DAVID ROGERS: A BACK-RIDING PERFORMER WINS GOLD

WYSOCKI’S JUMP FROM REDLANDS TO L.A. GAMES

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

Clay Brooks raved about Ruth Kleinsasser.

So did Ted Runner.

Brooks, who spent years as the University of Redlands track & field coach, was a true professor of his sport.

Runner, whose presence on that campus as an athlete, coach and, ultimately, director of athletics, was fond of track. He’d competed. For years, he coached. It almost seemed like he kept a closer eye on that sport than he did anything else.

When Kleinsasser (eventually Ruth Wysocki) stepped onto the track at the Los Angeles Coliseum nine years after spending her freshman season at Redlands, the two men – Brooks and Runner – watched with great interest.

The Alhambra-born Kleinsasser, who ran at Azusa High School, was a prized performer at Redlands for one season.

What made Kleinsasser special was her true dedication to the sport. As a track star, she’s a lifer.

It started in age-group races in the late 1960s, starting an eventual period of about 30 years, until she became a Masters (over-40) runner in 1997.

As an Azusa High senior in 1973, she ran a 2:16 to win the CIF Southern Section 880-yard championship. She also sped around the track to win the 440 (57.3). That’s as tough of a double is in any championship meet.

Since there was no State meet held for girls that year – one would start in 1975, Kleinsasser never had a chance to prove her domination.

By the 1975 season, Kleinsasser was running at Redlands, primarily because internationally-renowned Bulldog coach Vince Reel had come out of retirement. Reel, in fact, met Kleinsasser halfway. He trained her in Claremont.

Ruth Wysocki
Former University of Redlands runner Ruth Wysocki, then known as Ruth Kleinsasser, beat Mary Decker Slaney, right, at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the women’s 1500-meter – one of the shocking upsets that year in track (Photo by runmoremiles.com).

A YEAR IN REDLANDS

Reel, who was married to Chinese star Chi Cheng, had international status, especially since he’d lured some top talent – Chinese sprint star Lee Shiu-Chia, middle distance runners Chee Swee Lee, plus Donna Fromme and some dandy runners like distance star Molly O’Neil, hurdler Pam Ashe, sprinters Gloria Kennedy, Lynn Jones and Denise Becton.

Throw Kleinsasser into that mix. If only she’d lasted four seasons.

Reel wrote about his own exploits. Part of his writings were about Ruth, including her season at Redlands.

Vince Reel
Vince Reel, shown her as a Long Beach City College athlete, where he was State champion in the 100 and 220, in the early 1930s. A two-time sprint champion at Occidental College in 1936, he was fourth in the NCAA 220 championships for Occidental College.He would become a huge connection in the track world as a coach –  Long Beach Wilson High School Track and Field Coach (1938-1957), moving on to Claremont College (1958-71), coming out of retirement to coach Redlands through 1979. He was also the Olympic track & field coach for India (1960) and China (1972). Reel was the founder of “Women’s Track and Field” magazine. (Photo credit: Long Beach City College).

Admittedly, Kleinsasser dropped out of Redlands. “I realize I had chosen the wrong school. Not that it isn’t a wonderful place; it was not just the right place for me.”

“That was before the NCAA for women,” Kleinsasser told Reel in the days when women’s sports were governed by the old AIAW. Truth is, in those days, Redlands’ men were part of the NAIA, not the NCAA.

In reality, Kleinsasser wasn’t even the fastest half-miler on her own team. That same season, Lee Chiu-Shia ran a 2:05.36 in the SPAA meet at track-rich Occidental College, just outside of Pasadena.

At the Bakersfield Invitational, Kleinsasser posted her 2:07.6.

A more familiar name may well be Ruth Wysocki. That came after she married top national distance runner Tom Wysocki.

What made her a Redlands Connection was the year she spent at the University of Redlands. In 1975, she ran fast – the 2:07.6 in the 800, plus a 56.80 in the 400 at the Long Beach Invitational – but she headed back to Citrus College.

More domination. At Citrus, running as Ruth Caldwell, she scored victories in the State cross country championship for both 1977 and 1978.

During the spring track seasons in 1978 and 1979, she was State champion in both the 800 and 1500.

