A One-on-One Conversation with 6-Decade NFL Warrior, PFHOF Candidate John Wooten

By Lenny Moon

When John B. Wooten arrived on the scene in pro football, Dwight Eisenhower was the Commander in Chief in Washington D.C. That same year of 1959 when Wooten was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 53rd pick of the 5th round of the NFL Draft, Alaska became America’s 49th state ( January 3 ), while Hawaii joined the union (August 21) to round out the current half-century total. Fortunately for the incoming offensive lineman from Colorado, perhaps the greatest player in the history of the game preceded him on the roster a couple of years earlier. Wooten would inherit the luxury of blocking for the immortal Jim Brown, referred to as “Superman” by many of his foes. Ironically, Wooten and Brown would formulate a lifelong bond until the mercurial athlete and activist transitioned on May 18th of last year. Following his nine seasons as an active All-Pro player primarily in Cleveland, Wooten continued the grind by adding to his resume, while remaining directly connected to the NFL. He continued his NFL service by becoming a sports agent, scout and Director of Pro Personnel (Dallas), Player Personnel and VP of Player Personnel (Philadelphia) from 1973-1997. From there, Baltimore came calling where Mr Wooten performed the duties of Assistant Director of Pro and College Scouting and later consultant with the Ravens. It was 2003 when he co-founded the Fritz Pollard Alliance (in conjunction with the NFL) along with attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri, with key contributions from former NFL greats Kellen Winslow and Harry Carson among others. Although he’s unofficially retired, Wooten is still a key cog in the operation of the FPA and at a spry 87 years of age, still grinding. We recently caught up with the 60-plus year NFL veteran and below are audio and video excerpts from that visit.

Wooten discusses his current semi-retirement role with the Fritz Pollard Alliance (see above)
Wooten comments on the 8 NFL head football coaching vacancies recently filled following last season (see above)
Wooten comments on the recent passing of the legendary Jim Brown (see above)
Wooten comments on the legendary Jim Brown part 2 (see above)
Wooten comments on Tony Dungy (see above)
Wooten comments on Brian Flores (see above)
Wooten comments on Brian Flores, Part 2 (see above)
Wooten comments on Denny Green (see above)
Wooten comments on Marvin Lewis (see above)
Wooten comments on DeMeco Ryans (see above)
Wooten comments on Jarod Mayo (see above)
Wooten comments on Jarod Mayo, Part 2 (see above)
Wooten comments on Art Shell (see above)
Wooten comments on Fritz Pollard (see above)
One of the game’s top coaches of all time is Fritz Pollard Alliance alum Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin holds the NFL record for most consecutive non-losing seasons to begin a coaching career with 17, and has never had a losing season. Tomlin has led his Steelers to 11 playoff runs, 7 division titles, 3 AFC Championship Games, 2 Super Bowl appearances and won a title in Super Bowl XLlIII. Wooten talks about how he discovered future Hall of Fame head coach; Mike Tomlin (see video above)

Former Grambling State QBs Raising the profile of HBCU Football

By Lenny Moon

Two native sons of the state of Louisiana have merged their potent resources to comprise a platform for Historical Black College and Universities (HBCU) gridders that’s carrying that product to new heights. Both are proteges of the legendary football coach at Grambling State in Eddie Robinson. Although they toiled in different eras of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), both became historical quarterbacks in their own right. Monroe, La native James “Shack” Harris selected neighboring Grambling as his institution of higher learning from 1965 thru 1968 and promptly won or shared four SWAC titles. This was during the era when Black college football players largely did not have the option of exhibiting their talents anywhere but Black institutions due to segregation. Translation, some of the best gridiron talent in the country resided on HBCU campuses. Harris would go on to be drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 1969 NFL Draft and became the game’s first Black signal caller to earn the right as the opening day starter with the Los Angeles Rams in 1974. Known as “Shack” by family, friends and teammates, Harris would also become the first Black quarterback in history to earn Pro Bowl status and punctuated his appearance by snaring the MVP of that contest.

Coach Robinson would tap into that same state of Louisiana when he secured another jewel at the quarterback position. A product of Zachary, La (15 miles north of Baton Rouge) Doug Williams tenure on the GSU gridiron scene was (1974-77) and compiled an impressive 36-7 record as a four-year starter and three SWAC championships. The two-time Black College Football Player-of-the-Year finished 4th in the 1977 Heisman Trophy balloting (unheard of for an HBCU QB). He would become the first ever Black signal caller drafted in the 1st round (17th pick of the 1978 NFL Draft by Tampa) and led the talent-challenged Bucs to their first three postseason appearances during his five seasons there. That would serve as a prelude to more history to come down the pipeline from the former GSU star that would permanently embellish his name next to one of the most prolific performances in Super Bowl annals. The setting was San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium (site of Super Bowl XXII) and the opponent was the Denver Broncos on January 31 1988. Williams led a demolition of the John Elway-led Broncos by getting up from a hyper-extended knee in the second quarter and promptly tossed a record 4 TD passes (all in that same quarter) to crush Denver 42-10. This marked the first time that a Black QB started a Super Bowl contest and saw the Washington signal caller break most of the existing significant passing standards in the game’s annals.

