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One of the unsolved mysteries of baseball is the case of the abduction of Roberto Clemente.

In 1970, Clemente, the Pirates’ outfielder and future Hall of Famer, revealed he had been abducted at gunpoint a year earlier by four men in San Diego and robbed. Clemente said he thought he would be shot and left for dead. Instead, he said, he was released and his possessions were returned.

No arrests were made and no witnesses came forward. Details were inconsistent. Published reports, for instance, said the incident occurred in May 1969. More likely, it happened in August 1969. Skeptics abounded.

Clemente’s story sounded similar to one told 40 years earlier by Cardinals pitcher Flint Rhem, who claimed he was abducted in New York by two men, held at gunpoint and forced to drink to excess so he would be unable to make a start against the Dodgers.

Absent a Sherlock Holmes, or even a Jim Rockford, to crack the case, Clemente’s version is the only one available.

In his biography, “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero,” author David Maraniss concluded of the kidnapping tale, “Whatever the hidden reality, it fit perfectly into the mythology of Roberto Clemente as a man of the people, respected even by urban desperados.”

Going public

On Aug. 9, 1970, after the Pirates beat Nolan Ryan and the Mets in Pittsburgh, reporter Bill Christine of the Pittsburgh Press approached Clemente in the clubhouse. Clemente, the only player left in the locker room, was sorting his fan mail with help from a personal assistant.

Christine had gotten a tip about a bizarre incident involving Clemente in San Diego a year earlier. He asked Clemente about it and Clemente decided to tell the tale publicly for the first time.

“I haven’t told this story to many people because I figured if any of the four robbers heard about it they might be looking for our ballplayers when we go out there again,” Clemente told Christine.

Taken away

The Pirates were in San Diego to play the Padres on Friday night, Aug. 8, 1969. In the fourth inning, Clemente was ejected by plate umpire Lee Weyer for arguing a called strike. Boxscore

Clemente went to his room at the team hotel. Most published accounts identified it as the Town and Country in the Mission Valley section of San Diego.

Clemente, who roomed alone, phoned his wife, Vera, according to Christine. Clemente complained to her about his shoulder aching and said he was thinking about quitting. She urged him to continue playing.

Shortly after midnight, Clemente went looking for a place to eat. 

Dressed in a sport coat and tie, Clemente was about to leave the hotel when teammate Willie Stargell entered the lobby. Stargell had a carryout order of fried chicken and told Clemente it was from a place nearby. Clemente walked to it, got an order to go and headed back to the hotel.

Clemente was about 400 feet from the hotel “when a car with four men stopped him. One produced a gun and they ordered him to get in,” Christine reported.

Clemente said he was forced to lie on the floorboard in the back of the car and a gun was put to his chin, the Associated Press later reported.

Don’t kill me

The abductors took Clemente to a spot overlooking the valley. Police later told the Associated Press the location probably was Balboa Park.

Everyone got out of the car and Clemente was ordered to strip. He removed everything except his undershorts.

“The man with the gun shoved Clemente in the direction of the car, pushing him backwards across the right front hood. He stuck the gun in Clemente’s mouth,” Christine later reported.

The other men went through Clemente’s discarded clothes and took about $250 from his wallet. The gunman removed an All-Star Game ring from Clemente’s finger.

“This is when I figure they are going to shoot me and throw me into the woods,” Clemente told Christine.

“I thought if they killed me, and threw me someplace, nobody would have ever been able to find me.”

Desperate, Clemente said he informed the kidnappers he was a Padres ballplayer. Clemente told Christine he did that because he thought the men might not know the Pirates were a baseball team.

Clemente said he told them, “If you really need the money, take it, but don’t kill me. Don’t kill anybody for money.”

One of the men who searched Clemente’s wallet found his Major League Players’ Association membership card. The All-Star Game ring was additional verification he was a ballplayer.

Change in plans

According to Clemente, when the abductors realized he was a big-leaguer, they told him to dress and gave back his money, wallet and ring. Clemente said he was driven to within three blocks of the hotel and released.