There was a pattern here. Like many international competitors, she was laying the groundwork for the Olympics. In fact, she ran a 2:03, qualifying for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials – still under Reel’s watch. She was 19. Ruth took eighth in the Trials.

She was on-again, off-again training – seriously, pondering, planning. She’d gone from Ruth Kleinsasser to Ruth Caldwell and, finally, to Ruth Wysocki.

WYSOCKI SLAYED SLANEY

If there was a top-flight moment for the ex-Redlands runner, it might be these:

Wysocki upset highly-touted USA star Mary Decker to win the 800 at the 1978 U.S. Championships in 2:01.99. Wysocki scored another upset victory against Decker (eventually Slaney) at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, this time in the 1500-meter.

It was huge at that time. Still is … huge, that is.

Wysocki outsprinted Slaney to win the Trials in 4:00.18 – her lifetime best.

It was Tom Wysocki, training for the Trials, that had convinced his wife to train for the Olympics.

Brooks, who was Reel’s successor at Redlands and Runner, who were both coming to the end of their Redlands careers, watched with curiosity as the one-year Lady Bulldog star made her way into the L.A. Games.

She finished sixth in the 800 and eighth in 1500.

To veteran observers like Brooks and Runner, it was a Redlands victory. One of their own had reached the pinnacle of the sport.

Who cared if the Eastern Bloc nations had boycotted the 1984 Games?

Remember, these were the games of Carl Lewis’ 4-event gold medal.

The women included sprinters Valerie Brisco-Hooks, Evelyn Ashford, plus Flo Jo – Florence Griffith Joyner – plus onetime San Gorgonio High School star Sherri Howard (4 x 400 gold medalist), Jackie Joyner-Kersee, along with marathon champion Joan Benoit.

More men: Britain’s Daley Thompson scored his second straight decathlon title.

Hurdler Edwin Moses. Triple jumper Al Joyner.

ANOTHER REDLANDS CONNECTION

Adding to the flavor of Redlands connections:

One year before the L.A. Games, Redlands held its annual invitational on its cinder track. Two interested participants were Air Force Academy (Colo.) and Azusa Pacific University, among over a dozen other team entries.

In the meet-concluding 4 x 400 relay, Air Force’s Alonzo Babers and Azusa’s Innocent Egbunike ran neck-and-neck on the anchor lap. They might have even brushed against one another halfway on the final lap.

Egbunike could be seen turning his head in Babers’ direction. Neither runner broke stride.

At the finish, Egbunike prevailed.

One year later, the two met in the open 400-meter – Egbunike for his native Nigeria and Babers for the U.S.

Babers won the gold in 44.27 seconds. Egbunike took last in 45.35.

The two would meet again in the 4 x 400 relay.

Sunder Nix, Ray Armstead, Babers and Antonio McKay won the gold, prevailing in 2:57.91. Nigeria, anchored by Egbunike, ran third in 2:59.32.

As for Wysocki, that Redlands Connection kept going for years.

Over a decade later, in 1995, Wysocki ran seventh in the 1500 at the Championships in Athletics in Gothenburg.

In 1997, Wysocki set several Masters records at distances from 800 to 5000 on the track, plus 5K and 8K road races.

She was surrounded by distance runners.

Her dad, Willis Kleinsasser, was a successful Masters athlete.

Alan Kleinsasser, her brother, ran a 1:50.5 over 800 meters and a 3:52.2 clocking in the 1500 – both school records at Caltech in Pasadena.

Then, of course, her husband, Tom produced 13:35.33 in the 5000-meter and 28:19.56 in the 10,000.

WYSOCKI AT THE L.A. OLYMPICS

It wasn’t going to be easy. Despite the absence of the Eastern Bloc nations, that boycott led by the old Soviet Union, there was still plenty of international talent.

On Aug. 6, Romanian Doina Melinte circled the Coliseum track twice to score gold in 1:57.60. USA’s Kim Gallagher, whom Wysocki had encountered on plenty of occasions, won silver in 1:58.63. Melinte’s teammate, Fita Lovin, won the bronze in 1:58.53.

Wysocki ran sixth (2:00.34).

She also qualified in the 1500, held on Aug. 11.

Wysocki was America’s best in that event, but she took eighth (4:08.32), nowhere close to her best mark set at the Trials.

