REDLANDS SHOOTER LEE CALKINS HAD INSIGHT TO FLASHY KINGS

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

The Great One was walking toward the parking lot. It was halfway through a high school championship golf match. I recognized him instantly and I knew exactly what to say.

“Lee Calkins says to say hello,” I said.

This was surprising to the man, who was scurrying off to the parking lot. Something about an appointment he couldn’t miss.

He’d been faster on a pair skates. Wayne Gretzky, who couldn’t have been more shocked, said, “What is Lee doing nowadays?”

I told him that Lee was the main photographer for a newspaper in Redlands.

Wayne Gretzky was walking off a golf course in Murrieta when Lee Calkins’ name was mentioned. He said, “Tell Lee I said hello.” (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Gretzky was in a hurry to leave. His son, Trevor, was playing golf for Oaks Christian High — a school way out in Los Angeles County. The team was good, too. The Great One had to show up to support his kid.

This was the National Hockey League’s greatest scorer. Arguments can be made that he’s the NHL’s greatest player.

Calkins, hired by the Redlands newspaper (at my recommendation, following a tryout), had sort of a fabled career in shooting sports.

For openers, he’d once worked for Topps, the baseball card company, shooting major leaguers for their annual bubble gum cards.

There always seemed to be something coming out of Lee’s mouth about Nolan Ryan. Then with the Angels, Lee caught the Ryan Express at Anaheim Stadium often enough.

“I’ll you this,” said Calkins. “I don’t think Nolan Ryan threw 100 miles an hour.”

Well, Lee, uh, you see, it’s kind of well-documented.

“Speed guns weren’t that accurate in those days,” said Calkins.

I’d shoot back. “You’re challenging the fact that Ryan threw 100 miles an hour?”

He paused and smiled. “I think he threw 125 miles an hour.”

Speechless, naturally.

You try to look for signs that he was kidding. There were no smiles. Maybe a little smirk. It was true, he was saying.

The other note about Calkins was the few years he’d spent shooting the Los Angeles Kings.

Then owned by Bruce McNall.

Then coached by Barry Melrose.

Players on that team included the phenomenal Marty McSorley, Luc Robitaille, defenseman Rob Blake, Jari Kurry. The goalie, of course, was Kelly Hrudey. Hockey history soared in L.A. during that era.

There was also, of course, Gretzky.

It should’ve come as no surprise that the Kings, during the 1992-93 season, skated into the Stanley Cup against the Montreal Canadiens. Only a few years earlier, Gretzky, McSorley & Co. had lifted the Edmonton Oilers to unbelievable heights.

McNall bought the Kings.

Nick Beverley, deputized by McNall to be an aggressive general manager, was turned loose.

L.A. took an all-out assault on the NHL. Players were acquired to turn the Kings into contenders.

Watching from the front row glass was none other than Calkins, who sped down the freeway from Redlands during those years.

There was Calkins, his lenses shining against the L.A. Forum ice in search those hockey shots.

There were a couple pages of Calkins’ in a coffee table book, “A Day in the NHL.”

Every arena was shot by someone. Calkins had the Forum.

I remember Lee saying, “The Kings were a rough team in those years. They led the NHL in penalty minutes.”

Remember, this is coming from a recreational player who donned the mask and gloves, playing goalie.

It was right around the year 2009, I think, when Gretzky and I came face to face. Never before. Never again.

“Will you do me a favor?” Gretzky asked that day.

Sure.

“Tell him I said hello.”

Sounded Lee Calkins’ name was probably the only way to get his attention.

It worked.

 

 

 

STEVE SCOTT: RUNNING UNOFFICIALLY THROUGH 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: World-class distance runner Steve Scott.

Steve Scott could’ve wiped out the field at the 2001 version of A Run Through Redlands.

Think about it.

There were 136 times in his career that Scott ran the mile in four minutes, or better. He held the American record in that distance for a quarter-century. His place in track & field’s history books are cemented forever.

That he showed up to run in Redlands was incredible. He wasn’t there to compete, though.

“I’ve got friends here,” he said, standing in front of a crowd of local runners. “I ran with them in the 5K … but I didn’t enter the race. This was just a fun run for me.”

SteveScott
Upland’s Steve Scott, who ran a mile under four minutes a world record 136 times, stopped by to run for fun at the 2001 Run Through Redlands (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

It must’ve never occurred to runners on that Sunday morning that they were running next to a legend.