“I started walking, and then I heard their car returning,” Clemente said to Christine.

Clemente said he feared the men were coming back to harm him. As the car pulled up beside him, Clemente said, one of the men handed him the bag of fried chicken. Clemente said he waited for them to drive off and tossed the bag away before returning to the hotel.

Clemente didn’t report the incident to police. He said to Christine he told four people about the abduction the next day: wife Vera, teammate Jose Pagan, coach Bill Virdon and general manager Joe Brown. Later, the Associated Press reported Clemente told umpire Lee Weyer. Pirates player Matty Alou also knew, according to The Sporting News.

Lots of questions

Christine’s exclusive appeared in the back of the Pittsburgh Press sports section, above the big-league box scores, in the Aug. 10, 1970, edition. Though underplayed, the story was picked up by wire services and published throughout the United States.

Charley Feeney of the rival Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, “OK, so it’s a whopper of a tale. Some people don’t believe.”

One of the doubters was Mets first baseman Donn Clendenon, who was a teammate of Clemente for eight years with the Pirates. “I believed everything until the part about the guys giving Clemente back his money and his fried chicken. Nobody steals money and gives it back,” Clendenon said.

Though Christine scooped him, Feeney, an experienced baseball reporter, wrote, “It’s felt here the Clemente story is true. Fantastic to be sure, but true. Roberto Clemente is not some kind of nut.”

Asked by The Sporting News why he didn’t report the abduction to police, Clemente replied, “Why should I report it? I am alive, no? I got everything back that they took.”

Clemente said he decided to go public when Christine started asking questions. “Then I figured I better tell the story so that it would be printed right,” Clemente said.

Padres manager Preston Gomez told both Pittsburgh newspapers that San Diego police wanted to question Clemente. “People in town, and the police, are very disturbed about the Clemente kidnapping story,” Gomez told the Pittsburgh Press.

Something is afoul

Clemente didn’t let the commotion caused by his story hurt his performance on the field. On the day Christine’s article was published, Clemente played against the Mets and got two hits and a walk against Tom Seaver. Boxscore

On Aug. 18, 1970, Clemente turned 36. Two days later, the Pirates embarked on a road trip, starting with games at Los Angeles. Clemente went on a tear, with five hits against the Dodgers on Aug. 22 Boxscore and five more on Aug. 23. Boxscore

From there, the Pirates went to San Diego for the first time since Clemente told about his abduction.

After a day off on Aug. 24, the Pirates and Padres opened a two-game series on Aug. 25. Clemente, leading the National League in hitting at .363, was in the lineup as the right fielder.

When Clemente took his position in the bottom of the first inning, someone in the stands dropped a live chicken over the outfield fence and it crept up on Clemente. A batboy removed the bird from the field.

“Clemente was unimpressed with the prank,” according to the Pittsburgh Press.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette speculated “it could have been a gag arranged by some San Diego players.” Christine wrote that someone in the Padres’ front office hatched the idea. Boxscore

Four years later, in 1974, a radio station had a college student, Ted Giannoulas, wear a chicken suit for promotional gigs, and his antics led to the San Diego Chicken becoming a popular sports mascot at Padres games.

Quick work

On Aug. 26, 1970, the day after the chicken incident, Clemente said he spoke with police. At Clemente’s suggestion, the meeting was held in his hotel room, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

According to the Pittsburgh Press, Clemente “was visited by a San Diego detective, who wanted a perfunctory, first-hand explanation” of the abduction.

“The policeman came away with the same story told in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, plus Roberto’s autograph” the Pittsburgh Press reported.

According to the Associated Press, police detective Hanly Pry said he was convinced “Clemente was telling the truth” after questioning him “for two hours.”

In a followup, the Pittsburgh Press reported Clemente said he spent “only 15 minutes with the San Diego authorities.”

Clemente said he considered the case closed.

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Curt Flood needed money. Bob Short needed customers.

