay with my mom and grandparents. Kelli was just 18. Chet wasn’t yet 14. Imagine letting two kids at that age loose on the subway train – alone in The City. With all those vagabonds? Not at night. It was hard enough letting them go in daylight hours.

Meanwhile, I was on the road with Danny, heading for Tallahassee, so I could drop him off at Florida State.

I’d picked the game after – a day game – in trying to predict when Bonds would go deep for No. 756. Got them game tickets. Airline tickets. They missed seeing the record-breaker by a day. By the way, Bonds wasn’t in the Giants’ lineup in that game.

To this day, I’m kidded and reviled for being such a bad father.

A few years earlier, Chet had been at World Series Game Six. October 2002. Angels and Giants. In Anaheim. Leading 3-2 in games, anticipating the Giants’ first World Series championship since 1954, he watched Bonds strike a massive HR off Frankie “K-Rod” Rodriguez. It was a Hall of Fame moment.

It wasn’t so pretty to watch a 9-year-old boy crying after the game. The Giants had blown a 5-0 lead. They lost. One day later, the Angels claimed the World Series trophy.

Chet, like millions of others, was in total awe of Bonds. His swing. His power. His complete dominance of pitchers, some of whom may have been using PEDs.

Hall of Fame selectors missed their chance to cover the story when it was taking place. They cannot now re-enact their mistakes by voting to keep the top candidates from their chance at glory.