Melinte won the silver, barely nosed out by Italy’s Gabriella Dorio (4:03.25), the Romanian a fraction behind in 4:03.76 with yet another Romanian, Maricica Puica winning bronze (4:04.15).

Wysocki had to be thinking if she’d matched her lifetime best – that 4:00.18 at the Olympic Trials – she’d have been a gold medalist.

She told Reel, “Even though the Olympics didn’t go really great for me, when I got to Europe after the Olympics, I beat everybody that beat me in the Olympics, including (Dorio).”

It was, she said, some vindication.

Brooks, for his part, sent plenty of half-milers out to do battle in Lady Bulldog colors.

Runner, meanwhile, often reflected on the year that Ruth Kleinsasser ran at Redlands.

“She was,” he said, “not just a hard worker.” Runner said, observers could easily tell, “she had a game plan in any race she ran.”

She even made one last game attempt to qualify for the 1996 Olympics at 38.

That one season, 1975, she was a Redlands Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROBBIE HUDSON: STRANGE PATHWAY TO TEXAS LONGHORNS’ INFIELD

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

I still ask myself how?

How in the world did Redlands’ Robbie Hudson work his way to Riverside City College, the class of California Junior College baseball, to — of all places — the University of Texas.

The 2001 Redlands High graduate, who was part of a nice collection of Terrier ballplayers from that era — outfielder Curt Mendoza taken by Cleveland, infielder Chris Wilson selected by Texas, Chris Hernandez plucked by the Pirates, plus catcher Bret Martinez taken by the Angels — who eventually got drafted by MLB teams.

That Hudson survived seven seasons in minor league baseball after his collegiate years is a testament to how tough this little non-power, 170-pound infielder was over his career.

I remember seeing Hudson’s photo — leaping in the air to snag a throw from his Longhorns’ catcher — appearing on the Associated Press wire.

That’s big!

Robbie Hudson
Redlands’ Robbie Hudson, a College World Series champion.

In the end, Hudson batted nearly 2,000 times in minor league games — a .249 average, 16 total HRs, playing either second base or shortstop. He never was an all-out regular, appearing in a career-high 112 games for the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2006.

That was just one season after helping the Texas Longhorns win the College World Series.

Robbie’s dad, Bob, just laughed at the questions.

Redlands to RCC? RCC to Texas? Texas, it seemed, wasn’t in the habit of picking up junior college recruits, especially from California.

“Texas didn’t have any guys on that team,” said Bob Hudson, “out of California — except Robbie.”

There was one from Colorado. Another from Oklahoma. Virginia and Louisiana each landed one. Hudson was wrong about his son being the only Californian. Thomas Incaviglia came from Monterey. All others were homegrown Texans.

Hitting .287 and .292 in back-to-back seasons on that Longhorns’ team, Hudson played a considerable role in Texas’ championship years.

He was teammates with future No. 1 picks like Drew Stubbs, Huston Street, J.P. Howell, Kyle McCulloch, not to mention highly-regarded catcher Taylor Teagarden.

Hudson had gone from one great coach, RCC’s Dennis Rogers, to another, Texas’ Augie Garrido.

Augie Garrido
Texas coach Augie Garrido, who left Cal State Fullerton to take over at the University of Texas, had Redlands’ Robbie Hudson in the Longhorns’ lineup when they won the 2005 College World Series (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In 2004, Garrido’s Longhorns reached the College World Series championship finals, but lost to Cal State Fullerton in a two-game sweep, 3-2 and 6-4.

Hudson wasn’t in the lineup in a game saved by Street, an eventual MLB closer.

There had to be some irony involved that Fullerton had once been Garrido’s team, having departed the Titans after the 1996 season for the legendary Longhorns.

Future Dodger slugger Justin Turner was a prime member of Fullerton. Southpaw Ricky Romero (13-5, 2.86 ERA), another MLB-bound player, was its top pitcher. So was Wes Roehmer (7-3, 3.80). Both hurlers were first-round picks.

One season later, Hudson’s senior year, the Longhorns won it all.

Imagine having to get past Baylor. Or Tulane. Or Florida.

Texas (52-16) beat Florida twice, 6-2 and 4-2, to wrap up the CWS.

Truth be told, there weren’t all that many glittering names that would become MLB stars.

Baylor, for instance, had just one No. 1 pick, pitcher Mark McCormack (St. Louis).