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 3, 1970, in an attempt to fulfill their needs, Flood signed a contract to return to baseball as center fielder for the Washington Senators, who were owned by Short.

Flood hadn’t played in a game since Oct. 2, 1969, with the Cardinals. Five days later, the Cardinals traded Flood to the Phillies, but he refused to report. He filed an antitrust lawsuit against baseball, challenging its reserve clause, which bound a player to a team.

After sitting out the 1970 season while his case went to court, Flood reached an unnerving conclusion: Baseball was his legal adversary, but it also was his best benefactor.

Bob Short saw an opportunity to capitalize.

Cash poor

After rejecting the Phillies’ offer of a $100,000 contract, Flood moved from the United States to Denmark in 1970 and pursued business interests. He was a portrait artist and, according to the Associated Press, he also got involved in a restaurant venture in Copenhagen.

Flood discovered he couldn’t earn nearly as much as an artist as he did playing baseball, and he lost money in the restaurant investment.

“I’m paying alimony and I’ve got five kids to support,” Flood told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “That’s enough to drive any man back into the game.”

While Flood was seeking a financial backer, Short was seeking ways to boost fan interest in the Senators, who finished 70-92 in 1970 and averaged about 10,000 fans per home game.

If the Senators couldn’t attract customers with their play, Short figured they might do it with personalities. He already had manager Ted Williams and slugger Frank Howard. Looking for more, Short, in October 1970, acquired pitcher Denny McLain. Next, he wanted Flood.

“If you sat at as many ballgames as I did this year looking at guys who can’t hit, and you knew somewhere there was somebody not playing who can hit, you’d go after him, too,” Short said.

Pay now

The Phillies retained the rights to Flood, even though he never played for them. Short sought and received permission from the Phillies to negotiate with Flood.

According to The Sporting News, Short offered Flood a one-year contract for $110,000, $20,000 more than he got from the 1969 Cardinals, and agreed to let Flood collect salary as soon as he signed, not when the baseball season started. It also was agreed Flood would continue with his legal challenge against baseball. A federal district judge ruled against Flood, but he appealed.

Flood’s contract included the reserve clause, binding him to the Senators.

All that remained to seal the deal was for Short to get the Phillies to agree to compensation.

Phillies negotiate

Short offered the Phillies a choice of either Mike Epstein, Rick Reichardt or Ed Stroud, the Washington Post reported. All were big-league players. General manager John Quinn said no.

“Epstein can’t hit left-handers,” Quinn said. “He can’t do anything but swing a bat. The only place he can play is first base and we’re up to our ears in first basemen. Reichardt? Our fellows think he’s overrated all the way. Stroud isn’t as good as our John Briggs or Ron Stone.”

The Phillies wanted the rights to the Senators’ No. 1 pick in the 1971 amateur draft, but trading a draft position wasn’t permissible in baseball.

The Phillies settled on a package of Greg Goossen, Gene Martin and Jeff Terpko, a group the Philadelphia Daily News described as “three uniforms filled with air.”

None of the three would ever play for the Phillies.

Still suing

When Flood signed with the Senators, he said, “I’ve had some business reverses and I need the money. I still think the reserve clause stinks.”

Players’ union executive director Marvin Miller said Flood’s return wouldn’t damage the legal challenge to the reserve clause.

“This case involves an issue, not just one man,” Miller said.

Shaky spring

Flood agreed to go to the Senators’ Florida Instructional League team, managed by former Cardinals catcher Del Wilber, and sharpen his skills. “I don’t believe it’s going to be any problem getting in stride again,” Flood said.

Four months later, at spring training, Flood, 33, hit .200 in exhibition games and didn’t play at the level he had with the Cardinals.

“I find my mind wandering all over the place,” Flood said.

Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray observed, “Curt is playing for the sheer money of it. He is as apprehensive as a guy going down a dark cellar to investigate a growl.”

Back in business

The Senators opened the regular season at home on April 5, 1971, against the Athletics. Ted Williams started Flood in center and batted him second. It was Flood’s first regular-season game in 18 months.

