Growing up in the mid to late 1950s, most of my baseball playing buddies were big fans of “The Rock,” Rocky Colavito. Most of them imitated Colavito’s unique batting style, which included the bat being stretched on one’s shoulders, followed by the obligatory pointing of the bat straight at the pitcher. And did I mention that every teenage girl in the vicinity of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium had a crush on “The Rock?”
Former The Plain Dealer sports editor Hal Lebovitz cautioned us to “Don’t Knock the Rock” and in later years, former Akron Beacon Journal sports columnist Terry Pluto wrote about “The Curse of Rocky Colavito,” blaming everything on former Cleveland General Manager Frank Lane’s trade of Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. It was trading Colavito, the home run champ, for Kuenn, the batting champ.
The point is Colavito wasn’t even my favorite outfielder. My favorite was Roger Maris, who was traded to the Kansas City A’s for, among others, Vic Power and Woody Held. Maris, of course, went on to the New York Yankees, setting the then-single season home run record with 61 in 1961.
He was voted the American League MVP in 1960 and 1961, and he played in four World Series.
Not long after that, we turned our attention to Ohio State’s great basketball teams in 1959-60. I don’t know if I did it on purpose to tick off my friends, but I rooted for John Havlicek over his teammate, Jerry Lucas. Much like the way Maris played baseball spoke to me, Havlicek played that way on the basketball court. Freshmen couldn’t play varsity sports in those days, but, as sophomores, the Lucas-Havlicek team won OSU’s only basketball national championship in 1960 and fell to the University of Cincinnati in each of the next two years.
Havlicek, still the Boston Celtics’ leading scorer, passed away April 25 at age 89. He was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, where Lou and Frank Groza grew up, but went to school in Bridgeport, where he starred as a football quarterback.
Havlicek got drafted in the seventh round of the 1962 NFL Draft by Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns. I remember him throwing a big block on a kick return in the final exhibition game of that year, but it was better for him, the Celtics and the NBA that things didn’t work out for the Browns. Despite “Hondo” playing for another team, it never bothered me because Cleveland didn’t have a team when I was following the NBA back then, and they never did anything to hurt me as a fan.
As a guy who loved to listen to games of all sports on radio, one of the greatest calls of all time belonged to Johnny Most, the longtime Celtics broadcaster. In Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia, with the 76ers down by two points, who could ever forget “Havlicek stole the ball. Havlicek stole the ball.”
Havlicek won eight titles with Boston. Longtime Cavs fans remember the 1976 “Miracle of Richfield,” which sent the Cavs against Boston for the right to go to the NBA Finals. The day before that series was to start, Cleveland center Jim Chones broke a bone in his foot, leaving the aging Nate Thurmond to fill in for him. When the Celtics beat the Cavs, it set up one of the all-time great Finals games in Game 5 when Boston beat Phoenix 128-126 in three overtimes.
He started out as the Boston sixth man under coach Red Auerbach. He was my favorite basketball player from the time I first saw him and it continued that way through his entire career.