Florida had Matt La Porta and pitcher Darren O’Day, who was still toiling on the MLB mound in 2018.

MLB teams must be salivating over a collegiate championship team, looking at each and every player in hopes of landing a future major leaguer.

Hudson, taken in the draft by the Chicago White Sox, had to be a prime example.

He swiped 69 minor league bases, knocked out 88 doubles and 10 triples, hitting only into 29 double plays and fielded .963.

Spending time in the Philadelphia, Seattle and San Diego chains, his minor league stops included Class AA Birmingham, Class AAA Tucson and Lehigh (Pa.), not to mention Class A Winston-Salem in such legendary spots as the Carolina League, Southern League and the International League, among others.

In the minors, Hudson was teammates with plenty of No. 1 MLB picks — John Mayberry, Jr., Jack Cust, Nate Nump, Jason Grilli, Joe Savery, Phillippe Aumont, Aaron Heilman and Gordon Beckham, plus Buster Posey’s current backup catcher Nick Hundley (San Francisco).

There may have been no better spot than Omaha, Neb., however — legendary site of Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the College World Series. Hudson singled in his final collegiate game.

Rosenblatt Stadium, it turns out, was home over a four-year stretch (2002-2005) to former Redlands ballplayers. Hernandez, pitching for University of South Carolina, had been there in back-to-back years with the Gamecocks in 2002 and 2003.

Hudson showed up there in 2004 and 2005.

 

 

 

 

POWER PITCHING CHRIS HERNANDEZ LANDED IN COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

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 honor of the College World Series, which is getting underway.

Redlands’ Chris Hernandez had a nice fastball, good command.

Chris Hernandez
Redlands’ Chris Hernandez got his shot at the College World Series — twice, in fact, with the University of South Carolina (photo by USC).

He was part of some nice Redlands High School teams which, for some reason, has never reached a CIF Southern Section championship game in well over 100 years of taking the diamond.

Out a fairly impressive list of Redlands High pitchers — Shaun Benzor, Richie Burgess, Ben Washburn, John Herrera, David Quinowski, plus MLB veteran Ed Vande Berg and current RHS pitching coach Gary Pool — Hernandez was one of the best of that Terrier chain, sans Vande Berg.

In one game article describing his pitching, I’d referred to Hernandez as a “non-power” pitcher, noting observations made by three scouts having while observing.

It’s the kind of thing writers long for while watching a prep game. Hearing accounts of scouts is like tossing out meat for a tiger.

That observation drew disapproval from that particular prospect, who definitely had college and a pro career in mind for himself.

A few days later after that article, he got that off his chest, telling me that, indeed, “I AM a power pitcher.”

His years in the minor leagues — six seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ chain while reaching the Triple A level — might overlook some brilliant collegiate campaigns.

Hernandez’s travels took him first to Riverside City College and, eventually, landing at the University of South Carolina.

While watching him work for Redlands — its PONY All-Stars and, eventually, with the high school Terriers — Hernandez was part of a nice crop of ballplayers.

It led him to RCC, which notched back-to-back State junior college championships in 2000 and 2001 under a future Hall of Fame coach, Dennis Rogers.

That was the launching pad that led Hernandez to South Carolina for his junior and senior seasons in 2002 and 2003. The Gamecocks, one of seven teams from the baseball-rich Southeastern Conference to reach the NCAA Division 1 playoffs, made it to the College World Series in both years.

So here was Hernandez, a two-time All-Orange Empire Conference selection at RCC.

In 2002, the Gamecocks (57-18) had to get past Virginia Commonwealth, North Carolina and Miami in the Columbia, N.C. Super Regional.

At the CWS, Georgia Tech took down USC, 13-0, in the opening round.

Wins over Nebraska, a rematch over Georgia Tech, then a sweep over Clemson lifted the Gamecocks into the championship game against Texas.

The Longhorns, coached by the legendary Augie Garrido, beat the Gamecocks, 12-6.

Playing against such future MLB prospects as Huston Street (Texas), Kahlil Greene (Clemson), Nebraska’s Drew Anderson, Todd Sears and Brian Duensing, Aaron Hill (LSU), Stanford’s Ryan Garko, Jed Lowrie and Carlos Quentin, Chris Ianetta (North Carolina) — to name a few.