“I was jumpy,” Flood said. “I couldn’t sit down. I paced like a caged lion, but after the first time at bat I felt like I’d never been away.”

Flood produced a bunt single and walked twice, but he told United Press International, “I’m not out of the woods yet. I need to feel a little more comfortable at the plate and get acclimated in the outfield.” Boxscore.

Flood totaled three singles in his first 20 at-bats, and Williams benched him against right-handers.

“I told Curt we needed runs and we’re not scoring them with him in there,” Williams said. “He has a great attitude. He understands. He’ll be back.”

Flood’s road roommate, Elliott Maddox, added, “As for his benching, he told me that’s all right as long as we’re winning.”

Flood made his last start on April 20, and followed with a couple of appearances as a pinch-hitter. He hit .200 in 13 games.

Before an April 25 game against the Brewers, Flood was shagging fly balls when he told teammate Mike Epstein, “Things are closing in on me.”

That’s enough

Two days later, on April 27, Flood checked out of his room at the Anthony House hotel in Washington and took a flight to New York. When he didn’t show for the Senators’ home game that night, club officials checked his room and discovered he was gone.

“He never mentioned quitting to me or to anyone else,” Williams said.

When Flood got to New York’s Kennedy Airport, he sent a telegram to Short. It read: “I tried. A year and a half is too much. Very severe personal problems are mounting every day. Thanks for your confidence and understanding.” It was signed: Flood.

The Senators contacted the commissioner’s office in New York, and publicity director Joe Reichler was dispatched to the airport to try to persuade Flood to change his mind. Reichler found Flood at an airport bar.

“I told him he shouldn’t be discouraged, that fans didn’t expect him to come back and hit .400,” Reichler said. “For a while, I thought I had convinced him. He told me, ‘I know I owe Bob Short a great deal. He stuck his neck out for me.’ Then, suddenly, he said, ‘No, no. I’m not going to do it. I’ve reached the end. I’ll go crazy if I don’t get out.’ “

Flood boarded a Pan-Am flight to Spain and never played again.

His friend, St. Louis police lieutenant Fred Grimes, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that, in addition to the alimony and child support payments, Flood was distressed because his father had terminal cancer and a younger brother was in jail.

“He’s running away from himself, so don’t be hard on him,” Grimes said. “This man’s personal life is as unpleasantly involved as a soap opera.”

Senators executive Joe Burke said Flood received about half of his $110,000 salary. Payments started Nov. 1, 1970, and he was paid through April 15, 1971.

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One of America’s most inspiring sports stories gets the attention it deserves in the newly released book “We Will Rise.”

In December 1977, a chartered airplane carrying the University of Evansville men’s basketball team crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all on board. United in their grief, the school and community were determined to rebuild. Led by a brash, talented coach, Dick Walters, the Evansville Purple Aces won their conference championship in March 1982 and reached the NCAA Tournament.

With the writing skill of a novelist and the research quality of an investigative reporter, author Steve Beaven has produced a gripping account of the true-life drama. Far more than a basketball story, the book offers rich characterization of the people involved and provides understanding and context to what happened before and after the tragedy.

Beaven and I were colleagues at The Evansville Press when I covered the Evansville basketball team during the Dick Walters years. I arrived in Evansville in May 1978, five months after the plane crash and two weeks after graduating from college, and found a school and community determined to rebuild. When the team reached the NCAA Tournament in March 1982, it did so not as a long-shot but as a peer to the best programs in the nation, having earned its way step by step through a steady series of achievements.

As someone who witnessed the rebirth of the program and the impact it had on the school and community, I can attest to the accuracy and quality of Beaven’s work.

This is a first-rate book and one I highly recommend. You can order the book by clicking this link.

Here is a transcript of an interview I did with Beaven in December 2019:

Q.: Congratulations on writing the book. What inspired you to do it?

Beaven: “I went to graduate school about 10 years ago for a master’s of fine arts in creative writing. Early on, I was talking to my adviser about possible thesis topics, and this immediately came to mind. The crash was a huge event in my hometown. Everyone who lived there remembers where they were when they heard. This was catastrophic for our community.”

