Cradle of Quarterbacks

“It’s our people and work ethic. The six Hall of Fame QB’s from Western PA. didn’t do it themselves.”

Joe Namath

Johnny Unitas won three NFL Championships and one Super Bowl. He was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection who was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player on three occasions. Joe Montana was a four-time Super Bowl Champion and a three-time Super Bowl MVP. Montana played in eight Pro Bowls and twice was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Joe Namath led the New York Jets to a Super Bowl victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. Namath was a four-time AFL All-Star and two-time AFL MVP. Dan Marino was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection who was the NFL’s MVP in 1984. Jim Kelly was a five-time Pro Bowl selection who led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls. George Blanda played more seasons of Pro Football (26) than anyone else played. He was a four-time AFL All-Star who also won the AFL’s MVP. Blanda made a name for himself as a place kicker, too.

These six men all from Western Pennsylvania are six of the 26 quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That one region in the Country is the cradle of quarterbacks is truly incredible! Western Pennsylvania has produced other fine quarterbacks but these are the best of the best! I think, like most people, I would rank Tom Brady as the best quarterback of all-time with Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas neck and neck for second and third. Joe Namath was a great quarterback for a short period of time and Dan Marino and Jim Kelly were outstanding for many years. Western Pennsylvania had its foundation in coalmines, steel mills, and railroads. Many of the great athletes from there were first and second generation sons of immigrants. The toughness, work ethic, and great attitude that these people possessed made them really special!

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Larry Legend

“I’m 60 years old and want to do things away from basketball.”

Larry Bird

Larry Bird stepped down last week as the Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations. Bird is the only man in NBA history to be the League’s Most Valuable Player, the Coach of the Year and the Executive of the Year. Larry Bird was the National Player of the Year, his senior season at Indiana State (1979). The following season, he was the NBA Rookie of the Year. Larry Bird was named the NBA Most Valuable Player on three occasions. He was named MVP of the NBA Finals twice and was an All-Star in 12 of his 13 seasons. Larry Bird led the Celtics to three Championships in the 1980’s.

I first saw Larry Bird play when he was a junior at Indiana State. I recognized how talented he was but I do not think anyone realized that he would go on to become one of the greatest players in NBA history. Larry Bird had incredible eye-hand coordination. Let’s remember that not only was he a great scorer, but he also was a good rebounder and an excellent passer. Bird was a team player, one who would dive for loose balls.

Larry Bird was the head coach of the Pacers for three years; they went to the League Finals once and the Conference Finals the other two seasons. During Bird’s time as President of the Pacers, they went to the Conference Finals on three occasions. Anyone in that position, will have his “hits and misses.” The last couple of seasons were especially challenging and Bird felt it was time to “move on.” For all of his successes, Larry Bird came close as a coach, but was unable to bring the Indiana Pacers a Championship as a coach or as an executive.

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“It’s about run production and run reduction with defense & pitching.”

Buck Showalter

Buck Showalter has been the manager of the Baltimore Orioles since 2010. Showalter has been a Major League Manager for almost 20 years. He managed the New York Yankees from 1992 to 1995; the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1998 to 2000; and the Texas Rangers from 2003 to 2006. Showalter has been named the American League Manager of the Year on three occasions: 1994, 2004, and 2014. Showalter managed in the Minor Leagues with the Yankees for five seasons. He played Minor League Baseball in the Yankees’ system for seven years.

Buck Showalter is one of the best managers in Major League Baseball.  Showalter is very detail oriented and that is one of his strengths. I spoke with Don Wener, the Baltimore Orioles catching coordinator, about Showalter. Here is what Werner has to say about Showalter: “Buck is brilliant with the pitching staff. He has a great feel for match ups. Buck runs a great spring training. It is very organized. Buck is concerned about all of his players and treats every one of them with respect. Buck’s work ethic is second to none.” Well deserved praise for Buck from Don Werner. Quite often, managers are given more credit than they should be given when a team wins and conversely managers often are criticized more than they should be when a team loses. A manager must have talent to win; the great ones like Buck Showalter know how to maximize that talent and get their teams to overachieve and to play winning baseball.

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“I was brought into situations God couldn’t get out of, and I got out of them.”
Rich “Goose” Gossage

Rich Gossage pitched in the Major Leagues with nine teams over 22.years. Gossage appeared in 1,002 games and led the American League in saves on three occasions. Not only did Gossage save 310 games, but he also compiled 124 wins. Gossage was a nine-time All-Star, who in a seven year period (1977-1983), never had an ERA above 2.62. Rich Gossage was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

The “Goose” was a great pitcher, a tough guy, and a fierce competitor! Gossage is quite outspoken about the way baseball has changed over the years. He makes a valid point about his opposition to players who used steroids getting into the Hall of Fame. Gossage also is correct when he points out that it now takes two or three pitchers to get the same number of outs that Gossage got when he was a “closer.” Gossage frequently came into games in the 7th and 8th innings when there were two or three men on base. 125 of Gossage’s saves required six or more outs. The game has changed with “set up” men pitching and quite often dominating the 7th and 8th innings. Closers usually only pitch one inning these days. Gossage and his fellow Hall of Fame relief pitchers Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers were masters of the difficult multi inning saves. Mariano Rivera, Dennis Eckersley and others also were great with one-inning saves.