That lays the foundation for these two former star signal callers from the same collegiate football program, both mentored by the legendary Eddie Robinson (albeit different eras) that went on to stardom in the professional ranks as players and both spent considerable time in NFL front offices. This collaboration produced the establishment of the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. A few years later, the HBCU Legacy Bowl would come into existence. In partnership with the National Football League, the Legacy Bowl which is an all-star game comprised of draft eligible seniors from the entire Black college football landscape for the purpose of exposing their talents to NFL scouts. Since the advent of integration, HBCU players drafted by the NFL has gone down considerably. Although there is still quality talent on those respective campuses the opportunity to be appropriately scouted by the NFL goes largely untapped. February 24, 2024 marks the 3rd year that the “Allstate HBCU Legacy Bowl” hosted by the Black College Football Hall of Fame and housed at Yulman Stadium on the campus of Tulane University in New Orleans will transpire. Kickoff is slated for 3:00 pm cst and in collaboration with the National Football League, aired nationally on the NFL Network. Additional ticket information can be obtained by contacting http://www.hbculegacybowl.com.

Sponsors of the 2024 “Allstate HBCU Legacy Bowl” include Coors Light, the New Orleans Saints, Allstate Insurance, the National Football League, Adidas, 15 and the Mahomies Foundation (Patrick Mahomes foundation), Riddell, the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Additionally Coca Cola, Zebra Technologies, Cisco, New Orleans & Company, Bobby Wagner (NFL player), Jameis Winston (NFL player), Terron Armstead (NFL player), Tulane University, Hyatt Regency-New Orleans, Alexander & Kennedy Financial Group and Teamwork Online.

This past calendar year, the sports world lost, in my humble opinion, the greatest athlete of any era that also evolved into one of the most impactful social activist of his era. James Nathaniel “Jim” Brown (1936-2023) played his entire nine year career with the Cleveland Browns and changed the standards of the running back position in the National Football League forever. At 6-2, 230 pound, the muscular Brown was larger than most of his era’s linebackers whose duty it was to attempt to bring him down. He combined a gracefulness with his sprinter’s speed and complimented that with an innate intellect that usually placed him slightly ahead of his competition. Brown led the league in rushing 8 of his 9 NFL campaigns. Also noteworthy was leading the “Cleveland Summit” when influential Black athletes of that era were called upon in support of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali who was on the verge of being sent to prison for objecting to being drafted into the military for religious reasons. Among those that the recently retired Brown brought together in1967 was Bill Russell, Cleveland mayor Carl Stokes, John Wooten, Lew Alcindor, Bobby Mitchell and Willie Davis among others.

Other high profile athletes that the world of sports mourn who transitioned during the 2023 calendar year were Ralph Boston (USA Olympic star who became the 1st person to break the 27 ft barrier in the long jump and earned medals in the 1960 Rome Olympics, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Vida Blue was a fireballing left-handed major league baseball pitcher that was an integral part of three consecutive World Series titles by Oakland As from 1971 to 1974. Formerly the world’s fastest human, Jim Hines of Texas Southern University became the first sprinter to officially break the 10 second mark in the 100 meter dash by posting a 9.95 in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He would add a 4x100m Relay gold medal to his collection in that same Olympics.

George McGinnis was an all-star power forward in both the American Basketball Association (ABA) as well the National Basketball Association (NBA). McGinnis earned the MVP Award in 1975 while with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017. Willis Reed spent his entire pro basketball hall of fame career with the New York Knicks. The Grambling State product led the Knicks to two titles and was the NBA Finals MVP in both 1970 and 1973. The 6-10 center was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Otis Taylor spent his entire 11-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs and led his team to two American Football League championships in 1966 and 1969 as a standout wide receiver. The Prairie View A&M product exhibited one of the glorious moments in the history of the AFL when he snared a screen pass from QB Len Dawson and secured the Chiefs 23-7 Super Bowl IV victory over the Minnesota Vikings with a 46-yard game clinching touchdown.

RePost: Pro Football Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon talks with Lenny Moon about Path to NFL

By Lenny Moon

FORMER HOUSTON OILERS STAR SIGNAL CALLER WARREN MOON WAS SELECTED TO THE “HOUSTON SPORTS HALL OF FAME”, ANNOUNCED ON NOVEMBER 14 2023. MOON ELEVATED A DOWNTROTTEN OILERS FRANCHISE TO A PERENNIAL CONTENDER UTILIZING THEIR PATENTED “RUN-AND-SHOOT” OFFENSIVE ATTACK FROM 1984-93. THE 9-TIME PRO BOWL QB WILL BE INDUCTED ALONG WITH NAISMITH HALL OF FAME MEMBER CYNTHIA COOPER AND FORMER HOUSTON ASTROS STAR LANCE BERKMAN IN A CEREMONY SLATED FOR JANUARY OF 2024. THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED BACK ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2019.

Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon talks with Lenny Moon about his unconventional trek to play the quarterback position in the National Football League. After being undrafted by the NFL, Moon was determined to remain a signal caller and migrated to Canada where he played his first six years of pro ball while leading the Edmonton Eskimoes to five consecutive Grey Cup titles. In 1984 the NFL staged a bidding war for the services of the Los Angeles native with Bud Adams of the Houston Oilers winning out to secure the services of the future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback.
SEE ABOVE VIDEO

In August of 2006, Harold Warren Moon became the first and only Black quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Los Angeles, Ca native spent his first six pro seasons in the Canadian Football League where he led the Edmonton team to five consecutive championships.

During his 17 NFL seasons, Moon passed for nearly 50,000 yards (49,325), 291 touchdowns, nine 3,000 yard passing seasons, four 4.000 yard passing seasons and selected to the Pro Bowl nine times. While with the Eskimoes of the CFL, the prolific field general threw for 21,228 yards and 144 touchdowns. He holds the distinction of being the only pro football player in history to be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

LennyMoonSports remembers MLB HOF teammates Lou Brock and Bob Gibson-(RePost)

By Lenny Moon

In the spirit of the month of October in Major League Baseball, motivated this re-post of two of the greatest performers the game has ever produced. Former St Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame members Bob Gibson and Lou Brock raised the bar during their prolific careers on the diamond. Gibson, an intimidating fireballer was a fierce competitor who owned the inside portion of the plate. He like many of his contemporaries took pride in finishing what they started; meaning completing games they started. As great as he was during the regular season, his greatness ascended higher in October. Brock, a product of an HBCU (Southern-Baton Rouge), was the most feared player on the bases since the legendary Jackie Robinson. With Brock it wasn’t a matter of “if” he would attempt a steal, it was most often “when”. The Arkansas native would end his career as the game’s leading base stealer (before being eclipsed by Rickey Henderson) and deposited over 3,000 hits. Like Gibby, Brock would elevate his game even higher during the postseason to help lead the Redbirds to three World Series appearances in the 60s (1964, 67 & 68) while winning two of the three (1964 and 1967). Ironically both MLB Hall of Famers died within a month of the other back in 2020.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Gibson-and-Brock.jpg

Historically, the St Louis Cardinals have been one of Major League Baseball’s storied franchises. Certainly, during the 1960’s St Louis became the team to beat in the National League earning three appearances in the World Series (1964, 1967 and 1968) while winning those first two. Spearheading the charge were two of the greatest players the game has ever witnessed. One an intimidating fireballer that literally changed the game from the way he dominated from the hill. The other, a multi-talented speedster that raised the bar on the artistic way of exploiting opposing defenses and altering the concentration level of pitchers and catchers. Both were born the same year (1939) and ironically this duo recently passed within one month of the other.

Hurler Bob Gibson spent 17 seasons (all with St Louis) as the ace of the Red Birds staff, and evolved into one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. The 9-time all-star accrued a 251-174 record with 3117 strikeouts and a career 2.91 earned run averaged. The former versatile athlete who once played for the Harlem Globetrotters, was a 9-time Gold Glove winner to go along with his two Cy Young Awards signifying the top pitcher in baseball. Gibson peaked during the 1968 season when he posted a season not seen in MLB before or since. That campaign saw Gibson take the hill for the Cards on 34 occasions and posted a whopping 28 complete games. His 22-9 record does not nearly tell the story of his lack of run support that season. Gibby bewildered opponents by tossing 13 shutouts and a microscopic 1.12 ERA (major league record). That equates to less than 1.5 runs per 9 innings. That very next season, MLB lowered the mound to provide more of an advantage for hitters. Gibson is a member of Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team and was unanimously inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Brock-and-Gibby.jpg

The son of a sharecropper, Lou Brock was born in El Dorado, Arkansas and raised in Collinston, La (24 miles NW of Monroe). Brock penetrated the national baseball radar screen by leading Southern University-Baton Rouge, La to the 1960 NAIA National Baseball Championship while posting an impressive .500 batting average for the season. The 19-yr MLB veteran was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs where he spent his first 3 1/2 seasons before being traded to St Louis in the middle of the 1964 season. Once he donned the red uniform of the Cardinals, he blossomed into one of the league’s premier talents. Brock ignited a sub-.500 team to an eventual World Series champion by hitting .348 and stealing 33 bases to close out that season. They would go on to defeat the favored New York Yankees in the Fall Classic to punctuate their comeback campaign.