Q.: From inception to completion, how long did the project take and what was the most time-consuming aspect?

Beaven: “I started the thesis in 2007, but I didn’t start writing a book until early 2016. The research was by far the most time-consuming part. I did about 250 interviews. I had thousands of documents, newspaper clips, etc. Just keeping track of so much information was a lot of work.”

Q.: What was the biggest obstacle or challenge you had to overcome and how did you do it?

Beaven: “Writing an ending was incredibly difficult because (spoiler alert) Evansville lost the big game against Marquette. So, how do I create a satisfying ending for the reader? I want to build suspense. I want the reader to feel like he/she is watching the game, eager to find out how it would end. Ultimately I used a radio broadcast to create the scene and set the tone.”

Q.: What are your personal remembrances of the Evansville tragedy and what was its impact on you?

Beaven: “I have a really foggy memory from that night. I was 10 and my dad and I had just come home from a high school basketball game. He flipped on the TV, we saw the news and he started to cry. I don’t think I’d ever seen him cry before. I started crying, too. That’s a really powerful memory for me.”

Q.: The book is journalistically honest in that it is compelling and uplifting but doesn’t sugarcoat or sensationalize. How were you able to strike the right balance?

Beaven: “The research and reporting were the most important part of the project and I wanted to be rigorously factual. When you have a really compelling story and you’ve done the research, you don’t have to be sensational or sugarcoat anything. The story tells itself.”

Q.: What has been the most rewarding aspect to you in writing this book?

Beaven: “I’ve interviewed the families of lots of people who were on that plane. They were so incredibly kind and gracious to me. Elderly parents and aging siblings who talked to me for hours on end, invited me into their lives. The players would be in their early 60s now and their families are carrying around a lot of hurt and suffering for decades and they were willing to share that with me.”

Q.: This is primarily a baseball blog, so I have a couple of baseball questions. You went to the same high school, Reitz Memorial in Evansville, as Don Mattingly. What insights can you provide about him?

Beaven: “First, I’ll say that injuries have left him far, far underrated. You could make an argument that over a five- to seven-year span he was the greatest overall hitter in baseball. And I grew up right across the street from the Memorial baseball field. I went to every one of his football and basketball games, too. Once, when I was maybe in fifth grade, he joined my sisters and I when we were sledding and it felt like a brush with greatness, even though he was probably only 15 at the time.”

Q.: Can you share with us a favorite personal baseball anecdote?

Beaven: “There is a very strong Iink to baseball in the book. Marv Bates was the University of Evansville play-by-play guy for radio. He also called Evansville Triplets baseball games. The Triplets were Detroit’s top farm club. Marv was a local icon. Sometimes he would recreate Triplets road games as they happened, live from the studio in Evansville, using all kinds of sound effects and details from the old ticker tape wire service. He made recordings from each of the ballparks early in the season and later used them when he recreated games. He had clips of trains going by, race cars from a stadium near a track. I mean, he was very detailed. These were part-time jobs for Marv. He taught high school social studies during the day. He did the broadcasting gigs because he truly loved the city and those teams. He was on that plane.”

Q.: Final question. Why should someone read this book?

Beaven: “This is really a book about community. We experienced the loss together and we celebrated the success of the new team together. Ultimately, I think it’s an uplifting story.”

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Larry Wilson caused NFL quarterbacks to lay awake at night with worry and Bill Nelsen was no exception.

Nelsen had a prominent role in the play that defined the Pro Football Hall of Fame career of Wilson, the St. Louis Cardinals safety who was as tough as any player in the NFL.

On Nov. 7, 1965, in a game between the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Wilson intercepted a pass from Nelsen while wearing casts on both fractured hands.

Wilson’s performance remains an enduring testament to his willpower and illustrates why he was so widely respected.

Mind game

Wilson, who played his entire professional career (1960-72) with the Cardinals, fractured his hands in a game against the New York Giants on Oct. 31, 1965, at New York.