Hernandez (1-1, 3.27) pitched in 13 games that season.

South Carolina’s talent pool that season? Catcher Landon Powell (Oakland), pitcher Matt Campbell (Kansas City) and shortstop Drew Meyer (Texas Rangers) were eventual first-round round picks.

On a 45-22 squad in 2003, there were no less than 17 Gamecock players targeted by MLB teams. Powell, third baseman Brian Buscher (San Francisco), outfielder Kevin Melillo (Oakland) and infielder Steve Tolleson (Minnesota) were among those that eventually reached the majors.

Hernandez was 5-5 that season (3.32 ERA, 25 games, 84 innings), pitching three complete games though he appeared mostly in relief. Eight teams from the SEC battled their way into the NCAA playoffs.

It was Stanford that ultimately knocked out the Gamecocks in their chase to another CWS championship — twice, in fact, 8-0 and 13-6. In between those losses, USC had stayed alive with 11-10 win over Louisiana State.

LSU couldn’t hold on, despite the presence of future MLB reliever Brian Wilson, who closed down San Francisco’s 2010 World Series championship over Texas.

Rice (Texas) University beat Stanford two out of three to nail down the 2003 title.

As for his opponents, imagine pitching to future major leaguers like Ryan Garko, Jed Lowrie and Carlos Quentin, who were noted Stanford sluggers.

The Cardinal had 23 MLB draftees that year, including four No. 1 picks (Quentin, Lowrie, Danny Putnam and John Mayberry, Jr.), a No. 2 (Donny Lucy) and No. 3 (Garko).

With the Pirates, Hernandez made two all-star teams, chunking out 23 wins, 56 saves and a 3.22 ERA in 230 professional games between 2003 and 2009.

The Pirates?

Hernandez had some good seasons — 24 saves, 1.93 with the Class A Hickory Crawdads in his first full season as a pro, 6-1 record and a 2.86 ERA with Class AA Altoona Croon in 2007. At the Class AAA level, he spent parts of two seasons with the Indianapolis Indians of the International League.

He was 0-4 over 23 games in between a 4-0, 2.61 stint back at Altoona.

Hernandez was teammates with future MVP Andrew McCutchen, plus solid future MLB players like Neil Walker and Steve Pearce, both No. 1 draft picks. So were pitchers Bryan Bullington and Sean Burnett, who never quite made the grade at the MLB level.

Andrew McCutchen (Flickr)
Future MVP Andrew McCutchen was a minor league teammate of Chris Hernandez while the two worked their way up toward a hopeful Major League Baseball career in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ chain (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In all, Hernandez struck out 353 hitters over 324 1/3 innings as a seven-year minor leaguer — not bad for a power pitcher.

As for the College World Series, consider this: Hernandez first showed up there with the Gamecocks in 2002, repeating the appearance in 2003.

One season later, another ex-Terrier, Robbie Hudson, made the first of two straight trips to Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb. — site of the annual CWS.

The Redlands Connection was in full effect at college’s biggest baseball showcase.

 

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.”

 

 

JULIO CRUZ PART OF CHICAGO WHITE SOX’ TOP TRADE DEADLINE MOVES

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 June 15, 1983. In those days, that was Major League Baseball’s trade deadline.

Think of the great deals — Seattle traded Randy Johnson to Houston in 1998 (by then, the deadline had been moved to July 31); C.C. Sabathia had been traded by Cleveland to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008; that same season, it was Manny Ramirez traded to the Dodgers by Boston; when the Mets got Yeonis Cespedes in 2015, the slugging outfielder led New York to the World Series; Philadelphia dealt Curt Schilling to Arizona in 2000.

All of those deals probably outweigh the swap of second basemen in that 1983 trade between Seattle and the Chicago White Sox.

Julio Cruz, the undrafted free agent out of Redlands High/San Bernardino Valley College, had been such a solid player for the Seattle Mariners — a base-stealing dynamo, not to mention a flashy fielding second baseman.

JUlio Cruz
Julio Cruz, who built a steady and sturdy career at second base with the Seattle Mariners, was eventually swapped to the Chicago White Sox in the heat of the 1983 American League Western Division chase (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

A guy named Roland Hemond noticed.

