Roy Clark performed at Mickey Mantle's funeral

Country music Hall of Fame member Roy Clark died on Thursday.  He was 85.  An award winning singer and musician, Clark is best known for his role as the host of Hee Haw.  But how many people remember that he sang at Mickey Mantle's funeral?

Mantle loved Clark's music, and when he died in 1995, Clark sang "Amazing Grace" at his funeral in Dallas.

R.I.P. Roy Clark.

Michael Kay's Tweet evoked memories of Mel Allen's visit to Torrington

Michael Kay, Mel Allen
When New York Yankees television broadcaster Michael Kay posted a tweet the other day of him sitting side-by-side with Mel Allen, it evoked memories of the time Allen came to Torrington, Connecticut, my home town.

Allen was truly the only "Voice of the Yankees."  First on radio and then on television in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s, Allen got the assignment to call the big events, whether it be the World Series - which the Yankees were almost always in each season - the All-Star Game, the Rose Bowl or the Kentucky Derby for Fox's Movietone reels in theaters.  

Allen was everywhere.  How many people know, for example, that he and Ronald Reagan teamed up to co-host the Rose Bowl Parade television coverage in 1960?  Or that in the early 60s, that Mel called New York Giants football games on radio?

But the New York Yankees were his first and some say only love.  And when the Yankees fired him in 1964 at the still relatively young age of 50 - for reasons the ball club never disclosed - it broke his heart.  Some say he was never the same person after that.

This week, when Hartford Courant sportswriter Dom Amore, who once covered the Yankees on a daily basis for the paper, retweeted Kay's photo of Allen, it reminded me of the time Mel came to Torrington to speak to a packed house at the Knights of Columbus.  This was back in the day, when sports banquets were popular and affordable.  Hot Stove banquets were especially enjoyable, as people gathered on a cold night to hear a guest speaker talk baseball.  And on this cold night in February 1968, Allen - nearly four years removed from his Yankee gig - did not disappoint.

Allen regaled the audience for 30 minutes with stories about baseball and his career.  I was at the event that night.  Fortunately, a future broadcast colleague - already getting a foothold in the business - had the foresight to have a reel-to-reel tape recorder rolling that night.  Years later, when I started working with Paul Pagano, I asked him if he still had the tape.  He not only had it, but gave me a cassette copy.  Of course, Mel's talk has gone digital.  I even donated a copy to the baseball Hall of Fame.  

His talk is what you will hear on the podcast, after I set the scene by putting that night and his career into context.  In this cold month of November, as the snow flies, hopefully a little baseball talk from a bygone era, from a Hall of Fame broadcaster, will help stoke the hot stove.  


So what if the Mets want Tim Tebow on the roster

So what if the New York Mets want Tim Tebow on the roster!  That's the topic of my latest episode on "The Baseball Beat."

There has been some controversy stirred up on sports talk radio, since the Mets announced last week that Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback, would be assigned to the Mets AAA affiliate at Syracuse come spring.  New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen even hinted a great spring training could earn Tebow a spot on the big league roster come Opening Day 2019.  That really sent the opinion makers into a tizzy.

On this podcast, I explain why the Mets are justified to consider Tebow for a big league spot.

Mets' troubles with Boras date back to Alex Rodriguez

When conversation about baseball free agent Bryce Harper turns to which team will make him the richest player in the sport's history, the New York Mets are automatically eliminated from contention.  And its not because the Mets have had money issues in recent years.  You see, Scott Boras is Harper's agent, and Boras has had a contentious relationship with the Mets, dating back nearly two decades.  In fact, Boras wants nothing to do with the Mets.

In November of 2000, Alex Rodriguez was the Bryce Harper of his day and Boras was his agent.  A-Rod was a free agent, after six seasons with the Seattle Mariners, and Boras was attempting to make him the highest paid player in history.  He thought he had the big market Mets reeled in, especially since the Amazins' were smarting from having lost the World Series to the rival Yankees.  With the Bombers having owned the town, winning four World Series in five seasons, the Mets needed to make a splash.  What better way to do that than snag Alex Rodriguez?

