Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Patrick Plus: Archie Clark was a two-sport Gopher

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: July 6, 2014 - 9:06 AM

Archie Clark was a 6-foot-2 guard and among the best basketball players in University of Minnesota history. He arrived on campus in the fall of 1962, joining Lou Hudson and Don Yates as the first black students to receive basketball scholarships from the Gophers.

Freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition, so it was the winter of 1963-64 before there was a modern feel to what college basketball had to offer inside Williams Arena.

What’s generally overlooked with Clark’s athletic career was that he was also the center fielder for Dick Siebert’s baseball team, including as a sophomore for the national championship team of 1964.

I talked to Clark a few days ago about his dual athletic career at Minnesota and he said: “I really wanted to be a baseball player. If I had hit the way I did as a kid, I would’ve played baseball. I was pretty darn good in high school, but I couldn’t find the same swing in college.

“I know the reason for that. I spent three years in the Army and only was able to play basketball. I didn’t swing a bat from my senior year in high school until I joined the Gophers 3 ½ years later.’’

Clark chuckled through his cell phone and said: “When people mention baseball to me, I say, ‘I was a four-tool player. I could steal bases, run down the ball in center, throw, hit with a little power, but I never had the consistency as a hitter. That made basketball the sport to pursue for me.’’

The pursuit turned out well. Clark played 11 seasons in the NBA, and was a two-time All-Star.

Clark turns 73 on July 15. He lives in his hometown of Ecorse, Mich., the father of eight children, with 12 grandchildren.

“I still look back with pride at that College World Series,’’ Clark said. “We were underdogs from the first game, against Texas A&M. There’s nothing better than winning like that.’’

Lou Hudson died in April, to Archie’s great sadness. “We came in together and were roommates,’’ Clark said. “I was three years older. To me, Lou was my little brother.’’

PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK

Gophers basketball jerseys that need retirement:

Archie Clark, No. 21 (1963-66): He was a tremendous second wheel to Lou Hudson, then averaged 24.5 points per game as a senior when Hudson broke his shooting hand.

Willie Burton, No. 34 (1986-90): Clem Haskins’ first star and part of my all-time starting five for Gophers. Returned to U to get a degree, and a jersey ceremony is sure to follow.

Randy Breuer, No. 45 (1979-83): The 7-foot-2 Breuer has his name all over Gophers’ career lists. Every bit the college big man as was Kevin McHale.

The night the ironman torch was passed to Ripken

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: July 4, 2014 - 7:15 AM

The 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s retirement speech at Yankee Stadium will be commemorated at Target Field and across major league baseball on Friday. Mentions of this are a reminder of the night of Sept. 6, 1995 in Baltimore, and witnessing Shirley Povich, a grand sports columnist, winding up with an amazing souvenir.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the column that I wrote for the next day’s Star Tribune:


BALTIMORE -- Shirley Povich, the eminent sportswriter of the Washington Post, was in Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, when the retirement ceremony was held for Lou Gehrig.

"That was not a celebration," Povich said. "We were on the verge of a mass cry from 60,000 people. The master of ceremonies saw Gehrig choking up and said, `I'm not going to ask Lou to speak.'

"Gehrig motioned him away. He stepped to the microphone and made his famous speech."

Gehrig said he was the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. Povich might have a right to make the same statement.

Povich had watched Gehrig - the Iron Horse - through much of his career. Wednesday, Povich, now 90, was sitting in the Camden Yards press box, behind home plate. This time, he was there for a celebration, not a mass cry.

This was the night when Cal Ripken Jr.'s 14-season pursuit of immortality would be concluded successfully, and Gehrig's record for most consecutive games played would fall.

"I never imagined this could happen," Povich said. "This is Mission Impossible. It required
an extraordinary man to surpass another extraordinary man."

Through the generations, baseball fans were so confident Gehrig's ironman record would never be challenged that it was placed in bronze. Gehrig's plaque that rests behind the center field fence
in Yankee Stadium includes the observation that his "amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time."

"I'm astounded by Cal Ripken," Povich said Wednesday. "Baseball will never see another like him." Then, the old newspaperman - still a twice-a-month columnist for the Post - smiled and said: "Of course, I said the same thing in 1939 . . . that we would never see another Gehrig."

Gehrig's streak came to an end early in the 1939 season. He to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to find out why he was feeling weak and looking uncoordinated in the field. The Mayo doctors discovered that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Previously, Gehrig had suffered from lumbago, an affliction not often associated with ironmen. Twice, his sore back caused Gehrig to go to his manager and ask to be listed as the shortstop and leadoff hitter on the lineup card. He singled both times, then left for a pinch runner.

On another occasion during the streak, Gehrig's back was so bad that he was in the hospital. Ed Barrow, the Yankees general manager, declared that day's game to be a rainout, even though the skies were clear in New York.

No such maneuvering has been required in the case of Cal Ripken. He started the streak on May 30, 1982, the season in which he beat out Kent Hrbek for the American League's Rookie of the Year award. While Ripken passes Gehrig, Hrbek is in his first season of retirement.

