WHO’D REMEMBER JOHN BLOCK, AN NBA PLAYER DRAFTED BY THE LAKERS?

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 NBA player John Block.

By the early 1980s, I was a student of NBA history. I vividly remember those rabid NBA playoffs from the late 1960s — the Lakers and Celtics, the Warriors and 76ers … all those Russell vs. Chamberlain matchups … Kareem taking over Russell’s duels against Chamberlain.

When John Block, UC San Diego’s coach for a time (1980-83), brought his Tritons’ squad to the Redlands Tournament one year, I knew his NBA background.

It wasn’t hard to forget a former NBA player that spent a decade going up against the world’s greatest players.

Milwaukee coach Larry Costello brought Block in for a season, hoping his 6-10 bulk could take a little pressure off Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

At Redlands, I said to him, “Give me a status report on small-college basketball for the Tritons.”

He laughed. Block was just starting a coaching career. There was a lot to learn.

“Where do I start?” he asked.

This guy had been teammates with Kareem and Oscar Robertson with the Bucks.

1966 file photo of Lakers John Block.
John Block, a 6-foot-10 forward who played with a variety of NBA  teams after being drafted by the Lakers, brought his UC San Diego team in to play at the Redlands tournament in the early 1980s (photo by NBA Retired Players Association).

After his USC days, he’d been an original draft choice (third round, 27th pick), of all places, the Los Angeles Lakers. Teammates with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. He didn’t have far to travel. USC and the Lakers both played home games at the Sports Arena.

Traded to the San Diego Rockets where Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes was an NBA scoring champ.

He didn’t last long with the Bucks. He wound up with one of the NBA’s all-time worst teams in Philadelphia, where he won a spot on the NBA All-Star team.

Teammates with Nate “Tiny” Archibald at Kansas City-Omaha.

A year later, he was at New Orleans, playing alongside “Pistol” Pete Maravich.

In his final season, 1976, he was with a Chicago Bulls’ squad that included Artis Gilmore.

This 6-foot-10 guy could shoot — 11.9 points a game, plus nine rebounds and four assists over 10 pro seasons.

All of a sudden, a guy with all those credentials showed up coaching against Redlands.

Those uneventful years at UCSD — 32-46 covering 1980-83.

Redlands beat his team in its own tournament.

“Nothing to report, really,” said Block. “I’m just getting this team going. I’ll know in a year, or so.”

It was tough recruiting at an NCAA Division III campus, he told me.

Redlands’ recruits beat his recruits that night in Currier Gymnasium.

 

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.

 

 

 

A CHANCE TO ASK FERGUSON JENKINS ABOUT DUROCHER — IN 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: Former Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.

Here’s where being a media member has its advantages:

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins had appeared in Redlands to conduct a youth clinic at Community Field and, perhaps, sign a few autographs.

Chicago Cubs’ fans were plentiful throughout the country.

One venerable veterinarian, who lived in Redlands, could recite all the Cubs’ doctrine from those Jenkins years.

Here are the guys that fans instantly thought about when recalling those Cubs’ teams from the 1960s: Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks were the headliners. Jenkins, of course, was the ace pitcher.

Leo Durocher was Cubs’ manager, a fact that wasn’t enthusiastically accepted by the local vet.

“Durocher ruined Jenkins’ career,” said the vet. “He used him too much. Ruined his arm.”

He was adamant. Mind couldn’t be changed on that.

ferguson Jenkins
Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins spent a few hours in Redlands, teaching baseball to youths and answering questions about former manager Leo Durocher (photo by Wikipedia).

This, of course, was years later — after baseball had starting dedicating a full core of relief pitchers to win games. In Jenkins’ days, legendary pitchers like Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Mickey Lolich, Don Drysdale, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, you name it, would pitch 300-plus innings each year.

Bullpens weren’t quite as deep.

So here was Jenkins in my sight line: “Tell me about Leo Durocher.”

Jenkins took it from there.

“Leo helped make my career. If it weren’t for him … I’ll tell you, he taught me a lot. I owe him a lot. I owe a lot of my career to him.”

Under Durocher, Jenkins became one of baseball’s top hurlers.

“When I got traded to the Cubs,” he said, referring to the 1966 deal in which Philadelphia traded away a future Hall of Famer to the Cubs, “we were the worst team in baseball.”

Durocher had just been named Cubs’ manager. Jenkins, under Durocher, won 20 games in six straight seasons — all seasons that Durocher had managed him, incidentally.

“He worked you, no question about that,” said Jenkins.

The Cubs never won a pennant, a division championship, or made it to the World Series.

“Some of those years we came to spring training,” said Jenkins, “and we knew we’d have a chance to win … because of Leo. He turned that team around in Chicago.”

Where was that vet, that so-called Cubs’ fan? He needed to be listening to all this.

The guy who’d been teammates with Ruth & Gehrig, turned the Brooklyn Dodgers into pennant winners, managed Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, among others, he was, perhaps, baseball’s greatest connection to multiple generations.

“I never had any trouble with Leo,” said Jenkins. “I know what people say about him, what they try to insinuate.”

If there was a criticism of Durocher from that 1969 season, said Jenkins, “it’s probably that he never gave our regular guys a break.”

It was Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Jim Hickman, Randy Hundley and Don Young. The Cubs took second to the Miracle Mets.

Jenkins finished 21-15 with a 3.21 ERA over 311 1/3 innings that season.

I still have no idea how someone from Redlands had lured the fabulous Jenkins (284-226 over 19 seasons) to Community Field in the early 1990s.

It was almost an afterthought that Julio Cruz, a onetime Redlands High player, and Rudy Law, a former Dodger and White Sox player, had also showed up. Infield play, outfield play, a little hitting.

Later, I was told that ex-Pirates’ pitcher Dock Ellis had shown up — too late to be noticed. Ellis, it’s likely remembered, is the pitcher who surrendered the tape measure home run hit by Reggie Jackson out of Tiger Stadium at the 1971 All-Star game.

Jenkins, incidentally, was one of just four N.L. pitchers in that 6-4 loss to the A.L. Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal pitched in his final mid-summer classic and so did Houston’s Don Wilson.

Imagine, two of the N.L.’s four all-star pitchers had shown up in Redlands a couple decades later.

Jenkins had arrived at Community Field in a white limousine. Dressed in his Cubs’ uniform. Showed kids his style of pitching.

“Show ’em your wallet,” he said, demonstrating his high-leg kick, twisting his torso with his left buttock toward the hitter, “and let it fly.”

That’s how a Hall of Famer did it.

Fans might not remember this, Jenkins said, “but Leo converted me into a starting pitcher. I’d been a reliever. He turned my career around. I became a Hall of Famer.”

Jenkins left Redlands like he’d arrived — in that white limo.

 

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.”