Although a crafty, linedrive-type hitter that safely swatted 3023 base knocks, Brock will always be known for his legs and intelligence on the base paths. The 6-time all-star led the National League in steals in 8 of 9 years from (1966-74). He exhibited his consistency on the bases by pilfering 50 or more stolen bases 9 times. The postseason was another area where the former Southern Jaguar excelled where his .391 World Series batting average and 14 stolen bases are records for players that participated in at least 20 games. Brock’s 118 stolen bases in a single season were a MLB record until protégé Rickey Henderson came along to re-establish the standard of 130 in 1982. Brock’s career stolen base record of 892 was also eclipsed by Rickey’s current standard of 1406. Baseball Hall of Fame came calling in 1985 when he was inducted on the first ballot.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Brock-and-Gibson-plaques.jpg





Remembering “Wonderful Willie” Richardson

By Lenny Moon

It’s not too many occasions that one becomes colleagues with a former athlete whose trading cards that were once collected (and traded) by one of the many youngsters that placed this type of gladiator in such high esteem. Such was the case of yours truly and former Jackson State All-American and NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Willie Louis Richardson. The Greenville, Ms native was a longtime football broadcaster for his beloved JSU Tigers when his life came to end back in 2016 in Jackson. He passed of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 76. Our paths crossed during my several decades of covering the Southwestern Athletic Conference in which JSU is a charter member.

As a collegiate player, Willie starred for the Tigers from 1958-62 enjoying a spectacular career in the Mississippi state capital city. He earned Most Valuable Player awards in three post season all-star games including the then College All-Star game vs the defending NFL Champions that was a signature encounter during those days. No one that I’ve met better described the impact of Willie Richardson’s collegiate prowess better than former Detroit Lions star, fellow JSU alum and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lem Barney. I had the good fortune of interviewing Barney several times over the years but it was that first encounter during his induction year of 1992 that really resonated with yours truly. That year was a banner one for Lem in that the secondary star was inducted into both the 1st Annual SWAC Hall of Fame staged in New Orleans as well as the PFHOF in Canton. One of the questions that I bounced off of the highly skilled former NFL secondary star was “What led to his determination of selecting JSU over his other options?”. He offered a two word response “Wonderful Willie”. Not Willie Richardson but simply “Wonderful Willie”.

Below is an excerpt of the aforementioned interview with Lem during the era of his TV broadcasting days with Black Entertainment Television (BET) along with veteran Charlie Neal (see video link below)

Lem Barney became the first of four Jackson State players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. Others that followed were Walter Payton in 1993 (Chicago Bears), Jackie Slater in 2001 (L.A./Stl Rams) and Robert Brazille in 2018 (Houston Oilers).

As accomplished an individual as Willie was, he had a distinctive humbleness about him blended with his apparent self confidence and outgoing personality. I had once read that the City of Jackson had honored him with a parade in the downtown district as a result of his earing MVP in the College All-Star Game in 1962. Bear in mind the era referenced in that state’s history represented the same year that president John F. Kennedy’s administration was forced to provide national guard escort for James Meredith to access his classrooms on a daily basis in Oxford, Ms. This of course followed a Supreme Court ruling that a Black had the right to attend a publicly funded university in the state of Mississippi despite the harsh resistance. Before I leave the topic of Mr Meredith, I discovered through dialog with Willie that he personally knew the civil rights icon who was still residing in the Mississippi area. The two were classmates at Jackson State prior to the civil rights activist embarked on his bold trek up Interstate 55. Upon that realization, I instantly requested a meeting with Mr Meredith in which “Wonderful Willie” graciously accommodated. Needless to say, one of the more surreal experiences of my professional career spending a Sunday afternoon with a true American hero. Thanks again Willie.

As a professional, Richardson was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 7th round of the 1963 NFL Draft. He would play seven seasons with the Colts where he earned two Pro Bowl appearances, one season with Miami before wrapping his nine year pro career back with Baltimore in 1971. There was so much more to say about this gentleman that absolutely loved his alma mater. But for the consideration of allotted space, I’ll put a bow on this presentation by stating (in the spirit of Lem Barney) it was certainly my pleasure to have had the privilege and the honor of knowing “Wonderful Willie”.

Former Radio Executive Icon Ernie Jackson shared his American success story in print

By Lenny Moon

Renowned radio executive Ernest “Ernie” Jackson was called home back on April 30, 2021, having passed at 78 years of age. Prior to his departure, the upstate New York native compiled a comprehensive trek on his impressive professional career that encompassed his passion for community service. From the time that he accepted the position of General Manager at Houston’s top two urban radio stations KMJQ-Majic 102 FM (R&B) and KBXX-97.9 FM (Hip-Hop) he instantly became one of the most influential figures in town. Both stations (under the same roof) were going through challenging times upon his arrival and when Jackson retired in 2001, the two Houston-based stations were deemed “Top Urban Contemporary Radio Stations in America as Ernie was tabbed among the “Top Ten Radio GMs in America” by Radio Ink Magazine.

Jackson’s book entitled “Health, Heart and Pocketbook” can be purchased online at AMAZON (https://www.amazon.com) and BARNES AND NOBLES retail outlets or online (https://www.barnesand nobles.com). Below is an overview of the author’s recently released publication.