Boras had put together a hardbound volume of the 25-year-old A-Rod's accomplishments.  In early November, at the general managers gathering, Boras had a two-hour meeting with Mets GM Steve Phillips.  According to the New York Times, Boras handed Phillips the book on Rodriguez, and when Phillips asked for two more copies to give to Mets ownership, Boras thought he and the Mets might have a deal.

Phillips said the more he examined the proposal the more he was turned off by it, telling the Times Boras was asking that Rodriguez receive preferential treatment that would "divide the clubhouse."  Supposedly a luxury car for A-Rod, a suite and a billboard campaign that would "receive a bigger presence around New York than the Yankees' Derek Jeter" were all part of A-Rod's demands.  Boras even asked that the Mets provide a tent, during spring training, to sell A-Rod souvenirs and that Rodriguez should also be permitted to review the Mets minor league system.

Phillips said the conversations with Boras were over, setting off a he said, she said battle in the media.  "This is absolutely a misrepresentation of what I told him (Phillips)," Boras stated about A-Rod's demands.  But Phillips countered: "I know what he's (Boras) saying now, but I'm telling you he made it clear to me and I heard it elsewhere, this is the necessary structure."

Other clubs, also interested in Rodriguez, seemed to back what Phillips said, despite bluster from Boras, that if the Mets weren't interested, 13 or 14 other clubs were.  In the end, Rodriguez had to "settle" for the Texas Rangers, who provide him with a 10-year $252 million deal.

We all know what happened from there.  The Rangers could not afford the contract and peddled him to the Yankees, where another contentious relationship developed among A-Rod, Jeter and the Yankees management. 

Rodriguez, of course, has moved on, settling his differences with the Yankees to the point where New York now uses him as a part-time adviser.  A-Rod has also built a successful career as a television commentator.  And these days, what Boras is asking for Harper makes the Rodriguez deal pale by comparison.

However, some things never change, and in this case it's the relationship between Boras and the Mets, a relationship that soured in November of 2000.

Roger Staubach was supposed to be on the cover

Roger Staubach was supposed to be on the cover of LIFE magazine, 55 years ago.  The Navy quarterback was having an outstanding season in 1963.  The cover was already printed and the caption under Staubach read: "Navy's Staubach, the Greatest College Quarterback."

Staubach was having a sensational season and so was Navy, ranked number two in the nation.  The Midshipmen were coming off a 38-25 win at Duke, their first win over the Blue Devils in nine years.  Staubach had another huge game, gaining 194 of his team's 430 yards, including a touchdown run.  The Cincinnati native also broke two Navy records that day, for pass completions by a quarterback in a career (95) and passing yardage in a season (1,319).

Staubach had become the talk of the nation. In two weeks Navy would play powerhouse Army and the President of the United States would be in the stands.  As producer Jack Ford reported in his documentary "Marching On," this president loved college football and had planned on attending the Army-Navy game for a third straight season.

It was not to be.  On November 22, six days after Navy's win over Duke, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  There was talk of cancelling the game, scheduled for Nov. 30, out of respect for the Kennedy family. Tradition also had it that the military should observe a 30-day mourning period.  But when former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy got word the service academies were pondering a cancellation, she let it be known President Kennedy would have wanted the game to be played.  It was moved back one week to December 7.

That day, the normal pomp-and-circumstance that preceded an Army-Navy game was abandoned, replaced by a tribute to the slain president.  With more than 100,000 fans in attendance at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia (later renamed JFK Stadium), Staubach helped lead Navy to a 21-15 victory.  Staubach, named the Heisman Trophy winner the day after President Kennedy's funeral, had to share the headlines with fullback Pat Donnelly who rushed for all three Navy touchdowns.

Upon his graduation, Staubach served in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam, before he was selected in the 10th round of the 1969 draft by the Dallas Cowboys.  He led Dallas to five Super Bowls, including two championships.  He would make the cover of numerous magazines, except one, the LIFE edition slated to be published on Nov. 29, 1963.

