Wil­lie McCovey, Stan Mikita among the sports leg­ends who passed away in 2018

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Fred Lief

They were touch­stones of sports in the 1960s, and sports lost three of the best in 2018: big-hit­ting Wil­lie McCovey of the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants; Jim Tay­lor, the pun­ish­ing Green Bay Pack­ers full­back; and Stan Mikita, the em­bod­i­ment of pow­er­ful Chicago Black­hawks teams.

Mikita, the first to play in the NHL from what was then Cze­choslo­vakia, spent all of his 22 sea­sons with Chicago. If fans need any re­minder of what he meant to the team they can turn to his statue out­side the arena.

Tay­lor may have been born in Louisiana and fin­ished his ca­reer in the bayou with the Saints, but no one was bet­ter suited for the un­for­giv­ing de­mands of Green Bay win­ters and its mythol­o­gized “frozen tun­dra.”

McCovey, with the loop­ing left-handed swing, has not just a statue in San Fran­cisco but a body of wa­ter named for him — McCovey Cove, where home run balls to right field go to rest in the bay.

Each ar­rived just as the 1950s was go­ing through its last paces and sports had yet to be­come a round-the-clock cor­po­rate be­he­moth.


He gave hockey the curved stick blade — not that his shot needed a new layer of trick­ery — and gave Chicago a hockey team that would win its first cham­pi­onship in more than 20 years and be­come a peren­nial force.

Mikita , who died at 78, com­bined with Bobby Hull and goalie Glenn Hall to send the Black­hawks to the 1961 Stan­ley Cup ti­tle. The team lost in the fi­nals the next year. Mikita, a nine-time All-Star, led the league in points four times.

He is the only player to win the Hart (MVP), Art Ross (scor­ing) and Lady Byng (sports­man­ship) tro­phies in the same sea­son, do­ing so in 1967 and 1968. The Lady Byng was of par­tic­u­lar note con­sid­er­ing that early on he ran up penal­ties, try­ing to show at just 5-foot-9 he could take on the big boys. Later, he was among the first to wear a hel­met..


Straight out of cen­tral cast­ing, Tay­lor owned the role of the pun­ish­ing, un­re­lent­ing full­back, all blood and grit and guts.

Vince Lom­bardi came to the Pack­ers a year after Tay­lor, and the coach had his man to lead his ground forces — the vaunted Green Bay “Sweep,” with pulling guards mak­ing way for Tay­lor and Paul Hor­nung.

Tay­lor , a Hall of Famer who died at 83, helped the Pack­ers win four cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing the first Su­per Bowl in which he scored the first touch­down. He had five straight sea­sons in which he ran for 1,000 yards. In 1962, he was the MVP.

Tay­lor was of­ten com­pared to Jim Brown, but Lom­bardi saw a dif­fer­ence.

“Jim Brown will give you that leg (to tackle) and then take it away from you,” the coach said. “Jim Tay­lor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest.”

That ethic was clear in the 1962 cham­pi­onship against the New York Gi­ants on a freez­ing day with fierce wind. Tay­lor, hounded by line­backer Sam Huff, needed seven stitches for a gashed el­bow at half­time. His tongue was blood­ied. After Green Bay’s 16-7 vic­tory, team­mate Jerry Kramer re­called a shiv­er­ing and spent Tay­lor cov­er­ing him­self with a top­coat all the way home.

“You got to en­joy pun­ish­ment,” Tay­lor once said, “be­cause you are go­ing to de­liver so much of it, and you are go­ing to get so much of it.”


He never let go of it. What if he pulled the ball a few feet more? What if it had been a bit higher?

It was Game 7 of the 1962 World Se­ries. The Gi­ants trailed the Yan­kees 1-0 in the ninth in­ning but had run­ners on sec­ond and third with two out. McCovey was up and he scorched the ball, but shoul­der-high and right at sec­ond base­man Bobby Richard­son. That was as close as McCovey came to a cham­pi­onship.

“I still think about it all the time,” he said four years ago.

But McCovey could also dwell on a ca­reer in which he hit 521 home runs and bat­ted .270 over 22 sea­sons, all but three with the Gi­ants. The 6-foot-4 slug­ger known as “Stretch” was the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 1959, go­ing 4 for 4 in his de­but, and its MVP in 1969. He was a six-time All-Star with bum knees who glided into the Hall of Fame.

McCovey was born in Mo­bile, Alabama — as was his con­tem­po­rary Hank

Aaron — and died at 80, beloved in San Fran­cisco. The Gi­ants, of course, meant Wil­lie Mays. But Mays’ ma­jor league roots took hold in Har­lem and the Polo Grounds. Bay Area fans had McCovey to them­selves. And McCovey never lost touch, bask­ing in the team’s even­tual World Se­ries titles.

“Wil­lie was a su­perb am­bas­sador for the Gi­ants and our game,” Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said.

Sports this year lost oth­ers who blazed paths:

•Anne Dono­van , a pioneer of women’s bas­ket­ball, died at 56. She was 6-8 and a Hall of Famer who won cham­pi­onships as player or coach wher­ever she went: Old Do­min­ion, the Olympics, the WNBA.

•Broad­caster Keith Jack­son , 89, was ami­able com­pany for so many years across all sports. But es­pe­cially in front of a TV for a col­lege foot­ball Satur­day, with Jack­son ready for a “Whoa, Nelly!” when the mo­ment was right.

•Roger Ban­nis­ter, the Bri­tish track great who died at 88, smashed one of the might­i­est bar­ri­ers in sports in 1954 — the four­minute mile. But he would al­ways in­sist his work as a neu­rol­o­gist mat­tered far more than his time of 3:59.4.