In 1983, Seattle took its sure-handed infielder and all-time leading base-stealer and dealt him to the ChiSox. That deal plucked second baseman Tony Bernazard for the Mariners.

At the time of that mid-season trade, the ChiSox were five games under .500, fifth in the American League Western Division. Hemond pulled off the Bernazard-for-Cruz trade, the only real adjustment he made to an already-strong roster.

Hemond made a trade that everyone would later credit with turning the season around.  Looking to give his team a spark, Hemond traded Bernazard to Seattle for his second base counterpart, Cruz.  The effect was immediate.

I tracked down Hemond for comments on the trade. These were, of course, the days before cell-phone usage, so getting hold of him seemed like a major achievement.

Hemond was back east. That’s three hours’ difference than the west coast. I remember trying for a few days before I connected with him.

Why would I try? Local readership, no doubt. Every local reader might want to hear about their guy. Right? A little insight on those inner workings never hurt.

INTERVIEW WITH WHITE SOX GM

Hemond must’ve been in his office at Comiskey Park., home of the White Sox.

My standard intro … “Hi, Obrey Brown here from Redlands, hometown newspaper of Julio Cruz … wondering if I could pick your brain a little about the trade you made for Julio.”

Hemond, a friendly guy, needed no further prodding.

Roland_Hemond_at_SABR_Convention_2014
In 1983, Chicago White Sox General Manager made a trade for Seattle second baseman Julio Cruz, thus helping lift the ChiSox out of fifth place and onto winning the division by 20 games over the Kansas City Royals (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Oh, hi,” he said. There were some pleasant formalities between the two of us. Like this one: “Think you’ll make it out here to see him play?”

Oh, yeah, I lied to him. The tiny budget the Redlands newspaper had barely allowed me to cover a Terrier game in Rialto or Fontana. Send me to Chicago? Said Hemond: “When you get here, look me up.”

If only, I thought.

“I think it’ll turn out to be a real great acquisition for this club,” said Hemond, whose East-coast accent was a nice touch to our conversation. “In fact, it’s already helped us.”

“How long have you had your eye on Julio?”

“Oh … no … wow. I’ve known about Julio for a few years. How can you not notice a guy with his glove and his ability to steal bases? No, he just didn’t jump off the page at us. We need this guy. We’ve known about him.”

Hemond said, “Our clubhouse needed a jolt. Tony (Bernazard) wasn’t all that great of an influence in there. I’ve heard a lot about Julio being a good guy.”

This baseball lifer, Hemond, was very gracious with his time. He asked, “Did you cover him while he was playing in high school out there?”

“No. I got here a few years after he left.”

I tried to stump him, though. “Julio’s coach out here was Joe DeMaggio.”

Hemond either didn’t hear me, or thought I was kidding. No, it wasn’t THE Joe DiMaggio (note the spelling difference).

COVERING THE ‘REDLANDS’ CHISOX

Those summer-time sports pages, though, got a big plug. Cruz, standing on second base, darted for home plate on Harold Baines’ sharp single to right field. Tenth inning. It was against the Angels. Game-winner. Division-clinching run. Celebration. Photos.

Huge splash in the Redlands newspaper.

Cruz was picked up from Seattle when the ChiSox were 28-32, fifth in the American League West. They went 71-31 with Cruz, batting ninth in the lineup with Rudy Law atop a strong White Sox attack.

That year’s White Sox were filled with superb batsmen. Baines, Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, combined to hit 123 home runs. Law stole nearly 80 bases.

The pitching was topped by LaMarr Hoyt and Rich Dotson, who won 24 and 22 games, compiling the greatest number of wins in the entire league by two pitchers. Southpaw Floyd Bannister was nearly unbeatable, finishing off the season with a 13-1 streak.

Second place belonged to Kansas City, which finished a staggering 20 games behind Chicago.

The Daily Facts kept a close watch on the “Redlands” White Sox. Remember, this was A Redlands Connection.

By the All-Star break the Sox had climbed to three games over .500.  Then things really got hot. The Sox climbed into first place on July 18 and never looked back.  Their second half record was 59-26, a .694 winning percentage.

Not everyone was impressed.  One out-of-town writer dismissed the team as no better than fifth best in the A.L. East. Texas manager Doug Rader theorized that the Sox’s bubble had to burst. “They’re not playing that well. They’re winning ugly.”

