We celebrate our 100th(!) episode with one of the founding owners of the pioneering World Hockey Association – and the man ultimately responsible for the absorption of four its teams into the NHL in the “don’t-call-it-a-merger” of 1979.
Hollywood film producer and original New England Whalers founder/owner Howard Baldwin (Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood) joins host Tim Hanlon for a rollicking ride through the modest beginnings, death-defying life, and lasting aftermath of pro hockey’s paradigm-transforming challenger league – as well as the tortuous journey of the only US-based franchise to survive the consolidation.
Come for Baldwin’s hard-to-believe stories of the Whalers and the WHA, like:
But also stay for tales of Baldwin’s incredible WHA after-life, including:
You know him today as the long-time television play-by-play voice of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals.
But before becoming one of the baseball’s most admired and durable broadcasters, Bob Carpenter cut his professional teeth in the burgeoning (but ultimately fleeting) American pro soccer scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s as the lead “man-behind-the-mic” for such iconic teams as the NASL's Tulsa Roughnecks and the MISL's St. Louis Steamers – as well as some less-than-memorable ones, like 1983’s ill-fated US Soccer/NASL hybrid, Team America.
His springboard into TV sports broadcasting’s “big leagues” – including 15 years of nationally televised baseball with ESPN, plus lead announcing duties for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and his hometown St. Louis Cardinals – is rich in anecdotes, and we (naturally!) drag the versatile Carpenter back to some of the more “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:
As another NFL season closes, we shift gears toward the forthcoming Alliance of American Football – the first of two new leagues attempting to again extend the pro game into viable Spring season play – where the USFL, World League of American Football and NFL Europe have famously tried before.
The other – both in 2001 and in a reincarnated form coming next year – was and is the XFL, which we finally sink our teeth into for the first time this week with Wall Street Journal national security reporter Brett Forrest (Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV's Biggest Fiasco).
We drop this episode on the 18th anniversary of when the audacious joint venture between the Vince McMahon-helmed World Wresting Federation (now WWE) and the Dick Ebersol-captained NBC Sports opened play at a raucous Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas to see the hometown Outlaws battle the already-villainous New York/New Jersey Hitmen in front of a national primetime television audience.
Nearly two decades later, most who witnessed it (not to mention the tumultuous season that followed) still don’t know what to make of it.
Forrest digs into: the process of tackling his then-first-ever book assignment with Long Bomb (including the pre-season magazine article from which it came); some of the curious characters (the seemingly-legitimizing presence of Dick Butkus, the unwitting marketing genius of Rod “He Hate Me” Smart, the hungry group of eager players simply wanting one last shot at playing pro football) he encountered along the way; and the less-than-enthusiastic response of McMahon to the idea of a book about the league in the first place.
Be sure to check out the great XFL shirts and replica jerseys from our friends at 503 Sports!
Win or lose in next week’s Super Bowl LIII, the five-time NFL champion New England Patriots are already guaranteed a spot in the annals of pro football history as one of the sport’s most dominant teams – especially when viewed through the truncated lens of the last two decades.
That said, a legion of successful clubs over the league’s prior eight decades – such as the Green Bay Packers of 1929-44 (and much of the 1960s); the 1981-98 San Francisco 49ers; the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers; the 1990s Dallas Cowboys; and the early 1970s Miami Dolphins – can legitimately claim the right to be included in the discussion of football dynasties, when normalized across the competitive realities of their respective eras.
Author Andy Piascik (The Best Show in Football: The 1946–1955 Cleveland Browns – Pro Football's Greatest Dynasty) joins host Tim Hanlon this week to detail how one of those teams – the Cleveland Browns of the late 1940s upstart All-America Football Conference and then early 1950s NFL – might just possibly be the proverbial “greatest” of all time, all things being equal.
The Browns were the only champion the well-funded, big-league challenger AAFC ever had in its four-season post-WWII run, and quickly made their prowess known to the pro football establishment in 1950 when they soundly defeated the NFL’s defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in the newly merged league’s opening game – and then proceeded to steamroll their way to the title later that season, as well as consecutive title game appearances (winning the last two) through 1954.
In the decade spanning 1946-55, the Browns – headed by legendary coach Paul Brown, and joined by no fewer than nine future Pro Football Hall of Famers (Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli, Bill Willis, Frank Gatski, Len Ford, Doug Atkins and Mike McCormack) – amassed a better record (105-17-4) and won more championships (seven) than any team in pro football history.