It occurred to me, however, that I had a genuine story on my hands.

I gigged the local newspaper photographer, Lee Calkins, to get Scott’s photo. Scott, charming as he was spectacular, had given me his telephone number for, perhaps, a future feature article. I could hardly wait.

INTERVIEW WITH A LEGEND

Talk centered around that remarkable record of sub-four-minute miles. He was a legitimate superstar on the track – nationally and internationally.

He was just 22 when Britain’s Sebastian Coe set the world mile record (3:48.95) in Oslo, Sweden in 1979. Running second that day was none other than Scott, the miler from Upland. Eventually, his lifetime best over one mile was 3:47.69.

It seems almost sub-human to recognize his lifetime best in the 800 was 1:45.05.

Olympics?

Like many athletes in 1980, ready to erupt at the Games, he was part of a U.S. contingent that wasn’t allowed to attend the Moscow Olympics because America boycotted.

“I won (the 1500) at the Olympic Trials,” he told me. “I was ready for the Olympics, believe me.”

Scott did win the gold medal at the Liberty Games, an event organized to allow boycotting nations to enter their athletes. Held in Philadelphia, Scott held off Sudan’s Omer Khalefa by a fraction of a second in 3:40.19 over 1500 meters.

In the 1984 L.A. Games, Scott ran 10th in the 1500; fifth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Only one of his lifetime bests – 800, 1000, 1500, mile, 3000 or 5000 – was run on American soil. In the 5000-meter, Scott ran a 13:30.39 at legendary Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

“Running in Europe is great,” he said. “There’s nothing like it. Track is huge over there. You can really make some money.”

Appearance fees, purses, shoe sponsorships, bonuses for world records – “the big money is overseas,” said Scott. “There’s no big money in American track.”

Holder of the American one-mile record on three different occasions – becoming the first American to crack 3:50, incidentally – Scott set the American record (3:47.69) in July 1982.

When I spoke with Scott in 2001, he still held the American record in the mile (his record was broken in 2007 by Alan Webb, 3:46.91).

“I love road racing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether the race is on the track, indoor, outdoor, on the roads.”

I used to cover the Sunkist Invitational in Los Angeles, a pre-season indoor meet, when Redlands would send athletes. I wasn’t around when Scott ran his first mile under four minutes in 1977.

He raced against the likes of Sydney Maree, Ovett, Coe, Steve Cram – legendary figures over the mile distance.

Then there was the Dream Mile, he called it.

“Three of us,” Scott said, referring to New Zealand’s John Walker and Ireland’s Ray Flynn, “all ran under 3:50.”

It took place in Oslo, Norway in 1982. Scott won in 3:47.69, Walker was next in 3:49.08 and Flynn was third in 3:49.77.

“Whew,” Scott recalled. “I can’t remember a bigger race with that much speed.”

Walker’s run is still a national mark in New Zealand. So is Flynn’s mark in Ireland. Twenty-five years later, Webb cracked Scott’s record.

For Scott, it all started in high school. Who could have foreseen the moment that Scott would race against Walker, who logged 135 races under four minutes?

“I ran cross country at Upland High School,” he said. “There was a coach there who kept after me to run track.”

In the 1972 Olympics, a U.S. runner, Dave Wottle, had won the gold medal in the 800. Scott watched, then developed a strong desire to run track. In college at UC Irvine, Scott was NCAA Division 1 champion in the 1500.

“My times in high school were nothing special,” he said, referring to 1:58 in the 800 and 4:30 in the 1500.

“Running those (record) times in the mile, holding the record,” he said, “was the most special part of my career. Those were great feelings.”

COULD’VE WIPED OUT REDLANDS RACE

As for that 2001 Redlands’ 5K, consider that he once ran 5,000 meters in just over 13 minutes. In 2001, I seem recall the course record at just over 15 minutes – virtually a sprint.

Scott’s background produced a mark that was two minutes quicker.

What shouldn’t go unnoticed here is that A Run Through Redlands organizers, dating back to its origins in the early 1980s, couldn’t conceive they could offer up a significant event that a world figure might show up to run — even if it was a “fun run.”

Could he have wiped out the Redlands field, I asked him?

He smiled.

“Maybe.”