WHAT’S NEW, HARRY? November 29,1980
(Preamble by Chris Wendel) Several things happened to me today that led to the reprint of this 1980 Phil Ranallo column. First was reading a Facebook post discussing the concept of an outdoor stadium in downtown Buffalo. Next was a friend (who grew up in LA) asking me why Buffalo never had a major league baseball team. The last was seeing this column in a pile of papers in my office. This column has a little of everything: The questioning of Ralph Wilson’s motives, discussion of a stadium that could breathe life into an ailing downtown, and the prospect of major league baseball in Buffalo. Enjoy this work from “Courier Express” sportswriter Phil Ranallo:
Last weekend’s happening — the influx of out-of-towners and their two-fisted spending — served as a fine example of what a big league baseball franchise could do for our town.
Revelation that the invasion of all those Steeler faithful may have had as much as a $l-million economic impact
on the community had to open a lot of eyes.
I’m talking about the eyes of all — the city and county fathers’— as well as the residents of the area, many of whom have long opposed construction of a stadium suitable for major league baseball.
WHAT TRANSPIRED last weekend —-the business the visitors brought to our hotels, motels, restaurants, taverns, etc.—could be the greatest possible advertisement for construction of a baseball stadium in downtown Buffalo.
It should provide the Erie County Sports Board with, ammunition in its fight for such a facility.
Perhaps Ralph Wilson had all this in mind when he made the decision to hustle tickets in Pennsylvania for the Bills-Steelers game.
It’s my guess that Wilson would do anything in his power to help Buffalo build a downtown stadium and land a big league ball club.
I’m sure Ralph isn’t averse to a big league baseball team being located here and competing for the Buffalo sports entertainment dollar.
LAST WEEKEND’S goings-on were unique for a regular season pro football game. Almost all the fans, generally speaking, hail from the area represented by the home team.
Not so, though, in, baseball.
A baseball team with its long home stands, does something that neither a pro football team nor a hockey team does. A baseball team attracts fans from hundreds of miles.
Many of these fans spend theirvacation time or weekends in the baseball town. They stay in your hotels and motels, dine in your restaurants, shop in your department stores, patronize your theaters, etc.
Why, a big league baseball club performing in a beautiful stadium at the Crossroads would even lure people from suburban Buffalo to the central city.
PERSONALLY, I feel that construction of a new downtown stadium — to accommodate a, major league baseball team would ‘be the most progressive step this community could take.
It would be good for some of the things that are ailing Buffalo — terrific for the city is economic growth and the attractiveness of the downtown area.
With major-league baseball as part of our Buffalo life, sports fans would have somewhere to go during this community’s current sports-dry months — from May to September.
They’d have a baseball club to root for — something that would put a little fun in their lives.
And at reasonable prices, since baseball — unlike pro football and hockey does not turn the pockets of its customers inside-out
THE SAD PART of all this is, it could have happened here in Buffalo long ago. Your newspaper the Courier Express thumped the tubs for a downtown stadium in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
And it definitely would have happened, had it not been for those certain people in certain quarters.
Our head-in-the-sand leaders, men with lack of foresight, acquiesced to the dictates of those selfish certain people!
They built Wilson his 80,000-seat football-only stadium in Orchard Park and thereby slammed the major-league baseball door on Buffalo —and for that baseball fans in Montreal and Toronto will be forever grateful.
Those Canadian cities landed big league baseball franchises, either of which could have been Buffalo’s — if we had the proper leadership.
THE COMMUNITY’S current leaders may get the chance to correct the colossal blunders of their predecessors.
The economic impact the visitors from Pennsylvania had on this area last week should enable our leaders to provide the state with a strong argument for state funding of a new stadium in downtown Buffalo.
Jerry West’s recent autobiography West by West offers up a glimpse into the complex and often troubled life of a NBA legend. As a player for the Los Angeles Lakers, West visited Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium several times in the early 70’s. In fact West suffered a season ending knee injury at the Aud in a game against the Braves in 1971.
For Buffalo fans, West talks at length about the rebirth of Brave great Bob McAdoo with the Lakers. As General Manager of the Lakers, West took a flyer on McAdoo in 1981, to help the team’s push towards a NBA championship. Here are some of West’s recollections of McAdoo and former Brave Dave Wohl:
Bob MacAdoo who now works under Pat (Riley) for the Miami Heat was there and it brought back a sharp memory of mine, of how nearly everyone thought bringing him in midway through the 1981-82 season would be a disaster, partly because he had gotten a reputation for being difficult and there was a concern that he was washed up.
