Friday, May 25, 2012

Eli scored another victory; I'd like a piece of the Yankees & the Hickok Belt's disappearance

Those of us involved with the annual Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Day of Champions Dinner are breathing a collective sigh of relief and basking a bit in the banquet’s aftermath.

                This dinner is always a bear of an event to stage and there are times when the last-minute, logistical nightmares make you want to yank your hair out and jump off the palisades at Letchworth State Park.

                But it always seems to work out, and by all accounts this year’s dinner, which featured a sellout crowd of 1,300 at the Riverside Convention Center, was a rousing success.

                Rock legend Lou Gramm, a Rochester native, started the evening off with a stirring rendition of the national anthem, and there were several poignant moments, including when we honored two fallen soldiers – Devin Snyder and Zach Smith.

Eli Manning, the Giants’ two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, proved to be a fabulous headliner. He was a little shy, almost reserved at first, but once we got rolling with the question-and-answer session I conducted with him on stage, he loosened up and did a fabulous job. He proved to be an engaging and humorous storyteller. Hosting Saturday Night Live two weeks ago no doubt was great preparation.
            The best part of this dinner will occur in the coming weeks after all the numbers have been crunched and we learn how much money we’ll be able to donate to local children’s charities.
           We are an all-volunteer organization, and thanks to the dedication and leadership of people like Pat Grover and Mike Kauffman, we’ve been able to stage what Drew Brees, Cal Ripken Jr. and others have called one of the premier sports dinners in the country.
             Kudos to my fellow club-members who donated their time, services and money to pull this off. And thanks to the sponsors and the ticket-buyers who made the 63rd annual Day of Champions another day to remember.

              I’d love to have a piece of the action if the New York Yankees do go up for sale, even though the price tag - $3 billion – is a little beyond my reach. (OK, a LOT beyond my reach.) But perhaps the Steinbrenner boys might consider opening it up to a public stock sale, so that moi and other cash-strapped fans might be able to afford a tiny piece of the action.

                You laugh, but from reading Marty Appel’s marvelous new book – PINSTRIPE EMPIRE: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss – I discovered that former Yankee owners Dan Topping and Del Webb considered underwriting a dramatic public sale of the team in the early 1960s. After exploring that option, they decided instead to sell to CBS for $14 million. The franchise struggled mightily under the network’s stewardship, opening the door for an unknown, Cleveland shipping magnate named George Stenbrenner to purchase the club in the early 1970s.

                It might be cool to see a group headed by Billy Crystal and Joe Torre make a pitch. (Torre was part of a group that recently failed in their bid to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

                Hal Steinbrenner adamantly denies the club is for sale, but where there’s smoke there’s fire, so don’t be surprised if there is truth to this rumor.

              Congratulations to friends Frank Bilovsky and Tony Wells on their upcoming induction into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame. Frank has been a great mentor to me through the years and was instrumental in me coming to the Democrat and Chronicle in 1985. He is one of the wisest men I know and had a superb newspaper career in Philadelphia and here as a both sportswriter and business writer. Tony, the long-time University of Rochester sports information director, has been a driving force behind many community endeavors, including one that’s particularly close to my heart – the Challenger Little League Baseball program, which gives physically, mentally and emotionally challenged youth a chance to play ball. Tony also proved to be a great source of story ideas through the years. And the nice thing about them going in together is that they are best friends.

              Friend and fellow author Curt Smith is the nation’s foremost expert on sports broadcasting history, but he also has deep knowledge about his beloved Boston Red Sox and its beloved little ballpark. Curt has just published a new book titled, Mercy! A Celebration of Fenway Park’s Centennial Told Through Red Sox Radio and TV. I’ve read the book and it’s chockfull of compelling – at, times hilarious – anecdotes about the Fens. Tomorrow, Curt makes a pilgrimage to Beantown to talk about his new book as part of the Great Fenway Park Writers Series. Should be a blast.

              Golf legend Ben Hogan and the Hickok Belt Award are back in the news – and not for good reasons. A replica of the belt won by Hogan after his marvelous 1953 season recently was stolen from U.S. Golf Association museum in Far Hills, N.J.

                What’s interesting about this case is that it marks the second time that Hogan’s award as the top athlete in professional sports was pilfered. The original belt he received was stolen from his home club, The Colonial, in Forth Worth, Texas many years ago and never resurfaced. The belief is that the gems – which featured a 4 1/3-carat diamond, ruby and sapphire – were removed and sold on the black market, and that the five-pound, solid-gold belt buckle was melted down and sold, too.

                Members from The Colonial pooled their resources to have a replica made of Hogan’s belt. It was not an exact replica, with the buckle being gold-plated rather than solid, and faux jewels substituted for the real gems. When I wrote my book about the Hickok award – Jewel of the Sports World – two years ago I asked two professional jewelers what it would cost to make an exact replica today. Their estimates were in the neighborhood of $200,000, and the cost probably is even more now, given the escalating value of gold.

                Obviously, this second-edition Hogan belt wouldn’t be as valuable as the original, but it still has to carry a hefty price tag.

                Museum officials are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to its return as well as the return of the U.S. Amateur Trophy, which was an original and also stolen.

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