Our Daily Dread: What’s great about 48? One step closer to less expensive dinners at Denny’s

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Hy Peskin/Life Magazine
Three-foot, seven-inch Eddie Gaedel, hired by owner Bill Veerk of the Cleveland Browns, tips his hat to the crowd during his one and only appearance on Aug. 19, 1951.

Three years ago, I wrote that I felt Eddie Gaedel-kinda small. Like a 45 spinning in a 78 world.

It was one of my first blog postings (linked here), which happened to fall on my 45th birthday.

This is post No. 2,375. Where has all that wasted time gone?

A quick reassessment: Newspapers are much closer to disappearing, Twittering seems to be much more of a communication skill than e-mail, Facebook or whatever else is out there, and blogs … maybe they’ve only exploded more. We like to think we’re a little more YouTube-ish savvy with what we can do with embedding video and audio, but otherwise, we’re content with how this has devolved.

The reason for the piece three years ago was to share the top 10 sports-related people who share a birthday with me — today. It’s worth revisiting, if only to update the photos and show a little more progress on what we can do with these movable type, Internet machine-compatable abilities (and better self-editing):

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1. Eddie Gaedel (born 1925, died 1961, would have been 84 today, or 179 in non-midget years)

That’s his famous photo (above), along with here, his jockstrap donated to the Baseball Reliquary that’s actually on display. Somewhere.

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On Aug. 19, 1951, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck sent the 3-foot-7 Gaedel up to the plate as a pinch hitter against the Detroit Tigers.

From the autobiography of Veeck: “Eddie, I’ve got your life insured for a million dollars. I’ve got a gun stashed up on the roof. But don’t you let any of that bother you. You just crouch over like you’ve been doing and take four pitches, huh?”

He walked. Here’s the box score (linked here).

The amazing Reliquary (and curator Terry Cannon ) actually has a bunch of Gaedel stuff in its archive, including a letter he wrote in 1959 that calls then-American League president Will Harridge a “little bastard” for banning midgets from the game after that stunt.

Talk about the little pot calling the tiny kettle black.

Even more creepy, he died on June 18, 1961 — 10 days after I was born (his Wikipedia bio here). Here’s more on his obit (linked here).

And more on the live and strange times of Gaedel (linked here).

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2. Byron White (born 1917, died 2002, would have been 92 today)

Maybe he’s better known as “Whizzer,” a nickname I’d sure love to have had. Denver sports writer Leonard Kahn gave the name to the All-American halfback at Colorado because “he seemed to whiz by people.”

In 1938, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates (now the Steelers) in what the largest contract in pro history: $15,800. He took a Rhodes Scholarship a year later, fought in WWII, went back to the NFL with the Detroit Lions in 1940 to lead league in rushing, then retired in 1941.

Oh, and then in 1962 he was named to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Kennedy (whom he met while in the Navy), was one of two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, then retired in 1993. But think about his athletic achievements: He led the nation in rushing with a record-breaking total of 1,121 yards — in eight games, because that’s all they played then) __ and scored 122 points.

He still holds close to a dozen Colorado records, including longest punt (83 yards) and highest average gain per rush in a season (8.7). Back then, nobody beat “The Whizzer.”

His Wiki bio (linked here).

3. Kevin Gross (born 1961, is also 48 today)

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A personal favorite, because, in a parallel universe, this was my 15-year Major League Baseball career played out. Even with the mustache.

Sharing the exact day of birth, I can’t help but think of what would happen if my mom accidentally took him (born in Downey) instead of me (born in Baldwin Hills), but that would have taken some feat of rapid transit unheard in the days of Camelot.

What’s cool to me is he had to go through his entire career (1983-97) with the word “Gross” on his back. He once extorted $3.3 million from the Texas Rangers as a free-agent pitcher in 1996 (not quite what the team paid for Alex Rodriguez) and was hardly effective for them, but then got the Angels to sign him for 12 games before he called it quits.

Here are the three top Gross achievements during his 15-year big-league career.
August 8, 1988: Yes, on 8-8-88, he started for the Phillies in the first night game at Wrigley Field. The game, however, was rained out in the fourth inning with the Cubs up, 3-1, costing Gross the historic loss, and erasing a home run that Ryne Sandberg hit off him. That year, Gross also made the NL All-Star team.

August 17, 1992: As a Dodger (where he was from 91-94), Gross no-hits the hated San Francisco Giants 2-0, the eighth no-no in L.A. Dodger history. It was one of my first nights working in the office at the Daily News laying out the paper, and this was a mess (despite my calm demeanor). For the record, Gross threw 99 pitches, 71 for strikes, to catcher Mike Scioscia, and the only threat of a Giants hit was a liner that the pesky Robby Thompson hit that Dodgers shortstop Jose Offerman caught. Eric Karros’ homer provided the only runs.

August 10, 1987: Gross is suspended 10 games by baseball when umpires find sandpaper in his glove during the 5th inning of a 4-2 win over the Cubs. He didn’t get his glove back until August, 1991.

His Baseball Reference bio (linked here).

His Baseball Library bio (linked here).

4. Lindsay Davenport (born 1976, is 33 today)

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And still kicking some tail on the tennis courts, after becoming a mom.

The 1996 Olympic gold medalist and three-time Grand Slam winner from Palos Verdes and Chadwick High (Wiki bio here), she’s often on the sidelines at USC football games. I gotta remember that as a way to strike up a conversation, but maybe because she’s 6-foot-2, and standing with her husband (Jon Leach, the former USC tennis great), it’s a little intimidating.