On September 17 at Comiskey Park, the White Sox clinched Chicago’s first championship in twenty years. Baines’ single brought home Cruz with the winning run.

BIRDS TOOK OUT CHICAGO IN PLAYOFFS

Chicago’s opponents in the playoffs would be Baltimore, the only team to take the season series against the ChiSox, seven games to five. In the playoffs, the Orioles won three out of four.

Even with Julio, that group of White Sox couldn’t shake the Baltimore Orioles in the American League championship series. Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray and a strong corps of pitchers ousted Chicago in the playoffs and ended up beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

The ex-Terrier hit .333 in four games, the White Sox winning game one, 2-1, before the Orioles came streaking back to win 4-0, 11-1 and 3-0 behind strong pitching from Mike Boddicker, Tippy Martinez and Mike Flanagan.

As for Hemond, that slick transaction for Julio may have gone a long way in snagging his second Sporting News Executive of the Year honors.

Years later, ’83 White Sox manager Tony La Russa and I were eyeball to eyeball in spring training Arizona. By this point, he had moved on to manage the Oakland A’s. I couldn’t help but try and snag him for some comments – even though it was years later – on Cruz.

Tony La Russa
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa called Julio Cruz an “igniter” when asked about the former Redlands ballplayer (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

La Russa didn’t have much time. Calling Cruz “an igniter,” La Russa wasn’t in a mood to chat. He said, “The thing I remember from that team was the power we had … Julio and Rudy Law gave us another dimension to score runs with their speed.”

One final, quick comment: “He played a great second base for us.”

Footnote: Seattle lost 102 games in 1983.

Sabathia, Johnson, Ramirez and all the other more famous MLB trade deadline might draw more attention in baseball’s history book. For the Chicago White Sox, however, that deal might be No. 1.

 

 

GARY NELSON: WALTRIP’S WRENCH-TURNING WIZARD

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

For most of his 3 ½ years with 1981 NASCAR Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip, chief mechanic Gary Nelson had met one challenge after another.

And the 26-year-old former Redlands mechanic can look back on over 20 years of experience working with engines as his credentials for time spent with the circuit’s hottest driver.

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NASCAR crew chief Gary Nelson wasn’t born in Redlands, but the eventual wrench-turning wizard spent plenty of time there as he got his racing career started (photo by Wikipidia Commons).

“I like to think I can look at a car and say ‘this area’s weak’ and then spend more time with that,” Nelson told me a couple days before the 1981 Winston Western 500 at the old Riverside International Raceway.

“This race,” he said, “is one of the toughest for mechanics because of the course.”

It’s a course that would cause any race team headaches.

Riverside’s 7-turn course each lap would depend on mechanics’ ability to maintain the clutch and brake systems.

“On a super speedway,” said Nelson, referring to the likes of Talladega or Martinsville or Bristol, “you don’t even use them. That is, until you come to a pit stop.”

Cars that pull into pit area at Riverside, well, it resembles organized mayhem. All that stopping, turning and rotating around that course.

Nelson was well-known around Redlands by all those race-lovers. I was urged by plenty, including newspaper advertising manager Jim Mundy, to produce a story for the locals as the Winston Western 500 beckoned. In fact, we rode out to Riverside Raceway together.

Nelson, born in Illinois before Arnold and Mildred Nelson moved to Redlands, started with engines when he turned five.

Arnold Nelson started teaching his son via motorbikes and race carts.

“My dad’s a real good mechanic,” said Nelson, who eventually got into racing with local legend Ivan Baldwin — “Ivan The Terrible.” When he was in his mid-teens, Nelson started sweeping the floors before working his way in as Baldwin’s lead mechanic.

Said Mildred: “He’s just like his dad. When Gary was 16, his dad gave him the family van. The first thing he did with it was take the engine out and put a bigger one in.”

She said Gary had always been interested in anything with wheels.

“I always worried about him, but I knew he was very careful. He wasn’t a wild driver.”

His early racing experience was local.

ORANGE SHOW SPEEDWAY SPECIAL

NASCAR had to be special, especially since the Ontario Motor Speedway and the Riverside raceway were so close to Redlands. To get there, however, required the paying of dues.

It was Saturday at Orange Show Speedway. Arguably, Baldwin might be the most successful driver that ever came out of OSS. Said Nelson: “We had a lot of fun.”