For decades, black radio was the second most powerful communication medium in the African American community. Driving the nation’s civil rights movement, radio was their primary and most trusted source for news and information, creating social and political awareness among listeners. But in 1996, a shot was fired… killing black radio!

Shocking and revealing, Ernest Jackson, Jr. exposes who killed black radio in his story, Health, Heart, and Pocketbook. The culprit neutralized the progressive impact of black radio, transforming it from a fountain of critical content and community service to a mere jukebox where news and information became unimportant.

Named one of the top 25 African Americans in broadcasting, Jackson was present for the rise and fall of it all. He shares his memories, beginning from the first time he hosted a local radio station for communication students, progressing into a 28-year influential broadcaster.

Using humor and warmth, Jackson merges the unpleasant faces of racism, failed relationships, and life’s chaos, with that of fond childhood memories of his mother, indulging in sweet cherries, and his love for photography.

EDITORIAL

My friend and colleague Ernie Jackson returned to the world of radio in 2014 when he accepted the position of General Manager of KPVU-91.3 FM. Although keenly aware of his status while he was engineering the ship at Majic 102 and the 97.9 The Boxx, I did not actually cross direct paths with him until his arrival at KPVU. At that time I performed the duties of radio voice for the program’s football and basketball teams. I quickly discovered his affinity for photography (see samples above) and soon afterwards his knowledge of sports. Being a seasoned sports journalist, it’s not difficult to determine if the conversation is exchanged with a novice or one with vastly more depth. Well Ernie possessed a package of a genuine “sports geek”, and I certainly say that in the utmost respectful manner. Being somewhat of a sports historian myself, EJ (my moniker for him) was a refreshing “go to” for a coherent conversation of great athletes and memorable sporting events of days gone by. We had actually developed a syndicated sports radio show model along with former Tennessee Titans star linebacker Eddie Robinson Jr. Both EJ and “ERob” were outstanding while I performed the duties of moderator. ERob would go on to become the head football coach of his alma mater at Alabama State where he was once an All-American on the field as well as Academic All-American in the classroom.

It did not stop there with EJ. He served as my sideline reporter for Prairie View A&M football where once again, performed brilliantly. As the play-by-play announcer, I always felt totally confident that I could drop in at any time of the contest, throw it down to Ernie where he was always ready to exhibit his preparation each and every game. That bonding would carry over to taking in the local Houston Texans games from the pressbox on Sundays when we were not on the road. As I mentioned during his services as one of the speakers, we had sports-related phone conversations 2-3 times per week. Talking about a “homer”, there was no bigger Astros, Rockets to go along with the Texans fan than EJ. Guys like Ernie Jackson depart in the flesh only. I’m sure I’m speaking for the thousands of others that came in direct or indirect contact with EJ that his impact is permanent.

Big George strikes again on the Big Screen

By Lenny Moon

It was only a matter of time before Hollywood reconciled that one of the most fascinating American success stories was lingering right under their noses the whole time. It conceivably could have been that even the brilliant creative minds that consistently produce content for public consumption were not capable of devising a story the likes of Big George Foreman. Born in Marshall, Texas and raised in Houston, the hard-hitting pugilist’s story could easily be appraised as falling under the category of “Least Likely to Succeed”. Attempting to survive in his city’s gritty Fifth Ward as a poor misguided juvenile, trouble was an entity that was never difficult to encounter whether one sought or it simply accommodated your presence just for breathing the oxygen in that radius. Sure there have been any number of success stories attached to individuals that rose above their humble beginnings to attain what many would assess an “Only in America” rewarding destination. What makes Big George’s story so compelling is that his professional boxing career came in two parts as the Heavyweight Champion of the World; a decade apart. Who could have written this script?

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Having closely witnessed George’s second trek toward capturing the heavyweight championship inspired the article written and published here on lennymoonsports.com back on September 18, 2018. As a tribute to the release for the big screen of the champ’s life story on April 28th, we chose to re-publish an epic moment of Foreman’s comeback vs then-title holder Evander Holyfield that legitimized his comeback prior to his eventual historical match vs undisputed champion Michael Moorer (see “Battle of the Ages” continued reading below)

Article originally published on September 18 2018 by lennymoonsports.com

MLB Memories on the Cusp of a new Season

By Lenny Moon

I’ve always found baseball discussions over the years, particularly on the major level, to serve as a bridge to previous generations of the sport once known as “America’s Pastime”. Being a proud Baby Boomer, the collection of trading cards as a kid was always a highlight each season to compare with the vast accumulation already in your shoe boxes. This of course predated the explosive windfall that would beset that industry down the road (boy if I had a fraction of that collection in contemporary times). Be that as it may, on the verge of the upcoming 2023 Major League Baseball season, I browsed through some of my previously released MLB-related videos and chose to post the links in this baseball edition. Before we dive in, congratulations to the 2022 World Series Champion Houston Astros led by future Hall of Fame skipper Dusty Baker. Perhaps it not ironic that the first two video links are pertaining to the “back in the day” version of Baker as he speaks with Lenny Moon about former teammate Hank Aaron’s lack of respect as an all-time great, as well as the Hammer’s torturous home run chase of Babe Ruth’s then-record (see below).