We throw another chunk of firewood into our baseball hot stove this week, as we warm up with the surprisingly long and rich history of the National Pastime in the Nation’s Capital with sports PR veteran Fred Frommer (You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions).
While historically smaller in population than its more industrial neighbors to its north and west, Washington, DC was regularly represented in the highest levels of baseball dating back to the earliest professional circuits – including the 1871-75 National Association’s Olympics, Blue Legs, and two named the “Nationals”; two new and separate Nationals clubs in the competing Union and American Associations of 1884; and two teams each in the American Association (another Nationals in 1884; Statesmen in 1891), and early National League (yet another Nationals from 1886-89; and “Senators” from 1892-99).
But it was the creation of the American League in 1901 that solidified the city’s place in baseball’s top echelon, as the (second) Washington Senators launched as one of the junior circuit’s “Classic Eight” charter franchises – establishing an uninterrupted presence for Major League Baseball in the District that endured for more than seven decades. (Technically, the original AL Senators stayed until 1960, when the franchise moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN to become the Minnesota Twins – only to be immediately replaced by a new expansion Senators the next season, that lasted 11 more seasons until they moved to Arlington, TX to become the Texas Rangers in 1971.)
Frommer joins host Tim Hanlon to look back on DC’s deep and oddly curious relationship with baseball, including:
It was December 1979, and Denver-area IT marketing and sales executive Ron Maierhofer was having what some would consider to be a mid-life crisis. Just off the heels of an annual work retreat and now vacationing on a British Virgin Islands beach with his wife, Maierhofer – a second-generation German-American immigrant and a former player with a lifelong passion for and recreational involvement in the sport of soccer – mused that his business career just wasn’t doing it for him anymore, and that a radical change of pace might be in order.
His muse was the fledgling professional sport of indoor soccer – and his entrée, the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League – the firecracker circuit that had just debuted a year earlier with its fast-paced play, enthusiastic crowds and a non-stop excitement that offered an alluring anecdote to relatively staid pace of the newly popular outdoor game. The MISL, Maierhofer reasoned to himself and his wife, was the future of soccer – and his chance to make a profession of his love of the “beautiful game.”
Within months, Maierhofer was back home in Denver: hustling up an investment group (including his investment banker brother); working municipal politicians (securing hard-to-get dates and benefits from the city’s McNichols Arena); devising clever marketing hooks (like dash-board rumble seats and a new home for the popular Denver Broncos cheerleaders); and schmoozing the MISL’s top brass during the 1980 All-Star Game and Championship Playoffs in St. Louis – to eventually land what would become one of three new franchises (along with the Chicago Horizons and Phoenix Inferno) in the fall of 1980.
Maierhofer (No Money Down: How to Buy a Sports Franchise; Memoirs of a Soccer Vagabond) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the heady rise, against-all-odds success, and (ultimately) rapid fall of his two-year “dream job” owning and running the Denver Avalanche – including life lessons learned from his adventure, and the fans that still fondly remember his efforts to this day, nearly 30 years later.
We kick off the New Year with our first-ever discussion about one of Major League Baseball’s most enduring enigmas – the ephemeral, one-season Seattle Pilots.
However, as we discover in our conversation with this week’s guest Bill Mullins (Becoming Big League: Seattle, The Pilots, and Stadium Politics), the story of the team’s 1969 American League misadventures has a much longer historical arc – one rooted in the decades-long success of the city’s minor league Rainiers prior – and extending years afterward, when a new expansion Mariners franchise took to the Kingdome turf in 1977.
In between, the story of the Pilots wends its way through the concentric worlds of pro sports economics (MLB’s blind zeal for expansion in the West Coast’s third-most populous market); municipal politics (Seattle’s quest for “major league” status, from the 1962 World’s Fair to a tortuous pursuit of a modern domed stadium); managerial challenges (an underfunded ownership group with limited resources and overly-optimistic revenue expectations); and logistical realities (a quaint-but-aging minor league Sicks’ Stadium, ill-prepared for the more pronounced demands of big league play and fan comfort).