She had a boy, Jagger, in 2007, and is expecting another any day now, which is why she hasn’t competed all season.

She was No. 1 the two previous years, plus ’01 and ’98, and has raked in $22 million in just tournament winnings. Tennis magazine ranked her as the 29th-best player of the preceding 40 years.

If I were a girl, I’d be her.

5. Kim Clijsters (born 1983, is 26 today)

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Another former No. 1-ranked women’s tennis player (Wiki bio here), but because Davenport is beat Clijsters in this 2005 match during the French Open (above), Lindsay gets the higher ranking.

Kim Kong, aka, the babe from Bilzen, Belgium (and now living in a place called Bree) has pulled in $14 mil in tennis winnings. Anna Kournikova could only dream of doing that.

Over the last three years, she’s gotten married to Brian Lynch, a former U.S. basketball player who’s in Belgium playing, and last year she had a baby girl. Yet, in a freaky circumstnace, Clijsters’ mother had a son with her second husband a few weeks after her granddaughter was born.

6. Van Lingle Mungo (born 1911, died in 1985, would have been 98 today)

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According to the BaseballAlmanac.com, Casey Stengel was quoted saying: “Mungo and I get along fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I duck” which refers to the wild, mean, and often violent temper seen in Van Mungo, both on and off the field.
The BaseballLibrary.com adds: “Mungo was wild and mean, a high-kicking fireballer with a fierce temper. He was known as a drinker, and was involved in some bizarre off-the-field incidents. He once had to be smuggled out of Cuba to escape the machete-wielding husband of a nightclub dancer with whom he’d been caught in bed.”

My kinda guy.

In his big-league debut — Sept. 12, 1931 — he loaded the bases during the first inning, pitched his way out of it, then finished with a 2-0 shutout against the Boston Braves. He also had a single and a triple himself.

But in the mid-1930s, pitching for hapless Dodger clubs, he was always upset by his teammates’ ineptitude. His career went downhill after the flamethrower, compared in talent to Dizzy Dean and Carl Hubbell, injured his arm in the 1937 All-Star Game. He won only 13 ML games over his next six seasons, then, becoming a junkballer, he went 14-7 in 1945.

His career stats (1931-45): 120-115 with a 3.47 ERA, three All-Star games. And a novelty bossa nova-beat song written about him in 1969 by Dave Frishberg that probably brought him more fame than when he played. That’s how life works sometimes.

His Wiki bio (linked here).

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7. Willie T. Davenport (born 1942, died in 2002, would have been 67 today).

A second Davenport … what are the odds? Couch that thought a minute.

Won the gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City games in the 110-meter hurdles (13.33 seconds), and a bronze in the 1976 Montreal Games after finishing fourth in the 1972 Munich Games. He then made the 1980 Winter Olympic bobsled team. He also served proudly in the Army National Guard.

No relation to Lindsay Davenport or Willie T. Ribbs.

8. Herb Adderley (born 1939, is 70 today).

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Five-time All-NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys (Wikipedia profile linked here) from 1961 to 1971, a 60-yard TD on an interception in Super Bowl II, five NFL title games and four Super Bowls, 48 picks in his career (7 returned for TDs) and 120 kickoff returns (2 for TDs). Pro Football Hall of Famer. Get the hell out of his way.

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9. Linda Hanley (born 1960, is 49 today).

That’s her on the left, setting Karri Poppinga for a 1997 Sports Illustrated photo.

You like?

One of the top babes on the women’s pro beach tour (’76 to 2003), won four titles in four different decades. (Her bio linked here).

A three-time all-American from UCLA (when she was known as Linda Robertson) who lives in the Palisades, married to John Hanley, another beach stud (from ’79 to ’95)

OK, if I was a girl, I’d probably be her, just to go to the beach every day. Unless they are setting a medicine ball, which is kinda looks like here.

10. Bryant Reeves (born 1973, is 36 today)

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Big Freakin’ Country. Seven feet and 275 pounds (at least) when the Oklahoma State pudgeball came into the NBA with the Vancouver Grizzles (their first-ever draft pick, sixth overall in 1995).

Six seasons later, he was a goner.

Key career move: Signing a seven-year contract extension in 1997, just before he became WAY overweight and injuries started hitting him, forcing him to retire midway through 2001-02. On July 8, 1997, the Grizzlies signed him to a six-year contract extension worth $65 mil.

“This deal works both ways,” Reeves, 24, said at the time. “It’s an important message that Vancouver is a very nice place to play. I also believe we’re going to win. By doing this, it does send a message that we’re on the right track.”

Keep thinking that, big man. In the big country, dreams stay with you.

His Wiki bio (linked here).

Honorable mention:

== Troy Vincent (born 1971, is 38 today), spent 15 years in the NFL as a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback for Miami, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Washington, and was president of the NFL Players Union with a pretty snappy Website (linked here). Earlier this year, he tried to get the job as the NFLPA’s executive director position but lost the election.

== Bryan McCabe (born 1975, is 34 today), defenseman for the Florida Panthers (Wiki bio here). From his own Website, this sentence: “Just finishing his seventh season in the NHL, Bryan McCabe has showed the hockey world that he’s just that damn good.”

== Kathyrn Marshall (born 1967, is 42 today, God Bless Her), a Scottish LPGA-er (who has a bit of a Mrs. Doubtfire look to her) and has the honor of winning the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic in 1995.

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And the list goes on.

Happy birthday to us.

The “8″ in 1/8th is for today. And if you’re looking for me this afternoon, I’m trying out my new surfboard. Hang in there.

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