Ripken's record is pure. He started the first 27 games at third base and the next 2,104 games
at shortstop. That adds up to 2,131 - one more than Gehrig.

Earlier this week, Ripken had said of The Streak: "I started the season with the idea I would roll with it. But it has been taxing. There is such a thing as positive stress, but this thing overwhelms me every day."

Wednesday, it was the adulation - not the stress - that was overwhelming. The evening turned into the coronation of an American hero. The president, the vice president and the most royal name in the history of streak-dom, 80-year-old Joe DiMaggio, were in attendance.

Again, the early innings were a buildup to the moment in the fifth, when the game became official and the huge banners attached to the B&O Warehouse behind right field were changed to update Ripken's streak.

This time, Damion Easley popped out to end California's fifth. The Orioles were leading 3-1, so that made it an official, honest-to-Gehrig ballgame.

There was dramatic music, balloons, streamers, fireworks and then the banner on the far right was changed from 0 to 1. That put the number at 2131.

The folks inside Camden Yards went into convulsions. On Tuesday, when Ripken tied Gehrig's record, the standing, stomping fans delayed the game at this point for 5 minutes, 20 seconds. This time, it took 22 minutes, 15 seconds for order to be restored.

On Tuesday, Ripken had waited until after the celebration to hit his home run. "I can't believe that ball went out," Ripken said to teammate Brady Anderson.

On Wednesday, Ripken hit his home run in the fourth, before the celebration. There was no suspense. Ripken had received a 3-0 hanger from California's Shawn Boskie and the baseball was gone to left field when Cal Jr. put his lumber on it.

This led to a happy lap around the bases. The dropping of the banner attached to the warehouse, the official fall of Gehrig's record, led to a hysterical romp around the entire field.

In the ninth inning, a Ripken foul ball came into the press box. The commemorative baseball with Ripken's name and the orange stitching bounced around and came to rest on the counter in the front row.

Michael Wilbon, a columnist for the Washington Post, let the baseball sit for a moment, then reached for it and handed the Ripken souvenir baseball to the man on his left – to Shirley Povich, the sportswriter who had been in Yankee Stadium for Lou Gehrig’s speech.

A dramatic plan to make penalty kicks more iffy

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: July 1, 2014 - 4:47 PM

I’ve decided that the referees in this World Cup are easier to dupe than the gentlemen in too-small striped shirts who used to try to keep order in the TV matches at the Calhoun Towers for Verne Gagne’s AWA.

Get near that box they call the penalty area, take a flop that would embarrass a Duke basketball player, and wait for the doofus running the show to award a game-deciding penalty kick.

That’s what happened the other day when I was watching the late stages of Mexico vs. Netherlands in the World Cup’s Surly 16. The Dutchman dived, the penalty kick was awarded, and Mexico and its coach (my favorite character in this elongated competition) were kaput a couple of minutes later.

It was a different day, Sunday I’d guess, when Greece and Costa Rica put on a display of non-aggression that would have made Gandhi proud. Costa Rica had an excuse, since it was playing minus one player, but the Greeks … I didn’t even need the announcers to tell me they were pathetic.

(An aside here: The Costa Rican was expelled for drawing two yellow cards, which gets you tossed. This is the main reason I’m pleased there was no soccer to be played when I was a kid. Besides all the running and sweating, what I couldn’t have handled was being ordered to walk over and stand in front of some glorified hall monitor and have him wave a yellow card in my face.

I’m afraid I would have had to say the same thing as Zach LaVine on the occasion of being taken No. 13 in the NBA Draft, which probably would’ve changed the color of the card to scarlet.)

Eventually, and mercifully, the Greeks and the Costa Ricans wound up in a penalty-kick tie breaker. The goalie has less chance than a walleye against Ron Schara in this situation, since he’s guarding a net the size of Duluth and the guy is trying to throw a rock into Lake Superior.

OK, a mixed metaphor there, but who cares?

The shootout starts with a round of five, and keeps going until there’s a miss, which everyone hopes happens before they die of old age.

The Costa Ricans made the first four as easy as 10-inch putts, and it was up to Greece’s Theofanis Gekas, who has been through so many soccer battles that he looked as road weary as “The Hound’’ in Game of Thrones.

You could tell poor Theofanis would rather have been Greek’s financial minister, asking the European Union for another bailout, than being forced to take this penalty kick.

“Hey, turn on the soccer game,’’ I shouted to my bride in the next room. “This Greek is going to miss a penalty kick. You may never get to see this again.’’

To which she replied: “Leave me alone.’’

Well, she missed it, and so did Theofanis, managing the improbable feat of putting the ball where Costa Rica’s goalie could reach it, and dooming his country to defeat.

The Greeks deserved that, with their putrid effort while holding an advantage in bodies for dang near an hour, but still … penalty kicks, they are easier than layups in basketball.

Oh, wait a minute, I just thought about our guy Nikola Pekovic. We better recycle the 10-inch putt comparison.

Anyway, I watched Theofanis choke and was moved to send out a Tweet that was very graphic and insulting in nature, as to what label it brings to a player when he misses a penalty kick in the World Cup.