And, oh yes, a surprisingly competitive on-field performance filled with memorable highs (winning both their first-ever game [at the California Angels, 4/8/69], and their home debut [vs. the Chicago White Sox, 4/11/69]); forgettable lows (three home runs by Reggie Jackson in a 5-0 loss to the Oakland A’s, 7/2/69); and a deceivingly last-place finish in a tightly-bunched AL West cellar, only a handful of games behind the Angels, Royals and White Sox.
Despite the Pilots’ woes, the legacy of this quixotic franchise remains remarkably endearing to the Seattle fans who got to experience the city’s first taste of big-time major league sports fifty years hence.
Be sure to visit our new sponsor Streaker Sports – where, fittingly, you can order a beautiful baby blue classic Seattle Pilots logo T-shirt to commemorate this episode (and the team’s 50th anniversary)!
We close out an amazing second season of episodes with a special year-end conversation featuring the US pro soccer pioneer who is, at least indirectly, responsible for the creation of this little podcast.
Just weeks after signing with the fledgling New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in January 1976, league All Star Bobby Smith (along with fellow Philadelphia Atoms teammate Bob Rigby) was already out pounding the promotional pavement in support of his new club – including (unwittingly) a stop at host Tim Hanlon’s then-elementary school in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey to hand out recreational league trophies and sign autographs.
The seeds of life-long pro soccer fandom were quickly sown, soon blossoming into an obsession with America’s most famous and successful franchise – and, over time, morphing into an enduring fascination with professional teams and leagues across all sports which, like the Cosmos and the NASL, ultimately came and went.
Defender extraordinaire Smith joins the podcast to discuss his remarkable American pro soccer career before, during and after winning back-to-back NASL titles (1977, 78) with the Cosmos – including:
We celebrate the (labor dispute-delayed) opening weekend of the National Lacrosse League’s 2018-19 season – as well as the return of the iconic Philadelphia Wings franchise – with two of pro box lacrosse’s most ardent fans and chief chroniclers.
Metro Philly natives Steve Holroyd and Dave Coleman are the engines behind the historical treasure trove known as RetroLax.com, which digs deep into the history of the pro indoor game in North America – and features a wealth of hard-to-find stories and rare game footage from circuits like the original six-team National Lacrosse League of 1974-75, the one-year National Lacrosse Association of 1968, and, of course, the precedents to today’s NLL – 1987’s Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse and 1988-97’s Major Indoor Lacrosse League.
Holroyd and Coleman join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the origins of their interest in the game; their commitment to definitively “filling in” the surprisingly substantial and lengthy backstory of professional lacrosse in North America; what they’ve learned and who’ve they met along the way; and their thoughts on where the pro game is headed – as the NLL re-enters Philadelphia and expands into San Diego, and the outdoor Major League Lacrosse gets ready to battle the new Paul Rabil-founded, private equity-backed Premier Lacrosse League this coming spring.
The images are grainy, the commentary earnestly naïve, and the theme music disco-infused, but the bigger picture is clear – it’s American soccer history, in all its VHS videotape glory.
Gleaned from a simpler, pre-HD media landscape of the 1970s and early 1980s – much of it before even the mass consumer adoption of the VCR – the roughly 900 hours of TV broadcast match coverage that still survives from the pioneering North American Soccer League is a veritable time machine of pro soccer’s coming-of-age. And one man has been chiefly responsible for compiling and preserving it.
De facto soccer video anthropologist Dave Brett Wasser has spent over two decades tracking down virtually every known snippet of NASL game footage – more than 450 league and exhibition matches in all – for what is arguably the most comprehensive collection of vintage soccer Americana anywhere.
Meticulously (and sometimes just plain luckily) sourced from a myriad of former players, coaches, TV network vaults, and even garage sales – Wasser’s now-digitized trove has become the go-to source for some of the NASL’s most memorable competitive moments for today’s generation of soccer broadcast producers and documentarians. Including even the newly-rechristened National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX.
In this revealing conversation with host Tim Hanlon, Wasser talks about: his childhood memories of local WOR-TV/New York broadcasts of Cosmos games; the impetus to rediscover them as an adult in the early 1990s lead-up to World Cup USA 1994; the people he’s met along the way of amassing his collection; and the tenuous relationship with the Hall of Fame in his quest to comprehensively digitize and permanently house the entire set of videos for current and future generations of American fans of the “beautiful game” to enjoy and learn from.
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