Current Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker (then of the Atlanta Braves) greets teammate Hank Aaron following one of his 755 round trippers
Hank Aaron rounds the bases as he eclipsed Babe Ruth’s career mark of 714 homers as former teammate Dusty Baker discussed the death threats involved with Aaron’s journey.

Following an up and down early career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, hurler Dave Stewart found himself up the coast in Oakland and developed himself into the ace of the Athletics (1986-92) and later the Toronto Blue Jays (1993-94) where he won World Series titles with both franchises. Stewart talked with Lenny Moon about why he felt that there were not more Black pitchers in the modern day game (see below).

Former MLB fireballer Dave Stewart won World Series championships with three different ball clubs during his 16-year career (Dodgers, Athletics and Blue Jays)

We caught up with famed Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vincent Edward “Vin” Skully during our MLB coverage days as he talked about why he felt the southern California team produced so many Rookie-of-the-Year Award winners. Skully served 67 years as the voice of the Dodgers prior to retiring in 2016. On that same video, “Mr October” Reggie Jackson talked with Lenny Moon about being a star in New York and “doing his thing” in fabled Yankee Stadium (see below).

Legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Skully and “Mr October” Reggie Jackson talked with Lenny Moon about different aspects of the sport they greatly assisted in making it “America’s Pastime”

We wrap this segment with a gentleman that created history in 1974 by becoming the first Black manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Hall of Fame slugger Frank Robinson talks with Lenny Moon about his preparation of posturing himself to become the game’s barrier-breaker as the leader of a MLB team (see below).

Although he would manger three other MLB teams other than Cleveland and served as a coach for three more clubs, Frank Robinson was one of the greatest players in the game’s history. The 14-time MLB All-Star blasted a whopping 586 home runs, MVP in both leagues (NL-1961 and AL-1966), led Baltimore to two World Series titles (1966 & 1970) and a Triple Crown winner (leader in home runs, RBI and average) in 1966.

WITH THE GAME’S RICH HISTORY, THE CALENDAR TELLS US THAT IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR SOUNDING THE ALARM TO “LET’S PLAY BALL”

Jackie Robinson’s entry into MLB was Lightning Rod for America Moving Forward

By Lenny Moon

The history books tell us that back in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers led by team executive Branch Rickey, rolled the dice and comprised the experiment that led to Jack Roosevelt Robinson to become the first Black to integrate Major League Baseball. Nearly 76 years removed from that historic event, this may not seem like such a big deal to one who chooses to only glance at this occurrence. But for those who owned citizenship in America or chose to look a bit deeper into why this was a “big deal”, it becomes clearer that this was so much more than just a sports story. Leading up to and including 1947, America was an extremely unstable reality for citizens of color. The bundle of the basic symbols of citizenship ( Civil Rights Act-1964, Voting Rights Act-1965 and Fair Housing Act-1968) were nearly two decades away. During this era it typically was the entertainment or sports arena that was accepted by the so-called mainstream if one derived from the minority community. Even at that, the sports arena was still reluctant to comply in that athletes were revered as heroes that even kids looked up to which placed a different spin on the topic.

There was a tremendous amount of pressure on Robinson to not only succeed on the diamond, but to not retaliate to the hostility that he agreed to endure as a condition for him to be selected for the experiment. He literally carried the weight of his entire race on his shoulders (along with future MLB prospects) to prove to the establishment that created the barriers that given an opportunity Blacks could positively impact “America’s Pastime”. Like so many others from my era, the discussion of Robinson’s case was commonplace. With so few national African American role models that effectively penetrated the fortified wall of exclusion, Jackie represented what can happen when opportunities afford themselves to people of color in this country. He created hope that parents passed down to their kids that this accomplishment was something tangible to build upon. This was a sign that second class citizenship had an opportunity to become a thing of the past moving forward. When one is perceived to be less than a total person in the nation which their labor significantly help to construct then hope is latched onto tightly wherever it surfaces. This was the environment in the USA during the 40s in which Jackie had to find a method to navigate.