Cardinals head coach Wally Lemm said Wilson would play the following Sunday versus the Steelers at St. Louis. Wilson “may be handicapped in making interceptions,” Lemm said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “but he’ll play if at all possible. He’s too valuable a man in all ways to do without.”

Nelsen, in his third NFL season and his first as the Steelers’ starting quarterback, said he had a premonition Wilson would pick off one of his passes.

“I just knew Larry Wilson was going to get an interception,” Nelsen told the Post-Dispatch. “Lying awake the night before the game, I was thinking there was no way he could catch one with his hands wrapped up to protect his fractures, but I knew he was going to get one.”

Finding a way

Wilson’s interception set up a Cardinals touchdown in the final 75 seconds of the first half.

The Steelers led, 3-0, and had possession at their 20-yard line when Nelsen threw a pass toward the middle of the field. Wilson caught the ball against his chest at the Steelers’ 37 and returned it to the 3.

“It nestled into my arms nicely,” Wilson said to the Associated Press. Video

Noting Wilson made the only interception of the game, Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg wrote, “Wilson did what teammates with healthy and unencumbered fingers couldn’t do.”

Asked by Sports Illustrated in a 1995 interview whether it was painful to have Nelsen’s pass hit his damaged hands, Wilson replied, “The only painful thing about it was I should have scored.”

Steelers offensive line coach Ernie Hefferle called the wiry Wilson “one of the gutsiest players in football.”

“I believe he wants to make every tackle,” Hefferle sad to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Getting open

On the first play after Wilson’s interception, halfback Bill Triplett ran three yards for a touchdown and the Cardinals led 7-3 at halftime.

The Cardinals held a 14-3 lead entering the fourth quarter, but the Steelers rallied and went ahead, 17-14, with 1:12 to play.

Taking possession at their 20, the Cardinals noticed the Steelers moved into a prevent defense. Completing a couple of short passes across the middle, quarterback Charley Johnson advanced the Cardinals to their 41 with 46 seconds to go.

“In their prevent defense, the Steelers had put three backs on one side to cover the receivers coming out of our double-wing formation,” Johnson told the Post-Dispatch.

Johnson asked Billy Gambrell, a slight speedster, if he could beat the safety. Gambrell said he could and Johnson called the play.

With split end Sonny Randle running a route down the left side, Gambrell cut across the middle. Gambrell caught Johnson’s pass at the Steelers’ 20 and sped into the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown reception.

Said Steelers head coach Mike Nixon, “We had two men covering Gambrell … One of the two should have been with him, but the little guy got away from both of them.”

The Cardinals won, 21-17. Boxscore

Making the plays

Wilson played again the next week against the Chicago Bears, but re-injured his right hand and sat out four games.

He returned for the season finale on Dec. 19 against the Cleveland Browns at St. Louis and intercepted three Frank Ryan passes, returning the first one more than 90 yards for a touchdown. Video

Wilson made a total of 52 career interceptions for the Cardinals.

In May 1968, three years after Wilson picked off his pass in St. Louis, Nelsen was traded by the Steelers to the Browns, and his career took off. Nelsen played five seasons (1968-72) with the Browns and started in five playoff games for them.

Nelsen had his best season in 1969 when he threw for 2,743 yards and 23 touchdowns in leading the Browns to a 10-3-1 record. He tied Fran Tarkenton of the Giants for second in the NFL in touchdown passes in 1969, trailing only the Los Angeles Rams’ Roman Gabriel, who had 24.

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“You’re going to like us” was the slogan used for many years by Trans World Airlines (TWA), but the upbeat pitch didn’t fly with a trio of Cardinals miscreants.

On April 11, 1979, Cardinals players Keith Hernandez, Ken Reitz and Silvio Martinez, frustrated by a lengthy flight delay, tore up a TWA hospitality room at Lambert Field in St. Louis.

The incident embarrassed Cardinals management and created a public relations headache for the club.

