Nothing produces the highs and lows of sports. In this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world we live in, what is here today may be gone tomorrow. From triumph to tragedy, the sheer drama of athletic competition cannot be equaled anywhere. And keeping a good sense of humor about it helps.
Here are some of our favorite quips, quotes, and tales from the world of sports.
The Cincinnati Reds swept the New York Yankees in the 1976 World Series. In the four games, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson hit .529, the highest average ever for a player on a losing team. Following the sweep, reporters asked Reds manager Sparky Anderson how Munson stacked up against his catcher, ten-time gold glover and Series MVP, Johnny Bench. “Munson is an outstanding player and he would hit .300 in the National League, but I don’t want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to John.”
In 1975, Chicago White Sox outfielder Pat Kelly experienced a Christian reawakening, and he gave up drinking, carousing and cussing. Kelly was traded to Baltimore the following year, where he played for the legendary Earl Weaver. One day in 1979, Kelly sat beside the heavy smoking-and-swearing manager in the Orioles dugout. Kelly said, “Earl, it’s great to walk with the Lord, it’s great to walk with Jesus.”
Weaver looked at the born-again Kelly and revealed that he had other aspirations for his outfielder. “Pat,” said Weaver, “I’d rather have you walk with the bases loaded.”
“He is not in a union. He can carry the ball as many times as we want him to. Anyway, the ball doesn’t weigh that much.” – former USC coach John McKay, after star halfback O.J. Simpson carried the ball 38 times in a game.
“You people probably don’t know this,” said Hot Rod Hundley, who played six seasons for the Lakers, “but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and yours truly both wore uniform number 33. We have combined to score the most points in the history of the NBA wearing the same jersey number – 42,000 points. Of course, 41,000 of those were scored by Kareem!”
During a spring training game in 1968, Johnny Bench was catching for veteran right-hander Jim Maloney. Maloney was once a hard thrower, but injuries had dramatically reduced the speed of his fastball. Maloney repeatedly shook off his rookie catcher, who was calling for breaking balls, and insisted on throwing his heater. Frustrated, Bench visited the mound and bluntly told Maloney, “Your fastball’s not popping.” Maloney cursed the young catcher out. Bench returned to his position behind the plate and called for a curve, only to be shaken off again. Bench gave in to the veteran and signaled for a fastball. As Maloney went into his windup, Bench dropped his catcher’s mitt and caught the ball barehanded.
After a 1997 incident in which Charles Barkley was charged with throwing a heckler out of a first floor window in a bar, the 1993 NBA MVP appeared before a judge who asked, “Your sanctions are community service and a fine, do you have any regrets? To which Sir Charles replied, “Yeah, I regret we weren’t on a higher floor.”
One night in Toronto, the Detroit Red Wings were faring badly, behind both on the scoreboard and in the penalty department. After Detroit gave up yet another power-play goal, Gordie Howe skated over to the head official, who’d been raised in Toronto.
“Hey, ref. What would you do if I called you a homer?”
“Well, I’d have to give you two minutes, Gord.”
“Oh. What would you do if I just thought that instead?
“I couldn’t do anything there, Gord. Your thoughts are your own.”
“Good! Because I think you’re a !#@*ing homer!”
Steve Spurrier won a national championship and six SEC titles at Florida. Winner of the 1966 Heisman Trophy, he also coached 1996 Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. When a 2015 fire at Auburn University destroyed 20 books, Spurrier quipped, “The real tragedy was that 15 hadn’t been colored yet.”
Ted Williams is the greatest hitter who ever lived. Late in his career, he struck out against Pedro Ramos, a rookie pitcher who had just been called up from the minors. The Cuban hurler kept the ball and, after the game, went into the Red Sox dugout to get Williams to sign it. Asked to sign a ball he had struck out on, Williams exploded. Realizing that Ramos was terribly close to tears, Teddy Ballgame softened and reluctantly signed the baseball.
A few weeks later, Williams faced Ramos again. The Splendid Slinter drilled the right-hander’s first offering deep into the right field bleachers for a majestic home run. As Williams rounded first base, he yelled at Ramos, “I’ll sign that sonuvabitch too…if you can ever find it!”
Hot Rod Hundley was an All-American guard for the University of West Virginia in 1957. Several years later, Hundley returned to his alma mater to play in a charity game at the WVU Coliseum, constructed ten years after he left WVU. Jerry West, who also attended West Virginia, played in the game as well. A three-time All-American, West co-captained the gold-medal-winning 1960 Olympic basketball team and is the greatest player in Mountaineers history. On the way to the charity game, Hundley told West, “I built this building.” West retorted, “Yeah, but I paid it off.”