Jackie Robinson signs historic MLB contract in 1947 with Brooklyn Dodgers as GM Branch Rickey looks on

It’s important to reference that the period of time that’s we’re speaking of is the forties in the United States of America. That has to be established to begin to process how difficult of a task Mr Robinson was facing to become the barrier-breaker that he was determined to attain. Jackie’s, (born in 1919) grandparents were actually slaves. His mother fled Georgia, carrying Jackie and his four siblings to Pasadena, Ca when he was barely a year old. It was his stint at local college UCLA where Robinson would explode on the athletic scene where he lettered in four sports (football, basketball, track and baseball) after spending his first two collegiate years at Pasadena Jr College. It was there where he initially crossed paths with his future wife Rachel, also a student at the Westwood area university. This union would prove critical down the road in the history that she so aptly assisted him in creating. The dichotomy associated with Jackie is that he was polar opposite of the role he accepted to become the game’s first ever Black player in the league. Rachel was quoted as saying that Jackie would often wear white starched shirts to illuminate his dark Black skin symbolic of the pride in which he wore his Blackness. He was honorably discharged from the Army as a second lieutenant for aggressively dealing with a race-related conflict during the World War II era. He and Rachel were married just before his minor league tour of duty commenced, where she provided a support system during his pre-Dodgers games and especially while decompressing at home. After a socially turbulent yet successful minor league prelude, it was time for the majors on April 15 1947.

Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey with Jackie and Rachel Robinson circa 1962

Once Jackie arrived in Brooklyn as a bonafide member of Dodgers, now the real litmus test would transpire. To his credit, Rachel was able to attend all home games as a stabilizing component at New York’s Ebbets Field but his own teammates were not as welcoming. There was a serious boycott by his mates that if management went forward with elevating a Black to their level, they would not suit up. Several asked to be traded rather than to be a teammate with a Black man. This opposition was led by their star outfielder “Dixie” Walker, a gentleman from Leeds, Alabama (Charles Barkley hometown) who eventually relaxed his position. Another teammate named Kirby Higbee stated that he developed his pitching arm by throwing rocks at Negroes while he was a kid. There was a threat by a number of the National League clubs that they would not take the field if the Dodgers had a Black on the field with them. During this era, it was estimated that approximately 33% of all major leaguers were from the South. Needless to say that was not a healthy ratio for incorporating desegregation. Above and beyond that, even the Brooklyn fans threatened to withdraw their support, not so much pertaining to Jackie but reluctant to share their stadium with the vastly anticipated Black patrons. Before he could play his first home game, Robinson was instructed to “talk to his people” as he addressed local civic clubs, churches and the like to not disrupt the environment for others. Even Brooklyn’s famed announcer Red Barber, a native of the deep South had to be brought in to be counseled about not allowing his native culture inadvertently articulated over the air. And this was the friendly fire. When Philadelphia made their first trip to Brooklyn to face the newly integrated Dodgers, their manager Ben Chapman reportedly shouted out to Jackie “shouldn’t you be picking cotton” and ‘hey boy, come and shine my shoes”. Needless to say, this transition by MLB did not come about without it’s share of drama. Those are just small samples of the adversity Jackie was willing to sacrifice for America, by turning the other cheek for a cause that was much larger than any single person. Even Dr Martin L. King indicated his inspiration exhibited by the Robinsons that predated his legendary treks that would began in the 50s with the Rosa Parks-Montgomery Bus Boycott issue a few years later.

Jackie Robinson was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1962 during his first year of eligibility

After withstanding extreme hatred which included being spiked by sliding opponents and having frequent pitches thrown at his head, unfortunately was equivalent to a day at the office for the Pasadena, Ca native. Hearing a constant flow of racist epithets by opposing players and fans, and even having a black cat thrown on the field in his direction at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field were some of the tactics resistors attempted to throw his game off. At the end of the day, Robinson would go on to earn National League Rookie of the Year and leading his team to the World Series in 1947 vs crosstown rival Yankees. Under intense pressure, he led the Dodgers in runs, total bases, doubles, home runs, lead the N.L in steals while hitting just under .300. He was classified as the most famous Black person in America. It didn’t stop there, as he was ranked as the second most famous American across the board trailing only singer Bing Crosby and finishing ahead of Frank Sinatra, former first lady Elanor Roosevelt and General Dwight Eisenhower. Without question, this “experiment” was significantly more than a sports story.

Super Bowl LVII Represents History at the Quarterback Position

By Lenny Moon

When the calendar rolls around to the 12th of February of 2023, the National Football League turns the clock on its most significant position on the gridiron. The foundation was laid when Philadelphia defeated San Francisco to rep the National Football Conference led by signal caller Jalen Hurts. Later that same day, the American Football Conference champ was decided when Kansas City, led by their mercurial quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, prevailed over defending titlist Cincinnati. These ingredients provide the recipe for the two starting quarterbacks in a Super Bowl contest being of African American decent for the first time in the 57 year history of the bowl’s history. For the record, the NFL was established back in 1920 (47 years prior to the first Super Bowl). The first two Black quarterbacks to start in Super Bowl competition actually are products of Historically Black Universities in Doug Williams (Grambling/ Washington SB-XXII vs Denver) and Steve McNair (Alcorn/ Tennessee SB-XXXIV vs St Louis). Since 2014, there have been six starting appearances by Black quarterbacks with San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick in SB-XLVII vs Baltimore, Russell Wilson’s two appearances ( both with Seattle; SB- XLVIII and SB-XLIX), Charlotte’s Cam Newton in SB-50 vs Denver and this year’s entry Patrick Mahomes (3rd Super Bowl) who previously appeared in SB-LIV vs San Francisco and SB-LV vs Tampa.

