Dodger Day at Redlands Country Club. It was, in the days of 1981, one of the last times it ever occurred.
Dodger owner Walter O’Malley and Redlands Boys & Girls Club official Jack Cooper concocted a charity golf event that included some Dodger players and coaches.
Al Downing, the 17-year veteran southpaw long since retired as a pitcher, was working for the Dodgers.
I was in his foursome at Dodger Day.
Naturally, the subject of surrendering Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run came up. Not by me, incidentally. It was someone else in the group.
“Why,” joked Downing on the first tee, “is that always the first question people want to ask me?”
Maybe he wasn’t joking.
Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta.
Aaron at the plate.
Downing on the mound.
Some 55,000 screaming fans. Everyone knew what they wanted.
NBC was on hand.
Fans either heard the accounts of NBC’s Curt Gowdy, Braves’ announcer Milo Hamilton or Dodgers’ legend Vin Scully on Downing’s pitch, Aaron’s swing and
Bill Buckner’s leaping attempt on that historic smash.
Maybe, it was suggested, Downing was flustered on such an occasion. Or that he didn’t mind being the goat that gave up the bomb for history’s sake.
No one should ever say that, said Downing.
“I’ve heard those comments a few times,” he said on that 1981 day—seven years after the memorable event. “I gave everything I had in that game.”
As long as there is free media, there will always be off-handed commentaries like that.
“Hank hit three home runs off me,” said Downing, who was dressed for golf that day. “Obviously, that was the one that got the most attention.”
Those events were followed by a banquet. Speeches. Pitcher Charlie Hough. Bullpen catcher Mark Cresse. Downing. Food. Money was raised for the charity.
As for Cooper, who died in 1984, and O’Malley, who died five years earlier, their deaths likely killed off the golf event. There was no one to pick it up.
Aaron, at 97.8% of the Hall of Fame vote from 1982, should have been a unanimous choice. Question: Who was among the 2.2 percent, nine voters overall, that didn’t put Aaron on their ballot?
Equally reprehensible, of course, was that another 1982 inductee, Frank Robinson, received only 89.2 percent.
There are times when baseball’s Hall of Fame is a joke.
How about a county championship cross country championship race at, say, Glen Helen Regional Park?
Or a volleyball Final Four — small schools and large schools — at Cal State San Bernardino’s Coussoulis Arena?
Water polo’s top teams could congregate at that 1984 Olympic pool over on Crafton Hills College’s campus.
That pool, incidentally, was used during the L.A. Games, one of two later sold for use at Crafton.
Now that CIF-Southern Section officials have pulled the plug on Fall sports championships — COVID-19 still on strike — there could be some nice alternatives.
Those fall sports, though, could really flourish without official CIF finals. A San Bernardino County championship could stand tall in anyone’s trophy case.
Won’t happen, though. There’s not enough time to organize such competitions. Best anyone can do is to organize, maybe, between a couple of leagues.
Football, of course, is a mystery. No one wants to pull the plug on that sport.
It’s not education’s call. It’s health regulators.
Can’t compare it to the NFL, either, because that billion-dollar industry has a multitude of expensive safeguards in place that prep sports can’t manage.
Best football teams in San Bernardino County could easily go Aquinas, Citrus Valley and Cajon.
Here’s the trouble with football. Unless teams were illegally working out — lifting, sharing gear, anti-social distancing — there’s no way teams could properly prepare for any kind of competitive season.
Lifting is a must.
Sharing gear is absolute.
Getting closer than six feet at a workout, I would say, is somewhat required.
Gotta admit that Kent Hayden, who had a fiery temperament during basketball games, halftime chats, plus the practices he’d hold in Thunderbird gymnasium, retired way too early for my tastes—1988, I think.
He was up there, though. Retirement was beckoning. One of my first assignments covering sports in this region was covering Yucaipa athletics — late 1970s, early ’80s. He had been coaching at Yucaipa since 1959.
Rumors were that he’d fire an eraser at a player during halftime sessions. Not paying attention, perhaps?
Should mention this: There was no meanness in Hayden’s approach. Guy was cheerful and determined — and competitive.
“There were a lot of broken clipboards,” said Danny Davidsmeier, who still holds the school’s one-game scoring record, 55 points.
Yes, we know. Today’s generation of coaches wouldn’t get away with that.
Hayden and his wife, Patty, lived in Redlands, neighbors in fact with longtime Redlands hoops coach Randy Genung over on Farview Lane.
Hayden told me once about starting up summer league basketball play with then-Terrier coach Jerry Tarkanian in that 1959-61 era.
One lasting memory, one that should linger with all T-Bird hoopsters: Yucaipa’s last boys league championship came in 1972, a year shy of a half century ago.
The coach? Kent Hayden.
RIP, Kent Hayden.
Got a sports tip? Want to chat sports? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.