Baldwin, Nelson at 605 Raceway
At left, West Coast driving megastar Ivan Baldwin, while Gary Nelson checks the engine at Speedway 605 in the San Gabriel Valley (photo by legendsofnascar.com).

A connection to Baldwin was worth plenty in those years. Baldwin, later killed in a 1996 traffic accident, raced all over California’s racing circuit. That Nelson was part of his crew shouldn’t be a surprise.

“Racing was cheap in those days,” Nelson said. “And it wasn’t hard to do. But nowadays with the price of engines and tires, it’s hard to get into.”

All of which is why events led him into NASCAR. “I wouldn’t want to race unless I could go first class,” he said.

Waltrip and Nelson hard went after wins. At a race in College Station, Texas one week, a young driver named Dale Earnhardt., Sr. had a one-lap lead with 20 remaining. Nelson saved 10 seconds by replacing just two tires instead of four on the pit stop.

It saved the day. Waltrip won, leaving the driver praising his crew chief – typical comments. “Gary made the decision to change those tires. Goddammit, the kid is so good.”

Nelson countered by saying it had been a joint decision – crew, driver and chief mechanic each involved.

“We have a good crew,” said Nelson, noting future Hall of Famers Buddy Parrott and Robert Yates, plus Butch Stevens in the pits.

“Over the last three years,” said Waltrip, who won 13 races that season with Nelson as crew chief for DiGard Racing, “we’ve been successful because the good mechanics have stayed and the bad ones have left.”

Nelson’s teams won at Daytona and Riverside, Richmond and Bristol, Darlington and Michigan, Pocono and Martinsville, Wilkesboro and Charlotte, Richmond and Dover Downs – pretty much all the major stops on NASCAR’s fabled schedule.

WALTRIP CALAMITY NEARLY OVERCOME

In the 95-lap Winston Western 500, Waltrip crashed at the sixth turn on lap 65. The car limped into the pits. In 15 seconds, the crew changed two damaged tires and hammered out the dented body so Waltrip could drive his now-disfigured car back into contention.

Two days before that race, Nelson said Bobby Allison and Richard Petty would be the “toughest competition.”

He wasn’t necessarily ignoring the likes of Cale Yarbrough, Joe Millikan, Earnhardt or Benny Parsons.

Wasn’t it ironic that Allison took the race and Petty, with substitute driver Jimmy Insolo, finishing third?

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Darrell Waltrip was a stock car driving legend. Part of that success came with Redlands’ Gary Nelson running the team (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Waltrip, his crew having made the quick-handed changes after the crash, took second.

Six laps were left. Waltrip was down 45 seconds. Crew member Don Sewell, another Redlands-based pit man, said, “It’s too much.”

Only an Allison mishap would cost him the race.

Allison knocked down his fourth win of that season.

Waltrip’s familiar green “88” car sped by some 32.9 seconds later. He was nearly out of gas.

“A few years ago,” said Nelson, “I wouldn’t have predicted I’d be where I am today. It’s hard, but I rely on a lot of luck.”

If that doesn’t leave you chuckling, consider that he was worried that a rebuilt transmission on Friday wouldn’t hold in Sunday’s race.

Tim Williamson, the driver who won the Hodgdon 200 just prior to the Winston Western 500, stood alongside Nelson. It was Nelson who said, “I was worried he’d run out of gas.”

Nelson didn’t last long with Waltrip, who left one year later for Junior Johnson’s racing team.

A portion of Nelson’s resume:

  • Crew chief for Allison, who joined DiGard when Waltrip left.
  • Turned up as Kyle Petty’s crew chief, 1989.
  • In 1988, Nelson was a part-timer with ESPN.
  • A West Coast Stock Car Racing Hall of Famer.
  • Worked for NASCAR in 1991 as its Winston Cup director. During that time, Nelson was credited with safety innovations – particularly after Earnhardt’s driving death.

Since April 2001, when he took on the safety portion of NASCAR, no life-threatening accidents have taken place at any of its speedways.

One final point: Isn’t it interesting that Nelson’s most prized racers, Allison and Waltrip, were tied for fourth place on NASCAR’s all-time victory list at 84?

All that wrench-turning started as a Redlands Connection.