This led to @go4erhockey sending a response reading, “My idea for improving penalty kicks: Make the kicker take the shot blindfolded.’’

I relayed agreement with this idea, as did @thejoehansen, with a caveat: “Yeah, and spin him around a few times first.’’

Rather than the near certainty of penalty kicks, we turn shootouts into a hybrid version of Blind Man’s Bluff on an international stage?

Spectacular problem solving, @go4erhockey and @thejoehansen.

Thank you, Norm Green, for moving North Stars

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 29, 2014 - 7:41 AM

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2014 class this week. Mike Modano was among the half-dozen honorees who will be inducted at the Toronto ceremonies in mid-November.


Any mention of Modano can cause the bile to build toward Norm Green, the evil gent who announced the move of the North Stars to Dallas on March 10, 1993, with 16 games (including seven at home) remaining in a lost season.


Modano was 22 at the time. He was in his fourth season and already had 123 goals and 309 points when the moving vans headed to Dallas. He also was part of the improbable spring of 1991, when the North Stars squeezed into the playoffs with the 15th-most points in a 21-team league, and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.


We loved Norm then, and we hated him later, but this can be said in retrospect:


The greatest thing to happen to Minnesota’s sports scene in the past two-plus decades was Norm moving his hockey team to Dallas.


The politicians had no real appetite for building arenas and stadiums for our teams in March 1993. We had gotten away with contributing chump change to build Met Stadium, Met Center, the Civic Center, the Metrodome and Target Center.


Then Norm left. Two years later, Minneapolis took over Target Center to facilitate the retention of the Timberwolves.


In 1998, the state came up with a no-interest loan of $65 million (of which a large share was forgiven) to build an arena in St. Paul as the needed home to get the NHL expansion Wild.


In 2006, the Legislature made a large state contribution to an on-campus home (TCF Bank Stadium) for the football Gophers and signed off on Hennepin County’s involvement in building the Twins’ spectacular Target Field.


Now, we’re giving a billion-dollar dome to the Vikings, fulfilling Mike Veeck’s dream for an artsy ballyard in St. Paul, giving a face-lift to Target Center, and whispering about a soccer-specific stadium near Target Field for an MLS franchise.


Thanks, Norm. We might not have done any of this if you hadn’t stolen away to Dallas with Modano.


PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
 
Now that TC Bear has one, our teams need serious statue advice:
 
Target Field. Jim Kaat is No. 1 in Twins wins (189) and innings (2,966), and Kitty’s pose on the mound would be wonderful in bronze.
 
Target Center (remodeled). Kevin Garnett will be Wolves’ greatest player decades from now. Pose him to be eternally tossing resin on Sid’s statue.
 
Taj Ma Zygi (the new Vikings dome). Bud Grant, greatest coach, and Alan Page, greatest player. Statues should be placed far apart.

 

Soccer’s now a show, undeniably

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 21, 2014 - 5:23 PM

I’ve been reporting sports in the Twin Cities since the fall of 1968. There have been several revolutions in American sports, including:

Pro football overwhelming baseball to become the national game, and stock car racing becoming the king among motor sports, and boxing gorging itself on initials to the point it’s less popular than the grotesque exercise called MMA.

None of these compares with what took place after Title IX was written into the education amendments of 1972 — a few words that brought equal opportunity for girls and women to participate in sports.

I’ve said this, and many people choose to disbelieve based on a few paragraphs critiquing the state of women’s basketball in a long-ago notes column, but it is fact:

The greatest occurrence in my career was the chance for half of our population to compete fully in team sports.

And I’m now starting to feel that No. 2 on the list of sports revolutions is the arrival of soccer as a spectator sport of significance in this country.

OK, I get the old argument: “Zealots have been wrongly selling the idea of a ‘soccer boom’ to this country since the 1970s, when crowds of debauched youth descended on NASL stadiums and parking lots to party.”

I’ve promoted that idea on occasion to dismiss a game that doesn’t do it for me — never has, never will.

Which is OK, because soccer in 2014 sure as Hades doesn’t need me, with men and women who played the game now ensconced with their families in Maple Grove or Woodbury, and with our new immigrants bringing their soccer passion to our neighborhoods.

The TV ratings for soccer will dazzle only in the World Cup for the foreseeable future, since only then do we see the “home team” against the best.

Football, baseball, basketball and hockey offer us the best leagues in the world. In 2013, Major League Soccer was ranked No. 7 internationally.

No matter. We have a soccer crowd of significance. And while I’m sure drinking on asphalt remains an attraction, it’s not the only reason these folks are involved. They also like watching soccer.

Plus Three from Patrick

Three-year run in the Timberwolves draft room:

2009: Select Ricky Rubio (No. 5 overall) and Jonny Flynn (6). Miss: Steph Curry (7). Gave away: Ty Lawson (18).

2010: Select Wes Johnson (4). Miss: DeMarcus Cousins (5). If only: Paul George (10).

2011: Select Derrick Williams (2). If only: Klay Thompson (11) or Kawhi Leonard (15). Gave away: Chandler Parsons (38).

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