Base­ball also said good­bye to third base­man Ed Charles and his joy­ous leap after the Mets won the 1969 World Se­ries; Tony Cloninger, the Braves pitcher who hit two grand slams in a game; Rusty Staub, the “Le Grand Or­ange” and restau­ra­teur with more than 2,700 hits; Red Schoen­di­enst, a St. Louis base­ball lifer who at 95 had been the oldest liv­ing Hall of Famer; Wally Moon, the 1954 NL Rookie of the Year who helped the Dodgers get to three World Se­ries; Os­car Gam­ble, owner of 200 home runs and a re­splen­dent afro; um­pires Doug Har­vey (nick­named “God”) and Dutch Ren­nert, he of the bel­low­ing strike call; and Wayne Huizenga, whose Florida busi­ness em­pire in­cluded not only the Mar­lins but the NFL’s Dol­phins and NHL’s


Bas­ket­ball is now with­out the Celtics’ Jo Jo White and 76ers’ Hal Greer, champion guards who could hit a pull-up jumper like few oth­ers; Vic Bubas, the coach who set the foun­da­tion for Duke bas­ket­ball; Frank Ram­sey, sixth man for the mighty Celtics teams of the 1960s; Wil­lie Naulls, among the NBA’s early black stars and win­ner of three titles with the Celtics; Jack McKin­ney, coach of the “Show­time” Lakers whose ca­reer was un­der­cut by a bi­cy­cle ac­ci­dent that left him co­matose; Paul Allen, the Portland Trail Blaz­ers owner whose pas­sion for bas­ket­ball did not pre­vent him from own­ing the NFL’s Seat­tle Sea­hawks; and Tex Win­ter, 96, one the game’s most in­sight­ful minds and guru of the tri­an­gle of­fense.

Foot­ball mourned Dwight Clark , whose twist­ing touch­down sent the 49ers to their first trip to the Su­per Bowl and left the NFL with a peer­less im­age of “The Catch”; Billy Can­non, the 1959 LSU Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner whose fine ca­reer as pro was fol­lowed by one in den­tistry and time in prison for coun­ter­feit­ing; Tommy Mc­Don­ald, the small, fleet re­ceiver who teamed with Norm Van Brock­lin on the Ea­gles’ 1960 ti­tle team; coaches Chuck Knox, who led the Los An­ge­les Rams to three straight NFC cham­pi­onship games be­hind his “Ground Chuck of­fense; Dar­ryl Rodgers, who with the woe­be­gone Detroit Li­ons said, “You don’t have to be a Phi Beta Kappa to know we’re go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion”; and Earle Bruce, an Ohio State pa­tri­arch who suc­ceeded Woody Hayes. The game is also di­min­ished with­out Bob McNair, the Tex­ans owner and founder who re­turned the NFL to Hous­ton; and Burt Reynolds, the Florida State run­ning back who never lost his love for Semi­noles foot­ball all through his movie life.

Gone from hockey are John Ziegler, the NHL pres­i­dent who gave the league an in­ter­na­tional look but presided over a 1992 play­ers strike; Bill Tor­rey,

gen­eral man­ager of the 1980s New York Is­lander dy­nasty and first pres­i­dent of the Florida Pan­thers; Johnny McKen­zie, the nonon­sense winger who led the Bru­ins to two Stan­ley Cups; and Ab Mc­Don­ald, who played on Mikita’s line dur­ing the Black­hawks’ 1961 cham­pi­onship sea­son. In the Saskatchewan prairie, a semi-trailer slammed a bus car­ry­ing a ju­nior team, leav­ing 16 dead. Said Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock: “It’s got to rip the heart out of your chest.”

Box­ing’s losses in­cluded Karl Milden­berger, the Ger­man heavy­weight who went 12 rounds with Muham­mad Ali in 1966. In auto rac­ing, it was doit-all Dan Gur­ney, who won in NASCAR, For­mula One and IndyCar. In horse rac­ing, it was Manny Ycaza, the 1964 Bel­mont Stakes win­ner who cut a path for Latino jock­eys, and Ron­nie Franklin, aboard Spec­tac­u­lar Bid for wins in 1979 Ken­tucky Derby and Preak­ness. In golf, it was two-time ma­jor win­ner Hu­bert Green; and Bruce Li­et­zke, a win­ner who loved a good time and didn’t care much for prac­tice.

Soc­cer grieved for Wal­ter Bahr, the last liv­ing player from the U.S. team that rocked Eng­land at the 1950 World Cup and the fa­ther of two NFL kick­ers. Ten­nis no longer has the grace­ful Maria Bueno, a Brazil­ian trail­blazer who won Wim­ble­don three times and four U.S. Opens. In gym­nas­tics, Elena Shushunova, the Soviet who won the 1988 Olympic all-around, died at 49. Bruno Sam­martino was pro wrestling’s work­ing­man champion and longtime box-of­fice draw.

News­pa­per pages and screens are poorer with­out Dave An­der­son, the gen­tle­manly Pulitzer Prizewin­ning colum­nist for The New York Times. Like­wise, The As­so­ci­ated Press with the death of Jim O’Con­nell, the Hall of Fame col­lege bas­ket­ball writer and res­i­dent court­side wit.

And dogs ev­ery­where can raise a paw for Uno , the bea­gle who wowed the West­min­ster show a decade ago like no other. Said longtime dog com­men­ta­tor David Frei: “He lit ev­ery­one’s fire.”

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