Storms brewing

After an April 11 afternoon game against the Cubs at St. Louis was rained out, the Cardinals boarded a bus at Busch Stadium and went to the airport for a scheduled 4:50 p.m. commercial flight to Pittsburgh.

The TWA flight, originating in San Francisco, was delayed when the plane was rerouted to Kansas City because of severe thunderstorms in St. Louis. Eventually, all flights in and out of Lambert Field were suspended for two hours because of the weather, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

TWA arranged for the Cardinals to wait out the delay in a hospitality room. The flight didn’t take off until 1:30 a.m., about nine hours later than scheduled.

At some point during the long wait, Hernandez, Reitz and Martinez went on “a destructive rumpus” and left the room “a shambles,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Grow up, guys

Initially, details about the incident were slow to emerge.

The story took a turn when an eyewitness told the Post-Dispatch, “They put them in this VIP room and they just completely demolished it. One guy threw a chair, then threw a cabinet and tore down some signs. They just wrecked it. If it had been some college kids going to Fort Lauderdale, they’d been in the newsreels and in jail in Clayton. It was just terrible.”

TWA spokesman Larry Hillard confirmed the Cardinals “damaged folding doors, tore lettering off the walls and ripped out telephones. They also broke up some chairs and other types of wooden doors.”

While the Cardinals were in Pittsburgh, where they lost three of four games against the Pirates, public outrage in St. Louis about the airport incident was rising and club management was feeling pressure to respond. General manager John Claiborne met the team at its next stop in Chicago, fined the players involved and told them they would have to pay for the damages they caused.

“Those responsible realize they were wrong and have apologized to TWA and any other offended body, including Anheuser-Busch,” Claiborne said, referring to the Cardinals’ parent company.

Post-Dispatch columnist Dick Kaegel said the vandalism done by the players “was inexcusable” and a “childish act by grown men who should know better.”

“Sure, a nine-hour wait in an airport is frustrating,” Kaegel wrote. “It was an inconvenience. But that same night in the St. Louis area hundreds of persons were leaving their flood-devastated homes. Some were wiped out. A High Ridge mother lost her 11-year-old son to the raging torrent. A St. Charles man drowned. Compared to that, the Cardinals’ inconvenience is inconsequential.”

My fault

Days later, after the team returned home, Reitz said he was responsible for doing most of the damage at the airport and may have had too much to drink. “Keith and Silvio didn’t do all that much,” he said. Hernandez and Martinez declined comment.

“You do some things sometimes you’re sorry for later,” Reitz said. “At that point in time, I didn’t think it was that big a deal.”

Reitz said he began to realize the consequences of his behavior when Claiborne “told us what the damages were and how many people were offended.”

“I screwed up,” Reitz concluded. “Let’s put it plain and simple.”

A month later, in May 1979, the Cardinals signed Reitz, a third baseman, to a five-year contract extension totaling between $1.25 million and $1.3 million.

In October 1979, Stan Isle of The Sporting News reported Ozark Air Lines, which provided charter flights for the Cardinals and other teams, “may be having second thoughts about future service for some baseball clubs,” according to a company official, because of bad behavior by players.

According to The Sporting News, “On one of the Cardinals’ charter flights, from Pittsburgh to Chicago, witnesses said right-hander Pete Vuckovich had to be restrained after an altercation with manager Ken Boyer. The incident alarmed flight attendants and the pilot threatened to land in Indianapolis before order was restored.”

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The punishing rushes of Green Bay Packers fullback Jim Taylor shredded a daring defense of the St. Louis football Cardinals.

Taylor was a bruising rusher for the championship Packers teams of the 1960s. Paired in a backfield with “Golden Boy” halfback Paul Hornung, Taylor was a powerful force who twice led the NFL in rushing touchdowns and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 1962, Taylor topped the NFL in rushing yards with 1,474 in 14 games. He faced the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time that season and his rushing and pass-catching skills were key to enabling the Packers to overcome a challenging defensive scheme.