Gossage is “old school”. He is a tough guy, and when I share this next story, you will understand why I feel that he is a really good man. When Gossage joined the New York Yankees in 1978, his manager, Billy Martin, told him to hit Texas Rangers outfielder Billy Sample in the head, with a pitched ball. Many pitchers will not disobey a manager’s orders, especially when that pitcher has just joined the team. Gossage realized he could seriously hurt Billy Sample and told Billy Martin that he would not hit him with a pitched ball. Gossage realized it would adversely affect his relationship with Billy Martin, but in the end Gossage did the right thing and showed he was a man of principle.

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“You earn the right to win with effort and togetherness.”
Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens is in his fourth year as head coach of the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have improved in each of Stevens’ years at the helm. Currently, the Celtics are in first place in the Atlantic Division, and they have the second best record in the Eastern Conference (40-22). Brad Stevens was the head coach at Butler University for six years, prior to joining the Celtics. His Butler team had two 30-win seasons and four 20-win seasons. The Bulldogs went to the NCAA Championship Game under Stevens in back to back seasons (2010 & 2011). Butler went 166-49 in Brad Stevens tenure there.

Brad Stevens is a terrific coach!  Stevens turned down many other jobs to remain at Butler, but when the Boston Celtics came calling, he went to the Pros. The success the student-athletes had while Stevens was at Butler was incredible! Those Butler teams were overachievers. Now, Brad Stevens is succeeding as an NBA coach. There have been a number of terrific college basketball coaches who have not done well in the NBA. How does Stevens do it? For starters, Brad Stevens is a very intelligent man. Brad Stevens brings tremendous focus and attention to detail to the job. All great coaches and managers hold players accountable. Even though Brad is calm and composed, he holds his players accountable. The even keeled disposition he posseses, has a very positive and settling effect on his players. Brad Steven had the honor of coaching the East Team in the recent NBA All-Star Game. Brad Stevens is a gentleman, a scholar, a man of integrity, and someone who has achieved so much, at the young age of 40.

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Team & Sweet Lou

“I want to go into the Hall of Fame with Lou Whitaker.”
Alan Trammel

Shortstop Alan Trammel played his entire 19-year career with the Detroit Tigers. Second baseman Lou Whitaker played his entire 18-year career with the Tigers. Trammel rapped out 2,365 hits and Whitaker accumulated 2,369 base hits. Alan Trammel won four Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards. Lou Whitaker won three Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards. Alan Trammel was a six-time All-Star, and Lou Whitaker was a five-time All-Star.

Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker have a unique place in Major League Baseball history. Their first full season in the Major Leagues was 1978, and from late April of that season until 1995, they played alongside one another at shortstop and second base. They are the longest, continuous double-play combination in the long and storied history of MLB. Trammel and Whitaker both compiled impressive statistics; however, you cannot judge a shortstop and second baseman on statistics alone. Terrific shortstops “hold a team together”, and Alan Trammel did just that. Second baseman give a team “a spark”, and Whitaker certainly contributed in that manner.

A case can be made that both men belong in the Hall of Fame, and you would not get an argument from me in that discussion. Both played on the World Series Tiger team of 1984 and Trammel was named the Series MVP. Whitaker was taken in Baseball’s Amateur Draft in 1975; Trammel was selected a year later. And the Tigers were very wise to pair them together in the Minor Leagues and bring them up to the Major Leagues at the same time. Most prospects do not “make it” in the Major Leagues; however, the Tigers thought they had something really special in Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker, and they were right on target.

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“I am honored & humbled to be enshrined into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.”
Tim Raines

Tim Raines was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame last week. Raines played in the Major Leagues for more than 20 years with the Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Florida Marlins. Tim Raines was a seven-time All-Star (1981-1987). Raines led the National League in stolen bases for four consecutive seasons (1981-1984). Raines won the NL batting title in 1986 and in 1987. He was named Most Valuable Player in the All-Star Game.

Tim Raines was a great player from 1981-1987. In fact, you can make the case that he was the second best lead-off man in baseball history – behind only Rickey Henderson. Not only was Raines an All-Star and a stolen base leader, but he also had a terrific on base percentage. When you get a player with great speed who possesses a fine knowledge of the strike zone, you have someone really special. In today’s game, there is no lead-off man who can do what Tim Raines did for those seven years. Raines was a good player for a number of years in the late 80’s and 90’s. And he played a supporting role on two New York Yankee World Championship teams (1996 & 1998). It took Tim Raines 10 years to be elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. With the emphasis on on-base percentage in today’s game, over the years, more and more people have come to appreciate all of Tim Raines’ accomplishments.

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