Philadelphia Eagles Jalen Hurts becomes 7th Black to start at QB in Super Bowl

Let’s visit the history of Blacks attempting to receive a fair shot at competing for the quarterback position in the NFL. This is a topic that’s found itself in my columns seemingly for decades. In simplified terms, a NFL franchise is a billion dollar business. The face of any pro football organization in any market is the quarterback. Additionally, the single most vital component to the success of a team’s ability to score more points than the opposition is the signal caller (aka the field general). As in the business community, qualified Blacks and other minorities struggle to obtain the benefit of a level playing field when it comes to upper tier level opportunities. It’s akin to a glass ceiling that’s not quite visible, but designed to prohibit one’s advancement in spite of credentials. A case study is the trek that former Houston Oilers Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon was forced to travel across the border to later be considered by the NFL. For those who might not be familiar with his story, Moon was not even drafted by the NFL in the late 70s after earning the then Pac-8 Player of the Year while leading his Washington Huskies to the Rose Bowl victory as their signal caller vs powerhouse Michigan in his senior campaign. Consequently, the Southern California native refused to change positions and accepted an opportunity to play in the Canadian Football League for the Edmonton franchise. Moon promptly led the Eskimos to five championships in his six seasons there before the NFL came calling. Warren was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Even prior to the aforementioned Oilers star, former Los Angeles Rams star James “Shack” Harris once shared with my radio audience that his offensive linemen would purposely make errors in practice drills proclaiming that they could not understand his diction (their way of proving he could not communicate the position). Coming from Grambling in the 60s, the Monroe, La native did not allow that to disrupt his rhythm and went on the become the first Afro-American opening day starter in the NFL along with earning Pro Bow MVP status (also a first by a Black QB). There are too many instances to mention in the allotted space for this commentary, but symbolic of the history of the Black QB and the NFL. When Doug Williams became the first starting Black quarterback in a Super Bowl during SB XXII, he was willing to play with one good leg after being injured in the first half (similar to Mahomes vs 49ers) and broke every significant passing record on the books. His exchange with his college coach, the legendary Eddie Robinson, was classic. Following his postgame on field interviews, he crossed paths with Robinson in the tunnel. Expecting a congrats from his coach about his record-smashing performance, instead Coach Rob in his exuberance stated “son, I’m so proud of you that you got back up to finish the job”. Provocative in a multitude of ways.

Kansas City star QB Patrick Mahomes is making his third Super Bowl appearance

The evolution of the NFL has progressively gotten faster over the years, with better conditioned and stronger athletes. With increasing salary residuals afforded the modern day pro football player, year round training is now commonplace. Although protections have been implemented to protect the NFL’s precious commodity, quarterbacks have fewer seconds to release the football before the walls cave in. Both Super Bowl starting signal callers signify what’s required of the modern day NFL snap-taker in their ability to convert plays outside of the pocket; and/or matriculate the ball on the ground if necessary. (Ironically, Warren Moon, Doug Williams and James Harris were all pocket passes in the former prototype NFL model). The state of Texas will be beaming with pride in that both starting signal callers hail from the Lone Star State. Mahomes is a Tyler area native having starred at Whitehouse High, while Hurts is a Houston area product having starred at Chanelview High. At 27 years of age, Mahomes has risen as the top talent at his position in pro football, already having procured a Super Bowl championship (SB-LIV) earning the MVP in both the regular season and the Super Bowl. This year’s Super Bowl finds Patrick Mahomes II at the apex of his powers. The 24-year old Hurts is a second year starter in Philly and is constantly disproving his critics that he’s more than capable of passing the football to go along with his mobility. The baffling aspect about Jalen is that he’s always been a dual-threat talent. In high school he was ranked amongst the top double-threat quarterbacks in the nation prior to selecting collegiate powerhouse Alabama. Once there he became the first true freshman to start for the storied program in school history. He proved that decision correct by leading the Crimson Tide to a national title while throwing for nearly 2,800 yds and 23 TDs and rushing for 954 yards and 13 more TDs for a total of 36 end zone visits. His final collegiate season after transferring to Oklahoma, was a Heisman trophy finalist tossing for just under 3,300 yards with 32 TDs and rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 more TDs for a total of a whopping 52 TDs. What measuring stick are they using to appraise this guy’s skill-set pertaining to doubting his NFL capability. He’s been a winner wherever he’s performed. Both he and Mahomes are strong candidates for MVP honors for the recently completed 2022 season.

Averion Hurts Sr coached his son Jalen his entire high school career at Chanelview High School. Jalen’s older brother, Averion Jr was a star QB at Texas Southern University in Houston. Patrick Mahomes Sr was a seasoned MLB hurler that pitched for several clubs as a starter and reliever.