He had a bone spur injury and we needed to find out if he could still play, find out if he was still, more or less, the same guy would led the league in scoring three years in a row and been the MVP for one of them Dave Wohl, one of our scouts and a close friend of Bob’s when they were teammates on the Buffalo Braves flew, to New Jersey to watch him work out. I didn’t necessarily see him as a starter, but Bob certainly did and that created problems for him at first when he signed with us for a minimum wage contract. We were bringing Bob in because Mitch Kupchak had suffered a serious knee injury.
I talked to Bob at some length about what we needed from him —- his scoring as a way to open up the floor and take pressure off Kareem, and his defense (which was not something that had ever been asked of him before). I told him he would need to adjust to not just being the number one, or even the number two, option. But if he could do what I did outlined, he had a chance to win a championship. (Bob would say later how difficult it was for him to make the transition to coming off the bench, but he couldn’t have been more surprised by how he readily he was accepted by the new teammates with the exception of Kareem, that is, with whom he never had any real relationship to speak of). I had first seen Bob play as a senior in high school at a summer camp in North Carolina and I told him at the time, “Son you’ve got the ugliest shot I’ve ever seen. But don’t change it, because it goes in.”
Don’t miss the review of West by West, My Charmed, Tormented Life by Braves Historian Budd Bailey
John Hummer was the Braves’ first-round draft pick in 1970. He signed his professional contract at the old Gulf & Western Building near Columbus Circle, and then was told to head to LaGuardia Airport and a flight to Buffalo. It was a quick up-and-back, a chance to meet the hometown press and fans. No big deal. The only problem was that on the way to the airport Hummer realized he only had $15 in his pocket.
When the cab pulled up at the terminal, the fare read $14.90. “I tried to tell the cabbie what had happened, how sorry I was,” Hummer recently told me. “But he just threw the dime back in my face.”
An omen of what was to come perhaps? For in Western New York, some fans were steamed that the Braves had selected Hummer instead of local hero Calvin Murphy in the team’s inaugural college draft. Never mind that Hummer had nothing to do with that decision, those at the old Aud often laid into him.
“I couldn’t blame them,” Hummer said. “I knew what they wanted. They wanted Calvin Murphy and I wasn’t that kind of player.
At Princeton, Hummer was best known for his defense, which helped coach Pete Carril win the Ivy League and turn heads in the NCAA Tourney. His nephew, Ian, now stars for Princeton.
Despite the criticism, Hummer was often seen around Buffalo. “I was the only player in those early years to live downtown. Everybody else was out in Amherst or Williamsville. I had a place right off Elmwood Avenue. I enjoyed getting out and talking with the people. For me, Buffalo will always be the ultimate bar town.”
Hummer stayed with the Braves for three seasons before being traded to the Chicago Bulls in the deal that brought Kevin Kunnert and Gar Heard to Buffalo. Hummer finished his basketball career with the Seattle Supersonics. After his playing days ended, he earned an MBA from Stanford and co-founded a venture capital firm in San Francisco. Pets.com, Wind River Systems and Napster are just a few of the firms he’s invested in.
In looking back at his basketball career, Hummer occasionally wonders what could have been. For you see, the Milwaukee Bucks had the 16th selection in the 1970, right behind the Braves. “And Larry Costello wanted me,” Hummer says, “and arguably I would have been a better fit with the Bucks. But that’s the way it goes.”
(Costello coached the Bucks to the 1971 championship, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, and Oscar Robertson on the roster.)
During his NBA career, Hummer played for three Hall of Famers – Dolph Schayes, Bill Russell and Jack Ramsay. Two of them were during his time with the Braves.
“I loved Buffalo,” Hummer said. “Sure there were some ups and down, but I really enjoyed those days.”
. Tim Wendel
by Chris Wendel
In their usual brash way, ESPN has now decided that this is “The Year of the Quarterback”, an interesting proclamation knowing that there may not be NFL football to watch this fall. The proceedings began last week with the one-hour ESPN film “The Brady 6”, telling the story of Tom Brady’s fall to the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
The film itself is full of anecdotes and interviews from the six quarterbacks that were selected before Brady, and interesting “where are they now” scenarios with all six QB’s. Coaches Brian Billick and Steve Mariucci explained their rational for passing on Brady, while Brady’s college coach at Michigan Lloyd Carr portrayed Brady as a true leader that persevered when he was benched his senior year. Strange how Carr talks up Brady now, when he felt pressed to play phenom Drew Henson (who was also interviewed). A major reason for Brady’s drop in the draft was Carr’s penchant for flip-flopping quarterbacks, something that Mariucci termed “a red flag”.