Ron Johnson, thanks for the memories

Johnson scores winning TD
Ron Johnson, the first New York Giants running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, died on Saturday in Madison, NJ.  He was 71 and had suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last nine years.  His death came almost 48 years to the day he led the Giants to one of their greatest comebacks.

The date was Nov. 15, 1970 and the Giants were hosting the Washington Redskins.  The Giants were in the midst of their “down” years and 1970 seemed to be no exception, after they dropped their first three games of the season.  But with former Giants player Alex Webster as coach, Fran Tarkenton - the scrambling quarterback- and Johnson in the backfield, they were starting to look like the old Giants again, the Giants who used to win championships.  They had won five straight, entering the Redskins game.

That Sunday, my Mom and Dad, brother Chris - my older brother Rich was away at school - and I went to Danbury to visit my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Mollie.  My Uncle Will and grandfather - after whom I am named - also made the trip from Torrington to Danbury for our pre-Thanksgiving day, Sunday feast.  And what a feast it was.  My uncle and aunt owned a restaurant and were both excellent chefs.

The Giants game began, as the meal started, but we kept tabs as dinner was being served.  By halftime, the meal was over and the Giants had a 14-12 lead.  It was time to convene to my Uncle Jerry’s TV room for the second half.

In the third quarter, however, Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgeson picked apart the Giants defense, and Washington took a 33-14 lead into the fourth period.  Suddenly, my uncle’s jammed TV room had plenty of space.  People started returning to the dining room for dessert, everybody that is except by brother, Uncle Will and me.  For some reason we thought these Giants really were different and had a miracle rally in them.  Our faith was rewarded.  New York scored three touchdowns in the last 10 minutes of the game, including Johnson’s game-winner with a minute left.  He finished the game with two touchdowns and 106 yards rushing.

It’s funny what you remember 48 years later, after a game like that.  I still remember the look on Washington coach Bill Austin’s face after his club blew such a big lead.  Austin was the interim coach, after Vince Lombardi died earlier in the season from cancer.  I remember Ron Johnson appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show that night.  Back then, being asked to “stand up to take a bow” by Sullivan was a big deal. The Sullivan show itself was a big deal.  I remember the glee my brother, Uncle and me shared over such a stirring victory.

And I will always remember Ron Johnson, whose performance that day was so good, it made for a Sunday afternoon so special, I can still vividly recall its details nearly a half century later.

Remembering Ted Williams on Veterans Day

Sunday is Veterans Day, a time to remember those who have served and died to preserve our freedoms.  The day got me to thinking about Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters to play baseball. He was the last regular season .400 hitter - batting .406 in 1941 - and finished with a lifetime .344 average with 521 home runs.

Williams, who died at the age of 83 on July 5, 2002, served his country not once but twice in World War II and the Korean War.  No telling what his baseball statistics would have been had their been no wars in which to serve, but Williams answered the call and nobly served the USA.

Born in 1918 and named after President Theodore Roosevelt, Williams was recruited by the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals as a 17-year-old, but his mother thought he was too young to leave home and insisted he begin his professional career in his hometown with the minor league San Diego Padres.  Imagine how history might have changed had Williams gone with the Yankees and not the Red Sox?  Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio in the same outfield would have been worth the price of admission.

Williams’ duty to his country got off to a rocky start, after being classified as 1-A, placing him at the top of those eligible to be drafted.  An attorney suggested he fight to be reclassified, because he was the sole supporter of his mother, and after an appeal, Williams successfully won the case.  That led to a public outcry, however.  Quaker Oats dropped Williams as an endorser of their products, and he never again ate anything associated with that company.

However, Williams’ patriotic fervor burned brightly and in 1942 he enlisted in the Naval Reserves, eventually being assigned as a second lieutenant to the United States Marine Corps as a naval aviator.  The rest is history.  

After serving in World War II, Williams was called to action again in the Korean War, serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as a pilot along side John Glenn, who eventually became the first American to orbit the earth.

When you see a Veteran thank him or her for their service.  And also remember Veterans no longer with us, including Ted Williams, a true American hero.