Game plan

The Cardinals and Packers each had 1-0 records entering their game on Sept. 23, 1962, at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Packers were the reigning NFL champions and the Cardinals were looking to establish themselves as contenders.

Cardinals head coach Wally Lemm and his staff devised a plan to apply pressure on Packers quarterback Bart Starr by having St. Louis defensive players use stunting maneuvers and blitzing schemes.

The stunting meant two or more Cardinals defenders would alter their usual paths to the quarterback in an effort to confuse the Packers’ offensive linemen.

The blitzing freed a defensive back or linebacker to leave his usual post and become an extra pass rusher. New York Giants linebacker Donald “Red Dog” Ettinger is credited with being the first player to use the technique from 1948-50 and blitzes came to be known as “red dogging.” In 1960, Cardinals defensive backs coach Chuck Drulis designed a blitz using safety Larry Wilson and named it “wildcat.”

Pressuring Pack

The blitzing and stunting of Cardinals defenders confused the Packers in the first half of their 1962 game. Starr “was under considerable pressure from the Cardinals’ determined rush, including red-dogging defensive halfbacks,” the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.

Packers offensive tackle Forrest Gregg said the Cardinals “were doing a lot of jumping around in there and we weren’t picking them up.”

Said Packers coach Vince Lombardi: “Their defense upset us in the beginning. We had a hell of a time trying to find them. They did a lot of stunting in there … It was new to us. We hadn’t seen it before this year.”

Lombardi and his staff tried to make adjustments during the first half, but were unsuccessful in communicating effectively during the helter-skelter pace of the game. The best the Packers could do was to hold on until they could regroup in the locker room at halftime. “We had to put it on the (chalk) board,” Lombardi said.

The Packers’ fierce defense, led by linemen Willie Davis and Henry Jordan, shut down the Cardinals’ attack and Green Bay led, 3-0, at halftime on Hornung’s field goal.

Fast learners

Using the chalkboard to illustrate what needed to be done to counter the Cardinals’ aggressive blitzing and stunting, Lombardi and his staff instructed their offensive linemen to block in assigned areas rather than man against man, and they told Starr to turn Taylor loose to rumble and mix in short passes to Taylor and tight end Ron Kramer.

The adjustments worked. Taylor, 6 feet and 215 pounds, pounded the Cardinals with runs up the middle and put the Packers in position to score a pair of touchdowns.

“In three years, nobody has run through our middle as the Packers did,” defensive tackle Frank Fuller, who played for the Cardinals from 1960-62, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Taylor “turned the tide with his powerful smashes in the second half,” the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported. Taylor “punished the Cardinals’ defense with his hard hitting … His thrusts up the middle helped the (Packers) loosen up the Cardinals’ defense and thus make their passing work.”

Taylor finished with 122 yards rushing on 23 carries and also had four catches for 40 yards. Hornung had a three-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Starr connected with Max McGee on a 19-yard scoring strike in the fourth quarter and the Packers won, 17-0. Boxscore

“We adjusted between halves,” Lombardi said. “In the second half, we zone blocked and area blocked. The boys picked them up real well.”

Said Taylor: “We just got to zone blocking in the second half and they changed their defense. They weren’t red-dogging so much and the red dogs were not real hard to pick up.”

One of a kind

Lemm praised the Packers as “the best-balanced team in football. Father Time is the only thing that’s going to beat the Packers.”

The Cardinals were held to 16 yards rushing and their top receiver, Sonny Randle, had one catch for five yards. Halfback John David Crow had nine yards on nine carries.

“We don’t have a Taylor,” Lemm lamented.

The 1962 Packers repeated as NFL champions and Taylor also played for league champions in 1965 and 1966. The Cardinals finished 4-9-1 in 1962.

Taylor played two more regular-season games against the Cardinals in his career.

On Oct. 20, 1963, he rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-7 Packers victory, and on Dec. 12, 1967, in his final NFL season with the Saints, the former Louisiana State standout had 34 yards rushing in a game the Cardinals won, 31-20.

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