The film itself was produced with the same high quality as most of the network’s “30 for 30” films. Meanwhile, the rest of the ESPN empire is quite good at creating news and history and as usual, forgetting anything that occurs in smaller markets like Buffalo (Is it me or has anyone else noticed how a topic can start as a comment or question on “Mike and Mike”, gain momentum on “The Herd” and be the lead story by the end of the day?). Discussions on ESPN radio shows promoting “The Brady 6” film centered on Brady perhaps being the lowest drafted player to ever become an All-Star caliber player.
So, watching and listening to all of this, I couldn’t think of 1978 NBA All-Star MVP Randy Smith. Just as compelling as Brady was Smith’s unlikely path to glory, chosen as a 7th round draft pick in 1971 by Eddie Donovan the GM of the Buffalo Braves. Donovan was under fire the previous season for passing on Niagara University All-American Calvin Murphy, choosing Smith the following year out of Buffalo State to appease the locals.
Smith’s rise to power in the NBA became the thing of legend in Western New York, but in larger metropolises that pays ESPN’s bills, it’s a back page story that most fans have seemingly forgotten. If anyone has a story that would resonate in one of ESPN’s well done documentaries, it is Smith’s ironman career and franchise records that still stand today, some 30 years later.
I live in Michigan now and even with well versed NBA fans in their 50’s and 60’s, a mention of Randy Smith results in a vacant looks and scratched heads. Of course most also don’t recall the Braves franchise, their three Rookies of the Year, and Bob McAdoo’s scoring titles. Perhaps it’s no wonder there was little mention on ESPN’s radio and TV updates following Smith’s death almost two years ago.
As the NBA All-Star Weekend approaches, we go back in the way-back machine to 1978. In the Braves’ final year in Buffalo and his team in a state of disarray, Randy Smith took the nation by storm and was voted the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player. The game featured several amazing shots by Smith who had joined the Braves in its early years after being selected as a 7th round draft choice in 1971.
Phil Ranallo, veteran writer of the “Buffalo Courier Express” newspaper brillantly recounts Smith’s stellar performance in his morning column: “What’s New, Harry?”. Ironically, the Braves’ coach at the time, Cotton Fitzsimmons, had doubts about Smith’s abilities, especially in clutch situations. In a style that made him a staple at Western New York breakfast tables, Ranallo recounts not just Smith’s All-Star performance, but also the unlikely path that brought him there.
WHAT’S NEW, HARRY?
Phil Ranallo, February 7, 1978
LET’S ALL HOPE THAT Cotton Fitzsimmons was paying close attention Sunday afternoon as Randy Smith – with the world watching – did everything with the basketball but take the air out of it.
If Fitzsimmons was all eyes as Randy transformed the NBA All-Star game into “The Randy Smith Show,” Cotton’s worries are all over – at least in any future critical late-game situations the Braves may find themselves.
I’m willing to bet that, from this moment on, whenever the Braves are in desperate need of a field goal in the dying seconds of a basketball match, Fitzsimmons will know exactly what to do.
I mean, Cotton will do the logical thing.
He’ll order Randy to take one of those high-percentage shots of his, one of those dazzling high-arching 35-footers – the kind that way, way up there, gather a little snow, then come down and go, “Swish!”
What Randy Smith did Sunday, in the Atlanta Omni, is straight out of Frank Merriwell – or straight out of the wildest dreams of little kids who go to bed with their arms wrapped around a basketball.
And what Smith did – what happened to him in the Omni – could not have happened to a more deserving fellow.
FOR A LONG TIME now, Randy Smith has been one of the best basketball players in the business. And for an equally long time, all he ever got in the plaudits or recognition department – beyond the city limits of Buffalo – was the business.
Despite the fact that talent oozes from his every pore, what Randy always received from pro basketball America was short shrift.
In the balloting for this All-Star game, for example, Smith failed to make it among the top 10 guards in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. He picked up fewer votes than Al Lorenzo did in the last Democratic mayoral primary.
Smith went into this game a veritable unknown basketball soldier.
But Randy came out of this game a basketball guard of the highest rank, a celebrated hero, a basketball darling – a guy who, figuratively, was carried out of the arena on the shoulders of pro basketball America.
USING THE OMNI AS his headquarters, Randy introduced himself to the pro basketball world – “Hello, all of you out there in basketball land; my name’s Randy Smith; I’m quite a pro basketball player; so watch and I’ll prove it.”
Smith, in this All-Star match, showed ‘em all what he really is – a shooting star of breathtaking dimensions.
With a wondrous, spellbinding demonstration of long-range firing, Smith, the city slicker from the East, won the West.
Smith, the basketball pride of Buffalo, buried the West in a blizzard of baskets.
Fittingly, the play on which Smith climaxed his 11-basket performance was his piece de resistance. It left the folks in the Omni – and in television land – gasping.
The play was vintage Randy Smith.
Randy stole the ball and dealt it to Julius Erving – and Erving shot and missed. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Smith appeared, leaped, grabbed the rebound, put up a 15-footer and – “Swish!”
SO NOW THAT THIS All-Star game is history, Randy Smith no longer is a Rodney Dangerfield of pro basketball – no longer is a guy who commands no respect from the nation’s basketball fans.
They now know exactly who Randy Smith is – a sleek, quicksilver fellow with a marvelous outside jump shot and incredibly fast hands that can catch flies in mid-air and steal hubcaps off speeding automobiles.
The fans now know that if there’s anything faster than Smith’s hands, it’s his feet.
It was Smith’s blazing speed, by the way, that gave him his chance in pro basketball.
Seven years ago, after the Braves drafted Smith seventh in the draft, Randy’s chances of making the Buffalo squad were regarded as slimmer than slim.
Until he took one of Coach Dolph Schayes’ agility tests.
THE FIRST DAY they passed out the uniforms that season, back in 1971, Smith popped the eyes of Schayes and the rest of the Braves brass with his performance in the agility drill.
In this drill, the players ran from one end of the line of the court to quarter-court and back, then to half-court and back, then to three-quarter court and back, and finally to the other end line and back.
Well, when Randy completed that first agility drill, his closest pursuer still hadn’t made it to the other end of the court.
Randy was so much the best, so much the fastest, that he could have showered before the second guy got home.
Right then and there, Schayes and the rest of the Braves people – Eddie Donovan, John McCarthy and Joe Niland – made up their minds.
“For a kid with this kind of speed,” Schayes said, “there’s got to be a place on the squad.”
SO RANDY SMITH stuck with the Braves. And now, today, fans everywhere know who he is and why guards who guard him run the risk of going cross-eyed – since it sometimes seems that there are three of him.
Randy Smith, the fellow who for seven years, night after night, has played beautiful music out there on the basketball court – the guy who has conducted, composed, arranged – has finally been allowed to make all the curtain calls, instead of somebody else.
Sunday afternoon, in the Atlanta Omni, justice was served.
For more on the Braves see the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” which features a comprehensive team history and over 260 vintage photos.
The Bills won another game Sunday and now have competition for the first pick in next April’s NFL draft. And Ryan Fitzpatrick looked like a Pro-Bowl quarterback in the game’s second half against the Cincinnati, the team that he once played for.
In two short weeks the Bills have gone from a potential 0-16 doormat to a team that is within two games of nine other teams for the league’s worst record (Carolina presently has a 1-9 record).
More impressive turnaround is the recent play of the Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick; whose quarterback rating of 88.1 places him ahead of recent first-round quarterback picks Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, and Mark Sanchez. By the way, Fitzpatrick was a 7th round pick in 2005.
All this begs the question: Do the Bills have to draft a quarterback with their first round pick next spring, or continue to build around Fitzpatrick? Stay tuned.
By Chris Wendel
Clear skies and unseasonably warm weather greeted my brother Tim and I as we visited Western New York last week. Despite our affinity for the area we grew up in, it’s not often that we are there at the same time.
Tim was invited to speak in our hometown of Lockport, at an author’s event held at the Lockport Public Library. Also featured was Buffalo News sportswriter Amy Moritz. Both reflected on their Lockport roots and the impact of growing up in the area had on their career paths, writing, and relevant sports related topics. There were plenty of Braves fans at the event, many of which were still seeking clarification on the final resting place of the franchise (it’s complicated, but the answer is Boston).
The two-day tour also included visits to the Archive Department of Buffalo State College whose staff was instrumental in the compilation of the book Buffalo, Home of the Braves, the Sabres photo exhibit at the Albright Knox Art Gallery, restaurants serving great but not necessarily the most nutritious food (can you say Ted’s?), and our parents’ house (where we also grew up) near the Erie Canal.
The Sabres exhibit is worth seeing, with an interesting short film loop with incredibly fast paced footage taken from player helmet cameras at a Sabres game played at HSBC Arena.